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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/14/21

Guests: Raphael Warnock, Scott McDonell


Interview with Senator Raphael Warnock from the great state of Georgia. Wisconsin launches 2020 election audit.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend, appreciate it.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

We got the book. We got it early. The book is called "Peril". It is by "The Washington Post" journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. It`s not being published yet. It has not been published yet until next week. We have obtained a copy tonight.

Evidence of speed-reading here, a RACHEL MADDOW SHOW specialty.

This book has important news in it. What this book is about broadly speaking, the "Peril", it`s describing in its title is just how fraught and dangerous the period was for the country surrounding the 2020 election and immediately thereafter. And in the broadest possible stroke, of course, we know it was fraught and dangerous. We had our national capitol come under violent attack.

But the thing that is so bracing and nerve-wracking and important about this new book is what it reveals about how much worse it was than we knew, how much closer we came to real disaster than we have known before now. So, again, this comes out next week. We have obtained a copy of it.

This is how the book starts. Quote: Two days after the January 6th, 2021, violent assault on the United States Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump, General Mark Milley, the nation`s senior military officer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, placed an urgent call on a top secret back channel line at 7:03 a.m. to his Chinese counterpart, General Li, chief of the joint staff of the People`s Liberation Army.

General Milley knew from extensive reports that Li and the Chinese leadership were stunned and disoriented by the televised images of the unprecedented attack on the American legislature. Li fired up questions to Milley. Was the American superpower unstable? Was it collapsing? What was going on? Was the U.S. military going to do something?

Milley said in response, quote, things may look unsteady. Milley was trying to calm Li who he had known for years. Quote, but that`s the nature of democracy, General Li. We are 100 percent steady, everything is fine but democracy can be sloppy sometimes.

Quote, it took an hour and a half, 45 minutes of substance -- excuse me. It took an hour and a half, 45 minutes of substance due to the necessary use of interpreters to try to assure him. When Milley hung up, he was convinced the situation was grave.

Li remained unusually rattled putting the two nations on the knife edge of disaster. Milley had witnessed up close how Trump was routinely impulsive and unpredictable. Making matters even more dire, Milley was certain Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election. With Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.

Milley had misled General Li when he claimed the United States was 100 percent steady and the January 6th riot was just an example of sloppy democracy. To the contrary, Milley believed January 6th was a planned, coordinated synchronized attack on the very heart of American democracy, designed to overthrow the government, to prevent the constitutional certification of a legitimate election won by Joe Biden. Milley could not rule out the January 6th assault so unimagined and savage could be a dress rehearsal for something larger as Trump publicly and privately clung to his belief that the election had been rigged for Joe Biden and stolen from him. That is how -- that`s the start of the new book.

So, first of all, the January 6th attack on the capitol freaked out the Chinese military who believed that Trump might start a war or something that would lead to a war with China in order to cling to power. Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reporting in this new book it freaked out China and lots of foreign powers. And the United States` top military officer felt the Chinese were so freaked out he had to conduct his own secret back channel cool down chat with the head of the Chinese military even though Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley did not even fully believe himself everything was okay, he lied and said it was.

He felt like he`d better tell the Chinese military things were fine to make sure that nothing bad happened. The Chinese believed they were at imminent risk of an unprovoked American attack by an unstable American president who needed to do that to save his own skin. What might they do to fend off that attack or to gain an advantage?

What`s more, the new book "Peril" reports, this was not even the first time General Milley decided he got to do that, he put in the cool to the same Chinese general before the election as well to talk them down, talk the Chinese down from fears that President Trump was about to launch an attack on China to help himself win the election.


That is a call, again, several days before the election that he did not tell president Trump about.

And, you know, it`s sort of for us as Americans it`s one thing to learn that the Chinese cited based on their own intelligence that the American president was unstable enough to launch a military strike simply to help win an election. It`s one thing for us to know that the Chinese saw that, something interesting to tell you about the way Chinese intelligence approaches us and the world. But it`s quite another thing when the U.S. chairman of the joint chiefs decides he needs to call them secretly and tell him he the chairman will let them know if that threat becomes real. He`ll let them know in advance, he promises it won`t be a surprise.

But the fears about what President Trump might do with his military powers around the election and around the attack on the Capitol, those were not limited just to other countries. We know, for example, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called General Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, two days after the January 6th attack to discuss her fears that president Trump was so erratic at that moment he might launch a military action including potentially a nuclear strike of some kind.

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their new book claim to have obtained a transcript of that phone call which is fascinating in itself. I don`t know where they got the transcript from. I`m very curious, but this is a portion of that transcript as printed in this new book "Peril."

Quotes: Pelosi, what precautions are available to prevent an unstable president from initiating hostilities or from accessing the launch codes in ordering a nuclear strike.

Milley, this is one of those moments madam speaker where you`re going to have to trust me on this. I guarantee. I`m giving you my word. I can`t say any of it publicly because I don`t have the authorities. I can assure you that the United States military`s study is Iraq, and we`re not going to do anything illegal, immoral or unethical with the use of force. We will not do it.

Pelosi, who knows what he might do. He`s crazy. You know he`s crazy. He`s been crazy for a long time. So don`t say you don`t know what his state of mind is. He`s crazy and what he did yesterday, presumably mean January 6, is further evidence of this craziness. But anyway I appreciate what you said.

General Milley, Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything.

And here`s what`s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa report about chairman of the joint chiefs in the aftermath of that phone call. Quote, pulling a Schlesinger was what he needed to contain Trump and maintain the tightest possible control of the lines of military communications and command authority. The move was a reference to the edict by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to military leaders in August 1974 to not follow orders that came directly from President Nixon, who is facing impeachment, or from the White House without first checking with Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and his Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, General George Brown.

Schlesinger and General Brown in 1974 feared that President Nixon might go around the chain of command and independently contact officers or specific military unit to order a strike putting the country in the world in jeopardy. They had been unwilling to take that risk. Milley saw alarming parallels between Nixon and Trump. In 1974, Nixon had grown increasingly irrational and isolated, drinking heavily, and in despair, pounding the carpet in prayer with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Milley decided to act, immediately summons senior officers from the National Military Command Center, this is the war room used in the Pentagon. Excuse me, this is the war room the Pentagon used for communicating orders from the national command authority. The president or his successor, for military action or use of nuclear weapons. Milley said he wanted to go over the procedures and process for launching military weapons. Only the president could give the order he said, but then he made clear that he, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff must be directly involved.

Quote, any doubt, any irregularity, first, call me directly, and immediately. Do not act until you do. He pointed to himself, then he went around the room asking each officer for confirmation that they understood. Looking each in the eye.

"Got it?" Milley asked. "Yes, sir." "Got it?" he asked another. "Yes, sir." "Got it?" "Yes, sir." "Got it?" "Yes, sir." Milley considered an oath.

To be clear, the oath he`s asking them to take there, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is not in the chain of command for a nuclear strike. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not have any authority to either call a nuclear strike or block one. The chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff advises the president, he`s not in the military chain of command.


He said it himself in that phone call with Nancy Pelosi that we now mysteriously have a transcript of, General Milley told Pelosi, I really don`t have the authorities. He does not. No one, not the chairman of the joint chiefs, not the defense secretary, nobody can just make a new rule don`t listen to the president. Only listen to me. That`s not a thing in terms of military orders.

But, there`s a very practical reason that Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger didn`t get in trouble for doing that in 1974. And that`s the same practical reason that General Mark Milley is not going to get in trouble for now because they were and are and I would argue will be perceived as trying to stop a much greater evil, by essentially inserting themselves into the chain of command, in order to prevent literally, catastrophe.

And there were clearly a number of people in the top of the U.S. government in January this year, including the top military officer, who felt we were much closer to catastrophe, then I think most of us realized at the time.

And speaking of, that there`s this one other revelation in this new book again from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa then I think is worth pulling out. It concerns Mike Pence. Former Vice President Mike Pence is these days, accredited greatly, with what he did on January, six with plowing ahead and doing his constitutional duty on January, sixth despite the mob of Trump supporters attacking the capitol, and searching for him, because they said they wanted to hang him.

It was his job as president of the Senate to oversee the count of the electoral votes for president, and thereby certify the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. And Mike Pence, in fact, did that. Despite all the pressure from President Trump and his allies that he should do something else, that he should somehow use that job that he had, use that role he had as president of the Senate to throw the election to Trump, or at least to render the election unsettled.

Despite all that pressure, despite Trump supporters roaming the halls looking for him to kill, him to stop him from doing his job, Pence did his job.

In this new book, one of the things that they report, is that Mike Pence in their telling, was far more reluctant to do his job, far more reluctant to do his constitutional duty than the public narrative has suggested. Bottom line, Vice President Pence did not ultimately succeed to Trump`s wishes, to block the certification of the election, to overturn the results and leave Trump, empower or render the election results on avoidable. It was not for his a lack of him trying to find a way to do that.

This is from Woodward and Costa. Quote, in late December, Pence phoned former President Dan Quayle. At 74, the ones boyish looking Quayle is living the private life in Arizona. The two men shared a unique phone file, Indiana Republicans who had become vice president.

Pence phoned because he wanted advice. Despite the Electoral College casting its ballots for Biden back on December 14th, Trump was convinced that Pence could somehow throw the election to Trump on January 6, when Congress meant to certify the final count. Pence explained to his fellow Indianan, Dan Quayle, that Trump was pressuring him to intervene, to ensure Biden would say not secure the needed 270 votes for the certification and push the election to a vote in the House of Representatives, it thrown to the House, there was a twist. And Trump was fixated on this twist, Pence said. It was the provision that could theoretically at least keep him in power.

While the Democrats held the current House majority, the 12th Amendment of the constitution stated that the voting on a contested election would not be done by a simple majority vote in the House, instead the amendment says the election vote will be counted in blocks of state delegations, with one vote per state. Republicans controlled more delegations, in the House of Representatives. Meaning, Trump would likely win, if the house chamber ended up deciding the victor, based on the pre-scripts of that.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle thought Trump`s suggestion was preposterous and dangerous. His effort to control events was a dark Rube Goldberg-like fantasy. And can precipitate a constitutional crisis.

Quayle told Mike Pence, quote, Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None, zero, forget it, put it away. Pence said in reply, I know. That`s what I`ve been trying to tell Trump. But he really thinks he can, and there are other guys in there saying I`ve got this power. I`ve -- Quayle interrupted him. You don`t, just stop it he said.

Pence pressed again. It was easy for Quayle to make a blanket statement from political winter. He wanted to know, veep to veep, whether there was even a glimmer of light, legally, constitutionally to perhaps put a pause on the certification, if there were ongoing court cases, and legal challenges.


Quayle repeated. Forget it. Pence finally agreed, acting to overturn the election would be antithetical to his controversial view of conservatism. One man could not effectively throw the election to the House of Representatives. Quayle told Pence to let it go. Mike, don`t even talk about it he said. Pence paused. You don`t know the position I`m in, he said.

Even if you`re someone like Mike Pence, who`s very invested in publicly assuaging and placating your boss, even if you really committed to the rule of law, and not letting Trump overturn the election, but you`re just trying to make Trump less mad at you, it`s not going to help to call Dan Quayle, right? And ask Dan Quayle for his advice on how to do a Trump says. You don`t call Dan Quayle just to appease Trump. Even though you never have any intention of doing what Trump want you to do.

What`s being described in this new, book is the action of a man who really genuinely is searching for a way, he can do what Trump wants. In that conversation that he had with Dan Quayle, Woodward and Costa report that Pence even raises the prospect that there were real problems in the vote count in Arizona, as if that was enough for pretext to justify not certifying the entire election and thereby setting the stage to throw it to the House of Representatives, where Republicans in the House would ensure that Trump held down to power, despite losing to Joe Biden.

This new book makes it clear that Pence was far closer than we had previously realized, to doing some version of what Trump wanted him to do, and with more than half of the entire Republican caucus in the House ultimately voting to reject the results. I mean, Mike Pence was the guy who stopped that, from happening. But it was close. We were there.

And the right is honestly made no progress in widening the distance of how close we were in the month since, right? The problem here is that this history. This newly-disturbing slice of our history, with which what we`re learning from Woodward and Costa in this new book, this history isn`t very old as history. This all happened a few months ago.

And since then, in the intervening eight months, on the right in Republican politics, it`s not like this stuff has gotten better. It`s not like this matter has been settled and put away of as a sort of historical curiosity. It`s madness that everybody will deny they were every caught up in at the time. I mean, the 2020 election results are still not a settled matter for the Republican Party.

Tonight, tonight, for example, here on a show, we`re going to be talking with a key election official from Wisconsin, where the Republicans in the legislature there have just started their own bizarre partisan review of the 2020 election, a sort of copycat audit of what Republicans are doing with the presidential election results in all the voting equipment in Arizona. Wisconsin Republicans just yesterday started sending out their demands, to local election officials around Wisconsin, local officials who frankly have no idea what they`re supposed to do with their secure equipment and election records, now that Republicans state legislatures are telling them to hand those things over to Republican activists and their crazy conspiracy theories.

Republicans are doing this in multiple states now. Now. Not months ago. Now. They started doing it yesterday in Wisconsin.

This upcoming weekend in Washington, D.C., they`re preparing for the Trump rally in support of the January 6th rioters, who attacked the U.S. Capitol to try to stop the certification of the presidential election results. "The Washington Post" tonight ran a feature on these flyers that are going up all over D.C. starting today to prepare local residents for what to do if the pro-January 6th attacks rally on the day turns out to be as violent as some of the chatter on line around it suggests. These flyers, as of today are going up all over downtown, D.C.

They say, quote, if you see someone with a firearm, immediately call 911. If you see a gun, immediately call 911. Capitol Police in D.C., Metropolitan Police, are fully activated for Saturday. Every officer on the force will be on duty, and the local police forces have been asked to be on standby in case more help is needed to defend the Capitol.

And it`s not even just that Republicans are still looking backward to last November`s elections, still promoting their efforts from January, to stop the certification of the election by force. It`s not just that they`re still backward looking toward 2020. It`s also the recall election that`s happening right now as we speak tonight in California.

In California, the leading Republican candidate in the race was as of yesterday, pre-declaring that he has lost the race today. and pre-blaming his loss on some sort of fraud, even before the election actually happened. And with that being the lead Republican messaging heading into that messaging, it`s not a surprise that the local headlines in California look like this. From "The L.A. Times", election fraud conspiracy theories ahead of recall raise fears of violence.

This isn`t history. This is now. What`s the way around it? What is the way out of this mess?

Over the august break, nine U.S. senators got together to try to do something, something substantive and forward-looking, to try to take the heat off this issue, or at least to sap it of some of its ongoing destructive power. After Republican senators in June block the big voting rights bill called For the People, these nine senators went back to the drawing board, to try to find something else. Some other approach that could potentially get around the Republican opposition, while also bolstering voting rights for real.

Right now, these Republican fantasies about elections, are being treated as pretext enough, to nuke voting rights and to nuke the professional nonpartisan ministration of election all around the country.

Well, the Freedom to Vote Act, released today, for the first, time is 592 pages of compromise legislation, that would establish national minimum standards for early voting, and vote by mail and national minimum standards for non-partisan map-making, for drawing congressional districts and federal standards for handling equipment and records, including cybersecurity around those things. It`s a lot. It`s 600 pages, it`s a lot.

Democrats say, every senator will support. Crucially, they have put Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia in charge of scaring up ten Republican senators, to vote for this measure, so it can survive another inevitable Republican filibuster.

That said, the lead Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, already promised today within hours of the bill being announced that that won`t happen. That Republicans, quote, will not be supporting the bill.

So what happens next year? This seems quite warranted, all the more so every day. But what is the path of getting it done?

Joining us now is Senator Raphael Warnock from the great state of Georgia. Senator Warnock is a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Vote Act that was introduced this morning in the Senate.

Senator, thank you so much for being here. It`s a real honor and pleasure to have you with us tonight.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): Thank you, Rachel. It`s great to be back with you.

MADDOW: So, I`ve put this, I recognize in an alarming context. In terms of some of the very dire threats, and some of the very high cliffs that we got very close to as a country over these last few months and these myths about stolen elections have really taken hold. It seems to me.

And tell me if I`m wrong here, that the Freedom to Vote Act that you have played such a key role in introducing here today, is an effort to try to provide light and not, he`d to try to cool down this, issue to try to be constructive and move forward in a way, that can attract very, very mainstream in widespread support.

WARNOCK: That`s absolutely right, Rachel. Our democracy is in a 911 emergency, and while there are a number of important items for us to address in this Congress, and we did so for the American rescue plan, through the infrastructure work that`s happening right now, the most important thing we can do right now, is pass voting rights, to secure the future of our democracy, we failed to do that, and I think we will have failed to rise in a defining moment, in our American democracy.

Which is why in June, when the Republicans blocked our ability -- I think that`s important for your viewers to know that`s what got blocked in June. Our ability to have a debate about voting rights just months after a violent insurrectionists attempt on the Capitol, after seeing this regime of voter suppression bills sprout all over the country, and it seems that folks then were then pivoting from to infrastructure, I insisted we can both work on infrastructure and our democracy at the same time we. I approached leadership and said we can`t allow this to slip away from us.

I`m so happy that nine of us have been in the room, Senator Manchin and myself, Senator Klobuchar and others, crafting this bill that was introduced today, to make sure that we protect the voices of the people who sent us here in the first place.

MADDOW: I feel like the more time I spent time with the bill and look at its provisions, and the more I hear from you and your colleagues who have taken a role in crafting, at the more I understand about your intent, and why you think this is the right path forward. I have to ask you about the nitty-gritty about how it gets done.

We do now have Leader McConnell making this public declaration, that just as he said, no Republican senators would support the for the people, act even supporting to debate on it. He also said that Republican senators will not support this.

And I tend to think that leader McConnell, whether you agree with him or disagree with, him he tends to say what he means, he tends to mean what he, says any tends to be able to count votes on his side pretty well.

Do you think he`s wrong? Do you think his mind can be changed on that? Or, does it now turn to procedural efforts because the ten Republican votes are just going to be there?

WARNOCK: Well, the good thing about democracy is that each of us who serves on the Senate, serves in the House, we were sent by the folks who voted for us. So whether or not this gets Republican support, is up to each individual senator. And it seems to me that voting rights ought to be about partisan issue. There was a time it was passed on a bipartisan basis.

So we got together over the summer. We put together a bill that is intended to give broad support. It does things like ensures that there`s access to the ballot. Who can be against that? To make sure that eligible Americans can vote. Whether it`s too early voting vote by mail, weekend voting, ensures that states will have same day registration the. Kinds of things that just make it -- makes voting accessible to the average person.

In addition to that, we are addressing these voter suppression laws that were seeing all across our country that are intended to turn democracy on its head so that instead of voters picking the politicians, the politicians get to select their own voters. It addresses the issues of partisan and racial gerrymandering, yet another way of squeezing the voices of ordinary people out of their democracy. And it protects the integrity of our democracy by dealing with issues around cybersecurity and it ensures that states like Georgia that have voter ID laws, that those laws are intended to make sure that eligible people can vote, they`re not used to cherry pick certain voters.

And so, the bill provides a baseline for voting. So that you have access to that basic American right, no matter where you live. It`s the most American thing we can do. It`s the most important thing we can do in this Congress. And I think that as important as other issues are, if we fail to do it, we will have failed the people who sent us here in the first place to debate about all of these issues. I think that history will rightly judge us harshly, if we fail to address voting rights in this defining moment.

MADDOW: Among the nine of you who worked on this, did you talk about procedural matters? If Senate Republicans don`t come along -- you make a great case on the merits. You make a great case in terms of the nonpartisan appeal of this, the all-American appeal of this, and I know Senator Manchin is working as hard as he possibly can to get Republicans on board.

But if they fit say full stop no, did you, among the nine of, your work on the legislation talk about a procedural way to get there? By finding a way around the filibuster? By carving out some rule, some space in that Senate rules so it can pass? Even against uniform Republican opposition?

WARNOCK: Well, I`ve been very clear from day one that we must pass voting rights no matter what.


WARNOCK: And nothing is more important. Certainly not a Senate rule. But we`ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

I think for us to not do the work that Senator Manchin is attempting to do in reaching out to others, I think it lets them off the hook to easily. But at the end of the day we have to protect the votes and the voices of the people of Georgia and of the American people. And that`s what I intend to do.

MADDOW: Senator Raphael Warnock of the great state of Georgia -- sir, thank you for making time to be here. Tonight it`s always a pleasure to have you here whenever you can make. It

WARNOCK: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much more to get to tonight. Stay with.



MADDOW: For this one the starting price is $680,000. Late last month, the Republican led assembly in the state of Wisconsin voted on party lines to authorize $680,000 in taxpayer funds to be an spent on an audit of the results of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin.

Why do they need to audit the election results from 2020 in Wisconsin? Because they can, right? Because Joe Biden won the state of Wisconsin and given the opportunity Wisconsin Republicans would like to make it seem there was something wrong with that result so it must be carefully checked.

This new effort in Wisconsin is of course a copycat of what Republicans have been doing for months now with their hilarious Cyber Ninja audit in Arizona. That has in fact been hilarious at times but a security standpoint that audit in Arizona has been a disaster from the very beginning. Observers of that audit say they routinely for example found the security gates left wide open at the facility where they were counting all the ballots. They said confidential manuals were left unattended, quality control mesh control measures were completely ignored.


Arizona Republicans bungled their handling of election machines, election equipment and actual ballots so badly the state will now spend millions of dollars replacing all the voting machines they tampered with during this audit because they took no measures to keep them secure and they can`t be recertified to use them in any election.

With that backdrop, we broke the mgs doing this election audit backdrop, consider Dane County, Wisconsin. Dane County is Wisconsin`s most populous county. It`s where Madison is.

Joe Biden won Dane County, Wisconsin, by more than 50 points in 2020. And right now, I`d like you to use your imagination for a second. Pretend you`re the county clerk in Dane County, Wisconsin. You were in charge of safely and accurately administering elections in that country.

That said, Republicans in your state are now ginning up one of these fake Arizona-style ninja audits. And with that in mind, imagine you the Dane County clerk just got this e-mail over transom, no warning. The e-mail says, please see the attached preservation notice, regards Michael J. Gableman, special counsel, Wisconsin assembly.

This is Michael Gableman. He is a former judge in Wisconsin. Republicans in the state assembly picked him to run their Arizona-style audit after he spoke in November at a Stop the Steal rally alleging the election had been stolen from Donald Trump.

What this e-mail appears to look like is an e-mail from the guy running the Wisconsin audit asking the Dane County clerk to preserve records. This is the PDF that was attached to that e-mail. The letter says the header is from the office of special counsel and the Wisconsin state assembly, and looks like they`re screen capped off the web, maybe. They don`t look like official letterhead.

The letter starts off, quote, gentle persons. Recently, I was appointed special counsel by the Wisconsin assembly to investigate the November 2020 election. I hereby request that you and your office preserve any requests and all records related to the Wisconsin election including but not limited to information retained on all voting machines. Such information includes but not limited to metadata, router information and/or access logs.

Please take all necessary steps to comply with this request and including notifying all agents, assigns and custodians of record. It is signed Michael j. Gableman, sort of signed. At least his name is on it.

This is the guy Republicans put in charge to run this Arizona style audit in Wisconsin, but look at the e-mail again where this preservation notice came from. His name is on the bottom of it, right? His e-mail has his name on the bottom, Michael Gableman.

But look at the e-mail address it was sent from. It was sent from John Delta, all lowercase. John Delta from a Gmail address? Who is John Delta, why is he sending a highly important, highly sensitive records request to county clerks from a Gmail address? Does the real Michael Gableman know about this? Is there a Mr. Delta? Is that a reference to a sci-fi movie I haven`t seen yet because I`m an old person now?

And that`s not the only thing hinky about this. Look at that seal on top of it, it really does look like a screen cap of the state seal copied off the web and plopped onto this document. This is not real letterhead.

And while we`re at it let`s peep behind the hood of this document, look at the metadata for this PDF, this letter and this sort of bogus letterhead on the top demanding the preservation of records by the county clerks. It showed that this PDF was authorized not by John Delta and not by Gableman, but someone named Andrew Kloster? Who is Andrew Kloster? Why did he write this?

Maybe it`s this Andrew Kloster, a lawyer who used to work in the Trump administration. Is he the letter of this author to the county clerks in Wisconsin? We don`t know. "The Associated Press" asked him for comment. He didn`t respond.

Meanwhile public reporting around the audit suggests the guy in charge of the audit, maybe the disembodied voice of John Delta, who knows, has been consulting with a former political candidate who`s been spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. One of his theories is in every single state in 2020, Donald Trump`s share of the vote was reduced by exactly 4.2 percent.

Why? Where did he got that from? How did he arrive at this theory? He arrived at his theory based on his close textualist reading of the science fiction novel, "The Hitchhiker`s Guide to the Galaxy". Because in that science fiction satire, the answer to the biggest question in the universe is 42, and look 4.2, sure, why not?


That`s the new consultant for the Wisconsin election audit that taxpayers are paying for. I mean, this would all be hilarious if this was not going to influence the election infrastructure of an actual swing state. They`re demanding a records request of all the real records and real data, real information, real machines, real equipment used in real elections in Wisconsin.

And now people in Wisconsin like the Dane County clerk and all the other clerks who got that e-mail from good knows who @Gmail, they all have to contend with this science fiction that have landed on their doorstep. What do you do?

If you`re the Dane County clerk, what do you do when you get an e-mail like that?

Here`s how that`s an interesting part of the story and that`s next.


MADDOW: This week, yesterday, Wisconsin Republicans in the state legislature there effectively started their effort to try to copycat the bizarre partisan election audit that has been going under -- that has been ongoing in Arizona for months.


That Arizona effort, these so-called cyber ninjas audit has received months of national attention and frankly ridicule for good reason. But in Wisconsin undaunted Republican there are pursuing the same sort of course. As of right now, county clerks all over Wisconsin yesterday received a letter -- honestly, it was a sort of strange e-mail from a random Gmail account telling them they needed to preserve records from elections equipment used in the 2020 election.

In Dane County, Wisconsin, the county clerk, Scott McDonell, there immediately forwarded that random Gmail request to his IT security department. This is how they replied. Quote, Scott if this e-mail from a address, I cannot confirm the authenticity of its origin. I would strongly recommend against replying to with any information. If these actions are an official capacity, it would expect to come from an email account, with an official email address. We also have no verification of any operational security practices from the special counsel and at this time I would not recommend any disclosure of sensitive information until official channels of communication have been established and verified.

Joining us now is Scott McDonell. He is the county clerk in Dane County, Wisconsin. Mr. McDonell, it`s a real pleasure to have you with us tonight. Thank you so much.

SCOTT MCDONELL, DANE COUNTY, WI CLERK: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

MADDOW: Do you know if all the county clerks in Wisconsin received the same sort of Gmail notice that you did?

MCDONELL: You know, it`s not clear. I think there`s an attempt to send these to all the county clerks. I know some of them received it and some of them it went straight to their spam folders. So they read the news reporting and then started looking for it.

MADDOW: Besides this -- this missive which was strange in a lot of ways. It is from a random Gmail address. It had a PDF attached to it that the metadata suggests was written by potentially a former Trump administration official who`s not known to be attached to this. It didn`t seem to be on real letterhead. The name on the Gmail address didn`t match the address on the Gmail address. In fact had a different name, somebody named John delta, if that`s even a thing.

A lot of obvious red flags here. Was this actually the first purported official communication you`ve received about this audit or have they been in touch with you before this in some official way?

MCDONELL: No, this is the first communication I got from Mr. Gableman assuming that was Spencer Gableman. So, yeah, I mean, there`s some -- there are a lot of red flags on that e-mail as you pointed out. And, you know, it`s sort of like fishing 101, you don`t open a fake Gmail account.

You don`t send something to that. You know, the name didn`t match where the address was from and so this is the person who`s supposedly in charge of checking to make sure our election was honest and fair, and it`s pretty scary.

MADDOW: I know that it sort of deepened the letter, whoever wrote this letter to you if it is for the person running the audit for these legislative Republicans. The letter asks you to pass this onto the municipal clerks, the town clerks throughout Dane County and presumably all are asked to pass this onto the clerks to preserve their records and this information as well.

I have to imagine you`re not comfortable do doing that given the kind of advice you got about it security wise about not even responding to it yourself.

MCDONELL: Right. The thing is it didn`t really ask for anything. And honestly the things he was sort of saying we should preserve the municipal clerks don`t have. All these records reside with county. He first made this request to the Wisconsin election commission thinking they had this data and they said, no, this is at the county level.

Then he sends an e-mail apparently to county clerks saying and if the municipal clerks have it, well they wouldn`t. So he really needs to spend more time or hire more people with how elections are run in the state.

MADDOW: It does sound like the records he`s asking for betray a fundamental lack of understanding how elections are run in the state. Is that fair?

MCDONELL: Right, and he references improving the voting machines. The voting machines really are dumb terminals, Rachel. They really don`t have any information on them. We code in election media basically a thumb drive that goes into those DS200s and that`s into that stick and brought back in our office. There`s nothing on those machines.


He could have asked someone and found that out.

MADDOW: An inauspicious beginning for what I imagine is going to become an inauspicious process as it goes on. Scott McDonell, county clerk for Dane County, Wisconsin, which is one of my favorite places in the whole country -- thank you for your work in elections administration, and I`m sorry for this additional hassle you are having to deal with. Thanks for being with us tonight.

MCDONELL: Thank you, Rachel.

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


MADDOW: As you know, it is election night in California tonight, voters deciding whether or not to recall Democratic Governor Newsom. The polls in California close in just a little over an hour.

We do have the first batch of exit poll data from California voters today, and that -- again, it is just exit poll so a big grain of salt, but what we found there actually looks quite good for Governor Newsom surviving the recall. An exit polling on his handling of COVID in California, 45 percent said they thought Newsom`s policies were about right.


Another 17 percent on top of that actually said his policies weren`t strict enough. Only 32 percent said that Newsom`s policies were too strict. Support was even stronger for mask requirements in schools, 69 percent of California recall voters saying on the exit polls they support a state requirement for kids to wear masks in schools. Only 26 percent opposed to that.

Again, these are just exit polls, giant grain of salt. But if this recall is supposedly a referendum on the way Governor Gavin Newsom has dealt with the COVID crisis, at least the early exit polling today seemed like a very positive sign for the governor. That did not look like an electorate that was electrified to get out and vote Newsom out because they were against masks or something.

MADDOW: We actually before we got on the air tonight went to Steve Kornacki, our election guru, and asked what we should watch for as the night goes on. He told us this, which I think is instructive and helpful for the rest of the night. He said, quote, we`re going to learn a lot very quickly as soon as the polls close in California.

Most of the voting is done by mail and has been coming in for weeks. The counties are allowed to count that vote in advance and just about all of them will release everything they`ve counted so far within minutes of the polls closing. It, therefore, won`t be that long after 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time until we learn a lot about where this is going.

Again, the election -- excuse me, the votes have been coming in by mail for weeks in most parts of California. Elections boards are allowed to count those votes when they come in, they`re just not allowed to say what`s in them, what the results are, until the polls close. The polls close in about an hour.

Steve Kornacki will be on live with Lawrence O`Donnell at the top of the next hour and we will be living covering that as the results come in all night. Watch this space.


MADDOW: The polls close in California in about an hour. California voters deciding whether Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, who should replace him?

MSNBC`s special coverage begins here now as we wait for those results to come in at the top of the hour. Our live coverage will continue throughout the night. It all starts now as we go to "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.