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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, August 13, 2020

Guest: Kyle Murphy


Michael Cohen releases new foreword of his new book about Donald Trump. Former U.S. intel official resigns over Trump administration's treatment of protesters.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: That's it for "ALL IN" on this Thursday night. Don't forget, you'll find me again on weekends, from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ali. Thanks, my friend.

Much appreciated. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here this Thursday night.

The book is apparently called "Disloyal," which is a good title. He tweeted out the picture of the cover of it today. You can see on the cover there is Michael Cohen's very family familiar face. You also see the prison bars, unsubtle, and the title, "Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump."

I think it's helpful to note at the outset that a federal judge ruled very recently that the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr basically concocted a false pretext to lock Michael Cohen back up in prison when the real reason that they locked him back up in prison was specifically to try to stop him from publishing this book.

I mean, you know, note to corrupt law enforcement figures of the future, or the present: if you're going to jail someone to try to stop their book from coming out, you better, A, succeed, or B, prepare yourself for the fact that in taking that kind of swing at somebody, you have just made a lot more people want to read that book. If for no other reason than to figure out why the president's attorney general would go through these kinds of acrobatics, illegally, according to a federal judge, to try to make sure this never saw the light of day. Boy, is there no better way in our culture to get people interested in something than to tell them they can't see it, to tell them it's too dangerous for them to lay eyes on it.

Well, we still don't have the whole book. But we do have what are apparently the first pages of it, the foreword. And here's some of it. "Disloyal," the foreword.

The president of the United States wanted me dead. Or, let me say it the way Donald Trump would. He wouldn't mind if I was dead. That was how Trump talked. Like a mob boss, using language carefully calibrated to convey his desires and demands, while at the same time employing deliberate indirection to insulate himself.

Driving south from New York City to Washington, D.C. on I-95 on the cold, gray winter morning of February 24th, 2019, en route to testify against President Trump before both houses of Congress, I knew he wanted me gone before I could tell the nation what I know about him. Not the billionaire celebrity savior of the country or the lying lunatic, not the tabloid tycoon or self anointed chosen one, not the avatar @RealDonaldTrump of Twitter fame, but the real real Donald Trump -- the man very, very, very few people know.

If that sounds overly dramatic, consider the powers Trump possessed and imagine how you might feel if he threatened you personally.

Heading south that day, I wondered if my prospects for survival were also going in that direction. I was acutely aware of the magnitude of Trump's fury aimed directly at my alleged betrayal. I was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses and I kept the speedometer at 80, avoiding the glances of other drivers.

Trump's theory of life, business, and politics, revolves around threats and the prospect of destruction -- financial, electoral, personal, physical -- as a weapon. I knew how he works because I had frequently been the one screaming threats on his behalf as Trump's fixer and designated thug.

Ever since I had flipped and agreed to cooperate with Robert Mueller and the special counsel's office, the death threats had come by the hundreds, on my cellphone, by emails, snail mail, in tweets, on Facebook, enraged Trump supporters vowing to kill me. And I took those threats very seriously. The president called me a rat and tweeted angry accusations at me as well as my family.

All rats deserve to die, I was told. I was a lowlife Judas they were going to hunt down.

I was driving because I couldn't fly or take the train to Washington. If I had, I was sure I would be mobbed or attacked. For weeks, walking the streets of Manhattan, I was convinced somebody was going to ram me with their car. I was exactly the person Trump was talking about when he said he could shoot and kill someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.

My mind was spinning as I sped toward D.C. For more than a decade, I had been at the center of Trump's innermost circle. When he came to my son's bar mitzvah, a generous gesture that I found touching, he told my then 13-year-old boy that his dad was the greatest and that, if he wanted to work at the Trump Organization when he grew up, there would always be a position for him. You are family, Trump said to my son, and I (EXPLETIVE DELETED) believed him.

Sitting in the green room in the morning of my testimony before the House Oversight Committee, I began to feel the enormous weight of what was about to happen. For some reason, after all that I had been through and all I had put my family and the country through, waiting in that room was the moment when the gravity of what was about to happen truly hit home. The United States was being torn apart, its political and cultural and mental wellbeing threatened by a clear and present danger named Donald Trump, and I had played a central role in creating this new reality.

To half of Americans, it seemed like Trump was effectively a Russian-controlled fraud who had lied and cheated his way into the White House. To the other half of Americans, to Trump's supporters, the entire Russia scandal was a witch hunt invented by Democrats, still unable to accept the fact that Hillary Clinton had lost fair and square in the most surprising upset in the history of American presidential elections.

Both sides were wrong. I knew that the reality was much more complicated and dangerous. Trump had colluded with the Russians but not in the sophisticated ways imagined by his detractors. I also knew that the Mueller investigation was not a witch hunt. Trump had cheated in the election with Russian connivance as you will discover in these pages, because doing anything, and I mean anything to win, has always been his business model and his way of life.

Trump had also continued to pursue a major real estate deal in Moscow during the campaign. He attempted to insinuate himself into the world of President Vladimir Putin and his coterie of corrupt billionaire oligarchs. I know because I personally ran that deal and kept Trump and his children closely informed of all updates, even as the candidate blatantly lied to the American people saying, there is no Russian collusion, I have no dealings with Russia.

The one thing I can say with absolutely certainty is that whatever you may have heard or thought about me, you don't know me or my story or the Donald Trump that I know. For more than a decade, I was Trump's first call every morning and his last call every night. I was in and out of Trump's office on the 26th floor of the Trump Tower as many as 50 times a day, tending to his every demand.

Our cellphones had the same address books. Our contacts so entwined, overlapping, and intimate, that part of my job was to deal with the endless queries and requests, however large or small, from Trump's rich and famous acquaintances. I called any and all of the people he spoke to, most often on his behalf as his attorney and emissary, and everyone knew that when I spoke to them, it was as good as if they were talking directly to Trump.

Apart from his wife and children, I knew Trump better than anyone else did. In some ways I knew him better than his family did, because I bore witness to the real man. In strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments he revealed who he really was, a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.

There are reasons why there has never been an intimate portrait of Donald Trump, the man, in part because he has a million acquaintances, and pals, and hangers-on, but no real friends. He has no one to trust to keep his secrets. For ten years, he certainly had me, and I was always there for him and look what happened to me.

I urge you to really consider that fact. Trump has no true friends. He has lived his entire life avoiding and evading taking responsibility for his actions. He crushed or cheated all who stood in his way. But I know where the skeletons are buried because I was the one who buried them.

When Trump wanted to reach Russian President Vladimir Putin via a secret back channel, I was tasked with making the connection in my Keystone Kop fashion. I stiffed contractors on his behalf, I ripped off his business partners, I lied to his wife Melania to hide his sexual infidelities and bullied and screamed at anyone who threatened Trump's path to power. From golden showers in a sex club in Vegas to tax fraud, to deals with corrupt officials from the former Soviet Union, to catch and kill conspiracies to silence Trump's clandestine lovers, I wasn't just a witness to the president's rise, I was an active and eager participant.

As you read my story, you will no doubt ask yourself if you like me or if you would act as I did. And the answer will frequently be no to both of those questions. But permit me to make a point. If you only read stories written by people you like, you will never be able to understand Donald Trump or the current state of the American soul.

More than that, it's only by actually understanding my decisions and actions that you can get inside Trump's mind and understand his world view. As anyone in law enforcement will tell you, it's only gangsters who can reveal the secrets of organized crime. If you want to know how the mob really works, you've got to talk to the bad guys. I was one of Trump's bad guys.

In these dangerous days, I see the Republican Party and Trump's followers threatening the Constitution which is in far greater peril than is commonly understood. I see them following one of the worst impulses of humankind, the desire for power at all costs.

Now, sitting alone in an Upstate New York prison, wearing my green government-issued uniform, I've begun writing this story longhand on a yellow pad. I've often written before dawn so not to be disturbed in my thoughts when my fellow inmates awoke. I had to report to the sewage treatment plant where some of us worked for a wage of $8 a month.

As the months passed by and I thought about this man I knew so well, I became even more convinced that Trump will never leave office peacefully. The types of scandals that have surfaced in recent months will only continue to emerge with greater and greater levels of treachery and deceit.

If Trump wins another four years, these scandals will prove to be only the tip of the iceberg. I'm certain that Trump knows he will face prison time if he leaves office. The inevitable cold karma to the notorious chants of "lock her up".

But that's the Trump I know in a nutshell. He projects his own sins and crimes onto others, partly to distract and confuse but mostly because he thinks everyone is as corrupt and shameless and ruthless as he is. It's a poisonous mindset I know all too well.

Whoever follows Trump into the White House, if the president doesn't manage to make himself the leader for life as he has started to joke about -- and Trump never actually jokes -- whoever follows him into the White House will discover a tangle of frauds and scams and lawlessness. Trump and his minions will do anything to cover up that reality, and I mean anything.

I have lost many things as a consequence of my decisions and mistakes, including my freedom, but I still retain the right to tell this story about the true threat to our nation and the urgent message for the country it contains.

It's signed Michael Cohen, writing at the time from Otisville Federal Prison in Otisville, New York.

Now, Michael Cohen was convicted of multiple federal felonies. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison. He was released from federal prison in Otisville to home confinement at his apartment in New York earlier this year because of the coronavirus epidemic.

Now, the White House is denouncing the book already. They put out a statement tonight calling it fan fiction, which means I don't really think they know what fan fiction is.

The book is called "Disloyal". It's not out yet, but we do have this first chapter of the foreword. I will tell you I do not know what he's talking about when he says in the foreword that he has evidence that Trump did collude with Russia. And that Trump cheated in the 2016 election, quote, with Russian connivance. We don't know what Michael Cohen means by that, but he says it is explained in the rest of the book.

I also don't know what Cohen means when he says he was tasked by Trump with putting him in touch with Vladimir Putin through a secret back channel. I don't know what that is.

I don't know what Cohen means when he references the sexual infidelities of the president about which he says he lied -- Cohen says he lied to First Lady Melania Trump. I don't know exactly when he means when he says he was a participant in tax fraud with the president although that one I think I may have an idea. I also don't know what he means by Trump's, quote, deals with corrupt officials from the Soviet Union. Again, I got some inklings there, but I don't know what details Michael Cohen has and what he's going to spell out.

Nor can I illuminate you on what Mr. Cohen might mean when he uses the phrase "golden showers in a sex club in Vegas." I mean that one I could -- I could -- I could try to illuminate you as to what that means, but frankly I would just -- even if I knew, I would prefer to just wait for the book. I would rather do that in somebody else's words.

Michael Cohen, after he was let out on home release because of the coronavirus epidemic, briefly he was locked back up again. The Justice Department said that he had somehow defied or violated or refused to agree to the conditions of his home confinement.

There's a lot of confusion about what happened there. He hired new lawyers who brought a lawsuit to allege that this was misbehavior by the government and that he should, in fact, be put back out on home confinement. A federal judge ruled that the justice department actually did lock Michael Cohen back up to try to stop him from publishing this book.

And the judge ordered him freed once again, and so Cohen is back out on home confinement. And as far as we can tell from the public proceedings in his case, Mr. Cohen and the Justice Department and effectively the judge are still negotiating as to how much Michael Cohen can speak publicly from his position now as a federal prisoner who is on home confinement.

We don't know how much public-facing stuff Michael Cohen is allowed to do. Like, for example, interviews. As far as we can tell, the judge does not appear to have given him explicit and specific permission to release this part of his book today. But Cohen has done so, and so I guess -- I mean watch this space.

If he is allowed by the court to speak on the record in an interview, I will assure you I will try to be the one who gets that interview. Think good thoughts for me. Cross your fingers.

But I mean, again, as he says, whatever you think of him as a man and whatever you think of his previous involvement in Donald Trump's life and, as Cohen describes it, his misbehavior, if you can step away from him as a personality, the Cohen story really is nuts as a story of our country and this presidency and the rule of law, right? I mean, it seems crazy when Cohen is warning that the president isn't joking when he says he wants to be ruler for life.

It seems crazy that Cohen is warning that, you know, Trump will scuttle the election or refuse to leave office if he loses the election. That's crazy stuff. But how much more crazy is it than the rest of what Michael Cohen has actually experienced? I mean, he went to prison for multiple felonies. For more than one of those felonies, prosecutors identified the president as individual-1, who directed Cohen to commit those crimes and for whose benefit the crimes were committed.

We now know that since then, the president's attorney general and sort of new fixer, Bill Barr, personally went to the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, which had pursued that case against Cohen and prosecuted that case against Cohen. Bill Barr personally went to that prosecutor's office and pressured the prosecutors working on that case.

And after he pressured them, they ended up sitting on it for months and then closing the hush money part of it, the individual-1 part of it without bringing additional charges against anyone else involved in this scheme. The attorney general then shortly thereafter forced out the U.S. attorney in that office.

And then during the coronavirus pandemic, they used -- the Justice Department used the Bureau of Prisons, part of DOJ, to get Michael Cohen locked back up when he threatened to release this book, to the point where Cohen had to sue for his freedom, and he won, and the judge called out the Justice Department for having gone after him in that way to try to stop the publication of this thing.

So, yeah, it seems farfetched that the president might be, you know, preparing to try to stay in power by force or treachery against the election, right? It seems farfetched, but all of this stuff that really happened is farfetched. It's so farfetched it sometimes feels like bad fiction.

Sometimes, though, I feel like the news gods give us coincidant (ph), right? Simultaneous news stories that can illuminate one another. Sometimes I think they show us something on the other side of the world that helps us understand our own situation better, at least gives us a vocabulary to recognize, gives us patterns to recognize.

On the other side of the world this week, we have been watching a violent crisis unfold in a country called Belarus, where the authoritarian ruler in charge there got too blatant, too clumsy in stealing his re-election effort this time. He says he got 80 percent of the vote in that election. People love me, case closed. President for life.

The people know better about what he did, and the people of Belarus, after 26 years under this dictator, have been demonstrating for a fair count of their votes in this election and for him to step down. And he has responded by turning military force against the people of his country, the largest demonstrations there ever. More than 6,000 people detained, locked up already.

His security forces have shot live ammunition at protesters. They've beaten people in the streets. They have dragged innumerable people into unmarked police vans and driven them off to detention facilities. They've shut off the Internet. They've shut down a lot of the phone service in Belarus.

But among the images that have gotten out of the country, some of the most upsetting are actually not these terrible shots of violence that we've had. Some of the worst things we've seen are these images of distraught or numb families, mothers and fathers and family members standing outside police stations and interrogation centers and holding facilities, hoping to find their relatives, hoping to find their daughters and sons, and mothers and fathers who have been taken by Lukashenko's agents, snatched off the streets and nobody knows where they've gone.

And, you know, Belarus has a backwards economy very much linked to Vladimir Putin's patronage and in many ways still Soviet-style state-controlled entities. Even at state-controlled entities, we are seeing strikes and walkouts, at state-controlled factories and workplaces. We've seen women in all white peacefully flooding the streets, calling for the security forces to stop shooting, stop beating people. But what they're doing to people that they're taking inside these police stations and police vans, you know, these hostage-style videos of people who have been beaten and injured, obviously terrified, sort of in monotone renouncing their participation in the protests.

BBC News crews and others have captured video of holding centers in these unmarked vans where the visual part of the tape is essentially a static image. But what you can hear on the audio is people being beaten and screaming and begging for their lives. This is happening this week. This is Europe in 2020.

This is -- this is not a joke. This is not a game. This is happening right now. That country has got this terrible leader who has been in authoritarian control of that country and its economy for 26 years and he's pulling out all the stops to remain in power, and you see violent that very quickly becomes.

Authoritarianism means rule by force and not by law, right? If you have power, that's what entitles you to keep power under authoritarian rule, right? And corruption and authoritarianism always go hand in hand because if you rule by force and not by law, well, there's nothing to constrain you. There's no such thing as legitimate opposition to you, and there's no legitimate check or limit on your power within the government.

And so if you've got authoritarian control, you turn the power of the state to your own purposes, whether it's making you and your family and your staff and your cronies rich or whether it's using the power of the government that you control to ensure that nobody else will ever be allowed to replace you at the top. I mean, an example of that type of effort is to use the power of the prosecutors in your government, use the power of the Justice Department in your government to punish political enemies, to threaten political enemies, to bring trumped up investigations and prosecutions of your political enemies, and to reward and protect people who criminally cover up for you or do your dirty work.

President Trump in a new interview with Fox Business just chastised Attorney General William Barr for potentially being too politically correct to want to bring charges against the people who investigated the Russian attack on our last election to benefit him. He says he doesn't want Bill Barr to be too politically correct to do that. Bill Barr could be one of the greats if he'll just act. The president saying publicly he wants those charges brought effectively.

Using your current control of the government to stay in power could also take the form of sabotaging the Postal Service, right? Block access to voting in your re-election effort when your re-election effort is being held in the midst of an out of control pandemic, which means people may not be able to vote safely any other way than through the postal service.

The president, as of today, is getting very, very blunt about the fact that he really is messing with the Postal Service on purpose to prevent them from being able to handle ballots in the election. I mean that is farfetched, right? But that is happening.

On the issue of using the government to enrich yourself, we've got plenty of farfetched stuff there too, including an update on a story we've been covering for a couple of weeks now about President Trump directing his ambassador to the U.K., to tell the U.K. government they needed to move a golf tournament, the British Open, to the president's own golf club so the president could make money on it. That obviously is a corrupt use of his control of the U.S. government to personally enrich himself.

The ambassador conveying that information to the British government at the president's direction is also potentially a criminal act since it basically meets the penal code definition of the solicitation of a bribe. This is a serious thing.

Well, yesterday we received a long-delayed, long-awaited inspector general report on the U.K. embassy, and it included a sort of long discussion of misbehavior and inappropriate behavior by that Trump-appointed ambassador, and that's a whole other story. What's particularly of interest to me, though, is that that I.G. report on the U.K. embassy didn't include anything about this golf course thing, about the president telling the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. that the British government needed to line the president's own pockets.

What we have since learned is apparently that specific matter was handled separately. They did the inspection of the embassy, and we've now got public release of that inspector general report. It's not good in terms of the ambassador.

But the specific matter of the president telling the ambassador to get the British government to give him some money, we have since learned that that apparently is the subject of a stand-alone, separate investigation by the inspector general's office, an investigation of those allegations against the president and the ambassador who did this for him, an investigation that has somehow, poof, since it was reportedly completed in May, which is the same month that president Trump had that inspector general fired without explanation.

There is a reason there's no such thing as an ex-authoritarian leader, right? Ex-dictator is not a job title. There's no retirement plan for the, you know, Alexander Lukashenkas and the Vladimir Putins of the world. There's nothing else you can do after you've done that.

If you've spent your time in power, your years in power undermining and destroying the democracy institutions of your country, rendering all opposition criminal, corrupting all profitable enterprise in your country so that it instead feeds you instead of feeding your country's economy, if you've spent years in power defying any prospective transition of power away from you as a revolution or a coup that must be quelled with force, if you have used your time in office helping yourself to the spoils of state power -- well, practically speaking, then, you have to stay in power because if you ever left, unless some, you know, sympathetic or allied foreign power is going to spirit you away in the night and shelter you in exile, I mean, if you ever leave power, the people of your country are going to find out everything you did, and they're going to hold you to it, especially if some of what brought you to power and some of what you did in power constitutes clear criminal behavior.

I mean, it's -- it's nice, I'm sure, if you're president to have presidential immunity from prosecution. It's a sort of esoteric benefit of the presidency that most U.S. presidents don't use, never seriously need to contemplate using. But if you're individual-1, right, if you have been found as president to have committed crimes and directed the commission of crimes for which other people have gone to prison, then presidential immunity is the most important thing in your life.

And as Michael Cohen says in his new book, we now know that means you'll do anything to keep it, which means you'll do anything to keep yourself in power. And that has led some very serious people to start having some very serious discussions and arguments about what's about to happen here over these next 80 days and who has the responsibility to make sure it's done right. And that very sobering discussion is next.


MADDOW: There's a man named John Nagl, who is a respected army officer, combat veteran, very respected academic and counterinsurgency scholar.

At "Defense One" this week, John Nagl published this open letter, calling on the chairman of the joint chiefs to pledge to involve the U.S. military if necessary to ensure the transition of power to a new president in the event that this president is voted out but he tries to stand up some kind of private army, federal acts or some other kind of praetorian guard to try to keep himself in the White House.

John Nagl is a serious person, a serious scholar on these issues, somebody who have a ton of respect for. I don't actually know that I agree with him here in him asking the chairman of the joint chiefs to make this kind of a pledge. But I will tell you that piece and the fact that he felt compelled to write it scared the bejesus out of me this week.

And now, there's this. Kyle Murphy is a senior intelligence analyst at the U.S. Defense Department. He served from 2015 to 2017 as a director at the National Security Council in the White House. His time in the Security Council included overseeing the U.S. government's support for nine national elections in West Africa and the U.S. government response to multiple foreign coup d'etat attempts. Also, the U.S. government response to several foreign terrorist attacks.

Professionally, he knows dictators and authoritarian governments and governments. He knows it as an expert and as a national security professional, and he has just quit the Defense Department because of what he is seeing here now from this president.

Look at this. He says, quote, I left government -- excuse me. I left government service after more than a decade because I lost faith in the courage of the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to refuse unlawful orders from the president. The president has turned to other eager allies as well in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, who believe their components of the federal government can clamp down on dissent with a veneer of illegality.

In my years analyzing foreign, political and military decision making for senior policy makers, part of my job was to observe whether foreign governments protected their national security services from politicization and whether they committed abuses against their own populations. These are critical measures of the health of a democracy and failures not only disqualify countries from U.S. partnership but can also be a warning sign that a country may play a destabilizing role in the world.

Our laws enshrine a belief that a nation's security forces should defend, not undermine the core principles of democracy. Respect for this principle is one of the starkest lines dividing democratic and authoritarian leaders, and I see grave similarities between events in our country and the processes by which autocratic leaders have brought their countries to the brink of civil conflict and beyond. Each day, Trump's approach looks more like the autocrats I warned about as an analyst.

Senior defense intelligence analyst Kyle Murphy has now resigned from his position at the Pentagon with this as his statement of protest about why he did so.

Joining us now is Mr. Murphy, former senior analyst with the DIA. He also served at the White House at the National Security Council as director for West Africa.

Mr. Murphy, thank you very much for being here tonight. I really appreciate your time.


MADDOW: So I read your piece with great interest. It also resonated with me in a deep and scary way because I feel like what you are saying about why you resigned and what you are recognizing and what's going on in our country right now is very dark and is very serious and feels like a real warning. And I just wanted to ask if I'm -- if I'm taking you too seriously here, or if you actually mean this as gravely as it seems.

MURPHY: No, Rachel. I think you're right. I think this is that serious, and I think we need to be thinking about what's happening in our country the way that we often look at what happens in other countries. So in my personal case, as you said, I resigned because I lost confidence in the most senior Department of Defense leaders after they treated me and others who were demonstrating peacefully for racial justice like enemies.

Seeing they were unwilling to stand up to the president, I felt I needed to leave government, share what I was seeing and how similar it looked to other authoritarian states, and ultimately do everything that I could to prevent the situation from getting worse.

MADDOW: That's a remarkable story about you as a person and how personally you got to that place. I also feel like, though, you're sort of inviting us to tap your expertise as to what the solution is here.

When you talk about losing confidence in the military and in the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, potentially in the Justice Department, Homeland Security leadership as well in terms of whether or not they are standing up for democratic principles, they're standing up for what's right rather than just becoming a tool of the president, I feel like you're the kind of person I would ask about how we as citizens and we as a country correct for that. I think we all hoped there would be senior leadership in those entities in our country that would just do the right thing and that would form a barrier where the president couldn't cross and couldn't do things that aren't supposed to happen in our country.

If they're not a barrier, if they're not doing the right thing, how do we correct for that?

MURPHY: Sure. So as I mentioned in the piece in "Just Security", what I've seen in my work and looking at other countries is that the basics of participatory democracy are what's most effective in countering situations like this. This is massive voter turnout, citizen support directly for campaigns, and peaceful demonstrations that are part of enduring social movements that shape electoral politics.

There are several key things that all of us can do now and can help others to do, and that's register to vote, protect our voting process, organize our communities to support the leaders who value democratic institutions, and get every eligible voter to cast their ballot and make sure it's counted. These are things that when I look at other contexts and the places that I have worked on at the White House and before, this is what was effective in either convincing leaders who otherwise were going to or headed toward disrespecting the wishes of their people to change course or who had actively tried to subvert the will of their own people. These are the sorts of things that were effective in changing their minds or forcing their hands.

MADDOW: You mentioned about protecting our voting process. I've done a lot of coverage of voting rights issues over the years. We've never before had a national election in this kind of an environment with the kind of threats that you're describing where we all -- also a lot of us are also supposed to be getting our ballots and submitting our ballots through the Postal Service and where the president is now openly saying that he wants to deny resources to the Postal Service, and we're watching his handpicked leader of the Postal Service restructure it in ways that seem designed to make sure that that breaks.

Just in my inbox tonight since I've been on the air, I'm watching my own staff discussing these letters we're getting from multiple states including Pennsylvania and Michigan and Maryland where postal services are warning that under their plans for mail-in voting, with the changes that the president has instituted there, it's not going to work. That, I think, is causing despair in a lot of people because it doesn't feel like there are very many workarounds.

Are there examples from the international context or examples that you know of or principles to apply to talk practically -- that should guide us practically in terms of how we shore things like that up, how we come to the defense of institutions we need in order to keep our democracy working?

MURPHY: I think there are a few things. I think we rely on political leaders. At the present, we're talking about lack of confidence in political leaders, and our top political leader in the president signaling things that would undermine the key roles and institutions. So I think as citizens, as voters, as contestants in elections and as local communities, we need to stand up for these institutions. We need to bolster the roll of our apolitical civil servants of which I used to be one, and for which I have great respect for those people who remain in government doing this critical work.

We need to ensure that they know that we are counting on them to uphold the values of our institutions. We also need to be vigilant as we see things, like what's happening right now, that worry us. So for me as an intelligence analyst, if I look at our country as though I was looking at another country, while the indicators of authoritarianism have been present since very early on, we're talking disputing facts, delegitimizing opponents, demonizing the media, disrespecting institutions just to name a few, that was there early.

But what we're seeing now and since the spring truly is flashing red warning lights. Autocrats aren't the most creative men around. They're all drawing from a similar shallow well of self-interest, which means they often rely on the same tools, which can be quite predictable. But now the use of federal forces to disrupt protests, to silent Americans, to actively undermine the upcoming election by either floating the idea of delaying it or starting (INAUDIBLE) the resources that it needs, these are the kinds of things we would expect to see in authoritarian contexts abroad, and this is exactly when civil society needs to stand behind the institutions and the elements of government and also to peacefully express their will and to reject any idea that the results of our election and the sanctity of the election process could be challenged by the president.

MADDOW: That's helpful. I mean, seeing parallels abroad is scary, I think, for us as Americans. But it does also direct us to look for parallels and look for help abroad for anti-authoritarian movements, enduring social movements and tactics like you described that have been successful in seeing these guys out.

Kyle Murphy, former senior analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency -- I know a lot of people have left the government in one way or another because they felt like they couldn't stomach this. Very few have articulated their reasons in a way that's helpful to the rest of us understand. Thank you for doing so, and thanks for talking to us about it tonight.

MURPHY: Thank you for having me.

MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: I just mentioned some breaking news about what's going on with this ongoing story of the administration admitting now that they're trying to sabotage the Post Office before we all vote absentee by mail in this election because of coronavirus.

Today, the president really did just come right out and say that he's undermining the Postal Service and denying it funds so that they can't handle ballots for the election. Well, late tonight, "The Philadelphia Inquirer" has just reported this. Quote: The U.S. Postal Service has warned Pennsylvania that mail ballots may not be delivered on time to be counted because the state's deadlines are too tight for its delivery standards, casting fresh doubt on Pennsylvania's ability to conduct much of the 2020 election by mail. The warning came in a letter from Thomas J. Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president at the Postal Service, and it was sent to the Pennsylvania secretary of state.

It warned, quote, that certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service's delivery standards. Quote, this mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law won't be returned by mail in time to be counted.

We're now seeing reports of similar letters being sent to election officials in Michigan, also in Maryland. This is -- this is now a real crisis that is what we feared it was. The White House, the president is now admitting that's what he's doing on purpose. They are sabotaging the Postal Service to block them from being able to handle ballots for the election.

It appears to be getting worse by the hour now. The president of one local postal workers' union in Maine saying as many as 80,000 pieces of mail were left behind this week because of the new Postal Service policy to delay mail. He told "The Sun Journal" newspaper in Maine, that instead of waiting an extra 10 minutes for mail to be ready for distribution, trucks were directed to leave the Postal Service's processing center, which resulted in 80,000 letters being left behind.

"Vice News" today reporting that the United States Postal Service is removing mail-sorting machines from facilities all around the country without any official explanation or reason. Quote: In many cases, these are the same machines that would be tasked with sorting ballots.

According to "Vice", quote, even to local union officials, USPS has not announced any policy, explained why they are doing this, what will happen to the machines and the workers will use them, nor has management provided a rationale for dismantling and removing the machines from these facilities rather than merely not operating them when they're not needed.

Kimberly Karol is the head of the postal workers union in Iowa. She responded, quote, I'm not sure you're going to find an answer for why this is happening because we haven't figured that out either. She told NPR this week that, quote, mail is beginning to pile up in our offices and said that these sorting machines are being removed. She said she doesn't buy that these measures are being put in place to save money, instead saying, quote, I see this as a way to undermine public confidence in the mail service.

I'll tell you, we're going to have a lot to ask Kimberly Karol tomorrow. She's going to be joining us here on the show as we stay on this developing story.

Watch this space.


MADDOW: So the town of Bend, Oregon, is west of Eugene. It's a good ways southeast of Portland. Bend, Oregon, yesterday morning, local activists there got a tip from a friend that two men who live in Bend had been arrested, picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, by ICE.

And the activists didn't know who the men were. He didn't know why they were arrested, but he tracked them here to this hotel parking lot where ICE agents had loaded them onto these buss to take them who knows where. ICE wouldn't explain why they had detained these men.

The activist decided he would put his body in front of one of the buss to try to block them from driving these guys away. He put out a call on social media for other people to come join him. One by one over the course of the day, people started trickling in, and they joined him, putting themselves between the buses and the road.

By the afternoon, it was hundreds of people at this hotel parking lot in Bend. Turns out the two men who ICE had snatched off the street are guys who have lived in Bend for 15 years. They have families. They both have young kids who were born in the U.S. They were each on their way to work when they were grabbed off the street.

One reporter from Oregon public media who was on the scene said when the families of these two men arrived at the protest, they leaned against the sides of the bus. They begged the federal agents to give the men food and water. The two men detained on the bus were apparently not allowed to speak with a lawyer. They tried to communicate with the people outside by banging on the sides of the bus and yelling through the metal walls of the bus.

Protesters on the ground, you can see pressing their ears to the side of the bus trying to hear what the men inside were saying. Eventually the sun went down. The parking lot floodlights came on, and the protesters stayed. Those buses still were not able to pull away. The men had been detained and sitting there on the buses for close to 12 hours at this point as the crowd grew and grew.

And that is when federal law enforcement officers arrived in helmets and tactical gear. When they approached the buses, this is what they found -- hundreds of peaceful protesters with their hands in the air. According to reporters on the ground, it was more than 50 federal officers who then stormed that peaceful protest. They fired tear gas. They fired other projectiles. They reportedly starting grabbing protesters by their clothes and throwing them to the ground.

And amid all that chaos they created, federal agents slipped the detained men off of the white buses and got them into another vehicle and drove them away.

Today, lots of protesters returned to that same hotel parking lot in Bend, Oregon. They put flowers in the parking spaces where the white buses had been parked until late last night. They decorated the ground with chalk and wrote messages.

Lawyers have filed a motion to try to block the deportation of these two longtime Bend, Oregon, residents, but they remain in federal custody as of this evening.

I'll be right back.


MADDOW: That is going to do it for us tonight. I would love to tell you we're going to be watching closely tomorrow to see if there's going to be a relief bill passed through the Senate since all the COVID relief measures have expired. People really need help and need protection from getting evicted and need that boost to unemployment benefits.

But obviously we won't be watching for that tomorrow because the U.S. Senate left town today. They are adjourned until Labor Day, which is in September. They left with no deal in sight for any kind of coronavirus relief.

But we're going to be back with you tomorrow, even if Mitch McConnell and the U.S. Senate won't.

Now, though, it's time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL."

Good evening, Lawrence.


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