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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 10, 2020

Guests: Jamie Raskin, Peter Hotez, Lisa Rein

Summary

Interview with Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. MSNBC's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. The Veterans Affairs inspector general informed federal prosecutors this fall of possible criminal conduct by V.A. Secretary Robert Wilkie, stemming from an investigation to whether he worked to discredit a congressional aide who said she was sexually assaulted.

Transcript

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": You have a child, is that right, Erie?

ERIE MEYER, FATHER PASSED AWAY FROM COVID COMPLICATIONS: Yeah, I've got a 10-month-old baby.

HAYES: And did -- did your dad get to -- get to hold your baby?

MEYER: Nope. They got to meet once through glass. He never got to hold him.

HAYES: I am so, so, so sorry for your loss. He really sounds like a stupendous and important, wonderful person, and I really appreciate you taking time to share a little bit of his life with us here. Our deepest condolences. Thank you. Thank you so much.

MEYER: Thank you.

HAYES: All right. That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

For those of you celebrating, happy first night of Hanukkah. For those of you celebrating the other big holiday, Taylor Swift album day, enjoy that as well. We celebrate both in my household.

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

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Amazing show tonight, Chris. And thank you, my friend. That was stunning. All right.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I'm happy to have you here. There's a lot of news going on right now.

I will tell you it's like the good old days or the bad old days. It's like the old days. What we had planned for this hour of this show has been shredded and reinvented several times this evening, including a couple of times just in the past couple of hours. It has been a day. But that's only because there is lots to get to and lots going on.

Congressman Jamie Raskin is going to be joining us tonight. He is an accomplished constitutional lawyer and law professor in his own right. He is also, as a member of Congress, on the Judiciary Committee.

And tonight with things getting slightly nutty in the Republican effort to somehow try to use the courts to overturn the presidential election and install the loser instead of the winner of that election as the next president, we called Congressman Raskin tonight on short notice to help us with some of these latest developments here.

I will tell you we're going to get into this in detail, but those latest developments involve, among other things, the FBI turning up at the office of the Texas attorney general to serve a federal subpoena on him. The Texas attorney general is the guy who has brought this case to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to overthrow the election on the president's behalf. Turns out dude has some -- has his own very serious legal problems back home, and his personal legal problems and this Supreme Court case he's waging on behalf of the president, those two things may be related, like related closely enough that for health reasons perhaps, those two kissing cousins should not be allowed to get together and reproduce. As I said, we will have more on that coming up in just a moment.

We will also be talking this hour about the pivotal, historic decision to green light the first vaccine against the coronavirus in the United States. This is the Pfizer vaccine, which is already being administered this week in the U.K. This is the vaccine that Canada just approved yesterday. The outside independent panel that advises the FDA on vaccine safety and efficacy, they voted today that the FDA should approve this vaccine. It was not a unanimous vote, and we'll get some expert advice on how to interpret that part of this in just a moment.

But it's worth noting that this isn't -- this isn't just the Trump FDA that came to this recommendation about the vaccine today on their own. After all, the Trump White House has pressured the FDA to do dumb and anti-scientific things throughout the coronavirus crisis, just as they have pressured and corrupted the CDC and any other government agency working on coronavirus that they've been able to get their claws into.

Because of the White House pressure on the FDA and how the FDA has sometimes caved to that during this pandemic, the fact that there is an outside panel that advises the FDA on this crucial question about this vaccine is -- is good. That's good news.

And it's the kind of people who you want making this decision. It's like the editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, the most influential medical journal in the world. He himself is an esteemed infectious disease doctor associated with Harvard Medical School.

Also, there's the researcher from the University of Pennsylvania who actually invented the rotavirus vaccine. Rotavirus vaccine is currently in use around the world. It is on the global list of essential medicines. It saves literally hundreds of thousands of lives per year. The guy who invented that vaccine is on this panel advising the FDA on the safety and efficacy of the coronavirus vaccine.

Also, the University of Iowa researcher who is not just a world-renowned virologist. They've got several of those on this panel. He's actually a world-renowned corona virologist, which means he doesn't just study viruses. He specifically studies coronaviruses. He has been studying coronaviruses for nearly 40 years.

He's one of less than a dozen working corona virologists in the entire world. He's at the University of Iowa. He is on this panel that voted today to affirm the safety and efficacy of this coronavirus vaccine for use in the United States.

So I'm just -- it's just worth knowing that this advisory panel making this decision is for real. I know that Donald Trump is still president, but this is not one of those things where they like gave Jared one of the jobs or Don Jr. or Ivanka or whatever. Like this is the real deal.

So much so that if you, like me, tried to follow along today in the advisory panel's long, long, long public meeting while they reviewed the evidence and listened to the -- and debated the pros and cons of the vaccine today and talked about their vote and talked about the grounds on which they were going to make their vote -- if you tried to follow along with this public meeting today about the vaccine, you might have felt a little snowed under by the high-grade science talk. I certainly did.

You know, but right. Yes, that seems appropriate. That's not only who should be making these decisions. It's how decisions like this should be made as well.

So, we're going to get some expert help, as I said, tonight on what we should make of that decision by that very high-level scientific expert panel that gave the FDA the advice that they should approve this thing today. And what we should expect at the start of the vaccine rollout. The FDA will follow that advice, and the vaccine will be approved, and the vaccine shots, the actual injections will start rolling out very soon. We'll get expert advice on what to expect about that now as this starts to move quickly.

But it's not moving quickly enough for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who we've lost already to COVID. According to the COVID tracking project numbers, today was the second straight day in which we had more than 3,000 Americans die in one 24-hour period, 3,000 Americans dying in -- today, 3,067 Americans dying.

That's more than double the number of people who died in the sinking of the Titanic, right? But that's just today. And we're getting more than 3,000 deaths each day for multiple days now.

You wouldn't know it from the behavior of the White House and the president. The president is hosting a congressional ball tonight at the White House, indoors. Nobody's really expecting them to have people wear masks or socially distance. Why not?

They didn't last night at the packed indoor White House Hanukkah party where the president talked about how he's going to win re-election. People also didn't wear masks or socially distance for the most part at the 200-person State Department indoor party. That was the night before last as well.

The president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, got out of the hospital today, bragging that he had received the exact same drug cocktail as the president, and he feels great. He attributed his ability to get those drugs, to get in particular the rare super expensive monoclonal antibody treatment that he says he received -- he attributed that to the fact that in his words, he's a, quote, celebrity.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also bragged that when he got COVID, President Trump personally intervened to make sure that Secretary Carson would also get this expensive monoclonal antibody treatment that the president got but that nobody else seems to be able to get their hands on.

This is the headline in "The New York Times" now. Quote, Trump and friends got coronavirus care many others couldn't. Rudy Giuliani becomes the latest in President Trump's inner circle to boast about the treatment he received for COVID-19 as hospitals across the country ration care.

According to "The Times," quote, some top officials at the FDA, both career officials and political appointees, have privately expressed concern that people with connections to the White House appear to be getting access to these antibody treatments. The treatments are so scarce that officials in Utah have developed a ranking system to determine who is most likely to benefit from the drugs. In Colorado, they're using a lottery system for access to these drugs.

The scarcity is such a problem that the National Academy of Science is holding a session next week to help medical professionals' sort through rationing questions.

Quote: Mr. Giuliani appeared unaware of the scarcity issues, telling interviewers that politicians have taken masks and business closures too far now that COVID-19 is, in his words, quote, a treatable disease. For him, it was treatable. It's treatable maybe if you can get these magical elixirs that aren't available to the general public and that the president reserves for his friends while nobody else can get it and while more than 3,000 Americans each day are now dying from this thing without access to those kinds of treatments.

Today, Congressman Jim Clyburn released witness testimony from a senior career scientist at the CDC. According to her testimony, she was directed by Trump's appointed CDC Director Robert Redfield, to delete an email from a Trump appointee. This was a misspelled email sent in multiple different font colors using weird language. But it was from a Trump appointee, and it demanded that the CDC change its scientific findings about COVID transmission among kids.

The Trump appointee wrote to CDC scientists, quote: This is designed to hurt the president. They CDC, comma, work for him.

This guy was a Trump appointee. He's since been fired. He used to be an assistant professor at a small Canadian college which now disowns him. For some reason this guy was brought in by the Trump administration to review all the COVID-related work of the CDC and to demand changes to CDC scientific findings however he saw fit because he was an unemployed former assistant professor from a small Canadian college?

What was he doing there in the first place is a question for the ages? But this particular wackadoo email from him demanding that the CDC change or withdraw its scientific reports on transmission -- I mean it's one thing for Trump appointees to be sending stuff like that. But it's actually a federal crime to tell federal employees to destroy the evidence that that document exists by deleting that email.

Congressman Jim Clyburn and his oversight committee on COVID issues say that's exactly what happened at the CDC. They are on it. Clyburn is demanding an explanation from the CDC Director Robert Redfield and also from Alex Azar, Trump's outgoing secretary of health and human services.

Imagine you're the incoming secretary of health and human services, right, or the incoming director of the CDC, knowing this is what you're going to have to clean up. I mean it's one thing to be taking over the most important agencies in the country in charge of handling this -- this gigantic pandemic that is this out of control with a new vaccine to administer, 3,000 Americans dying, and 15 million people infected and all the rest of it, right? But then to know that on top of that, you're also going to be cleaning up inside those agencies from this experience of the past four years in which all the career experts and scientists in these crucial agencies have spent the past four years of this administration having to answer to, like, literally rando, nobody, unemployed professors who write to them in multicolored ink saying this is designed to hurt this president. Rescind the guidelines, tooth sweet, because I had said so. I've been appointed by the Trump administration to ride herd on you science folk.

I mean, this is how Trump has run this part of the government. That is the most important part of the government for dealing with this pandemic that is killing thousands of us every day. This is how they've been running it. Then the director comes in and says, can we delete those emails? People who work at the CDC are like, officially no. Government records, you're not supposed to destroy them.

I mean, the Biden folks coming into these agencies, they're not going to be starting at square one. It's going to be a long time before we can even get to square one given what's happened there under the last four years.

Along these lines, "The Washington Post" now reporting on yet another Trump administration cabinet scandal as if there's time for just one more while they're on their way out the door. Turns out the Trump secretary of veterans affairs was referred to the Justice Department this fall for potential criminal prosecution.

This is from "The Washington Post." Quote, veterans affairs inspector general informed federal prosecutors this fall of possible criminal conduct by Secretary Robert Wilkie stemming from an investigation into whether he worked to discredit a congressional aide who said she was sexually assaulted. Despite that referral, though, quote, the Justice Department has not pursued a case against Secretary Wilkie.

We're going to have more on this story coming up in just a moment. But if this is sounding familiar, this is because this isn't the first time this has happened with a disgraced Trump cabinet official. Remember it was less than a freaking month ago that "The New York Times" reported basically the same thing about Trump's interior secretary, Ryan Zinke. It was just last month "The Times" reported that although Ryan Zinke was also referred to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution just like the veterans secretary was apparently, just like the veterans secretary, Bill Barr's Justice Department decided they would take a pass and not pursue those criminal charges.

Like I said, more on that coming up. But here's where we are in what appears to be the culminating effort by the president and by the Republican Party to try to throw out the election results and instead somehow install President Trump for a second term despite the fact that Joe Biden just beat him in the presidential election.

Again, all 50 states have now certified their election results. All 50 states have certified their election results. Joe Biden earned 306 electoral votes to only 232 for President Trump. You need 270 electoral votes to be president. Joe Biden will be sworn in as the next president 41 days from now.

But on earth two, the Republican effort to try to pretend that didn't happen proceeds apace with what seems to be renewed confidence or some other word I could use. The attorney general of Texas has brought a case to the Supreme Court that President Trump is calling, quote, the big one. He's telling his supporters that this Texas case, this case brought by the Texas attorney general, this will be it. This will be the way he gets the election results thrown out and gets a second term in office.

It's now been reported by multiple news agencies that President Trump has personally asked Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz if Senator Cruz will himself do the oral arguments at the Supreme Court if the court, in fact, takes up the case. Senator Cruz has reportedly said yes, he will.

Texas has now been joined by 17 other Republican state attorneys general, who are all joining forces with the Texas A.G. to tell the U.S. Supreme Court that the election results from four states that went for Biden should just be thrown out. They should just be nullified. The Electoral College vote shouldn't happen, and the vote in those four states shouldn't count.

In addition to that, it's now more than 100 Republican members of Congress -- I believe it's 106 of them -- who have now signed on to a friend of the court brief in this Supreme Court case in support of what the Texas attorney general and these other Republican states are asking from the court, which is to throw out the election results from Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all of which were won by Joe Biden.

The Republican congressman who whipped for signatures on that brief told all the Republicans in Congress when he was asking them to sign onto that thing that President Trump was, quote, anxiously awaiting the final list to review, meaning President Trump is watching to see if you sign onto this brief or not. You better sign on. And then more than 100 of them did.

The president himself tonight brought the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, and other Republican state attorneys general who are supporting this Texas case -- he brought them all to the White House tonight, presumably to thank them for supporting the Supreme Court effort and maybe, I guess, to strategize with them. Maybe they're just going to cough at each other in a tight, unmasked circle. Who knows what they do up there these days?

But while all of this is happening, while the four-defendant state who's are defending their elections from this attack, while they're filing their own defense to the Supreme Court, their defense against what Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is calling seditious abuse.

I mean, Shapiro replied to the court today, said the Trump campaign began with a series of meritless litigations. When that failed, it turned to state legislatures to overturn the clear results. Upon that failure, Texas turns to this court to overturn the election results of more than 10 percent of the country. Texas literally seeks to decimate the electorate of the United States.

He says, quote, Texas' effort to get this court to pick the next president has no basis in law or fact. This court should not abide this seditious abuse of the judicial process, seditious -- a seditious abuse of the judicial process and should send a clear and unmistakable signal that such abuse must never be replicated. The seditious abuse.

So, while Texas has brought this thing and the four defendant states are defending themselves against this attack in the court, right? Seventeen Republican-led states have joined with the Texas attorney general on this thing, right? The president is calling this the big one. The Supreme Court, which has six conservative judges, three Trump appointees out of nine on the Supreme Court, they're deciding what they're going to do even though on its face, this case is totally cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

I mean, that's all happening, and this sort of spring in the step by the Republicans and by the president, who really thinks this is going to work. Ted Cruz is going to argue it. My justices in the Supreme Court are going to deliver this to me. This is enough of a show of Republican force. More than 100 members of Congress, 18 states on this thing. We're going to do it.

But look, back home at what is going on with Ken Paxton. Ken Paxton is the Texas attorney general who brought this thing, who as I speak is being wined and dined at the White House for his troubles. Here's the headline in "The Austin American Statesman" tonight.

Headline: FBI agents seek Texas attorney general records in Paxton probe. Quote, federal agents served at least one subpoena yesterday on the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in an ongoing investigation into allegations that Paxton abused his authority by helping a friend and campaign donor. Three sources confirm to the American statesman and KVUE-TV that FBI agents delivered the request for information to the agency's headquarters on West 14th Street. Again, the subpoena served yesterday on Paxton's office.

Quote: The issuance of a federal subpoena on a state agency and especially involving the state's top attorney is a highly unusual move that likely would have required higher-level approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. Quote, it came as Paxton has received national attention this week after filing a lawsuit to overturn presidential election results in four battleground states won by President-elect Joe Biden. The visit from federal agents came one day before Paxton was among a dozen state attorneys general to go to the White House to meet in person with President Donald Trump.

So the guy leading this effort, the state attorney general in Texas, is himself apparently under FBI investigation for serious charges levied against him by people in his own office that he has corruptly used the power of his office to aid his campaign donors. He's also under indictment on state charges in a totally unrelated matter, but the FBI is now investigating him in what appears to be a federal criminal probe. The FBI served subpoenas on his office in Austin yesterday, and that is the kind of thing that takes high-level Justice Department approval, the kind of thing for which a guy like Ken Paxton might want a little high-level federal relief. Perhaps a pardon?

Did I mention he was at the White House tonight because of this big Supreme Court case he's bringing to try to overthrow the election and install Donald Trump for a second term?

Joining us now is Congressman Jamie Raskin from Maryland. He sits on the all-important Judiciary Committee.

Congressman Raskin, it's really nice of you to take time to be here tonight. I know you're celebrating the holidays with your family. I really appreciate you taking the time.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): I'm delighted to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about what I sort of loosey-goosey described there as a spring in the step on the Republican side about this Supreme Court case. When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed this suit, it was greeted with a round of laughter coast to coast in terms of the actual claims in this case.

But the Republican sort of partisan show of force behind it would seem to give lie to that initial, I think, rejection that this was even a serious thing.

RASKIN: Well, that's all theater just to keep the fund-raising going. They're making tens of millions of dollars a week shaking down the political apparatus for this. But as a matter of law, after dozens of cases have been rejected in every federal and state court to look at all of these allegations of fraud, this is by far the most absurd and nonsensical and indeed sanctionable case that's been brought yet.

You know, there's no standing on the part of a group of states to interfere in another state's election process to try to get the Supreme Court to order the electors to do something. There's obviously no precedent for that, but there's no standing because there's no injury to those states. It's a totally political question, which means it's non-justiciable, which means it can't go to court. It's up to the states to decide the manner of appointment of electors through the legislatures and through their own constitutional systems.

And it's not up to the Supreme Court. It's not up to these other states. And they've not asserted any valid constitutional claim. There's no cause of action. They're not saying what rights of theirs are being violated in any way.

And the relief for this nonexistent violation of the rights of these state attorney generals is absolutely outlandish. They're talking about disenfranchising tens of millions of people under existing electoral systems decided upon by the state legislatures under their power under Article 2.

And they're disenfranchising them, why? There is no evidence of fraud in any of these states. All of the claims of fraud have been thrown out in every state and federal court to look at it. So, their claim is really a hypothetical claim that by allowing, for example, more absentee ballots or by moving to direct mail-in balloting, there might be fraud at some point.

It's a completely hypothetical claim, the type that the Supreme Court just makes mincemeat out of on a regular basis. So, there's nothing there. This is just a political command performance by the president, and it's a statement about the absolute degradation of the Republican Party that they all line up like lemmings and get in line and, you know, walk the plank with the president.

MADDOW: Congressman, if you're right about how the Supreme Court is going to view this, if they're going to make mincemeat of this the way they would have any similar claims the way you're describing, do you think that will -- do you think that will be sort of final? I mean, the president is talking about this as the big one. There is this huge Republican show of force. The idea that Senator Cruz is personally going to argue this at the Supreme Court takes it up and wants oral arguments.

If they -- if this is their big swing and the Supreme Court shuts it down the way they shut down the Pennsylvania case that got to them earlier this week, do you think that essentially will be the last act?

RASKIN: No, it won't be the last act because the last act is going to take place, let's hope, on January 6th when Congress meets in joint session under the 12th amendment of the constitution. We receive the electors that are being -- the electoral votes that are being cast on Monday. We will receive them.

They're brought before the Congress in joint session. The Senate president, who is the vice president of the United States, Pence, will be presiding. And at that point the president's next move is he's trying to get Republican members on both sides, on the house side and the Senate side, to object to the counting of electors coming in from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Georgia and Michigan, the swing states that they're upset about.

And if they can indeed get a bicameral objection filed by members under the Electoral Count Act, the House and Senate will have to resolve separately into our chambers to consider the basis of their objection. And undoubtedly there will be lots of flowery Giuliani-style rhetoric about fraud and corruption and nonsense with no evidence behind it. The House will undoubtedly vote to reject this objection. It's unclear what the Senate will do. If both houses reject it, it's over. If there's a split between the House and the Senate, under the Electoral Count Act, it goes to the certificate of ascertainment of the governor of the state where the objection is brought against.

So, fortunately I think the governors of all those states will stand by the legitimate constitutional process, the election process of Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Georgia, as the officials both Democratic and Republican in those states have been standing by the formal electoral process. You know, there are these farcical dimensions to the whole thing, but it's really rather terrifying that so many elected officials would take a stand against the democratic processes that we have under our Constitution.

And it does demonstrate some real vulnerabilities in our electoral system, which fortunately I think are not going to topple our democracy in this election, but there are real vulnerabilities that we're going to have to deal with going forward. I think, you know, Rachel, I introduced the first national popular vote legislation when I was a state senator in Maryland, and I've been fighting for the national popular vote interstate compact, and it's a way to get beyond the Electoral College with all of its defects and all of its vulnerabilities.

MADDOW: Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, member of the House Judiciary Committee and a constitutional law professor for all of us, thank you for actually making that more clear than anybody else who I have heard explain this process yet. That was fantastic. Thank you, sir. It's good to see you.

RASKIN: Totally my pleasure, Rachel. See you soon.

MADDOW: All right. Thank you.

Much more here tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In the end, it came down to this question. Based on the totality of scientific evidence available do the benefits of the vaccine outweigh its risks for use in individuals 16 of age and older?

Shortly after 5:30 Eastern Time tonight, this outside, independent panel that advises the FDA on vaccine safety, they answered that question. They voted yes, and that paves the way for the FDA to give emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in the U.S. the final green light from the FDA could come within days, if not sooner.

I should note, though, that while the approval vote from the advisory committee was an overwhelming vote, it wasn't unanimous. The vote was 17 in favor to 4 against with one member abstaining. And none of the members of the advisory panel had an opportunity to explain their votes, but at least two of the no votes had specifically objected to including 16 and 17-year-olds in the authorization.

They argued in part that very few people in that age group had participated in the vaccine trials, so that was one thing they were concerned about. But nevertheless, the vote was 17-4. The Pfizer vaccine has now crossed this critical hurdle. The FDA should follow the advice of this panel. That means things should start moving quickly.

Within 24 hours of the FDA giving its sign-off, Pfizer says it plans to ship roughly 2.9 million doses within the U.S. each state's allocation of that 2.9 million will be based on its population size. And then there will, of course, be other shipments thereafter.

But there are worries on the horizon already about supply. Once Pfizer delivers the first 100 million doses within the U.S., that's enough to vaccinate 50 million people, the country might not get another batch until next June, and that's because the Trump administration last summer inexplicably decided to pass on an offer to secure more doses and other countries snatched them up instead.

As "the Washington Post" explained this week, quote, the E.U., the European Union and Japan have both staked claim to an even larger portion of Pfizer doses than the U.S. has. Americans will have to wait as those countries receive shares of their initial orders while supplies remain limited.

Even on good news day, nothing -- nothing comes easy.

Joining us now is Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital. He's dean of the national school of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Hotez, it's an honor to have you back. Thank you for making time.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE AT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Thanks for having me, Rachel. Happy Hanukkah.

MADDOW: Happy Hanukkah to you. Thank you.

Let me ask by -- let me start by asking you if I'm talking about the right things when it comes to this approval by this FDA panel today. I'm interested in the vote, that it wasn't a unanimous vote. I'm interested in the fact that this is a very esteemed, independent panel outside the FDA advising them.

What do you think it's important for people to understand about this part of the decision?

HOTEZ: Well, I think it's really important to remember that we've never done this before. We've never done an emergency use authorization for a vaccine that's given to a large segment of the U.S. population, potentially up to two-thirds of the U.S. population or more. So there's not a lot of precedent to go on.

And remember the reason why we have to do this. The Trump administration never led a national response to COVID-19, and we're now at 3,000 deaths per day and climbing, and we could be looking at 300,000 deaths Americans will lose their lives by next week, 400,000 by the inauguration, which is about the number of American GIs lost in World War II, and the numbers will climb from there.

So, that really backed us into a corner in the sense that the scientific community, we had to put all our eggs in the biotechnology basket. We now have to vaccinate our way out of this. We didn't necessarily have to get there, but here's where we are now.

So as a consequence, how do you now balance what has been a very robust licensure process? The FDA probably has the greatest single track record on the planet in terms of releasing safe and effective vaccines for the public, a tried and true approach, that usually uses at least a year of follow-up safety and data and efficacy data, and realize that if we were to do that, the loss of American lives would be absolutely staggering. You do the math, 3,000 deaths per day times almost a year, it's almost inconceivable.

So that necessitated doing this emergency use authorization, and so I think the FDA's been really threading a needle really well. I think Steve Hahn has really rebounded well in working with Peter Marks, the head of CBER. They really worked together in this very productive way with the scientific community to as closely approximate the full licensure process as possible through this emergency use authorization without compromising safety.

So I know that's a bit of a long history to this, but that's the basis for it. And the 17-4 vote, I think you appropriately pointed out, we don't know all the four votes, but it looks like there was some dissent about vaccinating the 16- and 17-year-olds. What's a little odd is usually during these deliberations, the FDA, you know, often likes to have more of a consensus. Sometimes they, you know, can change things -- change things up during the process, but that didn't happen.

But, again, it's a testament to the transparency of the process, and it was very robust, and I'm really excited.

MADDOW: Dr. Hotez, briefly do you expect that robust process to now be applied in a sort of parallel way to the other vaccine candidates that are out there? Do you think that we'll be looking at some of those vaccines coming to market and getting into people's arms in fairly short order?

HOTEZ: Yeah, we have to, Rachel, because there won't be -- I don't think we'll have enough mRNA vaccines to do this all with mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. We're going to need around four to five vaccines to get to 60 percent to 70 percent of the U.S. population vaccinated. And that 60 percent to 70 percent number comes from several groups, including ours. These are based on mathematical models that we conducted with the City University of New York to say that's the percentage of the U.S. population that needs to be vaccinated in order to interrupt virus transmission.

Remember, we want the vaccine to do two things. One, we want it to keep us out of the hospital and the ICU, and it looks like the performance of these vaccines in terms of efficacy are going to do that. But then, you know, we'd like to reach a point where enough Americans are vaccinated in order to actually stop virus transmission and get us out of this, and that's going to take longer.

A lot of things are going to happen. The stars are going to have to align in a number of ways. We're going to have to get 60 percent to 70 percent of the population vaccinated. That means having those clinical trials on kids and adolescents. So, we're working on that. It means having a communication strategy and it means also countering some pretty stiff resistance from the anti-vaccine movement in this country.

MADDOW: Dr. Peter Hotez, the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital. Dr. Hotez, it is always a real honor to have you here. Thanks for taking time to be with us tonight.

HOTEZ: Thank you. An honor, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks.

All right. We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: So, first, there was the Health Secretary Tom Price -- remember him? Who was forced out in Trump's first year for spending more than a million dollars in taxpayer money on private jets and government planes to ferry him around the world and to his Georgia resort property and his condo in Nashville.

Then Trump fired his V.A. secretary who appeared to have taken his wife on a ten-day European vacation at taxpayers' expense, although it's slightly disputed circumstances there.

Just a couple of months later, it was Trump's EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt who was under investigation for so many scandals that "The New York Times" had to publish a scandal guide just for Scott Pruitt when he finally resigned. The scandals included him renting a D.C. condo to live in at a wildly cheap rate. He rented it from the wife of an energy lobbyist who was lobbying Pruitt's agency.

He spent taxpayer money on a private secure phone booth in his office. Very "get smart", and a 24-hour security detail which he then tasked with getting his dry cleaning and tracking down his favorite moisturizer. He also used his staff to try to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise.

Then it was Trump's interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, who left in a cloud of investigations, including a suspect land deal with an oil executive. That investigation led the IG at the Interior Department to refer Zinke to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. We learned just last month that prosecutors wanted to file charges against Ryan Zinke in that case but senior Trump appointees at the top of the department told them they could not.

There was also Trump's Labor Secretary Alex Acosta who was forced to resign after it came to light when he was a federal prosecutor, he engineered a sweetheart plea deal for millionaire pedophile and Donald Trump friend Jeffrey Epstein. Acosta also got a pass from Bill Barr's Justice Department last month when a Justice Department investigation found that he and his fellow prosecutors had done nothing beyond having poor judgment when they gave a non-prosecution deal to Epstein despite credible allegations against Epstein that he had sexually abused dozens of girls.

So Trump interior secretary referred to the Justice Department for prosecution. Justice Department kyboshes the case. Trump labor secretary investigated by the Justice Department, no action taken, just bad judgment.

Now here we are tonight. The latest member of Donald Trump's cabinet to have possible criminal conduct reported to the Justice Department, turns out there's always time for one more even when they're on their way out. That story's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: There are only 41 days left in the Trump presidency. But apparently there is still time for one more scandal among the Trump candidate. This is the lead from "The Washington Post" sourced at three current and former federal officials last night.

Quote: The Veterans Affairs inspector general informed federal prosecutors this fall of possible criminal conduct by V.A. Secretary Robert Wilkie, stemming from an investigation to whether he worked to discredit a congressional aide who said she was sexually assaulted. Quote: the inspector general's outreach to prosecutors suggest the seriousness of the probe that has engulfed the secretary and his top political staff for almost a year.

That was the breaking news last night from "The Washington Post". Well, now, today, the inspector general report is out. It says a house staffer, a Navy veteran, reported a sexual assault at a V.A. hospital. But instead of investigating her claim, V.A. Secretary Robert Wilkie instead tasked a staff at trying to dig up dirt on her, trying to undermine her story, trying to get the press to hit pieces on her.

Although the I.G. told federal prosecutors some of what Wilkie did here could be criminal conduct. The Justice Department declined to pursue the case.

Joining us now is Lisa Ryan. She's a reporter with "The Washington Post", along with Spencer Hsu, broke the story.

Ms. Ryan, congratulations on breaking this news. Thanks for being here tonight.

LISA REIN, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Oh, thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: So one of the things you put, I think, in stark context in relief was that just on the face of it, having the I.G. outreach to federal prosecutors here, it suggested the seriousness of this probe, as you put it.

Can you just help us understand how unusual it is for the inspector general to reach out to federal prosecutors in an instance like this, particularly when it's about the cabinet secretary himself?

REIN: That's right. So, Rachel, as you said Inspector General Michael Missal who is responsible for oversight of Department of Veterans Affairs released this bombshell report today that showed Secretary Robert Wilkie and his senior staff were engaged in this smear campaign against this congressional staffer who worked on women's veterans issues. And they really just tried to dig up dirt on her when she said that she'd been assaulted at the V.A. hospital in the district.

So in the course of his investigation, Mike Missal, the I.G., discovered, that he felt that Wilkie had possibly perjured himself in his testimony to Missal's investigators and also that by tasking one of his public affairs people to pitch a story, you know, a kind of hit job story on the woman, that that was interfering with the underlying investigation into her claim she was assaulted.

So what I did -- what I'll say is this was not -- this referral was mostly as I understand it not necessarily to prosecute Wilkie but to get permission from federal authorities to allow the inspector general to compel the testimony of his staff because they had stopped cooperating completely in the investigation.

MADDOW: That is fascinating. My next question was going to be if this is going to be -- if this is going to end for Wilkie essentially? Being accused of perjuring yourself to investigators and interfering with an investigation of a serious matter, those are the kinds of things even a subsequent administration might potentially want to prosecute.

But it sounds like from what you just said, the effort here is just to be allowed to continue this investigation and speak to more V.A. employees.

REIN: That was my understanding. The inspector general, you know, felt strongly these criminal violations -- he was very concerned and alarmed about them. But I think he had a sense that from our sources that the U.S. attorneys office in the district who he talked to was not necessarily going to pursue criminal charges against Wilkie. Because as we know a lot of prosecutors, you know, get referrals from inspector generals. And they don't necessarily -- they decline to prosecute the case.

And that is what I'm virtually sure has happened here. I do not believe that Wilkie will be prosecuted. But the case that Missal released today is really a startling account of how the fastest growing group of veterans, you know, in the country which is women were really I think hurt by this case of this House staffer. You know, it was a really classic case of blaming the victim.

MADDOW: Uh-huh, literally almost textbook example of what that looks like and directed from the top.

Remarkable reporting.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: Yeah, that's right, exactly.

Lisa Rein, remarkable reporting, "The Washington Post" first reporting this with Spencer Hsu. Congratulations on this scoop and thanks for helping us put it into context tonight. I really appreciate it.

REIN: Thank you, Rachel. Thanks so much.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: One last quick note before I go. I'm going to be on "The Daily Show" tonight with Trevor Noah. I will warn you, there is a mention of crook on bush, also how to properly sand a wooden bench. It was an odd discussion but super fun.

I'll be on "Daily Show" tonight talking about my new book "Bag Man." I will see you there. I'll see you again here tomorrow night.

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

Good evening, Lawrence.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END

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