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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 11, 2020

Guests: Marc Elias, David Kessler, Marc Polymeropoulos


The conservative-dominated United States Supreme Court tonight slammed the door shut on the historic and unnerving effort by the sitting president and a significant proportion of his political party to have the court throw out the results of the presidential election. "The New York Times" is reporting that the FDA has just approved the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine tonight.


BRIAN FALLON, CO-FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DEMAND JUSTICE: Donald Trump is somebody that lost the popular by almost 3 million votes, who made three selections to the Supreme Court that were confirmed by Senate Republican majorities that represent even less than majority of the public and the country.

And I think that all these proposals go together. The idea of rethinking the Electoral College, eliminating the filibuster in the Senate, and adding states so that we increase the size of that chamber, and reforming the Supreme Court.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Democracy is the North Star here.

Brian Fallon, thanks so much for making time tonight.

That is "ALL IN" for this week.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Chris Hayes, your show tonight and your show last night were as good as any TV shows you have ever done. You are so -- you are doing such good -- no, seriously. You are doing such good work right now, and I'm learning a lot from your -- I'm learning more from your hour every night on TV than I'm learning from anybody else in TV news. You're just doing fantastic work.

HAYES: That's extremely kind, and I really appreciate it.

Happy Hanukkah, thank you very much.

MADDOW: Yeah. Thanks, my friend. Thanks, Chris.

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

You know, losing is one thing. That's bad enough, right? But losing like this, this ought to leave a mark for a long time. I don't know if it will, but it ought to.

Now, whether or not you consider this decision tonight to be a 7-2 decision or a 9-0 decision, bottom line is that the conservative-dominated United States Supreme Court tonight slammed the door shut on the historic and unnerving effort by the sitting president and a significant proportion of his political party to have the court throw out the results of the presidential election, to have the court throw out the votes of the states that carried the president's challenger over the top to a victory in that election, to instead keep President Donald Trump in power.

Now, on the face of it, as we have been talking about it since this Supreme Court case was filed, this challenge that was brought to the Supreme Court by the Texas attorney general and then joined by so much of the Republican establishment, on its face it was ridiculous. The court -- the case cited no proven instances of anything actually being wrong with the election in any of these states that found their election results under attack. There was no factual assertion that there was anything wrong in any of those states that should occasion the court taking this radical, radical remedy of effectively throwing out the results of the presidential vote in four states.

The complaint instead cited a made-up statistical analysis that asserted that somehow the statistical chances of Joe Biden winning this presidential election was -- I quote from the complaint -- less than 1 in a quadrillion. Hmm.

Well, you know, if you think about it, one in a quadrillion would be a very small chance, but less than one in a quadrillion? Wow, that's really something. How did you arrive at that?

At one point, the complaint said it was actually even less than less than 1 in a quadrillion. At least I think this is less. The complaint at one point says there was a 1 in many more quadrillions chance that Biden won this election the way that mainstream media says he won it in all those lame states, those terrible states that are all part of the plot, the conspiracy.

Well, the plot, the conspiracy apparently also, as of tonight, includes the three Supreme Court justices who Donald Trump himself put on the United States Supreme Court. They're all in on it. They're part of the conspiracy.

Neither Neil Gorsuch nor Brett Kavanaugh nor Amy Coney Barrett voted that this case challenging the election results should even be heard by the Supreme Court, let alone decided in Trump's favor. When I mentioned a moment ago that the vote was either unanimous -- it was either 9-0 or a 7-2 vote depending on how you look at it, here's what I mean by that.

What I'm showing on the screen is the actual order from the Supreme Court tonight slamming the door shut on this Republican effort to overturn the election. And you can see in the ruling, it's less than one page. You can see that Justices Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas set themselves apart from the other seven justices here.

They did that basically -- I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand it, they did that basically because Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas have this long-standing, already stated view that when states sue each other, the Supreme Court of the United States has to hear those cases. The court doesn't have a choice.

So, Alito and Thomas are saying in general, we think the Supreme Court has its hand forced here. We think we have to agree to hear any case like this that comes before us of. So Alito and Thomas say here in this part of the order that they would argue that the Supreme Court should actually hear the case. There should be arguments on the case. It should be argued in full in front of the court, not necessarily because of the merits of the case but just because they think the Supreme Court structurally has no choice but to say yes and hear a case of this type whenever states sue each other.

So if you hear people describing this ruling tonight as a 7-2 ruling, that's what they're talking about. Samuel Alito writing for himself and Clarence Thomas, those two justices say they would actually want to hear the case. They would actually want, you know, oral arguments and further briefing on the case.

But then look at what else they say. Again, the whole ruling -- the ruling from all the other judges -- the other justices and Alito and Thomas is less than a page. And look at this part from Alito and Thomas.

Alito says, quote, I would therefore grant the motion to file the bill of complaint, which means, I would say we should hear the case. But, he says, I would not grant other relief. I express no view on any other issue.

I would not grant other relief. What that means is that Samuel Alito is saying here, yeah, Justice Thomas and I think that we should have heard this case here at the Supreme Court. But we wouldn't have voted to do anything else that the plaintiffs here are asking for.

We would not grant other relief. And that's kind of the important bit. That's why some people are describing this not as a 7-2 ruling but actually a unanimous 9-0 ruling from the Supreme Court, because what President Trump and the indicted Texas attorney general and 17 other Republican-control the states and two-thirds of the elected Republican members of Congress in the House -- what all of them were actually asking the court to do, the relief they were actually asking for from the court was that they wanted the Supreme Court to issue an injunction blocking these four states that voted for Biden from actually casting their electoral votes on Monday when all the states cast their electoral votes. That is the relief they were asking for. They wanted an injunction.

And the answer from seven of the nine justices was get out of here, we're not even hearing this nonsense. You don't have standing to sue on these grounds. Alito and Thomas disagreed with that. But when it comes to the meat of the matter, whether the court would take action to block the states being sued here from casting their electoral votes on Monday, all of the justices were in unanimous agreement with that. No way, 9-0 on that point unanimously.

The court rejected president Trump and the Republicans' effort to monkey wrench the Electoral College process to stop Joe Biden from being elected when the Electoral College votes are cast on Monday.

The Electoral College meets on Monday. All 50 states and the District of Columbia, the electors will meet in state capitols and secretary of states' offices. In some cases they'll meet in governors' offices and in each of the 50 states and in D.C., those electors will formally cast their electoral votes. And those electoral votes will be formally conveyed to Congress.

And now we know that the United States Supreme Court will not stop them, will not stop that process. And it was a unanimous call.

And that marks both what ought to be the final legal defeat for this anti-democratic effort to have the courts override the election and reinstall Trump. It also, of course, marks the one-quadrillionth lawsuit that the Republicans have lost in a row. I'm rounding up to the next quadrillion here, but I'm sort of close.

That said, is this over? I mean from their perspective, effectively this is over, right? Joe Biden is going to get the electoral votes that are going to be cast on Monday. He's going to get enough to declare him president of the United States. They will be formally counted on January 6th. He will sworn in on January 20th. That will all happen.

What are the Republicans going to keep doing on earth two? I mean, the president and the Republican Party have raised on the order of a quarter billion dollars from their supporters just since the election, thumping this idea that somehow if enough, you know, old people and people on fixed incomes give enough recurring donations to Donald Trump, somehow that will make it that Joe Biden didn't just beat Trump handily and make Trump a one-term president. Somehow, just give more money, just sign up.

So maybe, you know, it's not just that Trump can never concede that he lost his re-election effort. It may very well be that the whole Republican Party can never concede that they're going to stop trying to override the election to keep Trump in power. They may need to keep up this -- this impression that they're fighting to do something that will eventually make Joe Biden not the next president just so they can keep taking money from people.

Just tonight, they started running a new ad demanding that Americans give more, more money -- more money, more money, more money. And call their state legislators to somehow make this election not have happened. They started running this now.

But the Supreme Court is not going to help with this fantasy, it turns out. Even with three Trump-appointed justices on the nine-member Supreme Court, three Trump-appointed judges plus Alito, plus Thomas, plus Roberts, it doesn't matter. The Supreme Court is not going to help here.

Tomorrow is the 20-year anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore. That was December 12th, 2000, when a bare majority of five conservative justices ruled on a narrow issue involving a recount of several hundred votes in Florida, a ruling that those justices insisted would cast no shadow. They said that ruling should never be cited as precedent as they handed the presidency to Republican George w. Bush instead of Democrat Al Gore.

Today, actually, is the 20th anniversary of the arguments being made before the court in that case. Tomorrow is the 20-year anniversary of the ruling in Bush v. Gore. But as bad as that ruling, Bush v. Gore, was for the country, we now know as of tonight it will not get a bookend these 20 years down the road from Bush v. Gore to Trump versus democracy.

Joining us now is Marc Elias. He's founder of Democracy Docket. He's a veteran Democratic voting rights attorney. He has played a key royal in the Biden campaign's legal effort to fight these bogus election challenges.

And he has been very busy. He's litigated over 60 post-election cases thus far.

Mr. Elias, thank you so much for making time tonight. I know you're probably exhausted. I appreciate you being here.

MARC ELIAS, DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS LAWYER: I am exhausted, but like all of us, I'm also breathing a huge sigh of relief, not that this was ever in doubt, but it's good to have it behind us.

And, Rachel, thank you for everything you've done to keep shining a light on this.

MADDOW: Oh, well, let me ask you about the quality of the light because I am not a lawyer, and I do know that what happened tonight at the Supreme Court -- I've seen people who are lawyers and who are very good at this sort of summarizing it in different ways. Let me just give you a chance to tell me if I said anything of that wrong or if you think there's an easier or better way to explain what this court ruling was tonight and how it went down.

ELIAS: Yeah, I think you got it right. I mean I think the takeaway is that the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against the president and against the state of Texas, which was doing his bidding here. Seven of the justices said, you don't get in the courthouse door.

Two of the justices say, as a matter of rule, we think any state always gets in the door, gets the ability to file this -- gets to file a lawsuit of this kind, but we wouldn't grant your motion for expedited treatment. We wouldn't grant your motion for an injunction. We wouldn't grant your motion for an administrative stay.

So even if this case got in the door, we wouldn't -- we wouldn't do anything to advance it any further. So to me, it's a clear 9-0 result.

MADDOW: And, Marc, do you think that this is just the first of a whole bunch of cases that they will figure out ways to get to the Supreme Court? There will be more. Obviously there was the Pennsylvania case just a few days ago that the Supreme Court also held the door shut on. I don't think anybody thinks there's been any substantive case in any jurisdiction, in any court anywhere in the country that's going to get to the Supreme Court because the court's going to have a hard time on the merits.

But do you think they are going to try to get an Arizona case or some other case, as many cases as they can to keep coming up before the courts sort of indefinitely?

ELIAS: Yeah. I mean just the last 24 hours, we've seen the Arizona contest case -- this was a case in state court that was filed to contest the election that the Trump -- Trump's team lost at the trial court, then lost in the Arizona Supreme Court.

By the way, the Arizona Supreme Court not known for its liberal bent, and they have now fashioned an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that they filed today. And the kraken conspiracy case out of Georgia, I saw they have filed in the Supreme Court.

But, look, you know, typically filing a lawsuit is just a matter of a filing fee. In the Supreme Court, it's even less than that. So they can file these cases, but they're not going anywhere.

And I think after today, even though many of us predicted that this case wasn't going anywhere, I think it's fair to say that Sidney Powell's kraken conspiracy nonsense is not going to occupy much time with the Supreme Court.

MADDOW: Marc, it is remarkable to have seen you and your colleagues basically win 60 straight here. It was -- I mean, it was amazing to see it to be a dozen straight and then 20, and then 30, and then 40, and it keeps going. They've just lost at every level and some cases been quite chastised by judges hearing these cases about how bad they are and how pointless they are. They've had no traction whatsoever.

And I have to ask you now at this sort of landmark moment with the court having made this decision tonight, if this is more than just wins and losses, if you think the volume and the pace and the unrelenting nature of what they're doing despite consistent rejection says something about our democratic process and the two parties that's different than who we might have thought we were coming into this.

ELIAS: Yeah, it's a really good question, and it is the thing that troubles me most about where we are. You know, I was asked a few days ago how many lawsuits are there typically filed by a candidate or by a campaign after they lose an election. And I said the answer is zero. Like, you know, we can't let this seem normal.

I mean, the fact is I was the general counsel for John Kerry, and I was the general counsel for Hillary Clinton, so I've sat in that room with candidate who's have lost closer elections than Donald Trump lost here. And you weigh those options. You say, is there something that can be done?

But at the end of the day, our system relies on the fact that when candidates lose and it is clear they have lost, that they concede, both for the peaceful transition of power, which is part of it, but also for the continuance of democracy. Part of the democratic system is the norm of accepting election results, and this was not a close election.

I'd love to say that we won 57 lawsuits because me and the other group of lawyers involved were great lawyers. But the fact is we won because Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won virtually landslides in these states. I mean these were not close elections.

So what I am worried about is that Trumpism has so infected the Republican Party that this is what the Republican Party is. The Republican Party is the party that not only has an attorney general in Texas who may have his own personal reasons to file a frivolous case in the Supreme Court because maybe he wants a pardon. But the Republican Party is now a party where 18 attorneys general who didn't have to join the nonsense did. And then a party in which over 120 members of Congress, who definitely didn't have to join the nonsense, did.

And so, you know, where does that leave in a system that relies not just on people's actions in accordance with the strict law, but in accordance with common decency and common sense? And so I think we need to take a step back when this is all over and look at the institutions we have and the rules we have and ask ourselves, is our current system and rules capable of withstanding the kind of authoritarianism that we saw throughout the Trump administration, but the utter moral bankruptcy and willingness to go along with it by one of the two major national parties?

MADDOW: That is stark and very well put. Marc Elias, founder of the Democracy Docket, veteran Democratic voting rights attorney, has played just a pivotal role in the Democratic and Biden campaign efforts to fight these election challenges. A huge night tonight with this Supreme Court rejection of what the president called the big one.

Marc, I hope you can get some rest. I doubt you can anytime soon, but thank you for helping us understand the meaning of this.

ELIAS: Thank you very much, Rachel. Thanks.

MADDOW: Yeah, thanks.

All right. So this is one of those Fridays when we've been waiting all day and into the night for a bunch of news we were pretty sure was going to be happening. We were not necessarily counting on but we were expecting tonight's Supreme Court ruling, which as we've been talking about, absolutely shut down this effort by the president and a huge chunk of the Republican Party to throw out the presidential election results and keep Trump in power even though he lost the election. As we've just spoken with Marc Elias about, that has now happened.

The Supreme Court firmly closing the door to the president on this case that the president had called "the big one." This is the one he's been telling his supporters would be the case by which he overthrew the election results. That's not going to happen.

We also expect -- we've also been expecting that the president tonight may veto what's called the National Defense Authorization Act. That's the bill that funds the military. The president said he would veto it first because he wanted the military to keep all the names of its bases that honor figures from the Confederacy and the civil war. So he was going to veto all funding for the military over that.

Then he dropped that and said he wanted to veto it instead because he wants to use the military funding bill to go after social media companies for something. Well, both the House and the Senate passed the bill to fund the military anyway, and they both passed it by margins so large they can easily override Trump's veto if he does, in fact, try it. And that, of course, will be an embarrassment and a real sign of weakness for the president if and when it happens.

So if I were him, I might try to bury that late on a Friday night when there's lots of other news. So we're watching for that tonight in terms of the president's expected veto of the bill that funds the military.

We're also, of course, watching for potentially more pardons from the president, right? Late on a Friday night with lots of other news in it, that's a great time to bury any particularly embarrassing pardons. "The New York Times" today reporting on the speedy advance of a known criminal case against the president's business in New York, an investigation reportedly implicating behavior by not just the president's company but at least by some of his adult children.

And while those are state prosecutors pursuing that criminal case against the Trump organization, that reporting today in "The New York Times" about the pace at which that case is now moving, that may sharpen the president's mind about whether it's time to start issuing preemptive federal pardons for his family members, for his kids, for his associates. But also, of course, we've been waiting all day on potential news from the FDA after the group that advises the FDA on the safety and efficacy of vaccines, they last night voted that the FDA should approve the first coronavirus vaccine in the United States.

We have been waiting today to see whether the FDA would respond to that by, in fact, approving the vaccine. Just in the past few minutes, that has just happened. "The New York Times" breaking the news that the FDA has just approved the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine tonight. We will have more details coming up on that in just a moment with somebody who is very much in a position to understand exactly what that means.

Plus, we'll be talking about the fact that the Trump White House really does appear to have fundamentally screwed up even that good news tonight at the very last minute with a very ill-timed, very ill-advised threat against the FDA.

We've got all that coming up. It's a big night, and I think it's probably going to keep getting bigger as the hour goes on.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Here's how badly they screwed this up. It was going fine, and then they had to just screw it up at the very end.

Think about it this way. Let's say you've got a friend who's afraid of flying, but something comes up and you and your friend absolutely have to fly somewhere. Your friend must overcome the fear of flying enough to get on a plane with you and go.

Now, you are doing everything you can to encourage your friend that it's safe, that there's nothing to worry about. You say this to your friend. You say, look, modern aviation is so safe, I can -- I can even assure you the plane we are going to get on was FAA inspected today, trained, experienced mechanics and inspectors have gone over our plane today. It is super safe.

Also I paid the lead inspector 500 bucks to sign the paperwork that says everything's safe.

If your friend was with you before, your friend is now not going to get on the dang plane with you because you just said that you corrupted the process by which the plane is assured to be safe.

Say -- another example, say your beloved child is learning to swim and going in the baby pool is cool. That's fine. Actually swim lessons in the baby pool have been amazing. Your child can actually swim and is a good swimmer.

But she's afraid. She's afraid that if she gets in the big pool where the water can go over her head, something's going to happen to her. So you bring her over to the big pool. You convince her to wade in up to her knees.

And then you say to her, okay, hon. I've got to go now. I'm going to leave you here, but don't worry. Look up in that lifeguard chair.

I just put an inflatable doll up there as a fake lifeguard. So go ahead and get in the deep end. Your kid is not going to get in the deep end in those circumstances even though she can swim fine. You've just told her that the safety net that's designed to make sure she's going to be safe has been compromised. You faked it.

That's what the Trump administration just did in the home stretch of the approval process for the coronavirus vaccine. This ought to be an uncomplicated piece of good news. But they had to botch this at the very end.

The only way to alleviate Americans' wariness around a potential vaccine is for people to believe and know that it's the real deal, right? That the scientific process was not messed with, wasn't influenced by any weird political pressures to decide one way or another or to short-cut the safety checks on this thing, right?

They bring in this esteemed outside body of experts to advise them on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and that is an incredibly rigorous, no fear or favor, independent scientific process, and those panelists, those scientists say, yes, all right, we recommend -- we've taken a hard look at this. We are independent of the FDA and the government, but we say on the basis of our expertise, the FDA should approve it.

That happened last night. Then it's the final step today. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has to go through its final checks and make sure they are totally scientifically confident in this decision so the American people can be totally confident that this was done the right way without any undue pressure or influence or corruption.

And then on the very last day, like within the last hours of this process, the Trump administration blows it up. This is the headline in "The Washington Post." White House orders FDA chief to authorize vaccine Friday or submit his resignation.

Yeah, don't actually follow the correct scientific process. Just force it through. Approve it or else. That's what they did today.

And now the FDA, under that FDA commissioner, has just approved the vaccine just in the past few minutes. But the Trump White House, with this threat, they have bungled in a way that's going to have long-standing consequences -- they have bungled what ought to be an uncomplicated piece of good news, a ray of sunshine, right? A piece of finally something for us to hope -- have hope about.

By preceding tonight's approval with a public threat against the FDA that the commissioner had to force this approval or else, the Trump White House has made sure to unnecessarily create the impression that there might be some reason to worry that that threat is the real reason it got approved, right? Because they threatened this guy that he needed to do it or else they'd have his head.

I mean why? Why would you do that?

The vaccine was going to be approved tonight or tomorrow morning anyway by all accounts at the FDA. Literally, the only thing this accomplishes is making Americans more suspicious of the vaccine because it makes the approval process look like it was being dictated by Donald Trump because at the end, it was.

This is -- this is a good news moment for the country, right, and for the world. This is a source of hope with the White House ridiculously and unnecessarily undercutting and making a mess of it that will haunt us for no good reason as we try to put together a vaccination program for 330 million Americans in all of our complexity and in all of our suspicions and in all of our weird dynamics on social media and in our little hives. This will haunt us, and they didn't have to do it. God, it makes me mad.

Joining us now is former FDA Commissioner David Kessler. He is currently the co-chair of President-elect Biden's COVID-19 advisory board.

Dr. Kessler, I have to apologize for having -- for being angry in a way that I'm not hiding heading into this tonight. I do not want to put any of that on you or make anybody suspect that you share my anger over this. I'm sorry to bring that to this introduction.

DR. DAVID KESSLER, BIDEN COVID-19 ADVISORY BOARD CO-CHAIR: I -- I understand the anger, Rachel. You're right. The White House did try again to interfere. That was wrong. Decisions that impact the health of millions of Americans, no decision is more important than the COVID-19 vaccine decision, must be made by medical professionals, guided by the data and science.

But I can tell you, Rachel, I just got off the phone with career professionals at FDA, and they assure me -- and I know them, and I know them well -- that this decision tonight was made on science and data.

And you saw yesterday, you reported yesterday on all that data and that entire analysis by the advisory committee. Look, we need to separate the craziness out there from what really matters. And what matters is that there is a scientific basis to support the emergency authorization of this vaccine, and that is very, very good news.

MADDOW: Dr. Kessler, it goes a long way with me, and I think it will go a long way with all of our viewers to hear you say that and to hear you say that with such confidence having talked to people involved in this decision.

In terms of what happens next here, we know that millions of doses of the vaccine are essentially ready to roll now.

What should we expect as a country in terms of the initial numbers of people that can be vaccinated? I know this is a two-dose vaccine, and so we have to sort of divide the number of doses that we're hearing about by two in terms of the number of people that means it's going to serve.

What should we watch for? What should we understand about what's going to happen next?

KESSLER: It's going to take some time. It probably will take a good six months to get the majority of people who want to be vaccinated, vaccinated. It is a heroic task.

Frontline health workers, people in long-term care facilities, they will start to get the vaccine, but even that is going to be a slow rollout because we're really just upping the manufacturing capability. And what we're going to have to do is to win the trust of the American public here.

But, you know, you and I talked -- I think it was about a month ago, and what you and Susan went through, this vaccine could have prevented that. There are 108,000 people hospitalized tonight, many fighting for their lives. We're not going to have enough vaccine to prevent the many deaths that still occur, but we're going to do everything.

And I've talked to him, and I know this. The president-elect will work tirelessly, and I know his team is working tirelessly to get everyone who wants to be vaccinated, vaccinated.

Look, on the one hand, there is COVID-19 and all its complications. On the other hand, there is now a vaccine that prevents death. Yes, there are still things we have to learn about this vaccine, and we have to be straight about the fact that we don't know everything. And this is still -- this isn't full approval. This is emergency use authorization. Leave aside all that craziness in the White House. The men and women and scientists at Pfizer, at NIH, at Moderna, and especially at FDA are serving the American public very mightily. It's a very important decision. It's a very important milestone, Rachel. There is hope.

MADDOW: Dr. Kessler, if there are some adverse reactions, if people have allergic reactions, if there are people who have certain kinds of comorbidities or conditions that create complications for some people in getting this virus -- and we're talking about tens of potentially hundreds of millions of people getting this. Presumably there whether be some things that arise despite the rigorous safety process they've gone through in approving it.

When those things inevitably happen, do you have confidence that the U.S. government and the relevant players within the U.S. government have the skill and the ability to sort of talk the American people through that so we keep those things in perspective?

KESSLER: Absolutely. And it's absolutely essential because those things are going to happen. There are going to be bumps along the way. But there are pharmacovigilance systems that look for signals, that look to find that one or two cases. That question you just raised about allergies, I want to go -- tonight, I want to read what FDA is saying about right now who has serious allergies, how they're going to handle it, because there's still more we have to learn, and we don't know everything.

But I can tell you one thing, the Biden administration is going to be upfront and transparent. We can't lose the trust of the American public on this. We all have to get this epidemic behind us, and we will.

MADDOW: Former FDA commissioner, Dr. David Kessler, who co-chairs President-elect Biden's COVID-19 advisory board -- Dr. Kessler, as always, it is an honor to have this time with you. Thank you for being here on this historic night.

KESSLER: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. It is sort of turning into a bit of a doozy of a night in the news. We have had the Supreme Court tonight reject what the president called the big one, the major Supreme Court case brought by the president and 17, 18 Republican-controlled states, as well as signed on to by over 100 Republican members of Congress trying to throw out the election results and keep Trump in power. The Supreme Court unanimously has shut that down tonight.

Meanwhile, the FDA has just approved the coronavirus vaccine, and we got more coming.

Stay with us. It's a big night.


MADDOW: The mystery appears to have been solved. It may have been solved? We are at least the closest we might ever reasonably get to figuring out what happened, which considering where this all started is no small feat.

This was the first U.S. news report about it, and it was honestly bewildering. I remember hearing it live on the radio when it happened, and it really made no sense.


STEVE DORSEY, CBS NEWS RADIO: The State Department spokesperson says some U.S. government personnel in Havana on official duty have reported incidents that have caused a variety of physical symptoms. The department hasn't made clear what those incidents have been and what those symptoms are, but it did take against Cuba. On May 23rd, the U.S. asked two Cuban officials in the U.S. to leave the country. The spokesperson also says it reminded the Cuban government of its obligations under the Vienna Convention to protect diplomats. An investigation is under way.


MADDOW: Hmm? I love radio news more than anything in the whole world. I love CBS Radio News actually, and I just had no idea what is -- August of 2017, CBS News reporting on the radio about an unknown incident that happened to some unknown U.S. officials in Cuba that caused them to experience an unknown variety of physical symptoms, and that was it. That was the whole report.

Pretty quickly, though, after CBS popped the lid on something strange happening in Cuba, this story did start unspooling. "The A.P." was first to report that a group of American diplomats stationed in Cuba had started to experience what was described as severe hearing loss attributed to a covert sonic device, a device that was, a, covert and nobody could identify it or figure out what it might be.

In the next few days, "The A.P." reported it wasn't just a handful of U.S. diplomats. It was actually more than 20 Americans stationed in Cuba, and they weren't just suffering from hearing loss. They were reporting symptoms of dizziness and nausea, severe headaches, balance problems, tinnitus, again, from a totally unknown source.

Doctors ultimately found signs of brain swelling in some of the affected diplomats. A few others showed signs of traumatic brain injury.

This first started happening in late 2016. We started finding out when it a year later in the summer of 2017. A few months later, it started happening again to yet more U.S. personnel stationed abroad.

This time, though, it wasn't in Cuba. It was in China. U.S. diplomats stationed at the Chinese embassy started reporting the same mysterious symptoms that the state department said were, quote, very similar and entirely consistent with what had happened to the Americans in Cuba. I mean all in all, between Cuba and China, at least 40 U.S. government employees were hit with one of these mysterious attacks on their health.

And for some, the symptoms appear to have been permanent or at least long-lasting, even after they returned home. And still, though, for years now, nobody has had any idea what has caused all these U.S. government personnel, all these diplomats to get so sick. Well, like I said, now we may know. We at least may be closer to knowing.

The national academies of sciences have been studying what happened to those diplomats, and they've concluded that these mysterious physical and neurological symptoms are consistent with what the National Academy called the effects of directed microwave energy. Directed microwave energy.

Now, this report does not conclude that this microwave energy was directed intentionally, you know, fired at these diplomats with a ray gun or something. But it's important to point out here that directed microwave energy of the type described in this report, it doesn't occur in the wild. It's something you have to do on purpose. You have to manufacture it, and you kind of do have to point it at something for someone to feel the effects of this energy.

Now, who was behind these directed microwave energy attacks on U.S. diplomats is still unknown. But all this time later as we are starting to get to this thing finally, we're still learning more that it wasn't just U.S. diplomats that were targeted. We're still learning more about who exactly was targeted, and one of the people who has been contending with this from a very unusual position is going to join us here live next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: In October, "The New York Times" was first to announce that American diplomats was targeted with originally thought as a sound weapon. It was later described in the National Academy of Science report as a directed microwave attack.

"The Times" was first to report that senior CIA officers were targeted, too. One of those officers is Marc Polyneropoulos. Most recently, he was the CIA number two official for clandestine operations in Europe. He is a tall, broad, beardy, strong guy. He calls himself grizzled, and are you going to argue with him?

But on assignment in 2017 in a Moscow hotel room, he woke up in the middle of the night nauseous, dizzy, his ears were ringing. He tried to walk to the walk bathroom. He fell over. He said he felt like he was going to throw up and pass out at the same time.

When he got back to the U.S. his symptoms actually got worse. Incredibly strong pressure on the back of his head, vertigo, nausea, he started to lose his sight. He had to stop driving.

Mr. Polymeropoulos believes he's one of the 40 or so Americans who fell ill after it appears they were targeted with microwave energy while on assignment overseas. The first reports about Americans being hit in this thing were in Cuba and in China. Mr. Polymeropoulos is the first to publicly attribute his illness to his time spent in Russia working for the CIA.

After 26 years at the agency, he retired from the CIA last year. He said, quote, I had a lot more to offer, but I had to retire because these headaches don't go away.

Joining us now from the interview tonight is Marc Polymeropoulos. He's a 26-year veteran for the CIA. Until last year, he was deputy chief of operations for the Europe and Eurasia Mission Center.

Mr. Polymeropoulos, thank you so much for making time to be here tonight. It's a real honor to have you here.


MADDOW: Did I hit the appropriate high points here? Have I described this in a way that you think hits on the things that people should know about you and your colleagues have been through?

POLYMEROPOULOS: You sure did. I I'm going to add one thing. I've spent most of my career in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I've been shot at and rocketed. I've been in some pretty tricky situations. But what happened in Moscow that night in December 2017 in a hotel room was clearly the most terrifying incident in my life.

MADDOW: When you read the report that came out a week ago now from the National Academies of Science saying this was directed microwave energy, I mean that's a concept I think not a lot of us are familiar with, but let me ask how that resonated with you and whether you feel like we're getting close to understanding what hit you.

POLYMEROPOULOS: I think it certainly resonated with me, but also I'm not speaking for the others but I imagine with those who have been afflicted, you know, both in Cuba and in China because the bottom line is when a lot of us came back, whether it was senior medical personnel at the Department of State or the senior medical personnel of CIA, you know, the reaction was not a positive one. And for a lot of us it was that we were making it up, didn't know what it was.

So when the NAS report comes out and while not conclusive, it certainly gives a path towards describing what happened -- it certainly gives, you know, a feeling that we're not, you know, all crazy. We're not all just making things up for our own whim. Something really did happen, something bad happened, and we have to get to the bottom of it.

MADDOW: What do you need and your colleagues who have gone through the same thing or similar things, what do you need in terms of treatment and support? One of the horrifying consequences of this has been what you're just describing being sort of blamed yourself or told it's all in your head or not believed for any of this. I know it's been hard to get the kind of medical treatment support you need to try to overcome this thing.

POLYMEROPOULOS: Sure. So, Rachel, in my case and in the case of some of the other CIA officers we wanted to get to Walter Reed Medical Center which has been the world's most renown traumatic brain injury center. And that was kind of the path and what I fought for. I was denied this opportunity for a long time.

When I made the difficult decision to go public on this the agency has now decided to send me there just like they had sent some others there. So overall I would say that, you know, the officers afflicted whether from DOD, Commerce, State or CIA really need to get to a place like Walter Reed where they have, you know, world class medical care. And we're going to be able to find things that frankly just make you feel better.

MADDOW: Do you feel like there ought to be attribution from the U.S. government to whoever did this? Do you feel there's enough clues out there about who's capable of doing this, of wielding this kind of weapon and that the U.S. government ought to be more aggressive in terms of trying to name the bad guy here?

POLYMEROPOULOS: So, Rachel, I think that's a great question because you put this -- you know, I'm putting this in two bins. One is getting the medical assistance for everyone who needs it, but number two is there has to be a concerted effort to find out who did this for a variety of reasons so it doesn't happen again but also to hold them accountable. I think I saw Senator Shaheen in the media the other day saying these attacks are ongoing, so it's critical we find out who did this.

I know, you know, from my colleagues at CIA, they're working on this. I think one of the key things is to ask for significant congressional involvement particularly starting in January, and the new administration I would hope would take it very seriously as well, because if as we suspect our adversaries and we're talking about the Russians here may be behind this, they must be held accountable.

MADDOW: Marc Polymeropoulos, former senior official at the CIA -- sir, thank you so much for being here and talking to us about this. It's not the easiest decision to be public about it. Thank you.

POLYMEROPOULOS: Thank you, Rachel.

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


MADDOW: That's going to do it for us tonight on such a huge news night. It's just been incredible. I will see you on Jonathan Capehart's new show this weekend, Sunday morning in the 11:00 Eastern Hour here on MSNBC. I'll see you then.

But now it's time for "THE LAST WORD" where Ali Velshi is tonight for Lawrence.

Good evening, Ali. It's a big night.


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