Stacey Abrams, Founder of Fair Fight is interviewed. MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Rachel is quarantining after a close contact tested positive for COVID-19, but she will be back soon, real soon.
Fun fact: She's going to join us live from quarantine later this hour. We're also going to talk live with Stacey Abrams shortly, so lots to get to.
But we start tonight on a damp and windy day in Oxford, England, in 1954, when a 25-year-old med student attempted to do something that no human being had ever done before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Oxford, running for AAA against the university, Roger Bannister limbers up for a planned attack on that four-minute mile, never before achieved by man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: In May of 1954, Roger Bannister was the first person on earth to run a mile in under four minutes flat. He ran his four laps around the track and hit the tape in 3:59.4 seconds. Track experts who follow this sort of thing say that had it not been for the win, he probably would have shaved another second off his time.
Roger Bannister made headlines all over the world because no one had thought it possible for a human being to run so fast. "The New York Times" called it, quote, one of man's hitherto unattainable goals, the sub four-minute mile. Roger Bannister did it. He attained the unattainable.
Now, he said after the race, quote, I felt pretty tired at the end, but I knew that I would just about make it, end quote.
And we may not all be athletes. Running a mile would probably take me into double digits. But for those of us that have made it this far in the Trump presidency, for those of us who have had to endure an election night that turned into election weeks, we can all empathize with Roger Bannister and his pretty tired legs.
For us, it's been more a marathon than a sprint. Instead of four laps, it's been four years. But unlike Roger Bannister, we have yet to cross that finish line because this president will not let this election end. Today the president initiated yet another last-ditch effort to try to overturn the legitimate results of this election by calling for a recount in the state of Wisconsin.
Now, it is of course well within his right to call for a recount in Wisconsin. The race was super tight there. Joe Biden appears to have won the state by less than 1 percent. To fully re-canvass all the ballots in the state would cost the president's campaign about $8 million.
And don't get me wrong, $8 million is a lot of money. But if you're the president, if you've been blabbering for weeks about how this election has been a sham, that there's been rampant voter fraud, you'd think $8 million would be a price worth paying to prove it to the American people that you were correct, that you were indeed the rightful winner of Wisconsin, right?
Well, if we know anything about this president, it's that we know he likes a good deal. The recount in Wisconsin funded by the president's campaign will actually not be a full recount of the entire state but, rather, a partial recount of just two counties. Those two counties happen to be the most populous counties in the state and swung heavily for Joe Biden. And wouldn't you know it, they also happen to be the most racially diverse areas of Wisconsin.
That strategy is a carbon copy of what we saw last night in Michigan when the Republicans on the canvassing board in Wayne County in Michigan's largest, bluest, most diverse county tried to hold hostage the certification of the ballots to delay Joe Biden's official victory in Michigan because that's how Trump and his allies and his legal goons are trying to overturn this election in his favor. What they are saying is that there was widespread voter fraud across the country.
But as Rachel likes to say, watch what they do, not what they say because they are not worried about widespread anything. Their strategy is targeted to diminish and discount and disenfranchise Democratic voters, generally speaking non-white Democratic voters, to try and chip away at Joe Biden's lead in places like Detroit, in Milwaukee, in Philadelphia, in Atlanta, and flip the results of this election.
It's exactly what President Trump's top lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was arguing in federal court yesterday.
For the first time in 28 years, Rudy Giuliani entered a federal courtroom as a practicing attorney yesterday to represent the president in his legal battle in Pennsylvania to try to halt the certification of the election results in Joe Biden's favor. And let me tell you, it did not go well.
Giuliani began his arguments by claiming, quote, the best description of this situation is it's a widespread, nationwide voter fraud, end quote. But, again, what the Trump campaign is arguing here is that widespread fraud is really just happening in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the two bluest parts of the state. Just get rid of those ballots, your honor, and the rest of the state looks peachy keen to us.
Part of his evidence included a picture of a woman looking through binoculars. Giuliani said she was a Republican ballot observer who was forced to stand so far away from the ballots, she needed binoculars to see the ballot. He couldn't say where or when the picture was taken, only that he, quote, understands it was taken in Philadelphia. If you're feeling like this argument doesn't make much sense, it's because it doesn't.
Now, granted, I'm not a lawyer, but after yesterday's performance, I'm not convinced Rudy Giuliani is either. This was an actual snippet of Rudy Giuliani's performance in court yesterday.
Giuliani: in the plaintiffs counties, they were denied the opportunity to have an unobstructed observation and ensure opacity. I'm not quite sure I know what opacity means. It probably means you can see, right?
The judge responds, it means you can't.
Opacity means you can't see.
Joe Biden won this election. Joe Biden will be inaugurated the 46th president of the United States on January 20th, but because of Trump's continued nonsense, we will have to keep our tired legs running just a little bit longer.
This race to the finish line isn't quite over. We've got one more lap to run, especially because while all the votes to decide the presidency have been cast, the same cannot be said for the United States Senate.
There are, of course, two Senate races still outstanding in Georgia. Those two races will take place on January the 5th and will decide which party controls the Senate next term. Joe Biden, of course, won the state of Georgia this year. Georgia turned out its most diverse electorate in recent history.
African-American turnout was up 20 percent compared to 2016. Hispanic turnout was up by 72 percent. That's a big reason why Joe Biden is the first Democrat to win Georgia since 1992.
And so now that Georgia's electoral votes are officially out of their grasp, the president and his Republican allies are ripping a page out of the playbook that they've been running in Wisconsin and in Pennsylvania and in Michigan. With the control of the Senate hanging in the balance, Republicans are now laser focused on blue, mostly black, diverse voting pockets of Georgia to find new ways of disenfranchising Democratic voters in the newly turned blue southern state.
So as we embark on this bumpy, fraught, final lap of the 2020 election, keep your guard up and your eyes open. Closing out this chapter of history will indeed be remembered as one of man's hitherto unattainable goals. So, channel Roger Bannister. He was tired at the end, but he knew that he would just about make it.
I want to bring someone into that conversation who is going to help Democrats in the final leg of this race, to bring them over the finish line.
Stacey Abrams ran for governor in Georgia in 2018. If it were not for a coordinated Republican effort to suppress Democratic votes in Georgia, Stacey Abrams said she would be governor today.
But her race was not in vain. The grassroots work she did in Georgia during and after her campaign helped cement the right to vote for everyone in Georgia to stop what happened to her from ever happening again. It is this woman's work that has been credited with helping Joe Biden win the state of Georgia this year.
Joining me now, Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and the founder of Fair Fight Action.
Ms. Abrams, good to see you and welcome to the show.
STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATIONAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for having me.
VELSHI: Let's talk about the strategy heading into these two runoffs. There's nothing to celebrate yet in Georgia. We've got the presidential election largely behind us but for a certification and an audit issue.
But there are two very serious Senate races that are going to happen on January 5th.
What's the strategy?
ABRAMS: Well, first we have to celebrate what we accomplished in November because that's one of the reasons we have a pathway in January.
We have to remind voters that they can start again with absentee ballots. We won absentee ballots in the November election. We can win it in again in January.
But we also have to remind voters what the Senate does and why it's so critical that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock represent the state of Georgia and help determine the future of our country.
We know that the strategy is, one, to educate voters about the Senate races and about our two candidates. Two, to raise the level of resources that we need to reach pockets of the state of Georgia that still don't believe in their power to be heard. Three, we need to do the work of making sure that we protect the right to vote. We are watching the two sitting senators do their best to create disinformation and to disenfranchise voters.
And even they're willing to attack their own people to create the obfuscation that you spoke of earlier, about who should be able to win.
And so, our responsibility is to educate those voters, mobilize those voters, and then protect their right to vote so that we can get to victory in January.
VELSHI: So, your strategy couldn't be further away -- apart from what the Republicans have done in this election. Your organization registered as many as 800,000 voters in the past two years. Data from "The Washington Post" shows that only 2 percent of Georgia's voting population is not registered to vote, which means most of where you are going to be able to make gains is with people who already registered but maybe didn't vote. Your whole thing is about getting people who otherwise might not be voting to vote.
What's your plan for that? I think the word you used is people who don't -- they're not convinced of their ability to be heard.
ABRAMS: Well, let's be clear. The 800,000 number is a compilation of efforts across the state to make certain that voters who typically were not included in the franchise believe that they should be included and register to do so. And we have to remember this is work that not only happened over the last to years, but there's been a ten-year effort to register hundreds of thousands of people of color in the state of Georgia.
But now that they are registered, we have to remember there are new people who are eligible to register, folks who are turning 18, and whoever is still in that 2 percent who needs to be talked to, we're going to do that work. But we're also going to do the work of reminding people about why the Senate matters. We spend billions of dollars as a nation explaining the importance of the presidency. We've got to do the deep work of explaining the utility and the effectiveness of the U.S. Senate.
Not everyone knows that Mitch McConnell has been the reason they haven't received unemployment benefits, that he's the block against most of the resources and the support that we need to survive COVID. And so, we've got to do that work.
But we've also got to do the work of explaining that David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have done nothing to serve the people of Georgia, have only worked to profit themselves, and that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are men of courage, men of character, and men who are ready to get to work on behalf of all Georgians.
But that means that we've got to go back to people who turned out --
VELSHI: We're watching --
ABRAMS: I'm sorry?
VELSHI: No, no. I did not mean to interrupt you. I'm sorry.
ABRAMS: Oh, it's okay.
I was saying we've got to go back to the people who voted in November and remind them that they've got one more thing they have to do. We've got one more thing to put on their Christmas list. We need them to cast their votes, bank those votes early so that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we've already won this election, and we can watch new year's come in knowing that a new life is ahead for all of us.
VELSHI: The biggest gains -- we were watching this very closely obviously on election night and the days after, but the biggest gains Joe Biden made compared to what Hillary Clinton did in 2016 was in that northwest, top-left part of the state, the Atlanta suburbs. He netted nearly 200,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton did there.
Atlanta is, of course, Fulton County, Gwinnett, DeKalb County around Atlanta, and another six or eight counties are really full of voters, and that looks like where that and other city -- other urban areas, other metro areas look like where there are gains to be had for the Senate race.
Do you agree with that?
ABRAMS: Absolutely. We can increase our gains there, but we also can't ignore rural Georgia where we have pockets of Democrats, largely African-American rural voters who too often get left out of the process and get left out of the efforts of candidates.
But Jon and Raphael are traveling around the state and we're going to be doing the work necessary to not only increase our numbers in Metro Atlanta and in the metro areas, but to also include and engage those voters who are being affected most acutely by COVID-19, by the failure of David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to provide any support and any resources.
If we work the entire state, we have the ability to put together the math to win this election.
VELSHI: One of the interesting things, we understand the rural/urban spread, but when Republicans have talked about suburban voters in this context, it is often a synonym for white moderate voters. That's not actually the case in a lot of Georgia.
ABRAMS: It's absolutely inaccurate. We know that in this election cycle, Asian-American voters increased their participation by 91 percent from 2016. That Latino participation increased by 72 percent. That black participation increased by 20 percent.
Fifty-seven percent of Atlanta's -- Georgia's population is in the Metro Atlanta region, which means those are all populations that are represented in the suburbs, in the exurbs.
And as I said earlier, we have a very large rural population that is black and Latino. Those are all people who are eligible to vote, and so folks go to gasenate.com or fairfight.com, they can support the work we're doing to ensure that those voices get heard at the ballot box in this election.
VELSHI: "The Daily Beast" is talking -- is saying that allies close to you are saying that you plan to run for governor again in 2022. Is that right?
ABRAMS: No. I've made no decisions about my future other than my future includes making certain that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock become the next two senators from the great state of Georgia.
VELSHI: You've been on opposite sides in the past of lawsuits with Georgia's Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, over voting rights issues. Interesting situation he's found himself in in the last few days, pushing back against pressure from the Trump campaign, from Lindsey Graham, from other Republicans, to assist in an effort to undermine the results in Georgia.
"ProPublica" is reporting that the Trump campaign has been pressuring him since before the election.
So I'm really curious about your take on this. As someone who has been up against Raffensperger, what do you make of how this is playing out?
ABRAMS: I think that there were marked improvements made between June's election and November, but there's still work to do. Where Brad Raffensperger does a good job, I celebrate it, including the fact that he's reopened the portal that would allow voters to get their absentee ballots without filling out a piece of paper. They can do it online. If they want more information, they can go to peachvote.com.
But we also know that voter suppression, while we have mitigated it dramatically in Georgia, it still exists, and we're going to be on the lookout.
I want Brad Raffensperger to be able to focus on his job, and that is the job of running free and fair elections. And when he is doing that job, I will celebrate it. When he is not doing that job, we will challenge him, because every day, we should be spending our time thinking about how do we make certain that Georgia's citizens can be heard.
VELSHI: And are you feeling like right now, he's doing his job as he's resisting pressure from other Republicans and being fairly public about it?
ABRAMS: Absolutely. Look, we have the right as Americans to litigate, to challenge, and to call into question. But we do not have the right to our own facts, and we do not have the right to manufacture evidence.
We know that this was a free and fair election in Georgia and that Brad Raffensperger ran the election based on consent decrees and changes that we were able to compel, and those changes have made it easier for voters to cast their ballots.
Donald Trump is entitled to his opinion. He's entitled to be unhappy about the outcome. But as I did in 2018, I acknowledged the legal sufficiency of the election. I just simply challenged the system that allowed voters to be disenfranchised.
It is time now for Donald Trump to acknowledge that the legal sufficiency of the system says that he is no longer the president. And unlike what happened to me where we had enough evidence to go to federal court and to see changes made, he has to admit that there is no evidence of widespread fraud. He can continue to fight, but he's going to lose.
VELSHI: Stacey Abrams, you are one of the most watched and important people in Georgia politics right now, which makes you one of the most watched and important people in American politics right now. Thank you for joining us this evening.
ABRAMS: Thank you for having me.
VELSHI: And a reminder that the Rachel Maddow will be joining us a little later in the show.
But, first, we're going to speak to someone on the ground in what has become one of the epicenters of the latest COVID outbreak. With the pandemic wreaking havoc across the country, it's worth noting that the United States Senate has gone home for Thanksgiving early tonight with no sign of any form of a COVID relief package. They will not be back until the week of November 30th.
But don't worry, they spent their last day before the break doing the very important work of -- let me check my notes here -- the important work of confirming a 33-year-old lawyer who has only ever handled two cases and who the American Bar Association has rated not qualified to a lifetime appointment as a federal judge. Not like there are more pressing things going on.
We'll be right back.
VELSHI: The United States has long been at the top of the charts when it comes to coronavirus deaths, and today we crossed yet another threshold. As of today, more than 250,000 people have died from coronavirus in this country. We clocked more than 162,000 new coronavirus cases today alone.
After a week of record setting numbers, and this is not a geographically specific problem. Cases are now rising in all 50 states. And as we know, what follows a surge in cases is a surge in hospitalizations and deaths.
But there is a glimmer of hope ahead of us. Pfizer announced today that its coronavirus vaccine, the one that people were already excited about, is now considered 95 percent effective with no serious side effects. The company plans to apply for emergency use authorization from the FDA, quote, within days.
So there is hope that the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine will be available soon. But even when the vaccines are available, we'll need a way to distribute and administer them and a plan to do so. And that requires cooperation and coordination within the federal government and between the federal and state governments.
But the Trump administration has been stonewalling the Biden transition, withholding crucial coronavirus information from the Biden team. During a vital roundtable with frontline workers today, President-elect Joe Biden drilled down on the ramifications of a delayed transition on vaccine distribution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: And there's a whole lot of things that are just -- we just don't have available to us, which unless it's made available soon, we're going to be behind by weeks or months being able to put together the whole initiative relating to the biggest promise we have with two drug companies coming along and finding 95 percent effectiveness, efficiency in the vaccines, which is enormous promise. So I just want to tell you that, that's the only slowdown right now that we have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Biden shared those concerns with a panel that included a firefighter, an ICU nurse, a school nurse, and a home health care worker, who in turn explained to him their needs and their frustrations with the federal virus response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICIA FORRAI-GUNTER, SCHOOL NURSE, AFT: I think so much of the problem is that there's been no federal plan, no leadership, and it's really hurt us. Our health department here in Cleveland really is bare bones. It's still bare bones. Our contact tracers are working 24/7, but they're about four days out. They're about four days from contacting a positive case.
MARY TURNER, ICU NURSE IN MINNESOTA: We're not being given the protection that we need. We need to have optimal PPE for all staff to prevent airborne and droplet transmissions. We need testing of our workers and patients and contact tracing and notification of exposure for health care workers. Do you know that I have not been tested yet, and I have been on the front lines in the ICU since February.
BIDEN: You're kidding me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: That was the president-elect off-camera, incredulously trying to verify what he had just heard. Sadly none of those frontline workers were kidding.
We're eight months into this pandemic, eight months in, and our frontline health care workers are still sounding the alarm about the lack of personal protective equipment, the lack of testing and contact tracing, all of which are basic containment measures that we have heard about repeatedly for eight months. Right from the beginning the experts said testing and contact tracing in particular are key ingredients to slowing the virus and reversing the surge we are seeing nationwide now. But in some places, the virus is so bad that contact tracing is next to impossible. Places like North Dakota, which currently has the highest COVID mortality rate in the world.
One contact tracer in North Dakota wrote in an op-ed in "The Washington Post" describing how drastically her work as a constant tracer has changed since the virus began to overwhelm the state. She explains, quote, things got so bad so fast that we surrendered one of our key weapons against the pandemic, test and trace went by the wayside. Even if we had enough staff to call up everyone's workplace and contact, there are so many new infections that it wouldn't be as effective.
At this point the government has given up on following the virus' path through the state. All we can do is notify people as quickly as possible that they have the virus.
She continues, quote: What began as a 15-hour a week position is now a round the clock job. My phone buzzes constantly with calls and texts from my cases reporting symptoms and asking questions. Legally I'm not allowed to give medical advice, but I direct them to the right services and sources of information.
Mostly, I just try to listen. Some people when they are sick and in isolation just want to talk to someone so they don't feel so alone. When you get down to it, listening to a person's worries is both the least I can do and the most I can do to help -- which is awful to think about.
Joining me now is Kailee Leingang, a North Dakota contact tracer and senior nursing student at the University of North Dakota.
Kailee, thank you for joining us. Thank you for what you do.
There are people like you, thousands across America, who we don't know unless the phone rings. Because I travel, my phone does ring from contact tracers, and they're just trying to gather some basic information from me that get put into a system that is supposed to give us a map, to sort of tell us, give us advance notice of what's going on, to be able to warn people who have been in contact with me and to give authorities some sense of where this virus is going.
You said that at some point, North Dakota kind of had to abandon the idea that they're actually tracing this virus.
KAILEE LEINGANG, NORTH DAKOTA CONTACT TRACER: Yeah. So -- and it wasn't so much that we ended up giving up. It was more of we couldn't keep up with it. People were either having contact with only 3 people to 50 different people in one place. It became a necessity of it's more important to contact the cases that are positive and spreading than it was to contact every single contact at that point.
VELSHI: Kailee, talk to me about what good contact tracing looks like. How is it supposed to go down?
LEINGANG: Yeah. So good contact tracing and what we had done originally is we would be assigned cases. Once they test positive, we usually call them. They would already know that they were positive through the clinic or the testing site. Then we would get all of their demographic information, health and medical history, stuff that was more important.
And you'd move on to more of where have you worked, where have you been, who have you been around, inputting all of those places into the system. Now unfortunately, again, that's not something that we can do.
VELSHI: And if you were able to do what you originally designed, the way it was originally designed, how effective is that? What's the goal there, that you can figure out everywhere this person has been and with whom they've been in contact and then what? Try and find all those other people?
LEINGANG: Yeah. So the whole thing is to -- I would get a list of everybody that you've been around, and then I would contact them individually and say, you have been exposed to COVID-19. You need to isolate for 14 days, and then here is -- they would be inputted into the system and get monitored themselves as well.
VELSHI: Talk to me about how this goes. Obviously, each one of these calls is different. You don't have to divulge anything that you're not allowed to divulge, but generally speaking, what happens when you call someone? How do they respond to you?
LEINGANG: Yeah. So, now, it's usually kind of like it was said in that article. People are almost very resigned about it. It's like, of course it was. I thought so. So it usually just starts with, hi, is this so and so, and have you been made aware of your test results?
And then you get their date of birth, confirm who they are, and just start talking to them. I like to form a relationship with people more so maybe than others, but it's a scary time, especially if it's your whole family or it's an older person. It's scary.
So it's offering all of that, getting their information, seeing if they've worked, letting them know this was when you were infectious. This is who you need to notify. We give need to isolate letters so they can provide that to their employers. Then I usually just leave my personal contact information for them to reach out if they ever need anything.
VELSHI: And you are still running into some people who don't take this seriously.
LEINGANG: Yeah. Yeah. Sadly, we are. So there are still a good amount -- I would say it's less now, but originally, yes, it was a lot of this is political, this is a hoax, or I mean it's not happening in North Dakota. It's not needed here. That's not true.
So thankfully now it's kind of toned down and people are more serious about it, but we're still seeing huge numbers of cases and hospitalizations, and, yeah, it's going downhill.
VELSHI: Kailee, you have one of the most important jobs in America, and will say that six months ago or eight months ago, I didn't know such a job existed. I didn't know what this was all about. We heard these terms. We were told contact tracing is going to be the most important thing.
It's an honor to speak to you. Thank you. History will smile upon you and the thousands of others across America who are doing this important work.
Kailee Leingang is a North Dakota contract tracer, and a senior nursing student at the University of North Dakota -- thank you for your work, and thank you for your time tonight.
LEINGANG: Thank you.
VELSHI: Well, you are likely to recognize our next guest from her own show, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. Rachel joins us live from her quarantine after the break.
VELSHI: In a town where disagreement is par for the course, today there was one thing that almost all of Washington could agree on. Namely that the government's top elections cybersecurity official Chris Krebs did a great job protecting our democracy and did not deserve to be fired.
Chris Krebs was dismissed last night via presidential tweet after he repeatedly pushed back on Trump's claims of election fraud and after his agency refused White House requests to edit or remove informational accurate content was pushing back against Trump's false election claims.
Most notably, Krebs' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, CISA, it's a unit within the Department of Homeland Security, last week called the November 3rd election, quote, the most secure in American history, adding that there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised, end quote.
Democrats today reacted to Krebs' fire be with predictable outrage but were joined by many Republicans, including some of the president's most ardent defenders in Congress.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): It's the president's prerogative, but I think it just adds to the confusion and chaos, and I'm not sure I'm not the only one that would like some return to a little more of a -- well, I don't even know what's normal anymore.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
VELSHI: Of course, while Chris Krebs is rightfully earning plaudits and an enhance the reputation for a job well done and for standing up to this president, this lack of normalcy is likely to continue for the remaining nine weeks left to go in this administration.
We all need a way to get through it. So I'm happy to give you one. I'm happy to say that joining us now to discuss this story and others is someone who obviously needs no introduction on this show or anywhere else, the inestimable Rachel Maddow.
Rachel, it is so great to see you here.
I'm going to ask the first question on behalf of all of your viewers. How are you?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: I am great, Ali.
And I just -- let me just start by saying how thankful I am to you for doing -- for stepping in for me on zero notice and doing this at length. You've just been fantastic, and my staff loves working with you, and you just -- I've been watching every night, and you guys are doing an amazing job. So I am grateful to you for making it possible for me to be in quarantine, which has been a trip.
But I'm -- I'm fine. I have continued to test negative through this whole thing, which means that I'm getting close to the end of my quarantine period. I will hopefully, I think, potentially be back hosting either tomorrow night or the night after, in which case I will have more to say about where I've been and what I've been doing and what it's been like. I definitely have some stuff to say about that, and I want to let people know what's been going on.
But bottom line is I'm grateful to you, and I'm fine, and I will be back in something that looks like your chair pretty soon.
VELSHI: Well, you come in the time that is needed for you to come. And as I remind our viewers all the time, this continues to be your staff who put this show together, and it has your DNA in it, so we're glad for that.
I want to ask you about this topic we were just talking about, Chris Krebs, a man who was responsible for trying to keep at least outside interference and cyber interference out of our election. He told people last week he thought he was going to get fired and then last night in typical fashion he got fired, by tweet, for doing his job.
The president directly contradicted him, saying he was wrong about what he said. This election was not safe. Votes were changed. Votes that were cast for Trump became Biden votes, and Chris Krebs is now no longer there. What do you make of this?
MADDOW: Well, a couple of things. I mean, in terms of Krebs himself, I feel like it's worth reflecting on the fact that I don't know that there is anybody else who has served, particularly at a high level in the Trump administration, who has come out of it not just with an enhanced reputation for having done a job very well and done right by the country and taken something that was very, very difficult that other people have had a really hard time with and sort of nailing it, doing it well. But also leaving not just with his badge of honor of being fired by the president for having done his job well, but leaving without having compromised himself, without having bit his tongue, without having kowtowed to the president or compromised himself in any way that was trying to either stave off himself being fired or trying not to rock the boat or trying to go along to get along, which so many good people have fallen prey to because that's the way the president manipulates people and gets what he wants.
So I think Chris Krebs is being lauded justifiably by people on all sides of the ideological spectrum and all levels of government for having done a really good job. But he also really, in some ways, stands alone in terms of having done well and done right and not having bent himself to the vagaries of this president. I think that's really important.
I will also say, though, Ali, I think there's an institutional thing to watch out for because part of the reason we started talking about Krebs potentially being fired last week was when a divisional chief at CISA got fired. Then Krebs himself got fired. His deputy also got fired.
What's happened is this agency has been decapitated and that has a couple of risks. One is that CISA doesn't just work on election security. They are responsible, for example, for protecting vaccine researchers from what appears to be a robust, international, malign effort to interfere with and steal vaccine data by actors like potentially North Korea, Iran, Russia. That's really important.
We reported on recent weeks on hospitals being hit with ransomware attacks, Russian speaking gangs from the former Soviet Union hitting U.S. hospitals in the middle of this pandemic with ransomware attacks and locking up their computer systems. That's also within CISA's remit. We need an agency that's good that stuff.
But also in terms of the election, I mean, here are votes still being counted. There are recounts happening. There are certification tallies coming up, and people including senators on the intelligence committee have warned that this is one of the times when we are quite vulnerable to disinformation and potentially foreign interference as somebody might target the understanding of the American people to try to confuse us and upset and muddy the results of the election now as it is being finalized and finally tabulated.
And so to have CISA, which Krebs ran so well, not just to have him ousted but to have all -- the whole upper echelons of the agency taken out for these reasons at this time is very dangerous for lots of different reasons, and I'm -- I'm very, very uncomfortable with not just what this means for Krebs but what the implications are for our national security.
VELSHI: Rachel, one of the reasons I would like you back is because rather than doing it myself, I like to hear your narration of this legal clown car that is driving around the United States, stopping in Michigan last night with the board of canvassers in wane county not agreeing to certify Detroit's election results, then three hours later after getting pressure deciding to do so. Rudy Giuliani walking into a court case after 28 years -- walking into a courtroom in Philadelphia not really understanding the lay very well. Republicans putting pressure on the secretary of state of Georgia.
It is a bit of a clown car, but they are doing stuff to stop this election from being certified and to stop the Biden administration from taking the reins and getting their transition moving.
MADDOW: Yeah, that's right. And I think you had a really interesting, good conversation with Stacey Abrams about this earlier in the hour, Ali. I think that one thing that's interesting that we can see at work is what you were talking about with her about the secretary of state in Georgia, the Republican secretary of state who is, you know, absolutely been involved in contentious voting rights disputes with voting rights advocates like Abrams and with Democrats in Georgia, but is emerging here as a sort of normal Republican and not a Trump Republican in the sense that he's not exactly a champion of voting rights in Georgia.
Georgia's had all these troubles, but he's also not willing to go along with the insanity of the Trump Republican claims that the Georgia election should be thrown out because of some magic dust that they've imagined they can cast over those election results.
So I do think that this is accelerating in some small ways with Republican elections officials, you know, whether it's local commissioners in Pennsylvania or the secretary of state in Georgia or other people who are just sort of, you know, regular elected officials who are responsible for election integrity, finding themselves affronted by the president and what his legal team are trying to do in a way that I think maybe is giving us a little bit of a peek at a post-Trump Republican Party, or at least wear the schism might be between Trumpism and Republicanism as we move forward.
Also I will admit to having --
VELSHI: Rachel, good to see you --
MADDOW: Unsettled by that Wayne county thing. It only lasted for three hours, but that was an unsettling three hours, Ali.
VELSHI: It was an unsettling three hours. We started the show with the lieutenant governor, and at that point the votes weren't certified and literally as we finished the interview, we got news that they had voted again.
So, on one hand, I'm very settled by the idea that public pressure did lead them to change that, but it was very unsettling that after all this election, after all this democracy we worked so hard for, after all the work that Stacey Abrams does to get people registered to vote, this is how it can be stopped? That was worrisome.
Rachel, it is great to see you.
MADDOW: Great to see you too.
VELSHI: I guess I should have had you hold up today's newspaper so that your viewers know this was actually you today, live. You come back when you are ready to do so if it's tomorrow or Friday, but we are looking forward to having you back. Thank you, my friend.
MADDOW: I will do so. Again, thank you so much for helming this so ably. All of us are so lucky to have you, my friend. Thank you.
VELSHI: It is absolutely my pleasure. Thanks, Rachel.
More news ahead. Stay with us.
VELSHI: Barack Obama's historic election night victory in November of 2008 paved the way for what used to be a normal, smooth, and orderly presidential transition. The very next day, Obama unveiled his transition website, change.gov, in which he took questions from the general public. The most popular of the more than 70,000 questions that poured in was whether he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of CIA torture and illegal surveillance by the Bush administration. But despite enormous pressure from his liberal base and some Democratic lawmakers who wanted criminal inquiries into Bush-era torture and terrorism suspects, the new president-elect, nine days before he was due to be sworn in, made it clear it was time to turn the page.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: So, no 9/11 Commission with independent subpoena power?
OBAMA: We have not made final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation is going to be to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Twelve years later, President-elect Joe Biden is facing the same questions as he and Obama faced following their election victory, except this time the questions of criminality relate not to the previous administration but to the president himself.
President Trump currently faces a criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney's office and a civil investigation from New York's attorney general. As the latest "New York Times" magazine cover story notes, no ex-president has ever been indicted before, but no president has ever left office with so much potential criminal liability.
If history is any guide, the desire to move on will only grow stronger in the weeks and months ahead. But how does the country move on from a president whose disregard for the law has been so constant and so pervasive?
And while many have cited the need for Trump to be held accountable by the incoming administration, it seems Biden himself is not so inclined. NBC News reports that Biden has privately told advisers he does not want his presidency consumed by investigations of his predecessor.
One adviser told NBC Biden has made it clear that he just wants to move on.
Joining us now, Andrew Weissmann. He is a former senior member of the special counsel Robert Mueller's team. He also previously served as FBI general counsel and as the former head of the Department of Justice's criminal fraud section. His inside account of the Mueller investigation is called "Where Law Ends."
Andrew, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.
You know, when we were talking about impeachment, there were a lot of -- there was a lot of political pressure not to impeach the president when the Democrats won control of the House. There was some sense of get on with the work of the people. And others said, and a lot of people used the legal argument that there's an obligation to do something if the president has committed impeachable offenses. There's an obligation. It's not a preference.
Where do you stand on this? Is there an obligation for the Biden administration to pursue Donald Trump's criminality from when he was in office or prior?
ANDREW WEISSMANN, FORMER LEAD PROSECUTOR FOR SPECIAL COUNSEL ROBERT MUELLER: So we're going to be in a very different situation. We're going to be, as of January 20th, 2021, in the situation where we no longer are talking about indicting the president but, rather, a former president, somebody who is a civilian. And the question's going to be does the rule of law apply to that person?
And it's very hard to see an argument, if it is shown for instance that in the Manhattan district attorney's office that the president has committed tens of millions of dollars of tax fraud or bank fraud or both, and any other person would normally be prosecuted, then it really shouldn't be the case that just because he becomes president, that he shouldn't have the day in court where a jury decides whether or not he committed those crimes prior to becoming president.
And with respect to his conduct in office, you have to remember in the Mueller report, there is substantial evidence that the president obstructed justice, in other words, obstructed the special counsel investigation. And to me, that's even more important to vindicate.
If you are not going to hold a president accountable for a special counsel investigation obstruction, then there's no reason to actually have a special counsel in the future. In other words, the precedent that you're setting in the future is don't bother appointing a special counsel because there isn't going to be any accountability to a president who obstructs that investigation.
VELSHI: Is that an animal over your right shoulder?
WEISSMANN: That is my English cocker spaniel making himself very comfortable.
VELSHI: Very cute. That is very cute.
I want you to evaluate this statement from "The New York times" magazine. It says the stakes of an indictment could be very high. Putting him on trial for his conduct as president would be tantamount to putting on trial more than 72 million Americans who voted for his re-election.
How do you evaluate that?
WEISSMANN: You know, I think that's looking at it the wrong way. Remember a jury is going to have to make the decision and is going to have to find proof beyond a reasonable doubt in the same way any other defendant is entitled to all of the due process rights that we have in this country. And Donald Trump, if he were to be indicted, whether federally or by the Manhattan district attorney's office, would enjoy all of those same rights in the same way, for instance, that Paul Manafort went to trial and a jury made up of citizens from a cross-section of the community made a decision regardless of politics, whether someone's a Democrat or a Republican, just on the facts and the law. And Donald Trump would face the same kind of jury making that determination.
VELSHI: Andrew, good to see you as always, my friend. I think we should make it a law that people with animals should have them in their shots because it really makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable.
WEISSMANN: Will do.
VELSHI: Andrew Weissmann is a former senior member of the special counsel Robert Mueller's team.
We will be right back.
VELSHI: All right. That does it for us tonight. Rachel's likely back here tomorrow. But as you heard from her own mouth, it will be soon. I'm going to see you Saturday morning on my show, "VELSHI," at 8:00 Eastern.
Now it's time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence. There's not enough time these days because of all the news, but I could have spent a lot more time talking about the return of Rudy Giuliani to court today after 28 years as a lawyer. It was quite something to watch.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END
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