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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, November 25, 2020

Guests: Adam Schiff, Chris Murphy


President Trump pardons Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying about Russian contact. As Joe Biden prepares takes office, Trump still disputes the election. MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Listen to learn about the dangers of doom scrolling and what it looks like to do political action that creates reality, real, tangible, meaningful change. You can find it wherever your podcast.

That is ALL IN for this Wednesday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now with Ali Velshi, in for Rachel.

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Doom scrolling is bad but your Twitter feed is actually very nice, Chris. I enjoy it. You mix great political criticism with some good down home fun.

Nice to see you, my friend. Have yourself a great evening and a great Thanksgiving.

HAYES: You too. You too.

VELSHI: Well, thank you. And thank you to you at home for joining this hour. And happy Thanksgiving eve.

Rachel has the night off, but don't worry. She and Susan are fine.

Now, look, everybody knows President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. It is the most consequential pardon in American history, the one by which all others have since been measured. But what people may not remember is what a surprise it was at the time that it happened.

A month earlier, Nixon had famously resigned the president under the threat of impeachment, and he left the White House aboard marine one, handing the presidency off to his vice president, Gerald Ford. As Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush's defense secretary, who served in the Ford administration, later recalled: Those of us close enough to observe it ourselves could see how tormented Ford was by the decision. And when he finally made it, it caught many of us by surprise. It was a surprise because ford's pardon came on a Sunday morning, September 8th, 1974.

As "The Times" reported, quote: Government buildings were almost empty, and no one was expecting any dramatic presidential action. Mr. Ford attended early morning communion at St. John's Episcopal Church, then returned to the White House to make the announcement.


GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT: And I have sought such guidance and searched my own conscience with special diligence to determine the right thing for me to do with respect to my predecessor in this place, Richard Nixon, and his loyal wife and family. Theirs is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.


VELSHI: Now, that surprise decision generated immediate backlash. On a trip to Pittsburgh the following day, Ford was greeted by crowds of hostile protesters outside the venue where he was due to speak. Protesters held up signing excoriating him for his decision, and they booed the president.


REPORTER: When he left the hotel, Mr. Ford found the crowd of demonstrators had grown considerably, and he was booed. There also were some cheers.


REPORTER: On the flight back to Washington, the president declined to talk to reporters about the pardon. His spokesman says the president knew the pardon would be controversial and was aware of the reaction. A White House switchboard operator told the president last night the volume of calls was very heavy and kind of unfavorable.


VELSHI: Ford would go on to lose the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter in large part because of that decision. And since then, other presidential pardons have generated controversy.

Now, following his 1992 election loss, George H.W. Bush pardoned Reagan Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and five others for their role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton generated immense outrage for his pardoning of financier Marc Rich on the final day of his presidency. But no presidential pardon has been less surprising than the one issued today when to absolutely nobody's surprise, President Trump announced his controversial decision to offer a full pardon to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Flynn, as you recall, a former three-star general, has become a cause celebre on the right for Trump devotees, conspiracy theorists, and Republicans at large. All argue that Flynn was somehow the target of a deep-state plot by the Obama administration and an unfair prosecution by special counsel Robert Mueller, all of which ignores the fact that Flynn himself admitted under oath two times in court to lying to FBI agents about his discussions with the Russian ambassador to Washington during the transition and that he once served as a cooperating witness as part of the Mueller investigation.

It was Trump, after all, who fired Flynn from his job just three weeks into his tenure as national security adviser after President Obama explicitly warned Trump about hiring him in the first place. And it was Michael Flynn specifically, Trump's pressuring of FBI Director James Comey to, quote, let the Flynn case go, that actually resulted in the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Today, the White House announced that, quote, the president has pardoned General Flynn because he should never have been prosecuted. But nothing could be further from the truth. It's important to remember what it was exactly that Flynn did and why it was so problematic.

Remember, Flynn came under FBI suspicious in the summer of 2016, right around the time that he was encouraging "lock her up" chants at the Republican National Convention, and the investigation was part of the FBI's look into the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee. Flynn was scrutinized early on by the FBI because of his coziness with the Russian regime, including a trip to Russia where he sat alongside Vladimir Putin, and also because of his recent business dealings with Russian entities.

But it was actually Flynn's lies to FBI agents about his discussions with Russia during the transition that constituted a direct threat to U.S. national security. Remember, the United States had just seen its election attacked by Russia. Following the election, the Obama administration announced targeted sanctions against Russia to punish them for this behavior. But instead of reprimanding Russia for its brazen attacks on the U.S. election in an effort to help Trump, Flynn told Russia not to worry about it. He signaled that the Trump administration planned to do nothing about it and might perhaps roll back those punishing economic sanctions once in office.

Now, FBI intercepts of calls between Flynn and the ambassador revealed that Flynn repeatedly reassured Russia on this point and that those sanctions were the central topic of discussion between the two men. So, of course, the FBI was going to investigate this behavior, especially once Flynn lied about it to FBI agents. Remember, they had it on tape. They knew it. He said that no such discussions had taken place.

So how could the FBI not investigate that? He was lying to them about something they knew to be true.

Not only was Flynn now subject to Russian blackmail on account of his lies to the FBI and to Vice President Mike Pence, the overtures to the Russians themselves from the incoming Trump administration were hugely problematic. During testimony this summer, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who first blew the whistle on the fact that Flynn was compromised, explained why.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We had General Flynn engaging in discussions with the Russian ambassador that were essentially neutering the American sanctions, and that is a very curious thing to be doing, particularly when the Russians had been acting to benefit President Trump. And then he is covering it up. He's lying about it.

So the agents understandably needed to understand what the relationship was here between General Flynn and the Russians. And it was a very deliberate, planned set of conversations with the Russian ambassador to essentially tell them, don't worry about it. Things are going to change once we're in place.


VELSHI: And that wasn't the only troubling conduct by Flynn by the way. Flynn was advising the Trump campaign during the election at the same time that he was being paid over half a million dollars by the Turkish government to advance Turkey's interests. Flynn even participated in talks to kidnap a Turkish cleric living in the United States and deliver him to Turkey. The Mueller report also revealed that Flynn was engaged in a secret effort with a Republican operative during the campaign to try and obtain Hillary Clinton's emails from Russians on the dark web.

And yet despite all of this, Flynn's move to withdraw his guilty plea this year and hire fever swamp lawyer Sidney Powell, the same lawyer by the way who was recently dumped by the president's legal team for engaging in conspiracy theories about this election that were so outlandish, they couldn't even stand her. That resulted in praise from the president and the Justice Department making the unprecedented decision to drop its own case against the former national security adviser.

The judge in Flynn's case was not ready to go along with that, but no matter. Today came the pardon we all knew was coming. Flynn now becomes the second Trump associate convicted as part of the Russia investigation granted clemency by this president. Trump previously commuted the sentence of his longtime adviser Roger Stone, who we now know told the president in advance about WikiLeaks dumps of stolen Clinton emails.

Now, Flynn may be the latest felon to receive a pardon, but it appears he will not be the last. Already tonight, we're seeing reports that Trump intends to pardon several other criminal elements in his orbit, and there are many.

"The New York Times" reports tonight that Flynn's pardon may set off a wave of pardons in his remaining weeks in office. Now, that is going to be music to the ears of former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former White House adviser Steve Bannon, former top fund-raiser Elliott Broidy, and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, all of whom have either been convicted, indicted, or are currently under criminal investigation.

Tonight, the president also re-tweeted his congressional ally Matt Gaetz, who says the president should pardon everyone, including himself.

There's a lot to unpack here. Joining us now is Andrew Weissmann, a former senior member of special counsel Mueller's team, former FBI general counsel.

Andrew Weissmann is the author of "Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation."

Andrew, good to see you. Thank you for joining us tonight.

There is a distinction between this pardon and every other pardon I mentioned by previous presidents, and that is this, like the commutation of Roger Stone's sentence, is about stuff that was related to Donald Trump himself and/or his election.

ANDREW WEISSMANN, AUTHOR, "WHERE LAW ENDS: INSIDE THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION": Absolutely, and this is another example of this president really letting us see that our system of checks and balances really don't take into account how to deal with a president who is shameless and brazen and has no respect for the rule of law. And now we're seeing it play out with respect to the pardon power, this time with respect to Michael Flynn. But as you said, we're likely to see this happen again.

And one thing I would add to your excellent litany of what Michael Flynn did is after committing a slew of crimes, many of which he committed as the national security adviser to the president of the United States. In other words, he committed a felony as the national security adviser.

He then appeared in court, admitted what he did, and then later told the judge that he lied to the court when he said he was guilty. In other words, he admitted that he committed yet another felony, which was lying to the court. So this is not a normal situation where someone says, you know, that's a really good candidate for an exercise of the pardon power.

This is somebody who because of the conflicts, you would think the president really shouldn't be weighing in at all on this type of crime because he obviously has a vested interest in it in the same way he had a vested interest in the commutation of Roger Stone's sentence, where the judge actually said that that crime was committed on behalf of the president of the United States.

VELSHI: So let's just take that a little further because when we compare this to other commutations or pardons, it's not just that the president might have had an interest, but there had been speculation for the last four years that it, and be all incorrect, but there was some element of the president signaling messages to these people who had information on him that you play the game this way, I'll take care of you later, this idea of quid pro quo.

Now, you would know more about this than I would, but the fact is the previous pardons that we talked about earlier didn't have that element. It wasn't -- there couldn't -- the average person couldn't look at it and say, well, maybe Trump's getting something out of this.

WEISSMANN: Sure. Well, one of the things that you can tell from the Mueller report -- I detail in my book -- is that the president used the dangling of pardons to thwart Cooperation with the special counsel investigation. In other words, that's one aspect of his obstructive conduct so that if you are a Roger Stone or a Paul Manafort, you can say, you know, maybe it's better to not cooperate with the government because you know what? I don't think I'm going to be going to jail.

And in Roger Stone's case, you know, that actually worked out. He never served a day of the sentence that a federal judge handed out to him because the president acted before he actually had to surrender in court. So that use of the pardon power is very different than what we've seen. Now, that's not in any way to say that the use of the pardon power by George Bush one or Bill Clinton was in every instance correct. I think there are also ways in which the pardon power has been abused.

But here when it's part and parcel of the crimes and the conduct that the president has engaged in himself, it really is of a different nature. And I do think it is a factor that the new attorney general is going to have to consider when they consider what should happen to Donald Trump when he is a former president because a key issue for the new attorney general is going to be, what do you do with his obstructive conduct? Is it really okay to sweep it under the rug, or is it appropriate for him to be held to account for that?

VELSHI: You make a good point. Marc Rich and Bill Clinton were well-connected, and George H.W. Bush was involved in Iran-Contra, so they both issued pardons to people who were involved with them.

Andrew, it was good to see you. I was kind of excited to see your English cocker spaniel. I don't see any sign of him around or her.

WEISSMANN: He's had his day in the limelight. I think that's enough.


VELSHI: Thank you for joining us, my friend. Good to see you as always.

Andrew Weissmann is a former senior member of special counsel Mueller's team.

I want to turn now to Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to sort of pick up where we left off.

Congressman, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

What Andrew was talking about is interesting and troubling first of all. How does what happened today affect two things? Number one is Matt Gaetz's comment the president should pardon all sorts of people, which he probably will do, including himself. And how does this affect what happens on January 20th of 2020, because the president as we know faces a lot of exposure, both civilly and criminally?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I would say this. It doesn't literally impact whether the president can pardon himself or whether that will be enforceable in court. In fact, I'm quite confident that's unconstitutional.

One of the premises behind our Constitution is that no one is adjudge of their own case. We are bound by the rule of law. We are a nation of laws, not individuals.

If a president could commit any crime he wanted and simply pardon himself, it would be self-defeating. So I don't think that would be upheld, but it may be tested. If the Southern District of New York were to decide, for example, that having asked a judge to sentence Michael Cohen to jail for a campaign fraud scheme in which individual number one coordinated and directed the scheme and individual number one is Donald Trump, and they were to bring charges against him when he leaves the White House, the Trump defense team would undoubtedly raise a pardon if he had given himself one in his defense.

But I don't think the court would uphold that, and nothing that happened today will affect the constitutional analysis. Whether it will affect the analysis of a future attorney general or Justice Department, I think they will have to look on a case-by-case basis, the egregiousness of the president's conduct with the president's priority that the country heal the great divide, and I don't envy the difficulty of that decision.

VELSHI: Let me ask you about the other area of the expertise other than the law and that is intelligence. Often these other pardons have been instances in which one could argue that the prosecution was unfair or one could argue that the person has paid their price, or one could argue that the pardon is of no consequence.

None of those apply here from the perspective of intelligence. Michael Flynn is a man who understood intelligence. He worked in intelligence in his military career, and he was in charge of and responsible for matters of intelligence, which arguably were compromised during his short tenure in service of president Trump.

SCHIFF: Well, unquestionably. And, Ali, as you pointed out, when Michael Flynn lied to the vice president, the vice president then went on national television and misled the American people. The Russians knew Michael Flynn had lied because he had talked directly with their ambassador.

That made him vulnerable to compromise. He could be blackmailed. This was indeed the concern that Sally Yates raised in bringing this to the attention of the administration that he was now subject to compromise.

By giving him a pardon now, imagine the signal that sends to our Russian adversary, that essentially, you know, the president can make Russia's problems go away by dismissing a case against someone who had lied on their behalf, who had concealed these illicit contacts. It just makes a mockery out of our system, and I think demonstrates that it can be exploited by hostile foreign powers.

VELSHI: So what is the remedy for that because there are a number of Americans who say, look, let's put this ugly chapter behind us. But a point you and I have discussed in the past, particularly about the decision to impeach President Trump, was not that it may have been a popular decision at the time, but that it was something that you and others felt was incumbent upon members of Congress to do if there was conduct worthy of impeachment.

The same thing applies here. What do you do when there's conduct worthy of prosecution and people for whom it is important to pursue in the face of a president who seems to be ready to pardon those around him who were involved in things that may have led to his own election?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, first of all, one of the benefits of a system of federalism like the one we have is that anyone in the Trump administration even who gets a pardon by the president can be prosecuted by state and local authorities. That pardon does not extend to those investigations and prosecutions. So there is always the possibility of accountability no matter what the president may do.

It's also, I think, incumbent on us even if we can't prevent this president's abuse of the pardon power, to make sure that the power is not abused in the future. I've introduced a bill, the Pro-Democracy Act, that makes a number of reforms. And among them, it would say that a self-pardon is unconstitutional, so it would put Congress on the record. It would also provide that in a case like Flynn, where someone is pardoned who is implicated in a case in which the president is a subject, witness, or target, that the investigative files will be provided to Congress so Congress can scrutinize the extent of the wrongdoing.

And it also makes clear that a president can be prosecuted for using a pardon as a form of bribe. You keep quiet for me, you lie for me, I will pardon you, that that is a prosecutable crime. So we can deter its abuse eve if this president is beyond those remedies.

VELSHI: Congressman, good to see you as always. Thank you again for joining us tonight.

Congressman Adam Schiff is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

We've got much more ahead here tonight including the question of whether President Trump can, in fact, pardon himself. We're going to get some expert advice on that next.

Stay with us.


VELSHI: Donald Trump had issued 28 presidential pardons during his time in office before tonight. Michael Flynn makes it 29.

Now, even if you include the handful of commutations as well, Donald Trump has actually pardoned the fewest people since William McKinley in 1897.

But hat number might be about to spike. This is the headline in "New York Times" tonight. White House weighs pardon blitz before Trump's exit. Quote, it's not just Michael T. Flynn. The White House is weighing a wave of pardons and commutations by President Trump in his final weeks in office, prompting jockeying by a range of clemency seekers and their representatives, including more allies of Mr. Trump.

Among those hoping for pardons are two former Trump campaign advisers, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, who were convicted by the way in cases stemming from the Mueller investigation. The president is also, quote, musing about pardoning his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was convicted of felony crimes and is receiving solicitations from his lawyer friends who want their clients offer the hook for their convicted crimes too.

Now, it's not unheard of for a president to issue a wave of pardons and commutations on his way out the door, but this president threads a particular needle which we were just talking about, having both a penchant for revenge and for keeping up a large professional circle of convicted felons. And there's also the added wrinkle that there's been open speculation for years that Donald Trump might pardon himself in the waning days of his presidency since his legal protections as the most powerful person in the world are set to expire on at noon on January the 20th.

Just tonight, the president re-tweeted a Republican congressman from Florida, who said the president should absolutely pardon himself and every single person in his administration.

With just weeks left in his presidency, could Donald Trump be on the brink of issuing not just pardons for convicted criminals but for criminals to be a la Gerald Ford's preemptive pardon of Richard Nixon? Could Trump be preparing to issue blanket pardons for any and all future crimes, to his business associates, to his children? With the spree of the late in the game pardons, could Donald Trump be laying the groundwork to pardon himself?

Who else would I turn to if I have a question like this?

Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney.

Joyce, great to see you, and you're absolutely who I need to ask about this. But I want to first put on the screen for our viewers the clause in the Constitution that talks about pardons.

It says: The president shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment.

An article in "The Atlantic" argues that the power to grant means something there. In other words, it's not just about Trump pardoning himself. He's got to actually grant himself a pardon and some smart legal minds argue that's not the same thing.

What is your take on this?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think that "The Atlantic" article is exactly right, Ali. The argument that Trump made, you know, in 2018 as the Mueller report was about to issue, he said, I have an absolute power to pardon myself.

But linguistically that can't be true because to grant a pardon, grant means to give something to someone else. And so implicit in this notion of pardoning is the idea that it's not something that you do for yourself. It's something that you do to someone else.

VELSHI: "The New York Times" discusses the limitations on these pardons. It was something I was just discussing with Congressman Schiff. Quote: Even if such a self-pardon were possible, scholars differ on the illegality. It would not inoculate Mr. Trump against possible charges stemming from ongoing investigations into his business and finances by city and state prosecutors in New York.

A point that Adam Schiff made, how relevant is that?

VANCE: It's very important because we know that Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance has been pushing forward on an investigation. It's clear that there are both civil and criminal investigations coming out of the state of New York, and no matter what the president does as regards a pardon, he can't insulate himself from them in any way.

VELSHI: Let's talk a little about what this does to the system. One of the conversations I was having with Congressman Schiff is Donald Trump, we've normalized a lot of things or Donald Trump has normalized a lot of things that were completely outrageous and we didn't think about them.

In this particular case, he's talking about pardons. He's already commuted the sentence of Roger Stone. We hear he's talking about Rick Gates and Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos.

How do you disentangle the idea that the president is considering pardons like all presidents on their way out of office do for people who are tied up in a conspiracy that the president himself wants you to believe doesn't exist?

VANCE: We need to absolutely reject the idea that any of these pardons are legitimate. Trump may be able to issue them, and frankly they may never be tested because let's say that he were to pardon himself. That would only be tested in court if he was subsequently indicted down the road and offered the pardon as a barrier to prosecution. So we don't know whether we'll get there or not.

But these pardons have no smack of legitimacy to them. This is a president putting himself above the law. And to go back to your opening point, Ali, about whether or not the Constitution permits a president to pardon himself, the Founding Fathers deliberately rejected the notion that we should have a king, someone who is above the law. They embraced the notion of a president and a constitutional republic.

So issuing self-pardons is fundamentally opposed to what the Founding Fathers created when they structured our form of government.

VELSHI: And that will turn out to be a very important point.

Joyce, before you, I got most of my legal knowledge from "Law & Order". I'm much better for our acquaintance.

Thank you for clearing this up for us tonight. Joyce Vance is a former U.S. attorney and an MSNBC legal analyst.

VELSHI: All right. Any guesses about how else the president spent his day today? If your bingo card has, quote, rant for ten minutes over speaker phone about how evil Democrats stole Pennsylvania, congratulations. More on that and Senator Chris Murphy is live right after this.


VELSHI: With 56 days until inauguration day and just two days since the transition process finally officially began, President-elect Joe Biden delivered a Thanksgiving address today. Biden called for hope and unity ahead of the holidays. The nation grapples with a surging pandemic and a fault line of political division.


BIDEN: This Thanksgiving, in anticipation of all the Thanksgivings to come, let's dream again. Let's commit ourselves to thinking not only of ourselves but of others as well. For if we care for one another, if we open our arms rather than brandishing our fist, we can with the help of God heal.

I give thanks now for you, for the trust you've placed in me. Together, we'll lift our voices in the coming months and years, and our song shall be of lives saved, breaches repaired, a nation made whole again.


VELSHI: OK. So while the president-elect urged the nation to imagine a nation made whole again, the sitting president dropped in via speaker phone to a meeting of Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania, where they spent the better part of a day discussing unfounded claims of voter fraud in a hotel meeting room in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His voice coming through the lawyer Jenna Ellis' phone, which she held up to a mic,

Trump tried to press his shriveling case for somehow clawing back the election that Joe Biden has already handily won.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): We have to turn the election over because there's no doubt. We have all the evidence. We have all the affidavits. We have everything. All we need is to have some judge listen to it properly without having a political opinion or having another kind of a problem because we have everything. And by the way, the evidence is pouring in now as we speak.


VELSHI: Evidence pouring in now as we speak. That tirade went on for ten minutes. For ten minutes, he provided no evidence of anything and then not that long after he got off that call, the lame duck president sent this tweet pardoning Michael Flynn.

Now, in this moment, America is living through a tale of two presidents, one lame duck who will not admit a democratically earned defeat but will spend his remaining days in office pardoning friends and cronies, and a president-elect who is trying to shepherd the nation toward better days and brighter hours.

How we reconcile those two is a question for my next guest, Senator Chris Murphy, the senator from Connecticut, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Chris Murphy, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

The president talked about all the evidence and all the affidavits he's got, but the reason they are 3-33 in the courts is because there is no evidence. There are no affidavits. In the state of Pennsylvania, where they're challenging this again, there hasn't been a single ballot that has been found to be the subject of fraud.

But this does do real damage to our nation because there is a relief act that is not getting dealt with by the Senate because they won't even acknowledge that Joe Biden is the president-to-be.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): No, that's exactly right. Listen, it's very hard, if not impossible, to negotiate a big, complex piece of legislation like a billion dollar relief package without the president. And in this case, it's particularly important to have the president at the table because Mitch McConnell, over the last four years, has refused to act independently of permission and authorization from Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell doesn't want to go out and negotiate a coronavirus relief package only to have Trump pull the rug out from under him.

And so, Mitch McConnell is not at the negotiating table. Donald Trump or the White House isn't at the negotiating table. You can't get a piece of legislation passed and signed into law if you don't have the majority party in the Senate and the White House negotiating, and that is, of course, a tragedy because right here in Connecticut, we have, you know, three-hour lines for tests because we don't have enough testing equipment. We have four-hour lines for food banks and food pantries because people are getting really desperate as their unemployment benefits run out.

We need that bill passed. But as Donald Trump is continually distracted by this sideshow of contesting the election just because his ego is bruised, we're not at the negotiating table getting a package done to help this country through what is going to be a brutal winter.

VELSHI: Yeah, it's quite a time when you pass by in the streets of our cities long lineups and you're not sure whether that's a food bank or a COVID testing site. Last week, we showed images of a food bank in North Texas where 6,000 cars were lined up to get food for thanksgiving. We've got record numbers of food-insecure families in America.

And fundamentally, that's connected. That economic crisis, which Donald Trump did talk a lot about in the waning days of the campaign, he's right about that. People are suffering economically. You can't solve that problem if you don't solve the underlying problem, which is COVID.

MURPHY: No, exactly right. And I was at a small community hospital in Connecticut this morning. They do testing in the morning, but they have to stop testing at about 1:00 because they don't have enough tests. They run out. And so they shut down. And there's still a high demand for people in our state to get tested.

But because Donald Trump has botched the supply chain both for PPE at the outset of the crisis and now for testing, we can't really get our hands around the problem, which means then you can't get your hands around a solution.

So, listen, Joe Biden is going to have a mountain of a job when he gets sworn in. He's going to have to essentially start from scratch with respect to pandemic response, and he's going to have an economy in meltdown if we can't get a package done. And every single day that Donald Trump is distracted and angry and mad about the election results is another day that we can't get that COVID relief package, we can't get eviction -- we can't get benefits to renters, we can't get unemployment benefits extended, we can't get money down to states to help with the testing backlog. That's a huge problem.

VELSHI: Can you believe we're in the ninth month of this thing, and we don't have enough testing materials, and we still talk about PPE for workers? It's amazing.

Senator, good to see you. Thank you for joining me. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Well, months ago when that first wave of the coronavirus pandemic was marked by those shortages of personal protective equipment, of ventilators and hospital beds, well, things have changed. Another wave is cresting, and hospitals are facing a crisis that's actually harder to deal with than even that. I'll tell you about that on the other side.


VELSHI: St. Louis, Missouri, is dealing with a particularly devastating COVID surge right now. Officials in the city are sounding the alarm that hospitals are running out of space, and the ICUs are filling up.

It's against that backdrop that KSDK, the local NBC affiliate in St. Louis, got exclusive access to the COVID ICU unit at Mercy Hospital, the second largest hospital in St. Louis.

Here's KSDK anchor Casey Nolen.


CASEY NOLEN, KSDK-TV ANCHOR, ST. LOUIS, MO: There are twelve rooms in this part of the ICU. They are all full. They can make more room on other floors, but they can't make more doctors and nurses.

The hospital has converted rooms to handle more COVID cases, but caring for justice one critical patient can require several nurses and doctors.

And like all of the hospitals in the St. Louis region, there's concern this current surge of COVID cases could soon mean too many patients for the staff to take care of.

Patients like Steve Jeffrey (ph), who says he contracted COVID despite a self-quarantine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not seeing my wife, it's very difficult. I mean the people -- the people here have been great and very friendly, but still it's not -- it's not family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, so it's gotten busier in the last couple weeks. There's no question about that.

NOLEN: It doesn't take long inside the ICU to realize COVID is taking an emotional toll on the staff too.

LORI LYNN, REGISTERED NURSE: Yeah, and sometimes that's the hardest part. That was the hardest part for me back in April, just isolating completely from everybody. It's just hard to be here and then go back home and not really have much to go back home to.

NOLEN: But they keep coming to work and keep hoping that those who will likely see their sacrifice will make some of their own.

JULIE BROOKS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF NURSING, MERCY HOSPITAL. ST. LOUIS, MO: They need to stay home, and they need to wear their mask, and they need to listen to the science.

NOLEN: Do you worry that it could get to the point where you have to turn people away?

BROOKS: I think it's a concern for everyone, and I think it's a concern for the entire city. That anytime of the day or night they can call and say, we're out of beds.

NOLEN: You're improvising on a daily basis?

BROOKS: On an hourly basis.


VELSHI: Hospitals like mercy are quickly finding that there might not be enough doctors and nurses to deal with this crisis if things continue on the path that we're on because here's the thing. Highly skilled professionals can't be replicated.

"The New York Times" reports this week that the United States has manufactured more than 200,000 ventilators since March, but while many hospitals in COVID hot spots have the supply of ventilators they need, they don't have, quote, nearly enough respiratory therapist, pulmonologists and critical care doctors who have the knowledge to operate the machine and provide around-the-clock care for patients who cannot breathe on their own.

One emergency room doctor telling "The Times," quote, we can't manufacture doctors and nurses the same way we can manufacture ventilators.

The ER doctor echoing what we heard from that news report out of St. Louis, we cannot make more doctors and nurses.

All across the country, we're seeing these same cries for help, like this one from a respiratory therapist in Omaha, Nebraska.


COURTNEY KOTECKI, RESPIRATORY THERAPIST: I work in the COVID units almost daily. They are filling up very, very fast. So I just want everybody to kind of have an idea what we have to go through.

This is our ventilator. Our sickest patients go on this almost immediately when they come to the hospital. For our other patients who are still very sick but not needing the ventilator, we have high flow systems that they go on that push that air into their nasal passages and down into their lower airways hoping to oxygenate and ventilate them.

It's very, very taxing because we have to go in and out of the rooms all the time because these patients drop their stats very quickly because they're not able to keep that oxygen within their lungs. So all I ask from the community of Omaha and countrywide is to please wear your mask, if not for yourself, but for others because it's not easy, and we're doing our best.

HANNAH CURREY, NURSING ASSISTANT: I still have my job at the hospital, and it's become very hard since COVID started. We never know if we're going walk into a good day where you can see your patient finally leave who has been there for two months or if you're going to sit there and hold the hands of patients as they -- as they pass. And some days I can handle it and some days I can't.

It's really -- it's hard. I love what I do, but when the only thing keeping you going is your coworkers and everyone is getting burnt out, it's -- it's a struggle.


VELSHI: Everyone is getting burned out. It's a struggle.

In the Midwest especially, frontline heroes are just fried. They're not only understaffed, they're also in the midst of this catastrophic surge which has now pushed them over the edge. But it's not just a Midwest problem, it's an everywhere problem, spreading an an alarming rate. The United States hit the grim record of over two million new cases in the past two weeks.

This rate keeps up, we could see over four million cases in November alone. Over 88,000 Americans were hospitalized yesterday, and that number keeps going up and up. Behind each of those hospitalizations, there are countless highly trained, highly skilled frontline workers treating every single one of those patients. They are being pushed beyond their limit, and there isn't an end in sight.

So as we reflect on what we're thankful for this Thanksgiving, let's not forget the frontline workers who risk their lives every single day to keep us all safe. That's the least we can do.


VELSH: In December of 1958, a 21-year-old law student named Bruce Carver Boynton took a last-minute bus trip back home to Selma, Alabama, for the holidays. When the bus made a 40-minute layover in Richmond, Virginia, Boynton decided to get a cheeseburger and a cup of tea, but unlike the other black passengers, he decided to take a seat at a white's only restaurant.

What happened next might not be surprising given the time and place, but it was absolutely repugnant. It's worth hearing about it in Boynton's own words, including the racist language he was subjected to, which included a very difficult word.


BRUCE BOYNTON, CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER: I gave the waitress the order. She left and I thought she had taken the order, but she came back with the manager, and the manager took his finger and stuck it in my face and said, nigger, move. That's when the sit-in began at that time.


VELSHI: As the "Montgomery Advertiser" put it, quote, it was not Boynton's intent to test any laws in the South that night. He was just hungry and wanted something to eat at a clean restaurant. He was not looking for trouble, but when ordered to move by the restaurant's manager, Bruce Boynton stayed put.

He did so knowing full well that he would be handcuffed and hauled off on a misdemeanor trespassing charge. He was forced to spend three days in jail. He was fined $10 by Richmond's municipal court, but still, he refused to let the matter go.

The young law student decided to appeal his case, and he kept appealing and appealing until it got to the Supreme Court, where he was represented by a young lawyer from the NAACP named Thurgood Marshall, the same Thurgood Marshall who would later become the first African American to sit on the nation's highest court.

Together, their case ultimately resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited bus station segregation, and in many ways, that case was just the beginning, because it wasn't long after that ruling, it wasn't long after Boynton's first -- after Boynton versus Virginia that a group of young activists decided to test whether that law of the land was actually being followed.

In May of 1961, they began organizing freedom rides with black and white students riding buss into the Jim Crow South where public transport facilities were segregated. They made it a point to use whites' only rest rooms and waiting rooms.

One of the activists was a 21-year-old divinity student named John Lewis, who join steady cause knowing he could be risking his life. He ended up being attacked when he and a fellow rider tried to enter whites-only waiting rooms at a Greyhound bus terminal in North Carolina. It is the start of the good trouble he would later become known for.

The vicious attacks that those Freedom Riders faced including the firebombing of a bus in Alabama eventually forced the Kennedy administration to act and require stricter enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. It was hard fought progress, progress that was all made possible because of a movement started by a young law student, someone who was not looking to test any laws but who was hungry and just wanted something as simple as a warm meal at a clean restaurant.

Bruce Boynton died this week at the age of 83. We've got a long way to go as a country, but thank God for people like him who help lead the way.

That does it for me tonight. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

It is time now for "THE LAST WORD" with my good friend Lawrence O'Donnell.


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