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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 14, 2020

Guests: Sharon LaFraniere, Lachlan Markay

Summary

"The New York Times" reports that Trump aide, Michael Caputo pushes paranoid conspiracies about government scientists and left-wing "hit squads". A GOP operative with allegations of election misconduct appears to be assisting Kanye West's candidacy. Dozens are dead and dozens more missing as historic wildfires spread across Western United States.

Transcript

JENNA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHNGTON POST: They hadn't really done much research into things that Trump said or did. They were really busy and work and monitoring the news.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Yeah.

JOHNSON: Their Facebook feeds were telling them different stories about Trump. And they kind of embarrassed about what happened. They said that they are better educated now and they also have a record that they can look at. Trump has given them something that they can look at.

HAYES: Jenna Johnson, thank you for sharing your reporting.

That is ALL IN for this Monday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here on this Monday night.

Lots of news to get to tonight. There's a lot going on.

We're going to be checking in later on this hour with the situation with the wildfires on the West Coast tonight. Oregon, Washington, and both northern California and southern California continuing to struggle with the worst wildfires in living memory. Mass evacuations, whole towns burned, dozens of lives lost already, and with today yet another day of almost unbelievably widespread, suffocating smoke blanketing huge swaths of the west coast, even far away from the fires themselves. Some of the worst air quality on earth is in the American West right now. We are going to be checking in on that a little bit later on this hour.

Today at "The Atlantic" magazine, reporter Jeffrey Goldberg, who had the deeply unnerving scoop about a week ago about the president calling American service members losers and suckers and him being disgusted by the presence of wounded veterans, today, Jeffrey Goldberg had another scoop, landing the first print interview since the impeachment of the president this past December with Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who, of course, was a first-person witness to the conduct of the president toward Ukraine, which led to the president's impeachment in December.

Well, now tonight, Lester Holt from NBC News has just done the first interview with Colonel Vindman for television, and it is a remarkable thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: What is your message to young military officers about speaking truth to power?

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yeah. I -- I will tell you that I'm concerned about -- one of my major concerns about how this played out, I had a lot of peers and younger officers reach out and soldiers reach out and just people I didn't know to pass support. What I'm concerned about is there was an undertone to kind of some of the responses from these, you know -- from these people, from these fellow service members, and that is that I did the right thing in their perspective, and I still was kind of hung out to dry.

And what that could do -- and that's what I fear most from a second Trump administration is that you have good people that understand -- that have a strong moral compass and understand what the difference between right and wrong, but what you can have and what you already see in various departments and agencies is this creeping view that in order to prevent yourself from running afoul of this administration, you need to compromise your values.

So do I blame the secretary of defense? Do I blame the secretary of the Army, the chief of staff of the Army? No. I understand that their roles are bigger. They're responsible for the whole enterprise.

But what I may have -- what I do have concerns about is that in letting one thing go, you've basically created a precedent, a slippery slope that compromises the ethics and values of the institution.

I tried to live by the seven Army values -- loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. I don't think, you know, many people could fault me for straying from those. But in living those values, I still ended up in the situation where my career was done.

HOLT: What was your reaction when the Senate failed to convict the president?

VINDMAN: I -- I wasn't -- I wasn't surprised. I was, again, you know, maybe I could be considered idealistic, I would hope not naive, but it didn't surprise me that the Republican members of the Senate and the majority would not convict the president.

Was I disappointed? Absolutely. The Senate has a role to -- a role to fulfill their oath to the Constitution, the oath they took to have a fair Senate trial, and they let political expediency and self-service trump their duties to the United States.

So, you know, it doesn't make a difference if you're Republican or Democrat. You have one overriding duty as a public servant at the national level. It's to serve the Constitution. It's to serve your people. And I think they failed to do that.

HOLT: This interview will elicit strong reaction. Some will call you bitter. Are you bitter?

VINDMAN: I don't think so.

HOLT: Are you angry?

VINDMAN: I don't think so. I hope I don't come across that way. I would say that I -- I tend to take a pretty intellectual approach to looking at problems, and I can't say that, you know, my family hasn't been through, you know, some torturous, painful moments.

My wife in particular reacts to a lot of this viscerally. You know, her husband's under attack. Our family has been criticized. I see it as beyond my span of control, meaning that, you know, these are things that I can't influence, and therefore they're background noise. And in that mindset, it doesn't -- I'm not emotionally coloring a situation. I take a very kind of analytical view as to what's going on.

Would I have liked to continue my military career? I chose to continue my military career, which was still on the ascent, being selected for War College, on the cusp of being selected for promotion to colonel. I wanted to continue to serve. That door's been closed for me by the president. So I will continue to serve in the best way I can, and frankly I see this conversation with you as -- as a continuation of my service.

I -- it would be more comfortable for me to sit quietly, let all this pass me by, you know, hope that -- and stay out of the public eye. Instead, I've assumed what I analyze to be a significant amount of personal risk, reputational risk, to come out here and to talk to you, to talk to "The Atlantic" with one hope in mind, and that hope is to share a perspective that could somehow inform an electorate going into the most important election of our lifetime and maybe persuade them to choose an alternative to what we have and an alternative to four more years of disaster.

HOLT: That's obviously a strong political viewpoint. Prior to all this, would you describe yourself as being very political?

VINDMAN: I was completely apolitical. And I hope that frankly after this, after this election, I could return to kind of my comfort zone, which is -- which is being apolitical. What I think I've been awakened from is a complacency that everything is going to be okay, that I could just sit on the sidelines and, you know, hope for the best. We have a strong democracy.

We'll -- we'll live through this. I think I've been shaken loose from that, that kind of complacency. But my -- I'm not inherently political. I've most recently registered as a prior -- I'm waiting on my new voter registration card because now I'm a civilian resident of Virginia, so I'm looking forward to registering to vote.

HOLT: Do you care to tell us how you plan to register?

VINDMAN: I think those are personal decisions.

HOLT: Understood.

VINDMAN: I can tell you -- I could tell you this, that the choice for me in the election is clear. I'm going to be voting for the other guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: 'm going to be voting the other guy. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman speaking tonight in a wide-ranging interview with NBC News' Lester Holt.

Colonel Vindman, of course, sacrificed his career to tell the chain of command and ultimately to tell Congress, when he was subpoenaed, about crimes he saw the president committing from his perch at the national security counsel in the White House.

After what he has been through in terms of the retaliation against him for doing that, including getting fired from the White House, from the National Security Council and ultimately railroaded out of the military, it is really something to see him still willing to speak out. And you heard him explain there, because he thinks he can help -- he can continue to serve now. He can help warn people about how much worse things might be able to get in a second term given what he saw in the first term in the Trump White House.

Again, like I said, incredible interview today. Lester Holt with Alexander Vindman.

Along a different plot line but showing some of the same characteristics of character and bravery, you may also remember a federal prosecutor named Aaron Zelinsky, who himself made a career sacrifice to warn the country about crimes, about corruption that he saw play out at the Justice Department in this administration. Aaron Zelinsky and three other prosecutors quit in protest when Trump appointees at the Justice Department intervened to downgrade the sentencing recommendation for Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone.

Aaron Zelinsky later testified that Roger Stone got special treatment from the Justice Department because he was a friend of the president's and implicitly because the case against stone pointed to him lying to investigators in part to protect the president.

Now, Roger Stone has since been sentenced and then sprung anyway, saved from having to serve his prison sentence anyway, after Trump commuted his sentence. But today, we learned that Aaron Zelinsky's testimony was not for nothing. For one thing, it has led to an official inspector general investigation into what happened there and why there was that top-level intervention from the Justice Department into Roger Stone's sentencing.

NBC's Julia Ainsley and Ken Dilanian reporting tonight that Aaron Zelinsky's allegations sparked the justice department's inspector general to start investigating this matter, which of course raises immediate questions about what Attorney General William Barr is going to try to do there. I mean, if the investigation bears out what Aaron Zelinsky says happened in that case, Attorney General Bill Barr may himself be in the crosshairs of that investigation as the inspector general develops that case. That should be very interesting.

You should also know that the way these things are structured, the inspector general at the end of these things is support to report both to Congress and to the public on any wrongdoing they find in an investigation like this. So watch this space.

Like I said, there's a lot going on tonight. But there's -- I also want to talk about the news that broke today that -- I've been working on this all day. I've read everything that's come out about it. I've like -- it's -- it still strikes me as too weird to be true, but apparently it's true.

Six months ago, "The New York Times" reported that the FBI came up to Capitol Hill and gave members of Congress a warning, a briefing warning about this guy. It had come to the FBI's attention that members of Congress were in touch with this guy, a former Ukrainian official, and they were trying to get information from him for various congressional investigations.

The FBI tried to put a stop to that. The FBI came up to Capitol Hill and warned members of Congress from both parties that it was a bad idea to take information from this guy. Quote, in March, FBI officials warned lawmakers in a briefing that it had concerns that Andrii Telizhenko was a conduit for Russian disinformation.

That warning, a notable warning that ends up in "The New York Times" months later, that warning from the FBI about this guy came after this guy turned up sort of on the edges of Republican circles. He had started apparently shoveling information toward Republicans in Congress that he said they should use for their investigations. He also appeared in a truly bananas pro-Trump pseudo-documentary hosted by former Trump campaign staffer Michael Caputo.

Now, Michael Caputo is a guy who was worked forever with the aforementioned Roger Stone. The FBI says the big, beardy Ukrainian guy who he put in his documentary is running a disinformation campaign targeting the its, and they've warned lawmakers to not take anything from this guy, not believe anything he said.

But there he is in this weird documentary that Michael Caputo made, that ran on pro-Trump, far-right TV during the impeachment. Michael Caputo turns up in weird places in the Trump universe. He also featured in one of the strangest sidebar stories of the Mueller report. Michael Caputo and roger stone both apparently lied to the intelligence committee when they testified in the Russia investigation. When both Caputo and stone told the committee that they had definitely never had meetings with anybody Russian about trying to get Hillary Clinton's emails.

That's what they told Congress as part of the congressional Russia investigation but then when Caputo was asked the same question by prosecutors and he was shown text messages they had obtained that showed that, in fact, he had set up a meeting with a Russian guy who was offering to sell hacked Hillary Clinton emails during the campaign, Michael Caputo and Roger Stone both said, oh, geez, did we lie to the intelligence committee about this? I'm terribly sorry. We just completely forgot that we had talked to this Russian guy who was offering to sell us stolen Hillary Clinton emails. Completely slipped both of our minds. That was a really weird sidebar in the Mueller report.

Then this summer, the Senate Intelligence Committee puts out its big report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and in that report -- this is this 1,000 page-report that came out a few weeks ago -- we get all this information about the Trump campaign chair, Paul Manafort from 2016 and his links to Russia, all laid out in very, very stark terms. And once again, this guy Michael Caputo pops up there too.

This is from the Senate Intelligence Committee report. Paul Manafort, quote, conducted influence operations that supported and were a part of Russian active measures campaigns, including those involving political influence and electoral interference. Quote, Manafort's relationship with Russian government-aligned interests began with his introduction to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch, in approximately 2004. Since at least that time, Deripaska, the Russian oligarch, has acted as a proxy for the Russian state and intelligence services. Deripaska has managed and financed Kremlin-approved and directed active measures campaigns, including information operations and election interference efforts.

Deripaska has conducted these activities in an effort to install pro-Kremlin regimes to control local economies and politicians and to strengthen Kremlin-aligned power brokers across the globe. The committee has limited insight into the origins of Manafort's relationship with this oligarch Oleg Deripaska but likely began in 2004. The report then continues, Michael Caputo, a former employee of a firm run by Manafort and several others, including Roger Stone, told the committee that in 2004, Manafort hired him on a Deripaska-related project.

So, I mean, I love that it's just part of the background story of the news now that the president's campaign chair had for more than a decade been running Russian influence operations before he got inexplicably put in charge of the Trump campaign. Like that's just part of the background story we need to understand daily advances in the news these days. But that is the background that gets us to this Michael Caputo guy, who really is a strange duck, who really does turn up at weird times and in weird places in the Trump orbit.

I mean the Trump campaign chairman was working on Russian influence projects around the world for more than a decade before he ran Trump's campaign. He's doing that with this guy Oleg Deripaska who is organizing and financing those things on behalf of the Kremlin. And from the very beginning of his relationship, the relationship between Manafort and this guy Deripaska, Manafort hires Michael Caputo to help with that. He's involved in the Deripaska stuff, which is Manafort running Russian foreign influence events.

Caputo then ends up also working on the Trump campaign, where he sets up Roger Stone to meet with a Russian guy to get Clinton emails. Roger Stone later gets sentenced to prison for lying about his contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and trying to get Clinton emails. He's set to go to prison for a long time after his convictions until the Justice Department and the White House intervene to spring him, and that is now under investigation.

Caputo also apparently lied about those contacts with some Russian guy offering to sell Clinton emails, but somehow he miraculously escaped ever being charged. Caputo then goes on to make a bizarre pro-Trump, anti-Joe Biden documentary featuring a star witness, who the FBI says is a Russian agent selling Russian disinformation that definitely nobody should buy in the United States.

He is a -- he is a weird guy who turns up at weird points, often with a weird connection to Russia and to people getting convicted of serious felonies. That's the back story on Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo.

And so, what do you think happens to a guy like that in an administration like this in a time like this? Turns out they put him in charge of the Centers for Disease Control. Michael Caputo has no health background, no science background whatsoever. But in April, the Trump White House installed him as the top spokesperson at the Department of Health and Human Services whereupon he apparently started dictating to the CDC what the CDC's scientific publications could say about coronavirus and how their pronouncements, their scientific pronouncements about COVID had to line up more closely with what the president was saying about the virus.

This story started breaking late on Friday night. Politico's Dan Diamond obtaining emails showing Michael Caputo and one of his staffers demanding changes to the CDC's weekly scientific reports. Quote: The CDC's Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Reports, MMWR, are authored by career scientists and serve as the main vehicle for the agency to inform doctors, researchers and the general public about how COVID-19 is spreading and who's at risk. Such reports have historically been published with little fanfare and no political interference, said several longtime health department official who's have been viewed as -- excuse me, and these publications have viewed as a cornerstone of the nation's public health work for decades.

But since Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no medical or scientific background, was installed in April as the Health and Human Services department's new spokesperson, there have been substantial efforts to align these public health reports with Trump's statements, including the president's claims that fears about the outbreak are overstated. There have also been efforts to stop the reports altogether.

So Michael Caputo gets installed as the spokesperson for the Health and Human Services Department as the outbreak, as the pandemic is taking off, they install him in there in April. Health and Human Services Department oversees the CDC.

Michael Caputo then appoints himself -- he's a spokesperson. He's a communications guy, but he hires himself, he appoints himself a scientific adviser who is literally an assistant professor at some Canadian college. But armed with that scientific expertise, Caputo then seeks to overthrow the CDC. Caputo and this guy, his science adviser, the assistant professor, start telling the CDC that the CDC is no longer allowed to publish its COVID science anymore. Everything has to go through Michael Caputo and his friend.

One of the emails that "Politico" got is Caputo's guy, his scientific adviser saying this to the CDC, literally being smart enough to put it in writing.

Quote, the reports -- meaning MMWR reports -- must be read by someone outside of CDC like myself, and we cannot allow the reporting to go on as it has been, nothing to go out unless I read and agree with the findings. How they, CDC, wrote it, and I tweak it to ensure it is fair and balanced and complete. Nothing to go out unless I read and agree, says assistant professor at Canadian college hired by the guy who plays the role of Forrest Gump in the Mueller report.

"The Washington Post" and "the New York Times" soon followed with confirming reports adding more detail as to just how this guy Michael Caputo and his team have not just pushed, they have succeeded in getting the CDC to change its language in its weekly scientific reports, and he has succeeded in substantially delaying CDC reports on things like transmission of COVID between children, which might be important for policymakers and decision makes thinking about, oh, I don't know, whether to put kids back in school together. They also succeeded in substantially delaying a CDC report on how hydroxychloroquine isn't a snake oil miracle cure for COVID no matter what you might hear from Fox News hosts about it.

So the reporting starts Friday night. It gets developed over the weekend. "The Washington Post," "The New York Times." and then this arrives. "New York Times" reporter Sharon LaFraniere reporting on how Michael Caputo, this guy we've been talking about, how he is comporting himself now that we know that that guy, of all people, is controlling what the American people are allowed to know, what the world is allowed to know from the CDC about the science on COVID. LaFraniere finding that Michael Caputo last night did a Facebook live event for his followers, his friends and colleagues or something.

Here's her report. Quote, Michael R. Caputo, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services accused the CDC of harboring a, quote, resistance unit determined to undermine President Trump. Caputo said that he personally could be in physical danger from opponents of the administration. Quote, if you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it's going to be hard to get, he urged his followers.

Some of Mr. Caputo's most disturbing comments were centered on what he described as a left-wing plot to harm the administration's supporters. He claimed baselessly that the killing of a Trump supporter in Portland, Oregon, in August was merely a practice run for more violence. Mr. Caputo said, quote, remember the Trump supporter who was shot and killed? That was a drill.

He warned, again without evidence, that there are, quote, hit squads being trained all over this country to mount armed opposition to a second term for President Trump. Quote, you understand that they're going to have to kill me, and unfortunately I think that's where this is going, he said.

Mr. Caputo predicted that the president would win re-election in November but that his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, would refuse to concede, which would lead to violence. Quote, and when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin, he said. The drills that you've seen are nothing.

Mr. Caputo went further, saying his physical health was in question and his, quote, mental health has definitely failed. He said, quote, I don't like being alone in Washington, describing, quote, shadows on the ceiling in my apartment. There, alone, shadows are so long.

This is who is in charge, this is who the president of the United States has installed, has insisted must be in charge of whether the CDC publishes its COVID science or not. The shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, the shadows are so long. The drills that you've seen are nothing. When Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin. Buy ammunition.

This is who they've got deciding whether or not the CDC can publish scientific information on the coronavirus.

In response to this reporting, Ms. LaFraniere notes that there's no sign that Michael Caputo's job is in danger. Why would it be? Why shouldn't that be the guy in charge of releasing scientific information on a global pandemic?

Hold on. More to come.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This is the top communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, reportedly speaking about the career scientists who work for the Centers for Disease Control.

Quote, there are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well. According to "The New York Times," quote, Mr. Caputo charged that scientists deep in the bowels of the CDC have given up science and become political animals. He said they walk around like they are monks and holy men, but they are engaged in rotten science. He said they had committed sedition, and he accused the so-called seditious resistance unit of being determined to undermine President Trump.

He then says, quote, to allow people to die so that you can replace the president is a grievous, venial sin, venial sin, and these people are all going to hell.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Mr. Caputo would appear to have a profound misunderstanding of the word venial no matter how many times he repeats it. But that admittedly is the least of the problems here.

Michael Caputo's comments, which were made during a Facebook live event yesterday, were first reported today by "The New York Times." Mr. Caputo has been stopping the CDC from publishing scientific information on COVID, including in the CDC's flagship weekly public health reports, and he simultaneously says, while he's doing that, that he's being hunted by left-wing hit squads and everybody should buy ammunition because after the election, that's when the shooting starts.

I mean this is a real thing. This is really who they've got as the gatekeeper on COVID information for the public and for the world, really.

Joining us now is the person who broke that story at "The New York Times," Sharon LaFraniere. She's an investigator reporter at "The New York Times."

Ms. LaFraniere, thank you so much for your time this evening. I really appreciate you being here.

SHARON LAFRANIERE, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: You reported this straight up with direct quotes and no commentary. I am giving my opinion on it because I can't stop myself because this strikes me as so bananas.

Is there a connection between Mr. Caputo's sort of crazy pants ranting and the conspiracy theories that you reported on and the way he has been comporting himself at HHS?

LAFRANIERE: Well, I mean this showed a side of Mr. Caputo that I think reporters who deal with him have not really seen up close. So it was rather surprising in that way. He doesn't usually talk like this.

But I would say that the views that he expressed are really not that different than the views that some other people in the president's inner circle, you know.

MADDOW: When he says --

LAFRANIERE: There are echoes --

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: I'm sorry. I apologize. The delay makes it awkward. I did not mean to cut you off.

LAFRANIERE: No problem. There are echoes in what the president himself says of Mr. Caputo's remarks. The president has himself disparaged scientists and said, you know, that he thinks the deep state is out to get him and that they are thwarting his efforts to control the pandemic, and he also has cast doubt on whether the election is going to be fair.

And he has suggested that there are some sort of squads, vaguely suggested that there are some armed squads that are preparing for action. So there is some overlap in their views.

MADDOW: The thing that I find, I think, most upsetting about this reporting on Mr. Caputo is the reporting that the CDC has actually bent to him a little bit, that there have been adjustments made to wording and to the ways that the CDC has phrased things, including in their flagship weekly publication, the MMWR, and that there have been some significant delays, in some cases weeks-long delays in them publishing information that seems to be important and that has direct real-world applications to the decisions that doctors are making about how to treat patients, specifically because Mr. Caputo and his team have been insisting on those changes and those delays and trying to block publication.

Does that surprise you?

With your history of reporting on HHS and CDC, does it surprise you that CDC didn't have more institutional gravitas to be able to brush back these political influences on what they're doing?

LAFRANIERE: Well, I think what we're seeing sort of overall is a very broad pressure campaign on the health agencies that are dealing with the pandemic, and it's not just the CDC but the CDC has proved to be more pliable than some of the other agencies. I think that a number of scientists within the CDC would say they feel like Dr. Robert Redfield, who is leading the agency, has failed to protect them from political interference, and the result is what we see going on with these reports. The -- sorry.

The FDA seems like it's more on the verge. Its rollout of convalescent plasma was rushed, and it was kind of bungled, but the scientists in the agency agreed that that was the right thing to approve that treatment. On the other hand, the FDA approved hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, and then it had to reverse itself. The NIH seems like it's fighting back quite hard, but it's also not as much in the front lines as the other two agencies.

MADDOW: "New York Times" reporter Sharon LaFraniere, thank you so much for helping us understand that this evening is remarkable and unnerving reporting. Thanks for helping us understand.

LAFRANIERE: Thank you. Bye-bye.

MADDOW: It's not every day that you get this sort of twin reporting on a public official who has done something that shouldn't be able to be done, right? Scientific integrity at the highest levels of the U.S. public health infrastructure. You don't think that it's going to be compromised by people who have zero public health background, zero scientific background whatsoever, just shutting things down for political reason. But simultaneously get that information about that public official being able to pull off something that's not supposed to be able to happen and then simultaneously get reporting that we just got from Sharon LaFraniere about how this public official is publicly describing himself as mentally ill and needing to arm himself and ready for the shoot 'em up next scene in this movie that he's imagined.

It's just -- well, it's Monday in the Trump administration.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This is what it looked like in the city clerk's office this afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin. Look, nearly 80,000 absentee envelopes for the presidential election all labeled and ready to go, but the clerk hadn't been given the go-ahead to actually put the absentee ballots into those envelopes so they could be mailed.

That's in Madison. You'll see the same deal here. Rows and rows of labeled, ready to mail absentee envelopes in the Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, city clerk's office. You can see the signs that say "need ballots," meaning the envelopes are there but not the ballots.

The deadline for clerks in counties all over Wisconsin to send out more than a million absentee ballots is this Thursday, three days from now. But the clerks all over Wisconsin haven't been able to send those ballots yet because at the very, very last minute, the state Supreme Court told them all they needed to stop. There is a conservative majority on the state Supreme Court, and they said they wanted to take time to consider whether they should make all the counties in Wisconsin start all over again and print completely new ballots specifically so the Green Party presidential candidate could be on the ballot.

One clerk told CNN it would, quote, not be attainable to meet the legal deadline for sending out ballots if the court said these ballots needed to be reprinted. Another clerk warning, quote, we are too far into the process for this to occur. The clerk in Dane County, Wisconsin, telling "The Washington Post," simply, quote, this is really nuts honestly.

The reason for this nuttiness was that Republican operatives in Wisconsin swooped in just before the ballots were about to be mailed to demand that the Green Party candidate be added to these ballots. That's when the state's conservative majority Supreme Court agreed to potentially upend the whole mail out absentee ballot process for them.

But the important thing to know here is that regardless of how you feel about the Green Party and what it does to major party elections, this particular fiasco really is a Republican Party op. The Green Party presidential candidate himself telling "The Washington Post" that it was Trump supporters who helped the Green Party with its Supreme Court petition in Wisconsin, and that petition was filed by a Republican law firm in Milwaukee.

The Green Party candidate telling "The Post," quote, meh, you get help where you can find it. They have their reasons, and we have ours.

For the Trump supporters helping the Green Party get their candidates onto the ballot in Wisconsin, those reasons for wanting to help probably have something to do with the fact that in 2016, it went great for them. The Green Party candidate in 2016, Jill Stein, got a number of votes in Wisconsin that was larger than the margin by which Clinton lost Wisconsin to Donald Trump.

Republicans would love to have another Green Party candidate on the ballot in Wisconsin for just that reason, and they almost got that until tonight that effort failed, just barely. By a single vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court tonight rejected the attempt to get all of the ballots scrapped and reprinted. The Madison City clerk's office tonight reporting they are working late into the night so they can start mailing out the ballots first thing tomorrow morning. That is a scene that is likely playing out in clerks' offices all across that state tonight.

But although that particular Republican scam to try to siphon votes from the Democratic ticket didn't quite succeed at the very last second in the swing state of Wisconsin, it is not the only scam that they are trying, and we are starting to see which ones of them are more potent than others.

And that story is next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Among the shenanigans that the Republican Party is getting up to to try to mess with the November election, there are at least five states where Republican operatives and Trump campaign operatives are working on getting troubled rap star Kanye West onto the ballot. They're doing this not because they want Kanye West to be elected president. That's mathematically impossible given that he's only running in a few states. They're getting him on the ballot in a few key states because they're hoping that having a Trump supporting troubled rap star on the ballot in those key states might be confusing enough that some people accidentally vote for him instead of voting for Joe Biden.

One place the Kanye West/Trump campaign operation has succeeded is in Iowa. Kanye West is due to be on the ballot there. Today we got some remarkable new detail on that. Lachlan Markay at "The Daily Beast" reporting that the guy running the Trump/Kanye West get out the vote effort in Iowa worked for the Trump campaign in 2016. This is a guy who the Republican Party cut ties with in 2012 after three of his canvassers pled guilty to felony charges involving the destruction of voter registration forms in Florida.

So you would think that would kind of make him an outcast in Republican politics. Apparently that has not been a concern for this iteration of the Trumpy Republican Party.

Another Republican operative apparently working on the Trump/Kanye West Iowa effort was once banned from Walmart stores across Tennessee. He was running fake voter registration drive. He told Walmart he was running voter registration drives when it was actually an effort for a Republican candidate.

When Lachlan Markay reached that particular gentleman by phone for this story and asked whether he is now working on the Kanye West campaign in Iowa, the man replied to Mr. Markay, quote, maybe. Maybe.

Seven weeks to Election Day. Get ready for shenanigans like this to multiply exponentially.

Joining us now is Lachlan Markay, a reporter for "The Daily Beast" and the co-author of "Sinking in the Swamp: How Trump's Minions and Misfits Poisoned Washington."

Mr. Markay, thank you so much for being here tonight. Thanks for this reporting.

LACHLAN MARKAY, REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Thank you.

MADDOW: So I have been covering sort of on and off the Kanye West effort essentially as a Trump campaign dirty trick, essentially as a Trump campaign/Republican Party op to try to frustrate Democrats and also maybe shave some votes off of Joe Biden's vote total in some key states.

Is that the right way to look at it?

MARKAY: Well, it's not nearly as sophisticated or large scale or well endowed as the Trump campaign itself, at least certainly the operation in Iowa that I reported on seems to be much more sort of a shoestring operation than the Trump campaign. And there's no evidence that I've seen that the Trump campaign is directly involved. But we have seen very openly a number of pretty prominent Republican operatives who are doing their best to boost Kanye West, they hope at the expense of Joe Biden, possibly with the implicit support of more prominent Republicans in Washington.

We don't know just how deep that goes, but there are some fairly prominent people, including this gentleman Nathan Sproul that I covered in the story we did today.

MADDOW: And in terms of Mr. Sproul, he along with his firm, Lincoln Strategy Group, have faced a few formal legal complaints, including an allegation before the FEC that he boosted Ralph Nader's candidacy in 2004, again as sort of a Republican dirty trick at the direction of the GOP. Mr. Sproul signed an affidavit denying that, but one of the things you wrote about today is that the RNC, the Republican Party, has felt the need to cut ties with him in the past because he's crossed lines that even they were uncomfortable with.

MARKAY: Yeah. Obviously, any sort of legal problem with voter fraud or voter registration fraud is going to be a problem for a major political party, but doubly so when voter registration fraud, voter fraud is central to your key kind of election era messaging. And that's arguably never been more the case than it is this election cycle.

So it's particularly ironic. You know, even if it's in a roundabout way, to see some of these folks, and you mentioned some examples at the top of the segment, sort of going to bat in a very sort of underhanded fashion for a Republican presidential candidate who is just ad nauseam discussing the sort of systemic problems in his view, in his telling, with potential voter fraud or registration fraud.

MADDOW: Lachlan Markay, a reporter for "The Daily Beast" -- thank you for chasing this down. The granular detail on this story ends up being so much more expressive and sheds so much more light than just the top lines. Thank you for helping us understand. I really appreciate it.

MARKAY: You bet.

MADDOW: All right. We've got one more very important story to get to tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This was the Oregonian newspaper today. Oregon wildfires burn 1 million acres. State opens mobile morgues for victims of Oregon wildfires.

Already, the wildfires have claimed at least 35 lives up and down the West Coast. Dozens more people are still missing. Today, Oregon and California and Washington were plagued with more hot and dry weather and gusting winds, conditions that make it harder for firefighters to control the existing flames. These are conditions that also threaten to spark new fires. Dry heat creates more dry fuel for these fires just burning out of control.

There's more than 30 active fires burning in Oregon alone, dozens more up and down the coast. And even for the parts of the west coast yet untouched by the fires, the smoke the fires have generated continues to blanket huge swaths of the country under a thick, dark, unbreathable cloud. Right now, of the ten cities in the world with the worst air quality, four of the ten are in the U.S., compromising our breathing, right, during a pandemic that attacks the lungs.

The worst wildfire season in our country's history is of course driven by climate change. Record high summer temperatures create fire-friendly conditions. Extreme temperatures cause extreme natural disasters, which is why it was unnerving today, while so many Americans are suffering so badly from these fires, it was unnerving today to see this headline. Longtime climate science denier hired at NOAA.

The Trump administration picks now to hire a climatology professor named David Legates to work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is, of course, the part of the government that's tasked with working on our national response to climate change. As NPR sums it up, NOAA's newest employee has, quote, spent much of his career questioning basic tenets of climate science, including writing a paper about whether climate change has anything to do with destroying the habitat of polar bears.

What? Do you think they've been doing it themselves?

He's also pushed the discredited theory that climate change isn't the result of greenhouse gas emissions. It's actually caused by the sun acting up. He's also argued that the conclusion that humans have had anything to do with causing global warming is just wrong.

Mr. Legates is now a high-ranking Trump appointee at NOAA, where he will report directly to the head of that agency. He is tasked with the weather and climate prediction work of the nation. He is a flat-earther who has been designed to make the nation's new globes.

And news like that would be unsettling under the best of circumstances, but with this going on in the western side of the United States of America, it is as apocalyptic as these scenes.

That is going to do it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.

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

Good evening, Lawrence.

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

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