'It's just different this time': Republican war on democracy reaches new heightsThe Rachel Maddow Show
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- 10 Mar 2021
Tonight's guests are K. David Cooke, former district attorney for the Macon, Georgia Judicial Circuit, and Marc Elias, voting rights litigator.
The Rachel Maddow Show weeknights at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC. Happy to have you here. So tomorrow, Democrats in Washington are going to be wearing their Sunday best. It is a really big landmark day for them. At 9:00 a.m., they're going to start the homestretch. Final debate to pass the American rescue plan, the big covid relief bill. That is the first thing the administration and the Democrats in Congress put their shoulders to when they got sworn in just two months ago.
And time will tell how this legislation is viewed over the long haul.
But just at face value, it is more wide reaching progressive legislation than anything passed in a generation. I mean, anything anything passed by at least the last two Democratic presidents legislatively in terms of its progressive reach, in terms of its reach, to make things better for people who need the most help. It is definitely on par with the Affordable Care Act, with Obamacare. But this bill with what the Senate passed this weekend with the House will pass tomorrow.
What President Biden is about to sign will hit a wider target than the Affordable Care Act ever aimed at. As huge an accomplishment as that was to reform the absolutely broke and broken US health care system, to try to improve it in a fundamental way. This bill is bigger. It's aiming at more. It will strike what is hoped to be a decisive blow against the pandemic in terms of funding a coherent, technocratic, skilled national response, funding everything from testing to the vaccine rollout.
We are in the midst of the largest vaccination effort in the history of this country. This is how we're going to fund it. It will cover all of that, plus basic research. Plus the CDC getting its act together on data and analytics and so much more. It will actually expand the reach of Obamacare so that for millions of Americans, this thing that's going to pass tomorrow, it's going to reduce your health insurance premiums. And actually, for the people at the lowest end of the income spectrum, people who have health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, a lot of those folks are going to see their health insurance premiums go to zero because of this bill passing tomorrow.
This bill radically increases access to health insurance in this country, particularly for the people who can least afford it. It's expected to cut child poverty in half in this country through direct aid to families and through big sustained tax credits for families with kids. It's expected to add seven million jobs to the economy. It's going to direct one hundred and thirty billion dollars to US schools. I mean, just take that piece of it, even if that's all this bill was doing.
Especially after what schools have been through this past year, just that school funding alone, that hundred and thirty billion dollars for schools alone would have Democrats putting on their best twin sets and shining up their shoes tonight. And in anticipation of what they're going to pass tomorrow, just the school funding alone is. A really big deal. For everybody who's been waiting on the direct stimulus payment that's going to come as part of this bill, apparently, if the House passes it tomorrow and there isn't a delay in getting it over to the White House for the president's signature, those direct fourteen hundred dollars payments may start going out next week.
People who have direct deposit set up will see the money arrive first directly in their bank accounts. People who are getting a check instead of direct deposit will get it soon thereafter. The White House today explained that President Biden is not planning on putting his name anywhere on the check when those checks go out. And that probably shouldn't be a surprise. It's not his style, really. It's obviously sort of a petty move for a president to do something like that.
But honestly, as I get older, as I live through more and more years of Republican governance, I'm getting more and more petty all the time about stuff like this, only because Republican presidents put their name on everything. Democratic presidents are the ones we're all modest, right? I mean, if I was a Democratic president, I would put my name on that jacket like a big hologram on it. Do so like Gload. When you open the envelope, I'd make it like one of those greeting cards that plays a song when you pull it out of the envelope and it would sing my name Bling at you, it would sing at you.
I would do anything. I would put sequins on the thing. It would be all about remembering which party made this happen and which party all voted against it. But like I said, as I develop an increasingly severe case of the old, I'm getting Kadir and pettier with each passing day. And Biden is not doing that. It's why somebody like him is president and nobody asks my advice on these things get petty for once.
OK, this is a big effing deal, as someone once said. But tomorrow is going to be a really big day. And while Democrats prepare for that big, big day tomorrow and as President Biden plans his big primetime speech on covid on Thursday night, which should also be a big deal, Thursday will be the country, our country and every country marking the one year anniversary of the global declaration of the pandemic. As we head towards that on Thursday, as well as more capital rioters get arrested every day, including two in the past two days.
Apparently spent the morning of the capital attack with former President Trump's friend and political adviser, Roger Stone. Roger Stone, of course, who Trump pardoned for multiple federal felonies. Two of the men who he spent part of January six with have now been arrested for their roles in allegedly taking part in the capital attack. As one of the former president's appointees at the State Department was today ordered by a federal judge to remain in custody awaiting trial because of what the judge described in court today as that man's leadership role in directing capital rioters to attack Capitol Police that day.
As President Biden's new attorney general, Merrick Garland, finally, finally is slated to be confirmed tomorrow so the proverbial autopsy can finally begin as to what the wreckage is at the Justice Department under Bill Bar so someone can finally take the helm of the sprawling January 6th Capitol Attack investigation and start once again informing the public where things are going with that, with all of these things simultaneously underway today and tonight and into tomorrow. We're keeping our eyes on all of those things.
And there's been a lot of developing news over the course of the day, in the evening. And I'm not exactly sure how the show is going to go tonight because we are expecting some continuing breaking news throughout the hour. But even as we're keeping an eye on that, there's something else that I that I want to direct your attention to, because to me, this is something that was already shocking a lot of levels, but it has just veered off in a quite unexpected direction, one that I thought was far fetched at first glance, which I am now starting to realize is not nearly as far fetched as I thought.
All right, the year two thousand. There was a sheriff's election in DeKalb County, Georgia, DeKalb County is a really big county in Georgia, includes a big chunk of the Atlanta metro area on the east side. The county seat is Decatur. They elect their sheriffs there. And in two thousand and the sheriff's election in DeKalb County, the incumbent sheriff was voted out to the relief of a lot of people, the incumbent sheriff who lost that election.
His name was Sidney Dorsey. And I say it was a relief when he got voted out because he was widely perceived to be very corrupt. He was under investigation for a whole bunch of different corruption allegations at the time, having his sheriff's deputies do not only personal work for him and his family, but also making his deputies moonlight for his personal security business. On the side, there were investigations into the contracts that he had doled out for the gigantic DeKalb County jail that he ran and whether he had corrupted those contracts, too.
So he was a he was a sheriff with a with a terrible reputation under investigation for a lot of things. And he was up for reelection in 2010. He lost he lost to a guy who specifically ran against him on an anti-corruption platform. His opponent saying he was going to come in, clean the place up, fire a lot of the deputies who'd been involved in these alleged schemes with the existing sheriff. It was a close race in two thousand and DeKalb County.
But the incumbent guy lost. The challenger won. And then after the election, but before the new sheriff was sworn in, it was actually three days before the new sheriff was due to be sworn in, the new sheriff, the anti-corruption crusader who had won the election and ousted the incumbent sheriff. He was walking up the driveway of his house in DeKalb County. It was his wife's birthday. He was carrying a dozen roses for her in his arms.
She was inside the house. She heard him drive up. She knew he was home. And then she heard what sounded like fireworks in the driveway. And when she went out to see what was happening, there was her husband laying in the driveway dead. He had been shot 12 times. Murdered in an ambush attack three days before he was due to be sworn in to start his new job as the elected sheriff of DeKalb County. And the sheriff who he had defeated is the person who was indicted for arranging his murder.
The outgoing sheriff who had been under investigation anyway for all those corruption charges, he was hit with state charges of felony murder, theft, violations of oath and racketeering.
Racketeering under Georgia state law. Ultimately, he was convicted and the sheriff got life without the possibility of parole for the felony murder charge. But then on top of that, I mean, life without possibility of parole. There's nothing on top of that, really. But they added additional years on top of that, the violation of both charges and the racketeering charges of which he was also convicted put an extra twenty three years on his sentence. In addition to life without parole, racketeering, racketeering is something that we associate with the mafia, right.
With prosecutions of mob bosses and big ongoing, highly structured organized crime outfits. That's what we think of as racketeering. But in state law and in Georgia law particularly, it is applied to a much wider set of crimes than you might think. It is I'm oversimplifying here a little bit, but it's basically applied to crimes where prosecutors think they can prove a pattern of linked criminal acts, not just one off offenses that aren't leading toward any particular aim. And again, I am oversimplifying that and I am not a lawyer.
Do not cite me in your defense if you are ever picked up on a RICO charge. But you can see the way that RICO charges are used in a place like Georgia in the headlines when there are high profile cases and those are charges brought the murder of that new sheriff by the corrupt outgoing sheriff that he that he had defeated in the election. That was prosecuted, as I said, both as a murder and also as racketeering convictions on both fronts.
The prosecutor who litigated that case, a man named John Floyd, defended that conviction of that Georgia sheriff all the way up to the Georgia state Supreme Court, including the racketeering charges, defended it all the way to the top level in Georgia state law. And the case stood up and that disgraced sheriff and now convicted murderer Sidney Dorsey is still in prison for that crime. Convicted murderer, convicted racketeer. You see racketeering charges brought in Georgia in also the kinds of cases that maybe seem more intuitive, there was, for example, a big set of arrests in Georgia in October targeting a street gang.
They called it Operation Caged Doves, which seems a little melodramatic, but forty six people were arrested and a huge, big, long string of charges brought against all of them. Between them, there were four charges of felony murder for charges of kidnapping. Twenty four charges of aggravated assault, three charges of heroin trafficking, three charges of meth trafficking, three charges of various kinds of financial fraud. But look up at the top. Ninety two charges of racketeering.
They rolled up this whole street gang and charged them with lots of individual crimes and then charged all of them with violations of the RICO Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. And so it is still you should think of it as a mafia thing. You should think of it as something that is used against gangs. But it's more than that. In December in Georgia, there were racketeering charges brought against a whole bunch of public officials, including a sheriff's captain and what was alleged to be a sprawling, corrupt, illegal gambling ring centered at convenience stores and mini markets in Georgia.
In twenty nineteen, there was this tidy little thing, racketeering charges brought against three people in the town of white Georgia, the police chief, his son in law and his wife. Racketeering charges were brought against the police chief and his son in law, who was the town's only other police officer and his wife, who was also the town manager. They were the allegations were that they were basically involved in a planned scheme to give people bogus citations, radically overcharge them for those citations and then pocket the money.
Helps to have the patrol officer, the chief of police and the town manager all on board in a scheme like that. They were brought up on racketeering charges for that racketeering charges. It's a pattern of criminal acts, all leading toward a larger criminal purpose. And that charge is a really serious one in a state like Georgia, like 20 years in prison. Serious. But that charge turns up in cases of all kinds, including lots of cases involving allegedly corrupt public officials.
Perhaps the most surprising and most high profile case that they turned up in was one that you will remember, the Atlanta schools cheating scandal. Do you remember this? This was national news. It was the top of the national news when 11 educators were convicted in Georgia state court in that cheating scandal in April. Twenty fifteen. From NBC News World Headquarters in New York, this is NBC Nightly News reporting tonight, Lester Holt. Good evening.
It's bad enough when kids cheat in school to get ahead, but the teachers themselves. Today in Atlanta, nearly a dozen former educators were convicted on racketeering and other charges for their part in one of the nation's biggest cheating scandals. Prosecutors say it was a massive conspiracy to make sure students passed standardized tests, even if it meant giving kids the correct answers. The scandal dates back a decade. It involved dozens of schools and a lot of grown ups who apparently failed one of the first lessons we were all taught.
Nearly a dozen former educators convicted on racketeering and other charges, racketeering charges there, too, they were in a gang. These are educators, corrupt educators, as was proven in court. But this is 12 teachers and other educators put on trial. The sprawling case accusing them of basically a systematic form of cheating on standardized tests. One of the 12 teachers was put on trial, was acquitted, but 11 of the remaining 12 were convicted, convicted, among other things, on racketeering charges, all of them with that harsh penalty looming for all of them of up to 20 years in prison.
That trial in the Atlanta cheating scandal was the longest jury trial in the history of the state of Georgia. And I'm not talking about the overall proceedings from the first arrest to the first court hearings, to the trial, to the sentencing and all the rest of it. I don't mean how long the whole thing took to be resolved. I mean, just the trial itself, the day after day in the actual courtroom fighting it out. The trial itself took six months.
There's never been a longer trial in the state of Georgia with a dozen defendants there, incredibly complex with this incredibly ambitious charge.
The prosecutor who led the team who got those convictions in the Atlanta cheating scandal was at the time an assistant D.A. named Fani Willis. Here she is in a tape that we've got from that time. The elected D.A. is at the microphone there leading the press conference. But you see Fani Willis there on the right side of your screen. She led the prosecution team in the Atlanta cheating scandal there on the right side there. And interestingly, when they decided to pursue that case that way, when they pursued those charges against the teachers and principals and administrators, we're all caught up in this cheating scandal.
Prosecution team under Fani Willis brought in a specialist, an expert, a special prosecutor specifically to make them to help them make the racketeering case, to make the case for that specific, very serious felony charge and to see it through to conviction. That's the man, the specialist who they brought in there, the guy on the left. His name is John Floyd, whose name I just said a moment ago, because that is the same John Floyd who had obtained the conviction, the racketeering conviction against the crooked sheriff, Sidney Dorsey, in that case, where Dorsey murdered his would be successor after he was after he beat him in an election in the year 2000.
John Floyd is the one who got that conviction, including the racketeering conviction there, and then defended it all the way up to the Supreme Court, tacked 20 plus years, tacked 20 years onto a sentence that was already life without parole because of that racketeering conviction. When, years later, Fani Willis was leading the teacher corruption scandal prosecution in Atlanta, she went to him. She brought in the state's racketeering prosecution expert. She brought in John Floyd to get the racketeering convictions against the teachers in that case, too.
And it worked, however unlikely it might have seemed to have those kinds of charges in that kind of case. He did it and it stuck and it worked. And now, not that many years later, Fani Willis is the elected district attorney herself in the largest county in Georgia in Fulton County, and Fani Willis has announced the opening of a criminal investigation into efforts by former President Donald Trump and others to corrupt the results of the presidential election in Georgia.
She said when she announced the opening of that investigation that racketeering was one of the crimes she was potentially investigating in conjunction with efforts to corrupt the election results. And now Reuters is first to report, and Willis's office has confirmed that Willis has gone back to the same guy. She has gone back to John Floyd, who has had a hand in the highest profile and most unlikely seeming RICO prosecutions in recent Georgia law. John Floyd, who has since gone on to become a nationally respected expert on how to prosecute Rico RICO cases under state law.
This is his book. He literally wrote the book on how to prosecute RICO cases, RICO State by State, a guide to litigation under state racketeering statutes. That's his book. He literally wrote the book on how to prosecute and get convictions on state racketeering laws. Reuters reporting that Fani Willis has, quote, enlisted the help of Atlanta lawyer John Floyd to provide help as needed on matters involving racketeering, including the Trump investigation. The dean of Mercer University Law School in Macon, Georgia, says about this hire, quote, It's not a stretch to see where Fani Willis is taking this.
If President Trump engaged in two or more acts that involve false statements that were made knowingly and willfully in an attempt to falsify material fact like the election results, then you can piece together a violation of the racketeering act. Noting that racketeering is a felony in Georgia and it can carry penalties up to 20 years in prison, the dean says, quote, There are not a lot of people who avoid serving prison time on a racketeering offense. It is honestly a shocking thing that the immediate former president of the United States is facing multiple live criminal investigations by New York state prosecutors, by Georgia state prosecutors, CNN and The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations have recently reported on even more Trump properties and developments and financial entanglements that have been subpoenaed recently as part of the New York criminal investigation.
The New York investigation has itself brought on an experienced mob prosecutor as a special prosecutor to help them with their work there. But if Georgia is looking at a potential racketeering case against the former president now with the help of a special specialist prosecutor who does this for a living. Who has already successfully brought super high profile racketeering prosecutions in that state and earned convictions on those charges. This just feels like a different level of the sort of drama and risk stratosphere here.
It's a lot going on in the news right now. This is mind blowing, though. Joining us now is David Cook. David Cook is the former district attorney for the making judicial circuit in Georgia. Mr. Cook is known Fontenelle as the Fulton County district attorney for decades. He's also known John Floyd, the attorney who is going to help in her investigation of Donald Trump as a special prosecutor, brought in on racketeering matters. Mr. Cook. I really appreciate you making time to be here tonight.
Thank you. Thank you for having me. So I am not a lawyer, I am not an expert in famous Georgia public corruption cases, so I want to give you a chance. First of all, if I explained any of that wrong or if I blurred something that should be sharply defined there, I just want to give you a chance to tell me I'm wrong.
I know you pretty much hit the nail on the head, especially when it comes to John Floyd. Having John Floyd on your team in a racketeering case is kind of like having the teacher help you write your term paper or having the author of the book as wrote the book, have having the author of the textbook that help you study for the test. You know that your racketeering case is going to be done, right, if you have a more. Should we see it as a sign that Willis is going to pursue racketeering charges that she has brought on John Floyd, or would Mr.
Floyd be brought on at this point in the process to assess whether or not that's a realistic process, a realistic prospect? So based on the letters that I've looked at that she sent to the governor and other public officials that you've referenced before, I think she's already seen the signs. And because of that, she's brought in Attorney Floyd to help her make sure everything is done right, to make sure every I is dotted and every T is crossed. Also, knowing felony D.A. Willis, as long as I've known her, she's used to being the starting quarterback.
She's used to being part of a top team. And so knowing her, I think this is part of her larger effort of making an all star team for the office and if needed, for this case as it is investigated. When you say an all star team, do you mean that she is pulling together the sort of best in class prosecutors and advisers in terms of doing this work? Obviously, being an elected D.A., it's a position that's very high profile position given that she has taken this on.
It's got a huge national spotlight on her. Obviously, we've been talking in detail about Mr. Floyd being brought on on the racketeering matters. But from what else you know about how she's how she's working on this case, who else she's brought into our office? Do you feel like she's assembling a formidable team for Georgia of Georgia lawyers? I know she is, in fact, another sign of that is that she just hired Mike Carlson to be one of her top assistants.
Mike Carlson is the author, along with this father of the definitive book on Georgia evidence. He gets to make the best argument of any lawyer I know, which is judge, as I said in my book, of course. And, you know, every judge in Georgia has that book sitting on their bench because it is the definitive guide to torture evidence. But Mike's not only a scholar and noted for his appellate ability, he's also that rare academic who's also a street fighter in the courtroom.
So it's evident to me that D.A. Willis is putting together the best team possible, just seeing those two hires and the movements that I've heard that she's making and putting her office together. What do you think that we, the public, should expect in terms of any public facing actions? We know from Willis's letter to other public officials in Georgia that she intended to take this matter before a Fulton County grand jury and ask for subpoenas for documents and witnesses. We know from public reporting that that I think two different grand juries were convened in Fulton County last week.
We therefore expect that she may be presenting evidence to these grand juries as well already to try to to try to get subpoenas for for witnesses and documents. But the grand jury process is secret. Is this something that you think that we won't see any public signs of for four months, or do you think there are things that we should look for in order to sort of keep track of what's happening here?
I don't think we will know exactly what's happening until the arrests are made or the indictments were handed down, if any, knowing, finding the way I know her, I think I will. This is in addition to putting the best team possible. She is going to follow the evidence wherever it leads and make sure that every bad, best practices follows. So this case, if a case comes together, is going to be tight. It is going to be done as well as any D.A. could possibly make it.
And it will be obvious that is based on the facts and the law and not on personality or any other factors. David Cook, former Macon, Georgia district attorney, somebody got personal connections to a lot of the people involved here. Thank you for helping us understand this. And as we do get further, any sort of public signs about what's happening here, either within the office or around this case, I hope you know that I'm going to call you back to come help explain it to us.
Thank you so much. I'd be honored. All right. Much more to get to here tonight. Stay with us. Right after the great state of Iowa held its primary elections last summer, this is what the secretary of state in Iowa sent out when the results came in. Good job. Good job, everybody. Well done. Literally fireworks. Good job. And it was it was well done. It was a good job. Iowa broke all turnout records for a June primary.
There were no problems. Everything worked. All systems go broke. The record, the way that Iowa broke that turnout record for the primaries, that they sent everybody an application for an absentee ballot so everybody could easily vote absentee vote by mail, if that's what they wanted to do. That's it. That's what they did. That was their big change, worked like a charm. There was no drama, no scandal, no problems and record turnout. That election was on a Tuesday, of course, and I kid you not before that week was out, Republicans in the state legislature had already drafted a bill to stop the state from ever doing that again.
Because it made it easy and safe for people to vote. And people liked voting that way. And they did vote that way in very large numbers without any problems. And so Republicans apparently believe that must be stopped despite Iowa Republicans efforts. The secretary of state, the guy who'd been so proud of Iowa voters for breaking those turnout records, he did manage to send out absentee ballot applications, applications to everyone in the state, again for the general election in November.
And guess what? Iowa voters like that. And they broke turnout records again, another wildly successful election for Iowa. Over three quarters of registered voters in the state cast a ballot in the November election, which is huge. Well over half of those voters voted early. It was smooth. No hiccups, no problems.
So it must be stopped. I was successful display of robust is participatory democracy appears to have driven the Iowa Republican Party batty, they have now decided that too many Iowans voted last year and they are just not going to let that happen again. Iowa's Republican governor has now signed a law which bans the secretary of state or anyone else from mailing out to everyone these applications for absentee ballots. That's the thing that made it so easy for so many people to vote by mail.
If you do vote by absentee ballot in Iowa, your ballot will no longer be counted unless it's received by the time polls close on Election Day. Even if it's not your fault, it's the Postal Service's fault that it got there late. Oh, and by the way, polls will now close an hour earlier for same day, Election Day voting in Iowa. Why did they shave an hour off the time that people are allowed to vote on Election Day?
No idea. The law also cuts over a week of the early voting period when more than half the votes were cast in the last election. That cutting nine days off the early voting period. Why? And if any local elections official takes any steps to make voting easier in an individual county, that election official can now be charged with a felony. This is really what Republicans are doing. They really did look at the most successful, highest turnout election in Iowa history that had no problems.
And they said to themselves, how can we make sure that never happens again? But while Iowa may be first across the finish line here in terms of getting a voter suppression law actually passed out of the legislature and signed into law by the governor, there is a very big, long line of Republican legislatures and governors who are very close on Iowa's heels. In Georgia, the Republicans in the legislature have now passed no fewer than a dozen different voter suppression bills that would limit absentee voting, limit early voting, add more voter ID requirements, specifically limit some day early voting when black churches like to bring souls to the polls, events to or from church right to polling places in Arizona, Republicans in the state legislature are batting around all kinds of head spinning ideas from giving themselves, giving the legislature itself the power to overturn any election results.
It does not like to tossing out any absentee ballots that aren't postmarked by the Thursday before Election Day, even if the ballot arrives before polls close. Really? Republicans are working hard on this in state after state after state. They're doing everything they can to make it as hard as possible to vote. But as I said, Iowa is the first over the finish line on this. The new Iowa anti voting rights law is officially on the books, including the threat to local elections officials, that if they do anything to make it easier to vote, they're going to prison.
And pretty much as soon as I was governor finished signing that, one of the country's most celebrated, relentless and successful voting rights litigators filed suit to stop it. Marc Elias successfully litigated dozens of bogus Republican bogus Republican challenges to the 20 20 elections and Republican efforts to make it hard to vote in those two. Can he stop this new wave of voter suppression laws or does he have other ideas about how they can be stopped besides in court? Marc Klaas joins us next.
Stay with us. In twenty 20, Iowa saw its highest turnout ever for any election, despite the pandemic, there's been no credible allegations of voter fraud from the Iowa election or even really any non credible ones. That hasn't even been any major allegations of fraud, even made up bogus ones. I mean, Trump won Iowa in twenty twenty. So did beleaguered Republican Senator Joni Ernst, because Republicans won in Iowa in twenty twenty. That is presumably why Iowans never had to endure one of those weird Rudy Giuliani sideshow press conferences and hearings that happened in all the swing states that Trump lost.
But nevertheless, despite the record turnout and no claims of fraud, Iowa Republicans have made it their mission to enact a new sweeping bill to restrict voting rights. And the Iowa Republican governor just signed it into law last night. Today, Democratic voting rights attorney Mark Elias filed a lawsuit challenging that new law in Iowa. That filing today points directly to the irony of Iowa Republicans trying to fix an election system that even they say is not broken. This is actually really good.
Listen, it says, quote, The bill's sponsors do not deny that Iowa's elections are secure. Instead, they've asserted that additional measures are necessary to reassure Iowans who turned out in record numbers in twenty twenty that this is the case. But to the extent any Iowans are concerned about the security of the state's elections, it's the result of efforts to plant and so baseless mistrust not because there's any evidence that the integrity of the state's elections are legitimately in doubt.
Joining us now is Mark Elias, Democratic voting rights attorney. He's the founder of Democracy Dockett. He brought this case against Iowa's new election law. Mr. Elias, it's nice to see you. Thank you for making time.
Great to see you again. Let me just ask you first, if I've screwed any of this up in the telling or if that's basically the lay of the land with this Iowa challenge that you filed and with their new law as usual, you're exactly right.
The Republicans have gone out in search to find a problem that doesn't exist. They have passed a suppression law that, no matter what else they call it, is just a suppression law. Have you received any response from the state since filing this lawsuit? What should we anticipate in terms of public facing back and forth now that you've sort of joined this fight with them?
We haven't heard anything back from the state yet at some point. I assume they will respond to the lawsuit and then we'll go from there. The fact is that Iowa had good, clean elections this November, as they have in the past, and without any reason other than to make voting harder.
Iowa made voting harder. And that's the bottom line. And in doing that, they have disadvantaged our clients and they have disadvantaged the voters of Iowa. Mark, one of the reasons I wanted to talk with you tonight is because I feel like you have been impassioned in the last few weeks about the real threat, the severity of the threat coming from all of these Republican controlled states that are passing one after that or at least moving one after another after another after another, bills to make voting harder.
And I know this is a fight that you have committed yourself to for your whole career. And this is something which you've actually had a lot of success. But I feel like I'm reading in your public facing statements, real alarm about the amount of damage that can be done to the democracy right now by all of these states pursuing all of these different paths. Rachel, it's just different this time, and this is not to say that there are not other problems in the world.
I recognize that there are other stories that have to be covered, but I am begging America and the media to pay attention to this. Right now, we are facing an avalanche of voter suppression that we have not seen before, at least not in Jim Crow, in state after state. It's not just Iowa. It's not just Georgia. It's not just Arizona. It's also Montana. It's also Missouri. It's also Florida. It's also Texas. The list goes on and on.
Donald Trump told a big lie that has led to that led to a I assault on democracy in the Capitol on January six. The assault we're seeing going on now in state capitals with the legislatures may be less deadly and be less violent, but they are every bit as damaging to our democracy. If this is a national avalanche of voter suppression, as you describe it, is there a national response that is warranted from people who want to fight against this kind of voter suppression?
Obviously, you're taking this on at the granular level. When Kim Reynolds in Iowa signed this bill that became the first of these voter suppression laws actually signed in to law, despite all the other ones that are moving and moving fast. And a lot of states you were, Johnny, on the spot and filing a lawsuit instantly against it. You are fighting granularly. You're fighting on this front lines. What can happen nationally or what can happen at the state level by nonlawyers, by citizens who care about these things?
Yes. So two things. First of all, at the federal level, we need H.R. one and we need the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, the John Lewis bill. And we need them and we need them to at the state level. What what people can do is they can stand up. They can tell their neighbors and their friends that this is not OK. They can not avoid the hard conversation when their crazy uncle says something crazy, they can confront it.
They can go to town halls and confront their local and state legislators. Now is the time to stand up in public and be heard in the town square and say we demand our democracy be protected. What do you say that we need H.R. one, that we need the voter rights, the restoration and advancement of voting rights that represented by that bill and by the John Lewis bill, the reason that there is cynicism that those will ever become law even as the even as H.R. one has already passed the House, is because the existence of the filibuster in the Senate and the resistance of some moderate Democratic senators to get rid of the filibuster, even if they were only to to sort of tailor the filibuster so that it couldn't be used to block voting rights legislation, it couldn't be used to vote to.
Right to block to block civil rights legislation, for example. I wonder if if there's something that you would say to an Arizona senator, Kirsten Sinema, for example, in terms of the the stakes in Arizona and how that passing H.R. one by hook or by hook or by crook might save the country.
Here's what I'd say. There's a there's a line from a Supreme Court decision of several decades ago that said the First Amendment is not a suicide. Well, neither are the Senate rules. The Senate rules are there to allow for minority participation in debate, but it's not a suicide pact by which democracy gets destroyed. So I don't know the right mechanism, but one way or another, we need to have Congress vote on H.R. one and and the John Lewis bill, because whatever else is at stake, without a functioning democracy, we won't have anything else.
Marc Elias, Democratic voting rights attorney, the founder of Democracy Dockett, mark a on this Iowa case and on this story in general, we won't let it go, but we'd love to keep talking to you about it.
Thank you very much, Rachel. All right, one quick programming note on this line, speaking of voting rights, tomorrow night, we are going to be joined exclusively here live by Stacey Abrams, former Democratic leader in Georgia, former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia. And national voting rights leader Stacey Abrams has been warning specifically about Georgia Republican attempts to crush voting rights for years now that they are moving ahead with what is described as the most aggressive voting rights rollback since Jim Crow.
She is going to be our exclusive guest here tomorrow night and much more ahead here tonight as well. Stay with us.
This is interesting, I did not know this was coming. The FBI today released more video, new fairly high resolution video of the suspect that they say left two pipe bombs near the capital on January 6th. One of the bombs near Republican Party national headquarters, one near the Democratic Party national headquarters on the eve of the attack on the Capitol the night of January 5th. The FBI has been able to get very specific about the clothing the suspected bomber was wearing.
They know the exact shoes the person had on the exact time the person unzipped their backpack to place the bombs, but they still do not know who this person is. And so the FBI is asking people to watch this new video that they have just released, hoping this might jog somebody's memory, hoping that somebody might be able to I.D. this person by their body language, their mannerisms, the way they walk by any of those pieces of clothing. You might recognize they're offering a one hundred thousand dollar reward to anybody who provides information that leads to this suspect being identified.
Now, it has been more than 60 days now that this person has been at large, this person who had the means and the knowledge to make operative pipe bombs and who placed them at political targets. It has been more than 60 days that this person has been at large. And all this time later, that's essentially all we know about the status of this investigation into the mad bomber of the capital attack, who's still out there.
Federal investigators and prosecutors handling the ongoing investigations into the capital attack have been radio silent for weeks. Honestly, I don't know why this is, but the FBI and the D.C. US attorney's office have not briefed the public on the subject since the week of the inauguration. Why is that? Among other things, that means we still have all these open questions about why the person who placed the pipe bombs is still at large, but also about how the overall prosecution of these cases is being handled.
There's also a lot of interesting questions, hard questions that I think need to be asked about the number of people who the FBI has asked for information about who the FBI has suggested of people who've been involved in serious crimes that have resulted in public tips back to the FBI and journalism, fleshing out those tips, finding these people and explaining them, in some cases, broadcasting or recording confessions from these people about their involvement in the attack. But those things haven't resulted in any law enforcement activity toward those persons.
Questions need to be asked about those things. We also don't know whether the overall investigation has been hampered or slowed down at all by the fact that new leadership still hasn't taken over at the Department of Justice. There's still an essentially a holding pattern on that last point. At least, we may get some clarity soon. President and Vice President Biden's nominee to lead the Justice Department, Attorney General designate Merrick Garland, is scheduled to have his final confirmation vote in the Senate tomorrow.
On the day that he is sworn in, Merrick Garland will take ownership of all of these open cases and active investigations into what happened on January 6th that everything else and maybe that will mean a new strategy dictating the prosecution of these cases. We'll see. We hope that it will mean more public facing information about the status of these ongoing and ongoing investigations because of the refusal to talk to the public about them is not good. And so far that's happening during the Biden administration.
And maybe it's because Merrick Garland isn't there yet. But once he's there, no more excuses, more ahead. Stay with us. So tomorrow really is going to be a huge day. 9:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow, the House will gavel in for the final debate on the Biden administration's big covid relief bill. The American rescue plan. We have no reason to believe there's going to be drama there. Democratic leadership says they have the votes. Biden has said he will sign it.
It looks cooked, but we'll see, at least at face value. This thing that's going to happen tomorrow is more wide reaching and progressive than anything passed by at least the last two Democratic presidents. We're going to have full coverage of that tomorrow. Plus, Stacey Abrams with us here live tomorrow night. I will see you then.
The Rachel Maddow Show weeknights at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC.