Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz being investigated for sex traffickingThe Rachel Maddow Show
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- 31 Mar 2021
Tonight's guests are Katie Benner, Justice Department reporter for the New York Times, and Jane Mayer, staff writer for the New Yorker.
The Rachel Maddow Show weeknights at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC. Tonight, we are going to have the latest for you on the trial of the Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd. We are going to be looking at that story tonight in detail, in part because some of the witness testimony today was so dramatic and so charged. We'll also be looking ahead tonight to tomorrow, midday, when President Biden is due to announce the next big thing he is planning on doing with Congress after the covid relief bill, a huge infrastructure effort, bigger than anything our country has been able to do in generations.
If you just look around, you know that it is really overdue. We're very overdue for infrastructure investment in this country. We are expecting President Biden's plan to be really ambitious. Looking ahead again tonight to that big speech, that big roll out by the president tomorrow. Also tonight, we're keeping an eye on the covid news as the Biden administration today announced that as of today, we have crossed an important threshold. As of today, a majority of us seniors have been vaccinated.
We have had hit 50 percent of all Americans aged. Sixty five and up have have been vaccinated. Just a remarkable threshold. CDC director Rochelle Walensky today meeting with governors from around the country, asking them to please slow down or stop reopening plans in the states for the next few weeks, because the vaccination rollout really only needs a few more weeks at this pace to get us finally a mathematical advantage against the virus for the first time if we can just avoid another huge surge in transmission in the next few weeks.
Dr. Walinski making that case directly to the nation's governors today. Of course, we're also still watching and waiting for whether OSHA in the Biden administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, may issue a rule that requires masks in workplaces nationwide, regardless of what states have. What rules an OSHA rule like that for mask use in workplaces, an enforceable rule that would certainly help with what the CDC director is asking for from the states. But I got to tell you, this is turning into a bit of a mystery.
OSHA was told the first week of the Biden administration that they needed to study this matter and report back on what they were going to do about it by March 15th. We are now two weeks past the deadline by which President Biden told OSHA they needed to have that mask roll ready to go if they were going to do it. We still haven't seen hide nor hair of it. It would be a very big deal, especially as the CDC and the president himself start pushing hard, hard to try to stop these opening up, stop these various elements to efforts to open up in various states just for the next few weeks until the now going gangbusters vaccination effort can get ahead mathematically of where the epidemic is.
So those are all things that we are watching tonight. We're also going to have new updates for you tonight on the new legal challenges to the draconian anti voting bill that was just passed last week in the state of Georgia, as well as a fairly lurid update on the far right, big money effort to try to stop Democrats in Washington from passing voting rights protections, which would block the worst of what Georgia is trying to do, as well as what Republicans are trying to do, another red states around the country.
So, as I said, there's a lot lot going on. Lots to keep an eye on. We've got a lot to get to in the show tonight. But if you had asked me even two hours ago if we'd be having to talk about this next story tonight at all, I would have looked at you like you were cuckoo.
I mean, sometimes we think the news is going to go one way and then dupe the news gods, throw you a weird late curveball and you must adapt. That's what happened tonight. That's what just happened tonight. Thanks to a front page bizarre breaking news story in The New York Times. Let's let's start where I think the story starts. I will stand corrected if it starts somewhere deeper and weirder than this. But for now, as far as we understand it, the story starts in Seminole County, Florida.
So Seminole County, central Florida, Orlando, metro area, northeast from there, up towards the Space Coast, for reasons unknown to man in Seminole County in the twenty sixteen election, Seminole County voters, in their infinite wisdom, decided that they would replace their county tax collector with this young man. Thirty one years old at the time he was elected no prior record of public service. And we now know from audits and investigations that he really hit the ground running as soon as he won that office in twenty sixteen and was sworn in in twenty seventeen.
One little glimpse of how this is going. This guy, as I said, young man, first time in public service is thirty one years old. And he was elected. He had just been married a couple of months before he was elected. He was married mid twenty sixteen after he won the election in November. Twenty sixteen and got sworn in in early twenty seventeen. He apparently hired and started to pay with public funds. Six different people who had been part of his wedding party the previous year.
I'm not sure that's how you're supposed to staff up. The Tax Collectors Office and Orlando Sentinel investigation found that he issued one point nine million dollars in contracts from his office to people who were his own close friends and business partners. Again, this is the tax collectors office. A county audit later found that for some reason, within months of taking office, he also started spending public money for that office on guns and ammunition and body armor and drones. The tax collectors office in Seminole County, Florida, needs drones.
OK, also by June, twenty seventeen. So it's still only an office a few months, he proclaimed that he and his employees in the county tax collectors office would henceforth all be carrying guns. He wanted them to wear their guns at work to go along with their tax collectors office badges. This is like the office that collects license fees and stuff. This is not like some SWAT team agency with front line wiretaps out there defending the streets. But the new guy elected to that office after hiring all his groomsmen to run the place buys all this.
All these guns and body armor and ammo and drones tells everybody in the office they all need to wear guns at work to go along with their badges. Why do you want that? I don't know for sure. But within a few short months, he personally had pulled over a woman driving. Who he decided might have been speeding now. Did he have a like a speed gun like I don't I wouldn't put it past him, I don't know. But he decided she was speeding.
He pulled her over. He flashed his badge, which, if you look closely in the fine print, was a badge that identified him as a guy who worked in the county tax collectors office. But still, if it's dark enough and you throw the right kind of weight around and you squint, it does kind of look like a sheriff's badge. I wonder what the drone might have told him about whether she really had been speeding. But it gets better.
There's also the part where, while working full time as the elected tax collector for that county, he set up a for profit business inside the tax collectors office to do block change something, something. What was the company actually going to do? It does not matter. He set up his own private for profit company, running it from inside the county tax collectors office. And in setting up that private for profit company, he decided he needed sixty five thousand dollars in brand new computer servers to run his new private company.
And then he billed the county for those computer servers. And just to put some icing on this particular part of the cake, the audit in the county later found that he was such a genius at this stuff that when he installed those servers that he built to the taxpayers, when you installed those servers for the private company, he was going to run out of the tax collectors office. He installed them wrong and thereby set the office on fire.
So Seminole County, Florida, congratulations on your excellent choice for a new public official. In the twenty sixteen elections along the way, the Orlando Sentinel reported on his frequent anti Muslim social media posts and his posts posing with far right white nationalist types. He ended up posting things online about his friendship with President Trump's longtime political adviser and convicted felon, Roger Stone, who you see on the left side of your screen there, as well as the trump of all Trump Republican congressmen who you see in the center there, Florida Congressman Matt Gates.
But where things get that rough for the Seminole County, Texas, tax collector is is June of last year. Federal agents come to his house to arrest him for, among other things, allegedly stalking a local man who was going to run against him for county tax collector. Yeah, how dare anyone run against him for tax collector when our hero was doing such a great job in that office. Have you seen the way they wear their guns now to try to derail his potential opponents campaign?
The tax collector guy, according to prosecutors, arranged for a false rape accusation to be made against the man, which was then sent to the school at which the guy worked. The same allegation was then hyped and circulated by a network of fake identity, social media bots and accounts apparently controlled by a local guy from the proud boys and associated with Roger Stone. Prosecutors say the tax collector guy also created a fake Twitter account in the name of the guy who was running against him.
And then he falsely posted things on that Twitter to a Twitter account in which he was claiming to be the guy running against him and also claiming to be a proud segregationist and a white supremacist. But it was all fake. It was the tax collector guy who set up this Twitter account. It was his job all set up by our hero, the armed to the teeth, fire setting, wedding party hiring tax collector of Seminole County. So federal agents show up at his house last summer to arrest him on these stalking charges.
And things get worse from there because what do they find when they come to arrest him at his house? I will read it to you directly from the Orlando Sentinel at the time. Quote, The day he was indicted for stalking a political rival, Joel Greenberg had several stolen IDs in his work vehicle, a pair of fake IDs in his wallet and materials for making more in his office evidence he was regularly abusing his position to steal unwitting constituents identities, according to federal authorities inside the tax collectors.
What vehicle agents found his backpack, which held three licenses from Canada, Virginia and Florida, belonging to Seminole County residents who had recently obtained a new Florida licenses? Employees of the Tax Collectors Office told agents they'd seen Greenberg taking surrendered licenses from the agencies shred basket prior to their destruction. That's from an Orlando Sentinel story from last summer titled Seminole Tax Collector Joel Greenberg was stealing customer IDs until his last day in office, feds say. They say he's the Seminole County tax collector there because he did resigned his post the day after.
Police showed up to arrest him, but I mean, the fake I.D. stuff is nuts, right? I mean, in Seminole County, Florida, you have to go to the tax collectors office. If you move there and you want to get a new local I.D. when they get you your new local ID, you have to handle your own ID. Federal prosecutors say the elected tax collector was stealing all of the old licenses out of the to be shredded bin and then using them to make tons of fake IDs, apparently mostly for himself.
So he would change the IDs so that doctor them so according to prosecutors, so they'd have his own picture on them so we could flash this idea and it would look like him. But the name and information on the rest of the idea was from the people from whom he'd stolen their licenses at his office. And it wasn't just like he did it once, according to prosecutors, he had a bunch of these IDs in his car, in his backpack and tucked into his wallet while they were arresting him.
What do you need them all for? Why do you need a whole bunch of fake identities? And why was he also, according to prosecutors, trying to figure out how to falsify concealed firearms permits as well? Do you have any idea how many things could go wrong all at once if you just elected the wrong guy, tax collector of all things, who knew what mischief could be made out of a single job like that? But that Orlando Sentinel headline about him stealing people's IDs allegedly through his last day in office that ran in the Orlando Sentinel in July.
By the following month, by August, federal officials had gone through the computers and electronic devices that they had seized from him during that arrest, and what they found, according to prosecutors, on those electronic devices and computers, would yield even darker headlines by the following month, plus a superseding federal indictment for him by August of last year. This was the headline in the Orlando Sentinel. Former Seminole tax collector Joel Greenberg facing sex trafficking charges. Joel Greenberg is facing sex trafficking charges related to a girl between the ages of 14 and 17 and is also accused of illegally using a state database to look up information about the girl and other people with whom he was engaged in, quote, sugar daddy relationships.
According to an indictment filed Friday by the US attorney's office for the former Seminole County tax collector, used his access as an elected official to a state database to look up information about the minor victim. The database in question as the Florida Driver and Vehicle Information Database, he allegedly looked up information about the girl in that database, including her photo and her driver I.D. number. He also, according to the indictment, used the database to look up other people with whom he was, quote, engaged in sugar daddy relationships.
That's the phrase that's used in the indictment. The Orlando Sentinel helpfully points out, quote, A sugar daddy is a term that refers to a wealthy man who dates a younger woman and gives her gifts in exchange for companionship or sex. Again, the alleged victim here is a teenage girl. Per the Orlando Sentinel quote, Greenberg used the state database for prohibited purposes, including to produce a false identification document and to facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts.
So there's this sort of reign of terror at this obscure office in Florida by this guy who is linked to the highest levels of Donald Trump circles in Florida, and it ends in this very, very dark place. I mean, it starts off weird and gets weird and dark in some ways, but then it ends up in this terrible place. Right. Charges of sex trafficking of a child. Now, the tax collector guy did quit his job after he was arrested.
He has pled not guilty to all of the 14 federal charges he's now facing, including the sex trafficking of a child. Charges he was out on bail after he was charged last summer. But last month, the judge overseeing his case jailed him for violating the terms of his bail. So he is now in jail and he is scheduled to go on trial in Florida in June. So happy Tuesday that this exists. I'm sorry. But now tonight on the front page of The New York Times, we get the national kick in.
The teeth that comes with this story is the headline tonight on the front page of the Times. Quote, Florida Congressman Matt Gates is said to be investigated over possible sexual relationship with a girl aged 17. Quote, Representative Matt Gates, Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald Trump, is being investigated by the US Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17 year old and paid for her to travel with him, according to three people briefed on the matter.
Investigators are examining whether Congressman Gates violated federal sex trafficking laws. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under the age of 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex for exchange in exchange for money or something of value. The US Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences. It was not clear how Congressman Gates met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago, that investigators are scrutinizing.
The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William Barr, given Congressman Gates's national profile. This is interesting. Senior Justice Department officials in D.C., including some appointed by President Trump, were notified of the Gates investigation. Three people familiar with the probe said the examination of Congressman Gates is part of a broader investigation into a political ally of his. A local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg. The Seminole County tax collector was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex.
At least one of whom was an underage girl. Mr. Greenberg, who has since resigned his post as tax collector in Seminole County, visited the White House with Congressman Gates in twenty nineteen, according to a photograph that Mr. Greenberg posted on Twitter. So. Like, you have to learn this gross Florida man story. In order to get to what allegedly happened here, the tax collector from this county in Florida and Congressman Matt Gaits, they both, incidentally, get elected to public office in twenty sixteen.
We have multiple pictures and accounts of them together since in the Seminole County Tax Collectors Office, things go not just bad, but like horror movie bad with the tax collector guy and culminating in child sex trafficking charges. And now The New York Times congressman gets the loudest and proudest and most flamboyant trolling. Pro Trump member of Congress in the Republican Party is himself reportedly facing investigation for the same very dark, very serious alleged crime.
And, you know, not for nothing, but the year that he and the Seminole County tax collector guy were both sworn into public office for the first time in twenty seventeen, which is when this alleged child sex trafficking is supposed to have occurred, both per gates in The New York Times and prosecutors and the apparently related case of the other guy in Florida in twenty seventeen when again, this these alleged crimes are said to have occurred, Congressman, not Gates.
Then in his first years, the congressman did briefly earn himself some national headlines that you might remember. It was weird at the time, why is there one member of Congress? From either party, from either chamber, one alone who voted no, who voted against increasing law enforcement funding to combat child sex trafficking. This thing passed unanimously. Except for Matt Gates, he voted down. Now, according to The New York Times, he's under federal investigation for child sex trafficking.
Of course, that might that vote might just be a coincidence, might be a totally normal part of the story, because I'm sure every other part of this is totally normal. Since the Times published the story tonight, Congressman Gates has put out a public statement denying all the allegations. He's now just in the last hour or so done an interview on the Fox News Channel in which he claims that he is not only innocent, but that this is all part of an elaborate extortion plot targeting his father and trying to get money from his very wealthy family.
Also, something about a plot to get him a pardon from President Biden. He's making a series of allegations about what this really is. He says it's nothing like what The New York Times says. He's very upset about the charges, specifically denies having any relationship with any underage person. The New York Times, meanwhile, is standing by its reporting. Joining us now is Katie Benner. She's The New York Times reporter who covers the Justice Department. She's one of the reporters who broke the story tonight.
Matt Benner, thank you so much for making time to be here tonight. I hope I haven't butchered the story too much in my retelling.
No, you did great. OK, so let me ask you first about Congressman Gates's push back. I know that the story published initially, you and Michael Schmidt published an initial version of the story. And then fairly quickly, an update to account for Congressman Gates really angrily denying all of this and making counter allegations that this is all the product of some sort of improper extortion plot. Can you help us understand what his what his pushback is here? Sure, I think that to understand the congressman's statement is the most important thing to do is to look at the timeline in this investigation.
What we found is that this investigation began at the end of last summer and it's been going on for more than six months. So this is a serious investigation that was serious enough that even the highest levels of the Justice Department, including the office of the Attorney General, Bill Barr, said that it should continue. So that's the context in this investigation have been going on for several months. What Congressman Gates is saying is that somebody then found out about it and use that information to try to get money out of his family.
So I'm not saying that the extortion claims that he's making are untrue. I'm just saying that it came on the heels of months and months of an investigation and a part of the country where the offices are very small and there should be some expectation that information does sometimes leak out of these offices. So the idea that the extortion exists or that it happened, I think that it should be seen in the context of that timeline of an investigation that serious brewing for a long time bubbling out into the local community.
Now, Mr. Gates, Congressman Gates has made this extortion allegation, is named somebody who he says is the guilty party, who is trying to extort he and his family for money to try to make this go away. And again, I have no no idea about the veracity of those allegations. And as you say with the timeline, it's important to understand that these may be two very separate stories. But the person that he's named is that a person who was involved with the Justice Department investigation.
Gates is essentially claiming that these are false charges trumped up against him and somebody involved in trumping up these charges against him, then tried to extort money from him. Is the person that he's named somebody involved in this investigation? Now, that person is not involved in the investigation, that person is currently in private practice and does not work at the Justice Department. But again, keep in mind, this is an investigation that when you look at the timeline was very serious and it was something that's taken seriously by Trump administration officials in the Justice Department.
So I think that one of the reasons why he is talk publicly about this extortion plot, one of the reasons why he has publicly said that the FBI is, as his own father to wear a wire, is in order to try to get people to not pay attention to the fact that was, in fact, the Trump administration who felt it was worthy to investigate him in publicly talking about this investigation or the sorry and publicly talking about the extortion plot that he described and publicly saying his father was a liar.
He is basically destroying and blowing up an FBI investigation, which is in itself something you would think would be against his own interest. You would think that he would be wanting to work with the FBI and you would think he would want to keep this quiet. So you have to you have to put this all into context and say that in doing this and basically blowing up an FBI investigation into people trying to extort his family, he he has both complicated that investigation and also cast aspersions on something that was serious enough that Attorney General Barr proved it.
And Attorney General Bach personally approved it, yes. Remember last February, Attorney General Bach put out a memo to all federal prosecutors saying that if anybody involved in the twenty 20 election was going to be investigated, if any members of Congress were going to be investigated, and those investigations needed to be briefed to supervisors, including the US attorney in that district and whoever the A.G. at the Justice Department would be to the head of the criminal division or the head of the National Security Division, those people would need to sign off on it.
And then those people would bring that up to the deputy attorney general and to the attorney general. So he would have known about this. Yes.
Let me also ask you, in terms of Congressman Gates and whether he is, as you say, by his public remarks about this supposed extortion claim, whether he is blowing up a potential FBI investigation into whether there was an extortion claim subsequent to this investigation in terms of thinking about his his motivation there. Can you tell us from your reporting whether the investigation into Congressman Gates is something that was resolving and not likely to head toward charges? Or is this something that either was heading toward charges or could potentially still be heading toward charges and therefore very serious criminal liability potentially for the congressman?
I cannot be in Congressman Gates's head, so I'm not sure why he would choose to do that, why he would choose to publicly disclose information that would impair an investigation that he has publicly said should be helping he and his family. But I will say that the investigation, the allegations are that he not only had a sexual relationship with a 17 year old girl, but that he took her across state lines, which would be a federal crime, and that he gave her something of value in return.
That could be money, but it also could just be travel expense or something else that is extremely serious. And again, we don't know whether or not this will be charged is one reason why the Justice Department really wants to keep these things quiet, because you don't know what's going to happen. But we do know that investigators have been working very hard on the case and that they do believe that it is worth looking into. Katie Benner, New York Times Justice Department reporter, you are in the middle of a maelstrom on this.
It's just fascinating, sort of gob smacking reporting. Thank you for helping us understand it tonight. Thank you. All right, we've got much more ahead on this, frankly, bizarre news night, anything could happen. Stay with us. Today was an emotional second day in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derrick Chauvin, who stands accused of murdering George Floyd. Six witnesses gave testimony on the stand today. And of those six, four of them were kids or young adults who witnessed the death of George Floyd May twenty fifth last year and who will now live with that memory for the rest of their lives because they were all minors at the time of the thing they were testifying about.
The court didn't show their faces while they were giving testimony. Today, the people inside the room, including the jury, could see them, but the rest of us watching the video feed could not. The court did, however, allow us to hear these young people describing what they witnessed. And that was really something. What was a young woman named Darnell Frazier? She was 17 on the day George Floyd died. She was there. She's the person who filmed the best known video of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes until he died.
Today, the prosecutor in the case asked her about her decision to start recording what she was witnessing. What did you do when you first got there and we see where you stand and what did you do? I pulled out my phone and what were you doing to pull out your phone recording and texting while listening? And we have already admitted into evidence in this case, the video which you had done, which was on exhibit 15, that's in evidence.
So tell the jury what you observed, what you heard when you stopped to look at what was happening there at the scene. I heard George Fluidic saying, I can't breathe.
Please get off of me. I can't breathe. He he cried for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew. It seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help.
Definitely. Later in the trial, Darnell Frazier had one of the most powerful and gut wrenching moments of the whole day when she described how she has lived with the memory of that day since after seeing what she saw. Would you tell the ladies and gentlemen how your viewing experience and what happened to George Floyd has affected your life?
When I look at George Floyd, I look at look at my dad. I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, uncles, because they are all black. I have. But I have a black father, I have a black brother, have black friends. And I look at that and I look at how that could have been one of them. It's been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.
But this is not what I should have done, is what he said.
What he should have done, indicating the defendant, Darnell Frazier, was at the scene of George Floyds death that day because she was taking her nine year old cousin to the store to get a snack today. That nine year old girl, whose name is JDA, also took the stand to describe what she saw. This was just remarkable. Good morning, you. Good morning, first of all, would you tell us how old you are, not how old will you be by the end of next week?
And then you've got a 10th birthday coming up? Yes. What grade are you in? Third.
Now, when you came out to where your cousin was and you saw George Clooney. Was there a policeman there? Yes.
Do you remember what the policemen or policemen were doing in any unintelligible if I showed you a picture of a policeman.
Why don't I just do that? Because it's. Let me ask if you recognize the policeman in what's marked as Exhibit 17, you recognize this man? Yes. Who is he?
I remember his name.
OK, do you remember what he was doing?
How do you know he was pushing negligent for it? Do you see him in the courtroom today? No. OK, how about him? Yes. All right. So is that the person that you saw? Yes. Not all the witnesses who testified today had to do so off camera, although all that testimony from those young people in those kids was astonishing. Genevieve Hensen is a twenty seven year old Minneapolis firefighter who was at the scene when George Claudine imploring the officers to check George Floyd's pulse today.
She showed up in uniform to testify.
The officers didn't let me in to the scene. I also offered in my memory, I offered to walk, kind of walk them through it or or told them if he doesn't have a pulse, you need to start compressions. And that wasn't done either.
And so when well, is this are these things that you wanted to do?
It would. It's what I would have done for anybody. When you couldn't do that, how did that make you feel? Totally distressed. Frustrated. Yes. This was day two of the trial in Minneapolis for the former Minneapolis police officer who is charged with the murder of George Floyd, day three is tomorrow. It's expected to take several weeks, this trial. Of course, the trial is taking place right now in the context of a civil rights and race crisis of a different kind for the country so that we saw another group of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, file another lawsuit.
This is the third one against the state of Georgia for Georgia's new restrictive law, curbing voting rights. We're still keeping an eye, I should tell you, on that criminal felony case that's been brought in Georgia against State Representative Park. Can an African-American female Democratic legislator who was arrested by state troopers and dragged through the state capitol after she knocked on the door and asked to be allowed into the signing ceremony for that bill? She is charged with two felonies and is facing years in prison potentially.
But we are also learning more about the nationwide, very well-funded effort on the right to not only help with the rollback of voting rights everywhere, including Georgia, but to try to kneecap Democrats ability to stop it from Washington. We've got more on that story next. Stay with us.
This was two weekends ago in West Virginia, a small protest in West Virginia's capital city targeting US Senator Joe Manchin, pressuring him to vote against the voting rights bill that's sitting in the Senate right now, the for the People Act, H.R. one. This rally was organized by several big money conservative groups that are not from West Virginia, not at all their groups based in D.C. And in order to do this little rally two weekends ago, they had to bus people in people who don't live in West Virginia to have what they said was a West Virginia rally.
Why do you need to gin that up? Why do you need fake protesters bussed in from somewhere else to try to pressure Joe Manchin? Are there any actual locals who agree with the Republican Party's position on this? Turns out that's kind of a problem for them on this. When presented with a very neutral description of H.R. one, people were generally supportive and the most worrisome part was Grover mentioned at the very beginning of his presentation, is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the nutri description of H.R. one.
That audio was obtained by reporter Jane Mayer at The New Yorker. It's audio from a strategy session among leaders of several big money conservative groups to try to figure out how they can stop the bill that's sitting in the Senate right now that would protect voting rights nationwide. In addition to protecting people's right to vote, that bill would also dramatically overhaul campaign finance law to essentially plug the flowing faucet of dark, unaccountable money in American politics. Dark money has been a life source in Republican politics in particular over these past couple of decades.
It has buoyed Republican candidates. It has paid to help Republicans enact billionaire approved conservative policies all over the country with billionaire derived money that they never have to disclose. So that was the point of the meeting. You just heard the audio from big money conservative groups message tested ways to try to convince Republican voters that the voting rights bill is bad. Right. They're hoping negative public opinion against the voting rights bill will well take the bill. What they found, though, when they message tested it is that even conservative voters like the bill.
They like the idea specifically of getting secret dark money out of politics, no matter how you try to spin it. H.R. one, stop billionaires from buying elections. Unfortunately, we found that that is a winning message for both, you know, the general public and also conservative large a very large chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts. And so, you know, everything that people just went through will be under the dome type strategies on this.
You know, we think makes a lot of sense simply because winning over public support for this is actually incredibly difficult. Unfortunately, we found that this is a winning message for the public, and do you catch what the guy said at the end about how we're going to need to use under the dome strategies by under the dome strategies? They mean things that just happen in Congress that don't depend on public opinion and stuff happening in the streets organically. Are people showing their dissatisfaction with the bill?
Because real people aren't going to be dissatisfied with this bill? They better figure out ways to kill this in Washington without having to engage actual voters on it. Even conservative voters like how the voting rights bill that's in the Senate right now would keep dark money out of politics. They like the idea of nonpartisan administration of elections. They don't mind the idea of people being allowed to access the ballot box. And it turns out, according to the conservatives own research, it's a waste of time to try and convince Republican voters otherwise.
So instead, they need other plans. They need plans that don't involve the public. Question is, will that work? Jane Mayer joins us next. Stay with us.
Jane Mayer has had a lot of scoops over the course of her unparalleled career and investigative journalism. She's one of the greats. This is the headline on her current piece at The New Yorker. Her latest scoop at The New Yorker lays bare with tapes the fact that the big right wing billionaire funded groups that are trying to stop Democrats from passing their bill to protect voting rights and to force secret funding out of politics. Those right wing groups are apparently absolutely flummoxed by the fact that they don't have any good public arguments to make against what the Democrats are trying to do.
They can't convince even conservative voters to side with them on this thing. And so how else are they going to fight it? Joining us now is Jane Mayer, staff writer at The New Yorker. She is an expert on this subject. She's the author of Dark Money The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Jane, it's great to see you. Thank you so much for making time. Great to be with you, Rachel.
I also just want to thank you so much for playing that tape, because just listening to the audio, you really don't get to be in the back room with people behind the curtains that are usually closed like this very often. So it was great that you played this for people to hear.
Well, I'm not going to I'm not going to press you on your sources. I'm not going to ask you how you got it. It is amazing that you got it. But let me just ask you if this is if this is sort of their M.O., if this is the type of call, the type of research or the type of research that these groups generally do, the type of message testing that they do when they set out on a new political objective?
Well, absolutely. I mean, this is the complete playbook. I mean, you have to understand that these groups are funded by some of the wealthiest people in the country, billionaires, and they have endless resources so they can do all kinds of research and market testing and they look for the best possible selling line. And what was so extraordinary, at least to me, I nearly fell off my chair when I listened to this, was they tried testing an argument against themselves.
Basically, they were they tried testing against a bill where the other argument was it will stop billionaires from buying elections. Billionaires like themselves. And they could not find an argument that convince the public that it was a better thing to have the billionaires buying the elections. And that included not just liberal Democrats or even moderates, but amazingly, it also included conservatives who also, it turns out, don't really want billionaires buying American elections. So they were so frustrated by this, they lamented in the tape and they talk about how basically you really shouldn't engage with this argument because you can't win it.
It's better just to go inside the dome, as you said, and we'll just have to put the fix in in Congress. And you sort of pity the poor researcher, right, who's been paid by these billionaires to go figure out what's what sort of messages that will will work here, and the researcher has to go back to the billionaires and say, well, the one thing we can tell you is that everybody we talk to is really against you and what you're doing.
I mean, that's got to be a difficult sort of day at the office for those guys. But when they were talking about it under the dome strategy, that you can't engage with the public on this. Instead, you need it under the dome strategy. What does that mean? Does that mean essentially a technical fight, an obstructionist fight in Washington, that that you can hopefully keep away from the public eye? I mean, it probably means, among other things, that they will use the filibuster in order to make sure that they can count on basically almost all the Democrats, possibly not Manchin, but being against them.
And so they'll need to filibuster the bill if they're going to stop it in Congress. And they may get Manchin, who he said a lot of things that are actually very good about campaign finance and about trying to get rid of dark money in politics. So they may the Democrats may very well get his vote. And he is a Democrat. So so they may be talking about the filibuster. Basically, I think what they're talking about is that the public be damned.
Voters may be in one place, but we can count on the people we fund to kill this for us. We can we can stop the bill by calling in our chits. Jane Mayer, staff writer at The New Yorker, with yet another almost unbelievable scoop in this incredible document, this audio file that will live for the ages in terms of exposing this stuff. Thank you so much for helping us understand, Jane. Thanks.
Great to be with you. We'll be right back. Stay with us. So one last piece of news that has just broken tonight since we have been on the air, we've just gotten word two Capitol Police officers have just filed this lawsuit against former President Donald Trump. These are police officers who were attacked and injured in the attack on the Capitol January 6th. Their lawsuit tonight sues former President Trump for inciting that attack, essentially and thereby causing injuries to these officers and others.
The two officers are requesting a trial by jury in this lawsuit. Again, this just filed tonight. We have seen members of Congress file suit against President Trump for his alleged role in inciting that attack. Now, Capitol police officers as well watch this space. That's going to do it for us for now.
The Rachel Maddow Show weeknights at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC.