The Rachel Maddow Show weeknights at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC. Happy to have you here on the western border of Russia up at the northernmost part of that border. You've got Finland below that. You've got Estonia and Latvia, the really big country on the southwestern part of that border between Russia and the Black Sea is the large nation of Ukraine. Lots of news about Ukraine in recent years. Russia recently took part of that country. Russia is currently occupying other parts of it.
But on top of Ukraine, between Ukraine and the Baltic states is the large and still quite Soviet country of Belarus. Belarus did become an independent country when the Soviet Union collapsed in nineteen ninety one, they established a new form of government. They constituted themselves as the Republic of Belarus. They held an election for president of that republic for the first time in nineteen ninety four. In that first election in nineteen ninety four, they picked this guy Alexander Lukashenko, to be their first ever president again.
They picked him in nineteen ninety four. He is still there today. I say that Belarus is kind of Soviet because Belarus is is often described as Europe's last dictatorship and he is the dictator. But Belarus is both a effectively a dictatorship and also nominally it's a republic, it is a place that holds elections. And those two things may seem contrary, that you would be a dictatorship, but also one that holds elections. But in practice, those those two things often come together.
I mean, if you think about it right, basically, by definition, if you are an authoritarian leader, if you're a dictator, you don't believe in like checks and balances in government, you don't believe in anybody else in government, anybody else in any position in your country being able to interfere with you, just dictating what you want to happen and getting it by definition. Right. Authoritarian leaders and dictators also don't have to believe in doing a good job in government.
Right. They don't have to they don't have to worry about it. Under authoritarian rule, there's no democratic feedback loop from voters and constituents that's going to get in your way of doing whatever you want. Right. I mean, if you are a citizen living under the rule of a dictator or an authoritarian leader and it turns out you don't have good government, you are dissatisfied with the the governing skills of the dictator in your country and how your country is going under his leadership.
And it is always his, not hers. Right. What are you going to do if you're a dissatisfied citizen in a country like that? Going to hold a demonstration? You're going to petition the leader with your grievances. Really? Maybe you're going to run for office to try to unseat the guy who you're unhappy with? Yeah. Good luck with any of those things in an authoritarian country. That said, places run by dictators and authoritarians quite often do have some form of elections.
But the point of those elections in an authoritarian system is not to actually set competing candidates and competing political parties and competing governing ideas against each other to let the people decide in a free and fair contest. I mean, the point of holding purportedly democratic elections in authoritarian states is just to validate the leader's hold on power. Right. To sort of pseudo authenticate the dictator's position both to other countries, but also domestically as well. Right. You reify the position of the leader and you shut up anybody who complains that he's illegitimately holding office or that the people of his country object to his continued rule.
And so in a lot of places that are dictatorships or authoritarian states, you do get elections. But there often are ways to tell that maybe it's not the way we think of an election here. Right. So like in Turkmenistan, you get the president, quote unquote, re-elected with ninety seven percent of the vote. And it was it was Beristain. The president gets ninety one percent of the vote. Oh, he's slipping. Right. Bashar al-Assad, the dictator in Syria, announces.
Ninety eight percent of the people have voted to keep him in power. Really? Tell me more. The Castro brothers in Cuba. Ninety nine percent of the vote, Kim Jong Il in North Korea. Ninety nine percent of the vote, Saddam Hussein. One hundred percent of the vote. And, you know, these guys were working it hard enough. They could probably get one hundred, one hundred and ten percent of the vote in the right precincts.
But after going through those kind of emotion, those kind of motions, voila, the dictator says to the world and to his own country, look, I've been overwhelmingly democratically re-elected to my posts. The people love me. I'm not pushing myself on anybody. They've asked for me to stay. They love me. This weekend in Belarus, the guy who has been the dictator there for more than twenty five years, the first and only president that country has ever had since the collapse of the Soviet Union, he stood for re-election and there's no reason to think that a real election that he would be re-elected.
He has badly botched, for example, his country's coronavirus response, which has led to widespread anger and criticism. The economy in Belarus is circling the drain. Here's a specific dynamic that applies to Belarus in a very specific way. But it's understandable. His relationship with Putin in Russia has been very, very important to his power. Russia has been propping him up, but his relationship with Putin in Russia has gone a little weird recently. Now, that is in doubt.
That has also sort of shook his hold on power in Belarus. But, you know, dictators do as dictators do.
In the days leading up to the vote, he arrested the senior campaign staff of the main candidate running against him. Lukashenko had his security forces attacked peaceful protesters in the capital city of Minsk, including yanking people off the streets and throwing them into unmarked vans. Him. When his government announced this weekend that he had received oh, say, let's call it 80 percent of the vote in this election, protesters nevertheless flooded the streets and Lukashenko called out the troops against them.
And we have seen disturbing scenes out of the streets of Minsk. Police trucks driving at speed into protesters, the Internet being cut off in parts of the capital, phone service being mostly cut off. The candidate who stood against him in this election, Svetlana Teegan Wickwire, she has now disappeared. The dictator Lukashenko says he is facing a revolution that's trying to overthrow him, and that's why all this force is necessary, because he won't allow himself to be overthrown.
Well, Lukashenko may or may not be facing a revolution tonight or in the long run in Belarus, but what he is facing is a country that apparently does not want him in power anymore and is willing to say so. In a country under authoritarian rule, even when they hold elections, elections are not supposed to be for that purpose. They're not supposed to be a legitimate means by which people choose the future of their country and the authoritarian country under authoritarian rule.
Elections are just there is window dressing that is supposed to validate the rulers. Hold on power. In Hong Kong, security forces have now started arresting even very well known, very well connected public figures, including today arresting a media tycoon named Jimmy Lai, that China has apparently looked around the world and decided that this year, 20, 20 is the perfect time to grind out any special freedoms that Hong Kong has enjoyed in years past, despite a constitution that supposedly protects those freedoms under the draconian and far reaching new security law that China has imposed in Hong Kong.
Security forces are now just straight up raiding a major newspaper, denouncing it as colluding with foreign powers. Security services raided the paper, searched the desks and computers of reporters, seized and arrested the executive in charge of the paper. And why are they doing it? Because they can. Because they've been testing what they can get away with in terms of international opinion and they find that they're finding they can do whatever they want. I mean, they've been arresting activists and demonstrators and pro-democracy politicians, they have banned a whole bunch of pro-democracy politicians from competing from participating in the elections that Hong Kong was supposed to have this fall.
But then after banning all the pro-democracy politicians from participating in those elections, they then did away with any worries about what might happen in that election anyway. By canceling that election altogether, they said, no, we're not going to do an election now. We'll hold it next year instead. Maybe we'll see. Here at home, President Trump, of course, has recently threatened to delay the election this fall here in the US, he does not have the power to delay the election, but he is raising that prospect for a reason.
His attorney general, William Barr, is now publicly denouncing American protesters and demonstrators as Bolsheviks literally used the word Bolsheviks and and fascists and communists all at once. Anything else? Attorney General William Barr, of course, has recently overseen the deployment of federal agents against American protesters and American streets this summer. With coronavirus infections now topping five million in this country with a quarter of the world's cases in the United States. One hundred and sixty four thousand Americans dead. With front pages like this one, this was the Sacramento Bee in California yesterday, you see those little dots, really hard to see what they all are.
Each of those is a coffin pictorial representation of a coffin. Ten thousand coffins on the front page representing ten thousand Californians dead from covid already and counting. With school reopening efforts going bust all over the country simply because the spread of the virus is not under control and schools cannot safely open until the spread of the virus is under control, with realistic economic prospects remaining bleak again because the spread of the virus is not under control and that not only affect schools, it affects work and travel and everything.
With unemployment still above 10 percent, the highest level since the Great Depression, with the positivity rate in terms of test results in Mississippi, up near twenty one percent as of now, this far into it, which is astonishing with Texas, this positivity rate above 19 percent today. I mean, even though it seems like maybe Texas is getting better there for a while, Texas is positivity rate is over 19 percent right now.
For contrast, New York is well under one percent now. With current polls, even with many grains of salt about polling, right with current polls showing the president losing to his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, in nearly every swing state in the country, with with all of that and with what we have come to learn about this president and what he is not only interested in doing, but what he is able to do to the government when he puts his mind to it.
There are now real worries about the means by which he's going to try to hold on to power in less than 90 days when the election happens in the lead up to that election, during that election and after. Here, for example, is a recent ad, a political ad. It's against the president is from Priorities USA. And I want to show you this ad because I feel like it puts these worries in the starkest possible terms in a way that sort of easier to show than for me to say.
I will also tell you this ad is intense enough. It may be upsetting enough that if you are watching with kids right now, you might want to pause me here for a second and not have the kiddos watch this, depending on the particular kiddo. I really believe this is worth seeing and it's worth it. But I will admit that it is not for everyone. So I'm giving you fair warning here. All right. You ready? 30 seconds.
I'm going to show it in three to one. I am the president of Law and Order Reasons, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers. Please don't be too nice.
Vote this out, that ad is called Police State Against Some Priorities USA. As a general matter, we associate authoritarian leaders and dictators with the government using violence at large scale against citizens of that country and also curtailing the rights and freedoms of citizens in that country and intimidating them, limiting the limiting the means by which anybody might object to that or get any recourse for it. That's a very visible, very scary stuff that we think about in terms of authoritarian regimes.
What we're watching unfold right now, for example, in Belarus. But as a political science matter, it's not as visual, but it is worth noting that as a matter of political science, we are also really used to seeing authoritarian leaders get re-elected, not because they're popular, right. Not because they're beleaguered populations like them and freely choose them, but because authoritarian leaders only care about elections as window dressing. Right. They only care about elections for the purpose of validating the leader's hold on power.
They don't care about real free and fair democracy. They don't care about good and fair government. If they were, they wouldn't be authoritarians and dictators. But as a general rule, authoritarian leaders get re-elected, in part because they're absolutely shameless about what they are willing to apply to an election to make sure they hold on to power. They are willing to use all the powers of the government that they control to ensure that they win the next election, to keep themselves in power as a general principle that goes hand in hand with authoritarian leadership.
And that's why authoritarianism and elections most often yield to what appear to be re-election results for authoritarian leaders. They bring the powers of the government to bear to ensure that they win the election to keep them in power. Now, we're going to be talking this hour about the US Postal Service, of all things. Because of the pandemic, it has emerged as a brand new, never before needed choke point in terms of the Trump administration having potential direct influence over the next election and over voting nationwide.
I mean, think about the contrast between this and previous elections. In previous elections, every state had basically total control over voting in elections. Right. Independently, all 50 states all doing it their own way, 50 different ways. That's how it's set up in our Constitution. That's how we've basically always done it this year, simply because of the pandemic all over the country, all of us and almost every state we will all be for the first time relying on one part of the federal government controlled by the Trump administration to receive and cast their ballots.
We have procedurally federalized our elections by running all of our receipts and submission of our ballots through one part of the federal government controlled by the president, and we don't think of the postal service as a particularly political thing. We don't think of protecting it as critical to our ability to stay a democratic country, but by circumstance and political eventuality. Here we are. Friday night, we reported on nearly two dozen senior Postal Service leaders being summarily removed from their jobs by the new guy who just put in charge there today.
Politico reporting that the Trump White House is actively working on ways they can sabotage voting through their newly tight control over the Postal Service, their spit balling new ways they may be able to use the power of the government they now run to make sure that Trump keeps hold of power by sabotaging the vote through the Postal Service. And Postal Service is a new, weird part of that power dynamic simply because of the pandemic and the logistical imperatives that it's imposed on us.
They're apparently going for it. That said, of course, there's no substitute for the Justice Department being used that way, too, having the Justice Department working for the president's political aims. That's priceless. Clearing and protecting friends and co-conspirators of the president, people who would lie to law enforcement or cover for him to keep him from getting in trouble. The Justice Department directing criminal investigations and potentially prosecutions of the president's political enemies and his perceived opponents.
I mean, that as the president was coming into office was seen as the sort of holy grail of what he might try to grab hold of in terms of corrupting the US government to his own purposes and to bolster his own hold on power. Well, you know, you talk about these things as worst case scenarios than they happen. Then you just have to live with them and figure out the way out of it. We have now seen one by one, even the most supposedly independent federal prosecutors offices pressured and in some cases taken over by Attorney General Bill Barr with direct consequences for the prosecutions of people like Roger Stone and Michael Flynn and ongoing investigations into the president's businesses and his various lawyers.
Right now, we are steaming toward the election with a public promise from Attorney General Barr that he will unveil the results of a criminal investigation targeting senior officials in the Obama administration. And that public reveal, he says, will happen before the election. In which President Trump, of course, will face off against the Obama administration's vice president, Joe Biden, will Barr promising that the results of the criminal investigation he has ordered and he is supervising into Obama administration officials that will be out before the election.
Use the power of the government you control to hold onto power, that is the game. That's how they do it. That's the basic principle. And behold into this life that we are now living in, those that understanding of the circumstances in which the president is trying to hold on to power, behold, here comes Robert Draper at the New York Times magazine with next maybe the biggest shoe to drop along these lines. He tells the story the astonishingly mostly untold story of how the intelligence agencies are falling to it.
Now to. Robert Draper's long new piece at the New York Times magazine is, I think, due out sort of over the neck over the course of the next week.
The New York Times put it on their front page for a hot minute this weekend and then took it down. Now it's hard to find. I don't understand that at all. But this piece is making news now far and wide for good reason. Robert Draper speaks with 40 sources for this story, including multiple sources who he has, he says have served in the intelligence community under this president. Draper reports that last year, last summer, last July, the National Intelligence Estimate rendered as one of its key judgments, key judgment number two, quote that in the twenty twenty election, Russia favored the current president, Donald Trump.
Quote, The intelligence provided to the news authors indicated that in the lead up to 20 20, Russia worked in support of the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as well. But the lead author of the NIE explained to colleagues, quote, that this reflected not a genuine preference for Bernie Sanders, but rather an effort to weaken the Democratic Party and ultimately help the current US president, Donald Trump. Interesting details, key judgments in the National Intelligence Estimate as of July last year.
Now, that's in place as of July last year. That's what the National Intelligence Estimate had concluded. In part, Draper reports, though, that the president was, quote, displeased with this assessment and that resulted in the then director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, being told to change that assessment. Quote, I can confirm that one of my staffers who was aware of the controversy requested that I modify that assessment. Dan Coats tells Robert Draper, quote, But I said no.
No, we need to stick to what the analysts have said. Dan Coats says he was told to change that assessment July of last year. Days later, Robert Draper's reporting, quote, Not long after he was approached about the change to the Niyi, Dan Coats was fired as director of National Intelligence or Rather. The president announced by tweet that Dan Coats would be leaving much sooner than he expected to. So they force coats out, then the next guy arrives, the next person installed in the director of National Intelligence Job is Joseph McGuire.
When he's installed in that job, the news still wasn't finalized. And apparently the White House still wanted that assessment about Russia to be changed. And then in September of last year, with McGuire in post because Dan Coats had been fired, in fact that assessment was changed, quote, no longer did key judgment. No. To clearly state that Russia favored the current president, according to an individual who compared the two versions of the NIE side by side.
Instead, the new version concluded that Russian leaders probably assess that chances to improve relations with the US will diminish under a different US president. Such a change, a former senior intelligence official said, would amount to a distinction without a difference and a way to make sure that Joseph McGuire doesn't get fired. But the distinction was, in fact, both real and important. A document intended to explain Russia's playbook for the upcoming elections no longer included an explanation of what Russia's immediate goal was omitting.
That crucial detail would later allow the White House to question the credibility of the testimony of intelligence and law enforcement officials who informed lawmakers of Russia's interest in Trump's reelection and a closed door congressional committee briefing early this year. It would also set in motion Maguire's own departure in spite of the efforts to protect him. Joseph McGuire, who was installed as director of National Intelligence after Dan Coats gets fired, Dan Coats says, no, I won't change that assessment. In the night he's out, McGuire gets put in McGuire.
OK, face the change, this change to the intelligence, dropping this clear statement that Russia was working to re-elect Trump. Joseph McGuire is also the intelligence director who refused to forward to Congress the whistleblower complaint from a CIA analyst about the president in Ukraine. That complaint that ultimately led to kicking off the president's impeachment. And this is remarkable ultimately from Draper's reporting, it appears to have been the same day that Joseph McGuire testified about that whistleblower thing in the morning public testimony, he indignantly stood up for his own integrity, saying and all of his years in government service, integrity had never before been questioned.
In the morning, he went up to Capitol Hill and gave the soliloquy to Congress about sitting on the whistleblower complaint to protect Donald Trump and how nobody should question his integrity around that. That's what he did in the morning. And then in that that afternoon, do he went back to his office and voted to approve the National Intelligence Estimate that took out all the worst stuff about Russia, all the stuff that the White House wanted taken out. And then after doing both of those things to benefit the president, Joseph McGuire got fired anyway.
President fired him anyway because the deputy in McGuire's office who was put in charge of protecting our elections against foreign interference, she briefed Congress and told them the truth about what Russia was doing in twenty twenty and why. And so the president fired McGuire anyway. Robert Draper also reports that then Homeland Security Secretary Brigitte Nielsen was upbraided by the White House when she warned foreign diplomats from multiple countries, including Russia, that they shouldn't interfere in the twenty eighteen midterms. The White House apparently yelled at her for issuing that warning to other countries, including Russia.
Draper also reports that the twenty eighteen cyberattack that shut down the Internet research agency in Russia in twenty eighteen and stopped them from interfering in the twenty eighteen midterms. Draper reports that that was something that President Trump had nothing to do with and he did not order it.
But this is just a remarkable story, particularly given the moment that we are in the president bending the intelligence agencies to say what he wants said. To present what appears to be intelligence information, but to present it in a way that looks the best for him and that omits things that look really bad for him at his insistence. In Robert Draper's reporting, not one, but two directors of national intelligence have been fired shortly after they told too much of the truth about Russia trying to keep him in power.
And Dan Coats his case, he would not change that estimate in the National Intelligence Estimate. In Maguire's case, his deputy told the truth about what Russia is doing to re-elect Trump in twenty twenty in both cases. Soon thereafter, they had to unexpectedly get out. And McGuire's case, he kowtowed to President Trump in other ways, tried to placate him in other ways, but it doesn't matter. Draper says, quote, The options faced by the intelligence community during Trump's presidency have been stark avoid infuriating the president, but compromise the agency's ostensible independence.
Or assert that independence and find yourself replaced with a more sycophantic alternative. Or bend and compromise the agency's independence and find yourself replaced anyway. Leaders with authoritarian tendencies and designs do tend to get re-elected, whether or not they can get elected in the first place is one thing. Once they've got the reins of power, they will use the reins of that power to hold on and not leave. Authoritarian leaders tend to get re-elected because they are willing to improperly abuse the power of the government they control to keep themselves in power.
That is true as a general principle. There's no reason to believe that any country is immune from that. We believed heading into this presidency that the most potent, the most grave. Parts of our government. The really serious parts of our government, the parts of our government where abuse of those elements of our government could be catastrophic for our democracy, we came into all of this thinking that those institutions had enough internal strength, that a strong enough internal culture, they had enough internal protections, they had enough strong minded and brave career professionals in them that efforts to corrupt them would fail.
I thought they could never be brought it on purpose and turned toward the political designs of a president with authoritarian intentions. That's what we thought we had. Turns out this was not an idle test. This is our country now, and Robert Draper joins us live here next. These past few months, I've become a pro at coloring my hair at home, and that's all thanks to the actual pros at Madison, Rebe Madison, Reid is game changing color.
You can do yourself in under an hour. It's simple to get started. Just go online, take their color quiz to find your perfect shade and they'll deliver it right to your door. With Madison Reed, you'll get all the good stuff. Gorgeous, multidimensional color and nourishing ingredients like argan, oil and keratin without a lot of the bad stuff that usually comes with it. There's no ammonia and no smell whatsoever. And having the freedom to do whatever I want while my color processes is amazing.
I can do things like ketchup on my favorite podcasts or finish that puzzle I've been neglecting. You can try it today, starting at just 22 dollars at Madison Dasari Dotcom. Use our code Matto and you'll get ten percent off plus free shipping on your first color kit. Again, that's code matto at Madison Dasch Retcon.
I'm Trymaine Lee, host of Into America, a podcast from MSNBC. Join me as we go into the roots of inequality and economic injustice and racial injustice.
And then when you add health is a health injustice into what's at stake, people are going to be voting not for a person, but for stability and into what comes next into America, a podcast about who we are as Americans and who we want to become. New episodes every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Subscribe now. Joining us now is Robert Draper, a writer at large for the New York Times magazine. He's the author of several books, including most recently To Start a War How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq. Robert Draper has just published this landmark piece of reporting in the Times magazine. It's called Unwanted Truths Inside Trump's Battles with US Intelligence Agencies. Among the scoops embedded here is news that the White House pressured the director of National Intelligence to change and intelligence community conclusion that Russia wanted President Trump re-elected in twenty twenty.
The intelligence director at the time, Dan Coats, said no. He was then fired. His successor signed off on the change, but he was then fired after one of his deputies briefed Congress that, in fact, Russia is working to re-elect President Trump this year. Mr. Draper, thank you for this reporting and for joining us here tonight to help us understand. Thanks very much for your time.
My pleasure. Thanks for coming on.
I've said a lot of words about the even more words that you have reported here and that you have printed. Let me just ask if I got anything wrong or if you think that I'm looking at anything the wrong way around.
I actually think because I did want to ask you two clarifications, the first one and the most important is that I'm not aware that Joe McGuire had anything to do with the alteration of the National Intelligence Estimate. This all took place during this first couple of weeks on the job when his hands were very much full with the Ukraine whistleblower incident, as you correctly pointed out. And so this really I am, for that matter, when the NIE was approved on September the twenty six, he was testifying on the Hill all day long.
So he wasn't able to hear that. So that's the first thing. The second thing is that, you know, there I don't want the story to give anyone the impression the intelligence community as a whole has been bent to the will of Donald Trump. There's still plenty of analysts and case officers who were very, very, very good work. The problem is the people above them have been in the line of fire with the Trump administration and have begun to water things down, such as the intelligence products do not have the integrity that they once did.
That does not mean they are saying black is white and up is down, but they are in fact saying things in a more equivocating fashion. And we saw this most recently just this past Friday when another DNI official released this election security report saying that for the first time in years, it did appear that Russia favored Trump essentially in the same breath, saying that China and Iran favored Biden as if it were kind of a jump ball or something. And that is the kind of equivocation you did not see before the Trump presidency.
I feel like I thank you for for those clarifications and for drilling down on those things in that way, I feel like when I read at the beginning of your piece that Dan Coats was pressured to change the National Intelligence Estimate around Russia's intentions for the twenty twenty election, and he said, no, I felt like, wow, that's that's really big news about Dan Coats. To find out that that happened just before he was fired is itself a scoop.
But then to find out that the National Intelligence Estimate was, in fact watered down, sort of in the way that the White House wanted under John McGuire, it does seem like the sort of bending to the White House's will, equivocating on things that aren't equivocal, casting things in a way that doesn't, you know, is designed not to upset the president or put things in the ways that he likes. It does feel like it's not just pressure, but it's effective pressure that's actually working on the icy for sure.
And I should also probably point out, Rachel, that the matter of Russia and election security has been a sore subject since before Trump's presidency. And everyone knew in the NSC, in the West Wing and certainly in the intelligence community that to bring up the very matter of Russia interfering in twenty sixteen, it's likely interference patterns through the midterms and into twenty twenty. And most of all, that if they were, Trump would be to call into question the legitimacy of this presidency.
That's how he would receive this. And so because it was such an unpleasant thing, as I report out then Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and then National Security Adviser John Bolton to considerable lengths to to keep this completely off the agenda and when it would get on the agenda, for example, when there was a single NSC meeting relating to Russia and election security, Kirsten Nelson, then the secretary of Homeland Security, didn't get five minutes into it before Trump started interrupting her and asking her questions about the wall along the Mexican border.
So this has been a distasteful subject to him. People around him have known that and they have adjusted themselves, unfortunately, according one. And as they have adjusted themselves, it's not only maybe at least for a short term, sort of lubricated their own relationship with the president to keep themself in office, among other things, for however many more days they can sustain it. But it has compromised what the intelligence community has concluded or said about these things.
I guess I I found myself wondering, because you talked to so many people for this piece, both people directly involved and smart observers. Dan Coats going on the record with you by name about what he went through and what happened here is just a remarkable achievement in terms of the reporting here. It just made me wonder if if you got the impression through all this reporting and all these conversations that there is a way out of this, that there is that there isn't a no way out set of options for intelligence officials, particularly people at the higher end of the intelligence community.
Is there a way to do their work with integrity without bending it to the president's will in ways that aren't compromising and don't ultimately kind of screw over the president for short term political survival? Well, yes and no, I mean, if they're if they're subjects that are not deemed politically sensitive, if I have if the president has no interest in them, really doesn't care about them one way or another, those people in the intelligence community working on those particular subjects are free to go about their business when it has to do with something that is a hot button issue for the president.
Russia is certainly right up there. But also we saw in late January twenty nineteen when then Director Coats gave his annual worldwide threats testimony and routinely just went over all of the foreign policy threats that this nation faces. But in so doing, implicitly was issuing a stinging rebuttal to President Trump's supposed foreign policy accomplishments by saying, in fact, that Russia is interfering in our elections and North North Korea absolutely does not intend to relinquish its nuclear capability of these kinds of things that Coke's got in hot water for it.
I mean, the president brought them into the Oval Office and demanded to know why he was saying these things. And Coats and CIA Director Gina Haskell just said those are the facts. Those are the facts that we have been talking about in the NSC every day. And so those are the kinds of subjects where the the top intelligence officials and for that matter, the people who give the daily brief to the president find themselves walking into the propeller, as it were.
Robert Draper, author of this blockbuster piece of new reporting at the New York Times magazine, Unwanted Truths Inside Inside Trump's battles with U.S. intelligence agencies walking into the propeller is an absolutely apt metaphor for what you have described here. Just remarkable reporting. Thanks for helping us understand it, sir.
Thank you so much, Rachel. All right. Much more to get to here tonight. Stay with us. Hi, everyone, it's Joy Reid I'm so excited to tell you about my new MSNBC show, the Read Out every weeknight, I'm talking with the biggest newsmakers about the most pressing issues of our time, like Joe Biden, the words of president matter and so is President United States.
The first thing I'm going to do is stand up and talk sense and be honest with the American people. Level with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
We need as many voices as we can have as possible sounding the alarm, encouraging people to wear masks and to take all precautions and to follow the science and the data. Senator Kamala Harris, we send folks into a war wearing camouflage. So what is going on here when you send camouflage uniformed officers into a city and many more?
You can listen to the readout as a podcast by searching for the readout. That's r e i o u t one word wherever you're listening right now and subscribing for free. Thanks for listening. On Friday night, we had late breaking news that President Trump's new hand-picked head of the Postal Service had, without warning, removed from their jobs, nearly two dozen top execs at the Postal Service, which had the effects, which has the effect of centralizing power over mail delivery under Trump's new appointee there, that sudden shake up came on the same day that Democrats in Congress asked the inspector general to investigate the dramatic last minute changes the new head of the post office has made to deliberately slow down the mail.
This, of course, is all happening right before the first national election that'll be conducted mostly by mail because of the pandemic. But now today we have further reporting that the president and his team at the White House are busy dreaming up what else they can do to undermine voting this fall beyond just having Trump's handpicked mega donor break the postal service on purpose. Remarkable reporting from Politico today. Politico reports, quote, Around the time Trump started musing about delaying the election, aides and outside advisors began scrambling to ponder possible executive actions he could take to curb mail in voting everything from directing the Postal Service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day.
Quote, Trump has mused to aides about what executive orders, if any, he could sign to curb voting by mail. Some conservative allies have suggested Trump could try to stop local officials from counting remote ballots after Election Day and direct the Postal Service to not deliver certain ballots to voters using an emergency declaration. That's not so much a re-election campaign, which implies that the goal is to earn more votes than his opponents, more of a playbook for how to use the levers of power and the apparatus of government to keep the leader in power no matter what happens.
Oh, pandemic requires that most people vote by mail. Then we will set about controlling and disrupting the mail because we can.
That said, can the president and his allies will not be able to do this without a fight? The Democratic Party's foremost litigator on these issues joins us live here next. Stay with us. Mark Elias is a big deal lawyer in Democratic Party politics. He has argued in one four cases before the US Supreme Court, he's represented dozens of senators and governors and members of Congress and presidential candidates. He and his team are currently litigating three dozen voting rights cases ahead of the November election now by necessity for this pandemic election.
A lot of their work right now is aimed specifically at safeguarding people's ability to vote through the mail. Well, today, Margolyes issued a warning that the US mail service mail system excuse me, is not ready for November. And he says that is partly by design. Quote, The Trump administration has turned to weakening the Postal Service in a cynical effort to keep people from voting. Voters can't be forced to cross their fingers and hope that their ballots will count.
Our job between now and Election Day is to make sure that we keep up the fight for voting rights, including making sure all ballots cast by mail are counted. Joining us now is Mark Elias. He's the founder of Democracy Duckett. Mr. Last, I really appreciate you taking the time. Thanks.
Happy to be here. Is the stuff that is going on around the Postal Service, including this reporting today from Politico that the president and his advisers are thinking about executive orders to try to stop the counting of male votes cast through the mail. Is this just one in a long line of things like this that you've been fighting for years, or does this feel qualitatively more worrying than the usual stuff?
Well, I think it's qualitatively more worrying for two reasons. First of all, for the reasons you set out earlier, which is that Donald Trump has, at a minimum, authoritative authoritarian impulses and seems willing to violate every norm that any other president would abide by. The second, of course, is that we're going to have more voting by mail in twenty twenty than we've ever had before. So all of the flaws in the process will show up bigger and all of the ballots that are at risk will will grow in size.
The Postal Service is not a typical battleground, it's not a typical sort of arena in which we fight these things out. I mean, obviously, absentee ballots are a thing and overseas mail in ballots are a thing. And we've always conducted some proportion of the vote by mail. There are a few states that have been doing mostly vote by mail for a long time now. But the idea that a national election would have this sort of choke point in this one part of the federal government where we see the president trying to exert new control, it does feel new as a tactical matter, as a litigator who fights these things.
Is this is this is this a new thing? Is this something new that you and your colleagues have to learn in terms of what levers there are to make sure that the post office does things right?
Yeah, this is entirely new. I mean, in that respect, you know, I'm flabbergasted that we are in a circumstance in which Donald Trump first replaced the postmaster general with a political crony and now is taking step after step after step, including a Friday night massacre of twenty three employees.
Before that, there had already been resignations and replacements of the nonpartisan staff. And every day we get another indication that, as you say, the of the Postal Service would be weaponized to be a choke point again, to vote by mail. And that is unprecedented in our history. Make no mistake about it, we've had the Postal Service delivered ballots through wars, through through a civil war, through the Great Depression. And never, ever before have we seen a president or political party try to weaponize it to systematically keep voters from voting.
Americans in some ways like to make fun of the postal service or complain about the mail and things like that, but I think by and large, people love the Postal Service and think of it as something that is not only rooted in the Constitution, but something that is sort of a miracle, that you can put a stamp on something and it gets across the country almost always to where it needs to go, almost always in a surprisingly quick amount of time.
I think people also have a soft spot for their letter carriers and for the people who they know are involved in this. They're integrated into American life and our infrastructure of daily life in a way that I think people have a soft spot for. Given that and given the kind of stakes that you're describing, is there something that regular citizens can do to kind of to help in terms of protecting the Postal Service and to help in protecting this type of voting that we're all basically being forced into because of the epidemic?
Yes, I'd say two things. First of all, as you point out, the Postal Service is quite popular in red states and blue states. And in fact, it's even more popular in some respects or more necessary in rural areas that tend to vote Republican. So one thing you know, a lot of people come on your show and say, you know, call Congress or or put pressure on Republican elected officials. This really is an area where putting pressure on Republican elected officials to make a difference because their constituents, very often times in red districts, really, really rely on the mail service.
So that's one thing. The second is everyone who wants to vote by mail should and should have confidence in it.
But they need to make sure they vote by mail early, because what we're likely to see is not a stopping of the postal of the post office or halting a vote by mail, but rather what we're seeing are systematic delays. The Trump administration is taking efforts to make the males move slower around balloting so people should make sure they register, make sure they apply for their absentee ballot early and make sure when they get it, vote it right away. Get it.
It don't wait until the last minute because getting those ballots in on time is going to be really very important for November.
Mark Elias, Democratic lawyer on elections and voting rights, the founder of Democracy Dockett, Mark, thank you so much for helping us and for your clarity on this tonight. Thanks a lot.
Thank you. All right. We'll be right back. Stay with us. Here's one way to test if you're a rule of law dork, a little bit of a civics dork maybe. Behold the YouTube page belonging to the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Does it thrill you the way it thrills me? That page will light up tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern for an audio only livestream in the McFlynn case. Glenn, of course, was the first Trump national security adviser when he lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government.
He pled guilty twice to having lied to the FBI about that. But tomorrow, that is the appeals court case over whether Attorney General Bill Barr and the Trump Justice Department will be allowed to somewhat inexplicably drop that prosecution, even though the judge in that case says he will not be a rubber stamp for them doing so. And he wants to look into why exactly they're dropping that case. Well, tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m., we'll all be able to listen in as ten judges hear that appeal in the McFlynn case.
Should be fascinating. All right. That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow.
The Rachel Maddow Show weeknights at 9:00 Eastern on MSNBC.