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tv   Alex Witt Reports  MSNBC  February 20, 2022 10:00am-11:00am PST

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♪♪ a very good day to all of you from msnbc world headers in new york. welcome to alex witt reports. we begin with the breaking news on the crisis in ukraine and some new reporting from nbc news suggesting u.s. intelligence has learned that russian military officials have been given an order to go ahead with an invasion of ukraine. a u.s. official and another person with knowledge of the matter tells nbc news that this is what informed president biden's assertion that president putin has decided to invade ukraine. also new today president biden convened a meeting of the white house national security council to discuss the crisis, officials telling nbc news the meeting was set for the situation room and that vice president kamala harris was joining via secure connection from air force two and she is on her way back to washington from that munich security conference.
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tensions along the ukraine border escalating further today with military officials in belarus saying that planned war drills with russian forces have ended but testing will continue due to what they call an escalation in the donbas russian-occupied region of ukraine. >> we still sincerely hope that there is a diplomatic path out of this moment. we are talking about the potential for war in europe. i mean, let's really take a moment to understand the significance of what we're talking about. it's been over 70 years and through those 70 years, as i mentioned yesterday, there has been peace and security. we are talking about the real possibility of war in europe. >> meanwhile, we are getting our first glimpse of u.s. troops across the ukraine border in poland organizing supplies there as british prime minister boris johnson warned earlier today that any potential aggression
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from russia could turn out to be more devastating than many people might expect. >> the plan has already in some sense has begun, that's what our american friends think, and i'm afraid to say that the plan that we're seeing is for something that could be really the biggest war in europe since 1945, just in terms of shear scale. in lithuania armored howitzers arrived from germany to help shore up ukraine's defenses there, while the faithful in kyiv spent part of their sunday in church praying for a diplomatic solution and for peace to prevail. we will go beyond the headlines with nbc's richard engel in ukraine, josh lederman is at the white house. josh, we will start with you because things seem to be escalating in russia as we speak. what have we learned in this last hour. >> reporter: there have been so many questions about what gave president biden the confidence to go out in front of cameras on
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friday and make that eyebrow raising declaration that he believes putin has already made a decision to invade. at the time president biden simply suggested, look, the u.s. has significant intelligence capabilities, but now two sources tell myself and our pentagon correspondent courtney kube that president biden made that declaration informed by very recent u.s. intelligence that showed that russian military troops and units had already been given an order to proceed with plans for an invasion, and then after the u.s. picked up that intelligence, they were able to see russian officials on the ground putting that plan into action, starting to carry out some of the steps that would be involved in moving forward with an order to invade. the have sa
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they agree that putin has already made this decision. president biden is meeting at this hour with the national security council in the situation room where we have seen a string of high level officials showing up in the last few minutes, including defense secretary austin, as well as secretary of state antony blinken who is just back from munich. vice president harris is also joining that meeting from air force two, she will be beaming in through a secure connection. she had this to say in munich just before she left about the stakes. >> we are talking about the real possibility of war in europe. as a leader, which we have been, bringing together the allies, working together around our collective and unified position, that we would all -- not just prefer, we desire, we believe it is in the best interest of all that there is a diplomatic end
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to this moment. and so where do we want this to end? that is where we want it to end. >> reporter: and to that point the u.s. hoping that the next interaction they have with the russians at high level will be a moment to really move this in a different direction. that will come on thursday when secretary blinken is set to meet with his counterpart, russia's top diplomate sergey lavrov in europe, although the white house says if russia invades before that time that meeting certainly will not be happening, alex. >> we all hope that meeting takes place on thursday. thank you so much, josh, from the white house. we will see you next hour. so in eastern ukraine monitors from the organization for security and cooperation in europe say the number of ceasefire violations have more than doubled in the last 48 hours. nbc news chief foreign correspondent richard engel is on the ground in eastern ukraine for us. here is his report on what it's like on the front lines there. >> reporter: i've been coming out to these trenches in eastern
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ukraine for the last several weeks and things have changed dramatically. before they were quiet, there wasn't incoming fire or not much incoming fire from the russian-backed separatists and there wasn't fire coming from the ukrainian military. but in the last several days it has intensified dramatically with the vast majority of the fire coming from the separatist areas and the separatists are just about one mile in that direction. just yesterday in this area alone there were about 300 incoming rounds, nearly all of it artillery fire, and just starting in the last few hours ukrainian forces have been firing back, they've been firing back with their own artillery, firing back with grenade launchers. i asked one of the commanders here are you wore creed that you're going to give the separatists a reason, give them an excuse to launch an invasion? because that has been russia's narrative. that has been the separatist narrative, that they, the separatists, are facing a massive onslaught from the
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ukrainian army from positions like this one and that is why the separatists who are the pro-russian community here need to flee the country, need to escape into moscow. that is not what is happening here, instead the vast majority of fire is coming from the separatist areas toward ukrainian troops, but now just in the last several hours the ukrainians are fighting back and one commander told me that his concern is that these could be the opening shots of a much wider war. >> what a report there from nbc's richard engel right there in eastern ukraine in the trenches. joining me now is nevada congressman steven horseforth, he is also first vice chair of the congressional black caucus. as we have the president convening a meeting of the national security council today, just a couple three days after saying that he's convinced putin has decided to invade ukraine. do you believe, sir, that this
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is moving towards some sort of a climax in this coming week, or is there still an avenue for a peaceful resolution? >> thank you, alex, for having me on. and as a member of the armed services committee and here in my district we have a number of military installations where service members and family members are, you know, rightfully concerned about what's happening with russia and its aggression towards ukraine. i want to commend the administration, the president for pursuing every diplomatic option possible up until the very last minute because this is serious and this is also why we need strong leadership right now and why we have to be died by intelligence. the fact that the president was able to say what he did on friday was because of the
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enormous work that has been done by the secretary of state, our state department officials, our intelligence officials, our dod officials and this is serious, war is serious, and the united states is doing everything it can to prevent another war from occurring. >> so as we see a number of our u.s. troops they're being moved around europe right now. what are the implications for their deployment? the president has said no american forces will move into ukraine. is there any scenario where that could change? >> no, based on all of the briefings that i have had as a member of the committee there have been no conversations about putting u.s. troops in ukraine. the 8500 troops that have been deployed are part of our effort in the united states to support our nato allies and to ensure that we are doing everything
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that we can to bolster the diplomatic efforts and to keep the conversations going with russia to the very last minute. but to be clear, alex, right, the person who can ensure that this doesn't happen is president putin. he is the one who is the aggressor here. so the united states' position is to do everything it can through our diplomatic efforts, including crushing economic sanctions that are ready to be implemented to ensure that our interests are protected and that the interests around the world are protected. >> you bring up a good point relative to sanctions. in his speech at the munich security conference ukraine's president zelensky called on the u.s. he wants us to impose sanctions on russia now instead of waiting for an invasion. as a sanctions package as you know is stalled in the senate, what do you want to see? should your colleagues huddle up immediately and figure out how to get a sanctions package out there before any possible
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invasion? >> well, the sanctions package is continuing to be worked on, as you know, alex, last week the senate voted in a bipartisan way to send a very clear message that economic sanctions will be imposed on russia, but as the administration has asked for, they also want to be able to use the economic sanctions as leverage in this process to the very last minute to prevent war. that is what we need to be focused on and ultimately if russia, if president putin, chooses to invade ukraine and to cause war in europe, then economic sanctions will be implemented and they will be crushing on russia. >> but can i ask you it was brought up by peter baker of the "new york times" with whom i had a conversation about an hour ago and he said he wonders why congress isn't looking at this to authorize -- you don't have to be all or none.
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it doesn't have to be let's put all the economic sanctions on the table versus none. i mean, there could be one or two that are put out there now. is that an option? >> well, all of the briefings that i have had there are a number of options that are on the table and the united states because of the steady leadership, because of intelligence, because we actually have adults guiding this process from the department of defense to the -- to the state department to our intelligence officials we are doing everything that we can to ensure that we prevent war, that we keep diplomatic options available and that it's used as the president said, as a deterrent to war. >> you know, you bring up the vice president because after she was inaugurated you said america needs to see leaders like vice president harris. how important in your mind was it to see her delivering america's keynote message on the
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crisis from the munich security conference this weekend? how did she do on the world stage? >> well, the vice president sends a very clear message and it was historic to have her deliver that message at a critical moment in this diplomatic process, one, to let our nato allies know we are there for them, that we will continue to work with them and that we will use economic sanctions and diplomacy to the very last minute to prevent war and to have her be able to deliver that message as the first woman vice president, the first african american and person of asian descent is historic. she's prepared, she knows these issues critically. how important it is to our national interest and to the global safety and preventing war
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around the world. >> all right. steven horse ford, thank you for joining us on this sunday. appreciate it. so if you think you had heard it all on the donald trump investigations and the potential consequences for the former president, think again. one of my guests this weekend told me rather directly what trump might be left with when all the investigation smoke clears and what he said might shock you. andha wt he said mig totaled his truck. timber... fortunately, they were covered by progressive, so it was a happy ending... for almost everyone. [singing] oven roasted cooold cuts cooold cuts before you go there, or there...
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we're learning new details about the white house documents retrieved from mar-a-lago. the national archives say the records include classified security documents. in addition, the archives claim the trump administration did not submit all the social media records created by president donald trump and his staff. let's bring in nbc news capitol hill hill correspondent allie rafa. what else do we know and not know about the content of the 15 boxes of documents sitting in
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florida? >> reporter: alex, we know that the national archives was so concerned over all of this that we've pulled in the justice department to investigate. the national archives saying that the 15 boxes recovered by trump's mar-a-lago home by the archives last month is raising more questions than providing answers. the archives is now saying that they recovered classified and torn up records among these boxes and they say that they are aware of missing records now, missing records from their logs that they say include some social media records. the archives saying in a statement, quote, some white house staff conducted official business using nonofficial electronic messaging accounts that were not copied or forwarded into their official electronic messaging accounts. now, some democrats here on capitol hill are saying that it looks like the trump white house may have intentionally kept these records from the national archives that they're required to give these records to per the
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presidential records act. here is house oversight committee chairwoman carolyn maloney on all of this. >> right now we are proceeding with our investigation, they are going to do the -- the archives is going to do an inventory of what is contained in the 15 boxes. they confirmed that he ripped up and even tried to flush it down the toilet, a torn up pieces and then also the social media records were not preserved of his and they seemed to have been destroyed or deliberately destroyed. so there's a lot of serious allegations here that violate the law. >> reporter: now, the former president is denying any wrongdoing in all of this, saying in a statement in part, quote, the national archives did not find anything. they were given upon request presidential records in an ordinary and routine process to ensure the preservation of my legacy and in accordance with the presidential records act, but, alex, the justice department will now have to
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prove that trump knew these records were classified when he brought them to mar-a-lago. there have been reports that some of these boxes were clearly labeled as such, but that burden of proof is now on the justice department before any sort of punishments or consequences could possibly come to the former president. for the national archives' part they say they are still sifting through some of these boxes and expect to finish that up by friday. >> thank you so much. great jet setup as we're going to continue the conversation. joining me is david farenthold an msnbc contributor and good friend. david, let's get into this. what do you know about the situation with these documents found at mar-a-lago? is there evidence that suggests that he knowingly took classified documents with him? could it be as simple as saying, hey, on the outside of the box it was labeled classified, right? i mean, why are we even having to ask about this? why does this need to be proven? >> well, that's a good question. i imagine that there were a lot
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of people involved in moving the president, the former president, and his office and his papers to mar-a-lago. so i'm sure trump's argument will be i didn't see those boxes, i wasn't carrying them to the truck, it was somebody else's fault. i think that may hold water because it wasn't like he was moving his own stuff on a hand truck but i do think we would probably want to know more about who came with him, and what orders they had and if they were separating what he could and couldn't take. >> is it a stretch that he kept some of these documents potentially to sell down the road? we know that money makes his world go round. >> well, i mean, we certainly haven't seen any evidence that that was intention, that it was his intent. certainly trump, money does make his world go around, he's found lots of ways to make money since leaving office that didn't involve something like that, something that would be illegal, but i don't think we have heard any allegations that that did happen, but i'm not sure anybody has addressed whether it could have happened. >> what about potential
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repercussions for donald trump around this? what could he be facing? >> well, i mean, there are laws against this, there are laws against taking, you know, classified documents out of a classified setting, taking them home. normally they are applied to people who are navy or cia contractors, taking them from their work, not former presidents. but in theory there are laws that could be used in this case and it sounds like the national archives has gone to the justice department and asked what's going to happen. so far we have seen the justice department moving very, very slowly, if at all, toward any kind of criminal investigation of trump, whether it's for january 6 or anything else. it's not to say it couldn't happen but they seem to be if they're going to do it they're going to take their sweet time. i think that's the phase we're in, waiting for the justice department to say what, if anything, they're going to do as a result of this. >> here is another phase we are in relative to the new york judge who ordered the former president, don jr. and ivanka to sit for depositions.
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the attorney for ivanka and don jr. indicates they plan to appeal, but, david, you have covered the trump businesses very closely. how big of a deal is this and what are your expectations from these three trumps? what are the chances they work with the court and to answer the new york attorney general's question? >> well, i think their lawyers will tell them to plead the fifth. we know that because eric trump the president's middle son, has already appeared before the new york attorney general, has already gone through his deposition and according to the ag he took the fifth more than 500 times. that's because there is a criminal investigation looming in the background run by the manhattan district attorney and the new york ag that's looking at the same sort of material. so you can see why their lawyers might say don't say anything in this civil case that could be used against you in the criminal case. i'm so interested in this, though, because for trump a deposition is an environment so unlike any environment he has tried to create for himself. he keeps all these secrets because he wants it to be when he says something about himself even if it's a bald face lie
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nobody else knows to fact him in realtime. a deposition is not like that, you are in a room with people that know when you're lying. that's why depositions have been hard for him in the past and the stakes are higher here. >> i'm interested in this because of what you just articulated. i am also interested in this because of what trump said preaching from a rally podium. listen to this. >> fifth amendment, fifth amend. fifth amendment. horrible. horrible. if you are innocent, why are you taking the fifth amendment? >> i mean, does that surprise you? i mean, he says one thing and then wants to do another. >> that's the donald trump story. i mean, i do think it would be hypocritical for him to have said that taking the fifth marks you as a criminal and then to take the fifth himself. he hasn't done it yet. he may answer the questions. but to say that donald trump said something and later on did the opposite of that, that's
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literally his life. that's his life in politics, his life in business, you know, so it is -- it would be hypocritical but it wouldn't be surprising for trump. to say an example of something on a bigger stage, but to me not surprising. >> i want to play for you what david k. johnson told me yesterday about what he thinks could be the result of the civil and criminal probes into donald trump. take a listen. pretty sobering. >> it is possible that donald at the end of the day will be left with nothing but his presidential pension and his union pension from his tv show because those are the only assets he has that would be protected. he could lose not just the trump organization but his apartment, his mansion in westchester county, his golf courses, mar-a-lago, all of that can be at risk in these both criminal and civil proceedings. >> i also asked david if he thought that donald trump could go bankrupt, personally bankrupt, and he said yeah. can i get a second opinion? >> well, i mean, it is certainly
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a high stakes legal proceeding for trump, both of them are. we have to remember that trump has his old business, the trump organization that's based in new york that's been under economic stress for a long time and is under investigative stress now, but he's also got a huge of people who are his political fans who will basically give him money for nothing, that is the essence of his spac, his stock people investigated in even though the company he represents hasn't done anything yet. i don't think he's going to run out of money anytime soon because he's so well able to monetize politics. this could be a major blow to the company that trump built and some serious inconvenience for him in the state of new york especially if the attorney general tries to take away the charter, to revoke the right of the trump organization to exist in new york. >> david farenthold, thanks, my friend. why thousands of early voting ballots are in jeopardy in texas. why a strict new law is being blamed for it. n jeopardy in texas scent boosters
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leaders in harris county, texas, now reaching out to the department of justice over the rejection of thousands of ballots. early voting is under way for the march 1st primary. local officials say 40% of mail-in ballots in the county are being rejected under the new law. let's go to antonia hylton who has been following this story. welcome. so what do harris county officials want the doj to do. >> reporter: well, the officials reached out to the doj hoping that they will take essentially any avenue available to them to investigate and to find a remedy to the challenges that they're seeing as a result of sb-1, the new restrictive voting law that's in place. to spell out what this law does, it got rid of 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting. these were measures very important to voters in communities like houston or harris county where there's large populations, diverse populations of people who work
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all kinds of odd hours at their jobs and took advantage of those opportunities to vote in the last cycle. then it added more freedoms and movement for partisan poll watchers which has made some voters and some poll workers nervous that there will be confrontations and intimidation at the polls this cycle. then the most critical piece in is a change to mail-in voting which has resulted in 14% of mail-in applications getting rejected and 40% of mail-in ballots getting rejected which is alarming to the officials and also community members who are fearful that these votes aren't going to get counted, alex. >> so how is this new law causing confusion among texas voters, antonia? >> reporter: it's really that mail-in ballot piece, to spell it out i actually have a sample of the ballot with me here. the major change is that voters need to submit the exact identification number that they first used the very first time they registered to vote in the
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county. so if you are an elderly person, which is the population that is for the most part taking advantage of mail-in voting you need to remember which identification number, social security number you provided, maybe 50, 60 years ago when you first registered -- >> oh, wow. >> reporter: and the placement for that information is ridden and you that flap here in very small print. so if you fill out your ballot and slide it into this envelope and forget to fill out what you see right here and then you close it, seal it and think you are all set, your ballot will get rejected. the application process ended this past friday and we are now just a little less than a week -- or a little more than a week away from the march 1st election. there are a lot of folks who of no idea if their vote counted and are nervous to figure out how to potentially vote in person. i actually have a clip from my conversation with the election administrator there who really spells this out well, alex. >> let's listen. yeah. >> any one error on this,
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whether it's accidentally not checking off that you're over 65 and that's why you need a mail ballot, whether it's not checking off which primary you'd like to vote in, forgetting a signature because it's all the way down at the bottom, it's putting your assistant's name but not their address, any one of these sets you back to the beginning and that's just the application. then you have the mailed ballot. >> wow. okay. so if people have sent this in but the process now you say ended on friday. is there any way to know if your ballot is going to be discarded and any way to rectify it so that you could still do a mail-in ballot process? >> reporter: well, harris county is the most populous county in texas and they have the most well-resourced election team. in that community specifically they have a whole team of volunteers and employees dedicated to calling voters who are getting rejected and telling them either please mail another version back to us asap or
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you're going to have to find an opportunity to vote, here are your resources, here is the game plan, but what they told us is that many smaller counties in texas don't have enough employees to do that. so there are people who will potentially get rejected and never get notified at all. if you are not notified you don't know that you need to find an early voting site or voting day or location for march 1st. that's what they're most concerned about and that's part of the bigger picture that they want the doj to look into. >> but, you know, i'm already looking at problems down the road because if people don't necessarily know that their mail-in ballot has been invalidated but they are worried about a it and they go and try to vote day of, you will have a whole big mess because they will say people voted twice, right? there are a lot of issues here. >> reporter: absolutely. and the election staff are pretty panicked about their day-to-day work load right now. isabelle who you just heard from
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right there the election administrator for harris county she and some of her employees have been sleeping overnight in the election center to get ready to deal with this. they are pretty fearful they don't even know the full scale of the challenges that they're facing and they won't know it until after the election. exactly what you just said, they're really worried we won't know how bad this turned out to be until after march 1st. >> really good to have you to bring the sample ballot and go through literally line by line on how problematic it is. i appreciate that. thank you. they might have been lost to history but they're not. the picture thousands of frantic text messages are painting of the days of trump next. text messages ar nobody told you? subway's refreshing with better ingredients, better footlongs, and better spokespeople. because you gotta you gotta refresh to be fresh the days of trump next ♪♪ three times the electorlytes and half the sugar. ♪♪
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alarming text messages reveal the thoughts of some republican members of congress as january 6th unfolded. a shocking new article in the "washington post" is giving a closer look at the thousands of frantic texts retrieved from the phone log of former white house chief of staff mark meadows. joining me is the reporter who co-wrote this article. a new msnbc contributor. welcome to you. >> thank you. >> out of all of these texts that you and your colleagues uncovered, which ones did you find the most alarming? >> that's a good question, and one actually that i have yet to have been asked. i think it's more in their totality how alarming it is, that there were thousands of messages over the course of weeks leading up to january 6th
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that were expressing really explicit concern about january 6. this was coming from people who were allies of the former president, people like sean hannity, and top gop lawmakers who were then in turn encouraging meadows to go -- to help him prepare to overturn the results of the election and try to come up with some sort of plan to support the president's idea that he was going to block the certification of the electoral college on january 6th. i think the dichotomy and the contrast of these two things sort of the good and bad angel in mark meadows' inbox was also pretty interesting and i think helped -- helps illustrate for the january 6th lawmakers and panel investigative staff just what was being thrown at the president during this time period via his chief of staff. i also think the techs messages in general, just the candid nature of them, how they're able
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to capture this ephemeral moment in history has been very interesting as the committee has left this trail of bread crumbs along the way of these text messages that we will see more of once these public hearings for the january 6 committee start. >> you mentioned these were about the weeks leading up to the insurrection but also during the riot itself. one gop member had said it's really bad up here on the hill, there's another that said, mark, he needs to stop this now. tell them to go home. that one in all caps from another gop member. do you get the sense this is how most of them felt even though many republicans repeatedly down play what happened on january 6? >> yeah, that's exactly right. it's especially important to remember as the gop one of the most galvanizing issues right now for the party is to whitewash what happened on january 6 and continue to push this idea of, quote, unquote, election integrity. these lawmakers were just as panicked as everyone else in the building as the building was
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under siege. but i think what those messages are also help sort of paint the picture of is just potentially the inaction during those 187 minutes where we did not hear anything from the former president, that 187 minutes is a period of time the "washington post" has focus aid lot on and we know it's a topic of focus for the committee as well trying to figure out what the president was up to as he was cocooned away in the residence and the oval office, and why mark meadows wasn't able to get through to him potentially to come and make a statement faster than he did. >> it's interesting, you mentioned sean hannity, i want to also throw in the founder of james o'keefe. in one text hannity speaking to trump press secretary caley mcannany. he said no more stolen election talk, yes, 25th amendment are real and many people will quit.
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>> she said love that. thank you. that is the playbook i will help reinforce. were you surprised to see how much access outsiders had to access to the trump administration at this moment? >> not at all. i think what these text messages accomplished is a memorialization of the direct pipeline and revolving door between fox news and the white house. although while i was not surprised it's still highly unusual and surprising, i think, to see talking points being delivered to the white house from sean hannity but leading up to that moment we knew that some of the closest allies and confidants to the president were fox news hosts and that he was personally and directly in touch with them. sean hannity was going through some of the people who were formerly in the white house to try to accomplish his message as it didn't seem to be resonating with the president himself. >> these thousands of texts you report, are there more that we don't have access to or do you think this is the butt k of them? >> oh, no, i think there are
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well more. we reported in the piece that there are thousands beyond the 4,000 mark meadows turned over, we have only seen obviously a sliver of mark meadows' text messages. as you noted some of the new text messages we reported on were between him and project veritas founder and president james o'keefe and a lawyer who was involved with a lot of the local efforts to overturn the results of the election. i imagine we are going to see even more people come out of the woodwork that mark meadows was in touch with. it really helps i think connect all of the dots and show how coordinated the efforts were, it's also helping the committee do a forensic analysis of the social network of the president and those closest to him in order to support his scheme to overturn the results of the election. and then beyond that we know that there have been hundreds of people who have voluntarily cooperated with the committee, have handed over records, messages, emails, documents, as requested. so i imagine there are going to be -- there's going to be a slue
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of communications we are going to see going forward in the coming months. >> okay. jacquelyn, i love the new title of msnbc contributor. again, welcome to the family. >> thank you so much. three racially segregated churches under one god, what finally united them next. one gt finally united them next what can i du with less asthma? with dupixent, i can du more....beginners' yoga. namaste... ...surprise parties. aww, you guys. dupixent helps prevent asthma attacks...
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let's go now to our continuing series highlighting black film makers. this week we speak with the director of a film that examines how three racially segregated churches in maryland merged and the lessons learned for today's divisive world. here's a clip. >> dr. king was shot and fatally wounded. >> in 1968, while riots erupted and cities burned, these three small churches decided to merge. >> those three churches, two white and one black, decided to reconcile and forge a new future. >> did you want the merger to happen? >> i went for it.
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anybody that wants to join god, race, color or creed. >> they wanted it to happen. >> oh, my goodness. >> well, jason green, the director of the film and also the great, great grandchild of the man who helped purchase land for the black church is joining me right now. jason, that's a legacy. my goodness. as we look at "finding fellowship," it examines the complexities of integration and also a very personal story for you, obviously, as well as you're fellow filmmaker, dr. davis. how did your own community and family become central to this story? >> alex, thanks for having me. it's great to be with you and sharing this story. when we started making the film "finding fellowship," it was a forcing event in our own lives that unearthed this story for me. i had spent most of my adolescent and adult life running from hearing the stories of our history. i didn't want to sit down and hear my grandmother's story. but, unfortunately, be she had
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taken ill. she was 95 years old and was in the hospital. that was the forcing event for me to go and sit with her and hear her story. the story she told was how our great, great grandfather, you know, after emancipation, helped found a school and found a church, but then a generation later, my grandmother's generation, that congregation itself had fallen on hard, financial times. it had its own forcing event. it didn't have the resources to continue to sustain itself. and so one evening they gathered to decide its uncertain future. in the middle of that meeting, those meeting got word dr. king was assassinated. i expected them to dissipate, to wait for a later date to have a discussion about merging but those three congregations decided to move forward and move
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together in one congregation. >> aren't you glad you had those conversations with your grandmother. what a gift on that front. as you examined all this, the history of merging three churches, one black, two white, with both northern and southern roots. it was not an easy decision for the churchgoers to integrate, what was it, 50 years ago. what was the challenges they described to you? what did their reflections on that time tell you about the capacity for people to bridge divides? >> that's a great question. i think when i heard this story, i was singularly focused around the merger. i realized in these conversations, we interviewed some 80 members of the community, and what really touched me, there was this hard decision to come together but the more meaningful decisions were after the merger. it was the decision to stay together. this wasn't a pollyanna-ish moment.
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after the three churches merged, members left, the pastor needed protection in case something happened. so, what really moved me was that after they merged, they had to continue to dedicate themselves to this idea. you know, years later, after -- surely they loved each other but maybe they didn't like each other. they had to be purposeful and intentional about coming back together. as you mentioned, this is in its 53rd year of purposeful integration. that had to be something they committed themselves to every day. >> during this production i'm sure you learned a lot about your own past. in fact, let's share one of the moments proving that. here it is. >> i think it was too hard to talk about. >> that document and tell us what it is. >> record of slaves in montgomery county. >> wow. >> wow. >> wow, wow. that was a powerful, tearful, in fact, moment i know for the film. what did you learn about your own roots, jason?
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why was it important to tell that in the story? >> well, i started telling the story of this merger. i heard people saying that, of course that's possible in a place like maryland that didn't have a history of slavery, didn't have a history of segregation. those folks clearly didn't know their history. and so it was really important for me to show that this community had that history, notwithstanding slavery, notwithstanding integration, there's still this moment for reconciliation. our moment had a moment where we uncover our own family story. i learned my great, great grandfather was enslaved. i was prepared for him to be enslaved but i was prepared for that to maybe be in montgomery, alabama, not in montgomery county, maryland. it shows history is neither far away. here to find my grandfather's
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grandfather, in the community i grew up in, was really moving, but what was critical was the context. i didn't just find the slave records of my great grandfather. i then found the records of him just three years later helping buy land, to dedicate for a schoolhouse. and really be the foundation this community could be built upon. >> give me a quick sense of what you think this generation can learn about pushing through the tensions that were demonstrated in the film. >> yeah, i mean, i think what we want to demonstrate here, the takeaway is the impossible is possible. as i mentioned to you, when i first heard the story, i didn't think they merged. but what was the most meaningful takeaway for me was the vigilance they had, the dedication they had, and really living out this idea of intention and purpose. for what we want to do, i mean, we're picking up the mantel. there's a phrase that my grandmother says, doers do.
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it became the drum beat of getting this film done. it's also the drum beat of our efforts to preserve that historic site, that present site, we're in the midst of saving it so it exists. our ancestors made an investment 150 years ago, so we're making that investment now so that generations into the future can continue to be inspired, reminded about how important it is to take action, build community, get proximate, to do something meaningful. >> doers do, and you have do it with "finding fellowship." thank you, jason. best of luck with the film. appreciate it. in the next hour, msnbc's hayes brown will join me. trump's man at the doj is sorting a new conspiracy. doj i sorting nea w conspiracy start here. walgreens makes it easy to stay protected
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