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Transcript: Alex Wagner Tonight, 10/4/22

Guests: Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage, Janai Nelson

Summary

Trump seeks emergency relief from Supreme Court in Mar-a-Lago investigation. Georgia Republicans stand by Herschel Walker despite hypocrisy on abortion.

Transcript

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: As Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson I thought pointed out very well today, Deuel Ross, who was before the Supreme Court early this morning and stayed up to do us tonight, I really appreciate it. Thank you.

DEUEL ROSS, CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

HAYES: That is "ALL IN" on this Tuesday night.

ALEX WAGNER TONIGHT starts right now.

Good evening, Alex.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HGOST: Chris, I love that Ketanji Brown Jackson made in her version of an originalist argument --

HAYES: So good.

WAGNER: -- to that Supreme Court.

HAYES: Yeah. Do you think the people that wrote the reconstruction amendments we`re thinking about race?

WAGNER: Context, maybe.

Thanks, Chris, as always.

HAYES: You bet.

WAGNER: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

Tonight, Donald Trump, with one of his biggest legal headaches before the nation`s highest court. Earlier this evening, Trump`s lawyers filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in the ongoing court battle over his alleged mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Trump undoubtedly is hoping to get a favorable ruling from the court`s six conservative justices, three of whom Trump appointed.

Now, Trump`s lawyers are not explicitly seeking to prevent DOJ investigators from looking at the 100 or so classified documents taking from his beach club. But they are attempting to get the review of classified documents back before the court appointed special master, which could potentially throw some sand in the gears of the department`s investigation.

And despite recent reporting that Trump`s legal team was perhaps looking to soften its tone in this case, the filing today by Trump`s lawyers is filled with more angry screeds against the Department of Justice. They accused the department of, quote, feigned concern about purported classified records in order to pin some offense on Trump.

It is the latest in a series of aggressive and bellicose moves by Trump, which he`s employed for a very long time to move away from scandals and legal quandaries. And it`s more evidence of the mindset with which he approaches both the powers of the presidency and the keeping of the nation`s secrets. In a post on his social media website following the filing today, Trump told his followers, I want my documents back. That`s what he said. I want my documents back -- because Trump still believes that the classified government records seized from his home, his beach club, belonged to him and him alone.

Now, today, veteran "New York Times" journalist Maggie Haberman has released a new book about Donald Trump`s life and time in office. It`s called "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America". The book is fill -- filled and full of previously unreported stories about Trump`s erratic behavior in the White House, including new details about, what else, Trump`s mishandling of classified information.

In one passage, Haberman describes how as president, Trump battled with his own national security team over his desire to play fast and loose with sensitive secrets, including by tweeting out pictures of things he knew were classified. Trump tweeted a sensitive picture of damage at an Iranian space facility without waiting for officials to ink out classified details, because he liked how the image look.

If you take out the classification, that`s the sexy part, Trump protested, as they tried to make changes.

White House chief of staff John Kelly tried to prevent intelligence from being taken upstairs to the president or left in Trump`s possession after briefings. Trump`s behavior illustrated why Kelly was concerned. Trump waved items such as his letters with Kim Jong-un, which he appeared to believe the North Korean leader had himself written, he would wave those at visitors to the Oval Office, including reporters.

In an interview with Haberman last fall, Trump appeared to deny taking those letters from the North Korean leader with him to Mar-a-Lago, telling her that, no, I think that`s in the Archives. Those love letters were recovered from Mar-a-Lago by the National Archives a few months later.

In the course of her reporting for this book, Haberman also reported on Trump`s penchant for throwing paper records in the toilet, literally. She obtained these previously released images of presidential notes Trump attempted to flush down the toilet in an apparent violation of the Presidential Records Act.

There is more, of course. The book paints a vivid picture of a man who seemed to have little, if any, respect for classified material, who lied with little hesitation, who flooded institutional norms, who flashed important documents down the toilet.

Is it any wonder that we are where we are here? With thousands of government documents apparently stored in a basement at Trump speech club? If anything could`ve seen this coming, it is maybe Maggie Haberman, and boy is there a lot to unpack and her new book.

Joining us now is the woman herself, "New York Times" senior political reporter, Maggie Haberman. She`s the author of, of course, the brand-new book out today, "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America".

I`ve been waiting for you to come back into this building instead on the site with me. It`s been a long time, my friend.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It`s good to see you.

WAGNER: Congratulations on the book.

HABERMA: Thank you.

WAGNER: It is so chockfull of information, but it also paints a full picture of a man not just at the start of his presidency, but sort of the genesis of Donald Trump as a political animal, as a presence in our sort of pop culture -- like cultural landscape, if you will.

[21:05:17]

I got to ask you, as someone who knows him well, whose talked to him, I mean, in some ways, people think you`re sort of the singular voice on all things Trump. When you look at what`s happened at Mar-a-Lago, when you look at the various defenses he`s implied, does any of this surprise you?

HABERMAN: No, because I read about this in the book. And I want to make clear. There are so many people who`ve done so much work on Donald Trump over the decades and I was really fortunate to be able to look at their work and try to build this broader portrait. But Trump is a person of a few moves. A handful of moves, and the challenge for people around him is figuring out which one he`s using at any given moment. And it can sometimes be unclear.

But what we`re seeing with what he did with taking the Mar-a-Lago documents, and then how he has handled addressing questions about it, is entirely in keeping with his DNA over the course of his life.

WAGNER: What it -- I mean, the disregard with which he treated these documents, and the disorganization too, I think -- it would be shocking to most people on the outside. Was it shocking to you? I mean, it sort of -- when you look at the toilet filled with documents, how can any of it be surprising? But has any of it -- any of the actions that he apparently undertook -- has any of that surprise you?

HABERMAN: What surprised me was the volume of material he had. That continues to stymie about the story is, you know, in that first tranche of boxes that be returned to the national archives, they discovered that there were 184 classified documents. Actually, I`m not sure if they discovered it or the DOJ discovered it. But it was discovered that there were 184 individual classified documents which -- would compromise I think more than 700 pages.

WAGNER: Yeah.

HABERMAN: And then that wasn`t it. And there were more that they retrieved in response to a subpoena in June. That subpoena was issued in May for remaining classified material.

Trump`s lawyer signed an attestation saying, yep, that`s it. We`ve given back all the documents with classified markings and then, of course, we found out after an August 8 search that, in fact, there were many, many other documents. And so, the volume --

WAGNER: Yeah, like 11,000 documents.

HABERMAN: There were 11,000 pages, and more than 100 additional individual documents with classified markings.

WAGNER: Right.

HABERMAN: And remember, each of those documents could have several pages. So, that was really surprising to me.

WAGNER: Yeah.

HABERMAN: And continues to be surprising.

WAGNER: But it was not just Kim Jong-un`s love letter. It`s not Shaquille O`Neal`s shoe. It`s not the various mementos that he`d like to wave around to talk about. It`s like a massive amount of paper that he has rolled away, which sort of implies some intentionality in all this. I wonder if we can even draw those conclusions.

HABERMAN: Well, you know, one of the things that was striking about this, Alex, was that in those boxes, it was all jumbled together. And the DOJ has talked about this. There were news clips, right, in with, you know, confidential material, and --

HABERMAN: Shoes, razor blades, umbrellas --

HABERMAN: Right, other -- sorts of other material. And so, he -- one of the things about him, and this is in effect he had in the White House, it`s in effect he`s had on our political culture. He has this flattening effect where everything is kind of the same and contextless. And I write about this in the book.

That is what this reminds me of with these documents. It`s all the same. He`s classified materials, they`re the same as these news clips about my time as president and my razors and my golf balls and -- I think it was a raincoat, I was told, and one of the boxes.

So, this is of a piece with who he is. But it`s a reminder that things that other people consider sacred, he doesn`t.

WAGNER: Yeah, and that the rules don`t apply to him.

I want to read another expert from his book that has been less -- from your book, that has been less discussed, which is the degree to which he`s making an end run around the sort of checks and balances -- or checks that exist, especially when it concerns classified information and national secrets, right? On more than one occasion, when Trump agreed to relinquish his personal phone, he managed to acquire another.

Advisers believed he had sent a staffer who had worked for him prior to the presidency to buy one at the store without any of the standard security precautions. At one point, Trump left his phone and a golf cart at New Jersey club. A senior White House lawyers notes documenting the frantic search firm misplaced phone for six hours specify that it was not our phone, apparently meaning it was not a government issued device.

So it sounds like Trump sent someone to Verizon to get a phone for him so he can make calls that were kind of unmonitored. And then, promptly loses it.

HABERMAN: He was very keen on keeping his own phone. And kudos to my former colleague, Alex Burns, who`s actually the first person to hear that there was some issue with the phone and a golf cart. We initially reported that detail a couple years ago. But there`s some new reporting here related to it.

You know, aides were a little stunned that he would suddenly have another phone after they had gotten him to have one way, and it was I think not just that he -- you know, didn`t want people knowing what he was doing, he didn`t trust the government.

[21:10:00]

One of the fascinating things about the Donald Trump presidency, explore this, it`s just a deep level of paranoia. And what that meant for somebody who was overseeing this apparatus that he didn`t trust.

WAGNER: He didn`t trust the government. And the government didn`t trust him.

HABERMAN: Right.

WAGNER: Because at the end of his presidency, we`re talking about someone -- I mean, we read it in the introduction to the segment, like John Kelly doesn`t believe Trump can have access to these documents. They sort of taking away classified briefings so that he can squirrel them into a shoe box in the Oval Office. I mean, that`s a staggering development.

We know there`s always been this institutional deep state desire to protect Trump from himself. But the degree to which they really didn`t trust him with anything, it sounds like.

HABERMAN: Now, and this was an ongoing issue with the classified material where he would sometimes -- my colleagues and I wrote about this recently -- he wanted to keep stuff. And they weren`t really sure why, or what it meant. They would try to get things back, but for the most part, they felt this if you can`t say no to the president of the United States. And he is the president, and he wanted it.

Now, his argument would be, and his aides are the people closest to him now, they would say he had a reason not trust the government. Look what happened in various investigations, and would go on and on that way. And whatever value those complaints have, and it has nothing to do with why he wanted this classified information.

WAGNER: Right.

HABERMAN: This was not all about the Mueller investigation. This was not all about Crossfire Hurricane, and the origins of the Russia probe. This was about all manner of other issues according to our reporting. And it`s still not clear why he picked certain things, and why we have them.

WAGNER: The impunity. I mean, one of the things I`m so important about this book, is it contextualize his decision as a president within the broader cross currents of his life. You know, the person he became as a figure in New York City society. Also, who he was a child.

When you talk about this impunity, that`s not something that was kind of like gifted to him as president. It`s something he always had. And this is another story that I think is really important, kind of the Citizen Kane Rosebud moment. Well, I won`t put that level of import on it. But it is so indicative of who he becomes later.

And Trump`s senior year of high school, the school administration gave Trump a promotion to captain of a company. This is in his military school. Classmates questioned whether he deserved the portage de just post, and they suspected it was granted to him because of his father`s influence at the school.

As a captain, Trump was charged with leading other boys in the unit. But he did so at a remove, a former classmate route. When one student in a company was brutally hazed by another, the story at the school was that Donald Trump stayed in his room, listening to his record player. The hazed student complained to his parents and Trump was removed from his position.

Trump refused to concede defeat, insisting that he had really been giving a promotion to another title. I mean, the shadows, the echoes of what later transpires after the election in 2020 are impossible to miss, and yet, can you talk a little more about the person he was even in his teen years when it came to questions of loss and defeat?

HABERMAN: I think you raised a question -- I just want to go back to a point that I want to go back, which is about his sense of entitlement. I think people lose track of this because he talks like somebody who -- a lot of voters who support him will say, he sounds like me, he expresses his thoughts like me. The reality is, he was the son of a well off man, and he grew up with a child of privilege, and that, you know, that in a certain way, there are people who grew up with privilege who don`t expect that systems don`t apply to them.

But that wasn`t him. And expected that things were always going to be set up for him, and he refused to accept the world in a way that was not on his terms. Now, I think he did more earlier, when he was a younger kid, but by the time he gets to the end of high school, you know, he`s pretty much figured out who he is.

WAGNER: And he doesn`t have to accept the world as it is in his twisted mind.

I mean, there`s also a part of this book where we`re talking about, where you talk about Trump decides he is going to refuse to leave the White House in the days after the 2020 election loss. And that is a remarkable anecdote that you talk about. And it`s also something that people have criticized you for in terms of having that in book right now as opposed to when this hole, you know, attempt to steal the election transpired.

Talk to me a little bit about how you make and made decisions as far to as what to leave in the book, what to report out, and that sort of process by which you did that?

HABERMAN: Sure. So, I turned on earnest to the project after the second impeachment trial which ended I think in February of 2021. And a book is different. A book takes time. I wanted to paint a broader contextual portrait of a person`s life.

And not as a person`s life but of our country, of how he came to be, how a celebrity of such culture came to see him as an avatar for what`s at least of the country, what it wanted it, and certainly a party of what it wanted, how he had infused himself into the pop culture fabric for such a long period of time.

[21:15:11]

And that takes time. That`s a process of going back and talking to sources over and over again and learning more information. You know, I provided a significant amount of reporting to "The Times" throughout the process. And that wasn`t indifferent, but it`s just an entirely different experience doing a book.

And one thing I think about a lot was I spoke to several years ago, I talked to someone who I knew had cooperated a bunch of these books been coming out during the presidency.

And there is a story in one of them that the person had refused to tell me. And I had caught wind of it, there was some reason why I was upset. But I asked a question of why do people do this? Why do you talk for books, and you won`t for a daily report? And their answer was there`s no immediacy to it? It`s not coming out tomorrow. I`m talking --

(CROSSTALK)

HABERMAN: Yeah and it`s a problem for future me, essentially what this person was suggesting. And I think that informs a lot about why people are willing to talk when they do.

WAGNER: Interesting. I mean, that, yes, there is a decision on the part of the sources say that this is going to happen in the future, and the blow back I catch if I catch any will be in some future undetermined time and place.

When you talk about Trump and the future, and what`s going to happen, I want to place an exclusive audio that you`ve had generally given us, regarding Trump and potentially his greatest opponents, his greatest challenger, if he should run again in 2024, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

This is from your interview with him I believe in, when?

HABERMAN: It was last year, 2021.

WAGNER: Last year, September of last year. Let`s take a listen to that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HABERMAN: Well, has he said to you that he wouldn`t run if you ran?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I didn`t -- I never asked him, but if -- if -- let`s put it this way: I think I`d win very easily against anybody.

HABERMAN: Well, so I ask you a question then --

TRUMP: I`m at 98 percent of the approval.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WAGNER: So it`s like back to Trump`s approval ratings. What -- what do you think he thinks of Ron DeSantis?

HABERMAN: I don`t think he thinks very highly of him. He thinks he made him. He thinks he created him for the Republican Party, for the governorship of Florida. And he thinks that he ought to be deferring to Trump.

I mean, Trump`s view of his endorsement to people is, A, you know, he thinks that it revolves people over the line and a primary, and often it does --

WAGNER: It does.

HABERMAN: -- to be clear. I mean, he is not wrong when you talk about the strength in the Republican Party. That`s very real. And I think that`s something people have really struggled to accept, is that just because Trump says so many things about himself that are not true, and he does, it doesn`t mean he`s weak within the party.

WAGNER: Right.

HABERMAN: The way a lot of his detractors hope that he is.

WAGNER: And to be clear, it`ll help him in the primary whether it gives them the win in the generals, another thing, but his party -- his power in the power in the party is almost undiluted.

HABERMAN: It has eroded somewhat, but if he runs, I think he would likely see -- a lot of people who said he would not be with them, come back. And I`m not clear that Ron DeSantis wants to go up against the Donald Trump meat grinder, because most people have really struggled with that.

WAGNER: It is a meat grinder among many other things.

Maggie, you are -- I mean, I don`t know if this is a badge you wear. You have chronicled this man in a way that literally -- I mean, there are a million books written about Trump, but you have compiled something that`s very special and it`s a very deep and important dive into the man himself -- a testament to your work as a journalist. It`s great to see you, and talk with you about this. I wish we had two more hours to chat.

"New York Times" senior political reporter, Maggie Haberman, again her new book is "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America". Thank you for being here, Maggie.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

WAGNER: And one final thing, in Maggie`s new book, she describes discussion she had with Trump last year in which the topic turned to Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, and in particular, allegations that Walker had threatened women. Trump told her that, quote, ten years ago, maybe it would`ve been a problem. Twenty years ago, it would have been a bigger problem. I don`t think that`s a problem today.

Just ahead, Steve Kornacki joins me to discuss the latest allegations dogging Walker`s candidacy and whether it will have enough facts and one of the most important Senate races in the country.

But next, Donald Trump calls on the Supreme Court to give him a lifeline in the spiraling Mar-a-Lago investigation. We will have more details on that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:24:06]

WAGNER: Late this afternoon, Donald Trump out an emergency application with the Supreme Court, asking the court to allow the special master, Judge Raymond Dearie, to review the roughly 100 classified documents that the FBI seized from his beach club in August. Trump asking the Supreme Court to block part of a ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a court that ruled against him.

Last, month that court said the Justice Department can use those classified documents in its investigation and that those documents did not fall under the special master`s review. While Trump is not technically asking the high court to stop the DOJ from using the classified documents in the DOJ`s investigation, he is now asking that the court make those documents a part of the special master`s review, which ultimately could complicate the DOJ`s investigation into the seemingly pretty important classified documents, or at least we think.

And its argument tonight, team Trump right writes, quote, President Trump was still the president of the United States when any documents bearing classification markings were delivered to his residents.

[21:25:10]

At that time, he was the commander in chief of the United States. As such, his authority to classify or declassified information bearing on national security float from this constitutional investment of power in the president

WAGNER: So the argument is basically Trump has all the power. He can declassify what he wants, when he wants. He could convert a presidential record even apparently a classified one, to a personal one.

If the Supreme Court grants Trump`s request and the allows Judge Dearie to review those documents, that also means, and this is important, that team Trump would get to see those classified documents. The Supreme Court tonight has ordered the Justice Department to respond to Trump`s request by next Tuesday.

Joining us now is Charlie Savage, "New York Times" national security and legal reporter.

Charlie, thank you so much for being here tonight. I need you to help me understand exactly what can happen to these classified documents. As they pertain to the Justice Department. If the Supreme -- talk to me about the imports here in terms of the department`s investigation and what Trump is trying to do.

CHARLIE SAVAGE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Sure. So the status quo right now after the appeals court intervention to remove these documents from the special master, the Trump appointed judge had ordered, is that there is unfettered access for this 103 documents or classification markings. Criminal investigators could present them to a grand jury.

They can ask witnesses questions based on their contents. They could pursue criminal charges based on their mishandling or obstruction in not returning them. They can try to figure out what happened to these documents that were in the empty folders that have classification banners that were stored in the jumble alongside these ones that they were able to recover.

So Trump is trying to partially rollback what the appeals court did in unleashing the government to continue this investigation in this area. He is saying, for now, you can put -- what the special master`s review to look at these things -- to see whether or not they were subject to executive privilege, or attorney client privilege. That means we, the Trump people, need to be up to see them. That means we need to have security clearances to be able to do that, et cetera.

It`s a huge mess for the special master if the Supreme Court were to grant what he is asking for. On the other hand, it is not a huge mess at this stage for the Justice Department because they`re not asking the Supreme Court to tie its hand again with respect to these documents.

WAGNER: Okay, so if the department doesn`t continue on with its investigation, what then that happens if the Supreme Court grants this request, and Dearie gets to then review the classified documents. That`s happening in parallel as the Department of Justice is doing in this investigation.

Where do those things intersect? I would assume that if Dearie somehow decides that, you know, some of these classified documents are indeed privileged, that then affects the DOJ`s investigation. Is that right?

SAVAGE: That`s exactly the right question to ask, because that`s where this gets tricky. If the Justice Department takes investigative steps based on these documents and knock on peoples doors, they learn something else, leads to something else, that leads to something else. And then down the world road, it`s not just Judge Dearie, or Judge Cannon really deciding something in that tranche was in fact privilege that they should have not looked at it. It creates opportunities for all kinds of mischief.

What does she then do? Because these investigators have been exposed and information that she decided should not have seen. But that could be in December, or January, that she makes that decision. So, all kinds of things could have happened by then.

At minimum to those people need to be removed from the investigation? Does she say the whole thing for the -- poison tree as they say, and therefore staff has to be thrown out? Does it give Trump legal defense down the road, if he`s indicted over the stuff, an opportunity to investigate the investigation and try to turn the tables back on the government, says you used information, you have no right to use, et cetera, et cetera, and therefore, these charges had to be thrown out, or something some kind of sanction like that.

So it is very tricky because of that, on the possibility dangling if these documents do get resubmitted for privilege review. That said, the government seems very confident that the idea that executive privilege has anything to say here, asserted by a former presidents, over the objections of the current president, to keep executive branch information from being reviewed by the Justice Department, part of the executive branch for criminal investigation.

They think it`s crazy to even suggest that it might be the case. So if Judge Cannon were to rule that way, they will have a strong appeal. But, of course, they would rather not just have to get in to such a mess at all, Alex.

WAGNER: I`m sure they would rather not have to get into such a mess.

[21:30:01]

This case now goes -- is directed to Clarence Thomas who oversees the 11th Circuit, and then he`s likely to review that the full Supreme Court. We will see how all this all plays out.

Charlie Savage, "New York Times" national security and legal reporter, thanks for your wisdom tonight, Charlie. We needed it.

SAVAGE: Thank you.

WAGNER: Up next, the story that is rocking Republican politics, and once would`ve been enough to do a Republican candidate`s chances. But in Donald Trump`s Republican Party, reporting that Herschel Walker paid his girlfriend to have an abortion in 2009, will that information even effect his candidacy? The great Steve Kornacki joins us to understand what is happening in the great state of Georgia, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:35:30]

WAGNER: Do you remember about a month ago, when South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham decided to take a big crazy swing on abortion policy and propose a national ban on abortion? To remember that? He said explicitly that if Republicans get control of the Senate this November, they would federally outlaw abortion after 15 weeks.

It was almost like he was trying to make an ad for the Democrats right before the midterms. When that happened, basically every Republican running for election or reelection distanced themselves from Senator Graham. I say basically every Republican, because there was one very notable exception, Georgia Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker.

Walker told "Politico" at the time that he would back Graham`s federal ban, saying he was a proud pro-life Christian who would always stand up for unborn children.

Last night, "The Daily Beast" reported that in 2009, Herschel Walker urged his then girlfriend to get an abortion, and then paid for the procedure himself.

Now, I should mention, NBC has not independently confirmed that reporting and Herschel Walker denies the story. But because it`s such a major allegation against Walker, "The Daily Beast" appears to have really done their due diligence and getting the receipts. Literally.

They verified this woman`s claims with the receipt from the abortion clinic. A bank deposit receipt with an image of a signed personal check from Herschel Walker. And, the get well soon card that Walker sent that check inside off.

"The Daily Beast" also corroborated the details of the claims with a friend the woman told at the time of the abortion. So, if this reporting holds up, it shows a massive amount of hypocrisy that you would think might tank a political campaign in a normal year. but especially in a year where abortion is front and center on the ballot.

But this is not a normal year, and national Republicans are doubling down on Herschel Walker. The president of the Mitch McConnell aligned PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, said today that they are, quote, full speed ahead in Georgia. The National Republican Senate Committee put out a statement calling the story a smear, and saying Republicans would stand with Herschel Walker.

This race could decide the control of the Senate. It is now too late to pick a new Republican candidate. For that party right now, Herschel Walker is too big to fail.

Joining us now is Steve Kornacki, NBC national political correspondent.

Steve, thank you for being here with us tonight. I hope that you`re enjoying the reprieve from being at the big board. I`m thrilled to have you.

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sit down, yeah.

WAGNER: Sit down and have a conversation with me, my friend.

Will you tell me about how the contours in Georgia have been shaping up? I mean, do you think -- they`ve been a number of scandals that Herschel Walker has in some ways whether. Have any redounded to Reverend Raphael Warnock`s benefit? Warnock, of course, being the Democratic candidate here.

KORANCKI: Yeah, I mean, the context for this is what you`re referring to -- the trouble that Walker had had even before the story. He was paying somewhat of a price for it in the polls. If you look at the Senate race in Georgia, Walker versus Warnock, and you look at the governor`s race, Kemp versus Abrams. And the polling average, there`s an eight-point difference between those two races. Kemp, the Republican governor, is running eight points better even before this than Herschel Walker in the Senate side.

So there was a gap between those candidates. When you look inside the polling, Herschel Walker`s negative ratings were particularly high. There been some other revelations early in the campaign. His performance on the campaign trail had not exactly been reassuring.

WAGNER: Yeah.

KORNACKI: So, I think he`s been struggling as a candidate. He`s running in the state -- until 2020 election, it had been over a red state at the presidential level. It went for Biden in 2020, but barely. So, on the midterm climate, that helps just any Republican. He`s certainly been in contention for the seat.

But I looked at this as a situation where he was already testing the limits of voters in Georgia. And I know we live in a very different era of politics now than we did a generation ago, so the question is really, while this really matter? This doesn`t have to matter much more than a point or two points, perhaps, to make a significant difference in a race like this.

WAGNER: Warnock`s numbers have been basically holding steady throughout the late election season. It`s not accurate? And is it more that -- I mean, are we seeing the split ticket here when you talk about Kemp`s numbers being high and Warnock`s being study where you`re going to maybe have Georgia Republicans that are pulling the lever for Brian Kemp, the Republican governor, but then voting for Raphael Warnock in the Senate race?

[21:40:03]

KORNACKI: That`s what we`re seeing in the polling right now, and I don`t -- I actually think it`s not too hard to imagine who that voter is because you have to remember that earlier this year, Brian Kemp went to war with Donald Trump and Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state went to war with Trump, and they both won Republican primaries about against Trump backed opponents.

So, if you`re a voter in Georgia who doesn`t really like Joe Biden, doesn`t really like the Democrats, but also doesn`t like Donald Trump, that`s a kind of voter that Georgia Democrats were able to get to vote for Joe Biden in 2020. That voter may say, hey, Kemp`s perfectly acceptable.

WAGNER: Right.

KORNACKI: He stood up to Trump. But Walker`s a bridge too far. So, that we`ve been seeing I think in the polling so far. That disconnect.

The other challenge though that I think if you`re Warnock he has -- he has to finish ahead of Walker, obviously, but Georgia runoff state.

WAGNER: Yeah.

KORNACKI: And if he doesn`t get to 50 percent plus one, there`s a libertarian in the race. We`ve seen this in Georgia many times, poised to get two or 3 percent of about. This could get forced into a runoff. You could be in that same scenario we have in 2020, where Senate control comes down to a Georgia runoff.

And, then you look at the dynamics. Walker, Warnock, in a runoff, you start to wonder if any of the personal stuff matters at all to voters or if they`re purely voting on party. Because the stakes would be absolutely clear in that case. You`re voting for Senate control.

WAGNER: And that runoff would be, I believe, December 6th, right?

KORNACKI: December 6, yeah.

WAGNER: I`ve got to ask you, does this remind you of Doug Jones and Roy Moore in Alabama. I mean, the flaw -- I think saying flawed is a probably a bit euphemistic, and generous, I mean, given the sort of hypocrisy on display potentially in this latest Herschel Walker scandal, but I mean, like Doug Jones won that Alabama Senate seat by the hair of his chinny chin chin. Is this deja vu all over again?

KORNACKI: It`s the other thing to keep in mind to. Doug Jones did win in the December 2017 race. So it certainly had an impact in that race. Without that story, without that sort of Roy Moore would`ve been well-positioned there.

But again, I think we`re talking about impact here. If there is an impact from the start, my guess is it would be minimal, a point or two.

But like I`m saying, given that he`s not Brian Kemp, he`s not running seven points ahead of Raphael Warnock right now. He`s running a point behind Warnock. One or two points, if you are Herschel Walker, is absolutely critical.

WAGNER: Literally every vote matters in the state of Georgia. Every vote matters period, but especially at that moment.

Steve Kornacki, NBC national political correspondent, my friend, it is good to see. Thanks for your time tonight.

KORNACKI: You too. Happy to be here.

WAGNER: Up next tonight, brand new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Supreme Court justice. She schools an Alabama solicitor general as the court takes up a challenge that could gut the Voting Rights Act.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:47:29]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Reagan today signed a 25 year extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The president who originally favored only ten-year extension and came late to endorse his version had nothing but praise for it today.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties and we will not see its luster diminished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: That`s what President Reagan in 1982, and we have seen the luster of that jewel, the right to vote, diminish twice in recent memory. First in 2013, Shelby versus Holder, when the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. When the court invalidated the part of that law that required states with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before changing the way that they hold elections.

Then, last year, the Supreme Court ruled in case making it harder for minority groups to use section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to challenge voting laws.

Today, the Republican-led state of Alabama took another swipe at the Voting Rights Act with the case at the Supreme Court. One that centers on whether Alabama`s new congressional map, violates another part of section two. That statute prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race.

Black people make up more than a quarter of Alabama`s population. The states new congressional map only designates one majority black district, district seven, that`s the awkwardly placed blues watch right on this map here. The group`s challenging this map argued that it is diluting their boating powered by creating a supermajority in that one district, spreading black voters out across the other six.

But if the justices side with the state of Alabama, that section two of the Voting Rights Act should not require the state to consider race when drawing its congressional map, well then that would further erode the protections that the VRA is supposed to be providing to historically and represented voters.

Joining us now is Janai Nelson, president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She was present for oral arguments at the Supreme Court this morning.

Ms. Nelson, thank you so much for joining us.

JANAI NELSON, PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Thanks for having me.

WAGNER: I think a lot of folks are very worried about what is going to happen here, given the courts track record. You were in the room, how did you read some of the comments of the conservative justices that seem to be somewhat skeptical of the case that the state of Alabama was making here?

NELSON: Yeah, well, I had the pleasure of being in the court room because one of our attorneys was arguing before the court, Deuel Ross, an incredible attorney who`s been working on voting rights issue in the state of Alabama for years.

[21:50:08]

And what I observed was that even the conservative justices seem to think that Alabama was engaging in a bit of overreach in suggesting that the standard for interpreting section two of the Voting Rights Act, the standard that this berry Supreme Court has used for decades, was somehow flawed, all of a sudden with no basis for suggesting that the court should change its interpretation of the statute.

So what we saw was, conservative justices trying to steer the state of Alabama towards a little bit of a narrower path. And Alabama did not seem to want to do that, and still seemed to want to erode the foundation of the Voting Rights Act Section 2. And I am -- I hope that the court will not follow Alabama down that very wrong path.

WAGNER: When you talk about the narrow path, can you try out what that actually is? Because if they don`t go -- the court doesn`t follow through with Alabama`s proposed -- the suggestion that they shouldn`t have to take race into account when drawing their congressional maps. What could the Supreme Court do here? And what could -- or what damage could the Voting Rights Act sustain, in your mind?

NELSON: Well, first, I think the easiest path for the court to follow is the one that it charted for itself for many decades, and that is to affirm the lower court`s decision in this case. This is a cookie cutter textbook, section two violation. You have black voters, as you described, who comprise 27 percent of the states population and only are able to elect a candidate of their twice in one out of seven districts.

So what the court should do is follow the lower courts, the three judge panel that said, Alabama needs to go back, read to its maps, and make sure that Black voters have more than one district in which they have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. Now the court seemed to question a few different ways and wish to go about it. There were lots of conversations about the role of race in determining whether there was a violation of the Voting Rights Acts.

And to me, that such a curious question because, the voting rights act was enacted very specifically to counter racism and racial effects in our democracy, and our electoral system. So, of course, we are going to think about race and consider race as we enforce the Voting Rights Act and make sure that we are continuing to engage in racial discrimination.

WAGNER: Right, that was the entire point of the Voting Rights Act, right? Race was central to it.

Our newest Supreme Court justice, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, brought up the sort of, her version of an originalist argument on that front. Is that right? I thought of that as a nod to the originalism that is practiced by the conservative members of the court, although in a distinctly different flare?

NELSON: Yes, I would say Justice Brown Jackson`s this exquisite discussion of the 14th Amendment was as much for the oralists and a litigants as it was for her colleagues on the courts. It was clearly a way in which to show that even if you were to consider an original intent, even if you were to follow the conservative doctrine of originalism, you cannot evade the injustice of this case. That you would still wind up in the right place, recognizing that even the founders, even those who were amending our Constitution, after Reconstruction to ensure that racial discrimination would not continue to weigh this democracy down, that even those individuals were thinking about race. They were confronted the fact of racism in our history, in our country, and trying to construct a remedy for that.

And the Voting Rights Act, you know, as you noted, was enacted about 100 years later, because we didn`t quite solve the problem with the Reconstruction amendments. So the Voting Rights Act came into do that work, and is still doing that important work today.

WAGNER: Indeed. We have not quite solve the problem around voter disenfranchisement in this country, and seems to be doing more problems as time goes on.

Janai Nelson, president of the NAACP Legal Defense, thanks for making time to join us tonight.

NELSON: Absolutely, thank you.

WAGNER: One more story before we go, as Ukrainian forces take back their lines from Russia, and exasperated, Vladimir Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons. How people in Kyiv are reacting and preparing, coming up next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:58:58]

WAGNER: This was the scene today in a Ukrainian village in this happen recent of Kherson. The soldier their shouted "glory to Ukraine" as he draped the country`s flag over a building in the newly-liberated village, in one of the four regions where Vladimir Putin, through sham referendums, declared are now part of Russia.

Ukraine`s military retook the key city of Lyman and the Donetsk region, and in a day since, Ukraine`s military has continued pushing back Russian troops and the south and east of the country, cutting off strategic supply routes and infrastructure for Russian forces.

Ukraine`s recent military wins follow around of harsh warnings from Russian President Putin, who on Friday declared to defend Russian territory using, quote, all available means. That set off alarm bells across the world, and has had some in Ukraine preparing for the worst.

The "AP" reported today in the Kyiv City council, they are providing evacuation centers with potassium iodine pills in preparation for a potential nuclear attack. Those pills can help people block the absorption of radiation in the aftermath of a nuclear strike. The Biden administration today announced a new security package for Ukraine worth $625 million in military aid, and includes more of the advanced rocket systems that observers credit with helping Ukraine`s military begin to turn the tide of war.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.