Rachel Maddow Show Sparked FBI Investigation Into Death Threats Against McConnell, Pruitt

Viewer drinking while watching Maddow says 'sorry' for threatening to murder Republicans

Rachel Maddow / Getty Images
January 12, 2018

Drinking while watching MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show led to death threats against Republicans Mitch McConnell and Scott Pruitt that sparked an FBI investigation.

An individual admitted to sending threatening tweets against the Senate majority leader and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, according to the EPA's inspector general investigation document, first reported by E&E News.

The unidentified person from Paragould, Ark., said they meant the threats as a "flippant comment" and sent the tweets when they were "drinking while watching the Rachel Maddow show."

The threats were serious enough for the Office of Investigations to open a joint inquiry with the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the Tulsa Police Department in Oklahoma.

The case report was entitled, "Twitter Threat to Murder Administrator Scott Pruitt and Senator Mitch McConnell."

The tweets were directed at McConnell, and the individual said they also included Pruitt because they did "not like Administrator Pruitt's record of suing the EPA."

The individual sent the tweets on April 8, 2017. The episode, which aired on a Saturday, would have been a repeat of Maddow's Friday night show.

During that night's episode, Maddow discussed the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, calling McConnell and Republicans "radical" for ending the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

"When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on a ranch in western Texas last year, only a few hours had passed before the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said that President Obama wouldn't be allowed to put a justice on the court to replace Justice Scalia," Maddow said. "He said, quote, 'This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.'"

Maddow lamented that Gorsuch would be sworn in, telling her viewers, "There's nothing anybody can do about it."

"Republicans got rid of Senate rules that have been there forever in order to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed to that seat," Maddow said. "It's done. He will be sworn in on Monday. "There's nothing anybody can do about it."

Maddow said Gorsuch's confirmation was "so radical" and brought on Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate, to comment.

"What we learned and we learn when Mitch McConnell said that obstructing Merrick Garland was one of the proudest moments of his career, that this is about power now," Lithwick said.

Agents discovered the threatening tweets sent while watching the episode on April 9. The suspect was questioned on April 12. The individual was investigated for violating title 18 of the U.S. code for "influencing, impeding, or retaliating against a federal official by threatening."

The individual told special agents he or she was "very sorry" and "did not intend to threaten anyone."

The findings of the investigation were presented to the assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District of Arkansas, which declined prosecution.

Pruitt has received an unprecedented number of death threats while serving at the EPA, necessitating a 24-hour security detail for the administrator that is costing taxpayers $2 million per year.

He has received five times as many threats as his predecessor, including direct death threats such as, "I'm going to put a bullet in your brain."

Request for comment from MSNBC was not immediately returned.