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Arizona Official At Center Of Trump Pressure Campaign Speaks Out; Tropical Storm Elsa Takes Aim At Florida's West Coast; Russia- Linked Hackers Demand $70 Million In Massive Ransomware Attack. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 05, 2021 - 21:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Jimmy Carter is 96. His bride is 93. We wish them a wonderful, wonderful anniversary.

The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Michael Smerconish, in for Chris, on "CUOMO PRIME TIME."


I am Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Cuomo. Welcome to a special holiday edition of PRIME TIME. Hope you had a great Independence Day weekend!

Now tonight, we have a central figure, on the other end of that apparent pressure campaign, by Team Trump, to change the outcome of the 2020 election, in the key battleground state of Arizona. I emphasize Arizona because similar pressure was also applied, on election officials, in Georgia, in the run-up to January 6.

This just came to light, on Friday night, and we played you the voicemails that surfaced from a Freedom of Information request, made by "The Arizona Republic."

These were calls left by Arizona's GOP Chair and Rudy Giuliani, on behalf of Donald Trump, to those overseeing election results, in the state's most populous county, Maricopa, a county that President Biden won by about 45,000 votes.

I want you to hear it again. By the way, the music underneath, that was part of "The Arizona Republic's" online post.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: Hey, Clint. It's Rudy Giuliani. I was very happy to see that there's going to be a forensic audit of the machines. And I really wanted to talk to you about it a bit. The President wanted me to give you a call. All right? Thank you. Give me a call back. I'd really appreciate it. Thank you.

KELLI WARD, ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIR: Hey, Clint. It's Kelli Ward. I just talked to President Trump. And he's - he would like me to talk to you and also see if he needs to give you a call to discuss what's happening on the ground in Maricopa. Give me a call back when you can. Thanks. Bye.


SMERCONISH: So, who is Clint? Clint Hickman, at the time, was the Chair of the Board of Supervisors, in Maricopa County, a Republican. He says he never returned those calls, or ones from the White House switchboard operator, with requests to call back former president Trump.

And I want to give you the timeframe, of when these calls were made, in relation to that call that the then-President made to Georgia's Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, the infamous "Find me votes" call. That was January 2nd.

The voicemail we just played you, from Arizona's Kelli Ward, to Hickman, was made way back on November 13. So, this pressure campaign, on state election officials, it began very soon after the vote.

The Giuliani call was made to Hickman on December 4. And the White House switchboard calls, one on New Year's Eve, another on January 3rd.

And why is January 3rd, especially significant? It's because the news broke of Trump's call to Raffensperger worldwide that day. And that very same night, the White House was trying to get to Hickman, get him on the line for the President, a president desperate to stay in power. Pretty brazen stuff, right?

So, what exactly went through Hickman's mind, when he listened to those voicemails? I shall ask him. Clint Hickman joins me now.

And Clint, I should begin by playing for you and reading for you what the Trump team's response was, to this developing story. This was the statement that they gave to us.

"It's no surprise Maricopa County election officials had no desire to look into significant irregularities during the election. They have refused to be open and honest about the presidential election, stonewalling a forensic audit for months, and are still hiding voting equipment and routers from auditors to this day. What do they have to hide?"

Why don't we begin with you responding to that response?

CLINT HICKMAN, MARICOPA COUNTY SUPERVISOR, FORMER CHAIRMAN, MARICOPA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: Well, I would say - thank you, Michael, for inviting me tonight. I would say all of my colleagues have done our best, to be upfront about the Maricopa County election, even while it was going through.

I will take it back a little bit. We had three major elections during a pandemic year. I became Chairman, January, last January, before this, so a year and a half ago. And we were going to run three elections.

And when I had my Chairman's address, I did not once say "Pandemic." That was in January. March, the pandemic hit, and we still had a presidential preference election, a primary election, and a general election. And we learned - we learned quite a few things.

But we had to change different processes that every single time we stayed within the statutory guidelines, what's offered, either by the Secretary of State's election manual, or the statutes themselves, and I guess I could say I couldn't be prouder of how the county pulled off an election of over 2 million people, voting during a pandemic.

So ever since, we've been talking, and we've been doing the best we can, to calm the fears of voters, on both sides of the aisle, and continually finding that this election was run in a fair, bipartisan and American way.


SMERCONISH: The background is really significant, I think. According to "The Arizona Republic," you were not a Trump antagonist. To the contrary, you supported him, met him on an airport tarmac, even got a shout-out, during one of those campaign rallies.

So, what was the break-point?

HICKMAN: I was very proud of all that. I endorsed President Trump, all the way through.

I've been a lifelong Republican. My first presidential vote was for Ronald Reagan, so many years ago. And I did the best I could, and worked, like every Republican did, for the top of their ticket.

And - but the central fact is, I became an election authority this year, and along with my colleagues. And yes, it was nerve-wracking a little bit. But then, - this, I call this as the election that never ends, and we continue to talk about it so much, almost every day, so, but here willing to talk about it.

SMERCONISH: When news of the Raffensperger call broke, what ran through your mind?

HICKMAN: Well, I was - I've said it in the - I've said it in "The Arizona Republic." I was - I was horrified. I listened to the phone call. I read the transcript. And I thought this is - this is not what I'm used to.

And I, a month before that, I told people, that were close to the Trump campaign, with all this litigation that was going on, I said, "Just hey, just do me a favor. I can't talk to anyone, while this is being litigated."

And it - and that stayed true all the way up till that New Year's weekend. I got a phone call from the White House switchboard, I might have to say them, all of these people that have - that called me, it wasn't stonewalling.

We were in litigation, at all these points. It was getting hard to keep track of. I believe at one point there were eight cases being litigated. And Maricopa County was finding themselves in the courtroom, just at all times.

So, I wanted to make sure that I was not having conversations outside of that. Whatever needed to be said needed to be said in the courtroom, in front of a judge or a jury. But we needed to - we needed to get down to the bottom of it.

And this is - this is while the same time Maricopa County was taking a look at our own people that worked the election. And we had to ask some really tough questions of those people, all the way through. And they've been around - they've been there the whole time. Came in and talked to us, and told us everything.

SMERCONISH: A quick final question. I guess there was an alternative. And the alternative would be to do what Georgia did, loosely described, and that is, have the conversation, and tape it.

Did you ever give thought to that?

HICKMAN: Well, look, people tell their grandchildren this is - this is the most powerful office, and the most powerful man in the land. And it would have been great to have a conversation of a different type.

But after seeing what was going on, in Georgia, as I said, clearly, if I'm not willing to tape a president, I'm not willing to talk to a president.

I am a Chair - I was a chairman of a board that all of us had to make decisions on. And I did not want any of my colleagues thinking, I was having ex parte communications at all, to frame a vote. So, that's why I avoided it. And here we are.

SMERCONISH: Clint Hickman, thank you so much for being here, and telling your story.

HICKMAN: Thank you, Michael. Appreciate the opportunity.

SMERCONISH: Tomorrow marks six months, since the attack on our Capitol. In that time, the Department of Justice has arrested at least 500 people. Yet, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is still not sure the five members that he'll put on the House Select Committee to investigate.

That might be because one of the members of his caucus, Congressman Mo Brooks is spending his time, in part, in court, from the role the White House had, in planning to members of Congress, meeting directly with Rudy Giuliani.

A judge today just denied Brooks' request to toss out a lawsuit by my next guest, Representative Eric Swalwell. The congressman has been so busy that he had to add chapters to the new paperback version of his book. It's called "Endgame: Inside the Impeachments of Donald J. Trump."

Congressman, let me begin with this. React to what you just heard from the Arizona official.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Good evening, Michael.

Clint Hickman and people like him are the unsung heroes of our democracy.


Our democracy nearly died after the last election. And people like Mr. Hickman showed integrity, regardless of their political party, to just do their job, to look for every legal vote, to count every legal vote, and to certify the election. And they did. And thank god they did, because Donald Trump tested all of them.

SMERCONISH: I mean, worthy of underscoring, a Trump supporter, cast his ballot, received the nod on the tarmac and so forth. And yet, when the call came, from the White House switchboard, wouldn't take it.

SWALWELL: And Michael, this just shows, Donald Trump is only loyal to you, as long as that helps Donald Trump.

And it reminds me also of the police, right? He held himself up as this person who honored the police in America. But as soon as it was the police that stood in the way of the mob that attacked the Capitol, you can't find Donald Trump, or any Republicans, frankly, other than Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, to honor the police.

And so, they're really showing their true colors here that it's really just about one person, one-cult personality, and his lust to stay in power.

SMERCONISH: I read the lawsuit that you filed against Donald Trump and others, including a colleague of yours, Mo Brooks. And I read Congressman Brooks' response. What is the goal of that litigation?

SWALWELL: Accountability. And I don't think we can hold Donald Trump and his enablers accountable enough. And when history looks at what we did, during the Trump years and after, I think we will only be judged harshly, if we don't press further, to find the truth. And so, Donald Trump, and Mo Brooks, and Don Jr., and Rudy, they

sought to impede the Congress, from counting the Electoral College votes. They traumatized myself, and my colleagues. They unleashed a mob on the police who defended the Capitol that day.

And so Michael, it's really an effort to make sure that even post- impeachment, and regardless of what happens in the criminal trials, that those actors are held accountable.

SMERCONISH: Do you think that you can satisfy the causation requirement? I mean, very famously, Mo Brooks talked about the kicking ass and taking names. That language, you've cited in your complaint. When he responded, he said, "Well, there was context."

In fact, I can put it up on the screen, in terms of what his response was, to that part of the litigation.

"Let's be clear, regardless of today's outcome, the 2022 and 2024 elections are right around the corner." This is his quote from that speech January 6.

"And America does not need and cannot stand, cannot tolerate any more weakling, cowering, wimpy Republican Congressmen and Senators who covet the power and the prestige," flip that screen for me, there we go, "the swamp has to offer, while groveling at the feet and the knees of their special interest group masters. As such, today is important in another way, today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass."

He says you put it together. He's talking about 2022 and 2024. In other words, "We take down the names today. We kick their ass, electorally speaking, in the next election."

SWALWELL: Yes, I don't accept that. He's standing before a violent mob.

Donald Trump and his team had spent $50 million, in the 17 days, before that event, inviting people to come. Donald Trump said that that day was going to be wild. And he said, "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

And so, Mo Brooks knew who he was talking to, aimed that mob, with Donald Trump and others, right at the Capitol. And again, I'll leave it to the courts to litigate this, or the lawyers and the courts to decide. But I do believe it's worthy of accountability.

SMERCONISH: OK, is your lawsuit Plan B, meaning that if the official investigation, the House investigation never gets off the ground, or doesn't bear fruit, that you'll be out there, as a private litigant, hoping that you can take depositions, and you can subpoena documents, and so on and so forth, and maybe you'll uncover what all went on, on January 6?

SWALWELL: No, I'm filing my suit, regardless of what anyone else does.

But you're right. I mean, it may or may not turn out that way. Actually, after being an Impeachment Manager, I was all the more convinced that Donald Trump needed to be held accountable, after reviewing hours of evidence, in that case, Michael.

So again, this is about accountability. And yes, if we survived the motion to dismiss, there will be depositions, and what's called discovery, the ability to get information from the other side.

But in the book, I also laid out that is--


SWALWELL: --we're living in real-time, this often feels surprising. But in many ways, it was predictable.

And in the book, I told the story of the day before we started the trial, an IT help desk set up a side room for us, right next to the Senate. And they gave us printers, copy machines. I asked for the WiFi password. And they told us, it was under the name "Managers." And I asked one of the assistants afterward. I said, "I'm so surprised

that you guys were able to get this all set up. We just impeached Donald Trump a couple weeks ago."


And he looked at me, and he said, "Well, sir, we were the same team that did the last impeachment. And to be honest, we just left all the infrastructure up because we figured you all would be back." So, to them, this was never surprising.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Swalwell, thank you.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: The book, by the way, "Endgame: Inside the Impeachments of Donald J. Trump," the new edition available now in paperback.

Straight ahead, another very tough chapter, in Surfside, for victims' families and survivors. The rest of the destroyed building was brought down to keep rescue workers safe. Now they're battling against severe weather likely to set back this search again.

We have a live update. That's next.








SMERCONISH: Rescue crews, in Surfside, Florida, facing the added complications of severe weather tonight. Gusty winds, ahead of Tropical Storm Elsa, have moved in. And that's not even the worst of the storm. It hit Cuba, this afternoon, with sustained winds of 60 miles per hour.


Tom Sater is in the Weather Center, tracking Elsa for us. Tom?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Michael, the good news is we've got a couple things in our favor. One is the calendar month of the year right now. It's early July. Typically, we - it's rare to have a major hurricane. They're usually smaller in size. And that's good news.

When this was first named Elsa, the earliest we've ever had a fifth named storm that sounds familiar, because we did it over and over last year, but when it was first named, the forecast track has been pretty good. It was a hurricane, at one time, through the Caribbean. I don't think that's going to happen anymore. So, that's good.

But the video tells the story of what's happening in West Central Cuba. It made landfall at 2 P.M. there. Right before that, the winds were at 65 miles per hour. It's down to 50. That's the interaction with the land. So that's in our favor, too. But soon, it's going to be in the warmer waters of the Florida Straits, and it will get back up, to that 65 miles per hour.

But going forward, as it lifts northward, the environment is not conducive, for this to become a hurricane. Could it? There's always a chance. But I think winds are going to sheer at the system somewhat, keep it as a tropical storm.

Now, the concern has always been Miami-Dade, the Miami area and Surfside, and for good reason, because this cone of uncertainty did include that early on. It's been shifting westward.

Also in blue, the tropical storm warnings, we do not have a hurricane watch. So again, that's good news.

Now, we still have some risks here, heavy rainfall, greatest threat in areas of red, so just south of Fort Myers (ph), all the way up to the Big Bend. Along with that going hand-in-hand, the storm surge has been increased now up to 5 feet.

Now, I'm kind of concerned about Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater area. For those that live in this area, and want some sort of a reference, last November, Tropical Storm Eta moved in, almost the same intensity, the same landfall spot, which I'll show you, along with those same storm surge.

Now, the winds right now, Michael, they're concentrated, the tropical storm force winds, well some distance away. But the risk is not over with, with the crews that are on site right now, because the feeder bands, outside of that realm, of where they're sustained, the gusts can go farther out.

Most of the wind activity offshore, it's going to brush the entire Gulf Coast area, but Surfside still has a 7 percent probability. And it showed itself this afternoon. In about an hour, the center's going to be offshore, and getting those warm waters.

But earlier, this afternoon, around 3:30, the band moved through, and we're getting closer, and we'll back this up about six hours, you'll see what's moving in now. They had a severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado warning. That's all it takes.

These feeder bands are going to be moving in tomorrow morning. And when they move into this area, right where Surfside and the crews are working, they could easily have a tornado spin up or a waterspout move on shore.

So, it verifies the demolition of the building that they had last night. As this system moves further, they're going to get a break. The worst of it for the crews there, I think, will be tomorrow morning, through around maybe 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

But it's not only Florida. It's not only the Carolinas. You see this rainband? This is going to go on for a while, even as a tropical storm, all the states, up the East Coast, to Maine, the Canadian maritime area.

So, it's a long-duration storm. The good news, it's not a hurricane. But the risk is not over with, for the crews there, at Surfside. They'll be watching it closely, and so will we.

SMERCONISH: Tom Sater, thank you for that report.

The storm heading West seems to be a rare bit of good news for the people of Surfside, Florida. But when it comes to answers, a big piece of the puzzle was just brought down intentionally.

The Mayor of Miami-Dade County tells CNN the demolition helped rescue crews get to areas of the rubble, where they recovered three bodies today.

This, as new documents, obtained by CNN, shed new light on how urgent the need for repairs were, in the building, from a design flaw that caused columns to be, quote, "Overstressed since the day the building went up," to the garage being exposed to water intrusion for 40 years.

Plenty to dive into with Rick De La Guardia, a forensic engineer, who's familiar with the building, and who specializes in building component failures.

Rick, obviously I lack your expertise. But when I look at the PowerPoint presentation that was made in the fall and winter of 2020, to building residents, in fact, I'm going to put up on the screen something that I just quoted, so that everybody can take a moment and have a peek at it, this was under the headline, "Why we have to do all this now."

And the part that jumped out at me was "The slabs under the landscaping in front, (the area over the storage units) have been overstressed since the day the building went up. (Design or construction flaw)."

Of what significance do you see in that?

RICK DE LA GUARDIA, FORENSIC ENGINEER: Well, first of all, I'd like to caution that it's way too early to start speculating about potential design or a construction flaw. Having said that, depending on who consulted, on that report, to the individual, who made the presentation, I think it's very alarming.


When - the concrete elements are not designed to be overstressed. They're designed so they don't get overstressed. So, if we're talking about a potential design or construction flaw that makes an issue that's - that could be very critical for the sister building that potentially has the same contractor, and the same developer.

So, I would urge, if a design professional did write that statement, and can verify that, that he immediately speak to the Surfside officials, and bring it to their attention regarding the other building.

SMERCONISH: OK, one more, if I may, again, from a PowerPoint presentation made to residents of the building, in the fall and winter of 2020, we'll put this up on the screen, and I'll read.

This was under the headline of "Why is this so complicated and expensive?" Quote, "There is no waterproofing layer over the garage in the driveway or any area except the pool deck and planters. This has exposed the garage to water intrusion for 40 years." Your thoughts?

DE LA GUARDIA: Again, very concerning.

So, I'd like to explain a little bit about how a building is supported. Slabs are supported on beams. Beams are supported on columns. Columns are ultimately the elements that support a building.

Certainly, a failure in the waterproofing could cause damage of the slabs, which do support beams and columns. So, if that, in fact was the case then, it would be an area of concern. And certainly, it should have been addressed, in my opinion, back in 2018. Certainly, the 2020 report, it had three years of, of even the

engineer said that "If this is not taken care of, this is going to get worse exponentially."

SMERCONISH: A final subject area. You referenced columns. Here are photographs, or a photograph that "The New York Times" published that accentuate an issue potentially with rebar. You know the issue. Give me the lay explanation of what I'm looking at.

DE LA GUARDIA: Well you're looking at there is the slab that failed or fell off, that potentially was supporting that column.

Now, again, I want to caution against speculation or assigning design flaws or construction flaws. It's way too early to determine that. But I believe, in the report, it also recommended to have a pile - support piles added to those columns.

So again, if that engineer felt that strongly, I think we merit further investigation, for the design constraints.

SMERCONISH: You know that there's a question being raised, as to whether the amount of rebar that's in that photograph comports with the original design drawings. I guess though the original design drawings are not as telling as the final design drawings. What would you most want to see?

DE LA GUARDIA: Absolutely. I mean, this is an old building. And I've reviewed the plans. And but the plans are old as well.

And we don't know if there was a revision to those plans. We don't know if there was a structural plan review that caught some error, and presumably changed the design. So we can't speak until we know what the final construction set is.

Another question is if there was a design flaw, or a construction flaw, my question would be why wasn't that caught during the plans review process, or furthermore, the lack of steel reinforcement, why wasn't that caught, while inspectors do a steel framing inspection of the columns in the area in question? That would be my question, if it is, in fact, if found to be a design or a construction flaw.

SMERCONISH: I get all the provisos. Still more unknown than known, but a lot of troubling signs.

Rick De La Guardia, thank you so much.

DE LA GUARDIA: You're welcome.

SMERCONISH: A Miami-based company has just been hit by a massive ransomware attack. And this one may be affecting hundreds of businesses worldwide. This is a major national security concern.

What the President is saying about it, what can be done about it? That's next.









SMERCONISH: $70 million in Bitcoin, that's how much the cyber-criminal gang, known as REvil, has demanded to restore data they're holding for ransom.

Hundreds of companies, worldwide, were compromised over the weekend, after hackers targeted Kaseya, a software vendor that's widely used by IT management companies.

Experts say you might not feel the impact yet because of the holiday weekend. But if Sweden is any indication, this could be really big. The Coop, one of Sweden's largest grocery chains, had to close 800 of its stores, because of the cyber-attack. A Swedish railway and pharmacy chain also suffered disruption.

So, how will this play out here and what can be done about it? My next guest, Co-Founder of the CrowdStrike cybersecurity firm calls this the most destructive ransomware campaign that we've seen so far. Dmitri Alperovitch joins me now.

Dmitri, why is this potentially the worst?

DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, CO-FOUNDER, CROWDSTRIKE, CHAIRMAN, SILVERADO POLICY ACCELERATOR: Well, the number of victims that we're seeing here, Michael, is truly unprecedented.

There are probably over a 1,000 victims that have used the software, and were hacked by this ransomware group, REvil that we believe is based in Russia. And these are small businesses.

These are dentists, car dealers, real estate agents, the type of organizations that have suffered throughout this pandemic, and can ill afford to pay the ransom or to hire security firms to help to recover their data.

SMERCONISH: On Saturday, President Biden was asked about this, right at the outset of reports.

I want you to see what he said, and then we'll talk about it. Roll it.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And if it is, either with the knowledge of and/or a consequence of Russia, then I told Putin we will respond.

We're not certain. And the initial thinking was it was not the Russian government, but we're not sure yet.


SMERCONISH: Interesting, at least to me, he said we're not sure if it was the Russian government. The issue here, as I see it, is whether you can hold Putin accountable, if the actors were in Russia, even if you don't know, if he had knowledge.

Will you speak to that issue?


ALPEROVITCH: Absolutely. Well, President Biden made it very clear to Vladimir Putin, back in Geneva, last month that "Even when the Russian government is not orchestrating these attacks, and we don't believe they are, if they're harboring these criminals, if they're allowing them to operate freely, we will hold them responsible."

And clearly, Putin did not get the message, or is at best dragging his feet, and that is unacceptable.

SMERCONISH: OK, but that presupposes that Putin could know or does know who these actors are. How comfortable are you in making that assertion?

ALPEROVITCH: Quite comfortable. Over the last 20 years, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies,

from around the world, have provided extensive information, on cyber criminals, to Russian law enforcement, and only to see the Russian law enforcement completely ignore that data, never really go after these criminals and arresting them.

So, we know that they know where these people are, because in some cases, we provided them information on them, but they have not acted on it, because they feel like they're benefiting right now, by watching these criminals attack America.

SMERCONISH: Dmitri, if that's true, that's quite a thumb in the eye, by President Putin toward President Biden that will demand some type of a response. What might that response be?

ALPEROVITCH: I think the time has come for Biden to deliver a private ultimatum.

"You will either immediately put a stop to these attacks by apprehending and prosecuting some of these criminals, or the U.S. will start enforcing very severe sanctions on your energy sector."

And that energy sector Michael, is responsible for about 40 percent of their federal budget in Russia. So we cannot tolerate these--


ALPEROVITCH: --the status quo on here.

SMERCONISH: I think he already gave him that warning. I mean, it's like they're already on double secret probation. Now it would seem something needs to be done.

ALPEROVITCH: I think the time may come, at which point we have to start enforcing the sanctions, absolutely.

SMERCONISH: Dmitri Alperovitch, thank you so much for being here.


SMERCONISH: Old Glory, I saw a lot of our beautiful American flag this Independence Day weekend. It represents the best about us, what unites us. But one "New York Times" reporter also notes that it's become a divisive symbol of sorts. And she is here to explain, next.








SMERCONISH: Question, can we discern a person's political leaning by whether they're displaying an American flag? The Stars and Stripes represent unity, the blood and sacrifice that went into making this great nation. But it's growingly become a symbol of division for some.

A "New York Times" article documents how some Americans are worried that others are co-opting the flag as a political symbol. The story reads as follows.

"Today, flying the American flag from the back of a pickup truck or over a lawn is increasingly seen as a clue, albeit an imperfect one, to a person's political affiliation in a deeply divided nation."

The journalist behind the story, who wrote it, Staff Reporter for "The Times," Sarah Maslin Nir, joins me now.

Sarah, thank you so much for being here.

I know that in some quarters, this has taken on a "How dare you even raise this observation or impugn someone's reputation by noting this?" For what it's worth, a week ago, on my radio program, I was asking the same question.

What accounts for the blowback?


There is a conflation with the journalist, who's really a conduit, for public sentiment, and public experience, to be the person whose idea it is, who's telling the story, who made this up. And that's a falsification of what the journalist's job is.

This is something that's happening across the country, a sentiment that many, many people share, and "The New York Times" is merely sharing that because that's our job.

SMERCONISH: So what - for those who have not yet read your piece, what's the thesis?

MASLIN NIR: The thesis is that, given the recent events of the last four years, the incredible cleaving to the flag that's happened in the Right, you look at a Trump rally, it's a sea of American flags, from baseball hats to T shirts, to waving them, to protests against what the flag stands for, by people like Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee, because he didn't feel the flag represented him that somehow this symbol that at its heart is of unity, right, there are 50 stars on it, representing all 50 states, has become, to many, a symbol of division. And that's the question "The New York Times" sought to explore.

SMERCONISH: So, there's some interesting polling data. Put it up on the screen. It's from CBS. And it talks about going into this weekend, how likely based on party,

were you to be flying an American flag? 80 percent of Republicans, will you fly an American flag, July 4th, said yes. 58 percent of Democrats said yes.

You can see, or perhaps you don't have a monitor, but over time, there has been a difference between Rs and Ds as to whether they fly the flag. Your reaction?

MASLIN NIR: Well, it's absolutely a distinction. But it also goes deeper than that. There are differences, polling data shows, based on your race, how likely you are to fly or feel proud of that flag.

I think it's something like 80 percent of White Americans say they feel proud of the flag, while closer to 60 something percent of Black Americans feel proud of that flag.

And that speaks to how differently our life and races lived in America, and that that symbol of this country can mean different things based on who you are, party affiliation, or personal cultural experience.

SMERCONISH: It's funny how some of these patriotic symbols get appropriated by one side or another.

I happen to love Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A.," that it will cause me to stop in my tracks, and get goosebumps.


SMERCONISH: And yet that song is so affiliated with Republicans, and not Democrats. I don't know what the Democratic song is to match against Lee Greenwood.

MASLIN NIR: Well, isn't it fascinating that the American flag can mean so many different things?


It was burned, during the Vietnam War, in protest of that war. Ribboned between the Twin Towers, it symbolizes a moment of unity, of September 11th, of us all coming together, against threats against this country.

But then you saw it during the Capitol riots, used quite literally as a weapon. That American flag on a pole was used to beat police officers, by people trying to make an incursion into the Capitol. And so, that flag has shifted, depending on who's wielding it, both metaphorically and quite literally.

SMERCONISH: Yes, well, it's just sad. I mean, it seems like everything has broken along partisan ranks these days, maybe even displaying the American flag.

How about this? We should all put up the American flag, too late for this year, but if we all do it for next July 4th, I think it would be a positive step.

I appreciated your piece. So thank you for being here, Sarah.

MASLIN NIR: Thank you. I'll do one better. Let's use the American flag every day. We're all Americans.

SMERCONISH: Yes, amen to that. Thank you.

We heard from a newly-free Bill Cosby, this Independence Day weekend, speaking out in defense of his former "Cosby Show" co-star, who's facing fire, for defending him.

That controversy is, next.









SMERCONISH: Just days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction, the disgraced TV father, speaking out, Cosby is slamming Howard University for reprimanding his former TV wife, Phylicia Rashad, who celebrated his release.

The actor once seen as "America's Dad" will be a topic of conversation in this Sunday's new CNN Original Series, the "HISTORY OF THE SITCOM."

Here's a clip that was filmed before Cosby's conviction was overturned.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That great Thursday night lineup, Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: NBC really created this idea of must-see TV. You're talking about 20 million and 30 million and 40 million people tuning in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People say you were one of America's most successful fathers. I said, "No, it was Bill Cosby." Cosby was number one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With respect to what's happened of late, it's like, hugely disappointing to all of us. But he set the standard for what a family sitcom was.


SMERCONISH: I need to note that Bill Cosby maintains his innocence against all sexual assault allegations.

Our next guest, a former "New York Times" media reporter has interviewed Cosby many times over the years. CNN Media Analyst Bill Carter joins us now, to discuss the latest with Cosby, and this Sunday's premiere of the "HISTORY OF THE SITCOM" on CNN.

Bill, I'm a product of the era, you too, when we all watched the same shows. Today, someone recommends a TV show to me, and even though I watch a lot of television, chances are I've never even heard of it.

Half the country used to watch this show, right?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST, FORMER NEW YORK TIMES MEDIA REPORTER, FORMER BALTIMORE SUN TV CRITIC: Absolutely. I think - I believe it's the last show ever, last regular show ever to get a 50-share, meaning at the time it was on, 50 percent of the people watching TV, were watching "The Cosby Show." It was almost Super Bowl-like in its popularity.

SMERCONISH: What was the legacy of this show before all his troubles?

CARTER: Before his troubles, it was maybe the classic "Modern Family" show that also broke barriers because obviously, we hadn't seen an African American family presented in this way.

And everybody watched the show. And it brought people together in an incredible way. And families watched it together. I watched it with my little children at the time. And it brought us together. We look forward to it every week. It was an iconic show, a truly iconic show. And obviously, it is not that anymore.

SMERCONISH: What can you tell us about those many interviews that you conducted with him over the years? What was he like, in your interactions?

CARTER: Well, he was very receptive to me. And we had a very good relationship.

I always found him a little inscrutable, I guess, is the right word. It was hard to always figure where he was coming from. He always was sort of proselytizing for his point of view, about the way Black kids should dress and things like that.

But obviously, he was such an enormous star. He was incredibly welcoming to me. He invited me and my wife to the finale - taping of the finale. So, we had a very good relationship. I wouldn't say we were friends, but we had a good professional interaction. And of course, I never imagined any of this was going on.

And I have to say, the people that I know involved in the show, the producers, Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey, they didn't know about this. This was an extraordinary thing that was going on. But it certainly undid all of this - not - I shouldn't say it undid all of this great work, because it's still a great show.

What's sad, Michael, what's really sad is that people don't come together, as a family, and watch the show again, in the way they will sit down and watch "Lucy," or "Seinfeld," or "Friends" that are these iconic shows that go on and on. And it should be that way that. "The Cosby Show" was that way for families.

SMERCONISH: Yes. You remind me of the "Seinfeld" sign-off. For me, that's the last that I can recall, where it seems like the whole country gathered around a television, to see how it was going to end.

Question, is there a precedent for someone who has fallen from grace, and was the star of a TV show sitcom, or otherwise, and what then happens to the legacy of that program thereafter?

CARTER: Well, I can't - this is obviously one of a kind, in terms of the just heinousness of the accusations, as you said, we have to say he is proclaimed as innocence, but the heinousness of these accusations.

I mean, you do have, I guess you could cite "Hogan's Heroes," and Bob Crane and who of course, one of being murdered, and his, very checkered sexual life. But that's not an iconic show like this.

This show because the family - the family aspect of it, and the fact that Cosby was looked on as "America's Dad." I mean, it's an extraordinary thing--


CARTER: --that happened.


And in the series, we have Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who obviously played his son in the show, and he talks about this very sincerely. It's not like they're running away from it. They know the damage that's happened. This was a great piece of art, a great piece of art that's been tainted by the great artist who made it.

SMERCONISH: Yes, a funny, funny show.

Bill Carter, thank you for that. We appreciate it.

CARTER: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Be sure to tune in, the all-new CNN Original Series, the "HISTORY OF THE SITCOM" premieres with back-to-back episodes, Sunday 9 P.M. Eastern and Pacific, only on CNN.

We'll be right back.








SMERCONISH: That's it for us.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" with my SiriusXM colleague, Laura Coates, starts right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Thanks, Michael, nice to see you as always.

And this is a special holiday edition of DON LEMON TONIGHT. I'm Laura Coates, in for Don.