Return to Transcripts main page
Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Colorado Supreme Court Removes Trump From State's 2024 Ballots; Trump Campaign Says Ruling CO Supreme Court Is An "Attack On The Very Fabric Of America"; DeSantis' Record On Smokable Medical Marijuana In Florida Raises Questions About His Promise To "Drain The Swamp" In The State; Officials: Iceland Volcano Eruption Not Posing A Threat To Life. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 19, 2023 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And those geological circumstances, Erin, is one of the things that many Icelanders are talking about right now. They say that this area of Iceland was dormant for about 800 years. But now in the past two years, you've had four volcanic eruptions here, none of them nearly the size of the one that's going on right now. And again, the authorities believe that that volcanic eruption could continue for weeks, possibly even for months -- Erin.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Wow, an incredible thing that you get to witness, Fred. Thank you so much.
And thanks so much to all of you for being with us. "AC 360" starts now.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: The 14th Amendment of the Constitution says insurrectionists cannot hold, quote, "any office, civil or military, under the United States. And tonight, in a ruling as stunning as it is unprecedented, Colorado Supreme Court said that Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States, is an insurrectionist and, therefore, should be disqualified from being president.
Good evening. I'm Pamela Brown, here in for Anderson tonight. We begin with not just the ruling, which is historic, but what happens when it almost certainly reaches the US Supreme Court, which could be seismic.
Starting us off tonight, CNN Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent, Paula Reid. Paula, tell us more about this really surprising ruling.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Surprising, remarkable, Pamela. And the judges here, they acknowledge that at the top of their opinion. They talk about the weight and the magnitude of the issue that they're deciding here. I mean, this is the biggest court decision to impact a national election since bush v. Gore.
And even though this only impacts Colorado, the implications could be national because here, we're talking about the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. And there's a section of that amendment that bars US officials who engage in an insurrection from holding public office.
Now, and this case, in Colorado, was at the lower court level. There was a trial. They found that Trump did engage in an insurrection, but they said he shouldn't be disqualified from the ballot because judge said that that section of the Constitution didn't specifically mention presidents. But here, the State Supreme Court reversing that, saying he should be disqualified from the ballot. And even any votes that are written in for him shouldn't be counted.
BROWN: All right. So the Colorado Supreme Court ruling tonight that Trump shouldn't be on the primary ballot as a result of what you just laid out, but he still will likely be on the primary ballot in Colorado. Why is that? Help us understand that.
REID: Exactly. Welcome to civil procedure. So in their opinion, they say, look, we're going to put a stay on this. So they're going to put their decision on pause until January 4th, 2024. And that date is significant because it's the day before the state certifies its primary ballot.
And they say, if he appeals to the Supreme Court, which the former president has already signaled he intends to do, the whole decision stays on hold until the high court weighs in one way or another. So that means that, yes, we do expect that he will still be on the primary ballot. And this larger question could impact the general election in November depending on what the Supreme Court decides to do or not do.
BROWN: Wow. And just talk about the court's load for the Supreme Court as it relates to this upcoming election. It's really unbelievable. You sort of touched on one hurdle, and that is whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment applies to the president, but if you would layout the different legal hurdles the Colorado the Supreme Court had to overcome to reach this decision, that the Supreme Court would be looking at assuming Trump appeals as expected.
REID: Yes, so we expect that he will appeal. And we're already seeing at least in the court of public opinion he's trying to frame this as political persecution. But one of the things he's pointing to is this is an all-Democrat Supreme Court.
Now, his lawyers have argued that a state court should not even have the authority, that they do not have the authority to take a candidate who has been selected by his party off the ballot. Now, they're also, of course, going to argue sort of esoteric issues about, you know, the post-civil war revision to the 14th Amendment, the specific section that we're talking about. They're going to emphasize that presidents aren't mentioned there. And mostly, though, I think they're going to insist that a state court, particularly one where the Supreme Court is stacked with the opposition party, should not have this power.
So it will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court takes this up. But the former president's lawyers, they do have a lot of arguments. In fact, they also have three judges here dissenting, laying out why they think the majority is wrong. That could help their case. It will be again a fascinating case, just another way the Supreme Court looms so large over the 2024 election.
BROWN: Yes, they have the three dissenting judges in this case, and they had three states that didn't agree with this decision that also looked at it.
So, Paula Reid, thank you so much. I know you're continuing to go through this ruling, so we're going to come back to you in just a bit with any new information.
But I want to get reaction now from Colorado's top election official, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who, if this ruling stand, will be in charge of enforcing it.
Madam Secretary, you just heard Paula lay out some of the questions as it pertains to this ruling and your state. What does this ruling mean for the former president and the state of Colorado tonight?
JENA GRISWOLD (D), COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, it's definitely a big case. The fact of the matter is the Colorado Supreme Court has determined that Donald Trump did engage in insurrection and that his actions have disqualified him from being president.
And I just think the gravity of that in itself is just remarkable. We've never had a president incite an insurrection and then try to run for the presidency again. You know, we'll see if the United States Supreme Court weighs in. And I, of course, will follow whatever court order or decision is in place by the time that we certify the ballot.
BROWN: (Inaudible) questioned whether Colorado state law allows the disqualification of a presidential candidate based on the insurrection ban. Do you think this is allowed under state law?
GRISWOLD: My job as Secretary of State is to make sure that only qualified candidates appear on our ballot. We routinely do that with all types of candidates. And just like I wouldn't allow Arnold Schwarzenegger on the presidential primary ballot because he is disqualified for not being a natural-born citizen, a person, a candidate who is disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment similarly would be barred. So I do disagree with the dissent, but ultimately, it is up to the court systems.
And right now, the highest case that we have says that Donald Trump is disqualified because he disqualified himself when he tried to steal the presidency from the American people.
BROWN: So to be clear, you disagree with the dissent, and you believe he is disqualified and, therefore, should not be on the state ballot? You agree with the majority in this opinion?
GRISWOLD: No, that's not what I said.
GRISWOLD: I, of course, will follow whatever court decision is in place. What I disagree with is that it is impossible or not permissible under Colorado law to disqualify a candidate from the presidential primary. It is ...
GRISWOLD: ... routine for the Secretary of State's office to check on qualifications.
And when there are big questions about qualifications, there's a mechanism under Colorado state law that allows voters to take a case to a court. That's exactly what we are seeing play out.
GRISWOLD: And I think it's noteworthy to say the petitioners who filed this case were actually six Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters who believe that Donald Trump is disqualified.
BROWN: But what do you think? As the Secretary of State, do you think he should be disqualified or do you think he should be qualified?
GRISWOLD: My job is to follow the law and uphold the US Constitution, and this is a novel situation. I believe that Donald Trump incited the insurrection and that it's up to a court to determine whether that incitement disqualifies him from further holding office under the constitution.
This is exactly how Colorado law is set up. Every day, voters can file a lawsuit to have a court weigh in. This isn't such a clear-cut case and that it -- we don't have a lot of case law. It's unprecedented.
And it's unprecedented by its nature in itself. We usually do not have presidents try to steal elections, and usually, we don't need to rely on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to clear up eligibility of presidential candidates.
BROWN: Okay. Thank you for clarifying your position on this. Jena Griswold, we appreciate it.
The former president ...
GRISWOLD: Thank you.
BROWN: ... is in Iowa, his fourth visit there in recent weeks, speaking tonight in the city of Waterloo.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny is there as well, joins us. So, has the former president reacted to tonight's monumental decision by the Colorado Supreme Court, Jeff?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, surprisingly, he has not. He's been speaking for nearly an hour here in Waterloo, talking about the Iowa caucuses that are coming up in just 27 days, talking about some of his rivals, particularly, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, but he has not talked at all about that monumental Colorado Supreme Court ruling. His campaign has. His campaign swiftly reacted in a statement, urging
the Supreme Court to take this case up. And they believe they will be vindicated.
The former president has talked about the Supreme Court. He's taken credit for appointing three members of the Supreme Court, but he has not yet mentioned this Colorado case. But a raft of Republicans have, from Speaker Johnson to other members of Congress in his campaign, has been sending those out in rapid fire. But he has not spoken about it.
Largely, this is a familiar stump speech that he's been giving at virtually every stop. He's been urging Iowans to come out and support him. He said he cannot take his victory for granted. He needs to, quote, "put his victory to bed here," but, Pamela, has not talked about this Colorado case at all.
It's been notable. He's been reading a lot of it off his teleprompter, so unclear if this was a plan to not mention it or if he simply hasn't gotten to it yet. Again, he's been speaking just about an hour here in Waterloo.
BROWN: Yes, I know you'll be listening if he does respond to this. Was there any reaction from the crowd? I'm curious that you heard as the news began to spread about this ruling. What have you been hearing there on the ground about this?
ZELENY: Well, look, as the crowd was waiting for him to arrive, Pamela, as you know well, it takes hours for him to arrive, and the crowd gathers early. And, of course, they got this news on their phones.
I was talking to a couple of his supporters, quite frankly, some confusion about what exactly this rule is. Quite frankly, the criminal cases, the judicial cases against him have been mounting up. So the people who did follow this, you know, simply said it was unfair.
One more example of what they view as the Justice Department, the justice system being against this former president, we have seen time and time again his supporters have rallied to his defense on everything. So certainly, this would be one of those examples.
And, Pamela, his campaign is trying to raise money off this tonight, sending out a fund-raising appeal just a short time ago, asking supporters to send in small-dollar contributions. So, look, we can certainly expect this is going to be a rallying cry. But certainly, a very serious matter here about having his name on the ballot in Colorado or perhaps elsewhere -- Pamela.
BROWN: Yes. It could have nationwide implications. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.
So to help put this in perspective, legally and politically, I'm joined by CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger, also Joe Walsh, former Illinois Republican congressman and host of "The White Flag" podcast, and CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero. With us as well, law professor and former federal prosecutor, Jessica Roth and Nancy Gertner, retired federal judge and currently Harvard University's senior law lecturer.
Carrie, I want to start with you. It is hard to overstate how big of a deal this is. What is your reaction to this unprecedented ruling?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the Colorado Supreme Court really understands, and it communicated in its opinion the novelty of what it's done here and the historical significance of what it's done here, saying, quote, "we travel in uncharted territory." And this case presents several issues of first impression.
So the court really just understands this important moment, the decision that it's made, not to say this will be the ultimate decision of the US Supreme Court, where this case is absolutely headed. I think it's interesting that this court made the decision both on the fact of law, finding that the former president was an officer. That is a -- not necessarily the outcome that we would think the court would absolutely obtain. I mean, it's a questionable decision on that point.
And then also that the former president engaged in the insurrection itself and even though he hasn't been charged. So two really significant findings of law by this Colorado Supreme Court.
BROWN: Right. The district court judge in this case ruled that, yes, he did incite an insurrection, but that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment doesn't apply to the presidency. The Colorado Supreme Court said, actually, yes it does, even though it doesn't explicitly say presidency under Section 3.
So, Carrie, we mentioned the Trump campaign says it will, quote, "swiftly file an appeal of the decision tonight." If you would just explain how that appeal process will work with the Supreme Court and what the stay that's involved in this means for Trump being on the primary ballot in Colorado. It could be a little bit confusing.
CORDERO: Right. Well, so the stay means that the Colorado can proceed now until the Supreme Court takes it up. And I think, you know, again, this being such an unusual, unprecedented case, we will have to see how quickly the Supreme Court moves because they understand that there is actual an election, there is this date for the primary in Colorado. And so, they are going to have to take all of that into consideration.
Oftentimes, the Supreme Court has as much time as it wants to be able to make its decisions in a long and deliberate process. But in this case, they simply don't have that time, and yet they are going to have to be dealing with an issue of absolute historical significance, particularly, on that issue of whether or not a president in this Section 3 of the 14th Amendment is an officer of the United States.
The Colorado Supreme Court says that the language itself in the constitution is so clear, but the fact that they are saying it's absolutely clear, in fact, they say it's so evident that he was in office. That is going to -- we really have to see how the Supreme Court comes out on this. BROWN: Yes. And my understanding as well is that if he appeals by
January 4th, then this decision is stayed, and he will still appear on the primary ballot in Colorado. It's really a question of the general election ballot.
Judge Gertner, I want to go to you, because as much as tonight's ruling is about Colorado, this obviously now becomes a nationwide issue, right, whether you're in Colorado or not? Because depending on how the Supreme Court rules on this decision, whether it takes it up, every other state could be impacted, correct?
NANCY GERTNER, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: Right. Every other state could be impacted, and there have been inconsistent rulings around the country, which is usually the reason why the Supreme Court would take a case like this, either because there's inconsistent rulings or because it's a matter of national importance. So you're right that it only applies in Colorado now, and the other challenge is only in the states that they're in. But the Supreme Court, it certainly could be precedent for disqualification anywhere else in the country.
The notion that this was a Democratic-only Supreme Court, true, there were only democratic appointees, but the court split four to three, and the position of the majority has been supported by conservative scholars all across the country. So it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.
BROWN: Right. And my understanding is they were all appointed by Democratic governors, but also six of the seven of them are in for re- election to maintain their seat. But, of course, that's going to be a big talking point for Trump and his campaign as there already is. We're going to talk about the politics of this in just a second.
But, Jessica, I want to go to you to read part of the ruling, quote, "We conclude that the foregoing evidence, the great bulk of which was undisputed at trial, established that President Trump engaged in insurrection. President Trump's direct and express efforts, over several months, exhorting his supporters to march to the Capitol to prevention what he falsely characterized as an alleged fraud on the people of this country were indisputably overt and voluntary," end quote. What does it say to you that the Colorado Supreme Court reached this conclusion after a handful of other states did not?
JESSICA ROTH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: This was a very, very thorough ruling, not only on the legal question presented, which we've been talking about thus far, and whether the president is an officer of the United States, but on the factual question of whether he engaged in insurrection.
This court opinion was very lengthy. It got into the facts that were developed in the district court record and made very strong findings that Trump incited the rebellion, incited the insurrection at the Capitol, that he sowed lies about the election having been stolen, and then made his statements and his speech at The Ellipse with the understanding that it would be understood by some of his supporters as a call to violence. Those are among the findings included in this opinion by the Colorado Supreme Court, echoing the findings of the district court opinion.
So these are really astonishing findings, and these are not the kinds of findings that can be overturned by the United States Supreme Court. They could disagree with the legal question of whether the president is an officer of the United States. They might even disagree with the legal question of what constitutes insurrection.
But on the factual questions of what Trump did and what his intent was, that's really not something that the United States Supreme Court is going to be in a position to overturn. So those findings, in a sense, will stand, and they're really damning.
BROWN: Yes, they certainly are damning. Trump, for his part, is vowing to appeal this ruling.
Gloria, on that note, we just went to Jeff Zeleny before. And unless something changed between then and now ...
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
BROWN: ... Trump had not actually addressed this, which I personally find a little bit surprising because ...
BORGER: Surprised, yes.
BROWN: ... of the fact that, you know, this could potentially pour more jet fuel onto the arguments that he has been making on the campaign trail, right?
BORGER: Oh, sure. And as Jeff pointed out, there's already a fund- raising email out on this.
Look, Pamela, I think this throws a grenade into the presidential election. Donald Trump can use this right now to his advantage to make the point that the system is rigged against him, that these are a bunch of judges who don't want him to win election, and this could supercharge his base.
And I'm surprised he didn't talk about it tonight. Maybe it's because the ruling came out so close to his speech. But I also think this is going to sort of confuse the public because you have the pending case on the insurrection with the special counsel, Jack Smith. The Supreme Court now has to decide the question of presidential immunity, which is before it, as well as this question of the 14th Amendment.
So as much as the court doesn't want to get involved and as much as I'm sure these judges didn't want to, you know, supercharge the election process, I think they've done that. And the question is how do the other candidates react to this? That -- you know, that remains to be seen. But I think now this gives Trump another very good talking point.
BROWN: Yes, and to pick up on what you just raised to bring you in, Joe, how do you think this affects Trump's opponents?
JOE WALSH (R), FORMER US REPRESENTATIVE, ILLINOIS: Everything that Gloria just said and then some. Look, I always thought -- I think a lot of us always thought Trump was probably going to be the nominee.
This is it. Pamela, it freezes them. You're DeSantis, y Nikki Haley. What are you going to say? You're going to have to echo what Trump is going to say eventually.
They're keeping me off the ballot. This is the deep state. This is -- to the average Republican there in Waterloo tonight, it's all confusing, but it's all part of the same argument that Trump has been making, which is politically, they don't want me to run again.
That's really, really powerful. And I'd argue that's really powerful with voters beyond just his hard-core base. And DeSantis and Nikki Haley have to second that.
BROWN: Right. And it feeds into this narrative he's been pushing more aggressively recently saying, I'm not the threat to democracy, it's really the other side.
They're trying to take away your will as a voter, right? I mean, it will not be surprising if he uses that to try to push that narrative along even though it's all separate. This is a Colorado Supreme Court.
There's federal cases. There's state cases. He's trying to lump them all in together.
Judge Gertner, ultimately, though, you look at the Supreme Court, and Gloria touched on this. It's just really incredible. If we take a step back and look at all of these weighted Trump-related decisions, they are likely -- they're poised to make before the election in November next year.
GERTNER: This is Bush v. Gore on steroids. They are going to have -- they have to make decisions as to what they're going to take. There's a lurking question as we all know, which is whether Justice Thomas participates in these, which these are cases that are dealing more directly with the January 6th insurrection.
Will he recuse himself, or will there be motions to recuse him because Ginni Thomas, his wife, was at The Ellipse. She didn't go to the Capitol, but she was there. And there were text messages that she sent, which were about supporting the false electors scheme and the challenges to the election.
Frankly, personally, in any other situation, a judge would recuse himself. In this situation, the court will say, or they may say that, you know, if he recuses himself, the court will be split eight -- hits four-four, only eight judges.
It's an interesting question whether someone who is -- should be disqualified should be the tiebreaker. But that's where we are.
BROWN: Well, and we know he didn't disqualify himself when it came to a January 6th-related question with the January 6th Committee. But you're right, that's interesting. There are so many different interesting legal and political threads here. We're going to stay on top of all of it. Thank you for your analysis and perspective on this monumental story tonight.
And up next, a leading conservative legal scholar and early advocate for keeping Trump off the ballot on 14th Amendment grounds. Retired Appeals Court Judge Jay Michael Luttig joins us.
And then later, a live report from Iceland, where a volcano just made winter there that much harder. We'll be right back.
BROWN: Well, news of tonight's Colorado Supreme Court ruling broke, it did more than just make history, it also lent credence to a legal argument that crosses partisan lines in some highly respected circles. My next guest, a conservative, along with the distinguished liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe were among the first to advocate for removing Donald Trump from the ballot on 14th Amendment grounds.
Joining us now, Retired Federal Appeals Court Judge J. Michael Luttig. Judge, thank you for coming on. What is your reaction to this ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court?
J. MICHAEL LUTTIG, FORMER US COURT OF APPEALS JUDGE, FOURTH CIRCUIT: Thank you for having me on tonight, Pam. The individual justices of the Colorado Supreme Court brought honor to their court and as well to the state and federal judiciaries with their opinion tonight in this historic case. The court meticulously and methodically addressed seriatim, the many state issues and federal constitutional issues that were involved in the case.
They martialed the support for each and every one of their decisions of state law and federal constitutional law, as well as any judge could do. Their opinion is unassailable under the objective law of the federal constitution and Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court of the United States ought to affirm this decision today.
BROWN: So you call it unassailable, but there were three judges on this court that dissented from this decision. There are three other states that didn't agree with this decision. Some of the sticking points have been the fact that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment doesn't explicitly say "Office of the Presidency," that there is no due process to establish that Trump incited the insurrection, and there's a question of whether this is allowed under state law. What do you say to those arguments that work against the ruling tonight from Colorado Supreme Court?
LUTTIG: Well, Pam, the first thing I would say is that there has never been a court to rule on this issue. The Colorado Supreme Court is the first court -- appellate court in any state to rule on the applicability of Section 3 to the former president. The other cases that have been decided have been decided on state law grounds and/or jurisdictional grounds. So this case stands alone.
LUTTIG: -- I call it unassailable because, as you noted, the preeminent constitutional scholar of our time, Professor Laurence Tribe, and I have been studying this for three years now in the wake of January 6. Professor Tribe has been studying Section 3 of the 14th Amendment literally for his entire career.
So when we say -- and I'm speaking for Professor Tribe tonight, who I spoke to earlier, that the opinion is unassailable, that means that he and I have taken into account every single argument contrary to every point made by the court today, including all of the contrary evidence to the opinion tonight. And it is unassailable.
The court ruled that -- and I'll address your other questions in this answer -- the court ruled that a president of the United States holds the office of the president, and therefore, under Section 3, the presidency is an office under the United States. The court next held that the president is an officer of the United States.
And finally, on the applicability of the 14th Amendment, the court held that the oath that the president takes, which is different from the oath that takes that other officers of the United States take, is nonetheless an oath to support the Constitution of the United States within the meaning of the 14th Amendment.
And then, of course, the court went on to affirm the lower court decision that the former president had, in fact, engaged in an insurrection or rebellion against the Constitution of the United States in all of his conduct preceding leading up to January 6 and thereafter.
Though your earlier guest, I think, said that that's a factual determination. It's not just a factual, it's a mixed question of fact and law. The judges here and the Supreme Court will have to decide what the meaning of an insurrection or rebellion is for purposes of the 14th Amendment.
LUTTIG: And that's what the Supreme Court of Colorado did today. And its reasoning and its support for that conclusion is also unassailable.
BROWN: Well, we will see what the Supreme Court thinks of this, assuming Trump appeals, as he says he will, and that they take up this case.
Judge Luttig, thank you for coming on and sharing your perspective on this very important case tonight. We appreciate it.
LUTTIG: Thank you, Pam.
And for more on the political impact, we're joined now by pollster and communication strategist Frank Luntz, who has been getting the polls of Trump voters for years. So the obvious first question, Frank, what do you think the impact of this ruling will be on their support for him?
FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER: It's going to be exactly what the indictments did. It's going to be exactly what the criticisms have done. Donald Trump thrives on negativity. He thrives on legal systems that try to hold him accountable. And I'm convinced that his polling numbers are going to go up.
Just today, the New York Times published six key swing states had Donald Trump up beyond the margin of error in five out of the six. The polling earlier, a month ago, was significant. Trump is gaining. The more that he is prosecuted, the more that he is condemned, the higher his numbers go as people rally around him.
And I would say to the judges, as I said to the Justice Department, you're actually making it more likely that Donald Trump is elected next November by how you are pursuing this. You don't explain the decisions. You don't put things in context. And so Trump climbs and climbs and climbs. And right now he's beating Joe Biden clearly nationwide.
BROWN: Well, you know, the judges would say, look, we're just going by the law without fear of favor. And, I mean, but does the context even matter to Trump supporters? Because there have been, I mean, tonight's ruling was really lengthy, explaining point by point why they believe he incited the insurrection, why the 14th Amendment applies to him.
But to the average Trump supporter, does that context even matter? Is this more about, once again, Trump is the victim of the deep state kind of thinking?
LUNTZ: It actually proves Trump's point. It proves that the people in charge, the people in power are trying to take him down. But it's not -- you're not trying to reach all the Trump voters. You're simply trying to reach 3 percent or 4 percent of them that will make a difference in this election.
Now, make no mistake, there is very few undecided voters right now. There are very few people going back and forth between Trump and Biden. It's more about those people trying to decide whether or not to vote. And I got to tell you, Nikki Haley was gaining and gaining and gaining every single day, but she's going to be lost in the coverage for the next few days, maybe for the next couple of weeks.
As Trump turns this to his advantage, he is taking -- he is the best victim politician I have ever seen in my 35 years in doing this. And this is exactly what he would have wanted in the run up to the Iowa caucus.
BROWN: Very quickly because it stuck out to me in looking at these polls. How many people who set out in 2020 are now saying they're going vote, and they're going to vote for Trump? So you think this just sort of supercharges that, right? It's going to just bring more people out to vote for him, who may set up before?
LUNTZ: And the state that blew me away was Nevada because that's a state with a significant percentage of Latino votes. Trump has been screaming about illegal immigration, and Nevada seems to be rewarding him for the language that he uses and for the intensity of his message. If Nevada is going this much for Trump, that ought to send you a big signal about what's happening in America today.
BROWN: All right, Frank Luntz, thank you so much.
LUNTZ: Thank you.
BROWN: Up next, a 360 investigation. How the first bill Ron DeSantis signed into law as Florida governor legalizing smokable medical marijuana in the state raises questions about his own record on catering to campaign donors and special interests.
And then later, a status report on the erupting volcano in Iceland and who it threatens.
BROWN: Again, our breaking news. In a stunning decision, the Colorado Supreme Court re-booed former President Trump from the state's 2024 ballot, ruling that he isn't an eligible presidential candidate because of a 14th Amendment's insurrection ban -- insurrectionist ban. That's setting up a likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, tonight, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis remains focused on trying to cut into the former president's double-digit lead in the 2024 polls, in part, by criticizing him for failing to drain the swamp in Washington during his first term in the White House.
Well, it turns out DeSantis made the same pledge in his bid to become governor of Florida. But a CNN investigation is raising questions about his record on catering to special interests and campaign donors. And it all has to do with legalizing smokable medical marijuana in Florida.
Here's Randi Kaye.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. God bless you.
RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After Ron DeSantis was elected governor of Florida in 2018, the very first bill he signed into law, legalized smokable medical marijuana in Florida.
DESANTIS: Whether they have to smoke it or not, who am I to judge that? I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved.
KAYE (voice-over): A CNN investigation reveals how DeSantis was courted by key figures in the medical marijuana industry who donated to his campaign. He got a political boost and they got a financial one. Yet DeSantis is still boasting that he drained the swamp in Florida.
DESANTIS: We've drained the swamp in here.
KAYE (voice-over): That all sounds good, but did he really drain the swamp? Turns out Trulieve, one of the leading medical marijuana companies in the U.S. today contributed $50,000 to the Florida GOP, which helped pay for DeSantis's campaign ads.
Trulieve then boasted of record profits just months after DeSantis signed that law, telling investors that patient growth was driven primarily by the introduction of smokable flour, which by then constituted half of its sales in Florida. Florida hand surgeon turned marijuana entrepreneur Jason Pirozzolo was among those who co-hosted fundraisers for DeSantis.
This one at his posh lakeside home near Orlando just weeks before Election Day in 2018, CNN obtained this exclusive video. That's Pirozzolo arriving for the fundraiser with republican congressman Matt Gaetz, who as a state lawmaker in 2014 introduced legislation that became Florida's first marijuana law.
Pirozzolo's attorney says he never discussed marijuana legislation with DeSantis. Also at the party, then Florida state representative Halsey Beshears, his family's tree farm later joined with other nurseries to become Trulieve, that top medical marijuana producer, which donated to DeSantis's campaign. All three of them have ties to Florida's billion dollar marijuana industry.
DESANTIS: It's an honor to be here. I thank you guys for your support.
KAYE (voice-over): All of them a united force in raising money for DeSantis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the things that really impressed me about Ron is that he pushes against the grain.
KAYE (voice-over): DeSantis would also soon play a key role in Florida's so-called Green Rush, which gave rise to a billion dollar industry.
LEV PARNAS, FORMER REPUBLICAN FUNDRAISER: The reason why Ron DeSantis became governor of Florida is because of a little plant called cannabis.
KAYE (voice-over): That's Lev Parnas, one-time associate of Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump. In May of 2018, when Ron DeSantis's campaign for governor was in trouble, Parnas says DeSantis sought him out.
KAYE: You met him at the Trump hotel at Washington, D.C.?
PARNAS: I met him at the Trump Hotel. Ron approached me, introduced himself to me, told me that he's running for the governor of Florida. KAYE: Were you traveling in Trump's circles at that time then?
PARNAS: Oh, very much so.
KAYE (voice-over): If his name sounds familiar to you, that may be because Lev Parnas played a role in the impeachment of Trump.
PARNAS: I'm with Rudy. Congratulations.
KAYE (voice-over): He coordinated with Giuliani to try and dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine. Parnas was also convicted of trying to illegally secure recreational marijuana licenses in other states and sentenced to 20 months in prison last year.
During our interview at his Florida home, Parnas told us DeSantis came to him seeking help for his struggling gubernatorial campaign.
KAYE: Did DeSantis make it clear to you that he needed Trump's endorsement?
PARNAS: Absolutely, that's how he approached me. He said he needed to get Trump's endorsement.
KAYE (voice-over): When he met DeSantis, Parnas was looking to get into the lucrative marijuana industry in Florida. DeSantis had previously taken a stand against marijuana. As a U.S. congressman, he voted against making cannabis more accessible to veterans.
PARNAS: I realized that he was not pro-cannabis. With all due respect, I said, how can I support you to be the governor of Florida where, you know, it would be going against things that I personally believe in?
KAYE (voice-over): After that, Parnas says DeSantis had a change of heart.
PARNAS: He would be willing to look at cannabis in a different light, and I was like, whoa, that was a quick shift.
KAYE (voice-over): Parnas says DeSantis told him he wouldn't stand in the way of expanding the legalization of marijuana in Florida. At this point, smoking medical marijuana was illegal and so was all recreational pot.
KAYE: Did DeSantis ever tell you specifically, if you can get Trump to endorse me, then I will change my mind about legalized medical marijuana here?
PARNAS: You know, I don't recall us having an exact conversation like a quid pro quo type of a situation, but the whole conversations was a quid pro quo.
KAYE (voice-over): Parnas says he went to Rudy Giuliani and convinced him to get Trump to endorse DeSantis, which Trump did in June 2018, tweeting that he will be a great governor. Parnas also donated $50,000 to DeSantis and attended rallies with him. After his victory speech on election night in 2018, one of the people DeSantis hugged was Lev Parnas.
PARNAS: He hugs and congratulates -- and I congratulate him and he thanks and says, we did it.
KAYE: Under DeSantis, medical marijuana has become an estimated $1.8 billion industry in Florida. On his first day as governor, there were fewer than 100 dispensaries in the state. Now there are nearly 600, serving more than 800,000 Floridians.
KAYE (voice-over): As for Lev Parnas, he says he didn't benefit from that growth. CNN was unable to independently verify Parnas's account regarding Trump's endorsement. DeSantis returned Parnas's $50,000 contribution and declined to answer questions about their interactions, accusing CNN of reporting opposition narratives about his campaign. Neither the Trump campaign nor Giuliani would comment either.
Parnas admits others may also have had a hand in securing Trump's endorsement for DeSantis, but insists he played a key role.
KAYE: Would you have connected Trump and DeSantis if DeSantis hadn't changed his mind on marijuana?
PARNAS: No, never.
BROWN: So, Randi, as far as you know, is DeSantis still in touch with Lev Parnas?
KAYE (on-camera): Well, Lev Parnas told us that DeSantis distanced himself from Lev Parnas following all of Parnas's legal troubles. And DeSantis has described Parnas as similar to any other donor. But, Pamela, we did review text messages from 2018 between Lev Parnas and DeSantis, and it does show that the two men communicated about fundraising and also some of those text messages show that DeSantis was urging Lev Parnas to try and get Rudy Giuliani, then Trump's personal lawyer to post certain messages on Twitter.
So they were certainly in communication around the time of that election for Ron DeSantis when he was running for governor in 2018. It's also worth noting, Pamela, that Matt Gaetz, who also stood by DeSantis when all of that legislation for marijuana was going through, he has now also distanced himself and is supporting Donald Trump in 2024.
BROWN: All right, Randi Kaye, thank you so much.
Up next, a live report on the volcano in Iceland. We'll be right back.
[20:51:51] BROWN: When we left you last night, video began pouring in from the volcanic eruption in Iceland. And since then, the lava flow has diminished, but toxic gases could threaten the capital, Reykjavik. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is near Grindavik, not far from the volcano, and joins us now. So what is the latest where you are, Fred?
PLEITGEN: Hi there, Pamela. Again the authorities are saying that the lava flow has diminished somewhat, but it still is an absolutely massive lava flow that can fill an Olympic sized pool in a matter of seconds. And this is really an eruption that the folks here down in the southwest of Iceland say is absolutely massive.
It started around 10:00 p.m. local time last night when a massive fissure crack opened here in the southwest of Iceland. Now, that fissure is about 4 kilometers or about 2.2 miles to 2.3 miles long, and it was just spewing magma hundreds of feet up into the air. And that lasted for the better part of the day.
And when the authorities are now saying that things have calmed down a little bit, that magma is still being vaulted into the air by about 30 feet. So there still is definitely a lot of activity going on, and a lot of that lava flow is still going on as well. And you mentioned those toxic gases.
That's actually one of the really interesting things about this volcanic eruption is that it's not spewing ash into the air, as you would with a cone volcano, but those toxic gases. The authorities here could be a problem because we are also very close to the capital of Iceland to Reykjavik. Pam?
BROWN: So, yes, the toxic gases are a concern. Are there any residents that are in danger?
PLEITGEN: Right now, the authorities believe that there's not. I mean, one of the things that they've done before this eruption took place is that they emptied out, they evacuated the main village, the main town that's down there. It's called Grindavik. I'm actually right at the gates to Grindavik right now. That was evacuated, let's say, over a month ago because they were expecting this eruption to happen.
So the folks there have left. However, one of the things that we saw so on, a lot of the videos that are coming out right now, which is definitely going on, is that the authorities are flying around and seeing if there are still people who are down there who still need to be evacuated.
The other thing that's really important also, Pamela, right now about the situation is that there are still a lot of first responders who are working inside that cordoned off area that you see behind me. One of the things that they're still working on is a large berm in case that lava flow gets close to a geothermal power plant that is out there that is extremely important for this part of the country.
So there is still a lot going on. There are a lot of people who are working very close to where that lava flow is taking place. And the authorities say they are concerned that the lava flow could take a direction that could then harm some critical infrastructure here in this country, Pamela.
BROWN: All right, Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.
Up next, more to breaking news, the Colorado Supreme Court removing former President Trump from the state's 2024 ballot. We're going to check in again with Paula Reid, who's been reading over the ruling.
BROWN: Bush v. Gore on steroids. That's what a retired federal judge called tonight's decision by Colorado Supreme Court barring Donald Trump from the state's 2024 ballot. And what happens when the U.S. Supreme Court gets the case? So many questions tonight.
We're diving into CNN's Paula Reid back with us now. As you continue to review this ruling, Paula, what more stands out to you?
REID: Well, the biggest question I had is what did the Supreme Court see that the lower court that oversaw this trial didn't see. Because that lower court said, yes, Trump engaged in an insurrection, but that Section 3 of the 14th amendment didn't specify president as being barred from holding future office. And therefore, they said, look, we can't keep him off the ballot.
But here the Supreme Court says it is relying on intent, the objective behind Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. And, Pamela, that's notable because this case is, we believe, headed up to a Supreme Court that has been taken over by originalists, people who interpret the constitution based on the specific text in the document. So that signals to me they might have an uphill climb to be affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Look, I also just think it's notable that here, the court, they acknowledge high up in their opinion that this is a big deal. They know what they're doing is historic and they know there's going to be blowback. They say, look, "We are mindful of the magnitude and the weight of the questions before us. We are likewise mindful of our solemn duty to apply the law without fear or favor and without being swayed by public reaction to the decision that the law mandates we reach."
And, of course, the loudest, biggest reaction from former President Trump was trying to frame this as political persecution, which I'm sure they could see coming.
BROWN: That's right. The Trump campaign released that statement. We haven't really heard from Trump on this. He was just speaking in Iowa. He didn't really note anything. Just very quickly, what are his allies saying?
REID: Well, his allies, his spokesman, his team, they're all framing this as election interference. That is the narrative that they have been crafting around the special counsel's criminal investigations, the two criminal cases at the federal level, the former President Trump faces --
REID: -- in addition to state level cases. So this feeds right into that. And I think we're going to hear a lot about this decision from the former president's allies and his surrogates because it fits into this narrative that they're arguing that judges and elites want to take away choice from voters.
BROWN: Paula Reid, thank you. The news continues with much more on this historic decision tonight. The Source with Kaitlan Collins starts now.