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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Colorado Supreme Court Removes Trump From 2024 Ballot; Record Number Of Migrant Encounters At Border In A Single Day; Protests Against Texas New Law Signed By Governor Abbott; Trump Pushing For Mass Deportation; Rob Smith, Republican War Veteran, Heckled At MAGA Event; Trump's Latest Rhetoric On Immigration Being Dismissed By Republicans. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 19, 2023 - 22:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: The Supreme Court now at the center of another presidential election. That's tonight on Newsnight.

Good evening. I'm Abby Phillip in New York.

Breaking tonight, the high court gets saddled with the highest responsibility. Now, whether you can vote for Donald Trump is now the subject of a fight that will end up before the nine justices of its conservative supermajority. The Colorado Supreme Court handing up a dramatic ruling tonight to disqualify former President Trump from the ballot.

The Colorado court answered yes, over 213 pages, to question after question. Yes, the January 6th storming of the Capitol was an insurrection. Yes, Donald Trump engaged in that insurrection. Yes, Donald Trump expected and wanted violence on that day. And yes, the courts have the authority to enforce the 14th Amendment. Yes, again, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment does in fact apply to the presidency and arguing otherwise is, quote, flatly unfaithful to what the framers demanded.

Now, tonight, the Trump campaign is quickly pressing sand on a statement promising an appeal, saying, quote, we have full confidence that the Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these un-American lawsuits.

Now, Trump himself took to the stage in Waterloo, Iowa, just a short time ago after the Colorado decision broke, but he made no mention of what the court said there.

Now, the Supreme Court will likely have to answer all of those questions all over again. And however they rule, they will have rewritten American history in a truly unprecedented fashion. If they say Colorado got it wrong, Trump's campaign lives to see another day. If they say the state got it right, Trump's Colorado campaign dies on the vine, essentially, and triggers a tidal wave of lawsuits to take his name off the ballots in states coast to coast. Joining me now to put this dramatic and important breaking news into some perspective, Temidayo Aganga-Williams, Coleman Hughes, Jamal Simmons, and Joe Pinion.

Temidayo, as the lawyer of the bunch here, are you surprised to see that the Colorado Supreme Court went there?

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER JAN. 6 COMMITTEE LAWYER: You know, I am surprised, but what I will say is that this is a thoughtful, well- written opinion. They recognize these are novel issues they're facing, and they didn't take this on lightly.

And I think it's important to put this opinion in the context of the work of the committee that I was on, the January 6th committee. One thing we highlighted was the president's tweet on December 19th, right, be there, will be wild, which is perfect timing to look at what this opinion came out, because that tweet encompasses how the former president sought to bring violence to the Capitol. He told his followers to be there, will be wild.

And I think another thing this opinion does is put the work of the committee right at the center, right? The Supreme Court here rules that the district court did not air in making admissible the committee's work, our report, in that opinion. Further, my former boss, Tim Heaphy, his testimony was at the center as well, speaking to the work here.

So, I think the Supreme Court will have to look seriously at this. I think this will be tough to overrule. And the Supreme Court may take some off-ramps here. It may find that their plaintiffs here don't have standing. It may find that the court didn't have jurisdiction on this case. But I think what the American people are owed is an opinion that goes to the heart and the merits of the case, which is, one, whether the former president engaged in insurrection against the Constitution. I think that's what the court has to answer here.

PHILLIP: There are the legal merits, of course, but then there's also the political implications of something like this. This is -- when we say dramatic, that's not really an understatement here.


Taking a former president and a likely nominee off the ballot in a major state, a state that could be a battleground, in fact, that's a huge deal. And the courts do weigh the impact of something like that on the psyche of the American public as well.

COLEMAN HUGHES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. I think if you're going to do something like this, if you're going to take a former president off the ballot in a major state, the case for that judicially has to be rock solid, right?

And I think a lot of people are going to be looking at this and saying, this doesn't seem rock solid to me at all. This isn't as silver bullet of an argument to such a degree that you would basically subvert the election and take him off via judicial fiat. One question I have, and I put it to you as a legal expert, if it's so clear that there was sufficient evidence that he engaged in insurrection, why didn't Jack Smith pursue that?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, I think one thing Jack Smith has already noted that he's arguing that the president did, in fact, engage insurrection. If you're asking why Jack Smith didn't charge this conspiracy, that's a decision that every prosecutor makes. And Jack Smith, frankly, had to move quickly, because if we're going to speak frankly, there's a fear that if the former president wins re-election, he's going to shut down what is a legitimate investigation.

But I think what's important legally here is to look at the words of the Constitution. It says what it says. It's clear. And what this opinion does, it lays out in extreme detail why it's clear. Not everyone may agree that it's a silver bullet, but, frankly, I would challenge anyone, including the Supreme Court, to unpack this decision and take it apart. Show us where it went wrong. Show us what is a better reasoning here, and I'll be all ears.

PHILLIP: Well, let me read a little bit from the ruling, and then you can jump in there, Jamal. President Trump, it says, did not merely incite the insurrection even when the siege on the Capitol was fully underway. He continued to support it by repeatedly demanding that Vice President Pence refuse to perform his constitutional duty and by calling senators to persuade them to stop the counting of the electoral votes. These actions constituted overt, voluntary and direct participation in an insurrection.

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. And what it doesn't say, at least what we didn't read tonight, is that then the president waited to call in the troops. You had an armed mob going into the United States Capitol attacking people, shooting, having occurred in the United States Capitol, and the president didn't call in any support to help defend the U.S. Capitol.

To me, it's just hard to avoid the fact that he was in an insurrection. But I have to say, this is a sad day. This is not a day for Democrats to gloat, right? This is not a time to say, spike the ball and say, oh, look at what we've proven. This is a day where we have to recognize a sitting president of the United States has been found by court of law to have participated in an insurrection. That's a very sad day for America.

Now, the question is, what do we do about it. If he is guilty or if he falls in this and he meets the standard of the law that you talked about, then he should have to live by that. We should not have him avoid these consequences just because it's inconvenient for us to have him face the law that he broke.

PHILLIP: Joe, I mean, it strikes me, I was hearing Coleman say that there's no silver bullet here, it strikes me that really the only reason there is a lot of dispute about whether this was an insurrection is because some of the people who were involved in said insurrection want to deny that that's what it was. Is this really that unclear what actually happened on January 6 and what Trump's role was in it?

JOE PINION, NEW YORK GOP SURROGATE: I think it does us a disservice and does the audience a disservice to try to re-litigate what happened on January 6. We could see it with our own very eyes. And I've said from that day and every day since, that anybody who used the flag of this nation to break glass at the people's house to try to disrupt an official proceeding deserves everything that they have coming to them.

What is happening right now is that we are focusing on the majority opinion, what those four justices came out and said. We are not focusing on what has been said in those minority opinions, which they have suggested that due process was, in fact, suspended, that the president did not, in fact, get due process, that in fact, in many ways, that they don't even know if there is such a thing as the processes that they have in that state which do not exist in other states, allowing them to just unilaterally remove the president from the ballot.

So, I think there're some very pertinent legal questions, but certainly, I'm not a lawyer. You're the lawyer. But America is beyond just the letter of the law. It's also the spirit of the law, the faith, the full faith and credit that we have in effect that those laws will be upheld.

And I think that we have reached an inflection point where it appears to most that the state of Colorado has taken their own opinion to mean more than the safety and stability of our democracy. I think many people are going to look at this and say, how is it possible that these judges decided this amongst themselves when the president himself, to your point, was not charged with insurrection by Jack Smith?


And I think, yes, prosecutors do have that right to choose what they're going to charge. But I would make the argument that most of the time when they do refrain from making that charge, it's because they don't believe it is the strongest version of the argument. And if it's not the strongest version of the argument, to take what we have described as such a dramatic stance, I think, again, leaves the country in a perilous place.

SIMMONS: It may also be possible that we just don't want to face the idea that the president did this and that we're going to deny him access to the ballot. Look, I would prefer, as a Democrat, we beat the president, former President Donald Trump, that Democrats beat him at the ballot, because the country needs to know that we have chosen a different path.

PHILLIP: So, you would have preferred that this didn't happen?

SIMMONS: I would prefer that he didn't foment an insurrection against the Congress of the United States of America, and didn't defy his oath of office, but that's not where we are.

And so the question is, if he is actually subject to this law, we can't avoid it just because it feels inconvenient and it makes us all a little squirrely in our chair.

PHILLIP: But the due process questions that Joe brings up are not insignificant. I mean, they were in the dissents. The issue of due process, the issue of how this is actually operationalized, the 14th amendment says it, but it doesn't say how to do it.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: So, I think I just want to clarify a few points there. With the dissent, though, what they do not do at any point is take on or challenge the idea that the former president engaged in insurrection. They don't take issue with that now.

They have some concerns about process, but that happens all the time. For example, Bush v. Gore, we had a dissent there, right? We had justices of the Supreme Court who disagreed. I did not hear a single conservative say that that opinion somehow didn't have full effect.

What's also important here is that the Colorado Supreme Court has stayed its ruling, right? And if the president, the former president, seeks SCOTUS review, Supreme Court review, which he does, they've also automatically stayed the review even longer.

So, they fully understand the significance of the ruling. They're not trying to somehow subvert the will of the American people, but, again, the law matters and the Constitution says what it says. And what I tend not to hear is anyone actually challenged the premise that a former president engaged in an insurrection, purposely had people engage in violence against our Constitution. I don't hear any defense of that here.

Now, people have issue with process, we can talk about that, but this is a majority opinion. It's over 200 pages. It is thoughtful, and I think the American people really have to struggle with that idea. And I think the January 6th committee already, frankly, proved this in front of the American people about what the former president did.

HUGHES: I would quibble with that only because if the evidence is overwhelming that he met the legal standard for engaging in an insurrection, I think we would have all wanted to see that laid out in Jack Smith's indictment, right?

And that makes this a bit confusing for a public that said, well, it would have been the career making charge for him to get Trump, for Jack Smith to get Trump on insurrection, and he pointedly left that out and instead went for conspiracy to defraud the government and so forth.

So, it seems like out of one side, we're hearing from someone that has every reason to want to get Trump and hold him to the law that this didn't meet the standard. And now we're hearing from a state Supreme Court that it does, and this could actually -- these two people disagree and this could sway the election. That doesn't seem like a silver bullet, and it's got to be if you're going to say this is going to decide the election.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: I just want to clarify one point, though. The standards are different, right? In a criminal case, it is beyond a reasonable doubt, and that's for a reason, because you're taking someone's liberty. Here, the standard is clear and convincing evidence that is not beyond a reasonable doubt. So, it's not the same standard. So, what Jack Smith has to decide into charging someone is different.

Second, I was a federal prosecutor. The decision of what charge to make, it takes a variety of decisions. It's not merely about whether you can prove the charge. It may be how long it takes to prove the charge. It may be because the pretrial legal challenges that defendant may have may be too robust or take too much time. There are a lot of reasons. But, again, that's not taking on the evidence that this court has really struggled with.

PHILLIP: Joe, I'll let you get in here.

PINION: I'll just say this. I think that these remedies suck. I think if you are of the opinion, and I think there are people across the political spectrum who will agree, that the presidency of Donald Trump presented unique challenges that left our institutions battered and bruised, I do not believe that you should then say the remedy to the battering and the bruising is to effectively turn over precedent. As we know it, to make a novel case that no one has really ever thought of making any modern aids of the presidency.

So, yes, I do understand that January 6th is this unique inflection point, not just for our country, but for the world. But if we are still going to be the leader of the world, if we're still going to have people coming here for the huddled masses to say that it's one person, one vote, that we choose our leaders, that they're not chosen in smoke-filled backrooms, if you're going to go down this path.

I think to your point, the due process question is a serious one, and I know it was a thoughtful decision.


But I think, in some ways, the road to hell has been paved with good intentions. And the outcome for this, I think, I pray for our nation because I don't think it's going to be anything.

PHILLIP: Well, what is the consequence then? If he can't be taken off the ballot, he can't be charged in a criminal court, what's the consequence? What's the remedy for the --

PINION: Last I checked, the man was facing over a hundred felonies. I think he is being tried in courts all across this great land. So, I think the remedy is the ballot box, that we are a nation of laws, that President Trump is going to be found accountable for what he did or didn't do in these courts of law. And the American people are going to be able to take that information into consideration when they walk into the ballot box. But it appears that there are many, many efforts being made to try to have that not even be the outcome, to have him basically taken out of the situation all together.

PHILLIP: All right, interesting conversation, gentlemen, Temidayo, Coleman, Jamal and Joe, thank you all so much.

And next for us, the head of the Colorado Republican Party will be here to respond to this explosive ruling.

Plus, a record breaking 24 hours at the border where a record number of migrants entered or encounters happened as Texas is now sued over its hard line law.

And Rob Smith, a black and gay Republican, he'll join me after he says he was heckled with racist slurs at a conservative conference.



PHILLIP: Tonight, Republicans are saying, leave it to the voters. In New Hampshire, Chris Christie, not exactly a fan of Donald Trump, gave his first take on the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to ban Trump from running. Christie's bottom line is this, the court shouldn't do what it's doing now.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being President of the United States by any court. I think he should be prevented from being president of the United States by the voters of this country.

I think this is probably premature and jumping ahead of it. And I think it would cause a lot of anger in this country if people had the choice taken away from them.


PHILLIP: And joining me now is Colorado's Republican Party Chairman Dave Williams. Mr. Williams, thank you so much for joining us. The Colorado Party's GOP Twitter account tweeted this, we will never surrender. Please help us keep Trump on the ballot and fight this election interference. Can you tell us exactly what you mean by, quote, we will never surrender?

DAVE WILLIAMS, CHAIR, COLORADO REPUBLICAN PARTY: Yes, absolutely. We think this is an absurd ruling and we're going to do whatever we can to protect the rights of voters in Colorado and frankly across the nation and choose Donald Trump, if they so choose.

We're going to appeal this to the United States Supreme Court. We're a party to the case and we're not going to take this lying down. And if need be, we're going to withdraw from the primary and go to a strict caucus process that would allow our voters to choose Donald Trump if they want.

PHILLIP: So, the Supreme Court ultimately will have the final word on this, not just in Colorado, but probably for other states as well. If they side against the former president, would you consider that to be election interference?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. This is un-American of what's going on. I don't care if it's a Republican majority Supreme Court in the United States or if it's a Democrat majority here in Colorado. We don't feel that this is the right thing to do.

If we truly care about one man, one vote, and protecting our right to choose those who we want to represent us in government, then Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy and some of your other guests on the last segment are right, let the people decide. Don't take away our vote.

PHILLIP: So, Colorado's Republican primary is on March 5th. Do you think that the Supreme Court will have a decision by then? Do you think that they should decide as quickly as possible?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. We are counting on them to grant us cert very quickly, the same with the Donald Trump campaign, when they have appealed this decision. And we expect them to have this heard very quickly and rapidly so that we can have a conclusion for our voters and for voters across the country.

We feel that if this is dragged on, there's going to be other secretaries of state or other cases that are going to be brought across the country to remove Donald Trump, and that's something that we can't abide.

PHILLIP: What do you make of the fact that this court -- the two courts now in the state of Colorado have now said that Donald Trump did in fact engage actively in an insurrection? Shouldn't that give you and perhaps other voters in your state pause?

WILLIAMS: No, because the majority of justices appointed on the Colorado Supreme Court and within the court system generally have been appointed by radical Democrats in our state. They are clearly biased. We do not believe that that was a proper ruling, and that's exactly why the Trump campaign appealed it on their end.

It was inappropriate, and I think even in the dissenting opinion, they made mention of the fact that there was no due process. The Donald Trump has not been charged nor convicted of insurrection, and we shouldn't be making these types of decisions that take away people's right to vote as a result.

PHILLIP: They noted that there was no due process when it comes to this issue, but they didn't take issue with the determination that he participated in an insurrection.

WILLIAMS: Well, what they didn't say or what they did say is kind of immaterial. The fact remains, Donald Trump has never been charged nor convicted of insurrection. And furthermore, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment is not self-executing. It's very clear that Congress has a role in this, federal prosecutors have a role in this. Ultimately, at the end of the day, when there is that ambiguity, the best thing to do is to let it be settled at the ballot box.

PHILLIP: Do you think that the other Republican candidates should do what Vivek Ramaswamy suggested and withdraw from the Colorado primary if this goes through? WILLIAMS: Well, he won't have to. We as a party are going to withdraw from the primary if this is allowed to stand. Again, we're not going to allow our voters to be shortchanged by radical justices who think that they can decide which candidates have the ability to be voted for against by the American public.


We will go to a straight caucus system where we will allocate our delegates accordingly to candidates that compete in our state. We're not going to take this lying down.

So, I commend Vivek Ramaswamy for doing that. I hope all the other candidates show support for Donald Trump in this regard, but we as a party are not going to let this happen.

PHILLIP: All right. Dave Williams, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me.

PHILLIP: And tens of thousands of migrants are showing up at the southern border in record-breaking numbers. Lori Lightfoot joins me live.

Plus, we'll do a reality check on a claim by one of my guests last night on Donald Trump's remark about immigrants, quote, poisoning the blood of America.


PHILLIP: Tonight, Texas is being sued for its new law allowing police to arrest and deport suspected migrants. The suit says that it preempts federal law and is therefore unconstitutional. Meantime, more than 12,000 migrants were apprehended on the U.S. southern border in just the last 24 hours. That is a daily record near Eagle Pass, Texas.

CNN's Rosa Flores is there.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Abby, what you see behind me are thousands of migrants who are waiting to be transported for immigration processing. Look over my shoulder. You'll see men, women, children.

And what you're looking at right now is a federal issue. It's up to the federal government to apprehend these individuals, process them, and hold them.

But Governor Greg Abbott just signed SB-4. This creates a new state crime for illegal entry into the country, which means what you're looking at could be a state issue come March of 2024.

Now, the ACLU has already filed a lawsuit, so this has caught in a legal battle.

[22:30:03] Governor Abbott already said that he plans to take this legal battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it's local communities who are very concerned because what you're looking at could end up in the hands of counties and cities who don't have funds.

I've talked to individuals all along the border, including the sheriff from Maverick County where I am, and he says that his deputies are not trained in immigration law and that he doesn't have space for them in their jails. Abby?

PHILLIP: Rosa Flores, thank you for that. And for more on this, I want to bring in former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who dealt with a surge of migrants in her city as mayor. Mayor Lightfoot, thank you very much for joining us tonight.


PHILLIP: Now today, as Rosa was just saying, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed that bill that makes entering the state of Texas illegally a state crime. Is this, in your view, a reasonable way for him to try to curb what we are seeing there on the screen, thousands of migrants pouring in from the southern border?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, when you talk about Greg Abbott and the Texas legislature, it's hard to use the word reasonable about anything that they're doing. I know from my own experience, receiving no notice and buses, just dumping migrants who were entered into the country legally. And I think that's something that people don't understand, the migrants that are coming to our city are in this country legally.

Greg Abbott and the Texas legislature decided that they want to manufacture human -- a humanitarian crisis in cities like Chicago, in New York and Washington, D.C., Denver, L.A., Phoenix and other cities. This latest effort by Greg Abbott to gain relevance on a national level and impose his will on what is clearly the domain, an exclusive domain of the federal government. I don't think that it will stand.

But the cynicism that he's exhibiting by saying, I'm going to take this all the way to my friends who are the conservative activists, Supreme Court, shows a level of cynicism that is even beneath someone like him. I'm hoping, frankly, the DOJ will step in and join the ACLU in challenging this new law.

PHILLIP: Just putting aside for a second what needs to be worked out in terms of the legality of this, right? Whether the state of Texas has the authority to do this. As a governor, he is dealing with actually orders of magnitude more than what cities like yours, Chicago, dealt with when you were mayor and is dealing with now. Under those circumstances, do you understand why, you know, leaders in Texas, whether you're the mayor of a border town or the governor, feels a sense of desperation by these numbers that they're seeing?

LIGHTFOOT: Yeah, but what he's exhibiting is not a sense of desperation. Look, there's no question whatsoever that there is an immigration crisis, that it comes to our borders every single day. I've spoken with border mayors about the challenges that they have faced and we've had teams that have gone down to the border to understand the magnitude of the challenge firsthand.

But you don't solve that problem, number one, by usurping the authority of the federal government. And you certainly don't solve that problem by losing sight of the humanity of these migrants, many of whom are sick and injured, need medical care, that get tricked into getting on buses with a one-way ticket, free option only to cities like Chicago. That is not the way you solve this problem.

I think if Governor Abbott, the Texas legislature really wanted to do something to address this issue, they would work collaboratively with the federal government and they work collaboratively with cities and states like Illinois, like Chicago, but that's not what this is about. This is about creating a humanitarian crisis, making a political statement and not a public policy statement to try to get to solutions that work to the benefit of everyone involved.

PHILLIP: I want to ask you about something that we're also seeing playing out on the national level. Former President Trump doubling down on this anti-immigrant rhetoric that, as we've pointed out and others have, really has its origins in pretty authoritarian places. Today, he suggested that mass deportations of students who don't speak English should happen. Listen to what he said.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They go into classes. They don't speak English. Nobody knows what to do. We don't have any people that even understand or know those languages -- they can't teach them, they're all over the place. We have classrooms in schools which are loaded up with people that don't speak a word of English, and the schools are there and they have no idea what to do about it. It's a very sick situation.


PHILLIP: Your reaction?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, first of all, there's very little truth to what he just said. And let's again, not forget, we're talking about human beings and specifically we're talking about children. And schools all over the country for decades now have had English classes and taught in different languages. So, schools know how to address these issues and challenges because they've been doing it and doing it well for decades now.

But fundamentally, demonizing the other, you know, look, as a black woman whose parents grew up in the segregated South and how we were demonized simply by the color of our skin, I am very, very sensitive and aware of the kind of loaded language that is intended to blow a dog whistle to generate hate and division. And that's what the former president does on a regular basis.

He did it in '15 when he had his announcement. He did it throughout his presidency. He's doing it now because he believes that that stirs some kind of base in his support. But what it does, frankly, is rings as un-American. It's clearly grounded in horrible racist rhetoric that has been tied to some of the worst authoritarian dictators and human rights abusers that our world has ever known.

We don't need that here. It doesn't solve any problems. And what it does is it pushes us further apart instead of bringing us together at a time when as a country and our democracy needs it most. I completely abhor that rhetoric and condemn him for using that kind of loaded, awful language.

PHILLIP: Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, you call it a dog whistle. It sounds like a bullhorn at this point with the frequency with which he repeats it. Thank you for joining us tonight.

LIGHTFOOT: Thank you.

PHILLIP: And up next, he's an Iraq war veteran and a black and gay Republican. And tonight, Rob Smith says that he was heckled with racist slurs at a MAGA event. He joins me live.



PHILLIP: A conservative gathering turned hateful in Phoenix when Rob Smith, a black gay Republican influencer, says that he was heckled by what he describes as a group of white supremacists. Watch this.


UNKNOW: America first! America first! America first! America first!


PHILLIP: Now, Smith says this took place at an event hosted by an organization called Republicans for National Renewal, a right-wing pro-Trump advocacy group, and that organization has since issued a statement that reads in part, "The individuals involved were members of the public without any association with us and we were actively involved in defusing the situation and ensuring attendee safety. These sorts of actions are not welcome at our events and the individuals involved will be excluded from future events."

An Ohio Republican who's running for a House seat there heard the commotion firsthand and later tweeted about it, dubbing the incident, "the unfortunate reality of a fractured party without leadership." Rob Smith joins me now. Rob, can you walk us through what happened there? How did you end up at this event and how did you end up almost encircled by these people?

ROB SMITH, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Yeah. Well, the first thing that I want to say is that to anybody that thinks that this is somehow in some way fake or staged, I want to tell them that the hate crime that happened to Jussie Smollett was fake. This hate crime was very real. So how I ended up there was this is a group called the Republicans for National Renewal. I was in Phoenix, Arizona for an event called America Fest, which is held by Turning Point USA.

I went to this event because I saw that a lot of other conservative influencers would be there. I actually DM'd with this group. I said, hey, I'm going to come. Can you put me on the list? They said, sure. So that's how I ended up at the event. I had no idea that it was going to be infested with these people.

PHILLIP: Was there some kind of confrontation that preceded what we saw in the video?

SMITH: Yeah, there was actually. I realized that these people were starting to encircle me and I kind of wanted to figure out what was going on. And what I will say, what a lot of people didn't see in that video is number one, they did say the N-word, absolutely. That was not caught on video, but that did happen. And so, look, I am 4th ID, you know, I'm an Iraq war vet. I can know how to defend myself. But I am looking in the eyes of people that were actual neo-Nazis and actual white supremacists.

There were about 20 to 25 of these people and that is what you do not see on camera. So, I had a choice to de-escalate the situation with humor, which is what I did.

PHILLIP: So why would you have ended up at a kind of event hosted by an organization that would have even had people like that?

SMITH: Well, the interesting thing about what's going on in the Republican Party right now in the conservative movement is this. There are a lot of different factions. I in no way experienced anything like this before. And I have been a prominent Republican figure, conservative figure for the past five years of my life.

I have seen people all across this country, white, black, et cetera that have accepted me for who I am as a black man, as a gay man, all of this stuff. I had no idea that this really even existed out there until I was confronted with this kind of racial hatred to my face.


PHILLIP: You're saying you had no idea that there was a faction of the Republican Party that espoused racist and anti-LGBT views?

SMITH: No, no, no. I absolutely know that these people exist. In fact, if we want to have a conversation about white supremacy, let's have a conversation about the white supremacy that happens on both sides, okay? So yes, these people --

PHILLIP: But I'm talking about, I'm just wondering, just based on what you were saying --

SMITH: Yeah.

PHILLIP: -- you know, a lot of times when, you know, on the left, they say there are people in the Republican Party who have these views.

SMITH: Yes. PHILLIP: A lot of Republicans say that's not true.


PHILLIP: You're maligning all of this.


PHILLIP: You're calling us all deplorables.


PHILLIP: You're saying we're all white supremacists.


PHILLIP: You experience firsthand --


PHILLIP: -- people you call white supremacists who are affiliated with your party.

SMITH: Absolutely.

PHILLIP: So, are they right that those individuals are in the Republican Party and need to be pushed out?

SMITH: Absolutely they are right. And I will say this, when we have a conversation about white supremacy, we have to talk about it on the right and the left. We saw me actually face to face with actual white supremacists that are in the Republican Party. Absolutely.

What a lot of people have not seen is me literally being the target of racial hatred from white supremacists that call themselves white liberals on the left that attack me every single day on social media and have for the past five years.

If you go to my social media handles on X @robsmithonline or on Instagram @robsmithonline and see the comments, you see these people are out there. And so, they say a lot about when the stuff comes from the left, they say, oh, well, these are not real people. These are just trolls. No, these are real actual people that live in the real world. So, we see this on the left and the right. I face off with these people on left and right every single day of my life.

PHILLIP: I don't know what you're referring to when you talk about on the left. Are you saying that people are attacking you for being black? People on the left are attacking you for being black?

SMITH: Absolutely, every single day on social media. In fact, anybody that's watching this segment right now, Abby, and let me finish this. Anybody that's watching this segment can go to any comment section on any of the videos that I posted and see some of these people attack me every single day. And by the way, a lot of these white liberals like to use racial hatred when they are attacking me, okay. So that stuff happens. So yes, we see it happen from the right, but we saw it happen from the left as well.

PHILLIP: How do you feel as a black gay Republican --

SMITH: Yeah.

PHILLIP: -- experiencing what you have experienced?

SMITH: Yeah.

PHILLIP: But also putting even that aside, just looking more at the mainstream rhetoric --

SMITH: Yeah.

PHILLIP: -- from some in the party or, you know, activists who are trying to demonize gay people specifically.

SMITH: Yes. Yes.

PHILLIP: What do you make of that? And do you blame people of color or LGBTQ people who say, I can't be a part of that?

SMITH: Well first of all, I don't say LGBTQ. I say gay or lesbian. And I don't blame gay or lesbians or black people for saying that they can't be a part of it. What I will say is this. A lot of people want to ask me these questions about what's going on with the movement. They want to ask me the questions about what's going on with like, let's say Donald Trump.

And what I say is this, is that I don't focus on what people say. I focus on what they do. And when it comes to Trump, when it comes to the mainstream Republican Party right now, I have seen Donald Trump be the first Republican to ever, excuse me, the first president to ever enter office supporting marriage equality, either Democrat or Republican. I saw him partner with the RNC and the log haven Republicans who spend over $1 million in a get out the vote effort specifically targeting gays and lesbians in this country, okay? And spend over $1 million to do that, okay?

So, I look at what people do. And so now when you want to talk about having somebody denounce this, I've seen Donald Trump denounce white supremacy over and over and over again for the past eight years. I have not seen Ron DeSantis denounce this. I have not seen Vivek Ramaswamy denounce this. I have not seen Nikki Haley denounce this. I have not seen Chris Christie denounce this. So, if we're gonna talk about the future of this party and these white supremacists absolutely do exist in this party, we all saw me face them from face to face.

I'm looking at soulless dead-eyed white supremacists that by the way, I felt that these people could have bashed my brains in had they gotten the chance. I deal with these people in real life. And I know for a fact where they're coming from. I know that a lot of these people have infiltrated these conservative organizations from top to bottom. There needs to be accountability, and I'm exploring options as how to do so right now. But do I think that this stuff is coming from the millions of people

that voted for Trump? I do not, I do not. Do I think that it's something that the Trump campaign endorses or the Republican Party endorses? I do not, because I know these people and I have been around these people.

PHILLIP: I just want the record to show that I -- I just want the record to show I actually didn't ask you about Donald Trump specifically, but I appreciate the point that you're making.

SMITH: It was important for me to bring it up.

PHILLIP: Thank you very much, Rob Smith. Thanks for joining us. And up next for us, a reality check on a claim made by one of my guests on the show last night about remarks that Donald Trump keeps making about immigrants as recently as tonight even. Standby for that.



PHILLIP: Last night, we led this show with the different ways that Republicans were defending or dismissing Donald Trump's rhetoric, particularly about immigrants. Now, my guest, Republican Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, made an argument that honestly, I wasn't expecting.


PHILLIP: He was saying that the immigrants who are coming in, he says they're poisoning the blood of the nation.


PHILLIP: He says that they're doing it -

MALLIOTAKIS: He never said immigrants were poisoning, though.

PHILLIP: He's talking about people coming across the border (inaudible) -


MALLIOTAKIS: I honestly think he was being --

PHILLIP: We just played it.

MALLIOTAKIS: Yeah, and he said, he didn't say the words immigrants. I think he was talking about the democratic policies.

PHILLIP: He was talking about people, not policies.

MALLIOTAKIS: Okay. Well look, I don't --

PHILLIP: He was talking about people. MALLIOTAKIS: Look, I know that some are trying to make it seem like

President Trump is anti-immigrant. The reality is he was married to immigrants. He's hired immigrants.


PHILLIP: Let's just dissect this. For reference, here is the comment that Trump made on Saturday night.


TRUMP: They're poisoning the blood of our country. That's what they've done. They poisoned mental institutions and prisons all over the world, not just in South America, not just the three or four countries that we think about, but all over the world. They're coming into our country from Africa, from Asia, all over the world. They're pouring into our country. Nobody's even looking at them. They just come in.


PHILLIP: It's pretty clear he's talking about people, immigrants. But if someone is still in doubt, here is more evidence. In a social media post that very same day, he said, quote, "Illegal immigration is poisoning the blood of our nation. They are coming from prisons, from mental institutions, from all over the world." They being the key word here. But of course, if you are still in doubt after all of this, this is Donald Trump tonight in Iowa.


TRUMP: They're coming from all over the world, people all over the world. We have no idea. They could be healthy; they could be very unhealthy. They could bring in disease that's going to catch on in our country, but they do bring in crime. But they have them coming from all over the world. And they're destroying the blood of our country. They're destroying the fabric of our country. And we're going to have to get them out.


Seems pretty clear to me. Back in a moment.