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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Plots And Pinball, Trump's Takeover Of GOP Is Complete; Biden Blames Trump For Alabama's Frozen Embryo Ruling; Lander Touches Down For First U.S. Moon Landing Since 1972; Ex-Informant Indicted For Lying About Bidens Is Arrested Again; TV Star Wendy Williams Is Diagnosed With Dementia, Aphasia. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 22, 2024 - 22:00   ET



ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's even more of a long shot than the immunity argument that he's currently making in the other January 6th federal case --

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: So, is it just an effort to delay this?

HONIG: Well, it's a standard motion that people make. Defendants do make motions at this point in the process, but this one has so little merit that I think it can be fairly written off as an effort to delay.

COLLINS: Elie Honig, good to know that, good to see this. We'll see what the judge decides here. Of course, thanks for hopping on the phone with us for this breaking news.

And thank you all so much for joining us. CNN NEWSNIGHT with Abby Phillip will continue with the breaking news ahead.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: It's Donald Trump's party and Republicans are just living in it. That's tonight on NEWSNIGHT.

And good evening. I'm Abby Phillip in Washington.

The former president speaking tonight in Nashville as conservatives gather at CPAC where the deep state and Let's Go Brandon have taken on starring roles.

Now, that event comes with souvenirs. As usual, there are bedazzled purses in the shape of a gun. There's a woke tears display made from, quote, melted snowflakes. There's even a January 6th pinball machine.

Some of the game's features and modes include Stop the Steal, which is a debunked conspiracy that's resulted in arrests, indictments and defamation payouts. It's a setup that refers to another baseless conspiracy, Babbitt murder, referring to the death of one of the rioters who tried to breach the capital, fake news, predictable, of course, peaceful protests, which, of course, it was not, political prisoners, which they are not.

And just to underscore that point, more than 1,300 people have been charged in nearly all 50 states, nearly 500 of them charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers, and more than 750 have pleaded guilty.

Also on that pinball display, at least four don't tread on me symbols, at least three MAGA hats. And one of the objectives of this game, apparently, is to get the pinball to expose voter fraud via voting machines, mail-in ballots, or drop boxes, none of which occur on a widespread or election-changing scale.

Also highlighted are logos of hated media networks. Surprisingly, it includes Fox, which found out the hard way and expensive way that promoting conspiracy theories has consequences. And, of course, one of the faces of the insurrection, the QAnon Shaman, a reminder he is now running for office after serving time behind bars.

But the most glaring image is the one at the top of the machine itself. It's Donald Trump, who seems to be the pinball wizard, the machine's creator featuring a man who actually denies his role in the insurrection, and a man who is facing charges in part for his actions on that day.

Now, the prop is just a small sign that the Republican Party is all about Trump right now. And even they don't question his centrality to what happened on January 6th.

But listen to these bigger examples from just the last 24 hours. There's Governor Sununu, who has spent weeks trying to ensure that Trump is not the nominee. He says that he'll still vote for him.


DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: The bottom line is that you will still support Donald Trump despite your serious reservations?

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Yes. Look, it's a primary. We're going to go out at each other, of course.


PHILLIP: Now, Sununu had earlier dismissed Trump's influence, saying, A-holes come and go, except though listen to Trump and Trump ally at CPAC talking about what the future actually holds for this movement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the end of democracy. We're here to overthrow it completely. We didn't get all the way there on January 6th, but we will endeavor to get rid of it and replace it with this right here. We'll replace it with this right here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right, because all glory is not to government, all glory to God.


PHILLIP: Voters don't actually have to guess what Trump will do in a second term. There's no subtlety there. His allies are declaring it out loud.

And, finally, there's Donald Trump. He racks up hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees, and now he wants his daughter-in-law to be in charge of the purse strings over at the RNC.


LARA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER-IN-LAW: I can assure you that my loyalty is to my father-in-law and I will make sure that every penny is used properly, that people's money is not going, you know, getting wasted on flowers or limousines or anything else. It should be going to fight to November 5th for the causes that we care about.



PHILLIP: It's notable, of course, that Lara Trump thinks that one of those causes is paying off Trump's legal debts.


TRUMP: Absolutely. That's why you see a GoFundMe get started. That's why people are furious right now.

See, I think that is a big interest to people, absolutely.


PHILLIP: I want to start with former Trump attorney Michael Cohen he's the host of the podcast, Mea Culpa, and Political Beatdown. He's also the author of Revenge, How Donald Trump Weaponized the U.S. Department of Justice against his critics.

Michael, the judge in Trump's civil trial, his fraud trial, just denied his request to delay the judgment of $355 million dollars plus interest. Does Trump actually have the cash to pay this?

MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP'S EX-ATTORNEY, WITNESS IN FRAUD TRIAL: Well, if you ask Donald if he has the cash or not, he'll tell you he's very liquid, and he has more than enough cash. Well, the problem with that is, if that's true, why then was he looking to figure out how to bond $5.3 million that was owed to the E. Jean Carroll verdict, the first one? And, certainly, he hasn't done it yet for the $83.3 million. So the answer is no, he does not have the liquid cash within which to post this bond.

PHILLIP: So, do you think that it will require perhaps selling assets in order to get that sum?

COHEN: I don't know. You know, obviously, none of us know who they're speaking to right now in terms of getting the money. Are they going to get the money from a hedge fund? You know, there's a lot of billionaires that are circling Donald Trump the way sort of a vulture circles a dead carcass. They see him as the useful idiot that they made billions and billions of dollars when he was president of the United States. And so they will continue to circle him. Maybe one of them puts up the money on his behalf in the form of a bond. Don't know. But rest assured he'll have to figure out a way how to bond this in order to be able to file the appeal.

PHILLIP: So, in light of this judgment, Trump, as I'm sure you know, announced this $399 sneaker line, that took a lot of people by surprise, but I wonder, did it take you by surprise? You know him as well as you do?

COHEN: But the sneakers, yes, you know, I mean, I don't know who he thinks he is. Michael Jordan or my old client, Kanye, you know, with Yeezys. I mean, these are some of the most repulsive, ugly-looking $5.25 to manufacture in China sneakers I've ever seen.

The one good thing for the rest of us is when we see somebody walking down the street a mile away wearing them, well, we know who they are. We know that they're the racist, sexist, misogynist, xenophobe, homophobe, Islamophobe, anti-Semites you want to stay away from.

PHILLIP: Michael, just as we are coming on the air tonight, Trump has just filed some motions to dismiss his classified documents case. That's the one involving the documents he kept at Mar-a-Lago and in other places. He's citing presidential immunity.

This is, of course, a defense that is currently under judicial review, and it has not worked yet. What do you make of that?

COHEN: Well, so far, every attempt, and mostly with by Alina Habba, so we already know where the result is going to be on that one, every attempt regarding presidential immunity has failed, and rightfully so.

First of all, the issue is not that he took them when he was the president of the United States. The issue is that they had lied. They had filed documents claiming that they had returned everything, and clearly they did not. And he continues still refusing to return the documents. That's part of that document case. I don't suspect that he'll be successful on this go-around either.

And so, of course, of course his lawyers are filing this late motion. The purpose for that, we all know, it's delay, delay, delay. And in the event that he loses, as he will, they will then just go back to their supporters and say, we need more money for the lawyers so that way they can file appeals on that as well. It's all a delay game.

PHILLIP: Yes, it's a very expensive delay game, as you noted, I mean, every time --

COHEN: It's not expensive for him, though, Abby. Yes, it's not expensive for him, though. It's expensive for everybody else that's footing a billionaire's legal expenses.

PHILLIP: Yes. Michael Cohen, thank you very much, good to have you on the show.


COHEN: Good to see you.

PHILLIP: And up next, President Biden is blasting Trump tonight over the ruling that pauses all IVF procedures. I'll speak with one Alabama woman who's trying to start a family and who has been directly impacted.

Plus, the scary diagnosis of T.V. star Wendy Williams becoming just the latest celebrity with the same debilitating condition.

And it was a nail-biter, but a U.S. lander has touched down on the moon for the first time in half a century.


PHILLIP: Tonight, it is a crisis for people who desperately want to be parents. In Alabama, some hospitals have already stopped all IVF treatments after that state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are children.

Now, that ruling exposes clinics to lawsuits. And it's sending people who are trying to get pregnant scrambling.

Tonight, joining me on the show is Kelly and Jimmy Belmont. Kelly is using IVF after trying to get pregnant for two years. They started treatments in October. Kelly and Jimmy, thank you both for being here.


I wonder, to you, Kelly, when you first heard about this ruling and that it could affect IVF treatments, what went through your mind?

KELLY BELMONT, UNDERGOING IVF TREATMENT IN ALABAMA: I mean, initially just clearer because we've already invested so much time and money and just physical and emotional anguish into this process, and to think that it could have all been for nothing and that we could be ending our journey to be able to have children. It was absolutely terrifying.

PHILLIP: You and Jimmy have been trying to start a family now for years. You started in October. You're slated to try another retrieval in April. Do you know, either of you, if that's still going to happen? Are doctors talking to you about pausing treatments and about what's next?

K. BELMONT: So, we did get a call from our clinic and they have released a statement saying that, as of right now, they are continuing business as usual. They will be continuing all IVF. And as of right now, we're still on track to do our procedure in April.

PHILLIP: And, Jimmy, are you worried that that could change?

JIMMY BELMONT, WIFE UNDERGOING IVF TREATMENT IN ALABAMA: I am. It's so unpredictable right now with two well-known ones shutting down that I know of, UAB shutting down their IVF treatment, as well as another facility that I'm -- the name is escaping me at the moment, it is something I am concerned about. Hopefully, we'll be able to work around that. PHILLIP: And, Kelly, did you ever think that this debate about abortion access, Roe versus Wade, all of that would impact your ability to actually have a child?

K. BELMONT: No, never. In my mind, I didn't see the correlation. It never occurred to me that people would take the overturning of Roe v. Wade and link it to IVF because, at its very core, IVF is trying to create life and build families. So, I just don't understand the jump. I never would imagine.

PHILLIP: Jimmy, there are a lot of politicians. I mean, I'm here in Washington, but in your home state, elsewhere in this country, who support this ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court. If you were to talk to them, what would you say to them about how this impacts you, how this impacts your family?

J. BELMONT: Well, I mean, the first thing I would ask them is that they do any actual research before making this decision or was it on a whim based on, you know, writing the high (ph) of overturning Roe v. Wade. I would ask them, you know, how would they feel if they're their granddaughter or their daughter was trying to have a child via IVF and this ruling prevented them from doing it? You know, how would they feel, you know, how they feel about the fact that they're halting families from growing or even starting? There're a lot of questions on my mind.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, so many questions. I mean, Kelly, so many women, you know, they are so desperate to have a family and it is so expensive, and as you just mentioned, physically taxing to go through this process. I know that your clinic is moving forward. That's great to hear. But how are you doing emotionally with all of this uncertainty?

K. BELMONT: It's extremely stressful. At this point, I feel like something that was already taking a huge chunk of my life is now essentially consuming my life completely. I really can't turn anywhere right now without hearing about this argument.

And, in a way, that's a really good thing because it's getting attention, and hopefully that's going to cause action. But also, in a way, I still have a job that I have to go to. I have a household that will have to help maintain. I have a life that I want to live.

And at this point, I'm just trying to hold myself together emotionally, and it's so stressful. And anyone who's ever tried to conceive will tell you one of the worst things in the world that you can be is stressed. It's counterproductive to the process. And so adding more stress into my life at this time is extremely difficult.


PHILLIP: Well, I'm so sorry to hear that. And I really do genuinely wish both of you the very best and hope for the best as you continue this process. Kelly and Jimmy Belmont, thank you both very much for sharing your story with us.

K. BELMONT: Thank you for having us.

J. BELMONT: Thank you for your time.

PHILLIP: And up next, it is the first U.S. lander to touch down on the moon in 50 years. What we know about that private mission to the moon and the American Space Exploration Project.

Plus, the former FBI informant who was indicted for lying about President Biden's family, he is back in handcuffs tonight. Hear why?


PHILLIP: Tonight, the United States has achieved something it hasn't in more than 50 years, that is landing a spacecraft on the moon.


STEVE ALTEMUS, CEO, INTUITIVE MACHINES (voice over): I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting and welcome to the moon.


Houston, Odysseus has found his new home.


PHILLIP: A nail-biter, indeed. That was the CEO of Intuitive Machines, the company behind this lunar lander known as Odysseus, announcing the craft successfully touched down upright and it has been sending data since.

Joining me now to discuss this historic moment is Physicist Michio Kaku. Michio, this is not just a landing, but an upright landing. How does this compare to what we've seen recently, including Japan's mission, where the spacecraft landed but kind of not upright, maybe on its side or upside down?

MICHIO KAKU, PHYSICIST: Well, you can imagine the champagne bottles are being uncorked across the United States, celebrating this event. This is the first time ever that a commercial company put something on the moon. And as you pointed out, the Japanese also put something on the moon about a week or so ago, but it landed upside down.

This probe landed correctly, but it also landed in the right region of the moon, the solar -- the polar ice caps in the south pole, where there could be ice, ice that could be used for rocket fuel, ice that could be used for breathing. That's why they landed on the south pole, very important.

PHILLIP: Yes, that's incredibly significant to all of this. Look, I'm going to ask you a pretty basic question here, but it's one I think a lot of people have. 50 years ago, we put a man on the moon. Why has it been so challenging to do it again and do it repeatedly, not just by the United States, but by other countries that have been attempting these landings? KAKU: Well, the key word is cost, C-O-S-T. It costs $10,000 to put a pound of anything just in orbit around the earth. It takes ten times that to put a pound of anything on the moon. And now prices are beginning to drop. Because of Elon Musk and others, rockets, booster rockets are now reusable.

Think about that. Think of driving a car and junking a car after one ride in a car. Cars will be very expensive. That's why rockets are expensive. But now rockets are reusable. And then it's dropped the cost. And that means that even smaller nations can begin to field space probes into outer space.

Today we have the United States, Russia, China, India, Japan, fielding, soft-landings on the moon. Pretty soon other countries will all join in because the costs are dropping. That's the key.

PHILLIP: Yes, that's incredibly significant. There have been 21 successful moon landings just in the past. Most of them were near that lunar equator. Now that this Odysseus is at the south pole, what comes next after that in terms of actually exploiting what is there?

KAKU: Well, we want to begin the process of harvesting the cometary ice, cometary because the comets will impact on the south polar region and won't disperse because there's shadows, shadows that prevent it from evaporating.

And we want to find out how much, how much cometary ice there is, ice that can be broken up into hydrogen and oxygen to create rocket fuel, oxygen that you can use for breathing, oxygen and water, of course, that you can use for drinking purposes. We want to find out exactly how much there is so that the moon could become a refueling station for Martian missions to the red planet. So, in the future, astronauts may first go to the moon, load up with fuel, hydrogen, oxygen and then blast off to go to Mars.

So, the moon could be a very crucial piece in this whole puzzle of how to reach the red planet.

PHILLIP: Well, that is pretty cool to think about. There's so much that's ahead for space travel and space exploration.

Professor Michio Kaku, thank you so much for explaining all that to us.

KAU: Yes, my pleasure, anytime.

PHILLIP: And up next, the former FBI informant who was accused of lying about the Bidens has been re-arrested tonight. I'll speak with Congressman Matt Gaetz about it next.



PHILLIP: Tonight, back in handcuffs, the FBI informant who was indicted for lying about the Biden family is in federal custody again after a judge ordered his release on Tuesday.

Now, the Justice Department branded Alexander Smirnov a flight risk and got a different judge to sign off on a new warrant. Smirnov finds himself at the center of a firestorm, legal and political.

The government alleges that Smirnov had routine contacts with Russian intelligence, and then he passed off stories told to him by those agents, including lies about the president and the president's son.

Joining me now is Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman Gaetz, your colleague, Ken Buck, was on CNN. He suggested last night that people close to the investigation in the Congress would have known that Smirnov had credibility issues. Listen to what he said.


REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): We were warned at the time that we received the document outlining this witness's testimony, we were warned that the credibility of this statement was -- was not known, and yet people, my colleagues, went out and talked to the public about how this was credible and how it was damning and how it proved President Biden's -- at the time, Vice President Biden's complicity in receiving bribes.



PHILLIP: Is that true?

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I personally debriefed the whistleblower who initially identified this 1023 alleging a bribe with the Biden family, and that whistleblower told us at the time that he did not know whether or not that bribe had actually been consummated, but merely the existence of a 1023 that the FBI wasn't providing to Congress warranted further review.

Now, when we initially asked for this 1023, we were told by the Department of Justice, it's got all these national security implications, we have to protect this confidential human source.

So now what we have to decipher is which arm of the Department of Justice was telling us the truth, because in these indictments that you see from Weiss, there are all these allegations that Smirnov could not have possibly observed these instances of bribery because he wasn't in the countries stated.

But when we -- when we were debriefing the U.S. attorney from Pittsburgh, we got a very different version of events. Scott Brady told us that they could verify those travel records. So, we got to figure out which part of the DOJ was telling the truth and which wasn't.

PHILLIP: Just to be clear, What Ken Buck is saying was that Congress -- people in Congress were warned that this confidential source, what he was providing could not be verified. Is that part something that you were ever told that --

GAETZ: Directly.

PHILLIP: -- what you had to say? And so, given that, should that not have produced some more caution on the part of your colleagues, James Comer, Jim Jordan, as they talked about the value of this, the information that this source had provided?

GAETZ: I think what they talked about was the extent to which DOJ was entangled with this particular source, the number of cases he'd been involved in, the number of successful prosecutions --

PHILLIP: I mean, they call this --

GAETZ: -- based off that information.

PHILLIP: They call this -- I want to play for you what they said.

GAETZ: Sure.

PHILLIP: But they called it basically a linchpin of the investigation. Listen.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The most corroborating evidence we have is that 1023 form from this highly credible confidential human source.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Every day, this bribery scandal becomes more credible.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): We already know the president took bribes from Burisma. I also want to add, betraying your country is treason.

REP. PAT FALLON (R-TX) (voice-over): This, ladies and gentlemen, is gold. This is direct evidence of naked corruption and bribery.

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): The evidence is overwhelming, Maria. You know, the nail is in the coffin.


PHILLIP: Was that irresponsible?

GAETZ: A few of those characterizations might have been a little --

PHILLIP: Just a few?

GAETZ: -- a little over-sauced. But I do think that -- that the -- the bribery can also go to a family member. Right?

PHILLIP: But this is -- I just want to say --

GAETZ: The reason I think it is still bribery, though, Abby, is because if you want to bribe a 75-year-old man, you pay their kids. PHILLIP: But here's the thing, here's the thing, you just acknowledged there's actually no evidence of bribery when it comes to what this confidential source had.

GAETZ: I did not acknowledge that.

PHILLIP: You acknowledged that there's no -- there's no proof -- there's -- there's reports of bribery, but there's actually no proof of bribery actually being consummated.

GAETZ: I think -- I think that when you pay someone's family member in order to influence their decision, that that is a bribe. Now, I recognize that that's probably not a view of bribery that's going to lead to an impeachment in the House, but, yeah, like how do you think you bribe old people? You pay their kids and their family members.

PHILLIP: Well, I mean, you can, in your mind, think about it however you want --

GAETZ: Abby --

PHILLIP: -- but from a constitutional and even from a legal perspective, that's you.

GAETZ: Well, I don't think so.

PHILLIP: You acknowledged -- you acknowledged --

GAETZ: I think you should read the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act again.

PHILLIP: I just want to ask you, though, about this --

GAETZ: You know that in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, payment to a family member can constitute a bribe.

PHILLIP: Here's what -- here's what you said, congressman. This was in October at a private fundraiser. You said, "I don't believe that we are endeavoring upon a legitimate impeachment of Joe Biden. They're trying to engage in a 'forever war' of impeachment. And like so many of our forever wars, it will drag on forever and end in a bloody draw."

Honestly, it seems like maybe you were right the first time.

GAETZ: When you've heard me speak about issues important to me, I haven't led with impeachment. I talk about the budget and single subject spending bills and term limits and things like that.

PHILLIP: Your colleagues -- given that, according to Jim Jordan, this was the most corroborating piece of evidence that they had. Should they drop this impeachment at this point?

GAETZ: I disagree with Jordan that this is what's most corroborating. I think what's most corroborating are the payments to Hunter Biden and Frank Biden and James Biden. I was deposing James Biden and the way that they took money from the Chinese government would make your skin crawl.

Now, that's admittedly James Biden, not Joe Biden. But I do believe when these foreign governments are loading up the entire Biden family apparatus with cash, they're not doing so to extract some sort of skill or service from these ne'er-do-well Bidens. They're doing it to influence Joe Biden.

PHILLIP: Everything that you've described is an inference. It's basically saying, well, it must be. But there's actually no -- you haven't actually given any proof of what you're alleging.

GAETZ: But Abby, why do you think Burisma was paying Hunter Biden?

PHILLIP: Here's the thing, in the absence --

GAETZ: Do you think they were paying him to figure out where to go buy crack in L.A.?

PHILLIP: In the absence of actual proof --

GAETZ: I mean, they were paying him because --

PHILLIP: In the absence of actual proof --

GAETZ: But that's just proof.

PHILLIP: As you said earlier, is this impeachment inquiry even going anywhere if you cannot provide enough evidence?


Jonathan Turley, a conservative lawyer, he was brought before the committee to testify about this. He said there's not enough evidence to support articles of impeachment against Joe Biden.

GAETZ: Yeah, when Jonathan Turley said that, we should have asked Jamaal Bowman to pull a fire alarm. It was a devastating moment for House Republicans. But I think the impeachment inquiry will have to rely on deciphering whether or not it was Weiss or Brady accurately assessing the travel of Smirnov.

PHILLIP: Do you think that's what the -- that's what the impeachment inquiry ought to be about --

GAETZ: Think about it. Think about it.

PHILLIP: -- or shouldn't it be about whether or not you actually have proof of bribery?

GAETZ: Well, let's assume that Brady is right, that Smirnov indeed was in these places making these observations. and I'm not saying he is, I'm saying it's a contradiction, in that event, you could literally have a situation where Smirnov is being arrested to facilitate the cover up.

Now, again, I think that requires us reviewing the travel records and getting more transparency out of the Department of Justice more than they've been willing to give us the date.

PHILLIP: So, before I let you go, congressman, I want to just ask you about some news this week. It's pretty big news in the world of women's health. Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are considered to be children. Do you think that they got that ruling right?

GAETZ: Well, I think the court correctly assessed the law, but I believe the Alabama law needs to change because the Republican Party cannot be the party against family formation. And when we're at the point where we're confusing families like those you just had on with abortionists, something is totally wrong.

People who want to have a family should have the government and the law on their side. And the notion that discarded embryos in IVF somehow turn these people who want children and want families and want the American dream into criminals is really wrong.

PHILLIP: So, for those in the Republican Party and the pro-life movement, as they describe themselves, who say that this is necessarily the next frontier, they're wrong?

GAETZ: Pro-life means being pro-IVF. And I've worked side by side with progressive Democrats like Sara Jacobs to make sure that our military members can have access to IVF in the event of deployment or other challenges to family formation.

So, you're always going to find me on the side of family formation, not against family formation. I believe the Alabama legislature ought to amend their law so that IVF can occur safely in the Yellowhammer State.

PHILLIP: All right, Congressman Matt Gaetz, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate you being here tonight.

GAETZ: Thanks, Abby.

PHILLIP: And talk show host Wendy Williams, she's going public with her diagnosis of aphasia and frontotemporal dementia. We'll speak about that diagnosis with an expert coming up next.




PHILLIP: It's just an absolutely devastating diagnosis for former talk show host Wendy Williams. Today, her representatives revealed that she has progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia. It comes as a new docuseries focused on when Williams's life is set to air.

CNN's Elizabeth Wagmeister has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ELIZABETH WAGMEISTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A daytime T.V. icon with unfiltered commentary and off-the-cuff celebrity gossip. Wendy Williams talk show redefined daytime television and ran for 13 seasons with an audience who had a front row seat to her extreme candor and at times personal demons.

WENDY WILLIAMS, AMERICAN MEDIA PERSONALITY, WRITER: And you know I've had a struggle with cocaine.

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): In 2019, she tearfully revealed that she was living in a sober house. Two years prior, she fainted live on air.

Williams's well-documented health concerns often resulted in hiatus after hiatus. In her absence, the series ultimately ended in early 2022. The years after, however, have been somewhat mysterious for her fans and even family.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): At the peak of her career, she was gone.

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): A new docuseries on "Lifetime" explores the Williams saga. It's executive-produced by Williams herself. She pitched it as a behind-the-scenes look at her life with hopes of launching a podcast. But producers soon realized that they were capturing something very different from a comeback.

ALEX FINNIE, NIECE OF WENDY WILLIAMS: You are bigger than this. You are better than this.

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): Her niece, Alex Finnie, participates in the documentary. Producers say they finished shooting Wendy's portion last year.

WILLIAMS: Are we ready?

WAGMEISTER: Where is your aunt today?

FINNIE: Well, you know, she is away at some sort of facility, and she is healing. Um, you know, Elizabeth, part of what has been so complicated and challenging about this for myself, and I'll speak for my family in this instance, and that is we don't have an exact location in terms of where she is. We have no way to actually call her personally.

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): A care team for Williams says the former host has been diagnosed with aphasia and dementia, which can impact communication, personality, and the ability to understand language. Her niece also says the former host has been suffering from alcohol abuse.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Did you drink this whole thing today?

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): Shortly after her talk show was canceled, a New York court appointed a legal guardian to oversee her finances and health. The case has been sealed, along with the identity of the guardian.

WAGMEISTER: Can you explain the process of this guardianship and how involved the family is, if at all?

FINNIE: To put it really simply, the family has been shut out. My aunt was placed under this guardianship in April of 2022. She went into court. It was closed, so we don't know the details.


And when she came out, she was under this court-appointed guardian. And here we are now in February of 2024 and that information is still really limited.

WAGMEISTER (voice-over): CNN has been unable to speak directly to Williams about the project or verify her family's account of their conversations. But we reached out to the care team and they declined comment.

As for Finnie, she says she speaks to Williams over the phone, and she's hopeful for her aunt's progress, but still has concerns.

FINNIE: Some stuff that people are going to see in this documentary is just not adding up. I think a lot of people are going to have questions in terms of where is the guardian? Where is the oversight?


WAGMEISTER (on camera): Now, prior to my role here at CNN, I actually worked alongside Wendy Williams many times as a guest on her show, and I can tell you there is truly no one like Wendy. She is in a league of her own, her talent is unmatched, and it is difficult to see her state of being in this documentary because it is far different than the woman that I got to know.

Now, producers of the series know that this is going to be difficult for fans to watch, but they say it's important to show Wendy's reality. They say that they were -- quote -- "in a state of constant reevaluating the approach to the project and how to tell Wendy's story in the most responsible and truthful way. We believe this documentary captures the truth of Wendy's life over the year and a half that we filmed it."

The two-part series airs this weekend. Abby?

PHILLIP: Thanks to Elizabeth for that. And one clip from the documentary that really shows the devastating effect of this condition is now going viral. It features Williams speaking with her friend, reality star Blac Chyna.


BLAC CHYNA, AMERICAN PORNOGRAPHIC ACTRESS: I'm always going to be here for you, straight up. You can call my phone whenever -- I'm so serious. And I think I'm going to be back and forth from New York, so I'm going to be coming to see you more.

WILLIAMS: My real name is Wendy Hunter.

CHYNA: Hunter.


CHYNA: Uh-hmm.

WILLIAMS: And I'm divorced.


WILLIAMS: He's got no money.

CHYNA: Yeah.


CHYNA: Yeah. I love you.



PHILLIP: We're joined now by Dr. Christina Prather. She joins me. She is the clinical director for the GW Institute for Brain Health and Dementia and the director of the Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine Division at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Science.

Doctor, that clip is so hard to watch. This is someone who spent her whole life, virtually her life and career on television talking for a living. When you see that as a physician, what do you see?

DR. CHRISTINA PRATHER, CLINICAL DIRECTOR, GW INSTITUTE FOR BRAIN HEALTH & DEMENTIA: Yeah, anytime anyone is given a diagnosis of dementia, it's devastating, right? But a condition like primary progressive aphasia in particular, the condition that we're talking about that Wendy has shared, is so potentially isolating and takes away one's ability to communicate and interact with the world around them.

And so, I'm guessing that the documentary will likely highlight the challenges she has: Finding words, putting together sentences, even understanding things that people say to her, understanding the meaning of a word.

I've never evaluated Wendy. I don't know exactly what the challenges are that she's facing because everyone with primary progressive aphasia has a slightly different set of symptoms. But I envision the story will be very, very heartbreaking and very hard for many people who have touched dementia to watch.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I'm not sure how it's going feel to even see it, honestly.


PHILLIP: But, look, Bruce Willis and his family revealed that he suffers from basically the same condition. I was shocked to even hear this about Wendy. It seems shocking that two very famous people could have something that seems so rare. Is it -- people might wonder, is it becoming more common? I mean, is it?

PRATHER: It's a really good question. I think we might be recognizing it more. And so traditionally, primary progressive aphasia has not been well understood or well recognized.

And so, the Willis family and the Williams family are doing something incredibly courageous and brave by putting their story out there. You know, they're really empowering people to recognize these symptoms in their own loved ones and come forward to their clinicians and ask for help.

PHILLIP: What are the symptoms?

PRATHER: So, in primary progressive aphasia, which is caused by either a frontotemporal form of dementia or an atypical form of Alzheimer's disease, there's really three most common symptoms. One is trouble with naming items coming up for the word.


The second major thing is trouble putting together words or sentences, whether you're writing or typing, grammar mistakes, putting in the wrong word, sitting down to write a sentence and not even knowing how to construct it.

And then the third type is hearing a word or seeing a face and not even knowing what the meaning is anymore. As people progress with primary progressive aphasia, they often have other conditions that might be associated with frontotemporal dementias or with Alzheimer's disease like behavior and personality changes, other cognitive changes that lead to dementia.

PHILLIP: Yeah, it's a lot for families to potentially take in.

PRATHER: It's a lot

PHILLIP: We appreciate you joining us with all of that information. Dr. Christina Prather, thank you so much.

And thank you for watching NEWSNIGHT with Abby Phillip. "LAURA COATES LIVE" starts next.