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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Trump's Immunity Claim; Supreme Decision Raises Doubt Of Trump Trial Before Election; Doubts Rising Of Trump Interference Trial Before Election; Senator Mitch McConnell Announces He Will Step Down In November From His Leadership Post; Illinois Judge Removing Donald Trump From State's Ballot; Comedian Richard Lewis Dies Peacefully In Los Angeles Home. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 28, 2024 - 22:00   ET



JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: So, the order they're under has the markings of a potential landmark decision, no question, the fact that they took it up. It is a court, however, that likes the last word. So, I think we all are going to have to sit tight and see what happens.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Oh, and that last word from you, John Dean, I mean, we'll just see what the timing, of course, here and what that means for everything. Thank you, John Dean. I really appreciate you having your perspective here tonight.

And thank you all so much for joining us on this incredibly busy night. NewsNight with Abby Phillip starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: The Supreme Court says that it will decide the biggest question of all about Donald Trump and the presidency. That's tonight on NewsNight.

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

April 22nd, that's a date that you should circle on your calendar. It may go down as a defining day in the history of the republic. It's the day that the Supreme Court says that it will hear oral arguments on the question hanging over the 2024 election like a guillotine. Is Donald Trump immune from prosecution on charges that he interfered with the 2020 election? Is he immune from anything related to that violent January 6th insurrection that he encouraged?

Now, the high court revealed its plan in two dry paragraphs. The justices set out a clear timeline there, one that collides directly with his other trials and with the election that is very much underway. March 19th, for example, is the due date for briefs. March 19th is also the day when voters in Arizona, in Florida, in Illinois, in Kansas and Ohio all head to the polls. That's when 350 delegates are on the line in the race for the Republican nomination.

Now, the courtroom clash does give Trump a chance to forever make an imprint on how this country operates, that is if the court agrees with his lawyers that presidents are above the law just because they're president. It's an argument that every court so far has soundly rejected and it also makes it possible, maybe even likely, that Trump can get exactly what he wanted, a delay in his trials beyond the 2024 election.

So far, the special counsel's office on the other side of the case isn't commenting. And as we come on the air, neither is the Biden White House nor President Biden's campaign.

Now, Trump himself, well, here's what he said just last month.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the opening of a Pandora's box and it's a very sad thing that's happened with this whole situation, when they talk about threat to democracy, that's your real threat to democracy. And I feel that as a president you have to have immunity.

I've read a lot of legal reports lately and scholarly reports that are saying you really have to have a president of this country has to have immunity, or they're not going to be able to function in office.


PHILLIP: Now there are at least six burning questions that we have about what this decision actually means for Trump's legal issues and also for that calendar. Here to help us with the answers is CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig.

Elie, we've got 99 problems over the country, but six questions for you. Let's start with question number one. Who decides when this trial ultimately happens?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Abby. So, trial dates are always the result of a tug of war. Typically, prosecutors ask for earlier, sooner trial dates, and, typically, defendants try to delay. Donald Trump did not invent this tactic. But the decision is up to the trial judge, in this case, Judge Tanya Chutkan. Trial judges have broad discretion over when to schedule a trial. What she says is going to go, she's the one who has the decision ultimately.

PHILLIP: So, is it possible that Trump still can get to a trial before the November election?

HONIG: So, this is the big question that I think is on people's minds. A couple key dates, of course, the election November 5th. We've got the Republican Convention July 15th. But now when could this opinion come down from the Supreme Court? It seems like the most realistic timing for that would be sometime in early June.

But remember, though, when this trial was put on pause, they were still two months or so out from the trial. So, the judge would have to build in a couple months for trial prep for motions for discovery.

So, we're looking realistically if the judge wants to try to get it in at a start date sometime around August, that's going to take us through August, through September, and probably into October. We're getting really close to Election Day.

PHILLIP: Yes. And that's going to become important for one of our later questions.

But the next one here, would the election itself, Election Day, ultimately have some impact on when the trial happens?

HONIG: So, there's no formal rule saying you cannot have a trial on Election Day or near Election Day, but it would be problematic in two ways.


One, I think DOJ and a judge might worry that the outcome of a trial this close to the Election Day could sway the election and vice versa. If I'm prosecuting this case, I'd be a little worried about a juror saying, well, maybe I think he's guilty, but I'm not comfortable with finding someone guilty on November 1st or something when you have an election a few days later.

So, it gets into really tricky ground at that point.

PHILLIP: Yes. And what about the DOJ? They've got their own rules about elections.


PHILLIP: (INAUDIBLE) have a verdict?

HONIG: So you will hear much about this fabled 60-day rule at DOJ, but it does not strictly apply here. What the rule says is, at DOJ you should not announce big indictments, you should not take overt steps, execute a search warrant, serve subpoenas within 60 days of an election.

But trials are different. DOJ does not control trial dates. As we just showed, it's a judge. And so trials are technically not part of the 60-day rule. You could argue they're within the same spirit, though.

PHILLIP: So, in a quick follow-up, if Donald Trump is elected and this is potentially going to trial, would DOJ allow the trial to go forward if he's the incoming president?

HONIG: Short answer is no, DOJ has a longstanding policy that they will not indict or try a sitting president.

PHILLIP: So, question number five, we've got potential for delays here. Can two trials happen at the same time?

HONIG: Let me give you a very simple answer here, no. You cannot have two trials at the same time because the defendant has the right to be physically present at his trials. He obviously can't be in two places at once. It's a core constitutional right. We will not have two trials. That's not a great no.

PHILLIP: but it's loud and clear for anybody at home who wants to see. Okay, that leads us right to question number six, he has a right to be present?


PHILLIP: Does he have to be present?

HONIG: Generally speaking, yes, with some very, very narrow exceptions if, for example, someone is being physically disruptive, they can be removed from the courtroom. He could probably ask for permission to miss certain days. You remember in the civil cases, though, Donald Trump sort of came and went he was there, some days, he was not there, others. Generally speaking, at a criminal trial, the defendant has to be and will be present every day. It will physically take him right off the campaign trail. But, you know, he knows how to turn a courtroom into the campaign trail.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, it is unusual to not have a defendant if they're facing a criminal charge, but, you know, as a former president --

HONIG: Yes, I've never seen a defendant visit their own trial.

PHILLIP: Very unusual in a lot of other ways as well.

Elie Honig, thank you very much.

And let's discuss this now and debate this question with two esteemed lawyers. You've got Trump lawyer Tim Parlatrre and Jeffrey Toobin also is with us.

So, Tim, I want to start with you. You think the justices did the right thing in agreeing to hear this case? If so, why?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I do. I think that for an issue of this magnitude that impacts the president, it doesn't just impact what happens to Donald Trump. They're going to be setting precedent to really define the left and right limits of presidential immunity that's going to apply to every president that comes thereafter.

And that's something that Justice Ginsburg wrote a scathing opinion back in late 90s saying, these type of things must be decided by the Supreme Court, not by the circuit. And so I think that even if they were to uphold what the circuit did, it's something that really needs to come from the Supreme Court, not from the D.C. Circuit.

PHILLIP: All right. Jeffrey, so do you buy that, that they have to weigh in just for the finality of it all?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I don't think it's a terrible idea to have the Supreme Court address an issue of this magnitude. I understand that point. My complaint about what the Supreme Court has done is about the procedure and the timing.

This issue has been before them. They could have skipped the D.C. Circuit all together. Jack Smith asked them to skip the D.C. Circuit to move this case along. They declined to do that, and they have gone at a very leisurely pace in addressing the appeal now from the D.C. Circuit and now have set the argument for the week of April 22nd. All of that is a gift to Donald Trump.

So, the substance I don't have a problem with, but the procedure, which is often more important than the substance, has been very much slanted in Trump's favor.

PHILLIP: I want to get back to that. But, Tim, just to get your take on this, I mean, you understand the world of Trump attorneys pretty well. You were one yourself. If you were representing him in a case like this and you walked into the Supreme Court on April 22nd, what's the argument on the merits?

PARLATORE: You know, the argument on the merits is -- and it's been narrowed by the Supreme Court from what they wanted to argue, it really is, you know, that the actions that you take that are part of your duties as president, that immunity should attach to them, and that immunity should survive, you know, at the end of a presidency. That's really how the Supreme Court has narrowed it.

So, the whole impeachment judgment rule, that's out the window, they didn't want to hear that. You know, they really just want to know about, you know, the official acts, whether that immunity survives the end of a presidency, so you really got to focus on that.


TOOBIN: But the question, the way the Supreme Court defined the question was also, in a way, favorable to Trump because it raised the possibility that the Supreme Court will establish a standard for this issue and then send the issue back to the D.C. Circuit to decide whether the facts of this case apply, which would certainly push this case after the election.

So, everything the Court has done procedurally has been in Trump's favor, even if ultimately they wind up ruling against him on the merit.

PHILLIP: Jeffrey, though, what Tim is saying also is that Trump could argue that the things that he is accused of doing related to January 6th ultimately were official acts. I mean, do you think he can actually make that case?

TOOBIN: I don't think I don't think he can make that case. And, you know, it has been a bedrock principle of American law, including Trump's own lawyers made the argument in his last impeachment that, well, of course, this can all be dealt with in a criminal case later.

Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon because everyone assumed he could be prosecuted for what he had done as president. This is an extremely novel and frankly dangerous argument that Trump is making. And that's why the D.C. Circuit, in a bipartisan way, basically gave it the back of their hand. I expect the Supreme Court will do something similar, but the delay is the big win for Trump here.

PHILLIP: Tim, your thoughts? PARLATORE: You know, I mean, we keep talking about the delay helping Trump. The reality is what the Supreme Court has done here is what a normal schedule for any other case would be. You know, they have not taken Jack Smith's invitation to put the election as part of their calculus. They're going on a normal schedule.

So, I mean, the idea that they, you know, they should have taken it instead of the circuit, that's just silly. I mean, that's something that, yes, they should have taken it if they wanted to push it before the election, but if they want to follow a normal procedure, then they allow the record to be developed in the circuit, then they take it, and then they decide it on a normal schedule as to, you know, whether this is being set up to go back down for another hearing, and I think it is.

Because one of the things that the circuit did, which is interesting in how they worded this order, the circuit said the indictment alleges that this was all done in his capacity as a candidate as opposed to the president. And so, really, if the Supreme Court is going to focus on what he did as a president, what they're likely going to do is not send it back to the circuit. They're going to send it back to the district court for pretrial evidentiary hearing to see what parts came within candidate Trump and what parts came within President Trump.

TOOBIN: And if you have your way, it will be all he decided under the presidency of Malia Obama.

PHILLIP: Well, I mean, the truth is that that sounds like an extremely extended timeline. And, Tim, delay is important here because justice delayed very well could mean justice denied in this case. I mean, if Trump is liable for his actions, if he doesn't get this decided until year two of his second term as president, he probably wouldn't even go there at that point, then it gets denied.

PARLATORE: The election is really -- it's an additional factor that we don't normally have. I mean, let's remember, criminal cases in the federal district court, especially with this amount of discovery, they don't go to trial ever, really, within two years. So, the idea that we're even talking about a trial date at this stage is solely because Jack Smith is trying to push it before the election. The fact that we're talking about trying to skip the circuit, you know, to go straight to the Supreme Court, again, is only because of the election.

And, you know, this delay, justice delayed is just denied, is something that's very unique to this situation because they're afraid of pushing it out past the election if he wins. But if you were to set aside the election entirely and just focus on the facts, evidence and the law, and trying to get it right, then you would take the time to get it right.

TOOBIN: The Supreme Court often deals, lives in the real world. And during the 2000 race, Bush v. Gore, they were deciding cases day by day because they recognized the importance of it. They came back over the summer in 1974 to decide the Nixon Tapes case because they recognized the importance of speed in that situation. They could live in the real world if they wanted to, but there's a majority on that court that doesn't want to recognize how meaningful the calendar is here.

PHILLIP: All right. Tim Parlatore and Jeffrey Toobin --

PARLATORE: Those two cases were very different. I mean, those two cases were very different. We're talking about, you know, the election while it's pending. And we're talking about after he's already been reelected of whether you're going to keep him in office.


And the Nixon case is entirely different timing.

PHILLIP: All right. Well, Tim --

PARLATORE: We don't even know he's going to win the election.

PHILLIP: Tim and Jeffrey, really, this is a really interesting conversation, one I'm sure we will revisit. Thank you both very much.

And up next, Harry Enten is here to break down the calendar and the likelihood that American voters will actually know, as we've been discussing, what is Trump's fate before this next election.

Plus, also breaking tonight, a judge in Illinois becoming the next latest to kick Trump off the ballot over the insurrectionist ban.

This is a special edition of NewsNight.



PHILLIP: We have much more now on the complicated legal calendar that is facing Donald Trump after the Supreme Court agreed to take up his challenges to presidential immunity.

CNN Senior Data Reporter Harry Enten is over at the magic wall with more on this. So Harry, what does the legal calendar look like going forward from here?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes, Abby. You know, I want to point out a few important things on this particular calendar. First off, the next thing that we're looking at is the classified documents case hearing on Friday, the 1st of March. And that, of course, will determine whether or not the classified document trial, which is currently set for the 20th of May of 2024, will actually go forward.

Now, why is that an important date? Because everything else on this calendar is after that. And you know what is actually just after Friday the 1st is Super Tuesday the 5th. That is when a lot of delegates on the Republican side of the aisle be decided. A majority will, in fact, be determined at least by Tuesday, March 12th. And then Trump is probably, if the polls are correct, is probably going to clinch the nomination between Tuesday, March 12th and Tuesday, March 19th. That means that he very well could get the nomination before anything else happens.

Now, you'll notice the hush money trial is set to open on the 25th of March. And then you basically get this long rule. You get the Supreme Court arguments on immunity, which, of course, we've been talking about all this program. And that's not happening until late April. Then the Fulton County prosecutor proposed trial doesn't even potentially start until the 5th of August. My goodness gracious, how late is that? It's actually after the RNC, the Republican National Convention, which actually occurs in July. And that might not actually be the case. So, you're getting all of these things, Abby, that are starting really, really late.

Now, this is just when these trials may be beginning. When could these cases actually be decided? Will they be decided before the election? Well, if you listen to the judge in the New York case, probably for the New York hush money case, but classified docs, Georgia election, federal January 6th case, it is all unclear at this point, could be only one trial is, in fact, determined before the November election.

PHILLIP: Yes, the one trial that there's a lot of dispute about how strong that case is. What do you think is the political impact of this New York hush money case being the first and maybe the only one to finish before the election?

ENTEN: Yes. If you ask the American public what they think or view the charges is very serious, a majority believed on the classified documents case, 51 percent, the Georgia election case, 54 percent, the federal January 6th case, 56 percent. But look at the Hush Money case. Only about a third of voters, just 32 percent of voters, view the charges in that case as very serious is by far, Abby, the weakest case in the minds of the Americans. And it may be the only one that is actually determined before the election.

So, then the question is, Abby, you know, how do Americans view this in terms of whether or not they view it as potentially disqualifying for Trump? So, this is the New York hush money charges, disqualify Trump for the presidency, if they are true, look here, all voters, only 30 percent, Abby, only 30 percent of all voters view the charges as disqualifying if they are, in fact, true. And if you look at those undecided voters and a Trump-Biden potential rematch, it's only a third, 33 percent. So, if the New York Hush Money case is the only one that's determined before the election, it's probably not going to make that much of a difference, Abby.

PHILLIP: Yes. And in that first number, that means probably quite a lot of Democrats are in that first number there, too.

Harry Enten, thank you very much for all of that.

And joining me now is Democratic Congressman from Tennessee Steve Cohen. He serves on that House Judiciary Committee. Congressman Cohen, thank you for being here and staying up late for us tonight. Were you surprised to see that the Supreme Court decided to take on this case? REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): I was surprised to see the date is April 22nd. It's so far out that it makes it difficult for this case to be heard before the election. There's no case before the Supreme Court today or probably in a decade more important than this case.

Roe v. Wade, right up there, may be more important. But this case determines whether or not we know for the next election if our president is a crook, as Richard Nixon asked. Richard Nixon was a crook. And I suspect that the American public wants to know what a jury would think of Donald Trump. Did he try to steal the election? Was it a coup d'etat? Was it an insurrection? Was he involved? Did he know what he was doing?

I think we've seen the facts brought out distinctly by the January 6th committee and by the press and everybody else. This was something Donald Trump engineered. And this could be determined plenty of time for the case to be heard and tried before the American people could make a judgment based on the decision of the jury.

PHILLIP: So, ultimately, is the court basically doing Donald Trump a favor here, whether they intended to or not, by effectively delaying this trial so that it can't possibly start before the election?


COHEN: I think they are. I don't think there was really a need to hear this case. The appellate court made the right decision. It was a beautiful opinion, and it was clear that there was no question whatsoever, because if he didn't have the opinion, if he said the president had absolute immunity, and Trump says, oh, the president has to have absolute immunity, they couldn't do a job. Well, he didn't have absolute immunity when he was president. He said four years he didn't do much of a job anyway, but regardless, it wasn't because he didn't have immunity.

And the fact is, this case seems to be heard before the election, and I think he's been stalling for time. He's stalled for time. In all the cases, he's got to throw anything up against the wall to get him extra time, because he wants to put it after the election, and if he should win, he will stop these prosecutions.

PHILLIP: And look, the voters --

COHEN: And that's his only hope.

PHILLIP: The voters want to know, nearly half in a CNN poll say that it's essential that a verdict on Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election be reached before November. Now, if they don't get a verdict, what effect will that have? I mean, is this something that helps or hurts Trump?

COHEN: Well, it helps Trump not to have a verdict and to put it off until after his election. And if he wins, hopefully he won't, but if he does, then he would have a Justice Department that would kill the cases and he would say, just let them be. And he could do that because he controls the Justice Department. He'll hire some lackey. He's learned from his first term to hire lackeys at all points. Bill Barr was a lackey, but he's got to have a super lackey. He was just a kind of a regular lackey.

PHILLIP: Well, just in that general vein, you previously have said of Justice Clarence Thomas that he should recuse himself for any cases involving January 6, just broadly. On this particular case, do you think he has to do the same now?

COHEN: He should, but he won't. He doesn't know anything about ethics. His wife was involved in January 6th, and he's shown by taking monies from wealthy people and hiding it by getting R.V.s and several $100,000 R.V.s and taking unbelievable journeys and cruises and safaris or whatever paid for by others. He has no thought about ethics, and he would not recuse himself in this case, and he'd do anything he could to help Donald Trump and to keep him in office, and so would Alito.

The hope is that, and I have some hope, even at this point, and I'm disappointed it's come to this, because I think they should have just affirmed and said there was no basis to appeal and affirm the circuit court's opinion, which says if he had said he had immunity, he could rape, he could murder, he could overthrow the government, but he could rape or he could murder and be immune. This is the only thing Putin can do. Putin is immune in Russia from killing Navalny. And that's what he wants here.

PHILLIP: Were you saying, Congressman, that you have hope that the court will rule against Trump here?

COHEN: I have hope that the Chief Justice Roberts, who I've gotten to know over the years, has the courts at his reputation as his primary authority. There's certain people that think that just about every Republican member of the court is dishonest and that they would do things financially or other reasons to help Trump. I don't believe that John Roberts would do such a thing.

And I've got my fingers crossed and hope that Kavanaugh has that same morality and that he will work with Roberts and that the three Democrats at least have a 5-4 and to see to it that this case does get to trial. I mean, the only thing we can do is hope because there's no appeal on them. The Supreme Court is a Supreme Court. John Roberts has the opinion of the Supreme Court and the American public's mind in his hands. And he values the Supreme Court. He is the chief justice. That is his job.

PHILLIP: It's very interesting to hear you say that, Congressman Steve Cohen. Thank you very much for joining us.

COHEN: You're welcome, Abby, nice to be with you.

PHILLIP: And next, the Republican who is responsible for changing the architecture of that Supreme Court announces that he is taking a back venture role on the very same day that the court he built steps into the spotlight. Again, much more ahead on NewsNight.



PHILLIP: On the very same day that the Supreme Court weighed in on whether Trump is above the law, a monumental announcement now from the Republican who helped pave the way for Donald Trump to make not one, not two, but three selections on that Supreme Court for the next generation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is stepping down now from his leadership post in November.


MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Father, time remains undefeated. I'm no longer the young man sitting in the back hoping colleagues would remember my name. It's time for the next generation of leadership.


PHILLIP: Joining me now is CNN Senior Political Commentator and former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who of course served on the January 6th Committee. Adam, I have to ask you, I mean, do you hold Mitch McConnell essentially responsible for why the country is in this position in the first place? He was the one who gave Trump a lifeline by helping to tank the impeachment over January 6th.

ADAM KINZINGER (R) FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN FOR ILLINOIS: I mean, he really was and think about this, he was impeached in the House. I think seven people voted to convict him in the Senate, and it would have been enough to remove him. There would have been, I think, another 10 Republicans if Mitch McConnell had done that. Remember he gave this amazing speech on the floor about, you know, law and justice.


And then he basically was like, but, you know, he's already out of office, and, you know, we can't impeach a guy that's already out of office. By the way, that trial was delayed because Mitch McConnell delayed it until Trump was out of office.

You know, you also look back on things like this fall. Mitch McConnell acquiesced to the Freedom Caucus and the House's demand that they not pass Ukraine funding. It could have gotten passed in October, but he acquiesced to a continuing resolution that punted this situation to where we are now, where it may not even get passed.

So look, Mitch McConnell is a political animal. He was good at politics. But I always struggled to look into his eyes and see that there was any center or any core besides simply winning the next thing for the Republicans.

PHILLIP: But, you know, interestingly, obviously, McConnell is not a fan of Donald Trump. These people do not like each other. But he could now have basically played a single-handed role in building a court that could, some would say, might, likely, give Trump a ruling that would say there's immunity for the actions like the ones that he took on January 6th. Do you think that's an outcome that Mitch McConnell would want to see?

KINZINGER: No, certainly not. And personally, I think there's no chance that the Supreme Court actually ends up saying that Trump has complete immunity. I think it'll come out nine-zero or eight-one.

Well, that's my prayer. I mean, because frankly, to say that a President has complete immunity, I mean, that's like maybe an argument you'd find the devil making. But you know, here in a democracy, you know, we actually believe in the rule of law.

So, I don't think that's going to happen. But certainly this trial is now delayed. It's delayed because for whatever reason, the Supreme Court, which knows better, has decided to delay this. Maybe they want their fingerprints. Maybe they just want to delay it. I don't know. And I don't think Mitch McConnell, you know, he obviously would like to see Donald Trump go to trial.

But here's the thing, and this is what bothers me about this, is all these people that secretly know who Donald Trump is and secretly don't want him to succeed are in the very positions that people in those positions are the ones that can stop him from succeeding. But they don't.

You're the Senate Minority Leader and you're hoping some other person on a white horse rides in and saves the day, and you're the one that can do it.

PHILLIP: Well, when it comes to what's next for who leads Republicans in the Senate, just in the last hour, Mitt Romney insisted that Donald Trump won't have a role in that decision. Right now, it's believed that the Johns, John Thune, John Barrasso, and John Cornyn are all in contention.

I should note, all of them have endorsed Donald Trump, including most recently John Thune, who did it just this week. Is it wishful thinking that Trump's hand is not right in the center of this particular cookie jar?

KINZINGER: Yeah, I mean, I think it's wishful thinking. I think, you know, Thune was a big step that made a lot of us sad because he had held out and you just see in it this, like, what's it worth being the leader of the party if you have to acquiesce to Donald Trump anyway? Like why do you need this job so bad? You're really not going to have any influence.

So, I think, look, I appreciate Mitt Romney's take on this and I'll give a lot of deference to him because he's on the right side and he knows this caucus better than I do.

But I think the idea that, I mean, look, you know, this immigration plan was basically tanked because of the former President. And yeah, he's got his influence is only going to grow. Look at Josh Hawley today. He's all over Twitter gloating about this, despite the fact that he was the fastest runner on January 6th.

And, you know, and sitting around talking about whoever's next and it's all about Donald Trump. So, look, I hope it's somebody like Barrasso or Thune or Cornyn even because they'll be better than a lot of the other options. But certainly, Donald Trump will have his influence and that's no doubt.

PHILLIP: All right. Adam Kinzinger, thank you. Good to see you.

KINZINGR: You, too.

PHILLIP: And next, more breaking news tonight. Yet another state saying that Donald Trump must be removed from the ballot because of the 14th amendment. My legal panel will discuss this and much more.




PHILLIP: Breaking news tonight. An Illinois judge removing Donald Trump from the state's ballot, citing the 14th amendment and its so- called insurrectionist ban. Now, Trump's campaign wasted no time in responding to it, saying it plans to quickly appeal this ruling.

The judge's decision comes after a similar challenge from Colorado is pending now before the Supreme Court. For more on this, I want to bring in former Assistant Special Watergate Prosecutor Nick Akerman, CNN Legal Analyst Jennifer Rodgers, and Former Prosecutor Jeremy Saland.

Nick, what's your reaction to this ruling out of Illinois? They basically took what Colorado did and they said, these are the facts. We're going to just apply it to Illinois.

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, that's the same thing that the Secretary of State in Maine did. I mean, she did the exact same thing. And I think everybody's just got to hold off because the Supreme Court is going to be the body that decides this in the end.

No matter what happens, no matter how many other states do this, they're all going to wind up going back to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court's going to have the final word on this. Now, the problem I have with all of this is that they're basing it all on the fact determination that was made by the Colorado Supreme Court, which in turn was based on the January 6th Committee.

What irks the hell out of me is that the Supreme Court is actually the Supervisor of that Grand Jury in D.C. that indicted Donald Trump. They have access.

[22:45:00] If they want, they could reach into that Grand Jury. They could get the testimony of former Vice President Mike Pence. They could get the testimony that was given by the White House lawyers. And they would have more than enough facts to determine that Donald Trump was involved in an insurrection.

PHILLIP: Wouldn't that be something? They could.

AKERMAN: They could.

PHILLIP: But they won't. But, Jennifer, they won't?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They will not. I mean, they don't want to touch that issue with the 10-foot pole. They've got legal issues here about whether the presidency is under the statute as an officer, about whether Congress has to act before the states can actually do this 14th Amendment thing. They're not going to touch this factual question.

PHILLIP: Why would Illinois even do this in the first place right now?

RODGERS: So, there's a bunch of states that still have pending lawsuits. I mean, people have sued saying he should not be on our ballot, and they're working their way through a whole bunch of states. So, Illinois started with the Board of Elections.

They said, we don't have jurisdiction. It goes to the judge. Judge made the ruling. Now, it can appeal through the state courts. They're just kind of doing their jobs even though everybody knows the Supreme Court's going to come out with a decision.

PHILLIP: And, Jeremy, when it comes to a Trump appeal, this has already stayed, so he's still on the ballot for now. What does the appeal look like, and what would the import of it even be, given that the Supreme Court ultimately has to decide?

JEREMY SALAND, FORMER MANHATTAN PROSECUTOR: I think, ultimately, slightly, there's only, slightly a smaller import, because you're correct. The Supreme Court has to make a decision. There needs to be guidance. Otherwise, each state is going to be doing its own method and have their own progress or process to get to a point of should he be on or should he not be on.

So, it's very problematic. It needs to be decided not tomorrow, but it needs to be decided today. And I think, frankly, even far before this issue of immunity, the issue of insurrection, I think it's paramount.

PHILLIP: This was like a snowstorm day when it comes to news. So, one of the other headlines that happened, Trump civil fraud case, a judge ruled that he has to come up with a full bond, $454 million and his lawyers say he doesn't have it.

AKERMAN: Well, he's been saying for years he has it, but he doesn't have it. That's right.

PHILLIP: So, I mean, what does this mean for that case, for Donald Trump? Where does he go next?

AKERMAN: He goes next to trying to either sell his properties, or he has to sit back and let the attorney general go through a forfeiture proceeding and take over these properties. I mean, he is really between a rock and a hard place here.

PHILLIP: And if he can't, Jeremy, do this in the, I think it's 30 days that he has to sort this out, what happens then?

SALAND: Well, interest is ticking, number one. That's a really significant issue.


SALAND: And to the point just made before, if he wants to sell his properties, assuming he can, he has long-term capital gains issues. He's going to have to deal with. So, ultimately what will happen is Attorney General James is going to put a lien and ultimately, for lack of a better term, seize those properties.

He's going to have a hard time with coming up with this money, and I don't think that money ever existed in the first place. Whether, you know, that sort of exposes him as a charlatan on that front is yet to be seen, but this is a very major, big problem for him.

PHILLIP: Yeah, and the A.G. has said she will seize the properties --

SALAND: Absolutely.

PHILLIP: - if he doesn't pay up. Jennifer, there's also, I mean, Trump has this $83 million judgment against him in the E. Jean Carroll case. In that case as well, another civil matter. Will she ever actually see that money?

RODGERS: Yeah, I think she will. I mean, he's going to have to put up the bond for that $83 million as well, and it'll go through the appeal process. But as soon as the appeal is finished, assuming that the judgment is affirmed and the amount is affirmed, then it's time for her to get paid, and the bond will be there, so she will get that money.

PHILLIP: So, Nick, just as a final thought here, look, all of this put together, it's been an extraordinary news day, we'll put it that way, but an extraordinary year for the Supreme Court, taking on some of the most consequential decisions, maybe ever, when it comes to the highest office of the land, you were a Watergate prosecutor. Did you ever think you would see all of this in front of the courts all at once?

AKERMAN: Never. I was amazing to even see the Nixon tape case go before the Supreme Court when it did. And this immunity issue that came up today, where the court has actually permitted an appeal on the immunity issue from the D.C. Circuit, I find absolutely outrageous.

There is no way during Watergate that ever anyone thought for a moment that there was presidential immunity for Richard Nixon. I spent hours, days, months investigating crimes relating to Richard Nixon, and no one ever came to me and said, ooh, you better not do that because there's presidential immunity.

The fact is, this whole presidential immunity idea is a construct made by his lawyers in order to delay this whole matter for Donald Trump so he doesn't have to go to court.

PHILLIP: Jeremy, is the court validating that construct by taking this up, or is this an opportunity for them to say once and for all what the law says?

SALAND: I think you would be very generous to say that the court is trying to sort of cut the head off the hydra however it proposes itself to get this immunity issue out front. But I also want to say it's difficult to think it, but it's disturbing because why is the court taking so long to do this?


Are they giving Donald Trump a pass? And no matter what they find, whether they find there's immunity or not, they are by de facto, sort of by default, giving Trump that immunity by pushing this off because it's not likely that a trial will happen anytime soon, if at all, and theoretically maybe even after if he's elected or after the election.

So, it's disheartening. I don't want to think that. I want to take off those blue and red glasses, and Americans should do that. But it is very disheartening.

PHILLIP: I mean, look, when you look at all of this, it is amazing to think what this country is about to go through over the next nine or 10 months. Nick Akerman, Jennifer Rodgers, Jeremy Saland, thank you both -- all very much for all of that.

And another moment that is destined for the history books. Where does a ruling on presidential immunity fit in through the eyes of a presidential historian? Well, Douglas Brinkley is here, and he will weigh in on that next.




PHILLIP: The Supreme Court is now set to hear Donald Trump's presidential immunity claim around his federal election subversion case. Now, the court has agreed to expedite the case, with arguments set to begin the week of April 22nd.

For a closer look, though, at the historical contents and consequence of this case, I want to bring in presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. He's also the author of Silent Spring Revolution. Doug, good to see you. What do you think the history books ultimately will say about just the court's decision alone to hear this case? DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think it's

important that they're going to hear it, but it'll be talking about the timing. January 6th seems like a long time ago. Years have gone by, and the fact that it's bleeding right into the presidential election can be seen as troubling.

April 22nd is what will be here, but things won't really be known until June. And it's July 15th that the Republicans hold their convention in Milwaukee. And I think it's looking today like a win for Trump's idea of kicking this, you know, can down the road aways.

It's a six-three conservative Supreme Court. And they seem to have, they're not going at a snail's pace, but they might be at a tortoise pace here, and time is running out. But we'll see what happens come April and June.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, when you think about the last time that the court weighed in on this idea of immunity, it was for Richard Nixon. How do you think that Donald Trump's case measures up to the inevitable Nixon comparisons that we've been talking about for all these months?

BRINKLEY: Well, I edited the Nixon tapes and wrote a book on Gerald Ford, and I always thought that the point of the pardon was to say that, look, if he didn't pardon Nixon, he would have gone through the court systems, that he's not for crimes, abuse of power as President.

But alas, with things now have gotten so crazy and so politicized. I mean, this is Mitch McConnell's Supreme Court. He then, history will remember his stepping down today. At one point, McConnell had called him essentially morally culpable Donald Trump for what occurred on January 6th.

But now he's disappeared. The court's there. Trump's left standing. And my fear is people like Jack Davis, like Robert Mueller, like others, step up. They eat up all of our clock. And then it kind of fades in our -- in our rear view mirror, while Trump seems not to quite have met his comeuppance for his involvement in January 6th yet.

PHILLIP: And ultimately, I mean, look, January 6th alone is really at the heart of the American experiment about the peaceful transfer of power. But this ruling that the court could end up making, ultimately, if they rule that there is this kind of immunity, that could be a Pandora's box for this country. What impact do you think that has on the institution of the presidency itself for all the people who might seek that office going forward?

BRINKLEY: What a great question, Abby. That's -- that's the winning one in my mind, because what might happen is they isolate this. You know, Bush v. Gore kind of got isolated.

It might say that, look, we looked into Donald Trump and he was President, but we feel that in this one particular case, he had a concern about how the election count was going and hence give Trump a kind of get out of jail free card without making it a permanent new part of the American, you know, U.S. Constitution. And that could happen. They may try to, that way, they get a little

bit of cover. The Supreme Court say we just dealt with this, but we're not making a broad statement. Well, that might be what's up their sleeve come -- come July.

PHILLIP: We will soon find out. Douglas Brinkley, always great to talk to you and have that perspective. Thank you very much.

BRINKLEY: Thank you, Abby.

PHILLIP: And before we go tonight, some sad news to report. Comedian Richard Lewis has died. His publicist told CNN that he passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles last night after suffering a heart attack. Most recently, he starred in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with moments like this.



RICHARD LEWIS, COMEDIAN: I did Wordle again today. I'm a Wordle wizard, man. I did it in three tries -- three in a row.

UNKNOWN: Wow, you're really on a good streak.

LEWIS: I'm on a huge streak. That's right.


PHILLIP: Before his time on "Curb", Lewis had a long career as a stand-up comedian where he went deep into his own torment, earning him the nickname the "Prince of Pain".

He was also in films like Mel Brooks' Robin Hood Men in Tights. And last year, he revealed that he'd been living with Parkinson's disease. Richard Lewis was 76 years old. And thank you for watching "NewsNight". "Laura Coates Live" starts right now.