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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Biden Outraged After Israeli Strikes Kills Aid Workers; Aid Groups Pause Operations In Gaza After Workers Killed; Tonight, Voting In Key States, Including Wisconsin; Magnitude 7.4 Earthquake Hits Taiwan; NCAA Soars To New Heights; Hillary Clinton Compares Trump And Biden. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 02, 2024 - 22:00   ET



ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And the idea that all of a sudden he appears on Kaitlan Collins' program and he's a threat to democracy, in some way, is nonsense. And so it's just -- again, it's political silly season right now, and I just don't see much merit to it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Yes, but it speaks to the moment that we're in.

WILLIAMS: It speaks to the moment.

COLLINS: Elliot Williams, always great to have you do a little reality check for us.

Thank you all so much for joining us. CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: No aid, no way out, and no safety, no matter who you are, that's tonight on NewsNight.

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

And tonight, the president says that he is outraged and heartbroken after seven aid workers were killed while simply doing their jobs in Gaza. He's demanding a full explanation from Israel, and he's also accusing the Netanyahu government of not doing enough to protect civilians, quote, this is not a standalone incident, the president is saying tonight. And he's right about that.

Here is a number that too few people know, 196. That is the number of aid workers that have been killed since Israel and Hamas went to war in Gaza on October 7th. That toll is a stain on humanity.

And on Monday, the shock that an attack left seven people, heroes, literally blown apart, it was not even the first time that workers with Jose Andres' organization were attacked by Israeli firepower.

Tonight, amid resounding outrage, Israel admits it made a mistake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HERZI HALEVI, IDF CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF LTG: It was a mistake that followed a misidentification at night during a war in a very complex condition.

We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK. We share in the grief of their families as well as the entire World Central Kitchen organization from the bottom of our hearts.


PHILLIP: Unintentional harm, a mistake. Israel wants the world to see this as simply a fog of war accident. But even that raises all kinds of questions about whether they really know who they are targeting in real-time.

We'll get into more detail about what we know about what happened in this particular incident in a moment, but simply put, this organization did everything right. Their cars were marked, their movements were coordinated with the IDF, and yet there were multiple strikes, not just one.

The cost of feeding millions of people whose lives have been torn apart by war should not be paid in blood. And we say it too often here on this show, and it is true yet again tonight, what we are about to show you is extremely graphic. It is disturbing, but it is the reality.

Black body bags piled into the back of an ambulance, foreign passports belonging to those men and women, inside of them pictures showing what they looked like before the bombs mangled their bodies beyond recognition.

The worst of it, we cannot show you in good conscience, limbs burst open by shrapnel, the volunteers arrayed in a row, clothes turned black and red from blood, their faces cold and blank, other faces that don't look like faces at all anymore.

We have to emphasize that these are not combatants. They were in Gaza because they wanted to make sure that people didn't starve, but they knew the risks, and yet they also knew that under international law, their work is supposed to be protected.

Tonight, crowds shepherding a Palestinian volunteer for the group made a makeshift resting place. You can see that World Central Kitchen emblem draped over the white shroud as lines of mourners there pray in the background.

Right now, the Israeli government has promised a thorough and independent review of what went wrong, and as you heard, a top military official says those strikes occurred because of a mistake that followed a misidentification.

What that misidentification was, we don't yet know, but it's an account that will likely be met with extreme skepticism at this point.

So, here is what we know tonight about what happened this week. [22:05:00]

On Saturday, close to 400 tons of food began to ship out from Cyprus toward Gaza. World Central Kitchen organized this shipment on vessels that they called Open Arms. Monday morning, the desperately needed aid has arrived in Gaza and later that day, the workers begin to unload some of that food at this warehouse in Central Gaza.

Monday night, World Central Kitchen says its aid workers were traveling down the Al-Rashid Coastal Road in what is a de-conflicted zone. They were in three vehicles. Nearly three and a half miles south, the first vehicle was struck. You can see a hole completely ripping through the charity's logo that was on the roof of the armored car.

There were two other strikes that rained down in quick succession. One vehicle was hit about a half a mile further down the road and the third came to a stop another mile down the road. By the end of it, seven aid workers just trying to feed the hungry were killed, one of them, Australian National, Zomi Frankcom.

Earlier today, Jake Tapper spoke to Zomi's close friend about her humanitarian work.


BRYAN WEAVER, FRIEND OF ZOMI FRANKCOM: The children that she fed in Palestine and the children that she fed in Haiti or to Ukraine, you know, she viewed them as like part of her larger extended family. She met them with a smile, she met them with humanity and the world is just like a darker place without somebody like that today.


PHILLIP: Damien Sobol was another victim of the strikes. The 35-year- old had been a longtime World Central Kitchen worker traveling to war- torn Ukraine and Morocco after last year's earthquake.

Joining me now is Damian's close friend and a fellow World Central Kitchen volunteer, Aparna Branz. Aparna, thank you so much for joining us.

First of all, I am so very sorry for the loss of your friend. You met Damian when you were both volunteering in Morocco and you called him one of the bright lights in those horrible months. What can you tell us all about him?

APARNA BRANZ, FORMER WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN VOLUNTEER: Well, I actually met Damian for the first time when I joined World Central Kitchen in Poland during the Ukraine War. I met him in May of 2022.

He was one of the first people I met, and he was one of those people that just exuded goodness. He was kind, he was smiling, he was joyful, he was helpful, and there was -- I would not say there's a single person who he has not touched that volunteered at World Central Kitchen in Poland. I spent a month in May over there and then I was back again for a month in July.

And when you work with someone in such close quarters for so many days in a row, you see a side of them that you don't get to see very often. I left Poland and Damian and I kept an occasional contact. But then when Morocco had the earthquake and I chose to go there, I was still a little confused about what was needed. And so I contacted a bunch of people. And, of course, Damian was the first person to answer. Damian was the first person to tell me how to -- where to go, where to get transportation, where to stay, what to expect.

And this was at a time when he was really busy trying to wrap his time in Morocco to go to Egypt. But it didn't stop him. I mean, if anybody needed help, and I saw that very much in Poland when he manned the kitchens. He was kind and helpful to the volunteers that were working there, to the people that were coming off the refugees that were coming off the trains.

He made sure everybody had what they needed. And you never realized how hard he worked behind the scenes because it was all always there.

PHILLIP: As you were talking about him, I was watching the video that we have of him. And, you know, you're describing him and as just an optimistic, bright person, you can just see it in his face doing this really, really, really difficult work.

Going to Gaza, you know, you hear it from so many aid workers, is just on a different level of really destruction and difficulty.


Did you ever hear Damian, as he was doing this work, express concerns about his own safety and about the risks and the sacrifices that he was making to do this kind of work?

BRANZ: You know, I don't really think he ever thought of it as sacrifices. He was there to help people. The last time he and I communicated was on February 24th. And he said this was -- and I don't quite understand what he meant by that but he said this was his second wartime in Gaza. And he just said the world is going crazy. And that was really it and he was just working hard to make sure he could help the people that needed to be fed, taken care of as much as he could.

Never once, never once did he talk of being afraid or concerned about where he was. His focus really was on helping the people.

PHILLIP: Thank you for sharing that with us. I mean, it's so extraordinary to hear that when he felt like the world was going crazy, his first thought was to go right there. I think that says so much about him.

Thank you so much, Aparna, for joining us tonight and talking to us about your friend.

BRANZ: Thank you for making his name known.

PHILLIP: And since that attack, a number of aid organizations, not just World Central Kitchen, they've announced that they are pausing their humanitarian efforts in Gaza, and that includes American Near East Refugee Aid or Anera.

In a statement, the group wrote, delivering aid safely is no longer feasible. It's the first time in its 55-year history that this organization has needed to pause operations.

Joining me now is Rebecca Abou-Chedid. She is a board member of Anera. Rebecca, thank you very much for joining us. And I'm sorry, again, under the circumstances. I wonder, what are you hearing tonight from your teams who are on the ground in Gaza? And my understanding is so many of them are Gazans. They are in that community. And this is not just about suspending aid in an oblique sense. It's about suspending aid for their own loved ones as well.

REBECCA ABOU-CHEDID, BOARD MEMBER, ANERA: Yes, Abby, thank you. Our staff has been working every single day for the past six months in Gaza. They've delivered, on average, 150,000 meals a day. They've been delivering health care, psychosocial services, hygiene products.

We are all incredibly proud of everything that they've done and they've done it. They can't leave. They can't come -- they can't come and go. They're under indiscriminate bombing every day. They've been displaced multiple times. They are living under the same famine as the community that they are a part of that they're serving.

And so it was with a very heavy heart that I think they made the decision that we needed to temporarily pause our operations in Gaza, and as you noted, this is the first time in our history that we've had to do that. It's also the first time in the history that we lost a team member almost a month ago. We lost Mousa Shawwa and his six-year- old son Kareem a few weeks later from a missile strike.

PHILLIP: Can you tell us, Rebecca, a little bit more about what happened there? I mean, I just want people to understand the work that goes into trying to protect the people doing this work. My understanding is that you all made every effort to prevent this exact thing from happening. So why did it?

ABOU-CHEDID: That's right. I mean, that's a question for the Israeli military and a question we've been asking every day since Mousa was killed.

As you noted, just like World Central Kitchen, we have experience in this, and we did everything right. There's something called de- confliction in these war zones, where you let the military know where you're going to be providing aid, where your staff is living, where they're sheltering, and we did that.

And we reconfirmed the coordinates just a few days before the house that Mousa was living in was struck. And that is why, with a heavy heart, we had to suspend operations today. As you see, Mousa, he had been working for the day. He still had his (INAUDIBLE), and he came home, and he was struck by a missile, and many of his family were also injured. So, we can't keep people safe at home. We can't keep people safe when they're actually in the field delivering aid, like our colleagues were at World Central Kitchen, who also let the Israelis know exactly when their convoy would be traveling. And so this is an unsustainable disaster.

You know, we've spent a lot of time talking about getting aid into Gaza by air, by land, by sea, but less time, I think, thinking about the fact that it's human beings that reliably distribute that aid.


And it's a network that was built up by organizations like Anera over decades.

We have over 20 staff in Gaza, and we have 450 volunteers who make sure that that is distributed in a calm, safe, reliable manner. And if that network falls apart, you can't deliver aid by remote control. You can't recreate that overnight. And that's the red flag that we have been waving for weeks.

PHILLIP: A red flag indeed. Rebecca, President Biden, as I'm sure you've seen, he released a pretty strongly worded statement tonight. He calls it a pattern. He says, this is a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult, because Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed civilian help to civilians.

That's a mirror to what you just told us. But to hear it from the president of the United States, what do you think he needs to do to change that?

ABOU-CHEDID: Well, it is a pattern. And so, I mean, if you notice, World Central Kitchen, one of their staff members was an American citizen. And so I think relying on an investigation by the Israelis alone is not sufficient. I think the U.S. government needs do their own investigation. We need an immediate ceasefire, a surge of humanitarian aid.

A cable from USAID that came out tonight said that there is flour that could feed 1.5 million people for five months sitting in Ashdod that has not been allowed in. It's 25 miles from Gaza. We needed a surge of human aid, and we need real, credible, reliable assurances that we can keep our workers safe so that can resume operations.

PHILLIP: Rebecca Abou-Chedid of Anera, thank you very much for sharing that with us. And we do hope that you're able to resume the important work that you all have been doing over these last few months. Thanks again.

ABOU-CHEDID: Thank You, Abby.

PHILLIP: And next, voters in multiple states, including Wisconsin, are headed to the polls today. Advocates urge Democrats not to vote for Biden in a protest over the administration stance on Israel's actions in Gaza. I will be speaking with one of them tonight. And Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail, but will his comments on abortion haunt him?

Plus are you annoyed by the choices that you have this year at the ballot box? Well, Hillary Clinton thinks you should get over it. I'll explain.

You're watching NewsNight.



PHILLIP: We know who the nominees are going to be this November, but the primaries are still going on through June. And tonight, some Democratic Wisconsin voters are using their ballots to send a message to President Biden. Their point is that the president's support for Israel is no longer okay, as the crisis in Gaza grows worse by the day.

Joining me now is Palestinian-American Layla Elabed. She's the co- chair of the Uncommitted National Movement. She's also the sister of Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Layla, thanks for joining us.

Again, you urged Wisconsin voters ahead of today's primary to take a cue from your home state of Michigan, where uncommitted got a pretty big vote, about 100,000 votes. We're just now starting to see some of the votes coming in in Wisconsin. It's not quite at that level, about 9.5 percent, a little over half of the precincts reporting.

But I wonder, at this point, past Michigan and some of the states, Minnesota, where this movement is likely to be the most prominent, what are you hoping to accomplish ahead of November?

LAYLA ELABED, CO-CHAIR, UNCOMMITTED NATIONAL MOVEMENT: What we're hoping to accomplish is an opportunity to continue pressuring President Biden and his administration that he needs to listen to his core constituency now in order to save his presidency and the White House come November. And we plan to take that pressure into the DNC with the delegates that we've won in states, including Michigan, Minnesota, Washington State, other states that the uncommitted movement did not have a direct -- didn't directly support, but including Wisconsin when those numbers come out.

PHILLIP: We did see, I mean, to your point about pressure, the administration has shifted. They've called now for -- they're using the word, ceasefire, to begin with. They're calling for alternatives to a full ground invasion of Rafah. They are issuing pretty strongly worded statements, even tonight, President Biden making it clear that he holds Israel responsible for failing to protect civilians there. Do you see the pressure having an effect at this point?

ELABED: I do feel that the uncommitted movement and the states that have had very strong protest votes have had a direct impact on the language shift. And this has been a direct result of all of these campaigns, but words are not enough.

We need a policy change, a lasting ceasefire, and an end to funding war and occupation against the Palestinian people. And to me, this is not a messaging problem. This is a funding bombs problem.

PHILLIP: Layla Elabad, thank you very much for joining us with that update.

And I want to bring in now CNN Political Commentator and former White House Communications Director for the Trump administration Alyssa Farah Griffin, also Senior Reporter for The Root Jessica Washington and Editor-at-Large for Reason as well as co-host of the Fifth Column Matt Welch.


Alyssa, a couple things have been happening tonight, it's been a pretty busy night. Normally, the White House will hold an iftar dinner at the White House. Actually, Layla, in the past, has been at that dinner. She was not there tonight. They decided to hold just a smaller one for just staff, and they had a meeting instead. But a doctor, Palestinian-American doctor who was in attendance, he walked out in protest. He said it was out of respect for his community.

Does this give you an indication of how tough this problem is going to be for this White House to solve and how big of an issue it will be electorally?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, Biden, hands down, has an issue with regard to the ongoing war in Gaza, but if I may issue a warning to the Arab-American community as an Arab- American, they're playing with fire.

I understand that hearts are breaking over what's happening in Palestine. That is reasonable. They should speak up. They should use their voices. They encourage better policies. But this is very quickly becoming a binary choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Donald Trump would not rule out leveling Gaza if he thought that that was the politically savvy thing to do that his supporters want to. He cut aid to the Palestinian Authority when he was president. So, this notion that you would gamble at such a critical time I think is incredibly risky, but Joe Biden also needs to be messaging in these communities. He needs speaking in Michigan. It's a good place, frankly, to use the former president, Barack Obama to try to reach this community.

PHILLIP: I mean, it's an important note that you're hearing from a lot of Democrats, they're worried that this is going to have unintended consequences of basically ushering in another Trump term, which would be, in their view, catastrophic for Gazans.

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, THE ROOT: Yes, no, there are serious concerns about how this going to play out politically. I think what you are seeing in part, and I've heard this from multiple sources, the administration was unprepared for the amount of ire over this issue, for the amount people that would feel so strongly about this.

I think up until pretty recently, I don't think they saw how big of a political problem this was, how passionately people were feeling about this issue. So, I do think this is definitely not going away, even if they had anticipated that earlier on, and we're going to see this continue to play out through the election.

PHILLIP: So, Matt, meanwhile, Trump is campaigning in Wisconsin and Michigan. I want to say a little bit about what he's been saying might happen if Biden were to win another election?


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: If we don't win on November 5th, I think our country is going to cease to exist. It could be the last election we ever have. I actually mean that.


MATT WELCH, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, REASON: I'm sorry to laugh. It's just been eight years at some point.

PHILLIP: I mean, what does that even mean?

It doesn't mean anything. He literally has been saying this since 2016, like we can't have a country if we have no border, there's no country. He says stuff like that all the time, this apocalyptic rhetoric, if you allow Democrats to have control.

I think it will be interesting to see what he says about Israel and Palestine, in Gaza, right now. Because, basically, his message is he wants to get those disaffected voters but he also wants make sure to maintain the Republican base. Republicans support this much more than Democrats do in terms of Israel's policy. So, he will just say this wouldn't have happened if I was there and we're going to be friends to Israel, but maybe they're going a little bit too far. He's not going to commit himself over much.

What we have to remember is that in Wisconsin and Michigan, there's going to two names in the ballot There's going to be six. There might be seven. There might be eight. In Wisconsin, there's going to be Jill Stein in the Green Party if she wins the nomination. She wasn't there last time. So, there is a place for disaffected left wing voters who are really mad about the war to go in Michigan and Wisconsin.

So, I predict we're going to see a lot of Bernie Sanders trying to go up there and convince people that voting for Jill Stein is bad idea.

GRIFFIN: By the way, I would note there was another protest vote tonight in a Republican primary. You saw a number of folks come out about 13 percent for Nikki Haley, so against Donald Trump.

PHILLIP: She's not even in the race.

GRIFFIN: And she's no longer in right. So, there is this kind of challenge on both sides. And Joe Biden has reached out to try to Get some of these Nikki Hailey voters. But to Matt's point if he but if she goes too far away from supporting Israel, you risk alienating those sort of soft moderate Republicans.

PHILLIP: So, Alyssa, I have to ask you this because you know Trump as well as anybody. He, tonight at the rally, set up a podium and called for debates with Joe Biden. What are the chances that he actually does that?

GRIFFIN: Well, he was smart -- it was Smart Politics to be the first one to ask for it because he gets to look tough.

PHILLIP: Does that commit him, though?

GRIFFIN: I don't think so. He can get out of it any which way and he's not an honest broker and that he doesn't trust the conventions that send it up. We know last time he lied about his COVID diagnosis ahead of the debate. So, I think he wants to like the tough guy who wants to debate, but he has a lot of flexibility to get it out.

PHILLIP: But, Jessica, do you think -- I mean, debates bring up this issue. There was a report that the White House wants more people to see Trump rallies, the whole thing, because they're so wild and, in some cases, unhinged. Maybe they are having the opposite problems, that people are not hearing Trump quite enough. Do you think that they want debates with Trump to really put that center stage?

WASHINGTON: Yes. I mean, I think you're definitely right. That Biden benefits from having Trump as his, I mean, as his opponent and as his foil. You know, to say there are plenty of Democratic voters who are not enthusiastic about Biden, we know that.


But I think more so, there are Democratic voters who are terrified of Trump. So, the more they can play up that contrast is going to be incredibly beneficial to them. So, yeah, I think a debate could be something that they're looking forward to.

PHILLIP: One of the huge issues, Matt, is going to be where Trump comes down on abortion. He's been teasing all sides of this issue. Where do you think he lands and what's going to be the impact?

WELCH: I think that he's going to run far to the left of the Republican Party on abortion. You already heard some signals to that, that Republicans went too far, that some of this, you know, six-week stuff is crazy, you're going to lose elections.

Because this is one of the biggest weaknesses, I think, of the Republican in his candidacy right now, is that this has been motivating Democratic voters pretty reliably in swing districts for a while now. And it's not that hard to re-remind people that there's people out there doing IVF bills.

There's always going to be someone who's going to show up and say something pretty draconian. Trump's going to be wearing that, and it's going to be pretty easy for Democrats to remind him that he is the one who appoints Supreme Court justice.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I think that is exactly what they're going to be reminding people of come November. Matt, Alyssa, and Jessica, thank you very much, all of you. And tonight, some breaking news. A 7.4 magnitude earthquake was just detected in Taiwan, almost immediately followed by a 6.5 magnitude aftershock.

Tsunami alerts are up across the Pacific Ocean, and reports of devastating damage are still rolling in. Let's go straight to CNN's Hanako Montgomery in Tokyo with more on what's going on. What's happening so far?

HANAKO MONTGOMERY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Abby, I mean, a really shocking and alarming earthquake that shook Taiwan this morning. So, what we know, so far, is that this epicenter was very close to Hualien County in eastern Taiwan.

This is known to be a very popular tourist destination. It's also a rural area, and also where most of Taiwan's earthquakes actually take place. We also know that this earthquake is the largest that Taiwan has felt in 25 years. The last one was back in 1999, when an earthquake of a magnitude of 7.7 killed more than 2400 people.

Now, the Taiwanese government hasn't officially reported any deaths so far for this earthquake that we've seen this morning, but they are getting preliminary reports about injuries. We're also seeing some partially destroyed roads, some homes and buildings also partially collapsed, roofs caved in, and electric power outages across Taiwan.

Now, in response to this disaster, the Taiwanese defense ministry has dispatched military troops to assist local governments and get people to higher ground to safety. Now, this is a very common protocol that takes place in Taiwan when you see a natural disaster of this magnitude. Now, also in Hualien County, we've seen the government suspend all schools and work for the day because of these constant aftershocks that we've been seeing.

And let me tell you, Abby, as someone who lives in one of the seismically active places in the world, these aftershocks can be just as alarming, just as terrifying, because you never know when they're going to start and you never know when they're going to end.

Now, we did see a tsunami warning issued to Japan and the Philippines, but in Japan, in the southernmost part of the country, in Okinawa, we've seen that tsunami warning be downgraded to a tsunami advisory, and we haven't seen any damages or injuries reported, Abby.

PHILLIP: All right, we'll be keeping an eye on this. Hanako Montgomery, thank you very much. And up next, get over it. That's what Hillary Clinton is saying. She's cutting straight to the chase in a brand new interview about the choices facing voters in November. That's next on "NewsNight".


[22:38:10] PHILLIP: Hillary Clinton is getting a little candid. She sat down with the "Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon" and the former presidential candidate had a pretty blunt message for voters who are disappointed with a likely match-up between Donald Trump and Joe Biden this November.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Get over yourself. Those are the two choices.


CLINTON: And you know, it's kind of like one is old and effective and compassionate, has a heart and really cares about people. And one is old and has been charged with 91 felonies.

FALLON: Yeah. Okay.

CLINTON: People who blow that off are not paying attention because it's not like Trump, his enablers, his empowerers, his allies are not telling us what they want to do. I mean, they're pretty clear about what kind of country they want.



PHILLIP: Joining me now is Stephen A. Smith. He's the host of ESPN's First Take and "The Stephen A. Smith Show" on YouTube. Stephen, great to have you on set.


PHILLIP: So, what do you make of that? Get over it?

SMITH: I don't think it was a very wise statement on her part. How did that work out for her in 2016? I think that's something that we have to recognize. Yes, she won the popular vote. But at the end of the day, she wasn't the President of the United States. It was him.

You can look at her not campaigning in Wisconsin in the last days, not campaigning in Pennsylvania in the last days. You can look at some of the stuff that they were saying about her that sort of distracted things from where it should have been in terms of Comey and his report from the FBI.

You can bring up a whole bunch of things. But at the end of the day, the last thing you need to do is to do anything that could agitate a potential voter in this particular election.

PHILLIP: What do you make about the actual argument that she's making? I mean, she's basically saying two old people, yes.


PHILLIP: But they're substantively different. I mean --

SMITH: Absolutely. Well, listen.

PHILLIP: Comey has 91 counts against him.

SMITH: Well, listen.


Nobody's brought that up more than me.


SMITH: You know, four indictments, 91 counts, impeached twice. I'm not voting for him. I've said that to a lot of people. I've said that to you. But at the end of the day, what I'm saying is that at some point in time, you've got to take into account what the voters are thinking about. The voters, a lot of them out there, tens of millions of them out there, by the way, don't care what he's going through right now.

They don't care about his guilt or innocence, his perceived guilt or innocence. They don't care about the 91 counts. They're thinking about their lives. And a lot of times we see politicians taking the positions that they're taking. And while we can respect their candor and their honesty, they do seem a bit detached at times from what the voters are actually feeling and what the voters are actually thinking.

Nobody wants to hear that from Hillary Rodham Clinton at this particular moment in time, because especially if you're Joe Biden, what are you really, really worried about right now? You're worried about folks coming to the polls. You're worried about them showing up to the polls to vote for you. You're not worried even about them voting for Trump. You're worried about them not showing up to vote for you.


SMITH: That doesn't exactly encourage them to get up out of their seats and go to the polls.

PHILLIP: I mean, is it enough to tell voters you should be afraid of what could happen if Trump is elected? That was the other part of the point.

SMITH: Well, normally I would say yes. The problem is, it's an age-old move by both parties and the binary system that we're living with. The Republicans will tell you, you've got so much to fear. I mean, look at the streets. Look at the lack of safety. Look at some of the things that are going on. Look at the immigration crisis.

And they'll point to the left. The left will look at the right, and they will say, look at all of this stuff that's going on. Do you want to turn back the clock? Do you want to, you know, resort going back to a -- days that a lot of folks who support Trump come across as wishing as if we were back in the 60s or the 50s? They'll say things like that. And so, what happens is that ultimately, if you say something enough,

you're whistling into the wind. It's nothing new that we're hearing now compared to what we've heard before in a lot of people's eyes, specifically as it pertains to Trump.

That clearly is different. Ninety-one counts, four indictments, twice impeached. That is a different animal. There is no doubt about that. But all in all, when you hear the rhetoric coming from one side or another, in the end, does it really, really sound that much different to you?

PHILLIP: I mean --

SMITH: The answer to the voters has been no.

PHILLIP: Let me ask you this. I mean, Trump literally is out on the campaign trails right now. He's talking about a border bloodbath. He's blaming immigrants for crime. There is a difference in rhetoric, won't you say?

SMITH: Well --

PHILLIP: I mean, Trump is every day using violent rhetoric on the campaign trail.

SMITH: Yeah, because it works. It works with tens of millions of voters. See, that's what we have to get to. We have to get down this. When you're talking about an election, you're talking about whatever it's going to take to win.

You have a whole bunch of American citizens who firmly believe that what he's saying is a reality in their eyes. They look at footage. They look at things that are transpiring over the television airwaves, the kind of things that are being disseminated to the masses, and they're literally scared.

You have people talking about there's an immigration crisis, and they're showing one piece of footage after another, after another. I can tell you, as a black man from Harlots, Queens, New York City, I have never in my lifetime heard black folks allude to there being an immigration crisis more than now. Evidently, it's working. You know that it's working with an abundance of white Americans.

PHILLIP: You think that this is a message that actually right now -- I know that it's intended to resonate with black voters, but you think it's actually working?

SMITH: Absolutely. And let me tell you something right now. I've got a lot of Hispanic friends, brothers and sisters in the Latino community. They're talking about it because they came over here legally. They didn't come across, you know, America's lines illegally and as a result, they're talking about it's an immigration crisis.

They're talking about how people need to get in line. They're talking about how people need to come in here legally. They're saying that about their -- you know, their own folks. And so, when you take that into consideration, and then you're looking at black folks who have been speaking about it, and then you think about inflation, and you think about immigration, and you think about New York City and the $53 million prepaid cards and what have you.

Black folks are sitting back and saying, wait a minute, what about us? What about us? Once again, we're at the bottom of the food chain. Whether it's xenophobia, it's homophobia, it's transphobia, or anything else, everything seems to be more important than black people in the eyes of a lot of black people.

And when you've got somebody like Trump, he's reminding everybody what he said years ago, what do you have to lose? Excuse me, that kind of stuff resonates with some. Maybe not me, maybe not you, but there's a whole bunch of people out there in the streets of America that's hardworking, that's going to work every day, that's trying to make ends meet, pay their bills and what have you.

That stuff resonates with them, and they don't want to see anything distracting anybody from their problems. And when you go to the polls, what do you think about? You think about what affects you, not what affects America far more often than not.

PHILLIP: Very interesting point that you're making there. Stephen A., stick around for us --

SMITH: Sure.

PHILLIP: -- because we've got more for you on the NBA Finals, the World Series, the Big Ten Championships, the Orange Bowl. All of those are things that did not get the ratings of Caitlin Clark. We'll talk about that on the other side of the break with Stephen A. This is "NewsNight."



PHILLIP: Tonight, it is the ladies of the NCAA that are soaring to new heights. More than 12 million people tuned in last night to the epic Elite Eight rematch between the Iowa Hawkeyes and LSU Tigers, shattering the previous record for a women's college basketball game. Nearly 10 million people during last year's National Championship Final.

Now, this is also the time when ESPN history was made. It was the most watched college basketball game ever across all of its platforms. ESPN host Stephen A. Smith is back here with us. This is such a major moment --


SMITH: Yeah.

PHILLIP: -- not just for these young women, but also for women's sports just in general. It wasn't just the most watched women's basketball game. It was the most watched game of all kinds of different categories. Do you think that this is actually one of those moments where we'll look back and say, this is the moment that things really started to shift for women's sports?

SMITH: I think so. Caitlin Clark is a superstar.

PHILLIP: Let's make no mistake about it. She's the Steph Curry of women's basketball. She shoots from the parking lot. She pulls up from the logo. She is a sensational talent, and she has all the requisite tools that go along with it. She's incredibly marketable as a talent. She's incredibly marketable as a person. She's prideful. She's highly competitive. She's an ambassador for the game.

And more importantly, she competes at an incredibly high level. She lost last year to LSU. That was in the national championship game. Prior to losing that game, she had won a game against an undefeated 36-0 University of South Carolina team led by Dawn Staley by dropping 41 points in that semi-final game.

What did she do last night in an elite eight to avenge the national championship game lost to LSU? She drops another 41, nine threes. She was just all over the place pulling up from the logo. She's a sensational talent, but there's also a lot of sensational talent within the world of women's basketball.


SMITH: Angel Reese is an incredibly talented person, had 20 rebounds last night. University of South Carolina led by Dawn Staley -- I just mentioned over the last two seasons, they're 72-1. The only loss was to Caitlin Clark last year in the semi-finals. Back-to-back undefeated seasons.

Over the last three years, her record is 105-3 with a national title and three straight. This is what Dawn Staley brings to the table. Last night, a young lady by the name of Juju Watkins, who's a freshman at USC, averaging 27 points in a tournament, clearly is going to be the freshman of the year.

She's a superstar in the making as well, and that's just college. Let's not forget the WNBA with Asia Wilson. You know, Becky Hammon is coaching that team. Them being back-to-back champions in the WNBA, and all the while, the marketability that they bring to the table. Because unlike a lot of guys throughout history, these ladies don't seem to get themselves in trouble, and that makes them more marketable on Madison Avenue.


SMITH: Not to say most or all guys do that, because there's a lot of great guys in there.

PHILLIP: But I do think that there's something so interesting. My personal thing about, you know, Caitlin Clark and, you know, her star power is that there's a narrative here. There's a storyline, and it's not all, you know, rainbows and butterflies.

SMITH: Right.

PHILLIP: These are competitive women --


PHILLIP: And they want to win.


PHILLIP: That competition is showing up in the trash talk on the court. That's part of it, too. To me, it seems like one of the reasons this is happening is because you're seeing women competing kind of like the guys do.

SMITH: Well, that's a good point that you make and I think that last night when LSU lost, we saw Angel Reese crying. We saw her teammates coming to her defense. She talked about how hard life had been and how she hadn't been happy since she had won the national championship last year.

PHILLIP: I want to play that sound just so people can hear it if they missed it last night.

SMITH: Sure.

PHILLIP: Let's listen.


ANGEL REESE, LSU BASKETBALL PLAYER: Death threats. I've been sexualized. I've been threatened. I've been so many things, and I've stood strong every single time. I'm still human, like, all this has happened since I won the national championship, and I said the other day, I haven't been happy since then.


PHILLIP: First of all, I have to say, it is heartbreaking to watch that young woman feel that way and have to express that publicly. But at the same time, you know, viewers, sports fans, they want to connect. They want to connect with Angel Reese in that moment.

SMITH: Well, that's true. But I think the one thing that Angel Reese should have a smile on her face about is that the proverbial villain that some people had her as, that's what leads to elevating the level of attraction in a sport, as well. Guess what? You wouldn't be a villain if you were losing. You wouldn't be a villain if you didn't matter. You wouldn't be a villain if you were irrelevant.

She was a villain because she was a champion, because she was better than everybody else in the world, because LSU Tigers went out and won a national championship, and she let you all know just how great her and her team were last year. And then they come back this year, and they win 29 games, and they're one game away from the Final Four. And the person that took them out happens to be the best college basketball play and women's basketball on the planet right now. And so, when you look at it from that perspective, you have to appreciate the fact that anytime you're looking for somebody and you're looking for the popularity to elevate, there has to be somebody who plays the role of a villain. With Bird and Magic in the early 80s and what have you, here was the interesting part.

In some people's eyes, Bird was the villain. In some people's eyes, Magic was the villain. It depends on whether you preferred Blue Collar or you preferred Showtime. They understood that everybody is not going to like you, everybody is not going to love you, but that's what comes along with greatness.


And so, when we see Angel Reese, yeah, it is heartbreaking to watch her go through and express her emotions the way that she did in terms of chronicling what she endured. But if you're Angel Reese, understand that if you didn't mean anything, if you were not that special, they would not be bothering you. They would have never bothered you. They did it because you're great and they wish that they were great, too.

PHILLIP: It comes with the greatness. There's a lot of greatness in the future for both Angel Reese and for Caitlin Clark.

SMITH: That's right.

PHILLIP: What does the future hold -- real quick before we go, for both of them?

SMITH: Well, both of them are going to be in the WNBA. Both of them are going to have illustrious careers. But what I'm thinking about with Caitlin Clark is this Friday, she's going against a young lady by the name of Paige Bueckers from UConn. And she was out last year with a knee injury. But her freshman year, she was the national player of the year. She is a sensational talent in and of herself.

And what you saw with those ratings last night, over 12.3 million people, let me encourage all of them to watch ESPN this Friday night. Because when those two go up against one another --

PHILLIP: After you watch CNN --

SMITH: -- watch. Special.

PHILLIP: After you watch CNN, you can tune in to ESPN.

SMITH: There we go.

PHILLIP: Stephen A. Smith, thank you for being here with us tonight.

SMITH: You're welcome.

PHILLIP: And thank you very much for watching "NewsNight." "Laura Coates Live" starts next.