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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Biden And Trump Agree To June CNN Debate In Historic Move; 2020 Biden-Trump Moderator Chris Wallace Reacts To Rematch; Source Says, Liar, Liar Is Theme Of Tomorrow's Cross Of Cohen; Michael Cohen May Be The Final Witness For Trump's Hush Money Trial On The Prosecution Side; Jordan Klepper Explores The Republicans And Their Love For Vladimir Putin In A Comedy Central Special. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired May 15, 2024 - 22:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: But what has not eluded us is the passing down of the knowledge of the community service that imparts a sense of morality and justice within us. And so to hear that he was inspired by his aunt and to feel compelled within himself to pay it forward is the highest form of intergenerational wealth. And in that, we are family.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: And you can see the rest of that story and others. Champions for Change will air Saturday night here at 9:00 P.M. Eastern on CNN.

Thank you so much for joining us. We'll see you for special coverage of Trump's trial starting early tomorrow morning. For now, CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip begins.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: The side by side comparison that Americans desperately need. That's tonight on NewsNight.

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

Tonight, a date for must see television right here on CNN. June 27th, that is when CNN will host President Biden and former President Trump for the first presidential debate. It is the earliest debate in the election cycle in modern history and it marks an end run, essentially, around the commission that normally sets the terms and the times that these things happen.

The debate echoes history. There will be no audience, no opportunity for the crowd to make the venue home field for either Trump or for Biden. And it'll happen inside of CNN's Atlanta studios. It's just the moderators, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, and the candidates.

That's a throwback to 1960 when John F. Kennedy stared down Richard Nixon and his very sweaty lip. This is all what escalated this morning with President Biden daring over on X, going full Dirty Harry, then Trump responding. Then there was an offer and then suddenly a deal. It's a sudden surprise series of events that really I'm not sure anyone could have predicted and it injected adrenaline into this campaign that has been virtually paralyzed by courtroom drama, agita over Israel and it gives Americans a chance, a chance to conduct their own physicals of each man, to take the vitals on the issues that are vital to them.

For the incumbent, the why and the why so early, is pretty clear. He wants to remind Americans of their choice, giving them a split screen, and also to avoid incumbent history. 1976, Gerald Ford trailed and Gerald Ford lost. In 1980, Jimmy Carter trailed. Jimmy Carter lost. 1992, George H.W. Bush, the same. 2020, Donald Trump trailed and then he lost.

Now, the Biden campaign clearly has reason to do this but there is one Democrat tonight who thinks that the president should stay far, far away from Donald Trump.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I myself would never recommend going on the stage with Donald Trump, but the president has decided that's what he wants to do. I think the format he is suggesting is a good one.


PHILLIP: My panel is here to discuss this with us. Republican Strategist Joe Pinion, former Senior White House Communications Aide Jamal Simmons, CNN Political Analyst Natasha Alford, and Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair Brian Stelter.

To be fair, the last time Donald Trump and Joe Biden shared a stage, one of them had -- so there is a reason to stay, you know, six feet apart or whatever. But is anyone surprised that this is actually happening? I mean, I woke up this morning and this was not on my bingo card.

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I am surprised the president put this on the, on the plate today. He called Donald Trump's bluff. Donald Trump's been running around the country saying anytime, anyplace. The president said, great, I've got a time and a place, let's do it, let's rock and roll.

It injected energy, as you said in your opening, it injected energy into the campaign. I've been hearing from Democrats all day. We're excited. They feel like now something's happened and we're ready to pop, but I am not convinced that this is actually going to happen.

PHILLIP: Why not?

SIMMONS: I'm not Donald Trump. I mean, like, look, CNN gets a lot of kudos for making this debate happen, you know, in the morning and getting everybody signed on to it. But Donald Trump has no record of standing by anything that he said. I'm not convinced yet. Show me. I'll believe it when I see it when he shows up in the studio. JOE PINION, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, I think the debate is going to happen for a multitude of reasons. I think there are arguments for it and against it on both sides. I think that President Trump and Republicans believe the sooner we remind the American people that Joe Biden seems to have a very difficult time standing at a podium for extended periods of time, the better.


I think, conversely, there is the opportunity for Joe Biden to avoid the proverbial October surprise, the things that pop up late in election seasons that tend to upend the election calendar and have people thinking about different issues.

So, ultimately, again, there are arguments for, there are arguments against, but I think if you're a Republican, if you're President Trump, anytime you get to have the American people forced to have Joe Biden put forth examples of why he has been successful over the last four years, I think that is an actual challenge that they will accept time and time again.

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think you have to take control of the narrative, right? We are looking at poll after poll, headline after headline about how Biden is even losing support from the coalition that we expect him to have.

So, even think about it, the Dark Brandon persona that announced. I mean, this is the personality that needs to fight back against a Trump who's sort of been bullying him, right, calling him Sleepy Joe, saying he's in a basement. I think about the last time they were together.

Think about the moment we were dealing with COVID. There was so much fear. And Joe Biden was able to hold him accountable, Trump, for what he didn't do. Now, by stepping out in front, Joe Biden is setting the terms, doing this debate where he can show his strengths, where he can talk about policy.

And, you know, Donald Trump will attack him, he will attack his record, but Biden is doing this in a way that allows him to speak, to not be cut off, to not have an audience distract him. I mean, this to me is a bold step that needed to be taken.

PHILLIP: So, you call it -- you brought up Dark Brandon. Here's what Mitt Romney says. He says, it would be like two old guys on The Muppets. That's a quote, by the way.

BRIAN STELTER, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: And there they are on screen. And I think that's --

PHILLIP: that is a quote from not exactly the most, you know, just controversial senator --

STELTER: But that's an image is going to stick with us.

PHILLIP: Yes. STELTER: I'm hopeful that the political laws of gravity have been reaffirmed today, right, that yes, these two men will actually debate. By the way, , there was a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering to make today happen.

PHILLIP: Yes, these things do not happen --

STELTER: I think CNN deserves incredible kudos. And also ABC, ABC will have a debate in September. Both these networks have pulled off something that felt impossible before today. And it's thanks to a lot of behind the scenes work that leads up to this moment.

It's also a great responsibility for CNN and for ABC, a great moment for the country. I don't think the average American has watched Donald Trump speak for more than a minute or two at length since he lost the election. So, for tens of millions of tune in next month and to see him ranting and raving or whatever he's doing, that's going to be a pretty dramatic wake up call for the country.

PHILLIP: So, here's one of the interesting things we were talking in the open about incumbency, and this is one of those weird cycles where you have two people who are kind of incumbents in their own way. And one of the things, and, Jamal, you probably, you probably know this well, when Barack Obama had his first debate against Mitt Romney in 2012, it was kind of a disaster. And Barack Obama is generally fairly good at this debate thing. Incumbents have a hard time because they're out of practice. But guess what? So is Donald Trump. So, how does that play out?

SIMMONS: Yes, that's true. When you're at the White House, everything is, yes sir, no sir, how can we help you sir? There's a lot of that that goes on. Which, you know, kind of, you know, gets, I think, incumbents out of the rhythm of dealing with people in a very direct way. And Donald Trump clearly is yes sir, no sir, Mr. Trump. Everybody always calls him Mr. Trump. So, we don't know what these two are like when they get there.

But here's the thing that's interesting to me. When this debate call went out today, Trump responded, and he immediately agreed to the terms that Biden put on the table. That, to me, is very interesting, because, you know, when I was in my 20s, I worked for Mickey Cantor, who was one of Bill Clinton's debate negotiators. And Mickey Cantor would say very clearly, all of these things go into the mix, and you've got to decide what's best. These are clearly the terms that were best for Joe Biden and Donald Trump agreed to those terms immediately.

I'm imagining his campaign, when they got back after he sent that tweet out, they have to now figure out how to make this work for them because right now it's working for Biden.

STELTER: He came out and said, I'm going to do a Fox debate too. And everyone's like, what are you talking about? He was trying to clean this up today and it didn't work.

PHILLIP: But what was on the table, I mean, some of the things on the table Trump, I think, probably really doesn't want controls over, one of your time is up, it's up. Because the last debate he was able to kind of try to steamroll over the process.

ALFORD: And this is what I mean about being able to eliminate distraction, right? Donald Trump thrives off the audience. He thrives off the spectacle. And this is a chance for Biden to hit home the accomplishments that we haven't really been able to talk about, because we've been talking about the Trump trial and all of these other things. And so he's able to now frame what his success is and challenge President Trump to say, what's your actual vision besides the rants that you have for me?

I just want to say quickly, Obama, do you remember how he looked in the first debate?


And then, you know, four years later, he looked a little tired, a little worn, we saw the gray hairs. It was like a joke, right? Biden can't change his age. He can't change the fact that he's going to look different. And he's going to sound different than he did four years ago. But he does have these policy accomplishments that he can tout to an audience that needs to hear it.

PINION: I mean, just to play the contrarian, look, I think that everyone expects it is going to be a repeat of 2020, that they're going to perhaps joust and yell at each other. I don't think that that's what's going to happen. I would encourage President Trump to employ more of a rope-a-dope approach. The more Joe Biden talks, the better it is for him.

And I think that if you're looking at how President Trump got to this place, it will be because of the fact that while Biden keeps trying to tell the American public that everything is working, that the inflation reduction plan was a success, they are feeling the fact that it has not been as successful as he would like them to believe.

And so I think, issue by issue, forcing Joe Biden to have to defend that record without having to use the phrase, Donald J. Trump, I think, as he helps President Trump, and if he abides by the rules that Joe Biden asked for and he is unable to get over that very low hurdle, I think you're going to see a continuing of this trend of those voters in those swing states running away from the incumbent, Joseph Robinette Biden.

PHILLIP: So, Brian, the Commission on Presidential Debates, this was a knife in the heart.


PHILLIP: Both candidates really said it's not happening.


PHILLIP: Is it over for that commission? Do we have to come up with something to move forward to? STELTER: It's certainly over for now and that was a commission that was around for decades to set up debates. But I think the knife in the heart was in 2020, actually.


STELTER: The way that that was a disastrous debate between Biden and Trump, I think that was the beginning of the end for this commission.

And I think what we're seeing now is a new possible format going forward, where individual networks will compete to win these debates and that might actually be a better structure.

PHILLIP: And a reflection, also, of the way that voting has changed. People are voting so early.

STELTER: We live in this country where elections never end. They go on for years. No one wants it, but it's true, right? This is a never ending election. So, to have a debate much, much earlier is better for the American people.

SIMMONS: And kudos to CNN and ABC on this point. We've always had debates that were wall to wall. All the networks carried them at the same time. That's not going to happen this time. Each network would have a soul event, their night, and everybody who wants to watch it --

PINION: And to that point, obviously, Brian, you talk about that, I mean, even that Pennsylvania Senate race we talked about was so many people had already voted before, obviously, unfortunately, Senator Fetterman had that unforced instance.

So, I think you look at that context, you look at people who said that perhaps what would have happened, whether you think anything that happened with Hunter Biden is relevant or not, that report that came out from the New York Post, whether that would have had an impact on how they voted.

So, early debates is good for the public and maybe the commission can have some actual debates for the Senate races because I can tell you firsthand people need to know what's going on in those races as well.

PINION: Since you said Hunter Biden, I'll say Stormy Daniels.


SIMMON: I'll hand it back to you.

PINION: That was on the bingo card today.

PHILLIP: All right, gentlemen, everyone, thank you very much.

Coming up next, the man who moderated that infamous Trump-Biden shout fest in 2020 will join me to react to this historic move. Chris Wallace is standing by for us.

Plus, breaking news tonight in Trump's criminal trial, hear what his defense team is planning to do to Michael Cohen tomorrow on the witness stand during cross-examination.

This is NewsNight.



PHILLIP: As Donald Trump and President Biden gear up for their first debate right here on CNN next month, just a reminder of one of the last times that the last two -- these two men last shared a room that was four years ago when Trump broke basically every debate rule, interrupting Biden 145 times.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What did he do with Burisma to deserve $183,000 --

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: None of that is true.

TRUMP: Oh, really? He didn't get half a million?

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST: Mr. President, please --

BIDEN: Totally discredited, totally discredited. And, by the way --

TRUMP: Well, wait, he didn't get $3.5 million, Joe? He got $3.5 million.

BIDEN: It is not true.

TRUMP: Oh really?

WALLACE: Mr. President, it's an open discussion, please.

TRUMP: It's a fact.

WALLACE: Well, you have raised an issue, let the vice president answer.


PHILLIP: Joining me now is Chris Wallace, host of The Chris Wallace Show, and Who's Talking to Chris Wallace. Chris, that was you in that debate video. That was an infamous moment back in 2020. There's going to be probably a lot more moments like that, you would think. What do you think is going to happen in these debates, based on the way that we even got to this point, today the two of them going back and forth about when these debates would happen and who would be participating in them?

WALLACE: Well, first of all I got to say, Abby, I'm just shocked that Biden made this offer today, the idea of a debate in June. You talk about early voting. Early voting starts in, in September. And there's never been a presidential debate since the first ones in 1964, Kennedy-Nixon debates, before September. I frankly think that this was a very smart move by Joe Biden. You look at the polls this week, particularly in The New York Times, he's trailing in five of the six swing states. And if this arc of the campaign continued the way it was. Biden was on his way to defeat. But by making this offer, seizing the initiative here, I think it's a big time opportunity for Biden to try to change the dynamics of this debate and this campaign, depending on how he does in the debate, particularly because one of the big issues is Biden's -- the Trump argument that Biden is out of it, that he's not up to having these debates.

Biden, you know, if he just shows up and handles himself reasonably well, it seems to me that's going to assure a lot of people who may agree with Biden on the issues, but are concerned about his age and competence.


PHILLIP: The other side of that, though, is Trump and his campaign claiming they want to do a debate a month between June and November. I mean, is that just bluffing?

WALLACE: No. You know, look, I, if you believe their theory of the case, which is that Joe Biden is not competent, you want more debates, because you figure somewhere along the line he'll slip up, he'll show his age and that he has his diminishment. Although the Biden campaign argues that it's Trump that is showing his age and his diminished capacity, but you have more debates as more opportunity for that.

I just think it was a really smart move by Biden, one, to try to change, as I say, the arc of the campaign earlier rather than later.

PHILLIP: So, as we saw in that video, the interruptions from Trump, that's just how he operates. If you've ever interacted with him, as you have on a debate stage, on a town hall stage, a 145 in the span of 90 minutes in that debate that you did. Do you expect that his behavior will be more or less the same or has he changed in any way in terms of how he likes to present himself in that setting?

WALLACE: Oh, it would be suicidal if he doesn't change how he conducted himself. I think there was a lot of feeling inside the Trump camp that that was a mistake, that he came on way too hot. And, you know, that debate ended up as unpleasant as it was. And I was, you know, a witness. I was a bystander to the car accident. It actually was very significant. And Trump lost a lot, dropped four or five points in the polls and never recovered. I think it was a real turning point in the debate.

If I were giving Trump advice, I would let Biden talk because sometimes Biden gets himself in trouble. And then I'd counterpunch. Don't make yourself the issue. try make Biden the issue.

I think Trump thought I'm going to be able to throw Biden off his game. I'm going to be able to get him confused. It didn't work. Biden kept his cool. And the person who ended up looking bad was Trump. If he does the same thing again, he's a fool. PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, Chris, correct me if I'm wrong, was the stand back and stand by comment also made in that debate, that was just another example of Trump. I mean, you, you said that maybe they actually do want to do all of these debates, but Trump has a long history of major gaffes in these kinds of settings when he sort of goes with his gut instinct and says things that can hurt him politically.

WALLACE: Oh, I agree. I mean, it's not like if there's no Lincoln and there's no Douglas and these debates. You know, they both come with some strengths and they both come with some weaknesses. And you're quite right, that was near the end of the debate, and, interestingly, a strong moment for Biden. Because I said, you know, you did a lot of talk about white supremacist, are you well prepared, Mr. President, to stand on this stage and to condemn the white supremacist movement? And he said, who, who, and it was Biden who then said the Proud Boys. And it was picking up on Biden's comment that Trump then said, Proud Boys stand back and stand by. And I think that was a real insight into his attitude towards the white supremacists who ended up playing such a terrible role on January 6th.

PHILLIP: So, there's also this issue of the studio audience, or lack thereof. It would be the first time since 1960 that there hasn't been a studio audience in a presidential debate. I mean, personally, I think at this point, it's smart perhaps to take it out of the context of sort of public opinion and the kinds of party operatives. What do you think about that?

WALLACE: I do too. I always felt that the audience was a pain in the neck. You know, some people are saying, well, that's going to hurt Trump because he plays to a crowd. I can tell you as somebody who's been on that general election debate stage twice in 2016 and 2020, people aren't playing to the crowd. It is a very intense circle there between the two candidates whose podiums are just ten feet apart and the moderator who's about 10 or 15 feet away from the two of them. Nobody is flying to the crowd.

Now, the crowd did does get involved occasionally and the moderator has to play schoolmarm and turn around and say, be quiet. But I think it's overstated the advantage that it gives either one of them. I don't think either of them are really paying much attention to it. And I think it removes an unnecessary distraction by just saying, you know, as in '60, which it was just done on a T.V. stage with the two candidates, a host and a bunch of reporters asking questions.


I think it's, it's a very much a positive for the audience, for the millions of people at home who are watching. And that, of course, is the real audience and, and the real point of the whole debate, so voters can do some comparison shopping.

PHILLIP: Yes. And I would hope that it would perhaps help make it more substantive if there is any sort of audience factor to it, that that gets taken off the table.

All right, we'll see how it goes. Chris Wallace, thank you very much. You know a lot about this stuff, for better or worse.

WALLACE: Yes, exactly. Thank you, Abby.

PHILLIP: And you can catch more of Chris this Saturday at 10:00 A.M. Eastern Time with The Chris Wallace Show right here on CNN.

Up next, breaking news in the Trump trial, how the defense plans to intensify its cross-examination of Michael Cohen tomorrow.

Plus, Jordan Klepper from The Daily Show will join me about what is behind the Republican obsession with Vladimir Putin.



PHILLIP: Breaking news tonight in Donald Trump's criminal trial. Just hours before star witness Michael Cohen returns to the stand, CNN is now learning that Liar Liar will apparently be the theme when the defense continues its cross-examination. They're going to focus on Cohen's past lies to undercut his credibility. No surprises there.

But joining me now is Democratic Congressman from New York, Dan Goldman. He's a former federal prosecutor. He also served as lead counsel at Trump's first impeachment trial. Congressman, good to see you. Thanks for joining us tonight.

REP. DAN GOLDMAN (D-NY): Great to be with you, Abby.

PHILLIP: I wonder, based on the evidence that you've seen presented so far in this case, Michael Cohen is likely to be the last witness for the prosecution. Would you vote to convict him if you were on the jury?

GOLDMAN: I think that's a tough question. I haven't been in the room and I think it's really important to be in the courtroom and to see all the evidence come in.

There are so many little things, little points of corroboration, phone records, things that we don't talk that much about in public or on television but make a big difference when you're putting a case together.

What I will say is that it's a smart move, I think, the way that they have organized the witnesses and the way that they have weaved in a lot of the corroborating evidence.

Now that Michael Cohen is the last witness, the jury has heard from others. And so when Michael Cohen talks about a particular conversation he might have had with Stormy Daniels or Keith Davidson or David Pecker or the recording, the jury has their testimony in mind so they can see whether or not it matches up.

And for a witness, as you just mentioned, who has been convicted of perjury, who has lied under oath, who has a history of not telling the truth, that is essential to be able to use him as a credible witness. PHILLIP: Do you think they've sufficiently proven that Donald Trump

directed these records, these business records, to be falsified, which is really at the heart of the charges that he's facing here?

GOLDMAN: Look, I think there's a tremendous amount of circumstantial evidence and Michael Cohen has testified to the 2017 conversations in the White House. The fact that there was the entire Karen McDougal payment as well is strong corroborating evidence that Donald Trump knew what he was doing with the Stormy Daniels payment and wanted to take care of it. The fact that they needed to double the amount of money in order to compensate for taxes, income taxes, that Michael Cohen would pay in order to true up the $130,000 that he paid out of his own pocket is also something that's pretty persuasive.

But it is clearly the one area that the prosecution is putting together through a certain amount of circumstantial evidence.

PHILLIP: A number of Trump allies have been over at that courthouse, including House Speaker Mike Johnson. He stood outside of the courthouse and basically parroted all of Trump's talking points about the trial. I mean, what does it say to you that the speaker came all the way to New York City to publicly defend this president?

GOLDMAN: I mean, other than the fact that it's pathetic that he has to prostrate himself in front of Donald Trump by going to New York and spewing his lies, it is just a further attack on the rule of law. And it is completely inappropriate for a member of Congress to try to interfere in an ongoing criminal prosecution.

You will note there have been no Democrats there. We Democrats want the rule of law to play itself out. We want the criminal process to work. And that is in a courtroom with a jury of 12 who must unanimously convict any defendant, including the former president of the United States.

And this is just a constant refrain that we've seen from this Republican majority, which is that the rule of law does not apply to Donald Trump. It does not apply to them. It is hypocrisy at its height.

And it is truly an attack on our democracy and the rule of law. They should stay in Congress. They should do the work for the American people. And they should let the criminal justice system play itself out. That is what our democracy requires. That is what the rule of law requires.

And it's shameful and demeaning for them to go and pay homage to Donald Trump outside of the courtroom.

PHILLIP: Of course, putting the business of the American people on hold while they take their trips up to New York to visit with Trump. Congressman, I do want to ask you about this. This is interesting to me, at least. This is what Senator Mitt Romney said tonight about Trump and about President Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Had I been President Biden, when the Justice Department brought out indictments, I would have immediately pardoned him. I'd have pardoned President Trump. Why? Well, because it makes me, President Biden, the big guy and the person I pardoned, the little guy.



PHILLIP: Look, there are few Republicans who dislike Trump as much as Mitt Romney does. But are you surprised to hear him say something like that?

GOLDMAN: Well, look, I think Mitt Romney cares very much about the Republican Party. I think he cares very much about democracy and the institutions that undergird our democracy. And certainly, that is what Gerald Ford did with Richard Nixon. And he received some heat for it.

The problem with doing that for someone like Donald Trump is that he has never been held accountable. And because he's never been held accountable in both impeachments and in multiple lawsuits and other criminal investigations, he feels like he's invincible.

And he's not someone who learns his lesson. He's not someone who says, oh, I just skated past. I better correct my conduct. No, instead, he doubles and triples down. And whatever he has done before, he will do worse.

And what he is planning to do if he becomes president of the United States again is the absolute destruction of our democracy as we know it. And I am not exaggerating.

So while it may make hypothetical sense to be the big guy, as Mitt Romney said, and to pardon Donald Trump and show that you're bigger than that, this is not political. Joe Biden has had nothing to do with any of this.

He's pointed a special counsel immediately after Donald Trump announced he was running for president. The other two cases are outside of the Justice Department. Notwithstanding all these allegations of politicization, there is zero evidence of it.

And Joe Biden, as president, is correct to allow our rule of law and our system of government to play out for Donald Trump as it would play out for any other American.

PHILLIP: And as you noted, I mean, Donald Trump is unrepentant, to say the least. He's actually perhaps emboldened, threatening to do some of the same things over and over again if he faces the decisions, if he loses the next election, for example. Congressman Dan Goldman, thank you very much for joining us.

GOLDMAN: Thank you, Abby.

PHILLIP: Back in the USSR? Well next, "Daily Show" correspondent Jordan Klepper is on the show about why Moscow is always on the minds of Republicans.




AARON RODGERS, NEW YORK JETS: Putin came off as an interesting, thoughtful, smart individual. I'd love to see Joe Biden give an interview where he can speak on the history of the United States in the same way that Putin talked about the history of his country.


PHILLIP: That was Aaron Rodgers, and he's just the latest right-wing hero to praise Vladimir Putin, even as Russia intensifies its deadly invasion of Ukraine.

So why is this happening? Why has the party of Reagan suddenly become the party of Putin?

Well, "Daily Show" star Jordan Klepper explores that very question in a new special, "Jordan Klepper Fingers the Pulse: Moscow Tools".


UNKNOWN: I would like to see America be more like Russia.

JORDAN KLEPPER, DAILY SHOW CONTRIBUTOR: What do you like about Vladimir Putin?

UNKNOWN: I used to watch his videos, horseback riding back in the day.

UNKNOWN: What's happening in Russia is basically a Republican wet dream.

UNKNOWN: He's a strong, he's well-mannered.

KLEPPER: Putin is well-mannered, right?

UNKNOWN: Absolutely.

KLEPPER: He knows where the fork goes, where the knife goes, which window the journalist goes out of.


PHILLIP: Jordan Klepper joins me now. You were saying that as a joke. He did not take it as a joke.

KLEPPER: Sometimes humor lands differently in the middle of America at a MAGA event.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, there's this tough guy obsession, I guess, with Vladimir Putin. Did you learn anything about where this comes from? KLEPPER: You know, it's really interesting. I think we noticed when we

started going out to rallies that Vladimir Putin was somebody that was avoided for a while, but over the last handful of months, his name kept coming up over and over again, especially after the Tucker Carlson interview.

People were lauding Vladimir Putin. Not only what he did for Russia, does for Russia, how Russia looks, like Russia became suddenly this gold star for a lot of MAGA folks, which frankly shocked us. This wasn't the party Reagan that we were taught to believe, that Russia is something to be emulated.

PHILLIP: I mean, Tucker did go into a grocery store and was like, isn't this great? But it is surprising a little bit to me that that has penetrated to the average, I guess, Trump-supporting voter, that that very clear message of Russia's better than the United States, that's a little surprising to me.

KLEPPER: Yeah, you'd be surprised how powerful sniffing a ciabatta roll is. There was a stat that we read that over 50 percent of MAGA- Trump voters find Vladimir Putin to be a better leader than Joe Biden. And so there is some of this where choosing Vladimir Putin is just a neg against Joe Biden. And whenever they can take a neg against Joe Biden, they do it.

But there's also this element of Trump loving the strongman. We see there's that. Putin also loves to be anti-woke, anti-LGBTQ, anti- journalist in a way that speaks to this Republican base. And that was something we found compelling. Is this just a group of useful idiots being manipulated by Vladimir Putin? Or is there an actual affection there and an allyship that people are yearning for?

PHILLIP: Did you -- did you confront people with facts about like what it's really like?

KLEPPER: You have to be very careful about that. You do. Yes. And frankly, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, there were some people who were more receptive to that.

So many people reference the Tucker Carlson interview as the way in which they viewed Moscow.


Usually when you talk to people about the facts and what's happening on the ground there, they go to the things that they've seen what Donald Trump has told them about Vladimir Putin. Tucker Carlson has told them about Russia. And those are the things they would often confront me with. So none of the Russian history is penetrating to the MAGA base.

PHILLIP: So one thing that is penetrating is this bit of Russian propaganda. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNKNOWN: The Russian government were pushing this theory. Volodymyr Zelenskyy took money that the U.S. sent him and bought two luxury yachts. Does it sound familiar?

KLEPPER: I've heard a thing or two.

UNKNOWN: He has yachts. He sniffs cocaine right in front of y'all.


PHILLIP: He said it with so much confidence. He has yachts.

KLEPPER: He has yachts and sniffing cocaine right in front of you.

PHILLIP: I mean, I don't know which came first, but I mean, was it surprising to hear that level of specificity from that guy?

KLEPPER: Oh, I mean, that guy had nothing but specificity. And I think like there's specifics about Hunter Biden, about cocaine, about yachts, about bio labs. We hear it all. There's no cohesive narrative, but partially that's the point. Russia floods the zone with misinformation, gives people the things they want to hear, confuses them about the specifics as to how these actually all add up into one cohesive narrative.

But what that gets you to is to a point where you have automatic distrust of the things that you hear. And so the more consequential things we talk to them about, like Ukraine and NATO, they had these small little threads they pulled that made them not trust the things they're hearing about Ukraine and not trust the allyship with NATO. And that's what had us in a dangerous spot.

PHILLIP: You feel like it's here to stay? Or is this just the latest Tucker Carlson inspired fad?

KLEPPER: I think it'd be nice for truth to shine through. I mean, right now, I think Russian misinformation is winning this war. When you see funding for Ukraine being stopped by people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is somebody who is pushing that yacht theory, he's found some real wins here. And I think it's only going to take a more stoic, thoughtful, receptive audience to push back on that. Right now, America is not in the most open space to be that.

PHILLIP: It was a lot easier than I think they thought to just inject this right into the bloodstream.

KLEPPER: Give the people what they want to hear.

PHILLIP: They certainly did. Jordan Klepper, thank you very much. The special airs next Monday night on Comedy Central. Appreciate you being here.

And more on the new CNN reporting tonight about what the Trump defense team plans to do in cross-examination tomorrow against Michael Cohen, including attacks against his memory.



PHILLIP: It's that time of year. It is time for "Champions for Change", a look at the unsung people whose ideas and innovations are dramatically improving lives, business and society. CNN's chief climate correspondent, Bill Weir, met with a protective mother who pioneered a way to build stronger homes.


UNKNOWN: The most powerful storm ever to make landfall on the Florida Panhandle.

UNKNOWN: The window to evacuate is closed.

ANNETTE VERO, CO-FOUNDER, VERO BUILDING SYSTEMS: I remember watching TV. And thinking, if this stays on the same path, we're not going to make it. And it's too late to leave.

I'm originally from Seattle, Washington. And I met my husband up there. I was bartending and he was playing professional football for the Seattle Seahawks.

We were having our first baby. And so we purchased a home on the Gulf Coast right outside of Destin.

We had Ava, my first baby girl. And Hurricane Michael hit 12 weeks later.

UNKNOWN: Hunker down. Stay indoors, Stay away from windows.

VERO: The wind code actually where I live is about 100 miles an hour. And Hurricane Michael was well beyond that already. The storm continued to shift and then unfortunately hit Mexico City Beach, where it was complete and total devastation and absolutely heartbreaking.

The next morning when I woke up, there was a fire in me that this isn't right. I can't live from June to October every single year, hoping that a storm does not come and kill me and my kids.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: And so driven purely by a desire to protect her own family, Annette Rubin became an accidental pioneer in the field of disaster-proof construction.

You had no experience in construction or business of this sort at all?

VERO: No. I went down this rabbit hole of how do we build a fortified structure?

WEIR: In her new quest to find a really strong building material, someone at Annette's church brought up Emma Due or M2. It's a 40-year- old Italian company created by an engineer who discovered a really easy-to-construct method to build a home that could stand up to an earthquake. Basically came up with a styrofoam and steel mesh sandwich on concrete

bread. First you make these panels, any shape you want. Round, straight, it could be a roof, it could be stairs, it could be a park bench, it could be an airport. And then it is covered with sprayable concrete.

VERO: That's SCIP, Structural Concrete Insulated Panel, creating one monolithic structure.

UNKNOWN: What these panels have that's great is that they're way more waterproof than a traditional construction material. So if you see that building over there, the roof's not even finished, it's not even waterproof and it just rained like three days in a row and not one droplet got into the second floor.

VERO: So this is the mesh machine up here and we can do varying lengths and widths and all that.

WEIR: Did you ever imagine when you were moving across the country that you'd be doing this?

VERO: No, definitely not.

We have a 250 mile an hour wind rating.

WEIR: 250?

VERO: Yeah, which there actually has never been a hurricane that fast before.

WEIR: Right, that would be a category nine or something.

VERO: Yeah, there's never been a hurricane that fast before.


WEIR: As a climate reporter/dad, I tend to measure global trends against the lifetime of my kids. And just in the four years since my little boy, River was born, there have been over 80 separate billion dollar disasters just in the U.S. As the planet overheats under a blanket of fossil fuel pollution, it is clear the way we think about shelter has to evolve.

VERO: We have these huge catastrophic events and they rebuild everything the exact same way.

In my mind, that's the definition of insanity, is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results. Our goal is to give 10 percent of all of our profits to disaster relief, donating homes to people who lose them in hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, you know, any kind of natural disaster. And they're getting worse. I think people are hungry for something different. And I think as a construction community, there's enough people coming up in the next generation that really want to learn these new innovative things.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PHILLIP: Be sure to tune in Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern for the "Champions for Change" one-hour special.

And it reads like something that was ripped from House of Cards. Gold bars, luxury cars, foreign favors, and one of America's most powerful men is now blaming his wife as his corruption trial begins. The details from inside that courtroom are ahead with Laura Coates.