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Don Lemon Tonight
Donald Trump Praised Hitler; Washington, D.C. Suspends Rudy Giuliani's License; Rep. Kevin McCarthy To Pick Members To Counter January 6 Commission; Best Friends' Role In President's Life; How Racism Played In Someone's Conviction. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired July 07, 2021 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST (on camera): All right. Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity tonight. Remember, see the game that is at play in politics. That's the key.
DON LEMON TONIGHT with the upgrade as D. Lemon tries to see if he can eat his weight in tacos. You get Laura Coates.
LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: I thought it was all nachos, now it's tacos?
CUOMO: That was last night.
COATES: I thought it was Tuesday with tacos night, now Wednesday. All right, well.
CUOMO: He may have no discipline but he loves diversity in his diet.
COATES: Nachos, the tacos, tomorrow what are we doing?
CUOMO: So, let me --
COATES: Burritos to figure it out.
CUOMO: I don't know. I'll ask him. Assuming he's sober enough to answer. let me ask you this. Let's take up the case. Coates versus Cuomo, which side do you want on Sha'Carri Richardson, pro or con, the ruling?
COATES: I'm always on Coates's side, that's the right side.
CUOMO: All right, you take pro. Because that's the right way to be on this because rules are rules. Here's my pushback on it. Not all rules are the same. Weed is not a performance enhancing drug. She did nothing to help herself gain any advantage. If anything, you could argue it would be a disadvantage for her.
She did her time during mental duress, and it serves no purpose as a policy to enforce this. And the United States should be doing a lot more to resist, not to enable it. COATES: Well you know, I've got to tell you. It's hard to be fully pro
or con on this side, right? Because although the rules are the rules, we do have a patchwork of rules when it comes to weed in this country, right?
Even Justice Thomas has spoken about this issue, having some uniformity on the issue, I can see the argument that says, look, in order to be in an athlete, in order to be a part you have to have the discipline to abide by the rules. We want that to be the case.
But again, it's hard for people to understand that this is not somehow the United States of America selectively enforcing certain rules when it's convenient to do so, especially when, frankly, the world stage does know the United States is not always consistent about its rule abiding, is it?
CUOMO: Right, and look. Dominique Dawes was just on. Being under age is an advantage in gymnastics. Why? The peak early. There's so much wear and tear on the body. There's an advantage. Taking substances that allow you to heal and give you a different level of laxity in your connective tissue, that gives you an advantage. You get caught. You should lose. This is not one of those things.
COATES: Well, you know, as the president said about, it maybe it's time to look into changing the rules to actually reflect that. But if you are going to do it for that, and I expect the federal government has got to do it when it comes to what schedule they put marijuana on as well, in contrast to what states do.
So, it's an ongoing conversation. I kind of whim between pro and con, but I see both sides of an issue, when you're talking about rules that apply differently state-by-state. Thank you.
CUOMO: Yes, I feel like I lost twice in that conversation. I don't --
COATES: It's funny how that happened, isn't it?
CUOMO: Only with you.
COATES: I don't know.
CUOMO: Laura Coates, you are the upgrade. And it's always a pleasure. I look forward to watching the show.
COATES: Thank you. And I'm very jealous you've got to talk to Dominique Dawes.
COATES: I was a huge fan of hers and never a gymnast, so fine, whatever.
This is Don Tonight. Nice seeing you. And I'm Laura Coates in for Don on the night of major developments on multiple big stories. New tonight, Rudy Giuliani's law license is suspended in Washington,
D.C. That after the president's former personal lawyer saw his license suspended in New York, all for pushing the big lie of nonexistent election fraud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: They only submitted 8,021 ballots from dead people, mail-in ballots for dead people. Probably easier for dead people to submit mail-in ballots than it is to vote in person.
We cannot allow these crooks, because that's what they are, to steal an election from the American people.
Let's have trial by combat!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES (on camera): The appeals court in D.C. saying the man once known as America's mayor would be suspended from working as an attorney in the city pending the outcome of his situation in New York. We've got much more on that in just a moment.
And it comes as, on Capitol Hill, Kevin McCarthy who has been doing everything he can to drag his feet and delay the investigation of the January 6th insurrection now is deciding to put the Republicans on the committee. Almost certainly to include some Trump allies.
Meanwhile, a new book quotes, the then president of the United States praising Hitler on a trip to Paris to commemorate the end of World War I. According to the book, frankly, we did win this election, the inside story of how Trump lost, by the Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender, Trump reportedly told then White House chief of staff John Kelly, quote, "well, Hitler did a lot of good things."
Former president denies saying that, and CNN has reached out to John Kelly for comment. But the idea that the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, would say anything, anything to praise the man responsible for the deaths of six million Jewish people in Nazi concentration camps is despicable.
Hitler did not do a lot of good things. And this is not just the former president. This is the undisputed leader of the GOP, and his party clearly has not learned that this is -- and I'll say it again -- despicable. But first, to Rudy Giuliani. His law license suspended in the nation's capital.
I want to bring in CNN's senior political analysts John Avlon and Kirsten Powers. So nice to see you all here tonight.
I'll start with you, John. Because these suspensions, as you know, are a huge blow for the former Manhattan U.S. attorney and mayor of New York. He also ran for president. I mean, you actually worked for him. So how are you looking at this situation?
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's a tragedy when you look at the arc of his career. I mean, this is somebody who was one of the most respected prosecutors of his generation, leading to Southern District of New York, and was really revered in that office. So, to have the first insult that the SDNY raid his house and then remove his law license in New York in a blistering document by those judges, and now, you know, Washington, D.C., it's part of a pattern.
But I think it shows how far he's fallen in some very critical ways. You know this is somebody who used to say that the law is a search for the truth. He did not engage in anything resembling a search for the truth in his defense of Donald Trump by pushing the big lie. Consistently in courts and other places.
So, you know, you reap what you saw. And there needs to be accountability for lies in court, especially when, you know, the United States election is at stake, and you call for trial by combat before an attack on our capitol.
COATES: By the way, he knew better, right? Kirsten, I mean, the idea here that Giuliani can somehow claim I didn't know better. He was the SDNY U.S. Attorney, he was the mayor of New York, he's somebody who's in a great deal of legal peril right now, I mean, libel lawsuits and all the like based on it and even Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who went to prison over the hush money payments to protect his boss.
Kirsten, here's what he tweeted. He said, I warned Rudy Giuliani everything Donald J. Trump touches dies. What do you think about that, Kirsten?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that Rudy went into this with eyes wide open. He obviously, I mean, you've listed off -- listed off all of the credentials that he had in terms of understanding the law, and he still show chose to lie to courts, he chose to lie to the public, he chose to lie to lawmakers.
And about some pretty important things. And so, this is an appropriate, you know, punishment for him. He frankly probably deserves more, you know, to have his license at least suspended for a period of time, as this process is going on.
Yes, I mean it's just -- it's -- I personally never was a huge Rudy Giuliani fan, but I have to say even setting that aside, it still is, as John is saying, a real fall for this person. You know, even if you, whatever critics you have all of him as mayor, this is so far removed from that person. And he made that choice. I think he understood what he was doing.
COATES: And by the way, you need not be a fan of the person. The courts are a fan of the truth. And that's what owed to the courts, right?
POWERS: Yes. COATES: So when you go in there, and you try to bring in the court of public opinion, and you say all of these things that are not honest, and you're trying to use the courts as some vehicle and mechanism of this pulpit, it just, it ought to not work.
But let's go to the idea of how the big lie, by the way, is not something that confine to a discussion about Rudy Giuliani. Because, John, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, you know that he's finalizing his picks now for the Democratic led January 6 investigation and he frankly is likely to tap lawmakers who he thinks he can defend Trump.
And I wonder, is that tactic going to work? Especially after Speaker Pelosi, I mean she included Republican Liz Cheney as one of her picks. Is that enough of a counterbalance?
AVLON: I don't think this is about counterbalance, right? There is no compromise with lies. The question is how many trolls he is going to try to stack the deck with. And the potential danger of blow back to fair minded Americans watching the process.
You know, at the very least, he should be consider appointing at least one of the 35 Republicans who voted for the bipartisan commission, but I wouldn't expect that Kevin McCarthy. Do they want to make this a sideshow? Well, they're going to look like the circus. You're going to have to agree on some basic facts.
And if they continue to push the big lie in the context of this investigation, it will not be a good look for them. But you shouldn't expect anything less, because they were braced to complete rewriting of history today.
COATES: So, Kirsten, I mean, should Pelosi use her veto power if McCarthy goes ahead and chooses any Republican who's been complicit in the big lie?
POWERS: I mean, if he's going -- if ends up choosing, which I don't think that he will, but if he ended up choosing, you know, any of these, you know, like Marjorie Taylor Greene types, then yes, absolutely.
But I think that, you know, there should be some difference probably given to him in terms of who he appoints. She can't just say no to anybody that doesn't fit her criteria. And I think that what they are trying to do is basically, I think he's realized that just ignoring this isn't really an option because it's something that will play out in the media. And so, without having people there to make the argument that he once made that Donald Trump once made, is just sitting all that ground to the Democrats.
But, you know, the way the Republicans are approaching this, we just should never normalize it. You know, the idea that the way that they have opposed even having this investigation in the first place is highly problematic. And the fact, then that in choosing people to be on this committee,
he's only going to be thinking about what's good for him politically, versus if you look back at Democrats with the Benghazi committees, how they actually treated it seriously and put serious people on, you know, with Elijah Cummings, people who could have relationships with people across the aisle and who would treat it seriously.
The Republican Party just is not -- they are not even trying to govern in any way, and they certainly aren't any way up to the standards that they help Democrats to.
COATES: John Avlon, Kirsten Powers, thank you.
AVLON: Thank you. Good night.
POWERS: Thank you.
COATES: You know, I think on that point we need to clear up a few things. A few things that for some inexplicable reason seem to be confusing to some of our elected officials and the so-called leader of the GOP.
And frankly, I can't understand how anyone could be confused by these facts and right versus wrong, yet here we are. Starting with a report out of a new book from the Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender that President Trump told his chief of staff, General John Kelly, that, quote, "Hitler did a good a lot of good things."
Adolf Hitler and the word good should never be in the same sentence. Next. He led a genocide. And any attempt at revisionist history to cast him in a favorable light is unconscionable. And yet, revisionism appears to be power for the Trump golf course. It's been adopted by his allies when it comes to the election and the insurrection, where a sitting member of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene, continues to be cavalier about analogizing that genocide to the federal government's response to COVID.
It was only a few weeks ago she apologized for comparing vaccine mandates and mandates to yellow stars. Remember, she went to the Holocaust museum in D.C. where she professed her newfound enlightenment on the issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): The Holocaust is -- there is nothing comparable to it. There is no comparison to the Holocaust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES (on camera0: And now, it's totally obvious her words were empty. Just like what the congresswoman tweeted today. People have a choice. They don't need your medical brown shirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations. You can't force people to be part of the human experiment.
Facts first on CNN. Brown shirt refers to the paramilitary group, the stormtroopers who helped facilitate Adolf Hitler's rise to power. And she's comparing their role to President Biden's plan for targeted outreach to unvaccinated communities in the face of rising concern about the Delta variant.
I honestly can't believe we still need to say this. So, I will keep it direct and clear. Do not invoke the Holocaust. That rhetoric is so dangerous. It's hurtful, and it's counterproductive, period. Full stop. Seriously, stop.
What has happened to the one-time party of Lincoln? And what does all of this say about their leadership? I'll talk with former Governor John Kasich. That's next.
COATES (on camera): Disturbing new allegations that then President Trump once praised Adolf Hitler as doing, quote, "a lot of good things." This, according to a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael bender.
Now Trump reportedly made his comments to his chief of staff John Kelly back in 2018. And a Trump spokesperson is denying the report.
Joining me now, former Republican Governor of Ohio, John Kasich. He's now a CNN senior commentator. Governor, nice to see you tonight.
It's shocking that we are talking about this. The idea of a president of the United States praising Hitler. I mean, this reporting has not been confirmed by CNN, but Bender is quoting General John Kelly, and we are talking about a former president who called white supremacists very fine people. What's your reaction to this new reporting?
JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if in fact it's true, there isn't anything that out of a president of the United States would be more despicable. And Laura, but we have to look at the big picture here. The rise of anti-Semitism, not only in America but all across the world, 1,200 cases last year in the United States, and we know it's happening around the world.
And when we have a president of the United States that says if -- if he said this -- that Hitler did some good things, you see, what it does is it brings about loose talk. And we've just seen loose talk here out of this person you have mentioned in the last segment. Comparing people who want to give vaccines and asking -- knocking on doors to say, would you like a vaccine?
Does she understand what the brown shirts, what they did? Does she understand how they went and grabbed people out --
COATES: I don't think so.
KASICH: -- because they were Jews and sent them ultimately to their death camps? I mean, I built a Holocaust memorial on the grounds of my state house when I was a governor. It's the only permanent one in the country. And I put it there so that people would realize six million people slaughtered systematically.
And we have somebody who says, allegedly says, well, you know, he did some good things. And this loose talk around brown shirts and the Holocaust, Laura, this is really, really bad. As you know, Jews have been targeted throughout human history. And we see a rise of it now in this anti-Semitism, which I frankly do not understand, is rearing its ugly head once again, and it must be stamped out.
COATES: It's so incredibly dangerous for the reasons you've said and more, and the idea that coming from people who are elected officials in positions of power, and extraordinary influence is all the more concerning and it totally emboldens the behavior. I mean, it's the idea it's almost like it's being sanctioned, the loose talk, in that it's OK to say it if it's happening at the highest levels of our government, right?
KASICH: Well, you know, it's just, it's unbelievable to me because you think about what happened. What happened to people as they were yanked out of their homes, mothers and fathers leaving children terrified. Put in boxcars, sent to death camps. I was in Dachau, 41,000 people slaughtered.
And you know, you think about Auschwitz. This is an unbelievable situation. What I get concerned about is maybe people don't know enough about it. Maybe these people who use these terms just don't have, you know, don't have any education in this. They don't even understand what it is, the history of what happens needs to be recognized because if we don't pay attention to history, we know what happens.
Things are likely to happen again and this kind of wholesale slaughter. And to try to say, but there were some good things that were happening is just an outrage, Laura. You know it. I know it and the people watching this show know it.
KASICH: Any sense of the person knows it.
COATES: Absolutely. I remember as a child in Minnesota growing up in Saint Paul and a the JCC meeting with Holocaust survivors and having them tell the story as they showed the numbers on their arms. That was seared into my mind of what they experienced. And I can't imagine would be so flippant as to compare in the way that they do. And on to current politics as well here we're seeing.
I mean, I want to get your take as well on the author of "Hillbilly Elegy." Because J.D. Vance who is the author of course, is running for Senate in your state. And he is now saying that, look, he regrets calling Donald Trump reprehensible back in 2016. And I'm just wondering, I mean, is kissing Trump's ring and essentially distancing yourself even from your thoughts of then, is that the prerequisite now for Republicans running in 2022?
KASICH: Well, I don't really know much about this story. You know, it's been a holiday weekend. But what I can say is I think that people who make pilgrimages or sort of bow to Donald Trump, they got to wonder about their own soul. And, so, I think we got to be very careful.
I mean, you get elected to stand for things. And if people decide, well, they got to kind of kowtow to somebody else in order to suck up the voters so they can win, that's not a good thing.
And I don't know the details of what this gentleman has done or any of the other people running. I've not paid a whole lot of attention to the Senate race in this state. But I know across this country we see a pilgrimage by too many of these politicians going down there and supporting him.
And I'm pleased to see that Nancy Pelosi is going to name the Cheney -- Liz Cheney to this commission to find out what happened on January 6th. I just can't believe we never got that through. So, look, we move on and see what happens here. But there is going to be change, Laura.
I'm going to tell you. I don't know exactly when it's going to come. But people are going to regret the fact that they are lining up for his approval. I don't agree with it. I don't think it's good politics, and it's certainly not good for the country.
COATES: Governor Kasich, thank you.
KASICH: Laura, thank you.
COATES: He lied about the election over and over all for one man, Donald Trump. And now Rudy Giuliani may be facing the consequences. Stay with us.
COATES (on camera): Presidents are surrounded by a team of official advisers and experts, but they are not the only relationships shaping presidential legacies. Even history. And a new book is out with all the behind-the-scenes details.
Joining me now, Gary Ginsberg. He is the author of "First Friends: The Powerful Unsung and Unelected People Who Shaped Our Presidents."
Gary, welcome to the show. What a fascinating book. I'm so glad to talk to you. And I want to start with the why? Why did you write this book? I mean, it's certainly relevant as we look at the news tonight, but I know you didn't include former Donald Trump, the president, but let's talk for a moment about the why you wrote this book. Why?
GARY GINSBERG, AUTHOR, FIRST FRIENDS: Well thank you for having me, Laura. Well, since I was a little kid, I've been endlessly fascinated by the American presidency. When I got older, I worked on presidential campaigns and then I worked in the Clinton administration.
And I came to witness some really remarkable close friendships between leaders and their best friends. And I saw how this front can speak more bluntly, act more naturally than any staffer ever could. And even in some cases as I was writing my book, how a meaningful impact on some pretty consequential decisions.
To my surprise, there's been very little written about this dynamic, though, in presidential literature. There have been books about first wife, first chefs, first butlers, even first pets, but nothing about first friends. So, I decided to write the book.
COATES: I mean, what the confident relationship, the confidante status, the idea that that report that's being built can shape our whole nation, you know you didn't even realize it. And I want to talk for a moment about this unique relationship between President Trump and Rudy Giuliani, and I wonder how you see it, based on the book and the close interactions that you've seen?
GINSBERG: Well, I wanted to do a chapter on President Trump and I engaged someone as close to Trump as everybody to determine who that might be. We went around and around for more than two months until this person, who's very close, finally confessed that the president really doesn't have a first friend or really any close friends.
He has people he speaks to frequently like Perlmutter who is the founder of Marvel or Phil Ruffin who is the casino mogul. But in the end, his closest friend, you know, just to shorthand it, really was his Twitter feed before it was shut down, of course.
All he really needs for emotional sustenance and company is public affirmation, really at the adoration of his base. To punctuate this point, this person said to me that, you know, we would go up to Camp David on weekends and he'd bring on family and so-called friends, and then he would just closet himself in one of his cabins. And that was his idea of relaxing with friends. Calling his supporters, getting that affirmation.
Of course, it all made me wonder whether the presence of a real friend during this presidency could have saved him from some of his worst moments. We'll never know, obviously, but it's an interesting question to speculate.
COATES: I mean, that's fascinating, the idea of affirmation. And you write more about the idea of the aide and the council that these first friends really provide. We often spoke about during the Trump administration the idea of having an adult in the room.
But this book really talks about which adult would be in the room. And I want to talk about the President that you know best, Gary, because you served, as you mentioned, as an aide in the Clinton White House. I mean, Bill Clinton may not have actually been the president if not for a close friend of his, you write. GINSBERG: That's right. I mean, what really intrigued me about this
relationship was how much Clinton relied on Jordan throughout his life and then his presidency. And as you say, without Vernon we may not have had a Bill Clinton as president.
When Clinton lost his re-election for Arkansas governor in 1980, he was really distraught. He had been calling around to friends trying to get some sense of comfort, couldn't get it. And Vernon was watching from New York. And he had become friends with Clinton three years earlier.
So, he calls up Hillary and says, you got any grits down there? Because I'm going to come down and talk to you guys, because he knew how upset Bill was and how upset, in fact, how he was thinking about leaving politics for good as a result.
So, he goes down to Arkansas, he spends about three hours in the kitchen of the Clinton new house after they moved out of the mansion and he spoke really tough words to Clinton. He said, get over it. You got too much talent to be giving this all up. Clinton listened. And two years later, he was taking the oath of office again as Arkansas governor at the beginning of 1983.
COATES: That's a book -- that's a book title I ever heard one. I hope you have grits down there. You have any grits down there, and then that leads to all this. But that's not all that Vernon Jordan did. Right? I mean, he was also, as we know, a confidante when it came to Clinton's biggest scandal Monica Lewinsky, right?
GINSBERG: Yes. Well, what was interesting is that, you know, he was, I would say, as pivotal to Clinton's presidency as any chief of staff or senior aide. When he was elected president, Clinton offered Jordan the job of attorney general. He really wanted him in his cabinet. But Vernon said straight out, I can be more valuable to you as your first friend. And Jordan was right.
Any time Clinton needed help, he'd say call Vernon and Vernon was there. He was involved in every major personnel decision, most major policy decisions and perhaps most importantly, was Clinton's major source of relaxation, whether it was on the golf course, you know, in meals in the residence outside, he was his closest companion.
And one of the reasons why I think he relied on Jordan so much is that he basically just had the best judgment and the best political intelligence of anyone around in Washington. And, you know, when Clinton was impeached later over lying about his affair with Monica and Vernon became a witness in that, he could have cut and run, but he didn't. He stood by his best friend. And the death testimony he delivered before the grand jury really helped save Clinton from conviction in the Senate when he went before it -- before it first for his impeachment trial.
COATES: And making his passing, the late Vernon Jordan even more profound I'm sure of course for the Clintons as it is for the whole nation. And I want to ask you, Gary, I mean, you also -- you have that President Truman's friend and former business partner, Eddie Jacobson who was key in getting Truman to recognize the state of Israel, so a friend of the president not elected official is who changed the course of history here?
GINSBERG: I say that I think it's the most powerful example of how a lifelong friendship can change the course of history. Eddie Jacobson and Harry Truman ran a haberdashery together to (Inaudible) in use these days in Kansas City in the early 1920s. It failed but they stayed best friends. While Truman ascended the political ladder and became president.
One day, Eddie gets a phone call in 1948 saying, Harry Truman is not seeing Chaim Weizmann who is the key to Truman deciding whether to recognize an independent state of Israel. He flies across the country. He walks into the Oval Office unannounced, uninvited and has a knock- down, drag-out, almost fight with his best friend Harry Truman.
He'd never asked for anything from Harry Truman before in his life. He said you know in your heart, Harry, you owe it to Chaim Weizmann to see him. You know what you have to do here. Truman turns his back on him, ponders the question, swivels back around and says, all right, you bald headed son of a b, I'll see him. He sees him. Two months later, Harry Truman is the first foreign leader to recognize the independent foreign state of Israel. What a remarkable story.
COATES: And as they say -- really. And as they say, the rest is history. It's all in this fascinating book. Again, the book is called "First Friends: The Powerful Unsung and Unelected People Who Shaped Our Presidents." Gary Ginsberg, thank you so much.
GINSBERG: Thank you for having me.
COATES: He was sentenced to 60 years in prison. But he didn't commit the crime. One man's story from wrongful conviction to exoneration, up next.
COATES (on camera): Tonight, a bill in Congress aims to increase the amount of federal compensation that's paid to Americans wrongfully convicted of crimes. Supporters looking to raise the current $50,000 per year of incarceration to $70,000 per year of incarceration.
An advocacy group says more than 2,800 Americans have been wrongfully convicted. And that includes this man Yutico Briley who spent nearly nine years behind bars. In a few moments we'll meet him and the two women who fought for his exoneration.
First, CNN's Joe Johns with the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Yutico Briley, 19 years old at the time got stopped by police on the street of New Orleans. November 2012. He's got a gun, and he starts to run.
The gun falls out of his pocket. He says he carries it for protection because he's had friends who got shot. It turns out there has been a robbery in the same neighborhood about 18 hours earlier and police think Briley fits the suspect description. Briley says he didn't do it and he was nowhere even close at the time.
YUTICO BRILEY, WRONGLY CONVICTED: At the time of the robbery, I was in a hotel about eight miles from where it occurred.
JOHNS: But police got the robbery victim to take a look at Briley and only Briley. And the victim says Briley did it. The victim also identifies Briley's gun as the weapon that was used. Briley gets locked up and because he's got a previous conviction on a drug charge, he's classified as a repeat offender.
At trial, at 19 years old, Yutico Briley gets 60 years in prison with no parole, even though there were enormous flaws in his case. Flaw number one, the way police single him out as a suspect. Briley is brought to a garage alone handcuffed where the victim waited in a car. During recorded jailhouse telephone calls with his lawyer, Briley says police set him up and made him look guilty.
UNKNOWN: But during the identification, they had a light flash in my face for like 15 minutes. Like they were trying to make the victim say it was me.
JOHNS: Plus, the victim is white. Briley is black. And study have shown cross racial identifications of criminal defendants are notoriously unreliable. Flaw number two in the case, Briley tells his lawyers again and again that security cameras at the hotel where he was staying could prove he was nowhere near the robbery.
UNKNOWN: During the time the armed robbery occurred, it was like four in the morning. All right. And at this time, I was on camera.
JOHNS: Briley's lawyers wait three weeks and don't get the recordings from the right time of day. Ultimately, they are recorded over. And maybe the biggest flaw of all. At trial, one of the jurors abstains from the vote.
At the time, Louisiana was one of only two states that allowed criminal convictions without a unanimous verdict. That rule has since been changed. All of which made the new New Orleans Parish district attorney who campaigned to clean up the system see an unfair case with flimsy evidence that needed to be thrown out. Though the previous prosecutors said no further review was required.
JASON WILLIAMS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, NEW ORLEANS: It had all the things. It covered everything from the fragility of misidentification, cross racial identification. It had failures of following best practices with regards to proper identifications that are reliable. It had excessive sentencing. It had the common place nature in which we throw away black men and boys with very little facts, very little evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP) JOHNS (on camera): Almost everything that could have gone wrong for
Briley did. And it took almost a miracle to overturn his conviction. It cost Briley nearly nine years of his life. Laura?
COATES: Joe Johns, thank you. We've got Yutico Briley along with the two women who helped overturn his wrongful conviction, Emily Bazelon and Lara Bazelon. Stay with us. They'll tell us the rest of the story next.
COATES (on camera): The story of Yutico Briley shining a light on wrongful convictions in United States. He was freed after two women picked up the torch in fighting for his exoneration.
Joining me now, Yutico Briley, also, Emily Bazelon, staff writer for the New York Times magazine who wrote about his case and the efforts to exonerate him. And her sister, Lara Bazelon who presented Yutico in overturning his wrongful conviction. Yutico, Emily, Lara, I'm so glad you're here to share this story.
Yutico, I want to begin with you here. Because, you know, you fought nearly nine years for your innocence. I mean, the justice system frankly, it failed you at every single turn. Did you ever lose hope that you one day would be exonerated?
BRILEY: I'm going to be honest with you, Lara. At times, the whole BFP, but it was never just lost, like, I never -- well, clearly, I never just gave up.
COATES: What kept you going?
BRILEY: It's just, I mean a number of things, but like just the most thing I can say, like I can never get comfortable in that environment, like, like the environment that I was in. I could never fit in. Like I always stuck out.
COATES: Well, you stuck out, Yutico, because you did not commit the crime, right? The idea that you were there and just that such a profound statement of not being able to get used to it.
I mean, Emily, Yutico reached out to you for help, and in a letter that you may have missed, frankly, if it hadn't been flagged to you by a retired librarian that he himself was communicating with. And as a criminal justice reporter, you get a lot of letters, I'm assuming. So, what made you believe that Yutico was innocent?
EMILY BAZELON, STAFF WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: I read this letter, and it was very clear. And first, what struck me was that he had gotten a 60-year sentence when he was 19 for an armed robbery in which no one was physically injured. And so, that part of the case distressed me. And he was making a claim about innocence, and I could tell that it was worth investigating.
Because his conviction was based on an identification by one witness, a cross racial identification, a white person identifying a black person. And those tend to be less reliable. So, what I thought when I got this letter is, here is someone who is trying so hard to be heard and somebody needs to look into this. And I was just incredibly lucky to be able to ask my sister, who has -- has won an exoneration for someone before as an attorney to take a really close look at this case.
COATES: I mean, amazing, Lara, that you were the sister, right? The idea of Yutico's case as your sister talks about exposed so many flaws. I mean, the problems of cross-racial identifications and the so-called, which I find really disturbing, this show up identifications.
I mean, Yutico, according to the report, was handcuffed already. A flashlight in his face for 15 minutes. He said himself that they were trying to get them to identify him. I mean, and at that time Louisiana allowed criminal convictions without even a unanimous verdict. And then you had bad lawyering, as he's spoken about. So, I mean, was the justice system just totally stacked against Yutico?
LARA BAZELON, REPRESENTED YUTICO BRILEY'S EFFORT TO EXONERATE HIM: It was 100 percent stacked, and you listed the trifecta of things that contributed to his wrongful conviction. And I will say that when my sister asked me to look at this case, initially, I was reluctant, only because I don't have a BAR card, I had never, in Louisiana, been there, I thought well, what could I possibly do?
But then I realized about 10 minutes into reviewing this case I just knew with this really sickening certainty that he was innocent. And that was basically the next two years of all of our lives was proving that that was true. And I will say that his case is really a lot about the power of local elections. Because before a new D.A. and a new judge, Yutico didn't have a chance. It's not that his legal arguments changed, it's only that the people in power to do something about it changed.
COATES: Yutico, I mean, your original lawyer never established your alibi. I mean, getting the wrong video from the motel where you were staying, you could have been exonerated then and cleared. I mean, a separate legal team dropped the ball on finding the friend that you were even with at the motel. Right?
I mean, I don't think your trial lawyers never even pressed the prosecution witnesses about discrepancies between how you looked and how the actual robber looked? I mean, you had a beard at the time. Right? I mean, you knew the truth here.
So, when you think about all this, Yutico, and you realized that they weren't fighting for you in a way they should have, what does that feel like?
BRILEY: It, it's just, it makes me think like, what is the importance of one person's life, like, you know, to the lawyer, or to the judge or, you know, like, what is the importance of the human life? Because when we look at the case, it's like, to see the stakes were so high like look, look at the performance, look what happened to say that my life was on the line.
COATES: Do you that I racism played a part here?
BRILEY: Of course. When my -- when the judge loss to Ms. Harris, to Judge Harris, he made a remark, and he basically said that all you had to do was be black or be a woman to like win the election, like basically saying like, Ms. Harris wasn't even qualified.
You know, like, as I was standing as the judge that she is, like all she had to do was be black, so that was the judge. So that's, you know.
COATES: Just the idea, Yutico that they're making statements that demonstrated to you that you were not as valued as a human being, and you can just see the way in which, the way this case has played out. I mean, year after year after year, it really is shocking, and I'm so grateful to have a chance to speak to each and every one of you.
Yutico, I'll let you have the last word here because you deserve to have your voice heard after being silences for so long and not feeling empowered. What do you want people to know about you, Mr. Briley?
BRILEY: I want people to know that I'm -- you can't -- you can't, one of all, you can't judge a book by its cover.
BRILEY: You can't judge a person of a record or a piece of paper or something that some that, you know, someone describes them as, like, you know, like, you got to get to know me. Like, for all those years I was judge by what somebody said about me, or I was judged by how this judge described me when he sentenced me. And you know, that's how I was treated.
So, with that being said, it's like, you know, everything is just so deeper than the surface. It's just so easy to look at the surface of something and judge it, you know, like you say, judging a book by its cover when --
BRILEY: -- you have to make your own effort, you got to make your own judgment.
COATES: Well, Yutico, Mr. Briley, we see you, we see you now, and they always should have, and it was a pleasure speaking with you and all of you. I thank you for taking the time. And I thank all of you for watching. Our coverage continues.