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Don Lemon Tonight

WSJ: Informant Tipped Off Investigators About More Docs At Mar- a-Lago; CNN Looks Inside The Mar-a-Lago Rooms The FBI Likely Searched; Trump's Hold On GOP Remains Strong After Primaries; Nebraska Teen And Mom Facing Charges In Abortion-Related Case That Involved Obtaining Their Facebook Messages; Trial Begins Over Photos Of Kobe Bryant's Fatal Helicopter Crash. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 10, 2022 - 23:00   ET




EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, we know that there were discussions that were ongoing between the Trump team and the investigators, the FBI and the prosecutors, who are doing this investigation, and something happened in the last couple of months that altered what these conversations were about.

And "The Wall Street Journal" is suggesting that that thing that happened was an informant or somebody, somebody who was a witness, and knew that there were additional documents or believe that there were additional documents that are being held at Mar-a-Lago that the FBI wanted to obtain.

And so, that's what precipitated and that's what prompted the activity that we saw on Monday at Mar-a-Lago, that, you know, this informant, this person as witness, was able to tell the FBI that there were additional things there that they needed to go get, and that's why they did this on Monday.

COATES: Are they reporting in any way that they know who this informant might be if there is one?

PEREZ: No, they don't say who this person may be and how that person would have come to know that information. The feature of Mar-a-Lago and of Trump world, as you know, is that there weren't a lot of checks on people coming and going in that circle. So, there's just many, many people. We've been making calls and there's a number of people that come to mind when you talk to people about, you know, who this could be.

COATES: The idea, Kim, of who could've had access, who could've seen something in some way or have been witness to something is really curious here. As Evan points out, this investigation, the timeline alone, has been going on for over a year. There was a June of this year, June meeting at Mar-a-Lago between Trump's lawyers, and then this search happened.

Something had to have happened in that time to go from this conversation, the idea of discussions happening to an unannounced execution of a search warrant at the estate. Does this make sense to you in the context there may have been someone to tip off the officials?

KIM WEHLE, AUTHOR, VISITING PROFESSOR OF LAW AT AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, as you know, Laura, the information in the affidavit that supports a warrant has to be fresh, it can't be old information. So, certainly, there's new stuff that has come to light since Trump basically stole 15 boxes of documents from the White House.

I know there's been some talk of, well, it was inadvertently shipped but, you know, Trump is someone who lied over 30,000 times when he was in the White House. I'm frankly more interested in knowing not so much who tipped off the FBI, but whether Donald Trump tipped off others that might not be friends of America in having this information in the White House -- in Mar-a-Lago that reportedly includes classified information.

We also know that there is a counterintelligence team that were there during the raid. I think that's more important to focus on because, of course, it could bear a national security.

And the last point I would make is, you know, until -- if it -- unless this goes to trial after indictment, we might not see because Merrick Garland is so tightlipped. We really don't know. And there is certainly energy from team Trump to start circulating different narratives here.

And until it comes out of the Justice Department directly or in evidence in a court of law, I'm not so sure we should worry so much about what we're hearing.

COATES: I'm really glad that you reorient it around -- away from the idea of focusing on the messenger as opposed to what they may have seen and what may have gotten the affidavit in the first place. I know you worked on the Whitewater investigation as well. You mentioned Merrick Garland being tightlipped. Do you think that it's important for the DOJ to come out and say something and explain what they've done?

WEHLE: I don't, actually. I mean, I think in this moment, there's so much misinformation. There's no way the good guys could manage the message. Donald Trump is billion at that. And, of course, it is just -- whatever happens on the side of the DOJ or the government to try to get accountability for the many, many acts of wrongdoing that happened in that four years under Donald Trump, it's a futile endeavor.

So, putting Merrick Garland's nose to the grindstone and all of those public servants that are working on behalf of the American people, I think that's more important.

But it is unfortunate, Laura, the reports that the federal judge, the magistrate who signed this warrant, is now getting death threats. That is the kind of thing that is extremely disturbing to me.

COATES: It is on so many levels. And I always think about that judge in New Jersey who lost her son and has been fighting for a protective measure in legislation to protect judges who are simply doing their jobs. And it's just stunning to think about.


Stuart, on this very notion, I mean, if there is not a tip, and I'm really curious about this safe that Trump has spoken about, that he claims was entered into, how would investigators know where to look or is this the idea of, look, in this residence, there might be evidence or probable cause to believe that evidence exists of a crime, and whatever is inside, whatever evidence might be found, whatever the good stuff is kept, I'm looking there?

STUART KAPLAN, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, look, Laura, you know he has around the clock Secret Service detail. And, you know, look, they can easily be vulnerable to be put in a situation either administratively, meaning that they can be brought in and question administratively by the FBI or under a grand jury subpoena with respect to what they see and what they hear.

My assumption is that you had Secret Service agents, either a disgruntled Secret Service protective agent who may have seen or heard something. And I think the word is "immediacy." I think the execution of the search warrant on Tuesday is evident of some immediate action that needed to be taken.

I think the word -- you know, the Supreme Court of the United States, a former federal prosecutor obviously would understand the ripeness of the information must be generally within the last 30 to 45 days. And I think that this is, you know, as you know, you move forward and build a case one block on top of another.

And I think there was something that triggered the immediacy of the concern, either there were documents that they were unaware of that had been taken that really impacted national security or there was some other information contained either within the safe or on the premises of Mar-a-Lago that required them to come in under obviously such a heavy-handed execution of a search warrant.

COATES: You really think it could be a member of Secret Service for the detail of the former president?

KAPLAN: Let me put it this way. In my career, we would generally try to target the weakest links. Look, the Secret Service does an incredible job. They protect not only the president of the United States but of other dignitaries. But they are vulnerable with respect to they have their job to protect. And, of course, they're vulnerable to be targeted with respect to if in fact they hear or see something.

And I think that, you know, if push came to shove, if you get a disgruntled agent who may not be in good favor, it may have been a breaking point, and he or she may have tipped off the FBI or someone else, and this is how, you know, a case can obviously trickle down and start. COATES: Obviously, we don't know. But Stuart, I'm leaning in and thinking about this, just given what we've learned in the past few weeks to a month from the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson surrounding the conversations around Secret Service.

They certainly came into the limelight yet again about cooperation and conversations. And we've heard from Congressman Zoe Lofgren about that there was not some coordination or knowledge it would happen. But I'm really intrigued by the idea of who it might be.

But to Kim's also point, Evan, the information that's out there, that might actually have been retrieved by the FBI in this instance. It is very well, Even, could have been the goal, just sort of a reconnaissance bring back what they knew belonged to the United States of America.

But the DOJ is grappling with internally, and you have some new reporting about this, that inside the DOJ, since the search of Mar-a- Lago, there's been some disagreement, shall we say, about what to do next to inform the public. What can you tell us?

PEREZ: Well, look, I think there is --

KAPLAN: Well, look --

COATES: Evan, excuse me.

PEREZ: No, I think there is some -- a little bit of frustration among some officials there because, you know, the fact is, as you know, Merrick Garland and the department generally do not comment on ongoing investigations.

The former president, however, is the one that made this public. And so, in so doing, he has called it a siege, he has portrayed agents as perhaps planting evidence during the search. And so, as a result of that, there is now -- there are now threats being made against FBI agents. And that's one of the concerns that people have.

And so, look, everyone understands and remember Jim Comey and what happened in 2016, talking about uncharged conduct. Nobody wants to repeat that. But there is a place between that and just complete silence which is what we have right now. I think that's where officials are trying to grapple with.

As you and I've talked about is, you know, they're kind of in a catch 22, which is no matter what they say is probably going to be twisted. But right now, the only people talking are the former president and his allies, and they are portraying it in a way that is really harmful to the greater -- to the purpose of justice.

COATES: You certainly see the confidence (ph) as it is being described as shaken.


I do want to get back to you one moment, Kim, but I do want to follow up with Stuart for a second because I love to know what your reaction is to Evan's reporting that FBI agents were trying to avoid some spectacle in the search, and also the mistrust that now is being talked about, even the accusation of planting evidence. What do you make of this?

KAPLAN: Well, first of all, I think the insinuation that FBI agents would plant evidence is clearly unfounded and that's just, you know, that's for movies or for fiction.

But I am a little disappointed with respect to not -- the FBI, from the director even up to the attorney general and all those involved, in strategizing and understanding and appreciating the potential fallout from this search warrant, meaning, they knew potentially what the collateral damage would be.

And that's why it begs the question as to whether or not the reward was worth the risk with respect to the FBI's reputation, which going back to 2017, after the firing of James Comey, really was devastating to the men and women.

And so now, fast forward five years later, I think this has really tarnished and stained the FBI again, and has set it back to -- you know, a lot of people are going to say that the FBI can't be trusted, the legitimacy of the FBI should be questioned.

And so, it begs the bottom line question as to whether or not this type of execution of this particular search warrant on a former president was really worth the price.

And I will say from my vantage point, I'm not so sure it had the value that we're seeing playing out in social media and in the media because we are so divided as a country.

COATES: Kim, I'd love to hear your reaction to that notion, but also on the idea you've written quite extensively. We've had these conversations in the past as well about the idea of sort of the inoculation surrounding either a sitting president or a former president, and the optics really, in many ways, governing the way in which people decide the DOJ ought to be performing and acting.

And I just wonder from your perspective on the idea of the perils of investigating or searching the home of a former president. What goes and comes into your mind about that? Is the juice not worth that squeeze democratically speaking?

WEHLE: Well, on Stuart's point, from my vantage point, we just don't know with the payoff is because we don't have access to the intelligence that gave rise to the search. So, on a democracy point, as you and I have spoken many times about, Laura, I take a long view.

And, you know, Donald Trump has had no accountability for two impeachments, the conspiracy giving rise to the January 6th insurrection, that they do nothing, the cover-up on multiple states, fake electors trying to use the Justice Department to bully people into stealing an election from the voters. I mean, American democracy could actually die in the next few years. We're also seeing big liars, election deniers, populating elections across the country. The Supreme Court took a case that could very well say that gerrymandered state legislatures get to decide elections.

What happens if the next nominee of the Republican Party loses the popular vote and the legitimate electoral college vote based on the popular vote, but legislature say, we are going to declare the next president? That is what all of this is at stake.

In my mind, the fact that the FBI agents are willing to stand in the line of fire for democracy and take the heat, somebody's got to do something because we're hanging on by a thread. So, I applaud those people. I have full faith in them.

And until there is evidence demonstrating that there was some wrongdoing that is presented to a judge in a court of law that is tested, I am going to stand behind the men and women of the American government, civil servants, who took an oath of office and hope that they can carry the ball across the finish line for our children and grandchildren when it comes to the freedom of this country.

COATES: A republic if you can keep it. Thank you all.

Investigators are spending hours inside of Mar-a-Lago where they were. And with more than 100 rooms, they have a lot to search. And I, for one, I see the images -- can we go inside for a second and see what we're talking about? I'm going to take you there, next.




COATES: New tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting an informant tipped off federal investigators that were likely -- that there were likely more classified documents at Trump's Mar-a-Lago property. The estate was searched by the FBI agents early this week. And it is a sprawling complex right on the breach on Florida's east coast.

CNN's Tom Foreman is going to take us inside.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mar-a-Lago is a nearly 100-year-old maze of more than a hundred rooms, and the FBI search could have been impossible. At least Sarah Blaskey thought so. She is the co-author of a book about Trump and his Florida home.

SARAH BLASKEY, AUTHOR: My thought was how are they going to find anything in Mar-a-Lago because there are so many nooks and crannies.


FOREMAN (voice-over): But then "The Washington Post" said some boxes were found in a basement area, and she recognized another focal point. Just above the ballroom, on the second floor, the former president's personal suite.

BLASKEY: And around that same location is where his office would have also been. And so those areas are private. They are accessible only to the family and then also the staff that keep it clean and that kind of thing.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Trump spent hundreds of days of his presidency at his properties. Mar-a-Lago above all others. There he played golf at his nearby course, ordered a missile strike on Syria, and entertained the president of China, the prime minister of Japan.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Many of the world's greatest leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. They like it, I like it, we're comfortable.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Political allies were welcome, so were members of the private club, who insiders say, a few years ago, could enjoy the warm Florida sun for a cool $200,000 fee, along with the pool and proximity to the leader of the free world.

"The New York Times" called Mar-a-Lago a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.

BLASKEY: Mar-a-Lago is a place that you want to do business with him. It wasn't ever the White House. Mar-a-Lago is the place that you close deals and that was because that was where he was comfortable.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Trump called all the shots. But then he lost the presidency. This past January, officials at the National Archives say they collected 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago, some containing items marked as classified national security information, some containing papers which had been torn up by the former president.

(On camera): And now the feds have taken another batch out of Trump's grass. Exactly what it contains, we don't know, but suffice to say agents cracked not only into Trump's safe, but also his safe space. Laura?


COATES: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Now, of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump, seven of them aren't coming back to Congress. What does that tell us about where the GOP is going? I will ask, next.




COATES: Even as investigations swirl around the former president, the summer primaries are showing the high price to pay for standing up to Trump inside the GOP.

Washington Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler conceding her race on Tuesday. She is one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Now, seven of them have lost primaries or they've chosen to retire. And Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming faces her own tough primary battle next week.

So, the big question is, what does all of this tell us about the future of the Republican Party?

Joining me now, lieutenant governor of Georgia, Jeff Duncan, and CNN commentator S.E. Cupp. Glad to see you both here today because this is the question on so many people's mind.

I want to begin with you, lieutenant governor, because the defeat of Herrera Beutler, it is seen as a win for Trump in a primary that was really all about her vote for impeachment. And I'm wondering what does that say to you that people who essentially stood up in that way, who voted their conscience, which is I guess what you want your leaders to do, and did the right thing to suggest that she vote that way, why are they the ones playing the price? What does that say to you?

LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R-GA): Well, it's unfortunate that the focus is on trying to un-elect people who did the right thing instead of focusing on Joe Biden's failing record, record inflation, international turmoil, all those issues that we should be focused on. Unfortunately, some of that has been taken out on those that did the right thing.

But it is also a constant reminder that we are in the midst of a marathon reforming the Republican Party. It is not a sprint. Anybody who thought we could reform this thing overnight is wrong. It's going to take time to do it.

COATES: I'm fascinated because I don't get it. On the one hand, there are those who say, no, it was the wrong thing that was done. That's why they are trying to vote the person out. On the other hand, you know, you do wonder, if the only platform is, as long as you are backward looking, it doesn't really bode well for the future of a party.

But S.E., I mean, Wyoming is next week. You got Congressman Liz Cheney. She is a very tough primary challenge from somebody who is backed by Trump. And she has, as you well know, been arguably the most outspoken Republican against Trump. So, what does that mean if she still loses?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, she is going to lose. I think that is pretty clear. I think she knows that. That is the price that you pay. And that price, I think, was known back in 2016.

It's why a number of us decided we weren't going to go off with Donald Trump into the (INAUDIBLE) principles, ideas, the things that, you know, folks like me will come up and move the conservativism in the Republican Party. Had cared, you know, as bedrock -- things like anti- protectionism, lowering the deficit, you know, strong national defense. Kinds of, you know, bedrock traditional orthodoxy that had driven the conservative movement for decades.

Trump did not care about. And he convinced a lot of Republicans not to care that much about it either. And he made, you know, the party orienting around him.


And that meant that you either needed to endorse what he did and said or be quiet about it, shut up about it. And that meant saying some really bonkers, bananas, at times dangerous stuff, the conspiracy theories, the lies, the violent rhetoric. Some things we just -- I mean, it is just a fact now of the Republican Party.

But that is how wholly he remade the party in his image. And I think if I told, you know, Republicans six years ago, this is where they would be, you know, chasing after a demagogue who doesn't care about any of the things that they cared about, they would've laughed at me. But that is where we are.

And so, it is no surprise that the folks who dared to stand up to him are being shown the door, unelected, as Geoff has said.

COATES: I mean, lieutenant governor, on that point, to S.E.'s point, the idea of if the Republican Party, to S.E. and many others, is wholly unrecognizable and the idea of the identity crisis really fully fledged out.

You have to wonder, if all the critics are pushed out, if all those who are willing to say something different or more in line with what traditional Republicans have asserted, do you have fears for the longevity of the Republican Party or is this something that is going to enter or allow for maybe a third-party system that reclaims some aspect of this?

DUNCAN: I've been a Republican a lot longer than Donald Trump has ever been one, and I'm only 47 years old. So, I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to fight for my conservative values.

And I think there is a gold opportunity here, but it's going to take, right? I think you've got folks on the republican side that now for the first time, a majority of them don't want Donald Trump to run again. Those numbers might oscillate a little bit now with some of the additional attention he's gotten with the FBI search. But they're tracking in that direction.

And you've got a middle that is just completely embarrassed at their vote for Joe Biden and all the misgivings he has given America over the last two years.

And so, if we put the right candidate forward that's got solutions, that's energetic, that's not 78 or 82 years old, they certainly have lost their best fastball. So, let's get somebody that's capable of leading this country in the right direction, helping our inflation issues, puts us back on the map with national security, understands immigration, the realities of immigration. We've got a chance to convince the middle and win for decades. But it's going to take time to get there. And the quality of the candidate still matters. If we win the House and we shove a bunch of Marjorie Taylor Greenes in there, we're going to be embarrassed as Republicans for the next couple of years.

COATES: S.E., is the time running out? Is the clock running out? Obviously, the primaries are coming up, the midterm elections. The 2024, I mean, it's still two years away, but everyone's looking towards that to figure out what's going to happen next. Is the shot clock going to run out? I hate to mix analogies you use to baseball (ph), lieutenant governor, but I'm going to go to a different one. Is shot clock running out here?


CUPP: Listen, 2024 is around the corner. And Trump is really the only one who has expressed an interest in getting in to the race. Everyone else seems a little cautious around him. So, if he has no competition in a party that wants no competition of ideas anymore, then, you know, then we know where this is going. It is pretty inevitable.

But to the lieutenant governor's point, it's such a shame that these are the candidates Americans are forced to choose between because the vast majority of folks are somewhere in the middle on most issues. They're not to the far-right, they're not to the far-left, and they don't feel like either party really represents them. They feel orphaned.

So, something got to change with this political system. It's not all Trump's fault. It's not all where Trump has taken the Republican Party. These two parties just don't get most people anymore. And we don't have options. There's no apparatus to like come up with other candidates and loosen the hold that the RNC and the DNC have on our presidential elections. It's a shame, and I can't see a way out within the next couple of years.

COATES: Lieutenant governor, S.E. Cupp, I mean, as we all know, a government outformed by the people, the idea of democracy coming down to, as you suggest, sometimes the lesser of two evils, probably not with the vision was for people to think about. We'll see where it goes from here. Thank you both.

DUNCAN: Thank you.

CUPP: Thanks.

COATES: She was 17 and pregnant. And she didn't want to have a baby. So, she messaged her mother over Facebook. But now, those messages she sent are being used against both of them as they now both face abortion-related charges. I'll tell you about this case in just a moment.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COATES: A Nebraska mother and her now 18-year-old daughter are facing multiple charges in a case that involved police obtaining Facebook messages between the two women. And what those messages show? Well, authorities say there is evidence of an illegal abortion as well as a plan to hide the remains.


CNN's Lucy Kafanov has the latest on the charges, and CNN legal analyst Areva Martin is here as well. Lucy, let me start with you here. Celeste and Jessica Burgess, they were not facing charges related to an abortion at first. So, what changed here?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so let's talk about how this unfolded. The court documents show that initially, investigators were looking into reports of a stillborn that may have been disposed of. The daughter, according to court documents, Celeste, telling investigators that she had miscarried a stillborn and that she and her mother buried the fetus.

Now, police then exhumed the remains. They found indication it might have been burned. And so, initially, the pair, the mom and the daughter, were only charged with a single felony for removing, concealing or abandoning a body as well as two misdemeanors.

Now, during those early interviews, Laura, investigators saw Celeste scrolling through Facebook messages to pinpoint the date of which she claimed was this miscarriage. That prompted investigators to ask for a search warrant. They got the search warrant.

Facebook turned over data pertaining to both the mother and daughter's accounts, and then those private messages between Celeste and Jessica appeared to have made references to abortion pills, also burning the -- quote -- "evidence." And so, after reviewing the data handed over by Facebook, authorities added felony abortion-related charges against the mother. Laura?

COATES: And just to be clear, Lucy, they were charged before Roe v. Wade was overturned. Is that right?

KAFANOV: Well, the investigation began before Roe v. Wade was overturned. The investigation started in April. But Nebraska already had a law on the books banning abortion after 20 weeks. This miscarriage or abortion, depending on what the evidence turns up. The pregnancy, we know, ended about 28 weeks. But again, these court documents show how abortion cases could potentially be prosecuted in other places, Laura.

COATES: And to that point, Areva, I mean, they were charged before authorities got their hands on the Facebook messages. But their case does show how private information, the messages they send online, potentially could be used against them in a court of law. And in this instance, to enforce abortion laws. What strikes you about that in particular?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: This is the case, Laura, that every woman has dreaded happening. We talk about this from a hypothetical standpoint. And now, we're faced with a real- life case where someone -- these two women have engaged in what they believe to be a very private conversation using the social media app.

That app then gets a subpoena from law enforcement and turns over what they believe to be this private conversation. And then the information in what they believe to be this private conversation is used to level criminal, in this case, felony charges, against this mother and this daughter.

And what's so disturbing, Laura, about this case is that Facebook messenger, depending on what device you use and one button you push, sometimes those messages are encrypted and that information is not even available to Facebook. But if you're not on the right device and if you don't push the right button, then Facebook has access to that information and then they can make that information available to law enforcement in a way that they did in this case. That's what is so disturbing.

COATES: Let me ask you, Areva, on that point. I mean, the idea of having a subpoena issued to sort of the holder of or the platform that has the messages, what about -- is it the fact that this is related to abortion-related charges that makes this distinct or this is actually in the essence not a pure novelty, right? The idea of being able to get and subpoena data?

MARTIN: Yes, we've seen other cases, Laura, not involving abortions where law enforcement has issued a subpoena to a social media site and they have released that information to law enforcement. But in this case, this abortion post Roe v. Wade, there's been a lot of talk about menstrual cycle tracking apps and that information perhaps being made available to law enforcement.

And then in this case, just a conversation between a mother and a daughter about what may have been a miscarriage, what may have been an abortion, again, being made available to law enforcement.

This is what women have dreaded. Is that law now reaches into every aspect of your life, including what you believe to be a private conversation with your own mother on a social media app.

COATES: I do wonder, Lucy, what has been Facebook's response is, because idea of -- on the one hand, people often lament with Facebook and nothing seems private, nothing feels private, that they essentially own the communication. We heard that about the photographs, et cetera, and the theory of it.

But what did they say about this particular case? Because there has been quite a reaction to what Areva is talking about, about the prospect of communications being used in these types of cases and beyond.


KAFANOV: Well, absolutely. Facebook and its parent company, Meta, say they didn't realize this is going to be an abortion investigation. In a statement tweeted on Tuesday, they say and I quote, "Nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court decision, mentioned abortion."

"The warrants concerned charges related to a criminal investigation and court documents indicate that police at the time were investigating a case of a stillborn baby who was burned and buried, not a decision to have an abortion."

But, of course, this case does raise a lot of question about how these tech companies will respond to law enforcement request for data that could lead to the prosecution of people obtaining or offering abortions in other cases and in other states.

COATES: A lot disturbing about this case. We'll continue to follow this thread because, as you both articulated, the nuances involved here really, really bear our coverage. Thank you so much.

MARTIN: Thanks, Laura.

COATES: Up next, Kobe Bryant's wife is suing the L.A. County for photographs taken of his death. And the first day in court had multiple people breaking down. And CNN was inside the courtroom. We're going to tell you about it after this.




COATES: Emotions running high in court today. Vanessa Bryant, wiping tears during opening statements in her lawsuit against Los Angeles County over gruesome photos taken of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and her beloved daughter, Gianna.

CNN national correspondent Natasha Chen was inside the courtroom today, and she joins me now. Natasha, it's just so devastating to think about what has happened and that this trial is now here. Tell us what you heard today, what did these photos show, and what is Mrs. Bryant alleging about them?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Laura, it was an extremely dramatic first day. And the question about what the photos show, that's the thing. Vanessa Bryant has never seen them. They have not appeared online in two and a half years. And the second plaintiff named Christopher Chester, who lost his wife and daughter in the same crash, has also never seen them.

So, the case really centers around the emotional distress that these families say has been inflicted upon them just by the sheer idea that these photos taken of their loved ones' remains at the crash site could potentially pop up online at any point in the future, and the anxiety that Mrs. Bryant has in just knowing that possibility is out there.

Her attorney, Luis Li, made an opening statement today, really describing that emotional distress, saying that the deputies should not have been taking these photos, it was no part of their job duties, and that he claims the L.A. County's sheriff, Alex Villanueva, really swept this under the rug. Asked these deputies to delete the photos, did not do a thorough forensic exam of the devices, did not check if the photos were uploaded to the Cloud, and did not truly discipline these deputies. Laura?

COATES: It's unbelievable. If you think about it, it is so important. And the point you raised, the allegation, this was not part of some official, you know, investigation or part of the regular course of investigative proceedings. So, what L.A. County said about this? How they responded to these allegations?

CHEN: Laura, L.A. County does say that taking photos of a site like that is part of their job. And they described, for example, one of the deputies being the first person to have made it up the hill to that crash site. We are talking about a really tough terrain. That morning was very foggy. It was very muddy. It took him about an hour to get up there.

And she said, the attorney, that is Mira Hashmall, said that if he had not taken site photos, he would not have been able to communicate to the command center 1,200 feet below. Those folks would determine based on the photos how to respond.

And it's not just a search and rescue they had to strategize about. It was also the firefighters having to strategize on how to put out this wildfire that had sprung up because of the crash.

So, the attorney for the county alleges that it was part of their job. Now, they do say, they do concede, that it was not great, how it was circulated. For example, some of the deputies were sharing it. In one case, the plaintiffs say that they were being shared between deputies playing a video game, playing Call of Duty. And that one deputy trainee actually showed the photos to a bartender at a bar he was at.

So, I think the county concedes that the way it was spread was not appropriate but that they feel it was contained. Laura?

COATES: Wow. I mean, it is unbelievable. Unimaginable to think about it being shared in that way. And I understand that there were more tears. I mean, Bryant's first witness was Lakers's general manager, Rob Pelinka, and he broke down while testifying. Is that right?

CHEN: Laura, he couldn't even begin his first answer without starting to cry. I mean, he described how he was best friends with Kobe Bryant and how he is the godfather of Gianna. So, you can imagine how close the families are.

And he said that he spoke to Vanessa Bryant pretty much every day before this crash and ever since. He was with her the day of the crash. He went with her to the sheriff's station where he said to the court today that he had helped Vanessa Bryant seek assurances from the sheriff on the day of the crash to make sure that site was really blocked off to people who really wanted to take photos.


And so, he described the anguish that Vanessa Bryant experienced, then finding out that deputies actually did take close-up photos of the remains of their loved ones.

And some of the descriptions, Laura, the attorneys talked about having potentially images of close-ups, the limbs, burnt flesh. In the case of the other plaintiff, Christopher Chester, his attorney had to tell the court, had to tell the jury that Mr. Chester's wife was actually severed and that they never found her legs.

So, you can only imagine what these photos might have shown, Laura, and the type of anguish these families have in worrying about whether they will ever surface.

COATES: And their anguish continues to this day. This is an unbelievable story. Thank you for giving us all the information. We'll be watching it very closely, Natasha.

CHEN: Thank you.

COATES: And thank you all for watching. Our coverage continues.