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Don Lemon Tonight
New York A.G. Sues Donald Trump And Family; Appeals Court Gave Green Light To DOJ; Vladimir Putin Says He's Not Making A Bluff; Trump's Enemy List Just Getting Longer; Trump's Ex-Lawyer Knew Him Inside Out; Lawyer Giving New Life To Oppressed People. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired September 21, 2022 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for hanging with me. I will be back tomorrow night. DON LEMON TONIGHT starts right now. Hey, Don.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: So. Hey, so last night I had Susan Glasser and Peter Baker's book. Right.
LEMON: Right? I was like this, a good read.
LEMON: You know what the book of today is? Look it it's the thick one too.
SIDNER: Two-hundred twenty-two pages.
LEMON: two -- yes, you got it, 215 plus the table of contents. The book of the day is the people of the state of New York by Letitia James. And it is a hot read.
SIDNER: It is hot.
LEMON: It is hot. What do you think?
SIDNER: Causing -- causing a big stir?
LEMON: I know.
SIDNER: Causing a big stir, causing some problems.
LEMON: We'll see what happens. I mean, but if you look at, I was, I was like someone putting all of this together and I can only imagine the lawyers reading this and being an attorney and trying to have to defend this page by page, number by number, asset by asset, property by property is going to be something. So, we'll see, we're going to break it down. SIDNER: That was the mouthful, Don. You're absolutely right. Enjoy
LEMON: I'll see you, Sara.
SIDNER: All right.
LEMON: Have a good one. I'll see you later.
This is DON LEMON TONIGHT.
And this really hasn't been a good 24 hours for Donald Trump, for large part because of this. But, first off, because of his handpicked special master basically told him to put up or shut up.
Now, a federal appeals court is calling out his legal team for refusing to provide a shred of evidence for his claims that he declassified documents found in the search of Mar-a-Lago. So, they're allowing the Justice Department to continue looking at those documents. Appending a trial, a trial judge's, I should say, order that the -- that the review be blocked or blocked -- blocked the review.
And first on CNN, the source says that Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist of the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, agreeing to talk to the January 6th committee in the coming weeks. And don't forget that massive lawsuit against the former president, three of his adult children and the Trump organization alleging that their whole business is essentially a giant fraud. That's what these documents say. That's what they allege.
Letitia James, the attorney general of New York says -- says that the fraud was, and I quote here, "approved at the highest levels of the Trump organization, including by Mr. Trump himself." She alleges that Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. knowingly participated in the fraudulent schemes. She says Trump and his company lied more than 200 times about the value of his assets. And she is seeking a quarter of a billion dollars. That's billion with a B, in allegedly ill-gotten funds, as well as seeking to bar the Trumps from ever running a business in the state again.
And the former president denies any wrongdoing and accuses the attorney general, a Democrat of a political vendetta.
There is a lot to get to in the coming hours here on CNN. So, I want to get straight to CNN's justice correspondent Jessica Schneider, CNN, senior legal analyst, Laura Coates.
Good evening to both of you. Thank you so much.
Jessica, for the reporting, the appeals court allowing the Justice Department to resume their review of these classified documents. What can you tell us? What do you know about it.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don, this was a unanimous three-judge panel, notably with two Trump appointees and they gave DOJ what the prosecutors there have been asking for repeatedly over the past week plus.
So, now DOJ will be allowed to resume using those 100 classified documents that the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago in their search just about a month ago, they can use it now in their ongoing investigation.
This has been a huge point of contention for prosecutors because the lower court judge Aileen Cannon, she had halted their use of these classified records, you know, meaning they couldn't use it for grand jury purposes or with witnesses. Now they can. And the appeals court stressed here when they sided with DOJ, that really it could harm the country if investigators couldn't use that material.
Here's what they said in part. It is self-evident that the public has a strong interest in ensuring that the storage of the classified records did not result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security. Ascertaining that necessarily involves reviewing the documents, determining who had access to them and when, and deciding which, if any, sources or methods are compromised.
The court there saying DOJ needed to look at those documents. And now DOJ does have the green light to resume using them, all while the special master meanwhile, and Trump's legal team, they will no longer have access to these classified documents.
So that was really the second thing that DOJ asked for. So, a big win tonight for DOJ at the 11th circuit, Don.
LEMON: Okay. So, Laura, listen, all of this was because, you know, the team Trump wanted a special master, blah, blah, blah, blah. So on and so on and so on. So, what impact does the DOJ appeal have on what the special master is deciding now?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's limiting now. I mean, you know that Tina Turner song what's loves got to do with it, Don? Now it's a matter of what is the classified documents? What did those have to do with your discussions about what might be privileged documents?
That's essentially what the DOJ -- the appeals court said. You've got these 100 documents that are about classified materials. Have these various labels on them that say that look, you're not supposed to look at this by allowing a special master or anyone to see it. But under the pretext of, I'm looking for privileged documents, you're going to allow people who don't otherwise have a clearance, are otherwise authorized to see what can be the most sensitive information now see it.
So, now the special master is limited in that. Another part of that, though. When you think about the classified documents, a lot of this is a self-conflicted wound from the Trump legal team and Donald Trump himself. By speaking out in public, talking about the possibility that he has declassified documents. When it came to actually backing that up in a courtroom yesterday and that special master, they didn't do so. And that was taken into account today by the 11th circuit. Two of whom, Jessica said were actually Trump appointees. One was Obama appointee, that essentially said, when you had a chance to talk to us about what the classified documents or had to do with your particular role, you didn't do anything. And that was used against them now.
LEMON: Jessica, and this now prevents, in my understanding is that, it prevents team Trump or Trump's team from seeing the records with classification marking. Correct?
SCHNEIDER: It -- it does, exactly. It prevents Trump's legal team as well as the special master as Laura was getting to, from seeing the classified documents. And Laura mentioned it. You know, what was interesting was that yesterday's hearing before the special master. Trump's team had argued that they needed to see the classified documents to determine which ones Trump had potentially declassified.
And that was another area where the 11th circuit called out Trump's legal team. You know, they said that so far, Trump's legal team has refused to present any evidence at all that Trump declassified any of these documents. You know, plus the 11th circuit made one more point that Trump just has no claim at all to any of these classified documents.
Writing, for our part, we cannot discern why plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the 100 documents with classification markings. Classified documents are marked to show they are classified, for instance, with their classification levels. So, all in all, this was in a like a 29-page decision here and it went point by point to take down Trump's legal team's arguments on just about every level here. So now the question is, what does Trump's team do next? Do they appeal to the Supreme Court?
LEMON: OK. Well, it appears, Laura, that the Supreme Court, that's going to be their only recourse, right? Because there was some question about whether there could be an en banc review, this new term that I'm learning, for -- to the 11th circuit.
LEMON: And that does not apply under the circumstances. Correct? Is that the way you read it?
COATES: Right. I mean, first of all, you've got, you have a full appellate court, the circuit court, but you only have several of them at a time who listened to cases in order to expedite the review of matters. As opposed to waiting for everyone to hear a matter, they have different three cert -- three judge panels that will review different cases.
This was one such issue. If an en banc decision was rendered, that means they want to go to the entirety of the circuit court. They want to hear from everyone. Everyone having to weigh in, have a majority ruling on that.
But normally you can do that except for now there's a new rule as of this year in the 11th circuit that says if it's what's called an interim order or an order from a stay, which is what the DOJ asked for, a limited review that says I'd like you to put a pin in a particular aspect of a lower court's ruling. I don't want to have to follow that order in a very discreet and confined way, a stay.
Stay the way it was before the judge ruled anything, a stay, if it's that, then you cannot then go to the rest of the 11th circuit. Your recourse is only to the Supreme Court of the United States. And if there -- if passed right now immediately as prologue, the fact that you have really a majority of the 11 circuit as Trump appointees, two of the three who heard these appointees.
Even though there are Trump appointees, obviously, and nominees in the Supreme Court. It's pretty clear cut when there's a national security interest at stake that it's unlikely to change, even if they were to appeal to the Supreme Court. But stranger things have happened.
LEMON: Stranger things have happened. You've said, you said a mouthful there. True enough. Thank you very much, Laura. Thank you, Jessica. I appreciate it.
So that monster fraud lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges that Donald Trump lied about the value of his property. So, let's take a closer look at the allegations.
Here is CNN's Tom foreman to break it all down for us. Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, Donald Trump and three of his children, others in their family business and The Trump Organization itself are named in this lawsuit by the New York attorney general, who is accusing them of massive fraud over more than a decade. Specifically, she says, the Trumps and their company made scores of fraudulent, false, and misleading representations about the value of their properties, all to deceive people who were giving them loans or insurance or who were tax officials, Don.
LEMON: So, Tom, give us some examples. Show us exactly how he was allegedly lying about the value of his properties.
FOREMAN: Well, this is -- this is where it really gets interesting. Let's start in New York with his own apartment in Trump Tower. Trump said it had 30,000 square feet of space in it. This lawsuit says no, it was about a third of that 11,000 square feet up there. And Trump claimed it was worth about $327 million. The A.G. says no way, no apartment in the city, including newer ones have ever sold for anything like that.
So how about his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida? The lawsuit says Trump claimed it was worth as much as $739 million, when according to the lawsuit, it was actually worth about $75 million. His golf courses. Same story there. For example, the lawsuit says Trump bought one course out there for $5 million in 2012. And the very next year claimed it was worth $62 million, and on, and on, and on it goes. The former president took the fifth hundreds of times when he was
asked about all of this under oath. But after the lawsuit was revealed, one of his lawyers came out and said, today's filing is neither focused on the facts nor the law, rather it is solely focused on advancing the attorney general's political agenda. Absolutely no wrongdoing has taken place.
LEMON: OK. But didn't address the numbers actually not lining up.
LEMON: So, what happens if the state can prove its case?
FOREMAN: That's when it gets really interesting for the Trumps. The attorney general wants the Trumps to forfeit a quarter billion dollars as you mentioned earlier, and to basically be barred from leading any sort of business in New York. This would just tear the pilings out from underneath the Trump empire in New York.
This is a civil case so it cannot send any of them to jail. But a separate criminal tax fraud case against the organization by the Manhattan district attorney is expected to go to trial next month. And the A.G. has referred these new findings to the U.S. attorney and the IRS, and either could dramatically increase the legal pressure on Donald Trump and his family. Don?
LEMON: Tom Foreman, very well explained. Thank you very much, sir. Of course, we expect nothing less from Mr. Tom Foreman. Thank you. I appreciate it.
So, New York Attorney General Letitia James says that her investigation only started after Michael Cohen testified before Congress. He is here, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER DONALD TRUMP'S LAWYER: It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes. And deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, like I said, this really hasn't been a good day for Donald Trump and on the legal front and the monster civil -- civil fraud lawsuit against him by the New York Attorney General James maybe what he cares about the most, right? Because it talks about his wealth and that his assets aren't what he says they are. Because she alleges that The Trump Organization, the company, he put his name on is a giant fraud.
I want to bring in now, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former attorney and author of the upcoming book "Revenge: How Donald Trump Weaponized the U.S. Department of Justice Against His Critics" and the host of the Mea Culpa podcast.
Michael, good to see you.
COHEN: Good to see you.
LEMON: You tried to tell us.
COHEN: I did. Five years I've been shouting it from the rooftops. It's a -- he's a con. He's a fraud. And I've been trying to say that Donald Trump will do anything. There's no dumpster dirty enough that he won't play in, in order to get himself out of liability.
LEMON: So, what -- if what the A.G. laid out is proven, it'll prove that it sounds like, as you said, he's a con, right? You think she can prove it?
COHEN: Absolutely. I've seen the documents. I know as you probably saw today, which is why I'm here. She credited the beginning of the invest -- the investigation to my testimony before the House oversight committee.
LEMON: Yes. So, you -- you said there's something you believe that we're getting wrong about the amount of money that she wants.
LEMON: She's asking for.
COHEN: Yes. So, the statements that I'm hearing is that she wants 250 million --
COHEN: -- as a settlement on this, that's not true. What she said was a baseline of 250 million. She's not going lower than that because the extent of the theft is so great. My -- my belief is it'll be three to four times the amount, I believe somewhere between 750 to a billion dollars based upon all of the fraud.
LEMON: Yes. So, listen, we saw what -- we saw what she said. You mentioned that she -- she mentioned you, but I want to get to this. This is the former president responding tonight, where else? On Fox News. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Thought that they would never bring a case and she brought it. And the reason I thought, because she didn't have a case, I was of the impression she wanted to settle, but I had a problem because how do you pay something even if it's a small amount of money, if you're not guilty. This was just a continuation of a witch hunt that began when I came down the escalator at Trump Tower.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Does it -- does that make sense to you? He -- what he's saying in his opinion that he could have settled. Right?
COHEN: Right. But who settles a case --
COHEN: -- when you're not guilty?
LEMON: He also said that he had a disclaimer when he applied for any loan, telling the lenders that they had to verify everything themselves. Why would any bank go along with that?
COHEN: Because he's not -- it's not true. You know, the disclaimer is no different than his declassification of all the documents that nobody heard except for himself.
You see, like I said, Donald Trump will lie and he lies with impunity in order to justify whatever the question, whatever the issue is that's confronting him. That's his -- that's his strength. That's his superpower. He lies with impunity and he doesn't care.
LEMON: His, but the -- I'm -- if --
COHEN: I know it's frustrating. Right?
LEMON: It is frustrating because how do I say this and like, I believe it to be true most of the time, if not all of the time. He does not respond to the actual facts of the case. Right? Of the information that is alleged. He responds by saying someone is attacking me. It is a witch hunt. He doesn't say the -- my apartment, you know, that I said was worth, whatever mil --
COHEN: That I built.
LEMON: -- hundreds of millions of dollars --
COHEN: That I built.
LEMON: -- that I built. And that was actually a mistake because it's not worth that someone, you understand what I'm saying, he's not responding to the facts of the case. He's simply alleging that people are out to get him.
COHEN: Which is why he went running to Fox News. So that way he keeps his base claiming that he's the victim.
COHEN: He's always the victim. It's amazing. Right. You know what's interesting. A lot of people also didn't pick it up in Attorney General James's indictment papers, is that they had been requesting certain tax documents by subpoena. He fought it. He lost in court. He appealed it. Meaning Donald. He lost that.
They took it to the Supreme Court and he lost it there. So, they turned over some documents. And of course, that has to be responsive to the subpoena. Guess what? When they raided Mar-a-Lago what did they find? Documents that would've been responsive to the subpoena.
That's now obstruction of justice. It's unbelieve -- every single time you look at a document, you're going to find that there's another illegality that's going on here. You see, again, Donald Trump is an enigma. He doesn't care about anyone or anything. Doesn't believe the law applies to him and lies with impunity. There's no other way to describe him.
LEMON: I want to go back to my point because if I think what, what did he say his apartment was worth? I forget what he said --
COHEN: Three hundred seventy-five million.
LEMON: So then, why isn't he responding by saying, this is my -- why my apartment is worth $375 million, or that was an error or to the specifics of what is alleged rather than the Democrats hate me.
COHEN: Because Donald Trump has a fragile ego. Over the course of --
LEMON: Three hundred twenty-seven million, right?
COHEN: That's --
COHEN: So, Donald Trump has a fragile ego. And during the entire Trump administration have you ever once seen him -- seen him acknowledge an error? The answer is no. In fact, in the 12 years that I worked for him, I had never heard him acknowledge an error. He is incapable of error because Donald Trump is perfect. And not to mention he couldn't then fight you on it because he knows it's a lie.
LEMON: Yes. But that -- but again, that's why you said he went to where he went to a friendly media organization because someone will say to him, I would've said to him, why is your apartment worth $327 million. Why did you allege that? Was that an error? Can you please explain to the public. What that means. Why is this wrong? Why is it, well, why is the attorney general wrong? And what -- he would not have an answer for that? Correct?
LEMON: Yes. So, let me ask you about his -- his children, all right? Because this is alleging that Don Junior, Ivanka, Eric, that they're involved in this. This is -- the business is essentially run like a small family.
COHEN: It is a small family company.
LEMON: OK. So, talk about their role in all of this, because you know you were there. Did -- were -- weren't you based out of Trump Tower?
COHEN: Yes, and I was actually, as I had stated, I had worked with Alan Weisselberg on these documents which I testified to, not only to the attorney general, the district attorney and to seven different congressional committees, you know, along with other law enforcement agencies.
The goal was to appease Donald each and every year, he wanted to be richer on the Forbes list. It's extremely important to him. And so, what he would do is say, well, I'm, I'm worth six billion. And then within a second, you know, in fact, I'm really worth seven and a half. You know what? I'm actually even richer than that. The more I think about it, I'm worth 10. So, figure out how to make the personal financial statement from the year before $10 billion.
LEMON: What do you think he's worth?
COHEN: One, two, at best.
LEMON: One, two at best. What do you think are you, do you have any information that could help the attorney?
COHEN: I've given everything. I've given thousands of documents.
LEMON: Do you think that they used your information in order to create the --
COHEN: According to Letitia James? Absolutely.
COHEN: You know, I gave them the personal financial statements of several years I had explained them. You know, the problem and why Trump gets away with what he does is because there's only a handful of people within the inner circle.
Everybody else is external. And what I did is I provided the roadmap. I provided the information that they needed to understand The Trump Organization so that they could hold him accountable.
LEMON: Where do you see this going?
COHEN: I see real problems. I see indictments coming and relatively soon.
LEMON: Including the children?
COHEN: Including the children.
LEMON: Thank you.
COHEN: You're welcome, Don.
LEMON: Good to see you. President Biden speaking to the world today, addressing the U.N. and Vladimir Putin. We're going to tell you what he said after this.
LEMON: Vladimir Putin escalating Russia's invasion of Ukraine today, along with announcing the partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists. Putin made clear -- he made clear references to his potential use of nuclear weapons.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is not a bluff. The citizens of Russia can be sure that the territorial integrity of our homeland, our independence and freedom will be insured. I emphasize this again with all the means at our disposal. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And President Biden condemning those comments hours later in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This war is about extinguishing Ukraine's right to exist as a state, plain and simple. And Ukraine's right to exist as a people. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe that should not -- that should make your blood run cold. A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Let's bring in now CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.
Thank you for joining us, General. I appreciate it. Good to see you. So, Putin --
MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good to see you, Don.
LEMON: -- once again raising the spectrum of nuclear weapons. It's never good when -- when, you know, the use of nuclear weapons is implied. But do you see this as just a hollow rhetoric that he's doing here, spewing here or is this a real threat?
HERTLING: There -- there's a lot of people that are saying that, Don, but you can't look at nuclear, the potential use of nuclear weapons as a hollow threat when a nation has those. You have to consider it a threat. And that's what Putin is doing and he's done it repeatedly. So, as much as many people would like to say, he hasn't used them so far, or he's never going to use it, or he's too afraid to use it. If there's even a 1 percent chance that he might use it, you have to take those kinds of threats seriously. And I think the president today at the U.N. hit a couple of key points in his speech.
And one of them was certainly holding Russia accountable and signaling them about the use of nuclear weapons and how it is unacceptable and how Russia walked away from nuclear nonproliferation talks earlier in their -- in the -- in the U.N. debates.
LEMON: Let's talk about this partial mobilization, General. You have background on how Russian soldiers are trained and you say that this mobilization is jaw dropping, but not for the reason people might think it is jaw dropping. Explain.
HERTLING: Yes. I think immediately the number of 300,000 mobilized comes to everybody's mind and it's shocking, Don, but when you know the intricacies of taking reservist and taking them out of their civilian environment and suddenly turning them into soldiers very quickly, that's a very difficult thing to do when you have that many. Especially with the shape that Russia is in right now.
The first thing to consider is where do you process those individuals? How do you get them from their civilian lives into a soldier's life? How do you get them uniforms, weapons, get them retrained, get them integrated into units. And the units that they're integrating into have been devastated on the battlefield.
So, the morale is already low. So, you're affecting not only the military in a very negative way by trying to insert individuals who haven't trained or are been a part of a unit since the start of this war. But you're also talk -- talking about affecting the civilian society.
And boy, aren't we certainly seeing that tonight with the amount of protests that are going on all over Russia. And this is one thing that I don't think Putin really consider. The blow back from the mothers and the citizens and especially from the young men that didn't want to go.
LEMON: Yes. I think you talked about that early on. And as we were covering the war, you and other experts said that this was, you know, once you start affecting mothers and their kids don't come back or what have you, it was going to -- the tides may -- may turn when it comes to public sentiment about what's happening in the war.
What does it say about how effective Russia's military will be if it is, if it's conscripting people, it's getting conscripts, and those are the people who were -- were protesting.
HERTLING: Don, I can only say that this will not contribute to success. So far, the Russian military in the first three phases of this operations have been exceedingly unsuccessful because they have untrained soldiers, very poor leaders, terrible equipment and a dysfunctional supply, as well as a horrible command and control architecture.
So, you have now, have an army on the battlefield that has been mauled over a period of over 210 days.
Morale is low. Leadership is in the toilet, and now you're going to say, hey, we're going to put new people into these units.
Well, having been on the battlefield in units that are not in good shape and trying to introduce the raw recruits, even though these individuals may have been in the Russian military before, they're going to be raw recruits if they eventually report to the front lines. They are not well-accepted because they have not fought with the teams that are there.
The morale of the teams that are there are, is already poor. So, it's just -- it's just, laying on another layer of disastrous activity. And, you know, Don, what I'd say is most people who don't understand the military think that these human beings are interchangeable, that soldiers can just fall into line and suddenly contribute to the actions of the Russian military. You can't, because of all the things I've stated.
I'm sorry for going on like this, but it's just phenomenal that anyone in the Russian government would think mobilizing 300,000 people in the midst of a war would help the situation. It just won't.
LEMON: You didn't go on. Perfectly explained. Thank you, General. I appreciate it. Thanks so much.
HERTLING: Pleasure, Don. Thanks.
LEMON: So, money now costs more money. The Fed raising interest rates again to the highest that they have been in years. Stay with us.
LEMON: So, this might hurt a bit. The Federal Reserve bringing out the big guns to fight inflation, raising interest rates for the fifth time this year. Up three quarters of a point just today. It is the Fed's toughest policy move since the 1980s to fight inflation. It will also likely cause some economic pain for millions of Americans pushing up the cost of borrowing for things like homes, credit cards, and cars.
Now the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell, saying that the Fed is committed to getting inflation down, but it will be painful getting there. And the job market will have to get worse if we want inflation to fall. Ouch. The Fed now expects the American economy will grind to a near halt this year and the unemployment rate will rise a well, a percentage point by then.
We've got more on all of that what you can expect, that's coming up in our next hour. But next, you have never heard of this man. But one lawyer is saving lives keeping people without a voice out of prison.
And at the top of the hour, fraud lies and finances, the New York attorney general suing Donald Trump.
LEMON: It is time now for a Champions for Change. The weeklong series brings you extraordinary people working behind the scenes with innovation, vision, and courage to lift us all up.
Poppy Harlow recently earned a master of studies in law from Yale where one mild mannered professor turned out to be a relentless fighter for justice. His name is Stephen Bright. He helps the most destitute people entangled in the legal system. He is Poppy's champion for change.
UNKNOWN: When you're on death row that's when the clock really starts ticking. He just said, I'm going to do my best. And yes, he saved my life.
UNKNOWN: I was like, I'm not going to make it through this. I can't do 25 years in prison.
STEPHEN BRIGHT, LAWYER: The people that we've represented have been the most desperate, the most despised, unfortunately, and the poorest and powerless people in the -- in the country.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Stephen Bright is a lawyer, but for his clients, their last hope.
UNKNOWN: Katharine Julia Harlow.
HARLOW: I met him the day that I walked into his class at Yale Law School.
BRIGHT: Thanks to them and thanks to their work, both in Atlanta and here. There's one less person facing execution in Georgia today.
UNKNOWN: Listening to him talk is like listening to justice.
BRIGHT: If we don't do better. We're going to have to sand blast equal justice under law, off the Supreme Court building.
HARLOW: What does the Southern Center for Human Rights stand for?
BRIGHT: Represent people facing the death penalty and represent people in prisons and jails with regard to unconstitutional conditions and practices. I wanted to go where the problems were and where I could be helpful.
HARLOW: He has argued four capital punishment cases before the Supreme Court. And he won them all.
You've often said people are always much more than the worst thing that they've ever done.
BRIGHT: Well, of course. Tony Amadeo is a perfect example.
TONY AMADEO, FORMER INMATE: I get up in the morning, make me a cup of coffee. I think about my blessings, what brought me here?
HARLOW: Tony Amadeo served 38 years in prison for his involvement in two murders.
AMADEO: I'm responsible for their grief. My family's grief. I'm deeply, deeply sorry.
HARLOW: How close was Tony Amadeo to being put to death?
BRIGHT: Well, he came pretty close, but we basically threw sort of a Hail Mary pass by asking the Supreme Court to take the case.
HARLOW: He won in a unanimous.
UNKNOWN: The evidence discloses an intentional program of rigging the jury by the prosecutor's office.
HARLOW: Why do you represent people that you know have committed murder?
BRIGHT: Everyone has to be represented if the legal system is going to work.
AMADEO: If you talk about a champion for change, you're talking about somebody that makes an individual commitment for the betterment of other people. I'm getting emotional.
BRYAN STEVENSON, FOUNDER, EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE: I certainly wouldn't have been the kind of lawyer I became without his model.
HARLOW: Civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson started working with Bright right out of law school. He would go on to found the Equal Justice Initiative.
STEVENSON: In a lot of ways, it does become like ministry. I think you can't actually appreciate the burdens of the condemned, of the poor, of the marginalized if you haven't tried to carry some of those burdens.
HARLOW: You have to let your heart be broken.
STEVENSON: Yes, that's right. Steve made it safe to love the people you represent.
HARLOW: Someone like Shanna Shackelford. What happened in 2009?
SHANNA SHACKELFORD, FORMER INMATE: My house burned down. I ended up getting blamed. We lose everything. End up homeless and I was charged with first degree arson. They offered me 25 years at first.
HARLOW: Twenty-five years in prison.
SHACKELFORD: Yes. And then --
HARLOW: For a fire you didn't set.
HARLOW: And then you wrote a letter to someone.
BRIGHT: I received a letter just two weeks ago. I received it.
SHACKELFORD: My God. I have not seen this letter in forever. I've lost my job. I've lost my home. I've lost my dogs. I'm now sleeping in my car.
BRIGHT: I'm tired and I'm beaten. And I don't understand how to fight this. It's been days now since I've eaten.
HARLOW: So Bright took on her case for free. What happened at the charges?
SHACKELFORD: They were dropped.
HARLOW: Dropped because he'd done a few weeks of investigation.
SHACKELFORD: And it was determined that it was actually an electrical fire.
HARLOW: How long has it been since you saw him?
SHACKELFORD: About a decade now.
HARLOW: What would you say to him if you got to see him?
SHACKELFORD: Thank you for saving my life.
HARLOW: We thought it'd be nice if you could tell yourself.
STEVENSON: Because of his teaching and influence, he's doing more than most people to make sure that that legacy is carried on by new generations of lawyers and advocates, but nothing is ever quite as good as the original.
LEMON: Poppy Harlow is here with me now. How are you not crying when that happened? Were you crying in that moment?
HARLOW: I was crying. You didn't see my tears, Don Lemon?
LEMON: No, I would've been bawling.
HARLOW: Of course, I was crying.
LEMON: So, Stephen Bright works with the poorest of the poor. He doesn't want anything, fame, money, nothing. What -- what do you think? What motivates him? What drives him?
HARLOW: That's what's so amazing to me. And this is a man, I said he was my professor, right, in law school last year.
HARLOW: And he changed my -- for sure. He gave me a new lens to see the world and he could be a rich, fancy lawyer, right? He's not. He works with the poorest people that no one else will take on. He almost died in 2007, his heart stopped. So, he says, Poppy, I think I'm living on borrowed time. And I got to do everything I can with it to make sure that, you know, those four words above the Supreme Court done. Equal justice under law.
Well, that may be true if you're the wealthiest.
HARLOW: But often if you're the poorest, you don't even have a competent lawyer. And if you don't have a competent lawyer, you don't have a chance. And that's what he's changing.
LEMON: If you have means, right. If you have means it --
HARLOW: That's right.
LEMON: It works.
HARLOW: That's right.
LEMON: What did you -- I always ask people, like, what did you learn? I mean, you went to law school and you were calling me. I'm like, have you lost your mind?
HARLOW: You know, when I made that announcement that I was going to go to law stuff on?
HARLOW: You know who the first person was to call me, like, you always are when big things happen.
LEMON: I know.
LEMON: I know. Remember you you've passed out on the air, you overheated.
HARLOW: I did. And you --
LEMON: The first person -- HARLOW: And you called my husband. You told my husband when I'm pregnant. Your wife passed out. You were always there for me in these moments and you were, you know, part of encouraging me to take this on.
LEMON: But what did you learn from -- what did you learn from that? I mean, just from this experience, obviously you met him.
LEMON: But --
HARLOW: What I learned from him and from this whole law school experience is that we have the power and the capacity to change lives if we use our power --
HARLOW: -- in the right way for the people who don't have it. Being a voice for the voiceless that's what he is. And that -- that's what we have to do.
HARLOW: -- as journalists. Right? We have to stand up. We have to tell these stories and he fights for them. Can you believe it went winning all four cases before the Supreme Court?
HARLOW: All four.
LEMON: Him and I mean, listen, you have him. No doubt. He is, right, he's a trail blazer, but you also had, you -- Bryan Stevenson and they worked together in tandem. Amazing.
HARLOW: So, so I'm so glad you pointed that out. Bryan Stevenson, the amazing civil rights attorney, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, author of "Just Mercy" told me he would not be the lawyer he is today. He would never have gone into this work without Stephen Bright. Steven Bright is this unsung hero behind what Bryan Stevenson has built and done. So, we wanted to show the world a little bit about him.
LEMON: And unsung hero.
LEMON: Poppy K. That's when -- it's Katharine.
HARLOW: Do you remember when it was Lemon.
LEMON: That's my mom's name.
HARLOW: Do you remember when it was Lemon Poppy?
HARLOW: I think you sent me like Lemon Poppy Mon.
LEMON: Lemon Poppy. When?
HARLOW: Hey, I'll see you in the morning.
LEMON: I know. Have we lost our minds?
HARLOW: Maybe. I blame you.
LEMON: I think it's -- why?
HARLOW: Am I -- am I -- because you know, you're a big reason why I want to be there, Don Lemon.
LEMON: Poppy said, you -- can I tell him what you said?
LEMON: About your husband said --
HARLOW: Go for, what are you going to not tell him now?
LEMON: It's an issue her husband said, the only reason I'm letting you do this is because of Don.
HARLOW: It's true. I said, babe, can I blow up our lives and make your job at home a lot harder and get up at three in the morning? And he's like, for what? I said, for Don. And he said, all right, you can do it.
LEMON: Come here.
HARLOW: I'm so excited to have Kaitlan with us. We're going to have fun.
LEMON: Come here. I love you.
HARLOW: See you. Hey, if you don't wake up, can I come knock on the door?
LEMON: Yes, you can just knock on my door? See you, Poppy K.
HARLOW: Love you.
LEMON: Thank you. I love you as well. So, we are going to continue to share these inspirational stories all week. And be sure to tune in Saturday at 8 PM. Eastern for Champions for Change. Our one hour special. And we've got a lot more ahead. New York's attorney general suing
Trump as an appeals court ruled against him. Not a great night for the former president, but there's a lot to talk about. That's next.
LEMON: Former President Donald Trump and three of his adult children are now facing a huge civil lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James packed with allegations of fraud, lies, and more than 200 false valuations of Trump's assets that reached back long before he became president.
And in another legal blow, an appeals court ruling the Justice Department can resume their criminal probe of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago.
Joining me now to discuss, CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig, also Norm Eisen and CNN senior legal analyst and former House judiciary special counsel in Trump's first impeachment trial. That is a long title, Norm. And also, CNN presidential historian, Timothy Naftali.
Thank you all for joining us today.
What, let me just ask you before I get to you, Elie. Norm, sum up the day for us, if you could. What -- just sum up the day.
NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Donald Trump's worst day ever.
LEMON: You think so?