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Memphis Police Shut Down Scorpion Unit Tied To Deadly Beating; Timeline Of Tyre Nichols' Arrest And Fatal Beating; Interview With Rep. Richie Torres (D-NY); Secretary Blinken Arrives In Middle East; Trump And Biden Document Demands; Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) Are Interviewed On Their History-Making Women Levers Of Government. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired January 29, 2023 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.
Today the attorney for the family of Tyre Nichols is calling the video of the 29-year-old being beaten by officers a watershed moment, one that the attorney hopes will lead to federal police legislation reform. Late yesterday, we learned that the Memphis Police Department had shut down the controversial Scorpion Unit that the officers charged in this killing belonged to.
That news coming less than 24 hours after the graphic video of Tyre Nichols being beaten and tased by officers was released to the public. And again, I want to warn our viewers, what you're about to watch is disturbing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TYRE NICHOLS, VICTIM: Mom!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mother --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me your fucking hands, man! Give me your fucking hands!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me your hands! Give me your hands!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: CNN's Isabel Rosales joins me now. Isabel, what led to the chief deciding to do this step of deactivating
the unit? And what more do we know about what's happening with this case?
ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim. So what we are witnessing here is the aftermath of those videos of witnessing a man just calling out for his mother over and over again, saying he just wants to go home. Video so brutal that it's time and time again been compared to the 1992 beating of Rodney King.
So what has happened here in Memphis is that the police chief, Cerelyn C.J. Davis, she met with members of this Scorpion Unit, members who've not been involved in this beating of Tyre Nichols, and they determined that it was in the best interest of the community to disband. This goes directly to the wishes of Tyre Nichols' mother and father, to the family attorneys, and to activists who said that this was the only step forward, to permanently deactivate that unit.
So here's what we know about that Scorpion Unit. It is a specialized unit that is relatively new, Jim. It was created by the chief back in 2021, November 2021, to really crack down on a surge of crime and to target violent areas in Memphis with a focus on things like homicides, robberies, assaults, and other felonies. Now Nichols' attorneys, the family's attorney, say that they would go around in unmarked cars and were sometimes unnecessarily aggressive, especially to people of color.
We did hear from Attorney Benjamin Crump this morning. He spoke with CNN and he did, however, tout the quick firing and charging of these involved police officers, saying that this is really a blueprint going forward, not just here in Memphis but beyond, that reform needs to happen on a national scale. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN CRUMP, TYRE NICHOLS' FAMILY ATTORNEY: This video illustrates that it's this culture that says, it doesn't matter the police officers are black, Hispanic, or white that it is somehow allowed for you to trample on the constitutional rights of certain citizens from certain ethnicities and certain communities. And we have to have a larger conversation about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROSALES: Yes, and Crump and the other family attorney, Antonio Romanucci, they penned an open letter really calling for a federal reckoning, a review of any similar unit throughout the United States, saying that without transparency and oversight, these units can really lose their way and morph into a wolf pack, is what he called it, that deals with aggressive and ends with aggressive encounters with people of color -- Jim.
ACOSTA: All right. Isabel Rosales, thank you so much.
We're now getting a closer look at exactly how this deadly encounter between Memphis police and Tyre Nichols unfolded. CNN's Boris Sanchez takes us through the timeline, but we need to warn you once again, the video that you're about to see and hear is graphic and disturbing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Motherfucker!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the fuck out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the fuck out the fucking car!
NICHOLS: Damn, I didn't do anything.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): Police body camera footage shows that officers first encountered Tyre Nichols at this intersection in Memphis. It was about 8:24 p.m. on January 7th when they pulled him over. He stopped this car in the middle of that left turning lane and almost immediately officers withdrew their weapons and they rushed his car, demanding that he get out. In seconds, they ripped him from the vehicle, Tyre was on the ground struggling.
They deployed pepper spray. He was demanding an explanation, trying to figure out why they stopped him to begin with. A struggle ensued. He finally wound up on his feet, and he took off heading in that direction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taze him! Taze him!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, shit!
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Officers discharge a taser at the 29-year-old, but apparently it misses. They begin to chase him as other officers are called to the scene.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Young male black, slim built, blue jeans and a hoodie. Southbound on Ross where we last saw him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut the fuck up!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey! Give me your hands! Give me your hands!
SANCHEZ (on-camera): The body camera footage picks up about a quarter mile away and eight minutes later at this intersection. It shows two officers on top of Tyre, beating him and pepper spraying him, all as he calls out for his mother.
Over the next five minutes, that mounted police surveillance camera shows what unfolded here. Officers bludgeoning him with punches and kicks and a nightstick. Much of the blows coming with Tyre not posing any apparent threat. Eventually, it's here at this intersection that they drag his body and slump him over on to a police vehicle. All of this unfolding only about 80 yards from his mother's front door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You about to get sprayed again!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out! Watch out!
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Then officers are seen fist bumping and heard speculating whether he was on drugs, while Tyre Nichols is slumped over and bleeding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That motherfucker's high.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He high.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, sit up, bro! Sit up, man. Motherfucker ruined my radio, bro.
SANCHEZ: At 8:41 p.m., two medical personnel arrive on the scene. They have been placed on leave, as their response to the incident is investigated. It isn't until 9:02 p.m., 21 minutes later, that an ambulance finally pulls into view of the camera, rushing Tyre Nichols to the hospital, where three days later he dies.
Boris Sanchez, CNN, Memphis.
ACOSTA: Joining me now, Radley Balko, author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
Radley, thanks so much for joining us. This all apparently started with an alleged reckless driving incident, a claim that hasn't been substantiated. But even if that were the case, what were members of this Scorpion Unit dealing with a traffic stop of this nature and how did a traffic stop end like this?
RADLEY BALKO, AUTHOR, RISE OF THE WARRIOR COP: THE MILITARIZATION OF AMERICA'S POLICE FORCES": I think this is a problem with these elite police units. And we've seen this over and over again over the last 30, 40 years is that when crime goes up in cities, public officials mistakenly believe that the only way to fight crime is to give police officers a longer leash, give them less supervision, less oversight. And they create these units, which are called elite, but we know that particularly with this Scorpion Unit, a lot of the officers are young, had very little experience.
But they're supposed to be elite units that have experienced officers, officers with the right temperament, the right training. What ends up happening is the kinds of officers that are attracted to these units are officers who want less supervision, less oversight, who want that kind of freer reign, and a, you know, really broad mandate.
And so we've seen it, you know, over and over and over again. It started in the '70s with the stress units in Detroit. We saw it with the NYPD with the street crimes unit that's been off and on over the years. We saw it in Los Angeles and in Chicago, Philly. It's a very kind of tired and frankly sort of lazy reaction to increases in crime. This idea that we should just, you know, give cops more reign to do that.
And so part of that is they're allowed to make these pre-textural stops, if they think that it will help them, you know, sort of investigate a major crime or a violent crime or help them find stolen weapons or drugs.
ACOSTA: And so let me ask you, because yesterday we spoke with a member of the Memphis city council, and this person said, this council member said she had received complaints about this particular unit. Let's listen to that and talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICE ROBINSON, MEMPHIS CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: I started getting e- mails from citizens, telling them about their situation and sending me copies of their documents. And we started becoming overloaded with other situations. And we knew then that we had a serious problem.
ACOSTA: You were hearing from other -- you were hearing from constituents who were saying that they, too, might have had a family member or a loved one who had a run-in with this Scorpion Unit. Is that what you're saying?
ROBINSON: Yes, I am. They took the time to put it in writing and share their documents with us as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Yes, Radley, I mean, should we expect to see that in the days and weeks to come, not only in Memphis, but in other cities around the country, people saying, oh, this happened with the Scorpion Unit here and there, and they roughed up my loved one and that sort of thing? It sounds as, though, we're going to be hearing more of these kinds of cases emerge.
BALKO: Yes. And, I mean, as soon as this story broke, we had another guy who a few days before Tyre Nichols also was pulled over by this unit and said the officers are screaming at him and put guns in his face over a traffic offense. But again, this is a repeating story. About 10 years ago, there's one of these units in Chicago, one of these allegedly sort of elite police units, and it was revealed after a number of scandals, including, you know, brutality, drug dealing, burglaries, robberies, that four of the officers on that unit had more than 50 citizen complaints against them, which were among the most in the 10,000-member department.
So again I think we need to take -- you know, these units sort of select for the wrong type of police officer, and then you take these officers and you give them less discretion, less oversight, and tell them that, you know, they're allowed to sort of skirt the rules or they're allowed to, you know, go beyond what normal police officers do when it comes to suppressing crime, I think this is a, you know, a result that's pretty inevitable. So I expect we will see more of it.
ACOSTA: And let's talk about solutions because, I mean, I remember, and Radley, I'm sure you remember this, too, there was a conversation about high-speed chases. And, you know, you would have these high- speed chases in various cities and cops would pursue the suspect, you know, speeding through a city, and occasionally these chases would result in deadly accidents. Bystanders might get hit, other people -- other cars might get hit and so on.
And there was talk of reform. There were reforms made in some of those cities to stop doing that sort of thing. Do we need to see the same kind of conversation happen with these types of traffic stops? Because why in the world should a traffic stop end like this? It just seems like in this day and age, we should technologically be beyond this point and so on.
BALKO: Yes, absolutely. I mean, traffic stops are extremely fraught. I think from the perspective of somebody like Tyre Nichols, you know, if you're black or a member of another minority or marginalized community in this country, you're going to be nervous and scared when you're pulled over by the police because of these videos and stories.
And on the other hand, police, from the time they're in the police academy have it drummed into them that every traffic stop they make could be their last. That they should always be sort of on guard and be ready for, you know, the worst possible, you know, offender, that they should be ready to be ambushed. And that creates, you know, a really perilous situation when police pulled -- and I think this is a little different.
I mean, this unit clearly just, you know, had it out for this guy from the start. But yes, I think you're right. There's no reason why police should be in the business of traffic enforcement. It can be done, you know, it can all be automated. If somebody is truly driving recklessly and presents an immediate threat to the public, then yes, you can have officers pull them over. But for, you know, things like broken taillights, you know, minor speeding, not using a turn signal, I mean, those things can all be handled, you know, through automated devices.
ACOSTA: And how much responsibility lies with people who run these departments, the police chief in Memphis, for example? It sounds as though from talking to the council member yesterday that these kinds of complaints have come in before. Do questions need to be asked of the people who run these departments in various cities? Why are you letting these units engage the public in this fashion?
BALKO: I mean, the police chief in Memphis, you know, she's a reformer in a lot of ways, but she was also in Atlanta when there was another scandal involving another elite police unit called the Red Dogs, while she was there. So, you know, she has familiarity with, you know, what can happen with these kinds of units. But again, you know, I think when you're a police chief and you're in a city that's, you know, facing a soaring crime rate, you know, as we've seen in a lot of cities over the last couple of years, there's a lot of public pressure to do something, to do anything.
And I think we need to kind of hammer home the idea that more force, more confrontation, more aggression isn't the answer. I mean, there's no evidence that these tactics makes cities safer. And in fact, you know, one of the most important things to keeping cities safe is trust between communities and the police that they serve -- excuse me, or the police that serve them. You want communities to be able to reach out to police to feel comfortable talking to them, to cooperate with investigations.
And when you have units like this that are, you know, seemingly randomly harassing people just because they happen to live in a high- crime area, that -- you know, that's pretty much the opposite of building trust.
ACOSTA: Absolutely. No question about it.
All right, Radley Balko, thanks very much for your expertise. Really appreciate the time. Thanks so much.
BALKO: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
ACOSTA: All right.
And how exactly did embattled Congressman George Santos finance his campaign? Our reporters keep asking and he keeps not answering.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Santos, you listed the wrong name of a treasurer. Why did you list the wrong name of your treasurer on your campaign finance forms?
REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): I'll have this conversation with you when you become a better, honest reporter.
RAJU: I'm asking you directly.
SANTOS: You're a dishonest reporter, and you know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Like it or not, Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail, 74 days since announcing his third bid for the White House. The former president who tried to overturn the 2020 election made his first campaign stop yesterday in New Hampshire and South Carolina. The appearances come amid questions about the slow-moving pace of his campaign, something Trump addressed head-on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said, he's not campaigning. This is like about a month ago when I announced.
Well, I said, you know, I got two years. They said, he's not doing rallies. He's not campaigning. Maybe he's lost that step. We didn't -- I'm more angry now and I'm more committed now than I ever was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: As for the rest of what he had to say, the script will sound pretty familiar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We're going to restore election integrity. We have to. We have a woke military that can't fight or win. They're sending people that are killers, murderers, they're sending rapists, and they're sending, frankly, terrorists who go to New York. Nobody ever gets prosecuted. I'm the only one they ever go after. We have men being encouraged to compete against women in sports. The wind turbines are all made in China.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Those are not comments he made over the last several years, they were just yesterday.
Joining me now to talk about this, Democratic Congressman Richie Torres of New York.
Congressman, I guess, what do you make of Trump going out there on the campaign trail, like any other conventional candidate? And I guess some of the remarks that he made yesterday in talking about election integrity, coming from somebody who tried to overturn the election results in 2020.
REP. RICHIE TORRES (D-NY): Look, the fact that a man who likely committed federal crimes is going to be the Republican nominee is an embarrassment to the Republican Party. I mean, he inspired January 6th. Not only should he not be in politics, but he should be criminally held accountable. But again, you know, the Republican Party has become nothing more than a cult of personality around Donald Trump, around the big lie. And you reap what you sow and the Republican Party is reaping what it sows.
ACOSTA: Let me ask you about House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He's planning to meet with President Biden, we're told, this Wednesday on the debt limit. Are you optimistic a deal will get done? We were talking to Adam Kinzinger in the last hour. He said he's very worried about this, given what we've seen so far from the House Republican Conference up until this point.
TORRES: Well, we know that the far right of the Republican Party consists of arsonists, who are willing to burn down everything around them, including the leadership of their own party and the full faith and credit of the United States. My view is that we should not negotiate with arsonists because their
position is illegitimate. We should not be debating whether we should honor our debt obligations. There's nothing fiscally conservative about defaulting on our debt obligations. We should be honoring our debt obligations. If we were to default on our debt, it would actually raise the cost of our debt, causing the United States to become more indebted, not less, which is the opposite of what the conservatives claim that they want.
So as far as I'm concerned, we should not be legitimizing a position that's unworthy of legitimatization.
ACOSTA: Should the president meet with Kevin McCarthy, with the speaker, about this, do you think?
TORRES: I mean, he should meet with him regarding the budget in general, but defaulting on the nation's debt, derailing the full faith and credit of the United States, is a line that should never be crossed. You know, I support raising the debt limit, not because I'm a Democrat, but because I'm an American. Because I want what's best for my country. And there's nothing American about damaging the full faith and credit of the United States, which is the foundation for our power and prosperity in the world.
ACOSTA: And let's talk about Tyre Nichols. There are nationwide calls for reform. The NAACP wrote in a statement, "If anyone needs to see this video, which every single leader of Congress, sit in your comfy leather chair." This statement goes on to say, "Watch the video when it's released. Tell us what else you need to vote "yes" on police reform. By failing to write a piece of legislation, you're writing another obituary," the NAACP's president is saying to Eric Johnson. Your thoughts?
TORRES: Well, as I was watching the video of an anguished Tyre Nichols, you know, I couldn't help but think, that could have been me, that could be any young black man in America. What was done to Tyre was a vicious, violent gang assault camouflaged as policing. I mean, he was brutally beaten to death, he was pepper sprayed, he had a taser fired at him, he was kicked in the head while he was on the ground, he was punched in the face while his hands were behind his back. And then even after he was brutally beaten, he was left to languish next to a police vehicle without receiving the immediate medical care that he needed.
The level of dehumanization captured in that video made me sick to my stomach. And the murder of Tyre Nichols underscores the need in my view to civilianize traffic enforcement. We should ask ourselves a simple question. Where did we get this notion that traffic enforcement should be in the hands of armed police officers?
We know that traffic stops are disproportionate drivers of police brutality. According to an analysis by "The New York Times," police officers killed more than 400 unarmed motorists over a five-year period, and civilianizing traffic enforcement would mean preventing all the police beatings and chokings and shootings that stem from these traffic stops.
ACOSTA: Let me ask you about embattled Republican New York Congressman George Santos. I know you've had some thoughts on him over last several days. You've been pressuring government agencies, talking to government agencies about investigating Santos' campaign finances. So far Santos has been dodging questions, as you know. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Why did you amend your FEC report to say $500,000 --
SANTOS: Let's make it very clear. I don't amend anything. I don't touch any of my FEC stuff. Right? So don't be disingenuous and report that I did because you know that every campaign hires fiduciaries. So I'm not aware of that answer and we'll have an answer for the press regarding the amendment from yesterday's suits.
RAJU: But what was the source of your funds, sir? What was the source of that money?
Mr. Santos, you listed the wrong name of a treasurer. Why did you list the wrong name of your treasurer on your campaign finance forms?
SANTOS: I'll have this conversation with you when you become a better honest reporter.
RAJU: I'm asking you directly.
SANTOS: You're a dishonest reporter, and you know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Congressman, if Republicans who control the House won't hold santos accountable, what do you do about it at this point? Does he just continue to serve and you just have to, I guess, deal with it?
TORRES: Well, George Santos will be gone, it's just a question of when. But George Santos has no shame, he has no limit to his pathological lying and lawbreaking. Every day, we learn about a lie that George Santos has told or a new law that George Santos has broken. The latest revelation is that the Santos campaign had donors whose names and addresses were as fraudulent as the life story George Santos himself. And House Republican leadership, which promised to drain the swamp, refuses to call on George Santos to resign.
And Elise Stefanik, who is the chair of the GOP Conference, not only enthusiastically endorsed but fundraised with George Santos in the tune of the $100,000. She owes the people of New York an apology. She owes the people of New York an apology. So the best hope for holding George Santos accountable is the U.S. attorney, and I suspect Santos, his only reason to remain in public office is to have leverage for a plea bargain in the event of criminal prosecution.
ACOSTA: All right. Congressman Richie Torres, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.
TORRES: Of course.
ACOSTA: All right. And now to Israel where police say they have sealed off the home of the gunman who carried out a deadly attack near a synagogue in Jerusalem. Israeli officials also say the home will be demolished and the suspect's family is now under arrest. Seven people were killed in Friday's attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also vowing to strengthen Jewish settlements in response to the shooting.
CNN's Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem for us.
Hadas, Secretary of State Blinken is expected to arrive in Israel tomorrow for some high-stakes diplomacy. It certainly seems as though things are getting ratcheted up there. What's the latest?
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, Blinken's trip has actually been pre-planned for some time, but obviously with the events of the last few days, it's now reaching such a greater sense of urgency. I mean, between the deadliest day for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank last Thursday, then you had the shooting just outside of a synagogue on Friday night and that other shooting Saturday morning just outside of Jerusalem's Old City walls, it's been quite a few days of bloodshed here.
And as you noted, the atmosphere is just incredibly, incredibly tense. So this visit, obviously, the timing is very useful, it's very important. He will first meet with Israeli officials before going to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian officials. And likely top of mind will be first of all trying to cool the temperature down a little bit. Trying to bring things back a little bit. Next up, will, I think, be trying to restore the security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis.
The Palestinian Authority on Thursday severing that security coordination. This covers things such as intelligence sharing to ostensibly help fight terrorism and militants. But the Palestinian authority cut that off on Thursday in response to a deadly military raid that the Israeli military says was targeting Islamic jihad militants. And that's being seen by many as very vital to help calm the situation.
But there will be a real question about whether Secretary Blinken can actually get that done because really the atmosphere here has been building for some time. And former officials that I've been speaking to really aren't necessarily optimistic that what Secretary Blinken can do can really change the course of what's happening here. We think it might calm things down briefly. At best, they might be able to restore the security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis.
But really I mean, things have been building here for months. Last year was the deadliest year for both Israelis and Palestinians, especially in the occupied West Bank, in some instances in decades.
[16:30:00] And so, there really is a question of, what, if anything, can stop what's really seeming to be a crisis moment for both Israelis and Palestinians here?
And we're already getting reports of other instances of violence between both sides over the last 24 hours. And so, it's just, everyone is looking towards Secretary Blinken and to see what he might be able to do to help really calm the situation as much as possible -- Jim.
ACOSTA: All right, Hadas Gold in Jerusalem, thank you very much.
Coming up, new details in the investigation into hush money payments to former adult star, Stormy Daniels. And then, President Trump's alleged involvement in that. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
ACOSTA: We are learning new details in the investigation into hush money payments to adult film star, Stormy Daniels, and Donald Trump's alleged involvement. Federal prosecutors even discussed potentially charging the then-president once he was out of office.
The revelations coming from the new book, "Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It," which looks at how Trump and other powerful people have managed to evade the legal consequences of their actions. It was written by our very own CNN Legal Analyst, and former federal prosecutor, Ellie Honig who joins us now.
Ellie, setting aside the question, how in the world can you write a book being as busy as you are? I won't put you on the spot and ask you that question. You do have some very good brand-new reporting in this book, taking us inside the Department of Justice, including the real story of how Donald Trump became individual one. Tell us more.
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (via Webex): Yes, Jim, I got the behind the scene story here and I found it fascinating how Donald Trump ended up as individual one. So, if we go back to 2018, the Southern District of New York, my former office, is getting ready to indict Michael Cohen on those hush money payments.
Now, because Donald Trump was the sitting president at time, they knew that they could not indict him. However, the Southern District of New York prepared an indictment of Michael Cohen that laid out chapter and verse on Donald Trump's involvement in that hush money scheme. That went into great detail. How Donald Trump was the driver of it, the beneficiary of it, and really made clear that, in their view, Donald Trump was criminally liable.
However, the bosses down at DOJ in Washington, D.C., what we used to call main justice, found out about this and they stepped on it. They said, absolutely not. We're not putting all that detail in Michael Cohen's indictment about Donald Trump. And then, there was the question of, well, what do we call Trump then?
Now, originally, the SDNY considered calling him co-conspirator one, which would have been the first time, since Richard Nixon, that label was applied to a president. That was shot down.
Then, the Southern District said, well, how about candidate one? That was even shot down as being too much. And then, they settled on the completely innocuous individual one.
And, Jim, as a result, we got this sanitized indictment of Michael Cohen that barely mentioned individual one. And the end result, there was only Michael Cohen was ever prosecuted for that.
ACOSTA: Interesting. And you mentioned that Trump could not be indicted, while he was the sitting president under that long-standing OLC memo, the Justice Department guidance that we talked about so much during the Trump presidency. What happened, though, once he left office in January of 2021 because that is fascinating.
HONIG: So, I've revealed, for the first time in this book, that the Southern District of New York did have a series of meetings, starting in January of 2021, about what do we do when he leaves office? Do we indict him then?
I will tell you the end result, we all know. No, he was not prosecuted. But the reasoning that went into the Southern District's decision I found really interesting. And people, I guess, can decide for themselves if they agree or disagree. But among the reasons was, first of all, they believed it would be politically fraught to charge a controversial former president.
And, strangely enough, the fact that Trump had had all of these other scandals and potential crimes between those two things. The Mueller investigation. The Ukraine impeachment. January Sixth had happened. The Southern District felt like, at that point, the hush money payments were sort of too old or even too low on the list of his infractions. And so, they sort of left it to others to do it. And, as a result, only Michael Cohen was ever charged for this whole scheme which is really hard to defend, I think.
ACOSTA: Yes, and it all goes to the point of your book, which is why, you know, sometimes powerful people do get away with things. And, in Donald Trump's case, it's because there are all of these other questions swirling around him.
And, speaking of that, Elie, we just had some new information come in to us here CNN. The Justice Department has told lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, it is working to satisfy their demands for information about classified documents found at the properties of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, without harming ongoing special counsel investigations into both matters. That's according to a new letter obtained by CNN. We're just reporting on this this afternoon.
What's your reaction to that?
HONIG: So, I think DOJ has to draw a line in the sand. And it sounds to me like they are doing a good job drawing that line in this case. And the line is this. We will help you, Senate Intelligence Committee or House Intelligence Committee, figure out what was in those documents. Figure out whether there's a national security risk.
But what DOJ cannot do, and Merrick Garland -- as critical as I am of him at times in the book, Merrick Garland has done a very good job of saying, what we will not do is crack open the records on our pending ongoing investigations, whether it's of Donald Trump or Joe Biden or anyone else.
Because if DOJ were to do that, they would expose those investigations. They would jeopardize the case. They would even jeopardize, really, the reputations of people who are under investigation.
So, I do think DOJ is handling this exactly right. They're drawing a line, and we'll see if Congress respects that.
ACOSTA: All right. Elie Honig, thanks so much. And let's put up Elie's book one more time if we can. It's a great book. I can't wait to pick it up. Individual -- not individual one, untouchable. It mentions individual one. "Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It," written by Elie Honig.
Elie, great work, as always. Thanks so much. We appreciate it always when you come on the show.
HONIG: Thanks, Jim. I appreciate that a lot.
ACOSTA: All right. Thanks, Elie. We'll be right back.
ACOSTA: For the first time in U.S. history, four women lawmakers are leading the most powerful levers of government of Capitol Hill. Two Republican and two Democratic women now serve as chairs and ranking members of the important House and Senate Appropriation Committees.
The influential crew is commonly known as the four corners. The powerful spending committees oversee an annual federal budget of $1.7 trillion and are responsible for crafting policies that effect nearly every part of American life.
CNN's Melanie Zanona sat down with these four woman for a joint interview. Melanie, they've got a lot of power --
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: They do.
ACOSTA: -- at their fingertips these days.
ZANONA: Yes, these are going --
ZANONA: -- to be some of the most important and powerful people in Washington over the next few years.
ZANONA: And they happen to be women for the first time ever.
You know, with upcoming deadlines to fund the government and to raise the nation's borrowing limit, they are going to be at the center of all of the action. And it is going to be up to this group of women to pull the nation back from the brink of fiscal calamity. Which, of course, is no easy task in a hyperpolarized Washington and with such slim margins in the House and Senate.
So, I sat down with this bipartisan group to talk about how they plan to approach their work. The pressures, of course, of trying to prove that women can do the job, just as effectively if not better than men, and to reflect on the significance of the moment.
REP. ROSA DELAURO (D), CONNECTICUT, RANKING MEMBER, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: I think it was in 1973, there were two women who headed up a committee or subcommittee, whatever it was. It was about the beauty salon. It was never viewed that women could take on the issues of foreign policy, budget, finance, any of these areas. Women were the soft side of the government.
And when you think about it, it's four of us here, five with Shalonda Young, who are controlling really the most powerful levers of government.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE, RANKING MEMBER, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: We wanted to create an opening for a male to be head of the --
DELAURO: Barber shop.
COLLINS: I was thinking, when you were talking about the soft issues. Because when I first was sworn in in 1997, one of my male colleagues said, well, I assume you're going to want to focus on education and child care and, you know, a list of -- which are incredibly important and I care deeply about. But I said, yes, those are really important. And I want to be on the Armed Services Committee.
ZANONA: And we've seen the level of brinkmanship, when the men were in charge. So, now that the men will be out of the room, do we think it will be any different?
DELAURO: Well, you know, just this -- I think we have to empower one another. There's maybe not the sense that you have to outdo or outshine or so forth. We know what has to get done, and we want to make sure that we're giving each other the strength to do it and the room in which to make things happen.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON, CHAIR, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: Yes, to Rosa's point, it's not like I have to win. You guys have to lose. That's not how any of us approach this. I approach this as, we all have to win.
MURRAY: And when you approach it with that, then you listen better. You collaborate better. You realize you have to make concessions and you make them. We can be tough --
MURRAY: -- and we can be nice.
DELAURO: We've all had tough conversations.
COLLINS: And it often goes to both (ph) -- together.
DELAURO: We've had tough conversations party-to-party. We've had tough conversations within our own parties.
MURRAY: I reckon (ph).
DELAURO: I suspect that, you know. That's what you have to do.
COLLINS: But Patty hit on a very important issue. We want all of us to succeed. Because if we succeed, it's better for the Congress and it's better for the American people.
REP. KAY GRANGER (R), TEXAS, CHAIR, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: We're also good listeners. Women are good listeners and you learn a lot by listening, not just talking. But we do share information in what we're doing which is very helpful.
ZANONA: No one's under illusion that this is going to be an easy task, especially given the narrow margins in the House. How difficult is this job going to be?
MURRAY: There's going to be hurdles thrown at us every single day. And we all recognize that. There's going to be people who try and keep us from being successful every single day. I have no doubt that this is going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done since I've been here. What I feel good about is I have great partners on both sides of the capitol and on both sides of our caucuses.
ZANONA: Now, we should also mention, Jim, that on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, we have also seen some barrier breaking. Last year, Shalonda Young, she was actually a former Hill staffer for one of those spending panels. She became the first black woman ever to lead the office of management and budget, which oversees the execution of the government's budget.
And not to mention, there's also Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary. So, women really are holding all of the purse strings in Washington.
ACOSTA: And I feel like things are going to get done in a much more effective way now. No question about it.
ZANONA: We'll see. That's the hope anyway. ACOSTA: Yes, I think so. All right, Melanie Zanona, thanks so much.
Coming up, one determined house cat as she's viral video fame. Have you seen this one yet? You're going to bust a gut over this. The cat versus the microwave story, that's next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
ACOSTA: Anyone who has spent any time around a cat knows once they get something in their feline brains, nothing will dissuade them. Case and point, cat versus microwave. Here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was nothing micro about the epic battle waged by Bentley the cat against this microwave. He yanked it. He physically moved it. He would have certainly gotten into it if it weren't for the child lock his owners put on it to keep him out.
BRITTANY SCHIESL: His body language while doing it, it doesn't seem like a cat.
MOOS (on camera): He's got this physique. He's got a great body.
(voice-over): Using his legs like arms, he might have pulled the microwave right off the counter, if the cord weren't plugged in. No wonder this sometimes cross-eyed cat from Sheridan, Oregon, has gone viral with millions of views. Bentley has been obsessed with the microwave ever since Brittney Schiesl left pizza in it.
SCHIESL: The microwave is wide open and the pizza is on the floor and gone pretty much.
MOOS: They also had to put a lock on the kitchen cabinets, where Bentley uses all four legs.
MOOS: Without the child lock, we clocked him getting into the microwave in eighth seconds flat. Brittney says the appliance is his best friend.
(on camera): Have there been any close calls where you've almost pressed cook?
SCHIESL: Oh, my goodness. No. A surprising amount of people on the video were telling me to close the door.
MOOS (voice-over): This story reminds me of one I did 27 years ago about Piggy, the bull terrier, who got into the fridge so often his owner had to keep it locked.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then I stick it through the hole.
MOOS: But when it's cat versus microwave, sometimes the cat moves the appliance and sometimes the appliance moves him. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
ACOSTA: I hope that cat has nine lives. Well, that's the news. On behalf of the terrific team bringing you this program, and I love them dearly, thanks for watching.
Reporting from Washington, I'm Jim Acosta. I'll see you back here next Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Pamela Brown takes over the CNN NEWSROOM, live after a quick break. Have a good night.