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Hilton Head, SC Woman In Legal Dispute Over Land Owned By Family Since 1800s; State Officials Looking Into Trump's Eligibility To Hold Office; Uvalde Mayor Accuses DA Of "Cover-Up" In School Shooting Probe. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 01, 2023 - 07:30   ET




JOSEPHINE WRIGHT, HILTON HEAD ISLAND RESIDENT: If it's going to be another 200 years. That's the way we look at it.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But not everyone has that same view. The serene marsh and sandy beaches of Hilton Head Island have been home to the Gullah Geechee community since before America became America. But today, community members say development threatens those families who still call it home.

WRIGHT: Why should we give up such a precious gift that God has given us?

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Josephine Wright has lived in this house on Hilton Head Island for 30 years but she says her family's home has been on this land since the Civil War, purchased by freedmen and passed down for generations. Her husband, a Gullah descendant, wanted to be sure to keep the land in the family after his passing.

WRIGHT: I feel so much pride and comfort in knowing that this is where I will be for the rest of my life.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But the 93-year-old great-great grandmother has felt little comfort here over the past few months.

WRIGHT: This is when we start hearing the trees -- they're boom, boom.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Wright is being sued by a company with plans to build 147 three-story townhomes along this Jonesville Road community, a historic Gullah Geechee neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our blood, sweat, and tears are in this land. My ancestors are buried here down at the end of the road.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Today, construction is closing in around Wright's modest home.

GALLAGHER (on camera): Has the developer, at any point, come to you to speak face-to-face about this?

WRIGHT: No. I've never spoken to any one of them. They have never knocked on my door.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): She says about five years ago, a woman did ask her about selling the land to an interested anonymous buyer for $39,000.

WRIGHT: And I said you are insulting my intelligence, and would you give them that message?

GALLAGHER (voice-over): She says her first communication with the company, Bailey Point Investment LLC, was being served legal notice, which alleges a satellite dish, a shed, and a portion of Wright's screened-in back porch are sitting outside of her property line encroaching on theirs, according to their land survey. The lawsuit seeks removal, plus just an adequate compensation for its loss of the use and enjoyment of their property, and expenses related to delays in development.

GALLAGHER (on camera): Bailey Point says that the corner --

WRIGHT: That little corner is on their property.

GALLAGHER (on camera): So the issue is that corner?


GALLAGHER (voice-over): Wright has filed a countersuit alleging Bailey Point and their affiliates are using harassment and intimidation tactics to pressure her off the land. Now, Bailey Point has filed a response denying any harassment, as well as any previous offers to purchase her land.

She has received an outpouring of support and donations, even from celebrities like Tyler Perry, Snoop Dogg, Fantasia, and NBA player Kyrie Irving.

And the town of Hilton Head just announced it is pausing all construction in line with their town code, refusing to issue Bailey Point building permits until the lawsuits are resolved.

But Josephine Wright isn't alone in her fight.

LUANA GRAVES SELLARS, FOUNDER, LOWCOUNTRY GULLAH FOUNDATION: She speaks to the Gullah culture and the Gullah's desire to fight back.

GALLAGHER (VOICE-OVER): Luana Graves Sellars runs a nonprofit called the Lowcountry Gullah Foundation, focused on helping prevent land loss in the Gullah Geechee community. Her nonprofit estimates that since Hilton Head Island became a vacation destination after a mainland bridge was built in the 1950s, the Gullah Geechee have lost nearly two-thirds of their acreage, mostly due to rising property taxes and problems with something called heirs' property.

GALLAGHER (on camera): How pervasive is that on this island now? SELLARS: It's pervasive here, but it's pervasive throughout the south. And unfortunately, heirs' property is the primary way that Black people in America are losing their land.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Heirs' property is a type of land ownership where a single property may be inherited by multiple members of a family for generations after the original owner passes away. But there's often a lack of clear legal documentation, making families vulnerable to land loss when there are disagreements within the family over selling.

In some of these cases here the land is being purchased by developers --

WRIGHT: Just look at this. This is one of the most peaceful areas.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): -- and lost by the Gullah Geechee. But in the case of Josephine Wright, she's standing firm on her ground.

WRIGHT: Well, let me put it to you this way. I've never backed down on anything that was right.


GALLAGHER: Now, in the past couple of months leading up to this week, CNN has repeatedly reached out to Bailey Point Investment and really, anyone that we could find associated with the project. A named developer did respond telling us that they're not the developer of the -- excuse me, a named organizer did respond telling us they're not the developer of the project but rather, an investment company that financed the deal.


But we've reached out to lawyers for Bailey Point. We've reached out to the architect -- even the engineer for the proposed subdivision. None have responded.

Meanwhile, Josephine Wright says that she plans to continue this fight. She wants her 40 grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren, and 16 -- soon to be 17 great-great-grandchildren to enjoy that property until they're 93 years old.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Dianne Gallagher for us. Thank you.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR: Now, in a court filing this week, Alabama's Republican attorney general Steve Marshall said he has the right to prosecute people who make travel arrangements for pregnant women to have out-of-state abortions. Now that claim was a response to lawsuits from two women's health centers that say he doesn't have that authority. Marshall is trying to get the case dismissed.

MATTINGLY: Now, this Sunday, "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER" brings you to the front lines of this abortion landscape, exposing the real-world impacts felt across the country. Journey with the women forced to travel hundreds of miles for care with a network of providers and people working together to make that travel a reality. This is a year without Roe.


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(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: Now be sure to tune in. An all-new episode of "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER". One "WHOLE STORY" -- one whole hour airs Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific only on CNN.

CORNISH: Now, a push in some states to use the 14th Amendment to remove former President Trump's name from the ballot. The secretaries of state in three key battleground states are responding to those calls. We'll talk about that next.



MATTINGLY: Well, former President Donald Trump has been indicted twice for attempting to subvert the 2020 election results and now, state election officials are looking at whether that disqualifies him from holding office again. What they're looking at is section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Quote, "No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or hold any office, who, having previously taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same."

Now, New Hampshire's secretary of state, a Republican, asked the state's attorney general to look into whether it could affect Trump's eligibility for the ballot. The AG's office said it was, quote, "carefully reviewing the legal issues."

In Michigan, the secretary of state says she is consulting with election officials in other states about the matters. She said if they do act on it the final decision would ultimately be decided in the courts.

And here is Arizona's secretary of state saying his hands are tied on the issue.


ADRIAN FONTES, (D) ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE: Now, the Arizona Supreme Court said that because there's no statutory process in federal law to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, you can't enforce it, right? That's what the Arizona Supreme Court said, so that's the state of the law in Arizona. Now, do I agree with that? No, that's stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So are you saying that your hands are tied when it comes to qualifying candidates for the ballot?

FONTES: What I'm -- what I'm saying is I'm going to follow the law. And the law in Arizona is what the law in Arizona is, and whether I like it or not is irrelevant.


MATTINGLY: Let's bring in -- bring back in senior -- CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig; former January 6 committee attorney, Temidayo Aganga-Williams; and CNN political commentator and columnist for New York Magazine, Errol Louis.

All right. Elie -- look, I'm going to be honest with you. Having covered 2016 -- and there are a number of different legal thresholds/avenues that people were looking at at various points to keep Trump off the ballot. I chased a lot of different things that never seemed to come to fruition. Tell me why I should feel that this is different than that.



HONIG: -- buy this theory at all. I don't think this is going to work.

MATTINGLY: Then why are Democratic AGs, why are secretaries of state talking about this and looking into it? A Republican in New Hampshire.

HONIG: Yeah. I can't get inside their heads. I mean, this has gained traction in the academic world. We've seen some respected scholars and judges come out with articles --


HONIG: -- arguing that it should apply.

Here's the problem. There's no mechanism. There's no way. We don't know how this works.

The big question would be who gets to decide if a candidate has engaged in insurrection or rebellion and, hence, exclude that person from the ballot.

CORNISH: Doesn't this question change if the former president is convicted?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, POLITICAL ANCHOR, SPECTRUM NEWS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, HOST, "YOU DECIDE" PODCAST: Yes, it absolutely does, I think. We know that there's at least one county- level executive -- official in New Mexico who was removed from his position. On the other hand, he had a criminal conviction for some of the activity and he was one of the people who was on camera and sort of blatantly involved in the January 6 insurrection. So that wasn't really even a close case and so they removed him from office.

Now, if you got a conviction somehow and it actually involved not anything that he's been charged with so far --

HONIG: I mean --

LOUIS: -- but somehow involved insurrection, you might start to --

HONIG: I mean, that's the problem. There's 91 counts against Donald Trump. None of them are for insurrection or rebellion. They're for various conspiracies and fraud. So even if there's a conviction it's not going to match what the Constitution calls for.

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK, PARTNER, SELENDY GAY ELSBERG: Yeah. I think I take a different look here than that. I think one, historically, this provision has been used without a congressional statutory enforcement provision. So I don't think that's a barrier.


And I think we should be looking more broadly here at the conduct --

CORNISH: So just to translate, you're saying just because there isn't a rule saying this is how you enforce, it doesn't mean it can't be enforced.


CORNISH: People can find a way.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: And it has been enforced in American history already.

And what this -- what is this about? It is about preventing those who have either taken up an insurrection while after taking the oath of office, which is what President Trump did. He took an oath of office and he did give comfort to those who engaged in insurrection.

Here, we have the example for -- these folks have been already convicted of seditious conspiracy, right? The Proud Boys who had convictions there -- they took up arms against a country. President Trump very publicly tweeted support for those very individuals. While they were attacking the Capitol he was supporting them.

We also have the benefit of having our January 6 committee. We have a bipartisan --

CORNISH: But you're saying it like it's very obvious. And we were just hearing this AG kind of being like look, my hands are tied because we don't really know how this works.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, what the AG was saying there -- he was talking about what law binds him in Arizona, so I think that's a separate question -- whether he's bound. And he was saying he thinks that's wrong, right?

So you're going to have multiple states here. You've had a bipartisan finding of President Trump's conduct here with the January 6 committee. You have a bicameral finding with the second impeachment that found that he engaged in this conduct here. You've had multiple examples of institutions in our country finding that he is culpable here.

And I think what should happen is that this needs to be tested. The words on the -- in the Constitution should matter to people and those provisions are there for a reason and courts should weigh in -- CORNISH: They --

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: -- before the president is allowed to be on a ballot.

HONIG: Yeah.

CORNISH: You jump in here.

HONIG: The provision in the Constitution is very important. The problem is we're just sort of left to make it up as we go along. We cannot leave it to individual secretaries of state and state and local county officials who are in charge of ballots to decide I find there has been insurrection without a criminal conviction. I find there has not been an insurrection. (INAUDIBLE) the chaos --

MATTINGLY: But doesn't it launch the process that would eventually would set --

HONIG: Well, so -- and that's the argument.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. So we go through --

HONIG: And we were talking about this on our WhatsApp.

MATTINGLY: -- a process that goes through the courts, yeah.

HONIG: Yeah. I think the argument in favor of it is look, this provision has been on the books for 150 years. It's never been developed into the point where we have a procedure. Impeachment, for example. We have some semblance of a known procedure.

And so I think the argument in favor of trying is well, this is how we will eventually get to a procedure. But the other problem is also you can't set the rules now in late 2023 and say OK, now we're figuring this out as we go and we're going to apply three years backwards.

MATTINGLY: This is what I want to ask Errol about because this also -- again, I understand what Temidayo was saying. I hear a lot of people saying the same exact thing and have said it throughout many of the actions post-January 6 or in the months leading up to January 6 and after.

But then you have a lot of people saying -- a lot of people are saying -- they're literally saying, like, you do this and it is a dream message for the former president and his team. He points to this and says look what they're trying to do. They're too scared. They're trying to keep me off.

CORNISH: They're making it up as they go along.

MATTINGLY: It just fits into the thread. To Elie's point, there's no precedent here.

LOUIS: Well, he's --

MATTINGLY: He's making it up.

LOUIS: Donald Trump might say that whether the facts support it or not. We know how he operates.

MATTINGLY: Fair point.

LOUIS: But look, there are a number of cases. I've covered stories where people were banned from running for office again. And it always bothered me a little bit. It felt a little unconstitutional. But as part of a plea deal, you can throw anything in the box you want. And people will agree to never run for office again. That was one of the outcomes they could have come up with in the impeachment trial.


LOUIS: So, I mean, it's not completely off the table. And the fact that it did happen in the 19th century, I think it's sort of like what they used to say about pornography. You know it when you see it, right? Where they'd say in the 19th century you were a Confederate traitor. You're not going to run for office. And the person would just walk away without a law, without a statute, without a trial necessarily.

Probably, it shouldn't be done at the level of the secretary of state in 50 different states, but we do need to get to this question and it's valid to raise it, absolutely.

MATTINGLY: Is that -- is that a Potter Stewart citation in the middle of the --

HONIG: I liked -- I liked a little unconstitutional.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. I actually want to know what that meant. Like --

HONIG: It's a little unconstitutional.

MATTINGLY: -- color-code it and like, that's in the green.

HONIG: My own --


MATTINGLY: You were -- what. OK, I know we have to go to break. Don't try and --

CORNISH: I didn't say anything.

OK, we have a more serious story coming up. Thank you, guys -- Errol, Elie, Temidayo. We really appreciate it.

Now, the mayor of Uvalde, Texas is accusing the district attorney of a cover-up in the investigation into the shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 children and two teachers dead. We're going to have the mayor on live with us next.

(COMMERCIAL) [07:53:20]

MATTINGLY: The mayor of Uvalde, Texas has accused the district attorney of a quote, "cover-up" in the investigation into last year's shooting at Robb Elementary School.

Now, here's some numbers that are important to remember. It's been 465 days since 19 children and two teachers were killed in their classrooms. Three hundred seventy-six law enforcement officers were on the scene, but it took 77 agonizing minutes before storming in and killing the gunman.

Two months later, 411 days ago, the city of Uvalde hired an independent investigator to probe the failures of that day.

So, Audie, what's actually happening now?

CORNISH: Well, right now, the mayor of Uvalde says that the investigation has been hamstrung by the local district attorney and he wants her to resign, basically. Mayor Don McLaughlin refiled a lawsuit against the district attorney Christina Mitchell on Tuesday and the city has dropped its original lawsuit earlier this year because the DA agreed to cooperate with the investigators' request for evidence. So now the city is suing again.

McLaughlin says Mitchell has not kept her promise and that the families of these 21 victims deserve answers.

So joining us now is Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin. Welcome to the program.

MAYOR DON MCLAUGHLIN, UVALDE, TEXAS (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning. How are you this morning?

CORNISH: Good, thank you.

I want to jump right in as we've laid this out here because we reached out to DA Mitchell to get her point of view on this. She did not respond yet. But I want to read to you what she told the San Antonio Express on Wednesday after you filed the suit.

She said, "It's a distraction and an attempt to keep me, as the district attorney, from completing my mandate to see that justice is done to the best of my ability under the law with the facts and evidence that I have."


So what's your response there to the idea that this is just a way to distract her from what she needs to be doing?

MCLAUGHLIN: No, it's not a way to distraction. What the DA Mitchell forgets is I said in the first meeting with our investigator who told Ms. Mitchell that anything that he found criminal, whether it be local, state, or federal authorities, he would turn over to her prosecutors. I mean, we -- that's why we hired an outside investigator to look at every avenue of what happened that day, especially our police department and our policies.

CORNISH: So what is the state of your own investigation?


CORNISH: What is the state of the investigation that the city is doing? You said you had your own investigator.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we hired Jessie Prado as an outside independent to do an investigation of our actions that day of our police officers and our policies. And since day one -- since day -- well, day one, we have been blocked from access to get the material that we need so that he can see all the bodycams, all the hallway videos.

CORNISH: Can I jump in here just for a second? The DA has said that other investigators have completed their work and she sort of implied that there is really no reason why the city couldn't have finished its with its independent team.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, my comment back to that -- yeah, the only person that's finished their investigation at this time is the Department of Public Safety who is the lead investigator with the Rangers on this, and they've had access to everything from day one.

The Border Patrol hasn't finished their internal investigation.

CORNISH: You know, you specifically referenced the DA's chief investigator as being on the scene at the time of the shootings. CNN has not independently confirmed that he was there. It seems like you're implying that this might be the reason why the DA is not moving to your speed or cooperating the way that you think that she should.

Why do you think that's true? Give us a sense of what your thinking is here.

MCLAUGHLIN: Sure. First, like I said, we didn't want to file this lawsuit a second time. But in the coming weeks -- and the DA, by her own admission in the Uvalde Leader News on Thursday -- she not only had one investigator there; she said she had two. And this has never been disclosed.

If you look at the Legislature -- when they came down they did their investigation. They disclosed all the law enforcement agencies there and all the people there. There's nobody from the DA's office on that list. And all of a sudden, we find out that there were two investigators there -- one who had been in and out of the hall is what we were told.

And the story on this Robb shooting -- the tragedy it is --

CORNISH: So why do you think she'd want to cover that up? Why do you think that implies an actual cover-up?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, why wouldn't you disclose you had people on site as critical as this is? Why wouldn't you disclose that from day one? I mean, why wouldn't you -- why wouldn't you not tell people yes, I had two investigators there? Why do we have to come out with it 15 months later?

CORNISH: Now, you're leaving to run for a House seat. Why leave now when this investigation isn't done and when there are so many unanswered questions for the families of Uvalde?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's a mistake I made because if I would have used the term I intend to run instead of I am running, I wouldn't have had to -- I wouldn't have had to trigger an automatic resignation. So words do matter. I made a mistake there. My previous mayor before me had run for a state office and didn't have to run, so I made the mistake of thinking I wouldn't have to either.

But I'll be -- I will stay on this whether I win that seat, whether I don't win that seat. I will be very vocal whether it's the other side of the podium standing with the families there. This investigation needs to be done.

These family members -- they deserve the answers. It's been 15 months, 455 days, as you said at the beginning of the deal. The families deserve that answer. Right now, this is a festering wound that just keeps getting salt poured in it and at the families' expense.

Our community needs answers, too. We shouldn't -- we shouldn't be 15 months later where we are today. This should have been done.

CORNISH: Mayor Don McLaughlin, of Uvalde, thank you for your time.

MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, former President Trump pleading not guilty in the Georgia election subversion case while some of his co-defendants are asking why Trump is not helping with their legal bills. How some are raising money for their defense. That's next.