Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Tonight

Criminal Referrals From January 6 Committee Are Expected; An American Tourist Is Stuck At Machu Picchu; Missing American College Student Surfaces In Spain; Elon Musk's Commitment To Free Speech Is Called Into Question. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired December 16, 2022 - 23:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. This is CNN TONIGHT. I am Alisyn Camerota. The January 6 Committee wants Donald Trump to face criminal charges. A source tells CNN that the committee is expected to ask the DOJ to pursue at least three criminal charges against former President Trump. They are conspiracy to defraud the federal government, obstruction of an official proceeding, and insurrection. So, we'll talk about what all of that means.

Plus, tonight, American tourists are stranded in Machu Picchu because of violent protests breaking out across Peru. So, we are going to speak live to an American who is stuck there and has run out of her critical medication. She will tell us if there is a plan to get her out.

And what does the term "free speech" mean to you? It has now become a weapon in a culture war. But what does it even mean? What does it mean online? What does it need on social media? Does Elon Musk get to decide, can we find some universal definition of it? Our super smart panel has some thoughts on all of that.

But first, let's get to the new developments out of January 6 Committee. We have with us John Miller, CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst. You have a long title there, John.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: A lot of people have trouble using the word "intelligence" and John Miller in the same sentence.


CAMEROTA: That was not the problem. Also, CNN senior political analyst John Avlon, and CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers. That is a much easier title. Okay, so, Jennifer, let's look at the three charges that they are considering: obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the federal government, instruction. Which one will be the hardest to prove, do you think?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, that's a good question. I think probably the insurrection, the incitement of insurrection, just because it is so rarely charged. You know, what does an insurrection mean? You know, all of these things come into play. So, I think that's probably the most challenging for them.

It is also the one, though, as John and I were just talking about, that carries a penalty that you can no longer have an office for the United States if you are convicted of that. So, that is attractive, I think, to DOJ.

CAMEROTA: And one more question with your federal prosecutor hat on. So now, what? I mean, so, if the committee sends this over to the DOJ, does it move the needle for the DOJ? I mean, how -- how much of an impact does the committee's referral have on them?

RODGERS: The referral, not much. The evidence, a lot. I mean, they worked really hard. Really smart people on the committee, they did an incredible amount of work gathering evidence. So, I think that they will be very happy to get all of those transcripts and all those pieces of evidence.

I don't think they will pay too much attention to what the committee suggests that they do except in the following way: If they are very, very specific about, these are the crimes that we propose, these are the elements of those crimes, these are the pieces of evidence that support each of those evident -- you know, each of those elements beyond a reasonable doubt, then I think that is something that DOJ might say, all right, you know, we are smart people, we will kind of take that, that will help us sift through all of these thousands and thousands of witness documents, et cetera.

But if it is a little bit more vague than that and it is mostly just an information damp, then they're going to have to go through all of them themselves.

CAMEROTA: Yes. So, we are going to find out definitively, John, on Monday.


CAMEROTA: They are going to announce criminal referrals, if any, that they are going to make.

The polling is interesting. the latest polling on this, I think, is very interesting because, you know, we have been listening to these hearings for a long time, it has been obviously not more than a year, and yet in terms of the latest polls, the views on January 6th for Democrats, 90% say it should never be forgotten, only 8% say it is time to move on.

There is another Quinnipiac poll that is interesting in terms of how closely are you following this, and the one taken on December 14th, 2022, 61% of Americans are following it very closely or somewhat closely.

So, people are still engaged --

AVLON: Yeah. CAMEROTA: -- in this and what the outcome is going to be.

AVLON: Yeah, because there is an active effort by a former president to overturn an election to keep himself in power. You look at that polling, I mean, on the one hand, you say, you know, there is something that you do not really put up to a poll. The partisan divide on that is dispiriting. There should be something that goes well beyond partisanship. This is an attack on our country, on our democracy, on our Constitution.

I also want to see where independents are. You know, we make this mistake all the time. We think that the country is divided into Democrats and Republicans. It is not. The other third of the country or more are independents.

And so, let's not, you know, take this at some level. We are just deeply divided. We will never know what happen or get to an agreement -- let's apply the law.

CAMEROTA: This is not an agree or disagree situation?

AVLON: Yeah, this or that.


AVLON: And you know, the law -- the charges they're contemplating are very serious, they're constitutional backing, laws that date back to, you know, the civil war generation trying to put penalties in place so it could not happen again. So, you know, I am very happy to see them closing and in particular conspiracy to defraud the United States and insurrection.


CAMEROTA: Yeah. So, John, we do not know if the DOJ will choose to charge nor do we know if former President Donald Trump will ever be convicted. But it is interesting because the people who engaged in the insurrection did hear what they thought were commands. They heard an incitement to violence. They heard an incitement to disruption of the peaceful transfer of power.

But, whether or not they can improve -- obviously, there is a disconnect between what -- there may be a disconnect between what they heard and what President Trump actually said.

MILLER: So, that is very interesting because they heard in the speech, you know, go down and give them hell, and they marched down the street. We heard now in the Oath Keepers' trial where the head of the Oath Keepers is texting people and talking meetings about we are waiting for word from Trump, whether we should call in the arm team from Virginia. And you will also note in that same stack that when President Trump tweeted to them, stand down and go home, they did it on a dime.

So, there is this element of command and control. But you also got Jack Smith, the special counsel -- AVLON: Uh-hmm.

MILLER: -- who is doing this in a very -- his own rocket docket. People are being called into grand juries. Things are being brought to court and said, you know, this stuff has to be turned over. Rulings are happening. This is going very quickly before this criminal referral, so he is often running.

And I think when you look at him calling in witnesses like Stephen Miller, you know, the president's speech writer who was part of the ideological machinery behind this entire movement, they are going to be asking questions. Who were you talking to that day? Who knew what? When do they know it? Who said what? Who is falling what instructions?

AVLON: Yeah, and look, we have seen through the January 6 Committee how many of these folks, including lawyers, took the Fifth when they were compelled to testify. But, the DOJ has got different levels. Their subpoenas carry even more weight.

And so, you know, that is happening in a parallel path right now. But what is clear is that there needs to be a degree of accountability, and that is the real question that I think we confront as a nation.

MILLER: There is also a very different mechanical piece now, I will defer to Jennifer Rodgers, but the last time that we did this, Donald Trump was the sitting president, the Department of Justice had Office of Legal Counsel guidance saying you can investigate what you want but a sitting president can't be indicted or charged --

AVLON: Uh-hmm.

MILLER: -- and there was the awkwardness, which is natural, of an attorney general whose Justice Department special counsel was investigating the president who appointed them. None of that is happening here. He is a former president and chargeable. The attorney general is not working for the person who is under investigation. So, what does that make this different -- how does that make this different from the last time?

RODGERS: It may actually happen. I mean, there is no way that Bill Barr was going to allow Mueller to indict Trump, even if Mueller ignored the guidance and said he wanted to do it anyway. We do not have that here.

I mean, I think that Merrick Garland probably put Jack Smith in there even though Garland still has kind of a veto power, right? He will make the final decision. I do not think he will here. I think he will go with what Jack Smith wants to do, and that guy is a career prosecutor. He is there to make cases.

CAMEROTA: Jennifer, one of the interesting things is that Donald Trump, as we all know, often says two contradictory things at the same time. So, he tweets out, big protest in D.C. on January 6th, be there, we will be wild. And then he goes to The Ellipse and he says a lot of things at The Ellipse. One of the things that he says to the crowd at The Ellipse -- now, mind you, some of them were in tactical gear, so perhaps should have watched his words a little bit more closely.

However, one of the things he says is, I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard. And so, in other words, there are two -- I mean, can't he say, in a defense, I told them to be peaceful and patriotic? And wouldn't that help his defense?

RODGERS: Yeah, I mean, listen, he always is going to throw stuff in there to help. You know, he also, of course, under force, basically, from his aides, eventually sends tweets saying, you know, go home, be peaceful, et cetera.

MILLER: He also said we are on the same thing, to get our country back, we have to fight like hell.

RODGERS: Listen, what DOJ is very good at is telling the story. Right? They will say this was the conspiracy, these were the parts of the conspiracy, this is how a conspiracy was carried out. Yes, sure, he threw some things in there to appease people and so on, but there was a goal here in really every step he was going towards.

MILLER: I like your opening.

AVLON: And people are hanging their hat on that word peacefully. Read the rest of just that sentence.

CAMEROTA: Today, we will see whether Republicans stand strong for integrity of our elections. No problem there.

AVLON: No, no, when he says, I know many will be marching on the Capitol.


AVLON: Go fight like hell. Rudy Giuliani --

CAMEROTA: Yes, Giuliani said that.

AVLON: -- trial by combat.

CAMEROTA: Right. But Trump didn't.

AVLON: Yeah, but he said, go fight like hell, march on the Capitol. You know, we know now, for example, that he said, get rid of the magnetometers, they may be armed but they're not here to hurt me.


RODGERS: You know, the speech was far from the most compelling evidence against Trump. I mean, even from the committee and to say nothing of what the DOJ is now --

CAMEROTA: What is the most compelling evidence?

RODGERS: It is going to be the witnesses, the people who were in the room with him, the people that the committee did not get to because they threw up all of these privileged arguments that now Judge Howell has wiped away, the people who were in the room with him room with they were talking about this plot and saying this is what we're doing, this is what we have to do next, what are we going to do about Pence, how are we going to, you know, get the state legislators on board, how to get the election officials -- all the people in that plot, that is the testimony --

CAMEROTA: Well, that is interesting because there are other people that they're obviously considering criminal referrals against. So, Mark Meadow, former White House chief staff, Jon Eastman, Jeffrey Clark, Rudy Giuliani, naturally. So, you think that one of those was spelling out the conspiracy?

RODGERS: I think they all worked. Remember, there is a whole bunch of different strands here. Even those people that you named were part of different strands in this, right? Eastman is giving the legal advice about what Pence can do and so on. Rudy Giuliani is rallying up the state people. Meadows is calling Raffensperger and the other people in the state to try to get the legislatures on board. They all have these different pieces of the plot and that is why they are going to put it all together into one.

MILLER: And all of those people are getting subpoenas. The White House people are getting subpoenas. The election officials in battleground states who are on the receiving ends of those calls are getting subpoenas. This is kind of a shotgun approach to the violations.

AVLON: Just -- we got to remember, this case is unfolding for a long time. We get more and more interception. Now, the January 6 Committee's work is coming to ahead. We will get culmination with new evidence apparently on Monday and the final report on Wednesday.

Don't forget how historic this is. There's nothing like this in American history where you have a sitting president trying to overturn an election on the basis of a lie, inciting a mob to attack the Capitol, to disrupt the constitutional proceeding. So, that's the lens we got to keep in mind and think way behind partisanship and all the kind of B.S. arguments that get floated by folks trying to deflect and distract.

CAMEROTA: Okay, we will see on Monday what they have to say and what they come up with. Thank you all very much.

Meanwhile, dozens of Americans are stranded tonight in Machu Picchu because of violent protests across Peru. And they are running out of necessities like medication and food. Next, we are going to speak to one of those stranded tourists about how she plans to get out.




CAMEROTA: Hundreds of tourists, including many Americans, are stranded in the ancient city of Machu Picchu tonight and reportedly running out of food. It's a very remote area, only accessible by train, and train service has been indefinitely suspended because of violent protests across Peru. At least 20 people have died after Peru's president was impeached and ousted last week.

And tonight, the State Department tells CNN that they are in touch with some Americans there. So, joining us now is one of the Americans stranded, Kathryn Martucci. She is a tourist who is currently stuck in Peru. Katherine, thank you very much for being with us. So, what is the plan? What is the latest at this hour? Have they told you how you're getting out of there?

KATHRYN MARTUCCI, AMERICAN TOURIST STUCK IN PERU: Well, we were medically evaluated this morning. If you were of a certain age and definitely out of medication, then you were prioritized as a category one. We didn't hear anything for the rest of the day.

However, we were told this evening and we got -- some of our group members got an email from the State Department that we would be -- priority number one would be evacuated sometime tomorrow by helicopter. What we know is that there are four helicopters. We do not know the capacity of the helicopters, and we do not know if they are making more than one run.

CAMEROTA: So, Kathryn, all of that is nerve-racking, I can imagine. You are one of the tourists who is out of medication. You all -- we are told that you are going for, you know, two days, which is a typical amount of time to get up and down from Machu Picchu, so you packed very lightly. How dicey is your medical situation today?

MARTUCCI: It's not life-threatening but the withdrawal from the medication itself has challenges. So, to abruptly stop taking this medication is an issue. I don't have anymore. I do have some in Cusco. So, if I get to Cusco, I'll be good. But they do not have that medication here. Some of our group members have hypertension and they were able to get their medication here in Machu Picchu at the hospital.

CAMEROTA: And so, Kathryn, we heard that some of the restaurants have ran out of food. What is the situation with food there?

MARTUCCI: Well, we have food. There is no really -- we are well fed. However, one of the restaurants that our tour group contracts with is out of food, and we expect more establishments to run out of food as time goes on.

And as you said in the introduction, the only way in here is by that rail, and that rail is privately-owned. It is not owned by the government. So, they can do what they want. Their message to us today via email, their website, was that out of an abundance of caution for the employees and the passengers, that they did not know when they were going to be giving the service.


Many people are walking out. About an 8 to 10-hour hike. Yeah. CAMEROTA: Wow! So, that is not for the faint of heart, particularly through that terrain. As you are speaking, we are looking at the beautiful pictures of Machu Picchu.

My family and I went there at exactly this time three years ago. We were there for New Year's Eve, and I know how remote it is and how breathtakingly beautiful. But you definitely feel like you are away from civilization when you are in that little town of Aguas Calientes where you are. It is remote.

MARTUCCI: It is very remote. We are extremely lucky that we have internet, we have cell service. I am very surprised. But do not forget that Machu Picchu, the town, exists, as you know, specifically for the tourists that want to enjoy Machu Picchu.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. And so, Kathryn, let me ask you this. Even getting a helicopter in there seems dicey because it is a very mountainous region. As you well know, the weather moves in there and it rains and the clouds descend and the visibility is very low. How nerve-racking has all of this been for you?

MARTUCCI: The lack of information and the sort of like, well, maybe this, maybe that, is very frustrating. We have been very well treated. Today, we were about 3 to 4 hours wait for the doctor to evaluate our medical priorities. And we heard -- one of the groups was back at city hall in the afternoon and she said that there are hundreds of people lined up waiting to be evaluated.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, it is -- it is not ideal and certainly not what you expected when you booked your Machu Picchu trip. Go ahead.

MARTUCCI: I have to say, if we were two days later, we would have been stuck in Machu Picchu not having seen Machu Picchu because it is closed.

CAMEROTA: Oh. Yeah, well, okay, that is a silver lining. I'm glad that you were able to make it to the top because it is such a special place. But we are really hoping that you can get out of there tomorrow. We will check back with you, Kathryn, to make sure that you are okay.

MARTUCCI: Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: Best of luck. Hang in there.

MARTUCCI: Thank you so much, Alisyn. Thank you for having me.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for being on.

We are back now with John Miller, John Avlon, and Nayyera Haq. Nayyera, State Department. What is the State Department's responsibility when Americans travel like this to a remote area? What does the State Department do?

NAYYERA HAQ, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SENIOR DIRECTOR: The State Department typically issues a variety of advisories with different countries, and in this case, given Peru's political unrest, had it as a level three reconsider travel.

CAMEROTA: It is pretty saddening, right? They have now as a level three. I don't know if when they planned their trip. You know, plan your trip six months in advance. So, they did not know that this would all be happening.

HAQ: I would highly recommend that anybody considering travel overseas, register for what is called the step program. You will automatically get alerts when you're in country or about to travel to the country. It also allows the local consulate office to just know who the American citizens are so if they have information intelligence about some pending disaster or political unrest, they will then actually make effort to contact you and find you, and let you know what to do.

So, some of it is the United States is not trying to track every American who is overseas, and we should have the freedom to travel, but also an awareness that when we are traveling, we are taking risks. I'm glad to hear that Kathryn is safe and sound. Many of these towns and areas, remote areas, are designed to cater to tourists. They are 100% dependent on money from overseas.

So, in this situation, it is in their interest as well to make sure that foreign tourists are taken care of. I will mention that I have been stranded in Kathmandu, which only has one runway, when an airplane crashed and it shut down everything. That is where people go everywhere from Everest to visit Buddha temples. It was about eight days when my mother and I sat around a hotel waiting to see how we can get out of the country.

CAMEROTA: So that runway was not open for eight days?

HAQ: For eight days, and is only one runway for all international flights, everything out of the country. We did contemplate actually driving through the mountains to India to see if we could get a flight out. At that time, we are like, you know what, we're better off where we are.

CAMEROTA: John, do you have travel story that you'd like to share? We are interested in that.


AVLON: Not involving sort of coups and a shutdown. But look, the interview that you just had, obviously, you know, the Americans are stranded there, everyone is stranded there, it is a reminder of when the stability that we often take for granted in the United States falls apart.


And that our neighbors in South America, it is a very tumultuous time there right. Not just in Peru but in Argentina, perpetually up north in Venezuela.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but can I just interrupt you for a second? AVLON: Brazil.

CAMEROTA: Politically speaking, isn't it -- based upon what we were just talking about in our last segment in terms of the insurrection here, they are having this coup because their president was corrupt, they felt, and was, you know --

AVLON: Tried to dissolve parliament.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, tried to dissolve parliament. Also stealing, making money while in office. And he was impeached and immediately arrested.

AVLON: Yes. So there --

HAQ: And other countries have travel warnings about the United States. Let us be clear.

AVLON: Yeah.

HAQ: New Zealand, Ireland, and Japan have called us a gun-crazed culture and warned that, you know, there are frequent shootings out there. So, it's about a matter of perception of how you approach these issues as well.

CAMEROTA: That is interesting. John, any thoughts?

MILLER: Somewhere, as Nayyera would tell us, in Peru, there is an ambassador who is trying to figure out what do I do with Americans?

AVLON: Sure.

MILLER: We got 300 people stranded in Machu Picchu. But there are other Americans in bad positions there. Every embassy has a person called the RSO, the Regional Security Officer, and that person is usually a special agent of the Diplomatic Security Service. And that is the person they are turning to right now to say --

CAMEROTA: Get a chopper up in the air to kind of rescue them?

MILLER: That RSO is the one who is trying to figure out now between local military assets, assets that we can bring in, how do you get those people out, and is that going to be a little chopper where you can take four people? Do they have chinooks where you can send for in and get 100 out? How many trips? You brought up weather.

So, there are real challenges there, and this is when the State Department goes into that kind of contingency planning that they think about a lot.

CAMEROTA: Thank goodness for them.


CAMEROTA: Thank goodness for them. Up next, somewhat related story but with a happy ending. That American college student has surfaced more than two weeks after he was reported missing in France. Where has he been for the past two weeks? And what is the U.S.'s responsibility when an American disappears in Europe? And also, what should parents know before their kids study abroad, next.




CAMEROTA: That American student reported missing in France more than two weeks ago has been found safe in Spain. Thank goodness, we can all sleep easier tonight. The family of Kenny DeLand, Jr. says in a statement today -- quote -- "We received a call from Kenny in the early morning hours. Kenny is in Spain, and Carol (his mom) is in France, preparing to see Kenny and hopefully bring him home for Christmas."

The family have been searching for Kenny after last hearing from him on November 27th. The college senior was then reported missing by his fellow students on November 29th. The family has not yet said what Kenney has told them about where he has been and what he had been doing.

Back with us is John Miller. Also joining us, we have CNN political commentator Errol Louis, host of the "You Decide" podcast, and Nayyera Haq is also back. Errol, I must admit, when you said on this program on Monday night, earlier this week, you're like, he is probably just traveling around Europe, having a blast, meeting people, having a good time. I was like, wow, Errol has some rose-colored glasses on. And I thought you were wrong. You are right.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I had some experience with this in my 20s. I think they still do it. You get a year real pass and you can ride anywhere on any train in Europe, pretty much for free after you've paid this. So, you get around and wants -- try to see a little bit of the world. I mean --

CAMEROTA: Yes, but that's before cellphone. I did it, too. Your parents were not expecting you to check in every day. This was strange. He had checked in every day for weeks, and then he went dark.

LOUIS: It sounds like a heck of a trip, huh? Calling your mom every day. Is that the way to see Europe? Maybe he just needed a little freedom.

CAMEROTA: Maybe. I mean, to be honest, and I love that you are still wearing your rose-colored glasses, but to be honest, we really do not know what happened to him. We do not know what he had -- we don't know what happened. In other words, nothing nefarious, but we do not know if he was having some sort of emotional issue. We just do not know.

And I hope that his parents will say it because the truth is, John, the media did find him. Because his parents went to the press and because places like CNN covered it, he saw himself and he realized that he was in trouble and called home. That is what you want to have happened, it worked. But you would be asked to give an explanation. MILLER: It would be. I mean, this was, you know, a low priority for the police in France. They looked at this, he is 22 years old, he can go where he wants, do what he wants, and as far as we can tell from the video that we have seen, the things that he is buying before he went off the grid, he seemed to left of his own accord and was okay.

So, from the French's perspective, this is kind of let us know if something happens. The FBI was pushing very hard to get information and getting very little. They were communicating with the Buffalo PD and Rochester and the family. But the frontal cortex in the male being --


MILLER: -- is not developed until you are 25 years old, which means complex decision-making is often hampered.

CAMEROTA: So, you are in the Errol camp of like he just ran off and forgot to tell people?

MILLER: Okay. So, I actually am, but let me complicate it a little bit, because people who run away and go off the grid, people say, well, he is not acting normal. When you run away, you are escaping normal, because you are not happy.


Was is that he went to France -- and the prosecutor who interviewed people said, I am not fitting in, I was not prepared for this, my French is not good enough, I can't communicate, I'm not making friends. Did he go off the grid and say, I cannot get on the phone with my parents and say, you know, this college thing you spent all that money on and my French trip, I'm getting (ph) out of it, or do you just take a walk for a while and say, I'm going to try something else?

This is the thing that makes parents say things like, thank God, you're okay. When you get home, we're going to kill you.

CAMEROTA: You're grounded.

AVLON: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: Nayyera, that raises real point of it's the holiday break for millions of college students around the country, and in a few weeks, many of them are going to go off to semester aboard. And so, when American kids go off to semester abroad, what is the responsibility, once again, of the State Department, the FBI? I mean, who does keep those kids safe beyond their own bad frontal cortex?

HAQ: That is part of the challenge, right? You're an adult at 18, but we still want to think of our college students as kids, even though when I was a college student, that is the last thing. I mean, I thought I was mature and responsible, but in hindsight, probably could have done some better communication with my parents instead of ignoring their phone calls for days. So, there is that challenge that we wrestle with.

The State Department does -- the consular affairs (ph) offices. Their interest is in protecting the safety, security, and the interest of the American citizens abroad. Now, there is interest typically about birth certificates, getting a passport, if you've been arrested.

It is not a 22-year-old young man who seems of sound mind making decision to travel. Similar here in the United States, a missing person's report, police won't -- they don't necessarily share the same information unless they think there is something nefarious at stake.

So, it is not, despite the parents' concern, overall the highest risk situation. So, I think the family is very lucky that the FBI was indeed involved in this type scenario. That strikes me as unusual. I'm in the Errol camp of seeing that. It's very difficult when young people often go off to college or a new environment don't fit in, you have these emotional challenges and don't make the best of decisions.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. I just wish that he checked in with his parents. I mean, obviously, from what we know, they were really scared, and we all were scared. You know, sometimes, these, as we all know, don't have the best ending.

MILLER: I'm with the parents' camp. If my kids go off the grid, I'm pulling out all the stops. We will figure it out later.

CAMEROTA: All right, thank you all very much. Free speech is being weaponized in the culture wars and it's all playing out, as you know, right now on Elon Musk's Twitter. But it's bigger than that. What does free speech really mean these days? Who polices it? We discus all that, next.




CAMEROTA: Elon Musk claims that he is a champion of free speech. But why did he ban journalists from Twitter? The new Twitter chief likes to band the around the term free speech a lot. But what does it even mean?

John Avlon, Errol Louis are back with us, and CNN media analyst Sara Fischer joins the conversation. Here's an example, here's what Elon Musk tweets, this is a battle for the future of civilization. If free speech is lost, even in America, tyranny is all that lies ahead.

John, does freedom of speech mean the same thing on social media that it means in the First Amendment or do we need a new definition of this?

AVLON: Well, no, free speech in the First Amendment is that Congress shall make no law to abridge freedom of speech, which means that freedom of speech is protected against government interference. On a private platform, that is largely up to the questions of what standards people want to create. This is another case where our technologies are outpacing our laws.

But, the culture war politicization of the term free speech is itself part of how we are in this mess. Really, what he is pointing to, my implication is, frustration with illiberalism on the left. But his actions, for example, last night, showed the hypocrisy of that position, one that is being bended about by people on the right.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. So, Sara, I mean, his definition of freedom of speech is quite -- is subjective, of course, as is everyone. But it means that he doesn't like it when they do something against him. And so, online and on social media, what does a free speech means?

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Free speech means that you can say anything that is basically not illegal, you know, and if you want to say something, you should not be banned from a social media platform for doing it.

But, to John's point, Elon Musk has the right to do it. The challenge then becomes, if you are a user, do you want to use that platform? You should have the right to say whatever you want. Again, barring it is not outrageous or illegal, or barring it doesn't violate policies that social media platforms implement like hate speech and violence, et cetera.

If you get banned for posting a link to an account that tracks Elon Musk's private jet based on for publicly available information --


FISCHER: -- that should not be happening on a private platform like this. I think that Elon Musk may have a user problem if people feel they can't speak up and say their mind on Twitter.

LOUIS: Against him.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I do want to make this bigger than Elon Musk because it is about like free speech does mean something different online and on social media, because, you know, as I was just saying, as long as you do not say anything outrageous or illegal, people say outrageous things all the time --

LOUIS: Sure.

CAMEROTA: -- and people, often the line of what is violent rhetoric or when it goes over that line is very fuzzy.

LOUIS: Look, people should be clear that we are talking about concepts about what is acceptable or possible in the public square. This is not the public square. This is a privately-owned company, and the guy who owns the company will do whimsically, capriciously, vengefully in a very petty way whatever he feels like doing.


CAMEROTA: (INAUDIBLE) social media as well. In other words, like Facebook has its own rules. LOUIS: And people have to be very clear. I mean, you know, a lot --

like many people, a big part of my life is on Google documents, you know, Gmail and so forth. We do not own that data. We don't even own access to that data. The reality is, whether you pay for it or not, look at the fine print. It is theirs.

And so, we should all be very clear that, you know, the technology has gone into a very different place. And people will go to court and they will lose over and over again if they think they have the right to their Twitter account, access to their Twitter account, years-worth of data, posting and links that they put up on that platform to help make other people rich.

I mean, I think, really, where a lot of this is also -- I think when this starts to sort of fall apart is when it comes to advertisers who are walking away in droves because they do not like being in an environment with the bunch of neo-Nazis and a capricious owner. I mean, that is just not where you want to try and sell, you know, the next model of Ford trucks.

CAMEROTA: I get that is not a good business model, but can we have some established definition of what free speech is supposed to be online or are we just leaving it up to the Elon Musks of the world?

AVLON: We need to coalesce around common values again. I think one of the things ironically that could unite us is an articulation of liberal values, understanding that there are people who are going to be illiberal and extreme.

Think about -- Errol makes a great point, because Twitter has become (INAUDIBLE) the public square, but it is not in fact public. But there are rules. There is no right, for example, in the Constitution, free speech -- sorry, First Amendment, there is no right to yell fire in a crowded theater, for example, right?

LOUIS: If it is on fire, you can yell it.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Falsely.

AVLON: Falsely. And we are dealing with massive disinformation, we are dealing with algorithms that amplify the most divisive, extreme voices, and that is having a real impact on our democracy that we are dealing with every day. So, that is why content moderation is a common problem but an urgent one.

We should focus on common values and principles. That is why you cannot simply throw your hands up when it comes to content moderation because you're going to be creating a cesspool that is going to degrade democracy.

FISCHER: We are getting there. That is the thing that is so frustrating. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, they are all part of a group called (INAUDIBLE) that is trying to come up with standard definitions of things like hate speech and misinformation so that the entire internet universe and ecosystem, at least the biggest parts of it, could have uniform definition. CAMEROTA: And then what happened?

FISCHER: Well, (INAUDIBLE) still exists, but Twitter is kind of pieced out. Elon Musk has said that he is removing the content moderation panel, which was a panel outside expert section from Twitter (ph). My sources in the advertising community say that Elon Musk is MIA when it comes to taking this stuff seriously and being involved in meetings.

When it comes to getting these advertisers to stick on the platform, he will fake it and say, oh, yes, I care so much about these values, but he is not really digging in.

CAMEROTA: Furthermore, he also tweeted out misinformation, so he is an offender of this.

FISCHER: Yes. The one thing that I will say that gives me a little bit of optimism, we actually have had some courts challenged with stuff at Twitter. You will recall that Donald Trump tried to block certain people on Twitter. That stuff went in courts.

You will recall that AOC actually had a situation where she was blocking people. So, it is not just on the right. People put up lawsuits. We can actually use the rule of law to fix this. It is unclear at this point what lawsuits are going to come out of the Elon Musk era.

LOUIS: It's going to be slow going. And to talk about some of the other platforms for a minute, you know, it is petrifying, it is horrifying to see that on Facebook, there is evidence that when some, you know, young teenage girl who is depressed is looking at things like suicide, the algorithms start giving her links towards certain things.

CAMEROTA: All the time. And anorexia, et cetera.

LOUIS: They feed them the very information that will destroy them. I want to talk about a value that sort of gone out of whack. We do have to get some control over all of this.

AVLON: No question.

LOUIS: And whether it takes law or just custom or bad press, all of that will --

AVLON: I think that is insufficient. We do need laws. I think algorithm reform is the very least of it. There's a lot of work being done looking at that link (ph). But also, the impact on our democracy in terms of the radicalization of people, the promotion of conspiracy theories. Yes -- what are the common values in addition to, I think, more transparency and understanding what these algorithms are feeding people?

Part of free speech implicitly is that people own their speech, but the problem of disinformation and bots are very real, something that Elon Musk has talked about. But that is a real issue. If you -- the verification that there is an individual behind this count --

CAMEROTA: A human.

AVLON: Yeah. That is a place to start.

CAMEROTA: All right, friends, thank you all very much. Really interesting. We will be right back.




CAMEROTA: In this season of giving, we want to show you how you can help our 2022 top 10 CNN heroes continue their important work and have your donations matched dollar for dollar. Here's Anderson.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper. Each of this year's top 10 CNN heroes proves that one person really can make a difference. And again, this year, we are making it easy for you to support their great work. Just go to and click "donate" to any 2022 top 10 CNN hero to make a direct contribution to that hero's fund- raiser.

You'll receive an email confirming your donation which is tax- deductible in the United States. No matter the amount, you can make a big difference in helping our heroes continue their life-changing work.


And right now through January 3rd, your donations would be matched dollar for dollar up to a total of $50,000 for each of this year's honorees.

CNN is proud to offer you this simple way to support each cause and celebrate all of these every-day people who are changing the world. You can donate from your laptop, your tablet, or your phone. Just go to Your donation and any amount will help them help others. Thanks.


CAMEROTA: If you know someone who deserves to be a CNN hero, tell us about them. Nominations for 2023 are now open. You can go to

Thanks so much for watching tonight. Have a great weekend. Our coverage continues.