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Brian Walshe Charged With Murdering His Missing Wife; Biden White House Faces Transparency Questions About Classified Documents; Legal Challenges Begin Over Illinois' New Firearms Ban; Trump On Possible DeSantis Primary Challenge: "We'll Handle That The Way I Handle Things"; Australian Open Bans Russian And Belarusian Flags From Site. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired January 18, 2023 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there is chilling new evidence tonight against Brian Walshe, the Massachusetts man officially now charged with murdering his wife, Ana. Prosecutors revealing investigators found items in several trash bags with (INAUDIBLE) and Brian's DNA.

They accuse him of dismembering his wife and disposing of her body, saying that surveillance video shows a man fitting Walshe's descriptio, visiting various dumpsters. They also detailed more than a dozen disturbing internet searches that say Walshe made after his wife disappearance, including 10 ways to dispose of a dead body, if you really need to.

I want to go right now to CNN national correspondent Brynn Gingras who is outside the courthouse in Quincy, Massachusetts. Brynn, what is the latest on this case against Brian Walshe?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Laura, you bring up those internet searches, and if you look at the timeline, there was a frantic search that prosecutors lay out Brian Walshe had in the hours, minutes after they say he dismembered and killed his wife.

Now, I want to go and show you some of those searches. January 1st, in the early morning hours, that's when they began, according to prosecutors, where he googled how long before a body starts to smell. And it wasn't long after that, he asked, can you throw away body parts? Going into the next day, January 2nd, can you be charged with murder without a body? On January 3rd, what happens to hair on a dead body?

As you mentioned, more than a dozen google searches in the minutes after, hours after, days after prosecutors say he killed his wife. And that wasn't the only searches prosecutors are alleging here, Laura. They also say in the days prior to January 1st, actually, on December 27th, they say he was actually googling, you know, what's the best state to get a divorce, possibly here pointing to a motive, Laura.

COATES: What about the DNA evidence out there? Is there any?

GINGRAS: Yeah. Yeah. So, they say there is DNA evidence. If you remember, we have seen that video of investigators collecting evidence at that trash collection site.

You mentioned to your viewers already that they have video surveillance allegedly of a man that fits the description of Brian Walshe throwing away a number of trash bags at different dumpsters. Well, at that collection site, investigators say they found 10 trash bags with a number of items, some of them containing DNA evidence. I want you to listen to what they collected.


LYNN BELAND, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, NORFOLK: -- secured were towels, rags, slippers, tape, a Tyvek suit, gloves, cleaning agents, carpets, rugs, Hunter boots, a COVID-19 vaccine card in the name Ana Walshe, a hacksaw, a hatchet, and some cutting shears. The Hunter boots were described as what Ana was last seen in.


GINGRAS: Laura, investigators say that there were traces and DNA evidence on some of those items that both Brian Walshe and Ana Walshe as well.

COATES: What is the defense saying about all of this? I mean, this is an unbelievable presentation by this prosecutor. And again, there is a presumption of innocence. But what is the defense saying?

GINGRAS: Yes, certainly, so, of course, he has pleaded not guilty to the charges that he faces. The defense saying they're not going to try this in the public, they're going to take this to court, and releasing a statement, in part, it read this, it is easy to charge a crime and even easier to say a person committed that crime. It is a much more difficult thing to prove it, which we will see if the prosecution can do.

We'll, of course, continue to follow this case as it plays out. Brian Walshe is expected back in court in February.

COATES: We will follow this case. Rhank you so much, Brynn.

I want to bring in CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller, criminologist and behavioral analyst Casey Jordan, and CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson.

Just wow in terms of the different Google searches. I want to begin with you, Joey. I mean, these google searches, the purported DNA evidence, there is still no body, but they have charged him with murder nonetheless. I wonder, from your perspective, just the searches alone, what goes through your mind as a defense council trying to defend against this?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Laura, that there is a significant, beyond significant amount to overcome as we look there at the specific nature, right, of exactly the hacksaw, what happens to hair on a dead body.


I mean, it's just incredible, the specific nature of the searches to indicate what he was trying to do. You have a timeline with regard to when he was doing it. You have previous to that, what Brynn Gingras was describing, where is the best state to get a divorce?

And so, all of this gives the indication that prior to that, that could've been his motivation, that he wanted a divorce, but he didn't get a divorce, he allegedly did this.

And not only do you have the Google searches, of course, Laura, but you have everything else in connection with the case. The misrepresentation to the authorities, the items that were -- the bloody items found in the basement, the fact that he's seen, allegedly him, throwing items out in trash, the connection of what those items could have or could be, they belong to her, in his possession, the DNA will connect that.

So, what goes through my mind is that this is going to be a herculean task for any defense attorney to defeat and overcome this case.

COATES: I mean, Casey, we've been watching in many respects all these items investigators have secured and the list of what we learned about. But there's been a lot of focus and understandably so, when society wants to try and understand what's going through the mind of an accused person in a court in particular, and they've been zeroing in and focusing in on his face, on whether he has any expressions.

Is he nodding? Is he shaking his head? Is he shocked? Is he looking or appearing in a way devastated and grief-stricken? All of those things are indications of something from the court of public opinion, and sometimes, in the court before the jury. I wonder what goes through your mind when you are watching and studying the face and demeanor of a suspect like this?

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST AND BEHAVIORAL ANALYST: And I was, Laura, when this was happening live this morning on the news, and I was watching for any of what we call the tell, you know, was there something very specific that would show nervousness? He seemed very devoted to keeping his eyes straight ahead, not blinking. We're always looking for eyes moving left or moving right, trying to see if he's thinking or inventing or going backwards with facts. We call this kind of thin-slicing, too, taking whole body language and the micro expressions.

At one point, he did a deep swallow. But, you know, some people like Robert Durst, everybody talked about his tell, that he would start swallowing when he was nervous, when he was being asked questions about the murders of which he was accused. And I think this guy is a very practiced. He knew that this was coming.

And I wouldn't be surprised if he has a defense ready that's aligned with something like Robert Durst, where he is going to say, if the evidence is overwhelming, as Joey just really laid it out, that it was self-defense, that she attacked him perhaps in a fight, or even worse, she just died of accidental or natural causes and he panicked and got rid of the body. Without a body, he could make an argument that you can't convict him.

So, I think that his brain is just processing, that if he plays this cool as a cucumber, assuming again he's factually guilty, he could get over on the system. Remember, friends of his father, you know, related to the white-collar crimes of which he is accused, has said that he was in an institution and was, this is again what they're saying, diagnosed as a sociopath back in the day.

So, you can't read a whole lot when somebody is having antisocial personality disorder. Sometimes, the manipulation really goes the full length and you can't find any expressions on their face.

COATES: John, we'll have to wait and see, as you know, about the mental health assessment that might be coming and what defense council says about -- even the allegations from the family friends, as Casey alluded to. But there is a choice that would have to be made by this person or the defense team. The idea of self-defense and, oh, I didn't kill anyone because there's no body, is there inconsistent notion one has to be chosen? And I do wonder what ultimately happened based on what Casey is talking about.

But there's also the idea, John, the court records show -- obviously, that he's been charged with murder. There's another crime, not being lawfully authorized by the proper authorities, did willfully dig up, disinter, remove or convey away a human body or the remains thereof.

It's potentially talking about transporting and removing a body away from where it is, not being authorized to do so. Does this, to you, indicate that they know the whereabouts of Ana Walshe's body?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: You know, Laura, to me, it indicates the opposite, which is they know they're not getting that body back, but that they have enough to show that a person was killed, there are bone fragments, there is blood, there is DNA, there are hacksaws and hatchets and Tyvek suits, the kind that professionals wear at a crime scene. So, there's a lot there. I think that they are just adding that charge.


And the murder charge is interesting because we don't know if it's murder one, intentional murder, or murder two, which could involve negligence. So, the defense, you know, has some room there. But, as Joey pointed out, there is just an awful lot of circumstantial evidence that shows, after the murder or after the death of his wife, he went to extraordinarily -- extraordinary lengths to attempt to cover that up, allegedly.

So, that suggests that something happened that he couldn't explain, if you call the police or an ambulance at the time, and that suggests something intentional in some view.

COATES: Well, I have to remind everyone, just the sadness of this. This is a woman with three children. Three little kids. And it just -- it is unbelievable to think of what they must be going through, if they're wondering where their mother is, what answers they're getting, are they all together at one point early on. They were in the custody of Massachusetts, I believe. And so, my heart does go out as a mom, wondering what will come of her children and what they're dealing with ahead in their lives as well.

Thank you all for being a part of this conversation.

JORDAN: Great to be here.

COATES: Up next, there is brand-new reporting from "The Washington Post" on a letter from the DOJ to President Biden's personal attorney back in November, and what it meant for this entire document investigation.




COATES: There are new developments tonight in the investigation to President Biden's handling of classified documents. "The Washington Post" is now reporting that in mid-November, a senior official in the DOJ's national security division wrote a letter to Biden's personal attorney asking for his cooperation with the department's inquiry.

That official specifically wanted Biden's legal team to secure the materials from the Penn Biden Center and refrain from further reviewing them or other relevant documents that might be stored at different locations. This is all according to a letter shared for the free first time with the "Post."

I want to turn now to cofounder and CEO of "All In Together" Lauren Leader, former RNC communications director Doug Heye, and CNN political analyst Alex Burns. Good to have all of you here.

And thinking about this, I mean, first of all, I'm going to you Alex, this was mid-November. It's January. For everyone looking at their calendar right now, it is still January. There have been a lot of problems since we first learned about this, just last week. But this timeline and now this letter, what does it say to you? Is it a significant development in terms of changing how this is being handled but there was a letter sent?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, you would know better than I what the sort of legal implications of receiving a letter --

COATES: Oh, don't you (INAUDIBLE) to me.


BURNS: I'll totally draw on my own actual expertise here, which is the politics of it, which is it makes it even more puzzling that the administration has not been sort of more prepared to answer questions in a consistent and forthright way over the last couple of weeks.

This isn't something that sort of sprung upon them over the holidays or after the new year. They clearly, at least some people around the president, had a lot more information than the people who speak for the administration to the press and to the public as seem to have over the last couple weeks.

I just have to say, it flies in the face of all good political sense, to let the information come out in this way rather than just putting your cards on the table to whatever extent you responsibly can and sort of letting the hand play.

COATES: This seems to be, I mean, it ought to have been simpler, it feels like, from a PR perspective, Lauren, and the idea of obviously perhaps when they were banking on the fact (INAUDIBLE) and there are very obvious differences between the fork in the road handling of Trump administration to the -- prior Trump administration. We're talking about as the Mar-a-Lago documents and now. But how did this become the self-inflicted wound?

LAUREN LEADER, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, ALL IN TOGETHER: Political crisis management 101 is you never allow the drip, drip, drip of more and more information overtime.

What should have happened in November is they should have come out and said, we discovered this information, we are going to take the next X number of days, three weeks, whatever it is, we are going to search high and low, we are going to make sure that we have done a complete search of all the residences and we will report back anything that has been found, we're getting to the bottom of this, we're cooperating with the National Archives and with the DOJ and other authorities.

If they had done that, they still would've, obviously, been subjected to the same level of criticism, all this sort of whataboutism, which is really central to republican talking points on everything. Anyway, it is a whataboutism. He did have classified documents after years of this whole extended drama with Trump. They're not the same but it almost doesn't matter because it continues to be a story that they have lost control of, and that is unforgivable politically.

COATES: For that reason, I mean, the idea of it, almost sounds like, in some respects, it's damn if you, damn if you don't. They would have the perfect P.R. strategy, perhaps --

LEADER: They did not.

COATES: -- and it's still problematic. But this notion of transparency in particular, I want to play for you what the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, had to say about this common accusation about an absence of transparency. Listen to this.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): From this point on, are you not going to be taking questions about the classified documents?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have been very clear, over and over again, we are going to be prudent here, we are going to be consistent. This particular matter is being -- is being looked at. There's a legal process currently happening at the Department of Justice. And I'm going to refer you to the Department of Justice on any specifics to this particular case.


And anything that has to deal with our -- what we're doing here, I will refer you to the White House Counsel's Office.


COATES: Of course, they then went back to ask, would you have somebody available as a designee like you have for Admiral Kirby, and that was referred differently as well.

Let me ask you, I mean, it almost seems like, and I'm being facetious here, they might want to consider going back to the trump days of non- transparency and no White House briefings because that was a time when that was an accusation that had, you know, in their perspective, much more meat on the bone. But the idea of transparency, a year or more a little bit more than a year from the presidential election, how is this going to play out?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Look, it's a problem for Biden politically, obviously, but in a way that I don't think a lot of people fully accounted for because we focus on the back and forth and the day to day on this.

Joe Biden was elected on one central promise, especially by independent voters, and it was that he was going to be a president that we did have to think about every day, and that he and his team of pros were not going to make the kind of mistakes that Donald trump and his Adams family cast of characters would make.

And is this completely analogous to what Trump has done? No, but it sure in that same neighborhood. And it violates that promise that Biden has made to voters.

So, they're looking at him, independent voters are, a little different. They're going to say, wait a second, you said on "60 Minutes" that this is irresponsible, but you -- and that makes him just another Washington politician and not living up to that promise that voters wanted for him. They want a president you don't have to think about after four years of that.

COATES: What do you say?

LEADER: Well, I totally agree. I think that that that's the problem with this. The talking points on the republican side are way too easy on this. It's always been this question of whether or not -- the facts, we all understand that the facts are different, that the Biden White House has handled it totally differently than the Trump White House which basically did everything possible to conceal these documents, to fight the feds, to fight the Archives on turning them over.

It's not the same but it doesn't matter because the soundbite, we're going to be hearing just like Hillary's emails, all the way through 2016, we will now be hearing from now until the end of -- until the election in 2024 is that he did the same thing as Trump did, the same.

COATES: If he runs.

BURNS: If he runs.

LEADER: He's running, come on.

BURNS: You know, it's one of the best instruments in the arsenal of any president who's facing an uncomfortable story that's close to home, is to get out there in the country and show that they're doing work for the American people. That's the other part of the playbook.

And we're not seeing the president out there in a little bit. I think if you're looking for a sign that he's serious about running for reelection, that would be something to watch for soon.


COATES: Yeah, I mean, look for the pancake breakfast. That is coming up soon, I guess. If you're really serious about wearing flop, who knows? But stick around, we are going to come back to this and more, everyone, including what's happening in Illinois, because they have a brand-new gun law. And the legal challenges, as you can imagine, well, they're already beginning. Some law enforcement officers are saying they won't even enforce the law. So, what happens now?




COATES: Multiple lawsuits by gun rights groups have been filed now in Illinois that are challenging the recently signed law, which bans certain guns, including new assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. This law would also require current owners of assault-style semiautomatic weapons to register those firearms within a year. The courts now will decide whether or not to place a stay, meaning a hold, on the law as soon as Friday.

Joining me now, CNN contributors Stephen Gutowski and Jennifer Mascia. Thank you for being here today. A lot of questions people have about this and what's happening right now. I'll begin with you, Stephen, on this because the lawsuit is arguing that the ban on assault-style guns infringe on constitutional rights. But Illinois is actually not alone in these types of laws. They're actually the ninth state with an assault- style weapons ban.

And so, had there been challenges similar to what we're seeing right now and have those been successful?

STEPHEN GUTOWSKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, there have been a number of challenges over the years to these types of bans. Most recently, you actually saw successful challengers of Colorado's bans that a couple of cities had in place there, similar to the one that Illinois just put in place. After the Supreme Court's ruling, you actually had Biden-appointed judge blocked those bans, and that ruling from the Supreme Court really does put these sorts of laws on shake your footing.

Now, there hasn't been a case at the Supreme Court yet, so it still undecided ultimately how they're going to come out on this, but they did remand and vacate a lower court ruling on the Maryland assault weapons ban that effectively overturns the ruling that upheld that ban. So, we will have to see exactly where that goes, but it's on shaker ground for sure.

COATES: Jennifer, I want to bring you in here because you often hear anytime there's conversations around gun legislation, the phrase naturally emerges, they're going to take your guns, they're going to come take everything away from you. For someone who's a current gun owner, they'll be thinking something similar perhaps based on the talking points or what's being put out there. But the fear that the law could lead the state to take weapons away, is that well-founded?

JENNIFER MASCIA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, law enforcement officials, especially the ATF, they'll just tell you they simply don't have the personnel to ever go door to door and confiscate weapons.


And in all the states that have assault weapon ban, there is an option that owners, you know, their weapons are grandfathered in. Even during the federal assault weapons ban, those guns were grandfathered in, so those owners got to keep them. Here, there's an option to register the guns which, of course, is being challenged.

But the slippery slope argument, it really -- I understand, you know, why gun owners would fear that, but the truth is even law enforcement officials who support the law, their interest is public safety. Their interest is not infringing. They tend to not want to get involved in gun owners and their weapons. So --

COATES: What happens if they don't register within a year? Is there a penalty that we know about?

MASCIA: There is but, you know, again, this might not survive a court challenge. It is a completely new day. Ever since the Supreme Court's Bruen decision, that set completely new parameters to decide Second Amendment cases. So now, you know, you need an analog for an 18th or 19th century law to uphold a gun law. So, there are a couple of exceptions to the analog.

Today, we had our first federal challenge to the Illinois law, which was just enacted last week. They're saying that it does not survive this new history and tradition test on the basis that there is an exception that if guns are dangerous and unusual, if they're particularly lethal or if they're, you know, owned by millions and millions of people, then they are subject to -- they fall outside of the scope of the Second Amendment.


MASCIA: The gun rights group who filed today's suit in federal court, they are saying these are widespread, they're in in common use. There are about 24 million assault-style rifles that have been produced in the last 30 years. Therefore, 100 million guns in circulation in America. We're talking about 6% maybe of the civilian firearms stock. So, it is debatable. Now, those numbers may not matter to a court that is deciding this.

COATES: Sure. It's true, thinking about what they will have to take in to account and all those points, just the sheer scope of the issue in particular. Stephen, I want to go back to you on this because we do know that dozens of law enforcement officials are already coming out and saying they are not going to enforce Governor Pritzker's new law. He actually addressed them today. Listen to what he had to say.


GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D-IL): It's a lot of political grandstanding by elected Republican sheriffs you're hearing from. The truth is that there is nothing for them to enforce at this point. The fact is that right now, we have one year for people to register the serial numbers of their assault weapons that are in existence. And, of course, we've outlawed the purchase or sale of any of those types of weapons in Illinois going forward.


COATES: Stephen, when you hear this, I mean, the idea of -- obviously, there is the -- at times, the political statements that are made does not necessarily correspond to what can or can't be done. But the idea of police refusing to enforce the law, what is your take there?

GUTOWSKI: Yeah, this is part of what is called the Second Amendment Sanctuary Movement, which is obviously, as you can tell from the name, modeled off the immigration sanctuary policies that have been put in place for the last decade or so. This is really kind of the first, I think, large-scale test of this movement because you've seen a number of states where you had a lot of localities say that they're Second Amendment sanctuaries, they will not enforce laws they believe are unconstitutional, things like assault weapons bans or confiscation efforts.

Those statements have been really forward-looking. If you pass something we don't think is constitutional, we won't enforce it. Now, you're at a point where you have a law that has passed that a lot of sheriffs who are elected themselves, they're elected officials, say that these are not constitutional and we will not enforce them.

You have the governor saying, I don't know how he's planning to try and make them enforce this law, but he seems to be pushing this idea that he's going to confront them. I think that it will be very difficult if not impossible to enforce something like a registration scheme when you don't know who has these firearms to begin with.

This is sort of -- you talk about gun owners fearing registration as part of an effort for confiscation. It's much harder to confiscate guns if the government does not know exactly who has what guns. And so, that's why you see a lot of this opposition.

The sheriffs are, I think, reflecting the population that elected them in how they view this law, and it is going to be almost impossible, I think, to enforce it if it does survive a legal challenge without the help of local law enforcement because state police, they only have so many resources in reality.


COATES: Well, and yet the idea of the difficulty and enforcement, it does not change the fact that there is still a gun violence issue in this country that people are grappling with. We'll see how this all pans out. Thank you both.

There's also a potential power struggle taking shape in the GOP over who will be the standard bearer heading into, you guessed it, 2024. The question is, will we see Florida Governor Ron DeSantis take on Trump?


COATES: Well, tensions are brewing in the GOP over who is going to carry the banner in 2024, with many republicans looking for alternatives to, well, the scandal-plagued former president after, frankly, lackluster midterm elections.


Group of Michigan lawmakers confirming to CNN that they sent a letter to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis encouraging him to run. Meanwhile, Trump is making plans to hit the campaign trail later this month in South Carolina.

Back with me now, Lauren Leader and Doug Heye as well as Alex Burns. Okay, we've got this letter from Michigan lawmakers saying that they will -- quote -- "stand ready and willing to help DeSantis win Michigan in 2024." So, the first question is, how does a DeSantis versus trump race fair?

LEADER: All right, my prediction is that DeSantis is the Jeb Bush of the 2024 cycle. They think they like him because they don't know him yet. He has very low-key personality wise, he does not have charisma, he doesn't actually like campaigning, his own staff have trouble getting him to meet with donors, he's not personable, and I think aside from the like the superficial --

COATES: But he won reelection. LEADER: He did reelection, and for good reasons in a state like

Florida, I don't believe that he has the kind of national appeal or charisma that is required for a presidential campaign, but there is this big movement of trying to find the alternative, and he looks like an alternative.

What most Americans really don't know yet, the extent to which actually many of his policies and many of his actions are absolutely extreme. Today, one of his COVID advisory was on television telling people to turn to Jesus instead of vaccines. That is the kind of stuff that does not fare well across the country. So, that is my -- that is my 2024 production.

COATES: What do you say?

HEYE: I don't think it's who's the alternative, it's who the alternatives. There are a lot of people, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, Kristi Noem and so forth.

What's interesting about this letter is that next week is the RNC winter meeting. And, yes, they'll be electing a chair, whether it's a new one or not. But a lot of the focus of the 168 members of the committee who are going to be there, journalists, activists, party officials and so forth, are all about this question of, is it Trump, is it not Trump, and who might be if it's not Trump. DeSantis is on that list, but it is going to be a long list.

COATES: Well, if he's on that list, and say it is DeSantis, say the likability notion and everything favors him in some way, how about a general election? Can he go against successfully Joe Biden?

BURNS: Well, we'll see if it is Joe Biden on the other side of that ballot.

COATES: But he says he intends to run.

BURNS: Sure.


BURNS: We all want to run until we don't, right?

COATES: Everyone has a plan to get punched in the face.

BURNS: Yeah.

LEADER: There you go.

BURNS: He has a plan until Michigan legislator writes you a letter (ph). I think this movement around DeSantis is really, really important in republican politics because you do see people at the ground level of the GOP who do have something to lose from really taking off the base, feeling like it's actually safe to go there and so we want somebody other than Donald Trump.

DeSantis has become kind of the safe space for those people to go, right? You don't see a whole lot of people going on the limp for a Nikki Haley or Mike Pompeo yet. They got a steep hill to climb. But that path is available. It gives them permission to.

Now, the other side of the coin, though, Laura, is that the fact that you have this movement to get past Trump, coalescing around a guy who has not said that he is running and who is not doing a lot of the stuff that you would typically be doing right now if you were going to run for president, get around the country, speak to an audience outside Florida, maybe try some muscles in the media outside of those reliable Fox News formats.

Look, he has a tremendous opportunity to get into this race as a frontrunner or a cold frontrunner, certainly, the strongest alternative to Trump, but he has never been tested in the way he would be tested in that context.

LEADER: Michigan Republicans have good reason to be worried because they just got shellacked in the midterms. The Democrats really swept the Michigan at the state level and the state that has been a very purple state is looking bluer all the time. So, the map has shifted in favor of Democrats in Michigan. But that is absolutely right, nobody really knows yet. He has not been tested enough.

That's kind of the point I'm making. There's a sense that because he's popular in the state of Florida, it is politically important that he has momentum and everyone is talking about him. I think (INAUDIBLE) his own momentum as soon as he starts running, which is why he is not saying anything yet. Let the mystery continue. It's almost a political strategy on his part. They don't know him well enough to not like him.

HEYE: When Trump announced so brazenly early, we thought it was going to really shift the race. The reality is that it has caused a lot of people to say, I can take my time and see what happens here. There is not that Russian part because Trump sort of walked out of the gate instead of run out of the gate.

So, we have to see what happens in South Carolina. Lindsey Graham will be with him. Is that a high energy event? Sometimes, Trump has been low energy lately, and that will help determine whether Republicans announce in six weeks or six months or what have you.



Of course, there's a lot of ifs happening right now, when we actually know the full answer to all of it.

But up next, everyone, Tennis Australia is announcing that fans will no longer be allowed to bring Russian or Belarusian flags to the site of the Australian Open. We'll tell you why, next.


COATES: Well, tensions between Russia and Ukraine are not spilling onto the tennis court. I would mention, again. Tennis Australia announcing that fans will no longer be allowed to bring the Russian or by the Belarusian flag to the site of the Australian Open.

This decision comes after Ukrainian ambassador objected to seeing a Russian flag during the first-round Australian Open match between a Russian and a Ukrainian player.


The ambassador tweeting in part -- quote -- "I strongly condemn the public display of the Russian flag during the game, and I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its neutral flag policy."

I want to bring in former professional tennis player and ESPN tennis commentator Patrick McEnroe. Patrick, I am glad you're here, I am glad to pick your brain on a night like this, especially, as you know, this is not the first time that politics and sports have intersected.

Much to the chagrin of some, it was not that long ago back in the tennis world where you had Djokovic, whose COVID vaccination status was problematic, of course, and not able to allow him to engage in the tournament. I'm wondering what your take is on all of this knowing that we are seeing this an issue similar yet again.

PATRICK MCENROE, FORMER PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER, ESPN TENNIS COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, Laura, it's great to see you and thanks for having me on. Not only were they displaying the Russian flag during this particular match, but my sources telling me that they're actually being quite rude to the Ukrainian player, these Russian fans.

So, that did not go over well at all with the Tennis Australia officials. I think they made the correct decision here, Laura, to ban the Russian and Belarusian flags from being displayed.

The Australian Open is a very international tournament. Fans come from all over the world. It has got a great vibe about it. People come from all over and display their flags for their favorite players.

So, it's an unfortunate situation. It's certainly not the first time, as you noted, nor will it be the last time that politics comes into the sporting world and particularly the tennis world which is such an international sport.

And you've got also the fact that you've got individual players. They're not allowed to show their flags if you're Russian or Belarusian. We show the graphics of the players, and we talk about their background and where they're from. So that's not happening. They can't show that in the draws as well for these players.

This was the right move. Again, international team events are not allowing Russian and Belarusian teams to play in the tennis world. But individual players are allowed to play, although, you may remember, Laura, that they were banned from competing at Wimbledon, the biggest tennis tournament in the world last year.

So, it will be really interesting to see what happens later this year as far as that goes, not the mention you mentioned Novak Djokovic who is here, by the way, trying to win his 10th Australian Open title. He's back. He's got the great reception from the Australian fans.

And, of course, another big decision for the tennis world will be, will Novak Djokovic be allowed into the United States to compete, because as of now, he would not be allowed to compete because you can't get into the country as an unvaccinated, non-citizen of the USA.

COATES: Obviously, there are different circumstances and politics at play in large respects. We are talking about the invasion into Ukraine versus, of course, COVID vaccination status. These are really world apart and yet the connective tissue really is the idea of how politics is intersecting.

With respect to the ban on players, particularly for Wimbledon, for the Russian athletes, the Belarusian athletes, there's a lot of controversy and concern about whether it was fair to attribute and assign the behavior policy, the actions of a leadership with the actual players.

But then there was this moment, if you may remember, with the Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak, who wore that pro-war symbol in a competition against Ukrainian players. So, it wasn't just the idea of, hey, by virtue of your nationality, you will be banned. It was in part behavior. Is there still an ongoing discussion right now about the tension between what the leaders of a country are doing and what the players are punished for?

MCENROE: I think that's a great point, Laura. That to me is what this is all about. I don't believe that the ban of the Russian and Belarusian players at Wimbledon serve the ultimate purpose, which is to get this war to end. Okay? It is to make a statement about it. I don't think it worked, to be perfectly honest.

Those players were allowed to play in all other parts of the world, including the USA at the U.S. Open this past September, including the big tournaments all over the rest of Europe. Europe certainly has strong feelings about the way that this war is playing out because it's on their continent.

So, I think in the long run, it did not serve the purpose, and it penalized individual players for something that they really have nothing to do with, what their own government is doing. There's no doubt that it's the right decision to ban Russian teams from competition, whether it's gymnastics or tennis.

But there are hockey players playing in the National Hockey League, Russian hockey players, and they're playing all over the world in different sports, world soccer as well.

So, I don't think the tennis players should be punished the way that they were last year at the England Club and Wimbledon championships.


COATES: I will tell you, there's a bell underscoring every one of your points for good reason about the points you raised, but, you know, the idea of detention (ph) and people wanting to on the one hand look at sports as a form of escapism and being able to zone out, not focus on the world around you, or the ideas and what happens in different Capitol Hill versions across the world.

And yet, it is the platform. They know everyone is watching and it's a moment to be able to express oneself and one's grievances. So, we will see how this continues to play out. Nice talking to you. Thank you so much.

MCENROE: Laura, thank you having me. I appreciate it.

COATES: Everyone, thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.