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CNN Tonight

Donald Trump Pleads Not Guilty To 34 Felony Counts Of Falsifying Business Records; Donald Trump Attacks Judge's Family In Post-Arraignment Speech At Mar-a-Lago Despite Court Warning; Federal Appeals Court Denies Trump's Bid to Stop Ex-Aides from Testifying; Tennessee House Republicans to Vote to Expel Dems for Gun Safety Protest. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired April 05, 2023 - 00:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump went from being arrested and arraigned today to later tonight his grievances and laws. That's what he was focused on in his post arraignment speech at Mar-a-Lago tonight.

Here with me to discuss, we have Republican strategist Doug Heye. The New York Times' Astead Herndon, criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson and Kaivan Shroff, who was a digital organizer for Hillary Clinton.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. It's been described Doug, as a split screen day. So first, we saw something we've never seen before in this country, a former U.S. president being arrested and arraigned in a criminal court in Manhattan. And the -- here's the splitscreen, basically, Donald Trump in court, there are only still photos because that's all the judge allowed, but he looked deflated, frankly, he looked sort of hunched, his facial expression was not kind of bright or, you know, ready to fight.

He said, in his own words, not guilty. And that's all he said. But he walked in very slowly to the courthouse, and then he was back in his element on the right side of the screen, back at Mar-a-Lago and back to basically playing the hits of his grievances and all the ways that he has been wronged. Are Republicans happy today or nervous today?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: They're both. Some Republicans are happy. And it depends on what Republicans talk to. Some Republicans are happy because they've got something that they can rally behind, that's going to bring the party back towards Donald Trump. And we've seen that in his poll numbers, we've seen that in some of the early fundraising, all of them are also nervous simultaneously, because they know that we are in uncharted waters. And we don't exactly know even though we see so often how Trump reacts to things. We don't know how Trump is going to react long term on this because as you were saying, this is uncharted waters for him.

And ultimately, when you're -- when you're in a campaign atmosphere or working for a politician, when you're doing media of any sort, you want them in their comfort zone on some level, and lights and cameras and all that are not normally comfortable things, Donald Trump's very comfortable around them, but not in a courtroom like this.

So, he was out of his comfort zone, went back to his comfort zone. That's why we saw him look the way he did during the day. And then at night, back to the Donald Trump we all know.

CAMEROTA: As said -- I mean, as Doug just said, this gives Republicans something to rally around, did they want to rally back around Donald Trump? I mean, where does this leave Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, etcetera?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, when you look at that kind of segment of the Republican class, this has not been what they wanted to see, right? They have seen to Doug's point, those poll numbers come back to him, the kind of grassroots really come back to him, that language of victimhood really serving him well in the primary.

And for those type of people, they thought this little indictment was going to help support fall away from him. But what you have seen kind of in the last couple of months, is though, is kind of the Republican voter come back to Donald Trump, because it really fits within the narrative of weaponization of the federal government that already exists for Republicans.

And so, there was a kind of a miscalculation, I think, from some of those Republican candidates who thought that the arraignment, that the indictment that the legal trouble would do the work for them. And that's not how -- that's not panning out so far.

Now we know we have a couple more to maybe to go that this is only going to escalate. So it's that -- that story isn't fully done yet. But to this point, they have not seen the fall off in support I think some folks expected when this stuff came down.


KAIVAN SHROFF, SENIOR ADVISER, THE INSTITUTE FOR EDUCATION: Yes, I think, you know, we just saw Trump's rally where again, he's railing against law enforcement in this incredibly hypocritical moment, or just last week, he was saying how much respect he has for this grand jury and the grand jury system as a whole.

And meanwhile, the Republican Party has for years now have been chanting, Blue Lives Matters, Back the Blue. And suddenly, when it's not about police abuse of unarmed black folks, the entire MAGA movement is attacking law enforcement.

CAMEROTA: Didn't we already see that on January 6? Didn't we already see them exposed as not supporting police officers on January 6?

SHROFF: I think so. And I think we also saw some accountability. It's been slow, but in response to January 6, and maybe that accountability really stopped some violence that has been really Trump's goal to incite this week. We didn't see that today, thank God. HERNDON: To that point, when we were I was outside of that courthouse today. And you heard people mentioned that the crowds were a little less, that they thought things were a little more of calm, because of the fear of consequences that kind of January 6 allow for some of those folks who used to think that they could kind of act with impunity.

CAMEROTA: But were they saying that outside of the courthouse today?

HERNDON: Yes. I mean, when I talked to the young Republicans, president who helped organize that rally with Marjorie Taylor Greene, he is acknowledging that they're not getting the kind of crowds that they may have expected today. And they think that there is some level of distance that some people have, because of the things that have happened in the last couple years.

So, it may not be to the level of extent of accountability, that maybe some liberals or maybe some folks might have wanted, but for those kinds of segment of Trump supporters, it has not been without notice that there has been real consequences.


CAMEROTA: And by the way --

HEYE: McCarthy and Republican leadership saying don't protest, whatever you do, do not protest.


CAMEROTA: And by the way, very quickly, you brought up Marjorie Taylor Greene, she underestimated her reception today in New York.

You know, she invited people to come and protest. But she didn't expect the counter protesters, more of whom came and you basically shouted her off the stage until she --

HERNDON: You couldn't hear her, you couldn't hear -- I didn't hear a word that the congresswoman said because there was so much folks that came with whistles. The energy on this side today was definitely from the anti-Trump side.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joey as an attorney, what did you see today?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I saw quite a bit. A few things I want to say. Number one, I'm not sure why people are acting like you need a murder case in order to go after a president. As a person who practices in these courts, I've seen people convicted for far less. I've seen people charged in certainly with far less specificity than this.

CAMEROTA: So, when people say it's a weak case, you don't understand that.

JACKSON: I don't get it. The bottom line is that if we're about the rule of law, should -- I mean, what should it be that he would have done? What would have justified this? That's what I'm not understanding.

And the other issue to me is that I read indictments like this all the time. Why do we feel that there has to be this indictment, which represent a novel right of exactly what he did and when he did it and where he went?

We did have the statement of facts, but it was a bare bones indictment. That's what's required by the law. So, the fact of the matter is, is that this 34 what I see a substantive counts, if those counts that I think the calculus for prosecutor has to be, as it's always been, as I believe, and that is my former office, and they're very adept at prosecuting financial crimes. We are the financial capital, was a crime committed? And can you prove the case beyond the reasonable doubt? If you have those elements, then move forward.

CAMEROTA: Well, I think part of the element of surprise was that when we heard that there were 34 counts, that sounded as though there must be a surprise in there, there must be something we don't know. People weren't expecting 34 all connected to the Stormy Daniels.

JACKSON: It's done constantly and regularly, what prosecutors do is they may lay out what we call the same transaction and occurrence, a series of facts and on that series of facts, they anything that would support that they move forward with.

And just to be clear about it, all you need is one, in the event, the President is convicted of one of those former president of those 34 counts, that represents a significant problem.

But for people who say, well, it need it to be a murder case to go forward. It's a crime. And the people who sit next to me in court, they have a lot to say about, wait a second, he could do all of this, and just now they're getting to it, but I just did this, and I may have to go away for some time. I'm not -- I'm not getting that at all.

CAMEROTA: Kaivan, your thoughts?

SHROFF: Absolutely. I think, you know, people are saying this is a weaker case, or it's an advantage to Trump that they started with these indictments.

I disagree, because I think we're going to see the same arguments from Republicans on everything, and it's going to become obvious, there's not one crime that they would agree to hold Trump accountable for, as he told us in 2016, he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and Republicans wouldn't bat an eye and we're seeing that play out.

CAMEROTA: He already seems to be violating one of the requests, not an order from the judge, but a request from the judge. The judge basically warned everybody in the courtroom to be careful with their rhetoric today, because we've all seen what can happen.

And so he said today, please refrain from making comments or engaging in conduct that has the potential to incite violence, create civil unrest, or jeopardize the safety or wellbeing of any individuals. Also, please do not engage in words or conduct, which jeopardizes the

rule of law, particularly as it applies to these proceedings in this courtroom, Doug, and then a few hours later, Donald Trump went to Mar- a-Lago and called the judge names, called his wife a name, talked about his daughter, and Don Jr., the president's son put out a picture of the daughter. And that sounds like that violates that request.

HEYE: Well, Trumps are going to trump and we know that and it's not a trite saying we've seen this happen before where they've gone after particular families.

But ultimately, what Donald Trump is saying here is a robust, grotesque, even if you want to argument politically that we heard in 1998. When I was working the House of Representatives, we had an impeachment of a president. And that argument essentially was even presidents have private lives when there's a sexual matter that's going on, which is what's happened here. And I'm being found guilty or being charged because of the details around it.

And ultimately, the United States Senate agreed with Bill Clinton's analysis on this and his argument on this and saying, you know, we know he did something wrong, and we know that he not just did something wrong, but lied under oath, a crime. But we're not going to impeach, we're not going to convict him on the impeachment on this.

Trump, again, he's going to do it how he does it, but his lawyers are essentially arguing that same thing. We're talking about the paperwork and the detail. And if you don't have your mind made up on Donald Trump one way or another, that he's a saint or a sinner, or the saint or the sinner. There are people who feel that way who are going to look at this and hear Trump's arguments somewhat rationally, it's why these other cases are the more damaging ones potentially to Trump and why Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley is waiting for that, because then they can go say, there's just too much drama against Donald Trump. Yes, he's a victim.


CAMEROTA: So, you really think that at the next ones, when the next case is if they have an outcome, that's when Republican -- when his Republican contenders will back away from it.

HEYE: I'm going to completely botch an Elvis Presley song and say, it's then or never. If after the second or third one comes, and they can't then say there's too much here, because this case is different. If they can't do it then, it will never happen.

HERNDON: There's been too much here for a long time.

HEYE: I don't disagree.

HERNDON: About Donald Trump. And so, there has been enough political ammunition for his opponents to call him having too much drama for years. And their unwillingness to do that is based in the reality that the Republican electorate will not let them. They understand that he still controls enough of that base who is

still with him. And that is the core problem politically for them here. It's not that they can't say the words, it's if they said the words, they would lose a section of the Republican base. That is not that they cannot do and also be the nominee for the next election.

And so, it is an argument they have to make to those type of supporters who have stuck with him too many a scandal that has built up to this point. And they have spent a long time ignoring those things that have built up to this one, to then now come out, even if it's indictment number two.

CAMEROTA: We shall see. Thank you all very much, stick around because when we come back, we'll dig into who's who in this case and what's at stake for each of them.



CAMEROTA: The historic indictment of former President Trump unsealed today. CNN's Tom Foreman is here to help us sort through the key figures in this case.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Hi, Alisyn, let's start with the person at the center of this whole case, the defendant Donald J. Trump, former president of the United States.

These charges stem from the 2016 election, that is when he allegedly paid this money to this woman to keep quiet this affair from the past. And then allegedly, according to these papers, falsified business records about all that.

He is a candidate for president in 2024. He denies any wrongdoing in this and says in fact, this is all about political persecution to keep him from getting back in office again.

The prosecutor Alvin Bragg, he is the Manhattan district attorney since January of 2022. He was previously criticized for not charging Trump. He is also prosecuting Steve Bannon, longtime Trump adviser in a completely separate case about money being raised for that wall on the southern border of the United States. That's a fraud case, which is still moving forward.

The judge in all of this Juan Merchan, he's very experienced. He has a reputation for fairness and for toughness. He sent Trump's CFO Allen Weisselberg to jail in a tax fraud case that involved the Trump Organization and he find the organization more than a million dollars.

Witnesses, I'm using it in a broad sense because we're not sure who all will actually show up in court in this case.

But Michael Cohen, former Trump attorney who went to jail over many of the very same charges we're talking about now. He says Trump knew of these hush money payments from the beginning, knew all about it. And that's going to be pretty key to the prosecution case here. Stormy Daniels originally Stephanie Clifford, adult film actress,

she's the one who said she had this encounter with Trump, this affair or sexual tryst, and was paid to keep quiet about all of it.

And then, there is the defense. Joe Tacopina, he's lawyer for Donald Trump. He's defended Trump in another defamation case.

Todd Blanche previously represented Paul Manafort, a Trump insider who is you know went to prison for federal charges. He managed to keep it from becoming an echoed state charge.

And Susan Necheles worked on that tax fraud case in which Trump's CFO went off to jail.

Just some of the faces. There may be many, many more as this case moves forward over what could be a very long time, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Tom, thank you very much. Let's bring back my panel now.

Joey, let's talk -- well, all of us. Let's talk about these two attorneys who are on the Trump team and they are night and day it appears. So, Todd Blanche who's from this white-shoe law firm, prestigious law firm. And then there's Joe Tacopina, who's more of, I guess, street fighter, cable news fixture.

And today, we just saw it in stark relief. First, Todd Blanche came out and was talking to the press. And then Joe Tacopina kind of jumped in, like, let me handle this. So, here was that moment.


TODD BLANCHE, DONALD TRUMP LAWYER: There's nothing else to say except the district attorney. This office has existed for decades and decades. And you have -- you can find one if you'd like you, you'll never see a charge like this ever.

JOE TACOPINA, DONALD TRUMP LAWYER: You understand this -- you understand this as simple as this, a state prosecutor is prosecuting a federal election law violation that doesn't exist, according to federal election law officials. Simple as that that you can sum it all up like that.


CAMEROTA: He was like, yes, whatever you said, Todd, it's as simple as this. Joey, I just thought it was interesting to watch them both together.

JACKSON: Yes. And the new ad, of course, of the attorney just proceeding the court appearance itself, right, bringing him on.

So, I think, of course, you need a team, it takes a village, particularly in this case, where you have all of these various counts of this indictment.

You know, but I think the one thing they talked about was that there was some feeling that there was some discord, who's going to be the head dog, who's not going to do this, who's going to do that? And they seem to suggest today that they were united, they were united in the defense of Mr. Trump.

CAMEROTA: Here's that moment which was awkward. Here's that moment where they talked about that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of speculation about the unity among the defense attorneys.

TACOPINA: Look at this, look at us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that why you chose to do this?

SUSAN NECHELES, TRUMP LAWYER: To come out together? We chose to come on together. So we could speak with one voice, but there is no disunity here. That's gossip and it's nonsense.



CAMEROTA: Nothing says unity, like somebody patting my head and running his fingers through my hair (INAUDIBLE).

JACKSON: Optics are important, right? Optics are important. You know, I mean, ultimately, they're going to have to really now move to attacking the indictments, right, that before this, it was all about -- and it's still is to some degree is about the politics, the politics. And I think they're using this to say there's nothing to see here.

But now you have to move from the whole issue of a political prosecution to what does the indictment say? Is it legally sufficient? Can we challenge it appropriately? Can we dismiss it before there's an actual trial? And it'll take the team to do just that.


SHROFF: Yes, you know, I'm sold that they're working together so well, I think, you know, Tacopina loves the press. He was just this weekend saying that there's no reason to believe this judge is biased. And yet now we have Republicans going after this judge's daughter, and just, we have to know, it's incredibly dangerous. We know that in 2020, a Trump volunteer shot New Jersey Judge Esther Salas's son, and this type of rhetoric, this sort of posting somebody's picture for a mob to chase after is absolutely unacceptable. And I think that can't get lost.

HEYE: One concept that we've seen since Donald Trump took that escalator ride down, you know, just a few blocks from here is that his campaign, his administration, whether it's communications, legislative legal, certainly had two tracks always going on, there were the professionals, and there was the Addams Family. And what did we see today? We saw the professional standing next to

the Addams Family, and I'll leave it to everybody else to decide, you know, this probably better than I when you were in the White House, dealing with this over those past four years.

But this is a constant. So there's going to be drama within Trump world because Trump creates that own drama, and it's never going to go away.

HERNDON: I mean, that's how he makes decisions. It's kind of putting folks against each other to try to see what comes out on top. He makes decisions by watching television and kind of seeing who makes him feel most defended.

And so, you've had, to your point, even in the White House, when he was making policy decisions, and kind of dual track that's happening, I think that sees you play out here.

But I also think, to your point about his countenance in that courtroom, it has become clear that there needs to be some seriousness when it relates to these type of charges. And there has been real reporting about the escalation and it really weighing on him, personally.

And so, I think you have a kind of a figure who is torn between the personal kind of weight of what's happening here and the political reality that he is trying to weaponize, he was trying to use to help him get his ultimate goal, which is retribution, as he told us at CPAC, which is to use this to fuel his political campaign and make that way back to the White House.

And so, that personal weight and that political jet fuel are in conflict among this one person.

CAMEROTA: Another thing that former President Trump is trying to weaponize is the judge's family. He went after the judge's wife as I've said, and his daughter. And one of the thing, Joey, that he said is that the judge's daughter has worked for the Harris-Biden campaign. That's not exactly true. And of course, Donald Trump takes liberties with the facts.

So, she works for a digital consulting firm doing marketing, doing website things like that online digital stuff, and they work for Democratic leaders and politicians and they work for candidates and they did some work. This firm did some work for the Biden-Harris campaign.

So, what does that mean for the judge? Should the judge recuse himself because of that?

JACKSON: I don't think so at all. But what I do think is that going back to Donald Trump himself, and in the event, you're representing him, how do you control your client? And how do you pursue with defense consistent with what he believes to be appropriate even if legally, it's the best path? Will the client approve it? So, if a judge has indicated that we have to tamp down the rhetoric

and be careful what you say, and he doesn't listen to that, and you as an attorney will speak to your client and advise certain things, and he doesn't listen to that. I mean, what is he going to listen to?

So, I think it's going to be problematic for the lawyers as they move forward in strategizing, being a team, we are one, to really let their boss, right, the actual client give his blessing to how they --

CAMEROTA: I get it, (INAUDIBLE) a judge, despite what his daughter does can be --

JACKSON: The legal question, absolutely. The fact of the matter is, is that what your daughter does, what your son does, what your wife does, you know, should not disqualify you and in a general sense with respect to whether you could be fair, biased, or unbiased or impartial.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, Don Jr. has to know that by putting his daughters -- this judge's daughter's photo out on social media, that it's reckless at best.

SHROFF: Absolutely. Just like Trump knows putting a picture of Alvin Bragg with a baseball bat next to him is also going to incite something.

So, you know, this is obviously a blatant strategy that Republicans have adopted. And we're seeing more and more jump on this bandwagon.


CAMEROTA: As we've been talking about. It's not just the New York case, Donald Trump is facing the very real possibility of charges in Georgia and he got some unwelcome news today about the January 6th grand jury investigation. So, we're going to talk about all that next.


CAMEROTA: Donald Trump's arrest and arraignment in New York City today is only part of his legal trouble. The Special Counsel is still investigating January 6th, and those classified documents and prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia are still considering charges. Let's get a status report on all this with my panel.

OK, so today at appeals court ruled that some of Donald Trump's closest advisors, including Mark Meadows, former chief-of-staff will have to testify before the grand jury looking at January 6th. Doug, this sounds important. This sounds crucial.

HEYE: It is. The esteem (PH) counselor knows better than I do. When you try and go up that ladder, you try and go as wide as you can to encircle. And the name that always comes up is Mark Meadows. He's going to have to testify here probably in other cases as well.

And one thing you'll hear from folks who worked in the Trump White House is this isn't the Mark Meadows that I knew. Well, I can tell you, I was at dinner at the same table as Mark Meadows the day before he was sworn in as a member of Congress. This is precisely the Mark Meadows that I knew, I can tell you, I was at dinner at the same table as Mark Meadows the day before he was sworn in as a member of Congress. This is precisely the Mark Meadows that he's always been. This is no surprise.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But meaning what? Like, describe that those characteristics? What was he, the Mark Meadows you've always known?

HEYE: He's the guy who, as John Boehner very well described in his book, after he committed a cardinal sin in opposing the speaker on something, got down in a private meeting on his knees and begged for forgiveness.

He's tough and full of bravado in public. In private, not at all.

CAMEROTA: Interesting. OK, so how significant is this, Joey?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Very. You know why? Because it comes down to information, right? When you have a grand jury, a grand jury we know is not a trial jury, right? You just need a simple majority to vote out an indictment, but it's very significant. That's our process.

And in order for the grand jury to do that, yes, they get documents. Yes, they get text messages. Yes, they get all kinds of other data, but they also get people to speak with them, Alisyn.

And so, to the extent that you're not successful at blocking those people in speaking with them, they're going to have to go before the grand jury and speak about what they know with respect to this investigation.

And in the event that they were around Mr. Trump, which they were; in the event that they have special knowledge or information as a result of their company with Mr. Trump, they need to share that. And if that amounts to what the grand jury perceives to be a crime, that represents something else.

We saw it today. It's called an indictment, and that would could be very troubling and problematic. So it's big news.

CAMEROTA: Astead, we had Nick Akerman on last hour, former Watergate attorney, and he made some bold predictions here. He was basically saying that the Georgia prosecutors will be moving this month. They will be making a decision. They could be presenting charges this month.

So what's the latest reporting on this?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think that his timeline he laid out is also the same as what I heard.

And to that point, it's also the same thing that Trump supporters outside the courthouse today were saying. They were saying that they expect this just to be the first of certainly, Georgia coming next. Maybe another indictment after that. And they really see today as a turning point of what they think is an increased weaponization of victimhood on Donald Trump.

Now at the same point, that we should be honest about the very real legal question at the core here, which has put Trump increasingly out of favor with the majority of Americans. We should note that the majority of Americans do think he has committed serious -- you know, committed serious errors. Do think that he has disrespected the rule of law and such.

It is only that kind of short term of Republican primary folks who have really been able to really give him some support.

But I think that is something that might change, as we see these indictments increase in Georgia and other places.

CAMEROTA: Do you really think they're going to draw a distinction between, well, I didn't believe the Stormy Daniels thing, but I do believe the Georgia thing? Do you think that they're operating at that level? Or they just think that the deep state has come for Donald Trump, and it's all political persecution?

HERNDON: I think it's more of the lather, specifically with when we talk about the Republican electorate. And that's why I do disagree with some folks and think that the order does matter that, in putting this New York case first, which has a different kind of question, which has a different type of political value, that the narrative around this, which is particularly when people are not looking at the specific facts of the case.

So I definitely think that, for the majority of people, they are not making distinctions between those cases. But the increased pressure on Donald Trump the increased way people talk about the legal pressure he's under will affect kind of downstream.

But for most people, it is a -- it is a -- just a culmination of attacks that he's faced.

JACKSON: But it may not be first, the New York case, and let me say why. New York, we move a little slower --

CAMEROTA: Really? Usually?

JACKSON: -- than a lot of jurisdictions. We really do. There's a lot of people here. The dockets are really cluttered. You get longer adjournments.

Think about what we're talking about: going back to court in December on that case. In the interim period, a lot is going to happen. Like what?

Like we have the federal grand jury convening. We just spoke about that, to the issue of January 6th, to the issue of Mar-a-Lago. We have something happening in -- happening in Georgia, which seemingly preceded this, right? 2021, there was this investigation that was underway.

And so while the New York indictment dropped first, that would not be to suggest that some of these other things may catch up and surpass, based on scheduling, how things ultimately play out.

CAMEROTA: That's interesting, because we did hear a little bit about the schedule and that the trial for this one today, that he was arraigned for, wouldn't be for more than a year. I mean, right in the heart of election season.

KAIVAN SHROFF, SENIOR ADVISOR, THE INSTITUTE FOR EDUCATION: Yes, you know, I think zooming out here, what Alvin Bragg did today is so clever, because it's not just any more in the Stormy Daniels bucket. These cases are more related.

I think the thread is a consistent effort to undermine our Democratic electoral process. In Manhattan now, we have a cheating scheme, an election cheating scheme.

In Georgia, electing -- election interference. And Jan. 6, sort of election denial and an attempted coup.

So these cases are now sort of all in the same space. And I think as more and more comes out, it's going to reinforce each narrative. So that was important.


CAMEROTA: OK, thank you all very much.

Listen to this. Tennessee Republicans are moving to expel three Democratic state lawmakers for staging a protest calling for gun safety in the wake of mass shootings at that Nashville elementary school. Two of those lawmakers who are being threatened with expulsion are going to join us next.


CAMEROTA: Tonight, the Nashville city council paying tribute to police and the six victims of last week's school shooting.

Last week, three Tennessee Democratic lawmakers staged a protest to fight for more gun safety.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people, united, will never be divided! The people, united, will never be divided! The people, united, will never be divided!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people, united, will never be divided! The people, united, will never be divided! The people, united, will never be divided!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people, united, will never be divided! The people, united, will never be divided! The people, united, will never be divided!


CAMEROTA: Well, now, Tennessee Republicans are trying to expel those Democrats from their state legislature for participating in that protest. A vote on whether to expel the three Democrats is set for Thursday.

Joining me now are two of them: Tennessee state Representative Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson.


Representatives, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

Representative Johnson, why did you do that on the -- you know, the legislature floor, knowing that that broke the rules?

REP. GLORIA JOHNSON, TENNESSEE STATE LEGISLATURE: Well, because I taught school for 27 years. I taught in Colorado just after the Columbine shooting at a school where several of the kids who couldn't go back in the building at Columbine came to Dakota Ridge.

I taught at Central High School in Knoxville. We had a school shooting. We lost a student that day. I was there when the kids came running down the Hill to my classroom, screaming, crying, terrified, not even able to articulate what had happened before they ran to look for safety in my classroom. I'll never forget the look on those faces.

And I will stand up whenever I need to fight against gun violence.

CAMEROTA: Representative Pearson, here's the constitution, your state constitution, that says you cannot do something like that. "Article II, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution provides that 'Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.'"

So when you took to the floor of the legislature, did you know you were risking expulsion?

REP. JUSTIN PEARSON, TENNESSEE STATE LEGISLATOR: No I had no idea that what we were doing was going to risk expulsion in any way, shape or form myself, nor Representative Johnson, nor Representative Jones.

What we did know was that we needed to listen to the thousands of voices of Tennesseans who want to see action on gun control, who want to see the end of the epidemic of gun violence.

We're tired of going to funerals. We're tired of having children, having teachers, having parents, having grandparents and loved ones die from gun violence, when we know, as a state, we can do something to prevent it.

Because as a state, we have passed laws like permitless carry. We have laws that are in the works about lowering the age to carry a weapon that are making our state less safe.

And we need to do everything that we can to lift up the voices and the people who are asking for us to do something in this moment for change.

CAMEROTA: I mean, obviously, so many people in your state and around the country would support your intentions. People want gun violence to stop.

But what your Republican colleagues say is that -- well, I'll read it to you, "Representative Johnson and her colleagues shouted, pounded on the podium, led chants with citizens in the gallery, generally engaged in disorderly and disruptive conduct, including refusing to leave the well, sitting on the podium, utilizing a sign displaying a political message. Representative Pearson and Representative Jones used a bullhorn to amplify their protestations."

And so, given that it's broken the rule, Representative Johnson, what's your recourse? Well, I mean, they -- it sounds like they are going to vote to expel you.

JOHNSON: Well, you know, that's up to them. We broke a rule. We spoke without permission. You know, you can read all of those things. But let me tell you what actually happened.

What actually happened was we had been silenced that morning and not able to speak to the issue of the protesters, what their concerns were. We had listened to them. We had talked to them. They cried with us. And our colleagues walked in and wouldn't even look them in the eye.

We did not get to address -- a chance to address, to welcome them and honor them and talk about their issue.

And so what the reality is, we walked out on the floor between bills to speak, to acknowledge them and acknowledge their issue.

And when we walked out to speak on the microphone, the speaker cut the microphone. That was less than 20 minutes in, and the speaker called for a recess. So everything that happened after that was during a recess.

CAMEROTA: That's good to know. That's good context. We have some still photos that we're showing right now of what's happening, you say, during the recess.

So Representative Pearson, what's your plan?

PEARSON: We have to continue to elevate this issue. The reality is we're not being expelled because we broke a rule of House decorum. We broke no criminal law.

The reality is the last two members in modern history who were expelled was because they committed 22 sexual assault offenses, and they had committed bribery; actions that are unconscionable for a member of the state legislature to do. What we did was speak up against the NRA. What we did was speak up for

the thousands of people in our district who want to see an end to gun violence and the proliferation of weapons that are happening in our communities. What we did was speak up for the six people who died at the Covenant School mass shooting in Nashville and to reprimand the punishment, the expulsion that the Tennessee Republican Party are pushing forward in an effort to expel us.

It's only an attempt to silence us and to silence the thousands of people in Tennessee who want to see commonsense gun legislation like red flag laws and the like.


CAMEROTA: Representatives Johnson and Pearson, we'll be watching what happens this week. Thank you so much for your time and taking the time to give us your perspective.

PEARSON: Thank you so much. We'll keep fighting.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So if protests are not working to stop school shootings and gun violence, what actually does work? Our panel has some ideas, next.



CAMEROTA: So you just heard those three -- those two Democratic state reps in Tennessee. They might be expelled, along with a colleague, from their legislature for demonstrating for gun safety on the House floor.

If protesting is not the answer to stopping gun violence, what is? My panel is back now.

OK, so as you all know for -- historically, gun manufacturers cannot be sued. They have some sort of special immunity and protection. But that is changing a little bit. Kaivan, tell us about that.

SHROFF: Absolutely. So there is this federal law, PLCAA, that does prevent us from suing the gun industry to hold them accountable the same way big tobacco was held accountable and now the opioid industry.

But some states like New York and others have passed new laws to try to circumvent PLCAA and create these additional pathways towards accountability.

CAMEROTA: And Sandy -- the Sandy Hook parents found a loophole after that hideous shooting, and they were able to sue Remington. Successfully.

SHROFF: Yes. So I think the idea behind much of this litigation is just use suppliers, manufacturers and distributors to go after as many members of the industry as possible. CAMEROTA: Joey, I just feel like, look, every week we have a conversation here, because there's some horrible mass shooting or school shooting. We talk about what's the solution, what's the solution? We haven't been able to count on Capitol Hill, as we know, to do anything.

And so hit him where it hurts, in the pocketbook, and it seems like if protesting isn't the answer, and Capitol Hill isn't going to help, maybe it is lawsuits.

JACKSON: You know, I think it is because of the fact that, as you mentioned, lawsuits hit you where it hurts, right? It's about economic and it's about the economics of it. And so when you hit people there, it's very telling.

You know, but it's crazy, Alisyn, because it's like it's almost like people are desensitized to this. Every day, you're turning on a TV and you're seeing something happening, which is awful.

And then it's just OK. It happens again and again. And then you interview members off Congress, right, and they say, Well, nothing to see here. We've done as much as we can do. We've gone as much as we can go.

So I think maybe we do look to, right, circumvent these laws that give immunities to these gun manufacturers, such that we can get to the heart of the matter.

I get weapons. I get guns, but do you really need these, you know, massive.

CAMEROTA: Weapons of war?

JACKSON: It's crazy. Weapons of war. It's obnoxious.

CAMEROTA: There's another way to skin this cat, and that is to sue the school district. And so the teacher who was shot recently in January by a 6-year-old who brought a gun to school is suing the school district.

I mean, a school district doesn't have as much money as a gun manufacturer. But maybe this is just the wave of the future of how to do it.

HEYE: And we know that the -- that the school knew that there was a problem with that -- with that specific student.

And so often, you talk about the conversations we have every time there's a shooting. The problem is, Alisyn, the conversation is always the same. We need to ban assault weapons. We can't do anything. So people aren't talking to each other. It's not a conversation. They're talking at each other.

And I actually think we can find a good -- good example in Tennessee, regardless of what we've seen with the speaker, and they violated the rules. They should be punished. The punishment shouldn't necessarily include expulsion; doesn't need to. Censure them, move on.

Meanwhile, former governors Bredesen and Haslam in Tennessee, they write op-eds together about what are commonsense solutions that Republicans and Democrats can talk about. They do podcasts together.

Tennessee is an example of what's right in our politics and what's wrong in it. We should look at what's right.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting -- Astead.

HERNDON: Yes, I mean, I think that this is all interesting, but I think it's all pre -- It supposes a political point, which is for a lot of these states, the reason there is -- folks are turning to the legal question is because the political process is broken.

And part -- a lot of that reason is because these state legislatures are hyper-gerrymandered. And so the lawmakers in those states are insulated from responding to public opinion.

In places like Tennessee, in places like Wisconsin, in places where we see the these -- these issues really pop up, the protests cannot have the same level of impact, because the lawmakers and decision makers have already written maps that have insulated them from having to care about a lot of those people.

And so when we think about what goes -- what has to happen going forward, we also just can't take as a fact the fact that we have maps, particularly in state legislatures, that allow these lawmakers to not even hear public opinion.

CAMEROTA: Their constituents.

HERNDON: And so I -- so I think that's totally the reason why we see these lawsuits becoming the avenue of choice for so many of these folks, is because if you're looking politically, it is a dead end.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely and, as Doug was saying, every time one of these things happens, we have a circular conversation about what do we do? What do we do now? Now is not the time to talk about what to do. We're still grieving the, you know, victims.

And then --

JACKSON: Another story happens.

CAMEROTA: Another story happens. We never have the time. We never have time for the problem solving, if you go by that rule of thumb.

And so I just find it interesting that people don't want to feel helpless and hopeless anymore. And so they're trying different avenues.

SHROFF: Yes, I think one step that is so important and really tangible, especially if you're a law student right now, is we are going to pursue this industry accountability avenue. But there actually aren't enough gun violence prevention litigators. There's not a supply of those people that can bring those cases. And we haven't seen law schools -- I'm a recent law school graduate. They don't have a clinic on gun violence prevention, which is a huge problem when you consider that this is an issue that Gen Z, now of law school age, is super passionate about.

And so we need to give them the resources to lead the -- lead this change that they have absolutely been leading for past years. Let them learn, you know, the tools. There's a whole bunch of tools that you can learn to hold this industry to account.


JACKSON: But where have we gone as a society when we start expelling people because they want to exercise their right to protest? It's not -- I mean, censure, right? That would be nice, to censure them.

No, no. You've got to leave this legislature now, because you're protesting. That's ridiculous.

HERNDON: To that point, in the Wisconsin election that just happened, the Republicans have pre-promised to look at expelling and impeaching the Democrat who was just -- who was just elected.

This is a level of insulation that these lawmakers have to act with impunity, irrespective of public opinion.

CAMEROTA: And I was just, as you heard me pointing out to them, at the national level, we hear from Republican leaders like Kevin McCarthy, It's the voters will. We can't do anything about expelling a problematic, you know, member like George Santos, because it's the -- it would be against what the voters have to say.

But obviously, at the state level, they don't feel that same way.

HERNDON: They'll pick and choose when it -- when it matches their political purposes.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much. Great to have you all here tonight. Really appreciate it.

All right. Keep it right here on CNN. The indictment coverage continues tomorrow on CNN THIS MORNING. That begins at 5 a.m. Eastern. The team will have new insight from inside Trump world, plus the reporter whose Pulitzer-Prize-winning work helped trigger the investigation is going to join them live.

Thanks so much for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.