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Investigation Continues On "Unhinged" Oval Office Meeting; Trump Aide Pleads Not Guilty; Freedom Caucus Votes To Remove Greene; Casey DeSantis Launches "Mamas For DeSantis." Where Is The Leader Of The Wagner Group?; Twitter Threatens To Sue Meta Over Threads App; CNN Original Series Presents "See It Loud." Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired July 06, 2023 - 23:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Other artists are singing their swan song this year, including Aerosmith, Elton John, Kenny Loggins, Gladys Knight, Dead and Company, Foreigner, and Kiss. That's a lot of legends all in one year. So, you better go get your ticket now.

Thank you for joining me tonight. I'm Abby Phillip. CNN TONIGHT continues right now with my friend, Alisyn Camerota. I know you'll be first in line.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Well, yes, I did see the Eagles about two or three years ago. They were fantastic. I highly recommended it. But I also want to say this, I also saw the Rolling Stones' farewell tour in 1981. So, I don't necessarily believe it --


CAMEROTA: -- when a band says it's their farewell tour.

PHILLIP: That's true. That's true. But why take the chance?

CAMEROTA: Exactly.

PHILLIP: Get your ticket.

CAMEROTA: Yes. You and I are going to Kiss this summer. Exactly. All right, Abby, thank you very much. Good evening, everyone. Thanks. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

We have exclusive CNN reporting. Sources say that Jack Smith's investigators are asking witnesses about that angry and -- quote -- "unhinged Oval Office meeting" in which President Trump's team, a few weeks after he lost the election, pitched a plan to have the military seize voting machines and have President Trump invoke martial law. More of that reporting in a moment.

Plus, Donald Trump's personal aide, Walt Nauta, who is charged with helping the former president hide classified documents and lying about it, just pleaded not guilty. He is now Donald Trump's codefendant. And Donald Trump's political pack is paying Nauta's legal fees. So, how will that all work at trial? My panel has thoughts.

And how Donald Trump's Republican rivals are making their cases tonight. Here's what Chris Christie told Jake Tapper about Donald Trump's woes.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: He could not and still cannot to this day deal with the fact that he's the only person outside of the state of Delaware to ever lose to Joe Biden. And he wants to pretend he is still president. He takes these boxes with him. He flies them up. They're in New Jersey now, is he still have them. They would be in New Jersey because they go on summer vacation with him. I mean, he wanted to continue to pretend he was president and show these things to people and say, look what I still have, look what I still know.


CAMEROTA: Okay, let's get right to our CNN exclusive, Jack Smith's investigators questioning witnesses about that -- quote -- "unhinged Oval Office meeting" in the final days of Donald Trump's presidency. Our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is here with that. So, Evan, why are prosecutors zeroing in on that meeting?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, you will remember that that is -- unhinged is one word for it. Bonkers is another word for it. It was mid-December and it was well after the fact -- well after the former president and his team realized that they were losing, that the time was up, and they had one last plan, a harebrained plan, to try to preserve Donald Trump's time in office.

And so, they convened this meeting with a number of people. You had Sidney Powell, who was one of his legal advisers at the time, Patrick Byrne, former CEO of, Michael Flynn, fired national security advisor.

They came up with a number of ideas. One of them was to seize voting machines in some of these key states. Another one was to declare martial law. Another one was to put Sidney Powell in as a special counsel to investigate some of these claims of voter fraud that they knew were already disproven.

And so, that's what this meeting was about. And we know that Jack Smith's investigators have asked a number of witnesses about this months ago. And more recently, this -- this meeting again became the subject of some of the witness testimony, including from Rudy Giuliani just a couple of weeks ago when he went in for consecutive days of testimony.

Here's the January 6th Committee taking testimony from a number of key witnesses who were privy to what happened at that unhinged bonkers meeting. Here you go.


PAT CIPOLLONE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: We are pushing back and we're asking one simple question. As a general matter, where is the evidence?

SIDNEY POWELL, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: I mean, if it had been me sitting in his chair, I would've fired all of them that night and have them escorted out of the building.

ERIC HERSCHMANN, FORMER DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think that it got to the point where the screaming was completely, completely out there. I mean, you've got people walking. It was late at night. It had been a long day. And what they were proposing, I thought, was nuts.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I'm going to categorically describe it as you guys are not tough enough, or maybe I put in another way, you are a bunch of (INAUDIBLE). Excuse the expression. But that -- I'm almost certain the word was used.


PEREZ: And that plan, obviously, ended up being thwarted by some of the White House advisers, some of the White House legal team, that knew some of the stuff was just wrong and also illegal perhaps.


And so, we now know, Alisyn, that, you know, this is something that Jack Smith's investigators have returned to. We know that they are near the end of this investigation and this is again why Kaitlan Collins and some of our team have heard about witnesses being asked these very questions. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Okay. So, Evan, also today, Trump's body man, meaning one of his personal aides, Walt Nauta, pleaded not guilty. So, what's next in this legal fight?

PEREZ: Yeah. So, he finally was able to enter this not guilty plea. It took about two minutes in court. He has tried a couple of times, but he got -- he had problems getting a lawyer in Florida who is practicing in Florida to represent him. So now we know that he and his codefendant, the former president, are headed to trial.

And, you know, obviously, the pressure has been on Nauta to try to flip on the former president. We don't expect that to happen anytime soon, especially as -- because you noted at the top there that Donald Trump's political committee is paying his legal fees.

And so, now we see what -- where -- where this trial goes, whether we have a trial in December as the Justice Department has proposed or whether it might happen sooner or even later, which is something obviously that perhaps might come to the advantage of the former president. Of course, as you know, Nauta is seen a lot of times in the company of Donald Trump, especially when he is out doing campaign stops, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. Evan Perez, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

PEREZ: Sure.

CAMEROTA: Let's bring in our panel. Here with me tonight, we have Paul Krieger, former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, James Surowiecki, writer for "The Atlantic" and "Fast Company," CNN political commentator Ashley Allison, and senior political commentator Scott Jennings. Great have all of you here tonight.

Okay, so, Paul, seizing voting machines, invoking martial law, wanting Sidney Powell to be special counsel to investigate, you know, fake fraud. Obviously, none of this is how a democracy works. However, what is the crime? What is the crime the prosecutors are looking at with this unhinged meeting?

PAUL KRIEGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SDNY: I don't know exactly what it is but I assume it is obstructing the election, obstructing a legitimate election, and obstructing the results of the election being carried out.

That meeting is obviously a crucial meeting where you have the former president and his advisers contemplating ways to, in fact, do the obstruction of the election. So, I am not surprised that Jack Smith and his team are focused on that. Um --

CAMEROTA: Yeah. I mean, what I was struck by, um, Ashley, when -- when Evan was talking, can you imagine if the guardrails didn't hold? I mean, they were yelling at each other, Trump's team really wanted to do these things, and the White House lawyers had to say that is not how democracy -- I don't know exactly what they said --


CAMEROTA: -- but somehow, they had to talk them out of these things.

ALLISON: Right. That is why folks continuously say that our democracy is so fragile.

And leading up to the election when Trump was showing his cards a bit, saying that he was questioning the legitimacy of the election before it even happen, people were saying, wait a minute, folks, we need to make sure that the right people are in place not just at the federal level in the Oval Office but those working the elections, those frontline election workers who eventually got death threats put on them. They testified in front of the January 6th Committee.

Thank goodness the guardrails held this time. You know, he still and many people in this field still are not saying that the election results of 2020 are real. And so, we need to make sure we continue to be vigilant to protect our democracy.

CAMEROTA: I mean -- and Donald Trump is running again, Scott, obviously.


CAMEROTA: And who knows who the people around him would be this time.

JENNINGS: It will be Pat Cipollone who is obviously critical in keeping things, you know, on the rails there at the end of the Trump presidency. The thing about this meeting that we are reporting on tonight, I think they may be asking is, what happened between the end of that meeting and when Trump issued the tweet, January 6th, it will be wild?

Because all these things you mentioned, the seizing of the machines, those things didn't happen. But what did happen was the big rally on January 6th and the storming of the Capitol. And he, obviously, tweeted about it in advance. So, I am wondering if that is part of the questioning. Did you hear any planning for what might happen on January 6th in the midst of these other things that we know about?

CAMEROTA: That's a great point, James, because it was just a few hours after that meeting --


CAMEROTA: -- that Donald Trump tweeted that out.

SUROWIECKI: Exactly. I mean, the other thing that's interesting about that meeting is that it was not scheduled. So, Powell and Flynn and Patrick Byrne, who there was no reason for Patrick Byrne to be there, he is a random CEO basically, they walked in. And Eric Herschmann, who was one of Trump's advisers, saw them. He was like, what? And then followed them in. And when he heard what Powell was saying, which was, you know, all the stuff she had been saying on Fox and elsewhere, he called Cipollone and said, you have to get down here. And that's when it all kind of erupted.

So, you know, Trump -- we know from that meeting that Trump kept being like I don't know if this is right but they were giving me -- they were giving him something that Herschmann and Cipollone were saying, you can't do this. And so, you understand, you know, that is probably what Powell and Flynn were hoping for.


And even Giuliani, you heard in that quote, it is all about toughness, what do you want to do?

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Paul, let's talk about the Walt Nauta thing because now he and Donald Trump, his boss, are codefendants and they may be tried at the same time at a trial. But Donald Trump is paying for his legal fees. And so how is Walt Nauta not beholden, how will he be able to tell the truth freely and not be beholden to Donald Trump throughout this trial?

KRIEGER: Well, I think it's going to be challenging not just because his legal fees are being paid --

CAMEROTA: And it's by Trump's political pact, let me be clear.


CAMEROTA: By Donald Trump.

KRIEGER: Right. And Walt Nauta's lawyers, who he has now retained today, I assume in their engagement with Walt Nauta, are promising Walt Nauta that their advice to him will not be influenced by the fact that their legal fees are being paid by Trump's pact. But it is easier said than done and Walt Nauta's ticket here, his future, is very hinged to Trump's wagon.

So, it is going to be challenging, I think, for a variety of reasons for him to get out from under Trump's shadow, even though one of his likely best defenses is, I didn't know what I was doing was wrong, I was just following the instructions of my boss.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but that's where it gets complicated, Ashley --


CAMEROTA: -- because he has a choice to make. He can even say, I was just following instructions, in which case he throws Donald Trump under the bus, or he has to say, I did this myself, I decided to lie, that's one of the things he is charged with, to investigators, and move boxes around on my own accord, in which case he goes to prison, theoretically.

ALLISON: Well, even if, in the moment, he did not know it was wrong, he has now had months, years at this point, to say, I did know it was wrong and I am not going to stand by Donald Trump's side. Instead, he is letting the person who is really the ringleader of this pay for his legal bills, which tells me he is a devout believer of Donald Trump, he is not going to turn his back.

I think the unfortunate thing is that everyone in our legal system deserves representation. You hope, though, that that representation has your best interests at heart. And in this case, we just don't know the fact. We don't know that is the case because of who is paying for his legal bills.

SUROWIECKI: You know, Trumpists, other people who worked with Trump have been thrown under the bus. Michael Cohen, Allen Weisselberg, who was the accountant. But they were kind of in on it. I don't know.

When I think about Nauta, I think about that line from "The Great Gatsby" where they're talking about Tom and Daisy Buchanan and they say like they smashed up people and things and creatures and then retreated back into their money and let other people clean up the mess they made.

And I feel like Walt Nauta, Walt Nauta, whatever he thinks now, he is kind of just getting thrown under the bus, basically. And --

CAMEROTA: He doesn't have to be. JENNINGS: Isn't it likely that's what a jury might think? That you have this guy, military veteran, working for the president or ex- president of the United States at this point, asked to move a few boxes. I mean, In Fort Pierce, I mean, is it likely that at least one member of a jury is going to say, I don't feel like sending Nauta to jail over what anyone else might have done?

SUROWIECKI: I think the big problem for him is probably the lying to the FBI, which -- at least according to the indictment he did. Now, there may be ways to get around that, say, I didn't really understand the question or I thought (INAUDIBLE).

That seems to me like (INAUDIBLE) because I do think even the ignorance, he just told me to move the boxes, I moved the boxes, I can see that being a defense that would work. Lying to federal officials is always like --

KRIEGER: I totally agree with that, especially since it is contradicted directly by his own text messages.

CAMEROTA: You're saying that's what he'll get in trouble for?

KRIEGER: It's pretty hard to wiggle out of the lying to the FBI on sort of straightforward questions where your messages are directly contradictory.

JENNINGS: I'll tell you one way out of it.

CAMEROTA: Quickly.

JENNINGS: Donald Trump wins the election.


JENNINGS: And ultimately, I don't know when this trial is going to take place, but the ultimate legal defense for both of them is win the election.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

JENNINGS: That's it.

CAMEROTA: And then Donald Trump can also pardon him, et cetera.

ALLISON: That's not a legal defense.


JENNINGS: It's a personal defense. CAMEROTA: Thank you.

ALLISON: That's a political strategy.


That's a political strategy. That's not a legal defense. CAMEROTA: Great point.

ALLISON: If you know you broke the law and you have the ability to say, I want to take responsibility for it, you do it.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Thank you, friends, very much. All right, was it something she said? Why Marjorie Taylor Greene is reportedly getting booted out of the right-wing Freedom Caucus. That is next.




CAMEROTA: Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has been voted out of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus. Maryland Congressman Andy Harris tells CNN they voted to boot her at the end of June. Remember, this is the congresswoman who has cozied up to white nationalists. She is questioned whether 9/11 really happened that way. She has blamed wildfires on Jewish space lasers. But, according to Harris, the breaking point for the Freedom Caucus was when she called fellow Republican Lauren Boebert a little "B" word.

CNN political analyst Coleman Hughes joins the conversation now along with James Surowiecki, Ashley Allison, and Scott Jennings. Okay, Coleman, it's good to know they have standards.


CAMEROTA: I guess that was finally the breaking point. Why that?

Jewish space lasers, reasonable. Calling someone the "B" word, totally beyond the pale.

CAMEROTA: I mean, explain it. How -- why is this the straw that broke the camel's back?

HUGHES: Look, we like to think that our representatives are in D.C., you know, pondering political philosophy and debating in a high-minded way based on the principles of this great country. The reality may be that it is just like the high school cafeteria all over again and the machinations of the Congress obey the rules of basically high school. And that is a very sad thing to contemplate, but I think that is what we are seeing here.

CAMEROTA: Particularly, James, this fight. This felt very high school cafeteria.

SUROWIECKI: It did feel very high school cafeteria. I mean, there is obviously another back story here, which is that a lot of members of the House Freedom Caucus think that Marjorie Taylor Greene has been too cozy with Kevin McCarthy and has been -- the idea that Marjorie Taylor Greene is not right-wing enough for you is a little bit peculiar, I think.

CAMEROTA: So, she is too cozy with Kevin McCarthy but they didn't mind when she went and spoke at a white nationalist conference last year?

SUROWIECKI: No, no, no.


It is definitely much worse to actually be -- I mean, it is not even that Kevin McCarthy is a moderate but I think that the House Freedom Caucus has been built on the idea of kind of -- they basically are going to remain tightly knit and that gives them their power. So, if they feel as if Marjorie Taylor Greene is sort of moving closer toward McCarthy, I think that weaken -- they feel like that weakens, and I think that is part of it.

CAMEROTA: Was that the nail in the coffin, Scott?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean, her power at the moment is derived from the speaker. I mean, he has elevated her. She has become a key ally of his. The House Freedom Caucus does not exactly exist to support leadership and the establishment and to govern and pass bills and get things done. She has become part of that, which is an interesting evolution for a firebrand like her.

So, I am guessing that they did not like that, this back and forth with Boebert. It is an interesting cover story. I just -- given all -- I mean, the House Freedom Caucus sort of exists to torment the people and the rest of the Republican Party.

So, to be punished for a short conversation strikes me as a bit of a cover story. I think her evolution and movement towards house leadership, my guess, probably had more to do with it.

CAMEROTA: Thoughts?

ALLISON: Okay, first, I think you are giving high school cafeterias a bad rap right now --


-- compared to how the Freedom Caucus behaves sometimes on the House floor. Second, I think the House Freedom Caucus is trying to torment everyone who is not a part of their small caucus, outside of even Republicans.

I think that Scott's point is fair, though, in terms of the she is aligning herself with Kevin McCarthy right now. But let us not forget, she is still extremely close to Donald Trump. If Kevin McCarthy becomes unpopular, she will align herself -- they might not let her back into the caucus but will still allow herself with votes to boot Kevin McCarthy if that ultimately what the person who she truly follows, Donald Trump, says.

So, I mean, I thought it was great when Democrats had the House and kicked her off committees because of some of her behaviors. Those are the standards that I think we should be holding people to. I also don't think that you should be calling people out of their names on the House floor or in general in life. So, applauding, I suppose, on that small standard from the Freedom Caucus in this moment.

JENNINGS: Wait, you are for something?


JENNINGS: The Freedom Caucus did?


JENNINGS: See, I knew it.


CAMEROTA: All right, let's move on to Ron DeSantis and where he stands in the republican primary right now. So, he has raised to $20 million in the second quarter, which is, of course, impressive. And his wife, Casey, is out with a campaign push called "Mamas for DeSantis," and she has put out this ad of what her husband stands for. Let's watch a piece of that.


CASEY DESANTIS, WIFE OF RON DESANTIS (voice-over): He will do for America what he did for us. Schools, open. Parents' rights, defended. School choice, universal. Critical race theory, prohibited. DEI, stopped. Child mutilation, illegal. Girls' sports, saved. Communities, protected. Our economy, growing. And freedom, guaranteed.


CAMEROTA: Okay. James? Child mutilation, illegal? It's illegal everywhere, by the way.


CAMEROTA: I mean, obviously, they're referring to reassignment (INAUDIBLE), but it was fact checked by PolitiFact that actually, the governor's office could not provide PolitiFact any examples of this happening to a child.

SUROWIECKI: Yeah. I actually think that ad was, relatively speaking, well done. But the part that you just showed, we just showed, was actually the sort of more positive side. It sounds strange to say but that was a part of what DeSantis is accomplishing.

The first half of the ad is very bleak, kind of ponderous like things are going to hell or we are going to hell. And that, I think, has been kind of symptomatic of the problem, I think, DeSantis's campaign has had, which has been -- it is like -- been incredibly rage-filled and angry and kind of bitter.

The second half of the ad, I think, is kind of pointing towards a direction that maybe DeSantis might go. The other thing, I think, is if you watch the end of that ad when Casey DeSantis is on, she is much better on camera than Ron DeSantis is. She's just more natural and just seems, you know, kind of much more winning.

The last thing I will say is, I think the "mamas" thing is just kind of cringy. It is sort of off of the Sarah Palin mama bear stuff and it just feels like -- it just feels kind of cheesy. Casey DeSantis does not really seem like a mama exactly, but I get where they're trying to go with this, basically.

CAMEROTA: Coleman?

HUGHES: I can see how it would be cringy to some, but I can also -- if I try to put myself in the shoes of a mother that is upset about the fact that she had to mask her child pointlessly, upset about the fact that her child was not able to go to school for a lot longer than they should have been, upset about the fact that there are some schools where a teacher will say that if your child starts identifying as a different gender, I have no responsibility to tell you, as the parent.


If I'm a parent that is upset about these kinds of issues, which are legitimate, I see that ad and that actually activates the mama bear or papa bear in me, so to speak. So, I think that this angle may work for him.


ALLISON: I mean, many campaigns have tag lines for constituency organizing. It is what I have really done my career on doing. I think that Casey DeSantis and Ron DeSantis are going to a specific component of their base. White women in their party who did not vote for Hillary Clinton, some came back and voted for Joe Biden saying, come back over here, you want to be on our team.

The difference is though that that might work and a republican primary, but when you get into a general election, there are a lot more mothers out there that want to have bodily autonomy over themselves and their daughters, that want their children to be able to identify however they may want to, that actually do care about COVID protocols and safety and appreciate people taking precautions.

I understand that it is a political tactic. I think it is short-lived and won't span if he is able to make it out of the primary.

CAMEROTA: Ten seconds, Scott.

JENNINGS: Yeah, Casey DeSantis is an incredibly effective campaigner, very good on camera, growing constituency in the Republican Party. These moms who are really upset about what has gone on in the schools on a number of fronts, I think it is going to be a good tactic for him.

CAMEROTA: Thank you all very much. All right, now, where is Yevgeny Prigozhin? CNN's Matthew Chance met with Belarus's president and asked him just that. We'll hear it, next.




CAMEROTA: After the short failed coup by Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, there was a lot of speculation over his whereabouts. Some reports said he had been vanished to Belarus. Well, today, CNN's Matthew Chance asked the Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, where is Yevgeny Prigozhin? Matthew Chance is here to tell us more. Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, we were invited here to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to meet with Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of the country and a man who has been a pivotal figure in the dramatic events unfolding in this region over the past couple of weeks.

He intervened during the armed insurgency in Russia last month and offered the Wagner mercenaries a deal to come to Belarus and to drop their armed rebellion. They agreed to do that. The uprising dissipated.

So, when I spoke to him today, all any of us wanted to talk about was what had become of Wagner, were they here, what was actually happening on the ground here in Belarus. Take a listen to what Alexander Lukashenko had to say.


ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, PRESIDENT OF BELARUS (through translator): As far as I'm informed, as of this morning, the Wagner fighters are now stationed at their regular camps where they go for rotation to rest and recover from the frontlines. In terms of Yevgeny Prigozhin, he is in St. Petersburg. Maybe this morning, he will travel to Moscow or elsewhere. But he is not on the territory of Belarus now.


CHANCE: There you have it, the revelation that Yevgeny Prigozhin is not actually here in Belarus, which is where we were told he had arrived in exile, taking that deal, nor any of his Wagner soldiers so far.

Alexander Lukashenko made a point, though, of saying he did not know what would come next, he did not know what is going to happen to Prigozhin, but he said he was certain that Prigozhin would not be killed by Putin. Putin, in his words, would not do him in.

But, I can tell you, it is extraordinary to hear the president of the neighboring country of Belarus actually raise it as a possibility that the Kremlin could assassinate the Wagner leader. It is certainly not good news for Prigozhin, who is now, we think, inside Russia. Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Extraordinary, Matthew. Thank you very much for that reporting. Let's bring in CNN national security analyst Steve Hall and Max Boot, columnist for "The Washington Post" and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Gentlemen, thank you for being here.

Steve, are you as confident as Lukashenko is that Prigozhin will -- has not been killed by Putin or will not be?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, I don't share his confidence, I am afraid. You know, what is clear is that the messiness that this has caused for Putin, that perhaps it is not the easy killing that he thought he might be able to do, just assassinating him like he has done with so many other people inside and outside of Russia.

But that doesn't rule out the possibility that he might take a more, well-worn path, the path of Navalny and previously (INAUDIBLE), another fallen oligarch who essentially -- both of them, you know, served long prison sentences. We don't know whether Navalny will ever get out. We didn't really know whether (INAUDIBLE) will get out, too.

A lot of times, a prison sentence in Moscow can be the same as a death sentence. So, either short term or long term, I'm still not particularly hopeful for Mr. Prigozhin.

CAMEROTA: Max, what is the status of the Wagner troops? Because you just heard Lukashenko there, said that they were back at their regular camps, but didn't Putin ordered them to join the Russian army or disband or go home?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, SENIOR FELLOW AT COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Those are great questions, Alisyn, to which I have very few good answers. I am reminded about what Churchill said about Russia being a riddle wrapped inside of a mystery in a larger enigma.


It's very hard to know exactly what is going on here, but certainly one can assume that Putin is maybe having second thoughts about disbanding the Wagner Group because it is so useful to him, both in protecting power in the Middle East and Africa, but also in fighting on the frontlines in Ukraine where the Wagner Group has been one of the most effective units in the Russian army.

But clearly, what is going on here, I think, is another signal or weakness on Putin's part. The fact that Wagner Group could march within 120 miles of Moscow, could spark an armed rebellion, and their leader is still running around a free man, apparently, collecting money that was confiscated from him by the Russian State, that is not a sign of a dictator who has complete control of Russian society.

It is a sign of dictator who perhaps feels that he has to make deals with other power centers within Russia and perhaps does not feel that he can actually lock up Prigozhin, at least not yet.

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, I want you to watch what was playing on Russian TV today. So, there are these videos that the state TV is putting out. This is, reportedly, a raid of Prigozhin's house. So, they -- the Russian broadcasters, at least, were describing this as -- quote -- "scandalous," what they found in there.

And you can see in some of the videos, you can see that they found cash, U.S. dollars, they found weapons, they found passports, they found wigs. In this one, you can see all sorts of different colored wigs in Prigozhin's closet there. They found stuffed alligators that you might be able to see on the right side there. There were all sorts of stuff in his apartment.

Steve, why is Russian State TV putting this out?

HALL: Well, let me start by saying that Max is absolutely right, there are way more questions here than there are answers. But again, what this appears to be is, again, going down that road of sort of beginning to build a public case legally. Of course, that is kind of weird because in Moscow and Russia, there is no rule of law. But they are building a public case against him with regard to criminality and corruption.

But here's the problem. The problem is that Putin was on television not too many days ago saying, by the way, all that Wagner stuff that you heard about, they are paid by the state. We are the ones who fund them. Putin said this publicly to all Russians who happened to be watching television at that time.

So, the Russians already know that if there is any corruption, all the money that they find, all the stuff they found in his apartment, if you put two and two together, it is from the Kremlin.

So, how they are going to square the circle and just kind of hope that? I guess the propaganda works. It is often times doesn't Russia. I think that they are just starting to build a case against him here for the Russian public because they are concerned about how the public is going to react. He might have more popularity than Putin actually thinks.

CAMEROTA: The messaging is off, Max?

BOOT: I think it is a very mixed bag because on the one hand, Putin has called Prigozhin a traitor, said he was on armed rebellion. There is a messaging on Russian TV that suggests that Prigozhin is corrupt and to discredit him. But, again, at the same time, he is a free man. Apparently, from reports I have seen, he actually has been able to collect some of the articles and money that was confiscated from his apartment.

So, I think there is perhaps -- what we are perhaps seeing, Alisyn, is ambivalence on the part of the Kremlin about what to do with Prigozhin because, on the one hand, he is a pain for Putin, but on the other hand, he is also a very useful thug for Putin. We can speculate that, perhaps, Putin does not know exactly the best way to deal with him.

But, again, I want to stress that this is all speculation. We do not really know what is going on behind the scenes. And clearly, there is a lot of hidden deal-making going on that we can only guess that.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. It is pretty riveting to watch, even though we do not know exactly what is happening in there. Steve, Max, thank you both very much.

From fistfight to legal fight, Elon Musk is threatening to sue Mark Zuckerberg. Is Threads a competitor or a copycat? That is next.




CAMEROTA: The cage match between tech billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg is heating up. Musk's Twitter threatening to sue Zuckerberg's company, Meta, accusing the company of trade secret theft over the launch of Meta's new social media app called Threads. Threads launched yesterday and already reported 30 million user sign ups. And as of tonight, it's the number one free app in the Apple app store.

Joining me to discuss is Nick Thompson, CEO of "The Atlantic" and former "Wired" editor-in-chief. Nick, great to see you. So, is Threats better than Twitter? Hold on. Hold on. Can we not hear Nick? Oh, shoot. Can you guys -- hey, Nick.


CAMEROTA: Perfect.

THOMPSON: Now, they have unmuted. The answer, it all depends on whether you're able to find your interest and the things that you like. That is what makes a social network viable. Threads is a slightly cleaner, slightly simpler version of Twitter, but it really depends on who you follow and whether you follow the right people.

CAMEROTA: Okay. That is very interesting because Twitter's lawyers called Threats a copycat app, and they say that meta has -- quote -- "engaged in systematic, willful, and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter's trade secrets and other intellectual properties." And when you look at it, I mean, you're right, like Threads does look very similar to Twitter. So, do they have a good case?

THOMPSON: We're going to need to know a lot more than what is in that letter. Right? Threads does not look like Twitter. Twitter also looked a lot like Newsfeed.


And in fact, Threads is taking most of its infrastructure from Instagram. So, we don't know exactly how much Threads copied from Twitter. Trade secret law is pretty complicated. You have to be able to show that there was some information that Twitter tried to keep hidden. But then Threads somehow able to (INAUDIBLE), and then they kind of went off and did it secretly. That is how those cases normally work.

Twitter's recommendation algorithm is an open source. Twitter's main features are fairly obvious and used by lots of apps. So, we are going to need to know a lot more before we know if there is a legal case for Twitter here.

CAMEROTA: And Nick, what about Zuckerberg posting that he believes that Threass will be a friendlier public space than Twitter? How will he -- how will he control that?

THOMPSON: Well, there are a lot of ways to control that. There are several interesting things. One would be more heavily moderated most likely. They are importing the rules and the moderation standards from Instagram. Instagram is a heavily-moderated platform, more so than Twitter.

Musk has, in fact, gone in the opposite direction. He's been much more in favor of free speech. Anybody can post, post what you want. They can hold bunch of people who have been banned and put them back on the platform. That appeals to a lot of people.

The key question will be how it gets the algorithm work. Whether the algorithm promotes stories, promotes posts, promotes comments that are emotionally-triggering and start fights, or whether it does the opposite.

My guess is that based on where Facebook is right now, based on where Instagram is, they are going to push really hard to have this be kinder, gentler, softer. They don't want to be the public square for big news fights. Twitter is more interested in that. My guess is that is what Threads will be. It will be a little simpler and kinder. Whether people would like that, I don't know.

CAMEROTA: Fantastic. Nick, thank you for walking us through all of this. Great to talk to you tonight.

THOMPSON: Oh, thanks so much. Thanks for having me on. Cheers.

CAMEROTA: We'll be right back.




CAMEROTA: We're in the midst of a golden age of black television, and we've only arrived here after an 80-year struggle for Black artists to be seen and heard on TV. Now, the new "CNN Original Series" see it loud. The history of black television celebrates the creators who brought black TV to life and looks at the impact it has had on American culture. Here is a preview.



UNKNOWN (voice-over): When I think about the history of black television, I really think about progress.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): For the longest time, we were footnotes in history.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): It is so important for us to have African American representation.

UNKNOWN: Hey, Uncle Phil.


UNKNOWN: We talk about things that nobody in this country is willing to have discussion about.

UNKNOWN: I was like, Martin, do you believe they called us icons?

UNKNOWN: That was one of the first times I saw myself in the sci-fi genre.

UNKNOWN: That show was so successful. It launched bravo network.

UNKNOWN: We had Tyler Perry who owns a studio. In 1950, you could never have imagined it.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): This is an era to be as loud as possible and as black as possible.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): We are the story.


CAMEROTA: Joining me now is Justin Simien. He is the creator of the film "Dear White People" in the Netflix series of the same name. Justin, great to have you here.


CAMEROTA: So, Justin, some of these TV shows were my favorite as were -- you know, as were for millions of Americans. But I've never thought of them as black television until now. You know, "The Jeffersons," "The Cosby Show," "Good Times," all that. So, tell me about the role that black TV has had on all of us even if we were not aware of it and why it's so important for the series to celebrate it.

SIMIEN: The thing about television is that it's an intimate art form. It's an intimate form of cinema. So, when you go to the movies, you're expecting a spectacle, to be blown away on the edge of your seats. When you're watching a TV show, you're expecting to be brought into the interior world of a character, almost like hanging out with friends or with a group of people that you don't know well but you want to know.

I think that brings the lives of Black people into people's homes. And whether you're a Black person and you go, oh, my God, their lives are just like mine, or you're not a Black person and you go, oh, my God, those people's lives are just like mine. It creates a sense of empathy for Black people that I think is really unique to television art form.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, that's interesting. So, your show, "Dear White People," was part of this wave of black TV shows like "Atlanta" or "Insecure," and it features this new generation of Black creators and characters and stories. What was your vision for your show?

SIMIEN: My vision was to basically take what was maybe salacious or inciting or interesting black move, and do that thing that we just talked about, which is bringing characters into the homes of people that normally they did not have a lot of relationship with.

All of the characters in "Dear White People," the minute that you see them on screen, the way they look and what they say about themselves, leads you to kind of stereotype them, frankly. You think of them as very specific kinds of people. But then as the show unfolds, you actually got to know what's really underneath them. I think it brings a lot of complexities, a lot of complexities of black life into the forefront of these people's living room.

CAMEROTA: And so, as I understand it, there was backlash to it when it first premiered, which was I guess now, I don't know, six or seven years ago. Were you expecting that?


SIMIEN: Yeah, there is always backlash when Black people do things.


There was backlash when the movie came out. There was backlash when the first seasons came out, when the second season came out, when the third season came out, when the fourth season came out.

The truth is that we are one of rare shows that has multiple seasons on Netflix. I think that is a testament to some of the backlash sort of being from perhaps a small group of people screaming very, very loudly. I think Netflix did quite well in spite of the so-called backlash.

CAMEROTA: So, what are you working on now?

SIMIEN: I just finished my next movie, "Haunted Mansion," which comes to theaters on July 28th.

CAMEROTA: Right on. All right, we'll check that out, and we will certainly tune in for the all-new "CNN Original Series," "See It Loud: The History of Black Television." It premieres Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, only on CNN.

Thanks, Justin. Great to talk to you.

SIMIEN: Thank you so much. It was great to be a part of (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: Thanks for watching CNN TONIGHT. Our coverage continues now.