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DOJ Wants Protective Order After Trump Threat Online; Judge Rules Texas Abortion Ban Too Restrictive; Is Putin Counting On Trump To Win?; DeSantis Calls For 'Slitting Throats' In Government; NBA Players Furious Over Team Donating To DeSantis PAC. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 04, 2023 - 23:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks for joining me tonight. Our breaking news this hour, Special Prosecutor Jack Smith is reacting to this threat from former President Donald Trump on Truth Social today. It says it right there, quote, "If you go after me, I'm coming after you."

Now, the special prosecutor is asking for a protective order, saying if Trump began posting details from grand jury transcripts, it could have a chilling effect on witnesses. Remember, this is just 24 hours after his arrest and arraignment in his third indictment over election interference and after the judge warned him against making threats.

Let's go straight to John Dean. He's a former Nixon White House counsel. John, you and I have spoken about this, Donald Trump so many times. But, you know, as I was discussing with one of our producers before this program got started, in the past, you know, we would talk about Donald Trump's tweets and his social media posts and wonder what the impact might be.

But it sounds as though the special counsel in this case, Jack Smith, is really seizing on this very inflammatory, threatening-sounding post from Donald Trump on Truth Social and alerting it to the judge. The government arguing that the restrictions that they're seeking are necessary to prevent Trump from publicly disclosing sensitive discovery information. Can you walk us through what this means?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Yeah, it looks like the post from Trump came out while they were working on a motion to agree upon a protective order in general to exchange discovery material, and this obviously caught their attention. This is not the sort of norm that they're used to dealing with.

But we also all know, after watching Trump for many, many years now in court proceedings, particularly those where he's a target, uh, that he likes to play the bad boy, he likes to threaten, he likes to control witnesses, he likes to tell prosecutors -- call them nasty names.

And Jack Smith is going to call out to the judge's attention and see if they can get some restrictions. They can't zip him up, but they are going to make sure that all those documents that he gets are in the hands of his lawyers, and his lawyers are responsible and not going to let him have them other than to prepare his defense.

ACOSTA: And Trump has been accustomed to saying and blasting out on social media whatever he wants. For example, it will be wild on January 6th. We all remember that one. Is this a message from the special counsel that that is not going to be tolerated or that he is going to ride Trump pretty hard on these social media posts from here on forward?

I mean, after all, John, Trump is doing this one day after he was arraigned in Washington, in federal court, on arguably the most serious charges he has ever faced.

DEAN: This is a serious case. It's probably the most serious case that the federal judicial system has handled in centuries, if you will. So, uh, his playing fast and loose is not smart. It could actually be to his benefit for the special counsel to ride on him, and I think that's what this indicates, that he's going to have a low tolerance for games, and this is a signal. We'll see how the judge reacts to it and, you know, she may or may not do anything at this point.

I think that most important is to get the discovery material in the hands of Trump's defense counsel so they don't have any way to stall a trial. It appears that there have been an exchange of drafts and they couldn't agree upon anything, so they're going right to the court to get that resolved.

ACOSTA: And is the Department of Justice right in seeking this protective order, that Trump could have a chilling effect by posting these sorts of things?

DEAN: Well, what you want to do is have a fair trial, both for the defendant and for the American public. And the way to distort the fair trial is to put out inflammatory statements to create chaos and a circus, and I don't think this judge or this prosecutor are going to tolerate that. But we'll not know until the judge reacts to these filings.

ACOSTA: And John, you know, one of the things I wanted to ask you about tonight is whether or not Trump could ultimately be successful in dragging these proceedings out. I mean, for example, by putting this post up on social media today, it did trigger this response from the Department of Justice, which is going to have to occupy some of this judge's time.


I was talking to a Trump adviser earlier today who was telling me the plan at this point is to get all of these trials delayed until after the general election, and then if he wins, he can make all of this go away. However -- we can talk about that at another time. However, he tries to do that by self-pardoning or putting other people in the Justice Department and so on. Could that strategy be successful, do you think?

DEAN: You know, I don't think so. I think people know too much about Trump at this stage. Had this been at the outset of his sort of political public career, he might have pulled some of this off.

He had a very nasty civil case for Trump University, which was a big scam and fraud that he just paid off with a $25 million fine to get rid of it. But he was beating that judge up pretty badly until they settled that case quickly once he was elected.

So, I just don't think, Jim, he can do that because the federal judiciary and all the courts are too aware of his modus operandi.

ACOSTA: And while I have you, I have to ask you about this. Trump's former aide, Stephen Miller, we all know him all too well, he said this about Nixon and Watergate. Let's listen to this.


STEPHEN MILLER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, the first and most important thing is to reestablish what is known as the unitary executive. So, this goes back to the Watergate era. And now, we obviously know, looking back on it now, of course, that that was a deep state coup against Richard Nixon. But this goes back to the Watergate era.


ACOSTA: Yeah, John, your reaction to that?

DEAN: Well, the conservatives want a unitary executive, uh, when they're in power. They don't want it when the Democrats are in power. So, it's a very unique concept. And there has been a lot of academic discussion of this. And Nixon, no question, was trying to expand presidential powers. Had he had a second term, he was planning a total reorganization.

So, conservatives sort of picked up where Nixon dropped off because there was about a decade there where the Congress became something of a co-equal with the presidency, and Republicans don't like that.

ACOSTA: All right. John Dean, thank you very much. We'll continue this conversation, I have a feeling, here in the coming days. Really appreciate it. Thanks for your time.

DEAN: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. In the meantime, Donald Trump, as we now know, has more indictments than impeachments. And if he's indicted in Georgia, he'll have as many indictments as years spent in the White House.

And tonight, as Republicans accused the Biden administration of weaponizing the Justice Department without evidence, you just saw how Trump is essentially vowing to do exactly that if he's elected again.

But perhaps you've noticed how Trump's allies have defended the ex- president's attempts at overthrowing American democracy by claiming he was just exercising his right to free speech. These Trump world figures suddenly sound like champions of the First Amendment.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: This is a violation of his right of free speech.

JOHN LAURO, LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: This is an attack on free speech and political advocacy, and there's nothing that's more protected under the First Amendment than political speech.

KEVIN MCCARTHY, SPEAKER, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: You're entitled to question whether it was honest or not. That's the uniqueness of the First Amendment.

GIULIANI: You even have a right to lie under the First Amendment.

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: It says that you were spreading falsehoods, that you were undermining the integrity of the election. That's all part of the First Amendment.

LAURO: What we have now is an administration that has criminalized the free speech.

GIULIANI: You don't get to violate people's First Amendment rights, Smith.


ACOSTA: But hold on. That full-throated defense of the First Amendment flies in the face of Donald Trump's record of undermining these rights. It's worth noting, Trump has long been at war with the First Amendment. Take for instance, freedom of the press.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.

As you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.


I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are.


ACOSTA: Or freedom of religion.


TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.


ACOSTA: You'll recall Trump's travel ban once called for a -- quote -- "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until the country can figure out what is going on." Courts struck down that ban in part because it was -- quote -- "unconstitutionally tainted with animus toward Islam." The Supreme Court eventually allowed it, citing the expansive power of presidential authority.


Then there is Trump's track record on freedom of assembly. Critics will point to the way the administration tear gassed and pummeled protesters after the death of George Floyd. His administration also wanted to limit protests near the White House and at the National Mall.

Trump and his allies have been quick to attack freedom of speech. Over the years, Trump himself has targeted plenty of his opponents, from individual citizens to whole companies, when he did not agree with their expression of free speech. And he has scoffed at the idea of First Amendment protections.


TRUMP: Maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some way. Somebody will say, oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech. These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.


ACOSTA: So, mark this moment in your calendar. Trump and his defenders are all about free speech now, perhaps because his version of the First Amendment is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

I want to bring in Congressman Brendan Boyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, who says Trump's trial should be televised. Congressman, I suppose this newfound love for the First Amendment, free speech, free press means we can get cameras in the courtroom for the Trump trial that's coming up in this case.

You're roughly -- you're one of roughly three dozen House Democrats who signed a letter calling on Trump's trials to be televised to the public, arguing -- quote -- "If the public is to fully accept the outcome, it will be vitally important for it to witness as directly as possible how these trials are conducted." Let's talk about this. Why is it so important for you?

REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (D-PA): This will be perhaps, and I know this sounds like hyperbole, but I genuinely believe this will perhaps be the most important criminal trial in American history. So, in my view, we need to let the sunshine in. We need to do our very best to defeat any sort of conspiracy theories that are going to be spread about what is going on in the court proceedings. And we do know who is the chief among those who will be creating a lot of those legends and myths about what allegedly happens in that courtroom. The best way to do that is to ensure that we are all able to see exactly what happens in court day after day. I genuinely believe this is in the national interest.

ACOSTA: But how likely is that to happen? I mean, one of the things that we've often heard about federal judges is, you know, they just don't want cameras in the courtroom. At the state level, at the county and city level, sure, you can get cameras into all kinds of courtrooms, but at the federal level, it's just unheard of. Practically, is it even possible to make this happen?

BOYLE: My understanding is that the door has actually been open a little bit to it in certain circumstances. But, you know, my point to whatever judges' individual preferences may be, the national interest has to come first.

If we have the single most important criminal trial in American history and it is behind closed doors, can you imagine the feeding ground on social media and elsewhere of things that are just flat out made up about the trial?

This is deadly serious. We need to make sure we have those cameras in there. Those myths, as I say, and legends that may be created on some places, the far-right, they may happen anyway, but at least if we have cameras in there, it can offer us some protection against them.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you about the breaking news tonight. The Department of Justice, the special counsel, Jack Smith, seeking a protective order after this Trump threat that he made on Truth Social. If you come after us, we're coming after you, essentially what he's saying on Truth Social. The special counsel is holding this up as a reason as to why they need to be very careful about some of this discovery material that's going to be shared. What's your response to all of this?

BOYLE: Sadly, I'm not surprised. Donald Trump is a 78-year-old man who has gotten away with everything in life, never having been told no. The one time he was told no, it was by 81 million Americans in 2020. And what did he attempt to do? End American democracy.

I do believe unless a court is firm with Donald Trump, he will just continue to make these threats. I would urge the court respectfully to do whatever they can to ensure that Donald Trump doesn't issue any further threats. Otherwise, he is just going to make an entire mockery of the criminal justice system even more than he has.

ACOSTA: And are you worried that if he's acquitted in this case, that he'll become politically stronger, that he could get a boost in the way he did in 2016? I remember that all too well. Eleven days before the 2016 election, the Comey letter comes out and it really -- we can feel it out on the campaign trail. It shifted the momentum of the case.

[23:15:01] Are you concerned that something like that could happen again and actually give Trump a boost?

BOYLE: It is a legitimate concern, but I have to say that is so outweighed by the overwhelming amount of evidence against him. I also believe there was something that a federal judge named David Carter wrote in the spring of 2022.

He argued that unless Donald Trump -- and he argued this actually in a different civil proceeding in which he found that Donald Trump had committed crimes -- he argued and I agree with his opinion, that stated unless Donald Trump is held criminally responsible for January 6, then it only makes another January 6 more likely.

ACOSTA: All right. Congressman Brendan Boyle, thanks for staying up very late with us tonight, we appreciate it, on the breaking news and all these other matters. We appreciate it. Thanks so much.

BOYLE: Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. Coming up next, more breaking news. A judge in Austin, Texas issuing an order tonight temporarily barring the state from enforcing its ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy in some cases. We'll talk about that in just a moment.

Plus, is Vladimir Putin counting on Trump to win? And what would that mean for Ukraine? I'll talk to the star witness in Trump's first impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. He's coming up as well.

Also, Ron DeSantis's rhetoric escalates. Talk about that as well.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We're going to have all these deep state people. You know, we're going to start slitting throats on day one.


ACOSTA: He says it's just a figure of speech. Our guest coming up says it's dangerous. We'll be right back.




ACOSTA: And some more breaking news to tell you about tonight. A Texas judge issuing an order tonight temporarily barring the state from enforcing its ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy in cases where the mother's life or health could be endangered by an emergent medical condition.

Lawyers for the state argued in court that there was already an adequate exception in the statute for life-threatening pregnancies and blamed doctors for misinterpreting the law. The order comes after the judge heard several days of testimony last month from women who say the Texas law forced them to continue with high-risk pregnancy.

And joining me now to talk about this is CNN chief legal analyst Laura Coates, who was just on in the previous hour. Laura, I'm glad you were able to stick around. What's your reaction to what is taking place with this judge saying that this Texas ban was too restrictive?

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This is very significant. Remember back in 2021, Jim, there was a trigger law that was an anticipation of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which eventually happened with Dobbs, and what they said was that there would be some medical exceptions.

But they are arguing now it was not clear. What does it mean to have this life-threatening condition? What does it mean to have the substantial risk of harm or fatality? This is what these women who brought this case against (INAUDIBLE) were very concerned with.

Listen, they said, we don't have clarity. In the event that somebody does, in fact, have a qualifying medical condition that would allow them to meet that medical exception requirement, the doctors are busy trying to figure out if they're going to have liability if they get it wrong, if they somehow do not understand what the definition is or they're questioning. Meanwhile, the woman is actually suffering and could otherwise be legitimately able to have that exception. That's the crux of this issue.

So, the judge is saying, look, in the absence of the clarity, you cannot essentially have this go into full effect. The result of this, of course, is that they're saying, this is not like the other case. By the way, I want to distinguish, there is the other perhaps more even controversial decision which said you could have a private enforcement mechanism, remember this, where an everyday person, a civilian, could actually try to bring a lawsuit against somebody involved in an abortion. This is not that.

This is about the medical exception. The judge has decided now that that was too restrictive, it lacked clarity and it put women in an unfair position, and compromised the integrity of a doctor and their ability to decide what is medically necessary.

ACOSTA: And Laura, I got to ask you about the breaking news involving the special counsel. Jack Smith filing this protective order or seeking this protective order after Trump posted this threat on Truth Social. I mean, this was just several hours ago this evening when Trump posted, if you go after me, I'm coming after you, sounding like, I don't know, Robert De Niro's Al Capone in "The Untouchables."


ACOSTA: But the special counsel, Jack Smith, I mean, he is really making it clear here and going to the judge and alerting the judge to this that, hey, we're not going to put up with this.

COATES: It is absolutely prudent for a prosecutor who is worth their salt to understand the importance of ensuring that their witnesses, co-defendants, anyone who may be involved, a judge, jury, et cetera, that they are not going to be compromised and intimidated or even have the prospect of that happening. So, it is prudent to alert the judge to the possibility that this might be an issue.

Now, there are those who will have two sides of the same opinion. One will say, hold on, that's a very vague statement. He didn't identify a specific person. He didn't call someone out. And so, is this a lot of much to do about nothing?

The other side of that is, well, it is vague enough such that others might believe they are themselves targeted. It was not specific. Therefore, everyone might feel as though they themselves are, in fact, targeted if they are already a part of the investigation.

What does he know through discovery? What have his lawyers been told? Is there some cause for a person, we might not even know, has now said, this was clearly a dog whistle and a signal from me?

The judge has got to be concerned about this but, remember, there are now three indictments, and so it's hard to decipher even if only this particular judge that Jack Smith has notified will be the one to be concerned about it. It might be even more expansive, Jim.

ACOSTA: No question about it. And to do it one day after he was in D.C. for this arraignment, I mean, he's obviously playing these games that he's played before he's going to continue to do it. All right, Laura Coates, thank you very much. Great to talk to you.


COATES: Me, too.

ACOSTA: All right. Coming up, the new CNN report that top U.S. officials believe Vladimir Putin is counting on Donald Trump to win in 2024 because he thinks that would mean the U.S. would cut support for Ukraine. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is here. He's coming up next.


ACOSTA: Top U.S. and European officials are sounding the alarm that Vladimir Putin could be looking at the 2024 presidential election for how to proceed in Ukraine. One of those officials believes Putin is banking on Trump or another Republican to win the presidency because he thinks that would lead to the U.S. pulling support for the war.


Could that strategy work? Well, a new CNN poll out today shows that for the first time, a majority of Americans are opposed to sending more money to Ukraine. That feeling is even more pronounced when you look at a party split for support of the war. Seventy-one percent of Republicans say they've had enough and want to stop.

Let's talk about this. Let's get right to retired lieutenant colonel Alexander Vindman, the former director for European affairs at the National Security Council. Colonel Vindman, great to see you as always. You just saw this brand-new poll. Let me just play this for you. This is what Trump said tonight in Alabama. He had a rally in Alabama. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: I will have the horrible war between Russia and Ukraine settled. I know them both very well. They will settle. Would have never, ever happened. It will be done very, very quickly. I'm the only candidate who can make this promise. I will prevent World War III.


ACOSTA: Yeah, Colonel Vindman, I mean, some of that has to be music to Vladimir Putin's ears. I mean, do you think this strategy that Putin apparently has here could work? Just wait out things in Ukraine until the next election?

ALEXANDER VINDMAN, RETIRED U.S. ARMY LIEUTENANT COLONEL, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS FOR THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Thanks for having me on, Jim. First, I've got to say that those remarks from Donald Trump just sound foolish and absurd. He is, in fact, one of the key reasons why we are in this war, why Russia attacked Ukraine under the belief that there would be no consequence, no cost, because of his capture of the Republican Party, and therefore he could get away with an easy, quick victory.

Of course, it is music to Putin's ears to have Donald Trump return to power. It's a significant miscalculation. A hope and a prayer, really, is what he's -- at this point is what he's relying on because his military is not achieving its objectives in Ukraine. And he's looking for a favorable outcome in political elections here in the U.S. and overseas, and hoping to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

That is a long shot to gamble on. He's -- this is going to cost his military and his nation hundreds of thousands of lives because we're talking about another year in change. And based on the casualty rates that the Russians have been suffering, that's a huge, huge gamble.

But, of course, he's counting on that. He's counting on Donald Trump. He's counting on JFK -- correction, RFK, Jr. as a potential contender or challenger from the left.

He's counting on this faction of -- this extreme faction of the far- right and the far-left and their ability to somehow confuse or trick the American public into an election victory that could allow Putin to believe that he could then not -- no further support would come to Ukraine and he could win. That's -- that's a mirage.

ACOSTA: And if a Republican does win in 2024 and the U.S. does pull back, I mean, if Putin gets what he wants in this kind of a scenario, would other countries in the coalition that's been supporting Ukraine, would they follow suit? Would you see a crack then a split there in the NATO allies? What do you see there? VINDMAN: So, frankly, it depends on the flavor of the Republicans. Chris Christie was in Ukraine just within the past couple of days, and that is a standard fare Republican that would double down on support to Ukraine, maybe even possibly be more aggressive than the Biden administration. That is not a likely -- he's not a real contender at the moment, but this is a struggle for the soul of the Republican Party.

A Trump MAGA-like Republican like Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis would potentially look to cut support. But that is a recipe for disaster. What that would likely do was you would see a fracture between the alliance, within the NATO alliance. You would see the eastern coalition within the NATO alliance potentially double down on their support.

This is an existential threat, this war to them. They understand that the dominoes might fall and they might be the next target. And we can very well see NATO member states committing troops on the ground. I think this is, again, a remote possibility.

I also want to comment ono the poll that you referenced.

ACOSTA: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. What did you think of that? What do you think of those numbers?

VINDMAN: So, it's interesting. I think that -- I think I've seen different polls. I just referenced one this morning that came out a couple days ago that showed 69 -- might as well call it 70% support for Ukraine and in support of Ukraine's fighting and liberation of its territory.

So, there are a lot of different polls coming out. I'm deeply concerned about this idea of Ukraine fatigue setting in. I haven't seen it. I've seen conflicting polls thus far. The one that I'm referencing was a large sample poll, 2,500 folks were targeted for that particular poll.

But I'm going to be carefully looking at these numbers and seeing how they develop because it means that there might be -- there might be efforts to cut support from the Republican Party and they'd feel more comfortable doing that if there isn't a broad public support for Ukraine.


That's really what it means practically.

ACOSTA: The number that really stands out, and we were just showing this on screen a few moments ago when you were talking, Colonel Vindman, is the lopsided opposition among Republicans against continuing to authorize more funding to support Ukraine, which I think is kind of a staggering number because standing up to the Russians, you know, standing up to Russian aggression used to be kind of a core bedrock Republican principle.

I'm just thinking of Ronald Reagan. That doesn't sound like Reagan Republicanism there.

VINDMAN: You know, it's interesting. Up is down and, you know, the sky is not blue anymore with this Republican Party. I think there are historical precedents for parties taking a 180-degree position away from where they were. This has happened periodically in the United States between the Republican and Democratic parties. They're not the same parties they were 50 years ago, let alone 100 years ago.

This is a very, very different Republican Party than it was under Ronald Reagan. That party is gone. It's unlikely to return. We could long for the days of a Republican Party that was strong in support of democracy, that would stand up for democratic values and the world order.

The best we could hope for now, frankly, is the end of MAGA and the end of Trump-Republicanism, and maybe some sort of pivot because of a series of defeats like we had in the midterm elections, like we had in 2020. That could drive some changes in the Republican Party.

Until that day, lots of threats toward democracy, and frankly, some hopes and prayers for our adversaries around the world that they could, again, win through domestic turmoil here in the United States.

ACOSTA: All right. Colonel Vindman, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

VINDMAN: Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. In the meantime, slitting throats on day one. That's what Governor Ron DeSantis says he'll do if he's elected president. It's got a lot of people angry, including my next guest. Stay with us. We'll talk about it in just a moment.





DESANTIS: On bureaucracy, you know, we're going to have all these deep state people. You know, we're going to start slitting throats on day one and be ready to go. You're going to see a huge, huge outcry because Washington wants to protect its own. But at the end of the day, this is a city that has failed this country.


ACOSTA: Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis escalating his rhetoric on the campaign trail, vowing to start slitting throats, in his words, in the federal bureaucracy on his first day in power. Those comments did not go unnoticed. Prominent federal unions are calling on DeSantis to retract his remarks, calling them -- quote -- "dangerous, disgusting, disgraceful, and disqualifying." This afternoon, DeSantis offered up a response to the criticism. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DESANTIS: I think people understand that we need to see changes. And so, we'll bring that about. Well, you guys know it's (INAUDIBLE). It's a figure of speech with that.


ACOSTA: Joining me now is the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Everett Kelley. Mr. Kelley, thanks very much for joining us. You heard Governor DeSantis there a few moments ago saying his remarks were a figure of speech. What do you think?

EVERETT KELLEY, NATIONAL PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES: Well, Jim, first of all, thank you for having me, but maybe he feels the need to turn to human sacrifice to revive his dying presidential campaign. Now, all I know is that he better corrects his tone and show some respect for America's workforce.

But, you know, simply, you know, I am an American Army veteran myself. Over 500,000 U.S. veterans are wearing their second uniform in service to their country as civilian service. And over a third of FD members are veterans. They expect America's enemy on the front line to threaten their lives, not someone that's running to be the commanding chief.

You know, and this type of violent, authoritarian rhetoric is disturbing, is disgraceful, and is disqualifying. You know, it's also deliberate. You know, he originally made similar throat-slinging comments about Pentagon officials. It's not a mistake or something he can try to brush off as a metaphor or anything like that. That is intentional.

ACOSTA: And do you think that this could have -- this kind of rhetoric could have real-life consequences for your members?

ACOSTA: Well, you know, I think that we have already a case in point. You know, we can look at what happened on January the 6th and see that this type of rhetoric, you know, has a way of catching phrase with some people. You know, I think that that's correct.

ACOSTA: And, as you know, Ron DeSantis is not the only candidate to vow to clean House. The front runner in this race right now for the republican nomination, Donald Trump, has been calling for a purge of federal employees. He has done it time and again. Let's listen to what he's had to say before.


TRUMP: The deep state is destroying our nation, but the tables must turn, and we will quickly destroy the deep state. We know where the bodies are buried.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: You know, Everett, he has talked about -- Donald Trump has talked about this before, how they're on day one of his new administration, when he comes into office, he and his allies have said they want a clean House inside the federal government, try to remove federal worker protections and so on.


When you hear that sort of thing, what's your response to that? Is that something they could do?

KELLEY: Well, it is something that they could do. I mean, I do agree with that. But, you know, I think that we also have to understand that, you know, we have people that support the American workforce. The American people know that AFG members and federal government employers are not some shadow of a force in the nation's capital.

Eighty-five percent of our members live and work outside of the D.C. area in every state, in every territory. Our members have dedicated their lives to serving their fellow Americans.

They support our military, provide healthcare for our nation's veterans, enforce our law, safeguard our communities, deliver benefits to America's most vulnerable citizens, they keep our sky safe as they travel, protect human health and our environment, keep us safe on the job, ensure our food is safe to eat, preserve our nation's park, and so much more.

And I think that the American people want to know that the federal employee workforce is on the job making sure that all that occur. You know, none of these public servants should be forced to induce death threats from anyone, whether it's Donald Trump or the census, because these are people who don't want to be their boss (ph).

They want to know that coming in, these people are going to provide health, healthy work environments, and benefits for those employees that work for the American public.

ACOSTA: Yeah. All right, Everett Kelley, it's obviously an issue we're going to stay on top of. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.

KELLEY: The pleasure is mine. Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: Thank you very much. And now, I want to turn to the controversy over the Orlando Magic donating $50,000 to a DeSantis supporting Super PAC. The NBA Players Union criticized the franchise's contribution in a searing statement.

If you didn't catch this, take a look at this. A political contribution from the Orlando Magic is alarming given recent comments and policies of its beneficiary. If contributions are made on behalf of an entire team using money earned through the labor of its employees, it is incumbent upon the team governors to consider the diverse values and perspectives of staff and players. The Magic's donation does not represent player support for the recipient. That's from the Players Association.

Let's discuss with Rachel Nichols. She's the host of "Headliners with Rachel Nichols" on Showtime. Rachel, great to see you. Great to see you back on CNN. What do you think of all this? The Players Union calling this donation alarming. How common is it for a sports franchise to donate directly to a Super PAC like this?

RACHEL NICHOLS, SHOWTIME HOST: Yeah, Jim, I've covered the NBA for more than 25 years. I've never seen it. And now, of course, we have seen team owners, players, management all individually support political candidates.

Marc Lasry, the former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, was one of President Obama's chief fundraisers. We have had Kelly Loeffler, I'm sure you remember her, former U.S. senator, who was a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream. Since she was not supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement, her players went out, fundraised, and supported her opponent, now Senator Raphael Warnock.

And all of those are examples of individuals supporting their political candidates. In fact, the co-owner of the Magic, Betsy DeVos, as we know, was Trump's education secretary. She's an individual. What upsets these players so much is that this donation was not made on behalf of Betsy DeVos or Dick DeVos. It was made on behalf of the team.

And you have players and coaches and executives who have come out publicly with very different beliefs and opinions than DeSantis's, and now their names are being used in association with this donation.

And more importantly, as the Players Association statement pointed out, it's their labor. Money for NBA teams, the Orlando Magic's money that they donated to Ron DeSantis, doesn't come from a magic tree elf. It came from the work of those players on the court. And the fact that their work has been turned into a contribution for someone running for president who has come out with statements that they think directly oppose who they are as people, that is very difficult to stomach.

ACOSTA: And I have to think, it's not just the players, but the fans who get upset about this. I'm a little surprised that the league allows this sort of thing. Like you said, it doesn't happen. So, I suppose this is maybe a bit of a test case.

What does this do to the players? Does it put them in a position where they're kind of in between a rock and a hard place? They can speak out through the players' union, but not a whole lot they can do individually or publicly?

NICHOLS: I mean, we've had individual players around the league react to this over the last 24, 36 hours. I've not seen Orlando Magic players criticize their boss directly, which I think you can understand. But I think the feeling throughout the league is they've said their piece, they've expressed their disappointment.

And now that Ron DeSantis has flipped this around and he is publicly criticizing the NBA and the players association for this statement, he's actually using parts of the statement in fundraising text, I would not expect the NBA as a league or the players themselves to take the bait here.


They know exactly what this game is, and they're not going to give him any more oxygen on this, is my prediction.

ACOSTA: Yeah. I think -- the Orlando Magic spokesman, Joel Glass, described the check as supporting DeSantis in his role as governor because it was written on May 19th, days before he formally launched his presidential candidacy on May 24th. They're saying in part it was given as a Florida business in support of a Florida governor for the continued prosperity of central Florida.

Rachel, you could take that for what it's worth. I mean, it did go to a Super PAC. We do know what Super PACs do. But anyway, that's the team's --

NICHOLS: I do want to say, Joel Glass is actually really excellent at his job, but his boss put him in a crappy position here and, as you say, it doesn't really hold up, right?


NICHOLS: I mean, everybody knew, everyone's mother knew, everyone's mother's pets knew that Ron DeSantis was about to announce for president, let you know, in the coming a couple weeks. So, doesn't really hold up as a statement. But I guess, you know, you got to say something. As I said, he's a good guy, good at his job, but this was a tough one.

ACOSTA: Yeah. It's a blocker charge. I'm not sure which in this situation. All right, Rachel Nichols, if you'll forgive that sports pun very late at night, thanks so much. We'll be right back.

NICHOLS: Thanks, Jim. Great to see you.

ACOSTA: Good to see you.


ACOSTA: As coral reefs in Florida have been devastated by the ocean's unprecedented high temperatures, this week's CNN Hero is committed to restoring them.



MIKE GOLDBERG, CNN HERO: Coral reefs, without them, nothing is here. Simply put, they are what it is that brings the ecosystem together. Sadly, I've watched us lose that coral reef and the disappearance of that diverse marine ecosystem.

UNKNOWN: All right, I.Care, are we ready? Let's go down. GOLDBERG: But then, you know what, I'm going to do something. I truly believe we're going to be successful with this restoration work.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): It's amazing how fast this coral is growing.

GOLDBERG: I see things, every time I go in the water, that give me hope. I love being a part of it. I wake up every day and say, look what I get to do.


ACOSTA: For the full story and to see his group in action, go to Thanks very much for watching this hour. I'm Jim Acosta. Our coverage continues. Stay tuned. Have a good night.