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CNN Tonight

Trump Surrender Is Looming; CNN Reports About The First Republican Debate; Elon Musk's Influence Raises Questions; "Rich Men North Of Richmond" Tops The Chart. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 22, 2023 - 23:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: This is the behind the scenes.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: This is behind the scenes.

PHILLIP: Real life.

COATES: I could -- I telling you right now, this is what happens. Now, look at that. Ready to drop the mic right on the blouse.

PHILLIP: And now you're ready to give them all the legal, the legal information that they need tonight, Laura.

COATES: As Sammy Davis, Jr. once said, I can only be me. What are you going to do?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Laura Coates. Nice to see you, Abby.

Mugshots have now been released tonight for the first two of the former president's co-defendants to surrender in the Georgia election case, John Eastman and also Scott Hall. Here they are right there.

And we are now just two days away from Donald Trump's expected surrender at the Fulton County jail after, of course, being criminally charged, allegedly trying to overturn Joe Biden's election victory in the state of Georgia.

Meanwhile, Mark Meadows. You know who that is, of course. He is trying a now last-ditch legal maneuver to try to avoid his own surrender by, of course, that Friday noon deadline.

And you got a dozen defendants, including the former president. They've all struck bond deals that have been signed by a judge. A dozen, of course, is not yet 19.

We also learned that tonight, Rudy Giuliani is set to meet with the Fulton County D.A.'s office tomorrow to talk about a possible bond agreement.

I want to turn right now to CNN correspondent Tom Foreman, he is at the magic wall, breaking it down for us all on what's happening right now. We also -- CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI director Andrew McCabe is with us today, former Trump White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews and former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi.

Back to you, Tom Foreman, in terms of what is going on right now. Break it down. How are we going to unpack all of this?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'll start with the two people you named to begin with. John Eastman, this is the Trump lawyer who led the charge on the plan whereby Mike Pence would not certify the votes and they would kick it to the House of Representatives and or to governor -- uh, GOP-controlled legislatures around the country where they would simply declare Trump to be the winner.

He gave us another impassioned speech today as he turned himself in, saying, uh, look, I'm just a lawyer representing the president. If you make this illegal, how are we going to do our job?

Scott Hall, bail bondsman down in Atlanta, he is tied to the Coffee County election machine breach. Remember, there were machines up there where the investigation found that a group of Trump allies went in there and took data from these machines, which the prosecutor says is in violation of law.

Two so far, two mugshots so far, but as you note, we've got 19 total defendants. There's going to be a bit of a rush at the courthouse in the next couple days, Laura.

COATES: I want to bring in our panel for a second, guys, because we're looking at this and this is really a yearbook photo in many respects of what is going on.

So, let me begin with you because this has been a tangled web of people. I mean, remember what happened with Jack Smith and, of course, that indictment down in Washington, D.C. That was one defendant. You only had three as a fact in Mar-a-Lago. Now you've got 19, the Fulton 19. The fact that you have all of these people involved, I mean, and Mark Meadows is fighting not to even be arrested, what does this tell you?

SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think that, obviously, this is a wide-stretching case, but I think it goes to show that -- how many people were involved and that there was an effort to try to overturn the results of the election. These people knew full well what they were doing.

And while I'm happy to see Trump be indicted in these other cases like the DOJ one that you referenced, I actually am happy to see the trickledown effect and see some of these other folks who knew full well what they were doing.

They've put up all these different court cases. And time and time again, they failed. And they continued to push these efforts despite knowing that Trump did not lose the election.

And then you see John Eastman even today literally saying that the 2020 election was stolen. If that was the case, I would love to see a single shred of evidence, but none of them have yet to produce anything, including the former president. COATES: I mean, Gene, speaking of that notion of the trickledown, it's fascinating, because you represented clients who have been -- who have breached the Capitol, who were involved in January 6th, and you have had to address this notion of pointing fingers and who was directing who and oh, am I going to be now accountable and liable for what maybe someone said they told me they could do?

How do you see the fact that all of these people -- we know Mark Meadows, right?


COATES: We know Giuliani, you know Sidney Powell, you know a lot of the big name, household name people, but a lot of these people on this list, not a lot of people know them.

ROSSI: Well, when you have an indictment of 19 people -- by the way, it's really not 19 people. There are 30 unindicted co-conspirators. We've got 50 people. That's a lot.

COATES: I got to do math on a Tuesday night with you right now? What's happening? Only math I do is for billing. But go ahead, keep going.

ROSSI: Absolutely. But here's what happened. When you have 19 people and about the top five are the most important, the ones at the bottom wrong are probably talking to their lawyers and vice versa.


I've got to do a beeline to Fani Willis and I've got to cooperate because I'm a minnow, I'm the smallest one on this totem pole, and I've got to cooperate and get out of jail. And what you're going to see is people cooperating probably in the next two to three months after they get discovery.

And I predict that the David Shafers of the world and that Latham (ph) possibly could cooperate because they're seeing the writing on the wall. My legal fees aren't getting paid by anybody but me. And I got to think about myself.

And what I used to tell cooperators is, the most important person in your life is you. Forget everybody else. Forget your old buddies on the street. The most important person is you. And Annie McCabe (ph) will tell you, when they start focusing on who they are and what's in the cards for them, they're going to cooperate.

COATES: That's how you lean on them in some respects, right? To have them understand contextually. Like you got to have some perspective here. You are by yourself right now.

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. So, I think Gene is absolutely right. I don't know that there has ever been a 19-person RICO case that survived going to trial with all 19 defendants, right?

You -- you decide who to charge and how you're going to charge those people with a very close eye on who are your most significant targets and who are those folks who you think are most likely to cooperate, to make effort to cooperate, to plead guilty to reduce charges, to provide effective testimony against the people who you believe are most responsible for these crimes. I'm sure that sort of planning went into this indictment.

COATES: I want to turn back to Tom at the magic wall because, as you know, Mark Meadows is really fighting hard to get his case out of state court, brought to federal court. Of course, that does not mean that he won't be charged on state charges. That will still hold, but it will be in federal court if successful. But he's not alone there either. He has been joined now by two other defendants in his pursuit. What can you tell us?

FOREMAN: Well, I can tell you that Mark Meadows and Jeffrey Clark, who worked at the DOJ, both are taking the stance of saying, look, we're federal people, we were serving the president in that role, and therefore, this doesn't belong in a state court, had nothing to do with what happened at the state.

David Shafer, you mentioned him a moment ago over there, former GOP Georgia chairman, he's trying to make the same claim by saying, well, I was just doing what I was hearing from the top. The bottom line is he would like to join them in migrating over to federal court with us. Question is, does that take everybody else with them or not?

Why would they want to do that? There are several reasons. One, Trumps' strategy, it slows everything down. Every time you do anything in this case, it's going to slow it down. All these people, all these lawyers, a lot of things are going to get slowed down. That's one of the slowing things.

Potentially more sympathetic jurors. Some debate about this, but the notion being if you broaden the jury pool in a federal hearing further beyond Fulton County, beyond Atlanta, which will lean so much more blue, you might get some more Trump sympathetic jurors in there.

No cameras in federal courts. You don't have to appear on T.V. day after day, you know, blinking and being accused of things. And maybe some more legal avenues for defense. The question is, who else winds up over there with them?

COATES: It's a really important point. Let's bring back in the panel and talk about it. First of all, we're talking about removal to federal court. It's not a slam dunk that it's going to happen or it's guaranteed. You got to first tell me that you were somehow acting under the color of your office, meaning that this is part of your job description in some ways. And you know, you can't just charge me for doing my job.

The other thing is a viable federal defense. I don't know that's apparent that will happen here knowing that, of course, elections are the purview of the state. So, what about the chief of staff's role? Mark Meadows would be something, Sarah, that suggests, well, look, this is part of what he was supposed to be doing, and there is a claim it was acting in his office. MATTHEWS: I would love to see if Mark Meadows then is willing to say that the 2020 election wasn't stolen because that would contradict then that, you know, if he's saying, oh, I'm just doing my job and carrying out the duties that the president wanted, okay, well, so then you knew it wasn't stolen, that this was all a lie, but you were pushing it at the direction of your boss.

And I also think it will be interesting, too. I think there has been some reporting out there that Meadows is no longer in communication with the former president. And so, I think that --

COATES: Would that surprise you if that was the case?

MATTHEWS: No. I think that if Mark Meadows is smart, he will flip because he needs to, honestly. He was at the center of a lot of what these indictments are, whether it's the classified documents case, whether it's January 6th, this fake elector scheme. He was there and present.

And so, I think that he knows a lot. Trump world should be really worried if he is cooperating, whether that's with the DOJ or in this Fulton County, Georgia case.


And so only time will tell. But Mark Meadows should know as I do, having worked in Trump world. Trump demands loyalty from everyone but gives it to no one. And so, I think Trump would very easily throw him under the bus.

COATES: I mean, the assumption was when we didn't see him in the indictments for January 6 or even Mar-a-Lago to the larger point, that he was assumed, you don't know, but assumed to be a cooperator. We had this conversation, and then he told us that, of course, in Fulton County.

Does this show you that maybe Fani Willis either has not had the communication with him or that he has refused to do so or that, look, she's not interested because she might have enough already?

MCCABE: But we know that there's great signals, as you mentioned, that he has been cooperating with the federal investigation. And there has been reporting out today that he has very carefully responded to their requests. You know, he put up some resistance in terms of the grand jury, claimed executive privilege, but as soon as that was knocked down, he came in and testified fully.

Not so much on the Georgia side, right? He resisted coming to Georgia to testify before the grand jury. When he did finally get dragged in, we understand that he claimed his Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to answer many questions. So, I think it's not surprising that he ended up as a defendant in that case and is not yet a defendant on the federal side.

COATES: Oh, yet. MCCABE: Yet. Yeah. I mean, I think -- you know, there are -- there are -- what? Six unindicted co-conspirators referred to in the January 6 complaint. Now, Mark Meadows is very notably not included in that list. He's referred to as the president's chief of staff.

But I think that investigation is far from over, uh, and he could very well, just like any one of those six unindicted co-conspirators, could find themselves facing charges at some point in the future unless he actually solidifies an official cooperation agreement with the federal government.

COATES: Talk to me about what that would be like though because, you know, let's assume for the sake of argument that Mark Meadows right now is following the advice of Sarah and saying, look, I'm smart, I'm going to do this. How does that work from the defense perspective?

You're his attorney, let's pretend, and you're going to Fani Willis or you're going to Jack Smith, and what are you saying? Are you hoping that at this point, what I have to offer can't be found anywhere else?

ROSSI: Let me tell you something. He has a fantastic attorney, George Terwilliger. So, it goes back to what we said, you have to think about yourself. And I think Mark Meadows is reflecting on, should I take a bullet for the team? Should I take a bullet for Donald Trump?

But in terms of cooperation, he would be the gold standard for the prosecutors. If he provided information to the prosecutors in a January 6th case, in Fani Willis case, he would be an explosive witness.

COATES: You know, he very well could be, but you know who else might be a bit of an explosive witness? I go back to Tom right now because the words and the name Rudy Giuliani come to mind when I talk about that. He is likely to meet tomorrow -- to meet with the Fulton County D.A.'s office just tomorrow.

And just hours after reporting that he was struggling to find a lawyer in Georgia, which -- by the way, Tom, we've heard a lot when it comes to co-defendants for Donald Trump. It happened with Walt Nauta. It happened with Mr. De Oliveira as well for the Mar-a-Lago case. There was a delay in the presentment in the arraignments. Giuliani, though, may have a different reason. What's going on?

FOREMAN: Well, Giuliani is facing some interesting circumstances here. One, he has been way out front on this whole thing. Two, we know he has been having trouble paying his bills and it's not clear if Donald Trump is helping him with any of that. So, when he goes to meet there, maybe he's just setting up a deal, maybe he's setting up another deal. We don't know.

We do know that Bernie Kerik, the former New York City Police commissioner, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Georgia case, has been offering some help to help him coordinate his efforts here.

We do know this, Rudy Giuliani cannot get through this without having a lawyer down there. It'll be interesting to see who he comes up with and where that lawyer instructs him to go. You mentioned that one-way street of loyalty with the former president. You got to wonder about the people who were very close, who did the most open vociferous defending, where they feel like they stand right now, especially if like Rudy Giuliani, you seem to be in a bit of trouble.

COATES: And who is the man next to him? This Bernie Kerik?

FOREMAN: Yeah, Bernie Kerik, the former New York City Police commissioner, the one who has been helping Rudy out a bit in terms of offering some advice, maybe connecting him with people.

Bottom line is, everybody out here is staring hard right now at this, the first of many deadlines. We're expecting Donald Trump to fold it up here and go in and make his -- make his piece with things, at least for the moment. And here we are on Tuesday.

One thing to remember in all of this, in all the discussion we're having, every one of these days moves us closer to the election and raises constantly the question, can you get through all of this to get anything meaningful before that comes around in terms of what voters will know about what really happened and what a jury might decide?


COATES: So important. Thank you, Tom Foreman.

Also, there is some new reporting tonight, Sarah, the report in "The New York Times" that former President Donald Trump will now headline a $100,000 per person fundraiser for Rudy Giuliani's legal defense on September 7th. So, a new date to keep in mind. We know he is in some real financial peril about this.

The fact that he is hosting it, though, at this, well, costly amount, is this telling you that there is maybe a scratching of the backs that's happening?

MATTHEWS: I believe so. I think he knows that if Rudy Giuliani were to flip, that that would be disastrous for him in his legal case. And so, what does he want to do? He wants to help him fund those legal fees. We've seen him do this before.

When -- even with Walt Nauta in the classified documents case, his body man, you know, he's being represented by a Trump lawyer because he wants to ensure that, you know, he's telling a side of the story that is favorable to Trump.

We saw it with the January 6 Committee with Cassidy Hutchinson, the star witness, out of those hearings. And she had a Trump lawyer. They were telling her to not recall events that happened that she did very well recall. And so, what did she do? She did the right thing, which was switch lawyers so that way she was defending her best interest and not Trump's best interest.

COATES: When you look at this, Gene, I mean, this is essentially one of the things that I can imagine is going to make the prosecutors raise their eyebrows on something and say, that's interesting. So, your co-defendant in this important case in Fulton County is a fundraiser for it? And there's also the bond agreement that you can't actually talk about the facts of a case. Is this going to make you nervous?

ROSSI: As a defense attorney, make me very nervous. As a prosecutor, I'm --

COATES: Salivating.

ROSSI: I'm salivating.


COATES: I knew it! I knew it because I was -- my mouth was watering as well. Go ahead.

ROSSI: The reason is this. You go to trial and what is the jury going to hear? They're going to hear that all these people sitting together at the table are being funded by the lead guy, Donald Trump. And there's probably going to be a joint defense agreement, which can be inquired upon during cross-examination.

So, these fundraising activities and joint defense agreements, they're good for the defendants to some point. But when you get to trial and where the rubber meets the road in front of a jury, they are big negatives for the defense, potentially.

COATES: Real quick, Andy, I mean, does this make you as an investigator say, hmm, there's something more to follow?

MCCABE: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's going to be tougher to split away some of those co-defendants who are now being paid for by the main guys, tougher to split them away as cooperators, but as you said, Gene, you've got a raft of information to use on cross-examination here.\

Basically, Fani Willis is trying to prove the existence of a criminal enterprise. It's a lot easier to do that when one guy sitting in the middle is paying everybody's bill.

COATES: Hmm, good point. Thank you so much, everyone. All eyes are indeed on Fani Willis as former President Donald Trump and 18 co- defendants are facing a Friday at noon deadline to surrender in the Georgia 2020 election subversion case. But could the case, here's a big question, could it actually outlast even the prosecutor? We'll talk about what I mean next.



COATES: Well, it was a busy day at Fulton County jail in Georgia as multiple co-defendants of Donald Trump have officially surrendered.

As of tonight, two have actually turned themselves in, including former Trump lawyer John Eastman, who advised former president on ways to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election results. We also have Scott Hall, who allegedly was involved in a breach of voting machines. He also surrendered. Now, 17, that means, are left and that includes Donald Trump, who is going to turn himself in, we are told, on Thursday.

I want to bring in CNN political commentator and former lieutenant governor of Georgia, Geoff Duncan. Nice to see you this evening. All eyes are on Georgia and they have been, frankly, for a very long time. And I want to take a step back, away from the nuances of all of this that's going to unfold.

You know, had Donald Trump, had he accepted the election results as free and fair, had he not been searching for that 11,780 votes, would it have been a cakewalk, really, for Republicans in the 2024 election and all of the distractions, save, of course, for the classified document scandal, to have been avoided?

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The answer is yes. And to make it even more painful, if he would have just run a normal campaign, talked about all the things that he did during the presidency and the conservative leadership and leaned into these conservative governors instead of creating a three-ring circus, Joe Biden literally hung out in his basement and beat Donald Trump. So, it's even painful.

But I think there's some even more second-guessing going on from these 18 other co-indicted individuals and 30 unnamed co-conspirators. Can you imagine the conversation happening around their kitchen tables, you know, when their spouse is asking them, tell me again why we're going to cash in our entire life savings and soil our reputation because of what? Something you don't even really believe happened? I can't imagine how difficult those conversations are.

COATES: That's an interesting notion. One is an indictment of just how impactful money is in a defense to mount against the United States government or individual state.

But it's also the notion of all of this and the premise may not even be that they believed what was happening. It was just essentially a tactic either to delay or figure something else out. That's a steep hill to climb in any defense if you didn't even believe what you thought was actually being said.

On another notion, though, you know that there are and there continues to be a lot of momentum, Geoff, to try to oust the D.A., Fani Willis. There are even some Republicans promising to use a new law in your state of Georgia that created actual commission to remove, to discipline prosecutors, to force her from office.


I mean, what do you make of the efforts that are happening there? Is this really tailored specifically to Fani Willis? Was there some larger issue or is this an attempt to further that notion of a weaponized government? DUNCAN: Well, I was not part of the General Assembly when they passed this law, but I think it was really a cumulative law to oversight -- create oversight on district attorneys statewide. So, it's not just specific to one individual, as I understand it.

But, you know, up until this point, I don't think there has been much complaining about the process that Fani Willis has gone through. I certainly experienced her staff's preparedness when I testified in front of the special grand jury and then the grand jury. I was in extremely focused group of individuals and I felt no signs of partisanship from start to finish throughout that entire process.

You know, this just continues to be a painful experience for Republicans. I think this is a part of our painful learning experience, quite honestly, and healing, right? We're going to have to accept the fact that Donald Trump didn't get cheated out of this victory. We just simply lost. And unfortunately, we're going to continue to pay the price over and over and over again.

I do think this debate coming up tomorrow without him being there is a really good opportunity for the other eight that are going to be there. We're going to certainly separate the haves from the have-nots, those that are able to openly admit that Donald Trump is lying to us and that we need to move past him and we need to beat Joe Biden.

And then you're going to have the have-nots, in my opinion, that are going to show up there and still try to pacify the 35% that no matter what happens, they're going to support Donald Trump.

He could literally be locked up in prison with two ankle guards and -- or ankle bracelets and they would still support him and vote for him. It's the 65% of Republicans that are still approachable that we need to focus our efforts on.

COATES: I mean, when you talk about the haves and have-nots, it's not like you're saying they have courage and the have-not courage in these instances because he, obviously, is going to be the big major elephant in the room because a new litmus test, as you can imagine, has been formed.

Whether it's about a potential pardon, whether it's conversations about buying into the weaponization of the government, whether you want to throw out the baby with the bath water on account of the lawsuits led by Jack Smith, et cetera, it's going to come up.

But do you think that there are going to be candidates on that stage who are going to actually address the substantive policy issues or really be allowed to because, obviously, he takes up the oxygen even in the rooms that he's not in?

DUNCAN: Yeah, the haves and have nots that I'm referring to is have just God-given leadership abilities. We're able to stay above the fray, not only explain exactly why Donald Trump is wrong to do what he's doing but also to explain their articulate plan to take Joe Biden out in the 2024 election, but also how we're going to improve this country at the border, public safety. When I pick up the newspaper and I read publicly traded companies are having to massively adjust their earnings reports because of lawlessness that's breaking and stealing stuff from their stores, we've got to do something. I believe conservative approaches are actually going to help that situation.

But the haves and have-nots, it is just genuine leadership. You know, look, what's happening down here in Fulton County is real. This is 48 against one game. There are 48 individuals that have nothing that they can get from Donald Trump. I guess maybe I just heard Rudy Giuliani's going to get a shallow fundraiser to help make a dent in the over $1 million worth of bills he's got since meeting Donald Trump.

But the reality is there's nothing Donald Trump can no longer do for them. I've got to imagine, as you've seen play out today, David Shafer is trying to take this to a federal court. He's trying to explain that the president's lawyers are the one who fed him the working order of how these fake electors and other folks try to point fingers.

But one thing nobody is doing, Laura, nobody is pointing to the actual facts. Nobody is opening up Sidney Powell's crack-in folder and showing us exactly how this election was rigged. We're two and a half years into this, and I have yet to have a single person do something other than show me a Facebook post as to why they think the election was rigged.

COATES: Well, you know, that was what the courts, who were entertaining the arguments the first instance, were demanding. They didn't get it. As we've been talking about, being promised in some way to have some conclusive, you know, evidence and some respect that's just not there. But it has legs nonetheless. That's part of the conversation, undoubtedly, at the debate and going forward.

Nice to talk to you, Geoff Duncan. Thank you so much.

DUNCAN: Thank you.

COATES: You know, we're actually just now a few hours away from the first debate in the republican primary season in Wisconsin. Donald Trump says that he's not going. So, the real question is, if in fact he does not attend, which he says he won't, who stands to benefit the most from his absence? We'll get some answers from the experts next.



COATES: All right, everyone, in less than 24 hours, they're calling it the main event. I'm talking about the first republican presidential debate. But, of course, the main attraction won't actually be at that debate. Donald Trump is not expected to take the stage. Emphasis on the word "expected" with these eight candidates.

With me now, "Time" national political correspondent Molly Ball and former advisor to George W. Bush and John McCain, Mark McKinnon, the man with the hat. Nice to see both of you here today. I used the term "expected," Molly, because he is not expected to show up.

But and but and but, we all know we can insert the words here as to why we think things might change. But how would his absence, if it really does happen, how would it affect the entire dynamic of this debate?


MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, look, I think, obviously, Trump hangs over this whole debate and is sort of with us in spirit regardless of his physical attendance, right? I mean, it's clear that he is the central issue in this republican primary. And it's not even really his fault. It's the other candidates who have made him the central issue in this republican primary.

And so, he's going to be the topic of a lot of discussion even if he's not there. And we don't expect him to be there. We don't expect, you know, a last-minute sort of cannonball into the pool. But it -- but it's -- he's still going to be some -- a topic of discussion, something all the other candidates are going to have to talk about because he, him, his person, his issues are still the central issue of this republican primary.

COATES: You know, interestingly enough, to Molly's point, Mark, some might say that the reason he's not showing up, in fact, is because he doesn't necessarily have to answer to anyone on the stage. They've kind of made it easier for him to really not show up and appear because he's not going to get really a hostile crowd. Maybe, of course, Christie and Hutchinson to name a few.

But let's just say that Trump actually does show up, Mark. If he does show up, who do you think suffers the most with him actually being present?

MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF "THE CIRCUS": Everybody on the stage. I mean, he'll just block out the sun. But, you know, something occurred to me tonight that -- thinking about why he's not going to be there. I mean, obviously, it's a political consideration that he's making.

And I've worked for presidents running for reelection and, obviously, he's not running for real -- technically he's running for reelection, having lost the last one. But they never wanted to pay. They always think it's beneath them and that they don't see any advantage. That's obviously his political calculation.

But I'll bet his lawyers breathed a big sigh of relief because think about this. We've got two former prosecutors on that stage, Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, and you can bet that they would be serving him some (INAUDIBLE) right down the middle on the legal cases, and we know that Trump is inclined to talk about things that he shouldn't be talking about legally.

So, I'll bet his lawyers are very happy that he's not going to be on that stage. Not considering what his political consultants think, but the lawyers, I'm sure, are very happy. COATES: I mean, well, consider that one moment in otherwise dark times for the attorneys of somebody with four competing indictments, I'll mention.

Molly, you have a new cover story for "Time," where you write in part -- first of all, the actual -- the cover and the roller coaster of it, really interesting to look at. I think (INAUDIBLE) background there and the others who are on the stage -- who are going to be on the stage.

It says, with just a few days before the first republican presidential debate, he is not even planning to show up. And why should he? He is running away with this thing as rivals flounder and leap to his defense after each successive criminal indictment.

So, I wonder, are all of these troubles going to dominate the conversation? And if they are, is the litmus test of loyalty and how one addresses it weaponization-wise or, of course, pardoning, of course, it's outside of the state context, is that the central issue here that will take a lot of space here?

BALL: It's a really good question. I think a lot of it is up to the moderators, of course, right? They get to decide what the candidates talk about to some extent. We all know how it is with politicians. They don't necessarily answer the question. They talk about what they want to talk about.

However, to this point, what voters have wanted to hear about, a lot of it is Trump. And that is why these candidates have ended up in the place that they have, is because they are trying to meet Republican voters where they are and Republican-based voters very much want to hear this message reinforced about loyalty to Trump.

And so, when -- and thank you for the plug of my article. I think it's a good summation, a snapshot of where the race is at this point. And it's true, you know, Trump has barely lifted a muscle in this current run for president, and he is very much running away with this thing. And a lot of it is because everyone else has been defending him.

They have been the ones who have stepped up and have talked about Trump because they know it's what the voters want to hear about. And when they talk about him, it has been mostly to defend him.

So it will be very interesting to hear if this is a turning point in the campaign, if these other candidates see this as an opportunity to change the conversation, turn the conversation to something else, change the subject, or if they are still going to be talking about what it is that they think voters wanted to hear because to this point, what they have thought voters have wanted to hear has been mainly a pro-Trump message, a message about, you know, Trump's victimization rather than a message about, you know, Trump's guilt.


COATES: Well, Mark, people are often, obviously, very visual. The entire television medium is about that and the debate, no exception. And just -- Fox has now released the podium lineup. And here's a bingo card you might not have had six months ago, maybe even three months ago. Center stage is Governor Ron DeSantis and also Vivek Ramaswamy. What do you make of where everyone is standing?

MCKINNON: Well, that's interesting. I mean, over the net of this is that everybody on that stage understands that this is their first, best, and maybe last opportunity to really make an impression and change the equation.

The fact that DeSantis and Ramaswamy are in the middle is really interesting because I think that they -- debates are all about expectations, political expectations. They're not judged like a college debate. It's not a forensic debate. You don't get points. It is all about how you perform against expectations.

Now, Ramaswamy and DeSantis have completely different presentation, which is that Ramaswamy has very low expectations. People don't know him. They're unfamiliar with him. He is doing well in the polls recently because he has run a pretty aggressive media campaign.

But his expectations are low. People don't expect much from him. And he's very confident. I mean, he's very good on stage. He's very good in front of a camera. So, I think he will exceed expectations.

Ron DeSantis has high expectations. He was the guy that came in, was supposed to be the giant killer, and hasn't gotten all the traction that he was supposed to. But his expectations for this debate are still very high. So, he's got a greater challenge, really.

COATES: What's that lyric? Someone to the left of me, someone to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you. There's some room in between, everyone. Mark McKinnon, Molly Ball, thank you so much.

MCKINNON: Kick it.

BALL: Thank you.

COATES: Well, you may know Elon Musk controls X, which is known as Twitter not too long ago, and also Tesla and SpaceX and Starlink. But what you might not know is how much your government relies on him and, of course, his technology. It's all been raised, this explosive new expose, and we're going to get right into it next.



COATES: All right, here's a pop quiz. What comes to mind when you think of Elon Musk? For many, of course, he's the owner of X, formerly known as Twitter. But of course, that's really the tip of the iceberg and really his most recent venture.

He has Tesla, of course. He has spacecraft and rocket manufacturer SpaceX and broadband internet system Starlink. Then there's his recently launched AI-focused company, XAI. He's also, of course, known, increasingly so, for his erratic behavior, and this has the U.S. government nervous.

But the question for many is why. Well, Ronan Farrow, in a new piece from "The New Yorker," notes that the U.S. has grown overly reliant on Musk's technology, putting them at the mercy of, well, his impulsive behavior.

For example, Starlink is being used to support critical communications on the front lines of the war in Ukraine. But according to The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow, one Pentagon official says that Musk said he has spoken personally with Vladimir Putin. Farrow also appeared earlier on "CNN Tonight" and detailed Musk's critical role in Ukraine.


RONAN FARROW, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: The fact that Elon Musk has this network of satellites and mobile satellite stations called Starlink was a godsend. And the people who fundraised for that and helped get those units to Ukraine didn't think at the outset, they told me, of the fact that Elon Musk was going to have so much control.

And what we found as that conflict ground on is that he really was able to flip a switch and use geofencing, Cordon golf areas where, you know, for instance, Russia didn't want troops advancing. So, his role became very political, very fast.


COATES: I want to bring in now CNN media analyst and "Axios" senior media reporter Sara Fischer. I mean, "The New Yorker" article goes into great detail, Sara, about this reliance. And the big question people have, especially looking at one of the quotes where Ronan Farrow's article talks about the degree of dependency that the U.S. now has on Musk, are we in too deep here?

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: We're in an unprecedented situation, Laura. Typically, the U.S. government is not the go-between between an allied force in Ukraine and the NATO ally and a private U.S. citizen. We've never really experienced that type of situation before.

Now, of course, the Starlink example is absolutely critical and it puts the U.S. probably in its biggest bind as it pertains to this go- between role.

But there have been other instances in which Elon Musk has forced the government to take an action on certain things related to technology. You think about autonomous vehicles. This is a huge priority for the Biden administration. The Biden administration had to really twist the arm of Elon Musk, giving him tax credits to ensure that the Tesla charging stations would be applicable to a bunch of different other auto vehicles.

So, you can see a lot of examples in which the government has had to play ball with Elon Musk. We've never had some sort of private citizen in that, holding that much power over our government.

COATES: I mean, Musk has capitalized successfully, I might add, on a lot of markets that are important to the economy, to the country, and we don't have really the comparable or corresponding regulation. And so, did this really go too far in that we're relying so overtly, frankly, on one person?


FISCHER: Well, if you take a look at the U.S. government in the past couple of decades, Laura, very little has been done to support critical infrastructure. And that also includes critical infrastructure to support national security goals.

And so, when you think about Elon Musk being the one to have to step in to provide this critical communication vehicle, Starlink, I mean, that could be thought of as the U.S. government not doing enough to step up and play its role. Same thing again for autonomous vehicles. Even space, Elon Musk taking a leadership role in advancing the U.S.'s space agenda there.

And so, I think that it's one of these situations where the U.S. government is kind of at its own fault here. They have not done enough. We have not done enough as a nation to put us in a position where we would have more leverage over an individual entrepreneur like this.

COATES: A real catch-22, frankly, for all of this. Sara Fischer, thank you so much.

FISCHER: Thank you.

COATES: You know, I have a question for you. Have you -- well, you probably have. It's number one now. Have you ever heard of this song?



COATES: It struck a chord with many conservatives. It is now at the tippy top of the Billboard's singles chart. I will tell you how he got there next.






COATES: Did you check the Billboards' singles chart lately? Well, I'll tell you, do you want to know who is sitting on top? It is not Taylor Swift, oh, that's a good guess, or Olivia Rodrigo or Miley Cyrus. Well, it is actually this man singing right now, Oliver Anthony Music. His song "Rich Men North of Richmond" has struck a big chord now with conservatives, with lyrics that slam taxes and welfare cheats. Billboard says that this is the very first time that an artist has ever launched -- quote -- "atop the list with no prior chart history in any form" -- unquote.


COATES: Well, thank you for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.