Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Tonight

Special Counsel Seeks Limited Gag Order From Trump, Warns Of Possible Harassment; Union Auto Workers' Strike Continues; Birmingham Remembers Church Bombing That Killed Four Black Girls. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, good evening, everyone. I'm Laura Coates. Welcome to CNN TONIGHT.

We've got some breaking news, everyone. Jack Smith, the special counsel, wants a gag order on one, Donald Trump. He's asking the judge, Tanya Chutkan, for what he's calling a narrowly-tailored order, stop the former president from making statements that could, well, intimidate witnesses or jurors or even lead to harassment. And how do you think Trump is responding? I'll give you a cliffhanger and tell you about that in just a moment.

Plus, it's day one of the autoworkers' strike, the first in history against all of the big three automakers, and the union is now warning that more workers will go on strike if they don't get the better pay and the benefits they're demanding.

They're walking the picket lines as we speak right now, but in a matter of hours, they will be back at the bargaining table. Meanwhile, the companies are fighting back. Ford laying off 600 workers. Tonight, I'll talk to one striking worker. She is a mom of seven, who works up to six days per week and is barely making enough to survive, she says.

I want to begin with the latest in the filing from the new special counsel, of course, Jack Smith. Joining me tonight, Washington correspondent for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," Tia Mitchell, associate professor of law at Georgetown University, Vida Johnson, and former associate White House counsel to President George W. Bush, Jamil Jaffer. So glad that you're all here right now.

First of all, perhaps it's no surprise there's been a request for a gag order of Donald Trump. We saw this coming in many respects, right? The real issue here, though, is how do you have a gag order in place in a way that actually makes sense for somebody who needs to still be vocal?

I mean, he's running for office, number one. He's also, Vida, a criminal defendant who, if he were in a courtroom, could attack through counsel the credibility of those who are accusing him of something. How do you balance that? VIDA JOHNSON, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, that's a great question. You know, most people who are accused of crimes who are at liberty have some limitations placed on their conduct. Most of my clients might have some, you know, reporting conditions, and he hasn't had very many conditions imposed on him. And he was warned and his lawyers were warned not to say anything that could affect the integrity of the case.

Unfortunately, some of the things he has been saying on social media seems to have gotten under Jack Smith's skin. And so, I think that the judge will admonish him --

COATES: Uh-hmm.

JOHNSON: -- and tell him that he cannot or at least tell his lawyers that he can't, you know, use witness names and cannot intimidate or bribe witnesses.

COATES: I mean, we have a little bit of his reaction already to this idea that he is -- well, the proposed gag order. Listen to what Trump is already saying.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Did you see today that deranged Jack Smith, he's the prosecutor, he's a deranged person, wants to take away my rights under the First Amendment, wants to take away my right of speaking freely and openly?


COATES: So, it's a little bit more complicated. He's being very reductive when he says -- just speaking openly and freely. He's not talking about his preferred, I don't know, latte in this fall, but he's talking about potentially, and he's being accused of maybe intimidating, threatening or otherwise. What do you say to that argument? Because, obviously, he is trying to put out there, they're trying to shut me down, it's a First Amendment issue.

JAMIL JAFFER, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO GEORGE W. BUSH, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL SECURITY INSTITUTE AT GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: Yeah. Well, look, I mean, Vida is exactly right, that most defendants, this isn't a big deal, this is what's supposed to be done in a case to ensure that it's handled properly.

The problem is, as Vida points out, he's running for office. And one of the key issues at issue in this campaign is, did he win the last election? Was he trying to influence the vice president to engage in illegal activity? Did he cause an insurrection? Those are all issues at stake in this election.

And so, he's not got a crazy point, but he can't intimidate witnesses because he's a presidential candidate. Doesn't give him the right to intimidate witnesses in an ongoing proceeding against him. So, the judge is going to have to find someone to restrict him. The problem is, what's going to happen when he violates the order, which he's going to? Is she really going to impose sanctions? Is she going to put him in jail? I mean, that seems highly unlikely, and all that does play right into his hands politically.

COATES: And by the way, she has already said to you, there is a chance, if he engages in this behavior, this is Judge Chutkan, she could move that trial date earlier. One of the issues is -- and if you put back on the screen what is being asked for a moment from the special counsel, what they're trying to limit him, one of them involves statements regarding the identity, testimony or credibility of prospective witnesses and beyond.

There is an overlap, you're a member of the press, there's an overlap in terms of what's already publicly available.


In places like Georgia, by the way, where we know maybe grand juror information, et cetera, the taste and the appetite for information and what he would then build on, is there a tension in your mind between what the press is trying to access and how he uses the information?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Well, I think even in this request for gag order, there are provisions that he can quote from the public record and that he can make statements about his case. What they're trying to get him to do is prevent him from attacking individuals, whether it's the prosecutor, the judge, potential witnesses or jurors.

I also want to point out, in Georgia, since you mentioned that case, as a condition of his bond agreement, he's under a similar gag order already. And I think it has -- I'm not saying it eliminated his criticism of some of the people involved in the Georgia case, but I don't think we've seen some of the rhetoric we saw from the president before that bond agreement.

Now, again, the implications are a little bit different because, again, it's a condition of his bond, but it can happen, and I think most people who are facing a case aren't talking about the judge and the prosecutor on social media. They're probably not talking about the case much at all. There's a way for Donald Trump to move forward on social media if there's a gag order. The question is, will he comply?

COATES: I mean, we're looking at some examples right now. I mean, we've highlighted a portion of it. And by the way, this is the tip of the iceberg in many ways. I'm talking about a biased Trump-hating judge. He's talking about Jack Smith being deranged. He calls the DOJ, the people around the House of Council, a gang of thugs, crime-ridden and beyond. This is just a couple things. And I should mention a couple things just this last month, by the way.

One of the difficulties, Vida, I'm sure you're seeing is all the different types of indictments facing this president. One is, of course, in Manhattan. One is, of course, in Georgia. You've got Mar-a- Lago. You've got Washington, D.C. So, him making a statement, you're going to have to be, as a prosecutor, trying to figure out, are you talking about me? It's like a Robert De Niro tactic. Are you talking about me?

I don't seem well standing here. There are actually three other indictments happening right now. How, as defense counsel, do you help your client? That was a damn good impersonation. You're laughing but, I mean, I just -- it was DeNiro on a Friday night. Thank you very much. How do you, as a defense counsel, figure out a way to help him in court to say, your honor, he's making general statements he's always made even before the indictments?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, I don't think he's really listening to his lawyers. But if I'm -- if I'm --

COATES: I think you're right, Vida. I think you're right.

JOHNSON: But I will say that, you know, he's presumed innocent. And so, I do think he has a constitutional right to say, you know what, the prosecutors are making up stories about me. He could even say that the witnesses are making up stories about me.

I know that's not exactly what Jack Smith wants. He wants to limit arguments against the witnesses' credibility. But I think that's just integral to the presumption of innocence, that you should be allowed to say things like, you know, those people are lying.

COATES: But that makes sense, of course, but then you think about a defamation case like the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit we know about, right, where he believes that he was simply just denying an allegation. And he's saying the person is a liar. And why is that something that I'm going to be held to account for?

It's different in the criminal context, though, you're saying, in the sense of this is somebody who's presumed innocent, as you, of course, are in the civil world. But what are the guard rules? I mean, are there any rules that would apply for a defendant to say what they can and cannot say prior to trial?

JOHNSON: Well, it's clear that you can't bribe witnesses and it's clear you can't threaten witnesses. And you can't obstruct justice, and that's one of the things -- one of the charges he's facing. So, you can't do things that would try to interfere with an ongoing investigation. So, there are tons of things that he's just not allowed to do, and he can face criminal prosecution.

I think one thing that's really interesting here, too, is that his words have already led to this particular judge getting threats and racial slurs. We've seen that there was already a person arrested for doing those things. And we can just look at January 6th and see that his words really have a lot of consequences. And so, I think that's going to be what the prosecution's argument is.

COATES: Speaking of consequences and words, we know tonight that there are -- the special counsel obtained about 32 DMs. One, I wonder who slid into them and who's DMs he's slid into.

JAFFER: It's going to be really interesting.

COATES: It is. What are you going to look for? What are they possibly looking for here?

JAFFER: Well, apparently, they're looking for this series of DMs between October and January. So right around the time that the riots are being planned, the insurrection being planned. They want to see who's he talking to, what's he doing, who's he encouraging, what's going on here.

What's really interesting is they also got in a big -- the government got in a big fight with Twitter, which wanted to tell -- which wanted to keep it -- keep it public, tell Donald Trump that he was being -- his DMs were being sought.


Government fought hard to keep that out. The judge agreed with them. And now, it's out. Now, we know it's happening. It'll be really interesting to see what's in those DMs. If anything, we don't know. Could be totally innocuous, but they did produce 32 of them.

COATES: Isn't it crazy to think about, Tia, a man who says he's doesn't email, doesn't keep records, he's notorious, and everyone who talks about him -- that he is sort of intimating all of his directions and commands, and that you're supposed to extrapolate something more when he says it? That this might be a part of what is being used potentially as evidence?

MITCHELL: I just think it's so interesting that we think President Trump -- we know he had control of his Twitter. I mean, think about that. Most high-level officials are not tweeting. They're not checking their own DMs because their DMs are flooded with foolishness, and they let a staffer, a low-level staffer handle all of that.

So, to think that the government had an indication that Donald Trump himself is DM-ing people on Twitter, I think, is just really, really interesting. And if and when the contents of these DMs come out, it may really be earth-shattering. I guess we'll see.

JAFFER: It's got to be good.

COATES: I mean, you got to think about it. But at the same token, I wonder about the slippery slopes of things. You know, every time something like this happens, especially because social media companies, they have been fighting this because they have the privacy concerns.

I know that Donald Trump has recently said or maybe about a year or two ago, that he believes that Twitter was akin to the government, that they could possibly censor the First Amendment, which we know they cannot. I do wonder overall how this is going to play out if this kind of information is allowed to come in. What do you think?

JOHNSON: I mean, it's hard to even know what it is that we're looking at, but if it is him planning, you know, the insurrection, as you point out, I think this is going to be very damning evidence, it's going to be used directly against him.

MITCHELL: I just want to interject, as like a very online person, we know we're stunning our life away when we join these social media sites. You know what I mean? So, the fact that my DMs at any given time could be subpoenaed or just leaked or used in some way by a third party that the social media company authorizes, I believe it's probably already on the table as it exists. So, it doesn't surprise me that much.

COATES: And if they can see (ph) your DMs. Ah!


MITCHELL: We hope it never comes out.

COATES: That's fine. Tia, I'll call you about that. Vida, Jamil, thank you so much, all of you.

Coming up everyone, the union is warning more auto workers may go out on strike while the companies are hitting back with now layoffs. Next, we're going to go live right to the picket line.




COATES: Well, tonight, historic strikes continue to be underway. The workers are demanding better pay, better benefits, and job protection. But the United Auto Workers and the big three U.S. carmakers, well, right now, they remain deadlocked.

I want to go to CNN's Gabe Cohen, who is on the scene for us in Toledo, Ohio at the Stellantis plant where more than 5,000 workers are on strike. It's the largest group, by the way, of the three plants that are striking. Gabe, I'm so glad you're there. What is happening tonight? What are they telling you?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, Laura, over the past 24 hours, I've asked so many of these workers how long they think they can strike like this, and the answer that I keep getting over and over is as long as it takes.

Look, they point to the CEO salaries for the big three automakers, each making more than $20 million dollars a year, plus those massive, even record profits that those companies have been enjoying. And they are telling me, they want a bigger piece of that pie.

And look, the 13,000 or so workers who are now on strike between this Ohio facility, one in Michigan and one in Missouri, are now making just $100 a day in strike pay, each of them paid by the union, because they're not making a salary right now.

But they were told to be prepared for this moment, and that's what many of them told me they have been doing for months, even years, some of them, knowing that this moment was coming. And so, as you can hear, the energy level tonight. Day one is still extremely high, this chanting and cheering. But it's going to be interesting, Laura, to see if that energy level stays high after days, even weeks, with such little income.

COATES: I mean, the UAW did not -- they did not have negotiations today. They went on strike last night. But they do say that they will return to the bargaining table tomorrow. What do we know about that?

COHEN: Yeah, Laura, that's right, heading back to the bargaining table tomorrow. And the union says it has sent new counter offers to each of the big three. Now, they're awaiting their responses.

We don't know the details of what's in those proposals, but we're learning more tonight about just how big the divide is between the sides, with the head of the auto workers union, Shawn Fain, saying tonight that 80% of the members demands, 80% have not been met by the automakers in their offers to the union. Here's a little bit of what Shawn Faini had to say at a rally just a couple hours ago in Detroit.


SHAWN FAIN, PRESIDENT, AUTO WORKERS UNION: Class wars have been going on for 40 years in this country. The billionaire class has been taking everything and the working class has been left scraping, paycheck to paycheck, just trying to survive. It's time to put an end to that class war. And it's time to pick a side.


COHEN: So, as you can hear there, Laura, obviously, there is a lot of energy from the union and it seems like the divide is wide.


Not a good sense of progress here, but we're going to see what happens tomorrow at the bargaining table.

COATES: And no indication yet whether or not this will be concluded anytime soon and how many people -- how many more might go on strike. Gabe Cohen, thank you so much. Stay with us.

I want to bring in California Congressman Ro Khanna. He's also the deputy whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He joins us now. Congressman Khanna, thank you so much for joining us.

This is very significant. We're 24 hours in, practically. No more negotiations yet until tomorrow, but the ripple effects have already started. Ford basically said, I see your strike and I raise you with layoffs. They told 600 workers who aren't striking that they shouldn't come to work today. GM told 2,000 at a Kansas car plant that their factory would likely shut down next week for the lack of parts. Are you worried that this strike could really rapidly escalate?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Laura, I'm going to be going on Monday to stand with the UAW workers, both in Toledo and in Michigan. And you had Mary Barra on CNN earlier and she was asked basic questions, which she was unable to answer. She was asked, how are you making $30 million a year, 300 times more than the average median employee?

And then no one is talking about cuts for the CEO pay. No one is talking about the cuts for the $5 billion they spend on stock buybacks, and yet they're not willing to increase the wages so that UAW workers make a fair wage. And they need to be very careful not to engage in any retaliation in terms of laying off folks, because that, as you know, is illegal.

COATES: You know, we did invite the executives to join the program this evening. They declined. But you're right that many have gone on to talk about these things more broadly. And the amount of pay that the UAW is asking, they want a 40% pay raise. They want to reinstate pensions. They want healthcare in retirement. They want cost of living adjustments. These are things that many Americans don't already have. But compared to the execs, of course, is a very different story.

But how do you explain to people why these concessions are necessary without comparing to what the executives or the so-called fat cats are getting when you have many Americans who are looking at this issue and comparing what they presently have to them?

KHANNA: You said this is what we used to have in this country in terms of a family supporting wage. It used to be that you could go to work in a -- for an auto company and you could support your family and you could own a house. That was the American dream. And then what happened is these big corporations, basically offshore jobs, they went for cheap labor and the working class and middle class was hollowed out.

And Shawn Fain, to his credit, is saying enough. The workers deserve dignity, especially, Laura, because billions of your and my dollars are going to subsidize these companies. They can't come asking the government for billions of dollars and then say that they're going to continue increasing executive pay, continue to enriching shareholders with stock buybacks, but not do enough for the workers. That's just not fair.

COATES: I want to play for you what President Biden has said. He called on automakers to go further in their negotiating effort. Listen to what he said.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Auto companies have seen record profits, including the last few years, because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of UAW workers. Those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with those workers. The bottom line is that auto workers help create America's middle class. They deserve a contract that sustains them in the middle class.


COATES: Now you've heard what he had to say, at least today, but I will note that the UAW president, Shawn Fain, has withheld the union's endorsement of the Biden-Harris ticket and has criticized him. Although President Biden says he's the most pro-union president of all of American history, he has been criticized for what they consider a lack of support. Is President Biden at risk of losing union backing?

KHANNA: The president made a strong statement today. I think he clearly came out on the side of UAW workers. He said that these auto companies have had $21 billion in profits, they're getting money from the federal government, and they need to do more in increasing pay and meeting the UAW's reasonable requests.

I also believe that the key issue here is that people who are working in the battery plants also need to be under the union contract. The new jobs in the electric vehicle industry and supply chains need to be good-paying union jobs, not a race to the bottom. So, I believe the president, especially Gene Sperling, have the UAW's back.

I don't think this is about politics. We can worry about who the UAW endorses down the line. What's key is that the workers get the benefits that they deserve.

COATES: I want to expand on what you just said.


And you wrote in this really thought-provoking op-ed, frankly, that Shawn Fain -- and you were with UAW president, Shawn Fain -- you write in part -- quote -- "The electric vehicle transition must be as much about workers' rights as it is about fighting climate change. We won't let the EV industry be built on the backs of workers making poverty wages while CEOs line their pockets with government subsidies."

So, how much is innovation complicating an agreement with the workers and the companies?

KHANNA: Well, Laura, people know I'm one of the biggest climate advocates in the United States Congress. I am a champion for electric vehicles. I'm a champion for clean steel. I'm a champion for renewable energy, and I believe they're going to bring new jobs. But these new jobs have to be as good as the traditional jobs.

And what you have right now, in certain cases, if you don't get a good union contract, is these new jobs not paying as much as the traditional auto jobs. And if that happens, Laura, you're going to lose support in this country throughout the industrial Midwest for climate policy. And that's why what's at stake here is not just the dignity of the working class, it's the very idea of new industries to tackle climate. The workers have to be part of it.

COATES: When you talk about retaliatory actions, obviously, we know there are limitations legally about what a company could do. But one of the things that is always seeming to be on the horizon or at least in the thoughts of those who think about going against their employer or the big company or the so-called man is that the business could be moved, that the production lines could be moved elsewhere, including possibly outside of the United States. And so, there's always a tension between wanting to advocate and also the prospective action of a company who's looking at the bottom line exclusively. What do you want to say to people who might not appreciate the nuance of what it takes to even endeavor to strike, let alone to challenge the companies in this way?

KHANNA: I just want to salute the courage of the UAW workers who are putting themselves on the front line for worker justice and for standing up for the working class. And I want to salute the courage of Shawn Fain to take on these companies. He's asking very reasonable questions. How can you have $21 billion in profits and not have workers benefit? How can you have $5 billion in stock buybacks and not have workers benefit? How can you have CEOs making $30 million and not have workers' benefit?

And it is time in this country that we stop the offshoring to the cheapest labor and lowest environmental standards, and Laura, especially if you're getting government money. I mean, the future lesson is Congress needs to have stricter regulations, that you can't offshore jobs or not have unions involved in a fair election if you're going to take taxpayer money.

COATES: Congressman Ro Khanna, the work is still ahead. We'll see more about the negotiations starting again, it seems, tomorrow. Thank you for your evening and your time today.

KHANNA: Thank you. Thanks, Laura.

COATES: Up next, let's go talk to a worker, actually, and hear about her story. I'll talk to one of the striking workers, a mother of seven, who says she can barely make ends meet.







COATES: Auto workers walked off the job at the Stellantis Toledo plant at midnight, blasting the current tiered wage system at the big three automakers, where more recent hires start at much lower pay than more tenured workers.

Let's bring in United Auto Workers member Leticia Lopez. She's an assembly line worker at the Stellantis Toledo plant. Leticia, thank you so much for joining. I see your sign. You are united for that strong contract of the desire. You also are a mother of seven and you are working 60 hours a week as a supplemental worker. Many people who are across the country looking at what's happening and within the UAW, how are you going to make ends meet if this strike does not end soon? LETICIA LOPEZ, MEMBER, UNITED AUTO WORKERS: Thank you, Laura, for having me. Unfortunately, for me, from day one, I came in as a supplementary employee, and there was no guarantee whether I was going to work six days or three days a week. So, surviving on anywhere from 200 to 300 to 500 has kind of been my way of life for the last four years.

For me, knowing that I'm going to have a steady paycheck of 500 a week, is more stability for me of strike pay than the hours that I am guaranteed in the facility. Some weeks, I'm guaranteed 60 hours, and some weeks, I'm guaranteed none. So, it seems like 500 a week through strike pay is scary, but as a supplemented employee, that's stability.

COATES: I mean, just thinking about how one is unable to plan, how can you decide and know what you can spend, how can you have a monthly budget, how can you allocate your resources with that level of instability, and as for a single person, let alone somebody who is also a caregiver and a parent.

And I'm wondering about your benefits then, too, because you have stayed in this job because of the healthcare, but the healthcare does not include dental, doesn't include vision, doesn't include hearing coverage or even a retirement plan, all of which are extremely important. What does that mean to you that you don't have that?

LOPEZ: It's extremely important.


And that's why as a supplemental employee, when our president, Shawn Fain, says no one's going to be left behind, that to me gives me the most hope that I need. He understands.

Here in Stellantis facility that makes the Wrangler alone, we have around 1,100 supplemental employees. That's 1,100 of us that have worked through the COVID pandemic. That's 1,100 of us that have worked through down any shutdown or any obstacle that Stellantis had seen. We have been there and we have shown up and we have worked through everything they have thrown at us.

For me, as a mother of seven, the medical is what has kept me there. I have children that play in football, I have children that do soccer and cheerleading. At any given moment, something could happen to my children and I would have to take them to the emergency room. I can get a paycheck anywhere in Toledo, Ohio.

We are labor workers, we are union workers, and we will work. For me, I'm at Stellantis for the UAW benefits that we have fought for. For what they receive, for the full time, the benefits that they receive, that is why I am there. To know that if my child is hurt in any way, shape or form, I can go to an emergency room, and their healthcare benefits will be covered.

So that is why I have been there going on four years, because although I could go somewhere else, I'm going to be paying anywhere from $300 to $500 a month out of pocket just for health care. COATES: With the instability, could actually mean the entirety of a paycheck for a week's worth just for that alone. It's shocking to think about -- I wonder how long, though. I mean, you've already seen that Ford has announced that they're going to lay off 600 workers. GM will idle about 2,000 workers starting next week. You work at Stellantis. Are you worried that you might lose your job if they do a layoff there, too?

LOPEZ: I'm extremely worried. But the one thing that I can say that I am proud of is that I live in Toledo, Ohio. Toledo, Ohio is Jeep, and Jeep is Toledo, Ohio. No matter what happens, I know our city will back us.

I know Stellantis would be foolish if they decided to pull out of Toledo, Ohio. We make the Wrangler run. We are the reason why they are able to go home to their mansions and live in peace. It's our work that we produce. It's what we do inside this facility that gives them ease.

Their profits have been skyrocketing, skyrocketing. In the COVID pandemic, they were able to quarantine peacefully. They were able to be with their selves and not expose their families. They forced us to work in the pandemic because they chose to make us essential.

We went in. Supplemental employees, we have very little rights. We were only meant to be used for a certain amount of time, and then we end up being forced full time. We were forced to be in there during the pandemic with the possibility of killing our family. We didn't get a thank you. We do not receive profit sharing. We do not receive the full benefits. These CEOs sat comfortably during that pandemic while we had to worry every day if we were going to infect our family.

COATES: Leticia Lopez, thank you so much for bringing this focus and for what you've said tonight. We did invite the executives of these companies. They declined to take us up on our invitation. Thank you so much, Leticia. We'll be right back.

LOPEZ: Thank you.




COATES: Well, today marks 60 years since the deadly 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. It was carried out by four members of the KKK. In the Sunday morning attack, it killed four young Black girls: Eleven-year-old Denise McNair, 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins. The bombing also injured Addie Mae Collins's sister, Sarah Collins Rudolph, as well as 13 others.

Now, in a speech today commemorating the anniversary of the attack, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson emphasized the importance of remembering such moments in American history. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTICE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that atrocities like the one we are memorializing today are difficult to remember and relive. But I also know that it is dangerous to forget them. If we are going to continue to move forward as a nation, we cannot allow concerns about discomfort to displace knowledge, truth or history. We must not shield our eyes. We must not shrink away lest we lose it all.


COATES: I want to bring in former Democratic senator of Alabama, Doug Jones. Now, he successfully prosecuted two of the four Klansman identified as being behind this heinous attack. Senator, I'm so glad that you're here today. Thank you for joining us on this historic occasion. I mean, today is 60 years since that deadly bombing. I wonder what goes through your mind when you think about the history around this attack.

DOUG JONES, FORMER ALABAMA SENATOR: Well, Laura, thanks for having me and thanks for doing this segment on your show. We get kind of lost in all the media hype these days with everything else going on in this country. And this is -- this is a very significant memorial. It is significant every year. And it was so moving this year.


And I told the crowd when I introduced Justice Jackson, and I think everybody felt that this was something special today, because we saw a speaker who really represented the hopes and dreams and possibilities that we lost when those four young girls died.

And I think an interesting theme in Justice Jackson, the clips that you just played kind of touched on it, a theme from all the speakers was that we're concerned with reliving so many of the things that were going on in the 50s and 60s. We seem to be acknowledging the incredible progress we've had, but we seem to be rolling it back somewhat. And that's why memorials like this are so important, to not forget where we've been so that we don't go back there.

COATES: And not to erase it. I mean, even the uncomfortable we must lean into in order to ensure that history does not repeat itself. But how could it not repeat itself in a very expansive way if you don't even know what the history is?

And also, the fact of the actual case, so many people right now have become armchair, either detectives or lawyers are leaning into every legal story. We know all the reasons why. But the process of this investigation is one that you are intimately aware of.

I mean, it wasn't even until two years after the bombing that the FBI even identified four Klansmen as primary suspects. And you helped successfully prosecute two of them, not two years after this attack, but in 2001 and in 2002. And I am wondering for so many people out there, what was it like to prosecute a case 40 years after the crime, especially one where it involves the terror of the Klan?

JONES: It was a remarkable journey, I think, for the whole team. Most of my team was there today, and it were acknowledged by the crowd. It was a process. And we built on what was done in the 1960s. You know, the FBI took a lot of grief in the 1960s because they didn't solve this case. But it was not one that could easily be solved, and the Klan really clammed up and they didn't talk, and evidence was hard to come by.

In 1977, the first of the cases was tried. Former Attorney General Bill Baxley, who was also in the audience today, tried the first case and was successful doing that. So, we built on the 1960s investigation, the 1970s investigation that Baxley did, and then we did our own to try to fill in the gaps. And fortunately, times changed, attitudes changed, people changed, and the evidence just fit together so much easier and so much better.

But it was still a race against time. Witnesses were gone. Witnesses were dying. Witnesses were old and infirm. And we really had to work hard to pull these pieces together.

And interestingly, what would certainly appreciate, we found an old tape recording, a tape recording of one of the defendants talking to his wife and another person, in which he admitted being part of the group that was planning the bomb and making the bomb.

And it was a stunning discovery for us. Took a lot of interesting legal work to get it into evidence, but it was upheld by the courts of appeal. And that was a real key, I think, to this.

But the real basis for this prosecution was the dedication of the team, who just never gave up, and the families, who just patiently waited for the wills of justice to turn.

COATES: Slow moving they were but, in fact, they did turn towards justice. And this memory of what happened, I visited this church when I was at civil rights division at Department of Justice. Just how that felt, the weight of that moment, to know that there were little girls, there were children inside of that church and so many others whose lives were forever changed.

And here we are. You know, I'm teaching my children and talking to them, they're only nine and 10 years old, about what took place there, and they're hearing it through the perspective of a time when it comes to talking about race in this country. There's a lot of contention about it, about what should be talked about, about how we should delve into it without making people feel badly about the truth of history. What can we learn from historic moments like this all these years later?

JONES: We can't ignore history. We can't ignore the good. We can't ignore the bad. As Justice Jackson said today, how can you learn from your mistakes if you're never told that you made one? You can't. And I think it's so important. And you mentioned learning about it as a kid and things.

And I think one of the things that got kind of lost a little bit on Justice Jackson's comments today was how, as a child, her parents, teachers who taught them African-American history, that taught them civil rights history, and how it -- what it meant to her and how it gave her hope and how it gave her inspiration.

And that's the thing, I think, that we lose. We cannot relegate, Laura, events like this to some footnote in a history book just because, as Justice Jackson said, somebody might feel uncomfortable. We should feel uncomfortable but at the same time, we should make amends, we should do everything that we can to make sure it doesn't happen.


We can't ban books about the church bombing. We can't ban books about the freedom riders who were beaten in Birmingham. All of that happened. And I think the other thing that I want people to understand, people are talking about all of this and all of this violence and bad history and bad past. We've got it all today. It's not like it's in the past. All of the racial violence, we're still seeing it. We're seeing a rise in hate crimes.

And that's an interesting point that I think needs to be remembered because we see the same things today. So, we -- there is no point in covering up the past because we can learn from the past and deal with things that are happening with us right now and today. We're becoming in a more diverse society, a more diverse country. That is not going to change. And I hope people will not only accept that, but celebrate that.

COATES: As they say, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. So important to have this conversation. Thank you so much, senator. We'll be right back.

JONES: Thanks.




COATES: When CNN hero Mike Ball learned about the thousands of children in juvenile detention centers and residential treatment facilities across the entire country, he decided to start a songwriting program to help kids process their trauma.



MIKE BALL, CNN HERO: They all have different stories, and the point of what we do is let them tell that story.

UNKNOWN: The day will come --

UNKNOWN: When we see each other.

UNKNOWN: There you go. Okay.

BALL: Sometimes, they're silly. But beneath the silliness, they're really revealing. Sometimes, they're really heartbreakingly real.


Think about being in a position where nobody ever really cared what you feel. And instead, now, you talk about what you feel and a whole bunch of people go, yeah. It is life changing.

We can plan a seat in that child with self-confidence, self-worth. It's just so powerful.


COATES: To see the full story, go to

Thank you all for watching. Our coverage continues.