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Laura Coates Live

Hunter Biden Is Indicted On Tax Charges; There Is Avalanche Of Warnings With Election Day Looming; University Presidents Are Under Fire Over Antisemitism On Campus; Man Arrested After Firing Gun Outside Albany Synagogue; TX Woman Sues State Over Right to Abortion; An American Is Held In Venezuela For More Than Six Weeks. Aired 11p- 12a ET

Aired December 07, 2023 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there's new legal trouble for Hunter Biden and there's warning about a second Trump term, tonight on LAURA COATES LIVE.

Breaking news tonight, there are new charges and they are criminal charges filed against the president's son. Nine counts, including failure to file and pay taxes, evasion of assessment, and false or fraudulent tax returns. This is a 56-page indictment and it accuses Hunter Biden of evading federal taxes on millions of dollars while spending money on an extravagant lifestyle that includes hotels and exotic cars, and more than 188,000 bucks on what they describe as adult entertainment.

Now remember, a plea deal, it fell apart back in July, and now President Joe Biden will be campaigning for a second term while his son, who already faces criminal charges with a gun purchase, now is fighting to avoid conviction in the federal tax case.

Meanwhile, an avalanche of warnings as election day looms on the horizon less than a year away. There are many warnings that a second Trump presidency could throw every single one of the rules right out the window.

We've heard it from Trump himself, by the way, something a little different when Sean Hannity asked him the other night if he could promise never to abuse power as, well, retribution.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He says, you're not go be a dictator, are you? I said, no, no, no, other than day one. We're closing the border, and we're drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I'm not a dictator.


COATES: Hmm, okay. Well, the big question tonight, are there any guardrails left? Well, here tonight, someone who may have those answers.

Joining me now is Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney general under President Obama. I'm so glad that you're here. I actually served as a prosecutor while you were the attorney general, so it's so good to see you again. There's a lot that has happened, though, since those moments, and there's some new news tonight before we get into all that we want to talk about tonight.

There's new news about Hunter Biden, as you well know. There is now an additional indictment. This time, it's a new nine-count indictment against him. It includes three felony counts, a failure to pay taxes in California, and he is accused, broadly, of a four-year scheme, this one to avoid paying $1.9 million.

This comes after, of course, that plea offer and plea deal blew up in court. This is really troubling for him in particular, is it not?

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yeah, it's difficult. I mean, you know, the plea deal looked like it was going to resolve everything. When that plea deal fell apart, it became pretty clear because of venue issues that there were going to have to be two separate indictments. And so, this indictment, I think, was expected although I've not had the chance to review the indictment.

Nobody wants to be under felony indictment in two different places. So, for him, personally, this is something that's going to be very difficult.

COATES: Now, he has been talking and many have been using him as the center of an argument. On the one hand, they talk about a two-tier justice system. You, of course, as a former attorney general, I think have particularly unique insight into how the justice system really works.

But also, he is saying, look, I am being targeted. It's a continuation of a larger discussion about the weaponization of the government. You've heard this a lot.

When you see a case like this, is Hunter Biden an example of a witch hunt or justice being at least pursued?

HOLDER: It's interesting. I'm not sure I'd call it a witch hunt, and yet I've spoken to former colleagues, both Republican and Democrat who were United States attorneys, and I asked them, you had these facts in your office, would you have brought this case? And the answer to a poor person was no. This is not a case that we would have brought, that there would have been some kind of resolution along the lines that was suggested in the possible plea agreement.

I think that he is, you know, being not targeted but treated perhaps a little differently because of who he is. There's a political component to this case, which is not to say that the special prosecutor, Mr. Weiss, is doing anything inappropriate, but I think there is certainly political pressure that exists in this case that you would not see with regard to other matters.


COATES: The pressure being if he does not pursue this case based on the last name of Hunter, then he must be trying to do a favor for Joe Biden? Is that the assumption?

HOLDER: Yes, something along those lines. I mean, you had whistleblowers who claimed that even in spite of the fact that there were indictments brought that not all that the investigators wanted to have done was, in fact, done. That was refuted by the attorney general, by Mr. Weiss himself, and I don't think there's any proof of that. But there's no question that there's a political component to this.

COATES: It's interesting because, as you mentioned, Weiss sent letters to Congress, also addressed this issue to suggest that the whistleblowers did not share his concern or that they maybe added something to it or maybe embellishment. He was very clear initially about why he was doing what he was doing.

Now, this has been brought. Still, the political component of this is very, very evident for so many people. And one of the reasons why Hunter Biden is saying, look, if you want me to testify, Congress, in front of you, it's got to be done in front of a camera where the American people can hear because there is the assumption that you will twist my words or cherry pick.

Do you have concerns about the pushback that Congress is giving to having to have a behind closed doors as opposed to in front of camera conversation?

HOLDER: Well, if I were Hunter Biden's lawyers, I wouldn't want him interacting with Congress at all.

COATES: Really?

HOLDER: Well, because who knows what he'll say there, what questions he'll be asked. He is facing, you know, charges in a criminal setting. And so, I wouldn't want him testifying before Congress.

But to the extent that he's going to do that or interacting with Congress, I think his inclination is probably right. Let's put this out in front of the American people. Let's not have something done behind closed doors where words can be twisted, excerpts can be leaked. Let's put it all out there for all of the people to see.

COATES: You know, part of the details of this new indictment are likely things no one wants to talk about in front of the camera. They want to talk about some of the details here about how he spent the money instead of paying his taxes and the allegations.

He allegedly spent the money on -- $10,000 to purchase a membership in a sex club, paying someone approximately $6,000 for tasks like buying food, alcohol, and underwear. The figures go on in terms of what he chose to allegedly pay instead of taxes.

Do you think that contributes to the perception that this is a sort of tarring and feathering in the public square or are these the type of details that are necessary to include in this indictment?

HOLDER: Well, once you decide that you're going to bring an indictment, you want to bring the strongest case that you possibly can, bring a case that's going to have the greatest appeal to a jury so that you can get a conviction, and those kinds of facts are the kinds of things that any prosecutor would want to include in an indictment to argue before the jury.

This isn't some kind of ordinary run-of-the-mill tax case, that this was an abuse of the tax system, and I'm sure that's why those things were included in there.

COATES: You are bombarded and with all of these conversations, politically speaking, that tell you that the government is weaponized, that tell you there is this, again, two-tiered system of justice, which -- by the way, it's no secret in America that we do have perhaps two different tracks, the haves and the have-nots.

This is not new news, but the way they're talking about it now is to suggest that the Department of Justice is used for retribution, that if you're a political appointee of the president of the United States, as you were under President Obama, then you would become the puppet.

When you hear those statements, it must offend you to think about the legacy of the department that you ran.

HOLDER: Yeah, that's not -- that's just not true. You know, the Justice Department, by and large, and there have been exceptions, is really an institution that is antipolitical, that is politically neutral, that really just follows the facts and the law and makes determinations on that basis. And when the Justice Department does not do that, that's when the Justice Department gets into trouble.

The attorneys general are certainly part of the president's cabinet, but they're different. I remember when I was being confirmed, Patrick Leahy, who was then chair of the Judiciary Committee, said, you're not going to be the secretary of justice, you're going to be the attorney general of the United States, and you're different than the other cabinet members.

Given the power that the Justice Department has, it must always remain neutral in its determinations, try to push out of consideration any political considerations. And I think that Merrick Garland certainly has done that.

There are only rare exceptions where I think that has not been the case. You know, John Mitchell under Richard Nixon. I would say that Bill Barr, under Donald Trump, certainly let political things get into the determinations that they made.

COATES: I keep hearing the political discussion about, in very broad terms at times, a threat to our democracy. But what you describe is very specific and it's nuanced and needs to be flushed out more because who is the attorney general of the United States has a direct effect on so many factors. Can you just describe a little bit in terms of the role of and how it would transform if an attorney general were not looking at things purely from the facts, purely from the evidentiary burden and how to meet it, but instead taking directives on who to prosecute from the president of the United States?


HOLDER: Sure. If the president told a compliant attorney general, I don't like what this congressman said about me or did about me, did to me over the course of the last two, three years, whatever, open an investigation on that person, that attorney general could tell a compliant United States attorney to do just that, talk to a compliant FBI director who could be replaced by the president to open an investigation and then to just look through that person's life and look for anything that you possibly can find.

And who's to say what you find in any person's life that might run afoul of the law, and even beyond that. The mere fact of an investigation of a person who is a public figure can be reputation- ruining, can be politically-damaging, not even if you find anything, just the fact that the investigation itself exists.

And if you've got the full weight of the Justice Department, the full weight of the presidency, the full weight of the FBI focusing on somebody like that, that can be extremely damaging to not only that person individually, but to our democracy writ large.

COATES: I mean, you have an investigation actively right now. Some investigations that are out there, politically, that's exactly the point you described. Just enough seed planting to let something flourish. I'm not going to tell you everything, but here are some seeds. I'll put it over there and you decide what to do with it.

Some would look at this issue in terms of Hunter Biden in particular and say, well, there have been seeds planted reputationally. It doesn't just damage him, but we are less than a year away from a presidential election. Does it damage Joe Biden to have these indictments against his son specifically?

HOLDER: Well, I mean, that remains to be seen. The charges are against Hunter Biden. I have seen no indication that there's any kind of connection between the president and the actions for which his son has been charged.

That doesn't mean, however, that Donald Trump or Republicans are not going to try to draw those connections. They've tried to weaponize, I think, the Justice Department in ways that is inconsistent with the best traditions of the department. We'll have to see how successful they are.

But again, I don't think there is any proof, any proof, at this point that there is a connection between, you know, the allegations involving Hunter Biden and his father, the president of the United States. COATES: When you look at the process of getting not only appointed but confirming attorney general, there is the possibility sneakily that one could have a series of acting attorneys general who need not ever get the full stamp of approval from Congress. Is that possible here in any number of these positions?

HOLDER: Sure. I mean, we have seen the former president do exactly that. He made that determination. Wait a minute, I need not send people up to the Senate to get confirmed, I can put them in acting positions. And we saw a whole bunch of people in a variety of executive branch agencies who are acting and who have virtually the full power of any attorney general who might be confirmed. And so, that's another -- that's another way in which he can get around these American norms that have always kind of kept the Justice Department separate and apart from politics.

COATES: Well, politics, of course is out there, and one sure fire way to address it is through voting, right? You know, they say democracy is not just in the voting, it's in the counting. And when you count the number of people in different districts, who's there, who's not, who's excluded, you might add up to a lot of gerrymandering in this country.

Voting rights has been and continue to be a very big passionate project for you. I served in the voting rights section along and underneath you, and I look at this and say, what must Eric Holder be thinking when you see the Voting Rights Act of 1965 chopped away from the Section 5 and gutting that formula that says which states have to have the preclearance?

Now, the Section 2 is saying only private litigants can bring these cases. No longer the NAACP, for example, or the different agencies. Only DOJ can bring that, not private litigants. What do you say to that?

HOLDER: Well, you know, I'm concerned about what's being done to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is the crown jewel of the civil rights movement. In 2013, there was the Shelby County case, Shelby County versus Holder, that took away the pre-clearance authority that the Justice Department had. A really stunning blow to the Justice Department.

And now, out of the Eighth Circuit, there is this new theory that apparently has been found 58 years into the existence of the Voting Rights Act, never seen before, that says only the Justice Department can bring cases under Section 2 as opposed to private litigants.

There have been about 185 successful cases brought under Section 2, only 15 brought by the United States Department of Justice. About 90% of the successful Section 2 cases have been brought by private litigants. If you look at the legislative history of the Voting Rights Act, they talk about these cases being brought by the government as well as by private litigants.

[23:15:02] You had a Trump-appointed judge in the Eighth Circuit in Arkansas to say he brought up this before any of the parties raised it. He said, well, you know what, I'm not sure that private litigants can actually bring these cases.

Now, the litigants didn't raise this as a possibility, and then two judges in the Eighth Circuit said, well, we agree, inconsistent with what the Fifth Circuit said, I guess just a few weeks before that, inconsistent with what two other circuits have said about the ability of private litigants to bring these cases.

So, I'm very concerned about what they're trying to do to Section 2, one of the few remaining and vital parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

COATES: Georgia is on everyone's mind for a lot of reasons. One reason today, the Republican-controlled legislature in Georgia passed a new congressional map. This might sound similar to other cases as well. This is after a judge found that the prior one violated the Voting Rights Act as well.

Critics say that it's not in line with the judge's orders, and so I'm wondering how the courts are going to start to approach these things. If you see states just saying, thank you, your honor, we'll do what we want anyway, that can't be a sustainable premise.

HOLDER: This is in some ways a sorted repeat of the history that we have seen in the south before where the executive branches and the legislatures in the south just ignored court orders.

We saw -- we won a case in Allen versus Milligan, the Alabama case that said there was a racial gerrymander in Alabama, and we saw the legislature there try to ignore the United States Supreme Court. This is very conservative, United States Supreme Court, and they had to be slapped down again.

We're seeing the same thing in Georgia where the federal courts have said you have racial gerrymanders here, both at the congressional level and at the state level as well. And now, they have tried to construct a system that shrinks the number of opportunity zones that Black people have, opportunity districts for Black people to express themselves, inconsistent again with what the courts have said.

And so, we have to be vigilant, we have to have the courts on the side of the law, and we have to try to make sure that those in the legislative and executive branches don't do things that George Wallace did back in the 1960s and Lester Maddox did in the 1960s. It is assorted and painful and disgraceful history that Republicans in these southern states are apparently comfortable with.

COATES: I mean, packing different districts, cracking them to dilute the voting strength, this is all still a part of what's going on in our country. It's really a scary time to think about these legislators saying it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. That puts them on a very difficult path. Please, Attorney General Eric Holder, stick around. We will be right back. I want to ask you about the alarming rise of antisemitism across the country, including and specifically on college campuses. Second gentleman speaking out about that very notion tonight. We'll be back in a moment.


DOUGLAS EMHOFF, SECOND GENTLEMAN: Let me be clear. When Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or identity, and when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism and it must be condemned.


And condemned unequivocally and without context.





COATES: Tonight, the president of the University of Pennsylvania's job may very well be on the line. There are serious calls for her to resign following that contentious congressional hearing about antisemitism on college campuses.

The leaders of Harvard, MIT, and UPenn are under and facing intense scrutiny from business leaders, from donors, from members of Congress, and now even the White House.

Here's what Penn president, Liz Magill, had to say just on Tuesday.


UNKNOWN: Ms. McGill at Penn, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn's rules or code of conduct? Yes or no?

LIZ MAGILL, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment, yes.

UNKNOWN: I am asking, specifically calling for the genocide of Jews, does that constitute bullying or harassment?

MAGILL: If it is directed and severe or pervasive, it is harassment.

UNKNOWN: So, the answer is yes.

MAGILL: It is a context-dependent decision.


COATES: Now, after that hearing, Magill released a video statement in an attempt to clarify what she meant by all that context.


MAGILL: I was not focused on, but I should have been. The irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate, it's evil, plain and simple.


COATES: Not sure if it's a day late and a dollar short. We'll have to wait and see. But former Attorney General Eric Holder is back with us right now. I want to ask you about the nature of sort of these hedging conversations or the minefield people seem to be walking on, even when it's cases that seem to be quite clear. Is this about the battle of free speech? Is that what's happening right now or are people just unwilling to answer the yes or no?

HOLDER: Well, there's a free speech component to it but the way in which the question was posed to those presidents was pretty easy, I think, to answer. Anytime anybody is advocating for the killing of any group based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, that has to run afoul of some kind of norm, some kind of rule, some kind of prohibition that I hope it would exist at our institutions of higher education.

So, you know, I'm not sure why they answered the way in which they did, but I think their answers could have been a lot more clear.


COATES: I mean, now, there are ramifications of all this, of course, and calls for resignation, but it also is about a larger conversation happening nationally and, frankly, globally. We're talking about these issues because hate-related speech can turn into hate-related crimes and general atmosphere of terror as well.

And tonight, there's a 28-year-old man in custody after allegedly saying, free Palestine, but then also firing two shots from a shotgun outside of an Albany synagogue. I'm wondering from you about the rise in these kinds of attacks. We've seen from Director Wray, he talked about an exponential increase in antisemitic crimes and Islamophobic crimes and hate crimes more broadly. Is there a way to address and prosecute and an eye towards deterrence?

HOLDER: Yeah, it is all about deterrence. People can't do the kinds of things that this 28-year-old allegedly did, to go outside a synagogue, fire a gun. That's a person who needs to be held responsible and made an example of. If people are allowed to do these things and go unpunished, you will see repetition of those kinds of incidents.

But it also means that people in positions of power have to watch the language that they use. And, yeah, you can be against the positions of the Netanyahu government, but you don't have to go as far as some have gone with regard to things that I think move into antisemitism. Our national leaders, more generally when it comes to hate-filled speech and trying to demonize certain people, certain groups of people, trying to set us upon each other, all that leads to an atmosphere, an environment in which, you know, hate has a chance to grow in which lone wolves become energized.

I think any former prosecutor, I'm sure, you know, Director Wray would tell you, the thing that really worries you are the lone wolves who get energized. You know, maybe that 28-year-old who has heard somebody say something and decides that he wants to take some kind of action. Those are the things that give me concern. This is not a problem that, you know, cropped up overnight.

COATES: Ten years ago, talking to the ADL, you had that speech to them talking about it would be naive to suggest that it's all done, antisemitism or any sort of bigotry is done. That was 10 years ago, and we're still here.

HOLDER: Right. These are problems long in the making and will take some time to resolve. But they are problems that are susceptible to solutions. We're talking about manmade problems that I think are susceptible to manmade and womanmade solutions. If we talk to one another, if we get to understand each other, if we respect each other, we can disagree with one another and do so in an appropriate way.

COATES: Really a pleasure to have you here and pick your brain. Thank you so much, General Holder. I appreciate it.

HOLDER: Thanks for having me.

COATES: Thank you. A Texas woman having to sue to get an abortion, saying that her pregnancy is threatening her life. First, a judge ruled in her favor, but then the state's attorney general weighed in. I'll tell you what happened, next.




COATES: Well, tonight, a Texas judge has sided with a woman who sued to get an abortion for her high-risk pregnancy. Kate Cox, who is 20 weeks pregnant, filed a lawsuit this very week saying that her unborn baby has a genetic condition and carrying the child to term could threaten her own life.

Cox is feasibly diagnosed with what's called Trisomy 18, a chromosomal anomaly that typically is fatal before or soon after birth. And the Texas A.G, Ken Paxton, is now threatening legal consequences for any doctor involved in providing the abortion, if Mrs. Cox goes forward with it. He claims that she failed to show that she qualifies for the -- quote, unquote -- "medical emergency exception to the state's strict abortion ban after six weeks of pregnancy."

The law defines a medical emergency as a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that, as certified by a physician, places the woman in danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless an abortion is performed.

I want to bring in Judge LaDoris Cordell, who is a retired California superior court judge. Judge, thank you so much for being here this evening.

When we hear stories like this, in many ways, it was contemplated right after the Dobb's decision and even before what might ultimately happen. And the number one thing people point at is this idea of the definition of a medical emergency. Who gets to decide that and who should it be? Here, it's a judge making the decisions, not just the doctor or the woman. Is that what ought to happen here?

LADORIS CORDELL, RETIRED CALIFORNIA SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: Well, first of all, these kinds of issues, I think, shouldn't even be in the courts. It should be between the woman and her physician. But that is not the case in Texas and many other states. So, it becomes a question of fact.

Here, Ms. Cox came to court and said, will you please restrain the state of Texas from banning an abortion for me? This is a very narrowly focused case. And so, the judge did what judges are supposed to do. The judge held an evidentiary hearing on this request for restraining order, and the state's attorney, the attorney general, had an opportunity and did present evidence.


Ms. Cox presented the testimony of her own physician who gave a medical evaluation saying that this indeed should be a medical exception because her life is at stake, literally life and death.

So, what the judge did was consider everything and came to conclusion based on the facts and the law, and as a result said, the state of Texas in this narrow instance should be restrained from keeping her from getting an abortion.

And I will tell you, Laura, that the most outrageous thing about this hearing, and you mentioned it very briefly, you know, you have to two key players here, Judge Gamble, who I found to be quite courageous, and Mr. Paxton, who I found to be entirely egregious.

The judge made a valid order, and that order is valid because it has not been overturned or reversed by an appellate court. And even though the judge issued a valid order, this man, Mr. Paxton, threatened and continues to threaten to prosecute anybody who follows the judge's order. The doctor, it could be the person who drives her to the hospital to have the procedure, he is basically threatening everyone.

In my view, this is obstruction. It amounts to obstruction for which he should be held accountable. This man needs to be disciplined immediately for standing in the way of implementing the judge's order.

COATES: It's such a methodical approach you've taken and just looking at it, if there were a different order about a non-controversial topic, the idea that a judge's order would not be followed for so many would seem egregious on its face, but yet you enter into the controversy of abortion itself and the terminology of how one comes to this conclusion.

Judge, I want to focus on the vagueness for a judge to look at this statute that talks about medical emergencies. You say the testimony of her own doctor came in. You are a lawyer, you are a judge, you are not, I'm assuming, somebody who is a medical doctor as well who's relying on that aspect of your career.


COATES: The vagueness of that term presents a lot of problems. Is it to deter those from even endeavoring to try or is it supposed to be broad enough to enable more medical emergencies to be found?

CORDELL: Well, I think, first of all, this legislation and the definition of medical emergency in Texas, it was done by people who were inept. They were in a rush to do what they could to control women's bodies and came up with this language. So, the judge, given this language, it is the law, has to do her best to interpret that law, and she did.

We know she did her best because she issued findings. She made findings of fact. There's no jury here, so the judge is both the jury as well. They made facts and said, okay, these are the facts, this is who I believe, and then said, I will apply the law to this.

Now, there may be in instance in this in Texas where it's going to go up on appeal in terms of getting more clarity on what medical emergency means, but I really think the language is not that vague. I think the judge found correctly that Ms. Cox fits that definition, her life is at stake, and also, as the judge made a finding, the possibility of her again being able to have children is jeopardized if she is not permitted to go forward with the abortion.

And for Mr. Paxton and others who claim that they are pro-life, then why are they standing in the way of this woman who may not be able to give life again as a result of not being able to get an abortion?

COATES: So thought-provoking to think about this. And judge, one of the main issues I see is that you'll have people who will say two things. One, well, she should just go out of the state then if she has an issue with this. But she wants medical care in her own state, number one. And number two, this is just one person. You cannot decide issues like this, I would assume, on a case-by-case basis and be able to have a universal standard applied.

Really important conversation with you tonight, your Honor. Thank you so much.

CORDELL: Sure. Thank you.

COATES: An American is being held in Venezuela and it has been for more than six weeks, and his family claims that they were extorted for thousands of dollars to secure his release. The family joins me, next.




COATES: I want to bring all of your attention to an American who is being held in Venezuela. You see him right there. His name is Savoi Wright, and he was arrested on October 24th and is now being charged with terrorism-related offenses, according to family attorney.

But here's the catch. His family says that he is being wrongfully detained, and it's not just that. They're also claiming to have been extorted for thousands of dollars in an attempt to secure his release.

So, what is being done to get him home? Well, as of now, not much, and that's because of the sour relationship between the U.S. government and Venezuela's autocratic leader, Nicolas Maduro, a leader who is now set to take over parts of his oil-rich neighbor, Guyana, a part of the country the size of Florida.

Now, the State Department has labeled Venezuela with a level four travel advisory, saying -- quote -- "Do not travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, kidnapping, and the arbitrary enforcement of local laws" -- unquote.


Now, other countries on that list include Iraq, Lebanon, Russia, Somalia, North Korea, Yemen, Syria. Now, it's critical to note that Savoi Wright, he's not a celebrity, he's not an athlete, he's not perhaps even known to any of you, but he's also not a journalist. He's just a regular American who, according to his family, was seemingly in the wrong place at the wrong time.

His family joins me now, his mother, Erin Stewart, and his sister, Moizee Stewart. Thank you to you both for joining me this evening. This must be a particularly scary time to think about where he is, what could be happening, and what would come next.

Erin, if I could begin with you. Are you in touch with Savoi at all? I mean, do you even know where he's being held and how he's being treated there right now?

ERIN STEWART, MOTHER OF SAVOI WRIGHT, AMERICAN DETAINED IN VENEZUELA: Thank you, Laura, first of all, for having us on, we really appreciate it, and for bringing light to Savoi to this situation. It's horrific. There are no words for this. It's devastating. It's a nightmare beyond description.

We do know that Savoi is currently being held at DGCIM, which is the government military intelligence. We do know that he has not been treated well. This has been after he has been passed around from facility -- government facility to facility while being extorted. We do know that the situation and the conditions there are extreme. We do know that Savoi had passed out due to the abuse and the neglect and was taken to a medical facility. We know it's just a horrific situation for him.

COATES: Now, when you talk about the abuse and all that's going on, the perhaps elephant in the room are concerns that this is a Black man in this country, in this particular system. And you have particular concerns as well, Moizee, about the fact that this is a Black man in this prison and in this government custody. Why do you raise it?

MOIZEE STEWART, SISTER OF SAVOI WRIGHT, AMERICAN DETAINED IN VENEZUELA: Yeah, that's one -- I think we all kind of know the inclination of one being a Black male in the U.S. prison system, let alone in South America. So, our major concern is not just the treatment, right?

We realized that since Savoi has been in custody, we have really been given the run around on so many different levels with the Venezuelan government as well as our own. Savoi has latently been treated as a second-class hostage by both government officials, you know. Like you mentioned earlier, it's like -- he's a normal guy. Right? He's our family.

To other people, he might not be anything. To us, he's everything, you know, and it's imperative that we bring light to the situation, his life matters, his safety matters, and we want to make sure that he is given the same treatment as other celebrities, as other people who have, you know, gotten designated very quickly.

You know, that's one of the reasons we're bringing attention to this. We're really pushing for and calling for Savoi to be designated, wrongfully detained. We know that there are currently negotiations in process and we need him to be a part of that.

COATES: Moizee, you know, the warnings against going to Venezuela may have perked up a lot of ears to suggest that, you know, he was there in that particular location. It does not change the fact that you want him home and doesn't change the fact that he is now facing terrorism charges there. He's accused of conspiring with Venezuelan opposition members.

Now, you and I have spoken about this. Does that sound, Erin, like your son? Moizee, like your brother?

E. STEWART: That is not my son. My son is a six-foot-ten gentle giant with the kindest heart and spirit, free spirit, loving spirit, loves life, loves people, loves culture, which is why he's there. He fell in love with South America, fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, English, fell in love with Venezuela, you know.

And so, the fact that they have now -- Savoi was kidnapped. He was kidnapped and he has been held for ransom. We have been extorted multiple times.

M. STEWART: While he has been in government custody. And not just that. He was interrogated, he was tested, he was cleared at not just one but two facilities, and they were actually moving forward with the deportation process, at which time the military intelligence intervened and have now turned him into a political prisoner, which is just one of many of the points on (INAUDIBLE) criteria that he meets, you know, which would make him, you know, eligible for the designation to be wrongfully detained.

It's imperative that we give the, you know, the due process. His human rights are being violated on a daily basis in Venezuela. We know that.


And it seems that that is happening here. So, we're really just pleading with the State Department to do everything that they can in their power. It's imperative that Secretary of State Antony Blinken sees this case and reviews it as soon as possible. Savoi must be included. His life must matter. We have to do everything in our power to ensure that that happens.

Recently, Brian Nichols, who is the assistant secretary at State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, he actually included Savoi in that at a press conference. He referred to the four designated wrongfully detained Americans. So, he can even see how blatantly obvious it is that Savoi has been, you know, kidnapped.

But we still have to somehow prove that to our government, what is so obvious, like, what else do we need? We've provided them the information,

E. STEWART: Evidence.

M. STEWART: All the evidence, all of the receipts, all the extortions, all of the texts. We've showed them how Savoi's human rights have been violated. He has not been allowed access to his attorney. He was put into a forced disappearance for four weeks where no one could contact him. No one knew where he was.

E. STEWART: In solitary confinement.

M. STEWART: So, it's like, really, he meets so many boxes, and yet everyone is still somehow, you know, dumbfounded --

E. STEWART: Bureaucracy.

M. STEWART: -- about why, whether or not he meets these criteria. It's so obvious.

COATES: Erin, Moizee, I do want -- I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't want to cut you off. Excuse me. I do apologize. I do want to read, people are probably wondering where the State Department is and what they've said about this.

A spokesperson for the State Department is telling CNN that they are aware of reports that Savoi was arrested in Venezuela, but also said, and I'm quoting them, "For privacy, safety, and operational reasons, we do not always make wrongful detention determinations public, do not comment on individual cases, nor discuss any details of internal deliberative processes." Well, Erin, Moizee, I certainly hope you are being made aware of all that could be done to help your brother and your son. Thank you so much for joining me tonight. I'm so sorry to hear about what's going on.

E. STEWART: Thank you.

M. STEWART: Thank you so much for the time and thank you for caring. We value you. Thank you.

E. STEWART: We appreciate you so much.

COATES: Thank you.

E. STEWART: Thank you.

COATES: Thank you so much. We'll be right back.




COATES: Well, we started the new program today with new charges against the current president's son, and we'll finish it with the civil charges against the previous president.

Donald Trump is set to take the stand in his quarter-of-a-billion- dollar civil fraud trial on Monday in New York City. That didn't stop him, of course, from speaking his mind today, launching into, well, a very familiar refrain.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's not a judge in the country that wouldn't have given us a total victory, but there's not a judge in the country that would have even taken this case. This is a witch hunt, and it's a very corrupt trial.


COATES: Well, if you had witch hunt on your bingo card, you win. It also seems to be the free space because it's always mentioned. And while the former president may want to take the stand, his lawyer, well, they may have a different idea.


ALINA HABBA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: He still wants to take the stand, even though my advice is at this point, you should never take the stand with a gag order. But he is so firmly against what is happening in this court.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COATES: We're going to cover it all right here on CNN. Thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.