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Laura Coates Live
Trump's Rhetoric Goes To High Extremes On Campaign Trail; Meadows's Attempt To Move Georgia Case To Federal Court Denied; ProPublica: Clarence Thomas's Private Complaints About Money Sparked Fears He Would Resign; Jury Finds Majors Guilty Of Assault And Harassment. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired December 18, 2023 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: New tonight, take a look at these massive plumes of lava in Iceland as a volcano eruption begins. Experts have warned that the activity could threaten nearby homes as well as local power plants. The area has been evacuated for a month in preparation for this moment and no flights have been disrupted yet, but Iceland's government says that right now, there is no threat to life.
Laura Coates, it's pretty amazing, but I'm glad that you and I are both here and not there to witness it.
LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Are you kidding me? I could not be farther enough away from that. I could not be far enough away from that, Abby. The volcano thing? No, thank you. But hope you're all safe out there.
Listen, remember the saying, take him seriously but not literally? Well, if past is prologue, maybe it should be both, tonight on "Laura Coates Live."
Well, it's language you never want to hear, the kind of stuff that gets compared to the worst figures in recorded history. By now, you may have already heard exactly what I'm talking about. But I want to play what the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, had to say at a rally over the past weekend in front of thousands of his supporters in New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're poisoning the blood of our country. That's what they've done. They poisoned mental institutions and prisons all over the world, not just in South America, not just the three or four countries that we think about, but all over the world. They're coming into our country from Africa, from Asia, all over the world. They're pouring into our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Quote -- "poisoning the blood." That was his actual quote. Experts say that mirror -- that mirrors Hitler's calls for racial purity in his manifesto. We talked about German blood being poisoned by Jewish people. Look, it's not the first time that Trump's invoked words that have brought up comparisons to Nazi Germany. It's not the first time we're left asking, does he really mean it? Should the alarm bells be blaring or is it just overblown campaign bluster? Well, it's for all of you watching, the voters, to square what he's saying, with whether you believe it, and what he will do after he says it.
But one hint might be the fact that this was discussed. It was planned. It was decided. And how do you know? Because this was read off of a teleprompter, meaning it was written in advance.
And here's the thing. We have been here before, you know. Trump has time and time again loaded his discussions, his campaigns with charged language that has been called out as racist and xenophobic and ethnocentric, and you name the phrase and word.
And also, found in those speeches, and this is the important part, found in those speeches are points which don't get nearly as much coverage but they should because it lets you see what may potentially be coming. Take, for instance, what Trump said in Nevada just yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When I'm re-elected, we will begin, and we have no choice, the largest deportation operation in American history. We have no choice.
I will shift massive portions of federal law enforcement to immigration enforcement, including parts of the DEA, ATF, FBI, and DHS. I will immediately restore and expand the Trump travel ban on entry from terror-plagued countries, and I will implement strong ideological screening for all immigrants.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Now, this was just over the weekend. Should you believe that he will attempt all of that? Well, if past this prologue, well, yeah, because here's a handful of things that Trump said before the 2016 election that he actually tried to make a reality during his presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When I'm elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States.
We will immediately terminate President Obama's two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately five million illegal immigrants, five million.
I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I'll build them very inexpensively. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Look, Trump had mixed results with all the things he described in that montage, right? The travel ban, it was reversed by President Biden, the Supreme Court blocked his effort to end the DACA program, and the border wall that he said he built so much better than anyone else didn't even come close to what he promised.
But he did attempt it all. His plans, they weren't bluster to be dismissed. And the question now is, what happens if the system of checks and balances that kept him from fulfilling those particular plans, what happens if they aren't there in the future or they yield to his plans?
Because there's a lot of reporting about his plan to dismantle those checks and balances, about giving people, and this is not made up, ideology tests to work in all levels of the government, to make sure that they're loyal to him and they won't stand in the way of his policies.
And then there's that game of footsie that Trump is playing, tooling around with tones of authoritarianism, repeating the claim that he wants to be quite well -- quote -- "dictator" for a day, invoking the names of strong men around the world to make his very points.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Viktor Orban, the highly respected prime minister of Hungary, said Trump is the man who can save the Western world. Even Vladimir Putin -- has anybody ever heard of Vladimir Putin? Of Russia says that Biden's -- and this is a quote, "politically motivated persecution of his political rival is very good for Russia because it shows the rottenness of the American political system."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Yeah, we've heard of Vladimir Putin, and here he is quoting him in relation to the United States system of government. And, you know, based on the polls, it appears that Trump is what many voters want. So, while Republicans are trying to wave off Trump's words as mere language, apparently, that's a thing you can ignore.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We're talking about language. I could care less what language people use as long as we get it right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Funny thing about language, that's how we communicate things. I'm not sure you can easily dismiss it. Maybe it's the language we should all be paying attention to, don't you think? And stop taking him figuratively and start taking him not only literally, but not assuming that the people who are listening are not hearing him and believing that that is what they want.
Now, I want to bring in former defense secretary under President Trump, Mark Esper. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us this evening. I'm sure you've seen a lot of the news coverage that's coming in, and I really am intrigued about how you are seeing all of it.
But let me just begin here, secretary. We've seen the former president giving Americans quite a preview and it's a dark preview of the 2024 campaign. He has made comments about migrants, poisoning blood, the blood of America. There are mass deportations discussed. He was quoting Vladimir Putin. I'm wondering what your reaction has been to hear all of this kind of language.
MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Yeah, well, first of all, Laura, it's great to be with you and your audience this evening. Look, Trump has said in one word what his campaign would be about, and that's retribution.
And with regard to his comments that you just referenced, look, it's disgusting, it's not American. We are a nation of immigrants. I'm a grandson of immigrants and they are very important to the dynamism and electricity of our country. And so, look, I think we all reel from those words.
The challenges, though -- I mean, many Americans, particularly in my party, the Republican Party, see the border crisis going on and it just kind of -- it fuels that in many ways because they see -- you know, the numbers are record breaking. Six point two million illegal people have crossed in the past three years. You know, the number of them who have criminal convictions in this year alone numbers over 20,000.
So, people are really concerned about the border, not just Republicans, but many Democrats as well.
COATES: Senator Lindsey Graham was asked about Trump's poison comments. And, of course, people are, you know, with a dog with a bone with a kind of comment like this because it is so inflammatory, because it is so antithetical to so many people's vision of America as a nation of immigrants and the way that he phrased it. But here, Lindsey Graham said that he doesn't care about language, just getting the policy right.
And I wonder about that disconnect because is it a luxury to ignore the language and hope that the policy ends up as you want it to be or is that how the sausage is just made?
ESPER: No, language does matter. Language is important. The language you use indicates what's in your heart, what you intend, and that's why I go back to -- I'd like to see, you know, my party use more the language of the benefits of immigration, the history of immigration to our country, and what it means again to promote our dynamism and continued economic growth and an entrepreneurial spirit that really drives a good deal of our innovation.
[23:10:01] All those things are part of positives. But, again, I think the challenges right now, people see what's happening on the border, Republicans and Democrats alike, it just -- it seems like it is a crisis because it is, and we're worried about who is coming in and do they have criminal backgrounds.
And so, again, that said, I'd like to see people, our Republican Party, the former president speaks more positively about immigration, but that's just not -- that's not who he is.
COATES: You've been the defense secretary, Secretary Esper, and I'm wondering from your perspective, when you hear conversations like this happening, um, does it make our nation safer to discuss it in these terms? How do our allies view this sort of thing? Because that really, at its core, is a real concern for people.
Obviously, this is a former president. He is a frontrunner for the RNC nomination. So, while a lot of people focus on a second term, it really is impactful right now, the words of a former president and somebody who has such a wide swath of support. How do you think people internationally are viewing these discussions?
ESPER: Yeah, I think that type of language that is being used indicates a real turn inward and isolationism that we haven't seen in a while in our country, and it concerns our allies and partners.
You know, I travel abroad, both to Asia and to Europe. I speak to them. The number one thing that our friends and partners ask about abroad is who's going to be president, and if it's Donald Trump, what would that -- what will that mean for them, what will that mean for our alliances and partnerships. I just think the way he talks about immigration is another signal to them that there will be this inward turn.
Now, of course, it also sends a message out to people around the world that our doors are closing. I think one thing is remarkable about the United States is wherever you go, and I've had the privilege of traveling broadly, people line up around the world to get into this country. That's -- we remain that shining city on the hill. It's the place that everybody wants to come to.
Doesn't mean everybody gets in, which is why we need to be more discriminating about how we manage our borders and secure them and who comes into the country. But, nonetheless, we do aspire to a lot of people and that sends a -- you know, it sends a message that we're turning inward and we don't want them anymore.
COATES: What do you think when you hear the former president praising North Korea's Kim Jong-un or Hungary's Viktor Orban and quoting Putin to make a point, it seems, about America's democracy?
ESPER: Well, we all know that he has this bent towards strongmen, whether it's Kim Jong-un in North Korea, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Xi Jinping in Beijing or Vladimir Putin in Russia. He just -- he tends to give them more credence. He tends to lean in closer to them. I think in some ways, he wishes he had the powers that they have. And so, I can't explain it. You'd like to see more of a relationship with our allies and partners than with the bad guys on the world stage.
COATES: Secretary, one more question. Do you think that our nation, based on your experience, would be more or less safe with a Trump second term?
ESPER: Well, I worry about our democracy. First and foremost is, would Donald Trump come in? I think the lesson he has learned from the first administration is that the most important thing is who you put into office, who you appoint, who you nominate for key positions. So, I think he has learned that lesson. The first quality that he'll be seeking is loyalty above all else.
With a -- with a new team in place, it looks more like the last -- the last couple of months of his first administration, that I think you see him chipping away at the institutions of our democracy and certainly the norms and behaviors and practices. And look, he has already talked about that with regard to weaponizing the DOJ and going after people in justice and the media, and you name it.
So, I'm most concerned, first and foremost, for our democracy and what it would mean for institutions, and this great republic we've come to know and really stands on the world stage as a beacon for freedom and rights around the world.
COATES: If that's the beginning, well, we'll see what happens. Secretary Mark Esper, thank you so much for your time this evening.
ESPER: Thanks, Laura.
COATES: Joining our discussion now is Mike Leon, host of the "Can We Please Talk?" podcast, and CNN political analyst Laura Barron-Lopez. I'm so glad that both of you are here.
Listen, you heard the secretary, and I have been really focused on this. It's not as if it's all perspective. I mean, he is a former president, he's currently running, he's a frontrunner. His base hears him. They like it. So, who's got the disconnect? Is it the way it's covered or what he's actually saying?
MIKE LEON, PODCAST HOST: Well, I'll tell you, I spoke with Florida primary voters this past weekend, and a lot of it is they think the media's coverage of it. It's kind of to Nikki Haley's point, right? They think the media is making too much of it. I tend to take a step back and say these are his words. This is what he's actually saying. This is not a clip or soundbite.
He is saying these things. And the biggest thing I heard from that interview is -- and we know how Mark Esper has felt about him. He has said that Trump is dangerous, some of the things he wants to do with missile strikes that he asked him about during the border when he was in office. You're seeing more officials that worked under the administration saying this about him. This is not us three saying it about it. These are people that worked for him. Why it is not that impacting people? I don't get why it's not impacting voters. It should be. If people worked for somebody else and all of a sudden, they didn't like this person, they told me all these things, wouldn't I take that to heart a little bit more?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's going to impact the general electorate. But the Republican base and the primary electorate for the GOP presidential is very different.
I think that the reason it's not resonating or impacting with them is because you haven't seen some massive rift in the GOP party. You haven't seen a massive piece of the establishment say, no, we're never going to vote for this person again.
You've seen the Liz Cheneys, the Adam Kinzingers of the world, the Mitt Romneys, who say loud and clear that he thinks that there are majority members -- a majority of people in his party who don't subscribe to the Constitution anymore, who maybe want to go along with authoritarianism.
And so, when the base doesn't see a wide reckoning across the party or across the vast majority of Republicans, then, of course, they're going to believe the people that are constantly saying this to them and repeating the lies to them.
COATES: I tend to think that when we talk about identity politics, Trump has given a lot of people an identity, the identity of being defiant, as in I'm just against, I'm against something. I'm in favor of a lot but I'm against certain things, and I'm unapologetic about it.
Maybe this is a continued badge of honor to say, yeah, I hear him. You're telling me that I'm silly and not understanding him, but I'm telling you, I hear him and I like it. So, you're actually maybe feeling, if you're one of his supporters, that everyone is against you, and he is validating that.
LEON: And he's running on that. Look, I grew up in New York. There's a reason why the former president lost New York by so much. Not just because of how many more registered Democrats there are than Republicans. It's because people that worked in businesses there with the former president, they've heard this for years.
He's getting exactly what he wants. If you look at anybody who has covered Trump during the "New York Post" days back in New York, this is what he wants, to be the attention seeker and getter. He's getting it. We're covering him because he's the former president and the current frontrunner for the party. We have to cover him. He's under indictment for different locales. We have to cover that.
But we're always going to be in this push and pull battle because the goalposts keep moving. The voters that are entrenched with him will always say, well, it's the media doing this, it's the media doing that. The media is this big boogie man to voters that I talk to. I try to dispel it a little bit more by saying, look, which would you rather cover, the old woman across the street or the former president that's being arrested?
This is unprecedented type stuff. I just don't understand why it's not moving the needle. You asked this earlier, Laura. Why isn't it moving the needle with voters, specifically chiefs of staffs, people that have worked under the administration that are all coming out? This has all been revealed to him. Mike Pompeo, Esper, they've all said it. This guy is a danger. For some reason, I don't understand why it's not resonating. I truly did not understand. It's going to be interesting to see how this kind of plays out as we get into the caucus and parties.
COATES: Well, it seems like it is resonating, but in the direction of doubling down. And, you know, we'll talk more about -- I mean, if you think about how this all looks and why, I mean, Laura, to Mike's point, Trump is a very effective communicator at ensuring that everyone that's not him is viewed with skepticism, as somebody who can be with derision, who is less than.
And so, all people you just named, if he has created a hierarchy where what he says is more important, then it stands to reason one would look at those comments with greater belief than the others.
BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, they believe him over the former chiefs of staff, over former administration officials, over the press. And that isn't just because there's some of this ambiguous, we don't trust the press. There's a reason that there's low trust in the press among the republican base. Because their leader, because the leader of the Republican party has, for years now, since he first started running for the presidency back in 2015, has demonized the press as the enemy of the people.
He repeatedly talks about any one that holds him accountable or any political opponent as less than, as -- he dehumanizes political opponents. More recently has started calling them vermin. Dehumanizes people that don't support him.
And that's a classic authoritarian playbook, Laura, which historians have laid out over and over again, that authoritarians do that because that way they can prepare their supporters for their eventual expanse of power and their decision to try to totally overhaul what we know as a democracy.
COATES: But, you know, there's also -- I mean, just in terms of what's happening, not just with Trump, but there are others who are taking an action at the state and local level.
I mean, the governor in Texas, Greg Abbott, as we know, tonight, has signed a new bill into law. And it's one that makes crossing illegally into Texas from Mexico now a state crime, which empowers local police to then arrest migrants.
This is a really important point when you think about it because the rhetoric that Donald Trump is speaking now has a hook in terms of a state prosecutorial crime. That tells you more than just a base supporting system. Now, this is at a state level and it's being validated. What do you think of it?
LEON: Well, I mean, I was talking about this earlier with somebody else because the republican message around it is Democrats are not doing anything about it. Here's a governor in a red state doing something about it. DeSantis, same thing in my state, in Florida, doing something about it.
Now, we can all get into whether or not sending, you know, migrants on different flights and whether or not they're going to have their asylum trials in those areas. That's one thing. This is all coming kind of home to roost for the Democrats.
I was talking to Representative Seth Moulton about this, about Democrats messaging around this. The true message is a pathway to citizenship. It's keeping DACA, you know, here in the U.S., right, and legalizing that. But it's also understanding that there is an issue at the border. Let's not pretend like that there isn't. CBP has said in recent articles that they are overwhelmed.
So, if Democrats start to message around that, that we want to help law enforcement agencies and get everybody on the right pathway to being a citizen, it's going to potentially siphon off what some of these more moderate Republicans that want to hear that because they want to hear that Democrats are treating the border like a serious issue.
And this is one member of Congress that was saying such things and asking people that are Republican voters, when they listened to that, they were like, yep, I agree with that.
COATES: I mean --
LEON: So, there's informal polling for you, Laura.
COATES: I mean, I love a good informal poll. But, you know, when you think about how this administration began, remember the conversations around the failure of Vice President Harris to call it a border crisis? That's how this all began.
And so, I do wonder, is the admission of there being a problem viewed somehow by Democrats as a kind of weakness and an admission of failure? I don't know if that's the case, but the voters are asking what needs to be done. The question is, what now? That's why they're the ones in office.
Mike, Laura, thank you both so much for joining. Up next, there's a major legal blow for Mark Meadows in the Georgia election interference case. We'll tell you all about it after this.
COATES: So, here's a blast from maybe the not so distant past. A name for you, Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff. It's right there. Well, he wanted to move his Georgia election interference case out of Fulton County and into federal court. Remember that?
The question is, why? Well, because he was hoping he could show that the criminal conduct that he was accused of having committed wasn't criminal at all. No, he wanted the court to believe that that conduct was part of his official duties in the White House.
Now, if the court agreed with him, well, then he could say that he would be immune from prosecution because those are his official duties. And the next step on that legal train would be dismissing the case.
Well, a three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, well, they didn't agree. They didn't buy his argument that attempting to allegedly alter valid election results in favor of a particular candidate or maybe engaged in the conspiracy had anything at all to do with the duties of a chief of staff. So, that means no ability to invoke federal immunity and escape prosecution. And oh, no moving his case to federal court.
Now, why does all of this blast from the past matter? Well, because it's very much in the present. We are all waiting to hear if the Supreme Court will weigh some pretty similar arguments about Donald Trump. Is the conduct that he is accused of having committed part of his official presidential duties? And if so, would he be able to say he is immune and then poof, there goes maybe the charges?
Now, there are a lot of parallels in what we're seeing from the behavior accused there for Meadows and, of course, that of one Donald Trump. Now, the Supreme Court, as you can imagine, doesn't have to follow the ruling of an inferior court. And it's not my choice to call it inferior. That legal snobbery, well, that's just how you see it in the court, Supreme Court, inferior courts or everyone else. You have to listen to him (ph).
But it could give some insight into how the court will define what a presidential duty or an official act is. If it wasn't enough for Meadows to get immunity, will it be enough for Trump? And what is it that Rudy Giuliani has to say all the time? Yes, stay tuned. I guess we will.
So, what did Clarence Thomas, speaking of the Supreme Court, what did he warn about? That could lead to one or more Supreme Court justices resigning? And as Tina Turner might paraphrase, what's money got to do, got to do with it? That's next.
COATES: Private jets, luxury vacations, a free R.V, according to ProPublica, that's how Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas apparently lives his life.
But it wasn't always like that. Back in 2000, about a decade into his tenure on the Supreme Court, he complained about his salary, and I mean openly to a member of Congress, saying, if lawmakers didn't act -- quote -- "one or more justices will leave soon" -- unquote. Now, his salary at the time was $173,600. It's about $300,000 in today's money. Now, fast forward to 2019, and Thomas seems to have changed his tune.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID RUBENSTEIN, PRESIDENT, ECONOMIC CLUB OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: Right now, what is the compensation of a justice of the Supreme Court?
CLARENCE THOMAS, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, goodness. I think it's plenty.
My wife and I are doing fine. We don't live extravagantly, but we are fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Well, a few weeks after that speech, he hopped on the private jet with one of his billionaire friends and headed off to Indonesia, where he and his wife, Ginni, vacationed on that friend's 162-foot yacht. Sounds fine to me. So, what happened in those 20 years that made Thomas go from nearly resigning due to his salary to now being seemingly more than just fine?
Joining me now is Justin Elliott. He's a reporter at ProPublica and one of the authors of "A Delicate Matter: Clarence Thomas's Private Complaints About Money Sparked Fears He Would Resign."
You know, Justin, I'm glad that you're here, thank you so much for joining us, because you're reporting that Justice Thomas told a lawmaker that Supreme Court justices should get a raise or that he feared one or more will leave soon.
That's his quote. So, what happened after he raised concerns about his salary?
JUSTIN ELLIOTT, REPORTER, PROPUBLICA: Yeah, well, it raised alarms. I mean, the congressman who's now retired, who I talked to, said that he left that conversation worried that Justice Thomas was the justice that was going to resign, you know, in short order if Congress didn't raise salaries for justices. That congressman pushed to get the salaries raised.
Another top official in judiciary wrote a memo to the chief justice at the time of the Supreme Court and said, you know, this is a very important issue, seems like a crisis, what should we do about it?
Interestingly, Congress never actually got its act together to give the justices a raise. But, as you mentioned, this was the same period when Justice Thomas was really beginning to develop relationships with a number of very, very wealthy businessmen who started paying for various things in his life. COATES: You know, he paints himself -- I note, of course, that that money that he was earning at the time, he said that compared to now, it's about $300,000. And, you know, he changed his tune quite significantly. He sorts of paints himself now as a kind of everyman. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS: I prefer the R.V. parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There's something normal to me about it. I've come from regular stock, and I prefer that. I prefer being around that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: So, you hear him talking about that, and we're showing the audience at different points some of the gifts that he purportedly received, by the way, from his wealthy benefactors. Some would look at this as a big contrast to the supposed everyday man. I'm not doubting that he, in fact, likes to do what he has said he does and likes being in those places, but there's a disconnect for some, hearing the ProPublica reporting and what he's saying there. Can you help us understand that context?
ELLIOTT: Sure, yeah. I mean, so as you pointed out, I mean, as a Supreme Court justice, he makes around $300,000 a year which, you know, is far more than the average American, but doesn't make you super rich.
But what we and others have found is that there's a small set of wealthy, in some cases, billionaire businessmen, many of them Republican political donors, who have stepped into Justice Thomas's life and really subsidized his lifestyle, elevated it to the level of, you know, CEO of a company or a rich businessman.
So, what we found, he has been taken on literally dozens of international vacations on private jets, super yachts. The Dallas businessman, Harlan Crow, paid around $100,000 of private school tuition for Justice Thomas's relative who the justice was raising.
In fact, the very high-end R.V. he talked about in that clip, which goes for -- he paid around half a million dollars for it in today's dollars. Turns out that money actually was loaned to him by a friend who later forgave the loan.
So, we've seen, you know, really, as far as we know, unprecedented pattern of wealthy businessmen subsidizing the life of a Supreme Court justice. So, even though the salary was never significantly raised by Congress, he was able to attain this higher lifestyle. Thanks to these people that came into his life.
COATES: Now, he would suggest, of course, this is merely coincidental, that nobody was giving him anything in return for something, judicial favor or a favorable ruling of any kind. He would write this off as merely coincidental and the perks of a friendship like anybody else. And he, I'm sure, argues that ProPublica has just been picking on him, Justin, and that they're trying to single him out.
What's your reaction to that given, of course, there has been recently, obviously, this code of conduct now that has been issued by the Supreme Court? Not a lot of teeth behind it, I admit that, but what is your reaction to his statements that suggest this is merely coincidental and nothing that even hints at impropriety?
ELLIOTT: Yeah, well, I guess a couple things. One is that we've been talking to a lot of judges, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and we've been struck by how just across the board, ideologically, judges have told us they wouldn't even let a lawyer buy them lunch for $30, let alone take $100,000 of private school tuition or dozens of free vacations.
So, the reason we've been writing about Justice Thomas is we simply haven't found anything even close to like this when it -- when it comes to the other justices.
You know, Justice Thomas didn't comment for this latest story. we did talk to -- I spoke to a Yale law professor who spent time with Justice Thomas and his principal benefactor, Harlan Crow, has vacation with them, and that professor's view of the relationship was, look, uh, I don't -- he didn't think that Harlan Crow is trying to influence Justice Thomas's views.
He thinks that Harlan Crow is trying to keep him comfortable. He thinks his salary isn't high enough and, therefore, he provides these benefits to him to sort of elevate his lifestyle.
But, you know, as you pointed out at the beginning of the segment, Justice Thomas's recent public comments about his salary are very, very different than what he was saying privately 20 years ago, and the salary has not changed.
COATES: Well, maybe one is going to wink and just say inflation to you all of a sudden and explain everything, Justin Elliott, for all the non-economists, myself included, in the room. Justin Elliott, thank you so much.
ELLIOTT: Thank you.
COATES: And hey, one note about some special programming we're going to have right here on CNN. We're going to have special live coverage of the funeral of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. I'll be a part of that coverage hosted by Wolf Blitzer starting at 10:45 a.m. Eastern. We'll see you there to honor Justice O'Connor.
Up next, a guilty verdict and a career in jeopardy. Actor Jonathan Majors is dropped by Marvel Studios and now even facing time behind bars.
[23:45:31] COATES: Well, the movie star, Jonathan Majors, was found guilty today of assault and harassment for attacking his former girlfriend in a car. And within hours of that verdict, Disney fired the actor from all upcoming Marvel projects. His character, Cain the Conqueror, was set to be the big bad star across its series of films.
But now, Majors' future is up in the air. The jurors, they deliberated on this case. It was a jury trial, took about six hours, pouring over the competing narratives about what really happened on March 25th.
Now, ultimately, they did acquit him on two counts. They found him guilty on two other counts. They decided that Majors recklessly, but not intentionally, assaulted his then-girlfriend, Grace Jabbari, then he harassed her outside of the SUV.
Now, an attorney for Majors saying in a statement tonight -- quote -- "It is clear that the jury did not believe Grace Jabbari's story of what happened in the SUV because they found that Mr. Majors did not intentionally cause any injuries to her. Mr. Majors still has faith in the process and looks forward to fully clearing his name."
I want to bring in now CNN legal defense -- legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, the great Joey Jackson. We just, last week, we're kind of doing a little bit of a role play with you and Areva, one of you playing the prosecution, one playing the defense in this case. Those arguments all came up. But today, there was a split verdict. I want you to read the tea leaves for us here about what did the jury believe when it comes to some but not all of these charges against Majors.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, Laura, good to be with you. You know, I have great respect and trust in our jury process. And, you know, the realities are that they were there. They heard the evidence and six members of a jury, as we have in the system for misdemeanors, found him guilty.
If I had, as we look there, guilty of reckless assault in the third degree, we can talk about what that means, harassment in the second degree and not guilty of the other things.
But I think if you had to read the tea leaves, Laura, what it essentially means is that he did not possess the intent to actually harm her. However, he did so, meaning the harm, substantial pain, in a reckless way. What does that mean in English? It means that whenever you lay hands on someone, certainly you consciously disregard the risk that they could sustain substantial pain as a result of that.
So, I think what the jurors concluded is that while he may not have had a motivation, while it may not have been his intent, his objective, his purpose to hurt her, that based upon the fact that there was that interaction, he did so recklessly and consciously, disregarding the risk that she could have been hurt.
And that was the essence of their conclusion in voting unanimously that he'd be guilty of those two charges both of which, of course, one, the criminal one, that's the assault charge, which is reckless, and then the other is just a non-criminal, Laura, a violation of the law. That's the harassment whenever it is that you strike someone without their consent.
COATES: It's for some, they may look at this and say, well, hold on a second, if he didn't have the intent and they did not commit to any other charges, is there a right for appeal, a moment here to suggest that it was inconsistent by dismissing or acquitting on two and remaining on the other two? Likely, he will appeal this decision if he's able to do so, which I understand he likely will.
But remember, Jabbari took the stand and testified against him. And you and I both have been in these courtrooms before when you've got these emotional moments as she told the jury about him hitting her in the head, twisting her arm during the incident, and attorney for Jabbari telling us that they are gratified by the guilty verdict.
I wonder how important her testimony was in getting these convictions. And, of course, did he testify? I wonder how they balance that.
JACKSON: Yes. So, Laura, he did not testify as many defendants do not. And, of course, the jurors are instructed you can't read anything into a defendant not testifying because it's their right not to do so.
In terms of her testimony, she testified over four days, got very emotional, and you had to believe that would be very compelling. In terms of the actual jury verdict itself, I don't think that it was inconsistent and as much as -- again, a jury can conclude that you did not do something intentionally.
And as you know very well, Laura, being the superstar prosecutor that you are, jurors assess a status of a mind, right? We call it men's rea, the guilty mind.
And they determined that, look, he didn't mean to do it in terms of intentionally doing it, but by virtue of him laying hands on her, he recklessly did it. So, I don't see that as inconsistent.
Last point, Laura, and that's this. On the issue of an appeal, I think they'll go after two other things. I think the first thing they'll go after that is defense attorneys for Jonathan Majors will go after whether or not the prior bad acts, that is other instances in their relationship, whether there was too much of an admission of that into evidence such that the jurors could have concluded, hey, if you did bad things to her before, could you then have and were you doing bad things now?
Sometimes, people conflate, look, you may have done something bad last week, the week before, the week before that doesn't mean you did anything now.
The second and final thing I think they'll attack, they'll attack many things, I shouldn't say final, but it's really the issues relating to really how it is that he went after her. And here's what I mean. when you look at and you're trying to do an appeal, you're putting together everything you possibly can. And in putting together everything they possibly can, I think they're going to look for propensity evidence. Are they going to argue that was their propensity?
Remember this, he filed a cross-complaint against her, and they wanted to, the defense, cross-examine and delineate all of the probable cause as to why she should have been arrested. The judge excluded that, didn't allow it. So what extent did that play in an appeal and whether or not was a fair trial? So, that's what they'll attack. Whether they can overcome it, that remains to be seen.
COATES: Really important point, to get a propensity evidence. You know, just because you've done something in the past and they didn't have to even introduce evidence about violence, physical violence, discussion about the way you spoke to her and beyond.
How that will all play in will be really important going forward. That's the court of law. Court of public opinion, Joey Jackson, a totally different ball game. Thank you so much for your analysis, as always, my friend. We'll be right back.
COATES: Tonight, Alec Baldwin was escorted by the NYPD after an incident with pro-Palestinian protesters. According to a source close to the actor, he was not protesting. The actor was on its way to teach an acting class.
A law enforcement source says that Baldwin was asked by one protester -- quote -- "Do you condemn Israel at all or are you just deep in the pocket?", to which Baldwin replied -- quote -- "That's a stupid question, and ask me a smart question." No arrests were made as a result of the incident this evening. But Alec, maybe a cab next time.
Thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.