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Laura Coates Live

Supreme Court Saddled With Cases That May Tilt 2024 Election; Biden: Trump "Certainly Supported An Insurrection"; Laura Coates Discusses With Guests All Of Trump's Grievances; Laura Coates Interviews El Paso Mayor. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired December 20, 2023 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Man, when it rains, it really, really pours. Well, the Supreme Court, they better find themselves a really big umbrella. Tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

So, don't call it quite a throwback, but all of a sudden, it feels a whole lot like Y2K. When the new year hits in 11 days from now, the Supreme Court is going to be like in sync, saying bye, bye, bye to their free time.

And I mean all of it because let's just say the Supreme Court is going to be a little bit busy. The nine unelected men and women who sat on the bench of the highest court in all the land now have the power to decide an election.

And I mean -- again, let's all reminisce for a second back to the days of the "hanging chads" in Florida because they did it back with Bush v. Gore. That was back in 2000. Now, they may have the chance to do it all over again more than once in multiple cases involving Donald Trump.

Today, Trump asked the high court to sit and just think for a bit before they answer whether he has absolute immunity. That's the Jack Smith case right here in Washington, D.C. Now, Jack Smith, he wanted a quick answer. Why? Well, maybe he doesn't want to have his time wasted. A trial is supposed to start in March, and he'd rather not wait to find out if he could actually go to trial and make a case against somebody or will that person be considered immune from prosecution.

Now, Trump, on the other hand, apparently, he loves a good weight. Why rush into possibly getting rid of a case against you? Pretty ironic, huh? I mean his lawyers say the case is just so important, so -- quote -- "paramount to public importance" -- unquote. His lawyers say that the justice moves. It must move in a cautious, deliberative manner, not at a breakneck speed. Not sure it's quite breakneck yet, but that's the immunity question.

And the court also gets to decide now the eligibility question, the one coming out of Colorado's Supreme Court decision to take Trump off the primary ballot. Now, the Supreme Court is going to have to decide whether Trump engaged in insurrection and whether the 14th Amendment applies to the most powerful office in the country. And those are two really important questions.

A few obvious points here first, though, but these things have to really be said anyway. The court, as you know, it tilts conservative. We know about the different wings of the court, etc. And three of those justices that you see in that little yearbook photo on the right side of Lady Liberty's seesaw, the conservative side, they were put on that bench by the former president, who they may now have to decide for the election.

But don't assume anything. My father always told me, "Laura, you know what happens when you assume.'" I won't spell it out. But all three, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, they did hand Trump losses and insurrection-connected cases so much for assumptions. But whatever the court decides, it's going to leave a whole lot of American voters bitter.

The court doesn't have the same popularity, shall we say, that it had back in 2000. Ethics questions, the unraveling of precedent, that's had a tad bit to do with all that, right? Let's be honest, though. Either way, the Supreme Court's reputation is going to take a hit. And you can't ignore the obvious.

All these cases are moving through, way through, they're way through the docket as you at home are, of course, getting ready to vote. By the time they've actually decided, you might have already cast a ballot.

After all, the court's term, it doesn't end until what, June? I mean -- I don't know. Maybe it's the black robes. Maybe they just love to wait to the 11th hour to make decision because they often wait until the end of the term, which means that you might not know the whole picture when you step inside the ballot box.

And it means any delay, no matter how small that delay is, it puts Donald Trump one day closer to simply being able to, at least for the federal cases, maybe make them go away if he is successful in becoming the president. That's a maybe, though.

Joining me now, conservative lawyer George Conway, who's a contributor for "The Atlantic," and former Trump attorney Tim Parlatore. I'm so glad that both of you are here. Let's first of all just talk for a second, taking a step back, who thought we'd be here again with the Supreme Court being able to weigh in and maybe decide the fate of a presidential election?


I don't want to overstate it, though, because we're not actually deciding whether you can vote and what the vote should be, but who's on the ballot, whether he's immune, how seriously they take it? When we look at it, George, the Colorado case in particular, --


COATES: -- did that court make the right decision in deciding he can't even be on the ballot?

CONWAY: Well, I was initially skeptical of the claim, the argument that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment disqualifies Trump, not because for any legal reason. I mean, the Federalist Society law professors who wrote the seminal article have sort of got this argument going, made a pretty compelling case, very methodical, using exactly the kind of interpretive techniques that an Antonin Scalia would have used.

And I found it pretty compelling. It was just like, well, it's kind of too good to be true, I thought.


CONWAY: And I thought that -- you know, there must be something there. There must be something there that could come up. And I also think it would be better, I think, politically. I mean, this is my bias, to see him beaten at the polls rather than to see him excluded.

But that said, I mean, the law is the law. Unless somebody comes up with a counterargument that's coherent, you have to apply the law. And what I saw yesterday, and I wrote a piece in "The Atlantic" today that I commend to everyone --


-- that I read the dissents. And the dissents -- I mean, these were smart judges. They're supposed to -- you know, if they're dissenting, they're supposed to come up with arguments that really, you know, strike at the heart of the majority opinion. They had nothing, particularly as a matter of federal law. They had nothing.

COATES: I mean, the sentence really focused, Tim, on two main arguments, right? One was it feels premature. There's no criminal conviction here for insurrection.


COATES: The other one seemed to be about the vagueness of the language, what the district court in Colorado already said. Look, if the framers wanted to have the 14th Amendment apply to the president, then why not put the word president in that particular clause? Neither, as you're talking about, seems to hold a lot of weight for everyone universally. But what is your take on that case?

PARLATORE: You know, I think they spent a lot of time talking about whether it applies to the president or not, which was not an argument that I found to be particularly availing. Obviously, it applies to the president.

The thing that I was surprised at is how much time they took to define what an insurrection is by using Webster's dictionary as opposed to Title 18 of U.S. Code. Okay? Because the federal government did pass a statute insurrection, Title 18 U.S. Code 2383, and that is the statute that says, if you're convicted of this, you have to serve up to 10 years in jail and you're disqualified from holding the office of the president.

That -- their refusal to address that statute. In fact, at one point, they just kind of addressed it briefly and said, well, that doesn't really apply because it doesn't say that's the only method.

But the reality is many grand juries sitting here in D.C. have examined the events of that day. They've all declined to bring charges of insurrection. One came close. One brought charges under the related section of 2384, seditious conspiracy.

COATES: But we don't know what every grand juror was presented with. I hear your point about --

PARLATORE: In which case DOJ declined.

COATES: Well --


COATES: -- yes, it could be the case, but my -- I'm just going to let you finish, but my point is the grand jury, as we know, are quite secretive and deliberative. We don't know what they are given to present. But you're absolutely right, Jack Smith didn't charge it.


COATES: Donald Trump is not charged with insurrection in Washington, D.C.

PARLATORE: Exactly. Exactly. The closest she came was to the seditious conspiracy charges, which the Colorado Supreme Court even went through their Webster Dictionary analysis and said, sedition is lower than an insurrection. So, you do actually have precedent that's -- you know, you have convictions for the seditious conspiracy, but you don't have a single charge for insurrection.

COATES: So, George, how do you see it? I mean, one of the big arguments that are being made is that not just the idea of the statutes and the code and what was not charged but, look, voters should be the one to decide this. How dare you take it from the ballot? A common retort is we've got all sorts of qualifications for the presidency. Age, where you were born, your citizenship, all that part of it. How is this different?

CONWAY: Yeah, I mean, that would have been a good argument 157 years ago if you were in Congress debating the language to be put into the 14th Amendment and Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The fact of the matter is you're absolutely right.

I mean, there are a number of qualifications that are applied to people running for public office and one of them is the age requirement. You have to be 35. That takes away the ability of people to vote for a 30-year-old. But that's life. And this is another requirement. Don't engage in insurrection. It's really not that hard a requirement to me.


And as far as the interpretation of the word "insurrection" is concerned, I mean, the proper approach is what Justice Scalia would have done, which is to look at the dictionary. You don't look at some other statute that may be just written at a different -- in a context for a different purpose.

And instead of looking at how people understood insurrection at the -- you know, in the dictionary, and this is just plain language, the fact of the matter is the dissents in the case, in the decision last night, the people who were objecting to -- the judges who were objecting to the decision to Colorado, they didn't even really go there. They didn't really challenge the definition of insurrection.

COATES: Well, let me -- well, maybe --

PARLATORE: One did. One certainly did.


PARLATORE: There was the one dissent that did go into an analysis of the statute. And look, the fact that Congress put this into the U.S. Code, words have meaning. And as lawyers, we can't just sit here and say, well, just because there's an insurrection statute, the federal crime for insurrection, we don't have to really pay attention to that, we can just look -- use the dictionary definition instead.

No. There are crimes, there are elements. These are things that, you know, Congress is empowered to put into the U.S. Code, and the courts have to follow up.


-- make up their own definition, saying, yeah, well, because we don't like this particular candidate, we're going to use a proven sedition and substitute that for an insurrection because we like using that word.


CONWAY: You know, the fact is they used the word "insurrection." They didn't say whatever statute Congress uses to prosecute insurrection. They didn't say that it depends on anything Congress subsequently did. It's a standalone provision and it has to be interpreted in terms of the plain meaning of the language.

And the plain meaning of the language is, as Justice Scalia and others and now Justice Kagan follows it, too, you look at the dictionary and you look at the contemporary dictionaries, you look at the plain meaning of the word. And I don't know how you can say that somebody who aides -- you know, who foments and encourages people to overthrow the peaceful transition of power hasn't engaged in insurrection. I just don't see how you can get there. COATES: We've gotten a bit of a preview, George Conway, Tim Parlatore, of what might be happening in these Supreme Court discussions if they take this case. But my big question, was Merriam-Webster around with the framers? How long is it? How old is this dictionary? Do we even know?

CONWAY: Oh, I don't know. I mean --

COATES: That's rhetorical. I'm kidding.

CONWAY: Okay. All right. I take you very seriously, Laura. I take you so seriously.

COATES: Take me figuratively, not literally. That's the phrase. Who knows? Uh-oh. Anyway --

CONWAY: Don't go there.

COATES: Don't go there. George Conway --

CONWAY: Don't go there.

COATES: -- and Tim Parlatore, thank you so much. Appreciate it, both of you.

PARLATORE: Thank you.

CONWAY: Thank you. Always fun.


COATES: So, what is the Supreme Court likely to do? Let's continue our talk now with Derek Muller. He is an election law scholar who is a professor at the law -- of law at the University of Notre Dame. Derek, thank you so much for joining us.

We're talking about this Supreme Court and what they really have ahead of them. They've got a conservative majority, we know that. What is your prediction on how these justices might rule on this Colorado issue? Whether Trump can be on it, on the ballot or not, I mean, is it unanimous? Is it split? What are your thoughts?

DEREK MULLER, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: And there's so many ways for this court to go. That's one of the issues in this case. There are so many issues to address. What is an insurrection? How does it mean to engage in it? Does the First Amendment protect some of this speech? Does Congress have to step in?

So, my guess is that the Supreme court is trying to dispatch of this case as quickly as possible and maybe as unanimously as possible. If they can find consensus for a unanimous per curiam opinion that will resolve it, which probably means that Trump appears on the ballot, they reverse Colorado, I think that's going to be the inclination.

But there's a chance that they're splintering on the court with so many issues that people want to move -- COATES: Yeah.

MULLER: -- in different directions, and they're unable to hold that.

COATES: Tell me, is it possible for the audience, with all the different issues that is before them -- I mean, you got immunity, you got eligibility. Obviously, there is a particular order for which the court will consider cases and a process by which they are receiving and deciding whether to review these cases.

But is there a chance that either in dicta, you know, that language that's used inside of an opinion that is dealing with when it's different from the actual issue and question before the court, could they maybe try to resolve this in short order together and try to consolidate?

MULLER: I think the odds on that are low. I think, especially when you're dealing with questions of presidential immunity, you have those momentous cases in the past involving Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton and claims of presidential immunity. I think this Trump case will be another one of those. I think that's going to be momentous in its own right.


And then this sort of ballot access issue, they want to address this quickly. There are voters who are going to be going to the polls in a matter of days and starting to vote. So, I think they're going to have to be forced to separate these issues and really draw out this process through June and as painful as that might be for a political matter, but I think there's just so many issues on their plate to consider.

COATES: And by the way, not even just judicially or electorally, administratively. I mean, these ballots have got to get printed. You can't go to like FedEx, Kinkos, or Staples, wherever you're printing stuff out and just do it in the night. It takes a very long time for these states to figure out who's on their ballot and they trying to change it is a very big issue.

But I wonder politically what are the implications for Trump's reelection campaign of all of these things. I mean, he is a frontrunner and by a landslide so far, but we're still ways away. What do you see as the implications for his reelection or the campaign?

MULLER: Yeah, I'm watching the polling in the next week or two to see what happens. On the one hand, you might have voters emboldened, saying this is another instance of the courts coming after Trump, and they're inclined to support him all the more.

At the same time, this is a very different kind of issue in Colorado. It's saying you're ineligible. I think there's a risk that voters around the country, not just in Colorado, look at his candidacy and wonder, am I voting for an ineligible candidate? Am I throwing my vote away? Should I be looking to Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis or somebody else? I think it's an open question because we've never had a situation like

this with a front runner facing, you know, being thrown off the ballot. I think we'll see in the polls in the very near future how voters react.

COATES: That's a really important point because you already have people thinking about -- quote, unquote -- "spoiler candidates." And what does it mean if I give this vote to somebody that might not ultimately prevail or has a very low probability of doing so? If ineligibility factors in to people thinking, is it just a wasted vote? That might be the next frontier. Professor Derek Muller, thank you so much.

MULLER: Thanks for having me.

COATES: Well, President Biden, well, he is now weighing in on the decision in Colorado. I knew he would. He says it's clear that Trump is an insurrectionist. But there's still a big question. How will the voters see it?



COATES: So, it's pretty unprecedented among a number of unprecedented questions. Is Donald Trump eligible to even be on the ballot in 2024? The Supreme Court will likely have to weigh in on whether his actions on January 6th and those that lead up to it disqualify him under the 14th Amendment. And today, President Biden is saying this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Whether the 14th Amendment applies, I'll let the court make that decision. But he certainly supported an insurrection. no question about it. None. zero. And he seems to be doubling down on about everything.


COATES: Joining me now to discuss is lawyer and author Scott Turow. He has written some bestsellers that you might know like, well, for all the lawyers in the world, "One L," also "The Burden of Proof," and his latest, "Suspect." He has also had a full career as a prosecutor. I'm so glad to have your voice on tonight. Scott, how are you doing?

SCOTT TUROW, LAWYER, AUTHOR: I'm doing fine, Laura. Thank you for having me.

COATES: Well, I'm glad you're here. Listen, you heard President Biden talk about this. He has been pretty careful recently about when he weighs in on Trump and when he doesn't. But we have a sitting president agreeing that his predecessor and the one he's running against, really, was involved in an insurrection. You can't overstate how significant that is.

TUROW: Well, we all know the events of January 6, 2021 were pretty unique. And, uh, and I -- you know, there's -- when somebody is trying to stop the Congress from ratifying the election, I don't know what else you call it but an insurrection. So, you know, they enter the Capitol by force. It definitely meets the definition. So, I'm not surprised to hear what President Biden had to say, and I probably would agree with him.

COATES: You know, the Colorado Supreme Court seems to have a similar viewpoint. The district court in Colorado had a similar one as well except they varied in two different directions. The trial court said, yeah, it was an insurrection, he engaged in it, but he got to be on the ballot. The Supreme Court in Colorado said, yeah, he's engaged in an insurrection, and he can't be on the ballot. What do you make of that choice?

TUROW: Well, the district court in Colorado thought, because the president is not named in that part of the 14th Amendment, that the president wasn't included. And there are some serious constitutional scholars who think the same thing.

The Colorado Supreme Court pointed out that the language that's there, any office under the United States, has been interpreted many times as including the presidency.

COATES: When you look at this, the real question so many people have, I mean, it's playing out in the courts right now, Congress comes to mind, could they have done anything in the aftermath of January 6th that frankly could have resolved this before we even got here?

TUROW: Well, you know, hindsight is always 20-20, Laura.

COATES: Uh-hmm.

TUROW: But at the time, you know, I was writing to friends of mine who served in Congress and going, well, why don't you use this provision of the 14th Amendment? And I never got a really good answer. But, you know, the Democrats obviously had the votes at that time to have passed a bill saying that Trump had engaged in insurrection, and he was disqualified.


Whether they would have gotten it through the Senate, whether they could have overcome an undoubted republican filibuster, I don't know. It really depends what Mitch McConnell would have allowed. But the impeachment ended up being doomed by the fact that Trump was no longer the president.

So, you know, as I said, hindsight is 20-20, but the Democrats probably went down the wrong road and could have tried to pass legislation, and that indeed is going to be one of the arguments, as to whether the 14th Amendment is self-executing or has to be enabled by some legislation under it.

COATES: You know, another big question -- and forget just hindsight, reading the tea leaves in terms of the Supreme Court. I mean, we already know that the 2020 election, because of the statements that had been made, have cast a pretty big cloud over the legitimacy for some.

I mean, a lot of people understand that it was not rigged, it was fair and free, Joe Biden is the duly elected president, but there are many who don't believe that to be the case.

And there are questions now, if the Supreme Court has anything to do about deciding eligibility, immunity, that it might cast additional doubts over the legitimacy because they're putting their thumb on the scale. How do you see it?

TUROW: I think what you're talking about is probably going to come to pass, namely the court being very reluctant to decide who can and can't be a candidate for the president of the United States.

The only thing about it is that it's that's somewhat in tension with the other issue you've been talking about today, whether Trump's immunity claims, his claim that he was -- that everything he did was while he was president so he can't be prosecuted, those claims gained something because of the Colorado case.

In other words, if the court is going to say, you know, we want the people to decide, not us, then they've got to give the people all the facts, and that means certainly whether or not Donald Trump is a felon.

And, you know, speeding the decision on the immunity and allowing the trial to take place means that the American voters will get an answer to that question. Is he a felon?

And in time, we'll know the answer. Either Trump will be convicted or he'll be acquitted and he can go on a campaign without that shadow over him. But I think the logic for the Supreme Court says, let's get to the immunity issue and allow that trial to take place.

COATES: Bureaucracy moving quickly. Scott Turow, how novel to think about that very aspect of it. I know I have to go, but I cannot let you go without asking you about this great piece you have in "The Atlantic" because we're talking a lot about Trump, but you were talking a lot about what was going on with Joe Biden. It was in "Vanity Fair," not "The Atlantic." It was in the "Vanity Fair."

And the headline, "Why Joe Biden, 81, Needs to Hand Over the Car Keys -- Now." I mean, forget talking about Trump, you don't think that Biden should be on the ballot.

TUROW: I don't -- I think that both of the major party candidates are too old to be running for president. And I say this as somebody who's going to be 75 on my next birthday. And I don't think we have to push 80-year-old people off the cliff, but being the president of the United States is a uniquely arduous job and one where you make a deal with the people that you're -- you're going to be able to carry on for all four years, because it's a calamity in a democracy when a president either dies or becomes unable to function.

And when people get into their 80s, the odds begin to mount that one of those things is going to happen. And, you know, we're ignoring reality. We're playing the emperor's new clothes to pretend that either of these men are going to be invulnerable to the effects of age that we see so often in the people we love and we're close to. And neither one of them want to be on the ballot for that reason, ignoring any matters of policy.

COATES: Well, you know what? Every time I see that Scott Turow has written something, I encourage everyone to read it in full, and the "Vanity Fair" piece is no exception. Thank you so much for joining me tonight.

TUROW: Laura, thanks. Always good to be with you. I appreciate it.

COATES: Thank you. Well, look, Trump has repeatedly tried to discredit the eligibility of his rivals from Barack Obama to Ted Cruz. Remember that? But now that it's his own being questioned, well, the irony comes in pretty thick. We'll talk about it next.



COATES: All right, so the former president, he never met a grievance he didn't like or at least tried to maybe exploit. He explains how he can say this tonight.

I'll read it for you. "The last time the Democrats took someone off the ballot was in 1860. They would not allow a man named Abraham Lincoln to be so much as mentioned in "slave states."

Not quite sure that applies to you, but Donald Trump is, as the kids say, big mad. He's mad about the Colorado Supreme Court ruling, taking the blunt side of a number two pencil and erasing his name from the ballot there. Little ironic because remember, Trump made his political bones trying to disqualify people from being the president.

Here's a little crash course, Trump 101 we're going to call it. He started with a notorious and not a grain of truth to it claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why doesn't he show his birth certificate? I really believe there's a birth certificate. Why -- look, she's smiling. Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?

UNKNOWN: You don't seem convinced that he has one.

TRUMP: No, I'm not convinced that he has one.

UNKNOWN: You said you sent investigators to Hawaii and you said -- quote -- "They cannot believe what they're finding."


What have they found?

TRUMP: -- see what happens.

UNKNOWN: What have they found?

TRUMP: That's none of your business right now.


COATES: Hmm. The country saw what happened when Donald Trump found out.


TRUMP: President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.


COATES: Period. So, what didn't work once, he tried again, but this time with Ted Cruz, and it was the exact same thing.


TRUMP: He was born in Canada, and he actually had a Canadian passport along with a U.S. passport until just recently. I mean, like within the last couple of years. The problem is that if the Democrats bring a lawsuit, the lawsuit could take years to resolve, and how do you have a candidate where there's something, you know, over the head of the party and that individual?


COATES: Hmm, that didn't age well. It also didn't work. It didn't really matter that it didn't work because Donald Trump did win the primary. Now, when it comes to Trump and maybe to his voters, the skeletons, they aren't reason to shy away. They appear to be selling points.

I want to bring in former GOP congressman Joe Walsh and former Obama White House senior director Nayyera Haq. So glad to see both of you here tonight.

I mean, when you look at it, it is a bit rich, right, to think, wait a second, you mean now people can't talk about disqualification? He really kind of made his political bones off of it, Nayyera.



HAQ: He's so good at that. And in fact, the same article that talked about how he had copies of Hitler's speeches by his desk and he used to read them, this is according to his ex-wife, in that same article, we find out that he was a big proponent of Hitler's big lie, the idea that if you repeat something often enough, people will start to believe it. And that's so much of what the Donald Trump playbook is about, just get it out there, right? Throw it against -- you know, throw spaghetti against the wall, see what sticks, repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, and people start to believe.

So, they believe the grievances, right? They believe that he is a victim despite the fact that he has been a criminal before he even got into office.

COATES: Of course, Trump would -- obviously, he has been talking about yesterday, about how he -- the Hitler comparisons are not correct and we have not independently confirmed the Mein Kampf story, I will say that. However, your point is well taken, yes.

JOE WALSH, FORMER ILLINOIS REPRESENTATIVE: He's a bad person. He's such a hypocrite. But his playbook, Laura, is he's the victim. He's the most persecuted human being that has ever lived. And this Colorado ruling is just -- it plays into that. It's such a political gift for him.

COATES: As in it was the wrong decision for him to do it?

WALSH: As in it is going to play into this narrative that everybody and their mother is trying to keep him off the ballot. And that is going to help him beyond just his hard, crazy base, I'm afraid of.

COATES: Nayyera, do you think the same thing in terms of how it's going to -- I mean, obviously, we know it's going to be used, already being used as fodder for him. We even heard the Abraham Lincoln comparison discussion, right? But when you look at it, is this -- if you're a strategist, is this what you want in terms of getting an advantage for Biden or even Nikki Haley or anyone else?

HAQ: Colorado is a blue state, right? It's not like what happens in Colorado is going to change the direction of electoral college and who gets the presidency. This is also a Republican primary --

WALSH: Yeah.

HAQ: -- ballot measure, right? So, Republican Party being what it is and Trump running it these days, he can figure out something and some other way to manipulate the system as he has done so far. So, it doesn't necessarily get anything in terms of changing the calculus of where Democrats need to get votes. It does muddy the waters.

Nobody, especially the folks who litigated Bush v. Gore, Ron Klain, former White House chief of staff for Biden, was one of them, no one wants to see another election go to this Supreme Court. Democrats want as clean an election as possible and throwing the courts when it comes into who's on a ballot, what votes count and don't, does make that a little harder to do.

COATES: We're talking about Colorado, but let's go to another "C" state as well, California. We heard from the lieutenant governor there and it seemed -- well, let's play for a second for people to know what we're talking about. It's not maybe going to stay in California. I mean, Colorado, listen to this.


LT. GOV. ELENI KOUNALAKIS (D-CA): We have never had a former president indicted for anything. But Donald Trump has been indicted four times on 91 felony counts. This is a highly unusual situation. And for the courts and the court in Colorado to make determination that he meets the threshold as an insurrectionist, we absolutely have to consider that in determining whether or not he's qualified to be on the ballot in California.


COATES: That's pretty important that they're even considering exploring it. California obviously, too, in terms of the blue --

WALSH: Yeah.

COATES: -- versus red, but if one state does it and another and another, it becomes maybe the blue print.



And if the Supreme Court affirms the Colorado ruling, you're going to have -- the floodgates are going to open. Look, I -- Donald Trump to me is an insurrectionist. I think he participated in and committed insurrection. But who am I? I'm just a former congressman.

We need the Supreme Court or Congress. We need -- I don't want, Laura, just a state Supreme Court or two in split decisions telling me what insurrection is.


WALSH: I want it to come --

HAQ: I mean, Congress could have done that, right?

WALSH: Congress could have done that.

HAQ: There was an opportunity for multiple Republican senators to actually remove Trump from office.

WALSH: Absolutely.

HAQ: This is -- the problem with this case is it can be right on the merits, it can have a valid argument in how it's determined, but it feels like such a last straw to hold somebody accountable who has managed to skirt and escape the rule of law and justice this far.

WALSH: Yeah.

COATES: Well, look at that beautiful agreement at the very end.

WALSH: Oh, my God.

COATES: Oh, my goodness.

WALSH: Give it up.

COATES: Should we all start braiding each other's hair? That was wonderful. Okay, well, thank you.

WALSH: And on that note --

COATES: And on that note, always glad to have you here. Nayyera, Joe, I'm so glad you both were here. Look, what we're doing? Kumbaya.

A surge at the southern border and a governor trying to take matters into his own hands, but many people are crying foul over Greg Abbott's latest moves. What does the El Paso mayor think about all this? Well, I'm going to ask him because he's my guest next.



COATES: Well, tonight, as the battle over immigration reform is playing out in Congress and, frankly, across the whole country, the nation is grappling with a surge of migrants. Thousands of migrants in Eagle Pass, Texas have unlawfully crossed the border daily over the last week.

And the migrant crisis is getting worse by the day. The volume of illegal crossings in El Paso, Texas has gotten so bad the government had to close railway crossings in the area.

My next guest is the mayor of El Paso, Oscar Leeser. Mayor Leeser, thank you so much for being with us this evening. Everyone is watching very closely what's happening in your community and beyond. The crossings, I understand, at the border are higher than ever. I mean, we're talking record setting numbers. Tell me what is it like there right now where you are.

MAYOR OSCAR LEESER, EL PASO, TEXAS: Well, right now, we're getting about 1,500 a day. And last year, we were a bit higher than that, but the numbers had really had slowed down. And then after Thanksgiving, the numbers continued to increase. In the last week, every day, we're experiencing about 1,500 a day.

COATES: How is that sustainable for your community? What are you doing to address that or even absorb people?

LEESER: Well, it's not sustainable for any community. And it's really important that we understand that the immigration process is broken and that we have to treat everybody with dignity and respect when they do come into our country.

But they're not coming to El Paso, they're coming to the United States, and it's important that we help them get to the destination and work with them. That's one of the things that we were very proud of. We make sure that people are not out on the streets at night, they have a bed to sleep in, a warm meal. We work with them to make sure that they get to their destination.

But at the end of the day, everything you see today, everything we've been working with is a Band-Aid, you know. No community and no country really can withstand and continue withstand the broken immigration process that we look at today. It's not a process that broke yesterday. It has been broken for quite a while.

And you're right, you were talking about a little while ago, Congress has to really address it and it has to be fixed. It can't just be fixed here. It has to be fixed in the countries where it originates. That's something that's going to be really important. We've been working with all our partners, the state, the federal government, and we've been getting the proper funding to make sure that it's not on the back of the local taxpayers.

But again, less than 1% of the people that cross the border stay in El Paso, and they're here to go to the United States to make their life a better life, be able to work. Until we help them be able to find work and get work, it's going to continue to be a big crisis for our country.

COATES: The idea of using El Paso as sort of a stopover into the rest of the United States is a really important point to think about as it relates to other states and where everyone ends up going.

But you used the word dignity earlier, Mayor Lesser, and it sticks in my mind because you've heard the former president using pretty extreme rhetoric in recent days, even invoking a phrase once used about immigration, around immigration by Hitler, talking about poisoning the blood of our country when it comes to those who come here and are immigrants.

You know, that is very disturbing for so many to hear and then try to instill to the rest of the world that we believe in a dignified migration process.

LEESER: Absolutely, and it's about time that we stop extreme and inflammatory remarks. Just start focusing on fixing the process, fixing the broken immigration program.

You know, we can talk about it and we can make remarks that really are not going to fix it, but we need to fix a broken process, we need to stop putting a Band-Aid on it. The borders are not open, but yet we continue to see record numbers. So, you know, it's time to change what we're doing today and move forward in working with the other countries to be able to fix it.

COATES: Governor Abbott recently enacted a law where he gave local law enforcement the power to arrest and also state judges to then deport. Has that been something that you think will be effective in your community or does it present challenges in terms of how law enforcement will have that amount of power? LEESER: You know, we're talking about SB4 and the law at a city like El Paso could not enforce immigration laws. We don't have the manpower, and we wouldn't be able to do it.


We need to make sure our number one priority is the safety of our community. We need to work on that. But for us to be able to racially profile, we wouldn't do it. That's something we will not do. Talking to the police chief, talking to the sheriff, you know, we'll continue to make sure our community are safe and not racially profiled, and make sure that we continue to work in a way that -- we're not going to be able to do the immigration. We're not going to enforce immigration laws. We can't do that.

COATES: Mayor Oscar Leeser, you're on the front lines. Thank you for sharing what it's like. Thank you so much.

LEESER: Thank you. I'm very proud of our community because we treat people the way people need to be treated. So, thank you.

COATES: I hope that's contagious, mayor. Thank you so much.

LEESER: Thank you.

COATES: A group of Americans arriving tonight from Venezuela as part of a prisoner swap, including one that we talked about on this very show. What led the Biden administration to make a deal with Venezuela's strongman? That's next.



Tonight, there is a major development story we've been following very closely. Tonight, Savoi Wright, an American wrongfully held in Venezuela since October, arrived back in the United States after being released from detention. He's one of 10 Americans freed in a deal between the Biden administration and Venezuela.

Two weeks ago, his family told me that Wright was mistreated while in detention. Here's what he said when he landed in Texas.


SAVOI WRIGHT, RELEASED PRISONER: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty free at last. I didn't know if I would ever make it out. And it's really scary to be in a place where you're used to having freedoms and you're locked into a cell, sometimes with four other people, very tiny cell.


COATES: Now, as part of the deal to free the detainees, the U.S. agreed to release a key ally of Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro, and Venezuela agreed to move toward democratic elections. Thank you so much for watching. Our courage continues.