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Laura Coates Live

Jury Says Trump Should Pay $83.3 Million In Damages To E. Jean Carroll; Trump's Legal Team Will Immediately Appeal $83.3 Million Verdict; Alabama Death Row Inmate Put To Death Using Nitrogen Gas; Sister Helen Prejean Talks About Killing A Killer; Vince McMahon Resigns As TKO Executive Chairman. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired January 26, 2024 - 22:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: This comes amid disturbing new allegations of sexual assault, trafficking and physical abuse that were made against him in a lawsuit that was filed by a former WWE employee.

McMahon has denied the allegations and said he's prepared to defend himself in court. But in a statement tonight, he said he is resigning, quote, out of respect for the WWE Universe.

I want to thank you so much for joining us tonight on this very busy news week. You're going to get some great legal perspective coming up. LAURA COATES LIVE starts right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: $5 million dollars didn't stop Donald Trump. Will $83.3 million tonight, on a bonus hour of Laura Coates Live?

The jury says that Donald Trump must pay $83.3 million to E. Jean Carroll for defamatory statements that he made against her in 2019, vastly more than I think anyone even expected, and a huge victory for E. Jean Carroll.

After that verdict sheet was given to the judge but before it was actually read, the judge asked the jury foreperson, what does the M mean? The answer, million. And that comes on top of $5 million dollars already awarded back in May by the jury that found Trump sexually abused Carroll and then defamed her in 2022 by disparaging her and denying the allegations.

Sources telling CNN, the former president is livid, obviously, and he's gone on social media, also, obviously, to try to blame, wait for it, President Joe Biden, and to falsely claim that his First Amendment rights were taken away, even though the First Amendment doesn't actually give him the right to defame.

Remember, just yesterday, the judge admonished Trump for loudly insisting, quote, I never met the woman, and struck his claim that Carroll's accusations were, quote, totally false because the earlier jury had already found her accusations to be true. And his antics, well, they continue today, getting up and leaving the courtroom in the middle of Carroll's attorney's closing argument.

Now, after the jury's unanimous, and yes, it was a unanimous verdict, the judge warning them, and this tells you a lot about where we are right now in the state of affairs, warning those jurors, quote, my advice is to never disclose that you were on this jury.

We have lots to discuss tonight with Gene Rossi, former federal prosecutor, also Rebecca LeGrand, a white collar federal criminal defense attorney. Sorry, the four didn't slip (ph) because White House, apparently, it's issues, right?

Well, you think about this, first of all, taking a step back, $83.3 million. He was on notice that there was already a trial that confirmed that he, in fact, had done what he was accused of doing. He had a chance at that point in time to argue his case. He wanted to do it here instead.

As a defense attorney, are you surprised they tried to bite the apple again?

REBECCA LEGRAND, WHITE COLLAR FEDERAL CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And I'm surprised that they tried to bite the apple again when the judge had issued multiple orders saying, you cannot bite the apple again, which is a well-established legal principle, collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion.

The judge found at the outset, we are not going to re-litigate what I've already determined and what the jury had already determined in the first trial, which was that Donald Trump sexually assaulted Ms. Carroll. That had been determined and determined more graphically than that. And so, as a defense lawyer, I would follow the judge's order, but that is not the choice that was made here.

COATES: But let me ask you, I mean, I think a lot of people are wondering this point when it comes to that line between professing your innocence, defending -- I didn't do it, I don't know her. I didn't do this, what you accuse me of doing, the presumption of innocence and then defamatory statements.

When you look at this, he's making arguments about the First Amendment still to this day. He's claiming that he's not able to defend himself, this is all part of a political witch hunt. Help me explain this distinction between one's defense in a case and defamatory statements.

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I mean, in a defamation case, you have the right to make a comment about a person's character if you have a basis. But in this case, he called her a liar, and he said other things that just attacked the core of her moral compass. So, that takes it from First Amendment to defamation.

And the one thing I want to say about this is Donald Trump, when he walked into that courtroom, and I can't wait until they have the January 6th trial, when he walked into that courtroom, he realized one thing. I'm the big dog, and I cannot control what's going on in this room.


And that's what I saw with Donald Trump. He likes to control things. He likes to be a dictator.

And when he was before Judge Kaplan, he was like an emperor with no clothes. And that drove him absolutely categorically bonkers.

And when he walked out during Roberta Kaplan's closing argument --

COATES: Wasn't that amazing to think about?

ROSSI: That, to me, he wants to be president of the United States and he walks out of a courtroom during the closing argument of Roberta Kaplan's presentation. That doesn't show a person who should be president again. That shows a person who should be in the corner with a dunce cap.

COATES: Well, let's take aside the presidency. Just talk about the strategy for a second, right? If you are a defendant in a courtroom, and we've all been in trials, we've seen the way that defense attorneys, maybe you have as well, sort of guided the client to dress a certain way, maybe some fake glasses go on. They get a little bit cleaned up in different ways, haircuts change, you know, attitude, they're looking at the jury in different ways. You don't have them get up in the middle of the trial and then storm out.

LEGRAND: Client control is the thing we talk about, and there are clients where that's easier or harder. Usually, though, you build a relationship, you build trust and your client trusts you when you say, I know this is going to be hard but you've got to sit still not make any faces even though it's hard.

But we know Donald Trump is not like that. You can't control Donald Trump. He's going to do what he's going to do. And I think it's true I don't he couldn't handle sitting still in court listening to someone say something he didn't like.

COATES: Listen to what E. Jean Craroll's lawyer had to say about that moment when he walked out of the courthouse.


ROBERTA KAPLAN, E. JEAN CARROLL'S ATTORNEY : I think it hurt him terribly. I mean, our whole case was about the fact that Donald Trump is unable to follow the law, unable to follow the rules, he thinks they don't apply to him. And as bad as what he did to E. Jean Carroll was, and the sexual assault was terrible, and as horrifying as the defamation was back in 2019, the most amazing, shocking part of it all is that he kept on doing it.


COATES: That's the part I think that is so important, that you frame this entire thing not about, which it's not any longer, because I've even found sexual abuse, but instead about, look, we told you not to say anything, you should not say anything. It's defamatory if you do say things, and then you walk out. Did that hurt him? You really think so?

ROSSI: In my criminal life when I was a prosecutor, I used to love when a defendant would laugh at me. And I've had defendants laugh at me during trial, during closing arguments, during direct examinations or cross. I used to love that. Because when a jury sees that, when a jury sees conduct that is unbecoming, a former president of the United States especially, that jury -- that's why they only took less than three hours to find $65M, $65 million. His conduct destroyed him.

COATES: You know, he's been attacking -- you heard Alina Habba outside the courthouse, attacking the justice system, attacking New York juries, talking about, look, this was a foregone conclusion because look where we are, we're in New York.

Now, of course, he's only recently a Floridian, we know that, but that is the heart of why she thinks this is not going to be a fair shake. She talked about not being able to put on expert witnesses and beyond, but, again, this was not that part of the trial. What do you make of her attacking the system?

LEGRAND: It's her client's M.O., right? Every time Donald Trump loses something, he blames everybody else. He's the victim. The court wasn't fair. The election wasn't fair. Again and again, we see this, but this was a jury of New Yorkers from a broad -- they weren't all, you know, women from Manhattan. There was only two women on the jury. This was a broad group of nine jurors, the second set of nine jurors, who have unanimously found the same way. He's a New Yorker. I mean, this is a jury of his peers.

What does she -- this is fair. This is how our system works. And to criticize -- I was pretty horrified to see an attorney stand on the courthouse steps and say, the system is corrupt, after a jury of nine people unanimously returned to decision.

COATES: You know, when you look at the number again, people are almost gob-smacked by the number, maybe in part because you wonder who's got this kind of money. But you remember who we're talking about here and the breakdown of compensatory and punitive damages.

$83 million dollars compared to $5 million last year, I mean, this is -- look at that $7.3 for emotional harm, $11 for reputational repair and then $65 million bucks for punitive ala punishment, the punishment factor here. Can that stand?

ROSSI: Oh, the amount of the verdict?


ROSSI: Absolutely. And when Donald Trump appeals, he has to put up a bond and he has to put up a bond that's equal to $83 million plus interest. So, his bond has to be about $95 million before he appeals.


And if he loses his appeal, that money all goes to E. Jean Carroll. And it also will go to her in the first case, because he had to put a bond up for that. They will collect the money. It may take time, but in both cases, he will have to cough up.

COATES: And need not be liquid assets, right? This can be the collective?


COATES: Wow. Oh my God, E. Jean Carroll Towers?

LEGRAND: Others have said it first, but, yes.

COATES: Wow. Okay. Well, Gene Rossi, Rebecca LeGrand, thank you both so much.

Look, the jury has spoken. In fact, two juries now have spoken. It's not the end of all of this, you can imagine. How will the judge make his final decision? Of course, he has signed off on an order and then it becomes the law. We will break it down, next.


COATES: We're back with more on our huge story tonight, a jury saying that the former president, Donald Trump, should pay $83.3 million in damages to E. Jean Carroll. Now, Trump's legal team says that it plans to immediately appeal this verdict.

Joining me to break down the damages, CNN Legal Analysts and Criminal Defense Attorney Joey Jackson, who I can only imagine whenever you're watching these high-profile trials, you're thinking to yourself, what would I have done differently?


What would have been better?

And now that you have the outcome, Joey, I mean, 83 -- it was an $18.3 million in compensatory damages, $65 million in punitive damages. First, break down these terms for us, compensatory meaning what, punitive meaning what.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure, Laura, good to be with you. So, starting with the compensatory damages, as we see there, what happens is compensatory damages are damages designed, as they note, to compensate you, to put you in the position that you would have been in absent the harm.

Here, you see the delineation between the emotional and reputational. Well, why? Because from a reputational perspective, Laura, obviously, there's a cost involved when someone impugns your reputation, particularly from the bully pulpit, which is the presidency of the United States.

How does that impair your reputation? How does it impair your business? How does it impair your ability to deal in the social world that we deal in and people dealing with you and the revenue that would be associated with that? Emotional damages, right, a little more difficult to quantify, but, certainly, there's psychological and other injuries that really in order to you, when there's a problem like this, right? When people are harassing you on social media, boy, do we have a social media with lightning speed that can tell you just exactly how they feel about you.

And then, of course, we get to the issue of punitive damages.

COATES: Unsolicited, by the way, unsolicited. Go ahead.

JACKSON: Exactly right, Laura. You can have somebody who, a second later, tweets and Facebooks and all kinds of things, which is really giving you their opinion.

And then as it relates to punitive damages, those damages are designed to punish. And that punishment is to let you know that what you did is unacceptable, measuring your conduct and certainly deterring you from engaging in that conduct.

Again, I think the jury was persuaded by the fact that you had a defendant in this case, the president, who seemed undeterred because he kept repeating, repeating, repeating again what the defamatory claims were here.

So, those are the nature of the damages that the jury imposed today, and, boy, were they substantial.

COATES: They are. And, again, he was on notice. I mean, $5 million last year, a different type of trial. That based more on the underlying allegations to determine whether, in fact, he had sexually abused her. This was about what it would cost him after that factual finding had been determined.

But there's a moment in time from when the jury renders their verdict, gives this amount, and the judge officially signing off on it. So, you've got this little window. I'm going to call it a window of opportunity, Joey. Because if you were on Trump's legal team, what would you be doing to lessen the damages that have been suggested by the jury, so by the time that final sign off goes, it's a little bit less?

JACKSON: Yes. You know what, Laura, this is a great question, but, unfortunately, that question comes a week too late. I think that, tonally, when you're trying the case itself, and, again, it was only about damages, the defamatory statements, right, defamation statements, that impugn your reputation, that ultimately damage you. And that's what defamation is all about, that's what the trial was all about.

But I just think tonally, the tone of the defense team was disconnected from reality, and I think it annoyed the jury. At some point, you have to be contrite. At some point, you have to accept responsibility. At some point, you have to say, I didn't mean. You know, perhaps it could have went a different way. You just -- you know, you don't storm out of courtrooms in the middle of closing arguments.

And so the reason I say that, Laura, in response to your question is, I think a case is just not about after a verdict making arguments before a judge as to the disproportionality of the verdict, as to whether it should have been different, as to what could have happened. I think the start comes right at the start, at the beginning, and then at this point, perhaps you raise some arguments and other issues.

But I just think that they so -- the Trump team played for that 13th juror, right? I know there were only nine jurors, but we call, generally there's 12 jurors, so we call it the 13th juror, the people at home, the politics, the election year, and this is about what happened in a courtroom. And I think that was a missed opportunity, and I think the damages that were awarded, although significant, certainly have a very good chance of standing.

COATES: Well, he has been trying to appeal to that 13th juror for quite some time, even the appearance, the decisions on when to prioritize, appearances on when to not do so. You have pundits talking all the time about the campaign and campaign stops at the courtroom.

But there will be some moments and they will appeal. They've already said they're going to immediately appeal the verdict. That's not based on facts though, like the factual findings are not going to be appealable unless there was some judicial error in allowing testimony in or in considering some particular legal argument.

But did you hear anything during this trial, again, the damages phase that could lead to overturning today's decision at all?

JACKSON: Yes. You know, Laura, so that's a great point, because this is different and unique, this being the trial, and as much as generally trials are about factual determinations, you have a verdict as to those facts, which would be defamation, full statements, and then you go to the issue once liability is established to how much it costs.


This was just about what the costs were.

But I think that, you know, that's a lot of what appeals are inside baseball. What the judge allowed you to do, what the judge didn't, motions you made before the judge about evidence to be introduced to perhaps a judge shut down or perhaps the judge, you know, let in.

But I think, you know, at its core, the Trump team, in addition to all the statements you heard his attorney making on the courthouse steps that are, in themselves, disconnected from reality, that's another segment. But I think that it's going to be about the reasonability of the particular verdict. Was this reasonable? Was the actual conduct so egregious as to merit this? Was the award disproportionate to ultimately the injury that was suffered? And was it similar or dissimilar to other awards?

Now, briefly, Laura, that's a tough question because who gets defamed by the president of the United States? That's a bully pulpit that so many people hear about, right? And so the reality is, is it's hard to measure this case against others. The point I'm making though is that they will argue that it's so grossly disproportionate as to shock the conscience. And as a result of that, it should be diminished. Let's see if that carries the day.

Last, last point, Laura, and that is we know punitive damages really are designed to send a message and to halt, stop the conduct. What would it take to stop a person in Trump's position to stop? Perhaps that number, right, that was awarded is the appropriate number for this particular circumstance. So, that's an argument the Trump team is going to have to overcome for a person standing in his shoes and for a person who has his wealth.

Well, that person in those shoes will have a series of microphones and cameras in front of him along many a campaign stop and rally. And, of course, he's got his thumbs and all the social media. So, we'll see if he, in fact, is deterred.

Joey Jackson, thank you so much, always great to hear your mind.

JACKSON: Thank you, Laura. Be well.

COATES: Up next, a controversial Alabama execution using an untested method is drawing big backlash. Now, even the White House is weighing into all of it.

Plus, the breaking news in the wrestling world after WWE founder Vince McMahon was accused of sexual assault. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


COATES: The White House weighing in on the highly controversial execution of a death row inmate in Alabama, saying it's, quote, deeply troubled.

Now, last night, the state executed convicted murderer Kenneth Smith using nitrogen gas. It was the first time that that method had ever been used in this country.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says it may amount to torture, but Alabama officials, they are doubling down, the state's attorney general saying this today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As of last night, nitrogen hypoxia as a means of execution is no longer an untested method. It is a proven one.

I think we will definitely have more nitrogen hypoxia executions in Alabama.


COATES: The commissioner of Alabama's Department of Corrections saying the procedure went according to plan.

But take a listen to a witness of the inmates' execution.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He appeared conscious for several minutes into the execution. For about two minutes following that, Kenneth Smith shook in rides for about two minutes on a gurney. That was followed by several minutes of deep breaths on the gurney. Following that, his breath slowed until it was no longer perceptible for media witnesses.


COATES: Joining me now is Sister Helen Prejean. She is the author of Dead Man Walking and an anti-death penalty activist for the last three decades. Sister Prejean, thank you so much for being here today.

I mean, we have been covering this and the wider issue of what this means constitutionally, because, as you know, Sister, the Eighth Amendment protects American citizens from cruel and unusual punishment from something that we've seen. And everything we've seen so far with this particular case, do you think that Kenneth Smith's execution was spared from that cruel or unusual punishment?

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN, ANTI-DEATH PENATLY ACTIVIST: No. I believe he did experience torture, which is defined, and we have signed the torture convention, anti-torture convention, an extreme mental or physical assault on someone rendered defenseless.

I've accompanied six people to execution, and they all have the same nightmare, anticipatory, waiting to die, and the nightmare is the guards are coming to get them, it's their time.

People on death row are human beings who are conscious imaginative beings, and then they are given a date of execution, they begin to anticipate it.

So, now, we're looking at the method, which I lay right in the lap of the Supreme Court of the United States, which is allowing states to experiment with different methods. Ever since the pharmaceutical company in Europe cut off the drug they had been using, the Supreme Court allows them to use different methods. Try this out, see if this works. So, now, you have the A.G. of Alabama saying, yep, it worked, we're going to use it. You are a human being lying on that gurney, and so it's always torture. It's always cruel punishment.

COATES: I've always wondered, Sister -- I'm so familiar with your work and your advocacy. I've always wondered about what it is like in the work you've done. You've worked with death row inmates for decades. And what is it like when you are in these rooms, when you're asked to be a spiritual adviser, what is that process like logistically but emotionally at those times?

PREJEAN: Yes. Well, one of the things is I know what my mission is. I know why I'm there, and a total focus is on them. And for them to look at my face as it happens, because my face is saying to them, you are a son of God, you are a human being, and they know I am resisting the death in every way I can.

But in terms of costliness, do we often think of the guards and the people who have to carry this out in our name? I tell the story in "Dead Man Walking" of one of the guards on death row that was part of the execution team. After five executions, he calls me in his office and he goes, Sister, I'm going to have to quit this job. I come home after these executions.

I've known them. I served them their breakfast. I got to know them. I know they did a terrible crime. But then when you're there with them and they're defenseless and you help kill them, and I get in my lazy boy chair and I can't sleep and I can't eat in, in my gut, I know I'm helping to defend, to kill a defenseless person.

COATES: What is that like for you to hear? What guidance or wisdom do you provide, if any?

PREJEAN: No -- I -- yeah -- well, I mean, I could just see the costliness in them. I was at, you know, I'm going to be with Ivan Cantu. We're doing all we can to prevent his death on February 28th in Texas. More and more evidence is coming out of all the unfair things and the lies told at his trial. We're just trying to get a hearing that they can look at the new evidence.

And it was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. I'm with some nice people. I'm with some of the religious advisors, some of the people who, you know, do religion on death row with people. You can tell they're kind people and they're going to have to participate in this. And it's my orientation what I can do when I'm in that execution chamber. And I got about five or six different signals. They didn't say we oppose the execution.

But signals from the, we know we're not too happy about this. But yet it's their job and there they are involved in this system including the warden who participates, who presides over all these execution in Texas who has killed one third of all the people executed in this country.

COATES: Sister, just thinking about making the choice to be the last face that one sees, knowing that the Supreme Court oftentimes rejects the last-minute pleas for a state of execution and then balancing that against the families of the victims, of the person that has been killed. It must be overwhelming to think about, even those of the deepest faith, even those with the most centered and stable emotional state. It must take its toll. The cost on you must also be great, is it?

PREJEAN: Well, we can't look at the cost on me, but this thing of balancing with the victim's family, that it does nothing to heal a victim's family. And often the death penalty divides a family. Some are for it, some are against. How would you wait, of a victim's family, when somebody gets sentenced to death at trial till their execution is 17 years. How can people heal that very public space waiting for somebody to be killed?

Look at this. And we say to them, you're going to get to sit, and you're going to get to watch as the state kills the one who killed your loved one, and watching that killing is going to heal you. Look how bogus that is, Marlee. Look how bankrupt that is. And though there's no balancing with victims' families. The DAs use that to try to look like and justify what they're doing.

A person has died, a person has been killed. That is wrong. Our role in society is to keep citizens safe, you know, incapacitate the violent person, that's what prisons are for. But not imitate it. I mean, you kill a killer, like Bryan Stevenson was saying, somebody burns down a house, you set her out of their house, they rape somebody, you send a rape squad in every Friday night, you imitate the worst possible human behavior.

How does that save anybody? We can do better than this. We got to do better than this. The only way we got to keep educating the people to say, are you sure we need to do this? Is this what we need to be doing? And it doesn't stop violence in any way. We really know that. There's no deterrence value in this at all.

COATES: Well, Sister Helen Prejean, you are asking the right questions. I wonder what the answers will be and who will provide them and when, while we wait for more executions to take place. One you've mentioned on February 28th, we will follow that story. And please, don't hesitate to come back. I've learned a lot from you over the years. It has guided many a principled prosecutor and I appreciate your time. Thank you.

PREJEAN: Think, Laura, what's going to stop it is us. Us getting educated. People like you, people like us, keep getting the truth out.


Thank you.

COATES: There is breaking news. The founder of WWE, Vince McMahon, resigning from his role in the company after being accused of sexual assault and trafficking and physical abuse against a former staffer. I'll have more on that in just a moment.


There's breaking news tonight. Vince McMahon has just resigned from his role as Executive Chairman of TKO. That's the parent company of WWE, the wrestling behemoth that he founded. Now, this resignation comes amidst a lawsuit from a former WWE employee that accuses McMahon of sexual assault and trafficking and physical abuse.

Now, he is saying, quote, "out of respect for the WWE Universe, the extraordinary TKO business and its board members and shareholders, partners and constituents and all of the employees and superstars who help make WWE into the global leader it is today.


I have decided to resign from my executive chairmanship and the TKO board of directors effective immediately." Let's get right to Khadeeja Safdar, enterprise reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." Khadija, you were the one to first report on the allegations in this case. What more can you tell us tonight about the resignation now?

KHADEEJA SAFDAR, ENTERPRISE REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": So this, as you said, follows actually like a day after the lawsuit was filed. It was filed just yesterday. So, I've covered many stories about misconduct at the workplace. And this lawsuit is among the most serious I've seen in terms of the nature of the allegations. It alleges sex trafficking, abuse.

And one thing to note was like in the complaint, there are text messages between the staffer and Vince McMahon that were reproduced there that back up many portions of her story. And there is -- it describes the classic signs of grooming and an abusive relationship, and then intensifying sexual demands. And the allegations were very serious.

There were sexual assaults in the WWE offices that she's describing. McMahon in one instance defecating on her head. There's where the him sharing explicit photos of her with others in the WWE offices alleging that she was trafficked to others at the workplace, too.

COATES: I mean, the allegations are unbelievable to even put one's mind around and think about it. So, I should mention, of course, a spokesperson for McMahon claimed the lawsuit filed by the woman who has been named is, quote, replete with lies, obscene, made up instances that never occurred and a vindictive distortion of the truth.

But I have to ask, I mean, even given this statement and what you've just described as the allegations, in 2022, he retired from his role at WWE amid, I believe, a special committee investigation into his alleged misconduct while chairman and CEO, but then he returned as a Chair of the WWE parent company, TKO. What can you tell us about that investigation? Is it at all similar or connected?

SAFDAR: Yeah, so it's completely connected because what happened was -- Grant, who's the employee in this instance with this lawsuit, she signed a non-disclosure agreement in 2022, in which she agreed to -- which McMahon agreed to pay her $3 million to not disclose the relationship.

The board got an anonymous tip about that relationship, which prompted that board investigation that he left amid. So, now we're finally getting to see in this lawsuit, what the nature of those allegations were, because at the time it was just, we knew that there was a payout and that there was a relationship, but it wasn't what -- we didn't know at the time that it was -- that she viewed the relationship as sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

COATES: Why now are we just learning? There was a non-disclosure agreement, I understand. It was tied to amount of money that had been paid or was supposed to be paid. Why are we learning about this now? Why has she decided to come forward now with these, just heart wrenching and disturbing allegations?

SAFDAR: Well, from the complaint, we can find out that he made one installment of the payment, $1 million, then he stopped making payments. The lawsuit actually seeks to void that NDA. And her lawyer, Ann Callis, who we corresponded with, she said that her motivation for coming out is to make sure that other women aren't victimized because we do know of other payouts that he's made related to sexual misconduct.

COATES: Khadijah Safdar, thank you so much for your reporting. It's truly unbelievable. Thank you so much for illuminating this and we will continue to follow what happens next. I appreciate it.

SAFDAR: Thank you for having me.

COATES: There are six people missing in Missouri and they have been missing for months. And police believe that they may have fallen prey to some kind of an online cult led by someone who was claiming to be a prophet. The mother of one of the missing is my guest -- next.




COATES: Tonight, four adults and two children vanished without a trace from the Missouri home that they shared. Now, police believe that they joined some sort of an online cult run by a so-called prophet.

Twenty-five year-old Michaela Wickerson's mother says her daughter ghosted her family, quit her job, and maxed out her credit cards before disappearing in August, according to our affiliate KSDK. Now, among those missing, Michaela, her three-year-old daughter, Malaya, Jerri-Elle German and her son Ashton Mitchell, Naaman Williams and Michaela Thompson.

Berkeley, Missouri police believe that they're following the teachings of a man named Rashad Jamal, a self-proclaimed prophet with thousands of followers. He is currently serving a prison sentence in Georgia for child molestation and denies being a cult leader. Now, Michaela Wickerson's mother, Cartishia Morgan joins me now. Cartishia, thank you so much for being here today.


Just hearing and learning about what has been going on. I mean, I cannot imagine what you've had to endure as a mother waiting to have some word about your family. It has been six months since you last saw or even heard from your daughter. Talk to us about the moment that you found out that she was missing.

CARTISHA MORGAN, DAUGHTER'S DISAPPEARANCE MAY BE TIED TO A CULT: It's just like a nightmare that I'm waiting to wake up from. I would have never believed that I will be going through this right now and it's just very -- my heart is hurting right now. I just would -- I just want them to come home. I hope that they're safe and if they're listening, I just want them to know that we love them and that we want them to come back home.

COATES: It's just heartbreaking to think about even hearing in your voice the pain that is so evident in what you are going through. I mean you say that Michaela was suffering from depression. I mean she cut off all communication with family before disappearing. Can you just tell me what your last interaction with her was like? Was there any idea of what was to come?

MORGAN: Well, actually, now that I look back, she was distancing herself before, you know, isolating, like, not answering our phone calls. She was saying that she was going on a spiritual journey. She probably will not be answering our phone calls if we called her and I said, well, I expect you're going on a spiritual journey but you know that's a little odd just that you just cut us off like that.

So, I was doing wellness checks with the police department and cps calls, once she started doing that but at least I knew where she was. I would periodically drive down, you know, her tree just to make sure that they were still. So, that brought me some kind of comfort, you know, but I don't believe she is suffering from depression.

Neighbors reported seeing Michaela and her housemates meditating outside with their hands up and hugging trees and standing outside, at times naked in the rain. And authorities say that members of this cult, that they're alleging, typically disconnect in the way you've described from their family.

They go to great lengths to be off the grid and not found. Why do you think, if you can even imagine, why do you think that she would ,at all, want to do this or even possibly join this particular cult?

MORGAN: I believe that she's hurting. I believe that she's hurting in the inside and she is searching for something. And so, I believe that they are using her. You know, I believe that they realized or you know, noticed that she was vulnerable and they took advantage of it.

COATES: Well, I just in learning about what has happened and what you're going through, we certainly have to keep following and, and try to give you some semblance of peace. And I'm so grateful for you coming on and expressing and sharing what you've been feeling about your family, about your daughter. Thank you so much, Cartisha Morgan.

MORGAN: Thank you.

COATES: Up next, on the second hour of "Laura Coates Live", a jury ruling that Trump must pay more than $83 million to E. Jean Carroll for defaming her. But what does all of that mean politically?



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COATES: Today's verdict will hit Donald Trump right in the wallet. But will it hurt him or help him on the campaign trail? Tonight, on LAURA COATES LIVE.