Return to Transcripts main page

Laura Coates Live

Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis Takes The Stand In Contentious Hearing; Laura Coates Interviews Bishop Reginald T. Jackson; Trump Trials Continue; Former FBI Informant Charged With Lying About The Bidens' Role In Ukraine Business. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired February 15, 2024 - 23:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wild, wild west for gun laws. In Missouri, there are no background checks for gun purchases, there is no ban on assault weapons, you can carry a concealed weapon without a permit if you're 19 or older, and there are no restrictions for someone who is convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors, and firearms are not required to be locked up and kept away from children.

And tonight, in a state in which it is the ninth highest rate of gun deaths in the U.S., families and friends, they are mourning their loved ones and sitting by their bedside, of those who managed to survive.

Thank you for watching "NEWSNIGHT." LAURA COATES LIVE starts right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: A tale of two courtrooms, okay, maybe three, and what it all means in the race for the White House, tonight on LAURA COATES LIVE.

All right, there's no legal drama you've probably ever seen that could match this moment and today. But this is no real housewives of the courtroom. This is much, much bigger than all of that.

The Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, suddenly surprising -- there she is popping up in front of the camera -- just about everybody, striding through the courtroom to take the stand today in Atlanta in the middle of a hearing of whether she should be disqualified from the Georgia election subversion case, and firing back, frankly, with both barrels.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I object to you getting records. You've been intrusive into people's personal lives. You're confused. You think I'm on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I'm not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.


COATES: And that's not all. Her fiery testimony about her romantic relationship with the prosecutor, Nathan Wade, (INAUDIBLE).


WILLIS: We would have brutal arguments about the fact that I am your equal. I don't need anything from a man. A man is not a plan. A man is a companion. And so, there was tension always in our relationship, which is why I would give him his money back. I don't need anybody to foot my bills. The only man who has ever foot my bills completely is my daddy.


COATES: Now, as riveting as her testimony, and it was riveting, as riveting as it was, I don't want to lose track about why they were in that courtroom and what this is all about. I mean, the sprawling Georgia election subversion case over unprecedented alleged efforts by the then president of the United States to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

And now, Trump and his co-defendants, the remaining ones who have not pled guilty, are trying to remove the D.A. and also get the entire case possibly dismissed. It's going to continue. Tune in tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. for part two.

And, of course, that brings us to the other big case today, the so- called other white meat, Donald Trump and the adult film star. A judge throwing out his attempt to dismiss the New York hush money case, and they have set a trial date, and it is next month, and it's March 25th, and that is the trial date by which time the former president could already be the presumptive GOP nominee.

And by the way, only in Trump world could a case that might cause him 370 million bucks being afterthought. But here we are, America. Case number three. Donald Trump might just find out tomorrow how much a judge will order him, and by the way, his business, to pay for what? Fraudulently inflating his financial statements. That's the Letitia James case, the A.G. in New York, and she is asking for a whopping $370 million.

But let's just start where we began, with Fani Willis taking the stand. Joining me now, Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and host of the "It's Complicated" podcast, James Schultz, a former Trump White House lawyer, and Patrice Sulton, an attorney and professor at George Washington Law School. I'm glad to have all of you here today.

First of all, raise your hand if you were surprised to see Fani Willis suddenly appear in your screen to testify. Here's my hand going up. I probably can't see all of yours, but I know they're all there. Jim Schultz, you too. And Patrice, yeah, I see it. It's all happening. No one can deny it.


COATES: Renato, there you go. Thank you, Patrice. Renato, I'll begin with you, because you were the first to raise your hand. It was a dramatic day today in Georgia, and the big question here, of course, is, and the question why they were actually there, was not about the salacious details, but whether she financially benefited from this relationship. Did they make that connection for you?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, PODCAST HOST: Not at all. And that's the thing. This is, I'm sure, very cathartic for the defendants.


Look, a lot of defendants would love to have their lawyer cross- examine the prosecutor. It rarely happens. But there's a lot of smoke and not much fire here, a lot of salacious detail.

But ultimately, the question here is whether there's a conflict of interest. And they -- I don't think they prove that here. I mean, there is, you know, something to the fact that there was a lot of payment in cash, right?

So, you know, that -- there were some questions early on, okay, why is she saying that she paid him back in cash in an era where most people are using Venmo or Zelle or something like that? But she answered that, and that was, I think, a very powerful part of her testimony, explaining.

And you played a clip a minute ago, Laura, of why she has that money, why she pays back a man she is dating, and also why she has cash and something that her father had taught her. So, I thought it was powerful. I just do not think that this is going to ultimately end up helping the defendants where it matters in terms of getting a disqualification.

COATES: I mean, Patrice, on that point, the way that you get a disqualification, you've got to show a conflict of interest, but it has to actually go to the defendant's ability to get a fair trial. That's the connection as well as the financial payment and reimbursement and, of course, the benefit in that through line.

But a lot of the testimony today of Nathan Wade centered on these cash reimbursements that Willis made for things like vacations, related expenses. By the way, here he is explaining why there was no record of these payments.


NATHAN WADE, PROSECUTOR: I did not deposit the cash in my account.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): You don't have a single solitary deposit slip to corroborate or support any of your allegations that you were paid by Mrs. Willis in cash, do you?

WADE: No, sir.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Not a single solitary one?

WADE: Not a one.


COATES: I wondered, first of all, Patrice, how you -- how you viewed his demeanor, his body language. It could probably read both ways maybe to a jury. But was he persuasive in that moment?

SULTON: You know, I didn't hear anything today that sounded like recusal was required or that sounded like the defendants in this case were prejudiced. But I did hear from both witnesses some bad choices being made. And I think we should want our prosecutors to be beyond reproach. And instead of focusing on the case at hand, the court is now dealing with this sideshow. And this is especially troubling at a moment in time and in a case where the integrity of our institutions is being challenged.

And so, there is a question about whether what happened here was legal or lawful, but I think there's also a question about whether it was wise, whether it was avoidable, and today's hearing did not make me proud of our legal profession in that regard.

COATES: Oh, I think unwise and avoidable are the ways you could characterize this entirety of all that we are seeing today. And yet, does it go to disqualification? I mean, James, I got tell you, I have been a prosecutor, Patrice, Renato, as we all have in terms of being trial attorneys, when you go before a jury, the very last thing you want your jurors to think about is your sex life. Let's just be real here.

They're going to be looking at you, giving you the evidence, trying to tell them the arguments through count, through the actual witnesses, and they're wondering about your motivations, they're wondering about your personal and private life. I mean, that's not what you ever want to happen.

Yet here we are, James, and in this moment, you have this notion of Fani being very angry from the outset because she was, I'm sure, recognizing this very moment in time in how this is being presented. Listen.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Has he ever visited you at the place you laid your head?

WILLIS: So, let's be clear, because you've lied in this. Let me tell you which one you lied in, right here. I think you lied right here.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE).

WILLIS: No, no, no. This is the truth.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Judge --

WILLIS: It is a lie. It is a lie.


COATES: Now, she knows full well, James, that this was being watched by more than people in that courtroom. And she's talking about the pleadings that were filed by that counsel. What did you make of her entire testimony?

JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: Look, I think this entire situation, right, former litigator, I agree with you, right, you got to get before jury, you have to be credible before that jury, and, you know, this whole thing is just really messy, right? Really messy and a lot of bad decisions.

And it starts with -- okay, the one thing that was pointed out, did you disclose any of the steer (ph) co-counsel in the case? The answer was an affirmative no. You know, did she have an opportunity at one point in time once they had this romantic relationship? And it was acknowledged. You know, there was one witness who said it began earlier.

COATES: Uh-hmm.

SCHULTZ: She says it began later, but once it began, she had an opportunity to say, look, this is -- it's time for him to go, right?


It's time for him to not be on this case anymore. It's not like he was a hot shot prosecutor that had tried a bunch of cases and brought a lot of -- and brought a lot to the case to begin with. So, you know, why is he there? All those questions need to be raised.

But then you have this whole issue with the cash, right? And I don't think she did a very good job explaining that. I think she went on tangents at times, and when she went on tangents, she didn't help herself. She talked about taking out a bunch of money during our campaign and use that money to -- as -- kept that money as cash and that's why she had so much cash. She spent a lot of time explaining why she had the cash.

I kind of disagree with Renato on that. I think she went on and on about it way too long --

COATES: Wait, James, before you do, let me -- I want to play for a second --

SCHULTZ: -- even when questions weren't asked.

COATES: Hold on, I want to play for you what she said, then I want to get your reaction. I don't know that everyone listening today understood why there was such a focus on the cash. Listen to what she said.


WILLIS: When we were growing up, my daddy had three safes in the house. So, my father has bought me a lock box, and I always keep cash in the house. For many, many years, I have kept money in my house. That money, in my worst days, has probably only been $500 or $1,000. At my best days, I probably had $15,000 in my house, cash. At all times, there's going to be cash in my house or wherever I'm laying my head.


COATES: So, James, on that point, because she's talking about the background that you were alluding to, but why is there an emphasis from the council bringing this disqualification action against her? Why do you think they're so focused on the amount of cash or the presence of cash here?

SCHULTZ: Because they're trying to establish to this judge that it's just not a credible defense in this case, right? That it's not credible at all. I'll quote. "When I took out a large amount of money on my first campaign, I kept some of the cash of that," is her quote. That just smacks. Now, you have -- is she talking about campaign cash? Is she talking about her cash? I mean, it just muddies the whole situation --

COATES: Interesting.

SCHULTZ: -- all to defend a relationship where she's going on trips with folks. And, you know, is it believable that she's paying that money back? That's what they're trying to establish in front of that judge, is that it's not a credible, it's not something that's credible, that a careful prosecutor in that matter, where you have a relationship with someone who's working on your team, you should be crossing every T and dotting every I. She certainly didn't do that here.

COATES: Let me go back to you, Patrice, on this. I mean, as a resident defense counsel expert who has been more than a thorn in the side of many prosecutors, myself included, I think I still have some pain in my side from you, girl, and thinking about it, it is not on Fani Willis to be the one to -- she didn't bring this motion, right? This is not her burden of proof to actually suggest that she didn't. But she does need to answer for it, according to the judge who called this hearing, allowed it to go forward.

When you look at what they had to show, that it would go to the prejudice and the inability of the defendants in this case, what are they lacking?

SULTON: I think there's very little there so far and, you know, the testimony has not concluded, so maybe there's more there for us to learn later. But so far, there really wasn't anything that showed a prejudice to the defendants based on the testimony that was elicited about the nature of the relationship and the funds that they spent together as a couple on one another.

But to your point earlier, it's -- the credibility of this person matters when they are going to be in front of a jury trying this case later, and that's why we have standards of credibility for ordinary people and a heightened duty of candor for prosecutors.

And we have -- you know, outside of the legal rules that are at issue today, we have ethical rules that really encourage prosecutors to err on the side of disclosure.

We have APA standards that would suggest that this is something that should have been shared with other people in the prosecutor's office and on the team that is working on this case, and there really hasn't been any reason that that was done, and we'd hate for the jury to be distracted by that when they're supposed to be deciding something else.

COATES: Well, on that point, Renato, they have both said it was private, not a secret, trying to draw that particular distinction today to suggest that they were just private people who, whether her notoriety within Georgia, caused them to be all the more reclusive in their expression or not while they, in fact, were in a relationship.

The judge, though, let's talk about this judge because the judge was pretty frustrated at points today with not only defense counsel but also with Fani Willis. Listen.


SCOTT MCAFEE, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: We have to listen to the questions as asked. And if this happens again and again, I'm going to have no choice but to strike your testimony.


Let her finish her answer.

We're not going to talk over each other (ph).

She's answered that question.

Let's keep going.

We've covered this. Let's move on.

You still haven't answered the question, Ms. Willis.

WILLIS: I'm sorry. What was the question then, Your Honor?

MCAFEE: Alright if we can get back on track.

WILLIS: Well, I don't think we should discuss further.

MCAFEE: Mr. Sadow, next question.

STEVEN SADOW, ATTORNEY: Trying to, Your Honor.

MCAFEE: All right. Mr. Gillen. You can sit down now.

CRAIG GILLEN, ATTORNEY (voice-over): I don't believe she answered that question, Your Honor. She answered as to specific individual gifts.

MCAFEE (voice-over): And you're not listening to my answer either, so we're done.


COATES: I mean, Renato, firstly, I don't think that he was even leaning to force her to testify before she walked into the courtroom. But has anyone helped by this judge's reactions? Obviously, they are poking a bit of a bear here.

MARIOTTI: You know, I actually think the judge did a great job today. He held both sides to a high standard, took them to task, made sure to try to force both sides to ask good questions, to listen to his rulings and to, you know, ultimately not retread ground that had already been treaded earlier in the hearing. So, I thought he did a very good job.

Ultimately, Laura, he's creating a great record here. I mean, candidly, you know, we all agree, everyone in this panel agrees, that maybe Fani Willis and Mr. Wade didn't make the best choice here. But ultimately, the legal standard, as we've all discussed, is very high, and they're not really that close to it.

And ultimately, he is giving the defense a lot of rope to ask a lot of questions. But when they keep asking the same questions over and over, and it's apparent that they're not going to make their points, they're not going to get to where they need to go in this motion, he, you know, is doing a very good job of shutting things down because, as you pointed out in the beginning, this is basically a desperate housewife sort of thing, right? This is a real -- ultimately a salacious hearing that's going to potentially influence potential jurors.

So, once we get past the useful point of this, it's his job to shut this down so that ultimately, we don't have further taint that's on a jury pool.

COATES: Okay, first of all, I'm going to need you to know "Desperate Housewives" and then "The Real Housewives," Renato. One was starring Eva Longoria. The other one is, because we're in Georgia, NeNe Leakes. Okay? I said what I said. Thank you so much.

Everyone, please stick around. We have more to talk about and all these things.

Coming up, the man who says Fani Willis woke up ready to testify and meet it head on. The bishop who prayed with her this morning is next.


WILLIS: I've been very anxious to have this conversation with you today, so I ran to the courtroom.




COATES: It was the moment that stopped everyone in their tracks.


WILLIS: I'm ready to go.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Okay. So, the position of the district attorney at this point is that she's no longer contesting the subpoena. Ms. Merchant has called her as the next witness.


COATES: The camera wasn't even ready for her when she appeared. I'm saying it was almost out of focus for a second because they didn't expect her to be right there. And a defiant and fiery Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis took to the witness stand, hitting back at misconduct claims. It could threaten the very future of the election subversion case in Georgia and her oversight of it.


WILLIS: It's ridiculous to me that you lied on Monday and yet here we still are. The lie, that's one of your lies. You've been intrusive into people's personal lives. You're confused. I'm not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.

No, no, no. This is the truth.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Judge --

WILLIS: It is a lie. It is a lie. We're going to answer it since you said it. Don't be cute with me and then think that you're not going to get an answer.


COATES: I'm not sure they were ready for her. I want to bring in the person who met with D.A. Willis before court began today, A.M.E. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson. Bishop, thank you so much for being with me this evening. You say that D.A. Willis, she woke up ready to testify today. What was going through her mind, her demeanor this morning? What did she tell you?

REGINALD T. JACKSON, BISHOP: Well, I think for more than a month, she has endured this. And I think this morning when she came to the courthouse, she was ready for whatever happened. And I think she demonstrated at the court when she came in that she was more than ready. She was eagerly awaiting this opportunity to respond to all that has been said.

COATES: I mean, bishop, I had to tell you, I was surprised that she took to the stand because there had been opposition to her doing so. And then she appeared saying, I'm ready to go. And yet, bishop, she's got a lot on the line, disqualification potentially pending. Does it concern you that today's testimony in its entirety between Nathan Wade to herself, to a former friend, are there concerns about its implications on her credibility and standing in the community?

JACKSON: Well, what we've seen over the last month is really an effort to destroy her reputation. And in fact, it's important for the people to understand that this is really about distraction and delay, distracting from what the indictment is all about and trying to delay this until after the November election.

If you listen today, there is very little substantive that they have brought against the district attorney. And this is just all about trying to see what we can do to put this trial off and to get her out from giving leadership to it.

COATES: I mean, the intention certainly was to put a very big spotlight and microscope on her. And you met with her this morning. She'll be back on the stand tomorrow.


It'll begin again in the morning. Have you, I'm curious, spoken to her since she testified? And do you have any advice for her going forward for tomorrow?

JACKSON: Well, my advice to her tomorrow is, again, don't be afraid, be courageous, and speak truth. And I think truth always brings you out on top. I think -- you know, I think full questioning her are determined to try to make her look bad. But I think Fani Willis, if she is herself, she would do well.

Today, I think you saw somebody who was eager to respond. And I think tomorrow, you'll see somebody who is eager to respond and to address the challenges they present before her. My advice to her is be yourself. You are good at being yourself.

COATES: Sometimes, that's all you can be, as they say, right? But you know, you are absolutely right about a particular point, bishop. We didn't talk about the underlying factual allegations as they relate to the indictments themselves. So, in the word "distraction," it certainly was illustrated today.

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, what a pleasure to speak with you tonight. Thank you so much.

JACKSON: Thank you so much. Have a good one. Hope to see you tomorrow.

COATES: Thank you. We will.

Up next, save the date, put it on your calendar, put it in pen, maybe even permanent ink. That's like a Sharpie, right? Well, save the date because Donald Trump's first criminal trial is supposed to start March 25th. So, what's in store for this hush money case in Manhattan? Now, you're thinking, wait, have we been here before? We'll talk about it next.




COATES: All right, mark your calendars, maybe cancel your spring break, because Donald Trump's first criminal trial date is now set. Today, a judge in New York denied his request to dismiss the case entirely and told him he will have to take the stand and have a trial on March 25th.

Oh, well, not have to take the stand, by the way, because it's really his choice to do so ultimately, but on March 25th over hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Remember, he is charged with falsifying business records with the intent to conceal illegal conduct connected to his 2016 presidential campaign.

Back with me now, Renato Mariotti, James Schultz, and Patrice SultOn. So, it's pretty unbelievable. It took all of what? Two minutes, two minutes for this judge, Renato, to make a ruling that's going to go forward. It's not getting dismissed. It's coming in 39 days. What was your takeaway?

MARIOTTI: I think the bottom line is that unless Donald Trump gets very sick or does something else that's extraordinary, we are going to have a criminal trial very soon, and it's going to be before the election.

I think the judge made very clear that this is going forward. He was really not interested in any of the atmospherics. He really essentially brushed all of that aside.

And, you know, ultimately, Laura, I think I, along with others, have been critical of this case from time to time. But, you know, it is a very serious thing to be facing many different felony counts, and that's where Donald Trump is. There's a lot to deal with here and a lot to explain away.

You know, it is never a good situation for a defendant to be facing these many charges because the jury has to check not guilty many times in order to get him off scot-free, and one conviction means he's a convicted felon.

COATES: And on the flip side of it, Patrice, you've got to prove your burden of proof for each of those counts, and it can be very problematic to do so. But one of the key witnesses is going to be Michael Cohen. He's problematic as a witness.

SULTON: He's problematic as a witness, but I think that's irrelevant to what the court had to decide today with respect to the many motions to dismiss that were included in this sort of like omnibus filing that was there.

And what I loved about the written opinion in this case is that the court emphasized that it isn't just physical harm that matters when we think about dangerousness, that the allegations in this case are severe. And so, to have Michael Cohen there to testify about what happened, I don't think we'll necessarily undercut the seriousness of the charges or the seriousness of the weight of the evidence against Trump in this case.

COATES: I mean, James, one of the things that Trump was trying to argue to this judge was that, look, the trial can't happen because he's supposed to be out campaigning. I mean, of course, that's not a legal argument, but here was Trump's reaction to the judge (INAUDIBLE) essentially.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want delays, obviously. I'm running for election. I can't -- how can you run for election and be sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long? I'm supposed to be in South Carolina right now.


COATES: To which the judge essentially said, well, that's not my problem, right? Michael Cohen served jail time for his involvement, and yet you see this conversation from Trump about, well, wait, I'm trying to campaign. Did he really think that was going to hold some water for this court, James?

SCHULTZ: No, I think that's more for the benefit of the constituents that he's trying to appeal to there. That's more of a political statement than anything else. His lawyers know it. He knows it. He knows the judge was going to go for it.


But he can make that argument anyway because what he's doing is trying to make this argument that these cases are election interference. And that has been his mantra the whole time.

So, these are -- that's really political grandstanding on his part. He's going to be sitting in a courtroom then. He's likely going to be sitting in a courtroom again in May because I do think the Supreme Court is likely to take up what Jack Smith asked them to do, which is to say that, you know, they'll just agree or just not take up that, the immunity case which would let the appeals court case stand and the case go forward.

So, he could very well be facing case in March, case in late May, leading right into the conventions.

COATES: Gosh. You know, there were -- I remember not so long ago, we all do, right? There were so many complaints over D.A. Alvin Bragg bringing in these charges that -- how could he go first? Why isn't Jack Smith going first? Won't this undermine Jack Smith's attempts to do anything? And gosh, Alvin Bragg is going first. He has overreached. Renato, I guess the early bird might actually get the worm, which is the first trial date after all.

MARIOTTI: Absolutely. You know, I got to say, I was one of those people who was critical of Bragg. And I think -- but, you know, here's the thing, Laura. I think his challenge is going to be to convince the jury that this is important, that these charges matter.

And I do think he's going to focus, as Fani Willis has, on the impact on the election. And he's going to essentially be talking about how these false statements in books and records were being made in furtherance of campaign finance crimes. So, I do think that's going to be his argument.

And, you know, at the end of the day, the problem for Trump is there are false statements in those books and records, and explaining that away is going to be challenging.

And as you pointed out a minute ago, he has the choice to take the stand. The question is, does he even want to? You know, criminal defendants often are in a minefield if they take the stand. I don't really know if he can win this case and get the not guilty verdict without taking the stand. And that has its own pitfalls for him because, as you pointed out a minute ago, he's facing another criminal trial and anything he says could be used against him in that case as well.

COATES: James, you don't agree. What's going on?

SCHULTZ: So, no, I don't think he does take the stand in this case. I somewhat disagree as it relates to Michael Cohen. He is going to be front and center, and they're going to attack Michael Cohen all day every day as someone who's just angry that he wasn't given a position to White House, angry that the president turned on him, you know, and using all of that information against him, you know, to make him out to be a biased witness.

So, I'm not sure in the eyes of a jury that Trump needs to go and testify in this case. And we all know, like, he's not going to be controllable on the stand. If you're his lawyer, I'd be hard pressed to say, yes, Donald, go testify.

COATES: Well, Patrice, James, Renato, I wish you the comfort of not being his lawyer in this case tonight. Thank you all so much. I appreciate it.

Now, the question, could justice delayed be a case of justice completely denied? That's what Special Counsel Jack Smith is hoping to avoid. On Sunday, the whole story with Anderson Cooper. I'll take an in-depth look at former President Donald Trump's federal election subversion trial and will break down the stakes of pushing the case past the 2024 election.


COATES (voice-over): There has been a sprint by the prosecution to have this trial heard as soon as possible. ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think Jack Smith probably believes that the American public deserves an answer before they go to the ballots and decide who they're voting for.

COATES (voice-over): And while there is an argument for the public to know the verdict before they cast a ballot, there is also the issue of what happens if the trial is delayed and Trump is re-elected.

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president can simply command the Department of Justice, close down this case, and I don't need to give you a reason.

COATES: So, if a trial is going on and Donald Trump is inaugurated, the Department of Justice could simply dismiss the case, even in the middle of trial.

LITMAN: Not only could they, they would be ordered to. The plug is pulled. All power goes down. It's over.


COATES (on camera): Don't miss that all-new episode of "The Whole Story: The United States versus Donald J. Trump," Sunday at 8 p.m., only on CNN.

Up next, Republicans have long been touting uncorroborated claims from a former FBI informant as part of their impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Well, now that informant is charged with lying about those very same claims, no less.




COATES: Well, if you thought today didn't have enough news, well, guess what? As they say, there's more. A rapidly sinking Republican- led Biden impeachment inquiry. Why sinking? Well, because the man Republicans have championed for more than a year, not by name, I will mention, has now been arrested and charged with lying. Now, the indictment says Alexander Smirnov, a former FBI informant, made up now discredited stories about guess who? President Biden and President Biden's son's involvement in business dealings in Ukraine.

Joining me now, former FBI deputy assistant director Peter Strzok. He is the author of "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."


Peter, good to see you, it has been a long time, and I got tell you, when I saw this news today, among all the other news coming out, I thought -- look, you're a former federal agent, you also know what it's like to be at the center of controversy and, frankly, conspiracy as well, what was your reaction to these charges tonight? PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AGENT: Well, Laura, unfortunately, it was not surprise, sadly. I mean, look, they lay out the, Department of Justice, over 37 pages, charging two counts, an FBI source, apparently as early as 2010 working for the FBI, and then in 2014, at least as early as that, engaging in otherwise illegal activity to build criminal cases.

So, this is a source that has been on the FBI's book for over a decade who the charging document lays out live about information he provided, allegedly about the Bidens and various Ukrainian figures. Burisma folks may remember that from four or more years ago.

But the funny thing is, one, it's a concern for the FBI because you want to understand if this source went bad, if the source was lying to you when that began. Did it begin just recently or is there a pattern of bad conduct that you need to understand whether or not there's more there?

But to the broader point, this was one of the highlights between James Comer and Kevin McCarthy and Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson. This was one of the sources that was trumpeted as going to bring down the Biden crime family.

And the sad part, Laura, he's not the first. You know, just over six months ago, there's an individual, another one of the star witnesses, Gal Luft, who was indicted for acting as an unregistered agent of the government of China and sanctioned busting against Iran.

So, this is truly a charade on the congressional side. It's sad to see it. It's sad to see the involvement of people who are working with foreign powers, who are not -- who don't have American interests at heart.

COATES: Well, you know, it begs the question. And, obviously, it's got to be a concern. When you're talking about informants, their credibility is probably always being questioned. Trust but verify, perhaps, although I'm not sure the intelligence community has the luxury to do that with every single scenario. I mean, in this case, this was an FBI informant, right? Should the FBI have done more vetting?

STRZOK: Well, that's a good question. I mean, look, I think any investigator approaches sources with a great deal of skepticism. There's always a consideration about whether or not they're providing you accurate information, whether they're shading the truth. And there are mechanisms built in to assess that sort of reporting as you go along.

Now, of course, folks may remember that there was a great deal of information that the DOJ's inspector general in Congress and John Durham and Bill Barr and all kinds of other people paid into the FBI's dealing with sources providing information adverse to Donald Trump.

The question is now that the shoe is on the other foot and you've got a bad source providing information about a Democrat, you know, whether or not there's going to be that same level of scrutiny. But certainly, the mechanism is there to take a look at this. I do hope just for the good governance, for good investigative purposes, that sort of hard look is done.

COATES: I do want to share with you because Hunter Biden's lawyer released this statement to CNN tonight saying -- quote -- "For months, we have warned that Republicans have built their conspiracies about Hunter and his family on lies told by people with political agendas, not facts."

So, I wonder, does the dynamic between the FBI and Congress need to change?

STRZOK: Well, I think that's always going to be a fraught relationship. I mean, the FBI is not, despite what people may think, is not at all a political organization. If anything, you see every time Director Wray goes in front of Congress taking great pains to not say anything which might be perceived as leaning one way or the other in terms of political tone. And Congress, on the other hand, is by its nature a very political entity.

So, I think any time you see something where you have this conflict between the pursuit of a criminal investigation and trying to bring somebody to trial versus a set of folks who have a political agenda, unfortunately, what we're seeing here willing to take information from anywhere, I mean, Rudy Giuliani and Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley were taking information from a guy named Andrii Derkach, who the U.S. government has said is an active Russian agent, when you get political players who are willing to take information from foreign governmental entities and agents, that becomes really problematic.

But I think that conflict between DOJ, the FBI on the one hand and Congress on the other, it has been there forever, and I don't see it going away any time soon.

COATES: A glass half full tonight, I see, Peter Strzok. I don't know.


Thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it. And your insight, of course, always invaluable. We'll be right back.

STRZOK: Great.




COATES: Lies, corruption, bribery, prostitution. Sometimes, the goal of upholding ideals like truth, injustice, and American politics, well, goes awry. And the stranger than fiction situations that result leave the voting public's head spinning.

Now, in the new CNN Original Series "United States of Scandal," CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper dives right in some of the most sensational political controversies and talks to some of the most infamous political figures of the modern era to dissect the truth from the spin. Here's a preview.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We are here to get your side of the story.

Where are the weapons of mass destruction?

How do you view your time as governor?


UNKNOWN: I had 2,896 days in prison to ask myself a thousand questions, including that.

TAPPER: For 30 or so years, I've shined a bright light on the inner workings of American political power.

UNKNOWN: It never occurred to him that extorting a hospital might harm people.

UNKNOWN: I engaged in a consensual affair with another man.

UNKNOWN: It was shocking.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: How did you end up with the sex tape of John Edwards and Rielle Hunter?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): They say, get on the phone, find some pigs.

UNKNOWN: Wait, what?

TAPPER: You can't write this stuff. Looking back, I can't help but feel that we were all so quick to embrace the headline that we may have forgotten to dig a little deeper.

This guy who's a crusader against human sex trafficking is actually a customer.

UNKNOWN: Did someone at the White House blow the cover of a CIA operative?

UNKNOWN: This is horrifying.

UNKNOWN: She's still in danger.

UNKNOWN: The South Carolina governor is missing.

UNKNOWN: His staff said he was hiking the Appalachian trail.

UNKNOWN: The bottom line is this, I've been unfaithful to my wife.

TAPPER: Why do we keep ending up here?

I never truly understand it.

UNKNOWN: You've always been on the reporting side of things. Welcome to the hell we all have to live in.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): "United States of Scandal with Jake Tapper."

UNKNOWN: I've got to get a therapist after having an interview with Jake Tapper.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Back-to-back premieres Sunday at 9:00 on CNN.

TAPPER: Corruption, lies, prison. Governor (INAUDIBLE) went down in a blaze of infamy.

UNKNOWN: I've done a lot wrong. Criminal, none.

TAPPER: Okay. Lot's to unpack there.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): "United States of Scandal with Jake Tapper." Back-to-back premieres Sunday at 9:00 on CNN.