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Laura Coates Live

Alabama Supreme Court Rules IVF Embryos Are Children; Ex-FBI Informant Told FBI He Got Dirt On Hunter Biden From Russian Intel Officials; Trump Likens Court Ordering Him To Pay Millions In Civil Fraud Case To Navalny's Death; The Body Of Missing 11-Year-Old Texas Girl Was Found In River; Winery Host Backs Up Key Piece Of Fani Willis's Testimony. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired February 20, 2024 - 23:00   ET



LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: I have some news for you tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

You know, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, there were all sorts of questions about what would happen once the issue of abortion went back to the states. They wondered what would happen with medical abortion using drugs like Mifepristone. Remember that? Would contraceptives be impacted?

But did you think you'd see the day when it impacted, say, IVF? Well, here we are because the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos created through IVF are children, babies -- quote -- "kept alive in a cryogenic nursery while they awaited implantation."

Now, think about what that means for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who undergo IVF every single year. That could include, and it very likely does include, maybe you or someone you know. In a moment, we're going to talk to somebody who's a very familiar face, who will tell us her own personal story.

But does this ruling maybe go further than you imagine? Does it mean, for example, child support kicks in for embryos? How about custody or support from the state for embryos? And what does it mean if something maybe goes wrong? Criminal prosecution, could it mean, or maybe civil liability?

Well, in this case that we're talking about, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled on frozen embryos that were destroyed when they were dropped on the floor. Now, the ruling says the embryos will be protected under the state's wrongful death act or death of a minor act. So, it could, frankly, be applied quite broadly.

And you know what? This might just become the blueprint, say, in other states because these states that you see on the screen right now, they broadly define personhood as beginning at fertilization, and that, of course, has huge implications for IVF and also for abortion. I mean, we've seen how, for so many, how disruptive the post-Roe v. Wade can be. I mean, remember the story of Kate Cox? That's the 31-year-old Texas mom of two who filed a lawsuit to end a pregnancy that her doctor said could threaten her life and any chance that she may have to have a child in the future. The Texas Supreme Court turned her down, leaving her with two choices, carry a non-viable pregnancy to term, potentially risking her own life, or leave Texas to get an abortion elsewhere. Now, remember, she left the state.

But everybody has that opportunity to leave a state. And the same goes, frankly, for even access to IVF. So, the big question, when a state's law might collide with some of the most intensely personal decisions people can make, it's a whole different level of government intrusion and it leads to a really big question of what could happen next.

I want to bring in Alisyn Camerota, a CNN anchor and correspondent for "The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper." She's a former board member and support group leader of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.

Alisyn first went public with her own fertility journey nearly 14 years ago following two miscarriages and three rounds of failed IVF. The fourth round worked, and her twins were born.

Alisyn, thank you so much for being with us tonight and sharing your deeply personal story again and again. It's so helpful for people to understand. What was it like for you to go through this process?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, it was 19 years ago, and I still remember it as one of the, um, most painful and emotional roller coasters that I've ever been on. The stakes are so high. By the time you resort to IVF, you have tried everything. And you desperately want to have a child, and you desperately want to have a family.

And so, it's a really, uh, trying time for couples, not just women, men go through it as well, and it's really hard. I am eternally grateful that this modern medical miracle of IVF was available to me 19 years ago and that I have my two healthy, beautiful daughters as a result.

COATES: It's -- it's unbelievable to think about what you went through, what so many people go through. I'm glad you mentioned the family more broadly, men and women. And actually, according to the CDC, I was surprised to know that more than 238,000 patients in the U.S. had fertility treatments in 2021 alone.

So, what will this mean for women who desperately want to have a child and are putting all of their hope now in an IVF treatment if this is the state of affairs?


CAMEROTA: It will mean that fewer babies are born, and it will mean that fewer families can have children. And is that really the goal? You know, I feel that this is sort of the law of unintended consequences, that the justices didn't think that part through. These are people -- people who are going through infertility and

people who resort to IVF are the most motivated parents in the world. They are desperate to have a child and have tried everything. And so, some of them won't be able to have children.

Now, I too looked up some statistics, actually our producers did, and here's one from just Alabama. Okay, so just Alabama, and we don't know everything because only five of the eight fertility clinics there reported to the CDC, but in 2021, that was the last year that we had these stats for, 400 babies were born that year using fertility treatments.

So, those are 400 babies who wouldn't exist. And so, is that what the justices were hoping for, to erase those 400 future children a year in Alabama? So, it is going to be a big problem for people who desperately want a child.

COATES: It is something to think about. You mentioned the clinics that actually provide this service. If you have this, that law of unintended consequences could mean that those clinics close.

COATES: Oh, indeed they will close because, as you know, once you're threatened with legal jeopardy, once there's all this ambiguity about who will be prosecuted and what will happen if you destroy these frozen embryos, at some point, it just becomes easier for clinics to say, we'll just pack up shop here and, you know, we'll go to another state or we'll just close our doors altogether, because they can't live with that -- under that threat of legal jeopardy all the time.

COATES: That doesn't change the need for IVF, but it does change the access point for so many people. And, as you know, ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June of 2022, reproductive rights have been under attack.

And I think when people often thought about abortion and they thought about for decades the stereotypical need for or who they thought was seeking abortion-related services, they so rarely contemplated in that narrative, people who desperately wanted to have a child and were unable to do so. And now, this is the next frontier, it seems, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. One thing that this won't solve is infertility. So, the World Health Organization categorizes infertility as a disease. It is a disease of women and men. So, there's a whole bunch of infertility that is based on male factor as well. And so that's not going away. This law in Alabama won't change that. People -- couples will still have infertility.

There's another statistic that 42% of Americans say they have used fertility treatments or know someone who has. So, this has wide- reaching repercussions. These are your -- people in your family have used fertility treatments. Your neighbors have used it. People don't always talk about it, but they have used it a lot. And so, where does that leave people who have this disease, who have been diagnosed with a disease? Where are they left in Alabama? COATES: Where are they left, indeed. And again, the access. I know so many women who have gone this route, and I know they're beautiful children as a result.

Alisyn Camerota, thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: Laura, great to see you.

COATES: For me, too.

For more on the immediate impact of this ruling, I want to bring in Dana Sussman. She is the deputy executive director of Pregnancy Justice, a legal nonprofit that defends women who face charges related to any pregnancy outcome.

Just in and of itself, Dana, to think about there being a need for that service is stunning for a variety of reasons. But the Alabama Supreme Court, they have now essentially ruled that IVF embryos are people. What is your response to this finding and ruling?

DANA SUSSMAN, DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PREGNANCY JUSTICE: Well, it has been years, in fact, decades in the making. And you just discussed the connection to the overturning of Roe in the Dobbs decision. The idea that fetuses and now cryogenically frozen embryos are people has been an agenda of the anti-abortion movement for a long time. And this is sort of the next frontier.

The Alabama Constitution was amended in 2018 to protect the sanctity of -- quote -- "unborn life." The Alabama Supreme Court, the same court that issued this decision last week, ruled in 2013 that women could be prosecuted for -- quote -- "child abuse" for behavior during pregnancy. So, one could be criminalized for abusing a child before one is even a parent.

So, this has been a coordinated and long-term strategy that is connected to abortion rights, it's connected to pregnancy and all pregnancy outcomes, and it's connected to IVF.


COATES: But there is this disconnect, right? There's one -- we're talking about somebody who is currently pregnant and somebody who is trying to be. There is -- there are a lot of steps that must first take place to go from having a frozen embryo to actually having it implanted to then being pregnant. Why does this skip so many steps?

SUSSMAN: Well, the concept here is fetal personhood. And now, we're talking embryonic personhood.

COATES: Uh-hmm.

SUSSMAN: The idea that fetus could have the same rights to life, to liberties, the same constitutional rights as pregnant people and all other people under the law and the constitution of your state. So, the thread here is the idea that if you designate fetuses, fertilized eggs and embryos with rights, then where does the line -- how do you draw a line?

And we're seeing this extreme march, this encroachment of fetal personhood earlier and earlier and earlier. We're not talking about a viability line. We're not talking about, you know, even at the moment of -- quote, unquote -- "fertilization" or "implantation." We're talking about frozen embryos that are not even internal to the pregnant person.

So, the idea has been emerging over several decades, connected to the anti-abortion movement. But it has been -- but the line has been moving further and further and further. So that's the through line, even though we're talking about people who desperately want to be pregnant.

And -- but when we undermine the right to abortion or undermine the right to reproductive health care and freedom, it doesn't just impact people who seek abortions. It impacts people who experience pregnancy loss. It impacts people who have -- who are pregnant and want to be pregnant. It impacts people who merely simply hope to be pregnant.

COATES: A really important point to think about the umbrella being reproductive rights and freedom as opposed to individual services that fall under and underneath that umbrella.

But, you know, your organization says there are at least 11 states, Dana, which have a broad definition of personhood that begins at fertilization. So where does that leave women and men if you've got these 11 states with such a broad definition?

SUSSMAN: So, these laws were all passed before the Dobbs decision.


SUSSMAN: And many of them were passed in sort of this theoretical, let's call it way, you know, that the people of this state believe that life begins at fertilization or at the moment of conception, or that we believe, as Alabama's constitution now says, in the sanctity of unborn life. Practically speaking, this is the first decision from a state Supreme Court where we're seeing this implemented in such a way post Dobbs.

And so, this is a reality that we have been preparing for. This is something that we have been talking about for a long time. But we are now seeing state courts take those fetal personhood laws and constitutional provisions and apply them with very real consequences.

And I just think that it's important to recognize that there are women and pregnant people across this country begging courts to recognize their right to life, their right to survive their pregnancies. And yet what this court is doing is it is twisting language to designate cryogenically frozen embryos as having their own right to life.

So, the balance here is just so outrageous and so dehumanizing to pregnant people and to women and to all people with the capacity for pregnancy that we are now protecting cryogenically frozen embryos with rights that have been denied to pregnant people who are waiting until they've become so sick that their -- that their right to life can now be -- can now be actionable.

COATES: It truly is stunning. And, of course, the lawyer in me thinks about all the different ways in which one could now think, does this mean that child support payments would be due? Does this mean that you're having certain rights that are -- as a child would? How would this factor into family law proceedings? How about the state's responsibilities in terms of funding and beyond?

This has a through line that's even more expansive than even what we're talking about here today.

Dana Sussman, thank you so much for breaking this all down. I really appreciate it.

SUSSMAN: Thank you.

COATES: And there is intriguing news tonight on that former FBI informant charged with lying about President Biden and his son, Hunter. Remember him? Well, he claims he was fed information by, wait for it, Russia. Now, where have I heard something like that before? Hmm. We will break it down next.



COATES: Well, there was quite a bombshell admission to the FBI tonight. The former FBI informant, the one charged with lying about the Biden family business in Ukraine, well, now, he says it was actually Russian intelligence officials who gave the fake stories to him.

Just to remind you all how we got here. The informant, Alexander Smirnov, was arrested last week, charged with making debunked allegations to the FBI.

Now, what were those allegations? Well, the indictment says that he falsely claimed that Joe and Hunter Biden sought multi-million-dollar bribes from Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden once served on the board.

House Republicans have used that story as a justification for their efforts to try to impeach President Biden.

I want to bring in Peter Strzok, former deputy of the FBI's counterintelligence division.


Peter, this story is -- it keeps going. Layers are being added. Now, the question, of course, is about who gave the information. So, if the knowledge that Smirnov lied to the FBI about the Bidens wasn't bad enough, now we are learning that he says that he got those lies from Russia. It's 2024, you and I remember 2016, and there are some similarities now to election meddling. Do you see them? PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AGENT: Oh, absolutely. And I mean, what's interesting here is that he, upon his arrest in an interview, said that he got this information, this disinformation, from officials associated with Russian intelligence.

So, let's take a step back to what you just said. This information is being used by sitting members of Congress as the basis to impeach the president of the United States. It is being used by these same individuals who are voting against providing aid to Ukraine to defend themselves against a Russian invasion.

It is this disinformation from Russian intelligence is being used, apparently, at least 85 times by Sean Hannity in 2023 alone to try and undermine the Biden presidency.

So, one, if you look at Russian intelligence operations, this is a stunning success for them. And on the other hand, you've got to ask real questions about these members of Congress in particular who were warned repeatedly that this information was likely coming from or associated with Russian intelligence and nevertheless chose to use it in the pursuit of their political agenda.

COATES: Well, Peter, how do we know that he's telling the truth now about the source? If he is being discredited as somebody who is lying, why trust the source now?

STRZOK: Well, that's a great question. In fact, you really have to ask that question given the fact that he has been charged by the Department of Justice for lying to the FBI. So, I think every FBI agent who has run sources, and I've run hundreds of sources, you walk into that relationship with a baseline of wanting to trust but really verify. You're always aware that somebody might be spinning the truth, that somebody might be outright lying to you.

But I think in this case, beyond what he may be saying to the FBI, beyond what he might have lied to the FBI, there are many other avenues of information that the FBI can use to corroborate what Smirnov told them over the years, and that might include information from other sources, information from foreign intelligence gathering by the CIA, the NSA or others. So, there are ways to corroborate this.

But there's a deeply uneasy feeling that when you see that a source that -- again, the source was opened in 2010 --

COATES: Uh-hmm.

STRZOK: When you realized at the end that he has been lying to you, the question is, well, when did that lying really start?

COATES: And, of course, when did the information, when was it provided from, say, Russia, as he says it has, if that's, in fact, the whole truth of the story? But taking a step back, why does it serve Russia for the U.S. to have this kind of chaos? What is their larger goal?

STRZOK: Well, I think they've got at least twofold goal. One is to discredit Joe Biden. I think they looked. And clearly, as the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded in 2016 and then again in 2020, Russia sought to advance the presidency or the candidacy of Donald Trump at the expense of his opponent. So, one, they see the person in charge in the United States of Donald Trump being favorable to Russian interests.

The second goal has nothing really to do with who is elected in the United States. The second goal is to sow division within the United States and at the same time to undermine the image of American democracy not only in the United States but around the world to be able to show to our Western European allies, to our allies around the globe and the developing world and everywhere else, hey, look, see, American democracy isn't really everything it's cracked up to be, they're no better than Vladimir Putin is, and you really can't take American exceptionalism as anything but a bunch of nonsense.

And sadly, I think we've seen an extraordinary success by Russia in accomplishing both of those goals. I really hope this is a moment that causes, at least within the United States, causes the body politic to take a look at what's going on and say, okay, enough, we need to stop this.

COATES: Well, you have to wonder where the course correction will begin if this impeachment inquiry is still very much on the table. Peter Strzok, thank you so much.

STRZOK: Thank you.

COATES: Up next, Donald Trump once again comparing his political and his legal fortunes, or shall we say misfortunes, to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. And tonight, President Biden is addressing it.



COATES: Donald Trump making a pretty astounding claim tonight in a Fox townhall. This, well, you have to hear for yourself.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Navalny is a very sad situation. And he's very brave. He was a very brave guy because he went back, he could have stayed away, and frankly, probably would have been a lot better off staying away and talking from outside of the country as opposed to having to go back in.

And it's a horrible thing, but it's happening in our country, too. We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it, I'm the leading candidate. I got indicted. I never heard about being indicted before.

I was going to -- I got indicted four times. I have eight or nine trials, all because of the fact that I'm -- and you know this -- all because of the fact that I'm in politics.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: In a lot of dough (ph).

TRUMP: It is form of Navalny. It is a form of communism or fascism.



COATES: That's right, Donald Trump is comparing his $355 million fine for fraudulently inflating the value of his properties to a political prisoner who stood up to a dictator, was poisoned, thrown in a penal colony, and has since died under mysterious circumstances.

President Biden responding tonight, saying that Vladimir Putin is, in fact, responsible. Quote -- "Trump fails to even condemn him. It's outrageous."

Joining me now, former Congressman Joe Walsh and political commentator Maria Cardona. Let's just start right here because the idea that you have a former president, forget a leading candidate, a former president --


COATES: -- suggesting somehow that we are turning into a communist country, it is mind-boggling.

CARDONA: It's astounding, Laura. And it is something that should -- you know, we say this too often, that it's kind of lost meaning, but we should be very concerned, very scared about the smidgen of possibility, perhaps even more of a smidgen, that this man can enter the Oval Office again, because everything that he's talking about, everything that he's saying, are full-on lies.

But his supporters believe him. They not only believe him, they eat it up. And every single time that he is in court, it helps his support among those who are following him, you know, off the cliff, frankly.

What it doesn't do, though, is it doesn't help him in the general election. And this, I think, is going to be something that he's going to find out here pretty quickly.

When he wraps up the nomination, which he's about to do, he's going to run into the general election, which is where all of these convictions, everything that he's saying about or not saying about Navalny and Vladimir Putin, not being able to condemn Vladimir Putin for the murder of his political opponent, in fact, I kind of think that he admires him for that, all of that is going to really affect him among independents, among former Republicans, among people who he needs if he's going to have a chance of winning.

JOE WALSH, FORMER ILLINOIS REPRESENTATIVE: Laura, it's ugly. We don't say this enough about Trump. God, he pisses me off. This is anti- American.

CARDONA: Uh-hmm. WALSH: This isn't the first time he said this. He's always saying crap like this, like this happens here, and we kill people here, and we're bad here, and we've got bad guys here. This is ugly, blame America, anti-American B.S. And I wish Biden and the -- look, my former colleagues aren't going to call this out, but I hope the Democrats jump on this because this is anti-American crap that needs to be called out.

COATES: I mean, he's suggesting that his legal troubles are a kind of Navalny. I guess he's trying to use that phrase to suggest -- I don't know what. But the idea that his legal troubles, based on allegations --

CARDONA: Uh-hmm.

COATES: -- some of which include grand jury indictments --

WALSH: Yeah.

COATES: -- are somehow analogous to what has happened to Navalny, who, by the way, we still don't know the full circumstances of his death. But on that point, there is some exclusive reporting tonight that CNN has, that Biden is actually directing some of his senior aides, Maria --

CARDONA: Uh-hmm.

COATES: -- to focus more aggressively --


COATES: -- on Trump and the inflammatory comments --


COATES: -- because they might maybe have forgotten, wanting him to --


COATES: -- to make sure they know all that he is saying. Is that the right strategy?

CARDONA: I absolutely think it's the right strategy. And I'm glad that they're doing it. I hope that he leans full on 180,000 percent into it because we are, I think, at a point where all of the energy and the mobilization right now is on the Republican side because they're the ones who are having this crazy primary.

But I do think that we have to remind people what Trump did in his first four years and what he has not been shy in saying he would do if he gets another four years, if he gets another chance at the White House.

And, you know, voters are focused on their own lives. And there is this kind of, you know, voter -- not necessarily apathy but sort of forgetfulness of what it was that Trump did, what he said every single day, the chaos, the crazy, the confusion, the criminality, the cruelty that he brought and will continue to bring.

WALSH: That's the thing. That's the thing, Laura. He says -- Trump's magic is he says 179 cruel, ugly, intolerant, anti-American things a day. And so, our eyes just glaze over. The American people need to be reminded about it constantly.

COATES: But I do wonder, the polling suggests that assuming they don't have amnesia --

CARDONA: Uh-hmm.

COATES: -- that's who his base wants. They know who he is and they embrace it. So, is there some level of patronizing that's going on to suggest -- if I just remind you who he is, maybe then you wouldn't support him. They know who he is and they support him.

WALSH: Most of them do. I'm talking about the great swath of people in the middle.



WALSH: And by the way, the president, the current president, has an issue. A lot of voters have a problem and consider him unacceptable because of his age. He's got to deal with that.

But now you've got all these undecided voters who do know that Trump is unacceptable. They worry that Biden's unacceptable. Biden needs to remind them of why he's unacceptable.

CARDONA: And that's exactly what this campaign, the general election campaign that we were just talking about earlier, is going to be all about. It's going to be about this contrast between Joe Biden, a man who is there, he gets another four years, he wants to continue to boost the economy for everyone, protect our rights and freedoms, protect our democracy, and Donald Trump, who is a fraudster, a sex offender, a wouldn't -- want to be dictator and is in it all for himself.

WALSH: I want to hear Biden say, I'm tired of Donald Trump bad- mouthing America. I want to hear that constantly.

COATES: Well, we'll see if he starts to say it. You've heard it from Joe Walsh. There you go.


Joe, Maria, thank you so much.

Up next, the search for an 11-year-old missing girl in Texas coming to a very sad end, and an arrest warrant for her killer could come at any moment, for a man who lived on her parents' property.


COATES: A tragic ending in the search for a missing 11-year-old girl in Texas. Officials say the body of Audrii Cunningham was located in the Trinity River tonight.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Based on all of the evidence that law enforcement has collected, they are in the process of preparing the appropriate arrest warrants for Don Steven McDougal. At this time, we believe the appropriate arrest warrant is going to be for capital murder in the death of Audrii Cunningham.


COATES: Audrii was last seen Thursday morning on her way to school, but police say she never made it on the school bus. McDougal has been in custody since Friday for an unrelated assault charge. He's friends with Audrii's father and lived in a trailer behind the family's home. He would sometimes walk Audrii to the school bus. He has a lengthy criminal history.

Let's bring in CNN senior law enforcement analyst Andrew McCabe. This is just a nightmare scenario for so many reasons. We wish this could have ended differently and maybe finding her safe and sound. But that is not the case. But this idea that this person, a suspected killer, would be on the family property is stunning to people.

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It really is. I mean, it's an absolutely heartbreaking story, right? Any time you lose a child, it's just the absolute worst tragedy you can imagine.

But it's also hard to learn more about this situation and not ask some questions about having a person with a record like this, with a history like this, series of criminal convictions, some of which included enticing a minor, which he served -- which he pled no contest to and served two years in prison for. Like, this is not somebody you want living on your property, walking your daughter to school.

COATES: Interestingly enough as well, I understand that there was something about him joining in on the search. And I know you and I have spoken in the past before about looking at vigils, for example --


COATES: -- that sometimes, the suspects themselves are so interested in the law enforcement process, they want to be a part of it.

MCCABE: It's fascinating, Laura. We've seen it time and time again in these -- in these incredibly tragic cases. Sometimes, you have offenders who are kind of obsessed with law enforcement, almost like buffs, and they want to participate or at least keep track of the investigation.

Other times, it's simply for self-defensive reasons. They just want to understand kind of how close the police are getting and what sort of progress they're making in the investigation. But it is not -- it is not uncommon for subjects to participate or attempt to participate in the investigation in some way.

COATES: Does law enforcement, being aware of that, do they often look around the people who might be helping and start to look for red flags of those names?

MCCABE: Of course, of course, particularly at larger events like vigils and things like that in which if you were someone who was guilty of the offense, you could slide in or out of these large gatherings without, you know, having direct interactions with law enforcement or, you know, making too much of a scene of yourself.

A little bit different if you're going out on a small search party. Other people you're searching with are going to know you were there. So, that's a little bit more of a commitment. But absolutely, law enforcement is aware of that kind of common trait.

COATES: You know, I have to say, the fact that they were not aware that she had not attended school that day, as a parent, is just so stunning and heartbreaking to me, knowing all the safeguards are supposed to be in place to ensure that if your child is late or if they're not in school, there's supposed to be a protocol that kicks in. This family did not know until the end of school day and she didn't come off the school bus.

MCCABE: It's really amazing to me. Hard to understand. I hope that the authorities involved take a hard look at the processes that led to that act of apparent negligence.

COATES: I do wonder what happens next now that there is somebody as a suspect. Do they focus on a singular person or will it be expanded even beyond him?

MCCABE: Well, that's going to depend on how strong the evidence they have is.


And I should say, this is just another example of a case that might very well have been solved based on law enforcement's ability to access cellphone, cell tower data, right? So, we know from the comments they made at the press conference today that they used his cellphone to be able to backtrack the places that he had gone when he was with Audrii. So, an incredibly powerful tool for law enforcement to be able to access that data.

COATES: Poor little girl.


COATES: And the family. It's just unbelievable. Andrew McCabe, thank you so much.

MCCABE: Thanks a lot. COATES: I wish it was a different story to talk about entirely. Up next, key testimony now backed up. Fani Willis says that she mostly uses cash, right? Well, a witness is now confirming to CNN that she did use cash on a trip with her top prosecutor. There's a deep history, though, in all this. We'll dig into more of it in just a moment.



COATES: New CNN exclusive reporting tonight. An employee of Acumen Wines in Napa Valley speaking out to CNN, saying that he served Fani Willis and Nathan Wade on their California trip. And after a two-hour wine tasting, Fani Willis reached into her purse and pulled out about $400 in cash to pay.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: How rare is it for someone to use cash to pay their tab?

STAN BRODY, ESTATE AMBASSADOR FOR ACUMEN WINES: It's not ridiculously rare, but it is rare. It's the odd ball -- odd man out. More often than not, it's -- I'd say, in excess of 95% of the time, it's a credit card --

PHILLIP: And how much --

BRODY: -- which is a safe number to guess.

PHILLIP: And how much was it ultimately?

BRODY: Um, there were two bottles of wine, they were $1.75 a piece, and a single tasting. So, $3.50, about a little over $400.


COATES: Now, it might seem odd to get to this very granular level in a case like this. Remember, she is not actually on trial. They are trying to disqualify her from the case. And there are defense attorneys who are focusing on whether she had a financial benefit from having been in this relationship with Nathan Wade.

They're trying to get to this decision and discussion of whether she did, in fact, financially benefit. And one way they're trying to prove this is to talk about how much she paid in cash, whether she reimbursed the charges and beyond. That's why we are here. And she says that she pays for things mostly in cash.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): And what did you pay for on that trip?

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I gave him much less cash that time, probably $400 or $500. And then I paid for a bunch of stuff. I think we did two different wine tours that you do. I bought him a bottle of wine while we were there and the sipping that you do. That trip did not cost me a lot of money. I might have -- took like $750 in cash on me because we weren't gone very long. And then --

UNKNOWN (voice-over): I only asked if you paid in cash. I don't even know the amounts.

WILLIS: When I travel, I always pay cash.


COATES: This became a very big deal throughout the entire testimony and it continues this very big day. My next guest, a Pulitzer Prize- winning writer, Robin Givhan, says there's a long history of this in Black and Latino communities, and she joins me now. Robin, I'm so glad to see you.


COATES: Many people have been talking about this cash aspect of everything. It became a huge part of testimony between herself, also her father testifying as much. People were making jokes about the idea of how much cash one should have, etcetera. But you saw this differently and you wrote about it for "The Washington Post." What was your thought?

GIVHAN: Well, you know, I would back up just a little bit and say that when the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, was talking about these cash payments, I did find it odd and somewhat unconvincing that someone would walk around with so much like giant wads of cash.

But when she took the stand, I thought it was a completely different story because she put it into context. She talked about how this was something that her father had taught her, about being prepared, about in case of emergency, always have cash on you.

And it also, I think, just sort of harked back to a lot of things that an older generation used to say to me. My own father, you know, would take out lots of cash when we would go on a family vacation. Now, he wasn't paying for airline tickets in cash, but he would pay the dinner bill in cash.

And it goes back to, you know, a distrust of financial institutions. It goes to the difficulty that a lot of people of color have and have had in getting credit. And I think it also goes to this sense that cash will always get you out of the jam. You know, cash is always reliable.

It's the old thing about, you know, grandma putting money under the mattress. I mean, it's not something that's sort of, you know, eccentric. It's something that I think really cuts to a sense of, I want to be independent and I want to be my own authority.

COATES: In some ways, you know, listening to the testimony, it became a kind of Rorschach test for some people, whether you had had this story as part of your life or not, you related to it, or this was a completely foreign concept that was rooted in (INAUDIBLE). We are talking about it in race and beyond. That in and of itself seemed odd to people.


There was a focus on one's race and rearing as it related to one's carrying around of cash. But another aspect of it was, and you were reading her body language --


COATES: You were seeing the indignation and the way that she carried herself and spoke to the special -- not counsel, but the attorney in that case. You saw that as indicative of something different.

GIVHAN: Yeah. I mean, I think everyone could recognize that when she came in and sat down, that there was a degree of anger and fury that was there.

COATES: A big degree.


GIVHAN: But what I thought was interesting was that it wasn't so much on her face. It was in her tone and it was in her body language because she sat in that witness chair. She wasn't sitting upright the whole time, the way that witnesses often do because they're nervous or they're trying to, you know, sort of put their best foot forward. She was sitting back in the chair. She was almost reclining in this chair.

And I kind of compared it to, you know, that notion of manspreading, when men sort of take up more space than their body really needs when they're sitting on a subway or on a bleacher. And it was as if she was doing the same thing. She was taking up physical space in that courtroom.

And I think some of that certainly was coming from her fury, but I think it also was a way of sort of projecting a certain dominance in that courtroom. And it felt for a good while that the judge was not really the one who was in charge of the room.

COATES: Well, we'll have to see. We can continue to unpack. Something tells me that the body language, that testimony, those moments in court will be studied for a long time and also looked at by a potential jury pool and others looking at this case in the future. Really interesting to see how it has been viewed by so many people, especially and including you. Thank you, Robin.

GIVHAN: Thank you.

COATES: Robin Givhan, everyone. Thank you so much. And thank you all for watching. Our coverage continues.