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Laura Coates Live

Trump Can't Make $464 Million Bond In Civil Fraud Case; Stormy Daniels Can Testify In Trump Trial; Trump Warns Of Bloodbath For Auto Industry And Country If He Loses The Election; SCOTUS Hears Critical Case Claiming Social Media Censorship; C.J. Rice Is Freed After More Than A Dozen Years In Prison; Six Students Charged Over "Mock Slave Auction". Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired March 18, 2024 - 23:00   ET



KIERNA MAYO, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, EBONY MAGAZINE: When we think about how we live our best lives, to quote Oprah, it's a mind, body, soul thing. We've got to kind of connect all the parts. I think this is a great opportunity to do that.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kierna Mayo, Dr. Alexandra Sowa, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

And before we go tonight, on this day in history, in 1995 -- that's all we have time for today. Thank you so much for watching "NewsNight." "Laura Coates Live" starts right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Donald Trump's horrible, no good, very bad day. The one thing that he really, really didn't want to admit, and the one person he really, really doesn't want you to hear from, tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

All right, so Trump has finally admitted now what many of you already perhaps knew. Gold might be his favorite color, but he is not made of it. Remember that he has to post a $454 million bond a week from today in the New York A.G.'s civil fraud case.

Now, you add that to an additional $10 million bucks, what's called disgorgement. That's a fancy way of saying that Don, Jr. and Eric got a payback where they shouldn't have gotten in the first place. That would then be $464 million bucks. Who's got that kind of money laying around? Well, not Donald Trump, apparently.

And if he can't pay the $464 million, well, then he probably can't pay the amount plus pay the interest he owes on that amount after it's all said and done. And what is that interest? We're talking nearly $115,000 a day. Now, all of that is a lot, no matter how rich you are or aren't.



I have a lot of money in this deal.

I have a tremendous income. And the reason I say that is not in a braggadocious way.

I'm turning down millions. I don't want your money.

I don't want anybody's money.

Fortunately, I'm very rich. Here's the good news. I'm very rich.


COATES: And from a payment that he can't make to when the Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg said he absolutely did make, I'm talking about a hush money payment to one Stormy Daniels, a judge ruled today that she will be allowed to testify at the upcoming trial.

Now, I'm not clear whether the case actually hinges on her testimony. They would need corroboration and additional evidence to prove all of the counts, and there are many in that case.

But the irony should not be lost on you. It's not lost on me, that's for sure. Just think, this is the woman they allegedly tried to shut up just before a presidential election. Now, she'll have a lot to say just before what? A presidential election.

But make no mistake. She is painfully aware of the price of speaking out, and she talks about it in a new documentary.


STORMY DANIELS, PORNOGRAPHIC FILM ACTRESS, DIRECTOR AND FORMER STRIPPER (voice-over): Back in 2018, it was stuff like liar, slut, gold digger. This time around, it is very different. It is direct threats. It is, I'm going to come to your house and slit your throat, your daughter should be euthanized. They're not even using bot accounts. They're using their real accounts.


COATES: So, will Stormy Daniels get the last word after all? Let's talk about this with Trump and -- talk about Trump's failure to secure that $464 million bond, and we're going to add the interest, in the New York civil fraud trial.

I want to bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. Tom, so, this is a lot of money. Where on earth is he going to get the money?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't know. He has always bragged about how rich he is, as you just pointed out, Laura, and yet his lawyers say he cannot come up with this roughly half billion dollars he owes for committing civil fraud, citing insurmountable difficulties.

They say Trump has appealed to 30 different insurance underwriters to help him post a bond, essentially paying them to guarantee the A.G. will get the money if he loses on his appeal, and all of the underwriters have said no so far.

COATES: All of them. I mean, think about that. Just 30 of them at the very least. I mean, just last fall, Forbes put out -- and they put Trump's net worth, I think, at $2.6 billion. And by the way, as you said, he always brags about how rich he is. So, have they given a reason as to why they're saying no to him?

FOREMAN: Well, Trump's team says it is more money than some of these companies will ever agree to. But even those who might consider it want cash to back up the deal. And Trump's money is tied up in real estate, in places like Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower in New York and more than a half dozen other properties there.


He's got a building in Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco. He has, of course, golf courses and resorts, money in companies such as Truth Social, even in his airplane.

For the underwriters, although that is all worth a lot of money, all of that could turn into a massive headache of property management, complicated deals with partners, and wildly swinging value. So, they just don't want it. They want something that can turn into money right now if they need it.

COATES: So not exclusive ownership on any of these particular properties. Interesting to think about, Tom. I mean, the team that Trump has is still, of course, asking the court for a break. They say they made a good faith effort to raise the money, but it's just exorbitant. It's just too much. So, if the court doesn't bend, which I don't know that they even have to, what happens?

FOREMAN: Well, Letitia James has indicated she doesn't really want to do that. He does not go to jail. This is not a criminal case. But unless something changes, legal analysts say, next week, the New York attorney general could start seizing some of those properties we just talked about. The ones in New York would probably make the most sense. To make sure, if Donald Trump loses his appeal, he will pay the judgment, which is growing by more than $100,000 every day, as you pointed out.

But I will point this out, Laura, the simple truth is, the very same reason that insurance underwriters may be hesitant about some of that could then be a problem for the attorney general as well because suddenly you've got all this property that you have to turn into money. And while it might be worth a lot, that may be a little more complicated than you think.

COATES: That's a really important point because the uphill battle he faces in trying to convert it into cash would be the same for an asset forfeiture in many respects. Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

COATES: Now, I want to bring in Catherine Rampell, CNN's economics and political commentator, and also Shark Tank judge, Kevin O'Leary, the chairman of O'Leary Ventures. Wow, what great fortune do I owe this particular pairing, the two experts in this field? Let me start with you, Kevin, here because you've got a lot of money. You're a high net worth individual. And I wonder, give me a sneak peek inside of this world. I mean, why can't Trump secure a loan off of the value of his properties alone?

KEVIN O'LEARY, "SHARK TANK" JUDGE: I don't think this case is about Trump anymore. I think this case is about New York. It's about the American brand. It's about what we promised the world in terms of fairness and justice and investing capital in a country that has built the largest economy on earth.

Forfeiture, seizing of assets, is that in our nomenclature in America? Is that what we tell people that want to bring their money here and protect property rights? Forget about Trump. Nothing to do with Trump.

You think this is good for business in New York? You think this is good for business in America? To take a law that we use to protect people against buying refrigerators at overpriced value decades ago and apply it against an individual, and then talk about seizing assets like he was in Venezuela --


O'LEARY: -- or in Cuba? This is --

COATES: Well, let me ask --

O'LEARY: -- a very, very, very bad look for New York. And everybody around the world is watching this. This may be --

COATES: Well --

O'LEARY: -- great for the attorney general --

COATES: Kevin --

O'LEARY: -- but this is not --

COATES: I hear you.

O'LEARY: -- good for America.

COATES: I'm glad you ended with the last very. Otherwise, I wouldn't have known that you emphatically believed your position with that third very for there. But I want to ask you, obviously, Catherine, there is asset and forfeiture laws on the books because they do seize assets, they do --


COATES: -- forfeit property and beyond. Kevin's point, though, more largely, is that this decision by Letitia James, the judge, makes a disincentive and creates one for those in New York. Do you agree with that? RAMPELL: I mean, it's a disincentive for fraudsters to engage in business in New York. That's certainly true. Like who benefits from maintaining the freedom to commit fraud? It's people who want to commit fraud.

And as to the point about it being bad for business in general, the fact that we have laws against fraud and we enforce laws against fraud is why it's good to do business in the United States and not in a place like Venezuela, because we have rule of law that helps create, you know, trust in counterparties.

That means that you know that if you're making a deal with someone, you have a contract with someone, that they are representing themselves fairly, that you're going to get the money that was owed to you or whatever in exchange for goods or services.

That's why it's good to do business here, because we have these laws and we enforce these laws. And Trump broke them. That's as simple as it is. You know, there wasn't just a smoking gun here. There was like a smoking arsenal. There were multiple points of evidence in this case about, you know, backfilling numbers to create the asset value or the net worth value that Trump wanted to create.


You know, we have --


COATES: -- is that the reason --


COATES: Excuse me, is that reason you think he can't secure the loan, that the overvaluation component of the properties has now made it such that nobody trusts him enough to give him a loan? Is that your point?

RAMPELL: Well, I would say that if you get in trouble for fraudulently inflating your assets, I think you shouldn't be super surprised when nobody wants to accept those assets as collateral.

You know, it's a little bit like if you get in trouble for selling a glass ring that you claim is a diamond and then you want to put up an appeal bond and use your -- quote, unquote -- "diamond ring" as collateral, like there's a lot of chutzpah there.

Beyond that, we don't even know about the value of this real estate. We don't know how leveraged these properties are, how much equity he actually has in any of them, who he owes money to.

COATES: Let me turn to Kevin.

RAMPELL: This was -- yes.

COATES: Let me -- hold on. Both you are very excited, and I love it. I want to hear from both of you. Kevin, on this point, though, on the idea of the leveraging of it and the valuation, if Trump doesn't figure out how to pay the bill, I mean, A.G. James is going to have to or try to start seizing property. She, by the way, has said as much. Listen to what she said.


LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: We are prepared to make sure that the judgment is paid to New Yorkers. And yes, I look at 40 Wall Street each and every day. If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, then we will seek, you know, judgment enforcement mechanisms in court, and we will ask the judge to seize his assets.


COATES: Now, you take, you know, an issue with this, of course, more broadly in terms of what it means to be in an American business structure, Kevin. But in terms of the valuation, can you be clear as to why? I mean, why would the properties not be sufficient collateral?

O'LEARY: What a great message to send out all around the world. Take a claim where there was no money is lost. There was no -- there was no fraud here in the context of actually people losing money. Deutsche Bank, who made the loan, was made whole. And let's make a penalty of half a billion dollars against a crime, apparently, where no moneys were lost.

Great message for New York. Great message for America. Bring your capital because we'll protect your property. I think that was a statement that would be much better made sometime in Venezuela. I'm not kidding. That's a scary, scary message.

And by the way, there are no such thing as half a billion dollars.

RAMPELL: Again, the laws exist to protect the market place.

O'LEARY: There are no half a billion-dollar bonds. Never been done before. Never. This law has never been applied. Forget about Trump. Nothing to do with Trump. Everything to do about America and the New York brand. I love this state. My children live here. A horrible message to everybody around the world watching this. Absolutely horrific.

COATES: Well, wait, Kevin. Kevin, hold on a second. Kevin, what will be --

O'LEARY: -- will be gone one day.

COATES: Hold on a second.

O'LEARY: This attorney general will be gone one day. And this is what --

COATES: I have a wonderful voice --

O'LEARY: -- you want to tell people around the world. COATES: -- and it won't be tough --

O'LEARY: This is how we treat money in America.

COATES: Kevin O'Leary, I would like to hear what you have to say.

O'LEARY: This is not America.

COATES: What are you doing?

O'LEARY: Not America. Not America.

COATES: It's not America, but it is the "Laura Coates Live" show, and I am speaking. So that will be the rule. Not Venezuela.

O'LEARY: Not America.

COATES: Nowhere else. Fine, but it's "Laura Coates Live." And hello, my name is Laura Coates. The question I want to ask you on this point, though, is what does the reverse say, Kevin, if they do not take an action? I hear your point about you believe there's no fraud and that everyone was made whole, but a judge found otherwise.

And so, given that, Catherine, to Kevin's point, can you address what your opinion is on the issue? Because your big major concern seems to be what happens if this is not followed through by James or the courts. What message would that sound? You seem to think that that's anti-American.

RAMPELL: Yeah. Look, I'm surprised that Kevin is wasting his good name defending fraud and lies, which I am convinced, Kevin, you have not committed. I don't understand. Why are you defending the actions of someone who has committed these actions that again, there is ample, ample evidence that he has done this?

And the idea that just because, you know, the banks themselves may have been in on the fraud doesn't necessarily make it any better. I mean, every single borrower who played by the rules, who honestly reported their income, their assets, their liabilities, they were put at a disadvantage by the fact that Trump lied and didn't play by the rules.


Think about every other more productive borrower, what they could have done with these hundreds of millions of dollars, what you could have done with these hundreds of millions of dollars. And again, I believe you play by the rules. Trump does not. We have lots of evidence that he does not.

This is bad for the marketplace. It is bad for other borrowers. It's frankly bad for the shareholders of these banks who didn't benefit from this. Maybe the bankers who helped him out with this fraud got a little fatter bonus. But their shareholders were not benefiting from this. The idea that it is good for the business environment, good for America to not enforce laws against fraud is just bizarre. That is how it works in Venezuela and in Nigeria and in lots of other places where they do not have rule of law and where there is not counterparty trust in business transactions.

COATES: Well, Kevin O'Leary, don't make me regret this, but I'll give you the last word here.

O'LEARY: No, no, I'm like everybody else all around the world. Sovereign wealth, pension plans. Everybody in the financial services industry is waiting for adult supervision. We don't have it here yet. This is hurting New York, hurting the people of New York, and hurting the American brand. It is just horrific. Where are the adults? When are they coming?

COATES: Well, I guess I'll just say I'm the adult in the room, and I'll just say good night to both of you today for that very reason. I know you both have strong positions and strong viewpoints. Thank you for sharing them, Catherine Rampell and Kevin O'Leary.

RAMPELL: Thanks, Laura.

COATES: And just in tonight, Donald Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, and adult film star Stormy Daniels will each be allowed to testify at Trump's upcoming New York criminal trial.

But that's not all. The judge is also ruling that he's going to allow testimony about the Access Hollywood tape. Remember that? The key word, though, about, because the judge is saying playing the tape for jurors would be -- quote -- "not necessary." They probably already seen it. I'm just saying.

I want to bring in criminal defense lawyer Brandi Harden. I'm not going to ask you about the economy in New York. Don't worry. But I will ask you about what you make of the judge's ruling. I mean, thinking about who will testify, Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, the Access Hollywood tape being talked about, if you are trying to map out this case, who are you most concerned about as defense?

BRANDI HARDEN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER: Probably Stormy Daniels. She obviously is involved in this documentary. There's going to be all kinds of information that's coming out before your trial starts. And so, if I'm the defense attorney, I'm certainly concerned. I think the lawyers have described it as extremely prejudicial one week before a trial to be having Stormy Daniels give all of this information in this documentary.

COATES: Why do you think the prosecution is even going to use her? Do they need to use her?

HARDEN: I don't know that they need it, but I think it adds flair that I think, honestly, the prosecution wants. I mean, I think that they -- you know, it's a documents case. There's not a whole lot to it. I mean, there's obviously Michael Cohen. He obviously has problems. He has agreed that he has lied under oath before. So, I think that they want to add the aspect of Stormy Daniels to corroborate. Right? You talked about corroboration. I think that they need not just the testimony of what happened with the documents, but also corroboration. I think that comes in the form of Stormy Daniels.

COATES: Interesting. Judge Engoron, who had the case we're just talking about, did try to rehabilitate in sorts the credibility of Michael Cohen as the person who found credible in their statement. This is a different matter entirely now at this point.

Speaking of that documentary film that she did, though, I have to wonder. I mean, as a as a prosecutor, I think I would have been livid at this documentary coming out because I would have thought, well, hold on, I'm a month away from a trial. Now, I got to add up what she may or may not have said in different instances, whether it's a grand jury or witness interviews or whatever it is against this. As defense counsel, you're probably salivating.

HARDEN: Well, absolutely, with respect to these inconsistent statements, because there's going to be so much to work with as a defense attorney. But at the same time, both the prosecution and the defense just don't want this extra chatter.


HARDEN: Right? A lot of time, prosecutors say, look, it's important to us to not have this conviction overturned. And when you have things that jurors can listen to, things that are on the outside, that are not happening inside of the courtroom, it becomes a problem in terms of cross examination. It's going to be a field day for those lawyers. They're going to have so much to work with because she's going to have made so many statements outside of the courtroom.

COATES: That's true. And, of course, you think about, you know, but there's a human aspect of it. But this may have humanized her even more by having her ability to give her own narrative, say who she is. But I tell you, I would have been a little annoyed as the prosecution, especially if it was Brandi Harden, who was going against me in the courtroom to eat them alive. Thank you so much, Brandi Harden.

HARDEN: Absolutely.

COATES: Well, Donald Trump defends his bloodbath comment. He says it was about the auto industry. But why does he keep using this kind of language?


And what are his supporters hear when he says bloodbath? Republican former governor, Christine Todd Whitman, weighs in next.


COATES: Well, you probably heard about the comments that Trump made over the weekend, you know, where he dropped the term "bloodbath" at a campaign rally. Well, now, there is a big debate raging over what he meant when he said bloodbath and if his words were taken out of context. So, let me give you his original remarks.


TRUMP: We're going to put a 100 percent tariff on every single car --


-- that comes across the line.


And you're not going to be able to sell those cars if I get elected. Now, if I don't get elected, it's going to be a bloodbath for the whole. That's going to be the least of it. It's going to be a bloodbath for the country. That'll be the least of it.


COATES: Well, Trump, for his part, claims that he was only speaking about the country's shrinking auto manufacturing business.

Well, joining me now, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman. Governor Whitman, thank you so much for joining us today. You know, when you hear those comments, and by the way, it's not the first time that we've heard Trump use violent rhetoric at his rallies or intimating as such. Listen to this.


TRUMP: I am your retribution. I am your retribution.


This is the final battle. They know it. I know it. You know it. Everybody knows that this is it. Either they win or we win.

I think they feel this is the way they're going to try and win. And that's not the way it goes. That will be bedlam in the country. It's a very bad thing.

We will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.


COATES: I mean, retribution, bedlam, vermin. There's a lot to unpack there. What do you think he's trying to do when he is saying these statements?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: He's doing two things. He is putting his base on notice that he's going to want some serious action if he doesn't win the election. And believe me, we saw on January 6th, they're prepared to listen to that clarion call. And he's also threatening the people who are willing to stand up to him.

I mean, it's just like the kind of thing you think with Putin. I mean, he won what? Eighty-nine percent of the vote. But that works really well when you arrest all your opponents or knock them off. You know, it's the same kind of thing. I think we have to put that, what he said.

Sure, you can argue away. And because he was speaking out at autoworkers, that's fine. But his next sentence after those comments that you played was, and there'll never be another election. So, he clearly wasn't just talking about the autoworkers. He was deep into it.

And he was deep into the kind of threats that he uses to both excite his base and to scare people. And you see a lot of -- unfortunately, you see a lot of people resigning from office because they're afraid for their families, people not running for office because they don't want to put up with this, and they are fearful that there's going to be physical violence, not just threats.

It's something that we've just never seen in this country before. We need to take it seriously.

COATES: You know, Governor Whitman, you make a fine point, particularly on the idea. It's really -- it's the cumulative. I think people are not taking his statements in isolation. There is contact. There's also the collective memory of what he has said in the past and how people either believe in that and support it or do not. That is the way the inkblot of politics today.

But the former president, as you well know, he and others are saying that he was just talking, as you mentioned, about the auto industry. And one person who also seemed to back that up was the House speaker, Mike Johnson. Listen to what he said.


MIKE JOHNSON, SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: It was 100% correct. And I think what he was saying at the rally reflects what most of the American people understand and believe. If these misguided policies, the Biden administration are allowed to continue, not only will we see a bloodbath in the auto industry, which we are seeing, we will see a bloodbath in our energy industry as well and in all the other sectors of our economy, too.


COATES: You know, I wonder when you have people like Speaker Johnson or others saying this, it's almost as if when people are calling attention to statements like this, it plays into the hands of a thought that he is a political martyr or being targeted. Do you feel that way?

TODD WHITMAN: I think that's true. I mean, unfortunately, we spend too much time reacting to what he says. And really what we need to do is step back and put this all in the context of history.

And what we've seen happened and the kind of laws that are being passed to disenfranchise people now, the importance of the local elections coming up, it's not just the presidential we have, but we need to ensure that we're electing people at the state, at the local level, who will defend the rule of law after this election because no matter who wins, there are going to be lawsuits.

And we need people in the offices who oversee election results to be the kind of people that we saw after 2020, who refused to be bullied, who refused to back down, and who upheld the rule of law and the respect of the Constitution.

So, people need to concentrate not just on the presidential and get all caught up. Does he mean it? Doesn't he mean it? Is it going to be a bloodbath? Because that's one side of it. But let's remember, there are hundreds of other offices up for election in this year, and they're important offices to our future, to our democracy.

COATES: By design, right?


And thinking about that, it's always important --

TODD WHITMAN: Absolutely.

COATES: -- to look down the ballot and remember that as well. And, you know, sources -- you're talking about election integrity and those who seek to protect it. I mean, sources tell CNN that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is in discussions to help with Trump's reelection bid.

I mean, he was convicted, as you know, for financial crimes and served nearly two years in prison before being pardoned by Trump. He was also found to have given internal polling data to someone with ties to Russian intelligence. This is all very concerning, thinking about what that bodes.

TODD WHITMAN: Oh, yes. I mean, again, I keep saying to people, look, we saw -- we didn't see, I wasn't around then, I'm old, but not that old --


-- back in the 1930s, Hitler wrote a book called "Mein Kampf," and he laid out everything he was going to do.

I don't think Donald Trump could write a book, but he's telling us exactly what he's going to do. He has said he would weaponize the Justice Department. He would go after all his enemies. He would make sure that anybody that disagreed with him felt the pressure of law enforcement, felt the pressure of his retribution.

And we better not dismiss that. It's real. He will do that. He's the kind of person who does that. He has a very long memory for anybody that said things against him, for people who stand up to him. And he's got acolytes out there, people who will do whatever he says, because they absolutely believe he is the martyr. I guess it's the best way to see it. And you're not going to -- it's hard to convince them otherwise. Let me put it that way. But there are enough sensible people who need to stop for a moment and say, how much is our democracy worth to you? Is it really worth a tax deduction? Are you going to support somebody for this because they're going to lower maybe your -- that's only in Europe, if you're in the upper economic brackets, by the way.

Is it worth getting that kind of a tax break to lose our democracy, to see our Constitution be violated? I don't think so, if people will stop and think for a moment about what the real implications of this election are.

COATES: Former Governor Christine Todd Whitman, thank you so much for joining. I will say, I mean, just strikes me as I realize the point you are referencing in terms of an undeniable following. But back to our earlier point, I do from time to time wonder, especially when there are comparisons drawn to Mein Kampf and beyond, whether that gives greater ammunition to those who will view your statements only through the lens of you attacking him and comparing him to Hitler and losing the forest to the trees. Do you have that concern?

TODD WHITMAN: Yes, I think you're probably right. But I'm sorry, that's the way I see it. So, I have to call it. But that's why I'm involved with the Forward Party, where we're not focusing on the presidential at all. We're focusing just on state and local, and we're getting candidates who have to sign a pledge that swears they will uphold the rule of law, they will respect the Constitution, work with anyone to solve problems, that they will always have a civil discourse.

And then the states are going to decide and the candidates themselves, what are the issues that are more most important to that state and what can that candidate really support in good conscience rather than having a party tell them what to do?

It's a whole different approach. And it's a party. It's reminding people that these local elections are the important ones. We're not playing in the presidential.

COATES: All politics is local and it's a republic if you can keep it. Former Governor Whitman, thank you very much for joining me tonight. I appreciate it.

TODD WHITMAN: That's a pleasure. Nice to be with you.

COATES: Up next, it's the latest free speech battle to make its way to the Supreme Court. Should the government be able to pressure social media companies to remove misinformation from their platforms? Well, that was a question before the court. See how they answered.



COATES: Well, a critical case is before the Supreme Court right now that deals with free speech in the Internet era. The court hearing arguments in a case brought by two conservative states, arguing that the federal government ought not to be allowed to pressure social media companies to take down information -- misinformation.

I should be specific. It's a claim frequently made by conservatives who accuse the administration of a -- of a censorship campaign. But many of the justices, including at least two appointed by President Trump, were skeptical.

Joining me now is a former law clerk for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Tiffany Wright. Thank you for joining me today. First of all, this is a really complex case. There's a lot of nuances. But it comes down to whether the government, the White House, the administration can essentially pressure a company to take down what is misinformation. They were skeptical about that today, though. Why?

TIFFANY R. WRIGHT, FORMER LAW CLERK FOR JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR: I think there are two reasons why they were skeptical. They're skeptical because the claim that Louisiana and Missouri were making is really quite broad, so much that it is extreme.

And so, as an example, the argument that they're pressing is that if the FBI were to reach out to X and say, we know that these accounts are being run by foreign terrorist organizations or foreign governments, and we think that the information being perpetrated in those accounts is dangerous for the following reasons, according to the state of Louisiana, that is a level of pressure or encouragement that violates the First Amendment because it's the government for sort of influencing speech.

And that is really extreme when you think about the environment we're in, where the government has a lot of responsibility and true need to rein in some of the disinformation that is being put out there by some of these accounts. And so, I think it's extreme. And we're also seeing some of the justices speak from their personal experience. Brett Kavanaugh being from the White House Counsel Office, for example.

COATES: In what way is his experience?

WRIGHT: So, he's asking questions that show he has a deep knowledge of how the White House works. So, at one point, he says, well, what if somebody in the White House calls up "The Washington Post" and says, hey, you can't run that story because it'll impact national security?


And that comes from experience. Both he and Elena Kagan were in the White House Counsel Office. They know how this works. There is a real need for the government to be able to educate, to be able to correct disinformation, and to be able to get its message out. That is a distinction between -- when the government does that and when they act to restrict speech. And so that's the line that they're trying to draw in this case.

COATES: Well, some would say, well, how do you know it is misinformation? Maybe it's just information that's evolving. Obviously, media companies in the 24-7 news cycle, what is known to be fact on Tuesday may evolve beyond that on Wednesday or Saturday. That's the that's the rub in some of this, right?

WRIGHT: Yeah, that's absolutely right. And so that's why I think it's important that the justices were sticking to this line of the government being able to get its message out.

But the government is not telling private parties what they can say. So, for example, if they reach out to X about disinformation, they will say, we know that these 400 accounts are being run by the Russian agency, whether it's an intelligence agency or a media agency. Do with that what you will. We're not telling you that you need to change your message. We're letting you know what the source is.

And so, it still leaves place for private parties to say what they need to say, to draw their own conclusions. The question is really whether the government can at least inform those parties of what it knows as the government actor.

COATES: Well, the way you phrase it like that, it makes a lot of sense that I still give you the opportunity to say what you want to do in your private business. But here's information, kind of like what you do in the news. It's up to you to take what you want from what we have said and informed.

Tiffany Wright, as always, great to have you on and your mind. Thank you.

WRIGHT: Thanks for having me.

COATES: Up next, freed after 12 years in prison. A Philadelphia man exonerated of a crime he never even committed. CNN's Jake Tapper is here to explain C.J. Rice's story and how Jake's own father helped campaign for his release.



COATES: Tonight, a story that gives us hope. A Philadelphia man is now free and completely exonerated after the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania cleared him of a crime he was convicted of back in 2013. A judge in Philadelphia agreeing to drop all charges against C.J. Rice after he served more than 12 years behind bars for a 2011 shooting he had always maintained he did not commit.

CNN's Jake Tapper has been following this story and bringing awareness to it for years. It was his father, Dr. Theodore Tapper, who was Rice's pediatrician at the time of the shooting, and Dr. Tapper testified that it was physically impossible for Rice to have carried out the shooting given that he was recovering from a separate shooting injury himself.

Rice could barely walk at the time, much less run. No DNA, no guns found, and no evidence tied Rice to the September 2011 shooting and wounding of four people.

Court-appointed attorney, Sandjai Weaver, took Rice's case on, and she did not provide him with an adequate defense. Now, Weaver appears to have never visited the crime scene. We obtained location data for Rice's cell phone, which would have shown that he was actually nowhere near the crime scene. Now, last fall, a federal court ordered that Rice be released from custody, and he was finally released from prison in December.

Jake Tapper joins me now. Jake, I have been talking to you about this story since your "Atlantic" piece came out, and it is just mind- blowing to so many people, about the connection and your father's role. And now, a complete exoneration. But it speaks volumes about our legal system that wants to be a justice system.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yeah, my dad always says we don't have a justice system, we have a legal system. And, you know, you know this because of your former life as a prosecutor, but for me, this is my first real investigation, exploration of our criminal justice system or legal system. And once you see it, you can't un-see it.

I mean, we have a system made up of good men and women, I don't doubt, who want to keep the streets safe, who want to be the last line of defense for the average citizen, but the incentive structure is for cops to make arrests, for prosecutors to get convictions. It's not necessarily for established justice, fine justice. And that's what happened to C.J. in this case.

COATES: I mean, you could have easily heard about the story and thought, oh, well, that's difficult or that's uncomfortable and turned a blind eye, or you could have done what many people do, which is it's just -- it's so painful to think about, therefore, I'll turn away completely. Something about this case wanted you to lean in even more. Why?

TAPPER: I mean, it was my dad. You know when Tappers tend to be like dogs with a bone, as you know a little bit from knowing me and my dad even more so. And this was one of his patients, he's a pediatrician, and he saw C.J. shortly after he was shot and said, this kid can't walk, much less run.

He testified in his criminal case. Saw that C.J.'s attorney, court- appointed Sandjai Weaver, who has since passed away, was incompetent. C.J. wrote to my dad in 2016. He was in prison and trying to get out. And he asked my dad, can you go to Jefferson Hospital, where C.J. had gone after he was shot, and get the medical records? Because his defense attorney had never gotten the medical records.

COATES: That's unbelievable.

TAPPER: And so, my dad got them, saw that A, C.J.'s pelvis had been shattered in the shooting, which he did not know when he testified. And B, the two of them just struck up a correspondence that meant a lot to both of them. And my dad just became an advocate for him.


I started hearing about the case and hearing about C.J. and C.J.'s letters. My dad would scan them or somebody scan them for him, probably, and he would send them to me. And he just believed that C.J. was innocent and did not get a fair trial.

Eventually, I said, well, let me write a story about it. It took years and years of convincing him. Finally, he said, okay. And I wrote the -- I started in 2020. I wrote -- the story was published in "The Atlantic" in 2022. And here we are.

COATES: Why do you need to be convinced? You would think he'd want to have this story out there completely. Was he nervous about --

TAPPER: No. He had an attorney at the time and they were going through the Pennsylvania process. And the attorney at the time thought that any attention would be met with --

COATES: Retribution of some kind.

TAPPER: Retribution by the judges. I mean, one of the things that people who are prosecutors are -- and defense attorneys are too polite to say or too fearful to say is that the system as it is built is -- you know, judges are like kings and queens in robes, and you don't want to offend them. If you offend them, they might just not hear or read the writ or the -- whatever you put in front of them, the appeal. And so --

COATES: It is so fascinating. You think, you know, we have this presumption of innocence, but then once a jury convicts or a finding of guilt, then you're supposed to go, okay, fine, you got me, never mind. And never did that. In fact, he was always maintaining his innocence. He was always trying to --


COATES: -- get his name cleared. I'll be impressed and I'll be angry on his behalf and others behind him. Jake Tapper, thank you so much.

TAPPER: Thank you.

COATES: Be sure to check out more of Jake's interview with C.J., his lawyers, and Jake's dad this Sunday night. "The Whole Story," "Justice Delayed: The Story of C.J. Rice," it airs at 8 p.m., only on CNN.

Now to this story, six middle school students have been charged in a racial online bullying incident in Massachusetts. The students from Southwick Regional School allegedly held, get this, an online mock slave auction where white students could bid on their Black classmates.

According to the D.A., the students participated in hateful, racist conduct on social media platform Snapchat. Several of those students were suspended, including two for 25 days, one for 45 days, while six of the students were charged with threats to commit a crime.

Now, CNN reached out to the Southwick Regional School and Southwick- Tolland-Granville School District for statements, but we have not heard back yet. Joining me now is the mother of one of the victims, Allyson Lopez, along with Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the Greater Springfield NAACP. Thank you so much, both of you, for being here. I just cannot believe that your daughter has had to experience this. I mean, it's horrifying. It's shocking for many reasons. Can you explain, Alison, exactly what she has gone through now?

ALLYSON LOPEZ, DAUGHTER WAS TARGET OF ONLINE "MOCK SLAVE AUCTION": She has gone through a different level of trauma, right? When this incident first occurred, you know, I watch immediately going to a trauma response.

And today, she still has that same state of mind. It's hard for her every day. Some days could be a little bit better, depending on if she has a friend in her class to really associate herself with. But for the most part, it's a hard thing for her. She's still struggling.

COATES: That's heartbreaking, to think of what that experience is like, to know that she's got to see if she's got a safe space per classroom --

LOPEZ: Uh-hmm.

COATES: To know how her day is going to go. How did she even learn? How did you learn about this auction?

LOPEZ: I received a phone call from the school a couple of hours after she entered the school. She woke up the morning of February 9th, the day after the chat happened, and she woke up really hysterical, crying, you know, in this trauma-like behavior. I couldn't understand what was going on.

At that point, she did not have the full in depth of what happened until she got to school when one of her friends told her what they heard about it. And at that point, she quickly went to the assistant's principal office and shared what she was told, and that's when they started looking into the matter. I got a phone call.

COATES: Did the school support her?

LOPEZ: Tell me that it was an incident.

COATES: Do you feel like the school is supportive?

LOPEZ: No, I don't feel as though the school was supportive, and I don't feel like that because this was not the first incident she experienced since she has been there.

So, the day that this happened, when I spoke to her on the phone, she said to me, mom, it's not going to make a difference because it did nothing the first few times when I shared my experience with some derogatory remarks that was made towards her.

So, no, the school did not support, and she don't feel as though she was supported by the school. COATES: I mean, just thinking about her having to deal with this in any capacity, let alone the age that she is. And what was your reaction, Allyson, to the charges that were filed by the D.A.?


LOPEZ: Oh, oh, my goodness. The D.A.'s vigorous investigation that he did, I was pleased. I was pleased to a certain level. But that quickly went away less than 24 hours later, because less than --


LOPEZ: -- 24 hours later is when the school once again had more derogatory remarks written in the restrooms.

COATES: Bishop Swan, let me bring you in here because I understand you were critical of the way the school handled the investigation overall. Why?

BISHOP TALBERT SWAN, PRESIDENT, GREATER SPRINGFIELD NAACP: Well, when you do an investigation, it seems to me that you would -- that you would interview the victim or the victim's parents. And then they quickly came to conclusion that included the two suspensions you mentioned by two individuals. But for the most part, most of the students that were involved were back in school within 48 hours. And then we find out later that one of the students is the child of a sitting school committee member.

And so, I think that the school district had a vested interest more so in protecting the reputation of the school, protecting the students that were involved, protecting the children of school committee members than they were protecting the victims of these heinous acts.

COATES: You know, I was a kid who was bullied throughout elementary school. And there's always this tension because you want to ask for help. But you know that once the kids get in trouble, then you've got their friends and the circle of friends who are now going to antagonize you as a result of what you've done. And how hurtful that can really be.

I'm just so sad to know that she's had to experience this, but I am totally encouraged by how proactive, Allyson, you are as a mother to wrap your arms around her figuratively and literally, and the community as well, to support her, bishop, because it's not right, it's not fair, and I hope that she sees these charges as someone taking what she is experiencing seriously.

Allyson Lopez, Bishop Talbert Swan, thank you both so much.

LOPEZ: Thank you very much.

SWAN: Thank you, Laura.

COATES: Well, thank you all for watching. Our coverage continues.