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Laura Coates Live

Trump To SCOTUS: Rejecting Immunity Claim "Would Be The End Of The Presidency As We Know It"; Lawyer Who Exposed Fani Willis Affair Speaks Out; Appeals Court Puts Texas Immigration Law Back On Hold; Black Man Tortured By Six Former Officers Speaks Out; Trump Sues ABC, George Stephanopoulos For Defamation. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired March 19, 2024 - 23:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: And in the late 80s, he was replaced by Timothy Dalton, who appeared in only two films. Pierce Brosnan brought "Bond" into the 2000s and starred in the highest grossing "Bond" version up until that time.

And the most recent, Daniel Craig, he announced "No Time to Die" would be his last. Craig's casting in 2006 was met with backlash, fans threatening to boycott because of his blond hair, blue eyes, and hunky looks. But the tone quickly changed after "Casino Royale" hit theaters and went on to play the "Iconic Spy" four more times.

And so, if the role does go to Aaron Taylor-Johnson, hopefully, he knows how to order a Martini the "Bond" way, shaken, not stirred.

And thank you for watching "NewsNight." "Laura Coates Live" starts right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Do you know who I've got on the show tonight? I'm talking to Ashleigh Merchant, the lawyer who got Nathan Wade kicked off the Fani Willis prosecution team. What exactly was her goal? Well, I'll ask her.

And Mississippi men who were tortured by the "Goon Squad" face two of their torturers in court today, those former cops who will now swap their badges for prison jumpsuits. That and more tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

You know, I really could not wait to talk to all of you tonight. I'm between these former cops in Mississippi finally being sentenced for what they did to two innocent men, to Trump asking for absolute immunity. Well, we have got a lot to talk about, don't we?

Well, tonight, Trump gave us all some more insight into why he thinks he should have absolute immunity, telling the Supreme Court in a brief that if they don't give him immunity, it would -- quote -- "be the end of the Presidency as we know it and would irreparably damage our Republic." Hmm.

Now, Trump talked about it just last month, saying the quiet part out loud. I don't know how quiet really is these days, but it's all about avoiding being indicted.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is nothing more important to a presidency than immunity because they have to be free to make decisions without saying, oh, if I do this or if I do that, as soon as I get out of office, we're going to be indicted.


COATES: That's true. There's probably a lot of things a president can do without fear of being indicted criminally. Right? Well, one way is maybe not doing the things that might get you into what I digress details, as they say. Right?

Now, Trump's legal team is arguing that future presidents could face -- quote -- "de facto blackmail and extortion while in office" if the justices don't buy his sweeping view of immunity.

They've got a plan B, though, don't they? The ever popular delay, delay, delay tactic. Send the case back to the lower courts to see whether any partial theory of immunity might apply. And that, of course, would do what? It would delay and push a trial back for months. But that's a federal case even just in the slightest sense.

And there are others, including state trials, are there not? There are parallels, obviously, between January 6th, the one happening in Washington, D.C., whenever that trial might take place, and the one in Georgia.

And that one in Georgia, well, that captivated the nation, not just for the facts that have been alleged in the case and the number of co- defendants, but for the attempt to disqualify the lead prosecutors. And I'm talking about people like Fani Willis, the D.A. of Fulton County.

And ever since I've been covering this case and, of course, that hearing, those dates of those hearings, I've had a lot of questions, especially since the judge decided to keep Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis on the case and tell Nathan Wade to leave.

Well, tonight, I'll ask the lawyer who fought to disqualify her because she's here tonight to react to the ruling allowing her to stay on the case and what happens next.

Joining me now, Ashleigh Merchant, the attorney who called for Fani Willis, the D.A. in Fulton County, to be disqualified. Ashleigh, so good to have you on the show this evening. How are you?

ASHLEIGH MERCHANT, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I'm good. Thank you so much for having me.

COATES: Well, I have been watching, as the nation did as well, the entirety of the trial. You had this motion to disqualify the Fulton County D.A. As you know, it failed. The judge thinking it did not meet your burden of trying to prove that she had a conflict of interest that would hurt a right to a fair trial.

Now, you are appealing that decision, but tell me, on what grounds are you going to appeal?

MERCHANT: We're appealing it on a couple of different grounds. We definitely thought that there was evidence of forensic misconduct. So, we thought that the judge got that wrong and that there was evidence based on a couple of things that she did. One of them was this -- what we call a church speech. You know, after I filed the motion and before it actually was responded to, she went at Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.


She went in front of the church and actually gave this speech. It's almost like sermon where she was talking about my motives, talking about my client's motives, talking about the different, you know, factors of the case, that she had hired three different people and that we were only calling out one and that it must be racist. So that was one count.

There was also a book, that she gave some unprecedented access to the authors into the decision-making room where she made decisions on this indictment. So, we thought that was forensic misconduct.

But that, plus the relationship and plus the way that everyone testified, the manner that they testified, we think all of that was enough to show that she should be removed from this case.

COATES: And yet, Ashleigh, the judge did not agree with you on a number of those aspects. I mean, the church speech in particular, he did address that notion, did believe that it may have had an impact on a jury pool. But, of course, it was a prospective one that was in the distant future.

But on the issues, particularly of the misconduct and the witnesses themselves, you know, you had witnesses who took the stand. There were a couple that really stood out to me. One was the former employee of the D.A.'s office. There weren't many follow-up questions to corroborate when she had seen them kiss or hug in that respect.

Also, you had the former law partner and friend and lawyer of Nathan Wade, Terrence Bradley, I believe, and it seemed as though he was refusing to admit much of the conversations you claimed to have had with him. He was evasive. He did not want to answer questions citing privilege. Do you think he led you astray, and did you misjudge the quality of his testimony?

MERCHANT: No. And you know why? I know Terrence. I've known him for many years. I think he was truthful in his conversations with me. And if you look at how things happen, you look at the timeline, he was talking to me, he was very truthful, he had a lot of context, and that's one of the things that we look for when we're evaluating credibility. Do you have context to what you're telling? And he would tell me things and then give me context. You know, give me details that only someone who actually had firsthand knowledge would know. And I was also able to corroborate a lot of things. So, he gave me details such as Robin Yeartie. He led me to Robin Yeartie, and I was able to actually corroborate Robin Yeartie, corroborate the condo. He had led me to that. So those were things that told me that he was telling me the truth. But when he was on the stand - -

COATES: Oh, excuse me. I was going (INAUDIBLE) that very point. I'm sure you're going the same way. He may have led you to believe that prior to actually taking the stand. But the first time we saw him, he was saying that he couldn't say anything without the Bar of Georgia essentially giving him an opinion that he could. Had an in-camera conversation with the judge about this very issue. And really, I mean, it was no easy feat trying to get him to answer a single one of your questions, even when you sent him a text message.

MERCHANT: Right. It was very difficult. And I could tell, when he -- when he was testifying, he looked at me and said, I'm trying to save my law license, and I knew based on the timeline that the weekend before, he had received a phone call from Mr. Wade through his best friend who had reminded him of his privilege. So, at that point, I knew.

And you can almost tell my demeanor changed in my questioning at that point because when he said that, I knew that he was worried about protecting his law license and he was not going to explain anything in detail. And so, it was going to -- it was going to be incumbent upon me to pull out those text messages and to remind him of everything that we talked about.

COATES: Are you suggesting that whatever phone call may have been made by Nathan Wade through a best friend as intermediary to his former counsel was somehow witness tampering or just saying that he was reminding him of an attorney-client relationship?

MERCHANT: Well, we made those allegations in court that it wasn't -- we didn't make allegation that it was actually witness tampering --

COATES: Uh-hmm.

MERCHANT: -- but he did call (INAUDIBLE) who was under subpoena and told him through a friend to pass along a message to remind him that he had privilege. And so, I do think that that was something that Mr. Bradley internalized, and that was the first time I had heard privilege.

So, prior to that, we had never heard the term "privilege" in all of our conversations. We've been talking for months. The term "privilege" had never come up. That had never been something where, you know, Mr. Bradley said, oh, let me tell you this, but it's privilege. Nothing like that. So, the first time that word even came up was when Mr. Wade interjected it into the conversation.

COATES: I wonder if there was more than one goal here, because on the one hand, disqualification was certainly the goal. It was stated as such in your motion.

But it seemed as though another goal was to perhaps fatally -- fatally undermine the credibility of this prosecution team which, frankly, is the right of defense counsel to zealously advocate for their clients.

Do you think you were successful in trying to undermine the credibility of the prosecuting team?

MERCHANT: Well, that was never a goal, and it's unfortunate that their conduct is what led to that. But we did uncover a lot of conduct that I do think undermined their credibility rightfully so. I think there's a lot of questions on their credibility. I think there's a lot of questions on misspending.

You know, there were a lot of things that we were not able to bring because it wasn't relevant. So, there were a lot of questions that you would hear objected to, and I was not able to go into because of relevance, particularly the money issues. So, we weren't able to establish all of that because we weren't permitted to go into that because of relevancy grounds.


But I do think that now there's a lot of other entities that are investigating, and they'll be able to determine, hopefully, whether or not there was any misspending of public money, whether or not there were any other things that were going on that were illegal.

COATES: Of course, that was what the judge pointed out in terms of the relevancy and thinking about, normally, if there is an issue of credibility or otherwise, you take him down to the bar, the Georgia State Bar I'm talking about, not the drinking kind, to deal with ethical issues of this nature.

But on that point, you really didn't think that bringing up and having a motion to disqualify Nathan Wade and Fani Willis as the D.A. based on what you said was, you know, a lack of candor and really intimating lying to the court, that that would have an impact on their credibility?

MERCHANT: Oh, no, I definitely knew that that would have an impact. What I said was that's not my goal. So that wasn't my goal. And, you know, it's one of those things as a defense lawyer, when you have information, you sit there and you think, if I do not use this, if I don't file this motion, no matter what harm it does to me, if I don't file that, am I going to one day be on the stand testifying at a post- conviction hearing explaining why I had all this information and why I had case law to back it up and I didn't file that motion?

And so that's what we're in a position. A lot of folks don't, you know, who have never done what we do, who've never done defense work, may not understand that when we have this information, and Mr. Bradley called me and gave me all this information, I followed up on it and I tracked it all down, but once I had all that and I had the case law that supported my arguments, I had a duty to bring that motion. So, if I had not done that, I actually would have been deficient in my own performance.

COATES: Well, you know, the judge did not think he met the burden, but taking a big picture for a second, I mean, we all remember this moment when Fani Willis, the D.A., held up the paperwork and the motions, actually requested the motions that she could hold up for you in court. You accused her of lying. She accused you of the same in open court. How do you respond to that?

MERCHANT: I mean, at the time, I wasn't the one who was testifying. I very much wish I could have been testifying. And so that was difficult because, you know, when you're an advocate and you're in court, you're asking the questions, you don't really get the opportunity to testify. And I had to wait until the judge ruled, you know, out of fairness, until he ruled on the motion before I could actually address those issues.

But it's very unfortunate when someone is calling you something and you know that it's not true and you can't really defend yourself.

COATES: That seemed to be her point, too, right?

MERCHANT: Right. Well, but she had the opportunity on the stand. You know, she had the opportunity on the stand. She had the ability to bring other evidence. If she wanted, she could have brought other evidence.

And I can tell you, if someone was accusing me of having an affair that I wasn't having and I had evidence, such as text records, such as phone records, such as credit card receipts, you better believe I would have brought that to court.

COATES: Well, that's interesting because, you know, I might hold you to that when you talk about whether your own client will take the stand in his own defense because one could argue, if you don't have the burden to prove, you don't have to do anything to do so.

But I'll move on for a second on that point because you mentioned the word "relevance." And for so many people who were looking at this motion and this trial, they thought to themselves, okay, well, they were leaning in because it was intriguing to say the least.

But none of it went to any of the facts alleged in the underlying indictment against the defendants in this case, against any of the defendants in this case, including former president, let alone your own client. And it was meant to simply be a way to stall or delay and not have this case be heard before the looming presidential election.

Why do you not want the American people to hear a conclusion of this trial before that election?

MERCHANT: Oh, I very much would like to go to trial. But the problem is, and I think the reason that a lot of the public didn't really understand what was behind this or, you know, the reasons for filing this is because they may not understand due process in our Constitution. We have a right to have a fair and impartial prosecutor evaluate the case, and that didn't happen in this case.

COATES: I saw that in "The Washington Post," they reported that the former president, Donald Trump, liked your motion so much that they had an aide ask his lawyer, Steve Sadow, to call you and congratulate you. Is that true? What was your reaction to that call?

MERCHANT: My reaction to that article was very surprised. I was surprised and I don't know who talked about that. You know, I did not have -- I didn't have any help. So, you know, I think it's important to look back at how this began. This was me. This was not an effort by anyone else. I filed this alone.

And if you look back at the timeline, I filed this on the deadline that my motions were due. Nobody joined my motion for well over a week. And you even see Donald Trump's lawyer in court a few days later saying he had to evaluate whether or not he was even going to join it. So, I think that is clear evidence that this was not an effort. This was not an effort by anyone else.

And so, I know that everybody likes to sort of lump all of the defendants together and say, oh, well, this was, you know, Donald Trump's motion or this, you know, this was his -- this is his lawyer or something like that. I represent Michael Roman. That is who I represent. That is my duty. And I was the only one that filed this motion.

COATES: Uh-hmm.

MERCHANT: I had help once they all joined.


I was very pleased to have the team, you know, surround me and embrace the motion and embrace all the evidence I had developed. But I want to be clear that this was not a motion filed by anybody else. This was something that I had developed and planned.

COATES: I will give you credit where your credit litigation wise is due and having filed it. But does that mean that you could get help once you filed it? Has any of the money that Mr. Trump has raised for his own defense been used to help pay legal bills for your client, Mr. Roman?

MERCHANT: No, not at all. And that's -- you know, I think that's one of the things that I did want to address because it's -- you know, it has been convoluted. And I'm certainly not saying that I need to take credit for everything that -- you know, it's all my credit.

My response was to your question about whether or not I had assistance from Donald Trump and from that legal group. And while I didn't -- you know, we weren't adversaries or anything like that. I just wanted to make it clear that this was not something that was started by that camp or anything like that.

COATES: Well, I hear you. But actually, my question was whether the president through an aide contacted you to congratulate you on the motion. Did that happen?

MERCHANT: I was congratulated on the motion. Unfortunately, I don't know who contacted anyone. So, I want to make sure I'm very accurate. I don't know who contacted. I don't know if it was an aide. I don't know who it was. But I did have a lot of people, including people, you know, surrounding that organization definitely reach out to me.

I was very surprised at how many people reached out in support and people from all different political paths. So that was -- that was nice. And, you know, the legal community in Atlanta definitely embraced this. There were a lot of critics, obviously, but most of the critics were not local.

COATES: Did Trump call you, Ashleigh? That's a question I want you to answer.

MERCHANT: No. I know I answered that. And I said, no. I said, no. And I don't know who it is. And I just want to make clear, I don't know who it was who called someone to call me. So, you know --


Right. I try to be very cautious about saying something that's true and that's not true. I do not know who called someone to call me. I received a call-in support, yes, but I don't know who originated that call. I don't know who asked anybody to make that call. The article that you referred to was the first time I'd actually heard that, that there was an aide involved. I didn't know about that.

COATES: Before I let you go, Ashleigh, I just want to circle back, because this was a very big elephant in the room for many people who are watching this trial. You referenced in the beginning of our conversation that the church speech that Fani Willis gave, one of your co-defendants through counsel described it as obviously having been written in advance, playing the race card.

Clearly, you do see that there are more. There was more than one other prosecutor on this team aside from Nathan Wade. He is a Black man. There have been thoughts that this was someone who was singled out because of his race, that they were questioning his credentials, that they were questioning his professionalism and a whole number of matters, in addition, of course, to the allegations of a relationship that is based on a conflict of interest.

Did you or your co-defendants pursue this motion, I'll be very clear, with race in mind?

MERCHANT: I can't speak for anyone but myself, so I can't speak for any co-defendants. But I know that I did not. And it's -- you know, if you look at the facts, that's a clear answer. You know, nobody would -- first of all, nobody would call me a racist. That's just not something that anybody would think of who actually knows me.

COATES: Which I am not. Which I am not, of course.

MERCHANT: Right. And I understand that. And I just -- you know, that was just one of the prefaces. But what I want to make clear is that church speech, whether or not there was racial motivation, there was only one prosecutor that was in a relationship with Fani Willis.

There was only one prosecutor who was making $36,000 a month. There was only one prosecutor who pretty much everyone who knows all of the people in this legal community would say was not typically qualified. There was only one prosecutor that had never handled a RICO case. There was only one prosecutor who was making that much money.

So, you've got the one prosecutor who's having an affair, you've got the one prosecutor who has never handled a RICO case, and you've got the one prosecutor who is making a lot more than all the others.

So, instead of going over those facts, race was brought into it, which clearly had no relevance whatsoever. The other two prosecutors, their bills are very minor. And the other two prosecutors are, to everybody on both sides of the aisle, experts. They have done numbers of RICO cases.

I mean, John Floyd wrote the RICO statute in Georgia. Anna Cross, I have known her for 20 years. I've known all of these people for 20 years. And nobody would say that Anna Cross or John Floyd were not RICO specialists. Plus, their bills were very different than Mr. Wade's.

So, you know, one of the things that I think was most striking to me about that church speech was when I heard it, the first thing I said, why is she lying? Why is Ms. Willis lying about how much these people made? John Floyd was not paid the same rate as the other two prosecutors.


They all had caps on their monthly bills. They were not the same. So, you know, the speech says, oh, this is about race. You're only calling out the one person. There was only one person that was having sex with Fani Willis, there was only one person that was billing these exorbitant rates, and there was only one person that had never tried a RICO case. That's why that came out.

COATES: Well, and I hear you on that. The judge, of course, did not have any of his experience and qualifications be a part of this particular hearing. He did not deem it to be relevant, did not find that you met your burden of proof.

Interesting, I don't recall anyone having the direct questions about sex with Fani Willis and Nathan Wade in the same way you described it today. But, of course, an appeal will be -- have had in this instance. And certainly, the trial seems to be marching forward with at least one of them remaining. Ashleigh Merchant, thank you so much for joining today.

MERCHANT: Thanks for having me.

COATES: We've got some breaking news in right now. An appeals court putting that controversial Texas immigration law back on hold. This just hours after the Supreme Court gave it the green light. We'll talk about what's going on and why next.


[23:25:40] COATES: We have breaking news that has just come in tonight. A federal appeals court has just put Texas's controversial immigration law back on hold. In a brief order, a three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has already voted now to wipe away a previous ruling from a different panel on that circuit court that had temporarily put the law into effect.

Joining me now, former Trump Homeland Security official Miles Taylor. Miles, so good to see you tonight. First of all, this has been quite the back and forth, whiplash to say the least, when it comes to this immigration law. And by the way, it's controversial because it allowed officials to arrest migrants -- and here's the keyword -- suspected of coming into the country illegally, which many looked at as a recipe for racial profiling. What do you think is going on here, the back and forth?

MILES TAYLOR, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF AT DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Laura, you're absolutely right, this has been a complete ping pong process. I want to prepare viewers, this is going to continue.

But let's jump back in time. So, Texas passed this law, SB4, which would have allowed Texas police to arrest people, as you noted, who are suspected of being illegal immigrants. Why is this an extraordinary precedent they were setting? Because historically, it's the U.S. federal government that enforces immigration law.

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution says that it's the federal government that can naturalize citizens, decide whether someone becomes a citizen, and as a result, the implication is that the federal government enforces immigration law.

It would be very novel for a state to be enforcing federal laws. And more than just novel, as someone who used to be a chief of staff at DHS, it would be remarkably chaotic and confusing because you can imagine scenarios where the federal government and state governments would disagree on the enforcement of the law, and that could lead to flashpoints.

So, this, of course, went to the courts, and then it got paused in the courts. It went up to the Supreme Court. It just got kicked back down. It got paused again.

And, Laura, I would predict we are very, very likely to see this end up back in the Supreme Court, which, by the way, did not decide on the merits of the case today when they made their decision, but they're going to have to eventually because you can bet Texas is going

to continue to appeal this.

COATES: And mind you, there will be oral arguments tomorrow. They were already scheduled in the Fifth Circuit about this very issue. So, we'll all be watching and see what happens there. And, again, this notion of the resources, I mean, you're a national security expert, when I think about these issues, the resources being devoted in this manner, does that actually undermine the ability to have the national security defense apparatuses at play and working efficiently? TAYLOR: Well, it really does, Laura. It puts the state government in conflict with the federal government. And, look, two things can be true. You can have the view that this is chaotic legally, and you can also have the view that the immigration system is broken. Regardless of your politics and where you stand on this issue, you can hold that opinion, that this could be a disaster to enforce.

And it's a dangerous precedent to start letting states compete with the federal government on enforcement of federal law. It leads to lots of problems. And down on the ground, again, that could lead to flashpoints between immigration officers that work for the Department of Homeland Security and people who work for Texas law enforcement.

Now, if this were to have gone into effect right away, if this pause hadn't happened tonight, I'm sure Secretary Ali Mayorkas, who runs DHS, would have acted like a professional and tried to find a way to work with Texas law enforcement so this didn't get chaotic. But there's no guarantee of that. I'm sure the courts are open to those arguments.

The Biden Justice Department has really pointed out that this is not a partisan thing, but that there really is a problem with chain of authority here if you've got that competition between the federal and the state government.

But, Laura, this does expose the fact that, again, our immigration system is very broken, and Congress's refusal to take an action has created this circumstance where Texas is now trying to do the federal government's job, and you've got complete uncertainty in the U.S. justice system.

COATES: I don't know what you mean. Congress is fully functioning, not dysfunctional at all. What do you mean, Miles, about that?


I just have no idea.

TAYLOR: Yeah, it's a really good point.

COATES: Yeah, it's totally fine. Let me turn my attention, though, because we'll let that rhetorical statement just linger in the ether for a second, okay? I want to ask you about Peter Navarro, though, the first former White House official to now be imprisoned for a contempt of Congress conviction.

He came into Trump orbit, as you recall, as a trade advisor. He soon became one of Trump's lions. But now, he seems to be going out like a bit of a lamb. Are we starting to see any real consequences for Trump and his lieutenants?

TAYLOR: Well, I think you absolutely are. These folks that were really willing to go off the reservation for Donald Trump are slowly, after several years, starting to suffer the consequences.

Now, I will say in full disclosure, I have a bit of a history with Peter Navarro. After I left the administration, he launched a hunt for the person suspected of being anonymous inside the administration, the anonymous critic of the president. That happened to be me.

But in the meantime, Peter Navarro's amateur hunt resulted in him pointing the finger at a bunch of people who were innocent and had not been criticizing the president. And so, he has a history of, again, going off the reservation, doing things that are going to get him in trouble.

Of course, in this case, he refused to testify and answer to a subpoena in front of the January 6th Select Committee. The courts determined that, you know, he had no recourse there. He went through all of his due process. He refused to comply with that subpoena. And Congress has that authority to call people up as witnesses in these cases. And so, he's going to prison because of it.

I think it sends a message, Laura, to other people in Trump's orbit that they are not above the law, that the law is the law, and regardless of their politics, they will be held accountable.

Now, he made a defiant speech in front of the court. I think that probably fell on deaf ears. And certainly, he might develop different opinions once he reports to the Bureau of Prisons, and he's behind bars.

COATES: He may indeed. Miles Taylor, in your fabulous hair, thank you for joining us.

TAYLOR: Thanks, Laura.


COATES: You knew it was coming. Up next, major sentences handed down for former Mississippi police officers who had the audacity to call themselves the "Goon Squad.: They tortured two Black men. And one of those men joins me next.



COATES: Tonight, justice for two Black men who experienced absolutely harrowing abuse. This at the hands of police officers. It's a story that I have brought you here before. And it's incredibly difficult to hear. But you must hear it.

It's about Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker. They were tortured by six, six former Mississippi officers. And those officers called themselves the "Goon Squad," of all things. It happened in January of 2023 just outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

It started after one of the officers, white neighbors, said that several Black men were staying at a white woman's home. The officers then showed up at the house. They knocked the door down. And what happened next was nearly two hours of pure horror. Jenkins and Parker say they were handcuffed, they were kicked, they were waterboarded, they were tased, they were called racial slurs. They had milk, alcohol, chocolate poured on their faces. Officers attempted to sexually assault them.

The torture culminating when one of the officers actually shoved a gun in Jenkins's mouth as part of a mock execution and ended up firing. The bullet lacerated his tongue and broke his jaw. Jenkins told me last year, he's lucky to be alive.


MICHAEL JENKINS, TORTURED BY POLICE: He was standing over here, and I was looking up at him like this. That's the reason why it come outside my head. If it comes to the back of my head, I probably would have been dead, if I wouldn't have been looking at him like this.


COATES: Today, that former officer who shot Michael Jenkins was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A second officer got more than 17 years. The others will be sentenced in the coming days. They pleaded guilty last August to a combined 13 felonies in connection to the torture and abuse.

Eddie Parker, one of the victims, joins me now along with his attorneys Malik Shabazz and Trent Walker. Thank you so much for being here, Eddie.

I remember, when you and I met last year, I could not believe what you had endured. I could not believe what Michael had endured. And yet, here we are, sentencing day at least for one. This man, Hunter Elward, he got 20 years. Jeffrey Middleton got more than 17. Eddie, how are you feeling tonight about these sentences?

EDDIE PARKER, TORTURED BY POLICE: I feel satisfied. It transpired -- the way it transpired. I'm satisfied with the outcome.

COATES: Yeah, they were sentenced now. It is -- I mean, nearly two decades in prison for at least one, nearly two decades for another. I mean, there was, I understand, a dramatic moment inside the courtroom today when Hunter Elward turned to you guys and said he was sorry.

Now, I don't know what that word must have meant to you in that moment, but you responded in a way that I think might surprise people. You forgave him. Why?


PARKER: It wasn't for -- it wasn't for the sorry. It wasn't for anything that he said. It was a feeling that was in me. I did it on feeling, my impulse, what God was giving me. I had to do that for myself. I guess not so much for him, but for myself and for Michael. It was something that we didn't talk about. but at the end, after it happened, it was something that we appreciated and we were thankful for. Kind of helped us move past. It was no grief, no hard feelings, no -- I guess I'd say remorse for ourselves, because we were the ones that went through it all.


PARKER: We forgave him for what he did to us. We're not holding a grudge. That's something that he had to take up with the great man himself.

COATES: You know what, Eddie? What an extraordinary person you are to have that forgiveness within you and to have that self-awareness to know that you were unwilling to carry the burden of that -- of his guilt with yourself. But still, I'm so unbelievably moved by that.

Let me ask you, Malik, because I want to play for a moment what Hunter Elward's parents said to our own Ryan Young outside of court today. Listen to this.


EDDIE ELWARD, FATHER OF CONVICTED OFFICER: He couldn't live with it anymore himself. Healing starts when you tell the truth.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Why was it important for your son to tell the truth?

ELWARD: Because that's the only way he could heal. He was torn apart by what had happened that night. He knew that wasn't him. What happened to those two gentlemen, he could not live with anymore.


COATES: When you hear this officer's father talk about the officer's healing journey, I wonder what your reaction is to that.

MALIK SHABAZZ, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL JENKINS AND EDDIE PARKER: My reaction is to reflect on the fact that Hunter Elward, who weighs about 270 pounds, and in July of 2021, he had his knee in the back of Damien Cameron while Luke Stickman, another Rankin County officer, had his knee on Damien Cameron's neck, and Damien Cameron is dead. My mind goes back to a month before this happened.

And Hunter Elward was with Christian Dedmon, and they abused another person named Alan Schmidt to the extreme. They say Elward was there and allowed Christian Dedmon to pull his pants down and put his private parts in the face of another victim that Elward had to plead guilty to crimes against also. And then -- so it wasn't just this incident.

Elward has a career of abuse. My personal opinion is that Hunter Elward was sorry because he got caught, and if he hadn't got caught, he would be abusing and killing today.

But I understand totally the trauma that Mr. Parker has been through. He has to be able to release, I understand that, but I believe that Hunter Elward, he's glad he's off of the streets, he's very dangerous, and I'm happy that justice has come to him. And so, that's my perspective on Hunter Elward.

COATES: My goodness, I see both of you, gentlemen, Malik and also Trent, embracing at different points in time. Eddie, you have watched this trauma from an unfortunate front-row seat. And you know between these camera moments and between these courtroot experiences, we're talking about two human beings, men, tortured and tormented in the way they are.

And I hope that no one takes for granted, even for a second, Trent, what this trauma has been like for these men. And just hearing the statements of Malik, Trent, we could be at the beginning of a federal investigation into the patterns and practices of the Rankin County Sheriff's Department. How do you see this moving forward?

TRENT WALKER, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL JENKINS AND EDDIE PARKER: We are very hopeful in that regard. Certainly, the Department of Justice has not made that official, but it looks like all the pieces are in place for them to move forward with a pattern and practice investigation beginning today with Hunter Elward's own statements about the culture of violence that existed at the department for the seven years that he was a deputy there and a statement that you could not work on that night shift without being part or at least condoning the violence that went on that was perpetrated by the "Goon Squad."


So, this was not an isolated incident. I think that it has certainly been documented at this time that this is something that has gone on with about 20 years of documented cases.

COATES: Eddie, if I can ask you, and I don't want to talk around you because you and your experience, you and Michael's has shown quite a light on what has happened here, and I thank you for bringing your pain to the world because we can learn from and we can act on it, if you could say anything to these officers, there are more sentences to be doled out this week, what would it be?

PARKER: At the beginning, it was inevitable for you to fight the truth. So, with what transpired this evening, what tried to transpire this evening was evil trying to take away the truth. So, don't take away the truth. You know, like his father said, the best way to get past, you know, get on the healing is, you know, being, you know, telling the truth and being truthful with yourself.

COATES: You are really such an inspirational man. And thank you so much for joining us. And I'm so glad to know that you know enough not to carry their sentences on your own back. Eddie Parker, thank you so much. And gentlemen, thank you for joining us. We're thinking of Michael as well.

SHABAZZ: Thank you.

WALKER: Thank you.

COATES: We'll be right back.



COATES: With all of Donald Trump's legal cases, you may be surprised to learn he has filed another lawsuit, or maybe actually you won't be surprised. This one is against ABC News and anchor George Stephanopoulos for defamation. The allegation stemmed from an interview on their Sunday morning show this Week with Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace earlier this month.

Mace, who has spoken publicly about being raped at the age of 16, endorsed Donald Trump for president. Stephanopoulos pushed Mace over that endorsement, given that Trump has been found liable for sexual abuse.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: You've endorsed Donald Trump for president.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Donald Trump has been found liable for rape by a jury. Donald Trump has been found liable for defaming the victim of that rape by a jury. It has been affirmed by a judge.

MACE: It was not a criminal court case, number one. Number two, I live with shame. And you're asking me a question about my political choices, trying to shame me as a rape victim, and I find it disgusting.


COATES: ABC News declined to comment on the lawsuit to CNN. You will recall that Trump was sued for defamation by E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. A jury unanimously found Trump sexually abused Carroll and ultimately awarded her almost $90 million for battery and defamation.

Joining me now is trial attorney Ken Turkel, who has tried a number of high-profile cases, including Hulk Hogan's case against Gawker and Sarah Palin's libel case against "The New York Times."

Ken, always a pleasure to see you. I want to pick your brain here because this lawsuit takes issue with the use of the word "rape." Writing, and I'll read here, "His repeated statements that plaintiff was found liable for rape were false, intentional, malicious and designed to cause harm." Trump was found liable for sexual abuse. Does this rise to the level of defamation in your mind?

KEN TURKEL, TRIAL ATTORNEY: Laura, thanks for having me. It's always a pleasure. You're a trial lawyer and you see the jury interrogatory and it says, did she prove by preponderance of the evidence that he's liable for rape? And it says no. That's very clear. It's not something subject to interpretation as far as someone repeating it over and over again. It's a provably false statement. He was not found liable for rape on that verdict form.

Now, where it gets a little different, particularly in a public figure case, is whether George Stephanopoulos, when he makes these statements, is making them acknowledge that falsity, or are we in this world of a contextual semantic issue where most states don't really have a rape law? Most states called sexual assault or sexual battery. There are states that still call it rape, including New York.

And in that respect, do we really have provable falsity or is it substantially true? Because if you're listening to that in Florida, we don't have a rape statute. When you say rape, it means sexual battery or sexual assault. And you do have a finding in that verdict form of sexual abuse, I think, or sexual assault.

And so, when you say, is it defamation? Well, George Stephanopoulos certainly knows the verdict form does not say liable for rape. There's a clear no check there. I mean, you can't get around the fact that that's objective.

But what I would assume they're going to defend with is saying to a regular common man listening to that, a common person listening to that, what does the word "rape" mean, and did he say it with that kind of context or did he mean as a term of art, as it would have read on the jury forms? Does that resonate? We're going to get into sort of a semantic fight about it. I think it's probably a good defense.

COATES: What about the actual malice aspect? You mentioned a public figure in particular. I mean, obviously, Donald Trump is a public figure, maybe as a president, the quintessential one.


TURKEL: They don't get more public. And --

COATES: Uh-hmm.

TURKEL: -- at the end of the day, we've got to prove either the statement was uttered with actual knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard. That goes back to the simplest version of this case. At first glance, we looked at it and kind of liked it in the sense that what are you going to say? The verdict form says he wasn't found liable for rape. You're repeating this over and over. I mean, he would not let go of the terminology.

But the question is, as he's saying that, is he meaning rape as a term of art under New York statutes or is he referring to the other part of the verdict where there was a finding of sexual abuse or assault?

And, you know, I think that in a public figure case, that could be a fairly interesting issue. It has been used before. That defense, they would call it a substantially true defense. Right? I think Judge Kaplan actually addressed that at some point with respect to whether that difference in verbiage meant anything substantively. Right? And so, I would tell you at the very basic level, though, he had to have known that the verdict form did not say he was found liable for rape because it's clear. There's no complicated verdict interrogatory there. It's one line.

COATES: Well, I can tell you this case might for some people look very cut and dry. But, as you know, defamation actions can be very nuanced. You specialize in part in them as well. So, I'm talking to the expert in that particular area. So, thank you for being with me tonight. But, you know, this is not the end of it. We'll have to talk again because this is going to have some legs. Don't you think, Ken Turkel?

TURKEL: I definitely think that it --


TURKEL: -- presents different issues. I was a little fascinated. The question is, does it stay in Florida? And what do you do about Donald Trump as a libel proof plaintiff, which to me may be the more fascinating argument there?

COATES: Well, another day. We'll talk about that soon. Ken Turkel, as always, thank you so much.

TURKEL: Good seeing you, Laura. Thank you for having me.

COATES: And thank you all for watching. Our coverage continues.