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Laura Coates Live

Trump Faces Historic Criminal Trial; Laura Coates Answers Callers' Questions; Court Of Public Opinion Takes On The DEI Debate. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired April 12, 2024 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's full speed ahead for Donald Trump's historic criminal trial. Is it a titanic moment in the making? I'll explain. Also, tonight, so many questions about this trial and how it'll all work on Monday. I'll be taking your calls and your questions live in just a few moments. Plus, our Court of Public Opinion takes on one of the hottest topics in America today, DEI. Has it gone too far or not far enough? The debate, tonight on LAURA COATES LIVE.

All right, now, we're just three days away. Donald Trump's hush money trial, as it's often called, gets underway on April 15th. It will share a page in the history books alongside something that happened 112 years ago on the very same day.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Is there anyone there?

UNKNOWN: Yes, what do you see?

UNKNOWN: Iceberg right ahead.


COATES: I can't believe that's the same day. But the Titanic, it was considered unsinkable, the biggest, the best, the most luxurious. Sounds familiar? It was not just unsinkable, it was unthinkable, until the moment the Titanic ran up against that iceberg and sank on, you guessed it, April 15th.

But instead of icebergs, Donald Trump has been navigating, well, indictments. And now, he's coming up against one that could threaten to sink his presidential campaign, his criminal trial in New York. And remember, he's got to get off the campaign trail and sit in that courtroom. And with three days to go, it looks like, well, it's full speed ahead.

Judge Juan Merchan tonight throwing out team Trump's latest attempt to delay the trial of what they now claim is excessive pretrial publicity, which, by the way, may be the first and only time that Donald Trump has ever objected to publicity. Let's remember what this is all about.

An alleged scheme in 2016 to pay off adult film star and director Stormy Daniels to stop her from speaking publicly about what she says an affair with Donald Trump years before. You'll hear it called a hush money trial, but the charges are really about, as a state, falsifying business records to cover up the payments, which are felonies.

Trump has pleaded not guilty. He has completely denied the affair ever took place. And tonight, he announced that he would testify in that trial, though -- I mean, it remains to be seen whether he actually would take the stand eventually. Meanwhile, he is making it very clear that he is focused on the jurors who have his fate in their hands.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, jury selection is largely luck. It depends who you get.


COATES: Well, now, I want to bring in Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and host of the "It's Complicated" podcast. Also, with us now, Marcus Childress, former January 6th Committee investigative counsel. Gentlemen, I'm glad you're both here.

Okay, he's calling a little bit of luck. I mean, luck be a lady, lady justice, I guess they should say. It's more than just luck, though. It's also about strategy and a number of other factors.

Renato, let me begin with you here. Here's how Judge Juan Merchan responded to Trump's request to throw out the trial based, again, on publicity. And by the way, he cited Trump's two former New York trials, saying -- quote -- "He was personally responsible for generating much, if not most, of the surrounding publicity with his public statements." So, is there anything at this point now, Renato, first of all, left for Trump to try to do at this point to stop what's happening on Monday?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, PODCAST HOST: Well, I certainly wouldn't put anything past Trump. He's very creative in terms of finding ways to delay legal proceedings. But I just don't see it happening, Laura. I really think we are full steam ahead on Monday, to use your term. And that's really something because, obviously, there has been a heck of a lot of delay in all of these legal cases against Trump. And now, for the first time, we're going to see the criminal trial of a former president.

COATES: How about the publicity statements he's making? I mean, the idea that it's -- it's -- it's core. He's trying to suggest he couldn't possibly get a fair or non-biased jury, right? That's why the publicity issue is a problem for him.


MARIOTTI: You know, I'm -- I guess that's going (ph) to delay the trial. He can make those make those arguments. It's smart for him to make those arguments. The judge is correct that he is partially to blame for that because he's generating a lot of that publicity through his constant messaging about this trial and making that the center point of his campaign.

The reality is that regardless of what a juror has heard about a case, as long as they testify and sell the judge that they can be fair, and the judge believes that and credits that, the judge is generally going to allow that to go forward and that it's not going to be reversible on appeal.

COATES: Marcus, let me turn to you here, because Trump is also saying tonight that he wants to testify. Listen to this.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Do you plan to testify in your trial in New York?

TRUMP: Yeah, I would testify. Absolutely. It's a scam. It's a scam. That's not a trial. That's not a trial. That's a scam.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): What are you watching as jury selection begins in New York?

TRUMP: Well, you know, jury selection is largely luck. It depends who you get. It's very unfair that I'm having a trial there.


COATES: All right, look, if you're D.A. Bragg, Marcus, would you want to see Trump on the stand?

MARCUS CHILDRESS, FORMER JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: Yes. I mean, it's like Christmas Day for any prosecutor and a defendant who wants to take the stand for being honest, especially when they have a public record of what former President Trump has, of talking in public and making statements that aren't 100% factual.

So, I think the attorney, D.A Bragg, would be excited for the former president to testify. And I think this is part of the playbook that Trump always uses, that he always says he wants to talk or he wants to go out and tell the truth. He said he wanted to talk to the January 6th Committee. We gave him a subpoena to come talk. He never came and talk. And we saw how the former president did when he took the stand just a couple of weeks ago, a month ago, in another trial, right? It didn't go so well for him.

And so, look, if you're if you're D.A. Bragg or any attorneys working on this case, I think you are licking your chops at the opportunity of the former president to take a stand because you have so much material to be able to impeach him with and to -- and to really undermine his -- his credibility for truthfulness, which is the key if you have a defendant testifying.

COATES: I mean, when you say impeach, people think about the political part. You're talking about impeaching. Maybe I can point out why you are not telling the truth in front of a jury to undermine your credibility in the courtroom. Renato --

CHILDRESS: That's exactly right.

COATES: -- a lot of familiar faces -- Yeah. Once again, a lot of familiar faces are expected to actually testify in this case. And one of them, Michael Cohen, speaking to "Politico" about testifying, says this. Quote -- "I'm not even expected to be one of the first witnesses. I'll probably be more like in baseball: clean-up. I'll be like a fourth or fifth batter. They're going to keep me on that stand for as long as they possibly can, trying to discredit me."

I want you both to weigh into this. But let me ask you this, Renato, does it make sense to you to have Cohen as one of the later witnesses to testify?

MARIOTTI: Yeah. So, usually, if you're a prosecutor, you want to put your most problematic witnesses in the middle of the case.

COATES: Uh-hmm.

MARIOTTI: Jurors usually pay the most attention to what happens at the very beginning and at the very end. So, you want to get -- to get off to a very solid start to your case. You don't want Michael Cohen and scathing cross-examination to be the first thing that they see about your case. And the last thing that -- before they go into the jury room and close -- and have closing arguments, you want that to be solid as well. You don't want your case to end on a bad note.

So, usually, your flipper or whoever the questionable witness is, and there's certainly a lot of material to work with in terms of Michael Cohen, you put him, you know, right in the middle of the case and clean up. He is pretty much in the middle of a batting order. So, that's about right.

COATES: Well, just for the record, on CNN, LAURA COATES LIVE is the closer. Thank you very much. Marcus, I want to ask you this, about this theory from former federal prosecutor Ankush Khardori. He writes this. The Trump team could -- quote -- "ask the judge to give the jury the option of convicting him on lesser, misdemeanor offenses instead of that felony counts that have actually been brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his team of prosecutors."

Is that a legitimate strategy to you?

CHILDRESS: I think it's a legitimate strategy and something that defense counsel frequently do. I mean, I saw it in my experiences when I was prosecuting cases, was that a lot of times, the evidence was strong. You would see defendants argue for the lesser included charges. You just said in here, that would just be falsifying the records to defraud rather than falsifying the records, you know, to aid or conceal another crime such as campaign finance laws or tax laws.

And so, look, I think it could be smart because anytime you can bring those charges down to a misdemeanor versus a felony, that's a smart play. But the former president has a different calculus here where he may be looking just to not have any type of a state conviction attached to his name at all. And so, it will be interesting to see which path he takes. But I think for the most ordinary defendants, they would probably go for that lesser included and argue that rather than face the felony conviction.


COATES: And don't forget that the judge did not bring the charges. It's really the prerogative of the prosecutors. They have to have some buy in to this as well. Renato Marcus, stick around because there are a lot of questions about this trial.

And tonight, you know, we're doing something a little bit different. We're going to answer them live, not just from our different discussions and people who've just seen, but your questions.

So, if you want to participate, just go to You fill out the form, you type in your question there, and then we'll reach out to have you call in as the trial unfolds.

Let's go to our first caller of the night. We've got James from Dublin, Ohio. James, what is your question?

JAMES, CALLER FROM DUBLIN, OHIO (via telephone): Thank you for the opportunity, Laura. My question is, will Trump be present during voir dire?

COATES: That's a good question, and I'll take the first stab at it. So, in a criminal case, James, the person who is the defendant must be present in the state of New York. And so, this is a part of the trial, the voir dire process. He has to get off of the campaign trail and be present for the duration of it.

Now, how long it takes will be anyone's guess. But in a high-profile trial in particular, it can be lengthy to try to get that final 12 plus alternates to sit and have that unbiased view from both the prosecution and the defense side. So, it'll be very telling how long he is there, ultimately.

Let's go to our next question here. We've got Chris from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Chris, what's your question?

CHRIS, CALLER FROM GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN (via telephone): Good evening, Laura. Thanks for taking my question. I am wondering, if Trump is convicted, what is his most likely sentence?

COATES: Yeah, that's a great question. I'm going to have Marcus. Why don't you focus on that one as well? What is your reaction?

CHILDRESS: If I heard the question right, he most likely, it was the punishment, I believe, is what it said or sentence, I think it would be like home probation or something of that nature. Look at the charge here. There's no victim per se. It's not a violent crime. The former president doesn't have a history of criminal convictions here.

So, I think it's more realistic if you look at how courts wouldn't typically rule in these types of white-collar cases where you're looking at maybe home confinement or probation of some period of time. Plus, you've got to consider he's a former president. So, there might be some logistical -- actually, not might, there will be some logistical concerns with putting him in jail per se.


CHILDRESS: So, that's what I would think would be the likely sentence.

COATES: I agree. I mean -- and also remember the maximum penalty for each of the charges. I think four years. But New York caps everything to 20 years. And so, if he were convicted on all the counts, facing more than a decade.

But as Marcus talks about, the judge has to consider a number of factors, including their criminal history and, of course, the practicality of what you would do in the equal treatment of the law to have somebody convicted of a crime not serve time, if others in that position would. And being the president of the United States, there's a lot of ifs there, and he's got the presumption of innocence so far.

Alyssa from Mattawan, Michigan. What's your question?

ALYSSA, CALLER FROM MATTAWAN, MICHIGAN (via telephone): Hi. Thank you, Laura. Can Trump's attorneys delay the trial by claiming all candidate jurors are biased during jury selection?

COATES: Hey, that's a great question, Alyssa, and certainly, he has had a field day in all the different motions that he has filed trying to delay it. But, you know, today is Friday, at the end of Friday. This jury selection will start on Monday. That's not opening statements. Remember, that's the jury selection, so he could still have some bites at the apple, potentially, to try to suggest he wants to delay.

Renato, what do you think?

MARIOTTI: Yeah, I don't think he's going to be able to delay the trial via attacking a particular bias amongst the juror. He could potentially challenge a juror for cause when they're answering questions during voir dire. But if the judge disagrees, he'll have to use one of his 10 preemptory challenges, one of his 10 strikes to get a juror off, and I don't really see any way in which he'll be able to use that as a method of delay.

COATES: And remember, for cause, right, Renato, is something that is a legitimate reason to show definitively that the person could not follow the law. But the preemptory could be for any reason they want on both sides, right? Could be the only way you looked at them. They don't like your T-shirt that day. That could be something they could use as long as it's not for an illegitimate purpose like race or gender or otherwise, right? MARIOTTI: Absolutely. Exactly.

COATES: Well, we'll see how that turns out. We've got more questions. Katherine. Katherine, what is your question? Where are you calling from?

KATHERINE, CALLER FROM REDWOOD VALLEY, CALIFORNIA (via telephone): Redwood Valley, California.

COATES: Oh, wonderful. What's your question, Katherine?

KATHERINE (via telephone): Hey, it seems that Trump is allowed to appeal each and every decision. Is this normal procedure for any defendant?

COATES: You know, we are seeing in real time what a lot of people don't always experience, and that is that a defense counsel will zealously try to defend their client based on the motions and trying to do everything they can to avoid a trial or to get the case dismissed outright.


And so, you are seeing a lot of this come to fruition. The number of similar, though, and redundant motions, Marcus, I think, is really telling here. What's your take?

CHILDRESS: Yeah, I think -- look, it's the former president that's filing these motions. And so, there is a lot of attention and probably patience given by the court for each of these motions. In real practice with other defendants, it might just be ruled on the papers or a judge might just reject the motion from the bench and just say simply a motion denied.

I think because it is former President Trump and this is such a high stakes trial, you're seeing a lot of due care given to each motion, even though it is ultimately denied.

COATES: I think that's a great point. And now, let's go to Tom from Raleigh, North Carolina, the research triangle of the United States, they say. What's your question?

TOM, CALLER FROM RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA (via telephone): Oh, thank you. Are prosecutors able to question Stormy Daniels about personal physical aspects of their alleged affair, such as physical features or unique identifiers, to dispute Trump's claim that he didn't have sexual relations with her? It seems to me that the more ironclad proof of the affair it is, the more it demonstrates premeditation and intent and falsifying records and covering up.

COATES: That's a great point. You know, Stormy was on "The View" recently. Listen to what she had to say, by the way, about being ready to testify to these different aspects of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STORMY DANIES, PORNOGRAPHIC FILM ACTRESS AND DIRECTOR: I'm absolutely ready. I've been ready. I'm hoping with all of my heart that they call me because as I showed on the stand against Michael Avenatti, no on -- I don't need someone to speak for me. And I relish the day that I get to face him and speak my truth.


COATES: Well, I'll be curious to see how much the judge allows of these questions. Remember, every question has to be weighed, which is called the probative versus prejudicial value. And probative, really, meaning, does it go to the heart of the matter, the crimes, the allegations that are actually before this jury? While we all would like to hear the salacious -- well, maybe we all would not like to hear the salacious details is up to you, the idea that the judge will have to really toe the line to suggest and confirm that this is actually about the case.

And there also could be arguments made that the prosecution would have enough evidence to support their claims, even separate and apart of the actual allegations of an affair were true or not.

Seems to me the closer you have to focus on if you are the defense or prosecution on proving an affair, the further away you are from the falsification of business records, although it does have what they call probative value with respect to what the motivation for paying her would be. But if the allegations alone would be enough to suggest a payment would be necessary, perhaps that's enough for the judge to let it all in.

Renato Marcus, thank you for helping to answer these viewer questions. And thank you to everyone who called in. Really, really provoking questions. I love that you've done so. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the upcoming Trump trial, listen, we'd love to hear from you. Just submit your questions at That was really fun to talk to all of you from across the country.

Hey, it may be the issue that President Biden is hanging his campaign on, and his V.P. is on the front line on the abortion battle tonight taking aim at, well, Donald Trump.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Trump wants us to believe he will not sign a national ban. Enough with the gaslighting.





COATES: It's one of the biggest flashpoints in the 2024 elections playing out in a split screen. Former President Trump and Vice President Kamala Harris addressing abortion head on. Trump saying that a federal abortion ban is no longer needed. But Harris warning Arizona voters, don't be hoodwinked.


TRUMP: We don't need it any longer because we broke Roe v. Wade, and we did something that nobody thought was possible. We gave it back to the state. You have some cases like Arizona that went back to like 1864 or something like that. And a judge made a ruling. But that's going to be changed by government. They're going to be changing that. I disagree with that.

HARRIS: And now, Trump wants us to believe he will not sign a national ban. Enough with the gaslighting. He basically wants to take America back to the 1800s.


COATES: So, who to believe? Well, I mean, Trump's track record on abortion has been anything but predictable, shifting more than a dozen times over the past 25 years. And Trump today was asked this.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Over the last few decades, Mr. President, you have both considered yourself pro-choice and pro-life. Which one is it?

TRUMP: Well, you know exactly which one it is.


COATES: Thing is, you didn't actually say which one it is, and there are questions about which one it is, hence, the question that was asked.

I want to bring in CNN political commentator Van Jones and CNN senior political commentator Scott Jennings. Gentlemen, first of all, I already see Van shaking his head, and I see Scott leaning in with a smirk. This is about to be good. Let me start with you, Scott, for a second here, because that wasn't actually a hard question to answer. And he danced around it. I mean, can he have it both ways? And what is the answer?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDNET TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, yeah, you can. I mean, Joe Biden has had it about 40 ways in his career. This guy has been on every side of this issue, too. Everybody's worried about Donald Trump's position. But Joe Biden has had a shifting position here.

I think Trump -- truthfully, Trump is telling us the truth about the national ban issue. And Harris is not being truthful. Here's why.

[23:25:00] There is no chance the United States Senate could ever muster 60 votes for any kind of abortion legislation of any kind. And so, the reality is all of this is going to take place in the states, just as Trump has said, and that's what we're seeing play out right now. So, I'm not surprised to see the Biden campaign using it. It's the only issue in which they have an advantage over Trump. They've lost every other issue.

But the truth is there is no national regime coming. There is no national ban. There is no restoration of Roe versus Wade, as Biden has promised. Everything that's going to happen is going to happen at the state level.

COATES: Van, what's your take?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A good try, good try. You know, I appreciate you trying. First of all, Trump was tap dancing on banana peels, bobbing, weaving. I mean, he looked terrible. He looked like the defendant in chief once again.

And Kamala Harris looked like the prosecutor in chief. If -- I hope people will -- will search for that speech. She was fantastic. And she was factual, she whooped him, she spanked him. And here's reality. Donald Trump doesn't have to go through the -- through the Congress. He could appoint somebody to be the head of the FDA that just bans all of the medical abortion pills and kill it that way.

You cannot trust Donald Trump on abortion. You can trust the Biden- Harris regime on abortion. It's really, really clear. But if you want to see the split screen, watch Donald Trump's completely ridiculous conference today, trying to have it every which way but loose, and watch Kamala Harris press the case. Kamala Harris was fantastic as a prosecutor in chief today, and Donald Trump looked terrible.

COATES: Well, let me ask you. Here's a split screen, by the way, while we're on this. A split screen may be at a debate, on a debate stage. I mean, a lot of people, we all know, we've become accustomed to presidential election year, seeing the Trump campaign is calling for much earlier debates between Trump and Biden, you see the calendar as it's set right now, increasing the number of face offs between the two before election day. Is that a fair request, Scott, to have that happen?

JENNINGS: I don't know if we need any more debates. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to it. I don't know if we need them. I do think they need to be earlier. So, I agree with that. I think if you're going to have a month or six weeks or eight weeks of voting or whatever it is people want these days, you have to have these things earlier. I mean, now, you have these debates in October and a lot of people have already voted. Certainly, most people have already made up their minds.

So, I would wholeheartedly support moving up the debates in the calendar to give the American people the chance to see these two guys debate each other before anybody has a chance to cast a vote. COATES: Well, I mean, I wonder, in your opinion, Van, are these debates still as necessary? Are they still or have they been rendered obsolete in some respect? We obviously know that Biden is yet to commit to debating Trump. He hasn't ruled it out. He's saying it in March. It depends on Trump's behavior, which you might take issue with. Are you going to debate or are you not going to debate, Mr. President But let me ask the question, is -- is the debate as important as it once was?

JONES: I mean, it's hard to know. But if I were Biden, I'd say, listen, Donald Trump has a policy of not debating Republicans. So, I'm not going to do it either. I mean, in other words, Donald Trump didn't debate a single human being. There were a bunch of people ran against him. He didn't want to show up for the debate.

Joe Biden actually has a real job called running the United States. Trump's job is to go to court, trying to go to prison. Both of them might be a little bit busy to do a whole bunch of extra debates.

I hope they do debate. But, you know, it's -- part of it is going to be such a circus. The last time Donald Trump debated, one of the times he showed up, he was full of COVID. He was acting like a lunatic. So, you can imagine why the commander-in-chief --

COATES: Hold on. Speaking of that, I want to walk down memory lane. I mean, I just want to remind people because they have debated before. I don't want to cut you off, but just listen to this, how it went last time.

JONES: Yeah.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The question is -- the question is --

TRUMP: -- the radical left.

BIDEN: Would you shut up, man?

TRUMP: Who is -- listen, who is on your list, Joe? This is --

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Gentlemen, I think --



COATES: I mean, I remember that quite well. Both of you, I mean, I see the reactions on your faces. Let me ask my question again differently. Scott, do we need that again?

JENNINGS: I do think we need it. These two guys need to debate each other. They need to show the American people some engagement here. And, you know, in the last election, I thought Biden won the first one, probably the second one. Trump, I think, won the third one. But this time of the round, they're four years older than they were. I think we need to see them together. It makes a lot of sense.

COATES: Van, what do you think?

JONES: Look, again, I think it's (INAUDIBLE) debate. Probably once would be enough. Like I said, I mean, the last time Donald Trump -- not only did he show up screaming, yelling like a lunatic, he also was full of COVID and got a bunch of people sick, almost killed Chris Christie. I mean, I can understand why, if you're trying to run a country, you may not want to be in a room with this guy. But look, I'm sure they'll get -- get in there. Everybody will underestimate Joe Biden.


They think he's going to go in there, he's going to pee on himself, he's going to fall over dead. And Biden will do a great job. Trump will be his normal self. And then we'll move on from it. But --

COATES: Is that -- is that the base?

JONES: -- three, four, five, six times.

COATES: Is that -- is that the --

JONES: That's what always happens. That's what always happens. People say, oh, Biden is going to do so terrible, he can barely walk. The Republicans set him up perfectly by lowering the bar, then he goes and does great, and then we all applaud and move on. I'm saying I think it's perfectly fine to do one or two. But I don't think we need a bunch of them. I think Trump is just doing that to try to prosecute his idea that, you know, Biden can't, you know, can't stand up to him. It's a part of Trump's psychological warfare. It's not a real plan.

COATES: Well, whenever it happens, I need both you doing play by play. I want the camera on your faces for the entire thing. I need a lot of memes to come out of it. Van Jones, Scott Jennings, thank you both so much.


Well, here's a big question that might be debated and is continuing to debate. What is diversity, equity, and inclusion? And why do people find it so divisive? Up next, a debate over whether DEI has gone too far and what our Court of Public Opinion, there they are, thinks about all of it.




COATES: Well, now, we are returning to our own Court of Public Opinion, our virtual courtroom where our in-studio audience will weigh in on the big questions of the day. And tonight, one of the hottest topics in businesses, legislatures and college campuses all across this country. Three letters, D-E-I, short for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Now, you've probably come across it at work or maybe in school. In 2023, 52% of employed U.S. adults said they have had DEI trainings or meetings at work. We do here at CNN as well, of course, and critics call DEI discriminatory. They say it's nothing but an attempt to solve discrimination against people of color by discriminating against other groups, particularly white Americans.

But supporters say DEI, which has been around for decades, is being weaponized politically and misrepresented. Since 2023, 82 anti-DEI bills targeting programs at colleges have been introduced in 28 states and in Congress. Eight have been signed into law in states like Texas and also Florida.

Well, tonight, the question for our Court of Public Opinion, has DEI gone too far? We'll hear from Coleman Hughes, the host of the "Conversations with Coleman" podcast and the author of "The End of Race Politics." Also, here, Sophia Nelson, a CNN opinion contributor and the author of "E Pluribus ONE: Reclaiming Our Founders' Vision for a United America."

Then our audience will weigh in. This is a diverse group of everyday Americans meeting tonight for the first time to share their opinions with each other and you. I'm as interested as all of you are to hear just what they have to say.

Let's begin our conversation now with those who are going to argue both sides of the position. We begin with you both. How do you define DEI, Coleman?

COLEMAN HUGHES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, so, DEI in the past 10 years, it's not really your father's DEI, it's an ideology that is new, which divides the world into oppressed groups and oppressor groups. And it says whites and Jews are oppressor groups, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, depending on the day. And it judges you by your group membership, promotes race-based policies like affirmative action over race neutral policies, and does not tolerate dissent. It considers any disagreement to be off limits.

So, this is what has crept out into DEI departments in colleges and corporations over the past 10 years. And what you're seeing in the recent backlash is really a backlash against the people who enforce this particular ideology on sectors of the American public.

COATES: Sophia, how do you define it?

SOPHIA NELSON, CNN OPINION CONTRIBUTOR: DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion, is, I think, something that, as he says, probably in the last 10 years, has absolutely overreached. But DEI at its core, everybody is for diversity, everybody is for inclusion, Laura, but nobody wants to deal with that word, "equity," and that's what this is really about from a historic point of view. Whether you're dealing with affirmative action and where we've come from there, as Bill Clinton once famously said, mend it, don't end it. That's how I feel about DEI. We have to deal with this restorative justice piece.

I do agree with Coleman that what has happened, unfortunately, on college campuses in particular, is it has become a very rigid set of rules, statements, and policies that if you move left or right in those and you're not lockstep in line, you'll find yourself in a lot of trouble, and we know that I experienced that firsthand. So, I (INAUDIBLE) that to say that I think I really want to focus on the equity piece of it because diversity and inclusion is the easy part.

COATES: But even -- isn't it, first of all, the easy part, diversity and inclusion? Because, Coleman, I think you've presented statements in the past where you think that it's -- if it's forced diversity, it's actually antithetical.

HUGHES: Right. Yeah. So, in my view, diversity is like love. If it's -- if it happens naturally, it's the best thing in the world. But if it's forced, you've kind of missed the point. And so, the question, say you're a corporation, right, and you -- you want more racial diversity, the question is, how do you get that? Do you get that in a way that is consistent with merit-based hiring? For instance, by just casting your net much wider in terms of job applicants? That's totally healthy. That's a good thing.

Or are you doing this thing where you say, well, we need a Black person or Hispanic person for this job, so we're going to grab this person regardless of whether they're prepared for this job? Right? That's too much of what DEI has been. So, someone like Roland Fryer, who's a Harvard economist, he -- what he does is he actually looks at corporations, gathers data on them, and tells them statistically whether they have a bias in one direction or the other.


The NFL hired him to do this. He was able to give them really legitimate feedback about where they don't have biases, where they do have biases, and that actually allows you to act in an evidence-based way. That's what DEI should be.

COATES: But DEI, the way you just described it, presumed it's a quota as opposed to an ideology. Which is it?

NELSON: I have an issue with this word "merit-based" because the presumption is that every white male that has a job in the Fortune 500 got there because of merit or every white male or white female, as it were, in the corporate sector, in the academic sector, they all got there because they were qualified and had merit.

But anybody with my skin color or with another color or from another group, somehow, they took something that was somebody else's and they didn't have merit. That's a problem. You got to look at the data. He's right about what he says in the sense of how we cast those nets, but it goes back to restorative justice, as I said, and restorative equity.

When you have systemic racist structures for 300 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow, it is fool's gold to think that in 50 years, you're going to eliminate all that and everything is going to be equal, and that's the problem I have with this debate. We're ignoring history. We're ignoring data.

HUGHES: I think we're confusing issues. DEI, once you get to the point where someone is 25, 30 years old and you're deciding whether to hire them or not, that's not the moment to introduce race-based decision making.

The problem you're talking about is completely real, but it has to be dealt with at the zero to 18 level. K through 12 education has to be improved. We have to level the playing field at that level rather than tilt the playing field at the top level and imagine that we're doing something beneficial.

The problem starts when you're a kid, right? It starts with intergenerational poverty, bad schools, and that's where the focus should be. And then once people are adults, we should judge them without regard to race.

COATES: Is diversity synonymous with class?

NELSON: Look at the wealth gap in this country. Again, the data doesn't lie. African-Americans will take 200 years to catch up as of today with just the basic wealth gap of savings, investment, ownership of homes, whatever, on the most based level. Two hundred years to catch up, and we're going to talk about K through 18. You see what I mean? It doesn't work.

COATES: Real quick, I want to hear from both of you in your concluding statements about how you course correct based on your positions. Coleman?

HUGHES: So, course correcting for DEI, I think it looks very much like what someone is -- someone like Roland Fryer is doing. If you're a corporation, you want to have a DEI program, sure, but it should not be an ideological litmus test, it should not be signing a loyalty pledge to apply for a job, which it is at many universities. It should be a serious evidence-based look at the composition of your company to see if you have a bias in one direction or the other or one of many directions. Do it seriously or don't do it at all.

COATES: Sophia?

NELSON: We have to rethink it, reimagine. And I want to be inclusive. I think white men have to be at the table. I think all groups have to be at the table because if we're not talking E pluribus unum, out of many, one, we're not solving this problem together.

COATES: Very fascinating arguments from both of you just now. Coleman and Sophia, thanks for making the arguments you've made. I do wonder what everyone is thinking. Stick around because we're going to turn to the jury and get them to weigh in on what they've heard and what they think about it. Back in a moment.




COATES: Well, we're back in our Court of Public Opinion. We've been discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs across the United States. We just heard a pretty lively discussion with Coleman Hughes and Sophia Nelson. So, now, I want to bring in our group of everyday Americans who all have many different perspectives on DEI and see what they heard today.

Let me begin with you all. Thank you for being here. I wonder what arguments stood out to you on either side of the issue. What's your thought? Jury number two?

KRIS HENRY, JUROR, LAURA'S COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: So, Sophia mentioned inclusion. I think that DEI truly is a very complicated topic, right? But with inclusion, you can hire as many minorities as you want. But if we're not getting a seat at the table, it doesn't really matter. So, I think the DEI really should concentrate on inclusion as -- as really the basis for what we're looking for.

COATES: You're nodding.

MADISON GEE, JUROR, LAURA'S COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: I think that inclusion can encompass many different things, as well as sexual orientation or disabilities, too. I think that those are really vital voices to bring to the table, just like your number two was talking about.

COATES: Are they part of the conversation?

CLAIRE NANCE KLAKRING, JUROR, LAURA'S COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: I had some questions about her description of merit. She had some criticisms of the way that, you know, maybe somebody of color is seen as only have gotten that job because they are a person of color.

COATES: What are your questions? You can ask them here.

NANCE KLAKRING: Well, I'm very curious, then, what is the point of the merit system, right? It seems like when you start asking those questions, that actually is what puts those thoughts into people's head. Well, if we are requiring people to have a quota and we're rejecting the merit system, is that not then, by and large, forcing people to then think those -- those thoughts?

NELSON: I am 1000% for merit because everything I have gotten has been because of merit. What I don't appreciate are the arguments that what I've gotten is because I'm Black and I'm female and I don't deserve it and I took someone else's spot who did deserve it. That's the discussion in the public forum right now, and that's divisive, it's harmful, and it's ugly. I think there's a presupposition there, Laura, that it belongs to somebody else. It's just like when people say, I'm taking my country back. From who? What does that even mean? What are we talking about?

HUGHES: Can I say something to that briefly, too? I mean, I think we have to be honest about the fact that DEI programs and affirmative action have been a rejection of merit in favor of race-based admissions in some cases and higher. I mean, this was proven in the case of Harvard, that your race was equivalent to, you know, several hundred points on the SAT, and that if the same candidate, if they were Asian, would not get in as opposed to if they were Black.


So, I don't -- that may have affected me in my life, too. I have no idea if there's certain jobs that I might -- I might have gotten because I was black, and I don't think the employer would ever tell me. And this is one of the signals that we're uncomfortable with. It is that we can't admit that it's even a real thing.

COATES: Well, the idea of the affirmative action discussions and the plus factors in the evolution of these case law is certainly something still in the public square. What do you think?

PHIL WATSON, JUROR, LAURA'S COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: Well, I think a lot of what Coleman said made sense to me. One of the questions I had was, if we have DEI now, why do we also have discrimination laws on the books? What are those doing? And what's the purpose of having both?

COATES: Is there a redundancy to you all?

HUGHES: On a university campus, I'm very suspicious. If the DEI office didn't come to college tomorrow, would anyone notice? How long would it take for anyone to notice that they weren't there? I know what the professors do. I know what the admissions department does. I know what the administrators do. I know what the janitors do. I'm not really sure what the DEI office does other than get involved in the occasional cancellation.

NELSON: The reason you have DEI goes back to what I said at the beginning. You're trying to put together a systemic structure in place in your company, in your college, wherever it is, to say, we're not doing well bringing in people of color or LGBTQ plus or whatever. We want a diverse student body, we want a diverse company, so we're trying to put in structures into place that welcome those groups and make them feel welcome.

COATES: Let's expand the concept of DEI beyond just the idea of hiring and the actual composition of the student body or, of course, the job force, and also talk about the idea of the education, it's different curriculum and beyond. That's also part of the conversation. When you were hearing discussions about merit or hearing discussions about quotas as it has been articulated, what was your reaction?

NANCE KLAKRING: In DEI, someone always loses, it seems like. I mean, Asian-Americans brought that affirmative action case to Supreme Court because they were losing out on scholarships and positions at incredible universities. And so, that -- that, to me, seems like the hardest part of DEI, is that someone decides that someone loses. And even in women's sports, right? Women lose in favor of transwomen earning those trophies. And so that -- that's, I think, the hardest part for me.

COATES: So, you all see DEI as synonymous with affirmative action. Is that right? And hearing the arguments being raised?

WATSON: I don't know. I thought affirmative action was -- was much more codified in law and DEI is much more of a P.R. campaign or a way to, you know, identify some -- some program with a university or a workplace.

HENRY: And I disagree with that because there's a case in Florida where, when they took DEI off the campus, so many students felt like they weren't included anymore. And the optics of losing that and taking it off campus, so many students were upset about that, that it was a place for them to feel comfortable, when they went to the DEI office, and now it's gone. And so, those students feel rejected, they feel left out, they don't feel a part of the school anymore because that office is gone now.

COATES: Do you see the idea of DEI, that someone always must lose? You heard juror number three.

GEE: I don't think that someone always must lose, but I think that there's only things to gain, especially what juror number two is saying about students having that place to go to feel included. I was recently part of a college campus, and I did see how -- how much that really impacted all of my fellow peers and how it meant a lot to them to have somewhere to go, even if it wasn't necessarily something that you could point to say, here's a statistic, here is exactly how X, Y and Z -- this number of students benefited this way.

This number of students got these many jobs because of what we have been providing them with. It's more of the feeling that they got, and I think that mental benefit was --

UNKNOWN: Absolutely.

GEE: Yeah, for sure.

UNKNOWN: Absolutely.

COATES: Is there a way for DEI to be corrected or improved, based on your understanding of what it is?

NANCE KLAKRING: Well, certainly, we shouldn't be having trainings at work where they say that we're training people to how to be less white.


Coca-Cola had that example a couple of years ago. So, certainly, it did not make people feel good. That did not make you feel included. So --

HENRY: I've been in several trainings at my corporate, and I've never heard of them saying being less white. I don't think that's necessarily what it's -- what the training is meant to be. I don't think that --

NANCE KLAKRING: Shouldn't be. Certainly. But Coca-Cola did do that. So, it's -- we shouldn't -- we shouldn't have that anywhere.

COATES: Let me ask. I would go down the line with each of you here and just ask. Do you feel, and I know it's self-reflection, that you have an understanding of what DEI is for across the board? Yes or no?


GEE: Yes.



COATES: I see you --

NANCE KLAKRING: I know. I'm -- I'm hesitating because I think the purest form of DEI is so different than DEI in practice. And so --

COATES: What is the difference to you?

NANCE KLAKRING: DEI in its purest form, I think, is a lot of what Sophia was saying. And I think that the -- the purest ideals are exactly what America is all about. And in practice, it is so bastardized and has become so harmful and used as a weapon.

COATES: (INAUDIBLE) continues. Do you feel you understand what DEI is?

WATSON: I don't know because it seems like it's changing and shifting every day in the news and it seems like the -- it was branded to sound like something people love -- would love to support. However, when put in practice, I don't know if it's what people -- what people want.

COATES: I'm really fascinated by all of your takes on this and the infusion of how the media and society, Corporate America, and the educational institutions all weigh in on all that. Thank you, all of you. And thank you to, again, Coleman Hughes and Sophia Nelson. A special thanks, of course, to our jurors in the Court of Public Opinion.

Hey, if you'd like to be a juror in our next Court of Public Opinion, just get in touch with us by filling out the form. You can access by scanning the QR code that's on your screen or you can email us at

Thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.