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Laura Coates Live

A Man Lit Himself on Fire Outside Trump Trial Courthouse; Trump Faces Hush Money Trial; Laura Coates Answers Callers' Questions; House Speaker Johnson's Job Threatened by Hard-Line Republicans. Aired 11p- 12a ET

Aired April 19, 2024 - 23:00   ET



LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: I know there was a historic trial happening today. I was standing outside the courthouse, 15 stories below the former president of the United States, talking to a jury consultant when the unimaginable happened. There were screams, people started running. Because of the times we live in, I thought it was an active shooter. Instead, it was a man who lit himself on fire, feet away from me in a public park.

And to say I was shocked would be an understatement. You must remember, I didn't come to this anchor desk in a traditional way. I was a federal prosecutor who has gone in and out of a courthouse more times than I can remember. And inside those courtrooms, you get witnesses to recount truly horrific details and stories to a jury who will decide the fate of the accused.

Well, today it was us who bore witness. And my instinct told me to tell you what I was seeing. My mouth narrated my eyes. But my eyes, I wish I could unsee it. My nose wishes to un-smell it. My heart breaks for that man and his family. And my mind, well, has the same questions you have. Who is this man? Well, he happened to be someone that we think we saw milling around earlier and throughout the week near the courthouse where we were.

And tonight, we know a little more. Police say that he was a conspiracy theorist. And while his theories run the gamut, they didn't center around Trump or Biden. His self-immolation was some sort of protest tied to his conspiratorial grievances. And he's alive and currently in critical condition. Why did he do it? I don't know. I don't think I'll ever truly understand. And I felt -- I feel so conflicted about turning back to a trial after what we saw. But today, we did. And we are.

So, let's take it from the top. In this case, back to the 15th floor of a Manhattan courthouse, where a former president of the United States can now put a face to a juror.

This trial is starting. Judge Juan Merchan delivering that piercing line today as he announced the opening statements in Donald Trump's criminal trial are going to begin Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. The jury has been sworn in, 12 jurors and six alternates. They range from a man originally from Ireland, to lawyers, to an English teacher, to a recent college graduate, to a female project manager for a construction company. I mean, a cross section of New Yorkers who will have Donald Trump's fate in their very hands. And he says they're going to hear testimony from him.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): President Trump, are you going to testify?



COATES: But if he does take the stand, prosecutors want to bring up his past legal issues, including the $355 million civil fraud judgment against him, the E. Jean Carroll defamation case that's costing him, what, $91 million? And a lawsuit Trump filed against Hillary Clinton that was dismissed for being frivolous and in bad faith, which they want to use to what they call impeach his credibility. The judge says that he'll announce his decision, whether any or all or even more of that might come in, on Monday.

Now, that's all happening as the prosecution today offered to provide the name of Monday's first witness to Trump's legal team, but not until Sunday, warning -- quote -- "if that should be tweeted, that will be the last time we provide a courtesy."

I want to bring in CNN senior legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Elie Honig. Also, jury consultant Richard Gabriel is here as well. Gentlemen, thank you both for being here.

We know that this trial is going to begin. And Elie, let me begin with you because the prosecution says they intend to call their first witness, of course, after open statements, but on Monday, but that they won't tell Trump's team who that person will be until the day before. So, what will the prosecution really be looking for out of whoever their first witness is going to be?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you want to start safe and you want to start strong, Laura. You don't want to -- you're certainly not going to put Michael Cohen up there.


Let's put it that way to start off. You want to -- this is your first time you're really showing any evidence to the jury. And so, you want to give them somebody who establishes a bedrock foundation of your case.

So, I suspect it might be a witness through whom they can get in some of the financial records. For example, we know that a key part of this case was the fact that Donald Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen through a series of 11 checks, many, not all, but many of which Donald Trump himself signed. I would want to put those documents in front of the jury as early as possible. You say, this is rock solid evidence here, this is documentary evidence, this is Donald Trump's name literally signed on the line.

So, that's what I would do in this situation, but you want to be safe and solid.

COATES: You know, Ellie, on that point, though, Trump's attorney, Susan Necheles, asked the judge if they could have the witness name, and by the way, this was a really interesting part, be ordered not to share it with their client. What does that tell you about the relationship perhaps between Trump and his attorneys?

HONIG: Well, it tells us that there's minimal trust, certainly from the judge over to Donald Trump and his team. And I think the reason Donald Trump's attorneys suggested that was to try to get the judge to order the prosecutor to tell him who the witness is going to be.

Now, Laura, you know, ordinarily, judges will make prosecutors turn over the names of their witnesses. Sometimes on a Friday, they'll say, okay, who are you calling next week? At a minimum, they'll say, okay, who are you calling tomorrow or next business day? And defense lawyers need to know that because they have a witness list with dozens and dozens of names, but they need to know who they're prepping to cross- examine on Monday.

And because the judge doesn't trust Donald Trump and because maybe to some extent his lawyers are wary of what he'll do, the lawyers now don't have that ability to fully prepare in advance.

COATES: You know, Richard, on that point, too, and I think about that as perhaps Necheles was saying, look, if you tell me I can't tell my client, then it's easier for me when I tell my client, I'm not going to tell you because I'm not sure what you're going to do with the information.

Richard, Judge Marchan is deciding which prior Trump court cases or what they call a category of like bad acts could be used as evidence at the trial. So, how could evidence like this affect a jury? It's obviously not intended to prove this particular case, but it's useful nonetheless.

RICHARD GABRIEL, JURY CONSULTANT: Well, Laura and Elie, you know, one of the main key issues is going to be in this case has to do with his intent. And so, a lot of times, the evidence that comes in against an impeachment is going to be used to show his intent and his fraudulent intent at that.

The truth here is that his credibility is going to be the key in here. If I were on the defense team, I'd obviously be trying to convince him not to testify because he's a wild card and you just don't know what he's going to be saying.

So, you know, but jurors look at all kinds of nuanced behaviors in order to be able to judge credibility, and his character is going to be on trial here as much as the documentary evidence. COATES: You know, and meanwhile, the prosecutor in me, my mouth, like Pavlovian-type, salivated at the thought of a defendant taking the stand, probably for the opposite reasons you're actually speaking about. But the defense, they only need one juror, Richard, to have some doubts. So, who do you think Trump's attorneys are now eyeing as potentially sympathetic to their case?

GABRIEL: Well, they've got your number two, who I think they're looking at. Obviously, here's the gentleman who follows Trump on Truth Social. He follows Michael Cohen, too, which is kind of an interesting twist as well. He has read some quotes from "The Art of the Deal," which always, I think, perks up their ears.

But however, the thing I think they're really looking at are the two lawyers. They've got two corporate lawyers on there. I think they're going to look at them to cast some strength and carry some water for them in terms of whether the prosecution has actually met the burden of proof and whether there's this sort of unique theory that they put forth and whether it passes the smell test.

COATES: What do you think, Elie, about this juror number two? And also, I'm curious what you thought about the central lawyers.

HONIG: So, I completely agree with my colleague here, the jury consultant. Those are the three that I think I would like on the defense side. The lawyers, first of all, the defense here is going to be largely technical. You want people who aren't going to get swept up in whatever feelings people may have about Donald Trump to be able to say, okay, first of all, did Donald Trump, we know he knew about hush money, but was he involved in the falsification? That's the crime. And second of all, if so, was the campaign finance violation the actual motivation?

And then this other juror number two, you know, the fact that he follows Donald Trump on social media and Michael Cohen doesn't really tell me all that much. I mean, following Donald Trump certainly does not mean you support Donald Trump. It means you want to see what the then president, now former president, has to say.

Having read "The Art of the Deal," a lot of people read it, it has been around a long time, but I think the overall profile suggests to me somebody who might be sympathetic with the defense overall.

COATES: That's a good point. Richard, let me ask you about the emotions that were on display. You saw the weight of the moment. Some jurors got emotional.


One of them, who was dismissed, told the court, I have to be honest, I feel so nervous and anxious right now, I'm sorry, I thought I could do this, but I would not want someone who feels this way to judge my case. So, what are the chances that one of the alternates might eventually have to step in? And if they do, who chooses which alternate will do? Is it just an order? GABRIEL: I think that, usually, the judge has indicated with juror number one through six that they will be called in order. However -- and I think there's probably a good chance that maybe one of them will be used. The truth is that this is one of those really challenging cases. You know, the three of us have been in court a lot. We sort of look at it. Okay, let's start the trial. We assume that jurors -- okay, I'm sworn in, I'm going to do my job. But the immense amount of pressure and the mass amount of self-scrutiny that these jurors have to monitor with their own predispositions, their own potential biases, and then obviously the pressures of the community and the whole world watching, has to really put a lot of burden on them.

So, I think that does create this sort of emotional environment for a lot of these jurors.

COATES: Elie, Richard, I want you both to stick around, thank you so much, because attorneys for Donald Trump, as we've been talking about, they are preparing for opening statements in maybe the biggest trial of their careers, and it's happening Monday morning.

Someone who is joining me right now knows exactly what it's like to actually defend the former president in court. Criminal defense attorney Bill Brennan is here. He served as an attorney on the 2022 Trump Organization trial in front of this same judge, I might add.

Bill, I'm glad that you're here. I want to pick your brain about this because Trump is again saying today that he is going to testify. And, of course, that might be bluster. It might, in fact, be a guarantee. We don't know. But what do you think his lawyers are advising him and about the possibility of even getting on that stand?

WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, REPRESENTED TRUMP PAYROLL CORPORATION IN 2022 CRIMINAL CASE: Well, thanks for having me, first of all, Laura. Hello, Elie. You guys are both former federal prosecutors. I'm sure you'll agree that the lawyers are unlikely to be supportive of the former president's statement. I can tell you, having been trying cases since the 80s, the late 80s, that that is a battlefield decision and it's the last decision you make in a trial.

You don't -- as a defense lawyer, you don't know where that's going until, you know, the bottom of the ninth. So, it's interesting that he said that and he may think he's going to do that, but I'll be surprised if that actually happens.

COATES: Kind of like Mike Tyson. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. I don't know what kind of punch is getting thrown by prosecution. Who knows what's going to happen there? But let me ask you this. You've represented the former president. When you look at this jury, you like what you see?

BRENNAN: Well, you know, it's -- it's -- it's -- you have to look -- you have to play the hand you're dealt. And this is from the island of Manhattan. We don't have the other four boroughs. So, you know, it's kind of like the tallest midget in the circus. I mean, you have to -- you have to take what you have. You're in a -- you're in a very specific subset here. I agree with Elie. The lawyers on the case, normally, we shy away from lawyers. But the way this case is structured to get into a felony, it has to go through a couple of filters and it has to get through that filter of, if the payments were made, were they made for the purpose of circumventing campaign finance laws? Lawyers might be good at that. They might be good at analyzing. So, you know, it sounds like out of what was available, that it's -- it's the best of the bunch.

COATES: I agree that they can cut both ways to have a lawyer be someone the other jurors defer to, depending upon the different topic. I keep hearing about this concept of the -- quote, unquote -- "stealth juror." I'm concerned about the way it's being presented because I think there is obviously a nefarious attribution to someone being -- quote, unquote -- "stealth." But the real term, I think, is unpredictable. You don't know who these wildcards might be. How does the defense deal with an unpredictable juror?

GABRIEL: I -- I -- I think it's a little bit of tomato, tomato there. I think, because of the unique -- the unique defendant in this case, stealth might be a little closer to reality. And in most cases, the unpredictable juror is the juror we worry about.

But in this case, we can all agree probably on the following, that just his name divides most groups, divides the country, 50% feel one way, 50% feel another, and I think because of that unique circumstance, you have more of the potential for an agenda juror than you do in most cases. But unpredictable or stealth, that's the scary juror. I agree with you.

COATES: Well, that's maybe the phrase, the agenda, and, of course, the process intended to weed out those who could not set aside whatever presumed agenda they may or may not have to follow the facts in this case.


It's really important. I'll tell you one clear dividing line, though, Bill. If you look at the questions and answers for the jurors, who were the original 12, who will deliberate, versus the questions and answers for the set of alternates, if I'm Trump's team, I bet I wanted those alternates to be in the place, those initial 12.

BRENNAN: I happen to agree with you on that, too. You know, on the opposite end of the stealth or unpredictable juror is, say, the potential juror who cried. And look, we're all emotional. We're human beings. It's an unfamiliar setting for most people. But that juror has to go not because it's not okay to cry, I cry, everybody cries, but, you know, as a defendant, President Trump or anybody, you're putting your life in 12 people's hands, and it'd be like walking on to a plane and seeing the pilot crying. It would probably give you some pause and unease.

So, that's a good thing. But on the opposite end of the spectrum is that juror that just sits back and says, no, I don't have to answer any of these questions in the affirmative, I'm a clean slate. And you have to just go on your gut. Is that person really a clean slate? Keep your fingers crossed.

COATES: I'll also keep my fingers crossed next time I look into a cockpit. And if I see a pilot crying, Bill Brennan, I'm getting off the plane, for goodness sakes.


That's a visual I don't need right now. Thank you so much, Bill.

BRENNAN: I hear you.

COATES: Nice to see you.

BRENNAN: Thank you.

COATES: Look, you've got questions about this historic trial. You know what? We've got answers. We'll take your calls live next.




COATES: We are just days away now from opening statements in Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial. But, you know, there are still a lot of questions about the trial. And tonight, we're taking your calls.


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 get to our first caller tonight. We got Marcus from Batavia, Illinois. Hey, Marcus, what's your question?

MARCUS, CALLER FROM BATAVIA, ILLINOIS (via telephone): Hi, Laura. Hypothetically, if the trial begins in earnest but the jurors and alternates begin to feel intimidated and exiting, what happens next?

COATES: That's a really good question. I want to bring in jury consultant Richard Gabriel back in to help answer that for you. This is the big question that every attorney has and they're thinking about.

GABRIEL: Right. It's a big challenge. Obviously, the judge, I think, is going to try to protect them as much as possible. He has already made them anonymous. But that being said, people find out about them being on the trial. So, if they do feel intimidated, I think there's going to be admonishments to the press, there's going to be admonishments to both sides.

But in the most extreme circumstance, I guess he can talk about sequestration and actually say, let's protect these jurors, let's try to get them to a secure location. It's a nightmare, but it actually is an option.

COATES: Especially for the duration of the trial. And we don't know. At this point, the judge has not indicated that he's going to sequester. As far as we know right now, these jurors go home at the end of the night.

The next call, let's go to Kyle from Ontario, Canada. Hey, Kyle, what's your question?

LISA, CALLER FROM NAMPA, IDAHO (via telephone): -- and if not, how are the lawyers able to get into their accounts, especially if they are private? And along the same lines, what would prevent a juror from purposely deleting any --

COATES: Okay, so --

LISA (via telephone): -- past incriminating posts?

COATES: That's a really important question. Let's talk about that if we can. That's Lisa from, I think, Nampa, Idaho, asking this question. Let me go to Elie on this because I think it is really interesting to think about the access to the jurors' information. Of course, nobody wants this to happen. They want anonymity to be able to not have intimidation and beyond. What's your reaction?

HONIG: So, Lisa, that's a great question. Thank you for asking it. The whole ballgame changed for jury selection when social media really became prevalent, 2007 or 8 or so. I remember because I was trying cases then. And at first, we as prosecutors, weren't sure, are we allowed to look at this? Can we look at someone's Facebook profile? Because there's so much valuable information on there. And the way it's played out now is it is allowed, it is very commonly done, but you can only look at what's publicly available.

So, for example, you can't send someone a friend request or pretend to be someone else and ask for access, you cannot contact that person, but anything that they post up in a publicly available social media profile is fair game. And you better bet both of these sides are scrutinizing social media. In fact, we know that they were because they managed to get certain jurors removed because things they said in court didn't exactly match up with their social media. So great question. Thanks for that.

COATES: And the jurors are not required to hand over their passwords, right? That's not going to transform it to public at all.

HONIG: No. Correct.

COATES: Great response there is what can you imagine? Let me go to Robert from Chi-Town, Chicago. Robert, what's your question?

ROBERT, CALLER FROM CHICAGO, ILLINOIS (via telephone): Hi, Laura. Thanks for taking my call. So, I know it's very unusual for there to be two attorneys on the jury. Why do you think this happened and which side will benefit more? COATES: Well, you know, it's interesting because most people have this assumption that a lawyer should not be or cannot sit on a jury, but more often than you think, they really do. The risk of having lawyers, though, on the jury, if you're the prosecution, is that people might defer to the lawyers in that deliberation room as opposed to the evidence presented, the statements of the attorneys.


They don't want that deference. They don't want somebody else to be the expert when they have presented a full case. On the flip side, there might be something for the defense. They may want a lawyer on that particular jury who can say, you know, they didn't meet these elements or in my experience or, you know, I'm a lawyer, so that might be the cause of all of it. But you're right. It does give people pause. But there are different types of lawyers, right? There are those who are criminal attorneys and those who might be of the corporate or transactional side. And so, who knows how it will ultimately play out in the deliberation room. We'll have to wait and see.

Let's go to Colorado, Denver, Colorado, to be specific. Denise, how are you doing? What's your question?

DENISE, CALLER FROM DENVER, COLORADO (via telephone): Hi, Laura. Thank you for taking my question.

COATES: Thank you.

DENISE: Why can't -- why can't the judge have Trump sit in a separate room with one of his attorneys where he can hear the trial only and can't sit there and intimidate the jurors and or witnesses?

COATES: Well, that's a great question. But, you know, you have a right as a defendant to be present for your trial. Let's bring back Elie Honig in to this as well because the idea of him being having to be almost sequestered from his trial would not be in line with what is accepted and allowed for different defendants.

But there is a circumstance, as you described. If, in fact, he was engaged in intimidation, he could be removed from the courtroom and not be able to be there. Remember, there was a moment during this trial where they believed that he was uttering towards in the direction of one of the jurors. And after the juror left the room, the judge admonished his counsel to say that he will not have jurors intimidated in that courtroom. And so, the antics or behavior that could result could impact his ability to remain in an ability to confront the witnesses against him and be present in his trial.

Now let's go back to Ontario, Canada because I want to see what Kyle has to say. Kyle, what's your question?

KYLE, CALLER FROM ONTARIO, CANADA (via telephone): Thanks for taking my call. My question is, is it enough for the prosecution in making their case that the election is a piece of Mr. Trump's intention in making the payment and falsifying the business records? Does it have to be shown to be his primary intention?

COATES: That's a great question. Let's bring in Elie Honig. We talk about this a lot, haven't we, Elie, the idea of does it have to be all or nothing?

HONIG: Good stuff, Kyle. So, you're on to a key issue here that's going to be playing out throughout the trial because the prosecutors have to prove that some part of Donald Trump's intent in falsifying these records was to cover up for the campaign violation to silence Stormy Daniels and to help him win the 2016 election.

But you're asking, well, how much of the intent does the campaign have to be? And what if there's a mixed intent? What if part of Donald Trump's mind was, well, I want to cover up for the election, but part of it is I don't want to be personally humiliated, I don't want my wife to be humiliated? The latter of which would not be illegal at all. And you're going to see this battle play out.

The answer is prosecutors do not have to prove that the only motive, the 100% motive was campaign-related. The jury will likely be instructed that the prosecutors have to show that the campaign motivation was a substantial part of the motivation.

Now, I'm sure, Kyle, you're thinking, like, what percentage is that? That's up to the jury. There's no mathematical formula. It's whatever the jury thinks substantial is substantial.

COATES: A really important point. Hey, Elie, Richard, thanks for helping answer these questions. And thank you to everyone who called. I'm delighted to speak to each of you and know what you're thinking.

Hey, do you have a question you'd like us to answer on the upcoming Trump trial? We'd love to hear from you. Submit your questions at

There is big GOP division on Capitol Hill that have even camera- friendly and eager Marjorie Taylor Greene walking past the microphones. So, will hardline Republicans move to oust Speaker Mike Johnson or not? That's the question next.




COATES: All right, a Saturday showdown is brewing on Capitol Hill. Tomorrow, the House is expected to pass the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. House Speaker Mike Johnson got support from Democrats to advance it, but it could cost Johnson his job.

A third hardline Republican backed the effort to now remove Johnson as House Speaker. Congressman Paul Gosar joined representatives Thomas Massie and Marjorie Taylor Greene on that looming motion to vacate just -- I guess, do you call them now the three musketeers? They huddled on the House floor before Gosar broke the news. Now, the normally chatty Greene didn't want to talk after she left Congress after the vote. But you know what? She did speak later with Steve Bannon.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): The civil war has broken out in the House of Representatives. I've been working on the House floor just now talking with other members, asking for co-sponsors in my motion to vacate Mike Johnson as Speaker because we have completely lost confidence in his leadership now that he is allowing Hakeem Jeffries and Chuck Schumer to completely control the House.


COATES: You know, Greene originally sponsored the motion. She didn't say when it could go to the House floor, but some Republicans are signaling their patience with Johnson is wearing thin.


REP. ELI CRANE (R-AZ): It's tough to defend him right now, you know. And that's -- that's -- that's hard to say, but it's just a reality.

SEN. CHIP ROY (R-TX): There's continued frustration with the fact that we're allowing the -- frankly allowing the House to be governed by Democrats.

REP. DAN BISHOP (R-NC): It's the way that they never prioritize center right Americans' priorities. Never. And that's where we've ended up again. And I think it's -- it's -- it is pathetic.



COATES: Joining me now, former New York Democratic Congressman Max Rose and Leah Wright Rigueur, CNN contributor, political analyst, and historian. I'm glad to have you both this evening.

Speaker Johnson, Max, told reporters that he's not deterred by these threats, but should he be or looking over his shoulder?

MAX ROSE, FORMER NEW YORK REPRESENTATIVE: You know, look, there's one Republican that is on his side right now, that's the only one that matters to him, and that's Donald Trump. Remember, during the border bill, right, when the Senate had this grand compromise, Donald Trump came out against it. And what do you know? The entire House Republican caucus moved in his direction.

But Donald Trump is trying his best to tack to the middle at this point. He knows those persuadable voters in those swing states care deeply about this issue. But the issue is, for him and the Republican Party, that extremist MAGA base is not necessarily moving with him, and that's what you see in each of those quotes. So, the only way this passes tomorrow and it will pass will be with a majority of democratic votes.

COATES: You know, interestingly enough, Leah, Speaker Johnson had an opportunity to raise that threshold to have that motion to vacate. He chose not to. Will he regret it?

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he will regret it. And I think that there will be problems. And part of that is when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. And I think everything was fine and everything was dandy before he became speaker. And once he stepped into that role, it's -- it's essentially an impossible role because you can't kind of play with this idea of, I want the base, I want what MAGA has to offer, I will hardline them on all kinds of things.

And then you get into Congress. And what are you elected to do? You're elected to govern. And when he governs, that's when he is being punished, when he actually legislates, when he pushes through things, because it's a necessity for whatever reason, whatever intention.

But when your goal is obstructionism, when your goal is simply to block whatever is in front of you, then you're not going to make anyone happy. And I think this is the conundrum that they're facing. This is what Marjorie Taylor Greene was talking about when she said a civil war has erupted within the Republican Party. That is what Mike Johnson faces. And that's going to haunt him as long as he deviates from what MAGA base wants at this point in time.

COATES: I mean, bipartisanship is maybe the longest four-letter word ever in Washington, D.C. But listen, you know, it's Friday night, so we wanted to actually look back at the week and words and ask both of you who said it. So, look, you got paddles next to you. It's time for a game. Here we go.

All right, look, I'm going to read a quote from a prominent figure. You'll get three options to choose from, and your answer with our lovely "Laura Coates Live" panels are in front of you. And yes, I am keeping score. So, here is the first quote. Ready for it? "Absentee voting, early voting, and election day voting are all good options. Republicans must make a plan, register, and vote!" Now, was that A, Senator Tim Scott; B, Donald Trump; or C, Bill Barr?

ROSE: Hmm.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Hmm. I'm going to go with A.

COATES: Oh, they're both saying A. Do we have a right answer? It's B, Donald Trump. Let's talk about it, guys. Why is that so surprising it would have come from Donald Trump?

ROSE: Look, it is not surprising.



ROSE: It's not surprising because the guy clearly doesn't have any core beliefs whatsoever because that just flies in the face of what he said a mere few years ago. But at this point, the scariest thing about the Donald Trump presidential campaign is a weird sense of discipline that we're seeing on the part of this new staff that has -- that has come out. We saw it with the policy on abortion that was recently -- that he recently announced.

But again, I go back to that extremist base that still exists, irrespective of what -- what Donald Trump says on Ukraine or -- or on voting.

COATES: Well, that one (INAUDIBLE) you for a second. Let's go to the next one, by the way. I think it's really interesting. Here is the second quote. "It is cold, there's no question it is cold, but I'd rather be a little cold than sweaty, and really those are the choices." Leah and Max, who said that? Was it, A, Senator Mitch McConnell; B, House Speaker Mike Johnson; or C, Judge Juan Marchan?


Asked by a menopausal Laura Coates about the cold.


What's the answer?

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: You know what?

ROSE: Let's see.

COATES: Oh, wait, that -- That's right! That's right!



COATES: You guys had such a little amount of confidence. So, I'll just go keep next one. Obviously, that was a shock to you both. But good job on the guess. Okay, number three, who said this one? Quote -- "We don't go after the office of the president with porn star cases. We give a broad swath of latitude. If you're an ex-president and you murdered somebody, I get it, or been accused of murder. But what is this? This hurts the American brand."


Now, was that A, Kevin O'Leary; B, Vivek Ramaswamy; or C, Senator Lindsey Graham?


COATES: Do, do, do. Oh, too soon. Never mind.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Too soon? Okay.

COATES: All right. Oh, here we go. Oh, I'm sorry, Leah. You are incorrect. You get the buzzer, but you are correct. It is -- it was, in fact, Kevin O'Leary. Interesting. He has been on often to talk about this particular case. So, obviously, it was him. All right, how about number four, guys? Let's see if you can guess this one. Quote -- "My uncle, he flew those single engine planes as reconnaissance over war zones. And he got shot down in New Guinea, and they never found the body because there used to be a lot of cannibals." Was it, A, Kari Lake; B, Representative Nancy Pelosi; or C, President Biden?


Shall we wait for SNL for the answer? Let's see.


COATES: Who do you think it was?

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Can I put up two?

COATES: Oh, okay. Well, hold on. Well, two of the three answers are correct. It would, in fact, be President Biden. That's actually what happened. You didn't want to answer that, did you?

ROSE: I forgot.


COATES: It's a moment. Google it. I'll explain nothing further. All right, here, final one. Ready, guys? Here is one. Oh, wait. That's the last one. That's a cliffhanger. You like that?


COATES: There you go. It's coming up next, another time. Leah Wright Rigueur, Max Rose, thank you both for being good sports about it.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Thank you for having us.


ROSE: Good to see you.

COATES: Well, up next, everyone, it's not about a game, it's about a reality, and it's a difficult one. Frank Burrell spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He didn't even get a jury trial. And his offense called no witnesses, presented no evidence. So, why did it take so long to set him free? The very latest in our "Exonerated" series is next.




COATES: Well, tonight, we have a very special case to bring to you in our "Exonerated" series where we tell the stories of people who spend years in prison after being wrongfully convicted. I want to introduce you to Frank Burrell. His story starts on a July night back in 1999 when a drive-by shooting killed a 29-year-old woman in Illinois. The other occupant in the car initially told police he did not recognize the shooter, but then later identified Frank Burrell as the alleged shooter. Burrell was arrested and charged with murder.

Despite his desire for a jury trial, Frank received a bench trial instead where his case was put in the hands of a judge. Frank had been at work earlier in the evening, then was home with his sick daughter and other family members, contradicting witness testimony, but his defense attorney gave no evidence and called no witnesses at trial.

In 2002, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to 32 years in prison. For the next 17 years, Burrell fought to clear his name. First, he acted as his own attorney and filed a motion to vacate the conviction based on inadequate legal representation.

Finally, in 2019, 20 years after his initial arrest, the First District Illinois Appellate Court vacated his conviction and ordered a new trial, and Burrell was finally released on bond.

But, you know, it wasn't until just last month that the prosecution finally dismissed the case, preventing Burrell from having to stand trial again.

Joining me now is that man, Frank Burrell, and his attorney, David Owens, of the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining me this evening.

Frank, let me begin with you because I cannot believe your story and what has happened. I just thank you for joining us tonight to share what your personal journey has been. Welcome. How are you doing tonight?

FRANK BURRELL, EXONERATED AFTER 20 YEARS IN PRISON: I'm doing pretty good. Thanks for having me.

COATES: Well, I'm glad that you're here to tell this story. I want you to tell us about your initial trial because you had the desire for a jury trial, but you ended up with a bench trial, meaning a judge was the sole decider of your fate. What happened?

DAVID OWENS, POST-CONVICTION ATTORNEY FOR FRANK BURRELL: I want to actually fill that question about what happened at the trial. And so, one of the issues is that people, when they come into the legal system, they're given advice by their attorneys about whether to take a bench trial or a jury trial.

And because the witnesses in the case were so obviously bad, a lot of attorneys would say, hey, look, there's these gang members, they're bad, this judge, I know him from my practice, this judge used to be a public defender like the one in this case, and so, they were like, yeah, a bench trial makes sense. And when you're young and you're, you know, a teenager in your 20s, you're really reliant upon the things that the attorney said and their advice because they're the ones who opt into the system. COATES: What was that like when you learned that it would be a judge, and ultimately, he convicted you? What did that feel like in that moment, knowing that you did not commit this crime?

BURRELL: That was a nightmare. You know, it was like my worst fear come true. You know, I couldn't believe it at first, initially, you know, because I just couldn't -- I didn't understand, like, how could you bring someone in here and hold them accountable, and you don't have any proof that this person is responsible for this? And it just was a nightmare. At the time, I had two infant children and it's like -- I'm seeing that I'm being stripped away from them.


I was their sole provider at the time and it was just -- it was unfathomable. Like I couldn't understand like how they reached this verdict when there was like nothing there that actually pointed to me, and then there was so much proof that I was not there, and that evidence never entered in.

COATES: Frank, how old were they when you left?

BURRELL: One and two.

COATES: Oh, my God.

BURRELL: Uh-hmm. And they're like 25 -- 24 and 25 now. I'm a grandfather.

COATES: Who raised them? Oh, my goodness, who raised them, then, in your absence?

BURRELL: Their mother. Their mother. She stepped in and, you know, she had to play the role of mother and father.

COATES: It must have been hard to try to explain to them that you were innocent, not -- on a technicality, you were innocent. Did they somehow believe that that wasn't the case?

BURRELL: No, I wouldn't say that. You know, most people really don't understand, like, how the court system works and how things go. And they were like, you know, more so like -- most people, like, they don't get it wrong. Like, okay, so if they're pointing a finger at you, then maybe there's something there, you know. Like, what is it? You know what I mean? And, you know, you're trying to explain to them and show them. And, you know, sometimes they see it, sometimes they don't, you know. But what they see is the actual separation like you're gone, you're not here, you know. And that has an effect.

COATES: I understand that Frank's family and employer, there were people around who were willing to testify on his behalf. Why didn't they end up doing that?

OWENS: And that's exactly the question that we always had, why wouldn't the defense attorney go talk to those people? I've worked on cases like this, alleging what we call in the law ineffective assistance of counsel. And it's a very high standard. It's beyond malpractice for a court to find that.

And in this case, there are some of the strongest evidence I've ever seen, which is the family member got all the witnesses together, told then the attorney, hey, we got all the witnesses. The people who know that Frank was at work when this was allegedly going down, they are here. We've assembled them for you. Just come meet with them.

And the attorney didn't do that. The attorney had an investigator who didn't show up to meetings. It's really crazy because the attorney listed on the witness list these people. So, he knew about the witnesses, he knew about the truth, but he just didn't present it because he didn't take the time to investigate it to do a defense.

And so, because that investigation wasn't done, the courts found that this was ineffective assistance of counsel. And so that's why evidence of innocence, though it was readily available, was not presented.

COATES: I mean, this -- so everyone understands, Frank, this revelation and the road to determining that you had ineffective assistance of counsel, we're not talking months, we're not talking before you went to prison, we are talking longer than a decade, years and years and years where you fought to try to prove your innocence, even becoming your own attorney at one point until, eventually, you obviously met with the attorneys that you have now. What ultimately kept your mind strong enough to stay the course?

BURRELL: Well, there was one thing that my grandmother told me before she passed away. She said, you keep fighting, you keep -- you keep your stuff in front of them, you let them know that you're not the person that's responsible for this. And, you know, that -- that and my family, it was like the motivating factor. It was, like, this is not how my life ends. Like, my life is not going to end behind bars serving this time for this crime that I'm not responsible for.

And that motivated me to continue on, to go to the library, to get in the books, to figure out what I needed to figure out, and to piece it all together.

COATES: I mean, what has been the greatest struggle since you have been released? I mean, it was 20 years after your initial arrest that they vacated your conviction, ordered a new trial. What has it been like for you no longer being in prison? I mean, 20 years has gone by. What has been the biggest struggles for you?

BURRELL: So, essentially, I came back to a world that I didn't know. And, you know, the hardest part was being able to try to gain employment, to find housing, you know, and then to try to reconnect with the family members that I've been away from for so long, you know, because they were upset. Like, they didn't understand the situation.


And, you know, it's like trying to explain to them and to work through everything and, you know, just basically trying to pick up the pieces. So, I would say the biggest struggle has been just the overall -- just trying to adjust back into everyday life and to just pick up the pieces and move forward.

COATES: This is unbelievable, to think about all that you had to be done. An innocent man in prison for as long as you were, Frank. And I have to wonder, how many others are there like you who don't necessarily have the assistance you're talking about, who don't have the teachings of their beloved grandmother to tell them to not give up? Frank Burrell, thank you so much. David Owens, thank you for joining today. I'm so glad to have met you.

BURRELL: Thank you.

OWENS: Thank you for your time here.

COATES: Thank you so much for watching. Our coverage continues.