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Laura Coates Live

CNN Covers Trump's Hush Money Trial; Laura Coates Interviews Geoff Duncan; IDF Conducts "Targeted Strikes" Against Hamas In Eastern Rafah. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired May 06, 2024 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Donald Trump is just perhaps one social post away from potential jail time as his trial enters a very critical week. Welcome to a special edition of "Laura Coates Live."

Hours from now, Donald Trump will enter day 13 of his criminal trial. And the big question everyone is asking tonight, are we going to hear from Stormy Daniels or Michael Cohen? And if so, when are they going to take the stand?

Now, according to prosecutors, we are now halfway through their case in chief. I made that sound far more exciting perhaps to you, but we just have about two more weeks left. And yes, it'll be a very key moment. And by key moment, I mean messy to have Daniels, an adult film star, testify about an alleged sex scandal that prosecutors say she was paid to keep quiet so that it wouldn't hurt Trump's 2016 campaign.

But forgive the broken record that I'm about to sound like, but that's not what the heart of the case is really about, okay? It's not a trial to prove whether he had an affair or a sexual encounter. The case is about the falsification of business records to cover up the crime of potentially trying to shield the transparency for campaign finance reasons.

That's why, if anything, you could argue that today's testimony actually featured a real star witness. In fact, two of them, or maybe 34 potentially of them, the physical paper evidence. Now, whether the paper will be enough to convict, that's a matter for the jury.

But it was introduced by way of two different witnesses. One was Jeffrey McConney, a former Trump Organization controller. The other person, Deborah Tarasoff, an accounts payable supervisor at the Trump Organization. By the way, she still works there. Now, if you're thinking, well, how are these people going to be as exciting as Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels? It's a paper and documents case.

And I want to focus on two key pieces. The first is this bank statement showing that Michael Cohen paid Stormy $130,000 in the so- called hush money. There are handwritten notes at the bottom by Trump's former money man, Allen Weisselberg. Now, those notes, they actually calculate how much Cohen should be repaid to the tune of $420 bucks. Now, McConney, he testified that in 2017, Weisselberg told him to start repaying Cohen.

And he wrote his own calculations that you see here. As my son knows in school, show me the math. So, let's break it down for a second. How do you get to $420,000?

Well, there's the original $130,000 payment that Cohen made to Stormy. Then they added about $50,000 for a tech services company that helped with the polls, which is IT firm. That gets you to, do the math, $180,000. They then doubled that amount to account for taxes that would get taken out. He could take home the full amount that he actually wanted. That means $360,000. And then they gave Cohen a $60,000 bonus. Grand total, $420,000. They then divided that into 12 monthly payments of $35,000.

And that's where the checks come in, the Sharpie pen-signed checks, checks that were signed by Trump for $35,000 to Michael Cohen. Now, Deborah Tarasoff testified that Trump signed nine of the reimbursement checks. From the transcript regarding one of those checks, here was a question that was asked. Who was going to be paid? Michael Cohen. And what amount? $35,000. What is the ledger description distribution? Legal expense.

Now, that is the heart of the case that the prosecution is trying to make, that Trump disguised these payments as legitimate legal expenses to cover up the payments of $35,000 to repay him for what happened with Stormy, or at least the allegations to silence her. But to be clear, you didn't hear from either witness directly testifying to Trump's knowledge.

Tarasoff said that she never actually saw Trump sign the checks when he was at the White House. Remember, all of these happened after the inauguration. And McConney testified he was never actually told that Trump instructed any of these payments. This is where the plot thickens for the burden of proof.


I want to go right to Katelyn Polantz, senior -- CNN senior crime and justice reporter, excuse me, Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor, Tim Parlatore, former Trump attorney, Elliot Williams, CNN legal analyst, and Molly Ball, senior political correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal."

So, again, it's a documents case, and documents can be sexy. Elliot, let's turn to you for a second. So, you've got -- there was no question there. Deborah Tarasoff and Jeffrey McConney, they testified about the $420,000. But break down for us about what that was showing to the jury. Okay, they did some math.


COATES: The arithmetic is there. How does that translate?

WILLIAMS: A couple things. Number one, the structuring of the payments and the $35,000, and we see it here, might look suspicious on its face. And I think the biggest concern for all parties involved came on cross-examination where they asked Jeffrey McConney directly, did you hear Donald Trump direct these payments? And forgive me, I'm paraphrasing a little bit, and he said, no.

And then they said, no further questions, your honor, because a big part of the defense's case is arguing, and they said it in their opening statement, they're going to say it in their closing, they're going to keep hammering this point, that there's no direct link between Donald Trump and the sort of provision of the payments.

Now, you can establish that someone knew that payments were being made by having every employee in his organization say, yeah, he -- it's a small business and he knows what's happening in it. You can establish that everybody knew what he wanted, but you don't have direct evidence linking him to it. And I think that's going to be the prosecution's big challenge, and I think will drive the next several days of testimony.

COATES: I think it's a huge Achilles' heel, right? I mean, you kind of want to have the -- did you order the code red moment? I was going to get a few good of reference in here somehow, someway, during this trial.


But if he takes the stand, maybe you can get that. But without that, you're left to have the innuendo, the inference that's happening of, you know, you've got a nice place here. That's all it seems to have established so far.

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, here's the thing. Circumstantial evidence is just as powerful as direct evidence.

COATES: It is.

ROSSI: And you're going to get a jury instruction on that. Elliot is right. Right now, we don't have that link. It's too attenuated. We need a link from the invoice to the scheme that started in August of 2015.

But I got to say this. Elliot mentioned that the structuring looks a little bit suspicious. I think it looks a lot suspicious, okay? And the reason is this. If you look at footnote 11 of the Southern District of New York's sentencing memo in the Michael Cohen case, the FEC in 2013 slapped the wrist of Trump and Cohen because Cohen was making payments because Trump was thinking about running for president in 2011. The whole birther thing, he was thinking about running against Romney.

So, they were on notice, and if it doesn't come out in Michael Cohen's testimony that they were slapped in 2013, then they are committing malpractice. The reason I bring that up is Trump knows what in-kind contribution is. Trump knows that if he is having a payment right before the election, he has to conceal that payment.

Now, here's where the rubber meets the road. If Weisselberg and Cohen were in their own room coming up with this souffle, the $130,000 to $420,000, I call it the souffle, all right? If they did it on their own without telling Trump, he's going to get acquitted, because there's no connection, no willfulness in the invoice.

So, Donald Trump today had a good day. I don't know if I would do the fist-pump, but he had a good day in the sense that they have an argument in closing. Right now, they can say something to the jury that is believable.

COATES: So, first of all, how dare you mention souffles at this hour? We're all hungry, and now we have a midnight snack happening. But Tim, let me ask you about this question. There was a moment here where the checks to reimburse Cohen were signed by Trump. Tarasoff did testify of this.

And here's what she said. Here's a question. If he didn't want to sign it, talking about the checks, if he didn't want to sign it, he didn't sign it. Did you ever see situations where he didn't sign checks? She said, yes. What would happen in those situations? He would write "void" on it and send it back. Question, how do you know he would write "void" on it? Answer, it was signed in a Sharpie in black. That is what he usually does.

So, there was some connection that he would sign alleged reimbursement checks. How damaging was that connection? Obviously, it's a bit tenuous. There's the White House versus what's happening at Trump Organization. But the fact that his -- I mean, he's somebody who was meticulous about what was being spent. It's in a Sharpie. It's not like it's a rubber stamp that's used. Is that harmful to his case?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I mean, I don't think it's that harmful because what are the circumstances under which he voids these checks? It's probably somebody that he has a specific disagreement with and he says, I don't want to pay this person.


And so, if he has, you know, invoices for Michael Cohen, let's say legal fees, he then gets checks from his staff saying, hey, sign this for Michael Cohen, and he doesn't have a specific beef where he says, yeah, I want to screw this guy out of his -- what he has owed, then he's going to sign the checks. I don't think it's not as much of a bombshell. The fact that he signed those checks, you know, the key here would be exactly what Jim was just saying, is to be able to tie him in to all those calculations.

And so, if all you can connect him to is the checks and maybe the invoice where it says the total for legal fees, then, yeah, he probably is going to get acquitted on that. I think that, you know, Weisselberg is really the key to this whole thing, and it would be interesting to see if he comes in to testify, what he's going to say about this, because, you know, Cohen -- you know, going on Cohen's word alone, I don't think it's quite enough.

COATES: Well, you know, Weisselberg is currently in jail, Katelyn, as you know, and there has been no indication he will be either a cooperator or cooperative with the prosecution. These cases not necessarily require that he has to come in, you know, with bells on his toes. But this is why I think they had Conway -- I mean -- what is his last name again? McConney. Thank you -- coming in to talk about this very issue.

But walk us through the ledgers and the invoices. They each show this $35,000 payment to Cohen. What did we learn from the paper trail that we actually do see?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yeah. So, when -- we don't expect Weisselberg to testify.

COATES: Right.

POLANTZ: That was well established coming into this trial. But --

COATES: And you can come in if you're in jail, they can bring you in.

POLANTZ: They could.

COATES: But him, they think they won't.

POLANTZ: There could always be a surprise. But if we look at what last week was in this trial, the circumstantial evidence that kept coming out and they kept hammering was everything related to the campaign, the motivations.

This week, when you're seeing the week start with these two people from the Trump Organization who may not have been privy to the scheme, weren't directly in Donald -- in touch with Donald Trump about talking about these payments, they are the people that are showing over and over again, Donald Trump controls the money. And the way they showed that is they're presenting evidence, they're getting evidence in.

So, it's not just people from the DA's office bringing in all the crucial evidence on record here. It's the people from Trump Org, the two pieces. First, there were a whole slew of emails from Michael Cohen being sent to Jeff McConney at the Trump Org saying, did you get my invoice? Pay my invoice, pay my invoice every month for that $35,000. And in one of them, Jeff McConney wrote back to him, I'll check the status tomorrow. D.J.T., Donald J. Trump, needs to sign the check. So that highlights Trump's involvement.

And then you're seeing ledgers, even before we get to the checks themselves, that the subsequent witness brought into the record, Jeff McConney was able to show to the jury, and there will be lawyers looking at this, scrutinizing it, professionals on this jury looking at it when they go to deliberate.

These invoices to Michael Cohen are in two parts. There are ones that are paid out of the D.J.T. Rev, which is the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, which is signed off on by the sons, Allen Weisselberg. And then there are nine payments, $315,000 coming out of a personal account of Donald Trump.

COATES: This is so important because many people know and, obviously, the jury is familiar with Donald Trump, probably as this celebrity, as the apprentice, and as somebody whose reputation, his name is on the building. Right? Whether it's his -- being as his father or otherwise.

Molly, he capitalized for so many years on people believing that he was the person in control, that it was -- the buck stops there, he controls everything. And we heard from testimony, Kim talking about, really, it run kind of as a mom and pop, as Jim Acosta said earlier today, more pop than mom. The fact that you've got this playing out, how does that play, you think, politically and for this jury that they assume that he was running the show?

MOLLY BALL, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, you know, I think politically and for the jury, it is -- it's -- it's a similar big picture question and it is about the intent. And so, yeah, the jury is having to hear all of this very, you know, dry minutia about documents. Not that documents aren't sexy. Certainly not saying that, you know.


And you're right. You know, this is a -- this is a case about falsification of business records. Today, we saw the business records. That was a big reveal. However, what this case is going to hinge on and the reason the subject of most of the debate about the case outside of the courtroom has been about more about the abstract legal issues involved is that we are not learning a huge amount of new information through the testimony of these witnesses.

We have known for years the broad strokes of these scandals. We've known what these witnesses mostly had to say, especially the bigger name witnesses who've been out there, you know, saying their case against Trump for years, particularly Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.


So, it's not that there are factual revelations. It's much more about building a narrative around two different ideas of why it was done. Right? And so that is why I think a lot of the political debate around this case has been about the framing of it. And should -- is this a crime? Should this be a crime? Does it rise to the level of a felony? Was -- did it have to do with the campaign?

All of that stuff around the intentionality of it, I think, is politically crucial because to the extent that voters are following this, that's what matters to them. And also, I think that's ultimately what the jury is going to be called upon to decide, not so much what are the facts here, but how do they interpret those facts?

COATES: The framing is going to be very important. We all know how this is going to be part of the summation. That's really important to consider, how this will all be summarized for the jury when closing arguments do begin, because every little bit we're talking about, they're going to have to have it come back together, and that jigsaw puzzle has got to be complete.

Thank you so much, everyone. Stick around. Next, Judge Merchan threatening Trump with jail time after holding him in contempt for violating his gag order yet again but, of course, before the last time he ordered the penalty. So, what could that actually look like? We've got a retired judge to tell us next.




COATES: Tonight, contingency plans are being drawn up in case Donald J. Trump goes to jail for violating the gag order. Sources are telling CNN the Secret Service is working with New York State and local officials to maybe create some kind of a jail plan.

One option assumes that Judge Merchan might sentence him to just a few hours in custody, time he could serve inside the Manhattan courthouse where the hush money trial is actually happening. But if he is sentenced to days in jail, he could be placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshals and even sent to a nearby federal courthouse.

Merchan calls jail a last resort, but it's a real possibility after he put Trump on notice and ruled that the former president violated the gag order now for a 10th time. That means at $1,000 a pop, Trump has got to pay $10,000 total in fines. Now, after court, Trump sounded like he was willing to go to jail so he can say whatever he wants.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This judge is giving me a gag order and said, you'll go to jail if you violate it. And frankly, you know what? Our Constitution is much more important than jail. It's not even close. I'll do that sacrifice any day.


COATES: As Mike Tyson says, everyone has a plan to get punched in the face. Not sure he wants to do that. But with me now, retired California Superior Court judge, LaDoris Cordell. Thank you so much for joining us this evening, Your Honor.

Let me ask you. I mean, you've obviously have been following this very closely. I mean, the judge told Trump, your continued violations of this court's lawful order threaten to interfere with the administration of justice is constant attacks which constitute a direct attack on the rule of law. Now, mind you, the prosecution is not asking for jail time. Would you jail him despite the prosecution not even asking for it?

JUDGE LADORIS CORDELL, RETIRED CALIFORNIA SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: Well, thank you for having me on. Before I even answer that, let me just say that Judge Merchan is being very deliberate. He's also being cautious. And that's where I differ with him. I do not understand why he is being so cautious now. And he did something. He said something in court I wouldn't have said had I been presiding over this. He said to Donald Trump, you're a really important person and it's really something if I have to lock you up. And at the same time, as you just reported, he said, you, Mr. Important Person, are basically a threat to the rule of law. So, those two things conflict, in my view.

If you are not following orders, if you're breaking them 10 times, and in this instance, because of New York law, the fine does not fit the crime, the law needs to be changed to enhance that. But that being said, there's nothing left to do. The fines have been done. It's not a deterrence. He keeps doing this stuff. So, it's enough already.

And another thing, if I were presiding over this case and saw a defendant do what Donald Trump does in court when the judge speaks about this directly to him, Donald Trump frowns, he shakes his head as if, you know, I don't want to hear this, any other judge would look at this and say, you know, you know what? That's enough, time to go. So, he is disrespecting the judge when the judge is actually trying to explain why I'm not going down that road. And even Donald Trump is rejecting that.

So, you've mentioned, well, yeah, there's a holding cell. It's not really a cell. It's a room where people sit in, defendants sit in. So, yeah, that's not jail. There's house arrest. That's not jail. So, other people who violate the law by ignoring a judge's order with regard to contempt proceedings, they sit in a jail. They put on jail clothing.

COATES: I hear you.

CORDELL: They're on handcuffs.

COATES: Well, judge, on that point, I have to tell you, I have -- you're right. I've sat in many courtrooms where the judge has had the equivalent of the mom fix your face to the defendant who is smirking or reacting in some way. There are consequences for that.

But just to be clear for the audience, the additional violations the judge found predated the order for the initial $9,000 in fines. And then it said, look, anything going past this moment in time essentially could result in incarceration.

But is it all or nothing? I mean, talk to me about the potential for a graduated jail sentence. There could be an hour during lunch. There could be after that day. There could be for a night. I mean, it does necessarily mean that he would have to serve the duration of the trial in contempt. Right?

CORDELL: Yeah, you're exactly right, if I were presiding over this trial and if I decided there were not -- say there's another contempt violation. And you're correct, these were all happened before the judge said, you're going to go to jail.

[23:25:02] But the judge could do this if there's another violation. And trust me, Laura, there's going to be another violation. It's coming. In which case I could impose jail and say, I'm going to stay the punishment. The jail sentence stayed, meaning hold off on it until the end of the trial. And as you continue to misbehave, I'm going to consider adding more jail time till --

COATES: And the purpose of that, Your Honor, is what?

CORDELL: -- it gets to the point where it is time for me to sentence you.

COATES: The purpose that you don't --

CORDELL: Say that again, please.

COATES: The purpose of that would be not to disrupt the flow of the trial. He would have to sort of attack on.

CORDELL: Exactly.

COATES: Well, let me ask you on that point.

CORDELL: Exactly. And it would hang over Trump's head.

COATES: Yeah. I -- absolutely. I understand that particular philosophy. Let me ask you, though, two quick points. I wonder if you're concerned when you're talking about punishment, given what Trump has said, is this truly going to be punishment or an opportunity for perhaps martyrdom? Would you consider that point about jailing him?

And the second part, of course, is this judge has already said that he is not going to -- if Trump takes a stand, he is not going to allow the violations to go before the jury. They won't know that he has these contempt violations available because he thought, look, this is a jury that's in front of me every single day. They have, you know, respect for me. Me having that particular moment would be prejudicial. How would you rule?

CORDELL: All right. So, first question was if he'll be a martyr. He's going to do whatever he does, no matter what the judge orders. But the issue becomes this: If you're a judge, it shouldn't matter. It must not matter what the mob is saying. When you make a ruling, it's based on what happens in your courtroom. So, the judge should not be concerned at all. You get judges who start making decisions, but first checking how it's going to be received out there. We don't have an independent judiciary. Your second question, what was your second point?

COATES: Would you consider -- I mean, when you're thinking about, and I appreciate you taking the time to answer both, when you're looking at the decision to have a jury know about the violations, if he takes the stand.

CORDELL: Right. Right. So, the contempt is separate from the trial. So, if Donald Trump were to testify, he would be instructed, we're not going there, no one will ask you any questions about the gag order. However, because he cannot control his mouth, it is likely, if you were to testify, he would probably say something. Well, this crooked judge has gagged me, in which case he's opened the door. And in that case, prosecution can go right in and show how he has made statements that have threatened the jury and threatened witnesses. So, it's all up to him.

COATES: Another peril potentially for somebody willing to take the stand. Judge LaDoris Cordell, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

CORDELL: Thank you.

COATES: Thank you, Your Honor.

Next, a lifelong Republican now ditching Trump, saying, enough is enough. Why former Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan said that he is now voting, get this, for Joe Biden in November.

Plus, evacuations and new explosions heard in southern Gaza after Israel says a ceasefire proposal tempted by Hamas is far from its demands. Tonight, the new pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu and President Biden.




KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, senator, will you commit to accepting the election results of 2024? Bottom line.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At the end of the day, the 47th president of the United States will be President Donald Trump. I'm excited to get back to low inflation, low unemployment --

WELKER: Wait, wait, senator. Yes or no. Yes or no? Will you accept the election results of 2024 no matter who wins?

SCOTT: That is my statement.


COATES: Kind of like NeNe Leakes, I said what I said. We'll talk about verbal gymnastics. Senator Tim Scott repeatedly refusing to say that he'd accept the results of the 2024 election. Maybe because he might just happen to be on this particular screen, on the short list to be Donald Trump's next vice president.

Not on that list, of course, is the former lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan. He's one of the Georgia Republicans who was pressured to change the election in 2020. And tonight, he is revealing in a brand- new op-ed that he is voting for President Joe Biden in November. He's also urging fellow Republicans to do the same. Quote -- I'll read a portion of it -- "The healing of the Republican Party cannot begin with Trump as president (and that's aside from the untold damage that potentially awaits our country)."

Political commentator, former lieutenant governor of Georgia, Geoff Duncan, joins me now. So good to have you on, lieutenant governor. I mean, in recent weeks, we've seen a lot of longtime critics of the former president publicly saying that. So, what? I'm still going to vote for him. You actually voted and campaigned from back in 2020. Why the change of heart now?

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we've been faking this long enough as Republicans. Donald Trump is not a Republican. He doesn't represent our brand. He doesn't represent our future. He's a horrible human being at this point. We're watching that play out hour by hour in the courtroom. And we've been jamming this square peg through a round hole long enough. And it's time to turn the page. It's time to move on.

If we're going to heal as a party and truly get back to doing the things that we should do, and that's be conservative, but not angry or crazy or liars, we should we should turn the page immediately from Donald Trump. And so that's really what I'm calling for.

And look, listening to clips like Tim Scott that you played coming into this is just painful. It's painful to listen to this. It's time to turn the page and move on.

COATES: I mean, you've called out Mitch McConnell. You've called out New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. You've called out Bill Barr for all supporting Trump. They all say, look, it's because of the policy. Now, you have proposed that perhaps you -- Republicans can vote down the rest of the ballot as Republicans to try to block Biden's legislative agenda, but then still vote for Biden as the top of that ticket.


But wouldn't that mean that nothing will really get done in Washington for four years if that's the fall?

DUNCAN: Does anybody think anything is going to get done if Donald Trump is the president? I mean, all he's going to do is go on this vendetta tour around the world. There's nothing that's going to be done. In fact, I would argue there would be more damage done.

Look, the play for a conservative like me that cares about the future of this country is to build the necessary majorities in the Congress so that we can have a meaningful checks and balance system if Joe Biden is the president.

And look, I've said this in the op-ed, I'm voting for a decent person that I disagree with on policies over a criminal defendant who has no moral compass. And that's not tough to argue, right? Those are proven facts. COATES: Well, in the past, I've heard from -- many Republican will say, look, if I can't bring myself to vote for Trump, I'm going to write in someone else. I'm still not going to vote for a Democrat. You say you're going to vote for President Biden. There has been a lot of criticism, I'm sure, coming your way for doing just that or saying just that. How do you respond to people who say they have third party option, write someone else in, but why vote for a Democrat?

DUNCAN: Look, sometimes, the best way to learn your lesson is to get beat, and Donald Trump needs to get beat. We need to move on as a party. We need to move on as a country. And certainly, I've got concerns with some of the policies that President Biden follows. And I hope to be able to, like many other Republicans, be able to sway their influence on immigration and other issues that we disagree with wholeheartedly.

But look, to think Donald Trump is wholeheartedly a conservative is just fake news at its finest. Donald Trump is not a conservative. He rationed $8 trillion worth of debt during his presidency. He told us he was going to build a wall. He built a photo station down at the border. This guy is a fake Republican. We have to move on as Republicans. We have to. And this is our first step to do it.

Look, there's a lot of folks sitting at home that have said out loud on TV that they're supporting Donald Trump, but they're watching this play out right here, they're reading this op-ed, wishing they probably had the courage to do the same thing. It's time to turn the page as Republicans and move on.

COATES: Well, talk to me about Georgia particularly because, as you know, the polls show that there is a pretty close race for the presidency between Biden and Trump. And he's actually leading, according to the polling. It's, you know, not so far away, but leading in Georgia, which is a very important swing state.

If you can see the screen, they have 51% towards Trump, 45% for Biden in among Georgia voters. Will voters in Georgia, which has always been a unique place since 2020 in particular, will it heed your warning?

DUNCAN: I think Georgians are going to vote against Donald Trump, right? I mean, at the end of the day, you have to win the suburbs in Georgia if you're going to win an election. Brian can't prove that. He won the suburbs. He showed them that he was a job creator. He was an honest human being. He did the right thing when it counted the most.

And Donald Trump has not done that. When these court cases play out on TV in the suburbs, specifically, women in the suburbs are paying attention to these cases. There's not a single one of them that's going, oh, you know what? I've changed my mind on this Donald Trump guy. He's just a fantastic human being. He's a perfect leader for our country. That's just not happening.

And so, I think as we get closer and closer to November, this election is going to pull further and further away from Donald Trump, and therefore, Joe Biden will end up walking away with this election. COATES: Geoff Duncan, thank you so much. I want to continue our conversation with our panel here. We've got CNN political commentator Maria Cardona, former Republican congressman Joe Walsh, former State Department spokesperson Nayyera Haq, and Molly Ball is also back with us.

So, Joe, I mean, is the former lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan, a bit of a Republican unicorn?

JOE WALSH, FORMER ILLINOIS REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, he is. Look, I give him, Laura, a lot of credit because it takes courage. And I know this myself as a Republican four years ago when I came out and stood up and said, I support Joe Biden. I knew at that moment as a Republican, I was ending my career as a Republican.

What Geoff Duncan is doing right now is he's ending his career as a Republican. It takes courage because unlike Chris Christie and Bill Barr and all the rest who say Trump sucks, but I won't vote for Biden, I give him credit.

But look, they're not moving on from Trump. I give Duncan credit, but he says this isn't -- you know, Trump is not a Republican. Bullcrap. This is what the Republican Party is now. It's his party. It's not my party and it's not Duncan's party.

COATES: Do you agree it was a queer suicide? I mean, Georgia, in particular?

NAYYERA HAQ, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it depends on how much of the map and how much of the party is still going to survive after this election. Right? The majority of the American electorate right now is independent.

And that's because of the droves of people who have unregistered as Republican and check the box saying I -- and you have several members of Congress who have resigned just this last year. They have not said it's because they're anti-Trump and pro-Biden.

But the younger ones in particular, including Mike Gallagher from Wisconsin, a really important state, they are calculating that even if Trump wins, that there is going to be life after Trump.


But they're not doing what Duncan is saying right now, which is coming out directly against him. They are stepping back, hoping that there's going to be an alternative future.

COATES: What do Democrats do with this? I mean, is Duncan somebody, if he is a unicorn, is it helpful to have this out there? Does this help them to buttress their own campaign?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it absolutely is helpful for brave souls like Geoff Duncan, like Joe Walsh, and others to come out and to publicly say what kind of an existential threat Donald Trump will be to our country. Because Geoff Duncan is very well respected, especially in Georgia, I think he could make a big difference in that incredibly important state as he talks about this. And my hope is that he will continue to talk about this and talk about the importance of making this moral choice, not just for the future of the Republican Party.

And I agree with you, this is no longer the Republican Party that you all grew up with, but it can be again because a party, the survival of a -- of a political party can't just depend on one person. That will be gone when Trump is gone. We just need to make sure Trump is gone right now.

COATES: Maria, so should Biden be actively reaching out to someone like Duncan and having him go around?

CARDONA: I think he should. Absolutely.

COATES: Has he? I mean, I don't know if he has or not at this point in time.

CARDONA: Well, this just happened, so let's give him a minute.

WALSH: But I don't think he has.

COATES: Well, he might have an iPhone. He can call quickly. We can text him. What's going on?

CARDONA: But I will say this: The campaign is absolutely focused on trying to rally anyone and everyone who understands what a threat Donald Trump is for the future of not just the party, again, for the future of our democracy, for the future of everyone who lives in this democracy, and for the future of every single voter who is looking at this contrast, right? What this election is about.

COATES: Let me get you in here, Molly, because I'm really curious about your opinion on this. When you -- when you look at -- I mean, you heard from Senator Tim Scott as well. I mean, that -- that sickened Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, to hear that, the inability to give a straight answer. But there's a real political calculation for Senator Tim Scott.

BALL: Absolutely. And, you know, look, I think the Biden campaign needs a lot more Geoff Duncans. And to Maria's point, they need to be doing a lot more to reach out to the Geoff Duncans of the world.

And what I have heard from a lot of, you know, anti-Trump Republicans or conservative-leaning independents is they feel like those overtures are not there now. Maybe they're just not there yet. And the Biden campaign has done some sort of, I would argue, nominal outreach to Haley voters to say, you know, you're still casting these protest votes against Donald Trump, come have a home in our party.

But they have not really been trying to broaden out the tent. They seem to have so far mostly been focused on shoring up their base, keeping liberals in the tent, preventing these, you know, disaffected young people in particular from continuing to bleed out on that end of the campaign.

So, I will be very curious to see as we head into the summer and the fall, as the time gets shorter before November, if there is more proactive outreach, particularly on policy, because what I hear from a lot of those conservative- leaning independents is that they are actually coming home to the Republican Party, that they tried boycotting.

COATES: But which one, the one that Joe is talking about or the one --

BALL: The one that exists today. The one with Trump in it. Because they look at the Biden who promised to, you know, restore normalcy and order and be a uniter and be moderate. And a lot of them don't feel like that's the way that he has governed. So, I think Biden has some real work to do with that segment of the electorate.

COATES: Everyone's bed.

HAQ: Well, the challenge is going to be, of course, the fact that the policies don't align when you have abortion on the ballot. Democracy, very important existential crisis, is not polling as high as issues like women's health care and the economy.

COATES: We'll see what happens. A lot to think about. Everyone, stand by, please, because ahead, Israel steps up airstrikes in southern Gaza as a ceasefire proposal accepted by Hamas fall short. So, where do they go from here and how could President Biden possibly influence it? That's ahead.



COATES: Fast-moving developments tonight in the Middle East as Israel pushes forward with the military operation in the Gazan city of Rafah. We're now learning from CNN that Israeli forces plan to take over the Palestinian side of Rafah crossing in southern Gaza, the key entry point for humanitarian aid.

And just a short time ago, the sound of gunfire could be heard on the Egyptian side of that crossing. Escalation is coming just hours after Hamas announced it had agreed to a ceasefire proposal brokered by Egypt and Qatar. That sparked celebrations in Gaza. But it was short lived.

Afterwards, Israel said the proposal accepted by Hamas was far from Israel's requirement. And we are learning that it's different from the one Israel, of course, helped to craft. The Hamas-backed proposal includes a call for a permanent end to the war, which is a red line for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Israel says that it will send negotiators to talk with the mediators.

Now, within Israel, protesters, including some hostage families, have taken to the streets to call for the Israeli government to accept this ceasefire deal. My panel is back here, along with CNN global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier and CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton, a colonel from the U.S. Air Force. Colonel Leighton, Israel appeared to have this pressure stepped up. But so, what does the operation look like now?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Laura, I think the basic idea is that the operation looks like an encirclement. What they're going to try to do, what the Israelis are going to try to do, is take the area right by the border, which there are indications that they're doing that. Plus, they may move in forces from the east. Tanks have already moved from Israel into the eastern part of Rafah and possibly also from the north.


So, if they do that, they're going to encircle the area that they're targeting. How large that targeted area is -- remains to be seen. But the big idea, I think, is that they're going to try to eliminate Hamas as much as they possibly can within Rafah. And if they do that, then they are trying to basically create conditions on the ground that will be favorable to Netanyahu's being able to say that he has achieved some degree of victory.

COATES: I want you to look for a second at these leaflets that were falling. I've been wondering all day what was on them and what specifically they were telling the people who were there. And they were dropped by the IDF, and they were ordering immediate evacuation of residents in eastern Rafah. And you can see -- it also is telling, here's the translation, it's telling residents in specific block that they are in danger. So, how do you have an evacuation of this size even work?

LEIGHTON: Well, it really depends on everybody following the guidelines that the Israelis have.

COATES: Block by block?

LEIGHTON: Block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. And they've had this grid system for a while now. And they're basically telling people to move according to those blocks. And if they do that, they say that they're going to be safe. But we know that the Israelis have had some issues maintaining the degree of targeting precision that they need to in order to keep that from happening.

COATES: Kim, I thought that Biden warned against this. Netanyahu essentially is saying end?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: From Netanyahu's point of view, he's got a limited window in which he can go after Yahya Sinwar and other top Hamas figures that he thinks, that the Israeli defense forces think, are sheltering in the tunnels beneath Rafah.

If this conflict ends and Netanyahu can't point to taking out the top Hamas leadership inside Gaza, that is a political loss for him, and that spells almost certain loss at the next time he runs for office. But also, this onslaught, this threatened onslaught, seems to have goosed Hamas into blinking and saying yes to a ceasefire deal. Of course, now we know it's their terms as they see them that are acceptable.

This is also a way to give Netanyahu a black eye because now it's on Israel. It's on Netanyahu to say, oh, well, this isn't the deal that we signed up for after you see all these celebrations in Gaza, etc.

HAQ: This is also part of the challenge that we see when you have these negotiations that are effectively led by third parties and the parties aren't talking directly to each other.

COATES: Egypt and Qatar.

HAQ: Exactly. Right. I mean, Egypt kind of friend to everybody in this, Qatar directly tied to Hamas, and the United States being involved, representing Israel. So, Hamas decided, narratively, they were going to jump and they were going to say, hey, we're on board. We will do a six-week hostage release program, knowing specifically that hostage release is the fundamental challenge that Netanyahu is facing politically, is getting his people back. And now, Israel is going to have to come to the table directly in order to be able to move this forward.

WALSH: I'll be quick. They're playing games. Hamas is playing games. And I know we call this Netanyahu's war. The entire war. If Netanyahu were gone tomorrow, Israel is going to go into Rafah to do what they can to eliminate Hamas. And politically at home, I think it's incumbent upon Biden as much as possible to stand with Israel.

CARDONA: Well, and he has up until now. But, as you know, there's a huge challenge within his own coalition because of people who see the horrific images that are happening. And that's what I am actually going to see, what happens, I'm sure we all are, in terms of how will Israel act in this -- this next phase. Will there be horrific images? Will there be images that also then come back here and goose up the protests that are happening?

But I think at the end of the day, what people are going to wait for is what is Biden going to do. And we're not going to see what Biden does on a day to day basis. Right? That is not his goal. Right?

He is going to have these conversations with Netanyahu. They're not going to be made public nor should they, because that's not how you do diplomacy, as you all very well know. But he has been able to warn Netanyahu in a way that I don't think any other leader has in terms of what the repercussions will be if he is not careful about how he adjudicates this war.

COATES: So, Molly, I mean, the fact that Netanyahu is the one to say no and Biden at home is being blamed, how does this play?

BALL: Well, look, I think Biden has repeatedly sought to rein in Netanyahu with mixed success. There have -- there are at least a couple of instances where you could point to where the pressure from Biden actually did cause Netanyahu to pull back a little bit. At the same time, we have also seen Netanyahu repeatedly do things that Biden told him not to do, and I think that makes the president look weak.

I just want to add, Biden is going to Capitol Hill tomorrow, giving a speech in honor of the Holocaust remembrance.


I think this is a really important opportunity for him to reset the narrative about antisemitism specifically, but also just to offer some moral clarity, because I think his detractors on the left and the right feel that there has not been a moral vision guiding his statements and often sort of equivocations as he has tried to sort of manage this war from afar. And so, I think it's an important speech.

HAQ: This is also -- the challenge that we have inside Israel is that, what is that moral narrative other than eliminating Hamas? And there are many people within Israel who would argue that actually the elimination of Hamas by occupying Gaza has taken the distraction away, taken attention away from what's going on in West Bank, what's going up in the north of Hezbollah, and those are the security priorities.

COATES: Quickly, Colonel Leighton, what is the impact of Biden's influence on Netanyahu? Is there any?

LEIGHTON: There's a significant impact. And I think the key thing to keep in mind, as Molly was mentioning, the way in which the president is exercising his influence is very different from what you want people to do in a public domain.

It is something where he's doing it privately. He is making it work in a way that is correct from a diplomatic standpoint. Whether it wins him votes or not, of course, is going to be a different issue.

But it's going to be absolutely key to peace in the Middle East or at least the movement towards some type of peace. That's exactly what Biden's goal is.

COATES: That was the issue that I know that you raise as well, Kim, on this very point, what's going on behind the scenes. And there's so much more to unpack as these events are quickly unfolding.

I want to thank everyone today. And thank you for watching. Our coverage continues with "Anderson Cooper 360" next.