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Laura Coates Live

Prosecution Wraps Its Closing Argument And Jury Will Begin Deliberation In Trump's Criminal Trial; Robert De Niro Spars With Trump Supporters At Courthouse; Uvalde Families Sue Gunmaker, Instagram, And Video Game Company. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired May 28, 2024 - 23:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Donald Trump's criminal trial goes into overtime and the ball is about to be in the jury's court, tonight on a special edition of "Laura Coates Live."

Twelve New York jurors are just a few hours now away from finally deliberating what they have spent weeks listening to, one of the highest profile cases in all of American history. And tomorrow morning, around 10:00 Eastern, they're going to get specific instructions to follow from the judge before they're then sent off to really talk amongst themselves. And we all wish, I do, we could be a fly on the wall, but we will have to wait for the smoke signal to know just what they decide.

And on day 21, yes day 21 of Trump's trial, the jurors today got some final words to consider. Actually, they got a lot of words to consider. Do you realize that closing arguments lasted more than seven hours? About three for the defense, who went first, and then nearly five hours for the prosecution. It didn't even end until about 8:00 tonight.

Now, one thing the jurors will have to grapple with rounds, well, a person you're going to guess correctly when I say his name, Michael Cohen. How important is he in trying to decide whether Trump is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? Well, according to the defense, they argue his credibility is so damaged that none of what he said should ever be considered in the jurors' decision. Todd Blanche saying, "Michael Cohen. He's the human embodiment of reasonable doubt. Literally." Blanche went on, "Michael Cohen is the gloat. He's literally the greatest liar of all time." Not much of, yeah, a glow there. Blanche says, "You cannot -- you cannot send somebody to prison, you cannot convict somebody." Well, objection, the court sustained. Mr. Blanche saying, "You cannot convict somebody based upon the words of Michael Cohen."

Now, there was an objection and it was the right one to make because referencing prison was a huge deal. I'll explain why in just a moment.

But the defense countered the prosecution's attack on Cohen head-on with this: Steinglass, the person who was the prosecutor in this case, said, "Michael Cohen's significance in this case that he provides context and color to the documents, the phone records, the texts, the recordings. He's like a tour guide through the physical evidence. But, those documents don't lie. And they don't forget." He went on to say, "Those documents tell you everything you need to know. You don't need Michael Cohen to connect these dots. But, as the ultimate insider, he can help you to do just that."

Joining us now, former attorney for Michael Cohen, Lanny Davis. Lanny, good to see you this evening. I know that you and I have had several conversations over the course of this trial. We both expected that Michael Cohen would be a significant part of the trial and a significant part of the summations, and today did not disappoint. I do wonder what you made of the way the prosecution and the defense, over about eight hours-worth of time, laid out their case talking about Michael Cohen. What do you make of it?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: Well, first of all, I think both sides had great legal representation. I do think there's a difference in the way the jury heard the presentation between labeling and character attacks, making the case as if Michael Cohen is the indicted accused person, versus looking at hard evidence and documents that can't lie, that establish the guilt on the two charges. And those two are very difficult choices for a jury to make because they will be influenced by character and labeling versus evidence that is in front of them.


But let me at least try to simplify my view of this, Laura, by just two --

COATES: Uh-hmm.

DAVIS: -- basic questions the jury has to face that are factual questions, and I'll trust their decision because I believe in the jury system, whether they acquit or convict or whether they're split. Question number one, I think, is powerful in favor of the prosecution. Did Donald Trump have political motivation to buy the hush money method to keep Stormy Daniels's affair quiet? Was it politically motivated?

Now, if the answer is yes, you may not like the statute that calls that a crime, but it's a crime. And I can tell you it's a crime because Michael Cohen went to prison with federal prosecutors who worked for Donald Trump, calling it not only a crime to give money to keep somebody quiet with bad information that one candidate may not want voters to hear. Actually, Trump's prosecutors call that crime an impairment and endanger to our democracy.

COATES: I hear you, Lanny, but what's number two? I want to hear the number two.

DAVIS: Well, number two is, did Donald Trump lie when he called the $35,000 a month checks to Michael Cohen? Legal fees. If the jury believes that he lied, then that's the motivation for the false booking, which federal prosecutors working for Donald Trump said there was a false booking that called them legal fees. But was Donald Trump lying when he called them legal fees?

And so, my question that I think the jury will have to answer is when Michael's statement is weighed against Allen Weisselberg's notes. It's Allen Weisselberg's notes that speak louder than Michael Cohen's version. His notes say $130,000 is part of the equation that led to $35,000 a month checks by Donald Trump.

COATES: And Lanny, I want to --

DAVIS: Now, $130,000 cannot be legal.

COATES: Hold on. Lanny, we're not going to over talk each other.

DAVIS: Sorry.

COATES: I do want to have a conversation --

DAVIS: Sorry.

COATES: -- and so I'm going to interject. Thank you.

DAVIS: Sorry.

COATES: So, when you're talking about Allen Weisselberg's notes, and this is important part, the actual, the audience is seeing that on the screen right now, I know you had raised these two points. The crux of the issue, of course, are 34 counts of falsified business records. They have to indeed prove what you just talked about in terms of falsified records.

But that Weisselberg document, laying out the $420,000 reimbursement, $35,000 a month, the defense tried to suggest that this was not as damning as you suggest because Michael Cohen padded part of the expenses. He lied about what was owed to him from the polling company, or that he submitted falsified documents, or perhaps even more importantly, that Allen Weisselberg's absence is a huge seed of reasonable doubt. How should the jury have seen that?

DAVIS: Okay, let's just be simple. I'm sorry I went on too long, Laura. My apologies.

COATES: It's okay.

DAVIS: A $130,000 is written on that document, multiplied by two, to make Michael whole for income taxes. A $130,000, the jury has already concluded, in my opinion, was to pay Stormy Daniels to be quiet. It was not about legal fees.

So, has the defense explained the $130,000 number on the Weisselberg notes? As to him being absent, everybody on that jury knows how close Weisselberg and Mr. Trump were. The defense does not deny that. Mr. Weisselberg chose not to testify. He is in prison for perjury because he is so close to Mr. Trump. That will be the jury's fair inference and that's up to the jury to decide, and I'll respect that.

But the $130,000, I would repeat to you, Laura, nobody can say that $130,000 was for legal fees unless the defense can say that and persuade the jury that $130,000 paid to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet was for legal fees. That's evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, in my opinion, of Donald Trump's guilt.

COATES: Lanny Davis, I don't suppose you've had a chance to speak with Michael Cohen at all about how he views the way he was characterized in this trial.

DAVIS: Very, very briefly -- no, I haven't. I've deliberately left Michael alone. It has been a very difficult time for him to hear the word liar, liar, liar, liar, when it's as if he's the one that is on trial.

I believe that the prosecution had it exactly right when the defense tried to turn this into a trial about Michael Cohen, whereas the fact is -- the fact is, and it's an irrefutable fact, that Michael Cohen is reading a book as a narrator, confirming documents that speak for themselves. You cannot say someone is a liar when they're reading a book, confirming a narrative. That's what the prosecution said today, and I think they're right.

COATES: Lanny Davis, thank you so much for joining.

DAVIS: Thanks, Laura.

COATES: I look forward to speaking with you again. Thank you so much.

DAVIS: Thanks for having me. COATES: Well, joining me now, former federal prosecutor Alyse Adamson, CNN legal commentator and former Trump attorney, Tim Parlatore, CNN legal analyst Karen Friedman Agnifilo. Karen is counsel for a firm that represents Michael Cohen, but she does not have any contact with him specifically. She does not work on his case.


Also, former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi is here, and law enforcement reporter for "The Washington Post," Devlin Barrett, who was in court today.

I'll begin with you, Devlin, because to Lanny's point, one, he talked about political motivation as being the most important aspect of this case which, of course, speaks to what was the incentive behind paying off Stormy Daniels. The other part was that Michael Cohen was, in the words of the prosecution, a deflection. Focusing on him was trying to deflect away from the attention of what the underlying crimes were.

I want to know how this was reading in the courtroom. We weren't able to watch the presentation by either counsel. Was it theatrical? Were they subdued? Tell me about their mannerisms in delivering their closings.

DEVLIN BARRETT, LAW ENFORCEMENT REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, I wouldn't say any of it was subdued. I think Todd Blanche the defense lawyer, got a little more heated and a little more emotional at times, calling Michael Cohen a liar, a perjurer, and essentially saying, you know, he's the one thing -- he's quicksand to a case. You cannot build anything on him.

The prosecutor was a little different. He was also emotional at times, but he was more biting and controlled in how he delivered his lines. There were a couple moments where he made specific points about Cohen, where I noticed one of the jurors was nodding along in agreement, and I thought that was interesting, that he seemed to have at least the agreement and endorsement a little bit of one juror.

But overall, look, we're -- we're -- in some ways, we're in the same exact place we started with, right? If you believe the papers, you're probably leaning toward conviction. If you have serious concerns about Michael Cohen, you are probably not leaning toward conviction. That was the argument that was laid out by both sides.


BARRETT: They're both just coming at the same facts from completely different ends.

COATES: A really important point. I want to bring in my panel into the room as well, because when you talk about the way the defense began, of course, in New York, it's very different than what happens in television. We're talking about this this morning. The defense goes first for the closing argument, then the prosecution has the last word. If it were federal court, it would be the prosecution having the first bite, then the defense, and then a rebuttal. Trump was angry about this, knowing that he was going to not have the final word here.

But the defense wanted to talk about that quicksand argument, that this entire case rises and falls with Michael Cohen. And if that's the case, that the prosecution has not met their burden. Were they effective?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: You know, I think that they were effective in that. Yeah, I think that there was a lot of extra stuff that they could have, you know, left out. But, you know, in making the point that Michael Cohen is the linchpin for this and really focusing in on the meeting, you know, the alleged meeting between Trump, Weisselberg, and Cohen, that's the one piece of this case that is a necessary element that there is no documentation for. And, you know, they've corroborated --

COATES: Well, they have -- they're going to tell you they have the notes. That's not enough.

PARLATORE: Sure. Well -- and the notes -- the notes absolutely corroborate a meeting between Allen Weisselberg and Michael Cohen.

COATES: Uh-hmm.

PARLATORE: But they don't corroborate whether Trump was there, whether Trump was informed, whether Trump agreed. And the only way that you put Donald Trump in the room is Michael Cohen's word. Otherwise, you definitely have an agreement between Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg.

COATES: What we just --

PARLATORE: But neither of them is defendant.

COATES: Sorry about that. What we just saw on the screen was notes from Mr. McConney, who is on the right. These are notes that he took referencing his conversation with Allen Weisselberg. They both add up -- although it is chicken scratch, Karen, they both add up to $420,000, the amount of money to repay. We know from the testimony that part of this was a padded amount for Michael Cohen from that polling entity to try to buttress the credibility of Trump.

But when you look at the fact that, connecting the dots, there has been a lot of information about Michael Cohen, about Allen Weisselberg, was there enough from the defense's perspective to connect Donald Trump?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, I think it's very -- there's definitely argument to be made on the defense side that there are weaknesses in the case, right? That the only thing placing Donald Trump in the room is Michael Cohen and how can you trust his word. That there's -- yes, there are phone calls between Cohen and Trump, and yes, there are other things, meetings between them, but to know the content or the substance of it, you have to rely on Michael Cohen.

And I think the problem I had with the defense summation was you didn't get to that until the very end, that he spent so much time on things that I thought were irrelevant like whether or not -- whether or not Trump had an affair with Stormy Daniels. What does that have to do with anything? You know, there was a payoff, right? There was a hush money payoff. Whether or not -- COATES: You mean because they don't actually have to prove whether that was true, just that there was incentive to pay her?

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Exactly. And so, I thought that was just strange because I don't think anyone on the planet believes that they did -- that Donald Trump is paying $130,000, grossed up times three, because there's a photo of Donald Trump on a golf course standing next to Stormy Daniels.


So, I think the whole world believes. You know, so why are you even making that argument when you don't need to? And I thought the defense summation spent a lot of time on things like that, that they really did not need to argue about.

Another thing they said was there's no crime. Well, there's definitely a crime. But if I were the defense attorney, I'd say, but Michael Cohen committed it, maybe even Allen Weisselberg committed it. Donald Trump had nothing to do with it, right? So, they were just -- I just kind of thought, I don't really understand why they're going -- doing the strategy they did. At the end, I thought they did well and argued what they needed to argue about Cohen. And there's a lot you can argue about Cohen. But they didn't get to that until the very end.

COATES: Well, what they did get to at the end was to say that you cannot send him to prison, you cannot connect on Michael Cohen's word. That got an objection. It should have -- "You cannot send somebody to prison. You cannot connect somebody based upon the words of Michael Cohen."

Now, Alyse, Todd Blanche is a former prosecutor. He knows full well the inappropriateness of that comment because it's not the job of the jurors to decide a sentence. What did you make of that moment?

ALYSE ADAMSON, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yeah, that was highly improper. And having that objection sustained was obviously correct by Judge Merchan. Pattern jury instructions have wording to the effect of what you just said, which it is not for the jury to consider punishment, that is for the court. Todd Blanche knows that. This was not a slip of the tongue. He knew what he was doing.

Yes, Judge Merchan gave a curative instruction to the jury, but it's like a tube of toothpaste. Once it has been, it's out of the tube, you can't put it back in. And the jury heard it.

And yes, he was a former federal prosecutor, and he knows that. So, he knew what effect it would have on the jury. And now, they're going to think, oh geez, well, I might have been convinced, but he could go to prison for this. And maybe they don't even realize how influenced they have become, but it's definitely a possibility. So, you know, he knew what he was doing and it's unfortunate for the prosecution, really.

COATES: You've been on both sides of the courtroom.


COATES: Would you -- was it improper for this defense counsel to do it in this way? Number one. And two, what do you think his motivation was? Was it trying to suggest, as Elise is articulating here, that it was about the fear of a juror feeling nervous or was it a politics as well?

ROSSI: I think it was politics, and I think Donald Trump may have been a little bit behind this. Was it improper? Absolutely. And I'm not -- I wouldn't be surprised if the judge makes a referral to Bar Council.

COATES: Really?

ROSSI: If I had done that in the Eastern District of Virginia, I would have been cuffed. And every attorney knows this. But here's the mistake that Todd Blanche made. He's thinking the jury is going to be affected by this. I disagree with anybody who says they'll be affected, with all due respect. There are two attorneys on that jury. And those two attorneys probably haven't done criminal, maybe, but they know that you cannot mention that a person will go to prison if you find them guilty.

So, just like calling Costello as the last witness, they overplayed their hand. And I think they offended the two attorneys, maybe more, that are on that jury. But is it improper to do what he did? Yes.

COATES: Maybe on the one hand, if it had been referencing a cooperating witness about what they are testifying to and why they were not going to have a penalty, but imagine a death penalty case, and instead of the jurors thinking about the burden of proof, they're now thinking about what decision they will make that might have an impact on the other person's life. This is part of the reason people are objecting and rightfully so.

Stand by, we're going to come right back. Next, a marathon -- like I'm blinking -- a marathon of nearly five hours for the prosecution's closing arguments. And they put a lot of focus on a key witness. And it wasn't Michael Cohen. It was Hope Hicks. Why they hope her testimony was the nail in the coffin.

Plus, Robert De Niro's appearance on the mean streets outside of the Manhattan courthouse. And yes, they were talking to him.


ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR, FILM PRODUCER: Donald Trump wants to destroy not only the city, but the country. And eventually, he could destroy the world.




COATES: The prosecution wrapping up their closing arguments in the hush money trial after nearly five hours. Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass calling the testimony of Hope Hicks, Trump's longtime trusted aide, devastating. Remember that Hicks told the court that Trump said this about Stormy Daniels and the story that it -- quote -- "would have been bad to have that story come out before the election." Steinglass saying Hicks -- quote -- "basically burst into tears because she realized how much this testimony put the nail in Mr. Trump's coffin."

My panel is back with me. Karen, you and I are both in the courtroom that day when she started crying. I think we see things differently, though. I saw her as being generally overwhelmed by the entire process and much -- people were very surprised that she began crying. It sorts of floated out to that final statement that she made. It almost seemed to be lost on her or the jury. You said something different, though, that that really was a nail in the coffin. Why?

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Yeah, I -- look, for me, I try to experience things the way the jury would experience them. And so, I heard Hope Hicks talking about -- she was on the one hand saying things favorable for Donald Trump, that he loves his wife, he loves his family, he -- you know --

COATES: Worried about Melania.

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Yeah, exactly. But on the other hand, I think she overall was honest, and she was -- had to say what the truth was. And it just, the way it felt to me, was exactly how Josh Steinglass described it, which is she just undeniably said -- of course he -- this was about the election. And he said to her he was glad that this -- that this didn't come out before the election. And that's when she started crying.


And prosecution sat down. And the defense attorney got up there and asked some question, like, you know, what's your job description, or some innocuous question. And she burst into tears. And to me, it just felt like, wow, she just realized she just gave -- put the nail in the coffin for Donald Trump. It was really powerful. That's how it felt to me --

COATES: Uh-hmm.

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: -- as -- as someone who doesn't know -- believe it or not, I don't follow as much as it seems like I must. I don't really know Hope Hicks or who she was or --

COATES: Uh-hmm.

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: It was just clear that she knew and was close to Trump, and that she was trying to be honest. But at the same time, she couldn't deny that this was the truth.

COATES: And again, I -- I saw her as generally overwhelmed by this whole process, seemed to be -- her voice trembling throughout the entirety of the -- of the conversation, ducking around the former president. And yet the strategy would have been, had I been the prosecutor, if I believed that it happened, would have done precisely that. I would have sat down and not kept going because I knew that that would have been the moment I wanted to linger.

But the prosecution, they didn't sit down after like an hour or two or three --


-- or four or five hours today. Five hours, Tim, to summarize all that came in today. I wonder how that plays to a jury. Does that make it look like, you know, you're trying so hard to explain that you're losing your persuasive credibility?

PARLATORE: I think so. I mean, I -- I love a prosecutor that's long- winded and wants to go on that long --


-- because it -- I think it always helps me as the defense. And it's something that I even preview. I say, hey, look, they're going to go on for a very long time about this stuff. And the more time they spend on all of this other stuff and not talking about the main issue, the more you know that they have a problem here. And I think that when you do go on for a certain level of time, it sounds to me like the jury was paying attention because of the gravity of the case. But I've heard from some people in the courtroom that said the longer Steinglass went on, the more the chances for acquittal went up. So, I -- it is something where you have to be concise and you have to be respectful of the jury's time. And the longer you go, you water down the arguments because, ultimately, whether you're going to convince the jury at closings, that's one strategy. But the other thing is you're arming them with the arguments that they need --

ROSSI: Right.

PARLATORE: -- when they go back to deliberation. And when they want to convince the other jurors to come over to their side and if you're giving them just so much stuff -- I mean, so many attorneys, they feel a compulsion to cover every single document, every single little piece, because they're afraid that they're going to sit down, like, oh, I forgot to talk about that tiny little piece. But it's not always helpful.

COATES: Well, in that spirit, Gene, when you look at this, I mean, especially, they need to rehabilitate Michael Cohen.


COATES: There have been a lot of attacks on him and his credibility throughout the course of it. And they also had to follow in line what they had to prove. This is a falsified business records case. It's not a sex case. It's not a case about Michael Cohen actually being the defendant. They had to try to prove that there was a valuable contribution given. And to that end, Josh Steinglass made the case that the catch-and-kill scheme could very well be what got Trump elected.

And here's what he said: "It turned out to be one of the most valuable contributions anyone ever made to the Trump campaign." Does that land to the jury, knowing they have to prove what they have to for falsified business records?

ROSSI: Absolutely. He is elevating this case from just a hush money case to how it affected greatly, possibly, one of the most important elections we've ever had. And I want to compliment the prosecutor on this. He did -- he did a couple things that I thought were very important. One, he went through the documents, and he went through the timeline, because that timeline from October 24th to October 28th, the text messages, communications, that is the heart and soul of this case. And he went through that very thoroughly.

The second thing I would like to compliment him on is he reenacted. Some people thought it was a gimmick. I liked it. He reenacted a 96- minute --

COATES: Second.

ROSSI: Second. That would be a long one.


That would be a long one.

COATES: And they still would have gone three and a half hours. It went longer, though. I think 96 minutes.

ROSSI: It's getting late. But the 96 seconds, not minutes. But he reenacted that moment. And I thought that showed the jury, one, it humanized him. He actually had the phone towards his ear, and he was showing the jury that you can talk about a lot of stuff in 96 seconds, not minutes.

And the last thing he did was, he focused on Costello. And I think the biggest mistake that the defense made is they called Costello as essentially their only and last witness.


And I thought he corroborated Michael Cohen because they were sort of doing a catch-and-kill with Michael Cohen and trying to -- trying to browbeat him.

COATES: Well, you know, there's this -- the bigger picture here is whether they proved their case, even in light of all the nuances, the minutiae of everything. At the end of the day, 34 counts of falsified business records. And to quote the prosecutor, "We didn't choose Michael Cohen to be our witness. We didn't pick him up at the witness store." The defendant chose Michael Cohen as his fixer because he's willing to lie and cheat on his behalf. Will that resonate? Only the jury will know. Thank you so much, everyone.

Up next, Robert De Niro attacking Trump outside the Manhattan courthouse after going there at the request of the Biden campaign. But will his chaotic experience and appearance hurt more than it helps?


DE NIRO: Take that stupid (bleep) hat off. Take that stupid (bleep) hat off. You're a bunch of clowns.




COATES: For weeks now, President Biden has barely had anything to say about Donald Trump facing criminal charges. His campaign taking his lead and staying quiet for the most part. But today, that all changed. The Biden campaign holding a press conference right outside the courthouse featuring Robert De Niro. And he wasn't alone. He was flanked by two police officers who helped defend the Capitol on January 6th, Harry Dunn and Michael Fanone. Check this out.


DE NIRO: I love this city. I don't want to destroy it. Donald Trump wants to destroy not only the city, but the country. And eventually, he could destroy the world. That's the tyrant he's telling us he'll be. And believe me, he means it.


COATES: Well, how was De Niro received? Well, things got ugly as he clashed with Trump supporters when he was leaving, and a classic New York dustup full of curses and insults. Trump's son making sure to give his opinion as well. Here's Don Jr.


DONALD JOHN TRUMP JR., ELDEST CHILD OF DONALD TRUMP: This is a political persecution. That was evidenced today, today by the Biden campaign themselves holding a rally here. They bring in Robert De Niro.


COATES: But you also had Republicans having rallies outside the courthouse as well. And De Niro, last I checked, is actually not an elected official. So, who's right and who's wrong in the conversations and the vantage point they bring? And more importantly, will either message win over voters or will it backfire?

With me now, Leigh Ann Caldwell, anchor for "Washington Post Live" and co-author for "Washington Post" early 202 newsletter, Shermichael Singleton, a senior political commentator, Mike Dubke, a former Trump White House communications director, and Alencia Johnson, a former senior advisor to the Biden 2020 campaign.

All right, Alencia, you heard my take and both have done political rallies outside. One involves speaker of the House. One involves Robert De Niro. Not equal.

ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER FOR THE BIDEN 2020 CAMPAIGN: Not quite equal. But I think the reality here is having Robert De Niro there actually gets under Donald Trump's skin, right? Because he used to be this big guy in Hollywood. He's supposed to be the king of New York. And Robert De Niro is a big guy in Hollywood, a mainstay of New York, And he's going directly after Donald Trump.

And this was actually a really good move, I believe, on the Biden campaign's part because Democrats want to see a fight, and they want to see it coming from the Democratic side. And we don't want to have politicians involved in this and, you know, do the same thing that the Trump candidacy is doing and intimidating voters. But having Robert De Niro and surrogates out there making the case, that was a strong move from the Biden campaign. I applaud it.

COATES: What do you think, Mike?

MIKE DUBKE, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Oh, I'll take the opposite view on this. I think it was an unforced error by the -- by the Biden campaign, frankly. They took Robert De Niro and turned him into sideshow Bob out there with all of the New York's finest that have been gathering every day of this campaign.

At some point, and you saw it with Donald Jr.'s talking of political persecution, the Trump message is going to be whether there's an acquittal, a hung jury, or there's a convention that this was nothing but politics.

The Biden campaign kept out of it for 20 days of the 21 days this trial has been going on. And at the last second, they come in, I view that as weakness, that they are, at some point, trying to figure out how they can turn their ship around. And so, they threw Robert De Niro out in the street.

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's a good point. I mean, why get involved at the last minute when you didn't use your campaign to say anything up until this point?

COATES: You mean pre-verdict?

SINGLETON: With that point in mind, though, strategically, if I'm going to send someone to New York to comment on this from the political perspective, I'm looking at the data and figuring out who are the best representatives to reach the groups that I'm struggling with the most. Someone who's younger, maybe someone of color to sort of articulate that message of character. If I were a Democrat, not an 80, 81-year-old white guy. I think Biden is okay with that group. He probably should have more surrogates out that sort of represent the groups that he's struggling with most.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, ANCHOR, WASHINGTON POST LIVE: Well, you said weakness, but it is also desperation. President Biden has been behind in almost every single poll that there has been this cycle. The Trump campaign and Trump surrogates are saying this is proof that this is weaponization of the Justice Department. The Trump campaign has been saying that for months and months anyway, something that the Biden campaign was fearful of playing into.


So, why not hit back is their response now, maybe a little too little, maybe too late. But the fact that it's not going to change the argument at all from the Trump campaign, so why not play at the same level?

JOHNSON: I don't disagree on this as being desperation. I actually think this is listening to a base that is a lot wider than older white men. It has actually listened to a lot of people who want to support President Biden openly, who want to see folks fight back. And Robert De Niro --

SINGLETON: Older, white guy?

JOHNSON: Robert De Niro speaks to a lot of folks. Listen, he's a favorite of a lot of people.

SINGLETON: He speaks to you?

COATES: I wish he spoke to me. I like Robert De Niro. He's got the Rolling Stone. I forget the politics. I want to talk to De Niro. But hey, there's another Hollywood star who --

DUBKE: The timing -- COATES: The timing of it, we can also talk about. We're a day or so away maybe from a verdict. I wonder why they didn't come out later. But there's another Hollywood star who is throwing support behind Donald Trump. Listen.


PIERS MORGAN, BROADCASTER: What do you think of Trump?

DENNIS QUAID, ACTOR: I think I'm going to vote for him.

MORGAN: Really?

QUAID: Yeah, in the next election. Yes, I am.

MORGAN: Are you ready for the blowback?

QUAID: Well --


-- yeah --

MORGAN: It inevitably comes with Trump.

QUAID: Well, you know, I think this election, everybody has got -- I think you're going to take a side of whatever, but it just seems to -- he just makes sense. I was ready not to vote for Trump until I -- what I saw is more than politics. I see a weaponization of our justice system.


QUAID: And a challenge to our Constitution. People might call him an (bleep), but he's my (bleep).


COATES: That's a t-shirt. And by the way, I think he's getting ready to play Reagan in an upcoming film. So, that -- did Reagan say that? I don't know. Go ahead. What's your thought about that comment?

DUBKE: I -- when Morgan goes, are you ready for the blowback? I mean, I think that tells you everything. Hollywood is afraid to say what they think. And every once in a while, somebody comes out and says, you know, he's a -- but he's mine. I think that speaks to where a lot of Americans are at the moment.

COATES: What is that telling you, though? I want to be clear. What is that saying? I want to understand more about -- is it that personality be damned? I like his policies. What is it?

DUBKE: No. I think it's a pox on both the houses, that this -- that the government is broken and it's better to take somebody that's going to throw some punches in there to fix it. I think it is what Mr. Quaid is saying. SINGLETON: These celebrities will not move the needle one way or the other. There's substantial political data from several decades on this fact. If you want to talk to the American people, I'm with Alencia, have surrogates out there, but try to get people who are more relatable to the average person's plight and struggle. That's how you get people on your team, not these rich millionaire celebrities.

COATES: Is part of the point, though, that they are voicing the frustration? If, in the way that the prosecution today laid out Michael Cohen as the narrator of a story, the fact that it's somebody narrating a grievance, isn't that what's behind the conversation?

SINGLETON: I mean, I suppose, Laura, but again, I don't think this trial is going to matter to the average voter.

COATES: You know I said the trial. That's what I'm talking about.

CALDWELL: That is the entire -- that's Trump's campaign synthesized in one statement right there, is grievance. Grievance, politics, the victim, and that's why we've seen -- "New York Times" had a great story today about how Trump is now surrounding himself and trying to play the criminal. He's kind of playing the part now. And this is something that has proven effective because people feel like he is the victim, and they want to -- they see themselves in it as also victims.

But it's also interesting. Trump also used to surround himself with victims -- with criminals. Anyway, they just hadn't been charged yet. Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, etcetera and etcetera. And now, he's now surrounding himself with people who have been accused.

COATES: I just wonder about the narrative that suggests that Robert De Niro's presence next to two officers from the January 6th Capitol events, that that justifies -- that says and confirms political viewpoints or politicization of the Justice Department. None of them are a part of it at all any longer. So, I failed to understand that connection, but there's always tomorrow. Thank you so much, everyone.

Ahead, sweeping new lawsuits filed by families of Uvalde victims. They accuse Instagram, a gun maker, and a popular video game publisher of grooming the shooter. The lawyer representing the families is my guest, and I'll explain the lawsuit next.



COATES: Tonight, a new lawsuit targets what lawyers call an unholy trinity that they say led to the massacre in Uvalde, Texas. Last week marked two years since 19 students and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School.

Now, their families and survivors are suing three companies over the mass shooting. And these suits are significant because they don't just target the gun maker, Daniel Defense, but they also go after video game company Activision and social media giant Meta, the owner of Instagram. They argue Activision's game, "Call of Duty, Modern Warfare," featured a rifle sold by gunmaker, Daniel Defense, and Instagram aggressively marketed the gun to Uvalde shooter, Salvador Ramos.


The suit claims the companies -- quote -- "groomed a generation of young men socially vulnerable, insecure about their masculinity, and eager to show strength." In the statement, Activision says -- quote -- "The Uvalde shooting was horrendous and heartbreaking in every way, and we express our deepest sympathies to the families and communities who remain impacted by this senseless act of violence. Millions of people around the world enjoy video games without turning to horrific acts." We've reached out to Meta and Daniel Defense, but have not heard back.

The man behind the Uvalde lawsuits is a lawyer, who the "New York Times" says is trying to hold gunmakers responsible for mass shootings. He took on the company behind the rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting and reached a $73 million settlement for the families.

Joining me now, Josh Koskoff, the lawyer representing the Uvalde families. Josh, thank you so much for being here. Every time we are reminded about what happened in Uvalde, it just breaks our hearts all over again. And now to learn about the latest that you're talking about, I mean this lawsuit, it goes after a school -- a social media company, the video game company, the gun manufacturer, and I'm wondering in your eyes how this lawsuit came to be in holding or trying to hold all three companies responsible.

JOSH KOSKOFF, LAWYER REPRESENTING THE UVALDE FAMILIES: Well, thank you, Laura. It really came about initially through my work with the Sandy Hook case. You know, I used to think that it was all the gun company and they did everything wrong to result in the mass shooting, and that's -- I think at the end of the day, had their conduct been appropriate, we're not having this conversation.

But the truth is that the gun industry doesn't act alone in targeting kids. The gun industry doesn't act alone in helping deliver a message to kids at a vulnerable time of their lives to solve their problems with killing. And they have to reach the target audience.

And I think what I've learned is that in this competitive area where gun companies are competing to sell AR-15s, they have to keep getting younger and younger. They like them young. But they can't reach them without the help of these modern ways of marketing, namely in the case -- in this case, through first-person shooter game "Call of Duty" and through Instagram.

COATES: Well, what do you say to those who would say -- there's a lot of people who play these games and do not commit the heinous acts of particularly this shooter or others. Is this the one-off or this is the foreseeable consequence of the confluence of all those things?

KOSKOFF: It's definitely for foreseeable confluence. I mean, how many people does it take to go into an elementary school and slaughter children in the classroom, or in the case of Parkland, high school kids? I mean, it's not just a one-off in terms of Activision, anyway. What we know about the three largest school shootings in American history that took place at K through 12, all kids under 21, Laura, all wielding an AR-15, and all avid religious "Call of Duty" players. This is hardly a one-off. And Activision knows it.

And it's just not -- it's not -- it's not an answer to wrongdoing to say that we've only contributed to one or two or in this case three, at least, mass slaughters of children. You know, there should -- they shouldn't be contributing to one, and they can do something about that conduct.

COATES: You represented the families of the Sandy Hook victims in their lawsuit against the manufacturer of the rifle that was used in that shooting. I think it was a Remington. That led to a significant settlement. Because gun manufacturers have federal protections from a 2005 law, though, there is still this nuance in the way that it can be applied and how you can go after. So, what lessons can be learned from what happened in Sandy Hook that could ultimately be applied in a case like this?

KOSKOFF: Right, well, the law you're referring to is called the Protection of Lawful Commerce and Arms Act. It does not protect unlawful commerce and arms. And specifically, in the areas of sales and marketing. So, if a gun company or gun interest violates a state statute that is applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms, they can be held accountable.

So, it's quite simply that in Sandy Hook, the gun company violated Connecticut's unfair trade practices law. In this case, the Daniel Defense clearly violated this state of Texas statute that prohibits sale -- offering to sell firearms to minors. We know that because there's a direct email, at least one, from Daniel Defense to this young shooter when he was 17, offering to sell him the rifle that he would ultimately purchase and use at Uvalde.


That's not protected at all by the law.

COATES: When you look at all these, what do you think will be the result or what are you asking for specifically? Is it a monetary judgment? Is it a change in behavior? Is it targeting each entity quite differently depending upon what their role has been?

KOSKOFF: Well, we can say one thing about these three defendants. The only thing that motivates them is money. The only thing that motivates them to sell to a younger and younger audience, to court young children and adolescents with guns. The only reason Instagram wants to be the corporate mule that delivers a Daniel Defense to the doorstep of a child is because of money. It's because of attention. And that's where they get money, in Instagram's case.

In Activision's case, it's because they habituate children to killing. They train them to kill. They teach them tactics. They expose them to products they can go out and buy. Why? Money. And, of course, in Daniel Defense's case, it's the craven pursuit of money and to beat out the competition that causes them to reach out to children and adolescents to sell violence and murder.

So, yes, it is a -- so, yes. In that sense, the only way to get them to change is to deliver a blow to where it counts for them, and that's on their bottom line. So, the compensation in this case, hopefully, will do that.

COATES: Josh Koskoff, thank you so much for illuminating this very important issue. And, of course, to the families of those who have lost their loved ones, our hearts continue to just pound in anticipation for a day when this no longer happens again. Thank you so much.

KOSKOFF: Amen, Laura. Thank you.

COATES: And thank you all for watching. Our coverage continues with "Anderson Cooper 360" next.