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Laura Coates Live

Trump Turns Conviction Into Campaign Jet Fuel; Will Trump May See Prison Time; Republicans Attack Alvin Bragg After Historic Verdict; Eight Black Men Were Kicked Off An American Airlines Flight For "Body Odor"; Kansas City Chiefs Celebrate Super Bowl Win At The White House. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired May 31, 2024 - 23:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: You can watch "D-Day: Why We Still Fight for Democracy" on an all-new episode of "The Whole Story." That's this Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only right here on CNN.

And thank you so much for watching "NewsNight." "Laura Coates Live" starts right now. Have a great weekend.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Well, tonight, Donald Trump turns his conviction into a cornerstone of his campaign. But will it work? Plus, American Airlines sued after eight Black men say they were kicked off a flight because someone complained about body odor? One of them will be my guest tonight on "Laura Coates Live."

So, we actually have no idea what sentence Judge Merchan is going to actually hand down to Donald J. Trump next month, but we do know one thing for sure, Donald Trump is not leaving his political future up to this judge. Between now and November, Donald Trump is going to use that 34-count conviction to try to get to 47, the number 47 that is.

And today, a furious Trump railed against the verdict during a speech in Trump Tower. You know Trump Tower, the same place as his infamous 2015 announcement. You remember this moment, the ride down the escalator with Melania in tow, really, ahead of him? Well, the smiling and the waving? This time, there was no ride down an escalator, there was actually no Melania, and there were no smiles. And for 33 minutes, Donald Trump stood alone and told his supporters that he is a victim of a weaponized system.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a case where if they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone. These are bad people. These are, in many cases, I believe, sick people.


COATES: Hmm. The man who chose not to take the stand also chose not to take a single question on what he called a press conference, which is not a speech, it's a time to actually hear questions be asked and you answer them as well. And perhaps one that he would have been asked was, why are you telling anyone, let alone your supporters, that it's all President Biden's doing?

Well, you know that that is not true. There is no evidence that President Biden had anything to do with a Manhattan D.A.'s case. Not under his umbrella, not under his watch, separate sovereigns entirely, state, federal, I could go on. In fact, Biden himself has been careful not to say a whole lot, if much at all, about the trial, at least until today.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's reckless, it's dangerous, it's irresponsible for anyone to say this was rigged just because they don't like the verdict. The justice system should be respected, and we should never allow anyone to tear it down. It's as simple as that.


COATES: Now, when President Biden cut back and calls it dangerous, there might be some good reason for that. It's not hyperbole to think about that because, according to Reuters, there has been some alarming commentary on some pro-Trump corners of the internet. One example -- quote -- "Time to start capping some leftys," said one post. "This cannot be fixed by voting." Joining me now is Adam Kinzinger, CNN's senior political commentator and former Republican congressman who you know served on the January 6th Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining. I have to begin on that last point in particular because you have spoken many times about the power of speaking up, but also the prospect of being harmed, of being called out, of being mistreated, of being threatened. When you see what the former president had to say and the reactions we're hearing from those who are his allies in Congress, they're pushing quite a message. What is your reaction?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, they really -- they really are pushing this message. And it's not surprising because when you have to -- and I mean this, like, seriously, when you have to sell your soul and your entire moral center to stay in power, and you can't look at yourself in the mirror like most of these Republican elected officials, you're going to find yourself angry, but you're also going to find yourself very willing to go over the line because your future, your legacy will be judged by who stays in power.

This is -- this is brownshirt-type tactics. What we're seeing, when you see those comments, like what you just showed on the internet, an attempt to intimidate people, an attempt -- an attempt to scare people, to have people not feel free to speak out.


And this is the time when it is essential for democracy, for people to stand against this authoritarianism, to double down and not be intimidated. But it is a real thing because people have had their brains broken by Donald Trump.

COATES: You know, there are many who have spoken out. In fact, some of your former colleagues. I want to play for you a little bit of a montage of what some have said, whether it's Byron Donalds or Tim Scott or J.D. Vance. Just listen.


REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): I think a lot of people are looking at this case, and they see it for what it is. It is a sham.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): This is a justice system that hunts Republicans while protecting Democrats. This was certainly a hoax, a sham.

SEN. J.D. VANCE (R-OH): Every single thing about this points to the fact that this was a political sham prosecution.


COATES: A system that hunts Republicans and protects Democrats. First of all, in Manhattan alone, there is a Democrat on trial. It's also a senator. His name is Bob Menendez, just to name one example of this. But when you hear that, a justice system hunting Republicans? I'm flabbergasted. What's your reaction?

KINZINGER: I'm flabbergasted, too, because, like, with Tim Scott, I grew up with him in Congress. We were both elected in 2010. This is a man who I believe takes his faith seriously, but yet can go on television and lie to people who are looking for his trust and say that this is hunting Republicans when he knows the House Republicans have been spending the last year begging for a reason to go after, you know, Joe Biden and to go after Hunter Biden. And they have been using it. They wanted Hunter Biden in jail before they even knew what he was going to be charged with.

Look, I get it. They're angry, okay? You have -- you have nominated a convicted felon now who can't own a gun, would lose a security clearance if he was in the military, and would be discharged from the military right now. I'm sorry that you nominated this guy as your frontrunner, but it doesn't mean you now have permission to stand in front of the American people to lie to them.

You think about Officer Michael Fanone, who spoke out. His mother, his 70-some-year-old mother, was swatted, where they called the emergency services, and the police showed up, because this is the level of intimidation. Do not be intimidated, ladies and gentlemen, because they will not win.

COATES: The perspective from someone like yourself, having been a member of the military and a former Air Force combat pilot, just putting into perspective the limitations now on a potential commander- in-chief. Unspeakable. Adam Kinzinger, thank you so much for joining.


COATES: I want to bring in CNN opinion contributor and former House GOP investigative committee counsel, Sophia Nelson. Also, here with me, Meghan Hays, former special assistant to President Biden. I mean, I want to just play for a second for you all, just thinking about this, what President Biden also went on to talk about. And this is one of the first times he has addressed this. We know there were surrogates who were doing it in the past. But listen a little bit more about what he had to say.


BIDEN: They found Donald Trump guilty on all 34 felony counts. Now, he'll be given the opportunity, as he should, to appeal that decision just like everyone else has that opportunity. That's how the American system of justice works.


COATES: You know, I, on this show alone, have a series of unexonerated people who have not committed the crimes that they were accused of, who have sat in prison for sometimes decades for egregious, unspeakable crimes. And they have respected the system, appealed through the actual and while sitting in prison. This is not at all even what a former president is articulating. And now, the current president talking about the reason to do so. How can this be where we are?

MEGHAN HAYS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: That's a great question. I mean, we're going to leave it to the American people to decide to move in a different direction come November. But I do think that the president is trying to make the point that we need to continue to respect the law.

Just as the congressman was saying, like, people -- we need to tell people that this is not acceptable, this behavior is not acceptable. He was found guilty by a jury. He has proper things that he can do to move forward. He needs to take those steps, and that's the way it needs to happen.

We need to have faith in our justice system, whether it is Hunter Biden, who's going on trial in a few weeks, or whether it's the former president. This is a justice system that we need to have faith in and what our democracy is built upon.

COATES: And, of course, I mean, the president of the United States, not for nothing, is the head of the executive branch, whose job it is to, obviously, enforce the laws, and under that is the DOJ. So, I don't know how you're going to be the president and say a whole entity that you're responsible for doesn't really have any credibility.

But how do you bring the temperature down? I mean, you have in so many -- you gave me the look. I know I've given you the hard question and maybe in some respects it's a fool's errand that you can solve the problem. But we're 159 days away from a presidential election. How do you get to the point where you can bring the temperature down?


SOPHIA NELSON, CNN OPINION COLUMNIST: First, I think we have to be very serious about this. One of the problems here, Laura, is the celebrity apprentice flair to this. This is a reality show that we're all really addicted to. I used to watch the Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston thing. It was awful. You remember that show?

COATES: Of course, I did.

NELSON: And I would be, like, why did I watch that? But I'd go back and watch it. I think that's where we are right now. We keep watching this Donald Trump show. And the way that we get this temperature down is to be sober and serious about one thing that I hope we all agree on as Americans, and that is that no one is above the law in this country, and no one is below it either.

So, former President Trump has the right to appeal. He will. He is going to be sentenced in July, on the 11th, which -- that's going to be very interesting because he could be in jail before the convention. And then --

COATES: Just four days later, by the way.

NELSON: And that is something the country is going to have to wrestle with. What happens if this man goes to jail? Are we really going to put on the same stage where the debate will be over with President Biden, right? But are we going to really elect someone that's in prison? Where are Secret Service agents going to stay?

As Congressman Kinzinger pointed out, right now, Donald Trump couldn't get into the military enlisted because he's a convicted felon. How are you going to be commander-in-chief when you can't get into the military?

COATES: And yet he is fundraising an extraordinary amount of money. I think it's like $53 million has already been raised by the calculations. A site broke down because of all of the traffic that was coming in. This has been his consistent drumbeat, that it's, you know, I'm standing in the way for you. I'll take this. He even said today, it's an honor to go through this because it's on behalf of you. When you've got that sort of messaging and the money is coming in, how do the Democrats combat that?

HAYS: I think it's really tough. I think it's challenging. But I think that the president needs to continue to show the contrast of the kind of person he is. His character really makes a difference here. And I think this election really is going to be decided in what, five or six states. There -- you know, President Biden won Arizona by 10,000 votes. Those are votes on the margins right now. And I think those are the people who are going to make the difference in this election.

So, his base is going to be drummed up. He's going to raise a ton of money, which is totally great. I'm sure that President Biden is also raising money in the same way today off of this. But the election will be decided on the margins. And those are the people who are going to need to pay attention. And the character issue is really going to come into play.

COATES: You know, why aren't we seeing more of his family? Would that have an impact? I mean, Melania did not come down to be at this press conference. She was in Manhattan on the day of the verdict. She was in Manhattan, obviously, for this as well. She has not been there. She has not appeared. And she was not the most omnipresent prior first lady in the campaign. But will we see more of her? What impact would it have?

NELSON: There's an old Latin saying, qui tacet consentiri videtur.


NELSON: She who is silent when she should speak is understood to consent. That means her silence tells you everything you need to know because a wife in this situation would come and stand by her husband. Normally, we've seen political wives do it. Eliot Spitzer, when he was in trouble, he was getting run out, his wife stood by him in some of the worst circumstances. So, I think the fact that Mrs. Trump has been absent and silent, it speaks volumes. She doesn't have to say a word.

COATES: You know what I love about Sophia Nelson, and you, too, Meghan Hays? In the same conversation, we talked about Bobby Brown and Whitney.


And then she just quoted Latin in the way she did, and then explained it without dropping a beat. I'm impressed. Sophia Nelson, Meghan Hays, thank you so much.

NELSON: Seven years of Latin. What do you want me to do?

COATES: Seven years of -- seven years of Latin?


COATES: Oh, now, I feel sorry for Sophia Nelson.


Up ahead, will Trump face prison time? And if so, for how long? He is already spreading some lies about it. We'll talk about the reality, next.



COATES: Well, the next step in Donald Trump's criminal trial is officially out of his hands because on July 11th, he'll be sentenced for 34 counts of falsified business records. And Trump, he's already making a ton of false claims about it.


TRUMP: This is the crime that I committed, that I'm supposed to go to jail for 187 years for.


COATES: No, that's not at all true. Trump does not face 187 years in prison. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years. And many legal experts think he might not go to jail at all. Others say, don't rule it out.


JOHN E. JONES, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: I wouldn't make book on the fact that he's not going to have a prison sentence.

LADORIS CORDELL, RETIRED CALIFORNIA SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: So, a lot depends on the behavior of Donald Trump when he's in front of the person he has been insulting repeatedly.

GEORGE GRASSO, RETIRED NEW YORK CITY CRIMINAL COURT JUDGE: If I were the judge, I'm not saying I would -- I would impose jail, but I would strongly consider it.


COATES: Well, joining me now is Elliot Williams, CNN legal analyst and former deputy assistant attorney general for legal affairs. So, Elliot, here we are. It's definitely not 187 years. But what are the factors that Judge Merchan is going to weigh over the course of the next month or so when he considers how to sentence Trump?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: How to sentence Trump not to 187 years, Laura, but some set -- some set of time or conditions below that? So, this is all up to the judge. The judge has full discretion here and will consider the biggest thing in addition to what the law says, what the statute says, and New York sentencing guidelines.

What is the defendant's criminal history? Now, this is a defendant that does not have a criminal record. So that works very much in the former president's favor. Acceptance of responsibility is very important, this idea of has this defendant shown remorse, admitted that he did it, accepted that he did it, and willing -- willing to just to go there.


And we haven't seen much of that from the former president, but there's plenty of daylight between now and July 11th when sentencing comes, so maybe he has a change of heart. Is the individual a danger to the community? Are they violent? Are they armed? Are they a fugitive? That's not really the case here. Works generally in the president's favor.

Deterrence is an interesting one because there aren't that many presidents or former presidents alive. But needless to say, can the judge seek to deter future people from committing crimes or this person from committing a crime?

And the big one, the defendant's conduct right here. How the defendant behaved? And here, we've got these gag orders. This defendant, the former president, has mouthed off quite a bit to the judge, and the judge can consider that.

COATES: Really important to see all these in writing. And again, with acceptance of responsibility, he can accept the process without admitting his guilt, and that could be looked upon by a judge in his what they call the allocution. Now, Trump says he's going to appeal and that could be a very lengthy process.


COATES: Walk us through how it's going to work.

WILLIAMS: Oh, lengthy is exactly the right word, Laura. So, three levels of courts in New York and elsewhere. You've got the New York Criminal Court, that's where we are, sentencing is July 11th. Then after sentencing, a series of dates and deadlines come up. The defendant, within 30 days of his sentencing, can file what's called a notice of appeal. Just a document signifying that he intends to appeal the decision. Then he has six months in which to file his briefs, pull the transcripts and everything. The government then has 30 days after that. Now, if you're doing the math, that gets you into now 2025 and the appeal hasn't even been briefed yet.

Then, more back and forth. The appeals court will write a decision when they wish. That could take months, if not up to a year. And after that -- after that decision, then the former president, if he loses, can go all the way up to the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state. They don't have to take it, but they can. And that whole process starts over again. This is why appeals can take years and years and years to finish.

COATES: Gosh, 2025 is what I'm hearing you say as well. And now that Trump has been convicted, there are certain things, now that he is a convicted felon 34 times over, that he can and he cannot do. We talked to Congressman Adam Kinzinger about this and about the military service or the lack thereof. What can -- he can -- what can and can he not do?

WILLIAMS: Well, everything now until his decision is final, until the appeals are all exhausted. But there's a circumstance in which under federal law, someone, if they go to jail in another state based on a conviction, they could be barred from voting. They could be barred from serving on a jury.

And there's important civil rights lesson here. Millions of people, literally millions, several million, are barred from voting in the United States on account of felony convictions. You can be barred from holding public office, which is interesting, and getting certain licenses if the former president wishes to, I don't know, be a real estate broker or something. I don't know if that's the case.

The big one, federal law prohibits felons from owning firearms. I understand the former president has had a concealed carry license in the past. But federal law as it is right now, if you have a felony conviction, that is a bar.

COATES: Unbelievable. Of course, the Constitution does not say that he cannot be the president or run for office which, for a lot of people, this has been very illuminating to think about this. It seems counterintuitive. But indeed, it's the Constitution. Elliot Williams, thank you so much. WILLIAMS: Thanks, Laura.

COATES: It's the case that will likely define Alvin Bragg's career. But it was a long, winding road that got the Manhattan D.A. to Trump's conviction. So, how is he feeling tonight, especially as Republicans attack him? Well, two of his friends are my guests, next.



COATES: Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg is likely the only prosecutor to take Donald Trump to trial before the election. It's a spot he probably didn't expect to be in when he took office. For years, Trump's case was called a zombie case by those inside the Manhattan D.A.'s office. The previous D.A. investigated Trump, but ended up not charging him. And Bragg himself did not immediately pursue the case either. But he did vow to follow the facts, a decision that was and has culminated in the historic conviction of a former president.


ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I did my job. We did our job. Many voices out there. The only voice that matters is the voice of the jury, and the jury has spoken.


COATES: And resoundingly, they convicted on all counts. With me now are two friends of Alvin Bragg, Amy Spitalnick and Nick Suplina. I'm so glad that both of you are here tonight to talk about this. It has been a historic week. It has been a historic time in American history.

Amy, let me begin with you because you previously said that D.A. Bragg would never bring this case unless the evidence supported a conviction which, frankly, is how prosecutors are supposed to pursue. It's not a, you know, a gut check. It's supposed to follow the evidence and what they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Do you think that this is vindication, that he has done just that by this verdict?

AMY SPITALNICK, FRIEND OF MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY ALVIN BRAGG: Absolutely. Look, Alvin is someone who is remarkably level-headed, remarkably committed to the rule of law and to the facts. And so, from the start, it was clear that he would never bring a case like this unless the facts were strong. And certainly, yesterday, it became clear that the jury wholeheartedly agreed. And so, certainly, this is a vindication, not just for Alvin and the incredible team at the Manhattan D.A.'s office, but really for the rule of law and for our justice system. If we pursue a case rooted in strong facts, the jury will actually agree in key moments like this.


COATES: I'm glad you clarified the point about vindication for him or for the rule of law more broadly because there has been an emphasis, frankly, an overemphasis on those bringing the cases as opposed to the facts that actually are a part of the cases and what the jury has done. And I'm wondering from your perspective, and I'll come to you in just a second, Nick, Amy, do you think that Brad will ask for prison time for Trump?

SPITALNICK: Look, I can't speculate as to what he'll ask for. I know that in every case, I've worked on with him in the New York Attorney General's Office, every case I've seen him pursue and every decision he has made more broadly as a leader and as a prosecutor, he has been committed to what the law tells him to do and committed to the facts. And so, I know that that is what will drive him, Matt Colangelo, and the rest of his team in making their decision as we head toward sentencing.

COATES: Nick, let me bring you in here because, you know, for so many people, when they look at an elected D.A., they may be skeptical completely about what their motivation is. They may think that whatever the campaign is, that they will adhere to that, even if the facts do not support it. He himself was accused by so many of caving to political pressure by even bringing this case. And you know, Congressman Jim Jordan, he wants him to appear at the subcommittee on alleged weaponization. What do you say to people who believe this line of thinking, that he was politically-motivated and not motivated by the facts and the evidence that was now proven beyond a reasonable doubt?

NICK SUPLINA, FRIEND OF MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY ALVIN BRAGG: Well, I would say to those people, there are 12, you know, duly paneled jurors in Manhattan that would disagree with him, Alvin has never promised a prosecution in his life, never will. He has always promised to follow the facts where they go.

And, you know, it would be good to remind folks that he started his tenure in the D.A.'s office by not bringing a case against Trump and having, you know, those that would like to see a Donald Trump prosecution come for him in the press and say pretty horrible things about him. And then, because they didn't see that there was a criminal case there, they didn't feel that there was sufficient evidence in that case. He sees the facts in this case -- COATES: I don't want to cut you off, Nick. I'm sorry, but we're having a little bit of difficulty hearing you. I want to be able to hear and understand your points very much. So just give us a second to correct your audio for a moment, and we'll come right back to you.

Amy, let me go to you here on this because after the verdict, Bragg stressed that this case was just, frankly, one of many that the D.A.'s office is prosecuting every day. I mean, he made very few appearances in the courtroom, no real public appearances, which I found very interesting, given that there have been others who would have a very high-profile case like this, and they would make sure that they themselves were present, omnipresent, and even having daily press conferences, and you could see this happening in other places as well. Why do you think that he chose to lay so low and then be very vocal with the American people that this is one of many?

SPITALNICK: Well, look, that's exactly who he is. I think there's a story that just came out in the "Times" that describes him as -- quote -- "allergic to milking any moment." And that really is Alvin. He is someone who is not there for the limelight. He's not there for the politics. He's there because of a deep commitment to the rule of law.

And so, we saw this when he ran for office and made clear that he would follow the facts wherever they led. He did not -- he refused to actually commit to prosecuting Trump despite pretty significant pressure during that campaign to do so. And as I think my friend, Nick, was explaining, he actually declined to prosecute a different criminal case against Trump in the early days of his tenure as D.A.

And so, he's not someone who was doing this for political reasons. He's not someone who's doing this for the glory. He's doing this because his entire career has been rooted in a commitment to the rule of law and to pursuing justice. And he's someone who's able to actually drown out so much of the noise, whether it's the pressure on him to bring a case for political reasons or in this case, frankly, the threats and the smears against him following the successful prosecution of Trump.

COATES: You know, it is a difficult, and I'd like Nick on this, it's difficult to reconcile. I mean, what comes along with this position, this prosecution, and now this conviction, for so many, we're fearful about what that could mean. There's the rule of law. There are safety issues. I mean, Nick, you study extremism online. Are you concerned about Bragg's safety with all the attacks we've seen, the threats that he has received throughout the course of this trial and, frankly, before?

SUPLINA: Yeah. Well, you know, I, and actually Amy, too, in our professional lives, really know what the coded language is and what the overt language is that appeals to extremism.


And what we're seeing from powerful elected officials right now is exactly the permission structure that they need to take, you know, action and to stand back and stand by. The fact of the matter is it's deeply irresponsible. A jury has found a man guilty of a crime. The process was from beginning to end, by the book. There's nothing untoward about this.

And yet you have elected officials for partisan gain or small-term political advantage who are throwing the whole system under and really bringing about a moment that could be very dangerous for the country. You know, one of your earlier guests said, the way to turn the volume down is to not make this a reality show. The fact is that Donald Trump and some of his allies are trying to do that. They're just trying to gain attention and raise money off of this, while Alvin Bragg is giving the facts and saying, I'm here to do my job, and that's all I have to say about it.

COATES: Raising money, they are, indeed. Amy Spitalnick, Nick Suplina, thank you both so much.

SPITALNICK: Thanks for having us. COATES: Next, eight men pulled off an American Airlines airplane. All of them Black. None of them knew each other. And they were not seated together. So, what happened? I'll tell you the story and about the lawsuit, next.



COATES: All right, everyone, I want you to really pay attention to this story. You're going to find it difficult to believe, but it, in fact, happened. I want you to put yourself in the shoes of the men I'm about to tell you about. Picture this. You're minding your business, you're sitting on a plane, you're getting ready to fly from Phoenix to New York, when a representative for the airline suddenly approaches you and orders you to get off the plane. Now, you comply, probably confused, and you follow them to the jet bridge. And that's when you look around and you realize. You're one of eight Black men on that jet bridge. All of you having been removed from the plane. So, you take your phone out. You start filming. The representative says that there was a complaint about body odor. Now, the complaint having come from a white flight attendant on board. Now, you tell the rep this is discrimination. And you know what? They agree with you.


UNKNOWN: So, this is discrimination.

UNKNOWN: I agree, I agree.


COATES: You get back to the gate, and you ask the rep, if you and all these other men were singled out because you're all Black, and they agree with that as well.



UNKNOWN (voice-over): The of the flight attendants in the back.

JEAN JOSEPH (voice-over): Was it the white dude?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Yes.

JEAN JOSEPH (voice-over): Okay, got it.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Yes.

JEAN JOSEPH (voice-over): Because the attitude he gave me when I got even on, just because of the color of my skin.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Correct.

JEAN JOSEPH (voice-over): Okay, okay.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): I do not disagree with you.


COATES: Now, after an hour, an hour of attempting to rebook flights, the airline determines there aren't any other flights that evening. And you and all the other men pulled off that flight are finally allowed back on board. The flight is delayed. You are humiliated because of the indignity that you have had to be subjected to. And you get on a plane with all the eyes looking at you, wondering perhaps what you all did wrong.

Now, all this is what my next guest alleges in a lawsuit against American Airlines. Three of the men pulled off the flight are now suing, saying that they and the other Black male passengers were ejected -- quote -- "without any valid reason, based solely on their race." Now, American Airlines tells CNN that they are -- quote -- "currently investigating the matter as the claims do not reflect our core values or our purpose of caring for people."

Here with me now is Emmanuel Jean Joseph and his lawyer, Sue Huhta. Emmanuel, let me begin with you. I cannot believe what has happened. I cannot believe that you had to endure this. When I heard about this story, the first thing that came to mind was just the sheer indignity of what you had to be subjected to, how wrong it must have felt. And for all of you to realize, strangers though you were, that it was happening to you all. What was going on? Did you know why you were being asked to get off the plane?

JOSEPH: No, all I was told to do was grab my belongings and I was going to be rebooked on another flight. And I just complied because I thought it was something like, you know, the flight was overfilled, they need to get someone else. So, I kind of just went up there without a guard. I'm kind of just a naive mind. And that wasn't the case.

COATES: And to be clear, you were not traveling with any of these other men. You didn't even know each other, right?

JEAN JOSEPH: No, I had no knowledge of the men on the plane.

COATES: And yet you were in close proximity. Did you notice some offensive body odor, which was allegedly, by the way, what the complaint was about?

JEAN JOSEPH: No. Actually, I was just sitting next to another passenger, just laughing and listening to Ariana Grande and just getting ready to take off.

COATES: The idea that that is what happened and the realization, when you finally saw and looked around at the other passengers who had been pulled off that plane, what went through your mind as you noticed, were all Black?

[23:45:00] JEAN JOSEPH: I think when I got to the nose of the plane and made a left on the jet bridge, my heart sunk, and it kind of was, like, everything was connecting, about the attitude I got from the flight attendant earlier and what was happening. And once I heard that it was a complaint, I mean, my brain kind of went fuzzy because it was a complaint about body odor, but you took off eight people who were not traveling together. It just didn't make sense, and it still doesn't today.

COATES: What was it like? Because we understand that an hour goes by, there's no other flights, and they say -- despite that it was apparently so egregious to take you off the plane before, they put you back on the plane an hour later. I can't imagine what it was like to walk down the center aisle of that plane. Did you have any reaction from the other passengers?

JEAN JOSEPH: Yeah. I mean, it was a horrifying feeling because there was no one there to give compassion or to ask me, am I alright? And it was just like kind of just walking down an aisle of eyes, people rolling the eyes, and people just kind of like trying to assess what happened. Some people had attitudes because it has been an hour and they've been sitting in their seats. And I kind of had to go back to my seat and be quiet for the entire rest of the flight, and be uncomfortable.

COATES: Emmanuel, I'm just so sorry that it has happened and just keep thinking about the eight of you must knowing -- must be thinking in a way, don't give anyone a reason to justify this egregious behavior against us, this unspoken communication that those who have been discriminated against often feel in solidarity in these moments. And I'm just so sorry that that was your experience as well.

Let me bring in your attorney here, Sue, which is -- I want to know how American Airlines has been responding to these allegations. Have they given any answers as to why these men were taken off the flight?

SUE HUHTA, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING PLAINTIFFS SUING AMERICAN AIRLINES: No, other than what Emmanuel told you, what the men were told at the time, the body odor issue. No, we've heard the generic statement of the type you read, they take these complaints very seriously, et cetera, et cetera.

COATES: So, what is -- what can be done? Has there been any disciplinary action sought? Has any been taken? Are they unionized? What happens now?

HUHTA: They are unionized. The case has just begun. So, we have to get to the bottom of exactly who made these decisions, who made the complaint. We have some information. We don't know if it's true. So, we're going to have to get to the bottom of how this egregious incident actually came to be with all these American Airlines people involved in it.

And the men interacted with multiple people inside the plane, at the gate. How could this decision have been made to say, okay, the way we're going to handle a complaint is we're going to walk down the aisles, identify the Black men, take them all off the plane, and tell them they've got to be rebooked?

COATES: You've done cases similar to this. Have you ever seen any fact pattern like this?

HUHTA: No. You know, discrimination can be difficult to prove, right? It's not always this obvious that race is playing a factor in the decision. And I say that here because, again, they didn't know each other. They weren't sitting next to each other. It is almost inconceivable to imagine an explanation for how this happened that doesn't involve the fact that they were Black men.

COATES: Emmanuel, let me give you the last word here. What has this done to you in terms of your emotional well-being? Has this changed the way you want to experience flying? What do you want to see happen in this case?

JEAN JOSEPH: I think that it's definitely going to change the way I view flying forever because now, when I get on a flight and I see staff talking or whispering or just, you know, chatting together, I'm thinking, are they conspiring against me? So, it's just going to be very uncomfortable. I still haven't flown today. And Alvin, who happens to be in a rock band, tours all the time, he flies, he no longer has to look for cheap flights. He has to look for flights and airlines that are not going to discriminate against him. So, it's a different thing now.

COATES: Emmanuel Jean Joseph, we're going to continue to follow this, Sue Huhta. Thank you both for being here this evening. It truly is shocking, and I really thank you for joining me tonight. I appreciate it.

HUHTA: Thank you.

COATES: Next, call it the grievance games from anger over kneeling to outrage over athletes calling for racial justice.


Why have sports gone from a unifying force to a source of division? We'll talk about it, next.



BIDEN: The Kansas City Chiefs!


The first team in 20 years to win back-to-back.


Winning back-to-back. I kind of like that.


COATES: A not-so-subtle wish from President Biden, hoping he will share the same fate as the Kansas City Chiefs in the upcoming election. Biden welcoming the Super Bowl champs at the White House today yet again. He was gifted a Chiefs helmet by head coach Andy Reid and even put it on after cheers from the team. All the stars were there, including Pat Mahomes and Travis Kelce.


Also, in attendance, kicker Harrison Butker, who was -- of course, there was no mention of his controversial commencement speech earlier this month where he encouraged women in a way that was unsettling to many who were listening from afar. He even, by the way, attacked Biden directly in that speech.

But those comments sparked a political firestorm and it certainly was not the first time that sports and politics have collided. In fact, it seems like it has happened more frequently over the past decade than maybe ever before.

My next guest argues American sports stability has now collapsed, and in his article titled "How Grievance Splintered American Sports," Jerry Brewer says this: "I used to have no doubt about the unifying superpower of sports. I used to believe it was an imperishable kind of magic. I don't anymore. Or rather, I can't. Division has seized too much control."

Jerry Brewer joins me now. He is a sports columnist for "The Washington Post." Jerry, good to see you this evening. You know, more on your article in just a moment. I am curious about this event today at the White House. I mean, there was no mention of the kicker's speech at all. There was also no protest. It went off without a hitch. Are you surprised by that, considering, frankly, White House visits by sports teams under Trump became so politically fraught and many didn't even happen at all?

JERRY BREWER, SPORTS COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, a lot of them didn't happen. I was impressed that Harrison Butker showed up. I think that was more of a thing for his team than maybe what he wanted to do. The Chiefs stood by him, you know. But sports tend to be passive-aggressive, so I'm not surprised that there wasn't an incident. I can think back to so many times that people had some kind of beef about whatever president, Bush, Clinton, even Obama, and they came to the White House anyway. Today, it actually felt like a normal day in sports.

COATES: Hmm. Look, they won the championship. He was a part of the team. He had every right to be there. But in your piece, you reference this infamous moment from a 2017 Trump speech. Listen.


TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a (bleep) off the field right now? Out. He's fired. He's fired!


COATES: I remember this moment well. And you say the politicization and the division in sports was missing before this moment, but this was supercharged at that moment. I mean, the former president has since sparred with so many sports figures. They're on the screen, just to name a few. Why has the sports world become so divisive?

BREWER: I look at that moment back from September 2017 as Donald Trump not being the culprit, but being the closer. And I think you have to go back, Laura, for 12 years. Go back to when Trayvon Martin was killed, which was the same day as the NBA All-Star game in Orlando, Trayvon Martin killed in Sanford, and how that deeply affected the NBA. That -- that led to sports being part of the Black Lives Matter movement, if you will, protesting police lethality.

It all kind of peaked when Colin Kaepernick had his demonstration for the entire 2016 season. Even though Colin Kaepernick was essentially blackballed from that point forward, after Trump became the president, in his first year, he made this what he considered a winning issue for him, to be able to just throw the grievance that people felt, particularly sports fans who did not agree with any kind of patriotic things that they would consider anti-patriotic.

And so, for the first time, that's sort of in the middle of athletes protesting. But for the last six years, seven years, we've had the movement meeting a counter-movement, and that's why I had to explore this and call this the Grievance Games.

COATES: Were we naive to believe that there was some realm of society that would serve as escapism when politics really is a part of everything we see and do, even if it's not the elections themselves, but the politics and the influence on our lives?

BREWER: Yes. I mean, sports is a microcosm of society. Sports is not the Wakanda of society like where you can just wall it off from the rest of the world. And I think we have been too innocent at times in our perception of sports. Look, the thing we can't do, we can't celebrate the societal gains that sports help to contribute, whether it be the story of Jackie Robinson, whether it be the totality of Muhammad Ali's life.


We can't celebrate those people and then say, oh, we want sports to be apolitical. We can't cheer for athletes and then say, we don't respect you as a human being when you're not wearing your jersey.

COATES: It's such an important point. I mean, they're not just to be looked at in a fishbowl. They are human beings who also have athleticism and talent. But the idea of having them not be comprehensive, full people, would be something that would be selfish and wrong, and we see that more and more every single day. Jerry Brewer, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

And hey, everyone out there, thank you so much for watching. "Anderson Cooper 360" is next.