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Laura Coates Live

Hunter Biden Is Convicted; New Secret Audio Of Justice Alito Released; CNN's Clarissa Ward Reports On ISIS Prison And Detention Camps In Syria; WAPO: Trump Allies Muse About Mandatory Military Service; Joey Chestnut Is Out At Hot Dog Contest. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired June 11, 2024 - 23:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Plus, Hunter Biden convicted, the new reporting about the reaction from inside the Trump campaign. And say it ain't so, why Joey Chestnut's reign as one of the top dogs at Coney Island is coming to an end. Good evening, I'm Jim Acosta, in for Laura Coates.

Now, I'll go. Good evening. I'm Jim Acosta, in for Laura Coates on this busy Tuesday night. For months, Donald Trump and Republicans have tried to make the case that there is a two-tiered justice system, one system of justice for Trump and one for everybody else.

Their attacks go something like this, that the Justice Department is being weaponized against Donald Trump and Donald Trump only at the erection of President Biden, never mind that Trump and his allies are also claiming that Biden is slipping mentally while at the same time orchestrating that conspiracy. Set that aside, just consider the Trump world allegation that Biden is behind this plot to persecute the former president.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just so you understand, this is all done by Biden and his people, maybe his people more importantly.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Democrats have crossed this line. They have crossed the line in which now the court system is a political weapon.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This Department of Justice, the Biden Department of Justice, is the most partisan Department of Justice in our nation's history.


ACOSTA: Today, that same Biden Department of Justice secured a conviction against the president's son, Hunter, guilty on all three counts for lying about his drug use when he purchased a gun. Here is David Weiss, the special counsel leading the case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID WEISS, SPECIAL COUNSEL: No one in this country is above the law. Everyone must be accountable for their actions. I want to thank Attorney General Garland for providing the support necessary to fulfill our mission.


ACOSTA: That's Weiss thanking the attorney general for ensuring that he has independence, the same attorney general that the former president and his allies have relentlessly accused without evidence of conspiring to get Trump.

Today, some of those Trump allies accused the Biden administration of pursuing a conviction of Hunter, basically accusing the president of sacrificing his own son to continue that conspiracy.

Former Trump White House adviser, Stephen Miller, posted this. Take a look at this. The gun charges, he says, are a misdirection. Don't be gaslit. This is all about protecting Joe Biden.

Don't be gaslit. Indeed. New tonight, "The New York Times" reports Hunter Biden's conviction not only undercuts Trump's narrative, but also hurts his campaign's fundraising efforts, citing a person familiar. The "Times" says -- quote -- "There had been discussions about how much an acquittal of Hunter Biden would help Mr. Trump, potentially raising tens of millions of additional dollars as they planned to cite it as more evidence the justice system was rigged."

Oops. Tonight, Democrats on the Hill noted their response to the Biden conviction was different.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): We're not here contesting the results. We're not here trying to defund the FBI or the Department of Justice because we don't like the outcome of a -- of a given trial. We respect the judicial process. We respect the outcome of it.


ACOSTA: For his part, President Biden, too, says he accepts the outcome of the case and will respect it. He issued that statement before he changed his schedule to be with his son, flying -- flying to Wilmington, Delaware, where he remains tonight. Photographers, you can see right there, capturing their embrace shortly after the president landed on the tarmac.

Now, I want to get to Brandi Harden, a criminal defense attorney, Liam Donovan, former National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee aide, and Karen Finney, a CNN political commentator.

Brandy, I guess -- let's -- let's jump right into this. A Republican still saying the DOJ is being weaponized against them. Does that hold up anymore? Let's listen to Speaker Johnson. He was talking to our Manu Raju and other reporters about this verdict. We'll talk on the other side. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE JOHNSON, SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Every case is -- is different. And clearly, the evidence is overwhelming here. I don't think that's the case in the Trump trials. All the charges that have been brought against them have been obviously brought for political purposes. Hunter Biden is a separate instance.


ACOSTA: Separate instance, the speaker says.

BRANDI HARDEN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER: Separate instance. And so, I think, look, this conviction certainly undercuts the theory that there are two -- there's a two-tiered justice system.

In reality, there's not one system for Donald Trump and one system for other folks. In reality, we see that this conviction stands, that when the government sets their sights on you, when they think that you've committed a crime, they're going to go after you.

And just like what happened here, a jury of your peers is going to listen, is going to figure out what happens, and here, there was a guilty verdict.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Liam, "The New York Times" is reporting that the Trump campaign plan to raise millions of dollars off of Hunter Biden acquittal, I guess. Well -- oh, well, I guess that's not going to work out now. What do you make of that?

LIAM DONOVAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I mean, it certainly makes sense. If you're trying to play into the cynical idea that the system is rigged, that would certainly be proof of it.


I think the role of the punches, though, if you start with that premise, then you can use that to, you know, to any -- anything can come back and affirm that. So, you know, there's -- there is nothing that can prove the negative.

The system is not rigged, not a conviction of Hunter Biden. I mean, look, this would never should have gone to trial. It was supposed to be a plea deal. The plea deal fell apart. This also doesn't resolve it because there's going to be a tax trial that comes up in September. It's just a mess. Nobody is actually satisfied.

COATES: So, the president is putting his son through a tax trial, too, to help --


DONOVAN: Exactly.

ACOSTA: I'm just trying to, you know, where does the conspiracy end? You know --


DONOVAN: Goes all the way up.

ACOSTA: And insanity begin, I guess.

FINNEY: But here's what's so cynical and disgusting about that. Anybody who has dealt with addiction or has people that they know deal with addiction, it is a journey to stay clean, right? And the idea that the president would want to risk his child's sobriety for the presidency, I get why, in Donald Trump's mind, that might make sense, because that's how he thinks about things, right? It is, how do I work the angles to get the results I want?

But the thought of Joe Biden doing that after -- you know, again, I think what's important about today -- think about the contrast. Here, you have a man who has -- you know, this is a guy who has taken punches throughout his life, Joe Biden, and he gets back up. And he's resilient. And, you know, he has figured out how to say, look, I love my son, but the law is the law, versus Trump, who acts like a spoiled brat, who just doesn't give his way.

ACOSTA: Yeah. I mean, and Liam, the Trump campaign saying in a statement, we put this up on screen, this trial has been nothing more than a distraction from the real crimes of the Biden crime family. And I -- you know -- I don't know. Liam, people buy this stuff.

DONOVAN: I think there is a separate issue. I mean, truly, if you -- if you look at this, this is kind of the -- it's the brag case of the Hunter charges. It really is small potatoes. I mean, I don't think Republicans truly do believe there are other things afoot here. They haven't produced the goods, though. They haven't been able to put together a case in the House of Representatives that would -- that would be able to, you know, pursue this. I know that the Oversight Committee has tried. But there are big things that you like to call on --

ACOSTA: You're going to call the Biden crime family. Shouldn't you have --

FINNEY: Where's the beef?

ACOSTA: -- lines that are tied to the president?

HARDEN: Got to have some.

FINNEY: Where's the beef?

ACOSTA: We're doing -- we're doing hot dogs later on this hour.

FINNEY: That's why I said it.

ACOSTA: We're looking for the beef.

FINNEY: That's why I said it. You know -- HARDEN: You know, that -- that's why I think we are where we are. They talk a good game. They talk like there's going to be something else. But in reality, this is it. This is what they have. This is the case that they have. And ultimately, it's -- it has resulted in a conviction.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Brandi, juror 10 spoke to CNN about the decision. Let's listen to that.


JUROR 10 IN HUNTER BIDEN TRIAL (voice-over): All 12 jurors did agree that yes, he knowingly bought a gun when he was an addict, or he was addicted to drugs.


ACOSTA: Yeah, I know everything gets thrown into the political meat grinder in D.C. but, again, this is further validation of the jury system that we have in this country. It's -- it's not perfect. It's flawed. Our justice system is flawed. There's no doubt about that. But in the Trump case, you had a jury of men and women doing their job, doing their civic duty. They came to a verdict. They issued that verdict. Same in this case.

HARDEN: Same in this case.

ACOSTA: One in New York, one in Delaware.

HARDEN: You know, it's really important that we rely on the jury system. I mean, we call it a jury of your peers, whether it's actually your peers or not. It's 12 people who listen to the evidence and make decision.

One of the things that I think is so problematic here, though, is that why is this -- I mean, you shouldn't be able to lie on an application. But with respect to whether or not he was addicted, I mean, that just takes another step.

And I think it's sad that he was struggling with addiction, it's sad, ultimately, that he said what he said on the application, but I do think that the jury system has 12 people decide what the evidence is.

And I listened to what the jurors said. The jury seemed to say the fact that he's in the Biden family had nothing to do with the case, although, in reality, everyone knew it was Joe Biden's son. And so, even if it was in the back of their minds, it may not be at the front of their minds but, certainly, it was something that everyone was aware of. Apparently, it didn't impact the verdict.

FINNEY: But, you know, this ties back to this larger theme about democracy that we've been talking about, right? Because there is a part of democracy that is a leap of faith. You have to have a leap of faith that you go into the system. Twelve people are going to listen to the evidence and make decision. And you abide by that decision. You have a right to appeal. You have a right -- you have plenty of rights. And so --

ACOSTA: Hunter has that.

FINNEY: -- Hunter has that right.

ACOSTA: So does the former president, you know.

FINNEY: Exactly.


FINNEY: And so -- but that's democracy. And when some of the commentary that we're seeing from Republicans and, you know, the whole fact that the Trump campaign initially put out a statement that had sympathy for Hunter and then pulled that back, I mean --


FINNEY: -- all that does is undermine people's belief in our democracy and in our systems at a time when we actually should be reaffirming. And to your point, it's not perfect. There is so much work we need to do. But this is our system and we've got to work with it.


And by undermining it, it actually makes us less safe as a country.

HARDEN: And the jury system works. I mean, at the end of the day --

ACOSTA: Working for a long time.

HARDEN: -- it works. And so, regardless of, like, how perfect it is one way or the other, 12 people look at the evidence. They listen. Sometimes, folks say they get it wrong. Sometimes, they get it right. But the jury system works.

ACOSTA: And Liam, just very quickly, there's a Bob Menendez trial going on. There's a Henry Cuellar trial going. I mean, there are other trials of prominent Democrats going on right now.

DONOVAN: I think the tricky part is, and you're exactly right, but I think the tricky part is if you look at these piecemeal, you can say, well, this just proves that Democrats are corrupt in this case of Menendez or whomever. I think the tricky part is, as you say, I think there is trust in these institutions.

But when we start to -- when we start to talk about the Supreme Court, we start to talk about Judge Cannon, and we pick apart things that maybe it looks like it's not on the level in other areas, I think it's hard to make these cases that we need to trust in the system if we're not bringing that across the board.

ACOSTA: Yeah. Fair point. All right, guys, thank you very much. Great -- great discussion. Appreciate it.

Tonight, the Bidens are huddling together in their Delaware home to be with their son, Hunter. In addressing the verdict, the president said he could relate to families who have had loved ones battling addiction, saying -- quote -- "I am the president, but I am also a dad. Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today."

And Chris Whipple joins me now. He's the author of "The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden's White House." Chris, good to see you.

CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR: Good to see you.

ACOSTA: You studied the Bidens for a long time. How painful is this moment for the president?

WHIPPLE: Yeah, you know, I think it's extremely painful, just heart wrenching. It's, you know, impossible to overstate just how close Joe and Hunter Biden are. It goes all the way back to that horrific car crash in 1972, which -- which Hunter and Beau barely survived. It's the reason why we've been seeing him holding him close through -- throughout the trial, Jill Biden has been there, and -- and why you see these continuing statements of support.

I mean, I think that for Joe Biden, this is a personal tragedy and a political windfall because, you know, I think that politically, I just don't see any downside. So many people, so many Americans can relate to a father loving and supporting his son.

ACOSTA: Well, and Chris, we were talking about this "New York Times" piece that's out this evening where the Trump campaign has sort of, you know, analyzed these various different ways of how a Biden acquittal or conviction might play out.

And one of the things it says in that story is that the former president has been talking about Hunter Biden a whole lot less out on the campaign trail in part because the former president thinks that there is some sympathy out there for the current president because of what his son has been going through.

And it is worth reminding our viewers just how much tragedy, personal tragedy, the president of the United States has endured over his life. It has -- it has shaped him. It has made him the man he is.

WHIPPLE: No, it's absolutely true. And I think that -- look, I think a lot of the -- of Joe Biden's advisers are keeping a close eye on him, not because they're worried about the political fallout. As I say, I think that's nothing but upside.

But I think they're just worried about him personally. You know, they're worried about having to shoulder this on top of the burdens of the presidency. This is a guy who has got a lot of stuff on his plate.

But again, politically, I think there's no downside. I thought so, even before the verdict and after the verdict, even more so, because the guilty verdict gives the lie to the notion that Joe Biden is some kind of puppeteer who weaponizes the Department of Justice, punishing his enemies and freeing his friends. Obviously, you know, Hunter Biden never would have seen the inside of a courtroom if that were the case. And I think, look, we've got a debate coming up. And I don't think Joe Biden would ever go there. I don't think he'll bring it up. But let me tell you, if Donald Trump is -- makes the mistake of going there and spewing nonsense about the Biden crime family, I think Joe will be prepared. I mean, can you imagine if that happened? Joe Biden saying, look, last time I checked, you were guilty of 34 felonies, I'm guilty of loving my son.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Chris, the president has said that he will not pardon his son. What did you think of that?

WHIPPLE: I thought it was extraordinary. I mean, it was a -- it was a moment of just moral clarity on the part of Joe Biden and couldn't have been in, you know, starker contrast to the way Donald Trump has handled his own conviction.

So, I think it was extraordinary when he was asked, you know, will you -- will you accept the verdict, whatever it is? He said, yes. Would you -- and then, again, would -- would you rule out a pardon? Yes. You can't be much more clear than that.


ACOSTA: All right. Chris Whipple, great discussion. Thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

WHIPPLE: Good to be with you.

ACOSTA: As we were saying earlier, a new audio of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito bashing the court's critics. The activist releasing these tapes, this audio is here, to walk us through it. That's next. Stay with us.


ACOSTA: Tonight, a new recording of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito slamming investigations that uncovered ethics scandals at the highest court in the country. It's the latest in a series of recordings released by progressive filmmaker who secretly recorded Alito while posing as a religious conservative.


The next clip was recorded by her colleague, Ally Sammarco. Take a listen to this.


ALLY SAMMARCO, COLLEAGUE OF LAUREN WINDSOR (voice-over): I am so sorry first of all, about all the attacks on you by the media. I just think there are piling on you, and it's undeserved, so --


SAMMARCO (voice-over): And I just wanted to ask you why do you think the Supreme Court is being so attacked and being so targeted by the media these days?

ALITO (voice-over): Well, I think it is a simple reason. They don't like our decisions, and they don't like how they anticipate we may decide some cases that are coming up. That's the beginning of the end of it. And there are -- there are groups that are very well funded by ideological groups that have spearheaded these attacks. That's what it is.

SAMMARCO (voice-over): Like who?

ALITO (voice-over): ProPublica. ProPublica gets a lot of -- you know, gets a lot of money, and they have spent a fortune investigating Clarence Thomas, for example.

SAMMARCO (voice-over): Okay.

ALITO (voice-over): You know everything he's ever done in his entire life, and they've done some of that to me, too.


ACOSTA: Now, CNN has not obtained the full video, but we've reached out to the Supreme Court and ProPublica for comment. We have not heard back from the Supreme Court, but ProPublica is saying in a statement tonight, "ProPublica exposes abuses of power no matter which party is in charge and our newsroom operates with fierce independence. The fact that Clarence Thomas amended his past filings to formally disclose trips that were paid for by billionaire Harlan Crow speaks for itself."

And joining me now, the executive producer of "The Undercurrent," Lauren Windsor. She is the person behind those secret recordings. Lauren, great to see you again. We talked to you earlier this morning. Thanks for coming back on. Walk us through this. I guess, first of all, why did you want to get these justices on tape and was it tough when you walked up to them? Were they more reserved at first? Did you have to warm them up? How did it work?

LAUREN WINDSOR, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE UNDERCURRENT: Well, so I went to two different dinners. There's one in 2023, one in 2024. At the first one, I spoke with Justice Alito only. There were several justices there. But we had a good conversation.

I'd gone initially because of ProPublica's reporting on Clarence Thomas. So, I thought at the time, you know, will he be there? Will he not? Who knows? But the reporting is it's like one of his favorite dinners. So, I thought there was a good chance.

He was not there, Harlan Crow was not there, to my knowledge, but Justice Alito was, and so I had a conversation with him about how do we repair this partisan rift in our country. I didn't say partisan, rather, sorry, how do we repair the polarization in this country? And at the time, he responded in a really un-newsworthy way. It was, I don't know, I don't know, that's not really our role. So, we didn't publish that audio.

But then, you know, this was before he actually went under the glare of ProPublica's fantastic reporting.

ACOSTA: Right.

WINDSOR: And so, I imagined that because of that, he might be more aggrieved, and I might have a second shot at that this year. And sure enough, when I asked him similar questions, he had a much different response.

ACOSTA: And let's talk about -- I mean, what he had to say there about ProPublica? I mean, it is odd, to say the least, to see a Supreme Court justice or hear a Supreme Court justice go after a news organization which, by the way, ProPublica did a perfectly legitimate series of news stories on what was going on at the Supreme Court. It has raised all sorts of questions about the ethics there. There have been calls for ethics codes and so on because of that.

WINDSOR: They've won the Pulitzer Prize.

ACOSTA: They won the Pulitzer Prize. They did. Yeah.

WINDSOR: And honestly, I have no idea what ProPublica's budget is, but let's just say that, you know, what is it, $4 million that I think that Clarence Thomas has accepted in gifts from donors? I would imagine that, given that it's an independent newsroom, that the annual budget probably rivals the amount that Clarence Thomas has taken in donations that he hasn't reported.

Do I know for sure? I don't know. I just -- you know, if you're talking about millions of dollars there that he didn't report and Justice Alito is, you know, saying, oh, they've spent a fortune on going after Clarence Thomas, like, let's look at that relative.

ACOSTA: Were you surprised that he was as candid with you as he comes across and as Mrs. Alito comes across? I mean, what surprised you the most?

WINDSOR: I was very surprised in my -- so, just to give some more context to this, I spoke with Justice Alito at the cocktail reception before the dinner. I spoke with Mrs. Alito after the dinner. And I was surprised with him because, you know, when I went, I honestly thought these justices, they have to exercise discretion all the time.


And so, I wasn't surprised the first year when it wasn't newsworthy. The second year I go back, okay, we'll try again and see if we get something newsworthy. And so, as I'm standing there and having this conversation with him, it's kind of blowing my mind when he says there are fundamental things that can't be compromised.

And so, to me, that's, okay, well, wow, what are those fundamental things that can't be compromised? Because this clearly is going to affect how you rule on really critical decisions that are impacting the lives of Americans every day.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And I know you and I talked about this earlier this morning, but just in case the viewers who missed that are watching now, let's talk about tactics and the way you went about doing this. When I was talking to you earlier this morning, you said, spare me the pearl clutching. But what about the folks at home who might be saying, oh, you know what, she shouldn't have misrepresented who she was. She should just go in there and say, hey, I'm doing this investigation, talk to me.

WINDSOR: Well, you know, if I were to walk up to someone and say, hi, I'm a journalist, would you -- you know, please tell me that you have a lack of impartiality, that's not something you're really going to be candid about.

And it really goes to the genesis. You know, I've done undercover reporting for a long time, you know, back to a huge scoop that I had in 2014 with the Koch brothers. It's reserved for events or situations where you're not going to get information really any other way. And in this particular circumstance, they're not forthcoming. They're already evading any accountability measures whatsoever.

And so, is it worse for me to pretend to be a fangirl or is it worse for them to not disclose millions of dollars-worth of gifts from GOP donors? I mean, let's talk about relative ethics violations here. I think that what I'm doing is in service of knowledge for the public good, the greater good for all of us.

Congress needs to take an action. I shouldn't have to do this. This should be Congress and this should be the media holding these justices to account to say, you are public servants.

ACOSTA: Yeah. As part of the problem, the Supreme Court is unaccountable.

WINDSOR: Of course. Yeah. It is unaccountable. They can't get ethics reform passed. You know, why are we having congressional hearings into this? You know, I think any reasonable person would say that. You know, Clarence Thomas getting his mother's house paid for or his nephew's tuition paid for or an RV loan, much of which was forgiven. All of these things, any reasonable person would say they're extraordinary.

ACOSTA: All right. Lauren Windsor, thanks a lot. You got us all talking here in D.C. That's for sure.

WINDSOR: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: Thanks for your time. Appreciate it. All right. Just ahead, a CNN exclusive rare access inside detention camps and facilities in Syria where children of ISIS, ISIS fighters, are coming of age, and it's being described as a breeding ground for the next generation of ISIS.

Plus, could Trump make military service mandatory? Why some in his camp are pushing that idea. We'll talk about that.



ACOSTA: Also, tonight, CNN is learning that federal agents have arrested eight nationals from Tajikistan who were inside the United States over suspected ties to the terror group ISIS.

Sources say they entered the U.S. through the southern border and it was later discovered they had possible links to ISIS members overseas. They were monitored for more than a month and eventually arrested before a possible plot could develop.

Those arrests coming as the U.S. grapples with a growing problem in Syria. Tens of thousands of children of suspected ISIS fighters, many now becoming adults, held in detention facilities and camps controlled by U.S. allies. An American general describes one of those camps as a breeding ground for the next generation of ISIS.

CNN's Clarissa Ward got rare exclusive access to these sites, including a prison that holds some of the most dangerous ISIS members. Here's what she saw.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has found that boys as young as 14 have been held here at the notorious Panorama Prison. With an estimated 4,000 inmates, it is the largest concentration of ISIS fighters in the world. No journalist has been allowed inside Panorama since 2021 until now.

WARD: So, the head of the prison has asked me to put on a headscarf when we walk through here because these are some of the most radicalized prisoners they have.

WARD (voice-over): A senior U.S. official told us the number one concern at Panorama is a prison break, a fear that was realized in 2022 when hundreds of inmates managed to escape.

WARD: Can I look inside?

WARD (voice-over): Twenty-five men sit cross-legged in silence. The cell is spotless. The men we see appear to be in decent physical condition. But tuberculosis is rampant in the prison, and we are only allowed to look inside two cells.

WARD: Are you British? You are? Where are you from?

WARD (voice-over): A British man approaches the grate, but does not want to show his face.

UNKNOWN: We've been here for like, five or six years. We don't know what's going on.

WARD: I know.

WARD (voice-over): Advocacy groups call the U.S.-funded Panorama a legal black hole, worse than Guantanamo Bay.


In an interrogation room, we meet 19-year-old Stefan Uterloo from Suriname. He tells us he was brought to the prison when he was 14, along with more than 100 other minors.

WARD: Have you had a lawyer ever? Have you talked to a lawyer?

STEFAN UTERLOO, PRISONER: No. I don't know about the big guys. If you speak to another kids -- I want to know the truth. We don't even know why we are always punished. It's like five years in this prison and we're punished. We don't even know what we've done. We've been in prison because of our parents.

WARD (voice-over): At the SDF intelligence headquarters, we meet British-Pakistani doctor, Mohamed Saqib (ph), accused of joining ISIS. He claims he was the victim of an elaborate kidnapping plot, and says Panorama's inmates are abused.

UNKNOWN: So, we live in torture. I live in fear, torture.

WARD: When you say you live in torture, do you mean that you are actually physically being tortured?

UNKNOWN: This happens on and off.

WARD: What kind of torture?

UNKNOWN: Like beating by the stick, by the guards. To be honest, I'm just waiting for my death. There's no getting out of this prison, probably never.

WARD (voice-over): The warden at Panorama called Saqib's (ph) claim of abuse false, saying -- quote -- "all parts of the prison are monitored by cameras and no prison guard can act in this way."

The SDF and the U.S. are pushing countries to repatriate their citizens from Syria, saying it is the only solution to this complex and dangerous situation. But the process has been slow, and many, including Western allies, are dragging their feet.

In the Al-Roj camp, we meet Brits, Canadians, Belgians, Australians, and a couple of Americans. Thirty-year-old Hoda Muthana has been stuck here with her seven-year-old son for more than five years.

WARD: I have to ask you, I'm seeing all of the women here are fully covered, a lot of them covering their faces. You're not covered, you're wearing a T-shirt. Is that hard?

HODA MUTHANA, DETAINEE, STUCK IN AL-ROJ FOR MORE THAN FIVE YEARS: It was hard when I first took it, I would say for the first two, three years. People were not accepting of it, you know, and they harassed us a lot. They stole our stuff, you know. And I had to stay strong and show example for my son, you know.

WARD (voice-over): Born and raised in the U.S., Hoda became radicalized online at the age of 20 and left her family in Alabama to live under ISIS, a decision she quickly regretted.

WARD: If you were to be able to go back to the U.S. and you had to go on trial, potentially serve time in prison, have you reconciled yourself with that possibility?

MUTHANA: I always tell myself that going to prison would be a step forward in my life. If I had any time to serve, I'd serve it. I'd come out and begin my life with my son.

WARD (voice-over): For now, that is not an option. While the U.S. advocates repatriation, it ruled Hoda's U.S. citizenship invalid on a technicality.

MUTHANA: Not in my ear.


WARD (voice-over): Now, she lives in fear for her son's future.

WARD: What do you miss most about America?

MUTHANA: I just want to breathe American air and be around people. I love the people of America. They're very open and they're very forgiving and they're very -- they're people who give second chances. And I think if they were to sit down with me and listen to my story from the beginning, they would give me a second chance.


ACOSTA: And Clarissa Ward joins us now. Clarissa, great reporting, as always. I want to ask you about Hoda, the American we saw there. The U.S. just completed one of the largest repatriations from Syria to date last month. Why wasn't she part of it?

WARD: Well, this is an interesting one, Jim. So, we did actually reach out to the State Department and ask them about Hoda. And they basically told us, and I'll just read you the statement, the department has not changed its position with regards to Ms. Muthana's citizenship status. As the State Department determined and the courts agreed, she is not and never was a U.S. citizen.

We've also heard from Hoda's lawyer, who said the U.S. has taken a high and mighty approach in lecturing other countries that they need to repatriate. If Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen, then she is stateless, and that is a violation of international law that directly contradicts what the U.S. government has stated that other countries cannot and should not do. The lawyer also raises the issue of Hoda's seven-year-old son whose grandparents are Americans.


So, this is a complicated case. It is continuing efforts to try to resolve it. And I should add, Jim, that a senior U.S. official told us there are about a dozen other Americans who are also still in those camps in Syria. The difficulty with repatriation is that some of them don't even want to go back. We spoke to one woman. She didn't want to be identified. She said that she doesn't want to put up her hand to go back to the U.S. She's fearful of whatever punishment or recrimination she may face there for her actions, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Fascinating report. Clarissa Ward, thank you very much.

Just ahead, one of Trump's cabinet secretaries pushing for mandatory military service if the former president gets a second term. But what does former Trump defense secretary, Mark Esper, think about all of that? It's not his idea. It's another cabinet member's idea. We'll talk about that. We'll ask him, next.



ACOSTA: Tonight, a new report suggests that Donald Trump could be pushed to consider supporting a mandatory military service requirement if he wins a second term. "The Washington Post" reports his former acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, floated the idea for the armed services. Miller told the paper the concept would create a common -- quote -- "rite of passage and a shared sacrifice among America's youth."

America stopped the draft, we should note, in 1973, ending decades of a divisive policy and ushering in the era of voluntary service. Trump denied that he wants to revive mandatory service, posting on Truth Social -- quote -- "The story is completely untrue," and he never even thought of that idea, he says.

But the report highlights a concern all military leaders have in the United States. Plummeting recruitment, staffing levels have dropped in every branch, except for the Space Force. It's raising fears about military readiness and security.

And with me now, CNN global affairs analyst and former defense secretary under Trump, Mark Esper. Mr. Secretary, grateful to have your time this late Tuesday night. Christopher Miller says that mandatory service should be -- quote -- "strongly considered." What do you think of this idea?

MARK ESPER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Jim, we do have a problem in the United States when it comes to recruiting, and the numbers seem to be getting worse. You know, we have -- when I was army secretary in 2018, only 71% of America's youth is qualified to serve. And now, five, six years later, 78% are unqualified to serve. Then the number who are interested in serving, who remained, has decreased from about 13% to 9%.

So, look, out of a cohort of 34 million or so 17 to 24-year-olds, we can only seem to generate 500,000 or so that are qualified and interested in serving. So, this is this is a matter that I'm deeply concerned about. It's not going to bite us today or tomorrow, but if these trends continue and their cultural, their lifestyle trends, if they continue, we're going to find ourselves in a bad situation when it comes to the all voluntary force five, eight, 10 years from now.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you about the political dimensions of this because Trump says, you know, he doesn't -- this is not his idea. He famously called some American veterans who died in war losers and suckers. Does Trump's past comments about the military make recruiting more difficult? I mean, can you imagine something like this happening in a second Trump term after what he has said about fallen American heroes?

ESPER: There are a number of things that have made recruiting difficult coming from both sides of the aisle, frankly, but I think it's the bigger issues in our country. I mean, the bottom line is that America's youth just are not familiar with America's military, with the one-half of 1% that serves and defends them. And that's the challenge. We have to grow that -- we have to close that knowledge gap among America's youth.

So, I think, you know, there are a number of ways to address that measures that are far less radical than -- than reinstating a draft, things such as expanding JROTC and making sure that recruiters are guaranteed full access to our high schools, to -- to simple things like bringing back physical fitness to high school students every day when they go to school in high school, things like that that could really improve the pool of applicants because right now, they just simply don't know that these are credible career fields.

And we don't want to go the way of mandatory service because what has really made the American military great since the draft was ended in 1973 was the fact that they're all volunteers, they're professionals who want to serve. They want to be there.


ESPER: They want to do right by their country. And that's what makes our military so capable and so great.

ACOSTA: And, you know, you and I were talking before the segment about various things. I asked about D-Day. And, you know, my thoughts are, I mean, they're still with those amazing veterans that we saw on -- on June 6, last week. You know, these -- these men who -- and women who were in their late 90s and 100s, just a stunning and just stirring example of bravery to Americans all over this country.

Have you been able to put your finger on what has been lost and why maybe Americans just don't have the same reverence for military service that that we have for the greatest generation, for the people who fought on D-Day? You know what I mean?

ESPER: Yeah. They are a tremendous generation, toughened by the Depression, of course, and then brought together by the spread of Nazism and, of course, Imperial Japan and World War II. And they're just remarkable.

[23:50:00] And they -- they fought that war for four years, then came back home and went straight to work and raised families and built America into what she is today. But look, I think that ember is still there in the hearts of America's youth. I see it when I visit the academies, when I used to go to visit basic training or units out in the field. I think it's still there.

But again, there are distances grown between the American population and the military that serves them. We have to bring them back together. And we need our national leaders to go out there and talk about the virtues of military service, about what it means to -- to -- to help one another, to serve one another.

And I do think there is also a virtue in bringing -- bringing Americans together from all demographics, from all ethnic groups, from all religions and races --


ESPER: -- bringing them together, that we go a long distance to helping bring our country together, make us more cohesive, as cohesive as that greatest generation was nearly 80 years ago now.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And I should note, you and I both know after 9-11, we saw the same kind of patriotic response inside this country. And so, to some extent, what Chris Miller is saying is that maybe we need to bring back mandatory service because, oh, that that doesn't exist anymore. But if there were to be a national crisis, international crisis, I agree with you. I think Americans, young Americans would respond in the same fashion. We have to keep fostering that kind of spirit in this country.

Secretary Mark Esper, great to talk to you as always. Thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

ESPER: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Just ahead, a big shakeup for a 4th of July tradition, a reigning champion, Joey Chestnut, he has been banned from Nathan's hot dog eating contest. That's right, he has been banned. And it's all over vegan Frankfurters. Our Harry Enten, our very own Frankfurter here in CNN, is here to explain this, coming up next.



ACOSTA: All right, talk about a major beef, the iconic Nathan's hot dog eating contest on the 4th of July will be missing a famous hungry face, Joey Chestnut. The 16-time champion will sit out this year's feast because he's sponsored by rival brand and plant-based company Impossible Foods. Nathan says it has a longstanding rule banning competitors sponsored by rival brands.

The major league eating says in a statement -- quote -- "Joey Chestnut is an American hero. We would love nothing more than to have him at Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, which he has dominated for years." Chestnut tweeting he's gutted and argues the organizers are changing the rules from past years in regard to partnerships.

CNN senior data reporter Harry Enten is here now eating a hot dog, no less. Harry --


ACOSTA: I figure we'd be talking to you about this.

ENTEN: Of course.

ACOSTA: So, where's the beef here in all of this? What's going on? This is going to open up the competition, I suppose, in a pretty big way. How dominant has Chestnut been? I mean, he has owned this thing.

ENTEN: He has absolutely owned it. Just look at Joey Chestnut's record. He has won 16 Nathan's hot dogs.

ACOSTA: Finish what you're eating first.

ENTEN: No, no, no.

ACOSTA: My mother always said, don't speak with your -- while you're chewing your food. But anyway.

ENTEN: Anyway, my mother is not here. That's what's most important.

ACOSTA: All right.

ENTEN: He has won 16 to 17 in last contest. He has eaten a total of 1,070 hot dogs. The most, at once, a world record 76. This dude eats hot dogs in his sleep. If he was here right now, instead of just taking one bite, he would have finished all of the hot dogs that I have on this desk. So, this dude is amazing.

ACOSTA: He is an athlete. There's no question about it. A world class athlete. And this is a tradition along the Coney Island boardwalk in New York. Harry, wax poetic here, how did it start?

ENTEN: You know, there's a lot of myth-making with this particular contest. And I actually went in. I thought maybe it started in the 19- teens. But no, it has only been every year since 1978. Maybe it has kind of started in the early 70s, but it has been consistent since 78.

It has really been a competitive contest since 1997 when Major League Eating first sponsored it. And that's when we really started seeing the crowds and those competitive eaters. You know, sometimes 40,000 plus people turn out to watch this thing. My goodness gracious, you can get 40,000 people to watch anything.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And I don't want to think about what was going into those hot dogs back in 1918, but I'll move on. Harry, Chestnut's sponsorship change reflects this, I guess, shift towards vegan products, plant-based meat. I eat some of this stuff every once in a while. It's good stuff. What do the numbers say in terms of what's more popular now, meat or plant-based alternatives?

ENTEN: I mean, meat is still so dominant. I mean, you just look at the profits over the last year and you see, you know, look at that. Animal meat, 122 billion. Plant-based meat, only 886 million. Far less. But you know, Jim, you mentioned plant-based, and I wanted to do a taste test right here. I got a plant-based Impossible Hot Dog right here.

ACOSTA: All right.

ENTEN: I'm going to take a little bite here.

ACOSTA: All right. Hmm.

ENTEN: Um --

ACOSTA: Looks tasty.


ENTEN: Okay. It's okay, but it's nothing compared to this. I mean, this is where you want to be.

ACOSTA: That is where you want to be.


ACOSTA: That is where you are right now.

ENTEN: That is where I am. I am in heaven, Jim. I am in heaven right now. Fantastic. I just love hot dogs overall. There's nothing that says summer more than a nice hot dog, especially one that is made in the finest city in the world.

ACOSTA: At a baseball game, there's nothing better. Harry, I'll let you finish your food. Please chew and chew every bite and swallow, and please don't choke. We're still on the air. All right --

ENTEN: I'll be fine.


ACOSTA: Thanks a lot.

ENTEN: See you later.

ACOSTA: Wash it down with a good beer. All right, see you later. And thank you for watching. I'll see you tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN. "Anderson Cooper 360" is next. Good night.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight on "360," what happens now that the president's son is a convicted felon and when supporters of the convicted felon who is running for president are still complaining about the criminal justice system? Keeping them honest.