Return to Transcripts main page

Laura Coates Live

Favorites Emerge in VP Shortlist; Biden-Trump Face-Off is Six Days Away; Alvin Bragg Cites Flood of Threats; Trump Endorses Ten Commandments Law; NASA Again Delays Boeing Starliner's Return to Earth. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired June 21, 2024 - 23:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: You can catch more of "Violent Earth" with Liev Schreiber this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only right here on CNN.

And thank you for watching "NewsNight." "Laura Coates Live" starts right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Tonight, John Adams could not have been more wrong about the job of vice president, which he described as -- quote -- "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." No disrespect to John Adams. It just never occurred to him that America would have a president like Donald Trump. Trump, it can be argued, sees the job of vice president as very significant.

Good evening. I'm Jim Acosta, in for Laura on this Friday night. The last time Donald Trump had a vice president, it ended like this.


CROWD: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!

ACOSTA: With a mob of Trump supporters storming the Capitol, demanding to hang Mike Pence, punishment for not going along with Trump's plans to subvert the 2020 election. As we all witnessed, Trump saw the job of vice president as an ace in the hole for maintaining the presidency, no matter what the voters decided.


This time around, Trump is likely applying a Pence-proof loyalty test before he picks a running mate, someone who won't let him down no matter what, and it appears Trump has maybe started to narrow down the shortlist. CNN is reporting that Senator Marco Rubio, Senator J.D. Vance, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum are considered the top contenders, at least for now.

And behind the scenes, it turns out they each have a network of influential voices bending Trump's ear, trying to convince him to pick their guy for Senator Rubio. He has Fox News host Sean Hannity and Kellyanne Conway in his corner. Not bad. They argued he'd help Trump with Latino voters in key swing states. Rubio even recently won a straw poll at a high dollar dinner last month that Trump attended.

J.D. Vance has some MAGA originals backing him. The president's son, Don Jr., Steve Bannon, and Tucker Carlson all pulling for the senator from Ohio, seeing him as a fighter for the MAGA cause.

Governor Burgum, meanwhile, is getting backing from big business. The Rupert Murdoch news empire has been praising him with flattering editorials from "The New York Post" and "The Wall Street Journal." Not flashy, but mature, they wrote of Burgum. The governor has something else going for him. He appeals to Trump's love of central casting, picking people who look the part. And according to Fox Business, Burgum really looks the part.




KUDLOW: She's smart. She says you look like George Washington.


You look just like George Washington. Focus in on him. I don't know if we have a handy picture of George Washington. Katie is a very smart woman. And my only question is, how long have you looked like George Washington?


BURGUM: Apparently about 10 seconds.


This is news to me on that.


ACOSTA: George Washington? Not John Adams? You have to wonder, especially for Rubio and Vance, if Trump will be able to look past, as he would put it, the nasty things they have said about him.


SEN. J.D. VANCE (R-OH) (voice-over): I can't stomach Trump. I think that he's noxious and is leading the white working class to a very dark place.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): You know what they say about men with small hands?


You can't trust them.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Would you ever do business with Donald Trump?

BURGUM: I don't think so.

TODD: Why?

BURGUM: I would -- I just think that it's important that you're judged by the company you keep.


ACOSTA: All right, joining me now, former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, former Obama campaign advisor Ameshia Cross, and "Washington Post" columnist Philip Bump.

You guys probably didn't think we were going to do a John Adams reference on a Friday night, but here we are. Burgum, Rubio, and Vance are the top contenders, it seems, right now, Joe. A lot of people are in Trump's ear. I mean, what do you think? What's going to happen here?

JOE WALSH, FORMER ILLINOIS REPRESENTATIVE: I actually think that, unlike in '16, Jim, I think Trump thinks he's going to win. So, I think he's kind of unchained. I think he's going to do whatever he wants, not listen to his advisors. What we know is this: Whoever he picks is going to have to say Trump won in 2020 and is going to have to say the deep state is after him now. Outside of that, I don't think it matters.

ACOSTA: Yeah. I mean, Ameshia, Joe has got a good point. I mean, in 2016, it seemed Donald Trump needed Mike Pence to some extent. And folks have been kind of applying the Mike Pence model to Doug Burgum this time around and that he kind of fits the same mold. But maybe if Joe's right and Donald Trump thinks he's going to win, maybe he does go for a J.D. Vance, somebody who appeals to, like, the next generation of MAGA folks.

AMESHIA CROSS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think that's right. The ground game has changed significantly since Trump first ran.


And at this point, because he is the leader of the party that has been proven multiple times over, he also has such a stronghold on the base that he doesn't necessarily need someone to help him pull along some of these more hard to reach states. I don't think he's worried about that.

What he wants is someone who will be a strict loyalist. He wants someone who will not, you know, shake the apple cart too much because he wants to be the star of the show. He also wants someone who will not run in 2028 because they think he's looking to have his son hoisted up --

ACOSTA: Right.

CROSS: -- in the next election cycle.

ACOSTA: That's interesting. And Philip, I mean, you know, you and I observed a lot of this during the Trump presidency. There -- there is no other human being on the planet who could have been more loyal to Donald Trump than Mike Pence. I mean, remember when they were going around the cabinet room table and they would all -- we would call it sort of the dear leader treatment that they would give Donald Trump? They would praise him. And nobody praised Donald Trump like Mike Pence. It was -- it was just something to behold. And --


ACOSTA: I have to think Trump likes that and wants that this time around as well. I don't know. Set me straight. What do you think?

BUMP: No -- I mean, that's very true. I mean, I remember that time when Donald Trump moved his water bottle off the table and Mike Pence moved his water bottle off the table.


I remember that.

BUMP: It was that level of synchronicity.


BUMP: You know, I mean, I think Joe raises an important point here, which is this is Donald Trump. This is the guy who sees people on Fox News and is like, hey, this person should be, you know, in my administration or, you know, he's walking along with his ballet and then asked him for a senior post, like, who knows? Right? I mean, we go through the machinations of talking about, you know, who's on a short list. But he could throw someone on the short list 24 hours before he actually announced it.

ACOSTA: Right.

BUMP: It's just -- it's -- you know, it's -- it's always up in the air with Donald Trump. I think that all the observations are correct, that he doesn't want someone to overshadow him, that he wants someone who's going not along with him wherever he goes. But there are lots of people who fall into that category. And so, I think that, you know, until we actually hear a name, I would be pretty much just -- no one would be surprised (ph).


You know, basically --


BUMP: -- anything short of Hillary Clinton, it would not -- it would not end up being a surprise. (LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: That might be a little bit of a surprise, but I get your point. And Joe, I mean, you know, the thing that I wonder about is that those clips we were playing earlier, they've all bashed Trump in the past, especially Rubio and Vance. I mean, Vance has made Hitler comparisons to Donald Trump in the past. Marco Rubio has talked about Donald Trump's hand. Those are things that he absolutely hates. Doug Burgum, maybe I wouldn't have done business with him. That doesn't -- I mean, that's, you know, not exactly on the same level.

WALSH: Jim, that's a great point.


WALSH: Those three went after him. And even when Burgum says, I would never do business with him, that's a really big deal. But here's what else Trump loves. Trump loves when you said something bad about him and then you come to him and you're on your knees.

ACOSTA: That is true.

WALSH: And now you're the greatest thing in the world.

ACOSTA: The Lindsey Graham example.

WALSH: Boom. These three are all bad (ph).

ACOSTA: That's very true. And Ameshia, I mean, who should the Obama -- excuse me, Freudian slip there, Biden-Harris team worry about this time around? What do you think?

CROSS: I don't think they need to worry about any of the VP candidates.


CROSS: They think that they need to keep eyeing Donald J. Trump because --


CROSS: -- he is a wily fellow. He's someone who is completely unpredictable. And looking at, you know, even with the felony convictions, it seemingly has only helped him in terms of fundraising capacity. And it hasn't shrunk. If polls are to believe, be believed, it hasn't shrunk his capacity to maintain gains in the battleground states.


CROSS: The Biden campaign has to be most worried about turning out younger voters, Black voters, ensuring that they show up in November.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Phil, what did you make of this, you know, Trump floating this idea of giving green cards to foreign students after they graduate? I mean, you know, here's what Steve Bannon is saying about it.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: How about this as an alternative? We cut in half the number of foreign students we take in the country and allow American kids to get into those engineering schools. The exit visa should be clipped to the -- to the -- to the diploma, the exit visa.


ACOSTA: Now, I mean, apparently, Trump has walked back some of these comments, saying there should be an aggressive vetting process. But, I mean, it also really clashes, Phil, with what Trump has set out on the campaign trail about migrants, you know, poisoning the blood of the country and so on. What did you make of that whole 24 hours of news that that generated that comment?

BUMP: I mean, I thought it was really revealing. I mean, it was Donald Trump recognizing that people who immigrate to the United States have value, which is something he generally doesn't say, right?

And I think the most telling example, I wrote about this for "The Post," was the fact that he has spent over the course of the past several months, he keeps talking about military-aged males, trying to imply that younger people who are coming to the country are dangerous somehow. He literally said that China was sending people to the country to set up a secret army within the United States.

But the people who we're talking about here are obviously military age because they're college age students, and one of the largest countries that is represented among the foreign student population in the United States is Chinese people, right?


So -- so, it is the case that there are young Chinese people who are attending universities who he understands have value and add value to the United States in the context of going to school, but he refuses to acknowledge that immigrants otherwise do. And so, I thought it was --


BUMP: -- it was really revealing because it showed the contradiction at the heart of immigration.

ACOSTA: Yes. Joe, I don't know what you want to say in response to that. But there was a -- there was a moment that flashed in my head, that maybe Trump is thinking about Marco Rubio and putting him on the ticket because that -- that -- that idea from Trump sort of sounded as though he's trying to moderate his tone on immigration. Just a touch. And it made me wonder, is Rubio maybe making some inroads here?

WALSH: Maybe. I think you're giving Trump too much credit for thinking this through.


WALSH: I think he -- look, the base of the party is not there. The base of the party -- and look what Trump did for four years when he was president. He limited, as best as he could, legal immigration.


WALSH: That's where the party is.


WALSH: Unfortunately.

ACOSTA: Family separation. I mean, that that was among many policies, draconian policies.

CROSS: Absolutely, and I would say republican-led xenophobia and white nationalism. This does not walk in lockstep with Donald Trump when he was president or anywhere on the campaign trail up until this point. But I think he's being more responsive to the recent policies out of the Biden administration moving towards creating pathways for DACA recipients more so than anything else.

I don't think that this has much to do with a potential VP pick as much as it is, hey, the president just released this a couple of days ago, let me jump into that new cycle on that front as well. It is receiving pushback from the base that he created that really doesn't want to see any form of immigration reform.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Philip, it could be just as simple as something that flashed in his head one moment right before he said it publicly. I mean, this is Donald Trump.

BUMP: Yeah.

ACOSTA: Phil, I did want to ask you, because I still have this on my mind from my show, my 10 a.m. show yesterday, Van Jones saying if Joe Biden has a bad night during the debate, this could be it. Do you subscribe to that idea? I mean, when you talk to folks, what are you hearing? And I did -- if we have time quickly, just to ask each of you that.

BUMP: Yeah. I don't think so. I mean, it is still early and obviously depends on what the bad thing is. But, you know, there's lots of time to recover. And I think a lot of the age stuff is, frankly, baked in.

ACOSTA: Yeah. Joe?

WALSH: I agree. It would have to be a horrible night.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And you just don't see Joe Biden.

WALSH: I don't see that happening.

ACOSTA: What do you think, Ameshia? CROSS: I don't see that happening either. The expectations are obviously higher for the sitting president than they are for Donald Trump going into this. But I do think categorically and historically, we've seen sitting presidents in their first -- in their first debate, not necessarily knock it out of the park. But we know that Joe Biden is putting in so much effort here. He is -- he has some of the best and the brightest training him, walking him through this process. He knows what he's doing. He's not going to fall.

WALSH: He wanted this early.

ACOSTA: He's got a lot of pros. That's true, the Biden folks did want this early. And you do get the sense that the Trump folks, including Donald Trump, realize that they set the expectations too low for Joe Biden in recent weeks.

WALSH: Yeah.

ACOSTA: Just every day talking about he's wandering, he's -- you know, they turned him into Mr. Magoo.

WALSH: Yeah.

ACOSTA: And if he doesn't perform like Mr. Magoo next Thursday night, obviously, he's going to -- I mean, he's going to have a good night and somebody whispered in Trump's ear and said, maybe we should knock this off.


All right, guys, thanks a lot. Really appreciate it.

Just ahead, religions entering the 2024 campaign with the new controversial endorsement from Donald Trump. We'll talk about this in just a few moments. Less than a week away from the first presidential debate on CNN, could it change the minds of voters who are undecided at this point? We're going to talk to two of them in just a few moments. Stay with us for that.





KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: November of 2024 is binary. And when you look at the difference, I would ask people to really imagine what the world will be like on January 20th, 2025.


ACOSTA: In six days, right here on CNN, voters in America will see President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump face off for the first time in four years, but with one similar goal in mind, aiming to portray their rival as unfit for office. But is that what voters are looking for come next Thursday?

I want to bring in two undecided independent voters to weigh in, Kaitlynn Wander of Florida and Brandon Nelson of Minnesota. Guys, thanks to both of you for coming on tonight, staying up late on a Friday night for us. We appreciate it.

Brandon, let me -- let me just start with you first. You voted -- apparently, you voted for President Biden four years ago, but you're undecided this time around. Why?

BRANDON NELSON, UNDECIDED VOTER FROM MINNESOTA: That is correct. I voted for Joe Biden for president in 2020 with my hopes that we would chart a path of courageous moral leadership in the Oval Office, and several issues since that time have led me to regret that vote at this point.

ACOSTA: Such as?

NELSON: My principal issue right now is the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. I recently became a new --

ACOSTA: No, keep going, please.

NELSON: Sorry for the audio delay.

ACOSTA: That's okay.

NELSON: I recently became a new father and that has come with a whole wealth of new responsibilities. One of the big ones I find myself thinking about is what kind of a world I want -- world I want my daughter to grow up in. For my entire adult life and most of my childhood, America has always been at a war footing, and I was hoping that we could perhaps shift more towards a time of peace. That's the world I hope that she'll grow up in, and I don't see the current administration taking the steps necessary to make that happen.

ACOSTA: And Caitlin, let me -- what's holding you back now?


KAITLYNN WANDER, UNDECIDED VOTER FROM FLORIDA: You know, to be honest, I try to keep an open mind. I think that there's a lot of expectations on how to vote just from within my family, within my community and my culture, but I wanted to really understand what was happening and look at the issues side by side and not just be fueled by emotion before starting to draw my conclusions.

And I really am looking forward to the debate next week as well, just to hear the candidates speak. I think there's so much misinformation available today. And again, it is so emotionally charged that it makes it difficult for us to discern the facts from the feelings.

ACOSTA: And Kaitlynn, what are you going to be looking for in the debate?

WANDER: Well, on a very superficial level, I think that there is a lot of misinformation about Joe Biden, calling him "Sleepy Joe" and saying that he is incapable of filling the role of the presidency, which is being supported by videos that don't really represent his capacity or his ability to lead.

And I think looking and hearing and seeing how he presents himself live on that stage next to Trump is going to be really important for a lot of viewers, myself included, just to really validate and reinforce if he still has the capacity and what his stance is, what is he going to be changing or doing differently in the next eight years -- four years.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Brandon, what are you looking for at the debate? What are you going to be watching for?

NELSON: I think debates in the past that I've viewed often come down to, you know, moments of messaging, opportunities to get that soundbite in there. I would really like to hear a substantive conversation about what are the concrete steps that the administration, both current and potential administration, plan on pursuing with their four years.

ACOSTA: And Brandon, I mean, Minnesota has gone Democrat over the years, but now it's a little bit more of a swing state. Do you know why? Can you put your finger on it?

NELSON: Well, it's a little hard for me to speak to the whole demographic of the state. I can say what I hear people close to me say, and that is that a lot of us have grown frustrated with feeling like our -- our political leaders do not represent our values and what we want to see as a people.

I guess it would be easy to say that we've maybe become cynical or disconnected from the process, but I think maybe a little bit deeper than that, we want to feel like our leadership has our best interests in mind.

Many of the people I talk to in my daily life, both professionally and also in other avenues, what I hear from them when the conversation of politics comes up is they say, you know, I don't really know what's being done with my tax dollars or I know what's being done with it, and I strongly disagree with it.

So, we feel like there are a lot of very commonsense issues that could happen locally and nationally, reforms that could be made to improve the everyday lives of Americans across the spectrum. We feel like our government is pursuing other things instead, oftentimes issues that just feel like they're there to divide us.

ACOSTA: Well said. Kaitlynn and Brandon, a great conversation, very thoughtful comments, and you're both going to vote, though, right?


ACOSTA: All right. Good. All right. That's what counts. All right. Kaitlynn and Brandon, thanks very much. Let's continue this conversation now with pollster Frank Luntz. Frank, you talk to undecided voters all the time. This is your bailiwick. What's your reaction to what we just heard from those two undecided voters? What are you hearing just generally when you talk to folks about what's going on right now with the election?

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER AND COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: It's a tiny fraction of the American electorate that actually matters. I don't mean to dismiss people from other states, but there really are only three states right now that are truly in play: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And within those states, there's really only three or four percent who are actually undecided.

There are a lot of people who say, I don't know if I'm going to vote for Joe Biden, but I'm definitely not going to vote for Donald Trump, or they'll say vice versa. That's not really an undecided voter. They simply haven't made that commitment yet. But in the end, affordability is the number one issue right now.


LUNTZ: Immigration is the number two issue. For young women, it's abortion rights. For older voters, it's health care. These issues are significant. But I need to correct one thing that was said. The truth is voters aren't voting on those specific policies. They're not looking for a 50-page fact-based report, some detailed plan of action.



LUNTZ: They're going to choose based on the personality, based on whether they feel that person is decent, civil, kind, considerate, a leader, someone who can get results. We vote on attributes, not on issues. And that's what I'm going to be looking for come next week.

ACOSTA: And do these debates have an impact? I mean, I -- you know, I asked the panelists earlier on in the program. Maybe you saw. But, you know, I talked to Van Jones about this the other day and he was saying, you know, if Joe Biden has a bad debate, that's it, game over. And, you know, you talk to other folks about Biden. Well, they say, that's -- that's way over the top. But there are some in the Democratic Party who are concerned that if the president does not have a good debate, that could be a problem.

LUNTZ: Well, mark my words, if he doesn't have a good debate, if he has issues getting the words out, if he gets tongue tied, which people do, but if it happens to him, the expectations are so -- are so defined right now. And the fear among Democrats is that Donald Trump wins. The fear among Republicans is Joe Biden wins. This is not a vote for someone. It's a vote against someone.

And if Joe Biden has a bad debate, if he has trouble with Trump, if he can't handle him, mark my words, within 24 hours, you're going to see all sorts of Democrats saying we need a different candidate. I'm not predicting it. Joe Biden has a way of rising to the occasion. When he debated Paul Ryan, he was the underdog. Biden won that debate. When he debated Donald Trump in 2020, a lot of it was Trump's over- the-top criticism. Biden did well in those debates. So, let's not lower expectations on him.


LUNTZ: But that's where the pressure is, not on Donald Trump but on Joe Biden.

ACOSTA: And for Trump, what is the biggest risk alienating women? I mean, might he step in it by going after Hunter Biden. You know, there's a whole slew of voters out there who may not respond well to going after somebody who has been battling addiction and so on.

LUNTZ: Well, I'll tell you, we saw this in the sessions we did in 2020, in that first debate when Donald Trump would not keep to time, kept going over his allotted limit, kept on attacking Biden again and again, interrupting him, bullying him.


LUNTZ: Women respond to that, undecided women. They hated it. And Donald Trump slipped a few points. And I think that had an impact on the final election. If Trump goes too far, beats him up too much, women who are important in this election won't like it and they'll take it out on him. So that's his greatest challenge.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And, you know, Frank, the other thing that we're learning, and this goes back to something you were saying earlier, is that Trump's going to be campaigning in Virginia the day after the debate. This latest Fox News poll of Virginia voters shows Biden and Trump in a dead heat.

I'm a Virginia native. I just -- I'm sorry. I don't believe that poll. I don't -- I do not think Joe Biden is neck and neck with Donald Trump in Virginia. Do you see it that way? I suspect what you said earlier is correct, that really there are only three states. And it's that -- that old Democrat blue wall that has to hold for Joe Biden.

LUNTZ: And I still see it. But I do know that Minnesota is now up for grabs and that state, Republicans have looked at. But they haven't won it since 1972. A state like Iowa that Republicans are supposed to win by eight or 10 points, Trump is up by 18.

There are three critical groups here. Young African-American men that tend to vote Democrat overwhelmingly, one-third of them are supporting Donald Trump. The Latino vote, the Hispanic vote, which tends to break for the Democrats by 15 or 20 points, right now, Trump is almost even. And finally, union, rank and file union members. Government unions are pro-Biden. Teachers unions are pro-Biden. But among all the other unions, it's split 50-50.

So, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan have all large segments of those votes and it is why Donald Trump is dead even or even a point or two ahead in those three key states.

ACOSTA: Fascinating. All right, Frank Luntz, we appreciate it as always. Glad to see you're doing well. Thanks a lot for your time.

LUNTZ: Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. Just ahead, Manhattan prosecutors are pushing to keep a modified gag order on Donald Trump after a wave of threats against the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, including one that said -- quote -- "Your life is done." Now, the judge could rule on this next.




ACOSTA: Tonight, Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg laying bare how much of a threat he believes Donald Trump continues to pose to people involved in the hush money trial. Bragg asking Judge Juan Merchan to extend the gag order in that case because of constant threats, saying -- quote -- "The need to protect participants in this criminal proceeding and the integrity of the criminal justice process from defendant's attacks remains critically important."

Bragg isn't covered by the request, but he knows better than anyone about these threats. His office has received more than 500 threatening emails, that's right, and phone calls. According to a new filing just today, 61 threats were against the D.A., his family and employees. The NYPD says four have been referred for further investigation. That's how bad it is.

Some of these ominous messages go like this: "We will kill you all," "you are dead," "your life is done," and "RIP." But the D.A. suggested that witnesses in the case no longer need to be covered by the gag order, meaning people like Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels could be potentially vulnerable.


Joining me now is CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams and Tiffany Wright, former law clerk for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Elliot, this is outrageous.


ACOSTA: That this is still going on. And it almost seems as though there's just nothing that can be done.

WILLIAMS: Probably.

ACOSTA: What do you think?

WILLIAMS: Perhaps not.

ACOSTA: Yeah. WILLIAMS: But what's lost here is that this idea that because the trial is over and that in some reason we have to move on, and the judge maintains jurisdiction over the proceedings until the defendant is sentenced, that includes something like a gag order.

If, in fact, the defendant or any party is continuing to make statements about the judge, the prosecutors, their families, witnesses, whatever else, you know, the prosecutors can still push for that gag order, the judge ought to enforce it for the integrity of the proceedings, and sentencing being an important part of the process and needing to play out in a reasonable way ought to be protected.

ACOSTA: Tiffany, your thoughts?

TIFFANY R. WRIGHT, FORMER LAW CLERK FOR JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR: You know, I think I agree with all of that. I would also say that there is a room in the First Amendment for the judge, I think, to go a little bit further. I think even under the most stringent scrutiny, you're not permitted to engage in speech that interferes with a legal proceeding. You're certainly not allowed to engage in speech that poses a threat to others. And we can see from these messages that it has gotten really dangerous.

And so, I think there is room under the First Amendment to even go a little bit further while the court's jurisdiction continues.

ACOSTA: And why would the D.A. say that witnesses like Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen can be dropped from the gag order? I mean, one would have to think they're still getting threats and that sort of thing.

WILLIAMS: They are. I mean, I think, you know, to the specifics of what's going on here, none of them are going to testify before the court again for the purposes of sentencing. So, you could make an argument to take them out. This is really about the court, the personnel, the prosecutors, and the people who will be weighing questions as to the defendant's sentencing.

ACOSTA: That makes sense. I do want to turn to the classified documents case, which is just unbelievable. Judge Aileen Cannon held a hearing today in Trump's classified documents case on the appointment of Special Counsel Jack Smith. Trump's attorneys saying he was illegally appointed and acting like a shadow government. What do you make of all this?

WRIGHT: You know, I think that legally, there is no such thing as a shadow government here. It's just as fake as the Deep State and Pizzagate and whatever of the other conspiracy theories and fever dreams that folks come up with.

I will say that with respect to Judge Cannon, I think part of what we're seeing is I think that being a district court judge is the hardest job in the federal judiciary by far. And so, I think some of this is a little bit of inexperience, her trying to find her place. But some of it is a willingness to engage with this sort of ideologically questionable origins of these arguments that come from the -- ACOSTA: Willingness to kind of hear anything out.


ACOSTA: That's not -- that is not what a judge does.

WRIGHT: No, no, no. And I don't think most judges would have given this particular argument, the time that she gave it today.


ACOSTA: Elliot, what are you thinking?

WILLIAMS: You know, I'm not in the business of pop psychology, which is what you say before you pop psychologize someone.


WILLIAMS: But, you know, agreeing with everything about being a trial judge being exceptionally hard, let's add one factor. She has a background as an appellate lawyer where lawyers who work on appeals, you know this well -- as well, spend a lot of time on esoteric rabbit holes, trying to test the bounds of the law and so on, and there might be some of that here, but there's also, I think it's fair to say, whether it's an ideological or philosophical difference that's guiding some of these decisions, that might be some of it.

Now, let's be clear, this judge is not being removed from this case. I think folks have in their heads that somehow Jack Smith can wave a wand and remove a judge just because she has issued some rulings that are clunkers. That's just simply not how it works. Sometimes, you get judges that are favorable to prosecution. Sometimes, you get judges that are favorable to defendants. That's just sort of the luck of the draw. It's unfortunate for the prosecutors here, but they really don't have a lot of recourse.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Steve Bannon -- I mean, we should talk about Steve Bannon. He's making this last-ditch effort to stay out of jail, asking the Supreme Court to pause his prison sentence while he makes this appeal for his conviction on contempt of Congress. Does he stand a chance here?

WRIGHT: No, absolutely not. I think --

ACOSTA: You think he's going to jail?

WRIGHT: He's going to jail. He will meet the same fate that Peter Navarro met when he tried the same maneuver a while ago.

ACOSTA: Yeah. What do you think, Elliot?

WILLIAMS: Without question, going to jail. It just -- there's no -- because, you know -- and let's just talk about what the law says. You can -- an individual who has been convicted while he is pending his appeal can be kept out if there's a substantial likelihood that he's going to win or is raising a novel legal issue or something like that. The court that has looked at this already said that's simply not the case. It's a straightforward matter. He just doesn't want to go to jail.


WILLIAMS: That's not a basis for -- for -- for being kept out.

ACOSTA: Who wants to go? Nobody wants to go to jail.

WILLIAMS: Nobody wants to go to jail, but some people have to when you're convicted.

ACOSTA: Trump doesn't want to go to jail.

WILLIAMS: He doesn't.


ACOSTA: And Tiffany, you know, you -- we mentioned earlier, you worked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Do you have any thoughts on how long this is taking for the immunity case at the Supreme Court?

WRIGHT: I do. I think --

ACOSTA: You do? Okay.


WRIGHT: What are those thoughts?

WRIGHT: It's a delay. That's really, really hard to explain. I mean, we saw when it was a case on the other end, the Colorado, Trump being on the ballot. They decided that hurt it really quickly. I think the delay here is really inexcusable. And I think, you know, last time I was here, we were talking about ethics and, you know, what happens when a justice gets $4 million over the course of his career.

And these are the sorts of seemingly small decisions, right? The ability of a justice to say, I am writing something separate, and I'm going to delay the process of writing that until it's advantageous for someone politically. Right? These are the sorts of things we have to worry about when we have an ethically-compromised Supreme Court.

ACOSTA: That -- that really would be on your mind.


ACOSTA: If you were wearing one of those robes. Whether your colleague, because of free stuff he has been getting, might be --


ACOSTA: -- pulling a fast one.

WRIGHT: Absolutely. Which is why ethics are important. We do not want even the appearance of that. And I would not want to have that person as a colleague.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And Elliot, I mean, we remember a time when we just didn't even think about this stuff when it came to the Supreme Court.

WILLIAMS: Well, they -- you know --

ACOSTA: I mean, you know, I guess in a bygone era, I suppose there were questions and things that came up from time to time.

WILLIAMS: Yes, that's true. I mean, I think the court, what --one of the -- what this is all exposing? I think you're -- we're moving from talking about the timing of the case to the ethics questions around the Supreme Court.


WILLIAMS: The court is left to police itself and they -- their rules just sort of say, trust us. In 2023, they put out ethical rules that really don't have any teeth. And so, if, in fact, justice is misbehaving, it's really up to the nine of them in this private room that nobody's ever gets to be in --


WILLIAMS: -- to decide who gets to sit off cases and so on. So, stop us.


WILLIAMS: Is there -- is the message that no one is going to.

ACOSTA: Yeah. It's going to be such a big decision when this comes down. And maybe we've been making some predictions. Maybe it'll be next Thursday, on the day of the debate. Wouldn't that be a curveball?

Tiffany, Elliot, thanks a lot. really appreciate it, guys. Thanks so much.

Donald Trump embracing the new Louisiana law requiring the Ten Commandments. Have you heard about this? That has been said -- making it mandatory to post the Ten Commandments in public schools. Should it supercharge the religious right? Could it do that? Someone who has been on the inside of the Christian nationalist movement has some thoughts on this. He joins me next.






JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, and thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.


Okay, he's one for 10, not bad.


ACOSTA: Jimmy Kimmel poking a little fun at Donald Trump for his support for a new law in Louisiana that requires the Ten Commandments to be posted in every public classroom in the state.

Trump defending the law on Truth Social, posting -- quote -- "This may be, in fact, the first major step in the revival of religion," he says, "which is desperately needed in our country." Louisiana Republican Governor Jeff Landry agrees, pushing back on criticism of the law today.


GOV. JEFF LANDRY (R-LA): I didn't know that it was so viral -- vile to obey the Ten Commandments. I think that that speaks volumes about how eroded this country has become. I mean, look, this country was -- was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. And every time we steer away from that, we have problems in our nation.


ACOSTA: The ACLU is blocking or suing to block the law. The Supreme Court has stopped Kentucky, we should know, from implementing a similar law twice. But more states could follow in Louisiana's footsteps. Tonight, the second most powerful politician in Texas is vowing to push for a bill requiring the Ten Commandments in schools there. The issue has long been a rallying cry for people on the religious right.

And my next guest should know. Bradley Onishi served as an evangelical minister for seven years and considered himself a Christian nationalist before leaving the church to study religion and extremism. He's the author of "Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism and What Comes Next." Bradley, an ominous title, but a very important subject. You've been inside the Christian nationalist movement. What do you make of this new Ten Commandments law?

BRADLEY ONISHI, AUTHOR: Well, this is not something new and it's not happening by accident. The call to restore the country to its covenant with God has been a rallying cry among Christian nationalists going back to the 1960s when they believed the country was stolen from them.

This is why so many Christian nationalists have found a home in the MAGA movement, because the nostalgia politics at play in Donald Trump's campaigns fits nicely into a vision of the country that says we once were great, but we departed from God's vision, and now we're lost.

ACOSTA: And Bradley, today in Washington, Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference and openly called for more religion in government and schools. Let's listen.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): We don't need less Christian influence in our society. We don't need less Christian witness in our society. We need more in every part of government, in every part of society. You know what we ought to do? We ought to take the pride flag out of schools and put the Bible back in.


ACOSTA: Is that just rhetoric?

ONISHI: It's not just rhetoric. And we know that. I think the Ten Commandments bill is a really good example.


This didn't happen by accident. This is a part of a coordinated effort by Christian nationalist organizations that want to impose Christianity on all of American society. The Ten Commandments bill came from a group called Project Blitz, which represents about 40 different Christian nationalist organizations. And they work with state legislatures every year. They pre-write bills in the hope that they'll be sponsored and passed into the law.

Now, they only usually have a few victories per year, but when they have a signature, one like the Ten Commandments bill here in Louisiana, it's a -- it makes them think all that hard work is worth it.

It also signals something that I think we have to be aware of when it comes to Senator Hawley's comments and others who are talking about this across the country. They're willing to play the long game. They're willing to keep putting forth bills, having most of them not pass, but warming up our society, continuing to warm the waters of American culture to the point that we will eventually get to a boiling and have a fully-fledged Christian national society where one view of faith is imposed on the rest of us.

ACOSTA: Well, you know, this Ten Commandments law has me thinking. I mean, isn't this kind of a slam dunk Supreme Court case if and when it gets to the Supreme Court? The establishment clause of the Constitution says you cannot have -- you have to have a separation between church and state. I mean, that's a sort of like, you know, high school government 101. Do you -- do you not see it that way? Is it possible as the Supreme Court trends in a harder, more conservative right-wing direction that perhaps that that may be overlooked? I can't imagine that happening. But what do you think?

ONISHI: A law like this was struck down in 1980 and one would expect it to be -- this one to be struck down now. I'll say two things here, though. We have a court that is full of surprises. Over the last month, I think we've seen that, every time we've heard something new about Justice Alito and the flags flying over his house, not to mention some of the rulings that have come down over the last couple of terms. So, it's a gambit at the court right now, and I don't think anyone knows exactly what will happen.

But I think there's a larger lesson here, too, which is to say if this is struck down, it just gives Senator Hawley and Governor Landry and others around the country more fuel to the fire to play the victim, to say, well, look at this, look at those who would throw God out continually from our society.

Those are the ones who hate America. Those are the ones who are against American flourishing. I can't believe that they would stand up here and say that God is no longer allowed in the United States. It's a way to play the victim, to mobilize a base, and to divide the country in an us versus them kind of way.

ACOSTA: All right, Bradley Onishi, thanks very much for your time. A lot of great thoughts there. Love to have you come back and talk about this further. Really important topic. Appreciate the time tonight.

ONISHI: Thanks, Jim. Appreciate it.

ACOSTA: In the meantime, new tonight, NASA announcing another delay for the return of two astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The crew reached the ISS via Boeing Starliner earlier this month, but their return has been delayed due to issues with that spacecraft. NASA had originally said they'd return no later than June 26th, but now NASA is putting that off with no scheduled return date planned. Here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The launch from Florida was picture perfect. The Starliner spacecraft, manufactured by Boeing, a test flight on its way to the International Space Station, successfully docking with the ISS just over two weeks ago. The two astronauts on board the Starliner, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.

SUNITA "SUNI" WILLIAMS, NASA ASTRONAUT: So here we are in the front of the International Space Station where our spacecraft docked.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But even before they docked with the space station and as they gave this tour of the Starliner, they knew the trip wasn't going to be exactly routine.

WILLIAMS: Let's go forward into Starliner where there was a little bit of action the other day.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The action involved spacecraft issues, specifically helium leaks and thruster problems that have delayed the two astronauts' return to Earth.

LEROY CHIAO, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT: The bottom line is the helium leaks are about, you know, pretty small. NASA says they can tolerate about 100 times what's currently leaking. Had five thrusters fail on the way to the station. Four of them have been reactivated. One remains disabled. Shouldn't keep them from coming home safely.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But it has kept them from returning as scheduled. NASA declaring --

UNKNOWN (voice-over): We're taking a little bit of extra time to work through what we've seen and make sure we have all the plans in place to -- to bring the crew home in a nominal situation for -- for the end of mission. So, we're just taking a little more extra time to review all the data and also learn as much as we can while we have this service module in orbit.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Despite the problems, the atmosphere on board with all the space station astronauts has been nothing less than jovial.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Congratulations to all the NASA and Boeing teams on this incredible milestone. Butch and Suni, the ISS flight control team is thrilled to see you back on ISS.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): This is Boeing's first docking with the ISS after numerous issues and cost overruns, which have led to corporate embarrassment and uncertainty. And now, there is more of that, as engineers on the ground are working to learn more about these problems that have plagued the journey. Despite the issues that surround the Starliner, the two astronauts appear to be taking it all in stride.

BARRY "BUTCH" WILMORE, NASA ASTRONAUT: I'm not sure we could have gotten a better welcome. I mean --


-- we had music, we had pojo (ph), Matt was dancing.


It was great.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.


ACOSTA: Thanks to Gary and thanks to the team here for taking care of me all week. Laura is back next week. Thanks very much for watching. "AC 360" is next. Good night.