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CNN TONIGHT: AP: No Significant Voter Fraud In 2020 Battleground States; Biden Administration Releases Previously Classified JFK Assassination Documents; New Op-Ed: Biden Should Announce He's Not Running Again. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired December 15, 2021 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: A quick note, before we go. If you ever miss the show, and you want to find the latest episode, shortly after it airs, on our podcast, you can find the show, at CNN.com/Podcasts, and all major podcast platforms, or search for "Anderson Cooper 360."
News continues. Let's hand it over to Michael Smerconish, and CNN TONIGHT. Michael?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you.
I am Michael Smerconish, and welcome to CNN TONIGHT.
This evening, the strongest evidence yet that the 2020 election was fair and square. Nevertheless, you're also going to learn how the election denialism movement is sticking around, and maybe coming to your town.
First, newly-gathered data, from the six battleground states, former President Trump disputed, in the 2020 race, the Associated Press reviewed every possible case of voter fraud. The numbers are miniscule. They would have no impact, on the final result.
Take a look. 25.5 million people voted in those states. Joe Biden beat then President Trump by more than 311,000 votes there.
And how many votes from those 25.5 million were questionable? Fewer than 475, less than one quarter of 1 percent, of Biden's victory margin, in those states. It wasn't even close. And not all of that handful of votes were even for Biden.
And when the AP contacted Trump, for comment, he, quote, "Repeated a litany of unfounded claims of fraud that he had made previously, and offered no evidence that specifically contradicted the AP's reporting."
But, like everything else, in the mountain of evidence that the election was legitimate, it doesn't seem to matter, to those, who believe only in promoting the conspiracies, at any cost.
I've been saying a key question, about January 6 remains, what were the foot soldiers told? What was spontaneous? And what was planned? Members of the Oath Keepers group allegedly gathered and stashed weapons, in advance, of the attack, and cut through the crowd, in military-like formation, according to the Justice Department. There's a pipe bomber still on the lam.
And more questions than answers about what happened at D.C.'s Willard Hotel, where the night before January 6, there was a war room. Key players in the Trump-world were there, Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and more.
Those same lieutenants are now actively recruiting, the next batch of foot soldiers, for a crucial, but quieter mission.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP POLITICAL ADVISER: We don't have an option. At the school board level, right? At the county supervisor level, at the precinct level. This is - we're taking it - we're going to take this back, village by village, Dan Schultz?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Precinct by precinct.
BANNON: Precinct by precinct, village by village.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: My guest has been working, with researchers, to track the effort, happening across social media.
In an eye-opening piece, for "The Washington Post," he points to how some of the people, behind January 6, have now turned their attention, to three primary targets, school boards, city and county commissions, and secretaries of state, and supervisors of elections.
Ron Filipkowski also warned, time after time, what could be brewing, in the days, leading up to January 6. Way back, on December 19, December 19, he screen-grabbed messages, on Parlor, talking about, quote, "Enemies of democracy," and "Building gallows."
On December 30, he spotted a Proud Boys' video, talking about how they'd go undercover, to blend in. On New Year's Day, he showed how Bannon was trying to compare January 6 to D-Day. The next day, he shared an Oath Keepers' tweet that warned of bloodlust, in Washington, on the 6th.
Ron Filipkowski is a criminal defense attorney, former federal and state prosecutor, former member of Florida's Judicial Nomination Commission, and joins me now.
Ron, thank you for being here.
So, months before the election, you began monitoring these extremist elements. How come? What caused you to do this?
RON FILIPKOWSKI, FORMER MEMBER, FLORIDA'S JUDICIAL NOMINATION COMMISSION, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER STATE AND FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, at that time, I was just - I was a lifelong Republican, and I was monitoring the more extreme elements, of the party, to try and persuade moderate Republicans, and independent voters, to vote for Joe Biden. So, that's kind of how it started.
SMERCONISH: There was a tweet, from President Trump, on December 19, December 19 of 2020. This is the one, where he said, big protest in "D.C., on January 6th. Don't miss it. Information to follow!" "Be there. Will be wild!" was also a part of what he put out.
How was that message interpreted, by the people that you were monitoring?
FILIPKOWSKI: Well, people forget that January 6 was the third "Stop the Steal" rally.
There were two, in D.C., before that, early in December. And we had monitored those. We watched people that were involved, in those previous two rallies. Some of the same organizers, but they were kind of duds. They fizzled. There weren't that many people there.
The second one was a little alarming, because a lot of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers showed up. But still, it was kind of ad hoc.
When the December 19 tweet, was sent out, by President Trump, at the time, I was monitoring their social media pages. And they just exploded. They just lit up.
And basically, the consistent theme was "The boss has given us our orders. This is the big one. Let's all gear up. And let's get ready." And that was - that's kind of like the Proud Boys' nickname, for Trump, is the "Boss."
SMERCONISH: In other words, this was--
FILIPKOWSKI: And so--
SMERCONISH: --this was like the Bat-Signal had been put up in the sky, and they were all going to respond in kind.
FILIPKOWSKI: Right. Yes, I can't even tell you the difference between their traffic, on social media, from the 19th - from the 18th to the 19th, after that tweet came out. It was like night and day. And it was very alarming.
SMERCONISH: OK. So, most of us were shocked, by the events that unfolded on January 6. But as I comb through your social media, in the month leading up to the 6th, it strikes me that you probably weren't surprised, by the way it all unfolded. Am I wrong?
FILIPKOWSKI: Not surprised in the least.
I got a lot of pushback, from the people, who followed me on Twitter, who have since deleted, their replies, to some of my posts, which basically was saying, "You're being an alarmist. The first two "Stop the Steal" rallies, not much happened. You're overhyping this. Nobody's going to show up."
And I said, "Look, you can't compare the previous two rallies. Because this one, Trump is getting directly involved."
And when I looked at some of the influencers, and the leaders, the money that got involved, the buses that were being organized, different media platforms, telling people to come, all across the country, I saw - I read things from people, in California, Washington, Oregon, all saying they were going, and that was much different than the other two, and also saying what they were going to do, when they got there. So no, I wasn't surprised, in the least, by what happened.
SMERCONISH: So, Ron, as part of my introduction, of you tonight, I said, "Perhaps coming soon to your town."
What's going on today? What is now, the outreach, on a grassroots level?
FILIPKOWSKI: Well, after January 6, we saw the foot soldiers get arrested. And that's kind of what we were doing, with several other people, on social media, for about a month or so, afterwards, was helping to identify, the people in the crowd. And we did that.
Then we started looking "Well, where are the organizers? Where are the leaders? None of them have been arrested. Where are they now?"
We started tracking them down, watching them form new websites, new organizations. A lot of them came to Florida. And I think, at that point in time, they were looking, they were trying to figure out, what they were going to do.
And then we saw, their goal was to delegitimize the Biden administration, with all the election fraud stuff, to then disrupt, and grifting, to regain power, influence, and to make money. And that's what we saw them do.
And they used different issues, like vaccine mandates, was fuel mask mandates, CRT, they used. They used, the election fraud, obviously, a host of different issues, to get people stirred up, and to rally, to their banner.
SMERCONISH: OK. But when I - when I now see unrest, at school boards, across the country, are you telling me, it's coming from the same elements? And if so, is it organic? Or is it orchestrated?
FILIPKOWSKI: Oh, it's very orchestrated. And it's the same people.
I mean, it's the same people, Charlie Kirk, Steve Bannon, whose show, I watch, every day. He's kind of the Yoda. He's the evil genius puppet master that eggs everybody on behind this. He's on six days, a week, I think, 10 hours a day, on that internet podcast, getting people all whipped up.
So no, we saw the organizations put in place, the mid-level groups, like Moms for Liberty, and other sort of quote, unquote, "Patriotic groups," organizing. We saw them sending out scripts of things to read. We saw people traveling.
SMERCONISH: Are you - are you in touch?
FILIPKOWSKI: "Hey, we're going to go to this school district."
SMERCONISH: Are you in touch with law enforcement? I mean, you're like Inspector Clouseau, out there, assembling all this data. Are you handing it off to anybody? And also, do the people you're observing, are they aware of you? Do you feel threatened?
FILIPKOWSKI: Yes. Yes. I mean, they're - I mean, I put my name on it. Most of the people, who do, what I do, are anonymous accounts. And I decided to put my name on it. So yes, they know who I am. I mean, I read their traffic, when they're talking about me. So, that happens all the time--
SMERCONISH: And finally, the question, I asked a moment ago.
FILIPKOWSKI: --which is amusing sometimes.
SMERCONISH: Are you in--
SMERCONISH: --working in concert with any branch of law enforcement? And were you, before January 6? Did you tell anybody in the federal government or law enforcement, what you were seeing?
FILIPKOWSKI: I was forwarding everything to the FBI, through their social media account. So yes, things were being forwarded to them. They were being tagged on everything. And so, yes.
And we try to notify the school boards, when we know something's coming, and let them know.
SMERCONISH: Scary stuff! But we're very grateful.
Ron Filipkowski, thank you so much, for being here.
FILIPKOWSKI: Thank you, for having me on.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish, or go to my Facebook page. I will read some social media, during the course of the program.
Already, this has arrived. Let us see.
"What is the difference between a violent protest and a coup? If it is shutting down government, then does attempting to burn down the federal courthouse qualify as a coup?"
Dennis, I wouldn't have believed that it was a coup, when it first happened, because it all seemed so spontaneous. It all seemed so organic. But as I've been discussing, for several nights here, now, there were lots of wheels, moving in concert, with one another.
And the reason I'm so eager to listen to Ron is because he's filling in the gap, answering the question that I've been wondering, which is OK, so you had legal memos, being written, to bolster the Trump White House, in their view that they could overturn the election.
They were leaning on Pence, leaning on Justice, leaning on the Pentagon. But what was being told to the foot soldiers, you've heard me ask.
Here's a guy, who's been tracking all of that information, and that piece of the puzzle, and he's been doing it on his own. He's a lawyer. He's a criminal defense lawyer, who's a former prosecutor, down there, in Sarasota. And he's been assembling all the clues, all along.
One more, if we have time for it. What have we got?
"1/6 committee is another D.C. dog and pony show. Nothing will come of it, but sound bites and donor cash."
Bill, I don't agree. I think, already, we're learning so much that we had no idea about. I mean, how about the last 24 hours, learning not just about the media personalities, that were reaching out, for the White House, and saying, "Do something about it," but also these members of Congress, who were reaching out on that day.
If there were no January 6 Committee Commission, we wouldn't know that. We'd have closed the book, on this entire chapter, believing that it was much more spontaneous, and unplanned, or unorchestrated, than the facts that are developing, are pointing toward.
The Biden administration today, releasing top secret files, about the assassination, of President John F. Kennedy. So, what are we learning 58 years later? And why is this taking so long?
Investigative journalist, Gerald Posner, literally wrote the book, on America's most infamous political murder. He's here to tell us, next.
SMERCONISH: Here's one, for the history buffs and the conspiracy theorists. Today, the National Archives released nearly 1,500 documents, related to the assassination of JFK, some of which have never been seen by the public.
It's been almost 60 years, since the former president's assassination. And yet, the public still hasn't seen all the documents, related to his murder, fueling more suspicion for many. So, what's in the new documents? And what is the hold-up?
We've one of the best scholars, in the JFK assassination world. He's reviewed the files. He joins us now, the Author of "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK." This is Gerald Posner.
Gerald, this is textbook stuff, for how you fuel conspiracy. Drip, drip, drip, I mean, it's almost like it's deliberate.
GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR, "CASE CLOSED: LEE HARVEY OSWALD AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK": You know, Michael, if you were writing it, and said, "Let's make sure that people really have doubts, about what happened in this case"--
SMERCONISH: Yes, that's right!
POSNER: --"and that we're covering it up," what would you do? You'd hold on to files, for 58 years, and then still refuse to give them over.
And this is absolute - it's preposterous. And one of the things that makes it so frustrating, as a researcher, a historian, a journalist, looking into it, is that they keep changing the rules. They move the goalposts.
So, in 1992, after Oliver Stone did his "JFK" film, Congress decided to pass an act that said, "25 years, you, the CIA, FBI, get all the documents out there, about the case. Let's get over these doubts."
And then it fell, in the middle of 2017, when Trump was president. And they convinced him, the CIA did, "Hold on, don't release them all." And so, he said, "All right, I'll give you another then 3.5 years."
And now it falls into October of this year. And President Biden's convinced to give them more time. And he said, "By the way, release the documents today, the December, that, you really don't have to fight about that you're willing to let go, and will only fight about the other ones next year."
And guess what? We found out there's a lot they want to fight about. They only release 1,500 today. They're holding on to about 15,000 more.
SMERCONISH: Well, I saw, via the internet, not in print, but I saw a headline from the "New York Post," late today, that suggested there was some revelation. Was there some revelation?
POSNER: Not to make a headline, in any newspaper, magazine, or lead- off, on a newscast, the problem is that the journalists, who are covering the news today, don't know, many of them weren't even alive, when Kennedy was killed. They haven't covered the case very well.
And it's difficult for those of us, even who are into the weeds, on the case, to know what's new, and what's not new. And the reason for that is it's almost an example of how not to do a document release.
The National Archives is putting material out there, documents released, but it often has just had a word or a sentence redacted, and taken out, in the past.
Now, you have to find out what was originally released, sometimes back, in the 1990s, find the document, in the hundreds of thousands that have been released, by the government, and then compare the two, and see what the difference is. The "New York Post" took a document that said that Oswald had been in contact with a KGB agent, just six weeks, before the assassination, when Oswald was in Mexico City. Now that sounds like a headline, worth running.
SMERCONISH: Sure, yes.
POSNER: The problem is the document that was being quoted was already public, since 1998. The information was out there. There was just one sentence that was fresh, and new. Didn't add to the story. "The Daily Mail" fell for the same thing, so did "The Sun," and a number of tabloids.
SMERCONISH: OK. Well now you're being a buzzkill. But I do have this question. Is there anything left that you want to know? Do you think there will be a smoking gun, of any kind, in the documents, should they all be released?
POSNER: I don't think there will be a smoking gun that proves there's a conspiracy. But I do think that there're going to be a smoking gun.
And what I'm interested in, is the answer to this question. Could this assassination have been prevented? That's what the documents might show us.
Did the CIA know enough, about Oswald's instability, in his trip, to Mexico City, when he went to the Soviet and Cuban missions, just six weeks, before he killed Kennedy? And did they know that he took out his pistol, and slapped it on the desk, at the Soviet mission?
Did they know that the Cubans reported, he threatened, at one point that he might even want to kill the President of the United States?
And then, when he returned, to the U.S., in October, what did the CIA do? Nothing. They didn't tell the FBI. If they knew about that, it's the same thing as happened on 9/11, when they knew, a couple of hijackers, came into the country, a year beforehand, and they never told anyone.
I think this assassination might have been preventable. The answer is sitting in those documents. It would be widely embarrassing to the CIA and the FBI, if that's the case. No wonder they're fighting so hard to keep them sealed.
SMERCONISH: Well, yes. Now, that makes sense.
By the way, I'll just say, in thanking you, for being here, the book, you wrote, "Case Closed," which I regard as the definitive book, on the Kennedy assassination, takes the very provocative argument that Oswald killed Kennedy, and he acted alone.
In other words, you set out, to do the research, and you came to the conclusion, "You know what? The Warren Commission got it right." I'm sure you'd have sold more books, if you'd floated and bought into a conspiracy theory.
But thank you, Gerald. I appreciate it.
POSNER: Thank you, Michael, very much.
SMERCONISH: From social media, what do we have?
"Let's face it. The JFK assassination screamed conspiracy. Oswald being shot while in custody and all the autopsy irregularities. The magic bullet. Too many coincidences to be," you know? It's funny you reference the magic bullet.
Arlen Specter was a good friend of mine, a mentor of mine, and someone, for whom I worked. And he was very proud, very proud of the fact that he was the originator of, not the magic bullet, the single bullet.
And he wouldn't allow me to call it "The single bullet theory." He would interrupt me. And in that distinctive voice of here, he'd say - voice of his, he would say, "Michael? You mean the single bullet conclusion?" Because he was convinced that he had proven it. And then, of course, came Oliver Stone.
Next, Joe Biden, listen to this now, "Joe Biden should not run again. And he should say that he won't run again, sooner than later." That is the thesis of a provocative column, in "The New York Times," this week. It's causing quite a buzz.
Van Jones, and Paul Begala, are here to discuss. And that's next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I always liked the fact that Mondale laughed. Not only did Reagan laugh, and the audience laugh. But Walter Mondale, to his credit, knew it was a great line.
When Ronald Reagan famously laughed off questions, about his age and capabilities, at a debate, when he was campaigning, for re-election, in 1984, he was 73.
President Biden, in comparison, is 79-years-old, one year into his first term. When talk of re-election comes up, the White House insists he has every intention of running again. But should he? After all, his approval ratings continue to sink, and he has yet to score a win, on key agenda items, like Build Back Better, or voting rights. And he would be 86, at the end of a second term.
Bret Stephens, "The New York Times" Op-Ed columnist says, no, Biden should not run again. And he should say that he won't run again, sooner than later.
Quote, "The argument against this is that it would instantly turn him into a lame-duck president, and that's undoubtedly true.
But, news flash: Right now he's worse than a lame duck, because potential Democratic successors are prevented from making calls, finding their lanes and appealing for attention."
And look, this Op-Ed isn't just coming out of nowhere. It's based on actual reporting, from The Times that there's endless chatter, among Dems, about who to turn to, should he falter. And so, there's no plan B.
What do you think? Do you agree with Bret Stephens that President Biden should not run again, and should say so? That's the survey question, on my website, right now, at Smerconish.com. I'll bring you the results, at the end of the hour. So, go vote, right now.
Let's discuss it, with two political veterans, Van Jones and Paul Begala.
Paul, I noticed that you tweeted tonight, in anticipation of being here that you would be speaking, about what's being widely discussed, in Beltway backrooms. I'm not allowed in Beltway backrooms. So, tell me, what is the buzz?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first off, in the Beltway, they don't want to talk about the fact we have 800,000 dead, from COVID, or that vast swaths of the Midwest are being attacked, by climate change-related weather events, or any of the real problems. So, they make up problems.
Biden's going to run. He should run. We need him to run. And this is the difference, between a columnist and a strategist, OK? I've been both.
Bret Stephens is an outstanding columnist. I enjoy his column, and I read it. But what he's talking about doing, is bonkers, strategically. He's talking about having the President of the United States, make a strategic, permanent, irrevocable move, to solve a pretty small, temporary tactical issue.
His poll numbers are down. By the way, he's at 49, in the CNN poll, out today, 49, better than Trump ever was, for a single day of his presidency.
But here's what happened. He would trade away some of his power, right away, immediately, when he needs all of it, with Putin threatening in Ukraine, with Xi moving, in the South China Sea, with insurrectionists, having circled the Capitol, only a year ago, with his legislation, it just would be crazy.
And then politically, every Democrat would spend, all the rest, of the next three years, running for office. The Congress members would hate the senators. The senators would hate the governors. The governors would hate the cabinet. Everybody would hate Kamala Harris, our Vice President. Hey, this is like "Hall of Fame" bad idea.
SMERCONISH: Van, what do you think?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, on the timing, I think he's right. It would not make sense, for him, to say it now. But I do think that this column reflects a disquiet.
I think that when you think about - this is - is this a young guy's job, the presidency, or an older guy's job? Barack Obama came into office, looking like a young Tiger Woods. And he left looking like Morgan Freeman! OK?
This is a job that eats up young guys. So, it's just difficult to imagine, this being an eight-year job, for a guy, who's already in his late 70s. I think that's just - that's just out there for people.
And then, I do think, he - I think that Biden needs to look at some criteria, for himself.
Look, as your progress, going forward, I don't think he gets enough credit, Biden, for what he's been able to do. But can you do more? Hard to know. Public performances sometimes are uneven. If they get more uneven, that's a bad sign. And lastly, these polls, look, we got a good one today. But some of them have not been that good.
If your progress is bland, your public performances are uneven, and your polls are down, you might owe it to your party, to let younger legs, grab the baton.
SMERCONISH: Paul, there is an answer that Bret Stephens offers, to your lame-duck argument. Here it is. I'll put it on the screen. And I'll read it to you.
He says, "And what would that mean for the rest of the Biden presidency? Far from weakening him, it would instantly allow him to be statesmanlike. And it would be liberating.
It would put an end to the endless media speculation. It would inject enthusiasm and interest into a listless Democratic Party. It would let him devote himself wholly to addressing the country's immediate problems without worrying about re-election."
Are you persuaded?
BEGALA: No, that's a - that's such fantasy. Are you kidding? It would engender so much more speculation. There ought not be speculation, I'm telling you. I've known Joe Biden a long time. And I know his team. He is running. Period! Full stop!
He is in full command of the Democratic Party. By golly, he won 44 primaries and caucuses last time around. He dominated a very talented field. He crushed everyone in his path, last time around. And he's going to do that again. It's going to happen.
But the infighting, he's standing astride a really complicated, multi- generational, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi- gender coalition, in his party, which I think is what makes him a good president, because he's got a country that looks like his party. And doing that is really difficult.
The last thing he needs is a distraction from his work, and more division, within his party. I just--
SMERCONISH: Van? Paul speaks with a certitude that Biden is going to seek re-election.
By the way, let me make this crystal clear. I want him to live to 120, and be healthy as a horse, right up until the end.
JONES: Me too. Me too.
SMERCONISH: But I can't see him running for re-election. To me, this is all a conversation, about when does he announce that he's not going to do it, sooner or later, meaning post-midterm election? You get the final word.
JONES: Well, listen, if he runs, I'll run right with him. I mean, look, and I hope he lives to be 3040. I love the guy. I worked for the guy, in the White House. I think he's an extraordinary human being.
But I do think there's a disquiet. And obviously, I mean, look, it would be nuts for him to do it now. I mean, completely nuts. I agree with Paul altogether.
But I don't share Paul's confidence, because I just think that I know Biden. I think he'll look in the mirror. He will have his own criteria. And with that criteria, if he can't match his own criteria, he won't do it.
SMERCONISH: Van Jones, Paul Begala, many thanks for being here.
BEGALA: Thanks, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Checking in, on more of your social media reaction. What do we have?
Patricia, "I think Joe Biden should run again! As long as he's healthy. He's the smartest thing going right now. It might just give Democrats time to get their act together."
I'll tell you, the person, who doesn't want there, to be an early announcement, if, if, he were not going to seek re-election? That's, in my opinion, Kamala Harris.
Because it suits the Vice President that if he were to decide, not to go that he'd wait until the 11th hour, to disclose that, because, right now, any competitor, for the Vice President, is frozen.
Can't go out and fundraise. Can't go out and organize a committee. Really can't go out and get a political campaign rolling, where she doesn't frankly, need to, given the position that she holds.
Interesting conversation, though, isn't it? Remember, that's the survey question. So, go to Smerconish.com, because last I checked, it was like neck-and-neck, as to whether people agree with Bret Stephens.
From Friday Night Lights, to Pop Warner, more than 1.4 million kids, in this country, strap on pads, every week, and play football. Coming up, new scientific findings that make clear the connection between America's most popular spectator sport, and scenes like this, the response to a deadly mass shooting.
I've got an expert, who played the game, and is now leading the way, toward understanding the toll that it takes. Chris Nowinski is next.
SMERCONISH: The price of playing the most popular sport, in America, in two images.
One, a brain scan of Phillip Adams, a former journeymen, in the NFL, scientists now confirm that he had severe stage two CTE brain disease, brought on by head trauma, and concussions. The other, a crime scene, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where he murdered six strangers, before taking his own life.
Football, the unifying thread there, it's so much a part of the fabric of Rock Hill that its nickname is Football City USA.
Adams spent almost 20 years, playing the game. And when you look at his brain scan, you don't need to be a doctor, to see the similarities, to that of Aaron Hernandez. He, of course, is the former Patriots player, who died by suicide, after being convicted of murder.
But the impact of the game goes beyond just unthinkable violence. ALS is a disease, mostly associated with baseball. It's still better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
But a new study found NFL players are four times more likely to die, of ALS, than the general public. Boston University researchers were key to the findings, on both Adams' brain, and the ALS study.
The Co-founder of Boston's CTE Center, Christopher Nowinski, also played football, for Harvard. He's a former professional wrestler, in addition to having a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience. Christopher Nowinski, thanks for coming back. What similarities do you see, between this, and the Aaron Hernandez case?
CHRISTOPHER NOWINSKI, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, CONCUSSION LEGACY FOUNDATION, CO-FOUNDER, BOSTON UNIVERSITY CTE CENTER, FORMER FOOTBALL PLAYER, HARVARD UNIVERSITY, FORMER PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER, WWE, PH.D. IN BEHAVIORAL NEUROSCIENCE, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Well, Dr. Ann McKee noted that both of them had severe frontal lobe damage. So, they both had stage two CTE, but it was extraordinary, in the frontal lobe.
And, with frontal lobe damage, you find personality changes and behavior changes, and especially problems, with aggressiveness and impulsivity. And so, it's not - it makes sense that both would be involved, both who had frontal lobe damage, might be involved, with a scenario, like this that really just rocks you.
SMERCONISH: Well, I think I don't have to say correlation, when talking about CTE and football. I think I can say causation, because of the work that you and others, who work with you, have done.
But what about a propensity for violence, or as you say, impulse control? Is that causal connection now established?
NOWINSKI: Well, it's something that our - we have 1,200 families, who have donated brains, of former athletes, and military veterans, to our center.
And we consistently hear stories about problems with midlife personality changes, aggressiveness, violence, this is - now, we have multiple murder-suicides, with former NFL players that have been found to have CTE. Everyone that's been studied, has had it.
And so, I think we have to be open to the idea that the disease is causing these behaviors, and that we need to do more, to stop this, to support families, to support children, of these event, and just do more.
SMERCONISH: Is there a treatment for CTE? I read recently that O.J. Simpson is among those former NFLers, who think, in his case, that he has CTE.
NOWINSKI: The only treatment we have right now is symptomatic treatment. So, if you're starting with depression, there's treatments for depression. If you're starting with memory, there's treatments for memory.
But we don't have anything that we can stop CTE with. And that's partially because we cannot yet diagnose CTE, with confidence, in living people, although we are making positive steps, in that direction.
We just published a study last week, showing that MRIs, of people, who were later diagnosed with CTE, showed abnormalities that may help us diagnose CTE in the living people.
SMERCONISH: It's not an NFL problem, per se. Right, Chris? I mean, in this case, he was playing football since age seven.
NOWINSKI: No. And that's something that we really have to focus on, is that the roots of this tragedy, and definitely, the roots of this disease, come from a choice that he made, with his parents, at 7- years-old.
That, we think about this as an NFL problem, but we are - we've proven, we are giving CTE, to children, who do not understand what CTE is. And they are less protected, at the youth level than they are, at any other level.
And we really have to reckon with that, in America, that we are hitting children, in the head, hundreds of times, every year, and we're causing a brain disease that can destroy their life. And we have no idea the scope of it.
But I will tell you, we just recently announced that 16 of the first 65, or about a quarter, of the football players, who stopped after high school that we've studied, have had CTE. And that's an uncomfortable finding.
It's not - we don't think it's as widespread, as this is with NFL players. But it's definitely out there, in just high school football players.
SMERCONISH: I'm limited on time. But what's the age, at which you think, a youth should begin playing, contact football, if any?
NOWINSKI: Well, our Concussion Legacy Foundation, as a firm program, only flagged football, under 14. There's no reason, football-wise or health-wise, they should ever expose your child, to hundreds of hits, in the head, before age 14.
And then, at 14, we still have to have a conversation, because there's no safe age, to start getting hit in the head, as much as football players do.
SMERCONISH: And, by the way, not just a football issue, right?
SMERCONISH: I mean, military veterans, also another segment of society that we see suffering from CTE.
NOWINSKI: Yes. And it's become a big priority for us. We just launched Project Enlist. And military veterans can go to ProjectEnlist.Org, to both pledge, to donate their brains, and to seek help.
Because, we have diagnosed this, in dozens of military veterans, and including nine of the first 11 veterans, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who were exposed to blasts. So, it's there too, and we need to do more there.
SMERCONISH: Christopher Nowinski, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.
NOWINSKI: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s family calling for no celebration, of his holiday, next month, unless there's action on voting rights. That's how serious a threat to democracy they see. But that and filibuster reform are not the only things that may need fixing.
And that's tonight's Reality Check, with John Avlon, next.
SMERCONISH: It should come as no surprise that polls show Americans don't like the idea of Congress messing with a state's electoral results. And yet, that's what we saw Republicans try to do, on January, the 6th.
So, how can we ensure the safety of our democracy, by preventing that, from happening again? Solutions are not out of reach.
John Avlon has tonight's Reality Check.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Michael.
Look, there should now be no doubt that the United States suffered an attempted coup. But there's still a lot of doubt, about what can be done, to stop the next attempt. And without real legal accountability, and legislative action, January 6 will be just practice.
Now, we've been given laws, by the Civil War generation, designed to hold insurrectionists accountable.
From the Anti KKK Act, just invoked by the Washington D.C. A.G., to sue the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, to the 14th Amendment, Section 3, which bars insurrectionists, who had sworn an oath, to the U.S., from ever serving in government again, to laws in the Federal Criminal Code, designed to prosecute seditious conspiracy, or rebellion and insurrection. But there's been little sign that the DOJ intends to use these tools.
In Congress, Democrats have proposed much-needed voting rights, and election law reforms. But they've been DOA, thanks to the Republican filibuster threats, in the Senate. And all this has led to a sense of impotence, even in the face of "Big lie" believers taking over local election offices.
When CNN Senior Reporter, Edward-Isaac Dovere, attended a recent Democratic Governors Association meeting, he found folks fretting that while democracy might hang in the balance, they weren't sure they could get enough people, to care, to make it a winning political issue.
Are you freaking kidding me? Look, I know there's a lot of self- protective cynicism, and pessimism, out there, right now. But difficulty is the excuse that history never accepts.
And, in fact, there are two broad baseline reforms, which have received bipartisan support, which could actually be passed, this Congress, and they'd help defend our democracy.
Now, the first is a fix to the 1887 Electoral Count Act, to protect against election subversion efforts. Now, this is the ambiguously- written law that Trump's legal team tried to use, and abuse, to overturn the will of the voters. It's time to fix this hot mess, consistent with the Constitution.
Now, the good news is that it's already got cross-aisle appeal, backed by scholars, and center-right think tanks, like AEI, and libertarians, at the Cato Institute, recently joined by Republican election law guru, Ben Ginsberg, in National Review.
At the very least, the role of the VP needs to be clarified, the ability of state legislatures to submit alternate slates of electors should be restricted. And the threshold for contesting a state's electorate should be raised, so that the will of the voters isn't usurped, by a handful of hyper-partisans, in Congress. This is the least we can do, to avoid a contested election, and a new constitutional crisis.
Now, the second baseline is reforming the social media algorithms that have helped our nation go, collectively insane, over the past several years, by elevating the most extreme combative and conspiracy-driven voices, over actual factual information.
Now, Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, explained to a Senate subcommittee, why this is so critical.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANCES HAUGEN, FACEBOOK WHISTLEBLOWER: I strongly encourage reforming Section 230, to exempt decisions about algorithms.
User-generated content is something that companies have less control over. They have 100 percent control over their algorithms.
And Facebook should not get a free pass, on choices, it makes, to prioritize growth, and virality, and reactiveness, over public safety. They shouldn't get a free pass, on that, because they're paying for their profits, right now, with our safety.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: That's right. And while Republicans and Democrats want social media reform, for very different reasons, there are at least two current bipartisan bills that propose modest steps, towards fixing our addiction, to these socially-destructive algorithms.
The Filter Bubble Transparency Act, backed by conservatives and liberals, in the House and Senate, would give people, the ability, to opt out, of algorithms that show content based on personal data. Another bipartisan Senate Bill would impose transparency, on social media companies, by requiring them to release internal algorithm data, upon request, to independent researchers, vetted by the National Science Foundation. This would give the public a lot more information, about how our information is being used.
Look, these are not silver bullets. They would not solve all that ails our democracy. But they are solid steps, with demonstrated bipartisan support.
Much more needs to be done. But it's the least, this Congress can do, to address some of the core sources, of our democracy's crisis. And that's your Reality Check.
SMERCONISH: Good stuff. Anger causes engagement. And they have our number in social media. That's my takeaway, from part of what you had to say.
AVLON: That's true.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, John.
We'll be right back, with some reaction, to tonight's program.
SMERCONISH: I'm eager to see this, the results of tonight's survey question, which is this.
Do you agree with Bret Stephens that President Biden should not run again, and he should say that he won't, sooner than later?
More than 10,000 voted. The result? 45-55, the noes have it. 55 percent say no. 45 percent, not an insignificant number, say yes.
Interesting. Begala seemed certain tonight, did he not that Biden will absolutely run again? Van, I thought, a little less so, which is interesting as well.
Here's some of the social media reaction that came in, during the course of the program.
"The January 6 committee needs to move fast. If those involved with the insurrection fear that there will be consequences, might be the only way to save our democracy. If Republicans take over the House, it might kill our democracy."
I thought the same thing, especially in the context of Bannon, and his contempt situation, where a hearing is like months down the road.
There's definitely an effort afoot, by Republicans, people who don't want there to be a full investigation, to run out the clock. And they want the clock to be run out, because they're convinced they'll retake the House of Representatives. And if they do, that will be the end, I think, of the January 6 investigation.
Also, from social media tonight, "Identifying the lies are important for history, but has truth been too far abandoned by a party of the country? If we can't convince people of the horror behind what happened on January 6, then it's not a day of tragedy. It's a day to aspire to."
I think that Ron Filipkowski was really an interesting guest tonight, in talking about how he, just as a citizen, was monitoring, all of the events, on social media that gave rise, to what transpired on January 6, and really, I think, brought us a step closer, to answering the question of, how was it communicated, to the foot soldiers, on January 6, what their role was supposed to be?
Very quickly, one more, I think I can do it.
"We need younger and more diverse leadership. My humble opinion is that Pete Buttigieg, Stacey Abrams, and Amy Klobuchar are the future of the party. Let's see them on the ticket."
I note Melissa H that you did not put Vice President Kamala Harris, in the mix, as you've identified the new and young leadership.
Thank you so much for watching. I'll be back here tomorrow night. "DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now. And here's Don.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: I've got a name for you, as well.
SMERCONISH: Tell me.
LEMON: My, as we call it, homeboy, hometown boy, Mitch Landrieu, I think, if there's a possibility of someone else running.