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DEMOCRACY IN PERIL: Georgia D.A. Granted Special Grand Jury To Probe Trump's Election Interference; Trump Adviser Admits Being Part Of "Alternate" Electors Scheme; Former GOP Rep: Gerrymandered Maps Are "Incumbent Protection". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 24, 2022 - 21:00   ET




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The news continues, here, on CNN, with Jim Acosta, and DEMOCRACY IN PERIL.



I'm Jim Acosta. And this is DEMOCRACY IN PERIL, our special series, to expose the ongoing threats, to our democracy, post-insurrection. As we head into yet another election season, the stakes could not be higher.

Less than 10 months away, from the midterms, we all need to be paying more attention, to what's going on, to disrupt our political system, like the changing of laws, nationwide, to restrict access, to voting, or election map rigging, or all the Trump-backed candidates, who keep peddling the Big Lie, now running for positions that oversee American elections.

Remember, what Trump tried to do, to Georgia's Secretary of State, who refused to overturn, the will of the people.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.


ACOSTA: There's breaking news, on that front, today, the request by a Georgia District Attorney, to seat a special grand jury, to look into that infamous call, and other potential election interference, by Trump, has just been granted.

The Fulton County, Georgia D.A. will be allowed to seat a special grand jury, beginning this spring. And that is ominous news, for the ex-President.

This is a criminal investigation. And you just heard some of the key evidence is on tape. Much more on that, in a moment.

And speaking of tape, Team Trump isn't even trying to hide its attempts, to overthrow President Biden's victory. A former Trump campaign adviser just confessed, on live television, a few days ago, to taking part, in a scheme, to replace real electors, from seven states, with fraudulent ones.


BORIS EPSHTEYN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Yes, I was part of the process, to make sure there were alternate electors.

Under the leadership of Rudy Giuliani.


ACOSTA: Signed fake certificates were sent to the National Archives, declaring Donald Trump won states, he lost.

That was Boris Epshteyn, longtime Trump loyalists, recently subpoenaed by the January 6 committee. I would bet the panel would like to hear a lot more about him - about that from him.

What's also deeply concerning is this draft executive order, the committee is looking into, from December 2020 that indicates a proposed plan, for Trump, to use the military, to seize voting machines.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): We are concerned that our military was part of this Big Lie.


ACOSTA: And if that isn't enough, as the January 6 panel, investigates the deadly attack, on our Capitol, a Republican Speaker of the House - former Republican Speaker of the House, is now floating the idea, of jailing members, for doing their constitutional duty.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think when you have a Republican congress, this is all going to come crashing down.

They're the ones, who are in fact, going to, I think, face a real risk of jail, for the kind of laws they are breaking.


ACOSTA: Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney says that comment from Gingrich is what it looks like, when the rule of law unravels. I'll talk about this, later on tonight. It's what happens when democracy dies.

But first, I want to take all these threats, and talk solutions, with someone, who played a key role, in helping defend democracy, from Trump's coup attempt.

Marc Elias, is a Democrat election lawyer, who beat the Trump campaign, back in court, dozens of times, as it filed an onslaught, of baseless lawsuits, to overturn the election.

By Elias' count, he and his colleagues won 64 cases, to date, against the Trump campaign, and lost just one.

He is now so feared by Trump World that MAGA TV, even suggested doing this.


LOU DOBBS, FORMER TELEVISION HOST: Marc Elias. Why don't - why don't you guys put together a half billion dollars, and go hire him, and get him out of your - get him out of your way?


ACOSTA: So, Marc Elias, would you have gone away for half a billion dollars?

Let's talk to Marc, about this. The Founder of Democracy Docket, joins me now.

Marc, putting that, to the side. That was just a jest. How likely is it, in these upcoming midterms that we're going to see a scenario, of multiple elections, across the country, becoming such a huge circus, because of these bogus fraud claims?

MARC ELIAS, FOUNDER, DEMOCRACY DOCKET, PARTNER, ELIAS LAW GROUP, DEMOCRATIC ELECTION LAW ATTORNEY: I think it's an inevitability. I think we are one, maybe two election cycles away, from a real constitutional crisis.

Because, you now have one, of the two major parties, in this country that is no longer committed to free and fair elections, no longer committed to the peaceful transfer of power. And, it's easy, for people, to dismiss this, as the rantings of crazy people.

But the fact is, Donald Trump was the President of the United States, when he was talking about, calling up the military. These people, who we now dismiss, as, "Off their rocker," were working for the President of the United States, and they're now working for Republican candidates, around the country.


ACOSTA: And what's the impact on our democracy? I mean, Marc, do you have enough lawyers, on your team, to handle that kind of scenario?

ELIAS: So look, I had hoped Congress was going to pass new legislation, because it would be really what the backstop is. But I'm committed, and my team is committed, to litigating wherever, as often as necessary, to protect democracy. There is no higher calling, as a lawyer, or as a citizen. And that's what we're going to do.

ACOSTA: Let's get back to what's taking place in Georgia, the big breaking news that we saw earlier today, the District Attorney there, in Fulton County, now has, essentially the green light, to get a grand jury investigation going.

What do you think a criminal indictment of Trump, in Georgia, would mean, for people who are, thinking about trying to interfere with the next election?

ELIAS: So, I don't doubt that, for Donald Trump, and his closest and craziest supporters, it won't mean that much. I mean, it will mean for him, because he'll be indicted, and presumably go to trial, and then we'll see what happens.

But it will serve as a stern and important warning, to other politicians, and to other election officials, that you cannot subvert, and undermine, American elections, without consequence.

So, it is vitally important that there are consequences, for what Donald Trump did, in the days, leading up to January 6, on January 6, and the days following.

ACOSTA: I talked to a Trump adviser, earlier this evening, who said that this is very bad for him. There's no question about it.

And Marc, what does it say that states like Arizona, seem to be taking a second swing, at this, third swing, fourth swing? They're not stopping.


ACOSTA: Even when they're proven to be wrong.

ELIAS: That's right. Look, you would have thought that a number of these states, after the Big Lie, was shown to be just that, a lie, would have given up. You would have thought that states that had engaged in these bogus audits, after those didn't pan out, would have given up.

But what we've actually seen, if you think about it, is the Big Lie has grown, and the commitment of the Republican Party to the Big Lie has grown.

There are seven members of the House Conference today, who have an F rating, with the NRA. None of them voted for any of the voting rights bills. Not one. In state after state legislature, we are seeing Republicans figure out, new ways, to disenfranchise voters.

And why are they doing this? They're doing this, A, because they think it will help them win election. But B, because they are trying to show fealty, to a failed one-term president, who cannot get over the fact that he lost the election, fair and square. ACOSTA: Marc, that is the thing that concerns me the most, is that they seem to have cracked the code.

And I'm wondering, how concerned, you are, about this, when you have a situation, where, the last time around, there were Secretaries of State, like Brad Raffensperger, who stood in the way?

There were election officials, in Michigan, who wouldn't go along, with what the Trump team wanted to do. It didn't work in Pennsylvania. It went to the courts. And he was slapped down, and so on.

But they have - they have seen - they've broken this code, in a way that sort of outlines a blueprint, for what they could do, next time around, and the time after that, and the time after that.

How do you stop that from continuing to happen?

ELIAS: So, that's the problem, which is that--


ELIAS: --they continue to attack democracy. They continue to move along the perimeter, looking for the weak points, in the fence.

And we have to be right, every time. We have to prevent subversion of elections, every time. And that's a hard and tall order, which is a reason why programs like this are so important. It is such a wonderful public service that you and CNN are doing, because democracy is in peril, right now.

And it's important that everybody understands that what we might look back at, and think, "Oh, January 6 was a one-time event. Oh, Donald Trump and the crazy lawsuits with Kraken, and Powell, and Giuliani, that was all just nonsense." They're planning again. They're planning for 2022. And they're planning for 2024.

ACOSTA: And you mentioned the voting rights legislation that was defeated last week. And now, there is talk, of reforming the Electoral Count Act. Does that go far enough, in your view?

ELIAS: It doesn't. And in fact, I've been outspoken--

ACOSTA: And if not, why not? Yes. Yes.

ELIAS: Yes. I've been an outspoken critic of the idea that somehow we pass reforms to the Electoral Count Act, and we are any better off.

The Electoral Count Act will deal with the problems that we see with senators and members of Congress objecting, on the floor, of the House and the Senate.


But reforming the Electoral Count Act alone, won't do anything to prevent county election officials, from putting their thumb, on their scale, or Secretaries of State, putting their arms, on the scale. And really, where we have to worry about election subversion, is in those state offices, whether it's the precincts, or the county offices, or the Secretary of State's offices. And the Electoral Count Act reform doesn't address that.

ACOSTA: And so, what is the final answer, do you think? What - I mean, what is the solution here? That's one of the things we want to get into, this week, not just, paint a gloomy picture, but offer solutions.

ELIAS: Yes. So look, I'm an optimist about this. Because I think that if everyone stands up, in their town square, you know?

You have a great town square. You're broadcasting, to millions and millions of people. But everyone, who's watching this has a town square. It may be their friends. It may be their family. It may be their social media.

And if all of us stand up and say, "It is not OK, to subvert democracy, it is not acceptable to deny people the right to vote?" And if we all do that, and we're all willing to shine a light, on this, then I think we're going to be able to fight it back.

But if we just go on, with our lives, and act like democracy is not at stake, it is not in peril? That's where the other side will win.

ACOSTA: No question about it. This is not a time for whistling past the graveyard.

All right, Marc Elias, thanks for all the work that you do. We appreciate it. Thanks for joining us tonight.

ELIAS: Thank you.

ACOSTA: And voters are supposed to choose their politicians, not the other way around. So why is election map rigging, still happening, in America? The gaming of the system, to choose, who votes, in what district, has long been a part of American politics. But it is dividing us even more, now.

An up- close look with Dana Bash, who traveled to Texas, to investigate. That's next.



ACOSTA: And tonight, a closer look, at a battle that could shift, the balance of power, in this country, for the next decade.

I'm talking about redistricting, and the often legal rigging that occurs, when partisans in state houses, intentionally distort maps, to keep themselves in power, a practice known as gerrymandering.

CNN's Dana Bash takes us to Texas, one of the most heavily gerrymandered states, in the nation. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)



BASH (on camera): This is an area that right now is represented by a Republican. It's going to change with the new lines.

TURNER: It is. It is.

BASH (voice-over): Austin, the capital of Texas, is a pretty liberal town. It's a key reason, Republicans drew, new congressional maps that took city blocks, like this, and progressives, who live here, out of their GOP districts.

TURNER: Here, in Austin, what the Republicans did was pack as many Democrats, into as few districts as possible. The Republican districts are, not as can be Republican, they're going to be very Republican. And the Democratic districts can be very Democratic.

BASH (voice-over): Will Hurd, is a moderate Texas Republican, who left Congress, last year, frustrated about the lack of bipartisanship. He says, new gerrymandered maps, in his home state, and beyond, will make partisanship in the House, even worse.

WILL HURD, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: You have so many seats that are extreme, in one direction or another. That means people are no longer forced, to work together.

BASH (voice-over): More on that, in a bit.

But, first, a primer. The Constitution says that every 10 years, after the census, state political maps, are redrawn, based on population changes. In recent decades, state legislatures, in both parties, have taken to gerrymandering congressional districts.

DAVID LUBLIN, CHAIR, DEPARTMENT OF GOVERNMENT AT AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Redistricting is simply the process of redrawing the lines. Gerrymandering is redrawing the lines, with the intent, to benefit, a particular party, or a group, or an individual.

BASH (voice-over): Look at the map that Texas Republican Legislature passed, after the 2020 census. Even the untrained political, I can see, how jumbled and jagged the new House districts will be.

BASH (on camera): When you look at the new Texas map, after redistricting, what does it look like, to you?

HURD: Well, to me, the new map is it's incumbent protection. The Red seats got redder, and Blue seats got bluer.

BASH (voice-over): Professor David Lublin of American University.

LUBLIN: When you have a lot of redistricting manipulation, it feels more and more like the representatives are choosing their constituents rather than vice versa.

BASH (voice-over): Texas State Republican Jacey Jetton.

JACEY JETTON, (R) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: I hear that said often. But, at the end of the day, the voting still occurs, by the population that goes and votes.

BASH (on camera): But if you decide that the population that's going to vote for you are like-minded people?

JETTON: Well they're communities of interest.

BASH (on camera): Communities of interest isn't just code for keeping Republicans with Republicans and Democrats for Democrats?

JETTON: I don't believe so. No.

BASH (voice-over): Jetton served on the Texas House Redistricting Committee. His own district is becoming more Republican.

BASH (on camera): When the districts are drawn, so that Republicans are in safe Republican seats, Democrats are in safe Democratic seats?


BASH (on camera): Isn't that by definition, incumbent protection?

JETTON: Not necessarily, because even if it's a Republican district, they still got the Republican primary, and so the incumbent is not necessarily safe.

BASH (voice-over): True, incumbents still aren't safe. But the threat to them, in politically-gerrymandered districts, full of voters, in their own party, comes from within, not across the aisle, pulling lawmakers, even more, to the extreme.

Texas State Representative, Chris Turner, a Democrat.

TURNER: There is no scenario, in which a Republican could win my House district.

BASH (on camera): That could pull you left, if you did have--


BASH (on camera): --a primary opponent.

TURNER: There's no question.

BASH (voice-over): There are different kinds of gerrymandering. Packing, putting like-minded voters together, or cracking, separating them to dilute their influence.

After the 2010 census, Texas Republicans went the cracking route, spreading the Democratic vote, in Austin, across Republican districts.


This time, they packed. Republican congressman Pete Sessions' district will be even more Red.

REP. PETE SESSIONS (R-TX): We've by and large entered a period of time, where Republicans want to be represented by Republicans, and Democrats want to be represented by Democrats.

BASH (on camera): The fact that there are so many more safe seats, Republican and Democrat, in Congress, does that make things more partisan here?

SESSIONS: It makes things, to where the person that represents those districts, more hardened in their belief.

BASH (voice-over): Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee says, when she first came to Congress, three decades ago, the first legislation she worked on was bipartisan.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): We didn't know any better. We thought we had to work together. And even though, there might have been one or two, who would make those speeches, on the floor of the House, that everyone would look up? The majority felt that our work was to work together.

I think we have an obligation that we should not let redistricting change America.

BASH (on camera): Has it?

JACKSON LEE: I think it has. How long can people enjoy, having difficulty, in getting good work done?

BASH (voice-over): Since the 2010 census, Texas has gained nearly 4 million new people, and will get two new congressional seats. A big Democratic criticism, of the new Texas GOP-drawn map, is that 95 percent of the new population, is minority. And the two new seats were drawn for Republicans.

REP. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D-TX): A growth in this country, and especially in this area, is not Anglo. It is a mixture of minorities. And that should be reflected in the representation. And it is not.

BASH (voice-over): Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson is retiring, after 30 years, in the House, and says, though gerrymandering is hardly new, it's become more extreme.

BERNICE JOHNSON: When these lines start being drawn, with the help of computers, where they can be so exact that they can break up a bedroom, if they wanted to? It is hurting our nation.

BASH (voice-over): Kimball Brace has one of those computer programs.

KIMBALL BRACE, PRESIDENT, ELECTION DATA SERVICES, INC.: This is showing you concentration of where the Trump vote was being cast.

BASH (voice-over): He's hired by states, across the country, to draw their maps, and showed us just how advanced the technology is, now.

BRACE: By the time you get down to the Census block level, you can end up getting exact populations, for any given piece of geography.

BASH (voice-over): To be sure, gerrymandering is happening, in State Houses, all across the country, including those, with Democrats in charge.

Maryland Republican Delegate Kathy Szeliga is a plaintiff, in a lawsuit, against Democrats, for gerrymandering new congressional districts, in their favor.

KATHY SZELIGA, (R) MARYLAND HOUSE OF DELEGATES: This makes no sense. Look at this district that wraps around there.

BASH (voice-over): She's advocating a nonpartisan approach.

SZELIGA: This is the Citizens Redistricting Commission, a nonpartisan commission.

A fifth grader can look at these two maps, next to each other, and see what looks fair, and what looks like it was created with partisan purposes.

This is our Historic House chamber.

BASH (voice-over): CNN reached out to Maryland State Democrats and leadership and on the Redistricting Committee. None of them agreed to an interview.

SZELIGA: When you let politicians, draw their own maps, be they Republican or Democrat, they're going to hold on to their power. Creating partisan representation isn't good for citizens. Most people are not on the far left or the far right. Most people reside, somewhere in the middle, on most issues.

BASH (voice-over): In his upcoming book, "American Reboot," Will Hurd writes about the importance of appealing to those, in the middle, not on the edges.

HURD: My title, was "Representative." That means I represent everybody, people that voted for me, people that didn't vote for me, and then people that didn't vote at all.

BASH (on camera): Because you were in a swing district, your incentive was to work across the aisle?

HURD: Absolutely.

BASH (voice-over): Congressional crossover districts, where voters choose a president, and a U.S. House member, from different parties, are virtually disappearing. In 1996, there were 108. In 2016, down to 35. And today, there are only 16.

BASH (on camera): The number of competitive districts, here in Texas, you were in one of them, has gone from 12 to one. What does that mean, for the way things work in Congress, or don't?

HURD: Well, you're going to see more dysfunction, because people aren't going to work together. And let me give you some--

BASH (on camera): How is it possible that there will be more dysfunction?

HURD: Well, because you're going to have even less people working together.

BASH (voice-over): Thanks to politicians, in both parties, across the country, drawing their own districts, to stay in power.


ACOSTA: Dana? That is very good reporting. Just incredible stuff, and very worrisome.


Some states are now trying to make redistricting less partisan. How are they doing that?

BASH: Trying. That's right. 18 states, Jim, have tried the commission route.

And what that means is taking the drawing of districts out of the hands of the legislatures, those people, who are the direct beneficiaries, of the lines that they are drawing that's, as we just explained, and putting it into the hands of an independent commission.

There have been mixed results, among these commissions. One of the most - one of the states that sort of good government watchers have been looking at the most is Michigan.

Michigan, just, at the end of 2021, completed its commission work. It was two Republicans, two Democrats, four unaffiliated members. And, at the end, what they did was, they increased the number of competitive districts, in Michigan, from three to five.

So, it looks like that is a state that could be a model. Now, there are complaints that we're hearing, from Republicans and Democrats, about the way that it went. And there are probably some kinks to work out.

But it is one idea, one option that a lot of people are looking at. The key here is take, again, take the power out of the hands of the people, who are trying to retain that power. There are other ideas.

ACOSTA: Right.

BASH: But that's, at least, this point, Jim, the most front and center.

ACOSTA: Yes, trying to get the politicians to think about the country's best interest instead of their own, it would be a nice start.

Dana Bash, thank you very much for that report. We appreciate it.

BASH: Yes.

ACOSTA: All right. And when DEMOCRACY IN PERIL continues, we're going to war-game a scenario that thankfully did not become reality, but it's frightening, nonetheless, because it could have.

What if Donald Trump had gotten away, with his attempted coup? What would this country look like today? Hold on to that next.



ACOSTA: Welcome back.

What would have happened, if Trump had gotten away, with his attempted coup, on January 6? What if he had pulled it off?

Just yesterday, the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich said the dictator part out loud, when he fantasized about the jailing of January 6 committee members, simply for trying to get to the bottom of Trump's insurrection.


GINGRICH: I think when you have a Republican congress, this is all going to come crashing down. And the wolves are going to find out that they're now sheep. And they're the ones, who are in fact, going to, I think, face a real risk of jail, for the kind of laws they are breaking.


ACOSTA: Jailing political opponents, yes, that is one thing that happens, when democracy dies. Why stop at Congress, Newt? What's next? Judges?

Yes, when a would-be dictator seizes power, anything goes, at that point. There goes the January 6 investigation, like the Republican Party is going to stop him? Certainly not the 147 Republicans, in the House and Senate, who still voted to overturn the election results, even after the attack on the Capitol.

Those lawmakers could have turned to the Trump team plan, for bogus alternate electors, outlined, in recent days, by Trump adviser, Boris Epshteyn, which sounds like another scheme, Trump adviser, Peter Navarro, dubbed, "The Green Bay Sweep."


PETER NAVARRO, FORMER TRUMP AIDE: The plan was simply this. We had over 100 congressmen and senators, on Capitol Hill, ready to implement the sweep. The sweep was simply that. We were going to challenge the results of the election, in the six battleground states.


ACOSTA: Now unfortunately, the Green Bay Sweep was about as successful as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. And then, there's the draft Executive Order, now in the hands, of the January 6 committee, to have the military, seize voting machines, like one would do, in a coup.


THOMPSON: We have information that between, the Department of Justice, a plan was put forward, to potentially seize voting machines, in the country, and utilize Department of Defense assets, to make that happen.


ACOSTA: Next, I suppose the dictator would just send out his minions, to claim that he won fair and square, sort of like how, his ally, Sidney Powell, was lying about things, just after the election.


SIDNEY POWELL, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: President Trump won by not just hundreds of thousands of votes, but by millions of votes that were shifted by this software that was designed expressly for that purpose.


ACOSTA: What about all of that violence, on January 6? Seems plausible. And even more Trumpy Justice Department wouldn't be pursuing any prosecutions. There would be no sedition charges, at least not for the insurrectionists.

True, some people would see their reality, with their own eyes, just how bad it was. But Trump would have a propaganda outfit, to let the American people know it wasn't that awful.

Now, who would that be?



So, how many of the participants in that insurrection have been charged, with insurrecting, with sedition, with treason? Zero.

GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS HOST: Thus, no one has been charged with sedition or insurrection. Most have been hit with charges, like parading. Parading! Who knew that was a crime? By the way, it should be. I hate parades!


ACOSTA: What would the world be like, if Trump had pulled it off, in the weeks that followed? The dictator would have continued to hold his rallies. January 6 gaslighting would become reality. And reality would become gaslighting.


TRUMP: Believe me, there was a lot of love, and a lot of friendship, and people that love our country. These are great people.



ACOSTA: But there would be other news outlets, where you could find the truth, right? Well, now they don't do the free press, in autocracies. Just ask Trump's friends, in Saudi Arabia, or Russia!

But there still would be state television. You would just have to watch segments on how candy just isn't as sexy as it used to be!


CARLSON: M&M'S will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous. Until the moment you wouldn't want to have a drink with any one of them. That's the goal.


ACOSTA: It's about as creepy, and dystopian, as it gets!

I suppose the dictator would occasionally sit down, for an interview, to take questions, about what happened, on January 6. But it wouldn't be a real interview. So, of course, he would have to turn to Sean Hannity.

Yes, Sean would still be around. The same Sean Hannity, who, according to the January 6 committee, texted the then White House Press Secretary, after the insurrection, to say, "No more stolen election talk. Impeachment, 25th Amendment are real."


TRUMP: I believe it was the biggest crowd I've ever spoken to. It was massive. I'm not talking about the people that walked down to the Capitol. I'm talking about the people that we were watching--


TRUMP: But I felt that was going to happen - at the rally.

It was a lot of love there.


ACOSTA: Well, lot of love! Thanks, Sean! But fortunately, it did not happen. Mike Pence did not go along with it. Trump failed. The Mussolini of Mar-a-Lago can seize another breadstick, from the buffet, down at his club. But he can't seize our elections, at least not yet.

Now, folks, who've seen my show, on the weekends, know that each week I've been talking about the threat, posed to our democracy, in a segment, I call, "Hold On." In the beginning, it was an homage to old school reporters, who would say to the lying politician, "Hold on! Just give us the truth."

But it's come to mean something more than that for me. Now, it's about holding on to this incredible democracy that we've been taking for granted. Free elections. Free press. Freedom to tune out the lies.

Our democracy may be in peril, but it's not finished. Yes, we need to defend this democracy. It's only as strong as those, who are willing to protect it. But if you ask me? I think it's time to go on offense.

And going on offense includes combating one of the greatest enemies to democracy, misinformation, something our next guest closely monitors, and has a lot of solutions, to offer.

We'll talk about that, next.



ACOSTA: My next guest monitors right-wing messaging, conspiracies and disinformation.

You may remember this viral tweet, where he flags Trump, still pushing the Big Lie. Listen.


TRUMP: We have to be a lot sharper the next time when it comes to counting the vote. There's a famous statement. "Sometimes, the vote counter is more important than the candidate." And we can't let that ever, ever happen again. They have to get tougher and smarter.


ACOSTA: He says, for everything he's posted, and brought to the attention of the public, he's seen 99 things worse. Criminal defense attorney, and former state and federal prosecutor, Ron Filipkowski, joins me now.

Ron, I've always wanted to talk to you. It's great to see you. Thanks for making time for us. We appreciate it.

RON FILIPKOWSKI, FORMER MEMBER, FLORIDA'S JUDICIAL NOMINATION COMMISSION, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER STATE AND FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, MONITORS RIGHT-WING MESSAGING, CONSPIRACIES AND DISINFORMATION: Glad to do it. Thank you for having me on. ACOSTA: Yes, Ron, I want to get your reaction, to the scenario that I was just talking about, in the previous segment, about what would have happened, had Trump gotten away, with his attempted coup, on January 6.

At the heart of it is this problem that we have with extremism, and disinformation. It's the jet fuel of Trumpism. And it's something that you try to highlight every day.

FILIPKOWSKI: Yes. I think, yesterday, the big vaccine rally, in D.C., was a really perfect example of the problem that we face. There was a pretty significant turnout of people. They had doctors speak. It was just one lie after another. But I think that that rally also illustrated a really good way of combating misinformation, in the way that it was presented.

ACOSTA: And you do that how? I mean, how? Take us behind-the-scenes. How do you, and I guess you have a team? I mean, you monitor this stuff. You get it out there. And you find a way to make these tweets go viral to, I guess, get as many people aware of this as possible.

FILIPKOWSKI: Well, we watch all of these rallies, and events, from start to finish. And we're following people, on the inside that are adherents to these movements. And we're following other people as well, just live feeds.

So, for example, the event, yesterday, what we're doing is we're trying to illustrate, how extreme these people are. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was the headliner, for the rally, yesterday. And he's supposed to be talking, about the vaccine, and how terrible it is.

But he launches into a riff, about equating anti-vaxxers to Jews fleeing the Nazis. He's talking about satellites, tracking the world's population, using 5G technology. He's talking about Global Elites, cutting off the food supply, to the population.

And what we do is we highlight that. We don't run from it. The traditional way of dealing with this stuff has been to ignore it. "Don't give it oxygen."

ACOSTA: Right.

FILIPKOWSKI: "Don't give it a platform."

We take the opposite approach. We want the whole country, to see how crazy these people really are. So, we're not highlighting their anti- vaccine message. We're highlighting all the other crazy stuff they're saying, and doing, and to discredit them.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, it takes me back to the days of when people would say, "You know, don't read the Trump tweets. You know, don't show the Trump press conferences. Don't show the rallies. Don't show how crazy it is, what he's saying."

But if we stick our heads in the sand, that's not going to do anybody any good. [21:45:00]

One of the things, you tweeted about, in recent days, was about Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, of the Republican Party, and his threatening jail time, for members of Congress, investigating January 6.

I mean, Trump never succeeded in jailing Hillary Clinton. And yet, they still seem to be wanting to chant "Lock her up!" I mean. And now you have Newt. You have Newt saying, "Lock them up!"

Why do you think these kinds of moments resonate so much with the public?

FILIPKOWSKI: Well, I pulled that clip, from Newt Gingrich, because I thought it was significant.

Because I've been watching the members of the House Freedom Caucus, ratcheting up their rhetoric, against Dr. Fauci, against the January 6 commission members, talking about stripping them, of their committee assignments, punishing them, as members of Congress, using House rules. And note, that rhetoric has been slowly ratcheted up.

But then, Newt took it to the next level. He was the first one, who I've heard say, "These people need to be arrested, and put in jail," who are serving on the J6 committee. So, that clearly caught my attention.

And then, of course, I wanted to watch the following day, which was today, to see who agreed with that. And, Matt Gaetz, of course, chimed in that he agreed with what Newt said.

ACOSTA: Right. Not surprising there!

And this is an important point, I think we're talking about this, at the beginning of the segment.

What do you think, makes some of the people, on the extreme right, so susceptible, to these conspiracy theories? QAnon, Pizzagate, misinformation?

I mean, you have people, in MAGA world, who still believe the Big Lie. And they seem to live in the same, ecosystem, disinformation ecosystem, as the anti-vaxxers, people who go and listen to RFK, Jr., spout all of this nonsense, comparing vaccine mandates, to the Holocaust.

FILIPKOWSKI: Yes. I think, at this point, the political leaders have completely lost control of the asylum. The inmates are in charge.


FILIPKOWSKI: The influencers and the conspiracy theorists have whipped up, what is now the Republican base, with CRT conspiracies, vaccine conspiracies, election fraud conspiracies, you name it, there's a whole bunch of them. And you see that the grassroots level, of these people, are driving the politicians, not the other way around. What really illustrated that was when Donald Trump, in his rally, in Georgia and Texas, still advocated for taking the vaccine. And he got huge backlash, not just from the crowd that was present.

ACOSTA: They booed him.

FILIPKOWSKI: But the next day?


FILIPKOWSKI: Yes. And so, notice his third rally, in Arizona, last week. He never mentioned the vaccine. That shows you the base is controlling him now, not the other way around.

ACOSTA: And they're controlling the party. And they're putting this democracy on a collision course, with God knows what! I mean, that is what we're talking about, night after night after night, on this program.

Ron Filipkowski, you've been isolating these snippets, and getting them out to the public. Thanks very much, for what you do. We appreciate. Thanks for coming on tonight.

FILIPKOWSKI: Thank you very much, Jim.

ACOSTA: Good to see you, Ron.

And so, with all of this misinformation, and polarization, can a house, this divided, stand?

A Reality Check, with John Avlon, ahead, on lessons, from abroad that could help us bring things together, again.

Looking forward to that, John.



ACOSTA: United we stand. Divided we fall. As the saying goes, throughout the show, tonight, we've highlighted how polarized politics, is hurting our democracy, and tearing us apart.

So now, let's talk about solutions. What can we do to depolarize? Can we unite a divided America? John Avlon has some thoughts on that tonight, in his Reality Check.



Look, as you know, there have been boatloads, of books, and studies, warning about the dangers to our democracy. And all that's starting to sink in, obviously culminated, with January 6, and Trump's attempt to overturn the election. A new NPR/Ipsos poll showed that 64 percent of Americans think our democracy is in danger.

But, as you say, we need to start focusing on solutions more. And, in that search for solutions, one recent study really jumped out at me.

It's by the folks, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, particularly Jennifer McCoy, and Ben Press. And it's on what they call pernicious polarization, and how it's affected other democracies, around the world.

They define pernicious polarization, as basically, when someone's partisan identity, starts affecting their social identity, which is certainly something we're seeing here, in the United States.

And they looked at 52 countries, around the world, since 1950, that where polarization has impacted democracy, negatively, had is had degraded democracy. And here's what they found. Half the countries, only half the countries, managed to pull out of that death spiral.

The United States is far and away the most developed longstanding democracy out of any in this group.

But some lessons, from that group, are absolutely worth looking to and, particularly, point to election reforms that emphasized increased choice and representation, as a way of depolarizing, the debates. This may get wonky, so buckle up. But it's important stuff.

One of them is ranked choice voting, something we're seeing in New York City, Maine, Alaska, increasingly, in states, in the United States.

Other ideas like multimember districts, and proportional representation haven't been done, in the United States, for decades. But they once were put in place in certain states and cities. This study suggests it may be time to look at those local election reforms, again, as a way of depolarizing the populace.

Another study really jumped out at me, as well, also from Carnegie, by Rachel Kleinfeld, really, one of the best scholars, of the defense of democracy area. And this also looked at lessons, from foreign lands, where democracy had been degraded.


But she was, in particular, looking at the institutions, Jim, that could restore faith in democracy, after it had been degraded by out- of-control executives. And she found that it wasn't political parties, it wasn't politicians, who were able to heal the nation.

It was institutional accountability, from an independent judiciary, nonpartisan prosecutors, journalists, who bring accountability, through transparency, and sunlight being the best disinfectant. And voters. That is all what leads to a stronger civil society.

And that's the muscle, we all need, to build, to defend our democracy, and restore its strength. That's what's worked in the past in other countries.

There are no perfect parallels to the United States. We're almost 250- year-old democracy.


AVLON: We shouldn't be in this situation. But we can look overseas, where democracy has been degraded, to take some lessons. And that's a step towards some solutions, according to these two studies.

ACOSTA: We've got to pull together, and do this, John, before it's too late. No question about it.

John Avlon, thanks so much.


ACOSTA: You've given a lot a lot to think about. We really appreciate it.

AVLON: Thanks.

ACOSTA: And we'll be right back.


ACOSTA: And that is it for us, tonight.

Join us tomorrow, as we look at, America's growing distrust, in civic institutions, and how it puts democracy in peril.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.