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DEMOCRACY IN PERIL: Trump Using "The Big Lie" As Fuel For Possible 2024 Run; Big Lie Backers Running For Secretary Of State To Control Elections; Tucker Carlson Pushes Anti-Democratic Pro-Russian Propaganda. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 26, 2022 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: A reminder. Don't miss Full Circle, our digital news show. You can catch it, streaming live, at 6 P.M. Eastern, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at Or, watch it there, and on the CNN app, at any time, on-demand.

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


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you very much.

I'm Jim Acosta. And this is DEMOCRACY IN PERIL.

Tonight, as we continue our series, we have to consider this very serious possibility.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to take back America. This is so important.


TRUMP: And, in 2024, we are going to take back the White House.


ACOSTA: Now, despite all of the lies, Donald Trump tells, this could actually come true.

Remember, 2015, and that escalator ride, into all of our lives. A lot of people didn't take him seriously, before that. There was a lot of disbelief, he would actually follow through, on his bluster, of running the first time.

So, this time around, we might want to believe him. We have no reason not to believe he's running again, which means the nation would be facing the nightmare scenario, of a wannabe dictator, who incited a violent insurrection, in which people died, attempting to regain, the highest office, in the land.

Imagine the violent thugs, who hung Trump flags, on the Capitol, on that terrible day, wearing Trump hats, and T-shirts, after running loose, inside the halls of Congress? Imagine those thugs, carrying that man, back into power, cheering him on, at the next Inaugural parade, just three years from now?

Please don't tell me that can't happen again. Because you know, it could.

But none of that is a disqualifier, for most of his party, in Congress. Even Lindsey "Enough is enough" Graham, is back on the Trump Train, after a brief and, I mean, brief moment of clarity, on January 6.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Can we move forward, without President Trump? The answer is no.


ACOSTA: And that's from someone, who once called, Trump, "Unfit for office," and a "Race-baiting xenophobic bigot."

147 Republicans voted, to overturn the election, to help keep Trump in power, because of his power over them. Because he owns them. They know he's not going anywhere, anytime soon.

They're not going to cross Trump, when he still commands a vast network of right-wing propagandas, people like Lou Dobbs. The same Dobbs, who was famously fired by Trump state TV, Fox, a day after he, and the network, were sued by the voting technology company, Smartmatic, for spreading lies.


LOU DOBBS, IHEART, "THE GREAT AMERICA SHOW WITH LOU DOBBS": We're trying to get to the truth. I was demanding investigations throughout.

There were so many irregularities, so many anomalies, as they're called, so many bizarre instances, where it looked like someone was committing fraud, because otherwise, why would they put cardboard over windows to keep prying eyes away.

TRUMP: They accumulate thousands of votes and they just dump them. It's such a phony deal. This whole thing with the ballots, you know, the mail-in ballots?

DOBBS: Right.

TRUMP: It's a terrible, terrible thing.


ACOSTA: You know what's terrible? That! He knows he lost. He knew before the election, he might lose. That's why he planted the seeds of The Big Lie, early on, and created this alternate reality.

And now, his supporters have taken refuge, in that reality, all because of the real possibility, the Lord of the Lies, could run again. And if he does, and wins, or tries to steal it, from the voters, all bets are off.

As one Trump adviser, once told me, "If Trump gets another term in office, he will be even worse."

And don't take it from me. Take it from his former press secretary.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: If he gets into office, he doesn't run for reelection again. He'll be able to do whatever he wants. And we all know, there's going to be retribution. There's going to be revenge.

If people think that the people in that Trump White House were bad, perhaps, I have a feeling the 1/6 crowd might be working, in the White House, in 2024.


ACOSTA: Believe it!

Joining us now, for more context, on the ongoing impact of The Big Lie, is Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history, at NYU, and Author of "Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present."

Ruth, great to see you. Thanks so much. And thanks for, all of your expertise, on this subject. Why is it so important, for Trump, do you think, that he be seen at least for now, as the only real Republican contender, for 2024?


RUTH BEN-GHIAT, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, AUTHOR, "STRONGMEN: MUSSOLINI TO THE PRESENT": Because he's invested a huge amount of time, and effort, creating his authoritarian leader cult, and imposing that on the GOP, to make them do his bidding. And he's been highly successful.

And when he was voted out, some people said, "Oh, his cult will go away now." And I said, "No, no, it's not, because he will be thinking about coming back."

In fact, it's been very interesting what The Big Lie did, from very smart on his part, was meant that his supporters never had to reckon with the fact that he was defeated. So, they didn't turn the page. He kept them loyal to him, through The Big Lie. And this is a typical autocratic move. One of the reasons Trump loves Viktor Orban, so much, identifies with him, the Head of Hungary, is that Orban was voted out. And then, he spent all this time, figuring out how to come back, and stay there.

ACOSTA: Wow, which is something we can see repeat itself. You're in this country. And you see all of these right-wing cheerleaders, over on Fox, like Tucker Carlson, almost begging for it to happen.

Ruth, how is it that a defeated president, who lost the popular vote, by a greater margin than any other president, retains this power, over his party, the way one does? Is it because he's invented this fantasy world, and he's got them all trapped in there?

BEN-GHIAT: What he did is, what so many strongmen, in the past, have done. He scanned the political marketplace. And he saw an opening in creating a kind of big tent, for all the malcontents, all the extremists, and allowing the GOP, to partner with him, to realize this kind of fantasy, built on lies, and White Christian utopia.

Because both of them know that the GOP, can't win the popular vote. It needs to use trickery, to have minority rule, because it won't accept what we are, in America, which is a multiracial democracy, something to be proud of. Instead, it creates this universe, full of fantasies and lies.

And so, Donald Trump, they use each other. This is what happens with autocrats, and their parties. It's like a mutual using.

And one of the rules is once the party is domesticated, at the beginning, by the autocrat, they stick with him, to the bitter end, through impeachment, through negligence, like pandemic mismanagement. It's quite extraordinary. But it's completely backed up by history.

ACOSTA: And they will stick to his alternate universe, his alternative reality, in pursuit of those common goals.

Ruth, even if Trump doesn't run? And I think there's a real possibility, he will run. I think he just - he can't stand the fact that he got beat. And he doesn't want to - he doesn't want to spend the remaining days, of his life, being a loser.

How likely is it that the threat of authoritarianism, inside the Republican Party, remains? Could they find a smarter Trump, a more, crafty Trump, who doesn't make the same bungling mistakes that Trump did?

BEN-GHIAT: Yes, well, a lot of people are auditioning. I've got my eye on Ron DeSantis, who, we can laugh at him, copying Trump's hand gestures. I won't demonstrate. But he's in Florida, creating his own little autocracy.

It's like all these people are rehearsing, for their parts, in the autocracy, to come. And there's Tucker Carlson, Minister of Information!

And this is very typical. What we're living through now is the GOP is constructing a authoritarian political culture, to support illiberal rule. And a lot of this stuff going on now, like, look how many people, who were involved in January 6 are running for office?

ACOSTA: Right.

BEN-GHIAT: That's because you need extremists, in government, and in the party. And then, you have these mini-Trumps, who have learned the lessons of Trump, and want to surpass him, like DeSantis.

So, all of these things are legible, are understandable, through the, making an authoritarian culture, for the future.

ACOSTA: And based on all that, I mean, should we even view the Republican Party, as the Republican Party, of, just the last 10 years? I mean, it - has it changed so much that it really, it should be called something else?

The Trump - I've been calling it the Trump Owned Party, the TOP. But it's not really the Republican Party, you and I grew up with

BEN-GHIAT: No. It was already on its way to becoming an extremist party, but - and losing some of the values of bipartisanism. And then, Trump arrived, to just kind of soup it up, and accelerate it. And they were ready.


And this is where, it's this meeting of circumstance, and charismatic leader, and the party has completely transformed itself. But the thing is that Trump put it under a kind of authoritarian discipline that you see, really, in regimes.

And so, think about the unified messaging. Think about how he punished people, who voted for his impeachment. They had to go by body armor. All of these, this is like authoritarian dynamics. And Trump was very successful in doing this.

And so, the Republican Party is now a far-right party, an authoritarian party, which is not invested or interested, anymore, in the practice of democracy.

ACOSTA: All right, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, thank you so much, for those insights. We appreciate it. Always great to talk to you. You give us a lot to think about. You've done it again, tonight. Thanks for your time.

Great to see you, Ruth.

And if Trump does run in 2024, there could be very different people, in positions of power, to oversee elections, in key battleground states, people who might actually be willing, to find him the votes, next time, like this.




ACOSTA: There you go!

Much more, in a special report, when DEMOCRACY IN PERIL, continues.



ACOSTA: As we know, overturning the 2020 election, didn't work. So now, Big Lie believers, are setting their sights, on overseeing elections.

As we've noted before, at least 163 Republicans, who have embraced Trump's lies, are running for statewide office. Of those, 18 are gunning for the top election post, Secretary of State.

The idea that conspiracy theorists could soon run our elections isn't too far-fetched, when you consider how voters are receiving them.

CNN's Kyung Lah shows us just how these candidates are gaining traction.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Good morning! We thought we'd catch up with you here.

LAH (voice-over): For someone running, to be Nevada's chief elections officer, Republican Secretary of State Candidate, Jim Marchant, doesn't seem to want to say much.

LAH (on camera): What are you here, talking about?

MARCHANT (on camera): Election integrity.

LAH (on camera): And what do you mean by that?

MARCHANT (on camera): Election integrity.

LAH (voice-over): Marchant doesn't want to talk to the press.

MARCHANT (on camera): So anyway, thank you.

LAH (voice-over): But the owner, of the sandwich shop, invited us in, to the public section, of the restaurant, where we heard, behind this gray curtain, Marchant, tell a crowd, the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

MARCHANT: The difference between myself and my opponents, I'm the only one that believes that there was election fraud.

(AUDIENCE APPLAUSE) LAH (voice-over): Eliminate all voting machines, early voting, and mail-in ballots, and get new paper ballots, from an unknown company, somewhere in Texas, he says.

MARCHANT: This ballot, you hold it up, to a black light, you can see watermarks, and holograms. We got to watch the polls. We got to watch people counting the votes. We got to challenge the courts.

LAH (voice-over): After his speech, we ask him again, about Nevada's 2020 election results. Trump lost the battleground state, by more than 30,000 votes.

MARCHANT (on camera): I believe it was stolen, yes. I mean, I believe that there were enough irregularities that we need to do an audit.

LAH (on camera): 30,000 irregularities?

MARCHANT (on camera): Sure. I think more. Do an audit. Why won't you do an audit?

LAH (on camera): Because there's no evidence that it does.

MARCHANT (on camera): Oh, there's plenty of evidence.

LAH (voice-over): There is not plenty of evidence.

Four separate Nevada court cases were dismissed due to lack of evidence. And the current Secretary of State, a Republican, investigated and dismissed dozens of claims, of fraud.

With the midterms, and 2024, on the horizon?

MARCHANT: We've formed a coalition, May 1st. And these are the candidates here, patriots.

LAH (voice-over): Marchant says this group, of Big Lie believers, have organized, to run, in Secretary of State races, hoping to administer elections, in key battleground states.

This is a QAnon convention, last fall. On stage, with Marchant, in his trademark white cowboy hat, is Mark Finchem.

MARK FINCHEM, (R) CANDIDATE FOR AZ SECRETARY OF STATE: We know it. And they know it. Donald Trump won.


LAH (voice-over): Trump has endorsed Finchem, to be Arizona's Secretary of State. Finchem believes the will of Arizona voters should have been ignored in 2020.

FINCHEM: With all the evidence we have, the Arizona election should be decertified.

TRUMP: Your next Secretary of State.


LAH (voice-over): Another Trump-backed candidate, for Secretary of State, Jody Hice.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, (R) GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: And the results remain unchanged.

LAH (voice-over): Is challenging, the current Republican in office, in Georgia.

TRUMP: Jody is running against one of the worst Secretary of States, in America, RINO Brad Raffensperger.

LAH (voice-over): Raffensperger denied this outrageous Trump request.

TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes.

LAH (voice-over): And then there's Michigan's Kristina Karamo.

KRISTINA KARAMO, (R) CANDIDATE FOR MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: I want to thank Jim Marchant for putting the coalition together.

LAH (voice-over): Another Marchant ally.

KARAMO: Our campaign has some really great news. We just got endorsed by President Trump.

LAH (voice-over): She's posted lie after lie about Michigan's elections.

KARAMO: It is not right. There are hundreds of thousands of votes, are allowed to be considered as lawful votes, when we know they're illegal.

LAH (on camera): We've been trying to reach Kristina Karamo, for several days. And she has not replied, to our request, for an interview.

So, on her campaign website, there is no address, for a campaign office. We did get an address for her house.

So, since it's her house, we're not going to go up there, with a camera, or a microphone. But I am going to knock on the door, and see if she will consent to an interview.

So, I talked to Karamo's father. At least, that's how he identified himself. And he said, "Leave your business card. We'll see if she calls you back."

LAH (voice-over): A few days later, she posted my business card, on her Facebook page, writing "I will not be intimidated."

But she never did call me!

[21:20:00] JENA GRISWOLD, (D) COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE: We are seeing a coordinated effort, by extreme Republicans, to undo American democracy. And part of that effort is to win these key swing states' Secretary of State seats.

LAH (voice-over): Colorado's Secretary of State, Jena Griswold, is Chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State. Democrats raised $4.5 million, last year, for secretaries of state races. A record, for the group.

GRISWOLD: The stakes could not be higher. We are, at Code Red, for American democracy. And Secretaries of State are one of the last stop gates, to safeguarding democracy.

LAH (voice-over): But the true battle will happen in the primary, says Republican election lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, who hopes his party will flush out the extremists.

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: Please pay attention to these races. They matter about whether your vote counts.

As a Republican, it worries me, a great deal, for the future of popular credibility, in elections, that the role of Secretary of State, a nonpartisan election role, where you have to call balls and strikes, is becoming so politicized.


LAH (voice-over): Back in Reno, Nevada, at Jim Marchant's campaign stop, the lies sink in.

CHRIS JOHNSON, REGISTERED NV REPUBLICAN: I believe in his efforts. And I've totally supported him.

GLEN DUPPENTHALER, REGISTERED NV REPUBLICAN: Yes, there was fraud, 100 percent.

LAH (on camera): I just want to understand. In 2020, because a Republican Secretary of State was in office, you still think that there was fraud?

DUPPENTHALER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

LAH (on camera): Is it just having a Republican Secretary of State, or a Trump-backed Secretary of State?

DUPPENTHALER: A Trump-backed, yes. Well, because we have a lot of RINOs.

LAH (voice-over): And Marchant is ready, to put his plan, in place.

LAH (on camera): What would you do, as Secretary of State that would change things?

MARCHANT (on camera): I'd do the job that the Secretary's supposed to do, Secretary of State's supposed to do. LAH (on camera): Which is what?

MARCHANT (on camera): Ensure that we have a fair and transparent election.

LAH (on camera): And you do not believe that that's currently what's happened?

MARCHANT (on camera): I think there are enough anomalies that warrant an investigation.


ACOSTA: And Kyung Lah, joins me now.

Kyung, incredible piece, great work, as always.

I got to ask you, do you think any of these candidates, have a shot at winning? And, I mean, would they - would they actually go through, with overturning election results that clearly show perhaps a Democrat won, instead of a Trump-backed Republican?

LAH: Well, there are some containers, some guardrails, on what a Secretary of State does. And it has to go through the legislature.

But certainly, there could be some significant issues, if any of them do become the Chief Election Administrator, in a battleground state, where there's so much attention.

Now, as far as whether any of them actually stand a chance? It's early. But we do have some tea leaves, at least in the fundraising numbers.

I want to point you to Arizona, and to candidate Mark Finchem. The guy in the white hat that you saw on the story?

ACOSTA: Right.

LAH: He raised more than $650,000, a close number two, Jim. That suggests that he certainly has a lot of energy. And the people donating to him are those small dollar amounts. Election experts fear that he has certainly a lot of momentum, on his side.

ACOSTA: Wow! To think that all that fundraising is going into races that most people just didn't even think about, in years past. And now, a lot of attention being paid, to these very important contests.

Kyung Lah, thank you very much, for that report. Just terrific stuff, thank you.

And to other troubling threats, to our democracy, disinformation, Fox News, and yes, you, Tucker Carlson.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Why is it disloyal, to side with Russia, but loyal, to side with Ukraine?


ACOSTA: We're going to help him out, with an answer. He could use some actual facts. So, hold on, for that, next.



ACOSTA: If you've seen my comments, about Fox News, in the past, you are well aware of the nickname, I've given the network. It's the "Bullshit Factory."

But maybe it should be the Bolshevik Factory, as in the Bolsheviks, the Communists, who helped form the Soviet Union, judging by how the network allows, one of its most popular hosts, to spew pro-Putin propaganda.


CARLSON: Why is it disloyal, to side with Russia, but loyal, to side with Ukraine? They're both foreign countries that don't care anything about the United States. Kind of strange.

Imagine if Mexico fell under the direct military control of China? We would see that as a threat. Of course. There'd be no reason for that. Well, that's how Russia views NATO control of Ukraine. And why wouldn't they? We don't get anything out of pushing Ukraine into NATO. So, why are we doing this?


ACOSTA: You should hear how Comrade Tucker sounds, when he's translated into Russian, as in Russian state television.

There it is, right there. They're eating it up like a bowl full of borscht, pointing to, what he's been saying, for months.

Apparently, same goes, for the reaction, for viewers, of Trump state TV. And that is Fox, of course. Democratic congressman Tom Malinowski says his "Office is now getting calls from folks who say they watch Tucker Carlson and are upset that we're not siding with Russia."

Tucker has even laughed at the idea that the U.S. would defend Ukraine, militarily.


CARLSON: A friend just sent this tweet. Quote, "Having lost in Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Empires, the regime's next military adventure? Invading Russia in winter."



ACOSTA: Yes, I'm not sure why he's laughing. It should be noted that lawmakers, from both parties, as well as foreign policy experts, have long said that Putin's chief objective, is to reconstitute the Soviet Union.


Sound far-fetched? Last December, Reuters reported that Russian state TV had aired some provocative comments, from the autocrat, a documentary, "Russia New History."

In that documentary, Putin lamented the collapse, of the Soviet Union, saying "It was a disintegration, of historical Russia, under the name of the Soviet Union. We turned into a completely different country. And what had been built up over 1,000 years, was largely lost."

Yet, for months, during the escalating tensions, between Russia and Ukraine, Tucker has been questioning, why the U.S. doesn't side with the Kremlin.


CARLSON: But why would we take Ukraine's side and not Russia's side? It's sincere question. If you're looking for the American perspective?

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): We're already on the Ukraine's side.

CARLSON: No, but why? I mean, who's got the energy reserves? Who's - who's the major player, in world affairs? Who's the potential counterbalance, against China, which is the actual threat?

Why would we take Ukraine's side? Why wouldn't we be on Russian side? I don't - I'm totally confused.

TURNER: Well, clearly.

Ukraine is a democracy. Russia is an authoritarian regime that is seeking to impose its will, upon a validly-elected democracy, in Ukraine. And we're on the side of democracy.

CARLSON: Yes, I mean, I guess, I'm for democracy, in other countries, I guess.


ACOSTA: That was Ohio Republican congressman, Mike Turner, taking Tucker to school, trying to explain that the U.S. has historically stood, with democracies, in Europe, and against dictators, who want to expand their borders, by force. You know, because we're the good guys.

Now, sure, Putin is more tsar than communist, and he may well be the richest man in Russia, the oligarchs' oligarch.

But don't forget, the Russian courts have a long track record, of jailing opposition leaders, like Alexei Navalny. Last September, a European Human Rights Court, found the Kremlin responsible, for the 2006 poisoning, of a former Russian Intelligence official, who defected to the West.

So, Tucker is clearly standing, on the side of a dangerous autocrat, with delusions of grandeur. And not just because Tucker can relate to that. It's because Tucker seems to have a thing for autocrats, a strongman fetish.

Lately, he's been fixated on Hungary, and that nation's anti- democratic leader, Viktor Orban.

Last year, Tucker aired his show, from Hungary. And now, he's back, with an interview, with Orban, who makes clear, his disdain, for migrants, coming into his country.


CARLSON: Birth rates are declining. That's true, in this country, as well. It's true in Europe. The populations are literally disappearing. Most governments ignore this trend, or instead import new citizens, from the rest of the world.

VIKTOR ORBAN, PRIME MINISTER OF HUNGARY: But we don't like that approach. Because we would not like to, after our personal life, we would not like to leave this country, to the migrants. We would like to leave it to our grandchildren.


ACOSTA: "We would not like to leave this country, to the migrants," Orban said.

Sounds familiar, if you watch Tucker's show, and all of his segments, demonizing immigrants, as quote, "Making the U.S. dirtier." Never mind the fact that this nation was built by immigrants, and that our traditional national motto, is E pluribus unum, "Out of many, one."

Tucker is not just attempting to mainstream authoritarianism. He is, of course, playing divide and conquer, for ratings. The biggest example of that may be closer to home, and the COVID pandemic.

On almost a nightly basis, Tucker brings on guests, who peddle anti- vaccine nonsense, like this segment that aired last night.


ALEX BERENSON, AUTHOR, "PANDEMIA": These mRNA vaccines, the mRNA COVID vaccines, need to be withdrawn, from the market now. No one should get them. No one should get boosted. No one should get double-boosted. They are a dangerous and ineffective product, at this point, against Omicron.

The spike, that they make your body make, that you then produce antibodies to, is not the Omicron spike.


ACOSTA: To be totally clear, what he is saying is absolute garbage. No pushback from Tucker! These vaccines have been proven to be safe and highly effective.

And just as Tucker, and the Bolshevik Factory, are putting our democracy in peril, acting as a mouthpiece, for Putin, they are doing something perhaps even more destructive.

With the U.S. approaching 1 million deaths, from COVID, Fox, and the people ultimately in charge there, the Murdoch family, are inflaming a public health crisis.

To the Murdochs? It's your network. You own this. You own Tucker's program that's putting our health care workers in peril, putting our hospitals in peril, putting all of us in peril, for ratings, for money, so these American oligarchs can keep pumping out bullshit, into our homes.

Now, if only there were a vaccine, for all of that!

And if only there were an answer, to this question, pushed by another Trump sympathizer? A U.S. congressman is openly wondering if we've ever seen a President, attack and malign the free press, like Joe Biden has.

I need some pearls to clutch! I actually may be able to help, Congressman Jim Banks, figure it out, as we travel back in time, next.



ACOSTA: The far-right, in this country, is still in an uproar, after President Biden apologized, for insulting a Fox News reporter, with an expletive. Of course, it wasn't great. It was wrong.

But this is the same group of folks, who came up with excuse after excuse, for this behavior.


TRUMP: The Fake News is, in fact, and I hate to say this, in fact, the enemy of the people.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You didn't use it to ramp up testing.

TRUMP: You're so - you're so--

REID: Right now, nearly 20 million people are--

TRUMP: --you're so disgraceful.

VOICE OF ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY: Do you want him to reign in Robert Mueller? TRUMP: What a stupid question that is? What a stupid question? But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.

Thank you for telling me that. See, there's a typical Fake News deal.


TRUMP: Now, look, look--

KARL: I told you when she was appointed, by your administration.


TRUMP: You're a third-rate reporter. And what you just said is a disgrace!

The same thing with April Ryan. I watch her get up. I mean, you talk about somebody that's a loser. She doesn't know what the hell she's doing.

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What do you say to Americans, who are watching you right now, who are scared?

TRUMP: I say that you're a terrible reporter. That's what I say.

You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN.

When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.


ACOSTA: And, of course, I can't forget the moment, where the President called me "The enemy of the people."

But now compare Sean Hannity, last night, responding to Biden's blunder, with his reaction, to Trump's attack, on the media.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Biden once promised to restore civility, telling his appointees, he would fire them, on the spot, if they disrespected others. Of course, the rules, they don't apply to Joe. And his comments about Peter Doocy, are especially ridiculous, given that Biden's own weakened mental abilities.

By the way, all those people in the back, are Fake News.



ACOSTA: There's Sean, Trump's mouthpiece! Now, given Trump wants to run again, and will likely have the full support, of Fox, and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber, what could that mean, for the fate of the free press? It's an important question tonight.

I want to bring in constitutional law attorney, and media attorney, Ted Boutrous.

Ted, great to see, as always.

I must note that Ted actually represented me, when Trump tried to take my press pass away, at the White House. We got it back. We beat Trump.

But Ted, I was thinking of sending a fainting couch, over to Fox News, in their studios. But I figured that they had plenty of those, along with some pearls, to clutch.

Your thoughts? I mean, we just saw, Trump. He drove all of these attacks against the media. What happens to the media, do you think, if Trump runs again, and wins?

THEODORE BOUTROUS, CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER, MEDIA ATTORNEY: Well, Jim, it was very amazing. It's great to be with you. And it brought back a lot of memories.

I think what we're going to see are continued attack - continued attacks on the press, the legitimate news gathering, that's so important.

The Supreme Court has said, over and over again, including in Citizens United, the case that conservatives like, and liberals don't like that the First Amendment protects the ability, of the citizens, to hold the Powerful, accountable, to get the information, they need, to govern themselves.

And so, this disinformation campaign, coupled with attacks, on the press, is really harmful to our democracy, which is I guess, the topic of this entire show.

ACOSTA: No question about it.

And what about this anti-press sentiment that's taken hold, inside the GOP, over at Fox? That's just not going anywhere. And what does that mean, for news organizations, here in the United States? I mean, and I guess I should say around the world.

Because, as you and I both know, Ted, we've talked about this, there are so many regimes, around the world, who have - that have adopted Trump's name-calling, calling organizations, "Fake News," and using things like "The enemy of the people," to defame journalists, and so on.

BOUTROUS: It's very, very troubling, and very dangerous. It emboldens leaders, around the world, to abuse the press, to clamp down on the press. The Republican Party, most Republicans in office, and running for office? Part of their brand, is to denigrate and delegitimize the press.

And the really harmful thing is that that makes it so that citizens don't believe what some of the best reporters, and journalists, in the world, are gapping - telling them, based on their news gathering activity.

But they're believing the disinformation, the lies about the 2020 election, the lies about COVID. And that makes it - so, we're in an irrational society, and democracy just can't function.

So, if we have a replay, if this continues? It's going to hurt everybody. It's going to hurt Republicans. It's going to hurt all journalists, all commentators. It really needs to stop, if we want to preserve the country that we have.

ACOSTA: And what about these lines being blurred, between those in Trump media, and Trump government?

He enlisted Fox News anchors, as his advisers, Hannity, Ingraham, and so on. He hired a former Fox exec, Bill Shine, to run his communication shop, over at the White House. Had Roger Ailes helping him with debate friends, back in 2016. I mean, it goes on and on.

If Trump, or someone like Trump, were to take office, in 2024, how much further can we see that line, get blurred, between the government, and the media? And what does that mean, for the First Amendment, for the free press, in this country? I mean, it was almost becoming like a State TV-type situation, the first time around.


BOUTROUS: It's terrible. And it's gotten even worse, that Trump has hired Devin Nunes, the former congressman, who filed, broke a record, for filing lawsuits, against reporters, and journalists, and a fake cow, on Twitter, for defamation. He's going to be the Head of Trump's new media company, which is just crazy.

And I think that the sort of blending together, of what the public sees as journalists, with the government, is a very, very bad development, for everyone, for citizens, for journalists, for political people, who want to run a government. So, I think it's dangerous, Jim.

I did think it was funny that all the hand-wringing, over Pete Doocy, and President Biden called him, and apologized. And in your case, they stripped your press away - press pass away, in the dead of night.

ACOSTA: Right.

BOUTROUS: So, there is a huge contrast. And again, no presidents really like being badgered by the press.

But that's what reporters do. They're meant to irritate a president, and the government, on behalf of all of us, to get information out of them, to protect us, against autocracy, and authoritarianism, and abuse of power.

ACOSTA: That's right. I mean, that's what we do. We're doing our jobs. And that noise is the sound a functioning democracy makes.

And Ted, as you know, all too well, going along with Trump's attacks, on the media, you see death threats, against journalists. You see, people, like, my longtime friend, Brian Karem, April Ryan, people like that, getting all kinds of death threats, because they went up against Trump.

We'll talk about this further, another time, Ted. But really appreciate the insights. Thanks so much for coming on. Ted Boutrous, thanks again, for your insights tonight. We appreciate it.

BOUTROUS: So great to be with you, Jim. Thanks.

ACOSTA: All right, great to see you, Ted.

And toxic polarization is poisoning America. But if there's any hope, of finding the antidote, we need to understand what's fueling it. John Avlon unpacks it all, in tonight's Reality Check.

There he is. That's coming up next.



ACOSTA: As we close another night, reflecting, on the state of democracy, and how it's going to be saved, one thing is clear. It's going to take all of us, everyone, on the Left, and the Right, to reach solutions.

But how do we do that in the age of toxic tribalism and The Big Lie? Perhaps it's a matter of realizing the dangers of illiberalism. John Avlon, that is a concept that he's going to break down for us, in tonight's Reality Check.

John, it's an important topic.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST & ANCHOR, AUTHOR, "WASHINGTON'S FAREWELL" AND "WINGNUTS": It sure is. It goes to the heart, of what we're dealing with right now.

Because Jim, the core problem, in our politics, is this poisonous polarization. It's the feedback loop that drives Americans, into competing rival tribal camps, convinced that the other side is not merely mistaken, but evil.

And this vicious cycle, is primarily a matter of negative perception, driven by which side of the divide, people feel is a bigger threat to our country. And that, of course, makes reasoning together almost impossible. But we've got to recognize both sides of the feedback loop before we can fix it. Because it's compounded by a core confusion over political labels today, namely this. The far-right today is not conservative. And the far-left is not liberal. Think about it.

Conservatives often trace the roots back to Edmund Burke, an 18th century British statesman, who rightly criticized the mob rule, radicalism, the French Revolution. He preached the value of gradualism, the wisdom of tradition and constitutional order.

So, there's literally nothing less conservative than the Trumpist mobs' attack, on our Capitol, and the Constitution's peaceful transfer of power. Embracing a lie, to attack the foundations of our democracy, is the opposite, of reason and patriotism.

Now, on the far left, there's a perception that a rising generation of radical activists, sees America, primarily through a lens of group identity politics, pursuing the goals of social justice, with a cancel culture fervor that condemns even reason dissent.

This fixation on our differences, rather than our common humanity, is inconsistent, with classical liberalism. And it ends up fueling reactionary forces.

And taken together, this fixation, on negative perceptions, amplified by hyper-partisan media, kills societal trust, and creates mutual incomprehension.

But here's an essential point to remember. These two perceptions are not equivalent, not remotely, when it comes to the reality of our politics, or the danger to our democracy, right now, as conservatives Pete Wehner, and Jonathan Rauch, recently wrote.

The far-right's illiberalism is far more powerful, in the halls of Congress, in the corridors of power. It dominates the Trumpist Republican Party, with its Big Lie litmus tests.

Now, by comparison, the far left is primarily a cultural force. Only 15 percent of Democrats describe themselves as very liberal, according to a 2020 Pew survey.

Not that President Biden, or Democratic leaders, in Congress, support "Defund the Police," or "Open borders," or any of the other stereotypes pushed on right-wing talk TV. But they do serve a cultural powerful irritant, to folks, who see their anxieties, about demographic change, taking place in real-time.

And all this can fuel political backlash, as liberal "New York Times" Columnist, Michelle Goldberg, pointed out, in a recent essay called, "Has the left gone wrong?"

"Over the past year, a lot of liberals and leftists alike have come to believe that the language of social justice left is needlessly alienating," she wrote.

"The broader left got to let go of the illusion that there exists a mass of alienated potential voters waiting to be roused by a sufficiently radical message. That means progressives have to go into elections with the electorate they have, one that is more conservative than the one they would like."

That's an important concession to reality, because the fixation on what she calls, "The language of the social justice left," does undercut the big tent coalition that's needed, right now, to defend democracy, from the forces of The Big Lie.

And perhaps, one way to find common ground, while countering these illiberal trends, on left and right, is to forthrightly defend liberalism again.


Yes, I know. The term "Liberal" has been a political weapon, since the days of Lee Atwater. But here's the thing. It's actually about something much bigger than partisan politics.

Because liberal values include absolute equality under the law, the right to self-determination, freedom of religion, consistent with the separation of Church and State, and freedom of speech, even on college campuses, with vibrant civic debates, rooted in the understanding that everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. What a concept!

But perhaps, most of all, liberal values, are rooted in, universal individualism, the belief that all human beings should be seen as individuals first, and not primarily as members of a group. And this remains a rebellious idea, because it rejects the reflexive tribal groupthink that dumbs everybody down, while fueling resentments that exacerbate our divides.

And by offering a roadmap, to reconciliation, in a time of reactionaries and radicals, it might just help Americans refocus on what really matters, right now. The common defense of our liberal democracy.

And that's your Reality Check.

ACOSTA: Great stuff, John Avlon, a lot to think about. Really appreciate that.

AVLON: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: John Avlon, thank you.

And we'll be right back.


ACOSTA: And that's it for us, tonight.

Join us tomorrow, as we examine the Trump loyalists' takeover of the Georgia GOP.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.