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CNN TONIGHT: Biden Lays Out Stakes For Russia If It Invades Ukraine: U.S., Allies & Partners Will "Respond Decisively"; First Of Three Ex-Officers Involved In Floyd's Death Takes Stand; Jury Finds New York Times Did Not Defame Palin. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired February 15, 2022 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Laura Coates, and CNN TONIGHT.
LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: John, thank you. Nice seeing you, again.
BERMAN: You too.
COATES: I am Laura Coates. And this is CNN TONIGHT.
Amid all of the confusion, all of the uncertainty, about whether Russia will really invade Ukraine, I guess, perhaps it's fitting that President Biden had announced to America today that we are prepared for anything, quote, "No matter what."
So, what exactly does that mean? Does that mean, prepared to be proactive? Reactive? And what would a Russian war with Ukraine actually cost the United States? And what would it cost Russia, in the end, as well?
Now, the President of the United States, he tried to manage expectations, today, almost like a lawyer, talking to their clients, about what to expect, and laying the groundwork, and signaling to the American people that we would not be caught flat-footed.
But the President of the United States, well, he's well-aware that there are televisions also in Russia. And it seems that he hopes that Vladimir Putin was one of those television viewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The United States is prepared, no matter what happens. We are ready, with diplomacy.
We are ready to respond decisively, to Russian attack, on Ukraine, which is still very much a possibility.
The United States and NATO are not a threat to Russia. Ukraine is not threatening Russia.
To the citizens of Russia: You are not our enemy. And I do not believe you want a bloody, destructive war against Ukraine.
If Russia attacks Ukraine, it'll be met with overwhelming international condemnation.
The United States and our Allies and partners will respond decisively. The West is united and galvanized.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: You have to wonder, if that entire speech, if it was played at all, particularly the part about the President of the United States, reaching out, and talking to the people, of Russia, comparing perhaps what they would want to their President Vladimir Putin, and what he wants, it seems.
But President Biden listed a series of consequences, for Russia, if Putin does go through, with any threatened invasion, like much tougher sanctions, than back in 2014, and undermining Russia's ability, to even compete, economically, at all.
And remember that major new Russian-German gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2? Well, that'd be gone too.
Now, all of this, all of this talk, of the sanctions and possibilities? This in spite of Russia's talking now, of pulling back its forces, from the Ukrainian border.
It seems President Biden isn't in, however, a trust-but-verify kind of mood. He's not totally buying any of it. NATO Secretary General, well, isn't either or, by the way, Ukraine's Foreign Minister, for that matter, who says his country has a rule. Quote, "We don't believe what we hear. We believe what we see."
And so, what we're still seeing, frankly, is Russia moving forces around, amassing more than 150,000 troops, circling Ukraine and, of course, now, Belarus.
And Biden says the U.S. hasn't actually verified, whether Russian military units are really, in fact, returning to their home bases, after their drills, as has been claimed by Putin, and the like.
And though Putin may, while he may say he doesn't want war?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Do we want it or not? Of course not. That's exactly why we put forward proposals, on negotiating process, which should result in an agreement, on ensuring equal security for all, including our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: "Of course, not," he says, "Of course, not." He doesn't want war. He says he wants to negotiate. But if past is prologue, frankly, many are now wondering if diplomacy is possible here, or is it an exercise in futility?
Well, for now, it seems President Biden he still hopes that this can, in fact, be resolved, diplomatically.
Biden says, quote, "We should give diplomacy every chance to succeed." But he also warns, the U.S. will defend, every inch of NATO territory, with the full force of American power, if Russia messes with the Alliance.
Now Ukraine, of course, we know isn't actually NATO territory. So, the U.S. won't put boots on the ground there. But the reality is the boots of thousands of our troops are no longer on American soil. They might not be in Ukraine. But they are being deployed, to the neighboring countries of Ukraine, to then bolster NATO.
And even though Ukraine is not a NATO member, that's part of the entire crux of the issue. It hasn't actually stopped the U.S., and some of our allies, from giving Ukraine, the equipment, and the training, it might need, to defend itself, albeit on a smaller scale.
So, the question really is, with all this happening, what is next? What are we to expect? How do we, as Americans, evaluate this? Was this new warning, from Biden, effective? Will it mean that Putin can be walked back from the brink of war? Are we really at that stage, right now?
I want to go to CNN's Sam Kiley, live in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He's actually close to the border with Russia, as we speak.
Sam, thank you for being here. What are you seeing out there, right now? It's just kind of a back-and-forth, of are we, aren't they, will they, won't they? What are you learning?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very stressful, obviously, for the people of Ukraine. I'm just 50 miles from Bely Gorod, which is a Russian city, where the equivalent number of forces, have been assembled that are the same size, as the British army, on the Russian side.
In the last two and a half days, they've received additional helicopter gunships. Similar numbers of gunships, about 60-plus gunships, and transport helicopters have also been now spotted, by satellite imagery, in Crimea.
So, it looks like they are getting much closer, to the point, at which they might actually trigger a D-day, an invasion day, a day for some kind of military action, on the Russian side.
That said, the Ukrainians today, later on today, it's about 3 in the morning now, are going to be celebrating what they're calling Unity Day, in a slightly ironic attempt, to lampoon briefings that have come out of America, suggesting that today might be a day that the Russians choose to invade.
But the Ukrainians, are trying to keep a lid on, national panic, effectively. That was slightly shaken, in the last few hours, by a distributed denial-of-service attack, on a number of websites, including the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces website, and a couple of banks, here.
These have not been directly attributed to Russia. But obviously, the finger of suspicion points there. Very deep concerns that Russia ultimately, if it does decide to attack, will use, as part of its weaponry, cyber warfare. This latest attack does not look like cyber warfare. More like an information operation, the kind of messing with people's heads, if you like.
But, at the same time, there isn't a real sense of the level of concern that's being expressed by Biden, for example, in the international community, here, on the ground, in big cities, like Kharkiv. There's a million and a half people here. They are generally pretty relaxed, Laura.
COATES: Well, that's what strikes me, in many ways, as maybe odd, for a lot of people, the idea of this imbalance, Sam, on the one hand, of President Biden, I don't want to call him an alarmist, but certainly sounding an alarm, for people, to be cautious, and what we're hearing on the ground in Ukraine.
We're all wondering here, is it a matter of, this is really imminent, or it's a matter of the Ukrainian President, trying to balance, and have cooler heads, maybe prevail on the ground?
Great reporting, Sam. Nice talking to you. Thank you so much.
Even as we try, right now, to sort out, where things stand, on the ground, in Ukraine? I just talked to my colleague, Sam, about. In the U.S. Senate, you've now got these dueling responses, these packages, from Republicans and Democrats, over what sanctions Russia should actually face, if it does invade into Ukraine.
I've got Democratic Senator, Tim Kaine, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, and he joins me now.
Senator Kaine, thank you for being here. And welcome to you.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Laura, great to be with you. Thank you.
COATES: Thank you. And Senator, to that notion, there is some confusion, frankly, from the American people.
We're hearing about the idea of this day, trying to, in Ukraine, trying to put a lid on any alarmist notions. You got the President of the United States having a briefing today, on what's going on.
From the Americans' perspective, what is going on, Senator? Is there really an imminent threat, as it's being obviously relayed to us? Or is there something more happening in the background? KAINE: Well, Laura, I will say the facts are fairly straightforward. And I think both, the United States, and our Allies, agree, about what Russia is doing, on the border, with Ukraine, where there is some significant difference, especially between America and our European allies, is a prediction about what Vladimir Putin intends to do.
So, again, that Russia is marshaling an unprecedented force, on the Ukrainian border, and carrying out exercises, in Belarus, which is geographically very proximate to Kyiv, rather than Eastern Ukraine, that's all happening.
I would say the U.S. Intel community's assessment is that Putin is likely to do a significant land invasion of Ukraine. But I have - I have noticed, very carefully, in the last few weeks, in conversation with European allies, the E.U. and others, they acknowledged the facts. But they are not yet as comfortable with the prediction, about what Putin might do.
KAINE: And, in fact, in the nine years that I've been in the Senate, this is probably the farthest apart that the U.S. and our European allies have been, about predicting what might happen. The good news is--
COATES: Well, Senator, on that, I know--
KAINE: --we're not--
COATES: Excuse me. I don't want to cut you off there. But, on that point?
COATES: I mean, it does strike you, and it should strike everyone, as a bit odd that there is really a distinction, for example, between how seriously Washington is taking this issue, and how seriously they're taking it, in Kyiv.
And the question, for so many people, obviously, when you're not talking about a NATO member, we are not talking about, obviously joining at this juncture? That strikes a chord with the American people. And then, to see, frankly, in the Senate, as we're learning that there is the distance, some from the European allies.
But Senator, in terms of what Republicans and Democrats are thinking prospectively, about sanctions, why is there that disconnect there, as well, in your neck of the woods?
KAINE: Well, let me complete what I was going to say. It's not that surprising that people might have different opinions, about what Vladimir Putin would do. We're not Vladimir Putin. And we're not mind- readers. The good news is that the United States, and our European allies are very unified, on what we would do, if he were to invade the sovereignty of Ukraine.
So, you can't predict what Vladimir Putin is going to do, with near certainty. The guy's holed up mostly, in Sochi, not really - he has yes-men, around him, and not interlocutors that you can get the window into his thinking. So, predicting what he'll do, is a rough science, at best.
But the good news is the United States, and our European allies, are very unified, about the degree of consequences that would immediately flow, from any invasion of Ukraine.
COATES: But Senator, on that point?
KAINE: So, yes, if there's confusion--
COATES: But Senator, on that point, as I asked earlier, on that point, there might be a chord, with the European allies. But Democrats and Republicans are not in alliance, in terms of what those sanctions can be.
A lot of this does seem, although it's hard to predict, and read the tea leaves, of Vladimir Putin, some of this behavior is predictable, because we have seen it before.
Why has it taken so long, for the Senate to act, or try to figure out a way of sanctions? And why are you far apart, having separate notions, about how to sanction, the possibility of the invasion?
KAINE: Well, again, I'm going to - I'm going to go back to - the difference between Democrats and Republicans, on this, is whether you should post sanctions, in advance, or - that would be the Republican position, or whether you should just announce, what sanctions would be imposed, if there's an invasion.
The extent and the consequence and the magnitude of sanctions, there really isn't any significant difference, between Democrats and Republicans. There is some difference on timing. That is an important difference.
But I think the fact that we all stand, for Ukraine, against Russian aggression, in Ukraine, and a willingness, to impose significant consequences, if there's to be an invasion, of Ukrainian sovereignty, and not only are we together on that, in Congress, we're together with our European allies.
We can't predict Vladimir Putin. And we have a difference of opinion about the timing of when sanctions should be imposed.
I strongly agree with the Democratic position, on this. Don't impose sanctions in advance. Only impose sanctions, if there's bad behavior. That's where we are right now.
COATES: Senator Tim Kaine, thank you so much, for helping, to explain and clarify. This is a point of extraordinary concern, for the American people. I appreciate it.
KAINE: You bet. Glad to be with you.
COATES: Thank you, Senator.
And we'll continue to watch developments in Ukraine.
But, up ahead, one of the former police officers, who stood by, as George Floyd was murdered, he took the witness stand, today. Did his training play a role, in his decision, not to intervene? And what could that mean for his fate? And, by the way, those are the other two remaining officers, who he is on trial with.
Our police and legal specialists, join me next. There they are.
COATES: So, the first, of three former Minneapolis Police officers, on trial, for violating George Floyd's civil rights took the stand today. Tou Thao was the officer, who stood, on crowd control duty, while Floyd was being killed, under Derek Chauvin's knee.
Thao says that as he kept his eyes, on the people, on the street, he relied on his fellow officers, to monitor Floyd's condition, claiming that because they weren't performing CPR that he believed that Floyd was fine, even though he was present, when Floyd stopped talking, and the surrounding crowd was pleading, for officers, to check Floyd's pulse.
Joining me now, to discuss, is criminal defense lawyer, Joey Jackson, and former Police Commissioner, Charles Ramsey.
What a night to have you all here! And what a pleasure, as well, gentlemen!
Let me start with you, Joey Jackson, on this because, look, the American people watched the Derek Chauvin trial, with bated breath, frankly. That was one person, on the stand, one person, on trial. Now, we've got three defendants.
You have handled so many different cases, let alone co-defendant cases. What's different here, about the strategy, when you've got three co-defendants, who really have different roles they played, in the overall act?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, Laura, great question. Good to be with you. And good to be with you, Chief.
It's very difficult, I think, when there're co-defendants. The reason being is because I think you have extra prosecutors, right, who are in the jury room. The defense is trying to get their client not convicted. By doing that, they're placing blame on other people.
And I think the testimony today, of this particular defendant, Tou Thao, was damning and, quite frankly, terrible. Not to mince words. If the essence of what I had to sum it up was with, Laura? It would be, "It wasn't my job."
Really, it's not your job? Sir, there was a crowd there, and they kept yelling that he needed medical attention. Weren't you there? Weren't you interacting with the crowd? Didn't you see and hear what they were pleading for you to do?
Didn't you look back, and didn't you make observations - which he admitted to, Laura, on the stand that he saw what was happening? Weren't you standing next to George Floyd, for six of those nine and a half minutes? Just so many things. Didn't you hear him stop talking? Didn't you hear him say, "I couldn't breathe?"
And so, so many things that he admitted to, essentially, Tou Thao, on the stand, in defense of himself, I think, will come back to haunt him. I think, it was, a move that the defense needed to make, by putting him there. But he did himself no favors, in my estimation.
COATES: Now, Chief Ramsey, that point that Joey is raising? I mean, the idea, each officer, obviously, having a different role? Different role, one, he, of course, thinks he was playing crowd control, and says, it wasn't his job, to paraphrase, what he was talking about.
What do you see, in terms of this, because what would the jobs have been? You have three officers on the scene. In some instances, you know full well, it's more officers, in that, sometimes less.
What do you think the training was, or should have been, or maybe should be, in terms of what the responsibilities are, of other officers, on the scene?
CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST, FORMER WASHINGTON, D.C. POLICE CHIEF, FORMER PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, the primary responsibility of all the officers is the protection of life and the safety of the person being arrested. Period! That's all four of them had that responsibility. And they failed in that responsibility.
The officer, who testified today claims that his training, eight years ago, or nine years ago, certain tactics or techniques were used. That's really not even relevant. Every year, in-service training is conducted for police officers. It's what's currently being taught, that really matters.
The law changes. Policing changes. Tactics, all those things change. So, he may have learned something nine years ago. What did he learn in 2019, 2020, when he went through in-service training? And I'm certain that having someone's knee on a neck, for nine and a half minutes, was not part of the training.
And lastly, just one more point. He's saying the other three officers had it under control. Two of those officers were rookies. That alone, if you're an officer, would make you turn around, to see what's going on, because Chauvin was there, with two very inexperienced people.
COATES: And yet?
RAMSEY: That alone would make him pay wilful intention (ph).
COATES: And yet, one of the officers, who was a rookie, was an officer, the last name, Lane.
And I want to show this to the audience. And I warn you, this can be quite distressing, to remember, what we saw. But here was one of those officers, who was asking the question about whether to move Mr. George Floyd's body, in some way. Here is this moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE FLOYD, SECURITY GUARD: My face is getting bad.
THOMAS LANE, FORMER MINNEAPOLIS POLICE OFFICER: Should we get his legs up, or is this good?
DEREK CHAUVIN, FORMER MINNEAPOLIS POLICE OFFICER: Just leave him. Just leave him.
LANE: Should we roll him on his side?
CHAUVIN: No, he's staying put where we got him.
I just worry about the excited delirium or whatever.
CHAUVIN: Well, that's why we have an ambulance coming.
LANE: OK, I suppose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: "OK, I suppose." I mean, in that moment, Joey Jackson, look, I'm going to give you the assignment, in this moment, of picking one of these defendants, as your client. Is that the one?
COATES: The idea of the one, who's saying "Should we turn him over? Should we do more here?" He's a rookie. Is that the one you think has the strongest defense?
JACKSON: Yes, I really do, Laura. I think that certainly the other officers, he's one of them, was a rookie officer, and is going to say he didn't know better, et cetera. But he attempted, right? Made an effort. It wasn't enough. He wasn't aggressive enough. He could have done significantly more.
We know he's not charged with the issue, as it relates to failing to intervene, because prosecutors saw what he said. He is charged with failing to render medical aid. We'll see what occurs. But all of them should have been on that mantra. Not "Should we turn him around?" "Let's turn him around."
The whole prosecution's case is predicated on the notion, and the Chief could talk to this, way better than I, of the preservation of life, what you're trying to do, the fact that you must intervene, the fact you can't have someone laying face down, because it represents a danger, the fact that this should not have occurred, and you allowed it to. You don't just defer to the senior officer.
And so, I think Lane has the best chance. The question, for the jury, as it relates to him, Laura, is going to be did he do enough, in suggesting that, "Hey, you know what? Maybe we turn him over now."
COATES: And Mr. Ramsey, if I can, just something - we are out of time here. But I know probably what you're thinking on this issue, about the idea of trying to incentivize, some way, for a subordinate, to feel comfortable, with speaking out of turn, so to speak, and making sure that they are rewarded, in some respects, not antagonized, down the line, for doing what Joey Jackson just said, right?
RAMSEY: Yes, the culture has to shift, where if an officer, regardless of how long they've been on the job, if they take action, like that, they are supported. And that's important.
And that's what their peers, that's what sergeants, lieutenants, police chiefs, on down the line, everyone has to play a role, in that, so that people feel comfortable, stepping up, and stepping forward, when it's the right thing to do.
COATES: When it's the right thing to do.
Thank you, Charles Ramsey, Joey Jackson. We'll keep everyone posted, on what's happening, and who else might take the stand. I appreciate it, gentlemen.
JACKSON: Thank you, Laura.
COATES: Now, on to the growing legal troubles, for Donald Trump.
The ex-President's longtime accountant just cut ties with him. And that could actually open up a whole new set of problems, from a legal perspective, because his accounting firm is calling Trump's financial statements, unreliable.
We're going to dig in, to what this could actually mean, for Trump, with someone, who led the prosecution, against Trump University. That's next.
COATES: Look, as a prosecutor, testimony is good. But evidence, well, that's much better. And the New York Attorney General may now have at least 525,000 pieces of evidence, on the Trump Organization.
[21:30:00] A letter from Trump's longtime accounting firm was released, by the A.G. And that number, at the bottom? It was called the Bates number, the way you keep track of the number of documents you have on file, page by page. And these were marked 525,838 and 525,839.
525,000 documents? More than that? Now, if you need help, and a reminder, keeping all of the Trump investigation straight? This is the one about his company's bookkeeping.
So frankly, it's never a good sign, when your accounting firm, the bookkeeping aspect, when they bail, or when they put the dates in writing. Even if you set aside the investigation, look, from a business standpoint, none of this helps, when you're reportedly more than a billion dollars in the hole.
Now, my next guest, he knows the office, and what it means, to dig into Donald Trump's records. Tristan Snell, was lead prosecutor, in the Trump University case, while at the New York Attorney General's office. And he joins us now.
Tristan Snell, nice to see you. How are you doing?
TRISTAN SNELL, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, NEW YORK STATE, FORMER LEAD PROSECUTOR IN TRUMP UNIVERSITY CASE, FOUNDER, MAINSTREET.LAW: Great, thank you. How are you?
COATES: I'm good. I'm really interested, in the, first of all, the volume, of all of these documents here, the number of pages here.
But what does it say to you, when you hear this notion of, say, the Mazars accounting firm saying, "You know what? No-go. We're done here. Your documents are not reliable," what does that signal to you?
SNELL: They're running for the exits, you know? They carried water, for the Trump Organization, for decades, including in this matter.
Remember, they basically said, "We're not going to cough up a lot of these documents. We don't - we're going to basically step into the shoes of the Trump Organization, and say that Donald Trump has some sort of privilege that lets him not have these documents be produced." It went all the way to the Supreme Court.
They started off, in this case, really standing shoulder-to-shoulder, with the Trump Organization. That is very much no longer true.
COATES: And that's a - that's such a pivotal and critical moment here, because talking about 10 years' worth of information, no longer being reliable.
And, of course, when we're talking about, as lawyers, you hear something that's not reliable. They're talking about what a fact- finder might actually be able to hold credible, what might come in as evidence, as well.
But, in this case, it speaks to essentially maybe the blame game here, right? Because you've got an accounting firm, who receives the documents, from the organization, and they base their own reporting, based on that. So, it's not reliable, what they're giving is not reliable.
But how about what's happening, right now, in terms of how the Trump Organization is even looking at this, and taking it?
They have a statement about this very finding. And they say, "While we are disappointed that Mazars has chosen to part ways, their February 9, 2022 letter confirms that after conducting a subsequent review of all prior statements of financial condition, Mazars' work was performed in accordance with all applicable accounting standards and" practices - "and principles," excuse me, "and that such statements of financial condition do not contain any material discrepancies. This confirmation effectively renders the investigations by the D.A. and A.G. moot."
Now, I can hear you, Tristan, sort of cackling a little bit that realization of that particular thing. What does that say to you? Is that true? Is this say that "Oh, you know what? They quit. It was about reliability. The A.G.'s office? That's all obsolete now."
You don't think the same thing, do you?
SNELL: Here's the thing. If you just get to slap a sentence, on something that says, "Oh, don't worry. We didn't really look into these. We didn't audit these. But, somehow, everything in there is," and then they're trying to say that everything in there doesn't contain any material discrepancies?
Just one building, 40 Wall Street, it's one of the iconic buildings of the Financial District. Trump has owned it for a while.
At one point, they had a 3300 percent discrepancy between the value that was stated to tax authorities and the value that was stated to Deutsche Bank and other lenders. 3300 percent! That's not our mistake. That's not a rounding error. That's not a miscalculation, when you're doing Microsoft Excel. If that's not material, nothing is material.
COATES: It's a good point to raise because it goes back to the substance and nature of the investigation itself, right, the idea of overvaluing devaluation, all with an eye towards perhaps avoiding tax liability, and other aspects, as well.
Tristan Snell, thank you so much. Nice to see you.
SNELL: Thanks, Laura. Great to be here.
COATES: Thank you.
Now, the trial of Sarah Palin, speaking of New York, the trial of Sarah Palin versus the "New York Times," well, that's now over. But guess what? Her fight may not be done.
Will she appeal after both, a judge, and now, a jury, have rejected her defamation case? And frankly, what would her chances be, if she does appeal? That's coming up. [21:35:00]
COATES: Well, the verdict is in. The "New York Times" did not defame former Alaska governor, and vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. The unanimous decision, came from nine jurors, who began deliberating, on Friday afternoon.
The decision, however, was expected, given that yesterday, District Judge Jed Rakoff ruled that Palin's attorneys didn't prove actual malice, the standard that you have to knowingly print something false, or act in a way of disregarding what the truth was. And he would dismiss the case, he said, after the jury made its mind up.
Now, Palin will now be awarded $0 in damages, after now losing this case. And she says she's still hoping to appeal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you be appealing, Sarah? Governor Palin, will you be appealing?
SARAH PALIN, (R) FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I hope so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: "I hope so," she says, "I hope so."
Well, an appeal could, of course, put New York Times versus Sullivan, the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established this so-called actual malice standard, right square, in the hot seat, resulting in larger implications, for media, and public figures, and will be required, to be able to prove a case of defamation.
I'll discuss now, with CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, good to see you here, today.
I got to ask you, first of all, what was your reaction? Were you expecting there to be this - not just a dismissal, prompted by the judge, but the idea of her not having met her burden? Was that surprising to you?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: No, it wasn't. I mean, The Times made a mistake. They admitted it right up-front. They acknowledged it, as soon as it was brought to their attention. And the next morning, they corrected it.
This is what responsible people and responsible journalists do. They do make mistakes. But then, they correct them. And the libel laws are not designed, to punish journalists, who act that way.
So, I think the judge was right, the jury was right. This was embarrassing for The Times. But it was not something that the libel laws, at least as they're currently constructed, is designed to address.
COATES: And just so we're clear, I mean, the idea of mistake? I know you're very intentional, with the language that you're using.
If somebody had printed something that was false? And they did it with a disregard, for the truth? They did it knowingly with the actual malice? That, you corrected it, wouldn't actually solve the problem, if you printed it in the first instance, in this way.
But the idea of saying, it's a mistake, which they said on the stand, was that it was not something that they did with actual malice.
But you've said that it was a mistake to actually take this to trial. This was one of the first times the "New York Times" has been on trial, in a case, like this, in what, 50 years, it seems? Why was that the error for them to take this to a trial?
TOOBIN: Well, I think that a lot of the evidence came out, in pre- trial proceedings. And Judge Rakoff actually dismissed the case. But he was overruled by the Court of Appeals, who said that Sarah Palin was entitled to her day in court that she was entitled to try to prove the case.
And I thought the Court of Appeals was wrong. I thought this was not a case that should have gone to trial. But it did go to trial. And it had the right result, at least as far as I'm concerned.
The risk here is that an Appeals court, or the Supreme Court takes the opportunity, in this case, to try to rewrite libel laws. And some conservatives, including Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have said they do want to rewrite the laws, to make it easier, for people, to sue journalists.
COATES: No, no, Jeffrey, you've got it all - you've got it all wrong.
TOOBIN: And this case may be a vehicle to do that.
COATES: The Supreme Court never wants to go back on their precedent. They don't reevaluate and reassess precedent, Jeffrey. I don't know - what could you possibly be referring to? An active judiciary? This is a shocking concept! I hope you can see the obvious sarcasm on my face, in this.
TOOBIN: No, I--
COATES: But you are right, to think about how they are trying to reassess this very notion.
If they were to look at, and reevaluate the libel laws, is it because in the 24/7 news cycle, it's just too hard, for a public figure, to prove malice?
TOOBIN: No, I don't - this is a case, where the law isn't broken, as far as I'm concerned. I think the fact is, most journalists should not be sued for what they do. I think the whole idea behind the 1964 case that you refer to, New York Times against Sullivan, was that, you have to give journalists, some freedom, even to make mistakes, as long as they don't do it intentionally or recklessly.
Because, if you start imposing liability on journalists, for every mistake that they make, they're going to be run out of business, by plaintiffs.
That's what was happening to the "New York Times" in 1964. In a case, in Alabama, they were in the brink of being bankrupted, by cases, like this, because they had a hostile judiciary, in Atlanta, during the Civil Rights era. That could happen again, if the courts relaxed the standards on libel.
Everybody likes to beat up on the press. And I know we make a lot of mistakes. And it's frustrating. But if you create a situation, where journalists can be sued, right and left? Journalism is going to disappear. And that would be unfortunate, for all of us, I think.
COATES: Well, for that, in that same vein, though, that's why this case is kind of the thorn, in the side, not from a journalist's perspective, but, in many respects, if the goal is, or the thought here, is undermining and chipping away, from the credibility of the press? Sarah Palin was successful, and gave the "New York Times" to admit to a mistake. Not that mistakes have never been made in the past or ever.
But you've seen the attacks on the press. You've seen the way, in which the - from "Fake news," not just with the network, or other people.
Was there a victory in that even went to trial, and having that day in court, because you can imagine the talking point now, going forward, about "Well, what other mistakes may have been made?"
TOOBIN: But, remember, in fairness to the "New York Times," they recognized their error, as soon as it was pointed out to them.
TOOBIN: And they corrected it the next day. So, there didn't need to be a lawsuit, to force them to acknowledge their error. That's why I think this was a mistake, to allow this lawsuit to proceed.
Yes, it's true. The "New York Times" ultimately prevailed. But remember, bringing this case to trial cost millions of dollars, which the "New York Times," and its insurance company, can afford.
But when you start suing community newspapers, or small - or small journalistic outlets that can't afford this kind of defense? That's when you're going to have lawsuits, running journalism - journalists out of business. I mean, it's what happened to the Gawker website. You had a powerful plaintiff, who could finance a lawsuit that drove Gawker out of business.
If you start relaxing the standards, on libel cases, that can happen more and more. And I just don't think society would be well-served by that.
COATES: Well, I'd tell you, these are the same attorneys, from the Gawker case, representing Sarah Palin.
COATES: So, I guess it comes full circle, in a different direction.
Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.
TOOBIN: All righty, Counselor.
COATES: Now, listen, last night, on the fourth anniversary, of the Parkland School massacre, we shined light, on the inaction, by our leaders, who had promised to do more, to curb gun violence, in America.
Now today, for the very first time, a gun manufacturer, is being held liable, for a United States mass shooting. But not because of Congress. But because of the hard work of families of victims killed, in the Sandy Hook shooting.
So, will this serve, as a giant wake-up call, for the gun industry? We'll talk about it, next.
COATES: Tonight, a small semblance of justice, for the families, who lost their loved ones, in the Sandy Hook school shooting, announcing today, an historic $73 million settlement, in their lawsuit against the now-bankrupt gun manufacturer, Remington, and its four insures.
Now, Remington manufactured the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle that was used to kill 26 people, six adults, and 20 children, in Newtown, Connecticut.
This settlement marks the first time that a gun manufacturer is being held liable, in some way, for a mass shooting. It's a remarkable feat, frankly, when you consider the more than 267 mass shootings, in America, since 2009, and the roughly 1,500 lives lost.
Now, why is that? Because under federal law, gun manufacturers are shielded from most liability. The so-called Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 gained praise, from-then President George W. Bush.
He claimed, at the time that it would further stem, quote-unquote, "Frivolous lawsuits." Now, little did he know perhaps that seven years later, a shooter would tear over two dozen families, apart, and that they would have to rely on a novel legal strategy, to try to attain some form, of accountability.
And novel, it really is. Frankly, it reminds you an approach taken, with respect to Big Tobacco. It came down to how they marketed the product, by using a Connecticut law that protects consumers, from deceptive marketing practices.
So, what was that practice, here? Well, they went after Remington, by taking issue, with how they marketed these combat weapons, to civilians, using militaristic and hyper-masculine slogans, to reach out, it seems, to the troubled young men, like well, the one, who carried out the attack, at Sandy Hook.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH KOSKOFF, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: The immunity protecting the gun industry is not bulletproof.
We hope they realize that they have skin into the game.
But this case was never about damages, in the sense of compensation. It was about damages, in the sense of forcing change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: It was always about the damage, however. And it took more than seven years, for the families, who brought this suit, to see even this kind of victory.
Even saying the word, victory, given what was at stake, and what they have lost, feels stomach turning. And the amount of time spent, was not just negotiating, for the sake of negotiation. It seems there was a deeper, more strategic approach.
These plaintiffs wanted the internal corporate documents that just might be the key to prevention, and, dare I say, accountability, by going after the insurance companies and, ultimately, the bottom line of the companies, as a way to force the change, the attorney spoke of.
But let's be clear. No sum of money, no matter how large, could ever compensate for the lives lost, and the pain, these families, bear, every single day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANNAH D'AVINO, RACHEL M. D'AVINO'S SISTER: I will never forget walking into the funeral home, and seeing her, in her casket. We had an open casket funeral. And her friends worked tirelessly, to make sure that we didn't see the remnants of what happened to her.
What she went through was brutal. The medical examiner could not be certain, if she was shot nine or 11 times, due to ricochets, and reentry wounds.
MARY D'AVINO, RACHEL M. D'AVINO'S MOTHER: Every single day we miss, who Rachel would be. FRANCINE WHEELER, BENJAMIN WHEELER'S MOTHER: True justice would be our 15-year-old healthy, and standing next to us, right now. But Benny will never be 15. He will be 6, forever, because he is gone forever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Gone forever. But never forgotten.
This should be yet another wake-up call, for Congress, because it shouldn't have taken this long, for the families, to get here. Frankly, it shouldn't have taken these families, to have to carry this particular torch.
We keep hearing, in the wake of these tragedies, from both sides, about the need for action. Well, on an issue, like school safety, on an issue, like preventing mass shootings, we should all be on the same side. Theirs!
We'll be right back.
COATES: Thank you so much for watching. I'll be back, tomorrow night.
"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now with the great Don Lemon.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Hi, Laura.
LEMON: What do you think - do you think that we have, I don't know, if things are changing, because it's, we've had so much trauma, over this issue.