Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

CNN TONIGHT: Biden: "Every Indication" Russia Will Attack Ukraine In "Next Several Days"; Trump, Don Jr., And Ivanka Ordered To Sit For Depositions; GOP Senators Take Aim At Biden Judicial Nominee To Accuse Administration Of Being Soft On Crime. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 17, 2022 - 21:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Laura Coates, and CNN TONIGHT.


LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Hey, John Berman, always nice to see you tonight, especially, and thank you all.

I am Laura Coates. And this is CNN TONIGHT.

Alarms are being sounded, metaphorically, in the loudest ways yet, by the West. The President, our Defense Secretary, our Secretary of State, the Head of NATO, and others, all putting Russia on blast, for sinister intentions, and hopes to somehow stave off an invasion, of Ukraine, which they keep warning is imminent.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Every indication we have is they are prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine.

My sense is it will happen in the next several days.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our information indicates clearly that these forces, including ground troops, aircraft, ships, are preparing to launch an attack, against Ukraine, in the coming days.

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We see them add to the more than 150,000 troops that they already have arrayed along that border.

And I know firsthand that you don't do these sort of things, for no reason.


COATES: "They don't do these things for no reason."

Well, they're also laying out Putin's playbook, for the world. The Russian leader isn't known for his honesty, shall we say? He's manufactured crises before, as a pretext for war. And Biden and Company are warning, beware, because it seems to be happening all over again.


BIDEN: We have reason to believe that they are engaged in a false-flag operation to have an excuse to go in.

BLINKEN: Russia plans to manufacture a pretext, for its attack. It could be a fabricated so-called terrorist bombing, inside Russia, a staged drone strike against civilians, or a fake, even a real, attack, using chemical weapons.

AUSTIN: Before any attack, we should - we'd expect to see cyber- attacks, false-flag activities, and a number of other things - increasing rhetoric, in the information space. And we're beginning to see more and more of that.


COATES: In fact, there was shellfire today that hit a kindergarten facility, in the Eastern Ukraine region of Donbas, a kindergarten facility.

Was it a provocation? Was it an accident? Frankly, it's unclear. Ukraine and Russian backed separatists are trading accusations about that very shelling. Two shells landed on the school.

Now, CNN is told thankfully that no children were in the room, when they hit, thank God. But three people, who work in the school, were injured. And power was knocked out, in the village. Ukraine's President is calling it indeed a quote, "Provocation."

While the U.S. is still gathering details, our Defense Secretary says, quote, "We've said, for some time, that the Russians might do something like this, in order to justify a Military conflict." So, we'll be watching this very closely.

Another concerning move? Russia expelled our second-most senior diplomat in Moscow, without any justification, in what the State Department is now calling, an escalatory step. So, these tensions, they aren't easing, shall we say?

Though, the drumbeat of war seems to be growing louder and louder, the U.S. is still holding out hope that Russia will change its course, and abandon the path of war, and choose a different path. That, according to Secretary Blinken, who addressed the U.N. Security Council, today

And despite all of the danger, despite all the threats, to the people of Ukraine, it's pretty remarkable, the streets, in the capital of Kyiv, still appear to be relatively calm. So, have Ukrainian developed a resistance to Russia's aggression, their omnipresence, since the 2014 invasion of Crimea?

What is the scene like there, tonight? Let's go to CNN's Matthew Chance, who is in Kyiv, to give us the latest. Matthew, what are you seeing out there? It sounds like there is relative calm. But that sounds deceptive, in some respects. What are you seeing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, relative calm, particularly when you consider the warnings that are coming thick and fast now, from the United States, and others that, this country should brace itself, essentially, for an onslaught, by Russian forces.

We've spoken to Ukrainian officials tonight, and they've said, "Look, we've been briefed on the U.S. Intelligence, warning there could be a Russian attack, if not an outright invasion, within the next several days." And that's exactly the same kind of messaging, in private that of course, that President Biden, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, are saying in public as well.


And so, it gives us this indication that some kind of strategic decision has been taken, in the United States, not just to share U.S. Intel privately, but to go out there publicly, and say it as well, in the hope to front foot the Russians, and deter them, from taking the action.

The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has been on the front lines, today, meeting with Ukrainian forces. That, as tensions rise between Ukrainian - the great Ukrainian Military, and Russian-backed rebels, in those regions, in the east of the country that have been at war, for the past eight years, with both sides accusing one another, of firing artillery shells, into residential areas.

You spoke about that kindergarten.

COATES: Yes. And Matthew, I--

CHANCE: And amazingly, none of the children were injured there.

COATES: And that--

CHANCE: Yes, Laura.

COATES: And that is amazing that I want to ask you about that very notion. Because tell me a little bit more about this region, where that kindergarten building was struck.

And again, I can't reiterate enough, the fact that not a child was injured, according to our reporting. They were in different room. But you see, from the pictures, of what could have been. Toys strewn about, soccer balls, bricks, I mean, this could have been an absolute tragedy.

What is this region like, where it was - where it was actually shelled?

CHANCE: Yes, I mean, it could have been a tragedy. But remember, there are 14,000 people that have died, in that region, because of this kind of action, on both sides, of the frontline, in fact, over the course of the past 18 years.

And so, it's a region that has become tragically very used to the idea that people get killed, on a weekly, if not a daily basis. And obviously, it's a lot calmer than it has been in the past. But we're seeing a huge upsurge, in ceasefire violations, within the past couple of days, according to international monitors out there.

And I got video tonight, from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, showing the aftermath, a burning building, of more suspected rebel shelling, well, shelling that was blamed on Russian-backed rebels, into those residential areas, near that front line that divides government forces, from Russian-backed rebels, in the east of the country, Laura.

COATES: Matthew Chance, in Ukraine, thank you for bringing us, what we need to know. I appreciate it.

I'm joined now by two men, who know the players, and have lived the reality, between Russia and Ukraine. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, and former Senior Defense Attache, to the Russian Federation, retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack.

Gentlemen, I'm glad that both of you are here tonight. There's so much to unpack. And again, there's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of things developing. And it's always hard to fit in everything, we need to know, within the confines of that uncertainty.

But if I want to ask you a little bit, you were there, at the time in 2014, when there was the initial invasion. Brigadier General, tell me a little bit about what you're seeing now, in terms of the comparisons. Should there be the same level of heightened awareness, from the U.S.'s part?

BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK (RET), U.S. ARMY (RET), GLOBAL FELLOW, THE WILSON CENTER: Good evening, Laura, to you, and your listeners, and viewing audience.

2014 was, in the beginning, very opaque. It's very fog of peace, turning into fog of gray-zone conflict, to conflict in the Donbas. It was - we didn't know what's going on. The deception was mind-boggling.

And at that - and the narrative, inside, with the Russian media, talking about Ukraine, being a proto-fascist state, oppressing, if you will, the Donbas, talking about the problems, and the persecution, of the Russian ethnic population, and up to the point, where if I were a coal miner, in the Urals? I want to drop my jackhammer, pick up a Kalashnikov, and volunteer, for these different groups that were going into Donbas.

So, all of that rhetoric is coming back. And what worries me is, is that the narrative, they're prepping, in many ways, politic - the population--

COATES: Right.

ZWACK: --doesn't mean they want to go.


ZWACK: But they are certainly creating the atmosphere, inside Russia, to just - the need to justify, an attack, if they go. And I'm not sure, if they've made that final decision, yet.


ZWACK: A lot will be based on what Zelenskyy, in Ukraine does, and how they perceive NATO, and the West.

COATES: Ambassador, you were the Ambassador to Ukraine. And, of course, one of the big questions, so many people have, when you think about--


COATES: --oh, until recently, there seemed to be a real distinction, between the level of alarm that was being surrounded, by our Commander-in-Chief, the President of the United States, and what was being spoken by the President of Ukraine.

Now, you've had some interactions in the recent times that suggests that there's not really that much of a discrepancy, any longer. And you actually give a lot of credit, to the Ukrainian President, for what he's doing now.

TAYLOR: Laura, I give a lot of credit to the Ukrainian President. The Ukrainian President, a young, inexperienced politician, he's been in office for two years. President Putin has been in office for 22 years. He's a KGB operative.


The Ukrainian President is staring down President Putin. He is holding on, and he's standing up, and he's not giving in to this pressure, of all these troops, on the border.

COATES: Now, is that surprising? Because, of course, we've known his comments, in recent times. And Putin doesn't necessarily seem to convey a great deal of respect, for this Ukrainian President, we've seen, right?

TAYLOR: He's got more respect now, Laura.


TAYLOR: He's got more respect now. I bet, President Putin is surprised that President Zelenskyy hasn't caved, hasn't blinked, hasn't compromised, hasn't looked for a way, out of this. Due to all of this Military force, on his border, President Zelenskyy is holding firm, with President Biden's support, and with a lot of support, from the rest of NATO. COATES: Yes. Now, if we can try to get into the mind of President Putin? And I know it's a very difficult thing. We don't want to make it personal. This is really seemingly, this is a diplomatic issue, obviously, still. There's a lot of strategy at play. And it's hard to read these tea leaves.

But you were the Attache to the U.S. - to the Russian Federation. And I'd love to figure out, is this an example of Putin, the provocateur? Or Putin, the determined? Which is it, do you think?

ZWACK: I think that this is turning increasingly into a game of poker. He will not back down. I think that - and is doubling down. And that is part of the enhanced, if you will, force array in Belarus, and out in the Black Sea.

I think that there's an aspect that they've now moved to brinksmanship, Laura, to - of the type that is coercive, cold-blooded, and so 1930s-ish. And it could spin into a conflict, frankly, nobody wants.

But now, you get pride, and hubris, and ego that takes over rational thinking, and even rational advice. And yes, President Vladimir Putin is the ultimate decision-maker, for the Russian Federation, without a doubt.

COATES: So, what he says will ultimately go?

ZWACK: Right.

COATES: Are you surprised? You mentioned the notion of the Ukrainian President standing his ground, on behalf of the Ukrainian people.

Are you surprised, is Putin surprised that NATO hasn't stepped in, in a more decisive way, even though obviously, Ukraine is not a NATO member? But this seems to be obviously, the core of the issue, at least in part.

TAYLOR: Laura, I think what surprises Putin, about NATO, is its coherence.

COATES: Interesting.

TAYLOR: It is holding together. These European countries, sometimes, don't hold together. But they're all pulling in the same direction. And again, I give President Biden's administration a lot of credit, for this diplomatic effort, to hold the NATO Allies get - not just NATO allies, Europeans, not just - not just Europe, but we're talking about Japan, also credit.


TAYLOR: It's a major diplomatic feat. And so far, they're holding firm.

COATES: Well, the thought, and you heard Blinken say today that the idea of still hoping and holding out for diplomacy, which, of course, is always the ultimate goal.

But is it a fool's errand, when you're talking about the buck stopping with Vladimir Putin? And we've got the emotional aspect involved, of his thoughts around Ukraine.

And also, can you both speak to this issue? And I'll ask you, Brigadier General. I don't want people to have the impression that the Ukrainian people are somehow apathetic, to the presence of Russian forces, because they have been so ubiquitous, and pervasive, for so long.

What do you attribute the idea of the seeming calm? Is it about trying not to have tempers flare, or panic, and run mentality? Or is it because they don't know what's going to happen, and they need to just wait?

ZWACK: My instinct here, is that the population, it's sort of a pensiveness, now. I think it's dawned, this has gotten really serious. Maybe a stoicness, a quiet determination, among the overwhelming bulk of Ukrainians that weren't anti-Russian, but they've become really pro-Ukrainian. And this is something, I think, that has jolted the Kremlin.

The other point, getting at your point, and the Ambassador - Ambassador's is that yes, I believe that Ukraine backstopped, by a lot of Western support. Yes, it doesn't mean boots in the ground.


ZWACK: But it's virtually everything else. It has put Russia now, the Kremlin, on the edge of a precipice. They know they can go. They could gain - they could gain a lot. But then, the long game is a disaster for them, and they know it.


ZWACK: And this is where they are right now, I believe.

COATES: Long game is a disaster. And the short game, is it a chance that Putin might take?


TAYLOR: I think Putin is going to look for a way out, Laura.

I think that the price that he pays, the cost that is going to be weighed, on him, from the sanctions, from, frankly, dead Russian soldiers, coming back to villages, where they have to bury them? With parents, mothers and fathers angry, about why they are sacrificing their sons, to invade their neighbor, their friendly neighbor? I think, this is a big problem for President Putin. And I think he knows it. And I think he'll look for a way out.

COATES: Well, you heard President Biden appeal, to the Russian people, as well, to make maybe that point, and underscore it.

Gentlemen, thank you so much. Ambassador William Taylor, and General Peter Zwack, thank you.

We'll keep watch for any major developments, from Ukraine, this hour.

But up next, Donald Trump, Ivanka, Don Jr., they've all been ordered to sit for depositions, before a state-level prosecutor, looking into their business practices. What could it yield, with their accounting firm now abandoning them? Well, that's the major question.

We'll be right back.



COATES: So, you can probably gauge the former President's legal jeopardy, by the arguments, his lawyers, present in court.

Because, in New York, today, his legal team demanded the State Attorney General, instead investigate Hillary Clinton, that the former President is a member of a protected class, that it's somehow unconstitutional, to investigate the Trump Organization, and that, quote, "The evidence is irrelevant," unquote.

At one point, one of Trump's lawyers said, his client shouldn't sit for a deposition, because a grand jury was the proper venue, to question the former President. While in the same hearing, another member of his defense team, said it would be improper, to use a grand jury. Left hand meet your right hand!

It should also come as no surprise then that the judge ruled that quote, "Donald J. Trump is ordered to comply in full," meaning, turn over documents, and sit under oath, for a deposition. Ivanka Trump and Don Jr., they've also been ordered to appear for depositions.

Let's bring in Norm Eisen, to discuss the arguments that the judge, even compared to Lewis Carroll and George Orwell. Well, it's always an interesting day, when literature makes its way, into a courthouse, in this country!

Norm Eisen, good to see you.


COATES: This is a pretty big day, in the sense of all the time people have contemplated, whether the former President, would sit for a deposition, be answering to a subpoena, especially in light of all that we're seeing, right now, in the trend of thumbing one's nose, at a subpoena.

What do you make of this decision? And how big is this of a deal?

EISEN: It is a big deal, Laura, because the Walls of Justice are closing in on Donald Trump, from multiple directions. He's being investigated, in Congress, and in Georgia, for his Big Lie, about the election. But it turns out that there's another alleged Big Lie, a financial one, essentially, keeping two sets of books. And that's what New York is closing in on.

And when you hear these absurd arguments, in court, and the judge is forced to draw upon literary references? As you know, Trump's lawyers, were countering that with Pulp Fiction. And the courts are having none of it.

And I think you're going to see Trump - there will likely be an appeal. But Trump, Ivanka, Don Jr., are going to be forced to show up, and answer questions, or take the Fifth.

COATES: And on that note, forcing to take the Fifth, I mean, remember, Eric Trump was also subpoenaed, and interviewed, by this same New York A.G.'s office. And he actually raised the Fifth Amendment, multiple times. I think, it was, dozens, if not hundreds, of times, in response to questions.

That is still an option for either Ivanka, or Don Jr., or Donald Trump. But it's not a viable one, where you're talking about the scope of other litigation efforts, or prosecution efforts, right? What you do, in one context, civilly, might not unnerve your benefit, in a criminal context, right?

EISEN: That's right. The New York A.G. Tish James' investigation, here, is civil. And when you take the Fifth Amendment, in a civil case (inaudible) can be drawn.

That is the fact that you took the Fifth Amendment can be used against you, and can cause you to lose the civil case. But it also creates issues, when Donald Trump must simultaneously face possible criminal indictment investigation, for example, in Georgia.

Congress may make a criminal referral, on his behalf. And it signals - imagine if it comes to a former President of the United States, taking the Fifth Amendment? That'll be shocking. And it'll have broader repercussions.

COATES: And, of course, you can just play the sound bite that show all the times he has spoken himself, either as a candidate, or a president, and pejoratively and vilify people, for having done that very notion, in what he hoped it would intimate, if not guarantee, about one's guilt. So, it's interesting notion, here.

Final thought, though, Norm, please contextualize, for people, the impact of Mazars, this week, earlier this week, saying that the last 10 years of things are now unreliable.

That word, "Unreliable," if it's said in a criminal court, and let alone a civil courtroom, we, as prosecutors and lawyers, you, as defense counsel, say to themselves, "Hold on! This is not getting into evidence. It's unreliable. We don't have the indicia of credibility."

[21:25:00] When it comes to a statement, like that, what impact might that have, on a case, like this?

EISEN: Huge deal that Trump's longtime accountants, Mazars, have now stepped away, told Trump and the world that these financial statements are no longer to be relied upon.

And Laura, to me, the single most interesting phrase in that letter, in which they fired the client, extremely unusual, Mazars said, "We have a non-waivable conflict of interest." That means that they are preparing to testify, against him. They may be testifying against him. They may have claims against him. Their work for him, may have put a target on them.

So again, a deepening peril, for Donald Trump. I know it takes a very long time, for justice to work. But it does feel like it's closing in, on his multiple Big Lies.

COATES: Well, we shall see. It's still in the investigative state. And, of course, one of the reasons that New York A.G. was wanting the depositions, and testimony, was so she could figure out, essentially, who was responsible, for the misstatements, as she spoke about it. So, I wonder how illuminating, it will truly be.

Norm Eisen, as always, thank you, and nice to see you.

EISEN: Thanks, Laura.

COATES: Ahead, I want to dig into one of the GOP's latest attempts, to block one of President Biden's judicial nominees, specifically senators, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz.

If you're going to accuse someone, of being soft on crime? Pretty important to get your facts right! And we have the facts, you should know, next.



COATES: If you were wondering, when the claws were going to come out? Here they are! But no, not mine.

Those of particular Republican senators, who tried to imply that Nina Morrison, a judicial nominee, is undeserving of a lifetime appointment, because she believes in criminal justice reform, and she had the audacity to serve as an adviser, to two elected D.A.s, who implemented policies that decided to deprioritize and, in some cases, declined prosecutions, of certain non-violent crimes.

Oh, and apparently, she's had a hand, in getting too many people, released from prison. Well, you know what? That's the absolute truth. They're, right.

She did get people released from prison, people who never should have been there, in the first place, because they were innocent. She helped about 30 wrongly-convicted people, who were ultimately freed from prison, or even death row.

Now, the operative words I just used were "Wrongly convicted." You have to wonder, in what world could that possibly be disqualifying, for a judge, or rather, in whose world?


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): I cannot support your nomination. And I will not support the nominations of judges, or any other individuals, sent to us, by this administration, who are soft on crime, and soft on criminals.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I will confess, the whole of your record is deeply disturbing. Across this country, Americans are horrified, at skyrocketing crime rates.

And all of those are the direct result of the policies you've spent your entire lifetime advocating.


COATES: Now, Ted Cruz, he did acknowledge the invaluable work of the Innocence Project, where she worked.

But in a backhanded turn, he tried to intimate that Morrison's advocacy, of so-called progressive prosecutors, meant she didn't care about innocent victims, an attack that the nominee, frankly, admirably defended herself against.


CRUZ: You're the Head of the Innocence Project. Innocence Project actually does good work, for people, who are wrongfully committed they - convicted, they should be released.

But do you care, about the innocent people, who are murdered, because you keep advising people, who put policies in place that result in more innocent people being murdered?


And to clarify, my role, in those transition committees, were only on the issue of what's called conviction integrity, not the front-end prosecution policies, but on the review of old cases. That is the limited capacity, on which I worked. I played no role, in formulating the front-end policies.

But it is because, when the wrong person is convicted, of murder, the person, who's actually committed the crime, isn't brought to justice.


COATES: I mean, again, this is the woman, who has spent her entire career, dedicated to righting the wrongs, of our justice system, by getting, again, innocent people, out of prison. And so, frankly, it was notable, when Tom Cotton challenged Morrison, for casting doubt, on the prosecution of Ledell Lee, an Arkansas man, convicted for murdering his neighbor, in 1993.

In that case, a judge had denied repeated requests, from the ACLU, from the Innocence Project, to test the murder weapon, right up until the eve of Lee's execution.

Four years, after he was put to death, it was revealed, a different man's DNA was actually found, on the murder weapon.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): He was convicted by a jury, and sentenced to death, based on eyewitness testimony, and his possession of her stolen property.

Do you believe that Ledell Lee committed the rapes, and murders, he was accused, and convicted, of committing?

MORRISON: An eyewitness identification, which you referenced, is actually the single leading proven cause of wrongful convictions.


COATES: I mean, if these GOP attacks seem unfitting? It's because the facts don't back up their accusations.

In fact, as Republicans accuse the Biden administration, of being soft on crime, the record actually shows that both the federal prison population, and Police funding, have actually expanded, under President Biden's watch, frankly, much to the chagrin, of his Democratic supporters.

Yes, violent crimes, and violent crime rates, they are on the rise. And several major cities saw record homicide rates, just last year, as the nation's homicide rate saw its biggest single year jump, since the 1960s.

And I completely agree. All of this is extremely concerning. But we have to put this into context.


Overall crime rates, including national homicide rates, are well below where they were in the 80s, or even in the 90s. And while there's no single explanation, for this current rise, experts say there's a lot more to consider here than what Republicans want to blame it on.

It's not just a matter of policy. Experts point to the Pandemic, frankly, as a major factor, as it upended every aspect of our lives. And you can consider that or not. Couple that with the sale of firearms, in the mid-2020s, and soaring that above - soaring above predictions by about 3 million.

Research has shown, where there are more guns, there are more shootings. And we can't forget how all of this played out, in the midst of a national reckoning that may have led some officers, Police officers, pulling back from their duties.

Now, all of this, is to say that Republican attempts, to link Morrison's record, and her work, to the rise in crime? It just isn't rooted in the facts or the principles. It appears to be rooted almost entirely, in political opportunity.

And frankly, it has me wondering that it may be a preview of what's to come, with respect to at least one prospective Supreme Court nominee. Of the qualified Black women, on President Biden's shortlist, for Supreme Court nominee, at least one, Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was a federal public defender.

Could it be that these statements were an attempt to capitalize on public sentiment that tries to link these policies, to high crime rates, an attempt to maybe ride that wave, to dilute the credibility of such nominees? Maybe just see if the spaghetti sticks to the wall, before the name of the nominee is posted to it?

Well, we're going to turn to a man, who has stood, in both sets of shoes, as a federal prosecutor, and as the former Director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. He knows this nominee, Nina Morrison, personally.

So, what does he think, is really motivating, these accusations? Next.



COATES: So, here's the question. If Republicans are truly the tough- on-crime, party of law and order, as, of course, you've even heard recently, Senator Mitch McConnell, speak about emphatically? Well, shouldn't they be for Nina Morrison?

I mean, the Innocence Project attorney, whose work ensures that the real criminals are caught, and the wrongfully-convicted ones go free? That would make sense, right? I mean, it's baffling. But then again, this is what you get, when politics are at play, and you try to use it to make sense of the nonsensical.

I want to bring in Steven Wright, former Co-director, of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and someone who actually knows Nina Morrison, personally.

Steven Wright, it's good to see you, particularly in this time like this.

First of all, speak to me about what these Conviction Integrity Units are. She spoke about being on not the front-end of policy, but Conviction Integrity Units. What are those? And why are they so important?

STEVEN WRIGHT, FORMER CO-DIRECTOR, WISCONSIN INNOCENCE PROJECT, CLINICAL ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON LAW SCHOOL: Yes, so, part of what was problematic about the hearing was that the senators were attempting to hold Ms. Morrison responsible, for charging decisions. That's when a prosecutor decides, whether to actually pursue a case against an individual defendant.

But that has nothing to do with Nina Morris. And that's not our expertise. That's not her experience. That's not really been her huge contribution to the law. Instead, what she does is, she works with prosecutors, to prevent, and to review, questionable convictions.

And one of the biggest contributions she's had is she's helped a lot of places, establish what are called Conviction Integrity Units. And all that is, is it's an in-house team, in any prosecutor's office, that's really dedicated to making sure that there are no more innocent people, put in jail, and to also find ways, to help, and to release and exonerate those individuals, who have been wrongfully convicted.

COATES: That doesn't sound like soft on crime. That sounds like making sure that the right person, is held to account, for a crime. And if there're wrong persons in prison, don't we want them out, to make sure that, well, as it's said, convictions actually have integrity?

So, what do you think is actually behind this? Because that doesn't make logical sense that they would want to attack her for that. It seems quite nonsensical. What is the undercurrent, in your mind, as to why they are attacking her, in this way?

WRIGHT: So, when I talk to people, especially here, in my home state of Wisconsin, they are sincerely concerned, about the rise in crime. They see the crime statistics.

But also, they see things like the smash-and-grabs that you've seen in San Francisco, and that you've seen in places, like Los Angeles. And they are jaw-dropping. And so, people, I think, are generally talking about crime, in general, and they want those type of things to stop.

I think the Republicans, on the committee, however, are trying to use this opportunity, to pin those crime rates increases, and those smash- and-grabs, on the Biden administration. And there's really no real reason, for them to do it.

They're making it political, even though the Biden administration has been pretty good, with trying to help States and local governments, actually prevent crime, and to stop the type of things that you've been seeing on television.

COATES: And, to be clear, the kind of work the Innocence Project would have done with conviction integrity, and the like, we're not talking about - and I don't mean to minimize a smash-and-grab.

We're talking about very serious crimes, in which the wrong person has been convicted, which means that the right person, the one, who actually did the crime, is out and about, which frankly, could be even more terrorizing, to a community, that doesn't even know that person has not yet been held to account.

When you look at this, the overall notion, this is a federal judiciary nominee, lifetime tenure, what would be the value, in your mind, to having this person, or someone, with this particular background, and career, as a member of the federal bench?

WRIGHT: The senators are right about one thing. Federal judges hold a great deal of influence, on how the shape of individual prosecutions go.


And so, having someone, who is familiar, with the causes of wrongful conviction, someone who has not only an expertise, on the policy of it, but the constitutional basis, of so many of the protections, we enjoy? Things that can help prevent, say, prosecutorial misconduct, or misidentifications, two of the leading causes of wrongful conviction?

Having a judge, who's an expert, in those types of things, who can help, scrutinize the case, and help achieve justice is very important.

COATES: Right.

WRIGHT: I should also make a special note that, individuals, like Nina, help solve crimes.

We know that about - of the - all the exonerations that have been proven via DNA? That's where DNA was left. We're normally talking about sexual assaults, but not always. We've been able to identify the real perpetrator, in about half of those crimes.

I know, from my own experience, representing an individual, who was wrongfully convicted, for a sexual assault, that the true perpetrator was actually a serial rapist, who committed many, many crimes, and was not caught. And therefore, he was able to perpetrate a series of other sexual assaults, over the year, because the wrong person, went to jail, for one of his attacks.

COATES: In other words, those who do this work, are not soft on crime. They're helping to pursue justice, which I think has a very fundamental role, on the bench.

Steven Wright, thank you so much. I appreciate hearing from your expertise.

We'll be right back.



COATES: The world is now weighing in on Kamila Valieva's emotional reaction, after what can only be described as her disastrous performance, in the free skate program, at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

The Russian team, who has been, at the center, of an Olympic doping scandal, went from first, in the expected gold medal winner, to fourth, after a series of falls, costing her the chance, at even medaling at an event that many pegged her overwhelmingly to win.

Instead, it was her teammates, who took gold, and her teammates, who took silver, while Japan's Kaori Sakamoto took bronze.

My next guest was actually there, in the Beijing arena, to see Valieva's performance, describing what she saw play out, as heartbreaking. Christine Brennan is a CNN Sports Analyst, and a USA Today columnist, and has been at every Olympics, I can think of, and with her presence, there, and reporting so invaluable.

Christine, what happened, when you were there? Paint the picture for us.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST, SPORTS COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: Laura, it was incredibly troubling. One of the worst nights, I've ever seen, at an Olympic Games, and something that was just so emotional. And it just seems so wrong, frankly.

A 15-year-old, of course, everyone knows, in the midst of this huge scandal, the doping scandal, and the weight of the world just came crashing down on her shoulders. You can feel that she should not be at these Olympics that she should have been banned, because of using - being tested positive, for a performance-enhancing drug.

And I think you could also feel incredible sympathy, for Kamila Valieva, and what she's been through. I think you can have those--

COATES: Well, I think you're right that both things can be true, because we are seeing absolutely a 15-year-old girl, who many believe may have been exploited, in some way, or the idea of not being able to have the benefit, to even have this occur.

And it's something that - I think we have a little bit of sound difficulty with Christine. But when you think about all of these things, and how this looks? Look at the images. Truly heartbreaking, to see what happened.


COATES: And truly really difficult.

We've lost her signal. We're going to come back to Christine Brennan, in just a moment, because I really want to hear her take, on that extraordinarily emotional moment.

We'll be right back.



COATES: We're back, talking about, what happened, to Christine (ph) Valieva, who is at the center of the doping scandal.

We lost the signal, for Christine Brennan, who was there, in that arena, during that emotional and disappointing defeat, where she didn't even get to the medal podium. Of course, the irony being, had she actually taken gold? There would not have been a medal ceremony, because of course, she has this still looming doping scandal, ahead of her.

Let's bring in Don Lemon, who's up next, of course on "DON LEMON TONIGHT."

And I'd love to get his take on this, because it's such an important moment that we're seeing, over and over again.

This idea of what has happened to this 15-year-old girl that on the one hand, people said, "Well, she shouldn't have been there in the first place," Don, and the other hand, people say, they almost feel for her, have the empathy of what took place that moment.

Did it seem like the weight was on her? I mean, we've seen time and time again, from so many stellar athletes, the impact of when they feel like the world is against them. What happens?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is the pinnacle. This is the moment that elite athletes train for. And, quite frankly, Laura, I had a feeling that she might, the pressure--

COATES: Did you really?

LEMON: --the idea that - yes, the pressure might get to her, because it was just it's so much pressure, coming to her, not only from Olympic officials, from other athletes, from other countries, but also from her own coaches, and from people inside of Russia.

I know that they were propping her up. They had billboards. And, in state media, they had glowing things, to say about her. But for a 15- year-old, that's a lot of pressure.

And I did indeed get the opportunity, last night, on this program, to speak with Christine Brennan. And she spoke about that. She said, "Don, this is the talk, beyond the talk of the town, at the Olympics."


LEMON: I also spoke with Polina Edmunds, who was the youngest skater, 15, same as Kamila Valieva. This is in Sochi, in 2014. And she talked about the tremendous pressure.

So, while it is unfair, for the other athletes, I do feel, and I think you'll agree Laura, as a mother, it's unfair, for a young girl.

COATES: Well, yes.

LEMON: She's not giving herself these drugs. She's not, you know, she just wants to perform, and do her best. But she has all these adults around her that are basically enablers, and also creating this beyond pressure cooker situation for her.

COATES: I mean, you really can't separate the fact, of the elephant in the room. We're not talking about just the average 15-year-old, right?

We're talking about one, who is under the banner of a country that is not allowed to compete, under its own name, because of the doping scandals, because of the way, in which they have been accused, time and time again, of putting their thumbs, on the scale, of being essentially dismissive, of the rules that they don't apply to them.

And then, here, you have somebody, I wonder, and I often wonder this, was there a choice, where she was between a rock and a hard place? Either you can compete, at the highest levels, with the integrity that's required, or you do what is expected.

Now, we don't know all the answers yet.