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CNN TONIGHT: U.S., NATO Officials: Belarus Could "Soon" Join Russia In War; Pentagon Confirms Russia Used Hypersonic Missile; SCOTUS Nominee Faces GOP Attacks On Race & Crime. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 22, 2022 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I appreciate it, Jeff and Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you so much. Bakari Sellers, as well.
The news continues. Let's hand it over to Laura Coates, and CNN TONIGHT.
LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: What an articulate panel! Anderson, thank you so much. I couldn't let it go. I have to tell you. I'm glad to see you, glad to see you're back and safe.
And yes, I am Laura Coates. And this is CNN TONIGHT.
President Biden's trailblazing Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is still answering questions, tonight, on day two of her confirmation hearings. We're going to check back, live, shortly on that historic confirmation.
There could also be some more contentious questioning, when Senator Marsha Blackburn is up. The last Republican, by the way, to test Jackson, on her record, today.
And this has been a long day. In fact, 12 hours and counting, including a few breaks in between. And it's been, dare I say, a dramatic day. We're going to unpack some of those moments ahead.
But there are also major developments overseas, we want to bring you up to speed on. Ukrainian forces have made some major strides, today, in taking back some of the territory the Russians have gained.
But the Putin bombardment is intensifying, in and around the capital of Kyiv. A day of smoke filling the sky, and on the ground. And the fighting, make no mistake, is fierce.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
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COATES: Schools, like this one, in Kharkiv, now bear the scars of war. So does a psychiatric hospital, in southern Ukraine, destroyed by bombing. The City of Mariupol reduced to ashes.
But even the Kremlin, tonight, is admitting to CNN, Putin hasn't been able to achieve his goals, yet, in Ukraine. And quite relevant to that point, U.S. and NATO officials tell CNN, it's likely the country of Belarus, could soon be called in, as backup, for Russian forces.
Let's begin now with Fred Pleitgen, who's in Kyiv.
Fred, it's nice to see you. I have to ask you, what is the status, right now, of this Ukrainian counterattack that's happening there?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I can tell you, certainly, there was a lot of intense fighting, around the Ukrainian capital.
And, we're under a curfew. And we have been since last night, actually. And there were some, who believe that maybe that was because the Ukrainians might have been moving forces, around the capital city, for that possible counteroffensive.
And you can see some of the pictures there, on your screen, right now. That's really the site that we've been seeing, the entire day. The city was really surrounded by black smoke.
There were a lot of impacts. There was a lot of outgoing fire, some incoming fire, also, as well. In general, a very kinetic day, and certainly one, where that was the picture that people were seeing.
It's really unclear what exactly is going on. What we do know is that it's happening around the north of Kyiv. And that's where those Russian forces, have been essentially stalled, for quite a while, now, by those Ukrainian forces, who've been viciously fighting back.
Now, the big question, as you've noted, Laura, is whether or not that's some sort of counteroffensive that the Ukrainians have launched, or whether or not it's Russian forces, who are trying to make an additional push, on the Ukrainian capital.
Because, of course, they've been trying to encircle the Ukrainian capital. It certainly seems, from our vantage point, we were actually close to that area, yesterday, and the Ukrainians were moving some serious weaponry, into that area. So, it could very well be that they're trying to launch some sort of counteroffensive.
And you showed those pictures, at the beginning, of those fighters, on the ground, and that fierce firefight. We could actually hear small arms fire, fire burst, machine gun fire, from our position, right here, not very far, from where we are, right now. So, ground fire could clearly be heard. A lot of those strikes could clearly be heard.
And one of the things that was one of the biggest bangs that we've heard today was the Ukrainians said that they shot down a missile that the Russians shot, at the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. That was apparently taken down, and the remnants landed in the Dnieper River, which, is of course, the river that runs here, through the Ukrainian capital. So, too early to tell whether this is a counteroffensive, too early to tell whether the Ukrainians have actually made any gains, today. But they certainly believe, I think this is important, they certainly believe that, right now, in this part of Ukraine, they have the Russians on the back foot, Laura.
COATES: Well, two important phrases you've used, tonight, the idea of a counter, and also the idea of reclaiming the area.
These are areas, and talking about the conversation, we know there's a huge propaganda and disinformation campaign, happening, within Russia, on the assumption that they're trying to suggest that Ukraine has always been, on the offensive, and that they are attacking the Russian Military. So, this is actually really important, to follow along, and figure out what is happening here, and how it be relayed.
But also, as you mentioned, how close Kyiv is, to these areas, given how close Kyiv is to Belarus, we've learned that they might have Belarus possibly joining Russia.
What would that mean in the long run? I mean, would this be an essentially a way, to reinvigorate the Russian Military forces? Are there concerns about the might and strength and logistical prowess of the Belarus army, as well on military?
PLEITGEN: I think that certainly could be a threat, and that certainly could be one of the things that the Russians might be planning. Of course, as you say, it seems as though the Russians are having massive logistical problems, especially around here, in Kyiv.
And the quickest way, to get to Kyiv, for the Russians, is indeed by a Belarusian territory, or to just call in the Belarusian army. There have been some, who have been suggesting that perhaps the Russians have been trying to draw in the Belarusians, for an extended period of time.
Already, of course, you have Belarusian strongman, Alexander Lukashenko. He's very much a client of Vladimir Putin. Really, in order to remain in power, he relies on Vladimir Putin. It's very important for him. And Lukashenko, in the past, he's made suggestions that he would fight, on the side of the Russians, if it's something that would become necessary.
So far, what the U.S. is saying is they say they don't really see moves, right now, that are imminent, to see that the Belarusians might be preparing to go to battle. However, NATO was saying, NATO officials, and also the Ukrainians themselves, they do believe that that is something that could happen very quickly.
The Belarusian army is one that is also quite large, but not necessarily one that's very well-equipped. So certainly, they could, to a great extent, invigorate the Russian army, especially here, in the fight, around Kyiv. But whether or not in the long run, the Ukrainians wouldn't be able to fend them off, that's a whole another matter.
Again, at this point in time, it's really unclear, whether the Belarusians are going to join the battle. It would certainly have major consequences, for that country. The U.S. has already said, if the Belarusians attack Ukraine, there would be massive sanctions, on that country, massive sanctions, on the country's leadership.
But, right now, there's been a lot of things, in this conflict that we have thought would be taboo that we have thought would never happen that then in the end did happen.
So, very unclear what Alexander Lukashenko's long-term thinking is? And, of course, also very unclear to what extent Vladimir Putin is really trying to draw Lukashenko into this, and join the fight, on the part of the Russian army, against the Ukrainians.
It's certainly something the Ukrainians are looking out for, something that they are extremely concerned about, where you can already see them reinforcing those forces that they have close to the Belarusian border, and really trying to keep the Belarusians away, Laura.
COATES: Really important to think about the calculus, at stake, here, and wanting to enter into the invasion, knowing the risk, knowing we've reported (ph). And again, it wasn't more than 27 days ago, when we were hearing Intelligence, about these very issues, about what we thought would not occur, now having occurred. So, those Intelligence communities are following along very closely.
Fred Pleitgen, in Kyiv, thank you so much, for your time, tonight. We'll keep hearing, from you, on these really important issues.
And we're also just learning, by the way, that President Biden plans to slap sanctions, this week, on hundreds of Russians, who are serving in the country's lower legislative body. That, according to an official, familiar with the announcement. Biden is expected to unveil the new sanctions, on members of the Duma, while in Europe.
Nic Robertson has spent more than three decades, covering Russia, and is in Brussels, ahead of the President's visit.
Nic, what does it mean, to now target more members of the Duma? We've got the oligarchs, having been targeted. Obviously, sanctions imposed more generally, the conversations surrounding Vladimir Putin himself.
What does this mean to now target in this more comprehensive way, in this level of government?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. It broadens the signal, to the Russian legislators, to the Russian people, and particularly to President Putin, that there are few people, who are in the government of Russia, who are not going to be targeted.
What President Biden is announcing here, really sort of brings the United States, more into line, with what the European Union, here in Brussels, have already done. They already sanctioned 351 members of that lower house of parliament, the Duma, back right at the beginning of the conflict, when the Duma recognized the independence of the separatist areas, Luhansk and Donetsk, in Ukraine. And, for the E.U., that was a red line. So, they put sanctions, on the Duma members, back then.
And I think that's what we're going to see more of between President Biden and the European Union, NATO and G7 allies, here, in Brussels, over the coming days. We'll be plugging the gaps in differences, between all sides, on the sanctions that they have, plugging the gaps, where Russia is finding the loopholes, in sanctions, and workarounds, at the moment.
That was something that National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, indicated in an interview that he thought that that additional sanctions could be coming. But it'd also be looking at plugging those holes.
And we heard from the E.U. Foreign Policy Chief here, Josep Borrell, just over the past couple of days, saying that do expect sanctions, do expect more work on sanctions, but don't expect those sanctions, to come into effect, this week, per se, he said.
Because whatever is discussed here, they're going to need to take it away. Different nations are going to need to take it away and work out, just how these will be enforced, how any decisions made, this week, could be enforced.
COATES: Nic Robertson, it'd be really important to see, how the President of the United States addresses the fact that he was not in lockstep, with the other nations, about the imposition of sanctions, and why it wasn't the similar red line, for the United States. I'm sure it'll be part of the conversation, along with the refugee humanitarian crisis, we'll learn more this week.
Nic Robertson, thank you so much.
We're also obviously watching Capitol Hill, this hour. Republican senator Marsha Blackburn is expected to grill Judge Jackson, at any moment, at her day two of the confirmation hearing, for her Supreme Court nomination. We'll take you there.
But up next, how seriously do we need to take the Kremlin, dangling the nuclear option, for all of the world, to fear? Military perspective, from former NATO Commander, and retired general, Wesley Clark, is up next.
COATES: The Pentagon's assessment is that Russians are, quote, "Near desperate," to gain any momentum, in Ukraine. That is why this comment, from Putin's spokesperson, to Christiane Amanpour, pressed about nuclear weapons, is, well, so concerning.
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DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESPERSON: You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used. So, if it is an existential threat, for our country, then it can be used, in accordance with our concept.
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COATES: Well, that certainly provides no comfort that they will not be used.
Retired General Wesley Clark is the former Supreme Allied Commander, for NATO.
General, thank you for joining us tonight. First, I want to get your initial reaction, on the idea that they would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons.
And again, contextualize that for us, General, if you can, on the idea of what was being perceived, as desperate actions and measures that are already being enacted, by the Russian Military, through Vladimir Putin.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, SENIOR FELLOW, UCLA BURKLE CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Well Russian Military doctrine doesn't rule out first use of nuclear weapons. They accept first use of nuclear weapons.
In their exercises, they always assume that if they're losing to NATO, they will use nuclear weapons. They call this "Escalate to deescalate." The usual target is Poland. And, from the beginning of this, Mr. Putin has brandished his nuclear weapons, threatened Domenech (ph).
It's a fact that his conventional military is not performing well, in Ukraine. Now that battle is far from decided. But the Ukrainians have put up a much stiffened resistance. And the Russian Military is having a very hard time, taking over the country. So, Mr. Putin is going to escalate.
His emissaries have gone out to a number of countries, and said "You must not sell weapons, to Ukraine," including allies, like Israel, who are not supporting Ukraine, and other countries. And he's giving specific threats, to countries, like Georgia.
And he's made specific threats, to the United States, obviously, because this is what the President's warning was about, last night, on cyber. We don't know what the specifics of it were. But it wasn't just a general statement. It was a very pointed statement, by the President of the United States.
And he certainly made - Putin has certainly made specific warnings, to Poland, as recently as within the last 48 hours that if they don't support Ukraine, he will take action against - preventive action, against Polish cities. COATES: And, by the way, also General, excuse me, on that--
CLARK: So, we have to take this very seriously.
COATES: --excuse me. And I agree with the idea of the escalation being taken very seriously. But I just want to put a fine point on the point you just made.
The idea that there are interim measures that Putin is exploring, and particularly a cyber-attack, en route, to potentially escalate to de- escalate, what does it say to you that he is asking for the Belarusian Military to possibly be involved?
And given, just a few days ago, we had - we heard from, of course, President Biden, in his discussion, with the President of China. And they have remained on the sidelines.
Can we expect something similar in terms of what the Belarusian Military might do, it might be involved in, or not?
CLARK: I think the Belarusian Military is resisting, being ordered in. And I'm hearing that the soldiers and lower level commanders do not want to be in there. They don't consider Ukraine, an enemy. They don't want to go in.
On the other hand, President Lukashenko has got his arm twisted up pretty far up his back, from Mr. Putin. And Mr. Putin doesn't care about Belarus, except using it as a platform, and trying to get this war, with Ukraine, finished, on his terms.
So, yes, he would love to have Belarusian forces in there. But I think he's going to have a very hard time getting them to engage. And if they do engage, they're not going to be terribly effective, based on what we know now.
COATES: Speaking, General, of the idea of effectiveness? I mean, the tactics that have been used by the Russian Military? I mean, the use of hypersonic missiles, for example, targeting areas that, frankly, are not commensurate, with the level of forces that are being used?
I want to play for a second what John Kirby had to say, just today, on the issue, and the use of hypersonic missiles. Let's listen to this.
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JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: They took out a storage facility with it, or at least reportedly took out a storage facility with it. That's a - that's a pretty significant sledgehammer to take, to a target like that.
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COATES: So General, why use such a significant sledgehammer, to crib the language of John Kirby, what does this suggest to you that they're using these types of weapons, to remove parts of infrastructural storage facility units, in Ukraine? CLARK: Mr. Putin is increasingly frustrated. He's desperate. His conventional military doesn't work that well. The high-tech stuff, the hypersonics, the nuclear probably works well. And he's going to escalate. He's going to try to find ways to succeed, if he can't win it directly, on the ground.
COATES: So, when you hear this, and I'm thinking about, obviously for the audience's sake, when you're talking about a hypersonic missile, why is this such a imbalance, of the use of this?
And does it suggest that there is a void, and not enough military options, and weaponry that could be more precise, in other areas? Does this somehow give hope, in some respects, to the Ukrainian Military that they have to resort to such tactics?
CLARK: Well, it does. It says that the Ukrainian Military must be capable of shooting down some incoming missiles that are less- sophisticated.
So, with a hypersonic, you know, it's going to get through, presumably, if it functions properly. You cannot intercept it with existing technology. But it's also a psychological measure. He could have tried it with conventional missiles. Those conventional missiles usually don't get intercepted. But the hypersonic won't. It's advertised.
He wants to create fear and terror, in the West, so that we hang back, let the Ukrainians slug it out, on their own, without support, so he can roll over them. It's all part of a coordinated psychological drama, as well as a terrible humanitarian tragedy, being orchestrated by Mr. Putin.
COATES: General, it strikes me as quite interesting, and that's for lack of a better word, because it's diabolical in many respects, as you're describing it.
But the idea of this psychological strategy, juxtaposed to the lack of military preparedness, in being involved, in the invasion? It strikes me, at a time, when diplomacy is at least being continually contemplated, as a way, to stop the invasion, how do you think discussions, like the President of the United States, will have, this week, with other member countries of NATO, and talking about these conversations, including in Warsaw, as well, in Poland?
Is diplomacy, even a viable prospect, when you're talking about the extent of the psychological warfare that you've described?
CLARK: Well, in the first place, I think any diplomacy is going to reflect the facts on the ground. And unless the facts are that Putin has lost decisively, and wants to withdraw, any diplomatic settlement is going to go against Ukraine.
And President Zelenskyy is going to have a very hard time, with his population. After they're fighting for their lives, after all those people have been murdered, they're not going to want to kiss, and make up, and say everything's going to be OK.
I think it's going to be a difficult discussion, in Brussels, also, because the closer you are, to this Russian threat, the more real it is, and the more frightening it is. And so, what's happening in Ukraine, people in the Baltic States, like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, they can see it happening there. What's happening there, they could see happening in Poland.
And so, they're worried. They don't know what the right answer is. They're looking for American leadership. The sanctions have been great. NATO resolve has been great. We've come together. We've got a strategy. We're working.
But thus far, this Russian humanitarian tragedy, this assault, has not been stopped successfully. And Mr. Putin is trying to escalate it.
And so, the Allies are going to be looking to the United States, what should be done? Will the United States stand with us? Will the United States enable us to do more, to help Ukraine? Will the United States want us to do less, to try to obviate the threat?
And, I think, Laura, the final bottom line on this, is that no matter what NATO does, or doesn't do, we don't have control, over whether Mr. Putin is going to use a nuclear weapon, or chemical weapons.
He's going to do that, when it's in his interest, on his decision. He's going to blame us regardless. And so, we have to take that into account, in working our way ahead.
COATES: General Wesley Clark, I mean, describing the uncertainty of the wildcard renders all of this, really, in many respects, so difficult to predict. The President and NATO has their work cut out for them. And, of course, it's in the interest of relieving this humanitarian crisis.
General Wesley Clark, thank you so much.
CLARK: Thank you, Laura.
COATES: Two breaking stories, tonight. Ukraine, as we've discussed. And, of course, domestically, the Supreme Court confirmation hearing, still going on, at this very hour, for Judge Brown Jackson.
Stick with us, because the last Republican of the night, is about to question the nominee. And she's already voiced her concerns. It could get contentious. We'll see, next.
COATES: Our breaking news, at any moment, Senator Marsha Blackburn will begin her questioning, of Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson.
As Democrats praised Jackson, other Republicans ripped into the nominee, with many accusations, from frankly the fringe-right.
As we stand by, CNN's Jessica Schneider take us to the most contentious moments, of the day, so far.
JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: --that people like me are in the judicial.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ketanji Brown Jackson, defending her record, during hours of intense questioning, from Republican senators, pushing back against their broad characterization that she's, quote, "Soft on crime."
BROWN JACKSON: In order, for us, to have a functioning society, we have to have people, being held accountable, for committing crimes. But we have to do so fairly, under our Constitution.
As someone, who has had family members, on patrol, and in the line of fire, I care deeply, about public safety.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But Judge Jackson's background has not insulated her, from Republican attacks, particularly claims she handed down lenient sentences, to convicted child pornography defendants.
Senator Josh Hawley focused most of his questioning on an 18-year-old offender, sentenced by Jackson, to three months, behind bars, when prosecutors requested two years, and their probation office recommended 18 months.
And Hawley wasn't having it, when Jackson explained her lighter sentence was in part, because the defendant was close in age, to some of the victims.
SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Judge, he was 18! These kids are 8. I don't see in what sense they're peers.
I've got a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 16-month-old at home. And I live in fear that they will be exposed to, let alone exploited, in this kind of material.
BROWN JACKSON: This particular defendant had just graduated from high school. And some of, perhaps not all, when you're looking at the records, but some of the materials that he was looking at, were older teenagers, were older victims.
HAWLEY: But you had discretion, Judge?
BROWN JACKSON: Once--
HAWLEY: You admit that, right?
BROWN JACKSON: Senator?
HAWLEY: I just want to be--
BROWN JACKSON: Sentencing is a discretionary act of a judge. But it's not a numbers game.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Jackson also took heat for representing terrorism suspects, detained at Guantanamo Bay.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Why in the world would you call Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush, war criminals, in a legal filing? It seems so out of character for you.
BROWN JACKSON: Well, Senator, I don't remember that particular reference. And I was representing my clients, and making arguments
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Democratic Chairman Dick Durbin later provided context, noting the filing was a procedural one, against U.S. officials, making claims, on behalf of detainees. Jackson, noting she had a duty to defend them.
BROWN JACKSON: Federal public defenders don't get to pick their clients. They have to represent whoever comes in.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Republican Senator Ted Cruz pressed Jackson on her views of critical race theory, an idea that American institutions are inherently racist, and something conservatives falsely claim, is widely taught in elementary schools.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?
BROWN JACKSON: I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist, or though they are not valued, or though they are less than, that they are victims, that they're oppressors. I don't believe in any of that.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Jackson did have the chance, to reflect on the historic nature, of her nomination, to be the first Black woman, on the High Court.
BROWN JACKSON: This nomination against that backdrop is significant to a lot of people. And I hope that it will bring confidence, it will help inspire people, to understand that our courts are like them that our judges are like them. Doing the work, being part of our government, I think, it's very important.
SCHNEIDER: And this has been a marathon, an intense question-and- answer session, going on 13 hours, now.
It continues tomorrow, though, with 20-minute rounds, Laura, from each of the 22 senators, on the committee. It will be the last day of questioning. And then the issue will turn to, will she get any Republican votes?
Three Republicans voted for her, less than a year ago, to elevate her to the Appeals court, here in D.C. This time around though, she is facing significant resistance, from at least one of those senators, Lindsey Graham.
COATES: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much, for making it all so comprehensive, for us.
And as we await Senator Blackburn, I want to get some unique perspective, on today's hearing, from the first African American woman, to serve in the Senate, and the first woman, to serve on the Judiciary Committee. I want to bring in Carol Moseley Braun.
And also Danielle Holley-Walker, Dean of the Howard University School of Law, whose name was also floated, as a possible Supreme Court nominee.
Ladies, I'm privileged, to have both of you, on the panel, with me, tonight.
Let me begin with you, Carol Moseley Braun, because you have a particularly unique perspective that I want people to hear. I mean, given the fact that you were the first African American woman, to the Senate, the first woman on Senate Judiciary Committee, I do want to understand what this means to you, and the significance of seeing now a Black woman, having as a nominee, to the Supreme Court of the United States.
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN, (D) FORMER U.S. SENATOR, FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN IN U.S. SENATE, FIRST FEMALE U.S. SENATOR TO SERVE ON JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, to begin with, thank you very much for having me tonight, to express my views.
I am overjoyed that she has been nominated. Judge Jackson is eminently qualified on every front. This should be a quote, bulletproof nomination. But the fact is that that some of the Republicans have decided to make this political theater.
And so, when you consider that all the old folks are coming, I thought we had - frankly, I thought we're beyond Willie Horton. But what you got is the criminal thing being dragged out, against her, because of her race. I mean, it's just that simple. I mean let's just be clear that's what's going on.
And so, she's getting pummeled in ways that other nominees have not, because she is a Black woman, because she is - she breaks the mold. In the history of this country, we have never had a Black woman, on the United States Supreme Court. And quite frankly, it's way past time.
This woman has distinguished herself, in every - in every engagement, every position that she's held. And so, I am just - I'm like, Senator Booker. I'm just overjoyed that she's there that she comports herself with such dignity, and such command of the law. And she's really doing a very, very good job, not being tripped up, by some of these knuckle-draggers. I mean, again, to make the point, nobody has mentioned January 6, in this hearing. I mean, they've skipped around, and talked - picked her record, down to including asking her, about individual defendants that she's sentenced.
It's like, well, wait a minute, in the context of what's going on, in this country, not to mention the world, right now, how can you do this, when the other Supreme Court nominations, just sailed through, like they did?
COATES: And interestingly enough, and I won't ask you to identify the people, who you are calling knuckle-draggers, in this particular moment in time, because I suspect that we could probably identify, and guess, on our own.
But I do want to ask you, Danielle, because as former senator Moseley Braun was talking about, the idea of her being singled out, because of her race.
We heard from Senator Lindsey Graham, out of South Carolina, who was quite adamant that the double standard that was in place here, had nothing to do with how she was being treated, but perhaps how others had been treated, trying to single out, people, like, I know a friend of yours, Judge Childs, from South Carolina, who was also identified, as potential nominee, to the Supreme Court.
And I do wonder what you made of the idea of how she was constantly referenced, the discussions about how others have been treated, from Kavanaugh, to Amy Coney Barrett, to even Alito.
But what did you make of the presentation, of the questioning, by the likes of Senator Lindsey Graham, and others, on this issue, comparing her with another potential nominee, who was ultimately, as you know, not nominated, but will be up for consideration, for a different judicial nomination?
DANIELLE HOLLEY-WALKER, DEAN, HOWARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW, FLOATED AS POSSIBLE SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Well, first, I think Judge Jackson did an outstanding job, today. She really demonstrated her legal expertise, and that she's one of the brightest legal minds in the United States.
We saw Senator Graham bring up Judge Michelle Childs, on the District Court of South Carolina, both yesterday, in his opening statement, and today, during his questioning, of Judge Jackson.
And Judge Childs is also an outstanding jurist, who is nominated to the D.C. Circuit. And I think it's really unfair to see her used, as a political football, in all of this. She's an incredibly thoughtful, well-respected person, and will have her own confirmation hearing.
And, I think, it was really unfair, and also a false flag. These women are not in competition. They are both outstanding, bright legal minds, who will hopefully both be confirmed to their various positions. COATES: I also saw it as a squandered moment, when he could have asked questions, about this particular nominee, about her record, asking questions to which he wanted to have further elimination, and instead focus on other areas.
And I want to return to you, because Senator Carol Moseley Braun, one of the things of a moment in history, during the hearings, of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I recall that you called then the Republicans' line of questioning, personally offensive.
And I wonder, as we're talking about the distinction between today's Senate, we often hear about it, versus the Senate of years gone by, including that which now President Biden has derived from, what do you make about the comparison, of how the Judiciary Committee operated, at that time, compared to now?
Are you seeing the stark contrast? Or, as you mentioned, the days of Willie Horton, you think, are back again?
MOSELEY BRAUN: Well, yes, it is a different Senate. And that is really the tragedy that I think all Americans should be concerned about. We - the loss of civility, the loss of the ability, to be bipartisan, because the civility, manners, people just being nice to each other, that's gone, by the way.
And the fact is, when I was in the Senate - on the Senate Judiciary Committee, there were moments that were difficult. I remember there was one of the senators, who was on the committee, at the time, was comparing abortion to slavery.
And, quite frankly, it was almost - he looked at me, when he was asked the question. It's like, "What is going on here?" But the fact of the matter is race runs really close to the surface, in our political discourse, in this country.
And, quite frankly, I'm just delighted because Judge Jackson has done such a masterful job, of not going there. She has really been above reproach, in terms of her answering these questions, even though some of them are very clearly racial and racist, if you will--
MOSELEY BRAUN: --in nature. And she's not taking the bait. She has been really good.
MOSELEY BRAUN: So, I can at least--
COATES: Well we--
MOSELEY BRAUN: --I can say these things (ph).
COATES: Well we will see, if she continues to act in a way that you both have described.
Senator Blackburn is up now. I want to watch. And we'll talk, on the other side, ladies.
SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): And then she has experiences, and education, and then coupling with that hopes, desires, and a lot of drive that really make you the person that you are.
And we have heard, from your friends, about how you are a friend, and you've been a mentor. And as one of my friends would say, and I bet you feel kind of fill this void, you're the answer, lady, for a lot of issues that friends would bring to you.
You love your family. And they obviously love you. And I wish you could see your dad's face. It is wonderful. He beams, when you talk about the things that he has taught you.
But all of that has been repeated, time and again, in letters for you. But it's important that we know this. And it's why we continue to ask you, about your views on issue, because all of that goes into forming who you are, and your worldview.
And it all is applicable to the job that you've done in the past, and likewise, the job that you are going to do, in the future. And it does have bearing, on different issues.
And it's been so interesting, to me, to get text messages, from friends at home, that are watching this.
And I had a - one from a friend from church. And she said, "You know, she seems really likable. But I'm not sure I agree with her on the issues." And this is someone, who is incredibly pro-life. And she's about my age. So, she's a mom and a grandmom. And she is - this is a question that is important to her, to look at life.
And Senator Feinstein talked about that issue, with you, a little earlier today. You've also said today that it would be inappropriate, for you, to share your views, on political issues, or issues that may become - might come before the court, like abortion.
But I want to go to you, on something you said, when you were in private practice. You made your views, on pro-life, and the pro-life movement, very clear.
And, in fact, you attacked pro-life women. And this was in a brief that you wrote. You described them, and I'm quoting, "Hostile, noisy crowd of in-your-face protesters," end quote. And you advocated against these women's First Amendment right, to express their sincerely-held views, regarding the sanctity of each individual life.
And I'm a pro-life woman. 79 percent of the American women support restrictions, of some type, on abortion. And so, I find it incredibly concerning that someone, who is nominated, to a position, with life tenure, on the Supreme Court, holds such a hostile view, toward a view that is held, as a mainstream belief that every life is worth protecting. So, how do you justify that incendiary rhetoric against pro-life women?
BROWN JACKSON: Thank you, Senator. The brief that you're referring to, was a brief that I filed, on behalf of clients, who were clients, of my law firm. This is in, I believe, goodness, 1999 or 2000s, maybe 2000 or 2001.
BROWN JACKSON: I was an associate, at a law firm. And I had appellate experience, because I had just finished my Supreme Court law clerk position. And, in the context, of my law firm, I was asked to work, on a brief, concerning a buffer zone issue.
In Massachusetts, at the time, there were laws, protecting women, who wanted to enter clinics. And there was a First Amendment question, about the degree to which there had to be room, around them, to enter the clinic.
BROWN JACKSON: And--
BLACKBURN: I understand all of that. I'm asking about the rhetoric.
BROWN JACKSON: Senator, I drafted a brief, along with the partners--
BROWN JACKSON: --in my law firm, who reviewed it. And we filed it on behalf of our client.
BROWN JACKSON: In to advance our client's arguments that they wanted to make in the case.
BLACKBURN: OK. Let me ask you this. When you go to church, and knowing there are pro-life women there, do you look at them, thinking of them in that way that they're noisy, hostile, in-your-face? Do you think of them? Do you think of pro-life women, like me that way?
BROWN JACKSON: Senator, that was a statement in a brief made--
BROWN JACKSON: --of an argument for my client. It's not the way that I think of--
BROWN JACKSON: --or characterize people. BLACKBURN: All right. Thank you for the clarification on that. Because, I think, even zealous advocacy doesn't allow that type of rhetoric, on a free speech issue.
Roe v. Wade, let's talk a little bit about that, is come up, touched today. In my opinion, that was an awful act of judicial activism, and has cost the lives of over 63 million unborn children. And nearly 50 years later, this shameful ruling remains binding precedent. But the battle is being fought, in the courts.
And, as you know, and as we discussed, when we visited, the Supreme Court is reconsidering whether the Constitution protects the right, to an abortion, in Dobbs. And, if you're confirmed, you will be in a position, to apply the Court's decision, in Dobbs, whatever that decision is going to be.
And you've talked about following precedent, and what the court decides. So, do you commit, to respecting the court's decision, if it rules that Roe was wrongly decided, and that the issue of abortion should be sent back to the States?
BROWN JACKSON: Senator, whatever the Supreme Court decides, in Dobbs, will be the precedent of the Supreme Court. It will be worthy of respect, in the sense that it is the precedent. And I commit to treating it, as I would--
BLACKBURN: All right.
BROWN JACKSON: --any other precedent of this thing.
BLACKBURN: There's one other thing. One of the central issues, in the Dobbs case, is about whether the Constitution protects the right to an abortion. So, let's talk about that.
Can you explain to me, on a constitutional basis, the Court's decision in Roe, and where is abortion protected, in the Constitution?
BROWN JACKSON: Senator, abortion is a right that the Supreme Court has recognized in the - is one of the kinds of rights that is unenumerated.
BROWN JACKSON: It is in that same category of rights that the Supreme Court has recognized.
BLACKBURN: But the text of the Constitution does not mention abortion?
BROWN JACKSON: That is true.
BLACKBURN: That is true.
BROWN JACKSON: Yes.
BLACKBURN: That is correct. So, you agree that the Constitution does not mention the right to an abortion. And yet, through one of the most brazen acts, of judicial activism, our Supreme Court created the right, through Roe v. Wade.
This is why Americans, this is why so many women that I've talked to, are really concerned, about who sits on the federal bench. We need a justice, who will adhere to the text of the Constitution.
You've talked a little bit about that today, as you talked about historical context. And they don't want justices, who are going to invent rights, out of whole cloth, to serve a political interest.
Let's move on. I want to go to, when you were at Harvard, your thesis, entitled "The Hand of Oppression: Plea Bargaining Processes." In that piece, you argued that judges have, and I'm quoting, I brought this up yesterday, "Personal hidden agendas that influence how they decide cases."
So, what personal hidden agendas, do you harbor, or do you think other judges harbor?
BROWN JACKSON: Thank you, Senator. That line, to the extent, it appears, in my thesis, was written by someone, who had not gone to law school, and was a senior, in college, who had spent--
BROWN JACKSON: --a summer, and an internship, working in - making observations, in the context of a criminal justice internship. It is not a view--
BLACKBURN: OK. Then?
BROWN JACKSON: --that I hold.
BLACKBURN: What led you to that belief?
BROWN JACKSON: I am thinking back. It's been 30 years. But I--
BROWN JACKSON: The summer before my senior year--
COATES: We've just watched the questioning, from Republican senator, Marsha Blackburn. And she's continuing on day two of the historic confirmation hearings, with Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson. She's being asked now about her senior thesis.
I want to bring back to the conversation, former senator, Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman, to serve in the Senate, and first woman on the Judiciary Committee.
And Danielle Holley-Walker, Dean of the Howard University School of Law.
Also with us, our Supreme Court Reporter, Ariane de Vogue. She was in that Senate hearing, all day long. Let me begin with you, Senator Moseley Braun. Because I have to ask, the idea that she was asked the question, of "When you're in church, do you judge, essentially," and I'm paraphrasing here, "Women, who support abortion - or are against abortion, pro-life women, are we considered hostile in that respect?"
What was your reaction to that statement?
MOSELEY BRAUN: Well, again, this is political theater. And what they're doing is playing to their political base.
And so, Senator Blackburn, is making a point that she is pro-life. She said it four times, at least. And so, she's speaking to the voters out there, who are looking for a pro-life Supreme Court. And that is what it comes down to.
I was not a - you can't - it's hard to take some of these questions seriously, because they really are about theater. They're about - they have nothing to do really, with Judge Jackson's suitability, for the court.
My mentor, in the Senate, used to make the point that you can look for people with a good head and a good heart. And this woman has clearly shown that she has both a good head. She's an esteemed legal scholar. And she's got a good heart as well.
And so, I don't know why - I mean, I do know why they're doing it. It's called getting ready for the elections, and the election cycle. And that's what it has to do with.
COATES: Well, Ariane, let me bring you in here. You've been in this proverbial theater, so to speak, all day long, for the last two days, watching very closely.
I wonder, have any of the statements and questions that have been offered, and presented, by the Republican members, of the committee, have they moved the needle in the direction away from her trajectory, as the potential next confirmed Supreme Court justice?
ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: It doesn't feel like that, right now. One interesting thing, what you were just talking about, about that exchange on abortion, it really does go to show what the stakes are, though.
Because the Senator was talking about a case that the court is currently considered. And that's interesting, because this nomination process is playing out, while the Supreme Court, across the street, is considering whether to overturn Roe v. Wade.
But, as far as your other question, I think, perhaps the most emotion today came on this allegation, on whether or not she was soft on crime.
You saw, this morning, the Democrat, Durbin talked to her about the fact that a Republican member had said that she had been too lenient, with her sentences, for child porn offenders. And, at that time, he said, "How does that make you feel to be accused of that?" And she came right out of the gate saying, "As a judge, and as a mother, it couldn't be further from the truth."
And then, as we went through the members, some of them all mentioned it. And finally, we got to that Republican, Senator Hawley. And he really looked at a handful of her cases, and he said that he thought that she had been too lenient.
And she pushed back, and she said, "Look, I am the only one, who actually saw the evidence, in these heinous cases." She went on and on about the fact that she had seen it. And her job as a judge was to try to figure out the sentence.
And she said, as things stand, the guidelines are outdated, in this area. She went to great lengths, to explain it. And she said, in fact, if you looked at her record, what she did, was just like, many other judges, are doing, right now, because the guidelines are outdated.
But you really saw that push and pull there. And it was some of the sharpest exchanges, we've seen, today.
COATES: It does underscore the idea of discretionary sentencing. It sounds like, in many respects, some of the people, who were asking the questions, have more of an issue, with the nature of discretion, in the criminal justice system, than the actual application of that discretion as well. It's a part of a larger conversation, frankly.
Dean, I want to bring you in, because, as you've seen, there has been a number of instances, where the faith, the religion of this nominee, has been raised, in conversation, either from Senator Lindsey Graham, obviously, now with Senator Marsha Blackburn.
Others have touched upon this very issue. It often harkens back to the, they believe, the way in which, now Justice Amy Coney Barrett was treated, during her confirmation process.
What strikes you about this line of questioning?
HOLLEY-WALKER: I think, one is that it really can throw a nominee off, because this was the first question of the day that she was offered, is "What religion are you?" with Senator Graham asked.
And I felt that she handled it extremely well, by talking about, her faith, but also saying that she considered her faith, in some ways, to be not relevant, to the hearing, at hand, because we don't have religious test, for judges.
I thought the best moment of the day on this came from Senator Cory Booker, where he really talked to her, went back, to that line, and allowed her to really talk about her relationship, with her parents, and what it is like to be a working mother.
Because we have to remember that she would be a working mother, on the Supreme Court, which is a really important perspective. And I think we got a lot fuller idea, of who she is, and her character, which again shows us that she is headed towards confirmation, it looks like.
Because she has shown just incredible judicial temperament, and her outstanding credentials, all day, and even the ability, to handle tough personal questions, like what was asked, about her religion.
COATES: And, of course, we recognize, this is now her fourth opportunity, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. One, in the District Court. One, of course, as a Circuit Court judge. One, as a member of the Sentencing Commission.
And if she's confirmed, she would join another working mother. That, of course, of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which again, here we are, in Women's History Month, and we're in the year of 2022. And I don't recall the same emphasis being placed, on male nominees, about their balancing of work, and parenthood. But, I guess, that's a question and a conversation for yet another day.
Ladies, thank you for your time, and your interesting conversation. Carol Moseley Braun, Danielle Holley-Walker, and Ariane de Vogue, thank you so much.
And we will be right back.
COATES: Thank you everyone, for watching.
"DON LEMON TONIGHT," with, of course, Don Lemon, live from Ukraine, starts right now.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: We are watching what's happening, in Ukraine, and also watching what's happening, in Washington D.C.
And I was just listening, in the last moment, had it in my ear, here, in Ukraine.