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CNN TONIGHT: Jury: Alex Jones Must Pay Over $4 Million To Sandy Hook Parents; DeSantis Suspends Prosecutor Who Vowed Not To Criminalize Abortion; Dem Sen. Sinema Says She Will "Move Forward" On Economic Bill, Giving Dems Votes To Move Ahead. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 04, 2022 - 21:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: The news isn't going anywhere. So, let's hand it over to my good friend, Laura Coates, and CNN TONIGHT.

Laura? Over to you.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Nice seeing you, Jim. I mean, 12 hours apart, like 9 AM, 9 - it's wonderful, always, to see you. Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Good to see you.

COATES: I'm Laura Coates. And this is CNN TONIGHT.

No conspiracy theories here, just the hard truth. Alex Jones has to pay up. Now, these families, of course, can never ever be made whole, for what they've lost. But with compensatory damages, the jury endeavors to try.

Jones now has to pay the parents, of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim, more than $4 million, for the cruel and widespread and relentless lies that added to their heartache, over a 10-year period.

Now, of course, this does fall way short of the $150 million they did ask for, in compensatory damages, sought by little Jesse Lewis' parents.

A number, their attorneys said came from the number of people, who believed the false claims, of a hoax, spewed by Jones, and his absolutely baseless argument that the Newtown's grieving parents were actors.

The number also factored in the emotional and mental anguish those parents suffered, and dare I say, likely continue to suffer, to this day, from years of harassment, by Jones and his followers.

Now, in a seemingly last-ditch effort, to try to save himself, included, finally acknowledging what everyone else hopefully knew to be true. That the massacre was quote, using his words, after what 10 years, a "100 percent real." But the $4 million is actually not the end of the story. Not in this courtroom out of Texas, because Jones' legal battles are actually far from over.

You see, if compensatory damages are supposed to make you whole, in some way, bring you back to where you were before, this all happened? Well, punitive damages, they're just meant to punish. And tomorrow, that same jury will begin, considering just how much, to financially punish Alex Jones.

Now, the judge said no, to Jones' bid today, for a mistrial. This is after yesterday, when the plaintiff's lawyer dropped that truth bomb, saying that he had two years' worth of text messages, from Jones, to his - as you saw, total shock and surprise!

Jones' lawyers apparently accidentally, according to the opposing counsel, sent them to the plaintiffs' attorneys, with no attempt to even claim privilege.

As they say, "But wait, there's more." It's not just this particular trial, and once that punitive phase is done, because he faces two more trials, one more actually in Texas, and one in Connecticut, where the attack shattered the families of the 26 students and teachers murdered at Sandy Hook.

Now, of course, the question is, will any of this stop the relentless campaign of disinformation that made nearly 10 years, 10 full years, of mourning, unimaginably worse?

In a statement, this evening, the lawyer, for Jesse Lewis' parents, notes that they are also due another $1.5 million in fines alone, for a total of $5.6 million, and counting, he says. To quote him, they are "Thrilled with the result and look forward to putting Mr. Jones' money to good use."

Mr. Jones, on the other hand, will not sleep easy, tonight. With punitive damages, still to be decided, and multiple additional defamation lawsuits pending, it is clear that Mr. Jones' time, on the American stage, is finally coming to an end.

Now, the question is, is that true, and a more broader discussion, as well, about misinformation. And if it's time to pay the piper, will, that song stop, in a whole variety of ways? Will it stop others?

Talking with our panel tonight, I've got Scott Jennings, Abby Finkenauer, and David Swerdlick.

Glad to see you all here.

Listen, first of all, it might surprise you, and I'm getting ready to tell you. There's a moment, apparently, where Alex Jones has responded, and he's called this, a win for truth. I'm going to play it for you in a little bit. But let me just tell you, this is where the spin actually is. So, misinformation still abounds!

What's your thought on this particular compensatory damages win? SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SENIOR CAMPAIGN COMMS ADVISER TO SEN. MCCONNELL, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm glad the parents of the little boy - I'm glad they're happy. I mean, their lawyer says that they're thrilled with it. So, if they're happy, I'm happy.

And I'm glad he can still be punished further.


JENNINGS: And I'm glad he's going to face other trials. I mean, this is obviously going to go on and on and on for him. And I hope it goes on for the rest of his life, because he deserves it. I mean, he put these people through hell. And they'd already been to hell!


And no money can bring back, what you've lost, in some situation, like this. But it can send a strong message that you can't go out and terrorize your fellow citizens. And I think that's, to me, what exactly he did. He lied about them. He terrorized them. And so, this is a win, for sending a message that you just can't go out and terrorize people. It's a win for common decency.

COATES: Well, you know what? Let's hear what his message is. I want you to hear this. I've teased it for you. You think I'm probably lying.

I'm telling you, the message that he gave, it was seven minutes. I'm not playing the whole thing! Just so we're clear, I'm not playing the whole thing. I'd rather hear from all of you than Alex Jones!

However, I want you to hear how he is, asking his supporters, to help him. More money! Here he is.


ALEX JONES, HOST, THE ALEX JONES SHOW: I admitted I made a mistake. I admitted that I followed disinformation. But not on purpose. I apologized to the families. And the jury understood that. What I did to those families was wrong. But I didn't do it on purpose.


COATES: Abby? I mean, I heard you laughing. He didn't do what on purpose?


COATES: Tell the thing for 10 years?

FINKENAUER: He's absolutely disgusting. I mean, I think I'm allowed - I was asking you earlier, if I'm allowed to call him something else. But I'll hold back for now.

But he is a horrible, horrible human being, who is just continuing, continuing to grift off of falsehoods, misinformation, and this family's grief, I mean, all of these families' grief.

And it unfortunately, isn't unique anymore, in the United States of America, to have people grifting on misinformation. I mean, unfortunately, we see that from the former President of the United States. That is what they do now! And it's heartbreaking. And it's also dangerous, to our country, and to democracy.

And I hope this trial sends a very loud message that you can have your opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts, and to terrorize people over it.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think the Congresswoman is right that Jones is not the only one, who does this. It was kind of Trump-like, to be found out, and yet double down, on what you were already done - had already done, in a way. He's wanted to sound apologetic in that video.

But even before that video, Laura, earlier in this week, a few times, he played the sort of "Everybody makes mistakes" card. He said, "Oh, actually now I believe Sandy Hook was real." He said the "Media won't let me get past it." He said "I didn't mean to insult the jurors," when the jurors had been insulted.

But because the plaintiff lawyer busted him, yesterday, with those text messages, and with that screed, in court, I think, if you're a juror now, you're entitled to go back to the jury room, when you're talking about the punitive damages, not the compensatory--

COATES: Right.

SWERDLICK: --and say this wasn't accidental. This wasn't a one-off. This wasn't poor reporting.

This was a deliberate attempt, to weave a tale, over many years, at the expense of those families, those Sandy Hook families, Jesse Lewis' family. And I don't - I'm not going to guess how much the damages are. But jurors will feel entitled to drop the hammer.

COATES: I mean, I don't think, and just by your comments alone, guys, this is obviously not being thought of in a vacuum. This is obviously, as tragic as Sandy Hook is, we are talking about the backdrop of misinformation, more broadly.


COATES: And a culmination of frustration towards that, and accountability. You talk about the idea of grifting. I mean, that was - this phrase was actually used--


COATES: --in the January 6th hearings, to describe the campaign that was used, to try to get money off of it, election-related lies.


COATES: And so, I think it's a more - it's a broader conversation.

And so, if you think it's - you said, Scott, the idea of sending a message. Do you think the message translates more broadly? Or do you think that this is so nuanced people go, "No, no. This is just this case. And misinformation in other places? That's a separate issue."

JENNINGS: If I were trying to apply the lesson more broadly, it's that we have to - if we want to have trust in institutions, we have to have trust in institutions. Criminal justice system worked here, you know?

COATES: Well it's civil, right?

SWERDLICK: Civil, yes.

COATES: It's a civil case, yes, yes.

JENNINGS: But sorry. Civil justice system worked. There - our--

SWERDLICK: Judicial system.

JENNINGS: --our legal system worked here, yes.

COATES: Right.

JENNINGS: And it took a long time. But it's working. And so that, to me, if you want to stamp-out this kind of grifting, if that's what we're going to call it, you have to let these institutions do their work. And so, this one worked, and it seems like it's going to continue to work, over the next several months or years.

And - but I think you could apply that more broadly, you know? If you do something that's over the line, there are systems and institutions in place that will hold you accountable. And, to me, I think that's the critical issue, here.

COATES: I do think it's curious. I mean, for some reason, this wasn't called a witch-hunt, and it was an institution working! Something about that, right?


COATES: Something about the idea of the process unfolding and accountability.

Everyone, stick around.


Coming up, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis benches a state attorney, over a perceived woke agenda. So, the question now is where is the line between prosecutorial discretion and politics?

The same (ph) suspended official is going to join me live next. And he's certainly not backing down. Right back, with that, in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COATES: Florida's governor Ron DeSantis suspended Tampa's top elected prosecutor. The governor says he removed the state attorney, Andrew Warren, from office, for, quote, "Neglect of duty," and "Incompetence," unquote.

Now, that neglect appears to be a letter that Warren signed, along with 83 prosecutors, nationwide, pledging not to prosecute anyone, who seeks, provides, or supports an abortion.



GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): And I don't think the people of Hillsborough County want to have an agenda that is basically woke where you're deciding that your view of social justice means certain laws shouldn't be enforced.


COATES: I'm joined now, by the man, elected twice, by the people of the county, just named by that governor, Hillsborough County, Andrew Warren.

Good to see you, Andrew.

Although I'm certain that you have quite the reaction to what has happened today, I want to just ask this question, though, because I think that people might not fully understand what's happened today.

Were you presented with a case, where you were told, or had the opportunity, to prosecute somebody, who was seeking, providing or, in some way, helping to acquire an abortion, and you refused to prosecute? Or this was a hypothetical that you were released on?

ANDREW WARREN, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY SUSPENDED BY FL GOV. DESANTIS: Well, you'll have to ask the governor. I mean, I certainly wasn't presented with any case. And this just shows how flagrant this overreach is.

This is a blatant violation of the most fundamental principles in our democracy that, the people get to elect their leaders. That's how democracy works. Even my 8-year-old understands that.

COATES: Well, you and I are both prosecutors. And I certainly understand the idea of prosecutorial discretion. And there are choices made, all of the time, about whether to pursue cases, whether to not pursue cases. This is really part of the job, and part of, I assume, why one would elect somebody, to be a prosecutor, as well.

And so, in that instance, based on that, why would this be a dereliction or a neglect of duty, for you not to or, for you to, decide how to wield your discretion?

WARREN: It's not. I mean, that's the bottom line. It's not a dereliction of duty. In fact, it's not even talk about things that I've done in the office. It is talking about things that I may do in the future for a law that doesn't even exist yet. I mean, this is out of like 1984 Orwellian Thought Police.

I've said that, if a law was passed like this, then I would make sure we use our resources, to do what the people elected me to do, keep our neighborhoods safe, promote justice and fairness.

The government - the governor is just grasping at straws here. He's not caring about what's best for the people of Hillsborough. He's caring about his presidential ambitions.

COATES: Now, based on the caveat you just gave, though, let me just push back, for a second. Because you did sign a letter that essentially said, "Look, I'm not going to prosecute a case like this."

Without having a case before you, without having a specific fact pattern to talk about, you did say, if that law was passed, you then would not do something to prosecute. Why would that be excusable, if a prosecutor's job was to enforce the laws as written?

WARREN: Yes, I'm glad you asked that. It's a great question.

Because, I put my hand, on the Bible, and I swore to uphold, the U.S. and the State constitutions. And at the time I sworn that, Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land, under the U.S. Constitution. And the Florida Constitution has an express right to privacy.

The law that the Governor is mad at me, for saying, "I won't enforce," which by the way, I said, I'd look at on a case-by-case basis, is a law that's unconstitutional that's already been held unconstitutional, by the first court to look at it.

COATES: I want to play what Governor DeSantis had to say, because he actually touched on that very notion of the idea of not looking at a case-by-case basis.

Here he is.


DESANTIS: We are going to make sure that our laws are enforced, and that no individual prosecutor puts himself above the law.

Yes, you can exercise discretion, in individual case. But that discretion has to be individualized, and case-specific. You can't just say you're not going to do certain offenses.


COATES: So, that's not what you were doing, you're saying, by signing that letter. It was still Roe v. Wade, you were referencing. And you do still intend, should you be in that position, to actually look at it, case-by-case basis? That right? WARREN: Yes. And I've said this, from the beginning, when we're talking about the abortion law that even though there's a right to privacy in Florida, and even though the law that the legislature passed, is unconstitutional, if we put those things aside, for a moment, if a case comes to me? We exercise our discretion, under the new law, as we would, under the old law.

There's a big difference between a Tampa General Hospital doctor providing abortion at 24 weeks, versus a back alley abortion at 37 weeks. And any good prosecutor, who's following the law, will look at the facts of the case, and the law, before making a charging decision.

Again, the Governor is just upset because I'm not kowtowing to his agenda. I'm the one upholding the law, here. On abortion, the law is clear in Florida. That 15-week ban is unconstitutional. And I said I'm not going to enforce it.

COATES: So, are you - I mean, I know that you had been suspended. Is there - what is your thought on the anticipation of possibly being reinstated by the Florida State Senate? I mean, they don't actually come back into session, I think, until March. Do you intend to go back to work, tomorrow, nonetheless?


WARREN: I'm going to continue doing what the Hillsborough County citizens elected me to do, which is keep our neighborhoods safe, and promote fairness, and justice, and the rule of law. I've done that every day, for the past five and a half years, and I'm not going to stop now.

The reality is that the governor can sign some order, in his pen, or in his crayon, and it doesn't change what the voters elected me to do, which is to serve this community, to the best of my ability.

COATES: Well, looks like it'd be very interesting morning, tomorrow, in your office.

Andrew Warren, thank you for being a part of the show. Thank you so much.

WARREN: Thanks for having me.

COATES: Look, the context is as clear as the latest Republican polling, by the way. I mean, Governor DeSantis is the only Republican, besides Donald Trump, with double-digit support, for the 2024 nomination. I mean, look at that! It's an inverse, 43 percent-34 percent.

Look, I can do math, everybody. I called it an inverse. Why is everyone laughing? Of course, I can do math. What are you talking about? Excuse you all!

Let's discuss now with Scott Jennings, Abby Finkenauer, and David Swerdlick.

I get it. Only lawyers really, we really bill people. We don't do the math!

But listen, what do you make of the idea? I mean, Governor DeSantis, essentially has somebody suspended, and basically escorted out of the building, because he won't eventually look at a case, in his mind, case-by-case, and doesn't want to - and he doesn't intend to follow what the Supreme Court says, he's supposed to follow, or not follow.

What's your thought?

SWERDLICK: Two takeaways, Laura.

Number one that Governor DeSantis used the word "Woke" in that speech, very intentionally. If there's a 2024 Republican presidential primary? Being tough on wokeness will be just as important as being tough on crime, or being tough on China. I think a lot of the things that Governor DeSantis does, going forward, have to be looked at through that prism, of a potential presidential race.

One more quick point?


SWERDLICK: All my life, most of my life, Republicans have said, "The government that governs best is the government that's closest to the people."

That would be the voters of Hillsborough County, and their district attorney. If they don't like him? They think he's too woke? They can vote him out in 2024. But apparently now, the idea is, it should come from Tallahassee, or from Washington.

COATES: I mean, just the thought here, I mean, the umbrella of wokeness, is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. For, I mean, wokeness just seems to be anything that is not what the governor wants, right? That's not the - that's not actually the criteria for wokeness. Is it?

I don't want to - Scott Jennings, how do you - how do you define woke?

JENNINGS: Well, I'll just give you a macro view that there are Republicans, all over this country, who are quite concerned, about a growing number of liberal prosecutors, who seem to be more interested, in their own personal ideological agenda than they are, in prosecuting the laws.

He's not the only prosecutor, who's elected, around the country, who has said "I won't do certain kinds of prosecutions."

Now, DeSantis made an aggressive move here. And, of course, everybody is going to freak out about it.

But this is, just to give you raw political analysis, this is his instinct that has put him up, where he - we showed him on the polling, finding a way, to provoke a reaction that gets him the enemies that you need, in a potential Republican primary to rise. And he's done it time and again. He did it with Disney. He has done it over and over again.

So, one of the reasons he is sitting at the top of the non-Trump heap is because he does have an instinct, to perceive these opportunities, and then to aggressively act on them, which is something, Republican voters are looking for, out of their national candidates.

FINKENAUER: Yes, I mean, with the overturning of Roe, we knew, I mean, that night that we were going to see governors, across the country, in these Red states, just tripping over themselves, trying to get further to the right, of the next one, because they want headlines, and they want to make a name for themselves.

But what we're talking about here, too? And I hope we don't get lost on this. He's upset that an attorney might not prosecute or criminalize a doctor or a woman seeking an abortion. I mean, that is what we're talking about here.

That is where we are, right now, in the United States of America, the State of Florida, right? I mean it is horrifying, that we're even having this discussion that we're talking about criminalizing abortion. But that is where we're at right now.

And he might win a Republican primary, but he better be paying attention to what just happened in Kansas.

COATES: Well, just to be clear, the reason I was asking him, the questions about is this a hypothetical, has this actually happened yet? He kept going back to what?

The Florida Supreme Court said, under a right to privacy, abortion qualifies. That's what he was rejecting, the idea of saying, "I'm not going to go against the Supreme Court of Florida, if they should choose something perhaps differently." But that's the point that wasn't raised, in that particular press conference.

Everyone, stick around. Back with some late breaking news, from Capitol Hill, a key senator says they are ready now to help their party on major legislation. It's a moment many lawmakers have been waiting for.

And we'll talk about it, next.



COATES: We've got some breaking news, right now, from Capitol Hill, an important news for Democrats, as they're trying to get as much of their agenda through, as they can, with the midterms, like a Sword of Damocles, hanging above their head.

Manu Raju is on the phone.

Manu, bring us up to speed. What's going on?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a really significant development that, in a real clear sign that Joe Biden could very well get a major legislative victory, here, in the days ahead.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who has been the key holdout, over his major economic package, a deal that was reached, last week, by Joe Manchin, and Chuck Schumer, to put forward changes on health care laws, on energy provisions, as well as new taxes, Sinema has just announced that she will agree to move forward with this legislation after a deal that she cut with Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, on changes to this package.

Now, let me break it down. To get this bill through, you need all 50 Democrats to be on board. Sinema was the one, or the biggest holdout, because of her concerns, over the tax provisions.

One of the tax provisions in there was the tax, what's called known as carried interest, which is a tax on hedge funds, and private equity. She has done an agreement, to remove that from this proposal that would have raised about $14 billion on a plan that Democrats estimate would save about $300 billion in deficit savings.


She also - excuse me, raised concerns about the issue of - excuse me, about a 15 percent minimum tax on major corporation. Now, this issue became a major - a key concern for her, because manufacturers in her state raised concerns (ph) about how they're able to - whether they'll be able to deduct depreciation of their assets, on their tax returns, the way that it is allowed, under current law. Democrats are saying that they're backing (ph) in order to raise more revenue.

She had pushed back about that. She wants a significant change on that issue as well. And as a result, she announced that she knows the deal, she said, to move into the greater court (ph) move ahead, because of the deal to, quote, protect advanced manufacturing, she said, and removed carried interest, and boost clean energy, from this deal.

Now, to make up for the shortfall, which is now there is tens of billions of dollars that will not be part of this proposal, to save money for the ultimate, for the budget, she has - the Democrats have agreed to instead impose a tax on companies that purchase stocks or stock buybacks. They will impose an excise tax, on stock buybacks that make up for that shortfall. They promised they'd still - ultimately, the deal that was cut would raise $300 billion.

So, taking a step back, Laura, this deal would allow for Medicare, for the first time, to negotiate prescription drug prices, would spend hundreds of billions of dollars, to deal with clean energy, and climate change, as well, including new electric vehicle tax credits. It would extend Affordable Care Act's subsidy, for the next three years.

It would still impose that 15 percent minimum corporate tax on large corporations, albeit some changes, asked by Sinema. And now with Sinema's support, the Democrats have an agreement, essentially, to move forward, as soon as Saturday, to begin debate on this bill. Both will happen, all through the day, on Saturday, into Sunday, potentially, and then it looks very likely that this bill, after more than a year of negotiations that have gone back-and-forth, and it collapsed, time and again, it has - this bill, of course, has been pared back, from the President's initial Build Back Better bill. They can finally get this bill, out of the Senate, along straight party- line, and then move it onto the House, as soon as next week.

Now, this is all looking very good, for Democrats. But one big question that is still remaining is the Senate Parliamentarian needs to make a decision about what provisions can be allowed, to be approved, through a special process they're using, to avoid a Republican filibuster, so they can pass it along straight party-line.

If that clears that final hurdle, Democrats could be gearing to get a major legislative victory, one in which Republicans, they will vigorously oppose. Laura.

COATES: Manu Raju, thank you so much.

It's unbelievable. Let's bring back in, I want to bring in Scott Jennings, and David Swerdlick, and Abby Finkenauer.

But I first want to read a statement that we just got from Senator Sinema, saying, "Following this effort, I look forward to working with Senator Warner to enact carried interest tax reforms, protecting investments in America's economy and encouraging continued growth while closing the most egregious loopholes that some abuse to avoid paying taxes."

So, one of the headlines, everyone, up there, is the idea of a straight-party vote. You've got cohesion among the Democrats, right now. It came down to an issue about the taxes and her constituents. But she's no longer on the fence. She's moving forward now.

This is far less than what President Biden wanted over his overall economic agenda. But it is a heck of a win, if they're able to get it done. It sounds like tonight, they've moved forward enough, to be able to do that.

How's this going to play?

FINKENAUER: Well, first of all, actually passing this, and having Medicare negotiate with drug companies, and bring down those prices, is going to be a game-changer, and life-saver, for Americans, all across this country.

I mean, I kid you not. When I was campaigning, in 2018, and then in 2020, when I was out there, it was literally always the number one thing, folks would talk about.

I mean, I held roundtables, and you had - there was a farmer, actually, who talked about being told he should divorce his wife, if he wanted to be able to keep his farm, because she couldn't afford the MS medication that she needed. I mean, this is where we are, still, in the United States of America. And when this passes, I mean, game-changer all around and, just something, again, that I am so grateful it's finally going to get done.

COATES: I'm glad you point out, what's happening, outside of the beltway, because we oftentimes - I mean, I'm a Minnesotan. You're from Iowa. Kentucky. We'll count you too. Where are you coming (ph) today?

SWERDLICK: Morocco (ph).

COATES: All right, fine, Morocco (ph).


COATES: He's from Morocco (ph). That's if I'm pressing where do you go?

But the point is, we often think about the politics within the beltway, here in Washington D.C., as opposed to how this translates beyond. How will this translate, in your, as they say, neck of the woods?


JENNINGS: Well, a couple things. First of all, no games will change until 2026, because the prescription drug provisions don't kick in until then. So, as a political matter, nothing's going to change.

I really think the biggest problem the Democrats have, with passing this? I mean, you can call it a win. But they've named a piece of legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act. The Congressional Budget Office, the Joint Committee on Taxation, have said this will have a, at best, a negligible impact on inflation.

And so, if inflation is the number one issue, in the country, and according to the polling it is, if you vote on a bill today, to say, reduce inflation? And in two months, three months, we're going to the polls, and inflation has not come down? You're going to own that.

And so, I really do think they have a branding issue on this. I know why they changed the name of it, so that Joe Manchin could go out, and claim he did something. But that's not going to change, what's happening to voters themselves.

So, the prescription drug stuff doesn't happen for years. The climate stuff is, out in the future somewhere. The main issue is inflation, and it does nothing despite the bill's title.

COATES: Do you really think that the voters think themselves, the name is more important than the meat on the bone? I mean, really?

JENNINGS: I think if you tell people, "Hey, we passed a bill called Inflation Reduction Act," and inflation doesn't go down, or maybe it goes up, in the short-term, according to one analysis? They might - they might notice. Because, they're already, noticing. It's the number one issue in the country. SWERDLICK: I think Scott's right that this is partly a rebranding exercise by renaming the bill. It's really the quadruple-B, the Baby Build Back Better.

The glass half-empty way to look at this is that Democrats got not nearly what they started out wanting, a year ago, or six months ago.

The glass half-full way to look at this for Democrats is that they learned a lesson, from all of the, sort of heartburn, and agita, of last year, and not getting their most moderate senators, Senator Manchin, and Senator Sinema, on board.

Coming into this year, they got that skinny gun control legislation, because they knew it was all they could get. They got CHIPS passed. They got - they got the burn pits legislation.


SWERDLICK: They've learned now rebrand, get what you can get, with 50 votes, plus the Vice President's tiebreaker, and move on. It's not what the base wants. But it's better for Democrats, and for the administration than what they were dealing with, last year, which was everybody looking, and saying, "This is a stall-out. What are you doing?"

JENNINGS: I want to hear what Bernie Sanders says. And I want to hear what you say too. Because he's been critical of this. He's given several speeches, very critical of this bill. I mean, I assume he's going to vote for it.

But taking out the carried interest piece, which you all are going to argue, as some people are going to argue, is a giveaway to the hedge funds? I mean, what's Bernie Sanders going to go down to the floor and say, tomorrow? Again, I'm not expecting him to change his vote.

COATES: They said party-line vote, though, I mean, right? They said that.

JENNINGS: But he's been critical of this, because of what you just said. It's slimmed down, like, it doesn't go enough - far enough for him. Now, you've taken out the piece that would--

SWERDLICK: It's the only thing I'll say about--

JENNINGS: --that he would probably like the most.

SWERDLICK: --Senator Sanders. Now that he's the Senate Budget Committee Chair, he's part of Democratic leadership. He's not a backbencher. He's not throwing socialist firecrackers from the cheap seats. If he doesn't go along with it, then, what is he doing in that committee chairmanship?

COATES: Where are the cheap seats, just like you are saying? I don't want to go to you, to ask that, Abby. But I just, you know? I'm still on the agita-heartburn part, because I do have that, in that moment.

What were you saying?

FINKENAUER: Yes, I think this is really going to be on what do Democrats do with this now? How do we actually get this in front of people?

Because, at the end of the day, I mean, folks are hearing things, in many different ways. I mean, in Iowa, in particular, 74 percent of Iowa voters are on Facebook. And are we organizing people there? Are we getting people - or getting the information in front of the people, who need to hear it?

Because, you can pass good legislation, all day long. And quite frankly, I've passed a hell of a lot of it in 2019, and in 2020. And yet, it was always that hurdle of how do you get it in front of people? And that is going to be the test coming up into November.

This is a really good bill. Is it everything? No. But it is a really good bill. And now, Democrats have to go tell people.

COATES: Well, might I suggest Tiktok?


COATES: That seems to be the way to get people! I don't know how to work it. But I'm just saying I hear that's the thing everyone's doing now.

Thank you, everyone.

Coming up, CNN learns former President Trump's legal team is talking to the DOJ, about their January 6th criminal probe. So, I wonder where those conversations are actually going.

And a new warning, from Liz Cheney, of the January 6th committee, about what happens, if the DOJ decides, not to prosecute Trump. What she's telling CNN, ahead.



COATES: New tonight, a CNN exclusive. Former President Trump's legal team is in direct talks with the Department of Justice officials, who are investigating, of course, January 6th, according to sources familiar with the matter.

They're telling CNN that Trump's defense lawyers warned him indictments are possible, though the former President does, in fact, remain skeptical.

The DOJ, meanwhile, is preparing for a court battle, to force White House officials, to testify, about Trump's conversations, and actions, around the attack.

So, what is going to happen next? Let's talk about with Scott Jennings, Elliot Williams, and Miles Taylor. Glad to have all of you here today. We all have the blazers on. You're welcome, America!


COATES: You're welcome - or Morocco (ph) as we just heard about, from David Swerdlick. It's a night of blazers.

So, listen. I mean, we're hearing piecemeal about talks that are happening, and DOJ is getting this information, here, and subpoenaing, here, and talks, there. I'm wondering, collectively, is this moving the needle? Or are - and in which direction? What do you think?

TAYLOR: Well, look, I'll tell you, who it is moving the needle for. People, who worked for Donald Trump.

I mean, I talked to a lot of people, who've left the administration, some who've spoken out against him, some who haven't, including lawyers that worked for Donald Trump. By and large, they think he's going to be indicted. Not all of them. Some of them tell me they don't think he's going to be indicted.

But most of the people I talk to have shifted. It wasn't that case a year ago. Most of them thought "No. He's Teflon Don. He won't get indicted." That's a big shift to me, is that his own people think he's going to get indicted.

But forget ex-Trumpers. Forget people, who've worked for him. Who cares what I have to say? A federal judge, in California, said those four words, "More likely than not" that he committed a crime. I think that's probably the most damning thing, we've seen, so far, in terms of assessments, of his criminality.


COATES: What do you think, Elliot?


WILLIAMS: Yes, look, now the fact that he's - they're reportedly talking to the Justice Department, right now? That's not really anything that remarkable. Look, even countries, before they go to war, send envoys, to negotiate the terms of the battle. And that might be happening here. And it may end in a prosecution, and it may not. The most important thing is, look--

COATES: But, I mean, if war is next, that's pretty significant!

WILLIAMS: If war is next? If war is next?

COATES: If that - if that's happening!

WILLIAMS: Yes. The fact that your ambassador--

COATES: Right.

WILLIAMS: --is talking to the Foreign Minister, absolutely.

So, does it move the needle? Look, the only person to whom that matters is the Attorney General, and the people making the determinations, in the U.S. Attorney's Office, right?

And I think the Congresswoman is on to something that what matters is the rule of law. And if the facts and evidence are there, yes, you ought to move forward, with the prosecution. It wasn't really a remarkable statement, she was making. It's that caveat, at the end that where she said, "If the facts and the law support a prosecution." We should all agree with that.

COATES: We - well, we should--

WILLIAMS: We should. We should all agree with that.

COATES: --agree with that. But people have eaten, and eaten the cake, like Alice in Wonderland, and gone through rabbit holes, and different worlds here.

So, I wonder, I mean, I'm turning to you, after the "Alice in Wonderland" reference, oddly enough. I don't know what it is about you, you bring out the literary genius, in me, Scott.

But, I'm wondering, what you make of the idea of look, we hear - and we heard a lot, through the Mueller years. And I go back to the Mueller years, because people had a patience issue, shall we say? And I feel often as they're conflating what happened then with what's happening now. And you see the patience or the impatience, carrying over.

And sometimes, Democrats say, "You know what? This is it. This is it. This is it." And Republicans are saying, "It still ain't it. It still ain't it. It still ain't it." How is that those two converging in a way that might work to the electorate?

JENNINGS: Yes, I think you're onto something there.

Because, during the Trump years, there was a whole bunch of people, who had it in their mind that Mueller was going to kick open the White House door, wearing a trench coat, and a fedora, and slap the cuffs on Donald Trump. And that was just never a realistic outcome! And obviously, it didn't happen.

Well, those people still exist. And they still want that outcome. I think Elliot said it best. If the facts and the law warrant this, then the process has to be allowed to happen, except for one thing.

There is a political question here about whether the sitting President of the United States and his administration should, can, will indict the person, he defeated, the former President, who may well be a candidate, for that office, in the future. That is not a small issue here. And so, there'll be a lot of people in America, who may not think Donald Trump did anything right, or good, on January the 6th, but don't think it's right, for Joe Biden, to indict him. That has to be weighing--


JENNINGS: The political question has to weigh on--

COATES: Wait. Because--

JENNINGS: --on the final decision.

COATES: --because the thought is that he is trying to silence a potential political opponent?

JENNINGS: That's how it would be seen by millions of Americans. Now, you may disagree with that. And you may not think that's right. But that's not - that's not something you can ignore, I think, when you're dealing with. I mean, this--

WILLIAMS: No, I think--

JENNINGS: --we're in uncharted waters, here.

WILLIAMS: No, I think, you're absolutely right. There is a political reality to indicting or, investigating, or prosecuting anyone, particularly when that person is a former President of the United States.

But look, look at the mountain of evidence, we've seen the number of people that have been prosecuted, around him, at least in connection with January 6th, and so on. It's a fair point that the--


WILLIAMS: --the Justice Department has to think about what the political fallout might be.

To your point, about the sort of investigation fatigue? I also, I do think you're onto something here, because it's the first impeachment that, I think, people have their head - the public has a hard time getting their heads around.

What - if I were to ask everybody, how do you explain what happened in the first impeachment? "Well, there was Ukraine, and a phone call, and there was a," and it's hard for people to understand, right?

COATES: It's quid pro quo. It's quid pro quo, right?

WILLIAMS: But they just--

COATES: But I get - I get your point.


COATES: And the idea, because there's been too, in as many years, on that very issue.

I'll give you the last word, though, Miles, because I wonder about the idea of thinking about the fatigue of it. There's a political question. That's true. But there's a political consequence of not doing it, as well.

WILLIAMS: There absolutely is. And that's where I've got to agree and disagree with Scott.

And the first case, I would say this. Look, there's few people on this planet, who dislike Donald Trump, more than me. I'm going to put that out there. I think he's genuinely one of the most awful people, I've ever met, in my entire life.

But I would be one of the first to say, I also don't think that should make us want him to be prosecuted. And I've been saying that for years. We shouldn't desire that an ex-president be prosecuted.

And Scott's right. This would result in crisis, no matter what. Prosecuted, if he is? It's going to be a crisis in this country. But, to your point, if he's not? It's also a crisis, if the facts, as Liz Cheney said, show that he's guilty of a crime, because that suggests that he is above the law, and presidents are above the law. And that's not a signal we want to send, in our Republic.

JENNINGS: Now that we know he's being investigated, by DOJ, I'm just going to warn you all. If he's not indicted, he will say that's exoneration. If he is indicted?

COATES: Well we don't know if he's being investigated. His lawyers are in conversations with DOJ.

JENNINGS: Well there's been - there's been some reporting about it.

COATES: There - well there - yes. But the idea - but I - we haven't had the definitive statement from Merrick Garland. But your point is well-taken.


COATES: The idea, just as we saw Alex Jones say, "Hey, a $4 million verdict was a win for me, and the truth," a failure to indict would create--


COATES: --a similar talking point as well.

Thank you everyone. It's not going to end today. We're going to keep getting more information.

And we did talk about Sandy Hook, a little bit ago. They tore down that school, and they built a new one.

[21:50:00] But, in Florida, they've left a big piece of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, exactly as it stood, the date of that tragic mass shooting. We're going to show you why they did that, next.


COATES: Four and a half years, since 17 students, and school staff, were killed, in Parkland, Florida.

The victims' families are still reliving the trauma of that horrific day. Many shared their pain, on the stand, this very week, as jurors now weigh whether the convicted gunman should face the death penalty, or life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

Now, when considering his fate, jurors visited the mass shooting site, today. The high school, you may be surprised to learn, was left largely intact, in anticipation of this trial. Court reporters, who viewed the scene, after the jury's walkthrough, described this.


Valentine's Day cards, and teddy bears, strewn throughout the scene, amid broken glass and blood-stained walls, with, bullet marks. A murder scene, frozen in time, with laptops, left open, and assignments, never to be looked at, again. A day meant to celebrate love that turned into devastating heartbreak, for so many families.


MAX SCHACHTER, FATHER OF ALEX SCHACHTER: I wish every single day that this was a nightmare that I could just wake up from.

I want my family back. I want my sweet Alex, back.

JENNIFER MONTALTO, MOTHER OF GINA MONTALTO: Gina didn't come home from school that day.

I told her from the day that she was born until I drew my last breath that all that I have was hers. I told my daughter, I couldn't imagine my life without her. And now, at a time in our lives, when we should be focused on our children, I find myself questioning how we will be able to make it to the next day.

PATRICIA OLIVER, MOTHER OF JOAQUIN OLIVER: Our life was disrupted, suddenly. And now I keep talking to me, to him, in my mind.


COATES: That last woman there is Patricia Oliver, whose son, Joaquin, would have turned 22, today. He's remembered, for his eagerness, to make people smile. His is the story of so many others, who held so much promise, and so much hope, for the future. But their lives were cut short by one man!

We'll be right back.


COATES: Thanks for watching, everyone. I'll be back, tomorrow night.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts, right now, with, of course, Don Lemon.

Hey, Don Lemon?