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Longtime Trump Loyalist Backs FL Governor DeSantis For President; Special Counsel: FBI Shouldn't Have Launched Full Trump- Russia Probe; NBA Star Ja Morant Suspended Again For Flashing Gun In Video. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 15, 2023 - 21:00   ET



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Good evening. Thank you, for joining me, tonight. As the Republican presidential primary heats up, one of Donald Trump's former advisers, and longtime loyalists, is jumping ship, to endorse Ron DeSantis. And he'll join me, in just a moment, to explain why.

But first, the Florida governor is making waves, even before he's expected to jump, into the presidential race. DeSantis, today, signed a bill, to defund diversity programs, at Florida colleges, a clear response to critical race theory, being taught in classrooms. He's also changing Florida law, to allow himself, to campaign, while serving as governor, and to reduce transparency, over his State spending in travel.

DeSantis is also stepping into wars, off of his turf, sending migrants, who come to Florida, to States, run by Democrats. And, wading into a New York City case, praising the Marine veteran, now charged, in the subway chokehold death.

He also barnstormed the trail, in Iowa, this weekend, when the 45th President canceled a rally, there, over weather concerns.

Donald Trump is taking notice, and taking aim, at DeSantis. And DeSantis is indirectly firing back.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We must reject the culture of losing that has infected our party, in recent years.

If we focus the election, on the past, or on other side issues, then I think the Democrats are going to beat us again.


SIDNER: Trump was asked, for his response, in a new interview, and declared, quote, "I'm not at all caught up in the past. And second of all, I'm doing much better against Biden than he has in the polls. And third of all, I did very well in the midterms. Ron's not a winner because Ron without me wouldn't have won."

Today, DeSantis was asked, do you think Trump lost in 2020? This was his answer.


DESANTIS: Look at the last however many election cycles.

2018, we lost the House, we lost the Senate.

2020, Biden becomes president -- or no, excuse me, we lost the Senate in 2020. Biden becomes president, and it's done a huge amount of damage. Very unpopular in 2022. And we're supposed to have this big red wave. And other than like Florida, and Iowa, I didn't see a red wave, across this country. And so, I think the party has developed a culture of losing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SIDNER: Joining me now is former Trump adviser, Steve Cortes.

Thank you so much for joining the program, Steve.


SIDNER: All right. So, Steve, you were a staunch unwavering supporter, of Donald Trump, during the presidency, and even before he was President. Why are you backing Ron DeSantis, now, instead of Donald Trump?

CORTES: Sara, listen, I was honored to advocate, for President Trump, and for the America First movement, broadly, for many years. I now believe that this is the next natural phase of that movement.

And by that I mean that I believe that Governor DeSantis is the most electable, most conservative candidate, out there, who can both, win the general election, as well as govern effectively, as actually implement, through discipline and focus, the most conservative policy agenda possible.

I believe he has proven that by his track record, in Florida. And for that reason, I'm taking the personal risk, here, of advocating for the underdog, for the political renegade, the outsider, who was Ron DeSantis.

SIDNER: OK. So, I have to ask you. Governor DeSantis has not actually announced he's actually running for president. So, I guess, the question is, do you know something we don't know? I mean, has he told you "Yes, I am planning to do this," or giving you any indication that yes, he's going to run?

CORTES: Well, Sara, it's not my place to talk about private conversations, with Governor DeSantis. I will let him make that announcement, at the appropriate time. But I think any --

SIDNER: Oh, come on, Steve!

CORTES: -- but I think any reasonable observer will conclude that Ron DeSantis is doing everything that a person does, to prepare, to make this run for office. So, I fully expect that that is forthcoming, in the coming days, and weeks. And I'm personally very, very excited about it.

Because again, I believe that, look, the country is in a very miserable mood, right now. And that's not Steve Cortes' opinion. That's what all of the relevant polling shows us. For example, 70 percent of the American people, in a Fox News poll, say that the economy is getting worse, for this -- for their family. So, we are in a very depressed state, in the country, right now.

It will not help the country's psyche, it will not help the country, from a policy standpoint, to have a rematch, of the 2020 election that almost no one wants. We've seen this movie before, Biden versus Trump. No one likes it. We know the ending. And polling reflects that. [21:05:00]

Again, AP polling, 70 percent of the American people say they do not want President Trump, to run again. Same number, 70 percent of the people, in NBC polling, say they do not want Joe Biden, to run again.

So, how do we prevent that rematch? How do we break this political logjam, so that we can start to resurrect the American spirit? I believe that the most credible way, the solution, the antidote, is Governor Ron DeSantis, this political rising star, this young man of dynamism, who took what was a swing state, and turned it into a ruby- red Republican state.

SIDNER: You said that you endorsed Donald Trump, partly, because he was a disruptor, and you think DeSantis is the same thing. I'm curious, what you meant by that. Because Donald Trump certainly was a disruptor.


SIDNER: But he did not follow some of the norms, of the presidency, from historical past.

He was a liar. He lied a lot. He was a president, who stoke division, and anger. And Trump denies this, but there are some people, who were convicted, of seditious conspiracy, who said they blamed Donald Trump, for their actions, breaking into the Capitol.

Would you be OK, if DeSantis acted, in the same way, as former President Trump?

CORTES: Well, Sara, you and I are certainly not going to agree. I do not think that Donald Trump is a liar. I think he was exactly the disruptor that we needed, back in 2016.

SIDNER: Well he has been caught in many lies.

CORTES: But just because he was the right --

SIDNER: Just to be fair.


SIDNER: He has been caught lying, over and over and over again.

CORTES: OK. Well let's -- let's be fair. OK. And I'm --

SIDNER: So, let's be fair about that.

CORTES: -- I'm here, to advocate, for Governor DeSantis. But give me a Trump lie, then, and let's discuss it.

SIDNER: There are too many of them to even recount, literally too many to recount.

CORTES: OK. SIDNER: But I will do this. Let us talk about DeSantis, then. The Republican Party look has been best known for wanting a smaller government, a party that wants fiscal responsibility, historically has been pro-business.

And I'm curious what you think, about something that he has done, which is basically, wanting to put a bill, in place, wanting to put a law in place that doesn't allow people to look, at his past record, and some of the way, he spent money, and some of the state -- using some of the state resources, like the airplane, doesn't want people, to be able to look at that and be transparent, about what his history was, as the Governor of Florida.

What do you think about that as a law?

CORTES: Sure. Well, Sara, to the first part of your question, regarding his willingness, to take on Big Business. Yes, historically, the Republican Party was very much allied with Big Business. But that is not the new Republican Party that is not the patriotic populist movement, which is pro-worker, which is pro small business.

And so, Ron DeSantis, has shown an incredible amount of courage, in taking on the oligarchs, and their power, particularly Disney, the most powerful company, in his State, who tried to insert itself, into a cultural political question, about whether or not it's appropriate, to teach sexualized content, to extremely young children.

The people of Florida made their decision that it is not that that is not good education, for very young children. And Disney tried to flex its corporate muscle, and impose its will, on the people of Florida. Ron DeSantis has punched back very hard, at Disney, and other giant corporations.

Now, to the second part of your question, regarding his travel --

SIDNER: Well let me -- let me jump in here -- let me jump --

CORTES: -- as you know, once somebody becomes a governor --

SIDNER: I just want to jump in about Disney. I guess, the question is, since Republicans, for such a long time, were very much pro-business, wanted businesses, be able to operate the way they saw fit, and let the public decide? Do you agree that that is a difference in how the Republicans used to think?

CORTES: I think there is, yes, there is -- I will certainly agree that the Republican Party of today is far more populist, far more pro- worker, than it was in the past.

But here's the reality. Big business, in this country, in many ways, has been fused with government power, particularly if we look at Big Tech. But there are many other areas as well, where Big Business and Big Government work in concert with each other. And I believe that's why this country, in many ways, has really slouched, into oligarchy, and to the rule of the few. We have a very different vision of diffused power, of the people, actually ruling. And part of that means being willing to take on Big Business. So, I guess, the term I would use too is we are pro- enterprise. We're not pro Big Business. We are pro Free Enterprise.

And, by the way, Enterprise has absolutely flourished, in the State of Florida, because people and businesses are flocking, in absolute record numbers, to Florida, because of what Ron DeSantis has done there, because of what he has built.

So, Corporate Media wants to try to pretend that Florida has become some sort of unwelcoming backwater. But the actual reality, of domestic migration, of moving trucks and companies, pouring into the Sunshine State, tells us exactly the opposite.

SIDNER: All right, let's quickly --

CORTES: That the people have rallied to the DeSantis' vision.

SIDNER: Let's quickly go to the other issue that we talked about, which is transparency. And conservatives have typically been champions of transparency, and more transparency, in government.


But DeSantis, in court cases, has, lately, claimed executive privilege. And again, we talked about that bill that would exempt records, related to his travel. From the State's robust public disclosure law, we have the Sunshine Laws in Florida.

What do you make of this? Do you agree that he should be, in this position, to say, "Hey, you can't see the way I've spent some of the State's money, the taxpayer dollars," or you can't have any of his staff, testify, claiming executive privilege? What do you make of that?

CORTES: Well, Sara, listen, I think executive privilege is very important, for a president, very important, certainly, for a governor. As you well know, a governor can't travel the way you and I can, because of security measures. So, he has to travel, in a very different way.

SIDNER: But all governors have to travel --

CORTES: Now, assuming he does in fact make his announcement --

SIDNER: -- all governors have to travel, in a different way, and they don't use executive privilege. That is usually set aside, for presidents. And presidents do use it at times. So why is he special --

CORTES: Well, Sara, listen, I think that Governor --

SIDNER: -- in this?

CORTES: Governor DeSantis has been incredibly transparent. It's one of the reasons, one of the many reasons, why Floridians so rallied, to his cause, and gave him an absolutely overwhelming reelection, and, by the way, one with coattails.

Not just, it's not just that he soared, to a runaway smashing landslide victory. But he also lifted all other Florida statewide office holders, the first time that all of those offices, are held by Republicans, the first time, since the Civil War era, in the Sunshine State.

So, the people of Florida, clearly, are more than satisfied, with the job he is doing, with the level of transparency that he's providing. And I believe he will continue to provide that as long as he's Governor of Florida, until he becomes President of the United States, which I hope to be a big part of making happen.

SIDNER: The new bill that he signed into law does not say that. It is not more transparent. But we will leave it there, Steve Cortes. Thank you for coming on the show.

CORTES: Thank you so much for having me, Sara.

SIDNER: Thank you, Steve.

CORTES: Appreciate it.

SIDNER: It should be noted that thanks to Republican supermajorities, in the Florida Legislature, Governor DeSantis is armed with $16 million, in tax money, for his legal fights, like the one, against Disney, over the bill he signed into law that prohibits classroom discussions, in early grades, on sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Now, a fifth grade teacher is caught, in the crossfire. She showed the PG-rated animated Disney movie, "Strange World," after a day of standardized tests that the kids had taken. She wanted to teach the class, about the environment, she says. The film features a family of explorers, banded together, to navigate the world.


JENNA BARBEE, FLORIDA TEACHER: So, I thought that that was such a beautiful message to send to my kids, along with working together, chasing your dreams, compassion.


SIDNER: But "Strange World" also features Disney's first-ever openly gay character. And showing the movie to fifth graders may violate that Florida law, we just talked about. The teacher says, a parent reported her.

All right, let's start with our panel. A lot has been said.

From the City of Brotherly Love, Philly radio host, and columnist, Solomon Jones; The Washington Post's Sarah Ellison; LA Times Columnist, LZ (ph) Granderson; and former Trump White House Communications Director, Alyssa Farah Griffin.

Welcome to you all.

I know. Take a deep breath, because that was a lot.


SIDNER: All right, let's start with this situation, with Disney's. So, the question that was asked, or put forward, by Steve Cortes is, do you want chaos or results?

But where does this fall, what we've just seen with the new law? I'm going to start with you, Alyssa.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER TRUMP WH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: So, here's the problem. In many veins, Governor DeSantis is a strong candidate, for the Republican nomination.

However, he's had a number of missteps. Something that made him, propelled him, to his strength, early on, was taking on these fights, the culture wars, that challenging the "Don't Say Gay" bill, going to war with Disney. But he's been outmaneuvered.

So, he's -- we're not sure where this is going to land. But you just, this past week, Bob Iger, had said they would even consider removing jobs, 17,000 of them, the second largest employer, in the State of Florida.

I also want to note something on the so-called Don't Say Gay bill. It wasn't originally intended to be for kids, up to third grade. But the Legislature actually expanded it. So it's up -- it's K through 12 education, which is far more wide-reaching.

My advice, having known Governor DeSantis, both in the House, and as Governor, is you do have a record to run on. More people have flocked to Florida, from out Los Angeles, New York, and other parts of the country, than any state. You have a ripe economy, a growing economy. You won liberal strongholds, like Miami-Dade. The culture wars will be a loser, for you, in the general election. They are 30 percent issues. They are not something that is going to ever make you President.

SIDNER: DeSantis is famous for saying "Where woke goes to die." What do you make of this?

I mean, there is a huge problem, by the way, when it comes to teachers, and teacher shortages, in Florida, that isn't touted, and talked about. Florida ranks as fourth-worst, for teacher salaries, in the nation. And there are some 5,000 teachers' spots that need to be filled.

What do you think this is going to look like, to the folks, in the primary, as well as the general public? Because ultimately, if you want to become president, you have to win the whole country.



But first things first. First, he has to put Florida, in his rear view. And what I mean by this is this. When you go back, and you look at Governor DeSantis, when he first got into office, you look at what he was actually doing? One of the things that people don't remember that he did was he pardoned four Black men, from the 1940s, who were falsely accused of rape, through systemic racism. Governor DeSantis pardoned that. Some would call that being woke. Some would call it CRT. I call it being a Governor for everyone.

It wasn't until President Trump got in trouble, that he's began to become much more under-right, more conservative, and instead of being a governor for all, he became someone, trying to run, to win the votes, in other parts of the country.

So, your question is about, does he care about Floridians, and who had to foot that $16 million (ph) bill? Because, it's not coming out of his money, out of his pocket?

SIDNER: Right.

GRANDERSON: Or does he care about being President?

SIDNER: What do you make of what he said, what he has put forth, in schools, in particular? And it is definitely linked with this idea of critical race theory that has been used, as basically a cudgel, to try to make teachers unions, and teachers, and the whole school system, look like it's doing the wrong thing.

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. I mean, I think that your point is exactly right, which is that what made him a successful governor, and what helped him win is not what has served him well, so far, in his so-far stalled attempt, to run, which he hasn't yet even started.

He's sort of limping his way, towards announcing his candidacy, by doubling down on this sort of mini-Trump kind of position, of constantly going back to the well with the culture wars.

I think what's interesting is for people, like Ron DeSantis, who talk a lot, about cancel culture, what he's actually doing now is real cancel culture. He's a government official, who is denying free people their ability, to say what they want, in schools, and to teach what they want in schools.

And it's this sort of -- it's almost like a First Amendment violation, or at least a First Amendment principles violation, to keep people, from being able to kind of talk openly, show a movie, in your classroom, to your students. I think it's sort of the opposite of what people are going to go for, in a general election. And that's the way he sort of needs to be thinking, right now.

SIDNER: When you see this, Solomon, and you look at what this did, to that teacher, who was, by the way, a first year teacher? So these are people that they need to come into the State, to teach the kids there, in public education. She's now got a fight with the State. She's under investigation.


SIDNER: And she got permission slips, by the way, from -- I heard the interview. She got permission slips, from the parents. But they said, "Oh, you had to be very specific, and say exactly what was going on, in the movie," and she said she was at a loss.

JONES: Yes. I think that Ron DeSantis is trying to be Trump, in that he's trying to pick fights. But he's picking fights, with the wrong people.

Ron DeSantis, tough on Mickey Mouse, like that doesn't work, in terms of trying to get votes, of people, across the country, people like Mickey Mouse. And so, you're fighting Disney, you're fighting teachers, you're fighting people, who really, you should be supporting.

And so, with this teacher, she got caught, in the middle. But it was interesting what she did, because she could have gone to her union head. She could have gone to the District.

SIDNER: Right.

JONES: She could have -- she went to TikTok.


JONES: And said, "OK, if we're going to fight, we're going to fight." And so, I think it's interesting to watch the way that this teacher is reacting to this. And I wonder if she was -- if she was ready, for this fight, before it even began.

SIDNER: Yes. Right.

GRANDERSON: Sara, if I may add? I think it's also important -- I know that it's a desire, to compare him to Trump, DeSantis to Trump --


GRANDERSON: -- because a lot of their antics are similar.

The difference is he's in office. He isn't just talking. He's impacting lives. I don't see him as a little Trump. I actually see him as big as Trump, because he's actually impacting people lives, today, not just talking about it.

JONES: Yes. But he is not --


JONES: -- it's not working for him. Even in Florida, they did a poll, at Florida. And that conversed --

GRANDERSON: No. No. You're talking about voting.

JONES: Right.

GRANDERSON: I'm talking about people living their day-to-day lives. There are queer people --

SIDNER: You're talking about policy.

GRANDERSON: Yes, there are queer people --

SIDNER: Right.

GRANDERSON: -- who are under duress, in Florida, right now, because that man is in office. Not because he's talking.

JONES: Right.

GRANDERSON: But because of his policies. There's a difference, between chatter, and campaigning, and actually enacting law. DeSantis is in position to enact law.

FARAH GRIFFIN: And just really quickly, if I could say, I do think he's made a huge misstep, by taking on the LGBTQ community.


FARAH GRIFFIN: Donald Trump picked up many votes, in that community. He was actually the first kind of modern candidate, who didn't get into the debates, over gay marriage. And I think that that brought in some voters, at least in 2016, probably not in 2020. You are turning off so many voters, who could potentially be with you.

JONES: And that's why he's down -- that's why DeSantis is down in the polls, in his own State, to Donald Trump.


JONES: Florida Atlantic University did that poll in April. And if they voted, right now, he would be down 39 to 50 points (ph).

SIDNER: Which is really interesting. You got the last word on this, Solomon.

We are going to continue with this fabulous panel. Stay with us.

Just a note. The teacher will be on with Alisyn Camerota, in the next hour.


And coming up? If you're on the left, it's proof the conspiracy theories are BS. If you're on the right, it's proof, the FBI and DOJ conspired, against Donald Trump.

After four years, the Durham Report into the Trump-Russia investigation, is out, tonight. So, where does the truth lie? We'll discuss.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm waiting for the report, like everybody else. But I predict you will see things that you don't even believe. The level of corruption.

MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX BUSINESS ANCHOR: When are we going to hear from John Durham? Will there be indictments, sir?

MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think the American people expect indictments. I know I expect indictments, based on the evidence I've seen.

TRUMP: These people should be indicted. This was the greatest political crime in the history of our country.

This was an attempted overthrow.

And I look forward to the Durham Report, which is coming out, in the not too distant future.

And it's an incredible thing that happened, and we're lucky we caught them.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The number one question I get from people, they'll walk up to me, and says, "When is somebody going to jail?"


SIDNER: So far, nobody!

It's a report, four years in the making. The so-called Durham Report is out. It's dissected whether the federal investigation, into connections, between Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, and Russia, should have been launched, in the first place. It was named after John Durham, the Special Counsel appointed by the Trump Administration, to, as they put it, investigate the investigators.


The report concluded the FBI should never have launched a full investigation, and that a preliminary one would have been, quote, "Sensible." Even those findings are at odds with the previous Justice Department Inspector General investigation that concluded there was sufficient justification, to open the inquiry.

Despite multiple prosecutions, Durham's probe only secured one conviction, which did not end, in any jail time.

Alyssa is back with me; along with former Assistant Special Watergate prosecutor, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney, for the Southern District of New York, Nick Akerman.

Thank you.

You've just been here.

You're just going to stay with me on.

But thank you so much for coming, Mr. Akerman. But I'm going to start with you.


SIDNER: You know, Durham, personally.

AKERMAN: Yes. I've met him once, in an investigation, where I represented a client --


AKERMAN: -- in a white-collar matter that was very fact-based and scientific-based.

SIDNER: Is this report, those things, is it fair?

AKERMAN: It just misses. This report does nothing. It is absolutely a big zero.

Nothing is new in it. It just regurgitates the right-wing view that this whole investigation was wrong. It reiterates Attorney General Barr's statement, after the Mueller report came out that Donald Trump was exonerated. He was not.

The investigation was started, for absolutely reasonable means. It came out of a meeting, between George Papadopoulos, who was Donald Trump's foreign policy adviser, and a diplomat, from Australia, in the U.K., where he told him that he was aware that emails were in Russia's possession, and would be coming out, during the campaign.

At the same time, the FBI knew that the Russians had hacked into the DNC, the Democratic National Committee's servers. They knew -- the FBI knew that this had happened. And this connected the Donald Trump campaign, directly, with that hacking.

And then, on top of all that, even taking that as the starting point, you had Donald Trump's Chief Political Adviser, Roger Stone, who was dealing with Guccifer 2.0, who was their FSB agent that was actually releasing that information, initially, who also -- Roger Stone was dealing with Julian Assange. And he was telling people, he was dealing with Julian Assange, who was then releasing the information.

And then, on top of it all, at the end of the day, you actually had proof that there was a Russian connection, and a conspiracy. But the problem was, the government didn't have sufficient proof, to make out a criminal case, in a court of law.

SIDNER: Right.

AKERMAN: You had Konstantin Kilimnik, who was meeting, with Roger Manafort -- I'm sorry, Paul Manafort. SIDNER: Paul Manafort.

AKERMAN: The campaign manager.

SIDNER: But you have -- you had these nine convictions, or people, from the Mueller investigation, nine people, who either pleaded guilty, or were convicted, in some way, in connection with the case.

But the Mueller report did not say that they were able to find sufficient evidence, of a conspiracy, to use Russia, that the Trump campaign was trying to use Russia, or had used Russia, to try to win the 2016 campaign, for Donald Trump.

So Alyssa, when you look at this report, it's 300 pages long. So it is no small report. For some, on the right, it is being hailed as "This is proof that Donald Trump is innocent of everything, and he did nothing wrong." How do you see it?

FARAH GRIFFIN: This is something, where two things can be true at once. So, what I affirm, and I'm -- full disclosure, only read summations of it at this juncture, there was no smoking gun. There's no charges being filed, based on this.

SIDNER: Right.

FARAH GRIFFIN: But it does underscore what looks like partisan undermining, within the FBI, in this investigation that was pushing some of the -- some of what was early looked into.

So, the Steele dossier is something that we always come back to, when discussing this.

AKERMAN: Right. But that wasn't really part of this investigation.

FARAH GRIFFIN: Well it was referenced --

AKERMAN: It didn't start it.


SIDNER: Right.

AKERMAN: It really had nothing to do with it.

FARAH GRIFFIN: Yes. It was referenced, as part of it. And so, I think, when people, and the public, because we -- just to be clear, 50 percent of the country sees this one way.


AKERMAN: Right. But that --

FARAH GRIFFIN: 50 percent sees it a completely different way.

AKERMAN: But you can't see facts that don't exist. I mean, the FBI was not relying, on the Steele dossier -- SIDNER: Dossier.

AKERMAN: -- to do anything, really. And they weren't relying on this other investigation that was into a totally different individual that was hired by the Trump --

FARAH GRIFFIN: And well, I do think that is where the facts pan out. I do think it's important that the perception of half the country be addressed in this, which is this notion that there was some sort of partisan working within the FBI --

AKERMAN: No. But that -- no but --

FARAH GRIFFIN: -- and the Department of Justice.

AKERMAN: -- that's just taking fake alternative facts, and trying to turn it into something real, which it is not.


I mean, at the end of the day, the facts show that in fact, the campaign manager, for Donald Trump, was dealing with a Russian agent, was providing him, with very granular polling information, that the campaign had, on key battleground States, all of which Donald Trump won. It was used by the FSB, in St. Petersburg, to micro-target voters, in those States, and resulted in Donald Trump winning.

The only reason why no one was indicted for that was because Paul Manafort decided he wouldn't cooperate. And the reason he wouldn't cooperate is because Donald Trump told him that -- to hang in there, because he'd be pardoned. And in fact, he was pardoned.

FARAH GRIFFIN: But the problem is, is we're in a place, where there is tremendous distrust, in our institutions. And some of this, by the way, largely comes from the right, right now. Traditionally, it was more the left that would come after the law enforcement agencies. There's a distrust, in the Department of Justice, and in the FBI.

And this report coming out and saying there may have not been enough to lead to a full-scale investigation? That is going to gin up about 50 percent of this country --

SIDNER: Right.

FARAH GRIFFIN: -- to say, "See? They did not have enough. They spent however many years trying to undo the 2016 election." That's not my personal viewpoint on that. But that is how it's being seen. I'm even seeing folks, on the right, prominent names, saying, "Defund the FBI."

SIDNER: Right.

FARAH GRIFFIN: Our chief law enforcement agency that deals with human trafficking and domestic terrorism. We have to be able to address this, and talk about it, because it can tear us apart, if we're not --

AKERMAN: Well it's already -- (CROSSTALK)

SIDNER: Right.

AKERMAN: -- this all goes back to this --

SIDNER: We're going to -- we're going to have to wrap this up.

AKERMAN: Absolutely.

SIDNER: But, to be fair, it has already torn this country --



SIDNER: -- apart, in many ways. And so, we'll have to -- sort of everybody, it's 300 pages. If you want to read it, it's out there.

But thank you, Nick Akerman, for coming on, and going through those details.

A lot of people have forgotten, there's just so many things happening, the Mueller report, and what happened with that.

And Alyssa, you stay with us please.

Because, in just a bit, the Democratic congressman, whose office was attacked today, by a man, with a bat, is speaking out now.

And we have new video. That is next.



SIDNER: This is new tonight. Virginia congressman, Gerry Connolly, just talked with CNN's Manu Raju, about the attack, in his office, this morning, where a man, with a metal bat, went after two of his staffers. Take a listen.


REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I was at a groundbreaking event for National Capital Area Food Bank, and learned that a man had come into our office, with a metal baseball bat, and asked for me. And when told that I was at an event, he proceeded, to attack the young intern, who was at the front desk, on her first day.

And then, when the noise and commotion became clear, others came running out of their offices. And he attacked my Outreach Director, and hit her badly, on the back of her head.

One of my fast-thinking staff members offered to find the congressman, for him, and used that time, to bring everyone, into a safe space, called the Police, and they were there within five minutes. He was engaged in an altercation, apparently, with the Police, and had to be tasered. And one of the Police had a minor injury, in the course of trying to subdue him.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And this individual caused mass destruction, in your office too?

CONNOLLY: Yes. After he was denied access, to more staff members he could hurt, he turned his fury, on the office, itself. And a lot of broken glass, destroyed computers, some furniture. I haven't been able to get there, because it's a crime scene.

RAJU: We've seen this happen, with Nancy Pelosi's house, Steve Scalise shooting. I mean, what does this tell you about how vulnerable members of Congress are?

CONNOLLY: I think we're going to have to reassess the security, we provide, or don't provide district offices.

So, if you have -- if you're a member of Congress, and your office happens to be in the federal building, the courthouse, you're going to have security.

But if you're in a commercial office space, like me, you have no security. None. And what could go wrong with that? Well, we learned the answer to that question, this morning.


SIDNER: Congressman Connolly also said, his two aides, are now out of the hospital.

Just minutes ago, though, we got disturbing new video of the suspect. Take a listen.





SIDNER: That is truly traumatizing. This is security camera video, showing the suspect, chasing after a woman, who you hear screaming, in his neighborhood, just before he left for Connelly's office.

Again, this is before the office attack. But you see that video there. That young lady's father says he -- sorry -- the suspect's father says he's schizophrenic, and hasn't taken his medication, for three months. And you're seeing the result of that in this case. He did it again.

Now, to our next story, Grizzlies guard, Ja Morant, is suspended, once again, after video of him, flashing a gun, appeared on social media, for the second time, in less than three months. But did he actually break NBA rules? We'll get into it next. [21:40:00]


SIDNER: NBA star player, Ja Morant, has been suspended, again, after he was seen, in an Instagram live video, apparently flashing a handgun, in a car.

It is not yet clear, where he was, or when this happened, when the video was shot. But it comes less than three months, after the Memphis Grizzlies guard, was suspended, for eight games, without pay, for a similar incident, at a nightclub.

After that punishment, Morant issued this promise, to fans.


JA MORANT, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES GUARD: It's not who I am. I don't condone in any type of violence. But I take, you know, full responsibility, you know, for my actions. Made a, you know, bad mistake. I'm going to show everybody who Ja really is, you know, what I'm about and, you know, change this narrative.


SIDNER: Joining us, at the table, is CNN Legal Analyst, Joey Jackson, along with LZ, Alyssa, and Solomon.

All right, first to you, LZ. You are a fan of Morant. We got to put that out there first.


SIDNER: A lot of people are. He's young. He's on fire. He scores, I think, 22 baskets or so per game.

Yes, I did my homework!

GRANDERSON: Someone did their homework!

SIDNER: I'm right in there, on average.

GRANDERSON: Got it. Got it.

SIDNER: But he's an excellent ballplayer.

GRANDERSON: Yes, he is.

SIDNER: And yet, you're seeing this, for the second time, another video, coming out, where he's got a gun, in his hand, it appears. What is your reaction, when you heard "Uh-oh, this is out there again, another incident?"

GRANDERSON: Well, first of all, it's important to say Lakers in Six.

OK. Now, with that being said? Listen, speaking of Lakers, LeBron James is 38-years-old. We just saw him battle Steph Curry, who's in his 30s.


GRANDERSON: The league is aging. The scars are aging. Ja, you are in perfect position, to take the mantle, and make this league yours, and you're screwing it up. I don't know what the timeline is, in terms of, to your point --

SIDNER: Right, we don't know.

GRANDERSON: -- when the video was taken, when it was posted, all of that.

But what I do know is this. There's been enough chatter, around you, to make corporations wonder, if you're the person, to invest in. And I'm not just going to checking out the NBA money. LeBron James is a billionaire.

SIDNER: Right.

GRANDERSON: Michael Jordan is a billionaire. Magic Johnson is a billionaire. Not because of the ball they played, but how they played the ball off court.



GRANDERSON: And he is screwing it up, right now, whether it's legal or not, from an image perspective, he is screwing it up.

SIDNER: Speaking of an image, I want to go to you, Solomon, because he has a huge influence.



SIDNER: He is someone that is looked up to. He is young. He has 10 million or so followers, on Instagram Live. And, in so many ways, it's not just athletes, but it's just young people that look up to these guys, and say, "Wow, they worked hard. And look what they've got." And they've got their ballers. They've got tons of money. And they've got this incredible lifestyle. And they're playing ball.

What does this do to those who look up to him, and what parents have to tell their kids?

JONES: Well, I think, the question is who's he looking up to? Because there's a whole culture, around gun violence that is in music and it's on social media. And it's in his age group.

I run a non-profit, in Philadelphia, where we mentor guys, around his age. SIDNER: Yes.

JONES: Around gun violence. And some of them will tell you like, "This is part of who we are. This is our morality," right?

And so, you need someone, for him, to actually look up to, who he respects, and understands, who can actually speak to him, on that level. And I don't know that he found that person yet.

SIDNER: So, the NBA has rules that they -- there's a whole thing that they bargain with the players about. Did he break the rules? Because the ones I read it didn't seem like it.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. So they certainly, they, being the NBA, will say that he did, and he's going to have heck to pay.

I'm concerned about Ja Morant not as the brand, but as the person, because that needs to be addressed first --


JACKSON: -- before you can address anything else. Before you address your millions you have to address, internally.


JACKSON: I'm a defense attorney, so let me defend. He's a young man. Not to justify his behavior or conduct. But I'm hoping he doesn't just get canceled away. I'm hoping that there's an opportunity, for growth, for development that he could be embraced, and uplifted, by the community.

To LZ's point, which is a significant one, he's the next generation, the next generation of power players, of power people.

And so, we're not as bad as we are, on our worst day, Sara.

SIDNER: Right.

JACKSON: We're not as good as we are on our best day. The truth lies somewhere, in between. But my hope is that he gets it together, that good people come around him, and that he can build himself, build his brand, and build the NBA, to the future.

SIDNER: Alyssa, if he didn't break the law, and we've had no -- we've had no indication, because we don't know when this was taken or where. But if he didn't break the law, and the -- some of the rules? He didn't break all of the rules, we know that.

So, is there a little bit of a double standard, here? Because, we have seen politicians wielding guns, taking Christmas photos, with their whole family of children holding massive firearms.

GRANDERSON: Speak on it.

FARAH GRIFFIN: No, that's a really --


FARAH GRIFFIN: -- interesting way of looking at it. See, I think it was absolutely the right decision, to suspend him. I feel for him. I didn't realize how young he is.


FARAH GRIFFIN: He's so fun to watch play.


FARAH GRIFFIN: And he plays like he could be one of the greats.

But two-fold. I mean, for a team, they're looking at this, from the monetary standpoint. To LZ's point, if you're not going to get brands, you're not going to get endorsements. That's going to hurt the league, when you're behaving that way that's at risk.

But you also have to think about him the human that he's, you know, when you get into these roles? I've dealt with it more with celebrities, I've interviewed. But overnight, stardom, money, access?

SIDNER: Right.

FARAH GRIFFIN: If you don't have the right people around you, you can fall into the wrong habits. You can ruin your entire career, very quickly.

We got a problem with gun violence in this country. Whether it's a politician, posing with a gun, or it's this gentleman, we need to think about how that is viewed, by the people, who see it. I don't like it, when I see a politician doing it, any more than I like seeing it on his TikTok.

GRANDERSON: But isn't it interesting though, that when a politician does it, the NRA is like "Yes!"



GRANDERSON: But Ja Morant, it's like "You guys all right? I can't hear you."



JACKSON: Yes. Right.

SIDNER: Yes. There is a double standard. But when you're employed, by someone, like the NBA, they've got rules in place. And those rules, they can say, "OK, you can't make all this money, and do this." And it's something that he'll have to deal with. We now know he is suspended again.

Solomon, LZ, Alyssa, Joey, thank you so much, all for this.

JACKSON: Thanks, Sara.

GRANDERSON: Thank you.

SIDNER: All right, some people say age is just a number. But Martha Stewart is actually proving it, honey! And showing it off, gracing the cover of the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, at 81-years-old.

Coming up next, the Editor.



SIDNER: She's a homemaking guru, TV personality, businesswoman, and Snoop Dogg's bestie. Today, she has another title, under her belt.

Martha Stewart is the oldest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model, at 81-years-old. She's among four cover models, this year. Actress Meagan Good -- I'm sorry, Megan Fox, model Brooks Nader, and singer Kim Petras join her. Petras is the second transgender woman, to make the iconic issue's cover.

Here's how Martha described her historic moment.


MARTHA STEWART, 2023 SI SWIMSUIT COVER MODEL: To be, on the cover, at my age, was a challenge. And I think I met the challenge.

For me, it is a testament to good living. And I think that all of us should think about good living, successful living, and not about aging. I hope it does give people, women especially, an opportunity, to revisit their lives, and get with the picture.


SIDNER: We call that living her best life!

Joining me now, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Editor in Chief, MJ Day.

Thank you so much, for joining us.

How did you decide, how did the magazine decide, "Hey, why don't we have Martha Stewart on the cover?"

MJ DAY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT ISSUE: Well, about two years ago, I'm sure, you may remember Martha posted a pretty provocative "Thirst trap," they called it, of her coming out of her pool, in Bedford. And I'll tell you, I never forgot that. And I thought, "You know what? Here's someone, who really has it going on, in more ways than one, and let's celebrate it." SIDNER: Were there any decisions made, on the part of Martha Stewart, like, did she say, "Hey, don't do this. Don't shoot from this angle? Don't," or did you have decisions like that that had to be made?

DAY: Well, the beauty of what we do, at Sports Illustrated, is it is a really, really collaborative effort, between the talent, and the photographer and, of course, myself. And I take that approach with everyone that we work with.


But absolutely, we met with Martha, many times, going into this. It's an important, you know, it's an important moment, for her, for her brand, for what she represents, and we wanted her to feel her best, and comfortable.

So, Ruven Afanador, who is the photographer, that shot the cover, was someone that Martha had worked with previously, and someone that I've worked with previously, and we both equally adore. She reviewed swimwear (ph) choices, with us. And we talked about everything. She was a former model, you know?

SIDNER: Right.

DAY: So, she definitely knows her way, around the camera. And it was a lot of just real collaborative efforts. And Martha knows what she wants. So, does Ruven, and so do I. And I think we all met in a beautiful place. It was like a really, really lovely experience that way.

SIDNER: I got to tell you, MJ, those pictures are stunning. I don't care how old she is, or what like we like to say, seasoned.

But I do want to ask you, if you heard any criticism, or if you got any blowback, or if this has just been all praise?

DAY: I have only heard praise. And that gives me so much joy. And I am so happy to be able to say that because I think it's something that we, as women, need to hear, and feel, and understand better, because there's so many things that we've been told that we can and can't do.

And here's someone, who is living her life, to the fullest, and not knowing any lanes except the ones that she creates. And I think that's a great example for all of us to follow. And it's been really great. It's been really positive. It has been really celebratory. And it really makes me happy, as a woman, myself, to feel that.

SIDNER: Yes. There's going to be a lot of people that say "About time!" I know she's not the first person. But she's the first person, over 80-years-old. And she looks amazing. So, thank you so much, MJ Day.

The issue is on newsstands, Thursday.

Next, what caused Dave Chappelle's stand-up act to get real serious real fast? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SIDNER: "What the F happened to this place?" That is a quote, from Dave Chappelle, talking about the crime, and homelessness, in San Francisco.

He was doing it, a stand-up, in the city. He told a graphic story, about someone, using the bathroom on the street, and called San Francisco a, quote, "Half 'Glee,' half zombie movie." Chappelle, of course, is no stranger to speaking his mind, including sparking controversy, over LGBTQ issues.


The problems, in the city, are well-documented. In fact, I traveled there, for CNN's "THE WHOLE STORY" that aired this week. And I spoke to a mother, about the battle, to keep her son, off the streets, and treat his addiction. You can learn more about that story, on

Thank you so much, for joining us.

"CNN TONIGHT" ALISYN CAMEROTA is starting, right now.