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CNN Live Event/Special

DOJ Asks Kushner, Hicks If Trump Admitted Losing Election; Special Counsel Blasts Trump Efforts To Delay Documents Trial; Secret Service Ends White House Cocaine Probe With No Leads; Actors Joins The Unending Writers Strike, Production In Hollywood Now Crippled; Joe Biden Blasts Senator Tuberville's Military Blockade; Luke Combs' Remake Of Fast Car Drew Questions On Country Music Diversity. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired July 13, 2023 - 22:00   ET




JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: There is no possibility of him winning the war in Ukraine.

Putin has already lost the war.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: People came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others. They said, they think it is Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it is not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: One stage, two very different moments.

Thank you so much for joining us tonight. CNN PRIMETIME Laura Coates starts right now. Hi, Laura.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. I forgot about that moment. I'm surprised I forgot about that moment because we are still wondering, as they say, what the heck happened in Helsinki, but amazing.

COLLINS: A lot has gone on since then.

COATES: You think? How much time you got? Kaitlan, thank you so much.

Good evening, everyone. I am Laura Coates.

So, did Donald Trump privately admit that he lost the election? Tonight, we are learning the special counsel is asking that very question to his inner circle. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, along with close aide Hope Hicks, they have not testified before the grand jury in Jack Smith's investigation of efforts to overturn the election. And by asking that question, it might show that prosecutors are interested in something in particular, whether Trump acted with a corrupt intent, what he knew, when he knew it, and how he was acting on it. Now, Kushner, according to The New York Times' reporting, testified that he believed Trump truly believed the election was stolen.

Now, I should note, of course, that that contradicts what other witnesses have claimed, including what Cassidy Hutchinson said that Mark Meadows told her.


CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER AIDE TO MARK MEADOWS: And he said, a lot of times he will tell me that he lost but he wants to keep fighting it. He thinks that there might be enough to overturn the election, but he pretty much has acknowledged that he has lost.


COATES: Well, separately, tonight, and the classified documents indictment, the special counsel delivering a, we'll call it, blistering response to Trump office request to delay the trial, not for a week or a month or even six months, but until after the 2024 election. Prosecutors say the law requires that trial happens as soon as practical.

And it is worth noting they also called Trump's arguments that the Presidential Records Act gives him a defense, quote, borderline frivolous, very telling.

Let's unpack all of this and more with former Trump White House Lawyer James Schultz and also CNN Opinion Contributor and former House GOP Investigative Committee Counsel Sophia Nelson. Glad to have you both here today.

Let me begin with you, James. You were in the Trump orbit. Have you ever heard Trump or have you heard from others that he acknowledged that he actually did lose the election?

JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: No, that is not something I would have been privy to or heard from, but it is not surprising that at this point, you are seeing folks like the Kushners and others that are in that orbit, coming into the grand jury at this juncture. You're seeing other high-profile folks coming into the grand jury. I think that is largely crossing Ts and dotting Is from information they have gathered from other folks, right? And I think it is also a signal that this thing is coming to a conclusion.

COATES: Do you think so? I mean, the idea of Kushner and beyond, I do think it is interesting, the idea that you would not have privy to a conversation about something as really foundational as whether he won an election. I am not criticizing you, of course, just the notion that of all the time has come up that he is fought against that notion, it has never been discussed?

SCHULTZ: No. Look, not to my knowledge, in terms of the orbit that I run in. But I can tell you this, that he has been out there constantly saying that he won the election. It is clear that he did not win the election. And what he said privately is going to be very, very important if he did, in fact, say that, yes, I lost that election. And that is going to be a key fact for the grand jury in terms of decisions that they have to make and decisions that prosecutors have to make going forward.

COATES: Sophia, I see you nodding your head. Let me turn right to you on this issue. Because, I wonder, I mean, the fact that he is denying, or he may have believed, he says, that he -- I see the face already turning. You do not believe that? I take it. I see it. I receive it. But, legally speaking, what would be the consequence of him really believing that he won the election?

SOPHIA NELSON, CNN OPINION CONTRIBUTOR: Look, you know this is a former prosecutor, I know this as an attorney, it goes to the state of mind, right? So, that is what he is trying to probe. Did he really believe this? Did he lose his mind? Because, honestly, he would have had to not be in his right mind to believe that he won an election that he clearly lost, right?

Aides were telling him that he lost the election.


You have texts from Fox personalities and others going back and forth on January 6 about he needs to shut this down. You opened with Cassidy Hutchinson in her testimony, which I think was devastating, right, and Mark Meadows and how they felt about the president's state of mind before January 6 and otherwise. Chris Christie has talked about it, right, many times, on the campaign trail. So, I think that there is no way that he believes that he won that election. I think he decided he was going to take the election and overturn it.

And if you really go back and look at Trump's rhetoric, starting as early as before the conventions of 2020, he was leading up to that, about, well, I do not pledge to accept the results unless I have to see. There was wishy-washiness, right, this --

COATES: Hedging if it's there.

NELSON: Yes, giving myself this plausible kind of deniability out there. Well, I don't want to box myself in, like every other ordinary person who runs for president who says, yes, if I lose the election, I congratulate the other person and we do a transition and move forward.

COATES: That is the word that I hone in on, plausible deniability.

NELSON: There it is.

COATES: Because in the law, one has to have some plausible basis to believe that statement, in terms of the intent. It is a very cool difficult thing to prove though.

And I wonder, do you agree with what Jim talked about, the fact that Kushner, Hope Hicks have been now questioned that that makes this that much closer to the beginning of the end?

NELSON: Well, Laura, I mean, he would be derelict in his duties as a prosecutor if he did not go into that inner sanctum, sanctorum, right, of people who would have had conversations with the president on election night, after the Election Day, and get to his state of mind.

So, I think he is closing the loop, I agree with your earlier guest about that, that he is winding this down to bring an indictment, is what I expect. And so I think that at the end of the day, I do not believe that Donald Trump thought he won that election. I think all of the evidence is to the contrary. I think Donald Trump wanted to overturn an election. He felt entitled to the election. And when he did not get his way after losing 60 cases, I believe it was that they brought, in different states around the country, they decided to do January 6 and cause an insurrection and overturn.

COATES: Let me bring you back in here, Jim, because I am really curious about the calendar issue here. Obviously, we are about, what, 480 so days away from the presidential election and we know the Department of Justice does not want to be interfering with an election. They do not want to get to the very 11th hour of things. But we are still a significant time away from it, a couple -- about a month or so away from the debate, of course. And they have said, in order to prosecute this case, they are going to need shy of a month, unlike the E. Jean. Carroll case, right, he has to actually be present for that. That means removing him from the campaign trail.

But even with that, what do you make of the fact that Trump office of legal counsel is trying to postpone this past the election ? Obviously, the speedy trial right belongs to the defendant, but there are limitations here, right?

SCHULTZ: Yes, there is a couple of things at play, right? So, I think first, they are trying to delay it because it is going to take them off the campaign trail, and I am sure the former president wants to stay on the campaign trail. Two, there is opportunity here if it gets delayed beyond and he ends up winning an election, winning the primary, and then winning the election, that creates an opportunity. He has already said in the past that he has the power to pardon himself. I'm sure that that is probably in the back of his mind if he is, in fact, convicted. And, lastly, if it happens after the fact and he ends up -- in his mind, if he ends up being president, he is then in charge of the Justice Department once again. So, I think they're looking to create opportunities and stretch this thing out.

That being said, I think the judge in this case probably feels a little stung by some of her earlier decisions, likely wants to appear impartial on this thing, wants to make a decision that is in the best decision of the country on this thing. And I think she is going to be hard-pressed to extend out beyond the election. I just don't see it.

COATES: I mean, the idea of, I guess, you ask for the world, right, if you give a mouse a cookie, Sophia, and then you try to negotiate backwards from that. I am not calling anyone a mouse. We're talking about the election as a cookie. So, just to be very clear, America, it's not what I've said. I'm a mom, my kids have read these books all the time.

But the real question is, you ask for everything but there is the political aspect of this. At the same token, when the DOJ does not want to be perceived interfering with an election, is it one reasonable way to do that, say, look, we are going to handle it way before the election and we want to do it quickly. That is not what he wants, though.

NELSON: I'm sorry. I recall, I think, somewhere in 2016, about October, the Justice Department, one Comey, went after Hillary Clinton and announced that there was an investigation weeks before an election. So, I'm a little bit remiss to say that the Justice Department won't be political in the sense of feeling like they have the power to pursue or not pursue something in the way that Donald Trump is trying to argue in these briefs, right, that somehow they have to wait afterwards.


I think that they believe that they have got the goods on him, they are going to go forward with an indictment, and I think it's going to happen sooner rather than later, because I agree, you do not want to delay. But we are not in 2024 yet. So, I would think that he's going to bring an indictment soon. It is a follow-on to the first one. And then I expect Fani Willis and others to pick up.

COATES: We'll see. This is a twice-indicted president, as we know, at the state and, of course, federal level. James Schultz, thank you. Sophia, stick around. We'll be right back as well.

Everyone, up next, who left cocaine at the White House? That is actually question I am asking tonight. Secret Service says it has no clue, end of story. But is it? And should it be the end? Really?

Plus, Lisa Marie Presley's cause of death revealed tonight, and it involves a surgery she once had.

And, a conversation about one song, two artists, three decades apart, and what it says about American culture.


COATES: The whodunit mystery at the White House will apparently remain unsolved, because, tonight, the Secret Service says that it has no idea who brought cocaine into the people's house, and that it is ending the investigation. So, poof, over, the case is closed. No fingerprints, no DNA, no leads, no video, and no suspects, which is pretty wild considering it is the White House, after all.


This all happened at the lower level entrance of the West Wing.

Now, there are cubbies there for visitors to drop off, say, their phones or maybe their bags. People come in there for tours that are led by White House staffers. There is also apparently a blind spot for video cameras that are actually near those cubbies, which are not far from the situation room. On the floor just above is everything from the Oval Office to the Roosevelt and cabinet rooms. So, let's take a look at this from an investigative lens, shall we? Because here are the big questions, what if the object had been a dangerous object? What if it was a piece of spy equipment? And how are their blind spots in White House surveillance? I mean, how could the FBI and all of its technology not be able to figure this out? How are visitors being vetted? Is the building that houses the president of the United States truly secure?

Let's bring in Larry Pfeiffer, former Senior Director of the White House situation room and directed director of the Hayden Center at George Mason University, and Sophia Nelson is also back with us now.

I mean, I hate to belabor the point, Larry, but just the notion that they do not know who brought in something like this, if it had been something else is cause for concern for many people. But just talk to us for a second, walk us through how these cubbies that they are talking about, where this is located, even came to be in the White House?

LARRY PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR OF WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM: So, there have always been cubbies, lockers to put phones and electronic devices before you go to a secure portion of the White House, like the situation room and some of the offices of the National Security Council.

But at some point during the Trump administration, these cubbies had been inside the doorways of the situation room. Sometime during the Trump administration, they decided to put more of these cubbies on the outside of the situation room to try to encourage people to not bring them into the SCIF, even accidentally. It was reinforced after Omarosa was caught using a recording device in the situation room to record, I think, when she was being told that she was going to be fired.

So, they have been there for several years and the idea is people should be voluntarily be putting them in these lockers to avoid accident having a phone in a secure space, which can be a dangerous thing. The phone could be surreptitiously hijacked by foreign intelligence service to pick up conversations in a room, for example.

COATES: I mean, so given all that, and approximately i the situation room, for example, is it satisfactory to have the answer of we do not know?

PFEIFFER: Well, it is kind of trite to say we are talking about cocaine here. We are not talking some kind of electronic device. We are not talking anthrax. We're not talking some radiological device, which the Secret --

COATES: But that is the point, right? We could be.

PFEIFFER: But I think the Secret Service actually has the capabilities and the focus to catch those kinds of substances. They have dogs that are trained to pick up the scent. They have other sensors in place that can pick up that material. They are probably not focused on catching cocaine or marijuana or things are not going to be directly harming the president or any of the other protectees in the White House.

COATES: So, you're saying there is still surveillance, they're still patrolling, the idea that there is something that's hanging in the White House just unnoticed for stretches of time is not going to be the standard?

PFEIFFER: Correct.

COATES: Take us back away from how this is devolving into the cocaine bear movie at some point in time, right, but when you think about this, Sophia, this is a talking point that will likely be used as security of the White House. We know about the White House being accused of in other administrations as well, as a sieve, a lot of leaks, the security. Who has been at the White House since this may have been there? It has been the site of international diplomatic relations and meetings. Will this haunt the administration?

NELSON: Let's talk about the politics, rightly so. I mean, over the last few weeks, this has become a story. There have been insinuations that perhaps it was found close to where the vice president parked, insinuating that maybe it was the vice president. Of course, you know, person suspect number one is the president's son, Hunter Biden.

So, in the right wing echo chamber, this is a big issue. It is a security breach, but, really, it is a cover-up, right? And you have a lot of Americans that believe that. Hence, I think the president of the United States, when he gets back from his business internationally, needs to direct the Secret Service to figure this out and reopen this. Because not only is it good domestic and national security but it is also important, I think, for credibility that he says it is unacceptable that with all the technology we have that this gentleman just explained so well, and as someone who covered the White House from 2010 to 2012 and been in there many times, they have a lot of security in there, a lot of things you cannot do.


I find it incredulous that some member of the public or someone else just brought in illicit cocaine and left it somewhere, like that's actually ridiculous.

So, there has to be somebody who did this, whether that person worked there, is in the Secret Service, whom I have a great deal of respect for, I do not know. But it is unacceptable and not politically tenable for Biden not to say they have to get an answer to this.

COATES: Is there some moment in history that has a parallel here, where a president or a new administration has to come out and talk about a potential security risk of this kind?

PFEIFFER: Well, there have a security incident at the White House before. There have been circumstances, for example, when unclassified communications or unclassified emails were known to be targeted by foreign intelligence services. So, they have had to tighten up the security around communications. We had the incident back in 2001, where actual anthrax was mailed to the White House. Sadly, it killed some postal workers at a remote facility where the mail is first taken and gone through. But there have been instances.

And these are human beings. These Secret Service people, god bless them, they are working hard. They are underfunded and overworked. Their primary mission is to protect the president and the other protectees in that White House. I know they have done the best they can, but they are human, so they're going to make mistakes. And they're probably beating themselves up more than just about anybody else's right now.

I guarantee you, somebody is purchasing cameras to put them there so that blind spot is no longer there because, again, cocaine itself isn't going to threaten the president of the United States, but it is quite an embarrassment to have cocaine and illicit substance found meters away from the situation room and just downstairs from the Oval Office.

NELSON: And the fact that it was in a blind spot tells me a lot. And I am no Secret Service agent but somebody probably knew that was a blind spot. Because if you're bringing cocaine into the White House, that was an intentional thing, whoever had it and spent their money on it, lost it or got rid of it, I do not know.

COATES: Well, there are a lot of questions. They are closing the investigation right now, But one thing certainly is true. If you're the president of the United States coming back from the NATO summit and you've got the national defense agreements and budgets ahead of you, the last thing you want to be addressing back on American soil is a baggie like this. But, nonetheless, here we are.

Everyone, Larry, Sophia, thank you so much.

Everyone, next, Lisa Marie Presley's cause of death has now been revealed, and it involves complications from a weight-loss surgery. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me.

Plus, Hollywood is crippled tonight. Actors have joined the writers on strike. And this is shaping up to be a big, big fight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic.




COATES: Tonight, we now know the official cause of death of Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis Presley's daughter, who died back in January at the young age of just 54. The L.A. Medical Examiner says that she died from a small bowel obstruction, which was caused by complications from weight- loss surgery that she had years ago.

Joining me now to talk about more of this is CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, I'm so glad you are here. It is so sad to think about this happening to anyone, but the notion of someone dying of obstruction of the small intestine might sound very surprising to people. In fact, the deputy medical examiner in this case said that it was likely related to bariatric surgery that she had years ago. What do you know about this sort of condition and potential even side effect?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There are certain parts of this, what happened to Lisa Marie Presley, that sound pretty common. We know the sort of thing can happen after a previous operation and some things that are more unusual. Let me sort of talk you through it.

What we know is that she had an operation years ago. After you have an operation on your abdomen, you can develop scar tissue. These are called adhesions inside the abdomen. And over time, they can develop and actually cause pressure and blockages, sort of blocking off part of the small intestine. And someone might have pain intermittently. Those blockages may come and go. And it sounds like maybe she had pain off and on. Certainly, the morning that she died, she had significant enough pain that she was taken to the hospital. She was unresponsive, and subsequently, had died.

Now, we are getting the official cause of death, which they say was due to this strangulation of the small bowel. So, think about the scar tissue sort of pushing on the small bowel, and that part of that small bowel not really getting adequate blood flow and becoming completely blocked. That is what they are saying ultimately led to her dying.

The first part of that, developing the scar tissue, developing the adhesions after the operation, again, that is something that happens, Laura. And people sometimes have to have repeat operations to sort of lift up that scar tissue.

Dying of this, though, is a bit more unusual. It could be that the small bowel actually opens up, that strangulated part opens up and someone develops a severe infection, sepsis. That could be the problem. Sometimes just the necrosis, the dead tissue of that small bowel, that can lead to someone dying.

But, again, you know, I want to be clear that that is unusual. If someone goes to the hospital, oftentimes, they can have this treated. It sounds like by the time she got to the hospital, it was so far along that they simply couldn't do anything for her.

COATES: Sanjay, one more question, because the report also listed therapeutic and not dangerous levels of Oxycodone. Can medications like this play a role in what happened?


GUPTA: I think there is two parts of a question here. One is this idea, could you take so many of these medications that someone could have an overdose, that they stop breathing and that leads to their death. And it sounds like what the medical examiner is saying is that did not happen in this case.

On the other hand though, medications like opiates, if you have a small bowel problem, they slow down the motility and the movement of the small bowel even more so. So was it the cause of death? No. I think that's what the medical examiner is saying. Could it make things worse in a situation like this? Perhaps, she's having pain. She takes opiates, that's the wrong thing to take when you have a small bowel obstruction because it can actually make that problem worse.

COATES: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you for your expertise. It's just so sad to think about this happening. She leaves behind her children and relatives. It's really stunning to think about how this has all happened. Thank you for your expertise.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you, Laura.

COATES: Well, it's the summer of strikes. Actors will now join writers on the picket line and I'll speak with actress Yvette Nicole Brown on just what they're demanding.

Plus he first made waves by suggesting white nationalists aren't racists. Now the highest levels of the military say Senator Tommy Tuberville is putting national security at risk. Wolf Blitzer joins me next.




COATES: It's the summer of strikes, everyone. Actors are now joining the writers on the picket lines as both unions demand more of the streaming pie. This marks the first time since 1960 that both actors and writers have been on strike together and the first time since 1980 that the actors stopped work. Just think about that.

43 years ago, Caddyshack and Cheech and Chong ruled the box office and some of the stars born that year were Chris Pine and Kristen Bell and, of course, yours truly that same year, SAG President Fran Drescher slamming the studios.


FRAN DRESCHER, PRESIDENT, SAG-AFTRA: I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things, how they plead poverty, that they're losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.


COATES: However, Disney CEO Bob Iger is pushing back on this strike saying the union's expectations, he says, they're just not realistic. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB IGER, DISNEY CEO: There's a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic. And they are adding to a set of challenges that this business is already facing that is quite frankly very disruptive.


COATES: For more on this, I want to bring in actress and SAG National Board member, Yvette Nicole Brown. You can currently catch her on Bounce TV's "Act Your Age." And she's also being rightly honored this Sunday with the Pioneer of Influence Award at the 2023 Micho Film Festival. I'm so happy to see you. I've been such a fan of your work for so long.

And I got to tell you, when we think about what's happening right now, I mean, SAG actors demand they include better pay. They include benefits. Streaming residuals and protections on A.I., why do you think studios, Yvette, are not meeting your demands?

YVETTE NICOLE-BROWN, ACTRESS: You know, first of all, the love is mutual. I want to say that. It's funny to me. I want to go back to what was said before I came on, the idea of unrealistic expectations. Those of us that are in this industry, be it -- we're writers or actors, we started this by dreaming and having unrealistic expectations, right? So you're talking to the dreamers. So we're continuing to dream that we can have a life in this industry and pay our bills at the same time.

Call us crazy. We'd love to be able to do that. I don't know why they refuse to just allow us to make a living wage. And I want to say over and over, I've been saying over and over, this is not about the movie stars and the huge stars you see.

This fight is for the rank and file actors and the rank and file writers who are just starting out and want to be able to build a career that will last for generations. You can't get there when you're only working on six episodes and then you got eight months to wait until you get your next shot.

You can't get there when you have to pay for self-taping to be able to audition for a job. You can't get there when they take away your residuals and you can't live off of them. These are just basic things. Can we get still on the tour and still help? You know what I mean? This isn't hard.

COATES: You know, when you say all those things that occurs to so many people, and we see the final product so many times, right? We're watching it, we're consuming it, we're enamored with it. But what goes into making it? When you see the list of credits that go at the end of any production, you see all of the blood, sweat, and tears of people whose names might not be on the marquee.

But one understanding, in the short term, what are the implications of these strikes for actors and writers, because for the very reasons you just talked about, it's going to impact the rank and file especially?

NICOLE BROWN: I mean, the sad thing is it's not just the writers and the actors. There are a lot of people that make a show work, the crew, the people that bring your food every day, the people that are cleaning the studios. All of these people are out of work. Makeup and hair people are out of work. This is everybody's problem right now. And I'm kind of offended that they're acting as if because the writers and the actors are fighting for us getting a fair wage, we're the bad guys.

As President Drescher said, we are on the right side of history. We are trying to fight this fight now so that there is an industry left. We are working on contracts that are outdated. And this is the thing about the producers. They never move forward with a new thing until they know it's lucrative.


So the idea that they're saying that A.I., oh, they don't know about this A.I., it could be, no, you know that A.I. is gonna make a lot of money. And that's why you wanna make sure that you control it. We have been chasing contracts. We'll make a -- they'll make a deal about DVD saying DVD or streaming is not lucrative. And then you find out three or four years later by the time you're in the contract, that they're making millions and buying yachts.

So we're trying to stop that process and not have to chase it. That's what this is about so we can have an industry later.

COATES: The leverage at issue though, when you think about that, the powers that be, as people often speak about, compared to those who are the most creative and yet relatively powerless, this is really a moment in time. It's been decades, literally, since this has happened. Do you have any sense of how long you think this would last? And is it that much far away from any resolution?

NICOLE BROWN: Well, if you hear the producers talk about it, they're gonna keep going till nobody has a home to live in. Isn't that nice? That's how long they wanna go.

So I'm hoping that by doing interviews like this and more of us talking that the people that love entertainment will understand that we work hard and we deserve to make a living in the same way everyone deserves to make a living. This is like the summer of union labor people saying enough and we're part of that.

And so, if you look at us as just human beings working a vocation the way everyone else is working a vocation, take the fame and whatever you think it is, we're just people working a job and we'd like to have healthcare. And we like to make sure that we can, you know, take care of our kids who are in school. These are not hard things to imagine. Imagine if it were you.

COATES: And to your point, should these be dreams, you know? Yvette Nicole Brown, thank you so much. I'm glad to see you and thank you for helping us to understand even more. NICOLE BROWN: Thanks for having me.

COATES: Well, Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville now ticking off both the president and the nation's top military leaders. Wolf Blitzer joins me next on the standoff.

Also, it's the chart-topping cover that is sparking quite a conversation. You hear it right now? Tracy Chapman's fast car? Or is it Luke Combs' now? That's ahead.





COATES: The Tommy Tuberville backlash intensifying tonight at the very highest levels of the military. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the Republican senators hold on hundreds of military promotions is a national security issue and is impacting U.S. military readiness.

Tuberville takes issue with a Pentagon policy that offers time off for service members and dependents seeking abortions. Wolf joins me in a moment, but first listen to President Biden's take.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The idea that we don't have a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the idea that we have all these, all these promotions that are in abeyance right now, that we don't know what's going to happen, the idea that we're injecting into fundamental foreign policy decisions what in fact, as a domestic social debate on social issues, is bizarre. I don't ever recall that happening, ever. And it's just totally irresponsible, in my view.


COATES: I want to bring in Wolf, who's joining me from Vilnius, Lithuania, where he's been covering this week's all-important NATO summit. He also had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Secretary Austin Wolf. I'm so glad to see you.

And this interview you had with the secretary is so impactful and illuminating. What else did Secretary Austin say about Senator Tuberville?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: He's very unhappy with what Senator Tuberville is trying to do, blocking these promotions of generals, two-star generals becoming three-star or four-star generals, admirals. He says it's undermining U.S. national security. And it's hard for him to believe that a U.S. senator is actually doing this, potentially sending the wrong signals to U.S. adversaries around the world, whether Russia or China or others. And he's not very happy about what Senator Tuberville is doing.

Earlier today we sat down for this exclusive interview here in Vilnius and we had this exchange on what Senator Tuberville is doing. Listen to this.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is a national security issue. We just talked about, we sat down a couple of minutes ago. What a complex environment this is, you know, around the world, quite frankly.

We see the tough things that we're dealing within -- here in Europe as we continue to provide support to Ukraine in its efforts to defend its sovereign territory. We're working hard to make sure we keep the right balance in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen our alliances. And we need leaders to be able to do that.

This is a national security issue. It's a readiness issue. And we shouldn't kid ourselves. I think any member of the Senate Armed Services Committee knows that.

BLITZER: Senator Tuberville said he's only spoken to you about this once. That was back in February. Why not have a conversation with him and get this resolved?

AUSTIN: I will. Well, I certainly will continue to engage him. Yeah.

BLITZER: But you're not doing it right now. I mean, the last conversation was in February.

AUSTIN: It was in March, end of March. But yeah, I'll engage him.

BLITZER: You'll talk to him, and your message to him will be?

AUSTIN: He needs to lift the holes, Wolf. This is a national security issue. It's a readiness issue.



BLITZER: It's a very significant national security issue and I say that as a former Pentagon correspondent myself. I don't remember a time when these promotions have been held back as a result of some policy difference between a member of the Senate and the Department of Defense. It's a very significant development.

And I will say this Laura, we ran that excerpt from the interview. Earlier today, and I like to think that as a result of playing that excerpt here on CNN, the two men, Tuberville and Secretary Austin, did have a phone conversation, and they began a little dialogue on what to do, and maybe they could resolve this.

But I like to think that exchange that I had with Secretary Austin played a role in convincing Tuberville to go ahead and have this conversation with Secretary Austin, maybe they can resolve this. It is so important. You can't imagine what it would be like if they held up the confirmation of a new commandant, for example, for the U.S. Marine Corps. It would have very, very significant developments. And let's see what happens. Hopefully they can work this out.

COATES: Wolf Blitzer joined me earlier and thank you so much.

Up next, a country star covers Tracy Chapman's 80s hit. And it's brought to conversation about music and diversity. We're going to go there next.


COATES: One song, two artists, three decades, and a conversation about culture and diversity in the world of music.



Singer Tracy Chapman's popular single from 1988, "Fast Car," is back in the spotlight after country star Luke Combs covered the song this year. His version is currently number one on the Billboard country charts and number two overall. For a perspective, Chapmen's version went as high as number six.

For more, I want to bring in Holly G. She's the founder and co- director of Black Opry, an organization for Black Country music singers and fans. Holly G., I'm so glad you're here. Thank you for joining me this evening.

I wonder from your perspective, why do you think that Combs' version has seen maybe more immediate success on the charts than say Tracy Chapman's version?

HOLLY G, FOUNDER AND CO-DIRECTOR, BLACK OPRY: Well, Tracy Chapman has never been acknowledged by the country music industry. And the only reason that her work is being celebrated now within the industry is because Lou Combs, who is a great artist that I'm a fan of, but he put a white face to the music. And so it stripped the barriers that Tracy would have faced in this industry and made it easy for it to be a hit because it's a really great song.

COATES: Oh, it's an incredible song. I mean the lyrics, the intonation of her voice, everything about it. But people do they necessarily associate Tracy Chapman with country music the way they say Luke Combs or is that just the way that we have as a society pigeonholed artists, particularly black artists, to suggest if you're a black artist you must be this and cannot be XYZ.

HOLLY G: I think you hit the nail on the head. A lot of fans of music, myself included, before I started this work don't realize that genre, so much of it is just marketing efforts. And so when people see a black woman with a guitar playing that style of music, it gets coded as something else. Even though if you listen to the original version of "Fast Car." Luke didn't change very much. And so for him to be able to sing such a close to the original version and have a hit with it just lets you know that there's absolutely been prejudice and discrimination as far as what's been allowed in the genre.

COATES: You know, not taking anything away from his rendition because it is a beautiful rendition. He has credited her in terms of, I think, of learning how to play the guitar in terms of that particular song, has fond memories of his childhood learning this music and certainly has had a string of successful hits adding this one to it, but it does also mean that "Fast Car," because of Combs' success, is going to make Tracy Chapman the first black woman to score a number one country song as a solo writer. What is your reaction to this?

HOLLY G: Well, first of all, I want to make it clear that like I'm not angry, upset or frustrated with Luke Holmes. I think it's great that he did this and I'm glad that it has the success that it has because now we get to have this conversation.

As I said, I'm a huge fan of his, so my hope is that he recognizes the opportunity that he has to really, really do something important and impactful with the zest that he's created from her song.

This would be a perfect catalyst for him to sit down with our community and have a conversation. Black woman on tour with him or a queer artist or whatever, he can do to help level the playing field. And honestly, that's the reason that I agreed to come on this platform because I really want that message to get to him that this is a huge opportunity for him to be a part of doing the right thing.

COATES: You know, when we think about music and genre and just how confining we at times are as a society, we are in a world of remakes, right? Whether it's a movie, Holly G, whether it's a song, the battles of who did whose rendition was better or worse. We have this battle -- Huh? What did you say?

HOLLY G: It's a nostalgia era.

COATES: It is a nostalgia era. So, I mean, even neon's coming back. We can talk about that for other reasons. But thinking about the way, some would say, no, this is not an opportunity. Critics who will say, Holly G, look, it's just music. There need not be a moment to politicize or sociologicalize this and think about it as a notion of diversity and a call for diverse voices.

Isn't music the great unifier and the common denominator? What do you say to those who would look at this and say, this has nothing to do with her race or his. This is all about, I like the song, I want it to remake it.

HOLLY G: Well, if that were true, then it wouldn't have taken. I mean, the Billboard chart started back in 1929, and we are now in 2023, and it's the first time a black woman has ever topped the charts as a songwriter. So if it wasn't about race, how did we get this far without black women seeing success in the genre? And if there is some other explanation, I'm happy to find it, and we can figure out whatever it is, and we can fix it and move forward, because the only thing that we want to see is it get better.

I think a lot of people assume that we are like trying to call out or talk down on, but I'm criticizing country music because I love it and I want it to be better and I want to feel safe in it.