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Victims Of Police Shooting And Brutality Speak Out; Seven-Time Olympic Medalist Simone Biles Returns To Gymnastics Spotlight; Trump Makes Threat After Judge Warns Him Against It; New Victim Named In Gilgo Beach Serial Killer Probe; White Officers Plead Guilty To Torture Of Black Men. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired August 04, 2023 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: At the time, Biles said that she suffered from what she called the twisties, a mental block essentially that causes gymnasts to lose track of their position midair. With this event tomorrow, though, she is hoping to qualify for the national championships and take her first step toward the Olympics in 2024. And, of course, we are all wishing her the best of luck.
Thank you so much for joining us on what was an incredibly busy news week. CNN PRIMETIME with Laura Coates starts right now. Hi, Laura.
LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. What was so busy about it? Was there like a news this week? Kaitlan, I can't quite tell.
COLLINS: I took a few trains this week, I'll just say that, back and forth from New York to D.C.
COATES: You know what? And a few people got thrown under a bus. And we should talk about what that means. Nice to see you.
Hi, everyone. I'm Laura Coates, and thank you for joining me.
Here's the big question of the evening, everyone. Did Donald Trump just perhaps violate the conditions of his release? The former president threatening retaliation just 24 hours after, yes, his third indictment, when a judge warned him, by the way, against intimidating or tampering with witnesses. Take a look.
On social media, he was writing, quote, if you go after me, I'm coming after you, kind of a way of saying, don't come for me until I send for you, apparently. We'll talk about all that in a moment with our law expert who testified at one of his impeachment hearings.
But, first, Trump also railed against the charges against him at an event in Alabama just a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Every one of these many fake charges filed against me by the corrupt Biden DOJ could have been filed two and a half years ago. They didn't want to do it two and a half years ago. They wanted to wait, and they did wait. They waited right to the middle of an election and they waited until I became the dominant force in the polls.
They want to interfere in my campaign. They want to interfere in the elections, a commonly used tactic in third world countries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: This all comes as his lawyers and his allies continue to float, well, some possible defenses in the election interference case. He's now asking the Supreme Court to intervene.
I want to get right to the news tonight with CNN Anchor and Chief Domestic Correspondent Jim Acosta, who, by the way, will be here at 11:00 tonight. I'm excited to see you this evening as well.
Jim, we look to you. You have so much experience having followed this man on the trail. I don't know if you like being synonymous at times with Donald Trump or not, but not for the same reasons. He is floating this idea, as you have seen. Look, they're coming after me, but they really want to get to you. And I'm standing in between.
We've heard this a lot. Why does this have legs?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He's been saying this for months now, I am your retribution, they're coming after me, I'm just standing in the way of them coming after you, that kind of thing. And, honestly, I think he's doing this because what other choice does he have but to cast all of these legal troubles as a plot against the rest of the country.
I mean, he's been a fan of spinning these kinds of lies and conspiracy theories ever since he started running for president way back in 2015. And he was talking in very threatening terms about Jack Smith, the special counsel, calling him deranged, and that sort of thing.
And, Laura, what he's going to do throughout this campaign with these cases all pending and these indictments pending, is he's going to dance right up to the line. He's going to go over it from time to time, going after the --
COATES: Or a lot of the time.
ACOSTA: A lot of the time going after the judge, the lawyers, the prosecutors, Democrats up on Capitol Hill, his political opponents inside the Republican Party. He's going to continue to play this hand because it's the hand that he's always played.
I've covered him, as you said, for years now. And going back all the way to the 2016 campaign, he has a talent for creating this climate, this environment, where it feels like political violence could break out at any moment. He wants the country frightened in a state of almost political terror all of the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because that is the kind of environment that he tends to do well in. And so I don't suspect that he's going to change this way of behaving at all. He's going to try to exploit this. I was talking to a Trump adviser earlier today who said they believe wholeheartedly that they can delay these cases until after the election and so they don't have to worry about winning the Republican Party contest. They think they've got the nomination already wrapped up.
And in the general election battle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as we saw back in 2016, all it takes is for Donald Trump to get a little bit of luck and for his Democratic opponent to have a little bit of bad luck, like that Comey letter 11 days before the 2016 election. And he has a chance of getting back in there.
COATES: Well, you know, when you think about it, what is the famous line in Game of Thrones? Chaos is a ladder. He certainly is climbing it. It's not the first politician to be able to say, hey, if there's enough pot stirring, if there's enough going on right here, perhaps the periphery and anyone who's in it will be lost in all of this.
COATES: The polling does hold him quite strong, and he's even had some say, the audacity to say, look, I just need one more indictment, and then it's like I've got a straight flush for some reason, a fourth indictment. He believes this is going to be an additional feather in his cap.
And, frankly, I remember so well when you were at so many of his rallies, and we could tell in front of the cameras, there would be people who were vicious behind the cameras. They couldn't wait to get a picture with you. There was this duality that was going on that you often seem to mirror in the Republican Party of his allies today, of, publicly, they say one thing, privately, something else.
Is there a moment that you're seeing, reporting-wise and politically, where maybe the two will meet and the sort of gloves come?
ACOSTA: Really, I think what you see is what you get. I mean, Donald Trump is crazy like a fox. And, you know, he is going to continue to push the envelope of do everything but violate the very specific orders of this federal judge that were handed out as arraignment yesterday. He may even violate them to some extent. He is going to dare and tempt any judge overseeing any of these cases to come after him and lock him up during these proceedings. They are starting to see this inside of Trump world as a winning hand. A fourth indictment might be four aces, as far as they're concerned at this point.
And to some extent, and this is not meant as a criticism of the Justice Department or of the attorney general, Merrick Garland, but by waiting as long as they did, they did sort of welcome this possibility that Donald Trump could say, hey, wait a minute, you're doing this because we're right in the middle of a campaign.
Now, obviously, the folks who will defend the Justice Department and the attorney general will say, no, it just took this long to get to this point. Well, it took too long and that it came right in the middle of this campaign process. And, of course, we may not see indictments brought to a trial until well into the Republican primaries of the next year. And who knows what happens after that?
Laura, the other big question is, what does the Republican Party do with all of this? I mean, I don't think anybody has contemplated what does the GOP do if Donald Trump is somehow tried and convicted and sentenced to jail right before the Republican Convention next year or right after the Republican Convention next year?
COATES: The Constitution doesn't say he can't, right?
ACOSTA: That's right. What are they going to do about that? I don't think they've fully thought this through either. So, while there's a lot of doomsday scenarios and gloom and doom about, oh, Donald Trump could get back in the White House, there's certainly a lot of gloom and doom to the Republican side of the aisle too. I don't think they've fully thought through how this could really blow up in their faces next year.
COATES: Stay tuned for the tumbleweed. It's getting ready to go down the Wild, Wild West yet again. We're in uncharted territory yet again.
ACOSTA: We are.
COATES: Except that this is now the third, and we're all quite accustomed to the indictment cycle at this point.
Jim Acosta. Stick around. We're going to see him, everyone, at 11:00 as well.
I want to unpack more of what we're talking about here. I want to bring in Michael Gerhardt, who's a law professor at the University of North Carolina. It's nice to see you, my friend.
I think like I can almost hear you thinking right now when it comes to any conversation about the notion of witness intimidation, voting rights deprivation, all these aspects that have been swirling around the former president of the United States.
Tonight, Trump is saying that they could have charged him right after leaving office, but putting aside that the documents didn't become an issue, obviously, until after he left office, but those are just minor details. That's actually not how investigations work, right? Tell me about the timeline that he is that the DOJ is often criticized for. Do you see that timeline as problematic?
MICHAEL GERHARDT, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA: I don't see that timeline as problematic, and I see it that way for the following reason, that we've got two things going on right now. One is all about politics. One is obviously the campaigning. And what Trump is doing is he's providing all this political rhetoric and he's appealing to his base.
But the other thing that should be going on is how the legal system works. And politics, on the one hand, moves much faster than the legal process works on the other. The thing about courts and a prosecutor is they take time to build their case. They follow the evidence. And so Jack Smith has done that. It takes a while. But meanwhile, Trump can occupy that space by making it sound as if, oh, they're just dragging their heels. No, they're doing their job.
This is what a professional prosecutor does. It takes time to build a case and then to present it. And the political world is going to be moving much faster, so can sort of try and deflect people's attention from what's going on in the legal world.
COATES: I mean, it's called due process, not due quickness, right? I mean, bureaucracy is not really known for its expedience oftentimes.
But I remind people it's not that Jack Smith was the special counsel on, say, I don't know, January 7th, right? He has just recently, relatively speaking, come indisposition, and they've had a lot of prosecutions of people who actually entered into the Capitol. They have not been dragging their people respect to many of that evening. Case in point, this judge, like other judges, has a lot of experience now with conversations surrounding the sentence thing of January 6th insurrectionists and beyond.
But this is breaking news, we're just getting in as well. We now have word that the special counsel has now cited Trump's Truth Social post tonight. I was getting ready, Michael, to ask you about this very Truth Social post that says, if you go after me, I'm coming after you.
And I was going to ask you, is this problematic in the eyes of the prosecution? Well, tonight, they are now asking for a protective order. That's what we know, at least right now.
Tell me, when you saw this post, what was your first reaction?
GERHARDT: My first reaction is Trump just stepped over a line again. In other words, that Trump just makes it a business of trying not just to push boundaries but ignore them. And even though he's been counseled by numerous people, as well as the judge not to threaten, not to use his rhetoric to sort of go after people, including the prosecutor, what does Trump do? He immediately does that.
So, that's a political move that Trump just made. And that political move makes him popular with the base. But on the legal side, he just broke another law.
COATES: It almost reminds me, I think there will be arguments someone will make you see like little kids will do that with their siblings. I'm not touching you. They're almost close to your face. They're not touching you. They're not touching you. Maybe that's my kids and my own household.
But some would look at that same post and they would say, it's not specific, he didn't name a particular witness, he didn't threaten a particular named person. The judge's name is not in there, any of the witnesses who might be in there, or even the unnamed co-conspirators who have not yet been indicted and, at least visibly, in any of the pleadings. Is there an argument to be made that it's so vague that a protective order would essentially lead to the next talking point that says, oh, I can't say anything?
GERHARDT: I don't think this statement that he's had just gotten in trouble for is vague. It served its political purpose. It made him look powerful. He got to sort of look like the boss. But, legally, he's just got himself in trouble again.
And I think one thing to sort of keep in mind is that Trump is having trouble trying to maintain balance in both the political world and the legal world. The more heated he gets in the political world, the worse trouble he's going to get in the legal world.
And right now, Trump has a history of intimidating witnesses. He has a history of sort of inviting violence. And the thing to do, as you well know, if you're trying to figure out if somebody is posing a danger, is you infer from the circumstances and from the language what may be that person's purpose or what's the effect of what they're doing.
And that's what we can do with Donald Trump. We can infer from that language, oh, he's trying to heat up the crowd, hopefully producing another riot. And at the same time, we can infer from that language, he's not acting in good faith.
That's not a statement that somebody is really going to comply with the law. It's somebody who's going to operate according to the Old West and just come after them.
COATES: You know, I hear also my prosecutorial brain is churning right now, Michael, and I'm saying, you know what, every word has to be precise in the way that you've presented to the court. And I have used the word, witness. But another word that could be used, co- defendant, right? The other words that could be used here, given the allegations, at least in the superseding indictment involving the Mar- a-Lago documents, and, again, this is not necessarily a case-specific Truth Social posts.
It could be broad in a number of realms. He does have at least three indictments. But it could be viewed by special counsel as a warning to those who might be incentivized or willing to testify, whether they are yet unnamed or somebody who shares a portion of a caption.
There's a lot to unpack here. I bet this judge is already on notice. I suspect knowing that this judge has done a lot was already having those sort of judge spidey senses.
Michael Gerhardt, thank you so much.
GERHARDT: Thank you.
COATES: Everyone, in another story, the teams that are investigating the Gilgo Beach serial killer, they have now identified another victim. I'll speak live with the daughter of another famous American serial killer. Plus, they had the nerve to call themselves the Goon Squad. What they were and are, are white officers torturing two black men. I will speak with those victims tonight.
And is Florida now banning an A.P. course in high schools?
There's news just in on all of that. I'll talk to one of the teachers, ahead.
COATES: All right. Tonight, there is a dramatic new turn in the Gilgo Beach murders investigation. A new victim has now been identified.
Police say that 34-year-old escort Karen Vergata is the victim known as Fire Island Jane Doe, who went missing back in 1996. Authorities have not yet linked alleged killer Rex Heuermann to her death.
Now he has been charged with first degree murder in the deaths of three women and he is the prime suspect in this appearance and death of another, but has not yet been charged with that homicide.
I want to bring in Dr. Jenn Carson, who is a trauma expert and the daughter of one of the San Francisco witch killers. Her father was convicted of three murders in San Francisco in the early 1980s. He and his wife claim they believe they were supposed to kill witches.
Dr. Jenn Carson, thank you so much for being here today. I wonder just off the bat, when you hear about cases like this and what the families are coming home to when the allegations arise for someone like Rex Heuermann and beyond, do you recall what it felt like for you? What are your emotions?
DR. JENN CARSON, DAUGHTER OF SAN FRANCISCO WITCH KILLER: Yes. So, you know, first and foremost, my heart goes out to the five known Gilgo victims.
They had parents, they had children, siblings. But my heart also hurts for the family of Rex Heuermann. After I learned that my father was a suspect in 12 homicides, confessed to three, also a plot to kill President Reagan, I was a small child, but I found out as a small child and it shattered my self-concept. I felt like I was Satan's spawn or the bad seed or that I somehow was bad. And I survived several decades of suicidal thoughts and several days of life threatening suicidal behaviors.
But the good news is I now work in suicide prevention and I model recovery to others and encourage everyone to get help, which anyone listening can 24/7 by calling 988.
COATES: I would assume as well that it must have informed your decision and your calling, to which you now obviously are a trauma expert in this space.
And I wonder one of the allegations that is always going to come up and people who are following this story and are going to be asking their questions as either armchair directors and detectives or those who are in the court of public opinion, like we often all are in. They're going to ask questions about what the wife or children could have possibly known.
When you hear that question being raised, do you have any idea whether they would have known anything? What would you say to anyone who thinks that they must and have assumed that they have known something?
CARSON: Yes, it's so interesting. The spectators are increasingly trying to predict plot twists and trying to identify like an origin story. And in reality, there was a Gilgo Beach task force with brilliant members of law enforcement working on this, dozens and dozens and dozens of experts.
If those people could not identify this human predator, this human monster, for decades, and he was so sophisticated at evading them in this era of modern technology, then, of course, he could deceive his family. Of course, he could.
COATES: A really important point that I think a lot of people haven't really considered in the same way as, of course, you would have.
I want to play for you, though. The wife's attorney did speak with CNN tonight, and he was asked if he thought the police would question her and also if she would cooperate with police. Listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, I don't think she's a suspect, because they made clear, even in the D.A.'s bail application that they ruled her out of being an accomplice or any accomplices on behalf of Rex. They've also stated on numerous occasions that she was out of the jurisdiction, either out of the country or on vacation when the alleged murders took place. So, I think they ruled her out upfront.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: I would note also she has now filed for divorce, by the way. But although she is not currently a suspect, would you be surprised if officials took a closer look at her at this moment in time?
CARSON: No, of course. In any missing persons case or murder case, they always look close to home. And so, of course, they will look at her. But what is known now is it appears that this was occurring when she was away.
And she stated verbally in an interview with my friend, Matt Johnson, with Court T.V. that she was taking it moment by moment. And she goes, not hour by hour, moment by moment. And you just hear the fatigue and sorrow in her voice. Until there's any indication that this woman is involved, everyone needs to give her a little bit of space because she is going through an experience that is essentially everyone's worst nightmare, that they were the stranger beside them, right, that there was a wolf in sheep's clothing laying next to them in the bed. I mean, this is horrific. And so I hope that we can give her a little bit of both empathy and sympathy.
Dr. Jenn Carson, thank you so much for your unique perspective in particular. Thank you.
CARSON: Thank you.
COATES: For nearly two hours, for almost two hours, two black men were tortured and terrorized by six white officers who called themselves the Goon squad.
Those men are going to join me next as we take you inside the home where it happened, and the officers making now stunning admissions.
COATES: A horrifying case of police brutality in Rankin County, Mississippi. Six white former, now former, law enforcement officers, and, frankly, I have a hard time saying those words together with a straight face, they called themselves the Goon Squad. They pleaded guilty to charges related to the torture of two black men.
Now, in just a moment, I'll speak to the victims and their attorney. But, first, I want to explain to you a little bit about what we know has happened.
Back in January, deputies responded to a complaint about two black men staying at a house in Braxton, Mississippi. They entered the home. And for the next two hours, they beat, assaulted and sexually abused the men, even shooting one of the victims in the mouth.
He was attorney for -- Mississippi saying the former officers became the criminals they swore to protect the people from.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DARREN LAMARCA, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI: And not only did they brazenly commit these acts. But after inflicting serious bodily injury by firing a shot, through one of the victims' mouths, they left him lying in a pool of blood, gathered on the porch of the house to discuss how to cover it up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Joining me now are Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins, victims of the former officers, and their attorney, Malik Shabazz. Gentlemen, I can't tell you how much even knowing what happened, even a sliver of what happened, has created such a sense of pain and deep sadness for anyone who hears about it. You almost wish that this story was a fiction or a movie, but it's real life, and it happened. I am wondering, when you are even sitting here today and having to relive, having to explain, having to discuss, what does that even feel like, knowing this never should have happened?
EDDIE PARKER, VICTIM OF RANKIN COUNTY POLICE ASSAULT: It's almost surreal. It's almost like it's been a long time coming, so long coming, waiting on. You know, this outcome, you know, for everything that we said happened, everything that we felt that happened. I mean, it's still a surreal feeling, I mean, a dream that we still dream about.
COATES: You must have trouble, I mean, in the aftermath, there's been physical harm.
COATES: You were shot in the mouth, Michael. You are still experiencing the physical injury, the pain. the emotional, the mental repercussions of all this. How are you dealing with any of this?
MICHAEL JENKINS, VICTIM OF RANKIN COUNTY POLICE ASSAULT: One second at a time, one day at a time. The Lord, prayer.
COATES: Can I -- can I -- can you show me where -- there -- the injury happened? You were shot in the side of your -- it went through your mouth and in the side of your head. It came out and into the neck.
JENKINS: He was standing over here, I was like this I was looking up my head like this that's why it come outside my head it comes to at the back of my head I probably been dead if I wouldn't have been like looking at him like this. You know and this is this is these are police officers. We're talking about who have now -- even the sheriff apologized to you both. I can't imagine what the word sorry could do. But did it do anything for you?
PARKER: I don't feel it done anything for me. I mean, for it being so long, you know, sorry coming. I mean, you're not sorry for, you know, sitting and waiting, you know, for months and months, you know, thinking that it was going to be anything different from what we said. I mean, you believe your police officers, you know, when they went in and you know, started this all, you know, whatever. You believe that they were going to go do their job. You believe they was going to, you know, coming up and then they murder someone, you know.
COATES: You gave -- they gave them the benefit of the doubt.
COATES: --but did not extend one to you. Not one choice. I mean, after all this time, it really doesn't mean too much to me.
COATES: I'm asking, I mean, just so we're clear, this happened in January.
COATES: And these officers have just now pleaded guilty.
COATES: But how long did it take for the officers to even investigate? I mean, they were sitting on the porch plotting, it seemed, and describing, and figuring out how to cover this all up. How long did it take before the officers, who were not the ones involved, charged them or believed these two men.
MALIK SHABAZZ, LEAD ATTORNEY FOR EDDIE PARKER AND MICHAEL JENKINS: It only comes after the force of our legal pressure, the force of community pressure, and the willingness of the United States Department of Justice under the leadership of Ms. Civil Rights Division, under the leadership of Kristen Clarke, to bring about any apology from Brian Bailey, the sheriff, who is responsible for this ordeal of torture. This horrendous ordeal of torture, which is the worst police incident that we ever know of in United States history. It comes because Brian Bailey condoned their actions over the years.
He ratified their actions. And Rankin County has a pattern and practice, a custom of beating people, excessive force use, and killing persons. And that's how they got so bold as to waterboard, sexually assault, tase these men, beat them all are handcuffed and they never would have resisted at an point. This comes because the sheriff's department nurtured this environment and allowed it to exist. And that's how they got so bold. So, that's what really happened.
COATES: I mean, when you just hear about the facts, even if you hear a sliver, and I recognize that in the time that we have together, I couldn't even begin to scratch the surface as to the 90 minutes, two hours of torture, an inhumane treatment that you had to be subjected to. But you don't do this for the first time. This is not the moment of somebody just being bold today and they wake up and do this.
But you're sitting here from people who are watching. You know, in this studio, there's cameras all around, there's different television screens, and people are able to see from different angles what the audience is seeing. We're actually at one point looking at those officers walking freely, of course, but walking, and you see their faces. What does that feel like to see them again?
PARKER: A little bit of fear mixed with joy. I mean, you're happy that finally they're getting their walk of shame. You know, but also in the same as the fear of knowing that they had the chance to do that for the past seven months. You know, walk freely with, you know, not an inkling in their thoughts or thinking about us or what we're going through. You know, I stayed at the house for, you know, since that duration of time and every day was a struggle. You know, it still is. But, I mean, it was -- it is nowhere near what we've been through, what we still have to go through. COATES: Michael, how about you?
JENKINS: It's been a struggle. It's been, if I had to see them again, I would probably just start praying. I'd probably be screwed out of my body if I had to see them again.
PARKER: You know.
COATES: They -- what they did - has created that even lasting fear and intimidation.
COATES: Now, this is -- this is -- go ahead.
SHABAZZ: We are in a historic moment, never in the history of Mississippi have white law enforcement officers been held accountable to this degree where they're in going to prison for harming blacks or African-Americans. This has never happened in Mississippi out of all the years of Mississippi violence.
SHABAZZ: So, this is a watershed moment in justice and it's deserved for the horrific nature of the crimes that have been committed.
COATES: Gentlemen, I am honored to meet both of you. I'm sorry it's for this occasion, but thank God you did not remain silent.
PARKER: Yes, ma'am.
COATES: This story is being told, and I cannot help but wonder, are there other gentlemen who had this experience? Thank you for sharing it.
PARKER: Yes, ma'am. And this should never have been
PARKER: No, ma'am. Thank you.
COATES: I only can wish you peace. And justice. And move forward.
SHABAZZ: And move forward.
PARKER: Yes, ma'am.
COATES: And I can't look at this in a vacuum, by the way, because what, it was a week and a half ago that President Biden was just now talking about a National Park for Emmett Till. Right? I mean, we, people keep thinking about this being historical, that this is in the past, the rear view mirror and the abuse and the blatant violation of the humanity of black people in Mississippi, let alone in parts of this country. Thank you for sharing today.
EDDIE PARKER, MICHAEL JENKINS, MALIK SHABAZZ: Thank you. COATES: Eddie Parker, Michael Jenkins, Malik Shabazz. Up ahead everyone, there's more on our breaking news. The special counsel tonight alerting the judge to an online post from Donald Trump in which he is vowing retribution. John Dean is going to join us ahead. Plus, also just in, there is a development in the standoff over an AP high school course in Florida.
COATES: We're getting this just in everyone. The Florida Board of Education is out with a letter tonight saying that an advanced placement in psychology will still now be offered in Florida high schools. This comes after the College Board had issued a warning where they'd actually encouraged Florida schools not to offer AP Psychology. That's because the course includes lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity. Lessons that apparently could violate the present Florida law. The College Board said that without those lessons, the AP Psych course would not then meet college requirements.
Joining me now is Dr. Robert John Hubbell, Jr., an AP Psychology teacher in Florida. Dr. Hubbell, thank you for being here. We are following the twists and turns of all the different nuances of what is allowed and what is not allowed in Florida. For many students, they are weeks away from school beginning. Some schools, I understand, are already back in session around the country. But here is what the Florida Board of Education is saying tonight. And I'm gonna read this, quote, "The department believes that AP Psychology can be taught in its entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate and the course remains listed in our course catalog."
So, do you think they got assurances that the course does not violate the law and that's why they're saying this?
DR. ROBERT JOHN HOVEL, JR., AP PSYCHOLOGY TEACHER IN FLORIDA: Honestly, no. I think what is actually happening is the Department of Education is trying to cover their own butts because there are a lot of people angry at the fact that their child is not going to receive an AP credit. If they were to be enrolled in AP Psychology. Although the Department of Education has said that the course can be taught in its entirety to kind of sweep it under the rug, there are still laws that were recently put into place that any discussion on sexual orientation or gender identity in Grades K through 12 is not allowed and is against the law. And college board has said they will not validate any AP curriculum that says AP Psychology because those two topics are not allowed to be talked about. So, even if a school were to say it's AP psychology, college board would not deem it an AP course on any college transcript at all.
COATES: I mean, just thinking about having teachers and administrators trying to figure out in real time, if I do this, am I going to violate the law? It's more of a conflict with your lawyers than it is with a conversation among your students. The pedagogical aspects of this really not able to be the focus. Look, College Board is responding tonight and they say, quote, "We hope now that Florida teachers will be able to teach the full course, including content on gender and sexual orientation, without fear of punishment in the upcoming. school year."
I have an inkling that you don't think that this issue is now over, even in spite of that statement. Correct. I don't think this is over. I think the Department of Education is just trying to cover themselves up because they know that there are a lot of angry parents. Thirty thousand kids were supposed to take the AP Psychology exam. And back to your statement earlier about we start school in weeks, we actually start school in my district on Thursday, August 10th.
So, we are scrambling as fast as we can to figure out some type of plan as an educator, what am I going to do with my students? And it's disheartening to see the Department of Education try and use a quick fix when College Board has laid out very clearly that unless the content can be taught in its entirety, including gender identity and sexual orientation, that the class just will not register as an AP Psychology class on any transcript if it's taught in the state of Florida.
COATES: Let me just -- just to be clear. Is this the first time that this course has been offered with this different curriculum involved?
HOVEL: No, this curriculum has been in state for over 30 years. This has never been an issue. This has never been a concern. I've taught this class for -- this would be my eighth year teaching the class, never had a concern about teaching these topics. It's not something that's ever been an issue until recently with the new laws that prohibit discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation. And originally, it was for classrooms kindergarten through third grade and as of a few weeks ago I understand it was now all classrooms K through 12 is where you can't talk about those topics which is where it violates the AP Psychology standards according to College Board.
COATES: Thirty years' worth and now all of a sudden -- Dr. Robert Hovel, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you.
HOVEL: Thank you for having me.
COATES: Well, from 30 years to somebody who was known as really once in a lifetime in the caliber of athletes, Simone Biles making her big return to gymnastics now two years after stepping away. I'll talk with Olympic gold medalist Nastia Lukin who will join me to discuss how Biles has changed the sport and the conversation on mental health.
COATES: Well, the "Goat" is back everyone. Seven-time Olympic medalist Simone Biles returns the gymnastics spotlight this weekend. Here she is practicing for the first meet since bowing out of the all- around competition at the Tokyo Olympics because of a spatial affliction known as the twisties. Citing the need also to prioritize her mental health and her physical well-being.
Joining me now is another star, Olympic gold medal gymnast Nastia Liukin who is an incredible athlete in her own right. Let me tell you, as a daughter of a nine-year-old girl who's just starting gymnastics, I think I failed to appreciate just how dangerous, how skilled, how incredible this sport really is and what it requires of a gymnast as my heart leaps out every single cartwheel, Nastia. But let me tell you, it's been two years since we saw Simone Biles in a competition. What are you gonna be watching for?
NASTIA LIUKIN, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: You know, I actually watched a few clips from training that happened earlier today, and it was as if like no time has passed. And not even no time has passed, but she has gotten even better, even stronger, even more confident, more consistent. And I think that is the most impressive part because especially in a sport like gymnastics, typically when you age, you don't get better, especially on the woman's side. And so, it is so incredible to be able to see that.
And you know, I think she's setting the bar so high for so many other athletes and for them to be able to watch her, you know, continue going even after a certain age or a certain amount of success. Like, she truly loves the sport and I think that's like, it's really, really incredible to watch.
COATES: And Nastia, speaking of setting the bar, I mean, you have praised Simone for prioritizing mental health and of course, being strong enough, confident enough in that moment, even though it felt like all eyes were on her, to prioritize her safety, knowing that she how dangerous the sport can be, knowing the skill that is required, how has she changed the conversation around mental health, among even the most elite athletes?
LIUKIN: Well, you know, what I think that she's done, obviously at the Olympics, but she's continued to do, is she has really reminded everybody that athletes, we're human. And I think when you watch, you know, somebody like Simone on the Olympic stage and she is doing incredible things and with such ease and everything looks so easy. And that's obviously the point that that's what makes, you know, a good gymnast. But at the end of the day, like we are humans and you know, we're not robots, we're not machines.
And I think, you know, both physically, whether it's injuries or whatever it may be or, and mentally. And I think like that is so important that she was able to really think about herself first and her mental health because once again, she is showing this generation that, you know, you have the rest of your life to live. And that's something that my dad, who was my coach and Olympian himself, he really instilled in me was, gymnastics is just gonna be a short part and portion of your life. So, always kind of think like long-term. That doesn't mean like give up or anything, but you know, like let's think about the future as well as gymnastics and you know, the next competition.
COATES: And really, I mean, Nastia, what an important point in thinking about that especially I hear so often this phrase and the praise of mental toughness. We're talking about an athlete and the laser focus, but I think now having these conversations expand to acknowledge what mental toughness really means and it's the strength to be able to prioritize one's mental health, to see and have the respect that you just brought. And I'm so excited for this weekend to see Simone Biles and to have met you. Nastia Lukin, thank you so much.
LIUKIN: Thank you so much for having me.
COATES: Well, ahead, everyone. We've got more on the breaking news of Special Counsel Jack Smith now alerting the judge to a Truth social post from Donald Trump, one that vows retribution. "CNN TONIGHT" is up next with Jim Acosta.