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U.S. Tracking Chinese Spy Balloon As It Drifts Across Country; What Does Spy Balloon Mean For U.S.-China Relations?; Life Lessons From 84-Year Study Of Happiness; Why Trump Wants Haley In 2024 Race; Double-Murder Trial of Alex Murdaugh. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 04, 2023 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Is it time to pop that balloon? I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. That suspected Chinese surveillance balloon spotted in the skies of the continental U.S. has sparked concerns about national security and diplomacy regarding Beijing. Is it more about symbolism than substance?

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was due to travel to China this week and he postponed his trip calling the balloons infiltration of U.S. airspace a, quote, irresponsible act that created conditions that undermined the purpose of the trip. The public first learned of the balloons existence Thursday while it was over Montana, which is home to U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile silos and strategic bomber bases.

China is saying that it's all innocent. On Friday, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said this, "It's a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into airspace due to force majeure."

But the U.S. State Department called it a, quote, clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. The Pentagon said on Friday the balloon currently does not pose a military or political threat. And a senior U.S. defense official told CNN that military officials had advised President Biden not to shoot the balloon down due to fear over the debris posing a safety threat.

I tweeted out a quick take last night. I said the violation of our sovereign airspace should not be a partisan issue. Many are questioning why we aren't taking it out and they especially are coming from the right. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a member of Congress's so-called Gang of Eight who are briefed on national intelligence matters, he tweeted this.

"It was a mistake to not shoot down that Chinese spy balloon when it was over a sparsely populated area. This is not some hot air balloon. It has a large payload of sensors roughly the size of two city buses and the ability to maneuver independently."

Utah Senator Mitt Romney wrote, "A big Chinese balloon in the sky and millions of Chinese TikTok balloons on our phones. Let's shut them all down." Over on Truth Social, former President Trump much more succinct, "Shoot down the balloon," he said.

Today's New York Post cover agrees saying, pop this balloon, calling the spy craft impudent. When I posted the question yesterday on, should we shoot the balloon down? Well, here's the result with 21,637 votes cast, 64 percent said yes, we should.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana where it was first spotted chairs the Senate Subcommittee that controls the Pentagon budget last night he told Anderson Cooper he plans to hold a hearing to investigate how the balloon was able to violate U.S. airspace and what went into the thinking about how it's been dealt with.


SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): I think anytime you have China country that wants to replace us as the economic leader and the military leader in the world, doing this kind of garbage, it requires some explanations. And to make sure that if this happens again, we are very confident that there will be no good things that come out of it for China.


SMERCONISH: Meanwhile, the Pentagon said Friday evening that there's another Chinese spy balloon over Latin America. The U.S. balloons trajectory has it hitting the Atlantic by the end of the weekend. The President State of the Union addresses Tuesday night. You put those two together, I predict that balloon will be popped in the next 48 hours. At least I hope so.

I want to know what you think, go to my website, it's Answer today's poll question, "Is the Chinese spy balloon more a matter of American national security or national pride?"

Joining me now to discuss is Retired Air Force Lieutenant General David Deptula, who was the Air Force's First Chief of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance. He's a fighter pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours. He was the principal attack planner for the Operation Desert Storm air campaign, commander of no-fly operations over Iraq in the late 90s and served on two congressional commission's focused on America's future defense strategy.

He's currently the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. General, thanks so much for being here. What exactly are the options when an object like this is at 60,000 feet?


LT. GEN, DAVID DEPTULA, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.)/DEAN, MITCHELL INST. TO AEROSPACE STUDIES: Well Michael, first, thanks for having me on and really appreciate it. It's a great question. There are several options, some of them depend upon the location of the balloon. What makes this a complicated situation is that it's up at 60,000 feet and there aren't a lot of aircraft that are capable that could go up there with the kind of means to shoot it down.

Today, you're looking at the F-22, or the F-15 and then the weapons that can be used to actually shoot the balloon down. Of course, there are surface to air missile systems, but those are fixed. And we really don't have any of those operationally deployed in the continental United States. So the options are limited to fighter aircraft.

SMERCONISH: Do you know that it's necessarily going to fall over a particular area? Meaning, OK, if you use the weapon systems that you just identified, and you're successful in hitting it, like, how long is it going to take for it to come down? And do you necessarily know where it will land?

DEPTULA: Well, that's a great question. And the short answer is no, you don't know with any degree of accuracy, because it depends upon just how large the hole or the damage done to the balloon, which will determine how fast it will come down. And then once you hit, I mean, you hit the balloon, and you can penetrate it, and it can come down at a certain rate.

If it's all in one piece, probably no big deal, it's going to land in one place. But if you hit the payload package, and destroy that, now you have the debris that's going to be scattered. But the fact of the matter is, the doggone thing should have been shut down before it penetrated the territory of our sovereign airspace.

Your introductory conclusion was a pretty good one. Because what's really more concern than the sensor package that this Chinese balloon is carrying, is why did we let a potential adversary air vehicle penetrate the sovereign territory of Canada, the United States. It should have been neutralized, as it entered our air defense identification zone.

SMERCONISH: So, of course, we in the public only learned of this on Thursday. I think what you're saying, General, is that the military probably had knowledge for much longer, including preceding when it entered our airspace. Is that what you're saying?

DEPTULA: Yes, absolutely. We have this organization that's known as the North American Aerospace Defense Command. It's a combined organization of the United States and Canada that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty and then protection. Or at least it's supposed to protect Canada and the continental United States.

But I would suggest to you too, and this is a discussion for a whole another program. But I think like most of the capabilities of the United States Air Force, they've been underfunded and allowed to atrophy over the past 30 years. And this is a consequence.

SMERCONISH: General, how's it going to end? I pointed out a political reality that the President is going to speak to the nation and to the Congress on Tuesday night, and the reports that we're getting suggest that this thing will hit the Atlantic, probably by the end of the weekend, depending upon the wind. So do you think he's going to take it out? Do you think the President's going to give the order and the U.S. military will take it out before Tuesday?

DEPTULA: You know, that's a -- I don't want to be facetious, but that's a question for the President. I really don't know. I would tell you that my opinion is, he'll probably let it go. But the fact of the matter is, this is not an inconsequential act. And it should have been shut down prior to violating a sovereign U.S. airspace.

SMERCONISH: So my poll question today asks whether this is a matter of national security or national pride. What's your answer to that question?

DEPTULA: National security. I mean, look, this particular balloon may have been just a weather balloon that flown off course, I don't believe that. I don't think it was an accident. I believe it was a Chinese testing the U.S. reaction.

But, you know, another balloon could carry, for example, an EMP device, electromagnetic pulse, that could shut down segments of our U.S. electric power grid. So it's not an inconsequential fact that this balloon has been sent to fly over the continental of United States.

SMERCONISH: General Deptula, thank you so much for your expertise. We really appreciate it.

DEPTULA: Have a great day. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: You too. Now to the question of what to do about China. Joining me now is Gordon Chang. He lived and worked as a lawyer in China and Hong Kong for almost two decades. He's a columnist now for Newsweek. He's written several books on the far east. They include, "The Great U.S.-China Tech War."


Gordon, nice to have you back. What do you make of the fact that the Chinese acknowledged at least that it is theirs, that seems out of character for them?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "THE GREAT U.S.-CHINA TECH WAR"/NEWSWEEK COLUMNIST: Well, that they had to do because we could track this balloon. But really the problem we have is that this really didn't make very much sense to send this balloon just before Secretary Blinken's trip to Beijing. Unless the Chinese wanted to derail that trip.

It could very well point to instability inside the regime, disagreements between the military and others. But it could also have been Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler, testing the reactions of the United States. And really, as General Deptula said, we should have shot this down, because by not doing that, we convinced the Chinese that we're incapable. They already believe that. That's been the propaganda line for more than two years from Beijing. It's been clear and consistent. And, you know, I'm not saying that the Chinese are right. But it doesn't matter whether the Chinese are correct in their assessments of the U.S. What matters is what they believe. And what they believe now is very dangerous, because it could push them to do things which can't be undone.

SMERCONISH: I think what I hear you say is that it was a test and we failed. I want to put on the screen and I'll read to you an opinion piece from the Washington Post on exactly this issue that just caught my attention.

Arthur Holland Michel, I think that's pronunciation wrote it, quote, "If the Chinese stratospheric balloon spotted floating above a dozen miles above the northern United States is indeed a spy craft as the Pentagon claims, it's hard to believe that it was meant to chart its course in secrecy. After all, it's a giant balloon. If anything, it was more likely dispatched precisely for the purpose of being seen." You're agreeing with that?

CHANG: I think that's a real possibility. Because as we've seen from what the Chinese have been saying, they tried to tell the world that we're not able to defend ourselves, that we can therefore defend them. And they especially say this in regard to Taiwan, but they say it in general.

And, you know, the Chinese are being very blatant about this. They were over Maelstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where we have intercontinental ballistic missiles. They went very near Whiteman Air Force Base, where we have our D2s (ph), which are strategic bombers.

And this track could take it very close to Kings Bay, Georgia, where we have our boomers, ballistic missile submarines, that's all three legs of the triad. And so really risk is in your face up duration (ph) by the Chinese. Ad it really smacks of the very provocative and belligerent attitudes of the Chinese military right now. These guys, they know better, but they emotionally want to go to war.

SMERCONISH: Was postponing the Blinken trip the right call? I want you to see something else. This comes from today's New York Times. Jessica Chen Weiss writes this, put that up on the screen. Making a statement -- she's from Cornell University, and she said that the decision to cancel Blinken trip, quote, reflects the unfortunate triumph of symbolism over substance. What are we talking about here, symbolism or substance?

CHANG: We're talking substance because China engaging in this activity just before Blinken's trip indicated that they really don't want to talk in good faith to the Secretary of State. So there's no point in talking.

Now, I believe Blinken should not have scheduled a trip in the first place. But clearly, he could not have gone. You know, Jessica Chen Weiss, she believes that the United States should continue to engage China. That's a theory that has failed over five decades and created this dangerous situation.

I think that we would have much better relations if we didn't talk to China, because that would scare them into actually trying to deal with us on a good faith basis. Right now, they're not trying to do that. And we heard that with Wang Yi, China's top diplomat in his phone conversation with Blinken. I think it was just a few hours ago. He was just -- Wang Yi, he was in no mood to talk to the United States.

SMERCONISH: Gordon Chang, thank you for your expertise. We really appreciate it.

CHANG: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: So what are your thoughts? Hit me up on social media? I will read some throughout the course of the program. What do we have from the world of Twitter? It should have been removed long before we ended up with the 24-hour "Balloon Watch" channel.

Well, On The Mark, it's hard to take your eye off this story, isn't it? And we all kind of get it. It's not that complicated. You heard General Deptula say and I can tell Gordon Chang agrees with him as well. We've been talking about the timeline as if it began in Montana, like hey, what should have been done over the airspace of Montana?

They're backing up the clock and saying even before it entered the United States airspace or the continental United States, it should have been dealt with then. My guests have also verbally weighed in on today's poll question. Here it is from Make sure you go and answer this, "Is the Chinese spy balloon more of a matter of American national security or national pride?"


Up ahead, it's the world's longest scientific study of happiness and the results are in. Since 1938, a Harvard study has been analyzing subjects and their offspring, their descendants. They now have scientific proof of what makes for a happy life and it might not be what you think.

Plus, until this week, the only announced candidate for 2024 in either party was former President Trump. Well good news for Donald Trump. Nikki Haley now says she's entering the fray. Why I think that actually helps Donald Trump?


SMERCONISH: The world's longest scientific study of happiness is now in its 85th year. Researchers at Harvard had been studying a pool of subjects and their descendants since 1938. The objective, to unlock the age-old question of what makes a good life.

Originally, there were 724 participants, 268 were sophomores at Harvard. Their ranks included future President John F. Kennedy and future Washington Post Editor Ben Bradley. The study later incorporated a parallel one that was tracking 456 less privileged inner city Boston boys. [09:20:09]

Thereafter, the pool was expanded to include 1,300 descendants. They've been tracking these folks for 84 years and the retention rate for the original participants, an amazing 84 percent.

Every two years, the participants answer lengthy questionnaires. Every five years, they surrender their medical records. Every 15 years they are interviewed face to face. So what's the life lesson? Good relationships, keep us happier, healthier, and help us live longer.

There's a new book about the study, it's called "The Good Life" lessons from the world's longest scientific study of happiness. The authors are Mark Schultz, a clinical psychologist, associate director of the study. And my next guest, Robert Waldinger, a Harvard psychiatrist and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

Dr. Waldinger, thank you so much for being here. Physical fitness, we all know about that. That's important. But so often overlooked is what you regard as social fitness. What is that?

DR. ROBERT WALDINGER, CO-AUTHOR, THE GOOD LIFE"/DIRECTOR, HARVARD STUDY OF ADULT DEVELOPMENT: It's the finding in our research that people who do the best who are happiest and healthiest maintain their relationships. They're active in keeping up their relationships, keeping contact with friends and family and community members.

SMERCONISH: You say that the folks who at 50 are solid in their relationships, are going to be the ones at age 80, who are both physically and mentally most sound. Is it too late? I mean, for some people watching right now who may be older, is it too late to follow your prescription?

WALDINGER: It is never too late. Our study shows us that people find friends, they find love, when they're sure it's never going to happen for them at all different points of their lives. And a lot depends on whether you are intentional about making and nurturing good relationships.

SMERCONISH: Your original pool both sides of the study. White men, how reliable are your findings for people who are not white men?

WALDINGER: Well, now we have gender balance. So we brought in spouses, we brought in children more than half of whom are women. So we have gender balance. And what we do is we make sure that our findings are replicated by other studies of non-white people and by people all over the world. So we're confident that these findings are true for people of all backgrounds.

I had you on my radio program, and callers after you left pointed out my deficiency in not asking about pets, and not asking about religion, address both of those now.

WALDINGER: We did not study pets. But there are studies that tell us that the touch of a pet, petting a pet actually lowers heart rate, calms us down, has a health benefit in that way. With religion, what we found was that religious people weren't happier than non-religious people, and they weren't less happy. But our religious people and people who had spiritual practices said that they found these practices a real comfort in times of stress.

SMERCONISH: There's a lot of data out there, Jean Twenge comes to mind about the relationship. I'm not sure if she would say causation but she would definitely say correlation between problems of mental health, anxiety, depression among young Americans and their connectivity.

So how does social media factor into this because I'm worried that too many young people are behind closed doors not having the type of interactions that you say are so important.

WALDINGER: And it's a big worry right now in our culture. What the research is starting to show us is that it depends on how we use social media. If we actively use social media to connect with other people, that's likely to increase our happiness levels.

If we passively consume somebody else's Instagram feeds, somebody else's happy pictures of beaches and parties, that's going to lower our self-esteem, that's going to make us feel like we're missing out on the good life, which isn't the truth.

SMERCONISH: You know, time and again, in the book, you would present parallel tracks, short bios of some of the folks who are in this control group, if that's the right way to say it. The person you might expect to end up with the happiest life. It's often not the case.

WALDINGER: Yes. We've had -- for example, we had two people who started out as Harvard undergraduates, lives of privilege all set up to have great lives. One, was our happiest man who had a very ordinary career as a wonderful high school teacher, but nothing fancy.


And another a very prominent attorney who worked hard all his life, and won lots of awards. And he was one of our least happy people. And the difference between them was the extent to which they paid attention to and took care of the connections they had with family, friends, community.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Waldinger, before you leave me, give us something everyone watching can do today in line with the findings of your book, "The Good Life."

WALDINGER: Yes, take small actions. It doesn't have to be big. Think of somebody you miss, somebody you'd like to connect with. Just send them a text, send them an email saying, hi, I was thinking of you and just wanted to connect. And if you do that regularly with the people in your life, who you value, you'll be amazed at the positive emotion and the positive connection that comes back to you.

SMERCONISH: Thank you so much for being here. The book is really great and impactful. So I appreciate your time.

WALDINGER: Thank you for having me.

SMERCONISH: Up ahead, this week, Nikki Haley became the first to make clear she'll be entering the GOP nomination fight against her former boss. President Trump seemed uncharacteristically knocked to mind. I think I know why.

South Carolina lawyer, Alex Murdaugh, he claims that he was nowhere near his family when his wife and son were murdered in June of 2021. But evidence presented in court this week suggests otherwise. I think it's been a bad week for the defense because the prosecution theory on motive make any sense.

Valerie Bauerlein will be here in a moment. She's a reporter. She's been in that courtroom every single day. And a reminder, go to my website, answer this week's poll question. By the way, register for the newsletter while you're there, "Is the Chinese spy balloon more of a matter of American national security, or national pride?"



SMERCONISH: I think Donald Trump wants Nikki Haley in the 2024 race. This week Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump's former ambassador to the U.N., announced her intention to run with a formal announcement to come later this month. This despite previously pledging that she wouldn't do so if Trump were running again.

President Trump has been withering about people who he endorsed or appointed becoming his opponents witness Ron DeSanctimonious. And yet when it comes to Haley, he seems less concerned. Here's what he said on his campaign plane last weekend.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nikki Haley called me the other day to talk to me. And I said, look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run. She's publicly stated that I would never run against my president, he was a great president.


SMERCONISH: Go by your heart, he said. I, for one, am not surprised. I don't think he sees her as a threat. In fact, her presence probably helps him in his mind. Haley has to contend with the fact that she may be up against her state's senator Tim Scott, should he get in, and that Trump's candidacy already has the support of two top South Carolina Republicans, its other Senator Lindsey Graham and Governor Henry McMaster.

Also Trump has this block of voter who are seemingly locked in with him, no matter what. According to a recent Monmouth poll 22 percent of Republican primary voters say they will support Trump, even if he runs as an independent. That might be a low number. It's an immovable number, it seems. It suggests that it could be even higher. Plus, if 2024 is a rematch with Joe Biden, an Emerson poll recently found that 44 percent said they would support Trump, 41 percent said Biden. But let's remember that if Haley barely registers in the polls thus far it could all change on a dime. Making predictions this early in a presidential race is often folly based on polling or even on the list of who has announced.

Jeff Greenfield pointed all of this out in a recent "Politico" column titled, "A Warning to the Media about the Next Presidential Race." There are plenty of historical examples of front runners at this stage of the game who never got close. Among them you'll remember in 2003 Vermont Governor Howard Dean was dominating the polls and had won the endorsement of both Al Gore and Bill Bradley, the prior contenders for the nomination.

People were asking if the race was already over and then came the Iowa caucuses where Dean ran into a -- ran a weak third to John Kerry and John Edwards, who ended up being the president and VP nominees. Then four years later the media was saying that the race was America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani, against Hillary Clinton. That is until primary voters weighed in nominated John McCain and Barack Obama.

Even as recently as this time in 2019 Joe Biden's candidacy was perceived by many as being dead on arrival. So, all of this early polling is to be taken with a grain of salt. I get it. But for Trump to prevail as the nominee, he needs to diminish the strength of any single opponent, like Ron DeSantis. And to accomplish that he needs Nikki Haley in the race just like he needs Mike Pence and Sununu and Hogan and Christie and everybody else.

As many people as he can fit on that stage to divvy up the pie, just like he did in 2016. For Donald Trump in 2024, it's the more the merrier.

Joining me now is David Byler, data analyst and political columnist for "The Washington Post." His latest piece is this, "Trump's Republican opponents are making a painfully obvious mistake." David, Donald Trump is under fire from a variety of investigations and much has been written about Republicans who want to move on from him.


But in this piece you point out that you think he's actually in a stronger position than he was at this stage in 2016. How come?

DAVID BYLER, POLITICAL COLUMNIST AND DATA ANALYST, WASHINGTON POST: Well, part of it is exactly what you pointed out it's that there's a chunk of the Republican establishment that is already endorsing him, that already likes him, that's already behind him. And if you look at his polling numbers at this point in 2016 -- in the 2016 cycle compared to now, he has a higher favorability rating than he did back then. Over 70 percent of the Republican Party views him favorably. A lot of Republican voters really liked how he governed as president and really have warm feelings towards him.

So, I think that, you know, he could lose. He could go down in flames as many are predicting. But he also has a path to a majority. He doesn't have the same resistance of, oh, he's just a reality TV star. Or, oh, this is just a stunt. These last years have transformed him into really the party's elder statesman, for better or worse.

SMERCONISH: So, let's put up on the screen where things stood in the 2016 cycle. So, it was literally -- it was February of 2015. He wasn't even registering. People like me were laughing at the prospect of him getting in the race, much less succeeding.

Undecided was at 21 percent. The Bush referenced there, of course, is Jeb. Fast forward now to where we are today for comparison. And all of the sudden you'll see that Donald Trump is at 46 percent. Ron DeSantis at 31 percent.

And, I think, to my point, you know, then you've got undecided at eight. Pence at six. Haley at three. Cruz at two. Rubio at two. Pompeo -- those others beyond Trump and beyond DeSantis, they need to hope that either Trump fades because he has got issues, indictments, something else. Or that Ron DeSantis has a glass jaw, right? Because if Trump remains where he is and DeSantis remains where he is, there's not enough oxygen left in the room.

BYLER: Right. Exactly. As you pointed out it's still very early going. But at this point the dynamics of the race are very, very different.

In that 2016 race, you had a fracture field now and you kept on having a fracture field. You kept on having sort of Trump skeptical for Republicans flipping around. Do I like Ben Carson? Do I like John Kasich? Do I like Marco Rubio? Do I like Ted Cruz?

Right now, you have a two-man race. You have Trump with his faction and you have DeSantis sort of leading the pack of Trump alternatives and everybody else in that single digit range. So it's just a fundamentally different race at this moment.

SMERCONISH: OK. And that is the mistake that you think his would be opponents have not recognized. They don't get how the dynamics have shifted. Just take 15 seconds on that.

BYLER: Yes. I mean, there's two sides of the coin. Trump is no longer an insurgent candidate and his opposition is no longer so divided. That makes for a completely different primary.

SMERCONISH: David Byler, thank you so much for your experience and expertise. We appreciate it.

BYLER: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: More social media reaction now. What do we have? From the world of Twitter, I believe.

Haley is setting herself up for VP for either Trump or DeSantis.

I mean, that may be. I had a radio caller interestingly say to me yesterday, what if DeSantis and Haley were to join forces right now and run a as a ticket in pursuit of the nomination? Of course, they are going to jockey as to who should be the upper hand, who should be the president or vice president, but that would be an interesting dynamic, wouldn't it? We'll see.

Make sure you're answering this week's poll question at It is as follows. Is the Chinese spy balloon more a matter of American national security or national pride?

Still to come, in court prosecutors shows accused murderer Alex Murdaugh having changed outfits the day that his wife and son were killed. That and more I think made it a tough week for the defense. But are we any closer to understanding why he may have done it?



SMERCONISH: I think this has been a bad week for the defense in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, a case going on in South Carolina. The disbarred South Carolina lawyer claims he wasn't at his family home when his wife and 22-year-old son were murdered on June 7, 2021 and didn't come to the scene until an hour later.

But this week a combination of cellphone records and a video found on his son's phone seem to put him at the scene in close proximity to when the murders were committed. Also, a video was introduced taken the day of the murders showing Murdaugh wearing different clothing than he was wearing when he was interviewed by the cops after he called 911.

But the prosecution also hopes to bring in other evidence pertaining to what they contend is Murdaugh's motive. You don't need to prove motive to convict someone of murder. That's something of a TV fiction but of course we want to know and the jurors would want to know why would a man kill his wife and son in cold blood.

Without the jury being present, the prosecution argued why it wants to bring in evidence of Murdaugh's financial crimes, stealing money from his law firm and his friend, and how his whole world was collapsing. He was disbarred. His life had just become a shamble. The defense contends all of that would be prejudicial and shouldn't come into play.

Joining me now is Valerie Bauerlein, national reporter for the "Wall Street Journal" who has long been covering this case and has been in the courtroom every single day. So, Valerie, as I referenced, this week the prosecution seemed to put him at the murder scene close in time to the killing of his wife and son. Explain.

VALERIE BAUERLEIN, NATIONAL REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, the video evidence was -- it just completely belied his alibi. Because Alex had said he hadn't seen his wife and son for a couple hours when he arrived home at 10:00 and called 911 and said he found their bodies. And yet there's a video that was taken just before the coroner says the homicides were committed where you could hear Alex's voice, Maggie's voice and Paul's voice.


And it just was, you know, who are going to -- in a sense the jury was faced with like, who are you going to believe, the alibi or our own ears?

SMERCONISH: Motive. It's not necessary for a conviction, but I think, you know, we want to know. There's like a human curiosity about why a man might kill his wife and his young son. The prosecution and, you know, here we are in the midst of the weekend, this is like a cliff hanger, we're waiting to see and maybe we'll find out on Monday if all of this evidence of his alleged financial crimes is going to come into play. What's the significance of that?

BAUERLEIN: Well, the significance is that the prosecution really wants to show that this was a man who seemingly had everything and it was all on the brink of tumbling away on June 7th, 2021. He had been confronted at his law firm that morning about a missing $792,000 fee. He was facing a hearing in a civil case in just a matter of days where he was going to be expected to be forced to turn over his financial information, which would reveal what prosecutors say is a decade-long fraud of stealing from his clients. And so they really want to show the jury that this was a man with a lot to lose, desperate to change the subject.

SMERCONISH: OK. Do they want to do that or do they want to, you know, sully him further and show that he's a crumb without having anything to do with murder? Because it doesn't make logical sense to me and I'll tell you why. If there were a $10 million insurance policy that he was going to collect if his wife or son were dead then it would make sense. But why would such a diversion have done anything for him? I don't get that part.

BAUERLEIN: Well, that's a defense argument, right? They say, look, your honor, they want to say this is a bad guy, he's a bad dude, but that doesn't -- it doesn't follow that because he may have done something bad, and another part of his life he would kill his wife and son. There's no evidence of that, they say.

You know, it's just also one of those things where they just say there's no -- you know, there's no text messages that show discord. There's no evidence that she -- that Maggie, his wife, was unhappy in any way. That has been introduced. So it just -- you know, there's just like -- this information should not come in. It's too prejudicial to the jury.

SMERCONISH: Final issue, the wardrobe change. I thought that was significant. You know, I'm watching this thing from afar. You're in the courtroom every day. What am I talking about?

BAUERLEIN: There are two significant pieces of video evidence. We talked a little bit about the video where you can hear Alex's voice, but there was a very short Snapchat video that Paul had sent to a friend about an hour before the coroner says he was killed. And in it you just see Alex, you know, looking at a tree on the property but he's wearing a blue kind of dress shirt and pants and loafers as opposed to white t-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes that were clean and neat when police arrived. And that's been a big issue. It is another one of those things like, who are you going to believe, you know, what you see or what you're being told?

SMERCONISH: I think the lawyering in this case has been excellent. That which I have been watching. I'm sure you probably share that perspective from being in the courtroom. I'm a little envious of you being there.

There are a lot of things that have been raised so far in the prosecution's case that without Alex taking the stand, I don't know how the defense is going to satisfactorily fill in those gaps. Final thought from you.

BAUERLEIN: Well, I think that's -- I think, there was a lot more sense today -- this week from the defense that Alex may need to address these things himself which we may need to hear from him why -- you know, how you rectify those two things. And I also think we will likely hear from Curtis Edward Smith, a very close colleague, friend and associate of Alex who was kind of a linchpin of some of his actions. So, it's very like that Smith will also testify this week. So, it's going to be a fascinating week.

SMERCONISH: Valerie Bauerlein, thank you so much. You're doing a heck of a job covering this thing. I really appreciate it.

BAUERLEIN: Anytime. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your social media reaction and have you voted yet? We'll give you the final result of this week's poll question from Is the Chinese spy balloon more a matter of American national security or national pride? Go vote.



SMERCONISH: All right. There's the result of this week's poll question at Pretty decisive. Is the Chinese spy balloon more a matter of American national security or American national pride? Now we're close to 30,000, I'm told, and it's roughly 70/30 who say security which by the way was the answer of the General Deptula as well as Gordon Chang in the initial block of the program today. Maybe they swayed some votes.

What came in during the course of the program on social media? Here's some. What do we have?

Smerconish, the balloon should have been shot down as soon as it crossed into U.S. air space. The Chinese -- they are testing us to see if we'll allow it to continue or shoot it down.

That was Gordon Chang's perspective. A number of close observers of China are saying that it is all of a test. You know, what was to be gleaned from that balloon that would have been pulled from a satellite that we really can't see or touch if we wanted to? So you're not alone in that observation. Here is some more social media reaction. What else came in?

You're going to see a large field again, Trump, Haley, DeSantis, Pompeo, Pence, Abbott, Christie et cetera, et cetera. Large field unfortunately helps Trump. They're all losers to me anyway. Dems need a fresh new voice to run.

Well, Trump and Biden politically speaking are good for one another. My view is that if Donald Trump were not already running, and showing some strength at least in the early polls, there would be more move afoot by some within the Democratic Party to take a look at opposing the president.


But where he has defeated Donald Trump once, I think it secures Biden's position as the Democratic nominee. And you heard me say, I don't want to repeat it all, the more the merrier for Donald Trump. Nikki Haley, absolutely, get in. Mike Pence, come on. Pompeo, sure. Chris Christie, love to have you. He wants to dilute that pool and not have a race where it is just he and Ron DeSantis.

One more if I've got time and I think that I do. What do we have?

Don't forget after the murders Murdaugh had someone shoot him in the head just to get more sympathy. He would seemingly do almost anything to keep his partners from discovering the depth.

Yes, I get it. Look, I think he's a bad guy. OK? I'm not saying he is a murderer. But I'm not sure that the motive argument makes the sense that the prosecution has put forth.

I'll see you next week.