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May 19, 2024
What A Day
Morehouse Graduates Silently Protest Biden's Commencement Speech

In This Episode

  • President Joe Biden gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College’s graduation ceremony on Sunday. Some students and faculty at the historically black college in Atlanta protested his presence on campus amid the war in Gaza.Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money case may wind down this week in Manhattan. The prosecution could rest its case as soon as today. Longtime federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann says while Trump could still decide to testify, he likely knows it would be ‘suicide.’
  • And in headlines: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash in the country’s mountainous northwest, Sunday. Iran state media reported there were ‘no survivors,’ Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz says he’ll leave the country’s government in June if it doesn’t come up with a plan for the war in Gaza, and rapper P. Diddy released an apology after CNN published surveillance video from 2016 of him physically assaulting his then-girlfriend Cassie Ventura.


Show Notes:




Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Monday, May 20th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice and this is What a Day where we can’t stop saying bleach blonde bad built butch body.


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett gave us this iconic line against Marjorie Taylor Greene late last week, and I have to stan. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s incredible. 


Tre’vell Anderson: What a read. Okay?


Josie Duffy Rice: Truly. [laughter] [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, we look at what could be the final week of Trump’s hush money trial. Plus, Diddy resurfaces with an apology.


Josie Duffy Rice: Save it, please. But first, President Biden gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College’s graduation on Sunday. Morehouse is a historically Black college here in Atlanta. It is the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr. Also, my dad and also, of course, your alma mater Tre’vell. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It is mine. Shout out to them for me being part of their legacy. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Truly. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Now, many Morehouse students and faculty oppose the administration’s decision to invite President Biden to speak at graduation, given the war in Gaza. 


[clip of graduation speaker at Morehouse college] Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the podium the 46th president of the United States, Joseph R. Biden. 


Tre’vell Anderson: We’ve covered campus protests against the war, and like countless other universities and institutions, there is a sizable contingent at Morehouse who’ve been openly critical of the war and the role America has played in it to the tune of billions of dollars. 


Josie Duffy Rice: As you said, we’ve been talking about this a lot. And at Morehouse, there was also conflict over whether Biden should receive an honorary degree from the institution. So ultimately, it went to a faculty vote and 50 out of 88 voted to grant the degree, with a university statement specifying that giving Biden that honor, quote, “is not because of current political affairs.” However, some faculty members skipped commencement to protest Biden. Here’s professor of political science Dr. Andrew Douglas, talking about Biden in the context of King’s legacy. 


[clip of Dr. Andrew Douglas] We’re listening to Biden in the context of a historic student movement against imperialism in our time now. Smearing student protest, arguing against the thesis that King put forward in the letter from Birmingham Jail. Saying that order is more important than justice? And he’s coming to Morehouse College in this moment. It’s unthinkable. [cheers of approval]


Tre’vell Anderson: Dr. Douglas, FYI was on our episode titled the Anti-Capitalist legacy of MLK Jr a couple of years ago. We’ll put the link in our show notes, but ultimately the graduation went off without major disruption. Some people turned their backs. A few students walked out as the honorary degree was conferred. And I know we’re going to get to Biden’s speech in a moment, but can we shout out one moment from the valedictorian, De’Angelo Jeremiah Fletcher’s speech in which he called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.


[clip of De’Angelo Jeremiah Fletcher] From the comforts of our homes, we watch an unprecedented number of civilians mourn the loss of men, women, and children while calling for the release of all hostages. For the first time in our lives, we’ve heard the global community sing one harmonious song that transcends language and culture. It is my stance as a Morehouse man, nay, as a human being, to call for an immediate and the permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. [cheers and light clapping]


Josie Duffy Rice: It really is such a courageous thing to do in front of the president, and I liked that he focused on the unity of people calling for this cease fire, right, instead of focusing on the disagreement. And Biden sat behind him and he clapped after Fletcher’s statement, which is notable, maybe not meaningful but notable. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. Absolutely notable. Let’s get into the speech that Biden gave now, what did he have to say? 


Josie Duffy Rice: You know, he said a lot. He acknowledged that the class of 2024 has had a particularly tough and unusual college experience. Right. These are the kids who had their senior year of high school and much of their early college experience interrupted by Covid. And he also talked about the fallout from the murder of George Floyd by police. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] You missed your high school graduation. You started college just as George Floyd was murdered. And there was a reckoning on race. It’s natural to wonder, if democracy you hear about actually works for you. What is democracy if Black men are being killed in the street? What is democracy if the trail of broken promises still lead back, Black communities behind? What is democracy if you have to be ten times better than anyone else to get a fair shot? Most of all, what does it mean, as we’ve heard before, to be a Black man who loves his country, even if it doesn’t love him back in equal measure? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Biden also acknowledged the importance of protest. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] I want to say this very clearly. I support peaceful, nonviolent protest. Your voices should be heard and I promise you, I hear them. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And later in his speech, he also talked about Gaza and the future of Israel and Palestine. And notably, Biden did call for a ceasefire in Gaza, though not a permanent one. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] It’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That’s why I’ve called for an immediate cease fire. An immediate cease fire to stop the fighting. [applause] Bring the hostages home. And I’ve been working on a deal as we speak. Working around the clock to lead an international effort to get more aid into Gaza. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Thanks for that, Josie. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, former President Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial is starting to wind down. This morning, Trump’s defense attorneys are expected to wrap up their cross-examination of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former self-appointed fixer. And when we left off last week, Trump’s attorneys claimed they’d caught Cohen lying to the jury about a phone call he says he made to Trump. It could be a potentially damaging blow to one of the prosecution’s star witnesses. Cohen is also the prosecution’s last witness, meaning they could rest their case later today. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So once the district attorney’s office rests its case, what is going to happen next? And really, I’m wondering, do we know if Trump is going to testify here? 


Tre’vell Anderson: So Trump’s defense team has indicated it does plan to call a few witnesses, but his lawyers have not confirmed whether or not Trump is one of them. Legal experts say that it is unlikely, though, that Trump will testify because it’s just too risky. And we also know that Trump is special in so many ways. That said, the judge overseeing this case, Justice Juan Merchan told attorneys to prepare for closing arguments as soon as Tuesday. That means the jury could start their deliberations later this week. And to get a better sense of what we can expect from the hush money trial this week. I spoke with Andrew Weissman. He was a senior prosecutor in Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into Trump, and he’s now a law professor at New York University and host of the MSNBC podcast, Prosecuting Donald Trump. I started by asking him how Cohen has fared as the prosecution’s key witness. 


Andrew Weissman: I mean, he himself has done fine, like he’s been good on the stand. I watched him, he’s pretty unflappable, you know, but he’s still Michael Cohen. So I don’t think there’s a lot of surprises. He was never going to be like, a terrific witness. It’s not like you’re calling a priest or a nun or a rabbi or pick whatever upstanding member of society. So he’s done fine. But I think the idea that the state wants to bring out is you kind of know what happened before he took the stand. Like the evidence is all there, the documents and that he’s telling you what you kind of know anyway. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You’ve kind of mentioned this already, right? But during the cross-examination, Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, went to lengths to hammer at Cohen’s credibility as a serial liar, as a criminal bent on, you know, bringing Trump down. Most notably, Blanche accused Cohen of lying to the jury last week. There’s a phone call involved that Cohen claims he made to Trump to discuss a plan to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels. The lawyer, Trump’s attorney has presented text messages that show that maybe the call was actually about something else. How damaging, if at all, is the idea that Michael Cohen may or may not be a liar already to the prosecution’s case here? 


Andrew Weissman: Well, that moment of cross was definitely a good point for the defense. I look, I’ve never done a trial when I was a prosecutor where some witness doesn’t make a mistake. And of course, the defense lawyer doesn’t ever want to say, oh, it’s a mistake. They want to say, oh, you’re lying. You know, and there’s obviously we all know in our own lives there’s a huge difference between a mistake and a lie. The thing that, you know, made it so obvious to me that it must be a mistake is there were so many other calls he talked about, including calls where the phone records show he’s having calls with Donald Trump, and some of those calls were much more significant to the story he was telling. And [indistinct] it’s two days later, on October 26th, he has these two calls with Donald Trump. And we know that not because of Michael Cohen, but because of the phone records. And that’s the same day that Michael Cohen wires $130,000 to the lawyer for Stormy Daniels. So it just seems like a really weird thing to make up a fairly innocuous call on the 24th two days earlier, and to be lying about it now. It’s never a good for any witness to make a mistake. So, you know, it’s definitely a point for the defense. It’ll be interesting to see, like how the jury takes it and what the arguments are on both sides about that mistake. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Stepping a little further out. To what extent do you think a conviction actually hangs on whether or not the jury believes Michael Cohen, specifically versus Stormy Daniels’ spirited I would say testimony a few days prior?


Andrew Weissman: Well, I think Stormy Daniels, you don’t have to believe her at all for the defendant to be guilty. I mean, it doesn’t really matter whether her story is true or not. The question is whether he wanted to kill her story and keep it from the public. I do think with Michael Cohen, one thing to look for is that’s going to be a real battleground in the summations that may happen as soon as tomorrow on Tuesday. And I think the defense is going to say he’s the critical witness. And if you don’t believe him, you cannot convict or if he raises reasonable doubt, you cannot convict because he’s critical to the case. And the state will be saying, of course he’s not. No one’s going to bring a case based solely on him, and his story is is highly corroborated. But there’s independent evidence, and I think I would ask the jury to think about what they were thinking about. All of the proof in the case up into the time that he testified. And I would sort of sum up, based on all of that, as to how the case was proved and then say, and you have Michael Cohen and you know what? There’s a lot you could not believe about him. There’s a lot that you can say he’s a liar and a cheat and done all sorts of terrible things in his life and maybe even on the stand. But just because you’ve lied a lot doesn’t mean you’re always lying. And here you know that his story is truthful because of the corroboration of it. But I think you’re going to hear a lot of you don’t need it by the state. And the defense is going to say you do. 


Tre’vell Anderson: In your kind of opinion, your analysis of what’s going on. Has the prosecution done what it needs to do here? Have they given the jury enough evidence to prove that the former president falsified business records to conceal payments to Cohen, made to protect his bid, right, for the 2016 presidential race? 


Andrew Weissman: I do, because we know that Michael Cohen and the chief financial officer, Alan Weisberg, were aware of the entire scheme and were in on it. The idea that they would have kept this from Donald Trump just seems absolutely incredible. They’d have no personal gain to have kept it from their boss. They would have enormous incentives not to, because they could be fired at any moment. And in order to keep it from them. Remember, in order for the scheme to work, Donald Trump still has to sign the checks. And he does sign the checks. So you’d be risking if you’re trying to do this behind his back, you’d be risking your boss over the course of a year and signing checks for over $260,000, saying, I’m sorry, what the hell is this for? And what would you say? Oh. I’m sorry. We have a scheme that we orchestrated behind your back, where you’re going to pay out $260,000. But we decided for no good reason not to tell you about it. 


Tre’vell Anderson: So once the prosecution rests, the defense will get a chance to call their witnesses. Who do we expect them to call? 


Andrew Weissman: I don’t know, but the one thing I can tell you is I don’t expect them to call Donald Trump. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Tell me why?


Andrew Weissman: In a criminal case, the defendant has a right to testify. And that right is personal. Meaning the defense lawyer cannot make that choice. The defendant himself or herself has to make the choice. You absolutely do not have to. And the jury’s instructed, if you don’t testify, that they can’t hold it against you in any way because it’s of course, it’s the state’s burden. But as much as Donald Trump seems to think he’s the best lawyer and strategist in the world, I think even he understands that it would be pretty close to suicide for him to testify. You know, I worked on the Mueller investigation, and so I view it through that lens where just to take us back through history, he, at the start of the investigation said, oh, yeah, of course, I look forward to meeting with them and talking to them. Yeah, that never happened. I’m still waiting. So I just don’t think he puts himself in that kind of position. I don’t think he’s going to do that here. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Probably for the best, considering how, I think the word folks have been using is volatile to describe him and his behavior. 


Andrew Weissman: That’s one word. 


Tre’vell Anderson: [laugh]That is one word.

That was my conversation with Andrew Weissman, longtime federal prosecutor and host of the MSNBC podcast, Prosecuting Donald Trump. That’s the latest for now. We’ll get to some headlines in a moment. But if you like our show, make sure to subscribe and share it with your friends. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]




Josie Duffy Rice: Now let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: On Sunday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash in Iran’s northwest mountains, according to the country’s state run media. Weather, including heavy fog, is believed to have played a role in the crash. Raisi was traveling back from Iran’s East Azerbaijan province with the country’s foreign minister and other Iranian officials and bodyguards. Raisi, Iran’s hardline president was seen as the protege to Iran’s supreme leader and a potential successor within the Shiite theocracy. 


Tre’vell Anderson: A high level member in Israel’s war cabinet gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an ultimatum on Saturday. Benny Gantz, the head of the National Unity Party, said his party will leave the government if it doesn’t develop a plan for the future of the war in Gaza by early June. In a speech, Gantz accused Netanyahu of being motivated by his own political and personal interests, rather than that of the national security of the country. It’s yet another sign of the growing pressure that Netanyahu is facing internationally and domestically to clarify his war strategy. Israelis took to the streets this weekend to protest Netanyahu’s government in Tel Aviv. The protesters were calling for the immediate release of the roughly 125 hostages who have been held by Hamas since October 7th. The Israel Defense Forces announced late last week that they recovered bodies of four hostages from northern Gaza during an operation in one of the refugee camps. 


Josie Duffy Rice: We’ve got a little Union Station round up for you all on this fine Monday, so all aboard Tre’vell. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Choo Choo. 


Josie Duffy Rice: First off, the United Auto Workers faced a setback over the weekend when a Mercedes plant in Alabama voted not to unionize. It’s the first loss in a string of recent victories for the UAW, especially coming off the high of a big win at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant. But in better news, you better believe that Mickey Mouse and Goofy are pro union baby. Disneyland workers who dress and act as Disney characters voted overwhelmingly to unionize in an election this past week. More than 1700 employees participated, and now Magic United is fighting for better pay, safety measures and schedules. Those are hot costumes. You need protection. 


Tre’vell Anderson: The best protections. Okay. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Truly. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Sean Combs, known as Diddy, Puff Daddy, love whatever he’s calling himself right now, released a message on Instagram apologizing after CNN published surveillance video from 2016 of him brutally physically assaulting his then girlfriend Cassie Ventura in the hallway of a hotel. The video was posted Friday and backs up the allegations in the lawsuit that Cassie filed back in November. Combs has repeatedly denied Cassie’s allegations of rape and abuse since she first filed the lawsuit against him, which was settled a day later. On Sunday, Combs posted a video addressing his behavior. He never mentioned Cassie by name. 


[clip of Diddy aka Sean Combs] I was fucked up. I mean, I hit rock bottom. But I make no excuses. My behavior on that video is inexcusable. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Cassie’s lawyer posted a statement online on Sunday after Combs’ video saying, quote, “Combs’ most recent statement is more about himself than the many people he has hurt. When Cassie and multiple other women came forward, he denied everything and suggested that his victims were looking for a payday.” 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, there’s some real irony in him saying I make no excuses. 


Tre’vell Anderson: After making–


Josie Duffy Rice: You’ve literally exclusively made excuses. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I mean. 


Josie Duffy Rice: For months. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Come on now. 


Josie Duffy Rice: You denied it entirely, you said, whatever. And one final note. 90 year old Edward Dwight finally made it to space. Dwight and five crewmates took off Sunday from West Texas on Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. He was actually the first Black man trained as an astronaut back in 1961, but he never actually got to make the trip to space. And now he finally has, so. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m so glad that he has finally achieved this dream of his. I just hate that it wasn’t via a one Jeff Bezos. 


Josie Duffy Rice: But I also got to say, being 90 and being on a rocket sounds like the absolute least fun th ing on Earth. 


Tre’vell Anderson: He said, I ain’t got too much time left, so why not? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Maybe I’ll go out this way?


Tre’vell Anderson: You know what I mean? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, truly. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Shout out to him, though. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, shout out to him. And those are the headlines. 




Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, check your fake eyelashes, and tell your friends to listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just a transcript of the Morehouse valedictorian speech like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter, so check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


[spoken together] And baby girl, don’t even play. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Baby girl. I’m going to make that my ringtone. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I love that this has now become, you know, language that you hear in our [laugh] hallowed halls of Congress. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Jasmine and AOC are trying to keep it professional. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Give her a warning. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And be real. And I love it. [laughter] [music break] What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. [music break]