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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Is Imminent According To The White House; Biden Considering Personal Sanctions Against Putin If Russian Troops Invade Ukraine; Deputy A.G. Says Feds Probing Phony Elector Scheme; Desperate To Ease Teacher Shortages, School Districts Ask Parents And Others To Work As Substitute Teachers; Michael Avenatti Steps In To Represent Himself In His Trial, Expected To Cross-Examine Stormy Daniels; Thieves Steal Packages And Trash Train Tracks In L.A.; Second NYPD Officer Shot During Incident In Harlem Last Week Has Died. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 25, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Thanks so much for joining us. AC 360 starts right now.



Tonight, all the latest on what is perhaps the most serious confrontation with Russia since the end of the Cold War. Today in a pair of classified sessions, the Biden administration briefed bipartisan members of the House and Senate leadership on the Ukraine crisis and in public, even as it signaled uncertainty about Moscow's intentions and left the door open to a diplomatic solution, the White House was also notably grim on the prospects of a Russian invasion.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think when we said it was imminent, it remains imminent. But again, we can't make a prediction of what decision President Putin will make. We're still engaged in diplomatic discussions and negotiations.

QUESTION: ... of the last week has changed the President's view one way or the other on that --

PSAKI: Well, imminent has a pretty intense meaning, doesn't it?

QUESTION: I agree.

PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Yet, it is still the belief that it is imminent.

PSAKI: Correct. Yes.



COOPER: Imminent she said, as that was happening, the effort continued, aimed at making any move into Ukraine as painful and costly as possible to Vladimir Putin with another shipment of American military aid arriving today in Kyiv, a planeload of among other lethal items, javelin anti-tank missiles designed to stop Russian armor.

The administration today also sought to reassure allies like Germany, which relies on Moscow for natural gas, announcing it is working with other suppliers to cushion the blow if Russia cuts them off. It also issued this warning to Belarus, Ukraine's unfriendly neighbor and Putin's ally to the north.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Just as we've been clear with the Russian Federation about the severe costs that would befall them were this to move forward. In recent days, we've also made clear to Belarus that if it allows its territory to be used for an attack on Ukraine, it would face a swift and decisive response from the United States and our allies and partners.


COOPER: As for the view from Ukraine, one source close to the leadership tells CNN that as of now, the threat from Russia is quote, "dangerous but not imminent," end quote. With more than 120,000 Russian troops on the border, the danger is certainly clear even if the imminence is not.

We've got live reports tonight from CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House and Clarissa Ward in Kyiv. Also shortly, a former C.I.A. Chief of Russia operations is here to talk about what drives Vladimir Putin, what sort of sanctions he may fear.

First, let's go to Kaitlan Collins, who got the chance to question President Biden at length today. Kaitlan, what did the President have to say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, he has spoken pretty blunt terms, talking about if Russia does decide to move forward with this, which he did highlight the unpredictable nature of all of this following a meeting with his National Security team earlier today, but saying that if they do move forward with this, it would be the worst invasion that we've seen since World War II.

And talking about those 8,500 troops that he put on high alert this week, saying that it could be in the near term that he moves them, talking about, he is not really sure what exactly that is going to look like, it depends on what move Putin makes, and he did say, Anderson, that if Putin does move and does decide to invade Ukraine, he is going to face personal consequences.


COLLINS: Would you ever see yourself personally sanctioning him if he did invade Ukraine?


COLLINS: You would?

BIDEN: I would see that.

COLLINS: What would trigger the deployment of the 8,500 troops that you've put on high alert? And what's your message to those forces that are on high alert?

BIDEN: Those forces on high alert are -- they are part of a NATO operation, not a sole U.S. operation, and I've made it clear to President Putin that we would be -- we have a sacred obligation, an Article V obligation to our NATO allies. And if in fact he continued to build up and/or was to move, we would be reinforcing those troops.


COLLINS: Now, Anderson, that first answer about talking about personally sanctioning President Putin would be very significant. That is not something that you've ever seen a U.S. President take that step before, and it is not clear exactly what that will look like or what not, but the fact that President Biden alone is saying it is something that he would consider if he does make this move with Ukraine, which we should also note, as you said earlier today, the White House says that they still do believe that's imminent, it would be very consequential.

COOPER: The White House has repeatedly made clear that whatever decision is made, it is a decision that is going to be made by one person, and that is Vladimir Putin.

COLLINS: I think that's probably one of the most notable things we heard from President Biden today. This was just a mundane run of the mill stop at a small business talking about highlighting that, not of course, related to Ukraine, but the President knew that that is the topic that everyone is talking about.

He had just emerged from that meeting with his National Security team, and he was talking about this saying that, really it is anyone's guess what Putin is going to do here, and President Biden told us, he doesn't even think that the Russian leaders' top aides know what he is going to do.

So, I think that was so consequential talking about how just no one knows exactly what the Russian leader is going to do next except Putin, and so Biden was talking about the consequences -- economic, military ones, ones that Putin himself may face, but saying ultimately above all, no one knows exactly what he is going to do next.

COOPER: Yes, Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it.

Now, to Kyiv, Ukraine and CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, who spoke today with Ukraine's Foreign Minister, so what did he have to say? CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it's no secret that there has been some daylight between the U.S. and Ukraine in terms of primarily really the messaging around the handling of this crisis. The Foreign Minister was very open about the fact that he was annoyed at the U.S.'s decision to withdraw families of embassy personnel here.

He felt that that was premature, that it was unnecessary and there is a widespread concern that that contributes to a sense of panic. But for the most part, he really wanted to give the impression that the U.S. and Ukraine are working in lockstep, and he was particularly pleased to hear the news that of those up to 8,500 U.S. troops who are on heightened alert, and could potentially be deployed if need be. Take a listen to what he said about that.


DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I think it's a message to put in that listen, whatever you're trying to achieve, you get the opposite. If you want us to withdraw from Central Europe, to withdraw NATO infrastructure from Central Europe, our response to your escalation is reinforcing the Eastern flank of NATO.

WARD: Some have suggested, though, that this shift might actually anger Putin and escalate the crisis further. Are you concerned about that?

KULEBA: Well, if we learned anything since 2014, is that it is a flawed logic to handle President Putin from the perspective that let's do nothing in order not to make him angry.

No, this is not how it works. Strength, resolve, deterrence -- these are the three elements that work with Putin.


WARD: We also asked him about what political concessions Ukraine would be willing to make in order to facilitate a diplomatic solution, and while there seems to be some openness to that idea, what he was very strong about, Anderson, was saying that nobody else will come and tell Ukraine what concessions it has to make. Those are decisions that will come from Ukraine itself.

And he went to the length of saying that if someone got on a plane and came here and said, you have to make these concessions, he said he would call the protocol officer and have that person escorted back to the airport.

So you do definitely have a sense here that Ukraine, because it's not directly involved in these talks, feels it necessary to really project very strongly that it has its own ideas about how this should be handled, and that it will not simply go with the flow and accept whatever concessions other powers in outside countries decide for them.

COOPER: Are Ukrainian officials -- I mean, to that point -- are Ukrainian officials in the White House on the same page as far as what they are expecting from the Russian military and when?

WARD: So this is another interesting and kind of unexpected update, Anderson. This is a different official now, a source close to the Ukrainian government who in response to that assertion that, you know, an invasion was, quote "imminent" from the White House chose to sort of phrase it a little differently and said that the situation is, quote, "dangerous, but not imminent."

And this official said that they are pouring over satellite imagery every hour of all those troops that are massed along the border, desperately trying to ascertain what the next move will be. And in his words, quote: "Russia is not yet getting into combat mode or positioning themselves to attack."

This official also said that if President Putin does give the order to attack, he estimates that it would still be a week or two before Russia was able to do so, and there will be more preparations that were needed.

So again, slightly different messaging coming and the feeling we're getting really on the ground, and particularly when you talk privately to officials here is that there is a little bit of frustration with the U.S. messaging around this. Because of the urgency, there are concerns here that that's going to create panic, create anxiety, lead to a run on the markets. They are worried about foreign investment in Ukraine.

There's a sense though also that they really kind of want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want the sort of strong language against Russia, they want the sanctions. They want the U.S. troops on high alert, but they don't want to make it look like a full blown invasion could be around the corner -- Anderson.

COOPER: Clarissa Ward, appreciate it. Thank you.

I want to get some perspective now from retired C.I.A. Chief of Russia Operation, Steve Hall. Steve, it's good to have you back.

Based on what we just heard from Kaitlan and from Clarissa, how difficult is it for anyone in this administration or any of America's NATO allies to interpret what Vladimir Putin is going to do? What's going on essentially inside his head?

STEVE HALL, RETIRED C.I.A. CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATION: Anderson, that is really, really difficult, and it is not just, you know the difficulty in collecting Intelligence, it's not just the difficulty in trying to parse out what he is saying and what he is actually doing on the ground.


It is also a matter of, you know, does Putin himself know? I'm not sure that he does. I think he is probably still doing a risk versus gain assessment. But also, I'm pretty sure that nobody is sitting at the table with Putin talking about this actually knows. He keeps these things notoriously very close to the vest. So, you know, we're trying to figure out what the sign means? And what's going to be the West response. And he plays it so carefully that it is going to be extremely difficult, I think, for us to know until things are really far down the track, and they're just ready to go if they are going to do that invasion.

COOPER: We heard the President say today that he may move American troops into Ukraine, quote, "in the near term." But also, he didn't commit to doing that just yet. How important is that distinction when it comes to how Vladimir Putin will interpret it?

HALL: I think it's pretty important because, again, Vladimir Putin is sitting back and trying to read all the tea leaves that are happening here in the West just as we're trying to figure out what's going on in Moscow. And so, you know, you have a couple of different sort of messages that Putin is hearing.

In December, and I think as recently as either today or just a few days ago, this administration, the Biden administration has said, no, there won't be American boots on the ground in Ukraine. You have NATO partners saying, well, you know, maybe we shouldn't be militarizing and mobilizing as quickly. Maybe we should keep going harder with the negotiations and diplomacy and sort of avoid war.

And you've got others, the Americans primarily in the U.K. also saying, no, we need to be more assertive and more aggressive. And of course, the Ukrainians are saying the same thing.

So you know, Putin is trying to figure out what is going on just as carefully as we are and things are still just really up in the air right now.

COOPER: We've learned today that the U.S. officials have still not sent a written response to Russia's demands. Why would that be? I mean, in the world of diplomacy, I mean, what's the significance of that? And how much stock do you put in this diplomatic process?

HALL: Well, to answer the latter question first. There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of flex on either side of this either from the West, you know, who has denied the ridiculous request on the part of Russia. And of course, Russia has made those requests and said, that's it, we're not negotiating, it's a package, you can't even pull it apart.

I do have to say there is a word in Russia, it's nagli, and it means basically, abnormally rude and to sort of assign Washington a homework project and say, hey, we need these answers in writing back from you, you know, double spaced by next week, is a little bit rude, and I think that the administration is going to try to take advantage of that and say, look, we're going to make it very clear in black and white, as you requested, that these are our red lines. We do not let, you know, a power like the Soviet Union or Russia, you know, tell Ukraine a free democracy, who it can and who it cannot associate with.

So I expect that's going to be the gist of what is going on, and what the paper that Washington is going to give to Lavrov and his negotiators back in Moscow.

COOPER: The word is nagli? I haven't heard that before.

HALL: Nagli - N-A-G-L-I, nagli.

COOPER: Nagli, I like that. I'll keep that in mind.

So the President has repeatedly said he is basing his decisions on what Putin does or doesn't do. The idea of personal sanctions against Putin, which Kaitlan Collins asked the President about and he said, you know, he indicated that would potentially be on the table.

I mean, how significant is that? Because that is clearly a line that has not been crossed here before.

HALL: You know, Anderson, my assessment is that it is largely symbolic. Now, that doesn't mean it doesn't have its own power. I mean, Putin is, you know, every time you hear him, and his mouthpieces talk, they talk about the need for respecting Russia, you know, for all of its greatness, and, of course, that translates to him personally as well. I don't think he likes to be personally slighted.

That said, you know, he has had a lot of years, decades in fact, to hide his ill-gotten earnings that he has stolen from the Russian people, you know, in foreign banks and other places where it is extremely difficult. So, it'll have an impact on him, and it is very unusual to sanction personally a head of state, a head of government like Putin is.

But I think the symbolism there is actually more important than the actual impact of Vladimir Putin personally.

COOPER: Do you have a sense of what you think he'll do? I mean --

HALL: You know, I think it's on a spectrum, Anderson. You've got on the far end of the spectrum, you've got a full attack on Ukraine, a full invasion. On the other side, you've got some sort of face-saving device that he tries -- that Putin tries to use to get out of this. I vote for somewhere in the middle if you force me to answer the question.

I think that he might try something in the middle like formalize the attack on the Donbass region, the eastern part, maybe send Russian troops there and see what happens. But at this point, it's just really hard to tell in the cloud and fog of all of this.

COOPER: Yes. Steve Hall, I really appreciate it. Thank you.

HALL: Sure.

COOPER: Coming up next, the former President is already on tape on the phone trying to coerce Georgia's top election official into finding him votes he did not get. You've all heard that call probably many times, a grand jury is about to look into it. The question though, was it a crime? It might not be as simple as you might think. We're going to hear from a former prosecutor and a Georgia defense lawyer who believes the case may be thin, just based on that phone call.

Also, what we're now learning about the mysterious figure at the center of the scheme that might have sent troops into polling places to actually seize voting machines.



COOPER: There is exclusive new reporting tonight on one of the two broad ways the former President and his allies tried to overturn the election, putting forward slates of bogus electoral certificates in seven states that he lost.

Well today, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco tells CNN that Federal prosecutors are now looking into it, reviewing phony certificates containing signatures of Trump supporters falsely claiming to be electors like this bunch of folks in Michigan talking to a police officer at the Capitol there, they were being turned away from the Statehouse where legitimate electors were certifying the outcome.


More on this, no doubt to come. Tonight, though, we want to focus on another facet of the former President's attempt to overturn the results in one of those seven states, Georgia.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes which is one more than we have because we won the state.


COOPER: So that of course, the former President's now infamous attempt to coerce Georgia's Republican Secretary of State into doing his bidding, which the Secretary of State did not. Now that a grand jury has gotten the go ahead to look into whether any Georgia laws were actually broken, the question is, was what you heard right there in that conversation smoking gun evidence?

A report last fall by the Brookings Institution concluded the former President's conduct left him quote, "at substantial risk of possible state charges predicated on multiple crimes." So we want to get some perspective legally. CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin joins us, and Georgia criminal defense attorney, Don Samuel.

So Jeff, the fact that a special grand jury has been given the go ahead, does that mean that automatically that the DA's investigation is serious? That it is more than just this phone call?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it means it is serious. It doesn't mean there's a case that's going to be brought, it doesn't mean that President Trump is guilty of a crime, but it does mean that there will be subpoenas, issued testimony will be taken, documents will be collected, and this investigation will be more than the notorious phone call. Whether it turns out to be anything legally more than that, we'll see, but this is a real criminal investigation.

COOPER: Don, you report in "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," I think was last month before the grand jury was even requested, on the Raffensperger call, you said, "Just the words themselves, I find it hard to believe that someone could indict or ever get a conviction that was supporting either perjury or obstruction of justice or election fraud." What do you make of it now that this grand jury is moving forward?

DON SAMUEL, ATTORNEY: Well, I think it's going to depend who is going to be on the grand jury, frankly. This grand jury can't indict. This is a special purpose grand jury, which just does the investigation. And as Jeffrey said, subpoena record, subpoena documents, and can take sworn testimony, but it cannot indict. It just does a report at the end, at the maximum of a year, which would be May of 2023. So it won't indict.

You know, whether the phone call to Mr. Raffensperger ultimately would lead a criminal grand jury to indict is questionable, and I find that even more questionable that ultimately, a trial jury in Fulton County would convict.

The jurors in Fulton County reflect, you know, jurors throughout the country. There is, you know, the Republicans on the jury are not going shed their stripes and suddenly, you know, decide that they're going to be reasonable and find him guilty.

And the Democrats aren't going to suddenly, you know, on the jury decide, well, you know, let's be reasonable. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. They are going to reflect the same kind of animosity and lack of common ground that is just prevalent throughout our country at this point.

COOPER: Jeff, I mean, what other kind of evidence would they be looking for? I mean, obviously there is the phone call that's been recorded? Is it other people in the Trump orbit reaching out? Is it other actions that the President himself took?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. It's other contacts between the election officials and people connected to Trump. It is documents, it's e-mails discussing those possible contexts, and there is another side to this investigation, which definitely maybe needs to be explored, which is why did the Trump appointed U.S. Attorney disappear from his job mysteriously in the middle of this whole controversy? All of this is grist for an investigation.

I don't know where that investigation will lead, but it is certainly unusual, and that phone call, while not proof of guilt, in and of itself, is certainly suggestive of the crime of suborning election fraud, and there is just a lot more that the District Attorney can and should do.

COOPER: And Don, obviously, we don't know if there were other calls, if there were other people reaching out. What -- if you were a former President's defense attorney, what would your -- what kind of an argument would you be making?

SAMUEL: Well, I'd be making the argument if you just look at what was said in the Raffensperger call. As far as we know, the calls to the other people in the Secretary of State's office, the investigator, you know, he is telling them that you know, the words were find me 11,700 votes or 12,000 votes and you know it is certainly suggestive or could be interpreted as I want you to do something illegal, but it could just as easily mean you know there's 159 counties in Georgia, there's bound to have been some mistakes in ballot counting, we've found mistakes in ballot counting since then.


So, you know, it's conceivable what he was saying is, please don't stop looking, keep looking, until you can find under any rock that there's fraud or ballots that, you know, Trump ballots that weren't counted, you know, or Biden ballots that aren't valid. But he never said, Mr. Raffensperger, I want you and Ryan Germany and the other people in your office to you know, sit down and create ballots and stuff the ballot box here in early January, or I want you to go back to the room where they are tabulating votes and start ripping them up.

Just to say, I want you to find them sounds like a sloppy and, you know, maybe a Trumpian way of trying to achieve an end, but it doesn't strike me that you're going to convince people who aren't inclined to find him guilty of anything to convict him.

COOPER: Jeff, do you agree with that? Just with the phone call, it is not enough.

TOOBIN: I don't think the phone call is enough, but the phone call is plenty. I mean, remember, it's not just find me those ballots. It is, if you don't find me those ballots and look for them, you, Raffensperger could be prosecuted yourself. I mean, that certainly sounds like a threat. It sounds like intimidation from the President of the United States.

Again, it's not enough for a prosecutor to simply play the tape and say to the jury, the prosecution rests, but there is plenty of grist here for a serious criminal investigation and that seems to be what's going on.

COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin, Don Samuel, appreciate your time. Thank you.

SAMUEL: Thank you.

COOPER: Now more on someone who is sort of a mystery man who appears to be central to that utterly bonkers scheme to have the military seize voting machines in key states. His name is Phil Waldron. He's been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee and according to POLITICO, another member of the former President's team has already told the committee that Waldron originated that idea.

More now from our Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MIKE LINDELL, CEO, MY PILLOW: This is an attack by other countries, foreign countries is what you're saying then.

COL. PHIL WALDRON (RET), U.S. ARMY: I believe from what I've seen and the witnesses that I've talked to that this is a coup.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That is James Phil Waldron, a retired U.S. Army Colonel pushing his baseless claims of election fraud. Waldron specialized in psychological operations during his military career, and says he conducted electronic warfare and counter deception.

Today, he owns a bar in Texas, but just after the 2020 election, he was busy testifying before legislators in battleground states about his now long debunked claims that voting systems were manipulated in the election.

WALDRON: We saw numerous examples of numbers -- moving numbers, being flipped and switched.

KAYE (voice over): To be clear, then President Donald Trump's own Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the election results, but that didn't stop Waldron from contributing to and circulating a PowerPoint document detailing ways to undermine the 2020 presidential election outcome.

The PowerPoint baselessly claims China and Venezuela took control of the U.S. election system, creating a national security emergency.

WALDRON: The links that go back to China keep growing.

KAYE (voice over): The document also recommends that electronic voting in all states be declared invalid. It suggests U.S. Marshals secure all ballots and provide a protective perimeter around the locations in all 50 states.

In summary, the document says, "If you count the paper ballots in each state, Trump wins overwhelmingly."

WALDRON: These systems all have backdoors.

KAYE (voice over): This PowerPoint document wasn't just shared among conspiracy theorists and those working to overturn the election results, it made its way to the White House and the Halls of Congress, and so did Phil Waldron.

Waldron didn't respond to our request for comment, but he told "The Washington Post" he visited the White House multiple times and spoke with then Trump Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, maybe eight to 10 times.

The Congressional committee investigating the insurrection at the Capitol released this letter, saying Meadows had turned over the PowerPoint document to the committee. Waldron told "The New York Times" that he did not directly send the document to Meadows, but that perhaps someone on his team had passed it along to him. Waldron also told "The Washington Post" that he briefed Members of Congress on his unfounded claims of election fraud. The paper says that group included Senators Ron Johnson and Lindsey Graham, in addition to some House members.

Now, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack has also subpoenaed Waldron. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson saying in a statement: "The document he reportedly provided to administration officials and Members of Congress is an alarming blueprint for overturning a nationwide election. The Select Committee needs to hear from him about all of these activities."

Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach County, Florida.



COOPER: Well, up next COVID namely the desperate steps that some school districts are taking to get substitute teachers and keep schools open during the Omicron surge.


COOPER: Another signs tonight of how COVID is changing our lives with the Omicron variant now making of 99.9% of new cases, staff shortages are so bad at some schools and administrators are desperate for help. Coming up with some creative ways to get substitute teachers to care to keep schools open.

More now from CNN's Ed Lavandera.



ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Breakfast with this Stone family is usually served with a side of chaos.

STONE: Kenneth, get off of grandmother sewing machine please.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Getting their six school aged children out the door isn't easy. And on top of that today, Jan Stone is starting a new job, substitute teacher.

STONE: Honestly, I don't know what I'm expecting. I am petrified and excited at the same time.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The latest COVID-19 surge has caused extreme staffing shortages at school districts across the country fighting to keep in person classrooms open.



STONE: I don't know where Ms. Reed is today

LAVANDERA (voice-over): In Hays County south of Austin, so many teachers are sick with COVID 19 or in quarantine, school district officials are asking parents to become substitute teachers. Jan Stone answered the call. And this morning she's teaching second graders.

STONE: Good morning. How are you? I am Mrs. Stone. I am going to be your substitute today.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): And as you're sitting in home and you're watching this latest surge and teachers are calling in sick and, you know, your staffing shortages. Were you worried that your kids were going to be sent home?

STONE: Absolutely. I look at the thing. It's like OK, not their class this week, not this class. So yes, I'm very concerned about that. That totally derails life for us.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): One day last week, school officials here say they needed 455 substitutes, but could only fill 40% of the spots. The staffing shortage, send school administrators scrambling to figure out where to put kids without a teacher. Hays Consolidated School Superintendent Eric Wright says they're doing whatever it takes to keep the doors open.

ERIC WRIGHT, SUPERINTENDENT, HAYS CONSOLIDATED INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: I talk to kids a lot and they just tell me that the quality of education is so much better in person than it was remote.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): How close has it come to the point where, hey, we just need to shut everything down. We don't have the staff to keep going.

WRIGHT: Pretty close. But we've been able to keep our head above water.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): But it sounds like you're on the razor's edge like this could go either way on any given day.

WRIGHT: Yes, you're correct.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): In Oklahoma, school resource police officers help fill in when teachers were out sick to keep schools open. The Oklahoma governor is allowing state employees to work as substitute teachers. In New Mexico, the governor is expected to work as a substitute this week as she's pushing state employees and National Guard members to fill staffing shortages as well.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Brian McKinney owns this World War II themed miniature golf course in Buda, Texas.

(on-camera): This is almost like a classroom.

BRIAN MCKINNEY, PARENT AND SUBSTITUTE TEACHER: Right. LAVANDERA (voice-over): McKinney has two children in Hays County Schools. He signed up to be a substitute teacher starting this week. After a year of learning from home, he wants to do whatever it takes to keep his kids in the classroom.

MCKINNEY: So it was a pretty rough year last year.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): Yes.


LAVANDERA (on-camera): So the idea of going back to virtual learning is not something you want to see?

MCKINNEY: No, no, definitely not. That all my kids to not be a great level next year and decrease, you know, their education. So clearly, it's important to me as a parent.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): You're going to be the most popular substitute teacher in the entire district.

MCKINNEY: Yes. We'll see. Well, we'll know in about a week.


LAVANDERA: Anderson, school district officials there in Hays County tell us about 40 people have signed up to work as substitute teachers. And officials also say that they're hoping that things are starting to trend in a better direction today, for example, they needed 260 substitutes for different from the 455 that were needed last week, as we just reported, and they filled about 63% of those spots. So they're hoping that things are now starting to trend in a better direction. But it is still far from normal. Anderson.

COOPER: So tough. Ed Lavandera, appreciate it. Thank you.

Attorney Michael Avenatti is now representing himself in criminal trial against him -- against him. He's expected to cross examine Stormy Daniels soon. We have the latest details on that, next.



COOPER: Attorney Michael Avenatti is now representing himself at his own criminal trial after judge approved the move this afternoon. Avenatti is charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft after being accused of defrauding and impersonating Stormy Daniels out of $300,000 in book proceeds when he served as her attorney. After leaving court today he elaborated on why he made the choice to defend himself.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Avenatti, can you tell us about your decision to represent yourself? MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER: I'm a trial lawyer. I've been a trial lawyer for 20 years. It's what I do.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can hear him clearly. Go ahead Michael.

AVENATTI: Because I'm a lawyer, is what I've done for two decades. It's my arena, it's where I'm most at home. And I think it gives me the best chance of winning. And it gives the best chance for the truth and the evidence to come out. I am completely innocent in this case, it should have never been brought. And I'm hopeful that the jury at the end of this case, it joins me (INUADIBLE).


COOPER: Joining us now CNN correspondent Kara Scannell. So what can you tell us tonight on the judge granting Avenatti's request to defend himself?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it was just after lunch that Avenatti told the judge that there was a breakdown in the relationship with him and his court appointed counsel. He told the judge that he wanted to represent himself that he the best course of action would be for him to represent himself. Now this was not long after the judge had just cut off that court appointed counsel who was cross examining the government's first witness that was Stormy Daniels book agent. And after the jury had left the room, the judge said he did that because in 43 minutes of questioning, he said that the attorney did not ask one relevant question.

So Avenatti told the judge that he could represent himself that he actually did represent himself in a criminal trial this past summer that ended in a mistrial, that the judge told Avenatti he wanted to have his eyes wide open. The stakes in this case were very high. But he found that Avenatti was competent to do so, he told me we need to abide by the decorum of the courtroom. And he said that that court appointed counsel would be on standby.

COOPER: And do you know if Avenatti is decided on whether or not to take the stand in his own defense?

SCANNELL: So he hasn't said yet, but in court filings in December, his attorney said that there was a strong likelihood that Avenatti would testify in his own defense. Of course, that raises a lot of issues here. How would that actually happen? I covered a civil trial in federal court, where the person represented herself. She actually sat on the witness stand and ask herself a question and then answered it that will be up to the judge to decide how that protocol will take place here and whether Avenatti will do the same or if one of these other attorneys will do the questioning. Anderson.


COOPER: And do you know when Stormy Daniels might testify and under this scenario would Avenatti be the one cross examining her?

SCANNELL: Yes, I mean, this is quite a showdown. These two are the dynamic duo who were taking on former President Trump. Now they will be sparring in the courtroom. The prosecutors say that you know she is going to be their big witness. She's the one that was allegedly defrauded. They say that it is not likely that she will testify tomorrow but it is possible seems like it's more likely she will be on the stand on Thursday. Anderson.

COOPER: Kara Scannell, appreciate it. Thank you.

Assume you might find hard to believe in the United States after package robberies from retrain left tracks completely trashed. CNN's Nick Watt joins us next for a look at the rising crime in Los Angeles.



COOPER: The alarming images of empty boxes scattered over train tracks in Los Angeles County is just one sign of the crime wave hitting America's second biggest city. Shipping company say they've seen a dramatic spike in railroad theft and one of the nation's biggest railroad companies says they may avoid operating in Los Angeles due to the spike. That's all reinforcing when many feels a city where crime is out of control.

CNN's national correspondent Nick Watt has the story.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Downtown Los Angeles, packages are being stolen from trains that trash is the aftermath.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): What the hell is going on? I mean look like a third world country.

WATT (voice-over): What the hell is going on? Well, Union Pacific blames in large part L.A.'s newish locish (ph) District Attorney elected in the wake of George Floyd's murder and flank for his one year anniversary presser by progressive DA is from around the country.

GEORGE GASCON, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, LOS ANGELES: We have set a path for so turn around the criminal legal system in this country.

WATT (voice-over): Gascon has ordered his deputy DAs no under eighteens charged as adults, no more three strikes and in many cases, do not even prosecute most misdemeanors, like trespassing and don't seek more prison time if guns or gangs are involved. All he says to make the system --

GASCON: More humane, more equitable.

WATT (voice-over): But Union Pacific is now actually asking the DA to rethink his reforms, because of this. They claim more than 100 arrests have been made, but apparently not one prosecution.

GASCON: They present 100 cases to us. That's misleading.

WATT (voice-over): Gascon also taking heat after a spate of smashing grab robberies before Christmas.

LAURIE LEVENSON, PROFESSOR, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: Whether it's fair or not, to point the finger at him. The finger is being pointed.

WATT (voice-over): Also for some headline making murders, a well loved Beverly Hills philanthropist shot dead in her home. A 70-year-old nurse murdered at a bus stop. A young clerk stabbed to death in a furniture store.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You really got to wake up to what's happening all over Los Angeles.

WATT (voice-over): The DA easily survived one recall attempt last year but now faces another.

DESIREE ANDRADE, MOTHER OF MURDER VICTIM: He has abandoned all of us victims in favor of criminals.

WATT (voice-over): The union that represents Gascon's own deputy DAs is suing him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is rare.

WATT (voice-over): Claiming the directives are not merely radical, but plainly unlawful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has created this new environment where there's no accountability. Criminals are arrested and within 24 hours they're back on the street committing crime.

WATT (voice-over): Latest stats from the sheriff's show robbery, burglary and arson have actually fallen since Gascon took office unclear why could be COVID. But like many places murder is way up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most crime is down except for homicide.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a pretty big exception.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are scared up there.


WATT (voice-over): The sheriff calls Gascon's 10-year god awful. And --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I can say it's been absolute disaster.

WATT (voice-over): Gascon's come back.

GASCON: My dad used to say that when you wrestle with a pig. You both get money and the pig likes it.

WATT (on-camera): What is going on with you and Sheriff Villanueva?

GASCON: He's running for election. He's got the very strong opponents.

WATT (voice-over): For now, Gascon reforms roll on.

GASCON: If at some point the voters decide that this is not the direction that they want to go, and they want to go in a different direction. That's what democracy is all about.

WATT (voice-over): By the way, he just wrote back to Union Pacific about all those stolen packages, passing the buck back to them, UP does little for secure or lock trains he wrote.


COOPER: So how does the district attorney want misdemeanors to be handled and what is being done to secure the Union Pacific trains?

WATT: Well, Anderson, on the misdemeanors, what the DA wants is this, if it's a non violent offence, and if the perp is suffering from mental illness or substance abuse, Gasco wants that person, quote, redirected towards rehabilitation, rather than punished and thrown behind bars for what he says could become an endless cycle of recidivism.

Now, I mean, in terms of what happens with the trains, as you mentioned, Union Pacific is now considering changing their routes in order to just simply avoid Los Angeles County and avoid this issue all together. Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Nick Watt, appreciate it. Thank you.

Officer Wilbur Mora, the second New York Police Department officer who was shot while responding to a domestic incident in Harlem last week died today. Officers Mora and Rivera both shot and killed after a suspected gunman opened fire in a Harlem apartment. The suspect tried to run away but was confronted and shot by a third officer who was on the scene. Both men were just two of five New York Police Department officers who had been shot in the first month of 2022.


We'll be right back.


COOPER: Reminder, don't miss "Full Circle," our digital news show that gives a chance to dig in some important topics and have in-depth conversations. You can catch it streaming live 6:00 p.m. Eastern on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at You can watch it there on CNN app anytime On Demand. If you miss "360," you can also do listen to our podcasts go to or any of the major platforms, just search for "Anderson Cooper 360."


News continues here on CNN with Jim Acosta in "DEMOCRACY IN PERIL." Jim.