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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Trump-Pence Rift Becomes Chasm, As Former President Calls VP Desperate To Chase His Lost Relevance; Protesters Chant Profanity At St. Petersburg Concert; Former U.S. British Special Ops Soldiers Join Ukrainian Forces; White House Downplays Biden Comments That U.S. Will Get Involved Military To Defend Taiwan From An Attack By China; New Report Details How Southern Baptist Convention Leaders Mishandled Sexual Abuse Allegations; Authorities Hunt For Suspect After Shooting Of Pro Cyclist; Early Voting Surges In Georgia Despite New Election Law; Last NYC-Owned Public Pay Phones Removed. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 23, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: White House COVID czar, Dr. Ashish Jha telling NBC News that cases are likely to rise in the upcoming days.

Thanks so much for joining us. AC 360 starts now.



We begin tonight with the fact, sometimes politicians even within the same party cannot stand one another and this is probably more common than you'd imagine. But because most do such a good job of keeping their personal antipathies quiet, we rarely see it on full display, and almost never the way we did today.

Today, a former President broke with his former Vice President, lashed out at him in a way that is the best we can tell without modern precedent. The occasion is tomorrow's Georgia Republican primary where Brian Kemp the Republican governor Mr. Trump, apparently hates is doing some last minute campaigning tonight with Mike Pence whom the former President has held in relatively quiet contempt until now.

Tonight, though Mr. Trump's animosity whether it's for endorsing Kemp or not helping overturn the election of January 6 or both, is out in the open.

Listen to a portion of the statement he put out today through a spokesman about his former Vice President, quote: "Mike Pence was set to lose the Governor's race in 2016 before he was plucked up and his political career was salvaged. Now, desperate to chase his lost relevance, Pence is parachuting to races hoping someone is paying attention. The reality is President Trump has already 82 and three with his endorsements, and there's nothing stopping him from saving America in 2022 and beyond."

The part about chasing loss relevance is interesting, so is the part about parachuting into races, which is something the former President has done a number of states including Georgia, when he persuaded former Senator David Perdue to run against Governor Kemp in the primary.

The governor, as you know, would not help the former President overturn the vote in his state, which President Biden narrowly, but fairly won, and that predictably earned the governor this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your RINO Governor Brian Kemp, who has been a complete disaster.

He sold you out.

This guy' is a disaster.

He is a complete and total disaster.

TRUMP (via phone): He's done absolutely nothing.

TRUMP: Brian Kemp is a turncoat, he is a coward.

He is a disaster.

TRUMP (via phone): I'm ashamed that I endorsed him.

TRUMP: Brian camp, let us down. We can't let it happen again.


COOPER: So again, that kind of open hostility was expected, what was not perhaps was a former President and his Vice President split widening to a chasm.

Joining us now, CNN senior political analyst and "New York Times" Washington correspondent Maggie Haberman. I mean, this rift is growing. Does this statement, I'm going to say it takes it to another level.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very intense. It's very, very personal. It's the kind of thing -- I mean, I was thinking about when the last time -- A, there is no precedent for this in modern history with a former President and their Vice President that I can think of, but I was trying to think of the last time that you heard Trump really criticize Pence and of course, it was around January 6th, in 2021 in really stark terms.

I think part of what Trump is reacting to is not just what Pence is doing in Georgia, but the fact that Pence told my colleague, Jonathan Martin, he was not ruling out running in 2024 and I think that that's the big thing that Trump is reacting to.

COOPER: I also want to bring in two political CNN commentators, former Obama senior adviser, Van Jones and David Urban, former Trump campaign strategist.

David, do you think this is the last we're going to hear from a former President against Trump?


COOPER: Excuse me, against Mike Pence. Yes, sorry.

URBAN: Yes, listen, you know, Anderson, it's predictable that look, Mike Pence has gotten in Georgia trolling the President. And, you know, I think the President should have just -- if the President really wanted to irk him, he should have just ignored him. Right?

I mean, that would have been the biggest insult as Maggie knows nothing, there is no insult, President Donald Trump, like him ignoring you. Right? That's why you know, you really have angered him. He just ignores you.

This is predictable. Look, this is the worst kept secret in Washington that Donald Trump doesn't like Mike Pence. Since, you know, the Vice President did the right thing on January 6th and upheld -- you know, sat there and upheld the vote. You know, it's no secret Donald Trump has been lashing out at him since then, and the same thing with Governor Kemp in Georgia, so he that is the price.

COOPER: Van, do you think it matters for Georgia voters?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it matters at this point. I mean, it's sad, you know, the whole mess that we're in is because Donald Trump just couldn't do what we want our kids to do, which is to accept that you lost and do better next time. Instead, it's, you know, everybody has to bow down to me and agree that, you know, the ref was wrong, the umpire was wrong. I deserved it. And here we are a year plus later, and we have to deal with this type of stuff.

COOPER: Maggie, do you have a sense of when --

URBAN: But not everybody, Van. I'll just say, not everybody, right? So that's why the Vice President is getting the -- you know, getting the blasting and that's why Governor Kemp and Governor Ducey, and I can give you a long list of people who haven't bent their knee, right? There's a long list of Republicans.

JONES: Oh, it's not long enough, but I agree with you.

COOPER: Maggie, do you have a sense of when the last time Trump and Pence spoke?


HABERMAN: I think it's been quite a while, Anderson. They spoke a couple of times as I understand it at least last year, one of which was around when Pence had his book deal, and that became public. And Trump I think was reacting when he started insulting Pence in front of donors at a Republican National Committee retreat. I think it was in reaction to Pence getting a book deal. I think that their conversations petered out soon after that, and I don't expect any in the near future. COOPER: David, if Trump's candidate can't pull this off in Georgia

tomorrow, what does that say if anything about the former President about his power?

URBAN: Nothing. Look, if you look, I think there was a poll -- a recent poll out that says, you know, Donald Trump is still incredibly popular with Georgia Republican primary voters, I think something you know, high 70s, maybe low 80s like the former President. They just don't care much about his endorsement. It doesn't really matter that much to them in Georgia.

They like Governor Kemp better. You know, candidates matter here as you saw in Nebraska, the President came out with guns a blazing for Herbster and Herbster went down and lost. As you see in my state of Pennsylvania, there's going to be a recount here with Dr. Oz and David McCormick, so the President's endorsement matters in certain instances, but not -- it is not dispositive.

COOPER: Van, I want to play something that David Perdue said today about an event about Stacey Abrams, who is the obviously the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia. Let's listen.


DAVID PERDUE (R), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Did you just see what Stacey said this weekend? She said that Georgia is the worst place in the country to live. Hey, she ain't from here, let her go back where she came from. She doesn't like it here.

The only thing she wants is be President of the United States. She doesn't care about the people in Georgia. That's clear.

When she told Black farmers, you don't need to be on the farm and she told Black workers in hospitality and all this, you don't need to be -- she is demeaning her own race when it comes to that. I am really over this. She should never be considered for material for a governor of any state, much less our state where she hates to live.


JONES: Van, what's your reaction to that?

JONES: Well, A, it is disgusting and he is demeaning the human race by behaving that way and talking that way. First of all, he's lying. She never told Black farmers anything. She said that there should be other jobs besides hospitality and agriculture in Georgia and she is correct for saying that. But for him to make it racial, she didn't make it racial. He made it racial.

And then for him to say she should go back where she came from, you know she's spent most of her life in Georgia. This is the kind of stuff you know, he is failing, he's losing and he is losing for a reason. He jumped in based on a lie, and he is still lying.

COOPER: Maggie, in the Kemp-Perdue race, I mean, do you know how the former President is feeling or viewing this privately? Is he going to change his endorsement strategy going forward?

HABERMAN: There is some talk about the idea that he is going to lay off jumping into a lot of these races. I don't think I've ever seen something like this. But this was a pretty unique situation, because of how Trump feels about Kemp. He's not happy. I mean, you know, he is alternately blaming Purdue and then telling people, this race is still winnable, you know, unless you are unable to read polls, it is clearly not winnable for Purdue.

It's not likely to force a run off, and it is a reflection on Trump no matter what he says. I was struck by that number that you read in that statement from a Trump's spokesman about 82 and three is his endorsement record. That's not his endorsement record. I don't even know what that number is supposed to be. But there's a number of other races where he has endorsed and his candidate has lost starting last year, and they keep trying to rewrite the numbers.

COOPER: I mean, Trump has this huge wad of money that he has raised through donations. Has he been spending that for these candidates that he is endorsing?

HABERMAN: Almost on -- except for Purdue, he did transfer -- my colleague, Shane Goldmacher are reported this week, or a few days ago, I think it was $2 million overall to Perdue. That was a rarity. In general, the complaint has been the Trump is hoarding this money, and not really doing a whole lot to help other Republicans.

COOPER: So David Urban, is it wise -- I mean, if you're a Trump supporter, is it wise for the former President to be getting involved in these races, to be endorsing, or do you think he should be more selective?

URBAN: No, no, listen, if the President would listen to me or anybody, right, he would husband those endorsements, right? And not really hand them out as freely as he does. They don't really -- listen, the endorsements really matter in these kind of close races, like you saw in in Ohio, and in some congressional races, they really can swing a district pretty easily.

Some races, you know, the President should just sit out like in Pennsylvania. I think the President injured his brand in Pennsylvania by coming in and making an endorsement. He made lots of people unhappy in the Senate race, lots of people unhappy in the governor's race.

And for what? You know, you're going to get maybe one person maybe when Dr. Oz, if he does get elected, still you've alienated 70 percent of the Republican base in the state of Pennsylvania. So at what cost? I just don't think the juice is worth the squeeze in some of these.

COOPER: David, I mean, if Perdue loses, do you think the former President would say the race was rigged?

URBAN: I don't think he will say the race is rigged. I think you'll say David Perdue ran a bad race. I think you'll -- you know, you're talking about resources, Anderson, I think the President has, you know, $180 million, I think in his Super PAC somewhere that number, Maggie probably knows better, but you know $2 million gets you maybe a week of TV in Georgia. It's a very expensive media market.


So if he really was all in for David Perdue, he would have burned some of that cash to take out Kemp if he was really serious about it. So, you know, you know, put your money where your mouth is, I think in that instance.

COOPER: David Urban, Maggie Haberman, Van Jones, appreciate it.

David Urban mentioned the Pennsylvania primary. Let's get the latest on that, specifically, as yet an undecided Republican Senate race Dr. Mehmet Oz whom the former President is backing still holding a slim and narrow lead over David McCormick, as the final votes are about to be counted.

CNN Melanie Zanona joins us now from the state capital of Harrisburg. So at this point, how likely is it the race will head to a recount?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Oh, Anderson, almost certainly. A recount would be automatically triggered if the race is within half a percentage point and the margins here continue to be razor thin. Currently, Dr. Oz leaves David McCormack by about 977 votes, that's smaller than where we started today. So a tight race getting even tighter.

And there's not that many votes left to be counted. It's fewer than 10,000. That will continue over the next day or so. So, we should know pretty soon whether this is indeed headed to a recount.

COOPER: So it's a 900-vote difference between them fewer than 10,000 votes to be counted. Is there still -- I don't know -- I'm not sure exactly where all those 900 -- where those votes come from. Is there still a path to victory for McCormick?

ZANONA: Well, there is a path, it's narrow, but there is a path. He would have to outperform his own margins when it comes to the remaining absentee ballots. His campaign is also hopeful that the military and overseas ballots will benefit McCormick. He is an Army veteran. And then there's this other X factor which is undated ballots, so ballots that were submitted on time, received on time, but submitted without a date written, handwritten on the envelope.

David McCormick's campaign is fighting in court to have those types of ballots included in the count. They have cited a recent Court ruling related to a local race in Pennsylvania from last year. It's unclear how many of those undated ballots are out there. It could be a couple hundred. It's unclear at this point.

But Dr. Oz's campaign is opposing that effort, so is the Pennsylvania Republican Party. They also say it wouldn't change the outcome of the race. And again, we are talking about a very small number of potential votes, but in a race this close, they could prove crucial -- Anderson.

COOPER: And is there any update on the health of the winner of the Democratic senator primary, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman? ZANONA: Yes, as you know, days before election night, Fetterman

suffered a stroke. He had to check into the hospital, but yesterday we got some good news out of his camp. He was released from the hospital. He was seen in a video posted to Twitter by his wife walking out on his own.

And he also put out a statement saying he is feeling good. He's going to take some time to rest and recover. And he hopes to return to the campaign trail soon -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Melanie Zanona, appreciate it. Thanks.

Next Russians protesting the invasion of Ukraine in more than one venue.


(CROWD chanting in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: F**k the war.


COOPER: What they're chanting there at a punk rock show in Russia, we will tell you about that and a dissenting voice that could carry a lot more weight because it came from a long serving Russian government official.

And later, details on a damaging report about sexual abuse allegations in America's largest Protestant denomination and the reckoning it is bringing within the faith.



COOPER: New signs of dissent over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It is coming from inside the country and in the latest instance from a long- serving member of Russia's Diplomatic Corps. That weekend began with this at a punk rock concert in St. Petersburg.


(CROWD chanting in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: F**k the war.


COOPER: Chants of "F the war" coming from what appears to be a full house Friday night. The band, Kiss Kiss has a history of opposition to the war. It appears the audience shares their view.

And then there's this from a veteran Russian diplomat serving in the United Nations in Geneva, quitting in protest over the invasion, Boris Bondarev posting a statement on social media. And I'm quoting from it now: "For 20 years of my diplomatic career, I've seen different turns of our foreign policy, but never have I been so ashamed of my country as on February 24th of this year." And that's far from all he said.

We have details now from CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. So what do we know about this Russian diplomat?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, he was a senior Russian diplomat. He had been in the Russian Mission in Geneva for several years, he worked in arms control and nuclear de- proliferation. So he was a diplomat with a lot of experience, and he was also a diplomat in a mission where we know he has already been affected by Russia's war in Ukraine, because this was the mission that the Russian representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council used to be.

But they were thrown off that Council, Russia lost that position to another country. So this is a collection of diplomats that has seen on their own turf amongst their own the cost of Putin's war, and you know, his calling this an aggressive war. This will be language that would land him in jail, if he was back in Russia.

Clearly, he is a long way from home at the moment, but potentially in danger, because we know that Russia and Putin in particular doesn't like anyone speaking out against them. His future at the moment might seem very uncertain.

COOPER: It's highly unusual to have a member of the Russian Diplomatic Corps resigning as a matter of principle, isn't it?

ROBERTSON: It really is and to do it with such fanfare and making it so public. The criticism is damning of President Putin saying that those who have organized the war, who have orchestrated the war are willing to lay down any number of Russian lives to stay in power, and that is a reality that I think a lot of Russians on the street, even if they are patriotic recognize that Putin is that type of person.


The diplomat goes on to say that these people who have taken the country into war live in tasteless, pompous palaces. That really resonates with what Alexei Navalny, you know, Russia's leading opposition figure who Putin has put in jail a couple of years ago. That was one of his big revelations a couple of years ago, exposing what he said was one of Putin's palaces, again, that that will resonate.

But there are other areas, too. Very critical of Sergey Lavrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, essentially saying he has gone off the rails in the past few years. He is no longer into diplomacy, he is into hatred and war mongering. But that also has to resonate with other diplomats, you know, his fellow diplomats and he will know their temperature and their mood.

COOPER: I assume this diplomat is not returning to Russia or doesn't plan to return to Russia. Has there been any response from the Russian government? ROBERTSON: We're not seeing anything yet, and it will be interesting

to see if their Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says anything on her weekly briefing on Wednesday.

Lavrov in the past has said that all his diplomats have been in line. This clearly strikes a very negative chord. You know, it's going to be interesting to see how Russia handles it.

If you remember that news editor who got up behind one of the anchors with an anti-war banner a couple of months ago, it was a real expectation that the Russians would throw the book at her, but they didn't. They kind of let it slip by. And it may be by drawing attention to Boris Bondarev, if they do that, then they make again this a bigger issue for themselves. But there is no doubt that if he shows up at a diplomatic -- Russian diplomatic mission, he is not going to be a welcome figure.

COOPER: Yes. Nic Robertson, appreciate it.

Tomorrow brings a bit of normality back to Kharkiv, Ukraine's second biggest city. The subway system, which you know has been used as a network of bomb shelters since the war began goes back to being a way to get around town. Service begins on a reduced schedule tomorrow morning.

That, notwithstanding the war still very much raging on. Western observers say the momentum now appears to be shifting somewhat toward Russia, though to what degree and for how long is unclear. What is clear, though, is that in addition to flood of Western military aid, there continues to be Westerners who are volunteering to fight for Ukraine.

CNN's Sam Kiley meets one of them, an American in this exclusive report.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't. We just knew that enemy was this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move, move, move.


We just hopped in these backyards and cleared through here.

KILEY (voice over): It's not as straightforward as it sounds.

Veterans have years of counterinsurgency warfare. This small team of American and British fighters is under Ukrainian command, and they now look at war down the other end of the barrel and have asked us to conceal their identities for their own security.

This is a war that has a moral clarity for these volunteers and Ukraine's International Legion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, people keep saying, oh, you're doing it for democracy. It's really not. You know, it really comes down to good versus evil.

I never figured out why they were killing women and children, and it wasn't by accident, it was murder. I mean, we found many people just at the end of the street that were bound together and shot, thrown on the side of the road.

KILEY (voice over): Many in Kevin's team, ex-Special Forces operators have had millions spent on their training in the West, in countries that won't send troops to war with Russia.

Among the first into Irpin, they took over this house behind enemy lines. He says the team killed dozens of Russians in the park below. He says that the fighting and the shelling and the Russian killing of civilians was relentless.


KILEY (voice over): As Kevin's team advanced, he says they got trapped in this health spa for several days. It was steadily torn apart by Russian artillery.

KEVIN: This was a house of hell. This was four really miserable days of really little sleep, really heavy artillery, really heavy infantry presence from the Russians.

KILEY (voice over): Kevin's small team is funded largely by donations to the Ukrainian Legion. It operates mostly behind Russian lines. And they were stunned at first at being on the receiving end of airstrikes and heavy artillery. But they're applying the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan to Russia and believe that they're having an effect on the enemy.

KEVIN: There's definitely a psychological aspect to it. We do know that the Russians were talking about hey, they're up like we can't figure out where they're at. We don't know what's happening. We are being artilleried so heavy that we put this chair here so we could jump out this window if we had to in a hurry.

KILEY (voice over): Deeper into the spa, he comes across evidence that Russia plays dirty even in local defeat.

KEVIN: So a lot of the Russians came back through some of these places and re-mined them.


Put booby traps. You can see this cable goes back into the ground where it's been intentionally buried, and then it's tied off here.

KILEY (voice over): So far, this group has not lost a soldier.

KEVIN: Definitely a nightmare. KILEY (voice over): But that time may come. It's a risk he says he is

prepared to take because for the West's former warriors in the war on terror, Ukraine has given them something back.

KEVIN: One way or the other, they've either been lost or they've lost everything. So this has given them another chance. You know, they come back here and it's like they've put their life back together.


COOPER: And Sam Kiley joins us from Kyiv tonight. What is their assessment on the state of the war?

KILEY: They are very guarded really about what they reveal in any kind of detail about the extent of the war. But I think that essentially, they recognize and indeed, President Zelenskyy has reinforced this in the last 24 hours or so saying that the war in the east is taking a heavy toll, 50 to a hundred people being killed every day, that's combat people on the Ukrainian side according to the President.

I think that that is an estimate that the foreign fighters that I've spoken to have been involved in those combat operations there and in the south, too, would endorse. They are saying that the Ukrainians are getting hit and hit hard. But they're also saying that the material difference that the NATO equipment that is coming in the more sophisticated equipment than the Russians have deployed is going to and is having a material effect and a positive one from the Ukrainian perspective -- Anderson.

COOPER: Sources tell CNN, the Biden ministration is considering a proposal to send U.S. Special Forces to Ukraine as a defensive detail to protect the American Embassy, which just reopened in Kyiv. What do you know about the proposal? Is there obviously a concern that Russia could see that as some sort of escalation?

KILEY: Well, obviously, the normal protection, at least in terms of the over protection is provided by normally by the U.S. Marine Corps, and by sending in Special Forces operators, it is inevitable that the Russians would seize upon that as in their view, a sign that the Americans are escalating, that NATO is getting more deeply involved.

They haven't yet accused foreign fighters that they have captured. They've captured at least three Brits that I'm aware of, for example, but they haven't accused them of being actual formal members of the British Armed Forces and therefore, are seen as some kind of an escalation.

But there is no question that Special Forces operators that are here, if the U.S. Embassy is operational here or planning to be operational, then they will be doing reconnaissance of that nature. Anyway, I don't think it would come as any particular surprise to the Americans sorry -- to the Russians. But certainly the presence of Special Forces operators here guarding an embassy would be something that they would try to make hay out of. It's also incredibly high investment in terms of the top most elite

personnel. It's not something that the Americans would want to sustain over any period of time, I don't think -- Anderson.

COOPER: Sam Kiley, appreciate it. Thanks.

Well, we go to Japan next and comments overseas about President Biden that have sent the Chinese and White House officials scrambling. We'll tell you what he said about Taiwan with White House has had to walk back for the third time. That's just ahead.



COOPER: The third time in recent months White House officials are having to clean up President Biden's remarks about protecting Taiwan militarily from an attack by China, stands to deviate from the more ambiguous language typical U.S. presidents. This time the comments came in Japan -- during the President's first visit Asia's president.


NANCY CORDES, CBS NEWS: You didn't want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?


CORDES: You are.

BIDEN: That's a commitment we made.


COOPER: Our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is in Tokyo following the president. What's the reaction been from the White House today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I think it depends on if you're asking privately or publicly because privately officials are acknowledging they were caught off guard by Biden's comments. They weren't expecting him to be that for us all, because you saw at the beginning of that Q&A that he had with Nancy Cordes of CBS News there at the end, he did say that their policy on Taiwan had not changed. He reiterated a lot of the language that you've heard from them before. But it was that follow up at the end where he made the comment that caught some of the aides off guard. And even some of the ones in the room, you can kind of see they were watching President Biden very closely as he was answering that question.

But publicly they are saying this isn't a change in the policy that they had, that he hasn't really taken any kind of different stance than what they had said before. But Anderson, it is a clear change. Because, of course, the statement before, the stance before was that they would provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, should they come under attack by China. And the President went further to that. And Nancy Cordes even specifically asked if this is different than Ukraine, she drew that distinction of where the President has been in Ukraine and the fact that he is supplying weapons to Ukraine, but he is not willing to put U.S. forces on the ground. And when he was asked if he would do otherwise, when it came to Taiwan, he answered in the affirmative.

COOPER: It's not the first time President Biden has said something like this about Taiwan. We did a town hall with him. Can you walk us through what he has said in the past?

COLLINS: Yes, he veers off script a lot, obviously Anderson and certainly on this subject. He has gotten here now three times before, of course here yesterday in Tokyo in that town hall that he did with you, in a third comment before that, where he has made pretty clear where his stances on the U.S. military getting involved. Should Taiwan come under attack by China? And this is a conversation that has taken on a lot more importance, a lot more urgency ever since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And I think that is part of why you saw the President be so clear in his remarks yesterday, because the way he was framing it is of course, given what Russia has what has happened with Russia and China is watching that very closely. So our allies in the region.

And every time Anderson you see aids, come out and walk back the President's comments. I believe during your town hall, they did it while the town hall was still going on saying that he was not expressing a change in U.S. policy, they did it minutes after that press conference wrapped yesterday sending out that generic statement that is often attributed to no names, sometimes Jen Psaki that answer from the podium, but often it's no name on those statements.


But I think Anderson at the end of the day, it becomes clear that the President is the one who sets the policy. And when the President multiple times in public on the record, when pressed for clarification, is making clear what his stance is on getting the U.S. military involved if China invaded Taiwan is clear with the United States policy is. And it's what the President says not what the White House is distributing in a statement on background.

COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it.

Coming up, a damning new report about how the nation's largest Protestant denomination mishandled sexual abuse allegations for decades.

Also tonight, authorities hunting to suspect in a murder involving a love triangle the pro cycling world. Details about the killing the boyfriend at the center of it all, when we return.


COOPER: Reckoning tonight, the nation's largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. a scathing new report from an independent panel found that decades lit -- for decades, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention mishandled allegations of sexual abuse intimidated victims and resisted attempts to reform, hundreds of people were interviewed and a former president of the convention has been implicated.

Tom Foreman has details tonight.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For America's largest Protestant denomination, the report is a blistering takedown of top church leaders saying they routinely met accusations of sexual abuse by clergy and staff with resistance, stonewalling and even outright hostility.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To give to you --

FOREMAN (voice-over): Among the survivors named Christa Brown who says she was sexually assaulted by a minister more than 30 times. She has tweeted, at the parsonage after one of worst a pastor's rapes, he put me 16 years old in shower and stood yelling at me to clean better down there. I only knew to cry. He knew to destroy evidence.

RUSSELL MOORE, COLUMNIST, CHRISTIANITY TODAY: This is an apocalypse and unveiling a meltdown. And people are reeling all over the country right now, not just Baptists, but also the entire evangelical world.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The SBC response to the members of the survivor community we are grieved by the findings. We are committed to doing all we can to prevent future instances of sexual abuse in churches to improve our response and our care to remove reporting roadblocks.

Still, the report says an executive committee staff member kept a list of hundreds of names of accused people with ties to the church since 2007. Yet some leaders were so focused on avoiding lawsuits, they did nothing. Accusers were ignored, disbelieved their claims called a satanic scheme, even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation. Victims groups have long called for accountability.

TIFFANY THIGPEN, SEXUAL ABUSE SURVIVOR: The church needs a day of reckoning. It needs to be a stripping down to the basis -- basics of everything that you say you stand for, everything that you claim to represent.

FOREMAN (voice-over): One senior leader named in the report, Johnny Hunt was himself accused of sexually assaulting another pastor's wife in 2010. Hunt's reply, to put it bluntly, I vigorously denied the circumstances and characterizations. I have never abused anybody.

FOREMAN (voice-over): In less than a month, the SBC will meet for its annual convention, and decide if there will be consequences.

MOORE: That will require not just bad people to be held accountable, although that's true, but for good people to not look away.


COOPER: And Tom Foreman joins us now. What is expected to happen next?

FOREMAN: Tomorrow, the executive committee is going to respond to this in some fashion or consider this in some fashion a bit of a test to Anderson because remember, the overall body of the SBC demanded this independent investigation and said the executive committee can't do the investigation because they're being investigated. So their response tomorrow, even if it's the private response is really going to matter.

COOPER: And the third party firm that conducted the investigation, they gave the Southern Baptist Convention recommendations how to improve how they handled allegations. What did they suggest?

FOREMAN: Yes, they want an independent database kept of people who are offenders, people have been proven to be offenders and I've had allegations raised against them. So one church to the next has some idea what's going on out there. They would like to have an independent group within the SBC to oversee reforms moving forward. They think that's very important. And most of all, they want to get rid of secret deals and non-disclosure agreements that keep all of this in the dark. They're saying get it out in the open. Let's see what the problem is. The victims deserve it. And the church deserves it too. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. We'll see what happens next. Tom Foreman, appreciate it.

Now to an ongoing hunt for the suspects in a Texas murder. We're following tonight involving what some are calling a love triangle, an intensely competitive world of professional cycling.

Randi Kaye has details.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is really required over here. We've never had this happen before.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, this woman is a fugitive. She is 34-year-old Kaitlin Marie Armstrong, U.S. Marshals say she's now on the run wanted on a first degree murder charge in connection with the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Anna Moriah Wilson. According to an arrest affidavit, Wilson, an elite cyclist was gunned down earlier this month at a friend's home in Austin, Texas shot multiple times.

MICHAEL HARRIS, NEIGHBOR: If she thought or she knew she was going to be wanted for this, she probably had a five day head start

KAYE (voice-over): The motive may be a jealous rage. The affidavit says both women had been in a romantic relationship with the same man, another professional cyclist named Colin Strickland. An anonymous tip to police said Armstrong had made prior statements expressing desire to kill Wilson. On the day of her murder, the affidavit says Wilson and Strickland spent the afternoon swimming together, then had dinner afterwards. Strickland told investigators he dropped Wilson off at her friend's home afterward and did not go inside.

Later that night, Wilson's friend returned home to find her bleeding and unconscious in the bathroom. Per the affidavit, officers found bullet casings on the floor and Wilson appeared to be suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Despite CPR efforts she was pronounced dead at the scene.


Investigators zeroed in on Armstrong as a suspect after obtaining video surveillance that shows an SUV similar to Armstrong's near the home where Wilson was staying just one minute after Wilson went inside. That's according to the police affidavit, which also says ballistic evidence recovered at the scene show similarities to bullets test fired from a six hour handgun, Strickland recently purchased for Armstrong. Police say the potential that the same firearm was involved is significant.

HARRIS: Looking into Kaitlin, she did have a criminal history and came here to Texas and is residing here with her boyfriend.

KAYE (voice-over): Still, the arrest affidavit shows Armstrong had a jealous streak. In the documents, Strickland told investigators that while he was dating Wilson, Armstrong called Wilson to say she was the one dating Strickland. He also told investigators Armstrong had blocked the other woman's number in his phone and that he had to change the woman's name in his phone so Armstrong didn't know who he was speaking to. Strickland also admitted lying to Armstrong about his whereabouts that day, so she wouldn't know he was with Wilson.

In response to the killing, Strickland issued a statement saying he and Wilson had only a brief romantic relationship about a week or so in the fall of 2021. He said about a month after dating Wilson, he resumed his relationship with Armstrong. Anna Moriah Wilson's family also released a statement reiterating she was not in a romantic relationship with anyone at the time of her death.


COOPER: And Randi joins us now. What's the latest on the search for Armstrong?

KAYE: Anderson, it seems she's vanished without a trace. Investigators say that she deleted all of her social media accounts, she hasn't been seen or heard from. And what's so interesting Anderson is that investigators had her in their sights. The day after this murder, they brought her in for questioning. They wanted to know why her vehicle her Jeep Cherokee was in the area of that murder on that day. They had brought her in on an old arrest warrant that was no longer valid. It had nothing to do with this murder case. But they were able to question her. She didn't answer their questions. And they didn't have enough evidence. They didn't have probable cause to hold her so she was free to go, which she did. So now of course she's on the run. U.S. Marshals are saying that she's still driving that Jeep Cherokee that we've seen on that surveillance video around the time of the murder at that home, where the victim was found in that Jeep Cherokee. It's a black Jeep Cherokee with Texas plates, we'll share those for you. It's LDZ 5608. That is the Texas plate LDZ 5608 if you have any information the U.S. Marshals or Austin Police would like to hear from you. Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Randi, appreciate it. Thanks.

Coming up more on tomorrows closely watched primary races in Georgia. Early voting there has been surging the first big test of the state's new election laws. The details next.



COOPER: Returning to Tuesday's primary races in Georgia, voter enthusiasm is high with a whole lot of people taking advantage of early voting. That's despite the state's new election laws are to some extent perhaps as a reaction to them.

Reporting from Georgia for us tonight, here's CNN's Amara Walker.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never been so excited to stand in line. And this has me feeling really good and very optimistic that the numbers are in, people do care and we're putting our votes where it counts.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Georgia primary voters are turning out early and record numbers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Georgia voters, you know, now they know that the nation looks at them as like a state to pay attention to.

WALKER (voice-over): During the three week early voting period that ended last Friday, more than 850,000 people cast a ballot in person or by mail in the Georgia primaries, a 168% increase compared to the same time period of the 2018 primary. And that increase includes both Republicans and Democrats. Its good news says Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger who's seeking re election this year,

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R-GA) SECRETARY OF STATE: As you recall when we pass the Election Integrity Act of 2021, everyone said it was going to make it hard for people to vote. Well, the numbers prove them wrong, doesn't it?

WALKER (voice-over): The turnout defying predictions for many Democrats and voting rights activist that Georgia's new voting law could lead to a drop off in voting. President Biden and Stacey Abrams who's running unopposed and Georgia's Democratic gubernatorial primary, both likened the bill to Jim Crow last year.

STACY ABRAMS (D-GA) GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We have to remember that voter suppression isn't about stopping every voter. It's about blocking and impeding those voters who are considered inconvenient.

WALKER (voice-over): The controversial election law signed by Governor Kemp in March 2021 imposes new voter ID requirements for absentee ballots, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and the hours they're available. Restricts how voters can be provided food and water near a polling location. And it adds an additional Saturday of early voting, while making it optional for counties to have two Sundays for early voting.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): This actually expands access.

WALKER (voice-over): The Republican control Georgia legislature approved the voting law after Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win in Georgia in nearly three decades/

KERON BLAIR, CHIEF ORGANIZING & FIELD OFFICER, NEW GEORGIA PROJECT: We are clear that was voter suppression and intended to intimidate voters. They are like whatever they tried to do, it's not going to work. We're going to show up and show out.

WALKER (voice-over): Keron Blair with the New Georgia Project of voter registration group founded by Abrams says the new law may be mobilizing voters but it's still creating obstacles.

BLAIR: We're at the polls tomorrow. How do we hand out ponchos and not get arrested?

WALKER (voice-over): Well, it's hard to measure the impact of Georgia's voting law, it's clear enthusiastically for the Georgia primary remains high.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Yes, there was a lot of hyperbole on both sides about SB202. The question is, will those tweaks impact voters in ways that could influence the outcome of a close race?


WALKER: Now, overall, election officials here in Georgia do expect a record turnout for a primary, the last time a record was set was during the 2018 Georgia primary where I'm told about 1.3 million people turned out. But look, there could be rain in the forecast and as you know, Anderson that could change some people's voting behavior. Anderson.


COOPER: Yes. Amara Walker, appreciate it. Thank you.

A quick reminder, you can join CNN for live coverage of the Georgia primary races tomorrow night 7:00 p.m. It's the hour the polls close across the state, so shouldn't be busy and exciting night, right from the start.

Up next, history made today in New York City and it has to do with that thing you see on the screen there. And kids in case you don't know what that is, just don't ask your parents to or just stick around.


COOPER: As a lifelong New Yorker, this one's a big deal. Today, the last city owned public payphones were removed from Seventh Avenue near Times Square. The last more than 6,000 disconnected by the city in recent years to make way for Wi-Fi kiosk. That's a little history lesson for younger folks out there. Before cellphones, this was a connection to family and friends and germs if you needed a place to call, all for the course -- cost of a dime or a quarter. These two payphones will not end up in the dump, however, they have a new home in the Museum of the City of New York as part of their new exhibit called the analog city. For those who love the nostalgic phones, you can still find a few private payphones including the Superman style fully enclosed booths on Manhattan's Upper West Side.


That's it for us. The news continues. Let's hand over to Laura Coates in "CNN TONIGHT." Laura.