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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Newly Released Search Inventory Shows At Least 48 Empty Folders Marked Classified Recovered From Mar-a-Lago; Former White House Lawyers Pat Cipollone And Patrick Philbin Appear Before January 6 Grand Jury; Biden Ramps Up Criticism Against Trump Ahead Of Midterms; Parents Of 43 Missing Mexican Students Welcome Arrest Of Former Mexican AG; Serena Williams Competes Tonight In What She Says Could Be Her Last Tennis Tournament; Actress & Activist Jane Fonda Announces She's Been Diagnosed With Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 02, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: "I've had a lot of cancer, " she said. "I was a sun worshiper. When I have a day off, I frequently go to my skin doctor and have things cut off of me by a surgeon." In 2010, she had a noninvasive breast tumor removed.

Well, we are hoping that she is doing well, wishing her a speedy recovery.

Thanks to all of you so much for joining us tonight. I'm Erica Hill in for Erin Burnett.

AC 360 starts right now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: File this one under W for "Where are the documents?"

John Berman here, in for Anderson, and we should point out, right off the top that the presence of 48 empty folders at Mar-a-Lago marked classified does not automatically imply 48 missing classified documents. However, that fact revealed today in a new more detailed inventory from the search of Mar-a-Lago certainly does raise questions, questions, for example about how material marked classified was stored and kept track of at the former President's resort, if at all.

Questions about why the material marked classified that was found had been intermingled with press clippings, clothing, and other knickknacks; questions about what the former President was doing with some 11,000 non-classified documents that this new inventory says were recovered.

Federal District Judge Aileen Cannon released the catalogue as she prepares to rule on the former President's push for a Court-appointed Special Master to review the seized material, which today on FOX, former Attorney General William Barr called, "A waste of time" and "A red herring." He also said loud and clear that his old boss brought this on himself

by taking what did not belong to him, refusing to give it back, and he seemed to suggest perhaps obstructing justice with his legal team deceiving investigators.


WILLIAM BARR, FORMER US ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think the driver on this from the beginning was, you know, loads of classified information sitting in Mar-a-Lago. People say this was unprecedented. Well, it's also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club. Okay?

And how long is the government going to try to get that back? You know, they jawboned for a year. They were deceived on the voluntary actions taken. They then went and got a subpoena. They were deceived on that, they feel. And the facts are starting to show that they were being jerked around.

And so how long -- you know, how long did they wait?


BERMAN: The answer, as we now know, was more than a year before seeking a search warrant. The former Attorney General had more to say on the subject. We will play some of them for you shortly.

First, though, CNN's Kara Scannell joins us with more on what Judge Cannon revealed today.

And Kara, this detailed inventory from the FBI's search at Mar-a-Lago. What does this show?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we really learned from this out of the gate is the volume of documents that the former President had at Mar-a-Lago.

I mean, you remember, he had given 15 boxes to the National Archives in January. This is now 37 containers or boxes, and what we're learning is in them is a lot of information, some of it classified, some of it not classified.

I am just going to run through some of this because the numbers are really interesting. There were 54 documents that were marked secret, 18 marked top secret, 31 marked confidential, and then these empty folders. There is a total of 90 of them. Forty-eight that were marked classified, 42 that were marked returned to Staff Secretary, or military aid, and more than 11,000 government documents that were not marked classified, but they belong to the government, they don't belong to the former President.

So all of that is the big picture of it, but then what we also learn is that all of this was commingled within these boxes. I mean, if you take an example, you look at this one, item number two, the second box, this one was found in the former President's office, and within that, there are 99 newspaper magazine clippings, dating from 2017 to 2018.

Then there's confidential documents. There are secret documents, top secret documents. Some of these non-classified, but government documents, and then these empty folders, 43 marked classified, and the other ones with the other thing.

And what we've seen in some of these other boxes, because they're all detailed, each of the 37 one of them, there is clothing, there's gifts, there's books. It just shows that this was all kind of shoved together, not compartmentalized these top secret, secret documents not kept in a secure fashion as they are expected to be because of the sensitivity of the information within them.

BERMAN: A lot of paper and a lot of knickknacks all jammed together.

All right, these folders -- these empty folders marked classified. What do we know about them?

SCANNELL: Well, we don't entirely know a lot about them. We know that these folders exist, that they have these markings on them, but what's really unclear and some my colleagues have spoken to current and former Intel officials, it is really unclear if these were just folders that were reused because they're often a way that people transport a classified documents, so no one with a crying eye can perhaps read it or see what's on it.

Or it's not clear if, you know, are these -- does this suggest that documents are missing. You know, could they have been taken out and this shell of the folder is what's left, but you know it's hard to really know based on just this description here. It's very possible they are just empty folders.


BERMAN: So, we were sitting next to each other at 6:00 AM this morning, and I asked you this question. When is the Judge going to rule on the Special Master? Any sense of when that can happen?

SCANNELL: I mean, look, she said yesterday in Court, she would make her ruling in due course. Is due course today? I think the clock is ticking on today. You know, I think, given that there is not precedent for this kind of decision of a Special Master, particularly involving a review of executive privilege, it is something that she's going -- you know, want to take her time on, I would suspect and although she's had a lot of time to think about this, and has had a lot of input from both sides.

You know, it's possible there could be an appeal here. We don't know, depending on how she describes it, what the terms are going to be, how both sides will react to it.

So I'm sure there is, you know, there's going to be a lot of care being taken into this. But, you know, your guess is as good as mine.

BERMAN: That same answer as six o'clock this morning.

Kara Scannell, thank you for your hard work on this all day long.

So staying on the theme, just in on what happened shortly after the Mar-a-Lago search, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows began turning over items to the National Archives.

This is different, right? So, let's get the reporting on this from CNN's Kristen Holmes. She has been working this story and joins us now.

Kristen, what have you learned?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT Well, John, these are brand new details that show the level of interaction between Meadows and the National Archives, as well as what exactly he submitted.

So, sources tell our colleagues Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb, and Evan Perez, and me that within a week of that search at Mar-a-Lago, Meadows submitted text messages and e-mails to the National Archives. It was less than a dozen e-mails.

Now, this was actually part of an earlier request for all electronic correspondence that falls under the Presidential Records Act, and what's interesting here is the Archives realized that it hadn't gotten everything from Meadows when it saw what Meadows had actually turned over to the January 6 Committee, and that's when they started putting in that earlier request.

One thing to pay attention here is that Meadows has actually been working with the Archives on a different level as well. That's something we learned through this reporting for about a year because he is one of Trump's designees to the Archives.

So, he was called by another designee last summer, a year ago, to try to help get Trump to give these records back to the National Archives. So, kind of a weird position for him to be in, turning it over, and then also he was trying to help with the Trump angle of this.

BERMAN: All right, and the timing of this. Is this a coincidence? What do you know about that?

HOLMES: Well, that's obviously the big question here. Now, we have one source familiar with the matter who says that this is totally a coincidence, that the search had nothing to do with Meadows' decision to turn over these correspondence.

But another source who is also familiar said, it could be a coincidence, but we did get far more after the search than we had ever gotten before with this request.

BERMAN: All right, interesting. I'm sure there will be more reporting from you and your team on this very subject.

Kristen Holmes, thank you very much.

Perspective now from senior legal analyst, Elie Honig, who served as a Federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York; also CNN legal and national security analyst, Carrie Cordero. She is a former counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

And Carrie, first, just your reaction to Kristen's reporting here on Mark Meadows' correspondence with the National Archives. Does that raise any red flags to you?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it is. The timing is interesting. You know, it's hard to draw too many conclusions from it, but the fact that a physical search was executed, a warrant was issued from the Judge to be able to search the former President's residence with respect to documents that needed to be returned to the Archives, most likely, I would think, got the attention of Mark Meadows and his lawyers.

And so even if they were in a process already engaging with the Archives, I wouldn't be surprised if we learned down the road that that sped up their compliance with the Archives' request.

BERMAN: So Elie, back to the search at Mar-a-Lago now, specifically. If you look at everything, the FBI recovered, not only the top secret documents, but the more than 11,000 non-classified government documents.

As a prosecutor, what can you conclude from this? Where does it lead you?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, John, it raises a lot of questions for me and my attention is drawn immediately to those empty file folders for classified information that you were just discussing with Kara. I think there's a lot of questions that you set out to answer.

First of all, did they ever contain documents or did they ever contain documents while they were at Mar-a-Lago? Not necessarily, but perhaps some of them did. If so, what documents? Where were they? Were they recovered elsewhere at Mar-a-Lago? Or are they gone? That would be of course, the most concerning outcome.

And then finally, if you can ascertain, most importantly, if you're thinking about charging somebody, you need to know who handled them? Who mishandled them? What they did with them? And can you show the relevant intent and knowledge?

And for that, you'd have to talk to your witnesses. You probably want to look at that surveillance tape that we know that DOJ subpoenaed. You might even try to send some of the documents for forensics or fingerprinting, DNA, although you would not necessarily see anything even if someone touched them.

So, I think there's a whole bunch more questions raised by the new filing.


BERMAN: That's just the empty folders there.

Carrie, you look at all the paperwork. There is so much material there. There's just a lot of material.

CORDERO: There is a lot of materials. It is a lot of documents, and remember, these documents belong to the United States government, and that's really the basic premise that is underlying all of this.

I do think that the fact that so much of this information was classified, including lots of information at top secret levels, compartmented programs, really highly classified information. That is what would have lit the fire under the Justice Department to at some point say, we can't wait any more. We've been engaged in a dialogue for as long as we could. We need to get these documents back and we need to do the damage assessment led by the Intelligence Community to figure out where this information may have been viewed, gone, been seen by or not.

You know, that would be important to for them to determine, you know what, these documents just sat in offices and basements or locations within Mar-a-Lago, and didn't get out. That would be important to know, as well.

But at some point, I think the classification level of the documents and the volume of classified information is what is driving the intensity of this investigation, which clearly is ongoing.

BERMAN: And Elie, the former Attorney General, Bill Barr said they jawboned for more than a year over this before they ultimately issued the search warrant there.

I want to play a little bit more of what he said on FOX News.


BARR: I, frankly am, skeptical of this claim that I declassified everything, you know, because frankly, I think it's highly improbable. And second, if in fact, he sort of stood over scores of boxes, not really knowing what was in them and said, I hereby declassify everything in here, that would be such an abuse and shows such recklessness that it's almost worse than taking the documents.


BERMAN: So Elie, you literally wrote the book on this guy. You wrote a book on the Attorney General, former Attorney General William Barr. Did what he said surprise you?

HONIG: Well, John, I'm going to say something I rarely say, I agree with Bill Barr on this. I think he hit the nail on the head and keep in mind, Bill Barr is sort of the ultimate unitary executive guy, meaning in his view, the President has the ultimate power in the executive branch. I'm sure he is of the view that the President has unlimited power to declassify.

But what Bill Barr is saying there is an important distinction. He is saying, even if the President has unlimited power to declassify, there is no evidence and plenty of counterevidence to this notion that he actually did it. You can have the power, but if you didn't exercise it when you were President, you can't exercise it now in 2022.

I agree with Bill Barr on that, and I agree with him on the earlier clip that we played. He can understand, as a former Attorney General, that basically DOJ got strung along for over a year jawboned, to use Bill Barr's colorful expression.

And I think he is right when he essentially concludes DOJ had no choice but to go in and execute that search warrant.

BERMAN: And Carrie, one other thing he said, Bill Barr, he said the whole idea of a Special Master is a red herring and a waste of time. Part of his reasoning was the Justice Department has already gone through the documents. Do you agree with that?

CORDERO: Yes. Well, he understands the way that investigations work and that the fact that the Justice Department implemented a taint team to review any possible attorney-client privilege information, which really there was nothing about this search that would have raised the level of potential attorney-client information.

So yes, he is right, a Special Counsel at this point -- a Special Master at this point is not needed in my judgment, it seems like in his judgment, as well. And really, the longer that the Judge goes on to consider it, the Justice Department just reviews more and more information.

And at this point, they've even said in their pleadings that they've completed -- completed their preliminary review.

One other point real quick, John, on the point that former Attorney General Barr was making on the declassification. You know, when documents aren't declassified, they actually change in their appearance. Lines are drawn through the classification markings.

And I think what is shown so far through the photograph and other information is that there is literally no physical evidence that supports the assertion that any kind of declassification was actually done.

BERMAN: No indication that we've seen.

Elie Honig, Carrie Cordero, thank you both so much for being with us. Have a wonderful holiday weekend.

HONIG: Thanks, John.

CORDERO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Next, two of the former President's top White House attorneys go before the January 6 grand jury. What they potentially had to offer, as well as the intricacies of obtaining testimony from attorneys, attorneys who worked in the White House.

Later Mexico, and this is a remarkable story, 43 students vanish under dark in highly suspicious circumstances. Now nearly eight years later, the country's former Attorney General is under arrest and the details surrounding it are just stunning.



BERMAN: No shortage of other significant developments tonight in the many investigations and Court cases surrounding the former President.

Item one, a Federal Judge today rejected a new trial in Steve Bannon's contempt of Congress conviction. Bannon had objected to jury instructions in the original trial, as well as his not being allowed to compel a variety of lawmakers to testify.

The Judge today ruled the testimony would not have been material and that the jury's instructions did not constitute a miscarriage of justice.

Now the second item tonight, probably overshadows the first. Two of the former President's top White House lawyers going before the January 6 Federal grand jury, but not without a little bit of a legal production.

CNN's Sara Murray joins us now with the latest on Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin's road to the witness chair.

Sara, what can you tell us about these conversations that the Pats as they're known in legal circles, Cipollone and Philbin, had with the Justice Department leading up to their appearance before the grand jury.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:` Well, these are both former White House lawyers in the Trump White House, they were there in the final days of the Trump administration, they pushed back on efforts to overturn the 2020 election, so you know, they're important witnesses as part of this criminal investigation into what led up to the January 6th attack on the US Capitol.


MURRAY: They've also had weeks wrangling with the Justice Department over potential executive privilege issues, what questions they would be willing to answer, what questions they were not likely to answer.

And of course, we don't know the answer to any of that, what they actually decided to answer before the grand jury because those proceedings are secret -- John.

BERMAN: So both Cipollone and Philbin, they did previously testify at the House Select Committee where they did decline to answer some questions because of executive privilege, as you said. What's different though, speaking to a congressional committee versus testifying before a grand jury?

MURRAY: Right. Well, what's different is that this is a criminal investigation, and so there are just narrower opportunities to be able to assert privileges including things like executive privilege. You know, by the time you are subpoenaing people like Pat Cipollone

and Philbin, prosecutors have already been before a Judge. They've already said, here is our probable cause that a crime was committed. We are investigating this potential crime.

And so that ends up giving these prosecutors more of a window to be able to question these witnesses in a way that we don't see when it comes to these congressional committees.

BERMAN: Sara Murray, thank you as always, for helping us understand.

Joining us now, CNN contributor, John Dean, White House Counsel during the Nixon administration and star witness of the Watergate hearings.

So John, as you know, both Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin, they testified to the January 6 Select Committee, and the hearing showed they pushed back on the efforts to overturn the 2020 election. They opposed the proposal to replace the Attorney General with someone willing to look into false claims of election fraud.

So, how damning, do you think their grand jury testimony potentially could be for the former President?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think they have a lot of knowledge, and they certainly have knowledge of the scheme to replace the Attorney General with a pliant, lower level Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General, they have knowledge of the fake elector scheme. They have knowledge, I think of the Eastman memo that was used with Pence. They have knowledge of the insurrection and what the President was doing that day. So they are knowledgeable.

Now, the question is, they withheld their direct statements or conversations with Trump in front of the January 6 Committee. That may or may not be something that they had to testify to, in front of the grand jury. The grand jury can resolve these issues very quickly.

The threat for the January 6 Committee was having to litigate it. Here, this gets litigated instantly before a grand jury. You go to the Chief Judge who opens his courtroom just for this hearing, and he will resolve it right there. They didn't want to do that.

So, they are walking the line between attorney-client, when it was attorney-client, when it was executive privilege, and how much they could say in that line and that's what the negotiations obviously were with the Department of Justice that were pre-agreed to, and that's the -- apparently, there was no effort to go to the Chief Judge today to deal with any privileges.

BERMAN: Yes, talk to me more about that, though. Talk to me about why in a grand jury proceeding that executive privilege specifically wouldn't be necessarily as protective if Cipollone and Philbin didn't want to talk.

DEAN: The reason is called US versus Nixon. Richard Nixon claimed executive privilege on his tapes, and the grand jury had issued a subpoena for the tapes. So it was a grand jury request for Nixon's information. So that is what obliterated for all practical purposes, Presidents using executive privilege for grand jury proceedings.

The High Court waited. They said the grand jury is more important than the President's privilege to confidentiality, and that was the end of the story. So that's long been the practice.

That happened in the Clinton administration and other places where there were investigations by grand juries. So, the line that has not been fully resolved is the attorney-client privilege.

Here, were they giving the President advice not to commit criminal activity, and trying to get him on the straight line, and that would be a protected privilege. So, that's the area -- the gray area that I suspect they were working in.

BERMAN: I saw the smirk on your face when you started to cite US versus Nixon, talking to you about that, obviously is like talking to Homer about the "Odyssey." So, thank you for illuminating the situation.

So, former White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone is the highest ranking White House aide known to appear before the grand jury. Does it indicate more will soon be there?

DEAN: It could -- well, you know, I think that this grand jury has been moving for many, many months. We didn't know how high it had gone until recently. But I think, they are probably getting towards the peak right now.


DEAN: And the question is, who are going to be the targets and who are going to be the subjects and who are going to be the witnesses?

BERMAN: John Dean, as always, thank you for being with us tonight.

DEAN: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: We are just weeks away from the midterms and President Biden is taking a new approach to say the least, in his tone, against the former President and his followers.

The details ahead.


BERMAN: After offering sharp criticisms of what he calls MAGA Republicans during his primetime speech last night, President Biden had this to say today.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't consider any Trump supporter is being a threat to the country. I do think anyone calls for the use of violence, fails to condemn the violence, where they refuse to acknowledge when an election has been won, and insists upon changing the way in which the rules you count votes, that is a threat to democracy.


BERMAN: This comes after Biden warned about the former President's influence on his supporters during yesterday's speech suggesting the future of US democracy was at risk.

His speech also highlighted a shift in his tone just weeks before the midterms. Biden is amping up his criticism of the former President and his followers, but insists his primetime address was not political.


With us, CNN political analyst and journalist Carl Bernstein, author of Chasing History A Kid In The Newsroom.

So Carl, the White House is pushing back on criticism that Biden speech was too political, what is your assessment of it all?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, the beginning of the speech had a kind of deadly accuracy in terms of picturing Trump, and a good deal of his movement, as outside of any mainstream tradition, in our politics, a radical tradition at odds with democracy. It's a fact, it is a fact that many, if not most of the Republicans in the Senate, agree with they won't say it out loud. But it is a fact. But then I think he missed a great opportunity. And that was to say, I want to see we want to see even in our party, a Republican Party of its traditional conservative values, that contributes to the debate of where our democracy should go in this country. I think he really missed something there, where look, to win the Democrats need to bring over some Republicans. And Biden knows as well as anybody that there are a lot of traditional Republicans who might respond to such an, a proposition. And I just think he missed it.

And then his speech went into a deeply partisan tone that was not there. At the beginning, when he was talking about the history of the country, the history of the presidency, the history of the Congress of the United States, he went way off, and then started patting his own administration on the back, I think he lost an opportunity there, and a lot of people who might have gone who are Republicans, and embraced what he was saying.

BERMAN: So part of what we heard last night is something that he's been building on over the last week or so. And some of his appearances, at least two of them in Pennsylvania so far, he seems to deliberately want to take on what he calls MAGA Republicans. Do you think or what do you think of that calculation heading into the midterms?

BERNSTEIN: I think that it's the right calculation. But more than that, I think that morally, and in terms of historical principle, it's the right thing to do. Look, let us take a look at what Donald Trump has said aloud for the last six years since he began his campaign. It is so outside the mainstream of any Republican candidate for President of any president of the United States. This is a radical Republican Party today that has followed Donald Trump's lead, there has never been a capture of one of the two political parties by such radical forces as those who have followed Trump blindly down the path. It's not to say that any Republican, all Republicans, including those in the Senate and the House go along with the awful, undemocratic authoritarian aspects of what is so basic to Trump and what he mouths. No.

But again, I think Biden is right to say here is what is at issue, the future of democracy in America. I think it's true.

BERMAN: So both Joe Biden and Donald Trump are in and around Pennsylvania this week, Donald Trump is heading there this weekend. Do you think this is a precursor to a Biden-Trump 2024 rematch?

BERNSTEIN: Well, I think that Donald Trump would like to make it that way. Some of that will depend on the grand jury. Some of that will depend on the Justice Department. Some of that will depend on what the press does with the information that we now know about what Trump did with these records with these National Security secrets. And we're going to learn more, and we're going to learn more about the January 6 insurrection and point toward the President of the United States embracing sedition, was he a seditious president, this is going to be up to the voters. And there's an awful lot of evidence that might convince a majority of voters and more than a majority because you can even win the presidency without a majority of the voters.

But Trump has targeted and his people have targeted various states where they think they can win even without a majority. And it is with these beliefs that Biden called undemocratic. It could happen. So yes, is Pennsylvania a precursor? If you look at who is running for the Senate, and what the message of Dr. Oz has been in Pennsylvania? Yes, it is.


And look at what's happened in the primary elections throughout the country. Trump's people have prevailed in these elections, his message, his anti-Democratic message, his message that the election was stolen, a lie, a demonstrable lie has been embraced by so many Republican candidates who are saying, yes, I'll follow Donald Trump blindly down this path.

BERMAN: Carl Bernstein, thank you so much for being with us this Friday night.

BERNSTEIN: Good to be with you.

BERMAN: New details out of the investigation into the disappearance of 43 Mexican students who went missing nearly eight years ago. CNN's David Culver, went to Mexico where the families are still demanding justice after a recent high profile arrest.


BERMAN: After years of searching for answers, the parents of 43 Mexican students who vanished nearly eight years ago are welcoming the arrest of Mexico's former Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam. The students had been visiting in town in southern Mexico when local and federal authorities intercepted their buses. Karam led the investigation into the student's disappearance. His arrest came just one day after a government report referred to the incident as a state crime based on thousands of documents, text messages, phone records and more.

According to a statement from the families, his arrest is a significant step in helping them quote, know the truth and obtain justice. But the fate of the students remains a mystery.


CNN's David Culver went to Mexico where the parents are still fighting for answers.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eight years since they've last seen their sons. Parents of Mexico's missing 43 students marched through the capitol streets clinging tight to painful memories and demanding justice. A shocking government report released last month concluded their children were victims of a state sponsored crime carried out in covered up in part, the report says by some of Mexico's most powerful.

The parents' trip to Mexico City started some 200 miles away, and nearly five hour drive through winding mountainous roads deep into the Mexican state of Guerrero, heavily infiltrated by corruption and cartel violence. The U.S. government warns its citizens not to travel here.

(on-camera): Along this highway that cuts through the state capitol, you can see the graffiti of activism, people demanding justice for their friends.

(voice-over): The 43 attended to a Teacher's College, Escuela Normal Rural, near the small town of Ayotzinapa. Here they educate the mostly impoverished rural indigenous communities and inspire activism.


CULVER (voice-over): These are among the last images recorded of the young men scene learning farming skills, laughing, smiling just days before the horrors that unfolded on September 26, 2014. While on their way to commemorate a deadly protests from decades earlier, the bus carrying the students was reportedly stopped by police. Rare footage from one of the students only shows the start of the encounter. What happened next is shrouded in mystery and tragedy. Police reportedly opened fire and 43 of the students gone.

Government officials initially concluded local police detained and handed the students over to members of a local cartel who then murdered them and incinerated their bodies. Their parents have never believed that.


CULVER (voice-over): The authorities don't say anything this father tells me, that's why we need to continue fighting. We will not back down until we know something.

Over the years, parents search for clues in Guerrero's mountains. Held monthly marches in the capitol, took over toll plazas in protest, brought their pleas to top government officials. Four years after the students disappearance sparked international outcry, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office and immediately launched a truth commission to investigate. Another four years past and just weeks ago, that very commission unveiled stunning revelations stating an order was given to carry out the ambush. It didn't say who gave the order or why, but the report links federal, state and local authorities to the disappearance and execution of the students.

(on-camera): The very next day the former Attorney General was arrested here in Mexico City. Shocking given he once led the investigation. Just hours after that, a court issued more than 80 arrest warrants against military, police and cartel members.

(voice-over): Sheltered from the mountain rain, 43 classroom seats hold the missing.


CULVER (on-camera): His son and two nephews.


CULVER (voice-over): If we just let it go, there won't be justice, he tells me, that is to say the same thing will happen again and again. That's why we're fighting. And that's why every month Don Margarito (ph) and the dozens of other parents weighed down by unresolved grief board buses and make the trek eerily similar to the one their sons attempted.

Once on the streets of the capital, emotion surface, this aging generation exhausted, yet relentless now carrying their children's fight for justice.


BERMAN: And David Culver joins me now. David, even with this new government report, there's still so many unanswered questions. Do we know what the families of the missing students plan to do next?

CULVER: They want convictions here, John, and it's been eight years they have seen no one criminally punished in the disappearances of their sons. And so that's what they're pushing forward with. Now part of that is because of the level of corruption we're talking about here in Mexico as well as the influence of cartels. And we saw that firsthand when we were down there. We spoke with a lot of the locals who said hey, limit your time outside. This can get dangerous really quickly. And just a few days before we got there, a local journalist who focused on state politics at that level cartel influence was gunned down.

The parents don't care though. They are determined to move forward. They know the risks they see the threats here. And they are advocating for some justice to come here and they will do so until they see as many people responsible behind bars for life as they tell me, John.


BERMAN: And the truth of the facts can be dangerous there. David Culver, terrific reporting. Nice to see you this evening.

Legendary tennis star Serena Williams playing tonight at the U.S. Open hoping to take the next step to her 24th Grand Slam title before possible retirement. We have a live report from the Open next.


BERMAN: Serena Williams is all the talk tonight and has been all week at the U.S. Open here in New York. Right now she's playing in a third round matchup against Ajla Tomljanovic in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The crowd is cheering on arguably the greatest women's tennis player of all time. Williams is hoping to advance and be on a path to her 24th Grand Slam title in what would be -- could be her last U.S. Open as she looks toward possible retirement from the sport.

Joining us now from outside the Open is CNN's Athena Jones. So, where are we in this match so far?

ATHEN JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, its super exciting that the crowd is really sitting on the edge of their seats. Serena Williams lost the first match 7-5, but now she is up five games to two in the second match, and we're seeing a really different Serena in the second match. You saw a few aces and big winners in the first match, but we're seeing a lot more now, a lot fewer mistakes. A lot more of that vintage Serena tennis we've been hearing about so much.


And it's so interesting John, you know this crowd I was in the standing the crowds right outside the entrance to Arthur Ashe Stadium. They're big screens, tons and tons of people waiting, moaning and groaning with every missed, cheering, huge cheers with every single point. So the points are almost like winning a game, almost like winning the set itself. So there's a lot of excitement, a lot of people really hanging on watching to see if, if Serena Williams can win this match and win the whole thing.

I talked to several fans who came from a far and white (ph) as far away as Maryland, upstate New York saying they believe she'll not only win tonight, but that she certainly could go all the way, John.

BRMAN: Yes. Again dropped the first set struggling to fight back in the second set. Any further clarity on whether or not this will be her last tournament?

JONES: You know, she's been vague. She said she's being vague on purpose. Yes, she hinted very strongly that she was ready to evolve away from tennis, in that Vogue article that she wrote. But you know, since then, in a few of the press conferences we've heard from her. She said, let's see what happens. I still have something in me. Certainly, if she were to win this whole thing, you have to think that it would make her think, again, about stepping away.

But you know, among the fans I spoke with, who said yes, we believe she can win it all. But I'm going to follow her lead, I'm going to take it game by game, day by day. So no real clarity, but I believe a big win here would sort of mix up the calculation a little bit. John.

BERMAN: Who knows, whatever it is, it'll be on her terms that match we know. Athena Jones, so glad you're there tonight. Thank you very much.

And joining us now was William C. Rhoden, a writer-at-large for Andscape, and a former sports columnist for the New York Times. Bill, it's an honor to get to meet you. I have been a fan of your work for years.

What's your reaction to the match tonight so far?

WILLIAM C. RHODEN: Oh, man, this is just so wonderful. I've got a house full of people. And it kind of reminds me of what my father used to talk about, where they would crowd around the radio and listen to Joe Lewis fights. This is -- what this is, you know, people on the edge of their seats. Every volley, there's so much resting -- so many people love her. So many people identify her. And even for me, as long as I've been doing this, Venus and Serena, for me represent tennis. And I think that what we're seeing now, somebody said she was the greatest, one of the greatest women's tennis players of all time, she was one of the greatest tennis players of all time, regardless of gender.

And, and we just seen whether she wins or loses drawers, we're just seeing one of the great careers, one of the great sports careers of all time, play itself out. I mean, I think it's, it's really remarkable to see what she's doing.

BERMAN: Yes, she's one of the greatest athletes of all time period, full stop --

RHODEN: Yes, period, period.

BERMAN: You wrote recently --

RHODEN: Right.

BERMAN: -- about that she look, she redefined the sport. And I love the idea that she and Venus Williams are tennis. They represent tennis now, but she's also redefining you think what it means to retire. What do you mean by that?

RHODEN: Well, I think that, you know, the thing that resonated me was, you know, I'm, I'm terrified of the R word. I don't even use it. When somebody says retire. I don't. And that's what she said early, she said, she hates that word. And she used the word evolve. And I liked that, because that's what we all do. We evolved from one thing to the other. And so she's just evolved into something else.

But I mean, the reality is that, particularly as an athlete, you know, all of us can, if you're a writer, or artist, and musician, you know, we do this probably still our '70s, '80s or '90s. But the reality is that at 40, something she's pretty much reached in of the line, whether you call it evolvement retirement, I get it. So she's got so much, but I think that what we're seeing, what we've seen in the past week, is just somebody who loves what she does. She's been doing this since she was eight. And I think what's so great about this man, she's, she's teaching these young, all these young players who she's beating, they're all kind of after her but she's saying, you know what, I'm not passing the torch to you, you're going to have to take it. And so far we've seen two young women kind of wilt because all of a sudden, they look across the net, and I think damn, and this is Serena, not only this is Serena, but this is Serena at her best. And the crowd is for her.

And I think what they see what they've seen this last week. This is what she has been for 20 years she's had that that target on her back for 20 years. It's not like, you know, whoever wins the tournament, the women's tournament this week is only really just, they're just a one-time winner. But what she's teaching them is that there's something to be said for winning over and over and over and over and fighting all (INAUDIBLE). I think she's teaching, whether she was a loser. She's teaching these young women who are coming after her a tremendous lesson.


BERMAN: And she's taught generations of young women, young athletes, men and women not less than. Bill Rhoden, like I said an honor to get to speak to you, and I thank you very much.

RHODEN: Pleasure is mine.

BERMAN: So a new fight for actress and activist Jane Fonda, ahead.


BERMAN: Legendary actress and activist Jane Fonda says she has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and has started six months of chemotherapy. This is a cancer of the immune system and she is nearly 85 years old. Quoting now from her Instagram account, quote, this is a very treatable cancer, 80% of people survived so I feel lucky. Fonda's said she is handling the treatments well and says she will not let this interfere with our climate activism. She adds and I'm quoting again, cancer is a teacher and I'm paying attention to the lessons it holds for me. To which we might add our very best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

The news continues, so let's see handed over to Laura Coates in "DON LEMON TONIGHT."


LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Thank you so much. It's nice to see you John. And I know people right now are probably thinking do we watch CNN, do we watch Serena, you choose, we got DVR (ph).