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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Trump Team Refuses To Provide Evidence He Declassified Documents; Interview With Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD); Video Shows Trump Allies In Georgia Elections Office For Hours On Day Of Voting System Breach; Migrants On The Promises Made To Them To Fly Out Of Texas; TX Sheriff Conducting Criminal Investigation; New Book Takes Aim At False Stories About The 2020 Election And The People Who Spread Them; Ukraine, U.S. Denounce Referendum Plans In Russian-Held Areas; Turks And Caicos Under Shelter-In-Place Order; At Least 5 Dead Across The Caribbean. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: The Chief of Staff of the Air Force was asked about his thoughts on the song. He told reporters he didn't want to judge it but added, "I'm sure it will grow on us."

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AC 360 with Anderson starts now.



Tonight, what happens now that lawyers for the former President have seen their wishes fulfilled only to learn it might be more than they bargained for. They wanted a Court-appointed Special Master to scrutinize documents, including ones marked top secret and higher, taken from Mar-a-Lago. They wanted it so badly, the opening line of their August 22nd Court filing before Judge Aileen Cannon read and I'm quoting now, "Politics cannot be allowed to impact the administration of justice." Those were their stakes.

Well, they got a Special Master. They proposed New York Senior Federal Judge Raymond Dearie for the job. They got him. And they got more from Judge Cannon, including a deadline for the review well past the midterm elections. But today, haven't gotten what they wanted, they went into Judge Dearie's Court for the first time, and were called on to do something they have notably not done in any Court filing or proceeding so far, namely, back up what their client and his allies had been suggesting or outright saying that these documents were declassified, in so many words prove it.

And for the government's part today, they signaled a willingness to take this dispute all the way to the Supreme Court.

There is a lot to get to tonight, CNN's Jessica Schneider starts it off for us. She has been following developments, she joins us now.

So, let's talk more about what the Trump legal team told the Special Master.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, what's interesting is their response to that ultimatum from the Special Master, where he said he might have no choice but to accept the government's claims that 100 of those documents are classified if Trump's team doesn't step up with the proof that the former President declassified them. And that's really something that Trump's legal team has resisted repeatedly asserting both in person in Court and in legal filings.

So you know, that we saw a filing last night, and they said that they may have to save any evidence of declassification to use it as a defense if Trump is indicted. And then today in Court, Trump's Attorney, Jim Trusty, he said that the legal team, they haven't seen the documents yet. So, they said they can't fully address the declassification issue.

So really, they're dodging this question at every turn. And really, Anderson they've gotten themselves into somewhat of a thorny situation here where the Special Master is saying he needs proof or else, he will believe the government.

COOPER: Separate, but relate in a different Federal Court saying, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida, the Trump legal team filed its response to the Justice Department's appeal of the ruling that greenlit a Special Master in the first place. What's the latest on that part of the case?

SCHNEIDER: So, we're waiting for word at any minute now from the 11th Circuit about what's next in this appeal. So of course, you know, DOJ, they're asking for those two things. They want to resume using the classified documents in what is an ongoing criminal case. They also want to stop the Special Master and Trump's legal team from even seeing those classified documents. So, time is of the essence in that regard.

Now, Trump's team actually said in their response today, they said that the Appeals Court shouldn't find for the government here. They said that the government doesn't need to block documents, they don't need to resume using them. And so they're saying that the 11th Circuit should reject the appeal.

But interestingly, Anderson, once again, in their filing, Trump's lawyers are continuing to cast doubt about whether those documents are even classified, but it has become a trend here, they just refuse to offer any proof.

So, we'll see how quickly the 11th Circuit acts since really, the Special Master's review is already moving full steam ahead here. COOPER: So, if the Justice Department loses its appeal on the 11th

Circuit Court of Appeals, how likely is it that they take it to the Supreme Court, and then what kind of a timetable could that involve?

SCHNEIDER: Very likely, it will go to the Supreme Court because the attorney arguing for DOJ in Court today said pretty plainly before the Special Master. They said if they lose in the 11th Circuit to Trump's team, that this will be appealed and that means it could move next to the Supreme Court.

So, how quickly is a big question? You know, the nine Justices could step in very quickly. They could sit on it a while. But given that this case involves those classified documents in dispute, it could now be up for review by the Special Master.

I would think it's likely the 11th Circuit would move quickly here, and that if DOJ loses or if either side appeals, then ultimately the Supreme Court would move pretty fast to if it gets to that point.

COOPER: Jessica Schneider, appreciate it.

Joining us now is John Miller, CNN's new chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst. He is among other many accomplishments, former Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism for the New York Police Department. Also with us, CNN legal and national security analyst, Carrie Cordero, former counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

So, Carrie a lot to talk about. It's a little bit confusing for folks that have been following, and so what do you make first of all the Trump's legal team refusal today to go on the record in front of the Special Master with their claims about the declassification or not of documents.


CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think the difficulty for them, Anderson, is that they're just right now, as far as we know, there doesn't seem to be evidence that there really was a declassification. There doesn't seem to be an actual document, either before the fact or after the fact that they would be able to present indicating that the former President had declassified the documents.

The documents themselves, based on the photo that was released from the FBI search retains its classification markings. So, that cuts against the argument that the documents were actually declassified and there has been nobody who has come forth in their pleadings or in any witness testimony or anyone that they have been willing to offer under oath, who is willing to go on record and say that there actually was a declassification, either before or recorded after the fact, memorialized after the fact.

So, it doesn't seem that they actually have facts upon which to make that argument. And so, I think they are in this difficult position of arguing about classification, when really the justification that they offered for requesting the Special Master to begin with, had to do with issues of executive privilege and attorney-client privilege, not classified information at all.

COOPER: And John, if there was declassification by a President, there would be some sort of paper trail. I mean, other agencies at the very least, even if the President just used a special wand that he invented and did this, other agencies would have written that down, he used the wand, and now these documents are no longer classified.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Exactly right. A former President can't declassify or classify anything. If he did it when he was President, he would have to give that instruction to someone in the White House to then notify the agency that produced that document, "This is unclassified." So far, there is zero evidence that any of that ever happened.

COOPER: So how concerned would Intelligence officials be, folks at the FBI who want to continue this investigation are being hamstrung about the delay in their ability to actually use these documents to look at them, investigate them, and also even protect any assets overseas or anywhere who may be damaged by them?

MILLER: There's so much there. First of all the FBI is concerned with -- there are 40 cover sheets from secret to top secret and other classifications that didn't have documents inside them. Where are those documents? Are some of those the documents that were separated from their cover sheets that are part of those 100? But by not being able by the Court's order to continue their investigation, by reviewing those documents, the clock has stopped on that.

The other question is, so who saw those documents? How did they get to Mar-a-Lago? Did they come in that moving truck that arrived on January 20th? Were they handled by people who are completely not cleared to handle them? Were they seen by people? Did a Foreign Service get an employee in Mar-a-Lago with a lockpick and go through this? All of that as part of the potential damage assessment and the investigation that's been halted?

COOPER: Carrie, all the talk about whether documents were classified, obviously, it's why the stakes are so high. How much does it actually matter to the government's case? Does the law prohibiting unauthorized possession of government records make a distinction between classified and non-classified?

CORDERO: Well, there are different parts that the Justice Department is investigating. So, the investigation part that is under the Espionage statutes, the mishandling of National Defense Information, that general -- that provision, what they're investigating generally pertains to classified information.

But there also is the retention of government documents, NARA's -- the archives ability to get back the documents. And so the former President's holding on to these documents was not okay from the perspective of holding on to former documents. In my judgment, it's the classified nature of the documents though, Anderson that prompted the physical search at Mar-a-Lago. I have a hard time believing that they would have gone through those lengths had there not been these national security equities at play.

COOPER: Let me ask you, Carrie, so if they are at loggerheads now where Trump's lawyers say, well, we -- for whatever reason, we're not going to produce the information about the declassification, how does that get resolved? I mean, does the Judge then rule either you have to show something or I'm going with what the Department of Justice is saying?

CORDERO: Well, the default is that the Judiciary would defer to the Executive branch anyway. So, there is no reason why Judge Dearie in this circumstance should depart from that anyway, absent any kind of evidence to begin with, but the normal process is that the judicial branch, writ large, the first to the Executive branch on matters of classification, and that would have been Judge Dearie's practice when he was a District Court Judge and that would have been his practice when he was a FISA Court Judge.


COOPER: And if you're in the Intelligence Community, John, and you're seeing the FBI and the DOJ getting hung up, how concerned must they be about the ability to mitigate any damage to overseas intelligence?

MILLER: The Intelligence Community hates this whole thing. They hated how classified documents were handled in the Trump White House, not just after he was President where they were left around, and it was hard to keep track of who had them with and seen them.

Lots of people who work in the White House don't even have top secret clearances. They are appalled at the idea that it was suggested by a Judge that the Special Master should determine what is classified, as Carrie said, that is something for the Intelligence Community and the Executive branch, not the Judiciary.

They're upset at the idea that now a coterie of lawyers are asking to have access to these documents, and others and these are very tightly held secrets. And once you bring in this...

COOPER: They were.

MILLER: ... to a crowd and debate, they're getting less and less secret, and that's putting the techniques that were used to find these secrets in jeopardy and the human beings who turned over these secrets overseas in danger.

COOPER: As you said, Mar-a-Lago is a club. All you've got to do is pay a couple of hundred thousand dollars, and any shady character can do it.

MILLER: Or get a job.

COOPER: Or get a job there. And I mean, you know, we know the former President has a history of hiring people with dubious documentation.

So John Miller, thank you very much; Carrie Cordero, as well. Late today, we learned the House January 6 Select Committee's next

public hearing will be on the 28th of this month. Chairman Bennie Thompson who broke the news said barring new developments, it will be the last hearing.

Joining us, Committee member and Maryland Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin. He serves as well on the House Oversight Committee, which also has an interest in the Mar-a-Lago case.

Congressman, I appreciate you getting in for -- being here for us. What's your reaction to how this fight over the Mar-a-Lago documents is playing out in Court particularly, that the Trump legal team won't actually go on record with the former President's claims about declassifying the documents?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, I don't want to speculate, but I've got to imagine that people don't want to add perjury to the list of offenses he's got to deal with. As John Bolton publicly speculated, it is almost certainly a lie that Donald Trump had somehow attempted to declassify before. In prior cases of declassification, there had been some kind of Executive Order or a memorandum and there is just no evidence to support it.

It's also pretty much irrelevant to the offenses he is being investigated for, you know, like obstruction of justice, like concealment of evidence or concealment of military defense secrets. It doesn't have to be classified information. So, it might not be relevant at all and it is almost certainly completely fanciful on the part of the former President.

COOPER: As we mentioned, you sit on the House Oversight Committee. A week ago, the Committee sent a letter in the National Archives asking for an assessment of whether there are any presidential records still unaccounted for in the former President's possession. Do you have any new information on that?

RASKIN: No new information on that.

COOPER: You know, John Miller earlier was talking about in those photographs that the Justice Department have that there are sleeves notifying which would contain, you know, indicated they contained classified information that are empty, that don't have documents in it. Do you know what that means exactly? Do you know what -- I mean, is that just those documents were elsewhere or those documents are missing?

RASKIN: Yes. I think that's part of the mystery of that case. Of course, you know, our Select Committee on the January 6th attack is not interested in all of these crimes related -- potential crimes related to the pilfering of information and the concealment of evidence and so on.

You know, we're focused on the January 6th events and the causes behind them to the extent that things surface in that Mar-a-Lago investigation that bear upon our investigation, then of course, we would be interested. But it looks as if, you know, in classic Donald Trump manner, that's just a completely different set of crimes.

COOPER: In terms of your Committee, the January 6 Select Committee's investigation, we mentioned we learned late today there will be a hearing next Wednesday, and supposedly is going to be the last.

Can you talk about what the focus may be? Will there be live witnesses appearing before the Committee? And will it be the last?

RASKIN: Well, I think it's very likely to be our last investigative fact-finding hearing. There could be a final hearing on the legislative recommendations that the Committee make, but that's not been decided yet, but we feel as if we've come to the end of our work, but there are a bunch of loose ends that we can tie up here.

We think we've got, you know, very strong evidence as to the different elements of the attempt to overthrow the 2020 presidential election and we're going to try to lock that in, in our final hearing.


RASKIN: I'm also very interested in the whole question raised by one of our prior witnesses, Judge Luttig of to what extent we still face a clear and present danger to democratic institutions. And I think that most, if not all of us, are convinced that that clear and present danger is still out there and that we really need to fortify democratic institutions against the threat of coups, insurrections, political violence, and systematic electoral sabotage.

COOPER: Congressman Raskin, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up next, what new video reveals about the 2020 Georgia fake elector who claims she wasn't "personally involved," in the breach of voting system data that is now the subject of a criminal probe.

And later, new details on the migrants Florida's Governor flew from Texas to Massachusetts and what another group of migrants says they were offered to get on a plane.



COOPER: New developments tonight in a story that began the day after supporters of the former President stormed the Capitol.

On January 7, 2021, operatives working for one of his lawyers at the time, accessed voting system data in Coffee County, Georgia. It was caught on surveillance video. Two weeks ago, when we first reported story, one of the people caught on camera denied any personal involvement.

Well, tonight new video appears to undermine that claim. More from CNN's Drew Griffin.


The newly obtained surveillance video shows a Republican county official and a team of operatives working for Trump attorney, Sidney Powell, inside a restricted area of the local elections office in Coffee County, Georgia.

Among those seen, Cathy Latham, a former GOP Chairwoman of Coffee County who is under criminal investigation for posing as a fake elector in 2020. Although she can be seen escorting in the team, Latham previously claimed she was not personally involved in the breach, but the video appears to undercut that claim showing her inside as a team of Republican operatives work on computers near election equipment and proceed to access voting data.

Scott Hall, an Atlanta bail bondsman and Fulton County Republican poll watcher is one of the people who spent hours inside the restricted area and in audio obtained by CNN, Hall later describe what he did.

SCOTT HALL, ATLANTA BAIL BONDSMAN AND FULTON COUNTY REPUBLICAN POLL WATCHER: I'm the guy that chartered the jet to go down to Coffee County to have them inspect all of those computers and I've heard zero, okay? I went down there, we scanned every freaking ballot, and they scanned all the equipment, imaged all the hard drives, and scanned every single ballot.

GRIFFIN (voice over): The Georgia Secretary of State's office calls what happened in Coffee County criminal behavior and a State criminal investigation is underway. But election experts say the damage could be even bigger than the illegal accessing of voting equipment in Georgia and other parts of the country.

These operatives may be undermining the security of elections in the future.

JESSICA MARSDEN, COUNSEL, PROTECT DEMOCRACY: In most cases, to complete a successful attack, you need physical access to the machines, and so, these efforts to unlawfully gain access to the machines opens up a new threat that we haven't seen in the past.

GRIFFIN: And the video shows the access to this restricted elections office went on for weeks. People connected to efforts to overturn election results kept showing up.

New video shows an IT specialist working with election deniers named Jeffrey Lenberg entering the restricted area more than two weeks after the initial breach. Lenberg is under criminal investigation by a special prosecutor in Michigan in a series of voting system breaches there.

In a recent interview, he said he didn't personally breach the machines in what he called testing.

JEFFREY LENBERG, CYBER ANALYST: All the testing, all the equipment was operated by the local certified election officials there. We didn't -- we didn't touch it.


COOPER: Drew Griffin joins us now. So, do we know what kind of data may have been compromised and what these people may have done with it?

GRIFFIN: We don't know what they've done with it. We do know what was compromised and that was as they said in that report and we've heard from various depositions, they scanned everything, Anderson. The voting system software, the ballots, how these machines work. What they were planning to do with it, we don't know. What they were looking for, we sort of know. They were looking for any evidence that in this small, rural, mostly Republican county, they were looking for any discrepancy in the vote so they could challenge the entire State of Georgia's votes. They obviously didn't find it.

The woman who let them in, probably sympathetic was that Cathy Latham. She is the Republican County chairperson down there or was, let them through the door. Despite even today's report, her attorney is adamant she didn't do nothing wrong. In fact, sending us a statement said: "Miss Latham has not acted improperly or illegally."

Anderson, we're going to find out. There is plenty of investigations here in Georgia and other swing states where these breach teams did this very same activity.

COOPER: Drew Griffin, appreciate it. Thank you.

I'm going to get perspective now from Christopher Krebs. He is the Federal government's top cybersecurity official at the time, he famously said the 2020 election was not rigged, and then got fired.

Chris, you called the 2020 election the most secure election in American history. Afterwards, as you mentioned, then President Trump fired you.


COOPER: What is your reaction to seeing this new footage of partisan political operatives being given access to restricted areas, sensitive election machines, and data?

CHRISTOPHER KREBS, FORMER UNITED STATES DIRECTOR OF THE CYBERSECURITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE SECURITY AGENCY: Well, Anderson, first off, it was not just the most secure, it was the most litigated, it was the most scrutinized, it was the most audited election in American history. And that -- you know, those claims continue to hold up.

The concern here, where you have local election officials opening up systems to basically randoms. You know, we don't -- we know who the people are that are accessing them, but they're in no way qualified to look at election systems, forensically or otherwise.

If the local election officials had concerns, their responsibility, their duty was to contact the Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, who, by the way, was a Republican, much like the county leadership, or you call law enforcement. You call the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or other Attorneys General. So, you know, their claims don't hold water and my greatest concern

here is that perhaps we are under reacting for what was a multistate unauthorized, unconstitutional access to election systems and to the prior point, by the Protect Democracy legal representatives, is yes, we have systems that you have we fully uncovered the degree of access, and those systems need to be verified all over once again.

COOPER: Is there any innocuous reason to grant physical access to such a sensitive site to a bail bondsman and other associates of Sidney Powell?

KREBS: Not that I can think of, no, of course not. Again, there are processes in place and the duty is to contact the appropriate law enforcement official and you know, the relevant State authority. And again, that is the Secretary of State in Atlanta.

COOPER: I mean, what I don't understand is, how does some of these even happen? I mean, I know the mishegoss that was that time period. We just learned in Drew's report, the woman who has been named as the "primary point of contact" for arranging the visit, the Coffee County GOP Chair, Cathy Latham, or former Chair, who is also under criminal investigation for posing as a fake elector in 2020. I mean, is it really that easy to -- when they say breached voting systems, what does that really mean?

KREBS: Well, they had physical access, and so they could, you know, tap into the systems through whatever available ports, there were, you know, how you stick USB drives into systems. They can also open them up and access some of the memory or otherwise.

But look, you know, the unfortunate thing is that the Coffee County election official or Republican Party official was a victim here. And I know that sounds crazy, but she was conned. She fell into the grift that the former President started the summer before the election, and that other hangers-on including Sidney Powell and others continued to amplify.

There is a great story out of "The Washington Post" today about the influence ecosystem that emanated out of the false election claims.

So, this -- and the grift continues. They make money on a daily basis on this nonsense.

COOPER: You're saying the grift continues by what? By giving lectures and having symposiums that people come and pay money to get maybe a card to make them a secret super operative like you could use to get in a comic book?

KREBS: Well, I mean, that's actually the more, I think innocuous or innocent aspect of it. I think the greatest parallel to democracy right now is candidates for statewide office like Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, who, you know, just the -- you know, he continues to talk about decertifying the election.

There was a great interview with the secretary of state Republican candidate in Arizona, Mark Finchem, who talked about if -- you know, in the event that Joe Biden, if he ran again in 2024, and he won the State would he certify? And he remarked that that would be a fantasyland.

So, we are way, way, way through the looking glass here and I have significant concerns about those that are in positions of responsibility and accountability that may be elected in '22 actually delivering for democracy in '24.

COOPER: Christopher Krebs, it's great to have you on. Thank you so much.

KREBS: Thanks.

COOPER: Just ahead, last week, it was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flying migrants to Martha's Vineyard. Today, a Texas Sheriff says there are plans for a flight much closer to home for President Biden. Details on that possible flight next.

Plus, a look by CNN's Ed Lavandera. What these migrants are being told about where they're being sent.



COOPER: Democratic sheriff in Texas conducting a criminal investigation of how migrants in San Antonio were eventually flown to Martha's Vineyard last week told CNN that the possibility of a similar flight this time to President Biden's home state of Delaware was postponed today the last minute. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has spent the last nine months teasing the idea he would ship migrants to Delaware among other places. He and other Republicans including the governor of Texas say the recent flights and bus rides and migrants are visible protest to what they say is the Biden administration's ineffective border policy.

Today, Delaware Senator Chris Coons tells CNN the flight would be a quote, cruel stunt. President Biden was also asked about the possible flight today.



UNDENTIFIED MALE: -- look like he's sending migrants to Delaware. Do you have any comment or respond to that sir?

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: He should come visit, we have beautiful shore way.


COOPER: More now from CNN's Ed Lavandera who's in San Antonio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The streets around this city run migrant shelter in San Antonio are confusing and overwhelming for hundreds of migrants who have crossed the border seeking asylum and have stepped into the swamp of American immigration politics. We met these men, one from Cuba, the other from Venezuela. They had heard about the plane Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent here to move some 50 migrants out of Texas last week. They told us they had just been offered a similar deal on Monday.



LAVANDERA (voice-over): Of course, he says. They were told there would be plenty of work and not so many migrants.


LAVANDERA (on-camera): They offered you a flight to another state, but you didn't know where it was going to be?



LAVANDERA (voice-over): He says they pulled up next to us in beautiful trucks. They offered us hotel rooms with a pool and a gift card for food. And they told us they could take us on a flight where we will be taken to a refuge. They rejected the offer because they said it felt strange.

Attorneys for some of the dozens of migrants transported from Texas to Martha's Vineyard have filed a class action lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in federal court, claiming they were deprived of their liberty and due process over an unlawful goal and a personal political agenda. This after the Bexar County sheriff in Texas says his office is opening a criminal investigation into the matter.

JAVIER SALAZAR, SHERIFF, BEXAR COUNTY: If in fact these people were lied to, to like they say they were. And if they were taken under false pretenses to another part of the country, it could qualify as a human trafficking case.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Even though the migrants weren't in his state, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has claimed responsibility for sending them to Massachusetts and defended the process Tuesday saying, those migrants were treated poorly by the Biden administration.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They were hungry homeless, they had no, no opportunity at all. State of Florida it was volunteer, offered transport to sanctuary jurisdictions, because it's our view that one, the border should be secured, and we want to have Biden reinstitute policies like remain in Mexico and making sure that people aren't overwhelming. LAVANDERA (voice-over): State Budget records show that the Florida Department of Transportation paid $950,000 taxpayer to Vertol Systems, an aviation company based in Florida, days after migrants were flown to Martha's Vineyard. According to the Texas governor's office, more than 8,000 migrants have been bused from Texas to Washington D.C. and 675 to Chicago and 2,600 migrants to New York, a number that's expected to climb.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-NY): I think the Governor of Texas and others are at fault for creating this man-made humanitarian crisis.


COOPER: And CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now. As we mentioned earlier the rumblings about a possible flight carrying migrants to President Biden's home state Delaware. Is it clear what happened there?

LAVANDERA: It's not exactly clear what has happened. We've been trying to chase that down all day. We just know that from what we can tell so far it just didn't materialize.

COOPER: Ed Lavandera, appreciate it. Thanks.

Just ahead, co-authors of a new book The Big Truth on restoring faith in elections, the state of our democracy and where it's headed, next.



COOPER: Earlier in the program, we talked to Congressman Jamie Raskin who sits on January 6th committee, a possibly final hearing scheduled in eight days. He said he's very interested in what he called a clear and present danger democratic institutions. Also, how to fortify them against coups, insurrections, political violence and systemic -- systematic electoral sabotage. It's also the topic of a fascinating new book by my guest, Major Garrett, the chief Washington correspondent for CBS News. And David Becker, Executive Director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, they are co-authors of the big truth, Upholding Democracy In The Age Of Lies.

Major, I mean, you spent a lot of time outside the Beltway to look at what's happening in states across the country. How concerned are you about the vulnerabilities?

MAJOR GARRETT, CO-AUTHOR, THE BIG TRUTH: So, I talked to election officials and we talked to election officials, that's David's life work. But I've sort of become intensely fascinated to this part of American democracy over the last two years. And there are two levels of concern one, that there's a substantial portion of our country that no longer trusts elections unless their side wins. That's a deeply flawed perspective on American democracy, very dangerous. And the other is that that skepticism or outright hostility manifests itself in violence in the midterm elections, or in 2024, or just the continued harassment of people who used to be viewed as what they are their neighbors. Elections in America are magnificently decentralized and localized. If you think there was a conspiracy in the 2020 election, that means your neighbor was a conspirator. That's not true. We all know that deep in our hearts, and the well of our souls, as Americans, we know that, and that's what they're worried about.

COOPER: And yet, as you're documenting the book, I mean, there is an industry and there's a lot of money being made by people. You look at a lot of the people who are out there on television, I mean, it does seem it for many of them to be a grift. They're actually profiting off this.

DAVID BECKER, CO-AUTHOR, THE BIG TRUTH: Right. And the sad thing is the targets of that grift are the supporters of the former president, of a losing presidential candidate. The people who, including the former president himself, are targeting their own supporters, and telling them a web of lies about the security of the 2020 election, which we document in the book was the most secure, transparent and verified election in American history.

COOPER: You -- writing the book that you have, quote, deep, but not debilitating fears. Has anything that's happened between the finishing the book and now that has made your fears deeper, or any less debilitating, or more debilitating?

BECKER: My fears are a little bit deeper right now, particularly around the potential for political violence. I think the election officials are going to run a very good election, I think we're likely to have very high turnout. For most voters, they're going to find the voting process to be really convenient. It's we talk a lot about the problems and voting, but 99% of voters have no problems in voting whatsoever.

But there is a strong possibility, given some of the candidates all around the country, that if they lose, they might claim an election theft, which will then incite their followers to, in the period of time after an election, engage in political.

COOPER: So how do things get better? I mean, what are the steps that are necessary?

GARRETT: So, one of the remedies is to back away from what we describe as a new abyss, in our cultural civic life. And that abyss is, elections only are legitimate if my side wins. If we, on any level, continue to go down this road, and if the other party, and I'm not saying it would be because this is probably primarily a problem with a certain faction of the Republican Party. But if Democrats on different bases were to say the same thing about elections, then we live in a country where the legitimacy that elections confer on our elected leaders disappears. And with it, the very foundations of democracy.

COOPER: So how do you fix it when you have we know in the upcoming midterms in states, you have people running to be election officials who are election deniers?

BECKER: Well, I think one of the things that's happening right now, that is a reason for some optimism, is finally it looks like there might be some accountability for those who have engaged in criminal conduct at the state level at the federal level, whether it's the investigation going on with the Department of Justice, or been from the January sixth select committee, or even in Fulton County, Georgia.

COOPER: And that would have an impact, do you think?

BECKER: I think it will, I think we need to hold people accountable for their actions and inciting violence and conspiring to commit a coup against the United States. And I think we're moving in that direction. And we need to further support the election officials that's the really important part here. They feel as if they're not being adequately supported and protected right now. And they've done a remarkable job. They're really heroes of our democracy. We need to watch out for that in the next few months.


GARRETT: And I would urge voters to use as a litmus test Republicans who in a primary say the election was stolen, but in the general election say, well, I'm really not so sure. That means they're perpetrating a hoax within their own party based on a lie and then trying to absolve themselves of telling that lie simply become a party's nominee. That is a nasty and deeply dangerous way to try to assume and collect and hold political power.

COOPER: Major Garrett, David Becker, it is the story of our times, The Big Truth. Thank you so important. I really appreciate it.

BECKER: Thank you, Anderson.

GARRETT: Thanks.

COOPER: Again, the book The Big Truth Of Holding Democracy In The Age Of The Big Lie. Essential reading.

Up next, we take you to intense fighting on the frontlines of Putin's war in Ukraine. See how Russian forces are trying to close in on a city in eastern Ukraine and also Russia could be taken as a first step to annex parts of the country.



COOPER: In the coming days in Ukraine, Moscow installed leaders in four occupied areas the plan to hold referendums on joining Russia step before possible annexation. And when that could escalate the war. At the United Nations, Ukraine's defined Foreign Minister denounced the effort, saying quote, it will not change anything and the U.S. is calling the plan a sham.

Tonight, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh gives us an up close look the battle for a key city in eastern Ukraine where Russian forces are trying to close in despite setbacks in other areas, and the Ukrainian forces are fighting back. Here's his report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The mood here is black and old. From a time, past Ukraine didn't feel it was winning, taking heavy losses and struggling to hold on. But the Russian enemy is something new.

(on-camera): This is the very front line with Russian physicians literally 100 meters away from where I'm standing.

(voice-over): The Kremlin really wants the city of Bakhmut. So here on its edges, it's sent ruthless mercenaries from the Wagner Group to fight the shelling endless. We are taken up to their vantage point from where they see the Wagner fighters rushing them leading the Ukrainians to open fire.

(on-camera): And it is just over there. They say that Russian Wagner mercenaries appear to try and run at them exposing Ukrainian positions so the Russian artillery can hit where they are.

(voice-over): The fields between them charred pockmarked, they are almost eyeball to eyeball. The next attack is imminent. We can see a mortar unit the drone operator says they're preparing to fire at us. Down in the shelter, the commander says they've captured Russian convicts who were recruited to fight.


WALSH (voice-over): It was get shot or surrender for the convict he says, Wagner act professionally not like usual infantry unit. Shells continue to land all around them.

Bakhmut is a mess. Russia edging towards it but not inside. Prepared for street to street fighting and meanwhile torn to pieces. But the losses are heavy and exposed positions around the city particularly here. Russia's invasion tearing through the green treasured land, it claims to cover it.

(on-camera): Why do they want Bakhmut so much?

(voice-over): They retreated elsewhere and they need a victory. Something is significant, he says so they throw forces here. Of course, we have casualties. Not today in our unit. But you can't avoid dead or wounded. I lost my close friend five days after we came here. There are still many people here buying a lot of Natalia's potatoes.

We sold half a ton today, she says. Who knows where the shootings coming from or going? Could be scared she said.

Twenty-four hours later, a Ukrainian artillery is hitting positions on the city's edge amid reports Russia has got closer. Much fresh smoke, and it's always hard to know what Moscow thought it was hitting. Walking home with a squeaky wheel and food is Maria back to her son.


WALSH (voice-over): Silence and terror in turn enveloping the city.


COOPER: Nick Paton Walsh joins us now from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Are these calls for referendums having any impact on the frontlines?

WALSH: We'll see that in the days ahead, Anderson. I mean, we're talking about a rubber-stamping process here or essentially, the only outcome will be a number of the Kremlin's choosing don't consider this to be anything like democratic is under military law, under war conditions, frankly. But it seems that by Monday or Tuesday, Moscow will declare what they have conquered basically here in Ukraine as potentially part of the Russian Federation if what we hear today is to be believed. A lot of expectation tonight, possibly early this morning, that we might hear from Russian President Vladimir Putin, possibly outlining some new measures maybe to endorse the referenda themselves.

What do they do this referendum? Well, potentially they allow Moscow to start acting like the parts of Ukraine that they've conquered are actually part of Russia. Does that mean they can send different types of troop, more troops, given their manpower struggles towards the fight? Does that enable them to reach deeper into the less conventional parts of their military arsenal to fight this war that they're losing. We'll see that ahead certainly.


But it also puts some pressure on the Ukrainian frontlines here as well. To perhaps take more territory as quickly as they can and to perhaps disrupt the referenda in the four days ahead. So, we're in I think, for a particularly tense week Anderson, as both sides it seems looking at the clock ahead of these sham votes.

COOPER: Nick Paton Walsh, appreciate it. Incredible reporting. Thank you.

Still ahead, Hurricane Fiona, now a powerful category three storm. For hours it has been pounding Turks and Caicos after causing extensive damage in Puerto Rico. We'll tell you where the storm is expected, next coming up.


COOPER: Tonight, Hurricane Fiona is a major category three storm with 150-mile per hour winds as a pounds Turks and Caicos with heavy rains. There's the possibility of life-threatening flooding on the island. The hope is conditionals will prove their overnight as the storm hits the southeastern Bahamas eventually to Bermuda. At least five people have been killed across the Caribbean so far and Fiona dumped up to 16 inches of rain in Puerto Rico, causing massive flooding in some areas.

Puerto Rico's Governor expects a large portion of the island to have power restored by Wednesday except in the south, where there's more damage and most of the island is without clean water. San Juan hopes up 75% of water treatment plants running up by tonight. This is the view of the U.S. Coast Guard crew got when surveying the damage.

Whether it's the loss of life or destruction of entire communities grieving is a constant companion in the wake of natural disasters. Grief and loss is something that we all will face in our life and yet it often leaves us feeling alone and isolated. It's something we don't talk enough about, I think. I have a new podcast. The second episode of it is out just this this evening, early morning on Wednesday, it's called All There Is. To listen just point your cell phone at the QR code on your TV screen for link to it. You can also find it on Apple podcasts wherever you get your podcasts.


Next episode as I said is out Wednesday morning. Stephen Colbert is my guest. His dad and two teenage brothers were killed in a plane crash when he was just 10 years old. It's a very deep and emotional discussion with Stephen. I hope you give it a listen.

News continues. Want to hand it over Sara Sidner in "CNN TONIGHT." Sara.