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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Record Final Day Turnout In Georgia Senate Runoff; GOP Tension Builds Over House Speaker Race As Kevin McCarthy And Critics Prepare For Floor Fight; January 6 Committee Considering Whether To Make Criminal Referrals To DOJ; Appeals Court Halts Special Master Review Of Seized Mar-A-Lago; Alex Jones Files For Personal Bankruptcy; Enforcers Caught On Camera As China Signals Possible Shift On Zero- COVID Policy; Mauna Loa Volcano's Lava Now 3 Miles From Major Highway. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 02, 2022 - 20:00   ET


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So that's what they are monitoring really closely, and they are certainly advising folks who have respiratory issues to keep the distance and they do plan to widen that advisory if it becomes increasingly dangerous, but as of now, they're confident that there is no imminent danger so folks can just take it in for its beauty -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: I mean, it is and just -- we're looking at an image taken yesterday on the screen as you're speaking. It is. It is a thing of power.


BURNETT: You can't look at it and not feel awe.

Thank you so much, David live from Hawaii.

CULVER: It is unbelievable.

BURNETT: Thanks to all of you for being with us. It's time now for AC 360.



Early voting ended tonight in Georgia's Senate runoff. According to one Georgia election official, it set a record for the day, which is no surprise considering it's been setting daily records from the start. A lot certainly riding on Republican, Herschel Walker's challenger, Senator Raphael Warnock including the former President's reputation as a party Kingmaker, practically handpicked Walker to run.

Also at stake, of course Democratic control of Committees in the new Senate, which a Warnock victory would ensure, this would mean Senate Democrats could hold hearings and provide a counterweight perhaps to the House, which will be in Republican hands come January.

Now beyond that, there is a question of what kind of person the people of Georgia want representing them. Herschel Walker is a local and national sports hero. He has also been the target of numerous allegations during the campaign about his personal life and his character.

Late today, at a fundraiser in Boston, President Biden weighed in saying Walker is "a different breed" from Republicans he dealt with in the Senate and then added, "He doesn't deserve to be in this race," something that former President Obama also mockingly suggested campaigning for Senator Warnock last night in Atlanta.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Walker has been talking about issues that are of great importance to the people of Georgia, like whether it's better to be a vampire or a werewolf. This is a debate that I must confess I once had myself when I was seven. Then, I grew up.

As far as I'm concerned, he can be anything he wants to be, except for a United States Senator.

Since the last time -- since last time I was here, apparently, he also claimed that he used to let me beat him at basketball, but then he admitted that we've never actually met. So, I guess this was more of an imaginary whooping that I laid on him.


COOPER: That's former President Obama last night, and much of the rest of his message Democrats, the same as Walker surrogates had been sending to his supporters, namely get out and vote, and CNN's Eva McKend reports, voters seem to be taking that message to heart.


EVAN MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voice over): On the final day of early voting, long lines did not deter Georgians from heading to the polls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This runoff is so important.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a sense of accomplishment to come in and get it done early.

MCKEND (voice over): Just four days until Tuesday's runoff and neither candidate is letting up.

HERSCHEL WALKER (R), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I say, enough is enough. Now, what we've got to do is we've got to get out and vote.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): We can't rest on our laurels. We -- it is way too early to do a happy dance.

MCKEND (voice over): New CNN polling shows Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock holds a slim lead over Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Among likely runoff voters, 52 percent say they plan to support Warnock, 48 percent say they plan to vote for Walker. Both candidates enjoy overwhelming support from their respective parties. Independents, however, break in favor of Warnock 61 percent to 36 percent, but make up a relatively small slice of likely voters.

Turnout has been strong during the early voting period, but the overall turnout still lags behind the Georgia Senate runoffs in January 2021 with this year's runoff having fewer days of early voting under the State's new voting law.

WARNOCK: Hello, Kennesaw State.

MCKEND (voice over): Both candidates making their closing arguments to voters with Walker continuing to tie Warnock to President Joe Biden.

WALKER: He went to Georgia and said that he was going to represent Georgia, but what is -- who is he representing? Joe Biden.

MCKEND (voice over): And Warnock urging voters to keep pushing, not taking the early vote totals for granted and maintaining the race is about competence and character.

WARNOCK: Georgia, I need you to do it one more time.


COOPER: Eva, the early voter turnout appears to be really high in Georgia as we've said. There are some important context to help understand the numbers.

MCKEND: Yes. There sure is, Anderson.

We have seen record breaking daily turnout during this early vote period, but we are also trending behind the overall 2021 runoff election and you know, so both of these things can be true here.


And that is likely due to the compressed voting schedule. You know, in the runoff just two years ago, there was nine weeks of voting. Right now, we only have four weeks, and this is of deep frustration to the voting rights community here. There are less mandatory days of early voting in this State this time around.

I spoke to one woman on a line this week on a long line this week here in Atlanta, and she told me, you know, yes, she was excited to vote, paying attention to this election. But the last time around, she felt as though it was easier to vote in the last runoff -- Anderson.

COOPER: Eva McKend, appreciate it. Thank you.

Two perspectives now on how the race is shaping up. CNN political commentator, former South Carolina Democratic State lawmaker, Bakari Sellers, also Georgia conservative radio host, Martha Zoller, who worked in the campaign for former Georgia Republican Senator David Perdue, and the current Governor Brian Kemp.

Martha, good to see you. You hear that Eva McKend talked about putting the early voting numbers into context. When you look at turnout so far, what's the takeaway for you from it?

MARTHA ZOLLER, BROADCASTER, PUNDIT, FORMER CANDIDATE: Well, I'm looking really closely at where the turnout is. If you look at how Herschel Walker did against Governor Kemp in the counties that were Atlanta South, he ran around two percent behind Governor Kemp. But in the counties that are North Georgia counties, which is where about 60 percent of the Republicans live in Georgia, he ran four to six points behind Governor Kemp.

So what I'm really looking very closely at is what the turnout is like in those very red counties in Georgia.

COOPER: Bakari, last night, Van Jones called this a decision between the pride of community and the shame of a community. I'm wondering if you see it that way.

BAKAR SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do wholeheartedly, and I think a lot of people are missing this tone and tenor. I think a lot of people probably do not understand culturally the impact of what it means for Herschel Walker to be elected. I mean, Black folk are pissed off, a hundred percent that Republicans nominated someone who represents every stereotype, every prejudice, every bias that individuals have against us.

And you think about this in the totality of it. You put them up against Raphael Warnock who is a Pastor from literally, Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is Dr. King's church. You look at him being inarticulate, you look at the fact that he is someone who cannot have a conversation with you, he being Herschel Walker, cannot have a conversation with you with any depth about policy.

You look at the abuse allegations. You look at the totality of it and he is a caricature of what many people believe African-American males in particular to be. And so yes, there is a great deal of shame.

How that translates into the ground, I will tell you that there is a large amount of energy of individuals and usually, this is not the Democratic playbook. Usually Democrats aren't someone who would come out and simply say, we're going to vote against that individual, but look we are voting against in large numbers Herschel Walker, that is a fact of the matter.

COOPER: Martha, I want to look at some of the new CNN polling from today. It shows that Georgia independents breaking Warnock's favor 61 to 36 percent, but make up a relatively small slice of actually likely voters at 17 percent. There's also a big age gap in the upcoming contest. Voters under 35 sharply behind Warnock, those 65 or older breaking in Walker's favor.

I'm wondering, I mean, is there anything in the new polling that stands out to you as an advantage for Walker? ZOLLER: Well, that even with all the money that's been spent, it is still pretty much in the margin of error, and I think it will all depend upon turnout, but to Bakari's point, you know, one of the, I think the worst moments in the campaign for Senator Warnock was that he did a series of ads where he used the worst pictures of Herschel Walker.

Now I've run for office before, I know that's a standard practice, okay, but it was a sweaty picture of Herschel Walker with a mouthpiece in looking -- really looking like those stereotypes and it was a paid for Warnock ad. It wasn't an outside ad. There was a series of them.

So you know, while I don't disagree completely with what Bakari said, I will disagree that the Warnock campaign has played into that also, and they have played up that stereotype. And I think there's going to be a lot of soul searching that's going to have to happen after this campaign.

COOPER: Bakari, we saw former President Obama in Georgia last night. How many voters do you think are still persuadable? I mean, is it more just about -- I mean, I guess, it is more just about getting, you know, excitement or getting people to actually go out and vote.

SELLERS: Yes, we are beyond persuading voters, Anderson, I think, everybody would agree with that. We're about getting your voters to the polls.

I am someone doesn't believe necessarily that Georgia is a Purple State. I don't think Georgia is a Purple State. I think that was indicative by the amount that Brian Kemp won by in his General Election campaign.

I think that Georgia is a Commonsense State and I think that commonsense voters, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, those voters who are in Brookhaven, which is a suburb of Atlanta, those kind of suburban Buckhead voters are going to determine this election, and nobody in their right mind is voting for Herschel Walker.


I mean, the fact is, I mean, you can you can comment on I didn't see those ads, I don't live here. You can comment on those ads that may or may not be provocative. I don't know if Raphael Warnock did that. But I will take -- I will take that -- I will, you know, give him credit for that.

But what I will tell you is that even more importantly, people see what type of candidates both of them are. And you can just -- I mean, you can put your hand on the Bible and say that Raphael Warnock is a better candidate than Herschel Walker, there has been no greater discrepancy in the talent and the value of wanting or belonging and being in the United States Senate than this race that we've seen in Georgia.

COOPER: Martha, do you think that some of the people who will vote for Walker aren't necessarily voting for him because they think he's the greatest guy or think he is of upstanding moral character or whatever, but they just want a Republican in that seat, and they want to just vote Republican?

ZOLLER: Well, I think the choice is, do you want someone that's going to vote with President Biden 96 percent of the time? Or do you want someone that's going to vote like a Republican? And the thing that Herschel Walker has to do and what he is going to do is you're going to see him a lot with Governor Kemp over these last few days, you're going to see him looking at that in that direction, because he is the most popular Republican in Georgia, Brian Kemp is. So I think that's what the choice is going to be, if Herschel Walker wants to win.

But I'll give it to all the pundits. This is going to be a close race. And you're right, it is not -- Georgia is not a Purple State yet, because so many Republicans stayed home in the 2021 election. It was about 430,000 that got a message from former President Trump. You can vote, but your vote may not count, and so 430,000 Republicans stayed home.

So we're going to see what happens here, but it was a good night on November 8 for Republicans in Georgia and we're going to have to close the gap on Tuesday.

COOPER: Bakari, what do you think it means for the former President -- for former President Trump if Walker does not win?

SELLERS: I mean, I don't know. I will leave that to others to describe. I think Georgia Republicans are probably the only group of individuals who've adequately repudiated everything that Donald Trump stands for, from Governor Kemp to the Secretary of State, to my good friend, Geoff Duncan. They've all come on national TV or through their campaigns actually said that the election was not stolen. Also acknowledged, that's a low bar, but they've cleared that low bar for democracy.

Yes, Herschel Walker is who Herschel Walker is. Let's not sugarcoat this. This is still going to be a close race, which I think is a travesty and a tragedy. I'm not sure that anybody who comes on your show be them Democrat or Republican, Anderson with a straight face can tell you that Herschel Walker should be in the United States Senate.

I mean, look, if you want to disagree with some of the values of who or the principals, conservative versus progressive of who Raphael Warnock is, so be it. Herschel Walker does not deserve anyone's vote in the United States Senate.

COOPER: Bakari Sellers and Martha Zoller, it is good to have you on. Thank you both. Appreciate it.

Now to an election where there is no polling, there's only one frontrunner but we're at all could come unglued for that frontrunner with just a handful of votes go the other way is in a nutshell is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's existence right now. He wants to be, desperately the next House Speaker in the upcoming new Republican-controlled House, but because his new majority is so slim, as you know, he's got to keep as many hardliners as possible from voting no, as some have already vowed to do.

So he's also got to keep moderates on board and not end up a hostage to the extreme supporters of the former President if he actually gets the job, but also not alienate them completely, which might explain some of his recent verbal contortions, such as condemning the former President's dinner with antisemites without actually condemning the host by name.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I don't think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes. He has no place in this Republican Party. I think President Trump came out four times and condemned him and didn't know who he was.


COOPER: Just as a point of fact that the former President has never condemned that person, let alone four times. In any event, Congressman McCarthy's zigzagging is not exactly new. Here he is shortly after the January 6 attack on Congress.


MCCARTHY: The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.


COOPER: This was just days after the insurrection, famously not long after he was back at Mar-a-Lago currying favor with his supporters.


CNN's Manu Raju joins us now with more on his latest balancing act. So, as of tonight, how does McCarthy's path to the Speakership -- how does it look like he will get there?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is really uncertain at this point, Anderson, and this is precisely the concern that McCarthy and his allies had in the run up to the midterms. They spent a ton of money to try to build what they call the "governing majority."

They wanted 230 seats, 235 seats, maybe even 240 seats. They got probably, we're looking at 222 seats, and that means to get -- to become elected Speaker, you need to have 218 votes on January 3rd. So if more than four Republicans vote against him, a vote for another candidate, that means he will have a problem.

And right now, there are about five Republicans, hardliners who are signaling they are either no's or that they're very likely to vote against him, meaning that McCarthy at the moment has a math problem. Now talking to some of those hardliners, they tell me that there is more than five, they say there can be 20. There are even larger numbers than that, and some of them like Congressman Bob Good of Virginia told me, he is urging more to come out publicly and make clear that McCarthy does not have the votes, say they are opposed. And at that point, he says that there'll be another candidate who will emerge.


REP. BOB GOOD (R-VA): There are quality candidates who represent the conservative center of the Republican conference, who are privately acknowledging that once it becomes clear, it's not going to be Kevin McCarthy. They are interested in becoming Speaker, but they're not going to raise their hand publicly until it's clear to them that it's not going to be Kevin McCarthy.

RAJU: Congressman Roy, you one of these private no votes on McCarthy who is not coming up publicly to say so?

REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): My position is pretty clear on this is that no one at this time has 218 and the whole point here is to have a conversation now.

I'm not talking about how I'm going to vote or not vote. What I'm talking about is my constituents sent me here to end the status quo.


RAJU: So Chip Roy, that last Congressman is what gives McCarthy and his allies some hope. They believe they can win over some of those detractors and critics by negotiating with them and McCarthy did get a boost from more mainstream Republicans.

Earlier today, a letter was sent from 21 Republicans warning about dire consequences of a little messy floor fight on the first day of the new Congress saying in the letter, "Make no mistake, we will not allow this conference to be dragged down a path to a paralyzed House that weakens our hard fought majority," showing real signs of tension even before they take the majority next year -- Anderson.

COOPER: I mean, is there anyone who could actually make a run at the Speakership if he doesn't get the 218 votes?

RAJU: That's also unclear. What we have learned is that, Republicans in this hardline group have reached out to some of McCarthy's own top deputies, including Steve Scalise, the number two Republican and also Tom Emmer, who is going to be the number three Republican in the new Congress as well as Jim Jordan who is expected to be the House Judiciary Committee Chairman. They asked all of them to jump into this race. We were told that all of them said no, that they are backing McCarthy.

Now the hope among these McCarthy detractors is that once it is abundantly clear he cannot become elected Speaker, somebody else could jump into this race, perhaps one of those three. At the moment, they are not signaling they will do just that.

But Anderson, this is such a rare scenario that we are talking about. If he cannot get 218 votes, McCarthy, on January 3rd, then we'll go to a second bout of voting, a third ballot of voting potentially even beyond. It has been a hundred years, 1923 was the last time there have been more than one ballot to elect a House Speaker. It's possible that could happen again.

COOPER: Yes. Manu Raju, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next for us tonight: The latest on the House January 6 Committee and the question now that a Special Counsel has been appointed to handle possible charges against the former President, will the Committee recommend any of its own? Just as important, should it?

Later, a live report from Hawaii where two volcanoes erupting. The earth is doing a slow burn. Incredible images. We'll take you there.



COOPER: Less than a day after a Federal Judge ordered them to do it, the former President's two top White House lawyers went back before a Washington grand jury. This is former Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin arriving at lunchtime; his former boss, Pat Cipollone testified earlier. Both men following up on prior testimony during which they declined to answer certain questions, citing the former President's claims of executive and attorney client privilege.

Now meantime, the House January 6 Committee met today among some of the other items left to decide whether to refer criminal charges against the former President or others to the Department of Justice.

Sara Murray has been doing the reporting on this. She joins us now. So do we know anything about Pat Cipollone's appearance before the grand jury today?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson was clear by the fact that they are returning is that what prosecutors want is more information about conversations that these two men had with former President Trump directly and advice they gave him. You know, obviously we don't know exactly what they told the grand jury, those proceedings are secret, but we know these are people who are in close proximity to Donald Trump in the final days and the aftermath you know, when he lost the presidency.

We know Cipollone pushed back on a number of efforts Trump was making to try to overturn the election. We know he and Philbin both pushed back when Donald Trump talked about replacing the Attorney General with someone who was open to pursuing these bogus claims of election fraud.

So obviously, they have a lot of information, a lot of front row insights that prosecutors want as they delve into efforts to subvert this peaceful transition of power.

COOPER: The House January 6 Committee is expected to wrap up the investigation and deliver a final report. What's exactly left to finalize?

MURRAY: Well, you know, they know it is crunch time and they have a lot left to finalize. They have to sort of dot the I's and cross the T's on their final report. They're talking about how they really need to get this off to the printer, but they haven't done that yet.

They need to make a decision on criminal referrals. We have heard them talk about this over and over again about how it could send such a powerful signal even though DOJ is certainly not taking cues from the Committee, they feel like it could send a powerful signal about their work.

They still haven't made final decisions about criminal referrals. They said they hope to announce those in the coming days. You know, they also have to decide what they want to do about Republican lawmakers. People like Kevin McCarthy, people like Jim Jordan who snubbed the Committee subpoenas, do they want to refer them to the Ethics Committee? Do they want to try to hold them in contempt of Congress? Or do they just want to do nothing? Because Republicans are going to take control in January.


They have a couple more weeks to make these decisions and again, you can tell in every conversation with them that they know they're going down to the wire.

COOPER: Yes, Sara Murray. Appreciate it. Thank you.

More now in all of that, as well as the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals are returning. The Court appointed Special Master in the Mar-a-Lago documents case and the rebuke it contained to the Federal Judge who ordered it. CNN contributor and former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean joins us now along with retired Federal Judge Nancy Gertner, who is currently a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School.

John, how much more jeopardy, in your opinion, could the former President be in now that Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin have appeared before the Federal grand jury? I mean, is there anything that would change in their willingness to talk about things they hadn't been willing to talk about before because of presidential privilege?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think what they were doing, Anderson is waiting for a Judge to order them and to speak. They were -- they had a commitment under the attorney-client-executive privilege, they could have decided we're not going to honor that. But the attorney-client, they don't throw off quite as easily.

So what the grand jury got was a lot of firsthand information about what they had told the President and the President's reaction thereto to all the things Sara nicely summarized, and that's a lot of information that the grand jury did not have. So this to me would increase Mr. Trump's jeopardy considerably.

COOPER: So just to be clear, John, you think that because the Judge ruled in this and sent it back to testify that they would say things that for instance, they wouldn't say to the January 6 Committee because of executive privilege?

DEAN: Absolutely. That's right, and that nails it.

COOPER: Judge Gertner, on the Mar-a-Lago documents case, were you surprised at the ruling at all?

NANCY GERTNER, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: No, I wasn't surprised. I mean, you know, to some degree, Trump has been able to -- Trump's lawyers have been able to play out the string, and you know, because you are journalists, and you want to give due to what they were filing, they were filing documents, which, you know, to anybody who knew anything, make no sense.

The notion that any criminal defendant after a search can go into Court and say, "Stop the presses here. I want to look at all the documents. Give me back the documents, I want to see whether you seized things that you shouldn't have seized." The notion that any criminal defendant well, let me actually change that.

Anybody whose house is searched before they were indicted had rights to control the investigation is absurd. There are certainly attorney- client privileges, law firms get Special Masters, but no one had ever been treated this way.

And if the former President says that, you know, he is treated worse because he's a former President and he is Trump. It's actually the reverse. These arguments were considered and dignified, and the 11th Circuit finally said, as the District Court Judge should have said, enough, this is absurd.

COOPER: And Judge, I understand you've given some consideration to where charges might ultimately be brought against the former President. I mean, there's Palm Beach, that's where Mar-a-Lago is located or in DC, where he removed the documents from or where the documents were removed from?

GERTNER: Well, that's actually going to be a complicated question and I don't think we have all the facts to answer it. So on the surface here, there was clearly illegal retention of National Defense Information and documents that didn't belong to him after he left the presidency. That retention, the whole thing, the withholding of that, the concealing of that takes place in Mar-a-Lago.

But the taking of the documents started in DC, but arguably started when he was still President, and had a right to these documents. The testimony of Pat Cipollone and others might help understand whether there was a conspiracy to illegally retain the documents that began in the District of Columbia.

If that is so, then the charges can be brought in the District of Columbia, which, you know, one thing that we know for certain, by the way is that even if the charges were brought in Palm Beach, I don't think Judge Cannon would be sitting on this case.

But the 11th Circuit slapped down, essentially saying you had no jurisdiction to do what you're doing, I think should foreclose her sitting on this case in the future.

COOPER: Who decides something like that, though? I mean...

GERTNER: Well, if, let's say the venue issue was something that the Department of Justice has to decide, what were the acts that were committed?

COOPER: No, but who decides? I mean, if it does go to, you know, in Florida, who would make the decision while the Judge who made this, you know, inappropriate ruling before shouldn't get the case.

GERTNER: Well, if the -- what happens is it goes into the draw. It goes into, you know, essentially a lottery and if she wound up getting the case again, there would certainly be motions to disqualify her and then the Chief Judge of the Circuit could weigh in and say, you know, you should be disqualified.

Unlike The Supreme Court, I have to say, there are ethics rules that apply to the District Court and are actually enforced.

COOPER: So John, with the January 6 Committee, do you think -- I mean, there is the question whether they will you know, submit something to the Department of Justice about prosecution. I mean, they don't need to. It's not like the DOJ is waiting around for a referral from the January 6 Committee. Do you think their final report is going to focus on the former President himself as opposed to the totality of the events of that day?


DEAN: I think that is the case. It certainly there were some rumblings that the staff was unhappy about the focus of the final report, that it did focus on Trump too much. But on this issue of referral, there's probably a pretty good consensus that they will make referral. And the reason I think that's the case, because there's they got overwhelming evidence, and it will be more than Donald Trump. It'll be other players that we've heard less about that they will make those referrals.

Now, justice doesn't have to -- they can totally ignore that information. But what it does, it affects the public perception of the case. And I think that could put a little wind behind the sale of the department, if they make referrals, and will educate the public now.

COOPER: Well, Judge -- I mean, the flip side of that is do you think Department Justice wants to get a criminal referral from the January 6 Committee, just in terms of the optics of it, could it give a whiff of politics to something that Merrick Garland is trying to keep a political?

GERTNER: Well, on the one hand, it could give a whiff of politics. On the other the other hand, the January 6, report, if it's anything like the live testimony will tell a much more complete narrative, then the Department of Justice is able to tell in the confines of a formal indictment. They can say much more and --

COOPER: They can tell the story essentially?

GERTNER: They can tell the story, and as they really have, in sort of the way journalists tell the story, you know, the legal proceedings are much more structured and much more formal. So, on the one hand, that story may be one the Department of Justice wants to see out there. But yes, it gives a whiff of politics but you know, frankly, at this point, that's unavoidable. Just unavoidable.

COOPER: Nancy Gertner, John Dean, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, Alex Jones declaring personal bankruptcy, what does it mean for the families of victims who are owed more than a billion dollars after two successful defamation sued. Will Jones ever pay the money he owes? We'll look at that next.



COOPER: Conspiracy spreader Alex Jones file for personal bankruptcy today. The filing could potentially delay the nearly $1.5 billion to state courts have awarded families to -- and others who sued Jones for defamation over his false claims about the Sandy Hook massacre. The victims and their families later this month, it's going to mark 10 years since the mass shooting that killed 26 people including 20 children. It's about how long these family members have been waiting to hold Mr. Jones to account.

Within hours of the attack, Jones was spinning lies about the shooting being a false flag event, and eventually attack families and others just crisis actors ridiculing them, lying about them. In October after the billion-dollar verdict in Connecticut was announced, I spoke with some Sandy Hook parents and Erica Lafferty, the daughter of principal, Dawn Hochsprung, who was murdered who told us that these verdicts were important because they send a strong message, not just to Jones, but quote, "for anyone who has a sick aspiration to be like him."

I'm joined now by the New York Times' Elizabeth Williamson who's reported extensively on the tragedy and its aftermath and the lawsuits. Her book, Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth is extraordinary. Also joining us is CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, former Assistant U.S. Attorney.

So, Elizabeth, I know you've looked through Jones' bankruptcy filing. What stood out to you?

ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON, AUTHOR, "SANDY HOOK": So, what he said in his assets section of today's filing, Anderson, will surely be challenged by the families. He said he has assets of between $1 and $10 million. The families maintain that he has much more than that, and in fact that he has siphoned $60 million out of the business, possibly into his -- into the coffers of family and himself. So that's what they allege. They will definitely be questioning what the filing was today and trying to find that money.

COOPER: I mean, Elie, does filing for bankruptcy -- I mean, can he hide all these assets?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: He's certainly trying. But I don't think it's going to succeed. It might even backfire, Anderson. Here's why. A person cannot just declare bankruptcy and then sort of have all of his debts miraculously vanish. Yes, bankruptcy can discharge essentially, get rid of certain types of debts, but not these debts, not when you're talking about a judgment. We got the trial verdicts here, that involves an intentional wrong. And here we're talking about defamation. That's what Alex Jones was found liable for, that is intentional.

And so, the families, what this does, though, is it complicates the task for them. Now, they have to basically get online with other creditors, other people who are owed money. And what Alex Jones is trying to do. And I think Elizabeth's reporting exposes this really nicely, is sort of shrink the amount of money that's available to them. He's taking money. He's moving it all over. He's trying to create these ridiculous debts that Elizabeth reports on, where he essentially owes himself and his parents $50 million in order to sort of jump that line ahead of the parents. But what I think this is going to result in is the parents and their lawyers now have every incentive to track down this money and to make sure he pays them.

COOPER: During the first defamation trial, Elizabeth, in Texas, there was a forensic economist who testified the Jones and moved around a lot of his money. I mean, how much do you know about that? How much has it had their lawyers learned about that?

WILLIAMSON: Well, as Elie said that, you know, he has claimed that he is indebted to the tune of $54 million to an LLC, a limited liability company. That is controlled by himself and his parents.


So, in a way, it's a kind of shell game. He is worth between $130 and $270 million, according to that forensic economist.


WILLIAMSON: It's possibly more than that --

COOPER: Wait, Alex Jones is worth, what? $200 and, what?

WILLIAMSON: Between $130 and $270 million.


WILLIAMSON: So, for him to say he has assets of between $1 and $10 million, is just something that will be absolutely challenged by the families and their lawyers. Yeah, and he earns revenues of up to $70 million a year. So, it's a lot of money that we're talking about here. And he's trying to make it, as Elie said, look like a little bit. The families challenge, even the notion that he is bankrupt, because of these debts to essentially himself, and the money that he has been moving out of the company into things like real estate, and related ventures and things that the families and really nobody, at this moment fully understand.

COOPER: I mean, Elie, it's extraordinary this guy who plays this tough guy on his, you know, broadcasts and acts like, you know, he's this guy, you know, big, tough guy with these security guards who are all dressed identically. And I guess they plan their wardrobes the night before, is hiding behind his parents.

HONIG: Yeah.

COOPER: I mean, he's hiding behind like that he's loaned money to his parents or owes money to them.

HONIG: It's preposterous. It certainly doesn't measure up with the bombast. And the nonsense that Alex Jones is known for. And what this does is it motivates. It should motivate the parents to track their lawyers and --

COOPER: How does they track down? I mean, it costs a lot of money to track down this?

HONIG: It does. And that's why you hire lawyers. It's costly and investigators to try to find this money. You know, bankruptcy is sort of a double-edged sword, because on the one hand, it can protect you, in some instances from certain debts, but it also exposes you to real scrutiny. There will be a judge involved in this case. There might be a trustee involved in this case.

If this gets into actual bankruptcy proceedings, the parents will have the opportunity through their lawyers to question Alex Jones. He has to answer these questions under oath. And here's the thing, if he lies, if he commits fraud, prosecutors can get involved. The Department of Justice has prosecutors who specialize in bankruptcy fraud. And that's why long-term this could be dangerous for Alex Jones.

COOPER: Elizabeth, I'm wondering, I mean, almost 10 years since Sandy Hook. I'm wondering what your thoughts are, especially as these parents, you know, have been on this nightmare request for truth while they are grieving?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, as I've said, you know, with you previously, Anderson, this is a significant secondary trauma that they've suffered. For four years, they have been fighting with Alex Jones, but for years before that, they've been trying to back against people who not only, you know, not only against the worst day of their lives, but people who deny that it actually happened. So, this has taught them nothing, if not patience, and fortitude, and I think that's what we're going to see as they go forward. And they use and hope that the bankruptcy courts do their jobs in shedding light using this filing today and the previous filings for Jones's company to try and expose, you know, where these assets are, what they actually are, and to point out as Elie says, you know, where he is gaming the system.

COOPER: Yeah. Elizabeth Williamson, thank you. Elie Honig, thanks so much.

Still to come, the first comments by China's Xi Jinping about the protests over the country's zero COVID policy. Plus, a disturbing example just how extreme that policy can be.

Also tonight, CNN's David Culver in Hawaii near the immense lava flow coming from the Mauna Loa volcano. Incredible images, we'll bring you there live.



COOPER: A top official of the European Union said that during his meeting in China with leader Xi Jinping, Mr. Xi gave his first known comments on the recent protests. Now, we can't confirm the translation provided but a source says the official believe that China's President said, the protests are mainly students frustrated at three years of COVID. The official also said that China could ease its strict policy, though, it's important to point out there's been no official word that this could happen nor what that might even look like.

As CNN's Selina Wang reports, harsh measures are still very much in force.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The video is extreme and troubling. A man in the port city of Hangzhou dragged off to quarantine by police officers. He tries to resist the hazmat cloud authorities with all his might, as they force him off the couch. The man apparently trying to avoid being sent to one of the quarantine facilities set up around the country for COVID cases and close contacts. Many of them run down dirty and unsanitary.

It's not the first-time authorities and COVID enforcers have been caught on camera taking extreme and sometimes violent measures. But this time, local authorities apologized and said it's suspended those responsible. The incident only one in a series of extraordinary videos still emerging from China. And Guangzhou residents destroyed COVID testing beats, police in riot gear immediately swarming. And years of pent-up anger over Chinese draconian COVID lockdowns boiled over into unprecedented protests across the country.

Some even chanted for Xi Jinping to step down. Authorities are cracking down on protesters. But it appears they've heard their demands and for the first time, a clear shift in tone. China's top official in charge of the country's COVID response said, the country is now facing a new situation regarding the pandemic. In recent days, some major cities across China have eased their rules around COVID. In, Beijing, public transportation will no longer reject passengers without a negative COVID test result taken within the last 48 hours. And in Guangzhou authorities adjusted quarantine measures and scrapped a district wide mass testing plan. The changes have been praised by the World Health Organization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're pleased to learn that the Chinese authorities are adjusting their current strategies.


WANG: But despite the change in rhetoric, the Chinese government has still not said if it will transition away from zero COVID. And many in China, it's still sealed in. And people's daily lives still dictated by a web of COVID restrictions.


COOPER: CNN's Selina Wang joins us now from Chinese capital, Beijing. Is there any indication at this point that this easing of restrictions, I mean, is real that it's actually going to continue? Or could this just be some sort of temporary effort to appease protesters?

WANG: Yeah, Anderson, I mean, it appears to be real because the protesters voices they even reach the very top. You mentioned earlier that this E.U. official told CNN that Xi Jinping told the European Council President that these protesters were frustrated after years of COVID restrictions. And Xi also apparently said Omicron is less deadly, which makes the government feel more open to further relaxing these restrictions.

Now, we don't know the exact language she used. But this is a big deal on several levels. For one authorities, they've been censoring all evidence of the protests at home and here you have the Supreme Leader apparently acknowledging that they happened. Plus, after years of demonizing COVID, this is a clear shift.

But that being said, Anderson our lives here are still very restricted. I still need a recent COVID test to enter most public areas, were still tracked everywhere we go, forced to scan our health codes. And there is of course still the threat of lockdowns and quarantine. And the reality is health experts say China cannot just easily walk away from zero COVID. Because instead of focusing on boosting vaccinations, and the country's health infrastructure, China for the last few years has poured all of its resources into enforcing zero-COVID.

COOPER: Selina Wang in Beijing, thank you, I appreciate it.

Coming up, we're in Hawaii where the Mauna Loa volcano continues gushing out lava and drawing crowds. The unpredictable path and what's concerning officials the most, next.



COOPER: Well, tonight, the world's biggest active volcanoes becoming Hawaii's newest tourist attraction. The lava spewing out of the Mauna Loa volcano is just about three miles away from the main road connecting the west and the east coast of the Big Island. Now, it looks fast moving in some images but below, below ground down below, it's slowing enough that authorities can give at least 24 hours-notice if that highways in danger for instance. There's no immediate threat to people, say authorities, for the state health department warns and vog, which is the volcanic version of smog especially with a nearby Kilauea volcano erupting for more than a year. Officials are urging people to watch this latest spectacle from safe distance. And that's what our David Culver has been doing. He's with us from Waimea in the foothills of Mauna Loa. David, how are things looking from there?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Anderson. Yeah, it's a little tough to see because we've started to see some rainy weather move in. But that's going to give a whole another view as the sun goes down and the lava glow comes up. But you can see a little bit farther out there. That's where this eruption is at, its most active point. That's fissure three. And so, it's moving at an active and stable pace. But as you pointed out, really slowly. Still, it's brought folks to want to see this. It's become a tourist attraction out here. And this is one of the side roadways that has been turned into a one-way lane so that people can park on the side and take in the sights. And they've been doing that at all hours but primarily at night. And this is the reason why, take a look.


CULVER (voice-over): The nighttime glow of Mauna Loa's oozing lava, well, you just have to pull over to properly admire it. And it's basically the middle of the night. And you guys are out here. Why?

PILANI ZYCH, OAHU, HAWAII RESIDENT: Well, I mean, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to experience this. And we decided to come early in the morning so we didn't have to sit in the traffic.

CULVER: Having hopped from Oahu to here, the Big Island, this family three generations came to respectfully honor the Hawaii interruptions.

ZYCH: It's all beautiful to us. And so, we pay huge reverence to this. It's very culturally significant for us as well. So, it's a big deal.

CULVER: A site made even more alluring with a site of sunrise, which brought the crowds to old saddle road. Officials turning this stretch into a one-way street, allowing passers by the chance to stop and let the views seep in.

(On camera): And that keeps drivers from pulling over and stopping on this what is one of the main highways connecting one part of the island to the other. USGS and state officials warned the lava flow while slowed in recent days is inching closer to cutting off this highway. It's within three miles now. The other worry not here on the ground, but up in the air. What looked like plumes of smoke, experts say those are acid gases. Officials monitoring the levels warning it could become toxic for residents and visitors of the Big Island.

(Voice-over): Mauna Loa is the second of the big islands five volcanoes currently erupting. Kilauea still rumbling after destroying within 600 homes here in 2018. ERECH ZYCH, OAHU, HAWAII RESIDENT: This is very significant, like my wife -- we made lays on our wall, we brought them over here and we gave it as an offering, you know, just come with respect.

CULVER: But many Hawaiians see the potential path of destruction as simultaneous creation surfacing from this, world's largest active volcano.


COOPER: So incredible. So, we mentioned the lava flows less than three miles away from possibly, you know, cutting off this major highway. Do officials expect that's going to happen?

CULVER: Yeah, 2.7 miles from where we're standing. So, at the edge there, and it follows out here, past this side road, Anderson. And you can see out there where that officer has actually pulled the car over for stopping and they face up to $1,000 fine by the way for parking on that highway. That is where they're concerned, this lava could end up, if it continues at the pace.

They do think, though, that it's still a week out from doing that if it happens at all. And as we point out, they can give up to potentially two days' notice. So, they feel confident that it's not going to be an imminent danger. However, it's something they're watching and they point out you cannot forecast these lava flows they will go whichever direction they want and they can turn overnight. Anderson.


COOPER: Yeah, David Culver in Hawaii. Amazing. Thank you.