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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
New Details In The Effort To Free American, Paul Whelan From Russian Captivity; Brittney Griner Arrives In US After Being Released From Russian Custody In A Prisoner Exchange; Sources: Judge Declines To Hold Trump In Contempt In Mar-A-Lago Documents Cases; Presses Sides To Settle Differences Themselves; Sen. Sinema Leaves The Democratic Party And Registers As An Independent; Alleged Fake Heiress Latest Controversial Character To Gain Access To Trump At Mar-A-Lago; Iran Signals More Executions Linked To Protests In Coming Days. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 09, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Maximus was discovered on private land in South Dakota. The only time a skull like this has come up for auction as a standalone piece, the only known T-Rex skull available for private ownership.
So early sale estimates came in at up to $20 million. Bidding back and forth for six minutes before the gavel came down. $6 million. So who bought it? Wouldn't you love to know. We have no idea.
Thanks for joining us. AC 360 starts now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
Brittney Griner is home and safe tonight and there are new details in her time in Russian captivity, as well as new video of some of her ordeal.
We begin though with one American who remains in Russia, Paul Whelan, and the remarkable details we now have, the scale and the effort to secure his freedom, details that might just as easily come straight out of a Cold War spy novel or the Cold War itself.
We're also learning about the price that Russia was asking for sending Whelan back, namely freedom for an assassin, former FSB Colonel Vadim Krasikov. That's the man there. He is serving a life sentence in Germany for what German authorities say was the State-mandated murder of a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent, execution style, in a Berlin Park, who was tracked and murdered at close range.
The assassin, Krasikov is part of the price Russia wanted for the freedom of Paul Whelan.
CNN's Phil Mattingly joins us now with some additional new reporting. It's a pretty extraordinary story this. PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is no question about it. It's also the first real window we've gotten into what President Biden was talking about yesterday when he mentioned that the Russians were treating Paul Whelan "differently" than they were when it came to Brittney Griner.
And what they meant by that is there was a very clear sense among US officials beyond just the general frustration that they had based on how these negotiations were going on that what the Russians wanted for Paul Whelan was what they viewed as an essentially lateral trade here, asking for an ex-FSB colonel, somebody that was accused of murder and currently being held in custody in Vadim Krasikov. That was the primary issue when you talk to US officials.
Now, what's interesting here, Anderson, is they actually made efforts to try and figure out if there was some type of three-way swap that included the Germans, where the Germans would get something that could make this a feasible option. They never actually got to the point where they raised that to the highest levels for German officials, underscoring the difficulty here and that's where you get at the frustration.
This was an issue that started being raised by the Russians in the summer, and they continue to go back to it over and over and over again, Anderson.
I'm told by one official that the Americans even made an offer as recently as the last two weeks one more time to try and see if they could add Paul Whelan into the deal that brought Brittney Griner home. They were not given any concrete alternatives. What they were asked for, again, was the same official that they believe they could not get out of another country -- Anderson.
COOPER: We're also learning about other Russians who are in American custody that the White House was potentially willing to exchange.
MATTINGLY: That's right, and I think this gives a really good window into what US officials had been talking about when they raise just how much they were willing to put on the table, different offers, creative offers to some degree, when they were looking at some way to crack what had not been an area they could penetrate when it came to bringing Paul Whelan home.
We know at least two Russian nationals currently in US custody that were put on the table for the Russians to consider, to add Paul Whelan to the deal.
Alexander Vinnik, who was extradited to the United States in August. He was convicted of extortion, of hacking, as well, Roman Seleznev was the other Russian that we are aware of right now, a cybercriminal currently serving a 14-year sentence in the US.
There was no sense whatsoever from the US official I spoke to that the Russians were even willing to consider them as options. There is no clear answer as to why that is the case right now and why they have been so fixated on one individual held in a different country, who was essentially a Russian assassin.
What US officials will say, however, is they don't believe the idea that there are no more cards to play, there are no more options on the table is necessarily true. The official that I spoke to said explicitly, we're going to test that proposition, and in the coming weeks, not just months, Anderson.
So they very clearly are planning to go back to the table. They're planning to put other options on the table. But those options will be and perhaps most importantly, if those options will be considered by the Russians still very much an open question and one the Whelan family would very much like an answer to soon.
COOPER: So, they are hoping to approach Russians again in the coming weeks.
MATTINGLY: That's our understanding at this point. I think one thing that has been clear throughout this process is they are willing to put things on the table, things that past administrations, even this administration earlier on in President Biden's term, were not necessarily willing to put on the table.
They're trying to find some way to unlock, but they haven't been able to up to this point when it comes to Paul Whelan. I think one of the things you hear from US officials is even though they reject the charges outright, Paul Whelan has as well, the fact that he has been tried for espionage, just kind of raised the stakes to some degree about what the Russians want in return. That is why this ex-FSB official continues to come up.
Whether or not US officials can find what the Russians view as something equal to that is an open question, in part because so much of the frustration here has been the belief that perhaps this official being put up is what the Russians want was simply a stalling tactic for Paul Whelan -- Anderson.
COOPER: Phil Mattingly, I appreciate it. Thanks.
There is new video tonight showing some of what Brittney Griner's days were like in a Russian penal camp, her hair cut short, the work she was forced to do.
In a moment, we'll talk to former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson who helped secure her release.
First, CNN's Rosa Flores on Griner's condition tonight and the condition she lived under during her time in Russian captivity.
NED PRICE, US STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We are absolutely gratified that Brittney Griner is back on American soil.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Welcome news today on Griner's return.
We can confirm Brittney Griner arrived at Joint Base San Antonio. Brittney Griner now in her home state after nearly 10 months in a Russian prison, most recently serving her nine-year sentence in a Russian Penal Colony.
And there is new information about her life there. Griner says she cut her long hair nearly two weeks ago and trimmed it to make her life easier during the Russian winter, and her attorney there says she was unable to do the sewing work she was assigned at the Penal Colony due to her large hands and because the tables were too small to accommodate her.
President Joe Biden's National Security Council spokesperson saying she appears to be in good health.
ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET), COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS AT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: She was very incredibly gracious and kind and humble on the flight. Very, very appreciative of the effort to get her home.
FLORES (voice over): Griner is now undergoing a medical evaluation before being reunited with her wife, Cherelle and the rest of her family.
A senior Biden administration official saying that negotiations to bring Briner home were separate from any talks about Ukraine.
The deal came together about one week ago, after the US offered to swap convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout for both Griner and Paul Whelan.
Whelan was detained in Russia in 2018, convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison, a charge he denies. The Russians rejected that proposal.
KIRBY: It was either make this exchange, get one back and the only one that they were willing to trade was Brittney.
FLORES (voice over): President Biden didn't sign the commutation papers for Bout until Griner was on the ground in Abu Dhabi, in in sight of a US delegation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin saying the Russian Federal Security Service took charge of the swap, adding there is a possibility for further negotiations, raising hopes that Paul Whelan could be the next American freed.
For now, Griner's family, friends, and teammates say they are just happy to have her home.
VINCE KOZAR, PRESIDENT, PHOENIX MERCURY: Were incredibly gratified and thankful she's back.
COOPER: And Rosa Flores joins us now from San Antonio. I understand that Griner spoke with her dad on the flight back to the US.
FLORES: No, she did. This is according to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. I actually just got off the phone with her, and she says that she had a conversation with Brittney Griner's father about that midair conversation and she described it as a rousing conversation, a very happy conversation, a reunion by phone of sorts.
Now, she didn't get into any more details. The family is asking for privacy and she is respecting that and of course we are respecting it as well. What she did say is that Brittney Griner is getting a medical evaluation in the building that you see behind me. That's the Brooke Army Medical Center here in San Antonio.
And the Congresswoman did add that the family and Brittney Griner, they have not decided just how much treatment she is going to receive here in San Antonio. And what that means, Anderson, is that she is getting a medical evaluation and then she has a choice.
She can decide just how much treatment she's going to get before she heads home. So at this point, we don't know exactly when that will be.
COOPER: Rosa Flores. Appreciate it. Thank you.
Joining us now former UN Ambassador and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, whose Richardson Center helped secure Britain Griner's release; also "Washington Post" global opinions writer and CNN contributor, Jason Rezaian who was held captive on trumped up charges for 544 days in Iran.
Governor, you heard from Phil Mattingly based on what you know of the Russian position, do any of those options feel like a place negotiations could restart or how do negotiations restart try to get Paul Whelan home?
BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER UN AMBASSADOR: Well, you have a very good reporter, but I can't confirm anything. I was a little bit on the sidelines, but we are pushing both the Russians, the administration as a catalyst trying to find some common ground.
Look, I am confident. Again, I'm going to say this. Trevor Reid about four months ago, a Marine, we exchanged him with the Russians. Now, Brittney Griner. I'm not going to predict the time, but I think that Paul Whelan, he will get out, but it has got a cost. It has got to be another prisoner exchange.
And I feel guilty for Paul Whelan because we've tried, my center, for four years, and always at the last minute, something went wrong. But I commend the President for making the tough decision to bring Brittney back. I commend him for trying very hard to get Whelan back. There are a lot of combinations that we're trying.
But I'm confident, I am positive. I think in the end, the espionage charge, yes, it's wrongfully detained. It's bogus. But I think there will be a positive outcome. And his family is the one that has suffered the most, and I really regret that.
COOPER: Yes. Jason, what are your thoughts on the reporting on Paul Whelan? I mean, are you optimistic he can come home someday soon?
JASON REZAIAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, Anderson, my heartbreaks for the Whelan family. I've gotten to know Elizabeth Whelan over the last couple of years, spoken with her many times. I am optimistic that he will come home and that all Americans who are wrongfully detained abroad will come home. And unfortunately, it will require some kind of deal.
And you know, one thing that we don't talk about a lot is that there is not a real great deterrence policies to governments doing this. So as Americans, we should get on board with the idea that the US government is going to have to make some kind of concessions, otherwise, people will rot in prisons for a very long time.
COOPER: Governor, John Bolton, the National Security adviser of the previous administration told CBS the possibility for prisoner trade of Whelan from Viktor Bout existed in 2018, when Bolton was at the White House. If that's accurate, do we know how and why the calculus or did the calculus change from the Russian side?
I mean, if Russia had made that offer in 2018, does that mean that offer was still on the table? Because the administration has said that wasn't on the table?
RICHARDSON: I agree with the Biden administration. I don't think it was on the table, because in the Trump administration, there was discussion of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reid, and there were a bunch of Russian combinations that were discussed, but it never happened.
And I'm not faulting the Trump administration. It just never happened, because at the time, even though the relationship was a lot better, the Ukraine war hadn't started, the conflagration hadn't started. There was some kind of a dialogue, but nothing moved.
And while we've gotten Brittney Griner and Trevor Reid, and you know, we've made two trips to Russia, I never recall that discussion about Viktor Bout.
COOPER: Jason, what was it like -- what is it like to be released from prison overseas, when you have been held there for so long?
REZAIAN: Well, you're not really certain that it's real until you're on that plane with friendly people. In my case, it was representatives from the Swiss government because of the protecting power for the US and Iran. But you know, those last couple of days, the last 36 hours or so were some of the most treacherous of the entire year and a half that I was in prison.
Once you finally get on the plane and get out of the airspace of the country that you are being held hostage in, your shoulder start to loosen a little bit, and that sense of relief comes in, but you know, the road ahead takes many months and nobody is prepared for that when they first get out. COOPER: Just adjusting back to life and adjusting to not being inside a foreign prison.
REZAIAN: Exactly. And, you know, the nightmares, the sleepless nights, you know, some of the medical conditions that some of us deal with, the deficiency of vitamins and minerals that we've got to catch up on and get ourselves back into playing shape, I guess, would be the term and, you know, it's a hard road.
COOPER: Yes, Jason Rezaian, Bill Richardson, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Coming up next, new developments in the Trump documents case, a Judge refusing a request by the Department of Justice to hold the former President in contempt.
Later, Senator Kyrsten Sinema leaving the Democratic Party, what this means for the balance of power in the Senate.
COOPER: New developments late this afternoon in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. CNN has learned that the Justice Department's attempt to hold the former President and his office in contempt for actions in the wake of the FBI's search in August has failed. This, as a special prosecutor, of course weighs charges on the larger matter whether the former President broke the law.
I want to start right now with CNN's Jessica Schneider and the Judge's decision on contempt. What happened, Jessica?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, so prosecutors really wanted this Judge to take essentially drastic action against Trump and his team, hold them in contempt for not fully complying with that subpoena for the classified documents because of course, DOJ still isn't confident they have all the documents.
So instead, what unfolded in this Court hearing, our team is learning is that this Judge not only didn't hold Trump in contempt, at least not yet, but she also pushed back multiple times.
And in particular, she was very bothered about why prosecutors were stuck on getting someone from Trump's legal team to attest that all classified documents had been returned because she pointed out that Trump's team really appears to be working to make sure they're returned, because as recently as last month, they hired that team to search locations in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. They ended up finding two classified documents, and then they returned them to investigators. So that was one sticking point for the Judge here.
And in the end, the Judge didn't rule for contempt, and instead urged DOJ and Trump's team to keep working through this together before any order is issued. So Anderson at this point, it seems that DOJ and Trump's team, they'll have to coordinate and cooperate a bit more even though it is clear, DOJ really believed before today's hearing that they were at an impasse. So, we'll see what happens now, but the Judge for now is saying, "I'm staying out of it."
COOPER: Has the Department of Justice reacted?
SCHNEIDER: No. So there has been no comment from DOJ. They've been quiet throughout this process especially because you know, this has all been under seal, out of public view. This Court hearing today was not open to the public.
So, the question at this point is, does DOJ get a lot of a lot more forceful with this, perhaps? The Judge not issuing that contempt of Court order. So, maybe, will DOJ have to move forward, you know, even drastically, you secure another search warrant here for another one of Trump's other properties, or will this back and forth dialogue between the two
sides yield something despite the fact that up to this point, and for many months, it really hasn't at least, to DOJ's satisfaction here.
COOPER: Yes, Jessica Schneider, I appreciate the update. Thank you.
Joining us now, defense attorney and former Federal prosecutor, Shan Wu, also, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" senior Washington correspondent, Maggie Haberman.
So Shan, did the ruling by the Judge surprise you?
SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Not really. It seems that DOJ really wanted the Judge to kind of do their work for them here and the Judge is like, it's up to you folks.
They clearly have the ability to force things as Jessica was just reporting. I mean, this is a situation, Anderson, where they had already had probable cause for a search warrant. They still don't think they've gotten all the results and they have Trump's own lawyers doing a search after search warrants, which I find kind of bizarre, actually.
It is one thing when you're negotiating upfront, yes, we've gotten a subpoena. We're going to do a due diligence search, but this is after a search warrant already, and they found more documents at a -- I believe it was the GSA facility.
So, it's a very odd predicament that DOJ finds itself in.
COOPER: Maggie, you heard what Shan said, I mean, how is the ruling being viewed by the former President and those in his orbit, do we know?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: To be clear, Anderson, we don't actually know what happened in Court, because as was noted before, these are sealed proceedings. We know what we are being told. And our understanding is that the Judge did not choose to side with DOJ today. We don't know whether that will happen in the future, as others have said tonight, and it absolutely could.
But the Trump team is treating this as if it is a huge win for them, and they have had few wins lately. So, I understand why.
I think that from their perspective, they think that this punts things for another day. But again, the ball really is in DOJ's court at the moment because DOJ could, as Shan said, go into his properties again.
Now, we have been told many weeks ago, there was no reasonable probable cause to search Bedminster or Trump Tower. But does what happened with the finding the at least two documents at this GSA-run store or operated or paid for storage facility give them probable cause? I don't know. And I think that's something DOJ is going to weigh.
COOPER: And Shan, just legally speaking, what are the possible next move of the DOJ?
WU: I think that they certainly could look to see if they have probable cause for another search warrant. I mean, a normal situation where someone is suspected of having stolen something, you would look at all their properties, not just one.
But I think they also of course have on the plate, whether they can just move ahead to a charging decision, too.
There is nothing wrong with contemporaneously continuing to negotiate. I mean, in some ways, they're building a record of their good faith of the various inconsistencies being said. It is so unusual that Trump's team cannot produce someone to be the Custodian of Records.
I mean, it is quite symbolic, it really indicates that nobody has custody of the records. They don't know where they are. And that has to be very alarming for DOJ and it puts a lot of pressure on them to decide what to do next to safeguard these really sensitive materials.
COOPER: Shan, what I don't understand, though, I mean, if there is no lawyer who is willing to sign that all the documents have been turned over for the Trump side, why is that the DOJ's fault? I mean, shouldn't there be -- I mean, is there no penalty for the Trump team to not have somebody who can say categorically everything is returned.
WU: It's definitely not the DOJ's fault, but I think what the penalty would be, frankly, is that they might decide to charge on what they have at this point. If the idea here is they want to primarily focus on safeguarding the documents, so you wouldn't want to charge too early because we've got a few documents that were mishandled. We want to make sure we've got everything first. They seem like they've run up against a brick wall with that.
COOPER: And Maggie, I mean, sources are telling CNN that the Chief Judge Beryl Howell pressed the Trump team and the DOJ to work together to find a mutually agreeable resolution. It seems like there is a lot of animosity between the two parties.
HABERMAN: There is no question about that. There is no question about that, Anderson, and we have similar reporting. The DOJ does not trust the Trump team and it is understandable why they don't.
You know, the National Archives have been asking for these documents back for close to a year. Once boxes were returned in January, there were, you know, dozens of classified documents in there, a subpoena was issued, an ascertainment was signed by a Trump lawyer saying they had returned all of the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, and then the DOJ during a search in August found more than a hundred additional documents.
So, there is a reason why DOJ does not feel it can trust the Trump team and I think that is part of why they turned to the Judge. I think the Judge is loathed to make that kind I have a decision right now without further discussion between the sides, but it has been very ugly between them as you say for several weeks.
COOPER: Yes, Maggie Haberman, Shan Wu, appreciate it. Thank you.
Next, the repercussions now that Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema has left the Democratic Party just days after it secured outright control of the Senate.
COOPER: A political earthquake that will shake up the Senate. That's how the news site, AXIOS first described Senator Kyrsten Sinema's decision to leave the Democratic Party and become a political Independent.
It may have felt that way first to some Democrats still celebrating what they thought would be a 51-49 Senate advantage, then when it became apparent, her move would likely not upset the new balance of power, the talk of earthquakes died down.
That said, it is still consequential. Arizona Democrats are expected to primary Sinema now, they can't. Furthermore, if Democrats in Arizona seek to run a candidate against her in the 2024 General Election, it would likely increase the chances for the Republican in the race.
So the Senator who many Democrats see as a thorn in the party's side on a string of legislation has now become a thorn in the former party's side electorally.
In addition to that, there's the matter of her political evolution and critics might add the related allegation that she has no fixed political convictions. Quoting now from 2003 report in The Hartford Courant on protests over the Iraq war against then Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman. "He's a shame to Democrats," said Kyrsten Sinema, a social worker and organizer of the event. "I don't even know why he's running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him -- what kind of strategy is that?"
Now, at least to some extent, it's her strategy as well. The Senator spoke today with Jake Tapper. And he asked her about her political journey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Green Party activist, to Democrat, to moderate, to conservative Democrat, to independent, are you just getting more conservative? Or are you just in search of a home? How do you see it?
SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA, (I) ARIZONA: So, my values have never changed. I have always been the person I am today. And frankly, I'm really grateful to my parents and the life that I've had that's led me to hear with all the experiences I've had, all the opportunities I've had to learn. But one of the things I tell folks at home, because I really pride myself on my willingness to learn and grow. And I know in this town, people don't like it, if you ever grow or change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, call it grow or change or something else. I want to get perspective from CNN's David -- from David Axelrod, CNN Political Commentator, and former Senior Adviser President Obama, he has just written opinion piece about this on Cnn.com. So, David, for Democrats, does this have any real impact on their slim majority of the Senate?
DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRES. OBAMA: No, not really. I mean, I think that she made clear in her own comments that she intends to keep on doing exactly what she's been doing. And, you know, though, she has vexed Democrats, because of her lack of support for some of key, some of President Biden's key initiatives. She's actually supported them 93% of the time. And she says she's not going to change her approach. So no, I don't think this change as much. Remember there are two other people in the Democratic camp who call themselves Independents, Bernie Sanders and Angus King. They're part of that 51/49 majority.
I don't think that this is going to change much in the Senate. You know, she said she doesn't change. One thing that hasn't changed about Kyrsten Sinema is, she has a tremendous facility for getting attention. And she did very well with this announcement, which came just a few days after Democrats were celebrating Reverend Warnock victory in Georgia, and it seemed like she was raining on their parade. But as I said, in that piece, it's more of a drizzle than a downpour. Anderson, I don't think it's going to have that big an effect in the short term. It does royal Arizona politics, however, and that will be a conundrum for Democrats in 2024 when her seat comes up.
COOPER: It certainly does stymie efforts to have a primary against her from the Liberal Democrats might want.
AXELROD: Well, and I think she would have lost that primary. I mean, one thing that is the backdrop for all of this is Senator Sinema's numbers in the state are pretty close to disastrous. She's got a majority of -- she's unified Republicans, Democrats and Independents who all have a negative view of her, with Democrats more negative than Republicans. There was already a challenger or putative challenger, Ruben Gallego, a congressman who's going to run from the left and challenger in the primary. I think she was in real danger of losing that primary. There are others, Greg Stanton, another congressman, former mayor of Phoenix, is looking at that, was looking at as well.
COOPER: So smarter for her to do this?
AXELROD: So, she had a lot of problems. I'm sorry?
COOPER: I mean, it seems smart, then of her to do this now?
AXELROD: Yeah, well, I mean, it may have been necessary for her to do it. And yes, it may be smart. I don't know that she can win a race as an independent, she can create a lot of mischief. I think the real question, Anderson is, does she run in 2024? Or does she sort of cash out of this and choose a different life after her one term in the Senate? And I think that's very possible.
COOPER: And Sinema said she'd approach Chuck Schumer about keeping her Committee assignments and did he'd agree, and I should point out that she refused to commit to caucuses with the Democrats, but if -- do Schumer would allow her to keep her Committee assignments if she wasn't going to?
AXELROD: Well, look, she also said she wasn't going to caucus with the Republicans. And for Schumer, the most important votes are for majority leader and organization of committees. I think he's going to have the same relationship he's had with her, which is strained. But also, she's been -- as I said, you know, a pretty strong supporter of most of the initiatives of the president. Certainly, on appointments which is very important in the Senate.
I think it will continue that way. I don't think this is a big boon for Republicans right now. I think that things will continue as they have, which is that Kyrsten Sinema will be kind of a pain for the leadership and the White House, inscrutable, hard to deal with. But mostly in their camp.
COOPER: David, appreciate it. Thanks.
AXELROD: Good to see you.
COOPER: Coming up, on the heels of the reporting that a leading proponent of QAnon met with the former president at Mar-a-Lago. There's new update on an alleged fake heiress, who reportedly gained access to the President's Club several times, even took a picture with him and a top U.S. senator, who she really is, and who she made possible ties to, next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: The former president's Mar-a-Lago residents saw yet another controversial character gain up close personal access to him this week. This time it was Liz Crokin, a prominent QAnon conspiracy spreader, who posed with him even got a big thumbs up from him. Before Thanksgiving, of course, the foreign president aided his private club with Kanye West who has been making a slew of anti-Semitic statements as well as a well-known white supremacist Nick Fuentes.
Now, that raise a lot of questions about who gets cleared for entry let alone who's granted extremely close access to Trump which brings me to someone else spotted at Mar-a-Lago multiple times last year, an alleged fake heiress who claimed to be from the Rothschild family and is now under investigation by the FBI. Randi Kaye has new developments tonight.
JOHN LEFEVRE, MET "ANNA" AT MAR-A-LAGO: She very clearly introduced herself as Anna Rothschild, and she kind of maintained that she was part of the family.
RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's talking about this woman whom he thought was Anna de Rothschild. John LeFevre, an investment banker and guest at Mar-a-Lago says he met her at the club last year just before Mother's Day. He says she passed herself off as a member of the Rothschild family's banking dynasty and called it a near perfect ruse.
LEFEVRE: She talked about growing up in Monte Carlo. She talked about her grandparents' house in West Palm Beach. She talked about family investments in the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.
KAYE: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project were first to report the woman's alleged caper at Mar-a-Lago, which former President Trump calls home. They say she visited there at least five times last year, and new reporting by the Gazette and OCCRP has revealed possible ties to a Russian gang enterprise with a history of money laundering. This is video they obtained of her driving up to the Mar-a-Lago Club's front doors.
MICHAEL SALLAH, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR FOR INVESTIGATIONS: She's wearing designer clothes. She's got the gold Rolex watches. She's wearing Van Cleef & Arpels, you know, bracelets.
KAYE: The Post-Gazette and OCCRP reported that numerous records have been turned over to the FBI as part of the investigation. These are just some of the fake IDs those media outlets say the 33-year-old woman was allegedly using, two fake passports, one from the U.S. and one from Canada. And a Florida driver's license that uses the home address of an $18 million mansion in Miami Beach, where the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says she has never lived. Look closely, the name on all of them is Anna de Rothschild. But that woman is not Anna de Rothschild. Her real name is Inna Yashchyshyn.
SALLAH: She's driving a brand-new Mercedes, G-Wagon $170,000. And she has transformed herself into Anna de Rothschild.
KAYE (on camera): We used her real identity, Inna Yashchyshyn to track down her lawyer. She declined our request for an on-camera interview, but through her lawyer told us she had only come here to the Mar-a- Lago club once. On May 1, 2021. When asked if she claimed to be a Rothschild, she said, she had never used that name inside Mar-a-Lago and never held herself out is that.
LEFEVRE: That is, you know, categorically false and I can say that definitively, you know, she presented herself as a Rothschild. In fact, she said she was going to her grandparents' house the evening before we played golf to pick up her golf clubs.
KAYE (voice-over): Those golf clubs were used to play at nearby Trump International Golf Course the day after John LeFevre says he met her at Mar-a-Lago. This picture first obtained by the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, shows Inna or Anna, posing for photos with both Donald Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham, who were at the course holding a fundraiser for the midterm elections.
LEFEVRE: Her interaction with Trump was, you know, five seconds at most. She was very good at acting like she had been in those types of situations before so she was not starstruck.
KAYE: In this video obtained from the Post-Gazette, you can hear a guest off-camera joking with her that she could afford to pay $1 million for a photo with Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anna, you're a Rothschild, you can afford a million dollars for the picture of you and Trump.
KAYE: Notice she made no attempt to correct him. Her lawyer told us she was in a location where people thought she had money and that no one would be so quick to correct them. Another video from that same day shared with us by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shows her at an event at the golf club where she sat just feet away from Trump, who was at the podium after that golf tournament on May 2, 2021, the woman allegedly posing as Anna de Rothschild went out for dinner with a group of Trump supporters. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shared this photo with CNN. That's her in the back standing behind Don Jr.'s fiance, Kimberly Guilfoyle. The man standing all the way to the left is John LeFevre, who told me he first met the woman at the Mar-a-Lago pool.
And the woman's lawyer also confirmed she attended a fundraiser for former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens during the same week. It was held at a Palm Beach mansion owned by Trump. We reached out to Trump, Eric Greitens and Lindsey Graham for comment, but they didn't respond. The FBI also declined to comment, but the woman's visit to Mar-a-Lago does raise all kinds of questions about security, given the club is also the former president's home were classified documents were discovered in his possession back in August.
KEVIN HALL, NORTH AMERICA EDITOR, ORGANIZED CRIME AND CORRUPTION REPORTING PROJECT: I was surprised that the -- how little there is in terms of real bonafide, checking of who comes in and out of Mar-a- Lago. He -- Mr. Trump is no longer the president, but he is a man who's running for president and he has all top leaders from all walks of life.
KAYE: Former Secret Service Agent John Wakrah (ph), told me security at Mar-a-Lago likely didn't do a background check on the woman, and that there are different security levels for the Mar-a-Lago club versus the former president's residence. The U.S. Secret Service referred us back to Mar-a-Lago. So, who is the real Anna de Rothschild? How did she get past security and what was she doing at Mar-a-Lago?
KAYE (on camera): If she's not a woman that she says she was? What were you able to learn about her?
SALLAH: She was born in a small town in Ukraine poor. She came over here with her family, immigrant family first generation, her father's a truck driver in suburban Chicago, her mother cleaned doctor's offices.
KAYE: The woman's lawyer Andrew Smallman, tried to set the record straight. He told me the only time his client went through the security gate at Mar-a-Lago was on May 1 last year and that she didn't show any I.D. On May 2, he confirmed she was at the beach hotel across the street. And on May 9 at the fundraiser for Governor Eric Greitens. He told me she is not a spy. He painted his client, Inna Yashchyshyn as an abused woman who was being set up by a man she filed a restraining order against. Her lawyer said the passports with her photo aren't real, they're PDFs and that someone created them with her picture on them. The woman's lawyer says she is cooperating with the FBI, but would not comment on the investigation.
COOPER: And Randi joins me now from Palm Beach County. So, what did they actually investigate? I mean, where does the investigation stand now?
KAYE: Well, Anderson, the FBI is still apparently investigating. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter told me that he's spoken with at least five people who told him that they were interviewed by the FBI. I reached out to Secret Service they didn't have much to say but they had issued a statement to CNN saying in part that they provide the highest levels of personal safety and security. They also noted in that statement that the Mar-a-Lago club is separate from -- it's a private club and it's separate from Trump's residence. Of course, they directed us to the organizers at the club to ask about access in terms of who gets in to that club.
But no question, Anderson, security is a challenge. They're given that it's a private club and Trump's residence as well. But if you look at this woman, she was able to go there and just breeze right past security, no questions asked. She didn't show an ID according to her lawyer. And that raises a lot of questions, of course, because, you know, at this time, there were those classified documents in Trump's possession at Mar-a-Lago in his personal residence. So certainly, a lot of people wondering who gets in and who gets access and it's a real concern, Anderson.
COOPER: Yeah. Randi Kaye, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Just a day after Iran announced the first execution of someone connected to the month-long protests there, officials have sent a new message to protesters about what may come next. Details ahead.
COOPER: Iran today signal more executions are on the way just one day after state media for the first time reported the execution of someone linked to mass demonstrations in the country. The protester was 23 years old, his name was Mohsen Shekari. New York Times quote, a protester who says he met Mr. Shekari in prison and said he quote, "loved life. He was waiting for his freedom and had been working in a cafe in Tehran when he decided to join the protests." Iranian authority say Mohsen Shekari was convicted for, "waging war against God," after attacking a member of the paramilitary force in Tehran. He was hanged yesterday morning.
According to Amnesty International as of November, Iranian authorities are seeking the death penalty for at least 21 people in connection with the protests. Today, there's reaction execution both in Iran and around the world. CNN's Melissa Bell has details. We warn you some of what you'll see, is disturbing to watch.
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The reaction to the news that Mohsen Shekari had been hanged. The howl of a relative as he became the first protester to be executed in Iran in the three months of demonstrations.
Just 75 days later, he was executed. The first protester hanged likely not the last, tens more face death sentences.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why the Iranian authorities choose him as the first victim, I think it has got to do with the fact that we didn't know so much about him that his name wasn't so known.
BELL: It was the deaths in the custody of the morality police of 22- year-old, Mahsa Amini, that set off the wave of discontent that has only widened and deepened, posing the greatest challenge to Iran's regime since the 1979 Islamic revolution swept the mullahs and their strict Islamic interpretation to power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then Mahsa was a young girl who just normal young girl, but also a Kurdish girl. So, in so many aspects it patched, Iranians who have been treated as second class citizens.
BELL: Across Iran this week, a strike called by the protesters and on Wednesday, known as student day in Iran protests at several universities.
Inside Tehran University, Iran's President blamed the United States for what he described as riots. Outside the protesters chants echoed in the grounds.
Tehran's response to the popular anger has been predictably violent. Already human rights groups say 458 protesters have died, many more now face the death penalty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Death penalty is the strongest instrument of breaking fear. It's more than shooting people on the streets.
BELL: Death to the dictator chanted protesters on Thursday night for now at least unbound by Tehran's campaign of fear. Melissa Bell, CNN Paris.
COOPER: Thanks, Melissa Bell for filing that report. We'll continue to follow the story. We'll be right back.
COOPER: In two days, CNN is honoring 10 extraordinary people who are helping others Sunday at 8 p.m. is your annual CNN Heroes, an all-star tribute broadcast. It's hard not to be inspired by the work these heroes are doing. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sunday it's the time of year to be inspired. And honor some of humanity's best.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have found homes for almost 3000 dogs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our communities, my center used to be a community drug house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want my grandchildren to have it better than what I have it today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has always wanted to serve other people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Human suffering has no borders. People are people and love is love.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Join Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa live as the percent the 2022 hero of the year.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Join me --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- in honoring -- COOPER: CNN Hero of the Year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN Heroes an all-star tribute Sunday at 8:00.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Hope you'll be joining us for that. The news continues, I want to hand over Laura Coates in "CNN TONIGHT".