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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Rep. Santos: I Decided On My Own To Be Removed From House Committees; More Videos To Come In The Tyre Nichols Case; Two People Searched Trump Properties Testify Before Federal Grand Jury In Mar-a- Lago Probe; Wagner Group Defector Speaks Out; Murdaugh's Final Texts And Calls To His Son And Wife Revealed During Day Six Of Double Murder Trial; Actress Cindy Williams Of "Laverne & Shirley" Dead At 75. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 31, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: So I was up there, it was an amazing feeling. No one sat next to me, I got to spread out a bit. Nothing actually felt so special until I flew the A380.

As of today, there are only about forty-four 747s that carry passengers still in service, and of course, they are still the one for the President of the United States.

Thanks so much for joining us. "AC360" begins now.



We begin tonight, keeping them honest with the person who is hard to keep honest, Congressman George Santos who said today he is stepping away from his Committee assignments and the House Republican leadership seem inclined right now at least to just leave it at that.

Quoting from the Congressman's statement: "With the ongoing attention surrounding both my personal and campaign financial investigations, I have submitted a request to Speaker McCarthy that I'd be temporarily recused from my Committee assignments until I'm cleared."

The New York Republican has been disowned by his own local Republican leadership for lying to them and who is facing calls to resign from other members of his New York Republican House delegation says he expects to be fully cleared. Why you might ask does he think that? Because and these are his own words, today: "I have nothing to hide."

Which wasn't even true when he said it, because when asked which network he had just done an interview with, he refused to say. It was a way in. So yes, he did have at least one thing to hide today.

He also promised the interview will be "fun" and "comprehensive." Fun? We'll leave that up to you. But you can certainly say that in the 12- minute clip the network posted late today, the Congressman who has lied about his religion and his education and his ancestors, and his career, criminal charges, his athletic accomplishments and more was far from comprehensive. In those 12 minutes that were released, he wasn't asked about specific lies and mentioned nearly none of that admittedly non-comprehensive list of things he has lied about.

Maybe there is more that hasn't been released, we'll see.

In what was released, Santos seemed to suggest he had already said enough.


REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): I've made my sincere apology multiple times. I earlier said that I thoroughly apologize for lying about my education and embellishing the resume. I have made that very, very clear.

I don't know what more can be said other than admitting. Is there anything more humbling and humiliating than admitting that on national television, Caitlin?


COOPER: Actually, yes, Congressman, there is, since you asked. There is something more humiliating than admitting you lied about your education and embellishing your resume, and that would be admitting you lied, both publicly and privately, and personally, it seems in your life to nearly everyone it seems for a very long time. That would probably be more humbling and humiliating, if you did it, which you haven't. And if you're actually were capable of being humiliated, which seems unlikely, since you appear to be utterly incapable of feeling shame.

When asked what he might have done differently, he merely said he wouldn't have lied about his education: "I would have just fought like hell," he said, "... to get the nomination." And then at the end, he said this.


SANTOS: And I've learned my lesson and you can guarantee -- I can guarantee you that from now on anything and everything is always going to be aboveboard. It's largely always been aboveboard. I'm just going to go the extra step now to double check and cross reference and everything.


COOPER: So he just said everything from now on, it is going to be aboveboard and double checked. And then in the very next sentence, he lied and said it's largely always been aboveboard, as in his past statements and actions had been largely aboveboard -- honest. Statements like these.


SANTOS: Good morning. Shabbat Shalom to everybody. I've seen how socialism destroys people's lives because my grandparents survived the Holocaust.

I am a Latino Jew.

My mom was a 9/11 survivor.

Does that mean a good prep school? So which was Horace Mann Prep in the Bronx.

I actually went to school on a volleyball scholarship.

But I put myself through college and got an MBA from NYU.

When I was in Baruch. We were the number one volleyball.

I also founded my own nonprofit organization.

I sacrificed both my knees and got very nice knee replacements -- knee replacements from HHS playing volleyball.

(REP. GEORGE SANTOS speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: It was in summer of 2021 on Fifth Avenue and 55th, I was robbed by two men.

I've lived an honest life. I've never been accused, sued of any bad doing.

Good morning. Shabbat Shalom to everybody.


COOPER: Just for the record, none of that is true, except that it's a Shonda.

The Congressman is also facing the Federal investigation into his finances, a local investigation in New York. His latest campaign finance disclosure forms have raised questions and yet the Republican House leadership still says it's not for them to tell him to resign.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): I've already commented on this numerous times, and again, it's going to play itself out, but ultimately voters are going to make that decision, whether it is in the Primary Election or in the General Election.


COOPER: Well, that would be two years from now. That's New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, the fourth ranking Republican in the House who has come under fire for vouching for Santos during the campaign and working hard to help him win.

[20:05:08] COOPER: As for House Speaker McCarthy, he didn't weigh in today, but made it clear a week ago, it is not his job either to show Santos the door.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): You know, I'm standing by him, because his constituents voted for him. If for some way when we go through Ethics that he has broken the law, then we will remove him, but it's not my role.


COOPER: Well, that's the new standard. As long as you're not a criminal, you're good.

The Congressman's constituents apparently, disagree. New polling in his district shows voters there by 78 to 13 percent margin say he should resign, including 71 percent of Republicans.

More now from CNN's Melanie Zanona at the Capitol.

So what more are you learning about Congressman Santos stepping down from his Committees?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, George Santos has really been defiant up until this point. But Anderson, the pressure has been growing on him to resign. He is facing multiple investigations, including into his finances.

And so I suspect that this move to temporarily remove himself from Committee assignments is a way to try to take some of the heat off of him and his party. And Santos said earlier today that it was his decision to step aside. Take a listen.


REPORTER: Did McCarthy tell you to step away from the committees or did --

SANTOS: I'm sorry. Nobody tells me to do anything. I made that decision on my own that I thought best represented in the interest of the voters.


ZANONA: Now, the issue did come up in a meeting between Santos and Kevin McCarthy last night, and Kevin McCarthy told us earlier today that he thinks that it is an appropriate move by George Santos to give up his Committee assignments, and that is because this has become a huge distraction for House Republicans and a huge political liability, especially as they try to remove a Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from one of her Committee assignments.

So it was becoming an increasingly difficult position to Republicans to take here, and there definitely was a sigh of relief inside the House GOP today, but not every Republican is satisfied.

In fact, two New York House Republicans put out a statement saying this is like someone quitting right before they're about to be fired, and they said that Santos still needs to do the right thing, and that is to resign -- Anderson.

COOPER: Melanie Zanona, appreciate it. Thanks.

With us now, former Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, host of "The White Flag" Podcast and also CNN "Inside Politics" Sunday anchor, Abby Phillip.

Abby, so Santos to say he wants to properly clear his name before returning to his Committees, as we see on a daily basis, including this last sort of interview, he is not forthcoming with regards to the vast majority of his lies.

I mean, does this just kind of slug along and careen along like this?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR OF "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY": I think it's going to, Anderson. I mean, look, but this latest move really just shows that Republican leadership is not willing to put public pressure on George Santos to step aside or really to do anything. They allowed this move of him, recusing himself from the Committee to be framed, at least publicly as his decision, even though it's clear here that it is something that actually benefits Kevin McCarthy as he is trying to go about the rest of the agenda that he has laid out for his party.

This is not someone, in George Santos, who has a lot of remorse, or even a lot of shame for some of the lies that he has told. You played so many of them today, but you know, he hasn't even explained to reporters who were asking him questions about why he claimed his mother died on 9/11 when she wasn't even in the country.

I mean, these are -- some of these lies are really reprehensible, and this is not someone who seems to be having any sort of real remorse over his willingness to lie to his constituents and the country in this way.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, Congressman Walsh, do you actually believe this is Santos voluntarily stepping down from his Committees? I mean, a guy who seems so shameless.

He just met recently privately with Kevin McCarthy. Do you think it's very possible that McCarthy, you know, suggested or told him, look, take attention away from us and we're away from yourself, step down from these Committees and let this thing work out?


I think it's probable that McCarthy told him, hey, look, buddy, help me out here, right? Here is the deal: Kevin McCarthy needs to be Speaker, he needs to stay Speaker. He needs this Santos stuff to kind of try to go quiet. And the other thing, Anderson is, Kevin McCarthy because his Caucus is demanding it, is hell bent on removing Ilhan Omar from her Committee, which is a despicable thing to do. But this puts McCarthy in a real tough spot if he still got George Santos on all these Committees.

Anderson, I've got to say this. Santos is a huge distraction to Republicans. But man, Republicans created this distraction because from the moment this news broke, as you demonstrated, they have never held him accountable, and here is darndest thing, Anderson, it is only going to get worse.

We're talking about his lies now. We're going to be talking about Federal crimes in Federal finance -- campaign finance violations pretty soon.


COOPER: Abby, you heard Congressman Santos in that softball interview say that he has learned his lesson, and from now on everything is going to be aboveboard. Is there a possible move that voters in his district would try to recall him? Is there any chance of that?

PHILLIP: Well, look, I think that from everything that we've seen, a lot of voters in his district are trying to put as much pressure as they can to force him into a resignation. I just don't think that there's much from the mechanics of how these elections work for them to do that.

There is no sort of, you know, recall procedure like there is in some other States. So they're really in a bind here, and they are relying on just using their voices and the bully pulpit that they have as voters.

I think a lot of his voters right now feel pretty powerless in the situation, and so do his colleagues in New York. Other Republicans in that State are trying to get this guy out as quickly as possible because they believe that it reflects negatively on them. These are Republicans, many of them in purple states that Biden won, they believe they are the tip of the spear when it comes to a Republican majority, and they are worried about what this could all mean for them in two years when they are up for reelection once again, and they have to answer for why George Santos' lies wasn't enough for him to be really pushed to the corners of the party or pushed out of the party in this Congress.

COOPER: Congressman Walsh, does this hurt the people in his district? I mean, if he is completely just, you know, constantly scuttling about, you know, trying to avoid things and not on any Committees, does he actually do anything? Does he actually serve his constituents?

WALSH: No, Anderson, and that's such a great point. That is the pathetic deal here is that district for two years will in essence go without a Representative, and shame on George Santos for that. But really, Anderson, shame on the entire Republican Conference.

Abby is right that members of the New York delegation have spoken out against him, but doggone it, he has lied about everything. The entire conference should call him out. McCarthy should call him out, but they won't.

I don't think he's running again, Anderson. I think they've probably already cut that deal, and he'll just try his best to be quiet for two years.

COOPER: Joe Walsh, Abby Phillip, thanks, appreciate it.

Coming up next, breaking news in the police killing of Tyre Nichols, the existence of more videos of it and when authorities say they will release them.

And later how and why the New House Ethics Committee will include another election denier who voted against certifying 2020 presidential election results in the hours directly after the January 6th attack.



COOPER: There is breaking news tonight in the police killing of Tyre Nichols whose funeral is tomorrow in Memphis.

New reporting from CNN's Shimon Prokupecz say that authorities say that there will be more videos released when the administrative investigation is complete, adding that this will be footage the "family/lawyer has viewed." This comes as new reporting by "The New York Times" and CNN raises questions about why the initial police report of Mr. Nichols' fatal January 7th encounter with police did not reflect what video of his beating and subsequent medical neglect clearly show.

Our Shimon Prokupecz reports for us that divergence between what actually happened and the officers account of it may have begun at the scene of what is now an alleged murder.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Memphis Police officers in the moments after the beating of Tyre Nichols attempting to justify what happened.

OFFICER: I've seen him.


OFFICER: He turned around.


PROKUPECZ (voice over): This is the earliest look at how the officers tried to control the narrative after some delivered brutal punches and kicks even while Nichols was restrained.

OFFICER: We got him in the cuffs. OFFICER: Hey, bruh. You're good.

OFFICER: Both of us swarmed. Almost hit me.

OFFICER: He reached for my gun and slammed to the car.


OFFICER: Get the fuck out of your car.

PROKUPECZ (voice over): In a CNN analysis of body camera videos released by police, we have been unable to see Nichols reaching for any of the officers' guns or swinging at any officers as they claim.

OFFICER: He had his hand on my gun like --


OFFICER: Fuck me, man.


PROKUPECZ (voice over): In fact what can be seen is officers holding his hands before he eventually frees himself and runs away.


PROKUPECZ (voice over): After the beating, the officers repeatedly remarking how strong Tyre Nichols was, claiming he must have been on drugs.

According to his family, Tyre Nichols was six-foot-three and weighed just 150 pounds. The toxicology reports are still pending.

OFFICER: Get the fuck out of your car.

OFFICER: Get the fuck out of the fucking car.


PROKUPECZ (voice over): As someone who appears to be a supervisor arrives on scene, one officer describes the initial stop.

OFFICER: So you stopped him on a drug stop?



OFFICER: He drove on oncoming traffic. But I am talking about --

OFFICER: Yes. All of that -- so we tried to get him to stop. He didn't stop. We stayed and tried to get him to stop. He didn't. I was stop, stop, stop, stop. And he drove around, swerved like he was going to hit my car, so then, I am like Goddamn. What are we doing? He pulled up to the red light. Stopped at the red light, put his turn and signal on. So we jumped out the car. Shit went from there.

PROKUPECZ (voice over): Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis has since told CNN that so far, they have found no evidence Tyre Nichols was driving recklessly.

CHIEF CJ DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE: We've looked at cameras, we've looked at body-worn cameras, and even if something occurred prior to the stop, we've been unable to substantiate that.

PROKUPECZ (voice over): As Tyre Nichols' limp body lies against a squad car, they again claim he must be high and instruct him to sit up.

OFFICER: Come on. Hey, sit up, bruh.

PROKUPECZ (voice over): A new information tonight, in a photo of an initial police report, the contents of which have been confirmed by the Shelby County District Attorney, we see how an officer we still don't know who described what happened.

It makes no mention of officers punching and kicking Nichols, and instead accuses Nichols of actions to provoke the officers. A CNN analysis of the released body and pole camera don't corroborate.


PROKUPECZ (voice over): It says that: "Nichols grabbed for a detective's gun" and that he was quote "... actively resisting by pulling duty belts and grabbing an officer's vest."

An officer at the scene, one of the five now charged with second- degree murder, Emmitt Martin is even listed as a victim on the report.


PROTESTERS: Tyre Nichols.

PROKUPECZ (voice over): In Memphis, as preparations are underway for a funeral, Wednesday, family lawyers say they believe there was an attempt to cover up the circumstances of Tyre Nichols' death.

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR NICHOLS' FAMILY: It is consistent with what Miss RowVaughn, Tyre's mother said from the beginning when they told them that they could not go to the hospital because Tyre had been pepper sprayed and tased and that he was arrested.

She said she believed that she thought it was a conspiracy to cover it up from the beginning.

PROKUPECZ (voice over): Shimon Prokupecz, CNN, New York.


COOPER: So with that as the backdrop, we are joined by CNN political commentator, and former Obama senior adviser, Ben Jones; also CNN law enforcement and intelligence analyst, John Miller, former New York Police Department Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism.

So John, in a case like this, where the initial police report certainly appears to be contradicted by all the body camera video of the arrest, is that a sign that the Memphis Police were attempting to cover up or downplay exactly what happened that night?

I mean, the video, it seems like they're trying to write the narrative from the moments while he is still there.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, that's exactly how you can interpret it. In fact, you see it in three parts, right? I mean, first, there is the conversation, which is they are creating the story, which is he tried to grab my gun, he did this, he did that. They know there's body camera.

But they also know that camera blinks, especially in a confusing situation, often the view is blocked. Some of those things, you know, they think they can get away with saying.

The second part is validating that story, which is writing it into an official report, which is later done at headquarters, and that's filed at 4:40 in the morning. But the third piece is, you know, the one camera that doesn't blink here is the one on the pole, and that is the one that sees a lot of the things that they leave out of their report, and doesn't see a lot of the things that they wrote into it.

So I think you're looking at, you know, certainly administrative charges for officers who helped concoct that story beyond the assault charges, and maybe for the officer who wrote it.

COOPER: Van, the police initially said that George Floyd died of a medical incident. It was, of course, the cell phone video from a bystander that later informed the world of what had actually happened. In the Nichols' case, it was the City of Memphis itself that actually released the body camera video that seems to undermine the initial report. What does that -- does that speak to you of anything?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I hope that people start to wake up. There's a myth that we have in American society that a police report is written by Moses or Jesus or Buddha. It is a complete, accurate, perfect description of what happened. It's not.

It is a city employee who is writing down stuff that is going to make sure that he doesn't get in trouble, and the person who is arrested does get in trouble. Nobody is ever going to write a police report and says, you know what, I lost it today. I kicked the guy in the face. I probably shouldn't have done it. That's my police report.

Every police report reads the same because of they are coached, legally, what they need to assert to justify what they did. So juries need to stop believing that police reports are these completely, you know, perfect descriptions of what's going on. They are always written from a police officer's point of view, to protect themselves.

And now you're beginning to see they don't match the video time and time again. That's not new. That's not just about Tyre, that is standard behavior across the country with law enforcement.

COOPER: John, this new video that they have already said they'll release soon, why would that not have already been released, I mean, if they've released these other videos?

MILLER: Well, I think what they did is the District Attorney and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said, we are finished with our criminal probe to the point that we're prepared to bring charges, and now you can release the video from the criminal probe.

I think a lot of the administrative probe, and this is triage, the most serious people were dealt with first. Now, they're getting out to people that may not be criminally charged, but may end up getting charged administratively or fired from the department, and when they are done with that, which they say will take a couple of weeks. They said several -- possibly several weeks. They say they'll release those, too.

There is an obligation to transparency, but not transparency in real time. We understand they are being more transparent than many other agencies we've seen in the same position, but it's going to go in stages.

COOPER: And Van, as you know, obviously the five officers who have been charged so far, Black, we learned yesterday two additional officers have also been relieved of duty in the aftermath of the arrest. At least one of them is White.

Why do you think we only found out about those additional officers now? Do you think that was developing or do you think they already knew that they were going to be charged?


JONES: Yes, it is really hard to know and it does seem like there is something happening that there are people, including the Sheriff's Department that didn't know that they had Sheriff Deputies there until after it was shown on television.

So on the one hand, I agree, the Memphis City leadership has done a better job than usual. They were fired quickly. They were charged quickly. But you can still see, there's a little bit of Keystone Cops here, where, you know, you would think that with this much video evidence, you would have gotten everybody charged right away, and then we'd be at a better place.

Who knows what else is going to come forward?

COOPER: All right, Van Jones and John Miller, appreciate it.

Coming up, what happens when there are ethical questions about some of the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's new pitch for the House Ethics Committee. We're about to find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: While Congresswoman Santos recuses himself from Committee assignments, other Republicans tonight are getting placed on House Committees, most notably the Ethics Committee.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy named them today and of the five GOP members, some are veterans of the last Committee, but three are election deniers. They include the new Chairman Congressman Michael Guest, Congressman John Rutherford, and Congress Congresswoman Michele Fischbach, who joins the panel.

Each of them voted against certifying the presidential election results in the hours after the January 6 insurrection.

Chairman Guest, the leader of the Ethics Committee now also signed on to the amicus brief supporting the Texas lawsuit that tried to block millions of voters' ballots in the battleground states.

The brief was riddled with conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud that simply did not exist. Supreme Court threw out the case and he co-sponsored a bill for what he called potential pitfalls with mail-in voting, although there have never been any widespread issues.

Well, you soak that in and here is what Speaker McCarthy said last week after throwing two Democrats off of different Committees.



REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: This is not anything political. This is not similar to what the Democrats did. But integrity matters.


COOPER: Integrity matters. We noticed on the Ethics Committee website this reminder for Congress, when in doubt, please call the committee. Following guidance provided by the committee can protect you from future investigations. Which raises a question of who you're supposed to call about someone trying to say, let's overturn an election when the person who's chairing it tried to do exactly that.

With us now, CNN political commentator Alyssa Farah Griffin, she served as the White House communications director under the last president. Also, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod, who advised then President Obama.

David, does integrity matter here in this Congress?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the early signs are not good, Anderson. I mean, look, if you are willing to subvert the Constitution and vote to overturn election results based on lies, based on evidence that is fraudulent, are you really going to sit in judgment of other members of Congress? I mean it's a joke. And the new chair of the committee is the worst of the three because he introduced a bill right after the election suggesting that mail-in voting was somehow fraudulent. He joined the Texas lawsuit that was so frivolous and so dangerous to try and overturn the election, and now he's Chairman of the Ethics Committee. I mean, it's very disturbing.

And it comes on top of the fact that as part of the deal making around McCarthy getting chosen as speaker, some measures were taken in the rules that basically gutted the Office of Congressional Ethics, which was an investigating arm of the Congress. It basically paralyzed it. And so, you know, the idea that Ethics is going to have a say in this next Congress seems very, very remote.

COOPER: Alyssa, I mean, is this all part of the deal making that was done behind closed doors with McCarthy to get him to be speaker?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's possible. The House Ethics Committee is technically a B committee. It's not one of the A committees people are desiring to be on, but it does stand out that election deniers were appointed to it. Keep in mind, the former Congress made referrals to the Ethics Committee for four seating House members to be investigated for their roles in January 6th, Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs, Kevin McCarthy, and Scott Perry. This basically assures that those will never go anywhere and they will not be investigated having a fellow election denier as the chair.

I also think it has implications for George Santos, who is under investigation or investigation --

COOPER: Right. They'll be looking at Santos.

A. GRIFFIN: They'll be the ones telling us --

COOPER: And whether or not.

A. GRIFFIN: -- he's unethical, if he's dishonest. So, I think a committee that's one of the few in Congress that for decades has been fairly bipartisan is probably going a very different direction.

COOPER: David, so for the priorities of the McCarthy led majority seem to be kicked certain Democrats off certain committees, investigate President Biden, engage in brinkmanship over the debt ceiling, which is certainly their prerogative. They won the House. How does that agenda track with the priorities you think of the general public?

AXELROD: Well, they don't. And, you know, I think some of this was very predictable when we sat together watching those 15 rounds of voting for speaker, because with each round, McCarthy and his agents were making deals with the rebellious House Freedom Caucus group and giving more and more away to them. And at some point, you give away so much that they're basically dominating the agenda.

And that's what we're seeing now. No, I think the public rendered a verdict on this last November. It's one of the reasons why the Republicans did so much less well than they were expected to do, because too many of them were election deniers, too many of them were promising impeachment and investigations instead of progress on the problems that were touching people's lives.

I think it's a political mistake for McCarthy and the Republicans to go down this road. And I think he may be not only may he be a short- lived speaker, given the concessions that he made, that give them the right to throw him out, but the caucus itself may be a short-lived majority.

COOPER: We've also seen him appoint, I mean, some of the most far right members Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene to the House Oversight Committee. I mean, Gosar that's pretty amazing.

A. GRIFFIN: Yes. Paul Gosar is someone who's beyond election denialism, has trafficked in some very racist, some threatening, sort of memes attacking Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Listen, this comes down to the fact that Kevin McCarthy needs votes. So, he is going to try to keep that right flank happy at whatever cost he's able to.

This big test is coming with the debt ceiling. And again, as many of us have said on the airways before, that right flank is never voting to raise the debt ceiling. There's no concessions that you could feasibly make them that are going to bring those votes over. Now is high time to be working with your moderates and seeing where you can get something done.


COOPER: Alyssa Farah Griffin, thank you so much. David Axelrod as well.

Coming up, what did Alex Murdaugh really say to investigators after the killings of his wife and son in South Carolina with the defense argument about a crucial audio recording?

Plus, Vladimir Putin's mercenary leader reaching out to CNN his answer to a defector's claims of brutality and competence in the war in Ukraine. Saw the exclusive interview here last night. The response ahead.


COOPER: Could the murder case of Alex Murdaugh come down to one simple word? Murdaugh is on trial in South Carolina, accused of killing his wife Maggie and his then 22-year-old son Paul in 2021. Alex Murdaugh was disbarred from practicing law. He comes from what was once considered a prominent legal family in the state. His precise statement to law enforcement in the aftermath of murders was today a big part of the legal battle in court.

Our Randi Kaye was there in Walterboro.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: According to your testimony, he says, I did him so bad.

JEFF CROFT, SENIOR SPECIAL AGENT, SLED: That is what I understood him to say. Yes, sir.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alex Murdaugh's defense lawyer, cross examining a special investigator and witness for the prosecution. The goal, to clear up what heard, heard, or thought heard Alex Murdaugh say. That seemed to sound like a confession. When Alex was interviewed by investigators on June 10, 2021, just a few days after his wife and son were murdered, he said this when talking about his son Paul.


ALEX MURDAUGH, FMR ATTORNEY: It's just so bad. I did him so bad.

KAYE (voice-over): The witness, special agent Jeff Croft with SLED, the South Carolina law enforcement division, had told the court he thought Alex said, I did him so bad. But the defense suggested Alex actually said they did him so bad.

JIM GRIFFIN, ALEX MURDAUGH DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Did you consider that to be some confession on June the 10th?

CROFT: Again, it was something that were definitely going to follow up on, yes, sir.

J. GRIFFIN: Why didn't you ask him right then and there when he said, I did him so bad? Why didn't you ask him, what do you mean by that, Alex?

CROFT: Again, it was early in the investigation.

GRIFFIN: So, what were the things going through your mind when you heard or misheard, I did him so bad. I wasn't a good dad, I spoiled him or I killed him? What was going through your mental note?

CROFT: There was a mental note that it was definitely something that we needed to follow up on and ask at a later time.

KAYE (voice-over): The defense replayed the part of the interview in question at regular speed, then slowed it down to a third of the speed and played it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your Honor, we'd like to play it again at one-third speed.

MURDAUGH: It is so bad. I did him so bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear they then?

CROFT: No, sir, I did not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. You would agree the jury gets to decide what he said on that tape? That's the best evidence.

CROFT: Yes, sir.

KAYE (voice-over): The defense also got that same witness to tell the jury that the murder weapon that killed Paul Murdaugh was not one of the guns collected from Alex's gun room at the house. The witness said the ammunition wasn't a match either. GRIFFIN: None of the shotguns that you brought yesterday, according to

the ballistic report, your lab analysis fired the shots that killed Paul, correct?

CROFT: I do not have the lab report in front of me.

GRIFFIN: Have you ever found the murder weapons?

CROFT: Not that I'm aware of, sir.

GRIFFIN: You didn't find any similar ammunition at Mosele (ph) on June the 8th or any time after that, correct?

CROFT: I did not, sir.

KAYE (voice-over): Still, John Beddingfield, Alex second cousin and a captain with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, also testified for the state. He told the jury he built AR style rifles for Alex Murdaugh, the same type of rifle the prosecution says was used at the murder scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many blackouts AR style rifles did you make for Alex Murdaugh?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when was that last one made?



BEDDINGFIELD: April, 2018.


KAYE: And Anderson, the defense was quick to point out in court how cooperative they say Alex Murdaugh was with investigators from the start. They say that he granted them several interviews. He also helped them unlock his wife, Maggie Murdaugh's phone. Once it was found, he gave them the pin code for that phone and he did not ask them for a search warrant. When they wanted to come into his home, seize those weapons and ammunition and search his gun room. They wanted to make that point to the jury. Anderson.

COOPER: Randi Kaye, thanks so much.

I want to bring in veteran criminal defense attorney Mark O'Mara, also former prosecutor Vinnie Politan, he's lead anchor for "Court TV."

Mark, obviously much of the focus today was on whether several days after the murders Murdaugh said to investigators, I did him so bad. As Randi reported some construed that as confession, the Murdaugh defense says that he said they did him so bad. How important is this to the case? MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, I don't think it's

very important. And here's why. I don't think the prosecution should focus on that as being some significant piece of evidence. Because quite honestly, if it was, if it was a confession, how dare the officer not look into a little bit further?

If he had somebody who said, I did him so badly, bring him along, go to the sympathy line of questioning that interrogators know how to do. But the idea that it came up as something that's now considered a confession, but not looked into and quite honestly, not even looked into three months later when they talked to him again, I think the state has to be careful not to overplay it. I think it's minor, might fit into the rest of the evidence, but not too significant on its own.

COOPER: Vinnie, do you agree with that? Because, I mean, it is a law enforcement officer is the one who said heard Murdaugh say this.

VINNIE POLITAN, COURT TV LEAD ANCHOR: Yes, no, it's potentially huge. The twelve jurors who are in the box, they've never been through a murder trial before, they've never done a murder investigation, but they will rely upon some common sense. And I think Mark has something here on the common-sense aspect. If a guy just confesses to murder and you don't ask a follow up question, you don't call them out on it.

So, I think prosecutors, again, they have to lean heavier on the timeline and the big lies that they can prove inside this courtroom.


COOPER: Mark, when the defense argues that there could have been two shooters involved in the murders, is that a wise strategy? I mean it a wise strategy for the defense to essentially try to come up with as many different possibilities just to kind of have some reasonable doubt in there?

O'MARA: Well, criminal defense 101, you don't have to prove innocence. You have to prove that there is reasonable doubt. So, the idea of suggesting any alternative besides the one that the state is presenting is not a bad way to do it. And look, let's face it, the idea that there were two separate long guns, firearms used to commit this general murder is a question that needs to be figured out.

Now, again, if it was somebody planning a murder, as is the argument of the state, and it's true, first-degree premeditated murder, maybe you use two guns to throw off the scent, but it has to be explained some way because generally speaking, you go in to kill two people, you bring one gun.

COOPER: Vinnie, the prosecution has also been leading, you know, heavily on motive. Are they overplaying their hand in this case, or is that one of their strongest arguments? Because I mean, certainly this guy Murdaugh has there's a lot of skeletons in the closet here.

POLITAN: No, a lot of skeletons. Here's the thing about motive in this case, you know, I know, I think the viewers know that it's not a legal requirement for a prosecutor to prove motive. But if you, as the state, are coming inside a courtroom, especially here, where I am in the low country of South Carolina, and you're saying this father is going to blow the brains off out of his son with a shotgun and then hunt down his wife like a wild animal with an AR style rifle.

Then you need to explain to them in some regard why he did it. Because otherwise, I think any level of doubt that they feel in this case will grow to reasonable doubt unless they can lean back and say, OK, I get it. I understand what the prosecution is saying about why he did it. Therefore, I'm more comfortable in finding this man guilty. So, I think it's really important. But it's tough in this case because it's a nontraditional type motive.

COOPER: Mark, how much will the jury know by the end of the -- I mean the allegations against Mr. Murdaugh about his incredibly criminal and sleazy and just morally bankrupt behavior of cheating clients and poor families for a long period of time has been. How much will they know about that?

O'MARA: It's going to be a very delicate balance. One, the state can't overplay their hand too much on that level of motive. As Vinnie said, it is extraordinarily strange motive that we're trying to bring up. What we're trying to say is, look at everything he did wrong. Now that he's facing, you know, the fire on, that, he's going to defer or try and deflect blame by killing his family. Very difficult. Plus, the judge is going to limit because this type of prior bad acts, as we call it, only gets in to try and help prove some motive. But you have to be very careful because you can't just say bad guy with all of this. So guilty guy here.

So, it's going to be tough. And again, I think the state has to be very careful and very precise how they present not only the motive but the forensics and everything else in this case because it's going to be a tough one.

COOPER: Yes. Mark O'Mara, Vinnie Politan, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Up next, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group responds to my exclusive interview with an alleged Wagner defector about what he saw or what he says he saw in Ukraine.



COOPER: A reply tonight from Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of Russia's Wagner Group, to my exclusive interview last night with a claimed effector from it. Andrei Medvedev is an orphan who spent four years in prison in Russia for robbery before joining Wagner. His service in Wagner was confirmed by Prigozhin previously. Here's part of what Andrei Medvedev told me about who he thinks is to blame for the brutality and murder he witnessed in his own ranks.


COOPER (on-camera): And when you say the people who are guilty, who do you mean and what are they guilty of?

ANDREI MEDVEDEV, FMR WAGNER MERCENARY (through translation): You know, I would like to take this opportunity of stating publicly, maybe other folk have different views about this, but the first culprit is Prigozhin, because he is the top leader.

COOPER (on-camera): Prigozhin runs the Wagner Group. He's in charge of it.

MEDVEDEV (through translation): Yes, him, absolutely.


COOPER: We reached out to Yevgeny Prigozhinfor comment. He sent us an e-mail today quoting from it. Dear CNN, do you really think that we will discuss our military issues with you while you are our open enemy. It's the same as discussing military matters and sharing information with the CIA. It can be said with confidence that the Wagner group is an exemplary military organization that complies with all the necessary laws and rules of modern wars.

Mr. Prigozhin is welcome to come on the program any time to discuss this further. We'd welcome it.

In the grinding war between Ukraine and Russia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen by some as a potential mediator between the two countries, even as he faces an escalating conflict with Palestinians at home. He spoke about this exclusively with CNN Jake Tapper. Here's a portion of it.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (on-camera): One thing I wanted to ask you about Russia and Ukraine is that an advisor to Zelenskyy floated your name as somebody who might be a decent mediator between Zelenskyy and Putin, between Ukraine and Russia. And I'm wondering if anyone in any position of power has ever floated that idea to you and what would be your willingness to take on that job?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I was asked to do that early on in the breakout of the Ukraine war. And I was opposition leader at the time. I said, well, I have a rule. One prime minister at the time, you know, like, one president at the time.

TAPPER (on-camera): Who asked you to do it?

NETANYAHU: I was asked, I don't know if it was official, but it was unofficial, so I didn't even pursue it. I said there was a prime minister, let him, you know, decide what to do. That he tried. Didn't succeed, but if --


TAPPER (on-camera): Would you do it now?

NETANYAHU: If I'm asked by both sides and frankly, if I'm asked by the United States? Because I think, you know, you can't have too many cooks in the kitchen, you know. And I'm -- you know we have our own backyard to deal with.

TAPPER (on-camera): Right.

NETANYAHU: It's not that I don't think I think this is of monumental importance because I think the peace of the world is at stake, as I think the peace of the world is at stake with Iran getting nuclear weapons. It will destabilize the entire world. And so, you know, I'm really devoting my efforts to that and the other peace ideas that I have, the economic ideas.

But if asked by all relevant parties, I'll certainly consider it. But I'm not pushing myself in, you know, which is I've been around long enough to know that there has to be a ripe time and the ripe circumstances. If they arise, I'll certainly consider it.


COOPER: You can see more of that exclusive interview in just a few minutes. Jake Tapper one on one with Benjamin Netanyahu. Airs tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

We'll be right back.



COOPER: That does it for us. The news continues with Jake Tapper's exclusive interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, starting now.