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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Biden And Putin Offering Dueling Remarks On Ukraine Wars; Putin Rails Against The West As Ukraine Conflict Nears One-Year Mark; Putin: West Is Responsible For War In Ukraine; GA Grand Jury Foreperson On Indictment Recommendations: "It Wasn't A Short List"; Fulton County Grand Jury Foreperson Wants DA To Take "Decisive Action" In Trump Probe; A CNN Investigation Uncovers Dozens Of "Black Sites" Used By The Iranian Regime To Torture Protesters; Alex Murdaugh's Surviving Son Testifies At Double Murder Trial. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 21, 2023 - 20:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Look at this, saying that she can't wait to see the X-Factor which are Phoenix fans once again, and celebrating how much she loves the city.

She last played with the Mercury in 2021. Griner's first home game will be in mid-May, and so many of us will be watching.

Thank you so much for watching us tonight. I'm Kate Bolduan.

AC 360 starts now.



Not since the Cold War has the conflict between Russia and the West been as sharply drawn as the way President Biden and Vladimir Putin did today in dueling speeches just three days before the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and a day after the President's surprise visit to Kyiv.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Well, I've just come from a visit to Kyiv and I can report, Kyiv stands strong.


BIDEN: Kyiv stands proud, it stands tall, and most importantly, it stands free.


COOPER: Speaking today in Warsaw, the capital of the former Soviet bloc country, the President pledged unflagging American support for NATO, which Poland joined in 1999 and NATO's firm commitment to Ukraine. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: One year into this war, Putin no longer doubts the strength of our coalition, but he still doubts our conviction, he doubts our staying power, he doubts our continued support for Ukraine. He doubts whether NATO can remain unified.

But there should be no doubt, our support for Ukraine will not waver. NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire.


COOPER: The President also accused Russia of committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin for his part gave this as his rationale for the war during his Annual Address to the Russian people.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The elite of the West does not conceal their ambitions, which is to strategically defeat Russia.

What does that mean? It means to finish us off once and for all and to make local. They do that by making local conflicts into much wider and bigger ones.


COOPER: The Russian leader also repeated standard tropes about Ukraine's "neo Nazi regime" and the language reminiscent of the Cold War. He announced that Russia would suspend participation in New START, the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the US.

Somewhat confusingly, though this was followed by Russia's Foreign Ministry saying that Russia would still abide by provisions in it, limiting the size of Russian and American strategic nuclear arsenals.

As for President Biden, he boiled his message down to one central fact of the matter and the single existential reality for Ukraine.


BIDEN: President Putin chose this war. Every day the war continues is his choice.

He could end the war with a word. It's simple: If Russia stopped invading Ukraine, it would end the war. If Ukraine stopped defending itself against Russia, it would be the end of Ukraine.


COOPER: We have extensive reporting tonight from CNN's Kaitlan Collins with the President in Warsaw; Christian Amanpour, who spoke today with Poland's President; Fred Pleitgen in Moscow; and Clarissa ward in Kyiv.

I want to start with Kaitlan Collins.

So how does the White House feel the President Biden's speech went over particularly given Vladimir Putin's own speech today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, they seem to think that he set out what he came here to do, which is one, warn that democracy is at stake at a global scale; and two, to reiterate US support for Ukraine, therefore turning that into NATO support, saying that it is unwavering, that it is not going to go away, and that it will be here for the quote that he's been using "as long as it takes."

But also he used this speech to push back on Putin pretty forcefully, especially, you know, just hours after we had heard from the Russian leader blaming the West for the conflict that is happening in Ukraine, saying that's why that is happening.

President Biden saying that that's obviously not the case. It is patently not true, and that if Putin decided tomorrow to end the war, he could. But saying, obviously, that is not what is happening here and it really seemed, you know, in these two speeches, vastly different worldviews, really the only thing they seem to agree on is that this is not likely to end anytime in the near future -- Anderson.

COOPER: What has been the reaction to Putin's decision to suspend participation in the New STAR Treaty?

COLLINS: I'm not sure they're totally surprised. They have been quick to note that he was not formally pulling out of the treaty. There really weren't any inspections happening anyway. The State Department announced last month that Russia was actually out of compliance with this because they had stopped happening during COVID. They had never rescheduled them.

Russia had kind of come up with some excuses of why they were not conducting those inspections and now the idea of actually letting an outside party to come in and inspect these nuclear sites seems basically off the table, and I think what the White House is saying right now is that it raises questions about what any kind of arms agreement looks like going forward.


They say it is irresponsible that Putin made the announcement that he did today saying that they're not going to participate in these inspections anymore, but it does raise the question of what happens when it's time to renegotiate a new one? Because obviously, there's basically little to no trust between these two sides here on a pretty important matter.

COOPER: Yes. The President also now said this new assistance system package for Ukraine, what's in it?

COLLINS: Yes, I think this is like the 32nd assistance package we've seen going to Ukraine. This one is about half a billion dollars. That includes a lot of what you've seen before, ammunition, howitzers, these javelins. The two things it doesn't include is what Zelenskyy has been the most vocal about lately, which is longer range missiles, and the F-16 fighter jets, even though President Biden was here in Warsaw today, there was a sign saying to you know, send those F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. That is something they're still discussing. They have not made a final decision and don't seem to be at this point, leaning towards doing so.

The President did also announce today that in the coming days, he, the US and other NATO allies will be announcing new sanctions on Russia, but it remains to be seen what those look like even though Putin today was talking about how the Russian economy, he was arguing is more resilient than a lot of people in the West believed it would be at this point with the sanctions that have been put on Russia so far.

COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it.

Next, Vladimir Putin's speech and the view from Russia. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow with more.

So Fred, we heard Vladimir Putin again, frame the conflict in Ukraine to self-defense, protect Russia from Western aggression. How was the speech received in Russia?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the vast majority of Russians, Anderson, quite frankly, are exactly in line with what Vladimir Putin said. It was interesting because we spoke to a pollster who said that 80 percent of Russians are on board with the kind of messaging that Vladimir Putin is providing. Those are his popularity ratings.

And if you look at what he said today, where he was essentially saying that Russia had tried to prevent this conflict, but in the end, they had no other chance. There are a lot of Russians who actually do believe that. There are people on the streets whom we talked to, who said exactly the same thing, and who also said they believe that Russia is going to see all this through.

I did speak with some people who are in Russian politics, and a lot of them quite frankly, seem pretty relieved that Vladimir Putin didn't go any further than he did. However, there are also some pretty prominent Russian military bloggers who felt that he didn't go far enough and who actually wanted more mobilization for instance, and some even said they wanted a Declaration of War against Ukraine -- Anderson.

COOPER: Has there been reaction from the Kremlin to President Biden declaring that Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia?

PLEITGEN: Yes, it certainly has. I actually got in touch with the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov very late tonight and he was essentially telling me that obviously, the Russians feel quite provoked by some of the things that President Biden said.

It was interesting, because he said to me that you cannot speak about destroying Russia, as he put it without speaking of nuclear war. He said there would be no winners in a nuclear war. But he once again reiterated what Vladimir Putin was essentially also saying that the Russians seem to believe that the US wants to weaken Russia, and also wants to disintegrate Russia as well.

So some pretty strong words coming out of the Kremlin tonight in reaction to President Biden's speech -- Anderson.

COOPER: As we mentioned, Vladimir Putin also announced that Russia would be suspending its participation in New START Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty. What are the potential implications of that from the Russian side?

PLEITGEN: Yes, I think that there could be some pretty big implications to that, because of course, a treaty like that also involves inspections of nuclear sites, for instance, so the US could verify, for instance, how many nukes the Russians have in certain places. That is something that is quite important.

And Vladimir Putin simply said, that is something that is not going to be happening going forward, at least for the time that this treaty is suspended. And he said that that's happening, because the Russians blame the Ukrainians for hitting a military base where Russia has strategic bombers last year, the angled space in the Southwest of Russia and he was claiming certainly without any sort of evidence so that NATO helped Ukraine to do that, and so that's why is the Russians are saying that for now, they are suspending this agreement.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry then came out later and said, look, they're suspending it for the time being, but it is certainly something that can still be reversed.

Nevertheless, there could be some real consequences. And of course, we know, Anderson that the New START Treaty was really on the ropes anyway. The US was saying that the Russians really weren't complying with it anyhow. And so certainly this could be another big blow to a very important treaty -- Anderson.

COOPER: Fred Pleitgen, appreciate it. Thanks.

Let's go now to CNN chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour in Eastern Poland, not far from the Ukrainian border.

So Christiane, you've been speaking with leaders in Eastern and Central Europe. How was President Biden's message today, one that affirmed American support for NATO, how was -- was that what they wanted to hear?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: They absolutely did, and you're right, at the Munich Security Conference, I talked to a lot of these leaders, and today to the President of Poland basically as some have said, part of the balance of power is shifting to the Eastern Europe because they have been absolutely rock solid in trying to get everyone now, everybody is on board pretty much in the West.


But to understand Putin's desires, which he called, President Duda called imperialist, and so he was really, really pleased when I asked him about how he read President Biden's trip to Ukraine, and also what he heard from him here today in Warsaw.


ANDRZEJ DUDA, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND (through translator): So the very thing that the President traveled to Kyiv, that he was there, it sends an incredibly powerful signal, a political and strategic signal. It is a demonstration of strength of the United States, indeed.

It is like saying that the American leader, who as a matter of fact, is the leader of the free world, is able to travel even where war is raging, even to a place where there is a potential danger. He is not afraid because the United States is strong enough to protect him.


AMANPOUR: And then he added that it also is a huge demonstration, that Biden, the President of the United States was able to make this speech here in Poland. And what he said was, it was really interesting, he drew a line from President Reagan alongside Lech Walesa, and the Polish Pope, of course, John Paul II way back in the 80s, as being responsible for helping pull down that Iron Curtain, all the way now to Biden, he made the connection facing off against autocracy and dictatorship, again, in that former Soviet space.

So it was very historical for the Poles who have suffered, of course, you know, Russian aggression in their history.

COOPER: It's so interesting, because I mean, in the past, there has been concern from, you know, a number of Soviet -- former Soviet bloc countries that American the West had been slow to recognize a growing threat from Russia. It sounds like they feel those concerns are certainly being addressed now.

AMANPOUR: Absolutely, and he was very colorful when he was talking about it. He said, I mean, frankly, he said, in the West, maybe you have romantic ideas about Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky, and, you know, the Bolshoi Ballet. For us, it is about being deported to Siberia, or having, you know, the Soviet Union takeover our nations during the Cold War, which became the Warsaw Pact.

And he explained that for them, freedom and independence and sovereignty is absolute key, and particularly the test for them, especially on this country's border is Ukraine.

COOPER: Vladimir Putin's speech again, framed this conflict as this confrontation between Russia and the West. He blames the West, of course, he says they started it, which is not the case. Do you think, this was -- I mean, was this purely for a domestic audience in Russia? Or do you think there's a larger geopolitical message that Putin is sending to the West?

AMANPOUR: You know, Anderson, I was quite baffled by the speech because it wasn't as militant as I expected it to be in terms of laying out what Putin saw as the future of this war. It was much tamer than when he came out on February 24th or whatever, and warned the West, not to get involved. It would be a mistake of historic proportions. He started to saber rattle with the nukes and things like that.

And this, I do not think was like that. But what he did do was play what the Russians have constantly played, and that is the victim card and turning reality on its head saying that it was the West who started this war and the Russians, he had to get involved to stop them.

Of course, we heard President Biden address that in his speech, saying at no point have we said that we are looking for the destruction of Russia, for the disintegration of Russia. That is not what's happening here. We're here to defend a sovereign democratic state maintain its territorial integrity and its independence.

COOPER: Yes. Christiane Amanpour, appreciate it today. Thank you.

Much more on all of this next, including CNN's Clarissa Ward in Kyiv with more on how Putin's words are being received in Ukraine and NATO's former Supreme Allied Commander, of what to make of Russia's mixed signals on nuclear weapons.

And later, will the former President be indicted in Georgia for attempting to overturn the election results? The grand jury forewoman has heard all the evidence is speaking about the likelihood of that tonight, ahead.



COOPER: In his address to the Russian people today, Vladimir Putin said "It was they (meaning the West) who unleashed the war." He certainly knows otherwise, so do war crimes investigators from The Hague and UN monitors who announced today, they have verified more than 8,000 civilian fatalities in Ukraine since the invasion, including nearly 500 children.

Now, the report also comes with a warning that the true number of civilians killed is likely thousands higher. That is the reality that Russia's President did not speak of today and that President Biden did.

I want to get some perspective now from CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa ward in Kyiv, tonight.

Clarissa, how have the speeches by Biden and Putin been received in Kyiv?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Anderson. A lot of people here said that they weren't going to bother to watch Putin's speech. Zelenskyy, the President among them, although he did later issue a statement saying that: "These people are communicating as terrorists. The only difference is that terrorists wear masks and these guys don't cover their faces."

That was a view that was also put out there by one of his top advisers who talked about how confused Putin seem and how irrelevant so much of what he talked about was and his obsession, as he said, with what he called Nazis, marchands, and conspiracy theories.

So clearly, Ukrainians feeling very strongly that essentially Russia and President Putin putting forward just an alternate version of reality, which is in stark contrast to the response to Biden's speech, which has been well-received by those who saw it, very well-received by President Zelenskyy.

He took to Twitter. He said: "Thank you POTUS for rallying support around the world. Kyiv stands tall and Kyiv stands proud."

COOPER: Is there any sense of what Ukrainians think or officials there think Vladimir Putin's next step may be? Obviously, they have been waiting for this sort of major offensive.

WARD: There has been a lot of concern understandably because they understand that 150,000 Russian troops have just finished training and are ready to be deployed into the battlefield, and they are already seeing that the Russians are pushing quite hard along several frontlines, particularly in the Kharkiv region in the city of Kupiansk. Also, they've been making small gains incremental gains, but nonetheless substantial gains in the eastern city of Bakhmut.


And in other areas that Ukraine has successfully managed to take back like Kherson in the south are just being brutally shelled day in and day out. Today, Anderson, five people killed in shelling there, another 12 people injured in that attack.

So a lot of concern really that there may be more provocations as well around the anniversary. They've actually recommended to schools that all schools go into remote learning for the next three days, just in anticipation of any potential attacks or provocations during the sensitive period -- Anderson.

COOPER: Clarissa Ward in Kyiv, thanks so much.

More now on where the war stands almost a year since Russia launched it and what Vladimir Putin said and did not say this morning about it. Joining us is retired Army General Wesley Clark, CNN military analyst, and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; also, CNN senior political commentator, and former Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger.

General Clark, Putin did not announce a new wave of mobilization of Russian citizens into the Armed Forces as some hardline Russian military blogger certainly wanted him to. Why do you think that is?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think he wanted to duck that right now, because he has other means of bringing in troops. You know, he has mobilized quietly more than the 300,000 that he announced in October. And we know that he is putting out calls, for example, for college students, university students to be pulled in. So he has other means of drawing this in.

Right now, he doesn't want to take that burden on himself politically, in dealing with the Russian people.

COOPER: Congressman, what message you think that Russia is trying to send here. Putin suspending participation in the New START Treaty, and then Russia's Foreign Ministry saying that they continue to respect nuclear weapons caps, and maybe this suspension was reversible?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, I think that is as much for his own audience, like the New START has been kind of a problem for a while in terms of trying to get around it. And, you know, Russia, skirting some of the requirements. And, so I don't think this was a big surprise to us, and I think it's important and I guess, noteworthy that they did say suspension instead of pulling out.

But look, if we trust the Russians on these issues, anyway, I mean, you know, that's a whole another thing. So I think it's for the domestic audience, Vladimir Putin does not have a lot to stand in front of his people and brag about. He does not have a lot that he can stand up and sound tough about, which is probably why he spent an hour and 45 minutes of dribble trying to seem that way.

Because, look, this war is going to go on a long time. He doesn't value human life and when you don't value human life, you can just put them into the meat grinder over and over.

COOPER: Yes, which is what we're seeing. General, I mean, how solid is NATO unity right now?

CLARK: I think NATO unity is good in terms of saying we're going to stay with Ukraine. But I think there are certain different perspectives on how the war might end, on how negotiations might unfold, on how soon and whether there would be fighter aircrafts, and additional tanks sent down, long range missiles, all of that is just sort of the noise underneath the NATO unity.

And I think the President understands, and certainly those of us who have worked with NATO understand, NATO unity is the key factor here. So we've got to move forward together, we've got to get the different perspectives harmonized, and make these decisions step by step.

COOPER: Congressman, how -- let me ask you, how unified do you think the American people are on this? Or at least the politicians because there have been some polls over the past few weeks that have shown softening support for sending more money and military equipment to Ukraine, especially among Republicans?

I mean, for anybody who grew up with Ronald Reagan, or came of age with the Ronald Reagan Republican Party, it's kind of stunning to see the support among Democrats versus Republicans for US involvement in the war in Ukraine.

KINZINGER: This is what happens when you lack leadership. So on foreign policy, the American people generally are willing to either go to war or give aid or support our allies in a war, as long as somebody stands in front of them and makes the case for that.

I think Joe Biden needs to do a little better job of that. I do think his trip was great, and that sends a strong message. But on the Republican side, who -- who in elected Republican politics is out there making the case for the war? There may be a few, but I haven't heard them.

And instead, what you see is these profit centers, whether they're blogs, whether they're other cable TV news hosts that make a lot of money on creating fear on like owning the libs, or whatever it is of the day, and that's what this war has become.

The Republicans, if they are given the reason and they are showed the reason for this, they would be supportive. But there is no leadership in the Republican Party.


It's been mind-blowing to me. And by the way, I think there's also the question of a lot of folks think we're just writing checks to Ukraine, and haven't been explained to the fact that a lot of this is just a value put on equipment, much of it older that we're sending to Ukraine.

COOPER: And General, there have been a lot of arguments over whether we're seeing a beginning of a new Russian offensive. There has been increased action in in the East. We haven't seen the 150,000 new conscripts in the battle zone yet. What do you think about this new offensive when it might be?

CLARK: I think the Russians are having trouble massing the forces, getting them up there. I think there is action taking place that we don't see, electronic warfare, other things, maybe some train derailments inside Russia, we don't see these things.

But I think if it had been up to Putin, he would have launched by now or on the 24th of February, the anniversary, and we are hearing that this is going to slip a week or two, and they may get into the mud season on this.

So this is still, although Ukraine is extremely concerned about the potential, thus far, Mr. Putin and his Generals haven't been able to bring that potential to bear in this offense.

COOPER: General Wesley Clark, Adam Kinzinger, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, new comments by the forewoman for that special grand jury in Georgia investigating election interference by the former President, what she is now saying about whether he may face possible charges, next.



COOPER: In the last hour, the foreperson for that special grand jury in Georgia investigating the former president and his allies attempts to overturn the 2020 election spoke to CNN. Emily Kohrs was asked whether the former president might face charges.


BOLDUAN: Did you recommend charges against Donald Trump?

EMILY KOHRS, FOREPERSON, GEORGIA SPECIAL GRAND JURY IN TRUMP PROBE: I really don't want to share something that the judge made a conscious decision not to share. I will tell you that it was a process where we heard his name a lot. We definitely heard a lot about former President Trump, and we definitely discussed him a lot in the room. And I'll say that when this list comes out, you wouldn't -- there are no major plot twists waiting for you.


COOPER: Kohrs also indicated that the grand jury recommended charges for multiple people. She wouldn't give an exact number, but agreed that it was probably at least a dozen. She said, quote, it wasn't a shortlist.

Perspective now from CNN's Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, former Assistant U.S. Attorney. He's also the author of the new book, "Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It". Also with us, our Chief Political Correspondent and Co-Anchor of CNN's State of the Union, Dana Bash.

First of all, why this person is talking on TV? I do not understand. She's clearly enjoying herself.


COOPER: But, I mean, is this responsible? She was the foreperson of this grand jury.

HONIG: This is a horrible idea. And I guarantee you that prosecutors are wincing, watching her go on this --

COOPER: I was wincing just watching her eagerness --


COOPER: -- to, like, you know, hint at stuff.

HONIG: It's painful in that respect. This is a very serious prospect here. We're talking about indicting any person. You're talking about potentially taking away that person's liberty. We're talking about potentially a former president, for the first time in this nation's history. She does not seem to be taking that very seriously.

COOPER: Right. There's no reason for her to be out talking.


COOPER: I mean, there's -- right. OK.

HONIG: It's a prosecutor's nightmare. She --


HONIG: Mark my words. Donald Trump's team is going to make a motion, if there's an indictment, to dismiss that indictment based on grand jury impropriety. She's not supposed to be talking about anything, really, but she's really not supposed to be talking about the deliberations.

She's talking about what specific witnesses they saw, what the grand jury thought of them. She says some of them we found credible, some of them we found funny. I don't know why that's relevant, but she's been saying, we found this guy funny or interesting. I think she's potentially crossing a line here. It's going to be a real problem for prosecutors.

COOPER: Dana, if the former president is including these recommended indictments, this unprecedented, obviously, on every level for former president, a current presidential candidate. What does that mean for the next year or two of American politics, I mean, let alone this actual case?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's anything that has to do with Donald Trump is fraught with so much. And that is the political reality that every single Republican primary voter is going to have to deal with.

And, you know, I was talking to people in Trump world today, one of whom reminded me that, you know, we're talking about Georgia, but there's also New York, and there's also DOJ. So he has a lot of things coming at him at once.

Historically, politically -- so we're talking like the last seven, eight years -- Donald Trump has been able to turn all of this to his political favor and use it kind of as a, look, I'm just like you. I have the institutions coming after me. You know, the woe is me. And you've seen that with some of his statements even today.

But in this time, when there's a lot of Trump exhaustion in the Republican electorate, not enough potentially to mean that he won't get the nomination, but there is much more than there has been since he's been on the scene. This kind of thing certainly won't help politically speaking.

COOPER: I want to play, Elie, what the foreperson said also about Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff. Let's listen.


KOHRS: Mr. Meadows didn't share very much at all, was not very willing to speak on much of anything. He asserted his rights under the Fifth Amendment and under executive privilege, which he absolutely had the right to do.


COOPER: OK, again, I'm just shocked.

HONIG: Grand jury testimony is supposed to be secret. The only people in that room who get to be in that room are the grand jurors, like this person we just saw, prosecutors and the witnesses. And here she's talking about the substance of Mark Meadow's testimony. And she has talked in other outlets about the substance of other people's testimony and what the grand jurors made of that.

I will say this, Anderson. It's entirely clear. You don't have to be a legal expert. You don't have to have a PhD in psychology that that grand jury has recommended an indictment of Donald Trump. I think it's also --

COOPER: It's up to the DA, though.

HONIG: It's up to the DA. I think it's a virtual certainty that she will seek an indictment of Donald Trump to reading her own public statements. They've not been as over the top as this grand juror, but I think it's quite clear that that's where we're headed. But it's also important to keep in mind an indictment is just the start. If there is an indictment of Donald Trump, it's going to be a big deal. But we got a long way to go in that case.


COOPER: And, Dana, how -- I mean, you mentioned the former president reacting to some of this. What is he saying?

BASH: Well, he's saying it's kind of the greatest hits of the kind of response that you hear from Donald Trump that we're all familiar with now about the partisan --


BASH: -- prosecutor calling it reverse racism, whatever that means. I just want to add one other thing to what Elie was saying about what this foreman said. I -- to Kate Bolduan. I will be sad if nothing happens. I can tell you that as that interview was going on, I was texting with a former Trump attorney who's still very much plugged into Trump world, who was saying what Elie said, that this is like just gold for them, not only legally, but also politically.

And kind of laughing about the fact that, yes, I mentioned that you have Georgia, you have New York, you have DOJ. A lot coming at him. But this source said, you know, this is a guy, meaning Donald Trump, who is like three cats. He's got 27 lives.

Every time you see the brink coming for him politically and legally, something else happens. And we don't know if this is the something else in this particular case, but it is a thing, no question.

COOPER: Yes. All right, Dana Bash, Elie Honig, thanks so much. Coming up, we have a really interesting CNN special report, as uprisings continue across Iran. A CNN investigation has found a network of undercover sites used by Iranian authorities to torture protesters. CNN's Nima Elbagir sat down with two of the survivors. And we have details next.



COOPER: Over the last five months, tens of thousands of Iranians have flooded the streets and protests after 22-year-old woman died in custody of Iranian security forces. She'd been accused of wearing her head scarf incorrectly. The protests have shocked Iranian officials, led to a brutal crackdown in December.

A CNN investigation found evidence of a push by Iranian authorities to execute protesters using sham trials and forced confessions. Iranian human rights organizations tell CNN at least 60 protesters were executed in January alone. A CNN investigation uncovered more than three dozen illegal detention centers, or black sites used by the Iranian regime to torture protesters.

CNN spoke with more than two dozen survivors of those sites who shared stories about the abuse they endured. CNN's Nima Elbagir sat down with two survivors. We want to warn you the report you're about to see contains some graphic descriptions of torture and sexual violence.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the last six weeks, Kayvan Samadi has been on the run. Each night, he moves to a different safe house. Brutally tortured for 21 days at the hands of the Iranian regime. He is terrified they will find him. His crime, organizing medics to help wounded protesters.

But even with his fear of being tracked down, Samadi still wants to identify himself. He wants to show the regime they didn't break him.

KAYVAN SAMADI, MEDICAL STUDENT (through translation): I set up a group of underground medics. We treated around 700 people. The regime was committing war crimes, forbidding treatment of the injured. I promised my friends to fight for them.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): His friends, like so many Iranians, have been on the streets protesting against the clerical regime that has for so long dictated their lives. For his defiance, Samadi, a medical student, was picked up by Iranian security forces and brought to a black site, a clandestine interrogation facility outside the rule of law, where many survivors tell CNN forced confessions are extracted through the most brutal of torture methods.

These forced confessions have at times been used in court to execute protesters for crimes against the state. Samadi refused to sign what he believed would be his death warrant. SAMADI (through translation): Why should I have signed something that I hadn't done? I'm not a terrorist, not a murderer or a saboteur. I only saved lives. That's it. My team and I did nothing more.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Unlike so many other victims of torture that CNN interviewed, Samadi was not blindfolded during his detention. Based on his testimony, CNN commissioned the following images to take you inside the ordeal that he and so many other Iranian protesters have been subjected to.

SAMADI (through translation): I was forced into a building hidden by trees, next to a bell school. On the first day, the two guards kicked me. I vomited blood. Each day, the torture got worse. There was a closet in the corner of the room filled with torture tools. Electric cattle prods, different cutters, some syringes.

They drugged me. They wanted me to stay alive longer, to torture me more. The guards started kissing me and licking my neck. They touched my genitals and my buttocks. On day 16 of my arrest, I descended into hell.

They tied my hands and shackled my legs. They wanted to break me, to destroy me. They pulled my trousers down. I thought they were going to give me an electric shock again. I couldn't believe they were going to do this. He took the baton and went behind me. I was waiting to be beaten up.

He kissed my neck and shoved the baton into my anus. And he said, this is what us soldiers of the revolution do to gay boys like you. I was shocked and didn't know what to do. I couldn't even scream. I was dumbstruck and just cried in silence.

ELBAGIR (on-camera): I can see the dark circles around your eyes. Do you sleep?

SAMADI: I'm sorry.

ELBAGIR (on-camera): It's OK, it's OK.

(voice-over): Samadi believes that if he had signed the false confession as the guards wanted him to, then they would have hanged him for treason. He doesn't know why his torturers released him. He thinks they wanted him to die on the streets. A chilling warning to others.

Based on Samadi's detailed eyewitness testimony and cross referencing with satellite imagery, CNN has been able to locate the black site where he says he was tortured in his hometown of Oshnavieh.


These are the trees that hide the unnamed building he was brought into. And this is the girl's school where he had children playing in the courtyard. But this is not the only black site. Cross referencing testimony from over two dozen sources with satellite images, CNN found dozens of these black sites, which can be divided into two types, undeclared illegal jails inside government facilities such as military bases and intelligence centers, and makeshift clandestine jails that typically crop up temporarily near protest sites.

For instance, in this city, known for its religious pilgrimage sites, they've been using some mosques as detention centers, according to multiple sources CNN spoke with. This pattern can be seen indifferent cities across the country. In Sanandaj, we found at least six unofficial detention centers Zahedan, five, and Tehran, the capital where CNN was also able to locate eight different pop-up torture sites.

After speaking to dozens of eyewitnesses who were tortured in these different unofficial detention centers, the barbaric treatment used on Samadi was not unique. His experience tallies with other eyewitness testimony.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Called me a slut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rubbed himself against me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Naked with their hands tied.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No choice but to confess.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): In total, CNN located over three dozen clandestine jails across the country. It paints a picture of a regime meeting out torture on an industrial scale, designed to crush an uprising that has posed the biggest existential threat to the regime in decades.

These are photos of just some of the protesters that state hospital physician Dr. Mohsen Sohrabi and his colleagues tweeted in the city of Sanandaj. A major flashpoint in the crackdown of the uprising. It was an illegal act, according to the Iranian regime. For that, he, too, was brought to a black site and tortured.

DR. MOHSEN SOHRABI, MEDICAL DOCTOR (through translation): They are a power in and of themselves. They don't follow any kind of human rights. There is no supervision. What kind of supervision do you have to have when people are being raped? They don't have any moral boundaries. They just want you to confess so they can prosecute you.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Dr. Sohrabi is also now in hiding.

(on-camera): You've had to risk so much just to do your job.

SOHRABI: If I cry, it's not because I fear the Islamic in public. It's not because of what I have lost. It's for the cruelty that people in Iran are facing.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Even as evidence of torture on an industrial scale points to the desperation of the regime, Iran's young protesters are equally defined even in the face of the unimaginable torture and death.


COOPER: Nima Elbagir joins me now. I mean, it's such an incredible piece of reporting here.

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

COOPER: What does the strategy of suppression, you think, say about how the regime views these uprisings?

ELBAGIR: Well, the Iranian authorities didn't respond to our requests for comment, but what the methodology we uncover tells us is that the regime is scared. It views these protests as an existential threat, a threat so existential that their response to it, the architecture of suppression that they're deploying is -- has to be deniable. It has to be hidden from the eyes of the world. And yet, Anderson, is useful there. It doesn't seem to be impacting the defiance of these protesters.

COOPER: Nima Elbagir, I really appreciate it. Incredible, incredible. Thank you.

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

COOPER: Still ahead, in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh today, his only surviving son took the stand to defend his father. We have key developments next.



COOPER: The double murder trial of disgrace South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh resumed today with his surviving son taking the stand. Buster Murdaugh recounted conversations he says he had with his father on the night of the murders and provided new details supporting his dad's defense. Randi Kaye has details.


BUSTER MURDAUGH, ALEX MURDAUGH'S SON: My name is Buster, 26 years old.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Buster Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh's only surviving son, sharing how he first heard his mother and brother had been killed.

B. MURDAUGH: My dad called me. He asked me if I was sitting down. Then he told me that my mom and brother had been shot.

KAYE (voice-over): Key for the defense, Buster's testimony about how often his father showered. Given the state has suggested that Alex Murdaugh washed up and changed his clothes after allegedly killing his wife and son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How frequently would your dad take a shower or bath?

B. MURDAUGH: He could take him a lot.

KAYE (voice-over): And what about Alex Murdaugh's police interview, where one investigator testified he thought Murdaugh said, I did him so bad, regarding his son Paul. The defense has argued their client said they did him so bad. Buster weighed in in court after the video played.

ALEX MURDAUGH, KILLED WIFE AND SON: I did him so bad. I did him so bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What your dad say?

B. MURDAUGH: He said they did them so -- they did him so bad.

KAYE (voice-over): Given that Paul Murdaugh was shot with a shotgun using both a buckshot and a birdshot, the defense seemed to lean on Buster to convince the jury that his father would never have loaded a shotgun like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever seen any guns on your property loaded in that fashion?

B. MURDAUGH: No, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Buckshot with some sort of bird shot right behind it?

B. MURDAUGH: No, sir.

KAYE (voice-over): After Buster finished, this forensic engineer testified for the defense. He told the jury, based on his crime scene analysis, a person shorter than Alex Murdaugh, who is about 6'4", likely killed both Maggie and Paul.

MIKE SUTTON, FORENSIC ENGINEER: It puts the shooter, or whoever fired the weapon, if they were that tall, it puts them in an unrealistic shooting position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What, if any, opinion do you have as to whether that person could be Alex Murdaugh shooting into that quail pin?

SUTTON: It can't be.

KAYE (voice-over): This expert also testified about how the sound of gunfire travels.

SUTTON: If you were in the house, even if you were walking around, you wouldn't hear that.


KAYE (voice-over): That's that's key for the defense. Because if Murdaugh didn't do this and was napping in the main house at the time of the murders, as he said, it could explain why he didn't go and check on his family at the dog kennels.

And remember the state's witness, a GPS expert who said Murdaugh slowed his car down on the night of the murders in the same area where Maggie Murdaugh's cell phone was later found? The state suggested Murdaugh tossed the phone out of his car, but this witness disagreed with that.

SUTTON: So he's speeding up from, you know, 42, 43, 44, 45 miles per hour as he goes through that area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any indication he stopped or slow down?



COOPER: Randi joins me now from South Carolina. Was Buster Murdaugh ever asked in court if he thought his dad was capable of something like this?

KAYE: No, Anderson, he was never asked that question. So we never heard him say in open court that he didn't think his father was capable of this or could do something like this. He did a pretty good job of painting the picture of a very loving family, a family that golfed together, they went hunting together. There were birthday parties. They would call and text each other every day, multiple times a day.

But Anderson, there was never that moment where Buster Murdaugh turned to the jury and said, my father loved Maggie and Paul so much, he never could have done something like this. We just never saw that in court today.

COOPER: Randi, I appreciate it. Thanks. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Quick programming note, joined Fareed Zakaria as he hosts national security officials from the Biden administration for A CNN Town Hall. Russia's Invasion of Ukraine One Year Later. You can see it Thursday night at 09:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

News continues with a special edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer.