Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Hits One-Year Mark; Alex Murdaugh Testifies In His Double Murder Trial; Murdaugh Admits He Lied To Investigators About His Whereabouts The Night Of His Wife And Son's Murders; NTSB Releases Preliminary Report On Toxic Ohio Train Derailment; Says It Was "100 Percent Preventable"; Ukrainian Now Living In U.S. On One-Year Mark Of Russian Invasion. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 23, 2023 - 20:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: So let's see when DeSantis officially gets in. If he does, how those mentions change.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: The campaign can change as the candidates get into the race and perhaps like a foible or two, and that's why we're going to keep an eye on it. who knows what might happen.

BOLDUAN: I know. We'll see.

ENTEN: We'll see.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you.

ENTEN: Thank you. Nice to see you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

And thank you all so much for being with us tonight. I'm Kate Bolduan. AC 360 starts now.



Tonight, what is next for Ukraine? Ukrainian people in a war for their survival that has turned into a confrontation between the world's two largest nuclear powers.

A year ago tonight, early morning, local time, Russian forces began rolling to Ukraine for what the Kremlin expected would be a quick and easy takeover of the country. What they unleashed, instead, was the largest land conflict in Europe since the Second World War and some of the widest spread killing of non-combatants since World War Two as well.


COOPER: That video of a Russian mortar attack on fleeing civilians in Irpin came just two weeks since the invasion. Since then, we have seen graphic evidence of other Russian war crimes, including the summary shooting of civilians in Bucha and elsewhere, upwards of 800 attacks on hospitals and other healthcare facilities according to the World Health Organization, and the pummeling of cities like Mariupol where the Russian shelling and airstrikes reduced residential neighborhoods to moonscapes.

According to the United Nations, more than eight million Ukrainians have been forced to flee the country, millions more are internally displaced.

Later in the program, we will show you the war as it has been lived by Olena Gnes. Her husband and three young children who are now refugees in this country, but hoping to return as soon as they can.

We'll also show you the impact of continuing American and NATO support has had on the war, how much further it might go and whether the alliance can hold long term.

There's also the question of what lessons China may take from it all as they tighten ties with Moscow and the Biden administration gets ready, officials tell us today, to step up the training of Taiwanese forces to resist any Chinese attempt to do what Russia has done to Ukraine.

CNN chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour begins our coverage tonight. She joins us from Kyiv.

Christiane, how concerned are Ukrainian officials, people you talk to about increased attacks from Russia coinciding with the anniversary and any upcoming offensive?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, of course, they are worried and they've been telegraphing about a spring offensive from the Russians. It hasn't really manifested itself in any massive way yet, even on the east, although they continue to pound the east pretty vigorously.

And here in Kyiv, as yet, with hours to go before the official one- year mark, there has not yet been any kind of attack from Russia. But the officials are concerned, they have told people in the capital to take precautions, to stay at home, to work from home tomorrow and all that kind of extra security measures have been put in place around the country.

COOPER: What are Ukrainian officials saying where they see this going in the near term? I mean, obviously, more aid is coming. It's not exactly what they want in terms of fighter jets, attack helicopters, long range artillery, do they think the increased US aid is enough to maintain their defenses against a new offensive?

AMANPOUR: They believe that they're going to get what they need, and they say if you just look at last year, it was all about weapons. We were pleading for weapons and we got them. Now, our mantra is going to be speed. We need them quicker. We need them in time. We need them to face the battles.

I spoke to a US official Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, who says that she believes the US and NATO allies will supply the ammunition and the extra military equipment that they need in order for the Ukrainians to be able to launch a counteroffensive this spring.

I thought that was rather interesting, actually mentioning when and why and what for?

COOPER: Is there a sense that there's any kind of an off ramp or what an off ramp would even look like at this point? I mean, for either side. As you know, President Zelenskyy has expressed interest in negotiations in the past, but obviously under you know, very strict circumstances.


AMANPOUR: Exactly.

Well look, the US believes that there is no evidence at all at this point of any desire, any credible desire by President Putin to enter into good faith negotiations.

Tomorrow, we're expecting this highly telegraphed, much ballyhooed Chinese peace initiative. We'll wait to see what that is. The US is saying, you've called yourself neutral, you better not get involved in this fight. We will see what kind of peace initiative and whom it favors that they put forward tomorrow.

On the Ukrainian side, yes, there are conditions, and especially conditions that stiffened since the war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed in Bucha, almost a year ago.

So they want basically all Russians out of this country. The question is, is that realistic? And more and more, analysts and even leaders are saying, it is unlikely that there's going to be a resolution or Ukraine getting back Crimea, for instance. But what they want to do is give Ukraine the ability to fight back hard enough to force Russia to a more equitable bargaining position.

COOPER: Do you hear a lot of concern among Ukrainian officials and people you talk to us about the possibility of China giving weaponry, giving armaments to Russia in the fight in Ukraine?

AMANPOUR: Well, they are concerned and they don't want it to happen. The Ukrainians are very careful not to say too much negative about China, which professes neutrality, and they hope to influence China to try to get Putin actually to remove his forces, probably unlikely, but the US is concerned, they have not yet seen any evidence of actual lethal weaponry being passed from the Chinese state to Russia.

But there is evidence of potential Chinese private enterprises, if there is such a thing, of helping some of these groups on the frontlines like the Wagner Group and others, so they are concerned about that.

COOPER: Did President Biden's visit to Kyiv and meetings with NATO allies, do you think it changed the dynamics of the war at all? AMANPOUR: I think it did. It certainly changed the psychology here, in

terms of boosting it and giving it a real shot in the arm, because the President had not been to this warzone. As we all know, it's unprecedented for a US President in these circumstances.

But what he did was wait until this moment to say that yes, this year has passed, and yes, we are going to still have your back however long it takes. Now, this "as long as it takes" thing though, is differently interpreted here. They want to see this war end this year, but the US and other world leaders believe that it could take longer, and that they will remain in it for the long haul.

COOPER: Yes. Christiane Amanpour in Kyiv tonight, thank you. Appreciate it.

AMANPOUR: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: More perspective now, looking back and looking ahead, CNN's Sam Kiley, who has seen it all up close from the beginning. He's in Eastern Ukraine. Also with us, CNN military analyst retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks, and former CIA chief of Russian Operations, Steve Hall, he is a CNN national security analyst.

Sam, one year in. What's life like tonight on the frontlines in Eastern Ukraine?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, earlier on, in the last couple of days, we've been very close to the frontline with the medical team, an American medical team, indeed, of volunteers very close, about three kilometers, two miles -- less than two miles from the frontline at a casualty evacuation post, and I can tell you that it's bitter.

It is bitter in the sense that you've got people coming in with mine injuries, there were five dead bodies, very unusual that the Ukrainians allowed the media to see any dead. These mercifully for us were in body bags, but they were very symbolic, I think of the much wider problem that the Ukrainians are facing, which is very, very high casualty levels.

There are no official figures on either side that one could possibly rely upon, but I can't tell you, anecdotally, after spending many weeks here speaking to a lot of soldiers who are fighting on the frontline that the casualty rates are high, competitive with some of the worst elements of the Second World War, I would say.

And in that case, the Ukrainians really are in a position in which they've only really got they say this year to prosecute their war in the way that they want to, in a way that they want to drive Russia completely out of their territory, whatever the international community may say later on.

They believe they are seeing more of a unanimity in Europe and with the United States, in support of that idea, a total withdrawal of Russian forces, but on the ground that translates into this very bitter bloody battle, in which the Russians seem to be using artillery to soften up the lines perhaps ahead of a potential Russian offensive.

And meanwhile, as Christiane was rightly pointing out there, the Ukrainians themselves are planning their own offensive and they are appealing more and more loudly and these are appeals that come from every single Ukrainian we meet on the frontline, "Please send us weapons. Send us weapons now."


COOPER: General Marks, we've seen the tempo of battle rise over the past few weeks. Has the offensive that the Ukrainians have been expecting, has that already begun? How bad do you think it could get?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the assessment is that offensive probably has already started, but it's not an offensive that you would expect to see, which is a number of battle tanks and, you know, great artillery advances before armored vehicles. That's not what we're seeing. What we are seeing is what the Russians always do, which is just more manpower into a very narrow spot, which is really just a meat grinder.

So I think it's fair to say this is the nature, the intensity is high, but this is the nature of this offensive, and I think it's important. And Sam Kiley just said this, the Ukrainians would be wise to steal a march on the Russians, which means where they can conduct their own offensive now, put the Russians on their heel where they can, so that gives the initiative, the momentum to the Ukrainians at a very, very important time, and it gets the Russians totally off their stride.

COOPER: Steve, the United States has been warning that China may be considering providing weapons and other military aid to Russia, according to "The Wall Street Journal," the US is reportedly considering revealing the Intelligence that prompted that concern.

As a former CIA officer, do you think that's a good idea? What would be the benefit of that?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, it's always -- as a former Intelligence officer, I'm always, you know, I'm always a little cautious about that, but there can be advantages to releasing information, as long as of course, it doesn't compromise sources and methods else, you don't get more of that information. But it can also be called fake news, and all sorts of other things by the Russians.

Look, the Chinese are in a really difficult position here. You know, Russia wants a lot of stuff for them, they kind of come as beggars to the gates of Beijing, they want weaponry and other things, they want support as well. But the Chinese themselves, although they share an ideology with the Russians, they don't like democracy, they've got to be really careful, because their long-term plan, of course, is to continue to be an economic superpower, and they don't want to be marginalized by the rest of the West by simply helping the Russians.

By the way, the Chinese are also getting, you know, Russian oil and gas at about a 40 percent discount, so there's a transactional nature to that, too, but they've got to be really careful as to how they play this geopolitically.

COOPER: General Marks, you said that the Ukrainians would be wise to try to have a counterattack if they can, a counteroffensive where they can. Why -- I mean, if you're -- you know, if there's a meat grinder going on and Russia is throwing troops at and you're taking high casualties, what is the benefit of having a counteroffensive?

MARKS: Well, it wouldn't be a counteroffensive. It would be an offensive on their part that pushes the Russians back on their heels. If you can choose the time and place of your engagement, then you've got the initiative. That would alter the dynamics immediately and tactically on the field.

Again, that would be a tactical advantage. You then need to string together a number of those tactical advantages to achieve some type of operational maneuver. But again, you're absolutely correct, you have to balance all the dynamics that go into conducting this type of warfare.

If the manpower is not there, if the kit is not there, if the training has not been put in place, then it's truly you've got it -- you may want to choose to fight another place at another time.

COOPER: It's easier, though, for Ukraine to do that than it is for Russia to do that because of supply lines.

MARKS: Totally, absolutely correct.

Russian supply lines have been exhausted. They're that much longer. The Ukrainians have interior lines, they can choose with a degree of alacrity and movement, that's movement, not maneuver, to get to a place where they can hopefully, because it's a home game for them, they will be able to take some type of a flank action against the Russians that pushes them back a little bit.

COOPER: And Steve, finally, you've been listening to Vladimir Putin speak now several times in the last three days. what's your takeaway about how he sees the path forward here?

HALL: Yes, I think his speech has struck me, Anderson, as a bit desperate. There's a lot of half measures in there. You know, we're suspending but not (AUDIO GAP) --

COOPER: Lost Steve's audio. We'll have to leave you there.

Sam Kiley, General Marks, Steve Hall, appreciate it.

A quick reminder, CNN's Fareed Zakaria is hosting a CNN Town Hall at the top of the hour with Biden National Security and international aide and officials on the year since Russian forces moved into Ukraine. Be sure to stick around for that.

Next for us, though, tonight Alex Murdaugh taking the stand in his double murder trial, and it was stunning today what he said in his defense and the big lie he finally admitted today that he has been telling since the killings. And later, a live report from East Palestine, Ohio. Details of the

preliminary NTSB report which says this train derailment and chemical spill according to the head of the NTSB was 100 percent preventable.



COOPER: It was a stunning day in Court in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh. Mr. Murdaugh took the stand today, admitted he'd lied repeatedly. Court resumes tomorrow morning with more cross examination of him.

The Judge tonight denied a defense request to interrupt that testimony, to call other witnesses, and after some of what Murdaugh admitted to on the stand today, it's not hard to see why the defense might want to hit pause.

Our Randi Kaye was in the courtroom.



RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Alex Murdaugh sharing his story from the witness stand telling the jury he didn't kill his wife and son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to be clear, were you anywhere in the vicinity when Paul and Maggie were shot?

MURDAUGH: I was nowhere near Paul and Maggie when they got shot.

KAYE (voice over): And after more than a year and a half, Murdaugh finally came clean about this key piece of State's evidence against him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Murdaugh, is that you on the kennel video at 8:44 PM on June 7th, the night Maggie and Paul were murdered?


KAYE (voice over): Over and over, Murdaugh had told investigators he hadn't seen his family since dinner and was not at the dog kennels around the time of the murders. But that video extracted from his son's phone was recorded just a few minutes before prosecutors believe the killings happened.

Murdaugh told the jury he had left the kennels right after the video was recorded and driven his golf cart to the main house on the property to take a nap.

[20:20:08] MURDAUGH: There is no way that I had high-velocity blood spatter on


KAYE (voice over): During cross-examination, Murdaugh clashed at times with the lead prosecutor.

MURDAUGH: And Mr. Waters, just to try to get through this quicker, I admit --

CREIGHTON WATERS, PROSECUTOR: I know you want to get to it quicker, but we are not. So answer the question.

KAYE (voice over): Evidence presented in Court also shows Murdaugh drove to his mother's house at 9:06 PM that night, and paused briefly in her driveway. He explained he was simply trying to locate his phone in his car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you during that minute or however long it was, were you disposing of murder weapons, Alex?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you disposing of bloody clothes?


KAYE (voice over): And what about that blue rain jacket recovered from his mother's house? One State's witness said it had a substantial amount of gunshot residue on the inside. The State suggested Murdaugh used it to wrap up and dispose of the murder weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This blue rain jacket, have you ever seen that before?

MURDAUGH: I've never seen it before? Never touched it. Don't know anything about it.

KAYE (voice over): Several times during cross examination, the prosecutor accused Murdaugh of being a bit too rehearsed with his responses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many times if you practiced that answer before your testimony today? Because you're been giving the same one over and over again.

MURDAUGH: I've never practiced that answer.

KAYE (voice over): Still in between the evidence, Murdaugh found some openings to share how much he says he loved his wife and son, and in gruesome detail, he described for the jury how he says he found Maggie and Paul at the kennels after returning from his mother's home.

MURDAUGH: I was on the phone with 9-1-1 and I was trying to tend to Paul-Paul, I was trying to tend to Maggie. And I just went back and forth between them.

No. I mean, I know I tried to check them for a pulse. I know I tried to turn him over.

I mean, my boy is laying facedown and doing the way he is doing, his head was the way his head was, I could see his -- I could see his brain laying on the sidewalk.


COOPER: Randi Kaye joins us now. I'm just stunned by this.

So let me just -- just yesterday wasn't Buster Murdaugh his son on the stand saying that that was not his father's voice on that tape right down at the kennels. So, am I right about that?

KAYE: Yes. Well, Buster said it wasn't, but 10 witnesses have said that it was and finally, tonight, today in Court --

COOPER: Right, but what I don't understand is --

KAYE: Alex Murdaugh finally admit --

COOPER: Alex Murdaugh's lawyers put Alex Murdaugh's son on the stand, and asked him and he said that was not my dad's voice. So Alex Murdaugh's lawyers, did they know that -- they didn't -- has Alex Murdaugh been lying to his lawyers this entire time?

KAYE: He lied to 9-1-1. He lied to the investigators. He has lied to everyone. He said he lied to his family. And he kept the lie going, because he didn't know what else to do, Anderson, until finally today. This is the first time we have ever heard him say that he was down at those kennels. That was his voice on that recording and he --

COOPER: But I am assuming that this means that his lawyers didn't even know when they put Buster Murdaugh on the stand that he was going to say this when he got on the witness stand. I mean, that this other came as surprise, you know, whenever he said he was going to testify, he must have told them he is going to say that I've been lying.

Because I mean, they wouldn't have put Buster Murdaugh on the stand and got him to say something which was not true. Right?

KAYE: Right. I would imagine so. We'd have to ask them directly, but certainly, they may -- they also didn't know if Alex Murdaugh was going to testify yet when they put Buster Murdaugh on the stand and when they've put other people on the stand.

So it wasn't until apparently overnight that he decided he was going to testify today.

COOPER: It's incredible. Randi Kaye, appreciate it.

We're going to have more of today's testimony and talk about it with our legal experts. One a defense attorney, the other a law professor and former prosecutor. We'll be right back.



COOPER: We're talking tonight about Alex Murdaugh's time on the stand which continues tomorrow morning, what he said that helps his case and what he admitted that might not. Here is another moment from it, the one his defense team likely hopes will resonate with jurors.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Murdaugh, on June 7, 2021, did you take this gun or any gun like it and shoot your son Paul in the chest in the feed room at your property off Moselle Road?

MURDAUGH: No, I did not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Murdaugh, did you take this gun or any gun like it and blow your son's brains out on June 7 or any day or anytime?

MURDAUGH: No, I did not.


COOPER: Two takes on the day now, criminal defense attorney, Mark O'Mara joins us and former Federal prosecutor, Jessica Roth. She now teaches at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law.

So Mark, just before the break, we heard Randi's report that Murdaugh admitted to lying as to his whereabouts the night of the murders. That was his voice on the tape on the video that his son had sent out right before the killing. How much of that timeline was just a few minutes in between when he now admits he was with his wife and son at the kennels where they were killed, and when prosecutors believe the killing has happened. That's got to hurt his defense, doesn't it?

MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, it hurts his defense because factually, it's indefensible, but you know, Defense 101, you have to acknowledge that which you cannot deny, and that which you know can be proven.

So he had to come in and say he was there because the one thing he has any witness, any juror has to look for, any defense attorney, and certainly the client, you have that level of credibility. Once you lose it, it is very difficult to come back from it. And had he denied that was him when the rest of us know it was, he would have lost all of that.

He had to admit it, but it definitely hurts the case because it puts him very close by, very close in time.

COOPER: Yes, I just wanted to correct something that I was insistent with Randi about. I just realized now I was wrong. They didn't ask Buster about his voice on the recording, what they asked Buster about, which I misinterpreted was did -- about whether Murdaugh said they did him wrong or I did him wrong that's what they were asking Buster on the stand, and for some reason I just -- so that's my mistake and I apologize.


So Jessica, I mean, he's blamed his addiction for this lie that he said it was like this paranoid addiction, you know, thoughts he had, that he or not a lot initially. But he also said on the stand that he's very proud of being clean and sober now for several 100 days. But he has been lying all during that time as well.

JESSICA ROTH, LAW PROFESSOR, CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW: Apparently, he has been. I mean, I thought that he gave the only possible explanation he could give for why he had lied. He had to offer an explanation for what he had told that lie initially, and repeated it. And so, the paranoia from the opioid addiction, I think, was the only one available to him.

But as you said, he also talked about having been sober and off the painkillers for quite a period of time. And he didn't explain why he never went back to the authorities or why he never went back to his friends and others to whom he had lied, and corrected the record.

COOPER: Because everybody knew. I mean, if it's true that he's been on painkillers, everybody knew that story is not like that was a surprise.

ROTH: Yes. And I think that one can imagine an explanation for why he didn't go back and correct his story with law enforcement, he clearly was concerned about being a target, at the same time. It -- the sort of the sudden change of heart about telling the truth about where he was, it sort of comes across as being -- at being at a moment where he couldn't hide from the truth anymore because of the other evidence about him being present at that critical moment right before the murders.

And so I'm just wondering how that change of heart that seems so conveniently timed to match the evidence is going to sit with the jurors.

COOPER: And he certainly did have his attorneys arguing about whether that was his voice on the tape down at the kennels for a long time. Mark, I mean, there have been speculation over the last few weeks if Murdaugh should testify. Do you think it was the right choice for him to testify?

MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It is so difficult. And I will tell you, we're going to have an answer to that when they're done cross examining him, because I presume they are going to rip him apart on all of this. And we talked about the credibility. He will have no credibility left when he's done with costs.

Probably hard to say it's easy to armchair quarterback, I would not have had him testify because of everything that they're going to have as fodder for the cross examination. I may have just relied on reasonable doubt and jurors hoping they like him.

COOPER: I mean, just in terms of credibility, his whole thing was, I was lying all the time about financial crimes and all this stuff, because the drugs, but now for the jury, they know, oh, actually he was lying while he wasn't on drugs, and he was clearly at some point lying to his lawyers, because his lawyers were arguing that wasn't his voice on the recording.

ROTH: He's taking a tremendous risk by testifying. There's no question and I think they've made a calculated assessment that it's worth it, perhaps in the hope that at least one juror will either find him credible, or will think that his story is plausible enough to create reasonable doubt and thereby hang the jury.

I mean, there is a big difference between lying to police officers, to your family, to your law partners, to your clients, stealing all of that and murdering your son and your wife. And I think that that's what he's banking on, that the jury will see a distinction there.

COOPER: Yes. Jessica Roth, thank you. Mark O'Mara, thank you so much.

Still ahead, the fallout from the toxic train derailment in Ohio, where the head of the National Transportation Safety Board now says it was 100 percent preventable.



COOPER: Tonight, new developments on the toxic train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio. The National Transportation Board revealed its findings today that NTSB chairperson calling the accident 100 percent preventable. This comes as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the East Palestine today calling for more regulations on trains like the one that derailed.

Our CNN Senior National Correspondent Miguel Marquez has details.


JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB CHAIR: This was 100 percent preventable.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 100 percent preventable says the National Transportation Safety Board. Today, releasing its initial read on what caused the toxic derailment crippling the small town of East Palestine, Ohio.

HOMENDY: During this deceleration the wheel bearing failed. Car number 23 derailed.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The NTSB saying he was an overheated wheel bearing on a single rail car that eventually set off a sensor alongside the train tracks alerting the conductor to stop the train.

HOMENDY: We have no evidence that the crew did anything wrong.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): In all 38 cars derailed including several transporting chemicals.

Surveillance video shows sparks and a bright light coming from underneath the train car in Salem, Ohio about 20 miles from East Palestine. Three tracks side detectors picked up increased heating on the car where the fire eventually started. But it wasn't until a detector indicated heating of 253 degrees Fahrenheit over ambient temperature that the conductor hit the brakes to stop the train.

HOMENDY: We'll look at the temperature thresholds which indicate immediate action once an overheated bearing is detected. Again, spacing and temperature are set by the railroads and vary considerably by railroads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's essentially where the cars were piled up from here to there, right?

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg visited East Palestine today saying he could have come sooner but didn't want to disrupt the cleanup or investigative work.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: We're going to be here day in day out, year in year out, making our railroad safer and making sure Norfolk Southern meets its responsibilities. That is a promise. And when I take very, very seriously.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Buttigieg called for stronger federal regulations for trains carrying chemicals through populated areas and in what appears to be a nod to criticism from former President Trump over the current administration's handling of the derailment. Both Buttigieg and the NTSB chair called for an end to using East Palestine for scoring political points.


HOMENDY: Enough with the politics. I don't understand why this has gotten so political. This is a community that is suffering. This is not about politics. This is about addressing their needs, their concerns. That's what this should be about.


COOPER: And Miguel Marquez joins us now from East Palestine. Do you have a sense of what investigators are focusing in on as their efforts continue?

MARQUEZ: Specifically, they are looking at those detectors along the way. There was one about 20 miles, those three indications they got that the temperature was rising. And why it was only once that -- once it hit 253 degrees over ambient temperature, did it alert the conductor to stop the train, but by that time, it was too late.

They had just gone through East Palestine. They slow this massive train down, does take some time to do that. But by that time that happened, one car caught fire. And then it caused the effect on those other cars carrying chemicals. So I think it will be -- they'll look at those detectors where they are and why it took so long for the conductor to realize that there was a problem. The train needed to stop and there was a fire under one of those cars. Anderson?

COOPER: Miguel Marquez, appreciate it. Thank you. Much more now on this with Environmental Advocate Erin Brockovich and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President Obama Republican Ray LaHood. Secretary LaHood you see Secretary Buttigieg in East Palestine today. Was he too late in going there and how do you think he's handled this?

RAY LAHOOD, FMR. U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Well, I don't think he was too late, Anderson. When I was a secretary, and the Colgan airplane crashed in Buffalo and 49 people perish, I wanted the NTSB to be on the scene. And I didn't want to be in the way when we have pipeline explosions in San Bruno, California and people were killed.

I eventually went there. But the -- our pipeline safety people went there first. I think, you know, I think having the EPA go, I think having FEMA go, I think probably was the -- and the NTSB and frankly, the rail people at DOT were also on the scene with NTSB.

COOPER: Erin, can you describe the severity of what you're seeing and hearing from residents and officials in East Palestine?

ERIN BROCKOVICH, ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATE: Well, the residents started reaching out to me as early as the early morning of February 4, just concerned about the trail derailment. Did I know anything what was going on? And as I watched it unfold as we all did, it went into an evacuation and then we had the explosion.

It was at that point the people's frustration really started to come forward. They said after the evacuation orders were lifted, they went back home. They were all having breathing issues, children wheezing, they were having strange rashes, bad headaches, their lips were kind of turning blue, their lips were tingling. And they were just getting more and more frustrated, Anderson, out of fear because they weren't getting any answers or directions or what they felt, honestly, what was going on.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, Secretary LaHood, it does seem like there was a lack of answers, particularly early on and just not enough information given out in -- from the company is certainly -- in terms of increased rail safety, though and stricter oversight of the transportation of toxic chemicals. What can the federal government do?

LAHOOD: I do think that there can be new rules and regulations. And I think while we were at DOT, we promulgated some very strong rules and regulations regarding rail safety. The EPA promulgated some very strong rules and regulations. And frankly, those were eliminated either by Congress or by the previous administration.

So the idea that safety and security is not an important issue was not true certainly during the Obama administration, and I think it, you know, some of those were eliminated during the last administration --

COOPER: Erin --

LAHOOD: -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, LAHOOD: And that's frankly, why I -- when somebody asked me about Trump going to, you know, going there for a visit, it's a complete joke. They were the -- had the, you know, the worst safety record of any administration in the history of DOT. They tried to eliminate safety rules and regulations, along with the Congress. And so, you know, I just think we need -- there needs to be more, there's no question about it.

COOPER: Erin, in terms of remediation accountability, there's obviously what the EPA is demanding of Norfolk Southern where the company is pledging to do in terms of cleanup. On a psychological level, I mean, what does it take for people in that community to really ever rest easy and feel confident that the soil and the water are safe after something like this?


BROCKOVICH: You know, I don't know that they do. I've been doing this for 30 years and that's always a problem with them. They feel that they're not seen, they're not heard. And it's really important, you know, I've watched the videos of drinking the water and everything is safe and giving an all clear, can send a real misleading message to these people.

You may be talking about municipal water in that day, it could be all safe. But as this chemical and this VOC will sit on top of the water table begins to move, it could impact wellheads, it will impact private wells. And this is something that we're going to have to monitor and set up monitoring systems for possibly decades.

You're going to have to set up monitoring systems to monitor for soil vapor intrusion, which will come. And I think it's really important when these kinds of accidents continue to happen, that we have some type of monitoring of the public, the residents, the citizens, their children, and their health and welfare because they're so concerned about the future.

As we've discussed, these things happen, and it takes time for it to unfold, and the contamination to move out. And it's just a serious reminder, as we all saw in 9/11 and all of those chemicals that came down. Was it safe? They said it was safe, and we learned into the future that was an inaccurate statement. It wasn't.

COOPER: Erin Brockovich, Secretary Ray LaHood, appreciate it. Thank you so much.

LAHOOD: Thank you.

BROCKOVICH: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, the Ukrainian mom who we have been talking with for a year, Olena Gnes.


[20:50:49] COOPER: One year ago tonight Russian troops crossed into Ukraine days later as rockets and artillery pounded Kyiv. We spoke to Olena Gnes, a Ukrainian mom sheltering in a basement with her three children. Tonight, an update on her life now.


OLENA GNES, UKRAINIAN MOM: We don't know what's really going on, but the truth is that we have several explosions. And we will now go to the shelter and wait over there for what's going to happen next.

COOPER (voice-over): This was Olena Gnes one year ago.

GNES: (INAUDIBLE) to embassies guys.

COOPER (voice-over): When the Russian invasion began, her husband Serhi (ph) volunteered to fight.

GNES: People keep calm, but of course everybody's very much worried.

COOPER (voice-over): And she moved to this basement shelter with their three young children.

GNES: Daryna (ph), hello.

COOPER (on-camera): Thank you so much, Olena, for talking to us.

(voice-over): We first spoke just days later.

(on-camera): Have you thought about trying to leave?

GNES: Well, we were talking with my husband, what should we do? And there were two scenarios. One is to escape and survive. Another one is to stay and take the battle. And we decided to stay.

COOPER (voice-over): We continue to check in with Olena during those early months of the war. And she frequently posted heartbreaking videos on her YouTube channel, what is Ukraine?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): Mom, where is daddy going?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Mom, I want to go with daddy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): Where did daddy go?

GNES: (through translation): He went to defend us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): To war?

COOPER (on-camera): Hey, it's Anderson.

GNES: Anderson.

COOPER (voice-over): I finally got to meet her in person in late April while reporting in Kyiv.

(on-camera): Hey. How are you?

GNES: I'm fine. So nice to meet you.

COOPER (voice-over): During the day, Olena felt safe enough to return to her apartment with her children.

GNES: For me to do the coffee, I need your help.

COOPER (on-camera): OK, sure. Yes. OK.

GNES: Yes, yes. I mean, I need you through this.

COOPER (on-camera): Oh my god. Wow.

GNES: Do you know how to --

COOPER (on-camera): Yes, pretty. Yes.

GNES: Maybe she will just, I think -- maybe she will wake up, right. I didn't know. Right. You have to know how to do this. Yes. Done. Well done, Anderson. You're doing great.

COOPER (voice-over): Olena was determined to stay in Kyiv and support the war effort.

GNES: I hope we will have veterans. Nice to meet you.

COOPER (on-camera): Yes. I hope we meet in the happier days.

GNES: Yes.

COOPER (on-camera): Thank you.

GNES: Thank you. Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER (voice-over): This is Olena Gnes today. She's in the United States staying in a small town in Georgia.

GNES: It's really amazing, beautiful country.

COOPER (voice-over): Back in the fall while still in Ukraine, her eight-year-old daughter Katya was diagnosed with autism. And the trauma of war was affecting her mental health. That's when Mary and Scott Magee, who'd seen Olena's videos online invited her and her family to stay with him in Georgia as part of a new Ukrainian refugee program.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lord, thank you for this day. Thanks for this food.

COOPER (voice-over): They arrived just in time for their first American Thanksgiving.

GNES: Katya made a speech and she said thank you, mommy and daddy for taking us here to a safe place. And thank you for keeping us alive.

Thank you, Tomato (ph) for taking us to her home. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I'm just (INAUDIBLE) in here.

COOPER (voice-over): Katya is now starting to adjust to life outside a warzone. To Ross (ph) who's six has discovered the joys of American football.

GNES: He, like, wow, really, you can take the ball into your hands and you can push each other and he fell in love with this game.

COOPER (voice-over): And Daryna (ph) now 16 months old is thriving.


GNES: This is the kids' room. This is where they sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't look under my bed.

GNES: Yes, but please don't look under the beds because under the beds they immediately made bomb shelters for themselves because they did not fully trust it. We enrolled them a couple of weeks ago to American school, this school is online.

At first when we just came here, I didn't want to enroll them to any American school because I was kind of sure we will come back to Ukraine very soon. At some point, I realized, OK, we have to live our life. No, just sit here like in a bomb shelter and wait for the war to be over.

COOPER (voice-over): Olena and her family are allowed to stay here for two years and she and her husband have applied for work permits and driver's licenses. She's grateful to the United States and to Mary and Scott, but it's hard being away from your home when it's under attack.

GNES: I ran away from the war with -- to save my children. It's not the life that I wanted for myself. I want the genocide to stop in Ukraine. I want to come back to my country and leave my my life in my country.

This is what I was doing during the war.

I still did not lose hope and humanity. I think there is no alternative but to be brave and to believe in light and to fight for light against darkness.


COOPER: Such a beautiful family. One family, one year on the anniversary of this war. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Global sign of support for Ukraine tonight. On the left, London. On the right, Brussels. And in the center, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The CNN townhall, "Russia's Invasion of Ukraine One Year Later" hosted by Fareed Zakaria starts now.