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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Murdaugh Denies Killing Wife, Son But Admits He Lied To Police; Zelenskyy: Ukraine Will Win If Allies Stay United; Sources: Intelligence Suggests China Is Considering Sending Drones And Ammunition To Russia; China Calls For Russia-Ukraine Ceasefire As Claims To Neutrality Questioned; Sources: Intelligence Suggests China Is Considering Sending Drones And Ammunition To Russia; CNN Rides Aboard U.S. Navy Recon Plan, Gets Up-Close Look At Chinese Jet; GA Judge Who Over Saw Grand Jury Trump Probe Says Jurors Are Free To Discuss Final Report; Winter Storm Works Its Way Through West Coast, Bringing Heavy Snow, Rain And Wind To California. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 24, 2023 - 20:00   ET


(UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: Anyone who hasn't lived through it won't understand the fear. The dread. And the images can't reflect this. It's very scary. Terrible.

I'm speechless, honestly.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Don't miss the will to win on Sunday at 8:00 PM Eastern.

Thank you all so much for being here. AC 360 starts now.



We begin tonight with the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial and his attempt today to convince a jury that being a serial liar and being at the scene of his wife and son slaughtered just before they were slaughtered does not make him a killer. That's what it boils down to.

Having admitted yesterday on the witness stand to telling the string of lies, most significantly about being at the scene of the crime near the time it happened, he spent another day today under a tough question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alex, did you murder Maggie?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you murder Paul? MURDAUGH: I would never hurt Paul.


COOPER: Court adjourned late today capping a stunning week by any measure.

CNN's Randi Kaye joins us now with the latest. So what was it like in Court today?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this was the first time we got to see the prosecutor question Alex Murdaugh about the night of the murders and he pressed him on the details. He asked him what time he got to those kennels where the murders took place? How long he was there? What did he talk about with his wife and son?

And he asked him these questions repeatedly, presumably, to try and trip him up, but he kept coming back to the same theme, don't believe what Alex Murdaugh is telling you. Here is how it played out in Court.


MURDAUGH: I have lied well over a decade.

KAYE (voice over): Lies that's what lead prosecutor, Creighton Waters was trying to expose with Alex Murdaugh on the stand.

MURDAUGH: I told a lie about being down there and I got myself aware to that.

KAYE (voice over): For hours, Waters tried to box Murdaugh into a corner using cell phone data and timeline evidence from the night of the murders.

MURDAUGH: I'm still not absolutely certain exactly how they ended up at the kennel.

KAYE (voice over): Murdaugh told the jury he drove his golf cart to meet his wife, Maggie and son, Paul in the kennels. He says that was just before Paul Murdaugh recorded this kennel video. Murdaugh can be heard talking in the background.

MURDAUGH: It certainly could have been 8:47, before I left out of there.

KAYE (voice over): Murdaugh estimated it is about a two-minute drive on the golf cart from the kennel to the main house, which would put him there at 8:49 PM, the very same time prosecutors say Maggie and Paul's phones ceased all activity suggesting they were dead.

Once back at the house --

CREIGHTON WATERS, PROSECUTOR: You lay down on the couch.

MURDAUGH: That's correct. KAYE (voice over): Keep in mind, Murdaugh's phone showed no activity from 8:09 to 9:02. He says he left it at the main house when he went down to the kennels.

WATERS: You would agree with me that from 9:02 to 9:06, your phone finally comes to life and starts showing a lot of steps and that's far more steps in a shorter time period than any time prior as you've seen from the testimony in this case.

So what were you so busy doing?

MURDAUGH: That's --

WATERS: Going to the bathroom?

MURDAUGH: No, I don't think that I went to bathroom.

WATERS: Did you get on a treadmill?

MURDAUGH: No, I did not get on the treadmill.

WATERS: Jog in place.

MURDAUGH: No, I didn't job in place.

And what I wasn't doing is doing anything as I believe you've implied that I was cleaning off or washing off or washing off guns, putting guns in a raincoat and I can promise you that I wasn't doing any of that.

KAYE (voice over): Along with all the steps Murdaugh took, data presented in court shows he made a flurry of phone calls.

WATERS: Finally having your phone in your hand, moving around and making all these phone calls to manufacture an alibi. Is that not true?

MURDAUGH: That's absolutely incorrect.

KAYE (voice over): Meanwhile, Murdaugh's attempt to show he had been trying to cooperate with investigators backfired.

Other than lying to them about going to the kennel, I was cooperative in every aspect of this investigation.

WATERS: Very cooperative, except for maybe the most important fact of all that you were at the murder scene with the victims just minutes before they died.

KAYE (voice over): The prosecutor did his best to prove to the jury no one other than Alex Murdaugh could have killed his wife and son.

WATERS: What you're telling this jury is that it's a random vigilante that just happened to know that Paul and Maggie were both at Moselle on June 7th, that knew that they would be at the kennels alone on June 7th and knew that you would not be there, but only between the times of 8:49 and 9:02.

MURDAUGH: You got a lot of factors in there, Mr. Waters, all of which I do not agree with, but some of which I do.


COOPER: I mean, Randi, that last bit from the prosecutor seem quite effective, sort of laying out all the things essentially that Alex Murdaugh is claiming about other people that would have had to have happened if other people had been involved in the killing of his wife and son.


KAYE: Absolutely, and something else more effective, Anderson, is when the prosecutor asked him today about the behavior of the dogs at the kennels. There were several of the family's dogs there. Were they barking? Were they acting strangely? Acting as if they could sense someone else might be there? And Alex Murdaugh said, no, they weren't doing any of that. They didn't -- there was nobody else there, he told the prosecutor. There was no one else there for those dogs to sense.

These are hunting dogs, Anderson. We know how dogs, how their noses work. He was basically telling the prosecutor, I was the only one there with my family.

COOPER: Randi Kaye, appreciate it. Thank you.

Here to break down the day and the week, Yeshiva University Law Professor and former Federal prosecutor, Jessica Roth; also criminal defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh.

Jessica, that is just such a fascinating end of his testimony so far. What did you make of what he said? How did he do?

JESSICA ROTH, YESHIVA UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I thought there were some points he made that were helpful to him. I thought he was fairly persuasive talking about how much he loved his wife and his son, and of course, that's one of the biggest sticking points for the prosecution in this trial, is would he really do this despite all the other crimes he has admitted to, would what he actually kill his wife and son?

So whenever he talked about loving them, I thought that was fairly effective. I also thought that he effectively put before the jury a redirect, so at the very end, that he was facing charges for the fraud crimes that he had just admitted to. And so what that allows the jury to talk about in the jury room, if they so wish, is, look, if we don't convict him of murder, he is probably going to be convicted of all these financial crimes. So, he'll be held accountable in some way.

COOPER: And so that is interesting. So, you think it might make the jury feel like well, okay, maybe there is reasonable doubt, and we don't feel so bad about not convicting him because he's going to serve time for financial crimes.

ROTH: It's possible that if there's at least one juror who thinks they have reasonable doubt.

COOPER: Mark, we heard from Randi's piece about the prosecution pushing Murdaugh on the timeline from that night, even questioning the number of steps that Murdaugh took when he allegedly was preparing to go to his mom's house. How do you think the prosecutor actually did today?

MARK EIGLARSH, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think that he was effective at times. You know, it is kind of misleading when people watch the clips that you played, you'd say, wow, he did a great job. But what they don't know is between all those great moments was fat, like a fatty steak. I like a lean filet mignon when I do a cross examination. You hit the high points, you carefully craft every question that you're going to ask that person. You get in and you get out.

I think that Murdaugh is now smiling. He is happier than five guys on a ski trip, because he knows that while the prosecutor approached his jugular, he never squeezed it and he never made it clear for the jurors 100 percent that this guy is void of credibility.

COOPER: Jessica, I mean, it is still circumstantial, the case, is it not?

ROTH: It's an entirely circumstantial case, which is a big problem for the prosecution, but I do think that the prosecutor was very effective today on narrowing the timeline, and then showing just how implausible an alternative theory is.

COOPER: Right. I mean, when he ticks off all the things that would have to have happened, it doesn't really make any sense.

ROTH: Right. It's a very narrow timeframe now that the defendant has admitted that was him at the kennels. He talked about the dogs not barking, right, which reminds me of a famous Sherlock Holmes story that was solved in part because the dog didn't bark.

I think that the notion also that somebody would have shown up at exactly the right window when Murdaugh himself would have left --

COOPER: And unarmed.

ROTH: Unarmed knowing that there would be guns available. I mean, when you put all that together, and then also driven out the way that he did and left the wife's phone on that route, it does seem really implausible.

On the other hand, right. Is there a possible reasonable doubt there given that it's a circumstantial case? That's really what it's going to come down to.

COOPER: Do you think, Mark, the idea of just because somebody -- I mean, the fact that he has lied so repeatedly, and so effectively, for decades essentially. You know, I mean, he said he wouldn't do anything to hurt his wife and son. He's been a drug addict around his wife and son in the home hiding pills and doing things which hurt them. They knew about this.

EIGLARSH: Yes, lying is part of addiction, and hopefully, the prosecutors drive that home that this guy becomes really good at it. Understand, he convinced numerous agents on the scene, "I wasn't there. I was not there. I've got an alibi." He didn't know that his voice was on that video and all of a sudden when it was played in Court, and then they identified him as the guy there in the house, he is like, okay, okay, all right, you got me. All right, I was at the scene, but I'm a drug addict and I'm super paranoid.

If that's not driven home by these prosecutors, then they are missing a huge opportunity. Clearly, he is showing consciousness of guilt that is why he said what he said.


COOPER: Jessica, one of the things he was saying is that he believes that the killing was linked to this boating accident that his son had, which his son was likely drunk, likely driving the boat, and a person was killed, one of his son's friends was killed. Do you think that seems plausible to people? I mean, it --

ROTH: I don't know how it is sitting with the jury.

COOPER: He claimed that there were vile social media posts. It's a big jump from a vile social media post to murder.

ROTH: That's what I've been thinking about. There has been no evidence offered about any threats outside of the social media context toward Paul or toward anybody in the family and so the leap from somebody posting something hateful on social media to showing up in this narrow window with all of these sort of implausible factors sort of going their way to do a double homicide, not only of Paul, but of his mother. I mean, that just seems like a very big leap for the jury to make with no evidence that would provide the connections.

COOPER: Mark, you said that putting a defendant on the stand is ultimately an act of desperation. Obviously, it is something that defense attorneys think very hard about doing in a case like this.

Ultimately, do you think it was the right call today?

EIGLARSH: In this particular case, it was.

I've been practicing for 30 years, in spite of my extraordinarily youthful appearance, and I've put on maybe two or three defendants. I don't like to put them on because number one, I can't control what they're going to say. You never know how they're going to do.

But he had to do it. He had to explain, my goodness, that's my voice on that video. It puts me at the scene. There are too many things that he had to explain. And ultimately, I think he did well under the circumstances because the prosecutor missed too many moments. It only takes one, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. EIGLARSH: If he connects with one juror, he avoids a conviction. Sure, they'll retry him, but a victory in this case would be a hung jury when they don't agree to a unanimous decision.

COOPER: Mark Eiglarsh, appreciate it; Jessica Roth as well. Thanks so much.

Coming up next, what a former FBI criminal profiler sees Alex Murdaugh's testimony this week.

And later new commitments from the West to Ukraine and a prediction from Ukraine's President that this will be the year of victory over Russia.



COOPER: We've been talking tonight about Alex Murdaugh's stunning time on the witness stand in his double murder trial, maintaining his innocence in the slaughter of his wife, Maggie and son, Paul.


MURDAUGH: I can promise you, I would hurt myself before I would hurt one of them. Without a doubt.


COOPER: Joining us now to talk about Mr. Murdaugh's performance on the stand, former FBI criminal profiler, Mary Ellen O'Toole.

Mary Ellen, did you buy him? I mean, did you buy what he was selling on the stand?

MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT PROFILER: Well, I think it's important that if at least one jury or jury member buys his performance, that is what is really going to be critical. And I thought he did really quite a good job of maintaining his composure throughout the entire day. And in spite of how the prosecutor was coming across in a pretty aggressive way, he was talking about issues that he had in his life, and if one juror listens to those issues, and says, well, I have a son who has those same issues. I know what it's like to be a drug addict, I know what it's like to be very suspicious of law enforcement, and to be a constant liar.

So all that has to happen is one person on that jury relate to him and what his life experiences have been, of course, in combination with a few other things as well, like the CSI effect, which is huge in a case like this.

COOPER: People think that there would be more evidence than there is actually because it is still circumstantial, largely.

O'TOOLE: I think so, and we see a time after time with CSI, people watch TV shows and they want the DNA and they want the fingerprints and they want everything laid out in a very clear package, but that often is not the case. And in this case, it's not the case.

And to expect the juror to make -- that one juror to make that leap from a drug addict to a serial liar, to a double murderer, that's a huge leap to ask people to make, especially in light of an alternative motive, which is social media and people, while it might be a long shot, people do know how devastating social media can be.

Again, one person hears all of that puts it together, and really relates to how he came across today, that person can cause some problems.

COOPER: Yes. It's interesting, though, and maybe I'm showing a bias here, but I just found -- I mean, this is a person who has lied for decades and who was ripped off poor families in this county, in the county where he lives and has been treated as royalty his entire life.

In that same kind of "Aw, shucks, I would never harm anybody, I would never do anything wrong" voice, he has lied to people and stolen their life savings from them, for decades and lived off it.

So I guess, I don't know, do you think jurors can separate somebody being a serial liar from being a murderer?

O'TOOLE: I definitely do think that there are people that can do that. People can be extremely forgiving of someone that seems to be repentant about their past. And, again, that may not be the makeup of all the people on this jury, but all they need is to have one person that really relates to that, that has a very forgiving nature, that has a very empathic nature, and has those life experiences, for example, similar to what he was talking about today and that could be the combination for someone that decides to really side with him.

COOPER: Yes. Fascinating. Mary, Ellen O'Toole, I really appreciate your perspective. Thank you so much.

O'TOOLE: You're welcome.

COOPER: Just ahead, CNN's Christiane Amanpour on what Ukrainian President Zelenskyy told her and other reporters today at the one-year mark of the Russian invasion about the need for the West to stay unified.



COOPER: A year into Russia's invasion of his country, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy today said his country could win the war this year as long as its allies remain united, in his words "like a fist."

To that end, President Biden today met by teleconference with him and leaders of the G7 with the administration announcing another new military aid package for Ukraine.

More now from CNN chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour, who was at the wide-ranging press conference with Zelenskyy. Christiane, what did you ask President Zelenskyy?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, I asked him about the timeline, because even though the friends of Ukraine led by the United States have sent a huge number of weapons, as we all know, it is a speed game now, it is a question of hurrying up, which is what Zelenskyy said.

I was trying to figure out whether he thought either the US and its allies would have more staying power, or Russia, which believes it can wait out the United States.


AMANPOUR: Mr. President, I'm interested in the timeline. Today, on the anniversary, you spoke to your own forces and you called for victory within this year.

You have heard the Western friends, your partners talk about "as long as it takes." You know that the Russian leader believes that time is on his side. Why do you think that it's possible by the end of the year? And how do you assess the meaning of "as long as it takes" from your Ukrainian perspective?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Thank you for the question. Indeed, I want to very much, if each of us, each partner, and we in our country, if we stay as one fist, one strong fist and work towards victory, this is a victory of values.

If they stick to their words to their terms, and it's not just blah, blah, blah, I believe in it.

We have been partners, strong partners, and there is evidence to that. If we all do our important homework, victory will be inevitable. I am certain that there will be victory.



AMANPOUR: And Anderson, there are an increasing number of people, not only here in Ukraine, but even in the United States, military experts who say that what Ukraine needs is all the long range, all the aircraft and attack helicopters, and obviously ammunition that they need in order to be able to much more rapidly conduct counteroffensives, and if negotiation is the end game, then they must be able to get quickly to a place on the battlefield that they can actually negotiate from a position of strength.

COOPER: What's the level of concern among Ukrainian officials tonight about Russia's increasing alignment with China, and in particular, the idea that China might supply drones and ammunition for use in the war.

AMANPOUR: Well, President Zelenskyy addressed that in his presser and I asked the Deputy Foreign Minister myself, and they are not happy. They are not speaking out against China, because they're trying to maintain this notion that China is neutral. But indeed, of course, if China does get involved in the way that you just mentioned, it would, according to the US Defense Secretary prolong the war, that's for absolute sure. And it just raises the stakes, of course.

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

More now on how the Biden administration sees the possibility of China's supplying lethal aid to Russia. Shortly before airtime, I spoke to John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications with the National Security Council.


COOPER: Admiral Kirby, CNN has reported that China is leaning toward providing Russia with drones and ammunition for use in Ukraine. If US Intelligence confirms a transaction like that has taken place, what kind of action is possible, if any?

ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET), COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS AT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, I don't want to get ahead of where we are right now, Anderson. We have indications that they are considering that kind of assistance, but we -- and they haven't taken it off the table, but they haven't acted on that and we are watching this as closely as we can.

I think you've heard Secretary Blinken talk about how he has relayed our concerns directly to his counterpart in Beijing, and that there would certainly be ramifications, should they move in that direction.

But I want to stress that we just haven't seen any indication that they've made that kind of a decision.

COOPER: There's reporting in "Der Spiegel" that it would be kamikaze drones in particular, maybe even given components to Russia that they could then build their own, a certain number every month, according to "Der Spiegel."

If this was done through Chinese companies as opposed to directly by the Chinese government, would that make any difference to the US?

KIRBY: Well, I think there is very -- sometimes very little distinction between Chinese companies and the state. And again, I don't want to get ahead of where things are.

The Chinese military is obviously very advanced, very, very good capabilities and certainly should that occur, it would make an impact on the war in Ukraine, and we don't believe it's in China's interest to want to be on that side of it.

COOPER: You said earlier today that Iran is seeking to purchase billions of dollars' worth of military equipment from Russia -- fighter jets, helicopters, radar, and an exchange, Iran is sending Russia artillery and tank rounds. So, what is that level of cooperation between Russia and Iran? What does it mean, not only for Ukraine, but for the Middle East?

KIRBY: That's exactly right. You nailed it.

It isn't just about the impact that those capabilities, Iranian capabilities will have on Russia's war in Ukraine. It is about what Iran wants in return, and they want support from Russia, militarily speaking. And in some of those systems, I talked about attack helicopters as well and combat trainer aircraft.

All of those could make the Iranian military more lethal, more capable and more destabilizing to our friends and partners in the Middle East. So it goes both ways, and that is why we're watching this carefully.

It's also why quite frankly, when we saw this relationship start to advance, we put it out there publicly, and it's why we did it again today.

COOPER: Do you have an assessment of how beneficial these drones have been for Russia, specifically the attack drones that have been used against the power grid and other targets?

KIRBY: Yes, several hundred of them and the Russians, they struggled at first to learn the system, and they had some Iranian trainers on the ground in Crimea, helping them learn. And after they learned and got more proficient, they absolutely were able to use them with a degree of lethality and accuracy, hitting civilian targets, mostly civilian infrastructure, and doing so because they're slow and low, being able to try to evade air defense capabilities of the Ukrainians.

Now, they weren't all successful, but some of them did get through. So they did have an impact. There's no question about that.

COOPER: The Chinese have released this proposal for peace between Ukraine and Russia. The Russians have responded saying they "share Beijing's views." Is this anything that's meaningful at all?

KIRBY: It's difficult to know exactly how far this will go, and it is also difficult to see China as an effective mediator here between Russia and Ukraine, particularly when they have not had any communication with Ukraine whatsoever about the so-called proposals.

We've said, President Biden has said nothing about Ukraine, without Ukraine, for a peace proposal, for a negotiation and believe me, we would welcome a legitimate credible peace proposal. But for one to be credible and sustainable, it has to start from the foundation of Ukraine being the victim here, and Russia being the aggressor, and has to also start with a foundational belief in Ukraine's sovereignty and their ability to have their country back.

It has to got to start there and there hasn't been any conversations between China and Ukraine. Again, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine as far as we are concerned.


COOPER: Admiral John Kirby, appreciate it. Thank you.

KIRBY: Yes, sir. COOPER: Some additional perspective now from lawmaker retired Marine who recently spent time in Ukraine, Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton serves on the House Armed Services Committee in the Select Committee on strategic competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party. I spoke to him this evening.


COOPER: Congressman, I appreciate you joining us. As you know, sources are telling CNN that China is considering sending drones and ammunition to Russia. Admiral Kirby just said that the Biden administration is watching this closely. What's your level of concern right now? How would that change the dynamic of the war?

REP. SETH MOULTON (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, look, my level of concern is high because we want this war to end and China is going to prolong this war, if they gave more aid to Vladimir Putin and Russia and his illegal invasion.

COOPER: How effective do you think the drones that Iran has been providing to Russia have been?

MOULTON: You know, they've been effective, the Ukrainians are remarkably, not just resilient, but innovative, and they figured out ways to shoot them down. But the Chinese are world leaders in drone technology. So obviously, these could be significant weapons on the battlefield.

And, you know, just a few days ago, China was talking about how they're presenting a peace plan. China's not advocating for peace here. They're aiding an invader. That's what they're doing, if they choose to pursue this.

COOPER: Russia says that there's a proxy war between the West and Russia. How concerned are you that this could get framed as a proxy war between the West and Russia and then China, if they get involved?

MOULTON: Well, look, I honestly think, Anderson, that if China wants to join the Russia-Iran club here, they're going to find an incredibly United Western alliance, that's going to make their whole project to take over Taiwan, which Xi Jinping has talked about a lot, much more difficult. Because they're going to realize that the Western stands strong with the United States of America, and we stand strong based on our values, based on freedom, the rule of law, based on rules that China itself has supported.

Remember, the Chinese foreign minister recently said that he supports the idea that sovereign nations have territorial integrity. That means that he supports the idea that Ukraine should exist as a nation. So there's, obviously, some disagreement going on within China right now.

And if the Chinese Communist Party chooses to join forces with Putin, they're putting themselves on the wrong side of the rule of law. I think, fundamentally, they're putting themselves on the wrong side of history.

COOPER: How strong is support for Ukraine in Congress in the U.S. among some of your Republican colleagues?

MOULTON: It's good question, Anderson. Because I know there are some very loud voices on the far right, in Congress, who are expressing doubts about continued support for Ukraine. And let me tell you, the support for Ukraine and Congress is strong. It's bipartisan.

I do think that some Americans are asking legitimate questions, are asking how much money should we spend? How long should this go on. But by investing in Ukraine today, we're investing in our national security in the future, not just Ukraine. We're showing the world that we're not going to allow another ground war in Europe.

And let's be clear, if Putin goes further than Ukraine, it could be to a NATO country, and that could cost American lives, the young American men and women would be fighting and dying. It's also showing the rest of the world including Xi Jinping, that the Western alliance is going to stay step strong, stand together and not allow autocratic leader to take over foreign democratic nations.

COOPER: Yes. Congressman Moulton, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

MOULTON: Good to see you, Anderson.


COOPER: Coming up, a unique view of the growing tensions with China. CNN went out with the U.S. reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea and a Chinese jet came to intercept it. It got so close. You can actually see the pilots ahead.



COOPER: Before the break, we were talking about the new U.S. intelligence that China is considering arming Russia and Ukraine with continued tension between China and the U.S. CNN's Ivan Watson recently had the opportunity to spending time on a navy reconnaissance plane which unexpectedly caught the attention of a Chinese jet.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a close encounter with a Chinese war plane filmed just off the wing of a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane flying over the South China Sea.

(on-camera): We're getting a close up look at a Chinese fighter jet. The air crew here identifies it as a J-11, a two-seater that they say is armed with air-to-air missiles. And it's been shadowing this U.S. Navy plane now for about 15 minutes. It is pretty remarkable to see this Chinese warplane operating at such close proximity, just several hundred feet away from our aircraft.

(voice-over): The Chinese fighter escort part of a regular routine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd say it's another Friday afternoon in South China Sea.

WATSON (voice-over): The U.S. Navy invited CNN to fly on a P8 reconnaissance plane taking off from a U.S. airbase on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Along the way picking up fuel from a flying gas station.

(on-camera): We're refueling in midair right now. Flying just about 40 feet away from a KC-135 tanker plane.

(voice-over): The plane is headed past the self-governing island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own, to the South China Sea, which China also claims almost all for itself, ignoring competing claims from countries like Vietnam and the Philippines.


Some 30 miles from the Chinese occupied Paracel Islands, a Chinese voice crackles over the radio.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: American aircraft, this is the PLA air force. You are approaching Chinese airspace. Keep a safe distance or you will be intercepted.

WATSON (voice-over): That's when the Chinese People's Liberation Army fighter jet appears, flying so close you can see the pilots in their cockpit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: PLA fighter aircraft, this is U.S. Navy P8 on VHF 121 decimal five. I hold you on my left wing and I intend to continue to proceed to the west.

WATSON (voice-over): The Chinese pilot never responds, but eventually leaves when the U.S. plane turns south.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like oil spots as they build on one reef and then build on another.

WATSON (voice-over): Commodore Will Toraason (ph) shows the network of manmade islands China built on what had been coral reefs claimed by other countries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our number one focus here is to ensure that we have continued access alongside all of our allies and partners to international airspace and international waters.

WATSON (voice-over): The U.S. presence here aimed at preventing further encroachment by China.

(on-camera): We're flying at a low altitude 1,000 feet, a little more than 300 meters above sea level east of Taiwan, looking for a Chinese warship currently believed to be operating in these stormy waters.

(voice-over): The plane spots a Chinese guided missile destroyer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: U.S. aircraft. U.S. aircraft. This is Chinese navy warship. You are approaching me. Keep safe distance away from me over. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a United States military aircraft and I will remain a safe distance from your unit.

WATSON (voice-over): A cat and mouse game between two rival militaries in one of the most hotly contested regions in the world.


COOPER: And Ivan Watson joins us now from Okinawa, Japan. It's fascinating to see that the jet so close. The China has the world's largest Navy and continues to build it, don't they?

WATSON: They do. I mean, they've eclipsed the U.S. Navy in size, the world's largest Navy. They have about 340 ships, whereas the U.S. has about 300 And this week, the U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, he said that China has a significant advantage when it comes to shipbuilding, and that gap is expected to grow even though there are plans to modernize the U.S. Navy.

Now, one thing, however, that China is doing with its kind of aggressive actions in places like the South China Sea is it's pushing smaller countries like the Philippines which a couple of years ago, was ready to end military relations with the U.S. to now trying to expand it and Philippines inviting U.S. forces to operate out of more Philippines bases.

Japan recently announcing that it will dramatically expand its defense expenditures. And the U.S. is partnering up with countries like Australia and the U.K. to build nuclear submarines. All of this is aimed at basically force projection, and trying to convince Beijing to think twice before acting too provocatively in some of these contested areas, as we've seen Russia do in Ukraine. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Ivan Watson, fascinating. Appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, new reporting and what the judge says about that highly unusual media tour by the foreperson of the Georgia Grand Jury investigating former president.

Also, there snow today in Southern California. Our Harry Enten joins us to break down the weird weather records being broken across the country.



COOPER: The judge presiding of the special Georgia grand jury investigating attempts to overturn the election has now clarified the rules about what can and can't be said about the process by members of the grand jury He did this because of the highly unusual media tour put on by the jury foreperson. Emily Kohrs spoke to several news organizations including CNN.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: 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 will say that when this list comes out, you wouldn't -- there no major plot twist waiting for you.


COOPER: CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray spoke with a judge and has the latest for us tonight. Sara, what did the judge tell you about the foreperson who spoke out earlier this week?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he really elaborated on what the guiding principles were, what he told the special grand jurors they could share. He made it clear that they are allowed to share what witnesses said to them, what they decided to put in the final report.

So even if Emily Kohrs had come out and said explicitly, these are the names of the people, we referred for criminal indictment, she still would have been within the bounds of what the special grand jurors are allowed to share. But what they were not allowed to share are the deliberation. So essentially, anything that went on, you know, she was talking to other special grand jurors without the witnesses in the room, without prosecutors in the room.

And we asked him, my producer and I, you know, do you think Emily Kohrs may have overstepped at any point, may have violated these rules? And he said it's not for me to assess. So he was playing it a little careful there. But I think people are really thrown because the secrecy rules for this special grand jury in Georgia are obviously very different from what we were used to seeing from federal grand juries.

COOPER: How are the former president's attorneys reacting to all this?

MURRAY: You know, the former president's attorneys have basically slammed Emily Kohrs that media tour this week. They've said it undermines the seriousness of the investigation that was conducted by the special grand jury. They said whatever conclusions were drawn, were not the risk of an analytical, trustworthy or credible investigation.

When we spoke to Judge McBurney about what he felt about the integrity of the process, he said he felt like the special grand jury complied with all the rules, all the laws surrounding this and essentially upheld the charter their mandate. Anderson?

COOPER: All right. Sara Murray, appreciate it. Thanks.

MURRAY: Thanks.

COOPER: Perspective now from CNN Legal Analyst and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Elliot Williams. So what do you make of what the judge told Sara Murray today?


ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Anderson, two things can be true that she followed the judge's directions. That it was perfectly permissible, everything that she said, and not specifically disclosing deliberations. That can be true, but it can also be true that it was just a really bad idea to go out and speaking publicly about the process in this way.

And the risks both practical and legal to being out in public speaking about what sort of went on behind the scenes of a special grand jury. Just a really, really bad idea.

COOPER: When the judge was asked regarding the foreperson's media interviews, he said, it's not for him to assess. I guess the appropriateness of it, even though he was saying it didn't violate any of the rules. What are -- what do you think the -- I mean, obviously, it was very odd to see at times, what was -- what's the harm done do you think?

WILLIAMS: OK, so there's a few harms. Well, number one you already seen, but with the former president's attorneys being out there saying that the process itself isn't fair because it was a bit of a kangaroo court where these people went in wanting to indict the former president from the moment they went in there. So it casts sort of a bit of doubt on the impartiality and the fairness of the process.

The other thing, Anderson, is that there's a really big risk of just some evidence or some information that they heard was presented them leaking out. And that, number one, runs the risk of jeopardizing the privacy of people who haven't been charged with crimes or two, literally spooking potential witnesses, or even defendants and it just hopping on a plane and flying to Switzerland in advance of getting charged with a crime.

You just, you know, you just keep your mouth shut when you're a grand juror, even recognizing that people have a right to speak and, you know, we ought to embrace that. But the rest of the process are just too great.

COOPER: It does sort of undermining public confidence potentially, in the process.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. And I think, you know, when -- it almost starts feeling like it's a bit of a game, or that reality TV where you're teasing that this exciting big thing is going to happen when the way that the process ought to work is that people come in behave in an impartial manner and either recommend charges or not. But this whole idea of what, you know, you won't be surprised what comes out. It just makes the whole thing smell kind of fishy.

COOPER: So can the former president's legal team use the foreperson's media appearances to their advantage in some way?

WILLIAMS: Yes, they can use them to their advantage and certainly move to dismiss any indictments or so on. Now, to be clear, nothing she said really crossed on -- and this is Judge McBurney's point, nothing really crossed the line into imperiling -- the integrity of the investigation.

This is all about the appearance of fairness and impartiality and you really don't want to start off what could frankly be the trial of the century if it's to happen with this cloud or taint of impartiality, sort of messing up the whole process.

COOPER: Elliot Williams, appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up next, snow where rarely falls and Senior Data Reporter Harry Enten doing what he rarely does being the weatherman that I think he's always wanted to be, who joins me next.



COOPER: Tonight, a rare phenomenon in the West, snow, rain and high winds prompted blizzard warnings in Southern California is the first in Los Angeles since 1989. Up to 5 feet of snow as possible some areas that see between 7 and 8 feet.

And for the first time ever, the San Diego National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the San Bernardino County mountains saying they could get 3 to 5 feet of snow through Saturday morning. This comes as both record breaking coals and heat spreads across the nation.

CNN's Senior Data Reporter Harry Enten joins us now with the latest. I did not know you are such a weather enthusiast.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I am the biggest weather enthusiast. I will tell you, the kids at weather camp I went to Penn State weather camp back in the mid-2000s. They would be so jealous of me right now. I fulfilled the dream of becoming a weatherman on national television, guys. I did it. I did it. Yes.

COOPER: How many kids went to weather camp with you, by the way?

ENTEN: There was at least 20 or 25 in that class.


ENTEN: We watched "Twister", we visited the National Weather Service.

COOPER: You watch "Twister", the movie?

ENTEN: Yes. We visited AccuWeather. I put a video online forecasting. My mother was very proud of me.

COOPER: So you all have like mobile satellite uplink units on your helmets?

ENTEN: Sure, we had the helmets on, you know, we were measuring the atmosphere for the National Weather Service. We were kind of guinea pigs as well.

COOPER: I like that. All right, so talk this winter storm on the West Coast.

ENTEN: Yes, tremendous stuff. You know, you mentioned it's the first time ever that the San Diego National Weather Service office issued blizzard warnings. San Francisco saw its coldest ever February 23rd yesterday. The record low this morning for February 24 as well. Go up to Portland, right?

What we saw was the second highest daily snowfall. So basically, you know, there's all this stuff oh, there was snow in the Hollywood Hills and there was in fact some grapple that had right around the Hollywood sign which was pretty cool.

COOPER: Grapple?

ENTEN: Grapple. Grapple is essentially snow that melts on the way down but not all the way and then it kind of merges together. It's not sleet and it's not hail.

COOPER: Look at you with your grapple.

ENTEN: My grapple. We're having a grapple of a great time.

COOPER: 55 years old, how come I've never heard of grapple before.

ENTEN: Maybe you're just not in the weather as much as I should be.


ENTEN: We should get you some water, I bet.

COOPER: No, could you? I'm over for (INAUDIBLE). There's also been abnormal temperatures on the East Coast.

ENTEN: Correct. You know, so basically one of the big reasons we have those big snows both on the West Coast and we also had in the Midwest as temperature differences create big differences in pressure, create big snowfalls. Look at these record this record heat in the southeast that we got all the way up to Akron, temperatures in the 80s in places like Washington, D.C., Charlotte, Savannah, Akron, it was in the 70s. It was much more like late spring or even early summer than say the middle of February.

COOPER: And what about New York?

ENTEN: So, this is the great failure of this season for me. I love snow. Snow is the reason I went to weather camp. I want it to forecast snow days. I used to do it for --

COOPER: That was good to my next question.


COOPER: Why did you go to weather camp? Snow. ENTEN: I love snow. I love the idea of getting a snow --

COOPER: Was weather camp in the summer or is in the winter?

ENTEN: It was in the summer. But, you know, we still got ice cream there so we kind of --

COOPER: Because you could do it any season.

ENTEN: You could do it any season but, you know, I did have to go to school so that was a slight problem.


ENTEN: But if you look in New York, right, what have we had this season? We've had the least amount of snowfall --

COOPER: Yes, there's been no snow.

ENTEN: No snow. The least amount of snowfall through this point and the second warmest winter on record through this point. So this has been horrific for me. I've hated every single minute of it. But we've at least had a good time here this evening.

COOPER: I want to hear more about snow camp in the break. Harry Enten, thank you very much.

The CNN special report "Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America" starts now.