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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Biden Administration Warns Beijing Against Arming Russia; Sources: DoE Shift To COVID Lab Leak Assessment Based On Information About Research Wuhan Facility Was Doing Near Time Of Outbreak; New Legal Filings In Dominion Lawsuit Against FOX News; Defense Rests After 14 Witnesses, Over Two Weeks In Alex Murdaugh Double Murder Trial; Jurors In Alex Murdaugh Double Murder Trial Set To Visit Scene Where Maggie And Paul Murdaugh Were Killed; New DeSantis Memoir Takes Swipes At "Woke Corporations," Trump; Hundreds Of Newspapers Pull "Dilbert" After Scott Adams' Racist Remarks; Tornadoes And Severe Winds Strike Central U.S. As Another Round Of Rain And Snow Is Set To Pummel West And North. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 27, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Tonight, Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman is still hospitalized nearly two weeks after he checked himself into Walter Reed for clinical depression.

Today, Fetterman's office released a statement acknowledging that his recovery will be a weeks' long process. Fetterman originally checked himself into Walter Reed after feeling lightheaded a week earlier. He is of course, still recovering from the stroke he suffered last May.

Thanks so much for joining us. AC 360 begins now.



Tonight, one rising superpower and two big stories with global impact whether it's to do with the looming threat in the biggest European armed conflict since the Second World War or a new assessment of the worst pandemic since 1918, China is front and center tonight.

On Ukraine, members of the administration spoke today and over the weekend warning Beijing that alarming Russia would be a mistake.


WILLIAM BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: We are confident that the Chinese leadership is considering the provision of lethal equipment that would be a very risky and unwise bet.


COOPER: That's Bill Burns, the CIA Director.

On COVID, we learned yesterday that the Department of Energy has assessed in a newly updated Intelligence report that it most likely originated from a laboratory leak. CNN has just learned the reason for that updated report, three sources telling CNN that the Department of Energy's shift was based in part on the information about the research that the Chinese Centers for Disease Control, the Chinese CDC in Wuhan was doing around the time of the outbreak on a coronavirus variant.

CNN has previously reported that the lab was studying coronaviruses in bats, but it's unclear how closely related the variants were to the strain, which started the pandemic.

As for the Energy Department's new assessment, it is described as low confidence and it's a minority view, apparently within the Intelligence Community. That said, it still sparked new calls today for transparency from China.


NED PRICE, US STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We would wish to see from the PRC a greater degree of responsibility, a greater acknowledgement that it is in the interest of the Chinese people, yes, to better understand the origins of COVID-19, but it is in the interest of people around the world to understand the origins of COVID-19.


COOPER: Today's development also prompted two leading House Republicans to send letters demanding the State Department, Department of Energy, and the FBI provide testimony and documents related to their ongoing probe of the pandemic's origins.

China's Foreign Ministry also weighed in calling on relevant parties to "stop vilifying China and stop politicizing the issue."

In a moment, more on China's potential role in the Ukraine crisis with Tom Friedman, but right now, CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, when also CNN chief law enforcement intelligence analyst, John Miller.

How much stock, John, from an Intelligence standpoint should anybody put in the Department of Energy's assessment if they're saying the confidence is low? What does that even mean?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, so when you do an intelligence assessment, high confidence means certainly, most likely; medium confidence means likely, probably; low confidence means possibly, maybe, maybe not.

So the answer is, we shouldn't put much stock in it. They're coming to a conclusion based on incomplete Intelligence. They are one of 16 agencies that were asked to look at this. We've seen the votes from other agencies. So they are saying based on what we have, which isn't all we need to come to a solid conclusion. This is our choice, but we're not solid on it.

COOPER: Dr. Wen, CNN learned that this update from the Department of Energy's assessment was in part based on information that the Chinese CDC in Wuhan was studying a coronavirus variant around the time of the outbreak. How is that different from what was already known about the work that the lab was doing?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Anderson, I don't know if we would need more information because we had already known that the two labs in Wuhan, the Chinese CDC, as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, they were studying coronaviruses. That was an active area of research for them.

And so in order to have more evidence in favor of the lab leak theory, we would have to find that the samples that they were working with in the lab were genetically linked, and were genetically the same as the ones that caused illness in those individuals infected with COVID-19 initially, and we don't have that information.

I think the bigger issue here is that we know that there are two plausible theories. We know that there's the lab leak theory, there's also the animal spillover theory, there are data points in both directions. But if both are plausible, then we also need to protect against the next pandemic by working to protect the world against both of these possibilities.

So in a sense, it's an all of the above approach, if the goal is actually to improve human health, which is we have to improve laboratory biosafety and at the same time, reduce the likelihood of spill over from animals to humans.

COOPER: I mean, look, I think there's certainly a lot we still need to learn about COVID in terms of how to respond to the next pandemic to Dr. Wen's point. I mean, you should schools be shut down like they were? It certainly doesn't seem like that, big picture was that it created an idea. Obviously, we know a lot more.

John, how important you think it is to know exactly where it came from?


MILLER: Well, it is important. It's important to know if that was a natural occurrence out of a food market in Wuhan that sells exotic animals where this could come from. Intelligence officers don't like coincidence, Anderson.

The idea that there were two labs there that were working in this field of all places, is certainly suggestive. But the question that you pinpoint is, was this something milled in a lab? Was this something that could be weaponized? Is that why it spread so fast? Or was this a natural occurrence?

And, you know, even going back to the Director of National Intelligence, the National Intelligence Council, the gray beards of the entire spy world and their conclusions, when you go back to the original report, four Intelligence Agencies believed that it was a natural exposure from an animal. One Intelligence Agency, which we believe was the FBI said with moderate confidence, they believed it was a leak from the lab. And three remained unable to coalesce around a given theory because of the Intelligence gaps, the things that we didn't know.

So the Department of Energy coming over, gives us a signal, but a confusing one, when they say low confidence.

COOPER: Was anything ruled out like bioterrorism?

MILLER: So what was ruled out was an intentional leak or an intentional launch. And that's really important to know because of all countries that were hurt by this, China was hurt first and hardest and longest. So the idea of intentionality has been ruled out by all the Intelligence Agencies based on what they know. The question is, was it a government accident? Or was it an animal accident in a market, a natural exposure?

COOPER: Dr. Wen, what I don't understand is, you know, something like HIV geneticists, and correct me if I'm wrong, have been able to, you know, whatever -- however they do it, I am a terrible science student, have been able to figure out basically, that it came from Southeastern Cameroon, I think it was that it was, you know, several monkeys, SIV combined with several monkeys, they have an approximate timeframe prior, I think to 1920 or 1908.

If they can do that with HIV, how come they can't do that with COVID?

WEN: A lot of it has to do with the lack of transparency by the Chinese government, which has been actively obstructing investigation to the point that we don't even know how much information we can trust coming from them, and it's because of this obstruction that we may actually never know the answer here, which is really disappointing.

But I think that's why we need to shift the question from the important one, as John was saying, of what caused COVID to instead ask if either of these hypotheses is true, then what?

And I think we're at that point where I just don't really see the Chinese government at any point soon, opening up their investigative logs and letting independent researchers in.

And so if that's the case, then we as a world can move on and say there was no intentionality. It was an accident in some way. So how do we prevent this from happening again in the future?

COOPER: Dr. Wen, appreciate it. John Miller, as well. Thank you.

Joining us now is "New York Times" foreign affairs columnist, Tom Friedman, also best-selling author among many books, "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America."

So Tom, a spokesman for the State Department said today that China had been "blocking" from the beginning international investigators, members of the global health community from accessing information that they need to understand the origins of COVID-19.

How important do you think it is to understand where this virus originated? THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK POST": You know, Anderson, I listened to the previous conversation. We know two things for sure. One is this virus emerged from Wuhan, and the other is that from the very beginning, China has not cooperated in giving international investigators particularly the World Health Organization, the raw data, the raw data that they would need to determine exactly where this virus emerged from and that's been the case from the very beginning.

COOPER: If the US government were to conclude with a reasonable degree of certainty that that it originated in a Chinese lab, not intentional, but got out, what are the options going forward? How would that impact things?

FRIEDMAN: I don't see what you can do today, because the Chinese will never admit it. And so, we're not going to go to war with them, we're not going to sanction them over this. I don't think the rest of the world would be with us.

But I think it's something that the Chinese have to think about because it will increase their isolation in the world. But at this stage, you know, they have taken the decision basically, to not release the raw data. They suppressed the information when the virus emerged. They suppressed the information that it was being transmitted from humans to humans, and they suppressed their own doctors and early scientists the raw data that you would need to know what emerged from the market. What were the neighborhoods, who are the people -- and without that, it's just really hard to determine anything.


COOPER: In terms of China in Ukraine, if China gives lethal military aid to Russia, drones or artillery or you know long-range artillery ammunition? How does that change the dynamics of the war?

FRIEDMAN: Well, that would be huge, Anderson. I mean, that would -- that would be World War Three kinds of stuff. That would be China and Russia against, I would say, the European Union and the United States, which makes me you know, surprised that the Chinese would do that, since the European Union and the United States are the two biggest export markets.

I think what may be going on is a wrestling match inside China. I think there are some Chinese officials, military people who are probably saying, you know, the Americans have been sticking it to us all year. They stuck it to us on semiconductors, they stuck it to us on Huawei, our companies, and meanwhile, they've been asking us to stay out of the war. Maybe we should ask them, have a little fire, scarecrow. What if we, you know, threw some weapons into this thing?

I guess that is from one school, but I think there's another school that recognize Wait a minute, we've been under COVID lockdown for three years. We decided we're finally going to open up again to the world, invite foreign investors here, send Chinese business people, students and academics out into the world. The last thing we need to do now is enter the war on the losing side. So I think there's a bit of a fight going on inside China, and I suspect the administration decided to elevate this information, bring it public, in order to tip that internal fight.

COOPER: What about Taiwan, though? I mean, doesn't that factor into this in their thinking?

FRIEDMAN: Well, it certainly does. You know, I would just say, as a general rule, Anderson, general rule I have, they would rather not be in a war with China. You know, I live by the rule that let's not fight China and Russia at the same time.

Right now, we're in a big indirect war with Russia. And if I can, if I can all avoid it, I'd rather not be in a conflict with China, too, at the same time. And I think, and also not want to be creating a situation where China's President Xi Jinping, feels if he doesn't take Taiwan right now, then he's not able to take it at all.

We are not ready to defend Taiwan right now. Taiwan would not be ready to defend Taiwan from an onslaught from Xi. We should be very quietly arming Taiwan to the teeth and saying nothing. We want Xi Jinping to wake up every morning, look at Taiwan and say, "Nah, not today." That's all you want, okay. And anytime you make it, that he feels he has to act, you're doing something very reckless.

COOPER: Do you think there's something that the United States could offer China as an incentive to not pursue a weapons deal with (Ukraine)? I mean, relief in some way from tariffs? Something similar? I mean, because they are -- you know, they are getting a lot from Russia in terms of cheap energy.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. You know, I think the administration acted wisely if there is this debate inside, but I think it's very important, again, that we not be talking ourselves into a war with China.

I actually don't like to even use the word China sometimes. I much prefer one-sixth of humanity who speak Chinese dialects. That's what we're talking about. I'd rather not, if I can avoid it be at war with one-sixth of humanity who speak Chinese dialects.

That doesn't mean I want to roll over for anything, but it means I want to stay the course that we've always been on with China, build bridges where possible and draw and arm red lines where necessary.

But I'm very worried. I'm very worried, Anderson, when I see Congressman -- Republican Congressman attacked, Judy Chu, the first Chinese-American in Congress saying she shouldn't have a security clearance. That's terrible stuff.

That's McCarthy era stuff that we really don't want to repeat. Let's everybody calmed down here a little bit and not talk ourselves into war with China, a conflict, a standoff may be necessary, but let's be smart about this.

COOPER: Tom Friedman, appreciate it. Thank you, Tom. Next, the 2020 election lies that FOX News personalities foisted on viewers and what FOX Chairman Rupert Murdoch admitted about them under oath. A new Court filing lays it out. We'll bring you the details when we come back.

And later the, defense rests in the Alex Murdaugh trial, but not before one witness lays out a radically different theory of the crime. Also what Murdaugh's brother said on the stand today and what could happen next when jurors actually visit the scene of the crime where Murdaugh's wife and son were killed.



COOPER: Striking new details tonight in Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against FOX News. They come from a Court filing that was published late today revealing that FOX Chairman, Rupert Murdoch admitted to, in a sworn deposition about 2020 election lies that FOX News hosts continually pushed on their viewers. Not only that, the filing describes how Murdoch himself characterize some of those lines.

CNN senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy joins us along with CNN political analyst and "New York Times" senior political correspondent, Maggie Haberman; and First Amendment Attorney, Lee Levine, who is so well respected, he has worked for basically every media company in the United States, in particular for FOX and for CNN in past cases, and we appreciate him being on.

Oliver, what's in these filings that is new?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: I mean, this is really shocking stuff. There's a lot of --

COOPER: Even you were surprised? I mean, you've been following this stuff for years. You were surprised of things in this.

DARCY: I was reporting a lot about what FOX was doing in 2020 and I never really imagined that behind the scenes, there would be this sort of damning information, these sort of admissions that were being made by top executives and top hosts like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and so on and so forth.

In this recent legal filing, what we have here is Rupert Murdoch calling the Trump lies that were being pushed about the election, damaging; calling them BS, and then also conceding that he knew that some of his top hosts at the network, were peddling this lie to viewers in a deposition that Dominion took and I want to read to you part of it, they asked him: You are now aware that FOX endorsed at times this false notion of a stolen election. Murdoch says, not FOX, no, but maybe Lou Dobbs, a former FOX host; Maria Bartiromo as commentator. It is a weird splitting hairs he does.

And then they go through, FOX host, Jeanine Pirro, I think so. Lou Dobbs. Oh, a lot. Sean Hannity, a bit and then it goes on and he says, some of the commentators are endorsing it and the Dominion lawyer says about their endorsements of a stolen election? Yes, they endorsed, is what Rupert Murdoch says, all while he's behind the scenes saying he does not believe any of Trump's election lies.


COOPER: And a lot of these FOX hosts behind the scenes didn't seem to believe it either.

DARCY: No, they didn't, and I think this really actually exposes the fact that FOX is not at its core a news network. News networks, they deliver the truth as they know it to viewers, they do the best job to attain the truth and sometimes it's not perfect, but that's what they do. In this case, we know that behind the scenes, top personnel knew that the narrative they were pushing to viewers was not true and we have evidence now that shows that they did this in search of profit, so they didn't lose viewership to the smaller right-wing channels.

COOPER: And they were afraid of losing viewers.

DARCY: Exactly. They did this so they didn't lose viewers to the smaller right-wing channels that Trump was promoting after the election was called on FOX for Biden.

COOPER: Mr. Levine when I spoke to you for a "60 Minutes" story last year about this, interviewing the Dominion CEO, you said that this was the strongest defamation case you have seen in your 40 years of seeing defamation cases and you have seen dozens if not hundreds.

Do these filings -- how do these filings change your opinion at all? Is this still the way -- how would you characterize it now?

LEE LEVINE, FIRST AMENDMENT ATTORNEY: They haven't made Dominion's case weaker. I can say that.

COOPER: What about Dominion's case, why is it so strong? What is so damning about these this new filing?

LEVINE: Well, I think you have to separate out the news value of today's filing from the legal significance of today's filing. As a news matter, for all the reasons Oliver was just saying, this is important stuff.

From a legal perspective, it is certainly helpful to Dominion's case, but it is not a smoking gun. I have not seen in the deposition excerpts at least, evidence that Murdoch believed that the specific statements in these specific broadcasts that are being sued about were endorsed by the hosts. He is speaking more generally about whether the hosts were endorsing the idea of a stolen or fraudulent election, and that is certainly helpful to Dominion, but it doesn't get them all the way to the finish line.

COOPER: Do you think that -- do you see any reason that the case would not continue to go forward?

LEVINE: Oh, no. Based on the hundreds and hundreds of pages that have been released over the last few weeks on the summary judgment briefing, I would be extremely surprised if a substantial number of the statements that Dominion has sued about don't make it through to a trial.

COOPER: Maggie, former President Trump still you know, spewing all of these election laws in his current presidential campaign, FOX News' identity is so closely tied to him. Are they going to have to correct or challenge his lies about election fraud going forward? What do you make of what came out today?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's the big question, Anderson or a big question in terms of how FOX handles Trump going forward. We have seen that FOX has been moving away from Trump. Trump has barely been on FOX. It used to be that whenever he wanted to go on, Oliver knows this better than I do, whenever he wanted to go on, he could just dial in to Hannity or Hannity would go interview him; other hosts would do the same. That's not the way it is now, and without Lou Dobbs, it's even less so.

They have pivoted toward Ron DeSantis, who they are encouraging and basically the entirety of News Corporation is behind DeSantis and the prospective candidacy at this point. But that is different than saying Trump is wrong, Trump was saying the wrong things.

I actually don't think and a lawyer could speak to this better than I could, but I don't think that they are likely to start doing that because they are still in this litigation. I think they are concerned about anything they say publicly, but they're definitely in a bind just of their own making, in terms of how they handled Donald Trump.

COOPER: Lee, do you agree with that, that they would have to think twice about how and what they say about the President's election lies that he is spinning now?

LEVINE: Absolutely. I mean, you've seen just in the last few days, it's been reported that they've told Howard Kurtz he can't talk about the case on air, precisely because they don't want people saying things that might come back to bite them in the litigation.

COOPER: Oliver, this filing also describes Rupert Murdoch's relationship and interactions he had with the former, well, adviser, I guess, the son-in-law to the President, Jared Kushner. He was giving information about Biden ads to Kushner before they ran, is that right?

DARCY: Again, this is not how a news network is supposed to operate. Theoretically, this would be a fireable offense if someone -- you know, if any other news network were to do this, but according to the filing and I'll read to you from it. It says that during Trump's campaign, Rupert Murdoch provided Trump's son-in-law, then senior adviser Jared Kushner with FOX confidential information about Biden's ads adds along with the strategy before it was public, effectively I would assume giving that campaign an edge over Biden's.


This is one of the many things that we are learning in these documents that show that Rupert was helping to work with the GOP. And another part of the filing or the previous filing, there's a talk about do anything you can to help down in Georgia, where there is of course, that special Senate race.

So again, this goes back to paint a broader picture of FOX, not necessarily as a news network at its core, but one that really works to push Republican talking points, something we've known for a while, but these documents are pretty damning.

COOPER: Oliver Darcy, appreciate it. Maggie Haberman, Lee Levine, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, the defense in the Alex Murdaugh trial. They rested their case with a witness suggesting two shooters may have done the killings. Details ahead.


COOPER: The defense rested today in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial, but not before jurors heard from Murdaugh's brother, as well as a forensic scientist who said the evidence suggested to him that this was not the work of one person.

Randi Kaye has more. First, we want to warn you, some of what you'll hear is disturbing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have an opinion whether there was one or two shooters who murdered Maggie and Paul on the night of June 7th?

TIMOTHY PALMBACH, FORENSIC SCIENTIST: My opinion is the totality of the evidence is more suggestive of a two-shooter scenario.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A forensic scientist testifying for the defense, breathing new life into the defense's theory that two shooters were involved in killing Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. Here's why.

Whoever shot Paul, the witness says likely would have needed time to recover given the violent nature of Paul's death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's happening to the shooter at that point?

PALMBACH: He is getting hit with large amounts of brain material, blood, skin, hair, bone fragments, and I believe very likely some of the pellets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what would be the force of that hitting the shooter?

PALMBACH: Substantial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you expect to see any type of injuries to the shooter?

PALMBACH: That's quite possible. I mean, for sure.


KAYE (voice-over): So what about the shooter's clothing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much biological material and blood is going to be on the shooter's clothing and on the shooter's person?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot, a lot. On the upper body and head.

KAYE (voice-over): Keep in mind, investigators first on the scene who testified for the state said they didn't see any blood on Alex Murdaugh that night. The state has suggested he washed up and changed clothes after allegedly killing his wife and son.

On cross examination, the state took issue with this witness's conclusion that a footprint found in the feed room where Paul was killed belonged to Paul's killer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You haven't seen the report that identified those as Paul's footprints?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitively identifying them as false? No, I did not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You only saw the reports the defense wanted you to see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got the reports that were supplied to me, yes.

KAYE (voice-over): The defense called one of Murdaugh's brothers, John Marvin Murdaugh, as its last witness. He painted a picture of his brother as a loving family man and left the jury with this disturbing description of having to pick up the pieces of his nephew Paul in the feed room.

JOHN MARVIN MURDAUGH, ALEX MURDAUGH'S BROTHER: It had not been cleaned up. I saw blood, I saw brains, I saw pieces of skull. And when I say brains, it could just be tissue. I don't know what else. It was just -- it was terrible. And for some reason, I thought it was mud, something that I needed to do for Paul to clean it up.

I felt like I owed him and I started cleaning. And I promise you, no mother or father or aunt or uncle should ever have to see and do what I did that day.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Randi Kaye joins us now from the court house. So the judge approved a visit by the jury to the crime scene. Any idea when that may happen?

KAYE: Well, Anderson, the state is expected to call four or five reply witnesses tomorrow. That could take all day. If it does, then this visit to the crime scene by the jury would happen first thing Wednesday morning. This is the property known as Moselle. It's about 30 minutes from here. It's 1,700 acres. It's a hunting property belonging to the Murdaughs. And when the jury goes there, they'll be able to see everything that they've seen in pictures throughout this trial. They'll see the feed room where Paul Murdaugh died. They'll see how close that was to where Maggie Murdaugh's body was found.

They'll see the golf cart path that Alex Murdaugh said he took from the main house down to the kennels and back that night and just how close those two buildings are. They'll probably see the gun room where authorities seized all those guns. They'll see the shooting range, but these are all the places that they've seen in pictures.

So it will really give them, for the first time in person, some perspective about what went on there. And hopefully they would be able to figure out a little bit more about how they feel about what they've heard throughout all this testimony, Anderson.

COOPER: Randi Kaye, appreciate it.

Joining us tonight, Criminal Defense Attorney Mark O'Mara, and here in the studio, Cardozo Law School Professor and Former Federal Prosecutor Jessica Roth. What does it tell you that the jury wants to visit the crime scene?

JESSICA ROTH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF N.Y.: Well, I think the request came from the defense to have the jury --

COOPER: Have them go.

ROTH: Yes. And the judge said that his practice is that if either side makes the request, he generally will grant the request.

COOPER: But when they go, I mean, is anybody talking to them of -- this is where the body was, this is where Paul's body was?

ROTH: It's a little unclear exactly how this is going to happen. I think that would have to be agreed upon by the parties in advance so that what, if anything, will be said. There really shouldn't be much said. I mean, the jury is going to be there to see the crime scene. There's a real loss of control, though, that happens, you know, anytime the jury comes out of the jury box and out of the courtroom.

There's a famous example from the O.J. Simpson trial where the jury actually went to O.J. Simpson's house and the defense attorneys had changed the art and the photographs on display to make it seem more appealing to the jury of so they thought. So there's a loss of control and the potential for sort of prejudicial impact on the jury one way or the other based on what they see.

And of course, it's not exactly as it was the night of the murders. And that's one of the things the prosecution pointed to in opposing this was just to say, for example, the trees have grown more between the house and the kennels. And I gather one point maybe could the defendant have heard gunshots? If other people were there shooting his wife and his son, would he have heard it from the house? And if the trees have more foliage, you know, that might have an impact?

COOPER: Mark, we just heard, I mean, very disturbing details from the forensic science today, not only supporting a two-shooter theory, but also explaining how the person who shot Paul Murdaugh may have been stunned, needed time to recover. How important do you think was that testimony today?


MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it was very good for the defense because again, what they have to do is put reasonable doubt in at least one juror's mind to think that this happened some other way than the state believes it happened. And that's sort of the definition of reasonable doubt.

But again, I don't know that this is exoneration from Murdaugh because I think what what needs to happen now and rebuttal, I'm presuming it's going to happen, is that the state needs to own that. They need to own the possibility that, yes, there may have been a second shooter. We don't believe so. But either way, we know one person who was involved, and that's murder.

And I presume that that's what they're going to do with their rebuttal testimony. I actually think they should have probably owned the possibility of a two-shooter scenario earlier in the case because we knew this was coming, because we've talked about it well before the case began.

COOPER: So you're saying they need to offer essentially an explanation of how there could be two shooters, but that Paul Murdaugh was one of them?

O'MARA: Yes, I think the best thing that they can do if they're going to do away with that potential reasonable doubt that now has been thrown out with the two shooters. And again, everyone was wondering why there were two different type of weapons, then I think the state has to own it. I think they have to sit back and say, this is very consistent with our theory of prosecution.

Murdaugh was one of them, maybe the only one, but certainly he was one. And that sort of doesn't weigh with any significance of this defense --


O'MARA: -- presentation --

COOPER: Jessica, what do you think about that? Is it too late for them to do that?

ROTH: I'm skeptical about the prosecution sort of switching to a new theory of the case. I mean, we haven't heard that from them yet, that he was one of two shooters. Generally, prosecutors need to convey confidence in their case and their theory of the case and to sort of switch in the last minute I don't think is going to go over very well. But I do think this two shooter theory is going to resonate with the jury because as a matter of logic, and there's always been this question of how could the defendant, if he were acting alone, have used two guns, two really large guns? Why would he use two guns to shoot his wife and his son in very close proximity and in time?

And so I think the jury's likely been wondering about that. And now there's expert testimony in the record that the defense can point to and say it's not just a matter of common sense. And you wondering about this from logic, but now there's an expert who's told you he thinks that the evidence is more consistent with there being two shooters than one.

COOPER: Mark, the defense also talked today about how the crime scene was left by authorities, you know, biological matter, pieces of brain laying around. Is -- do police clean-up crime scenes after they're done investigating? I mean, I've been to a couple of murder scenes, and I don't recall them cleaning up afterward.

O'MARA: No, they really don't. I mean, that's up to -- hopefully they'll bring in some other agency to do it, but, no, they don't bring it up. And quite honestly, once they finish their job, they're out looking to try and put together the investigation.

I do want to say I wasn't suggesting a pivot in the prosecution's case, but I do think they need to acknowledge and do away with this defense theory of two shooters. And they can do that by suggesting at least one of them was Murdaugh.

COOPER: Right. Mark O'Mara, Jessica Roth, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Just ahead, what Ron DeSantis has to say about the former president and his new memoir. CNN Jeff Zeleny joins us on the soft launch of the Florida governor's likely presidential campaign.



COOPER: After a weekend long retreat hosting influential Republicans at a hotel down the road from the former President's Mar-a-Lago residence, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis releases a new memoir tomorrow. It's called "The Courage To Be Free: Florida's Blueprint for America's Revival" and an accompanying video. They're just the latest evidence of what some see as a soft launch for a presidential campaign.

The new book is focused on culture war fights against what he terms woke corporations. He also takes a few swipes at the former president. Jeff Zeleny has details.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida Governor Ron DeSantis inching ever closer to a highly anticipated presidential launch with a new campaign style video. GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Freedom is worth fighting for.

ZELENY (voice-over): And a new book that serves as a road map for a potential 2024 Republican primary. In "The Courage To Be Free", obtained today by CNN, DeSantis plants his flag as a leading alternative to Donald Trump and pushes back against the former president's often made assertion that he alone is responsible for the governor's success.

"I do not think Republican primary voters are sheep who simply follow an endorsement from a politician they like without any individual analysis. But I do believe that a major endorsement can put a candidate on the radar of GOP voters in a way that boosts a good candidate's prospects.

DESANTIS: And I stood for what I believe was right.

ZELENY (voice-over): He said it was his debate performance in his 2018 race that led to his come from behind victory. As the Republican presidential field takes shape, DeSantis is making an early splash.

DESANTIS: Florida is where woke goes to die.

ZELENY (voice-over): Holding up his Florida record as a blueprint for a national platform like the Parental Rights and Education Act, which critics have dubbed the Don't Say Gay bill that led to his feud with the Disney Corporation.

DESANTIS: Today, the Corporate Kingdom finally comes to an end. There's a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day. The governor went to Walt Disney World's backyard to sign a law today, effectively punishing the entertainment giant for speaking out against a DeSantis agenda.

He uses that fight to bolster his view that big business, a longtime ally of the GOP, has become too woke in his characterization and should be called out by a new class of Republican leaders. "Corporate America has become a major protagonist in battles over American politics and culture. The battle lines almost invariably find large, publicly traded corporations lining up behind leftist causes," he writes. Adding, "Old guard corporate republicanism is not up to the task at hand."

While DeSantis is not planning a formal campaign announcement until at least May, aides tells CNN he is trying to capitalize on a hunger among many Republicans eager to find an electable fighter. As Florida governor, he's become a combative figure in the culture wars, for which he offers no apologies.

DESANTIS: It's always be on offense, because if you're not on offense, then you're basically a sitting duck, and you let these people come and just take pot sacks at you all the time.


[20:45:06] ZELENY: Now there is no doubt that a formal announcement is still expected at the end of the spring, right after the Florida legislative session. He plans to sign more bills into law by then to take and sell them to the Republican primary base. But it's clear he wants to influence this race right now. He wants to freeze the race, if you will, from the other candidates already in the race.

But, Anderson, when you read through this book, one thing that really stands out is how different Ron DeSantis is now from the first time he wrote a book in 2011, just a decade ago. The Trump era has changed the Republican Party, of course, and it certainly changed him.

COOPER: Interesting.

ZELENY: He talked about a role of limited government. Now, of course, he's using government to enact his agenda. So a very interesting read here on the new Governor DeSantis.

COOPER: Jeff Zeleny, appreciate it. Thanks.

Coming up, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, Adams, and he said nothing incorrect after hundreds of newspapers have pulled his comic strip because of racist remarks he made on his YouTube channel. The latest on Scott Adams next.


COOPER: Scott Adams, author of the Dilbert comic strip is not backing off the racist comments that he made last week on his YouTube channel that have gotten his work poll from hundreds of newspapers.


Today on Twitter, he defended his comments about black people being a, quote, hate group, end quote, and that white people should quote, get the hell away from black people. He wrote, quote, "An obvious question for those who canceled me is do they disagree with my point? So far I have not seen it. I only see disagreement with my use of hyperbole."

CNN's Sara Sidner has more.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You know his work, but might not know his name. Scott Adams is the cartoonist behind the Dilbert comic that pokes fun at corporate culture. He now finds himself in some very hot water for this.

SCOTT ADAMS, DILBERT CARTOONIST: If, you know, nearly half of all blacks are not OK with white people, according to this poll, not according to me, according to this poll, that's a hate group.

SIDNER (voice-over): Adams was responding to the poll that does not meet CNN standards by Rasmussen reports asking black Americans if they agreed with the statement "It's OK to be white". Rasmussen said just over half of the respondents agreed with the statement. Adams decided that made black people a hate group and went on to make this racist segregationist suggestion.

ADAMS: And I don't want to have anything to do with them. And I would say, you know, based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from black people. Just get the (INAUDIBLE) away. Wherever you have to go, just get away, because there's no fixing this.

SIDNER (voice-over): Adams failed to acknowledge or may not know that the phrase it's OK to be white was popularized by white nationalists online and used to troll people.

(on-camera): The phrase it's OK to be white sounds perfectly innocuous. It is OK to be white. What's wrong with that?

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: It's not new. It's actually not innocuous. It's a long-standing slogan used by white supremacists to try to make the point that there is some conspiracy against white people. And they do that, Sara, really with the intention of trying to undermine claims of antiblack racism, to undermine claims of antisemitism, to say that somehow they feel like an aggrieved marginalized population.

Newspapers across the United States dropped his cartoon with immediate effect after he posted his thoughts on YouTube. The editor of The Plain Dealer, Chris Quinn, saying of Adams, "We are not a home for those who espouse racism. We certainly do not want to provide them with financial support."

But Adams is not without defenders. One of the most famous men in the world and certainly on Twitter stepped in to defend Adams. Elon Musk initially did not condemn Adams racist comments but instead said the media is racist. Of course, he is the owner of a media company, adding without any evidence for, "A long time, U.S. media was racist against nonwhite people and now they're racist against whites and Asians."

Musk later agreed with a tweet saying Adams' comments, quote, weren't good but had an element of truth to them. And then Musk went on a rant accusing the media of giving black victims of police violence disproportionate coverage over white victims of police violence. He failed to share why that might be.

According to a 2020 study, "Unarmed black Americans and native Americans are both nearly three times as likely to be killed in a police encounter. As for Adams, Andrews McMeel Universal, the company that syndicates Dilbert, said it is cutting ties with the comic strip and its creators, saying in part, "As a media and communications company, AMU values free speech. We're proud to promote and share many different voices and perspectives, but we will never support any commentary rooted in discrimination or hate."

Adams has said on Twitter that he was only, quote, advising people to avoid hate and suggested free speech in America is under assault. Even so, he seems to be reveling in his newfound notoriety. ADAMS: Oh, I forgot, I'm supposed to be feeling bad about all this. You know, one of the things I've realized about myself, I like attention. I just kind of like it.


COOPER: And Sara Sidner joins us now. Certainly got a lot of attention. The timing of this is interesting. It is interesting because it's Black History Month. Like we're still in Black History Month. And he's saying these segregationist words at a time when people are trying to celebrate the contributions that black people made to this country for everything from, you know, the first female millionaire in this country teaching women that they can do just what their male counterparts can do to, you know, the people that built this country for free.


So you have him saying this while at the same time you have to wonder the timing of the poll being released. Using a phrase that has been used ad nauseam by white supremacists who are trying to make the point that somehow they are the marginalized group in this country, not people of color.

It is disturbing, but I would like to say, as a person who is of mixed race, my mother is white and my father is black, I'll be making sure that I'm around all of my family. And I'm glad that you have decided not to stay the hell away from me.

COOPER: Sara Sidner, welcome anytime. Thank you and I appreciate it.

Coming up next, to look at the winter weather and already hammering much of the country. And late word on where the storms are heading next.


COOPER: Tonight, from coast to coast, severe weather is hitting millions of Americans. Parts of the Northeast are forecast to finally get the first snowstorm of the season. Winter storm warnings, watches and advisories are in effect here in New York City metro area, where up to 3 inches of snow is expected. Farther north, up to 10 inches of snow could fall.

At west, blizzard warnings are posted in California, Sierra Nevada, where whiteout conditions have shut down on a portion of Interstate 80. More than 1 foot of snow expected there.

Meanwhile, a possible tornado damaged homes near Dayton, Ohio this afternoon. And in Norman, Oklahoma, residents are cleaning up after a powerful tornado ripped through the area Sunday night, leaving at least 12 people injured flipping cars down trees. Homes are left in ruins. This was one of more than 100 storms hit Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas over the weekend.

The news continues. "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer starts now.