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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

House GOP Escalates Defense Of Trump With Rare NYC Field Hearing Seeking To Discredit Manhattan DA; Interview With Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-NY); Grand Jury Declines To Indict Akron Police Officers In Killing Of Jayland Walker; Four Killed And At Least 32 Injured In Alabama Birthday Party Shooting; Football Star, Aspiring Musician And Athlete Killed In Alabama Shooting; Texas Pardons Board Considering Gov. Abbott's Request To Pardon Convicted Murderer Who Killed A BLM Protester; Ukrainian Children Speak Out After Returning Home Following Alleged Deportation By Russia; Embattled Rep. Santos Announces 2024 Reelection Campaign For New York Congressional Seat. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 17, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And of course, he is best known for his lies about everything from where he went to college to whether he is Jewish, all of it.

This news is sure to make his own Republican colleagues in Congress uneasy. Many have called for him to resign and step aside. Our Manu Raju asked Speaker McCarthy if he'd support Santos' re-election bid. McCarthy's response was to laugh.

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



People who live in New York City are used to seeing some unusual things, but today they saw something they never have before. Today, the House Judiciary Committee traveled up from Washington to hold what they call the field hearing in Manhattan. It was supposedly focused on crime in Manhattan, which is interesting because the murder rate in Manhattan is below the murder rate in Washington, DC where the House Judiciary Committee is based, and it is lower than a number of big cities in Republican-controlled states like Tampa or Jacksonville or Dallas or Nashville or Tulsa, Oklahoma.

So why did the Judiciary Committee headed by Republican Jim Jordan come here? Because Manhattan is where District Attorney Alvin Bragg works and he brought charges against Donald Trump and Jim Jordan is doing all he can to protect the former President and ensure he becomes the next President the United States.

At the hearing today, Jordan attacked District Attorney Bragg calling him soft on crime. In response, Bragg called today's hearing a political stunt. And last week, Bragg sued Jordan and his Committee for political interference in his criminal case against the former President, specifically for what he called a campaign of intimidation, retaliation, and obstruction. Now, multiple sources tell CNN that the former President and Jim

Jordan speak regularly. We don't know the topics of those conversations, but sources have told CNN that another Republican lawmaker has become a key point person for the former President on these investigations, and that is New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who attended today's hearing, though she is not on the Judiciary Committee.

The hearing was tense, sometimes volatile, particularly between Democrats and the Republican witnesses.


REP. DANIEL GOLDMAN (D-NY): This is a charade to cover up for an abuse of power, that they are going around talking incessantly outside of this hearing about Donald Trump, and the purpose of this hearing is to cover up for what they know to be an inappropriate investigation.

Now, I look forward many of you are in New York City --


GOLDMAN: Not right now because I only have 20 seconds. I'm sorry. But I do want to --

BRAME: Don't insult my intelligence. You're not --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang on, hang on. The gentleman's time --

BRAME: I think you're trying to insult me like I am not aware of what's going on here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miss Brame. Thank you.

BRAME: Okay. I'm totally aware of what's going on here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlelady will suspend. Gentleman gets another 15 seconds.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.

BRAME: That's why walked away from the plantation of the Democratic Party.


COOPER: Well, in a moment, we'll talk with New York Congressman Dan Goldman, who you just saw who was invited by the Committee Democrats to join the hearing today.

But first, I want to go CNN congressional correspondent, Jessica Dean. How much of Chairman Jordan's hearing appeared genuinely focused on crime in Manhattan? And we'll get to those statistics in a moment, how much of it dealt with the political attacks on the District Attorney? JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first and foremost, Anderson,

this was an escalation of this feud between Jim Jordan and the House Judiciary Committee, House GOP members and the District Attorney here in Manhattan, Alvin Bragg that brought that indictment against former President Donald Trump. So that is just the fact.

This is escalating this already existing feud. Remember, they've already asked him to come down and testify. They've made charges that he did this inappropriately. He has fired back from his lawyer. So, there has been a lot of back and forth.

And now today, they were in his backyard talking about crime. It's something that Jim Jordan, who is the Chairman of the Committee has said previously, this was something they wanted to do. They wanted to have field hearings in cities. Of course, Republicans have really used crime as a big issue during elections, and they wanted to have these field hearings, which simply means they come to the place. So in this case, they were in New York City to have that hearing and talk about crime.

They did hear from some crime victims, but as you mentioned, it got very tense between Democrats and Republicans. Here's Jim Jordan.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): As we all know, fairness under the law is a bedrock principle of American democracy. In this country, justice is supposed to be blind, regardless of race, religion, or creed.

However, here in Manhattan, the scales of justice are weighed down by politics. For the District Attorney, justice isn't blind. It's about looking for opportunities to advance a political agenda, a radical political agenda.

Rather than enforcing the law, the DA is using his office to do the bidding of left-wing campaign funders.


DEAN: Now Democrats, of course, pushed back on all of this saying this is nothing more than a political stunt. And Anderson, as you mentioned, just a couple of minutes ago, the statistics really tell a different story than what Republicans have been putting out there.

COOPER: Yes, Chairman Jordan and the former President, they've made a lot of very vocal claims about crime being at all-time record levels in New York City. The former President Trump has said you know, no one has ever seen it this high before.


DA Bragg obviously only oversees the borough of Manhattan, but the reality is crime is not anywhere near the highest it's ever been in New York City.

DEAN: Right, and I can give you just a couple of numbers courtesy of our fact checker, Daniel Dale, who wrote a whole piece on this that I would invite people to read on

But just for example, murder rates, or the number of murders. In 1990, that was when they were really breaking records here in New York City, they were at 503; in 2022, seventy-eight. Think about that discrepancy. Rapes, 1990, six hundred and eighty-nine case; in 2022, three hundred and fifty cases.

So again, we are nowhere near the record levels that New York City has seen before. It is worth noting that in 2022, the crime rates did go up under the District Attorney, Alvin Bragg. They are down for 2023 so far, but Anderson, it is very hard to say exactly how much he influences either way, either when they're going up or going down. And as you mentioned, you have to remember he's only over Manhattan, not the entirety of New York City -- Anderson.

COOPER: And they actually started going up I think in the spring of 2021, and continued on through 2022 that have now dipped down just, but it's only been a couple of months in 2023 that they've been dipping down.

Jessica Dean, appreciate it.

As we mentioned, one of the Democrats who participated in the tense hearing today was Congressman Daniel Goldman. The hearing was held in his district. I spoke with him just before airtime.


COOPER: Congressman, I appreciate you joining us. What's your reaction to this field hearing that Sherman Jordan held today and as we mentioned, in your district?

GOLDMAN: Well, it was pretty stunning that we were in Manhattan, in my district to talk about State level, local level crime data for one city in this entire country, over which the Judiciary Committee of Congress does not have jurisdiction.

Nearly everything we were talking about today is for the State Legislature or local prosecutors to deal with, not Congress and the elephant in the room was, of course, Donald Trump.

Now the Republicans did not mention Donald Trump once. Why? Because they have been coordinating behind the scenes with him and that is what the impetus for this investigation is, and it is completely improper.

So, they are now scrambling to try to justify this investigation, which was initiated at the direction of Donald Trump. So the Republicans are colluding with Trump to interfere in his ongoing criminal prosecution, and that is why we had this hearing today on something that Congress has no jurisdiction over.

COOPER: I mean, to your knowledge, has Chairman Jordan ever expressed interest in field hearings on crimes in jurisdictions where the former President isn't under indictment? GOLDMAN: I don't -- not to my knowledge. I think there was a field

hearing in Yuma, Arizona about border security recently, but it's -- no one is stupid enough to think that this is not directly related to an indictment two weeks ago, that Jordan himself has lambasted, as have most of the House Republicans, and they're now trying to do the bidding for Donald Trump and using taxpayer money to do so.

COOPER: It's also interesting, I mean, I was looking at crime statistics. In terms of murders, Tampa, Jacksonville, Florida, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Nashville, Dallas all have higher murder rates than New York. I mean, the murder rate, in fact, here has gone down the last -- this year so far, and most crimes were up in 2021. They started going up in the spring of 2021. They were up in 2022. They've gone down mostly across the board, except I think for felony assault and grand larceny is up six and four percent.

But I mean, it's obviously not just this field hearing in in New York. Chairman Jordan is also now trying to directly investigate DA Bragg's indictment of the former President. He has already demanded documents from the DA's office. He subpoenaed a former Manhattan prosecutor which DA Bragg is trying to squash in a Federal Court.

Do you think a Judge, a Court would actually tell a Congressional Committee however, what it can or cannot investigate?

GOLDMAN: Well, you raise the salient point right there, which is that New York City is actually sixth lowest in all murders of the top 50 largest cities in this country. So this is not really about crime in Manhattan, and if it were, we'd be focusing on guns because guns are the source of more than 75 percent of murders around the country. Guns are the leading cause of death for children now because of the epidemic of mass shootings around the country.

So if we really wanted to talk criminal justice reform, we'd be talking about common sense gun legislation, and that is, of course, not what the Republicans want to talk about because the NRA doesn't want them to reach common sense gun reform.

But to your question about what a Judge will do, yes, it is incumbent upon a Judge to determine whether or not there is what is called a legitimate legislative purpose for a congressional investigation. And what this lawsuit will bring out is the degree to which Chairman Jordan and others on the House Republicans have coordinated with Donald Trump if they initiated this investigation in order to defend him. And if those communications come out, that that was what prompted this investigation, then it is a completely improper investigation.


And any Judge would have to rule that. So that's what they're scrambling to correct with after the fact justifications and with this field hearing.

COOPER: Congressman Dan Goldman, appreciate your time. Thank you.


COOPER: In the race for the GOP nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is hitting back at the former President. A new ad by group allied with DeSantis marks an escalation in their battle. It comes after repeated attacks by the former President, of course.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Their political feud has long been simmering.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have anyone of you ever hear of DeSantis? DeSanctimonious?

ZELENY (voice over): But the friction between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis has escalated into a nasty food fight.

ANNOUNCER: Ron DeSantis loves sticking his fingers where they don't belong, and we're not just talking about pudding. DeSantis has his dirty fingers all over senior entitlements, like cutting Medicare.

ZELENY (voice over): It's a new season of attack ads with allies of Trump and DeSantis engaged in an extraordinary exchange of insults and accusations.

ANNOUNCER: Trump should fight Democrats, not lie about Governor DeSantis. What happened to Donald Trump?

ZELENY (voice over): The Florida Governor is not planning to jump into the presidential race until May or June, but Trump's Super PAC is not waiting, trying to knock him down a peg and define him before he becomes an official candidate.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I don't have time for drama. I don't have time for palace intrigue.

ZELENY (voice over): At issue is a debate over reforming Social Security and Medicare emerging once again as a central issue and scare tactic in the 2024 campaign.

TRUMP: He also voted to severely cut Medicare. I will not be cutting Medicare and I will not be cutting Social Security. We are leaving the age where it is.

ZELENY (voice over): The latest back and forth started when a pro- Trump group took aim at DeSantis mocking him for a news report that he was supposedly seen eating pudding with his fingers on a flight from Tallahassee to Washington.

ANNOUNCER: Slashing Social Security, even raising our retirement age. Tell Ron DeSantis to keep his pudding fingers off our money. Oh, and get this man a spoon. ZELENY (voice over): For his part, DeSantis wore the pudding

controversy as something of a badge of honor, a sign he said no actual skeletons were lurking in his closet.

DESANTIS: For me, they are talking about pudding like, is that really the best you've got? Okay, bring it on.

ZELENY (voice over): In a new ad released Sunday from a Super PAC supporting him, it tried to turn the tables on Trump and his own mixed messaging.

ANNOUNCER: So why is he spending millions attacking the Republican Governor of Florida? Trump is stealing pages from the Biden-Pelosi playbook repeating lies about Social Security.

ZELENY (voice over): But the ad also reminded voters of the investigations into the former President, a worrying sign among Republicans eager to win back the White House.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): If we get distracted and talk about other things that the Democrats want to talk about, like these investigations, that only helps Joe Biden, it does not give us a path for Republicans to win.


COOPER: And Jeff Zeleny joins us now. What comes next between DeSantis and the former President?

ZELENY: Anderson, the pudding controversy aside, it's clear this skirmish over Social Security and Entitlement Reform is going to be front and center in this Republican presidential campaign. There's no doubt about it.

But even more than that, both candidates have previously said yes, there should be a conversation about reforming Social Security and the retirement age, but they both backed away from that as well.

So clearly, both candidates seem to be in one another's heads here. But again, as Governor DeSantis is prepared to get into this race in May or early June, the Trump folks are trying to define him outright. But again, those pudding ads are going to be something that are likely to stick with Ron DeSantis -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jeff Zeleny, appreciate it. Thank you.

Just ahead, a grand jury today declined to indict eight Akron, Ohio Police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 25-year-old Black man last year. Details of the case and what his family has to say about the jury's ruling.

And later we've told you about the thousands of Ukrainian children taken to Russia or Russian-controlled Crimea. Tonight, some of those children recently reunited with their families. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has the reunion from Ukraine just ahead.



COOPER: In Akron, Ohio, a grand jury today concluded that eight police officers who fatally shot a 25-year-old Black man last year after a car chase and foot chase were legally justified in their use of force. Jayland Walker had 46 gunshot wounds including entrance and exit wounds. The Ohio Attorney General who made the announcement today defended the officers. He said it was "critical to remember that Mr. Walker had fired on the police and that he shot first."

Walker was unarmed at the time he was killed according to police. The Attorney General said a gun was found in his vehicle after the shooting, and the ballistics of a shot recovered nearby matched the weapon.

His family spoke a short time ago.


PASTOR ROBERT DEJOURNETT, COUSIN OF JAYLAND WALKER: I want to answer a question that I've been asked, and that question is how are you doing?

The answer is not good. Our hearts are hurting. Our hearts are heavy.

We talk about peace. Pamela and Jada are not feeling peaceful right now.

We're not advocating violence at all, but we don't feel peaceful. They're broken into pieces.


COOPER: In a moment, an attorney for the Walker family will join us, but first CNN's Randi Kaye with more on what we know about the fatal shooting.


OFFICER: Getting on to Eighth South of Talmadge.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): June 27th, last year, police in Akron, Ohio are in pursuit of Jayland Walker after they say he fled a traffic stop and fired his gun at them from his car.

OFFICER: Don't [bleep] move.

KAYE (voice over): There are eight officers in pursuit.

OFFICER: Don't move --

KAYE (voice over): The car chase soon turned into a foot chase. Moments after the foot chase began, the officers opened fire killing 25-year-old Jayland Walker in a blaze of bullets.

OFFICER: Ceasefire. Ceasefire. Ceasefire. OFFICER: He is still breathing.

OFFICER: He's not coming or what?

OFFICER: Is he still breathing?



OFFICER: I can't tell.

KAYE (voice over): An autopsy showed Walker sustained 46 gunshot wounds in under seven seconds according to Ohio's Assistant Attorney General, that includes entry and exit wounds. The Medical Examiner had found 15 wounds on Walker's torso, where he had internal injuries to his heart, lungs, liver, and spleen. Another 17 wounds to his pelvis and upper legs, another to his face, which resulted in a broken jaw. Walker who did not have a criminal record died at the scene.

Bodycam video includes what one officer described as a gunshot coming from Walker's vehicle.

OFFICER: Shots fired. That vehicle just had a shot come out of his door.

CHIEF STEPHEN MYLETT, CITY OF AKRON POLICE: A half a mile from the location of the traffic stop, you hear the gunshot, that changes the whole nature of the traffic stop. It went from being a routine traffic stop to now a public safety issue.

KAYE (voice over): Police also provided still photos from traffic cameras, as what they said was evidence of a shot fired from Walker's car prior to the foot chase and fatal shooting.

The shell casing from that shot was recovered on an entrance ramp officials say and ballistics matched it to the weapon in Walker's vehicle. Still, the family's attorney said Walker's car didn't have any bullet holes.

BOBBY DICELLO, JAYLAND WALKER FAMILY ATTORNEY: We had no such threats to these officers, not one time. You can't find one frame of film where my client's gun is pointed at any officer ever.

KAYE (voice over): According to the Police Chief, officers said Walker was wearing a ski mask and reached for his waistband just before they shot him. A gun was later found in Walker's car, but he was unarmed at the time he was killed.

JUDI HILL, PRESIDENT, AKRON, OHIO NAACP: He was outgunned and he was contained in an area. Please help us understand why for any reason anyone would have to be shot that many times by that many officers.

KAYE (voice over): Seven of the eight officers involved in the shooting are White, one is Black. Following the shooting, the officers were placed on administrative leave pending investigation. They were later reinstated, but did not respond to service calls.

The Akron Police Union defended the officers' action in a statement last year saying the decision to deploy lethal force as well as the number of shots fired is consistent with use of force protocols and officers' training.

Randi Kaye, CNN.


COOPER: I'm joined now by Bobby DiCello, an attorney for Jalen Walker's family who you saw there in Randi's piece.

Mr. DiCello, appreciate you being with us. What is the reaction first of all from Jayland Walker's family tonight?

DICELLO: Anderson, thank you for having me. Total and complete devastation. I want to take you to a small house with a well-worn couch and on that couch, Pam Walker and her daughter screamed and they cried and they wailed when they heard not only this news, but you know, the fact that the system had utterly failed them again. It's a terrible day for them.

COOPER: The Ohio Attorney General said this evening that Mr. Walker took at least one shot at police from his vehicle, led them on a chase, exit his vehicle in a ski mask, ignored multiple commands by officers to show his hands, to stop. The Attorney General also said police tried after a foot pursuit to use non-lethal tasers and that they only fired when Mr. Walker reached for his waistband and turned toward them raising his hand. They said they found a gun in his car. What is your response to all of that? Do you believe that?

DICELLO: That's a well-coordinated, polished statement that does its best to exonerate the officers. It's what it is. It's been coordinated and scripted since the very hours after Jayland's death.

It's been coordinated and scripted by the union. It's been coordinated and scripted by the city and the City of Akron, as well as Northeast Ohio generally has been, you know, given time and time again to the notion that it was all Jayland's fault.

I just have to remind everybody, the Highland Park shooter killed several people, went on a freeway in his car and was stopped by police and is in jail today. So, the notion that a single gunshot could have resulted or should have resulted in 96 bullets flying at my client, 46 of which striking him is something fair and reasonable is absolutely beyond the pale and frankly, a terrifying example of an abuse of police power.

COOPER: In this evening's news conference, a member of your legal team said Mr. Walker was murdered by police because he was Black and that the case presented to the grand jury was skewed in favor of the police. Obviously, those are serious allegations. What legal options do you have at this point to try to prove them?

DICELLO: Well, so the allegation of racial disparity is a conversation about institutional racism, and that is a conversation that many don't want to have today. What is the meaning of it? It means simply that most White people never have a conversation with their kids about what it's like to be in front of police so that they don't get killed.


Most White people, myself included, never had a time where I wondered, should I be in this part of town? Will I get in trouble because of my skin color, and most White people like myself have never wondered what job can I get because of my skin color?

So these concepts are part of what was referenced tonight. There's a system that was set up that's benefited some of us for a long time, and I have to remind everybody, that the song that I remind myself of at times like these is "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people," I mean, that's, that's kind of what government should do to us. It's for all of our protection, and it is failing the people of Akron.

COOPER: So are you intending to file a civil suit against the police department?

DICELLO: Absolutely, we will have a suit filed before the one-year anniversary of Jayland's death. Absolutely.

COOPER: And we heard a little bit from the family about feeling not peaceful, not wanting violence. What is the family's message to members of the community tonight who are upset with the grand jury's decision?

DICELLO: The message is clear: Be loud, be strong. Let the world know how much you despise what's happened. Come out to Akron, support the cause of social justice that Jayland's life has now, you know, unwittingly become a very important symbol of, and do so without destroying each other or any of the property.

I've just kind of make this point, Anderson, before they have ever called and spoken to us as a legal team to resolve this problem, or to reach out to us to discuss a path forward, they boarded up the windows of the government buildings in Akron in anticipation of this result, and they did so and said in no uncertain terms by doing it, that they don't even trust the people of Akron enough to allow them to live the way they need to live.

COOPER: But just the question I asked before about the sequence of events that the police say you said it was well scripted. That certainly may be the case. Is it the case that he fired a gun at police, do you know?

DICELLO: We don't we don't have that evidence right now before us. We know that that's what's been presented, but I can tell you this. An examination of the video with your eyes or mine, it's out there, it's on the Internet shows no hand wagging out the window pointing a gun. It would have to be backwards at an officer putting an officer in threat of lethal harm.

Now could he have opened a door and discharged a round? Perhaps. But there was nobody there. Why he did it or if he did it? I could tell you he wasn't handling a gun for very long. He had only had a gun for a brief period of time.

So could there have been a discharge? Maybe, but there is no hole in the side of the car. There is no gunshot residue tests that are made of the car. There is nothing done to establish precisely how these officers say they were in threat of lethal force.

And I have to remind you, the discharging of a firearm in the presence of a police officer, it does not give an officer you know point blank opportunity to shoot that same person if they choose to leave their presence without a weapon.

COOPER: Was it a legally registered weapon, do you know?

DICELLO: It was legal.

COOPER: Yes. Great. Well, Bobby, I appreciate your time tonight. Bobby DiCello, thank you so much.

DICELLO: Thank you, sir. Thank you.

COOPER: Still ahead, a manhunt underway after yet another mass shooting here in the US, this time at a sweet 16 party in Alabama. The latest, next.



COOPER: Just moments ago, Alabama law enforcement confirmed at least 32 people were injured in the deadly mass shooting at a Sweet 16 party in Alabama over the weekend. The four young people killed, we now know, were 18-year-old Philstavious Dowdell, 17-year-old Shaunkivia Nicole Smith, 19-year-old Marsiah Collins, and 23-year-old Corbin Holston.

At least 15 of the injured teens were shot and hospitalized. No suspect has been named yet, but police say they have strong leads, that's their term.

CNN's Victor Blackwell has details.


LATONYA ALLEN, MOTHER OF PHILSTAVIOUS DOWDELL: It was a nightmare. A nightmare. I -- it's just something, a nightmare that I don't wish on any parent just to go in and see my baby laying down, you know, in a pool (ph) of blood.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mother in mourning over the death of her young son, Philstavious Dowdell, killed in amass shooting at her daughter's Sweet 16 party. Her daughter, 16-year-old Alexis Dowdell, tried to save her brother's life.

ALEXIS DOWDELL, PHILSTAVIOUS DOWDELL'S SISTER: They cut the light on and they said that it was his body laying right there and then that's when everybody just broke down crying and it was people laying outside in front. I had ran in and I had picked my brother and I turned them over and I was telling him, I was like, you're fine. I was like, you're going to make it. You're strong.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Police are asking the public for any information about the attack. They have released very little so far.

SGT. JEREMY BURKETT, ALABAMA LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY: Four lives were lost in the tragic event that occurred here.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): The DJ at the party told CNN that he did not see a fight or commotion before the gunfire began.

I tried to make sure everyone around me was safe. So I pulled a couple of people under the table in front of me. Shots went off behind me.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Latonya Allen was also shot. Earlier in the night, she'd warned the group that there were rumors of someone with a gun.

ALLEN: When I turned the lights on and I asked for his mic, someone was saying, someone was there with a gun. So I got on the mic, I said if anyone, you know, has a gun, then you need to leave because we are here to celebrate. Alexis is sweet 16. We are not here for no drama or anything.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): A talented senior with a football scholarship described as the hometown hero.

MICHAEL TAYLOR, DADEVILLE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COACH: Phil just told me about a month ago, "So Coach, if anything ever happened to me, even when I go to college, take care of my two sisters." I never dreamed that he was talking about this.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Another victim, 17-year-old Keke Smith, set to attend the University of Alabama. She ran on the track team, but was recently injured. So she took a role as a trainer.

TAYLOR: She just had pool ACL and couldn't run track, so she just came to help her out.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Also killed Marsiah Collins, a 19-year-old aspiring musician who took a gap year headed to Louisiana State in the fall. And Corbin Holston, a 23-year-old from Dadeville.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lord, we pray that you would be with their parents, that they would be able to comfort them.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): A small town of around 3,000 people held an emotional vigil.

TENEESHIA GOODMAN-JOHNSON, DADEVILLE CITY COUNCIL: These children had very bright futures. The ones that I knew from Dadeville. Very athletic, very humble children, very respectful children, smart.

ALLEN: He was everything that you will want in a son. He always did everything to make me happy.



BLACKWELL: And Anderson people have come here to the dance studio over my shoulder to place flowers and try to peek around the paper over the window to look inside. This is a town of about 3,000 people. There are high schools in this country with more students than there are residents here in Dadeville.

I've spoken to a few of them here on North Broad next. They say that this will not change this community. And when it comes to the question of if police have a suspect, how close they are, you'll get varying answers. But authorities say that there is no threat to public safety at this time. Anderson?

COOPER: Victor Blackwell, appreciate it. Thank you, Victor.

Coming up, as the Texas Pardons Board considers Governor Greg Abbott's request to expedite a pardon for man who shot and killed the Black Lives Matter protester, newly released court documents show the convicted killer had a history of racist and violent threats against protesters.

Up next, I'll speak to the district attorney of the county where the trial took place.


COOPER: The Texas Pardons Board is weighing Governor Greg Abbott's request to pardon a convicted murderer who shot and killed a Black Lives Matter protester in 2020. As we've reported, newly unsealed court documents revealed that this man convicted of murder.

Army Sergeant Daniel Perry shared several racist and violent comments on social media, including a Facebook message months before the shooting where he told a friend he, quote, might have to kill a few people who he claimed were rioting outside his apartment. He also compared the Black Lives Matter movement to a zoo full of monkeys. That's a quote.


A Travis County jury convicted Perry. But after pressure from Fox host Tucker Carlson, among others, Republican Governor Greg Abbott asked the Texas Pardons Board for an expedited review of Perry's case.

Joining me now is the Travis County District Attorney, Jose Garza. D.A. Garza, I appreciate you being with us. In your legal career, have you ever heard of a governor seeking a pardon for someone who'd just been convicted of murder by a jury and before sentencing even occurred?

JOSE GARZA, TRAVIS COUNTY, TEXAS DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It's good to be with you, Anderson, and please call me Jose. But no, not only have I not experienced that, I'm going to guess, go out on a limb and guess that most prosecutors across the country have never experienced this. This is unprecedented in the state of Texas. To my knowledge, this has never happened. I think it's unprecedented across the country.

Do you believe Governor Abbott's call for Daniel Perry to be pardoned is related to public pressure, whether it's from Fox News, Tucker Carlson or others?

GARZA: Well, I have no idea what's inside the governor's head. The timeline of the facts are pretty clear. We know that late Friday evening, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Rittenhouse called for this pardon. And we know that less than 24 hours later, the governor of Texas delivered. So there is still important process to go forward. It's important to point out that this case is not yet concluded and that's what we're going to stay focused on.

COOPER: In an online post after the verdict, Governor Abbott stated in part, quote, "Texas has one of the strongest stand your ground laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or progressive district attorney." I'm wondering what you say to that.

GARZA: Well, I think it is real clear evidence that the governor did not pay attention to this trial because what was at issue at this trial was not stand your ground. What was at issue is whether under Texas law, you are permitted to provoke a fight and then kill someone and claim self-defense knowing that you are going to provoke that fight.

The jury had the opportunity to hear evidence about this defendant's state of mind and planning going into this incident. They were able to hear evidence about the incident itself and they determined that this defendant is guilty of murder.

COOPER: So the jury had access to those unsealed court documents of the text messages, the Facebook messages he'd sent with a friend.

GARZA: Well, I want to be clear. The jury had access only to a very limited sample of those messages. And I want to give the district judge who presided over this case a great deal of credit. He was very careful to protect the integrity of this case.

He made sure that only those pieces of evidence that were really necessary to allow the jury to determine whether this defendant was guilty or not guilty would come in. He was very careful to exclude any evidence that may have been too prejudicial for a jury to consider. So the truth is the overwhelming majority of the evidence that is now public and that is now permissible for the judge to hear at sentencing was not considered by the jury.

COOPER: Interesting. District Attorney Jose Garza, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

GARZA: Thank you so much.

COOPER: A quick programming note tonight on CNN Primetime, Pamela Brown speaks for the former Fox News contributor who reveals what happened during the election aftermath. That's now at the heart of the network's defamation trial. That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time tonight.

Up next for us, we're going to take you now to free Kherson, Ukraine for homecoming. You're going to meet a child freed from Russian occupied land back home, talking about what he went through away from his family for months and what he faces ahead now.



COOPER: We have an update tonight on some of the children taken from occupied Ukraine to Russia or Russia controlled Crimea. We've done extensive reporting on this for months. Tonight, there's some good news. Dozens of Ukrainian children are reunited with their families months after being stolen by Russian officials, effectively trying to turn them into Russian kids.

Just last month, you'll recall, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his so-called Commissioner for Lvova-Belova, accusing them of forcibly abducting thousands of children from Ukraine. Russia says it's done nothing wrong, calls it a humanitarian campaign.

Now, two Ukrainian children who are back home are talking about their ordeal with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. Here's his report.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Kherson may be free, but it's haunted by occupation. When Russian troops fled last year, blowing the bridge, it was to only just across the river from where their snipers and artillery now regularly fire. Thursday, shelling, killing a local man here and Saturday, a mother and child.

Haunted too is the homecoming here of Bogdan, age 13. We first met him in Kyiv when he'd just been rescued from occupied Crimea. He was one of thousands of children Ukraine says were forcibly deported by Russia, a charge that's led to a war crimes indictment against Putin.

But home is tough. And on this hard-hit island off of Kherson so dicey with Russian troops near this bank and shelling the water. The police won't let us over the bridge.

This is Bogdan's first time outside since he got back when we get him ice cream and pizza.

Home isn't great. A violent row there the night before left glass broken and his hand cut up. The bangs outside make it harder still.

BOGDAN, CHILD REFUGEE (through translator): Explosions are heard day and night. I want to leave for Kyiv. I'm scared at night that because of these sounds the windows my shatter.

IRINA, BOGDAN'S MOTHER (through translator): The windows yes, but it's important it doesn't hit the house. [20:50:04]

WALSH (voice-over): The camp in Crimea had gentle indoctrination, daily Russian Anthems but it wasn't his thing.

BOGDAN (through translator): They told us how it was a long time ago with Russia and Ukraine that once they were together.

WALSH (through translator): And how did you feel hearing this?

BOGDAN (through translator): It wasn't cool. In the lessons, I put my head down and looked at my phone. I didn't want to listen. I wouldn't stay in Russia.

It, firstly, isn't a pretty town there and there's trash everywhere. They don't clean anywhere or develop. Better to be in Kherson than there.

WALSH (voice-over): The town has its troubles. Locals angrily queuing here for cash handouts. An arena has endured animosity from neighbors ever since she let Bogdan go to what she thought would be a safer place for just two weeks.

IRINA (through translator): On the island there is contempt from people that I gave Bogdan up. Even at the humanitarian aid center, they despise me. One of them shouted, where is your Bogdan? Ira, where is your Bogdan?

Some of the women in the line were whispering about me and looking at me. But I don't pay any attention. It is what it is.

WALSH (voice-over): Home here can be hard. Kira, 10, was also sent to Crimea. Her parents are separated badly and she came back straight to her father, Alexander.

KIRA: (Speaking Foreign Language).

WALSH (voice-over): But in this shop, as they gather handout toys, clothes and food because her father has lost his job in the war, the background chatter is also that parents who let their kids go to the Russians should be treated with caution as sympathizers.

KIRA (through translator): What's in the bag?

ALEXANDER (through translator): I don't know, maybe more toys for you.

WALSH (voice-over): I ask Kira how the Russian camp was where she stayed.

KIRA (through translator): It was super at the camp.

WALSH (on-camera): (Speaking Foreign Language).

KIRA (through translator): Super.

WALSH (on-camera): Super (foreign language) (voice-over): I ask if it's better to be home. Their world is still spinning between two sides of a war, leaving them nothing but dizzy.


COOPER: Nick, how are the kids adapting to life in Kherson now?

WALSH: Yes, I mean, look, very complicated personal circumstances for a lot of these children as they return to a country where their families are clearly struggling to provide the kind of home most parents would like to do. But also too, around that there are the circumstances of life in Kherson per se.

You saw partially in that video, too, there are instance in which we see lots of locals together angrily demanding the payouts that they hope the Ukrainian government would give them more easily. A lot that is associated with the destruction of their homes. And also too, throughout the day and night shelling constant in Kherson.

It's very hard to tell exactly often where it's landing, but the persistent back drumbeat of explosions means that life in Kherson is far from anything any child would want to come back to. It's interesting, Anderson, because a lot of the time, you know, you talk to the parents we spoke to, and they refer to the initial decision to send their children to occupied areas of Ukraine as something voluntary, essentially a choice from complicated circumstances at home, coupled with the bombardment that Kherson was facing at that time.

They thought, well, a couple of weeks in a holiday camp controlled by Russians, how's that going to hurt. But it was obviously, months that these children ended up spending forcibly separated from their parents that's left them in these circumstances.

They're glad to be home, certainly, but it's the home they've returned to that's compromised and still a place at war, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Nick Paton Walsh, appreciate it. Thanks, Nick.

Still ahead, all the lies and voter outrage and stopping, disgraced New York Congressman George Santos. What he is planning to do now? Next.



COOPER: Disgraced Long Island, New York Congressman is making news again -- George Santos. Sure, he doesn't have the support of his party on Capitol Hill, or support of the party leadership back in its district who've called for his resignation, or the support of most of his constituents, who, in recent polling, say they want him to resign.

And, yes, he faces multiple federal and local investigations into his finances after he admitted to lying about everything from his college degree to where he worked and even his heritage. But when you have no shame, none of that matters. Today, he announced he's going to run for reelection.

Our Senior Data Reporter, Harry Enten joins us now. So, what does the data show us about his popularity?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes. So I have good news and bad news. The good news, as I went back through history and found some politicians with comparable favorable ratings, right around 7 or 8 percent. The bad news is, is those politicians were either at the time convicted criminals or later became convicted criminals such as Rod Blagojevich and Bob Taft. Both of them had favorable of approval ratings right around 7 or 8 percent, just like George Santos. So again, it's good news, but it's also really bad news.

COOPER: What about the numbers behind his fundraising? Are there like legitimate numbers that one can actually see?

ENTEN: Yes. So from quarter one, this is interesting and something I don't think I've ever seen before, that is, he refunded more than he actually took in. He only raised about $5,000. He had to refund about $8,000. So he actually lost money on the court.

COOPER: Why did he have to refund?

ENTEN: Because there were people who might have asked for their stuff.

COOPER: For money back.



ENTEN: Exactly right. I know at least one of those folks.

COOPER: So -- and he has to win a primary first. What's the data showing that?

ENTEN: Well, you know, normally if you have, let's say in a blue district like New York 3, at least according to the 2020 presidential vote, if you had a favorable rating that was equal to Joe Biden's, that might not be bad for Republican, but it is quite bad when it's among Republicans, right?

So Joe Biden, not exactly the most popular guy among Republicans. 11 percent favorable rating in New York 3. George Santos among Republicans, also with an 11 percent favorable rating. So overall, when you just kind of look at the numbers, Anderson --

COOPER: So somewhat -- if there's another Republican thinking about running, they would look at those numbers and thing -- in that district, I might have a good chance?

ENTEN: Yes, exactly. And there's already one declared it. And I might argue he may be the first of many to follow because those numbers personally, Anderson, from a professional point of view, they flat out stink.

COOPER: OK, thank you. Harry Enten, I appreciate that.

ENTEN: Thank you.

COOPER: The news continues. Let's hand over to Pamela Brown at "CNN PRIMETIME". Pamela?