Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

NY Times: DeSantis Nearing Run, Sees 2024 as Biden, Trump and Me; Rep. Jim Jordan's FBI Witnesses Testify Publicly before Congress as Questions about their Legitimacy Remain; National Archives To Share Records With Special Counsel Showing Trump And His Advisers Knew Of Proper Declassification Process; Conservative Education Activist Group Supporting Classroom Fight Over Gender, Sexuality; Man Accused of Killing Cash App Founder Bob Lee Pleads Not Guilty. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 18, 2023 - 20:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: They were based on but fundamentally different. They were art. They therefore did not violate copyright laws.

Seven of the justices rejected that reasoning. Interesting alliance here, though. One of the courts most liberal justices, Elena Kagan was joined by the chief justice, John Roberts in dissent.

They argue that decision will "... stifle creativity of every sort. It will impede new art and music and literature. It will thwart the expression of new ideas and the attainment of new knowledge. It will make our world poorer."

Thanks for joining us. AC 360 starts now.


Tonight, the clearest sign yet that Florida governor, Ron DeSantis will challenge Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. It comes on a day the company he has targeted, Disney decided to hit him with a billion-dollar blow. We'll have more on what Disney just announced shortly.

But on DeSantis' run, sources are telling CNN he will be filing the paperwork next week. He had a call late today with donors and supporters and "New York Times" reporter listened in.

Now I'm going to read your quote from that "New York Times" story which begins with something Ron DeSantis said on the call: "You have basically three people at this point that are credible in this whole thing." Mr. DeSantis told donors on the call organized by this super PAC supporting him, Never Back Down. "Biden, Trump and me, and I think of those three, wo have a chance to get elected president, Biden and me."

Now according to "The Times," he went on to say that he is basing that on swing state data, which he describes is not great for the former president, "and probably insurmountable because people aren't going to change their view of him." Which is interesting because it would be hard to describe Ron DeSantis's recent moves is courting those same swing state voters.

Instead, he appears to be trying to outflank the former president on the right, certainly on the issue of abortion, criticizing the former president for not saying during last week's CNN townhall whether he'd support Florida's restrictive new abortion law.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I signed the bill. I was proud to do it. He won't answer whether he would sign it or not.


COOPER: Now, Governor DeSantis has also championed skepticism of the COVID vaccine. Which the former president supports, moved to restrict what teachers can say in schools about sexuality and repeatedly spoken out about so-called wokeness.


DESANTIS: We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.


COOPER: Governor DeSantis has targeted the Disney Corporation after the then CEO opposed the so-called Don't Say Gay Bill.

Today, Disney announced it is scrapping plans for a billion-dollar Orlando area office complex, which was expected to add some 2,000 jobs.

Our Randi Kaye joins us now with the latest on that. So what more do know about this decision by Disney?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, you mentioned that Disney is now backing away from this billion-dollar investment here in the state of Florida. That's a big blow to the state.

This complex was going to be built in Lake Nona, which is about 20 miles outside the area where Walt Disney is in the Orlando area. They were going to bring those 2,000 employees, transferring them from California to Florida.

And according to "The New York Times," the average salary for those employees, each employee was going to be about $120,000.00.

So the company today said we are no longer doing that. They cited changing business conditions, but of course, Anderson, the backdrop to all of this is Governor DeSantis tightening oversight of Disney's theme park and the surrounding area. This is after Disney issued that statement really slamming a signature piece of legislation that the governor had been touting, and Disney has accused DeSantis of being anti-business and Disney is now, they say, rethinking this whole plan of theirs to actually invest, Anderson another $17 billion in the state of Florida possibly bringing as many as 13,000 jobs.

All of that, Andersen, now still in play, but possibly not going to happen.

COOPER: And I mean, this battle between Disney and the governor, it has been going on for more than a year. Talk a little bit just about the origins of it, if you can.

KAYE: Yes. Anderson, it started in January of 2022. That's when state lawmakers introduced what was called the Parental Rights and Education Bill. Critics called it the Don't Say Gay Bill. It basically banned teachers from teaching gender identity and sexual orientation through the third grade.

So Disney came out and issued a statement under the former leadership, basically slamming this bill saying it never should have been signed into law by the governor and then the incoming CEO, Bob Iger, certainly didn't back down either.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers then voted to replace this special taxing district, which basically has allowed Disney to govern itself for the last few decades. The state put in place a new board to run that district.

This board was stacked with DeSantis' appointees and then Disney cut a deal in the thick of night with that outgoing board before the new board could take over. Of course that was not going to make the governor happy and then suddenly DeSantis started talking about building a prison next to Walt Disney World, maybe raising taxes in that area and then Disney filed a lawsuit against the governor saying that the Disney was being punished for exercising its right to free speech and then the DeSantis appointed board countersued Disney and all of that, Anderson, is still tied up in court.


COOPER: And has Governor DeSantis responded to this latest move about this billion-dollar business that's not going to be there?

KAYE: I reached out to his office today, and I was in touch with his press secretary, Jeremy Redfern. He said that Disney has announced the possibility of this project two years ago and it never really went anywhere.

But in his official statement to me, he said that given the company's financial straits, falling market cap, and declining stock price, it is unsurprising he said that they would restructure their business operations and cancel what he called unsuccessful ventures.

But Anderson of course, Donald Trump seizing on this, trying to capitalize on all of this in an e-mail blast, saying that DeSantis is being absolutely destroyed by Disney, also warning that Disney's next move could be not investing any more money at all in the state of Florida and possibly a slow withdrawal from the state of Florida. Donald Trump calling this all so unnecessary and referring to it, Anderson, as a political stunt.

COOPER: Randi Kaye, appreciate it.

More now on the broader politics of all this. Joining us, CNN political commentator, Alyssa Farah Griffin who served as the White House communications director in the previous administration, also Democratic strategist, James Carville.

What do you make of -- I mean, first of all, Disney's latest move and how DeSantis has handled this.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think DeSantis was bound to get outmaneuvered by Disney and just to put a finer point on what Randi reported.

So the average salary of this, under this deal, is $120,000 a year. Well, their median salary in the state of Florida is $60,000. So these are high paying jobs that are no longer coming to the state.

Listen, what propelled Ron DeSantis to victory in the midterm night and kind of being seen as the consummate frontrunner, if not Donald Trump in the Republican Party was the fact that he was governing the great state of Florida, the free state of Florida, it's kind of the Republican Mecca.

The jobs environment was good, the economy was good. It is a good tax environment. He's kind of countering the best things about him by taking on the second biggest employer in the state. And you have to wonder who's advising him because even so, I don't know that the average voter in New Hampshire or South Carolina sees Disney as a bad brand.

It's the brand of Mickey Mouse. It's the brand of Walt Disney. It seems like he almost doubled down on it because he got himself in too deep and I think this is going to get worse before it gets better.

COOPER: James, you've been outspoken in the past about how Democrats are perhaps too focused on so-called wokeness. Do you think DeSantis will successfully leverage the so-called culture wars? Or is the Disney drama you think backfiring on him?

JAMES CARVILLE, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, he says Florida is where the woke go to die, no, it's where teachers go to jail. They are trying to arrest some third or fourth grade teacher in Pensacola for showing a Disney movie.

And he just keeps pulling one stunt after another and they keep blowing up on him. My favorite story, as I read all of these stories about his staff telling him to act human.

The first time I've ever since heard and for a candidate to act, for DeSantis to act human is about a good chance of somebody telling me to act sophisticated. I just can't do it.

I don't think he can --

COOPER: You can pull yourself together every now and then, James.

CARVILLE: It is pretty funny when you think about it. I mean, act human, act human.

COOPER: Alyssa, I mean, you heard the reporting from "The New York Times" that DeSantis is making the eligibility agreement or argument to donors saying it's only him -- electability I should say, only him and Biden that can actually win into 2024, especially he is talking about swing states.

I mean, some of the laws he is signed are clearly trying to go to the right of Trump.

GRIFFIN: Well, and therein lies the big problem, and I think what has hurt DeSantis, why he has precipitously dropped in the primary polls is his best argument was electability.

Now, there are polls that show that is not necessarily true, that Trump actually outperforms Biden nearly as strongly as DeSantis does in a general. But first, you have to win a primary, then you have to win a general, and I have said this to DeSantis' team, I've said it many times, he is making the circle of potential voters smaller and smaller by going as far into the culture wars, as he has.

The biggest voting bloc in 2024 is going to be Gen Z voters, followed by millennials. We are the generation of marriage equality, even Republicans, 67 percent of Republicans don't support the attacks on the transgender community, yet he is making that such a big part of his political identity.

If you're going to win swing voters that went away from Donald Trump in 2020, if you want to get them back into the fold to Independents and to moderates, he's got to start moderating and I just don't know that he has that in his wheelhouse.

I would say real quick, this is a man who -- he doesn't sit down with mainstream media. He does things like the so-called Don't Say Gay Bill, but then he doesn't go and defend it with audiences that aren't friendly to him. That is a muscle you have to be able to flex as a national candidate.

COOPER: James, when I spoke to New Hampshire Republican governor, Chris Sununu last week, he said it's a mistake for Trump's 2024 opponents to try and debate him on policy. He said, it's got to be on his character and the "flaws that he brings to the table."

Do you see any evidence that DeSantis or anyone else has -- actually has -- who is currently running or may has the appetite to do that?

CARVILLE: Well, he's going to I have to because you know right now, among Republicans, he is slipping. And that the idea to vote for me because a poll in Colorado taken in May of 2023 is going to determine the nomination, I think, is crazy.


And he's going all-in in Iowa, which is the Republican Caucus, is there, quite conservative. Do you remember Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses in 2016 and did him a lot of good. And I just think running, you know, hard anti-abortion and hard to cut Social Security and Medicare is not going to cut it.

He has got some bad positions, in addition to his famous lack of personality and say what you want about Trump, but he's a compelling character to Republicans.

I find him repulsive or repugnant, but to those people in that CNN New Hampshire townhall, he was a pretty popular guy.

And a lot of that is based on style and personality and having some sort of human skills and I just don't see that in DeSantis. Yes, I mean, look at him -- don't count people out, people counted us out in '92. We were a gut-shot Confederate soldier, I guess, intriguing how he was alive, but I'm not counting anybody out.

But DeSantis, thus far, has been to me singly unimpressive.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, James, as somebody who has probably looked at polling all your life, I mean, when you look at the polling showing Trump leading DeSantis by 30 points, does that mean anything to you at this stage?

CARVILLE: Yes, a little bit. I mean, I wouldn't take a poll right now and certainly, primary polls are notoriously fluid, and is notoriously hard to do. But what they do show is that Trump's position over DeSantis has improved over the last couple of three months. I think that's pretty clear.

And I think DeSantis' lack of political skill or personality has been pretty much, the public is starting to see it. Now, he can turn it around, but he seems to be painting himself in a pretty stringent box.

And, you know, Disney is a corporation now that has got great lawyers and they've got great VR people, but it looks like you know, Mickey Mouse and Goofy is beating him every day and that's not the image that you want to project when you run in a in an election, particularly a Republican electorate that loves candidates that project strength. That is a bad visual, I think.

COOPER: Alyssa, it was it didn't seem like DeSantis was kind of riding high when people didn't really know much about or seen much about him. The more they see, the less they seem to like.

GRIFFIN: That's what it feels like and it is early. I think his great political talent is driving national media coverage and it was largely because he does a lot of political stunts, whether it's sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard or different challenges with Disney.

But once they start seeing a little more, his numbers have precipitously gone down and I would just note, a Republican who won Iowa hasn't gone on to win the presidency since I believe George Bush in 2000. So an Iowa focused strategy isn't what he needs. He needs to think about a longer game.

COOPER: Yes, Alyssa Farah Griffin, thank you; James Carville, great to see you. Thank you.

Coming up next, how FBI agents stripped of their security clearances over the January 6 attack on government became witnesses in hearings, Congressman Jim Jordan says the hearings are aimed at exposing what he calls the weaponization of the federal government.

We're joined by a Democrat who took part in the hearing today and it got pretty contentious.

Also, tonight, a stunning assessment of the Mar-a-Lago documents case from an attorney with deep experience in national security cases. How quickly he thinks charges against the foreign president could be coming.



COOPER: In a hearing today in Republican congressman, Jim Jordan's weaponization of government probe turned openly contentious, the flashpoint whether three self-described FBI whistleblowers are in fact whistleblowers, and why some of what they previously told Republicans on the subcommittee is being hidden from the Democratic members of that subcommittee.

New York Democrat, Dan Goldman spoke up about that with Chairman Jim Jordan. Here's one with one of the witnesses.


REP. DANIEL GOLDMAN (D-NY): Our concern is that you all have met with the committee majority, perhaps several times. You have provided information, documents, testimony, and we're in the dark and that is not how Congress works. That's not how committees work.


COOPER: Congressman Jordan is calling the witnesses whistleblowers. Democrats are saying they aren't.

CNN's Jessica Dean joins us now with more.

It was a pretty fiery hearing today. A lot of questions raised about the credibility of the witnesses. Talk about what went on.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Anderson, that was so much of what was discussed in this hearing today. We heard from Congressman Goldman there. The Democrats very concerned that they were not able to hear the testimony that these so-called whistleblowers had provided to the GOP members of this committee.

So zooming out for just a second, this is just the latest escalation in Congressman Jim Jordan's weaponization committee and he is trying to make the case that the FBI, DOJ is weaponized against conservatives. So he wanted to bring in what he considers whistleblowers to talk about this.

What was interesting is that we also heard from the FBI that three people had had their security clearances revoked for either attending the January 6 riots here at the Capitol or espousing alternate theories about what happened here.

And two of those witnesses today were two of those people that had had their security clearances revoked. And so, you can understand why Democrats had a lot of questions about what kind of facts and what kind of information they were giving the committee.

COOPER: So what more do we know about these witnesses? Particularly their current standing in the FBI?

DEAN: Right, so let's start first with Marcus Allen, one of the men that testified today. He had his security clearance revoked on May 3rd, and we're told that he sent out an e-mail that said to exercise extreme caution when investigating January 6th and interviewing people about January 6th.

That he had said that he went to an open source and didn't find any evidence of any wrongdoing on January 6th, but then again, another FBI agent found that that person, that source did attack Capitol Police officers, so that's one person.

The second is a man named Steve Friend, a former agent named Steve friend, who had his security clearance revoked on Tuesday. We're told that the FBI -- he went into FBI space and downloaded information with an unauthorized flash drive, that he did unauthorized interviews, including with a Russian government agency, among other things, Anderson.

So again, just a lot of questions about the information that these men were bringing to the committee.

COOPER: Jessica Dean, appreciate it.

Before bringing in our next guest, Democratic ranking member of the subcommittee, Stacey Plaskett, delegate for the US Virgin Islands, I want to play a portion of an exchange that she and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz had today with Chairman Jordan.



REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Mr. Chairman, these individuals have been determined not to be whistleblowers.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): He said, he is not agreeing to that.

SCHULTZ: These are not whistleblowers. They've been determined by the agency not to be whistleblowers. Are you deciding that they're whistleblowers? JORDAN: Yes. The law decides it. Did you not listen to Mr. Levitz' testimony? Did you not read the law? This law decides that they are whistleblowers.

DEL. STACEY PLASKETT (D-VI): His attorney is asserting -- his attorney is asserting him to be a whistleblower.

JORDAN: The Chair recognizes the gentlelady from the New York.

PLASKETT: The law has not determined that they are whistleblowers.

JORDAN: The gentlelady from New York has been recognized.

PLASKETT: The law has not determined they are whistleblowers, his attorneys is just asserting that.


COOPER: And Congresswoman Plaskett joins us now. Thanks for being with us. What exactly was going on from your point of view in that hearing room today?

PLASKETT: Well, you know, this is a very interesting select committee that has been put together by Kevin McCarthy and its primary purpose, Anderson, is really to test case conspiracy theories that the Republicans have, and specifically that Donald Trump may use in his presidential election.

So we've done the Twitter Files investigation, we're looking at FBI supposed whistleblowers. That's the sum total of what is happening here.

This is a really concerted effort to undermine Americans' confidence in the rule of law, in the Department of Justice, in the FBI.

COOPER: And can you just explain why you're saying that those witnesses are not actually whistleblowers and why you think Congressman Jordan is not giving you and Democrats on the committee all the information you're requesting?

Because when Dan Goldman brought that up, Jordan, you know, I looked at the transcripts, Jordan essentially said, yes, we've just chosen not to give it to you.

PLASKETT: Right. Well, you know, the rules no longer apply and specifically, that my Republican colleagues don't think the rules apply when the rules don't help them. That's also what they've done with the FBI and other instances. They are not interested in working and finding out cases and issues that the FBI may have, and how it may have misused its power.

They're only interested when the FBI is going after, or has put down individuals who espouse theories that they want to put forward like a stolen election, like January 6 not having been an insurrection.

So the issue we had with the witnesses that they brought forward today is that Jim Jordan and his other -- and members of his party, particularly on that committee would like us to believe that these individuals are whistleblowers.

Whistleblowers are individuals who will be protected by the government because they are disclosing allegations of misconduct. The individuals that we saw today have not alleged any misconduct by the FBI. What they have alleged is that the FBI asks them to do their job, and did not believe the January 6th was a regular day.

The FBI believed that January 6 contained domestic terrorists and made these individuals act as federal law enforcement officers to go after and to investigate those individuals and that is exactly what they did not want to do.

Friend did not want to be involved in the arrest of an individual who they've known has been armed. We saw pictures of him in January 6th with assault weapons, canisters of teargas, wearing protective masks himself.

Other individuals as you heard from the reporter were downloading and disseminating to other FBI agents, information that they knew were fallacious and not true.

I was told by the supervisor not to do it and continue to do it, and the third person recorded his supervisor when that is against the law for him to do that and downloaded information and put it out there into the public.

So these are not, as we would consider them whistleblowers, people who are alleging wrongdoing. These are individuals who have a gripe with FBI, rightfully had their security clearances, revoked because they were sympathizers of January 6th and other theories and so now, they are crying grievance because of that.

COOPER: Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, I really appreciate it today. Thank you.

Coming up, the former president's legal troubles, last night, we brought you CNN exclusive reporting about communications from the National Archives that may soon be in the hands of the special counsel that potentially undercuts his claims about declassifying documents found at Mar-a-Lago.

I will talk to a very well-known attorney who deals in national security issues, next.



COOPER: The former president's legal troubles are mounting. In a CNN exclusive, multiple sources say there is new evidence that may undercut his repeated claim that he was allowed to remove classified documents and later declassified them.

According to those sources, the National Archives is prepared to hand over communications to the special counsel, Jack Smith, involving top advisers to the former president, some that were directed to him personally.

According to a letter from the National archivist to the former president making him aware of this, these communications concern, "whether why and how you should declassify certain classified records." They may provide critical evidence about the former president's awareness of how the declassification process worked.

I am joined now by Mark Zaid, an attorney with extensive background in national security cases.

Mark, thanks for being with us.

MARK ZAID, ATTORNEY: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: You hear the latest reporting, what does it suggest to you about the likelihood of charges against the former president? And when would you expect that decision from the special counsel?


ZAID: Well, realistically, every bit of new evidence that we have learned over the last year has only mounted against the former president and perhaps others that were in close proximity to him, as well as who was at Mar-a-Lago to include possibly his lawyers.

Now, I would've thought quite frankly, that if they were going to have moved ahead, they would have done so by now. I think the Biden-Pence situations of having mishandled classified information may have delayed some aspects, and there may be some rethinking how to phrase possible claims against the former president and others, but the obstruction claims those exist regardless.

And I also say, remember, we always talk about classified information because that's what people understand. We're not talking about that really. We're talking about national defense information, which usually is classified per the Espionage Act statute, but doesn't have to necessarily be.

COOPER: But you think this could take place in, I mean, I heard you say weeks, not months. Is that accurate?

ZAID: I think based on what we know publicly, I have no inside information into the Justice Department or the Special Counsel that they have more than enough to proceed as a matter of law, whether or not from a policy perspective, there's something holding them up. I don't know. But, by all means, there's more than enough information to bring some charges in a matter of weeks, if not months.

Now, what could weeks be? I don't know. Eight weeks, 12 weeks? You know, that's still two, three, four months away, but sooner rather than later.

COOPER: Last week at the town hall, the former president said, quote, "By the way, they became automatically declassified when I took them," end quote. He's made that claim about a standing order to declassify documents before. Certainly has not been much corroboration of that from members of his own administration.

I think Kash Patel said something about it, but he went before the grand jury and hasn't said anything since. Do you think -- I mean, is there -- he keeps saying that, is there any truth to it whatsoever?

ZAID: No, there is no such thing as I take it with me, it automatically becomes declassified. And in fact, even though there could have been a standing order, a president can most likely, constitutionally, verbally declassify information. That's of course not how the process typically works, but this was the Trump administration. There is no such thing as typical.

But I represented three Cabinet officers, two secretaries of defense, and a national security adviser. There is no one other than, as you said, Kash Patel, who went before the grand jury and has never said a word since about what he said that shows any evidence of any type of standing order.

So the president, former president is in a lot of legal trouble. That town Hall, I'm sure, made his lawyers shake their head and cover their eyes because of what he said. Because what he said was very incriminating as a matter of law.

COOPER: And you've been critical of some of the former president's attorneys in the past. At this point, is there a differing legal strategy that you would recommend for the former president adopt, or is this -- I mean, is it too late for any of that?

ZAID: Certainly he could plead if he wanted. Look, his strategy generally in lawsuits. And I have a current lawsuit against him now arising out of January 6th, to be honest, has always been to just delay, delay, delay. We're clearly talking if he has facing charges going well past the 2024 election.

I don't know if this is going to be a Eugene Debs situation for those who are historians out there, they can Google him and read about it. But the strategy generally for his lawyers has been to do things that make him look upon you with favor rather than come up with a legal strategy that is actually viable.

COOPER: Mark Zaid, I really appreciate you coming on. Thank you.

ZAID: Anytime.

COOPER: Just head back to the politics in a question, who is behind all the book banning? There's an activist group who called themselves Moms for Liberty, a big force in the attempt to ban books and school curriculums that mentioned gender, sexuality, race.

Elle Reeve has their story next.


[20:38:01] COOPER: Governor Ron DeSantis is likely entering to the Republican race for the presidency next week brings a renewed spotlight in what opponents called his Don't Say Gay law. It initially banned teacher -- teaching Florida students about sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade. It's been expanded last month through high school. Opponents call it dangerous and vague.

It's led to book bans that have included authors such as Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and Judy Blume. It's part of an overall conservative push on education across the country.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: The state of Florida, we're proud to stand for education, not indoctrination in our schools.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The left-wing rioting in mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The Democrats believe that parents shouldn't have a say in their kids' education.

REP. MARY MILLER (R), ILLINOIS: Parents want schools focused on reading, writing, and math, not woke politics.

DANIEL CAMERON (R), KENTUCKY GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: The left is trying to hijack women's sports. And our schools on the verge of becoming breeding grounds for liberal and progressive ideas.


COOPER: DeSantis's law also led to his ongoing fight with Disney. One of the people he appointed to a board that was supposed to provide more oversight of Disney was the co-founder of a group called Moms for Liberty, which is advocated for these classroom fights in school districts across America.

Elle Reeve has more on who they are.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By exposing our children to adult concepts such as gender identity, we are asking them to carry a load that is much too heavy for them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Might I suggest instead of anal sex, perhaps we could go back to teaching cursive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This book is not appropriate and it is in your schools.

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moms for Liberty is a parent activist group. It began in Florida in 2021 to protest public schools being closed for COVID and mask mandates. The group became a frequent and spicy presence at school board meetings. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is about more than masks for the record.


REEVE (voice-over): But now there are more than 250 Moms for Liberty chapters nationwide, the group says. And it has gained major conservative allies and morphed into something else, a campaign against supposed indoctrination of children on race and sexuality.

DARCY SCHOENING, CHAPTER CHAIR, MOMS FOR LIBERTY, EL PASO COUNTY, COLORADO: I have the right to say, I don't want my kids to learn this. I don't agree with this movement, and that's my right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So books should fall into that category as well.

REEVE (voice-over): We wanted to understand what's driving these moms on a deeper level than some viral videos. So we met with the Moms for Liberty chapter in El Paso County, Colorado. For conservatives, one majorities on these three school boards in 2021. Leader Darcy Schoening let us watch a meeting where they talked about how to pressure those boards into making the policies they want.

SCHOENING: What school districts are most of you guys in?

REEVE (voice-over): What Moms for Liberty has become most famous for is claiming school libraries contain books with pornographic content and for trying to get some books removed. Some of those books listed do talk about sex, but according to the Supreme Court's definition of obscenity, they're not porn.

(on-camera): I've read a lot of criticism of your group. People say that this is kind of like a moral panic, that people have an irrational fear of what's going on.

SCHOENING: We're not looking to ban books. We're not looking to burn books. We just need to get back to a system where parents know what their kids are learning, and for the most part, it's educational and not political.

REEVE (on-camera): One of the books on your list is Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five". I mean, it's considered one of the classics of modern literature.

SCHOENING: Right. I read that in high school. Yes.

REEVE (on-camera): Well, why would -- would you want that removed from the library?

SCHOENING: No, we don't -- again, age appropriate.

REEVE (on-camera): It's on list.

SCHOENING: What might not be appropriate for a six-year-old is appropriate for a 15-year-old.

REEVE (on-camera): Is someone assigning of first grader at the "Slaughterhouse-Five"?

SCHOENING: No. But again, it's the right of the parents to know that it's there, that their children have access to something that they may not have access to at home.

REEVE (voice-over): One of the big issues right now is pronouns. In March, Colorado's District 11 School Board considered a proposal to prevent teachers from asking kids their pronouns, sparking protests.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Teachers can no longer ask kids. They're pronouns. That's right. No more grooming kids with pronouns in D11.

REEVE (voice-over): The school board has tabled the proposal.

(on-camera): Why is asking a child their pronouns indoctrination.

SCHOENING: If you ask my children who are seven and eight, what are your pronouns? They don't even know what that is. So when you ask that, you're planting the seed in their minds that they maybe should identify as another gender or that identifying as another gender is hip or cool. Hey, my teacher's asking me, so maybe this is what I should do.

REEVE (on-camera): But I certainly never felt that way about my teachers. Like I didn't learn I was heterosexual from my health teacher. It was from like, watching 90s movies with Brad Pitt in it.

SCHOENING: Yeah, yeah. Well, and -- but -- and I think that's how most of us are.

REEVE (voice-over): We wanted to hear what some of the more liberal parents had to say. Some of them set in on the meeting and one passed me this note, calling it a hate group. The next day we met with those parents.

(on-camera): For the record, have any of your kids ever come home and said, I am feeling peer pressured to be gay or trans?

ALL: No.

REEVE (voice-over): Naomi Lopez is a speech pathologist and works in a District 11 school.

NAOMI LOPEZ, SPEECH PATHOLOGIST: First of all, we're not going around saying, OK, you know, I want you to think about it. What gender are you?

REEVE (on-camera): Yeah.

LOPEZ: Like that's not happening, period.

REEVE (on-camera): They say it's happening.

LOPEZ: It's not. My personal beliefs, my personal viewpoint on the world does not come into the classroom. We are professionals with degrees in pedagogy. REEVE (voice-over): And she's also the mom of a transgender student.

LOPEZ: So, I'm sorry, can you ask me again because I'm getting pissed off.

REEVE (on-camera): What -- you want to talk about that first? Why does it make you emotional to talk about this stuff?

LOPEZ: So I get emotional when other people who don't have children who are transgender or queer place an assumption on it for the sake of persecution, based on their own belief.

SCHOENING: When you're putting all this curriculum everywhere and you're telling kids, hey, come -- you could come talk to me behind your parents' back, I got your back. I mean, there's a clear move to bring more of that into our schools, and it's just not the school's place.

REEVE (on-camera): So, what I feel like you're strongly implying, and I would like to get your take on, because I don't want to attribute something that you don't think, but to me it sounds like you're saying there's some kind of high level coordinated effort to make more children trans and gay.


REEVE (on-camera): Well, who is directing that?

SCHOENING: Teachers unions and our president and a lot of funding sources. And teachers unions are also heavily backing the curriculum that we're bringing into schools.


REEVE (on-camera): Why would they want more kids to be gay and trans?

SCHOENING: Because it breaks down the family unit, which breaks down traditional conservative values. It breaks down a lot of things in this country. It changes the way that people think. It changes the way that people handle politics.

REEVE (voice-over): Of course, there's no evidence of a coordinated plot to make kids trans.

(on-camera): When I hear those thoughts about like some sort of concerted effort to make people gay, does it sound like a conspiracy theory to you?

SCHOENING: It's not a conspiracy theory that the state, whether you're talking about Colorado or the federal government, is taking a stronger and stronger hand in public education in raising our kids. So do I think that for some reason people want everyone to be gay? That's a mischaracterization of what I think.

I think that people will use, you know, the people that want to erode away at parental rights, the left, the teachers unions, they'll use LGBTQ or whatever may be the case at the time. Those are just tools to erode away at parental rights.

REEVE (voice-over): The last D11 meeting of the school year was mostly about student awards and performances. The board seemed to anticipate the few Moms for Liberty members in the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As we reflect over the last year, removing rogue woke clubs, teachers, woke teachers and woke counselors from D11 is a must.

REEVE (voice-over): And a couple of students push back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you remove teacher's ability to ask for pronouns, you'll remove the ability for safe spaces to exist, taking away the safety of your students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to recognize our students and the support staff that are supporting our students out there.

LOPEZ: My child thinks it's ludicrous that it's such a big deal because to them it's just normal. To their friends, they don't care how my child identifies. They love them for who they are.


COOPER: And Elle Reeve joins me now. Is it clear to you which side of this debate has the most support or momentum in, you know, in that school district, for instance?

REEVE: Well, to be clear, Schoening's kids have never gone to public school. She says she doesn't want them to...

COOPER: Wait a minute. Her kids don't go to public school?

REEVE: No, they have never been. She hopes maybe by high school the schools will be, Good enough for her kids. The other liberals we talked to, the liberal parents whose kids do go to that school, they say it's not the majority opinion.

So, for example, one parent complained about five books, and that meant that the district had to create committees to determine whether those books were obscene or they could stay. And in the end, all five stayed. But one parent who served on that committee said it was just a huge waste of time and resource.

COOPER: Elle Reeve, thank you. A really fascinating report.

Up next, the suspect accused of stabbing to death Cash App founder Bob Lee on the streets of San Francisco, faces a judge for his arraignment. And there's a new report on how the two men knew each other. Investigators say this was not a random killing. The latest coming.


[20:51:53] COOPER: In a San Francisco courtroom today, the tech consultant accused of stabbing to death of Cash App founder Bob Lee pleaded not guilty to murder charges. Nima Momeni was denied bail after prosecutors argued he was a flight risk and a danger to the community. According to the coroner, Lee was stabbed multiple times.

Prosecutors said that Momeni left Lee to, quote, slowly die on the streets in that surveillance video will be crucial to the case. There's also a new report on how the suspect and the victim knew one another.

CNN's Veronica Miracle has the latest.


BROOKE JENKINS, SAN FRANCISCO DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We believe that this was an intentional killing.

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prosecutors say on the night, Cash App founder Bob Lee was murdered. He and suspect Nima Momeni were at Momeni's sister's apartment. They say the murder weapon, a kitchen knife has Lee's DNA all over the blade and Momeni's DNA all over the handle.

JENKINS: The brand of the knife used in this killing is associated with a set of cutlery that was in Mr. Momeni's sister's apartment.

MIRACLE (voice-over): Before the violent confrontation, Lee and Momeni knew each other for years. People familiar with their relationship told the Wall Street Journal, Lee was in a relationship with Momeni's sister at one point. And about three years ago, Mr. Lee was together with a woman that Mr. Momeni also dated.

According to multiple sources who also spoke to the Wall Street Journal, they described Lee as a kind and generous friend who loved adventure and was part of an underground Silicon Valley scene known as the Lifestyle where people use drugs, and there's a lot of casual sex. In a statement provided to the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Momeni's lawyers said there are many rumors circulating around this case. Many of them untrue.

A motive or an explanation as to why this happened is still unclear. Both sides say they will not reveal more until trial, but Mr. Momeni's attorney argues there's more to this story than the police report reveals.

PAULA CANNY, ATTORNEY FOR NIMA MOMENI: My defense is it is an accident with across between self-defense and accident. There was no premeditation deliberation.

MIRACLE (voice-over): Surveillance videos of the stabbing are a critical part of this case. In court filing, attorney Paula Canny argued those cameras don't capture audio, and the video of the stabbing is also blurry. She also says police only interviewed two witnesses after the murder and never spoke to Momeni before his arrest. CANNY: Part of the reason we're here today is because the police didn't go and speak to Nima Momeni that night who would have easily given him the explanation of what happened and why it happened.

MIRACLE (voice-over): District Attorney Brooke Jenkins couldn't confirm if the police ever approached Momeni before his arrest, but she says, there's no question Momeni murdered Bob Lee.


COOPER: And Veronica Miracle joins me now from San Francisco. Were family members of Mr. Lee or the accused killer in court?

MIRACLE: Nima Momeni's sister and mother were in the courtroom. His mother actually held her hands in the shape of a heart once again showing support for her son as he entered the courtroom. And then on Bob Lee's side, there were about 20 family and friends.

And during some of the more difficult times of the hearing when they were talking about evidence, they held each other, supported each other. After it was all said and done, though, nobody wanted to speak after court. Anderson?

COOPER: Veronica Miracle, I appreciate it.


Up next, the search for four children ranging in age from just 11 months old to 13 years have have survived a plane crash in the Columbian journal as officials jungle -- I'm sorry, as officials race to find them.


COOPER: An urgent search is underway in the Amazon jungle after Columbian officials say, clues suggest four children survived this plane crash that killed three adults, including the pilot 17 days ago. Rescuers are using helicopters to search the area and also are on the ground.

Last night, the Columbian president tweeted that the children who were as young as 11 months old and up to the age of 13 were found alive. But he took down the tweet this morning after government officials said they are waiting for proof.

In their search, authorities say they have several -- found several small objects including a baby bottle, hair scrunchies, and children's scissors. They also found a shelter built with sticks and leaves. They say they'll keep looking until the location of the children is confirmed.

The news continues. CNN Primetime with Sara Sidner starts now.