Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Trump Ignores CNN Questions on Tape in Which He Discusses Classified Document; President Bien after Tripping on Sandbag at Air Force Commencement: I Got Sandbagged; Is Crowded 2024 Field Good for Trump; "A Day Without Immigrants" Protests Draw Attention to DeSantis Immigration Law; Farmers Continue To Rely On Guest Workers To Fill Jobs Americans Won't Do. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 01, 2023 - 20:00   ET



HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Now, I believe a lot of that is being driven by the attacks on transgender people on the right side of the aisle.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: That's amazing. Wow. That is a really fascinating, a huge surge. Thank you very much for sharing that. That is sobering.

Thanks so much all of you for watching. It is time now for AC 360 with Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: 360": Good evening.

Tonight on 360. The former president stays silent a day after exclusive CNN reporting he is on tape admitting he kept a classified document about a potential strike on Iran.

Also tonight, how President Biden is doing after a tumble on stage while visiting the Air Force Academy. New details on what caused it.

Later, a conversation with a Sherpa guide who saved a climber barely clinging to life in the so-called Death Zone on Mount Everest.

Good evening.

We begin with a surprising new turn of the story CNN was first to have about the former president caught on tape admitting to people without the proper security clearance and he kept a classified document and might have even been waving it around -- waving it around as he spoke.

We're going to talk right now with Kaitlan Collins and CNN's Alyssa Farah Griffin, who joins me now.

Earlier today, former President Trump was shouted questions about CNN's exclusive reporting, did not answer those questions. What does it say to you? I mean, this is the former president who speaks out about just about everything he did, and yet, he has remained silent so far. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and he has commented on the documents, as he did multiple times at our townhall, and I remember after that, when I'd asked him if he'd ever shown the documents to anyone, and he said, not really.

We obviously followed up with members of his legal team, asking about that comment, and so we do know at this point that they were aware during that townhall of this audio recording where Trump was talking about what we believe is classified information with other people, making clear he couldn't show it to them.

So they have been aware behind the scenes that this is something that was in the special counsel's possession. I think it's notable that he stayed silent on it today. He only commented at one print outlet, "The Cedar Rapid's Gazette" saying it was fake news, but not really disputing the heart of the reporting.

I think this has caused a lot of consternation among members of his legal team. I don't think all of them were fully aware that Jack Smith's team had this recording, but it raises real issues because you've seen Trump's attorneys last night, one who is still on his team today, one who is no longer on the team, having a difficult time explaining their past explanations and standing by them, because they're undercut by what he says in the document according to what our sources are -- or on the recording -- according to what our sources tell us.

COOPER: I just want to play CNN's Jeff Zeleny yelled some questions at the former president. Let's just play that.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, why did you take classified documents concerning General Milley? Mr. President, why did you take classified documents concerning General Milley?

Can you talk about that please, Mr. President.

Mr. President, how did those documents get to Bedminster, sir? Mr. President, will you talk to us about the classified documents?

How did those documents get to Bedminster, sir?


COOPER: so I mean, we've talked before, Alyssa, about the former president wanting to keep documents or wanting to keep some documents. Does it make sense to you what we have now learned yesterday?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This latest reporting is probably the most damning around the classified documents. I mean, obviously the former president's argument hinged on this notion of he could declassify anything, and that anything that he had in his possession had been declassified. But in this, he obviously acknowledges that he knows that he can't simply classify things. There is a process. I've said before when I was serving in the West Wing, there were a number of times he wanted to declassify documents and he ran through the hoops of trying to do that.

Talking to his national security adviser, his then director of National Intelligence, and I can think of a number of cases where we weren't able to declassify something because of the hoops he would have to jump through.

He knows how this process works. It's a very flimsy sort of argument he is hinging on. What we also can't forget in this is we're not talking about you know a keepsake like a love letter from Kim Jong-un, as absurd as that sounds, we are talking about war -- potential war plans with Iran, something that's actionable military intelligence that has impacts on US troops abroad, on US Intel agencies that is sitting at a country club in New Jersey.

Like this is the height of irresponsibility, recklessness, and if we have any laws governing how we handle classified documents, this is a rock-solid case.

COOPER: The former attorney for President Trump spoke to CNN's Jake Tapper just a short time ago, Tim Parlatore. I just want to play some of that.


TIM PARLATORE, FORMER DONALD TRUMP ATTORNEY: I don't. I don't think that he will because really when you get down to the facts of this case and the law, I don't think that it warrants an indictment.

You know, this is a situation where failure of process is what led to documents leaving the White House, going to Mar-a-Lago, failure of NARA to get a facility in Palm Beach as they have for every other president since Reagan, get a facility within the hometown of the president where they moved to, to move the documents to. That's what led directly to documents going to his house.


And I think that when you take all of that together, it becomes a very difficult case to bring.


COOPER: John Dean also joins us now.

John, do you agree with that?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he is doing a lot of what aboutism and he did that throughout his interview with Jake, where he said, this is what happened in the past and he really didn't address the questions. We know from reporting, it appears there is a very solid obstruction case against Mr. Trump for the way he did handle it, and to blame it on the National Archives, that he is in an obstruction situation is kind of absurd -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kaitlan, your reporting says that. We know Mark Meadows autobiography references a document that he said Mark Milley had typed up. I don't think that there's -- is that accurate? About an attack on Iran?

COLLINS: We are told because it all has to do with Trump being furious with Mark Milley. He always didn't like how Mark Milley -- General Milley was portrayed in the press and how he was and --

COOPER: There was an article that had come out around this time to talk about this recording in "The New Yorker" --

COLLINS: Basically, saying Trump might try to take military action in Iran. It was a concern that Milley had as Trump is trying to overturn the election results.

You know, they were worried what he would do in those last few weeks when he was still in charge of the nuclear codes, the commander-in- chief and had all of this access.

I'm told that document is not from General Milley it wasn't produced by him, that it actually predates since he was chairman of Joint Chiefs-of-Staff, which I should note was also he was handpicked by Trump to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff. That was in 2019. So the indication was that it came from before then.

So I think there's questions about that. But I think it also -- that's the other thing here. That a big part of this is it was Trump trying to settle a score here because he was mad about the reporting that made it sound like he wanted to take military action in Iran.

He said something to the effect of, if you could see what I have, it would undermine what was being portrayed as Milley's position in this story.

So I think that's the other aspect of it, and I'm curious, obviously, what the special counsel is looking into when it comes to that of Trump using it. I don't want to use the word "blackmail" but using it to that sense is like to show what Milley was saying, what his advice was versus what Trump was doing.

COOPER: Does that make sense to you, Alyssa that -- I mean, that former president, did he use documents like this?

GRIFFIN: It makes sense in the world of Donald Trump, that something as serious as national security secrets about war plans with one of America's adversaries would actually be being held on to for no reason other than to settle a score. That is actually like classic Donald Trump.

But I think you can't lose sight of how serious this is. I've mentioned before Mark Esper, Mike Pompeo, Robert O'Brien all still travel with full-time security details after the Soleimani strike, because Iranian or IRGC affiliated groups still are targeting them on US soil.

This is an adversary nation. It is a rogue regime, and to have war plans just sitting in a country club is so incredibly dangerous.

COOPER: And John, I mean, in your opinion, this conversation has been accurately described by sources, does this add to the likelihood that Jack Smith, the special counsel, could seek a charge of criminal obstruction?

DEAN: The conversation that is on tape apparently, does certainly show intent and does certainly show a rather reckless disregard for standards if he was indeed putting out a good bit of information from what was in this apparent classified memo, but yet, not letting people actually see it is a very fine line.

So I think it does just show his very loose attitude toward complying with the regulations that govern and the laws that govern national security information.

COOPER: John Dean, Kaitlan Collins, Alyssa Farah Griffin, thank you.

Joining us now is Olivia Troye, who served as Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser for Vice President Pence.

Olivia, in your mind, what's the most immediate national security threat or concern about a document like this being outside of a secure facility? And again, we don't know the details of this document.

OLIVIA TROYE, HOMELAND SECURITY AND COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER FOR VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Yes, look, immediately, I think of the grave damage to sources and methods and also what is in the document that constitutes military planning or names or bases or anything like that that could really put people at risk.

And like I was just listening to Alyssa and Kaitlan, and you all talk about this. Iran is a dangerous adversary. This is not someone that you want to just sort of strategically mess around with.

We've seen that they are targeting Americans. They are targeting John Bolton. They're targeting Mike Pompeo. There have been apparently assassination plots on US soil.

So I think to me, is who -- how many people accessed these documents? How many people saw this information? And where did it travel to? Who else saw it?

Saudi Arabia would probably be very interested in this, wouldn't they? Maybe Israel? Maybe Russia? Maybe China?


I mean, if this gets into the wrong hands, this could be years of damage and it is also -- it's about lives, right? It's also about the lives that are involved with this. And the reason I raise that is because there was just this trivial attitude when it came to military planning and the intelligence community.

I think, a lot of -- you know, Trump and a lot of his inner circle forgot that these are people who serve. These are family members who serve our country, who deploy, who serve overseas.

It is a longtime planning effort that goes into a lot of these situations, and it is just a plain disregard for their lives and the implications for these individuals. That never really factored a lot of the time into the equation because it was all a political game and for a political plot and some points.

COOPER: The other question, of course, is why would somebody keep something like this, whether it is some sort of a trophy as to settle a score as Alyssa was intimating, or I mean, there's even far more nefarious things of if you want a business deal with a certain country and trading information or sort of, you know, dangling that access to information.

I mean, that would be unheard of for a former president.

TROYE: Well, certainly, I mean, it could lead -- right, it may lead to bribery, it could be lead to bribery of others who knew that these documents were there, right, for people who want access to that information.

So I think, you know, I think what is concerning about all of this is that there are also apparently in this conversation that's been reported now, other people who didn't have security clearances, and this cavalier attitude.

And to me, well, I know that the question is, you know, was it a document for General Milley? Was it military planning? But the commander-in-chief can tell someone to go draft out a plan. They may disagree with it, but they still have to go write up that document and present options to them, right?

It doesn't mean that it's going to come through, and certainly I know of plenty of examples, it doesn't surprise me that perhaps it might have been related to Iran because this wasn't the first time that this came up. It came up really one way where he potentially was very interested in engaging with Iran and potentially striking them.

COOPER: Olivia Troye, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

Coming up next, an update from the White House as President Biden trips and falls at the Air Force Academy graduation and the video of it went viral.

Also, the growing GOP presidential field about to get bigger and why the former president may be thinking the more the merrier. Former Democratic candidate, Howard Dean joins us.

And later, details of a death-defying rescue on Mount Everest. I'll talk with the Sherpa guide who risked his own life to save a climber in trouble.



COOPER: Most of the time when someone says they were sandbagged, they don't mean it literally.

Today, at the Air Force Academy commencement in Colorado Springs, President Biden tripped over a sandbag and fell. He had just been handing out diplomas and given what "The New York Times" described as a "energetic speech."

But because this wasn't the president's first stumble and he is 80 years old, the incident fairly or not, has gotten a lot of attention and raised questions.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is at the White House for us tonight.

And I so understand the president just got back to the White House. What did he say about this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the president had several hours on Air Force One to think through his response before he met reporters on his way back into the White House from Marine One and he chose levity, and he pointed a very clear finger at the guilty party. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I got sandbagged. No questions.


MATTINGLY: Having a little jig there at the end to try and connote I think the energy that we saw for most of the day at the Air Force Academy and I think when you talk to White House officials, they make clear that they believe he is fine. Everything they have seen and heard from the president is that he's fine.

His real focus on the way back was ensuring that the issue that has really kind of dominated his agenda over the course of the last several months, that debt ceiling agreement actually got across the finish line in the US Senate, at this moment, senators are voting on amendments to get to the final passage of that bill, get it across the finish line, much like he did with the House vote last night.

The president is expected to watch tonight so as his team as well, that more than anything else is their priority, making sure that gets to his desk in the coming days before that June 5th deadline, not necessarily the fall, a few hours ago.

COOPER: How was it initially handled by the White House?

MATTINGLY: Anderson, it is interesting. White House officials were very quick. The communications director, Ben LaBolt bold very quickly getting to Twitter making clear that the president was okay, making clear that the sandbag was what actually was the issue where the president tripped over.

The president in the video, if you watch it points to the sandbag. I think the irony to some degree of this and you reference what was said in "The New York Times" report, this tradition, which is something that spans presidencies and where a president going to a service academy graduation, not only includes remarks, the president spoke for over 30 minutes, but it also includes standing there and exchanging salutes, shaking hands and handing the diploma to every single present member of the graduating class.

It is hundreds of cadets today, something that went off without any issues whatsoever. It was when the president handed off that last diploma, he turned around to walk back to his seat to finish the ceremony that he tripped.

So it was a very long day, several hours, the president engaged throughout the entire time. It was when it was over that he actually tripped, but according to White House officials, totally fine -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Phil Mattingly, appreciate it.

Whatever problems the president may have, he does not have the problem that Republican presidential candidates and soon to be candidates now have, candidates that is not named Donald Trump, all the rest now have to worry about standing out in a field that is already crowded and about to get even more so next week. A crowded field that could be just what the former president is looking forward to.

More from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.


ZELENY (voice over): So far, Donald Trump is getting most of everything he wanted from the Republican presidential campaign.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no way I can lose Iowa. Let's see what happens. I don't think so. We'd have to -- we'd have to do some really bad things to lose at this point.

ZELENY (voice over): Including a list of rivals that's growing by the week, with the anyone but Trump lane of the race becoming remarkably crowded.

JULIE MARLAY, REPUBLICAN VOTER: I think it's advantageous to Trump. I don't like that.

ZELENY (voice over): Julie Marlay is a loyal Republican who came to see Florida governor, Ron DeSantis the other night and is sizing up several contenders, but she offered pointed words of advice for those entering the race.

MARLAY: Stay for a while see what happens, but then don't stay too long, because we need -- we need to beat the Democrats.

ZELENY (voice over): As summer approaches, the Republican field is starting to burst at the seams with former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie set to jump in next week, joining former Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and entrepreneur, Vivek Ramaswamy who are already in the race.


North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum is also poised to announce next week and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu promises a decision soon, and Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is not ruling out a run later this year, if some contenders flame out.

BOB VANDER PLAATS, PRESIDENT, THE FAMILY LEADER: Well if that many candidates stay in the race that benefits Trump. Trump will win by the power of division. And that's why we'll see if we learned our lesson -- learned our lesson well.

ZELENY (voice over): Bob Vander Plaats, an influential evangelical leader in Iowa said the party should not repeat the mistakes of 2016 when Trump claimed the nomination with a divided Republican electorate rather than facing a head-to-head match with one strong opponent.

PLAATS: But my concern isn't how many get in? It's when do they get out? And when do they give America a clear choice between the former president and an alternative?

ZELENY (voice over): A big field is precisely what Trump is banking on and basking in as he shook hands and took questions at a series of small events in Iowa while making clear he is fixated on one rival above all.

TRUMP: Ron, as I call him Ron DeSanctimonious.

ZELENY (voice over): The former president seized upon a leading argument DeSantis made to voters here this week.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We could bring back George Washington, I don't know that he would be able to get it done in just four years.

ZELENY (voice over): And sought to mock the Florida governor's pitch that he's eligible for two terms, not simply one more like Trump.

TRUMP: You don't need eight years, you need six months. We can turn this thing around so quickly. Who the hell wants to wait eight years? You don't need eight years.

ZELENY (voice over): And in New Hampshire today, DeSantis hitting back at Trump.

DESANTIS: Why didn't he do it in his first four years?

ZELENY (voice over): As the campaign intensifies, signs are emerging that it's far too early to presume it is a two-man contest as candidates begin blanketing the state that begins the Republican nomination battle early next year.

Lorri Hartson also believes the field is cluttered. In her mind, it is already a one-man race.

LORRI HARTSON, IOWA VOTER: President Trump already made America great. Now, we need him back to fix it.

ZELENY (voice over): She drove for hours to catch a glimpse of the former president outside one of his Iowa stops.

ZELENY (on camera): Do you think that others should step aside and let him run and focus on President Biden or do you think a competitive Republican primary is fine?

HARTSON: I wish they would step aside, but they won't, and I don't know if it's ego. They won't and more keep coming in. It's like come on. Mike Pence. Really Mike? Give it up.


COOPER: Jeff Zeleny joins us now from Iowa.

I am hearing, some Republicans don't want to repeat the same mistakes of 2016. Is there any talk or plan among current or former or future candidates or those who aren't doing so well agree to drop out? I mean, no one thinks -- everybody thinks the other guy should drop out.

ZELENY: Exactly, and that is exactly the challenge here. There is considerable talk about it, but in terms of actual planning, no, there's not.

But one thing that is different this time talking to a variety of Republican leaders and even voters, it is the lesson of the fall of 2015 into 2016. They see what can happen with a divided electorate. But again, we're talking about individual egos of these presidential candidates, every man and woman running thinks they can be the candidate.

But this is certainly something that will likely happen after the debates, which will begin in August and continue throughout the fall.

At that point, if it is still a large field, look for donors and other Republican leaders to begin making these arguments. But again, this is a very difficult thing to orchestrate, which is why it has not been done before.

But that lesson of history is something that comes up again and again, even in conversation with normal voters. So, that is one thing that's different than last time -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Jeff Zeleny, appreciate it. Thanks.

I want to get perspective now from someone who knows what it's like to run in a large field. In Howard Dean's case, from the 2004 Democratic primary campaign. He had as many as nine opponents.

He is of course, also the former head of the Democratic National Committee and the former Governor of Vermont.

Governor Dean, it is good to see you.

So next week, Vice President Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie expected to jump into the race. Is this turning into 2015- 2016 all over again?

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not yet, but it may. The big difference is that there is a fair amount of appetite among Republicans not to have Trump.

I mean, Trump is the leading vote getter, but I'm not -- he is only sometimes at 50 percent, so if the field were held, if the vote were held today, Trump would get the nomination easily because everybody else is going to split the vote.

Who is going to be the person who survives? It's the I'm not Donald Trump. And that makes a big, big difference and that's what this is really about and Jeff is right, it's going to come down to what the donors are going to do. They're not going to support 15 people in the race. They're going to pick two or three.

COOPER: Do you think there will come a point though, when some Republican candidates will drop out and coalesce behind a singular opponent. I mean, you talk about the donors. There's a lot of -- some of these candidates can probably limp along without much money for a while.

H. DEAN: Well, that's true and one of the problems is, I personally don't think DeSantis is a particularly good candidate. I did in the beginning, but he is cranky, he is short with the press.


He's not very articulate. He's not a nice guy. And that matters in a general election.

So he, up until recently has been the candidate that would be the obvious one to take over the mantle from Trump. I think it's much more open today than it was a couple of weeks ago.

I think this business with Walt Disney is just insane and he has just got some terribly bad advice on that.

COOPER: What does it say, though, about the state of the GOP that there are so many members of the Republican Party willing to go up against the former president in this moment?

H. DEAN. Well, I don't think -- I don't think it says a lot. I mean, there's always a lot of candidates. When I ran, they were nine, six were serious and three were really serious myself, John Edwards and John Kerry, and it usually does come down to something like that. And then the voters weed us out, as they weeded me out after Iowa. So it goes pretty quickly. I don't think we're going to see something coming to the Republican convention that's decided on the floor of the convention.

COOPER: Have you seen any of the candidates who have announced they're going to run or expected to run, have you seen any of them, and do you think any of them kind of know how to run against the former president?

H. DEAN: Well, certainly. I mean, I know Chris Christie. I've had other dealings with him. And he is viewed as a very successful Republican governor of an eastern state.

I think he'd be a very interesting guy, but he's going to have trouble raising the money, and his politics is not as extreme as the average primary voter in the Republican Party.

I think a lot of them don't have much experience and it is going to show very quickly.

COOPER: What do you think candidates need to do at this point to stand out in this -- in primary politics?

H. DEAN: They need to raise a lot of money and get the press buzzing about how much money they raised.

COOPER: That's the number one thing?

H. DEAN: That's the bit. The money primary comes first, and that's when the press starts buzzing. I mean, that's what got us off when I was running. I was -- you know, I was the governor of the second smallest state in the country, population-wise, but we raised -- all the kids that worked for him invented the internet strategy, and we outraised John Kerry and people were shocked.


H. DEAN: And that's what got me into the top tier. Somebody is going to have to come and have a lot of money raised and of all these folks, DeSantis has made a decent start, but I think people are looking around for somebody else because I don't think they think they can beat Biden.

COOPER: Yes. Tim Scott actually has a fair amount of money ready to go, but we'll see how he long he'll last.

H. DEAN: He does. He does. We'll have to see and then we'll have to see how he does in the stump.

COOPER: Yes, Howard Dean, the great Governor Dean, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

H. DEAN: Nice to be here.

COOPER: Take care.

Coming up, one of the biggest flashpoints in this election, immigration. Our Gary Tuchman is in Florida tonight on that -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I came to this farm in North Florida, this large farm to volunteer to work for a day to help harvest watermelon to get a firsthand idea of why no Americans have applied for the very same job.

That story coming up next on AC 360.



COOPER: Today was dubbed a day without immigrants by Latino groups who oppose an immigration law signed last month by governor Ron DeSantis. According to local media, thousands in Florida and around the country took part in a wide range of activities to protest the law aimed at undocumented workers in Florida that puts more requirements on those who aid or employ them.

Governor DeSantis called it the most ambitious anti-illegal immigration legislation in the country. One Florida farmer told CNN's Gary Tuchman that he is concerned the law could lead to a shortage of workers to do the kind of jobs that this farmer says few Americans actually want. So Gary Tuchman decided to see just how difficult those jobs can be.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 07:30 a.m. in humid north Florida, the beginning of a long day, on a large farm where hired workers are in the middle of harvesting roughly 2.2 million watermelon, about 32 million pounds worth over the course of about six weeks. With more than 150 people working to harvest the watermelon.

I ask farm owner Trevor Bass this question.

(on-camera): How many U.S. citizens pick crops on your farm?


TUCHMAN (on-camera): Zero?

BASS: Zero.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Actually, on this day, there is one U.S. citizen. Me. I requested a chance to work for one day on this farm to learn more about why so many farmers have such a difficult time getting Americans to work on their farms.

(on-camera): OK, so this watermelon is ripe. It's ready. We turn it over so the yellow part is on top. So then the people who pick it up, know it's ready because they see the yellow part on top.

(voice-over): Everyone I'm working with here is from Mexico. All part of the U.S. government's guest worker program known as H-2A. American farmers can hire foreign nationals under the H-2A program as long as they follow strict provisions, which include only hiring them after trying to employ Americans first, which this farm owner did and got no takers.

(on-camera): The idea is we have this chain here, and we're going to be taking these watermelons, putting them on this bus, and we're going to be doing it for hours straight.

(voice-over): Dustin Blank is a farmer and also represents other farms when selling finished product to stores.

DUSTIN BLANK, OWNER B&H FARMS: LNG farming operation.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): And you represent how many farms?

BLANK: Over third.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): And how many U.S. citizens do you know of who work on any of those farms?

BLANK: Florida management, zero.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Under H-2A, guest workers can't get paid less than Americans.


Florida's minimum H-2A salary is $14.33 an hour. And at this farm, the Mexicans are permitted to work for as many hours as they want. With extra bonuses for the amount of work done. They can easily make more than $1,000 a week. They are subject to income tax.

Edgar Hernandez is a husband and father who sends all his money home to his family. I ask him why he doesn't think there are any Americans harvesting with him.

It's heavy, he says. The work is hard.

These farm owners don't disagree with that assessment. Americans have other choices and just don't want to do this, they say.

BASS: I would say this work on a scale from one to 10 would be at a nine. I mean, it's about as hard as it gets.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): There are about 18,000 pounds of watermelon on each of these buses. In addition to these being heavy, it's extremely monotonous.

(voice-over): Both these men describe themselves as politically conservative. However, they say this government program is not only a necessity, but should have an application process that is faster and more flexible.

BASS: Yes, we don't need to open the borders and let everyone across, but these guys are coming here for a reason. They're coming here for serious work to try to support their families in Mexico or wherever they've come from. They're not here to play. I mean, it's very obvious. Look behind us.


COOPER: And Gary Tuchman joins us now from Florida. Gary, I -- you've clearly rested and showered because you look kind of exhausted there, I got to say. How do the workers get to the U.S. and where do they live while working on the farm?

TUCHMAN: Yes. And Anderson, I wouldn't want to do that job again tomorrow. One day was plenty for me. I could tell you the workers who are at this farm, they've all taken buses from Mexico to this little town of Newbury, Florida, for 20, 30 hours to get here.

As far as housing goes, that's why this is so expensive for farm owners under this H-2A program, because they are required to provide the housing. This particular farm houses these workers at a nearby motel. You know, we know there are lots of undocumented workers at farms across the United States, but this is the way to do it by the book. Anderson?

COOPER: And how -- I mean, how difficult was it? What was it like?

TUCHMAN: Yes, you know, if you have a bad back, you just can't do it because you're bending down hundreds of times to pick up watermelons that some cases weigh more than 25 pounds. So the work is hard. My back feels fine because, fortunately, I have a good back.

But it is so monotonous and mind numbing and dreary. Just keep doing it over and over and over again. And if you had to do it the next day and the next day and the next day, just go into sleep thinking about doing it again, it's really tough.

COOPER: You're also -- it's -- you're in the sun all day long. It's incredibly -- it's hot, especially, it'll get hotter and hotter this summer, obviously.

TUCHMAN: I could do a sunscreen commercial, Anderson. I won't name the brand, but it did well yesterday.

COOPER: All right, Gary Tuchman, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Just ahead, the war in Ukraine and a closer look at the leader of the Wagner group mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin. He sent thousands of men to their death so far, but what game is he playing now? Feuding with the Kremlin's top generals.

And later, an almost impossible rescue from Mount Everest death zone, where temperatures can reach more than 86 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. I'll talk with the sherpa guide who risked his own life to save a stranger struggling to breathe and carried him on his back down the mountain.


[20:41:49] COOPER: A number of important updates on the war in Ukraine tonight. A missile attack overnight on Kyiv killed two women and a nine-year-old girl. The husband of one of the women killed said that the doors, the shelter they were trying to enter, were locked.

Ukrainian officials announced today that since the start of the war, 484 children have been killed, another 992 injured. They also said that more than 19,500 children have been deported, though, officials cautioned that number could be higher.

As for the war in the east, another explosion in the Russian border city of Belgorod. The governor of the region said it appears to have involved a drone. Social media video shows a plume of smoke rising from a downtown location and broken windows in a high rise building.

And today, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group fighting in eastern Ukraine, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said his group's next assignment maybe in Russia, defending its territory. And in the latest and ongoing public feud with Russian military officials, he asked Russian prosecutors to investigate whether senior defense officials committed a crime.

Now, for weeks, as you may know, Prigozhin has increased his criticism of Russian military leadership. He routinely now appears in these self-produced videos, where he dresses up like one of his mercenary fighters and verbally attacks Russia's top generals. The question is, what's his end game?

CNN's Melissa Bell takes a look at the man behind the powerful mercenary group.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For months now, Yevgeny Prigozhin has been leading the charge in Ukraine and stealing the limelight.

YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, HEAD OF WAGNER PRIVATE MILITARY COMPANY (through translator): Guys, don't bully the Russian military.

BELL (voice-over): The taunt typical as he announced the withdrawal of his Wagner mercenaries last week after claiming the first Russian advance in Ukraine in months. Power on the ground that has translated into far more open political confrontation with Moscow.

Long known by his nickname as Putin's Chef, the oligarch shared the Russian president's humble beginnings in the tougher neighborhoods of St. Petersburg. Reportedly a former convict, he used Putin's rise to build a vast catering empire.

As Putin set his sights on Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, Prigozhin's forces were there. The Wagner mercenary group that he founded became known as Putin's private army, operating on his behalf, but in the shadows across the Middle East and Africa for years.

But it took the chaos of the 2022 Russia invasion of Ukraine for Prigozhin to take center stage himself.

PRIGOZHIN: (Speaking Foreign Language)

BELL (voice-over): Flexing his power and his voice, which he raised loudly again this week against Russia's top military brass after drone attacks on Moscow brought the war far too close to home for comfort.

PRIGOZHIN (through translator): You are the Ministry of Defense. You didn't do a damn thing to stamp this out. Why are you allowing these drones to fly to Moscow?

BELL (voice-over): Because propaganda is arguably what Yevgeny Prigozhin does best. Setting up this notorious troll farm in St. Petersburg, which was blamed for pumping out disinformation around the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Prigozhin was sanctioned by the U.S. despite denying any involvement.


Now he is personally taking his propaganda machine on the road and across Russia, turning his attention to what he calls the enemy at home, with increasingly obvious political ambitions of his own.

ABBAS GALLYAMOV, RUSSIAN POLITICAL ANALYST: While the system was stable, there was no place for him. And he was waiting and waiting. And then the system started collapsing and he found the opening and he burst into the system.

BELL (voice-over): And Russia's political system, just like its history, appears to be something Prigozhin is very aware of.

PRIGOZHIN (through translator): All these divisions can end up in a revolution, just like in 1917. First, the soldiers will stand up, and after that, their loved ones will rise up.

BELL (voice-over): With Prigozhin's very thinly veiled threats, he's also now clearly hoping that Russian society maybe ready for a message even more hardline than that of the man who helped bake him.


BELL: And that, Anderson, is very much the point. There have been so many questions these last few months about why there has been no rebuke from Vladimir Putin, even in the face of such outspoken criticism on the part of Yevgeny Prigozhin.

The key to that is that Prigozhin is himself far more hard line even than Vladimir Putin. If it were up to him, there would be mass mobilizations. Any semblance of democracy, any veneer, would be swept aside in the name of winning the war in Ukraine.

That is Vladimir Putin's problem. He cannot be cracking down both on the Alexei Navalny's, the more moderate, reformist parts of Russian society, and taking on the ultra-nationalists like Yevgeny Prigozhin. So, in a sense, he is faced now with the man on whom he's come to depend in Ukraine, making it more and more clear that it is perhaps also Vladimir Putin that now depends on Yevgeny Prigozhin inside Russia itself. Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, fascinating. Melissa Bell, thank you so much.

Coming up, it has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons in Mount Everest. But tonight, news of a daring rescue below the summit in an area so difficult and dangerous it's called the Death Zone. You'll meet the sherpa guide who risked his own life to save a fellow climber he didn't know.



COOPER: This has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Mount Everest. Twelve people have died and five are missing. But today we got word of a remarkable rescue. A Nepali sherpa, who was climbing up to the summit with a client spotted a Malaysian climber clinging to a rope and shivering in Everest so-called Death Zone where temperatures can reach more than 86 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

The sherpa quickly took action, telling his own client they'd have to abandon their attempt to reach the summit so he could carry the climber down the mountain. They wrapped the climber in a sleeping mat, took turns carrying him on their backs and at times, dragging him through the snow and ice, nearly 2,000 feet down the mountain to a camp where he was then taken by helicopter for medical rescue.

Just before airtime, I spoke with Gelje Sherpa who made the decision to risk his own life to try and save that stranger.

Gelje, I appreciate you joining us. How did you know that this climber from Malaysia was in danger?

GELJE SHERPA, EVEREST GUIDE: Yes. Because I have experienced from a long time. Because he was like struck about the like, 8,000, we called the death zones.

COOPER: The Death Zone.

SHERPA: He was like -- yes, above the 8,400 meter. He's strong then. No one helping to him, no friend, no oxygens, no pass with him, no guides. This is like quite dangerous for him.

COOPER: So he didn't have any guides, he didn't have any oxygen. You knew he was in trouble?

SHERPA: Yes. Nothing. Because he's like, I won't die.

COOPER: How did you secure him so that he was warm and you could carry him down almost 2,000 feet?

SHERPA: Yes, because he was very like cold place in like more than 8,000 meters like in what we call the Death Zone. That's a very dangerous place. And no one come possible to bring down to him, and so that's why no one like, helping him. Everyone just focusing on the summit. I decided just bring down to him and we carry back it down.

COOPER: We're showing video of you. You've packed him in a mat, I think, and you're literally carrying him on your back down the mountain.


COOPER: And we just showed a video of him actually shivering. That was when you first saw him. I mean, he's shivering, he's helpless, essentially. How difficult was it to bring him down the mountain?

SHERPA: It was, like, massive difficult because I did like more than, like, 55 rescues, but it was very like hardest in my life.

COOPER: You've done 55 rescues? That's incredible.

SHERPA: Yes, I did more than, like, 55 rescues. I did, like, long line, other normal rescues, everything. But it was -- this is like very hard rescue, like, really hard to do like rescue, like, around the dead zones.

COOPER: Why has this year been so difficult? I understand this is one of the deadliest years on Mount Everest or climbing seasons. Twelve people have died. Five more people are still missing from their climbs on Mount Everest. Is it just bad? The temperatures have been so difficult, the conditions have been so difficult?


SHERPA: Yes. This year is, like, quite people die out there and weather also like quite bad this year. I think so that's why also like so many people die and seeing and so many people lost there. And because like someone didn't have like experience for like, a 8,000 margins. Like mostly climber, they come like without training, doing like climbing 8,000.

COOPER: They don't have the training to do it.


COOPER: Well, Gelje Sherpa, it's incredible to -- what you did and it's such an honor to talk to you and thank you.

SHERPA: Most welcome.

COOPER: Unbelievable.

Up next, why it was such a special and historic day here at CNN. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Today is CNN's 43rd birthday. And to mark the milestone, current staffers and alumni gathered to take photos in front of those iconic letters at the CNN Center in Atlanta. The building has served as CNN's global headquarters for 35 years.

All operations in Atlanta are moving back to our original location, which just across town. And that's the place where Ted Turner launched CNN on this day back in 1980.

And two CNN town halls coming up to tell you about it. Jake Tapper hosts a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. That's in Iowa Sunday at 08:00 p.m. And next Wednesday at 09:00 p.m., our Dana Bash moderates a town hall with former Vice President Mike Pence, who's expected to launch his campaign on that day.

Thanks so much for watching. I'll see you tomorrow. The news continues. CNN Primetime with Abby Phillips starts now.