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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Feds Inform Trump He Is Target In Documents Probe; Interview With Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD); NYC Air Quality Worst In The World; Amanda Gorman Defends Work After Florida School Restricts Access To Her Book; Zelenskyy Says Hundreds Of Thousands Without Drinking Water After Ukrainian Dam Collapses; Feds Inform Trump He's A Target In Docs Probe. Aid 8-9p ET

Aired June 07, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Thanks so much for joining us.

AC 360 starts now.



Tonight on 360, breaking news: Lawyers for the former president are officially told their client is a target in Special Counsel Jack Smith's classified documents probe, as his former vice president announces he is running, saying Trump should never be president again.

Also tonight, American cities shrouded in smoke because of Canadian wildfires. Seventy-five million Americans under air quality alerts. When will the smoke clear?

Plus, inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman has her book pulled from the Miami area grade school because one parent complained though it turns out the parent never actually read the book.

Amanda Gorman joins me tonight.

We begin with the growing legal jeopardy that former President Trump now faces in the federal documents investigation. A letter from the Justice Department to the former president's attorneys saying he is a target in a federal investigation. It is often, but not always a strong sign that the person in question will be indicted.

It is hard to overstate the unprecedented nature of this latest development. CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us now with what we know.

What is the latest on this letter? And what is the Trump team's reaction?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: We haven't gotten a formal reaction from the Trump legal team so far, but what we do know is that Justice Department prosecutors did recently inform the former president's legal team that he is a target in that federal investigation into whether or not there was mishandling of classified documents, of course, an investigation that we've been tracking closely here at CNN.

The reason this is significant for people sitting at home is that this means that -- this could mean that the special counsel's investigation is moving closer to a possible indictment of the former president.

It's not guaranteed, of course. And I should note that we have several sources on this. They have not directly seen this letter Anderson, but they have been informed of it and its contents.

And so this is a troublesome sign, obviously, for the former president's legal team. I spoke to one person in their orbit earlier who said yes, everyone is alarmed by this. And so, it is a great cause for them. The question, of course, what happens next remains to be seen, it doesn't actually mean that he will be indicted, but it is certainly not a sign and not a letter that any legal team wants to get.

COOPER: And has the foreign president himself addressed this somewhere?

COLLINS: He is writing on Truth Social today. He said earlier, "No one has told me I'm being indicted and I shouldn't be because I've done nothing wrong, but I've assumed for years that I am a target of the weaponized DOJ and FBI."

Of course, it's obvious to point out here not being told that you're being indicted is not the same as not receiving a target letter. You would get the target letter before the actual indictment would happen.

And Trump also spoke earlier to Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times," he denied that he has been told he is being indicted. But again, that is different than saying you have not gotten a target letter from the DOJ.

I should also remind viewers that earlier this week, Trump's attorneys went into the Justice Department to meet with Justice Department officials. They were in the fourth floor of that building.

Jack Smith, the special counsel was actually in the room for that meeting, but I'm told he did not say a word in there. He walked in, he said hello, he said goodbye, but he did not have anything else to say during that meeting, which was really more of the Trump team airing their grievances, their complaints about the special counsel's investigation.

COOPER: So in terms of a timeline or next steps, I mean, it could be very quick.

COLLINS: It couldn't be quick. We don't exactly know. I mean, this is kind of uncharted territory of what exactly this would look like. I should note that it doesn't guarantee that Trump is going to be indicted here, but this is the likely pattern.

Now of course, Trump will have a chance to respond to this, to come in and basically push back on what the prosecution has here to defend himself. We don't know what the next steps here are going to look like. We just know that they have recently been informed of this letter.

And it comes as there has been, you know, all of these questions and reporting about what is at the center of this investigation, and we've seen just the trove of evidence that Jack Smith does have, whether it ranges from the cell phone of a maintenance worker or that audio recording of him talking about classified documents, that was part of Mark Meadows writing his book.

So certainly a lot of things adding up here, as we do believe that this investigation is coming to an end.

COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it.

There is more late word that Steve Bannon, the former president's one- time strategist was subpoenaed to go before the January 6th grand jury. CNN's Sara Murray has that. What have you learned?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, we learned that Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed for documents and testimony. The subpoena came through about a month ago, a person familiar with the situation tells us.

And look, Bannon is someone who was riling up the GOP base, spreading falsehoods about the 2020 election on his podcast. He predicted all hell would break loose a day before the January 6th attack on the Capitol. You know, this is what prosecutors are focusing on with Bannon with the January 6 investigation.

You know according to the book, "Peril," he was also talking to Trump in December of 2020 and urging Trump to focus on January 6th, to focus on this Electoral College certification.


So it certainly is late in the game for Bannon to be receiving a subpoena, but it is an indication that even as the Mar-a-Lago documents probe may be winding down, there are still witnesses that the Justice Department, that Jack Smith's team wants to hear from or try to hear from on the January 6th investigation.

COOPER: So is there any indication of whether Bannon will cooperate?

MURRAY: Well, that's a great question. I mean, we've reached out to him and his attorney for comment and to see how they're going to proceed with this. And, you know, Bannon was subpoenaed by the January 6 committee that was investigating the attack on the Capitol, the House January 6 committee, he defied that subpoena.

He was convicted of criminal contempt of Congress and sentenced to four months in prison and a judge put that sentence on pause while he appeals. So, it's unclear exactly how Bannon is going to wrangle now with this federal subpoena -- Anderson.

COOPER: Sara Murray, appreciate it.

Joining us now is former Virginia Republican congressman, Denver Riggleman who served on the staff of the House January 6 Select Committee.

Congressman, what do you make of this reporting that the former president has been told he is a target on the classified documents case?

DENVER RIGGLEMAN, FORMER US REPRESENTATIVE: I think it's not a big surprise. You know, I don't believe in coincidences, Anderson, so when you see Mark Meadows, him being questioned, some of the reporting that we've seen there, I think that Mark Meadows has always sort of been the center point, not only with declassified documents, but also with the January 6 events.

You know, we saw this in the data. But Anderson, if we go back, you know, a year ago, when we said he is the roadmap, you know, the text messages, Meadows was involved with everything, and I have never -- I think it's part of his MO.

You saw him going down on his knees with Boehner after he failed to oust Boehner from the speakership. When we got the text messages, remember, Anderson, we talked about it. I was so surprised that we had that treasure trove of text messages, which really indicated a roadmap.

So it's not a surprise to me that Meadows is talking to Jack Smith. It is not a surprise to me that he could be a very key witness in not only the classified documents case, but also on January 6th. I just think they have the data they need right now to really pursue this in a great manner.

COOPER: Yes, even for the case in Georgia, he went down to Georgia. He was involved in that effort. Well, he's really at the nexus of this. What do you think the likelihood is that he may have struck a deal?

RIGGLEMAN: You know, it is absolutely possible. I think when you have this sort of overwhelming verified forensic evidence, it is very difficult to get away from that.

I mean, we saw that in the J6 committee with over 30 million lines of data. Jack Smith, with his law enforcement authorities has more access to data than the J6 committee. Anderson, we couldn't get all of it.

So my guess is, not only did they get Trump for phone calls, they probably got a geolocation data. They have more text messages than we can imagine. They have communications, virtual communications, whether it's e-mails, SMS or MMS, or VOIP or landlines.

So Anderson, with that kind of authority, with that kind of warrant authority and subpoena authority, my guess is, there are people in real trouble, and I think when you see people coming in to talk, and they're talking for the hours that they're talking, I think they've got them dead right on data, and I think you're starting to sort of see the dominoes fall as people are coming in right now.

COOPER: Because I mean, there was -- you know, there were phone calls to the White House on January 6 that were not identified to the January 6 committee. You think it's possible Jack Smith would have been -- might have been able to identify where some of those calls were from.

RIGGLEMAN: You damn well know I wish they did. You know, I asked for those for months, right? We had wanted to know those calls. So I want to know about the White House phone numbers that we found.

We do know that Oath Keepers were texting White House staff. We also know that the White House called a rioter, right? Your own network reported the name of that individual. So, we know that there's phone calls to the White House that we could not identify the other end of the call. And my guess what you're seeing right now, they have so much data.

I mean, we delivered 30 million lines of data. So my guess is they have so much data right now they could be actually looking at the actual switchboard calls. If you look at the phone calls in the White House right now, we don't know that.

My guess is that they're pretty good at this. My guess is they did get our data in some way or some fashion because we had to send it back to Congress. So right now, it would be really interesting.

After one year, Anderson, after we talked about this,, it would be really interesting to see if they do have those White House phone numbers and if there are other individuals that are going to be called in that is going to shock us all.

COOPER: What about Steve Bannon? There is new reporting that he was subpoenaed in the January 6 DOJ probe. Question is obviously, he didn't cooperate. He obviously defied the January 6 committee. He was convicted in federal court.

We should also point out, and later pardoned by the former president.

RIGGLEMAN: Well, I think with Steve Bannon, Anderson, you know, I have been doing this a long time.

COOPER: I am sorry, he was convicted of contempt. Sorry, he was convicted of contempt of Congress.

RIGGLEMAN: Contempt of Congress.

COOPER: Right. Yes.

RIGGLEMAN: Yes, sir. And I think, Anderson, with Bannon, you know, I call them the four horsemen of the grifterverse, right?

You had Steve Bannon, you had Roger Stone, you had Alex Jones and Mike Flynn, right? The issue is that they practiced pretty good operational security. The thing that we found and I think what they are going to find in the data is that their assistance did not, right?

So a lot of times the people that are working for them are making calls or connecting to individuals that could be pretty dire, pretty nefarious.

[20:10:00] So I think Bannon might be in trouble also and again, we had access to

massive amounts of data. The DOJ, the FBI, they have access to data that I used to use when I was back in the intelligence community.

So, Anderson, you know, I'm not telling people to be overly positive. It's been a long time. But I do think when you're looking at these individuals being called in, that there are data threads that have been pulled, and I do really want to thank the team that I had, the forensic team, they really are the anonymous heroes.

And it was hurtful. You know what happened, right, when I came out to talk about this? But the thing is, that committee did a good job. But right now, what we're seeing is we're seeing what's going to happen in the future.

And Anderson, I just want people to understand that the data does indicate how people are going to react in 2024. I think that is where we need to look. We know how they're going to do things. So I think we need to look to the future to stop these type of activities going into the 2024 election,

COOPER: Denver Riggleman, I appreciate it. Thank you.

More now on all that would come with any decision to charge the former president with a federal crime. CNN legal analyst and former deputy assistant attorney general, Elliot Williams, is with us tonight.

So once someone has been notified by federal prosecutors that they are the target of an investigation, how common is it for that notification to be followed by an indictment, and when?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Extremely common, Anderson, and relatively soon thereafter.

Look, it would be highly unlikely for any target of an investigation to receive a letter and not get charged because what a target letter means is that the Justice Department has what is called substantial information or substantial evidence linking that person to a crime and that they are the primary target of an investigation.

So you know, it's also a suggestion that it's not just people around that person, it's that person themselves.

Look, it's not a requirement that the Justice Department charge that person with a crime, but it would be pretty unlikely for it not to happen within a relatively short period of time thereafter.

COOPER: So based on what we know, publicly, I mean, if an indictment is handed up for the former president, if, what are the most likely charges in your mind?

WILLIAMS: Obstruction of justice is probably the most likely. Now look, we know that -- or at least the reporting seems to suggest that this target letter was related to the documents probe, not the January 6 probe, at least that's my understanding right now. So number one, there will be obstruction of justice. Number two,

possibly destruction of documents, or tampering with documents, or removal or retention of documents -- each of those things could potentially be a separate crime, but it's related to or the mishandling of defense information as well, but that is another crime as well.

It's a number of different crimes that could potentially be at play here, not all tied to whether they were classified documents just merely that they were government property that was sensitive, that was in a place that it shouldn't have been, and potentially an investigation got tampered with.

COOPER: What are your thoughts on the Florida grand jury that continues to hear testimony and the federal investigation? I mean, can you learn anything from the fact that the focus seems to have moved to that location?

WILLIAMS: Yes, with the very important caveat that we just don't know and everything that happens in the grand jury is secret, Anderson. You really would bring a grand jury in another state because the thing about bringing charges there, different crimes.

The Justice Department charges crimes based on where they happen, and a document retention or possession crime may take place in different places, right?

It is something that was taken from Washington, DC, but brought to Florida and maybe destroyed or mishandled in Florida. That's probably two different crimes. Same thing with obstruction of justice that may have happened in one place or another.

My guess is that the Justice Department would be looking at bringing charges in the places that they would have the clearest and most obvious venue, that seems like Florida. But again, it remains to be seen based on what evidence they have and the actual crimes that they are charging.

COOPER: And if then chief-of-staff, Mark Meadows did choose to answer questions when he testified before a grand jury rather than simply take the Fifth. I mean, he was involved in so many different things, what questions do you think are the top priority for the Justice Department?

WILLIAMS: Oh, goodness, there's two big buckets of things that Mark Meadows could testify about. So first, on January 6. He would have been in the Oval Office with the former president as January 6th was playing out, so he would have been privy to conversations with the president or overheard other conversations that the president had with other people and he can testify to that.

He can testify as to conversations he had with third parties, and remember that Mark Meadows is a former member of Congress, and would have been or potentially could have been a liaison or speaking to members of Congress who were seeking to either overturn or disrupt the election. So there's plenty that he could provide there.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, everybody had Mark Meadows' phone number, it seems. I mean -- yes.

WILLIAMS: Everybody -- the text messages, the conversations, it's all there, and he can be asked about all of that with respect to January 6th. Now moving to documents, we'll just call it, l'affaire document. Right? And there's plenty there given that as White House chief-of- staff, in his role, he would have been number one, just the most senior person in the White House and both a political aide and a policy aide, but also the liaison to the National Archives.


Anytime he got information from the Archives about where documents were or what should have been done with them. He can testify about that and whether the president was put on notice that he needed to remove or send documents back, he could provide evidence on that as well.

COOPER: Elliot Williams, appreciate it. Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: I want to get perspective from Maryland Democratic congressman and former January 6 committee member, Jamie Raskin.

Congressman, great to have you on.

Given the latest reporting, how likely in your view is an indictment of the former president?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, it certainly seems like they're closing in on the target and the person who undoubtedly set all of the events of January 6 into motion.

I mean, I recall, one of the things we learned in the January 6 committee was that all of the right-wing protests against Biden were set up for January the 20th, for Inauguration Day, as if to say we are going to be your opposition, we question you and so on, but not January 6th.

But Donald Trump got everybody to switch it to January 6th. He galvanized the focus on January 6th. So, you know, Donald Trump really is the mastermind and the ringleader of the entire operation. And I think that it's his intimates and his enablers in his immediate vicinity, who have now been called forward, including Steve Bannon, and including Mark Meadows.

And so nobody knows what's going on with the investigative questioning, but it certainly seems like it's a serious and methodical investigation.

COOPER: Yes, and what about -- I mean, from what you know, I mean, you know, Mark Meadows cooperated for a short time with the committee, handed over some important text messages and then chose not to cooperate. What do you make of his role in all of this? How important he would be?

RASKIN: Well, right. He was sort of doing the hokey-pokey, one foot in and one foot out, and when Trump got mad at him, he sort of pulled the plug on his participation. But you'll recall from the January 6 hearings, Cassidy Hutchinson reporting in a lot of different ways that Mark Meadows was really privy to what was going on with Donald Trump and when --

COOPER: And also Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony was so stunning to your committee, and she was just kind of an ear witness and an eye witness to a couple of things. You know, she was adjacent to Mark Meadows.

Mark Meadows would have seen everything or heard certainly, exponentially more than she did.

RASKIN: And he intimated to her at numerous points, that Donald Trump wanted to keep the insurrectionary violence going. He didn't want to interfere. And of course, we know through his inaction that he did not operate like the commander-in-chief. He did not get in touch with the Armed Forces. He did not get in touch with the local police. He did not activate the National Guard.

But what we need is more indications of what he was affirmatively saying during that time. And undoubtedly, Mark Meadows was in a position to know.

COOPER: Do you think, if he was offered a deal, and he took it, do you think that would have been a good move by the special counsel?

RASKIN: Well, yes. I mean, look, Mark Meadows proved to be a very weak chief-of-staff. I mean, what I took from all of the people who testified about him before our committee was that he agreed with whomever was talking to him at the time, but fundamentally, he would go with whatever Donald Trump's will was.

So he was really an empty vessel for Donald Trump's determination to stay in office and overthrow the 2020 presidential election.

So I think Trump was obviously the mastermind and ringleader, not Mark Meadows. And so I think it would make sense to, you know, figure out how to get his complete, comprehensive, truthful testimony that makes sense to me.

COOPER: Sources are saying or telling CNN that Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed to provide documents and testimony to a federal grand jury regarding January 6th. He famously defied a subpoena from your committee, was found guilty of contempt of Congress.

What would you like to see federal prosecutors ask Steve Bannon if he testifies? Because I mean, he had the whole war room thing. I mean, there's a lot he theoretically would know.

RASKIN: Yes. Let me take one moment to observe that the people that we held in contempt in the last Congress like Steve Bannon or Dan Scavino or Peter Navarro were people who did not provide a single document to our committee, and did not come and testify before our committee and utter a single sentence before us, so it was primarily people like that.

Whereas, they are talking about holding the FBI director, Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee in contempt for actually turning over a document giving the majority exactly what they wanted to see, but they just want to be able to keep it into, you know, distribute it as they see fit, but he overwhelmingly and substantially complied with what exactly they were are asking for.


But any event, look Steve Bannon I think was primarily involved at the strategic and philosophical level for Donald Trump. He was trying to develop a plan based on how the Electoral College works, based on the convening of Congress in joint session, kicking everything into the House of Representatives for so-called contingent election.

I think that he was probably involved in trying to get Vice President Pence to step outside of his constitutional role, and simply declare that certain states' Electoral College votes wouldn't be accepted.

So I would want to ask him about all of that. What was the grand theory of how they were going to overturn the election in the final analysis? And what was the interaction contemplated between the violent insurrection, the unleashing of the extremist groups against us with the inside political coup, the attempt to put the coercive pressure on Pence and to pull a rabbit out of the hat in terms of the machinations of the Electoral College?

COOPER: Yes. I mean, it is incredible when you lay it all out. Congressman Raskin, appreciate it.

RASKIN: Thank you so much for having me, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up next, the latest on the smoke, where it's coming from, how to stay safe in it and when it might lift?

Also, my conversation with poet, Amanda Gorman about how she and other authors are facing off against moves to restrict school kids from reading their work, even though many of the people doing the complaining have never actually read the books they want removed.



COOPER: So take a look at that. That is the Empire State Building about three-quarters of a mile across town from where I'm sitting right now. On any other night, it would look like the landmark that it is, not something out of 1918 London or maybe Pittsburgh in the 1940s. There is a remarkable time lapse video from earlier today showing the Manhattan skyline, slowly vanishing. Take a look at that behind the wall of smoke and watching the gray turn to orange as the sun moved across the sky. It's been surreal.

There's also this one passenger's view aboard a flight into LaGuardia. Conditions there forced a ground stop at one point today for flights and delayed many other flights across the region.

The smoke also triggered health alerts for schools to cancel outdoor activities and although the end to this could be in sight, so to speak, the worst isn't over yet.

CNN's Bill Weir is in Brooklyn tonight, joins us now.

Talk about how historic this is for New York City. I mean -- I don't -- I mean, I can't think of a time it's been like this.


Yes, even longtime jaded New Yorkers who have seen everything have seen nothing like this.

COOPER: I am a long time jaded New Yorker.

WEIR: The Air Quality Index -- true, true, but the Air Quality Index goes from zero to 500. On an average day, it's around a hundred or so, Today, at five o'clock it was 484.

Mayor Adams saying today, the city has not seen this kind of air since the unregulated pollution days of the 1960s.


WEIR (voice over): Canadian wildfires have burned an area 15 times above average for this time of year, and in a world connected by climate crisis, fire and wind are now creating other worldly scenes across the American northeast.

And on the streets of New York, a mixture of amazement --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been living in New York for the most part of 35 years and I've never experienced anything like this before.

WEIR (voice over): And concern.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For years, we've been wearing masks indoors and taking them off outdoors, and now, it's the reverse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we're from Australia and we have a lot of bushfires in Australia, so we're used to this, and this season hasn't been as bad, but it did shock me how quickly it came in last night and the air quality was bad later in the evening.

WEIR (voice over): The sky over Lower Manhattan turned from dirty yellow to a frightening orange in just a few midday hours.

The smoke forcing ground stops at LaGuardia and the streetlights and Central Park to come on in the middle of the day. WEIR (on camera): If you get any glimpse of the sun at all on these

surreal days, it's this apocalyptic glowing ball in the sky. The Air Quality Index today on par with New Delhi, India, a city four times larger, with much lower air quality standards of course.

And just today, the American Lung Association dropped a new report where they examined how many lives will be saved if the US could electrify its vehicle fleet by 2050. It would be almost 90,000 lives saved and that doesn't account for the prevalence of wildfire smoke, now more common on a planet heated up by fossil fuels.

WILLIAM BARRETT, NATIONAL SENIOR DIRECTOR, AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION: Yes, the study is really only focused on emissions from those power plants and the vehicle tailpipe so we really need to take a comprehensive view and that new study really illustrates that making these changes today can help bring out major, major public health benefits over time.

WEIR (voice over): Any number above 300 on the Air Quality Index is considered dangerous for everyone regardless of health. And since parts of New York topped 400 today, doctors are bracing for what comes next.

DR. DANIEL STERMAN, DIRECTOR OF PULMONARY MEDICINE, NYU LANGONE: Short term, I can say that I'm very worried as a pulmonologist who takes care of patients with COPD and lung cancer, asthma, that I'm very worried about all of my patients.

Patients who have had COVID and had COVID injuries who may not have had other lung injuries but survived COVID only to have this exposure and the risk to them of re-exacerbation of their underlying lung disease-- many, many health problems that I'm worried about for all of my patients.


COOPER: Bill, how concerned should people be that outdoor pollution is getting indoors? Because even like in my house today, I mean it smelled like smoke.

WEIR: Absolutely. We have this sort of false sense of security. We spend 90 percent of our lives indoors, but the way municipalities come together to make sure your water is drinkable. That doesn't exist for air. You're kind of on your own, and indoor air monitors today were showing three times the level of that PM 2.5 that normally doubles emergency room visits for asthma sufferers as well.

So now, a great time to check. Make sure if you have the out the window air conditioner that it is recycling, not pulling the smoke into your house and if you have a central AC, a good reminder to check those filters because it could be a long smoky summer -- Anderson.

COOPER: Bill Weir. Appreciate it. Thank you.

[20:30:13] Now to scene as (ph) Miguel Marquez, who is in lower Manhattan, also

in the thick of it. Miguel, I know you've been covering the smoke through the day. What's it like out there tonight?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a little bit better, but it's sort of -- it got better in the afternoon and then it seems to have gotten worse and worse. I want to show you. We're down in the West Village right now. So just, I don't know, a half mile or so, quarter mile from the World Trade Center. I want to try to show that to you, if you can see it. The street lights just coming on here, a regular downtown day. It looks like it is foggy here. But that is all smoke.

And the shocking and surreal thing about this is that these fires are hundreds of miles away. Just a massive amount of smoke in Los Angeles, in San Francisco, in Australia, places that are accustomed to this. They get -- cities get inundated with smoke. But the fires are usually 10 miles, 20 miles, 30 miles away. This is so far away, and there is so much smoke. I mean, people are very concerned. We do see a lot of mask wearing here.

We were up in Times Square earlier. There's a lot of tourists here, people weren't sort of prepared, not as many masks. But here in the neighborhoods in New York, you are seeing more mask wearing. But, it's the KN95 or the N95 mask that officials say is the best. The best thing to do thought is to stay home and keep those windows closed. But even that, as you know, is not a panacea for everything with the smoke. It looks like it's going to be with us for a while. Anderson?

COOPER: Yeah, Miguel Marquez, thank you.

MARQUEZ: You got it.

COOPER: In Florida, take a look at this packed event hosted by a bookstore. It's not a book signing. People were there last night to support former National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who donated 1,200 books to be given out, including 400 copies of her book and two other titles restricted at a Miami-Dade County Public School for K-8. The books are being restricted after one parent's complaint. Gorman's book is titled "The Hill We Climb." It's the same title as the poem she read at President Biden's inauguration in 2021.

She is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. Months later, her book was published and had been available at the school library for all students until one parent's complaint. And by the way, that parent did not actually read the book. Now, the school district says only middle school students have access to Amanda Gorman's book. The parent's complaint stated it includes "hate messages." The parent took issue with just some line that Gorman recited, here are a few of them.


AMANDA GORMAN, NATIONAL YOUTH POET LAUREATE: We've braved the belly of the beast. We've learned that quiet isn't always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is, isn't always justice. And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken, but simply unfinished.


COOPER: And Amanda Gorman joins us now. It's so great just hearing you do that inaugural poem again. It's lovely. It's great to have you back. And I'm sorry it's under these circumstances.

GORMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: When you heard this, what was your initial reaction when you found out this -- that your book was being restricted by somebody who had not actually even read it?

GORMAN: I think my first response was this dual experience of shock and grief. For the first part, because over 40 million people saw that moment at the inauguration and I couldn't imagine a reason of erasing that from a bookshelf for young readers to see. And on the flip side, I felt this anguish and pain because so much of the excitement that I had while writing "The Hill We Climb" was in knowing that young people would be able to see themselves represented in this moment in our democratic history. And so to have that representation taken away from young people just felt devastating.

COOPER: You know, and this is happening obviously in places across the country. And often it's parents who have not read any of these books. They often just get a list of books from an organization, a conservative organization that wants books removed, and they send that in and show up at a school board meeting and the books are taken out.

GORMAN: I think you get absolutely to the core of the issue, which is that you can in effect ban, restrict, remove a book like that. All it takes is one person, often who isn't a parent or doesn't need to read that work to sign a complaint. And that complaint can be accomplished pretty quickly, as we saw with what happened with my book. That form can even be filled out inaccurately and that can still lead to that book become being restricted for that school, that community, that library. And so what we're witnessing is a real loophole in the educational system, where it's really easy to mobilize a small select group of people to ban thousands of books over time.


COOPER: Now, to get your book, you've got to go to the media center. I understand, you have to -- in the school, you have to prove that you're at a fifth grade reading level in order to get access to the book. That's -- kids aren't going to discover a book like that.

GORMAN: No. I think you're absolutely correct. And one of the things that keeps getting said around the circumstance of my book that has been banned and other books that were removed from the elementary school shelves at that same school due to that same complaint, a lot of what gets said is, "Oh, it's not banned. It's just moved from the elementary side -- to the middle school."

But what you have to keep in mind, exactly like you said, if a child now needs to jump over hurdles of going through a different location, speaking to media specialists, proving themselves worthy and ready of reading a book, those types of hurdles are going to really impede students from having a free-ranging, welcoming experience of being able to pull a book from a bookshelf and experience it.

And what you just said also about the role of parents, I am totally accepting and at peace with the fact that not every parent, not every guardian, is going to like my work. And I think that's absolutely par for the course. But I think the issue is, when one person's dislike for my work leads to everyone else not having access to that book, we're really encroaching on the rights to families and parents and teachers and libraries to really create access for that, that exists for other people who still want that door open.

COOPER: There have been a lot of questions about the motivation behind the number of these people who are doing this in school districts. Our correspondent Elle Reeve actually went to a Moms for Liberty school board meeting, which is becoming a nationwide group of people who are behind this and talked to a leader of a group from Moms for Liberty. And I just want to play some of what she had to say.


ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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: Well, who's directing that?

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

REEVE: 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.


COOPER: Which is sort of a fascinating unpeeling of the onion that at the core for this woman in particular, she believes this is part of a conspiracy by teacher unions and others to destroy conservative values and destroy the American family. Does that make any sense to you?

GORMAN: It absolutely makes to me and explains why we've seen such an increase and spike in book bans over the past few years. For example, out of the 2,500+ book bans that we saw last year, the majority of them, according to "The Washington Post" came from just 11 people. So, what we are seeing is that this book banning isn't representative of the opinions and instincts of most parents, teachers, students, but from a really small subset of people who believe that they're protecting children from indoctrination of ideas of race, of gender, of sexuality.

But at the end of the day, what they're ultimately doing is eradicating the freedom of children and students from exploring those issues in a safe and protected and educational space that can be combined with the love of learning and reading.

COOPER: You're also partnering with PEN America to help others speak out against book banning. How can people help?

GORMAN: Absolutely. So, if you want to learn more about book restrictions and removals and also how you can have your voice heard, you can visit We've made a web page there where you can get all the information you need about standing up.

COOPER: All right. Amanda Gorman, thanks so much.

GORMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Just ahead, we're going to take you live to Ukraine for an up- close look at the dangers the rescuers are facing trying to help civilians trapped by flood waters after a major dam collapses.



COOPER: Tonight, according to President Zelenskyy in Ukraine, hundreds of thousands are without drinking water after a major dam and power station in Russian-occupied Southern Ukraine collapsed on Tuesday. Zelenskyy says that Russian troops are shooting at rescuers trying to reach civilians in occupied territory. According to the international humanitarian organization, CARE, land mines have been seen floating in the flood waters.

Thousands are being evacuated in the war-ravaged areas, fighting continues. Our Fred Pleitgen is in Ukraine tonight.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Raging flood water with whole towns submerged. This Ukrainian military drone video purports to show a family trapped in a Russian- controlled village, pleading for help. But all the small drone can do is drop a bottle of water. We went on a rescue mission in Kherson, where the water levels are still rising.

PLEITGEN (on camera): So, these guys tell us that they've been at work here since last night. They said the work during the night was extremely difficult and that they're really tired. But, of course, they have to keep going.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): They found this house abandoned but rescued three kittens. Roman (ph) tells me the volunteers face Russian shelling on nearly every sortie (ph). Of course, it's extremely dangerous, he says, especially today, it's very loud. Russia and Ukraine continue to blame each other for the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant.

The Ukrainians say on their side alone, hundreds of thousands are without normal access to water, and nearly 2,000 homes are under water, while the rescue efforts are hampered by the near constant artillery and mortar barrages.


IHOR KLYMENKO, ACTING INTERIOR MINISTER, UKRAINE (through translator): Look, we're working despite the possibility of us being shelled. We're taking risks every day, Ukraine's Interior Minister tells me. We understand that this is war, and it is very difficult to completely avoid a drone or incoming missile.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And that dangerous work is far from over. The authorities here say they expect they'll be busy all night, getting more people to safety.


COOPER: And Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Ukraine. What's President Zelenskyy saying about the impact of the dam collapse environmentally and on the situation? PLEITGEN: Well, he's saying that it's an absolute disaster and

certainly it's still very much unfolding. In fact, Anderson, he called it an environmental bomb of mass destruction, of course, because of all the oil, all the fuel that's now being swept into the water there. In fact, the authorities today warning once again that that water is absolutely toxic. That's one of the things they told us when we were on the ground. And of course, it's also a disaster, Anderson, that is still very much unfolding and getting worse.

Throughout the day, the water levels continued to rise and the authorities are telling us they're probably going to rise for another day and at least need five days for the water to recede once again. But of course, the environmental damage is being caused by the minute in that area, and more and more people are having to flee. And we saw right there how difficult it is for the authorities to get those people out. The authorities there on the ground were telling us the shelling is ongoing and they are once again going to spend the entire night trying to get people to safety, Anderson.

COOPER: Fred Pleitgen, appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up. A breaking news that the former president has been notified he's the target of a federal investigations, the possible mishandling of classified documents. That news comes as his former running mate, Vice President Mike Pence announced today, he is running for the presidency and will be joining CNN for a special Town Hall, minutes from now. What Pence's entry into the race means for both their campaigns next.


[20:50:37] COOPER: Breaking news this hour. The former president has been informed he is a target in the special counsel investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents. It comes as we are just moments away from CNN's Town Hall with former Vice President Mike Pence who officially declared himself a candidate for president today.

Joining me now are CNN political commentator Van Jones, former Special Advisor to President Obama; David Axelrod, former Senior Advisor to President Obama; Alyssa Farah Griffin, White House Communications Director for the former president. Also with us Jeff Duncan, Republican former Lieutenant Governor of Georgia; Republican Strategist Alice Stewart; Scott Jennings, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush.

Alyssa, I want to start with you. It's been reported you were interviewed by federal prosecutors. I know you can't talk about this. This was in recent weeks, part of the special counsel investigation. But what do you make of the news that the former president has been informed that he is a --

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I'm most struck by how quickly the DOJ documents investigation is moving. Jack Smith seems to be moving on a fast timeline which signals to me he understands the political pressures. Of course, DOJ doesn't factor that in. But you also -- you react to reality. If they wait too long to moves, if an indictment is coming, you end up lining up with the primary season. And I think that that's hard for the public if it comes during that period to think that it's not for one side of the aisle to not think that it's partisan. This is moving remarkably quickly.

I did speak to federal investigators. As far as I would go is to basically say, and I did it voluntarily is, they're looking at everything. They're pulling every thread that they can. I think they're very interested in the president's mood and mind-set in the period on the January 6th side, leading up to January 6th and on the documents about who was advising him on what during the transition.

COOPER: Then in terms of former Vice President Pence, he is announcing today. What he is going to say tonight. Do you think what's the target letter -- the news of the target letter, do you think that changes anything for what he'll talk about tonight?

VAN JONES, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: I bet it changes the question he gets asked.


COOPER: I think it's a safe bet.

JONES: I think it's a safe bet. So I think he has been very reticent to weigh in until now. You've seen the past 24 hours a very different Mike Pence. This is a Mike Pence that is willing to throw real punches at President Trump. I think all bets are off. I am surprised, honestly, that he sounds as pugilistic as Chris Christie. If Trump thought he was going to have a bunch of people who were keep tiptoeing through the tulips and not say anything against him, today changed that, yesterday changed that, and tonight is going to change it even more.

COOPER: David Axelrod, he has certainly been cautious what he has said up to now.

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes. And he was -- let's just be clear. Today, he was very strong in his speech and then went on Fox News, having thrown the gauntlet down and he picked the gauntlet up again and said he might -- that he could support the president if the president were the nominee --


COOPER: It's a requirement to take part in debates from the RNC to say, to promise that you would support whoever the Republican nominee is.

AXELROD: Right. But look, this is hard. Mike Pence is in a fix because, for three years and 11 months or whatever it is was, he was loyal on the verge of being obsequious. And then he did a very courageous thing and he has managed to tick people off on both sides of the Donald Trump debate. People who are very loyal to Trump think he was a traitor. People who watched over those four years give him credit for what he did, but still hold him accountable for having essentially being an apologist for Trump over those four years. And it's a very tough place to be.

COOPER: Scott, what do you expect?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH AND COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: Well, I think I'd like to know whether Mike Pence would pardon Donald Trump. I mean, to me, it's fairly obvious that he's likely, I guess, to hedge that he'll (ph) be indicted and that could lead to a conviction. He might not be the next president, a Republican could be. I think it's a relevant question tonight and probably ongoing in the primary. I think Pence is in a different argument spot than say DeSantis. DeSantis' argument against Trump is we have to end the culture of losing.

The argument Mike Pence made today is he violated his oath of office, and cannot and must not be returned to the White House. That is not a political argument. That is hard-core American civics constitutional argument. That's a much different argument. How it will land with the Republicans, my guess is, candidly, not very well. I don't see much of a lane for Mike Pence. But if anybody earned the right to run for president, it's the guy who stood up for the U.S. Constitution.

COOPER: Alice, he is most conservative in the field.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, BOARD MEMBER, JFK INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY: No doubt. And speaking of evangelicals in the State of Iowa, they're welcoming him with open arms, as well as all the other candidates, because they are ready to turn the page on Donald Trump.


And you look at someone like Mike Pence and Tim Scott and Nikki Haley and many of these others, Asa Hutchinson, they have a genuine relationship with the evangelical community and the faith community. Donald Trump's relationship was transactional. He says, "Hey, I'll give you the supreme court justices if you give me your vote." They're done with that. They're ready to have someone that will have the policies that Donald Trump has but without all of the toxic nature.

And what I thought interesting today with Mike Pence in terms of now he is really going after Donald Trump, because he has to, but of all the legal issues facing Donald Trump, he went after the one, to Scott's point, outlining the case on the constitution. When you ask Mike Pence to choose between the constitution and the presidency, he made it quite clear that person no longer deserves to be the president of the United States.

And that was a very well-explained argument, but also he was very careful to make sure that's the legal issue that he wanted to weigh in as opposed to all the others. And we have Bob Barr saying of all the issues facing former president on the legal side, this one right here is the most troublesome.

COOPER: Lieutenant Governor?

GEOFF DUNCAN, (R) CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR Of GEORGIA: Yeah, I think going back to David's point, right, Mike Pence has got a tough place to call home camp, right. I mean, the right, the MAGA crowd is not -- never going to support Mike Pence just because of the position he took with Donald Trump on January 6th. The moderates aren't going to come his way because he has just proven all the way through his political career, he is an extreme conservative.

And I think campaigns are always defined by surprises, right? All the campaigns I've always been a part of, I think the surprise that's starting to play out right now is that the weight and reality of these indictments are real. Just imagine, I don't know anybody who has got multiple indictments, federal and state. I don't know how you operate.

AXELROD: Certainly not running for president.


DUNCAN: Yeah, an hourly job, more or less trying to run for president in 50 states.



COOPER: I'll (ph) see him on Netflix.


DUNCAN: But the reality of that, so I think the surprise is that how weighty that's going to be. The play, in my opinion, for the other Republicans need to be, to be able to put themselves into position, to be the heir-apparent when Donald Trump falls. And he is going to fall.

GRIFFIN: And I do think, real quick --


GRIFFIN: -- with Mike Pence, he can make the case tonight and going forward that he would be the most qualified and ready candidate on day one to become president. Serving as vice president, you have stood in for the president and Head of State meetings. You've shaken hands with other world leaders. You've represented him on the world stage, and you've actually had to make tough choices.

Wherever you come down on the COVID response, when you're dealing with something like massive supply chain issues, the entire eastern seaboard not having food supplies and having to make hard decisions, Mike Pence did that. He also can make a case, and I want to see him do it, that Trump's biggest accomplishments wouldn't have happened without him.

I was there in the senate when tax cuts was this close to not passing, but Mike Pence did some arm twisting with his old friend Jeff Flake, got that across the finish line. USMCA, he was the one rallying members of the senate and the house to support it. And he was never one to take credit for things that he did because he was so deferential to Trump. I want to see him tell his success.

AXELROD: So, can I just say one thing on Alyssa's point? Scott, I'm sorry I jumped in on you there. But, you talk about all the candidates who have relationships with the evangelical community. And Pence, his relationship with that community was why Trump put him on the ticket back in 2016. And he became Trump's ambassador and Trump sort of took that constituency from him.

Now, he is going to have to compete not just with Trump, but with Scott, with others, Hutchinson, others who are going for that same constituency. It's one more complication for him because, if he doesn't win in Iowa with that large, large evangelical community there, he is done.


AXELROD: So this is really important to him.

JENNINGS: You know, your point about the weight and reality of Trump's legal issues is a good one. But the other side of that equation is, does this cause Republicans to dig in even more? I mean, if these indictments land, my expectation is that Republicans are going to go crazy. They're going see a double standard with Biden. They're going to see a double standard with Hillary Clinton and with others.

Trump's going to go crazy because this is far more serious than what happened in New York City. My guess is, they're going to call for Merrick Garland to be impeached and put a lot of pressure on Republicans in the house. It really is going to be a massive blowup. And there is no guaranty it won't end up politically benefitting Donald Trump and causing Republicans to dig in. Now, you could be right. And of course, I hope you are. I'm just not

certain that's what's going to happen.

DUNCAN: I think 35 percent of Republicans are going to get upset. But a majority of Republicans are ready to move on. That's the unfortunate part of this.

STEWART: Right. The ones that have already turned their backs on the Republican Party because of Donald Trump, and those are the ones that all of these other candidates are vying for their vote. And for the Trump space, this again makes him a martyr. But others, this is the final straw.

COOPER: Thanks, everyone. We'll be back later, after the Town Hall, for analysis, following it with Mike Pence, which starts right now.