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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Trump Is A Target Of Special Counsel's January 6 Criminal Probe; 16 Electors In MI Charged In Plot To Undo Trump's Election; Includes GOP Officials And A Sitting Mayor; Russia Strikes Odesa For The Second Night In A Row; Trump-Appointed Judge Tells Prosecutors A Trump Trial In Docs Case In Mid-December Is Too Soon; Trump Reveals He's A Target Of Special Counsel's Criminal Probe Into 2020 Election Interference; One-On-One With Republican Presidential Candidate Will Hurd. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired July 18, 2023 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Obviously, they're calling for Bobby Kennedy to come testify because they think he'll be a divisive force within the Democratic Party. He obviously doesn't have any factual evidence to offer.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: No, no. But that certainly hasn't stopped him from saying these things.
Thank you so much, Congressman Raskin. I appreciate your time, and I appreciate all of your time for watching us.
AC 360 begins now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
After a historic and whirlwind day involving the former president and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, he says and CNN confirms that the special counsel has informed him, he is a target of the federal investigation to those efforts.
The target letter, as it is known, is the clearest sign to date that the former president could be indicted. It is also the first time in history a former president has received such a letter regarding efforts to overturn an election. Think about that.
Plenty of presidents in the history of these United States who wanted to stay in power. None have been accused of taking the actions that this man did.
We should point out it is not the first time a former president has received a target letter, it has happened once before, and the former president it happened to is also Donald Trump. He received that target letter almost two months ago exactly, May 19th, involving Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation into the mishandling of classified documents. That of course led to an indictment 20 days later.
There was more news today on that investigation as well. There was a court hearing in Florida attended by an indicted aide to the former president, Walt Nauta, but not the former president himself.
A federal judge said the decision on a trial date will come in her words "promptly," meaning at any time. Judge Aileen Cannon who was appointed by the former president also suggested the trial may not be as speedy as the special counsel had hoped, but she also appeared skeptical pushing the trial until after the election is the former president's attorneys would like her to.
There was also another big development today in Michigan, also, for the first time ever fake electors who signed documents claiming the former president won in 2020, have now been charged in the scheme to overturn the election.
Eight felony counts covering 16 people including top current and former Republicans in that state.
So there is a lot to get to in this hour, including how Republicans are defending the former president today. Plus, I'll talk with Republican presidential candidate, Will Hurd, ahead.
But we start with the target letter. Many legal analysts say proving intent will be important in any possible future indictment. Did the former President know he lost the 2020 election, but still schemed to overturn its results? According to testimony during the House Select Committee hearings on January 6, he did know he lost.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I remember maybe a week after the election was called. I popped into the Oval just to like, give the president the headlines and see how he was doing, and he was looking at the TV and he said, Can you believe I lost to this effing guy?
CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER AIDE TO TRUMP CHIEF-OF-STAFF: The president just raging about the decision and how it's wrong and why don't we make more calls and just his typical anger, outbursts at this decision.
And the president said -- I forget -- so he had said something to the effect of, I don't want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out. We need to figure it out. I don't want people to know that we lost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I'll be joined by Alyssa Farah Griffin, who you just heard from in a minute, but first I'm joined now by Harvard Law professor, Laurence Tribe. He's also the co-author of "To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment."
Professor Tribe, appreciate you being with us. I want to read a statement from a conservative former judge, Michael Luttig, who advise former Vice President Mike Pence on how to handle the January 6 election certification vote. He wrote saying today: "There is not an attorney general or special counsel of either party who would not bring charges against the former president for his efforts on January 6 to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He has dared, taunted, provoked and goaded DOJ to prosecute him for his offenses on and relating to real January 6 for two-and-a-half years. The former president has left Jack Smith no choice, but to bring charges lest the former President make a mockery of the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law."
Do you agree with him?
LAURENCE TRIBE, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: I agree completely with Judge Luttig.
Special Counsel Jack Smith had no choice and the target letter is one that makes it absolutely clear that within days, we don't know if it'll be this week or at the very beginning of next week, Donald Trump will finally be indicted for his role in the attempt to overturn the election, by any means possible, including aiding and abetting an insurrection, the serious charge short of treason, that could be lodged against a former president.
COOPER: What makes you confident it would happen so quickly at the end of this week? You're talking possibly end of Thursday day, Friday or Monday or so really next week. What makes you confident of that?
Because in the last letter that he received, I think it was about three weeks before the actual indictment came down.
TRIBE: Well, I'm not going to bet anything on exactly when it is going to happen. I do think it's more likely to be quicker this time because we have seen a parade of people called by this grand jury, all the people around Donald Trump. There is really nothing left for the special counsel to do, but to actually indict the former president.
So I'd be surprised if it were as long as a week or two. I wouldn't be shocked. But one way or another, it's going to happen. And it's going to make it very difficult for the former president to keep claiming that he is the victim of a witch hunt.
As Judge Luttig said, he has made it impossible for any self- respecting special counsel or attorney general not to charge him.
All of the people who were engaged as foot soldiers in the violent insurrection, they have been systematically charged for the person who called them to Washington, who watched while they became violent, who encouraged them to remain violent, who made it clear that his sights were on his former vice president, for that person to escape accountability would mean that we have one rule of law for ordinary citizens and another for a former president. That can't be what we have in a democracy.
When he was president, the rule that he invoked was you can't charge me, I'm president. When he ceased being president, he said, you can't charge me, I used to be President. Well, that's not the way a democracy works. That's a Banana Republic.
COOPER: Do you have any sense of what the possible charges might be? What they might encompass?
TRIBE: Oh, that's for sure. I mean, there is an elaborate memorandum, almost 300 pages by Norman Eisen and a group of others, experts, former prosecutors, laying out in great detail what the charges are likely to be. They are likely to focus on the fake electors, and the attempt to say that the election was stolen when the former president knew it wasn't.
Then, they are likely to include a second act pressure on various people, including the former vice president. And finally, they're likely to include aiding and abetting an insurrection.
And if the president were convicted of that, then he would be ineligible to run again. And he has got a claim, of course. He always claims he's the victim. He's going to claim that the only reason this is happening is that he is running for president. That's getting it backwards.
The main reason he's running for president is that the only way he thinks he can stay out of jail, and he wants to be president so he can pardon himself, or maybe declare himself unfit for a while under the 25th amendment so that whoever he has as vice president can pardon him, just in case there's any legal doubt about the ability of a president to pardon himself.
So this is a three-act play. We are likely to see it quite dramatically play out. And of course, in the meantime, we know that he is going to be charged by Fani Willis in Georgia, a sprawling indictment probably next month. We know that he is already on trial before a likely friendly judge, Judge Aileen Cannon for espionage in connection with the top secret documents that he stole when he left the White House and refuse to return.
He is of course also being charged by Alvin Bragg, and at the same time, we have seen in Georgia that fake electors now in Michigan are themselves being charged. So the walls are closing in from every direction. And finally, it looks like he will be held accountable.
COOPER: Professor Laurence Tribe, thank you for your time tonight. Busy day.
TRIBE: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Joining me now is CNN political analyst and "New York Times" reporter, Astead Herndon, Alyssa Farah Griffin whose testimony to the January 6 committee we just saw a moment ago. She's a CNN political commentator and former Trump White House Communications Director; CNN anchor and chief correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, senior legal analyst and former assistant US attorney, Elie Honig, and senior law enforcement analyst, Andrew McCabe, former FBI deputy director.
Andrew let me start with you. How worried do you think the former president should be tonight? ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Oh, I think he should be very worried. You know, just a couple of things about target letters. I think people need to understand that it is -- the department is not required to serve a target letter on anyone before they get indicted. They do it in some cases, they've clearly done it here.
It is a very clear indication that they are looking squarely at him, that they have substantial evidence against him and that they are likely to indict him. These things don't come out when the matter is still up for judgment in the prosecutor's office.
So I think he should be very concerned about getting indicted on what will undoubtedly be a very, very serious case.
COOPER: Elie, do you agree with Professor Tribe about the timing and also what the possible charges will be?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I agree with Professor Tribe that it looks like charges are very near? I don't think I wouldn't bank on a certain date. I think he was careful not to do that as well. I agree in part and disagree in part on what the charges are likely to be. I think we're likely to see.
Given Jack Smith's history, he looks for the most straightforward sort of non-dramatic charge he can bring and prove, and that's why I've been saying, I think we're looking at a conspiracy to defraud the United States, potentially an effort to obstruct Congress, potentially a false statements charged relating to the submission of false electors.
I do not expect to see an insurrection charge as Professor Tribe just said, that would be the single most dramatic charge that Jack Smith could bring, and he doesn't need to. He doesn't need that drama. He doesn't need to prove that Donald Trump was trying to overthrow the government of the United States. I think that's a bridge too far for Jack Smith's tastes.
COOPER: And Kaitlan, what about the former president's reaction? And his circle? What do you --
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we heard Trump speaking out tonight and he is kind of already mounting a defense to -- he clearly believes he is going to be charged here. He is mounting a defense to this saying essentially, I have a right to protest the election, the election results.
I mean, that's not what he was doing. He was trying to overturn the fair election results. His team, in the meantime, has been calling around to other attorneys. I mean, these attorneys -- these people have gotten to know each other quite well over the last several months during this investigation, trying to figure out if anyone else has gotten a target letter.
We've been asking this question since Trump first posted this this morning. So far, we have not heard of one other person who has gotten a target letter. That factor has surprised Trump's team. They thought that other target letters would go out before they got to Trump.
The idea that it has gone to Trump first has kind of surprised them, I guess, to a degree. And so that's what they've been doing on the phone today.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, Elie, are you surprised by that? That there aren't other target letters that we know about out there? I mean, is it possible he would be the only one?
HONIG: It's possible he is the only one who has actually received a target letter as of now. It wouldn't surprise me if when all is said and done, he is the only person charged. It is hard to conceive of a scenario where the only person who engaged in criminal conduct was Donald Trump, he had a lot of enablers.
But there is a strategy here, if DOJ is trying to get to the top person as quickly as possible, not load up the indictment with extra defendants, extra evidence, extra motions, where you say, let's just go after the top guy. We think we have a case. Let's indict him alone, and then get to the others later and separately.
COOPER: Astead, do you think this bolsters the president among his supporters and leads to more fundraising?
ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, it likely does if the evidence from the last two indictments has been any clue. I think that that's the difference between the legal perspective here and the political one. Donald Trump has a lot of reasons to be legally nervous tonight. But politically, he's never looked better.
He still remains the kind of frontrunner in the short term for the Republican primary. We have seen Republican voters really rally around him.
If there's a bad sign there, we also see a kind of fomenting group against him, even among Republicans. If you look at polling, he remains the kind of plurality support and the kind of 30s, 40s above other candidates, but you see an increasing number of people who say they don't want Donald Trump to be the nominee, even among the Republican base.
So we look a little longer term, and we look to a kind of general election, right, the goal is still to win back the White House for Donald Trump. This is a bad thing for swing voters. This is a bad thing for Independents.
Those kinds of signs have been very clear since the beginning for Donald Trump of being really worrisome on that front. But in the short term and the question about the Republican primary that kind of build up to Iowa, we have consistently seen the Republican electorate rally behind him and just fit within that kind of narrative of victimization, and the weaponization of the federal government against him.
We know that's the card he's going to play, and to this point, that's been the card that's worked. COOPER: And we heard Speaker McCarthy echoing that was his go-to today, the weaponization that this is essentially Joe Biden, the president seeing Trump's poll numbers going up and so he pulled the levers of DOJ and weaponized the government against Trump.
GRIFFIN: Well, exactly, and the fact that you haven't seen the top tier of candidates under Donald Trump come out forcibly and denounce this as they did in the prior two indictments, I think suggests all you really need to know.
I believe that DeSantis --
COOPER: You think that there is a slight shift?
GRIFFIN: No, I don't think. I think the fact that there hasn't been any sort of a forceful breakthrough, I think it's going to be very similar to the previous indictment.
You're going to hear from the Will Hurd's, the ASA Hutchinson's, the Chris Christie's who are going to just keep pounding the drumbeat, but Astead hit on something important that I think is the loudest thing Republicans need to be saying.
This is so radioactive in a general election, the idea that Donald Trump who incited an insurrection on January 6 is going to be some kind of a credible general election candidate is insane.
So I mean, you've got to -- there have to be candidates who are willing to try to get voters to wake up to that, but it doesn't appear to be happening right now.
COOPER: Also, I mean, Andrew, just the sheer drumbeat of news today on this topic. I mean, in Michigan, in Florida and obviously this target letter, would -- do think that the special counsel or the DOJ would be sending out a target letter if they didn't feel they had a strong case, given all the pressure, all the attention that they know and the scrutiny that will be on this?
MCCABE: Absolutely not. There is no chance that the special counsel is taking -- is going to throw a Hail Mary on this case. It is absolutely not going to happen.
The fact is, they have an overwhelming amount of evidence just from those things that we know publicly. Let's look at it just from the perspective of Donald Trump's, the core of probably what will be one of his most repeated defenses, which is I thought that I actually won and the election had been stolen from me.
There is a mountain of evidence that contradicts that from his own attorneys in the White House, to his political people, to the private firms that he hired privately and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to go out and find evidence of fraud, all of whom came back to him and said, there's no evidence of fraud here. So it doesn't matter -- and then of course, you have the witnesses who heard him say, can you believe I lost to this guy? One of whom is there in the room with you right now.
So there is an overwhelming amount of evidence for each one of the points that he has to prove here. I'm sure the special counsel is feeling very confident if they sent that letter out and we will see how this plays out.
But I should also say, Anderson that with respect to the political analysis, you've just heard, I think that is something that stands in Jack Smith and his team's credit. They are moving forward with this case, regardless of how the pundits believe it will affect him politically, it is not about helping or hurting a political candidate for Jack Smith, it is about bringing a case when there is evidence to do so, and there is evidence.
COOPER: Well, we don't know what role Mark Meadows may be playing in this at all or others in the former president's orbit. What is it telling you though, that? I mean, if you're right, and they would not have done this, unless they were quite sure they could prove this case and had a good case. And if proving intent, the president's intent is critical, what does it tell you about -- I mean, do you believe they have people close to him that can testify about his intent in a very convincing way?
MCCABE: Well, we know that he's had a massive list of insiders who have testified in front of the grand jury very recently to include Hope Hicks and Jared Kushner and Mark Meadows and his former vice president, Mike Pence.
So we know that the team has reached deep into that very close group of advisers, attorneys, all of these folks have testified. Many have tried not to testify or forced to do so, after filing legal motions are prohibited.
So they're not going forward because that testimony didn't work for them. Right? They've collected the evidence that they need. I would expect that some of those people will testify on the government's behalf, maybe some of them under cooperation agreements to avoid their own liability.
COOPER: Andrew McCabe, thank you.
Everyone else, stay with us. Still a lot to unpack. More on the reaction from congressional Republicans with the target letter. And as we talked about, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy calling it an example of weaponized government.
We will take you also to Florida for the court hearing in the documents case and the intense battle over when the trial may begin. The decision now in the hands of the judge. Details ahead.
[20:21:54] COOPER: A range of congressional reaction today to the former president's second target letter in almost as many months from the special counsel. This time indicating he is a target in the investigation to the efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was silent, didn't respond to CNN's questions today. Other Republicans today did have a lot to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDY MCCARTHY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL CONTRIBUTOR: President Trump went up in the polls and was actually surpassing President Biden for re- election, so what do they do now? Weaponize government, to go after their number one opponent.
It's time and time again. I think the American public is tired of this.
REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): We have yet again another example of Joe Biden's weaponized Department of Justice targeting his top political opponent, Donald Trump.
REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): Why are they doing everything they can to prevent him from being on the ballot in 2024? I'll tell you why. Because Donald Trump will win in 2024. And the left just they're scared [bleep].
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): One more ridiculous thing from the Justice Department. This is as wrong as it gets.
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Are they going to arrest President Trump? Trump charge him with phony fake charges and then hold him in prison while he is winning the Republican primary, while he is going to win the general election in 2024?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And just a reminder, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who you heard at the beginning of that montage saying the Justice Department is being weaponized against Donald Trump actually, initially blamed the former president for the January 6 attacks, said he bears responsibility, but then changed his mind a few weeks later.
Back with us, our panel, joining us as well, CNN political commentator, David Urban, one time campaign adviser to the former president.
David, let me start out with you. We haven't heard from you yet. How bad of a day was this for the former president?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, there are two standards -- the legal standard and the political standard. Legally, pretty bad day; politically, just another day in Trump world.
All right, Anderson, we've been through two impeachments. I've sat next to you on the studio there through two indictments, and at this point, I think the president just shrugs it off and keeps moving forward as he continues to lead the polls.
COOPER: Alyssa, I mean, we -- you know, we just heard from a bunch of Republicans there. There were a couple of senators who did -- you know, Mitt Romney, the usual suspects John Thune as well.
You know, Romney said, the reality is that President Trump did a number of terrible things in January 6. Thune said, as part of the distractions that are always going to be surrounding the former president.
Relatively tepid stuff given the charges.
GRIFFIN: I mean all -- I want to take a step back. I've worked for Jim Jordan, who was one of the people that spoke out on this, just put the shoe on the other foot. Let's pretend that Barack Obama refused to leave office after leading and incited an insurrection, his aides around him tried to do this DOJ sort of fake electors scheme. The loudest people would be those members of Congress saying he should be impeached, he should be held accountable, he should be indicted.
COOPER: I mean, or if President Obama was showing classified documents to people out of his --
GRIFFIN: Any of the above -- like this has gone to such dangerous sheer partisanship that like it just kind of defies reality.
Everyone knows. I was in the West Wing. I had -- you know, after Donald Trump lost the election, every aide around him with maybe the exception of Peter Navarro knew that he lost the election. Donald Trump knew that he lost the election, it was just a matter of how are we going to handle it?
And some aides to their credit, myself included, Hope Hicks said, let's go on the campaign trail and talk about your accomplishments get a lot of people vaccinated.
Instead, he went very different route and a lot of people enabled it and those chickens are coming home to roost.
COOPER: And yet Astead, I mean, you look at the Republican field, the former president is far and away the leader.
HERNDON: Exactly. You hear the difference in how they talk about Donald Trump from the House perspective, right? They're not sure about the former president's actions, but the future nominee. They are really focusing on the fact that the political aspect still looks in his favor.
And I think that that has been his biggest legal defense, it has been the political one, and the reason is why -- the question is, why do we hear a different thing from House GOP members, maybe the Senate and other portions?
And when we look at the House, a lot of those people are coming from places that are gerrymandered map, safe seats. We've seen increasingly few swing districts in the House, and that gives them the kind of political backing, they would have to be all in for the base.
That's a different kind of calculation in the Senate. I think that's why you hear kind of different things coming out of the Senate or just silence from them being willing to defend him in a bigger sense.
But for those House people who I think are closely -- more closely tied to the political base of Donald Trump, the folks who are driving the kind of plurality of his support in the Republican primary, they know who butters their bread, and you see that in the statements, they're really reflecting the kind of Donald Trump fandom that is still at the core of the Republican Party, even though we should continually say it's not the majority, we're not seeing him crack a 50 percent ceiling, we're not seeing him grow the base of support.
We are still seeing him be toxic to Independents and swing voters and folks for the general election, but in that short term and the kind of people who are most important for their individual districts, the kind of activist class that is who is really driving this.
I think about the Michigan electors, you know, those were people who -- and Michigan was one of those states where you saw a kind of Trump- wing really rise in the state party there. Those are some of the same people we see get charged today, the kind of Trumpism has been at the core of the Republican apparatus and that is what we've really seen in the last couple of days.
COOPER: What's so surreal, Kaitlan about seeing the former president, you know at campaign events is, if you ask anybody, what is he actually running on? I think you'd be very hard pressed to actually hear any policies.
I mean, all of these other candidates can try to talk about policies and differences between them. He is just running grievances. He's just running the same playlist he ran before.
COLLINS: And that's -- you know as Ron DeSantis has been criticized for his missteps and he is trying to kind of have this inflection point in his campaign and they are focusing on his policies, and they are unveiling them. They've kind of got this whole scenario planned out, but then here they have today, Trump gets a target letter, he makes it public.
He is waiting to be indicted, potentially, as he's made clear, and that's what sucks up all the oxygen. That's what all of these candidates are being asked about.
COOPER: And I mean, the former president's biggest policy claim is he can end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours, which is not only just ludicrous, it's just -- I mean, it's nonsensical.
COLLINS: Well, he also -- his other one is that he is being indicted for his supporters. I mean, that's what he -- he was just saying that over the weekend.
COOPER: That he is Jesus-like martyr.
COLLINS: He said, I'm being indicted for you. It's better me than you, right, is what he's essentially saying. And I've talked to Governor Kemp of Georgia about this, who said he would still work to help get Trump elected if he's the nominee, so clearly not some super anti- Trump person, and I asked if that's a winning message in Georgia, and he said, no.
The idea of running on the 2020 election, you're going to lose the state of Georgia.
COOPER: Elie is going to come back. Everyone, else thank you.
A reminder, you can see Kaitlan at the top of the hour on "The Source" just in about half an hour from now. And next, you're stuck with me for another half hour.
Next for us, the phony electors. They signed certificates falsely claiming Donald Trump won the state of Michigan in 2020. These are actual human beings who did this. They are now facing multiple felonies. Details ahead. That's video of them actually there.
Also, extraordinary images out of Ukraine just moments ago as Russia launches another barrage of retaliatory strikes for Ukraine taking out one of their key supply lines, that bridge, a live report from our reporter who is on the scene.
COOPER: Michigan's Attorney General has charged 16 fake electors with multiple felonies for trying to overturn the 2020 election in favor of then-President Trump. Now, several Republican officials, including a current mayor, this is the first time any of the fake electors have been charged with the crime relating to the scheme.
The group of fake GOP electors was turned away from the Michigan State House back in December 2020. And that's the video right there. While the actual group of Democratic electors was meeting inside. The plot to put forward fake pro-Trump electors and key battleground states is, of course, also being investigated by Special Counsel Jack Smith.
Joining me now is Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Secretary Benson, appreciate you being with us. What is your reaction to the charges filed today?
JOCELYN BENSON (D), MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it's -- one, I'm very pleased to see these charges brought because this was far more than just a ceremonial attempt. This was an actual actionable effort to undermine the will of the voters, one that we fought at the time successfully. And now we need to see justice for those who attempted it.
And secondly, I think it's a really strong, bold statement rooted in facts and evidence and the law that says it's not OK for you, for anyone to try to block the will of the people from coming to fruition in any election regardless of the winner. And if you attempt to do that in any election, there will be consequences.
COOPER: Are you concerned or is there a chance, in your opinion, that the new state charges in Michigan might impact or impede the special counsel's investigation?
BENSON: No, I think facts are facts and the law is the law. And certainly the violations of Michigan law run parallel to violations at the federal level, if there are any and certainly any other states that saw similar issues occur that leads to federal conspiracy charges.
So I think both cases can proceed simultaneously. And I think at the bottom line is we had Michigan law that was violated. Michigan's chief election, chief law enforcement officer acted accordingly to ensure our Michigan laws were followed.
COOPER: I mean, it's remarkable to me that some -- I mean, some of the 16 people charged today included current and former state GOP officials, a Republican National Committee member, a sitting mayor, a school board member. I mean, what does he say to you that these are the profiles of the people who believed, not only claimed to believe the foreign president won the state of Michigan, but were willing to lie and take this action?
BENSON: Yes, and break the law in furtherance of that belief, which is just not OK. It's not how democracy works. And it's an extraordinary statement and such an important point to make that these were not just sort of random individuals. These were deep party insiders, party leaders who knowingly took a step, went into the basement of the party headquarters to take an oath of secrecy and then sign these documents.
So there's lots of evidence here, if you read through the allegations, to suggest that this was far more than just a ceremonial act. This was knowingly trying to break the law to overturn the will of the people, led by people at the center of the Republican Party.
COOPER: You said that today's charges are, quote, "The first in an ongoing effort to not just seek justice for the wrongs of the past, but to ensure they do not happen again". What are you doing to ensure that this doesn't happen again in your state?
BENSON: Well, one of the things there are to seek consequences because we need to be very clear going into the 2024 election cycle that any attempts to overturn a subsequent election result people disagree with, though accurate. Any attempts to try to intervene with accounting of valid votes, any attempts to try to block people from voting will be met with consequences, and serious ones at that.
We're going to take -- when we take every instance of actionable, election interference seriously in the state of Michigan. And so we hope and I expect this will have a deterrent effect for any plans that are afoot and certainly gives us the ability to say, look, whatever you're planning, don't do it because it's not going to work. And we will seek consequences against you if an attempt is made.
COOPER: Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, thank you.
BENSON: Thank you.
COOPER: Breaking news now from Ukraine where the -- for the second night in a row, Russia is launching retaliatory airstrikes in the port city of Odesa. We're looking at Ukrainian air defense and is trying to repel Russian attack. The head of Odesa's military administration is urging residents to stay away from windows and seek shelter.
CNN's Alex Marquardt joins us from that city of Odesa. What have you been seeing and hearing tonight?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, as you know, this is the second night running of a major attack by Russia on this city. Tonight was far bigger than when you and I spoke 24 hours ago. Just an extraordinary display of firepower. I really can't overstate that. I've really never seen anything quite like this.
We saw tracers flying up into the sky from those anti-aircraft guns. We saw glows in the distance. We saw impacts in the sky appearing to cause explosions. And those -- of those objects, whether they're Shahed drones or anything else, being shot out of the sky.
We do believe Russia carried out a strike using those Iranian-made Kamikaze drones that are called Shaheds, as well as caliber cruise missiles. And that's just what we could see. And then what we could hear, Anderson, was this insane cacophony of those anti-aircraft guns firing into the sky of these massive explosions, presumably from the missiles either making an impact or being shot out of the sky. It's very hard to tell.
I want to play a clip of what we saw earlier tonight so that our viewers cannot just see it, but really hear what we experienced.
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(BOMBS & GUNSHOTS)
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MARQUARDT: And Anderson, that incredible footage shot by our photojournalist, Scott McQuinney (ph). You know, when we spoke 24 hours ago, I could have told you how many blasts I heard. We could count how many impacts had landed tonight. We lost count very quickly. It was just happening so fast. So much was happening.
Over the course of about an hour, I would say it's been over also for about an hour, it has been quiet. We're keeping eyes on the sky because really things can change at any moment. Those alarms could start up again. Those tracers could fly back up into the sky.
But Anderson, this does appear to be a direct response, direct retaliation for that strike by Ukraine on the Kerch Bridge that connects Russian annex Crimea with the Russian mainland. Earlier today, the Kremlin said that last night's attack was a direct retaliation.
We have to assume that tonight is the same. Russia had warned that they were still exploring options for a response. It appears that tonight is part of that response. Whether it continues remains very much to be seen. This is an extremely fluid situation. Anderson?
COOPER: Alex Marquardt in Odesa. Be safe, you and your crew. Thank you.
As mentioned earlier, there was a court hearing today involving the special counsel's other criminal case against the former president. The classified documents case where the judge told prosecutors about their request for amid December start date, that's next.
COOPER: While we wait to see if the former president faces charges for efforts to overturn the 2020 election, there are the 37 counts he's already facing. The special prosecutor's other case the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. You'll recall, highly sensitive documents were found in stacked boxes located in the club's bathroom, the ballroom, the bedroom.
As mentioned earlier in the program, at a court hearing in Florida today, federal Judge Aileen Cannon, who is a Trump appointee, signaled a willingness to push back the trial date due to what she called a voluminous discovery in the case. Former president wasn't at the hearing, as co-defendant Walt Nauta, his body man was, and so was CNN's Paula Reid, who joins us now from the courthouse. So talk about what happened.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this was already going to be a significant hearing because this is the first time that Trump's attorneys and special counsel prosecutors were going to appear before Judge Aileen Cannon. She's a Trump appointed judge who will oversee this case.
But then it also happened just hours after the former president revealed that he had received a target letter in the special counsel's other probe. So all eyes were on the judge and looking to see just how receptive was she going to be to this Trump legal strategy to delay, delay, delay.
And from what I saw in court today, she is definitely open to delaying this trial, at least until next year. She told prosecutors that their proposal of doing this in December is just too soon. She said that was, quote, a compressed timeline and that cases like this take a lot longer.
Now, she's not necessarily leaving to -- willing to leave it completely open ended. She did tell defense attorneys that she at least needs to know from them. All right, how long is it going to take you to go through all this evidence and at least be able to propose your own trial date?
So, again, she is definitely sympathetic to the former president's argument that this just cannot go in December, which is a little good news for the former president today.
COOPER: The hearing was initially sought by prosecutors go over how the classified documents involved would be handled in the case. Was progress made on that point?
REID: Not much progress, certainly not as much as the special counsel would like. They are concerned that as it takes longer and longer for the two sides to agree to stipulations about how to handle classified documents, that has the impact, Anderson, of further delaying when this can go to trial.
What was also notable about today's hearing is both sides were really focused on this idea of Trump as a candidate and how that should impact the timing here. Prosecutors argue, look, he's no longer president. He should be treated as, quote, any other busy, important American. But his attorney said, no, he is a candidate. That does make this different.
And in order to be fair, this has to be pushed until after the election. But, Anderson, the judge was not interested in this question at all. She said, look, we're not litigating that right now. Instead, she's really focused on the mechanics.
How long is it going to take the lawyers to do the work they need to do to at least get some sort of trial date on the calendar? So I thought that was notable. She's not really getting into the constitutional questions. She's just looking at the mechanics, which is probably a very safe place for a judge under this much scrutiny to be.
COOPER: Paula Reid, thank you.
Elie Honig is back with me. Joining us as well is former federal Judge Nancy Gertner, who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard. Judge Gertner, what do you think is a reasonable amount of time for both sides to prepare?
NANCY GERTNER, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: It's hard to say in the abstract. But one of the things that has to be done is the date has to be set. Typically, what would have happened here is that the judge would say, OK, we'll say December 11th. And then as the months go on and it would be clear that there is this impediment and this obstacle, then you would extend it, and you'd extend it by a month and then another month.
The notion of trying now to predict whatever the issues are in advance is really a fool's errand in a way. She could keep December 11 and make it subject to delay when delay makes sense. One of the things I think it's clear she won't do, it sounds like from the hearing today, is to say an indefinite postponement. There isn't a defendant in the galaxy that wouldn't like an indefinite postponement of a trial.
In addition, one of the things I'd want to know is how fast trials typically go in Florida. Now, this case is not the usual case, but it should be variations on the usual theme as opposed to a completely different template.
COOPER: So, Elie, not a -- certainly not a good day for the Special Counsel's office.
HONIG: Yes, I think disappointing for DOJ if they wanted to get this thing to trial before the election. Two reasons, first of all, as Judge Gertner said, they don't have a trial date right now. We have a floating trial date. And trial dates only move one direction. They only get later and later.
They never get moved up earlier. And I think the table set now for Trump's team to drag their feet and get this to the election. The other thing is, as Paula reported, they didn't even get an agreement on how we're going to handle classified documents. Until that's in place, you can't even finish discovery in motion. So that's two losses.
COOPER: That was one of the criticisms that the Special Counsel had put forward in court documents, I think it was last week, saying, well, look, there's only two lawyers on the Trump team have even applied for the process to begin the process of getting clear to look at these documents.
HONIG: Yes, Trump's team is using that classified documents issue as a vehicle to drag their feet, and they also took their time sort of registering and signing up to get their clearances. So DOJ's right to call them out. They're using the classified issue to try to slow this down.
COOPER: Judge Gertner, I mean, there was some wrangling in the courtroom today about whether or not the case politically motivated. The prosecutors for the DOJ pointed to the appointment of the Special Counsel on the indictment by the grand jury. Do you think the indictment is strong enough on its own to prove there wasn't any political influence?
GERTNER: The indictment was a speaking indictment. The indictment on its own lays out what -- it seems to be an open and shut case. In other words, documents were found, they were illegitimately in his -- in, you know, at Mar-a-Lago. He had no right to have them.
You know, there are variations on that theme. Did he have a right to have them? Did he know that they were there? What was his intent? But it seems to me the reason why the Special Counsel began with this is because this is, by far, the clearest case.
I agree with what Elie said a moment ago, which is that you would have thought that at the very least, what should have come out of this hearing was, here are the procedures to deal with classified documents. The Special Counsel went out of his way to turn over documents, non-classified documents at the outset in ways that prosecutors never do, to try to hasten this.
So there really is no excuse to not at least set a trial date and not at least set down the procedures for dealing with classified documents.
COOPER: So Elie, now there has to be, what, another hearing in order to figure out how to handle the classified documents and whether -- I don't know if that -- would the timing be settled at that hearing as well?
HONIG: Yes, so there needs to be another hearing. And if I'm Trump's lawyers, I'm just going to say, no, no, I don't agree to anything. Then the judge has to set a motion briefing schedule. That can take as long as a month, six weeks for each of three rounds of briefing that have to go into emotions.
And then, presumably, there will be a trial date set. The other problem, let's remember, we have a state trial in Manhattan for the hush money payments already taking up the end of March. That'll go into April. So that's blocked off, too. So the options are narrowing here to get this thing in realistically.
COOPER: All right, Elie Honig, Judge Nancy Gertner, thanks so much for your time.
Coming up next, one-on-one with 2024 Republican presidential candidate Will Hurd. Get his take on the former president's mounting legal problems as the special counsel digs into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
COOPER: Back to our top story tonight, former President Trump saying he's been told by Special Counsel Jack Smith he's a target of the criminal investigation to efforts to overturn the 2020 election that could signal charges are imminent or prosecutors could decide not to charge him.
Will Hurd, who also seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, wrote on Twitter, "Losing to Joe Biden was so humiliating to Donald Trump that he was willing to let people die for his lies about a stolen election. That's what January 6 was about".
Hurd is a former three-term Republican congressman from Texas and a former CIA officer, and he joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us.
WILL HURD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks for having me on.
COOPER: So --
HURD: And for quoting me right.
[20:55:04] COOPER: Well, I stumbled on it, but I think I got it right. What is your reaction to the news of the day?
HURD: Well, it's more of the same. It's more baggage. It's more drama. It's more about him. It's more about, you know, him not protecting the Constitution. It's shocking, and it prevents us from talking about the real issues of the day, right?
We had, you know, poor migrants drowning in the Rio Grande River, right? We had what's going on in Ukraine. And instead, we're talking about things that happened in the past.
COOPER: And that's not going to -- I mean, there's no way that that's going to change between now and Election Day. I mean, today wasn't just this letter. It was the court case in Florida. It was the --
COOPER: -- you know, fake electors in Michigan.
HURD: Look, the other thing that's like shocking to me is how some of the other candidates in this race have responded. And newsflash. If you're afraid of Donald Trump, then you're not ready to be President of the United States.
I don't understand how some folks like Governor DeSantis is more afraid of transgender kids and Donald Trump and Cinderella instead of doing and talking about how we should be stopping war criminals like Vladimir Putin, and instead he wants to discriminate against our friends in the LGBTQ community.
I don't understand that. But here's what I'm learning, right? When I go to places like New Hampshire and talk about the things that people are worried about, they're worried about this new Cold War with China. They're worried about how is A. Is a robot going to take my job?
They're worried about making sure their kids have proper education regardless of their age or location. And that's a message that we're taking to places all across the country. And that's what people want to see.
COOPER: When you hear Speaker McCarthy today saying -- coming out early this morning -- saying, well, Joe Biden saw Donald Trump's poll numbers go up, so he weaponized the Department of Justice to get the former president. Is that a responsible thing for the Speaker of the House to say?
HURD: Look, I don't think the president has the capability to do something like that.
COOPER: It doesn't work that way.
HURD: It doesn't work that way. And let's be honest. If Donald Trump is the nominee, the Republican nominee for president, he will lose to Joe Biden. We are giving four more years to Joe Biden. And anybody -- let's go through this little exercise. What independent or Democrat voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and then all of a sudden woke up and be like, you know what? Donald Trump's my guy. It doesn't exist.
And so, look, I think your earlier panel was talking about how the reason we have problems is because of the primaries. Only 23 percent of Americans actually vote in primaries. If we had more people voting in primaries, would have better options in November. That's why I'm hoping people that are watching your show want to see someone that's not afraid of Donald Trump and who has a vision for --
COOPER: Why is it that it's only you, Chris Christie, former Governor Asa Hutchinson, who have been willing to be tough against the former president?
HURD: Because everybody else is afraid of Donald Trump. And why that is? They have to make that decision. You have to ask them those questions. And we need to be putting forward a vision of the future. We need to be -- we have a real opportunity.
Seven out of 10 Americans do not want Joe Biden to be president. This is a chance for the GOP to take our brand, to take our message to places that has never gone before.
COOPER: Is it too late, though, for the GOP? I mean --
COOPER: -- that wasn't the time to do that on January -- the night of January 6 and January 7 and?
HURD: Look, anybody who is watching your show that is sick and tired of the baggage of Donald Trump, there's one easy way to deal with this. Beat him in a primary, right? Look, all of these court cases are probably going to last longer than anybody expects, but the opportunity -- and there is opportunity to win.
This is not -- everybody says, he's has a commanding lead. Look, anything is possible if you work hard. The numbers exist for him to be beat. There are more people that dislike Donald Trump in the Republican Party than like him.
And so this is the opportunity. We have 26 weeks to pull this off. I hope some of your voters go to hurdforamerica.com, help me get $1 so I can meet those requirements to be on the debate stage, so that we can have a real competition of ideas. Because -- and you know this, we are faced with a number of generational defining challenges.
And if all we're doing is litigating stuff in the past and dealing with Donald Trump's baggage, we're not going to be able to make sure that the rest of the century stays the American century.
COOPER: Do you think you're going to be able to get on the debate stage?
HURD: We're working towards that. We're working towards that hard. People appreciate someone who's willing to fight Vladimir Putin, not, you know, poor, you know, LGBTQ teams. People are interested in helping someone that cares about how do we deal with things like technology and artificial intelligence and how that's going to impact every single industry.
So, yes, we're working hard. And I think it's about 35 days until that debate. But everybody has to do is go to hurdforamerica.com and $1. That's all you got to do.
COOPER: Will Hurd, thank you very much.
HURD: Thanks, buddy.
COOPER: Appreciate it.
The news continues. The Source of Kaitlan Collins starts now