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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Special Counsel Obtains Thousands Of Documents From Giuliani Team That Tried to Find Fraud After 2020 Election; Romney Urges Donors To Help Exit Non-Viable GOP Candidates From 2024 Race; IAEA Discovers Mines At Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant; Boxes Taken From Home Of Gilgo Beach Suspect; K9 And Ground-Penetrating Radar Used In Yard; Nikkie Brass Says She Went On A Date With The Gilgo Beach Suspect In 2015; DOJ Sues Texas After GOP Gov. Abbott Refused To Remove Floating Barriers From Rio Grande; "Barbenheimer" Tops Expectations, Both Movies Earn A Combined $244.4 Million At U.S. Movie Theaters. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired July 24, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: A sergeant at the police department tells "Out Front" the infant was out of the car by the time the police arrived. We're told the baby is doing fine and didn't need further medical attention. Thank goodness for that.

And thanks to all of you for joining us.

AC 360 begins right now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Tonight in 360: Did the former president once actually praised election security? New reporting on what he said weeks before he began attacking it in the run up to the 2020 election.

Also tonight, Mitt Romney issuing a warning and a timeline for low polling presidential candidates to get out of the race to save the party from a third Trump nomination.

And the latest on the alleged Gilgo Beach killer. Meet the woman who says she went on a date with him and survived.

Good evening.

We begin with new information about Special Counsel Jack Smith's keen interest in a 2020 Oval Office meeting that has not been previously reported on. The meeting took place in February 2020.

In attendance were the former president, senior US officials, and White House staff. Sources tell CNN that Smith is focused on comments the former president made during this meeting about the state of US election security and how those private remarks may differ from the baseless lies he would start publicly spreading about election fraud in the coming weeks. Legal analysts suggest that one hurdle Smith has to overcome in any

potential indictment of the former president on charges related to attempts to overturn the election is whether he can prove the former president actually knew he'd lost.

It's been eight day since the former president was informed he was a target in the January 6 investigation, a possible indictment could come as soon as tomorrow when the grand jury meets again.

Our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez who helped break the story about this meeting joins us now with more. So, what more have you learned?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this is a meeting that happened in February of 2020 and the former president was encouraging some of his top officials, people from the Homeland Security Department, people from the FBI, to go out and tell the public all of the great work they had done to secure the 2020 election.

He was very proud of the work that they said they had done. He said, you should go out and do a public press conference to try to tell the public about this.

Of course, this -- within weeks, the former president began talking about his concerns that the 2020 vote would be the subject of fraud, that there would be interference in the election, including because the Democrats were using mail-in ballots.

Of course, we know, Anderson that once the former president realized that he had not won the election, once he did not like the election results, he quickly abandoned all of those experts who he had been -- who had stood with him, obviously, and were starting to listen to people, his non-experts, people who are telling him that the election had been interfered with by Venezuela, by China, and of course, by Italian satellites, all of which, of course, was false.

COOPER: So what does this meeting mean for Jack Smith's investigation?

PEREZ: Well, one of the things as you pointed out, for Jack Smith and his prosecution team will be trying to decipher what the former president actually believed. Did he actually think there was fraud? Did he think that this election had been interfered with by Venezuela or the Chinese satellites?

That is one of the key things for prosecutors to try to cross the hurdle, certainly if they bring a case against the former president. So we expect certainly from one of the questions that we understand witnesses were asked, the prosecutor seem very much focused on that, the former president's state of mind, whether he actually believed these bogus claims, or whether he really believed his experts that the election was, as the Homeland Security Department said, the most secure in US history.

COOPER: There is also new reporting regarding thousands of documents related to Rudy Giuliani that have been turned over to the special counsel.

PEREZ: Right. This finally got into the hands of the special counsel team just yesterday, on Sunday, and that is Bernie Kerik, the former police commissioner in New York, he had been working alongside Rudy Giuliani, again, trying to come up with some of the proof that they were looking for that there was actually this fraud or that there were actually problems in the election.

And so now, we know that thousands of pages of documents, things like witness statements and research, that Kerik and his team had prepared for Giuliani and some of the former president's allies, all of that now is in the hands of the special counsel.

Again, they have not had the access to this. This is something that the January 6 committee in Congress had asked for and did not receive. And so, Anderson, one of the things we're trying to figure out as we wait for the grand jury to reconvene tomorrow and certainly on Thursday is whether this batch of new documents, thousands of pages is something that puts off their work or you know, finally completing their work, buy some time or whether this is something that perhaps they already have enough evidence that they are ready to go forward with an indictment -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Evan Perez, appreciate it.

Perspective now from senior legal analyst, Elie Honig, former assistant US attorney and author of "Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It."


So how does the former president or the president at the time praising election security and the efforts of election security folks, how does that interest Jack Smith?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So this case, Anderson, for prosecutors is going to be all about proving criminal intent. In fact, proving what Donald Trump actually did is not going to be that tough, because a lot of it was done publicly, a lot of it was captured on audio or videotape.

What you have to prove, and this is the hardest part is that Donald Trump knew that what he was doing, knew that what he was asking for was fraudulent, was false.

And so as a prosecutor, this is a great starting point to make that argument. You say ultimately to a jury, look, here he is. He is getting advice from the best election security experts in the world in his own administration, and not only is he accepting it, he is celebrating it, and then later on, he would argue there are times when he acknowledges to certain witnesses -- Mark Milley, Alyssa Farah -- that he knew he had lost the election, and still other times there are reliable people telling him, you've lost the election.

And so all taken, you know that he knew he lost and this was therefore a fraud. COOPER: I mean, couldn't somebody who believes the foreign president

looked at it and say, well, doesn't this show that he was concerned about election security and genuinely interested in election security?

HONIG: There is always going to be a defense, there's always going to be another side, and I think Trump's team will look at this meeting and say, this proves that he was very hands-on, very concerned about election security.

And later on when some of his advisers -- Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and others -- told him there was fraud, that when he was reaching out to Georgia and these other states, he was simply trying to act on that concern, act on that information.

Now, we may say, who would trust Rudy and Sidney Powell? His response to that, I think would be, sure, maybe I was wrong, but you can't say that's criminal. That's not necessarily a fraud.

COOPER: Although there was never any actual evidence that showed fraud and courts ruled that time and time again.

HONIG: Exactly. I think that gets to the second story that Evan was just talking about, that the only evidence that was ever ginned up was sort of nonsense, these documents that Rudy Giuliani put together that amount to nothing and that was all really a pretext. And hence, again, our prosecutors would argue, hence he had criminal intent, and hence it was a fraud.

COOPER: It does give a sense that Jack Smith is going -- you know, we all knew about the Oval Office meeting that Jack Smith, or we all knew because of CNN and others reporting, but that Jack Smith was looking at one Oval Office meeting, but it certainly looks as if he is looking forward back into the history time machine.

HONIG: Yes, this is yet another indication that Jack Smith is looking at this case as a long lasting broad base conspiracy. In fact, the events of January 6, 2021 itself seemed to me like they're going to be maybe a final chapter or sort of a postscript.

But the conspiracy I think, Jack Smith will argue goes back even well, before the election that Donald Trump had it in his head for months before the election that win or lose, and he lost, he was still going to claim that there was fraud. And that was really the conspiracy in action for many, many months before this.

COOPER: I mean, you've said in the past that this was a really hard case to bring. Do you still believe that?

HONIG: Yes, I do think it's a difficult case. I mean, first of all, no one should ever -- don't ever believe anyone who says this is a smoking gun, this is a slam dunk case, especially when you get into issues of intent, like we're talking about here. And remember, it's not just who has the better of the argument. Prosecutors have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

And then on top of that, Donald Trump is a polarizing figure. If this case goes to trial, it will either be near the 2024 election, maybe after the 2024 election. If he loses, you've got to get all 12 jurors to convict.

And so I think this is a worthy case based on what we know. I think it's a justifiable case, a righteous case, but it is not an easy case.

COOPER: All right, Elie Honig, thanks so much.

Despite the former president's multiple legal issues, two new polls from Fox Business show they are not stopping his political momentum. In Iowa, 46 percent of likely voters prefer the former president, 46 percent, that's 30 points above Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and 16, Tim Scott, South Carolina senator, the only other candidate double digits is at 11 percent in that poll.

In South Carolina, the former president is at 48 percent. That's 34 points ahead of South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley at 14 percent, DeSantis has 13 percent and Scott is at 10 percent.

We should note, both polls were conducted July 15th through the 19th. The former president announced he'd received the target letter from the DOJ on the 18th.

Now this afternoon, as we mentioned, Senator Mitt Romney published a new op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal." The headline reads: Donors don't fund a Trump plurality, and it asked the donors to lower polling candidates, nudge them toward the exit when it becomes apparent they can't win the nomination.

Quoting Senator Romney: "Left to their own inclinations, expect several of the contenders to stay in the race for a long time. They will split the non-Trump vote giving him the prize. A plurality is all that's needed for a winner take all primaries."

I am joined now by two senior political commentators, Adam Kinzinger, former Republican congressman who served in the House January 6 Select Committee; and David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama.

So Congressman, according this polling, the former president has obviously a commanding lead in two key early primary states. It doesn't appear as though legal troubles amount too much for his supporters in those states. Do you think another indictment from the special counsel makes a difference?


ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I mean, no. I think, look, every indictment, every legal issue makes it less likely that Donald Trump wins the presidency because certainly, I think Independents this will affect, and you know, it will drive turnout from the Democrats and may depress turnout a little bit on the Republicans.

But look, it is a sign of your fealty to republicanism, if you just want to own the libs. If owning the Libs includes, I'm going to put Donald Trump back in despite all of this, and there's obviously this information warfare out there from the party from other networks and stuff that basically is just saying this is one big attack by the deep state against Donald Trump.

So I think -- I don't know if this one strengthens him, per se. I don't think it's going to hurt him, but I do think when it comes to the general election, it makes it again, thankfully, far less likely he can win.

COOPER: David, Senator Romney certainly seems to be making a sensible point. If one is a Republican and you don't want Trump to be elected, is he right? I mean, should certain GOP candidates drop out when their paths become impossible?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, the problem is that you have to have someone to run against Trump. You know, people have to coalesce around a candidate and no one has, at this juncture shown themselves to be that strong candidate who can take Trump on.

Look, the bottom line is, half the Republican electorate or more want Donald Trump; half the Republican electorate or more, despite what Adam just said, and I agree with him believe that Trump would be the strongest candidate. Those are the facts.

And I have enormous respect for Senator Romney, and a lot of my friends who say similar things, but they have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that this Republican Party is not their Republican Party.

This Republican Party is not the party that Mitt Romney ran in, even in 2012. This is Donald Trump's party. And right now, he is in command and every one of these indictments is a certification that he is taking on the deep state, he is taking on the establishment and this is their revenge, and people are lining up, and they're lining up behind him. He has a larger lead now than when the indictments began.

COOPER: Congressman, the DeSantis campaign, they're now talking about pivoting to a "leaner and meaner" operation after obviously failing to gain traction in these early polling. I mean, did the governor miscalculate by leaning so hard into culture war issues right out of the gate, was not being lean and mean the issue?

KINZINGER: Yes, I mean, I think his issue was thinking and I think his plan was, Donald Trump will be indicted, this is what he was hoping, he will naturally through miracles and unicorns and a man on a white horse that doesn't exist, be kind of taken out of the race, and DeSantis then, he is Trump-like. He is a younger version of Donald Trump. That was his play.

It's not working, because if you want Donald Trump, guess what? You're going to vote for Donald Trump.

I think DeSantis is -- I think he's DOA in this election. I think the only people, this is just a wild guess, I think the only people that have a shot besides Donald Trump, potentially Tim Scott. Tim Scott has always been kind of the guy who said, I think really

could surprise people similar to Bill Clinton in '92, when nobody had heard of him for a little bit.

Chris Christie actually has a shot if there is a widespread kind of understanding that Donald Trump is utterly unfit for office, and he has been the one who has really taken Donald Trump on head on. It's a very small path, of course.

And then I think -- you know, I think it's people like that may have a shot. But no, this is Donald Trump's campaign and this is Donald Trump's race. He is probably going to win this primary, but that doesn't mean by the way, other Republicans listening to this that don't like Donald Trump, stay on top of this, try to save the party, because it's a noble fight.

And frankly, the Republican Party will burn down in the general election in 2024, if in fact it is Donald Trump, and that's when you can rebuild.

COOPER: David, I mean, do you -- what about your assessment? I mean, is DeSantis, in the Congressman's words, DOA? What do you think about Tim Scott and Chris Christie or anybody? Is there anybody else who can --

AXELROD: Yes, there are several -- I mean, I've never really bought the DeSantis thing for a number of reasons. One is, if you have a choice between a replica, you know, a new and improved MAGA Trump kind of guy, you know, people want the real thing. They've made that clear. They don't want the new and improved product.

COOPER: No one like New Coke when it came out.

AXELROD: The second one thing is, DeSantis is -- exactly. He is the New Coke of the Republican Party right now.

The second element is, you know, his one critique of Trump is that he is a loser, but he won't even acknowledge that Trump lost and I don't think that is lost on people.


You know he is coming across as a politician and Trump's supporters don't view him as a politician. They view him as an anti-politician. They view him as the leader of a movement, and it is hard to be a conventional politician.

By the way, you know, he announced that he is going to do this reboot, and he is going to become lean and mean at a meeting of his high dollar donors in Utah, and that is exactly what the people who have questions about DeSantis fear is that he is actually the establishment's candidate to take out Trump.

So the one thing, Anderson, I want to say. I've heard a lot of Republicans including Tim Scott, in the last few days, when the latest indictment letter, when the target letter went out, they said, well, I was at the Capitol and Donald Trump wasn't there. He didn't provoke this. It was the people who came.

I don't think that's what this indictment is going to be about. I don't think they're going to indict him for provoking the riot and the insurrection at the Capitol. They're going to indict him for months and months of scheming and plotting to overturn an election, and when the facts of that come out, they're going to have to reboot and I don't know how they explain it, you know.

COOPER: They can also just pretend like they've been pretending that they never said it or just moved on.

Adam Kinzinger, David Axelrod --

AXELROD: And show up at the convention where they nominate Donald Trump.

COOPER: Yes. Thanks very much.

Coming up next, breaking news on what was found at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that is of concern. Also air raid sirens in Odesa tonight as Ukrainians face and other possible night of Russian attacks. A live report from Odesa ahead.

Later, my conversation with a woman named Nikki Brass. She says she went on a date with the man now accused of being the Gilgo Beach killer and he talked about the killings on their date.



COOPER: It is breaking news out of Ukraine: Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency say they've discovered mines at the site of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The IAEA says they are anti-personnel mines on the periphery of the site. The plant is currently occupied by Russian forces. Now the announcement comes is the southern port city of Odesa is being hit on with nightly by Russian attacks, the city bracing for the hours ahead. Moments ago, CNN heard air raid sirens go off on the ground in Odesa.

On Sunday, a Russian missile hit Odesa's historic Cathedral in addition to other historic buildings. Officials say, it is now -- the Cathedral is structurally unsound now.

This morning, Ukrainian officials confirmed they had carried out drone attacks on to non-residential buildings in Moscow. One of the buildings was located near the headquarters of Russia's Defense Ministry. Russian officials say they thwarted that attack.

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins us right now from Odesa.

So what more do we know about these mines at Zaporizhzhia?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is the biggest in Europe and of course, anytime you hear the word explosives alongside nuclear power plant, that's never a good thing.

But we are hearing from Rafael Grossi, who is the head of the IAEA who says that his experts from the agency were at the plant on Sunday, they did spot these mines, which had been talked about before, including by President Zelenskyy.

These are directional anti-personnel mines, which are designed to maim, to hurt, to kill people. They are pointing away from the plant. We are told, obviously that doesn't give any kind of comfort.

The IAEA in a statement, essentially stating the obvious saying that this goes against the safety standards and nuclear security guidance of the agency. They do note that they were told that this was a military decision in an area controlled by the military. As you noted, this is the Russian military that controls this area.

President Zelenskyy had warned that this area had been mined, and he had also warned, Anderson, that Russia may carry out some kind of provocative action and then try to try to blame it on Ukraine -- Anderson.

COOPER: And what's been going on in Odesa?

MARQUARDT: Well, this has been a week now since these incredible attacks that we've seen almost nightly, very intense both in the city and all over the region.

Tonight, we did hear air raid sirens. There was a warning that perhaps drones might be on their way to the city. That air raid siren was eventually called off. And since then, it has been relatively calm.

But we have seen incredible levels of destruction, primarily in the city center, that historic city center that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Transfiguration Cathedral was severely damaged, probably got the most damage in the city. We were there for hours earlier today. We saw the windows blown out in the dome. We saw the altar that had been very badly damaged, the corner of the cathedral where a rocket had come in and gone down two floors.

So it was pretty bad, and it was one of the 25 architectural monuments we are told by a local military official that was damaged in a strike on Sunday.

And then today, early in the morning, there were drone strikes against a port far west in the Odesa province on the Danube River right up against the border with Romania.

So not only were they targeting a grain storage facility, continuing to go after these grain and food facilities, but Anderson this was the strike that was closest to a NATO country by Russia's military since this war began, these drones striking a site just hundreds of yards from the Romanian border, which of course is a NATO member -- Anderson.

COOPER: And what about the drone strikes in Moscow? MARQUARDT: Well, we understand that there were two strikes, two drones

that were flown into Moscow, Ukrainian drones. Ukraine very quickly claiming responsibility, and that raises the question of whether this was part of the retaliation that President Zelenskyy had promised that Russia would feel because of all these strikes that they've been carrying out here in Odesa.

They didn't cause that much damage, certainly less damage than we've seen here in Odesa, but they were suppressed according to Russian authorities, taken down by electronic jamming.

They hit what Russian authorities called non-residential buildings. One of them hitting an area with some extremely sensitive buildings, a Ministry of Defense complex where there are a number of different offices for the Russian military, including one cyber unit that does carry out cyber operations for the GRU, which is military intelligence.

COOPER: Alex Marquardt, in Odesa, thanks very much.

I'm joined now by our national security analyst, Steve Hall, former CIA chief of Russia Operations. So what do you find most notable about the drone attacks in Moscow near the Defense Ministry?


STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, the drone attacks, Anderson are quite interesting. I mean, obviously, the Ministry of Defense inside of Russia is certainly an obvious target for the Ukrainians, especially if they want to send a message. It's right on what they refer to as a (INAUDIBLE), which is right along the Moscow River.

It's not just one building. There's a cluster of buildings, as Alex was alluding to. There is some GRU activity as well. And my understanding is that they got -- the drone itself got within about half a block of the main Ministry of Defense building in the south of Moscow.

The second one a little further outside, outside what they refer to as the MCOD (ph), which is sort of the beltway that goes around the outskirts of Moscow. It's in the southwestern region, but it is interesting, it's only a few miles away from a place called (INAUDIBLE), which is the head of the SVR Headquarters in Moscow. So unclear as to whether or not that was a target or not.

But the really interesting part of all of this, I think, is the Ukrainians now claiming responsibility, and in my view, they're trying to determine or trying to encourage, I suppose the Russian people to say, well, this is now at our doorstep, the war is here, we've got to do something about this and maybe it has to do with complaining to the government or getting rid of the government.

Of course, it's possible the Russians might also, wow, it's at our doorstep, we need to fight harder. So it'll be interesting to see the reaction of the Russian people, as these direct attacks on Moscow continue, which I think they probably will.

COOPER: Is it clear to you if these drones are being flown from Ukrainian territory? Or if they're being launched from inside Russia itself or in Moscow?

HALL: Yes, that's asking the right question, Anderson, because I think a lot of it depends on the type of drone. So I think, you know, when many of us here in the United States, and in Western countries think of drones, we think of the little photograph type of drones that have the four little propellers, those you need to be really close by to control those things.

So if you're talking about a smaller drone like that, you've got to have somebody closer by, but if you're talking about some of these journals, like for example, the Iranian ones that the Russians are using, those can be controlled from much further away.

So I think a lot remains to be determined as to what type of drawn whether they had explosives and most importantly, as you ask where they're being controlled from.

COOPER: Yes, Steve Hall, I appreciate it. Thank you. We want to show you some images now from Israel, hundreds of thousands protesting one of the most significant shakeups to the country's legal system since its founding.

The first in a series of bills meant to reshape the country's judiciary passed earlier today. It strips Israel's Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions unreasonable. The bill passed despite six months of protests and American pressure. Critics say the bills undermine the country's checks and balances system and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing these bills in part to protect himself from his own corruption trial.

Netanyahu and his allies said the bills are meant to rebalance powers between the branches of government.

Next for us, the investigation continues in to the suspect accused of killing three of the Gilgo Four. I'll speak with a woman who says she went on a date with the alleged killer and says he talked about the killings with her.



COOPER: Just in tonight, investigators on the Gilgo Beach serial murder case were just seen taking boxes of what appear to be evidence from the suspect's New York home. Earlier, investigators searched his yard using a K-9 and ground penetrating radar. Authorities are also looking to his properties in South Carolina, Nevada.

Rex Heuermann is charged with murdering the deaths of three of the Gilgo Four. The 59-year-old architect is also the prime suspect in the disappearance and killing of the fourth woman, but he hasn't been charged yet in that case. Now, the Gilgo Four were a group of women whose remains were found near Long Island's Gilgo Beach in 2010.

Heuermann had been pleaded -- or excuse me, has pleaded not guilty in three of those murders. Earlier, I spoke with a makeup artist and a hair and makeup artist named Nikkie Brass. She says she went on a date with the suspect in the summer of 2015.


COOPER: How did you first encounter the man you believe to be the Gilgo killer?

NIKKIE BRASS, SAYS SHE WENT ON A DATE WITH REX HEUERMANN: I don't believe it to be him, for one. I --

COOPER: You're convinced this is him?

BRASS: I am convinced. I am 1,000 percent sure.

COOPER: So this guy reaches out to you. Did he say immediately he wanted you to come to his house?

BRASS: Yes. But the issue was he was in Nassau County and he was in Massapequa, and I'm not familiar with the area and I'm very locationally challenged. Like, I need a GPS to go home, and I could live there for five years. Like, I'm bad.


BRASS: So, and I didn't have friends nearby in case anything happened. So I asked him if he would meet me in Port Jeff at the Steam Room, because in Port Jeff it's a small town --

COOPER: That's a restaurant?



BRASS: It's a small town. I knew the area. I had friends locally and people nearby that if something were to go wrong, they could be there quickly.

COOPER: So you do meet with him at the restaurant in Port Jefferson?

BRASS: Yes. Well, before I met him, I was at Chuck E. Cheese with my sister, and I had said to her -- I showed her a picture, and I said, hey, this is who I'm going out with tonight. If anything happens, this is what he looks like.


BRASS: And I would do that for every time. I did it just for my own safety.

COOPER: No, I think I jumped ahead. So he reached out to you. You asked him for a picture? BRASS: Yes, because I said I wanted to know who I was looking for. I didn't want to show up at a restaurant and be like, who's meeting me here, you know what I mean?

COOPER: So, and you showed the picture to your sister and gave her the picture?

BRASS: I didn't give it to her. I showed it to her on my phone, and I said, this is who I'm going to be with. So you know what he looks like and who it is. At the time, we used fake names, so he couldn't give her a name. And then we met -- we didn't meet in front of his car or where I could have gotten a plate or a description of it. We met directly in front of the restaurant.

COOPER: What do you think when you first saw him?

BRASS: Oh, my God. He's massive. At the time, I was, you know, 24 years old. I was like 120, 130 pounds, hadn't, you know, had kids yet, and he was a gigantic man. Like, I had to look up at him gigantic. And it wasn't just his height, it was his weight, it was everything. He was just this huge, very, like, overbearing type of weight. Like, he almost carried his weight to intimidate.

COOPER: And what was he like when you were sitting across the table from him?

BRASS: So before we sat down, he shook my hand, which I just have to say, there is no reason to have a handshake out firm. Like --


COOPER: He had a really strong hand to shake?

BRASS: Yes, I get that firm handshake to show confidence. Do you know what I mean?


BRASS: But his was, like --

COOPER: Like aggressive, like --

BRASS: Like an aggressive grip, you know what I mean? Other than that, he seemed normal. He seemed like -- he told me, hey, well, first of all, right, when we sat down, I said, hi, it's nice to meet you. My real name is Nikkie. And he just said Rex. He didn't give me a last name or anything.

We sat down. He seemed perfectly normal at first. He seemed like your typical guy who was bored with his life, you know, and wanted some kind of excitement. You know what I mean? It didn't get weird until he asked me if I was a true crime fan.

COOPER: Wait a minute, he asked you if you were a true crime fan?

BRASS: He asked if I was a true crime fan, and I am, like -- COOPER: Yes.

BRASS: -- I'm a serial killer buff. I won't even lie.


BRASS: It was when he said, well, do you know about the Gilgo Beach murders?

COOPER: He actually brought it up?

BRASS: Yes. He said so -- he said to me, exactly, do you know about the Gilgo Beach murders? And I was like, yes, from Long Island. Everybody from Long Island knows about them. You know what I mean? And that's when he started talking about it.

But here's the thing. When he brought it up, his whole demeanor changed. He sat up straighter, you know? He had, like, a smirk on his face. He seemed almost, like, too excited to talk about it. And then once he did start talking about it, it didn't seem like a true crime fan who just knows information they've seen on TV or read. It seemed like somebody who was reliving it.

One thing I remember specifically was he said to me, how do you think they get rid of the bodies without going noticed? And I said, I have no clue. I've never been to Gilgo Beach. I don't know the access points. Like, I couldn't tell you anything about it. I have no idea.

And he said, what if they treaded through the marsh with the burlap sacks? You would never see them. He's like, it's a very dark and desolate area.

COOPER: What happened that day? You decide, at some point, this is not a good idea.

BRASS: So after he started talking about everything, he ended it with saying, oh, I live by Gilgo Beach. First of all --

COOPER: Are you kidding me?

BRASS: I'm not. After telling me all of this, you then tell me you live near Gilgo Beach, and it's dark and desolate, so that weirded me out of nowhere.

COOPER: And that's where he wanted you to go, to his house?


COOPER: Near Gilgo Beach?

BRASS: Yes. When I wouldn't go with him, that's when he started seeming visually very agitated, almost like I put in all this work. I came all the way out to Suffolk. I took you to dinner, I met you in public. Why are you not going back with me? Like, almost like, I owed it to him. And that's when, like, he even though he seemed agitated, he used his, like, weight and size to almost try to intimidate me even more.

COOPER: Thank goodness you didn't.

BRASS: I was terrified. I called somebody and meet me in the parking lot to make sure I got to my car OK.

COOPER: When you saw the news break and you saw his picture --

BRASS: I immediately texted my little sister and told her to go look at the news. And I said, I was right. I knew it. Because after that dinner, for years, I'm telling you, years, I told everybody. I'm telling you, I went to dinner with the Gilgo Beach killer. I know it's him. I went to dinner with him.

And I mean, when he got arrested, my sister recognized him. But not only that, it's hard to forget somebody who's like, 6'6, 300 pounds, who's an architect in Manhattan and lives in Massapequa. You know, those are very specific details.

COOPER: So when you saw his image, though, once the news broke, you were like, 1,000 percent, that is the guy.

BRASS: I'm so sure I could sit across from him today and I'd be like, I know you remember me. And if you try saying you don't, you're lying. I know he knows who I am.

COOPER: You know, this is an important point. You changed -- your life has changed a lot since then.

BRASS: Yes. And that's why I came out. And the point I'm making, I don't want to drag my whole history through the mud where everybody knows I'm a former escort or I suffered from addiction or this and that. I want people to realize that I am a mom and a hairstylist and a makeup artist, and I was able to change my life. And these girls weren't.

They didn't get the opportunity to get out of that situation. And most people in that situation are vulnerable and desperate and have no other means or outlet or ways to go.

COOPER: And that's one reason perhaps he was targeting --


COOPER: -- you?


BRASS: I think he targeted women that were less likely to go to police. And that's another reason I'm coming forward, because I feel like there's women out there who probably had a lot more of a dangerous encounter with him than I did and got away who are too scared to talk about it.

COOPER: Nikkie, I wish you the best. Thank you so much for talking.

BRASS: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.


COOPER: Still ahead tonight, "Texas will see you in court". Those are the words today from the governor of the state, the Justice Department, after Texas officials put floating barriers in the Rio Grande River to try to deter migrants from crossing the border. The latest in legal battle and how one property owner says she is impacted by it all.


COOPER: Tonight, new developments in the legal fight between Texas and the Justice Department. The DOJ is now suing the state after Republican Governor Greg Abbot refused to remove floating barriers from Rio Grande. Governor Abbott argues the barriers deter migrants from crossing into the state. But the Department of Justice alleges that Texas is violating federal law.

CNN's Rosa Flores spoke with a property owner who's been impacted by the state's efforts to ward off migrants. Here's her report.


MAGALI URBINA, TEXAS LANDOWNER: We are at the south end of our property, driving along the river.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Magali Urbina owns a pecan orchard in Eagle Pass, Texas, and says her river front property used to be beautiful.


URBINA: My husband and I would come out fishing in this area. It's really pretty.

FLORES (voice-over): But she says the state of Texas installed concertina wire blocking her access to her own property by barricading the gates with metal and piles of dirt.

URBINA: Now it just looks like a war zone.

FLORES (voice-over): Historically, it's been a popular migrant crossing because the water levels of the Rio Grande are low. And most recently, Texas deployed a floating border barrier without obtaining permits from the federal government, says the state department. The buoys are 4 feet in diameter and anchored to the bottom of the Rio Grande.

URBINA: It surprised me that they're just did in front of my property.

FLORES (voice-over): Her property is in the Del Rio border patrol sector, the busiest sector on the southern border last month with more than 24,000 migrant crossings. After Mexico's top diplomat complained about the buoys violating two treaties and more than 80 U.S. Democratic lawmakers urged President Joe Biden to take legal action against Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's barbaric treatment. It's extreme cruelty.

FLORES (voice-over): The Justice Department did just that.

(on-camera): Did they deny you water?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Foreign Language)

FLORES (voice-over): This as two pregnant migrants who did not wish to show their faces tell CNN they were initially denied water by Texas National Guard members as they tried to turn themselves into U.S. immigration authorities.

(on-camera): She says that the Texas National Guard at first denied her water, and then afterwards, they did give them water, but it was one bottle of water for two to three people.

Law enforcement in airboats circled them, knocking them over after showing them handcuffs for requesting water, the other migrants said. The Texas National Guard did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

These accounts come after a Texas DPS trooper blew the whistle last week, saying Texas had been treating migrants inhumanely when troopers were ordered to push migrants back into the river and deny them water. Texas DPS now saying the trooper misunderstood orders.

LT. CHRIS OLIVAREZ, TEXAS DEPT., PUBLIC SAFETY: If a member from one of our leadership or a supervisor tells a trooper to push back migrants, what that means is to verbally tell them, go to a port of entry.

FLORES (voice-over): The billions of dollars Texas is spending to stop illegal immigration clearly not stopping the migration flow.

URBINA: I have seen people died from heat stroke on the property.

FLORES (voice-over): Urbina worries that while the U.S. DOJ and Texas duke it out in court --

URBINA: It's very frustrating.

FLORES (voice-over): -- migrants and property owners are caught in the middle.


COOPER: And Rosa Flores joins us now from Eagle Pass, Texas. So she doesn't have access to her property. Does it impact just her or is there a wider effect?

FLORES: There is a wider effect, but let me set the scene for you, Anderson, because her property is where these buoys are. And you can see if you take a look, they have a beginning and an end. It's a short strip of buoys, and they're just in front of her property. Now, if we pan back over, you'll see that there are gates like this one, like the one that you see here, and they're all barricaded. She has 352 acres of land, and they're all barricaded like this. So there's concertina wire. There's also a berm of dirt. You can tell that it is just barricaded. She has no access to her property.

But here's where the wider impact kicks in. She is actually leasing her property to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Take a look behind me, and you'll see that there's some equipment here that's been deployed. There's hand washing stations, port a potties tents. Those tents were used to provide first aid, to provide water to migrants.

Now, in that story, Anderson, we learned that this is the busiest Border Patrol sector right now, and you don't see anybody around me. Why is that? Well, that's because U.S. Customs and Border Protection also doesn't have access to this property. So they don't have access to the equipment that they have here to make sure that migrants are processed in a humane way. Anderson?

COOPER: Rosa Flores, thanks very much.

Coming up, how the movies "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" shattered expectations and delivered to the box office this weekend? Harry Enten breaks down the numbers.



COOPER: Big opening weekend in the box office for "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" , also dubbed as Barbenheimer. Here in the United States, the two very different blockbusters raked in a combined $244.4 million, according to, a big confidence boost for theaters that have been obviously suffering since the COVID pandemic.

"Barbie" came in first earning $162 million at U.S. theaters. The fantasy comedy focuses on the iconic Mattel dog Doll. Man, it's been a long day. The Mattel doll that debuted back in 1959. Full disclosure, film is from Warner Brothers pictures, which is owned by CNN's parent company. Even fuller disclosure, as you might guess, I'm one of the few people who has not seen the film.

The other big draw, "Oppenheimer" , which I really want to see -- and I do want to see "Barbie" -- earned $82.4 million. The biopic dives into the famed physicist and conflicted father of the atomic bomb.

More now from our Senior Data Reporter, Harry Enten. So compare this to other opening weekends. This was like, what, the -- I've read, it was like the fourth biggest.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes. I'm just surprised you haven't seen "Barbie". I'm very disappointed in you.

COOPER: I haven't gone to a theater in a long time.

ENTEN: We're going to work on that. Yes, it's the fourth largest ever opening weekend domestic wise.

COOPER: That's great. That's huge.

ENTEN: Absolutely fantastic --

COOPER: These theaters are desperate.

ENTEN: Theaters are desperate. Overall, year on year, you know, back, pre-pandemic, we're still down about 20 percent. So we need weekends like this to bring folks back to the --

COOPER: You say we, meaning like, are you a theater owner?

ENTEN: I'm not a theater owner --

COOPER: Bur you're an enthusiast.

ENTEN: I'm an enthusiast, right. And maybe one day, things that I want to potentially achieve is maybe --


ENTEN: -- opening up my own theater. Maybe then you would come to see the movie. But even more than that, you know, it's the number one box office weekend when you take away those films like the Avengers and Star Wars, you know, basically, these franchises.

COOPER: Right.

ENTEN: So what's amazing here is these are really original films --

COOPER: Right.

ENTEN: -- that were able to get the box office very large. And more than that, "Barbie" is the number one movie ever opening weekend directed by a woman.


ENTEN: So we're breaking ground in a lot of different ways.

COOPER: Here's the we again. You also have data -- you're --

ENTEN: I'm part of the people.

COOPER: You're part of the people breaking ground.


COOPER: No, that's good. You are a groundbreaker.


You also have data that reflects, like, where people loved it.

ENTEN: Yes. So what's really interesting, there's been sort of this map that's been making its way around social media, and I looked it up, and it's actually true. "Barbie" searches the top states for "Barbie" searches relative to "Oppenheimer" are actually states that look an awful bit like the electoral map from 2020, with "Barbie" having its highest searches in red states relative to blue.

20 of the top 25 states were actually states that Donald Trump won. And I wonder why this is occurring. I have two theories of the case. One, it could just be there are surprisingly, a lot of "Barbie" fans in red states.


ENTEN: You know, Magic Mike back from last decade, which I don't think a lot of Republicans necessarily like, actually performed best in red states. The other thing I'll note is that, you know, maybe it's the fact that this backlash, a lot of Republicans are looking it up in red states.

COOPER: And what's been the verdict on each one in terms of which one of them was greatest?

ENTEN: You can't lose, Anderson. You can't lose.

COOPER: I heard both were really good.

ENTEN: They're both really good. Both Rotten Tomato scores 90 percent plus on both of them. Fantastic movies.

COOPER: Good for them.

ENTEN: Maybe you and I should see it and you can break your streak and maybe even have a little carb on the side with a little popcorn.

COOPER: Maybe so. Harry Enten, thanks so much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

COOPER: We'll be right back.


COOPER: That's it for us. The news continues. The Source with Kaitlan Collins starts now.