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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Man Accused Of Threatening Biden Killed In FBI Arrest Attempt; Fulton County DA Fani Willis Gets Additional Security Protection; Hurricane Fueled Wildfires Kill At Least Six In Hawaii; Iowa's Republican Voters Divided On Trump And Challengers; Russian Missile Attack On Residential Area Kills Two, Strike Comes One Day After Separate Attack Killed At Least Nine; At Least Six Dead As Maui Wildfires Overwhelm Hospitals, Sever 911 Services And Force People to Flee Into The Ocean. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 09, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right. Well, Joseph, I really appreciate your time. Thank you very much, and I hope your students do get the benefit of reading Shakespeare. Sometimes I think we all know, if you don't read it then, you may never read it in your life. And it is a wonderful thing to have that exposure.


BURNETT: Thank you.

COOL: Thank you for having me.

BURNETT: All right, you too.

And thanks so much to all of you for being with us.

AC 360 with Anderson begins right now.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Tonight on 360, breaking news: FBI agents shoot and kill a self-described MAGA Trumper who they say made death threats against President Biden, Vice President Harris, Attorney General Garland, and others singled out by the former president.

Also the Georgia DA, Fani Willis. CNN has learned when she has her say next week, she is expected to seek more than a dozen indictments in her election interference probe of Donald Trump, the former president.

And also tonight, a live report from Maui. You see it there, walls of flames sweeping the island, at least six people have already been killed.

Good evening, everyone. John King here tonight, sitting in for Anderson.

Breaking news tops our hour. The killing of a Utah man by FBI agents trying to arrest him. That and the contents of the government's charging documents, which are frankly beyond chilling.

Page after page of Craig Robertson's social media postings describing at times in lurid graphic detail who he would allegedly kill and how.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us now live with much more, also CNN senior law enforcement analyst, former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe.

Shimon, walk us through exactly what happened today.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly there was a lot of concern given that the president was coming to Utah and that set off a whole chain of events.

First, the suspect here, Craig Robertson, on Monday, the FBI saw that he posted a message on Facebook saying that the president was coming to Utah and that basically, it was time for him to take action.

He wrote that: "I hear Biden is coming to you, Utah. Digging out my old ghillie suit (That's his camouflage outfit that you see there) and cleaning the dust off the M-24 sniper rifle." And then he says "Welcome buffoon-in-chief."

And so they were ready. Seeing this post, the FBI decided that it was time to move in and take him off the street. Now, this is a man that they had been monitoring since March because of other threats that he had posted, most significant, what really started all of this was a threat that he posted against the Manhattan district attorney here in New York City, Alvin Bragg because he's been investigating the former president, Donald Trump.

And so he posts this Facebook message about wanting to essentially come to New York City and kill the DA. And so the FBI gets alerted to this posting, and that is what starts this investigation back in March. They start doing surveillance on him.

They even go over to talk to him. In March, they approached him. They see him, he is wearing a Trump hat. They talk to them, they say, hey, we're on to you, what's going on? He then lists threats against the FBI, those agents who came to his home, and so this goes on for several months.

But finally, today, this morning, the FBI moving in, out of concern that with the president visiting Utah and what this man was saying he was planning, they decided to move in.

There was a confrontation, he pointed a gun at them, and then they say that they shot and killed him.

KING: Remarkable.

Andrew McCabe, you were just listening there. Shimon walking through the threats this man in Provo made many threats, graphic and specific. So help us with context. How does this -- when you hear the president, the vice president, the attorney general, the New York Manhattan DA, how does it fit in the context of other public officials threatened over the years?


So John, you know, people say angry things about political leaders every day on social media, and those statements are typically completely protected by the First Amendment. What makes this individual different is he is articulating graphic, specific, violent threats, right.

And then, that's what initiates the FBI investigation, and in the course of that investigation, he rebuffs all efforts to speak to him and then he starts to threaten the FBI agents who came out to his house. He continues to make essentially death threats against Alvin Bragg, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Gavin Newsom, and shows actual proof of his ability to do so.

He is posting photographs of nine assault weapons someplace in his residence, presumably, he says he has a ghillie suit and a sniper rifle and then posts a photograph of himself with a ghillie suit and a sniper rifle.

So this was a very logical investigation of somebody who is escalating along that cycle of potential violence, and the FBI finally had to step in knowing that a conflict with the president of the United States might be in the offing and then you have the unfortunate result of that encounter today.

KING: So help us understand help law enforcement deals with this. Nobody is directly tying the former president to this, but in the charging documents, the FBI does include one thread posted online in which the man here refers himself to as a "MAGA Trumper."


And you can't ignore the overlap of the people he was threatening with people the former president has gone after in speeches in his own online posts. Number one, how do you connect the dots, I guess, between free speech and potential threats? And what does law enforcement do about that?

MCCABE: It's really hard, John.

They are in such a tough spot now. The FBI, DHS, other law enforcement entities, they are monitoring all kinds of extremist rhetoric, threatening rhetoric online every single day. Their job is to figure out who is an actual threat, and who are the rest of the people who are just boasting or chest pounding or whatever they're doing online, and that is not an exact science. It is something that they literally have to monitor every day.

Now, we'll also say that this is a perfect example of a case that shows how responsible careful political leaders of both parties are very careful not to engage in this sort of violent rhetoric and targeting speech that we hear from Donald Trump very frequently.

And the reason is that the most extreme supporters of those political leaders and certainly those who follow Donald Trump, we have seen will actually follow through on some of these comments.

We know that from the January 6 people who showed up on the Capitol on January 6, many of them said, we came because Donald Trump told us, so this person is a perfect example of what happens when someone like Donald Trump encourages sort of rhetoric, targets people online.

Some of his most extreme supporters get that targeting message and they are prepared to act upon it and that is deadly dangerous.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, Andrew McCabe, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you so much.

Separately, CNN has now learned the Fulton County DA, Fani Willis recently received additional security protection. Other sources also telling us they expect her to seek more than a dozen criminal indictments next week, that of course, in her probe of election interference by the former president.

CNN's Paula Reid has more on those two stories, as well as a new documents surfacing in the Jack Smith federal investigation.

Paula, let's start with the Fulton County district attorney. What are you learning about what she is expected to present to the grand jury?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fani Willis' long running investigation and efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia appears to be coming to a head next week. We expect that over the course of likely two days next week, she will present her case to a regular grand jury that can vote on indictments.

And we have learned that she is contemplating charges that include conspiracy, racketeering, and RICO. Again, these are state level charges. So this case might look a little bit different than what we've seen at the federal level.

John, the biggest question a lot of people have is, of course, will the former president be charged? We don't know for sure, but even his own attorneys have said they expect he will be indicted in Georgia next week.

KING: And Paula Reid, we also have this new internal Trump campaign memo. It is from December of 2020, obtained by "The New York Times." What details do we get here about this plot to overturn the election?

REID: This is really the missing piece in terms of understanding the roadmap that Trump and his allies laid out to try to overturn the results of the election.

Now, this specific memo was authored by pro-Trump attorney, Kenneth Chesebro. He is also co-conspirator number five in the Trump indictment by the special counsel last week.

And in this memo, Chesebro lays out a strategy to try to subvert the electoral process by installing these slates of fake electors, and then designing a plan where the vice president could count those votes. Now, this has been mentioned in the indictment, but never publicly


KING: Paula Reid, grateful for that reporting. Thanks so much.

And joining us now to discuss in more detail, our CNN legal analyst, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, the former Manhattan chief district attorney.

Let's start with Fani Willis. You hear Paula Reid's reporting, 12 indictments. Does that mean 12 people in your view from your experience in the prosecutor's office?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That makes sense that she would indict around 12 people given what we know about the sweeping nature of her case and her investigation, and at a certain point, though, it's hard to put 12 defendants and all of their lawyers at a table in a courtroom, so they might get broken up or she might have even broken them up logistically like that.

But yes, it makes sense that there will be an indictment with around a dozen people charging them with this entire scheme to have a fake elector slate in Georgia.

KING: You hear the reporting that she has added security. You've seen the images of the added barriers and such around the Fulton County courthouse. We started the program with this breaking news story out of Utah, a very, very disturbing story.

The FBI trying to arrest, and ultimately shooting a gentleman who posted online threats to the president, the attorney general, the vice president. Just from a prosecutor's perspective, the moment you're trying to do your job and all this.


AGNIFILO: It doesn't help that Donald Trump puts these threats out over and over and over again. I mean, it starts January 6, when everyone who stormed the Capitol felt they were following his lead. And he didn't stop them for 187 minutes. In fact, at 2:24 in the afternoon, he tweeted another tweet that sort of exacerbated it.

And then look at Alvin Bragg where he posted a picture of himself holding a baseball hat or bat, sorry, next to Alvin Bragg's head, and then he claims, oh, it was not a threat. I was just advertising for American made baseball bats. Nobody believes that.

And we see the tweet that he did the day after he was released from custody in the most recent indictment, the Jan 6 indictment where he says, you know, I'll come after you, if you come after me, or whatever that phrase was.

Those are the dog whistle calls to his followers. They know what he is asking for. They know what -- they know their threats, and they're all laughing in everybody's face that we can't stop him and so, the people like this extreme person who got into the confrontation with the FBI today, you know, he's just -- they are hearing the message from Donald Trump and it is scary, it's terrifying. It has to stop and hopefully, Judge Chutkan will put a stop to it at a hearing this week.

KING: What's your take on this campaign memo obtained by "The New York Times" Paula was discussing it, Kenneth Chesebro, who's an attorney. He is putting together this fake electors plot.

He voices skepticism himself that this is legally viable. As a political reporter, it tells me they were just sustaining themselves. If there was anything they could do to keep the challenges going. And Jack Smith building an election interference case or anyone else building an election interference case, what's the legal significance of an attorney saying this might not pass muster?

AGNIFILO: Yes, it's -- the memo is amazing, because there's this juxtaposition in there. On the one hand, he says this is a bold move that might not pass the muster of the Supreme Court, and he also says, an important strategy is we have to make this business as usual, make this routine.

You know, he is signaling to them in there, he knows that this isn't going to fly and it is the roadmap for this, literally, it's a crime, right. And it's important for Jack Smith. It gives a roadmap for the prosecutors in terms of what their thinking was, how they were going to go about it and it takes away the he said-she said in any trial when you have to talk -- when you have a witness who says oh, so and so told me such and such. You don't need that here. You've got a piece of paper that spells out exactly what he was thinking, exactly what he wanted to do, and what he was telling people to do. So it's a pretty critical piece of evidence.

KING: There are so many new developments almost on a daily basis, it is hard to keep track, and today, we learned the special counsel took the extraordinary step of having a subpoena to Twitter for Donald Trump's account, documents and data behind that account. What does that tell you?

AGNIFILO: So it's very common today for prosecutors to do that, because so many people are on social media and you -- that's just something you do and clearly his truths or tweets or whatever they're called, his social media postings are central to the case and some people would say, why do you need to subpoena that information from Twitter, if you have those messages already?

And you have to remember, a prosecutor has to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. So one thing they have to prove is that Donald Trump, in fact, is the person who posted those posts, right? You can't just assume or ask the jury to assume that it's him. We have to still prove it when we're prosecutors.

You'll also get other information aside from that when you get information back from a social media company. You'll get draft messages or you know, the DMs and that kind of stuff.

KING: So, the digital trail. We used to call it a paper trail. This is the digital trail.

AGNIFILO: Yes, exactly. The breadcrumbs. Yes. KING; Karen Friedman Agnifilo, thanks so much. Appreciate your


Up next for us, a live report from Maui where the combination of wildfires, high wind and limited ways around, the danger has already proven deadly. Look at those pictures. The devastation is enormous.

And later, the first installment of my new project. It is called "All Over The Map," the 2024 election cycle as seen through the eyes of individual voters, their stories about what really matters to them, ahead tonight on 360.



KING: This new video just in from Lahaina, that's on the west coast of Maui, utterly devastated by wildfires pushed by high winds. It is not alone and ominously, there is far more right now that cannot be seen, which is why Hawaii' lieutenant governor today calling the tragedy that has already taken at least six lives just the beginning.

CNN's Veronica Miracle is there.


TIARE LAWRENCE, LAHAINA RESIDENT: It's like an apocalypse. People are basically running for their lives

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Horror stories from what should be paradise. Tiare Lawrence and her cousin say they fled their home in Lahaina on Maui, saving their grandfather and their grandmother's ashes.

LAWRENCE: I still don't know where my little brother is. I don't know where my stepdad is. Everyone I know in Lahaina, their homes have been burned down.

MIRACLE (voice over): Her cousin says their family home burned down in front of them. The flames coming so fast they had only minutes to act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw this smoke start about a block away from our house and this was maybe 3:30, four o'clock. By 5:30, our house was gone. Everything that we had ever known is gone. Our church, our schools -- every single memory that we had in our household, everything was gone in the blink of an eye.

MIRACLE (voice over): This is how Lahaina should look, a charming Hawaiian town rich in history and tourism.

ALAN DICKER, LAHAINA RESIDENT: Front Street exploded in flame.

MIRACLE (voice over): But this is how Alan Dicker found it this morning.

DICKER: When I went -- after I started to evacuate, I went back to just check to see if the house was on fire or not. It wasn't, but I was standing at the street looking at my house and I couldn't see my whole house because of the smoke.

MIRACLE (voice over): Dicker rushed from his home to Front Street where he's had a gallery for 23 years.

DICKER: And as I began walking that way, there's a historic building on Front Street in Dickinson, the old Baldwin house. The roof was on fire and I started taking a video of it because I was amazed that there were no fire trucks there.

MIRACLE (voice over): Roughly 500 miles to the south, Hurricane Dora is helping fan the strong winds over the islands with gusts up to 80 miles per hour, knocking out cell towers and 911 service.

LT. GOV. SYLVIA LUKE (D), HAWAII: Our hospital system on Maui, they are overburdened with burn patients. People suffering from inhalation. The reality is that we need to fly people out of Maui to give them burn support.

MIRACLE: Claire Kent (ph) says she barely escaped her burning home, but fears not all of her neighbors did.

CLAIRE KENT, LAHAINA RESIDENT: I know for a fact people didn't get out. When we were pulling away, there's quite a few homeless people in the area and people who are just not able -- they don't have access to vehicles.

MIRACLE (voice over): Other victims jumped into the ocean to escape the flames. The Coast Guard says it rescued 12 people from the waters off Lahaina, survivors thankful to be alive even as their hometown and its history has changed forever.

LAWRENCE: It's like shooting out of the movie like I don't wish this on anyone. Just please pray for Lahaina.


KING: Veronica Miracle joins us now.

Veronica, I know you've only been on the ground in Maui a short time but what have you seen?


MIRACLE: Well, John, from the moment that we came in on the plane, you could see the smoke on the island, and of course, feel the turbulence. It was an incredibly bumpy ride getting in and you can see how windy it is here.

One of the three fires that are burning, right behind me there in the distance. You can see the fog and smoke accumulate here.

Right now, I'm about three minutes from Lahaina, the area that has been the impacted the most. Thousands of people are stranded there, and at this marina, all afternoon, we've seen people, volunteers, distributors, bringing pallets of supplies, water, food, dog food, anything that you can imagine even bedding to some of the boats.

Some of these boats, here clearly, they are expedition boats. They are taking people out to go whale watching. Right now, I spoke to a captain of one of those boats, and she said they'd been authorized by the county to go out and go all the way around.

I am going to show you in the distance there, I think it already went off, but this is the path that they will take all the way around the island because the (AUDIO ISSUES) is closed for (AUDIO ISSUES) travel.

Because these boats are so big, they can't even actually land in the area that they need to pass off the supplies, so they will be meeting sailboats. But one of the captains of the expedition ships told me there's just so many unknowns, they have to figure it out as they go.

They expect about a six-hour roundtrip and they're hoping to bring some people back to safety here. But because all of the cell communications have been down, the towers are down there, the little communication (AUDIO ISSUES) to get supplies out, and bring people back here to safety -- John.

KING: Veronica miracle, thank you so much.

Let's get some more now from Kelly Bryce. He's a charter boat captain helping with the rescue effort.

Captain Bryce, grateful for you taking the time to talk to us. I understand you've spent much of the overnight hours out in your vessel at the request of the Coast Guard in case they needed help with rescues. Tell us what you've witnessed.

KELLY BRYCE, CHARTER BOAT CAPTAIN: We headed down there and checked in with the Coast Guard and ran the boat up to Lahaina where the first thing we saw was probably, there was actually a fire line that went up the mountain and right at the edge of the fire line, there was probably a tornado of flame and smoke that was probably 200 feet across.

And as we proceeded through the fire line, the smoke got thicker and thicker and thicker to the point where us, as a collective crew were like, I don't know that we can go much farther and we're not there yet.

And fortunately, the wind had switched just enough to where the smoke let us slide underneath it, and we got up to where the location of the request was made.

So we got up there and it was wild. It was watching the entire town burn from the ocean. All structures along the shoreline were fully engulfed, watching fuel tanks and other things that were blowing up. And it was -- it was -- it was crazy.

We stood by to help the Coast Guard to try and get -- there was -- at one point, there was a hundred people that had tried to escape the fire by running into the ocean. When we got there, there was approximately 50 in a location that we were trying to evacuate them from and it was very difficult because our boats can't go in as shallow as it was and the people were stuck on the beach and they couldn't, you know, they don't want to swim out into the blackness through a cloud of smoke.

So we had to get a couple of other boats involved, to deal on our enforcement boat, and one of the dinghies from one of the other charter vessels was out there as well. So they put safety swimmers and an EMT, one of which works for Trilogy, they jumped on board, the Zodiac, the Zodiac ran into shallow waters. They could go, then the two people jumped off with surfboards, swam in and started to collect the bystanders throughout the course of the evening or through the night, I guess, morning, we were able to get more resources down to the beach area through that video that you first showed the one that I took.

There are actually EMS vehicles coming down through there to access the beach and try and remove the rest of the bystanders. They are right about there where that big flame is, just to the right of that is where the people were on the beach. And yes, it was pretty intense seeing that.

KING: So walk through the challenges for us from your view in the sense, we are listening to what you're describing, which is just out of this world and then the images we see as well, yours and other images. You talked about the efforts to bring the resources together. Are there enough resources on Maui to handle this disaster and from your sense, are they making the necessary adjustments to coordinate them and all of that?


BRYCE: I don't think anybody is really ready for this. Like there's -- I mean, if you talk to any firefighter, I think they'll tell you that once something gets going, when you have 70 and 80-mile-an-hour winds, pushing that fire, that you can't stop it.

There is not enough water out there in any amount of fire trucks, and once it gets to a certain size, there's just no way you can control it.

And so at that point, they're going to have to pull back and, you know, safety for as many people as they can and hold everything back. And there is just nothing you can do.

I mean, we were watching flames, like I said, the first area was a flame-smoke tornado that was 200 feet across. And winds, I'm sure were in excess of a hundred miles an hour. So there's -- what do you do at that point? I mean, even for us as a collective crew. We, at one point were like, I don't know if we can keep going. We're getting blacked out to where we can't see and we were running on, you know, navigational aids only, our instrumentation.

And you know, we're just making radio contact with other boats and using sonar and radar and everything else. KING; What is your expectation now? Do you expect the hours ahead?

Are you going to be back out there? You get time to rest? Are people telling you get out as soon as you can? Any sense of what the hours ahead look like?

BRYCE: Well, right now, I believe that there's an evacuation of some bystanders and wounded. I believe this -- like I said, it's all -- you know, you hear it all and I was talking to a couple of the guys that work for Trilogy, and they're trying to bring people from an area known as Black Rock up to Maalaea Harbor to bypass a bunch of the burned out town.

Right now, they are not calling the smaller boats back in for resources at this time, but I am on standby and we are just -- we're all waiting.

I mean, everybody came home and tried to get a few hours nap. And we passed other co-workers, they were going down as we were coming back in. It's just ongoing.

KING: Kelly Bryce, thanks again.

BRYCE: Thank you.

KING: Just ahead for us, Republican candidates are descending on Iowa for its State Fair, just five months now before the kickoff, first in the nation Iowa caucuses. I spent last week with Republican voters in that state.

For our new series we are launching tonight and we'll run through Election Day. It's called "All Over The Map." Tonight, you will hear from Republicans divided on this question whether Donald Trump deserves another chance at the White House.



KING: Tonight, we premiere a new series I'm very proud to be a part of, that will run from tonight through Election Day. It's called "All Over the Map." I'll be traveling around the country, giving you a ground-side (ph) view of the presidential election from the perspective of voters in the key places, in the swing states. What motivates them? Who's gaining or losing their trust and why?

In the next few months, I'm going to talk mostly to Republican voters about the former president. Is his nomination inevitable, despite his many legal and character controversies? Or is there sufficient demand for change and a new face for the party? We start our series in Iowa, because that's where the race really begins, and the Republican presidential field is scheduled to descend on mass to the Iowa State Fair beginning tomorrow, a defining moment for those campaigns just five months before the first in the nation vote.


KING (voice-over): Business is booming.


KING (voice-over): Midwest Solar's work load now running at 15 to 20 installations a month.

MUDD: We lost money the first year we were in business and we're going to make money in our second year. It's a small system, ten panels.

KING (voice-over): Chris Mudd is the CEO and says, yes, give President Biden some credit.

MUDD: Absolutely. There are lots of grants available to business owners, the tax credits at the production.

KING (voice-over): But Mudd is a life-long Iowa Republican, who would prefer that tax credit money be spent on a border wall and hopes for a Donald Trump comeback.

MUDD: Do I think that Donald Trump's perfect? No. I think he's -- I don't -- personally, I'm not a big fan of who he is and what he does and how he lives. But I think the decisions and the things that he did for our country were good.

KING (voice-over): The Mudd family is living both the American dream and the American divide. A business Jim Mudd, Sr. started in his basement 42 years ago, now employees 80 people, clients coast to coast.


KING (voice-over): Dad and three sons are Republicans, and Trump supporters. Two daughters are Democrats.

KING (on camera): Are they still going to come to thanksgiving dinner?

C. MUDD: They'll still come. We still love them.


KING (voice-over): We visited as Trump was indicted a second time by the Special Counsel.

C. MUDD: Why are they attacking him so hard? Why are they going after this guy so hard? Does everybody really believe that everything that happened was exactly the way that the government is laying it out today? I don't.

KING (voice-over): The friends and family around the table don't watch and don't trust CNN. There is reverence for Ronald Reagan here. But listen.

C. MUDD: The trust is gone.

KING (voice-over): Reagan's optimism replaced by Trump's grievances.

ROBB MUDD, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: We got to find our own way to take a turn (ph) of ourselves.

KING (voice-over): Reagan's disdain of big government replaced by Trump's distrust of just about everything.

J. MUDD: I think he thinks he stole it from him.

KING (voice-over): Still questions about the 2020 election.

J. MUDD: And I know a lot of people who agree with him.

KING (voice-over): Criticism of the Trump prosecutions.

J. MUDD: But nothing about that deal is the American way, I don't think.

KING (voice-over): And this.

KING (on camera): If you think the United States should be supporting Ukraine in the fight against Putin, raise your hand. Nobody?

R. MUDD: You don't have to be that smart to put -- connect the dots, right? So, is the war to cover up sins committed so you can cover your tracks? There's too much money that has been thrown over there.

KING (on camera): You think all the NATO countries would do what Biden told them to do because he's trying to cover up some Hunter Biden business deal?

R. MUDD: It all depends on how -- Zelenskyy, how much dirt he has on Biden to keep the money coming.

KING (on camera): That's -- that's out there.

R. MUDD: No.


C. MUDD: Well, how do you trust when you know the government has shut down Facebook and shut down Twitter and told them to not show certain news stories?

KING (voice-over): A few days here makes clear Trump's grip is very strong. But roughly half of the party wants to move on. And they see their first in the nation vote as the best chance to derail him. The growth around Des Moines is stunning and the suburbs are Trump's kryptonite.

JACLYN TAYLOR: I don't appreciate the negativity.

KING (voice-over): Jaclyn Taylor is a single mother who manages construction projects. Tim Scott intrigues her, Nikki Haley too. Sometimes Ron DeSantis.

TAYLOR: There's just a lot of "if" (ph) around him.


TAYLOR: Sorry. Is that a technical term?

KING (on camera): Yes, all right.


KING (voice-over): Betsy Sarcone, also a single mom, says DeSantis is her current favorite, but he hasn't closed the sale. She is done with Trump's GOP.

BETSY SARCONE, REAL ESTATE AGENT AND IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I see the party as the party of personal responsibility. And for this man to still be on the national stage representing the Republican Party is very troubling to me.

KING (voice-over): Sarcone and Taylor live a few miles apart but don't know each other. Both voted for Trump twice after supporting someone else in the 2016 caucuses. Both want someone new this time. Both think, shop now, but in the end, rally friends around one Trump alternative.

SARCONE: I think the moderates need to band together.

TAYLOR: It's kind of like a no-brainer, right?

KING (voice-over): Sioux City is 200 miles from the Des Moines suburbs. Trump is much stronger here.


KING (on camera): Did you caucus in 2016?


KING (on camera): For who?

FORSYTH: I caucused for Trump.

KING (on camera): Why?

FORSYTH: Why? He does have charisma. I mean whether you like him or not, he does. I liked his policies.

KING (voice-over): Attorney Priscilla Forsyth is a Democrat turned Trump voter, but she thinks he should have honored the 2020 election results.

FORSYTH: I think we need to get rid of Biden. I think we need to get rid of Trump. I think we need to move on.


KING (voice-over): Forsyth and friend Lisa McGuffey are Sioux City Explorers fans. McGuffey though not scouting a new candidate.

KING (on camera): You think Donald Trump is an honest and trustworthy person?


KING (voice-over): This is warm-up season, five months until Iowa votes, five months until Republicans divided over Trump make a defining choice.


KING: First, my thanks to those good people you see in the piece there. A lot of them don't trust CNN. We're going to try to build a relationship -- it's important to me -- over the next five months as we see how they vote. Now, I want to use my old friend here for a little flashback.

You heard about the talk. Trump supporters think the crowded field helps him. Trump critics think the crowded field helps him. This is a flashback. Remember 2016? Trump was second in Iowa to Ted Cruz, then he went on to win New Hampshire and the rest is literally history. But look at the map right here. Where was Donald Trump weakest in 2016? That's the key point you get from spending a week in Iowa. Look here around the Des Moines suburbs, right? Look out here. That's Marco Rubio, Iowa City. That's 2016. That's seven years ago.

Let me be clear, Trump is stronger in Iowa now than he was when he placed second seven years ago. But, if you look at the changes in Iowa over these years, right, keep that up there and let's bring this in here. Let's turn this off and let's bring some changes here. Look at this population growth in Iowa. Number one, the overall state population change. The deeper the color, that means the population is rising. Let me zoom in right here on the highest population change. Let's bring this back out and take a look at this. The highest population change is where? Des Moines in the suburbs, out here in Iowa City. That's where the population is growing.

New voters, 60,000 new people just in Metro Des Moines. They are not all voters, they are not all Republicans, but out of those 60,000, a lot of them are. That makes you voter (ph). Consider that. Look at the growth of the population here, then go back in time to 2016. Where Trump was weakest is the population growth. You'd have to say today, talking to Republicans on the ground, voters, strategists, smart people who understand this state. Right now, Trump is a prohibited favorite. If you're going to stop him, you need to do it early. The best hope would be Iowa because Trump is very, very popular in New Hampshire. And then it goes on and on.

So, how would you rank this today, especially after spending a week with those Iowa Republicans last week? It is improbable, today, if it were today, that anyone could stop Trump. Especially when like, seven years ago, you have so many candidates. But there's a debate in a couple of weeks. A lot of candidates expected perhaps to drop out by the time we get to Iowa. So, improbable you could beat him, especially if it were today. But it is imposs -- is it impossible? No. It's a narrow path, but the math is right here in the Des Moines suburbs and beyond, which is why I'm honored, privileged actually to spend the next five months on the road going back to those great people, asking them, still there, changing your mind, and tracking it as we go.

We'll start in Iowa and move on later after we get a Republican nominee to the general election. We're going to do this over the next 15 months, 16 months, see the country, have some fun, and hopefully learn a lot.

Coming up for us, a CNN exclusive, remarkable new video -- you can't miss this -- from the front lines of Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russia. Our Nick Paton Walsh, the only journalist who has visited this crucial area of the war. He also spoke with Ukraine's frontline troops about fighting dug-in Russian forces across miles of trenches, mine fields, under pressure to move faster. But they say, without the tools, they need to do it.



KING: Tonight, an important CNN exclusive. An up-close and frightening look from an area of Ukraine's frontlines that no reporter had seen until our correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. This new reporting comes on a day there have been more Russian missile strikes. Two are dead in Zaporizhzhia after a missile attack today on a residential area of that city, including as you can see there a church. The attack comes a day after at least nine were killed, and after 82 injured after two Russian missiles struck a residential building east there of Pokrovsk.

Ukrainians says that attack appeared designed to specifically target rescue workers. That's a war crime, if it's true. The battle has become fierce, as Ukraine pushes its counteroffensive in the south. Nick Paton Walsh was there and has startling new video. We warn you, some of what you're about to see is beyond graphic.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The brutal work here the world hasn't seen, but wants its results. From the west, they have words and weapons of support. But out here, it's them alone. In searing heat, cloaked in dust, in the southern counteroffensive near Orikhiv, Ukraine has the initiative.

Yet, they have to shoot their way forward round by round. The Russians are just past the building on the horizon.

PATON WALSH (on camera): Let's get moving, guys. They are very anxious, we leave.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): We're the first journalists to reach this part of Ukraine's counteroffensive push south towards (inaudible).

PATON WALSH (on camera): So, the British tank (ph) was spotted by the Russians, and so now, we're moving fast out of here because they're expecting return fire.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): The losses from their early assaults evident. There's a destroyed U.S. supplied Bradley armored vehicle.

PATON WALSH (on camera): In this thick dust, these tankers moving forward to fire at Russian positions, which they say are beginning to look in peril, as Ukraine's southern counteroffensive pushes forward.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): The 15th National Guard have lost many friends here but also gained ground. It has been incredibly tough. But some faces we saw over the past week have brightened. Robertino (ph) has got closer. Some of the assessment of their fight and the tools given towards it great (ph) here. They're being expected to do things no NATO army would attempt with equipment they'd scoff at. The Humvee we travel in with tires so threadbare no American would be expected to drive it. They have no time for arm-chair assessments that they are failing.

VITALY, TANK OPERATOR, 15TH NATIONAL GUARD BRIGADE (through translator): They are wrong. We have successes. It depends on how fortified they are. Above all, don't underestimate the enemy.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): And that underestimation is visible here in the nearest town of Orikhiv pummeled by the main problem, Russian air superiority and the half-ton bombs they drop. At any moment, it may not matter how much cover you have.

VITALY (Through Translator): Su-35 jet in the air.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): We take cover in a basement. One day, 20 rockets hit in as many minutes.

PATON WALSH (on camera): The wait now is for what they think is another missile to come in and land.


PATON WALSH (voice-over): The smell of death haunts the rubble, where entire lives have been torn through.

PATON WALSH (on camera): This was the main humanitarian aid point of the town. And weeks ago, this was where the remaining locals would be hiding out and getting shelter from air strikes. But it has taken a direct hit and quite a few people lost their lives when this explosion happened. You can still smell the explosive in the air.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): In Moscow's warped world of targeting, it is these men, the military medics who feel hunted. The underground world in which they live is hidden, as their last two triage points have been bombed. And then the three hours a day they spend above ground, this is what happens. This is rare footage of their frontline rescues.

The painkillers clearly not enough. Treatments given at up to 100 miles an hour, over bumpy, shelled roads. It seems miraculous anyone makes it. In the back of this armored vehicle, not everyone has. These transfers perilous, their vehicles bunched together, perhaps visible to Russian jets. Sometimes they don't all come back.

On Friday, fellow medic Andre, age 33, was hit by artillery. They buried him Monday.

EUGENE, MEDIC, 15TH NATIONAL GUARD BRIGADE (through translator): We went there immediately. Another team picked up the driver. And that was the hardest thing I ever did, pick up the body and deliver it to the morgue.

VLAD, MEDIC, 15TH NATIONAL GUARD BRIGADE (through translator): His family, his mother, they are in temporary occupied territories. They couldn't even come to the funeral.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): Down here, death is far too close and they seem to shut it out.

EUGENE: When they hit further than 100 meters away from us, we don't pay attention. If it's closer, we just laugh hysterically.

VLAD: I tell everybody, we will all die. But a bit later, maybe in 50 years.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): They need the war to end in months though, not years before nothing but dust is left.


KING: Nick Paton Walsh joins us now from the frontlines. Nick, just a breathtaking, harrowing look at the action on the frontlines. What are these frontline troops telling you they need most right now?

PATON WALSH: Air power really. Yes, they're finding the Russians ahead of them, paratroopers, often to be well dug in, to be trained, to be willing to hold positions and able to do so. And we have heard over the week we really spent with that unit how the fluctuations of success have left them at times exasperated, and at times pretty upbeat. And they do appear to have moved forward.

But it's the Russian air superiority, the half-ton bombs that you saw left startling craters, that causes them frankly to at times run to the basement, to not know where they can move, where they can advance, what they can do to lose friends on a daily basis at times, that's fundamentally Moscow's advantage here and it's something which until Ukraine gets the F-16s, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talked so positively about just hours ago that Russia will still have. John?

KING: Nick Paton Walsh, absolutely critical reporting by you and your team. Thanks so much.

Next, we'll talk with someone forced to leave Maui, now waiting tonight to find out whether the wildfire burning through her neighborhood spares her home.



KING: Returning tonight to our breaking news, the wild fires in Maui. We've managed to connect with a mother of three, forced along with her husband to flee her home. Her name is Malika Dudley. She is a meteorologist for a local TV station, KITV, and she joins us now from elsewhere on the island. Malika, grateful for your time under these terrible circumstances. First, just tell us what was happening that made you flee? What happened to you and your family?

MALIKA DUDLEY, METEOROLOGIST AND REPORTER, KITV: Well, I was in the subdivision, the very first subdivision that was evacuated. What you're looking at here is Lahaina, a whole separate fire that developed yesterday. In fact yesterday, we had several different hot spots on this mountain you see behind me. It is called Haleakala. Ours was the first. It was the highest one up in Olinda. Then lower down in Kula. There was another hot spot, lower down near Kihei, near Kulehu (ph), another fire developed late last night. And the one you're seeing there with complete devastation is over in Lahaina.

For me, I smelled smoke around 1:00 a.m. It was the very first, like the very beginning, the first fire that developed. And by 3 o'clock, we got a call from our neighbor saying get out. Looked out the window and it was red. Just grabbed some stuff, grabbed the kids, my (inaudible) and got out of there.

KING: Do you have any sense now? What are you hearing? Is there any way to get information about the condition of your home, your neighborhood?

DUDLEY: Yes. So we've been able to actually drive back into the neighborhood several times. Yesterday, it was up and down. We would hear, "Oh, it is kind of safe to go in there." We went in, grabbed some heirlooms, just to be safe. And then we would hear the next hour, "Oh, the fire is coming down the gulch. Make sure you don't go in there." The neighbor is crying and fleeing again. And this morning, we felt pretty good about it. You know, we woke up. The house was still there.

We got a picture of our home from a friend who said, "Oh, it is looking good." Winds are down a notch since yesterday. We probably can still hear them, they are still pretty strong here on the Island of Maui. But just a little while ago, our neighbors said they saw 15-foot high flames on a property right above where we are and that the fire was again encroaching on our subdivision. So it really is this touch- and-go, wait-and-see type of situation.

KING: So, help us with your expertise. You are a trained meteorologist. You mentioned the winds and other factors. Number one, did you see this coming? Did you see conditions building where this was possible and after you get through that, what about where are we going? You mentioned the winds now looking around, do you see anything that helps or do you worry the things that are coming in the hours ahead will hurt?

DUDLEY: A really good question. You know, this weekend, I was on the air doing weather and we had already posted the -- or at least told people that Dora, the hurricane, Category 4 at the time was passing to the south. Very strong hurricane with, it's a low-pressure system. To the north of the islands, we had high pressure.


So between those two pressure systems, the gradient was getting really tight. We knew we were expecting really strong winds. At the time, the National Weather Service was saying gusts upwards of 16 miles per hour. So dry conditions, low humidity, really high winds -- all of those things are the recipe for really rapidly spreading fires and all you need is a little spark. When you have winds that strong, what else happens, power lines go down. What happens when the power line goes down? Sparks fly. And it was just a recipe for disaster.

So we knew that that was possible. The public had been warned of the possibility. We just didn't know how strong the winds were going to be. What ended up happening is we got gusts into the 80s and when you get gusts into the 80s, that is a hurricane-force wind that is happening. It is not sustained, but it is still something that can knock you off your feet.

KING: Malika Dudley, thank you for your time, especially under these extraordinary circumstances. Really very much appreciate it. We wish you the best of luck in the days ahead.

Up next for us, an answered prayer. An American nurse and her daughter now free from their captors in Haiti.


KING: A heart of gratitude and immense joy in Haiti tonight. That is what a ministry there is saying about the release of an American nurse and her young daughter who were kidnapped and held hostage.