Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Trump Proposes April 2026 Trial In Election Subversion Case; Texas Woman Held After Judge Chutkan Gets Death Threats; Trump Cancels Teased News Conference On Election Fraud; FBI Asks For DNA Samples From Family Members Of Those Missing; Possibly 1,000 Plus Unaccounted At Least 111 Dead; Why Didn't Hawaii Officials Activate The Sirens?; Pro-DeSantis Super PAC Debate Memo Suggests He Hammer Ramaswamy, Defend Donald Trump; How A Florida Mom Unknowingly Became The Face Of A Fake Twitter Account; Capital City Of Canada's Northwest Territories Ordered To Evacuate As Hundreds Of Wildfires Scorch The Region. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 17, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Southern California is expected to be hit by heavy rainfall, some areas potentially seeing a year's worth of rain over the course of the weekend. The storm's path along the coast, making it difficult to predict its exact landfall.

Forecasts believe that will likely happen in Mexico, but if it does make landfall in California, it would be the first hurricane to do so in 165 years.

Thanks so much for joining us. AC 360 starts now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: On 360, an arrest after one judge and a Trump trial gets a racist death threat and from another trial, grand jurors' names and addresses posted on the far-right website. The growing concerns about what might happen next.

Also, he promised a big press conference just two days ago claiming he'd finally blow the lid off 2020 election fraud. More signs tonight he was, no surprise, just blowing smoke.

And Hawaii with a thousand people still unaccounted for, a CNN investigation into why Maui's emergency sirens stayed deadly silent.

Good evening. Thanks so much for joining us.

We begin tonight with breaking news. The former president's attorneys have weighed in with what they want the trial date to be in the federal election subversion case, and it is a long way off.

The Justice Department had proposed January of 2024. The former president's attorneys now say the trial should not start until April 2026, that's more than two-and-a-half years from now. And if Mr. Trump is elected president again, it's effectively never.

The lawyers in their filings saying the Justice Department's proposed date denies them the ability to prepare for trial.

Joining us now, CNN legal analyst and former Manhattan chief assistant district attorney, Karen Friedman Agnifilo.

So Karen, what do you make of this proposed start date by the former president's attorneys?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So he has been in all his cases, essentially saying, delay, delay, delay, right? That's his number one pick and judges have gotten wind of that, and he did write a lot in this motion that, I think, 16-page motion that his lawyers submitted, where they talked about how much discovery, which is the documents that the government has to hand over, that there are so many and they even had a drawing in there, where they stack them up and showed if you were to stack them all, it's much higher than the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, you know, trying to show it so much, we can't possibly be ready.

But you know, at the same time, he also puts in there that we have so many other court cases, so I have to deal with those cases, so I can't do this one. But he's saying and all his court cases, I can't be ready on this one because I have the other one.

And so he really doesn't want any of them to go and the judges will see that. And, you know, when you cry wolf, at a certain point, you know, because this is what he does in all his cases, I don't know that the judges are going to let them get away with it.

And in the Mar-a-Lago case, he also indicated that there was so much, the discovery was so much that we can't possibly be ready, but then the government said yes, there's a large number, but so much of it are things like e-mail headers or things that are irrelevant, that really aren't the meat and potatoes and the government is handing over a roadmap to the discovery saying this is what's important, this is where you find it.

So there's really no reason why one defendant four-count indictment can't be ready in January, when Jack Smith asked for January 2nd. This is not a two-and-a-half year case.

COOPER: So I mean, in the filing, the attorney said that the government's objective is clear, to deny President Trump and his counsel a fair ability to prepare for trial.

I mean, do you know a lot of cases that need nearly three years of prep? And what sort of a case would?

AGNIFILO: Yes, I mean, if you had say 19-defendant case with you know, 41 charges, I mean, that's a big case with a lot of defendants and a lot of information that could take time.

But this is really just one defendant. It is four charges and so much of what's in there, Trump has already litigated in 60 court cases across the United States, right? He has been litigating these issues for the last two-and-a-half years. So he is prepped to handle all of these issues. There could be very complicated cases that require much more time, but

I don't think this is one of them. This is a very, very streamlined case and Jack Smith did that deliberately, right, four charges. That's it.

COOPER: Karen Freeman Agnifilo, appreciate it. Thank you.

We've learned more details about the alleged death threat against Judge Chutkan. A Texas woman is in custody tonight, charged with leaving a racist and bigoted voicemail message threatening to kill her.

The charging document includes a transcript the defendant calling Judge Chutkan a "stupid slave" and then the N-word and warning her: "If Trump doesn't get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly," and saying "bitch." She also allegedly said, "You are in our sights. We want to kill you." The woman is being held pending trial.

We've also learned just a short time ago that the FBI's Atlanta office is now helping the Fulton County sheriff's office after threats of violence to unspecified county officials. The sheriff's office is also working, in their words, to track down the origins of threats against the grand jurors who voted Monday to indict the former president.


The threats coming after their names and addresses showed up on various online platforms frequented by the far right.

Joining me now is CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, John Miller; also former secret service agent, Evy Poumpouras.

So, John, how much of the former president's rhetoric play into this? I mean, would this woman have known Judge Chutkan's name, had the former president not been talking about her or something?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: I don't think you can separate the former president's rhetoric or the style of it, which is, he has called the judge in New York names. He has criticized the judge in Washington personally. He's gone after the district attorneys in both cities to the point that threats followed that where they've had to increase their security details. Now, they're having to provide police protection around the homes of grand jurors. So I don't think they are disconnected.

COOPER: Evy, I mean, do you think grand jurors should have police protection in this case in Fulton County? And also, I mean, should their names be public?

EVY POUMPOURAS, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Here's the thing. Historically, they've always made these names public, but now with the way things are, where this doxing that's happening, the taking of people's personal information, and then putting it out there making it public, you're putting these people in danger. So you can give them protection, for how long? How long can you do

that? The resources, the manpower that entails. Do they have the ability to do this? And then when the trial is over, then what happens? This stuff doesn't go away.

And it's not just the physical security you're concerned with. It's the harassment, it is the cyberattacks. There are all of these other things that come into it, as well as their extended family and their lives.

So this really -- something should be shifted because we are in an environment right now where it's not just the physical security. Our information is out there. These people's information is out there.

COOPER: Well, also, you know, John, if you want to destroy the system of justice we have in this country, you -- I mean, essentially, we're seeing an all-out assault on it from a variety of ways, and one of them is intimidating people who would might serve on a jury.

I mean, these are people doing an incredibly important civic job.

MILLER: I mean, it's a really interesting distinction because everything you say is correct, but there is a certain professional code that threats come with being a prosecutor, come with being an agent, come with being a judge even and that is why there is a system built to protect them around them. It's why there are court officers and US Marshals.

A juror, a grand juror, that does not come with the territory. They are citizens, independent citizens doing their civic duty, which is why under Title 16, I think it's Chapter 20 in the Georgia state law, you know, they have a very strong statute that says if you threaten or try and impede or try and intimidate a juror or a grand juror on account of a verdict or an indictment, that's a 20-year count with a $5,000.00 fine.

The key here is if they catch those threats on the internet and we do have these capabilities in law enforcement, we did a lot of it in New York City, you trace them back to the origins, you interview those people, you present those cases to the prosecutors and you make some examples.

COOPER: Evy, I mean, if you were providing protection for the judge, Judge Chutkan, for instance, how closely would you be following the former president's remarks about her? Because I mean, it's -- I mean, it's stunning that we're living in a world where a former president of the United States is going after, you know, calling judges on trials he is facing these names.

POUMPOURAS: So it is so interesting, because here, it's on the flip side. So, in the Secret Service, we were typically concerned about dialogue and things being said about the people we have protected, a president, chief-of-staff or whoever we were protecting.

So now, it is the flip side, and it is someone who is in a very influential position. And your words impact people. When we would see people who had -- we

would call them special interest in someone we were protecting, you're also dealing with people who have mental health issues, you're dealing with people who are not of strong mind.

And so your words may impact these individuals in such a way to cause them to do harm. And we would see that all the time in the US Secret Service. And we would get a ton of threats in and it was what's serious, what's not, what someone is saying here. Does this person need help? And sometimes we would have people committed, who we thought were a danger either to themselves or someone we were protecting.

As you were saying before, they are correlated. You know his words.

COOPER: It is, John, I mean, this topsy-turvy world where we have a former president, you know, the former mayor of New York, who reached down and target --

MILLER: Two campaign workers.

COOPER: Jurors -- two campaign workers, Ruby Freeman, you know --

MILLER: Election workers.

COOPER: Election workers. I mean, it's extraordinary that this is just -- and it seems normal now.


MILLER: I think, Evy's flipside argument is bizarre because you have someone in the person of a former president who has Secret Service protection, who is driving the language that is driving the threats to people who have no protection.

COOPER: Yes. Evy Poumpouras, John Miller, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

We are also learning more tonight about the judge who will preside over the Fulton County trial. Gary Tuchman has more.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is Scott McAfee, superior court judge in Fulton County, Georgia.


TUCHMAN (voice over): Presiding over a recent murder case seen on courthouse video.

MCAFEE: And so to that end, I believe the state did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was -- that there was sufficient evidence to convict on each of the charges in this case.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Judge McAfee now randomly assigned to a dramatically different legal scenario.

He is 34 years old, and was appointed to a seat just six months ago by Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp to fill a vacancy.

Before that, he served as the State Inspector General, and both a state and federal prosecutor after graduating from the University of Georgia law school in 2013. Classmates and professional acquaintances say he is politically conservative.

Notably, McAfee was a state prosecutor in the complex trial division in Fulton County, which was led at the time by the woman who is now the Fulton County DA, Fani Willis.

Esther Panitch is a democratic Georgia State Representative and defense lawyers handled two cases where McAfee was the prosecutor.

ESTHER PANITCH (D), GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: In the cases I had with him, he made reasonable decisions related to pleas or discovery requests and he was fair. Politics never came into it.

TUCHMAN (voice over): University of Georgia record show he was the treasurer of the Law Republicans, a group that serves libertarian members of the law school community and provide support for Republican political candidates.

He was also treasurer of the law school's Federalist Society, an influential conservative and libertarian organization in the US.

Just a few months ago, he presided over a case involving L. Lin Wood, an outspoken Trump supporting conspiracy touting lawyer.

L. LIN WOOD, LAWYER: I have political views. I believe our country has been taken over by communists.

TUCHMAN (voice over): This case, though do not directly involve politics or Trump. It was a contempt case for allegedly making derogatory comments about his former legal associates.

MCAFEE: So that's where I am. Tell me why I'm wrong.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Judge McAfee held Wood in contempt and leveled fines against him.

Scott McAfee has only been on the Fulton County Superior Court bench for a few short months, but he is now dealing with a case that could be one for the ages.

Gary Tuchman, CNN Atlanta.


COOPER: More now on the challenges facing this judge and every judge in charge of trying the former president.

Joining me now is former federal judge, Shira Scheindlin.

Thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Before we get to talk about this judge, I do want to get to try to see if you have a thought about the Trump legal team asking for a date of April 2026.

SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: Well, it kind of made me chuckle, but that's in the election fraud case, the federal election fraud case, right?

COOPER: Right.

SCHEINDLIN: Yes. Well, obviously he would like it to be as long as possible and delay, taking forever, but there's no need for that in that case. That's a straightforward case and it should be tried soon.

COOPER: And the judge is the one who makes the decision on that.

SCHEINDLIN: Oh, absolutely. And the government has asked for January.

COOPER: Right.

SCHEINDLIN: So January 2024. So I think it's going to go this spring.

COOPER: You've heard about the death threat against Judge Chutkan. Obviously, you know, judges have been threatened before.

Targeting a judge, I mean, having the former president, you know, talking about her, calling her racist, all sorts of things. When you hear that, does it -- I mean, I think to so many people, this now seems normal, should that be normal?

SCHEINDLIN: It's certainly not normal for a judge to be threatened, but it is not unheard of in high profile cases because there are people out there who are not so compos mentis, so to speak. They're not mentally together.

So in any high-profile case, a judge can get threatening letters, threatening phone calls and the US Marshals are very aware of that and they take care of that. Unfortunately, there have been a couple of judges who have actually been killed, a couple of federal judges and some state judges, so it is taken very seriously by the marshals.

COOPER: And putting the names of grand jurors online, targeting jurors. I mean, that does hurt the -- I can't help but believe that that would hurt a person's willingness to serve on a jury.

SCHEINDLIN: Oh, absolutely. When I've had high-profile criminal cases, I've had anonymous juries, and you might remember on the E. Jean Carroll case, the jury was anonymous and remained anonymous.

So publishing the names of these grand jurors and their addresses is a terrible thing in my opinion.

COOPER: Does having them be anonymous, does it affect the trial in any way? SCHEINDLIN: Well, I think the jurors know there must be a reason that

their names aren't being given out. So they're aware that it is certainly high profile, but they knew that anyway, so I don't think it affects the justice process.


COOPER: In the Fulton County case, the judge, as we were just showing is relatively new to the bench. I mean, this is going to be an incredibly difficult trial for any incredibly experienced judge.

SCHEINDLIN: Exactly right. No matter how experienced you are, if you have 19 defendants and 41 counts, it's going to be a very complex trial. A RICO, a big RICO count and many other counts, it is a tough case to try. I think it's going to take six months or more to try.

So somebody who has been out of law school for 10 years, has been on the bench for six to eight months, has probably never had to control a courtroom, which is not easy. There are a lot of lawyers jumping up and down making a lot of motions, it is not going to be easy for a new judge to do that.

COOPER: You know, we hear about that so often, like the importance of the judge controlling the courtroom, how does a judge, like set down that marker early on, I'm in charge?

SCHEINDLIN: Force of personality is my opinion.

COOPER: I sense you were very good at that.

SCHEINDLIN: I think I was. Absolutely.

I mean, you just make rulings firmly. You don't take further argument after you've ruled. You say sit down if somebody keeps talking, I've heard enough. Thank you very much. So you have to be tough, you have to be decisive. You have to be quick. And that takes experience.

COOPER: Do you think the date that DA Willis has proposed, March 2024 is realistic?

SCHEINDLIN: Absolutely not.


SCHEINDLIN: Absolutely not.

COOPER: And do you believe that they'll still be -- I mean, it seems unlikely there will still be 19 defendants, whenever it does go to trial. It seems like some of those low-hanging fruit who may --

SCHEINDLIN: Of course, of course. Some of them are going to plead out, some of them are going to cooperate, which is always the big risk rushing in who is going to be first to turn and cooperate and become a state's witness. So it won't be 19.

But I bet it'll be double digits if it is not part of it in federal court. That's an interesting question that's pending right now.



COOPER: Judge Shira Scheindlin, so great to talk to you.

SCHEINDLIN: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you very much.

Coming up next: What we just now learned was an empty promise by the former president to publicly expose election fraud in Georgia, which there was not, at a big press conference on Monday.

And the very latest from Hawaii where the death toll is still climbing. A big question is why didn't the statewide disaster alarm system actually sound the alarm?


COOPER: Breaking news that is not exactly breaking news. If you are familiar with former president's public statements, when we first reported this story Tuesday night, the foreign president was promising -- promising to expose the very same non-existent Georgia election fraud he promised to expose for nearly three years since he lost the election. This was the time he was finally going to do it.


Just moments ago, he broke the promise, quoting from his social post: "Rather than releasing the report on the rigged and stolen Georgia 2020 presidential election on Monday, my lawyers would prefer putting this, I believe, irrefutable and overwhelming evidence of election fraud and irregularities in formal legal filings as we fight to dismiss this disgraceful indictment by a publicity and campaign finance seeking DA who sadly presides over a record-breaking murder and violent crime area, Atlanta. Therefore, the news conference is no longer necessary."

CNN anchor and chief correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.


COOPER: I mean, of course, we all saw this coming. Of course, there is no evidence, so therefore, there's wasn't going to be anything. What's the backstory on this, do you know?

COLLINS: I mean, he announced this, and I mean, I think the minute anyone saw it, they did not believe it was likely going to happen, or if it was, no one believed who is going to show up, you know, almost three years after the election with this irrefutable proof of election fraud that he hasn't been able to come up with or present in court for two-and-a-half years now. But it was a surprise for a lot of his advisers when he posted and it

was really specific. He said next Monday, 11:00 AM, his Bedminster golf club.

COOPER: So, a lot of his advisers were surprised he had posted that.

COLLINS: They saw it, we saw it when he posted it on Truth Social. I mean, it wasn't something that was well-coordinated or thought out strategy there.

COOPER: Wow. It really surprises me that this guy would not have a well-coordinated thought and strategy.

COLLINS: Unusual, and one that he wouldn't consult the attorneys on, but that wasn't something that he consulted his attorneys on. They're the ones who put the damper on this by.

I was told Todd Blanche, who is one of the main attorneys handling a lot of his cases, that they were essentially making the argument to him, and you can't just go to Trump and say don't do this. That's not always an effective argument for him, but arguing that it was not going to help his ongoing investigations into his claims of election fraud and trying to overturn the election.

He is saying in that argument tonight, I mean, that they are going to put it in formal legal filings. It's not my sense of the arguments that his team is going to be making in court. But we had heard rumblings today that this was likely not going to materialize. Don't make any trips to go to Bedminster.

COOPER: Yes. I don't know of anybody who actually was -- like seriously thinking this was real.

COLLINS: I mean, well, he did have an aide, a communications aide who was also referenced in one of his other indictments, the documents indictment, actually had compiled some kind of report document. It's not totally clear what was in there, but she is someone who has promoted his election lies, and so there was something --

COOPER: So he had some aide making some sort of copies of things to pitch.


COOPER: Wow. That must be a great job. Can you imagine that? That task.

Kaitlan, stand by, I want to bring back in Karen Friedman Agnifilo.

So Karen, the former president has obviously been posting about these cases on Truth Social for months now. Is there a different legal risk associated with speaking on camera at a news conference that goes beyond the scope of online posts?

AGNIFILO: Yes. One of the conditions of release in his cases is that he not interfere with the trial or with the jurors, and part of that, judges need to protect the integrity of the trial and the integrity of the jurors.

So there is not just because he says things doesn't mean it will be admissible in court and the fear is that he is going to taint a future jury pool by putting out all of this inadmissible information, because of course, there is no document with irrefutable proof of a stolen election.

And so that would never come in at trial because it doesn't exist,. And so he is going to put it out there and say, well, I wanted to show you but my lawyers told me not to.

You know, so he wants to be able to kind of kind of thread that needle, and I think that's the concern here is you really cannot taint a jury pool.

COOPER: And Karen, he is now saying that his attorneys will put his arguments in court filings instead of the press conference. I mean, that seems ridiculous. Highly unlikely that -- I mean, they are not going to use this trial to re-litigate the election lies in 2020, are they?

AGNIFILO: Well, certainly the pretrial motions, which are the motions that his attorneys will be making between now and the trial, they wouldn't be strategic or appropriate to put your defense in there at that time. I mean, clearly, this is what he is now saying his defense is.

So the time to put on a defense is at a trial. And so hopefully, we will actually have a trial where he can put all his defenses out there, and he will probably try to re-litigate these issues that you know, that's what he will -- that will be what his defense is.

COOPER: And Kaitlan, I mean, do have a sense of what spurred him to do this initially, to make this announcement? Do we know?

COLLINS: He was angry that he was indicted in Georgia for why he was indicted in Georgia and I mean, not just him, obviously, 18 others. I mean, he has continued to -- it is the same thing when you talk to people like Bill Barr what was happening.


And when Bill Barr described it once as whackable in those days after the election where they get alerted about one claim of fraud, and then another, and then another, while they're still chasing down this one and having investigators interview this truck driver that they claimed drove all these ballots to Pennsylvania. It was just kind of was this never-ending exhausting, none of them turned out to be true kind of situation.

And that's still something to this day that, you know, Trump talks to people who are in his ear pushing these claims that he himself pushes, obviously, and it's more of that.

I mean, this wasn't some kind of legal strategy. I mean, the attorneys who are actually handling this, they are not making these arguments in court. They're not going to court and saying, actually, he did win the election. So that's why he shouldn't be charged here.

And so I think in his mind, though, he continues to push it, he continues to push his lies about election fraud on the campaign trail.

And obviously, you know, canceling this, there is no proof, which I mean, it's not surprising, but predictable.

COOPER: Yes. Karen, I mean, as far as avoiding talking about these cases goes, it seems likely, the former president will skip the first primary debate next week. He is still campaigning to be president, giving speeches, holding rallies. Is it only -- I mean, is it only a matter of time before he said something publicly that's incriminating, or anything he says on the campaign trail about this possibly could be used against him?

AGNIFILO: Absolutely, and he has to be careful about that. He has to be careful of a couple of things. He has to be careful about statements that he's going to say that will either lock him into a particular story, or things that could be used against him that are potentially incriminating.

He also has to be careful because he's going to for example, Mike Pence is running against him and he's going to want to say things about Mike Pence, but he has to walk a fine line and not intimidate a witness against him since Mike Pence is one of the main witnesses against him in Jack Smith's January 6 case.

So that's going to be a dance that would be hard for anyone to pull, to do, and he is not careful. So it'll be interesting to see how the judges, how the courts will deal with that sort of intimidation of a witness.

COOPER: Yes. Karen Friedman Agnifilo, appreciate it. Kaitlan Collins as well. We'll see Kaitlan again in "The Source" in about half an hour at the top of this next hour.

Coming up, as Hawaii's death toll reaches 111 with perhaps more than a thousand people still unaccounted for, we will focus on the conflicting answers officials have given for why they didn't use those loud all hazards sirens that cover much of Maui, but did not warn of this oncoming fire.



COOPER: Grim news tonight out of Hawaii as the death toll rises to at least 111 people. The FBI is asking family members of those unaccounted for to provide DNA samples to help in the identification of the wildfires victims. The governor has said that there could be more than 1,000 people unaccounted for right now.

Many areas still need to be searched. According to the police chief, search crews coming through the debris field are at the same time having to work through their own grief. The chief said, quote, "The responders that are going out there recovering their loved ones and members of their families".

Bill Weir joins us now from Maui again tonight.

So Bill, you've been there now for a week, surveying the damage, talking to people on the ground. What are you seeing today?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson people are finally starting to get a glimpse of their first look at the devastation. Even those whose homes survived the fire, seeing what happened to their neighbors is just gutting, the psychological toll of this, the trauma. We'll be with these folks for quite a while. I'm speaking to a specialist about that shortly.

We spent some time today with cadaver dog teams. We'll bring that to you tomorrow night. But along the way, we met a veteran FEMA Urban Search and Rescue officer who's seen so many disasters more than 90 in his career. But he says, this is unlike anything else. Take a listen.


WEIR: What are the particular challenges in this site compared to all the experience you have?

STEPHEN BJUNE, FEMA URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE, PIO OFFICER: Certainly. So I've been to a number of hurricanes and tornadoes, and what's so unique about this is we're not looking at a street. We're not looking at a block. What we're looking at is a whole community, and again, what we're looking at isn't a few houses tipped over, a few structures leaning this way.

What we're looking at is just, it's gone. It's burned to the ground. And the heat and the intensity and the speed of it, it makes it a lot more complicated. And we have to consider the responders and the K-9 safety. I can't simply go into that structure anymore. Now I have to make sure it's safe.

So being able to -- the technical piece to this where we're going to have to do layer things and search. That way we can get that accountability slows down the project, but again, that's why we've brought in so many teams from around the United States and so many dogs throughout the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue system to be able to do that as fast as we can.

WEIR: Yes.

BJUNE: Given that this is a such a complex technical problem.

WEIR: Yes.


WEIR: They are looking for people literally on the granular level. Imagine the complexity of that is the wind now. The trade winds are kicking up as well, but it's that number of the missing, the unaccounted for, Anderson, that just sticks with you because we've had phone communications get better and better and the power is on for most of the island now. So you'd think if someone was missing.

And then there's the worry about the children. The stories that so many kids were at home, either with the grandparents, while the parents were at work, so much concern. So much concern. And people may not know for weeks, months, may not ever.

COOPER: Yes. Bill, I appreciate your reporting. Thank you.

Questions continue about why the state, much vaunted alarm system designed to alert residents of a tsunami was not used to warn them about the rapidly spreading fires. According to an official for the state's emergency management agency who spoke with CNN last Friday, quote, "Nobody at the state and nobody at the county attempted to activate those sirens based on our records."

Randi Kaye has more.


COLE MILLINGTON, LOST HOME AND BUSINESS IN MAUI FIRE: So many of us residents felt like we had absolutely no warning.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hawaii has one of the largest public safety outdoor siren warning systems in the world. Sirens that were silent as wildfires raged. Question is why? First, it was this.

HERMAN ANDAYA, MAUI EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: It would not have saved those people on the mountain side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you regret not sounding the sirens?

ANDAYA: I do not. The sirens, as I had mentioned earlier, is used primarily for tsunamis.

KAYE (voice-over): That's what the head of Maui's Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday. But even before that press conference ended, his reason had changed. This time, suggesting the sirens weren't used because people wouldn't have been able to hear the warning.

ANDAYA: It's an outdoor siren, so a lot of people who are indoors, air conditioning on, or whatever the case may be, they're not going to hear a siren. Plus, the winds were very gusty and everything. The -- I heard it was very loud, and so they wouldn't have heard the sirens.


KAYE (voice-over): Same story with Hawaii's governor. First, this.

GOV. JOSH GREEN (D), HAWAII: Sirens were typically used for tsunamis or hurricanes, to my knowledge at least, I never experienced them in use for fires.

KAYE (voice-over): Then minutes later, another explanation. This time the governor suggested at least some of the sirens were broken. GREEN: The sirens were essentially immobilized, we believe, we believe, by the extreme heat that came through. Some were broken and we're investigating that.

KAYE (voice-over): Yet that doesn't all track with the county's own webpage,, which clearly states how the siren system is capable of alerting residents to multiple disasters, including wildfires.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emergency alert.

KAYE (voice-over): And we also found this explainer about the sirens uses on Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency's webpage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We also use sirens for hurricanes, brush fires, flooding, lava, hazmat conditions or even a terrorist event.

KAYE (voice-over): This map also from the county's page shows where the warning sirens are located. According to the state, there are about 400 sirens statewide, including 80 on Maui, and in the historic town of Lahaina, where more than 100 people were killed in the flames, there are five sirens, five sirens that were not used to warn those in grave danger.

Instead, officials say they chose to send alerts by text message to cell phones, as well as alerts on landlines and through TV and radio.

ANDAYA: It is our practice to use the most effective means of conveying an emergency message to the public during a wildlife -- wildland fire.

KAYE (voice-over): While that may have worked, in some cases, the wildfire moves so swiftly, it knocked out power and cell service. So how were residents supposed to receive those warnings?

MIKE CICCHINO, WILDFIRE SURVIVOR: There's no warning at all. There's not a siren, not a phone alert, not a -- nothing, not a call.


KAYE: And Anderson, Hawaii has had issues with its warning system before. In 2018, actually a cell phone alert mistakenly went out warning of an incoming missile attack. Of course you can imagine that was that caused widespread panic among residents across the Hawaiian Islands.

And then in 1960 -- this isn't going on for decades -- in 1960, there was actually a tsunami that hit an area known as Hilo, Hawaii, and the people there didn't know what the warning siren meant. They didn't know what to do. So instead of running up into the mountainside for safety, they ran into the ocean and 61 people died. So certainly some problems with these sirens and these warning systems in the past, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Randi Kaye, appreciate it. Thank you. Coming up next, the first Republican presidential debate is just days away and what could be Ron DeSantis' debate strategy has been posted online. It has detailed suggestions about who he should attack on stage and who he should defend. We'll talk it over with Republican strategist Mark McKinnon in a moment.



COOPER: We are less than a week away from the first Republican presidential debate. And tonight a's Super PAC supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis campaign is facing questions after its apparent attempt to provide potential debate talking points to the candidate.

According to the New York Times, one memo included what was called four basic must-dos in refer to the governor with his initials GRD, the must-dos were one, attack Joe Biden and the media, three to five times. Two, state GRD's positive vision two to three times. Three, Hammer, Vivek Ramaswamy in a response. Four, defend Donald Trump and absentia in response to a Chris Christie attack. The DeSantis campaign says this wasn't a campaign memo and they were not aware of it prior to the Times article.

Joining me now is Mark McKinnon, former adviser of the George W. Bush and John McCain presidential campaigns. Before we get into the substance of what was said, I mean, was this just an error by the PAC or was this an attempt to get around rules that prevent the Super PAC from giving private information to the candidate?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER BUSH CAMPAIGN MEDIA ADVISER: This is pretty shocking, Anderson. I mean, this is for your viewers just so you -- so they understand, when you set up a PAC for a campaign, there are these archaic, weird finance campaign rules that separate the way you can communicate with the campaign. And so often what a PAC will do will put out something publicly or even put it on a website, like put up an ad so they know.

So the campaign knows what you're doing, but the notion that you'd put up publicly a strategic memo designed to give the candidate insights into what they would do or debate and make it public is insane. I mean, the last thing you want to do is telegraph to anybody much less your opposition, what you're going to do in a debate, because now when everybody watches the debate, as soon as he does any one of those things, and by the way, most of those things are pretty smart is what I would recommend that he do.

But when he does them, they'll be seen as entirely inauthentic. They'll be seen as campaign tested --

COOPER: Right.

MCKINNON: -- and recommended by some campaign consultant.

COOPER: Right. I mean, it even suggested a potential kind of tagline attack on Vivek Ramaswamy. I don't know if he would be silly enough to actually use that now, given that everybody knows this was something formulated by a Super PAC, why does it make sense for him to go after Ramaswamy?

MCKINNON: Well, I just wrote a column for Vanity Fair, which suggests that the -- of all the candidates in the debate, the person most likely to have a breakout moment is Vivek Ramaswamy, for a couple of reasons. One, he is enormously talented and he is got sort of fundamental skills that will do well in a debate.

He's got the most important thing, which is an incredible sense of confidence which is the most important thing you need in a debate. And he's like the -- and listen, the other thing is that, debates are all about expectations. DeSantis has very high expectations, a lot of name ID, a lot of money. Everybody thought he was supposed to be doing well by now.

Nobody knew who Vivek Ramaswamy was.

COOPER: Right.

MCKINNON: They increasingly, they do now. So, but his expectations are low, so he's very likely to exceed expectations. So -- and by the way, the other thing is that Vivek Ramaswamy and now in many polls in the last couple of days, has surpassed Ron DeSantis in some of the national polls in his running second.

COOPER: So former President Trump today said that the future of the GOP hinges on how forcibly Republicans attack the indictments that he's facing. I just want to play a clip of that.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a disgraceful thing and Republicans can't get -- let them get away with the Republicans have to be tough. The Republicans are great in many ways, but they don't fight as hard for this stuff, and they have to get a lot tougher. And if they don't, they're not going to have much of a Republican Party.


COOPER: I mean, it's interesting he says they not we, talking about Republicans, but is there any reason to think the Republicans are suddenly going to get tired of defending him and rush to support another candidate?

MCKINNON: No, there's not, except increasingly, I think what's happening, Anderson, and we're seeing it increasingly in polls. This is another article I wrote for Vanity Fair about a week ago, which is talking about ghost voters for Trump, which who appear to be there, but are going to disappear as soon as the weight of all these legal challenges begins to set in.

The problem for Trump is not so much the indictments themselves, but the extent to which Republican primary voters increasingly begin to see general election polls where he's losing to Biden. And those polls are getting worse and worse by the day as these legal problems stack up.

So the issue really now is, is Trump is increasingly seen as a loser, which, of course, psychologically he hates and gets under his skin. But tactically and strategically is smart, and you've seen DeSantis start to kind of poke that fair a little bit to just say, listen, the problem is, you know, yes, he's being attacked unfairly by the Democrats, but at the end of the day, he's not going to be the best nominee for the Republicans to go up against Biden.

But according to the Super PAC, they're saying that DeSantis should not go after the former president or they're saying at least they should -- he should -- DeSantis should defend him if and inevitably when Chris Christie attacks the former president.

MCKINNON: Well, that's a little bit of a nuance there, but an important one. Chris Christie is the, you know, primary attack dog on Donald Trump. And a lot of, you know, sort of media and Democrats love him for that. But the reality is that -- and he's kind of poking through New Hampshire a little bit -- but he's not very popular certainly among the Republican base, especially, really across kind of most demographic groups, he's not particularly seen as a with a lot of favorable impressions.

But -- so it's easy to go after Christie -- and rather than going after Trump, you go after the really unpopular guy, who's Chris Christie.

COOPER: Interesting.

MCKINNON: For attacking the Trump.

COOPER: Right. Mark McKinnon, it's great to have you on. Thank you so much.

Just ahead, social media disinformation, we'll have an exclusive report on a Republican who had no idea that she'd become the face of a popular fake left-wing account on Twitter that has since been taken down.



COOPER: Touching again on one of our top stories tonight, the purported names, photos, and addresses of Georgia grand jury members on the Trump indictment were circulated online and have led to threats against them. That's just one example of how everyday Americans can be victimized through social media. We've also seen plenty of online disinformation campaigns and fake images generated with AI.

Tonight, Isabel Rosales has an exclusive report on how a Republican unwittingly became the face of a once popular but fake far-left political account on Twitter. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)





ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Erica Marsh quickly rose as a viral left-wing voice on social media. Her incendiary tweets, often ultra-liberal and politically charged, drew millions of views and the ire of Republicans.

Tweets like, "Do you agree that Drag Story Hour should be mandated for elementary school students?" And, "Why does it seem like most Republicans are pedophiles?" The account had nearly 130,000 followers. Marsha's top tweet viewed more than 27 million times.

Twitter, which now goes by X, took down the account a few weeks ago. It was a fake, but the photos were not.

Now, CNN exclusively shares the real face that's on the notorious account.

(on-camera): Are you Erica Marsh?


ROSALES (on-camera): But that's your face.

BALLESTEROS: Seems to be.

ROSALES (on-camera): Why are you talking to us?

BALLESTEROS: I want to tell the world that that's not me. My name is not Erica Marsh. I'm Courtney.

ROSALES (voice-over): Courtney Ballesteros lives in a rural part of the Tampa Bay area in Florida. She showed CNN her original photos, nearly a decade old. She says they were stolen from her Facebook page.

BALLESTEROS In my grandmother's front yard.

ROSALES (voice-over): By whoever, or whatever, is behind this account named Erica Marsh. The photos on the account are from when Courtney was still a teenager. She's since gotten married and had children.

ROSALES (on-camera): All right, Courtney, let me have you read Erica Marsh's probably most popular tweet. It got over 27 million views. And then tell me what you think about it.

BALLESTEROS: Today's Supreme Court decision is a direct attack on black people. No black person will be able to succeed in a merit-based system. ROSALES (on-camera): And what do you think?

BALLESTEROS: I'm speechless.

ROSALES (voice-over): Speechless, because while this viral fake account shares Courtney's face, they do not share the same politics.

(on-camera): Are you liberal?

BALLESTEROS: No, ma'am. No.

ROSALES (on-camera): Are you a Republican?

BALLESTEROS: Yes, ma'am.

ROSALES (on-camera): Can I ask you which way you voted in the last presidential elections?

BALLESTEROS: Of course I voted for Trump.

ROSALES (on-camera): So, you sense the irony here, right?


ROSALES (on-camera): Some people thought that this was an AI generated image.

BALLESTEROS: Right. Yes, I -- when I saw that, that was also made me laugh. I was like, they don't even think I'm real.

ROSALES (voice-over): It was her friends who first alerted her.

BALLESTEROS: Hey, like there's this twitter account. Is it yours? They're posting crazy things.

ROSALES (voice-over): Over months, Marsh only grew more popular.

BALLESTEROS: I think there was even elected representative that interacted with the account.

ROSALES (on-camera): Yes, Matt Gaetz.

BALLESTEROS: With my face. So that is shocking.

ROSALES (voice-over): But Courtney only grew more concerned about its message. Twitter has a policy against impersonation. Once the Erica Marsh account was removed, Courtney felt relieved but not safe.

BALLESTEROS: I don't want to be out in public and someone noticed my picture that was on the account, approached me, approached my family. Who knows what someone would do that didn't agree with what Erica Marsh was saying.

DARREN LINVILL, DISINFORMATION EXPERT, CLEMSON UNIVERSITY: Whoever's running this account knows what people like and knows how to get attention. ROSALES (voice-over): Darren Linvill, a professor at Clemson University, studies disinformation and trolling.

(on-camera): What is Erica Marsh? Is it a parody? Is it a troll? Is it a disinformation campaign? What is she?

LINVILL: Erica Marsh is a fake online influencer. She isn't a troll in the way that a lot of viewers may think of a troll.

ROSALES (voice-over): Linvill believes this was the work of a professional.

LINVILL: This is not an amateur, no. It'd be very hard for an amateur to get to well over 100,000 followers in such a short amount of time.

ROSALES (voice-over): And Courtney's pictures plucked on purpose.

LINVILL: She looks all American. She looks friendly. But ultimately, it's about influence. It's meant to engage with a very specific audience and to get people a little bit angry.

ROSALES (voice-over): Whether the goal of the account was to generate money or sow division, Linvill says the real owner of Erica Marsh is likely still operating on the platform.


(on-camera): Is there any way to tell who's responsible for Erica Marsh or where they come from?

LINVILL: That's the million dollar question, isn't it?

BALLESTEROS: It's just fake. You know, it's fake. The whole thing was fake.


COOPER: And on the profile, it says that Erica Marsh worked on the Biden-Obama campaign, so I assume that's fake as well?

ROSALES: Anderson, it was all made up. But as you saw, quite sophisticated there. Experts tell us that this easily could have been the work of a foreign government or a group or even a ploy to make money from all the clicks and attention that Erica Marsh was getting. Either way, there is a real concern here about these sorts of fake accounts and the influence that they could have leading up to the 2024 presidential election.

COOPER: It also had a blue check on the account. What does X, formerly known as Twitter, say about this?

ROSALES: Well, Twitter rarely responds these days to media requests for comments. Plus, Twitter and Facebook have recently laid off hundreds of people, including the very staff whose job it was to tackle disinformation and these sorts of fake accounts. So it really points to -- making it harder to police these sorts of fake influencers.

COOPER: Right. Isabela Rosales, appreciate it, thanks so much.

Coming up next, the entire city of Yellowknife, Canada is rushing to evacuate as a massive wildfire threatens their community. It's not easy to get out of harm's way. We'll show you why coming up.


COOPER: It is not just Hawaii. Hundreds of wildfires are burning in Canada, and one of the hardest hit areas is Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. That's where about 20,000 residents are under orders to evacuate the city by Friday. Authorities say one massive fire getting closer to Yellowknife has already burned 600,000 square miles about the size of Alaska.

Residents fleeing the flames are having a hard time. One woman leaving Yellowknife with four friends and their dogs took this video showing the thick smoke. She said they could not see the lines in the road for 45 minutes while they were driving. They could hardly breathe, but they finally did make it to their destination.

That's it for us. The news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.