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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Exclusive: Giuliani Still Hasn't Found Georgia-Based Attorney Needed To Negotiate Surrender; Meadows And Clark Ask Federal Court To Block Pending Georgia Arrests; Special Counsel: Two Mar-a-Lago Employees Give False Testimony About Alleged Effort To Delete Security Footage; 8 GOP Presidential Hopefuls Prepare To Take Debate Stage Tomorrow Night; FL. Gov. DeSantis Prepares To Take Center Stage At First Republican Debate; Trump To Skip First GOP Primary Debate, Says He Will Not Participate In Others; Elite Ukrainian Sniper Unit Targets Russian Forces; Daring Rescue Of 8 People Stranded Inside Cable Car In Pakistan. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired August 22, 2023 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The hospital lost its main power during Tropical Storm Hilary, and then it's back up generators failed. The outage forcing doctors and nurses to improvise, even using flashlights to light up a delivery room while a mother gave birth.
And there were other high-stakes situations. Some patients on ventilators that had just one hour of battery power left.
Thankfully everyone was evacuated safely, including that newborn who was born during the incident.
And thank you so much for joining us. AC 360 starts now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Tonight on 360 --
There is breaking news. New subpoenas go out as the first two defendants surrender in Atlanta and the former president prepares to upstage the Republican debate and turn himself in Thursday.
Also tonight, what a new filing in the Mar-a-Lago documents case reveals about key witnesses -- a key witness apparently changing testimony.
Later what could have been a cable car catastrophe. One of the cables snapped in the car full of kids was dangling hundreds of feet above ground for hours. The remarkable rescue caught on tape.
Good evening. Thanks for joining us.
We begin in Georgia with breaking news and this week's surrender of 19 defendants. Late today, we learned that Rudy Giuliani, the man who once served as US attorney for the prestigious Southern District of New York has not been able to find a lawyer to represent him in Georgia. So far two people have turned themselves in, John Eastman, an attorney
who allegedly devised the fake electric scheme, and Scott Hall charged in connection with the voting machine breach by Trump's supporters in January 2021.
The woman who let people in to breach those machines, Kathy Latham seen here on surveillance video, opening the door for them, she reached a bond agreement today. Eleven other defendants have now done the same. Two others took action today trying to derail the entire process.
Former chief-of-staff, Mark Meadows asking a federal judge to put his surrender on hold, while deciding whether to move his trial to federal court, and former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark, seeking the same, making a pretty remarkable argument in his filing.
Clark, who the former president newly appointed acting attorney general asked for a stay of his surrender by 5:00 PM today, that way, and I'm quoting now from the filing which is full of grammatical mistakes: "Mr. Clark would not need to be put the choice of making rush travel arrangements to fly into Atlanta or instead risking being labeled a fugitive."
No word yet on that from the judge. Or if the judge could understand that grammar. Just as a point of fact, Clark was given the same two- week deadline to surrender as every other defendant, and as any traveler knows, no matter where you're going, you still have to kind of go through Atlanta.
CNN's Katelyn Polantz starts us off right there.
More than half of the defendants, Katelyn, have now reached bond terms. What else do you know about where this whole process stands tonight?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE SENIOR REPORTER: Well, the process is in the middle of where it will need to be by the end of the week, that's because at the end of this week, at noon, that is the deadline for all of the 19 defendants to go through the process of being arrested after this indictment last week.
So Anderson, more than half have done what was largely expected and what Donald Trump himself did in this case. They had their lawyers come in and talk to the prosecutors to negotiate some terms. This is not a violent crime case. This is a white collar case.
And so, it is the type of case where criminal defendants typically would be bonded out, meaning they would, they would have some sort of monetary value to assure that they would make -- they would come back to court for a trial, but they wouldn't be held in jail for a long time. They instead would post those bonds and then go to the jail to be arrested, to be processed here, and then released as quickly as they could get through the system.
We did see some of that beginning to happen today. Donald Trump has not gone through the full process of this yet. He does have a $200,000.00 bond set, a little bit different, a little bit more strict than the bond terms he's had in the other criminal cases that he has now been charged with.
But here in Georgia, he does have that negotiation and there are other leaders around him, both lawyers who had worked for him, people in the campaign. They also have six figure bond terms, and some are very likely to be coming into the jail just like John Eastman did earlier this morning to go through the arrest process.
COOPER: And what about the efforts by some to move this to federal court?
POLANTZ: That is the big question of will this train that Fani Willis has been captaining, has been pushing forward, will that go off the tracks? And Mark Meadows and two others, Jeffrey Clark and David Shafer. So a GOP official is David Shafer. He was one of the fake electors. Jeffrey Clark was a Justice Department official in the Trump administration, and then Mark Meadows obviously, the chief-of-staff.
They are all trying to get this out of the turf, that the DA, Fani Willis wants this case to be on, and get it before a federal judge, potentially a judge that would be appointed by Donald Trump in a venue that has a little bit of a different procedural structure and also could be a Trump appointee, has just a little bit different plan and approach. No cameras in federal court either like they have in state court.
And right now there's a standoff between what Mark Meadows is asking for and what the DA wants to do. The DA wants Mark Meadows to play on their terms, and essentially come in, have the bond process take place like the others, like Trump, and then be arrested, come in through the jail.
Mark Meadows says, no, we are getting this case in federal court and that is where it is now based on what we've done procedurally, and so we're not coming in yet. Have us arrested.
And the DA is threatening to arrest Mark Meadows if he doesn't turn himself in by this deadline of Friday at noon. There is a hearing set for Monday that Meadows wants to push this whole thing past and it is going to be gearing up to be quite the hearing, because there's a lot of people looking at whether that case could be moved to federal court, either one or two defendants or all of them.
COOPER: What about when the former president plans to turn himself in? Do we know more details exactly?
POLANTZ: We don't have the full plan available yet, Anderson. But we do know that Donald Trump is announcing he is planning to turn himself in to be arrested on Thursday in this case now that his lawyers have made that bond agreement. He was tweeting about it or posting about it on social media, which is notable in and of itself, because part of his bond terms is that he has to be careful on social media. He is not able to intimidate witnesses or discuss the facts of this
case with others who might be involved in this case, either as defendants or witnesses.
And so watching what Donald Trump is saying and also what he's doing if those two things diverge, that's very important to watch in the coming days. We are going to be looking forward to see exactly when the former president will be coming into the state of Georgia to face these charges.
But right now, we know Thursday, is it. There could be some defendants before him, some after him. It's going to be a busy week.
COOPER: Katelyn, thanks so much.
More now on the Mar-a-Lago federal case and what we're learning from a new filing by Special Counsel Jack Smith. CNN's Evan Perez joins us now with that.
So, this is really fascinating. What exactly is the special counsel saying in this new filing?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson for the first time, the special counsel is providing some details as to why they believe there was a scheme involving the former president and a couple of his employees to delete, to try to delete surveillance video from Mar-a-Lago and why they added charges as part of that superseding indictment that we saw in the last few weeks.
And according to the filing, they say that this Trump employee, he is an IT worker. His name is Yuscil Taveras, he --
COOPER: This is employee number four in the original indictment.
PEREZ: That's right. He is identified as employee -- Trump employee number four, and according to prosecutors, he at first said that he knew nothing about any conversations about the surveillance video, and it appears after he ditched his Trump-funded lawyer and gotten representation from the public defender, he changed his story, and he provided information to prosecutors, according to this court filing and he implicated that the former president, Walt Nauta, his aide, as well as Carlos del Oliveira, another -- the property manager there at Mar-a-Lago, all of them were part of this effort to try to get him to delete this surveillance video -- Anderson.
COOPER: I mean, that's fascinating. What do prosecutors want the judge to do?
PEREZ: Well, Anderson, the prosecutors want the judge to declare that this is a conflict, because Stan Woodward who is the lawyer that was representing Taveras is also representing a couple of other witnesses who may become witnesses at this trial, who will testify at this trial. And of course, he's also the lawyer for Walt Nauta, Trump's very close aide.
And so what prosecutors are saying is that look, this is a conflict, and this lawyer cannot be representing all of these people. Stan Woodward had declined to comment to us when we reached out to him tonight.
He has pushed back at prosecutors saying that they're overblowing, they are overplaying what this conflict could represent and that the judge could deal with this in a more narrow fashion -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Evan Perez, appreciate it.
With us now, CNN Senior Legal Analyst, Elie Honig; CNN chief correspondent, Kaitlan Collins who will be anchoring "The Source" at the top of the hour; also, CNN political commentator and former Trump communications director, Alyssa Farah Griffin; and former federal judge, Nancy Gertner.
Elie, I mean, I'm amazed at this that all it takes, essentially is get rid of the Trump PAC lawyer, and suddenly this guy gets a public defender, and flips.
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: He comes clean. This happens all the time as a prosecutor.
In an ideal world, every witness would come in and tell you the full truth right off the bat, but that rarely happens. People come in, they lie right off the bat about their own conduct, about others, especially where their lawyer is being paid for by the person they may be testifying against.
And what you see happened so many times, we've seen it happen many times before in Trump world is as soon as that person breaks free and gets a lawyer with no conflict of interest, then they tell you the truth and as a prosecutor, the question is, do you believe that now? It seems like prosecutors do. And can you explain that to a jury?
But I think they understand in my experience, the whole phenomenon there with the lawyers.
COOPER: I mean, certainly if you are the former president, you're suddenly I guess, looking at Walt Nauta and Oliveira even closer now, wondering, are they going to possibly flip as well?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and there is an even greater kind of conflict there and that most of these people are employees of Donald Trump's. They work for one of his entities. So there's, you know, the fear of retaliation that I'm sure is built in with what they're experiencing, but then also wanting to get their own attorneys.
You know, these are -- these can be extremely expensive retainers that you're paying. But we saw this. I mean, it came up in Cassidy Hutchinson's case, when she was represented by a Trump-paid attorney, she was not able to share what she wanted to and she was actually coached to say like, I do not recall on things she did. I expect that there will be more people who get their own attorneys
because there are so many conflicting interests here, and I would actually just encourage anyone to.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: With a sense that this happened, I mean, we knew that Carlos De Oliveira had -- they've gone through his phone, they had seized it, and no one had been charged. He had not been charged, additionally. It was when the superseding indictment came down that we spoke to sources at the time who said it was very clear that Yuscil Taveras who is known as employee number four here, he is the IT worker at the center of this, that he had spoken to investigators.
And of course, then it was later that we learned about Stan Woodward and the fact that he had changed attorneys there. Stan Woodward is someone who represents, it's not just people in this case, he's representing people and other investigations surrounding Donald Trump as well.
He is someone who is very close and very involved. I don't see him leaving all of this. We'll see if the judge rules that it is a conflict for him to represent Walt Nauta as well, because essentially what prosecutors are saying is that, if Yuscil Taveras, this employee who used to be represented by Stan Woodward gets on the stand, then Stan Woodward would be questioning him under cross examination. He could possibly incriminate Walt Nauta, and that is what they're saying that the conflict is.
COOPER: And Elie, we have learned that de Oliveira is asking for an earlier trial date than the May 2024 start Date. Is that unusual?
HONIG: It is unusual. Usually all defense -- Trump is not the only person who wants to delay their trial. It's a very common tactic. But one of the key tactical questions here is, will these defendants be tried together or separately?
Usually, if a defendant wants to be tried separately, especially if he's the less culpable person, the less powerful person, a judge will try to respect that because it can be tough for him to sit there next to Donald Trump.
So it's possible though, if this happens, by the way, this could be a tactical play, because it would help Donald Trump to see De Oliveira tried first, because then the government is going to have to put all their witnesses on. You're going to see them take the stand, you're going to see them get cross examined.
So if they pull this off, that's going to actually help Trump tactically.
COOPER: Judge Gertner, I mean, back in the case in Georgia, I mean, what do you make of the move by whether it's Jeffrey Clark or Mark Meadows to move this to federal court?
NANCY GERTNER, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: Well, it's the move they had to make and it is the move that they are entitled to try to make. I mean, the question is, this is a removal where federal officials arguably carrying out federal policies say they can't get a fair trial in state court, and they have federal defenses, immunity from these prosecutions.
The issue here is going to be whether just the -- because this all took place while Meadows was chief-of-staff that that somehow inoculates it from state charges, or whether or not the judge is going to say, wait a minute, and wait a minute. What they were doing was not carrying out federal policies. They were carrying out Trump's campaign policies.
They were not dealing with the president's official duties, which might have to do with the integrity of elections. The president has no official duties with respect to the Electoral College. That's completely a state function.
So the question is how strict the judge will be about applying the federal removal statute. And then Meadows and the others are also trying to say we were federal officials, federal policy should trump -- not a good verb -- state policies that they should have immunity from state prosecutions, and the cases have gone in both directions.
So I mean, this is what they had to do and we will see what the judge does.
COOPER: A federal judge has ordered though, Judge Gertner, the Fulton County DA to respond to Clark's emergency request by tomorrow afternoon.
GERTNER: Right, what the federal judge did is to say I can't on the face of the papers, just looking at the papers, answer the question of whether these allegations are pursuant to your federal office. I need an evidentiary hearing and that is what he is doing. He has set up an evidentiary hearing very quickly, for Monday for everyone to participate. That does suggest that he's looking below the surface here.
It's not just stuff that Meadows was the chief-of-staff to the president, I think he's looking at what exactly was Meadows doing were these chief-of-staff ordinary activities, or were these activities pursuant to the campaign? Were these activities pursuant to an area that the president had absolutely no business interfering him, namely, the Electoral College, or were these activities on their face illegal? In which case they wouldn't have been part of the federal policy.
COOPER: Is this realistic, Alyssa, I mean, this is more than him just wanting to avoid a mug shot in Fulton County for Meadows. I mean, clearly he would like to avoid that.
GRIFFIN: That's certainly a factor. Listen, none of this brings me joy, but Meadows from what I understand is basically, which is classic to anyone who knows him, kind of playing all sides of things and trying to leave Trump world thinking he is not cooperating, going as far as he can, cooperating unofficially with DOJ. And I say that to mean, he has answered -- he has responded to a
subpoena. He's very clearly at least claiming he has not flipped there. But Fulton County was always kind of this X factor, because Fani Willis didn't give him some kind of an angle where he could basically quietly cooperate and not get wrapped up in the indictment.
I think it was so clear cut, his actions there. So, I'm not sure how this was going to work out. I would also just note to the judge's point. There's this specific line in the Georgia indictment where it talks about Meadows actually offering money to speed up a recount that was going to come from the Trump campaign. I don't know how you could possibly legally say that he was doing that in his official White House chief-of-staff duty, that's very much an electioneering political effort that was underway.
COLLINS: What's also fascinating on the Meadows case of this is that Trump World has been suspicious of him for a long time. I mean, his attorneys stopped communicating with all the Trump attorneys, but "The New York Times" reporting today on the background of this, which is in part that, that attorney George Terwilliger for Meadows, when they stopped cooperating with the January 6 congressional committee, they had turned over the text, but they didn't have him actually go in person, was in part because he had this sense that it was going to be much more valuable to offer up Mark Meadows' testimony to actual Justice Department investigators than it would be to lawmakers on Capitol Hill doing the investigating.
HONIG: Let me just add to that, if Mark Meadows was cooperating or trying to cooperate with DOJ, with the Feds, the fact that he's been indicted by Fani Willis really complicates that for both of them, because the deal is, hey, you tell us everything you did, you cooperate with us, we'll take care of you.
But if Fani Willis drops a RICO indictment on him as she has that could really blow him up and make it more difficult.
COOPER: And Elie, you know, there is this reporting that Rudy Giuliani has not been able to find a Georgia attorney to represent him. I mean, do you buy that?
COOPER: There's plenty of lawyers in Georgia, I would assume.
HONIG: Yes, there is plenty -- he has had plenty of time to -- I mean, it's one thing in that Mar-a-Lago case we saw De Oliveira and Nauta, the day or two after, they couldn't find a Florida attorney.
Rudy has had over a week. He knows -- he is -- was a lawyer. He's suspended now, but he knows plenty of lawyers. He's saying he doesn't have the money. I mean, if that's the case, I don't mean this sarcastically. If you really are out of money, you can get a court appointed lawyer. There are great lawyers who are public defenders and court appointed. But if this is a stall tactic, it's not going to work. COOPER: Judge Gertner, as you know, I mean, it's part of the
conditions for his bond in Fulton County, the former president is barred from intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the case on social media. What are the options actually available to a judge if he were to violate that agreement? Because I mean, he's certainly going to push it to the line or beyond. What can a judge really do?
GERTNER: Well, no, there is a range of options, right, and I imagine that any judge would tread lightly here. So when one option is you bring him into court, you say you did X, it violated my rule, don't do it again. To some degree, we saw this in the Roger Stone prosecutions, then that doesn't work; then you bring it back again and then you can cite him for contempt if it is a clear violation. You can cite him for contempt. You could wind up -- there could be sanctions for that.
You could wind up revoking bail. There is a whole continuum. But you know, given the collision here between a campaign on the one hand, and these requirements on the other, I would imagine that a judge is going to go through that continuum and not, you know, throw him in prison -- throw him in jail rather immediately after he crosses the line.
But you know, there is a line that is to be crossed here and Trump has shown himself if he hasn't crossed the line, he certainly walked awfully close to it.
COOPER: I mean, that is such an interesting dilemma. I mean, you can't really, you're not going to put him in jail. You can fine him, but a contempt citation is a badge of honor for this guy.
GRIFFIN: I mean, that's what he has masterfully done in all of this. There is an interesting piece today talking about, you know, the mug shot, if it ends up happening with Trump. He's going to fundraise off of it. He's going to use it to his advantage.
COOPER: He made a fake one to fundraise off of.
GRIFFIN: Yes, his adversaries, those who oppose him also want to see it. He is very good at flipping the script. I don't know that it hurts him and he is a wealthy individual. He can pay the fine. I don't think it's a deterrent.
COOPER: Yes. Judge Gertner, thank you. Elie Honig, Alyssa Farah Griffin, Kaitlan Collins back at nine o'clock on "The Source."
Coming up next, inside the jail where the Fulton County defendants are all being booked, including where the former president will be booked and the other scrutiny that the facility is now under beyond this case.
Also tonight, nine qualifiers, but only eight participants. What the first Republican debate will look like tomorrow night without the leading Republican and what Ron DeSantis' past debates can tell us about what his performance may be like tomorrow.
COOPER: Returning to breaking news today. So the first two of 19 defendants in Georgia's election subversion case turned themselves in. Tonight, a closer look at the actual facility where they were processed and the former president will be sometime Thursday.
CNN's Brian Todd has that.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's known as Rice Street, a hulking crumbling structure that's garnered a notorious reputation.
The sheriff of Fulton County insisting that despite their high- profiles, Donald Trump and his co-defendants will be treated like every other defendant booked at this jail.
SHERIFF PATRICK LABAT, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: If you're indicted, then we're going to treat you as though you were indicted here locally. And so we will consider to do fingerprints, mug shots, et cetera.
TODD (voice over): What might it look like inside when Trump and the others formally surrender?
Retired Fulton County Sheriff's Lieutenant Charles Rambo says, normally, people who are surrendering come through the facility's front door first.
But regardless of which entrances Trump and the others arrive at --
CHARLES RAMBO, RETIRED LIEUTENANT, FULTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: They would be pat down, led to the booking office in the rear. From there they probably will have to have ties and shoe strings and all those types of things taken. Then from there, the persons would be fingerprinted, given a booking photo.
TODD (voice over): Donald Trump and the other defendants are expected to be photographed for mug shots, but it's unclear when those pictures will be made public.
People familiar with the process tell CNN, normally those booked at this jail are searched thoroughly by a jail deputy and at some point, given a medical exam and a pretrial screening to determine if they can sign out on their own recognizance.
But it's not clear if Trump or the other high-profile defendants in this case will go through those steps. For a normal defendant, it would take hours to go through those procedures. But with these defendants --
CHRIS TIMMONS, FORMER GEORGIA PROSECUTOR: I don't expect Trump to spend hours in this jail because the longer he is, I mean, it's a pain. But it's going to be a hassle for the entire sheriff's department or at least those that are at the jail when the president is there. It's going to be a circus.
TODD (voice over): If they didn't have bond agreements, Donald Trump and the other defendants might have been held in custody at this jail, which observers say could be a nightmarish experience.
TIMMONS: The Rice Street Jail is not a pleasant place. It's dirty. It's scary.
TODD (voice over): Last month, the Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation into the Fulton County Jail following multiple deaths inside the facility.
Last year, inmate LaShawn Thompson was found dead in his cell. His family says unsanitary conditions including insect and lice infestation contributed to his death.
BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR LASHAWN THOMPSON'S FAMILY: Even the sheriff agreed that it was deplorable conditions like a third world country.
TODD (on camera): Three officials with the Fulton County Jail stepped down earlier this year after a preliminary investigation into LaShawn Thompson's death.
Sheriff Patrick Labat acknowledges the poor conditions. Says he welcomes the Justice Department's investigation and he sought more than $2 billion in county funding to build a new jail -- Anderson.
COOPER: Brian Todd, thanks so much.
As the former president prepares to turn himself in, his opponents for the Republican nomination are gearing up obviously for tomorrow's debate, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who will be the top polling candidate on stage tomorrow.
We'll take a look at his past debates and how he may try to shake things up tomorrow night.
COOPER: Tomorrow night, eight Republican presidential hopefuls will take the stage for the party's 1st 2024 primary debate, with the former president skipping out. What you see on the screen is the order that the participating candidates will appear on the debate stage. Ron DeSantis will be the highest polling candidate onstage, so he'll be in the center. Candidate likely to be the biggest target as well.
Our Randi Kaye took a look at his debate style and how it may play out tomorrow night.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Andrew's a failed mayor, he's presided over a crime ridden city.
RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republican Ron DeSantis attacking Democrat Andrew Gillum right out of the gate at their 2018 gubernatorial debate. But according to one of Gillum's debate coaches, DeSantis isn't always so confident on the debate stage, and he has a move that's a dead giveaway.
KEVIN CATE, COACHED ANDREW GILLUM FOR DEBATE AGAINST DESANTIS: Going into the debates, we knew that Ron had a nervous jaw. We could tell that whenever he was irritated, he would move it back and forth.
KAYE (voice-over): Media consultant Kevin Cate says DeSantis tends to grit his teeth when he's under attack or annoyed by his opponent or the moderator.
CATE: He's irritated to be there. And that's why you see oftentimes, instead of attacking the candidate or issues or policy, he goes after the referee, the debate moderator.
KAYE (voice-over): Like in 2018, when DeSantis was asked about speaking at conferences years ago with a conservative firebrand who has said negative things about African Americans, this happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he had, sir. The first statement was made many years ago --
DESANTIS: How -- I mean, how the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?
KAYE (voice-over): DeSantis comes prepared to debates with facts and figures. But in this case, he appeared to freeze before firing off a one liner against Charlie Crist in 2022.
CHARLIE CRIST, FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: Will you serve a full four- year term if you're elected governor of Florida? It's not a tough question. It's a fair question. He won't tell you.
DESANTIS: Well, listen, I know that Charlie's interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden, but I just want to make things very, very clear. The only worn out old donkey I'm looking to put out the pasture is Charlie Crist.
KAYE (voice-over): In past debates, DeSantis has blamed the other guy, even when defending his own policy.
DESANTIS: You are the one that's waging the culture war.
KAYE (voice-over): And when things aren't going his way, there's apparently another telltale sign from DeSantis.
CATE: When he gets irritated, his voice goes up and up and up, and that's when you know you've really landed a punch.
KAYE (voice-over): Still, DeSantis has been known to pivot. Watch this when he was asked if Donald Trump is a good role model for children. DESANTIS: I don't actually read The Art of the Deal to my son Mason. He's a great kid and he smiles at anything, but that's not necessarily his cup of tea. So here's what I know. You know, I was very passionate about moving our American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
KAYE (voice-over): On stage, DeSantis likes to tout his record.
DESANTIS: He called for harsh lockdowns in July of 2020. I lifted you up. I protected your rights.
KAYE (voice-over): At his first presidential debate, given DeSantis has the highest poll numbers among the candidates onstage, he will be standing in the center. His new campaign manager said in a recent memo to the candidate's friends and supporters, "We are fully prepared for Governor DeSantis to be the center of attacks and on the receiving end of false, desperate charges from other candidates".
So Ron DeSantis better prepare for a fight.
DESANTIS: I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness.
KAYE (voice-over): Randy Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach County, Florida.
Joining me now are CNN Political Commentator and former Obama Special Adviser Van Jones and Stuart Stevens, a former Republican consultant on five presidential campaigns. He now works on a new pro-democracy media platform called Resolute Square. He's the author of upcoming book called, "The Conspiracy to End America".
So, Stuart, I mean, Ron DeSantis will literally be center stage tomorrow night. If everyone's going to be gunning for him, what do you think his strategy will be?
STUART STEVENS, FORMER REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Look, God forbid, I should help Ron DeSantis, but I think that it's really important to go into debates with a very clear strategy. Debates are ultimately a tactic to execute your strategy. Ron DeSantis, to the extent that he has a theory of his candidacy, it's that he would be best against Biden.
So I would use the debate to debate Joe Biden. I would say that in my opening statement. I would say everybody on the stage would be a better president than Joe Biden. I think they're all going to be good candidates, but I'm going to tell you why I'm the best to be against Joe Biden. And then I would just act as if Joe Biden was on the stage and debate Biden and not take debate when he's attacked.
COOPER: Van, what do make of that? Because, I mean, it does seem like certainly given his past debates he has sort of these lines that he will try to go to the kind of own the headline or, you know, get the click the next day on news sites. VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, everybody's going to show up with a bag full of zingers and one liners hoping they can get them off there. But when the big lights hit you and people start punching you in the head, sometimes those plans go out the window. I think that's a Mike Tyson quote, everybody's got a plan until you get punched in the face, and he's going to get punched a bunch.
So, you know, Chris Christie is no joke. He knows how to throw a punch. And Vivek being right next to him. It's amazing. You got somebody that was a nobody six months ago sitting right next to Ron DeSantis. I think he's going to have to show himself, and I think he's got more to lose than anybody else.
He's got this kind of reputation. They're calling him Robot Ron, all this sort of stuff. If he goes to anything too standard or too programmed, he's going to get beat up for that. So you got to have -- Ron DeSantis has the most to prove and the most to lose tomorrow night.
COOPER: Stuart, for Chris Christie, I mean, who clearly is gunning for, you know, one of the few who's really probably the most outspoken against the former president, how does that resonate without the former president there on the stage?
STEVENS: Oh, listen, I think Chris Christie's going to have a lot of fun tomorrow night. He's a prosecutor. I worked for Christie when he ran for governor both times. This is a comfortable space that he's in. Look at what he did to Rubio in the last New Hampshire debate. You know, he basically took his head off and handed to him.
So, you know, one of the factors in this debate is going to be the crowd, and Christie is going to get booed, as is Mike Pence. But I think Christie is going to be prepared for that. He's going to play off of that. He's going to enjoy it. So I think he's just going to sit there like he's a prosecutor and you've got Donald Trump. He's in the dock, and he's just going to go right after him and be in a very comfortable, good place to attack.
COOPER: Van, do you think it was smart for the former president to skip this?
JONES: Sure, because he's going to counter program it with his little Tucker Carlson video. He's going to get himself arrested the next day and be a big martyr and a crybaby and just, you know, and we'll talk about the debate for probably 15 seconds before he goes and, you know, steals his show again.
So right now he's, you know, 40 some points ahead. These other people, frankly, this sort of not so great eight are just basically shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic of their own campaigns, figuring out who's going to be a Cabinet member or VP, as far as I'm concerned.
COOPER: Stuart, do you think the former president will debate at all? And does that give license to President Biden to not debate?
STEVENS: No, I think he will debate. I actually disagree with Van. I think he should be in the debate. He's the most vivid candidate. He's someone that knows why he's running for president, right? He's running for revenge. This is the final battle.
He's not confused about this. He's very clear. I think that his sort of vividness and energy would dominate that stage. So I think it's a mistake for him not to debate. I think that he will end up being in the next debate, and I think he'll do really well because most of these people, they really -- you know, are you running for '24? Are you running for '28? Are you running as a Cabinet member as Van were saying? Are you running to be a VP?
Most of them aren't really running to win this thing, and I think DeSantis will just melt next to Trump. So I think Trump ought to go out there and beat Donald Trump, and that's what the party wants and that's what he'll give them.
COOPER: Stuart, assuming Chris Christie is not one of them, but how many of these people on the stage tomorrow night do you think would be at the Republican Convention speaking, you know, saying that people should vote for Donald Trump?
STEVENS: Well, they're all -- you know, this is the thing. To be on stage, you have to sign a pledge that you will support the nominee, which is a very interesting little box that they've all been put in. And it'll be interesting to see how Chris Christie deals with that and Asa Hutchinson.
Look, you know, the reason that Trump is winning is because Donald Trump is what the party wants to be. There's no market, really, for an alternative to Donald Trump. So the argument that was used against Trump in a lot of these cases, like after the '22 elections is he's not winning. There's no substantive argument against him.
No one is saying in the Republican Party that someone who tried to overthrow the government of the United States maybe shouldn't be president. They're just saying, well, he might hurt us. So, you know, I think that that's a difficult thing for a lot of people to accept, you know, somebody that worked like myself, to build the party. This is what the party is.
STEVENS: It is Donald Trump's party. It's a white grievance party.
COOPER: Yes. Stuart Stevens, Van Jones, thank you, guys. Appreciate it.
Coming up just ahead, an exclusive look at an elite Ukrainian sniper unit battling Russians on the front lines. Our Nick Paton Walsh joins us with a story next.
And also tonight, this daring rescue caught on tape mission hundreds of feet in the air. Eight people, including six kids, were trapped in a cable car hanging on after one cable snap.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:43:45]
COOPER: We received striking new images today of a drone attack on Russian aircraft at a base deep inside Russia. Now, it happened over the weekend. It was the first of two strikes inside Russia over a three-day period aimed at supersonic long range bombers.
Military analysts at the Institute for the Study of War say that neither one is likely to inflict significant damage on Russia's air superiority, but may, quote, degrade Russian morale. It's also one of the objectives of a group of elite snipers in Ukraine who gave our Nick Paton Walsh an exclusive look at their mission on the front lines.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're never seen and heard fire only once. Their targets just drop. Ukraine's elite sniper unit from the security services, the SBU, are usually invisible, like the U.S. Delta Force, chosen for fitness and intelligence, unlike Delta fighting for their homeland survival for nearly 18 months.
They gave CNN a rare interview as they honed their sniper scopes to broadcast the damage they say they've been doing to Russian front lines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language).
WALSH (voice-over): It's sniper terror, he says. That's when we hit every target we spot, it demoralizes them and kills their will to do anything against us. But it's not always one sided. Five weeks ago, they stumbled at night into a Russian recon group.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language).
WALSH (voice-over): We were in the gray zone between our lines, their commander says, using a guide from another unit. But we ran into a Russian assault group doing pretty much the same thing as us, moving towards our front position. We opened fire. Our guide was wounded.
We suppressed them, pulled him out, called in artillery and then watched them fall back with their wounded. They do not always escape. Sasha (ph) knows that too well.
I've lost many people, he says. The best ones leave us first. His upper lip folds in slightly from an injury when a large shell hit his chest, legs and face last March. It was unpleasant, he says, but I had 16 operations to rebuild my bones and teeth and I got back into the fight.
Western help has kept them afloat, they say this anti-armor Barrett sniper rifle, a donation used so often that its suppressor has come loose and detaches. These machines and men working at a tempo they were probably not designed for. They know why they are here, though.
My son is growing up, Sasha (ph) says. He's little, but he already trains, already knows who the enemy is and that is Russia. Hoping each single shot brings Russian defeat closer.
COOPER: Nick, is there -- how many of these elite units Ukraine actually has under its command?
WALSH: Yes, a significant number, I think it's fair to say, even though probably not all of them meet the standards of this Alpha teams. And, of course, the exact numbers are something of a military secret. Some do operate inside Russian held, occupied parts of Ukraine, behind enemy lines, so to speak. But we heard repeatedly from this unit, they're relying on donations sometimes.
You saw that sniper rifle essentially falling apart as it was fired. Other heavier weapons are used so much that actually they're now being put to one side because they're sort of worn out so desperately, I think, in need at times of as much assistance as they can get, Anderson.
COOPER: You know, the continued resolve of Ukrainians in the face of this Russian onslaught is extraordinary. When you hear that sniper talking about his young son already knowing who the enemy is, clearly, he's preparing for war that could go on for a very, very long time.
WALSH: Yes. And there's a desperate hope, I think, amongst Ukrainians that they're not looking at a multi-year conflict here. But, yes, the hatred that you hear from Ukrainians who've lost family members, who've seen their homes torn apart by this war, will run deep for generations.
And talking to those men as well, they've heard, too, some of the criticism, some very public criticism from Western officials about how the counteroffensive is being prosecuted. I think it does engender some anger and, frankly, confusion, too, that some of their allies talking them down this early on in the counteroffensive.
They know here that it's hard, that it's slow that they're facing a pretty well dug in Russian enemy. They are seeing some progress, certainly this day around Robotine, a key village, a tiny one, but one that's been a lot of heavy fighting around in the past month or so. Ukraine has now said it's moved into there incremental progress.
But at some point, some of these small changes will result, likely in a bigger change in Russia's ability to defend these front lines. We might be seeing possibly the beginnings of some of that, Anderson.
COOPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thanks. Appreciate it.
Terrifying ordeal in a cable car. One of the cables snapped. Eight people, including six children, were trapped, hanging hundreds of feet above the ground. Their incredible rescue next.
COOPER: Imagine riding on a cable car with a group of children and one of the cables snapped. It happened in Pakistan. Eight people, mostly kids, were saved after being stranded for hours, dangling hundreds of feet above the ground.
CNN's Ivan Watson has the story.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lone cable car hangs 900 feet over a ravine in a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan with six children and two teachers trapped inside. The students, between ages 10 and 15, were on their way to school Tuesday when one of the cables snapped, leaving the car dangling by a single cable over the valley below.
Officials say that the cable car had done multiple trips Tuesday before the cable broke part way through its journey. It was a race against time to save that passengers who were said to have no drinking water, two of them reportedly slipping in and out of consciousness.
Pakistan's military scrambled to help save the group, but initial rescue attempts by helicopter failed after strong winds made the car too unstable. A large crowd on the mountainside watched in horror as the cable car was left tilted at a steep angle.
Rescue personnel were able to give the passengers nausea medication after getting reports of the children vomiting. One child was also given heart medication, according to officials. The crowd cheered with joy as a Special Forces officer hanging from a helicopter carried one of the students safely away from the valley.
Several hours later, another two children were brought down with the help of local zip liners. One of the trapped teachers, aged 20, called a local broadcaster from the cable car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): The authorities should rescue all of us as soon as possible. The cable broke off.
WATSON (voice-over): The situation grew dire as light fell and authorities were forced to pause helicopter rescues. So a makeshift stretcher was connected to a pulley. Soldiers and locals worked together, desperately pulling on the ropes until another student was brought down and then another. Their efforts finally paid off.
After more than 14 hours, all eight passengers were brought to safety. A harrowing ordeal for children just trying to go to school.
COOPER: And Ivan Watson, our Senior International Correspondent, joins us now. And what a mess. Is it clear, you know, what caused the cable to break?
WATSON: No, we don't know at this point yet. But some important context here. In these remote mountainous areas of Pakistan, there are these networks of cable cars that are privately run and people use them, these school kids use them for their daily commutes. They really cut down on travel time. But maintenance is an issue.
There were reports that as recently as December of last year, another cable car, its cable snapped and there were 12 school kids caught on board. They were fortunately successfully rescued. The interim Prime Minister, he's called for an investigation of all of these safety inspections. And this is some welcome news for Pakistan, which has suffered from economic crisis, political upheaval, and some horrific floods just last year.
COOPER: Yes, incredible.
Ivan Watson, thank you. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Quick reminder, coverage of the first Republican presidential debate begins here on CNN tomorrow night, 11:00 p.m. Eastern, with my co-host, Dana Bash. We'll have highlights and analysis. That's tomorrow night, 11:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.
The news continues. The Source with Kaitlan Collins starts now.