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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Biden Tells Congress Failure To Pass Ukraine-Israel Aid Package Would Give Putin "The Greatest Christmas Gift"; US Intel Assessment Details Staggering Russian Losses In Ukraine; GOP Speaker Johnson Met With Zelenskyy; Says Conditions For Aid Remain Unchanged, Wants Clear Strategy; Former Election Worker: Giuliani's Lies Devastated Her Life; Latest Jack Smith Filing Cites US v. Nixon As Precedent, Asks Supreme Court To Take Up Question Of Presidential Immunity; US Official: Israel Flooding Gaza Tunnels With Seawater "On A Limited Basis"; Rifts Between Biden, Netanyahu Spill Into Public View; Four Women Testify At Hearing About Sexual Harassment And Assault At Coast Guard Academy; Haley Receives Major Endorsement From GOP NH Governor, As DeSantis Faces Iowa Voters At CNN Town Hall At 9PM ET. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 12, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And I will warn you that these are graphic threats.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eat (BLEEP) and die you (BLEEP) racist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a nice life, what's left of it you have.

SHAYE (PH): Hey, this is Shaye. Hey, (BLEEP). I hope you like jail because that's where you're going on your way to hell.


BURNETT: Federal judge has already found Rudy Giuliani guilty of defamation. Moss and Freeman are asking for between $15 million and $43 million.

Now, before we go, an important programming note. My friend Dana Bash is going to sit down with Nikki Haley and the New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu who is endorsing her, of course. That is tomorrow at noon. And you will want to see that with Dana.

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight on "360", with Ukraine's president in Washington seeking more aid and congressional Republicans resisting, President Biden now says the US will support Ukraine for as long as it can instead of as long as it takes.

Also, tonight, harrowing testimony from a Georgia election worker about what the lies Rudy Giuliani told about her and her mom did to their lives. That and a warning a judge gave him about continuing to spread misinformation.

And later, the newest example of how CNN's exclusive reporting on sexual misconduct in the Coast Guard is getting results, this time on Capitol Hill.

Good evening. Thanks for joining us. We begin tonight with Ukraine's war to drive Russian forces out at a stalemate and efforts in Washington to fund that war apparently at a standstill.

Tonight, no sign yet that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's meetings today with President Biden and top lawmakers have done anything to break that logjam. House Republicans are still demanding large-scale concessions on migration from Mexico before agreeing to any new aid for Ukraine. And a number of them say they oppose it regardless.

Over on the Senate side, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who does favor more Ukraine funding, said it would be, quote, "practically impossible to pass a funding measure before Christmas even if the two sides reach an agreement."

President Biden, meantime, said he was hopeful about the chances of that happening, but that is just one of several messages he was sending today. As we mentioned at the top, he also signaled the limits of what Washington may be able to deliver, the difference between what it takes and what it can. He also warned Republicans against giving Vladimir Putin what he calls, quote, "the greatest Christmas gift" they could possibly give him. The president reminding them that Russian media is already gloating about the aid staff standoff and how GOP opposition benefits them.


JOE BIDEN, US PRESIDENT: The host of a Kremlin-run show literally said, and I quote, "Well done, Republicans, that's good for us," end of quote. Let me say that again, "This host of a Kremlin-run show said well done, Republicans, that's good for us." That's a Russian speaking.

If you're being celebrated by Russian propagandist, it might be time to rethink what you're doing.


COOPER: Oh, whatever they do or don't do, time is running out. Congress breaks for the holidays on Friday.

CNN's MJ Lee starts off our coverage tonight from the White House. So the president has long said the US is ready to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. Was that still his message today because it didn't sound like it?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, as long as it as takes is the refrain that we have long heard from President Biden when it comes to Ukraine, but we heard something a little bit different from the president tonight. He said the US will continue to supply Ukraine with the supplies and the equipment that it needs for as long as we can.

This is a really subtle difference, but I think just goes to capture the immense challenges that the Biden administration is now facing as it tries to continue showing its steadfast support for Ukraine, including by approving the supplemental package that includes some $60 billion of additional funding for Ukraine, you know, even after President Zelenskyy went to Capitol him personally -- Capitol Hill personally to try to make this appeal to lawmakers.

It didn't seem like he was successful in swaying any of the members who are not convinced that this is the right road to take. I think this is a visit that has all in all sort of highlighted the very different place that the US is in and Congress certainly is in compared to the last time that President Zelenskyy came here to the White House a year ago when he really received a heroes' welcome. He was invited to make a speech to the joint session of Congress and really got bipartisan and overwhelming support for the Ukrainian cause -- Anderson.

COOPER: It's interesting to hear President Biden driving home how closely Russia is watching the US right now.

LEE: That's right. You know, in so many ways, I think President Biden's speech was actually aimed squarely at Vladimir Putin. He said right off the top of his remarks that Putin is banking on the US to fail in its efforts to support Ukraine, and that we must prove him wrong, is what President Biden said.

And some of the sound that you just played was so remarkable because the president was basically saying that the issues that we are seeing, the fights that we are seeing over this funding for Ukraine, taking place on Capitol Hill, this isn't just domestic policy, he -- and political fighting. He said that the kremlin is watching. Vladimir Putin is watching.


He said, if you're being celebrated by Russian propagandists, it might be time to rethink what you are doing. There was also another overarching message not just about Russia that is watching, but other would-be aggressors. The president saying that this is going to send a big message to what other sort of bad actors might be willing to do, might think that they can do and taking forcibly land and territories from other democracies. And that is why this is such an existential fight that we are talking about, according to the president.

COOPER: MJ Lee at the White House, thank you. Today's visit by Zelenskyy came on a day that we got an indication really the enormous price that Russia has paid for invading Ukraine and human lives. It comes from a US intelligence assessment provided to Congress.

A source familiar with that assessment telling CNN it says Russia has now lost 87% of the active-duty ground troops that it had prior to the invasion; 87% killed or wounded since the war began. Now, that says -- said, and it's frankly staggering if you could imagine, Ukrainian forces are paying a terrible price as well.

CNN's Anna Coren recently spoke with some of them about how vital western aid has been and what they fear will happen if it dries up.


SASHA, UKRAINIAN UNIT COMMANDER: When you hit with the modern weapons and with the western weapons, of course, they are more accurate, and they bring, let's say, more damage to the enemy. I'm afraid Ukraine will not be able to stand without our partners and allies. So this is the -- as simple as that.

If we let Ukraine go, if we let Putin win, then who will feel themselves safe here? I think no one.


COOPER: We're joined now by CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Ukraine, near the frontline. So, Nick, President Zelenskyy said that his goal for 2024 is to, quote, "take away Russian superiority and disrupt its defensive operations." What are you actually seeing and hearing about whether he can do that without more US aid?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, without F-16s, really, I think it's a very long shot that they can reverse the problem they faced in the last counteroffensive this summer, which is the air superiority. They simply could not conduct the kind of pace of warfare that NATO had train them to do, that NATO expected them to pull off.

Now, Volodymyr Zelenskyy really, unless something magically pops out of the hat before the end of this week, has laid his cards down, made this trip to Washington, met congressional leaders, met President Biden and not come up with the money that is deeply needed by his frontline troops here.

We've seen in the past days a real sense of frustration, anger, concern amongst troops that really is going to be tough to continue this defense, let alone try and take back territory without the billions they've been accustomed to receiving or being announced every other week or so.

Zelenskyy comes back, too, to a country, I think, deeply anxious about the winter ahead. Today, which seen intense shelling of the town of Kherson in the south. We saw some of that ourselves in the last 48 hours, civilian areas pounded relentlessly day and night, almost like two armies are sort of duking out inside the town even though the Russians are across the other side of the river.

He also comes back, too, to a nation that experienced cell disruption throughout today, likely, Ukraine security services say because of a Russian cyberattack. That's impacted air-raid sirens here, the air- raid alert apps you get on your phone. Even here in this town, they've had to turn the streetlights off manually, so a lot of disruption there, certainly, and to a political climate, increasingly tense for Zelenskyy as well.

His defense minister joked about how the chief of staff here running the counteroffensive hadn't indeed being fired. A joke indeed, but a sign of the tension between the president and the man who runs the military operations here.

It's going to be difficult this winter regardless of whether or not the money suddenly comes out of nowhere. We've had some Ukrainian officials suggesting that doctors, first responders may not get their salaries as early as January if the US doesn't stomp up money essentially this week.

As you say, this is exactly what Vladimir Putin has been waiting for -- western resolve, western unity, remarkably coherent for the past nearly two years on this issue, beginning to crumble, beginning to tie up the existential issue of whether Ukraine did defend itself from Russia.

Remember, a lot of Europe, a lot of NATO allies of the US desperately need Ukraine to do the fight for them here because if Russia is successful, they might get closer to NATO's border.


PATON WALSH: And so, many Ukrainians deeply worried they're beginning to see a winter of infrastructure attacks and Vladimir Putin emboldened, thinking finally he's out-weighted the west.


PATON WALSH: Anderson?

COOPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

More -- now on the resistance, President Zelenskyy is facing congressional Republicans. CNN's Manu Raju is at the Capitol for us tonight. So what was the response from Republicans in Congress to the visit? Was he able to move the needle at all?


MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: No, really, he wasn't, Anderson. Even among the staunch supporters of Ukraine aid among the GOP, chief among them is Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell still in the same position they were as they headed into this meeting, that there needs to be a deal over new policies dealing with the US border with Mexico and the influx of migrants coming across the southern border. They want a significant amount of changes whether dealing with asylum reform or changing how the president grants parole to migrants coming across the border, putting new physical barriers and the like -- a wild range of polices, issues that have badly divided the two parties for years and years and years, but they say that must be dealt with first before they can green light new aid to Ukraine, which is why there are real fears, Anderson, about the prospects of getting a deal at all given the divisions that continue to persist on this issue.

Despite those pleas, Anderson, Republicans said immigration must come first.

COOPER: Manu Raju, thank you. For more on what happens if American aid dries up, we're joined by CNN Military Analyst, Retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

So, General Hertling, I mean, how serious is this? Given the rate at which ammunitions is used in this conflict, can you just walk us through what it looks like if the flow of weapons from the US slows or is shut off completely?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, there's a couple things to talk about, Anderson. The first, what your previous reporters have all addressed, and that is I think I was sitting with you on the 22nd of February in studio when I said one of Putin's strategic goals was to further divide an already divided United States and a divided NATO.

He has, so far, had been unsuccessful in doing this. But I think President Biden is absolutely correct. Putin is receiving a gift right now from a strategic perspective.

From a tactical perspective, all wars, all battles have inflection points. Ukraine is at one of those inflection points right now. They cannot afford any kind of disruption in their logistic supply chain. Any kind of delay in terms of a drawdown authority, more ammunition, more equipment, more support, and even the appearance of less support, as Mr. Putin is seeing right now, is critically important to Ukraine because they can't keep the fight going, as Nick Paton Walsh said.

The other thing that's important is we are entering a new season. This is the winter fighting season. Ukraine has been so far successful operationally on the battlefield. They have gained more ground in their counteroffensive. They certainly haven't gained everything they wanted to, but they have gained some.

And what you're seeing now is the potential for them to go into a hasty defense situation and continue to strike long-range Russian ammo caches, fuel depots, troop movements, which they can do with our help. If we take away the ammunition while, at the same time, Russia is being supplied with drones and artillery from places like Iran and North Korea, the fight will become uneven.

And again, as MJ Lee said, this is an existential threat for Ukraine. They have to have a continuation of logistics in this fight.

COOPER: So what can Ukrainians do right now to prepare for potential Russia -- I mean, will Russia be able to go on the offensive?

HERTLING: Well, they have been trying to do that for the last several weeks in places like Avdiivka. We've heard a little bit about that. They have not been successful.

Russia has attempted to maneuver some of their new recruits into areas where they think they can be more successful. So far, Ukraine has fought back and defended extremely well in the winter campaign, but they can't do that forever, especially if their ammunition supplies are dwindling.

Europe is continuing to try and bolster the efforts, but truthfully, NATO and the United States have learned a big lesson in this fight that our supply systems have to be more robust than they were at the start of this campaign. And that's a lesson we've all taken away because of what we saw as a peace dividend in the 1990s with Russia is suddenly exactly the opposite of what Russia is doing today. They are executing warfare and other -- especially new NATO members like Romania or the Baltics or Croatia are very concerned about a newly emboldened Russia expanding beyond ...


HERTLING: ... their territory. And Putin, in fact, has even said that.

COOPER: Yes. General Hertling, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up next, Rudy Giuliani confronted in court on his election falsehoods and a warning a judge gave him about repeating them, which he did just yesterday.

Also, with the former president claiming he's immune from criminal proceedings, someone who is very much part of the story the last time the Supreme Court was asked to decide that question, John Dean, his take on all of that when we continue.



COOPER: When we left you last night, Rudy Giuliani just doubled down on false allegations about the mother and daughter 2020 election workers whose lives he has already upended, false allegations he's already been found liable for in federal court. That's day one of the penalty phase of his civil trial ended.

Day two included testimony from one of the women he defamed and a warning to him from the judge. CNN's Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Powerful evidence in the defamation case against former Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani, the jury hearing threatening voice mails sent to two former Georgia election workers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eat (BLEEP) and die, you (BLEEP) racist (BLEEP). You are (BLEEP) done, you (BLEEP) whore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to burn your store down.

TODD (voice over): Also, powerful testimony from one former election worker, Shaye Moss, about how Giuliani's conspiracy theories devastated her life after the 2020 election. Moss telling a federal court Giuliani's, quote, "crazy lies" about her and her mother spread everywhere at the time and led to threats against her family, quote, "I am most scared of my son finding me and/or my mom hanging outside my house on a tree, or having to get the news at school that his mama was killed."

Moss' testimony came hours after Giuliani inexplicably doubled down on the lies he had spread about Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who was also an election worker.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: Everything I said about them is true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you regret what you did to ...

GIULIANI: Of course, I don't regret. I told the truth. They were engaged in changing votes.


TODD (voice over): There is no proof of that. And the judge in the civil defamation case against Giuliani rebuked the former New York mayor, saying his, quote, "negative quite defamatory statements about the two women could support another defamation claim."

JON AVLON, FORMER CHIEF SPEECHWRITER FOR MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI: Rudy Giuliani should know that this is not going to help his cause. It is going to deepen the hole he is in, and yet he keeps digging.

TODD (voice over): The judge has already ruled in this case that Giuliani spread false information about Moss and Freeman in the wake of the 2020 election. Giuliani has conceded that he did make defamatory statements about them, but he's argued that the statements didn't cause them any damage, even statements like the one he made to the Georgia State legislature telling them Moss and Freeman were corrupting the vote count.

GIULIANI: They're surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they are vials of heroin and cocaine.

TODD (voice over): Moss and Freeman are asking the jury to consider awarding them between $15.5 million and $43 million for the reputational harm they suffered from Giuliani's statements and more for the emotional distress they've endured, which they told the House January 6 Committee about.

SHAYE MOSS, FORMER GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: I don't want anyone knowing my name. I don't go to the grocery store at all. I haven't been anywhere at all.

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: These are public servants, and he's essentially put them out there and caused them to be targeted by hateful people, by people who are seeking to do them harm. And he's really upended their lives.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD (on camera): Rudy Giuliani already owes Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman more than $230,000 for failing to respond to parts of their lawsuit. A few months ago in a court filing, Giuliani said he's essentially broke because of all of his legal costs, so a judgment against him in this case would put him even further in debt -- Anderson.

COOPER: Brian Todd, thanks.

From civil to criminal court now, there's the fallout from Special Counsel Jack Smith's push to get the former president's claim of immunity in the January 6th case on a fast track to the Supreme Court. Now, as we discussed last night, this could be a decision if and when it comes that ranks among the most consequential ever for the high court, and that the question that the heart of it has never been fully settled. Perhaps the closest the court came was in 1974 with US v. Nixon, which compelled then-President Nixon to turn over those Watergate tapes.

I'll get some firsthand perspectives on that now from CNN Contributor on Watergate Whistleblower John Dean, former Nixon White House counsel.

John, in terms of potential significance, does any prior Supreme Court case involving the presidency aside from US v. Nixon compare to the immunity ruling that Jack Smith is seeking in the Trump case?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, it is a pinnacle.

COOPER: I mean, in US v. Nixon, the question was whether a president has executive privilege in a subpoena fight, not necessarily immunity from a criminal trial. So is there actual precedent from the Nixon case that could or should apply to the Trump case?

DEAN: You know, there's a little bit of language in the -- in what they call the dicta, the sort of just remarks that indicates that the court then certainly thought a president had criminal exposure. But it's not really spelled out. It's never been spelled out, never been fully addressed, never been fully briefed.

COOPER: During Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein, they wrote of Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski's decision to appeal to the Supreme Court saying, quote, "It was risky. Very, very risky. Suppose the justices said no. Suppose it was an angry no. Suppose it was a sarcastic reminder to Jaworski that there is a Court of Appeals for such a reason, and that no one receives special treatment. Not the president, and not an arrogant special prosecutor," end quote. Do you see any potential downsides to Jack Smith's gambit?

DEAN: I don't. I think he is one step ahead. I think he's got a stronger case than Nixon had, for example, with the tapes and, certainly, that Trump has in this case for total immunity.

COOPER: Given the dispute over immunity, I mean, to say nothing of the ongoing dispute over Judge Chutkan's gag order, do you think there's any way in which Trump's federal election subversion trial starts on time in early March?

DEAN: It's got a shot now. We'll see what the court -- the high court does in taking this on and how long it takes them to deliberate. In the Nixon case, they did it from start to finish, Anderson, in 61 days.

COOPER: And given the make-up of the court, I mean, how do you think they'd rule if they took the case?

DEAN: Well, that's harder to tell. You know, if conservatives are being true conservatives, they're not going to say that a president -- any president is above the law. So once they take that case on, if they take it on -- I think they will -- they're going to go the distance and find no immunity for our president.

COOPER: John Dean, thanks for your time.

DEAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Just ahead as intense fighting in Gaza continues, we got two breaking news stories on the ground where they're involving Israel's new attempt to go after Hamas underground and also the fraying relationship between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu. We'll have details on both those stories ahead.



COOPER: Two breaking news stories involving Israel's ground operations in Gaza. A US official tells CNN that Israel has informed the US it has begun flooding some tunnels under Gaza with seawater, quote, "on a limited basis." During a news conference, President Biden said he'd heard assertions there are no hostages in the flooded tunnels, but -- and these are his words -- quote, "I don't know that for a fact."

Also, breaking tonight, the rift between the president and Israel's prime minister spilled into public view today. Biden told Democratic donors that Israel was losing international support for the war. He also criticized Netanyahu's conservative government.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said he doesn't agree with Biden's vision of a post-war gaza. We'll have more of that in a moment, but we want to begin with the tunnels and Alex Marquardt who is in Tel Aviv tonight. So what more do we know about this flooding?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this is something that the Israelis appear to be trying out. It could be a significant new tactic on what we believe are hundreds of miles of tunnels, at least according to Hamas's claim.

The Israelis are doing this on a limited basis, we're told. They're doing it in tunnels where they do not believe the hostages are. They're flooding those tunnels with seawater.

According to US officials, speaking to our colleague Natasha Bertrand there, unsure of how successful it's going to be. But it was important enough for President Biden to be asked about this earlier today. He said that he had heard the assertions that the tunnels that were being flooded did not have any hostages in them, but he could not confirm that. He did express his concern for all civilians in Gaza.


Remember, Anderson, it would not just be destroying the tunnel system, it would not just be destroying the weapons that are down there. Of course it could benefit Israel if they were able to flood those tunnels and kill Hamas militants.

But there are still quite a few hostages who are there. 135, according to the IDF, 116, of whom I should specify, are still alive.

COOPER: What else are you learning about this divide between President Biden and Netanyahu?

MARQUARDT: Well, it really does appear to be growing, that daylight appears to be growing that the two men made comments today that showed that they are increasingly at odds on some very important issues. We heard some of the most pointed comments by Biden today about Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government and the war in Gaza.

He said to donors, this was at a campaign event raising money, that Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to change but that it is difficult because of his far-right government. He said that Israel is rapidly losing global support because of what he called the indiscriminate bombing that is taking place.

He went on to talk about this government that has all of these far- right ministers that he says don't want anything remotely approaching a two-state solution. He says that they want retribution against all Palestinians. Now, the Biden administration has said repeatedly they want a two-state solution.

But we have seen differences from both Israel in the U.S. about who will rule in not just Gaza, but in the West Bank following this war. The Biden administration has said they want a reformed Palestinian Authority. Israel has said we certainly do not want the Palestinian Authority to have any kind of control.

And Netanyahu is right there, seemingly with his far -right members of the government and that he has not expressed any real support or any interest in a two-state solution, which is very important for the U.S. Anderson?

COOPER: Alex Marquardt, thank you.

I want to get perspective now from CNN Political and Foreign Policy Analysts Barak Ravid. So we've now heard these two different points of view, Biden and Netanyahu, on both the war and what will happen, the fighting ends. How does this riff go? I mean, what is -- if Netanyahu doesn't want the Palestinian Authority running Gaza, are they still talking about some, you know, Qatar coming in, Egyptian forces coming in? I mean, what is the plan? BARAK RAVID, CNN POLITICAL AND FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: Good evening, Anderson. Well, I think that, you know, when you read Biden's comments from earlier today, and when -- by the way, everyone who is interested in U.S.-Israel relations, this text is a must. I read it from top to bottom. Biden says amazing things there.

For example, he tells about the phone call he had with Netanyahu, when he tells Netanyahu, listen, you have to be more careful with Palestinian civilians in Gaza, with your airstrikes. And Netanyahu tells him, what do you want from me? What about the carpet bombing you guys did in World War II and the nuclear bomb you threw on Japan?

And Biden says I told them, this is not the 1940s anymore. We're in a different era. So I think it was -- it's a very -- it's very interesting comments. And I think it shows more than everything that unlike others in U.S. politics, Biden, on the one hand, he sees himself as a very big friend of Israel. On the other hand, he does not equate Israel with Netanyahu or his government. He makes this distinction. And it's a very interesting point.

COOPER: At this stage, I mean, what most Israelis think of Netanyahu? I mean, given the huge intelligence failures, given he's not accepted any responsibility, whereas other members of his government and military intelligence has?

RAVID: Well, Anderson, you see a very interesting thing in the polls. 80 -- between 75 percent and 80 percent of Israelis support the war. And the same amount of people say they want Netanyahu to go the day the war ends. So they want to destroy Hamas, and they want to basically destroy Netanyahu politically, which is, you know, a very interesting phenomena that I don't remember in Israeli politics.

And I think that the day this war ends, or more exactly the day that the high intensity phase of the war ends, which is not very far away from now, it's -- we're talking about between three to eight weeks, I think the political game will start moving in Israel. And this -- there will be the snowball effect that most likely will take us to an election in Israel in the next six months.

COOPER: You still have, I mean, these right-wing members of the government of Netanyahu, what is their plan? What is it they want?

RAVID: I think a person like Itamar Ben-Gvir, the ultra-nationalist the leader of the far-right party, Jewish power, that by the way, the fact that Joe Biden, the president United States, know him by name. And can explain his, you know, worldview is also something very interesting.


But, you know, a lot of analysts in Israel think that this guy, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has the most interest to topple the current government, because he sees Netanyahu is very weak right now. And he might be planning that when Netanyahu announces that the first phase of the war is over, he might be planning to resign and say, you know, I want it to go on. But Netanyahu is the one who stopped this. He's not right-wing enough. So we should go to election and everybody who sees himself as right- wing needs to vote for me, for Ben-Gvir, and not for Netanyahu.

COOPER: You've reported that Israel is likely to reopen a border crossing between Israel and southern Gaza to allow aid trucks to enter, what prompted this and how much aid could potentially get into Gaza through this crossing?

RAVID: Well, Anderson, what prompted this is, you know, pretty strong U.S. pressure. And our colleague Jeremy Diamond report earlier today that Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser is going to raise this in his meeting in Jerusalem later this week, and that is going to press these rallies.

And not long after this story ran, I got a call from a senior Israeli official, they told me, listen, most likely we're going to approve this U.S. request. And the reason for it is obviously that they don't want to see a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But I think more interesting is that they need the U.S. support for the ground operation to continue. And for that to happen, they need to do what the U.S. asked them on humanitarian support for Gaza.

COOPER: Interesting. Barak Ravid, thank you as always.

Next, testimony on Capitol Hill from four women about the sexual assault they said they endured at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy as lawmakers investigate how the academy handles reports of abuse. That and how some of those lawmakers credit. Our Pamela Brown's exclusive reporting here on 360 for leading up to this moment.



COOPER: On Capitol Hill today, a Senate hearing sparked by schools reporting on this program earlier this year by Pamela Brown and her team on how leaders the U.S. Coast Guard Academy buried findings of a secret investigation which corroborated evidence, dozens of sexual assaults.

Two senators said this was the most powerful testimony they've ever heard. Four women who attended the academy from the late 1970s to today, each sharing how they say leaders failed to protect them. And then they spoke to Pamela Brown, who as I mentioned first broke the story. Here's her report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- nothing but the truth. So help you God.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): These four women say they were all sexually assaulted in the Coast Guard in different eras.

CAITLIN MARO, FORMER COAST GUARD CADET: I was groped several times, sometimes with 30 laughing witnesses.

MELISSA MCCAFFERTY, FORMER COAST GUARD LIEUTENANT: Over the course of three days, he repeatedly raped me in that room.

JENNIFER YOUNT, FORMER COAST GUARD COMMANDER: Two first class cadets broke down my roommates in my lock door, entered our room and jumped on to our beds on top of us.

BROWN (voice-over): Including a current cadet at the Coast Guard Academy.

KYRA HOLMSTRUP, CURRENT COAST GUARD CADET: What I thought was an innocent ice cream day on campus, turned into a sexual assault that is haunting me ever since.

BROWN (voice-over): A rare bipartisan hearings investigating the way the Coast Guard handles reports of sexual abuse.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I've been here more than 12 years and this is probably some of the most powerful, important and on point testimony I've heard.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: We learned about the Fouled Anchor report only because CNN found out about it, reported on it.

BROWN (voice-over): CNN first uncovered a history of sexual assaults in the agency that were ignored or mishandled. The Coast Guard substantiated dozens of rapes in an investigation called Operation Fouled Anchor, but the results were covered up for years.

YOUNT: The status quo can no longer continue.

BROWN (voice-over): The survivors spoke of having their reports of assaults mishandled.

MARO: The same company commander admitted that he didn't start an investigation because, quote, "he figured that it happened on a date". You do have blonde hair, and you wear makeup.

BROWN (voice-over): And while current cadet Kyra Grace Holmstrup says cover ups are no longer a problem at the Coast Guard Academy from her experience, there are still damaging missteps.

HOLMSTRUP: And then I got to talk to a chaplain. And when I went to talk to that chaplain, he asked me who assaulted me. And I told him and he said, oh, no, he's such a good guy.

BROWN (voice-over): The women spoke of the pain and feeling of betrayal that still lingers, some even decades later. MARO: So this is, in many ways, been a blessing for me because I finally have a diagnosis for the things that I thought were just personality quirks. These last 20 years was actually in fact PTSD.

BROWN (voice-over): Last week, the Coast Guard released the results of an internal review, admitting it failed to keep our people safe and change is necessary. But the report doesn't include any punishment of assailants from the past.

MARO: It's insulting, it's patronizing.

BROWN (voice-over): After the hearing, we sat down with three of the survivors.

MARO: I love that they want to help future cadets. But then they just left this mass carnage in their wake.

BROWN (on-camera): And what does that look like for you personally that mass carnage?

MARO: Looks like a lot of expensive therapy. Looks like broken relationships, you know, lost family, suicide attempts.

BROWN (voice-over): Melissa McCafferty attempted suicide six years ago.

MCCAFFERTY: The level that this organization pushed me to. And I am beyond lucky to be here today. I am beyond lucky. I frankly do not know how I survived. I flat lined in the ambulance and I flat lined at the hospital yet here I am.

BROWN (on-camera): What do you say to the women and the men who have been sexually assaulted and who haven't told anyone?

YOUNT: I feel stronger today than I did yesterday. You made me feel weak? No, that ain't the case anymore. Now I'm stronger.


COOPER: Pamela, the women you spoke with today, they're skeptical there's going to be any meaningful change. What's the Coast Guard saying today after their testimony?

BROWN: Well, Anderson, the Coast Guard once again apologize to the victims for its failures and vowed change, saying in a statement given to CNN, "We recognize and applaud the tremendous courage of the witnesses who came forward to share their personal stories at today's hearing. Their reflections and recommendations, and those of all survivors are essential to our efforts to continuously improve our prevention and response policy."


So, Anderson, it remains to be seen if this change will happen. Of course, we're going to stay on top of it.

COOPER: Yes. Well, Pamela Brown, you've just done incredible, incredible work on this for a long, long time. Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you, and thanks to the whole team. As you know, it's a team effort, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Extraordinary work.

Just ahead, this is Grandview University in Des Moines, Iowa, side of CNN town hall with Ron DeSantis. Questions from voters began about 15 minutes from now. We're going to preview the challenge for DeSantis less than five weeks out from the Iowa caucus next.


COOPER: Welcome back. Take a look at the scene at Grandview University in Des Moines, Iowa. About 10 minutes from now, Florida Governor Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis will appear with my colleague Jake Tapper for CNN town hall.

Governor DeSantis is going to feel questions from Iowa's Republican voters less than five weeks before the Iowa caucuses finishing well in Iowa, obviously, critical for DeSantis who's double digits behind the former president in national state polls. And now trying to fend off a surging Nikki Haley.

She just got a big endorsement a short time ago at a rally in New Hampshire by that state's Republican Governor Chris Sununu.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: There was a sweet older woman who has come to a lot of events and I saw her coming in here and she said, so are you going to finally endorse Nikki Haley for president? You bet your ass, I am. Let's get this thing done.


We are all in on Nikki Haley, undoubtedly. And you can feel the energy. You can feel it.

And when you look at her poll numbers, when you look at the ground game that Nikki has laid, it's been absolutely unbelievable. And when I've seen her interact with folks, that's what it is, is that intangible. She gets it.


COOPER: It's certainly a good, big pickup for Haley. Earlier today, DeSantis's campaign manager told our Dana Bash that the expected endorsement was, quote, "meaningful".

Joining me now, two CNN political commentators, Kate Bedingfield, former Biden White House Communications Director and David Urban, a one-time campaign adviser to the former president. Kate, do you think DeSantis has an opportunity to pick -- I mean, to surge in the next five weeks?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it is an uphill battle based on everything we've seen. We've seen as the Republican field has continued to win-o (ph), Trump has only gained ground in the polls. So that doesn't suggest there's a whole lot of opportunity for somebody else to come in.

But, you know, DeSantis has said time and again, that he expects to win Iowa, that his expectation is that he's going to win Iowa. So he's put a lot of his eggs in the Iowa basket. I think, tonight, what he needs to try to do is connect with voters on a human level.

I think, you know, we saw the debate last week, we saw the four candidates go back and forth on, you know, sort of attacking each other and attacking each other's policy positions. And so what DeSantis has an opportunity to do tonight is to try to tell his own story to connect in a way that makes the Republican voters say, you know, I trust him, and he's somebody who I think I want to see in the White House.

COOPER: I mean, David, that is the strength of these town halls theoretically for a candidate. I think it's why they liked doing it because it is a form. I mean, it's an audience of people who very well, you know, want to vote for a Republican, probably like DeSantis. And as Katie said, they want to see him as a human being.

The Des Moines Register, NBC News poll says 51 percent of likely caucus goers have said that Trump would be their first choice. DeSantis far behind 19 percent. Haley at 16. Do you see any scenario in which either DeSantis or Haley suddenly surge of the next month?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, Anderson, it's a Sisyphean task for DeSantis. Push that big rock up a hill, right? So -- and sounds great pollster. Last month in October, DeSantis was down by three. So he did move, Nikki Haley kind of stayed static at 16 percent, DeSantis up to 19 percent.

I don't think there's any university wins Iowa. But I think it's important that he has this very strong second place finish. So if he finishes in the mid-20, someplace, I think that'd be a big victory for him. Give him a lot of momentum going into New Hampshire, where he may not fare as well.

But he's got all his eggs in this bat, one basket here in Iowa. He needs to do well tonight. He needs to do well on January 15th.

COOPER: And Katie, in that same poll, Des Moines Register, NBC News, 51 percent -- or, no, excuse me, 73 percent of likely caucus goers believe that Donald Trump can beat Joe Biden despite his legal problems. What does that tell you?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, that tells me these other Republican candidates have a huge uphill climb here. I mean, you have a former president who is mired in court, who is charged with trying to subvert our democracy. And the Republican base in Iowa believes that he can win. So that tells me immediately in the short term, it's going to be a really hard -- it's a hard task for any Republican to get traction, because he has this really intense specific loyalty with Republican voters.

COOPER: Unless they get mired in court. Because if they get mired in court --

BEDINGFIELD: Right, exactly.

COOPER: -- only seems to help them.

BEDINGFIELD: They have five weeks to try to overthrow our democratic system. You know, broadly, it tells me that the general election in November is going to be very close. And I think, you know, there's a kind of tendency a year out to look at polls and say, you know, Biden stumbling or, oh, well, if Trump were convicted, he couldn't win.

And that's just not the case. Our country's incredibly polarized. The bases are very loyal to their party. And there's a very small sliver of truly persuadable moderate voters, and that's where the election is going to be won or lost. And the fact that Donald Trump's legal troubles don't have Republican voters saying this isn't the guy we want to put forward to try to defeat the sitting president means this is going to be a very, very close race.

COOPER: David, DeSantis has touted this endorsement of the Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds as obviously, Sununu give you the endorsement to Nikki Haley. Trump is way ahead in New Hampshire. Could this Sununu endorsement help Haley enough on the margins that she pulls off a strong second place showing?

URBAN: Yes, I think she will. I mean, she's -- you know, you have Independents and Democrats allowed to vote in that primary there. So I think she will do well. She'll have a much stronger showing that she's going to have an Iowa and she's hoping that that's going to slingshot her then into South Carolina with some momentum.

But still, as you said, Anderson, the person at the top of these polls by a long, long, long, long margin is still Donald Trump by double digits. And that's not changing in Iowa. That's not going to change in New Hampshire. It's not going to change in South Carolina. So, you know, a lot of Republicans are just kind of shrugging their shoulders and wondering what's this all about.


COOPER: Yes. Katie, in -- I mean, there's this other poll -- let me get this. The Wall Street Journal poll, former president narrowly leads President Biden in a hypothetical matchup. Nikki Haley would be Biden 51 percent to 34 percent. Do you buy that? Do you think it's accurate?

BEDINGFIELD: I don't think it's terribly surprising given what we've seen about how voters are feeling about a Biden-Trump rematch when we've seen a lot of voters saying they would like another option. What I do think is that, were Nikki Haley somehow to draw an inside straight and become the Republican nominee?

She would be in the barrel and she -- there would be criticism of her and so I think it's not representative of what this matchup would look like if she actually became the Republican nominee, which seems like it's very long shot have happened.

COOPER: Katie Bedingfield, David Urban, thanks so much.

The CNN Town Hall with Ron DeSantis minutes away. More on the DeSantis's strategy next.


COOPER: Another look at the CNN Town Hall with Ron DeSantis which begins in just a minute. A lot riding on his ability to connect with Iowa voters in these final four weeks and six days until the caucuses. Turn out he says will be key.

One more programming note, Nikki Haley and Chris Sununu, the New Hampshire governor who just endorsed her sit down for an interview tomorrow with our Dana Bash. You can see it at noon Eastern Time on Inside Politics.

The first is CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with Governor Ron DeSantis, it starts now.