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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Trump Asks US Supreme Court To Overturn Colorado Ruling Removing Him From Ballot; Trump Argues 14th Amendment's "Insurrection Ban" Doesn't Apply To Presidency In New Appeal To US Supreme Court; Trump's Lawyers Argue That He "In No Way" Engaged In Insurrection; Hundreds Of Pages Of Unsealed Documents Related To Accused Sex- Trafficker Jeffrey Epstein Released; Biden Admin. Sues Texas Over State's Immigration Law; Biden Administration Sues Texas Over State's Immigration Law; Iran's Supreme Leader Promises Harsh Response After Twin Bombings Kill More Than 100; Japan Coast Guard Plane Not Cleared For Takeoff Before Deadly Runway Crash, Air Traffic Control Transcript Suggests; Japan Airlines Evacuated Passengers Within 18 Minutes Of Plane Collision; Trump, DeSantis, Haley Descend On Iowa And New Hampshire Before 2024 Contests Begin. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired January 03, 2024 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A reminder of just how bad it could have been.
RIPLEY (on camera): And what is left of that airliner still sitting on the runway we see right now and just minutes ago, a team of investigators pulled up to the scene, including technicians from airbus who are helping the Japanese investigators comb through that wreckage looking for the cockpit voice recorder, which could provide crucial clues as to what actually happened. We're still waiting for comment, Erin, from the Japan Transport Ministry about CNN reporting that those lights on the runway were not working. Could the plane possibly have just moved a little too far onto the runway creating this disaster?
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Gosh, who knows? But what a miracle and how incredible those flight attendants wholly.
All right. Thank you very much, Will. And thanks to all of you for being with us. We'll be back here tomorrow live in Iowa.
"AC 360" starts now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight on 360, there's breaking news. The former president tells the Supreme Court there is no 14th Amendment case for keeping him off Colorado's ballot and says the capital attack was no insurrection.
Also breaking tonight, we've just gotten court documents expected to reveal the names of nearly 200 people connected to the late sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. We'll tell you what we're finding so far.
And what US officials are saying tonight about who might be responsible for the bomb blast in Iran that killed more than 100 people at a memorial ceremony for a notorious terror mastermind.
Good evening. Thanks for joining us. We begin with breaking news in a story that, as we sit at the top of last night's program, could reshape the presidential campaign and a whole lot more, including how a truly central part of the constitution is applied.
Late today, attorneys for the former president filed his US Supreme Court appeal of the Colorado Supreme Court decision barring him from the state's 2024 primary ballot. Now, they're filing underscores the state of the case, describing the Colorado ruling as, quote, "the first time in the history of the United States that the judiciary has prevented voters from casting ballots for the leading major party presidential candidate."
CNN's Evan Perez joins us now with more. So what more do we know about the appeal that they've made?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, one of the first things that the president's lawyers take on is the idea that he is an insurrectionist, which is something that the Colorado Supreme Court had ruled. They say he is not, that the January 6th attack was not an insurrection, and that the former president did not engage in insurrection.
They also say that the Congress, not state courts, should be the ones that determine the eligibility for the presidency. They also say that the 14th Amendment, the letter -- if you read the 14th Amendment Section 3, it doesn't mention the office of the presidency, and it doesn't apply, they say, to the former president.
I will read you a little bit more of what they argue. They say that this Colorado ruling, if allowed to stand, will mark the first time in history of the United States that the judiciary has prevented voters from casting ballots for the leading major party presidential candidate. And, obviously, that's what is at stake here, Anderson.
You have, perhaps for the first time ever, the Supreme Court is going to take up what exactly that language means in the 14th Amendment, whether it does apply to the presidency.
COOPER: And do we know when the court will say whether it's going to take the case and what a timeline for arguments in a decision could look like?
PEREZ: Well, we don't know right now. They haven't really responded to any of this. But, look, there is no necessarily any urgency right now. For now, just by filing this appeal today, the former president's name will remain on the Colorado ballot, and so the Colorado Secretary of State is going to certify the ballot in a couple of days, on the 5th of January.
And, of course, the voters don't go to the ballot boxes until March. So somewhere between now and March, we might hear from the Supreme Court to settle this issue.
COOPER: And if the former president's disqualification from the Maine ballot, which he has appealed to a state court there ...
COOPER: ... he's also eventually appealed to the US Supreme Court, would that case and the Colorado case be combined?
PEREZ: Almost certainly. And, Anderson, keep in mind that there has been a number of states where this issue has popped up. You have had the opposite findings from courts in New Hampshire, in Michigan, in Minnesota, for instance. And so, these types of lawsuits on the 14th Amendment have been popping up. We now have one pending in Oregon.
So between now and by the time the Supreme Court decides this issue, you know, we're going to have perhaps a number of states where this issue will have been. And so that really does raise the chances that the Supreme Court will have to settle what is really a dispute at this moment between the states.
COOPER: Evan Perez, thanks very much.
In related news, CNN has learned that the former president is planning to attend arguments next week in his appeals court case on presidential immunity. The story was first reported by "The New York Times".
Joining us is CNN Legal Analyst and former Deputy Assistant Attorney- General Elliott Williams, also former Federal Prosecutor Jessica Roth. She currently teaches at New York's Cardozo School of Law. And Maggie Haberman, CNN Political Analyst, at times, is senior political correspondent, and author of a great book, "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.
Jessica, what stands out to you about the president's ruling (inaudible)?
JESSICA ROTH, CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW PROFESSOR: Well, he throws a lot into this brief. I mean, it's presented as one question, presented of did the Colorado courts get this wrong? So it sort of, in a sense, presented this one simple question. But when you actually go on and read the filing, it encompasses at least 10 other arguments that are all part of what the Colorado court decided. So it's really sort of a kitchen sink approach, as we were talking about.
I think the thing that is most, I think, compelling and that the Supreme Court most -- might find most persuasive is a reason to take it up is this argument that he has presented before that if you allow the states -- all 50 states -- to make their own determination about whether or not he is qualified to be on the ballot for president, that that really invites chaos, and that the Supreme Court should step in and really settle this question of whether or not actually the states even have the authority to make these determinations pursuant to the procedure set forth in state law.
To me, that's the most compelling part of the presentation. COOPER: I mean, that's a rational argument.
ROTH: It is a rational argument and it's an important question that the Supreme Court really should decide promptly as we go forward in the election process in all 50 states.
COOPER: Maggie, how much do you think the former president is betting on favorable Supreme Court intervention? Whether it's the issue of ballot qualification or immunity from prosecution.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think those are different cases. I don't think that his folks are -- or he are particularly optimistic that they're going to win on the presidential immunity. Although as you said and reported earlier that he is going to show up next week for arguments that he's not going to be able to be part of, but he will be there, and it will create a spectacle certainly.
On this question, which is a separate one, his team feels more confident that the Supreme Court is going to go with him. He has said that himself, but he has also said to other people, and one of his lawyers confirmed this reporting earlier today. He has said to some people he's concerned that the justices, who he appointed, are going to be afraid of looking like they're taking his side politically and not doing that.
And some of that is because he has been very angry, as you know, at the justices he appointed that they haven't gone his way. They've gone his way on policy matters on a number of cases. They have not on his election-related cases.
COOPER: Why is he going to show up? And is it simply because it will create a spectacle?
HABERMAN: Number one, number two, he sees himself as his own best defender and communicator right now. And he believes that he can impact all of these things best. And that he hasn't tried as has been described to me by people who have spoken to him on this particular issue that he will regret it if it doesn't go his way.
COOPER: Will he -- I mean, he can also fund-raise obviously.
HABERMAN: He fund-raise off everything. He fund-raises on everything. This, I suspect, will not be an exception.
COOPER: Elliott, the former president's legal team, they're arguing they're filing that his speech at the Ellipse on January 6th called for a peaceful protest. I just want to play some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER US PRESIDENT: We fight. We fight like hell, and if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore. I know that everyone will soon be marching over to the Capitol building, to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, as you know, there's -- Colorado Supreme Court found that the speech should not be protected by the First Amendment because it incited violence. How do you see it?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think to reach the point of incitement, the tie between the statement and the violence has to be quite imminent, and that's a tricky legal question. You know, well, frankly, I don't think it's an anybody's interest to start getting in the weeds of whether a statement was insurrection or, you know, or incited insurrection or not.
And I think this picks up on Jessica's point a moment ago about this whole idea of the kitchen sink in the president's brief, that the Supreme Court does not even have to touch the insurrection question because there are countless other ways to avoid getting into the quagmire of picking apart individual statements or lines from the president.
What I think they try to do is reach some point of unanimity or near unanimity over one of these questions over, for instance, is the president an officer of the United States? Is the president -- does he take the same oath as other people bear for? Is he exempt from the provisions in the 14th Amendment that would apply here?
Because of how fraught, and complicated, and politically sensitive this insurrection question is, and very difficult legally to sort out, I think they just avoid it altogether. And, frankly, it's probably more of the president's interest just -- and the course to just say, well, look, he's -- forget insurrection, he's a candidate for office. And people who are speaking in the context of the political process generally are afforded more latitude to speak.
COOPER: Maggie, when you look back at that speech, I mean, you know, he talks about fighting and fight like hell. And he used that term a lot. You know, he does that. He uses the words that can be interpreted in multiple ways. And that's part of his thing.
HABERMAN: Yes, I mean, he often walks up to a line. The question is whether legally he crossed one. I think in terms of responsible behavior, there are a number of people who have described that speech as condemnable and contemptible, but that doesn't necessarily make it legally questionable. I think that's the issue here.
COOPER: (Inaudible) as we learned in the January 6th hearings that he knew that there were guns in the crowd and people had weapons.
HABERMAN: Correct. He often tries to leave himself some kind of public out. And I think that's what folks like the Maine Secretary of State were looking at.
COOPER: And, Jessica, there's also the matter of the separate appeal filed by the Colorado GOP. How does that differ from the arguments made by the former president? ROTH: Yes, so that's really interesting. The Colorado GOP made two of the same arguments that Trump has made in his brief, including whether he is an officer within the meaning of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment and also whether or not Section 3 in the 14th Amendment is self- executing or whether Congress essentially has to enact legislation that authorizes states to make these determinations or some other way of determining whether or not he is disqualified by Section 3. And then they made an additional point about whether their First Amendment rights as a party were violated by the action here.
But Trump goes on to make these additional arguments, including whether or not he engaged in insurrection. The Colorado Republican Party didn't raise that question. And so, their petition, the only petition presented to the US Supreme Court wouldn't be asking the court to actually review the determination of the Colorado Supreme Court, affirming the ruling of the district court that Trump did engage in insurrection.
Now, I suspect the court will not grant cert on that question, that they will probably resolve this question on the issue of whether he is an officer under Section 3 and whether or not the section is self- executing. But if they were to rule against Trump on those two legal questions, and they actually would have to reach the question of whether he engaged in insurrection, I suspect that he raised those issues on appeal because he also wants to be contesting those determinations.
The Colorado Republicans didn't contest those. So it remains to be seen whether the court will grant cert on those questions and whether they will reach them if they take the case and how they ultimately resolve it.
COOPER: And, Elliott, I mean, you referenced this earlier. The former president's attorneys, they're arguing that the so-called insurrectionist ban doesn't apply to the presidency. And the Section 3 of the 14th Amendment does not specifically mention the presidency, which is true. It says "officer of the United States."
The counterargument is, it doesn't make any sense that the authors of the Constitution would ban ...
COOPER: ... insurrectionists from holding virtually every other job in the government, both civil and military, and not the highest office in the country.
WILLIAMS: Right. It's sort of preposterous. As a matter of plain language, you and I talking, saying that the president of the United States is not an officer of the United States is ludicrous.
However, read the language of the Constitution. And it is quite clear that they say, frankly, there's another provision in the Constitution that says "The president," comma, "vice president," comma, "and officers of the United States," suggesting that the term office of the United States does not intend to apply to the president. Again, it's one of these many areas in the law in which our understanding of what terms mean and what the framers put on paper are completely different. Now, this is, Anderson, why we have a Supreme Court. It exists for the purpose of sorting out these complicated legal questions, frankly, precipitated by the mess that the framers left us.
In their wisdom, there are ambiguities in the constitution. They have to be sorted out. And this is precisely one of them.
And even if they don't touch this question, this is, as Trump says in his brief, of critical importance to the American people and needs to be resolved.
COOPER: Elliot Williams, Jessica Roth, Maggie Haberman, thanks.
Coming up next, what we are learning from court documents just unsealed about sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and his accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell.
Later, we're live on the southern border as the Biden administration sues Texas for arresting migrants. Senators get closer to a border deal and some House Republicans starting to block any compromise.
COOPER: More breaking news tonight. Tonight, a federal court here in New York unsealed documents that were expected to contain the names of nearly 200 men and women connected, in one way or another, with the late sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and his accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell. They're from a 2015 lawsuit by one of their accusers.
As you know, some of the names connected to Epstein are well-known. At least one is a member of the royal family of England. CNN's Kara Scannell has been going through the documents. She joins me now. What have you found so far?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, a lot of this is information that we've already know, but this is just 40 documents, just about under 1,000 pages. And our team is still combing through them.
But what is contained within these documents is excerpts of depositions from the accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell, who she had sued and who was convicted of being Epstein's coconspirator in this sex trafficking operation.
We've also seen some depositions of some household workers, but nothing that has been, you know, new or shocking at this point. There are references to some of these bold names that we've known about, including Prince Andrew. That is someone who Giuffre has accused of sexually assaulting her.
There are references to him throughout these papers as we have seen in the past. Now, she sued him. They reached a settlement. He agreed to pay a, quote, "substantial amount to a charity of her choice," but he has denied any wrongdoing.
But also, so far in the document, we looked that references to Bill Clinton. He is someone whose name has come up as someone who has flown on Epstein's private jets.
Now, Giuffre is not accusing Clinton of any wrongdoing. He, in the past, had said, yes, he did fly on Epstein's planes, but he never went to his island in the Caribbean that he owned where a lot of this sexual abuse had taken place. So nothing yet that is kind of a blockbuster or that changes the dynamic or the history of we know about Epstein, but they're still more to come.
COOPER: And are -- so more documents are still to be released?
SCANNELL: Yes, I mean, this is coming on a rolling basis. And this is just the first tranche of this, which is they're just 40 documents. We are expecting dozens more to come out over the next day or so. And we'll be going through those to see if we learn anything new about the people that are in his universe or new allegations involved in these people.
I mean, another deposition that came to light today is one of this woman Johanna Sjoberg who had told her story to a British publication more than a decade ago, but this is the first time she had worked for Epstein. This is the first time that her deposition is unsealed so people could read it for themselves instead of reading her interview in that publication.
We might see other bits and pieces like that, but so far nothing that is -- that hasn't been publicly out there or reported before.
COOPER: All right. Kara Scannell, thanks very much.
More now on the woman who helped Epstein carry out his scheme and was convicted on five counts, including sex trafficking of minors. She's currently serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison. Randi Kaye has more.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ghislaine Maxwell was born in 1961 and grew up in the English countryside in the town of Oxfordshire. She's the daughter of Robert Maxwell, a Czech-born newspaper tycoon who died in 1991 after falling off his luxury yacht near the Canary Islands.
Following her father's death, Ghislaine Maxwell connected with Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who died by suicide in prison back in 2019 while awaiting trial on federal charges of sexually abusing young girls and running a sex trafficking ring. He pleaded not guilty. Maxwell was at the center of all of it, serving as Epstein's madam, recruiting young girls for Epstein to abuse, even allegedly taking part in the abuse herself.
AUDREY STRAUSS, FORMER ACTING US ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Maxwell was among Epstein's closest associates and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old.
Maxwell herself was Epstein 's ex-girlfriend turned social companion. The couple reportedly split in the 1990s, but remained close. In a 2003 profile in "Vanity Fair" magazine, Epstein described Maxwell as his best friend. In an interview from 2002 alleged Epstein victim Annie Farmer said she would never have stayed under Epstein's roof had it not been for the fact that Maxwell assured her mother she would act as chaperone.
STRAUSS: Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them. She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while, she was setting them up to be sexually abused by Epstein and, in some cases, by Maxwell herself.
KAYE (voice over): Multiple people, including two of Maxwell's girlfriends, say Maxwell introduced Epstein to affluent social circles. Her own exclusive circle included the former first daughter, Chelsea Clinton. Eyewitness accounts say Maxwell was not only invited to Clinton's wedding, but also given access backstage at the Clinton Global Initiatives Summit back in 2009.
Maxwell was also photographed in 2000 with then future president Donald Trump. Alongside him, Melania, who he was dating at the time, and Jeffrey Epstein.
And there's this picture, too. That's Maxwell in the background of a photograph of Prince Andrew, which shows him with his arms around the waist of a young woman named Virginia Roberts, who today is Virginia Giuffre.
She has alleged she was trafficked by Epstein with the help of Maxwell, then forced to have sex with his friends, including Prince Andrew, when she was 17. The prince emphatically denied all of it.
In 2022, Prince Andrew settled with Giuffre for an undisclosed amount, and a US district judge agreed to dismiss her lawsuit against him. Weeks earlier, Buckingham Palace stripped him of his military titles, and according to a royal source, told him he could no longer use his royal highness in any official capacity.
Ghislaine Maxwell seemed to disappear from the public eye after Epstein was arrested. But in July of 2020, while in New Hampshire, she was arrested. She was later charged with six federal counts, including sex trafficking children, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, and transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
She pleaded not guilty, but at her 2021 trial, a jury convicted her of five federal charges, including sex trafficking of a minor. Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.
Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach, Florida.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Next, a live report from the southern border as migrants keep coming and where House Republicans visited today with some of their colleagues vowing to block any border deal because they don't want to do anything that might end up helping President Biden. More ahead.
COOPER: Big night for breaking news. Late today, the Biden administration filed suit against the state of Texas that issued the new state law and given local law enforcement authority to arrest migrants.
In its filing, the Justice Department says the measure undercuts federal government's, quote, exclusive authority to enforce immigration law. Now this capped today that began with House Speaker Mike Johnson leading a delegation of Republican lawmakers to a visit to Eagle Pass, Texas.
As that was happening, in Washington, Senate negotiators inched closer to some kind of an agreement on immigration and border security legislation. As well, some GOP House members are vowing to block any deal that reaches them, telling CNN's Manu Raju they don't want to do anything that might help President Biden.
In addition, today, the Republican-controlled House Homeland Security Committee announced the first hearing in its impeachment proceedings against DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. As for his boss, the president, the White House put out a statement today accusing House Republicans of, quote, "hamstringing our border security in the name of extreme partisan demands."
In time, at the border, the migrants keep coming. CNN's Ed Lavandera is there.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Migrants cross the Rio Grande into the United States as Speaker of the House Mike Johnson looks on during the Republicans tour of the southern border. To highlight a crisis, he says the Biden administration is doing nothing to fix.
Migrants have crossed into the United States by the thousands, more than 225,000 alone in December, the highest monthly surge recorded since the year 2000.
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R), U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER, LA: America is at a breaking point, with record levels of illegal immigration. And today, we got a firsthand look at the damage and the chaos the border catastrophe is causing in all of our communities. ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have a broken immigration system that is the one single fact about which everyone agrees.
LAVANDERA (voice over): Droves of migrants have come through this crossing in Eagle Pass, Texas, despite the miles of razor wire, shipping containers, and other barriers built up along the border. A former Democratic state lawmaker in Eagle Pass Texas says Republicans efforts to deter migration aren't working either.
PONCHO NEVAREZ (D), FORMER TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Anybody that's walked or ridden a train car 3,000 miles and then robbed, beaten, and raped to make it to that side right there, do you think this is going to stop them? And the answer to that, as we already know, is a big no.
LAVANDERA (voice over): The White House is increasingly facing pressure from both Republicans and Democratic mayors and governors on the need for real solutions to the immigration crisis. And the Republican governor of Texas keeps ramping up the pressure as well, transporting tens of thousands of migrants unannounced to urban cities in blue states, straining their resources. Most migrants say they're just trying to escape the hardships they left behind.
Like Kenny Contreras (ph) from Ecuador, who says his country is plagued by violence and extortion, and this migrant from Liberia, who says he spent $15,000 to reach the US border.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The US has been my dream country since I was a young kid, you know?
MIKE JOHNSON, (R) SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: It's estimated that nearly 170 countries have people coming in and flowing across this border.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Senate leaders are working toward a possible deal to change current immigration law, including the possibility of expedited removals of migrants who cross illegally, and tightening rules on granting asylum. The House Speaker tells CNN'S Jake Tapper, the problem cannot be solved by allocating more money to the border.
JOHNSON: These are policy choices that got us in this situation. And what we're demanding is that the policies change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Ed, what else did Republican lawmakers have to say during their visit?
LAVANDERA: Well, you know what? We didn't hear any willingness to negotiate on any kind of immigration reform. Many of the lawmakers I spoke with after the tour said that, that is not something they're considering. They want to focus on the bill that the House passed several months ago. And they're very concerned, Anderson, and they don't believe that whatever the bipartisan group of Senators is going to negotiate in the possible immigration border security bill would be negotiated, that it's going to reach anything close to what they want. And several of them also went on to say that they're willing to shut down the federal government if they don't get what they want in these border bill negotiations.
COOPER: All right, Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.
Joining us now, the Mayor of Eagle Pass, Rolando Salinas. Mayor Salinas, thank you for being with us. The visit by Speaker Johnson's delegation, was it productive?
MAYOR ROLANDO SALINAS, EAGLE PASS, TEXAS: Thank you for having me, first of all, and I think it was productive. It's always good to have members of Congress here in Eagle Pass to see the situation, to see what's going on. But what's more important is if we see actual actions come of these meetings. We've had a lot of people visiting here in Eagle Pass, but we want to see action.
COOPER: What kind of
SALINAS: Right now, the way
COOPER: What kind of action do you want?
SALINAS: I mean, as a mayor, what I've seen here, I see thousands of people coming in without consequence. So, what I want to see is a system where you detain people, and if they don't qualify for asylum, you deport them right away. Right now, what's happening is that they detain people and they release them into an NGO here in Eagle Pass, and then they're all over in the U.S.
We need an orderly system where you're deporting people that come here illegally and don't qualify for asylum immediately, instead of having this approach of come one, come all. That's what we've been seeing in Eagle Pass, a city of 27,000 people and we don't have the resources to sustain this problem.
COOPER: I mean, the asylum system is completely off the rails. It's completely broken in this country. It will take years for the people who are crossing over today, some of whom will claim asylum, unless they can prove ultimately in a court that they were persecuted for some specific reason. If they're just economic migrants, that's not a legitimate claim of asylum. And yet, they can be here for years, legally not able to work. It's such a broken system. There's not enough judges. It's ridiculous that it takes years and years, for even asylum claims to be heard.
SALINAS: Anderson, I agree. We need more immigration judges. We need a system that's efficient. It's also not fair for people that have applied and they've been in the system five, six years, to come into the United States legally, for them to see people from Venezuela, for instance, just cross the river, come on in to the United States, and they get to stay here?
And yes, they're waiting for a hearing, but they might never show up to that asylum hearing. It's not fair for people that are doing it the right way. I get that comment from a lot of -- especially Mexican people that have spent a lot of money trying to come here legally, and it's sad.
COOPER: CNN is reporting some House Republicans may refuse to go along with any bipartisan Senate compromise because they essentially wouldn't want to give President Biden a win on immigration, particularly in an election year. Would it trouble you if political fortunes were factored into what Congress does?
SALINAS: I mean, that's one of the issues, right? That you have both political parties, and they can't come together to pass immigration reform. We've been talking about this for years, and you've got cities like the city of Eagle Pass, a city that I love, an American city, being ignored by essentially both parties. And we have this situation going on, where you have thousands of people coming in to cities like Eagle Pass, Texas.
COOPER: For your -- I mean emergency services for your local hospitals, it's got to be overwhelming.
SALINAS: Absolutely. Right here in Eagle Pass, we have one hospital. It's been overwhelmed with people treating undocumented migrants. So, the residents here are frustrated. They go to the emergency room. It takes them eight, nine hours to be seen. We actually had to institute a no transport law here in town. People couldn't get transported because the hospital is full. We only have four ambulances here, so it's been a huge strain on our resources -- huge. And you see it.
COOPER: Sorry. I know in addition to meeting Speaker Johnson today, you spoke to Secretary Mayorkas. What was your take away from that conversation?
SALINAS: Well, he's going to come visit on Monday. I have been very vocal in saying that the administration needs to do more. And I understand that it takes Congress, but I think that as a president, as a vice president, as a secretary of homeland security, it starts with them and the messaging. When I speak to a lot of undocumented migrants, they're under the impression that they're being invited into the United States. And we need to make it clear that we're a nation of laws. You can't just come in here through the river in an illegal manner. There are laws on the books, and we should follow them.
COOPER: For migrants who are arriving now, and when they get to Eagle Pass, where do they go? You said they go to an NGO. And then -- are they then essentially put on buses and just shipped all over the country?
SALINAS: That's exactly what happens. They cross, they're processed, the border patrol takes their information, they're released to an NGO. Then from that NGO, private buses or state buses, they'll take them to San Antonio or to sanctuary cities all over the United States. And you have these people all over the U.S. and it's just a terrible broken system that we have right now. COOPER: Yeah. Major Salinas, I appreciate you being with us. Thank you.
SALINAS: Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
COOPER: CNN's Senior Data Reporter Harry Enten is with me here. He's got some new numbers on how Americans see the issue. Obviously, a lot of Republicans have been arguing over the border wall. How do they see it?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: You know, the border wall -- president Trump, when he ran the first time around, right, he's like, "I'm going to build this border wall." And Americans turned against it, right? There were in fact Americans who went out into the streets and protested against a border wall. Take a look at perceptions of a border wall support now versus support in 2017. Look at this, support now up to 52 percent in a recent Quinnipiac University Poll. That's up 14 points from where we were back in February 2017.
And the opposition has dropped tremendously, dropped from the 50s down into the mid-40s. And I've seen this across the polling data. And this, to me, is one of the biggest sort of signs of how much the immigration debate in this country has changed from the Trump era in which Americans were far more in favor of immigration, to now when they very much turned against it. And it's not just Republicans. It's voters in the middle of the electorate as well and voter who back in the 2020 election were basically split on who they most trust on immigration, Biden or Trump, now overwhelmingly favor Trump on immigration.
COOPER: And the border -- concern about the border crisis goes far beyond just border states. What did Google searches show?
ENTEN: Yeah. This to me is really interesting because, if you look at Google searches for migrants, right, you might think that it may be, OK, the border states. But it's no longer the case of the border states. The two top states for searches are in fact Illinois and New York. And more than just being Illinois and New York -- we have the top five states up there -- they are all blue states. They're not just red states anymore.
This is something that is reaching into Democratic communities as well. I mean, you live in here, in New York with me. If you look at the local news, you consistently see the migrant crisis being portrayed and played out on local television. You have local mayors like Brandon Johnson in Chicago and Eric Adams in New York talking about this issue. And it's something that is very much plaguing their mayoralships.
COOPER: And what do immigrants who've become U.S. citizens say about the issue?
ENTEN: Yeah. I think there are a lot of Democrats who are hoping perhaps there might be a backlash and maybe they could benefit from it. But if you look at the top issues according to immigrant voters, in fact the economy is number one. Immigration is way down on that list for top issues. And more than that, if you ask who do you trust most on immigration, either Democrats or Republicans? In fact, immigrant voters on this issue are split. So this is not something that's working out for Democratic voters, even if my constituency, you might think it would
COOPER: Harry Enten, thanks very much.
ENTEN: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up next, more than 100 people killed in two deadly blasts in Iran, both bombings near the grave side of former Irani Military Commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed four years ago today in a U.S. air strike. Bombings raise newest concerns, of course, about the Israel-Hamas conflict, how it could erupt into a wider conflict. We'll have more on that ahead, also new details on how a Japan Airlines crew got nearly 400 people off that burning jet into safety after it collided with a Japanese Coast Guard aircraft, helping out with earthquake relief. New clues also on what might have led to the accident.
COOPER: Iranian officials say two separate bombings, minutes apart in southern Iran killed more than 100 pilgrims visiting the grave site of Qasem Soleimani, once a top military commander killed in a U.S. air strike exactly four years ago today. Iran's Supreme Leader has warned of a harsh response, fuelling fears of course of a wider regional war. There has been no claim of responsibility but U.S. officials tonight are saying who they think could be responsible. More on that in a moment.
The strike comes a day after a top Hamas leader was killed in Lebanon. Nada Bashir has the details.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Scenes of chaos in the Iranian city of Kerman, an explosion sending crowds into disarray when a second blast rings out. Thousands had gathered to mark the anniversary of the death of Military Commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. air strike in Baghdad four years ago. The twin blasts less than a mile from Soleimani's grave, killing more than 100 and injuring many more.
Iranian officials say, this was a terror attack. State media reporting that one of the explosions was caused by a bomb inside a suitcase in a car. Soleimani was Iran's revered top military general. This is a chunk (ph) of his supporters seen as a strike against the Iranian regime, which has many enemies both inside and outside the country.
In Lebanon, the leader of Iran-backed Hezbollah commemorated Soleimani's death, but also used his speech on Wednesday to condemn Tuesday's killing of a top Hamas official on his own soil. HASSAN NASRALLAH, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF HEZBOLLAH (through translator): Yesterday's crime was large and dangerous. This crime will not be left without a response and punishment between us and our enemies, there is the time, and the battlefield.
BASHIR (voice-over): The strike in southern Beirut targeted Saleh al- Arouri and several others in what Hamas has described as a cowardly assassination. And while a U.S. official tells CNN that Israel was behind the strike, Israeli officials have so far been careful not to publicly take responsibility.
MARK REGEV, SENIOR ADVISER TO ISRAELI PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Israel has not taken responsible for this attack, but whoever did it, it must be clear that this was not an attack on the Lebanese state. It was not an attack even on Hezbollah.
BASHIR (voice-over): Hezbollah perhaps not the target in Israel's eyes, but the Iran-backed group has long warned that any attack on Lebanese soil would trigger a response of equal severity on Israeli territory. From the outset of the war between Israel and Hamas, fighting between Israel and Hezbollah has been largely contained to Lebanon's southern border region.
But the brazen strike in Beirut, in the heart of Hezbollah territory, has raised fears among the United States and its allies that a full- scale war could break out between Israel and the Middle East's most powerful paramilitary force, or even more broadly across the region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Nada Bashir joins us now from Beirut. What's the United States saying about who could be responsible for the blasts in Iran?
BASHIR: Well, look, Anderson, there has been no clear claim of responsibility at this stage. But the current assessment in the U.S., according to a senior administration official, is that this incident has all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack, reminiscent of attacks by ISIS seen in the past. Now, of course, we have seen a history of extremist sunni groups carrying out such attacks in Iran. There is also the possibility of internal resistance groups.
We have heard earlier this evening, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, he pointed the finger of blame squarely at Israel, warning that the response from Iran would be severe and regrettable. Now, CNN has reached out to the Israeli military, no comment from them on this. We did hear earlier today from State Department Spokesperson, Matt Miller, who said that the U.S. has no independent information, asserting that the U.S. had no involvement, and also saying the U.S. has no reason to believe that Israel was involved.
But, of course, this does come at a time of heightened tensions between Israel and Iran, and indeed between Israel and Iran backed groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, of course, mounting concern around the potential for those tensions to escalate more broadly. But again, no clear claim of responsibility just yet. Still, very much a question mark over who was behind the attack and of course the possible motive.
COOPER: Nada Bashir, thank you very much. Tonight from Tokyo, there's new information on what may have caused a Japan Airlines jet liner to collide with a Japanese Coast Guard plane helping in their earthquake relief efforts. The Airbus A350 became a fireball in the runway, before finally coming to a stop. Five people on the Coast Guard Aircraft were killed.
Records showed that red warning lights embedded in the taxiway lights stopped -- which were lights designed to stop pilots from mistakenly taxiing onto active runways. Those lights were broken and not working for several days. Also Japanese officials released a transcript of the Air Traffic Control communication just before the collision. We'll have more of that in a moment. But first, take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: This is inside the Japanese Airline plane as it's on fire. Just after the collision, the cabin crew told passengers to please cooperate. They had to yell directions and use a megaphone to direct people to get off the burning plane when the in-flight announcement system failed to work. During to their actions, all 379 people on board the plane survived, evacuated down emergency chutes.
When you look at the burned wreckage, safely experts say it is easy to see how this could have been far worse. And they're praising the actions of the crew and passengers for getting out quickly. CNN's Richard Quest joins us tonight. So, the timeline of the accident, more information has been released.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Oh, yes, we now know a lot more. For instance, the actual accident itself, we now know that the Coast Guard plane had been cleared to stop and hold. It had not been cleared for takeoff. But for whatever reason, it went on to the runway and it sat on the runway for 40 seconds before being struck by the arriving A350. So, we don't know why.
Was this -- was it because they didn't have the runway stoplights? But, Anderson, that was known about. That wasn't a surprise. That's not, you know, a shock. That was in the notice to airmen that goes out from the airport. They knew those runway lights were not operational. And why did they wait for 40 seconds on an active runway at that time? We also have learned the plane itself, the A350, it was evacuated quickly, but not in the speed we've heard before.
The last person off the plane was the captain, and that was 18 minutes -- 18.
QUEST: Aw, 18 minutes after.
QUEST: The megaphone that was used, that's normal in a sense. That is absolutely normal practice. "Come forward, come forward, don't" -- the instructions that they shout at people to do this. But the core question, which we do not know, is why did that Coast Guard plane, having been told to position and hold at C-5 go on to the runway?
COOPER: Investigators are also obviously going to be going through the burned wreckage of the plane.
QUEST: Yes. The burned wreckage will tell them the logistics in a sense, where was each plane vis-a-vis the other aircraft, what happened, how did this A350 handle this incident. Don't forget, this is the first major fire of a carbon fiber aircraft. So they're going to be looking very closely.
COOPER: At how the fire itself spread?
QUEST: Exactly. How did it spread, what were the strengths or weaknesses, look at (inaudible) runway.
COOPER: It's incredible.
QUEST: 18 minutes apparently to get everybody off before the captain.
COOPER: Because, yes, yesterday, we had thought it was all in 90 seconds.
QUEST: Most of them would have been within 90 seconds. We don't -- there is some report that the Coast Guard captain is now saying he thought he was cleared for departure and for -- to take off. But that doesn't square with what the voice recorder from Air Traffic Control says, which he clearly -- they clearly knew they had to hold. The one thing I'll say, in these incidents, it's always a chapter of incidents and accidents. There is never one thing.
COOPER: That's interesting.
QUEST: And you have to -- it's like dominoes.
QUEST: Jenga, whatever you want. And it only takes one little bit
QUEST: Before the whole lot comes down. And that's what we're seeing now.
COOPER: Richard Quest, thank you very much.
Coming up, how the Republican presidential candidates are trying to gain some traction against the GOP frontrunner Donald Trump with the primary contest starting in less than two weeks. That's ahead.
COOPER: Ahead of his possible attendance in next week's appeals court hearing on his presidential immunity arguments, the former president is also expected to visit Iowa this weekend. Iowa caucuses are on January 15th. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is already in Iowa. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley focusing on New Hampshire today, both in a battle for political survival against the heavily favored former president. Eva McKend has more on the final stretch of this primary fight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's crunch time on the campaign trail, with 12 days until the voting begins.
NIKKI HALEY, (R) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What a crowd!
MCKEND (voice-over): Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley making her pitch to New Hampshire voters today.
HALEY: Don't complain about what happens in a general election if you don't play in this primary. It matters.
MCKEND (voice-over): While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spent the day barnstorming Iowa.
GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is all about who turns out. And if we turn out, this is going to be a really, really special night for us.
MCKEND (voice-over): DeSantis going all in on the Hawkeye state, hoping a strong showing will fuel a campaign comeback.
DESANTIS: As your nominee, I will make sure that we win up and down the ballot all across the country, just like we did in Florida.
MCKEND (voice-over): But Haley is seeing fresh signs of report.
HALEY: How many of you are hearing me in a town hall setting for the first time?
MCKEND (voice-over): Her campaign announcing it raised $24 million across her political operation in the fourth quarter of 2023, more than doubling her total over the previous three months.
GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: Nikki has the momentum. Her numbers are surging.
MCKEND (voice-over): Haley and DeSantis in a fierce battle for second, with Donald Trump the dominant frontrunner. Still, some New Hampshire voters say they're looking to move on from the former president.
WALTER TEAL, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I think a lot of people, even if they liked Trump's policies, I don't think they liked the way he goes about his business.
MCKEND: Are you in the people group, describing? TEAL: Yeah, I guess I am.
MCKEND (voice-over): And during a stop in Iowa today, Republican Chris Garcia pressed DeSantis on why he hasn't more forcefully challenged Trump.
CHRIS GARCIA, REPUBLICAN VOTER: Why haven't you gone directly after him? In my viewpoint, you're going pretty soft on him.
DESANTIS: I've articulated all the differences time and time again on the campaign trail. What the media wants is, they want Republican candidates to just kind of smear him personally and kind of do that. That's just not how I roll.
MCKEND (voice-over): Haley and DeSantis both making the argument they are the Republicans in the best position to deliver a win for the party in 2024. Haley pointing to polls showing her running ahead of Biden.
HALEY: We can't afford another nail-biter of an election. You look at all of these polls, head to head against Biden. Trump is right there head-to-head. I defeat Biden by 17 points.
MCKEND (voice-over): While DeSantis is dismissing the polls and Trump's general election chances.
DESANTIS: I don't think Donald Trump ultimately can win an election. I know Fox News is going to say, "Oh, he is winning this poll, he is winning this poll." These polls are garbage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I'm joined now by Eva McKend from Milford, New Hampshire. So, what are the other candidates saying in their closing messages?
MCKEND: Well, Anderson, Chris Christie, who also has a strong base of support here in this state, he's saying much of what Governor DeSantis and Nikki Haley are saying. He is telling supporters don't look at these polls that has Trump way out ahead, that there is still time for political surprises. Anderson?
COOPER: Eva McKend, thank you so much. A programming note. CNN has back-to-back town halls tomorrow night, live from Des Moines, Iowa, first with Governor DeSantis, then with Nikki Haley. They start at 9:00 p.m. Eastern with moderator Kaitlan Collins and then Erin Burnett. Again, that's tomorrow night.
That's it for us. The news continues. "The Source" starts now.
Kaitlan Collins, CNN Anchor of "The Source:" Tonight, straight from the source, Donald Trump's urgent appeal to the supreme court to get back on the ballot in Colorado. Former president says that January 6th wasn't an insurrection, and even if it was, he didn't engage in it.
Also, names are dropping tonight, some big names in the long-secret Jeffrey Epstein case files. Who else has now been linked to the dead sex offender?
And a mystery tonight after twin bomb.