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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Trump Expected To Attend Court In DC And NY This Week; Biden Returns To South Carolina As He Looks To Black Voters To Recharge His Re-Election Bid; Eight House Dems Write To Justice Thomas, Demand He Recuse Himself From CO 14th Amendment Case; Trump Expected To Attend Immunity Hearing Tomorrow On His January 6 Case; United Finds Loose Bolts On Plug Doors Of Grounded Boeings; Florida Republican Party Ousts Christian Ziegler As Chairman Amid Sexual Assault Investigation. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 08, 2024 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Eyewitness telling CNN it sounded like fireworks.

"The Fort Worth Star Telegram" reporting eyewitnesses saw people coming out of the hotel with blood on their faces. We understand injuries at this point, no report yet of death, but we don't know.

Officials say this was apparently a type of gas explosion and that construction work was being done. What sparked the explosion and the full details of the aftermath are still under investigation.

Thank you so much for joining us tonight. AC 360 with Anderson begins right now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight on 360: The latest moves and the former president's attempt to avoid any criminal accountability for January 6 in two cases that could make any president immune for anything they do in office.

Also tonight, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her calls for Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from the former president's appeal to stay on the Colorado ballot.

And new reports tonight of loose bolts on the door plugs of Boeing 737 Max-9s, that's after a terrifying incident in the skies that left a hole in the same model plane and very few answers how it happened.

Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

We begin tonight with new developments on the former president's push to make any criminal charges against him disappear. He'll be in Washington tomorrow in court by choice, we should add, as a federal appeals panel hears oral arguments on his claim of presidential immunity in the January 6 case.

Today, he filed a similar immunity claim on similar state charges in Georgia. Now, if they go his way, especially in the federal case, it could make him and any former president legally unaccountable for any crime they might commit while in office. It's the same notion another former president once drew scorn for embracing.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.


NIXON: Exactly.


COOPER: Former President Nixon said in 1977 is what the current former president is claiming now, and what the courts never fully decided back then. Perhaps because Richard Nixon was never indicted, let alone on 91 felony counts, perhaps also because at the time, lawmakers held him politically accountable, including members of his own party.

By contrast, during the second Trump impeachment, most Republicans refused to. Quoting North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis at the time: "The ultimate accountability is through our criminal justice system."

And if Republicans were reluctant back then to impose any political consequences on the former president, they are even more so now during his campaign to retake the White House.

I want to play you something Mr. Trump has been saying lately and repeated over the weekend about those convicted and serving time for their crimes on January 6th.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They ought to release the J6 hostages. They have suffered enough. They ought to release them.

I call them hostages. Some people call them prisoners. I call them hostages. Released the J6 hostages, Joe. Release them, Joe. You can do it real easy, Joe.


COOPER: They're not hostages, and he knows that. He has certainly done this before trying to turn convicted violent felons into martyrs.

But now, far from condemning him, some Republicans are actually using the same term.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): I have concerns about the treatment of January 6 hostages. I have concerns -- we have a role in Congress of oversight over our treatments of prisoners.


COOPER: That was Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, chair of the House Republican Conference, the fourth ranking Republican in Congress, and that's what political accountability looks like within that party. It's the kind of criminal accountability or lack of it that the former president is asking the courts to give him now.

Joining us now, conservative lawyer and "Atlantic" monthly contributor, George Conway.

George, when you hear the former president, first of all, using the term "hostages" to refer to people who committed crimes on January 6th, what do you think?

GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE LAWYER: No, it's completely obscene.

I mean, the notion that these people who tried to overthrow the government at his behest, to try to end constitutional democracy in America and who are being prosecuted who are indicted by federal grand juries for their crimes against the United States, to say that they are hostages is just to me, definitionally absurd, but just morally obscene.

And I just -- the notion that people accept that and that he is not drummed out of public life, for saying something like that and that indeed, people like Elise Stefanik parrot his lies is just one more condemnation, self-condemnation of the Republican Party. I just don't know how much lower they can go.

COOPER: As we mentioned, the former president's lawyers, they're going to argue tomorrow that his actions after the 2020 election were all covered by presidential immunity. How do you think this is going to play out?

CONWAY: I don't think it's going to play out very well for the former president tomorrow. I think one of the basic guidelines I've always had in watching arguments of any sort in court and particularly appellate arguments is the side that gets the most questions is probably the one going to get the short end of the stick in the ruling at the end, and I anticipate that most of the questions are going to be directed at Trump and his lawyers on how you can possibly justify giving a president who has sworn to uphold the laws of the United States, and the Constitution of the United States, how that person can be above the law and anything can be lawful, just because the president says so.


Like the clip that you played on President Nixon, he asserted in. No one has ever bought that. It's completely inconsistent with our constitutional tradition and there is just no way that a court is going accept that.

COOPER: The former president is attending the oral arguments tomorrow. Do you think that's purely for fundraising purposes? And he knows that's where cameras will be? And he'll make a statement before and/or after or both? Or is there a legal strategy at play here in terms of maybe some sort of impact on judges?

CONWAY: No, I don't think there's a legal strategy in play. And that's certainly something. I think he is too small minded to be able to think through or think that through.

I think what he's doing is he is seeking maximum attention. He is even a narcissist, he thinks somehow that his presence can persuade people generally. I think that he is -- you know, I think he wants to put on a show tomorrow.

I think he wants to put on a show that he is somehow being politically persecuted, and that he is being unfairly the victim of a witch hunt, which we've heard thousands of times. And, you know, he probably will raise money off of it, but I don't think it's going to have any legal effect on how this proceeding goes.

COOPER: Because he makes the argument of, well, I have to go to court. I can't be on the campaign trail, when in fact, he actually doesn't have to be in court tomorrow.

The former president's attorney has also filed motions today in the election fraud case in Georgia, again, claiming the indictment should be barred under presidential immunity. If his claims of immunity are ultimately upheld on the federal level, what impact would that have on a state court case like this one?

CONWAY: Well, I think it would, I mean, I think the state court case would follow. And I think that, if his presidential immunity claim is defeated in the United States Court of Appeals for the District Columbia circuit, which I think it will be in a matter of days, I think that will shut down his immunity claim in the Georgia case.

And I don't think -- you know, I think the real question will be, will the Supreme Court bother to take either one of those cases, and I think it's quite possible, we'll take the DC Circuit case, but it's also quite possible that they may not knowing that the trial is upcoming, and knowing that they can review any immunity claims that he loses this time around, after he is convicted and sentenced.

COOPER: If the federal Appeals Court or the US Supreme Court agree with the foreign president's interpretation of presidential immunity, just long term, what implications that decision -- what does it have on the presidency long term?

CONWAY: Well, I think, it would have more than an impact of the presidency, I think, it would have a devastating and dangerous impact on our constitutional tradition and on the rule of law.

I mean, if you look at -- if you talk to students of -- scholars of authoritarianism, they will tell you that, that authoritarian governance is the governance of criminals, it is the governance of criminal mobs. And an essential element of that is immunity or impunity and the ability to break the law and to make the law, whatever the leader wants it to be.

And not only is this immunity, this criminal immunity for basically any action relating to his job that he seeks, not consistent with our constitutional traditions, it would be an essential element for an authoritarian regime.

So I don't think there's any chance it is going to be accepted, and indeed, even if some kind of criminal immunity were accepted by the courts, it certainly wouldn't cover the conduct he engaged in here, which was basically antithetical to his duties as president of the United States.

I mean, in the civil realm, which is the cases that he's relying on, the only immunity that a president gets is for actions that occur within the outer perimeter of their official responsibility. Here, he was way outside the outer perimeter.


CONWAY: He was actually undermining his duties.

COOPER: How long do you think it'll take for the court to rule?

CONWAY: I think it will be a matter of days. I think the Court of Appeals obviously knows what the timetable is here. It obviously knows the importance, and at the same time, you know, they set a highly expedited schedule to hear this case at all tomorrow, and I think they're going to act swiftly after that.

I don't think there's any question how they're going to rule. I think they're going to rule quickly and I think all the parties of the United States and Donald Trump will be back preparing for this trial, and I think the trial is probably going to go off on in April, if not shortly soon thereafter.

COOPER: You wrote a piece for "The Atlantic" on the US Supreme Court's recent announcement that they're going to review the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to hold the former president ineligible to serve as president under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.


I'm wondering what stood out to you about the former president's petition to the US Supreme Court?

CONWAY: Yes, as I pointed out in "The Atlantic" piece, what was really odd about the petition was that it didn't point out particular errors and focused on specific errors in the decision of the alleged errors and decision with the Colorado Supreme Court. I mean, what you're supposed to do when you draft one of these documents is you're supposed to petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court asking them to take the case.

What you're supposed to do is to set forth the questions one by one on the inside cover that you say that the questions of law that you say the lower court got wrong, and here, they just simply put one question, basically, was Donald Trump improperly disqualified? And that's not the normal way you do things? And I think there are a couple of reasons why. And I think the most important reason is that when you ask that question, people say, oh, yes, he should be allowed on the ballot, because they're not really familiar with the idea that the provision in the Constitution that bars insurrectionists from holding public office.

But when you actually break it down to the legal issues and factual issues that it involved, who is subject to the Section 3 of the 14th Amendment? Is there some kind of necessity for congressional legislation to enforce it? And did Donald Trump engage in insurrection for purposes of Section -- he loses when you actually break down the questions, the case into its sub questions the way lawyers and judges are supposed to do.

COOPER: George Conway, appreciate it. Thank you.

CONWAY: Thank you.

COOPER: As we noted a moment ago, every time this has come up, the former president's appearance in court is not mandatory. He alone is choosing to go. He alone is choosing to take himself off the campaign trail, even though he said otherwise this weekend in a campaign e-mail saying: "Twice in this final week, I will reportedly be forced off the campaign trail and into the courtrooms for phony witch hunts in both New York and Washington, DC." Again, that's not true.

As we said he's choosing to go to DC tomorrow and New York later this week for another hearing into his real estate business. The reality, the courtroom is the campaign trail for him.

Senior data reporter, Harry Enten is here to show us why. So how has the former president's polling changed with these court cases?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: You know, if you go back 10 months ago, this was an actual campaign for the presidency on the Republican side, right? Yes, Donald Trump was ahead, but Ron DeSantis was at least within 20 points. He was within striking distance. I could show you historical examples of the second place person coming back to win with DeSantis' polling 10 months ago.

You look now, it's just not anywhere close. Donald Trump now has a clear majority of the vote, north of 60 percent. He is up over 50 points over Ron DeSantis. That is the largest lead ever for a non- incumbent at this point in the primary.

And if you look at the polling, more generally speaking, Republicans actually say that these indictments have made them more likely to vote for the president instead of less likely, and that is something that is backed up by the polling data that shows Trump's lead is expanding ever wider now.

COOPER: As we've talked about with George, he's been fundraising off this, too.

ENTEN: he has absolutely been fundraising off of it. It's not just the polls where his numbers have gone up. What are his two best fundraising campaign days so far? One of them was when he appeared in New York -- in the court in New York. The other one was the day that his mug shot was taken. He raised millions of dollars each of those days. And more than that, his fundraising quarters, in the second quarter and the third quarter of last year, he was raising $35 million, $45 million in that third quarter.

In the first quarter, he raised less than $20 million. In fact, there was some real questions as to whether or not Ron DeSantis could be the fundraising juggernaut and outraised Donald Trump. At this particular point, though, what these indictments have done, and what appearing and court has done more than anything else has choked off the oxygen from those other candidates and have supercharged, put the Trump campaign on steroids and he has so much money right now he is blanketing the airwaves. And more than that, he's able to pay his legal bills.

COOPER: What about the primary or beyond the primary?

ENTEN: Yes, you know, so we've been talking about the primary, right? But let's talk about beyond the primary.

Among Republicans, this perhaps I think, is one of the more interesting poll questions that I sort of found, right? It's not just that Republicans believe, say it's more likely that I'm going to vote for him in the primary. They actually believe it makes him more electable in the general election as well.

They say he's more likely to beat Joe Biden because of these charges, not less likely. And here's the thing, Anderson, I'm not sure they're necessarily wrong, because if you look, pre-indictment the general election polls, Joe Biden had about a two-point lead nationally among registered voters. Today, Donald Trump has a two-point lead.

So it's not just that Trump has seen his polling numbers gone up in the primary. They've gone up in the general election as well. Voters claim to say that they care about these charts, at least in among the general electorate, but overall in the polls, it's just not showing.

COOPER: Harry Enten, thanks very much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up next, President Biden amplifying his attacks on the former president as a threat to democracy. The question: How is what's becoming the centerpiece of his campaign landing with voters?

Also tonight, the upcoming Supreme Court case and whether Justice Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from the case in keeping the former president off the Colorado ballot. I'll talk with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who says he should.

And later, potentially troubling new revelations about the Boeing airliner much like the one that lost a chunk of the fuselage at 16,000 feet. We'll be right back.


COOPER: This weekend, the former president repeated his strange claim that this civil war could have been averted by negotiation.

Speaking today at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Biden called him out on Civil War history and compared Trump supporters with former Confederates who embrace what became known as the lost cause.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Once again, there are some in his country trying -- trying to turn a loss into a lie, a lie which if allowed to live will once again bring terrible damage to this country.

This time, the lie is about the 2020 election.


COOPER: Again, today as he did, Friday, Mr. Biden made threats to democracy a central theme of his remarks, and again tonight, the question is how is the case he is making being received?

Joining us, two CNN political contributors, former South Carolina state lawmaker Bakari Sellers and former Trump campaign adviser, David Urban.

So Bakari, President Biden speaking to Black voters in South Carolina today once again hitting on this message that his predecessor is a threat to democracy, comparing his supporters to defeated Confederates embracing the lost cause.

In your view is that a strategy that will resonate with voters?


BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, actually, I think it will, and I think it's not just the messaging about the lost cause or the confederacy of the Civil War, but it's actually the act of meeting voters where they are.

I hear my good friend, David chuckling in the background, but let me just give you a point of personal privilege really quick and just teach for one moment.

He was at Mother Emanuel AME Church where we had one of the most devastating massacres in the history of the United States. He was just a few hundred yards away from where the first slaves entered the country. He was in hallowed ground, speaking hallowed words to an audience that could really absorb what he was saying, and even more importantly, one he is going to need to win the election.

And so yes, I know, people get caught up in what he may say, but it was about where he was, it was about the venue, and it was about the fact that he was meeting voters where they were.

Today was a good day for the Biden campaign. It was one that they can build upon.

COOPER: David, was today a good day for the Biden campaign?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, listen, I agree with Bakari in terms of the location and the messaging. If the president -- if President Biden doesn't have African-Americans, from young African- Americans to old African-Americans, and they're not a monolithic voting bloc, as Bakari will tell you, younger African-Americans skew more progressive, older African-Americans skew you know, more conservative, but he needs every African-American voter to turn out for him, not just to not vote for Trump, but to turn out in support of Biden, because if he doesn't, he's definitely going to lose.

COOPER: David, I mean, for his part, the former president was out over the weekend making these bizarre, ridiculous claims that the Civil War could have been negotiated. I mean, he said he can, you know, solve the war in Ukraine in a day.

The DOJ and FBI had been weaponized against him. He's claiming -- he is calling convicted insurrectionists as hostages. Do you think he risk playing to President Biden's hands with that kind of rhetoric?

URBAN: Look, I mean, Anderson, I've said this repeatedly and I'll continue to say it, I think the only one that could beat Donald Trump in 2024 is Donald Trump. And, you know, if he shifts and pivots his focus on to things that, you know, President Biden should be talking about, the things that people talk around their kitchen table, right, economic issues, insurance, whether they could pay their mortgage or whether they can get a mortgage, right, those are things that people in America want to talk about, and are concerned about.

And I think that, you know, whether it's President Biden looking backwards or President Trump looking backwards, I don't think most Americans want what to focus on that. They want to focus, you know prospectively about what their futures look like.

COOPER: Bakari, to the point that David made about Black voters, Republican senator -- South Carolina Senator Tim Scott released this video today saying that prison Biden's numbers with all minority groups are dropping, that people of color are losing confidence in him. What are your concerns about the support he's receiving from Black voters or the lack of it?

SELLERS: So I think my analysis is this, Anderson, this race is not just Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. That's where people miss the mark. This race is Joe Biden versus Donald Trump versus the couch, and the couch actually is a very, very successful candidate in the United States of America, it literally runs no ads, but year after year, more and more people are choosing the couch.

And so Joe Biden has to make sure that voters want to come out and vote for him. Black voters are tired. They're tired in this country, particularly Black women from carrying the Democratic Party, and not feeling the benefit of that, whether or not it's in their gas tanks or their pockets or when they can send their children to school.

And so what Joe Biden has to do is say, look, our administration has done these things, whether or not it is Ketanji Brown Jackson or Kamala Harris or the inequity gap, in terms of wages in this country or unemployment in this country for Black folk, we have done these things, and so he just has to get out and share the good message.

And then he ended on a good note today. It was a gospel song where he talked about the fact that God wouldn't bring us this far to leave us. It was a message of hope. It was a message of faith. And that is what voters need to hear particularly Black voters that are the backbone of the Democratic Party.

COOPER: David, I mean, Biden continues to focus on Trump's efforts to overturn 2020 election, saying today losers are taught to concede when they lose, and he's a loser. I mean, how do you think the former president is taking that tonight, do you think --

URBAN: I think he is probably taking it pretty well. It's like rubbing salt in the wounds, Anderson, I'm sure he hates it. I'm sure Trump hates and that's why he punches back with a weaponized DOJ and that when I'm president again, I'm coming after -- I'm going to indict, you know, I'm going to indict Joe Biden, and he punches back.

Listen, I don't think it's useful. I think, it's again, I think that people want to hear in America -- Americans want to hear how's my life going to be better if you're president? That's they want to hear that.

Their past rhetoric, Bakari is right, the couch wins in a lot of time, both on Republican and Democratic tickets. And so people need to get off the couch, get involved, and candidates need to make them want to get out off the couch and get involved with a message of -- that you know, of optimism. We can do better as a country in lots of ways let's hear about it.


COOPER: Bakari, when he was speaking about the recent school shooting in Perry, Iowa, the former presidents said it was horrible, but "We have to get over it." That kind of language, I guess, it may help him win the Republican nomination, but how do you see it playing in the general election?

SELLERS: I mean, it turns away White college educated women, for example, it turns away those Independent voters. I mean, hell, it should just turn away people who have some level of conscience. Donald Trump doesn't do well when it comes to like sensible things that people should have like basic empathy, like emotions. He doesn't possess those character traits.

I think there are a lot of people who have some affinity for a Donald Trump economy, we can argue those policies, but he just won't stay on that. He always wants to go off topic and talk about slavery or weaponized DOJ or the fact that in Perry, Iowa, for example, we just have to get over that. I think David would tell you that if they could keep him on message, he would have a better chance to be president of the United States. But if he has to show some type of emotion, I mean, I would argue the man is emotionally stunted, but I'm not a doctor.

URBAN: Yes --

COOPER: Bakari Sellers, yes, David, go ahead.

URBAN: I was just going to say one last thing, to Bakari's point. People know this, voters know this about Donald Trump. It's not a secret. They've seen the guy before. So you know, knowing all of that, and he's still leading Biden, what does that say?

COOPER: Yes, Bakari Sellers, David Urban, thank you.

Coming up, we're going to be joined by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to discuss why she and seven of her House colleagues are demanding Justice Clarence Thomas recuse himself from deciding whether the former president is eligible for Colorado's primary ballot.

Also breaking news on that Alaska Airlines flight that last a section of the cabin midflight, a second airline says it has uncovered similar issues with the same model Boeing aircraft. Details on that ahead.



COOPER: You heard George Conway earlier discuss the Supreme Court's decision to review whether Colorado's high court can toss the former president from the state's primary ballot as an insurrectionist. Oral arguments are scheduled for one month from today.

In advance, eight House Democrats have sent a letter to Justice Clarence Thomas saying he should recuse himself in large part because of the actions of his wife, Ginni, in connection to the January 6 rally and subsequent riot.

Quoting from the letter, quote, "Not only did your wife attend the January 6 rally, but she was instrumental in planning it and bringing the insurrectionist to the Capitol. It is unthinkable that you could be impartial in deciding whether an event your wife personally organized qualifies as an insurrection that would prevent someone from holding the office of president."

I'm joined now by one of the Democratic members of Congress who signed that letter, New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Thank you so much for being with us.


COOPER: So why do you think he should recuse himself?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I mean, I think it's very clear Clarence Thomas, and rather his wife Ginni, participated in the events of January 6. And now what is likely going before the Supreme Court is a judgment as to whether an event that his wife participated in, that his wife has been investigated by, in the January 6 committee and qualifies as an insurrection.

And Clarence Thomas's decision on that one way or another, and overall the court's decision on that, would directly implicate his wife. And so this is just one of the most classic textbook conflicts of interest, and it would, frankly, be a scandal if he did not recuse himself.

COOPER: Do you think he actually will? I mean, he didn't recuse himself in the case regarding John Eastman, never really explaining exactly why he recused himself.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, and his wife, you know, one of the documents that Donald Trump actually tried to prevent from coming to the January 6 committee were documents that showed Ginni Thomas in communication with John Eastman. And so, you know, there is a precedent there.

Clarence Thomas, as you mentioned, did not really elaborate as to why he recused himself, but he recused himself with -- in a case with respect to John Eastman, his wife has actively been involved in communication with him. Pressing John Eastman, pressing Mark Meadows, Donald Trump's chief of staff at the time, and also continues to maintain that the 2020 election was stolen despite a complete lack of evidence thereof.

And so, you know, I think our hope is that Clarence Thomas has shown that he is willing to recuse himself from a case. This is one of the most direct implications that he has with respect to, you know, perhaps one of any of the cases that's come before the court.

COOPER: Do you worry that he might not just because you have written this letter? I mean, just -- you have called for his impeachment before. I mean, you have been very tough on Clarence Thomas.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, we have called for him to recuse himself in all cases related to January 6. He has in the past. And frankly, this truly is not even about partisan point scoring. This is about the integrity of the court. And to not recuse oneself from a case where one is so -- where a justice is so deeply involved, would have larger ramifications, not just for Clarence Thomas, but for the Supreme Court law.

COOPER: Do you worry at all that sets a bad precedent if a justice has to recuse himself based on something his wife is alleged to have been involved with?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think that if a justice's spouse would be directly implicated by a ruling from the Supreme Court, that's well within the standard professional bounds of a conflict of interest. And I don't think that it's a troubling precedent to set. In fact, I think the precedent has been set that if something so personal would affect the justice, that they would recuse themselves from a ruling.

COOPER: Do you believe the former president is going to be put on trial in any of these trials before the election? Do you believe that there will be some opportunity for him to be judged by a jury of his peers?


OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, I think that's really up to the courts and to the court system. As we know, he has a lot of different legal matters up in the courts, some of those potentially criminal or particularly with his colleagues as well, others are civil. We are going to have to see how the courts really, you know, make their way through all of this.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: But this is the most pressing question that we have. And especially when it comes to this argument of complete and total immunity.

COOPER: Immunity. Can you see -- can you foresee a circumstance in which the Supreme Court would say that the president is immune?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: If the Supreme Court does come to that conclusion, it would have profound and destabilizing impacts on the presidency and for the country.

COOPER: Not just for this former president, but for history.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: But for all presidents to come, you know. And to say that any president, as soon as you are elected, that you can commit any crime whatsoever related to anything personal, or, you know, related to whether it's interpersonal or larger, whether it's fraud, whether it's violence, whether -- whatever it may be to say that no matter what happens, you cannot be held accountable in a court of law is an extremely, extremely destabilizing position, and finding for the entire country that would have deeply, deeply damaging ramifications.

The move by Republicans on impeachment in the House, do you think it's inevitable they will move to impeach the president?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, they are certainly trying. What we're seeing, though, is that they can't even name what they would impeach the president for. We're seeing this case has come right before the House Oversight Committee, over which I'm the vice chair to -- rather vice ranking member to Ranking Member Raskin.

And we have had countless closed door sessions, closed door depositions. We've had open door hearings about this. And the Republican Party cannot even name what the crime is that they are alleging the president, or, frankly, anybody else that they're trying to investigate to have committed.

And impeachment is one of the most serious procedures that we have in this country. And it has to tie directly to a crime or misdemeanor or some other direct action that we find completely incompatible with the presidency. And they have not even been able to name it. What is it? What are they actually investigating the president for? And they don't have an answer because the president has not done anything impeachable that they've been able to prove. And so, what they're using and what they're doing is taking impeachment and taking all of the most serious procedures that we have as a country, and they're learning to use it for political -- they're politically weaponizing it for an election purpose, for a political purpose.

And in doing so, they are putting the people of this country, everyday Americans, absolutely at the bottom of the barrel, and they're putting themselves first. It's a selfishness that really endangers this country. It endangers our electoral process. It endangers our legal process. It's deeply cynical and it's done to reelect themselves and line their own pockets.

COOPER: Congresswoman, appreciate your time. Thank you.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Of course. Thank you.

COOPER: Still to come, breaking news on that section of a plane that blew off a Boeing aircraft flown by Alaska Airlines last week. The issue may now extend to a second airline as well. I'll be right back.



COOPER: Breaking news to report, three days after a Boeing 737 Max 9 flown by Alaska Airlines lost a door plug mid-flight, leaving a refrigerator sized hole in the cabin, United Airlines reports that it's found loose bolts on the door plugs of an undisclosed number of its own Boeing 737 Max 9s. The FAA grounded about 171 of that model aircraft on Saturday.

United says in a statement that inspections uncovered installation issues including, quote, "bolts that needed additional tightening." Now remarkably, the National Transportation Safety Board announced today they had located the door plug that blew off from the Alaska Airlines plane. It landed, it was found in someone's backyard in Portland, Oregon.

Investigators are currently examining a pressurization fail light that went off three times the previous month, including the day before the accident. It's unclear whether that's related to the accident.

Earlier, I spoke to the NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, who's leading the investigation.


Ms. Homendy, the United Airlines says that it's found loose door plug bolts on an undisclosed number of its Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft and they've canceled more than 470 flights since Saturday. I'm wondering what's your response to that and what do you say to the flying public right now who may be worried? JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB CHAIR: Yes, well we have received those reports from United. We've heard from Boeing about those reports as well. We are checking with Alaska to see what they're finding in their inspections. But right now, we're really focused on what happened in this event.

As far as flying, these planes are grounded and aviation is very safe. Our -- the U.S. Airspace is the safest in the world, but we need to keep it that way, which means when events like this happen, it's our duty at the NTSB to launch an investigation to determine what happened, why it happened so that we prevent it from happening again.

COOPER: And at this point, I mean, have you been able to determine what caused this incident?

HOMENDY: It's too early. We've been on scene for a few days. We just found the door plug this morning. Fortunately, we asked the community for their help to find that door plug. And somebody found it. A teacher found it in his backyard.

COOPER: That's remarkable.

HOMENDY: And so we picked it up this morning and we are evaluating that right now.

COOPER: Now that you've found the door plug, what does the door plug -- what can that tell you?

HOMENDY: Quite a lot. It really was the missing piece in the investigation. We're able to look at all the components on this door plug.


All the fittings, all any sort of structures that may remain, any sort of bolts or washers that may or nuts that may reside on the door surround structure as well as the door plug itself, it's going to help our metallurgists and our materials engineers determine how this door came off and was expelled from the aircraft.

COOPER: On the Alaska air flight, do you know why no one was sitting in the seats closest to the door plug? I mean, was that just a coincidence?

HOMENDY: Yes, it was a coincidence and quite frankly, a miracle. This plane has 178 seats. 171 were occupied. And just by happenstance, there was no one in 26A and 28B --

COOPER: If there had been --

HOMENDY: -- and there were other locations --

COOPER: -- would they have been sucked out?

HOMENDY: It's possible, certainly, that there could have been some really catastrophic consequences to those individuals that were closest to the doorframe.

COOPER: How damaging is it to the investigation that, or limiting, that you don't have a cockpit voice recorder? I understand the information was overridden after just two hours. I didn't realize. It gets overridden so quickly.

HOMENDY: Yes, it's really disappointing. The NTSB has been urging the FAA to extend the CVR, the cockpit voice recorder recording hours from two hours to 25 hours.

COOPER: Why is it overridden so quickly? I mean, that seems crazy.

HOMENDY: That's the federal regulation, which is what we have been urging for years for FAA to change. Here's what I'll say, they just put out a notice of proposed rulemaking to extend it for -- to 25 hours, but only for newly manufactured airplanes. There are hundreds of airplanes out there that will last 30, 40, 50 years.

It is ridiculous to have some for two hours and others for 25 hours. The 25-hour rule should apply to all airplanes, retrofit and new. I spoke directly to the FAA administrator and said we were going to raise this in this investigation because we're really disappointed. We are very disappointed.

There were significant communications issues between what was going on in the cockpit and the flight attendants in the cabin. The flight attendants had no idea what was happening in the cockpit at the time. And there's a lot of chaos in such an event, and we need to have all that information, not just for investigation, but to make sure we're getting to the right answers and recommending the right safety change.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, it seems like this is potentially crucial evidence in all of these cases. Yes.

HOMENDY: Absolutely.

COOPER: Well, Jennifer Homendy, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

HOMENDY: Thank you so much, Anderson.


COOPER: Next, the new action taken today against Christian Ziegler, who was suspended last month as the chair of Florida's Republican Party, as he faces a sex scandal and accusations of breaking the state's video voyeurism laws.



COOPER: The Republican Party of Florida has ousted its chairman, Christian Ziegler, as he faces a sex scandal that has shattered the public reputation of both he and his wife, who co-founded the conservative group Moms for Liberty. Last week, it was revealed that Sarasota police are looking at whether Mr. Ziegler broke Florida's video voyeurism laws when he secretly recorded a sexual encounter with a woman accusing him of rape.

Ziegler claims the sex was consensual and according to a search warrant affidavit, he showed detectives a video of the October sexual encounter. Authorities say that the woman had a previous three-way sexual encounter with Ziegler and his wife, Bridget. Christian Ziegler, who has not been criminally charged, says he's done nothing wrong. His wife has not been accused of a crime.

More now from CNN's Carlos Suarez, who attended today's meeting in Tallahassee. So, Carlos, what happened today and what's been the reaction from Florida Republicans?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Christian Ziegler's fate with the Florida Republican Party has been sealed for some time now. And in the end, the vote wasn't even close. We're talking about 199 to three to remove him as chair of the state party.

For weeks now, top officials across the state of Florida, from Governor Ron DeSantis to Senator Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Congressman Matt Gaetz, who was in town for the meeting here in Tallahassee, wanted to see Ziegler step aside since the details of the sex scandal broke back in early October.

The allegations that Ziegler sexually assaulted a woman that he'd had a previous consensual sexual encounter with, along with his wife, Bridget Ziegler, the co-founder of the Moms for Liberty group. Now, Anderson, it is important to note here that Christian Ziegler has not been criminally charged. And he said that the sex with the woman was consensual.

Now, party officials told me after the vote that they really just want to move past this sex scandal. They admit that some of their fundraising efforts have taken a bit of a hit, but that because we are in a 2024 presidential election cycle. And we've got the Florida legislative session, which gets underway tomorrow, they are ready to move beyond Christian Ziegler.

COOPER: And what about his wife, Bridget Ziegler, as we said in the intro, admitted to this three-way with her husband and the same woman. The Sarasota County School board passed a resolution, I know, last month officially calling on her to resign. Has she done that?


SUAREZ: Anderson? She has not. And she's given no indication that she plans on stepping aside anytime soon. In fact, I asked some of the very same Republican Party officials today whether they believe that Bridget Ziegler should give up her school board seat, considering the allegations against her husband and the couple's behavior.

And just about every single party official I spoke who said they didn't want to touch the subject. In fact, the only person in the state of Florida that could remove Bridget Ziegler from her school board seat is Governor Ron DeSantis. And Anderson, so far, he has given no indication that she should step aside.

COOPER: Carlos Suarez, thanks very much.

Next, the latest on an explosion and fire at a hotel in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We have more breaking news, an explosion and fire at a hotel in Fort Worth, Texas. 26 rooms were occupied when it happened. The force of the blast causing part of the building to crash into the street. Local authorities say at least 21 people were injured, with one of those in critical condition.

No reports of fatalities at the scene. Investigators suspect the explosion was caused by a gas leak. Federal authorities are also looking to it with ATF agents on site. Now that said, a federal law enforcement source tells CNN there is currently no indication the incident is criminal in nature.

That's it for us. The news continues. I'll see you tomorrow. The Source with Kaitlan Collins starts now.