Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Sub-Zero, Blizzard Warning Throw Chill Into Iowa Caucuses Run- Up; Blizzard Threat, Bitter Cold Disrupt Final Push to Iowa Caucuses; New U.S. Strikes Against Houthi Targets in Yemen; Not MAGA Enough: 2020 Elections Skeptic Quit His Job After Facing Blowback From Angry Election Deniers. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 12, 2024 - 20:00   ET



WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But the ruling party says the only way to prevent war is not to try to recalibrate the relationship with the U.S., but actually double-down on that relationship. The U.S. has sold billions of dollars in weapons to Taiwan over the last eight years of the ruling party's presidency under Tsai Ing-wen.

The candidate that is running on behalf of the ruling party says he's going to continue that policy of close ties with the U.S., but the opposition warns, Erin, that could be a dangerous path leading Taiwan, and the U.S. and China right into a cross-strait conflict.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, "OUTFRONT": And all of that, of course, on the line tonight and, of course, this Saturday morning where Will is right now.

Thank you all so much for being with us. And thanks to Will.

It's time now for "AC 360."

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight, which candidate benefits when the roads to the White House freezes over. We're live in Iowa where blizzard conditions and subzero temperatures threaten to be a decisive factor on Monday's caucuses.

Also, a night after U.S. and British airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen, a new message from a top Houthi leader and says fighters try to make good on their threat of revenge.

And later, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan in Arizona, investigating how even skeptical election officials can face backlash from conspiracy theorists.

Good evening. Thanks for joining us. We begin with Iowa three days from the caucuses, and the state is being hammered by winter weather.

This is video of the capital Des Moines where the temperature is now 9 degrees. The wind chill is minus 13, and a blizzard warning is in effect. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is there for us tonight. Jeff, I don't know how we convinced you to actually stand outside.

First of all, how is it feeling there and how are the campaigns being impacted tonight and this weekend?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it's chilly. There's no doubt about it. The wind is the biggest issue but look this is as warm it's going to be between now and the caucuses. Over the weekend, it's going to increasingly become colder and colder.

The snow is not necessarily a big concern. Iowans are used to snow, of course, but it's the dangerously cold temperatures that really are making the campaigns make backup plans for how to get their supporters to the caucuses on Monday night.

The - excuse me, it's hard to talk out here, too, in the cold. The candidates are also making big changes. We just learned that president - former president, Donald Trump, will not be campaigning tomorrow here in Iowa as he planned. He was planning four weekend rallies. He's now only having one on Sunday. It's adjusted all the campaign planning.



GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't necessarily, as a Floridian, want to be a negative 20-degree temperature, but I know we're the campaign that's built to turn out our people and they (inaudible) ...


ZELENY (voice-over): Three days before the Iowa caucuses, the closing arguments of the Republican race come with a winter weather warning.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I know it's cold on Monday, but I'm going to be out there.


ZELENY (voice-over): A blizzard and the forecast for a dangerous record-setting cold spell are testing the fortitude of campaign organizations built by Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley and even front- runner Donald Trump who's been warning his supporters against complacency.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pretend you're one point down, okay? You're one point down. You have to get out and you have to vote, vote, vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZELENY (voice-over): Snow and bitter winds scrambled the plans of candidates today, canceling rallies and speeches designed to build momentum heading into the final weekend.

DeSantis dropped by a campaign office ...


DESANTIS: Every phone call, every door, everything we do between now and caucus night is going to make a difference.


ZELENY (voice-over): ... as Haley held telephone town hall meetings.


HALEY: Please wear layers of clothes just in case there are lines so that you are staying safe. And please go in there and know you are setting the tone for the country.


ZELENY (voice-over): Those rivals are locked in a bitter duel to become a leading alternative to Trump.


BILL FUNK, IOWA VOTER: I personally think it's time to move forward.


ZELENY (voice-over): Bill Funk twice voted for Trump, but he spent the last year looking for a new choice.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that it's time for this country to come together. I think it's time to put a leader in there that can bring us together and move us forward and heal some of the past. We've had too much chaos.


ZELENY (voice-over): His wife Connie, is an independent. For much of their 45-year marriage, they've canceled one another's vote. Now, they're both supporting Haley.


CONNIE FUNK, IOWAN RESIDENT: I'm saying my prayers. I feel like we have this opportunity to show a different side of what politics can be, and Nikki is the person I feel that can do that.


ZELENY (voice-over): Haley is hoping for a strong turnout in the suburbs.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, how's it going? Did you sign up online?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do? Okay, what's your last name?


ZELENY (voice-over): While DeSantis has been working towards broader support in all corners of the state.


DESANTIS: We're excited about having gone to all 99 counties.


ZELENY (voice-over): Trump is counting on loyal followers particularly in rural areas to help build a landslide victory with an organization far stronger and more sophisticated than in 2016.


TRUMP: We got to get out and vote because bad things happen when you sit back.


ZELENY (voice-over): Kristina Brekke voted for Trump and considered doing so again, but late last year had a change of heart.


KRISTINA BREKKE, IOWA VOTER: With the way the country is going right now, I think people are looking for something else.



COOPER: Jeff, is it clear which candidate could most benefit from possibly lower turnout because of the weather on Monday?


ZELENY: Anderson, it's hard to know for sure. But one thing is clear, there's not likely to be record-setting turnout as Republican officials have been projecting and predicting all year. But the former president just sent out a message on social media a short time ago. He says that he is going to benefit because his people are the most committed.

That's an open question. When you talk to Republican strategists here who have been doing this for a long time, a lot of the Trump support is in rural areas, so that means they have to drive farther into their voting site.

A lot of Haley supporters, for example, are in the suburbs, around here in Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids so they don't have to travel as far.

DeSantis, of course, has talked endlessly about his 99-county tour across Iowa. He's counting on broad based support. So he may also have some issues in rural areas.

At the end of the day, it's impossible to know which candidate is going to lose the most support, if any, but older voters are one question here. It is going to be incredibly cold on Monday night, a windchill potentially of 45 degrees below zero. So, of course, that will impact some older voters, like cars may not be able to start, et cetera. So we'll have to see on Monday night.

But for now, at least, Haley and DeSantis back on the campaign trail tomorrow, and Trump not coming back until Sunday. And again, it is cold out here as you can hear me trying to talk - Anderson.

COOPER: Jeff Zeleny, yes, get inside. Thank you, Jeff. Appreciate it.

For a better idea of what candidates and caucus goers like, and if that's on Monday and this weekend leading up to it, let's go to the CNN Weather Center and Meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, what is the latest?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Six to 8 inches of new snow today, Anderson, over Iowa and now it is blowing around, blowing from the north across those east west roads. Roads are being shut especially the rural roads that he was just talking about. And this wind is going to continue all the way through the weekend and into next week.

Right now, the wind chill in Des Moines is only 11 degrees below zero. And like you said, this is about as warm as it's going to get. It gets colder from here. Blizzard warnings are in effect. The winds are blowing 30- to 40 miles per hour right now and blowing that snow across the roadways and shutting some of those roads themselves.

Now, the storm moves to the east tomorrow, and the winds die off from 40 to 30. But that 30 and 20 miles per hour will last all the way through Monday into Tuesday. Still blowing that snow around, still making very cold air as it comes into Monday night into Tuesday, it will be cold. And I have more on that if you want. Let me tell you, you might not want to hear it.


MYERS: The coldest 2004.

COOPER: How cold?

MYERS: 2004 was the coldest so far. 16 degrees was the high. We're not going to get above zero. And, in fact, the wind chills will be closer to minus 40.

There's your air temperature in Des Moines. The thermometer is going to say 9 below zero. And when you add in the wind that's still blowing, your wind chill is going to be 28 below.

Now, I grew up in Nebraska, right? And when you're in Nebraska and the wind chill is blowing 30 and you have a farm, you're trying to keep your livestock alive. You have bigger issues to worry about than to drive to town and go vote. So we'll have to see how that might affect that rural vote.

COOPER: Chad Myers, appreciate it. Thank you. I want to get some perspective now from someone who's been there before, literally, namely in that cold, cold 2004 race, former Vermont governor and DNC chair, Howard Dean, who ran for the Democratic nomination that year, for time electrified the race and made it must see politics. Also, with us in Iowa, pollster and communications strategist, Frank Luntz.

Gov. Dean, I mean, you just saw that live report from Iowa. Voters could be heading for the coldest caucuses ever to say nothing the blizzard impact. How and what kind of impact do you think it's going to have?

HOWARD DEAN, (D) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It does - it definitely has an impact. I mean, everybody talks about the famous scream speech at the end of the Iowa caucus, but the - I was - I lost Iowa and I was supposed to win. And I think one of the reasons I lost was because we weren't able to do the kind of organizing we needed to do and get people out.

I thought that comment that older people might not go out from Jeff Zeleny because they had other things to do. That's a huge deal. This is - this weather is much worse than it was in 2004, so I think it's going to be a real problem.

And I sense a real Haley surge. And I think that would actually be good for the country. I don't support her, of course. I think Biden has a much better record that he gets credit for. But I think that couple who said they were going to vote for Nikki Haley, I think that's a real sign of hope, and I think Haley can win this.

COOPER: Frank, if the cold weather does end up suppressing turnout, I mean, who do you think can benefit?

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER AND COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: I think (inaudible) the other side, I think it hurts Vivek Ramaswamy because his votes are primarily 18 to 29. And I think that it hurts Donald Trump because he has such a significant percentage of his vote at 75 and older. And in the end, this is not as the governor said, this is not even 2004, this is temperatures that even Iowans will find uncomfortable.

COOPER: So, Gov. Dean, it's interesting, you're saying this could be - you could see Haley actually winning in Iowa.

[20:10:02] If that happened, I mean that would really - that would be a big deal, I mean, not only for the former president ...

DEAN: Well, yes.

COOPER: ... but also for DeSantis.

DEAN: She's going to win in New Hampshire. Haley is going to win in New Hampshire. If she beats DeSantis in Iowa even if she doesn't beat Trump, that will be the end of DeSantis' campaign and it's a two- person race. So I think this is a fascinating race, and I think it's much closer than people think.

And I - I'm here watching all the ads and that - because you've got to buy Vermont television to get all of New Hampshire. It is really stunning what's going on. And I think Haley is surging in New Hampshire.

And Iowa is going to be a big deal because if she happens to win or even come close to Trump in Iowa, this is brand new race.

COOPER: And if - you're saying if Haley beats DeSantis in Iowa, you think it's over, Governor, for DeSantis?

DEAN: I think it is because she's certainly going to beat him in New Hampshire, and that's two states in a row. When you're a newcomer, that's tough.

COOPER: Frank, as you well know, former president lost Iowa in 2016 to Ted Cruz, though he tweeted afterward kind of a harbinger of things to come. He tweeted based on the fraud committed by Sen. Ted Cruz during the Iowa caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz' results nullified. How well does he have to do, you think, this time to meet or exceed expectations?

LUNTZ: He's got to get over 50 percent. That's been the excuse that Trump has used not to participate in debates, not to engage the other candidates. In fact, to try to force the other candidates out of the race, he would say I'm getting a majority of the vote. So he has to deliver that.

I do not believe that Nikki Haley is going to come even close to him because his lead is that significant. However, I do agree with the governor that she is moving, that - and there's the law of physics in caucuses and primaries that's particularly true, which is things in motion tend to stay in motion. If she's gaining 2-, 3-, 4 percent a week, it is likely that she will outperform her polling data on election day. And DeSantis has now dropped into single-digits in New Hampshire.

Please remember the phrase that people sometimes use - Iowa makes a statement, New Hampshire makes a difference.

COOPER: Gov. Dean, do you expect Chris Christie dropping out of the race to make a big significant difference? I mean, obviously, to a recent - according to a CNN - the recent CNN poll, the majority of his supporters in New Hampshire said Nikki Haley was their second choice.

DEAN: Right, I don't think it'll make any difference in Iowa if he didn't show up in Iowa, but I think he's going to make a significant difference. I really do believe that Haley might come - might win in New Hampshire. I know - I respect Frank's long history of accurate polling, but I can just feel the momentum, and I've been in this game. It is amazing what's happening in New Hampshire.

COOPER: Frank, under - do you - I mean, is there any scenario that you could see Donald Trump not being the Republican nominee, Frank, in November?

LUNTZ: I would have said to you as recently as maybe 10 days ago that I did not see that he's been so strong. His appearances, his town halls, the money that he's raised, that his numbers are getting stronger and stronger, even everything against him, the indictments, the accusations, the challenges to his leadership. However, she has been so strong over the last two weeks that you now have to say never say never. And for her, if she can win in New Hampshire and do reasonably well in her home state of South Carolina which comes next, then it's a brand-new ball game.

COOPER: Frank Luntz, Howard Dean, appreciate it. Thank you. Interesting.

DEAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Next, a live update on the backlash after American and British strikes on Yemen, that and what the Houthi militants who control the country might do next.

Also, later tonight, the Arizona election official found out that even election skepticism isn't enough in a conspiracy-fueled political world.



COOPER: It's breaking news, a new round of air strikes on Iranian- backed Houthi targets in Yemen a day after American and allied forces hit dozens of locations there.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon for us tonight. So what's happened?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a second night of U.S. strikes in Yemen. We've learned from a US official that the US carried out another set of strikes. These much smaller than what we saw yesterday where we saw the U.S. target 28 different Houthi sites, this specifically targets a radar facility, according to a U.S. official, used by the Houthis.

Also, worth noting last night's strikes were effectively a coalition. The U.S. and U.K. carried out the strikes themselves, but they were backed by Canada, and Netherlands, Australia and Bahrain. This is the U.S. acting unilaterally. Now, it has to be noted after the U.S. strikes and the warning - the repeated warnings I should say put forward by the US, the Houthis launched another anti-ship ballistic missile. This one not into the Red Sea but south into the Gulf of Aden.

So it's unclear at this point is if this specific and much smaller strike is either a response to that ballistic missile, a warning to the U.S. that for every launch against commercial vessels there will be a U.S. response or if following yesterday's strikes the U.S. had the opportunity to do a battle damage assessment and saw there was a target that hadn't been destroyed. Perhaps that will become clear here as we learn more about the strikes.

But it is worth noting also the U.S. said they weren't interested in an escalation. Still, a second night of strikes carried out against Houthi targets. The Houthis have vowed respond and that's still very much what we're looking for, how do they respond in what direction, is it against U.S. assets in the Red Sea or do they look at U.S. bases elsewhere in the Middle East? Those are still very much open questions here as we see another strike here or set of strikes by the U.S. against Houthi targets in Yemen.

COOPER: Oren, how much is known about how many viable targets are there actually in Yemen for U.S. forces or any kind of coalition forces to actually target? I mean do we know much about the military capabilities of the Houthis?

LIEBERMANN: The Houthis are one of the strongest non-state actors in the Middle East. Potentially, one of the strongest non-state actors in the world. Sort of like a Hezbollah and Lebanon. That's not the Lebanese government, but they are incredibly powerful. The Houthis are not the internationally recognized government of Yemen, and yet they are very powerful.


The U.S. tried to tailor today's strikes and yesterday's strikes to go after the sorts of weapons they use to target shipping in the Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden. It was directed at that. This was not an attempt to go after Houthi leadership or other Houthi facilities, so there are certain targets left.

And I'll answer from another perspective as well. The Saudis waged a yearlong battle the Houthis, so there certainly is a vast amount of capabilities the Houthis have. The U.S. not trying to go after all of it but trying to go after what they used to target international shipping.

COOPER: Yes. Talking about yesterday's strikes.

Oren Liebermann, thanks very much.

I want to go to CNN's Nic Robertson monitoring developments for us from Tel Aviv.

Nic, what do you make of these latest strikes and what the Houthi capabilities are?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, I think what we saw the Houthis do today which was by striking a ship in the Gulf of Aden, all the coalition forces there in the Red Sea come - go south out of the Red Sea past Yemen, hang a left and you're in the Gulf of Aden there, off the southern coast of Yemen.

And that's where they struck today. Perhaps no surprise because the focus of a lot of the U.S. and British air strikes last night had been more focused down the west side of Yemen, more close to the Red Sea. So this, I think, shows the potential adaptability of the Houthis. They've got a lot of other options or at least a number of other options for launching missiles, they've taken them out or they've been taken out in one area of Yemen, but they're still able to threaten into the Gulf of Aden.

So I think that's one point, and I think it's also instructive and the United States and military planners at the Pentagon will be very aware of this, because for many years - eight years, they were helping Saudi Arabia with intelligence and at one time even refuel aircraft for the Saudi fighter jets to target the Houthis when the Saudis were trying to support the-nurse nationally recognized government in Yemen and fight the Houthis on the ground.

And all those years of air strikes and all the criticism that Saudi came under for all the killings of civilians even during all of that, the Houthis managed to maintain the ability to fire complex sophisticated cruise missiles hundreds and hundreds of miles all the way to the capital of Saudi Arabia. So I think what's instructive about how the Houthis have handled air strikes before is that they have found a way to dodge and evade and still come back and attack, and that's what we saw them do in a limited way today. And I think that's what they're going to try and follow through with going forward.

So I wouldn't be surprised if this follow-up - these follow-up strikes today by the united states not the end of it certainly from the Houthi perspective and everything they've been saying is they are going to come back and continue the fight.

COOPER: Nic Robertson, thanks. I want to check in with Oren again.

Oren, do we know how effective the U.S. thinks the strikes were yesterday?

LIEBERMANN: We know the U.S. believes they conducted significant damage against the targets they were going for. That is radar sites, command and control nodes and then storage and launch facilities for drones, anti-ship ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles. But as of earlier today we got a briefing from a senior pentagon official who said they haven't completed the battle damage assessment. So there isn't a definitive here's the list of what we hit, here's the list of what we hit but weren't able to destroy, at least not as far as we know.

So the U.S. may still be going through that process, and that will likely factor into this decision to carry out another strike after yesterday's far more expansive strikes and certainly to carry this strike-out unilaterally instead of relying or using that broad coalition we saw yesterday.

So we'll still wait for more information about the effectiveness of the strikes. One of the questions we had asked is, look, the strikes yesterday leaked pretty early from the U.K. did that affect the efficacy of what you were able to do, did it make it less effective or were the Houthis able to move any of their assets, that could certainly play into this. We didn't get a definitive answer on that question, but it was telegraphed quite blatantly these attacks were coming, and certainly you can see a scenario that gives the targets a heads up to move and that may be at play here. We'll have to wait to get a better sense of that.

COOPER: Oren Liebermann, thanks very much.

I want to turn next to Fareed Zakaria, host of "Fareed Zakaria GPS" and retired NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Wesley Clark.

Gen. Clark, what's your reaction to these new strikes?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I'm glad that we followed up. I think we are still doing BA (ph), we've got to do a better job of targeting. And the way you do it is you strike. You put the eyes and ears back on the area. You watch the reaction. You look at it carefully, and you build your target packages.

But in every case, I would hope that we would try to achieve escalation dominance over the Houthis.


If they fire one missile, we take out three targets. If they fire three missiles, we take out six targets.

In other words, we try to stay away from a tit for tat. And ultimately if we can't take out the assets they're using to strike these ships, then we've got to go and find assets they value more highly.

COOPER: Fareed, what did these strikes both last night and this latest round, what do you think it means for the prospects of a wider conflict in the region?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Oh, it definitely increases the prospects, and it has always been true that this is a conflict that has poised to turn into something larger. And the reason is Iran has many allies, and most of its allies are like the Houthis. These are proxy fighters. Hezbollah, the Houthis, Hamas, of course. And what the Houthis have done is they have found a way to inflict a cost on business as usual.

So the United States has to respond, and it has to try to achieve escalation dominance as Wesley Clark was saying. But it also has to try to not let this spread out of control. And that's a very delicate balance, and it's trying to re-establish deterrence while at the same time not itself produce a widening of the war.

I'm not sure if - there's a lot of danger here because the United States could get drawn into precisely the thing that Washington was telling Saudi Arabia to be careful of, which is if you drag yourself into a Yemeni civil war, siding with one side, attacking the Houthis. That could go on for a long time, so there's that danger.

On the other hand, you've got to make sure that shipping can go through the Persian Gulf. This is the lifeline for much of the world. This is where oil flows to a lot of places all over the world.

COOPER: And Fareed, just - I mean, assuming the Houthis are rational actors, what is - what's in this for them? I mean, Obviously they're saying this is about the Israel's war against Hamas, the - what's going on in Gaza. Is it simply that or are they doing the bidding of Iran? Why would they be doing this?

ZAKARIA: Yes, I think you have to view this in a broader strategic context, which is Iran has been trying to essentially assert that the American-led Middle Eastern order is not viable, that it contains Iran, it presses Iran. Iran has been - tried to put into a box. It get - it's under sanctions, so the Iranians have been trying - President Raisi in an interview with me said, you will not be able to do this. We have ways of opposing the American-led Middle Eastern order.

And the idea that Saudi Arabia and Israel were going to make a happy peace, that is what Iran is trying to prevent. It is helping Hamas, it is helping Hezbollah, it is helping the Houthis. So in that sense the Houthis are part of this larger strategy. I don't think they in a particular sense gain something. It's a very good question, Anderson, because it's as if you're going to see what the Houthis are going from this, but if you think of it as the Houthis, the Hezbollah, Assad, Iran, this larger group of forces in the Middle East they are all opposed to an American-led strategic stability in the Middle East. That's the big context.

COOPER: So, Gen. Clark, given what Fareed just said about the larger contest - context of it - of this, there are reports the Houthis fired a ballistic missile at a ship today but missed. Under this scenario, do you expect more off that, more attempts at retaliation, staying in the - in this - trying to keep this game going?

CLARK: I expect them to continue to do this because Iran wants them to do it. As Fareed said, this is Iran's quest for regional hegemony. This is why you can't pay too much attention to what you hear from the Arab street. They're manipulated by (inaudible) - about social media. But the leaders in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, they know what the stakes are. They want America there. Even in Iraq, they want us there.

So they're looking to the United States for strength and leadership. So when we strike back, they like it. No matter what the protests say about it and all that. And also no matter what we say about not wanting to escalate, they want escalation. Our friends in the region, they want to see a strong America.

Now, they want to see us effective.


So we have to really -- now we're engaged with military force. We better really do that targeting well, and we better not try to tit for tat it. So we've got to try to cap this off. The alternative is, we go closer to the source. Iran's playing a very cagey game. They do not want the United States or Israel to strike their nuclear facilities. They may be very close to a nuclear weapon. They're asking themselves, should they get it, should they declare it, should they test it? What will be the consequences? They're very sly and clever dancers around this nuclear issue. And in the meantime, they're trying to discredit the United States. And we're looking at it and saying, can we stop this without going to the source, Iran.

COOPER: Fareed, the role of Saudi Arabia in all this is fascinating. I mean, their response, A, to this latest round, but also their war against the Houthis. I mean, they bombed extensively, a lot of civilian casualties, fatalities. They came under a lot of criticism for it. What do you make of Saudi Arabia's role in all this?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Well, you put your finger on it. The Saudis waged a multi-year, very expensive war, lot of bombing. And what they found was that the Houthis were extraordinarily resilient, that they could bounce back, that it was very hard to destroy them completely. Eventually, the UAE, which was Saudi's allies, pulled out because essentially they thought it was an unwinnable war.

So that's why I say this is a delicate balance. Wes is right. You want to achieve some kind of escalation dominance or reestablish deterrence, but you do not want to get sucked into this because all the Houthis have to do is survive.

You know, it's the classic problem of this kind of warfare. They win by not losing, we lose by not winning. And that's a dynamic where that's a tough trade off. So establish escalation elements, show them that they can't do this kind of, you know, reckless attacks on ships. Wes makes a very interesting point. Is there some way to convey a signal to the Iranians? I'm not sure that I would be in favor of military strikes at this point, but in some way indicate, like this is crossing lines that you haven't crossed before, because otherwise this could really spell out of control.

COOPER: Fareed Zakaria and General Clark, thank you. We will, of course, continue to monitor the story, bring you any developments as they come in tonight.

Coming up, an election official in Arizona finds out the hard way that once believing in election conspiracy theories just isn't enough for some extremists. Details, next.



COOPER: Last month, we brought you a report about the rising number of profanity laden death threats left on voicemails for public officials, the messages, the threatened lynchings, and other forms of violence. They're just a few examples of an increasingly toxic environment facing officials around the country as well as election workers.

Well, tonight, Donie O'Sullivan reports on what happened to one Arizona county election official who once believed the MAGA land election conspiracy theories, but then discovered he wasn't extreme enough.


LISA MARRA, FORMER ELECTIONS DIRECTOR, COCHISE COUNTY, AZ: You should be in jail. You should be killed. You should be fired. To just people screaming into the phone, I mean, just ridiculous -- in 24/7.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lisa Marra was Director of Elections in Arizona's Cochise County for six years.

MARRA: We actually had to hire an armed security company because the people that worked in the office processing ballots were afraid somebody was going to come break the door down and take ballots.

O'SULLIVAN: Lisa, a lifelong Republican, had enough of the intimidation and threats, and last year she quit.

(On camera): Your successor is a man named?

MARRA: Bob Bartelsmeyer.

O'SULLIVAN: This is Bob Bartelsmeyer.

BOB BARTELSMEYER, FORMER ELECTIONS DIRECTOR, COCHISE COUNTY, AZ: The election itself just didn't seem like it had been in the past elections. There was just something off.

O'SULLIVAN: Back in 2020, he shared these Facebook posts falsely claiming Trump legally won by a landslide.

BARTELSMEYER: Sometimes it's hard for me to accept that there wasn't some errors made in the election, but I'm not sure that it was to the extent that it would have changed the election.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): For some of the election conspiracy theorists who forced Lisa out of her job in Cochise County, Bob's doubts about the 2020 election made him an ideal candidate to replace her.

(On camera): To maybe some of the people in Cochise, was your critics were saying, this is an election skeptic. He's an election extremist, a conspiracy theorist.




O'SULLIVAN: While some people would have viewed that as a disqualification.


O'SULLIVAN: There's people in Cochise who are probably saying, this is our guy.


O'SULLIVAN: He knows what's up. He knows the election's been stolen. So when you got there, some people were probably happy to see you coming.


O'SULLIVAN: But then something happened that he never expected.

You weren't extreme enough?

BARTELSMEYER: No. They found out from the beginning that I was going to follow the laws and procedures.

O'SULLIVAN: And they weren't happy about that?

BARTELSMEYER: Some were not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your actions, sir, are not that of a conservative.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Mr. Bartelsmeyer, if I had the authority, I'd fire you.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): At public meetings in Cochise County, some voters who believe conspiracy theories about the election decided Bob was not MAGA enough and began demanding he overhaul the entire voting system.

BARTELSMEYER: To do away with machines, doing away with mail ballots. Those are things that have to be changed legislatively, and it's not permissible legally for me to do away with all this stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sure even you brain dead rhinos and Democrats can understand. We the people don't want any machines or mail-in ballots.

O'SULLIVAN: After just four months, Bob, quits.

O'SULLIVAN: At my age, I don't need that. I need less drama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want some more?

O'SULLIVAN: Geri Roll, a former Trump supporter, also left her election job in another Arizona County last year.

GERI ROLL, FORMER ELECTIONS DIRECTOR, PINAL COUNTY, AZ: I've never been treated so poorly, so disrespected.

O'SULLIVAN: So much of the vitriol directed at election workers like Bob, Lisa and Geri is fueled by false beliefs about voting machines, about ballots, and about election workers themselves.

ROLL: I had a guy tell me that he could hack into our election equipment through the power outlet.

O'SULLIVAN: What people believe?

ROLL: Nonsensical. It never has been like this before, and it's not stupidity. And they really don't care about truth or integrity. They just want their outcome. I think that's it.

O'SULLIVAN: Geri has spent most of her life working in the court system as a county attorney, but she says the abuse she received as an election worker topped it all.

ROLL: I have been treated better by murderers, child molesters, thieves, rapists, then the political parties and the elected representatives.


O'SULLIVAN: Harassment is one of the main reasons election officials across the country have called it quits. Across eleven western states, more than 160 top local election officials have left their positions since November 2020.

BILL GATES, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ: We're asking a lot of our elections workers to deal with not only the general misinformation out there, but directly people being attacked.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Republican Bill Gates is on the Board of Supervisors for Arizona's largest county.

(On camera): How concerned are you by the fact that there are election conspiracy theorists now becoming election officials?

GATES: I'm very concerned about that. We're seeing that in some small counties, we are only as strong as our weakest link.

BARTELSMEYER: It's very sad because we need experienced election workers.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Fortunately for Bob Bartelsmeyer, he returned to his old election job in a different Arizona county, where he says he is no longer being harassed. As for the election conspiracy theories he shared in 2020.

(On camera): Do you regret sharing those Facebook posts?

BARTELSMEYER: Yes. The 2020 chapter should be closed and we should move forward. We have to believe the process of the certifications in each state of the secretaries of state.

O'SULLIVAN: So you think voters should trust a 2024 election?


O'SULLIVAN: Even if Trump loses?



COOPER: He says, he hopes people will accept the results. Did he actually say if he believes they will accept the result?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, I think he's kind of nervous, a bit like all of us, right? I mean, he actually did say he thinks this year is going to be a bad year for the nation. It's going to be hostile, very brutal.

Look, I mean, I think to give some credit to Bob Bartelsmeyer there, he has these doubts personally still about the 2020 election. He is an election official, but as you saw in that piece there, he did the right thing, right? He didn't give in to the extremists and the conspiracy theorists and do things as an election official, that one would have been illegal, but two could have actually damaged the safety and integrity and security of elections there.

But what's really, I think, fascinating about Bob Bartelsmeyer is, you know, he has another election job now in Arizona. He said his politics aren't going to come into it. And, you know, he said that we should trust the process. But he does have those lingering doubts about 2020, and he can't -- he couldn't necessarily articulate why. But there is that doubt there. He was pushing out different things about vote counts and things like that, but, you know, still somebody really grappling with that. And I do encourage viewers to go onto My colleagues Rob Kuznia and Scott Bronstein have an article that dives in a lot deeper to just how misinformation perhaps has influenced how this person views the integrity of American elections.

COOPER: It's fascinating to hear from Donie O'Sullivan. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Next, allegations of an affair between Fulton County DA, Fani Willis and the man she picked as the lead prosecutor in the Georgia election subversion case against the former president accusations. The lead prosecutor spent money that he made on the case to take her on lavish vacations, and now the judge in the case has set a hearing on it all. Details ahead.



COOPER: Today, the judge in the Georgia election subversion case against the former president set a February hearing to discuss allegations of an improper relationship between Fulton County DA Fani Willis and her pick for lead prosecutor, a man named Nathan Wade.

Now, Mr. Trump's attorney brought up the topic today, and Mr. Wade was in court as it was discussed. Earlier this week, in a court filing aimed at getting his case dismissed, a Trump co-defendant alleged that Wade and Willis were having an affair. CNN's Nick Valencia has more in all of this tonight. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Nathan Wade was selected by Fani Willis as a Special Prosecutor in Georgia, many lawyers in Cobb County, where Wade practiced law wondered why him? Not only did Willis have the biggest staff of any judicial circuit in Georgia to choose from, but she also had more experienced felony prosecutors to take on the former president and his allies.

Former U.S. Attorney and one-time Federal Prosecutor Michael Moore says if the allegations of an improper romantic relationship between Willis and Wade are true, it's an unforced error by Willis and challenges the integrity of the case.

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Cases are not lost because of some Matlock moment, some moment like you see in "My Cousin Vinny", where suddenly somebody finds the evidence. Cases die by the death of a thousand cuts. This is a cut on the case.

SCOTT GRUBMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I was pretty shocked. I was pretty appalled.

VALENCIA: Criminal Defense Attorney Scott Grubman faced off against Wade while representing one-time Trump co-defendant Ken Chesebro.

What stood out for Grubman is not the alleged romance between Wade and Willis that's shocking. It's the exhibit in the filing which showed some of Wade's billable hours. So far, Wade has earned more than $650,000 for his work on the case.

GRUBMAN: He's doing things like billing 24 hours in a day.

VALENCIA: Why is that weird?

GRUBMAN: Well, look, attorneys work hard, and technically it is possible to bill 24 hours in a day. Of course, I have never met an attorney, ever. And I don't think anyone I know has ever met an attorney who has billed 24 hours in a day. And this 24 hours in a day isn't being billed to a private client, it's being billed to the taxpayers of Fulton County.

VALENCIA: No doubt, the 127-page legal filing from Trump codefendant and former campaign official Michael Roman has been fodder for gossip. But noticeably missing was any direct evidence of an improper relationship. That optic is something Willis has already been reprimanded for once when she held a political fundraiser for a political rival of one of the case's co-defendants.

JUDGE ROBERT MCBURNEY, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: I don't know that it's an actual conflict. It's a, what are you thinking moment. If the optics are horrific.

VALENCIA: Persecution, not prosecution, is a theme the former president has tried to get to stick in all of his cases. DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a political witch


VALENCIA: After allegations of the Willis-Wade romance surfaced, Trump again seized at the chance to appeal himself as the victim of a witch hunt.

GRUBMAN: And wonderful defense attorneys, and there are a lot of them that are left in this case. I could absolutely guarantee you they're going to avail themselves of that.

MOORE: I'd tell her to get out of the case. I really think that this type of case, with these allegations, this case is bigger than any one prosecutor. And I think probably to preserve the case and to show that what's of most importance to her is the facts of the Trump case, as opposed to her political career, if you will at this moment.

VALENCIA: If the world wasn't already watching Fani Willis is every move, they likely are now.


VALENCIA: Everyone that we've spoken to in the legal community says if these allegations are true, the optics are just horrible. When Fani Willis leveled this indictment against the former president, the expectation of those around her, Anderson, would be -- was that, she would be flawless in her prosecution, or at the very least not make unforced errors like this if they are true, Anderson.

COOPER: Nick Valencia, thanks very much. We'll continue to follow that.

At the start of the NFL football -- NFL football season, excuse me, Harry Enten was here to take me through all the preseason hype, which I don't really know much about. We're on the eve of the playoffs now, and since I don't really know much about it, I thought it would bring Harry back to explain just what I'm missing. I'm hoping Taylor Swift is somehow involved. We'll be right back in a moment.



COOPER: That massive winter storm hitting the Iowa caucuses is also playing havoc with this weekend's NFL playoffs. Possible blizzard conditions in Buffalo and below zero temperatures in Kansas City. Here with an NFL playoff preview, our Senior Data Reporter Harry Enten.


COOPER: It seems to me that there were playoff?

Who knew? I didn't know.

ENTEN: Who knew?

COOPER: I didn't know.

ENTEN: Who knew, you know, but because backed by popular demand, we have to ask you some questions.

COOPER: Oh, you have questions for me?

ENTEN: Of course I have questions for you.

COOPER: About the teams playing?

ENTEN: About the teams who are playing. You know this. So let's start off with one of the matchups right here. We have the logos for the teams. Who are these teams?

COOPER: One of them are the Bills.

ENTEN: No, no, I could see the red and the blue. That's kind of there, right?

COOPER: Yeah, like yeah. The New England Patriots?

ENTEN: No, they're not anywhere close. They say --

COOPER: The Fighting Tauros.

ENTEN: The Fighting Tauros. How about --


ENTEN: -- that is the Houston Texans on your right?

COOPER: OK. At the left, I assume it's not Princeton.

ENTEN: It's not Princeton. They do not play professionally. Neither of us went to Princeton, though. We were Ivy League men. It's actually the Cleveland Browns, who, interestingly enough, have an orange helmet.

COOPER: Oh, well, that throws me off.

ENTEN: But you know, they're complementary to each other. OK, we have another one. Maybe you can get this one. We have -- there we go.

COOPER: Oh the same one?

ENTEN: That's the same one.

COOPER: That was the same to me.

ENTEN: Let's move up. There we go.

COOPER: The LA Rockets.

ENTEN: LA Rockets, close. It's --

COOPER: FC. ENTEN: It's the -- no, that's soccer. How about the LA Rams?

COOPER: OK. The LA Rams and the Blue Lions.

ENTEN: Oh, they are lions. They are lions.

COOPER: Detroit Lions.


COOPER: All right. OK.

ENTEN: We're making great progress here.

COOPER: Yeah. I was in Wisconsin this weekend at the airport, and I didn't have a hat, so I bought a hat. Turned out to be a sports hat, and it was some team that I guess was playing another team. And then I was in Chicago, and everybody -- and the whole reason wearing the hat was so that, you know, cut down on interactions and the hat made all these people come up to me like, oh, we don't have you people here, the supporters of that team.

ENTEN: I wonder if it is on our logo in number three. Let's see if we have a third logo.

COOPER: Yes, that's a hat I bought this weekend. It had a G on it. What does that mean?

ENTEN: Green Bay Packers.

COOPER: Oh, OK. I don't know what that means.


ENTEN: What about the other team there?

COOPER: The Cowboys.


COOPER: Yeah, yeah.

ENTEN: Packers versus The Cowboys.

COOPER: So I had that hat. And everyone was like, oh, making inside jokes. And I didn't know how to respond.

ENTEN: Well, if you learn nothing else from me during all our appearances, do not wear a Green Bay Packer hat in Chicago.

COOPER: My lesson is, do not buy a sport-related hat.

ENTEN: Unless I give it to you.

COOPER: Well, no, I just don't know who the characters are?

ENTEN: I will explain the characters, the wonderful characters.


ENTEN: You know, there's another game going on this weekend.

COOPER: I did not, so who what's happening with the playoffs? Who's going to win?

ENTEN: Yeah, so here's a big one for you. Perhaps the Kansas City Chiefs will win. They are, of course, playing the Miami Dolphins. And it's going to be fricking freezing.

COOPER: Who's doing the halftime show?

ENTEN: There is no halftime show for the Wild Card round. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Well, bring it back for you.

COOPER: You have to wait for the Super Bowl?

ENTEN: You have to wait for the Super Bowl. You have to wait for the --

COOPER: Is Taylor Swift going to do it again?

ENTEN: Well, actually, this is a big thing. Let's flip forward to this slide, guys. Let's ask you the question of who does Taylor Swift date? We're going to get to this. We'll get to the coldest games in a second. Who does Taylor Swift date?

COOPER: Oh, I know. Travis Kelce.

ENTEN: Very good. I tried to throw you off a path.

COOPER: I thought you were going to put his brother on, because isn't his brother playing the sport?

ENTEN: Very good. Jason Kelce also plays.

COOPER: OK, yeah, yeah,

ENTEN: Oh, and let me just say we have to wrap, but go, Bills. Go, Bills. There we go.

COOPER: That's a blue hat.

ENTEN: There we go.


ENTEN: There we go.

COOPER: All right.

ENTEN: Bills.

COOPER: Harry Enten, thanks very much. ENTEN: Thank you.

COOPER: We'll be right back. You wear it well.



COOPER: That's it for us. Have a great weekend. The news continues. "The Source" with Kaitlan Collins starts now.