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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
New Poll: Trump Narrowly Leads Biden In General Election Rematch; Senate Border Bill Set For Vote Next Week; School Shooter Mom Takes Stand; Source: Four Of 7 Suspects Arrested For Assaulting NYPD Officers Have Left City, May Be Fleeing To Mexico; Rep. Gaetz's Exsitec-Girlfriend Contacted In House Ethics Probe; A Candidate Targeted By A Deepfake Has An AI Warning For America; China Moves To Shut Down Online Criticism Of Its Economy. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired February 01, 2024 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Tonight an accidental incredible discovery.
Oklahoma State University revealing that a 28-year-old PhD student has discovered an entirely new dinosaur species. So this is a rendering of that species, a new one that we know the Eoneophron infernalis, and this is what it would have looked like when it lived about 66 million years ago.
Now, the PhD student thought he was studying the bones of the Anzu wyliei, which is a bird-like dinosaur referred to fondly as the "chicken from hell." Well, you can see why.
But then he noticed that the bones here were even smaller than that, so he sent them out for further inspection. The results revealed the truth. It was not a chicken from hell, it was a totally new dinosaur species. He said it made his heart skip a beat. That's love.
Thanks for joining us. It's time for Anderson.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Tonight on 360, new CNN polling which shows which Republican candidate does better against President Biden, why she likely won't face him and what voters make of their choices.
Also tonight, the mother of a school shooter on trial for involuntary manslaughter takes the stand. What she said today in defense of her parenting.
And later and just in time for our election, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan brings us the story of a recent election elsewhere, which was touched by AI deepfake technology and the candidate is warning us to brace for impact here.
Good evening, everyone. John Berman here in for Anderson.
We begin tonight with fresh evidence for anyone who believes for better or worse, that the Republican Party is not on its way to nominating the strongest candidate against President Biden. New CNN polling, now, as with all polling is just a snapshot, but it does follow a trend. In it, President Biden trails Donald Trump by four points which is just outside the margin of error. That's the same as it was as far back as last October.
On the other hand, when matched up against Nikki Haley, that gap widens to double digit, 13 points. Thirteen points versus four points for Trump. Her problem continues to be persuading Republicans even in South Carolina, her home state where she is the underdog in the primary there later this month.
CNN's Jake Tapper spoke with her earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Why doesn't this electability argument seem to mean more to Republican voters, do you think?
NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I mean, that's the argument we're trying to make. I think the reality is 70 percent of Americans don't want to see a Biden-Trump rematch. I mean, that's just a fact. The fact that we would have two 80-year-old candidates running for president is absurd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Now, one of those candidates President Biden was in Warren, Michigan today speaking with auto workers trying to capitalize on last week's endorsement by their union, the UAW, in what is expected to be a tough battle in that state this November.
With me here now CNN political commentator and former Trump White House communications director, Alyssa Farah Griffin; also in Columbia, South Carolina tonight, the pride of South Carolina, CNN political analyst and former Palmetto State lawmaker, Bakari Sellers.
Alyssa, let me start with you. The poll is what the poll is, and all the polls seem to say that Nikki Haley beats Joe Biden by much more than Donald Trump does.
I am going to ask you the same question that Jake asked Nikki Haley today, why doesn't that seem to matter?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, this is the conundrum of this race for Republicans. We have seen -- there have actually been even bigger margins, at one point, she was 17 points ahead of Biden in a head-to-head matchup, but the problem is, as we live in this -- the right lives in this media ecosystem where they just believe a different set of facts, and if you surround yourself with folks just consistently saying, Trump is the best fighter, he is the most capable, and you've got all of these congressional endorsements saying that as well. , I think voters start to believe it.
And they'd honestly rather risk losing with Trump than winning with Nikki Haley. His rock solid hold on the Republican party feels unbreakable despite the fact that Nikki Haley is hands down a better candidate. BERMAN: So Bakari, last night, James Carville was sitting with me here saying that the longer Nikki Haley stays in the race, the happier he is. Do you agree? Is she hurting Trump in a way that could help Democrats?
BAKAR SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, the pride of South Carolina is actually in Auburn, Alabama, her name is Dawn Staley right now, but that's neither here nor there. She is coaching tonight.
But I will say this, I actually agree that Nikki Haley is doing the bidding of Democrats as we sit here today, and I'm sitting back and I'm enjoying it. The longer she stays in this race, she is weakening Donald Trump.
I mean, Donald Trump, let's just say, I'll play devil's advocate, and the devil really doesn't need any advocating. But the reason that Nikki Haley is doing far better in these polls is that Donald Trump has lived with the scrutiny since 2016. That light has been very bright on everything that he's done.
We've gone in this history, we know who Donald Trump truly is. That light has not shone brightly on Nikki Haley just yet, and so that's why she's still doing that much better than Joe Biden.
But look, if the Republicans don't want to choose the best candidate, or the person who fares the best, then so be it. This is the result of what the Republican Party has become which is -- and I don't use this term lightly, but they've become cult-like just following people off a cliff.
This is not rational. This doesn't make political sense. It doesn't make good common sense, but then you have people who are supposed to be intelligent who represent us in the Halls of Congress, who are following the circus as well.
So look as a Democrat, we want to run against Donald Trump. We want to run against Donald Trump badly and thank you, Nikki Haley for staying in the race and continuing to wound him.
BERMAN: What specifically, Bakar, or how specifically does she wound him, do you think?
SELLERS: Because she is using a lot of the same lines and attack lines about his character, and so what happens is, if Bakari Sellers says, look, Donald Trump is old, Donald Trump is beyond the pale. Donald Trump, the E. Jean Carroll defamation suit was right in jest.
When we begin to hear these character attacks on Donald Trump that come from somebody who has the conservative credentials of Nikki Haley, they may start to stick. Now, they are not going to stick with the people who wear those little red hats, but they will stick with people like suburban women, independent voters, college educated White women, those people who we need to vote for Donald Trump.
The best messenger on this may not be Bakari Sellers or Joe Biden. I mean, the best messenger is actually Nikki Haley. Go Nikki.
BERMAN: It is one of the first times I think Bakari has ever said that in South Carolina.
Alyssa, Jake Tapper also asked Haley about Trump's political action committee paying about $50 million, picking up the tab for his legal bills. Let's listen to that exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: It is unconscionable to me that a candidate would spend $50 million in legal fees. It explains why he's not doing many rallies, he doesn't have the money to do it. It explains why he doesn't want to get on a debate stage because he doesn't want to talk about why he is doing it.
It explains why he had a temper tantrum, you know, the election night of New Hampshire is because he wants me out of the race and he wants to be the presumptive nominee so that all of that cash starts going to him and he doesn't have to spend anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Words like "unconscionable temper tantrum" they weren't around a month ago. They really weren't.
GRIFFIN: Listen, I love this Nikki Haley and taking a kind of different approach than Bakari here. I think it's important for the country. I think hearing a credible conservative two-term former governor tell the truth about Donald Trump.
But listen, he is running for president to stay out of jail and he is using his donors to pay off his legal bills, like that is literally what is happening.
BERMAN: Do voters care?
GRIFFIN: The problem is, I'm not sure voters care. Just for an example, the Florida Legislature, some Republican members introduced a bill to make the state of Florida pay for his bills. Now, it's not going to happen, DeSantis would veto it.
But that just shows the diehard fans, they think they are defending him. They think this is a witch hunt, they need to be with him. And once again, the fault does lie with other elected Republicans for actually saying these cases were witch hunts, for not coming out and telling the God's honest truth that he mishandled classified documents or the truth about January 6th.
So we are reaping what we're sowing here and yes, he is going to enter this general election not with the money that he needs to win.
BERMAN: And Bakari, let me ask you a question specific to South Carolina because there is the new South Carolina poll, which shows Nikki Haley trailing badly there, 58 to 32. I always wonder about South Carolina and maybe you could explain this to me. There is no party registration in primaries there, yet, we don't see what we see in New Hampshire, where you've got this massive crossover voting in primaries there.
Could there be this time, could you see Democrats and moderates coming out to save her in the Republican primary?
SELLERS: Absolutely not. I mean, Democrats aren't going to waste their time voting on February 24th. I mean, we're going to vote February 3rd in the Democratic primary, but the parties here, unlike maybe New Hampshire or some other states where there is just a shade of difference between Democrats and Republicans, there is a stark contrast between Democrats and Republicans in the state of South Carolina.
And Democrats know Nikki Haley. I mean, we remember Nikki Haley for being the one who didn't accept Medicaid and hospitals shut down. I mean, we remember the assault on the poor. We remember the assault on women. We still have a corridor of shame under Republican leadership. So Democrats aren't fools and are going to play this national game.
I do think though that to the point that was made a minute ago, Donald Trump actually is very scared of Nikki Haley, and South Carolinians know that Nikki Haley is a very shrewd politician. I think most people would want to see Nikki Haley and Donald Trump on the stage together, but we know that's not the case.
I was watching Brazil the other night, and Pablo Escobar said that there was only one man that he's ever been afraid of and her name was Griselda Blanco. I believe there's only one man that Donald Trump is afraid of and her name is Nikki Haley.
BERMAN: Bakari Sellers, as I said, for me, the pride of South Carolina; Alyssa Farah Griffin, great to see both you here tonight. Have a wonderful evening.
Keeping Them Honest: We give you a lawmaker saying the quiet part out loud and using the president's poll numbers to justify it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): Why would we do anything right now to help him with that 33 percent? Do you believe if Joe Biden's approval rating was at 53 percent, we would even be talking about the border?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That's Texas Republican Congressman Troy Nehls when asked about backing the bipartisan Senate border bill and military aid package for Ukraine and Israel, which now looks close to a vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Discussions are going well, so I want members to be aware that we plan to post the full text of the National Security supplemental as early as tomorrow, no later than Sunday.
As for the timing of the vote, I plan to file cloture on the motion to proceed to the vehicle on Monday, leading to the first vote on the National Security supplemental no later than Wednesday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Now, whether it gets the 60 votes needed to even proceed to debate is unclear. What happens if and when it hits the Republican- controlled House, however, is not.
From Congressman Nehls' right up to House Speaker Johnson, the bipartisan measure faces stiff Republican opposition. That's to put it mildly, even though as Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said yesterday, reaching this deal is precisely what House Republicans asked them to do even though the top Republican negotiator on it is a rock ribbed conservative senator, James Lankford, who recently described it this way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): This bill focuses on getting us to zero illegal crossings a day. There is no amnesty. It increases the number of Border Patrol agents, it increases asylum officers, it increases detention beds so we can quickly detain and then deport individuals.
It ends catch-and-release. It focuses on additional deportation flights out. It changes our asylum process so that people get a fast asylum screening at a higher standard and then get returned back to their own country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So this is what Congressman Nehls is speaking out against, a bill neither he nor any of his House colleagues have even seen by the way.
Texas Congressman Nehls, it should be noted, and as a side note, though, he also has policy differences on the issue preferring House Republicans' original bill. It is not the first time he has voiced his partisan political motive for opposing the Senate compromise.
Almost a month ago, to the day, he told CNN: "Let me tell you, I'm not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat and to help Joe Biden's approval rating." As we and others have been reporting and as a number of Republican senators allege, that is also the former president's motivation, Donald Trump's motivation, none of which is sitting well with another Republican in the Texas delegation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): I'm extremely disappointed in the very strange maneuvering by many on the right to torpedo a potential border reform bill. That's what we all ran on doing.
So if we have a bill that decreases illegal immigration, that's an if. Right? We didn't see what's in it. But if we have a bill that -- on that -- significantly decreases illegal immigration and we sabotage that, that is inconsistent with what we told our voters we would do.
And people will make up whatever reasons they want to, there is a number of them, I'm sure, but it would be a pretty unacceptable dereliction of your duty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Congressman Crenshaw also had this to say about critics of the deal: "The height of stupidity," he said, "... is having a strong opinion on something you know nothing about."
More now from CNN's Melanie Zanona who joins us from the Capitol.
Melanie, is this move by Senator Schumer to have a vote next week likely to force Republicans hand?
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, it's certainly going to be a showdown. Chuck Schumer said we are expected to see that long- awaited bill text sometime over the next few days, and then the Senate is expected to start voting on this package early next week with the Senate even adding some days to its schedule in order to anticipate this vote next week.
As a reminder, this package not only is going to include that border security deal, but also aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, which is what President Biden had initially requested. But it is very unclear whether this is actually going to pass.
As a reminder, anything needs 60 votes in the Senate in order to advance, but this package is already facing opposition from the right, from former President Donald Trump, and even from the left with some Democrats concerned that this conservative proposal goes too far in heeding to some of Republicans demands.
And even if it passes the Senate, John, this bill is dead on arrival in the House. So right now, there's just a lot of uncertainty about the path ahead, but there are some growing doubts even among Republican leaders that this ultimately is going to wind up on Biden's desk.
BERMAN: So what is Plan B if or maybe when this package fails?
ZANONA: Well, I mean, there is some talk among leadership about trying to split off the bill and try to do a standalone bill just for Israel and Ukraine. But even that is likely to face headwinds inside the GOP because there's many Republicans who are resistant to more Ukraine aid.
That is why there was this effort in the first place, to try to pair Ukraine aid with border security policy changes, something that Republicans had been demanding, something they've been campaigning on, something that they've wanted for many decades really here on Capitol Hill.
But ironically, John, those same Republicans who were demanding that those two issues be linked, are now the same Republicans who are criticizing and throwing cold water on this deal even though it has yet to be released -- John.
BERMAN: Lucy and the football. Melanie Zanona, thank you very much for that.
Next, she is charged with involuntary manslaughter for what her school shooter son did. What Jennifer Crumbley said today on the stand in her own defense as a parent.
Later, of the seven migrants charged with attacking two New York Police officers, four tonight may be fleeing. New reporting on their possible whereabouts ahead on 360.
BERMAN: In this country, no parent has ever faced involuntary manslaughter charges for a school shooting their child carried out until the parents of Michigan's school shooter were, which means until Jennifer Crumbley took the stand today, no mother has ever had to testify in her own defense in connection with the deadly actions of her son.
More now from CNN's Jean Casarez.
JENNIFER CRUMBLEY, ETHAN CRUMBLEY'S MOTHER: That was the hardest thing I had to stomach is that my child had hurt and killed other people.
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The mother of the Oxford Michigan shooter who killed four high school students in 2021, for the first time defending herself in court.
CRUMBLEY: I've asked myself if I would have done anything differently and I would now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you could change what happened, would you?
CRUMBLEY: Oh, absolutely. I wish he would have killed us instead.
CASAREZ (voice over): Jennifer crumbly charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after she and her husband got a gun for their 15-year-old son days before the massacre.
She has pleaded not guilty and appears to be shifting blame to her husband in her testimony.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is responsible for storing the gun? CRUMBLEY: My husband is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. Explain why you say he's responsible for that role.
CRUMBLEY: I just didn't feel comfortable being in charge of that. It was more his thing, so I let him handle that.
CASAREZ (voice over): Crumbley maintained she had no reason to believe her son was a danger to anyone else.
CRUMBLEY: As a parent, you spend your whole -- your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers. You never -- you never would think you have to protect your child from harming somebody else. That's what -- that's what blew my mind.
CASAREZ (voice over): She recounted the moment her husband called telling her the gun was missing.
CRUMBLEY: Instantly, it just -- I'm like oh my gosh, he's got the gun. I didn't actually think he was at the school shooting it. I thought maybe he walked home and got the gun and was in the field by the school shooting. I just -- I didn't imagine my son actually going into a school and shooting.
And then when we got more updates, I was like, oh my gosh, he is the school shooter, he is going to kill himself, because in my mind, that's what school shooters have done. They've killed themselves after.
So I yelled in my talk to text, Ethan, don't do it, because I thought he was going to kill himself.
CASAREZ (voice over): Revealed in court before Crumbley took the stand, journal entries of the shooter just days before he opened fire, killing four classmates.
He writes: "I have zero help for my mental problems, and it's causing me to shoot up the effing school. My parents won't listen to me about help or a therapist." The journal seen here was found in the shooter's backpack that he brought with him that morning, spilled out on the school's bathroom floor.
However, Jennifer Crumbley testified her son never asked her to get help for mental health issues.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you recall there ever being a time where he asked you for go -- to go to a doctor or get help and you said no?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Or laughed at him.
There was a couple of times where Ethan had stress anxiety over taking tests, anxiety about what he was going to do after high school, but not to a level where I felt he needed to go see a psychiatrist or mental health professional right away, no.
CASAREZ (voice over): Crumbley described threats she says she and her husband received after the shooting.
CRUMBLEY: I was feeling pretty scared.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay, scared of what?
CRUMBLEY: Well scared that somebody might hurt us.
CASAREZ (voice over): The defense also attempted to portray Jennifer as a normal mother.
CRUMBLEY: Every year around Thanksgiving, I would cook Thanksgiving dinner. The day after, we did go cut our Christmas tree now.
He was a big history buff. We can play Trivial Pursuit and he would get me in history every single time.
BERMAN: And Jean Casarez is with me now.
Jean, what do we expect tomorrow during cross examination?
CASAREZ: First thing tomorrow morning, cross examination by the prosecutor. I think it's going to be long, extensive, scathing. She is going to -- the prosecutor is just going to try to get every hole that they could find from that direct examination.
BERMAN: Key points?
CASAREZ: I think key points are many involving the gun because the gun case was open. She talked about the cable lock that was always on it.
We see the gun case was opened in the master bedroom on the bed. So Ethan took the gun. But where was the cable lock? We don't see that anywhere. But if it was locked all the time, wouldn't you find it? And I think it many other things that we'll focus on.
BERMAN: All right Jean, stick around for a second. I want to bring in CNN chief legal analyst, Laura Coates, anchor of the aptly named "Laura Coates Live" coming up at 11:00 PM, live.
Laura, what did you make of Jennifer Crumbley's testimony today specifically, her references to her husband and the fact that he purchased the gun and was responsible for storing it.
LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I was really riveted by today's testimony because I was wondering what she would say, how she would appear, what would be her demeanor, how she would respond to the give and take of the questioning, how she would turn to the jury, how she would present herself. Would it be sympathetic? Would it be self-assured? And a lot of it came out in how she actually relayed the story particularly on the point you're talking about. Notice her husband and her are not being tried together. That should have been the first clue you're going to have a little bit of finger pointing to suggest it wasn't me. I'm not the one responsible. I'm not the one at the end of the day holding the bag.
She refers only him having purchased the gun, but also perhaps his knowledge of being the person, it was thing. Guns were his thing. She wasn't comfortable with it. She deferred to him on these issues.
Also, she pointed towards the school and their handling of that day, that fateful day, the different drawings and beyond, their, what seeming to her was a lack of urgency, there sage advice about prospective treatment in the future, but not actually talking about a real present and imminent threat to bodily harm and death.
And so, I think she was looking at a way to suggest that look, if I am the person who is supposed to be blamed, well, there is blame to go around and I didn't have the knowledge.
In fact, she talked about it, and I know Jeans knows as well, there were moments in the discovery process, a fancy way of saying, when the prosecution has to give you evidence they are going to use against you, it was not till then she says she learned about some of the troubles he was facing at school.
And so without that foreseeability and that notice, she is trying to make the defense that I had no idea and had I known, had I known, I would have been armed with the appropriate tools, but I didn't.
BERMAN: Jean, the judge ruled that the shooter's two jail psychiatrists will not be able to testify. Why is that significant?
CASAREZ: Well, this is significant, just what Laura is saying, because once he was arrested, and he got in jail, he told his psychiatrists there, yes, I texted to my friend that I asked my parents for help, and they wouldn't help me, but I was lying. I really didn't ask them.
And there's other things that are not coming in. He wrote in his journal that he was researching, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to be a serial killer or a mass murderer. He said, I think I'm going to be a mass murderer. But he said, I was born this way, he writes, and no one can stop me. That's not coming into this trial before that jury.
BERMAN: And Laura, there was a moment at the end of proceedings today, which really piqued my interest, the defense attorney told the judge that she and her client did not agree about how to handle the rest of the defense's case. So what do we think that means? How common is it? And why would a defense lawyer say that?
COATES: That was a really important moment. I'm so glad you notice it because the lawyer is in charge of the legal arguments, obviously, the strategy overall, but they must defer in many respects to have that client-attorney relationship maintained.
She was signaling to the court, in no shortage of terms that look, we have a real disagreement about the rest of the people who will testify in this trial, what she might use as evidence and who might take the stand. Perhaps the lawyer is saying, look, you may want to call that person, you may think that person is helpful to you, but remember, you can be attacked on credibility, they can be impeached, not just a political term, but in a courtroom to mean at their credibility is attacked, that something as a part of the trial has already come up, that you open the door for the prosecution in their rebuttal case, after we rest as defense to come and use against you.
So that could be a real at-odds moment there. But also, there's a really interesting moment too, and all the discussion about hallucinations and whether he was somebody who was not in his right mind throughout, she really downplayed discussions on this and I wonder how that will play in later in the trial.
BERMAN: All right, Laura Coates, we will see you at 11. Jean Casarez, thank you very much.
And one note, this cross examination will happen tomorrow, starting at nine o'clock. You all can watch that on "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" and I'll be there for that.
Ahead, new developments in this attack on two New York Police officers over the weekend. Seven migrants charged and word now that four may be trying to flee.
Our John Miller joins us with the very latest on that.
Plus, the House Ethics Committee investigation into Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz may be expanding as a source says they have someone who was once very close to him, they now want to question. Details ahead.
BERMAN: The fight over the border security bill takes place as a senior law enforcement official tells CNN that four of the seven migrants charged in this attack last week on two New York police officers, they've left the city and they may be fleeing to Mexico. They are believed to be headed by bus to California. The officers are trying to break up a disorderly group outside a migrant shelter near Times Square.
We're joined now by John Miller, our Chief Law Enforcement Intelligence Analyst. He's also a former NYPD deputy commissioner. John, what are you hearing from your sources tonight?
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, what we're seeing is kind of a clash, a collision of themes that have really deeply affected New York and the country while Congress talks about a border bill. One is the the waves of migrants who have come here and the city struggled to be able to provide for them with what the mayor has said many times, Eric Adams, not enough help from the federal government. At the same time, you have this incident that highlights some of the tensions where you've got an assault on police officers trying to make an arrest by a group outside a migrant shelter.
And then they are tracked down and arrested by detectives, brought to court where the district attorney's office does not ask for them to be held on bail, even though they literally have no roots in the community here. And now they are traveling, according to my sources in the NYPD, on a bus towards the Mexican border under false names after getting tickets from a faith-based charity organization.
So, you see a lot of tension here and some anger on the idea of what the police detectives union, Paul DiGiacomo, is calling a broken criminal justice system.
BERMAN: So, some of these guys are on a bus. They're known to be on a bus. Can they be pursued, apprehended, and brought back here?
MILLER: So the obvious answer is not yes. They were released on their own recognizance. So had they been held on bail, had they made bail, had there been restrictions saying don't leave town, that would be different. It would be a violation of the conditions. But since they were released on their own recognizance, the assumption has to be, and it's until proven guilty, that's a pillar of the constitution, but also that they'll return to court.
It's just that, generally, people who are going to return to court don't travel under false names towards the Mexican border after they've assaulted a police officer. So this is what's stirring anger with the detectives union, the police union, and the critics of criminal justice reform bills.
BERMAN: And that was a local prosecutor's decision not to seek bail in that case?
MILLER: That's right. But so you have a district attorney who doesn't ask to set bail.
MILLER: And then you have a judge who doesn't bring up the question, shouldn't we set bail here? Because it's a bailable offense --
MILLER: -- even under the new laws. And it's a crime where you have to weigh what is the likelihood of their return to court, which I think is getting thinner by the minute.
BERMAN: Let me play some sound from the NYPD chief of patrol about this. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF OF PATROL JOHN CHELL, NYPD: Reprehensible. Cowards. You have eight people attacking a lieutenant and a cop running up to them, trying to kick them in their face and kicking in their face. You want to know why our cops are getting assaulted? There's no consequences and we must change this. End of story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Police seem ticked off.
MILLER: To say the least. And, you know, I don't think we've heard the last of this story, but we'll stay on it.
BERMAN: All right, John Miller, thank you so much for this reporting. This was your exclusive reporting, I should say.
All right, back to Congress, where we have an important update on the House Ethics Committee investigation into Congressman Matt Gaetz. A source says members have reached out to someone who was a key witness in the federal investigation of Gaetz that ended a year ago, a sign that this Ethics investigation, it might be expanding.
Paula Reid joins us now with the latest on this. Paula, who is this witness? How did they figure into the Ethics Committee investigation?
PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I want to be clear. We are not talking about the woman who was still 17 when she allegedly had a sexual encounter with the congressman. We reported last week that that individual has been contacted by the committee.
Now we are talking about a different woman. She's a former Capitol Hill staffer who's been linked romantically to the congressman as far back as 2017. And that time period is significant because that's when the congressman allegedly had sex with a minor.
Now this ex-girlfriend ended up really being a key witness in the federal investigation into the congressman. She was granted immunity for any criminal liability she could potentially have. And she testified before the grand jury in that investigation.
But, of course, the Justice Department wrapped up its probe into the congressman last year without any charges being filed. Now, this outreach is significant because it's another sign. This ethics probe is expanding to include looking at potential sex trafficking, possible illicit drug use, and also these questions about whether the congressman received anything improper in terms of trips and other gifts he may have received.
These are the kinds of things a sex girlfriend was asked about in the federal investigation and may be asked about here. But she is not expected to cooperate voluntarily in the ethics probe. So it is expected they would likely have to subpoena her.
BERMAN: What's Congressman Gaetz saying about all this? REID: So Congressman Gaetz clearly not very happy about the ethics probe. He had previously blamed former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for resurrecting this ethics probe that had been put on hold while the federal investigation moved forward.
Now, after CNN broke the news that this ethics investigation, they were starting to reach out to witnesses, and Gaetz privately blamed McCarthy, and of course, was behind the push to oust McCarthy from his speakership.
Now, today, Gaetz responded with a statement saying, "The Ethics Committee is engaging in payback against me for ousting the person who singularly appointed every Republican." Now, McCarthy has denied being really the power behind this ethics probe.
And I also want to point out, John, that since McCarthy has been ousted, this investigation is not only continued, it has expanded and become much more aggressive than it was when he was speaker.
BERMAN: All right, Paula Reid, CNN Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent, thank you very much.
Just ahead, the story of a closely divided electorate and a deepfake scandal days before votes were cast that may have had an effect on the outcome. This is a cautionary tale for U.S. politics, next.
BERMAN: It has been more than a week since a robocall to voters used an AI voice of President Biden to tell them not to vote in the New Hampshire primary, and we still do not know who was behind it. It's the sort of deepfake dirty trick that worries election experts, particularly as AI generated political speech exists in a kind of legal gray area.
And lawmakers are far from any kind of legislative solution. There is no indication that this robocall affected results, but Donie O'Sullivan reports on a close election in Europe where a last minute deepfake may have had an effect.
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you think this -- does this sound like you?
MICHAL SIMECKA, LEADER, PROGRESSIVE SLOVAKIA: It does sound like me.
O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): It sounds like him, but it isn't him. This is Michal Simecka. He is the leader of the main opposition party here in Slovakia. And on the eve of this country's elections last year, he was the target of a deepfake.
SIMECKA: My party was advocating a strong pro-Western, pro-European course to help itself and of the Russian aggression. O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Just two days before voting began in that high stakes election, this audio tape began circulating online. It purported to be a recording of a conversation in which Simecka talks about stealing the election.
SIMECKA: So this didn't come out of the blue, but it came against the backdrop of a narrative that the elections were to be legitimate to be rigged.
O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): His party, Progressive Slovakia went on to lose the election by a few points.
O'SULLIVAN: Do you think this could have changed the results of the election?
SIMECKA: No way of knowing. We have stats that on Facebook alone it had, you know, 100,000 views, but it probably had some effect.
O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Slovakia is a country of some 5.5 million people and it's bordered by Poland and Ukraine.
O'SULLIVAN: So, a lot of experts say Americans should be paying closer attention to what is happening here in Eastern Europe as it could be a sign of what is to come in the United States.
DANIEL MILO, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTER OF COUNTERING HYBRID THREATS: My warning is brace yourself for upcoming barrage of deepfakes. We'll be targeting presidential candidates in the U.S.
O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Daniel Milo ran a government agency in Slovakia that countered disinformation.
MILO: In my professional capacity, I do believe that this deepfake was part of a wider influence campaign by Russia to interfere into Slovakia elections.
O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): On the same day the deepfake emerged, the Russian SVR, Foreign Intelligence Agency, published a press release that pushed a similar conspiracy theory that the U.S. government and Simecka were working to rig Slovakia's elections.
The director of NATO StratCom said the deepfake and that Russian statement simultaneously correspond to each other and promote the same false narrative.
O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): So you don't think the SVR's statement and the deep fake, the fact that they came out almost at the same time, you don't think that's a coincidence?
MILO: No, I don't think that's a coincidence, although it's much more likely explanation to me, at least, is that this is all part of a wider operation that was aimed to disrupt the outcome of the elections as such. O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): One of the earliest posts of this deepfake came from a pro-Russian politician in Slovakia who also pushed election conspiracy theories on Russian TV.
O'SULLIVAN: Some of the first people to share it on social media here seem to be pretty Russia-friendly politicians.
SIMECKA: They are. They are Russia-friendly politicians. It can't be definitively proven that this has some Russian origin, but of course, a loss for Progressive Slovakia and a win for the other side would and does serve Russian interests. That's for sure.
O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Kremlin officials did not reply to a request for comment.
O'SULLIVAN: But even today, months after the elections here in Slovakia, there are still versions of that deepfake circulating on social media, including on Facebook.
MILO: Facebook reaction was very inconsistent and incoherent. In some cases, they just put a label that, you know, this is most likely disinformation. In other cases, they removed the audio recording. But yet, in other cases, they left the video untouched.
O'SULLIVAN: What's your message to Facebook?
MILO: Well, guys, put your house in order.
O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Asked about AI misinformation, Facebook's parent company told CNN, "We label it and down-rank it in feed so fewer people see it." But CNN found multiple instances where the company did not label this deepfake and their statement did not explain why.
Regardless, once a deepfake spreads, the damage can be done. Even some of Simecka's own supporters were confused.
SIMECKA: People who are educated follow politics, they understand what's at stake. But still, were confused by the video.
O'SULLIVAN: Wow. So people who are politically engaged, supporters of you.
SIMECKA: Absolutely. So I think this might be the year when we see, you know, deepfake boom in election campaigns all across the world.
BERMAN: That is ominous with our election just ahead. Donie is with us now. You mentioned this could be a sign of what's to come in U.S. elections. What is the U.S. government doing about this? O'SULLIVAN (on-camera): Yes, absolutely, John. From U.S. government officials that we have spoken to, this is something that is very, very much on their radar. And there are concerns about how this could play a factor in not just the presidential election, but elections all down the ballot and all across the country.
And the thing is, this technology, you know, to make fakes like this, to make a fake of my voice or your voice, John, now the technology only need a few minutes, sometimes even less than a minute of somebody's voice, audio of their voice, and you can make it sound like they have said anything.
So, in the past, this type of thing, you know, might have been only available in the realm of nation state actors and governments to create this sort of disinformation. But now, anybody can do it. And I think that's going to be the real big concern as we go into the election.
BERMAN: All too easy. Donie, fascinating report. Thank you very much.
O'SULLIVAN (on-camera): Thanks.
BERMAN: So what do you do if people are not saying nice things about you online? If you're China, apparently, you censor them. How the government there is doing their best to wipe the internet clean of anything negative about one of their major sources of pride, that's next.
BERMAN: China is known for cracking down on critics and now the government's internet censors have focused on a growing target, critics of the nation's economy. Details from CNN's Ivan Watson.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The world's second largest economy had a tough year in 2023. Now, one of Beijing's answers to the challenge, ban and erase criticism of it.
In December, China's Ministry of State Security issued this order. "Resolutely crack down and punish illegal criminal activities that endanger national security in the economic security field." Apparently, that includes disappearing negative commentary from the already heavily censored Chinese internet.
On December 1st, this prominent economic professor, Liu Jiping, advised people not to invest in the falling Chinese stock market.
WATSON: Now, all of Professor Liu's social media accounts are frozen. And when you click to follow him, you get this message, which translates, "It is forbidden to follow this user due to their violation of relevant rules." WATSON (voice-over): CNN found similar freezes temporarily imposed on at least five other Chinese economic analysts. Also removed from the internet, this documentary highlighting economic hardship among Chinese migrant workers.
PROF. STEVE TSANG, AUTHOR, "POLITICAL THOUGHT OF XI JINPING": I think the Chinese economy is at a cliff edge at the moment. I don't think it has started falling off the cliff yet. But it's getting to a point where things can get much more difficult.
WATSON (voice-over): Officially, the Chinese economy grew by more than 5 percent last year. But the country's youth unemployment rate keeps hitting record highs. Then there's China's all important real estate sector, which, along with related industries, used to make up 30 percent of the Chinese economy.
WATSON: This is the Hong Kong office of the biggest symbol of China's real estate crisis, Evergrande. Until two years ago, this company was the largest home builder in China, employing some 200,000 people. Then the company defaulted on its debt. And now a court here in Hong Kong has ordered the liquidation of Evergrande.
WATSON (voice-over): Across the country, protests as angry new homebuyers demand completion of unfinished homes that they've already paid for. Perhaps the only other sector gloomier is the country's stock market. In the past three years, the combined Chinese stock market lost more than $6 trillion.
MR. TANG, BEIJING RESIDENT (through translator): I haven't made any money out of the stock market, so I sold all my stocks.
WATSON (voice-over): The Chinese economy is strong and it will be stronger, says this Beijing resident. Perhaps she got the message from this recent meeting of the country's top propaganda officials. Their order amplify bright prospects of the economy as China heads into 2024.
BERMAN: So before I bring Ivan in, I want to show you CNN's feed of this program as it's being seen in China, or more accurately at what Chinese censors replaced it with as soon as we mentioned the story that you just saw. Again, color bars there, it's not going out.
So Ivan, if China is censoring economists and CNN's reporting about it, and most of their economic data is released, it comes from the Chinese government, how hard is it to get a true picture of the state of the Chinese economy?
WATSON (on-camera): It's a big question. It's long been a big question for economists and investors the reliability of these numbers, especially back in August when the government announced it would stop publishing youth unemployment numbers after several months of record highs. The mood has changed a lot. You know, foreign companies, they used to line up to try to get access to the huge Chinese market. Last year, for the first time in 25 years, John, foreign direct investment into China went into the negative. That means foreign companies appeared to be pulling out more money than they were investing into their corporations -- into their operations.
Companies like Vanguard, that asset management company, telling CNN it was selling its stake and closing its office in Shanghai at the end of last year. So the Chinese government, it's got a long way to go to rebuild its credibility with international corporations, and also I'd argue with ordinary Chinese consumers.
And I'm not sure that censorship and ordering officials to paint rosy pictures about the economy, that that's a winning strategy to build consumer confidence in an economy that clearly has some big problems. John?
BERMAN: Ivan, revealing report there. Thank you very much.
We'll be right back.
BERMAN: The news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.