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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Trump Says He Supports IVF In Response To Alabama Ruling; Veepstakes Underway At Conservative Conference; Willis Attorneys: Phone Records Trump Lawyers Cite "Do Not Prove Anything Relevant;" Private Investigator Working With Trump Uses Cell Phone Data In Georgia Prosecutor's Testimony; Texas Death Row Inmate Pleads Innocence Before Execution; South Carolina's GOP Primary Through The Eyes Of High School Students; New Details On Suspect In Georgia Nursing Student Killing. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 23, 2024 - 20:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Tonight, the U.S. is tracking a small balloon spotted floating over Utah by NORAD fighter jets headed east. Officials don't know yet where it came from. They do stress it doesn't pose a National Security threat. The balloon, significantly smaller than this one, that, of course, the Chinese spy balloon that traversed the U.S. last year. You'll recall it used U.S. Internet service providers to send data back to Beijing before American fighter jets shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean.

Thanks so much to all of you for joining me tonight. AC 360 starts now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Tonight on 360, how in vitro fertilization went from a godsend for childless couples to a political puzzlement now in the Republican primary with South Carolina voters just hours away from casting their ballots.

Also tonight, location, location, location, as in, could Fani Willis and Nathan Wade's prosecution of Donald Trump in Georgia be undone by what cell phone location data suggests about when the pair's romance began?

And later, the new evidence raising serious questions about a death row inmate's guilt two decades after his conviction.

Good evening, everyone. John King here in for Anderson. Thanks for your time tonight.

South Carolina's Republican primary is tomorrow. This is the scene right now in the state capital of Columbia where Donald Trump is expected to speak any moment now. The question tonight, will he keep talking about the issue that has upended the Republican Party this week, that being the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling that embryos created through in vitro fertilization, IVF, are children and those who destroy them, the court says, can be held liable for wrongful death.

The decision has already halted IVF at three Alabama facilities, left couples in the state scrambling for alternatives and even raised concerns among anti-abortion advocates who may have cheered the end of Roe v. Wade, but did not anticipate this. This also sent Republicans, including Trump, his rival Nikki Haley, struggling to respond to an unwelcome and to many voters unsettling election year surprise.

Trump, of course, loves to brag about appointing so many staunchly conservative judges, including to the Supreme Court. But he is making clear tonight he disagrees with what Alabama's staunchly conservative high court now says about IVF. His first statement was online, but tonight he also criticized the ruling in South Carolina, that criticism coming on the eve of that state's Republican presidential primary.

It was in Rock Hill that he delivered that criticism and CNN's Kristen Holmes is there for us.

Kristen, tell us exactly what is the former president saying now about this Alabama ruling.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, look, this comes after we heard from Democrats and President Joe Biden linking this ruling in Alabama directly to former President Trump and his outsized role in overturning Roe v. Wade. But Donald Trump is saying that he is staunchly in - a hundred percent behind IVF.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder. You know that. That includes and you saw this, it was a big deal over the last few days, that includes supporting the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every state in America.

You've been seeing you've been seeing Alabama. It's been a big story, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, including the vast majority of Republican conservatives, Christians and pro-life Americans, I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious little beautiful baby.


HOLMES: And John, something he hasn't been so definitive on is the issue of abortion. It does turn out to be a general election rematch between him and President Joe Biden. That issue is going to come up over and over again.

But Donald Trump has continued to try to walk this line, one where he gets credit for overturning Roe v. Wade because of his appointment of three conservative justices to the Supreme Court, but also avoids talking about it in certain political speeches because he believes it is a political loser. Again, something that's likely going to have to shift if he is, in fact, the nominee. KING: And to that point, Kristen, they knew the Roe v. Wade debate was coming from the Biden campaign in the general election. How concerned are they now about another example, more focus on reproductive freedom?

HOLMES: This is absolutely something they do not want to be talking about. Donald Trump wants to run on three things: immigration, the economy and crime. He doesn't want to talk about abortion. I have talked to so many of his allies and senior advisers who say that Donald Trump believes it's a political loser. Even last night at a very conservative conference, he said, yes, you have to go with what's in your heart, but you also have to go with what gets you elected. That is his way of telling Republicans stop talking about abortion. It's not a winning issue, John.


KING: Kristen Holmes, thanks so much in South Carolina for us.

Now more on the politics of IVF and more. With me here tonight, our CNN political commentators, David Urban, Ashley Allison and David Axelrod.

David Urban to you first, as I was noting already, Roe v. Wade was an issue for the Republicans. And even though Donald Trump named those three justices to the Supreme Court who were critical to the decision, he has said privately and sometimes publicly, I think it's a losing issue. Well, how now this does it play?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this - you saw clearly, I don't think Donald Trump has ever spoken more definitively about a social issue than this you just saw right there. I mean, he's kind of, as Kristen said, on the abortion ban, where the viability goes, whether it's six weeks, 12 weeks, the President said he's not for a six week ban, but he hasn't defined where he clearly stands.

On this issue, you saw him. He can't get more definitive. It's a loser for Republicans. It's a loser for Americans. It's a loser overall, 90- 10 issue in America. Nobody thinks it's a good idea, except a handful of very concerned about a touch judges in Alabama.

KING: Well, Ashley, Democrats clearly see an opening. One thing - Trump did not answer the question of does he consider an embryo to be a life, to be a baby. Nikki Haley says she does. But assuming the Alabama legislature says it may pass a new state law trying to say, sorry, court, we want IVF to continue. We want people to feel safe and comfortable there. How do you see this going forward from a Democratic perspective?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Democrats need to continue to talk about this. When Roe was overturned, many folks, including myself, but Democratic-elected officials were saying this is just the beginning of the continuous chipping away of reproductive freedoms for women and now we see it playing out. To David's point, yes, it is an unpopular issue. Ninety percent of the country don't support these positions and yet it is the law now. And so that is why Democrats can lean into this in 2024 and say, this is the issue. This is what we're talking about. Ask the candidate that you're going to vote for where they stand on this, because a lot of people were saying, oh, I support Roe, but I didn't know it meant this. Well, this is what an overturning of Roe does, especially when it goes down to the states.

KING: So help me, David. You ran two successful presidential campaigns. President Biden says this is outrageous. It's unacceptable. Who are we talking about? Where - how can the President use this issue to get who, either to keep them in the Democratic fold or for maybe suburban women who aren't so sure, maybe with them in 2020, might have been with Trump in 2016, who's most important here?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there are two categories of voters here, John. One is the suburban - particularly women in the suburbs, not exclusively, who are on the bubble about this race and the other are younger voters. And I think that there is a - I think this issue is going to be an animating issue for a number of younger Americans.

But I just want to take the opportunity to review a little history here. Remember, Donald Trump, not long before he was running for president, was pro-choice.

KING: Totally.

AXELROD: He needed to win over the evangelical voters in the Republican primary and so he swung hard to the right on this. Now, and he appointed the justice who ended Roe versus Wade. Now, having started that dumpster fire, he's trying to run away from it.

And so the first thing I thought when I saw this Alabama ruling was, boy, Trump's going to jump on this because he needs to find a path away from the havoc that's been created that has, frankly, led to a string of Democratic victories since the decision.

KING: And so I guess, Ashley, the question is, does it last? You know we've seen in conservative states like Kansas, in purple states like Michigan, that the Roe v. Wade, the Dobbs decision is a powerful turnout mechanism and a powerful voting - voter traction for Democrats. You have the Republican attorney general of Alabama saying, look, I would never use this as the basis to prosecute anybody, the state Supreme Court ruling. You have Republicans in the legislature, they're saying we're going to try to fix it - my word, not theirs - but they're going to try to create a law. Does it still have shelf power? How do you use it even if they take some steps pretty quickly to try to say, sorry, court wrong?

ALLISON: Okay. So when Roe fell in the in Warren, Ohio, where right - 20 minutes from where I'm from, a black woman was - tried to get charges filed against her for having a miscarriage because folks said, well, we wouldn't do that to women. We want to protect women.

But when the law is no longer - when Roe is no longer the law of the land, prosecutions do happen. So I think it can be a charging factor, not just for the top of the ticket, but down the ballot, elections of state Supreme Courts. Guess what states have Supreme Court races this year, Ohio, North Carolina, Montana, Michigan, guess what else most of those states are, battleground states and have Senate races.

So it can definitely have a long shelf life. A lot of those states also have prosecutor races in it. So it could be a winning factor for Democrats up and down the ticket.

KING: To that point of how do Republicans respond already, the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee sending a memo to candidates ...


KING: Yes.

URBAN: So like my good friend Dave McCormick, Kari Lake, everyone out on the hustings taking a stand position just like President Trump did against this. But to Ashley's point, how many states are going to have ballot initiatives if they're - just like they did in these - in Kansas on Dobbs.


Dobbs like if you're a smart Democrat, that's what you're trying to do in your state, because that drives out turnout, that gets that show - gets people to the polls. They're not excited for Joe Biden, but they're excited about that and they will show up.

KING: You mentioned this about Trump, but he did say he wants the Alabama legislature to move quickly and so he's trying to reposition himself here. If you're the Democrat and you don't want to let him move, how do you get glue under the feet?

AXELROD: Yes. Well, look, I don't think you're - he is smart to do that. I expect the Alabama legislature will act on this because he has that kind of command. But I'm not sure that he can escape.

You can't brag throughout a primary campaign about you are the one who was responsible for being overturned and then run away from it easily in a general election. There's a thing called videotape and I understand the Democrats have some in which he talked about this endlessly.

And so I think you're going to see a lot of that tape in a general election campaign.

KING: I'm going to ask Ashley and both Davids to stick around. I want to get your take on something else, that being the former president's search for a running mate.

And all those campaigning for the job at this week's CPAC conference outside of Washington, plus in what could be a giant setback for the prosecutors in the Georgia election interference case. The former president's attorneys say they have evidence now suggesting Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis and her lead prosecutor were a couple well before she hired him for the Trump case.



KING: The annual CPAC conference outside Washington is no longer a showcase for conservative ideas and for conservative rising stars. It is instead now about Donald Trump, period. But there is a twist this election year, a casting call of sorts for those who would beat Trump's number two.

CNN's Jessica Dean has more.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Donald Trump still hasn't clenched the Republican nomination, but the jockeying to be his running mate is already underway.


REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): We got to have leadership that's going to say tough things when we need to hear them and we have that leadership this November in Donald J. Trump.


DEAN (voice over): Several potential contenders took the stage at this week's conservative political action conference outside Washington, serving as an unofficial kickoff to the so-called Veepstakes competition. House Republican conference chair, Elise Stefanik on Friday touting her pro-Trump credentials.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): Time and time again, I have stood in the breach for President Trump, for the Constitution and most importantly for you, we the people, in some of the toughest fights of our republic.


DEAN (voice over): Ohio senator, J.D. Vance, voicing support for Trump amid his legal challenges.


SEN. J.D. VANCE (R-OH): All of these law fairs, they're all about showing the American people that you can have the president you want, but we're going to try to destroy him.


DEAN (voice over): South Dakota governor, Kristi Noem, seemed to take a swipe at some possible VP candidates for challenging Trump in the GOP primary. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R) SOUTH DAKOTA: So why did all these other people and candidates get into the race? For themselves? For personal benefit? For a spotlight for a period of time? But it did not and it does not strengthen our country if conservatives are not united enough to recognize that we need to win.


DEAN (voice over): One potential vice presidential pick not at the conference, South Carolina senator, Tim Scott, who warmed up the crowd at the former president's rally on the eve of the Palmetto State's primary.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Tomorrow, let South Carolina send a message to all America, the Republican primary is over and Donald Trump is our nominee.


DEAN (voice over): Multiple sources close to the former president tell CNN while Trump has a habit of floating names to allies and donors to assess potential running mates, he remains far from a decision.

During a town hall earlier this week on Fox News, Trump signaled that his shortlist included former rivals Tim Scott and Vivek Ramaswamy, as well as Noem, Florida Congressman Byron Donalds and former Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.


TRUMP: You would like to get somebody that could help you from the voter's standpoint and honestly all of those people are good. They're all good. They're all solid.


DEAN (voice over): Among the CPAC attendees, a variety of opinions when it comes to Trump's decision.


TRINH WEED, MARYLAND VOTER: My number one is Kristi Noem. The second one is Elise Stefanik. The third one is actually the governor of Florida, I like him a lot. And then the fourth one is Sen. Tim Scott.


BODIE BREWER, FUTURE VOTER: I'm not a fan of identity politics most times, but I think as the party is diversifying, I think we do owe it to our voters to get a candidate that is more diverse.

EDWARD X. YOUNG, NEW JERSEY VOTER: It would be a formidable ticket. Imagine Donald Trump, Byron Donalds, Donald Donalds, like bookmarked and flagged by the name Donald. It's a beautiful bumper sticker.


DEAN (on camera): Now, we do know that allies have been encouraging Trump to pick a woman to help him with suburban voters, but whomever he picks, it's going to come down to them walking a fine line between being popular and engaging John, but not overshadowing the former president. He is expected to be here to give remarks to the CPAC crowd tomorrow afternoon, before of course going to South Carolina for that primary tomorrow night, John.

KING: We'll see if he drops any hints.

Jessica Dean appreciate it very much.

Back now in the room with David Urban, Ashley Allison and David Axelrod.

David Urban, to you first as the Republican. Trump was smart. A lot of people say Trump is all impulse. He actually was strategic in 2016 in picking Pence when there was some talk of trying to take it away from him at the convention. He picked an evangelical Christian conservative for Middle America and it quieted all that down. What does he need to do this time?

URBAN: Look, I mean, if I - if it were my pick, right, I think I would pick the gentleman you saw up there last, Sen. Tim Scott does - as Trump said, I don't know if he's - on one of his interviews, he did, Tim Scott was a terrible advocate for himself, but a tremendous advocate for me. And I think if you look at some of the numbers, if - Trump picks up just a small percentage more of African American men really, really limits that path forward for Joe Biden to get a victory. So Tim Scott's a great order. He fires up the base. He's loyal to Donald Trump and he will eliminate a path forward for victory for Joe Biden. I think he looks like the winner.


KING: Turnouts one of the things you do in that thing, if - and you - when you do travel now, you do sense among the Democratic African American base some malaise, some disappointment, some of it's inflation, some of it's about Joe Biden, some of it's not. But do you think that would be enough? I mean, it doesn't take much. It doesn't take much on the margins of black turnout in Detroit or black turnout in Milwaukee or black turnout in Philadelphia in a 50-50 state. You think that would do it?

ALLISON: Look, I remember when Joe Biden gave the first joint address back in 2021 and who gave the response? Tim Scott. This was, and I said that night, this is a test balloon to see if he gets traction. Tim Scott is black, but I don't think he is going to pull black voters. Everything that he stands for is antithetical to what most black voters are looking for in a candidate.

Will - he's not going to be the thing to get him over the edge. I mean, maybe the 19 percent of black men who already voted for Donald Trump will stay there, but I don't think they're going to see Tim Scott. And then as soon as he opens his mouth and starts talking his rhetoric, be like, oh, that's my guy. I don't think Tim Scott is it for the black community.

KING: You're a Democrat, but I want you to play just strategist.

AXELROD: Yes, right.

KING: Barack Obama picks Joe Biden ...


KING: ... because Barack Obama for all the inspiration, aspiration behind the campaign was a newcomer on the national stage.


KING: Wanted a known name, a blue collar Democrat.


KING: What is Donald Trump's calculation? He's a former president. Does he - is there a specific need or is it different when it comes to Trump ...

AXELROD: Look ...

KING: ... because he's such an unorthodox candidate.

AXELROD: ... I actually agree with Dave. I think that if you look at this poll after poll, one thing that would concern Democrats is that Trump is consistently pulling 20, 21 percent of African American voters. If it stays that way, he's going to be president of the United States again.

I - without disputing the substance of what Tim Scott stands for in different - he is authentically black and I do think that he would be a - an asset to Trump and he's clearly making a good run at it here.

ALLISON: I don't know though if ...

URBAN: (Inaudible) ...

ALLISON: ... I think though if it's authentic. I don't - I hear you, I think though that, like, Herschel Walker was put up against Raphael Warnock to kind of give that black man, black versus black man. But when you heard what Herschel Walker stood for and who he would be as a politician, black voters said, no, we don't want that. Even though they might not have gone for Stacey Abrams against Brian Kemp, so I think he would be interesting to some black voters, but I don't think he would be a persuadable (inaudible) ...

URBAN: And I would just say this also, look, I think Tim Scott helps greatly in the Philadelphia suburbs, right? He helps soften Trump's image. And listen, he'll give a lot of people - they're going to look at a ticket, they're going to say, Trump's older. I'm going to cast a vote for the first African American Republican president here. And that'll give them - they'll go pull the curtain and in their mind, they'll be able to justify it.

KING: Let me broaden this out a little bit to whether CPAC matters. It's Trump PAC now. I remember CPAC many years ago was something very different. They have a pinball game there, a pinball machine with January 6 conspiracies in it. And Jeffrey Clark, who was the justice department official who is under indictment of trying to help Donald Trump reverse the attention - reverse the election in 2020 said this ...


JEFFREY CLARK, FORMER UNITED STATES ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: I was the only leader in the Justice Department who wanted to investigate the 2020 election with energy and drive and to look at all of the possible problems with that election and there were a lot of them. There are legal problems in terms of the states changing their election laws without going through the state legislatures, which is unconstitutional. They were just flat out disobeying state election laws in many of the battleground states. And then I think there were also issues with mail-in ballots, very serious issues with mail-in ballots and there were also issues worth looking at about electronic voting machines.


KING: Court after court, after court, after court, after court, all the way up to the Supreme Court with three Donald Trump Supreme Court justices said none of that's true. So how helpful is it that they - whether it's January 6 conspiracy theories or keep repeating that, it plays great to that slice, but that slice can't win you the general election.

AXELROD: I would - if I were the Biden campaign, I would pay to have every American see the CPAC convention because the thing that has been thwarting Republicans in the midterms and since has been this impression of the Republican Party as an extreme party. Yesterday, you had someone stand up at the CPAC convention, a speaker, and basically talk about, we're going to - we start - we almost toppled democracy on January 6th. We're going to do it now with this. And he held up a cross basically advocating for theocracy. This is not the image that the Republican Party wants.

KING: Not helpful?

URBAN: Well, look, it's not helpful. Look, especially in the last part, we talked about this off camera, the last part where he says there's problems with vote by mail, right? Republicans need to have a robust vote by mail program. They need to bank votes. We need to get that done, otherwise we're going to lose on election ...

AXELROD: Sure. Tell that to the former president.


ALLISON: But can I ...

URBAN: ... we're going to lose on Election Day.

ALLISON: ... it ...

KING: Go ahead.

ALLISON: ... it's not just not helpful, it is extremely dangerous. It is the threat of democracy that people are continuing to say over and over. And the problem is the folks in the clip you showed earlier is the vice president candidates are now falling in line and saying they might not have certified the election.

KING: (Inaudible) ...

URBAN: John, just quickly, I just want to say hello to my mom who's rested up in the hospital in Pittsburgh. Get better. We're pulling for you, mom.

KING: All right. That's worth a few extra seconds. Thank you all for coming in on a Friday night.

Up next for us some breaking news, the Georgia DA Fani Willis has just responded to a new Trump defense filing that cast doubt in her claim and testimony that she and the prosecutor she hired to run the case only got romantically involved after she hired him.



KING: Breaking news tonight in Donald Trump's Georgia RICO trial, the latest in the former president's attempt to get the Fulton County DA Fani Willis and her lead prosecutor Nathan Wade bounced from that case, at issue when the romance they had began and whether they've been telling the truth about that timeline.

Late this evening, Willis' office filing a sharp rebuttal to cell phone evidence the Trump team says it uncovered. Records Team Trump says show several visits, including late at night by Wade to Willis' neighborhood before the two say they were romantically involved. Remember, she and Wade testified last week that their relationship began in early 2022 after his hiring and that he only visited her sporadically prior to that.


STEVE SADOW, TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: And would you say that was frequent? When I say frequent, do you think prior to November 1st of 2021, you were at the condo more than 10 times?


SADOW: So it'd be less than 10 times.

WADE: Yes, sir. SADOW: So if phone records were to reflect that you were making phone calls from the same location as a condo before November 1st of 2021 and it was on multiple occasions, the phone records would be wrong.


WADE: If phone records reflected that, yes, sir.


WADE: Maybe wrong.


KING: By contrast, though, now the new Trump filing includes an affidavit from a defense investigator saying the two had, in his words, 12,000 cell phone interactions in 2021. That's phone calls and text messages.

Quoting from the Willis rebuttal now, quote, "The records do not prove in any way the content of the communications between Special Prosecutor Wade and District Attorney Willi. They do not prove that Special Prosecutor Wade was ever at any particular location or address. They do not prove the Special Prosecutor Wade and District Attorney Willis were ever in the same place during any of the times listed."

So the question now is, what to make of all this, and especially, what will the judge in the case, Judge McAfee, make of it?

Joining us now, two great CNN legal analysts, Michael Moore and Joey Jackson. Michael Moore, the former U.S. attorney from Georgia's Middle District.

Joey, let me start with you. The private investigator has this information. If it is accurate, how -- she says it doesn't prove anything but the smoke --

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So it could be. So big picture this doesn't change the factual analysis with respect to the indictment. This is a deflection. It's a distraction. It's an entertaining one for everyone but Mr. Wade and Miss Willis, of course. But the reality is, is that we have to remember that the citizens of Georgia to a grand jury felt it appropriate to indict. It doesn't mean guilt as to Mr. Trump and the 14 other defendants, I don't say 18 because four pled guilty, at all.

But it means there's sufficient reason to believe they engaged in various misconduct, so there are safeguards there. With respect to a trial, there are safeguards in proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Why do I say that, John, in the lead in to directly answering your question? Because we have to know that there's integrity built into the process.

Now, to your question, this is meant to undermine that integrity. Was there an undermining of it? Was there a relationship? Was there a quid pro quo with respect to financial relationships and conditions? I think the response is true. In the event that there's cell tower data it doesn't pinpoint the specific location, that's densely populated area. There are many businesses, et cetera, around that area that are open late.

It does raise questions with respect to when a relation began, whether or not there were fabrications with respect to that relationship, and did it in any way impair this proceeding. That's the open question. So I'll conclude with this. I think at a minimum, John, what could happen is that on March 1st, instead of hearing closing arguments in terms of what the evidence means, they could be the reopening of this evidentiary hearing.

And if the D.A. is responding, it doesn't improve the content. Maybe we get to see the underlying texts that will communicate it to see what they show with respect to the relationship.

KING: Walk us through that point because that is the question, Michael, in the sense that, can the Trump investigator get the cell phone data that shows the pings, where were the phones, when were the text messages or when were the phone calls made? Could the judge now say, all right, Trump team says you're in the neighborhood, Fani Willi says you weren't in the building, I want to say it?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm glad to be with both of you. He could say that, and I think what will be interesting will be how far he takes this hearing if it does go from a summation, an argument hearing, what he's sort of set to actually go open and the evidence I have to look at this. Remember that these phone records are coming in about the same time that he's going to be talking to Mr. Bradley, the former law partner and friend of Mr. Wade, who apparently has some information.

It has communicated by text and e-mail with the defense attorneys about that. So if these records back up something Mr. Bradley tells a judge in chambers and camera in private, or if Mr. Bradley tells him something that backs up the records in private, I think they've become particularly critical. I mean, this is about like watching, you know, somebody on the Titanic say, well, the iceberg is really not that big.

This is a big deal in the sense that it could very well undermine the credibility of the district attorney and Mr. Wade. That's a problem going forward because the judge has got to make a decision on whether or not there have been some appearance of conflict or has there been some false filing or statement made to the court. If that's the case, then I think she's got a problem. I don't know yet, but I do know that prosecutors and law enforcement use this type of cell phone tracking data all the time, and so it's interesting to hear now the district attorney's office coming and say, well, it really doesn't prove anything. It's not a big deal.

That's just not the case. I mean, that's how they use it to track people in cases on a routine basis and to say 12,000 interactions, and remember, Mr. Wade said, well, maybe he was at the Porsche Experience? Well, that's a driving track down there. I don't think he's doing that at 3:00 or 04:00 in the morning after getting a text or call from Miss Willis. So these things will have to be fair it out by the judge, probably in the hearing coming up.

KING: And you made a point at the beginning. You're absolutely right. It has nothing to do with the facts alleged in the indictment. Emphasis on alleged. Donald Trump is innocent until proven guilty, but this is how Trump plays. He attacks the credibility and constantly undermines those who are after him. And if he can show the two officers of the court in court said something that was not true, that would be pretty powerful.


JACKSON: So I think, John, that's problematic in the event you can prove that there was some lie under oath. Now you have that as an issue potentially, in addition to the issue of any financial benefit. Now, to me, I don't really see the financial benefit. Is there an allegation that you were hired simply to kick back money to me. I think that overstates it broadly, and I think they -- look, any good defense attorney is going to create an issue.

Whether this issue moves the needle to get a case dismissed to get them off of the case, to me, that's the open question, of course. But I think I just don't know that it moves it that far.

KING: Oh, certainly will increase the already high attention as we move forward on this one.

Michael Moore and Joey Jackson, appreciate it very much.

Up next for us, a Texas death row inmate just days away from execution and the evidence some say exonerates him.


KING: In just a matter of days, Ivan Cantu faces execution in Texas more than 20 years after he was convicted of murdering his cousin and his cousin's fiance. In recent years, though, new evidence has come to light and Cantus' story has become literally a cause celeb.

CNN's Ed Lavandera reports.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For almost 24 years, Cantu says he's maintained his innocence in the murders of his cousin, James Mosqueda, and his fiance, Amy Kitchen. And he wants to talk about the case which brings us to this moment.


Sitting down with Cantu, who is not only an inmate on Texas death row, but also a former grade school classmate of mine.

How are you, man?

IVAN CANTU, TEXAS DEATH ROW INMATE: I'm doing good. Hey, thanks for coming out. It's a blessing. Thank you so much. It's good to see you. LAVANDERA: It's been almost 40 years, man.

CANTU: Been a long time. Yes.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Cantu was sent to death row the same year I started my career at CNN. The evidence against him seemed overwhelming. Cantu's girlfriend and her brother testified he committed the murders. Cantu's fingerprint was found on a magazine inside the murder weapon. Bloody jeans and socks with the victims' blood was found inside his apartment and his cousin's car police say he stole was also found outside his apartment.

I got to be honest, I remember thinking I don't see how he didn't do it. Right? It seemed pretty open and shut to me.

CANTU: At face value, when you look at all the evidence, it was an open and shut case.

LAVANDERA: You've always maintained your innocence?

CANTU: Absolutely. From day one. Give me a new trial with the team and what the attorney that I've got today, but I want them to know, hey, you know, stop the madness.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): But in 2019, the case against Cantu started to look different. Matt Duff, a TV producer turned private investigator turned podcaster, discovered Cantu's case and started digging. He's produced more than 40 episodes on the case in a podcast called "Cousins by Blood."

MATT DUFF, PRODUCER, COUSINS BY BLOOD: I went into his innocence claim investigation with an open mind, knowing that he very well could be guilty. He could be just trying to, you know, spin a story. I think if anybody takes the time to just look at his case with an open mind, you can't say that he doesn't deserve a new trial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ivan deserves his fair day in court.

LAVANDERA: Cantu's supporter say he was framed. Cantu alleges in court filings that James Mosqueda was a big time drug dealer who owed someone $250,000. Duff says testimony from the two key witnesses is riddled with falsehoods. Cantu's girlfriend, Amy Boettcher, testified Cantu committed the murders around midnight on November 3rd, but Cantu's legal team says two forensic pathologists say the victims were actually killed hours later, on the morning of the next day.

She also testified Cantu took a Rolex watch from his cousin. The Rolex it turns out was never missing and returned to the victim's family after the murders. Amy Boettcher also testified she threw bloody jeans and socks with the victims' DNA in their apartment trash can, but the jeans don't have Cantu's DNA and they're two sizes too large.

In court filings Cantu also says two days before the victims' bodies were discovered, a man in a pizza delivery uniform came to his apartment and said his cousin owed money, then fired a gunshot into Cantu's apartment. That bullet matched bullets in the victims. The pizza man story was dismissed, but Matt Duff says they've

identified the person and he matches the description of one of his cousin's drug supplier.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You remember being on the stand?

LAVANDERA: Amy Boettcher's brother Jeff also testified that Cantu told him he planned to kill his cousin. Amy Boettcher died in 2021 and shortly after Jeff Boettcher called the prosecutor's office and recanted his testimony.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I lied. I don't think my statement should be counted.

LAVANDERA: Prosecutors say Jeff Boettcher's interview has been misconstrued and that ultimately the concerns about his testimony were alleviated. And the district attorney, who has the power to reexamine the case, says he remains, quote, "fully convinced that Ivan Cantu brutally murdered two innocent victims," and that this belief is, quote, "anchored in the undeniable evidence presented at trial."

How do you react to that?

CANTU: I don't think they're looking at the same case.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): At that trial Cantu's public defender attorneys never called a single witness.

DUFF: I think if you just lay it all out, even though the state's case was so strong, if you look at it from the other direction then people would see this case in a completely different way.

LAVANDERA: Cantu is scheduled to die on February 28th.

CANTU: I just have to brace for impact. And the worst-case scenario they ignore everything and place me on that gurney and kill me.

LAVANDERA: It's bizarre and kind of surreal to think about, you know, how different paths our lives have taken. I've always struggled on like making sense of what's happened to you.

CANTU: Thank you for saying that.

LAVANDERA: Take care of yourself.


LAVANDERA: John, three jurors who sent Ivan Cantu to death row, including the jury foreman, have now come forward to say they believe Cantu deserves a new trial and had they heard the evidence that has come out in recent years, they would not have voted to convict him. But prosecutors maintained and reject all of the new findings that have come out. And Ivan Cantu's legal options are quickly running out -- John.

KING: Remarkable reporting. Ed Lavandera, thanks so much. [20:45:00]

Coming up for us, back to the South Carolina primary. How it looks through the eyes of high school students, some of whom are about to vote for the very first time.


KING: Tomorrow, South Carolina Republican primary, it's not just about delegate counts. As our Gary Tuchman discovered at an area high school, it is also the window through which local teenagers observed and learned about American political process, a process many will soon have the chance to participate in for the very first time.

Here's Gary.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): May River High School in Bluffton, South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we've got a primary coming up this week in South Carolina.

TUCHMAN: The former president going up against the former governor, who led the state when these students were young children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a recollection of Nikki Haley? So some knows, some yes.

TUCHMAN: This is an after-school class put together for us with students and debate club, model U.N., and various AP courses, a mixture of political persuasions. Some already old enough to vote. The others soon.

SOPHIE MARZBANIAN, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I remember back in 2015, she removed the confederate flag on her state house which was pretty surprisingly controversial among a lot of South Carolinians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your perception of how things will go on Saturday when people vote?

JOHANNA PIERRE, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I mean, in the news right now, we see everybody talking about the projection of Trump winning.


But Nikki Haley is still on the ballot, she possibly could get a bunch of votes from people. So it's just more of like a wait and see kind of thing.

KURON GREEN, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: You can be surprised when you just see it all turned out, to pan up for her.

MILLER HENDRICKS, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: And even then, Nikki Haley, if she does lose the primary, she still is planning on continuing her presidential campaign even through so she still definitely has a lot of potential even going through. Even if she does lose the primary, there's still a lot of central there.

GABRIELA GARCIA, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I think that's what makes Donald Trump stand out, is how he differentiates from the traditional Republican views and how that's why he has such popularity gain or popularity favoritism over Nikki Haley.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nikki Haley obviously is a relatively young person, 52. But the other two candidates are a good bit older, right?

MARZBANIAN: Our generation is the future of America. So why would we be electing people into office who aren't the future, right?

MICHELLE TAMM, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Yes. She was at this point that these candidates are doing there's more to make a legacy for themselves rather than the legacy over country.

TYLER NOHREN, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I personally don't think, like if as long as you have like the right mental capacity, age isn't that big of a factor.

TUCHMAN: Near the end of the class, the topic, Donald Trump's legal issues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he were to be found guilty of a crime, and even so far as to be incarcerated, should he be president?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's against the 14th Amendment. It's against the Constitution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The 14th Amendment does not say the word president, does it? Does that matter?


PIERRE: So why would we allow someone to run for president be a criminal and be our president? That doesn't make sense.

NOHREN: No man is above the law. I agree with that, but he hasn't been like proven guilty yet. So innocent until proven guilty.

GREEN: If he does get convicted, though, we can't just let it slide, like we can't just, you know --

NOHREN: No man is a man or woman is above the law.

TUCHMAN: After the class ended, I had this question.

Who do you think is going to win his presidential election in November?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I also think Trump.



MARZBANIAN: I'm going to be optimistic and say Biden.

TUCHMAN: So you're not a Republican.


TAMM: Trump.

GARCIA: Trump.



PIERRE: Trump.


TUCHMAN: Both of you say Trump will win. And why do you think Trump is going to win?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a force to be reckon with.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He plays a different game. Like everyone else is playing checkers and he's playing chess.


TUCHMAN: John, of the 12 students in the class, five of them have already turned 18 and will be able to vote in the primary tomorrow. A total of nine of them will be 18 by November 5th and will be able to vote in the general election. Our thanks to the students, teachers, and administrators at May River High School for their hospitality -- John.

KING: Gary Tuchman, thank you so much.

And just a reminder, CNN will bring you full coverage of tomorrow's South Carolina Republican primary starting at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Up next for us, breaking news tonight about the suspect taken into custody in the killing of a nursing student at the University of Georgia campus. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KING: Tonight breaking news on the investigation into the murder of a student at the University of Georgia campus. The suspect is now in custody in connection with her death.

And CNN's Ryan Young is at UGA with the very latest.

Ryan, what are you learning about the suspect?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, this remains an ongoing investigation as we're told right now there are still detectives who are at an apartment complex who are using a search warrant to go through this suspect's apartment. We're told that man's name is Jose Antonio Ibarra. He's 26 years old and he's a non-U.S. citizen. They believe from Venezuela. What we're told they believe this was a crime of opportunity and that he was on this popular trail when that young lady was running by and then he attacked.

Listened to the police chief from UGA talk about this investigation just in the last hour.


JEFF CLARK, UGA POLICE CHIEF: He's been charged with the following. Malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call, and concealing the death of another.


YOUNG: Laken Riley, she was 22. She's a nursing student from Augusta University College of Nursing. You see her face there. You can understand the pain on this campus. We're outside her sorority today. You could see some of her fellow sisters, they were just crying. They were besides themself. This has really shaken this campus. There hasn't been a murder on this campus in some 20 years. And this young lady was running on a trail that she loved to run.

A lot of people go out there with their dogs. And apparently, this man chased, grabbed her, and then tried to conceal her body. We watched as detectives all day long worked through a wood line, went through trashcans. They were trying to gather evidence. From what we're told there's also video evidence in this case and they couldn't get into all of that today. But we're told maybe parts of the attack were captured on that video surveillance.

We know extra resources were brought in from the GBI to the state troopers, all trying to figure this out. But when you think about this campus and how it's sort of crushed the culture here, you understand the pain. Now classes have been canceled until Monday. And we believe there will be some sort of memorial service.

But as a parent, John, I'm sure you understand this. When the chief was standing up there, he was just talking about the idea that last night he couldn't say this young lady's name because they hadn't told the parents just yet. We even know that her sister has put up a message on Facebook just to talk about her own sister. So when you put all this together, John, the pain that they're feeling here to understanding that someone would just attack her on that trail, there's a lot of questions that still haven't been answered yet. We're also awaiting that mug shot that we haven't got from the county jail as of right now.