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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

"Trump Employee 5" In Classified Docs Case Speaks Out For First Time; Trump Asks To Delay New York Hush Money Trial Until Supreme Court Rules On Presidential Immunity Several Months From Now; Journalist On His Viral Fact-Check Of Sen. Britt; Princess Of Wales Apologizes For Editing Mother's Day Photo; Officials: U.S. Prepared "Rigorously" For Potential Russian Nuclear Strike In Ukraine In Late 2022; Former Trump Chief Of Staff: Trump Said Hitler "Did Some Good Things"; Court Hearing For Scott Peterson Tuesday After Los Angeles Innocence Project Takes Up His Case. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 11, 2024 - 20:00   ET




ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Well, Brian, thank you very much for sharing it with us. Of course, sorry - I'm so sorry for you and everyone on board that plane. It is terrifying what happened, terrifying what the pilot told you and we all want some answers. And obviously, you and your fellow passengers deserve them as quickly as possible. Thank you.

JOKAT: Thank you for having me on.

BURNETT: And thanks so much to all of you for being with us. AC360 starts now.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Tonight on 360, one of Jack Smith's central witnesses in Trump's classified documents case going public for the first time, talking exclusively with CNN's Kaitlan Collins about what he says was his role in moving documents the federal government was trying to find.

Also tonight, meet the journalist who uncovered how Sen. Katie Britt misleadingly turned one woman's 20-year-old sex trafficking horror story into the centerpiece of her indictment of President Biden's border policies today.

And later, what is wrong with this picture of Princess Kate and her kids? She now says she edited it herself, but that story is only raising more questions the Royal Palace had hoped to quell.

Good evening. Thanks for joining us. We begin tonight with breaking news that's a CNN exclusive.

What the man known as Trump Employee 5 in the federal classified documents indictment thinks of the case against his former boss. His name is Brian Butler, and he's been talking to investigators and now he's talking to The Source's Kaitlan Collins who joins us from Miami. So why is he speaking out now, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Anderson, in part because he's worried that Americans and voters will never get to hear this story before the election in November. Obviously, Trump's legal team has sought this strategy of delay, delay, delay, especially when it comes to the classified documents case. And so this witness, someone who was a longtime employee at Mar-a-Lago for 20 years, is now speaking out publicly because of a concern that it may not come to light.

I mean, Donald Trump has repeatedly called this investigation a witch hunt. Brian Butler, who until now was known only as Trump Employee Number 5, is now saying that he disagrees with that. He doesn't believe it's a witch hunt and he was able to provide key testimony to the Special Counsel Jack Smith here, including about key moments, including one where Walt Nauta, who is Trump's body man turned co- defendant, asked him to help load boxes onto a plane that was bound for Trump's club in New Jersey from Palm Beach as the FBI and Trump's attorneys were meeting at that time at his Mar-a-Lago club.


BRIAN BUTLER, FORMER TRUMP MAR-A-LAGO EMPLOYEE: And then what happened is Walt left before me, and he never goes directly to the plane. He's either in the motorcade when he goes there with the boss, which, the former president. And I remember telling him he left the club with - I didn't know what he had in his vehicle, but he waited for me at a nearby business, and I told him I would tell him when I was leaving Mar-a-Lago.

So I left Mar-a-Lago, I texted him, hey, I'm on my way. He followed me. He pulled out and got behind me. We got to the airport. I ended up loading all the luggage I had and he had a bunch of boxes.

COLLINS: You noticed that he had boxes?

BUTLER: Oh yes, they were the boxes that were in the indictment. The white banker's boxes. That's what I remember loading.

COLLINS: And did you have any time - any idea at the time that there was potentially U.S. National Security secrets in those boxes?

BUTLER: No clue. Nope. I had no clue. I mean, we were just taking them out of the Escalade, piling them up. I remember they were all stacked on top of each other, and then we're lifting them up to the pilots.


COLLINS: And Anderson, one key point on this, Katelyn Polantz and I have been reporting on this story for months, if not over a year now. And when it comes to those documents that were taken to New Jersey, that is something that was - we were pursuing, investigators were pursuing it. It's still not clear to this day where those boxes that went to New Jersey ended up. Of course, we know a lot of them were taken from Mar-a-Lago during that search that happened in August of 2022. But the ones that went to New Jersey, it's still unclear where exactly they went.

COOPER: And why did Butler decided to get his own attorney rather than using one of the Trump's attorneys?

COLLINS: That's a key difference, because you can see basically the divergent paths that a lot of these witnesses are taking when it comes to who is paying for their attorneys. And for Brian Butler, it was important for him to pay for his own attorney here, even though he was offered a Trump World attorney. He had that offer made to him. And after he got a subpoena to appear before the grand jury, which, as he noted, he has done for a significant amount of time, provided a lot of testimony to them, he got this voicemail that is from an attorney who was in Trump World, who was representing several of the witnesses here, and Trump himself, John Rowley, who left this voicemail on Brian's phone.


JOHN ROWLEY, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Hey, Brian. Good morning. My name is John Rowley. I'm one of the lawyers representing President Trump. It's my understanding that you got a grand jury subpoena. Would you please give me a call at your first opportunity.



COLLINS: I should note, he did not answer that call. He did not return that voicemail. He instead passed it on to his attorney. But he said he did feel pressure from one of the other co-defendants here, Carlos De Oliveira, to get an attorney from Trump World.

COOPER: Kaitlan, stay with us.

I want to bring in CNN Legal Analyst, Elie Honig and also Carrie Cordero.

Elie, how significant is a witness like this for the prosecution you think?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: In any case, as a prosecutor, Anderson, you always want a tour guide. You want someone who can take you inside a closed world like this one. This is the inner workings of Mar-a-Lago. And even from the snippets that Kaitlan just played us. She get a lot of insight into how things work, who reported to who and also one of the big mysteries in this case, as Kaitlan said, how did these documents make their way from Florida up to New Jersey.

So the other thing that I noticed about this witness and it's in the write-up that Kaitlan Collins and Katelyn Polantz did, is this witness is not eager to get Trump. There's a moment when he tells them something like, I realized as the FBI was questioning me that my information was going to be used against Trump and I was - I didn't like that, but I felt important to tell the truth.

And so as a prosecutor, I think that's a really important indicator of credibility.

COOPER: And Carrie, would prosecutors likely have some sort of a deal in place with Butler at this point?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he hasn't been charged, so I think he's - the fact - there's a couple of different things. So first, the facts that are relayed in the interview that Kaitlan has done doesn't sound like he knowingly was a participant in the unauthorized mishandling of classified information. So it doesn't necessarily sound like he knew exactly what was going on, but he knew something sort of squirrelly was going on. So I'm not sure that there is evidence that the Justice Department has. Again, just based on this interview so far, that would indicate he could be charged.

It also sounds as if he has been as forthcoming as possible. And so based on what he has seen and his observations about the actions of others, he does seem like he would be a compelling witness, but I'm not sure based on what I've heard so far that he necessarily would have had his own criminal culpability.

COOPER: Kaitlan, he's not saying that he saw what was in the boxes. He's saying just those were the boxes that had been seen in photographs, the kind of boxes that we've all seen in those photographs. Can you just explain again the timeline of all of this? So as he's going to the airport, they're taking the boxes to New Jersey, is that really the moment that the FBI is at Mar-a-Lago or is that the day that the FBI is going to Mar-a-Lago to try to track these things down?

COLLINS: Brian Butler described it as kind of a puzzle where he was just able to put the pieces together later on and also the indictment really helped to be able to see what was really happening. And these two days in June of 2022 were so critical because on June 2nd was when Trump's attorney went into the storage room in the basement of Mar-a- Lago, went through the documents, looked for what was classified documents he believed, then took them upstairs, put them in a Redweld folder to give them to the FBI. The FBI agents show up at Mar-a-Lago on June 3rd, the next day.

And as Brian Butler noted, Trump was still there, which was a bit unusual. He typically would leave to go to New Jersey, to his club earlier than that, but he was still there that day. And what Brian remembers seeing is Trump's attorney, Evan Corcoran. He's very tall. He's got this silver hair. He remembers seeing that. He didn't know who the other people were, Anderson, but he now realizes they were FBI agents and they were there on June 3rd. We do know that because that was when they handed over those 30 or so classified documents. They handed over a form that said, I attest that this was a diligent search and the best of our ability, everything that was here.

Of course, that was not true, Anderson. And the attorney, they say, didn't know that at the time, but that was months before the FBI showed up and found hundreds of classified documents still there. But it's a key part of this because it was that day before when Trump's attorney went into that storage room to look that Walt Nauta, who is now a co-defendant here, and Carlos De Oliveira had moved documents into Trump's office, 30 boxes or 60 boxes, and then moved 30 back.

And so there were these key moments happening that this Trump Employee 5 didn't realize at the time and can only fully appreciate now that he looks back.

COOPER: Elie, how do you think the defense will try to cross-examine a witness like him? Because, I mean - again, he, to his own testimony, did not look inside the boxes.

HONIG: Yes. I think they'll be aggressive, for sure, in cross- examination. I think this is going to be a pivotal witness. You're right, I think they're going to do a couple things.

First of all, they're going to point out gaps in his knowledge. They'll say to him, you didn't open those boxes, right? Boxes look alike. How did you know this box was the exact box in the indictment? Donald Trump's team, I assure you, will say, most or all of your information, it sounds like, that he got didn't come from Donald Trump. It came from Walt Nauta, it came from Mr. De Oliveira, and so they'll say it's secondhand, it's not as compelling against Donald Trump.

But as Carrie said, it appears this person, Mr. Butler, does not have any sort of criminal liability. DOJ did not make him plead guilty to a charge.


What he probably has is either a non-prosecution agreement, which sort of is what it sounds like, or immunity, which is a formal agreement where they say, you're going to testify and your words won't be used to prosecute you. And so I think there's another line of cross- examination that you're just sort of telling prosecutors what they want to hear to save your own hide.

COOPER: All right. Elie, Carrie, Kaitlan, thanks very much.

And catch Kaitlan's full interview with former Trump employee, Brian Butler, at the top of the next hour on her program THE SOURCE, right here on CNN at 9 PM.

Now, the criminal trial that's scheduled to begin just two weeks from today, that's when jury selection is set to start in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's case against the former president, alleging he falsified business records tied to the 2016 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

In a motion made public today, his attorneys asked the judge to delay the trial until the Supreme Court rules on whether he's covered by presidential immunity in the January 6th case.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins us now with more on that.

So is this just a delay tactic?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Delay, Anderson, is probably likely part of the strategy. Trump's lawyers have been very good about dredging up every possible legal issue, filing motions to delay any number of cases.

Now, in this particular instance, what they're doing is they're pointing to the fact that the Manhattan DA's office actually wants to bring into evidence at the trial some of the public statements and Twitter posts that Trump made in 2018 while he was president about Stormy Daniels and Trump's payments to Michael Cohen. And Trump's lawyers are saying that some of those statements should be excluded from evidence because Trump, they argue, was acting in his official capacity as president.

And that's the part that goes to the Supreme Court, what they'll be weighing on April 25th, whether a former president can be immune from criminal prosecution for things that might constitute official acts.

Now, whether tweeting about Stormy Daniels or Michael Cohen can actually be deemed an official act, it's questionable, but basically what Trump's lawyers are saying is all of these questions about official acts and presidential immunity, they argue they need to be determined by the Supreme Court first before they move forward in this hush money case. That's their argument.

COOPER: And what's the reaction from the judge?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. So the judge has a few things to say. First off, he's questioning why the Trump legal team waited so long to file this motion to delay the trial. Jury selection is slated to start in two weeks, and actually the deadline for any motions was February 22nd. Despite all that, the judge here, he's asking for the DA's office to respond to this request to delay by Wednesday.

And he's doing another thing, Anderson. The judge is also sending really somewhat of a stern warning for moving forward. He's saying that Trump's team and the DA's prosecutors must now seek permission if they're going to file any new motions ahead of jury selection. And I read that as really indicating that the New York judge wants to keep this case moving, and he might not grant those efforts to delay, and this trial might go forward on March 25th, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

Coming up next, borderline dishonesty. How Sen. Katie Britt misrepresented a woman's story of being sex trafficked to score political points in her State of the Union response, and why her explanation now of what she did doesn't make sense. We're keeping them honest.

Also, with all the concerns about Princess Kate's medical condition after surgery for undisclosed abdominal issues, you can now add a new complication, that doctored family photo and the royal fiasco surrounding it.


[20:17:17] COOPER: Keeping them honest tonight, the migrant crisis, border

security, sex trafficking, and bad faith. The first three are real problems, which Republicans say President Biden has not taken seriously enough. The bad faith has to do with how they're making that argument, and continue to even after being called on it. Specifically, Alabama Sen. Katie Britt, who, as you know, said this last week, while giving the Republican State of the Union response.


SEN. KATIE BRITT (R-AL): We know that President Biden didn't just create this border crisis. He invited it with 94 executive actions in his first 100 days.

When I took office, I took a different approach. I traveled to the Del Rio sector of Texas. That's where I spoke to a woman who shared her story with me. She had been sex trafficked by the cartels, starting at the age of 12. She told me not just that she was raped every day, but how many times a day she was raped.

We wouldn't be okay with this happening in a third world country. This is the United States of America, and it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it.

President Biden's border policies are a disgrace.


COOPER: President Biden's border crisis, she calls it, a disgrace, she said. Not just created by the president, but invited by him, according to the senator, which might be political hyperbole. And while addressing that problem is any president's responsibility, one could find facts and figures and personal stories to make a case that this president is failing on that score. She could have done that, the senator.

But keeping them honest, that's not what Katie Britt did. Instead, she made that woman's all-too-real horror story a centerpiece of her argument when it just doesn't belong there, something a journalist named Jonathan Katz first picked up on and posted to social media Friday night. He'll join me in a moment.

First, though, here's part of what he posted after watching Sen. Britt's State of the Union response, specifically about the part when she mentioned the woman who survived rape.


JONATHAN KATZ, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: So, I immediately had questions: Who was this woman? How did she meet her? How did she get her to tell her this story? What country did it happen in? Did it happen before Joe Biden was president?


COOPER: So, as Mr. Katz quickly discovered, the woman's name is Karla Jacinto. She's an advocate for tracking victims and a longtime acquaintance of CNN's Rafael Romo who spoke exclusively with her over the weekend.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At one point when I met you years and years ago, you told me that you felt like, at the beginning, Mexican politicians had taken advantage of you by using your story for political purposes.


Do you feel like that happened once again here in the United States?

KARLA JACINTO (through interpreter): Yes. In fact, I hardly ever cooperate with politicians because it seems to me that they only want an image. They only want a photo. And that, to me, is not fair.

ROMO: Karla Jacinto also told me that Sen. Britt got many of the facts of her story wrong. Number one, she was not trafficked by Mexican drug cartels, but by a pimp that operated as part of a family that entrapped vulnerable girls in order to force them into prostitution. Two, she also said she was never trafficked in the United States, as Sen. Britt appeared to suggest. Three, she was kept in captivity from 2004 to 2008 when President George W. Bush, a Republican, was in office as opposed to the current administration, as the senator implied. And finally, four, she met the senator at an event at the border with other government officials and anti-human trafficking activists instead of one-on-one.


COOPER: So just to recap, yes, Karla Jacinto was a tragic victim and an incredibly brave survivor and advocate. But as she says, it wasn't Mexican cartels trafficking her across the border in the United States in the Del Rio sector, as the Senator intimated. And the nightmare, which she courageously survived, did not happen during the Biden administration. It happened 20 years ago, during George W. Bush's presidency, in Mexico, not the United States.

But again, you would not know any of that from Sen. Britt's account. The digging that Mr. Katz touched off only picked up steam throughout the weekend. So by the time Sen. Britt was on Fox on Sunday, it was a big deal, which Sen. Britt tried to downplay. Here's what she said about it.


SHANNON BREAM, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Did you mean to give the impression that this horrible story happened on President Biden's watch?

BRITT: No, Shannon. Look, I very specifically said this is what President Biden did during his first 100 days.

BREAM: But to be clear, the story that you relate is not something that's happened under the Biden administration, that particular person.

BRITT: Well, I very clearly said I spoke to a woman who told me about when she was trafficked when she was 12, so I didn't say a teenager. I didn't say a young woman, a grown woman, a woman when she was trafficked when she was 12.


COOPER: Shame on everyone else, she seems to be saying, for not doing the math in your head and figuring out that she was being misleading. Now, it might've helped if she said in her speech when she was 12, back during the George W. Bush administration in 2004, when it actually happened or if she had had the grace and courtesy to actually mention the name of this courageous survivor, even the first name. But she didn't do that. She just wanted to use her story.

She implied this was a story that only she was told and it wasn't. She also implied that it took place in the United States, and it didn't. And she made this woman the emotional linchpin of her case against the current president. And in case you think that that wasn't deliberate, listen to what Sen. Britt and Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn said back in January of last year, after meeting in public with Karla Jacinto.


BRITT: We've also heard from victims of human trafficking. And let me tell you, those stories are gut-wrenching. As she talked about being abused from the time she was five years old to actually being trafficked between the ages of 12 to 16. You can't help as a mama to think about your own children. And if we, as leaders of the greatest nation in the world, are not fighting to protect the most vulnerable, we are not doing our job.

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): And this is what President Biden and Vice President Harris need to hear.


COOPER: A short time ago, CNN tried to ask Sen. Britt about all this as she was leaving a party leadership meeting. She declined to comment. However, her colleague, Roger Marshall of Kansas, when asked about this woman's story not being connected to the drug cartel, said - he said, "Yes, I think we could have done a better job with that. I tend to use stories that I know firsthand."

Perspective now from Jonathan Katz, whose TikTok post got this entire conversation started.


COOPER: So Jonathan, what first made you suspicious of the Senator's story and can you just kind of walk us through how you went about tracking it down?

KATZ: Well, the whole thing was weird, as you know, the entire speech. The thing that really stuck out to me about that one part was there was this weird combination of extremely lurid detail, but also no detail at all. Like she talked about very specifically the things that happened to this person that she talked to, but she didn't say anything about where she talked to her, what she knew about her, where the events happened, when the events happened. And the other thing that confused me at that moment was I was like, well, this sounds like somebody who would be a perfect candidate for asylum, like, did this person get asylum, is this person still in the United States.


And I just was sitting there and during the extremely weird kitchen speech, I just started Googling and it didn't really take much time at all. I think it's the fastest investigative work that I've ever done.

COOPER: And did you - I mean, did you immediately find the press conference that the Senator held with this woman and others?

KATZ: There were a couple of steps in between. I mean, first I found out that Sen. Britt had been telling the story over and over again because there were a whole bunch of hits for it. And then I ...

COOPER: Even though it made it sound like this was kind of the first time she had told it.

KATZ: Yes. Yes. No, that was the first thing. I was like, well, this is not a new story. This is something that's kind of almost become maybe a stump speech for her in a way. And then I realized that she had gone on this trip with Marsha Blackburn and Cindy Hyde-Smith in January of 2023. And then I looked at Sen. Blackburn's webpage, found that press release, and that's when I saw the press conference. They called it a round table, but the press conference that they had with this woman, Karla Jacinto Romero.

I'm wondering what you made of Sen. Britt defending herself on Fox yesterday, because she essentially said, well, it was implied. I wasn't connecting this to the Biden administration, even though she was connecting this to the Biden administration. And she said, well, I did say this was a child and that I was - that I had spoken to a woman, assuming, I guess, that viewers were supposed to have done the math and figured out that this was an old story.

KATZ: I mean, that was one of the pieces of math that I did. There were a lot of things that were weird about it. That was one of them, that she's describing something that happened to somebody when they were 12 years old and she calls them a woman. I was like, well, this couldn't have happened in the last couple of years then, so I picked up on that. I think it was pretty subtle.

But I thought her response wasn't really a response at all. I mean, she - the host on Fox asked her very specifically, like, were you trying to imply that this happened during the Biden administration. And then she says no, and then she goes on talking about essentially how Joe Biden is responsible for this thing that happened 20 years ago. COOPER: It's also interesting to me that she never used the victim of

this name. Generally, if you're telling the story of somebody who - something traumatic has happened to, I mean, just as a sense of sort of decency in making them into a actual person, you would, at the very least, use their first name with their permission.

In your TikTok, you mentioned that reaching out to Sen. Britt's office. I'm wondering if you ever heard back from them, because they've put out stuff now, but I'm wondering if they ever actually responded to you, because you are the one who really uncovered this.

KATZ: They have never responded to me. I - it was not easy to find her spokesperson. Apparently, this is a hard thing to do these days, to find legislators' spokespeople. That used to be the easiest thing. But I sent him an email immediately. I mean, I sent him an email that night at like 11:20 PM or something like that on the East Coast. No, he's never responded to me. All I've seen are the responses that he's given to other people.

He kind of sent - seems like everybody else - this kind of stock response, in which he said that the story was a hundred percent correct. And then I've seen the Senator's response on Fox News, and I've also seen Karla Jacinto's response on CNN, where she said that the story was told without her permission, which was, again, I didn't know that for a fact, but it was just something that I kind of sensed.

It was something that - there was something about the way that she told that story that reminded me of the way that unscrupulous people tell stories of people from the global South in ways that center them instead of the people who've gone through the trauma.

COOPER: Yes. Jonathan Katz, thank you so much for talking to us. And I also want to encourage people to check out your new book, I just ordered it, "Gangsters of Capitalism." I look forward to reading it.

KATZ: Thank you.


COOPER: Just ahead, how one Mother's Day photo in the U.K. turned into a major scandal for Princess Kate. Her apology and the apparent edits that caused the controversy, next.



ANDERSON COPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The first official picture of Catherine Princess of Wales since she underwent abdominal surgery in January was released Sunday to mark Mother's Day in the U.K. and to put an end to conspiracies about her health and whereabouts. Instead, she ended up apologizing for a fiasco that ended up doing the exact opposite.

Max Foster tonight has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was meant to quell the rumors. A smiling Princess of Wales with her three children looking the picture of health. But instead, it fueled them. The photo, released on Sunday by the royal family, dramatically pulled from circulation by several major news agencies later that day, citing concerns that it had been manipulated.

The Princess of Wales apologized on Monday, taking personal responsibility for editing the image. "Like many amateur photographers," she said, "I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused."

A CNN analysis of the photo found at least two areas which appear to show evidence the photo has been potentially altered, including Princess Charlotte's sleeve, which seems to melt into nothing, and then Kate's zipper, which appears to be cut short.

CNN is continuing to use the original photo in the context of the debate around its alleged manipulation. A royal source told CNN on Monday the princess made minor adjustments to the image as she shared in her statement on social media, but didn't explain why they weren't transparent about the edits when they shared the image with news media and picture agencies.

AFP, one of the international agencies to pull the photo, stood by its decision on Monday.

ERIC BARADAT, DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, AFP: We have a duty of trust towards our subscribers, towards their viewers, and we have to kill the picture. It's absolutely a red line that was crossed there in terms of journalism.

FOSTER (voice-over): The image was released by the Royals for Mother's Day in the U.K., along with a message from Kate thanking people for their support in the past two months.


The princess has been out of the public eye since she underwent abdominal surgery in January. This rare glimpse of her on Monday spotted alongside her husband William in a car leaving Windsor for a private appointment. In the vacuum of information and without the regular on camera appearances, conspiracy theories have been swirling about the status of Kate's health.

First editions of British newspapers, published before the image was pulled by agencies, present the picture as happy proof of her recovery. But the subsequent unprecedented withdrawal by some agencies has sent speculation about her wellbeing into overdrive.


COOPER: I'm joined now by Max Foster, and CNN Royal Commentator and Author Sally Bedell Smith. So Max, I mean, is this a case of good intentions gone awry? And also, I mean, the idea that she was actually photo editing herself, like she says many amateur photographers -- some amateur photographers do. Is that believable?

FOSTER (on-camera): Well, there's a big team around them. Certainly, the narrative is that this was a social post that she put up to reflect a happy day and she went a bit far with the editing. And, clearly, she wasn't very good at it.

We'll have to wait to see what actually happened behind the scenes. But the other side of this is that this picture was also sent out as a press release effectively to the media to use for editorial purposes. They weren't transparent about the fact that have been edited.

So there's a big trust issue there now. And they've also got this issue -- for weeks now, there's been huge amounts of speculation about a cover up of the palace. We haven't given it much credence because it's not based on anything, but now we have to look at those conspiracy theories and consider them because this -- we're not being given the original photo. We don't know what was in the original photo, but it does smack of cover up for a lot of people.

COOPER: Sally, what do you make of this botched attempt at quelling fears over the princess's health?

SALLY BEDELL SMITH, CNN ROYAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it was indeed a botched attempt. And, I mean, if you believe what is being put out, she didn't have any malign intent in this. It doesn't appear -- and I think they even released a statement that there was no use of AI, there was no effort to put an image of her in the photo.

But there is other evidence that there have possibly been combined images in the photo. I think if her motive was to present a happy family and we all know those of us who have had children, how hard it is to put a family photo together where everybody's smiling. And if she combined a bunch of images of her children, that's not great.

But I think more worrying would be if she had manipulated her own image with with an intention of showing her to be healthy. It doesn't seem as if she did that, and they went out of the way to say that they -- that she hadn't used any artificial intelligence.

But it's a worrying moment and I think it's something that the palace has to think really hard about because they above all need to present authentic images. And if they don't, it really damages their credibility.

COOPER: Max, I mean, wouldn't this have gone through several layers or at least one layer of somebody else's eyes on this saying, oh yes, that's fine, that this can be released? I don't think or I don't know. You said they have a staff, I mean, are they up late at night just sort of sending out photos to the public?

FOSTER (on-camera): They certainly do send out -- managed along the social media. I mean, I can't say that Kate doesn't post her own images. I would find it extraordinary if she actually did. There's a, you know, layers of people who are very experienced, who would have thought this was a bad idea, I'm sure. I just don't know the background. They're saying so little about it. The big issue they've got here that, you know, the monarchy represents continuity, stability. They're so careful not to create any sense of panic around anything. But on this occasion, they've created panic with this vacuum of information, which is filled with a lot of nonsense.

But now we're having to look at because they created, you know, what a lot of people are calling a fake photo. Put it out.

COOPER: I mean, because they could very easily, Sally, I mean, again -- I mean, you can make an argument, they deserve their privacy and they -- you know, I mean, I don't necessarily want the best for them. I don't have any stake in this.

But if they'd wanted to quote this, they could just say, look, this was a bad -- look, I tried to make this look, here's the picture that I tried to put together to try to get all the kids smiling in the picture, that would be understandable. But it doesn't seem like they're inclined to put out any more information about this.


BEDELL SMITH: No, and I don't think that's helping them. I think they need to be more, you know, clear about a lot of things. Because if you have a vacuum, people will fill it and they'll fill it with all sorts of outlandish rumors and conspiracies and theories.

So I think, you know, I hate the word teachable moment, but maybe this is a teachable moment for them to figure out. I mean, this is a whole new world. AI is zooming along. Deep fakes are permeating our culture. Instagram is filled with images of people who really don't look the way they do in real life. And I think that palace has to figure out how they're going to operate in that kind of environment.

COOPER: Yes. Max Foster, Sally Bedell Smith, thank you so much.

BEDELL SMITH: Yes. You're welcome. Thank you.

COOPER: Just ahead, exclusive reporting on how the Biden administration handled the potential threat of a Russian nuclear attack in Ukraine. It comes from a fascinating new book by my colleague Jim Sciutto, "The Return of Great Powers: Russia, China, and the Next World War." He joins us next.



COOPER: According to a new book by my colleague Jim Sciutto, the Biden administration was worried in late 2022 about the potential of Vladimir Putin ordering a Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine using tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. So much so, two officials told Jim, that the U.S. began, quote, "preparing vigorously."

Now, this new information comes as two top intelligence officials testified today that Ukraine is likely to lose more territory this year without any additional military assistance. The nuclear threat worries is one of the insightful stories in Jim's new book, "The Return of Great Powers: Russia, China, and the Next World War," which is available tomorrow.

And Jim Sciutto joins us now. So congrats on the book. Talk about how close the United States thought Russia was to actually using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This was a truly scary period. This was the late summer, early fall of 2022, the first months of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And it was a number of indicators that made the U.S. make this assessment. For one, Russia was losing ground in Southern Ukraine.

There was the potential of thousands of Russian forces being surrounded as they were treated from Kherson in the South. And it was the U.S. read of Russian military doctrine that if they felt they were about to lose many thousands of troops, they might calculate that they could use a nuclear weapon to head that off from happening.

At the same time, Russian officials started to speak publicly about what the U.S. knew to be a made up threat, and that was that Ukraine would was going to carry out a dirty bomb, a radioactive bomb attack in southern Ukraine.

And the read of that was that Russia was creating a pretext to carry out a nuclear attack to say, well, the Ukrainians are planning this, we're just responding to them. But I think probably the biggest piece of this, Anderson, was that the U.S. also had hard intelligence, intercepted communications of Russian commanders talking about the possibility of a tactical nuclear strike.

And at that point they said, we have to take this seriously. We have to prepare for all options, including potential military responses to a nuclear strike.

COOPER: And what do officials think of the risk of nuclear weapons -- I mean, is there a risk now?

SCIUTTO: There is a risk because Russia has nuclear weapons, particularly tactical nukes. These are battlefield nuclear weapons, smaller than the kind of weapon that would wipe out a city. But in Russian military doctrine, they see that as a reasonable response, even to a conventional threat, if, for instance, they felt that they were going to lose a large amount of territory.

That's why when you hear -- and Putin just did this a couple of weeks ago again, when you hear senior Russian leaders say, hey, by the way, we have nuclear weapons and, you know, we might find ourselves in a nuclear conflict, the ears of U.S. officials and European officials perk up, because they know that from a Russian military perspective, that's at least an option for them.

And it got so close in 2022. One worry that the U.S. had, Anderson, is that tactical nukes are small enough, that the U.S. wouldn't necessarily know if Russia had moved them into place.

COOPER: Right.

SCIUTTO: Because they could be fired from conventional systems as well.

COOPER: In the book, you also write about a national security wildcard, the potential election of Trump again. And I know you spoke with former members of his national security team and foreign leaders. What did they tell you?

SCIUTTO: Well, I'll tell you, the most alarming is that Trump -- and I know he said publicly he admires the Putins of the world, the Shias of the world, Viktor Orban, he just said that this week. But General John Kelly, who of course was his chief of staff, says that Trump repeatedly expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler to John Kelly.

And here you have this Marine General John Kelly saying, excuse me, sir. And Trump saying, well, he did a lot of good things. That's a direct quote from John Kelly. What good things, Mr. President, Kelly said. He said, well, he rebuilt the German economy. And Kelly would say to him, yes, but he then used the economy to wage war against Europe.

And, by the way, Mr. President, 400,000 American GIs died in that war. But he would go on, and he would say that, well, Hitler's generals were loyal to him. And --


SCIUTTO: -- General Kelly would remind Trump that, well, actually, Hitler's generals tried to assassinate him, but the facts didn't matter. This was a broad admiration that his advisers say Trump had for despots, for people with unlimited power, in part because in their reading of it, Trump imagines himself as strong as they are and deserving of that same power.

It's -- listen, it's -- Americans are going to have a choice in November about the kind of leader they want. And Trump's own senior advisers say, this is the kind of leader he is, and he will act on these things as president in a second term.


COOPER: It's so interesting because, you know, there was that story early on, I think it had been reported initially in Vanity Fair, about him keeping a copy of "Mein Kampf" by his bedside that people discounted. To hear this from John Kelly is incredible.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It is. And it's consistent, right, because it's the same way he talks about Vladimir Putin today, or Xi Jinping today --

COOPER: Yes, or Viktor Orban, who he's just been, you know, fetting over in Mar-a-Lago.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. And here's another thing I -- and by the way, this is something I heard not just from Americans, but from Europeans, and I went to Eastern Europe, I went to Ukraine, of course, I went to Taiwan in reporting this story, is that at the core of this is a fundamental misunderstanding by Trump of these people.

There's Vladimir Putin. Putin has every interest in undermining the U.S., in weakening the U.S., in taking things away and breaking down the system that we depend on. Same with China. China wants a weaker America, not a stronger one. So Trump misreads them when he imagines that just by the force of his charming personality, he's going to change their interests. But he won't.


SCIUTTO: These are strategic interests of Russia and China in terms of undermining the U.S. and its allies.

COOPER: Well, Jim, congratulations on the book. "The Return of Great Powers: Russia, China, and the Next World War," available starting tomorrow. You can get it right now.

Up next, the new effort by convicted murderer Scott Peterson to clear his name of the killing of his wife and unborn son more than 20 years later.



COOPER: Tomorrow in a California courtroom, the focus will be on a murder case that gripped the nation more than two decades ago. On Christmas Eve 2002, Scott Peterson's wife Laci disappeared. Now at the time they were expecting their first child. He was convicted of their murders two years later.

Well, now, the Los Angeles Innocence Project is representing Peterson and focused on what it says is newly discovered evidence, in their words, in hopes of getting a new trial. With a look at how we got here, here's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's Laci Peterson, long before the world knew her name. She was just 27 years old when she disappeared, and nearly eight months pregnant.

SCOTT PETERSON, CONVICTED MURDERER: We all love Laci, we all care for each other, and we're all working towards bringing her home.

KAYE (voice-over): Laci's husband, Scott Peterson, told investigators he was fishing in the San Francisco Bay near the Berkeley Marina when his wife disappeared. But investigators said his story didn't exactly add up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just here to confirm or to see if there's any information that Laci was up in this area or if the, you know, if the husband was here. KAYE (voice-over): While detectives tried to figure out what happened to Laci, her family and friends organized searches. As time went on, Laci's story captivated the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know there is someone who knows something. And if that person would just come forward and let us know where she is so that we can bring her home.

KAYE (voice-over): Laci's February 2003 due date came and went.

PETERSON: Print the flyers off of that website and get them to any law enforcement in people's area. Any hospitals, any birthing centers, just keep the word out there because she will be giving birth real soon.

KAYE (voice-over): Investigators searched the couple's home and questioned Scott Peterson. He kept a pretty low profile until this woman, Amber Frey, exposed their six-week long affair during a bombshell news conference.

AMBER FREY, HAD RELATIONSHIP WITH SCOTT PETERSON: I met Scott Peterson November 20th, 2002. Scott told me he was not married. We did have a romantic relationship.

KAYE (voice-over): That relationship, investigators believed, could have been a motive for Scott Peterson to kill his wife.

PETERSON: I had nothing to do with her disappearance, but people still accuse me of it.

KAYE (voice-over): He also spoke with ABC's Diane Sawyer.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: You know that people sitting at home have imagined that either you were in love with someone else, therefore, you decided to get rid of this entanglement, namely your wife and your child, or there was just an angry confrontation.

PETERSON: Neither of those was the case. It's that simple.

KAYE (voice-over): Despite his claims of innocence, more questions about Scott Peterson's behavior surfaced. Investigators wondered why, on Christmas Eve with a very pregnant wife, did Scott Peterson drive a couple hours away to go fishing.

In April 2003, nearly four months after Laci disappeared, her body and the body of their unborn son washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay. Scott Peterson was arrested four days later and charged with two felony counts of murder. He continued to maintain his innocence.

By June 2004, Scott Peterson was on trial, five months and close to 200 witnesses, then finally, a verdict.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the jury, in the above entitled cause, find the defendant, Scott Lee Peterson, guilty of the crime of murder.

KAYE (voice-over): Scott Peterson was found guilty of first degree murder for his wife, Laci, and second degree murder for his unborn child. The judge sentenced him to death. But in 2021, nearly 20 years after the murders, Peterson was resentenced to life without parole after the California Supreme Court found the jury in his case was not screened properly for bias regarding the death penalty.

And now, if he does get a new trial based on what the Innocence Project calls, quote, "newly discovered evidence," he'll have another chance at freedom.


COOPER: And Randi joins us now. So, what more about this hearing for Scott Peterson tomorrow? What's going to happen there?

KAYE (on-camera): Well, we know, Anderson, that Scott Peterson will join the hearing via Zoom from prison. And the hearing really centers around this motion that his lawyers with the Innocence Project filed with the court.

In that motion, they say that Scott Peterson has maintained his innocence for 20 years, and during that time, he's been working with investigators and lawyers, and has discovered what they call the substantial new evidence, which you had actually referenced earlier.

We don't know what that evidence is, but they say that it does support his claims of innocence. So they're looking at the DNA. They want some items tested again, retested, and then they also want some new items tested for DNA.

And they think that there is something there, Anderson, that could prove his innocence. So, we really don't know what to expect tomorrow. We know for sure that no doubt we'll see more motions filed, more hearings in this case --


KAYE (on-camera): -- before we know exactly if Scott Peterson will get a new trial.

COOPER: All right. Randi Kaye, thanks so much.

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