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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

O.J. Simpson Dead At 76 After Cancer Battle; O.J. Simpson, Legendary Football Star Famous For Bronco Freeway Chase And Acquittal In Murder Trial, Dies At 76; VP Harris To Attend Pro-Abortion Rally In AZ Tomorrow; Pastors Respond After Trump Says Christianity Is Under Attack; Trump, Speaker Johnson To Push Fears Of Non-Citizens Voting, Despite Lack Of Evidence It's Widespread At Mar-a-Lago News Conference; UNICEF Convoy Hit By Gunfire Waiting To Enter Northern Gaza. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 11, 2024 - 20:00   ET


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT & ANCHOR: Erin, I think the point here is this. There's no question next week Donald Trump faces the highest stakes legal challenge of his career. But if he survives that first criminal trial and any other that occurs over the course of the coming eight months and wins re-election, he will enter the Oval Office emboldened personally and with more power than we've seen probably in decades from a president and a team. We're not hiding this. They're making very clear what they want to do, how they want to do it and that their supporters want them to deliver, Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: It's incredible to say listen to what someone tells you.

All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much. And thanks to all of you. It's time for Anderson.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Tonight on 360, the death and legacy of O.J. Simpson, whose double murder trial became must-see TV and a Rorschach test on race, celebrity and justice in America.

Also tonight, abortion and how the fight over it reveals the growing influence of religious nationalism on American politics.

Plus, a preview of tomorrow's pilgrimage by the Speaker of the House to see the former president and their expected subject of discussion, election security, of all things.

Good evening. Anderson is off. I'm Jim Sciutto.

We begin with O.J. Simpson, who we learned today has died of cancer at the age of 76. And we start by saying it is impossible to overstate his fame for decades or the decades of notoriety that followed starting here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a crazy scene (INAUDIBLE) ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: California Highway Patrol has now confirmed to CNN that it is definitely Al Cowlings' vehicle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, there's no question about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they are almost certain that O.J. is in the passenger seat.


SCIUTTO: June 17th 1994, an estimated 95 million Americans watched this in real time. It was the ultimate drama on the biggest stage imaginable, involving a celebrity in a city of celebrities, now accused of two murders. And make no mistake, O.J. Simpson's celebrity went well beyond sports, whether it was winning the Heisman Trophy at USC or becoming the first NFL player to run for more than 2,000 yards in a single season. He turned that fame into a commercial calling card such that millions of people who'd never seen him play watched him run through airports for Hertz rent-a-car.

And millions more tuned in every week to see and hear him doing color and commentary on Monday Night Football. And if he wasn't on TV or in commercials on TV, he was in the movies. Done masterpieces, but most endearing and all of it giving Simpson the kind of appeal that transcended racial tensions in Los Angeles and the country then and now.

Which is why in June of 1994, so many people were so shocked when he was charged with the double murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, and why, it should be said as plainly as we can, that many will neither miss nor mourn Orenthal James Simpson.

Today, the sister and father of Ron Goldman, whom he was found civilly liable of killing along with his former wife, Nicole, said this: "For three decades we tirelessly pursued justice for Ron and Nicole, and despite a civil judgment and his confession in 'If I Did It,' the hope for true accountability has ended."

"If I Did It," you may remember, is the title of the bizarre account Simpson wrote about those killings. The killings and the spectacle of the trial that followed are where CNN's Jean Casarez starts us off.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is now 7 o'clock in Los Angeles. This was ...


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was the most famous car chase in television history. June 17th 1994, the Los Angeles Police Department announced football legend, O.J. Simpson, is wanted in the killings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Los Angeles Police Department right now is actively searching for Mr. Simpson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Simpson is a fugitive of justice right now.

O.J. SIMPSON: Just let me get to my house.

TOM LANGE: Okay, we're going to do this.

SIMPSON: I swear to you, I'll give what you - I'll give you me, I'll give you my whole body.

LANGE: Okay.

SIMPSON: I just need to get to my house.

LANGE: Okay.


LANGE: We're going to do that, just throw the gun out the window.


CASAREZ (voice over): O.J. Simpson was now a fugitive from justice.

Later that night, he was taken into custody and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He was held without bail. At his arraignment, he pleaded not guilty.


SIMPSON: Absolutely, 100 percent not guilty.


CASAREZ (voice over): The televised trial of the century watched by millions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury ...


CASAREZ (voice over): The prosecution led by Marcia Clark and Chris Darden lined up a slew of witnesses like Kato Kaelin, a longtime houseguest of Simpson.


Kaelin, who became a household name, testified he saw O.J. Simpson on his property the night of the murders and contradicted some of Simpson's versions of events.


KATO KAELIN: I heard a thumping noise. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many thumps did you hear?




KAELIN: Three.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you swear to tell and nothing but the truth so help you God?



CASAREZ (voice over): Nicole Brown Simpson's sister, Denise, took the stand, telling jurors how Simpson abused Nicole. Pictures of her bruised face shown in court.


BROWN: It was more of a - like a glazed over kind of frightening dark eyes. It just didn't look like the O.J. that we knew.


CASAREZ (voice over): Lead prosecutor, Marcia Clark, introduced DNA evidence from blood samples collected by Det. Mark Fuhrman and others that pointed directly at Simpson.

But it was a cross-examination of that evidence and Fuhrman by Simpson's so-called legal dream team, including Johnnie Cochran and Barry Scheck, that poked holes in the prosecution's case. Scheck questioned an LAPD criminologist who conceded there were "procedural errors" in how the blood samples were collected at Simpson's Brentwood home.

Under cross-examination, defense attorney F. Lee Bailey accused Detective Fuhrman of racial bias and using racist language, something Fuhrman denied.


F. LEE BAILEY: Tell us, please, what it was you offered these lawyers in that room about your vocabulary, Det. Fuhrman?


BAILEY: Would you answer the question?

FUHRMAN: Yes. That I don't use any type of language to describe people of any race, such as what is alleged.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CASAREZ (voice over): Tape recordings played in court proved otherwise, damaging the detective's credibility.

The Goldman family, who did not miss a day of court, lashed out at the defense.


FRED GOLDMAN: Ron and Nicole were butchered.


CASAREZ (voice over): But it was this pivotal moment, considered a huge miscalculation by the prosecution, Chris Darden asked Simpson to put on the bloody glove found at the scene. Resulting in Cochran saying the most famous line of the trial in his closing arguments.


JOHNNIE COCHRAN: If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.


CASAREZ (voice over): After listening to more than eight months of testimony, the sequestered jury reached a verdict in less than four hours.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the jury, in the above entitled action, find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty of the crime of murder.


CASAREZ (voice over): Fred and Kim Goldman were visibly distraught in the courtroom.


GOLDMAN: Justice was not served.


CASAREZ (voice over): In the circus-like atmosphere outside court, the reaction much different. Cheers erupting as the crowd reacted to the not guilty.




CASAREZ (voice over): O.J. Simpson was a free man.


CASAREZ (on camera): And following this acquittal, there was a troubled life for O.J. Simpson. There was that civil case and there was a verdict in that, a civil verdict of wrongful death that the Goldmans deserved justice for. O.J. Simpson moved to Florida. There were some infractions with the law. And then there were charges in the state of Nevada, very serious charges of kidnapping and armed robbery. He was convicted. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison. He went to prison in Nevada, served nine of those years, and then got out. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Jean Casarez, thanks so much.

Joining us now, Jim Moret, who anchored hour after hour of Simpson coverage for CNN. He's currently Chief Correspondent for Inside Edition. Also, Jeffrey Toobin. He was in the courtroom for that not guilty verdict. He's written the definitive best-selling book about the case, "The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson." Also with us, Laura Coates, CNN Chief Legal Analyst, anchor of "LAURA COATES LIVE" which airs tonight with a special edition at 11 o'clock Eastern time.

Jeff, I want to begin with you.

You covered the O.J. Simpson trial extensively. You were in that courtroom right behind Goldman's family when that verdict was read and I can only imagine that moment, seeing their reaction there.

But I wonder, bigger picture, why, in your view, was the public so fascinated with this case at the time from that Bronco chase, all the way through the verdict and beyond, and still fascinated, frankly, to this day?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let me give you two reasons. One was, this is a case that combined everything that obsessed the American people. It had sex, race, Hollywood, violence, sports, and the only eyewitness was a dog.


I mean, this was a perfect distillation of what interests Americans.

Second, it is worth remembering how different the news media was in those days. There was no Internet. There was no social media. There was very limited cable TV. There was only CNN and Court TV. No MSNBC, no Fox News.

So the fact that it was on every day, all day, on CNN and Court TV generated a tremendous amount of attention, and it was incredibly interesting. It was a complicated story. I don't think it was a mysterious story. I think it was very clear, it was to me then, and it certainly is to me now, that O.J. was absolutely guilty of these two murders, but it was a fascinating story, and there was nowhere else to go in the mid-'90s and that's where people went.

SCIUTTO: Yes, certainly the drama of a steep fall from grace as well. Laura, do you believe O.J. Simpson's acquittal had more to do with that dream team of lawyers living up to that dream team hype or the prosecution making missteps, as you know, they came under enormous public criticism, or this mix of celebrity and race and how that factored into this?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think all of it plays into this, but also this is not happening in a vacuum. It's happening a few years after the savage beating of Rodney King. It's happening where people are viewing the justice system, really the legal system striving to be a justice system, through the lens of race. They're looking at police officers and law enforcement that they do not trust, and the notion that there could be somebody to either plant evidence was not so far-fetched to so many people.

I think you're also looking at the idea of the composition of the jury, which tells you just how important the jury composition really is. How do the jurors feel, how do they think about the overall system, and how do they trust the actual officers. And remember, this is a really interesting dynamic, because over the course of modern American history, well, even not so modern, the idea of a race of a defendant being different than the race of the victims usually does not inure the benefit of black and brown people.

In this instance, it was so shocking to so many that white victims at the hands of an alleged defendant who was black would have an acquittal in the end was really something that was stunning to a lot of people. But this is going to live its way in infamy for so many reasons. For all the things you talked about, for this being led by those famous lines by one Johnnie Cochran, a highly esteemed lawyer for the entire dream team, but it's also why the notion of race became all the more nuanced, because the average black or brown defendant who was facing the idea of law enforcement acquittal, could not be trusted or the weight of race and beyond, could not have afforded that particular dream team or that competition had they not been somebody like Orenthal James.

SCIUTTO: That's true. And ultimately, no one went to prison for these crimes. Whoever - whether you believe the acquittal or not, no one - there was no justice served.

Jim, as Jeff was noting there, this was pre-social media, it was pre- iPhones, it was pre-people tweeting their reactions in the moment, and yet millions of people around the world followed this case, they felt like, as a lawyer described to me earlier today, the 13th juror in this case in many ways. You had a front row seat to this throughout. Had you ever seen anything like it up to that point? And have you seen anything similar since?

JIM MORET, INSIDE EDITION CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: No, none of us had. It really was a shared experience And Jeff is right, you had the merger of Hollywood, you had race, you had celebrity, you had money, the different judicial systems for all of those.

And the only way you could keep up with this, and it became this national obsession that was - it was really in a way ushering in reality television, because this took the place of a soap opera. Soap operas were basically taken off the air during the period that this trial was on, because you had a national soap opera that people were watching. And it was a serious one with real life consequences.

And tonight when OJ Simpson has now passed away, I think it's important to remember the victims and their families, because they are the ones who had justice denied. And I agree with Jeff that if you look at the evidence in this case, it was overwhelming, but you had so many different things at play here in terms of race specifically that allowed this jury to say not guilty and be comfortable with it.

So I don't think any of us will ever see anything like this again, because the audience now is so splintered, but this was truly a shared experience with some 140-, 150 million people watching that verdict live. You'll never see that again. This was really the first major televised trial where people were having a bird's eye view of everything that was going on and it was warts and all.

TOOBIN: And it's important as well ...

SCIUTTO: And by the way, around the world, I should note, I was in Tokyo at the time. I watched that slow speed car chase, around the world there were international viewers to this as well.

Sorry, Jeff, you had a thought.


TOOBIN: Well, I was just saying, as important as the courtroom experience was for the public, the even bigger legacy of this case is what happened on the day of the verdict, because everybody knew when the verdict was going to be announced and television stations all over the country had their cameras poised at audiences and you had racially different audiences.

You had large groups of black people, you had large groups of white people and you saw cheering on the largely black audiences and shock and horror in the white audiences. And it is rare in our experience today, fortunately it's rare, that we see racial differences displayed in such a transparent way as it was at that moment.

And it was a real education. It was certainly an education for me about how the criminal justice system is experienced by black people and white people in this country. And the verdict and those reactions was a tremendous eye-opening experience.

SCIUTTO: Laura, I was thinking earlier today, as I watched Bill Clinton's comments on the verdict afterwards, because he was acknowledging that the enormous division, and he was noting in the 30 years since civil rights legislation, many blacks in this country feel that they haven't made as much progress as they might have hoped, acknowledging that. And it struck me, that was 30 years before ...


SCIUTTO: It's been 30 years since then. Are those divisions as pronounced today, I think of the reaction to George Floyd's killing and the Black Lives Matter protests that was a equally national experience, one might argue. Are they as pronounced today? Has there been progress in some areas, not in others, what's your view?

COATES: I think it's morphed in a variety of different ways, but I do certainly think that Americans do see the world through the different lenses from their own perspectives, and race informs that in a very distinct way for so many people.

And when you look at particularly the justice system in America and the way in which the weight of the government is against an individual defendant, we talk right now at the cusp of this extraordinarily serious trial starting on Monday about this idea of the epiphany suddenly of a perhaps two-tiered justice system. That being political in some respects, but this idea of the wealthy and the non-wealthy, now the idea of race and otherwise, these have been issues that we've been grappling with as a nation since the justice system was developed.

And I think it's all the more informed today, but expanded because people have their own silos. They have their own echo chambers that reinforce how they already feel about an issue. But this showed that for a moment in time, everyone had the same Rorschach test, the same inkblot, and it was never the same conclusion.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the silo - the development of those silos, probably one of the biggest since then, right? You don't have that shared experience or the one place you go to experience news as it happens.

Laura Coates, thanks so much. Jeff Toobin and Jim Moret as well, good to have you all on tonight. And see you at 11 o'clock, Laura, for a special edition of "LAURA COATES LIVE" The Life and Death of O.J. Simpson. Again, that's 11 o'clock Eastern Time right here on CNN.

And next tonight, ESPN's Jeremy Schaap and his thoughts on Simpson's passing.

Later, only on 360, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan investigates the intersection of battles of abortion and the former president's support of what's been called a Christian nationalist movement on the right.



SCIUTTO: We spoke about this before the break, but it bears repeating, the O.J. Simpson chase happened at a place and a moment uniquely suited to make it unlike anything seen before or since. A place where news choppers were everywhere and a time when cell phones were just starting to become pervasive.

During that chase, Simpson, distraught, a gun to his head at times, spoke with LAPD detective Tom Lange. And here's one key moment.


LANGE: Are you there?

SIMPSON: Just let me get to my house.

LANGE: Okay, we're going to do that.

SIMPSON: I swear to you. I'll give you what - I'll give you me. I'll give you my whole body.

LANGE: Okay.

SIMPSON: I just need to get to my house. I just can't (INAUDIBLE) ...

LANGE: We're going to do that. Just throw the gun out the window.

SIMPSON: I can't do that.

LANGE: We're not going to bother you. We're going to let you go up there. Just throw it out the window. Please. You're scaring everybody.

Toss it, please. Too many people love you, man. Don't give it all up. Don't hurt everybody. You're going to hurt everybody.

SIMPSON: I'm just going to leave. I'm just going to go with Nicole.

LANGE: No, don't.

SIMPSON: That's all I'm going to do. That's all I'm trying to do.

LANGE: Hey, listen - think about everybody else.

SIMPSON: I just can't do it here on the freeway. I couldn't do it in the field. I went to do it at her grave. I want to do it at my house.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now, Jeremy Schaap, who covered the case for ESPN, where he currently hosts E:60 and Outside the Lines.

Jeremy, good to have you on tonight.

JEREMY SCHAAP: Thank you, Jim. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Bring us back.

SCHAAP: I was thinking about it as I was watching that video.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Bring us back to that moment.

SCHAAP: Yes, 30 years - I was in L.A. that day and I remember how surreal it was watching the chase as it was unfolding. I'd gotten to L.A. that morning. I'd been in Chicago for several days covering the story from Chicago, because Chicago is where O.J. Simpson flew the night of the murders.

SCIUTTO: Yes. SCHAAP: He had a meeting with Hertz executives and he was staying at the O'Hare Plaza Hotel. And so there was media in Chicago as investigators from Los Angeles came out to Chicago to interview witnesses, to collect evidence. And maybe it was the day before - two days before the chase. I don't remember, Jim, at this point. But how strange it was to be standing in a field somewhere near O'Hare Airport with all of these police officers and forensic specialists looking for the murder weapon in the field.

And then going out to L.A., and, of course, no one knew where he was for a period of several hours. And then I walked into a bar in downtown L.A. with a friend of mine, and the chase was up on the TV.


SCHAAP: In those days, there weren't giant TVs everywhere. It's like, what is that, and, oh, it's O.J. in that Bronco. What?


And I remember spending some time watching it and then walking the streets of L.A. And it was like something from the 1950s, when people listen to the World Series in their car radios, people were pulled over with their car radios on listening to the chase. It's - and then the helicopters, the dozens of them that were flying in the airspace in L.A. that night, following the chase, it was unbelievable.

SCIUTTO: Yes, there's something old and new about it at the same time, right? Old in the sense that you had the country experiencing it at once, which we so rarely do now, but new in that - there were some technologies there that were relatively new, the news choppers in the air, cell phones and so on.

I want to ask you this, because O.J. was what has become far more common today, right, a great athlete, who was also a pitchman in movies, their own - just everywhere, omnipresent. But he was, if not the first one, he was certainly one of the first who had that national commercial and sports profile.

SCHAAP: Right. O.J. Simpson was ubiquitous and he was especially notable as one of the first African-American athletes to make that kind of impact ...


SCHAAP: ... to be a pitchman for corporate America. He was the guy corporate America called to sell its products, to pitch its services. And that's one of the ironies here, too, right, Jim? Because the trial, everything that happened over the course of the next 18 months, so much of it, of course, was about race.

And O.J. was someone throughout his adult life who had run, in his own words, away from the issue of race.

SCIUTTO: Mm-hmm. SCHAAP: Who - the phrase was often used the O.J. transcended race, as if that was possible, right? But he was someone who was ubiquitous, who was beloved. There was this persona of approachability and friendliness and affability. And today I've been thinking about that the difference, right, the difference between the public O.J., the O.J. we thought we knew and the real O.J.

SCIUTTO: Yes, no question. And it's hard to think of a bigger fall from grace, certainly, in the world of athletes.

Jeremy Schaap, thanks so much for joining.

SCHAAP: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And just ahead, with the Arizona High Court's abortion decision becoming a major campaign topic, we're going to examine how some in the religious community have become alarmed at the former president's support of what's been called a Christian nationalist movement on the right. We're going to have the details next.



SCIUTTO: Tomorrow, Vice President Harris headlines a pro-abortion rally in Arizona three days after the Arizona Supreme Court authorized a near total ban on abortion. A decision that Biden campaign has spent much of this week tying to the former president and the overturn of Roe v. Wade by justices he appointed.

Even some state Republicans dislike it. Arizona Senate candidate and election denier Kari Lake who earlier praised the law said today it is, quote, "out of line" with where the people of this state are. Some religious conservatives in the party do support it most obviously, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy group that helped bring the Arizona case and whose stated goal is, quote, "keeping the doors open for the gospel."

They're an influential voice inside what some call a growing Christian national movement inside the Republican Party. Our Donie O'Sullivan has that story.


DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Your t-shirt says Jesus Christ '24.


O'SULLIVAN: Is he on the ballot?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not on the ballot, but Trump is so doggone close.

O'SULLIVAN: Do you believe America is a Christian country?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were founded on Christianity, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I still believe it's a Christian country.

O'SULLIVAN: Are you a Christian?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am and I don't like what's going on with what they're trying to do to us Christians.

O'SULLIVAN: What are they trying to do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, they're just trying to silence us.

O'SULLIVAN: Are Christians under attack?


O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): America's founding fathers intentionally separated church and state. But Trump and some of his most vocal supporters have tried to blur those lines.

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We are going to have one nation under God, which we must. We have to have one nation under God and one religion under God.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): This vision of America is known as Christian nationalism. A belief that America is a Christian nation and that Christianity deserves a privileged place in the American government.

O'SULLIVAN: What I'll hear at events is the founding fathers were Christian. America was built off Christian values.

REV. RICHARD SHAW, MILWAUKEE INNER-CITY CONGREGATIONS ALLIED FOR HOPE: Why then is Jesus nor Christianity mentioned in the Constitution?

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Trump has seized on Christian nationalism and is feeding into it. From speeches --

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are a nation that is hostile to liberty, freedom, faith, and even God.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): To hawking a $60 Bible.

TRUMP: I'm proud to endorse and encourage you to get this Bible.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): A Bible that includes the U. S. Constitution and lyrics of a Lee Greenwood song.


TRUMP: How any Christian can vote for a Democrat, Christian or person of faith, person of faith, how you can vote for a Democrat is crazy.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Trump is stoking fears that Christianity is under attack and only he can save it.

TRUMP: But no one will be touching the cross of Christ under the Trump administration.

SHAW: To use Christianity to control that if you don't see Christianity in Christ the way we see him, then you are not truly Christian. And if you're not truly Christian, then you're not truly American.


REV. JOSEPH JACKSON, MILWAUKEE INNER-CITY CONGREGATIONS ALLIED FOR HOPE: America is a country that has Christians, a part of it, Christian nationalism is not Christian at all.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Pastors Jackson, Jacobsen and Shaw are part of a campaign here in Milwaukee that is trying to fight back against Christian nationalism.

O'SULLIVAN: Why is Christian nationalism? In your view, such a threat?

SHAW: It's a threat because it's exclusive.

REV. DENNIS JACOBSEN, MILWAUKEE INNER-CITY CONGREGATIONS ALLIED FOR HOPE: Can you really, with a straight face, look at life, teachings, way, and death of Jesus, and line that up with the correlates of Christian nationalism, anti-Muslim, racist, anti-immigrant? I mean, it just doesn't work.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Polling shows Americans differ on the role of Christianity in government. A minority would support the government declaring Christianity the country's national religion.

JACOBSEN: You can't have a multicultural democracy and have a privileged religion. It doesn't work.

O'SULLIVAN: Do you think laws in this country, governments should be based on Christianity or is it just totally separate?

WAYNE CLATT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Definitely, we should put Christ back into the country where he belongs and the country would grow a lot stronger.

O'SULLIVAN: What does that look like, though, putting Christ back into the country?

CLATT: Put God back into the church, you know, put God back into the White House where he belongs.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): 44 percent of Americans say the Bible should have at least some influence on U.S. law.

O'SULLIVAN: Do you think, is America a Christian country?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believed that growing up I did.

O'SULLIVAN: Yes. Founded as a Christian country?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it was founded as a Christian country. O'SULLIVAN: But obviously in the Constitution there is that separation of church and state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, but then there's also, always, when I went to public school, we were allowed to pray.

O'SULLIVAN: When you say Christianity is under attack in America, you're talking about in the schools, the teaching of --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not so much in the schools, but just -- I just can't come up with anything right now. But I think the biggest thing is I just don't trust Joe Biden.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Some of these fears are fueled by misinformation.

TRUMP: And what the hell was Biden thinking when he declared Easter Sunday to be Trans Visibility Day?

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): International Transgender Visibility Day takes place every year on March 31st. This year, Easter Sunday also happened to fall on that day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think more that Christians are going to be discriminated against under Biden or a second term.

O'SULLIVAN: How -- what do you mean by that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By making yesterday, which was the worldwide Christian celebration of the resurrection, transgender day. That was quite a slap in the face.

O'SULLIVAN: I will just say that the days, they've had the Trans Awareness Day on the same date the past few years. It just happened that this year it fell on Easter Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for correcting me. I appreciate that.

O'SULLIVAN: So do you understand it better now?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I do. God loves transgenders and he wants them to come to him too.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): But not everyone is open to accepting facts. Some, including church leaders, are pushing lies about the election.

PASTOR GREG LOCKE: I'm to the place right now, if you vote Democrat, I don't even want you around this church. You can get out. You can get out, you demon. You can get out, you baby butchering, election thief. You cannot be a Christian and vote Democrat in this nation.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): And that is what worries these pastors. JACOBSEN: I think we are at risk of terrible violence, increasing violence in this country. And that the rhetoric that we're hearing, a lot of them from loud mouth mega preachers is leading us towards the possibility of no holds barred warfare. We really do think that democracy is at stake in this election.


O'SULLIVAN (on-camera): And look, Jim, most of the people, pretty much everybody we spoke to at that Trump rally, they believe that Christianity has a special place in American society, in American politics, but they were very much for freedom of religion. They don't necessarily get in the way of anybody else's rights.

But what you see in that piece there is that there's leaders in this movement that are trying to take advantage of people's Christianity, of their patriotism for the United States and weaponize it in this political way. And I can tell you, we've spoken to lots of pastors across the country. They are really, really concerned about this.

Look, Trump's flirtation and appeal to evangelicals is nothing new. But especially over COVID and everything like that, a lot of pastors have seen their flock, their congregants leaving to these more extremist churches and they're worried.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And then there's the demonizing literally and figuratively of the other side.

O'SULLIVAN (on-camera): Yes.

SCIUTTO: Donie O'Sullivan, thanks so much.

O'SULLIVAN (on-camera): Thanks.


SCIUTTO: Coming up, breaking news, new details on what the former president wants to discuss during his first ever news conference alongside House Speaker Mike Johnson, that's tomorrow at Mar-a-Lago.


SCIUTTO: Breaking news now on that first ever news conference tomorrow between the former president and the embattled House Speaker, Mike Johnson, is taking place at the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate.

Kristen Holmes joins us now with new reporting on what exactly they're going to discuss in that press conference. We understand, Kristen, you have new reporting. What are they going to say?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. So I'm told by a senior Trump adviser that they're going to use this as a, quote unquote, "opportunity" to draw attention to what they say are state proposals and lawsuits that would ultimately allow non-citizens to vote in elections. Now to be very clear, there is a federal law that bans non-citizens from voting in elections. This is not a common problem, but it has become somewhat of a rallying cry for Republicans.


Donald Trump has gone as far to say that Democrats want undocumented immigrants coming into the country because they think it will help them in the election in 2024. But it allows Republicans to link this idea of elections, which has really become a pet issue for them to the very real and concerning issue to voters' issue of immigration using really fear tactics to say that these people are registering again to vote so that they can impact the election.

And I do want to say, there are a little bit of nuances here. We know that in some cities across the country they have allowed non-citizens to vote in non-federal elections, something like the school board, for example. But this is not some kind of widespread problem. However, we are seeing Republicans paint it as such.

Now, we are also told they are going to use this opportunity to relitigate the 2020 election, which both of them tried back in 2020 to overturn the results of their billing this as a press conference, Jim. And it's unclear whether or not they're actually going to take questions. However, I am told by Trump advisers they expect them to take questions. That does not always mean that they actually take questions, though.

SCIUTTO: To your point, it sounds like not one, but two misleading arguments they intend to make tomorrow.

Kristen Holmes, thanks so much.

Well, Republican insiders tonight are quietly at odds with their standard bearer over another non-existent threat, and that is fraud with mail-in voting. Sara Murray has that story.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the GOP's election skeptics, this is a hard sell.

MICHAEL WHATLEY, RNC CHAIRMAN: In the states where ballot harvesting is legal, we are going to ballot harvest. Where the -- where states have the universal mail-in voting, we are going to run a universal mail-in voting program.

MURRAY (voice-over): Especially when the man atop the ticket can't stop bashing vote by mail.

TRUMP: We have to get rid of mail-in ballots.

If you have mail-in voting, you automatically have fraud.

Mail-in voting is totally corrupt. MURRAY (voice-over): Republican officials are trying to walk a tightrope appease Donald Trump by pursuing efforts to curtail the process while at the same time convincing the base to bank votes early.

LARA TRUMP, RNC CO-CHAIR: If we want to compete and win, we must embrace early voting.

MURRAY (voice-over): Despite that embrace, the Republican National Committee is also involved in a flurry of legal challenges, making it harder for those early votes to count, according to a CNN analysis of dozens of those lawsuits.

WHATLEY: We filed 80 lawsuits already in '24 different states to make sure that we've got good rules on the road.

MURRAY (voice-over): In Pennsylvania, the RNC and other groups have succeeded in having ballots tossed with a missing or incorrect date on the envelope. In Ohio, Georgia, and Florida, the GOP is defending restrictions on ballot drop boxes. Even in New York, a blue bastion, Republicans are challenging a major vote by mail expansion enacted last year.

WHATLEY: We want this to be the biggest, most proactive election integrity campaign ever.

MURRAY (voice-over): The lawsuits are partly to placate Trump, who emerged from his 2020 defeat refusing to accept he had lost and instead complaining he lacked the legal firepower needed to win election challenges to keep him in the White House.

And while GOP officials insist Trump is coming around.

WHATLEY: The president has been very consistent lately, right? What he has said is that, that we would like ultimately there to only be voting on election day, but that's not the law.

MURRAY (voice-over): His harsh criticism has made it harder for battleground state Republicans to catch up to Democrats advantage with early voters.

TOM EDDY, GOP CHAIRMAN, ERIE COUNTY, PA: Hi, my name is Tom Eddy, and I'm the chairman of the Erie County Republican Party. I'd like to talk to my fellow Republicans about voting by mail-in ballot.

MURRAY (voice-over): In Swing County, Erie, Pennsylvania, Eddy asked Trump's team ahead of a local rally last summer to please have the candidate mention he supports mail-in ballots.

EDDY: I went to the rally, I'm sitting behind him and he starts talking about voting. And I thought, oh boy, here it comes.

MURRAY (voice-over): No such luck.

TRUMP: I will fully secure our elections, very importantly. And our goal will be one day voting with only paper ballots. EDDY: I think if Donald Trump just says, I accept mail-in ballots, especially here in Pennsylvania and here in Erie County, that will turn a lot of people around to say, OK, if he accepts it, I'll accept it.


SCIUTTO: Listen, I mean, it's amazing to watch. It's part of a continuing effort to undermine the results of the 20 -- undermine (ph) confidence in the results of the 2020 election. But have GOP officials expressed frustration about the president's rhetoric on this?

MURRAY (on-camera): I think there is some frustration because they want to win. But when you also talk to these local GOP officials, they understand they don't love mail-in ballots either. But they're saying, look, if we want to change the laws, if we want to change the rules, we need to actually win elections.

SCIUTTO: There you have it. That's how democracy works, or should.

Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Still ahead, gunfire hits a UNICEF aid convoy, leaving bullet holes in one vehicle. Thankfully, no one was injured, but much needed supplies for the children of Gaza could not get there to where they're needed.


I'm going to speak with a UNICEF spokesperson who was part of that convoy. What she has to say about the dangerous situation and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, that's next.


SCIUTTO: UNICEF, the U.N. agency that helps children, says one of its vehicles came under fire on Wednesday while waiting to enter northern Gaza. Thankfully, no one was injured. Here is UNICEF's Tess Ingram who joins us in just a moment and was part of that convoy.


TESS INGRAM, UNICEF COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST: Active shooting broke out in the area. Our car was hit by a few bullets.

We've just got back and there's some pretty clear bullet hits here and another one here along the window and a few others.



SCIUTTO: This came 10 days after seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen were killed in what Israeli officials call a mistakenly targeted military strike. Aid agencies are reporting dire needs in Gaza. And yesterday on Capitol Hill, Samantha Power, America's top humanitarian official, said, yes, when asked if famine was already occurring in Gaza.

UNICEF's Tess Ingram joins me now with more. Tess, it's good to have you. Can you walk us through what exactly happened? As I understand it, you are on a coordinated aid mission yesterday in northern Gaza. What happened next?

INGRAM: So, as you say, it was a coordinated mission. We planned in advance. We have UNRWA and UNICEF colleagues together trying to bring nutrition, supplies, medical supplies and 10,000 liters of fuel for water points in the north of Gaza.

We travel north, we're heading towards the Wadi Gaza checkpoint when we're instructed to hold at a waiting area, which is just south of the checkpoint. And this is a designated area where U.N. convoys often have to wait.

While we're there, gunfire breaks out in the vicinity. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the checkpoint from the north, and it seemed to be aimed at civilians who were in the area who then turned and ran away from the checkpoint.

We were just to the west of them. We were three cars and two trucks, and one of our cars, the car that I was in, was hit by three bullets. Two on my door, one on the window, one on the door, and one on the hood of the car. So this is obviously an incident that should not be happening on a coordinated mission in a designated area where we have been instructed to wait let alone at all. Jim?

SCIUTTO: I wonder in those circumstances, you coordinate in advance. So you're communicating with the IDF, they know where you're going, why you're going there. You stay in the designated areas. In the midst of this gunfire, did you have any ability to call the IDF and say, hey, wait a second. We're caught in the middle of this.

INGRAM: The lead convoy was an UNWRA vehicle and our security colleagues at the front there. I know that they were in contact with Israel during this incident or in the wake of it. I'm not sure if they were able to do it immediately during the fire because it was so sudden and quite rapid.

SCIUTTO: Has the IDF reached out provided any explanation, a, as to what happened here or responded to your questions?

INGRAM: No, UNICEF and other parties in the U.N. have reached out to the relevant Israeli authorities, but we're yet to receive a response. And the response that we're really seeking, Jim, is that this won't happen again. Just seven, eight days after the World Central Kitchen incident to have something like this happen when the dialogue has been so much about preventing incidents like this, especially on coordinated missions. That's what we're after.

SCI spoke to you last week just after that deadly strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy. I asked you if you trusted then the IDF's pronouncements that it would keep aid convoys safe. You told me then you didn't. And I wonder how you feel now following this incident. INGRAM: Look, I think that it's clear that the system that is meant to protect humanitarian aid workers in the Gaza Strip is very broken. And what we need is that system to be repaired with urgency so that more incidents like this don't keep happening, not just to us, but to civilians as well.

SCIUTTO: Has -- have there been any changes in the last week? Because I spoke with senior IDF officials as well in the wake of the World Central Kitchen attack. They said that changes were coming, right? They acknowledged responsibility. They said changes were coming.

There's some discussion of putting this reflective tape on the vehicles, evade convoys, so it could be easily spotted from the air. Have you seen any measures like that taken?

INGRAM: I can't speak for the whole U.N. or humanitarian community, but at UNICEF, no, we haven't seen a difference. We don't have that tape on our vehicles. We had this mission that was coordinated and we still ran into this dangerous incident and extended delays that ultimately prevented us from completing the mission and taking these important lifesaving supplies to the children that need them.

So no one, we haven't seen change yet, and it's really needed urgently to make sure that hopefully as more trucks come in, as has been promised, that we're able to distribute that because these two things really go hand in hand, the delivery and the distribution.

SCIUTTO: No question. So before we go, you mentioned that aid. What happens to that aid? Will it get delivered?

INGRAM: We're hoping so. Despite the incident, we're going to try again hopefully this weekend. We're putting in another coordination request because it's just too important to give up. We've got treatment that we know can help the malnourished children in the north of Gaza, and we desperately want to get it up there.

SCIUTTO: Well, Tess, thanks so much for your time, for joining us. And as I said, last time, we spoke -- please keep yourself and your team as safe as you can.

INGRAM: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I'm Jim Sciutto. The news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.