Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

U.S. Says Russia has Added 7,000 Troops along Ukraine Border, Despite Claims of Pullback; Three Charged in New York Abduction; Mail- In Ballots and Applications Rejected As Texas Early Voting Begins; FAA: Nearly 500 Unruly Passenger Incidents Reported In First Six Weeks Of 2022; Oldest Member Of Team USA Finally Wins Olympic Medal. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 16, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: These young people were all about 17 years old and they're singing a song called, "There is Hope." And if you look here, you can see their t-shirts, they read: "I am Ukraine. I love freedom." A sentiment we are hearing from so many here.

Thanks so much for joining us. AC 360 starts now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Russian justifications for attacking Ukraine are phony, Russian military preparations on the other hand are real and growing.

John Berman here, in for Anderson. That is the double-barreled warning tonight on an off camera from the Biden administration. Beware of what Russia says, keep an eye on what it is doing, as in pumping more troops into the region, 7,000 more in recent days, according to a senior administration official just before airtime. This puts the total north of the 150,000 figure President Biden used just yesterday. In other words, not the pullback Russia has been talking about.

"The New York Times" tonight quoting a senior administration official as saying: "They received a lot of attention for that claim both here and around the world, but we now know it was false." In other words, they were lying.

Another ominous sign, this tactical bridge and a series of approach roads under construction in Belarus just four miles from the Ukraine border and just a short drive from there to Kyiv. A source in a position to know tell CNN that Russia is building bridges, field hospitals, and other support infrastructure, which is why in this source's words, "We aren't really taking seriously their claims to de- escalation," something the administration echoed on camera as well.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: To be very, very clear, we have not seen that. In fact, we have seen the opposite. In recent weeks, and even in recent days, more Russian forces, not fewer are at the border and they are moving, concerningly, into fighting positions. This is cause for profound concern. At the same time and as we've warned previously, over the past several

weeks, we've also seen Russian officials and Russian media plant numerous stories in the press, any one of which could be elevated to serve as a pretext for an invasion.


BERMAN: Those stories he went on to say could involve bogus claims of Ukrainian military activity in the Donbas, false reports of U.S. or NATO activities, and especially the phony claims of genocide in the Donbas, which we've already seen.

Again, tonight, we have reporting from the key locations at the White House, CNN's Kaitlan Collins; in Kyiv, CNN's Clarissa Ward; and in Moscow, former CNN bureau chief there, Jill Dougherty.

Kaitlan, I want to start with you. The administration warns that there is no sign of de-escalation from Moscow with forces moving into fighting positions. What more can you tell us about these new troop numbers and this new bridge construction?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, yesterday officials, including President Biden himself were skeptical of the Russian claims that they were partially drawing down some of those troops that they've amassed on Ukraine's border.

And now today, they are outright saying, it's not true. And not only are they not drawing down troops. They are adding troops by the thousands, putting that number about 7,000 above the 150,000 figure that President Biden cited yesterday, which was already an increase in what U.S. officials had been saying.

And so, they said that they are adding these to the Ukrainian border and in recent days, as recently as today, they saw some of these troops moving and so on those Russian claims, they're saying every indication we now have is that they mean to only publicly offer to talk and make claims about de-escalation, while privately mobilizing for war.

And, John, it's not just that these numbers that we are seeing tonight, we're also seeing some construction happening. If you look at some satellite images that came out today showing bridges that are being built, roads that are being built that were not there previously, which obviously would make it easier for Russia if they did want to invade Ukraine, including one part in Belarus. It is about four miles outside of Ukraine.

And so if they were to go forward, this is something that Russia would do and that officials have talked about that it would be in the lead up to an invasion.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, that bridge people are looking at right now, that did not exist a few days ago. So Kaitlan, just to be clear, this U.S. official essentially says Russia was lying -- lying when they said they were drawing down. COLLINS: Yes, point blank, and I think it's really notable they came

out this morning, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken come out and say, we haven't seen any signs of this, no meaningful de-escalation, and tonight, they are saying that the Russians are lying when they say that they are drawing down.

BERMAN: All right, Clarissa, to you in Kyiv. CNN has some exclusive reporting that Ukrainian military intelligence says that Russian troop levels not enough for a full-scale invasion. What more can you tell us about that?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, this is interesting, John, because essentially, Ukrainian Intelligence was, you know, roughly on the same page with the U.S. in terms of the number of troops at the time, this -- you know, when CNN had access to reading this, this morning, it was 148,000 was the Ukrainian estimate. This is before the 7,000 that the U.S. has now said they believe are also present on that border.

But their understanding of what those 148,000 troops would be capable of doing seems to dramatically differ from what the U.S. is saying.


WARD: Essentially, Ukrainian Intelligence sources saying that they do not believe that this would be enough for a large-scale invasion.

Now, it's important for our viewers to understand, John, that this has to be taken in the broader context of a general rift that we've really seen between the U.S. and Ukraine, whereby Ukraine really wants to row back the dialogue or rhetoric around this idea of a full-scale invasion, simply put, because it is having a destabilizing effect on the country, primarily economically, they don't want people here to panic. They don't want to see foreign investment being taken out of the country.

And because they see all these current acts of destabilization at the hands of Russia, whether it be cyberattacks, whether it be misinformation that are already having a pernicious effect. And so, they resent, I think, it would be fair to say, this kind of exclusive focus on this idea of a full scale invasion, because they see so many different permutations of Russian aggression that they are dealing with on a daily basis.

So interesting to see that while some of that intelligence lines up exactly with the U.S., how they're interpreting it appears to be quite different -- John.

BERMAN: Indeed. All right, Jill, to you in Moscow, Secretary Blinken today said that Vladimir Putin, quote, "could pull the trigger," but underscored that the U.S. remains committed to trying to pursue diplomacy. He said, the ball was in Russia's court.

So give us a sense of what is going on in that court tonight. What's the latest from the Kremlin at this hour? And how's it being framed in Russian media there? JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: You know, I think

there is a bit of, let's say, deliberate confusion, which can sometimes, you know, work in President Putin's favor. But I do have to tell you, I've been watching Russian TV, again, a number of channels tonight -- and I think it's interesting, because remember, these are channels that are speaking to Russian citizens.

So what's the message? And number one, was today, the 16th was supposed to be the attack, the attack that never came, and there was high mockery on all of the channels. In fact, there was one where it was an old piece of video from a comedy show where the anchor says, "And we're on the scene of where nothing happened. Sir, can you tell us you know, what did you see? Well, nothing." So it was literally on that level.

They are savaging Western officials, including the head of NATO, and senior U.S.-European officials, by calling them in some cases, stupid or even mentally ill. Sanctions, they say, the countries that invoked sanctions shoot themselves in the foot.

And then I would also say heavy emphasis on the "propaganda" in quotes coming from the West. And in fact, tonight on one show, this is a talk show, but this is how a lot of Russians gather news, information, special operations, and brainwashing.

But I do, John, there is one very interesting thing. On one of these shows, the head of RT, which we know quite well, Margarita Simonyan said that it seemed to me that she was beginning to kind of prepare the ground for the argument, Putin got something out of this. And what she said was, at least they are listening to us and beginning to talk with us. And then she added, maybe something will happen. But she said, she is skeptical.

So there were -- you know, when we look at how they are framing it, I think it's very important to see what they are telling the Russian people.

BERMAN: That is really interesting. It's all a sham, but maybe Putin has already won. They're spinning right now.

Kaitlan, from the White House, what is the administration's next move? What are you seeing behind the scenes?

COLLINS: Well, they are basically warning about what Jill was just talking about, saying to expect more false reports in Russian state media in the coming days, maybe a pretext that they have talked about basically creating a situation where Russia could attempt to justify an invasion.

And they listed off several false reports. They said all of the ones, the rumors that they have heard are false, they are not true, and that they do expect Russia to maybe float those or other situations in coming days that are not true in order to create a pretext to invade.

And so, they are very much saying the threat is just as real today as it was several days ago when they were warning about how imminent it could be. And the fact that you heard Secretary Blinken say today that a trigger could be pulled today, it could be pulled tomorrow, it could be pulled next week.

So if you look at what officials are saying here at the White House, they are speaking in very blunt language and they are trying to basically offer a heads up of what to expect from Russia in the coming days as they deliberately try to sow confusion about what moves they're making.

BERMAN: This is all so fascinating. I hope people appreciate the different reporting from these locations and how information is being used in multiple ways from multiple sources.

And Clarissa, to that point, President Zelensky of Ukraine, he made remarks today in the eastern part of the country on what he declared to be Ukraine's Day of National Unity. So what was his message?


WARD: Yes, so it was interesting, John, he had joked that this was supposed to be the day of the invasion, but he was going to make it a Day of National Unity, and the message was very much one of defiance. He was up near the Belarusian border watching military exercises, then he was down in the southeast in the city of Mariupol, which is just about 25 miles away from the Russian border. It is one of the places that would likely be the first to know if there was any kind of a Russian incursion, especially if they were trying to create some kind of a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula.

And his message was definitely one of defiance: We won't be intimidated by our enemies. But let's be very clear here. Ukraine fully understands what Russia is capable of. I think they see a lot of the ominous signs, not just in terms of the troop buildup, but in terms of the rhetoric about a genocide taking place in Donbas; in terms of the Russian Parliament, the Lower House of Parliament, the Duma, putting forward this bill for Putin to approve that would officially recognize these pro-Russian separatists' areas as being independent.

And they understand that he has multiple levers here by which he can implement Russian influence and aggression, either by force, either by misinformation, also through cyberattacks, as we had mentioned, as well. So they are concerned, absolutely -- John.

BERMAN: So Jill Dougherty, you mentioned that the head of RT is maybe doing some pre-spin here that Vladimir Putin has already gotten what he wanted out of this. To what extent is that true? To what extent, you know, if no further Russians crossed the border in Ukraine, and of course, there are some there already, has Vladimir Putin succeeded to some extent anyway?

DOUGHERTY: Well, that I think depends on what side of the border you're on. You know, for Russians, which is very important for President Putin. I think they can begin to make a case. I mean, it's very early in the game, actually, to say who won here, but I think they can domestically -- internationally, I think they have real problem.

I mean, this is not looking good, and if you look at all of the European countries are in, you know, agreement, that what Russia is doing is wrong, so I think we have to see, ultimately what President Putin does, but so far, I don't think it's working in their favor.

BERMAN: I have to say the messaging war in full force tonight, what a great discussion. Jill Dougherty, Clarissa Ward, Kaitlan Collins, thank you all very much.

Some additional perspective now, especially on these military developments and what to make of them. Joining us for that, retired Army four-star General Wesley Clark. He is a CNN military analyst and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

General, you heard the reports of 7,000 additional troops now at the border that were not there a couple of days ago, does that increase the likelihood in your mind of a Russian invasion?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely. And it also is increased by the fact that the Russians are lying about it. So the fact that they are lying, as they're increasing the force strength gives me a greater strength in my conviction that they are preparing to go in. This is a sort of typical disinformation that would come prior to an attack, and the Russians are masters at it.

And let's not anybody be surprised when Russians lie. They do it consistently.

What they say is propaganda in 90 percent of the cases, and so we just have to understand that about when we're listening to this, it's not real news. It's what they want us to believe.

But I do think the announcement that the Biden administration has made of the 7,000 troops, and I think the pictures of that bridge building, it is really important because we're still in the information war stage of this operation. We've got to make sure the world understands what is going to happen, what could happen and that we are not caught by surprise.

This is no surprise. We have strategic warning of this.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, what people are looking at on the screen right now is this bridge just four miles from Ukraine's border presumably to move armored vehicles. Across it was not there a couple of days ago, it is now there.

So in combination with that General Clark, I just want to ask you again, because it seems to me that you are saying that you really do think at this point, Russia will further invade.

CLARK: Yes, I think the odds are much better than 50/50 to go in. When I hear the Ukrainian military say, well, they don't have enough full strength there for complete invasion. Okay. Okay. I understand that. You know, when we went into Iraq in 2003, we didn't have enough forces for a full occupation of Iraq. [20:15:05]

CLARK: All of us in the military knew we need 300,000 or 400,000 or 500,000 people to really occupy the country. We went in with less than 100,000 combat troops. We did a whole lot of damage and we got to Baghdad in three weeks.

So they've got a lot more than that sitting on the border and right behind the border facing Ukraine, and they've got a much easier topography and they're much closer. So they've got plenty of combat power to do a lot of damage, especially when they -- if they strike first with hypersonic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft that take out Ukraine's air defense and command and control facilities.

So the Ukrainian people understand they are already at war. They've been at war for eight years with Russia. The cyberattack today is further confirmation of this, so I think the administration is exactly right. There is still room for diplomacy. We don't want Putin to do this.

We hope he will come to his senses and not pull the final trigger. But all indications are that they're getting ready and it looks like all the propaganda is coming there to point toward military action.

BERMAN: General Wesley Clark, a sobering discussion, but we do appreciate your perspective and your experience. Thank you very much.

CLARK: Thank you.

BERMAN: Next, a little girl, found thank goodness, two and a half years after being abducted, hidden away, kept out of school and discovered in a cramped space under a staircase. Her extraordinary story and abduction survivor Elizabeth Smart on what she is facing in the days and months ahead.



BERMAN: Tonight, a devastating story with what we hope is a positive conclusion. All we can say is, thank goodness, a six-year-old girl is now safe with what we pray will be a lifetime of better memories ahead of her.

Late today, her parents and grandfather, none of whom were entitled to legal custody of her appeared in Court to face child endangerment and other charges. They will be back in Court in the coming weeks.

This all came to light yesterday in a town in New York's Hudson River Valley just a few miles from Woodstock.

More from CNN's Miguel Marquez.


ANNETTE WROLSEN, NEIGHBOR: I'm just shocked because they seem like just regular people.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Neighbors stunned after a little girl missing for two and a half years is found alive and well, located in what police described as a secret hiding spot.

CHIEF JOSEPH SINAGRA, SAUGERTIES POLICE: It was intentionally built that way. It was apparent that that location had been used on more than just that occasion.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Paislee Shultis, now six, disappeared from Cayuga Heights, New York where she was living with her legal guardian in July of 2019. Monday night, she was founded this home in the small town of Saugerties, about 160 miles east of Cayuga Heights, where her biological parents Kimberly Cooper-Shultis in Kirk Shultis, Jr. live.

Police say the couple does not have legal custody of Paislee and that officers had been to the same home roughly a dozen times since she was reported missing but were never allowed in the basement or bedroom areas.

SINAGRA: The majority of the time, the interaction between the homeowners and the police was adversarial and not on our part. They were upset, they accused us of harassing them.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Then Monday, acting on a tip, police got a search warrant and went to the house. That's when they say an officer noticed something weird about the staircase.

SINAGRA: He just said it was something he couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something about the staircase that bothered him and he uses a flashlight to look between the crack of one of the stairs, and he sees actually where the stair meets the riser and he sees what he believes to be a blanket and as they are removing the steps off the staircase, they see a set of feet, little feet they discovered that it was Paislee.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Police say they also found Kimberly Cooper Shultis hiding inside this wet, dark, and cramped secret area under a stairwell.

WROLSEN: I just feel sick to my stomach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Under a staircase.

WROLSEN: Dumbfounded because my granddaughter has been over there playing and everything and I just figured they were just normal people.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The couple were arrested and charged with her disappearance, so was Paislee's grandfather, Kirk Shultis, Sr.

Police believe Paislee had been living there since she disappeared.


BERMAN: Miguel Marquez joins us now. Miguel, did the police say anything about the condition of a little girl when she was rescued?

MARQUEZ: Yes, she was in pretty good shape. She was quiet at first and then got upset. But look, there were a lot of police in the house. They were heavily armed. They were heavily clad with gears, so that may have been a concern. But they did check her out.

They say that the good bit here is that there was no sign of abuse. Tonight, she is with her legal guardian and her older sister. The police also say look, for the last two years she hasn't been able to go to school. She hasn't been able to see a doctor, so it is not clear how much long-term trauma she may have suffered -- John.

BERMAN: I hope she gets the help she needs. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

Perspective now from Elizabeth Smart, she was abducted at age 14 and held captive for nine months. She is now an advocate for Child Safety in abduction survivors.

Elizabeth, thanks so much for joining us tonight. So the circumstances of what happened with you are obviously so different to what happened to the little girl here in New York. But can you share with us what she might be going through right now especially as she tries to you know, reenter the outside world.

ELIZABETH SMART, FOUNDER, ELIZABETH SMART FOUNDATION: I can only imagine she is going through so much confusion, and I would feel instability as well. I mean, going from a situation she was into the situation that she hopefully now is in. I mean, I imagine it would be vastly different.

And then going forward, of course, this is happening at such an early age in her life. I'm very hopeful that she will have every chance for happiness and a wonderful life in the future. But still going forward can be very daunting, being recognized for something that you had no control over, for something that you wouldn't have picked, you wouldn't have chosen, for something that you wouldn't want to be recognized for and that could be very difficult, especially as she enters school and as she begins to get older.


SMART: There are many things that I can imagine for her would be uncomfortable. I am not intimately aware of all the details of her case. I mean, I was not a part of the investigation, but other children who maybe only have part of the story or don't understand everything, oftentimes can say things and not meaning to be cruel or mean, but it can be very hurtful being on the receiving ends of those kinds of remarks.

BERMAN: So the local Police Chief said the officers that visited the house, the officers did visit the house almost a dozen times over two years and they didn't see her on any of those visits. Now, in your situation, you were approached by a police officer while you were in captivity and not rescued in that moment.

So what was that like? Is it even possible to explain what that's like?

SMART: That's a great question. And honestly, it's one that I've spent a lot of time thinking about, and going back and thinking about my own experience, and really trying to analyze how I felt. And for me, when I think back to the few times that we were approached by individuals or by police officers, it almost went to cement in my mind that my captors were invincible, that they could get away with anything.

And for this little girl, I mean, she was even much younger than I was when I was kidnapped, and I mean to see or to understand what was going on, I mean, that would be very scary. I mean, that would feel like I'm never getting out of here. You know, I will always be a captive, I'll always have to hide.

I would imagine that would lead to thoughts of self-doubt. I mean, why am I being hidden? What did I do wrong? Why don't people like me? It might also lead to thoughts of, well, am I -- why can't the police find me? They can't find me. Will they ever find me? Will they ever rescue me?

Do I have something to be embarrassed or ashamed of? Did I do something wrong?

BERMAN: It's just horrible even to think of that. But Elizabeth, in your book, you talk about how your captors, they gave you a fake backstory to tell police, essentially to lie to them. And when this girl was found, the officers said, she seemed mistrustful of them.

You've done so much work with so many survivors. Is that a common goal for kidnappers?

SMART: You do everything you have to, to survive. And if that's you know, lying to the police, because she had two years to essentially be groomed into believing that maybe the police were bad or that they weren't capable of finding her. That's a long time and that's a lot of fear to live with.

So I would understand completely why she wouldn't be trustful and certainly, that is a common theme that I've met among other survivors and people who have experienced -- I mean, not even just you know, sexual abuse, but domestic abuse, really any victim of abuse, I feel like it is a common trait to be mistrustful of others.

BERMAN: So for the people in her life who were searching for her for two years, you know, such a long time in a child's life. How important is hope? You know, in your situation, your family never lost hope.

SMART: It's huge. I think that's the difference between life and death. I mean, that's the difference between, you know, being able to move forward and have a happy life or being caught and reliving in the past.

I think hope makes all the difference in the world and I have hope for this young girl. I mean, she is -- she is very young, and it sounds like she does have a support network around her and she, you know, is with her older sister now and she recognized her, and she knew who she was.

And so I have a lot of hope actually that she will be able to move forward and she will be able to have a happy life.

BERMAN: Elizabeth Smart, you've really given us an important perspective tonight and you've helped so many people over the years. I really appreciate everything you've done. Thank you.

SMART: Thank you.

BERMAN: Up next, you've heard about the laws going into place changing the way people register to vote and other new hurdles they have to clear. We are getting our first look at how it actually might play out, the difficulties voters in Texas are experiencing just for the chance to vote by mail-in the nation's first 2022 primary races. How it could be a sign of things to come across the country.

Details when we come back.



BERMAN: Early voting started this week in Texas for the March 1st primary, the first one in the country this year. Voters will be choosing who they want on the November ballot for U.S. Congressional seats governor and other statewide races. This is the first test of the state's new voting laws, one of the more than a dozen states to change the rules following the 2020 election and the former president's false claims of fraud. And in Texas, thousands of voters are facing problems as they try to get a mail-in ballot and make sure their vote is counted.

Reporting from Texas tonight, here's CNN's Dianne Gallagher.


PAM GASKIN, TEXAS VOTER: I have been a voting rights activist for a long time. I have registered voters in this county for 25 years. I'm angry. I am -- I'm righteously angry.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After decades of helping others make a plan to vote. A controversial new election law landed 74-year-old Pam Gaskin in unfamiliar territory. Her mail ballot application was denied not once, but twice.

GASKIN: I am Pam Gaskin, you know, super voter. How could this happen?

GALLAGHER (voice-over): First, Fort Bend County had yet to update applications under the new law, which now requires voters to add their Texas driver's license or partial social security number to the application, which is what Gaskin did in her second attempt. But there's a catch.

GASKIN: The law says it has to be the number that was on your eyes -- on your application when you registered to vote. GALLAGHER (on camera): When did you register to vote?

GASKIN: Forty-six years ago in this county.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Because she wrote her valid license number but had registered with her social the application was rejected.

KENNETH THOMPSON, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: People are not going to vote.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): Ninety-five-year-old, World War II Two veteran Kenneth Thompson's valid application was also denied twice. In 1940s Harris County he didn't use either number to register so no match.

In Texas, only a person who is over 65, disabled or out of the county can vote by mail. But days before the application deadline, there are thousands of rejections across the entire state, all political parties. And this isn't the only problem.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): A tight timeline to implement changes means less training and voter education, says Harris County Election administrator Isabelle and Gloria, 14% of mail ballot applications there have been rejected over ID issues so far.

LONGORIA: We're still getting emails on all these tweaks in the laws. And what we're leading to now is a higher than usual, almost double rejection of mail ballot applications.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But now the actual ballots are also being flagged and returned across the state. Nearly 40% so far in Harris County, overwhelmingly due to the new ID requirements, which voters need to write again in a space under the flap on the external ballot return envelope. There's so much confusion, she's doubled staffing at phone banks.

LONGORIA: We got 8,000 calls in January alone 5,000 of which were about mail-in ballot -- voting.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Texas is one of 19 states that passed restrictive voting legislation in 2021.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT, (R-TX): Now let's make this final.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But before Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill One into law late last year, activists warned lawmakers about potential snares like ID match and complicated envelopes.

SARAH LABOWITZ, POLICY & ADVOCACY DIRECTOR, ACLU OF TEXAS: The challenges that we're seeing now are a feature of SB1 of the voting law, not above.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The Secretary of State's office telling CNN in a statement, our office has been working as quickly and diligently as possible within a compressed timeframe to provide guidance to both election officials and voters on changes to the voting process in Texas.

For Gaskin, the long journey is almost complete. An online ballot tracker now required under the new law says hers has been received.

GASKIN: Twenty-eight days, three attempts, success. What worries me is that everybody is not as tenacious as I am. They're not going to stick with it.


BERMAN: That's a lot of work. Dianne Gallagher joins us now from Houston. Dianne, as you mentioned, early in person voting started this week in Texas. What more are you learning about how that's going?

GALLAGHER: Now, John, that's yet another element to this new restrictive voting law in Texas. And what activist were already out here, they say they have additional volunteers to monitor what happens because that law added an increase in the empowerment of those partisan poll watchers as well as their access here at the polls. And the concern is especially in this extremely charged environment, when it comes to elections right now that could lead to further intimidation of voters and potentially even election workers or volunteers.

Now, one thing that Administrator Longoria wanted to make clear is that when a ballot is returned to someone who has mail and trying to vote by mail, they likely have a chance to correct it, but they have to do it by the deadline. And again, John, part of the issue for so many people is that it's just adding additional hurdles, additional steps, more paperwork and red tape for somebody who's simply trying to vote.

BERMAN: Safe voting does not have to be hard voting. Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much for that report. Appreciate it.

Up next, as airlines struggle with unruly passengers. We've got the latest on growing calls to put the offenders on a national no fly list and the objections to it, when "360" continues.



BERMAN: Outrageous growing as airlines are sounding the alarm on a growing number of unruly passenger incidents. According to the FAA, nearly 500 incidents were reported in the first six weeks of this year. And now some airlines are calling on the Justice Department to take action despite pushback from some lawmakers.

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Faced with a man trying to open the door of an American Airlines flight, court documents say the flight group turned to a coffee pot to subdue him. Police have now charged 50-year-old Juan Romberto Rivas with interfering with a flight attendant. This as even more unruly airline passengers are facing federal punishment.

The FAA is now handing 43 cases to the Department of Justice. So it can bring charges against those accused of assaulting fellow passengers and flight crews both physically and in some cases sexually. If found guilty, they could face jail time.

SARA NELSON, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: The flight attendants who are working these flights have been punched, kicked, spit on, disrespected and constantly under assault.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants says the numbers are off the charts. The now 80 total cases referred to the Justice Department make up only 1% of the 6,480 incidents reported by flight crew since the start of last year.

NELSON: Until we have people actually landing in jail and understanding that there's real consequences for acting out on a flight, we're not going to see these incidents go down.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Airlines have asked the Justice Department to keep unruly passengers from boarding flights in the first place. A move eight Republican senators say should be up to Congress to decide. In a new letter they insist most unruly passenger incidents are related to the federal transportation mask mandate. They say, creating a federal no fly list for unruly passengers who are skeptical of this mandate would seemingly equate them to terrorists.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says a no fly list should be considered and more passengers should be put behind bars to keep numbers down.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: There is no acceptable level of unruly behavior on aircraft especially when it is not only disrespectful but dangerous toward flight crews and other passengers.


BERMAN: And Pete Muntean joins us now. Pete, how much progress has been made creating an unruly passenger no fly list.

MUNTEAN: Well, John, not much movement on this from the Justice Department. It says it's still consulting with relevant agencies on this, but that leaves airlines to essentially banned passengers on their own and the fear here is that a passenger could be banned from one airline and then fly In a different airline completely unnoticed.


By the way, there's this push to ratchet up the punishment on those who step out of line on board planes. But there's also this effort to relax the restrictions, namely a lawsuit from the Attorney General of Texas, to the Biden administration trying to end the transportation mask mandate, which is set to expire on March 18th and could be extended, John.

BERMAN: Pete Muntean, at your realm, Reagan National Airport. Thank you so much for being with us tonight.

OK, as you know, been a lot of drama at the Olympics this year, and not all of the great, in fact, most of it not or much of it not, but there are some just awesome moments happening. And my next guest is at the center of one of them. America's new favorite every man athlete who just now happens to be a gold medalist, Nick Baumgartner joins us next.



BERMAN: We're on day 12 of the Winter Olympics and Team USA continue to add with metal cat with Alex Hall and Nick Goepper topping the podium in men's free ski slopestyle. But the highlight of the games comes from Team USAs oldest member, 40-year-old Nick Baumgartner, who arrived in Beijing with multiple Olympic appearances but no medals to his name and ended up taking the gold in mixed teams snowboard cross along with Lindsey Jacobellis. Now he has the title of oldest ever snowboard Olympic medalists. He was given a hero's welcome with a parade in his hometown in Michigan's Upper Peninsula Monday where he showed off his medal to his supporters as crowds gathered to show their appreciation.

Here with us is the pride of the Unidentified Participant, the oldest member of the U.S. Olympic team, but now a young and handsome Olympic gold medalist, Nick Baumgartner.

Nick, I love seeing you wear the medal. I love this smile. Congratulations, what an achievement.

NICK BAUMGARTNER, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: Thank you so much. It's been an absolute dream come true. And just an honor to be able to do this and represent my home community.

BERMAN: The great part about your experience and I'm not sure it was always great for you, is you let you took us along with you right from the lows to the highs after you didn't meddle in the solo event. You acted like I think the rest of us would if we were really allowed to show our emotions you were so bummed. And then you go from that to the elation of winning the gold, your first gold medal after four Olympics. I mean, what a roller coaster. What was that like?

BAUMGARTNER: It was wild. And I am glad that everyone got to see that just the true emotions that us as athletes go through, we put in so much work and so much effort to be able to one make the Olympic team. And then we go there to try to make our dreams come true. And I made a little mistake in that first race and it just devastated me. And those emotions came out in my interview, I cried quite a bit. And I was just super happy to be able to get another shot at redemption in that team race.

And for me, it was -- wasn't a guess 100% about getting the medal. It was about showing and proving every one of my supporters that I am fast, and I could beat those guys had I made it to the final of that individual race. And then to walk away with a gold medal and go from, like you said, the low of the lowest to the highest the highest. I mean, these are the kind of stories that come out of the Olympics. And I am super honored that it came out that way for me.

BERMAN: Well, you are fast. And you did beat those guys. And then you got to watch because your leg was first you got to watch your partner, Lindsey Jacobellis race, her race. You know, after waiting so long, for a gold medal. I'm not saying you're old and have been to four Olympics, but you've been to four Olympics. And you know, you were younger when you started. What was the actual moment of capturing that gold? Like, can you even remember it?

BAUMGARTNER: Yes, I mean, I just when Lindsey came out of the gate, and she made a little bubble and went back to third place. And when that happened, I was like this is going to happen because just with her experience, we've been in this game for a long time. So we know how to race and we -- we've just seems so much on the course that I knew she was going to draft the first girl which was going to slingshot her into the second girl. And there would be no stopping her. And that's exactly how the rest of the race played out.

Obviously saw my emotions again, I'm screaming and losing my mind trying to cheer her down the hill. And when she came around that last turn and started to pull away from the girl. Man, everything that the tears everything started to overwhelm me again. But this time it was happy tears not the bummed tears. So, it was an unbelievable feeling like nothing I've ever felt. I mean, that's 17 years of chasing a dream and then it all coming true on the World TV. It was pretty cool.

BERMAN: I'm so glad, I'm so glad it ended that way. You call you and Lindsey, you know, Lindsey's been there for a while to you say your '80s babies, you're two of the oldest competitors here. So what lessons do you have? What inspirations do you have for the rest of us who may be getting on in years?


BAUMGARTNER: I just I hope that it shows people it doesn't matter how old you are, it doesn't matter where you come from. My local ski hill is just a bump. And it's a wonderful place. But it was enough for me to gain a passion for something and it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. I go against kids from the biggest mountains in the world. And I'm from a small hill in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan, and I'm holding and carrying an Olympic gold medal. And if that doesn't tell you that you can do anything you want to do. I don't know what it takes to inspire you to do that.

BERMAN: I just keep smiling because it's the ultimate currency, right? You can't possibly talk someone who can grab his gold medal and say, how do you like them apples? Right? It's the best answer to anything. BAUMGARTNER: Yes. Yes, it's amazing. And as I bring this back, I wanted to bring this back to share it with the Upper Peninsula for 17 years, like I said, on this journey. And now I get that opportunity. And I tell you, the next three weeks are going to be insane. I'm going to be at so many schools sharing this with so many kids just to try to give them a shot. We do live in a spot where we have less opportunity than others. But it doesn't mean that we have to believe those excuses. I just hope that my story bring more of these stories out of that.

BERMAN: I guarantee you it will. Nick Baumgartner, congratulations. Thank you for everything and thank you so much for joining us tonight.

BAUMGARTNER: Thank you guys for having me. This is a dream come true and being able to do an interview with you guys it just keeps it making it better and better.

BERMAN: You're the best. Hold up that metal again as we go to break.

BAUMGARTNER: One more time.

BERMAN: All right, we'll be right back



BERMAN: The news continues. So let's hand it over to Laura Coates in "CNN TONIGHT." Laura.