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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Anger At Zero-COVID Policy, Xi Jinping Sparks Protests For More Freedom; Pence: Trump Was Wrong To Give A White Nationalist, An Antisemite And A Holocaust Denier A Seat At The Table; Source: Trump Won't Appear In Georgia To Campaign For Walker; Police: Man Accused Of "Catfishing" Teen Before Killing Her Family; Ukraine Rejects Russian Claims That Eastern City Of Bakhmut Is Surrounded As Intense Fighting Continues. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired November 28, 2022 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: So far tonight, lava from the eruption is contained, not threatening any communities as of now, but there is a real possibility the harmful volcanic gas should could be carried downwind. Shelters have been opened as a precaution. It is absolutely incredible though to see this happening.

Southwest Airlines also suspending flights in and out of the Big Island's International Airport, at Hilo.

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Protests across China tonight. That is rare all by itself. What has been unthinkable until this moment are the calls for the leader of the country, Xi Jinping, to step down.

John Berman here in for Anderson.

Anger at the country's rigid Zero-COVID Policy and questions about whether it delayed response for a fire in one city that killed 10 people has unleashed a wider array of resentments with some calling for democracy and freedom.

This is a map of where CNN has confirmed protests, at least 16 locations nationwide, including the capital, Beijing, as well as Shanghai. And of course it is happening in a country of more than one billion people whose fates both politically and financially have a huge impact on the US and the entire world.

We have two live reports tonight. Our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson in Hong Kong, and CNN's Selina Wang in Beijing. I want to start with Ivan Watson.

Ivan, give us the latest.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, for three years now, the Chinese government has been trying to snuff out the COVID-19 virus. It has put immense psychological, emotional and financial pressure on the country's population, and over the weekend, some of that pressure finally snapped.


WATSON (voice over): Anger on the streets of Chinese cities, the biggest nationwide display of discontent of this tightly-controlled country has seen in a generation. Protesters pushing back against police and the government's Zero-COVID Policy.

The unrest triggered by a deadly fire in Urumqi in China's Western Xinjiang region last Thursday. Videos emerge of fire hoses, barely reaching the blaze, which killed at least 10 people.

Among them, Kamarnisa Han Abdul Rahman (ph) and four of her children.

WATSON (on camera): What happened to your mother and your brothers and sisters?

SHARAPAT ALI (through translator): The fire started on the 15th floor. The smoke poisoned my family. The government could not stop the fire in time.

WATSON (voice over): Two surviving adult children of Kamarnisa, Han speak to me from Turkey, unable to see their family since 2017 due to the harsh crackdown. The government accused of putting up to two million of their fellow ethnic Uighurs and members of other minorities in internment camps.

They say their loved ones were trapped in the building by COVID measures.

MOHAMMAD ALI, FAMILY KILLED IN APARTMENT FIRE (through translator): They could not escape because the fire escape was blocked and the fire escape to the roof of the building was also locked.

WATSON (voice over): Accusations CNN cannot independently confirm, but Chinese authorities have been seen literally locking residents into buildings.

Outrage over Urumqi fire compounded by previous deadly incidents in recent months directly linked to COVID prevention.

Though CNN verified 16 protests in 11 Chinese cities this weekend, a Chinese government official told the journalists they just didn't happen.

ZHAO LIJIAN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): What you mentioned does not reflect what actually happened. China has been following the dynamic Zero-COVID Policy and has been making adjustments based on realities on the ground.

WATSON (on camera): On Monday, the white papers that have become a symbol of the protests in Mainland China spread here to Hong Kong, where these small groups of demonstrators are holding a vigil for what they say are the victims of China's Zero-COVID Policy.

JAMES, PROTESTER FROM SHANGHAI: I am a victim. I cannot go home for many years, like two to three years, right? My parents were locked down for three months and even relatives of my good friends, they suicide because of the lockdowns.

WATSON (voice over): With China reporting record breaking new daily cases of COVID, there appears to be no end to the lockdowns in sight. Meanwhile, siblings, Mohammad and Sharapat cannot even pray for closure after suffering the unimaginable loss of five immediate members of their family.

Will you go home for the funeral of your family?

MOHAMMAD ALI (through translator): We want to attend the funeral of our family members, but if we went back now, China will put us in jail or even torture us.


BERMAN: And Ivan Watson back with us. Ivan, any signs that the Chinese government will back down for its Zero-COVID Policy?


WATSON: Well, there may be some little glimmers of hope.

The Beijing City government on Sunday said that it was prohibiting authorities from taking measures like blocking the entrances to residences as part of COVID lockdowns, and that may be a recognition that that that could have contributed to the high death toll with that fire in Urumqi.

But overall, we have not heard a change of the country's rhetoric. It says it is still committed, the government to trying to completely eradicate COVID-19 from China. And when it comes to the protests, we had a quieter night, certainly in the capital of Beijing on Monday night.

The Chinese government has an enormous system of surveillance and state security, many levers that can use to try to repress people from coming out into the streets. For instance, we're hearing more and more about universities sending their students home very early, perhaps in an attempt to try to take some of the air out of some of these protests.

And just to bring back to that family that has suffered so much in that fire. They are ethnic Uighurs. That is a population that has been rounded up by potentially the millions in recent years, and that family alone, they tell us that their father has been put into an internment camp. They haven't spoken to him for years, a brother as well and they don't even know if they can get any information to those people to let them know about the tragedy that their mother and four other siblings died in this terrible fire.

BERMAN: They have suffered so much already, and now, even more.

Ivan Watson in Hong Kong. Thank you.

Let's go to Beijing now and CNN's Selina Wang.

Selina, you were in the protests in Beijing on Sunday night into Monday morning. What did you see on the ground?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. What I saw was people essentially past their breaking points, sick and tired of three years of harsh lockdowns and restrictions, but the anger went beyond COVID. It went to frustrations about all the repression that comes with living in authoritarian China.

So there was cheering, people chanting for freedom, to be released from lock downs. There was crying, too, because this is a rare chance for these young people to be surrounded with others and to pour out their emotions in a country where people cannot freely express themselves.

And you'll see in the video many people holding white pieces of paper. That is a sign of protest without actually writing anything that the authorities could arrest them for.

Now, this protest, I witnessed, was peaceful but there was heavy police presence and after 2:00 AM, you just saw rows of police filing in, pushing all of us to disperse.

But China's giant censorship machine is determined to make it as if these protests never happened, erasing videos, comments about the protests and state media meanwhile, completely ignoring it all and instead publishing headlines calling Zero-COVID scientific and effective.

BERMAN: I keep looking at the video because I just haven't seen protests like this in China since, you know, I can't remember when. You spoke to so many of the protesters. What are their demands? And are they afraid of the consequences of doing this?

WANG: Look, this is a big country and there are protests across the nation. We did see in places like Shanghai these rare and bold calls for Xi Jinping himself to step down, but what I saw was more caution and some anxiety and some disagreement, too.

Some protesters, they were chanting for more political change, then you heard others arguing and urging them to keep it focused on COVID.

But what really struck me, John, was how many people were saying "We love China. We are doing this because we love our country and we want it to change for the better."

There was even a man on a loudspeaker who was saying, "We support the Communist Party, but we want more freedoms." There was one protester without a mask that was willing and eager to speak to be on camera. He told me, he motorcycled and biked for more than an hour to get to the protest. He told me that the Chinese people need to stand together.

But Xi Jinping and the government, they don't necessarily need to step down. They just need to listen to the people and make those changes. Of course, the irony is just by being there, he is putting himself at risk.

BERMAN: So is the government responding? How are authorities responding?

WANG: Well, we are already seeing this very, very heavy security presence in all the areas where there have been protests, including here in the capital.

Last night, I went back to that exact same place where I was the day before the protest and you can see in this video that we filmed when we drove by that it is eerily quiet with a giant row of police vans parked with their lights flashing. And there were moments during that protest the other night, I was standing there feeling like I could have been in other any other open democratic country in the world.

But this, going there just the following day is a stark reminder that this is a police state with far-reaching security and surveillance capabilities. This is a country where Facebook and Twitter and platforms like that are banned.

The main messaging platform people rely on is monitored by authority, so it is risky, it's hard for protesters to communicate, to mobilize, to just have their voices heard.


But while the authorities, they can get rid of all the evidence at home, they can't get rid of the rage people are feeling or the ability of these videos to spread overseas -- John.

BERMAN: There were sirens and police vehicles as far as the eye could see in that video.

Selina Wang, thank you so much for your reporting. Stay safe.

Perspective now from an expert on US-China relations Yun Sun, co- director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center think tank, and director of its China Program; also CNN's David Culver who spent about 50 days in strict lockdown earlier this year while in Shanghai.

Sun, want to start with you listening to Ivan Watson and Selina Wang's piece and seeing those images. What did you make of it?

YUN SUN, CO-DIRECTOR, EAST ASIA PROGRAM AT THE STIMSON CENTER: Well, this is really unprecedented in the recent memory of any Chinese people or Chinese generation, that this is something that has not happened since 1989.

And remember, the 20th Party Congress only ended last month. So basically, within a month of Xi Jinping in his third term, we're already seeing popular opposition and we are seeing the mass protests against Xi Jinping's cornerstone policy, which is Zero COVID.

And I have to say, this must be a very embarrassing moment for Xi Jinping as the top leader of China.

BERMAN: Oh, the whole world is seeing it and what they are seeing in the rest of China remains to be seen.

David, as mentioned, you were caught in lockdown yourself for 50 days most recently when you were living in Shanghai earlier this year. When you look at these protests, where do you think it is headed? And can you just speak to the psychological effect of being on lockdown? What that has on people?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're starting to see the result of that, John, and just the frustration that has bottled up over the course of now three years of this policy in place, and one that has only gotten increasingly mounting as far as the pressure it is putting on the folks there.

It is interesting because, you look at where this is going and I think there would be some hope if you catch your breath, and you say, well, at least there will be an end at this point.

There is no endgame here, and that was the frustration, living under the lockdown in talking to my neighbors who are local Shanghainese, who had lived there for generations, and who had felt at this point in their lives, they had nowhere to go and no one to voice their concern to.

And what you also look at, and I even brought this up, is you go to places like Xinjiang, right, where we have traveled to. It is one of the most heavily surveilled places on this planet, arguably, certainly within China. And you start to see now traces across China, particularly in Shanghai where we were, one of the most cosmopolitan and the financial hub of China, the city that really had gravitated in getting a lot of attention internationally for folks who saw this as perhaps the window to the West and they started building that same infrastructure.

We started to see it in front of our own homes. We started to see the walls go up, the cameras go into place, and they would corral you through certain areas where conveniently those cameras were pointing on your face.

So, they started to build that same infrastructure in the name of COVID security across China. This is something that seems to be relentless right now.

BERMAN: Yun, do think -- Sun, I should say, do you think there's an off ramp for President Xi when it comes to the Zero-COVID Policy?

YUN: This is very hard because for him to change this policy now, it will equate to acknowledgement of the failure of the policy or the mistake of the policy being adopted for the three years.

So if he does not change the policy, he is looking at this popular discontent that is spreading across China. I would agree with Selina that not all people want political regime change. Most people are demanding for their freedoms, the freedom to go outside of their apartment, the freedom to go to work, the freedom to make a salary.

So, that's very different from the political demand for the Chinese Communist Party, you know, for Xi Jinping to step down. But for Xi Jinping to cater to that demand will require him to reconsider and adjust his Zero-COVID Policy, which has been his signature policy in the past three years to demonstrate the superiority of the disease control models that China has been adopting.

So, this is an extremely difficult position for Xi Jinping. He has to change by changing his policy also means a failure on his part.

BERMAN: So David, given that, based on your experience, what do you think Xi's response is likely to be in the coming days?

CULVER: Well, first, John, I'll point out, I really believe that COVID is not a huge factor in all of this. I think what we're looking at is an ideology that at its core is part of the party's effort to try to purify, certainly from Xi Jinping's perspective and remember, he is at the center of the party, which is at the core of human life within China as they see it.

And so this seems to be an effort to really maintain control over a massive population. We started to see that with the Big Brother data that they were implementing there, having the QR codes, which at first seemed quite effective, and ultimately, you began to feel that they were tracking you and now, just into a restaurant and places, just to go into any sort of public space, you need to scan in.

So not only are they able to acknowledge that in their words that you're not a close contact or you don't potentially have the virus, but also, they know exactly where you've been if they want to trace from one point onward, and they're able to do that with these protesters, by the way.


They're going to be able to track them all down individually, so it's not going to be that tough. One thing that's also worth noting, I was talking to some friends on the ground, and they said, they are stopping people randomly in cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou, and Beijing, and they're asking to see their phone. They're going through their camera rolls. Imagine the cop here doing that and having to hand over your photo album, things being deleted, apps been deleted, especially those that are WhatsApp and Signal, things that might have connections to outside of China. It's scary.

BERMAN: They're trying to erase any evidence that these protests have happened at all.

Yun Sun and David Culver, thank you both so much for your insight into this.

Still to come tonight, Republicans, but certainly not all Republicans speaking out about former President Trump and the White nationalist he shared a dinner table with last week. New comments from his former Vice President, as well as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. Nothing so far from the man who hopes to be the next House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy.

We are keeping them honest next. Also tonight, an incredibly important Senate run off in Georgia just

days away, but guess who is not going to be there to campaign for the Republican candidate he himself picked? Details ahead.



BERMAN: So breaking news report: Former Vice President Mike Pence has condemned the dinner that Donald Trump held last week at his Mar-a- Lago estate, dining with the former President at a patio table where Nick Fuentes, a known White supremacist and Kanye West, now known as Ye, who has his own troubling history of antisemitic remarks.

In an interview just released, this is what Vice President Pence said about Trump and Fuentes.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump was wrong to give a White nationalist, an antisemite, and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table and I think he should apologize for it and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.


BERMAN: It is a noteworthy break from his former boss.

Another new objection comes from Georgia's recently reelected Republican Governor Brian Kemp. This is what he told our Kaitlan Collins a short time ago in an exclusive interview that will air tomorrow morning on "CNN This Morning."


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): I mean that was a bad decision. There is no place for that in the Republican Party. I know he's got -- you know, his answer to that question, and I'll let him speak to that. But my views on that are very clear.


BERMAN: Again, you can watch the full interview tomorrow on "CNN This Morning."

They are not the only Republicans to condemn the former President. A handful of others, primarily in the Senate have also condemned the dinner meeting. However, we have yet to hear from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy or for that matter, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yet.

This literal breaking of bread with a white supremacist and refusal to disavow fits a familiar pattern for Donald Trump. Take his interview with Jake Tapper back in early 2016. One of the most well-known White supremacist in the country, David Duke had endorsed Trump, who was then asked if he would condemn Duke and his support repeatedly, Jake asked and repeatedly, this is how Trump responded.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, just so you understand. I don't know anything about David Duke. Okay. I don't know. Did he endorse me? Or what's going on?

Because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about White supremacists. I don't know -- honestly, I don't know David Duke. I don't believe I've ever met him. I'm pretty sure I didn't meet him and I just don't know anything about him.


BERMAN: And by the way, that's another hallmark of Trump's dalliances with White supremacy, supposed ignorance. We're supposed to believe that he knows nothing about David Duke just like how, after the dinner last week, Trump posted to social media that: "I don't know Nick Fuentes." Again, that's the White nationalist he dined with for roughly two hours according to a CNN source.

Now to believe that you need to believe he never heard about the uproar involving Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, two Republican Members of Congress who got into deep hot water for making appearances at a conference sponsored by yes, you guessed it, the same Nick Fuentes. It was a huge deal, so much so that about three days after Greene spoke at the conference, Gosar appeared by video. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy condemned the appearances with Fuentes. He called it appalling and wrong.

And he said that: "The party should not be associated anytime, anyplace with somebody who is antisemitic." That was after three days. It's been six days since Trump's dinner, and no statement yet from McCarthy, who is right now busy trying to secure enough votes to be the next Speaker of the House.

I'm joined now by Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director for the Anti-Defamation League, which has identified Nick Fuentes as a White supremacist.

Jonathan, great to see you.

Look, we just saw how Donald Trump has danced around or with White supremacists over the years, but sitting at a table at his home at Mar-a-Lago with a White supremacist like Nick Fuentes, does that cross some kind of new line?

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO AND NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: We'll look for most people it's crossing a line, for Donald Trump, it is sort of another day in the life. And I think we've just got to acknowledge that the President now has sort of joined the D list of celebrities. This is what you do, you hang out with discredited entertainers, you hang out with Neo Nazis, and you try to make time with whoever will give you attention.

But the fact of the matter is, it's appalling when anyone in public life has any degree of hesitation about hanging out with those people who promote antisemitism, racism, and all forms of hate.

BERMAN: What's the impact of it? What's the impact of a former President and the world seeing a former President dining with an avowed White supremacist?


GREENBLATT: John, it is the normalization of hate. We're seeing it again and again, and think about it, we're still mourning those who were shot dead in Colorado Springs two weeks ago, just because they were LGBTQ. Two weekends ago, we had an antisemitic attack narrowly averted right here in New York City, where men were apprehended or intercepted at Penn Station with automatic weapons, bulletproof vests, and knives. They were planning on attacking a synagogue -- and now this.

This is the normalization of hate where a presidential candidate or someone in public life thinks it is permissible, again, to spend time with people who spew prejudice and hate.

BERMAN: So as a civil society, what should we do about this? What is the right response?

GREENBLATT: Well, I think one thing, what we're already seeing and you're showing are people, prominent Republicans calling it out when a Republican in their own midst, again, promotes hate. Because you need to call out what happens from your own side. Democrats need to call out Democrats, Republicans need to call out Republicans.

But the second thing is we've got to cut off the oxygen to these people. Trump and Nick Fuentes, they thrive on attention. We've got to cut it off and really reconsider how we even cover these people anymore.

BERMAN: Well, how do you do both, though? How do you call it out and cut off the oxygen at the same time?

GREENBLATT: I love the way "The New York Post," you know, covered his announcement. They said "Florida Man Announce His Run for President." That's how we need to treat Donald Trump, not as a credible former politician, but as a discredited hack, again, who weaponizes hate and who uses antisemitism to advance his agenda. That's not okay.

No matter how you vote, no matter what your party affiliation, there should be nothing partisan about promoting --

BERMAN: Well, it is interesting. Marco Rubio and Mike Pence, who we heard part of his response there. They said basically both the same thing. They both condemned the fact that Trump sat with Nick Fuentes. But they both also made a point of saying that they don't think that Donald Trump himself is an antisemite. What do you think of those who choose to make that distinction?

GREENBLATT: I think it's fair to say that this man whose daughter, whose grandchildren are Jewish has a complicated relationship with the Jewish people, but when you validate the people who spew antisemitic venom, that's enough.

We can't judge people on what they say, we've got to judge them on what they do, John, and again, and again, whether it is saying there are fine people on both sides, whether it is pretending like you don't know who David Duke is, whether it's telling the people rampaging through the Capitol, wearing "Camp Auschwitz" sweatshirts that you love them. Again, we've got to judge Donald Trump by what he does, again, and again and again and it is validating the worst elements of society.

BERMAN: Look, listen, we know that Kanye West was there also and Kanye West has been saying what he has been saying a lot the last few months. It's not like ancient history at this point.

Jonathan Greenblatt, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I appreciate it.

GREENBLATT: Thank you.

BERMAN: Again, you can watch Kaitlan Collins, her interview with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, including that condemnation you heard of Trump's dinner. That's tomorrow on "CNN This Morning."

And up next, here on 360, the US Senate runoff race is in the final stretch and Trump is not apparently -- Donald Trump is apparently not going to Georgia to try to tip the scales for Republicans in this very important runoff between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock. What that says and what soaring early voting numbers might indicate.

We're live in Georgia next.



BERMAN: Most former presidents are highly coveted campaign assets to help turn out the vote. Barack Obama will return to Georgia this week to stump for Democrat Raphael Warnock ahead of next Tuesday's pivotal Senate runoff. But we learned late this afternoon that Donald Trump will not be making appearances for Republican nominee Herschel Walker opting instead to phone in at some point for a remote rally. It's not known if the decision has anything to do with the controversy swirling around the former president's meeting with a white supremacist that we just talked about. As you know, both Walker and Senator Warnock are African-American. It's also worth noting, there are no current plans for the current President to travel to Georgia to campaign.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins us from Atlanta where Dave Matthews is performing, I think right now in support of Raphael Warnock. Dianne, what more can you tell us about the former president and the current president kind of staying out of this race?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, I'm going to speak as loudly as I can, without disturbing all of the Dave Matthews fans who are here during the show right now. So former President Donald Trump not coming to Georgia, according to a person close to Senate candidate Herschel Walker. This is something that there had been sort of a will here, won't he in the weeks leading up to this runoff election. He did not come for one right before the election itself and -- but the candidate Herschel Walker has never put any daylight really between him and the former president. He talks about him on campaign stops. He mentioned him during the bait calling him a friend. But there are Republicans here in Georgia, who are likely breathing a sigh of relief, they still tend to blame Donald Trump for their double losses in the January 2021 run-off elections here in this state that saw incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock get placed in the Senate get elected into the Senate back last year.

Now, you mentioned that the current President Joe Biden, also not likely as far as we know, coming to Georgia to campaign for Senator Warnock. But there is one former president who was coming to town, former President Barack Obama will be here this week to garner support for Warnock, to try and continue to get out to vote similar to some of these events that we've seen in the run-off to the general election. But also here, like we're seeing here, it's a Get Out the Vote trying to make sure they have the enough people to show up for this abbreviated four-week run-off period, that they still have that enthusiasm behind them, John.

BERMAN: I'd say Dianne, you speaking along with Dave Matthews is the best Dave Matthews song I've ever heard. So, listen, early voting is underway in Georgia. I know it began over the weekend. What has turnout been like so far?

GALLAGHER: You know, John, actually, for a couple of counties that began the days before Thanksgiving, there was a lawsuit to try and get the Saturday voting. They've seen just phenomenal numbers over the weekend, including a record-breaking Sunday for a run-off period. And today, according to Gabriel Sterling with the Georgia Secretary of State's office, we're looking at another record-breaking day of early voting we're talking more than 240,000 people voting just today alone on this first day of the mandatory statewide early voting, there are five days of this across the state Monday through Friday, it must end on Friday. We are looking at intense numbers.


So, when we talked about the enthusiasm, they're trying to get garner from the surrogates here. It looks like there was no shortage of that here in the state of Georgia. One thing we are noticing, though, these long lines across the state, people waiting for 30 minutes an hour in some places, especially some of the more densely populated counties to try and cast their ballot for this run-off, period.

BERMAN: All right, Dianne Gallagher, thank you very much. We'll let you get back to the concert. We do appreciate it.

Let's dig in further with me now chief political correspondent and "STATE OF THE UNION" co-anchor Dana Bash, along with Tia Mitchell, Washington correspondent for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. So, Dana, what do you make of this political calculation to keep former President Trump out of Georgia in the final days?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I was talking to senior Republican strategist who is involved in this Georgia run-off who said point blank, there's one reason, and it is because Donald Trump is just incredibly unpopular in the state of Georgia, even among many Republicans. And the strategist reminded me of the spread in the Republican primary for governor. Governor Kemp, who very now famously broke with and sort of pushed back on Donald Trump's attempts to get him to overturn the election in 2020. Donald Trump supported and endorsed David Perdue to go up against Kemp, Purdue lost by more than 50 percentage points. That was a complete repudiation, not just at Purdue, but most importantly, of Donald Trump. He didn't go into Georgia during the general election. And there is no expectation for that reason that he won't go into Georgia for this run-off.

Now, you might be asking, well, when was the last time Donald Trump respected the wishes of those who are asking for him to come or not come or endorse or not endorse because of the political realities? That is true, but in this case, the source says he seems to understand where he stands in Georgia.

BERMAN: Yes. Hasn't had much luck in Georgia at any level. Tia, as you know, President Obama will campaign with Senator Warnock later this week. But what does it say that the current leaders of both parties because President Biden is not going for Senator Warnock either? What does it say that he's not going down there?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Yes, I think it's, you know, kind of similar to what President Trump and Walker are facing on one side, President Biden and Warnock are facing on the other side. Walker in the Republicans have made this race in a lot of ways a referendum on Biden, they want to -- they say Warnock is too aligned with Biden, he votes with Biden's who often we need to replace him in the Senate with someone who's going to challenge Biden and keep Biden in check.

So, I think in a lot of ways, they don't think Biden would be helpful. At the end of the day, the base, the Democratic base, can be, you know, there are other surrogates like Obama, who can get the base fired up without bringing Biden down to remind perhaps those moderate voters, those swing voters, those persuadable conservative voters that like the President isn't very popular right now. So, I think that's why they also ask Biden to stay awake.

BERMAN: Tia, you heard Dana talking about Governor Kemp. What impact do you think he will have in this run-off? Do you think he can be of substantial help to Herschel Walker?

MITCHELL: I think Kemp is of help, is it substantial enough to get Walker to 50%. We'll find out on election day. But Kemp can help because Kemp had over 200,000 more votes than Herschel Walker. So, what they're hoping is that Kemp kind of encourages people to give Herschel Walker another chance to say if you like me, if you trust me, my candidate is Herschel Walker, I need you to show up and vote for him. They're trying to help -- they want Kemp to help pull Herschel Walker along. And that may, you know that may convince some voters who are hesitant about Herschel Walker to support him.

BERMAN: And Dana, can you talk about the stakes here? Why is this one seat important given that the Democrats will have control of the Senate either way?

BASH: Well, that's an important point that the last one you made there that this isn't going to determine who has the balance of -- who's in control, it won't determine the balance of power like it did in January of 2021. But well, that is true. It is also true and we have seen this time and time again. A couple of things number one every single vote in the Senate matters particularly when it is so razor thin and there are some Democrats who the party leadership can't rely on depending on the issue. And same goes for Republican leaders. So that's a reality.


And the other is a little bit more mundane but it really does have import when you're talking about a Republican run House, which is the makeup of each of the committee's yes there -- we already know that the Democrat will have the gavel. But if they have one more seat if they get Raphael Warnock back in the Senate, then they will have a little bit more breathing room on these committees, particularly those that will be trying to fend off investigations and other things that House Republicans are going to be doing on the other side of the Capitol.

BERMAN: Yes, another thing I'd like to point out is, you know, being a senator is not a temp job. I mean, these are six-year terms, actually, you know, you got elected you have this job for a while so each one of these races has long term impact. Dana Bash, great to see you. Tia Michelle, great to have you on as well.

So, a teenager's family is dead after police say she was catfished online. This is a deeply twisted case where the suspect, the suspect was in law enforcement. It's also a cautionary tale. We have details ahead.



BERMAN: Police say a triple homicide in California is tied to the catfishing of a teenager online. A former Virginia State Trooper is also dead. He was the suspect killed in a shootout with police after traveling cross country. A story that is deeply twisted and very disturbing. CNN's Camila Bernal has more.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Police say the call came in just after 11 o'clock Friday morning, asking for a welfare check after a 15-year-old girl appearing to be distressed was seen near a car with a man. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Scene the house on fire.

BERNAL (voice-over): Then, while officers were responding to the scene, more calls to 911. But this time about a fire in the same neighborhood.

RYAN RAILSBACK, OFFICER, RIVERSIDE POLICE: They found three people deceased inside the house.

BERNAL (voice-over): The three victims, the girl's mother and grandparents.

RAILSBACK: We had a grandmother, a grandfather and a mother of his team murdered by the suspect who traveled from across the country. For most likely it would be that sexual exploitation of this teenager.

BERNAL (voice-over): According to law enforcement, this is a case of catfishing a situation where someone pretends to be a different person than they actually are for the purpose of someone exploiting another person. The suspect, 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards developed an online relationship with the teen then traveled across the country from Virginia to Riverside, California to find her.

RAILSBACK: We do know that there was direct messaging, text messaging going on.

BERNAL (voice-over): The suspect it turned out to be in law enforcement. A person who was going through orientation to be a patrol officer with the Washington County Sheriff's Department just four days before the murders, and was a former Virginia State Trooper according to police. More than two hours after Edwards drove off with the teenage girl, police track them and says Edwards fired shots at sheriff's deputies during a pursuit. When he lost control of the vehicle, the teenager fled the car and Edwards pointed a gun at the Sheriff's helicopter before deputies shot and killed him.

RAILSBACK: This is just a very tragic example of how dangerous those interactions can be.

BERNAL (voice-over): The teenager in this case was unharmed and placed in protective custody. According to police who say they now worry Edwards may have catfished others.

RAILSBACK: It's hard to believe someone who's going to travel all the way across the country kill a grandfather, a grandmother, and a mother of the teenager he's trying to sexually exploit that he hasn't engaged in similar type of behavior before.


BERMAN: And Camila Bernal joins us now from Riverside. Camila, what an awful story. Do we know how this girl is doing and as you've been able to tell authorities, anything more about what happened?

BERNAL: Hey, John, it really is tragic. We know that this teenager is OK. This 15-year-old is still with Child Protective Services. And police telling me yes, she was able to talk to them and corroborate a lot of the information that they put out. But they're also telling me that they're being extremely careful with her because they say this is probably the most traumatic experience that she's ever going to live through. So, they don't want to put too much on her plate. They say they definitely want to talk to her again, John.

BERMAN: And the fact that the suspect up until last month was a Virginia State Trooper, it's all the more shocking. Were there any warning signs missed that we know about?

BERNAL: Well, Riverside police says that no warning signs on their end, but it's why they're working with authorities in Virginia to try to see if they miss something along the way. The sheriff in Washington County, Virginia saying he reached out to previous employers call them and nothing came back negative. So, what they're saying is that they hired him and now the sheriff's saying he's in shock, John.

BERMAN: All right. Camila Bernal, thank you so much for that reporting.

Up next, we're going to take you to the frontlines in eastern Ukraine, where Russia claims to have a city surrounded despite their humiliating withdrawal for many areas in recent weeks.



BERMAN: Tonight, new details from the front lines of Ukraine. We are now nine months into the invasion and heavy fighting continues in the east. The Russian appointed leader in Ukraine's Donetsk region now claims that Russian forces are closing in around the city of Bakhmut, the city became a key target for Russian forces after they were forced to withdraw from other areas in the east. Ukraine rejects the Russian claims.

Joining me now near the front lines in Donetsk is CNN senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance. Matthew, what do we know about who holds Bakhmut, the Ukrainians or Russians have the upper hand here?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, John, I was up on the outskirts of Bakhmut earlier on today. And I had the opportunity to speak to several Ukrainian commanders on the ground to look at the maps look at the live feeds from the drones. They've got up in the air to survey the situation. And the town is not encircled yet. But that certainly appears to be the efforts that the Russian military are heading towards. And there are fierce fighting taking place in the center of Bakhmut's and its outskirts as well.

The Russians basically are approaching from the north and the east. The Ukrainians still hold sorry, the south, east and the south. The Ukrainians still hold the north and the and the west. But that situation is very dynamic. Again, fierce fighting dozens of people every day, being killed on both sides, according to the Ukrainian officials that I spoke to, John. BERMAN: Matthew, why is control so important? Why is control of Bakhmut so important?

CHANCE: Well, that's a good question because it's not a particularly strategic time given that much of the rest of the area has already been taken back by Ukrainian forces. But I think that you know, from an internal Russian point of view, there is a sort of political battle underway. The majority of the fighting in Bakhmut is being undertaken by the mercenary group Wagner, not the main Russian Army. And I think that internally, Wagner wants to show that they can win battles at a time when the Russian military is having to retreat from territory elsewhere in Ukraine.


So, I think that's one of the reasons why so many resources, a bit on the Russian side are being plowed in to achieving some kind of victory in Bakhmut.

BERMAN: What about from the Ukrainian side? What are the main challenges that they're facing defending this territory?

CHANCE: Well, they're facing first of all incessant attacks by the Russians. One commander told me earlier today that the tactic from the Russians seems to be throwing in 20 men at a time and when those men are killed, throwing in another 20. And that's happening 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And that's obviously having a big impact on the Ukrainians as well. They're having to consistently fight. In addition to that they're in artillery range from the Russian side, and the weather is getting absolutely freezing in this part of Ukraine. There's mud on the ground, it's wet, it's damp, it's miserable, it's cold. These are the challenges that they're facing defending that time right now.

BERMAN: Matthew Chance near the front lines, please stay safe, my friend. Thank you very much.

Still ahead more on the former president facing backlash from his own party, including from former Vice President Mike Pence. This is after Trump dine with a known white supremacist at Mar-a-Lago.

Plus, a look into some of the other controversial guests the former president has hosted at his Florida home.