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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

One-On-One With Dominion Voting Systems' CEO On Baseless Claims By Trump, His Allies; Biden Touts Easing Inflation As Proof Economic Plans Are Working; Few Venture Out In Beijing After Easing Of Pandemic Measures. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 13, 2022 - 21:00   ET





The Chairman of Fox Corp., Rupert Murdoch, was scheduled to be deposed, this morning, in a defamation lawsuit, against Fox News, over unfounded claims, about the 2020 election. Neither side will confirm whether the deposition took place. Murdoch would be the most high- profile person to have to answer questions about the case under oath.

It was just days after that election that lawyers supporting, then- President Donald Trump, began spreading unsubstantiated claims that an American company, Dominion Voting Systems, had rigged the election.

They said Dominion was backed by Venezuela and that its machines and software switched millions of votes, from Donald Trump, to Joe Biden. They never showed any evidence. But that didn't stop pro-Trump attorneys, from making baseless claims, or conservative news networks, from giving them plenty of airtime.

Dominion has filed eight lawsuits, seeking more than $10 billion, in damages, against Fox News, and other networks, corporations and individuals.

But Dominion's CEO, John Poulos, has remained largely silent, until now. We spoke with him, recently, about the lawsuits, the lies, and the irreparable damage, he says, they've caused, to his company, and his employees.


JOHN POULOS, CEO, DOMINION VOTING SYSTEMS: People have been put into danger, their families had been put into danger, their lives have been upended, and all because of lies. It was a very clear calculation that they knew they were lies, and they were repeating them, and endorsing them.

COOPER (on camera): It's important to you, people admit what they said was wrong?

POULOS: It's important to me, it's important to all the people, whose families have been impacted by this.

Anderson, my kids still are not allowed to get any package, from the front door, until we verify that it's actually from a trusted sender.

COOPER (on camera): You're that concerned about somebody sending something to your house?

POULOS: It's not unfounded concern.

COOPER (on camera): People have done that?

POULOS: People have done this. People are warning that they will continue to do this.

COOPER (voice-over): For John Poulos, and his company, the trouble began, five days after the election, when Fox Business host, Maria Bartiromo, brought up Dominion, with Attorney, Sidney Powell.


MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX BUSINESS ANCHOR: Sidney, we talked about the Dominion software. I know that there were voting irregularities. Tell me about that.

SIDNEY POWELL, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL FLYNN, "CONVICTION MACHINE" AUTHOR: That's to put it mildly. The computer glitches could not, and should not have happened in -- at all. Those -- that is where the fraud took place, where they were flipping votes, in the computer system, or adding votes that did not exist.

COOPER (voice-over): Sidney Powell was never able to show fraud. But she was repeatedly invited back, on Fox networks, as was the President's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who also wove a false narrative, about Smartmatic, an election technology company, which is now suing Giuliani, Fox News and others.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: Smartmatic is a company that was formed by three Venezuelans, who were very close to -- very close to the Dictator Chavez, of Venezuela. And it was formed in order to fix elections.


GIULIANI: That's the -- that's the company that owns Dominion.

COOPER (on camera): Does Smartmatic own Dominion?

POULOS: No. We are -- we do have a relationship. We are competitors.

COOPER (on camera): Were you associated with the late Hugo Chavez?

POULOS: Absolutely not.

COOPER (on camera): Do you use a Venezuelan company software that's been used to steal election, in other countries?

POULOS: Absolutely not.

Anderson, I can cut all of this short. We were founded in Toronto, which is where my family was from, and there is nothing to do with Venezuela.

COOPER (on camera): Can you flip votes in the computer system? Can you add votes that did not exist?

POULOS: Absolutely not.

COOPER (voice-over): President Trump first mentioned Dominion, in a tweet, November 12, and recorded this video, a few weeks later, which was posted on Facebook.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a company that's very suspect. Its name is Dominion. With the turn of a dial, or the change of a chip, you can press a button, for Trump, and the vote goes to Biden. What kind of a system is this? We have to go to paper. Maybe it takes longer. But the only secure system is paper.

COOPER (on camera): Why not just have paper ballots?

POULOS: We do have paper ballots. What the machines do is they count those paper ballots, in a way that makes it very easy, for people, to verify, after the fact, through the means of audits and recounts.

COOPER (voice-over): Dominion makes two types of machines. One is called a ballot marker. It's a touchscreen device that a voter can use, to mark their choices, and then print the ballot. The second machine is a scanner that reads that paper ballot, counts the vote, and immediately stores the ballot, securely.

POULOS: A voter takes a paper ballot. They've made their marks however they make their marks, depending on the jurisdiction. As they deposit it, into the ballot box, it goes through a digital scanner, and then drops into the ballot box. So, how do you hack a paper ballot?

With our system--

COOPER (voice-over): He showed us how it works.

POULOS: This is the scanner that sits atop a locked and sealed ballot box. This is how they cast their ballot, goes through a scanner. And now, we have an image of the ballot we just cast. And we have the paper ballot that is used for recounts.

COOPER (voice-over): John Poulos says it was watching the Presidential recounts, in Florida, in 2000, with those arguments, over hanging chads that got him interested, in improving how paper ballots were marked and counted.

He was an engineer, working at a startup, in Silicon Valley, and began looking at ways, to make it easier, to recount paper ballots, and to help people with disabilities vote without assistance.

POULOS: Our goal was to allow any voter, to make their marks, on a paper ballot, in a very clear, unambiguous way, regardless of physical ability.

COOPER (voice-over): John Poulos is Canadian, and founded Dominion in 2002. He remains its Chief Executive, though it was acquired by an American investment group, in 2018. Dominion is based in Denver.

COOPER (on camera): Do you ever think to yourself, "I got into this to help paraplegics and blind people vote more easily. And look what's happened!"

POULOS: I think about it all the time.

COOPER (voice-over): Dominion is one of three companies that make most of the voting systems, in America. In the 2020 presidential election, their machines were in 28 states, red states, and blue.

COOPER (on camera): On Election Day, in a precinct, are your machines hooked up to the internet?

POULOS: No, not by -- not by any stretch. We go through a number of certifications, government certifications. And the first one is at a federal level. So, those standards mandate that election systems, such as ours, are designed to work in a closed system, air-gapped, no internet.

COOPER (on camera): In all the major swing states of 2020, there are paper ballots backing up.

POULOS: Not only are there paper ballots that make up the official record. Those paper ballots have been hand-counted, and audited, over 1,000 times, on just the 2020 election.


COOPER (voice-over): Recounts and audits, in the swing states of Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada, all confirmed Dominion's results. More than 60 lawsuits, around the country, challenging the election, by Trump, or his supporters, were ultimately withdrawn or failed.

COOPER (on camera): In Georgia, there have been three recounts, two electronic ones, and one hand recount.

POULOS: In front of cameras, bipartisan poll watchers, and thousands of local residents, across the State of Georgia, and it once again reaffirmed the results. That should have put an end to all of it. But the lies persisted.

COOPER (voice-over): And so, have incidents of harassment and threats, against John Poulos, and his employees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every single person at Dominion's going to end up in an orange jumpsuit in handcuffs, you (bleep) whores. You cheating (bleep) pigs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, good afternoon, scumbags. We're going to blow your (bleep) building up. Piece (bleep) (bleep). POULOS: I don't wish to sit here, and say that this is something that happened 18 months ago. This is something that continues to happen, every single day, for us.

Last Friday, we had an office, on lockdown. Two days prior to that, I was on a phone call, with one of our employees, who's a mother of two. Very upset and crying. It's hard to talk about.

COOPER (on camera): Had something been said to her personally?

POULOS: A very disgusting death threat, in detail.

COOPER (on camera): Received?

POULOS: On her personal cell phone.

CHRIS KREBS, FORMER DIRECTOR, CYBERSECURITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE SECURITY AGENCY: It's completely and utterly surreal. None of these lies have been substantiated to any extent. Every single one of them has been debunked.

COOPER (voice-over): Chris Krebs was Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, charged with protecting the 2020 election. He called it the most secure election, in American history and, days later, was fired by President Trump. He now has a cyber- consulting firm, and is a contributor, for CBS News.

We showed him a press conference, held two days, after his firing, at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, when Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and others, continued their attacks, on Dominion machines and software.

POWELL: It can set and run an algorithm that probably ran all over the country, to take a certain percentage of votes, from President Trump, and flip them to President Biden.

COOPER (on camera): Do you remember watching that?

KREBS: Yes. I tweeted about it immediately afterwards. I think I said something along the lines of, that was the most insane and dangerous 45 minutes of TV, in American history, effectively.

COOPER (on camera): How secure was the 2020 election?

KREBS: Let me put it this way. It was the most litigated. It was the most scrutinized. It was the most audited. This election was put through the ringer from so many different directions.

And what I tend to like to say is don't listen to me. Listen to Bill Barr. Bill Barr said it. He was then the Attorney General of the United States.

COOPER (voice-over): This is what Bill Barr later said to the January 6 committee.

BILL BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: These claims on the Dominion voting machines, and they were idiotic claims, I saw absolutely zero basis for the allegations. But they were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people.

COOPER (voice-over): Dominion began alerting Fox News, and other networks, of the false allegations, they were broadcasting, November 12, four days, after Sidney Powell first discussed Dominion, with Maria Bartiromo.

But Dominion says Fox News never retracted their reporting.

COOPER (on camera): You gave them a lot of chances to correct their statements?

POULOS: They still haven't corrected them.

LEE LEVINE, FIRST AMENDMENT ATTORNEY: To me, that's the most powerful part of the complaint.

COOPER (voice-over): Lee Levine is a First Amendment attorney, who's litigated cases, for 40 years, on behalf of most media companies, including CBS and Fox.

He's retired now, but his old firm is currently representing CNN, and me, in a separate matter, filed by attorneys, who also represent Dominion, in its cases, against Fox News, and others.

LEVINE: Take the Fox case, for example. November 12 seems to me to be the key date in that case. Because, that's the day that Dominion started, on a regular basis, sending information sheets, to every producer, on every show, at Fox, that was having Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani on, saying, "Here are the true facts. Here are links, supporting our assertions that these are the true facts."

And then, these people continued to invite Giuliani and Powell on their shows.

COOPER (on camera): Defamation cases are hard to prove, aren't they?

LEVINE: Yes, they are. The plaintiff has to prove what the law calls actual malice. You need to show basically that the defendant published or broadcasted deliberate lie, a calculated falsehood.

COOPER (on camera): They knew it was a lie when they broadcasted it?

LEVINE: They knew it was a lie or they knew it was probably a lie.

COOPER (on camera): How strong is Dominion's case against Fox and the others?

LEVINE: I think it is much stronger than most defamation cases that I have seen. I might say it is the strongest.


COOPER (on camera): How many defamation cases have you seen? LEVINE: I have litigated myself hundreds. And I'm certainly aware of every significant defamation case in the last 40 years.

COOPER (on camera): And this is the strongest one?

LEVINE: In my judgment.

COOPER (voice-over): In a statement to "60 Minutes," Fox said it's confident it will prevail, citing freedom of the press protections, and stating it was reporting on a newsworthy allegation made by the then-President, and aired segments, fact-checking the allegations, against Dominion.

Dominion is suing Fox News, and its parent corporation, for $1.6 billion each. And, in its statement, Fox said that Dominion's financial demand is unsupported. Efforts by Fox News, and other defendants, to have the lawsuits dismissed, have been rejected, by the courts.

COOPER (on camera): Do you think that you can show not only that they lied, but they knew that they were lying?

POULOS: Yes. I don't even think -- I think that's the easiest part.

COOPER (on camera): You, as a company, told them specifically, repeatedly?

POULOS: We told them. We told them, in real-time. Others told them. Government officials told them. Partisan government officials told them. People inside the Trump administration told them. Local election officials, on both sides of the aisle, told them. This is not a matter of not knowing the truth. They knew the truth.


COOPER: That was a report I filed, for CBS' "60 Minutes."

Still to come, an in-depth look into the support, and criticism, of Elon Musk's tenure, so far, as the new boss at Twitter. Even as fans say they're producing greater transparency, critics say it's the opposite. Our Donie O'Sullivan checks out the facts.

Later, a look at how reopening is going, in China, after the mass protests, closed shops, empty streets, and people avoiding each other.



COOPER: Twitter has announced it has disbanded its Trust and Safety Council, formed about six years ago, to deal with things like hate speech, terrorism, child exploitation. The end of the Council is just the latest shakeup, at Twitter, since it's purchase, by Elon Musk.

Most supporters say that his new policies, and the recent release of internal documents, are needed, to provide better transparency, about how the company operates, particularly, after controversies involving the company's content policies, in the 2020 election.

Critics are saying that Musk, and his allies, are misrepresenting the work of Twitter's former management, when it comes to policing content, on the social media network.

Certainly, lots to take in, and understand, which is why we asked our Donie O'Sullivan, to help us make sense of it. Here's his report.


JAKE (ph), TRUMP SUPPORTER: I've been suspended by Twitter a few times.

KARI TINGLEY (ph), TRUMP SUPPORTER: I got sick of Twitter.

ED TINGLEY (ph), TRUMP SUPPORTER: We got censored too much.

K. TINGLEY (ph): Censored.

E. TINGLEY (ph): She was in jail every other day, as it happens.

K. TINGLEY (ph): Yes.

E. TINGLEY (ph): Twitter jail.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republicans have long believed social media companies, like Twitter, are biased against them.

TRUMP: Shadow ban, 100 percent, you look at what's going on.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Enter the Twitter Files. Over the past few weeks, journalists, picked by Elon Musk, have been given access to some of Twitter's internal systems, and communications.

Matt Taibbi is one of them.

MATT TAIBBI, JOURNALIST: They have a whole universe of stuff that they can do, to any single account. They can dial it all the way down to you cannot be searched, all the way up to your account will not trend. Only people who follow you can see you. Even people who follow you won't see you unless they searched.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): So far, select images, like these, of Twitter's internal systems, purport to show how some prominent conservatives were added to lists, like "Do Not Amplify," and seemingly broke Twitter's rules. But few specifics were included in the files.

CHARLIE KIRK, RIGHT-WING ACTIVIST: We were averaging 115,000 retweets a day, when we were really at our peak. Then, all of a sudden, we saw, off a cliff, almost immediately, our engagement, our retweets disappear.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Twitter has previously acknowledged it de- amplifies accounts, if user's harmful or that regularly break its rules. But it does not tell those users, their accounts are being limited. Musk wants to change that.

GABRIEL NICHOLAS, RESEARCH FELLOW, CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY & TECHNOLOGY: Musk has talked a lot about informing people of removal and reduction. And that is a good thing. But it's not clear how he's actually going to have the engineering, and the resources, to do it.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): While Gabriel Nicholas, who has studied de- amplification, says transparency is a good thing, there are some cases, where it is better to not inform a user, their account is being limited, such as the case of serial harassers.

DR. JOAN DONOVAN, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL: We look at the kinds of accounts that Twitter has de-amplified, or banned, over the last two or three years, it tends to be accounts that will post things that are both novel, and outrageous, and detrimental, in some way, to society, whether it's through hate, harassment or incitement.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): So, what is de-amplification? Well, sometimes, you open your Twitter feed, you're not just seeing the latest tweets. What you're seeing is the algorithm, recommending to accounts, and tweets, at things, you might be interested in.

Now, let's imagine Twitter is Times Square. People here can say whatever they want to, whoever they want. But sometimes, the algorithm might pick up the more interesting comments, and tweets, and highlight them on some of the billboards. But if you're blacklisted, you're never going to get your comments, or tweets, up on these billboards. And that is what some people understand, to be shadow banning.

NICHOLAS: Shadow banning definitely has a lot of negative connotation, sort of brings up this image of a shadowy cabal, of decision-makers, who determine what people can see, and what people can't see. But, I think, it's really not a productive word to use, when we're actually trying to talk about some of the nuances of content policy.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): While many groups have raised concerns, over de-amplification, the central focus of the Twitter Files is that Republicans were unfairly targeted. That is something Twitter has long denied.

REP. MIKE DOYLE (D-PA): Twitter undertook no behavior to selectively censor conservative Republicans, or conservative voices, on your platform. Is that correct?



O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): But Republicans are not convinced, particularly after Twitter initially suppressed the 2020 "New York Post" Hunter Biden laptop story, believing it could have been Russian disinformation.

That decision is something former Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, says was a mistake. So too does Yoel Roth, Twitter's former Head of Trust & Safety. YOEL ROTH, FORMER HEAD OF TRUST & SAFETY AT TWITTER: It is widely reported that I personally directed the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story. It is absolutely, unequivocally untrue.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): But he was involved in internal conversations about it. The Twitter Files show how staff at Twitter, discussed, and debated, how to handle the Biden story.

ROTH: We didn't know what to believe. We didn't know what was true. There was -- there was smoke. And ultimately, for me, it didn't reach a place, where I was comfortable, removing this content, from Twitter.

KARA SWISHER, JOURNALIST: But so it was a mistake?

ROTH: In my opinion, yes.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Musk himself has endorsed similar de- amplification policies, tweeting "New Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach. Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted."

DONOVAN: By and large, these tools, which have been around, for some time, have been politicized. And as Musk is trying to suggest that the old Twitter is going to be different, from the new Twitter, we want to be careful, to remind ourselves that all technology is politics by other means.


COOPER: And Donie O'Sullivan joins us now.

I mean, is it clear that Republicans were targeted?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes. I mean, well, that is certainly what is being presented here, through the Twitter Files. People, I think, might argue that it is just a selection and potentially what has been presented is selective.

I think also people who have worked at Twitter, at the time, would say, "Well, the reason we had to take action or we thought we had to take action, against people, who happen to be Republicans, were that they were often the people who are sharing misinformation, disinformation, or hate."

All that being said, there are revelations in this that are being presented as brand-new, which we actually knew about, for the past few years. That being said, we have seen some people, try to say that this is all a nothing-burger. I don't think that's the case either.

I mean, go back to 2021, January 2021, when Twitter did kick off the then-President of the United States. It wasn't just, Republicans here, in the U.S., who had an issue with that, about the potential power of Big Tech. We heard European leaders, spokesperson, for Angela Merkel, at the time, no big fan of Trump so, we know, expressing some concern, about that. So, I think there is a discussion to be had here. And we are going to see more revelations. Whether or not we'll be able to get access to the Files ourselves, it's unlikely, under Musk's leadership.

COOPER: All right. Donie O'Sullivan, appreciate it. Thank you.


COOPER: A pop in America's inflation balloon, President Biden, today, touting news that inflation is easing, is proof his economic plans are working. Something we will test with our in-house data cruncher, Harry Enten, who will also add up what this all means, for all of us, next.



COOPER: So, the good news, U.S. inflation cooled, considerably, last month, in new numbers, put out by the government, today. The bad news, it is still high, at a 7.1 percent annual pace, but it's below the 7.7 percent rate, in October and lower than economists predicted.

Here's President Biden taking a partial victory lap, this morning.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Prices are still too high. We have a lot more work to do. But things are getting better, headed in the right direction.

But what is clear is that my economic plan is working, and we're just getting started.

I've never been more optimistic about America's future. And today's news gives me another reason to be optimistic about that future.


COOPER: Well, we'll take the optimism, and put it to the test, with our Senior Data Reporter, Harry Enten.

So, is inflation actually getting better?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I mean, it is, compared to where we were, during the summer, right, during the peak, when it was about 9 percent year-over-year. And now, it's about 7 percent.

But I should point out that the historical average year-over-year is only about 4 percent. So, we're still in much worse position than we are historically. But we're better than the worst. So hey, that's a little optimism!

COOPER: Where is one area where inflation is really bad?

ENTEN: Rent, rent, rent, rent. I know this, from personal experience, right? My rent is up 28 percent year-over-year. COOPER: Wow!

ENTEN: That's ridiculous, right? If you look nationwide, we have seen the largest increase, in rent, in 40 years. So, people are paying much more for their housing, if they're renting their apartments, just like myself.

COOPER: And what else you're looking at where price has gotten better?

ENTEN: OK. So, Anderson, once upon a time, I said, "Do you want to go on a cruise with me?" How about we go on a car ride together?

So, let's look at energy prices. Let's look at gas prices, in particular, and say, how much does it cost to do a round trip, just looking at gas prices, from here, to Washington, D.C.?

During the summer, it cost about $90, to go round-trip, based upon the gas prices. Now, it's down to $60 -- about $60. So, energy prices are one area, in which inflation has really dropped, and Americans are seeing that, when they fill up their gas tanks.

COOPER: What about food?

ENTEN: What about food? OK, what about food? I don't know if you know this about me. But I love chicken.

COOPER: I did not know that.

ENTEN: Chicken is a big thing for me. I love Popeyes. I love the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich.


ENTEN: Look at the price of skinless breasts, OK? What do we see? And boneless as well. What do we see? We see that the price has dropped 75 percent, on skinless boneless chicken breasts, since the middle of the summer. It is now under $1 a pound. It was closer to $3.50 a pound, during the summer. And a lot of Americans now are eating chicken much more than they used to, compared to beef, specifically.

COOPER: What does this mean for the chance of recession?

ENTEN: OK. So, oftentimes, you'll ask me questions. And I'll be like, "OK, I have the answer."

I have no idea on a recession! Literally no clue! Why? Look at all these different forecasts. They all vary significantly. Some forecasters put the chance of a recession, in the next 12 months, below 50 percent. Some put it slightly above.


The truth of the matter is I'll sort of give you this, shrug emoji to the camera. I'm not really quite sure, at this particular point.

COOPER: You're giving a shrug emoji to the camera? ENTEN: Sure, why not?

COOPER: Is there like an index, on your wallet, because they're like--

ENTEN: There is an index on my wallet.

COOPER: Can I just show the?

ENTEN: Sure. Please, go ahead.

COOPER: This is Harry Enten's wallet. Look at this. I mean, who carries wallet like this?

ENTEN: Well, I have the credit cards. But I should note, at this particular point, if you want, we can count it together, $5, $10, $15, $20, $25.

COOPER: No, but you have like things from high school, right, from when you were a child, in New York (ph).

ENTEN: We do have the things from high school. Hold on. Let's see if I can find an ID. Here's my college ID, right here, folks.

COOPER: Why do you have any college, why, why--

ENTEN: Right here.

COOPER: I mean?

ENTEN: Because, someday I might--

COOPER: You think--

ENTEN: --want to go back and learn a little bit, something. If this TV career doesn't work out for me, maybe I'll have to go back to school, and learn a little bit more.

COOPER: Right.

ENTEN: Then maybe then I might be able to predict whether or not we'll have a recession.

COOPER: All right, Harry Enten, appreciate it.

ENTEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Want to talk about the political implications, of these new numbers, what it could mean for President Biden's future, with Dana Bash, CNN's Chief Political Correspondent, and Co-anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION."

What did President Biden's speech today, say to you, about how he wants Americans to think about this issue?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN CO-ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: In a positive way. I'm sorry. It's hard for me to wrap my brain around that wallet,


COOPER: I know!

BASH: It makes me very nervous that he's going to lose it, with everything in there.

COOPER: It's likely (ph).

BASH: But on the important issues, of Americans' wallets, not just Harry Enten's wallets? That's really his message.

And, as Harry just went through, with the numbers, he has reason to crow, because the number, the inflation numbers, the areas that have brought so much economic pain, to Americans, are beginning to get better.

Now, he was making the argument, before the election that this was going to happen. And the election didn't go the way, the Democrats, or Republicans, necessarily, thought. But it wasn't because of inflation. There were other -- and other economic issues. There were other driving issues that led to the Democrats doing better than expected.

COOPER: I mean, is it possible to say that inflation is the most important issue, for the 2024 presidential election? I mean, if it stays high, how likely is it that Biden can get reelected?

BASH: It's really hard to say, right now. I mean, I was thinking about this, Anderson. If you and I, at this point, in the last presidential cycle--


BASH: --were to make a prediction? We didn't -- there was no such thing as COVID. There was no such thing as so much that we had to face. COVID, I think, probably is the biggest.

But here's what we do know, Anderson. What we do know, if we just kind of examined the last election? And I was kind of alluding to this before.

And that is, if Donald Trump is the nominee, voters are going to think much more about that and, about the election denialism and, about the threat to democracy that they clearly believe that he brings, based on the way that they voted against so many of the candidates, he supported, or those who supported his lies and his conspiracies, that that could dominate, even if there is an economic issue, even if it gets to the point, where there is a recession.

And that is the political gamble that someone, like Joe Biden, is making, when he says he does, at this point, want to run again, because he thinks that he's the best candidate, against Donald Trump.


BASH: We don't know if Donald Trump is going to be the nominee though. We are far from that decision.

COOPER: Yes. Dana Bash, appreciate it. Thanks so much.

BASH: Thanks.

COOPER: Coming up, China reopening, again, after years of harsh lockdowns. Mass protests, prompted the changes. But many are slow to venture out again. And you'll see why, when we take you to Beijing, next.



COOPER: China is opening up, again, after people rose up, against longtime COVID lockdowns. This is what protesters fought for. But now that the country is easing its restrictions, many are still living in ways, like they were before, quarantined at home, staying put, as cases climb again.

CNN's Selina Wang has more from Beijing.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: China is starting to unravel it zero- COVID policy. But instead of crowds out, celebrating, this is how reopening is going in China, clothes shops, empty streets, people avoiding each other, because, for the first time, since the start of the pandemic, COVID is spreading like wildfire, in Beijing. People now either have COVID, or they're scared to get it.

So, I just spoke to the shop worker, in the store. And he told me that he's the only employee, without COVID, which is why he can still come to work. And he says, "I am the only customer, who has come into this store all day."

The only crowds, I'm seeing, in Beijing, outside of hospitals, like this, and pharmacies.



WANG: So, he says his fever has gone down, but he still has a cold. Hoping to buy medicine, but he's worried they don't have any stock, because there's these long lines, forming outside of pharmacies, across the country. People are trying to stock up. But stuff is selling out.

For years, China has been demonizing COVID, playing up the risks of long COVID. And now, suddenly, state media is publishing headlines, every day, saying "COVID is not a big deal." It's whiplash, for a lot of people. Because just weeks before, if you got COVID, your whole community would have gone into hard lockdown. This is such a major and sudden change.

So, China is finally opening up.


WANG: How do you feel about it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel it's pretty great. I wish they could have opened up earlier.

WANG: Has business been very slow or difficult?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, you can see there are -- there are not that many customers, or other people just got the virus.

WANG: Are you scared about getting COVID?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm worried about my parents, and my grandparents, a little bit.

WANG: People are relieved though that you no longer have to go to a quarantine facility, if you get COVID. Getting sent to one of those rundown facilities was such a big source of anxiety, before.

And these health QR codes, that have been used, for years, to track and dictate where we can go? Well, the government is now saying that you don't need them to enter most public places.





So, I don't need to scan my code. It feels surreal though that I can literally just walk in.



WANG: So, she said, I can only do online delivery. So, you can't even sit inside, or order inside, in Shake Shack.

So, outside the Starbucks, they have a sign saying you need to show a 40-hour COVID test. Even though the national rules don't require it, in Beijing, you still need a recent PCR test, in order to enter restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues.

There are way less places now, to get COVID tests, in the city. And the lines are short, because most people are just staying at home. But just a week before, at this exact same location, this was packed with people, waiting in line.

So behind me is a graveyard of COVID testing booths. It's like almost overnight in Beijing, they removed all of these testing locations. And here's the remnants.

After years of harsh lockdowns, the government is finally letting people manage their own health. But people don't feel ready. And experts say the country isn't either. The country hasn't vaccinated enough of the elderly population, and hasn't improved the health care capacity enough. So this reopening, it's going to continue to be messy and uneven.


COOPER: Selina Wang joins us now.

Selina, does the government have any plans, in place, to increase vaccination rates?

WANG: Yes, Anderson, I mean, that is a key priority.

But health experts are saying it's coming too late, especially for that elderly population, where they are way behind. So, only 40 percent of those over 80 had received a booster shot, as of December 1. And experts say that third dose is necessary, to get enough protection, since China is using these less effective vaccines, compared to the mRNA vaccines, used overseas.

The fear is that even if there's just a tiny proportion, of severe cases, among the elderly, or under-vaccinated, when you've got a population of 1.4 billion people? That could still overwhelm China's health care system.

So, the other key priority is boosting ICU wards, which the government has pledged to do. So, for some context here, China has less than four critical care beds, per 100,000 people. In comparison, the U.S. has at least 24, for the same number of people.

But, Anderson, this reopening, it's been so sudden and abrupt that some people are panicking, rushing to hospitals, even if they've only got mild symptoms.

COOPER: Yes. Selina Wang, appreciate it. Thank you.

Up next, a CNN exclusive interview, with a former Russian soldier, who defected from the unit, accused of atrocities, around Kyiv. What he says he saw, on the frontlines, next.



COOPER: Ukraine's top diplomat, today, warned that the Russian missile attacks have turned the whole country, into a frontline. The nation's Foreign Minister said it doesn't matter if you're a soldier, or civilian, you are under attack. He also said that Russia's ability to launch a large offensive may be restored, as soon as the end of the month or -- excuse me, the end of next month.

Meanwhile, CNN's Fred Pleitgen has spoken, with a former Russian soldier, who defected from a brigade, accused of committing war crimes, in the Kyiv region. And, in his first TV interview, he talks about what he says, he witnessed. We want to warn you, some of the video, you're about to see, is disturbing.

Here's Fred's exclusive report.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): After the Russian army was forced to retreat, around Kyiv, the carnage came to light.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Bucha, Borodianka, and many other Kyiv suburbs littered with bodies.

Ukraine especially blames one Russian unit, for alleged crimes, here, the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, from Eastern Siberia.

Now, a deserter from that unit is speaking to CNN.

NIKITA CHIBRIN, RUSSIAN DESERTER: It's actually a big lie, for, for me. Like on the 24th February come in. OK everyone go to the war.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Nikita Chibrin defected, from the Russian military, and fled to Europe, where we met him, in a secret location. He shows me his military booklet, with a stamp, signed by the Commander of the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade, Colonel Azatbek Omurbekov, known in Ukraine, as the "Butcher of Bucha."

Chibrin says he and his comrades were given shoot-to-kill orders, even though Russia has denied any wrongdoing, by its forces, around Kyiv.

CHIBRIN (through translator): We had a direct command to murder those who divulged our positions. If someone had a phone, we were allowed to shoot him.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Chibrin says the unit was deployed to Belarus, shortly before the invasion, allegedly, for training. The soldiers had no idea they would soon advance into Ukraine. And he says, they weren't prepared for war.

CHIBRIN (through translator): Everyone thought they could be like Rambo. Those who said, "I will be shooting Ukrainians, easily, piece of cake," when they went to the frontline, and then they came back, they were like "We don't want no war."

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Chibrin says he too came under Ukrainian artillery shelling, and showed us this video, from near the town, Lipovka (ph), west of Kyiv.

He tells me he refused to fight because he was opposed to the war, and that his commanders called him a coward, and reassigned him to menial labor tasks, in the rear echelon. He says he didn't witness the mass killings the unit is accused of, but did witness plenty of crimes, against Ukrainian civilians, including looting.

PLEITGEN (on camera): They weren't trying to hide it. They did this very openly.

CHIBRIN: Yes, yes, yes. No need to hide this all. Everything want that they see, "Whoa, I want this thing. I want this," that everything they look and cars too made for looting.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And even rape.

CHIBRIN (through translator): I saw rapists running around, being chased, because they committed rape. The guys who did rape, I saw them run. Then I learned they were rapists. They raped a mother and a daughter.

They were never jailed. Just fired, just like that, "Go."

PLEITGEN (voice-over): CNN has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry, for comment. But we haven't received a reply.

Russia has consistently denied its forces were responsible for crimes against Ukrainian civilians. And President Vladimir Putin issued a decree, praising the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, for quote, "Heroism" and "Bold actions."


Nikita Chibrin fled Russia, while on leave. He gets emotional, when talking about his 4-year-old daughter, he left behind.

He says he wants to testify, against his commanders, before an International court, to shed light on what happened, in the war, he never wanted to be a part of.


COOPER: Fred Pleitgen joins us now.

Fred, is he afraid that the Russian forces will come for him?

PLEITGEN: Yes, he's very afraid that that might happen. And he's certainly living accordingly, in Europe.

And one of the reasons, we saw there, in the report that he's not communicating, with his daughter, right now, which he says hurts him very much, is for safety reasons. He says, first of all, he doesn't want to communicate too much, with his family, because he's afraid the Russians might find him then. But also, of course, that they could pressure his family back at home as well.

And of course, he's seen also what's happened to some other Russians, who were in exile, people who were poisoned, some who were killed. So, certainly he's definitely extremely concerned, and trying to play it as safe as possible, Anderson.

COOPER: Fred Pleitgen, appreciate it. The news continues. "CNN TONIGHT" with Laura Coates, and Alisyn

Camerota, is next, right after a break.


LAURA COATES, CNN CO-HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Good evening, everyone. I'm Laura Coates.