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Erin Burnett Outfront

Former Trump COVID Official: Trump Should Urge Supporters To Get Vaccine; GOP Members Of Congress Misleading Public About Vaccines?; GOP's McCarthy Blames Biden Admin. For Border Crisis, White House Blames Trump Admin. For "Dismantled And Unworkable System"; Interview With Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX); Cuomo Accuser Speaks With Investigators For More Than Four Hours; Texas GOP Calling For New Restrictions On Early & Main-In Voting. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 15, 2021 - 19:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, the next big GOP lie this time about vaccines. Why won't Trump step up to sell a vaccine that he desperately wants all the credit for making?

Plus, the White House says they have a handle on the situation at the border, but what does that mean for the record number of unaccompanied minors who are now in U.S. custody flooding the border?

And he told OUTFRONT he was worried about anti-Asian attacks because he stood up to the Texas Governor's order to drop masks and now the San Antonio restaurant owners dark predictions have come true. He's back with me tonight to tell you his story. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, a new lie. This lie could jeopardize herd immunity in the United States. It's a lie being pushed on Republicans by Republicans that is jeopardizing the whole nation. The lie is that the vaccine isn't worth it and the lie is working right now.

According to a new poll, 49 percent of Republican men say they won't get the vaccine. The number of Trump supporters overall who say the same 47 percent. So who can turn this around? Well, just listen to one of former President Trump's own top COVID officials.


DR. BRETT GIROIR, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH, HHS: The people who follow former president are very committed to President Trump and I think his leadership still matters a great deal. I think it's very important for former President Trump as well as the vice president to actively encourage all the followers to get the vaccine.


BURNETT: But Trump is not doing this, not doing it in any way, shape or form despite the fact that he actually went and got vaccinated himself in secret. He's apparently happy to have the protection for himself. But he is not caring enough about his supporters or the American population at large to tell others to follow suit.

And as usual, his loyal cadre of Republicans in Congress are following what he says. They're publicizing nonsensical reasons as to why they are not getting vaccinated themselves.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you get the vaccine or are you planning to get vaccinated?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): No, I had COVID. So I don't believe - I think that probably provides me the best immunity possible actually having had the disease.


BURNETT: Not true. First of all, I personally, like many of you probably, know multiple people who have gotten COVID more than once. But this is not anecdotal, this is science. The CDC website reads, "You should be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had COVID- 19. That's because experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19."

And then there's this excuse from sitting Congressman Madison Cawthorn. He says, "I won't be taking it. The survival rate is too high for me to want it."

Well, for him, the survival rate may be pretty high. He is 25 years old. But first of all, young people need to be vaccinated to provide the herd immunity for the whole population. And second of all, many of his constituents and supporters are far older or more vulnerable, but may follow his lead anyway. He's an elected member of Congress. And third of all, this is crucial, the unvaccinated are the vehicles for the virus to mutate which could put us all at risk of a more deadly vaccine resistant version.

Here's CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Jorge Rodriguez.


DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: If you are ill, you are going to cause mutations and you may cause that mutation which is going to be stronger than all of the other viruses causing resistance and making this epidemic worse. So just because you're going to be OK doesn't mean that the rest of us are going to be okay because of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: The fact that Trump and his supporters still refuse to tell

Americans to get the vaccine is literally crazy. And not just because, as I've laid out, it would save lives and prevent a more deadly version of the virus from possibly taking over. It is literally crazy, because Trump takes credit for the vaccine development itself. He views its development rightly as an epic and major achievement.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And if I weren't president, if you had sleepy Joe is your president, it would have taken you four years to have a vaccine. You would have never had a vaccine.

You wouldn't have a vaccine if it weren't for me for another four years.

Over and over again, we were told it would be impossible to deliver a vaccine by the end of the year. All of the experts said absolutely unthinkable Trump is exaggerating, it can't happen and we did it.


BURNETT: All right. He is exaggerating on one crucial thing here. It would not have taken four years. But Trump and his team do deserve credit for helping get this massive effort going. He's right that people didn't think it could happen by the end of the year and that it did.


Just ask top Biden current and transition health officials, who do they credit?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After all, this is an effort, the Republicans should know, began before we got here and we are carrying it out. This is a completely nonpartisan effort.

BURNETT: Does he deserve some credit?

PROF. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, BIDEN COVID-19 ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER: Yes, he absolutely does. I think he does deserve credit and we have to give him where credit's due.


BURNETT: OK. They gave Trump credit. And Biden's team now is not afraid even now to ask for Trump's help on vaccinations.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If former President Trump woke up tomorrow and wanted to be more vocal about the safety and efficacy of the campaign, of the vaccine, certainly we support that. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND

INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If he came out and said go and get vaccinated. It's really important for your health, the health of your family and the health of the country. It seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close follows would listen to him.


BURNETT: Absolutely inevitable and yet each day Trump refuses. And every day he does that and every day the GOP officials spout false excuses to avoid vaccination, people are dying. Right now on average, more than 1,300 people, 1,300 Americans a day even right now are dying of the virus.

Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT at the White House right now. So Phil, what is the White House doing to combat this, because these numbers of vaccine hesitancy it's irrelevant, frankly, who's hesitant when it comes to herd immunity, the numbers add up to a really big problem.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it's something White House officials have been cognizant of for several

weeks. Obviously, there's been a lot of focus on minority communities and vaccine hesitancy there, but without question in the White House officials I'm talking to you made clear, they are starting their outreach or actually have already started their outreach, recognizing that this would become such a significant issue.

And what they're doing really behind the scenes is a couple things, Erin. Keep in mind, they're going to unload about a multi-hundred- million-dollar public service announcement, PR campaign to try and get people to get vaccinated. But they understand that that's probably not the message that's going to reach out to Republicans to Trump supporters.

They want to reach out to their local officials. They particularly want to reach out to their doctors. Their doctors, they found an internal polling at the White House that the individuals doctor regardless of political persuasion, plays a huge role in whether or not they're willing to get the vaccine. They're also reaching out to conservative leaders, reaching out to faith leaders, reaching out to rural stakeholders as well.

This is all kind of happening behind the scenes with the recognition that perhaps President Biden isn't the best messenger, maybe not even Anthony Fauci is the best messenger. But making sure local officials understand grasp and then try and get the word out is their best way to get that message across.

Also, from a broader perspective, Erin, they are reaching out to main conservative stakeholders, main religious leaders. Anthony Fauci tomorrow, Dr. Francis Collins as well from the NIH will be holding a meeting with evangelical leaders, again, trying to pick off or find areas where they believe there's common ground where they believe there's leaders that they can reach out to that will get their message across to a political constituency that they may not share, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much.

And I want to go now to Matthew Dowd, Chief Strategist for the Bush- Cheney '04 presidential campaign and Dr. Jonathan Reiner who, of course, advised the White House medical team for President George W. Bush.

So Dr. Reiner, let's just take the numbers at face value, 49 percent of Republican men say they don't want to get vaccinated, 47 percent of Trump voters say they will not get vaccinated. What happens if that happens, these 47 percent and 49 percent don't get vaccinated?

JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, that's a huge number. So over 70 million people voted for the former president, so if 30 million to 35 million people decide they're not going to get vaccinated, it makes attaining herd immunity even that much harder.

Also remember that party affiliation is not equally distributed around the country. So if you look at some very deeply red states, look at places like Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Wyoming, now imagine the prospects for attaining herd immunity in those communities if almost half of the Republicans in those states skipped the vaccine.

So we can have huge pockets of active virus in this country for a very long period of time until we get everyone vaccinated, which is why it's so important for our leaders to reach out to people, reach out to people who are young, reach out to the conservative community and reach out to communities of color.

BURNETT: Yes, which is - and to your point, you have those pockets where it circulates and circulates. That's exactly what Dr. Rodriguez is worried about, that that's how the virus could mutate in such a way it could possibly evade vaccines and be more deadly than it was originally. If everyone could just imagine that for one moment, I would hope you'd think twice about getting vaccinated.


Matthew, are Trump and Republican leaders at fault here with this problem when you see its focus in the Republican Party?

MATTHEW DOWD, CHIEF STRATEGIST FOR THE BUSH-CHENEY 2004 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Absolutely. I was thinking today about - like if you were Charles Darwin, you wouldn't have to go to the Galapagos Islands. You could just sail the HMS Beagle up the Potomac and do a case study of natural selection and survival of the fittest among the GOP members in Congress in their behavior and what they're doing today.

Obviously, every voter and every person ought to do their own research and come to their own conclusions. But I feel for a lot of them because they've been lied to and I think your setup at the start of this show was perfect, which is they were lied to about the election, they've been lied to about climate change, they've been lied to about a number of things and they actually believe some of these leaders.

And so it is the leader's responsibility. They should be stating what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. My guess is there's a number of GOP leaders in Congress who are saying they're not going to get the vaccine, but are going to quietly get the vaccine, never talk about it, never say it.

So there's going to two lies. One, they're not going to tell a lie of omission and not telling their constituents to get the vaccine and two, a lie of commission where they're probably going to go and get the vaccine. But to me, this is evolution at its finest where you're going to see people - it's like they put a gun to their own head and threaten somebody and saying, if you don't do what I want you to do, I'm going to shoot as the gun is pointed at their own head, it makes no sense.

BURNETT: So Dr. Reiner, how dangerous is it? You have these kind of there's always a grain of truth in every truly effective lie. And Congressman Cawthorn, he says he doesn't need the vaccine because he's young. Well, he is young, so someone who's 25 and healthy, their odds of dying from this are incredibly low. But it misses the whole point of the fact that you can spread it to others and it can mutate and left that part out. Sen. Johnson says he doesn't need the vaccine because he had COVID.

Even though we all at this point know multiple people who've gotten very sick from COVID a second time, we just don't know what that time is where you would be immune. But they're both playing in on that little tiny grain of something that then becomes so powerful, Doctor.

REINER: Right. But the biggest reason, the most important reason for an elected leader on the national level to get vaccinated is to show their leadership by getting vaccinated, to show their constituents how important this is. I had a talk with a young man who works in our hospital today who was wearing a couple of masks and he looked a little bit concerned. And I asked him if he had been vaccinated and he said he had not. He was nervous about getting vaccinated.

The first thing I told him was that I had gotten vaccinate to show him that I thought the vaccine was safe. And then we spoke about it. So when our national leaders are photographed getting vaccinated, they show their confidence in the vaccines, it resonates and ripples down through their community.

A report in Axios today suggested that up to 25 percent of House members have not been vaccinated. I want to know who these people are, every single member who has not been vaccinated needs to explain why and I would primary challenge them for a dereliction of duty.

BURNETT: Matthew, to that point, one in four members of Congress has not been vaccinated and I want to be clear, Congress has its own supply. They're all eligible. They're public figures. They are all eligible. No one is jumping in front of the line to get it.

So we hear Sen. Johnson, Congressman Cawthorn giving their reasons. But a lot of them are completely silent about it. What is it about their thinking that makes them go against this?

DOWD: Well, I think the part of the problem, Erin, is because they have a constituency which they're afraid of. They're not leading as part of the problem in America today that we don't have people that actually lead. We have people that allow their constituents to stay in ignorance, instead of confronting the ignorance and saying, you can't believe that stuff you read on the websites.

There's people being told that if they get the vaccine, their DNA is going to change. That'll change their DNA and somehow that's going to happen through the course of the vaccine. I think what we should be doing is, yes, we should be confronting this craziness in Washington, D.C. And yes, we should be demanding Republican leaders get the vaccine and then tell people they got the vaccine and why they should get the vaccine.

But the likelihood of that happening is low. What I think we should really be doing is going to local leaders. I'll give you a perfect example, Erin.

I belong to a church here in this small town in Texas and over half the members of the church I belong to are Republicans and are Trump supporters. Right now, more than 70 percent of the people in the church have been vaccinated and they've been gotten vaccinated because the minister and the local leaders of the church have pushed on a weekly basis of why it's important to go do it and that's overcome the partisanship that comes out of Republican leaders in Congress.

So to me, yes, we should do our confrontation on this crazy, as I said, evolutionary example of people that don't seem to have caught up to where we are as a modern world.


But we really should be asking local leaders, local ministers, local people to take up where other leadership has left off and get people to do it, because they can overcome the partisanship on a local basis.

BURNETT: Yes. That's a powerful example. Both of you, thank you.

Next, speaking of Texas, the Governor claims his state needs more laws to prevent voter fraud, even though his attorney general reportedly spent more than 22,000 hours looking for fraud. And in those 22,000 hours found 16 examples of it.

But the influx of migrants at the border shows no signs of slowing down. One Democratic Congressman says Biden needs to act fast. The problem will spiral out of control. He's my guest.

And one of Gov. Cuomo's accusers just spoke with investigators for more than four hours. We'll tell you what she said about one of Cuomo's obsessions.



BURNETT: Tonight, CNN reporting the Biden administration plans to shelter more than 2,000 migrant teenage boys in the Dallas Convention Center as soon as this week. This is a blame game erupts over the immigration crisis at the southern border.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy in Texas highlighting the more than 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children in border control custody and pointing the finger directly at President Biden.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There's no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis.



BURNETT: And the White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, trying to lay out what they say they're doing to fix the problem and, of course, one of the big things they're saying is, well, they inherited it from the Trump administration.


PSAKI: This is a big problem. The last administration left us a dismantled and unworkable system.


BURNETT: Lucy Kafanov is OUTFRONT in El Paso near the southern border. So Lucy, Jen Psaki says the administration has a handle on this, but the numbers we're seeing, the images we're seeing, they don't give that impression. What's actually happening in terms of concrete action?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Erin, there's no denying that this is an incredibly complex humanitarian issue that's, of course, made even more difficult by the fact that we're dealing with this in the midst of a pandemic. The White House describing the surge as a challenge today.

Over the weekend, we learned that the Biden administration is mobilizing FEMA which, of course, normally deals with crises and natural disasters to help over the next 90 days to process this growing number of unaccompanied minor migrants arriving at the southern border, numbers that have risen to unprecedented levels in recent weeks.

We also learned for lawyers for children's attained at an overcrowded CBP facility in Donna, Texas reporting that some of those kids haven't seen sunlight for days, that they haven't been able to take showers for days, that they haven't been able to contact their parents.

And we also have the news that you referenced where we learned that FEMA has actually approached the city of Dallas to use an exhibit hall at the convention center there to temporarily shelter minor youths, unaccompanied minor youths ages 15 to 17 while they wait to be processed and connected with families or sponsors. And then, of course, all of this comes on the heels of this escalating

political crisis. You heard the Republican delegation there pointing the finger of blame on the Biden administration. But humanitarian groups don't see it that way.

I spoke to one head of a humanitarian organization who said, look, these are desperate people who need help and they are coming. They're fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries and he says that the numbers actually aren't that different that we've seen in previous peaks of surging migrants, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Lucy, thank you very much.

So I want to bring in now Democratic Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of Texas. His district includes McAllen and is along the U.S.-Mexican border. Congressman Gonzales, I appreciate your time.

So you're saying President Biden needs to act fast when it comes to controlling the situation at the border and as our own reporters have seen, we saw one reporter, 75 migrants coming in six ferries, essentially over the Rio Grande. The images coming in are worrisome. How quickly do you think this could get out of control?

REP. VICENTE GONZALEZ (D-TX): Well, it could get out of control very, very quickly. And clearly, a Biden administration is going to have much more compassion than what we saw during Trump. You're not going to see him divide families or cage children or rip children out of mother's arms. But we do need to have a process of law and order on the border and a process, an orderly process to ask for asylum.

And if you qualify to get into the country in a safe manner and a healthy manner. We're in the middle of a pandemic and my community on the border lost over 3,000 - I've lost over 3,000 constituents in my district and we're still in the pandemic, I'm still losing people every single day. I say we've turned the corner, but we're not out of the woods.

And it's clearly concerning and I think we need to have out of the box thinking in terms of better policy ideas, in terms of messaging better to migrants in Central America of more orderly ways to go through this. I've been advocating for a process where people could ask for asylum in their home country or in their neighboring country in a compound or in a place where we can - a safe zone where we can guarantee their security to do this.

BURNETT: OK. And that's pretty significant because when the White House is pressed on the problem, which they refuse to call a crisis, although by any numbers it would hit that standard compared to what it's been called before. They often blame the Trump administration for the situation at the border. Let me just play it for you.


RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We inherited a real mess. We inherited the facilities we have. ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The prior

administration dismantled our nation's immigration system in its entirety. What we are seeing now at the border is the immediate result of the dismantlement of the system.

PSAKI: We're in the circumstance we're in because not only was their approach inhumane, it was ineffective.


BURNETT: OK. So they're saying the Biden ministration inhumane, ineffective all of these policies, but then there are others pointing to the clear perception among would be migrants of the Trump administration was you are not welcome. The perception that some may have had, you're talking about what's the messaging in their home countries, of the Biden administration maybe we're going to get rid of everything Trump did and we're going to open the border.


So what's the truth here? I mean, Biden administration doesn't want to hear what I just said, but is there a grain of truth in that?

BURNETT: Yes. Well, clearly, the process and infrastructure at the border was tarnished during this past administration. But that's still no excuse for us to put a process in place that works, that's effective, that's safe.

We should not incentivize Central Americans to cross several countries and go through Mexico, a very dangerous track that they make. A lot of women are raped, family members in the U.S. are extorted to wire money down to cartels to bring these people down to our southern border.

So I think we should have a process in place where we can help them in their home country or in their neighboring country or certainly in southern Mexico create a center a lot like I have in my district. We have these camps. Very nice tent camps where migrants are living and process. I think we should do that there in a safer place and if they qualify for asylum, they should be able to get on a plane and fly in.

And if they don't, we have to figure that out. We have to come to terms with the fact that over 80 percent of the migrants that come across asking for asylum never qualify for asylum. And they're all absorbed into our economy because we have a labor shortage and we need a holistic approach to immigration.

We should have a robust guest worker program for those who don't qualify for asylum, because obviously we need them to work in taking some of the hardest jobs in America that nobody else wants, but we need to know who they are and do it in just a well-processed manner.

Children are special to me. And now they implemented a plan, the Biden administration, for them to be able to ask for reunification from their home country, that's a great start and that's a great idea that I think will start alleviating the border. But the message must be - the message can't be that if you get to our southern border and get across, we're going to process you and release you into our communities.

Our communities, my cities and counties along the border don't have the resources to care for this international issue that's happening on our border and to deal with it properly. So I think the federal government needs to certainly do more.

BURNETT: Well, I hope they listen to what you said. I hope those who would try to do something bipartisan would listen to what you just had to say because it was nuanced, and it was thoughtful and it wasn't all on one side or well on the other. I hope they do. Thank you very much, Congressman.

GONZALEZ: That's right. Thank you. Thank you so much.

BURNETT: And next, the Texas Governor supporting steps to make it harder for people to vote especially in the Democratic stronghold of Houston even though they spent 22,000 hours looking for fraud and found 16 examples statewide.

And the White House says President Biden finds the sexual harassment allegations against Andrew Cuomo troubling. Could Cuomo be losing support from his longtime friend, President Joe Biden?



BURNETT: New tonight, the lawyer for Charlotte Bennett revealing that she spoke with investigators today for several hours and provided over 120 pages of evidence. Bennett's lawyer saying one piece of information that came to light today was the governor's preoccupation with his hand size and with the large size of his hands indicated to Charlotte and other members of his staff.

This is after the White House says this about the growing allegations against Cuomo.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president finds it troubling, hard to read. And every woman who steps forward needs to be treated with dignity and respect. The New York attorney general is pursuing, of course, an independent investigation against Governor Cuomo and that is appropriate. The president believes that's appropriate as is the vice president.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, national political correspondent for "The New York Times", Alex Burns who has reported on Governor Cuomo for years, and the Albany-based author of "Politico New York Playbook", Anna Gronewold.

Thank you both very much.

So, Alex, you reported extensively on a close personal relationship between President Biden and Governor Cuomo. So, this puts the president in a bad spot. How much does this figure into the White House response to the allegations against Cuomo right now, given that, you know, senators from New York state have called for his resignation. I mean, you know, there aren't many who haven't done that as of yet.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Erin. It would be hard to name another governor who would be such a stuff case for President Biden to address than Andrew Cuomo. The reporting that I did last year during the campaign on their personal relationship, staffs on both sides, actually President Biden's sister, Valerie Biden Owens just stressed over and over again, the level of sort of personal, mutual respect and admiration that built over 30 or 40 years going back to when Governor Cuomo was an aide to his father, the previous Governor Cuomo.

And so, you know, last year that was just a vital political alliance for both of them, especially at the onset of the pandemic and I just think it is hard to over state how tough it would be on a personal level for President Biden to untangle himself in the relationship with Governor Cuomo.

BURNETT: So, Anna, they're dancing around, quote, troubling, quote, hard to read. That sounds like I'm trying to say something without saying anything at all. That's the stance of the White House.

The House Speaker Pelosi has also refused to call for Cuomo to resign. There is an investigation going on, though. Fifty percent of New Yorkers saying in a new poll they don't Cuomo should resign as governor. So, does this -- you know, in your mind, insure that he'll stay the course?

ANNA GRONEWOLD, CO-AUTHOR OF NEW YORK PLAYBOOK, POLITICO: I think he'll stay in the course. With this new polling out today feels like one of the first, I don't know if you would call it good but positive things that we have seen for Cuomo for the past several weeks and that's rare.

If you have 50 percent of people saying you should not resign and it backs up on arguments from Friday that I'm not elected by politicians, I'm elected by the people, and I think they still support me. It's a small majority, but it's a majority.


And you know what, Alex, is really interesting, Cuomo has tried to claim, and this was -- this was the height of the absurdity of what he tried the claim.


He tried to say all of these attacks and allegations because he's not a member of the political club. He's a three-term governor, his last name was Cuomo and his father was the governor. As you reported, he is incredibly connected into the political -- top echelon of the Democratic Party. The Biden-Cuomo families go way back. And by the way, just because you said it, Alex. Let me give everybody

some proof.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: My father admired Joe Biden and so do I. I had the honor to call him a friend to myself, the Cuomo family and all the people of the great state New York.

JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor, you are a really good friend. Only one man and woman I ever looked at and said you know, that person is better than me. I mean it. They did their job better than I can do it. And that was your dad.


BURNETT: Okay, so Alex that makes the point that you made. Would Cuomo listen to Biden if Biden says it is time?

BURNS: Erin, right no, it does not seem he's putting any capital at all on the line in order top resolve the situation in New York. And it should be noted, that has been basically par for the course with President Biden that he has not been sort of bigfooting around internal Democratic politics in the states or even on Capitol Hill.

But, you know, just to really, in that video, those clips that you just played, that mutual admiration is clearly genuine, it comes from being sort of moderate Democratic Catholic politicians of a certain generation and a certain cultural sensibility. Yeah, I think if President Biden were to reach out or communicate something in private that he did not say in public, the governor would take it seriously.

Erin, when I was reporting, I was told people very close to the governor at the time that the only people in public life of Governor Cuomo are respected as much as his own father were former Vice President Biden and former President Bill Clinton.

BURNETT: OK. So, Anna, let me ask you what we were hearing of Charlotte Bennett. Several hours with investigators today, 120 pages of evidence including a piece of information that came to life today was the governor's preoccupation with his hand size. I flinched when I hear that as probably does everybody else, male or female. What else can you tell us how all of that went today, Anna?

GRONEWOLD: You know, we don't have a lot of details of what their conversations were like. It does show people that the investigation is moving forward and quickly.

I think some people have been pointing to this investigation but also one that the assembly judiciary committee launched or said they would launch last week. They've been worried that it's just somehow, Cuomo is pulling the strings to buy sometime. It is not going to be quickly enough and it will be weeks and months away that anyone will get answers on this.

But having two hours of talking and 120 pages of testimonies, these conversations are being had. It sounds like the attorney general is moving quickly and that and the lawyers (INAUDIBLE)

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much. I appreciate it, Alex and Anna.

And next, voting rights are under attack. The latest state trying to make it hard to vote is Texas. Why?

And this man predicted violence against Asian-American businesses.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am nervous and I have anxiety has been at an all time high.


BURNETT: He said it here. What is he saying now? After he said that, his restaurant was vandalized with racist messages. He's my guest.



BURNETT: Tonight voting rights are under attack. Texas Governor Gregg Abbott announcing his support for new legislation to limit access to early voting, saying he has, quote, no doubt of election fraud played in 2020. It's part of a nationwide pause by Republican legislatures to change voting laws despite the fact there has been any evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Dianne Gallagher is OUTFRONT.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Already home to some of the most restrictive election laws in the country, Texas is now the latest state with the Republican legislature introducing bills that could make it even harder to vote.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Election fraud is unacceptable. That's exactly why I made it an emergency out of this session.

GALLAGHER: Despite no evidence of widespread fraud in 2020 election, Texas Republicans are calling for measures that impose new limits on early voting hours and added requirements on mail voting. Some legislation seems to be aiming at Harris County, a recent Democratic stronghold and home to Houston, which saw surge in turnout last year after the county implemented methods during the pandemic, such as 24- hour drive-through voting sites.

PAUL BETTENCOURT (R), TEXAS STATE SENATE: Uniformity and transparency and consistency. Wherever voters are, they should be having the same access to that type of voting. The attorney general's team looking for voter fraud in the 2020 election found 16 examples of false addresses on forms after 22,000 hours of staff time investigating, "The Houston Chronicle" reporting. Democratic officials say it is clear what Texas Republicans are trying to do.

JUDGE LINA HIDALGO, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: Obviously, these Republicans are hoping that their work is going to disenfranchise mostly Democrats. But the truth of the matter is, it's going to disenfranchise both parties.

GALLAGHER: The left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice says it's tracking more than 200 bills in 43 states that would restrict voting access in some ways so far this year, election experts say that many of the proposals would place a greater burden of voters of color with dramatic effect.

DAVID SCHULTZ, POLITICAL SCIENCE & LEGAL STUDIES PROFESSOR, HAMLINE UNIVERSITY: In many ways, it dwarfs what we saw during the Jim Crow era, in terms of numbers of people, number of states and numbers of laws.

GALLAGHER: That's the point echoed by Stacey Abrams about the sweeping election bills moving forward in her home state of Georgia.

STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR RIGHT: I do absolutely agree it's racist. It is a redux of Jim Crow, in a suit and tie. So, the only connection that we can find is that more people of color voted and it changed the outcome of the election where Republicans do not like.

GALLAGHER: And Georgia became Ground Zero for former President Trump's big lie after President Biden flipped the state in November and then Democrats won a pair of Senate there.

But not all Republicans in Georgia support the bills being advanced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans don't need election reform to win. We need leadership.

GALLAGHER: But in Iowa, Republicans have already acted. The state's GOP governor last week signed a new law that cuts Election Day voting hours and reduces early voting by nine days.

GOV. KIM REYNOLDS (R), IOWA: There are Americans across the state that had some concerns about what happened during the last election and I think it's imperative that it's just not understood but they feel that there's integrity in the election process.

GALLAGHER: The state was sued just 24 hours later.



GALLAGHER (on camera): And Democratic lawyer told me that they will sue other states, if they passed legislation like this into law. Now, according to election experts I've spoken with, the likelihood of this happening going into different states depends on control of the state.

They talk about this trifecta. One party, in this case Republican, having control over the three different areas, the state house, senate and governorship. And there's 23 different states across the country that have that and including here in Texas. Of course, there is no guarantee, outside pressure have been proven to work in other states.

BURNETT: All right. Dianne, thank you very much.

And next, restaurants in Texas vandalized with racist messages. Its Asian-American owner predicted it right here on CNN. He's my guest.

And Putin's critic Alexey Navalny sentenced to years in this notoriously brutal Russian prison. Tonight, you're going to go inside.


BURNETT: Tonight, a restaurant in San Antonio covered with anti-Asian graffiti after the owner spoke out to us against lifting the mask mandate in Texas. Mike Nguyen is the chef and owner of Noodle Tree in San Antonio and we've been following Mike's story throughout the pandemic.

Here is what he said just a couple of days ago to our Ed Lavandera about the governor of Texas in a piece that aired here OUTFRONT.


MIKE NGUYEN, CHIEF AND OWNER OF NOODLE TREE: What that's going to create is conflict at some point. You know with me being Asian- American and we see all these attacks on Asian-Americans throughout the nation, that kind of concerns me.

I have had people sent me nasty messages saying you know -- know -- putting the blame on me. Like, go back to China or you and your kung- flu.


BURNETT: And Mike Nguyen is back with me tonight.

So, Mike, the graffiti that happened after you said that included several anti-Asian slurs and it even had the word "hope you die." I mean, and we see kung-flu. I mean, how worried are you right now or afraid for your safety?

NGUYEN: There are some concerns today and some of the threats came in and they were more active than normal. You know I am still trying to decide -- every since I have been vigilant when I am out about and making sure of my surroundings. So, there is a concern that this is going to escalate to something worse. What's the next step they're going to do, harm or death?

So, you know, the death threats came, and the other threats are coming in.


So, I mean, there is a lot of concerns.

BURNETT: I mean, I would imagine and I can only imagine how it feels.

I mean, you know, you talk about last Wednesday. I mean, that's when that piece aired where you spoke and you talked about your concern about attacks against Asian-Americans. What was your emotional, your visceral reaction, Mike, when you came in after that and you actually saw the vandalism, the racism on the glass of your pride and joy, your restaurant?

NGUYEN: I was very upset. I was to a boiling point. Different seeing the picture but when you see it in, you know, when you see it, like, in real life, like, it's real at that point, and, you know, just to try to figure out why someone would have so much hate over my opinions and my views to the point where they would, you know, wish death upon me. Like, that -- I don't understand. I don't understand how it got to that point.

You know, and, you know, I'm concerned that this is going to escalate not only to myself but other Asian Americans around here. Not only the businesses but other Asian Americans that live in the United States.

BURNETT: So, Mike, you have been courageous in speaking about this, and then this happened a week ago. You know, I wouldn't blame anyone for saying I don't want to talk about it after that because it's terrifying, right? Of course, it is. But you have this incredible courage that you want to keep speaking out. You're coming back on the show to talk about it.

I mean, tell me why. Tell me why speaking out is so important to you.

NGUYEN: It was the vandalism that happened, the racist remarks is not a representation of us Texans or San Antonioans, either, you know? I'm not going to back down. I'm not going to be intimidated. You're not going to scare me, you know?

And since this happened to me, you know, I've always talked about our governor being a leader. Being an Asian-American myself and own a business, there is a lot of crimes happening out there, the hate crimes in the past year and, you know, I feel like it's kind of my job to kind of bring more awareness to it before it gets to a point where, you know, I wish it doesn't escalate. And I don't want it to get to that point.

I want that, you know, if something does happen to fellow Asian- Americans that we speak out, you know, and put awareness on this so this stops before it gets to a deadly point.

BURNETT: Well, I am really grateful for your speaking out. I know a lot of people watching are. I know it comes at great personal risk.

I hope everyone understands that. You're giving a voice to so many people not able to speak out and are going through this. So thank you, Mike, and I hope this is heard. Thank you.

NGUYEN: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Mike Nguyen. And next, we're going to go inside Russia's penal colony number two.

It is one of the most brutal prisons in Russia, and now it is home to top Putin critic Alexey Navalny, who is behind bars.



BURNETT: Tonight, life just got a lot worse for top Putin opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who's already survived a nerve agent poisoning that led to U.S. sanctions on seven Russian officials. Navalny now in custody at penal colony number two, a notoriously brutal prison work camp.

Matthew Chance takes us inside the infamous prison.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Okay. So we're coming up now on the penal colony where Alexey Navalny is going to spend the next two and a half years, actually a couple of hours from Moscow. So, it's going to be much easier for his friends, his family and his colleagues to come and visit him here.

That doesn't mean that Russia's opposition leader is getting an easy ride because this particular penal colony in a Vladimir region is one of Russia's most notorious.

(voice-over): Hidden behind a corrugated fence and rusty razor wire, colony number two looks like a grim unwelcoming place. You can't see much from inside but Putin critic Navalny, his head shaven, has already aired his impressions on Instagram. I had no idea it was possible to arrange a real concentration camp so close to Moscow, he posted.

A team behind Navalny who's already survived a nerve agent poisoning before being put behind bars is also broadcast these drone images from above showing the bleak barracks where they eat, work and sleep. Fifty to 60 people crammed into a single dorm say former inmates. Not ideal during a pandemic.


CHANCE: This is where you stayed?

Konstantin Kotov says he'll never forget his ordeal on the inside. He had been imprisoned here twice he told me after being arrested at anti-Kremlin protests and during nearly a year of psychological torture. It won't be easy he says for Alexey Navalny even.

They forbid you to talk with other convicts he tells me. You're only feet or day from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and never allowed to sit down. You can't even read or write letters he says for weeks on end and if you break any tiny rule, you'll be disciplined, humiliated and isolated even further he says. Russian prison authorities insist that insist Navalny will be treated

like any other prisoner and not singled out but scrutiny here isn't welcomed.

This is the front gate of the prison colony where Alexey Navalny is being in turned. These guards are waiting for us. One of the guys shaking his head with the lovely dog.

Is it possible to register to be in this area?


It's because it the territory of the prison they say we can't even register to be here. Russians are notoriously secretive about their prisons because the conditions inside are poor, not just in this one but in prisons around the country.

This disturbing video posted by a Russian newspaper shows prisoners being cruelly beaten by guards in a penal colony in Yaroslav (ph), the region next door to where Navalny is being held. A Russian court convicted several people of involvement of a national prison scandal that is common knowledge among inmates these kinds of beatings are widespread.

Navalny says there's been no hint of violence towards him so far.

It's forbidden.

It may be his enemies at the Kremlin simply want their most prominent critic out of public view.

All right. Thank you.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Vladimir, Russia.


BURNETT: All right. And thanks very much. Incredible report there.

And thanks so much to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.