Return to Transcripts main page

Erin Burnett Outfront

Prosecutor: Today's Verdict Was "Based On The Facts, Based On The Evidence," Because "The Jury System Works In This Country"; After 11 Hours Of Deliberations And 8 Days Of Testimony, Jury Finds 3 Men Guilty On 23 Of 27 Charges On Ahmaud Arbery Killing; Ahmaud Arbery's Mother: "I Never Thought This Day Would Come"; GOP Officials Question Why RNC Would Foot Trump's Legal Bills When He's A Self-Professed Billionaire With $120M War Chest; China Steps Up Censorship In Wake Of Peng Shuai Allegations; Thanksgiving Gas Prices Highest In Nearly A Decade. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 19:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: All right. Brian Todd, thank you very much. I'm Jim Acosta. Have a very happy Thanksgiving. Mom, I'll get the turkey. Get the stuffing ready. I'm on my way. I'm going to show up hungry on this Thanksgiving. I hope you do too.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, guilty. Three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. Emotional scene inside the court as the verdict was read tonight and what's next for the convicted murderers?

Plus, the Republican National Committee using donor money to pay legal fees for Trump. Trump the self-proclaimed billionaire, why? A longtime Republican donor responds.

And China going to extremes to block coverage of tennis star Peng Shuai safety. Details on their disturbing censorship. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, justice for Ahmaud Arbery. That is what a jury delivered today. That's according to the prosecutor and the high profile case. The three men who chased down and killed the 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery as he was jogging today found guilty of murder.

Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan stood, showing little emotion as the jury's decision was read. Guilty on 23 of the 27 total counts. Let me say that again, 23 times they read out the words guilty today. The only not guilty verdicts were malice murder for Greg McMichael. As for Brian not guilty of malice murder, one count felony murder and one count aggravated assault, 23 guilties.

Now, outside the courthouse, there was relief as the jury's decision was read. Now, I want to note that it was a decision that took the jury time.

They deliberated. They went through the details more than 11 hours to reach it. There were eight days of testimony. There were 23 witnesses. The guilty verdicts, though, after all of that were overwhelming. The jury doing its duty, reviewing the evidence.

Now, some people tried to make racial makeup of the jury which consisted of 11 white jurors and one black juror, a key issue before the verdict. But the prosecutor says she was confident that the jury would do its job based on the evidence, period.


LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts.



DUNIKOSKI: Based on the evidence.



DUNIKOSKI: And that was our goal.


DUNIKOSKI: Was to bring that to that jury so that they could do the right thing, because the jury system works in this country.


BURNETT: The jury system works in this country and Arbery's mother thanking everyone for their support.


WANDA COOPER-JONES, AHMAUD ARBERY'S MOTHER: I never thought this day would come. Now, Quez, which you know him as Ahmad, I know him as Quez ...


COOPER-JONES: ... he will now rest in peace.



BURNETT: Ryan Young begins our coverage tonight OUTFRONT live in Brunswick, Georgia. And Ryan, you were there today when the verdict came down after 11 hours. Many were uncertain. Nobody knew how this would go. Tell me what it was like there as that announcement was made.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So very interesting, Erin. A lot of times it's hard to feel the emotion through the screen. I can tell you when I walked out of court, I was walking amongst the people when the announcement was getting ready to be made.

Everyone had their phone glued to some sort of streaming service. They see exactly when the first announcement was going to be made. And not only in the court did you hear the emotion from Ahmaud's father when he yelled that. But this crowd was emotional. They were yelling every time the word guilty was read.

I think people were in shock. I had one woman grabbed my hand and literally say to me, she was like, "I cannot believe this is actually happening." And when you think about how this has played out for the last two weeks, this entire area has been on pins and needles waiting for today.


JUDGE TIMOTHY WALMSLEY, SUPERIOR COURT, STATE OF GEORGIA: Count one, malice murder. We, the jury, find the defendant Travis McMichael guilty.


YOUNG(voice over): Today, a jury convicted, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.


JUDGE WALMSLEY: Count three, felony murder. We, the jury, find the defendant Greg McMichael guilty.


YOUNG(voice over): Travis Michael was found guilty in all nine counts. His father, Gregory McMichael, was found not guilty on malice murder, but was found guilty on all other eight counts. William Bryan was found guilty on six counts, including three felony murder charges. Brian was the man who took the video of the shooting. He was found not guilty of malice murder, one felony murder charge and aggravated assault with a firearm.


JUDGE WALMSLEY: Find the defendant William R. Bryan guilty.


YOUNG(voice over): All three men left the courtroom today in handcuffs. Arbery's mother sat in court when their guilty verdicts were read visibly crying. Outside the courthouse, she shared her gratitude.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER-JONES: Thank each and every one of you who fought this fight

with us. It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight, but God is good. Thank you for those who marched, those who pray, most of all the ones who prayed.




YOUNG (voice over): The jury, made up of nine white women, two white men and one black man deliberated for more than 11 hours after eight days of testimony from 23 witnesses. Earlier today, before reaching the verdicts, the jury asked to see the two video clips. One of them enhanced from the deadly February 2020 shooting.

They also asked to hear that 911 call that Gregory McMichael made the day Arbery was shot and killed.


GREGORY MCMICHAEL, DEFENDANT: I'm out here in Satilla Shores. There's a black male running down the street.


YOUNG (voice over): During the trial, the three defendants had claimed they were trying to make a citizen's arrest of Arbery the day they jumped into a truck, chased Arbery and killed him. They said they suspected Arbery had burglarized a nearby home construction site referring to video Arbery wondering inside that home months before being killed.


JASON SHEFFIELD, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He wanted to stop him for the police to detain him.


YOUNG (voice over): But the prosecution said Arbery was just out for a jog. He hadn't committed a crime and wasn't armed.


DUNIKOSKI: Everybody in the states had a gun except, Ahmaud Arbery.


YOUNG (voice over): Now all three defendants are facing a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for their actions in the killing of Arbery.


COOPER-JONES: Now, Quez, which you know him as Ahmaud, I know I miss Quez.


COOPER-JONES: He will now rest in peace.



YOUNG (on camera): You think about the fact that while everyone was cheering outside, Erin, in the back there was this walk and all three men were taken to separate cars, taken back to jail. We know federal charges are headed their direction. We do believe an appeal will happen from all three men, but there was a resounding sort of sound from here of relief after all this is said and done.

Rev. Jesse Jackson reached out later and said he believes justice was served. But you can imagine after all the things that have happened in terms of this video being released, the people waiting that they were really wanting to see what would happen with justice. And again, they felt like justice was being served today. Erin?

All right. Ryan, thank you very much. And I want to go now to Paul Martin, criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, along with Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, former defense attorney and the former Mayor of Baltimore.

So Paul, the jury deliberates for more than 11 hours. Last night you made it very clear, you thought a verdict would come today. You were right. It did. All three defendants found guilty, 23 times they read out the word guilty today in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Were you surprised at how this turnout?

PAUL MARTIN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & FORMER PROSECUTOR: I was not surprised. I was worried. After the overwhelming evidence in this case, I would be shocked that the verdict would be something else. But the relief that everyone seemed to have that justice was served, that was a pleasant feeling.

BURNETT: So Mayor Rawlings-Blake, I want to play the moment of the lead prosecutor reacting to today's verdicts. It was an important moment. Here she is.


DUNIKOSKI: When you present the truth to people and they could see it right, they will do the right thing. And that's what this jury did today in getting justice for Ahmaud Arbery.


BURNETT: I mean, I guess, she can't say it better, but you put those individuals in a room and that is what you got no matter what people thought might happen.

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE, FORMER MAYOR OF BALTIMORE: She did her job and she should be commended and the jury did their job and they should also be commended. You could tell that they really took their time and they weighed all the charges. They listened to the jury instructions and they overlooked the unfortunate dog whistles that the racial dog whistles that the defense attorneys were trying to blow.

I said they were blowing those dog whistles till they were blue in the face trying to get some sympathy from, at least, one of the jurors trying to dehumanize Ahmaud Arbery and I've just am grateful that the jury did not buy it.

BURNETT: Right. You're referring to one of the times, they tried to refer to Ahmaud Arbery toenails and that they were dirty as to why that would be relevant in any way, but I know that's one of the things you're referring to.

So Paul, just hours before the jury came to the verdict, in these 11 hours, they asked to rewatch the cellphone video of the attack that William Bryan had taken. You can see Travis McMichael struggling with Ahmaud Arbery and I want to play a clip, because they asked for this at the end right before they asked to watch this again. Here it is.



BURNETT: So when they said today they want to rewatch that, what went through your head? They specifically asked for that video and you're expecting a verdict today and they asked for that.

MARTIN: I think they want to be sure. I think they want to look at that video one last time before they walk into that courtroom and stand before that judge and before those defendants and say that they are guilty. And so the video was clear evidence of the intent of these individuals. The fact that Arbery was doing nothing other than jogging while black and I think the video bore that out and I think they wanted to see it one last time before coming into the court.


BURNETT: So to that point, Mayor, we're talking about the jury rewatching that video evidence today, thinking back to a few days ago in the Rittenhouse trial, when the same thing happened. They asked for several videos, I believe it was six in that case, because they wanted to watch them all again. And obviously you were talking about that with us every day.

I mean, look, these two cases were very different. But now we have just seen in two very different parts of this country with two very different juries, Americans who took that jury duty and walked in there and took their jobs incredibly seriously weighed the evidence and did the best they could, what do you take away from that?

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: I take away that it's crazy to me, I heard today that the jurors were getting some flack because they said that if they were going to say guilty that they could have done it in a shorter amount of time. And I say, you cannot take that away from the jury. They need that time to consider all of the evidence.

And honestly, if they were to come out with a guilty right off the bat, it would fall right into the hands of the defense attorneys who were saying that they were pressured from the black pastors in the gallery to the protesters out front. They took their time and I'm grateful, that it's clear that they took their responsibility very seriously. They were they were sentencing or finding guilty on some very, very serious charges, the most serious, so they had to get it right.

BURNETT: And Paul, of course, they could never again be out of jail, any of them. I mean, that's what we're looking at here as what's going to happen. Life without the possibility of parole.

Now, they are, of course, going to appeal, all three have now said they're going to appeal. How does that go?

MARTIN: So they will file an appeal, they'll file a notice of appeal and then they'll file appeal with the next appellate division and a court will review the trial transcript. The judge in this case was very even handed and his decisions made sense. I believe the evidence supports the verdict and so the chances of it being overturned on appeal are slim to none. And then they have the federal case they have to face as well.

BURNETT: That's right. That's right. They have federal charges, hate crimes as well. Thank you both very much.

And next, President Biden reacted to the verdicts saying while today's decision suggests America's justice system is doing its job, it's not enough. Two former leaders from the NAACP are next.

Plus, Trump loves to brag about his wealth.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ran and everybody knew I was rich person.

I'm much richer than almost anybody.


BURNETT: So why does the RNC pay his legal bills?

And China facing new pressure tonight to provide independent and verifiable proof that Chinese star Peng Shuai is safe?



BURNETT: Tonight, Ahmaud Arbery's parents speaking out for the first time since a jury found their son's killers guilty of murder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER-JONES: To tell you the truth, I never saw this day back in

2020. I never thought this day would come back, but God is good.

MARCUS ARBERY, AHMAUD ARBERY'S FATHER: I wouldn't want to see no daddy watch their kid get lynched and shot down like that. So it's all our problem. It's all our problem. So hey, let's keep fighting. Let's keep doing it and making this place a better place for all human beings.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now Ben Jealous: former President and CEO of the NAACP and Pastor John Perry: former president of the Brunswick, Georgia Chapter of the NAACP. And of course, I know Pastor, you are at the courthouse every day of this trial. So let me just start with what today meant to you after 11 hours, they come to a verdict before Thanksgiving. You may have anticipated they would come to a verdict. But you may not have anticipated everything you heard. What did it mean to you?

REV. JOHN PERRY III, FORMER NAACP PRESIDENT, BRUNSWICK GA CHAPTER: Well, for me, personally, it was breathtaking. I went through this process with a sense of hope that we would get a guilty verdict. But to actually get the guilty verdict said that our justice system wasn't fully broken, that there's still some level of hope for our justice system and so I believe that everyone on those grounds felt the same way.

BURNETT: So Ben, I want to read some of President Biden's statement after the verdict. Here is what he said. He said, "While the guilty verdicts reflect our justice system doing its job, that alone is not enough. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to building a future of unity and shared strength, where no one fears violence because of the color of their skin."

And obviously, he's referring to the fact that this even - not talking about the jury or what happened, talking about the fact that Ahmaud Arbery was shot in the first place. Is this verdict a step in that direction or not that far?

BEN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY AND FOUNDATION: This is a very good sign that the people of Brunswick and the people of Georgia are moving in the right direction. At the same time, we can't forget that it took days and weeks and months before these charges were brought that they were only brought because videotape was leaked. And it suggests quite frankly, that the person who's the district attorney, perhaps, should find a different job and that the people need to keep building a movement to make sure that justice actually reflects the best of our nation, the best of Georgia and the best of Brunswick.

The fact that a prosecutor had to be brought in from a different county is a reminder that quite frankly that the leadership in law enforcement in Brunswick often lags behind the people.

BURNETT: So I want to ask you a follow on that quickly here first, Ben, because as you point out, no one was arrested until more than two months when the cell phone video of that confrontation leaked online. So getting back to - all the way through here systemically what needed to change. A person was shot who shouldn't have been shot and no one would have ever known about it had it not leaked online. From there, the justice system did its job, but those two starting points are deeply problematic. Let me just play that moment of when it went online.




BURNETT: So nothing happened for two months, that video comes out and then the reels of justice begin. Do you have hope, Ben, and that this sort of thing isn't happening now, won't happen again?

JEALOUS: Oh, no, I'm sure that it's happening somewhere. As you say, racism is not new. It's just being caught on videotape. But I'm also really, I think my spirits are bolstered both by this verdict and the verdict in the Charlottesville case, two juries, south of the Mason Dixon doing the right thing.

Again, it suggests that the people of our country are moving forward in a way that law enforcement too often is not. And that the people therefore need to get much more involved in determining who represents them as the prosecutor of the county as the top prosecutor, and who represents them as sheriff, and who represents them as judge.

Too often, frankly, the people who are in those elected positions lag like a generation behind the rest of us and it's at a great price to justice in this country.

BURNETT: So Pastor Perry, that gets me to the jury, right?

PERRY: Right.

BURNETT: Regular citizens and there's been a lot of talk throughout this trial about the racial makeup of that jury. Eleven white people, one black person. During the jury selection, prosecutors objected because defense attorneys repeatedly move to strike potential black jurors from the trial, prosecutors call it unconstitutional. But you hear the prosecutor today and say the jury system works in this country. All three men, of course, found guilty.

And despite a whole lot of headlines before the verdict, focusing on the racial makeup of the jury, the jury just did the right thing. Does that give you hope?

PERRY: Well, (inaudible), of course, the air was knocked out of us as a community when we found out that the jury was going to only have one black person. And what it said to us as a community is that our justice system has ways of alienating black and brown people from the process and that was highly concerning. Of course, with gavel to gavel coverage, many people were being

educated on our legal system as they went through the process. And they discovered that that's one of the areas that we need to come together and aggressively deal with. Now, it's refreshing to know that the consciousness of our citizens have evolved and they can make just decisions despite color.

And so we're excited about the fact that with 11 whites and one black, that we were able to get the justice that we got in this particular case. But as Ben stated, in so many other places, today is not the case and so there's a lot of work that we have to do.

BURNETT: All right. I appreciate both of you taking the time on this Thanksgiving eve. Thank you.

JEALOUS: Thank you.

PERRY: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, some Republicans are not happy the RNC is paying the legal bills of former President Trump who claims to be a billionaire. One of those Republicans, a top donor is next.

Plus, the incredible lengths China is going through to bury tennis star Peng Shuai's rape accusations against a top communist leader. Scrubbing social media to silencing CNN, wait till you see it.



BURNETT: Tonight 'nothing about this is normal'. Those are the words of one former top Republican National Committee official after learning that the RNC has paid more than $121,000 of former President Donald Trump's legal fees. Yes, this Donald Trump.


TRUMP: I ran and everybody knew I was a rich person.

I'm much richer than almost anybody.

I don't need anybody's money.


BURNETT: And he said he was going to pay for his campaign, all that stuff. None of that ended up being true. Anything that was paid was then reimbursed later, small donors are paying bills here, which begs the question, if Trump is so rich, why is he taking this when he says he has billions?

Well, that's unclear. But what is clear is that some Republicans are pretty angry about it. Not only is the RNC is supposed to remain neutral and, of course, Trump has said he may run again in 2024, so paying his legal fees is not neutral. But it also means that some Republican candidates may have gotten less money than they wanted or needed in recent campaigns, including ones that ended up being super close where money may have made a huge difference.

OUTFRONT now a longtime Republican donor, Dan Eberhart. So, Dan, I'm glad to have you on tonight to get your perspective on this. So when you hear that the RNC is reimbursing $121,000 at least of Trump's legal fees, as a donor, how do you feel about that?

DAN EBERHART, GOP DONOR: Well, it really, honestly frustrates me, Erin. I think that Trump's political action committee had $102 million cash at the end of July. They certainly have enough money to take care of these kinds of issues.

Look, when I give money to the RNC, I want that money to go to infrastructure, to win elections and I want it to go to offense to help us in the 2022 midterm from here on out. And I feel like taking care of a past candidate, which is what Trump is at this point, legal bills is not necessary and is defensive maneuver. It's not what the RNC should be doing, frankly.

BURNETT: Well, especially when they're supposed to be neutral and as of now he's made it clear he intends to be a candidate in 2024, who knows. So what does this mean then for you, Dan, do you continue to support the RNC as your way to support Republican candidates are no?

EBERHART: Well, a little bit, first of all, I will say that the RNC is using Trump and Trump's image to raise the money. So from that standpoint, I see why they feel tied to Trump and they're really tied to pretzel here, especially if Trump gets into the 2024 primary. But for me, it makes me want to focus more on the NRSC, more on the RGA, and more on the NRCC and less on the RNC moving forward.

BURNETT: Well, I mean, right because all this money adds up, all this money that Trump say he's going to pay himself and he reimbursed with all this other money from big donors like you, but what about all the small donors, 10, 20 bucks chip in here, chip in there. Those people are paying Trump's legal bills and not Trump while he's hanging out in Mar-A-Lago?



Look, Trump's political action committee had $102 million at the end of July. The RNC is sitting on $68 million cash. I'd like to see that money used to win the 2022 midterms, paying for Trump's legal bills I don't think is helpful for that. And I think it sends the wrong signal to donors about what the RNC cares about and the direction they're going.

Look, Trump can take care of his own legal bills. We need that money to win midterms in 2022.

BURNETT: Right, and if Trump really cares about this stuff, he should pay his own legal bills, right? Easy to go ahead and pursue fake election stuff when it's someone else's money. I want to ask you about one other thing before you go, Dan, because obviously, President Trump met with Kyle Rittenhouse who was acquitted on charges of shooting two people fatally.

Here's what Trump said about it.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Really, a nice, young man. And what he went through, he should -- that was prosecutorial misconduct.


BURNETT: Of course, the jury did its job there. It has now turned into a political football, which is deeply unfortunate. And so, Trump puts out this photo and behind him, you know, there is a photo of Trump with Kim Jong-un, right? He places it perfectly.

Congressman Matt Gaetz and Republicans have all offered Rittenhouse an internship. They have exalted him as a hero. Tucker Carlson has done profiles on him, right? He has been taken on as sort of a symbol of the right.

Does this bother you?

EBERHART: It does bother me. Look, Rittenhouse and what happened with this whole thing is a national tragedy no matter what the jury came back with. These, you know, politicians including Trump, Gaetz, and others on the right running to the spotlight to embrace Rittenhouse and meet with him, and further elevate his profile. To me, this is just the wrong thing.

Republicans need to be focusing on, you know, what matters to people in terms of the economy, in terms of what the Democrats and Biden are doing and in terms what they want to get done in Washington. To me, this is -- this just smacks as politicians running toward the headlines. That doesn't really accomplish anything for voters and anything to move the party forward.

So I find it a little bit distasteful and I would rather them focused on forward-moving things and not running to the spotlight.

BURNETT: Yeah. Well, it also continues to taint people's perception of the justice system, which is just wrong.

All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time, Dan.

EBERHART: Thank you. Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, I will talk to one man who was sentenced to five years in a Chinese prison for alleged spying. He credits global attention for his release and for the fact that he can talk to you tonight.

So, does he think the headlines surrounding tennis star Peng Shuai will help her case?

Plus, the international power struggle over rising gas prices. Who really has the power? President Biden? Or Saudis' crowned prince?



BURNETT: New tonight, the European Union calling for, quote, independent and verifiable proof about where Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai is, and that she is safe and also and, this is crucial, demanding a transparent investigation into her allegations that she was raped by a Chinese Communist Party leader.

China has refused to do so and is going to great lengths to censor coverage of the story in the hopes that we'll all get tired of covering it, the Olympics. They want to make money and it will all just go away.

Will Ripley is OUTFRONT.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can see that as soon as you started talking about this story, Erin, it went to color bars.

(voice-over): When China's communist rulers don't like the message --

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR; This broadcast is not being aired in China. It's being censored.

RIPLEY: They silence the messenger.

They have an army of sensors waiting to push that button.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: They don't want the people there to see it.

RIPLEY: CNN coverage of tennis star Peng Shuai blocked inside China.

JENNIFER HSU, RESEARCH FELLOW, LOWY INSTITUTE: It really tries to control the story. Control the narrative.

RIPLEY: Controlling the narrative means scrubbing social media.

Peng's explosive post on November 2nd, accusing a retired Chinese leader of sexual assault, erased within 30 minutes. Look for the story on China's leading-search engine, you get this message -- sorry, no relevant results found.

The scandal so politically sensitive, a high-profile state propagandist referred to it on Twitter as the thing people talked about.

Inside China, state media staying silent. No mention in the mainland's TV or digital media. Outside, those news outlets eagerly tweeting updates and images of Peng. In English. On a platform blocked in their own country.

An irony not lost on millions following the story outside China, some even mocking the state media tweets. Peng is seen smiling but not talking at a tennis tournament, having dinner with friends, and a Chinese sports official who just so happens to mention the exact date several times.

CNN has no way to independently verify these videos or this e-mail, supposedly from Peng to the head of the women's tennis association last week claiming everything is fine. A computer cursor visible in this apparent screen shot. The head of the WTA telling OUTFRONT he's not convinced.

STEVE SIMMON, WTA CHAIRMAN AND CEO: I'm just struggling to -- to agree to that. And -- and don't believe that's the truth at all.

RIPLEY: The WTA demanding direct, uncensored communication with Peng. The organization's repeated calls and messages to the tennis star, unanswered.

HSU: China is well known for coercing statements to show that everything is fine.

RIPLEY: China's narrative bolstered by the International Olympic Committee. The IOC handed out this single image of a video call Sunday along with a statement summarizing the call, claiming Peng is safe and well, totally ignoring her painfully detailed allegation of sexual assault.

With billions of dollars in ad revenue on the line, critics call the IOC complicit in China's apparent silencing of a three-time Olympian who many fear is being held under duress, censored by China's authoritarian government, which blames hostile forces for politicizing the issue.

When CNN goes to the next story, our signal returns.


As China waits for the news cycle to move on, the pressure keeps growing. The world keeps demanding answers.


RIPLEY (on camera): You are watching the Chinese censorship live right now in real-time. As soon as you started reading the intro, Erin, it went to those color bars. There are some hours of CNN programming in China, where there is a ticker at the bottom of the screen. As soon as the ticker mentions Peng Shuai, they go to the color bars.

It takes a vast amount of resources to make this happen and in fact there is a branch of the People's Liberation Army that is devoted to not only censorship but also disinformation. Trying to plant fake-news stories in democracies like the United States to influence elections and sow seeds of chaos, unrest, and distrust.

BURNETT: It's amazing. They sit there and watch every second. They will come and mention if we are going to a commercial break, bars comes back up.

I mean, the level of detail as you point out, just the manpower they are putting into this, it says so much.

Will, thank you very much.

And I want to go now to Jianli Yang. Because Yang was blacklisted by China for participating in the Tiananmen Square protests, later sentenced to five years in prison for alleged spying, he is now living in the United States and is president and founder of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, a nonprofit group fighting for a democratic China.

Yang, China obviously believes that if it continues to do this sort of censorship and it ignores the Peng Shuai coverage, that the story will go away. That everybody will sort of keep trying to do it and eventually, we'll give up. And you know what? They have been right making that bet time and time again on various things.

How long will China continue to just pretend this isn't happening?


This question -- the answer to this question is -- depends on how much pressure the international community can generate. So far, WTA and a professional tennis star have been spoken out which is very significant. And the continued, sustained effort to support Peng Shuai made a difference.

The only reason she has not disappeared entirely is just because the matter drew international attention. You know, the international sport community is strong sport.


YANG: Demonstrated moral courage. It has the potential to create a paradigm shift in promoting an advancement of human rights in China, which is very critical.

BURNETT: It is amazing what the WTA has done here.

I really -- you know, you got to put your hats off to Mr. Simon because as you point out, she would have just disappeared. And maybe, that's what they hope eventually they will be able to do to her once attention goes away, because we have seen some images, young, as you know, of Peng Shuai after she disappeared out to dinner. You know, where there is a Chinese tennis official there mentioning the date multiple times.

I mean, the whole thing is -- is so clearly what it is. All staged. All arranged by China to say, look, she's fine. She's fine. You know, okay. So, she's alive. That -- that's really all we know.

You know, I know you only got out of prison because of worldwide attention about your own case. So, does that give you any hope about Peng Shuai and whether anyone can make a difference here?

YANG: Yes. It should be obvious -- obvious to anyone familiar with China's habit, long history of censorship and intimidation. Peng is far from okay. She is not fine. If Peng Shuai were really free, the Chinese government would have the incentive and the ability to have it approved. For example, let her communicate with the outside world freely. Even travel abroad. Led independent organizations and journalists interview -- interview her on her situation and on her allegations.

But instead, the Chinese government has forced Peng Shuai put on performance of freedom, which can only intensifies international community's concern about her freedom and safety. But as I said earlier, because the strong support from her international peers, I do have some hope on this case. And this effort is very important.

So it is unlikely -- unlikely that China will be able to quell the international public outrage over Peng Shuai in the way that it has been able to suppress other sensitive matters.


BURNETT: All right. Well, Yang, I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much. And I hope as everyone watching does, ardently, that your hopes are not misplaced.

YANG: Thank you.

BURNETT: All right. Next, President Biden sounding the alarm when it comes to rising gas prices but what are his options? You know, if he is not going to open pipelines in the United States and, you know, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia aren't going to pony up the oil.

And after a virtual pandemic parade last year, thousands gathering tonight to welcome back the iconic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.


BURNETT: Tonight, Thanksgiving travel in full swing. Some people watching this in airports. Well, you are back to pre-pandemic levels there and for Americans driving, you are going to be paying the most for gas since the year 2012.

If you are watching in California, your average is $4.71 a gallon and that's painful for millions of American, tens of millions of Americans.


It's putting major pressure on President Biden to do something about it and one thing that he wants to do is to get Saudi Arabia to produce more oil. But will the Saudis do it?

Nic Robertson is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): At the gas pump, prices up, reaching eye-watering levels. Saudi Arabia, a swing producer and other OPEC nations are upping output, but not enough to bring down prices.

Oil now $80 a barrel, almost doubling on a year ago. President Joe Biden is hinting the Saudis and others want something in return.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Gas prices relate to a foreign policy initiative that is about something that goes beyond the cost of gas. There is a lot of Middle Eastern folks want to talk to me.


BIDEN: I'm not sure I'm going to talk to them.

ROBERTSON: Since taking office, Biden has dialed down campaign rhetoric threatening to turn Saudi into a pariah state. Notably, not sanctioning heir apparent, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as MBS, following the U.S. intelligence report he likely ordered the capture or killing of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi, something he denies.

But the relationship is still rocky.

SAMUEL RAMANI, ASSOCIATE FELLOW, RUSI: There is a lot of personal grievances, lot of personal pick at play here. I think if MBS sees that he has leverage over the United States on the oil issue, he would like to dangle that card as long as possible.

ROBERTSON: High oil prices are helping push up global inflation. Could Saudi Arabia ease the squeeze?

BIDEN: It's going to be hard. There is a possibility to be able to bring it down depends on little bit on Saudi Arabia and a few other things.

ROBERTSON: Oil analyst Amrita Sen who is in regular contact with Saudi Arabia's energy minister who is also MBS's half brother says not.

AMRITA SEN, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, ENERGY ASPECTS: The short answer is the politics, wherever that stands between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is not fueling inflation in -- in the U.S.

Inflation right now -- and by the way, not just in the U.S., globally -- is being driven by one simple thing. Global demand is surging.

ROBERTSON: Saudi and its partners at OPEC fear a faltering COVID recovery, lessening demand, and don't buy Biden's concerns.

SEN: The leverage has shifted. Right now, all Middle Eastern producers really, they care a lot more about what's going on in Asia. Calls from India, China, Japan, Korea, that's where really the conversations are happening. ROBERTSON: Indeed, she predicts oil prices rising into next year. If

so, a boon for Saudi's MBS who can ill afford cheap oil, helping him deliver his dollar hungry vision to diversify Saudi's hydrocarbon economy, create jobs for Saudi's rapidly growing youth.

RAMANI: It's important for internal stability during this moment of transformation that oil prices remain high. That's the main -- that's the main thing for them.

ROBERTSON: A senior-Saudi source tells CNN a higher oil price is good for them but admits to being a little confused at the recent climate summit, on one hand being told to dial back oil production. Yet, President Biden wanting them to put it up.

They think he's beholden to domestic political pressures just as they are. And for right now, they say they are going to be prioritizing their own needs -- Erin.

BURNETT: Nic, thank you very much.

I want to go now to David Rundell, he is former chief of mission at the American embassy in Riyadh.

So, you know this very well, sir. So, um -- and also, the author of "Vision or Mirage: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads."

So, David, obviously, I know you think Saudis are in the driver's seat with oil which is -- which is incredible in some ways given, right, that the United States technically could be completely energy independent if it so chose. But nonetheless, these situations take a lot longer to change than people expect.

Do you think this is a situation where MBS, because he has this power now, is going to be able to crush his critics and solidify his claim to the throne?

DAVID RUNDELL, FORMER CHIEF OF MISSION, AMERICAN EMBASSY IN RIYADH: Well, I think that he's already done that. I believe that he has solidified his claim to the throne, and he has effectively eliminated any serious opposition to the throne or to his taking the throne.

BURNETT: Uh-huh. So -- go ahead.

RUNDELL: Go ahead. I was going to say in terms of the question of oil prices, all relationships -- foreign policy relationships -- are multifaceted. And the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia is complicated. It's not simply oil and security, although those are very important.

There are other elements, for example, counterterrorism where Saudi Arabia has on numerous occasions cooperated with us and saved American lives. There are other areas, such as regional stability where both of us share an interest.



RUNDELL: So it's not just about oil.

BURNETT: Right. And I understand that. But, of course, you know, part of this comes down to -- well, you know, it's interesting we talk about China and who takes a stand and who doesn't.

When it comes to MBS, then-candidate Joe Biden vowed to hold the crown prince accountable for Jamal Khashoggi's horrific murder.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered and I believe in the order of the crown prince and I would make it very clear we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them. We were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.


BURNETT: You know, David, I -- I believe that he said what he believed then. But, of course, when he became president, was impossible. Didn't do it. Didn't sanction MBS directly at all for the murder.

Does President Biden caving on this emboldened MBS?

RUNDELL: No, I don't believe that it emboldens him. I believe he recognizes clearly that whatever happened in Istanbul -- and I think it was a murder -- was a mistake and won't be repeated. But I think it's important and I think you have to give President Biden credit. He understands that all relationships are a balance between -- all countries need -- the United States, certainly, needs to balance our interests and our values.

If we abandon our values, we have nothing really to defend. But if we abandon our interests, and by that, I mean our security and economic interests, we have no way to defend our values. And it's the job of diplomats, every day, to find a way to balance our values and our interests.

And an exclusive focus on either of those such as that comment, which was a campaign comment made -- such as that comment, an exclusive focus jeopardizes the security and prosperity of the American people. So, no, I don't think that the president really, did feel that that was the only thing he was going to pay attention to when he became president and I don't think he has. I think he is balancing values and interests.

BURNETT: All right. Well, David, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

RUNDELL: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, after last year's -- well, you know, kind of nothing -- Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is back. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And finally tonight, a Thanksgiving tradition once again returning to pre-pandemic form. I am talking about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Tonight, thousands of people traveling to New York City's Upper West Side to see the parade's giant helium balloons being blown up. It got scrapped last year because of COVID.

You may remember the entire parade was strictly made for TV and, you know, was all smoke and mirrors but tomorrow it's back to normal again, crowds lining the streets. Children under 12 can only be spectators, not on the floats, but there will be a Baby Yoda.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.