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Erin Burnett Outfront

WH Confirms Diplomatic Boycott Of Beijing Olympics As China Warns Of "Resolute Countermeasures" If Implemented; U.S. Declares Diplomatic Boycott Of Beijing Olympics Amid Growing Outrage Over China's Handling Of Peng Shuai Case; Exclusive: Former Pence Chief Of Staff Cooperating With Jan 6 CMTE; Source: "Significant Cooperation With Team Pence"; Authorities Interview Man Who Helped Shooting Suspect's Parents; Authorities Interview Man Who Helped Shooting Suspect's Parents; Trump's "Big Lie" Allies Running For Key Election Posts; U.S. Prepping "Substantial" Sanctions If Russia Invades Ukraine. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 06, 2021 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I witness those qualities firsthand, as I interviewed him many, many times over the years. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Elizabeth, the entire family. May Bob Dole rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Biden showdown with China. The President refusing to send diplomats to the Winter Olympics in Beijing because of human rights abuses. Tonight, China lashing back to U.S.

Plus, breaking news this hour, a former Trump insider, the chief of staff to Mike Pence is cooperating with the January 6 Committee. The crucial events he witnessed and what he's sharing.

And authorities right now searching the home of the man accused of helping the parents of the alleged Michigan school shooter, let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Biden versus Xi. The White House escalating tensions with China tonight refusing to send American diplomats to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in a couple months. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki officially announcing the boycott today after months of pressure.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games. U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these games as business as usual in the face of the PRC's egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang and we simply can't do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Well, I mentioned there'd been pressure and President Biden

is now receiving bipartisan support for this move. Republican Senator Mitt Romney tweeting, "America will not turn a blind eye to China's predation, persecution and genocide." And Republican Senator Tom Cotton for his part says the White House isn't going anywhere near far enough. He is calling for a full boycott of the games.

Now, China already is firing back vowing to take and I quote, counter measures, against the boycott. Counter measures. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson saying, "The U.S. should stop politicizing sports and hyping up the so called 'diplomatic boycott' so as to not affect U.S.- China dialogue and cooperation in important areas."

And let's be clear, it's an escalation because this move comes at a time when tensions are higher than ever between the world's two great superpowers at this point. China is sending a record number of war planes into the airspace over Taiwan, refusing to cooperate with studies into the origins of the COVID 19 pandemic and Wuhan and facing international outrage over the handling of rape allegations by Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai against one of the most senior communist leaders.

It has been one month since Peng's bombshell social media post. The only group outside of China actually vouching for everything being okay and everything being fine with her is the International Olympic Committee, which has held two video calls with the tennis star.


RICHARD POUND, MEMBER, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: The consensus of all those people on the call was that she's fine. That's the best evidence we have at the moment and it's certainly a long way ahead of the people who have not contacted her and who just make statements.


BURNETT: Okay. Well, he's referring to a very specific person there with that comment there and that person is Steve Simon of the World Tennis Association. And it is fair to say that Steve Simon has changed the game on China because he is actually the one who by standing up for the tennis star made it possible for the White House to even do what it did today, because he stood up and refused to bend.


STEVE SIMON, CHAIRMAN & CEO, WOMEN'S TENNIS ASSOCIATION: It's been great to confirm that she's in Beijing and she does not appear to be in any physically harm's way. That's all terrific. Does it change my position that what we're seeing is orchestrated? No. This is about the principles we stand for and the principles of women associated with sexual assault, which trumps everything else.


BURNETT: He's demanding a free and fair investigation and a free Peng Shuai. Neither thing, any indication will occur. We have team coverage on this story.

Phil Mattingly is live from the White House. And David Culver is live from Shanghai tonight.

I want to start with you, Phil Mattingly. And Phil, the big question now is whether other nations will follow America's lead with this diplomatic boycott. What are you hearing from the Biden ministration tonight?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it was notable today, Erin, that when the White House made this announcement, the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, there weren't other nations ready to announce along with them. And that comes as senior administration officials tell me there have been weeks of conversations with allies about the potential to make this move.

U.S. officials making clear they were leaning in this direction. U.S. officials informing their allies, they were going to make this announcement today. What decision was basically determined by was that they simply couldn't wait anymore, that the European allies and other allies weren't there yet and the U.S. needed to act. You look at it through the lens of President Biden.


Obviously, Erin, he was getting a lot of pressure on a bipartisan basis to make this move. But it's also a president who has made clear repeatedly publicly that human rights are a key component of his foreign policy and his administration labeled what's happening in Xinjiang, a genocide in March.

So U.S. officials had been moving in this direction, believe that it was the right course of action. Now, as you noted, Sen. Tom Cotton and some others have called for a full boycott of the game, not just a diplomatic boycott. I'm told by administration officials, that was never a serious consideration leading into this, mostly because of the athletes.

They believe athletes work their entire lives for this moment. They didn't want to take that away from them. They look back to the 1980 boycott of the Moscow games. They don't believe history is looked too kindly at that at this point in time.

So the real question right now is will international partners follow, to some degree as one U.S. official told me, the hope and the expectation is that others will now that the U.S. has gone first. This one official told me the US is going to take the lead. They fully know China is going to respond in some way, shape or form, but they believe here, the benefit outweighed the cost. They informed Chinese officials of the action about an hour before the public announcement, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Phil Mattingly.

So let's go to Shanghai and David Culver. So David, we hear that they're threatening some sort of countermeasures and we layer in that, you know, lately, they've had drone footage, where they're practicing blowing up ships that look like American ships off the coast of China. That's the environment this is happening within, what are you hearing from Chinese officials?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we should also point out that this is really something that is an awkward situation for them to be quite frank. I mean, they can't publicly come out domestically and show their anger. They have to do this internationally.

And so they're using, a lot of the times, western social media to do that. Social media that's not really accessible here where we are in the mainland behind the Great Firewall. And so they're saying they're going to have these resolute countermeasures. What does that look like?

As of now, Erin, it's unclear. I mean, perhaps they're going to say that the Chinese officials in a future U.S. event that's been held internationally, will withdraw their participation, or maybe even if there was an anticipation at the end of the Olympics, February 21st was supposed to be the 50th anniversary of the Nixon visit to China. There had been a hope to maybe even invite a U.S. delegation, maybe even President Biden, or maybe they'll withdraw that intention.

Either way, this puts him in a very, very difficult situation and one that they're going to still continue to double down internationally and saying that anything that happens here with regards to Xinjiang, a place that we've traveled to that we have reported on extensively with regards to the human rights abuse allegations is domestic matters, it's internal affairs and the rest of the world, Erin, in their opinion, should just mind their own business.

BURNETT: Yes. And we'll see if other countries do, they are tonight, of course, as you point out, the U.S. is using and very carefully and purposefully so the word genocide. Thank you very much, David Culver from Shanghai tonight.

And I want to go now to legendary sports broadcaster and our Contributor, Bob Costas. China's human rights record, Bob, you've taken on most notably when you were reporting from Beijing during the 2008 Olympics and faced a lot of threats because of that when you stood up for what was right.

So when you hear counter measures being threatened in light of, frankly, an escalating military environment out there, after Biden ups the ante with this diplomatic boycott, how significant is this step, what Biden has done to China?

BOB COSTAS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's the right step. We're getting some feedback (inaudible) but in any case, it seems to (inaudible) thing to do to have a diplomat (inaudible) we know what happened in 1980 when Jimmy Carter had the United States completely boycott the Moscow Olympics.

It didn't have much effect, if any, on Soviet policy. They retaliated along with the West for the Eastern - rest of the Eastern Bloc and boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles games. And meanwhile, the American athletes from 1980 were deprived of the chance to compete. So this is probably the right thing to do to make that statement.

But this response, even if some of it is just saber rattling on the part of the Chinese, this response is part and parcel of their playbook. It goes all the way back, at least, in my recollection to 1996. China had recently been re-admitted to the Olympics and in a certain sense to the family of nations.

And when they came in during the Parade of Nations in 1996, I point it out because it was pertinent to the Olympics, if there is any nation that has the means and motivation to replicate the old Soviet and Eastern Bloc's sports machine with everything that implies, you are looking at that nation.

Well, the Internet was in its early stages, but orchestrated out of Beijing, there was some kind of attempt to get me fired. There were protests outside 30 Rock. They demanded a complete public apology in primetime from me, which was not forthcoming.


And as you mentioned in 2008, we brought it up in 2014 in Sochi the question of the IOC strange affinity for authoritarian regimes was also brought up.


COSTAS: And here they are back again in Beijing and the IOC now is complicit to a certain extent. They look (inaudible) ...

BURNETT: So let me ask you about the IOC, Bob, because to a certain extent, I mean, they're actually disparaging the WTA. They've had two video calls and they say, oh, everything's fine. And anybody who would say anything else knows nothing.

I mean, I don't know how else to say it. It sounds to me like they want to brush it all under the rug and keep their relationship with China alive.

COSTAS: Absolutely, that's what they do. We might have said in the past that it was questionable and it was discouraging or disappointing, the IOC's affinity for China and for other authoritarian regimes. I think it has now reached the point where it is disgraceful. But this is tricky terrain now for NBC and for other Americans.

We don't know what sort of peril anybody might be in, if they speak forthrightly. We know what happened when Patrick McEnroe was a guest on CNN began to address this and suddenly the feed went blank in China. Houston Rockets games were taken off and China is a big market for the NBA.


COSTAS: Houston Rockets were taken off when their then-GM Daryl Morey tweeted something to the effect of Stand with Hong Kong. And just a week or so ago when Enes Kanter of the Celtics who is a Turk and is well-aware of what happens in authoritarian regimes when he criticized China boom, Celtic games taken off the air.

They broke no criticism. They double down and they threatened consequences. And in some cases, there are at least economic consequences and here we have all of these American sports entities and individual sports stars who are invested in this giant Chinese market and are loathed to offend it by stating the obvious.

BURNETT: Well, it sounds like they're all, I mean, you have obviously the mass issue of genocide, which is now being openly talked about and then you have Peng Shuai who became the face of the repression, the voice.


BURNETT: Well, we haven't heard her voice and that's the whole point, but that is what is kind of giving license, say, to President Biden to go ahead with this. And yet, NBC is going ahead and the sponsors. We've heard nothing, Airbnb, Intel, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola. I mean, the silence has been pretty deafening.

COSTAS: Yes, it has. In some cases from corporations which were behind certain moves in support of social justice initiatives in the United States. And without diminishing the importance of those issues, we can debate what the proper response is from corporations, but without diminishing the importance of those issues, they pale in dimension to what China does to its genocide, to a lack of a free press, given its size and given its resources and given its intentions, no matter what else is happening around the world as tragic as it may be, China has to rank as the number one human rights violator on the planet. And so much of America is at least business-wise embed with it.

BURNETT: Yes. It is pretty depressing. It is honest. What you're saying is exactly the truth and it's hard to hear. I hope it is for some of those companies who, as you say, have a very different profile on morality and right and wrong when it's close to home than they do with China.

Thank you so much, Bob. I appreciate you.

COSTAS: Sure. Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, the breaking news, a former Trump official, Mike Pence's former right hand man witness to the Capitol riot. He was there with Mike Pence when they were chanting hang Mike Pence. Well, now we found out he's cooperating with the January 6 Committee and it is our exclusive reporting.

Plus, could school officials face charges for the deadly Michigan shooting case? Tonight, the prosecutor not ruling that out.

And President Trump knee deep in the Georgia Governor race praising the man running against the current Republican Governor, the governor Trump blames for his loss of Georgia.



BURNETT: Breaking news, a crucial witness to the insurrection at the Capitol now cooperating with the house January 6 Committee. Former Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff at the time, Marc Short, is now talking, okay?

And short is really important. Let me tell you why. Well, because while the mob outside the Capitol was doing this ...


CROWD: Hang Mike Pence. Hang Mike Pence. Hang Mike Pence.


BURNETT: Short was inside, doing this, rushing to safety alongside the vice president as rioters tried to actually break into the chamber. And Short did something else crucial too and we learned about this from ABC News' Jon Karl, who discovered that there was a photographer with Pence the whole time.

So Karl got a hold of the photographer and he went through the photos taken in those moments.


JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: I went to the vice president, the former vice president and I asked him if I could publish those photographs. I think they're part of the historical record and they're really important.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: I understand one of the photographs is him literally looking at the tweet of the President saying Mike Pence ...

KARL: One of them is his chief of staff, Marc Short, showing him his phone and it's the tweet of Trump saying Mike Pence didn't have the courage. This is the guy who like fled the rioters and Trump is saying he didn't have the courage.

And you can see it kind of looks like Pence is grimacing, but you can never really tell, I don't know. But the fight you referred to is they refused to let me publish the photographs, but I have a suspicion ...


KARL: ... that the January 6 Committee is going to want to see those photos.


BURNETT: And obviously it's said there with the level - of course, pretty incredible, right that there's an image of that moment. Ryan Nobles is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill.

So Ryan, Marc Short is there. He's there when people are yelling hang Mike Pence. Mike Pence is there. He's the one who shows Mike Pence the tweet where Trump is talking about Mike Pence's lack of courage as all of this is happening outside the door. So he was there at that moment and he's been a confidant, chief of staff for the vice president, not just on January 6, the entire run up here.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's no doubt about that, Erin. Marc Short is one of, if not, Mike Pence's most closest ally. Someone that has the full trust of Mike Pence and was one of his closest advisors not just on January 6, but in the days leading up it.

So you'd have to imagine that Short was the conduit to Mike Pence.


With any communication from the White House and beyond as the threat level against Pence and exactly what was happening inside the capitol as the rioters were descending on this building.

But you point out that period of time leading up to January 6 and that may really be what the January 6 Select Committee wants to hone in on when they talk to Marc Short, what did he know about the pressure campaign that was put on Mike Pence at that time.

Remember that Marc Short was in the Oval Office with the former president and John Eastman, that conservative lawyer who was the architect of this kind of flawed legal theory that somehow Pence had the constitutional power to subvert the certification of the election results on January 6th. It was a move that Pence, of course, rebuffed, which is what led to all that anger from those rioters on January 6th.

So Short can show some - give us some insight, some understanding as to what that period of time was like for Pence, where the pressure came from and then how it all came to a head here on January 6th.

And then one other point about this, Erin, the fact that he is willing to cooperate, not voluntarily, he was subpoenaed, but by the fact that he is willing to talk to them shows an indication as to what level of cooperation we may see from the Pence world more broadly as it relates to the January 6 Committee. Erin?

BURNETT: Which is crucial, because that is the world in the Venn diagram, where you get the overlap between the president, the vice president who knew what. Thank you so much, Ryan Nobles.

I want to go down to Elie Honig, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. So Elie, you and I - we were here the other day at the last contempt hearing for the committee. And just to make the point here, Marc Short, is a loyal guy.

But I know him and you know him, he's also an honest person. He's not the kind of person who's going to define cooperation even though it took a subpoena as going in and making a mockery of the system and saying, I'm not going to answer your questions and walking out. That's not what he's going to do. I'll bet on that. And he knows a lot.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Erin. Marc Short could really be a pivotal witness here, because here's what we know about him, he is completely loyal to Mike Pence. He is importantly not loyal necessarily to Donald Trump.


HONIG: He's spoken publicly critically about Donald Trump for his role on January 6. And he can really bring the Committee and maybe the public insight to crucial moments.

First, that January 4th meeting that Ryan just talked about in the Oval Office. I mean, let's not lose sight of how important that is.


HONIG: Donald Trump and his lawyer, John Eastman, are trying to pressure Mike Pence. And by the way, of the four people in that room, we're only going to realistically ever hear from Marc Short. Donald Trump is not going to testify. Mike Pence is not going to testify. Eastman doesn't seem like he's on the road to testify.

And then those key moments on January 6th, he's with Mike Pence. We know about that, but to hear from the person who was there in that room, look, the committee said they're going to start doing public hearings next month. If I'm putting that hearing together, Marc Short is on my, no pun intended, my short list of who I would want to put in front of the camera.

BURNETT: Well, and that's crucial because they have to make that decision. The former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, he's agreed to cooperate. But he's one of the ones who may be playing little games with the word cooperate. What does that actually mean? Does that mean showing up or does that mean showing up and going, oh, executive privilege, I can't answer anything but I gave you some emails.

So is Marc Short going to be enough? I know, they can say we've heard from 200 people, like the big fish, as you point out, the people in the room when things happened, when they were two or three or four people in the room, two of whom were the President or the Vice President or the President and Mark Meadows. Are they going to hear from enough people to know?

HONIG: So whatever you're investigating a closed secretive group, Erin, what you want to look for as a prosecutor, as an investigator is a rift. Is there some sort of drifting apart between the parties here and there clearly is a rift between the Trump loyal people, the Meadows, the Clarks, the Bannons on the one hand and then the Pence people on the other. Their boss, their guy was the one who - the protesters were chanting to hang.

So I think you want to go in there and there's so much focus that we tend to put on the big names, the MAGA crew, the Bannons, the Stones. But you can put together a compelling case with other witnesses. Let's remember, for all these key events, there were advisors there, they were loyal government servants there and I think if Marc Short proves himself to fall in that category, he can really make a big difference.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Elie.

HONIG: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, the breaking news, a search warrant executed right now at the home of the man who turned himself in for allowing the parents of the alleged Michigan school shooter to stay in his building. And a former Republican senator wants to bump a fellow Republican out of the governor's office with Trump's help. He's campaigning on lies about the election.


SEN. DAVID PERDUE (R-GA): Kemp caved before the election and the country is paying the price today.




BURNETT: Breaking news, police executing a search warrant for the man who allegedly helped the parents of the Michigan high school shooter after they fled from police. Parents of Ethan Crumbley disappeared after prosecutors charged them with involuntary manslaughter. Authorities found and arrested them early Saturday morning in a warehouse in Detroit.

Now, the man's attorney says he allowed the parents to use his workspace but he didn't really know and I quote them what was going on. Alexandra Field is OUTFRONT.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Behind bars, in isolation and all under suicide watch, tonight the Oakland County Jail keeping a close eye on a 15-year-old high school shooting suspect, Ethan Crumbley and both of his parents.


KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR: All of this could have been prevented if he hadn't had access or if just one of those parents had said, I'm concerned about what I'm seeing right now and I also want you to know we just bought him a gun for Christmas and that didn't happen.


FIELD (voice over): Jennifer and James Crumbley made no mention of a gun in a meeting at Oxford High School hours before the shooting. Their son was never searched for a weapon despite a series of red flags.


MCDONALD: There was absolutely evidence to suggest that there was an indication he might harm somebody and even kill somebody.



FIELD (voice over): There's still the question of whether school officials could face charges.


MCDONALD: It's under investigation, so no, I haven't - we haven't ruled out charging anyone.


FIELD (voice over): The Oxford school district now defending a decision to send the 15-year-old back to class shortly before he allegedly started firing shots in crowded hallways, saying at no time did counselors believe the student might harm others.

That, after a teacher flagged him on the morning of the attack for making a gruesome and graphic drawing of a shooting. The shooter insisted the school says that it was part of a video game he was designing when he and his parents were called into the meeting to discuss it. A day earlier, the shooter telling a counselor shooting sports are a family hobby after a different teacher reported him for searching on his phone for ammunition.

A third-party investigation of events leading up to Tuesday's attack is underway, according to the district. The Michigan attorney general's office is also offering to conduct a full and comprehensive review into the events leading up to the shooting.

Ethan Crumbley has met with his attorney twice, and he's now been notified that his parents are in the same jail.


FIELD: In an arraignment over the weekend, Jennifer and James Crumbley pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter.


FIELD: The two appearing for court via video hours after they were taken into custody in the middle of the night from a Detroit warehouse where authorities say they were hiding. The man who gave them access to the space has come forward with his attorney, saying he didn't really know what was going on or that they had active warrants.

That despite a manhunt for the Crumbleys that started Friday afternoon when officials couldn't find them following the rare move from a prosecutor to charge the parents of a school shooter.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FIELD (on camera): Andrzej Sikora is the 65-year-old man who officials say was helping the Crumbleys, he is said to be cooperating with authorities. This after a 90-minute interview with the Oakland county sheriff's department this afternoon. He has not been charged with a crime right now.

The community here in Oxford, mourning the lives lost last week. Four teenagers killed in the hallways of that school. The funerals now getting underway. Tate Myre, a high school football player, will have his funeral tomorrow -- Erin.

BURNETT: Thank you, Alex.

And now, Casey Smith joins me. His daughter attends Oxford high school and was standing in the hallway near where the shooting started.

So, Casey, the prosecutor now has charged Ethan Crumbley's parents with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. They are obviously in custody.

Do those charges help you process this at all?

CASEY SMITH, FATHER OF OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: It definitely gives us a hope for justice. I mean, there's no true justice in a situation like this. But the prosecutor doing something that really has never been done before in charging the parents with what she is charging them with, it does help. Gives us hope for some form of justice.

BURNETT: I'm sure it's impossible as a parent to understand how if you had just given your child a gun and you see they are drawing pictures of shooting people with a gun. And you are brought into the school office, you say nothing. You don't check -- check for the gun.

I mean, it's impossible to comprehend. Um, and -- and of course, also that meeting happened and as you know, Casey, and we are learning more about what the school did leading up to the shooting.

Now, how do you feel about the fact that the school allowed Ethan to go back to class after they saw that disturbing drawing and brought his parents into that room? And, by the way, knowing that the day before he had been searching for ammunition on his phone. That is the information they had. The decision they made was to send him back to class.

SMITH: It's incredibly frustrating. I think a lot of us feel that way. Angry.

Either, procedures weren't followed. There is protocols in place that either weren't followed or they weren't in place, to begin with. Clearly, something should have been done and there was the opportunity to -- to do something that could have prevented this horrific tragedy.

BURNETT: So, obviously, you don't even have a return date to go to school. Your daughter is -- is home having just gone through this horror and this terror. How does she feel now about even going back to school?

SMITH: I think it speaks to the -- the courageousness of these kids in this community, that my daughter and her friends all want to go back to school. And that's -- it just speaks to their character. That's amazing to me.

So, we just have to, as parents and a community and as a state, just make them feel safe but ensure that they're safe now so they can do that.

BURNETT: It's amazing to me, too. It speaks -- it -- it says wonderful things about your child. Your -- your daughter. I -- I know that when you were talking to my producer today, you said you are a gun owner but that in the wake of this shooting, you now are calling for some stricter gun laws.


And, you know, I think one thing that was jarring to -- to many Americans this weekend was that tweet from the Kentucky congressman, Thomas Massie. When he posted a photo of his family this weekend, his children, all of them holding guns the tweet reads in part, Santa, please bring ammo, right, in the context of this shooting and that gun that was bought for this kid who -- for Christmas -- who went and did what he did in your school.

What kind of message does this sort of thing send?

SMITH: It's just so disappointing and so insensitive, especially to the families that lost somebody. It's -- it's heartbreaking that anybody could make a decision like that, especially a Christmas card for crying out loud. It's just -- it's appalling.

BURNETT: Well, Casey, thank you very much for talking to me. My thoughts are with your daughter. Obviously, an incredibly strong, young woman. But just unprecedentedly horrible time for her and her friends. Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, the alarming push by Trump and his allies to put election deniers in control of key elections' offices.

And exclusive reporting ahead of tomorrow's meeting between Biden and Putin. One top official telling our Matthew Chance there will be a, quote, bloody massacre if Russia launches a military invasion to Ukraine.



BURNETT: Breaking news: former President Trump just endorsing David Perdue hours after he launched his primary challenge to Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp. In a video announcing his campaign, the former Republican senator slammed Kemp for not backing Trump's lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.


DAVID PERDUE (R), CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA GOVERNOR: Kemp came before the election and the country is paying the price today. If our governor was ever going to fight for us, wouldn't he have done it already?


BURNETT: Interesting because, you know, Trump's sowing all these fears about the election is why many say Perdue actually lost the senatorial campaign. But, hey, it comes across, as across the country, Trump and his allies are trying to fill key election positions with people who supported the big lie.

Sara Murray has our report OUTFRONT.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Donald Trump toys with the 2024 run --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I think if I decide to run, I'll get it very easily.

MURRAY: His supporters who wrongly believe the 2020 presidential race was stolen are jockeying for positions to play a more hands-on role in the next election.

In Michigan, a microcosm of a strategy Trump allies like Steve Bannon hoped to deploy in battleground states nationwide.

STEVE BANNON, TRUMP ALLY: We're taking over all the elections.

MURRAY: In 2020, Wayne County, Michigan, briefly spiraled into chaos as Republicans on the board of canvassers considered refusing to certify the election results. They eventually did so.

Now those who made wild claims about 2020 are joining those boards in several Michigan counties. Like Nancy Tiseo, who was appointed to the Macomb County Board of Canvassers this year.

In November 2020, she tweeted that Trump should use the insurrection act and delay the Electoral College so military tribunals can be set up to properly investigate fraud claims and later urged Trump not to concede.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you had any experience actually working an election as one of election workers?


MURRAY: Election officials from both parties stood up to Trump in 2020 but democracy advocates aren't convinced these election skeptics would do the same.

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What we're seeing is the use of out and out lies, spreading across the country to change the way elections are run in this country. Really, a global model for how elections should be run is now being undermined and in some cases hijacked.

MURRAY: When Trump hopes state legislators would seat alternate electors and overturn Joe Biden's victory, GOP House and Senate leaders in Michigan refused to go along with the plan.

Now, State Representative Matt Maddock, a Trump acolyte who tried and failed to put forward alternate electors in 2020--

UNIDENTIIFED FEMALE: These are the rest of the electors.

MURRAY: -- wants to be the state's next GOP House leader.

MATT MADDOCK (R), MICHIGAN STATE REPRESENTATIVE: We've got about a handful of legislators in Michigan that are going to be sending a letter to Vice President Pence today, telling him not to certify the Michigan electors.

MURRAY: After secretaries of state stood up to Trump's efforts to meddle in the vote, he's backing election deniers like Kristina Karamo who said Trump was the rightful winner in Michigan.

KRISTINA KARAMO (R), MICHICAN SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: Very excited to get President Trump's endorsement and able to talk to him. He's extremely supportive of me for secretary of state.

MURRAY: The former president has also endorsed backers of his false fraud claims running for secretary of state in two other key battlegrounds, Arizona and Georgia.

After 18 Republican attorneys general rallied behind a lawsuit to try to upend the 2020 election results, Trump is aiming to tip the scales in those races too, backing Matthew DePerno, a purveyor of election misinformation from Michigan attorney general.

MATT DEPERNO (R), CANDIDATE FOR MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: By extrapolation and based on other data we've seen from other parts of the state, we can say that there was fraud throughout the state of Michigan.

MURRAY: For Democrats like Jocelyn Benson, running for re-election as secretary of state, it's a sign the challenges to democracy are far from over.

JOCELYN BENSON (D), MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: Everything we have overcome this far was truly just the beginning, and it's not hyperbolic to look at 2020 as a prelude to a much bigger, much more significant challenge to our democracy that is looming ahead of us with the 2024 presidential election.

(END VIDETAPE) BURNETT: I mean, Sara, she sort of raises the crucial question, right? You are talking about people who are pushing Trump's lies about 2020 running for these crucial administration, you know, election administration positions. Are any of them, from your reporting, poised to win their campaigns and get those slots?

MURRAY: You know, this is still a really open question, when you talk to operatives in some of these states, including Michigan, you know? In Michigan, these candidates are going to be in Republican primaries. They are going to face Democrats in the general election, and it's still very unclear what's going to happen to their candidacies.

That's true of a lot of other battleground states where Trump has chosen these kind of big lie folks to run for a number of these position.


Erin, we should also note that, of course, we reached out to these folks featured in our piece, either they didn't respond to us or they declined an interview.

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

And next, Russia downplaying the threat of American sanctions as Putin invades Ukraine. Putin and Biden are set for a high-stakes call in a matter of hours.

And a champion thoroughbred the Kentucky Derby winner dies suddenly on a race track today.


BURNETT: Tonight, the U.S. preparing sanctions against Vladimir Putin's inner circle as Russia appears on the verge of a military invasion. The Kremlin dismissing the sanctions as, quote, information hysteria, as they are want to do.

But Russia's troop buildup at the Ukraine border is increasing and steadily so. We've got satellite images and what they show tonight is tens of thousands of Russian troops -- tens of thousands of Russian troops there.

It comes as Biden is now hours away from a high-stakes video call with Putin.

Matthew Chance is OUTFRONT with this exclusive report.



OLEKSIY REZNIKOV, UKRAINE'S MINISTER OF DEFENSE: You see that this is empty plates.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. REZNIKOV: I hope that they will empty forever. Just only these guys.

CHANCE: These are the guys that have already lost their lives. These could soon be filled.

(voice-over): This is the real threat Ukraine now faces. More soldiers dying in battles with Russia, something the country's new defense minister appointed just a month ago tells me he's struggling with.

REZNIKOV: In Russia, they will have also the same places. Old reason, old saying (ph), Russians will die. For what?

CHANCE: Across the border, the Kremlin calls these its regular winter drills. Ukraine says there are now about 95,000 Russian troops within striking distance. U.S. intel indicates that will rise to 175,000.

But even that, the defense minister tells me, is an underestimate.

REZNIKOV: One hundred seventy-five, it's not enough to go to Ukraine.

CHANCE: You think Russia will need more than 175,000?

REZNIKOV: Yes, sure.

CHANCE: How much more is unclear. But these latest satellite images from Russia suggest Moscow is now engaged in an unprecedented build up near the Ukrainian frontier, enough to mount an overwhelming invasion, alarming the U.S. and NATO -- Although Ukrainian officials seem calm at what looks like an imminent threat.

REZNIKOV: I would say that the different means that we're not in fear mood.

CHANCE: But you're not fearful of a Russian invasion? Is that because you don't believe the intelligence?

REZNIKOV: No, no, no.

CHANCE: You don't believe Russians are going to invade?

REZNIKOV: We believe through our intel. We believe to all facts that was fixed by the United States intel and et cetera. But this is the last decision.


CHANCE: But do you believe Russia will invade? Do you believe Russia will invade?

REZNIKOV: I'm not believe that -- I will not believe that Russia will have a victory in Ukraine. It's a different, because it will be a really bloody massacre and Russian guys also will come back in the -- coffins, yes.

CHANCE: There's also a belief in Ukraine that Russia, which denies plans to invade, can, with the help of the United States and its allies, still be deterred.

This is the defense minister inducting two new coastal patrol boats from the U.S. into the Ukrainian navy. Part of a much broader military modernization program Ukraine is trying to carry out with support from the West, angering Moscow.

Ukraine's growing ties with NATO and Kremlin demands for NATO expansion to be curbed is set to dominate President Biden's virtual summit with Vladimir Putin of Russia on Tuesday, a crucial online meeting that could determine Ukraine's fate.

The U.S. president, the defense minister tells me, should double down on support for Ukraine.

REZNIKOV: If I can advise President Biden, I would like to ask him to very understandable, articulate to Mr. Putin that no red lines from Kremlin side could be here. Red line is here in Ukraine, and civilized world will react without any hesitation.

We don't need the American or Canadian soldiers here to fighting for Ukraine. We will fight by ourselves. But we need modernizational weaponry. We have -- we need electronic warfare and et cetera, et cetera.

CHANCE: The problem with America and NATO and others stepping up their help, their assistance for Ukraine is that it could potentially provoke the Kremlin even further. Could be poking the bear and force them to invade.

Is that a concern for you? Do you think that's realistic?

REZNIKOV: The idea don't provoke Russia will not work. Because Georgia, Salisbury, Crimea.

CHANCE: So, you think confrontation with Russia is the only way to stop Russia's malign activity around the world?

REZNIKOV: It could be not only confrontation. It could be very -- it should be strong position. We are partners of Ukraine. We will help them in all kind of ways to do it.

CHANCE: And the Kremlin will hear that and it will understand that and it will stop?

REZNIKOV: I'm sure.

CHANCE: But it is a high-stakes gamble with no guarantee such a hard line from the White House to the Kremlin will do anything to force Russia back.



CHANCE (on camera): Well, Erin, tonight, Ukrainian officials are expressing gratitude to the United States for their continued support. There's been a -- a phone call we are told by the Ukrainian president between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the presidential office here where they agreed positions before the presidential phone call tomorrow night. Ukrainian president says he expects to be briefed afterwards that call as well -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Matthew Chance, for that exclusive report there from Ukraine.

And next, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby suddenly dies, on a race track with a long history of horse deaths.


BURNETT: Tonight, the horse racing world in shock. Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, collapsing and dying after what's described as a routine workout at the Santa Anita race track in California this morning. His trainer, Bob Baffert, says the champion colt had a sudden heart.

Now, three 3-year-old horse you may recall was the focus of major controversy after his derby victory when he failed a drug test. Baffert claiming a skin ointment for a dermatological issue was responsible.

Now, full necropsy will take place to determine the exact cause of sudden death. Medina Spirit is the latest in what is now a long line of horses to die at Santa Anita race track in southern California. The deaths prompting investigations on which our Nick Watt has extensively chronicled.

I hope you take a look at his fantastic reporting on that.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.