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Erin Burnett Outfront

U.S. Deploying 3,000 Troops To Bolster Allies Amid Russia Threat; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Discusses About Biden's Action To Deploy 3,000 U.S. Troops To Eastern Europe; Ohio's GOP Sec. Of State With More Evidence That Trump's Big Lie About Election Is A Big Lie; 27 Ballots May Have Been Illegally Cast; Trump Remains Biggest GOP Influence, Continues Spreading Election Lies; Democratic Senator Lujan Plans To Return To Senate In 4-6 Weeks After Stroke; U.S. Bolsters Firepower In Europe As Putin Refuses To De-Escalate. Aired 7- 8p ET

Aired February 02, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. You can always tweet the show @CNNSITROOM. Thanks once again for watching.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, thousands of U.S. troops deploying to Eastern Europe and tonight exclusive reaction to Biden's move from a top Putin aide.

Plus, a former DOJ official and Trump loyalist who tried to stonewall the January 6 Select Committee now meeting with investigators. What we're learning tonight about what happened behind closed doors?

And as Democratic Senator Ben Ray Lujan recovers from a stroke, new concern about how his long absence could affect Biden's agenda in a completely divided Senate. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, exclusive reaction from Putin's right hand man tonight, Russia responding just now to Biden's decision to deploy 3,000 U.S. troops to Eastern Europe. We're going to go to the ground for that in just a moment because it is the latest escalation in the U.S.-Russian standoff. The U.S. forces are going to be heading to Romania, to Poland and to Germany. Here's President Biden.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Totally consistent with what I told Putin in the beginning. As long as he's acting aggressively, we're going to make sure we reassure our NATO allies in Eastern Europe that we're there and Article V is a secret obligation.


BURNETT: These 3,000 U.S. troops are in addition to the 8,500 U.S. troops that Biden has put on high alert to deploy soon. All of it, the Biden administration says is in response to Putin's massive buildup.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Putin continues to add forces, combined arms, offensive capabilities even over just the last 24 hours. He continues to add in Western Russia and in Belarus. And again, as I said, in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. He has shown no signs of being interested or willing to de-escalate the tensions. And it's not just the United States that's noticed this, our NATO allies have noticed this.


BURNETT: Well, everyone's noticed it and the pictures show it. New satellite images tonight show Russia moving more troops and equipment to the frontlines. These are a series of four satellite images, where you can see larger training areas as well in Belarus and Crimea. And they monitor these days by day, so when they say over the past 24 hours they've seen an increase, you can actually see it in the pictures.

And Putin wants the world to know what he's doing. Tonight, his defense ministry dropping more new videos and pictures. I'll show you a few, T-72 tanks here conducting drills to stop what Russia calls a mock enemy attack. Those tanks are equipped with laser guided missiles.

The escalation comes as the details of the U.S. response to Putin's negotiating demands have been leaked. A Spanish newspaper, El Pais, publishing the confidential documents. And the response from the Biden administration to Putin reads, "Further Russian increases to force posture or further aggression against Ukraine will force the United States and our allies to strengthen our defensive posture."

Let's just put this into English. If you do it, we'll do it. So where does it stop?

It is now a dangerous and vicious cycle. Russia escalates the U.S. response, Russia escalates the U.S. response and just a moment we're going to go to the ground, as I said, because Russia escalating again. If escalation does not deter, but instead becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, a war could be global like almost no one alive has seen, because it isn't just Russia, the U.S., Ukraine and all of Europe, just, the world's other nuclear superpower has a dog in the fight too.

Putin heading to a meeting with the Chinese President Xi in Beijing on Friday. It comes on the heels of Russia and China conducting joint naval drills. And China's Foreign Minister days ago announcing that 'Russia's reasonable security concerns should be taken seriously'. China's put money behind Putin to investing big time in his satellite state of Belarus insulating Putin from U.S. sanctions after Putin invaded Crimea. With China's money, political and potentially some form of military support, Putin stands taller and stronger.

And in Washington, several key committees will be briefed tomorrow on this escalating crisis by the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and the Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin. In a moment, I'm going to talk to a Senator who will be in that closed door briefing. I want to begin, though, with the breaking news from Matthew Chance OUTFRONT live in Kyiv, Ukraine.

And Matthew, this is your exclusive new reporting tonight, reaction from Russia to those 3,000 U.S. troops. What are you hearing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I mean, this deployment, remember, plays into the Russian narrative that is the West and the United States that is ratcheting up tensions against Russia, not the other way around. The Kremlin has been quiet about this right up until now.

I spoke with Dmitry Peskov who's Vladimir Putin, the Russian President's spokesperson earlier tonight.


And he basically said that this is an example of the U.S. continuing to pump up tension in Europe. Those were his words. He said that this is the best proof that we, as Russia, have an obvious reason to be worried.

Again, sort of pushing that narrative, that it's the Russians that feel that they are under increasing threat from a NATO that is expanding and from the United States that, in the Kremlin's words, wants to draw them into an armed conflict. There's also been reaction this evening from Ukrainian officials here in the Ukrainian capital, Ukrainian official telling me earlier that the country welcomes the reinforcements of NATO's eastern flank.

But it also hopes that that reinforcement will be accompanied with continued supplies of defensive weapons to Ukraine, including of sophisticated air defenses. And so, the Ukrainians are hoping that this apparently new commitment to security in Eastern Europe by the United States will extend to giving them more weapons, particularly those sophisticated weapons that they need to defend against any Russian threat, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Matthew Chance, their drumbeat there for javelins and more.

I want to go now to the Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Armed Services Committee and recently traveled to Ukraine. He is set to receive that classified briefing tomorrow.

So Senator, I want to start with the breaking news. Matthew Chance is just speaking to Vladimir Putin spokesperson and right hand man Dmitry Peskov who says they're very worried about these troops, because the U.S. is continuing to pump up attention, making it very clear that they see this as an escalation that they're being then forced to, it seems, reply in kind.

Senator, do you have any concern that sending these troops could escalate the situation and give Putin an excuse to invade? SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Erin, the path that President Biden's

taken here is one that he has signaled. He has said we're going to fortify our NATO allies, sending the 82nd Airborne there is a really important step in showing we are going to keep our word and that's important to the Ukraine, to their leaders.

I met with them just a couple of weeks ago and they are looking for this kind of action in addition to the continued arms, the javelin and stinger missiles, the personal armaments that would enable Ukraine to resist on the ground with insurgency. And, of course, the economic steps, they're so important. Export controls, depriving Putin of the semiconductors and other technology he needs for his economy as well as steps beginning to disconnect Russian financial institutions from the world system, the SWIFT system.

So I believe strongly, we got to begin those steps now, economic sanctions right now and we're moving toward actually bipartisan action.

BURNETT: So do you then, Senator, just to be clear, I know the Biden administration thus far had been very much in the camp of if Russia invades then we do those things. It sounds like you're now moving towards a more pre emptive set of sanctions, something I know many of your Republican colleagues support, but that's where you think this is going.

BLUMENTHAL: I think we should really begin sanctions yesterday. In fact, I've advocated that we start those sanctions right away, because Putin will not be deterred by words alone. He's a KGB thug. He understands force of military or economic force, and he's going to be meeting with Xi. Together, they represent a threat to the world order, the biggest threat since the World War, and they will be watching. The world is watching what we're doing to deter this Russian aggression.

BURNETT: All right. So let me ask you, though, when you say words won't matter and I understand you believe sanctions will, but let me ask you about these troops in this context. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson today said about the troops 'these forces are not going to fight in Ukraine'.

They have been so consistent about that. The U.S. is going to put in troops, but they are not going to engage in combat over Ukraine. So do you have any concern that sending troops that the United States is saying we'll never fight in a war about Ukraine is a mistake?

BLUMENTHAL: I agree with Mr. Kirby that troops should not be sent to fight in Ukraine. President Biden has made it clear and I've opposed American troops in combat in Ukraine. Their mission is defensive and our weapons and they should be lethal weapons sent to Ukraine, also are defensive. The javelin missiles that will combat the armor and the stinger missiles, the aircraft, are defensive in purpose even though they are lethal. That is an important point and it's supported in the United States Senate by potential bill, Menendez and Risch are working on it right now.

BURNETT: I understand. Senator, let me just ask you like I just want to kind of cut through all of it to ask what seems like a very simple question, but Ukraine is not in NATO.


NATO is upset that Putin doesn't want Ukraine to ever be in NATO, but Ukraine nonetheless right now is not in NATO. So if Putin invades Ukraine, it doesn't threaten - it's not an invasion of NATO. So is there any situation under which those troops would be in combat?

BLUMENTHAL: I foresee none right now. You're absolutely right. You've hit a really important point that Ukraine is not a member of NATO and there's no immediate prospect that it will be a member of NATO. And so Putin is raising these fears that are totally non-connected to reality. And I think he's beginning to understand he will have a fight with the Ukrainian people, not with American troops, but with Ukrainian people who are absolutely resolute and determined.

And this point came across very clearly to our bipartisan delegation when we visited Ukraine.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I really appreciate your time, senator, thank you so much.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BURNETT: And as I said, Sen. Blumenthal will be in that classified briefing from the Secretary of State and the Defense Secretary tomorrow.

I want to go now to John Sipher, former CIA Deputy Chief of Russia operations. So John, let me ask you, Biden approves a deployment of 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe, Putin has now put out that it gives Russia an obvious reason to be worried because the U.S. is continuing to pump up the tension. Those are their words. Do you think that these troops, especially given that there's no situation under which the Biden ministration says they will ever engage in combat over this issue, will it deter or provoke Putin?

JOHN SIPHER, FORMER CIA DEPUTY CHIEF OF RUSSIAN OPERATIONS: Two things, one is the Russians, they bluster, and they bully, and they lie to suggest that sending a few thousand troops to NATO allies is provoking war, when they've got hundreds of thousands of troops and have specifically said that they're going to invade a country that they believe is not a country, it's sort of silly.

So this is about deterrence. We're trying to make it clear to Putin that there's a price to be paid. You've got to look at Putin like our neighborhood bully. He blusters and pushes, and ask for more, and lies but he needs to face resistance. Until he's scared, he's not going to back down.

So when you hear this kind of things, you should expect them but don't take them seriously.

BURNETT: But what scares him about this then? What is the point of these troops? If they're saying they're not going to engage in combat and as you point out, there are so few of them, what point do they play?

SIPHER: It's a good point? No, no, it's a good point. So the things that are important to him are he wants the U.S. out of Europe is really what his goal is. He wants Ukraine to be a vassal state to them and he wants NATO to be weakened or killed off and what he's doing is strengthening all those things.

And so, let's put it this way, if you remember the Korean War in 1950, we said prior to that conflict that Korea was outside of our security sphere, outside our security address, however, invasion was so brutal that President Truman decided that we had to actually send in American troops. So who knows what war brings, a nasty, bloody, awful war in Europe. He has to worry that NATO was serious, that NATO countries are holding together and that the U.S. is standing strong.

BURNETT: And you heard the senator talk about the importance of China, which I was laying out that visit the Putin is about to have with China. Putin's aide said today it's going to be a one on one lunch. It's going to be expanded meeting. Obviously, there's been the visuals of the recent naval exercises, the foreign minister supporting Russia's points of view here, lots of meetings and lots of money.

China's role in this obviously could be very significant, but is yet still very unknown. How do you see it?

SIPHER: Well, I think Putin wants to make it very clear that he's got a strong relationship with China and China and Russia certainly do have a common enemy in the United States but they're very different. China is winning the 21st century. Russia is losing the 21st century. China is winning economically and around the world.

Xi very much I have to think does not want to get pulled into a war in Europe that can jeopardize the positive momentum he has. And so I can imagine that Putin wants to stress this to make it look like they're together on this, but I wouldn't be so sure that China really is willing to support Putin in terms of taking this terrible risk in Europe.

BURNETT: All right. I appreciate your time and your perspective, John. Thank you.

SIPHER: Thank you. Appreciate it.

BURNETT: And next, Trump about to take another hit as records from Vice President Pence will soon be in the hands of the January 6 Select Committee.

And Republican Secretary of State decimates Trump's big lie. Wait until you hear because he actually went ballot by ballot. How many illegal ballots were cast in his crucial swing state?

And the International Olympic Committee preparing to meet with tennis star Peng Shuai who vanished after accusing a top Chinese leader of rape. Will they get the true story or what China tells her to say.


BURNETT: New tonight, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark meeting this afternoon for nearly two hours with the January 6 Select Committee. Clark is a loyalist who is in touch repeatedly with Trump as he tried to help him overturn the election and he is seen as key to the Committee investigation. It is unclear if Clark pled the Fifth Amendment today as he previously had said he would do.

But he is currently facing a criminal contempt charged by the Committee and his level of cooperation will play a big role in the Committee's next steps. Jamie Gangel is with me, CNN Special Correspondent who has been breaking this story and Shan Wu, former federal prosecutor. I appreciate both of you.

So Jamie, let me start with what you're learning. Obviously, it wasn't clear if Clark would even show up today. And then he'd indicated, well, he was going to plead the Fifth anyways. He was there for less than two hours. Do you know what happened?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know, but I would be very surprised if he didn't take the fifth. Otherwise he would have been there much longer. Also to your point, he is a critical firsthand fact witness. And he has been delaying, the fact that he showed up, as you point out, the Committee was not sure that that would happen. They have been holding him in contempt of Congress.


I think what will be interesting now is to see whether - since let's assume he did not cooperate today, because less than two hours will they refer that to the Justice Department.

Jeffrey Clark is key. He was at the center of this. He was working hand in hand with Donald Trump to try to overturn the election. I think we have to watch very closely what the Committee does about whether they send this to the Justice Department.

BURNETT: Right. And, of course, he drafted documents.

GANGEL: Right.

BURNETT: He came up with the logic, and the reasoning, and the legal justifications for overturning. I mean, as you point out, so crucial.

But Shan, what Jamie is saying is it's just so crucial whether they refer to the Justice Department. So far, the track record of this committee on getting referrals and getting it through and getting someone to actually come in who didn't want to come in is zero. So just to be blunt about it and I'm not saying they're failing, the DOJ, it's that nothing is moving here. So where does this go if he went in and pleaded the fifth today is that pretty much it?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's pretty much it. They have a couple of options here. I think him actually showing up helps him with regard to the criminal contempt aspect, but what he might have done in there, because two hours is, as Jamie is saying, way too short from both, given a substantive interview, but also a little bit longer than just saying I'm not talking because of the Fifth.

So they might have gone area by area for him to assert it there and they could seek a couple of things. One, they could immunize him. There are some downsides to that as we saw in Iran-Contra. And I guess they could also try to seek a civil contempt and try to get in front of the judge to drill down a little bit to see whether there really is a solid assertion of the Fifth or not. But both of those take time and they both have downsides.

BURNETT: Yes. But it is interesting, he may be worth it to do that extra step in which they have not chosen to do in some other instances.

So Jamie, as crucial as Jeffrey Clark is and when you talk about the time, like less than two hours, maybe a few points of discussion, maybe none. But when you look at someone like Marc Short who was, of course, the closest adviser to Vice President Pence, it was six plus hours, just so everyone understands why two hours is not long enough to actually cooperate.

So he, of course, answered all the questions and the National Archives today said that the Committee will get Pence's White House papers. So Jamie, how significant do they think that is and where are the negotiations between the Committee and Pence himself.

GANGEL: So let's start with the National Archives documents. Those are critical. And it's frankly one of the reasons I don't think we're going to see public hearings very soon. I think we're talking about late spring, even pushing it further because my understanding is the Committee has this flood of documents coming in, they are finding valuable information in there. They are going to go through it.

Now, Mike Pence, will he cooperate? We do not know yet. But my understanding is there have been informal discussions going on for quite some time. I would say that we need to look at one thing that may make a difference and I stress may. This week, we all know that Donald Trump went on the attack against Pence again.

We are hearing that Pence on Friday may respond to those attacks. I'm not sure that it was the greatest strategy in the world for Donald Trump to be attacking Mike Pence right now, because even though Pence wants to hold on to the base, wants to straddle and try to keep some relationship with Donald Trump, why attack him right now? That may make Pence a little more willing to cooperate.

BURNETT: Do you think, Shan, that the former president has actually, despite his obviously very savvy instincts on much of this in many ways, finally made a legally lethal mistake?

WU: Legally from the point of view of what he's saying the attacks even dangling the pardons is certainly morally corrupt. I'm not sure if prosecutor would want to go down the road of witness tampering with that. It's a pretty broad statement he was making particularly with the pardon offers and classic witness tampering is more focused and directed.

There's a contact to a specific witness, specific benefit or intimidation offered to them or applied against them. In Trump's case, he'll have a fairly solid defense saying that these are just campaign promises. He's just exercising his first amendment right. So far, I don't know that he has made a criminally lethal step, but certainly to Jamie's point that he may have supplied some missing incentive to Pence.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much. I appreciate your time.

WU: Good to see you.

BURNETT: And next, Trump may be refusing to let go of his big lie.


But that lie is suffering a major blow tonight from a Republican in a swing state who went through the ballots and has numbers on how many cases of voter fraud there were in the must-win swing state.

Plus, the Democrats razor thin majority temporarily gone as Democratic Senator Ben Ray Lujan recovers for weeks after suffering a stroke. What party leaders are saying tonight?



BURNETT: Tonight, a Republican Secretary of State counting the ballots again and let me tell you what he found. Ohio Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, announcing that he looked, and looked, then he looked and he found 27 examples of illegally cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election.

Now, 27 is 27 too many. But, of course, context matters. It is 0.0005 percent of the nearly 6 million votes cast in the state, 27 possible fraud 6 million votes in Ohio. This is on top of a recent Associated Press investigation that found fewer than 475 potential cases of voter fraud in the six swing states that decide the election, 0.15 percent of Joe Biden's combined victory margin of those states which was 311,000.


Yet, despite all of this, 15 months after losing the election, we are still hearing this from Donald Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: The rally was a protest against the rigged election. Had Mike Pence sent it back to the legislature, we would've had the same kind of anger. There wouldn't be any anger because the legislatures would've done whatever they were going to do. I mean, there was a lot of corruption, there was a lot of phony voting, phony ballots, and they should have been sent back. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: The thing is, there weren't a lot of phony ballots. It's just untrue.

And OUTFRONT now is Republican Tom Reed of New York.

And, Congressman, I want to be clear, unlike many of Republican colleagues, you know, you didn't challenge the election results of Congress. You accepted. You stood up and said the election was fair.

And now, here out of Ohio, we get these numbers night from the Republican secretary of state that 27 examples, 27 too many, as I said -- 27 examples of a legally cast ballots out of 6 million votes cast. And yet Trump still says what he says. How in the world do you have those two things existing in the same world?

REP. TOM REED (R-NY): Well, you know, obviously, I won't speak for the former president. But from my perspective, having had that review and the chance to challenge the election results came and went. And it was clear to me, that the electors were duly presented to us in the house and this election was won and won by Joe Biden.

And now, what I'm focusing on is try to be a voice to say, how do we move forward, how do we unite the country, how do we solve problems for the American people. And try to bring people together as much as I possibly can.

BURNETT: Yeah. Well, you know, it's unfortunate because you got the former president seeing all this stuff. You have secretaries of state being forced to spend their time, months and months and months, 15 months, right, counting, recounting ballots. And that's how time is being spent.

So let me ask you about where your party is right now, because that's where many of your party are, the Republican National Committee itself is planning a vote on Friday on a resolution to remove Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney from the House Republican Conference. And they're having that vote because Kinzinger and Cheney are part of the January 6th Select Committee. There is more than 50 co-sponsors on that resolution right now.

Do you believe your colleagues still belong in the House Republican Conference?

REED: You know, I do. I mean, I know Liz, I know Adam. And they have taken positions of conscience on this issue. I disagree with the January 6 committee. I voted against the establishment once Nancy Pelosi rejected Kevin McCarthy's offer to put our representatives on the Republican side on the committee and that tainted that committee in my humble opinion.

But we shouldn't be expelling people from the Republican Party. We should be open tent to all those differences of opinion, not only on January 6th but other issues. We want to welcome people into the Republican Party, not drive people out of it. BURNETT: So, let me ask you what we're hearing here. Trump is now

doubling down on his call for pardons for members of -- that storm the Capitol on that day that you were there. We've also learned that there are multiple draft accepted orders to seize voting machines with the intent of overturning the election, because they said there was fraud there.

I want to ask you this in the context of something you recently said to Chuck Todd, you said you would support Trump in 2024 if he is the GOP nominee.

Does any of what he said in the past two weeks, you know, his statements about Pence overturning the election. Has any of that made you reconsider that pledge?

REED: Not reconsider, but the statements are concerning. But that's why we go through a process. Those statements will be held up to the entire Republican Party as we select the nominee.

But I will tell you, given the fact of the Democratic Party has been hijacked in my opinion by the extreme left. I still believe that if Trump is our nominee, he represents policy and solution to America's problems that I will support over the Democratic extreme candidate that likely is to emerge here, if it's not President Joe Biden.

That being said, I'll be very clear, Erin, January 6 was a dark day in America's history. I was here. I was in tears watching that go down. We should be not talking about pardoning folks that engaged in that situation. They should be fully held accountable under the law and justice should be done.

But justice needs to be done fairly and equitably and I think we can all agree upon that. Bottom line is, we should be not be talking about January 6 being something that is deserving of pardons.

BURNETT: Right, all of which I totally understand. I am just trying to understand better, you know, somebody that you thought should be impeached and has done what he said about January 6, still says he won the election. To try to understand how it is that you would find a scenario where you'd be okay with that person.

REED: Because after we go through that process -- yeah -- as we go through the process in the Republican Party and I still trust the Republican voters.


I still trust the folks that make that decision, which are the individuals across America that would participate in the primary process and come up with that nominee being President Trump. And I would trust that majority of those individuals.

That being said, it is a long process. This is not a foregone conclusion, and this is going to be vetted and all of this commentary will be put out there for the primary voters of the Republican Party to have their say. BURNETT: All right. I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

REED: It's always good to be with you. Thank you.

BURNETT: All right. And next, Democratic senator now recovering from a stroke, Democrats say this does not affect Biden's agenda. But what are they now saying privately.

And a CNN exclusive tonight, we're going to take you aboard the USS Harry Truman which is tonight on a mission sending Putin a serious message as he weighs an invasion into Ukraine.


BURNETT: New tonight, Democratic Senator Ben Ray Lujan not returning to the Senate for 4 to 6 weeks, and obviously barring any complications. That's what a person close to the senator tells our Manu Raju, just days after Lujan suffered a stroke.


He is, of course, thank goodness, expected to fully recover. But his absence could pose an issue for President Biden and Democrats with the Senate split currently 50/50.

Now, the Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin says he doesn't expected to affect the Supreme Court pick. That obviously could be crucial for Biden, but there's so much on the line right now.

And Manu Raju is OUTFRONT.

Manu, this is your reporting and, of course, we're talking about what Democrats are saying publicly. What are they though concerned about behind the scenes about Wuhan's absence?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lujan has made clear to Democratic leaders through his aides that he will be back in 4 to 6 weeks time, which allows them if they keep their caucus united to get some potentially to the Supreme Court possibly by the springtime, if Joe Biden does make that -- by the end of the month that they could potentially get into March into early April to get a nominee confirmed.

But that all requires a pick off some Republican votes and Republicans are considering whether or not to support Joe Biden's potential pick. But unless something goes haywire, they seem to be on track. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, met with the White House earlier today with Joe Biden, and when he came back, he said they're still calling ahead, and expect Ben Ray Lujan to come unless complications occur.

BURNETT: And, Manu, on this issue, you also have new reporting tonight on Republicans, and their plans for the Supreme Court process.

RAJU: Yeah, there is a division within the Republican, about how hard to go at this nominee. We're seeing some conservatives already question whether or not the president should be coming up front, saying that he would name a Black woman to the Supreme Court, the first person in history. One Republican Senator Josh Hawley says that we need to show Republican voters what they stand for here and fight this nomination and go through a very thorough vetting process.

But there is concern among top Republicans about going too far, because this Supreme Court nominee will undoubtedly not change the balance of the Supreme Court, the ideological balance of the Supreme Court. And Republicans feel good about their chances heading into the midterm and they should instead focus on other issues in the economy, inflation, the problems abroad to fight, not the Supreme Court confirmation.

And the very interesting comment from Senate Republican whip John Thune, who told me earlier today when I asked about this, he said we think it's probably not the kind of event that's going to drive people into the polls, referring to the confirmation fight, and instead saying, they should fight about the inflation, about the issues at the border and the like.

So, the significant shift among Republican leaders about how they can move to get power, not necessarily by fighting going tooth and nail on this issue, but other issues as well. We'll see though for the rest of Republicans listen -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you.

And next we take you aboard the USS Harry Truman, it's incredible access and you will see what they are saying to Putin.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The USS Harry S. Truman (INAUDIBLE) longer than planned as the standoff with Russia intensifies.


BURNETT: Tennis star Peng Shuai to meet with the International Olympic Committee. Will China control what she says?



BURNETT: Tonight, the USS Harry Truman is sending a signal to Russia, bulking up its firepower in Europe. And our Fred Pleitgen gained exclusive access to the carrier, and here you see his report OUTFRONT.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The U.S. and its allies, in a united show of force, facing aggression from Russia. The USS Harry S. Truman is in Europe, refining cooperation with NATO allies to make sure that the alliance can operate more coherently, says NATO flight officer Jeannette Lazzaro. LT. CDR. JEANNETTE LAZZARO, U.S. NAVY: We just go out there,

integrate, to different NATO partners, anybody who to kind of smooth the communication processes.

PLEITGEN: As Russia continues to mass troops on the border of Ukraine, the U.S. as they will further strengthen the NATO alliance. This is the first time since the Cold War that a full carrier strike group has been placed under NATO command. With ships from various NATO countries are flanking the Truman.

The USS Harry S. Truman (INAUDIBLE) longer than planned as the standoff with Russia intensifies, to reassure Americas allies the U.S. is fully committed to collective defense.

Russia has pulled together more than 100,000 troops, the U.S. believes. Moscow could order and attack it anytime. While President Biden has said he would not send U.S. forces to Ukraine, the Harry S. Truman, effectively, fortify NATO's eastern flank. Despite Russia's massive naval presence in the Black Sea, the carriers F-18 jets can quickly reach the area close to Ukraine.

The Truman's commander says that years of integration with allies are now paying off.

REAR ADM CURT RENSHAW, US NAVY, CARRIER STRIKE GROUP COMMANDER: We are committed to our alliances, our partnerships. We are able to operate, plug and play, anywhere in the world. From an adversary point to view, we are agnostic. If we have a strong partnership, that is stronger than any individual adversary could be.

PLEITGEN: The U.S. says that Russia could play a higher price for any further invasion of Ukraine. And the Pentagon has just announced it will deploy additional U.S. troops to Germany, Poland and to Romania.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: The current situation demands that we reinforce the deterrent and defensive posture on NATO's eastern flank. President Biden has been clear, the United States will respond to the growing threat to Europe's security and stability.

PLEITGEN: But the U.S. and its allies say that they hope diplomacy will prevail, as one of America's strongest deterrent forces remains on guard.


BURNETT: Fred, it must have been, you know, just amazing to see that and to understand it. You know, we find out that President Biden is deploying 3,000 more troops to Eastern Europe.


From what you have seen, how has the U.S. and NATO actually increase readiness? What have they changed?

PLEITGEN: Well, I think -- I think by a great deal. And first of all, Erin, one thing that's happened is that NATO has welcomed the fact the U.S. is deploying those extra forces to Europe. They say it really shows the U.S. commitment to the collective security. That is something we saw on the ground or on the sea today as well, where it's only want about integrating the U.S. carrier group into NATO, as well, and making them operate better together. It's about operating in all of Europe.

And there are so many assets involved in all of that. All of that is complicated. You have tanker planes that are in the air and surveillance aircraft and all of it shows that NATO is working better and better together, and one of the things we keep hearing again and again, Erin, if there's one thing that Vladimir Putin has achieved, he's actually increased the coherence of NATO and made it a strong organization, Erin.

BURNETT: The great irony of that.

All right. Thank you so much, Fred. As I said, live there from the air base in Italy.

And next, Chinese tennis champ Peng Shuai about to expect with Olympic officials after she accused that top official of rape. So, who's story will she tell, hers or the Chinese communist party's?



BURNETT: Tonight, as the Winter Games get under way in Beijing, the International Olympic Committee is preparing to meet with tennis star Peng Shuai. Today marks three months since Peng's bombshell post on social media, accusing one of the senior communist leaders in China of rape.

She disappeared for more than two weeks and her appearances since she resurfaced have been clearly orchestrated. All of these images put out by Chinese state media following the International Olympic Committee. Peng later denied making the sexual assault claim.

Questions about her freedom continue to grow along with calls for a full investigation.

OOUTFRONT now, Desmond Shum, the author of "Red Roulette: An Insider Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption and Vengeance in Today's China". The book tells the story of his ex-wife, the mother of his son Whitney Duan, a Chinese billionaire who vanished four years ago without a trace and she contacted Desmond right before he published the book, urging him not to release it.

Desmond, Olympic officials are getting ready to meet with Peng Shuai for the first time in person, since she made these allegations. What do you expect that meeting to be like? How closely will China be monitoring and controlling what Peng says?

DESMOND SHUM, EX-WIFE WENT MISSING IN CHINA FOR FOUR YEARS: I think a whole meeting will be orchestrated and she will be accompanied by people of the CCP, (INAUDIBLE) she had made with ROC. There was a lady from China ROC sitting in the meeting making sure she goes according to the script and if she is deviating from that, the CCP official will interject into the conversation.

BURNETT: Of course, referring to the Chinese communist party. So, you know, Desmond, you and I talked as this unfolded. Today marks three months since Peng's social media post. And, I mean, I guess the question is how long does this continue? Does this control over her just go on essentially forever? Do you think she'll ever be free to go where she wishes, when she wishes and say what she pleases again?

SHUM: I think she will forever essentially lose control of her personal account on the internet. She will never have free access to her personal Internet account. I think that is a given for sure and most likely they wouldn't let her out of the country, unless there's so much media, international media attention to the case that they feel they need to let her out. But if she'd ever is let out, she will be closely watched and under control.

BURNETT: Right. It won't be as if she's suddenly able to come out and say here is, perhaps, what I wanted to say and couldn't in China.

So, you know, obviously, you know, she's -- her appearances thus far have been completely orchestrated, and there's been questions about, will there ever be an investigation? The answer is a pretty hard "no" from China.

And something caught your attention over the weekend, Desmond, which I hadn't seen and I want to make sure our viewers do. The senior communist leader at the center of Peng's allegation appeared in a Chinese media report and that report said that President Xi Jinping wished him, the accused leader, a happy new year, just in this article.

What did you read into that?

SHUM: I think that's a very, very clear message actually to the CCP community and people in China is this person will not be tainted in any way because if there's any attention on investigating him, Xi Jinping wouldn't appear anywhere close to this person.

But to highlight this person in this activity is definitely sending a message to the wider community in China saying this person is untouchable.

BURNETT: This person is untouchable.

SHUM: And really not be touched.

BURNETT: Yeah, and clearly, there is no indication that there would ever be any investigation whatsoever e especially after they've gotten her to say, oh, I didn't mean that allegation of rape when I said it.

SHUM: Yeah, I think it's very -- she's -- Peng Shuai is in a very difficult situation. In the situation she was in and has been in ,what the CCP will do is they will apply pressure to everybody around you -- your coach, your parents, your brothers, your sisters, your relatives, anybody they think will have some leverage, will have attachment to apply private pressure to that person, and then ask that person to put pressure on Peng Shuai.

So, it's a very difficult situation and it is very difficult for the situation to withstand the pressure knowing that Peng Shuai must know once this ball is out, she's going to be in a more difficult situation if she didn't go along with whatever the script the CCP has provided her.

BURNETT: Yeah, it's ironic and the media attention in a sense, yes, it highlights her and it also protects her because people are looking.

Thank you so much, Desmond. I greatly appreciate your time.

SHUM: Thank you for having me.

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

"AC360" begins right now.