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Erin Burnett Outfront

U.S. Alleges Russia Planning To Use "Graphic" Video Of A Fake Attack With Corpses & Actors To Justify An Invasion Into Ukraine; Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) Discusses About His Take On Russia Invading Ukraine Soon; "Catastrophic Blow To ISIS": White House On U.S. Raid In Syria That Took Out Head Of ISIS And His Family; In Jan 6 CMTE Interviews, Pence Aides Would Not Talk About Conversations With Trump, But Discussed Exchanges With Trump; Interview With Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D- CA); Biden Meets With NYC Mayor As Crime Rises In Major Cities; Belarusian Opposition Leader Speaks Out As Russia Ups Forces. Aired 7- 8p ET

Aired February 03, 2022 - 19:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. We will stay in very close touch with you. Selina Wang in Beijing for us. Thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, U.S. intelligence uncovering evidence that Putin is allegedly plotting to make a fake video of an attack by Ukraine, the video that was intended to push Eastern Europe into war.

Plus, it's being called a catastrophic blow to ISIS. The leader of the terrorist group killed during a raid by U.S. Special Forces and we are getting new details tonight and images on exactly how this went down the tick by tack.

And CNN learning Pence's top aides answered many questions when they met with the January 6 Select Committee. But there was something they refused to talk about, what was it? Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, a false pretext for war. The Pentagon says it has evidence Russia is plotting to produce a video that would fake an attack on Russian troops, a propaganda that would create a pretext for Russia to invade Ukraine.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Fake attack, we believe that Russia would produce a very graphic propaganda video, which would include corpses and actors that would be depicting mourners and images of destroyed locations as well as military equipment at the hands of Ukraine or the West.


BURNETT: I mean, that's incredible, a video that would include corpses, actors depicting mourners, that's a production and it is all, of course, out of the mind of Putin. And nothing has stopped right now the Intelligence U.S. officials, they want it out there. They want people to know about this video, because they hope that putting out that they figured it out would deter the Russian president from doing it.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We are publicizing it now, however, in order to lay bare the extent of Russia's destabilizing actions towards Ukraine and to dissuade Russia from continuing this dangerous campaign and ultimately launching a military attack.


BURNETT: Dissuade? Will it make a difference? It's a fair question because up until now, of course, nothing has stopped Putin from putting more and more troops into position. In fact, every response has been met with more aggression. NATO Secretary General saying today that Russia's buildup of troops on Ukraine's northern border near Kyiv is something not seen in decades.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War.


BURNETT: Since the Cold War and Russia continuing to pump out things they want you to know that they're doing. Today, video and pictures showing the defense ministers of Russia and Belarus at a training ground inspecting troops as they carried out mock attacks. That's what you're seeing there in those images.

The build up on that northern border of Ukraine nearest to Kyiv is Belarus and it is growing at an alarming rate. NATO expecting another 30,000 Russian combat troops to go there in the coming days and that is why in Washington today lawmakers are sounding the alarm.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): I expect he's going to do something. I think we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that that is the likeliest and in my case a near certainty.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): I mean, it's astounding, the disinformation campaigns they put together to try to create pretext or chaos.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The very real threat is not overstated and that we should be prepared in the event that there is an invasion. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: In just a moment, I'm going to speak to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith, who was also briefed by officials today behind closed doors. Because it all comes as the U.S. is responding, nearly 2,000 soldiers based out of Fort Bragg reportedly started deploying to Eastern Europe. They're on their way now to Poland and Germany.

Meanwhile, 4,000 miles away from where those troops are headed, the Russian president is preparing to meet with his Chinese counterpart. They're expected to sit down in the coming hours here tonight, obviously, morning in Beijing. It's a pivotal meeting for Putin, because China really is becoming Russia's lifeline here.

Putin today putting pen to paper writing a letter to the Chinese that the two men plan to discuss a number of trade and business deals that would quote offset the negative impact of unilateral sanctions.

Well, as you know, that's pretty much been it for NATO and the U.S., they said no to combat troops. They said they're going to stop it by sanctions. Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions, start high and stay high. Well, is China going to bail Russia out?

Matthew Chance is OUTFRONT live in Kyiv, Ukraine tonight. And Matthew, I know you have reporting on that new Russian military buildup just about a hundred miles from where you are tonight.


Tell me what you're learning.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin tonight U.S. and European diplomats are expressing their alarm at that continuing Russian buildup of forces near the Ukrainian border inside Belarus. Diplomats telling CNN that it is a big worry and it's also an essential piece if Russia intends to carry out a quick strike against Kyiv, the city from which I'm speaking to you now, because Kyiv is just about two hours by road, away from that region where those military drills with Russian forces inside Belarus taking place.

Earlier, as you mentioned, the NATO Secretary General has said that they've seen significant movements of unexpected 30,000 Russian troops inside Belarus taking part in what are supposed to be military drills and you have to add that to the 130,000, just under, in fact, according to latest intelligence sources, that the Russians have already deployed near to the Ukrainian border in other areas as it were poised if the order is given from the Kremlin to go in.

All this coming as a senior U.S. official tells CNN that Russia is sort of planning to fabricate a pretext to stage an invasion into Ukraine, falsely blaming the Ukrainian military of carrying out an attack against Russian-backed rebels or perhaps against Russia itself. The official telling CNN that that would involve, as you mentioned, a propaganda video. But there's been an enormous amount of detail about what that video

would include, including explosions, corpses, actors playing mourners, NATO drones to try and implicate the Western military line. So it would be a real blockbuster. The caveat, of course, (inaudible) saying it's not the only option open to them. And, of course, you have to say that Kremlin are categorically denying any involvement, Erin.

BURNETT: Of course. All right. Thank you very much, Matthew Chance, as we said, live in Kyiv.

And I want to go now to the Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. He is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and he was inside that classified briefing that I just mentioned on Russia and Ukraine today. I appreciate your time again, Chairman.

So today coming out of that classified briefing, the Republican Senator Marco Rubio said that he's convinced with 'near certainty' that Russia will invade Ukraine. Do you share that view?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): I don't think we know that yet. There is no question that our intel community is of that opinion, that the amassing of forces and the movement that you described so well in the lead up or to the story make it clear that Russia is preparing to be ready to do that and seems to be headed in that direction.

But we have not gotten a clear signal that there's been any sort of go, we're absolutely doing this. It just seems like what they're inclined to do, which is why we are so focused on bringing international pressure and building a strong alliance to deter that decision, to make it clear that the cost of the decision would be higher than the benefit to stop Putin from making it.

BURNETT: So in the briefing, did anything else strike you specifically, Chairman?

SMITH: Well, the briefing was a lot of stuff that mostly we had already heard. I've been briefed a few times on what's going on. There was nothing dramatically different.


SMITH: I will say in the last three or four days, I think the level of international pressure against Putin, I think is probably greater than he expected. I mean, he knows that he's going to pay a cost for this without question. As you were talking about, he's meeting with the Chinese to see if he can mitigate that.

But the international community has risen up against this. He's going to pay a cost for this. And one costs that hasn't been talked about, I mean, Putin's overarching goal is to get Eastern Europe away from the rest of Europe and away from the U.S. to get us uninvolved.


SMITH: Well, part of the reason moving troops into Romania into Poland, strengthening our relationships, I met with a group of Lithuanian legislators today is to show Putin, what he's doing is having the opposite effect. It is bringing Eastern Europe closer to us.

BURNETT: So, okay, I want to ask you about this video, because I mean maybe it's just me, but to go to the level of getting actors, and paid mourners, and explosions and fake corpses, I mean, that's a production. Part of you would say, gosh, that's a little frightening and then part of me says that's quite ridiculous also. I mean, was anybody really going to fall for that? What do you read into this that they were considering such a thing as a pretext to invade?

SMITH: Look, this information is central to Russia's approach to the world to get their way, to undermine the West. Whatever the issue is, they spread this information all over the place. We've seen it in our elections. I mean, I even see it in people sending me stories, the whole motion Ukraine isn't really a country. Here's all the reasons that Russia is justified.


And those stories are being spread throughout online, in the media and elsewhere. Putin is really cocky and confident about his ability to fool people. And I don't think he thinks of it as absurd at all. He's seen people across the world buy other stuff that he's been selling and I think he can sell this pretext, which is why I think it's the right move to shine a light on it and say not this time. We're not going to fall for this.

BURNETT: Are you confident, I mean, as I mentioned, at the current state, the current time we're in, it's been a very clear position from both NATO and the United States that their NATO troops and U.S. troops are not going to engage in combat in Ukraine. They have been categorical and clear. Sanctions are the path.

Obviously, sanctions like the last time around aren't going to be anywhere near good enough. They weren't then, they won't be now. So I know the plan is to go tougher if you need to go, but you hear Putin say that the deals with China that they're about to announce would offset the negative impact of unilateral sanctions.

Look, this is a matter of what China is willing to do. Do you think that they're willing to soften those sanctions so much that they don't matter?

SMITH: We don't know at this point. First of all, they're not able to soften those sanctions so much that they don't matter. China just doesn't have that level of power. And it's not unilateral, it's not just the U.S.


SMITH: There's a whole series of countries that are going to do this, there is no way that China can completely offset that. I mean, if you're talking about the international banking system, the U.S. and the West still drive that.

BURNETT: Yes. That's right.

SMITH: And the impacts on Russians' economy would be profound, so we don't know at this point exactly what China is willing to offer or willing to do. Certainly, we would like them not to but we don't have a ton of influence over China on that question.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, they'll do what they can do, but obviously your point about the banking system and SWIFT is obviously hugely significant. Chairman, thank you. I always appreciate your time.

SMITH: Well, thanks, Erin, I appreciate the chance.

BURNETT: All right. And next, we're going to take you inside that military raid, in the dark hours of night that took out the leader of ISIS. Incredible what you'll be able to see.

Plus, two former top aides to Mike Pence sitting down for lengthy interviews with the January 6 Committee. What did they say and what would they not talk about? A member the Select Committee is OUTFRONT.

And President Biden turning his attention to gun violence today, traveling to New York after two officers were shot and killed. So what is the President's plan to combat crime?



BURNETT: Tonight, we're learning new details about the U.S. raid that killed the current leader of ISIS. U.S. officials say the terrorists set off a suicide bomb as Special Forces closed in on his combat Northwest Syria. They say the force of that explosion through him from the third floor, his remains were found on the ground outside. The White House touting this mission as a 'catastrophic blow' to ISIS.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to the bravery of our troops. This horrible terrorist leader is no more. Last night's operation took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield and has sent a strong message to terrorists around the world, we will come after you and find you.


BURNETT: Of course, when he killed himself, he killed his family too, courageous.

Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT. Alex, what is the latest that we're learning about how this raid was carried out?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we are learning a lot more details, but there are still many questions, of course. Now, this raid did not go exactly as they had hoped. The hope had been to capture al-Qurashi, who's also known as Haji Abdullah, that's according to the Head of Central Command General Frank McKenzie.

As you mentioned, he blew himself up along with his family, his wife and children. His body was thrown to the ground and there the Special Forces troops on the ground did identify him, thanks to DNA and his fingerprints.

Now, how did this operation go down? We are told by the Biden administration that a major priority here was to limit civilian casualties. And so the decision was made to not carry out an airstrike where there could be more civilian casualties. They decided to send in Special Forces on helicopters.

That is a lot more dangerous. A lot more can happen, especially because this operation took two hours. That is a long time for those Special Forces to be on the ground. We're told that the Special Forces flew in that they use bullhorns to not only keep people away from the site of the operation, but to try to get people out of that three storey residential building.

There were innocents, there were civilians living on the ground floor. We're told that 10 People were brought out, came out, among them eight were children. Now, after Haji Abdullah blew up himself and his family, there was a gunfight between the Special Forces and one of Haji Abdullah's lieutenants who lived on the second floor. He barricaded himself there with his wife. They were killed along with a child. It's unclear how that child died.

Now, in terms of the death toll, Erin, according to the Pentagon, there were four civilians killed and five enemy combatants. Now there is a discrepancy here. According to the famous White Helmets, civil defense group in Syria, they say there were 13 people killed as opposed to the nine that the Pentagon said. It is not clear where that discrepancy comes from.

But this was months in the making, Erin. Biden was briefed on this in December. He was told that the intelligence indicated that Haji Abdullah was in this three storey residential building, the go order we are told was given on Tuesday and this operation carried out on Wednesday.

It is not clear who will take Haji Abdullah's place at the top of ISIS. He is the second leader of ISIS. But whoever it is, according to the Biden ministration, that person almost certainly will be a man will suffer the same fate as his two predecessors who were killed by U.S. Special Forces - sorry, who blew themselves up.

BURNETT: Right, obviously because of the raid. All right. Alex, thank you very much for that reporting. Those images are incredible. We're going to show more of them here as we talk with Bob Baer, former CIA Operative, CNN Intelligence and Security Analyst, obviously spent a lot of time in Syria and other countries in the Middle East.

So Bob, let me just start with the mission itself. Two hours from start to finish, obviously an incredibly long period of time, when you think about the bin Laden raid, which was 28 minutes or thereabouts that they were there. The U.S. categorizes this as a catastrophic blow to ISIS. How significant of a blow do you think it is?


BOB BAER, CNN Intelligence & Security Analyst: Well, it's extremely. It just organizes all the cells. He was the spiritual leader of the Islamic State. He has religious standing. He was committed. He was a true believer. Every time you lop off the head of the Islamic State, you're better off. It just throws them into confusion, as we've seen over and over again, you get rid of bin Laden, there goes al-Qaeda for the most part and so on.

So it was a necessary strike and I should add, Erin, they probably watch this house for several (inaudible) saw the children, calculated the best way to save the children and the women, but he never apparently left this safe house and a drone would have been better if he'd been in a car, but the way it worked was they had to go in this, which by the way is very dangerous in a place - any place in Idlib.

BURNETT: Yes. And, of course, you think about it, they put American lives at risk to try to minimize any civilian loss of life. And the leader's children were killed because he killed them. He killed his own children.

We're learning that the plan, Bob, had been in the works since at least December and I want to show some of these pictures here, because you mentioned it. They knew that the ISIS leader never left the compound. This is the inside here that the pictures of Special Forces took. So we lived on the third floor of this family, never once left, but there, of course, were families with no connection to ISIS, who also lived on that floor.

When you look at all these images that are coming in that they took of this inside of this, after the raid, obviously, it's completely destroyed, what do you notice?

Mm Well, the blast fragments and the fact that it was an explosion inside, it'd been a drone or something else, if Special Forces use some sort of munitions, it would have looked different, so this backs up the Pentagon story. And don't forget, Erin, that these people know they're being targeted, this is one reason they stay off email and cell phone calls.

But on the other hand, they take their houses and wire them for explosives, intending to kill American soldiers in a raid. And the way that Haji Abdullah looked at his nickname, his war name was look when you kill women and children they go to heaven to as he does. They're true believers and this is what makes these missions so difficult. You just don't knock down the door and start grabbing your god because the intent is to kill as many Americans as possible.

BURNETT: It is amazing, though, two hours and that great risk of loss of life that the American Special Forces took and they did not suffer that. They were completely successful.

BAER: Absolutely.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you so much, Bob. I really appreciate you.

BAER: Thanks.

BURNETT: And next, Mike Pence's former top aides meeting with the January 6 Select Committee, but they were tight lipped when it came to certain conversations. Which ones? What did they say? A member of the Committee is my guest.

And President Biden traveling to New York to detail his plan to combat rising gun violence across the country.



BURNETT: Tonight, CNN learning former Vice President Pence's top aides refused to discuss their direct conversations with former President Trump during their recent interviews with the January 6 Select Committee. Pence's aides drawing that line after being instructed by Trump's legal team that those conversations they say are covered by executive privilege. But sources say the aides did answer questions about their conversations with Pence which is obviously hugely significant. Paula Reid is OUTFRONT.

Paula, tell me what more you know about these interviews between the Committee and Pence's aides.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, the Committee knew going into these interviews there would be privileged concerns. And this new CNN reporting reveals exactly how the Trump legal team is still trying to keep secrets, some of what happened on January 6th and we've learned that Trump's lawyers are invoking the Presidential communications privilege.

Now, that protects communications with the president, so advisors can be candid when making decisions inside the White House. And notably, Sources tell CNN that Pence aides only declined to answer a few questions during hours long interviews and they did answer questions about conversations they had with the Vice President.

But Erin, the fact that these aides, including former Pence Chief of Staff, Marc Short, former General Counsel, Greg Jacob, the fact that they drew the line at conversations with Trump at the direction of the Trump legal team is notable and it suggests that Trump still wants to use any option available to keep secret his actions around the insurrection.

And look at this point, it's not clear whether Pence will testify. Sources tell CNN he would prefer that his aides act as his proxy, so he doesn't have to appear. And then he can also make it seem like he's deferring to Trump on executive privilege.

But Erin, another important reminder today that even when you get a witness in front of the Committee, it doesn't always mean that lawmakers are going to get any information. Today sources telling CNN that Jeffrey Clark, the former Justice official who pushed Trump's big lie, he invoked the Fifth Amendment more than a hundred times during his interview with the Committee and it's unclear Erin if this move will prompt the Committee to restart the criminal contempt proceedings that they had begun against Clark.

BURNETT: Paula, thank you very much. And after that reporting, I want to go straight to Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, because she is a member of the Select Committee.

Congresswoman Lofgren, Pence's former chief of staff and former counsel sat down for lengthy uncontentious interviews with your committee. Did you learn important new things from them?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, let me - as you know, the Committee rules prohibit us from discussing of the contents of these interviews without a vote of the Committee which has not occurred. But the Committee is learning new things every day and the press has found out that Mr. Short came in for an interview and it went on all day so you can reach your own conclusions on whether it was substantive.


BURNETT: Right. But important, that you are -- I know, you know, many things -- you are connecting dots, you are reconfirming. You are, indeed, as you say, learning new things each day.

We have also, Congresswoman, learned that Pence's aides would not talk about their conversations with Trump because his legal team, you know, are -- are saying this is under executive privilege.

Now, obviously, you know, core to your committee is knowing what Trump said, what Trump did, and his state of mind. So, knowing what happened in conversations with him, obviously, would be crucial to all of those things.

So, do you have other people right now in your web who were privy to all those conversations between these individuals and -- and the president who have been able to tell you the details? Or do you still have significant gaps of what you know of the president's conversations?

LOFGREN: Well, we don't know everything there is to know, yet. But obviously, when you have a conversation on the phone, there are people usually on one side overhearing it and people on the other side overhearing it, often. So, there is ways to put together what was said in its entirety, in some cases, not always.

So, we're piecing this together. And, you know, the committee is -- got four or five witnesses in every day. We meet frequently and we're putting the pieces together.

BURNETT: Four or five a day. Obviously, that -- that's a lot and I know your numbers here several hundred here -- more than that. And sources tell us that -- that Pence -- you just heard Paula reporting -- would prefer close aides to sort of act as his proxies, so he himself would not have to testify.

Obviously, there's a lot you can get without him but having him could be hugely significant.

What do you feel about that right now? Do you still hope and want him to come to the committee himself?

LOFGREN: Well, we haven't made a decision on that, yet. We're piecing together what we know and what we still need to find out. And then, we'll make a decision on whether to invite Mike Pence in or not.

Look, I served with Mike Pence when he was in the House, and I know that Chairman Thompson did, as well. We're respectful of the Office of the Vice President and the Office of the President. But we also know that we have to go wherever this leads us.

So, a decision hasn't been made but we're going to get all the facts.

BURNETT: So, Jeffrey Clark, the Justice Department official who helped Trump try to overturn the election, drafted a lot of the legal arguments for that, appeared before your committee yesterday. I understand it was a couple of hours, and he pleaded the Fifth more than 100 times to your questions.

Did he answer anything? And if not, are you going to hold him -- I mean, obviously, you already voted to hold him in contempt, but are you going to go ahead and refer that to the Justice Department?

LOFGREN: Well, it's worth knowing that what the Fifth Amendment actually says -- it says no person shall be held to answer and then there is a lot of verbiage. Nor, shall be compelled in any criminal case be a witness against himself.

That's basically what he's saying. He does not want to be compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case and that's been extended to testimony in a civil matter that could be used against you in a criminal proceeding.

So, that's pretty serious. Now, you -- in a criminal case, you can't make an inference from that use of the Fifth Amendment but certainly in civil matters, people do all the time. And there's no prohibition.

So, it's very disappointing that this happened. One other option the committee needs to look at is whether we provide use immunity to Mr. Clark. What that means is that the testimony you give to the committee could not be used in the criminal case. If the Justice Department finds out about it some other way, they're not precluded from proceeding. We haven't made that decision but we are sorting through those issues right now to see whether that is an appropriate step to take.

BURNETT: That obviously could be important. And -- and in terms of the public hearings, where are you on that? When do you anticipate those beginning?

LOFGREN: We think, you know, this spring, we will be in a position to have some presentation of what we found to date. We want to make sure that when we do that, we have the coherent set of facts that we can present, not something that's (AUDIO GAP) partially -- it needs to be professional and complete and that's important to us.

BURNETT: Absolutely. Congresswoman, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

LOFGREN: Thank you very much. Take care.

BURNETT: All right. You, too.

And next, President Biden traveling to New York to appear next to the city's mayor. Someone who has made it clear his number one priority is combating crime.

Plus, snow, sleet, freezing rain.


It is a massive-winter storm walloping most of the United States, grounding many thousands of flights, shutting down highways.


BURNETT: New tonight. President Biden traveling to New York City to appear with the city's crime focused mayor, Eric Adams. The president pushing his plan to crack down on gun violence across the country less than two weeks after two NYPD officers were fatally shot in the line of duty. Biden pushing his plans which include $300 million in funding to increase community policing.

Biden praising law enforcement and the mayor of New York's tough stance on crime and trying to say that he supports Adams, although to be clear, he has not supported several of Adams' key lists of reforms.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, Mayor Adams, you and I agree. The answer is not to abandon our streets.


That's not the answer. The answer is to come together and place in communities building trust, and making us all safer. The answer is not to defund the police, it's to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors, and community needs you and know the community. You know, police --



BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Dana Bash, the co-anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION".

And, Dana, Eric Adams is a former police officer. He has been unabashedly supportive of his police officers. But he is also supported a lot of things that are not popular among the progressive left, right? He has, you know, wanted to change the bail reform that was so pushed by many progressives.

He wants to change some of the rules in terms of, you know, how old someone has to be before you can charge them for certain things. Those are not things that the Biden administration has supported, thus far. But the president very much wanted to appear with Mayor Adams today.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He did because he and his administration is realizing -- and a lot of Democrats and other political strategists you talk to say -- that they are late to the game on this. That crime is a very, very resident issue.

Now, to be fair, the president has had a lot of resonant issues on his plate, namely COVID, and a bunch of other issues that he has had to deal with. But this is really -- this is something that people feel in big cities, and not just in big cities. It's not just in places like New York or where I am in Washington, D.C.

Crime is up all across the country. And it adds, Erin, to that overall feeling of unease, of fear, of -- of mistrust and distrust. And just, this feeling that things are not going well, whether it's with regard to violence or with regard to your pocketbook, with inflation.

And so, this is one area, you are right, he and his administration, they don't agree on everything and certainly progressives don't agree with Mayor Adams on everything. But it's more a question of emphasis at this point and that was the goal today, rather than the content of the policies.

BURNETT: Well, it -- it's also interesting, Dana. You know, you think about, you know, in education where the administration is certainly feeling that -- that -- that they need to at best modify how they have handled certain things. You know, we ever seen that across the country.

But, you know, you -- you know the polls so well here. ABC/Ipsos poll, 34 percent of Americans right now say they approve of how President Biden is handling the issue of crime, 64 percent disapprove. That is 30 percentage points underwater. It was almost even in August. That is a pretty stunning thing, and that is part of why he was in New York today.

BASH: No question about it. It is stunning. Those numbers really do tell the story.

And they tell the story of a lot of -- of, again, unease and fear across the country. And it -- look, it's all related. It's all -- the pandemic and everything that went along with that, all the fallout from that, people not working, younger people home. The -- the crime up.

I mean, this -- it's all related and I talked to people inside the Biden administration who are seeing this coming from a mile away and they have wanted the president and people with big megaphones in the administration to be talking about this more aggressively because this is one of many data points, but a very big one that they know is working against them in -- not just in politics but in policy, and just in the overall feeling of how the administration is doing.

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

BASH: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, the State Department putting Belarus on notice. Warning it could face the same consequences as Russia if it allows Putin to invade.

Next, I'm going to speak to the opposition leader.

And a crippling winter storm sweeping across 25 U.S. states tonight. We will show you the latest.


BURNETT: New tonight, a top state official warning Belarus will face the same consequences as Russia if it allows an invasion into Ukraine, which is exactly what it's doing right now. The U.S. says there will soon be 35,000 Russian troops along the Ukraine border of Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko is quickly coming to Putin's aid.

According to the United States and its allies, Lukashenko is doing this against the wishes of his country. He declared himself the winner of the election even though he lost to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She's a former English teacher. She took over her husband's campaign, after he was jailed for opposing Lukashenko. She's now in exile in Lithuania with her children and we just nominated for Nobel Peace Prize.

I spoke with her earlier today.


BURNETT: So, Svetlana, thank you so much for being with us tonight.


BURNETT: So the secretary of NATO today, just today, said that Russia's military buildup in Belarus is the biggest and most significant since the Cold War. We have new satellite images showing that buildup along the Belarus/Ukraine border. The United States has said that Putin is putting in 30,000 additional troops on that border.

Do you believe that Putin effectively controls Belarus right now?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, I think that the illegitimate Lukashenko thinks that he is controlling everything, that he controls drills, that he may be controlling Kremlin somehow and to --but this is the price of what Lukashenko has to pay the reality that Kremlin shows to Lukashenko, the moment when lost legitimacy in Belarus, lost support of the Belarusian.


So he participates now in this show that is like psychological pressure on Ukraine, psychological pressure on Europe and other Democratic countries.

BURNETT: Lukashenko has wrapping up his attacks on opposition, leaders like you, who have fled the country. He gave an address to the nation on Friday, of course, which you are well familiar with. But he said to you, come home on your knees groveling. Those were his exact words.

What do you say to him?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Representatives of the regime should beg some people to pardon them. Because we are people who had to flee the country or who are in jails now or there are people in Belarus who are living in fear every day, but continue our underground fight. We are people for future, for builders where people will feel free. So the regime made a lot of -- committed a lot of crimes against Belarusians, and it's them who are guilty, in everything that's going on.

BURNETT: You have made incredible sacrifice for the fight for your country, and you talk about what the regime has done. I understand now that there are at least 1,000 political prisoners in Belarus, one of whom is your husband who was sentenced to 18 years in a high security penal colony.

Your friend, one of your best friends was sentenced to 11 years, also for challenging Mr. Lukashenko. This is your husband, the father of your children, and now you're separated for what could be decades. Do you think they will ever be released?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: For sure. Not 18, not 11 years will be the real years of prison (INAUDIBLE) friends, and we are fighting every day, first of all, for people to be released because they want to give us an opportunity to continue, and we can't stop, you can't betray those people, and every -- every child needs -- his father or mother, and we are fighting mostly for those people.

And I have never imagined that 18 years of so-called imprisonment of my husband will be real years. So, my children are waiting for their daddy every day.

BURNETT: And as the opposition leader, you yourself face great risk every single day. You know, everyone, of course, around the world is familiar with Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader in what happened. He's in a penal colony there, after being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, and he actually -- as you know, got a Russian KGB agent to actually admit what happened and say that they put poison on his underwear. That KGB agent is now gone, also missing.

Do you fear every day for your life?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, I hope that in the democratic countries where we are we are more or less in safeness, (INAUDIBLE) or dictatorship, how long dictatorship hands. Even if I knew that my life is at risk, I would continue doing what I'm doing. Because all those people who are behind bars now, they didn't think about their own safeness. They thought about our country, about our future, about our children. So it's not time for -- to take care about yourself. It's time to take

care about dignity, about human rights, about law in our country, and everybody has to sacrifice something to gain what we are asking for.

BURNETT: Sviatlana, I have such great admiration for you. I know so many around the world do.


In times as dark as these, to see someone like you fighting so hard for what you believe in and truly putting your life on the line is such a sacrifice. Thank you so very much for your time.

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Thank you. Thank you, CNN.


BURNETT: And next, one-third of the U.S. feeling the frigid effects of a massive and deadly winter storm tonight. A very rough stretch of weather is ahead.


BURNETT: It's a massive winter storms. Schools closed, there has been a record number of flight delays across the United States, hundreds of thousands of people, as I speak, without power. Just a few of the ways incredibly dangerous weather is slamming 25 states in the U.S. right now. That's at least one-third of the American population.

It goes all the way north from North Dakota to Texas and all the way to the East Coast, and scenes that you see right here are what many millions of people are dealing with tonight.

And the forecast calls for more possibly deadly conditions. It's not going to get above freezing in Indiana and surrounding states until Sunday afternoon.

Thanks so much for watching.

Anderson starts now.