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Erin Burnett Outfront

Putin Denies Russia Is Acting Aggressively, Blames The West; Biden: Putin "Would Pay A Heavy Price" If Russia Invades Ukraine; Natl Archives Says It Retrieved 15 Boxes Of Trump White House Records From Mar-A-Lago; Trump Team Searching For More; Romney: Anything That Seems "Stupid" Is Not Going To Help GOP; WTA CEO On Peng Shuai: None Of Our Concerns Are Alleviated. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 07, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, prepare to pay. President Biden warning Russia will suffer swift and severe consequences if it invades Ukraine, including shutting down a major pipeline to Germany. But is Germany willing to go along with Biden's threat?

Plus, on the hunt. The National Archives saying Trump aides are searching for White House records that were never turned over, comes after 15 boxes of records were just retrieved now from Mar-A-Lago.

And tonight for the first time, we take you inside a secret meeting of fake Trump electors who tried to pull off overturning their State's election. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Putin pointing the finger tonight insisting he's not the threat and he's not the one approaching a border.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through interpreter): We are categorically against the enlargement of NATO taking new members eastwards, because that presents a general threat to us. We can't move to NATO. NATO is moving to us. So if you think - if you say that Russia is aggressive, it's nonsense because they are coming to us. We're not going to them.


BURNETT: "They're not coming to us. We are going to them." Of course, Putin has amassed well over 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border, NATO none. But today, President Biden met with one of America's biggest European allies, Germany, and warned Putin will suffer if he moves in on Ukraine.

Okay. Sorry, obviously, we had a problem with that sound bite there. But what Biden said is that it would be, I'm quoting him, a gigantic mistake for Putin to move in on Ukraine. The impact on Europe and the rest of the world would be devastating and he would pay a heavy price.

The German Chancellor agreed saying we'll be united. We will act together. We will take all the necessary steps. It is unclear though if Germany will put its money where its mouth is, because after waffling on Putin for months, only sending helmets to support Ukraine, Germany's Chancellor still tonight would not explicitly back one of the most importance of Biden's sanctions and that is whether he would be willing to back sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

When asked specifically, will you support sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the crucial pipelines sending gas from Russia to Germany, he would not say yes. Why wouldn't he say the words?

Well, it's not clear. But what is clear is that Germany's stance on this pipeline matters, because Germany is the largest buyer of Russian gas. And so Germany, the reality of it is, helps fund Putin's military.

Putin today gave no signs of backing down on his key demands during his meeting with a NATO ally, the French president Emmanuel Macron. In fact, according to the Pentagon, Putin is still moving in more troops to the Ukraine border every day.

Sorry, we're having trouble obviously firing up our sound bites. But the Press Secretary John Kirby said that they are seeing troops come in more by the day and in just a moment, I'm going to speak to him live right here on this program. And just so you can see what happened today on the ground, Russia carrying out surveillance missions along Ukraine's border with the Belarusian Air Force. That was also happening and, again, obviously we're having trouble with our video. This is what happens in live television.

Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT live in Kyiv, Ukraine. And Alex, obviously a very significant day on the diplomatic front. You've got a NATO ally, Macron, meeting with Putin, joint press conference. NATO ally, Germany, meeting with the United States with Biden, press conference, and talking diplomacy but still quite far apart.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Erin. You really had this extraordinary diplomatic split screen. Those press conferences actually happened at more or less the same time. The one in Washington, D.C. between the leaders of Germany and the U.S. the one in Moscow between the leaders of France and Russia.

And it really did put out for all to see very clearly where these countries stand, when Chancellor Schultz was standing next to President Joe Biden made clear that Germany is not taking as tough as stance against Russia, as the United States, perhaps, would like on that question of Nord Stream 2, as you mentioned that President Biden insisting that Nord Stream 2, that pipeline between Russia and Germany will not go ahead if Russia invades Ukraine. The German Chancellor waffling on that subject.


Germany has refused to send lethal weapons to Ukraine while the U.S. and others have done so. In fact, Germany blocked Estonia from sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. Instead, the Germans, as you said, sent thousands of helmets.

And we did learn late today, that while the foreign minister for Germany was here in Kyiv, to meet with her counterpart and to meet with the Ukrainian president, that her meeting with President Zelensky was actually cancelled as a result of these German stances. That is according to a source close to the Ukrainian government speaking with our colleague, Jake Tapper.

And then when it comes to French president Emmanuel Macron, he stood shoulder to shoulder although quite distanced, if you will, in Moscow. And that is not somewhere that you're going to see President Joe Biden these days. This is someone Macron is - who was called a quality interlocutor by President Putin.

Clearly, Macron sees - thinks that there's a way that he can actually make some progress with the Russians in terms of cooperating on European security and agreements there. And President Putin said that there was positive progress made for future talks. So you do have the U.S. at one end of the spectrum, Russia at the other end of the spectrum, certainly Germany and France very close to the U.S. side, but not completely in lockstep in the way that NATO has tried to make them appear.

This flurry of diplomatic activity, Erin, is going to continue. We are expecting to see the French president Emmanuel Macron here in Kyiv tomorrow and then the German Chancellor heads to Moscow next week, Erin.

BURNETT: Yes. Well, interesting, of course. It shows you how the power goes. It is these leaders going to Moscow and that is in and of itself significant. Alex, thanks very much.

And OUTFRONT now, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby. Thank you so much for being with me.

So Putin says tonight, "We are not moving towards NATO. NATO is moving towards us." That he's not approaching a border. NATO is approaching a border. He's got, a according to your estimate, I believe well, over a hundred thousand troops on the Ukraine border. What's your response to the Russian president tonight?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: I think we all need to remember who the aggressor is here, Erin. It was Russia, Mr. Putin, who decided to move now well north of a hundred thousand troops over the last several weeks around that border with Ukraine and in Belarus. That wasn't NATO. That was Mr. Putin.

NATO is a defensive alliance and we're doing what we believe we need to do to help assure our allies about how seriously we take our commitments to that alliance. It's a defensive alliance. We are just shoring up capabilities there on NATO's eastern flank as we said very publicly and very transparently that we would do.

Look, Mr. Putin can de-escalate this very, very quickly. All he has to do is remove some of those forces around from the border with Ukraine and make it clear that he's not going to provide any capabilities inside Ukraine and not further invade. And then be serious about sitting down diplomatically and working through a process here that's peaceful.

BURNETT: So let me ask you in the context of when Putin spoke today, he spoke with a NATO ally, the second NATO ally to visit with him. Today it was the French President Emmanuel Macron, an important ally. Before the meeting, Macron told a French weekly magazine and I quote, Admiral, "Russia's geopolitical objective today is clearly not Ukraine, but to clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the EU."

It was quite sympathetic, it sounded to Putin's point of view that he's not interested in Ukraine as a geopolitical location. Do you agree?

KIRBY: Well, we definitely think that one of Mr. Putin's aims is to try to throw NATO off balance and to try to divide the alliance. I mean, he would like nothing better than for NATO to not exist anymore. And so he's certainly testing and pushing to see if he can find divisions inside the alliance to make it less united, less solid, but actually he's having the opposite effect.

By this accumulation of force and capabilities around Ukraine, he's actually giving NATO more resolve. He's making us more united. He's making us want to add more capabilities on NATO's eastern flank and his Western flank. And as far as designs on Ukraine, we've said a lot a long time, we don't know exactly what he's planning to do. But every indication we've seen and we've seen nothing to change our mind from this, shows us that he is probably planning some sort of military incursion or activity inside Ukraine.

BURNETT: So let me talk to you about that, because over the weekend, two U.S. officials familiar with the latest estimates told CNN that he's now assembled 70 percent of the military personnel and the weapons on the Ukraine border that he would need for a full scale invasion of the country. And today, Admiral, President Biden said this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that he's in a position now to be able to invade almost assuming that the ground is frozen above Kyiv.


He has the capacity to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: So he says Putin has the capacity. The estimated been 70

percent and that's 48 hours old. I mean, are we now at 100? Have things changed to that quickly?

KIRBY: I don't think we're at what we would think he would need for a hundred percent. It's difficult to know, again, exactly what he's doing. But, Erin, he has added forces in just over the course of the weekend. In the last 48 hours he continues to and we think there are more battalion tactical groups on their way to Belarus and to that border with Ukraine.

And what the President said about capacity, he's absolutely right. He also has increasing capability, both of them go together. So he's got a lot more forces and he's got a lot more capability in those forces. They're what we call combined arms, so armor, artillery, infantry, air defense.

I mean, he keeps adding to his options to the place that he can run out of his playbook if, in fact, he wants to conduct military activity in Ukraine.

BURNETT: So what I'm trying to understand here is you said all he has to do is to de-escalate, is to remove some of them, to indicate where he's going. Yet right now, even though he says there's a diplomatic path, everyone says a diplomatic path, as you point out, in the past 48 hours, all he's doing is putting in more and more and more. So it seems like the only indications you're getting from him, in terms of his actions, are invasion.

KIRBY: That's right. I mean, actions do speak louder than words. They keep saying they have no intention of invading Ukraine and they're there victims, their national security is being threatened. And yet what we see on the ground is more and more troops, more and more forces, more and more capabilities.

And again, we still believe there's time and space for diplomacy to work here. And he could, he could easily commit to that path and it would go a long way to convincing the world of his sincerity, if he were able to deescalate by moving some of those forces away.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Admiral John Kirby. I appreciate your time tonight.

KIRBY: Yes, ma'am.

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now Steve Hall, the former CIA Chief of Russia operations to respond to what we just heard there from the Pentagon. So Steve, you hear Kirby say Putin is putting troops in daily and his actions do speak louder than words that that is every sign he has given with his actions is that he will invade. Is there a way at this point for Putin to literally start pulling troops out, which is what the Pentagon says is the predicate here, to start pulling troops out without losing face?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Erin, I think that's going to be tough, because Vladimir Putin's about face, he's really, I think, sort of in his moment right now, because he's got everybody's attention all the West and on the news and all that sort of thing, showing that Russia is a great power to be dealt with. So it's difficult to see him just, all of a sudden, walk away.

I do think there are some things that he can do that will take it down the spectrum. He might try something like putting troops in the eastern region in the Donbas area. There's a whole bunch of things that he could do that are short of a full scale invasion, which I think would be difficult for him.

But he's still, I think, trying to sense which way things are going what the West is doing and what the NATO alliance is doing. And today, I take a little different approach on this. I think NATO did a really good job today with regard to diplomacy. You had the President say, yes, Nord Stream 2, that's not going to happen if they invade.

Now, a lot of people are saying, well, the Germans didn't say that, but the German chancellor were standing right next to the President and could have said, well, friends disagree or we have some issues with this and we need to talk more, but he didn't. I believe, largely due to domestic and other issues and at the same time you had Macron in Moscow, hopefully, sitting in front of a television, at least in my fantasy with Putin saying, hey, did you see what just happened in that press conference? You just got told that Nord Stream 2 might be a big problem.

So I actually think NATO had a good day here and I think Putin is still trying to figure out what he's going to do.

BURNETT: So we have learned today that intercepted communications obtained by the U.S. reveal that some Russian officials have worried that a large scale invasion of Ukraine would be costly or more difficult than the Russian President Putin perhaps realizes, that there's this sort of chatter going on, that they feel that it would be worse than he seems to acknowledge.

So it would indicate that there's some disagreement there, that he has - whether he has blinders on or not, but just a difference in opinion. What does that say to you that this difference exists and what do you think it indicates for Putin?

HALL: I think the first thing we have to remember, Erin, is what we always have to remind ourselves of, which is this is happening in a Russian context, not in a western or American context where we understand how a security - an international security diplomacy happens and how the President's National Security folks talk to him.


In Russia, it's very different. In the United States, it's more like the West Wing. In Russia it's more like Game of Thrones. It's not beyond, in my view, not beyond the impossible that you have a group of Russian security folks, whether they're intelligence or military, who are indeed concerned about things going very badly in Ukraine and want to make sure that their President, Putin, understands that and they might not feel that they can say it to him directly. They might be looking for indirect ways to say it.

But I think what is clear from this intelligence is that there are people inside of Russia, policymakers inside of Russia, who are concerned that it could go badly in Ukraine and they would like Putin, at least, to understand that.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Steve Hall, a lot of interesting food for thought there. Thanks so much.

And next, we're learning that Trump's White House, well, I guess we are confirming what many, perhaps, suspected, but they actually did it, against the law. Tearing up documents and it was a whole lot worse than we ever thought.

Plus, a list of Republicans calling out the RNC is growing. After the RNC said January 6th was "legitimate political discourse".

And we're hearing from the head of the Women's Tennis Association that the Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai, again, denied accusing a retired senior communist leader of rape. Does the WTA believe what they're now hearing?



BURNETT: New tonight, the National Archives says aids to Donald Trump are looking for more White House documents that are missing. They may be missing, sometimes you don't know what's missing until you find it, and saying in the statement that the preservation of records is quote critical to our democracy.

It comes as we learned the National Archives recently retrieved 15 boxes of records that Trump actually took to Mar-A-Lago, didn't even rip up. He took them there and put them in there. They contain documents that should have been handed over at the end of his presidency, including letters from Kim Jong-un. The love letters were in there, apparently, and former President Barack Obama.

Paula Reid is OUTFRONT. So Paula, 15 boxes, it would seem that Trump wanted to keep with him because he took them to Mar-A-Lago on some level. I mean, what else do you know about these boxes? Why it took so long to find them? Where they were?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we've learned that former President Trump improperly removed these boxes of documents from the White House. The National Archives confirming today that these should have been turned over to the archives, because these 15 boxes contain presidential records.

Now, a source tells CNN that the archives reached out to Trump's legal team last fall to talk about how to recover these boxes that appear to have been moved to Mar-A-Lago after he moved out of the White House. And it appears that these items were in the residence and were packed up with the rest of the former First Family's belongings. Now, as you noted, among the items in these boxes were the quote or

what Trump has described as 'love letters' between him and the dictator of North Korea. And these were not picked up personally barred by the archives and said they were picked up by 'a man with a truck and work order'.

BURNETT: So that just that detail in and of itself so much, but we're also learning I know that other documents that were turned over to the January 6 Committee were actually taped back together after being ripped. Now, this is something that Trump has done for many years, rip documents. We're learning that he did it much more than was even thought, though, again, and again and again. So that would mean that there's a lot of things that are ripped up and gone that they weren't able to take back together, I assume.

REID: That's exactly right. It's not clear that any of the documents in these specific 15 boxes that were just retrieved from Florida have anything to do with January 6, but Erin, of course, this raises big questions about whether Trump was actually complying with the Presidential Records Act.

He was required to keep letters, memos, heck, faxes, if that's what you do, to keep anything that had to do with him executing the duties of his presidential office. And sources have told CNN that he was observed on numerous occasions, rifling through file boxes, taking out pages and ripping them up. Sometimes it would be, for example, a draft tweet.

Now, it's not clear what happened to all of that shredded paper. But we've learned that he was told by at least two of his chiefs of staff to stop tearing that paper and to just make piles of things that he wanted to keep.

BURNETT: Pretty incredible that he would actually go through, pick certain pieces out. I mean, that's where you get into the nefarious level and he did know exactly what he was doing. Paula, thank you very much for that reporting.

And let's get Elie Honig now, to talk about what this means, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. So Elie, let's just start with Paula's reporting about the 15 boxes of White House records retrieved at Mar-A-Lago. To be clear, it sounds, who knows, 15 boxes is a lot, but we know Trump was so proud of those letters from Kim Jong-un, letters from Barack Obama, some of the stuff Trump picked and like wanted to take with him, his famous people letters and I don't know what is in the rest of it. But I mean, it's purposeful, that's clear.

But they didn't even know it was there, so it now looks like we don't even know what we're looking for, because you don't even know where the stuff is, which is pretty terrifying.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Erin. It's a dilemma for the committee and anyone else who's doing an investigation. I would strongly suspect there is more. This kind of thing actually happens sometimes. When you're a prosecutor or you're an investigator you request you're entitled to a certain set of documents, you get them and then a couple of weeks later, maybe it turns out, oh, somewhere missing.

Now, whenever that happens, in my experience, there's almost always going to be more. And so I think the January 6 Committee needs to be asking witnesses how documents were handled, where they were stored and I think the January 6 Committee needs to encourage the archives, it sounds like this is already happening, to work carefully with Donald Trump's people, former administration officials to figure this out, how were these documents handled, where might they be now.

BURNETT: By the way, I have to say I'm amazed with Paula saying draft tweets. So some of those tweets are actually the product of drafts, I find a separate issue. But back to the point about he knew what he was doing, so Paula talks about how he's going through file boxes and pick out specific pieces of paper and rip them up. Okay. So that means he actually went through there were things that he explicitly wanted to make sure nobody ever saw, because I want everyone to understand it's not just sloppy or the way you used to do things and he didn't listen to people. He knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing, because this is what he said about Hillary Clinton in her emails.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People who have nothing to hide, don't bleach. Nobody's ever heard of it. Don't bleach their emails or destroy evidence to keep it from being publicly archived as required under federal law.



BURNETT: Elie, he talks about her emails that she would need to be publicly archived as required under federal law. So he knew exactly what he was doing.

HONIG: Donald Trump hit it on the head there. He actually identifies the exact line between something that's potentially illegal or not. If this was just sloppiness, if this was Donald Trump being careless, thoughtless, there was previous reporting, he just tended to rip things up, that's not going to be criminal. But if there's some intent here, let me single out certain documents, make sure nobody ever sees them, make sure they never become part of a criminal investigation, a civil lawsuit, then you're into potential obstruction of justice.

So that detail about going through files and picking out individual documents, that's what's really interesting, potentially most damning in my view.

BURNETT: Yes. I mean, you put that together with the fact that he clearly knew, huge questions there. Elie, thank you so much.

HONIG: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, Mitt Romney with a warning to his party. White washing January 6th could hurt Republican chances in the midterms.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Anything that my party does that comes across as being stupid is not going to help us.


BURNETT: And a major milestone for millions of students across the United States, several states announcing tonight that they're going to get rid of mask mandates.



BURNETT: Tonight, Senator Mitt Romney condemning the RNC's recent statement calling January 6th, quote, a legitimate political discourse. Romney telling our Manu Raju that he has been texting with his niece, the RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel about his concerns.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): It could not have been a more inappropriate message. One to sanction two people of character as they did but number two, to suggest that a violent attack on the seat of democracy is legitimate political discourse is so far from accurate.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, former Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock who joined 140 other long time Republicans in a statement today calling out the RNC. Also with me, Bill Kristol, director of defending Democracy Together and editor at large of "The Bulwark".

Congresswoman, let me start with you.

Senator Romney said that his niece, the RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, is, quote, doing her very best and perhaps family ties can be hard to -- maybe he doesn't want to go so far. But the reality is, she approved every single word of that statement. She is the chair.

Is that doing her very best?

BARBARA COMSTOCK (R), FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN FROM VIRGINIA: No. "The National Review" called it morally repellant and politically self- destructive. I think that's true. I know it's a hostage situation for people like I think Ronna Romney and others who are afraid of what Trump might do if they don't, you know, do this bidding, that somebody yelled to and come in there would be worse. That's certainly how a lot of the members feel.

But Senator Romney is exactly right. This is turning off people but it's just wrong. You know, regardless of the politics of it, it's wrong to be attacking those who are trying to investigate which was an assault on the Capitol which, you know, now Mike Pence has said what Trump wanted him to do was un-American in trying to overturn the election and have one person decide the election.

So, I also work with Country First, which is a PAC that's supporting the Electoral Count Act. There's a lot of things we can do on the outside to hopefully help people like Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, you know, who are doing the right thing, because I think a few people with courage can make a majority. And I think they will. It's going to be, you know, a longer and painful process than we like.

BURNETT: Well, certainly, longer than any non-Trump Republican expected just to be honest here.

And, Bill, Romney was also asked whether this will hurt the GOP in the mid terms where they have been dancing in the streets about how well they're going to do. Listen to him.


ROMNEY: Anything that my party does that comes across as being stupid is not going to help us.


BURNETT: Do you think, really, Bill, that this will hurt what happened from the censure that people remember and will matter?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: I don't know, but I think it's important, Erin, to remember why were they censure, of course? It's not general dislike of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. It's because they are on the January 6th Committee and are actively on it.

When you think about it, why did Trump attack Pence? Why did Pence then have to say Trump was wrong? Because people have been testifying to the January 6th committee and document has come out and Mark Meadows e-mail and Mike Pence staff to testify. The January 6th committee, for those of us who care about establishing truth and the rule of law and liberating Republican Party from Trumpism and everything goes with that.

The January 6th committee is the unheralded hero of this year. Mitt Romney should urge everyone to testify. Mike Pence should testify for that committee. That committee's support could be very important.


KRISTOL: That's the big (INAUDIBLE) looking out there.

BURNETT: Yes. And, you know, as you point out, Mike Pence clearly doesn't want to. He wants people around him to but he doesn't want to. That's loud and clear.

Congresswoman, Mike Pence, you know, is taking a lot of heat for standing up to Trump as he now has, right? He's actually now being accused of treason by Trump's former senior economic adviser Peter Navarro. He went on Steve Bannon's podcast today. So, let me just play the exchange.


PETER NAVARRO, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: Mike, I don't want to hear this crap. You were dead politically.

He wasn't man enough to go to the president and say, this is what my lawyers are saying. What do you think about this? Hey, Pat Cipollone, look at this. Hey, didn't do it. That was the treason. He never comes back from that.



Not just a big (INAUDIBLE). We all know that, but just a gutless coward.


BURNETT: That's the base of the GOP. That's the reflection there that you have, Congresswoman. How can your party move on when that is true?

COMSTOCK: Well, that's vile stuff. I have to say I would never support a Republican who would go anywhere near either of those two people. And what they are trying to intimidate and scare witnesses. You know, they really have an audience of one to make Trump happy by intimidating and scaring witnesses, which Bannon has been doing this all along. Bannon is under indictment, had to get pardon from Trump at the end of the Trump administration.

So, Trump is never going to be president again. I know Bill and I might disagree on that. I have much more hope in the American people regardless of whether or not he's nominated, which I certainly hope he's not. I don't think he will ever be president.

Steve Bannon will not be pardoned for his current indictment if he is convicted. To intimidate people like that, I think that's an act of desperation. I think the RNC resolution was an act of desperation. I think it's because the walls are closing in on Trump.

More documents are coming in. This committee is doing good work and getting the records everywhere. Those records are what's going to tell the truth.

The texts from that day, the back and forth that people that we have already seen regardless of whether the people cooperate, their texts and e-mails will tell the story along with people like I think like Bill Barr and other Justice Department officials. I hope they talk to Pat Cipollone and others who told him he couldn't do what he was trying to do crackpots to come in and tell him to do. I don't blame the crackpots as much as I blame him because he was seeking out any nut who will tell him -- and to engage in what was --

(CROSSTALK) BURNETT: What he wanted.

Bill, I understand the point you're making. It is interesting. It's not slightly manifesting itself in a different way for mainstream Republicans but still there. Bill, today the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis refused to call out Trump's lies. He's given a question about Mike Pence and Trump and sort of like, okay, what do you think? Here is how it went out.


REPORTER: Where do you fall on the divide between Pence and Trump?

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I'm not -- I've had -- I had a great relationship working for -- actually governor for two years with the Trump administration.


BURNETT: What do you make of that non-answer, bill?

KIRSTOL: And others had done, too, in the last 24, 48 hours. It's not that much to say that Mike Pence is right that Donald Trump is wrong about trying to get Pence to overturn the election on January 6th. That's all we're talking about. It's the lowest bar possible. We're not talking about all the other things Trump did between November 3rd and January 6th.

All we're saying is that Mike Pence did the right thing on January 6th. The governor of Florida, major Republican figure, the front- runner for the Republican nomination won't even say that.

BURNETT: That is hugely significant. Thank you both.

COMSTOCK: Thank you.

KRISTOL: Thanks.

BURNETT: Next, the Chinese tennis star in a new interview denying she accused a top official of rape but wait until you hear the demand China required before letting the tennis champ speak.

And for the first time we'll take you inside a meeting where fake Trump electors were trying to over turn their states election.



BURNETT: Tonight, the chief of the Women's Tennis Association, Steve Simon, saying the new comments by tennis star does not alleviate any of our concern. Peng, again, in a highly orchestrated and controlled situation denied she accused a senior communist party leader of rape, during this training interview with the French sports athlete.

Peng, of course, did make the allegation. She first did so three months ago in a bombshell post on social media, and then largely disappeared from public life. In this highly orchestrated interview, she told the French outlet that she deleted her accusation, quote, because I wanted to. The French journalist who interviewed her says they were required to submit their questions in advance and publish the conversation as a transcript without any analysis.

It comes as the IOC officials had a private face-to-face meeting over the weekend with Peng and you'll hear what they had to say about that in a moment.

I want to bring Leta Hong Fincher. She's a journalist who has reported extensively inside China and has written books about women in China's authoritarian society.

So, Leta, Peng was accompanied for this entire interview by the chief of staff for the China Olympic Committee. The journalist who spoke to Peng described her as very cautious when discussing the rape allegation. So, when you put this together, do you think there's any chance she could say what she thinks or believes in such a setting or is she speaking under coercion?

LETA HONG FINCHER, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST WHO HAS REPORTED EXTENSIVELY INSIDE CHINA: I think there's no question that she was speaking under coercion. It's been over three months since she posted this explosion allegation on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, accusing the former vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, of sexually assaulting her. And then that post was deleted in half an hour and she disappeared.

I believe and a lot of other people believe as well that she's probably being interrogated, pressured, probably every day since then over the last three months. I would not be surprised if she has been personally threatened. If her family members have been threaten so she's been probably coached extensively to do these things of very orchestrated public appearances and that's what we've seen.

BURNETT: Well, of course, the Women's Tennis Association standing strong on this and saying this interview doesn't alleviate their concern. They have been clear they want there to be a full and transparent investigation into what happened. An IOC spokesman says it's not for the Olympic Committee to judge at all whether she was speaking under duress this weekend, saying we had meal but it's not our job to say whether she was under coercion or not, and they also still refused to say whether her allegation should be investigated. Take a listen.


MARK ADAMS, IOC SPOKESMAN: It shouldn't be for us to judge whether there should be an investigation or not. I think we need also to listen to her and we need to read what she is saying.


BURNETT: Of course, she's not saying anything when she isn't surrounded by Chinese officials. That's the reality of the situation. What do you say to that? FINCHER: I think it's shameful the extent to which the IOC is moving

in lock step with the Chinese government to whitewash all of Peng Shuai's accusations. Know that the IOC hasn't even mentioned the name of former vice premier that Peng Shuai has accused of sexually assaulting her. And Zhang Gaoli, by the way, is one of China's most powerful men.

There's a complete media blackout about this case in China. I would have -- I know the Chinese government is behaving in typical fashion. There's a long history in China of the Chinese communist party of trotting out these political prisoners or detainees to make forced confession that are televised to kind of just spout out the communist party line. But the fact the IOC is going along with it is extremely disturbing.

BURNETT: Yeah. Thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

FINCHER: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, a never before seen look at a meeting of fake Trump electors who were trying to over turn the election.

And several states tonight, now a new one coming in, a big blue state announcing they will be easing COVID restrictions for millions of students.



BURNETT: Tonight, inside a meeting of fake Trump electors, a newly scrutinized podcast revealing how Trump supporters in Wisconsin tried, but ultimately failed, to overturn the election results in their state. It is one of seven states, where team Trump, led by Rudy Giuliani, tried to pull this off.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT with tonight's "Inside Look."


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In just moments, six more states are convening. Minnesota, New Mexico, Wisconsin --

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): December 14th, 2020, in Madison, Wisconsin.


LAH: The state electors officially contact their votes for Biden. But elsewhere, in Wisconsin's capital, another meeting of fake electors was happening at the same time.

BILL FEEHAN, REPUBLICAN ELECTOR: It's all super secret for security reasons, so we met in a secret location. We waited for almost an hour before they took us to the state capitol. LAH: That's Bill Feehan, one of ten Republican electors who signed

the certificate of the 2020 electors. They declared Donald Trump won Wisconsin's electoral votes. The problem? Trump lost.

But that didn't stop these wannabe Republican electors. Feehan, in a deleted Facebook post, snapped a photo of himself and others in the meeting as they met secretly with guards to protect them.

Feehan also detailed this a year ago in his newly scrutinized podcast.

FEEHAN: There was security, armed security to protect us and other officials from the Republican Party of Wisconsin were there. We had a meeting room reserved and that's where we met to cast our ballots in the Electoral College. Each of us cast a ballot for president of the United States, and we cast a ballot for vice president of the United States. In the event that something would transpire legally here, where the outcome in Wisconsin would be reversed, then our ballots would be sent to Washington, D.C., and those would be the ballots that get counted.

BENJAMIN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: I thought they were going on a magical-mystery tour from listening to them. I mean, the reality the legal situation is that what they were about to do but had absolutely no legal forks at all.

LAH: Longtime Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg, says, despite that, and repeated court losses across the country, fake electors from multimillion swing states from Wisconsin to Arizona --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the undersigned, being the duly elected and qualified electors --

LAH: -- met to sign phony documents declaring Trump the winner, submitting them to Congress to try and stop the electoral vote count. The Justice Department is investigating, and the January 6th Select Committee has subpoenaed 14 Republicans from seven states who served as fake electors as part of the Trump campaign's attempts to subvert the Electoral College.

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Joseph R. Biden Jr. of the state of Delaware has received 306 votes.

LAH: That would ultimately fail. But the frenzy that drove the fake electors to try and stop the electoral vote count was a part of the puzzle that led to the capitol insurrection, says Ginsburg.

GINSBERG: It truly was an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power and to stop the count of the Electoral College. And had that succeeded, it certainly would have undermined democracy.


LAH: We did reach out to Bill Feehan by phone and e-mail. We did not hear back from him. We did hear from the Wisconsin Republican Party.

[19:55:02] A spokeswoman says that even though Feehan described it on his podcast as a secretive meeting, she wrote quote it wasn't secretive, despite the efforts to rewrite history for clicks.

And she points out, Erin, that the party did put out a statement on the day that this meeting happened, that it had happened. But they published it after the meeting was all over -- Erin.

BURNETT: Kyung, thank you very much.

And next, the growing number of states run by Democrats taking -- well -- a big step towards normalcy.


BURNETT: New tonight, California Governor Gavin Newsom just becoming the fifth Democratic governor today to roll back COVID restrictions. Newsom announcing that the state will lift its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated individuals next week.

Now, that is a big step for California. But indoors, for now, means indoors for everyone but kids. Kids are still required to mask in school in California. State officials, though, do say they are working to update those school masking requirements, so stay tuned because California may be about to follow four other Democratic states that said they are lifting school mask requirements. They are New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Oregon.

One of the states that is still silent on mask mandates for kids in schools, though, is the one with the largest school district -- New York.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.