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Erin Burnett Outfront

U.S. Envoy In Europe Warns Russia Has "Locked And Loaded Its Guns And It's Pointing Them At Ukraine"; U.S.: Russia "In A Position Where They Can Invade At Any Time"; McConnell Slams RNC's Censure Of Reps Cheney, Kinzinger; CDC Chief: "Not The Moment" To Drop Mask Mandates In Schools; Fed Expected To Raise Rates Next Month To Combat Inflation. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 08, 2022 - 19:00   ET


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For Afghans, there are demands for answers, certainly, and a horror that they recall is so different from the Pentagon narrative. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We'll stay on top of this. Excellent, excellent reporting. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much for what you're doing.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, the U.S. Ambassador warns Russia has its weapons locked and loaded and Ukraine is in the crosshairs and it comes as the entire region is now bracing for potential war.

Plus, Senate Minority Leader calls January 6th a violent insurrection. Yet other top Republicans still today cannot bring themselves to agree, why?

And an American-born skier wins gold for China and tonight takes on those criticizing her for switching her patriotic allegiance. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, locked and loaded. The U.S. Ambassador, Michael Carpenter, just saying that Russia has locked and loaded its guns and that they're pointed at Ukraine. Here he is.


MICHAEL CARPENTER, U.S. AMBASSADOR, ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND CO- OPERATION IN EUROPE: Russia has locked and loaded its guns and it's pointing them at


(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: His exact words, the clear reality right now. This comes as

Putin says he did not reach a deal with the French President Emmanuel Macron after their meeting in Moscow. And the French president engages in the diplomatic back and forth. Macron saying he made progress and that Putin had agreed to de-escalate, but the Kremlin completely shooting down Macron's version of the meeting saying Putin did not agree to any kind of military de-escalation.

So what does the United States see? Actions, locked and loaded, guns pointing at Ukraine in the crosshairs and a relentless Russian build up.


JALINA PORTER, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: Russia continues to surge troops and equipment to the borders of Ukraine and we believe that they're in a position where they can invade at any time.


BURNETT: At any time. We are now all living on a knife's edge and Putin is the one holding the handle. And as of tonight, he has six Russian warships heading to the Black Sea for more naval drills. Russia's Defense Ministry with their daily deluge of more propaganda videos and pictures like the ones we are showing you now, combat helicopters, bombing mock enemies, all of that happening.

As in Europe, the response today was more meetings to try to prevent a war that would engulf the continent. The leaders of Poland, Germany and France all meeting, vowing to have Ukraine's back as Putin pushes to cement his control over the Crimea peninsula and more. Of course, Europe still believes it can have Ukraine's back and categorically not engage in any combat, which leaves Ukraine right there with the guns pointing at it and hanging in the crosshairs alone, hanging out there.

Today, Ukraine's President directed a personal message to Putin.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: (Speaking in foreign language).


BURNETT: Didn't want to play a translation on that because we wanted you to hear it just the way Putin heard it, because the exact translation is, "He says my about Ukraine, it seems to me that this is already a little too much." Well, my Ukraine, it's a lot too much coming from Putin, we played this in Russian to make a point, because whether it was a sign of strength for Zelensky or an unintentional sign of subservience to speak in Putin's language instead of his own, that is what Zelensky felt he had to do.

But again, these are all words and actions do speak louder than words and threats and Zelensky is now planning action, military exercises for Ukraine along the border are now scheduled to start happening within the next 48 hours. Keep in mind, Ukraine is one of the largest armed forces in Europe and a ground war in Ukraine would be catastrophic as Russia vastly out powers Ukraine in the air and sea.

And Zelensky's drills are happening at the exact same time that Russia is going to conduct its own military drills with Belarus on the Ukraine border. So you've got three countries conducting war games just miles from each other when everybody is completely locked and loaded, ready for war. It's a recipe for potential disaster.

Sam Kiley is OUTFRONT live in Kharkiv, Ukraine. So Sam, what is Putin's game right now?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, here I am, 30 miles from the border. That is the question that every citizen I've spoken to in the second largest city here in Ukraine is asking themselves. I have to say the city itself does not feel like it's on the brink of war. It's got a Russian speaking majority. And Putin's game really - and you played a bit of Zelensky's response, this almost call-in response in terms of insults. What happened was that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, said of earlier peace accord agreed back in 2015 known as the Minsk Accords.


It was Ukraine's duty to take it. It (inaudible) pretty vulgar idea about - associated with sexual assault frankly to - it's your duty, my beauty to take it was the phrase used by Vladimir Putin and was bent back at him by Zelensky saying, well, we're a beautiful country, but it's not my country, and trying to have a diplomatic solution to it. Because the longer the diplomatic efforts go on, the harder it might be, ultimately, to invade if it gets through the winter thaw, the ground is supposed to be hardening up for a potential invasion later on this month, but then coming to March and so on, it gets much buggier and could turn into an actual quagmire as opposed to a military quagmire for the Russians, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Sam, thank you very much. As we said, live in the second largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv.

And now, I want to go to retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe and Paul Kolbe, former Chief of the CIA Central Eurasia division.

So Gen. Clark, let me start with you. You've got Ukraine, Belarus and Russia in final preparations at this hour for these military exercises in the context of all three countries almost fully positioned for an actual war. How real is the risk of something going wrong?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think the risk is real, but you have to understand, this is all Putin's strategy. He sees this as a three-phase effort. Phase number one is ramp up the tension, get the diplomatic concessions, see if you can break NATO or break Ukraine spirit. If you do, then maybe he doesn't use the military. If you don't, maybe he does use the military.

Then phase two is quickly get it over with, shock and all the world with the power of Russia's new military, scare NATO and impress China.

And then phase three is ride it out. When the United States and NATO try to put sanctions in, threaten energy cut off, do a lot of other things, put the pressure on and he thinks he can break the spirit of NATO and Ukraine in it. It's a big, bold move by Putin.

BURNETT: Paul, you see this and the U.S. Ambassador to the OCSC saying Russia's locked and loaded its guns and pointing them at Ukraine. These are diplomats saying this. They're not saying it just to sort of throw fuel on a fire. They're saying it in concert, they're saying it consistently from the United States.

When you hear Zelensky respond to Putin in Russian, saying stop using the word my as the modifier ahead of the word Ukraine. Putin stopped saying my Ukraine. Do you think Paul that that was effective against Putin?

PAUL KOLBE, FORMER CHIEF OF THE CIA'S CENTRAL EURASIA DIVISION: Well, we're in a hostage crisis here and we've got a gunman that's holding a pistol up to the head of the hostage. The hostage is trying to remain calm, try not to panic, try not to spook the gunman. At the same time, we've got a hostage negotiator coming in, Macron came in. And the first job of the hostage negotiator is to keep the gunman talking. Second, to not give the gunman an excuse to pull the trigger. And third is to try to give the gunman a reason to walk away from the situation.

This government, however, is extraordinarily paranoid and suspicious, is wary of a trick. And so he's going to, while keep talking, is going to keep open his options to shoot the hostage.

BURNETT: Gen. Clark, Macron claimed that one thing happened in his meeting with Putin, which is they agreed to de-escalate. Shortly thereafter, the Kremlin says, oh, actually no, no, no, we said no such thing. There was no such thing that actually occurred. I understand that there's diplomatic dance going on here. But General, from your experience, when you see what's happening and you hear, you see what France is saying, you see what Germany is refusing to say when it comes to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Do France and Germany realize that war really is a risk here and the way the United States clearly sees a war at risk?

CLARK: Well, they're certainly starting to realize it. I mean, up until this week, Europeans has said, no, no, he's not going to really invade. This is a bluff and the United States is hyping it and maybe they're doing it for their own reasons to get Europe tied with the United States against China or something like this. And these currents of thought have been running through Europe, but I think now it is starting to sink in.

President Macron (inaudible) an general election campaign, so naturally he wants to go and be the leader. He's always been jealous of Angela Merkel's role in leading the EU. This is Macron's chance to shine. He's got a German chancellor who's a beginner, Macron is experienced. He goes to Moscow. He's going to solve this problem. He went down to see President Zelensky and apparently told him get those Minsk Accords implemented immediately.


Well, there's a lot of going back and forth in Ukraine on this. But essentially, those Minsk Accords were put in at the (inaudible), so if Ukraine implements those records, it's going to have huge civil discord, and civil disobedience, and riots and other things, and Zelensky is going to be looked at as a traitor.

So this is kind of the scenario that Putin wants in this phase. If he can break Zelensky or if he can break the Ukrainian government, if he could create disorder, that's the kind of provocation he needs to step in as a peacekeeper, then he's secure. If he doesn't, he has to sort of figure out the next step. He's got a lot of tools in his pocket.

BURNETT: Right. A lot of tools in his pocket and, obviously, a lot of guns at the ready. So Paul, when these meetings are happening, they're happening in Moscow, so you're getting these big NATO countries to go to Moscow, to the Kremlin. And then Putin is holding these meetings at this ridiculously massive table. They know that. I mean, there's optics to why they're doing such a ridiculously massive table.

So, yes, he's top dog in the optical sense. The meetings are at the Kremlin. They're not in Paris. They're not in Berlin, but the optics here are really strange. So when you look at this, from your perspective, CIA, what point is Putin making?

KOLBE: One of my friends said this is what you get when you let a case officer choose the table. So Putin knows the power of optics, he knows the power of perception and he's well-schooled in making anyone that is in his presence look subservient, look smaller, look like they're being schooled and so there's no mistake that that was part of the effort there.

But I think the cold distance you saw across this huge table, also reflected Putin's extreme paranoia about COVID. He's been in isolation for two years. Xi was this first leader that he's seen. And so I think it's going to be - it's really reflective of someone who's been isolated, who's listened to a very small circle of advisers and who is really trying to exercise his power in that regard.

BURNETT: Right. Thank you very much, both of you. It is amazing when you think about it. There is no part of life right now, including this situation, that there isn't COVID somehow at the heart of it, physically, mentally. I mean, it is pretty stunning just to consider that.

All right. Thank you both so very much. I appreciate it.

And OUTFRONT next, a growing number of Republican speaking out saying it was a bad idea to go after the only two Republicans on the January 6 Select Committee. So why they're speaking out now?

Plus, the CDC on the defense tonight as state start lifting their mask mandates. And all eyes on the Fed. This is a crucial day coming, how the Fed will respond to what's expected to be another record report of inflation. How much worse will it get before it gets better? The President and CEO of the San Francisco Federal Reserve is my guest.



BURNETT: New tonight, top Republicans at odds over the RNC resolution that censured Congressman Adam Kinzinger and Congresswoman Liz Cheney for simply serving on January 6 Select Committee. And the statement called what happened on that day January 6 'legitimate political discourse'. Well, today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected it.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Well, let me give you my view of what happened January the 6th, we're all were here. We're here. We saw what happened. It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election from one administration to the next. That's what it was.


BURNETT: That's what it was. Loud, clear, saying it, the truth. McConnell also said it is not the job of the RNC to pick and choose which Republicans it supports. Well, compare that, what McConnell said to the House GOP conference Chair, Elise Stefanik, today who defended the censure resolution and then refuse to call out the RNC for using the words legitimate political discourse with this defense.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that January 6 was legitimate political discourse, which the RNC said over the weekend?

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): As Republicans have been very clear, we condemn the violence on January 6th, we also condemn the violence on 2020 as violent criminals attacked federal buildings, including parts of Washington, D.C. So we have been clear in that combination. House Democrats did not condemn the violence that happened all of 2020.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Jamie Gangel, CNN Special Correspondent and John Avlon, CNN Senior Political Analyst and also the author of the new book, Lincoln and the Fight for Peace, which is out one week from today, except for I already have a copy. And I hope everyone will go get theirs.

All right. So John, Sen. McConnell calls January 6th what it was, okay, let's just give the credit for that today, a violent insurrection. But somehow saying this at this point, more than a year later is hard and controversial. In fact, impossible for many elected Republicans. It's a struggle to understand why John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a choice. Let not make it any more difficult than it is. These are grown adults, elected representatives, Mitch McConnell said the truth. This was a violent insurrection that was an attempt to stop a peaceful transfer of power.

So the decision to hide behind the what about-isms or fear of offending the base or former President Trump, as Elise Stefanik said, is some mix of spinelessness and career-ism, but it's completely absent of anything resembling reality or principle or facts. And those folks may think it's good short-term politics, it's going to look like hell in the eyes of history.

BURNETT: So Jamie, our Manu Raju was on Capitol Hill today, of course, as he is every day, talking to people. He talked to the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about this too and I wanted to play that exchange.



MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The RNC resolution last week referred to the events of January 6th as a legitimate political discourse, I want to know what you thought about this.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Now, see that's not correct, but the RNC was talking about - they were talking about - everybody knows anybody who broke in and caused damage, that was not called for. Those people, we've said from the very beginning, should be in jail. What they were talking about is the six RNC members who January 6 has subpoenaed, who weren't even here who were in Florida that day.


BURNETT: Okay. Jamie, just to be clear, it's interesting that McCarthy went to such a level of detail to say what they were talking about. It's good that he did, because that's not what it said. The resolution specifically says, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a democratic-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse, not talking about the six people in Florida that day. What is McCarthy doing here? I mean, did he just make something up?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't know, but here's what I do know, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger drive Kevin McCarthy crazy day in and day out. And the fact that he did not make this, put Republicans on the Committee who would be acceptable, I think also makes him crazy day in and day out, because he does not know what's going on behind the scenes.

Kevin McCarthy, unlike Mitch McConnell, I mean, finally, Mitch McConnell, but Kevin McCarthy is still playing to an audience of one, Donald Trump. He wants to be Speaker of the House if the Republicans win in the fall and everything else falls by the wayside. That is his goal.

BURNETT: John, you know what's amazing is that legitimate political discourse, calling rioters legitimate political discourse is harder to call out actually than the censured Kinzinger and Cheney, which actually does surprise me. If I had to choose which thing would be harder to call out, if one could not call out both, I would have thought the legitimate political discourse.

But there are some Republicans coming to the defense of Cheney and Kinzinger and saying it is a bad idea for the Republican Party to be censuring them. Here are three Republicans.


SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): I think for the RNC to weigh in like this is inappropriate and, frankly, not very constructive either.

SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): I think that we as a party need to recognize that people are worried about the economy. They're worried about the continuing struggles with COVID. They're looking ahead and that's what they want us to do.

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


BURNETT: So just to be clear, John, Sen. Romney, okay, we expect him to be in that group. The other senators, not so much. You are seeing people that before didn't say anything that are saying, hey, look, the censure idea is a bad idea. Do you see anything in the growing number of Republican senators speaking out here? Is this something or not?

AVLON: I think it's the beginning of seeing the cult start to crack. You're seeing in the wake of Mike Pence on Friday night calling out Trump, finally, in clear terms. You've seen people like Larry Hogan and Chris Christie, speaking out even more clearly. Now, these senators, not just Mitt Romney and Bill Cassidy, but senators who really tried to go out of their way to rationalize Trump and defend them in the past saying this is too far.

And the old saying one man with courage makes the majority, well, six senators start to send forth ripples of hope for maybe some of their colleagues and say, you know what, maybe telling the truth isn't the end of the world. Maybe it's actually the smart political thing to do. We might see more.

BURNETT: And let's hope we do. Of course, Jamie, there are Republicans, though that are open about making crushing Cheney as an example, their number one goal, because she is running for reelection. Marjorie Taylor Greene says the most important thing to her, the only thing is making sure Cheney loses.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): That's priority number one to me, because it's one thing we can play small ball and that's kicking Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger out of our conference, which I want to do, but I really want to - I'm one of those that wants to finish the game and I want the W and that would be defeating Liz Cheney and making sure that she never comes back.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Jamie, what are you hearing? Is Congressman Cheney

concerned? Is she worried about her situation?

GANGEL: Let's just talk about Marjorie Taylor Greene for a minute. I don't think Liz Cheney is scared of anyone and I certainly don't think Marjorie Taylor Greene. Cheney has said all along that this is about democracy, the Constitution, rule of law, politics. She knows she has a tough battle at Wyoming. Wyoming is the Trumpiest state there is. More people voted for Trump than for Liz Cheney. Not a lot, but more. I think that Liz Cheney has made it clear she's put this on the line.


Every day she doubles down, whether she wins or not she's not going away and she sees this as more important than any political fight.

BURNETT: It's a pretty significant to say sometimes.

GANGEL: Right.

BURNETT: Whether you win or not, you are not going away. Thank you both very much.

And next, the CDC standing by its guidance for masks, even though more states are lifting mask mandates. Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor in Georgia is my guest. What would she do if elected?

Plus, a new report expected to show record inflation is not slowing down. That's the case. How long will it take to get inflation under control?



BURNETT: The CDC director saying the agency stands by its current guidance that masks should still be worn in schools. Dr. Rochelle Walensky citing high COVID infections in the United States, telling "Reuters", quote: Now is not the moment, end quote, to end school mask mandates.

But this comes as the Democratic governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and California just yesterday set very specific timelines to lift masking in the classroom mandates in their states.

All of this is happening in a froth situation. Masking in schools is a hot button political issue. Something my next guest Stacey Abrams knows well after recently being criticized for retweeting a since deleted photo of herself maskless at a school event with a classroom of masked students sitting behind her.

OUTFRONT now, Stacey Abrams, candidate in Georgia's Democratic gubernatorial primary and former Democratic leader in Georgia's House of Representatives.

So, Leader Abrams, I appreciate your time. So, obviously, we've all seen the picture. We've all seen the coverage of the picture. Did you make a mistake by taking a photo maskless in the classroom when it appears that everyone else including all the children were wearing them?

STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. I will say this I when to the read to kids for an African-American Read-In Day. I approached the podium with my mask on. I followed the protocol. I told the kid I'm taking my mask off because I'm listening to kids listening remotely as well, the kids were socially distance from me. I told them that's what I was doing.

And then the excitement because it was so much fun working with those kids, I took a picture. And that was a mistake. Protocols matter in protecting our kids is the most important thing and anything perceived as undermining that is a mistake and I apologize.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you, though, because at the heart of this I understand, you are apologizing for making a mistake. But at the heart of this is why we are in this situation to begin with, right? Some people still believe in mask mandates, others feel it is long past the time, especially when adults are no longer wearing mask mandates and mandates have been lifted.

Yesterday, four Democratic governors set specific time lines to lift mask mandates in schools in the next few weeks. A New Jersey governor just a few moments ago, wires crossed, saying he has received quote overwhelmingly positive reaction to his decision.

So, do you think it's time to lift these mask requirements in schools? Would you lift them if you were governor of Georgia?

ABRAMS: COVID hygiene is going to be a point of debate for a very long time and we can only follow the science and follow our circumstances. Unfortunately in Georgia, we're not in a place where that conversation is ready because we have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. We have 40 percent of our county's without general pediatricians. We refuse to expand Medicaid, so so many families don't having access to healthcare.

I believe that our job is to protect children. And I know that educators and parents have to balance education and that is a complicated issue. I think each governor has to evaluate what's happening where they are. We have to look to the CDC.

But we also have to recognize that we are shifting from pandemic to endemic. Some states are going to get there faster than others.

My responsibility if I am lucky enough to be the next governor of Georgia is to look at the science to follow the protocols and to set the right example. And right now, that example is that we wear masks whenever possible. But we recognize that we can't be a hard line about this, because situation change and we have different moments where we have to make decisions.

But in this instance, I would say that as the governor of Georgia, my job will be at that time to look at the science, to look at the situation, and to make the best decision to protect our kids.

BURNETT: All of which I understand. You know, at the heart of this, you know, I'm a parent. My kids wear masks in school. They say they don't mind.

But you know one thing you said stood out to me, and that is because you were reading. You wanted them to see you read. You wanted them to see your expression. That is a part of the reason people feel the way you feel. Exactly, your natural instinct, which is, well, I was reading them, I wanted to be able to share that.

Does it concern you that these mask mandates are preventing their teachers from doing that same thing?

ABRAMS: Our teachers are interesting asked to teach in small classroom sizes. They're teaching overcrowded classrooms with limited resource. And not every classroom has the ability to have well- ventilated classrooms. They don't have the ability to make sure every child is protected.

And so, yes, mandates make sense when you ask a teacher to protect the entire classroom. That does make sense to me. I live with my parents who are immunocompromised and my niece who was 15 and goes to school every day wearing a mask.

My responsibility was to explain to those kids why I was doing something they weren't doing and as soon as possible to put that mask back on. I took the mask off because I was speaking remotely to two other classrooms, and wanted all of them to hear me.


But the larger point I want everyone to take from this, is this is complicated. And we cannot make this about politics or scoring political points. This has to be about how do we protect our families? How do we navigate what is going to be a part of our community for quite some time?

And as we shift from pandemic to endemic, we've got to be able to have these conversations in a civil and thoughtful manner and not use it as a volley to score points.

BURNETT: I want to ask you another question that is of major important cause for you and passion. The Supreme Court's conservative majority just upheld Alabama's new congressional map. That map, a lower court had found diminished the lower power of the state's Black voters. The Supreme Court says it will hear arguments over the map, so that puts a key voting provision of the Voting Rights Act on the table.

How concerned are you by that?

ABRAMS: I'm very concerned. I think it's worth noting that Chief Justice Roberts, who is the architect of gutting the Voting Rights Act and Section 5 in 2013 sided with the minority, saying that this is, indeed, a clear example of the erosion of voting rights. And when John Roberts says you are doing something wrong on voting rights, we need to pay attention.

Sadly, what's happening in Alabama is happening across this country. We are seeing an attack on voting rights and Republicans believing they have a majority that will allow them to crush and quash the ability of communities of color to elect representatives who reflect their values and select and elect people who reflect their communities.

BURNETT: Leader Abrams, thanks very much for your time. I appreciate it.

ABRAMS: Absolutely.

BURNETT: And next, a crucial new report expected to show the consumer prices are still rising, and way too fast. So, what is the Fed going to do?

The president and CEO of the San Francisco Fed will be next.

And a teenage Olympic sensation from the United States hitting back at critics after winning gold for China.


EILEEN GU, U.S.-BORN OLYMPIC SKIER: I'm not going to waste my time trying to placate people who --




BURNETT: Tonight, President Biden bracing for a new report expected to show another record inflation. The president holding event for strong jobs numbers and talking about manufacturing in the U.S.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My first full year as president, the economy created 6.6 new jobs, 6.6 million. That's never happened before in American history.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Mary Daly, president and CEO of the San Francisco Federal Reserve. And I appreciate your time.

So the White House, Wall Street, Americans are on edge, right? Watching how the Federal Reserve is going to respond to what is expected to be another great inflation number, prices rising way too quickly.

Do you expect the inflation problem will continue to get worse before it get better? MARY DALY, PRESIDENT & CEO, FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF SAN FRANCISCO: We

should have it be worse before it get better. It is definitely going to get better. The main message is Federal Reserve, we are focused on this. You've heard so many of us say that without any big surprises, we would be looking to raise interest rates as early as March. That's certainly my view. And that is going to start the process of helping get inflation in control.

But another big factor that will help ease inflation pressures is getting COVID behind this not only nationally but globally, and allowing supply chains to recover in the way that's financial to be necessary for us to move forward and get supply and demand pack in balance.

But we don't need the headline data to tell us. I think every American consumer out there feels it each day. Inflation is too high, it's been too high for too long.

BURNETT: And it comes as there is always fears about, you know, wage increases are good. But when they feed into inflation, that's what's not good. And, obviously, the U.S. economy did add 467,000 new jobs in January, double than anybody had expected, the highest estimate, in fact. Wages were up nearly 6 percent.

But how does this factor into what you are saying? You are talking raising interest rates as early as March. But how aggressive do you think the Fed should be in raising rates?

DALY: Well, that's a terrific question. Really, we have to be appropriate. We can't be overly aggressive and we can't be too slow. We have to be just right.

And just right is hard and data dependent. You take the first rate increase in March. We're going to have to watch. What is happening as fiscal rolls off? Does that impinge spending? What happens as supply chain recovers? Does that ease inflation? What happens when we raise interest rates the first time? How does the economy respond?

All of those things will matter for what we do next. And that's the important thing. We need to be data dependent and focused. I will say that ultimately, it's jobs and prices that matter for Americans and that's true. We need price stability. Absolutely. But we also need good job growth and we have to have policies that support both.

BURNETT: So, obviously, sometimes those two can come into conflict. Right now, though, you do have strong job growth. You have recently said I saw that the Fed will be un-- will unlikely be able to push inflation back down to 2 percent by the end of the year. 2 percent has been the general starting considered at price stability. You know, that's very concerning because when you said that I read, wow. that means with plenty of Fed rate increases, which are reflected. Inflation won't be defeated 11 months from now.

How long do you think it can be for the United States to get back down to 2 percent inflation? DALY: Well, getting down to 2 percent and getting some relief for

American consumers are different things. So, I don't think we will get to 2 percent fully by the end of the year. Because we have so many bottleneck supply chains that have to work themselves out.

And COVID has not left the global economy. We haven't moved from pandemic to endemic, especially in many countries other than the United States, those things are going to impinge supply chains, which impinge our ability to get inflation fully back to 2 percent.

But we will see progress. Relief is going to appear as supply chains get some relief but also as the Fed moves policy to get supply and demand back into balance.


So I'm both optimistic that we can get inflation down to much more comfortable levels. I am also aware that we don't have all the tools because ultimately supply chains are really about getting COVID under control, not just Fed policy.

BURNETT: All right. President Daly, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

DALY: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, an Olympic gold medalist born and raised in the United States of America, trained in the United States of America, now facing backlash for choosing China as her country for the Winter Olympics. Tonight, she responds.

And an inside look at one of the towns that could be Putin's first target if he invades Ukraine.



BURNETT: Tonight, San Francisco born and U.S. raised Olympic skier Eileen Gu firing back at her critics after winning gold for China.


GU: I'm not going to waste my time trying to placate people. If people don't believe me and people don't like me, then that's their loss. They're never going to win the Olympics.


BURNETT: Okay. Gu has been facing intense backlash after choosing China over the United States.

But tonight, her response is clear. They're not going to win the Olympics. She competes for herself.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Winning gold for your country is every Olympian's dream. But when it's not the country you were born and raised in, it's not so straightforward.

American-born free skier Eileen Gu became an instant hit in China after choosing to compete for them in the Winter Olympics.

Her love of Chinese culture, fluency in mandarin and amazing athleticism launched her to become the unofficial face of China's Olympic ambitions and nicknamed the snow princess.

The 18-year-old is well known as a model for Louis Vuitton and Tiffany. A talented pianist, and after graduating early from high school with a 1580 on the SAT, will go to college at Stanford in a few months.

When she won gold in the big air final, it literally broke the Internet, crashing China's social media site Weibo as fans rushed to share their excitement.

She's so great, he said. Eileen is very, very good. Such a steady performance, and she challenged a jump that she's never done before. She's so great.

China doesn't allow dual nationality and its unclear whether Gu has given up her American citizenship, a question she continues to side step.

GU: I'm American when I'm in the U.S., and I'm Chinese when I'm in China.

WANG: Nineteen-year-old figure skater Zhu Yi has given up her American citizenship, but her reception in China has been a totally different experience. After Yi fell twice during her skating routine, the abuse was relentless on social media, as some questioned why she had been chosen to represent China over an athlete born in the country.

Yi was born and raised in California to a Chinese immigrant family, and has changed her name from Beverly Zhu to Zhu Yi, but she has faced criticism for not speaking fluent Chinese like Gu.

The decision to compete for China as an American-born athlete has drawn harsh words in the U.S., most specifically over China's human rights record. Gu insists she wants to be a role model and inspiration to young girls, but so far, has dodged any questions about Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who disappeared for several weeks after accusing a powerful Chinese official of sexual assault last year, sparking international concern. She later denied making the allegations.

Peng met with Olympic officials in the weekend and was in the audience for Gu's winning moment, even mentioning Gu by name in an interview with a French outlet, "L'Equipe", calling her our Chinese champion. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WANG (on camera): And, Erin, as a Chinese American born and raised in the U.S., from my experience in China, there is an expectations that you should speak and understand the culture perfectly. Eileen Gu, she fits that bill and she won gold, but the case of Zhu Yi, showing that in China isn't an option. She's been called a disgrace, not just for falling, but also for not speaking Mandarin fluently.

But Eileen Gu, she is walking the tightrope. She's not just the poster child of the Winter Games. She's also, for China, an image of soft power -- Erin.

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

And next, we're going to take you inside a town 30 miles from Russia's border, could be one of the first places Putin attacks if he invade Ukraine. So what is life like there tonight?



BURNETT: Tonight, as Russia continues to surge troops along the Ukrainian border, CNN getting a first hand look at one of the towns that could be Putin's first target if he invades.

Sam Kiley is OUTFRONT with tonight's inside look.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kharkiv is Ukraine, glory to Ukraine. Russian troops in ships muster on land and at sea, and few places in Ukraine feel more vulnerable than Kharkiv.

Here, it's only 30 miles from the Russian border, a city of about 1.5 million people. At least 75 percent of them speak Russian as a mother tongue.

Demonstrations like this are important, because this city could be one of the first to get attacked in the event of an invasion.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the president, has warned as much. And U.S. officials are saying Vladimir Putin could order an attack at any time.

ANNA ZYABLIKOVA, KHARKIV RESIDENT: Every day, I'm trying to be calm, and I'm trying to go through my daily routine. But I'm trying to have the thought, okay, where are my documents? Where is food? Where is my mom? Do I have enough money?

KILEY: In a city that's been identified as a potential Russian target by the Ukrainian president, there are attempts to carry on as normal. But for many, this is the new normal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to flee, so I need to protect city, my country, my family.

KILEY: Ukraine has expanded its military, but it's a long way behind Russia in military might.

So it's taking these wrecked T-64 tanks from the 1960s and rebuilding them from the chassis up, to rush to the front lines. Much like Ukraine is trying to build and defend a democracy in a landscape much haunted by the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.

Sam Kiley, CNN, Kharkiv.


BURNETT: And thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.