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Erin Burnett Outfront
U.S. Sees "Dramatic Acceleration" In Buildup Of Russian Forces, Warns An Invasion Could Happen "With Little To No Warning;" Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) Discusses About The Update About Russian Invasion Of Ukraine; Kremlin: Putin "Willing To Negotiate;" U.S. Intel Indicates Russia "Clearly Advancing Their Ability To Invade;" An Assault On Kyiv Could Begin With No Warning; Source: Giuliani May Be Willing To Testify To Jan. 6 Panel; 40 Percent Of Mail-In Ballots In Texas' Largest County Flagged As Faulty; Russian Figure Skater To Compete Despite Positive Drug Test. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired February 14, 2022 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Brian Stelter, thank you very much for that update.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Thanks.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM.
Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now live from Ukraine.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, we are live in Ukraine tonight as the U.S. warns Russia could attack at any moment. The U.S. closing down the embassy as more Russian forces arrived along the border here.
Plus, Putin claiming he's still willing to negotiate, yet the administration says Russia is advancing their ability to invade as I speak. So what is Putin thinking?
And in the United States, Rudy Giuliani signaling he's willing to testify before the January 6 Select Committee, so what is Trump's longtime attorney willing to share?
Let's go OUTFRONT.
BURNETT: And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight breaking news, here on the ground in Ukraine tonight, the United States saying an attack by Russia could happen at any moment. The Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling the situation a 'dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces'. Here's Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We have said for a while now that military action could happen any day. I won't get into a specific date. I don't think that would be smart. I would just tell you that it is entirely possible that he could move with little to no warning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Little to no warning. That is what some people here tell me they fear most. One woman telling me it harkens back to what happened in Crimea. She says, "Of course I'm scared." And to add to the sense of fear, the United States announcing today it is closing the Embassy in Kyiv, sparking worry worldwide and sending the U.S. benchmark down, index down nearly 200 points as the Pentagon issues this warning tonight as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRBY: Even over the last 24 to 48, over the course of the weekend, Mr. Putin has added military capability along that border with Ukraine and Belarus. He is exercising some of his units on the ground there in the south as well as naval units in the Black Sea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And here is some of what Admiral Kirby is talking about captured on social media. You see Russian tanks just about 10 miles from the Ukraine border. Russian short range ballistic missiles, Iskanders, spotted near Ukraine's border as well. And a ramp up of activity also in Washington, at the White House in response.
The Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arriving at the White House to brief President Biden today. Moments later, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken arriving at the White House as well ahead of that intelligence briefing.
And tonight here we are just a few hours from the border with Poland, where another eight American F-15 fighter jets have now landed. It's also where nearly 5,000 U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne will be. And here in Ukraine, Sunday, two plane loads of immediately deployable U.S. assistance arrived in Kyiv, including ammunition and shoulder fired grenades. All of this amping up, ratcheting it up.
None of this providing a great sense of security for those here on the ground. We spoke here today with Mykola Balaban, the deputy head of Ukraine's Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MYKOLA BALABAN, DEPUTY HEAD OF UKRAINE'S CENTER FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION SECURITY: The biggest fear is that our western allies will not help us when this. As you said, crescendo, when there will be like this moment when Russia really attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So tonight, he's updating this manual. It's 28 pages long. And here on the cover, in Case of Emergency or War, you see the emphasis on war all caps. The manual telling residents things like if you find yourself in a combat area or in an emergency involving armed people, keep at hand information about your blood type. Find out the location of shelters and hiding places.
There's also information on how to evacuate, what to do in case of small arms attacks, including wherever you are, your body should be in the safest position possible. Tuck yourself up. Assume the fetal position with your legs towards the shooting and with your hands over your head. Keep your mouth slightly open to protect the eardrums against injury from the blast. Wait until the shooting subsides and there are no shots for at least five minutes.
That's in here. They even have instructions on what to do with attacks involving multiple launch rocket systems. It's pretty sobering. I mean, imagine this coming as like a regular public service announcement from your government. And yet many here do you feel the government has not given them enough direction.
One person telling me, we are told very little in our news. I want to start here on the ground with Matthew Chance. He is in Kyiv about 300 miles east of where I'm sitting tonight. And Matthew, confusion today after the Ukrainian president Zelensky said an attack could happen on Wednesday.
It was a real sort of about face from the way he'd been handling this prior. It seemed a shocking shift to many. You then contacted his office and in a very bizarre turn of affairs, they sort of indicated that it was ironic or a joke.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think it was, actually, in fairness to them. Look, I mean, it came within the context of an announcement that he was making on Facebook, addressing the Ukrainian people, as he has done several times in the past several weeks and months, as this crisis has been brewing, trying to calm down and ease the panic that may be sort of erupting in certain places, particularly amongst the Ukrainian population.
Saying that, look, we've been told, he said, that February the 16th is the day of the attack, but we're going to make it a day of unity. And he was talking about how they're going to sing the national anthem and sort of pin ribbons to themselves in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian national flag.
And so it was meant to be a sort of like ironic look, according to the president's office, at the fact that, look, we've been given several dates in the past, whether there's going to be an invasion, those dates have passed without incident, the same as the implication is going to happen on February the 16th just in a couple of days from now.
But obviously, that may have been misinterpreted to some extent, outside of the country, because everybody's been hearing this intelligence. The United States has been making its assessments that there could be an attack within the next couple of days. And Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital and where I'm standing right now, could be a target of those potential Russian attacks as well. The Russians, of course, deny any plans to invade Ukraine at any
stage. And so it may have been misinterpreted outside of Ukraine, but I think the majority of people inside the country to be fair, probably saw it for what it was and heard that familiar message of stay calm, don't panic very clearly, Erin.
BURNETT: Right. Certainly the message they keep saying prepare but don't panic which calm some and, of course, frustrates others. Thank you very much, Matthew Chance.
And I want to go now to the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch. He also sits on the Intelligence Committee. So Senator, you're right in the middle of this and aware of everything the U.S. government knows at this point. Obviously, a lot of activity at the White House today in response to what the Pentagon says they're seeing, which is literally hour by hour continued build up by Putin of military along this border. There have been a lot of classified briefings.
The Ukrainian President, as you know, said an attack is coming in 24 hours. Then said he was speaking with irony. What new information are you learning tonight?
SEN. JIM RISCH (R-ID): Well, Erin, not much. Look, out of all the international crises that we've seen in recent months and years, this is the one that's been out there most. I mean, when we have briefings, the stuff winds up in the media very shortly thereafter, usually by the briefers themselves. So there isn't that kind of intelligence, secret intelligence briefings we get lucky.
Look, you can go online right now and see photos of where the Russians are lined out, their equipment, what they're moving, where they're going. And so look, even the false flag operation that was uncovered by intelligence was put out there in all its detail for everyone to see.
So there's not a lot I can tell you that's new. It's all out there and it's all on the table and you guys have been covering it and drilling down it. Now, I'm glad to hear that, by the way, that you're in Lviv, certainly a safer place right now than in Kyiv.
BURNETT: So you heard one of Ukraine's ministers tell me that his biggest fear is that Western allies will not help when Russia really attacks. That was their deepest fear. I know defense secretary Austin is heading to Poland tomorrow where the U.S. already has nearly 5,000 troops stationed.
The Pentagon has been clear, though, as you know, Senator, and they were clear again today that those troops will not enter Ukraine. At any point, in any situation, do you think U.S. troops should help Ukraine on the ground?
RISCH: Well, that's pretty broad. But I think I'll answer it with a broad answer and that is, the U.S. troops are part of NATO. NATO is a defensive organization. It is not an offensive organization. There's not going to be any attack by a U.S. troops or NATO troops on any Russian troops. That would be a very bad engagement and not good for the world by any stretch.
So on the other hand, we and also our NATO allies have sent in a considerable amount of armament for the Ukrainians, to be able to resist. Look, the Ukrainian militarily are no match for the Russians.
The Russians are going to run right over them very quickly in the first day of the battle.
BURNETT: Of course.
RISCH: But the first day is the best day they're going to have. They then have to face the Ukrainian people in resistance movements. And it's going to turn into a very bloody situation.
But look, there's not going to be an engagement between the two. Ukraine is not a NATO country, they've made application. They haven't met the qualifications yet. But our obligation is to our other 29, NATO partners, the Ukrainians, we will all help but not coming to defend in engagement.
BURNETT: Right. And obviously, Russia is indicating that despite the fact that they have 130,000, 150,000 troops on the border, they have no intention of doing anything with them. Of course, the Pentagon says that that's strange credulity. Let me just play for you what Admiral Kirby said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRBY: It's strain credulity to think that they would have this many troops arrayed along the border with Ukraine and Belarus simply for winter exercises.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Do you agree with that?
RISCH: Of course, I'm surprised you guys in the media are letting them get away with it. Usually, if a politician does this, you start with the debunk theory, blah, blah, blah. Look, this is a debunked theory that they're not preparing for an invasion, whether they'll invade or not, that's another question. But that they're not preparing for an invasion, engagement. That's a debunked theory. It's false.
You don't move those kinds of troops and do the kinds of things you're doing without it being a preparation for engagement. It's what the Russians do, they lie.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time, Senator. And I want to go on that note to retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He is the former commanding officer, of course, for Europe.
And General, I really appreciate your time, also the 7th Army, and I know you spent a lot of time here in Ukraine. So let me ask you about what Kirby said talking about Putin's build up, again, saying that over the past 24 to 48 hours, they're seeing more and more troops. Kirby says Putin continues to add to his readiness.
Again, the social media videos coming out of Russia, again, coming out of Russia, so we should emphasize this is what they want us to see. But this is their Russian tanks, 10 miles from the Ukrainian border, short range ballistic missiles, Iskanders, are spotted also near the border. So what does all this tell you? Is strain credulity to you that this is all for naught?
MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it depends on what you're talking about. If you're talking about the right now or what Mr. Putin's original plan was, Erin. And this all started several months ago. I think we need to give a little history of this.
The forces that are amassing on Ukraine's border right now include some of Putin's most modern units, including the First Guard's tank arm. Those units came from Bryansk and Kursk in Central Russia in September. They have been building up since then. And I think Mr. Putin had a plan to see how much he could sneak in eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas and see what he could get away with.
And he was quite surprised by the reaction of both the NATO Alliance and by the United States. Because remember what was happening in September, the United States had just pulled out of Afghanistan. We were looking weak. NATO was struggling with people like Merkel leaving the Alliance because she was not elected. She changed the election in German. So a lot of things were happening then that aren't happening now.
Getting back to your question, does it strain credulity that they are going to do an exercise here? It's strain credulity for a very long time, but what we don't know is what is Putin's next move. He wants to have plausible deniability. If he decides to attack, he's going to attack. If he doesn't, he can say, hey, I was just there for an exercise, what the hell is NATO all concerned about, why are we beating the drums of war in the west when all we were doing was exercising with our Belarusian partners.
BURNETT: That's right. And, of course, everyone should know those exercises, I mean, we've been given a hard and fast end date, but it is over the next few days here that those exercises would end and you have that off ramp. So in the meantime, though, General, the U.S. has been amping up, I understand as part of existing U.S. presence and NATO, but still more U.S. troops have been coming over, 5,000 U.S. troops are in or are now headed to Poland.
And Kirby said today and I quote him, "They're being sent to Poland. They're going to stay in Poland." You just heard that, again, from Sen. Risch. We hear it repeatedly from this administration, no U.S. troops in Ukraine under any circumstances. There's no situation that anybody says that Russia wants to attack NATO, so what's the point of all of that, of building up more U.S. troops?
HERTLING: Well, I'm going to first address Sen. Risch's comment because he confused a couple of things. [19:15:00]
First of all, U.S. troops in Europe are not a part of NATO. Let me say that again, they are not a part of NATO. They only become a part of NATO when NATO pulls them together.
So while Russia is upping the ante, and something may happen, NATO may decide to say, we're declaring on Article 5 issue to protect our other 20 or 30 countries in Europe and they will react to that. Why is the United States not going into Ukraine, Erin? It's a very simple proposition.
If the United States or any NATO goes into Ukraine and Russia is in Ukraine, it becomes two superpowers going against each other, and it will quickly spiral out of control, then it could get into a nuclear conflict. So President Biden is being very careful about saying we're not going in to defend Ukraine. They are not a NATO country. NATO has not declared Article 5 and even if they did, we would not go into Ukraine. So it is that very fine line that the President is walking, which is very difficult to do.
BURNETT: All right. Gen. Hertling, thank you. I always appreciate your time. And I know we'll be talking to you through this week.
And next more on the breaking news from Ukraine, we're going to go to the border of Ukraine and Russia to see what is going on there at this hour.
Plus, a source telling CNN that Rudy Giuliani may be willing to cooperate with the January 6 Committee. I kind of emphasize that word cooperate. What does it mean? Could he turn on Trump?
And the restrictive new voting law now being put to the test in Texas? One person saying it's already proving to be a nightmare for voters. Why?
BURNETT: Breaking news, Putin is willing to negotiate. At least that's what a spokesman for the Kremlin just told our Fred Pleitgen. Also adding that Ukraine is only one part of Russia's larger security concerns. But those claims come as a senior Biden administration official warns that the latest intelligence shows Russian forces are, "Clearly advancing their ability to invade and that they are making themselves more ready to launch an assault on Ukraine without warning."
No intelligence is needed to show, the videos, to back it up. This is social media, of course, not far from the border of Belgorod showing helicopters moving into the region, so you can see that video.
Sam Kiley is OUTFRONT in Kharkiv, Ukraine. It is about 25 miles from the border with Russia. And I know, Sam, you went up to the border today. So tell me what you saw? SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, I
think what is really striking is the difference between what's on this side of the border or at least what's visible on this side of the border and what we're seeing from social media satellite analysis and other sources and what the Russians are doing around Belgorod.
As you say, just about 20 miles north of the border where I was today, substantial buildup of forces from the First Guard's tank army of the Russian Federation's armed forces, a massive organization reinforced recently with helicopter, gunships on the Ukrainian side, though, long lines of civilian trucks waiting to export their goods into Russia as they would do every day of the week with slight reduction, I think, probably in traffic coming south from Russia, into Ukraine.
No sign of any kind of military buildup, very relaxed border guards, local population there, majority Russian-speaking, of course, as they are here in Kyiv where 75 percent of the population here in Kharkiv, rather, is a Russian-speaking. But, Erin, very relaxed atmosphere, indeed, inside Ukraine itself.
BURNETT: And it's interesting, you see that across the country, but there is a disconnect, certainly, between the U.S. briefings as you and I know, Sam, over recent weeks. It's gone from imminent to on the edge to crescendo to - whatever they can come up with the source to indicate that this is about to happen. And yet what you hear from the Ukrainian government just continues to be something extremely different.
KILEY: Yes. I think we got some kind of a hint of that, really, now as we've had that statement from Peskov, the Foreign Ministry Spokesman to our Fred Pleitgen saying - reiterating the view expressed by Vladimir Putin in that rather staged exchange he had with his own Foreign Minister Lavrov in which he agreed that there was opportunities for more diplomatic discussions over the future of Ukraine, and that their concerns were not limited to Ukraine.
Now, the Ukraine cannot join NATO. It cannot join NATO at the moment, because it is already involved in a territorial dispute over the Crimea, which Russia has annexed illegally. And indeed, as the Russians are backing the rebels in the east of the country. So as long as there are Russian troops and rebels on the soil of Ukraine, the conventions within NATO forbid it effectively for being able to join.
So really the whole NATO issue in Ukraine is a moot point. The real issue for Putin is the extent to which democracy takes hold here, the extent to which Ukraine becomes a threat to him existentially as the leader of Russia and to him, personally, because of the danger of a contagion of democracy into Russia from this area that was formerly very much part of the Russian soil, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Sam, from Kharkiv.
I want to go now to Paul Kolbe, he's the former chief of the CIA's Central Eurasia Division. And Paul, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, today says he still sees a chance for diplomacy. The Kremlin spokesperson just told Frederick Pleitgen, that's Dmitry Pesko, of course, that Putin is willing to negotiate.
So they don't just say these things in a vacuum. They say this, because it's coming from one person, what does it signal to you about what Putin is thinking, this sort of the math that he's running in his head?
PAUL KOLBE, FORMER CHIEF, CIA'S CENTRAL EURASIA DIVISION: Well, who knows what Putin is thinking, but we do know what he said. And we do know what he's doing. So what he said is that he sees NATO as a threat, that NATO needs to push back to its borders from 1997 and that Ukraine needs to promise never to join NATO. We know he said that. We also know that he's amassed forces on the border which can unleash war at a moment's notice.
It's a really disturbing signal that the U.S. Embassy has decided to relocate all of its personnel to Western Ukraine, to Lviv, where you are. That's a very, very ominous signal.
BURNETT: And, obviously, they're doing now just emergency consular services. They've told Americans to leave the country. I mean, we understand the seriousness with which the United States takes this. But to Putin, Paul, we saw him meeting with the Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov. And I know that some may say, well, why to talk about the long tables, but I'm talking about it because there's this huge diff distance between Putin and his own foreign minister and it's very similar to what we saw last week, when the French President Macron went to Moscow, Putin met with him and there was that incredibly long table.
They said that Macron had refused to take a Russian COVID test beforehand is one of the reasons but we saw it there. Then we saw it again at a press conference with the Hungarian Prime Minister, Orban, earlier this month, that long table. It's a clear pattern, this incredible amount of distance that he is now insisting on putting between himself and pretty much any other human being publicly, why do you think he's doing it?
KOLBE: Well, I think there's a number of reasons. Look, we know that Putin has been isolated for the last couple of years. He's been paranoid of COVID rightfully so and has isolated himself. But I think beyond the physical isolation, I worry about the mental isolation. He's surrounded himself with a courtier, of his siloviki, his power ministry, comrades, the defense minister, the head of the FSB, the head of the Security Council.
He's got a very narrow circle of advisers. He's not hearing much great advice and it's only from one set of perspectives. He's not hearing what's coming up from the street, because he's cut off those channels of communication. He's not coming - what's coming from institutions, because he's shut down institutions. He's in a narrow circle. I worry about that in terms of his decision making and frankly his stability.
BURNETT: As I've said, no one has been mentally untouched by these past two years, including him. All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate it, Paul.
And next, January 6 Committee expects Rudy Giuliani to 'fully cooperate' with its subpoena. But what does that mean? I mean, he is actually going to turn on Trump, Rudy, of all people?
And restrictive new voting laws in Texas proving to cause incredible nightmare with early voting, 40 percent of mail-in ballots in the Houston area have been flagged over ID requirements.
BURNETT: New tonight, Rudy Giuliani may be willing to testify to the January 6th select committee about his many election fraud claims. The real question is whether, you know, he'll testify in any meaningful sense of the word to anything substantive, because a source told CNN that Trump's former personal lawyer could still invoke executive or attorney-client privilege. And it comes as the committee tells CNN it expects Giuliani to, quote, cooperate fully with its subpoena. They know that may not be the case.
Ryan Nobles is OUTFRONT.
And, Ryan, though, when any conversations at all about testifying do mark a significant shift in Giuliani's stonewalling of the committee. So, tell me everything you're learning about the negotiations for him to cooperate and what cooperate means.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin. It's a great question, and, of course, it is significant that Giuliani and his attorneys have expressed any level of cooperation with the committee but they are a long way away from agreeing to the terms by which Rudy Giuliani would actually sit in front of the January 6th Select Committee and answer questions.
And what we're in the position of right now is engagement which the committee has often done with many of its targets. They set a date to come in and talk. The attorneys talk to the attorney's for the committee and that's where they begin the conversations about what exactly an interview like this would look like.
And the big thing for Rudy Giuliani is he believes there are a number of areas that he may be familiar with that he believes fall under executive or attorney-client privilege. Keep in mind, during that period of time, he did serve as the president's personal lawyer. However in their subpoena request to Giuliani, the committee specifically asks that they want to talk to him about his efforts to try to upend the election process, the work that he did with Trump and some of the outside Republican consultants to try to delay the certification results of the election.
And Giuliani's expressed an openness in talking about that. Now, the question is where do these negotiations head and how long it will be before Giuliani gets in front of the committee. Right now, Erin, that is still an open question. BURNETT: All right. Ryan, thank you very much.
And I want to go now to Norm Eisen, former counsel to House Democrats during the first Trump impeachment trial.
So, Norm, you know, Giuliani even having these conversations is important, right? As a lawyer, he initially said his client would not cooperate with the subpoena that amounted to, quote, political theater. So, now, we're hearing Giuliani is in talks about possible cooperating. It is all in what that means.
But what do you think Giuliani could be up to here, Norm?
NORMAN EISEN, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR: Erin, thanks for having me back. I think that you know, Giuliani is likely playing the classic delay game that we've come to expect. No, I won't cooperate. Maybe I will cooperate. Let's negotiate.
But he's also up against a January 6th committee that has shown, it's not falling for any of that. They are going all out, pedal to the metal. And if Giuliani attempts to run out the clock, they're not going to let him. And if he plays games, Erin, we know he will, they'll impose consequences.
BURNETT: Yeah. I mean, right. As you point out, right, that's been his modus operandi throughout all of this.
And in fact, at some point, I wonder if it was a big game to him. As time went on, it seemed he believed the lies he was saying, because, Norm, he was one of the loudest and most prolific spreaders of the lie that there was massive voter fraud, said he had evidence of it, alleged wild conspiracies.
Here are just a few of many times he did this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: The count in Philadelphia was unlawful, 300,000 ballots were counted in secret just by the Democrats.
You get to Detroit and you have a truck that pulled in at 4:30 in the morning with 100,000 votes.
We cannot allow these crooks, that's what they are, to steal an election from the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Norm, he said all of those things publicly. And he said it just a little tiny taste, right? Do you think there's more? There are more machinations and planning they don't know about that were said privately when that much is already in the public eye? EISEN: There is undoubtedly more for the committee to learn. I'm sure
that they learned the, a great deal of information there. They're operating on a mosaic approach. They're using small details to stitch together the story because there are some like Bannon, like Mark Meadows who refused to cooperate.
But the risk with Rudy Giuliani is that he comes and he said oh, yes, I'll testify and he uses his testimony as an excuse to reiterate the big lie, to provide more bogus claims. So the committee needs to be ready for that. Develop be. They've shown they can handle the likes of Rudy Giuliani.
BURNETT: Of course, they've had 500 people testify. I think it's always important, we talk about these high profile names that have stone-walled, that they have 500 people of both political parties, come and speak freely. Thanks so much, Norm.
EISEN: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: And next tonight, mail-in ballots already being rejected in Texas as a new voter law is tested for the first time. An official from Houston is my guest.
And a star skater from Russia, the one that the American skater said, I can't even humans do the things she did. Well, then, of course, it turned out there was a positive drug test. She's now still allowed to compete at the Olympics tomorrow. The reaction, outrage.
BURNETT: Tonight, early voting kicking off in Texas for the first time since Republicans pushed through a voting law. Elections officials say it is already proving to be a nightmare for voters.
In a Democratic stronghold of Harris County which includes Houston, nearly 40 percent of mail-in ballots have been rejected for problems. Essentially every single one of them was September back because of the new ID requirement which asks voters to write a driver's license or partial Social Security number on the envelope that matches their voter registration.
OUTFRONT now, the Democratic judge from Harris County, Lina Hidalgo, who oversees the county, including the elections department.
So, Judge, I appreciate your time. What's going on here?
JUDGE LINA HIDALGO (D), HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: Well, we've been saying for a while that the new voter suppression laws in Texas are designed to do just that. And now we've got the receipts, sadly. So, we began seeing 40 percent of mail ballot applications, requests for mail ballots, being flagged for rejection. That's what you were getting at. You used to be able to request a mail ballot without submitting an ID your name, they check that you're registered. They send with it your address. Now if you submit your application, you put in your social security
number but you registered ten years ago with your driver's license, you get flagged for rejection. Let's say you make it past that stage, right? You actually get your mail ballot. Then you choose who you will vote for, you send it back.
Then you have to put an ID number again, this is again is new. We're having to reject 40 percent of mail ballots themselves, because folks are just not used to submitting an ID number. They don't see it. It's sort of hidden under the flap.
It's terrible. It's throwing sand into the gears of democracy.
BURNETT: So I can understand that frustration, getting people used to something new, even on its own, separate from whether you think it is appropriate or not. To that point, let me ask you, Judge. A Monmouth poll released last year around the same time that the Texas voting law passed, found that 80 percent of people support voter ID requirements and that includes a significant majority of Democrats, 62 percent.
So, it leads me to this question. What you're seeing is a problem. Is it better to educate people on the new rule versus to say, let's not bother with these forms of identification at all?
HIDALGO: It's where this is coming from. All of this is premised on the same idea that inspired people to storm the capitol on January 6th. That the election was stolen, that elections are rampant with fraud.
And that weakens the core of our democracy. There are ID laws in Texas, some of the most stringent ones, if not the most stringent ones in the state already to register. You know, you check when you show you. They check your ID. You can check your ID when you submit for the mail-in ballot application.
But this has several different levels of hoops based on nothing, because we still have stronger ID laws and it panders to this idea things are broken. And, remember, this is from Republicans in power who are antagonistic toward regulation at large. So they're sort of weaponizing bureaucracy to strip people of the right to vote.
It is the height of hypocrisy, but more than that, it's tragic because democracy depends on participation. But yes, we'll educate anyway, Erin. Of course, we'll educate. It is just that this is part of a bigger problem and it has to do with suppression and weakening democracy.
BURNETT: So it's interesting you're saying you're not against voter ID in some form. You just think adding the layers and layers is the challenge.
The people whose voter ballots have been rejected, their applications have been rejected, thus far, as you say, 40 percent of the total, how many of those do you think will end up following through here and getting ballots?
HIDALGO: We'll see. Ultimately, you know, we have the data from 2020, for example. Less than 1 percent of those mail ballots were ultimately rejected. So, I mean, jumping from 40 to less than 1 percent is going to be hard. I doubt that's all going to get cured.
You know, we'll try as much as we can. We'll explain to voters what they're missing but these are busy people, you know, working people, parents. It shouldn't be a tricky riddle to be able to vote and that's what this is about.
BURNETT: No, it shouldn't.
All right. Thank you very much, Judge Hidalgo. I appreciate your time tonight.
HIDALGO: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, Russia once again taking heat for doping. As one of its skaters, perhaps the best skater in the world, it seems, is cleared to skate tomorrow despite having a positive drug test. So, does this just clear the way for cheating?
And shelters in Ukraine, reminders everywhere about the past as a very present and near threat looms.
BURNETT: In just hours, Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva will be back on the ice for the first time since their positive doping tests come to light. The court of arbitration for sport clearing the 15- year-old skater to compete for the remainder of the Olympic Games. Now, this is happening on the heels of 2014 Russian doping scandal, when an independent report unveiled a systematic doping scheme that benefitted more than 1,000 athletes.
Now, to be clear, because of that, if you notice, the Russian athletes aren't even technically competing as the Russian Olympic team anymore.
OUTFRONT, Travis Tygart. He's chief executive officer for the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
And, Travis, not even competing as Russia, skate, competing, winning now renamed as the Russian Olympic Committee. That's the ROC people see on their screen if they're watching any of these events. I know you find this appalling.
TRAVIS TYGART, CEO, UNITED STATES ANTI-DOPING AGENCY: Yeah, I mean, it's farcical just hearing you describing it to have state sponsored doping being exposed going back all the way to 2014, actually even the games before that in London in 2012 and them still being able to compete and still tainting and hijacking the games by doping coming out of Russia. It's incredible that the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency has allowed this to happen. BURNETT: I mean, it's pretty stunning if you have a doping scandal
unveiled with 1,000 athletes involved and then you have one of your top athletes testing positive in any shape or form. Imagine that this is happening.
And yet, what you see, Travis, is the IOC, the International Olympic Committee itself not really taking a stand here. Just saying if she wins a medal, they're not going to have a ceremony until this case is closed. Obviously, that could take a significant amount of time.
How do you think the IOC is handling this?
TYGART: Well, they've handled it terribly. I mean, it's a horror show that we've seen repeat again. This is going on the 6 Olympic Games where Russia has hijacked those games and stolen the moments away from clean athletes.
And I look at it from two different perspectives. One, this individual athlete herself, she's 15 years old and she's going to have to compete under a dark cloud as being branded a doper and the rules have let her down where she's now being chewed up around the world. I think it's really important to have sympathy, withhold judgment on her and try to point any anger or frustration at the system that let her down and really failed all athletes.
And then the second perspective, I look at it as the clean athletes in the public who want to see competition played at the highest levels that have integrity and is not a rigged outcome and athletes from around the world are going to lose their opportunity to have their medal moment during the Winter Olympic Games when all eyes are on it and we simply can't replace that. Once again, here we are with the Russians taking that away from clean athletes.
BURNETT: It's terribly tragic this is happening to a 15-year-old. The American skater was like I physically cannot do those jumps one after another. Of course it raises questions about what enabled one to be able to do that.
I know the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, such that it is, Travis, is investigating, along with the World Anti-Doping Agency. But this is important context viewers may not know. We know that the Russian who exposed the original 2014 doping scandal is now in the witness protection program in America. Two of his colleagues died unexpectedly.
I mean, this is it. This is how it goes. Do you have any faith that either of these investigations will be fair?
TYGART: Well, Erin, not at all. I mean, it's insanity to think that either RUSADA or at this point the World Anti-Doping Agency that has fumbled this situation for the last going on eight years now could possibly be entrusted to handle this effectively. I think the die is cast as to how this is going to end, unless an independent organization or accountability is put in place to ensure those with an interest don't get to have their agendas and political hopes, you know, overweigh principle when it comes time to protecting clean athletes.
BURNETT: Yeah, it's tragic. It taints the entire -- it taints the sport, taints the Olympics, taints the joy that people should have.
Thank you very much. I appreciate your time, Travis.
TYGART: Thanks for having me.
BURNETT: And next, the past here in Ukraine is now very present, reminders that what happened decades ago could actually happen again.
BURNETT: I'm Lviv, Ukraine, and I want to show you a map of this city. What you're going to see is every one of the dots are shelters. They call them (INAUDIBLE) in Ukrainian. They're physical proof this city has dealt with war and occupation.
Some of the shelters are maintained. Former bomb shelters in places like schools or government buildings. But others are not. What stands out, though, is they are everywhere. I walked around to track down some of the shelters today. Many are unmarked and some appear to be now unknown.
We found one that looked like it was in a store. We went into the store. They told us to go through an alley and check there. We did and we found this sign, a dilapidated door with a sign warning anyone who entered not to ignite an open flame or there could be an explosion.
For all of us, it is a jarring feeling that in the midst of legitimate fears of modern cyberattacks, Putin is recreating troop buildups and triggering defenses that seem to be relics of a distant past.
But, tonight, well over 100,000 troops along the borders of this country, along with tanks and missiles, we're seeing n person the reality that the kind of war fought in Europe 80 years ago can happen again if we don't stop it.
Thanks so much for joining us.
"AC360" starts now.