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Erin Burnett Outfront

Ukraine Warns Russia Expanding War; U.S. Fears Escalation; CNN Uncovers Evidence Of Russian Forces Abducting Ukrainians; Satellite Images Purportedly Show Third Mass Grave In Mariupol; Atty. Gen Pressed On Sanctioning Putin's Rumored Girlfriend; WSJ: U.S. Spared Alina Kabaeva In Last-Minute Decision; Questions Grow About Why The U.S. Has Not Sanctioned Putin's Reputed Girlfriend; NYT: Audio Reveals McCarthy Worried About Some GOP Lawmakers Would Incite Violence After Jan 6; NASA Astronaut Was In Space With Russian Cosmonauts As War Began. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 26, 2022 - 19:00   ET


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Social media companies have to step up and police their contents a lot more than they do to prevent anti- Semitism from taking root, Wolf.


TODD: A lot has to be done here.

BLITZER: A lot has to be done. A very disturbing development, indeed. Brian Todd, thank you very, very much. And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, new fears that Putin's war is expanding, explosions rocking Ukraine's neighbor. And we're hearing grisly new details of Russian forces forcibly removing civilians from their homes, holding others against their will. They're bound and tortured. We have a special report ahead.

Plus, we'll take you inside the sprawling steel plant where Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are holed up, hold a city under a city. It stretches four square miles and it's built to be safe from a nuclear attack.

And I'll speak to NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei who just spent a record 355 days in space and that time was spent with Russian cosmonauts. So what was it like while Putin's war raged below? Let's go OUTFRONT?

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight the breaking news of Putin's next target. Tensions high tonight as Ukraine's President Zelenskyy accuses Russia of broadening the war striking the neighboring country of Moldova, explosions rocking Moldova for a second day, this time they took out a communications tower.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through interpreter): This is happening to destabilize the region and threatened Moldova. They are showing them that if Moldova supports Ukraine, this is what's going to happen.


BURNETT: Zelenskyy saying Putin is trying to strike fear into Moldovans, that their country is now in the line of fire and attack and fear of a war that could become much bigger also hitting Washington, where the U.S. defense official says U.S. forces have had several close encounters with drones on the Belarusian border, encounters that the United States 'considers a threat'. The Belarusian dictator is, of course, a key ally of Putin's, allowing Russian troops and missiles to launch from there.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, a fierce faceoff underway in the eastern part of the country, where today we have video of Ukrainian fighters firing off one rocket after the next. And then you see the smoke, we'll show you where those rockets landed. That's where Ukrainian say Russian forces are trying to advance the other way, deeper into Ukraine. According to Ukraine, Ukrainians have destroyed 13 Russian tanks in that area in the past 24 hours.

And it comes as new details of Putin's brutal abduction of civilians is coming to light in a CNN investigation, traveling to a town outside Kyiv where dozens were kidnapped, some packed into dark rooms, their hands bound, eyes taped, tortured for information. We're going to give you the details in our special report coming up and the brutalities of Putin's war are weighing heavily on the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley in the U.S. today warned if Putin is not stopped the entire international security order is at stake.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: If Russia gets away with this cost free, then so goes the so-called international order. And if that happens, then we're heading into an era of seriously increased instability.


BURNETT: Phil Black is OUTFRONT in Kyiv tonight. And Phil, what is the latest on the ground there?

PHIL BLACK, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, Ukrainian officials continue to report a really notable escalation in Russia's efforts across the south and the east, both in their bombardment of Ukrainian positions but also their efforts to drive forward and take territory.

Ukraine insists though that it is still repelling those attacks. Ukraine says that it is continuing to inflict heavy losses on Russian forces both through killing soldiers but also capturing them as well. And Russian soldiers are accused of trying to compensate for the large number of its troops now in Ukrainian custody by targeting, going after Ukrainian citizens. Take a look.


BLACK (voice over): War creates powerful connections between people.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Foreign language).


BLACK (voice over): Volodymyr Choprun and Nadia Yarova (ph) didn't know each other before the Russians came. Now he's brought her news that inspires pain and hurt. Volodymyr was recently freed from a military detention center in Russia. He says Nadia's grandson, Sasha (ph), was there too.

For weeks, Sasha's (ph) family didn't know if he was still alive. Seized and held by Russian soldiers in early March, they heard nothing about his safety after the invaders retreated. Versili (ph) and Helene Hyliyk know the same pain and uncertainty. Volodymyr has told them he knows their son Dmytro was recently alive in the same detention center in Russia. He says he heard Dmytro's name shouted every day during roll call.


There is comfort in that, but not enough to soothe a mother's anguish.

"I don't have hope anymore," Helena says. "I know they are beasts. They will kill them and no one will find them."

Ukrainian officials say dozens of people were abducted from around the town of Dima (ph), near Kyiv, during Russia's occupation, and most were initially held here in a sprawling industrial site. The Russian forces used as a command post.


BLACK (off camera): This is where they were kept.



BLACK (voice over): Ukrainian prosecutor Alexandre Zus (ph) shows me the conditions those captured people were forced to endure; a small, dark, cold room. People were packed together here, he says, hands bound, eyes taped.


ALEXANDRE ZUS, UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR: In this place were 22 people. When they're trying to get to the toilet, they need to walk on legs of somebody else, because there are too much people.


BLACK (voice over): He says people came and went, some spent weeks here. Someone tried to keep track of days by scratching marks on the wall. He says all the people who came through this room had only one thing in common, they were civilians. Several people who are kept here tell us they were frequently beaten and interrogated for local information. One man says his hands and fingers were cut to the bone by Russian soldiers because he couldn't help them.


BLACK (on camera): Does it make any sense to you that they did this?

ZUS: No sense. I don't know exactly what kind of information they could take from these people.


BLACK (voice over): This drone video catches the moment when Ukrainian forces attack the industrial site, driving out the Russians. A number of those who were still locked in the room at that time tell us that's when all remaining captives were able to escape.

But others including the Volodymyr Choprun had already been taken elsewhere, a long road trip via Belarus in the back of a military track ended in Russia where he was given this military identification document. It says he resisted the special operation conducted by the President of the Russian Federation.

In reality, he was detained while volunteering with the Red Cross helping people escape the fighting. The Ukrainian government has confirmed Volodymyr Zelenskyy was returned to Ukraine as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia. He believes that explains why Russian forces are abducted Ukrainian civilians.

He says they took us as goods that can be exchanged later like a mobile phone or another commodity. Here Volodymyr inspects a list of more than 40 names provided by the local government, a register of people from the area who are still missing. He says he recognizes most of the names from his time in the Russian detention center because he deliberately tried to remember as much as possible.

He says sooner or later, one of us had to be the first to be released and that's why we tried to remember the names of other people to let their relatives know they're alive.


BLACK (on camera): Erin, the Ukrainian government says there is around 1,000 civilians that are locked up in detention centers in Russia. In its words, it says they are - they have effectively been taken hostage. Those who have lived through that experience say Russia's motivations are pretty clear. They believe that they were abducted specifically to play the role of a currency to beef up Russia's negotiating power in its efforts to try and secure the release of its own captured soldiers, Erin. BURNETT: Thank you so much for that powerful report. Phil Black from


And I want to go now to retired Army Major General Paul Eaton, the former Commanding General of Coalition Military Assistance Training in Iraq and Steve Hall, former CIA chief of Russia operations.

So Steve, let's talk about why you hear Phil saying it's sort of a currency, for lack of a better word, that Putin is doing this to be able to get some of his own POWs back. These, of course, though are civilians, Ukrainian civilians. Why is he abducting civilians in this way?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, first of all, you have to dwell for a moment, Erin, on the point that you just made. These are not military people. This is not a POW type of situation where somebody's captured in a combat situation and then held and there's pretty strict guidelines with regard to POW treatment, but these are just civilians.

And I think the Russians are using these folks for a number of different reasons. One, of course, is what was mentioned in the report, which is they are sort of hostages in the sense that not unlike what North Korea oftentimes does. They capture people and, of course, the Russians do this too. There's a number of Americans that are still in jail in Moscow, but they capture people so they can exchange them later. They're some times of intelligence value to get information on local happenings.

They can be returned as assets. The Russians can try to blackmail them and to continue to cooperate with them once they've been returned to Ukraine.


All of this is not acceptable behavior for an army in the field and it's pretty amazing that they're, I suppose, it's not amazing. It's something that they do often, but it's obviously not something that's normal in the rules of law, rules of warfare.

BURNETT: Right. No, of course not. And Gen. Eaton, when it comes to what the United States can be doing right now, obviously there's a lot more military assistance going in, but you think that there's something glaring, I understand, that the U.S. should be doing right now that it is not what is that?

MAJ. GENERAL PAUL EATON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Erin, we need to transmit to the Russian army, to the Russian chain of command that the Black Sea is not their lake. They've got a lot of naval assets. We need to move NATO, naval assets under an integrated command to put them into the Black Sea, put them in visual, in radar distance from the Russian fleet.

We don't need to try to escalate this thing. We just need to establish the presence. Make President Putin understand that the Dead Sea is not his for freedom of navigation, is not his for freedom of action and to leave doubt in his mind that if cruise missiles start leaving the rails of these ships, that there's a possibility that there will be a response.

BURNETT: So Steve, this comes as the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin said in his words, it is hard to know if Russian forces were targeting himself and Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the weekend when they struck rail lines and they did it just a few hours after the two left Kyiv by rail. Do you think it's possible, Steve, that Russia did that on purpose?

HALL: Well, I certainly think it's not just possible, but in my view highly likely that they are - that the Russians are targeting rail lines and railway stations, primarily because it's clear that the Russians are completely flummoxed at the idea - the amount of weaponry and reinforcement and munitions that are coming in to Ukraine to support the Ukrainian army in their fight against the Russians.

So it's no surprise really, that the Russians want to try to cut off those lines inside of Ukraine, so it makes it harder for the Ukrainians to get that ammunition and those weapons provided by the West to the front lines.

With regard to senior American leadership or Western leadership, I think if they manage to hit and kill some senior leaders in the West, I think that would just be the cherry on top for Putin and for Russians. They would say, well, look, they were in a war zone and you guys are the ones who are responsible for helping Ukrainians fight this war, which you shouldn't be doing. So you're going to lose people too.

As to whether or not they're actually targeting senior leadership in the United States, I'm not sure about that, but they certainly wouldn't be averse to having it happen.

BURNETT: So Gen. Eaton, the U.S. is saying that the drone action on the Belarusian-Polish border is a clear threat as well. When you look at that, you look at Moldova, do you think the conflict right now where it is, is at great risk of a sort of meteoric expansion or do you think that that risk has diminished?

EATON: Erin, I believe the risk is increasing radically that what we're seeing in Moldova, Transnistria is this opportunity false flag pretext establishment to bring military action into that region. The forces that may be brought to bear would have to come through some of the most important economic terrain that Ukraine has, that Odessa is the jewel in the crown here. Now, it's very much a escalating risk right now at the hands of Mr. Putin.

BURNETT: Thank you both very much for this conversation.

EATON: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, inside the sprawling steel plant in Mariupol, where thousands of Ukrainians are holed up, it's called a city under a city because it is full of tunnels and pipes and bunkers that were built to withstand a nuclear attack, in a sense, a city underneath that plant. So we're going to show you, we have an OUTFRONT special report.

Plus the Attorney General pressed tonight about sanctions against Putin's rumored girlfriend, mother of children of his, why won't the U.S. target her? We're learning new details tonight about Alina Kabaeva.

And breaking news, new tapes of Kevin McCarthy asking why Twitter wouldn't shut down the accounts of fellow Republicans, something McCarthy denies he ever said.



BURNETT: Tonight, a third mass grave site has been located near the besieged city of Mariupol. New satellite images purportedly show the freshly dug site. Mariupol's mayor today saying Russian soldiers are forcing Ukrainians to bury bodies there in exchange for food.

It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin today accuses Russian forces of 'hiding behind the civilians' and refusing to let them leave Mariupol. Putin also saying he has ordered his forces to stop assault operations at the Azovstal steel plant there. After 62 days of fighting, the 90-year-old plant is the last pocket of organized resistance to Russian occupation in Mariupol. An estimated 2,000 troops and 1,000 civilians are said to be sheltering in nuclear bunkers underneath the structure. Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT with a rare look inside.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's all that stands in Vladimir Putin's away from fully conquering Mariupol, a key prize for the Russians. Sprawling Azovstal steel plant operating on this site for nearly a century, covering four square miles, 10 square kilometers right on the Sea of Azov.

It's a towering complex that normally employs 10,000 people with a maze of tunnels, pipes and shelters built to withstand a nuclear blast all below ground and so vast that a pro Russian commentator called it a city below a city. It is now a fortress for Ukrainian fighters and the civilians they're defending.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as we know, about 1,000 civilians still at the shelters, at the plant.


MARQUARDT (voice over): Since the Russians launched their assault on the city in early March, the news has tightened. This informational video from before the war shows how difficult a close quarters fight would be in this huge plant full of manufacturing facilities, offices and operations rooms. Putin has ordered his military to abandon plans to take the facility,

instead telling his Defense Minister to seal it off so tightly, he said, that a fly cannot pass through.



KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE NEGOTIATIONS: This is a statement of convenience by President Putin. His forces were unable to really go in and take the steel plant, to take all of Mariupol without suffering even worse casualties and even more damage to the force.


MARQUARDT (voice over): Ukrainian forces inside have said there are hundreds of wounded soldiers and civilians. They have pleaded with the international community to find them a way out sheltering below ground with no natural light and little news.

"The children here are crying all the time. They want to play. They want to live," this woman said. "They haven't even seen daylight for weeks." She said supplies are running low. The CEO of the company that owns the plant said that the underground shelters which can hold 4,000 people had been stocked with two to three weeks of food and water, but the war started two months ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be honest, I'm surprised they still have food and water there in the shelters and we couldn't get any help into Mariupol because the Russians did not allow us to do this humanitarian convoys into the city.


MARQUARDT (voice over): The prospect of holding the plant and Mariupol look grim. Controlling it means Putin would control land stretching all the way from Crimea to western Russia, a long held goal.


VOLKER: Even if Mariupol falls and these poor people are killed and transported away, it doesn't mean that Russia will hold it. The Ukrainians are getting better and better organized better and better equipped, and they are going to continue fighting.



MARQUARDT (on camera): Now, today Mariupol's mayor called the situation at that plant a humanitarian catastrophe, accused the Russian military of again continuing to shell the factory. He also praised it, Erin, as a fortress for those soldiers and those civilians inside.

Now, over in Moscow, the United Nations Secretary General visited, he met with President Putin. He said that Putin agreed in principle for the U.N. and Red Cross to help coordinate an evacuation from that steel factory. Of course, Erin, we have seen countless past agreements from the Russians about evacuations fall apart, Erin.

BURNETT: Yes. Which is horrible to imagine not letting a fly in, no food, no water, how the people could starve to death. Thank you very much, Alex.

And next, growing questions for the Biden administration about why they have not sanctioned Putin's rumored girlfriend. This as we're learning more about her life dramatically changed after meeting the Russian president.

Plus, new tapes that Kevin McCarthy didn't want anybody to hear when he asked about censuring his own party on Twitter.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Can't they take their Twitter accounts away, too?




BURNETT: Tonight, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland pressed about possible sanctions against Putin's rumored girlfriend, Alina Kabaeva. The Wall Street Journal reporting the Biden administration had sanctions all ready to go against Kabaeva, but pulled them at the last minute. This as we're learning more about Kabaeva and her relationship with Putin. Nic Robertson is OUTFRONT.



ALINA KABAEVA: (Foreign language).


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): Alina Kabaeva back in the news again, first romantically linked to President Putin more than a decade ago. A relationship he has denied ever since. They met years earlier, reportedly when she was a young medal winning gymnast, he looks smitten.

Last week stepping out at a Moscow gymnastics event, rallying the nation as it slips to international isolation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KABAEVA (through interpreter): These competitions will be held only

in Russia and on the contrary the gymnastics will be better and more spectacular and the Russian gymnastics is not losing anything in this situation.


ROBERTSON (voice over): Her life transformed much richer, U.S. officials say according to the Wall Street Journal, following her purported proximity to Putin. Questions now why hasn't she been sanctioned like them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why you would refrain from sanctioning someone arguably close to Putin?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't have enough at this point, because we're still reviewing. There's more we will likely do.


ROBERTSON (voice over): The two rarely, if ever, seen together. Their precise relationship, if any unclear, but more than a decade of rumors undimmed with time.

Now, against the backdrop of wartime symbolism, calling on the country to support Putin's war.


KABAEVA (through interpreter): Every family has a history of war and we shouldn't forget about it. We should hand it over from generation to generation.


ROBERTSON (voice over): Her wealth and ties to Putin, a hot political topic, since the Wall Street Journal wrote Treasury officials decided last minute not to sanction her.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): There's articles in the paper about family members that have been used by Putin to sort of launder money and talk of a girlfriend in Sweden. Do you know anything about an effort to bring sanctions against her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First answer is no and the second answer, I guess, is if I did know I wouldn't be able to (inaudible) ...

GRAHAM: Okay, fair enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Treasury Department.


ROBERTSON (voice over): Whatever Kabaeva's proximity to Putin, her financial moves, never more closely watched than now.


ROBERTSON (on camera): So the question is if they could have sanctioned her, why not? Was it fear because Putin hates the sanctions on him, hates the sanctions on other top officials and would really lose it if someone dear to him or she appears potentially to be was sanctioned? Is that the reason or is it because in diplomacy, you often leave something on the table that the other side knows you can take away. He knows that it's hanging over his head, potentially.

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

And I want to go now to Andrei Soldatov, Russian investigative journalist, founder and editor of, a watchdog of the Russian secret services activities that he's now been blocked in Russia.


So, Andrei, there are now these calls to sanction Putin's rumored girlfriend, rumored to be the mother of multiple children with Putin, Alina Kabaeva. "The Wall Street Journal" said that the Biden administration has the sanctions ready to go, but somebody pulled them at the last minute.

Why do you believe she should be targeted?

ANDREI SOLDATOV, FOUNDER AND EDITOR OF AGENTURA.RU: Well, I think because she is not only his rumored wife, but also because she is an important part of the Russian propaganda machine. Putin made her several years ago, a chairman of the largest, biggest media holding in the country. And this company controls several Russian TV channels, including the first channel which is a source of news for most of Russians these days.

So, if now, we are asking ourselves all these questions, about brainwashing Russians and why they do not understand what is going on in Ukraine, it's also partly because of the works of his company.

BURNETT: It's pretty amazing, as you say, you know, however, she got such a position to go from being an Olympic gymnast, to the chairwoman of the largest media organization in Russia, is absurd on its face. But because it happened, she's in that role, right? It's an important role. It's a role that central to this. So, certainly from just that, I understand your point. It would deserve to be sanctioned.

But "The Wall Street Journal" reports, Andrei, that U.S. officials fear that sanctioning her would be so deeply personal to Putin that it would escalate tensions and be punitive for its own sake because of that. Do you think there's any merit in that argument? SOLDATOV: Yes, maybe, because at least, we know for a fact that Putin

can be extremely emotional. That somebody saying -- writing anything about his relationship with Kabaeva, at least one newspaper was closed down only because they published a story about the wedding of Vladimir Putin and Alina Kabaeva, many years ago, and we know that Putin is always emotional about these things.


SOLDATOV: So, yes, that would trigger his emotional reaction.

BURNETT: So, I want to ask you about some more reporting that you have ahead tonight, Andrei, when you say there's -- your word -- a vicious blame game within Putin security forces right now, that you've been getting more calls than usual from your contacts in the Russian military over the past few days.

What are they telling you?

SOLDATOV: They are telling me that they are extremely unhappy with the FSB, the Russian security services. They believe they are still misinformed about Vladimir Putin. And they partly blamed the FSB for Putin's decision to change the military strategy in Ukraine.

It looks like the military now, they want an all out war in Ukraine. They believe that they still have a peacetime army faced with a completely mobilized Ukrainian army, the best weapons provided by the West. They want more drastic actions. They want more bombardments and more things to do in Ukraine, the national infrastructure of the country.

BURNETT: So, they want an all-out war and feel that is being denied them by Putin right now, that's the bottom line?


BURNETT: Wow. All right. Andrei, thank you very much. I appreciate your time and your sharing your reporting with us.

SOLDATOV: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And, next, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy worried that his own party would incite violence against other lawmakers after January 6th, his own party. And he is naming names. Among them, Matt Gaetz.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): He's putting people in jeopardy. He doesn't need to be doing this.


BURNETT: Plus, my next guest spent nearly a year in space, often side by side with Russians. Why he is convinced -- yellow and blue space suits actually had nothing to do with protesting Putin's invasion of Ukraine. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BURNETT: Breaking news: new leaked audio of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, slamming members of his own party, after January 6th. There is McCarthy taking about Matt Gaetz and Mo Brooks, an audio obtained by "The New York Times" Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin for their new book.


MCCARTHY: So, I'm calling Gaetz and explaining to him. I don't know what I'm going to say but I'm going to have some other people call him too. But the nature of what -- if I am getting a briefing, I'm going to get another one from the FBI tomorrow -- this is serious shit, to cut this out.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): Yeah, that's, I mean, it's potentially illegal when he's doing.

MCCARTHY: Well, he's putting people in jeopardy.

AIDE: Brooks apparently said, "Today's the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," which I would say is even a step further than the kind of rhetorical take you know.

MCCARTHY: If you think the president deserves to be impeached for his comments, that's almost something that goes further than what the president said.


BURNETT: It's all on tape, to hear that conversation.

Ryan Nobles is OUTFRONT.

Ryan, it is pretty amazing to listen to this, to these conversations, right, which are -- obviously -- what they really believed and really felt, and obviously, are completely different than what they now say they said.

So, what else are we learning about what McCarthy said?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that point you make a so important, Erin, because for the better part of the period of time after January 6th, up until now, Leader Kevin McCarthy has gone out of his way to defend many of these members of the far-right wing of his party, who defended the former president, who tried to make excuses for what happened here on January six.

But here, in the private moments, you hear him talking about how he felt in those days after it. Take a listen to a little bit more about what McCarthy had to say in these tapes.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) MCCARTHY: Louie said like, we need to fight or something, right? Didn't he say something a couple of days out that was horrendous?

SCALISE: There was something like that, yes. It was incendiary.

AIDE: Moore also made this tweet on Saturday night. As the U.S. Capitol police officer who shot and killed a woman as she tried to get into the lobby. So he tweeted at Marjorie Greene and NARAL, I understand it was a Black police officer who shot the white female veteran, you know that doesn't fit a narrative.




AIDE: This is what we're -- we have to confront with this.

MCCARTHY: Can't they take their Twitter accounts away too?


NOBLES: So, that's an important part right there, him suggesting that some of these members of his caucus had their Twitter accounts being taken away. Maybe he was saying it in a sarcastic way. But nonetheless, it has the impact of showing just how serious he thought the situation was.

And I actually caught up with Adam Kinzinger, he is a Republican. Obviously, he has been a critic of leader McCarthy. Asked him about the audio, he said he didn't want to comment on the audio specifically but, when he did say is that he -- this shows it it's clear that Kevin McCarthy knew just how big of a problem this was, and he basically didn't do anything about it -- Erin.

BURNETT: He clearly thought it was a problem. He obviously had genuine feelings, as well as those of Representative Scalise as well.

I know you also, Ryan, just spoke to a top Trump ally in Congress, Scott Perry, after newly-revealed text messages showed how far he was willing to go to overturn the election, to help Trump do that. So, what do the text messages say? What does he say, from your reporting?

NOBLES: Yeah, that's right, Erin. What these text messages reveal is just how deeply involved Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania was in the efforts to overturn the election after election day, leading up to January 6. He was reaching out to Mark Meadows, then chief of staff at that time, encouraging the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, to look into these conspiracies theories about voting machines, and the Dominion Voting Company, suggesting that the Chinese or even the British, perhaps, could be involved in hacking these machines.

Now, we reached out to Perry's office multiple times, asking him to explain what he meant in these text messages, to talk about whether or not he had specific evidence of voting machines being hacked and why he wanted for the most powerful parts of the federal government to be involved in this investigation.

He didn't respond to those requests. So, I caught up with him outside the Capitol today. And this is what happened.


NOBLES: Can you give any comment on the revelation of your text messages to Mr. Meadows?


NOBLES: Why not, sir? Can you explain why you are attempting to support about the voting machines, sir? Do you have specific evidence of that?


NOBLES: And, Erin, it's important to point out that Scott Perry is getting more power here in Congress. He is now the chair of the Conservative Freedom Caucus, which as we know, carries a lot of weight within the Republican Party, here in Washington -- Erin.

BURNETT: Thanks very much, Ryan.

And next, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei worked alongside Russian cosmonauts in space while Putin waged war in Ukraine. And did that impact their mission? You will be fascinated by his thoughts.

And Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn caught with a gun at an airport, again.



BURNETT: Tonight, 355 days in space. That is the longest that any American has ever been in space. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei breaking the record. He's now back on Earth.

And he received this call from Vice President Kamala Harris.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to tell you, but I hope you know and feel, our nation -- our planet is so thankful to you for your years of dedicated service, certainly to our country, and to your dedication to such excellence, and welcome home, welcome home.


BURNETT: And OUTFRONT now, the record-setting NASA astronaut, Mark Vande Hei.

Mark, I really appreciate your time.

It is stunning to consider what you did and how you, you endured it. I mean, what was it like to sacrifice a full year of your life for this obviously very important mission?

MARK VANDE HEI, NASA ASTRONAUT: Oh, I feel like it was -- it was part of my job, frankly. I felt certainly honored that I was entrusted with such an important time in space, but I felt like I really had a lot of gratitude for the opportunity to be up there and have the opportunity to contribute as we continue everyday to break new ground with science.

BURNETT: What do you think the greatest accomplishment was from being up there?

VANDE HEI: Gosh, greatest accomplishment. Just one single thing, that's hard to do. It's hard to describe when there's 60 to 100 experiments going on at any given time.

So, if I'm going to highlight one experiment of many just -- just to try to make that seem a little more real, one I like to talk about is celestial immunity. It was an experiment that involved us taking some human cells that were donated from elderly people and younger folks as well, and inoculating them and seeing how the immune system response changed.

So my hope for that is that helps us with that type of knowledge, is that it helps future space explorers maintain their health as they travel further and further away from the planet someday.

BURNETT: Right, right. I know, obviously, the goal, you know, next to Mars, you've talked about that.

You know, in your time up there, you know, your -- it's such tight quarters with people. I always find it incredible to even imagine it. I know it's unimaginable for those of us who've never done it.

But, you know, you spent a lot of time with individuals and some of them, of course, are Russians. There's always Russians and Americans up there.

And I wanted to ask you about something that your colleague, the retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly just said. He obviously had the record of being up in space until you broke it and he is saying that Russia is brainwashing the cosmonauts into supporting Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

And he just spoke to "Newsweek," I don't know if you saw this. But said he'd been speaking to a lot of his Russian counterparts and here's what he said.

He said, quote: Most of them are really far down the rabbit hole. So that part surprised me. How easily some of them were misled and brainwashed, I guess you could say, and don't believe what is really happening. He did, though, caveat it, Mark, saying some of the cosmonauts are

like, this is all an F-ing travesty and ridiculous and I wish I could leave this country.


I know you became incredibly close with the Russian cosmonauts that you were working with. You consider them very dear friends. Did you experience what Kelly is talking about?

VANDE HEI: I certainly experienced the fact that human beings form opinions based on the inputs they receive and what they tend to focus on. So I think the whole politics of the United States as well, but really we -- most of my interactions with crewmates, even though I was curious about their perspectives, we primarily focused on what our space-related tasks were and cooperated without fail.

BURNETT: So, you and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov had a touching embrace during the change of command ceremony. You both we're getting ready to depart the ISS and you have this moment. And he spoke at that moment about the Ukraine war and the tension between Russia and the United States.

Here's what he said.


ANTON SHKAPLEROV, RUSSIAN COSMONAUT: People have problem on Earth. On orbit, we are like, we are not like -- we are one crew. And I think ISS is like a symbol of the friendship and cooperations and -- like symbol of future of exploration of space. And thank you very much, my crew members. We are like my space brothers and space sister.


BURNETT: And obviously, you all work together. But, you know, I guess you kind of referenced this, Mark, but, I mean, you're doing it as a war is waging below you on Earth, you're actually seeing it from a perspective of the fragility of the entire planet. You're looking down, it looks beautiful, but you know innocent people are dying there.

What was that like?

VANDE HEI: Oh, gosh, it gets me choked up just thinking about it. It's -- I mean, the world is so beautiful and it's awe-inspiring to look down at the Earth, but it's also extremely sad to recognize that there's a lot of suffering that's happening, and personally, I think it's a very, very avoidable suffering.

At the same time, I felt a strong sense of honor that I was able to participate in a program that I think helps provide a path to having the peace we so desperately need in the future because those paths always require some conversations between people who trust each other. And I think that's what the space program is providing and, hopefully, will continue to provide no matter what type of international conflicts we run into.

BURNETT: So, everyone watching this conversation remembers that surprising image and it was talked about all around the world when the latest group of Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station, the war had already begun and they were wearing these incredibly bright, yellow and blue flight suits.

And everybody thought that it -- there's no way this could be a coincidence because these are the colors of the Ukrainian flag, and you got the Russian cosmonauts in this war going up there. But you say they were blindsided by this controversy.

Can you tell me what they told you, what you learned about that?

VANDE HEI: Oh, I learned that those happened -- so all three of those cosmonauts went to the same university in Moscow and those were the colors of that university.

Now, I also know, having picked out a flight suit in the past, we get the -- there's part of the process before launch is the Russians give us the opportunity to pick out clothing. And in some cases, you get to pick out something that's -- we've had some, a crew member from Maryland, for example, had colors of the state flag of Maryland across his chest and had, you know, just all different kind of crazy-looking flight suit. I typically just have a U.S. flag and blue flight suit, I didn't get that fancy with it.

So my first reaction to seeing them wearing these bright color flight suits is wow, that was a bold move, not because of it having any association with Ukraine but just such a bright, flamboyant color. So I thought that was shocking.

Anton actually whispered into their ear, into Oleg's ear, saying, did you intend for this to be Ukrainian colors? And I remember Oleg kind of had a startled look on his face, and that's why I was comfortable saying that they were blindsided because of that nonverbal and knowing that they went to the same university.


They chose to wear the same color flight suit and I'm sure that was because of the commonality in where they went to school.

Also, it's -- there's a lot of bureaucracy in figuring out the clothing that you wear before you go to space. So you pick that stuff out months in advance, it has to get constructed, and as, you know, that timeline with the Ukrainian invasion was not too much before they arrived. So --

BURNETT: Yeah, no. I --

VANDE HEI: -- they didn't have anything to protest when they picked it out.

BURNETT: Yeah. Well, that's a really important, important point to make. All right. Well, Mark, I really appreciate your time. Thank you so


VANDE HEI: Thanks. Great talking to you.

BURNETT: And next, a Republican congressman already on thin ice within his party caught with a loaded gun -- a loaded gun at an airport.


BURNETT: Tonight, Republican Congresswoman Madison Cawthorn caught with this loaded gun at the airport in Charlotte today, a loaded gun. It follows an incident in February 2021 where he was caught with a gun. That one unloaded in his carry-on bag.

His legal troubles don't even end here. He's due to appear in court next month on misdemeanor charges of driving with a revoked license. It is the latest to the string of controversial incidents for Cawthorn. He alleged in an interview that members of Congress have invited him to orgies and used cocaine in front of him -- something he later walked back.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.