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Erin Burnett Outfront

Putin May be On Verge of Mass Troop Mobilization as He Calls for Increase In "Weapons of Destruction As Soon As Possible"; Special Master Trump Sought Questions Trump's Lack of Proof on Declassification: "You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It Too"; Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against DeSantis Over Migrant Flights; Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) is Interviewed on DeSantis' Migrant Relocation Program; U.S. Border Encounters Top 2M as Human Smugglers, Not Multi- National Criminal Enterprises, Seize on Migrants' Desperation; Hurricane Fiona Now Expected to Intensify to Category 4 by Tomorrow. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next: Putin appearing on the verge of mass troop mobilization as he pleads for weapons of destruction. This as Russia awaits a major speech by Putin to the entire nation.

Plus, Trump rebuked by the special master that he requested. The judge tonight calling Trump's bluff.

And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tonight facing a class-action lawsuit after sending nearly 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Putin taking the war to a whole new level. The Russian president tonight setting the stage for mass troop mobilization and calling for the delivery of, quote, weapons of destruction. Putin appearing today at a meeting with military industry leaders as his lower house of parliament, with absolutely no warning, approved a new bill cracking down on soldiers who refused to fight.

This bill says soldiers who refused to serve or resist orders could face up to 15 years in prison. And this move is causing a widespread expectation that Putin may even in the next few hours announce a form of a draft. In fact, there was an expectation he could appear today for national address just as he did right before his mass invasion of Ukraine.

And our Matthew Chance reports tonight that this widely expected national address from Putin is now expected to happen tomorrow morning Russia time, which means overnight here in the U.S. It is an address that could up the ante and change the stakes in this horrific war.

The fears of escalation already sending Russia's stock market plunging today in its worst drop since the start of the invasion. And if Putin is going to start a draft and mass mobilization, he is looking for a bigger, broader conflict. And today, the Kremlin showed exactly how Putin can get that, announcing here's what they say, four Ukrainian areas that are occupied by Putin's puppets will soon hold so-called referendums on joining Russia.

And once they are Russian territory, then any Ukrainian counteroffensive in those areas can be formally called a war. As the vice chairman of Putin's security council Dmitri Medvedev, said today, quote, encroaching on the territory of Russia is a crime, the commission of which allows you to use all the forces of self-defense.

It all adds up to a major escalation. And it has the world on alert.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: None of this, a sham referenda, the potential mobilization of additional forces is a sign of strength. On the contrary, it's a sign of weakness. It's a sign of Russian failure.


BURNETT: Failure that tonight could cause what even Putin admits is a full-on war, because, shockingly, he hasn't actually formally declared war yet. That declaration is what would allow for a draft for mass mobilization and a conflict that could head into unprecedented and terrifying territory, territory define clearly on Russian television overnight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): What made him think we would conduct a nuclear strike against Ukraine? Why would w bomb Ukraine or Germany where there is Britain -- the root of evil?

OLGA SKABEEVA, STATE TV HOST (translated): We should done it today, all the best people are there for the funeral.


BURNETT: And a nuclear on Britain, and saying they should have done it during the queen's funeral because they could have gotten everybody at once.

Mass mobilization, weapons of destruction and fake referendums, the casual threat of nuclear war, that is where we stand tonight, as Ben Wedeman begins our coverage OUTFRONT live in Kharkiv.

And, Ben, what is the feeling like on the ground amid this push, annex Ukrainian territory into Russia, to say that it's Russians even as the Ukrainians have had such incredible success in their counteroffensive?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, there is uneasiness at this moment. In fact, just before this live shot, we heard six or seven large explosions here in Kharkiv as the air raid siren was wailing. Now, people are nervous. Certainly, there is a fair amount of elation

after the dramatic Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region that allowed them to regain thousands of square miles. But when we were, for instance, in Izyum the other day, that's the down that was liberated about 10 days ago from the Russians, that's the site of the mass burial site where it's believed people who've died from torture and other atrocities are buried. People in that town told us that as soon as they can, they're going to leave because they're afraid that the Russians are coming back.


And, in fact, we've been in contact with various military units in the area, and many of them are digging in. They are digging in defensive positions in the anticipation that perhaps in the not-too-distant future, perhaps the immediate future, the Russians will strike back. And certainly, this air raid or missile strike that we saw just a few minutes ago would indicate that the Russians are not about to somehow tone down the conflict, that perhaps quite the opposite, Erin.

BURNETT: Ben Wedeman, thank you very much, from Kharkiv tonight.

I want to go now to Matthew Chance, our senior national correspondent who has covered this war extensively inside Ukraine and Moscow; along with Seth Jones, the director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Matthew, let me begin with you and your reporting. This possible national address from Putin obviously would be hugely significant. We remember when we did this on the eve of the war before his mass invasion. But there had been expectation that he may do it today.

Now, you're reporting it could happen in these next few hours. What do you think is more significant, the delay or the fact that it's happening? And do you have any sense of what he'll say?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's difficult, to be honest, Erin, to talk about a delay because the Kremlin never announced that there was going to be a statement in the first place. This was all just sort of speculation, rumor amongst the sort of Kremlin press corps. And there's a lot of expectation he was going to come out and make a policy statement. But he hasn't done that.

Now, the rumor is going to be in a few hours from now, in the morning local time in Russia. We don't know what the subject is going to be, but the expectation is that it's going to be about the possibility of a mass mobilization. Or it could be about the forthcoming referenda in these regions of Ukraine that Russia is currently occupying.

In terms of timing, look, my experience of Vladimir Putin is that he speaks when he's ready to speak. And he's not sort of bound by kind of our time frames inconveniently. So I think that's going to be the same -- when he's ready to come out and say what he's going to say, we're going to hear him say it, Erin. BURNETT: General Hertling, what do you -- what do you -- how do you

connect these dots? Possible referendums making Ukrainian territory, quote/unquote, Russian, having martial law pass the Duma, mass mobilization now on the table perhaps imminently -- how do you put it all together, General?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, what I'd say, Erin, is Putin is backed into a corner. He has failed in each one of the first three phases of this operation. He failed miserably in phase one. He had to readjust to phase two. He failed in the Donbas. He's seen failure in phase three.

Ukraine is conducting very good offensive operation, and really basically beating the Russian military. So he is backed into a corner.

You know, there have been a lot of discussions about what can he do next. Mobilization has been the key. But what we're talking about here in terms of mobilization is a group of reservists, who are untrained between the ages of 18 and 60, who received their training probably years or even decades ago and who don't have uniforms, equipment, or the capability to conduct operations being thrown into the fight.

You mix that along with the referendums in Kherson, in Zaporizhzhia, in Duhansk (ph) -- I'm sorry, Donetsk and Luhansk. And you're talking about Russia saying you attack any of those provinces as the world sees as Ukrainian territory, and you're attacking Mother Russia? It doesn't make sense.

He is on his last legs and he's throwing out some things to try and get his population on his side. I just don't think it's going to work on the world stage.

BURNETT: So -- and that of course leads us to what he may do if it doesn't succeed, Seth. But first, I want you to show us what the situation is on the ground. You just heard Ben's reporting that there have been sirens again in Kharkiv, right, which had had the successful counteroffensive by the Ukrainians. What are you seeing on the ground from the latest intelligence that you have? And how does that play into what seems to be Putin's plan now to significantly escalate the war as he sees it?

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, Erin, I think, as we've just heard, the reason that Vladimir Putin is escalating the political situation and we're seeing also attempts to annex parts of Ukrainian territories, because his forces are badly losing. The maps that we've produced, for example, of the disposition of both Ukrainian and Russian forces show Ukrainian advances, units, for example, like the Ukrainian Tenth Mountain Brigade, Ukrainian Special Operations Forces, and 115th Mechanized Brigade that have pushed forward to areas east of the Oskil River and continue to effectively combine armed operations against Russian forces that have been pushed on the run.


And even, Erin, down south in areas like Kherson where the Ukrainians haven't taken as much territory. Up in Kharkiv, they've taken territory nearly the size of Connecticut, my home state, just over 3,500 square miles. But even down south in Kherson where folks can see the map here, what we're see is effective use of assassinations and sabotage against Russian-appointed Ukrainian individuals in towns. The HIMARS are striking targets deep inside of Russian territory.

And British defense intelligence recently announced that Russian kilo- class submarines have had to move out of Crimea and into Russia because of the threat from long-range fire. So the Russian forces are in trouble.

BURNETT: They are in serious trouble, which leads us to the situation we're in.

And, Matthew, amidst all of that, part of what I just played, which was part of a much longer clip in which Russian politician goes on state television and says, why would we nuclear bomb Ukraine? That would hurt us. We'll go further than that. We'll go for the UK, for Britain.

And then the host of the television show says, well, Russia should've launched a nuclear attack during the queen's funeral because you could have gotten everybody you wanted at the same time. That's the kind of stuff being said right now on Russian television, Matthew.

CHANCE: It's terrifying, isn't it, if it weren't so sort of comical that the Russians are banding around these threats of a nuclear holocaust like they could survive it in some way and that the only people that would be hit would be other people. Even considering what the consequences would be for Russia.

I don't think serious military planners have taken those nuclear threats seriously up until now. But the problem we've got is that if and when Russia does absorb these occupied territories into the motherland, according to its own law, you k now, the Kremlin may be thinking, look, that may change the calculus of the Ukraine in its Western backers because it will be in the eyes of their legal system, an attack on mother Russia, an attack on the motherland. And that might be something that would give the West, give the Ukrainians some pause for thought.

It would also create some wiggle room internally domestically as well because, at the moment, Russia has a manpower shortage. It can't send its conscripts overseas by Russian law to fight in a war. We've known some instances doing that. But he can send them to defend the motherland. And if these territories are part of Russia, then that qualifies.

BURNETT: General Hertling, what would you look for if you wanted any kind of a warning that they were planning any sort of an escalation or a movement on the nuclear front? I supposed, obviously, tactically perhaps.

HERTLING: Yeah, I'm talking from a tactics perspective. I'm watching Kherson province or Kherson oblast very closely. The attention's been drawn away from that with the operation in Kharkiv and the continuing operation in the Donbas. But if you throw that map up again that Seth was talking about, about Kherson province, you're talking about a massive-sized Russian force to the west of the Dnipro River.

And I'm talking anywhere and I don't know because I'm not getting intelligence, but I would estimate it's between 5,000 and 15,000 Russian forces that could be trapped to the west of that Russian -- the west of that river.


HERTLING: So if Ukraine is able to bag that force, and you have 5,000 to 15,000 prisoners of war in a province or an oblast is Russia is now claiming part of Russian territory, it could certainly up the ante. This is -- we're into a very tense phase of this operation right now, Erin.

BURNETT: We certainly are. And, as I said, you saw it just by the simple one example I gave, the worst day for stocks in Russia, the way they see it there since the invasion began. It is a crucial moment. Thank you all very much.

And next, Trump's own choice for special master questioning the very heart of Trump's legal argument.

Plus, suing DeSantis. The migrants sent to Martha's Vineyard filing lawsuit against the Florida governor. Did DeSantis break the law?

And Hurricane Fiona now intensifying to a category 3 storm.



BURNETT: Tonight, Trump handed a loss by the special master that he put forward for the job. And it's a pretty significant loss because Judge Dearie is calling Trump's bluff by questioning the very heart of his argument in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. Trump has, for weeks, again and again any time he spoke publicly said that he declassified the more than 100 documents seized in the FBI search. But there's never been any evidence or anyone who has come to verify that.

And the special master is now saying that unless he receives any evidence to back up that claim that Trump is publicly making, he will consider all of the information marked classified to be classified.

Evan Perez is OUTFRONT.

So, Evan, what more can you tell us about today's hearing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the skepticism that you heard from Judge Dearie is a result of the fact that in multiple times that Trump's lawyers have had the opportunity, they've declined to say that the documents are actually declassified as the former president has been saying in social media in those interviews.

He pointed out that the fact that right now, all he has to go on is the fact that the government says and the documents that he's looking at will have classified markings on them. And if the Trump team doesn't have anything to counter that, then he's going to have to go with that. He says, quote: I guess my view of it is you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

And significant enough today, Erin, that in addition to this hearing that happened in Brooklyn before this judge who is acting as a special master to review all of these documents, there was a separate filing by the Trump team in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. In that court filing, they, again, avoid the issue of declassification.


As a matter of fact, they raised the question, they say that the Justice Department is assuming without either side presenting any proof that the documents are in fact classified. But they don't say that Trump actually declassified the documents. There you have two different courts both times, the Trump team declines to make the argument that the former president has been making -- Erin.

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

So, Norm Eisen is with me. He was counsel to House Democrats during Trump's impeachment trial and the White House ethics czar for former President Obama. And Stephanie Grisham is with me, the former Trump White House press secretary.

So, thanks to you both.

So, Norm, from a legal perspective, the judge says you can't have your cake and eat it, too. But basically, Trump is out there saying publicly, I declassified everything. And his lawyers are refusing with all the penalties that it would entail to make such an argument in an actual filing. So, you have these documents marked classified. And the judge is saying, well, what do you want me to do? Give me evidence they're not, or else they are.

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, as the Department of Justice has pointed out, Erin, there is no indication that Trump actually ever declassified document -- these documents. And there's a lot of suggestions, in fact, including the markings, the lack of legal process. I worked on this when I was in the White House, that they're not declassified.

The reason those lawyers have never said in a court filing that the documents were declassified is because they would be subject to penalties themselves, ethics penalties, penalties of the court if they said something that isn't true.

So, the Judge Dearie, Judge Dearie clearly is not having it, Erin.

BURNETT: Right, it's pretty significant.

So, Stephanie, Trump's lawyers put Judge Dearie forward as a candidate for special master. This was the guy they put forward and the DOJ said, okay, fine, all right? Now, here he is questioning the heart of the former president's defense here. Here is what Trump just told Hugh Hewitt a few days ago, Stephanie.


HUGH HEWITT, RADIO HOST: Did you take those papers down there after declassifying them intentionally? Or did you have any idea they were there?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Remember this, remember this -- everything was declassified.


BURNETT: But here we are, Stephanie. And the judge is saying, well, there's no evidence of it, so sorry.

I mean, what do you expect Trump is doing right now?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I expect that he's probably yelling at whoever suggested Judge Dearie because I imagine that he thought this would be a person who would just do whatever their side was hoping for.

I've got to say it's interesting to me that the whole -- you know, you can't have your cake and eat it too because that is honestly just how Trump thinks. He's going to double down, double down, double down, as you know.

So, it's going to be interesting to see how this all plays out. I imagine that they are going to, if I know Donald Trump, he's going to tell them to lean into the fact that they were classified or declassified. I know he has said that he had told Kash Patel that they were declassified.

But I think it's important for just your viewers, the country, to understand that that's not how it works. You don't just say the words, these are now declassified and it's done. There is a process. And more importantly, people, agencies would need to be told, right? The CIA, the DOJ, the FBI, the people who have sources and methods out there. They would need to know that, hey, these documents are suddenly declassified so that they can move those sources around.

BURNETT: I like how you said there's a process. You don't just go with a magic wand, dong, dong, dong, declassified. You just can't do that, Norm.

OK. So, there was also a major signal from the DOJ today about what they're going to do if they don't get a stay from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. This stay is that Judge Cannon, right, had said that they cannot go ahead with their review of documents while this whole process with the special master is playing out. And she gave the special master until November 30th to do it, right?

So a huge delay where they're unable to continue their criminal investigation during that time.

So they are saying in court today that they'll keep appealing it, which, you know, puts it higher and higher and higher. And, you know, we know where you end up there. Where do you see it going?

EISEN: Well, the legal argument that Judge Cannon has the power to freeze the government's investigation on these classified documents, Erin, it just turns the law on its head. If you or I possessed even one or two of these documents, we would be investigated and very likely prosecuted long ago. It goes to the seriousness of the alleged misconduct.

Remember, probable cause has been found of violations of law, criminal violations as to these documents. So DOJ has to have this fight. It's really a universal view of experts. I'm actually representing 10 former Republican DOJ and other senior law enforcement officials who filed a request to put an amicus brief before the court explaining that you can't do this.


BURNETT: And these are all former Republicans, they want to file a friend of court. So, Stephanie, if Trump's lawyers do argue that the documents were declassified, they have to at this point hand over evidence? They have failed to do so thus far. The only specific claim put forward is one from Kash Patel that you referenced, right, and Trump publicly agreed with it.

So, let me just play the only thing that's even been posited, and here it is by Kash Patel.


KASH PATEL, FORMER PENTAGON OFFICIAL: And then in December and January in the way out, I witnessed him declassify whole sets of documents.


BURNETT: Whole sets of documents. Obviously, Stephanie, other Trump officials tell CNN they never heard of any sort of standing order, and I understand that that's not a process anyway.

So, do you think there are going to be others who will come forward and support Trump at this point, say he did declassify?

GRISHAM: Well, it depends. If only Kash Patel, if it was just him in the room, if that's what Trump is saying, then I guess it'll be Kash Patel. It's going to be up to him to say what sets of documents, and also what did he see.

We point back to the magic wand you and I talked before. He just looked at Kash and said, hey, these are all declassified, that's it? It doesn't work that way.

Now if the president says there are other people who witnessed it and names names, then those people will have to come forward and say under oath the truth that that's the truth.

Do I think there's people who maybe do that for him even if it wasn't true? Sadly, I do. BURNETT: Wow, even now. And that's an incredible statement.

Thank you very much, Stephanie.

Thank you, Norm. Good to see you.

And next, as Governor Ron DeSantis threatens to target President Biden's home state of Delaware with planes full of migrants, the city of New York has a new proposal for the migrant influx that they have received from the state of Texas. They're maybe going to house them on cruise ships.

And first on OUTFRONT, we're going to take you inside the human smuggling rings that are now run by multinational criminal organizations and making billions of dollars a year just to get people across the southern United States border.



BURNETT: Tonight, a federal class-action lawsuit filed against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other state officials after DeSantis sent nearly 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard from Texas. The lawsuit accuses DeSantis of, quote, inducing immigrants to travel across state lines by fraud and misrepresentation, a violation according to the suit of their constitutional rights.

So, it comes as DeSantis is threatening to send more migrants to sanctuary states, now targeting perhaps President Biden's home state of Delaware where local officials are bracing for an influx of migrants.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: If you believe in open borders, then it's the sanctuary jurisdictions that should have to bear the brunt of the open borders.


BURNETT: I want to get to Miguel Marquez, he's OUTFRONT in New York City, which has received a massive influx of migrants sent by the Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas.

Miguel, let's start with this lawsuit that has been filed for DeSantis. What more are the migrants accusing DeSantis of doing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Essentially that this was a situation where these migrants, the suit says, lived a hellish live in Venezuela and had an even more hellish journey from Venezuela into the U.S. and DeSantis and other state officials designed and executed a premeditated fraudulent and illegal scheme to advance their own personal financial and political interests. To the degree that the suit says that they were trolling the streets at migrant shelters in San Antonio, Texas, looking for these individuals, individuals who were hungry, who needed assistance. They were offering them $10 McDonald's gift certificate cards, and then says -- the suit says they made false promises, including that they would have everything from employment, housing, and educational opportunities if they boarded that plane to what they thought was either New York City or Boston. They had no idea they were going to land in Martha's Vineyard until shortly before that plane landed.

The suit also makes the point that these are people who are trying to stay legal in this country, and they experienced cruelty akin to what they fled in their home country -- Erin.

BURNETT: So, Miguel, you are standing right now at a pier where cruise ships dock. And I want people to understand why you're standing there. You're standing there because New York City Mayor Eric Adams is now considering using cruise ships -- you know, cruise ships that people go on cruises for, with --- as housing for migrants.

Here is how he put it.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: We're examining everything from the legality of using any type of cruise ship for temporary housing. We're looking at everything to see, how do we deal with this?

INTERVIEWER: Is that really a possibility that you might be able to do that?

ADAMS: We're looking at that.


BURNETT: I mean, he said it, they are looking at that. These are cruise ships, they're functioning cruise ships.

So how many migrants have been sent to New York, and how in the world are they in this situation, Miguel?

MARQUEZ: Yeah, this could be controversial. There are about -- since May, there's been about 13,000 migrants who seeking asylum, 13,000 asylum seekers coming to New York City, about 2,600 of them from Texas, many others coming from other jurisdictions. But it is putting a massive weight and a lot of difficulty for the shelter system here in New York City. This is a city that has a shelter law that says everybody who asks for it must be sheltered.

So, the possibility of cruise ships is out there, but it is very controversial in a city that would rather see more housing and less time in shelters for not just the homeless but for the migrant population as well -- Erin.

BURNETT: Miguel, thank you very much.

And all of these developments, this lawsuit now against DeSantis, is coming in the context of a Texas sheriff who is investigating how DeSantis managed to send those migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, OK, right, Because, again, Governor DeSantis does not live in Texas and the migrants were not in Te -- were not in Florida.

We are learning tonight that a Florida aviation company that received over $1.5 million from Florida's Department of Transportation to support DeSantis' relocation efforts has deleted its website.


OUTFRONT now, the former Florida governor and Congressman Charlie Crist. He is running against Ron DeSantis for Florida governor.

I do want to be very clear here that we invited Governor DeSantis to come on this show. I hope that he will. But he declined the invitation today.

So, Congressman, you've called on the DOJ to look into this situation. You yourself have filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the state of Florida for any information related to the relocation efforts. Do you think from the information that you have that DeSantis actually broke any laws?

REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): It looks like it, Erin. And I appreciate the question, and the opportunity to be with you this evening.

The one I'm thinking of specifically is the Florida law that allocated the $12 million to a project such as this. But what it specifically says in the statute is that these people must be in the state, in the state of Florida.

And, as we know now, what Governor DeSantis did is he went to San Antonio, Texas, you know, rounded up a bunch of Venezuelans, got them on a plane, lured them on a plane, apparently under false pretenses, could be another violation of law, and then flies them up to Massachusetts.

So, it looks like there are two potential violations of law with this one act committed in a cruel manner by the governor of Florida, Governor DeSantis. And it's inexcusable. I mean, they are using these people as political pawns is such an extreme overreach, if you will, and so unkind and so undecent. It boggles the mind.

But, you know, it's part of the pattern of this guy. I mean, he signed a law against a woman's right to choose in Florida that is so egregious, it doesn't have any exceptions for rape or incest. I mean, this is him.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you about this -- this one part about this that there's a lot of work being done to understand what happened. But, you know, when you point out that the migrants would have to be in the state of Florida, well, of course, they came from San Antonio, Texas, as you point out. That's -- they flew from there. But then they landed in Crestview, Florida.

So the plane picked them up in Texas. They stopped in Florida for 45 minutes. And then they proceeded with stops in the Carolinas, which is also unexplained, in each Carolina -- each plane, to Martha's Vineyard. What do you make of these flight patterns, Congressman? Are you aware

of any -- anything as to why there was that stop in Florida and whether that is perhaps something that he was doing on purpose in anticipation of this legal question?

CRIST: Well, perhaps. And, you know, the nature of that is as bizarre as it gets. And, so, DeSantis orders them to be picked up in Texas. And he's the one who brings them -- they weren't coming to Florida, he brought them to Florida. I mean, think about that. And then they go up to Massachusetts.

The original intent and the spirit of the law is crystal clear. These would've had to have been people who were already in Florida, not shipped to Florida by the governor of Florida.

I mean, it's so weird. It's just -- you know, somebody's overthinking this or just not thinking right. And, unfortunately, I think it's our governor.

And if you want to help us get a good governor in Florida, please go to and help us out.

BURNETT: All right. So --

CRIST: This is really weird town here.

BURNETT: So let me ask you. President Biden was defiant today. He defended his handling of the border. He taunted Governor DeSantis.

Here he is.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.


BURNETT: So, polling shows Biden is not doing well on this issue, to be honest with you, Congressman. His polling on it is terrible. Twenty-seven percent of Americans approve of his handling at the border. Americans perceive there to be a problem, a problem that we're now talking about in no small part because of Governor DeSantis.

Do you think President Biden has a handle on the border crisis or not?

CRIST: Well, listen, I think he's a humane guy. He's a decent president. He's a kind person. And he's trying to deal with this in a humane fashion, which is exactly the opposite of what Governor DeSantis is doing.

He's being inhumane. He is treating our fellow human beings in a way that you wouldn't treat anybody in a civil society, you know, where you have decency. I mean, where -- does he have no decency? It's amazing to me.

BURNETT: All right. Governor -- Congressman, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

CRIST: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. And, next, a look inside the billion-dollar human smuggling rings where migrants are stashed in tractor-trailers and hidden inside so-called stash houses. You will want to see this report of the deadly journey they take.

Plus, Hurricane Fiona growing in strength, now a dangerous category 3 storm pushing north closing in on yet another popular American tourist destination.



BURNETT: Tonight, a jaw-dropping number that gets at the heart of the nation's immigration crisis. For the first time, there have been more than 2 million arrests at the southern border in one year, over 200,000 apprehensions in August alone, almost a quarter of those involving people who have attempted to cross more than once, and many of them doing it in dangerous and life-threatening ways.

We warn you that the video that you are about to see is graphic.

Rosa Flores has this story first OUTFRONT.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what human smuggling looks like -- migrants gasping for air in this 2015 case or a trailer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can anybody stand up?

FLORES: Covered in wailing humans in this 2017 case. Ten people died, authorities say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know which one next. Just pick one and I'll help you up.

FLORES: A similar scene unfolded in June when 53 people died in San Antonio in a tractor-trailer.


FLORES: Craig Larrabee is the acting special agent in charge with Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, the arm of DHS that investigates human smuggling and says, migrants have more than death to fear.

LARRABEE: The extortion, the assaults, physical assaults, sexual assaults. They're real.

FLORES: He says human smuggling has changed in the last decade from small family businesses that charged $2,000 per migrant to multinational criminal organizations that charge 10,000 and make billions of dollars a year.

LARRABEE: So maybe a vehicle had 50 bodies in it years and years ago. They'll put 150 bodies in that vehicle.

FLORES: Larrabee debunks the myth that migrants are usually smuggled into the U.S. on tractor-trailers.

LARRABEE: They're smuggled across the country on foot. That's generally speaking.

FLORES: Once in the U.S., migrants are taken to so-called stash houses.

LT. AARON MORENO, HIDALGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: I've seen over 70 people in a little apartment.

FLORES: Hidalgo County Sheriff's Lt. Aaron Moreno shows us a stash house they dismantled last year. The windows of the small home closed, smugglers tried to hide 37 people inside.

MORENO: This is a tactic. You put aluminum foil and/or cardboard so nobody can see inside. So they can't see outside.

FLORES: From those stash houses, migrants are packed in travel trailers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're under arrest for human smuggling.

FLORES: In the trunks of cars, toolboxes, vans and other vehicles that are sometimes locked shut like this one last week -- that had to be by pried open by law enforcement.

The drivers sometimes get thousands of dollars per migrant according to these TikTok videos used by the Mexican cartels and provided to CNN by Texas Department of Public Safety.

Why would the cartels pay drivers so much?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're trying to pass this checkpoint right here.

FLORES: There are Border Patrol checkpoints in South Texas that those drivers have to go through, sometimes with human cargo.

Smugglers will try to avoid that checkpoint by guiding migrants through this tough terrain. Now, the migrants that can keep up continue north. The ones that can't are left behind, sometimes to die.

Migrant deaths so far this year, a record nearly 750 -- a number already exceeding last year's total of 557.

The alleged driver in the deadly June tractor-trailer tragedy in San Antonio apparently went through a checkpoint near Laredo. He has pleaded not guilty. It's unclear if the migrants were already on board. While Larrabee says a lot has changed in the business of human

smuggling, one thing is constant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you stand? Come on.

FLORES: Smugglers have no regard for human life.


FLORES (on camera): In April, the Biden administration launched an effort to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling organizations. So far nearly 5,000 individuals have been arrested in the U.S. and the region. And, Erin, that includes eight individuals just last week. These individuals allegedly smuggled hundreds if not thousands of individuals into this country in brutal conditions -- Erin.

BURNETT: Rosa, thank you very much for that important report. Rosa from El Paso tonight.

And, next, Hurricane Fiona intensifying this evening, still wreaking havoc on Puerto Rico.

Plus, the Space Force, the newest branch of the U.S. military? Well, guess what, they actually have an official song now.


SPACE FORCE OFFICIAL SONG: Standing guard both night and day. We're the Space Force from on high.




BURNETT: Tonight, Hurricane Fiona intensifying to a category 3 hurricane. The storm slamming Turks and Caicos today as it pushes north, leaving at least five people dead in the Caribbean. Now, it's headed for Bermuda and could hit category 4 strength tomorrow.

The outer bands of the storm still dumping rain on Puerto Rico or more than 1 million people remain without electricity or running water tonight.

Leyla Santiago is there OUTFRONT.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane Fiona wiping out power to the majority of the roughly 3.1 million residents here, 60 percent without water and about 1,200 people housed in shelters.

Five years ago today, Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. Now barely recovered from that catastrophic storm, the island and its people are suffering again. Officials say at least two have died on the island as a result of the storm. One man swept away by a flooded river beside his home. Another man died while trying to fill his generator with gasoline, setting it on fire.

This morning, we traveled with the National Guard as they tried to clear roads in the mountainous of Cayey. Their goal access and start moving in much needed supplies to isolated areas.

In the island's interior like Cayey, a very mountainous municipality, this is part of the problem, the mudslides that block the road and block access to that power substation.

Victor Santiago was gathering drinking water off the mountain side.

So he came to the mountain side to get water because there's no water at his house.

CARLOS VARGAS, CAYEY, PR PRESIDENT: Power. We know that we're going to face that and we can deal with that, but the biggest concern is water -- can't live without water.

SANTIAGO: Carlos Vargas lived just beyond a big mudslide that blocked access to the road. The National Guard had to evacuate about 35 elderly patients from a facility here before the mudslide demolished the building.

LT. COL. JOSUE FLORES MORALES, PUERTO RICO NATIONAL GUARD: We carry the elderly, their chairs and their beds, and we just ran over and carried them over the landslide so we could get him out before the house collapsed.

SANTIAGO: The recovery ahead not without its own set of challenges.

GOV. PEDRO PIERLUISI (D), PUERTO RICO: The hurricane and now the storm, the related storm has impacted the whole island. So, we're still in the middle of this event. We're basically responding at this point. The next step will be recovery. We're not there yet.


SANTIAGO (on camera): And, Erin, tonight, we are still in the interior part of the island here in Cayey. We're actually at a gas station where we have seen lines, people coming to get gas, diesel, to keep those generators running even if there is no power on most of this island. Some has been restored in the metropolitan area.

And the governor tells us he believes by the end of the day tomorrow, a majority or a good chunk, any way, a good chunk of the island will have power, with the exception of the southern part, one of the hardest hit areas -- Erin.


BURNETT: Thank you very much, Leyla.

And next, you've heard of Semper Fi. Tonight, America's newest military branch, the Space Force, introducing its official song and motto, "Semper Supra".


BURNETT: And finally tonight, the United States Space Force unveils its official song. It's called "Semper Supra", which means "always above". It now joins the ranks of other military anthems, like "The Marine's Hymn", "The Army Goes Rolling Along".

So here's part of it.


SPACE FORCE OFFICIAL SONG: Boldly reaching into space. There's no limit to our sky. Standing guard both night and day. We're the Space Force from on high.


BURNETT: Well, I wasn't sure if it was real when I first heard it, I'm not going to admit -- I will admit to you. And General Charles Brown Jr., the chief of staff at the Air Force, was asked about his thoughts of the song. He told reporters he didn't want to judge it, but added: I'm sure it will grow on us.

So, I like that sort of glass half full attitude about it. Maybe you loved it the first time you heard it, so let's see. It's out there now. It's part of the American thing and traits (ph).

Thanks for joining us. Don't forget you can watch OUTFRONT anytime anywhere on CNN Go.

"AC360" with Anderson starts now.