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Erin Burnett Outfront

Putin Faces Growing Dissent As Thousands Flee Country; Special Master Orders Trump To Back Up Claim FBI Planted Docs; DeSantis "Proud" After Flying Migrants To Martha's Vineyard; Biden To Deliver Midterm Message Tomorrow In DNC Speech; Alex Jones Takes The Stand In Sandy Hook Defamation Trial; As Ukraine Retakes Land, Residents Return To Destroyed Homes. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 22, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next: men fleeing Russia over fears of a draft in a war they say they want no part of. This as CNN reports Putin is giving direct orders himself to a military that is now deeply divided.

Plus, Trump's hand-picked special master calling the former president's bluff for a second time, now ordering him to prove these claims of FBI tampering in the Mar-a-Lago case.

President Biden preparing for a Republican governors meantime to send more migrants to Democratic cities as questions grow over how Ron DeSantis pulled off that Martha's Vineyard stunt.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Putin backlash. The Russian president tonight is facing fear and fury inside his own country. Russian men fleeing Russia to avoid military mobilization. Now, the Kremlin is calling these reports an exaggeration, and fake news, and you may say, are they right? No, they are not, because the pictures don't lie, so let's show you what's happening on the ground. I put up a map to show you the routes out of Russia. These are some of the main routes you see in the dotted lines.

OK. So, as you get to each of these crossings, there are long lines of cars waiting. Reminiscent of what happened in Ukraine when Putin invaded. Yeah, that's what it looks.

Here's a scene in Finland, officials now reconsidering banning most Russians from entering the country because of the traffic.

In Georgia, the country of Georgia, brake lights go as far as the eye can see. Reports now that that exit line stretches more than six miles.

And, this was the scene earlier today along the Russian border of Kazakhstan, most of the traffic, going in one direction. You see, it one direction. Out of Russia.

And, at Moscow's main airport, lines, look at that, how many women do you see? Not very many. Young men fleeing Russia.

And for those staying behind, they're being called to duty. These are some of the images that are being posted online across Russia. Men, many, many men boarding planes and buses, saying goodbye to their families.

These incredible scenes are coming as dysfunction is growing inside Putin's military. Our Katie Bo Lillis is reporting that the Russian president is now bypassing the normal chain of command, and giving generals on the frontline orders himself.

Just to be very clear here, this is not the way it goes and Russia or in any professional modern military. It's not the way it goes, anywhere.

And as the humiliating Russian losses mount, CNN is learning that intelligence intercepts have captured Russian officers, arguing amongst themselves about the directives that they're getting. There is clearly a problem. There's clearly dissent going within the ranks of Putin's military.

As to whether it goes or where it goes, we don't know. Right now, it is not stopping Putin from doubling down on the threat of nuclear war.

Matthew Chance is in London tonight.

And, Matthew, you spent many years covering Russia. In fact, as the dissent has grown, the threats of nuclear war have also grown, I should say, far from tamping it down, they've ramped up. You spent so much time in Russia and in Ukraine, and now we have major warning from a top Russian official tonight on the nuclear front.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we've always been left sort of guessing, Erin, about what Vladimir Putin plans to do, what his next step is going to be.

Well, I mean, I think in reading the comments of the former Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, who is very close to Vladimir Putin, he's his sidekick, essentially, or has been for many years, it's sort of sets out what the strategy is.

It makes three points. The first one, there will be referendums. There'll be taking place over the next couple of days.

Then, he says in these Donbas republics and other areas occupied by Russia and Ukraine, they will be adopted to Russia. So, it's a foregone conclusion that the territories after -- you know, even after the votes taken place, they're going to be absorbed into Russia.

The protection of those territories will be significantly strengthened by the un forces of Russia. That's one of the reasons, I think, why they are calling up so many people. Something like 300,000 is the estimate at the moment, troops, into the forces from the reservists, sort of put into that area to bolster the ranks there that have been depleted by the ongoing fighting.

But this is the key bit. Russia announced that not only mobilization, but any Russian weapons, including strategic nuclear weapons, and other new weapons, can be used for their protection. So that is a specific threat by a close confidant of Vladimir Putin. Strategic nuclear weapons could be used against not just Ukraine but other places in Europe and the United States, if these territories in Ukraine annexed by Russia are attacked.


BURNETT: All right. Matthew Chance, thank you very much, reporting tonight.

OUTFRONT now, Ksenia Thorstrom, a municipal deputy in St. Petersburg who has called on Putin to resign.

Thank you so much for being with me tonight.

Ksenia, what are you hearing from people inside Russia about Putin's mobilization?

KSENIA THORSTROM, RUSSIAN MUNICIPAL DEPUTY CALLING FOR PUTIN TO RESIGN: Well, that is totally terrible. People are terrified, they are shocked, and now, it's set something like panic. People tried to understand what is going on.

What does it mean, partial mobilization? So far, there is no, any criteria defining who will be called to war and who not. So everyone is in panic and trying to escape. Those who can, they tried to escape the country right now. And yesterday, people were so afraid that the borders would already be closed but so far no closed borders. Apparently, authorities decided to let people out, those who can, to avoid some big panic or big protests.

BURNETT: Do you have any sense of who is being mobilized? You said no one understands the criteria. From what you, hearing who is being mobilized?

THORSTROM: I'm hearing that a lot of men from 50 to 60 years old are mobilized and the men are just stopped on the street randomly and given this summons that they are obliged to come to this military office. And, also, some are called to work. It goes everywhere.

Now, I can see the messages that a lot of people in Buryatia, especially, the far east regions, already very many mobilized and I saw the biggest men go on the buses and they've already set somewhere, and they said goodbye to their relatives. So, everyone can be called to war, now.

BURNETT: You publicly called on Putin to resign, and I know, Ksenia, you circulated a petition among other municipal deputies, like yourself, calling for him to step down. You have 71 signatures now.

Obviously, you are in Finland, tonight. Are you concerned about your safety, even where you are? THORSTROM: No, no. In Finland, I feel quite safe. I'm just scared to

go to Russia where already, in the beginning of the war, I was also quite terrified and shocked, as many other Russians, I was afraid that there will be mobilization announced. And the military state with -- the borders would be closed. We didn't know what to expect.

And knowing just to, even more afraid, after the petition. So far, there were no consequences. As you might know, we made such a safe formulation, only two sentences, we're just claiming that Putin is doing harm to Russia's future, and citizens, and we don't go into details what harm, and we don't use the word war so that people wouldn't be accused of spreading fakes, because according to Russian authorities, there is no war. There is a special operation.


THORSTROM: We cannot use this word. That's why I got so many signatures because people would like to express their discontent and that they are afraid.

BURNETT: Ksenia, thank you so much for your time.

THORSTROM: Thank you.

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, the former director of national intelligence, retired Lt. General James Clapper.

And, General, you know, you hear from Ksenia talk about what she's hearing, people leaving Russia, the response to the mobilization that she thinks it goes far behind just reservist. We are learning tonight that put himself is giving directions to generals in the field. Putin himself.

What does this mean to you?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it means -- all this means that Putin's in trouble and he knows it. But thanks this mobilization, and I use air quotes, is going to be a fiasco just like everything else has been. And the image of people leaving town, fleeing Russia to avoid a mobilization, I think speaks volumes.

As to Putin going to directly to generals thinking he can run a war, to me this is disruptive of what passes for Russian command and control of their forces which have not been too good to start with. So, in all dimensions, I just think this whole thing, and his actions reflect the fact that Putin realizes after seven months of this war, that he's losing and he's in trouble.


BURNETT: It's amazing. I'm just looking at these images and I'm remembering the first time I left Ukraine this year, the lines, all women and children, only men were turning around and going back because they wanted to fight. In Russia, they're getting called up and they're all -- all men are leaving because they don't want to serve, and just really poignant picture. Putin's mobilization did happen so suddenly, General, like just a sudden announcement, right, to people inside the country, right? That's why they're fleeing. But it appears very planned because they're immediately moving, right? You see them getting on military aircraft, the mass roundups, men being stopped on the street, being drafted, handed papers, right, the papers were ready, everybody was ready for that. The recipients weren't, it didn't seem. But this is what we see on the ground, and showing some of these images.

You just heard that municipal deputy saying that it seems that Putin is mobilizing more than just reservists and men with existing training. But it seems bigger than that, and certain provinces just rounding up men in general.

What do you think is happening?

CLAPPER: Well, that's an interesting revelation because I was under the impression this was reservists as in people, men who had served before, and were being called up for 15 days of refresher training, and it appears to me this is -- they're more desperate than just that. And I think the whole logistics of this, it doesn't look like to me that there had been a lot of planning.

I also note, Erin, that overnight, there are laws passed with some pretty stiff penalties for avoiding service or deserting this sort of thing. So this looks to me like a grab bag of last-minute action, impulsive direction, I would suspect, on Putin's part.

BURNETT: Impulsive though, doesn't seem like it's coming from a sign of strength. And he's not able to seal his borders. The Ukrainian said if your men between the ages of 16 64, you can't leave. And none of them try to. But they were -- he is not doing that. Obviously, because he's afraid of what would happen if he did, but, meanwhile those people are fleeing in mass.

CLAPPER: I think that speaks volumes as well to the lack of will to fight. That has been in stark contrast to the case of Ukrainians who are eager to fight, in contrast to the Russians who are not sure, individual soldiers, they're not even sure why they are in Ukraine. And I think that extends to the citizenry as well.

And that is very important, if intangible, aspect of assessing the impact of this, and how successful, or like their of the Russians are going to be.

BURNETT: General Clapper, I appreciate your time is always, thank you, sir.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, the special master Trump picked now taking him on. Calling out his conspiracy theories about the FBI search at Mar-a- Lago, demanding evidence, proof for bogus claims.

Plus, Ron DeSantis claims the migrants who were flown to Martha's Vineyard volunteered to go. But an attorney representing some of them says this is not true and that they were preyed on by an individual pretending to help.

And conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on the stand in a Sandy Hook defamation trial. He went off the rails today.


ALEX JONES, CONSPIRACY THEORIST: I've already said I'm sorry hundreds of times. And I'm done saying I'm sorry.




BURNETT: Tonight, put up or shut up. The special master in the Mar-a- Lago classified documents probe essentially saying just that, demanding Team Trump back up unsubstantiated claims that the FBI may have planted evidence during their search of Mar-a-Lago.

This is a claim that Trump likes to just throw things out there and have them sort of catch on. He's been doing that.

Here he is last night.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: The problem that you have is they go into rooms, they won't let anybody near -- they won't let them in the same building. Did they drop anything into those piles or did they do it later? There's no chain of custody with them.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Would that be on videotape potentially?

TRUMP: No, I don't think so.


BURNETT: Well, he's the first to say things around videotape usually. I guess in this case, he didn't want to say that.

Evan Perez is OUTFRONT.

So, Evan, you go out and say things like that, it's the federal government coming in and planting evidence in Mar-a-Lago, you know, we can sort of joke about it, but this is deadly serious. You know a lot of people will hear it didn't actually believe it. It's a travesty.

So, what did the judge want from team Trump? So, he puts this allegation out there and the judge says, what? And what if Trump didn't provide the evidence that the FBI planted this stuff?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, he's given him a deadline, Erin. He's given him a deadline of next week, September 30th for them to come up with a list of items that they would say were not actually seized in the raid, in the search of Mar-a-Lago that happened a month ago.

And, you know, this is now -- the lawyers are going to have to file an affidavit under oath, obviously, and they can't lie. And, of course, the former president has been saying this stuff since almost after the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago. The FBI, people who were participating in the search have received threats. The FBI has had to take security measures to deal with this partly because of what the former president has been saying, saying that the FBI would have planted evidence in this search. So, now, they have their chance to finally clear this up.

BURNETT: So I want to play you one other sound bite that Trump said last night in that interview with Hannity, a very simple question. What was your process to declassify documents?


TRUMP: If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified, even by thinking about it, because you're sending it to Mar-a-Lago or to wherever you're sending it. And it doesn't have to be a process. There can be a process, but it doesn't have to be.



BURNETT: Okay, people have been mocking this, right? If I -- you know, I declassify, therefore I am. But it may it don't tell a total black-and-white issue. Can you explain?

PEREZ: Right. Look, certainly, the extent of a president to declassify, that still never been tested in court, partly because nobody has ever done the thing that Donald Trump is alleged to have done in this case, right? So -- but the 11th Circuit appeals court last night said it really doesn't matter because even if he declassified the items, these documents, he has shown no right to possess what is national security information.

So that is -- remains a problem for the former president, even if he did indeed declassify, Erin.

BURNETT: Evan, thank you very much.

OUTFRONT now, Alyssa Farah Griffin, former White House communication director under President Trump, and Elie Honig, CNN senior legal analyst.

So, Elie, let's start here with the special master that Trump picked and the DOJ signed off on but Trump's pick.

First, he says to team Trump, you say you've declassified stuff. You need to show me evidence that you did that, for me to buy that in any way, shape or form. And now he says you have to show evidence that the FBI planted documents or who knows what, tampered at Mar-a-Lago. You can't come out and say it, you got to show evidence.

What does this mean for Trump?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The power of our courts is they have a way of bringing out truth. And perhaps a person can get away with fudging the truth in their public statements, in the media, in their private life, in their business. But when you step into a court, ultimately, it's happening here sooner than later, the judge or the jury will say, fine, that's your allegation, now prove it.

And you can see the tension in Donald Trump's legal team because they will not say the things in court about declassification and planting that he is saying because lawyers have an ethical obligation. You cannot make a false statement to a court. You can argue aggressively for your client, you can try to poke holes in the other side, but you cannot lie.

And so, this is really a test for Donald Trump. This whole special master process is not going well for him because it's challenging and it's going to ultimately draw out whether these claims are truthful or not, and there's no evidence that they are truthful.

BURNETT: Alyssa, I have never heard Trump say there isn't a tape. He's the first one to say there's a tape when there isn't a tape, but now he doesn't think there can be tapes when Hannity gave him a sample, wouldn't it be on tape if they tampered with something? Who came up with this idea do you think to throw out there to say the FBI tampered?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I tend to think this came from Trump directly. One of the tactics he loves to employ -- by the way, he likes to battle in the pr space and deal with the legal later and it often ends up hurting him in the legal side, but I think he came up with this idea, to make the FBI the enemy. And I was stunned to be -- to be honest by how many Republicans very quickly kind of took that tactic as well, saying this is a witch hunt, this is a banana republic what happened after the raid, and then we only learn after the fact that he had highly classified documents with him.

I think he thought it was a way to gin up support, but I would just say this, the FBI does incredible work every single day, they stop human trafficking, they break up terrorist cells targeting the homeland. This -- you know, we as Republicans are supposed to back the blue and he has been undermining them left and right.

BURNETT: So, Elie, Judge Dearie, the special master, today also opened up the door to a hearing where witnesses can be called to testify on this issue. Who does that favor? Who are those FBI agents themselves? People who work at Mar-a-Lago?

HONIG: Nobody is going to like this. Neither side is going to like this. The likely witnesses would be exactly those people, people who can talk about the search warrant itself, the FBI agents, perhaps people who worked at Mar-a-Lago.

DOJ will not like this. When you're a prosecutor, the last thing you want is your agent who is potentially going to be a key witness for you at trial, getting on the stand, getting cross-examined. Donald Trump may not like what they have to say because I presume their testimony, which has established this search was done lawfully and by the book.

This is -- I want people to understand -- what we're seeing here, this is a mini trial before anyone's even been charged. No normal case goes this way. Normally, the time you challenge the search is after you have been charged. So, all of this is extraordinary.

BURNETT: Alyssa, two top Republican senators, I'm sure there are many others, but two of them today talked to Manu Raju, and took Trump on this whole issue, oh, I can just think about it and declassify it. There's no process. These are serious national security documents. Of course, there's a process that involves intelligence officials and others to declassify.

Here is their comments, two of them.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): There's a process for declassifying documents, and I think it ought to be adhered to and followed.

SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): There's a formal process that needs to go through it -- that needs to be gone through and documented.


BURNETT: Okay, pretty clear. Now, meanwhile, Trump has all but declared he's running in 2024, OK? Do these comments from top Republicans mean anything beyond that members of the GOP for one day and one moment take him on and they're quickly back in the fold?

GRIFFIN: Listen, yesterday, I'll say the last 72 hours were some of the worst days of Donald Trump's life. The dual investigations, whether the grand -- the DOJ grand jury, the Fulton County, the January 6th committee, the civil case in New York, I think that Republicans as demonstrated in those answers are thinking they need to leave a little bit of space in case they need to go a different direction.


And, by the way, those are two fairly serious senators who --


GRIFFIN: -- themselves have handled classified information, have security clearances, and know this is not a small deal.

So, I give them credit they're saying the right thing now. You're going to see cracks emerge with Republicans as more of these facts play out.

BURNETT: Yeah, and, of course, this is all happening much more quickly than some have anticipated since the ruling by the circuit court they could go on with their criminal investigation. Thank you both very much.

And next, what exactly were the migrants who were flown to Martha's Vineyard by Governor Ron DeSantis promised? How did they end up on those planes?

The lawyer who is representing the migrants in a suit against DeSantis is OUTFRONT next with their story.

And Republicans betting on immigration to energize voters in the midterms. Well, Democrats are talking about abortion rights, two totally different plans. Which one's working?



BURNETT: Tonight, the White House fully expects and is preparing for more groups of migrants to be sent to Democratic cities by Republican Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis. An administration official is confirming this to CNN. This as DeSantis says he's proud of his decision, that's his word, to fly about 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Hopefully, we're going to be talking about this a lot more now. This was not an issue of concern even two weeks ago. Now, it seems to be on the front burner, so we're proud of that.


BURNETT: DeSantis, though, has struggled to explain legal rationale which would allow him to move migrants who were in Texas hundreds of miles away to another state. They weren't in Florida.

OUTFRONT now, Oren Sellstrom. He's a lawyer representing some of those migrants who are now suing Governor DeSantis in a class action lawsuit.

So, Oren, DeSantis says the migrants were moved in a, quote, voluntary basis. That is what he is saying. You say that they were preyed upon by a person who was pretending to help them. Tell me more about what they were promised as you understand it, before they got on that plane.

OREN SELLSTROM, REPRESENTS MIGRANTS IN CLASS ACTION SUIT AGAINST DESANTIS: Well, the first thing to remember is that these are people that were in a very highly vulnerable state when they arrived in the United States. These were individuals who were fleeing persecution in their home country, encountered extreme violence in many cases on their way to the United States really saw this country as a place of refuge.

When they finally reached the United States, they were processed by federal immigration officials and then were immediately preyed upon by Governor DeSantis's accomplices who promised them all kinds of things if they would board these airplanes -- promises of work opportunities, promises of education for their children, and the list really went on and on, and it was really a shameful misrepresentation and inducement for people to travel at.

BURNETT: So you're saying, obviously, I understand what you're saying. You can't even use the word voluntary when you were promised things which were untrue.

So, Governor Ron DeSantis and others, you say, violated constitutional laws. You say he violated other laws by transporting your clients to Martha's Vineyard. What specific laws did he break?

SELLSTROM: Well, there are many, unfortunately. The federal constitution to begin with that has protections against illegal seizure, against deprivation of liberty, protections for due process and equal protection. The federal constitution also makes immigration a federal matter, and so there's state interference in an area that's under exclusive federal control.

So there were many different laws that were broken by this inducement, this misrepresentation, and this essentially fraud and deceit that was preyed upon our clients.

BURNETT: So, Oren, as you know, this goes beyond what happened to your clients. There's been many thousands of migrants who've been bused to border states to sanctuary cities, basically from Republican border states to Democratic sanctuary cities in the north, New York, Chicago, and now, of course, Martha's Vineyard.

Now, our Rosa Flores talked to a few of them who gladly took the rides, not talking about the Martha's Vineyard case, other bus rides and here's what they said.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're saying that they were told that this was a free bus. Is that the reason why you're going, because it's free?




BURNETT: The migrants that she was speaking to in that specific case were being bussed from Texas to Washington, D.C., by Governor Abbott.

Does that change anything for you that they were going by choice because it was free?

SELLSTROM: No, absolutely not. There's certainly the freedom and ability to move about the country by newly arrived immigrants who've been processed, as our clients had been by federal immigration authorities. There are requirements for check-ins and so forth, but people are free to move about the country, and there are many nonprofit agencies, for example, who help people become reunited with their loved ones in the United States.

What happened to our clients is nothing like that. This was deceit and trickery on the part of Governor DeSantis, luring our clients who were in a very highly vulnerable state into thinking that this was people that were trying to help them, when, in fact, it was all a political stunt. So, it's the misrepresentation, it's the deceit, it's the trickery that is so problematic in our lawsuit.

BURNETT: I understand. So, that -- just to make it very clear, so you're saying, you know, looking at the face of it, you're not saying you would have the same problem if someone was told, hey, I have a free ride to New York and I'm going to bus you and leave you there when you get there.


That would be okay if it's all being honestly presented and it's a free ride to New York?

SELLSTROM: People are free to make their own decisions if they have full and accurate information. Unfortunately, in this case, there was nothing like that.


SELLSTROM: It was, again, people that were given free gift cards to try and get people to trust them. And then once they built that trust in that way, then misrepresented what would be at the destination, misrepresented where they would be going. They didn't know where they would be landing until they were actually 15 minutes from landing. So that is at the core of our lawsuit.

BURNETT: Absolutely. Can I just have one quick follow-up there, Oren? You said free gift cards. Were they literally given gift cards to try to establish trust like gift cards to buy or something like that in Texas?

SELLSTROM: Absolutely, absolutely. That's what's so heartbreaking about these stories. People who are in desperate need of food and Ron DeSantis' accomplices would buy gift cards for them to McDonald's to try and gain their trust. Young men we met who needed new shoes because he had walked across Mexico to reach our border, the woman who was working with Governor DeSantis offering to buy him new shoes, all these ways to gain their trust when all along it was nothing but a political opportunity. That is what is so shameful and illegal about this.

BURNETT: Oren, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

SELLSTROM: Thank you.

BURNETT: And also tonight, Republicans seizing on the issue of immigration and border security, 47 days ahead of the midterm elections. This as President Biden is set to give a major speech tomorrow on abortion, which is the issue Democrats think will energize their voters.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT.


MARYLOU BLAISDELL, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Two years ago, if you would have said to me Roe v. Wade would be overturned, I would have said you're crazy. That will never happen -- but it happened.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Mary Lou Blaisdell, the fall election is first and foremost about abortion rights.

BLAISELL: I thought that my generation had that issue solved, but apparently we don't and we're starting all over again.

ZELENY: But for Gary Hendricks, the November vote is primarily about President Biden.

GARY HENDRICKS, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: People are unhappy with what Biden is doing, number one.

ZELENY: And a chance to put a check on Democratic policies in Washington.

HENDRICKS: He was just anti-oil. I mean, I can see you wanting to save the environment, but do it at a pace that the -- that's not going to hurt the world.

ZELENY: It's one midterm election, but two decidedly different campaigns are under way here in New Hampshire and across the country. Democrats are trying to tap into an urgent desire to protect abortion rights and democracy.

That message resonates with Laura Miller a pediatrician who said she paid little attention to politics before the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade.

Did that make you more motivated to vote?

LAURA MILLER, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: It did, yeah, definitely. Now I feel like, okay, we need to get out and actually vote. I don't even know that it makes a difference, but I feel now I need to because I have an opinion.

ZELENY: Was that ever something that you thought could happen in your lifetime?

MILLER: No, I didn't. No, that's what scares me with politics.

ZELENY: Yet Republicans believe inflation, crime, and immigration will motivate voters to change course.

Mike Gillespie owns a small business and says economic concerns are paramount.

MIKE GILLESPIE, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: My costs to operate my business are astronomically more than they used to be. Finding employees is next to impossible.

ZELENY: Do you hope that November brings a change in Washington in terms of who controls Congress?

GILLESPIE: Absolutely. Absolutely.

ZELENY: This tale of two elections is playing out in a crash of campaign ads from coast to coast. On crime, Republicans are hammering Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's more worried about criminals than victims.

ZELENY: Spending more than $21 million on ads in the last month alone, while Democrats have investigated less than $5 million. On abortion, Democrats are dominating the airwaves.

AD ANNOUNCER: Kari Lake is serious, serious about criminalizing abortion.

ZELENY: Spending $46 million over the last month in ads. Republicans, only $4 million.

In New Hampshire where key races will help determine control of the House and Senate, election integrity is now also at play.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The 2020 election was undoubtedly stolen from President Trump.

ZELENY: Inside her store, Blaisdell said friends of all political persuasions voice concerns about the country's deep divide. The question is whether that becomes a voting issue in the final weeks of the race.

BLAISDELL: We should all be standing up and supporting this country and this democracy because there are those who are trying to tear it down through their anger and their false information that's out there.


ZELENY (on camera): Usually by now on the first full day of fall, the midterm elections are already taking shape around one overarching theme.


Of course, in 2018, it was a referendum on Donald Trump. Back in 2010, it was a vote against Obamacare.

But this feels so much different talking to voters out here, Erin. The bottom line, it is two very different elections unfolding at the same time. Of course, the winning theory will determine which party wins control of Congress come November -- Erin. BURNETT: Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much from New Hampshire.

And next, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones's Sandy Hook defamation trial, today, losing control. Jones taking the stand for the first time.

Plus, Ukraine's president with a message tonight for Russians. Fight back, run away, surrender, or risk death.


BURNETT: Tonight, done saying sorry. Those are the words from Alex Jones, defiant on the stand today over his long running lie that the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in which 26 people were killed was a hoax.

Jones was confrontational with the plaintiff's attorney today and was admonished by the judge. He doubled down on an old refrain.


ALEX JONES, CONSPIRACY THEORIST: I mean, I think this is situation, Your Honor.




ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alex Jones on the stand for the first time in Connecticut where a jury will decide how much he owes in damages for lying about the Sandy Hook school shooting that left 20 children and 6 educators dead.


Among his claims, that it was all a hoax, that the grieving families and victims, many of them in the courtroom on Thursday, were just actors.

CHRISTOPHER MATTEI, PLAINTIFFS' ATTORNEY: Robert Huberson (ph) right here. He's real, isn't he?


MATTEI: And for years, you put a target on his back, didn't you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection to the form, Judge.

MATTEI: You have families in this courtroom here that lost children, sisters, wives, moms.

JONES: Is this a struggle session? Are we in China? I've already said I'm sorry hundreds of times and I'm done saying I'm sorry.

HILL: An explosive end to a day that grew drew more contentious with each hour as Jones struggled to stick to the question.

JUDGE: If you could answer the question yes or no, Mr. Jones. The answer would be yes or no.

HILL: Or remember past statements. The plaintiff's attorney repeatedly jogging Jones' memory with clips from an earlier deposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was basically just a fake set on which this hoax can play out, right? That's what you're saying?


MATTEI: You acknowledge that among the things that you said about Sandy Hook was that it was fake, yes?


MATTEI: Synthetic?


MATTEI: Manufactured?


MATTEI: With actors?


HILL: The emotional toll of those lies, on full display in the first two weeks of testimony.

JENNIFER HENSEL, PLAINTIFF, DAUGHTER MURDERED AT SANDY H OOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: It makes it hard to just push that away because you have to push that away, that continual noise of -- of all of the people saying that we faked this and that it never happened.

HILL: Outside the courtroom, Jones has used his platform to rail on this trial, referring to the judge as the tyrant. His website posting this image of her, though on the stand, Jones denied any involvement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know you did that?

JONES: I didn't direct that. First, I was in court.

HILL: Thursday's sole witness, uncharacteristically quiet after this final reminder from a judge.

JUDGE: This is not a press conference. This is clearly not your show, and you need to respect the process.


HILL: And, Erin, after the jury was dismissed for the day, the judge did warn both the attorneys and Alex Jones that there would be a contempt hearing if anybody stepped out of line tomorrow in court. Alex Jones set to take the stand at 10:00 a.m. on Friday -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you, Erica. We'll be watching that.

And next, horrific stories emerging of what life was like in the Ukrainian towns that were under Russian control for six months.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They beat me on my back, my head, and then shoved me on the floor and kicked me.


BURNETT: Plus, tonight, protests raging across Iran over the death of a woman in police custody. It's unprecedented what's happening there. She was arrested because she was not wearing a head covering.



BURNETT: Tonight, ultimatum. President Zelenskyy calling on Russians to fight back against the war or else, saying in part, quote, fight back, run away or surrender to Ukrainian captivity. These are the options for you to survive.

It comes as Ukrainians return to villages destroyed by the Russians, their homes reduced to rubble.

Ben Wedeman is OUTFRONT tonight in Kharkiv.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Anatoli is trying to make his demolished house a home again, one nail at a time. But without a roof, plastic sheeting on the windows won't make much of a difference. This is all they could salvage.

Anatoli is overwhelmed by what he and his wife, Svetlana found when they returned to their village of Prudianka.

"What can I say?" he asks. "You can see for yourself."

Svetlana was born in this house 53 years ago. Her reaction, pain, she says, shock, pain, terrible pain and bitterness. The fruits of a life's labor withered on the vine.

This is what happened to many of the towns and villages caught in the front lines in this war -- they were totally destroyed.

Up the road, residents unload relief supplies trucked into the town of Kozacha Lopan.

Mayor Vyacheslav Zadorenko is back in his office after months away. He says these armbands were handed out to the workers in the local Russian-installed administration. Food provided to collaborators and newspapers.

About 100 people were collaborators, he tells me. When the Russians left, most left with them.

Oleksandr from the mayor's office shows us where town residents were brought for interrogation and torture in a dark basement, as many as 30 people to a cell. Prisoners, he says, were seated in this chair and subjected to electric shocks.

Vadim spent a few days there. He recalls his interrogators beat him first, then asked questions.

They beat me on my back, my head, then shoved me on the floor and kicked me, he says. Then they gave me a cigarette and started the interrogation. They asked me if I was pro-Ukrainian. I'm Ukrainian, I said. Of course, I'm pro-Ukrainian. He was released, but his son Vladimir was taken by the Russians. He's still missing.

Vitali draws water from the neighborhood well. He recalls when Russian soldiers asked if he and his wife had any Nazis at home. This is a normal village, he chuckles in the retelling. We're farmers and workers.

Kozacha Lopan is the last stop on the train line before the Russian border. Soldiers took over the railway station.


These are all letters and pictures sent by Russian school children to the soldiers here at the railway station. Things like this, pictures, and here is a letter from Alexander in the fifth grade who says, you are heroes. Thank you for guaranteeing our safe future.

Misguided, discarded messages of support for a disastrous war.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And with hundreds of thousands of new Russian recruits headed to the meat grinder that's the Ukrainian front, many more Russian school children will be recruited to write more letters -- Erin.

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

And next, the situation growing more dangerous in Iran. More and more protesters taking to the streets after the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody.


BURNETT: Major protests in Iran coming after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She was arrested last week by Tehran's morality police for violating Iran's law requiring women to wear head scarves in public. Authorities say she died of a heart attack. Her father says that's a lie. Doctors refused to let him see his doctor after she died, but told him she had bruises on her leg. Protests have taken place in 40 cities across Iran, where women are

seen burning her head scarves. Today, our Christiane Amanpour was slated to interview the president of Iran for his first interview outside the country. He demanded she wear a head scarf, and she declined -- a proud and important momentum for Christiane and CNN. Sad, though, for Iran, which, of course, the whole world deserves to hear what he has to say and answer the tough questions.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.