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Erin Burnett Outfront

Ukraine Makes Gains In Areas Russia Just Claimed As Its Own As Putin's Recruits Say On Social Media That Are Not Trained; Hurricane Ian Death Toll Climbs To 100+, 500K Still Without Power; Wash Post: Trump Asked His Lawyer To Tell Archives In February That He Returned All Requested Docs, The Lawyer Refused; Interview With Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee Stacey Abrams; Woman Who Allegedly Recruited Migrants For DeSantis' Flights To Martha's Vineyard Identified As Ex-Army Counterintel Agent. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 03, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Ukraine making major gains as Putin's army falls apart. New recruits sent to the front lines already with little to no training. Soldiers told to use tampons to treat wounds. It's a story you'll see first OUTFRONT.

Plus, the death toll rising. At least 100 dead in the wake of Hurricane Ian, and now questions are growing about why officials waited to order mandatory evacuations.

And the person who helped recruit the migrants who Governor Ron DeSantis ultimately flew to Martha's Vineyard is a former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent. So who is she?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Putin's chaos. Ukrainian forces are busting through Russian frontlines, advancing deeper into Russian held territory in both the east and south. This video shows one of the ambushes destroying three Russian tanks. Videos posted online by Ukraine's defense ministry show one town after another being liberated. You see flags flying over three of them, including the key city of Lyman.

The losses are leaving Putin's forces in a state of chaos. And in a story you'll see first OUTFRONT, Russian recruits are revealing the reality of Putin's war. Some claiming they were given no training before being shipped off. Others showing his commander telling the new recruit that it doesn't matter if they have hernias or plates in their head, they're fit to fight.

We're going to have more on this and just a moment because right now, some of these men are already making it to the front lines. Putin throwing them in the line of fire as his options narrow. He's growing more desperate, threatening nuclear war.

And America's secretary of defense telling CNN in an incredibly sobering statement that there's no one around Putin who can stop him or talk him off the nuclear cliff.


LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: To be clear, the guy who makes that decision, I mean, it's one man. There are no checks on Mr. Putin.


BURNETT: Nick Paton Walsh begins our coverage OUTFRONT live in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine.

And, Nick, when we hear about how quickly the Ukrainian army is moving and how quickly they're taking over towns, give us a sense of the reality on the ground.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah. I mean, and the broader picture, they're moving relatively fast. It's only a month since we saw the last Russian collapse around Kharkiv. What we saw over the weekend was the result early weeks of slow pressure. Ukrainian forces moving through the forest, extraordinary destruction we saw in our journey to try to get towards Lyman, and finally, on the pressure builds around Lyman and the shooting on certain key targets in there seemed to break Russia's ability to think it could hold on to it, that it suddenly collapsed for Russia.

And we understand that around Friday, that's when the troops got on their armored personnel carriers and raced out of town, often so fast that their bags were flying off the tanks as they sped out.


WALSH: Some Russians were hit on the way out by Ukrainians trying to encircle that town. Others managed to finally get out. And still now, Ukrainians are further pushing east. It may be that Russia manages to regroup, to gather new defensively line, but the news is generally bad because this frankly shouldn't have happened. It was advertised for weeks. Russia shouldn't have been able to reinforce its positions.

And there's another piece of bad news for them, Erin, because where I'm standing here in the south, near Kryvyi Rih, well, there's been more Ukrainian advances too. Along the west bank of a key river running down towards the Black Sea, suddenly, Ukrainian forces after months of incremental pressure are pushing through and right-wing Russians over significant distances. And the big take away from all of this is that Ukraine is now moving forward in multiple places along the frontline, and that front line is smaller for Ukraine.

So it can apply more forest to those smaller areas. Politically, the ramifications have already been quite enormous. Just today, we learned that Russia has replaced its western military district commander, somebody who've been very involved in what's happened, a big change at the top, frankly, when all this chaos is unfolding. There's lots of recrimination amongst Russia's elite about how badly this is going.

And get this. Remarkably, too, a Kremlin spokesperson today, when asked exactly what the boundaries where for the territory which somewhat ridiculously on Friday, Russia claimed was part of Russia inside Ukraine, he said, look, there were still consulting on that and talking to the local population. Really, Moscow doesn't really seem to know where its new territory it's claimed in Ukraine actually begins and ends. And that's just another sign at the disarray that these Ukrainian advances are causing across Ukraine -- Erin.


BURNETT: Yeah, it's credible, right? A presidential address by Putin, and votes, and a big announcement and annexation, and then to actually admit they don't even know where the, quote/unquote, line is.

Nick, thank you very much, live from Ukraine tonight.

Well, as I mentioned, we have new video of Russian recruits and they are revealing what's really going on on the front lines and with this bizarre and chaotic recruitment process.

Melissa Bell has this report which will see you first here on OUTFRONT.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russian President Vladimir Putin's military, once feared, now mocked.

No laughing, the officer says to her recruits. Ask your wives, girlfriends, mothers, for period pads and tampons.

You know what tampons are for? You stick it in a bullet wound, she says. It swells and closes the wind. Bring your own sleeping bag, too, the men are told.

On television, the hundreds of thousands being mobilized by President Putin are well-equipped. In reality, there are videos on social media tell different tale.

We were officially told there would be no training before being sent to the combat zone, this recruit says. We had no shooting. No tactical training. No theoretical training. Nothing.

Another officer addresses his recruits. If you have hernias, plates in your hand, I was told to your fit for mobilization, so stop saying you can't. I live on pills. So, if I go, you'll be doing your tasks like everyone else.

CNN cannot independently verify these widely circulated videos. Even the deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, annexed Friday by Russia, couldn't help but be honest as the city of Lehman fell to Ukrainian forces.

The situation on the Lehman front is bad. Let's speak frankly, he tells a Russian propagandist. Everything is the same as everywhere else. namely, there are not enough people.

The sorry state has tainted the hallowed halls of Russian state television, where careful skepticism about Putin's war is increasingly tolerated. This time, it's the head of the state-owned RT network.

If I had to gather train loads of body armor, socks, and the rest for those already on the front line, she asks, have these 300,000 been supplied with all that they need?

These recruits in the central city of Perm clearly haven't. They lament being dropped by the side of the road late at night, saying they'll have to build a fire to stay warm.

The impact is plain to see. Ukraine recaptured more territory in the past month than Russia had gained in the past five.

Ukrainian intelligence, well aware of the cross propaganda value, regularly puts out intercepted calls before Russian soldiers and family back home.

There should be helicopters, planes, the woman says. There's nothing, nothing, nothing, says the world.

What kind of army is this, she replies. Just a TV show?

Putin's army, once feared, now in disarray.


BELL: Erin, there's also been criticism by the leader of the southern Russia Chechen republic of Chechnya, that Ramzan -- sorry -- Ramzan Kadyrov, expressing not only his desire that a nuclear bomb now be dropped on Ukraine but also criticizing the Russian top brass.

Now, this matches, Erin, because it's cutting through. It's been reported on Russian media that this all began with those defeats in the greater Kharkiv region, as whispers amongst pro-Russian bloggers, that has now grown deafening and it's being heard by ordinary Russians even as this conscription drive is underway, Erin.

BURNETT: Melissa Bell, thank you very much. Life from Kyiv tonight.

I want to go now to retired Army Lieutenant Mark Hertling, former commanding general for Europe and the Seventh Army.

So, General, just to respond to what we just all watched, recruits being told to use tampons to treat bullet wounds, so to stick in and it will soak up the blood and fill the space of the wind, sleeping directly on the cold ground, commander saying I live on pills, so who cares what your health issues are, get out there. What will this mean for the war?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Erin, I had an opportunity about ten years ago when I was still commanding in Europe to go to a Russian basic training outfit. What I saw there was a lack of qualification on weapons, no first aid training, treatment of new recruits in a horrible way, poor food, terrible leadership.

[09:10:01] This is just reminiscent of all this. And these are mobilized individuals. These are guys who haven't been serving for a while because they not only got those -- that kind of training when they first came in, but it's been probably years since they actually served in a unit. So those skills deteriorate.

These individuals, when Putin decided to call up 300,000 people --


HERTLING: -- he didn't have the capable -- capability to lead, train, equip or mobilize any of those forces. So it's just more cannon fodder into the fight.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you about that because the map of where things stand right now in Ukraine, Nick was going through the crucial developments. The solid yellow areas are where Ukraine has mounted a counteroffensive. Russian soldiers there have been fleeing in mass.

Now, while these new recruits are obviously not good, not trained, not ready, there will be hundreds of thousands of them. I mean, at least, it seems. And that's bodies. That's bodies to go down, it's bodies to fire guns and missiles.

Can Ukraine sustain this very, very quick counteroffensive in the face of just that raw body count coming in on the other side?

HERTLING: Are you talking, can Ukraine sustain this kind of offensive?

BURNETT: Yeah --

HERTLING: Yeah, absolutely they can. Yeah, they can. You know, there are -- you know, this is -- this is an operation where the Russian military is retreating. Ukrainian military is pursuing, as well as conducting these attacks.

That is the most -- that is one of the most difficult kind of operations to conduct, because they're literally chasing retreating soldiers off the battlefield. One of the concerns I would have right now it's something called a tactical or an operational pause. Ukrainian soldiers are going to have to stop to resupply, get more fuel, get more ammunition, rest a little bit, because they've been going hard for tens of kilometers, going after these forces.

And it's not only occurring in places where Nick was, or where Melissa is. It's happening all along the front.

One of the things that Melissa said that I think is very interesting, the front line for the Ukrainians is constricting. The places they have to move to is lessening. Russians are still surrounding that what they call exterior line on the outer forces. They still have to try to move voices around. They can't do it because the Ukrainians have also captured the railroad stations and destroyed the supply depots of the Russian military. BURNETT: And when we talk about Putin's doing this because his

options are narrowing, U.S. officials are now considering how to respond to a range of potential scenarios. And that includes any use of nuclear weapons. They're spending a lot of time on that, as they should be.

You heard Secretary Austin say and his exact quote, to be clear, there's one guy who makes that decision. It's one man. There are no checks on Mr. Putin.

Do you agree with the secretary of defense?

HERTLING: I do. One of the things that the U.S. military is very good at is planning. And they will take in all kinds of consideration and develop all kinds of courses of actions on how to react to an enemy. The one thing you can't predict is what a psychopath on the other side is going to do.

You can talk about watching and gaining intelligence for where nuclear or chemical weapons are being moved to or displaced from.


HERTLING: But what you can't do is decide or determine the decision- making of that one man at the top. That's the problem.

BURNETT: And it does sound, thought, that what he's saying is this sort of hope that people have that there's a chain of command and that somebody would refuse the order, you know, that there's going to be sanity in the command. That -- it sounds like he's saying, no, that there are no checks.

HERTLING: Well, what I'd say is one of the axioms of a military is to understand that hope is not a method. You can't hope for someone to interfere with orders from Putin to his troops. You have to plan for what happens if.


HERTLING: So, yeah, I agree with Secretary Austin. He's right on target. Never underestimate the enemy or enemy's commander and never hope for what you think is going to happen. You have to plan for countering it when it does occur.

BURNETT: General, thank you very much as always.

HERTLING: Pleasure, Erin. Thanks.

BURNETT: And next, the crisis in Florida. At least 100 now confirmed dead in the wake of Hurricane Ian. And some areas still with no water tonight or power. Many people are still unaccounted for. We'll take you to the ground.

Plus, dramatic opening statements in the highest profile January 6th cased so far. Members of the Oath Keepers saying they were at the Capitol to provide security and that they didn't have any violent intentions on that day.

And President Biden tonight saying he's greatly concerned over the violent crackdown in Iran, a crackdown that's being compared to a war zone at a major university.



BURNETT: Tonight, Florida's death toll from Hurricane Ian rising to at least 104 people. And at this hour, some areas still have no water. There are more than half a million people still without power and we are learning that it could be a month before it's restored in many places.

Search and rescue operations are up against the clock tonight. Obviously, you're days past this storm now. The hardest hit area, Lee County, where 54 are already confirmed dead in the storm, they're still searching. County officials there are under intense scrutiny over the timing of their evacuation order, whether they waited too long.

I want to go straight to Leyla Santiago. She's in Lee County, at Fort Myers Beach.

And, Leyla, the death toll has gone up here in just the past half hour in terms of the numbers, we understand, are confirmed dead. Are officials in Lee County expecting those fatality numbers to go even higher?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, the sheriff and the mayor here in Fort Myers Beach were asked that and they're from Lee County. They said that they are certainly hoping it doesn't go up. But when you talk to the rescue crews that we talked to today, they're certainly saying that's a possibility. The search and rescue efforts continue on Fort Myers Beach.


SANTIAGO (voice-over): The rescue and recovery operation after Hurricane Ian continuing on the small white sand island of Fort Myers Beach, located in Lee County, an island that is now a pile of rubble with more than a hundred deaths so far, 54 are reported in this county alone.

BRIAN SULLIVAN, FEMA URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE, VIRGINIA BEACH: Looking for anybody that may have been left behind. The devastation is hard to put into words.


SANTIAGO: We joined a FEMA rescue operation that includes search and rescue dogs. Not a single door being overlooked.

SULLIVAN: Send the dog in, he sniffs around. If we can't see him, we'll start hollering and see if we get any response from anybody. If we don't hear anything, we'll bring a second dog up.

SANTIAGO: As we walk around on Fort Myers Beach, there is just destruction everywhere. The water that came in here just decimated this area. And a lot of people are asking us when will power come back, how long will it take to recover. And it will be different for some folks. Where I am standing right now, this used to be a home. Now, stairs that lead to nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They army thing, they're going to take us over the bridge.

SANTIAGO: These two women who rode out the storm here grateful for being transported off the island today.

SHERIFF CARMINE MARCENO, LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Our EOC has made a decision to close the beach to residents.

SANTIAGO: Officials today deciding to close the island to search and rescue teams only so their operation can continue safely.

Lee County officials have been criticized for issuing the first mandatory evacuation orders only a day before Ian's landfall, despite emergency plans that called for it sooner.

MAYOR KEVIN ANDERSON, FORT MYERS, FL: I don't think it would've made a difference because we start pushing hurricane awareness in June. Until people learn to follow the advisory, to plan, not wait until it's too late, that's what will save lives.

SANTIAGO: For Fort Myers resident, Connie Miller (ph), she said she realized she needed to get out when it was too late. Hotels were already booked and she feared getting stuck on the roads driving off the island.

CONNIE MILLER, FORT MYERS RESIDENT: God kept us together and gave us safety.

SANTIAGO: And officials are standing by their decision.

MARCENO: I am confident in our county manager, our leaders, our governor, all of us in law enforcement that we got that message out at the right time.

SANTIAGO: For many, coming back to a life here still very uncertain.

MILLER: I'm getting tired. So it's time to go. Obviously, things weren't going to get better. Not for a long time.


BURNETT: Leyla, it's interesting to hear them. They are defending that decision not to make a mandatory evacuation order for Lee County until the day before the storm, even though the neighboring county required residents to go on Monday, days before.

So, are you getting any answers as to why they waited that extra day to evacuate?

SANTIAGO: You know, Erin, they have been asked multiple times. The mayor and the sheriff today spoke where we are giving updates. But they are still standing by that decision. And as we have been here and, you know, walked through the rubble, seen the damage, talked to residents, there is a sense from the people who live here that there just wasn't enough time to get out.

Take Connie, for example. You heard from her in the story, happy to report that she was able to get out and she's now heading to Pennsylvania. But she echoed that same sentiment saying there just wasn't enough time to get out.

BURNETT: Right. So many people when you give them one day, they get afraid, too much traffic, better just to stay.

All right. Leyla, thank you very much from Fort Myers Beach in Lee County tonight.

And next, there's breaking news. "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump personally told one of his lawyers back in February to tell the National Archives that everything they wanted had been returned. Well, that was not true. And we're learning that that lawyer refused to do it. Details are next.

And it's a rematch in a key battleground state. Democrats Stacey Abrams again taking on Governor Brian Kemp for Georgia's highest office. She lost narrowly four years ago. So what's her plan to win?




BURNETT: Breaking news, "The Washington Post" reporting that Donald Trump asked one of his lawyers in early 2022, early this year, to tell the National Archives that all the materials that they had requested had been returned.

Now, the lawyer refused because he was not sure that this was true, and "The Washington Post" is reporting it was Donald Trump himself who packed up the boxes that were returned to the National Archives in January. This is obviously really crucial information because he packed them up himself, and he told the lawyer to say that everything that was requested was in there. And yet when the FBI shows up in August, there are dozens of boxes that are still there.

Evan Perez is OUTFRONT.

So, Evan, how significant is this latest reporting?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's important that one of the former president's own attorney, somebody who was a campaign lawyer, somebody who was working with the National Archives as they were trying to retrieve these boxes of documents, Erin, himself was communicating to the National Archives that he didn't know how much more was still being held at Mar-a-Lago, how many more government documents were still being held. And according to this reporting from "The Washington Post," he himself refused to declare to the archives at the request of the former president that the former president had returned everything.

According to "The Post," Trump even went so far as to dictate a statement that never got released trying to portray that all these documents had been returned. Of course, we now know that months after those initial 15 boxes of documents there were thousands more documents still at Mar-a-Lago when the FBI went there in August, including more than a hundred documents that were marked as classified, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. So, this is obviously important and I'm going to have more on that in just a moment. But it also, Evan, this development comes on the first day of the trial for the Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and his top lieutenants. And this obviously could be a very significant trial for the former president.

The DOJ says in opening statements that this group tried to plot an armed rebellion and that, quote, if Congress could not meet, it could not declare the winner of the election, and that was their goal, to stop by any means necessary the transfer of power, including taking up arms against the United States government.

What did the defense have to say today in court?

PEREZ: Well, the defense lawyers are portraying the government is overblowing this entire episode.


They say that Stewart Rhodes and his allies came to Washington as some sort of a peace-keeping force, thinking that perhaps the former president or the sitting president at the time, Donald Trump, was going to declare the Insurrection Act and that they would be called in to essentially help keep the peace.

I'll read you just the part of what Phillip Linder, one of the attorneys for the Oath Keepers, who are on trial, said today.

He said: The real evidence is going to show you that our clients were there to do security for the events of the 5th and the 6th. Stewart Rhodes meant no harm to the Capitol that day. Stewart Rhodes did not have any violent intent that day. The story that the government is trying to tell you today is completely wrong.

He calls Stewart Rhodes, who has a law degree, by the way, a founder of the oath keepers, he calls him a constitutional expert, extremely patriotic, and that he loves his country.

Of course, Erin, the prosecution, the Justice Department says that this idea of the Insurrection Act was simply a cover for Stewart Rhodes and his allies trying to essentially stop what Congress was doing, which was to certify the results of the election. BURNETT: All right. Evan, thank you very much.

And I want to go now to Ryan Goodman, co-editor in chief of "Just Security", and the former special counsel at the Defense Department.

So, Ryan, let's start with this breaking news from "The Washington Post" that Trump personally directed one of his lawyers to affirm to the National Archive that everything that they had asked for had been returned. That lawyer refused to do so, saying he didn't know if it was true, and that Trump himself packed up those boxes.

Obviously, this could be very significant because all the information was not returned. We've seen the letter, original email from the National Archives. They talk about two dozen boxes. They list out things like the Kim Jong-un letters and letter from Barack Obama.

We know Trump only sent back 15 boxes that first time. So, clearly, he packed them up himself and he didn't send everything back.

RYAN GOODMAN, JUST SECURITY: Yeah. So, it's hard to believe that he didn't see the 11,000 other documents while he's packing these up --


GOODMAN: -- and selecting a specific subset of boxes to send back. And I think it's very important that he tries to get his own lawyer just to say that the Archives that we've returned everything and the fact that the lawyer rejects that and says I won't do it because I don't believe it to be true and very significant.

"The Post" mentions that if that kind of pressure on the lawyer continued after Trump knew he was under investigation, it could be obstruction investigation.


GOODMAN: But the other part of it is that very same statute says also if you impede or obstruct the ability of an agency to perform its duties, which is the National Archives, that alone could do it. So pressuring your lawyer to make a false statement, that alone could do it.

BURNETT: So that's very significant. Also what seems to me to be significant is one thing that -- I mean, it's clear they found documents in his office, right? He was keeping certain things that matter to him, and that's been very clear. But one thing that this reporting does, which seems to be just sort of putting a nail in a coffin is to say Trump packed boxes up himself.

So, this whole issue of, well, maybe he directed it and didn't know really what was sitting down in that storage room, this actually would show no. He actually -- people, oh, he wouldn't take all this time to go through and pick the documents. This is saying, yes, he did. His own lawyer is saying, yes, he did.

GOODMAN: That's right, and that's pretty significant. I mean, it puts it right directly on him. And I think, otherwise, that would have been -- his defense would've been to say, I delegate this stuff to other people, I wouldn't deal with that personally. But the fact that he's looking inside these boxes, and we know how much is incriminating inside those boxes is really important evidence for any kind of a prosecution, and that's a problem.

BURNETT: And also, now, you know, Maggie Haberman's new book is coming out, "Confidence Man", about Trump. And she's, you know, including some never-before-heard conversations she had with him. So, one of these conversations is about the documents.

And she asks him, hey, did you have any documents? And this is an interesting thing. We're hearing that he told his lawyer to say he handed everything over. He actually tells, Maggie, oh, no, I have some stuff and it's really cool stuff. Here's the exchange.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Did you leave the White House with anything in particular? Are there any memento documents you took with you? Anything of note?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Nothing of great urgency. I have great things there. You know, the letters -- the Kim Jong-un letters. I had many of them.

HABERMAN: Take those with you?

TRUMP: Look at what's happening.


TRUMP: No. I think that has the -- I think that's in the Archives, but most of it is in the Archives.


BURNETT: Okay. He admits that right there, though. Most of it is at the Archives. Now whether that's true or not, he's admitting he kept some of it right there on tape.

GOODMAN: Yeah, it's amazing. I mean, if instead he said, well, you know, not all of it's at the Archives, which is the same thing. That's synonymous. It's pretty incriminating even to the point that I think the prosecution would play that audiotape if this ever goes to trial.

BURNETT: If this ever goes to trial.

All right. Now, one other point I want to ask you, because Evan was talking about this trial that's going on with the Oath Keepers and it could be very significant, because they were trying to clam that they were there because Trump might have the Insurrection Act, that they would be called upon and that's why they were there and he's to blame.


So far, it does not seem that that argument is going to fly. Do you think it will end up having a chance in court?

GOODMAN: I don't think so. I think there's overwhelming evidence that they were planning to do this after Trump lost the election, they planned to do it after they knew that Trump was not going to act. There's actually an intercept of an encrypted communication from the letter of the Oath Keepers around 1:30 p.m. --

BURNETT: Yeah. GOODMAN: -- on January 6th where he says Trump's not acting, so you need to go in.

And then we also have from today that they also have the lead of the Oath Keepers on January 10th saying that he has one regret, that they didn't bring rifles. So, I think that they have no real defense.

BURNETT: That really takes that one away.

All right. Thank you very much, Ryan, as always.

And next, a federal judge makes a ruling against a group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams who said the state's 2018 election violated constitutional rights. So, will she publicly concede that governor's race?

And we're learning new details about the mystery woman who was a key player of Governor Ron DeSantis' operation to fly migrants to Martha's Vineyard.


BURNETT: Tonight, Republican Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia refusing to say whether he would campaign with Trump in the state.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: That's not anything I can control. I'm focused on what I can control in this race. He knows, like all other Republicans and people in the middle, that the focus needs to be on this president.



BURNETT: Well, this comes as multiple polls show Kemp leading Stacey Abrams there in less than 40 days before Election Day.

Governor Kemp, though, isn't taking those polls for granted. When it comes to getting turnout, he's telling his supporters not to underestimate the Democrats.


KEMP: I'm telling our folks, you know, don't get overconfident. We got to keep working like we've never worked before. We're not only fighting for the soul of our state, we're fighting a lot of outside interests from places like California and New York.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor. And, of course, I'll mention, we did invite Governor Kemp on the show and he declined.

Leader Abrams, so polls do show you trailing Governor Kemp with just two weeks until early voting starts, 40 days until Election Day, but two weeks until early voting, which I know is very important.

Do you think you have enough time to turn this around?

STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: Absolutely. There are some polls which have had some very express problems that are showing they're outlier polls. But we also had a series of polls that came around the same time that show that this is a tight race, that's within the margin of error.

This is a snapshot. Polls are snapshot. And the question is, who are you taking a picture of?

And when you take a picture that is predominantly Republican and has a disproportionately white population or that undercounts the participation of women, of course, it's going to lean in the direction of the incumbent. But when those polls actually look at and the crosstabs reflect the composition of Georgia, we are in a neck-in-neck race.

And I agree with the governor at least once, that this is a race that will be determined by who shows up, and that's why we're going to fight as hard as we can to make certain that voters show up early starting October 17th to cast their ballots, and that they stand with us because they know that what's at stake is not simply the soul of our state, it's also the direction of our state.

And we have a current governor who is a failed governor, who has pushed explicitly harsh penalties and harsh laws that have made it harder to protect our freedoms and harder to protect our families. And I believe that at the end of the day, they're going to stand with me for change.

BURNETT: So I want to ask you about the voting rights issue. Obviously, this is something you and the governor have stridently disagreed on. He has signed the legislation on voting rights.

And I want to ask you about a major ruling against the voting rights group that you founded after your loss to Kemp last connection. A federal judge struck down your claims that state election laws at the time violated the Voting Rights Act. So, that was struck down.

Now, I want to just remind everybody what you said in 2018 when you first announced this lawsuit after losing the governor's race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ABRAMS: Let's be clear, this is not a speech of concession. In the coming days, we will be filing a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election. And we will win because we are Georgia. And I promise you, we will get it done.


BURNETT: So now that the judge has ruled against you, do you accept the ruling as it is?

ABRAMS: Well, let's be clear about what this ruling said. It was a 288-page ruling where the judge explicitly stated that both my organization or the organization I founded and the secretary of state's office, ones (ph) of the complaints, we lost them.

Over the course of the last four years because of this lawsuit, 22,000 people were restored to the rolls, 2,000 people who were subject to a system that denied their access to the right to vote based on their citizenship, or the -- based on becoming new citizens, they were finally allowed to actually be put back on the rolls.

Because of this litigation, there was dramatic --


ABRAMS: -- changes made through legislation to the absentee ballot process. Because of this litigation, there were changes made to exact match. Because of this litigation, over the last four years, we have seen improvements made to the process of elections.

But, unfortunately, in response to those changes and the very dramatic evidence that came about because of increased access, we also saw this governor and this secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, passed SB 202 to put new barriers in place.

And so, I stand by my complaint. About any time state actors put barriers to access in front of eligible voters, we should always push back. And I will continue to be very proud of the work that Fair Fight has done and will continue to do to protect access to the right to vote in Georgia.

BURNETT: Is there any scenario in which you would concede that you lost publicly in 2018?

ABRAMS: In 2018, on the day I made that speech, if you play the beginning of the speech, I acknowledged that I'm not the governor, that Brian Kemp won the election. What I said is that the process denied access to too many voters. And that was proven by more than 3,000 voters who made their voices heard by -- of trial and a process that was the first full-length trial held on voting rights in more than a decade in the state of Georgia.


ABRAMS: I have never denied the outcome. I have always questioned the process and the access. And I think it's dangerous and disingenuous to conflate concerns about access, to (ph) concerns about outcome.


Outcome is about who wins. And no one is entitled to victory, including myself. I have never been unclear about the fact that I did not win the race.

But access belongs to every eligible American. And it is incumbent upon every person at every level of government and in our society to demand that equal access to the right to vote be made available in this country. And that's what I continue to fight for.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Leader Abrams, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

ABRAMS: Thank you for having me.

BURNETT: All right.

And, next, this woman has been a mystery for weeks. And tonight, we're learning new details about her -- the woman who allegedly helped recruit the migrants that Governor Ron DeSantis flew to Martha's Vineyard.

And the situation in Iran has been deteriorating quickly. Witnesses say students are now being beaten, shot, and detained.


BURNETT: Tonight, new details about the mystery woman who allegedly helped recruit migrants for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' flights to Martha's Vineyard. Her full name is Perla Huerta, and she is a former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent.

OUTFRONT now, Edgar Sandoval of "The New York Times" who first reported on Huerta's full name and details about her background.

So, Edgar, thank you very much.


So, there's been so many questions, who is Perla? Who is Perla? So many reporters have been trying to find out.

What more can you tell us about her?

EDGAR SANDOVAL, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know, thank you, Erin, for having me.

I mean, we learned about her name pretty soon after the story broke. But we spent two weeks trying to verify that that was indeed her name through various (ph) sources. And what we managed to learn was through military records, that she was a former U.S. military for almost two decades, former counterintelligence, former combat medic, and she was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. And we haven't been able to reach her family members. I talked to a brother who lives in the San Antonio area, but he was, understandably, you know, not willing to talk to us. And it remains to be seen what more we learn about her.

BURNETT: But, I mean, this is obviously significant, you know, counterintelligence background, spent time in Afghanistan, armed forces.

The Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, of course, has boasted he is the one who did this, that was behind these flights.

That -- what can you tell us that you know so far about any connection between Governor Ron DeSantis and Perla Huerta?

SANDOVAL: What we know, right now, is that he (INAUDIBLE) credit for the flights and that she's the person of interest in the investigation, and that many of the migrants who we spoke with identified her as a person who drew them into these two flights.

But, really, I mean, what we know as well is that the city of San Antonio, (INAUDIBLE) authorities, and the city officials were caught off guard. This is -- this is a very stealthy operation. So -- and they are also wanting to have -- you know, looking for answers.

BURNETT: And any sense of kind of where she is now or what she's doing?

SANDOVAL: It's the mystery that everyone wants to solve. She could be in Florida. She could be in Texas. Yeah, we just don't know right now.

Our efforts to try to reach her have been futile.

BURNETT: Wow, it is -- it is really fascinating, though. And, of course, you want to know so much about her.

But thank you so much for sharing all of these new details. Edgar, thank you.

SANDOVAL: Thank you for having me.

BURNETT: All right. And next, Iranian forces tonight accused of shooting and detaining university students as the regime tries to crack down on protesters. We'll have the latest.



BURNETT: Tonight, President Biden says he is, quote, gravely concerned over the intensifying and violent crackdown in Iran. You're looking at scenes from the largest university in Tehran, the first day of school. Students were beaten, shot, detained. This is all according to witnesses.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, weighing in today, blaming the U.S. for what you're saying there.

The protests are all in response to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini who was taken into custody by Iran's morality police for not covering her hair.

Jomana Karadsheh is OUTFRONT.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A snap shot of a night of horror at one of Iran's most prestigious universities. Chaos, panic and fear, as students, some of Iran's best and brightest, ran through the Sharif University car park in Tehran, chased by security forces on foot and on motorbikes.

Those who couldn't escape the violent crackdown, hooded and taken away. We don't know what happened after the shot was fired, bird shot and paint balls were used to crush the protest and to stop those who are trying to film. As news spread, crowds gathered outside chanting, "Free the Students".

CNN tracked down one of those who rushed to save students trapped inside. For his safety, we're concealing his identity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw SOS call from Sharif coming. And one of my friends called, and he just told me that please come save us. They are shooting at us. So we got on our bikes and we went there and we practically had to Captain America our way into the university. It was a war zone. And there was blood everywhere.

KARADSHEH: No one really knows how many were hurt, how many were dragged away. The little video and harrowing accounts still trickling out paint a picture of the ruthless force used.

Students in their thousands are staging protests on campuses and on the streets across the country. What started with demands for justice and accountability for the death of Mahsa Amini has quickly morphed into more daring, widespread calls for regime change, for bringing down the repressive Islamic Republic.

Anger that has been building for years captured in videos like this one, protesters in Tehran tearing down and destroying the Islamic Republic street sign.

The regime that has a bloody history suppressing dissent is only just beginning to unleash all it's got against his own people. But defiant protesters say, this time, there will be no turning back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no. This is far from over. We are not scared. We are outraged. We are furious.

You know, these people think that we are the previous generation that if they do this, we're just going to stop. We are not going to stop. This is a one-way road for us. Because if we stop, they are going to kill even more people. Take even more people into custody. Torture them, rape them. These people can do anything. So we won't stop. This is not the end. I

promise you that.


BURNETT: Jomana, to hear his words, we are three weeks into the protests now. Are there any signs of them letting up?

KARADSHEH: Absolutely no sign of that, Erin. Despite the widening and intensifying crackdown by the security forces across the country, you know, those words we heard from that young man, it's no the just him saying that. We have seen this unfolding across the country.

You've got this really determined generation of Iranians, more embolden than ever. They're risking, everything, Erin. Rising up for the freedoms and rights that they have never known under this oppressive regime.

BURNETT: Jomana, thank you very much.

And thanks so much to all of you for joining us tonight.

"AC360" begins right now.