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Erin Burnett Outfront

Putin's Ex-Speechwriter To OutFront: Putin Losing War Means Losing Power; U.S. Dismisses Russia's Claim That Ukraine Plans To Use A Dirty Bomb; Justice Thomas Blocks Order For Graham To Testify In Election Probe; New York Governor's Race Closer Than Expected, GOP Seizes On Crime As Key Issue; Questions Grow After China's Ex-Leader Hu Is Escorted From Event. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 24, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Putin's former speechwriter tells OUTFRONT his old boss is emotional, not always rational and may very well use a nuclear weapon. This as Russia is showing a lot of interest lately in Norway. Why?

Plus, it's a state that should have been a slam dunk for Democrats. But why is the New York governor's race suddenly so close?

And no word or sighting of former President Hu Jintao after he was abruptly escorted out of the communist party's meeting. This as anti- Xi protesters are now writing their messages on the walls of public bathrooms. It is the story you'll see here first.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, exhausted, emotional and not always rational. Putin's former speechwriter says the Russian leader knows he cannot survive losing his war in Ukraine. Because he is almost assuredly to lose power if that happens, and losing power means jail at best. This warning coming as criticism of Putin's war tonight was loud and clear on Russia's state TV.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Russia initiated the special operation having overestimated its military strength. It is the eighth month already. And they still have not claimed victory.


BURNETT: Putin knows his hold on power has limits. And that is why he is laying the groundwork for a possible nuclear attack. You will hear from Putin's speech writer in just a moment because he is warning of Putin's compromised state of mind. It comes as Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, doubling down today on Russia's claim that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb. It is a claim that is being dismissed as a possible false flag justifying a Russian nuclear response. The U.S., U.K. and France even issuing this rare joint statement and

it reads in part, quote: The defense ministers of each of our countries spoke to Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoygu, at his request. Our countries made clear that we all reject Russia's transparent false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory. The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.

Putin laying the groundwork for a false flag attack that allows for nuclear escalation because his conventional forces are losing. Tonight we found more new video of Russian soldiers talking about their dire reality.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): Just take a look at our uniforms. Each of these we bought ourselves. All of our gear we purchased ourselves -- our masks, our combat boots, our gloves. One guy bought a flat jacket for 60,000 rubles. By the same evening the price had already gone up to 80,000 rubles. Now that same flak jacket cost 100,000 to 150,000 rubles.

We know how this works. But every time we go to another store the price keeps going up two times what it was before.

RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): I will just add a comment about the weapons, which were rusty and jammed. Such weapons are not fit for battle. We haven't been fed for 2 days. There wasn't even any water.


BURNETT: Again, they all want to be seen. They want you to know they all agree, but they covered their face so you cannot fully identify who they are, when it comes to Russian leadership.

And Putin is seeming to threaten to escalate the war in other ways. Tonight, I want to know about two more Russians arrested for photographing military facilities in Norway is a NATO country. This is according to Norwegian TV 2.

In recent weeks, several Russian nationals with drones have been arrested and detained in Norway, including the son of this Putin ally who was arrested for flying a drone in a sensitive area. And Norway carries immense strategic value in this war. Norway is now Europe's top gas supplier after Russia cut supplies.

Fred Pleitgen is live in Dnipro, Ukraine, tonight.

And, Fred what is the latest on the ground where you are tonight?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Erin. We were near the southern front end this war that is going on. What Ukrainians are saying that the battle for -- they say they continue to make a lot of headway there. The big question here right now is what is the Russian military going to do next in that area? Are they going to withdrawal or are they gearing up to make some stand or is there the potential for a dramatic new escalation?

Here is what we are learning.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): As Ukrainian forces continue to make gains in the south of the country, Moscow accelerating the evacuation of people from the area around Kherson.


Ferries bringing tens of thousands across the Dnipro River the Russians to safety, Ukraine says these are essentially deportations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My mother needs medical treatment. She is ill. And of course we are afraid for our lives. We live not far from the Antonivskyi Bridge. I think everything will be fine. Kherson will hold out.

PLEITGEN: Local officials believe this could be the beginning of a full Russian retreat from this area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The occupiers and collaborators are leaving the west part of the region in quite a dramatic way. This happens along with the total leaving (ph) of Kherson city and the region west of the river.

PLEITGEN: But Ukraine's military intelligence say they believe Russia is actually building up its forces here for a massive stand rather than readying for withdrawal. But as Vladimir Putin's troops lose ground officials in Moscow are making troubling accusations.

In a call with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Russia's defense minister alleging without any evidence that Ukraine is planning to detonate a nuclear laced improvised device a so-called dirty bomb.

A Russian general adding to the claims.

LT. GEN. IGOR KIRILOV, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY: The provocation is aimed at accusing Russia of using weapons of mass destruction at the Ukrainian theater of operations that will launch a powerful anti- Russian campaign in order to undermine the confidence in Moscow.

PLEITGEN: Kyiv sharply rejects obligations even asking the International Atomic Energy to inspect his civilian nuclear sites. The IAEA already has staff in the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant trying to prevent an atomic disaster there. Ukraine's president hurling the allegations back at Moscow.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT AT UKRAINE: Never again will Russia be able to dictate anything to anyone. It no longer has the potential to dictate. The world sees that. Russian potential is being wasted now in this madness on a war against our state and the entire free world.

PLEITGEN: The Russians continue to hit Ukraine with long-distance missiles and drones this weekend, Mykolaiv and elsewhere. The Russians are continuing their air campaign against the public infrastructure of this country hitting civilian areas like right here. Killing and wounding scores of people. But the air campaign is also taking a massive toll on the energy infrastructure of this country leaving hundreds of thousands without power.

The Ukrainian say Russians airstrikes won't stop their advance. Kyiv Army looking to retake as much as they are territory as possible for winter sets in.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And certainly, Erin, from our vantage point here in the south of the country, it looks as though Vladimir Putin's army is in a lot of trouble, in a precarious situation around that town of Kherson where the logistics are externally difficult. If Ukrainians hit some key bridges they are. We spent the people in these towns down here in the south of Ukraine a lot of them do believe the Ukrainian military will prevail.

But there is also a lot of concern of what Vladimir Putin might do if his forces continue to lose on the battlefield, Erin.

BURNETT: A huge concern there. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.

OUTFRONT, Abbas Gallyamov, he is a former speechwriter for Vladimir Putin and is now a Russian political analyst.

Abbas, thank you so much for your time tonight.

I want to start with Russia claiming there is evidence Ukraine plans to use a dirty bomb against its own people. And then blame Moscow for doing it. Now this is not true. But you know Putin. What is he doing with this dirty bomb talk?

ABBAS GALLYAMOV: What trying -- what Putin is trying to do he is trying to impress Ukrainians by showing that he is ready to start this nuclear attack. Ukrainians would say hey he is preparing public Russian public opinion for the nuclear attack. He is blaming us that means he is really going to do that.

So, better, let's go to the negotiations table. This is what Putin needs. He really needs Ukrainians to start negotiations. They are refusing with him he wants to produce this impression.

BURNETT: Is Putin's threat of using nuclear weapons real do you think?

GALLYAMOV: You should understand, for him, losing the war most probably like 95 percent means losing power. Losing power for him 100 percent means he would end up in jail at best. He cannot afford losing war.

So, if it comes to this point he might opt for nuclear strike. Although you should understand there is one more important point, when he makes this command to use this nuclear strike, he will be already not legitimate leader. Maybe the command will not be carried out by the military.

You should understand there is a growing displeasure and a growing split between Putin and the army.


This is the new factor in the Russian politics, which was never there before. Previously Putin was like a father to the military, now it no longer. And so, he might give this command but it will not be carried out.

BURNETT: Putin speeches, Abbas, have become increasingly full of rants, threats against the west as well of course as complete lies against the war. I just wanted to play a clip from last week when he was defending his decision to impose martial law in the illegally annexed regions of Putin. Here is Putin.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The neo-Nazis are using blatantly terrorist methods, sabotaging vital facilities and arranging assassination attempts on representatives of the local authorities.


BURNETT: As his former speech writer, now when you watch him speak, do you have any doubt Putin is writing these words himself, that they are truly from him?

GALLYAMOV: Well, the major things he's telling are truly his. When I was working for him, when the situation was peaceful and no one was threatening his authority, his power, he didn't care much about words. So the speechwriters had a free hand, and we were writing what we and the officials responsible for strategies in certain areas, what we thought both us and these officials, we thought what was necessary.

So we were just writing this to him giving it to him, and he was speaking, he was looking, he's reading, then he's picking up his eyes and speaking. And he didn't care about checking the words beforehand.

But not with those speeches, which are devoted to subjects, which are of death and life importance to him. These things are, of course, his vintage -- his trademark -- coming straight from his heart.

BURNETT: You worked with Putin on and off for over a decade, I know, but the last time was in 2010. What changes, Abbas, do you see in his demeanor in the way he presents himself, in the way he is acting, his physical appearance? Does anything stand out to you?

GALLYAMOV: He is becoming more and more emotional. Previously he was very logical and very rational. He could control his emotions easily. And he's exhausted.

What I see now is that it seems that he's losing his ability to break trends, to break paradigms, like what he was famous for before. Now he is just following the past and no longer has ability to turn away.

BURNETT: All right, Abbas, thank you very much for your perspective and your time. Thanks.

GALLYAMOV: Thank you.

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, the former commanding general of Europe and the Seventh Army.

So, General, you just heard Abbas. He knows Putin personally, worked with him, and worked with him over a decade. So he can see the change in the person. He thinks Putin is exhausted, emotional, and not always rational.

This is the person who we now know is running this war, making day-to- day detailed decisions. What is the significance of that for the war itself?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You know, Erin, there's a lot to break down about the reports you just had. One of which is Mr. Gallyamov, who just spoke to you.

I served -- I'm afraid to admit this, but I served for a year as a speechwriter to a four-star general. When you do that kind of work, you went into the individual's head, you know their intellect, you know their emotion, you know what they're thinking because you have to portray their words on paper.

What he's talking about is seeing Mr. Putin in this case very different than what he saw him when he was in a more rational state. It tells me that something we all know, Mr. Putin is scrambling. He is trying to address things that he can't control right now, and when you're talking about the use of nuclear weapons or the detonation of a dirty bomb.

And, by the way, Mr. Gallyamov did not really truly understand what a dirty bomb is. It is a nuclear weapon. It is a normal bomb surrounded by nuclear material, very different but it's something that could cause Mr. Putin to then retaliate with nuclear weapons.

And the very fact that Mr. Putin has now talked to -- Mr. Shoigu -- Mr. Shoigu has talked to the U.S., the U.K., France and now Turkey tells me he's trying to co-opt decision-making in NATO if he does consider using the potential of using a nuclear weapon. So all of these things are now starting to come together and connect dots on what Putin and Russia are trying to do.

BURNETT: And what does the significance of this rare joint statement U.K., France, U.S., you mentioned Turkey now also got the call. But, you know, coming out together, not just individually, but putting out a statement together. It is rare, it's significant.

Does that mean they think Putin really could do this? Which, of course, is what Abbas was saying.

HERTLING: It could be that. But I'd also suggest it also means they are telling them we know what you're doing, we have been reading your intelligence from the start of this war, we're reading your actions and what you're thinking about doing next. Don't do it. We are committed as a body, the U.S. and NATO as a body to countering any of these kinds of obscene and extreme actions that Mr. Putin is considering.

So it's kind of the final warning if Shoygu and Gerasimov and Lavrov can influence Putin at all, which no indications that they can yet. Truthfully, this is a signal to them, try and force your boss not to make another dumb decision, which he's made so many of already.

BURNETT: Right. Appealing to that inner circle who may be the ones who ultimately make the decision to go ahead with an order or not.

General Hertling, thank you very much.

HERTLING: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gets Lindsey Graham off the hook for now. Graham won't have to testify in front of the Georgia grand jury investigating Trump's to overturn the election. So, should Thomas should recuse himself?

Plus, it's been almost 20 years since New York had a Republican governor. Could the focus on crime send the current Democrat packing?

And two armed men seen at a ballot box, a couple taunted as mules, followed by people taking pictures and video at a drop-off ballot. Is this just a preview of what we're going to see on election day? The story and Jon Meacham is OUTFRONT.



BURNETT: New tonight, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas siding with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Justice Thomas temporarily freezing a lower court order that had forced Graham to testify in the Georgia investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Now, this ruling was a one-justice deal. Thomas had 100 percent of the power because he has jurisdiction over this lower court.

Let's go straight to CNN's senior justice correspondent Evan Perez first here.

So, Evan, talk more about Justice Thomas' role in just a moment. But what happens now for Senator Graham who had been seen very important in what has been dubbed a crucial case in Georgia?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, look. He is an important witness, and Fani Willis, the district attorney there in Fulton County, she wants his testimony, she says she is trying to finish getting -- receiving testimony of important witnesses by the end of the year, Erin. So this ruling or this temporary stay here by Justice Thomas is just really a couple more days. He's asking for the district attorney to respond by Thursday. And so, we'll get a sense how much longer the Supreme Court is going to weigh what Lindsey Graham is arguing.

Remember, what he is arguing is that his status as a senator means that under the Constitution, he cannot be questioned because of the protections of the speech or debate clause. Two courts have ruled that, you know, the speech and debate protections aren't all- encompassing. That certainly his communications with Georgia lawmakers about the election results in 2020 certainly should not be protected under the Constitution.

So, we'll see whether Justice Thomas kicks this up to the full court. Then we might see whether this goes on for a few more weeks.

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

So, now, I want to bring in Ryan Goodman, the co-editor in chief of just security and the former special counsel at the Defense Department.

So, Ryan, the Justice Thomas aspect of this. He had 100 percent of the decision-making authority on this.

The irony, of course, is that is his wife Ginni was present at the rally on January 6th. She texted the chief of staff Mark Meadows in the run-up to that day, in part, quote: Help this great president stand firm Mark, the majority knows Biden and the left is attempting the greatest heist of our history.

And now, her husband, Justice Thomas, ultimately oversees the entire Georgia investigation in his role overseeing that court and we're supposed to take his ruling here seriously or with a grain of salt?

RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JUST SECURITY: With a very large grain of salt, I think. So, there is a standard here for a judge or justice to recuse themselves if their impartiality could be unreasonably questioned or if they have a spouse whose interest could be substantially affected by the outcome of the case. That's the standard.

BURNETT: Literally that's the standard?

GOODMAN: Yeah, and --

BURNETT: For a spouse -- okay.

GOODMAN: Yeah, it's in a federal statute. So, it's the standard. It's even more severe because she was directly involved with some of the actors that are under investigation in Georgia -- Mark Meadows, Cleta Mitchell, John Eastman. And John Eastman pleads the fifth in front of the district attorney in August. She says to Mark Meadows, listen to Cleta.

Cleta is the point person in Georgia trying to overturn the results of the election. And what does Mark Meadows do but forward Cleta Mitchell's bogus allegations of election fraud to the Justice Department.

BURNETT: And you have two judges who have said that Lindsey Graham should go ahead and testify and that his reason for not doing so doesn't add up. And then Thomas comes in and puts in this whole -- it's incredible.


BURNETT: But it could go to the full court?

GOODMAN: Yeah. It essentially will go to the full court now.

BURNETT: OK. Now, there's a headline that just crossed as we're getting ready to speak here, from "The New York Times" that prosecutors are pressuring Trump aides to testify in the documents case. This would be from the department of justice. Specifically they're talking about Kash Patel and the unnamed individual who helped move boxes at Trump's direct behest at Mar-a-Lago. But Kash Patel, we've reported, had appeared last week at a grand jury in Washington and taken the Fifth.

So, when we see the DOJ trying to get Kash Patel and another person to testify now, what -- how do you tie those threads together?

GOODMAN: It looks like they're closing in directly on Donald Trump. To be trying to pressure or put these folks in the situation where they will testify and the kinds of evidence that they have point directly to Donald Trump. And now, the reporting is that Kash Patel took the Fifth last week. It was CNN that broke the story even before the grand jury.



GOODMAN: And the reporting from "The Times" tonight is that they are now -- the Justice Department trying to pressure him to still give testimony, which probably means give him an immunity deal that he can't in some ways refuse. They say you have immunity so you don't risk criminal liability for yourself. Now tell us what you know.

And if that's what they're trying to do, that's a pretty strong tactic at this stage. It sounds like they are closing in. It's pretty --

BURNETT: If they think that the person above him in the case of Kash Patel knows, and he's been talking about Trump and declassification, that person Trump.

GOODMAN: Hundred percent. Like it's not like it leads from Kash Patel to somebody else.

BURNETT: Right, right, well, obviously, very significant analysis there.

Thank you very much, Ryan Goodman. And next, two unprovoked subway attacks in New York City in two days,

both victims pushed onto the tracks. It's a measure issue in the New York governor's race where a Democrat who should be a shoo-in by -- it shouldn't even be a race -- is now on the defense.

And election denier Kari Lake who is running for governor in Arizona and could very well win, raising more doubts about what's ahead.


KARI LAKE (R), ARIZONA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I wish I could sit here and say I have complete faith in the system. I don't have faith in the system.



BURNETT: Tonight, this is surveillance video of a man unprovoked pushing a commuter from a subway platform from New York onto the tracks. The victim tonight reportedly suffering from a broken collar bone but is lucky to be alive.

Others who have been pushed are not. It comes just one day after another man was pushed onto the tracks, also unprovoked.

The new Quinnipiac poll ranks crime as a top issue among New York voters, coming into the election, as polls show the race for New York governor tightening in the final weeks of the race.

Now, to be honest, this shouldn't be a story. New York state has not voted for a Republican governor in two decades. Could this really be the year that changes?

Athena Jones is OUTFRONT.


GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK: You deserve to feel safe.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A closer-than- expected race for governor in deep blue New York. Crime a growing focus in the contest's closing days.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY): There is a crime emergency in New York state.

HOCHUL: We have a crime-fighting strategy.

JONES: Congressman Lee Zeldin challenging Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, hoping to become the first Republican-elected statewide since 2002. And making concerns over public safety central to his campaign.

AD ANNOUNCER: You are looking at actual violent crimes caught on camera in Kathy Hochul's New York.

AD ANNOUNCER: Mandela Barnes, wrong on crime, dangerous for Wisconsin.

JONES: Echoing a message used by other Republican candidates and GOP groups from Georgia to Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, seeking to paint Democrats as soft on crime.

And there are signs it might be working. Two recent polls show Zeldin gaining ground in a state Joe Biden won by more than 20 points. In New York City, assaults in the massive transit system are up more than 40 percent over last year. And though overall transit crime is lower at this point in the year than it was pre-pandemic, more and more New Yorkers say they fear violence on the subways, buses, and on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My nephew was mugged in lower Manhattan not that long ago. I mean, it could be me tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to move, we want to move.

ZELDIN: Only one option --

JONES: Zeldin himself attacked at a July campaign event. And finding himself in the headlines again after a shooting outside his home.

LEE: You can't get me more outraged than right now.

JONES: Over the weekend, Hochul, who has spent weeks touting her record on jobs --

AD ANNOUNCER: Trying to bring tens of thousands of new jobs.

JONES: -- gun safety and protecting abortion rights, joining New York Mayor Eric Adams to announce a beefed-up subway safety plan, telling CNN it's a continuation of a long-term strategy.

HOCHUL: To free up NYPD to do their job and be more visible, that's what they want, that's what the city wants and that's what the people on the streets want.

JONES: The Buffalo native also tying Zeldin to former President Donald Trump who lost the Empire State twice.

AD ANNOUNCER: Zeldin even voted to overturn the 2020 election to keep Trump in power.

JONES: Hochul's supporters say --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that she's more qualified until the Republican Party starts to turn itself around a little bit and be a little bit more, I don't know, pro-democracy, then that's probably going to be the way I'm going.

JONES: But like other registered Democrats we spoke with --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have lost a lot of enthusiasm because things seem to continue to be the same.

JONES: That could be a real concern. A sitting Democrat lost the governorship nearly 30 years ago.

ERROL LOUIS, SPECTRUM NEWS NY 1 ANCHOR/CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The president that Lee Zeldin is hoping to repeat is what happened in 1994 when our sitting Democratic Governor Cuomo was beaten by George Pataki who went on to serve three terms as a Republican governor of New York. One part of what happened in 1994 was that the enthusiasm for Mario Cuomo really dipped.


BURNETT: And, Athena, it's not just the governor's race in New York. Democratic Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, that's his role to get Democrats elected to Congress, is now locked in a race with the first term Republican state assemblyman in New York. I mean, that is in a district that Biden won by double digits. Again, it shouldn't be a story, it shouldn't be close if past is precedent. But yet it is.

What does this tell you?

JONES: Well, Erin, we always talk about deep blue New York. But this is showing that it is an increasingly challenging environment for the party in power. That's the Democrats. We know that President Biden's approval rating is underwater.

And we also know the nonpartisan "Cook Political Report" just shifted its projections for this race, moving it from lean Democrat to tossup. Now, Sean Patrick Maloney in the past has expressed not a lot of worry that Democratic Party resources to help his own race. Now, that now has certainly changed -- Erin.

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

And next, he ran for re-election sticking up for his principles, no matter how unpopular, and it saved the country. Joe Meacham on who that president was and if there is anyone like him in American politics now.


Plus, this moment in the Chinese communist party's highly choreographed meeting, every single millisecond of that thing was choreographed. And then this happened. Where is former President Hu Jintao tonight?


BURNETT: Tonight, the Department of Homeland Security warning of a, quote, incredibly heightened threat environment ahead of the midterm elections fueled by conspiracy theories online. This as election officials in Arizona say two armed individuals described as, quote, vigilantes were seen at in a ballot drop box in Maricopa County.

The state's Republican nominee for governor, Kari Lake, has embraced casting doubt on election results.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KARI LAKE (R), ARIZONA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I'm afraid that it probably is not going to be completely fair. I wish I could sit here and say I have complete faith in the system. I don't have faith in the system.


BURNETT: Lake is one of 22 Republicans running for governor who have denied, rejected, or questioned the results of the 2020 election.

OUTFRONT now, Joe Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of the new book "And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle."


He's also advised President Biden.

And, John, you know, you're writing a book about Lincoln, the civil war. And as we speak tonight, 22 of 36 Republican candidates for governor have rejected or questioned the 2020 election results. Something about that number gives me pause. Does the number surprise you?

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, AUTHOR, "AND THERE WAS LIGHT": It does. And I think when you take all the deniers on the ballot across the country, be it's almost 400 or certainly hundreds of Republican deniers. And what they're doing is they're violating a fundamental tenet of the party of Abraham Lincoln to which they are supposed to be adhering.

In 1864, Lincoln thought he was going to lose. Here's a commander in chief in the middle of a civil war, and he writes a letter saying that at this point it looks as if this administration will not be returned. If so, I am required to cooperate with my opponent to try to save the Union even though I lost.

And so, I think we're in this crisis of faith, a crisis of trust, and a crisis of fact, because what they're saying, the deniers in our time, there's no evidence.

BURNETT: No evidence at all. And obviously it's all been investigated and proven to be false allegations. They don't listen to that.

In terms of the implications, I guess, there's also a thought back to the civil war where Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, obviously, she lost her seat because she stood up to Donald Trump. She said if he is the Republican nominee in 2024, it will mean the end of the GOP as we know it.

Here it is in her words.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think that the party has either got to come back from where we are right now, which is a very dangerous and toxic place, or the party will splinter, and there will be a new conservative party that rises. And if Donald Trump is the nominee of the Republican Party, the party will shatter, and there will be a conservative party that rises in its place.


BURNETT: Is she right, Jon?

MEACHAM: Well, she would know vastly better, dare I say it, than either one of us. What I'm curious about is, are there enough constitutional Republicans to form a party that would isolate the Trump denial base in order to be a viable force?

I hope so, but it's a live question when you look at the polling.


MEACHAM: And what we're seeing and what Liz Cheney did is remarkable and courageous, and we can't say enough about it, because the definition of political courage is doing something that's against your immediate self-interest. And she put the constitution above her own seat, which is almost unheard of in American politics.

John Kennedy wrote a book called "Profiles in Courage." And the only joke is, it was very short and only one volume. And, you know, that's kind of where we are often in American life.

What -- the reason I wanted to do the Lincoln book was to understand not only how he did what he did but why he did it. Why did this man, who was an antislavery politician but who kept losing. He lost two Senate seats, two Senate races. He only won 39 percent of the vote in 1860. A civil war ensues. And yet he stands by the antislavery principle.

And why did he do it? Well, he did it because it was the morally right thing to do. And at a certain point, politics has to be about something other than the accumulation and maintenance of power.

If it's not about more than that, then we fall into a state of kind of war against all. And I worry that we are in a very, very bad place in this country. We're as divide as we've been since the 1850s. And what we have to do is decide that we believe in the Declaration of Independence, we believe in the Constitution, and a threshold question for democracy is to win humbly and lose graciously.

BURNETT: Right, and the test for leadership or in any context to do that.

You know, you write in the book when you talk about how he put morality at the heart of his political life. You write: In life, Lincoln's motives were moral as well as political. A reminder that our finest presidents are committed to bringing a flawed nation closer to the light, a mission that requires an understanding that politics divorced from conscience is fatal to the American experiment in liberty under law. Jon, as part of looking at history, I know you think a lot about the

present. Do you think that there is anyone that you're aware of in American politics today who embodies those same characteristics as Lincoln and who could rise to the moment for the country now?


MEACHAM: Here's the thing. We're all on the ballot for this. This is a stress test of citizenship unlike any we've seen in our lifetimes, and arguably since the 1850s. It's up to the leaders, yes, but it's also up to all of us. Because politicians, as Lincoln said, act on incentive.

If enough of us decide that we don't want lawlessness, we don't want election denial, we want the rule of law, we want this experiment to go on, then we'll get leaders who will reflect that. So this is up to us.

BURNETT: All right. Jon, thank you very much. It's always wonderful to speak to you. Thank you.

MEACHAM: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, as Xi Jinping tightens his grip over the communist party in China, protesters are finding a way around his government censors. It is an incredible story of bravery and it is a story you will only see OUTFRONT.

And a fond farewell to an unforgettable TV actor who was also a star on social media.


BURNETT: Tonight, markets plummeting after Chinese leader Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term in power. Hong Kong stocks having their worst day since the 2008 global financial crisis.

And tonight, still no word from the former Chinese Hu Jintao. He, of course, was abruptly escorted out of the closing session of the communist party congress. That's where Xi was anointed as China's leader for another five years. These images from that meeting raising so many questions. What you're seeing here is Hu, Xi's predecessor, who is seated to the left of Xi. A steward repeatedly starts to lift Hu from his seat, and Hu seems to resist.


He then puts his hand on a sheet of paper that was placed on President Xi's folder. Xi quickly puts his hand on the sheet. Well, Hu then appears to resist leaving, as he is being escorted out. He turns back to his seat one point, touches Xi on the shoulder, has a brief exchange.

Now, keep in mind, this was the biggest event of Xi's career. Every single move highly choreographed, making this situation even more odd and significant. CNN's coverage of this incident was blocked out in China. State media

coverage of the ceremony didn't include that scene at all even though journalists were present. State media did release a tweet about the incident, though, that said, when he was not feeling well during the session, his staff for his health accompanied him to a room next to the meeting venue for a rest. Now he is much better. Of course we haven't seen him since.

I want to go to now to Selina Wang who is in Hong Kong tonight.

And, Selina, I'll play the moment again when Hu leaves and puts his hand on that sheet of paper that is on President Xi's folder. We'll slow it down. There's so many conspiracy theories out there about what happened.

What more can you tell us?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, look, the official explanation is that it was health reasons. Hu Jintao, the former top leader, he is 79 years old, and he has been looking increasingly frail in recent public appearances. But what's so bizarre is that the statement making that explanation was made in English on twitter, which is of course blocked in China, and this incident has never been reported inside China.

So what is clear, however, is that when there's an information vacuum, it is easy for these conspiracy theories to run rampant. Was this really health? Was this power struggle on display? Was this the former top leader taking a stand?

Now, I have spoken to several experts who say they don't buy the pure health explanation, partly because the party Congress is a highly choreographed event, and this moment happened after foreign journalists were allowed in the room, which is why the world is able to see this event.

Something else that's interesting is that many people also see this as symbolic regardless of the explanation. It represents the exit of a man who represented collective rule, who ruled with more balanced leadership while Xi Jinping, we have learned, has stacked all of the top leadership positions with his closest allies and proteges, leaving out several members who were closer to Hu Jintao's orbit, including the Premier Li Keqiang, the current premier who you can see in that video, he taps on the shoulder before he exits, Erin.

BURNETT: And, Selina, this comes as protests against Chinese President Xi Jinping and his zero COVID policy are spreading. What's amazing, and you've done such incredible reporting on this, mostly inside the bathrooms, one of the only places the Chinese government doesn't have cameras in.

Watch Selina's report on that.


WANG (voice-over): Graffiti with angry messages scribbled all over bathroom stalls might be a common sight in much of the world. But not in China. The Chinese characters scrawled in this Beijing bathroom reads, anti-dictatorship, anti-COVID tests. Messages like this are spreading in bathrooms in several Chinese cities. It's because public restrooms are one of the only places in tightly surveilled China without security cameras.

This graffiti says: Remove dictator and national traitor, Xi Jinping.

Some of them even written in English. No to COVID tests. Yes to food. No to lockdown. Yes to freedom.

No to great leader. Yes to vote. Don't be a slave. Be a citizen.

Their messages copy the slogans written on two banners hung on a busy overpass in Beijing, a rare protest in the capital just days before the start of the communist party congress. The banners cleaned up, then quickly censored from Chinese social media.

But it didn't stop people from replicating the act around the world. The same slogans hung on London's Westminster bridge and draped over the Chinese embassy in London.

But inside China, public displays of dissent towards xi are extremely rare. It could lead to long prison sentences or even worse.

We spoke to one man who graffitied in a bathroom. We're shielding his identity because of fears of retribution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I had to wear a mask and when I was writing, I was worried someone might catch me. We can only write slogans in places like bathrooms to express our political views. It's so pathetic we've been suppressed to this degree.

WANG: In another Chinese city, a person wrote the same slogans with a picture of Winnie the pooh in a crown, canceled.

China has censored any images of the cartoon character being compared to Xi. The author texted CNN: I hope people who see my slogan can start changing their minds, realizing they've been brainwashed.

We have no way to independently verify all of the graffiti, and it's unclear how widely held these views are in a police state.

But frustrations in China over the country's zero COVID measures are growing. Harsh lockdowns over a handful of COVID cases, constant COVID testing, mass quarantine facilities.


The anti-Xi slogans are rapidly spreading from China to campuses in America and around the world.

And in Paris, an outdoor play to parody Xi Jinping's rule. Xi dressed up in the emperor's clothes, then being dragged down by COVID enforcers. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If we don't do anything, it

means we are willing to be ruled by the CCP. When I saw the graffiti in that bathroom, I started crying. It shows that some of the Chinese people want democracy and freedom of speech and are willing to pay a price for it.

WANG: Yet Xi's power is ironclad. The public's anger reduced to scribbles in bathroom stalls, and even those will be quickly painted over.

Selina Wang, CNN, Hong Kong.


BURNETT: Thanks so much to Selina for that incredible report.

I want to show you what viewers across China were seeing as you watched Selina. That, bars, color bars with the message no signal. Please stand by.

They don't want their people to see CNN's reporting on the protests or on the incident where Hu Jintao was escorted out of the National Party Congress.

Well, next, we say goodbye to actor Leslie Jordan.


BURNETT: Beloved actor Leslie Jordan has died. He was best known as Beverly Leslie in a recurring role on "Will & Grace." Jordan's character as Karen's frenemy was laugh out loud hilarious. And Jordan also won new fans during the pandemic with his body video posts. Just watch this.


LESLIE JORDAN, ACTOR: Well, hello fellow hunker downers.

Well, just having to make up things to do to pass the time. I came up with a good one today. I painted my toenails.


BURNETT: Jordan died after a car accident this morning in Los Angeles. He was 67 years old.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Anderson starts now.