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Erin Burnett Outfront

Russian Man On Front Line In New Video: "It's F--king Hell Here"; Putin Accuses The West Of Playing "Bloody," "Dirty Game; DOJ, Trump Lawyers Meet In Secret About A Mar-a-Lago Probe; No Sign Of Hu Jintao Days After Forced Exit From Ceremony; Biden Seizes On Rebounding Economy 12 Days To Midterms. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 27, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, new video into OUTFRONT, families of Russian soldiers bravely speak out sharing recordings of phone calls, loved ones on the front lines. They say their training just for the cameras. They're sitting ducks treated like pigs.

Plus, showdown in Arizona. The Democrat running for governor blames her Republican opponent for a burglary at her campaign office. Tonight, after an arrest, Republican Kari Lake is not going to let it go.

And world affairs expert Ian Bremmer on why he thinks former Chinese President Hu Jintao was abruptly escorted from that crucial communist meeting. And that Elon Musk conversation with Vladimir Putin that Bremmer got the scoop on.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, hell on the front lines. New video just into OUTFRONT from an independent Russian news organization. It's a jaw- dropping reporting of a Russian woman speaking to her husband on the front lines in Ukraine. Listen for yourself.


WIFE: My love, how are you?

HUSBAND: I wasn't listening to all the bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED) people were talking about. But now, we don't know where we're going. We don't have anything to eat and we don't know what our objectives are.

It's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) hell here.

They're (EXPLETIVE DELETED) us with (INAUDIBLE) rockets. We're in some village under constant shelling not far from where people are living. It's getting closer to the evening. Our group was being jerked around in these woods left to right.


BURNETT: It's effing hell here, jerk around left to right.

Another video shows an outraged father saying his children are being treated like animals.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are speaking out because things have gotten out of control. Our children are at the front lines yet their commanders are treating them like pigs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They don't have any armored vehicle. They have just one tank that isn't going anywhere because they've run out of fuel. Where are they supposed to go? Are they supposed to run? They're just sitting ducks.


BURNETT: And despite Putin pushing propaganda showing his forces getting adequate training, according to family members of soldiers it's all a sham.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They didn't have any training at all. For two weeks they were at a military camp. They went out only twice to practice shooting their weapons. That was just when the TV station came to film it. It was all just for TV.


BURNETT: All for TV. This obtained by independent Russian journalists.

Today, the man in charge of the invasion, Putin, went on TV for four hours. He ranted and doubled down on his baseless theories and claims about the war.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Russia is just defending its right to exist and to freely develop. Power over the world is what the so-called West is banking on, but this is a dangerous game. We never intentionally said anything about the possibility that Russia could use nuclear weapons.


BURNETT: Put a pin in that one, but he went on -- like I said this is four hours. He went off on gay rights, he went off on the salaries of workers in the West, he went off on genders, he spent time touting Russian philosophers, all this in a rambling speech coming as the head of Putin's private army, the Wagner Group, tells CNN's Sebastian Shukla that Wagner is indeed recruiting sick prisoners, with diseases including tuberculosis, hepatitis, and HIV, and sending them to the front lines.

These new soldiers, according to Ukraine, are forced to wear colored wrist bands to signify their infections.

Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT live in Odessa, Ukraine.

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

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Erin. We managed to get to the front lines in the fight for Kherson, of course, that very important city that the Russians apparently are trying to defend.

You know, the soldiers on the ground there told us, they definitely believe the Ukrainians have the upper hand in that battle. They think that in the end, they will prevail. But they also acknowledge that right now, the Russians are digging in for a massive fight. Here's what we saw in the trenches right on the front line.

Across these fields are the Russians. That means we need to get into the trenches that snake their way through this battle space in southern Ukraine.

So, this is the actual front line between the Russians and the Ukrainians. They say that the Russians are only a couple of kilometers in that direction. And obviously, there's a lot of shelling that goes on here almost all the time.


A destroyed tank turret right outside Ukrainian position shows just how fierce the fighting is here, spent cartridges from cluster bombs and a Russian flak vests, also still lying around. While some thought the Ukrainians might quickly oust the Russians and take back the key city of Kherson, in the trench, a feeling of stalemate.

ALEXANDER, 59TH BRIGADE, UKRAINIAN ARMY (through translator): There is shelling every day. In some places less. In some, more. We would shoot back, but we have nothing to shoot with here.

PLEITGEN: Inside the main headquarters, the unit commander, who goes by the call sign Nikofor shows me the gear they used to monitor the Russians movements and communicate with their own units. He says, they've observed the Russians strengthening their defensive positions here.

NIKOFOR, 59TH BRIGADE, UKRAINIAN ARMY (through translator): They have dug in very well for the moment. Without efforts, we're showing them that we are stronger and are slowly pushing them back for our territories.

PLEITGEN: This territory was all Russian controlled, but now Ukrainian troops are inching ever closer to Kherson. They've taken out most Russian supply routes across the massive Dnipro River. Ukraine's president says, Moscow's forces need to get out of this region or risk being besieged. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: They are not ready to go

out of Kherson. But they know that it will be, if we will have success, they will not have the possibility to exit.

PLEITGEN: Ukraine's military is pushing Russian troops back on several frontlines across the country. And as his army displays clear signs of weakness, Russian President Vladimir Putin ripping into the U.S. and its allies during a speech in Moscow.

PUTIN (through translator): World domination is what the so-called West bet it's game on. But that game is, without doubt, a dangerous, bloody, and I would say filthy one.

PLEITGEN: But the Ukrainian troops in the trenches say they are resisting for their own country's sovereignty and hope to retake much of the key area in south Ukraine before winter sets in.


PLEITGEN (on camera): So, the Ukrainians clearly moving forward on the Kherson front. But one of the things, Erin, that we also hear here at night, especially in the Odesa region, it's outgoing fire from the Ukrainians, from machine guns apparently trying to take down those Iranian made kamikaze drones that the Russians keep launching at the infrastructure, critical infrastructure here in the country.

We've heard from Ukrainians today, they seen hundreds of thousands of people are currently without power. Especially in the center of the country, the Ukrainians are saying, they are trying to do their best and try to eliminate that threat and repair the damage.

But of course, it's something that's very difficult and also something that really takes a toll, especially as winter draws closer, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Fred Pleitgen, from being inside those trenches. It's incredible to see that.

All right, I want to go now to Doug London. He's a former CIA counterterror chief for South and Southwest Asia. He served with the CIA clandestine service for over 30 years, tracking KGB agents, including Russian speaker, and also the author of "The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence".

Also with me is Rob Lee, senior fellow at FPRI's Eurasia program and a PhD student in Russian defense policy at King College, London's war studies department. He's also a former infantry officer in the U.S. Marines.

I appreciate both of you very much.

And, Doug, you saw Fred's report, you know, in the trenches, right on the front line there talking about the gains that Ukraine has been able to make near Kherson, and Putin's frontlines. Putin today speaks for four hours, right? And it's a rambling for hours. In those four hours, he rejects the idea that -- of having ever said that Russia would use nuclear weapons. But just a few minutes ago on Russian state TV, Doug, the woman known

as the iron doll of Putin just spoke and she said, today we trained how to annihilate in the USA and the formerly Great Britain.

Do you believe Putin?

DOUGLAS LONDON, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF: Well, thanks, Erin. There was nothing new or surprising in Putin's four hours of talk. And what chief executive has four hours to spend doing speeches?

But there were some indicators and signposts that we saw. He's playing the old hands of victimization, airing of the grievances, castigating the elitist West for setting up rules that keep Russia down. But he also went back to his strategy of addition through subtraction. That is, trying to decouple the allies, trying to sow discontent and play domestic political pressures.

I got the sense from his comments today that he feels a bit of a reprieve from perhaps desperation we'd like to think he's under, with elections coming, with the economic crisis, with energy problems looming in Europe, and the winter coming and, of course, I'll defer to Rob on military strategy. But he's looking less desperate, which also makes me think he's less inclined to have to resort to weapons of mass destruction, at least unless Crimea was threatened.

BURNETT: And obviously, the Kerch Bridge is part of that.

But let me ask you about that in just a moment.


Doug, first though -- Rob, you posted a video on Twitter today. It was Russian aircraft launching rockets at Ukrainian positions, reportedly in Donetsk. Obviously, the ongoing frontline there.

Now, you post that in the context of what you are watching happening on the ground. Have you seen any notable changes in Putin's strategy, in recent days?

ROB LEE, SENIOR FELLOW, FPRI EURASIA PROGRAM: Not in recent days. I think the last few weeks, we've seen this campaign of bombing, where Russia's been increasingly targeting Ukraine infrastructure and power plants, you know, I think by view is that it's more of an asymmetrical response because Ukraine has the upper hand in the battlefield. They're trying to go after the Ukrainian economy, all the ways it can increase the cost of war to Ukraine, potentially a way of signaling NATO and the U.S., trying to kind of deter further arms deliveries, because overall, on the battlefield, Ukraine has a number of advantages and there's stalemates in some areas.

But I think overtime, Ukraine will still likely be able to use those advantages to achieve more success. And Russia is trying to respond in a way, you know, that they can respond, basically.

BURNETT: So, Doug, as part of this, everyone's trying to understand how stable Putin is, how stable is his inner circle is. And I mentioned that response to CNN from the head of the Wagner

Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, regarding those soldiers that he has fighting the war, right? He's recruited prisoners, not forcing prisoners to wear bracelets to identify various diseases that they have. And it comes right after Prigozhin openly slammed Putin's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, making it clear he thinks he should be gone, right? That's all out in the open.

Prigozhin used to be in the shadows, but now is very much putting himself front and center in this war. What is his game here, Doug, and what does it say to you, in terms of the strength or the fissures in Putin's inner circle?

LONDON: I think it's fascinating and I think it reflects the fact that Putin does not have the control that he would like to have, and to which perhaps we sometimes attribute. "The Washington Post," in fact, identified Prigozhin as the individual that early reported had confronted Putin, and talked about the problems the Russian military. A report apparently that went into the intelligence president's daily brief, right?

But Prigozhin is an opportunist. He spent nine years in prison for robbery, prostitution charges. He's not exactly a military strategist. And that Prigozhin would at least have the room to be so public in his comments, and after all, it was his media chief from Wagner who was recently arrested, I think two weeks ago, for leaving the campaign against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

To have this dirty linen aired I think is fascinating and very revealing.

BURNETT: It could be extremely revealing, right? As you say, perhaps says something about Putin.

So, Rob, when you look at the strategy on the battlefield successes of Prigozhin's troops or lack thereof, when you compare Prigozhin's troops to, you know, we just heard all these families talking about their children, you know, being treated like pigs and they're not even getting real training, they don't have any money to -- they're not getting paid. They're not getting money to eat. They -- compare Prigozhin's troops to those, to Shoigu's troops, basically. What do you see in that comparison?

LEE: Well, I think on both sides, there are significant issues, right? They're not recruiting the best people, their significant manpower problems, and they're addressing them in multiple ways. So, Wagner, we know they've been recruiting prisoners, been showing videos and awarding prisoners based on what they're doing in fighting. They're being put, you know, an extremely risky situations and the attrition right there in Bakhmut for Wagner forces is, you know, very, very high.

And, of course, on the Russian military side, you're seeing a large number of mobilize units being deployed, many of them deployed with minimal training, being thrown, you know, sometimes right into the fight. So, I mean, the big overall point is that Russia has a very significant manpower issue. They're guessing it in pitiful ways. None of those ways are particularly positive.

And you look at the Ukrainian side, you know, you have people that have much better morale and that want to fight. Whereas the Russian side, it's increasingly forced, involuntary or kind of troops that don't necessarily want to be there, didn't want to volunteer.

BURNETT: And, Doug, to that point, you know, you have these independent Russian media outlets being able to get these videos now, these recordings of conversations or the parents of soldiers who are now actually speaking out and doing so on camera. We're seeing more and more of that. Does that signal something?

LONDON: Yeah, it's unprecedented public discussion of issues that Putin is trying to give the best face to. You know, what Putin needs to do, what he's always trying to do, is re-seize the initiative (ph). He wants people, he wants the West, he wants it all to be reacting to him, so he can control the flow.

He's not had that opportunity and now he's got these internal fissures both within his own inner circle and the public that's getting more vocal. So, it doesn't reflect well on how much time he might think he has to right the ship.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much for the ticking -- ticking time there. Both of you, I appreciate you.

And next, the secret meeting between Trump's legal team and the Justice Department in Washington. So, what was this about?

Plus the two nominees for governor in Arizona pointing fingers at the burglary of the headquarters of Democrat Katie Hobbs. Was it politically motivated or not? Well, guess what? Tonight, police have a suspect.

And it's been five days since the former Chinese President Hu Jintao was escorted out of that meeting in front of cameras. He has not been seen since. State media still says it was because of a health issue.

Foreign affairs expert Ian Bremmer doesn't buy that explanation. How come? He'll tell you.


BURNETT: New tonight, former President Donald Trump's legal team and federal prosecutors meeting in secret today about the Mar-a-Lago documents case. CNN just learning the meeting involved demands that the former president return all sensitive documents. Our camera there as Trump's legal team left the federal courthouse in D.C. This is what they saw.

I want to go straight to CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.

And, Evan, just to be clear here about the importance of Washington, it is extremely unusual for Trump's legal team to be there and not in Florida. So what do you know about this meeting? EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, what this -- the

fact they're here in Washington tells us a lot. It tells us this has to do with the proceeding that this judge here in Washington has been overseeing, which is the subpoena that was served to the former president and his legal team back in May that they should turn over all documents that were marked as classified. And of course we know the fact that they found additional documents when the FBI conducted a search in August. We know that all those documents were not turned over, in other words, the former president did not satisfy these subpoena demands.


And so what we know is that there have been these discussions behind the scenes, and today, there was a two-hour hearing before the chief judge in Washington and a discussion at least we know at least in part had to do with the Justice Department's continued belief that not all documents that were in the possession of the former president have been properly turned over. In particular, they're concerned about classified documents or documents that were marked classified.

Now, as you pointed out, those lawyers did not answer any questions when we asked them today, but we know that whatever proceeding was going on it was probably not complete, and so we're probably going to still yet to hear what the judge decided at the end of this hearing -- Erin.

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

So, let's go now to Ryan Goodman, the co-editor-in-chief of "Just Security" and the for special counsel to the Defense Department.

So let's just break this down. What is the significance of Trump's attorneys being in Washington, right, having this happen there? This is not happening in Florida.

RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JUST SECURITY: So I think it's significant in that the center of gravity is turning to Washington and not Florida. This could have been potentially back to the old magistrate judge who had initiated the first search.


GOODMAN: But it's not. It's in D.C., and I think the significance is if the Justice Department brings an indictment the big question is where. Do they bring it in Florida, or do they bring it in D.C.? In D.C. it's more favorable to them. The D.C. Court of Appeals is better than the Florida circuit. A Florida jury is probably got much more pro-Trump in many different ways.

BURNETT: And they have that latitude to do that, to choose?

GOODMAN: It's -- it's not complete latitude. In fact, part of the issue is that the D.C. Court of Appeals has this rule that says if all the activity is taking place outside of our jurisdiction even though it's pointed at obstructing our grand jury maybe you have to be back in Florida. So it's a big question. So the fact it's shifting towards D.C. is important.

BURNETT: And what do you think that such a meeting could be about? Are they still -- are they negotiating which documents and where or who has what? Or what do you think just this hearing is about?

GOODMAN: So it could be this idea maybe the Trump side says maybe we'll cooperate with an additional search and they're working out the details and conditions of that because some of the reporting has suggested they'd try to do something like that. But do they specify this is just in Mar-a-Lago? Huge question is, are they also going to go for other Trump properties?

BURNETT: Right. I mean, there's Trump Tower. There's Bedminster, right. There are other places where he could keep things, especially if you knew people were looking for them in Mar-a-Lago.

GOODMAN: Yes, and there's actually the one document the government did file in the D.C. District Court that said they've never been really responsive to our subpoenas. Our subpoena said look everywhere, and what they told us is, oh, we look in Florida.

BURNETT: OK. So, where do you think this goes in time line, if you now got this access to sort of center of power switching up to Washington, what does that do?

GOODMAN: So, I think the center of power switching up to Washington might mean whenever we -- if we do ever see, if we do ever seen an indictment, it takes place in D.C., that's huge.

And the second part there might be another set of searches of Trump properties, but I wouldn't expect that before the midterms because their 60-day rule. So they might be setting that up as soon as the midterms are done, people voted and decided on that, then the justice --

BURNETT: And they're ready it go. Of course that's the time line of either one of the announcements. So you've got everything honing in on that crucial window right after the midterms.

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

And next, Kari Lake, the Arizona Republican for governor lashing out after Democratic Katie Hobbs blamed Lake's rhetoric for a break in at her campaign office.

And renowned global affairs expert Ian Bremmer on why he doesn't believe that former President Hu Jintao was forced out of a communist meeting because of a health issue.



BURNETT: Tonight, a war of words erupting in Arizona after a break in at the campaign headquarters of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs. Police have announced an arrest. This after Hobbs said her Republican opponent, Kari Lake, and her allies, were responsible for the whole thing. Lake just holding a press conference firing back.


KARI LAKE (R), ARIZONA GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: She's pulling stunts and you guys are falling hook, line and sinker into it. She puts out a statement about a petty theft that happened at her office. She knew darn well that I had nothing to do with this.


BURNETT: Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT live from Phoenix just outside that press conference.

And, Kyung, a lot of finger pointing going on. What more do you know?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're just seeing the very end of an almost one-hour news conference. You just played a little snippet of Kari Lake really just tearing into, you know, the local reporters, the national reporters, but I kind of want to take a step back and explain how all of this happened.

The Phoenix police just a short time ago announced that they had a suspect in custody for the burglary at Hobbs' campaign headquarters, and this is the man that they currently have in custody. A 36-year-old Daniel Mota Dos Reis. He's been booked on one count of third degree burglary.

What the Phoenix police did not do is make a connection between Dos Reis and any politics here. There doesn't appear to be any connection. And that's the connection the Hobbs campaign seemed to make, at least saying the rhetoric of the Lake campaign allowed for a hostile that they believe then -- you know, allowed this to happen.


So that was the implication, and Lake has been tearing into the press for repeating that.

What we are hearing from the Hobbs campaign is that they're continuing to talk about that hostile environment. And let me read you a little quote here. In that statement they say, quote, let me be clear, Kari Lake's preposterous allegation this break-in was staged is unfounded and her refusal to condemn the threats that have become more common in our politics continues to stoke chaos.

Let's zoom out now, Erin. What does this really mean for the race for governor? I just got a quote from a state GOP operative, and he said and it really just boils it down that Hobbs is the victim of a small burglary, but Lake is the winner in this story.

It is a victory lap for her, that news conference that she had. On this roundabout this burglary, Lake wins.

And so what we don't know is how does this play out in the minds of voters? We are 12 days away until Election Day. Early voting is under way. Do they care about something like this? Do they care, you know, who wins these sort of small battles, or do they actually care about substantive issues like the economy?

So that is something we are watching unfold in real time, but undoubtedly, Erin, this is an ugly race with two candidates who are continuing to jab at each other.

BURNETT: All right. Kyung, thank you very much. Very ugly and one the whole country is watching.

I want to go out front now to Stephen Richer, Maricopa County recorder. He's a lifelong Republican and watching the show knows him, he's bravely stood up to members of his party, pushed back against baseless claims of voter fraud and just trying to get the vote count and get it right.

So, Steven, the burglary on Hobbs' campaign headquarters obviously is stoking the flames in what is an already ugly and intense matchup. How worried are you about how much worse things are getting with only 12 days until Election Day?

STEPHEN RICHER (R), MARICOPA COUNTY RECORDER: Well, we've been in battle mode for almost two years now, so we're hardened to most of this, but people have actually been pretty well-behaved. The e-mail correspondence has been pretty positive. We've seen some bad actors at different locations.

But I don't want to discount the fact that already 400,000 people have returned their ballots, and it's gone smoothly. It's gone successfully. And we've heard positive things.

BURNETT: So let me ask you about that. That's a lot of people, 400,000, whatever they may or may not think about an issue like this, whatever they care, their vote is already gone, they've already cast it. Your office tells us you've received nine cases of voter intimidation from the secretary of state, which is more than had previously been reported.

And, you know, we saw video of two armed individuals wearing tactical gear staking out a ballot drop box. That was in Mesa, Arizona. That's terrifying. Imagine, if you're going up to drop your ballot and you're confronted.

In your county, a man says he actually to back his car out of the parking lot because eight to ten people were trying to take photos of his license plate. He says then they followed him.

What can you tell me about some of the new reports you're hearing about?

RICHER: Well, obviously, that type of exhibitionism is disappointing and unproductive because there are lots of great ways to get involved in the process. You can be a political party observer. Heck, you can work with us, maybe not those particular individuals but other people are certainly welcome to work with us. We're still hiring.

Stuff like that is unfortunate because it makes people think twice before participating in this process, and we've been trying to convey the very many measures that we have taken to secure every single voting location, and there are other voting locations if anyone is daunted by that particular site where, unfortunately, a few bad actors gave Arizona another black eye.

BURNETT: You know, one of the people encouraging voters to steak out ballot drop boxes is in your county, Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters. He's being encouraged by former president Trump to lean harder into election lies.

I just want to play a clip of their call, a call between Masters and Trump that's in a new documentary. Here it is.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: If you want to get across the line, you've got to go stronger on that one thing. That was the one thing, a lot of complaints about it.

Look at Kari. Kari is winning with her little money. And if they say, "How is your family?" she says the election was rigged and stolen. You'll lose if you go soft, you'll lose the base.



BURNETT: Honestly, I don't want to put you in the realm of politics because of what your role is and that's very important, but this is the kind of rhetoric that has led to you receiving death threats, you know, just this constant, it's rigged and it's stolen. What goes through your mind when you hear that sort of audio?

RICHER: Well, more than what it means for me is what it means for the system. And so why would you even participate? Why would you vote if you really believed that? Why would you run?

So I think we're going to see a revealed preference here in that peoples actions are speaking louder than their words and Blake Masters and others continue to run very competitive races.


And I think that's really telling about how they feel and about how Republican voters feel, and, you know, they might win all of these races, if not a lot of these races. And so let's hold out there, let's have a great election, let's, you know, wait until we see something to say something like that.

BURNETT: Yeah. All right. Well, Stephen, I appreciate your time. Thank you. Glad to speak to you again.

RICHER: Thank you so much.

BURNETT: Okay. And next famed international affairs expert Ian Bremmer on why Chinese President Hu Jintao was forced to leave that communist party meeting and has not been seen since. And his scoop. He says Elon Musk talked directly to Vladimir Putin

before he tweeted out Kremlin talking points.

Plus, a new sign of strength in the economy. But in an exclusive interview, the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says America is not out of the woods.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Inflation is very high, it's unacceptably high. And Americans feel that every day.



BURNETT: Tonight, there's still no word on the condition or whereabouts of the former Chinese President Hu Jintao, five days after he was abruptly escorted out of a communist party congress.


That's where President Xi Jinping tightened his grip on power by securing a precedent-shattering third term. This is the remarkable video. I can't watch it enough. I mean, it shows Hu moments before he's led away, trying to read a stack of papers covered up by a red folder and then he's blocked by one of the highest ranking party officials.

And as it's happening, Xi gives instruction to another man who then physically lifts Hu up from his chair, even as Hu initially resist and who is removed.

It's an incredible moment, a potential power play between a leader and his predecessor that has raised so many unanswered questions.

OUTFRONT now, Ian Bremmer, foreign affairs expert and the president and founder of the Eurasia Group.

I mean, Ian, it is amazing. You know, we all saw this happen, and I was watching your Twitter feed as you pointed out, you know, that everyone else in the room is thinking this could be me, right? The message that was sent here. Still, the official exposition in state media is that Hu had a health issue, even though we haven't heard from him in now five days.

You don't buy that. What do think is really going on?

IAN LEE, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER, EURASIA GROUP: Nobody buys that. This is a health issue, you saw the video. You saw that Xi Jinping did not make any effort whatsoever to try to sort of show a level of compassion. He's the guy that ordered the removal.

It was -- it happened on the back of Xi's direct nod, and as people took him out, the former president who was incredibly uncomfortable with being removed in that way. And as you say, every other senior member of the communist party of China were saying to themselves, their but for the grace of God, to mix a metaphor. This is Xi Jinping showing that he is in charge, he is broken all of these norms in the communist party, first of all, of course, essentially making himself head of the party for life, but also in terms of promoting all of the loyalists, as opposed to people who had the kind of experience that traditionally would have been required for a lot of these rules.

And, you know, the fact that the most powerful man in the world by a long margin happens to be the dictator of a authoritarian surveillance state is something that should give all of us pause. It's not the world that we were hoping we were heading towards.

BURNETT: No, it is -- it is pretty stunning to see this. Just, Ian, just to make this loud and clear to people, he waited to do this, Xi did, until the cameras were in the room. But he waited until after Hu has formally cast his vote in favor of Xi.

So, in China, that's all that anyone saw. He voted. He was there, what do you mean? It is amazing that they still have not seen this video there.

BREMMER: Well, it's not amazing. I mean, in the sense that like when you go to Russia, they have no idea of many things that are going on the front of the war. They think that the Ukrainians are a Nazi regime.

I mean, when you control the entire information narrative, as the Chinese do, you can say lots of things to your people, and everything we are discussing about Hu Jintao and supposedly being ill, there is not a person on the ground in China is getting that media from their country. Not from the left, not from the right, not from anywhere, right?

I mean, the reality is that China has a stranglehold on the information that the average Chinese citizen receives, and that makes it a lot harder to engage functionally with 1.4 billion people on the planet.

BURNETT: So here is the thing that I want to understand. Hu Jintao is 79 years old, right? I mean, he is not going to come in and threaten Xi Jinping right now for the office of the role of China but --

BREMMER: But he's younger than the American president, you know?

BURNETT: Well, OK, that's true, but in this case, why? Why now? Why does he want to make an example of him? What is the motive?

BREMMER: I -- we will probably never know what the motive is, but one thing you can see is that Hu seemed to be distraught by what was going on in the room at that point, distraught by the fact that none of the people that he wanted to see promoted were actually promoted.

Usually, there's about -- there's some horse trading going on. Maybe he got that information. Maybe he thought that his people were going to be promoted, and suddenly they weren't. He noticed that the way they were lined up was not the way they were supposed to. Certainly, the fact that he was looking forward to open up that file

in front of him, which would have had the positions that those people might have been a piece of tha.

BURNETT: Interesting.

BREMMER: But we are speculating here. The point is, he did not need to do that, irrespective of what motivated. Why he did it was to show everyone in that room and everyone in the world outside of China that he controls this country. He is in charge. He has the power, and we need to pay attention.

This is a country for the last 30 years that has been growing quietly.


They always say to the Americans, oh, we're teenagers. We're not ready for leadership. We still need time.

That's not been Xi Jinping at all. Xi Jinping's leadership is, we are now ready to play a global leadership role, and we intend to be treated by respect from a position of strength by everybody else out there. That's the message that was being sent loud and clear.

BURNETT: Very loud and clear. Now, you spoke with Elon Musk last month who weighed in on this and other things. This is before he tweeted out that peace plan that included details like ensuring Crimea's water supply, that were incredibly specific and very favorable to Putin.

Now, I spoke with the former CIA chief John Brennen, and he said to me, quote, he, talking about Elon, looks at things through a very, very narrow, personal finance prism, he's made sorely -- very sorely misguided and I think harmful statements about Ukraine and Russia, as well as about China and Taiwan.

And he goes onto say I think Elon Musk needs to be very careful about what he's saying. Musk has, of course, weighed in on a possible Russian settlement that was very favorable to Putin. He has weighed in on Taiwan in a similar way. What do you think?

BREMMER: I -- I don't think it's the problem is an overly narrow perspective. I think the problem is that he's conflicted. You know, you have Starlink, which is a company that is essentially funded by the U.S. government. It's NASA and it's the Pentagon, and they've provided a lot of support on the ground to Ukraine in the early stages of the war. And the Ukrainians were very thankful for that.


BREMMER: At the same time you've got Tesla, which Elon Musk also owns, it's a global company that needs supply chain and develops its artificial intelligence and wants market access to China. And, frankly, those two things don't necessarily play well together geopolitically. If you ask why he would have made the comments he made on Taiwan, that's obviously a piece of it. It's relevant. And so, you know, my view in that environment would be, when you have

two business models that are geopolitically completely not congruent, you're better off saying I'm not going to make those geopolitical decisions myself, I'm not going to talk about those. Happened be much better off if the Pentagon was paying $100 billion a year for Starlink which they're willing to do, and let them decide where the geofencing is going to be.

And then Elon's position is going to be not my business. That's a much safer position, and ultimately one that will give him a lot less trouble.

BURNETT: All right.

All right. Ian, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

BREMMER: My pleasure.

And next a sliver of hope for Democrats in new economic numbers today, and this from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to CNN.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I don't see signs of a recession in this economy at this point.


BURNETT: Plus, an update tonight on the 8-year-old boy who's right now on his way to making history by scaling El Capitan.



BURNETT: Tonight, a sliver of good news for President Biden with 12 days until Election Day. The U.S. economy growing after two quarters of decline. But will these numbers be enough to give Democrats a much- needed jolt?

Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT with an exclusive interview with the U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Democrats scramble to coalesce around an economic message to hang on to their congressional majorities --

JANET YELLEN, SECRETARY OF TREASURY: I don't see signs of a recession in this economy at this point.

MATTINGLY: -- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sitting down with CNN to deliver her own.

YELLEN: We have unemployment at a 50-year low. There are two job vacancies for every American who is looking for work.

We have solid household finances, business finances, banks that are well capitalized. And we've been creating average 300,000 jobs a month.

MATTINGLY: It's an economic scorecard the hardly tracks with an exceedingly unsettled electorate.

The discontent seems to be real. The feelings about the direction of the economy seem to be largely negative. Why?

YELLEN: Inflation is very high. It's unacceptably high. And Americans feel that every day.


MATTINGLY: The split screen that has weighed down Democrats for months. On the day the U.S. economy delivered a bounce back quarter of growth, Republican campaign ads continue to hammer inflation that remains near a four-decade high. Soaring costs driving the economy to the top of voter concerns, a reality with no near-term solution that has clouded not just Democrats' midterm prospects --

I understand what you're saying in terms of the time horizon. Yours is not very helpful when there's midterm elections in 12 days. I know you don't come from a political background here, but how much does that weigh into the policy process that you guys pursue?

YELLEN: Well, as I said, we're doing everything that we can to supplement what the Fed is doing to bring inflation down. And medium term, we have an historic investment in the strength of our economy, the passage of three very important bills.

MATTINGLY: But also what officials view as a historically rapid recovery.

YELLEN: These are problems we don't have because of what the Biden administration has done. So, often one doesn't get credit for problems that don't exist.

MATTINGLY: All as Biden's legislative wins have driven tens of billions of dollars in private sector investment to manufacturing across the country.

Is the kind of message at this point, to some degree, we've done the work, be patient, it's coming?

YELLEN: Yes, but we're beginning to see repaired bridges come on line, not in every community. Pretty soon, many communities are going to see roads improved, bridges repaired that have been falling apart. We're seeing money flow into research and development, which is really an important source of long-term strength to the American economy.

And America's strength is going to increase, and we're going to become a more competitive economy.



MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Erin, obviously, patience is not something the Democratic candidates have right now, very clearly in an urgent effort to try and forestall losing the majority. One thing officials are trying to weigh right now, who will leave the Biden administration after the election however they turn out?

Yellen says she is not going to be one of those people. She laid out the economic plans going forward and said, "I want to be part of that" -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Phil Mattingly.

And next, an update on the eight-year-old who is trying to become the youngest person to scale El Capitan.


BURNETT: And tonight, an 8-year-old close to making history. Sam Baker has now climbed more than half of California's El Capitan with his father. They could reach the summit by this weekend. That's nearly 3,000 feet.

Now, Sam's father, Joe, posted this picture of the two together after their first day of climbing, writing: Sam showed so much courage today. I was blown away at his resilience and stamina. Into the night, we have already crossed the halfway point. Up we go.

And we hope they will soon reach that summit.

Thanks to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.