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Erin Burnett Outfront

Trump Suffers Major Legal Defeat As Federal Appeals Court Halts Special Master Review Of Docs Seized From His Home; Chinese Protester Speaks Out, But Only In Disguise Fearing Backlash; Wagner Group Admits Recruiting African Inmate For Ukraine Fight; DeSantis, Without Naming Trump, Complains About GOP's "Huge Underperformance" During Midterms. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 01, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, breaking news, two major legal blows for Trump tonight. One in the Mar-a-Lago case, and the second, in another federal investigation.

Plus, a CNN exclusive tonight, a Chinese protester in Beijing speaks out. Hear why this protester says this is just the beginning of an uprising in China.

And President Obama live in Georgia this hour. Democrats feeling momentum five days until the runoff. We're going take you there.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news. Trump suffering two major legal blows. The first, goodbye special master. A federal appeals court stopping the special master's review of sensitive documents seized at Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago.

And, of course, you'll remember, right, it was a few months ago in September when Judge Aileen Cannon, you see her on your screen now, who was appointed by Trump, sided with the former president and appointed a special master, which, of course, added time. Everything had to be reviewed, stretching this whole process out.

The DOJ appealed saying that that review and all this time would cause irreparable harm to their investigation.

And the 11th Circuit court tonight agreeing, slamming Cannon's decision.

Let me just read a part of this here in the ruling. They say: The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant, nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so. Now I just want to be clear here going through this, that the judges who wrote this ruling is made up of judges nominated by the former Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump. So that's the first blow, right, related to Mar-a-Lago. It is significant.

The other, though, matters a lot tonight, too. It is regarding another federal criminal investigation, this one into Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Tonight, a federal judge ordering two attorneys to testify, Pat Cipollone, Trump's former White House council, and his deputy, Patrick Philbin, to come before the grand jury.

It rejects Trump's claims of executive and attorney-client privilege, right? That said, oh, can't do it for those reasons. That was rejected.

Now both lawyers are crucial in the January 6th criminal investigation. There is a lot to get to tonight. I want to begin with Evan Perez in Washington.

So, Evan, let's talk about this Mar-a-Lago ruling, the special master that was so crucial to all of this in September, and now a stunning ruling, right, significant ruling about the special master. What does it mean?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it means that the Justice Department, Erin, that a Justice Department investigation can continue unfettered, because this -- the earlier ruling from the lower court judge, Aileen Cannon, that had essentially acted to impede what the Justice Department was trying to do, which was review these documents, pursue this criminal investigation into the alleged mishandling of classified information. And what the former president was asking was special treatment. That's plain and simple what he was asking for.

And the 11th Circuit, two judges who were appointed by the former president, and a third one, another Republican appointee, I'll read you another part of the ruling. It says: The restraint guards against needless judicial intrusion into the course of criminal investigations -- a sphere of power committed to the executive branch.

And that's one of the things that these judges were particularly focused on during the arguments -- the oral arguments just a few days ago. They were particularly concerned about the idea that, you know, what the former president was asking for was essentially something that anyone then could ask for, which is to -- for judges to intervene in an ongoing criminal investigation and to try to stop what the Justice Department was doing.

And that's exactly also what the judge here in Washington did and the other investigation. She basically has said the former president can't claim executive privilege and attorney-client privilege over some of these discussions that had to do with this criminal investigation of what happened on January 6th.

Now in both cases, Erin, we expect that the former president, he has the option to appeal in the 11th Circuit. He can probably go to the Supreme Court. We'll see whether he does that in the case of the ruling against him in his -- the former lawyers of the White House. He can also appeal to the appeals court here in Washington. But he's been losing and losing big in all of these cases.

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

So let's go to Ryan Goodman, "Just Security" co-editor in chief and the former special counsel of the Defense Department. Along with John Dean, former Nixon White House counsel.


So, Ryan, obviously, you've read through the 21 pages here. What's your reaction to this ruling about the special master first?

RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR IN CHIEF, JUST SECURITY: So, it is a stunning rebuke of the Judge Cannon opinions below, and it's a stunning rebuke of Trump's legal teams arguments on which he based those opinions. It's very difficult to think of examples like this in a professional career of any district court judge to be so strongly repudiated by the Court of Appeals.

And they've done it in such a solid manner terms of saying that none of the factors that Trump needed to meet was he able to meet, that I think it's very, very, very unlikely that the Supreme Court will do anything but just let this opinion stand. And we should also remember that one of the judges in this opinion is the chief judge of the 11th Circuit. So it's really a remarkable opinion, and it does stand for the rule of law because they just did a very meticulous job with applying the law to the facts.

BURNETT: Meticulous and firm. There was no mincing of words, right? It was very clear that they found this absurd, John.

I mean, let me just read again some of this ruling which I -- we shared at the top of the show. But when they said, we cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant, nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so. You know, using the word "rebuke," right, as Ryan did, it seems to be completely accurate.

How big a blow is this to Trump, John?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's a direct blow. As Evan said earlier, this was an effort by Trump to reach out and get some special treatment. These are judges he appointed. He's got a Supreme Court that he's appointed three members of. And he wants special treatment, and he's not getting it.

He is being treated like every other citizen before the court, and the court made it very clear that's what they were doing is treating him like everybody else. And not going to change the process just for him.

BURNETT: And, Ryan, your -- you know, sources telling Trump's legal team hasn't decided to appeal this to the Supreme Court. You made it clear that that wouldn't -- that wouldn't impact it at all. It could drag it out more.

But just to be clear, right, the special counsel now oversees both of the investigations we're talking about here, the Mar-a-Lago, where we just got a ruling obviously, as well as the Department of Justice January 6th investigation. So when it comes to the Mar-a-Lago investigation, if the special counsel indeed is gone, what does this do to the timeline here of a decision on an indictment or anything else from the special counsel, Ryan?

GOODMAN: So I think that it does mean that the special counsel will be able to more quickly reach the decision as to whether or not to indict Donald Trump. He now knows that he has all of the material from the FBI search that he can now bring to a trial and bring to a jury.

That was always a big question that was overhanging him. You never knew what might happen with those documents. And now that's firmly in his possession, and he knows that he can present it as evidence. That's huge. And all arrows are pointing towards this being a case that could be prosecuted.

And then the other part is just now that they have these materials and they can use them, if there are any other remaining questions with witnesses, they are able to ask the witnesses about these specific documents. They weren't able to do that because of the district court judge's kind of radical injunction in the past.

I think it really puts them on a strong footing, puts things moving rapidly ahead at a good clip.

BURNETT: Which is -- you know, and, look, the word "rapidly" is an important one. So, when talking about Mar-a-Lago, obviously, the special counsel has a decision whether to good ahead, rapidly make a decision on indicting there, or whether to wait until the January 6th Department of Justice investigation is also wrapped up and somehow put them together.

So, John, at that point, the other blow to Trump that I mentioned, right, the federal judge ordering Pat Cipollone, the Trump White House counsel and his deputy Patrick Philbin to provide additional grand jury in that criminal investigation, privilege, executive privilege was obviously rejected.

What does this tell you?

DEAN: Well, Trump has been up and down this road before. He's tried to have his lawyers invoke executive privilege. He's pressed them to do so.

They're not really required to do so. But they did so out of, sort of, honoring their client's commitment. But it didn't work now.

And that's what happened is the grand jury appealed their refusal to testify about certain areas. They're now going to have to open up and tell everything they know.

Trump has no executive privilege. If he tries to appeal this, it's not going to go anywhere. He's already done this several times in D.C. and those courts are exhausted with his efforts to block testimony.

BURNETT: And, Ryan, just to be clear, these two attorneys have already testified. So what does it say to you that they're being called back?

GOODMAN: I do think it means that the special counsel is putting together kind of final pieces.


These are key witnesses who can tell the special counsel and the grand jury of direct communications with Trump.

And we know that they have said that various parts of Trump's plan to overturn the January 6th election were illegal, the false slate of electors they said was illegal. Trying to get Pence to not certify, they said, was illegal.

But we haven't heard them say what they told President Trump at the time and what Trump's reaction was. That's going to be very valuable to the special counsel in putting together the final pieces of the case.

BURNETT: Absolutely.

All right. Thank you both very much for those significant developments on the Trump legal front tonight.

And next, President Obama, these are live pictures. He is on the back of the campaign trail tonight. You see that Warnock sign? That's because he is in Georgia, rallying support for the Democratic senator who is locked in a tight race against Herschel Walker. We're going to take you there, next.

Plus, a CNN exclusive this hour. A protester inside China risking everything, risking life to speak out against the Chinese government. We're live in Beijing.

And Putin's brutal army admitting it recruited an African prisoner to fight in Ukraine. Is it a sign of his growing desperation? We're live in Moscow.


BURNETT: All right. Live pictures out of Atlanta. Former President Obama is on stage campaigning for the Georgia Senate candidate Raphael Warnock. It's part of a major push by Democrats to boost turnout with just one day left of early person voting.


Let's listen in for a moment.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: So, Georgia, look, I'm not telling you something you don't know. You deserve a senator you can be proud of. Somebody who will talk straight to you. Somebody who will fight for you. Somebody who will garner respect in Washington. Somebody like Reverend Warnock, who's been doing it responsibly and conscientiously and effectively, not just in the Senate, not just in the last few years, but his entire adult life.


So that's why you need to get out and vote. That's why you can't let up because change doesn't happen in one election. It doesn't even happen in two elections. It doesn't even happen in five elections.

Change only happens if you keep organizing, keep voting, keep mobilizing, keep educating, keep speaking up, keep working hard to make change happen.

Imagine looking back in history, right after the Emancipation Proclamation. Imagine if all the abolitionists in the Civil Rights Act had said, oh, everything is going to be okay now. Let's go home.

Imagine if after some women -- not all women, but some women -- got the right to vote, organizers said, oh, all right, I got mine. We're all equal now. Our work is done here. Imagine where we would be.

If we want real progress, if we want lasting progress, we can't be satisfied with one victory because victories are always incomplete. History doesn't just move in a straight line. It moves sideways. Sometimes it moves backwards, when we're not vigilant, when we're not working.

So we can't allow ourselves to get tired. We need sustained effort. And by the way, not just on election day, but every day in between.

And when I think about that vigilance, when I think about that stick- to-it-ness, when I think about finishing the job, there are a couple of people that come to mind.

The first is Georgia's own, my friend John Lewis.


So -- so he -- he and other SNCC workers were my inspiration for going into public service.

BURNETT: You're listening to the former President Barack Obama speaking at a Raphael Warnock event in Georgia. There is just one day left of early voting and then Election Day.

OUTFRONT now, Geoff Duncan, the Republican lieutenant governor of Georgia, along with Bakari Sellers, the former South Carolina Democratic state lawmaker joined me.

And, Bakari, you hear President Obama right here right now, of course, you know, speaking about his inspiration for joining politics. They're coming from John Lewis and the state of Georgia as he speaks out for Raphael Warnock. Democrats are feeling very bullish there. Is that -- do they really feel like they've got the momentum? BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I'm not sure just

the momentum, Erin. But what I can tell you the message tonight and one of the reasons I'm so happy to be on your show tonight while Barack Obama is speaking is because there are many Democrats across the country, particularly Black Democrats who you're going to see them turn out and vote in Savannah, in Columbus, in Macon, in Atlanta, of course, and Augusta.

But there are people who really just think about John Lewis. They think about Julian Bond. They think about all these heroes and heroines. They think about SNCC. They think about SCLC.

They think about the civil rights legacy that is Georgia and they look at Herschel Walker. And I agree with many Republicans that there are maybe some Black people who would have given Herschel Walker an opportunity. In fact, they probably did give him a chance, but he squandered that opportunity. The embarrassment, the anti- intellectualism, that is what -- I mean, and the simple fact is this: if you put a split screen up with a speech from Herschel Walker and a speech from Barack Obama, and/or Raphael Warnock, then this election should not be close.

BURNETT: Lieutenant Governor, we're going see how close it is. I mean, the early turnout numbers are incredible, right?


More than a million people have already voted. You waited in line for an hour yesterday. You're telling John Berman about this last night.

And you got there after waiting an hour, which is its own set of issues. And then you walked out without voting. You submitted a blank ballot.

So how did you come to the decision as a Republican lieutenant governor of Georgia to not vote for Herschel Walker?

LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R), GEORGIA: So it would be a better Hollywood story if I said I was biting my nails all the way to the machine trying to figure out who I was going to vote for. But I knew what I was going to do. There is a lot of sacrifice that has been given to give us the right to vote. So I showed up and I waited in line and I voted.

And when I walked up to the machine, I was disappointed with the two picks, and I knew what I was going do. I didn't select anybody. I printed the paperwork and put it through machine and moved on. It's that simple. I'm sure there's other folks out there.

The story isn't about Geoff Duncan didn't vote for Herschel Walker. The story is that how did we get here, and what are we going learn from this lesson? Are we going to continue to play the game and just be team players? Or are we going to be team players --

BURNETT: How did you get Herschel Walker on that ballot to begin with? DUNCAN: Yeah. And because we're told to be team players as

Republicans. Support Donald Trump, support the election rigged stuff, support Herschel Walker.

Well, you know what? We don't need team players right now. We need team leaders as Republicans. That's what we need if we're going to move this party forward.

BURNETT: So, Bakari, let me just play a little more of what the former president said tonight. He's referencing that this is his second time in the state in a matter of weeks, right?

By the way, Trump hasn't gone, you know, doing this tele-rally. But this is the second time for Obama in a couple of weeks.

Here's what he just said.


OBAMA: You get a buy one, get one free deal on elections this year. But I'm here today for the same reason that I was here the last time, to ask you to vote one more time for my friend and your outstanding senator, Raphael Warnock.


BURNETT: Bakari, where do you see this right now with more than a million people who have already voted and lines like the one that the lieutenant governor stood in for an hour, people waiting?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean (VIDEO GAP) votes when I run for office, if I run for office ever again by saying I actually like Geoff Duncan. So that may not actually get me votes, and I'm not sure if that's what people are used to hearing on cable TV, but I actually do like Geoff Duncan. He's pretty honest and straight forward.

But I mean, just listen to the call and response. I mean, when you go to a Black church in the South, both Erin and Geoff, when you go to a Black church in the South, particularly in Georgia, imagine yourself in Albany, and Geoff can probably understand this, when you're in a Black church and you hear that call and response, when you hear people and you hear the person who's from the pulpit or who is leading that oratory, and then you have the audience chant back "amen" or "I'm with you" or "I hear you" or "I see you," you know they are engaged in the words that come out of your mouth that is what we saw from Barack Obama.

And so, yes, I think that, you know, I truly believe Raphael Warnock is going to win this race. But the reason that Raphael Warnock is going to win this race, and the reason that I talked about that call and response is because it reminds you of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. But not the rhythmic cadence of I have a dream that one day we shall, but instead it reminds you of when you talk about the fierce urgency of now. And that is the same thing that the 44th president of the United

States of America is echoing, that there is this fierce urgency of now.

BURNETT: So, Lieutenant Governor, what do you think ultimately is it for Herschel Walker? Is it all the allegations? And there's another one now from an ex-girlfriend in the final days from "The Daily Beast", you know, about assault. Is it all these allegations? Is it just the way he presents himself? Is it the anti-intellectualism that Bakari mentioned? What do you think it is?

DUNCAN: Yes. I'll pick D. It's all of the above. And that's really the problem that we've got, right? The process was broken to get here. A year ago, it made sense to have somebody with a 110 percent name ID, best friends with Trump Donald Trump, or at least close enough to go vacation with him I guess. And that was a winning ticket.

A year later, our problems are that big in this country that no longer it makes sense to have that as a winning recipe.

Herschel Walker is going to go down as probably the worse Republican candidate in the history of politics, right? It's just no way to run away from that. And I think the energy level behind his support, it's -- you know, the best case being made right now is well, he's going to be a Republican vote for us.

And certainly, that means a lot to me. I care about Republicanism. I care about conservatism. I'm passionate about it.

But I also think we're able to have conversations and be able to mold and mend our legislative priorities as we move forward. But, you know, look, this has -- this has been -- we're either going to learn from this or we're not.


And I think there's a chance that we can.

BURNETT: Thank you both very much. I appreciate it. .

DUNCAN: Thank you.

SELLERS: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, a CNN exclusive, we hear from a protester inside China who is protesting the country's strict COVID lockdowns. Inside China. You see that blur. Wait until you see this interview, next.

Plus, President Biden about to hold his first state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron. We're going take you to the White House this hour.


BURNETT: Tonight, a protester inside China speaking exclusively to CNN. This protester is one of thousands across China who has taken part in the widespread demonstrations against strict zero COVID policies like the one on your screen which is in Shanghai, where protesters clashed with police in white hazmat suits.

Now, this protester spoke to our Selina Wang, would only speak to her in a car while in disguise.

Watch this clip.


BEIJING PROTESTER: The protests that happened wasn't just random, because there was this social anger that was accumulating in everyone, especially the middle class.


So, I think the purpose of this policy has shifted. It shifted from actually protecting people's lives to a political campaign.

They never told us about the data, the exact data. How many people died of the COVID and how many people died of -- as of collateral damage of zero COVID policy.


BURNETT: All right. You're going see much more from this incredible interview that Selina conducted in just a moment because the uprisings across China come as President Xi appeared on the world stage today, who's seen in public shaking hands with the president of the European Council.

And while Xi continues to crackdown on demonstrators, the government claims it will relax some COVID restrictions ever so slightly, like letting people with COVID actually quarantine in their own homes instead of the mass facilities, right, that you've seen those horrible images of, some of those horrible conditions like a public bathroom where some were forced to quarantine sleeping on a floor, or where hundreds if not thousands have been packed into these vast quarantine centers.

Selina Wang is OUTFRONT live in Beijing.

And, Selina, this interview you did with the protester is very significant. What more can you tell us?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, I mean, it is so hard to get any person in China to speak on camera to foreign media, let alone on such a sensitive topic. But this person felt passionate about sharing with the world, that while the protesters -- they make up a tiny portion of China's population, they really see themselves as speaking for the masses, because zero COVID has been a unifying source of anger for people -- young, old, rich or poor. And this person described being a part of the demonstration in Beijing as both scary but also empowering.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BEIJING PROTESTER: Silence will not protect you.

WANG (voice-over): This person one of thousands of across China willing to put their lives on the line to speak out. Years of pent-up anger over China's draconian COVID lockdowns boiling over into protests.

BEIJING PROTESTER: I felt like I lost control of my life because of this COVID policy. Nobody is telling you when this is going to end. We are limited physically, and now, we're limited mentally. We are forbidden to express our ideas.

WANG: For some, that cathartic emotional release spilled into calls for political changes. Some even chanted for Xi Jinping to step down.

BEIJING PROTESTER: He is the one who is responsible for this whole policy thing. But for me, first thing first, I want a zero COVID policy gone. And if we have more freedom of speech and freedom of press, of course, that would be great.

WANG: What do you think you guys achieved by participating in that protest?

BEIJING PROTESTER: If you don't demonstrate, if you don't show them your choice, your idea, they will never know.

WANG: And this is what happened next. China's security apparatus swiftly smothered the protests. CNN is shielding the protester's identity because of fears of retribution, even conducting the interview in a car to avoid tracking from authorities.

Police are calling and visiting the homes of some protesters. And in Shanghai, randomly stopping people to check their phones on streets and what appears to be in subways. Protesters say they're looking for VPNs needed to use band apps like Twitter or Telegram, which some protesters use to communicate.

Another protester told CNN: I'm afraid we cannot hold protests like this again in the future. There are always undercover agents in our Telegram group. Every few meters on the street, there are police and police dogs. The whole atmosphere is chilling.

I'm in the center of a protest in Beijing right now. They're chanting that they don't want COVID tests. They want freedom.

Less than 24 hours after this, we drove back to that spot. Police cars as far as the eye could see. Then a few days later --

It's pretty much back to normal, like nothing ever happened. And that is precisely the goal of the communist party.

CNN has verified protests erupted in at least 17 Chinese cities, but every single one has been stamped out.

In Guangzhou, residents destroyed COVID testing booths. Police in riot gear immediately swarm in. They march through a market shouting at people to leave, firing tear gas to disperse protesters, pushing through with shields and making arrests.

Authorities have gone into overdrive to sensor all evidence of unrest online.

BEIJING PROTESTER: The white sheet of paper actually represents the censorship and all the deleted contents and cannot arrest us for just holding a white paper. I still have that white paper I protested. I put it in my diary as a souvenir to show my future generations that you should always fight for your rights, and never let your voice be silenced.


WANG: How does it make you feel, though, that the government even censored pictures of people holding white papers?

BEIJING PROTESTER: By doing this, they're just going to make the crowd angrier. Instead of trying to silence us, they should really focus and try to think why this happened.

WANG: Authorities are silencing them, but it seems they are listening. Right after the riots in Guangzhou, the city started lifting some lockdowns, removing COVID roadblocks.

"Unsealed, we are unsealed!" a man screams with excite as he bikes through streets opened up.

But so many others are still counting down their days in lockdowns and quarantine, wondering when zero COVID will really end. A lot of the protesters like the person I interviewed, they are young, in their 20s and 30s, but they were stillborn before Facebook, Google and YouTube were banned in China.

So the person made the point to me that despite the patriotic education they've been getting fed in school, they still remember what a more open China looked like. Now, most realize it is too dangerous and unrealistic to call for Xi Jinping to step down, but at the very least, they just want their old live back when their lives weren't controlled by lockdowns, testing and live quarantines and mass testing -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Selina, thank you very much with that incredible, courageous reporting that you continue to do and that interview from Beijing.

I want to go now to Desmond Shum, who's a powerful Chinese businessman whose ex-wife went missing in China back in 2017. He is also the author of "Red Roulette: An Insider Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption and Vengeance in Today's China."

I hope you'll read it. I found it incredibly powerful.

So, Desmond, you know, you just saw Selina -- you know, she shielded the identity of the protester that she spoke with. But Chinese officials are using a lot of methods to find these protesters to track them down. How concerned would you be if you were a protester?

DESMOND SHUM, EX-WIFE WENT MISSING IN CHINA FOR YEARS: I think the risk is tremendous. I mean, we are -- I mean, there are reports that Chinese has done this facial recognition even -- even with your mask on.

So I think the government is -- the crackdown is already happening. And I think given the past -- record for the past decade, Xi Jinping's crackdown will be severe and brutal.

BURNETT: And let me ask you about that. When you say "severe and brutal," what do you think Xi will do to the protesters?

SHUM: Their standard mode of operation like what happened to my ex- wife is disappeared. Like the gentleman who hand a banner on a Beijing bridge a month ago, he has disappeared and then hasn't been heard in the last months.

So I think the leaders of the protest movement could possibly face death and very likely to face death.

BURNETT: To face death.

SHUM: No, face -- face hearings.

And what they want to do is basically, they -- I think the government is at this moment basically will disappear the person, hold them in captivity, and then they will -- base on political decision -- decide what to do with them.

BURNETT: So, do you think anything changes here? Does this remain just something about zero COVID, or does it become something bigger as, of course, the protester Selina spoke to wants it to be? Or the one we spoke to one from London whose family is in Eastern China wants it to be?

SHUM: I think this is the match that lights the first fire. I think this one -- personally, I don't think this will morph into much. The crackdown is coming fast and swift.

I think the question is with this enlightening to the young generation, what would happen next down the road? You know, will -- the next issue come up, will we see the similar type of protests? Will this light -- this enlightenment bring them to see a deeper issue instead of just the crackdown, a single issue -- become a single issue movement?

BURNETT: You know, you talk about people disappearing. And your ex- wife, right, disappeared. A number of people have disappeared in China in recent years. There was the bizarre and mysterious episode where the former President Hu Jintao, right, just recently was removed from the party congress and hasn't been seen since.

SHUM: Yeah.

BURNETT: China says he's just ill, but he hasn't been seen since.

We've talked a lot on the show about the tennis star Peng Shuai who disappeared after accusing a communist party leader of sexual assault. She was shown briefly at a couple of events when that became a global story, but she hasn't been seen since.

Other mysterious disappearances have included Jack Ma, founder of the world's biggest e-commerce company. He went missing for a long time, now shows up in Tokyo.

And your ex-wife, Whitney, she was the richest woman in China, suddenly disappeared in 2017.


Is Xi just going to continue to do this, President Xi, with impunity? Just people just disappear?

SHUM: This is their mode of operation. In the past, it's just not widely reported. And then, also, usually what they disappear are communists -- communist party officials.

Now, it has been in the last few years obviously spreading more to the wider community, including the business community, and including a lot of high profile business person. That's why it's been more widely reported and picked up by the international media. But that is the mode of operation. They have been doing it for decades.

BURNETT: Desmond, thank you very much. I appreciate your perspective and taking the time to be with us tonight.

SHUM: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, an OUTFRONT investigation. Putin's private army now relying on prisoners, some from Africa, going down and getting people from Africa to fight some of the toughest battles in Ukraine.

Plus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis taking a subtle jab at Trump and the GOP's performance in the midterms.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: We assumed we were going end up with 245 House members. We're at 222 it looks like, which is a huge underperformance.



BURNETT: Tonight, an OUTFRONT investigation. CNN is learning the notoriously brutal Wagner Group, a private military company that's fighting in Ukraine, has recruited at least one African inmate from Russian prison to join Russian forces in Ukraine.

[19:45:08] Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT tonight with this investigation in Moscow.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Mercenaries for Russia's Wagner private military company are fighting on some of the toughest battlefields in Ukraine.

A social media channel affiliated with the group recently posted this video allegedly showing a severely wounded Wagner fighter trying to shoot himself rather than fall into Ukrainian hands.

Now the group has acknowledged a man from the southern African nation of Zambia has been killed fighting on the front lines in Ukraine. This is 23-year-old Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda.

Wagner's founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as Putin's chief, admits he recruited from a Russian jail and says he died a hero.

I talked to him in the clear region, Prigozhin wrote in a statement. Why do you need this war? After all, the chance of dying is quite high.

And he answered what I expected. You Russians helped us Africans gain independence for many years. The Wagner Group saves thousands of Africans. And if I go to war with you, this is probably a very small way in which I can pay our debts.

Zambian authorities say Nyirenda was studying nuclear engineering in Russia but was thrown in jail for more than nine years for what his father told "Reuters" was a drug offense.

Despite what Prigozhin said about Nyirenda's alleged gratitude, the Zambian government is demanding answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did he find himself fighting for Russia when Zambia as a country, when Zambia as a state does not have any interest whatsoever in what is happening in that war.

PLEITGEN: Wagner admits it is recruiting fighters from Russian jails, and even confirmed to CNN they're sending inmates with HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis to the front line.

As Russia struggles with manpower issues, videos and inmate testimony show Prigozhin visiting prisons and offering freedom in return for contracts to the front line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you choose to go with us, there will be no way back. Nobody will able to go back to prison.

PLEITGEN: But Africa has been the major theater for Wagner for years. CNN has tracked the unit across the continent, including in the Central African Republic where Wagner mercenaries officially train the Central African Army, but have also allegedly committed horrendous human rights abuses. Wagner recently published a propaganda video glorifying its military

training in the Central African Republic where the group's operatives show recruits how to kill effectively.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin says Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda was so grateful to Wagner, he was grateful to die for the mercenaries -- claims Zambia's government clearly isn't buying.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Erin, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, that oligarch obviously unapologetic about all of this. The attrition rate apparently among those people that Wagner is putting there on the front line, especially those people who were prisoners before are apparently extremely high.

One of the tactics that they're using, this is something the Ukrainians say, is they're trying to send waves of people at Ukrainian position, especially in that town of Bakhmut, where some of that heavy fighting that's been going on. Apparently, the Wagner troops are making some headway. It took some villages, but their losses are immense, Erin.

BURNETT: Thank you very much, Fred. It's just amazing, right? They're willing to put these guys out as cannon fodder. Thank you very much, Fred Pleitgen with that important reporting from Moscow tonight.

And next, the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis weighing in on the Republican Party's disappointing performance during the midterms, pointing the finger at Trump?

Plus, President Biden's first state dinner, and it is for France's first couple, now under way. The details of the A-list extravagant event, coming up.



BURNETT: Tonight, Ron DeSantis refusing to take the bait when it comes to directly calling out Donald Trump. DeSantis has so far refrained from directly blaming Trump for the Republicans' failure to pull off a red wave in the midterms. But he has made his point of view clear.

And this subtle jab came out today when he was asked about Trump and the divisions in the GOP.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: We assumed we were going to end up with like 245 House members. We're at 222 it looks like, which is a huge underperformance. And so, you know, the question is, you know, why did that happen?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Why did that happen? Just asking.

This as the party is gearing up for a potential Trump-DeSantis primary showdown.

OUTFRONT now, Harry Enten, our senior data reporter.

Harry, I'm just asking. Why? All right. So you've brought some new polling for us to talk about tonight to give a clear picture of how DeSantis entering into the 2024 race which, of course, is now occupied by Trump would look. What do you see?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yeah. I mean, it is on, Erin. I mean, I know Ron DeSantis hasn't officially declared, but it is on. And if you look among Republican voters, this to me, we've had two polls over the last few weeks. Quinnipiac had DeSantis up by two points when Republicans were asked to choose between DeSantis and Trump.

But Marquette University Law School came out today. Look at that margin. Among Republicans, when you match up Trump versus DeSantis, DeSantis is preferred by a 20-point margin, 60 percent to 40 percent. This race, I think a lot of people thought Trump would run away with it. But, in fact, DeSantis, if anything, seems to be right on Trump's heels, if not ahead of him at this point.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, that's pretty stunning. Now, and, of course, as you know, Donald Trump loves to look at polls. So that obviously has -- he's got to be looking at that.

So, now, take it a step further, Harry. What about if you look at a general election against President Biden, who said he intends to run, and certainly has some wind in his sails right now.

ENTEN: Yeah. I mean, look, Ron DeSantis wants to make the electability argument. And based on the Marquette University Law School poll that just came out, look here, what do we see? We see that Biden and DeSantis are tied.


They are tied, versus when you match Biden versus Trump, Biden is up 10 points.

So, right now, the argument that DeSantis wants to make that he's more electable, the polling, Erin, backs that up.

BURNETT: All right. He's also done, you know, the one thing that seems to indicate for sure he is running. He is getting ready to release an autobiography. Okay.

Put that in historical context. When you put out an autobiography, what does it usually mean?

ENTEN: It means that you're running for president. If you look at the elected presidents over the last 50 years, which wrote books before running? Pretty much all of them. Only Bill Clinton was the one who didn't. But Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden, all wrote books before running. So, the fact that DeSantis wrote a book, I think he is running.

BURNETT: Well, I love that. By the way, Bill Clinton made up for it on page count.

ENTEN: Yeah.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much, Harry.


BURNETT: And next, President Biden hosting an elaborate state dinner for the French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife. It is the first White House state dinner since COVID. We'll take you live.


BURNETT: President Biden right now sitting down at his first state dinner as president. The president and first lady welcoming the French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte, two couples greeting each other warmly, and both committing their commitment to peace and ending Russia's war on Ukraine, also agreeing to coordinate their response to China, and calling for stability on the Taiwan Strait jointly.

And the dinner itself, right, this is the first dinner because of COVID. It's being held in a candle lit pavilion on the south lawn of the White House. More than 400 guests are expected to attend. Among them: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Stephen Colbert and Anna Wintour.

Thanks so much for joining. And don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT any time, anywhere on CNN Go.

"AC360" begins right now.