Return to Transcripts main page

Erin Burnett Outfront

Kremlin: Ukraine Launched Strikes Deep Inside Russian Territory; Final Day Of Campaigning For Critical Senate Runoff In Georgia; Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) On Twitter Files; Chinese Protesters Appear To Force Loosening Of COVID Policies; After Days Of Silence, Some Republicans Condemn Trump's Call For "Termination" Of Constitution. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 05, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, explosions deep inside Russia. Moscow accusing Ukraine of plotting deadly attacks, as the former right-hand man of Putin's private army warns on OUTFRONT that he is out for ultimate power.

Plus, an unexpected hero in the Twitter files. The Democratic who demanded answers about why Twitter buried a story about Hunter Biden in an election year. Congressman Ro Khanna speaks out OUTFRONT.

And China operating more than 100 police stations across the globe as Chinese leader Xi Jinping tries to crack down on protesters outside of China.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the explosions deep inside Russia. I want to show you the video of what Moscow claims as a Ukrainian drone strike on a military base. This is one of two bases hit in what are the closest strikes to Moscow since the start of Putin's invasion. You can see it there on the screen.

According to Russia, at least three people were killed. And I'll show you a before and after picture of one of the bases. So, on the left, you can see what appears to be the exact location of one of the blasts. And to the right, what the area looked like before.

And there are new images from the ground. A fuel truck destroyed, also damages to a bomber that was loaded with a missile ready to use.

And this is significant, right, a bomber loaded for a missile ready to use, it comes on a day as Ukraine's air force says it took down more than 60 Russian missiles. You see some of the images here. Could've been 61, except for that bomber was taken out.

It is an incredible development here what exactly happened on those bases. And it comes as the head of the infamous and brutal Wagner Group of Yevgeny Prigozhin is now threatening the United States, warning Washington tonight not to designate his group as a terrorist organization, referencing al Qaeda with this threat, and I quote him, they've already put one organization on the list of terrorist organizations and they got a response that made them tremble. Do not wake Wagner PMC, Americans.

Well, I spoke exclusively to Prigozhin's former right-hand man, a former commander for Russia's notorious private army, a man who worked closely with Prigozhin and was key in running the Wagner Group's tactical operations in Syria. He knows Prigozhin well, and he told me that Prigozhin has the ambitions far outside of Russia and that his ultimate goal may be to topple Putin himself.


MARAT GABIDULLIN, FORMER WAGNER COMMANDER WHO LFET IN 2019 (through translator): He was already pretty close to him, but now, he tries to become the closest man to the president.

BURNETT: Marat, do you believe that Prigozhin ultimately, if something were to happen to Putin, would -- would make a play for Putin's job himself?

GABIDULLIN: Of course, if Putin becomes weak, to this extent, he will do everything possible in order to preserve his sphere of influence, and possibly do some extreme steps to grab the power.


BURNETT: Extreme steps to grab the power.

Prigozhin's forces, which include newly recruited Russian prisoners and even now fighters from African countries in the mercenary ranks are deep in battle in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Casualties there mounting as Ukrainian officials tell CNN heavy fighting is underway there tonight.

It is a crucial city for Russian forces. They believe capturing it would allow them to cut Ukrainian supply lines, and that is where we want to start tonight.

Sam Kiley is OUTFRONT live in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

And, Sam, what is the latest there?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you rightly point out, for the last month or so at least, the Russians seem to have made their main effort, the effort to try and capture the city of Bakhmut, which is about 25 kilometers from where I'm standing. Most nights, we can hear a steady state of bombardment. Of course when we get closer during the daylight, things are much more intense.

But this is also baffling to a lot of the Ukrainian officers that we've spoken to. They don't really understand quite why Russia is investing so much blood and money in this project because it isn't of great strategic interest as far as the Ukrainians are concerned. That notwithstanding, they are having to fight very hard, Erin. And among their ranks are actual Russian forces, Russians fighting Russians.


KILEY (voice-over): Cesar is Russian. He's taking a break at a monastery from fighting Russians in nearby Bakhmut. It's a relief from scenes line this, Bakhmut's Ukrainian field hospital.


He's been defending this Ukrainian town from Russia's most intense assault along an 800-mile front. Artillery duels and trench warfare have almost destroyed Bakhmut, as Russia throws its army at a bid for victory, after months of defeats to the north and south.

Defending Bakhmut against his Russian motherland is a religious imperative for Cesar. The fighting is very brutal now, he says. There are very few prisoners.

And when you see those Russians in your gun sights, what do you think, and what do you feel?

I believe that these people have broken the law of man and the law of God. I have no pity for them. I take them prisoner if I can. But most often, I just have to kill them.

So have you killed a lot of your countrymen? A dozen and a half.

This is the remains of a Russian Orthodox monastery. Now, for Vladimir Putin, the Orthodox Church is absolutely central to his vision of the Russian world.

For some Russians, though, that's a world they don't want to live in. Indeed, they don't want it to survive.

Ukraine's Orthodox Church broke with Moscow three years ago. This is all that's left of a rebranded Ukrainian orthodox St. Georgia's monetary after nine months of war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin says that he defends the traditional values. Yeah? This is the result of his defending, a ruin of monastery.

KILEY: Vinnie has been fighting in Bakhmut for weeks against mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Company. Many of them convicted criminals.

It's obvious, he says, when private companies hire criminals and convicts, imagine, a man kills once and they put him in jail. Then he kills a second time and he becomes a repeat offender under the law.

Then he gets let out of jail and given a gun. That's not a person. That's a beast.

After a former Wagner deserter, Yevgeny Noshin (ph), was murdered in a video that was praised by the boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Vinnie is in no doubt how he will be treated if captured.

It'll be the end, 100 percent. But it'll just be more painful.

The Russian legion does claim to be in the hundreds, and it says many more back home are trying to join Ukraine's army. Alongside their Ukrainian allies, the Russian legion is focused on the battle for Bakhmut. The aim of the war after is more ambitious.

He says, I'm doing my military and Christian duty. I defend the Ukrainian people. And when Ukraine is free, I will carry my sword to Russia to free it from tyranny.


KILEY: Now, Erin, Ukraine has just withstood its eighth mass attack by cruise missiles aimed again at the national infrastructure, notably the energy sector. The government here is saying that most of those incoming missiles have been shot down and thanking the international community for the important air defenses that they have got, repeating their claim that they don't have enough.

And on the ground, I've spoken recently to an American fighter in Bakhmut on the Ukrainian side. And he says they're killing 50 to 60 Russians a day. But they are throwing massive amounts of human life at this effort to try and capture this relatively small Ukrainian town -- Erin.

BURNETT: Yeah, it is truly incredible.

All right, thank you very much, Sam Kiley, with that crucial reporting.

And I want to go now on the back of Sam's reporting to retired Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commanding general of Europe and the 7th Army.

Thanks so much for being with me, General.

So, the Russian defense ministry -- I want to start with this attack this morning on these Russian bases, right, the furthest attacks in Russian territory that we have seen by far. Russia says Ukraine used drones and that there were casualties.

Now, I want to be clear, Ukraine hasn't claimed responsibility, but if Russia's correct, right, and I should note Ukraine never directly claims responsibility for these things, so that would be the norm, is it wise for Ukraine to be attacking inside Russian territory and so deeply inside Russian territory?

LT. GENERAL BEN HODGES, FORMER COMMANDE: Erin, I think it's essential that Ukraine be able to strike back against the source of the attacks that are murdering thousands of innocent Ukrainian civilians.

Now, I like the fact that Ukraine seldom claims credit for these kinds of things because they don't want to reveal capabilities that they have. But this has to be of great concern to the Russians if the Ukrainians actually do the ability to strike that far because that means no place on the Crimean peninsula will be safe either. And also for the Ukrainian people who are getting shelled, rocketed every day and sitting tonight in a cold, dark apartment building, to know that some Russians are feeling it on the other end, that has to also be a powerful psychological boost.


BURNETT: Certainly.

Now, you mentioned the distance, I want to show everyone why this is so crucial, right? The two Russian bases that were attacked overnight are between 300 and 350 miles from Ukrainian territory. So when we see the blast go off in the video of your screen, this is 300 to 350 mile as way from Ukraine. The drones that we know Ukraine has and its arsenal do not travel that far.

But we saw something, General, and that was that this weekend, Ukraine's state-owned weapons manufacturer announced that it successfully completed tests on a new kamikaze drone with a range of more than 600 miles, okay? That would easily enable them to do this, and I'll show everyone a photo of the drone.

So, again, we don't know if it was used in this attack. But, General, if it was and Ukraine has successfully now on its own -- the U.S. isn't giving it the capability to strike that far, preventing them from doing so. If they now have the ability to have their own drones that can go 600 miles into Russia, what does that mean, and what do you think happened at these bases?

HODGES: Well, first of all, it would not surprise me if Ukraine has in fact developed this capability. Remember during the time of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the heart of the defense industry of the Soviet Union. So you've got a foundation of engineers and scientists and technical capabilities. So I would not be surprised if they do in fact have that.

If they were able to now hit all the different bases around Crimea, for example, the air base in Sevastopol, the navy, that makes, in my view, Crimea becomes untenable for Russian forces. And ultimately, Crimea is the prize. And the Ukrainians think that's the intention is to get -- obviously to liberate Crimea by the end of the summer.

BURNETT: Which is obviously incredible and the one thing that Putin has made it clear, is a no-go. So, this puts us at a crucial point again in this war.

And the war that is being conducted by both the Russian military and the Wagner mercenary group. And I wanted to play another clip with that former Wagner commander. I asked him what the world should know about the person in charge of the Wagner Group, who is fighting in Bakhmut right now, Yevgeny Prigozhin. And here's what he said.


MARAT GABIDULLIN, FORMER WAGNER COMMANDER WHO LFET IN 2019 (through translator): The only thing he wants is power and money. And all his words he is saying is hiding his real purposes. What he is saying and doing has a very negative effect on people's minds.

What he is writing on people's Telegram is just propaganda of cruelty. He is just boasting, look at us, we're so cruel. And he is very dangerous because he is imposing this idea to people that this is the norm, that this cruelty is the norm.


BURNETT: General, this man knows Prigozhin well, right? Just to be clear, you are looking at a person who looks like just a normal person. This is a man who ran tactical operations in Syria for the Prigozhin Group, right? He is saying Prigozhin is cruel.

What does it tell you that this man Prigozhin is in charge of more and more of this war?

HODGES: Two or three things come to mind. First of all, Mr. Prigozhin is certainly making it easier for the prosecutors at the international criminal court in The Hague to build the case for the war crimes he is directly responsible for committing or directing. So that's one thing that he's not going to be able to escape.

Secondly, I think the fighting around Bakhmut, and Sam did a good job reporting on that, the fighting in Bakhmut seems totally disconnected from anything else that's going on. And I think this was a reflection of the fact that Prigozhin does not take his orders from the general staff, he does not take his orders from Minister Shoigu. He is basically conducting his own operations in an area that is not strategically important for Ukraine or for the Russians. But yet he's pouring in capability and troops that are there. And I think this was for his own purposes.

And the final part, of course, as Dr. Timothy Snyder said, it's bad to lose in Ukraine, but it's worse to lose in Russia. And I think Prigozhin is setting up himself, as Mr. Kadyrov, for this power struggling that's happening below the surface inside Russia.

BURNETT: Yeah. All right. Thank you very much. And we'll see, it is fascinating to see this play out. And thank you very much, General.

Next, a mad dash for votes. We are just hours before polls open in Georgia. Can Republicans make up for what appears to be a Democratic early vote advantage? One longtime Republican in the state speaking out against the Walker campaign. He's my guest.

Plus, new emails reveal the intense back and forth inside Twitter over suppressing a report about Hunter Biden and his laptop. Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna became an unlikely hero in this story and he's going to tell you all about it, next.


And you'll hear from a pilot who's been flying over the world's largest active volcano in Hawaii.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've flown in Hawaii for over ten years now. It's the most lava I've ever seen in my life.


BURNETT: Tonight, a frenzied final push in Georgia's runoff election for U.S. Senate. Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker going across the state to deliver their closing arguments, and we are now just hours before the polls open in this tight race, and -- well, they'll be closing this time tomorrow.

Early voting data showing black voters made up roughly a third of the eye-popping 1.9 million people who's just shy of that, have already voted in early voting. And that is a welcome sign, experts say, for Warnock. This as former President Trump is holding a rally over the telephone tonight for Walker in a final effort to boost Republicans' traditional election day turnout advantage.

Eva McKend is OUTFRONT on the ground in Georgia tonight.


EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voice-over): With the Georgia Senate runoff in its final hours --

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): Hello, Georgia tech!



MCKEND: The candidates rallying their core supporters to vote for them once again.

WARNOCK: Don't y'all have exams?

MCKEND: Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock focusing Monday on turning out younger voters campaigning with Gen-Z Congressman-elect Maxwell Frost.


REP.-ELECT MAXWELL FROST (D-FL): We know that young people don't make up the biggest voting bloc right now. But we are the bloc that matters.

MCKEND: Senator Warnock, why this emphasis on young voters in these final crucial hours?

WARNOCK: Young people have little tolerance for in-authenticity. They keep me inspired. They keep me on my toes.

And I'm proud of the ways in which young people all over Georgia are showing up.

MCKEND: Republican Challenger Herschel Walker hitting five campaign stops with a focus on deep red North Georgia.

WALKER: You can know you've got a champion in Herschel Walker. You always have a champion in me because I love y'all, and we're going to win this election and get Georgia back together.

MCKEND: Tuesday's fiercely contested runoff coming after neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote during November's general election.

WALKER: There's a sense of accomplishment to come in and get it done early.

MCKEND: Both campaigns now laser-focused on turning voters out Tuesday, after early voting ended with over 1.8 million ballots being cast, including a one-day record of more than 350,000 last Friday.

WARNOCK: Are you ready to do this one more time?

MCKEND: As the candidates make their closing arguments, both campaigns up with new TV ads, making a final push to get out the vote. Warnock touting his work ethic and dedication to serving Georgians, arguing, the race is primarily about competence and character.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: Who's more motivated? Is it them or us?

MCKEND: While Walker enlist the help of recently reelected Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to make the case for his campaign, the former football star argues, he would be a necessary check on President Joe Biden. Democrats have more than doubled Republican ad spending for the runoff, 55.1 million to $25.8 million, as the parties square off for one final Senate showdown of the 2022 midterm election.

WALKER: So who all has voted already? And who all has got to vote tomorrow?

WARNOCK: Call Lottie, Dotty and everybody. Tell them it's time to vote.


MCKEND (on camera): And Senator Warnock will take the stage here in Atlanta for his final event of the day, Herschel Walker campaigning tonight in Kennesaw. Walker also held a tele-rally this evening with former President Donald Trump.

You know, as I've been on the campaign trail today with Warnock, he's been consistently telling his supporters not to get too overconfident, that just because these early vote numbers look good doesn't mean that Herschel Walker still can't very much win this race. That is a recognition that this contest is going to be incredibly close -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Eva, thank you very much, from Atlanta tonight.

I want to go OUTFRONT now to Jason Shepherd, the former Republican Party chairman in Cobb County, Georgia.

And, Jason, I appreciate your time.

So, you know, you look at the early voting, certainly, Democrats appear to have the momentum there, high turnout among Black and young voters. Do you think Republicans have enough momentum to overcome that tomorrow?


And I do think the Republicans have enough momentum to overcome it by coming out to vote in strong numbers tomorrow. And it really is, as with any runoff, a turnout game. We need to get our voters back out to the polls and Democrats need to do the same. They've run up the number early, but this game isn't over yet and there is still a chance for Republicans to pull out the victory tomorrow.

BURNETT: All right. So, let me ask you about what many have been saying, which you might be in a very different situation if you had a different candidate. And I spoke last week with Georgia's Republican Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan. He did not hold back when he was talking about Herschel Walker and his campaign.

Let me play for you what your lieutenant governor said.


LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R), GEORGIA: Herschel Walker's going to go down as probably the worst Republican candidate in the history of politics, right? It's just no way to run away from that.


BURNETT: The worst candidate in the history of politics. Jason, do you agree?

SHEPHERD: Erin, I think the worst candidate is the candidate that doesn't even try. I mean, I think it's the candidate who has a great position to run as an incumbent but chooses instead to leave the position.

I'm a big fan of former Republican President Teddy Roosevelt who said the credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena.

And Herschel Walker has certainly not been a perfect candidate. But in this race he is the better candidate and the candidate that most represents the views of the majority of Georgia voters, including those Republican primary voters that push Geoff Duncan over the top in a runoff four years ago.

So, to me, that makes him already the better candidate.

BURNETT: So, former President Trump held that tele-rally for Walker tonight. He did not campaign for him in person. That was obviously a choice. That was a choice by the Republican Party and the Walker campaign. And, to be honest with you, a lot of Republicans were worried that

Trump visiting -- coming in person to your state would actually hurt Walker, right? Might help with his base but would hurt him with voters that he needs to turn out on election day. Are you relieved he stayed away or do you think that that was a mistake?

SHEPHERD: I am relieved he did stay away.


I've said early on that I think Donald Trump during rallies for Herschel Walker in this state would actually be a hurdle to overcome for the Walker campaign.

You know, there are a lot of Republicans who still love the former president. But we have to face facts. We look across this midterm election and candidates who ran as the Donald Trump endorsed candidates fared much worse than other candidates.

When you look at candidates especially in Georgia, you look at Governor Brian Kemp, who --


SHEPHERD: You can't de-emphasize the battles he had with Donald Trump, or Brad Raffensperger, our secretary of state, both of which won very commanding victories. In fact, in my county, Brad Raffensperger got more votes than Brian Kemp.

BURNETT: Right, and they both, of course, dramatically outperformed Herschel Walker.

SHEPHERD: Exactly.

BURNETT: If he performed like they did, he would be the next senator from the state of Georgia. But here we are, we'll see what happens tomorrow.

Jason, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

SHEPHERD: Thank you, Erin. I appreciate you having me on.

BURNETT: All right. And next, how a Democratic congressman became the star of the Twitter files and the tech's company's efforts to bury the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020. You're going to see the email revealed and you're going to hear him speak. Congressman Ro Khanna is next.

Plus, we take you to China to see firsthand the lines that people are now enduring in the rain and the cold just to get tested for COVID, to get takeout at McDonald's.


[19:30:51] BURNETT: Tonight, the Twitter files. New emails and documents reveal just how intense the debate inside Twitter in 2020 was, as the company went to great lengths to suppress a "New York Post" story about Hunter Biden and his laptop. That laptop contained a trove of personal and business emails that critics claimed were proof of corrupt activity by both Joe and Hunter Biden, in which Trump supporters say would've impacted the election if not censored.

Well, the communications were obtained by a writer Matt Taibbi. They show the internal debates over removing links to the story, labeling the story unsafe and locking out accounts that tried to share the story.

In one exchange, a top Twitter official says, in part, quote, I'm struggling to understand the policy basis for marking this as unsafe.

And the files show this, that at least one Democratic congressman tried to sound the alarm. Ro Khanna emailing Twitter's top lawyer at the time, in part, and I quote, Ro Khanna, this seems a violation of the First Amendment principles. I say this as a total Biden partisan and convinced he didn't do anything wrong. But in the heat of a presidential campaign, restricting dissemination of newspaper articles even if "The New York Post" is far right seems like it will invite more backlash than it will do good.

And Congressman Khanna is OUTFRONT now. He's a member of the House Oversight Committee.

Your first television interview since I saw this. And, you know, I saw this and really, I've read it many, many times, because you really stood up for what you believe is true.

So, let me start here, Congressman. That was what you said then. You had only limited information at the time, right? You just knew that it was being suppressed and you wanted to make a statement.

Has anything that you have learned so far from the Twitter investigation in the past hours and days surprised you?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Erin, what surprised me is that Twitter made the decision in the first place to censor. Look, liberal Democrats should be for the principle of standing up for First Amendment speech. And "New York Times'" Sullivan said: we want speech to be open, uninhibited, wide ranging.

I get Twitter's a private actor, but they're effectively a modern public square. And it was disappointing to me that they were suppressing "The New York Post".

BURNETT: And based on the communications that we have that were released, you are the only Democratic lawmaker who said that. You spoke up. You told Twitter to be considerate. You said you didn't think it was right. You stood up for the First Amendment. Your email was thoughtful and definitive.

Are you disappointed that you're the only one? KHANNA: Well, I mean, look, we've all written emails, and I'm glad

that they released that one. I'm sure I've written things that they aren't as thoughtful.

But when I read it, I said, I stand by every word. I mean, I got into politics partly because I believe American democracy is great where we have everyone have a voice to stand up and participate in speech. And I do hope more Democrats will stand up for the broader principle, which is, we want to be -- have forums that don't have censorship, that allow for all perspectives.

BURNETT: So Twitter's deputy counsel Jim Baker also defended Twitter's actions to suppress documents at the time. Again, this is according to the documents that we have.

And what he said, in part, is this: There are some facts that indicate the materials may have been hacked. While there are others indicating that the computer was either abandoned or the owner consented to allow the repair shop to access it for at least some purposes. We simply need more information.

Now, of course, Congressman, we know the laptop was real now. There were weekly meetings between the FBI and Twitter during this time where the FBI warned Twitter about hack and leak operations that would involve Hunter Biden.

Do you think the FBI's actions deserve further investigation?

KHANNA: I would focus on the speech part of it. Look, no one is saying -- at least I'm not saying -- that any of the sensational pictures or photographs concerning Hunter Biden should be out there. That's not what this was about. This was about a journalist at the "New York Post" writing an article about the situation.


And there's no justification for suppressing that, even if the source of that had gotten that information through something that was hacked. That was the case of the Pentagon Papers. Journalists should be allowed to publish things as long as they aren't participating in the hack.

BURNETT: Right, which is obviously important.

Do you have concern, though -- and I understand you're focused on the First Amendment part of it -- but do you have concern that part of the reason it appears Twitter suppressed it was because the FBI was sort of leaning on this idea of Russian disinformation, hacking, and Hunter Biden?

KHANNA: Well, I would say let's be transparent about everything. I would be very surprised if the FBI was doing that under the Trump administration, given that President Biden at the time was just a candidate, didn't have control over the levers of government. But I think it's perfectly appropriate to ask the question and to have full transparency and let the facts come out. And so, the FBI should explain what they were doing and what the

rationale was. I certainly hope and expect that they weren't trying to do it to bias Twitter against -- for or against, or for a particular candidate.

BURNETT: Certainly, that would -- will be crucial.

And now, look, you know, we're here, Congressman Khanna, and it's funny because when I saw this, you know, it was the middle of the night, I woke up, I said, look, it's an amazing email that you wrote. And we're here talking about how you stood up for the Constitution and for the First Amendment.

And as your email came to light in these Twitter files, former President Trump saw the Twitter files. And he took those same files to call for the termination of the Constitution based on these documents.

On his social media platform, he wrote, in part: A massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles even those found in the Constitution. That's what he said.

What do you say to him?

KHANNA: I was both saddened and deeply concerned. It's sad to me that he doesn't understand what makes America great. What makes us great is precisely our Constitution, is precisely our First Amendment. It's why I would stand up for even Donald Trump to have speech as long as it's not inciting violence and his supporters to have speech.

BURNETT: Congressman Khanna, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for speaking to me.

KHANNA: Thank you, Erin. Really appreciate it.

BURNETT: And, next, Chinese government now reportedly has more than 100 secret police stations set up around the world. And the reason is to crack down on Chinese nationals who are protesting outside of China.

Plus, we've heard Ted Cruz say this again and again.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I've spent my life fighting to defend the Constitution.

Listen, I'm a constitutionalist.


BURNETT: So where is he tonight after Trump threatened to terminate the Constitution?



BURNETT: Tonight, the Chinese government has more than 100 secret police stations set up in 53 countries to spy on Chinese citizens living abroad. This is a stunning new revelation from the nongovernment group Safeguard Defenders. And it says that Xi Jinping's government is determined to crack down on dissent by Chinese nationals no matter where they are on this planet.

It comes as Xi is also using the full force of his police state on protesters inside China. His government attempting to snuff out demonstrations while claiming to loosen its zero COVID policy.

Selina Wang is OUTFRONT tonight from Beijing.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the kind of line Beijingers stand in, outside in the cold to get their COVID tests. A 48-hour test is required to get into most places.

But there aren't many places to go. Much of Beijing is still closed down. This is one of the most popular tourist places in the city. But the restaurants are largely closed and the malls are pretty empty.

So this McDonald's is still open but for takeaway only. But even to get takeaway, you've got to prove that you're clear of COVID.

Here's how I do it. I open up the health app on my smartphone, I scan the QR code.

So it says, I've got a green code, and I've got a recent COVID test, so I'm good to go. This code dictates all of our daily lives in China. Green means good to go. Red means I may have to isolate at home or go to a mass quarantine facility. This allows China to track the movements of virtually all 1.4 billion people in the name of contact tracing.

I've got to scan my code to get into a taxi, a public park, a mall, or a coffee shop. Even a public bathroom.

I ran into a group of delivery people on the street. They've got to do COVID tests every single day to do their jobs.

This woman tells me the pandemic has been hard on her. I ask her why. She says it's because she's scared of the virus.

Getting COVID in China is unlike anywhere else in the world. You and your close contacts all get sent to a quarantine center. This is a convention center in Beijing that's been turned into a massive quarantine facility with thousands of beds.

But some of these facilities in the country, they are in very run-down and unsanitary condition. And then your whole building or community could go into lockdown.

I spoke to a man who's been in and out of quarantine six times already just this year. He tells me his whole building of more than 200 families went to a quarantine facility last month, because they were considered close contacts. He says he's not scared to get COVID because omicron is less severe and his whole family has been vaccinated.

I approached a few people just released from this mass quarantine center here. I ask if they had tested positive for COVID. Yes, the man nods and says they have recovered. How many days did you spend in there, I asked. Seven days, he said.

Unprecedented protests recently erupted across China.

They are chanting that they don't want COVID tests, they want freedom. Authorities swiftly cracked down on the protesters. But they are finally softening their stance on zero COVID. Some cities are lifting lockdowns, changing COVID testing requirements under some conditions people can now quarantine at home if they have COVID, which is a huge deal.


But this country has already built up a whole infrastructure around zero COVID, spending all of its resources on quarantine facilities and COVID testing. So it's going to be a long and slow exit from zero COVID.


WANG (on camera): And, Erin, it is remarkable to see that in authoritarian China. Protests that appear to have forced the communist party to change its tune on zero COVID.

And, finally, we're seeing state media citing months-old research and publishing stories stating that omicron is less deadly. It is now more than a year after omicron was first detected. But it is a huge shift in China, because before this, as we've talked about before, authorities were demonizing COVID and even censoring scientifically accepted information.

But this loosening of restrictions is happening in a patchwork across this country. Some places are loosening restrictions. Other places still clinging on to zero COVID.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: I mean, it is incredible. And that report remarkable just to see the process of getting something at McDonald's. Just walking through that step by step was just so powerful, Selina. What's also interesting is you talk about loosening in some places and others and how much of that's propaganda.

Well, the former Chinese President Hu Jintao was seen today for the first time since he was physically removed, lifted out of his chair and removed from the biggest communist meeting in a decade, who had not been seen in 44 days. Suddenly amidst all this, the protest, the zero COVID that you're reporting on, he appears with President Xi Jinping bowing to the former leader of China's body at a military hospital in Beijing. Selina, what do you think the significance of today's citing is? And

do you think we'll ever know the real story?

WANG: Yeah, Erin, I mean, before this moment we hadn't seen or heard from him for a very long time. And that field even more speculation. The significance here really is that it shows he's alive and it shows that there was a decision to have him publicly participate in this ceremony on camera for the world to see.

We likely will never know the real story of what happened to Hu Jintao at the party Congress. State media claimed he was escorted out because of health issues. Others speculate he was forced out in a power play by Xi -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Selina, reporting from Beijing, again, for us tonight.

And next, defending the U.S. Constitution. It has always been a no- brainer for most Republicans. Yet so many silent tonight after Trump called for the Constitution's, quote, termination.

Plus, just in, Hawaii's National Guard has just been activated as lava from the world's most active volcano now threatens a major highway.



BURNETT: Tonight, better late than number? The number two in the Senate saying he couldn't, quote, disagree more with former President Trump, over the weekend called for the determination, his words, termination of the U.S. Constitution so that he could be reinstalled in the White House.

New Hampshire's Republican Governor Chris Sununu calling Trump's comment, quote, outrageous. Former Vice President Mike Pence not directly criticizing Trump instead saying public servants should defend the Constitution.

But, interestingly, Senator Ted Cruz wouldn't answer when asked by CNN just moments ago for a response to Trump's comment. Wouldn't answer at all -- which is odd because Cruz so often describes himself as a staunch defender of the Constitution as his identity.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I've spent my life fighting to defend the Constitution.

Listen. I'm a constitutionalist.


BURNETT: Does it depend how you define it?

All right. OUTFRONT now, Harry Enten, our senior data reporter. So, Harry, look, for years --


BURNETT: -- we've seen Republicans be silent or make excuses or, you know, try to run away from Trump's outrageousness because of his influence with the Republican base. Ted Cruz knows that that's his identity and yet he just refused to answer the question when we asked him about what Trump said. Is Trump still that popular with the Republican base that that would justify something like that?

ENTEN: You know, we can get into Cruz in a minute but I would just say this. The NBC News poll asked a very interesting question which is asked if there is more support for the Republican Party or of Donald Trump? Just before the 2020 election, more Republicans, in fact, said they were more of a supporter of Donald Trump than the Republican Party.

But you look now and you see the numbers have reversed themselves. Far more Republicans now say they are more of a supporter of the Republican Party than Donald Trump. Donald Trump's number on that poll is now at the lowest point that NBC has ever recorded.

BURNETT: OK. That's fascinating.

So, Republicans, some of them, are still choosing to remain silent on an issue that is a slam dunk for traditional Republicans, right, which is the Constitution, loyalty to the Constitution.

ENTEN: Yeah. That is exactly right. I'm not quite sure I understand it. We have polling on this which essentially asks, okay, is an issue important to you or your identity as an American, right?

And the idea essentially of individual rights enshrined in the Constitution extremely important among Republicans, 63 percent -- 63 percent say they're extremely important, those individual rights in the Constitution. That is actually higher than the 50 percent of Democrats who say that.

In fact, of all the issues that were polled for being extremely important to your identity as Americans, basically that -- that individual rights enshrined in the Constitution was in fact the highest for all Republicans.

BURNETT: Which is amazing. And, by the way, 63 percent who agree on anything in this country is something significant. OK. Now, Ted Cruz, the senator, just moments ago refusing to answer questions to our Ali Zaslav. He was asking him in the hall.

He positions himself as a defender of the Constitution as his identity, right? I mean, he is - this is who he is. And he could run against Trump again in 2024. This should be a slam dunk for him.

ENTEN: It should be a slam dunk. I honestly don't know what Senator Cruz is doing because he can't be doing any worse in the Republican primary polls than currently. He is polling at just 3 percent. He is in fifth place. He should be doing something different, perhaps going after the former president for a change. That might be something that could move his numbers up. They can't go down any further.

BURNETT: And especially something he has said is who he is, right?

ENTEN: Yeah.

BURNETT: This is just like silver platter.

ENTEN: Be you, be you, you know? If that worked for Trump, maybe it would work for Cruz instead of, you know, flip-flopping or whatever he is doing.


BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Harry Enten.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, we're going to speak to a pilot who has been flying over the world's largest active volcano in Hawaii and he has a warning.


DARREN HAMILTON, HELICOPTER PILOT FLYING ABOVE MAUNA LOA VOLCANO EXPLOSION: One thing that really strikes me was the speed of the lava.



BURNETT: And you're looking at live pictures out of Hawaii. The Mauna Loa volcano, the world's largest active volcano, continuing to erupt and the lava flow is getting closer every hour to a major highway.

Darren Hamilton is a helicopter pilot. He has been flying over the volcano, telling us it is unlike anything he's seen in his career.


HAMILTON: Having flown in Hawaii for ten years now, it's the most lava I've ever seen in my life. One thing that really struck me is the speed of the lava. It is fairly steep up along the northeastern rift zone going into the saddle. And just, the fastest we saw in 2018 was 20 miles an hour. There are some areas up there just by my eyeball just looking at it looking about maybe 30 miles to 40 miles an hour, possibly even faster.


BURNETT: It is absolutely stunning. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say they don't know how long the eruption will last.

Thanks so much for joining us. "AC360" starts now.