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Erin Burnett Outfront

Griner On Flight To U.S. After Prisoner Swap For "Merchant Of Death"; Russian Arms Dealer Viktor Bout In Moscow After Prisoner Swap; DOJ Seeking To Hold Trump In Contempt Over Classified Docs; One Man Is Spreading Protest Videos China Does Not Want World To See; Elon Musk No Longer Richest Man On Earth, For Now; Forbes. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 08, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUFRONT next, Brittney Griner landing in Texas in just a few hours. The WNBA star free tonight after a swap for convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout. We have new details from the White House. And I'll speak to the family of the American left behind, and the woman who spent her career hunting down Viktor Bout.

And holding Trump's team into contempt. That's the requests from the Justice Department tonight over the Mar-a-Lago case, as the January 6 Committee considers criminal referrals for Trump, and now, for at least for others.

Plus, an OUTFRONT exclusive this hour. We'll introduce you to a Chinese national risking his life and his families by posting videos of Chinese protesters for the world to see.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, flying to freedom. WNBA star Brittney Griner is in the air right now, to return to her home state of Texas. We'll show you live pictures out of San Antonio, that's the runway where she's expected to touch down in just a few short hours.

Her release, in exchange for the convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, marking an end of nearly ten months of captivity. It's amazing to watch this. You see Griner and bout passing each other on the tarmac and this prisoner exchange. Reminiscent of what you've seen on the bridges in World War II, in the Cold War. It's incredible this is how it was done, even now.

Now, Griner was originally arrested back in February at a Moscow airport on drug charges. She was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. President Biden said her release the result of painstaking and intense negotiation, negotiations that also originally included the former marine, Paul Whelan, who is not freed in the swap.

And we're going to have much more on Whelan story in a moment. I'll be speaking with his brother. But let's be clear, this is a deal that Putin celebrating tonight.

Russian state TV is flooding the airwaves with the video showing Griner leaving her detention center and getting into a van, and then boarding a plane. They've got the video of Bout doing the same.

Putin got what he wanted. The world's most notorious arms dealer nickname the "merchant of death" is free tonight. Let's be clear, Bout is accused of supplying weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. According to reports, he may have worked for the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency. He was found guilty in a U.S. court in 2011 of conspiring to kill Americans and U.S. officials, serving a minimum 25- year sentence. Now, he's free, in exchange for someone who played at lead to bring less than a gram of cannabis oil into Russia.

I want to begin our coverage tonight with Alex Marquardt, who is OUTFRONT live in Washington.

Alex, what more you learning about what went down with this prisoner exchange, which of course has been a fraught process over months?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, well, as we wait for Brittney Griner to land back here on U.S. soil, Viktor Bout, he's already home. He touched down a short time ago in an airport near Moscow. He was met off the plane by his wife and his mother.

Now, Griner is not only from taxes, but San Antonio is also where Trevor Reed was taken after he was released by Russia back in April. And like Reed, there, Griner will be able to get any medical or otherwise help she needs. And as these two detainees arrive home, there are still major questions tonight, Erin, about why Griner was the only one exchange for the so-called merchant of death.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): The dramatic moment of high stakes prisoner swap, Brittney Griner in the red coat, walking towards the American plane. Coming towards, them, State Department official Roger Carstens, accompanying Viktor Bout, who is hugged by a Russian official.

This new video from Russia state media shows Griner leaving Russian detention, and boarding a plane in the snow. Her passport returned, Griner smiles, knowing she's heading home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you ready for a flight?



MARQUARDT: Back in the U.S., Griner's wife Cherelle was invited to the White House.

CHERELLE GRINER, WIFE OF BRITTNEY GRINER: Today, I'm standing here, overwhelmed with emotions. But the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden, and his entire administration.

MARQUARDT: The release was the culmination of many months of negotiations with Russia.

BIDEN: This work is not easy. Negotiations are always difficult. There are never any guarantees. But it's my job as president United States to make the hard calls and protect American citizens anywhere in the world.

MARQUARDT: The WNBA star who was caught with cannabis oil entering Russia spent ten months in Russian detention.


But now, she spared from a brutal nine year sentence in a Russian penal colony.

U.S. officials said that the trade for notorious Russian weapon smuggler, Viktor Bout, was finalized in the past 48 hours. Griner was moved from her president to Moscow, before being flown to Abu Dhabi where the exchange took place on the tarmac of a small private airfield.

BIDEN: I'm glad to be able to say that Brittney is good spirits. She's relieved to finally be heading home.

MARQUARDT: The U.S. wanted to trade Bout for both Griner and American Paul Whelan, but Russia refused.

In an exclusive interview from his penal colony, Whelan told CNN he's surprised he wasn't included.

PAUL WHELAN, FORMER U.S. MARINE: I'm greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release. I'm happy that Brittney is going home today and that Trevor went home when he did. But I don't understand why I'm still sitting here. My bags are packed. I'm ready to go home.

MARQUARDT: Whelan told CNN that the Russians see him at a higher level than Griner. He was charged with espionage and sentenced to 16 years.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This was not choice of which American to bring home, the choice was one or none. I wholeheartedly wish we could've brought Paul home today, on the same plane as Brittany.


MARQUARDT (on camera): And, Erin, Paul Whelan wasn't the only one frustrated and disappointed with today's exchange. Officials in the Justice Department were as well. Many have long been against releasing Viktor Bout. A U.S. official did tell our colleague Evan Perez that law enforcement officials raised strenuous objections. But we're told the decision had been made. Officials from the FBI, DEA, of course, spent years trying to catch

Viktor Bout, and they now worry that this trade for Griner sets a dangerous precedent -- Erin.

BURNETT: Alex Marquardt, thank you very much.

And as I said, I'm going to be joined in just a few moments by the woman U.N. credits with Bout's arrest. She spent 15 years hunting him down. She'll react to this news today.

I want to go now, though, to the White House and Keisha Lance Bottom. She's a senior adviser to President Biden, she's been briefed on the prisoner exchange by the National Security Council.

And, Mayor, I appreciate your time.

What more are you able to tell me about the negotiations for Griner, who, of course, is set to land in San Antonio in these next few hours. We're looking at a live shot of San Antonio right now. What sealed the deal here?

KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, this is been something that's been a long time in the making. The president made it very clear from day one that Brittney Griner -- and bringing all the Americans who have been unlawfully detained, bringing them home was a priority. And many people thought that when Trevor Reed was brought home, that Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan should have been brought home. And now, as Brittney comes home, people are still asking those questions.

But what the president has been very clear about, anytime, anywhere that an American is unlawfully detained, he will rest until they're brought home.

So that's why we have something to celebrate today here at the White House and across America. We know that Brittney is on our way home. Her wife, Cherelle, who's at the White House this morning as you've seen.

And this has been months in the making. Over the last week, a deal really came into place and then over the last 72 to 96 hours, the logistics were worked out.

BURNETT: Which is interesting, months. And, then, of course, obviously, it sounds like quite a bit here in these past -- the past week, this past, as you say, 3 to 4 days.

Now, the criticism of this, as you point out, it's a huge part of it is why for wanted not for others. But there are other reasons that there's criticism about the deal even as people celebrate Griner's release. From both Democrats and Republicans, we're hearing one other crucial point, here are two prominent senators.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): The more we engage in such exchanges, the more Americans at risk of being scooped up and held as leverage to try to secure the release of folks who would rather not have to release.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): We have to recognize, even as we're happy an American's coming home, it does incentivize the taking of more Americans around the world.


BURNETT: Republican Senator Rubio and Democratic Senator Coons, what's your response to them?

BOTTOMS: The president had a lot of things to weigh in considering how to proceed with this. At the end of the day, an American who was unlawfully detained in a foreign country is on her way home. That's important to note.

And I think it's very easy for us who stand in America, standing on free soil, to second guess whether or not someone should remain unlawfully detained in a penal colony in Russia. It was important to get Brittney Griner home, will continue to be important for the president to get all Americans home who are being unlawfully detained.

He's worked nonstop to make this happen.


And while we know that there was a prisoner swap, we also had to recognize that this is not someone who was sentenced to life in prison. And he essentially had six years left on his sentence. So, at some point, he was going to be free. And the president weighed all these considerations and thought that it was important to bring Brittney home when he had the opportunity.

BURNETT: Paul Whelan, of course, is one of the American still in custody in Russia, in a penal colony. He has been in Russian custody a lot longer than Brittney Griner. Justice Department officials, as you know, and Alex Marquardt was reporting, were opposed to releasing Bout, and expressed frustration that an earlier deal that have been put forward for Whelan and Griner was narrowed down to Griner because that's what Putin said he was willing to do.

What -- I'm about to speak with Whelan's brother, David. Is there anything that you want to say to him and to the Whelan family?

BOTTOMS: The president has not forgotten that. In the same way that he didn't forget Brittney when Trevor Reed was released. He's not forgotten Paul Whelan. And we'll continue to work tirelessly to make sure that he gets home. The president wanted him home with Brittney today. He used everything in his power to try and make that happen. But the option was not there.

The opportunity to get Brittney home was there. And that's what the president decided to do. And he will continue to work to get Paul Whelan home. And the same way he worked to get Trevor Reed home. In the same way he's work to get Brittney Griner home today.

BURNETT: All right. Mayor Bottoms, thank you very much. I appreciate your time from the White House tonight, senior adviser to President Biden.

And I want to go now, as I said, to David Whelan, the brother of Paul Whelan, who as I just said has been in Russian custody for four years on trumped up charges of espionage.

So, David, I'm glad to speak to you. But I want to give you a chance to respond to Mayor Bottoms. She says her message your family is that you are not forgotten. That President Biden will do everything in his power to bring your brother home. What do you say to that? Is that enough?

DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF PAUL WHELAN, AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: You know, I don't know if it's enough. But it's certainly a lot. The White House has been very generous through this process. We were able to learn advanced the Paul was going to be left behind, which allowed us to respond to the news privately rather than having to do it publicly, which is what we have to do with Trevor Reed. And so, I think we're seeing an evolution in the White House on how they handle wrongful detention cases.

And I think from President Biden, from Secretary Blinken, from Adviser Sullivan, we are getting a repeated message that they are continuing to work on Paul's case. And that's all we can ask for.

BURNETT: And, certainly, look, your handling it as best you can. I guess when the world watches this, and here's the calmness of which are handling at. If they've already negotiated away, a prisoner with mythical status of Russia, the highest profile Russian prisoner that's in the U.S. for Griner. That was Putin's demand.

What do you see as the path to getting your brother home?

WHELAN: Well, I think there is the problem. It's not just that Mr. Bout, who has gone home, but Mr. Yaroshenko, who was the other key possible for an exchange for Paul has also gone home. He went home as an exchange for Trevor Reed.

And we also know that the U.S. government has attempted a number of other concessions as they were trying to get Paul home. And the Russian government refused to take any of them. So, I think it really is at a point where the U.S. government doesn't have any concessions that the Russian government wants for Paul.

And so, they need to figure out, the U.S. government will, what it is that will get Paul home. I think that's really where we stand today. And it's a bit frustrating and perhaps not unavoidable.

BURNETT: No, I mean, in a sense, it's got to be credibly frustrating because, you know, when you hear Secretary Blinken say that it was one or none, you know, I guess on a certain level, it feels like while Putin made that decision. It seems he had the leverage, he made the decision and the U.S. -- and the U.S. went because that's the best that they could do. And one or none was the right thing.

Do you think that was the right thing, are you supported what they chose to do, or should they have waited and tried harder? WHELAN: No, I'm absolutely supportive of that. I think to prolong the

punishment of one American -- in a foreign hostage situation, the hope you might be able to bring home two of them is absolutely the wrong call for the U.S. president to make. An American in that situation who has the possibility of coming home, I think the U.S. president has to bring them home.

And unfortunately, for my brother, and for our family, it's not our family member, but I think from the perspective of Americans, that's the right decision.

BURNETT: Incredibly generous for you to say this.

So, our producer Jennifer Hansler spoke with your brother today. And I just want to play some of what he said to her. Here is.


PAUL WHELAN, FORMER U.S. MARINE DETAINED IN RUSSIA: The president and his team are going to have to look at what they have that is valuable that these people want and hopefully give it to them, or I'll be here for a long time. And to be quite honest, in these conditions, who knows how I'll come back or if I'll come back.

What I don't understand is why nothing has happened at this point. And what the roadmap is for my release in the future.

My parents are older. My dog is 14 and a half. If I'm stuck here much longer, I'm endangered of never seeing any of them again.


BURNETT: What's it like to hear your mother say that?

DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF PAUL WHELAN, AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: It's hard. You can hear the despair, and that's also the reality. He asks for a road map, and there isn't one. Where we're going has not been planned because it changes with each wrongfully detainee. Yeah, I don't know.

BURNETT: Well, David, our thoughts are with you.

WHELAN: Thank you very much for having me.

BURNETT: And the incredible grace with which you and your family are handling this news. Thank you.

WHELAN: Thank you.

BURNETT: And I do want to mention another American also still in Russian custody. His name is Marc Fogel. He is a teacher who was arrested in Moscow for medical marijuana in his luggage, six months before Griner was arrested. Fogel's family and lawyers said the marijuana was prescribed by a doctor in the U.S. to treat chronic pain. I'm going to be speaking with his sister, Anne, tomorrow. And next, Viktor Bout just landing in Moscow, and he is speaking out.

This is the woman who spent 15 years hunting down Bout for the U.S. government is OUTFRONT with her reaction to his freedom tonight.

Plus, multiple developments involving the investigation surrounding Trump. The January 6 committee now weighing criminal referrals against Trump and at least four other members of his inner circle, as the Justice Department asked a federal judge to hold Trump in contempt.

And we introduce you to a Chinese man putting his life and that of his family in jeopardy, by tweeting videos of Chinese protest so that the whole world can see them. It's an OUTFRONT exclusive.



BURNETT: Tonight, notorious Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, is on the ground in Moscow after being released in that prisoner swap with a WNBA star, Brittney Griner. Video on Russian state media showed his return from the United States. He had been, of course, in U.S. president, in part, for plotting to kill Americans.

Boot telling a Russian reporter that he was surprised by the release. Here he is.


VIKTOR BOUT, CONVICTED RUSSIAN ARMS DEALER (through translator): In the middle of the night, they simply woke me up and said, get your things together. And that was it. There was no preliminary information.


BURNETT: And there he is. He's got a lot of life ahead of him, as you can see.

Matthew Chance is OUTFRONT.

And, Matthew, you've been covering Boot for years. The Russians tonight see this as a major victory.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, one of the people who is their greeting Viktor Bout along with his mother and his wife was a Russian parliamentarian. And she said, this is a capitulation by the United States, an acknowledgment that, first of, all Russia doesn't leave people behind, but secondly, this is an acknowledgment that is so difficult to get the United States to agree to release Viktor Bout in exchange for, you know, Brittney Griner.

I mean, morally they are two very different people. Of course, Brittney Griner is not exactly a sort of kernel mastermind. She was caught with traces of cannabis oil in her luggage, which she put her accidentally. Viktor Bout, one of the world's most notorious arms traffickers.

And so, even the Russians are acutely aware of the massive difference in the status of these two people. Nevertheless, he's back home now, he's with his family. Very emotional scenes that they've been putting out on Russian television at the airports, Erin.

BURNETT: And, of course, it's reported he was a former GRU operative, as Vladimir Putin was and as this is happening, Putin is toasting the Russian forces carrying out his invasion of Ukraine, today greeting soldier after soldier at an awards ceremony.

Putin then says cheers, appears to drink from a glass of champagne that he's clutching. After this, he made an incredible remark to blame Ukraine for the war. Let me just play it, Matthew.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Right now, there has been a lot of uproar about our attacks on the energy infrastructure of our neighboring country. Yes, we are doing it. But who started it? Who hit the Crimean Bridge?


BURENTT: Matthew, I mean, incredible. The neighboring country, he won't even use the word Ukraine, although he did call it a country. And then who started it? Ukraine.

CHANCE: Yeah, I mean, what's interesting to me is, you know, he's taking a lot of opportunities over the past couple of days and weeks to go out there on Russian television and to justify the war. He was justifying the strikes against the infrastructure targets in Ukraine. Of course, much of the international community is accusing Russia of war crimes associated with that.

A couple of days ago, he was talking about how victory in what he calls the special military operation in Ukraine will be a long time coming. But there have been territories that have been gained. And so, he's now sort of almost constantly trying to sort of justify a conflict that even in Russia, people are starting to notice is not going according to plan.


BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Matthew Chance, tonight.

And OUTFRONT now, Kathi Lynn Austin, the arms trafficking expert who spent 15 years investigating Viktor Bout. The secretary general of the U.N. credited her for Bout's arrests. She's the executive director of the conflict awareness project and Kathy, you spent 15 years tracking Viktor Bout. Now he's a free man again. How are you feeling tonight?

KATHI LYNN AUSTIN, TRACKED VIKTOR BOUT FOR 15 YEARS: Well, I didn't wake up to very good news except for the celebration that Brittney Griner is coming home. As a human rights investigator, of course, I always try to work towards the protection of innocent civilians that have been used as pawns by, you know, dictators and Putin has certainly used Brittney Griner in that way.


But to know that one of the most prolific arms traffickers is out there again, ready to be deployed, he is what I call a weapon of mass destruction personified. And he's on -- he will be ready for Putin to deploy him, especially in Ukraine and Africa, and other war zones. That is really heartbreaking, for me.

BURNETT: So, you do. You call him a weapon of mass destruction personified.

You and I met on this show back in 2011. That was when Bout was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison. And when we talked than, you tweeted today about how Bout was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. And, of course, he was convicted in part of plotting to kill Americans.

Tonight, though, Kathi, the Biden administration says Bout is not a security threat to the United States. What do you think he will do now that he's released?

AUSTIN: Well, I do think Viktor Bout is a security threat and we cannot minimize this issue, even though it's very important that Brittney Griner came home. We need to be very proactive here.

Putin is going to be ready to deploy Viktor Bout. He comes with years of experience, years of contact. He started in Ukraine and I think that is one of the areas we have to be concerned about right away. Viktor Bout will be a major asset for Putin.

BURNETT: And interestingly, you are seeing in Ukraine, pointing out that he started in Ukraine. You think you could play a part in this war?

AUSTIN: Absolutely. He knows sanction busting like nobody else, right? That is -- he was one of the most sophisticated arms traffickers and even after U.S., U.N., E.U. sanctions were put in place, Viktor Bout was always willing, ready, and able to bust those sanctions. That is exactly what he thrives on.

And Putin sees him very much as an asset, so I'm assuming that Viktor Bout may need a lot of time with his family. But then he's going to become a major asset. So, we need to be preventative in boxing in right from the beginning.

BURNETT: Kathi, thank you very much. I appreciate your perspective. And you know him, and you know what he does, and you know what they're thinking better than anyone. Thank you.

AUSTIN: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, the Justice Department now asking a federal judge to hold Trump in contempt over classified documents. What that could mean for Trump. Plus, we're learning the names of other Trump allies who could face

criminal referrals from the January 6th committee. Congressman, Adam Schiff, a member of that committee, is my guest.



BURNETT: The Justice Department is asking a judge to hold former president, Donald Trump, in contempt of court. The DOJ's reason? Failing to comply with a subpoena at this summer that ordered Trump to turn over classified records. This is according to two sources familiar with the matter.

And it comes as we are also learning that Trump does not plan to appeal a court's ruling that ended the special master review of documents found at Mar-a-Lago. Many had thought that he would go ahead and push forward with that, but he says he is not.

So, let's go to our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, let's start with this issue of contempt. What was it actually mean for Trump, substantively, if he is found in contempt?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, if a judge finds that he's disobeyed the subpoena and he's held in contempt, the judge could start finding Trump daily, weekly, until he comes in compliance or until she's satisfied that he's done everything he can to try to comply. And so, that's what this hearing, which we expect to happen tomorrow, where Trump's team, as well as the Justice Department, will go before Judge Beryl Howell.

And she is going to see whether this search that we reported on just yesterday, whether that satisfies her that Trump has done everything he can to try to find these documents. The justice department says they are still missing.

And so, we know that the Trump team hired an outside team to search for properties and they say they found two additional documents that were marked as classified. You have to remember, all of this goes back to this summer when they first served the subpoena and he was ordered to turn over all documents that were classified. He first turned over a folder that had some documents, the FBI went back, weeks later, and did a search. Found a lot more classified documents.

And this is why the Justice Department insists that there may still be some documents missing.

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

And I want to go now to the Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Also a member of the January 6th Select Committee.

So, Congressman, I wanted to just start with what Evan was reporting.

Do you think that it's a close call or is it clear to you that Donald Trump should be held in contempt of court over this?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, it certainly is clear that there have been -- what appeared to be multiple false representations that they have fully complied with the original subpoena, that they had no more classified documents. Because, of course, the search warrant that was executed during this summer showed lots of classified materials they still have. And now this further search conducted by Trump's own party has found more classified information.

What I think is unclear because we have not had a chance to really read these documents, which are apparently under seal, is, is the contempt because of his past failure to comply with a subpoena? Or is the contempt really directed to trying to perfect compliance? That is, does the department have reason to believe there's still classified documents out there they don't have and they don't trust the president, and they want the court to enforce their capability of looking at other residences, premises that might have classified information?


BURNETT: Do you think they should search everywhere? I mean, now, they searched a storage locker. They find it. They find it in Mar-a- Lago.

I mean, just do you think they should be searching other places? New York, Bedminster, anywhere else?

SCHIFF: You know, I certainly have no confidence that Donald Trump or his people have complied because there's just too much evidence to the contrary in what he's done already. But, you know, presumably the Justice Department, if they have inside witnesses or other sources of evidence that there are still documents outstanding.

That is if the archives or the intelligence agencies have identified documents that are still not accounted for, and they have some reason to believe where those documents may be, then that's, I assume, being presented to the judge, so that they need for a search warrant may not be there if they can, through a contempt, and for some other kind of review and search for those documents.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you about your committee on this. Obviously, CNN is reporting that multiple sources say your committee is considering criminal referrals for individuals, at least four, I should say, actually, Congressman, in addition to Donald Trump. And those four are Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani, and Mark Meadows.

Now, my understanding is that you're going to meet on Sunday, your committee, to decide who winds up on that list.

Do you think that Donald Trump's name should be on it at the end of the day?

SCHIFF: You know, I think that if we make the decision to make criminal referrals that yes, Donald Trump would be at the top of my list because there is so much evidence that the former president engaged in what I think are multiple violations of the law. You know, if you look just at what Judge Carter found in his limited review of the evidence, he found an evidentiary basis for potentially charges involving conspiracy, involving attempts to interfere with official proceedings like the joint session.

But, you know, what we are doing as a process is looking at the evidence, we are looking at, you know, what potential crimes individuals may have committed. We are not solely, you know, reviewing that with an eye towards the former president. And then we'll make the ultimate decision, should Congress refer these matters. And what form and what level of specificity.

BURNETT: I want to ask you about something else happening tonight, Chairman. That is a Twitter dispute that you are in with Elon Musk. Musk wrote, and I quote him, hate speech impressions are actually down by one third for Twitter now versus prior to acquisition.

And you don't buy it. How come?

SCHIFF: No, I simply don't buy it and what's more important, credible analysts don't buy it. And what Mr. Musk is saying is without any evidentiary basis.

And I can tell you, I would find this explanation a lot more believable if he had provided some evidence for it. What's more, if it wasn't the fact that it immediately upon criticizing me on Twitter, all the comments that followed is or many of them were antisemitic in nature, QAnon content, directed at me, almost gift to refute him.

So, you know, sadly, we are seeing bigotry directed at the LGBTQ community, against the Black immunity, against the Jewish community, and many other communities just spiral on Twitter now, and we can't be surprised because Musk has let go so many of the people that might be responsible for moderating and taking that content off line.

BURNETT: And when you say let go, you mean to all the people that he's laid off on Twitter?

SCHIFF: Exactly, exactly.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Chairman Schiff, I appreciate your time, thank you very much.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

BURNETT: And, next, an OUTFRONT exclusive. Meet the Chinese national who's become a one-man hub, collecting videos of China's protests and the government's crackdown and sharing them for all of us around the world to see.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This account can document all these historical events that cannot be saved inside the country.


BURNETT: Plus, more on Elon Musk. You just heard the chairman talking about his claims that hate speech is down on Twitter -- well, Musk is no longer the richest man on the planet tonight. Our Harry Enten OUTFRONT to explain.



BURNETT: Tonight in a CNN exclusive, first OUTFRONT, the man who has been credited with sharing images like the ones on your screen right now from the widespread protests over China's zero COVID policy is speaking out.

Now, these are the images that the Chinese government does not want the world to see and yet, this man is risking his life to make sure that history is made, that it doesn't get erased.

Selina Wang is OUTFRONT in Beijing tonight.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Video after video of historic anti-zero-COVID protests in China. Broadcast on the world's television screens everywhere but inside China, where authorities censored all evidence of the protests.

So, how did these images manage to get beyond Chinese controlled Internet? News rooms around the world, including CNN, have been relying on information from this Twitter account and there is only one man behind it, Lee, a Chinese painter in Italy, whose identity we are hiding for security reasons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This account may become a symbol that Chinese are still pursuing freedom of speech. When you post something within China, it will quickly disappear. This account can document all these historical events that cannot be saved inside the country.

WANG: His account quickly turned into one of the world's key sources for protest information. Lee says he received thousands of submissions per day as the demonstrations unfolded. Apps like Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are banned in China. But people use virtual private networks or VPNs, which are prohibited in China, to access Twitter and send their videos to Lee.

What's the motivation behind all the work you do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's to let people inside of China, climb out of the great firewall to see what's happening at this very moment.

WANG: But that's exactly what authorities want to prevent.

[19:45:00] Here's what happens if you search for information about any of the protests on Chinese social media, you get a notice that says, sorry, no relevant results are found.

Meanwhile, on Lee's Twitter account, he was rapidly uploading videos of demonstrations across China, from Urumqi, Nanjing, Chengdu, to Shanghai, where protesters chanted for Xi Jinping to step down, calling for freedom and an end to zero COVID.

And researchers say that Chinese government is even trying to bury information about the protests from social media users abroad. Search on Twitter and Chinese characters for cities that had protests and you get this, a flood of spam and porn advertisements. The spam campaign researchers say appears to be the work of Chinese authorities. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Are you worried about your own safety?

MR. LI, OWNER OF TWITTER ACCOUNT @WHYYOUTOUZHELE (through translator): Of course, I'm very worried. I got a lot of anonymous harassment saying, I know who you are, where you live, and I will kill you.

WANG: His parents frequently called him in fear, he says, and the Chinese authorities have been harassing them as well, making midnight visits to their home in China.

What price do you think you have to pay for the work that you do?

LI: This account is more important than my life. I will not shut it down. I've arranged for someone else to take over if something bad happens to me. I'm immensely prepared, even if authorities won't let me see my parents again.

WANG: Authorities in China tried to keep the country in a parallel universe, but Li is playing a pivotal role in breaking that bubble. Li spent hours a day on the account, only taking breaks to feed his cat and barely slept during the peak of protests. As he sorted and verified the endless stream of video submissions, each one urgent and historic.

He is doing the work that he hopes one day Chinese journalists and Chinese citizens from within China will be able to do without fear.


WANG (on camera): And, Erin, even those protests in China have been snuffed out by authorities, Li told me that every day, he's still going through hundreds of submissions and spending 6 to 7 hours on that account. He told me that he started using Twitter just as a personal outlet because all of his accounts on Chinese social media kept on getting banned and he never expected to become so influential.

But as people in China try to find ways to get around censorship, authorities, they are cracking down even harder. The government recently announced that Internet users in China could be punished even for just liking posts that authorities consider illegal or harmful, Erin.

BURNETT: That's really amazing.

Selina, thank you very much. Selina Wang, continuing her incredible reporting from Beijing.

And next, Elon Musk, the man behind the company that just launched that rocket on your screen into orbit, no longer the world's richest man on the "Forbes" list. By the way, the margin by which he was the most richest person is unbelievable, that he has -- it's gone. Harry Enten is OUTFRONT to break down the numbers.

Plus, a first look at the extraordinary men and women we are honoring as CNN heroes.



BURNETT: Tonight, Elon Musk, for now, no longer the richest man on the planet. Tesla, I'm sorry, shares tumbling again today. And after the closing bell, Musk is now second place behind Bernard Arnault who is the chief executive of Louis Vuitton. Arnault surpassing Musk's estimated worth by a whopping $1.2 billion.

Now, this is according to "Forbes". They keep a daily tally of the richest people in the world.

OUTFRONT now, Harry Enten, our senior data reporter.

Now, Harry, here's the thing, when Elon Musk became the richest man in the world, technically, just over a year ago, 15 months ago, September 2021, unseated Amazon's Jeff Bezos, it's like $100 billion. I mean, the guy was like, him, and then it was these, I don't know, these other poultry hundred millionaires.

But now, Forbes downgrading him to second. I mean, this is just day in and day out of the stock price, but is this a long term trend?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: It absolutely is a long term trend and, you know, as you were mentioning, Musk's worth was billions ahead of anybody else. You know, if you look right before he bought Twitter, right? His worth was about $224 billion. He was well ahead of Arnault and his family, and you can see how it's basically shrunk, and shrunk, and shrunk.

I should point out that the Bloomberg lists still has must cut by a little bit, but even there, the trend line has clearly shown that Musk's worth has taken a nosedive since the beginning of the year and especially since he bought Twitter.

BURNETT: Right, and this is why it's significant, right? Because people can say, well, others people wealth has gone down, too. Okay yes, but run on a relative value, his more than others.

So, he's in the news almost every day. ENTEN: Yeah.

BURNETT: You've got Neuralink working on those brain implants. You've got the Twitter takeover. You've got those Starlink satellites, right, which are so instrumental in the war of Ukraine.

It's not just -- I mean, I didn't even mention the rockets, right, and going to Mars that he's working on, right? This is not just about Tesla and SpaceX.

ENTEN: No, it's not, right? I think it's important to note that, you know, when Musk was known as basically the car guy, maybe the space guy. If you look at his ratings, bright? His negative unfavorable ratings, they were basically in the single digits.

But as he's kind of ventured out into these other realms, you've seen his unfavorable ratings climb first into the teens, then the twenties, now into the 30s and his unfavorable rating right now is higher than his favorable rating. More Americans dislike Elon Musk than like him, which is quite a turnout from where he used to be.

BURNETT: Well, he's in politics. You just heard the chairman of the intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, you know, arguing with musk about hate speech on Twitter. In the midterms, he said he was going to vote Republican for Congress, Elon Musk did, so he's wade into politics. He said he would support Ron DeSantis just days ago if he runs for president.

So, this makes him more of a lightning rod. How does it break down by party?

ENTEN: Yeah, it's really interesting. You know, if you go back five years ago, if you look at his unfavorable rating, his unfavorable rating was higher with Republicans than Democrats. Now his unfavorable rating with Republicans is actually dropped from 2017, but his unfavorable rating with Democrats has gone all the way up into the 50s and 60s.


ENTEN: This is a guy who Democrats really do not like. Republicans, though, not surprisingly, like him a lot more.


BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Harry. It's amazing and it's amazing how he's become so central in so many stories, including a political story.

ENTEN: Exactly.

BURNETT: And next, a look at the special all-star tribute for CNN's Heroes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: And finally tonight, join Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa this weekend as they honor 10 CNN Heroes, ordinary people doing extraordinary things.


ANNOUNCER: Sunday, it's the time of year to be inspired and honor some of humanity's best.

CARRIE BROECKER, PEACE OF MIND DOG RESCUE: We have found homes for almost 3000 dogs.

TYRIQUE GLASGOW, YOUNG CHANCES FOUNDATION: Our community center used to be the community drug house.

BOBBY WILSON, METRO ATLANTA URBAN FARM: I want my grandchildren to have it better than what I had today.

RICHARD CASPER, CREATIVETS: I always wanted to serve other people. --

TERESA GRAY, MOBILE MEDICS INTERNATIONAL: Human suffering has no borders, people are people and love is love.

ANNOUNCER: Join Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa live as they present the 2022 hero of the year.




ANNOUNCER: "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute", Sunday at 8:00.


BURENTT: And thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.