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Erin Burnett Outfront

Russia Loads "Yars" Missile, Intensifying Nuclear Saber- Rattling; NH Man Among 7 Charged In Russian Smuggling Ring; Special Counsel Subpoenas Allegheny County, PA Officials Amid Investigation Of Trump's Efforts To Undo Election; Tornado Touches Down In New Orleans Area; Two New Polls Show Trump's Support Among Republicans Is Declining; U.S. 7 Days Away From Ending Trump-Era Border Policy; COVID Cases In China Skyrocket As Xi Loosens Restrictions. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 14, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Russia prepping what could be its most powerful nuclear bomb as it now threatens the United States, threatening it will retaliate if Washington sends Ukraine its most sophisticated air defense systems. We're live in Kyiv tonight.

Plus, the rise of Ron DeSantis. A new CNN poll finding he leads the pack when asked who Republicans would want besides Trump. Should Trump finally be worried?

And first on OUTFRONT tonight, exclusive reporting on the missing American college student missing in France. His host family speaking out for the first time.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, locked and loaded. Russia raising the nuclear stakes today by loading its most powerful nuclear bomb. It is called the Yars ballistic missile, able to reportedly carry six or possibly even more nuclear warheads instead of one.

And Putin's message in this is for the United States. The ICBM is said to have a range of about 7,500 miles, which means that its targets could be any city in the United States. And as I emphasize, they say it could carry six or more nuclear weapons.

Putin sending this warning to the West and to the United States at the same time as he is facing some damning new criticism about the war in Ukraine from at home. A former FSB officer, someone who used to be a member of Russia's top secret intelligence agency, is now calling for military heads to roll.

His name is Igor Girkin. He's a man who originally helped carry out Putin's plan to annex Crimea in 2014 and recently spent two months on the front lines. Now he says it is time for a complete overhaul of Russia's military leadership. Listen to him.


IGOR GIRKIN, EX-RUSSIAN FSB OFFICER (through translator): There have been a lot of problems. The most important being the serious issues our troops are having with equipment. And these problems are only going to get worse from an objective standpoint.

I'll keep commenting on the special operation until they shut me up -- those invincible generals, amazing diplomats, successful manufacturers, and the wonderful financiers who have all driven our country to the point where the whole world is laughing at us.


BURNETT: That video went on for 90 minutes. And Girkin also said in that time that he's heard soldiers openly criticizing Putin.

Now that is very significant to say that they are directly criticizing Putin, not just the military apparatus overall. And after nearly 300 days of war, here's why that may be. The number of Russian casualties now exceeds 100,000. That's according to the top adviser to Ukraine's president, 100,000 young men. It is a staggering number.

And now, Putin's private army is running television commercials in order to recruit more to join that number. Let me just show you a still from the commercial so you can see the text at the bottom of the screen. What it reads is, join the Wagner private military company, and then they provide a phone number for you to call. It's almost like you're watching HSN or something.

And the man behind the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, even going on social media to sign up more men. So going on the app Telegram, which obviously is widely used in Russia with the comment "call the phone numbers listed below."

Now, what follows is a comment that is so vulgar that I'm not going to share it with you on television, but he ends by saying, you'll get a badge that says, blood, honor, homeland, and courage -- trying to make it that it's about Mother Russia.

But not everyone buys it anymore. I want you to just listen to this young and influential Russian musician who went on state television. This is an award-winning young rapper who is now calling out Wagner's propaganda. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I've spoken with a lot of young people, and no one understands what we're doing there, because no one has invaded our country.

I was there. I know a lot of guys in Wagner PMC who are fighting there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): So you understand what they're doing there? UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They are there to make some

mullah. I can tell you honestly, wherever Wagner goes, they go to make some dough.


You really think that they're fighting for the flag?


BURNETT: You really think that they're fighting for the flag? It's a bold thing to say. And this is somebody who has a very large following in Russia among young men.

And, tonight, we're also learning new details about the far-reaching power of Putin, still, at least seven people including a Russian living in New Hampshire have been charged with smuggling American-made military-grade equipment into Russia. It's a vast smuggling ring. It includes equipment that could be used in developing nuclear weapons. We're going to have much more on this in just a moment.

First, though, I want to go to Will Ripley OUTFRONT live tonight in Kyiv.

And, Will, what is the situation like where you are tonight?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, what just struck me, Erin, the clip that you played. And he said a lot of these Russian young men aren't fighting for the flag. I can tell you definitively, I have not met a single Ukrainian soldier who is not fighting for the flag. I have not met a single Ukrainian who does not 100 percent believe in the fight that they are waging against the much larger Russian army, the fight that they are winning on the battlefield, but a fight that they are struggling when it comes to air defense.

That's why they are so encouraged by this exclusive CNN's first reporting by Oren Lieberman at the Pentagon that the Patriot missile defense systems are on the way here because they have been asking for them, I think as you put it last night, beating their hands on the desk for them, for not even months but like maybe two years saying that they're going to need these to defend against the onslaught of Russian rockets like the one that hit the administrative building in Kherson and caused tremendous damage.

We had explosions wake up some of our CNN staffers here in Kyiv, in central Kyiv this morning, very early because Russia fired 13 of these so-called kamikaze drones, these drones that are made in Iran that fly into targets and blow up. Russia tried to shut down Kyiv's energy grid this morning. And you know how they shot down those drones? They didn't have patriots. These are guys, in many cases, that are pointing at the sky, aiming and firing and hitting. They shot all 13 of them down.

Ukraine's president said he's proud of them. You go on the streets, Erin, it is 100 percent, you know, pride in their country. That's why they're fighting, it's not for money, because they don't have -- they're not getting money, they're dying, they're dying to defend this democracy.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Will Ripley.

Pretty incredible to hear how they're shooting those down, and obvious those Patriot defense systems, not something that Ukraine wants but something that could truly change the trajectory of this war. And it comes as we learn of a major Russian smuggling operation involving people in the United States.

Senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT with his reporting.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This house on a quiet street in southern New Hampshire home, according to federal officials, to a man accused of belonging to a Russian covert smuggling ring, charged with trafficking sensitive military-grade components to Russia, including for developing nuclear weapons. The DOJ alleges that the resident, Alexey Brayman, was working alongside American citizen Vadim Yermolenko from New Jersey. Both were arrested.

The ring included five others, all Russians. Among them, Vadim Konoshchenok, a colonel in Russia's domestic intelligence agency, the FSB. He was stopped at the Estonian border attempting to cross into Russia. His car packed with thousands of U.S.-made bullets used in sniper rifles, as well as around 35 kinds of semiconductors and other electronics parts.

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIAN OPERATIONS: Given the sanctions and the impact that that's having on the Russian military, I think Moscow has reached out to its intelligence services and said, look, we have to redouble our efforts to get these electronics, let the other stuff go by the wayside, the priority right now is trying to get back on track in Ukraine.

MARQUARDT: Prosecutors say the smuggling ring unlawfully sourced, purchased and shipped millions of dollars in military and sensitive dual-use technologies from U.S. manufacturers, including advanced electronics and sophisticated testing equipment used in quantum computing, hypersonic and nuclear weapons development, and other military and space-based military applications.

HALL: When you see something like this happen, it's good evidence that these sanctions are indeed working, because the Russians would be doing it in a much easier way if they could. But they simply can't.

MARQUARDT: The Eastern District of New York unsealed a 16-count indictment, alleging that the seven were affiliated with Moscow-based companies directed by Russian intelligence which were sanctioned after Russia invaded Ukraine. The network is instrumental to the Russian Federation's war machine. What was being smuggled FBI Director Chris Wray said, poses great danger in the hands of our adversaries. (END VIDEOTAPE)


MARQUARDT (on camera): And, Erin, U.S. officials say that the proceedings to extradite that FSB Colonel from Estonia to the United States will begin soon. Russia has called his detention by Estonia on behalf of the U.S. unacceptable and vowed that there will be response.

As for those two men who were arrested here in the U.S., they have been released on bail, but their passports have been taken away. Their travel has been restricted. They are expected back in court on February 7th in Brooklyn.

BURNETT: Alex Marquardt, thank you very much for all of that new reporting.

And I want to go now to the Democratic Congressman Jim Himes because he's on the House intelligence committee, and he recently traveled to Ukraine to meet with President Zelenskyy as well as other officials there.

So, Congressman, I do want to ask you about Alex's reporting first. This Russian smuggling, Russian weapons smuggling ring here in the United States. What does this tell you about Putin? I mean, why he would even be doing this, that he's going to such lengths to do something like this?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Erin, thanks for having me on.

First, I would say that this is not unusual. For decades, for generations, we've been facing Chinese, Russian, other efforts to get our equipment. Your correspondent is exactly right that this (AUDIO GAP) ordinarily be bought on the open market by the Russian government now that of course sanctions and prohibitions are in place.

The other thing I would note, the FBI is exactly right. Obviously a guy with a trunk full of rounds, that's a guy who can assist in the creation of an awful lot of mayhem. But at the end of the day, there is no way in the world that you can restock, rearm, and refurbish the Russian military by guys driving cars across the border of Estonia. So, we need to continue to take this stuff really, really seriously. But it is a sign of desperation.

BURNETT: So, CNN has reported, Congressman, that the Biden administration is finalizing those plans to send the U.S. Patriot missile system to Ukraine. Now, of course, this is the most advanced missile defense system in the world. Ukraine has been asking for these pounding the table for them since the start of the war, and, as Will said, even prior to that.

But the thing is, as you know, the former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has made the Russian position clear. He has said that if this happens, they would, quote, immediately become a legitimate target of our armed forces. So, how worried are you that supplying these patriot systems could lead to a very serious escalation in this war that would involve the U.S. and Russia now directly fighting?

HIMES: I'm not that worried, Erin. You know, we've heard saber- rattling from the Russians for a very long time. When they were winning, when they were just on the outskirts of Kyiv, we heard lots of saber-rattling from the Russians for a very long time when they were winning, you know, when they were just on the outskirts of Kyiv. We've heard lots of saber-rattling

And we know two things. Number one, that saber-rattling very rarely leads to actual dangerous things like attacks on a NATO country. And, number two, we've learned that the level of incompetence and lack of capability of the Russian military is staggering.

And so, yeah, of course, they'll try to go after those patriot missiles. Good luck, right? I mean, they just -- it has -- it is one of the incredible strategic catastrophes that Putin has brought upon his own country is that he has demonstrated the utter incompetence of his military.

So, yeah, we worry about, but I don't take those threats all that seriously when the alternative, of course, is the Russians continuing to have free rein to kill Ukrainian civilians, to shut down their power sources and that kind of thing.

BURNETT: So, I want to ask you about something about earlier this week. The former U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan told me, he was in the same room with Putin as recently as a year ago, right, just before this war began. And he told me that from when he started serving in 2020 and he saw Putin then and he saw him up until a year ago, now of course he's seeing him on video. His comment was that Putin does look stressed, puffy, overtired.

What are your briefers telling you about Putin's health right now?

HIMES: Well, I can't get into what briefers have told me in any detail. But I will tell you this. He is an individual who is powerful in Russia because he has this argument about the power and invincibility of Mother Russia. He -- if you look at his history, it is all about macho, manly, victory, winning and he is losing dramatically to Ukraine, a country a percentage of the size of Russia.

And so what worries me more than telescopes crossing the border from -- leaving New Hampshire or, you know, trunks full of bullets coming in from Estonia is how this plays out in the long run, because a guy who has staked his whole career in a very dangerous political environment around winning and the grand success of Mother Russia, you can't hide 100,000 casualties. He will get increasingly desperate. It's not at all surprising to me that he is under a lot of stress. He will get increasingly desperate.

BURNETT: All right, which I guess brings us full circle to that Yars missile that they were trying to parade out there today.

Thank you so much, Congressman Himes. I appreciate your time tonight.

HIMES: Thank you, Erin. BURNETT: And, next, the special counsel working at warp speed in his

probe, issuing even more subpoenas. So, who's in his crosshairs now? And how quickly are we progressing to an end?

Plus, is Donald Trump being muscled out of power by his own? Evidence that more Republicans have had enough tonight.

And China's new relaxed COVID strategy leading to a massive spike in cases. The spread of infections in fact so great, they're impossible to track. We're live in Beijing tonight.


BURNETT: Tonight, CNN learning special counsel Jack Smith has subpoenaed officials in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. This is part of his criminal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Now, Allegheny County carries significance because it happens to be where the former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani argued in federal court that the election was stolen.

So, back with us now, former Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb.

And, Ty, as always, I appreciate your insight.


And this is now moving so quickly here.

The special counsel Jack Smith has been sending out subpoenas to local officials now in all seven states where Trump allies had put forward a slate of fake electors. And he's done that incredibly quickly.

What do you think he's focused on?

TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: I think he's focused on both the potentially corrupt efforts to influence the way that the states were asked to act by the Trump administration through individual contact such as the long recorded phone call we have with Secretary of State Raffensperger in Georgia and through the lawsuits where I think he was over 64, and in terms of dismissals, and many people have been punished or referred for ethical violations in connection with those.

I think he is now -- he's got, as I understand it, current count 20 or 20 plus prosecutors involved. And I think they are, to their credit, dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's. January 6th itself and the events of the Capitol, we have to remember are really -- while they are the most dramatic indication of Trump's disrespect for democracy, they aren't the only weapon that he attempted to use in his efforts to claim to power.

And I think the combination of all those efforts to claim to power is the fundamental conspiracy that the Justice Department is homing in on. BURNETT: And so, I want to ask you a follow on that. But first,

because we're just days away from the January 6th committee, obviously separate from the DOJ criminal investigation. But they are set to announce their decision on criminal referrals to the DOJ. So they have come to their conclusion. Here's what we think you should do, separate from your own criminal investigation that you've been pursuing. So we're expecting that in just a few days.

We know they are considering a criminal referral for the former President Trump along with others in his inner circle. Do you have any doubt that the committee will have a criminal referral for Trump himself?

COBB: I do not. I think they started out with that as a goal. And I think they certainly have put forth evidence which would justify, even in the absence of cross-examination, which I think is an unfortunate product of the committee's constitution. But even without cross- examination, clearly the evidence that they have put forward justifies them to make criminal referral.

Their referral is largely symbolic, of course. I mean, the Justice Department is not required to do anything in response to it. But, yes, I'm sure they will refer the former president.

BURNETT: Does this give the justice department, I don't know, any sort of cover? Does it influence them in any way? Obviously there is a special counsel now, and he is very doggedly and very quickly pursuing his own criminal investigation here. But does a criminal referral from the committee help or hurt the DOJ in its indictment decision?

COBB: I think both. I think it helps them with people who follow these events more locally and can look to what their congressmen on the committee did, as well as it keeps the pressure on, and the media keeps the issue front and center. It's one shoe that dropped. It does complicate it a little bit just because it makes the Justice Department slightly more vulnerable to claims of partisanship. If the justice department decides to charge Trump with the unprecedented, undemocratic, corrupt efforts to cling to power, a stain on democracy like, you know, few others in our history, I don't think they can be fairly criticized.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Ty Cobb, thank you very much, as always. Appreciate your insight.


COBB: My pleasure. Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: While awaiting this decision from the committee. Thank you.

And next, the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis surging in a new poll. Are Republican voters moving on, moving on from Trump or not?

And countdown to disaster. Dire predictions about what's about to happen at the Mexico border as a Trump-era immigration policy that Biden had kept in place is now days away from ending. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We're following breaking news out of the New Orleans area where a severe line of storms said to be worse than Hurricane Ida is right now tearing through the area, spawning tornados. These are new pictures coming out of New Orleans where you can see entire homes destroyed, cars overturned. And this is happening as we speak. The incredible power of this.

Jennifer Gray is OUTFRONT live at our weather center.

Jennifer, look, when I just say something simple like the line of storms is said to be worse than Hurricane Ida, it really makes people stop. What is the latest?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah. We have had one of the, I believe, the mayors or someone said that their experience with it and the damage that they are experiencing is worse than Hurricane Ida.


This line of showers and storms is going to be different for everyone. It's going to be dependent upon where you are, where the strongest cells are. Right now, we have some tornado warnings across portions of Alabama. You can see right there, those hot pink boxes, those are active tornado warnings, meaning a tornado could be in progress. So you need to get to your safe place now that we are getting into the overnight hours. It's dark outside.

And so, these are going to b particularly dangerous because a lot of times they catch people off guard because they're sleeping. But we've had over 40 tornado reports just since yesterday. A handful of those were right around the New Orleans area. It's clear in New Orleans now, and so, they are heading to the east across the southeast getting just tremendous amount of rain over the next couple of days. This is the forecast moving forward.

And then to the Atlanta area by 2:30 in the morning on Thursday morning. This also has a wintery side to it. We've had blizzard-like conditions going on since yesterday. Some areas seeing visibility down to zero. So a lot going on with this particular storm system.

BURNETT: All right, Jennifer, thank you very much. We'll continue to monitor this, get back to Jennifer as we get more information.

Also tonight, the major warning signs for Donald Trump about 2024. A brand-new CNN poll shows this. It shows that just 38 percent of Republican-leaning voters want Trump to be the nominee again. Now, compare that to the 62 percent who want someone else.

Now, context. Context is always important here because back in January, 50 percent wanted Trump to be the GOP nominee again. So, 50 down to 38. That's a big drop.

And among those who want someone other than Trump in 2024, 38 percent singled out Governor Ron DeSantis. So just not Trump, and then a bunch of 1 percents. So, not just Trump even potentially opens up a field, but let's see.

OUTFRONT now, Van Jones, former special adviser to then-President Obama, along with David Urban, the former senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

Thanks to both.

So, David, let's just start with the headline number here. When you see a number of, hey, 50 percent a few months ago wanted Trump to be the nominee, then he actually became the nominee and now, it's down to -- not the nominee. That he actually declared he was running. And now it's down to 38 percent.

How worried should Trump be?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, Erin, the trend is definitely not in the former president's favor at this point. If you look at last January, then the summer, and then this poll, it's continuing to slide down. It's not just one poll. There are polls out from several other organizations yesterday, today as well that tells the same story. So, look, bad news in that regard.

Good news in this record if you're Donald Trump. You still have that 30, 35 percent of the Republican base voters who are for you, and the theory being that that's all you need to win if there are ten people in the race like there were in 2016. So very bad news on one hand, but good news in that he's still holding onto those 30, 35 percent base voters if you're Donald Trump.

BURNETT: So, Van, what do you think when you see these numbers for Trump and DeSantis specifically?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, I think that the fizz is coming out of the soda. The air is coming out of the balloon. That's just obvious.

And in some ways it's just reasserting normal gravity. Jimmy Carter was a one-term president. Two years later, he wasn't dominating the Democratic Party. Trump is a one-term president, he shouldn't be where he is.

And so, you know, this gravity began to reassert itself. DeSantis has done a very good job on distinguishing himself as someone who's not as bad as Trump on the stuff that people don't like about Trump. But, still, brings a lot of that Trump flavor. I think that you're in a situation now where he's the obvious other choice. He's the Coke to the Pepsi.

BURNETT: Okay. So, David, DeSantis has been focused on red meat issues for months. And he's done them in his own ways. Let me just remind everybody of a few of them. Here he is.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: In our K-12 schools, we're not allowing critical race theory in Florida. Florida is a law and order state. We will not allow law enforcement to

be de-funded.

It's inappropriate to tell an 8-year-old that they may have been born a girl but maybe they're really a boy. That's wrong.

In Florida, we chose freedom over Faucism.

We will never ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.


BURNETT: So, David, these are issues the Republican base cares about. Obviously Trump hasn't lost the Trump base. But the Republican base cares about this. Is this resonating through? Because I will note, you still got the majority of Republicans out there who are saying anybody but Trump, but not yet saying DeSantis.


URBAN: Well, listen. If you keep play those sound bites, Erin, I think Ron DeSantis' numbers will climb.

Look, let's forget -- let's not forget he has not declared that he's running for president of the United States. He hasn't even been sworn in for his second term in the state of Florida as governor. So I think he's focused on that, rightfully so. I expect he'll make a decision this first quarter whether or not he's going to get in the race or not, right?

So, it isn't surprising to me that a lot of folks haven't totally been sold over on Ron DeSantis as the great savior. But those numbers, these polls -- these recent three polls have to give Donald Trump great concern of those around him and the campaign great concern.

BURNETT: And let's, of course, be aware everyone's waiting for the elephant in the room. In this case, it's not another Republican. It's a possible DOJ Trump indictment and what that means.

But, Van, on the Democratic side, the new CNN poll was not glowing for President Biden either. Now, this is a little bit confusing, so bear with me, everybody. Here's what people said in the poll. Seventy-two percent of Democrats said that Biden deserves re-election. But only 40 percent of Democratic-leaning voters say he should be the party's nominee in 2024. I'm sorry, Van, I cannot square that circle.

However, it shows how conflicted people are at best, OK? So, let me just play this because the progressive group Roots Action is now running an ad in New Hampshire urging Biden to step aside. I'll play it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he runs, the election is at serious risk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe Biden representing the status quo in 2024 simply won't cut it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't afford to risk the White House to a Republican who could defeat status quo Joe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't afford to lose. Don't run, Joe.





URBAN: Don't run, Joe, don't run.

BURNETT: So how is he going through all this? How is the president thinking through this?

JONES: Yeah. Well, look. I think those numbers -- I'll get to the ad in a second. But I think those numbers really reflect this tug of war in the heart of the Democratic Party. We are proud of Joe Biden. He has done beautifully. He's done well. People were scared and terrified with the Afghanistan stuff.

All of a sudden, he's delivering on gun reform. He's delivering on infrastructure, he's delivering on climate. And so you love him. At the same time you worry about his age.

So you have people -- does he deserve to be re-elected? He certainly does. But should he? And so that's, I think, the conflict in the party. That ad is from one group. If you get ten more like that, maybe it matters. But right now it's just one group. Not an avalanche yet.

BURNETT: Well, and I will say, Van, square circle, it would be you. Quick final word, David.

URBAN: I would just point out, I think the Democrats are rightfully worried. Because if it is Ron DeSantis, I think Ron DeSantis beats Joe Biden handily.

JONES: We'll see.

BURNETT: Well, we'll see. We'll have to see, right?

URBAN: Don't run, Joe!


BURNETT: And, next, immigrants continue massing at the Mexican border tonight. That is going to be a big issue for President Biden. Many thousands intent now on crossing into the United States after a brief reprieve because of that Trump-era policy.

Tonight, a homeland security official is predicting in his own words a disaster within days. And a story you'll see only here tonight, an American student in

France missing without a trace. We tracked down the family who had been hosting him there, and they're speaking out.



BURNETT: Tonight, disaster. The homeland security official telling CNN that when the Trump-era border policy ends in just a few days, it is, quote, going to be a disaster. This as a new homeland security intelligence memo warns the end of the policy, which was used nearly 2.5 million times by border officials to expel migrants will, quote, likely increase migration flows immediately.

Look what you've been seeing already in preparation. There have been long lines of migrants at the border waiting to cross into the United States in anticipation of the change in policy.

OUTFRONT now, Omar Ornelas, the photojournalist with the "El Paso Times" who has been covering this story from both sides of the U.S.- Mexico border.

And, Omar, I appreciate your time and your photos and your reporting.

I want to show everyone some of the pictures you have been taking of the crowds you have been seeing at the border. You were in Juarez in Mexico today. I know over the weekend, you saw sort of crossings -- the number of people getting ready to cross kind of greater than anything you'd seen in almost the past decade. What are you seeing?

OMAR ORNELAS, PHOTOJOURNALIST, EL PASO TIMES: Well, right now what we're seeing here at the border is a phenomenon that we've actually been seeing for a few years. What made it unique in this occasion is that we had a group of 400 Nicaraguans that were moving up through Mexico that had been kidnapped in Durango. Once they were kidnapped in Durango, they were escorted by Mexican state police by the state of Chihuahua and brought for their safety to the city of Ciudad Juarez. And they crossed as a group, as a massive group on Sunday night.

So that was something that has been very unique that we've seen here in contrast to the past where we've seen smaller groups of 250 to 300. So that is something that we had not seen in prior years.

BURNETT: And, you know, the homeland security official telling CNN that it's going to be a disaster in a few days. This is their words. And we've obtained a memo where the Biden administration warns that the end of Title 42, which happens exactly one week from today, of course, as you know, Omar, will likely increase migration flows immediately. And obviously you don't need to be told that. You're seeing that.

And you spoke to the DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas yesterday. Do you get a sense from him, from what you're seeing on the ground that there is a real serious deep preparation for what's about to happen? ORNELAS: We did have an opportunity to speak to Secretary Mayorkas

with the "El Paso Times" yesterday. And one of our specific questions was what is going to happen once Title 42 ends on the 21st of December. We weren't given any specifics as to what would occur. But we did pick up from our conversation and interview that there were in amidst of negotiations with the federal Mexican government and the U.S. government for any plans that would be utilized to be able to process some of these migrants.

Again, we didn't get any specifics from the secretary. But, for us, as local journalists here in El Paso, in Ciudad Juarez. What we will be expecting is some type of change through the current method, which is basically migrants that are unable to approach a port of entry and enter to seek asylum currently because there's no access to that. Migrants are forced to go in between the ports of entry.

And, as you mentioned, we would expect more migrants to approach those ports of entry. But, again, it's not a phenomenon that we would expect to conclude. It's actually something that we have been seeing for the last few years. So I think it's more of the policies that are in place now that are giving us some of these visuals on the ground.

BURNETT: All right. Omar, thank you very much. I appreciate your time, and everyone appreciates the images that you're sharing with us of what you're seeing.

I want to bring back tonight Harry Enten with tonight's OUTFRONT outlier on this story.

So, Harry, I first want to start with the border itself, right? You hear the Biden administration using the word "disaster" to talk about it. We are a week away. How much of a political problem is the border for Biden? Not only among Republicans but among Democrats.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: If you ask voters is it an important issue to your vote. What you see is that among all voters, you see a clear majority, 59 percent of all voters say yes. Not surprisingly, 77 percent of Republicans say it was yes. But I think the 51 percent among Democrats would surprise a lot of people, 51 percent of Democrats, a majority say that immigration is important to your vote even among Democrats.

BURNETT: So, 51 percent of Democrats say immigration is important to your vote. That is significant, could go either way. But how do Democrats feel, then, specifically about something that really indicates how they may feel increasing border security? Which has traditionally been a rallying cry on the right.

ENTEN: Yeah, this, to me, perhaps, is the most surprising of all of the numbers. Essentially if you ask Democrats do you favor increasing border stops to stop illegal immigration? Look at that, 54 percent of Democrats, in fact, favor it. This is among Democrats.

This isn't among all voters. This is among Democrats. A clearly majority say that in fact we should increase border stops to stop illegal immigration just compared to 45 percent who oppose it. So here we have Democrats joining Republicans, a clear majority favor increasing favoring border stops to stop illegal immigration.

BURNETT: Which is pretty incredible. So you've got that clear majority. And to get a clear majority, you've got Republicans and Democrats agreeing on a lot. But there is an outlier, right, Harry?

ENTEN: Yeah, there is. So essentially if we break down Democrats among ideological lines, 70 percent agree that, in fact, it's important to increase security along the U.S./Mexico border. But the outlier for tonight is the 44 percent of liberal Democrats who agree the majority in fact of liberal Democrats do not believe it's important to increase security along the U.S./Mexico border.

BURNETT: So, liberal Democrats standing out there.

All right. Thank you very much, Hharry, as always.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BURNETT: And, next, an American college student mysteriously missing now for more than two weeks. CNN found and speaks to the French family who was hosting him. What do they know, what are they saying? It's an OUTFRONT exclusive.

And panic in China as COVID explodes. So the days of zero COVID are now suddenly gone. We'll go there, live.



BURNETT: Tonight exclusive CNN reporting, hearing first OUTFRONT. The French host family of missing American college student Kenny DeLand speaking out for the first time. It's been 15 days since he was last seen, and his host mother says of all the students she has hosted, DeLand had the hardest time fitting in.

Melissa Bell is OUTFRONT.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Social media posts give little away. Just images of a young American enjoying his exchange program in France. But Kenny DeLand Jr. vanished 15 days ago without a trace after leaving the home of the host mother he was staying with. She explains she has only spoken once to Kenny's mother, never to his father, but agrees to speak exclusively to CNN without the camera.

What the host mother told us was of all the exchange students she had had at her home, Kenny DeLand seemed to have the most trouble fitting in and settling down to life here in Grenoble. She said since he disappeared she has been inundating him with messages to which he hadn't responded and she added she had been reassured by the sighting about an hour south of here in the sport shop because it confirmed the possibility and her hope that in fact he had gone and cut off communications voluntarily. It was taken on December 23rd. Kenny DeLand spent just over $8 before

vanishing all together according to his family leaving behind only Facebook pictures of his life in France from Paris to the university of Grenoble Alps. The last time Kenny DeLand turned up for lessons at the university he was studying at was November 28th. By the 29th, when he failed to turn up a missing persons report was filed and it emerged he left the host family that morning taking a packed lunch, change of clothes, his wallet, and his phone. Kenny DeLand has not been heard from since.

We show Kenny's picture around the campus in the hopes someone may recognize him. When we find Kenny's friends they prefer not to speak on camera but tell us that Kenny had friends that were exchange students and some that were local. We care about him and we want him to come back safely. Statements that contradict what French authorities have said that Kenny struggled to make friends.

KEN DELAND, MISSING STUDENT'S FATHER: What I'm telling you is he makes friends and he is easy to talk to like me. If you don't know my son, then it's tough for you to make some statement, some bold statements. He is in a foreign country.

He's pretty upbeat kid. You know what I mean? So it's possible, sure. He was anxious. He wanted to do good. He wanted to prove that he could get good grades even on the trip of a lifetime.

BELL: Kenny DeLand Jr. chronicled his journey to France in august. His father still hopes he'll be able to pick him up as planned on Saturday.


BELL (on camera): Erin, one thing everyone seems to agree on from Kenny's parents to his friends and host mother is he may still turn up. We were astonished to discover when we got to that house that his room is intact.


Investigators have never been. They haven't taken his computer or any of his stuff. His host mother's hope is that it is Kenny DeLand himself who will come by to pick it up ahead of his flight on Saturday -- Erin.

BURNETT: Well, we can all only hope. It just would be amazing. Incredible you were able to find out authorities have not yet been there and what that may mean.

Melissa, thank you very much, with that exclusive reporting from France tonight.

Next, China's harsh COVID prevention policies giving way to another crisis, right? They suddenly rolled some of it back. Now huge numbers of people are infected. The illness is now running rampant in China.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Tonight from zero COVID to let it rip. COVID cases are now skyrocketing in China. It is spreading fast. President Xi Jinping loosening his zero COVID restrictions because of the mass protests which then led to an explosion of cases.

In Beijing, the streets are empty. Residents either have COVID or are self-quarantining for fear of catching it.

OUTFRONT now is Selina Wang. She's in Beijing. You've seen her coverage through this.

And, Selina, COVID is now spreading like wildfire where you are. What is the situation like right now? How is the government managing it?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, it is surreal because throughout this pandemic in China I hardly knew anybody personally who had COVID. And now suddenly I am one of the only people around me who doesn't have COVID.

The irony is that China is finally done with lockdowns but at least here in Beijing, it still feels like one because businesses are struggling to stay open because so many people have COVID. Even delivery is harder to get. My building complex just last night put out a message saying almost all of the staff has COVID and has to stay home.

So, it is spreading extremely fast here in Beijing. We know it is spreading across China. We don't have data on just how fast because authorities said they've given up on counting all of the cases because there is no way to gauge the real number now that people are avoiding the official tests and are staying at home.

So, in Beijing, we are already seeing some strain on the hospital system. The number of patients going to fever clinics jumped 16 times this Sunday compared to a week before. Authorities also said the number of calls to the emergency hotline have jumped six times.

So, important context here is that in China there isn't a strong primary care system. It is common for people to go to the hospital even for minor illnesses. No surprise that we're seeing these long lines outside of hospitals.

BURNETT: Amazing to see. This is going to be a real test for what happens when it comes unfortunately to death.

You know, Selina, we've been talking about what people are doing to prevent this. One thing was the canned peach shortage in China which even the government stepped in to say, please. This is not a cure, but we saw the empty shelves. What more can you tell us?

WANG: Yeah. So, so canned peaches are this childhood snack in parts of country but really bizarre and fascinating is people are rushing to buy it because they think either the nutrition can help with immunity or because they are going after the rumors that circulated that canned peaches can treat COVID. So, there are all these videos circulating on social media with canned

peach factories talking about working overtime to meet demand. One factory said orders jumped by tenfold. Canned peach searches surging dramatically.

But health experts tell me part of the surge shows how little trust there is and little information from health authorities that they're willing to rely on canned peaches as a home remedy.

BURNETT: Wow. That's incredible. Sounds of course crazy. So does drinking bleach to cure COVID.

Thank you so much, Selina Wang. And thanks so much to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.