Return to Transcripts main page

Erin Burnett Outfront

January 6 Committee To Urge DOJ To Prosecute Trump On Multiple Charges; Ukraine: Russia Fires 76 Missiles At Cities Across Ukraine; Musk Faces Outrage for Twitter Bans That Contradict His Own Words; After Years Of Xi's Fear-Inducing COVID Rules, Top Chinese Epidemiologist Downplays Omicron As "Coronavirus Cold". Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 16, 2022 - 19:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, breaking news tonight: the January 6th committee will likely urge the Justice Department to prosecute Trump on multiple criminal charges, including insurrection.

Plus, a deadly barrage of rocket attacks across the U.K. Ukraine has newly intercepted audio just in to OUTFRONT reveals Putin's forces are now abandoning their weapons.

And the American college student missing in France is alive, turning up in Spain more than two weeks after he first vanished. So what happened? Kenny DeLand's father and step-mother are my guests tonight.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news, CNN learning that the January 6 committee will likely urge the DOJ to prosecute former President Trump on multiple criminal charges, including insurrection. This is according to multiple sources, and they say the other charges include obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the federal government.

Now, moments ago, the former president responded. His spokesperson writing: The January 6th un-Select Committee helped show trials by never dropped partisans who are a stain on this country's history.

The committee is meeting on Monday to present its findings and recommended referrals, and throughout the committee's investigation, we have heard from multiple witnesses that Trump was heavily engaged in every aspect of the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. And while these referrals against Trump, they don't carry any legal weight, they do send a powerful message that a congressional committee believes the former president committed multiple crimes.

Let's go straight to Evan Perez OUTFRONT, live in Washington for us tonight.

So, Evan, what more can you tell us about the January 6 committee's plans here? EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, you are

right, this is a powerful message from a bipartisan committee that has interviewed hundreds and hundreds of witnesses. They've got thousands and thousands of hours of testimony from people who were there. They were there around the former president, and the fact that they've arrived at these recommendations is something that the Justice Department is going to take a look at.

They're going to want to look at the evidence in particular because there could be one of the things that the Justice department has an interest in is the interviews that were conducted, and the transcript that those interviews which could be useful for the investigation, the criminal investigation that prosecutors already have ongoing. Of course, is now in the hands and being overseen by special counsel Jack Smith.

Now, as far as these charges are concerned, these recommended charges, a couple of them are ones that are familiar to the Justice Department. Of course, obstruction of an official proceeding, this is something that we know a federal judge has already signaled is something that he believes the former president was involved with one of his lawyers, John Eastman, when the committee was trying to get a hold of those communications between that lawyer and a former president.

As far as insurrectionists are concerned, that could be a bit complicated for the Justice Department because of the way that the statute is written. But no doubt about it, this is an important moment for this committee.

BROWN: It certainly is.

All right, Evan, thanks so much.

Let's dive a little bit deeper into what Evan just laid out there. Let's bring in Katelyn Polantz, senior crime and justice reporter, Ryan Goodman, co-editor in chief of the "Just Security" legal blog and former special counsel at the Defense Department. Also, Elie Honig, CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

Ryan, let's kick it off with you. So, here, we have a congressional committee that is going to ask the DOJ to pursue multiple charges against the former president, and we just learned, coming in, my colleague Jamie Gangel we heard from a source that that will include a sustained insurrection.

How significant is this development?

RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JUST SECURITY: I think it's a very significant development. It's not one that everybody anticipated, even those of us who follow the committee very closely. It's especially important because it's the one charge that would tie the former president to the violence that so many Americans saw on their TV sets and elsewhere, and that is the big question that I think many Americans would have, which is, is there any criminal liability on the part of President Trump for the violent attack on the Capitol? The other charges, obstruction of proceedings, using a lawyer, had to

do so, or pressuring Mike Pence or using false slate of electors, those are separate, and this one goes to the heart of the violent attack, and it is going to be more difficult for the Justice Department to take up.


Certainly, very important to see what evidentiary record the committee lays out when they do and if they do make this kind of a referral.

BROWN: Right, because in talking to sources, my understanding is, they have been trying to figure out, not only the criminal referrals, who do refer, but what evidence to lay out because, as we know, Elie, the DOJ has its own January 6 investigation, which is now headed up by special counsel, right? So how does a criminal referral from the committee factor into a potential Trump indictment?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, Pam, I don't think a criminal referral will have much impact on the DOJ in terms of applying political pressure. The DOJ has long prided itself on being above political pressure. Merrick Garland has made that his mantra. I don't think prosecutors will be swayed by the fact that Congress has asked to look at something.

But I think the evidence will be really crucial, and we're in an unusual situation here, where DOJ has been seeking the committee's evidence for months now, usually prosecutors have weight more information then Congress has. In this case, we know for sure that Congress has some information that the DOJ does not have. Merrick Garland said publicly that we need to see all the information.

So I guarantee you that the prosecutors in the DOJ are eagerly awaiting this report, just like we all are in the public domain, and prosecutors will go through it and figure out how the evidence supports or does not support its potential charges.

BROWN: Right, so the committee can't obviously pursue charges. The DOJ is going to do what it's going to do. But there is also the perception aspect of this, Katelyn. You know, Trump is out with a statement tonight, of course, bashing the committee, cone partisan and a stain on the country's history.

If there is a risk of politics casting a shadow over all this, and does that figure into how the DOJ will handle this?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR REPORTER, CRIME AND JUSTICE: Pam, it is always a possible shadow over the Justice Department. Even from the beginning of the investigation, the attorney general has tried to make very clear that he is not political. He and the president have distanced themselves, they are in the same branch of government, and I will tell you that the Justice Department does not ever want to be put in the same bucket as Congress. They are very, very separate entities, often at odds with one another, even.

And so, there is the possibility that there could be political pressure build once the house select committee say what they want to see as far as prosecutions. That does not mean the Justice Department will follow what their suggestions might be, but this is Washington. Maryland is the attorney general, his office, you can sort of see down the Mall to the Capitol building, and so this is always a political environment.

Garland wanted his blind spots generally would be politics. He was a judge for 23 years before taking on the position of attorney general, so there are members of Congress that are probably hoping that there would be politics to do it, but there is a delicate situation, and we will have to see how Garland plays and going forward.

BROWN: Yeah, and we will have to see if DOJ does bring any charges against the former president, Elie. I mean, Ryan talked about this a little bit, but to dive into it a bit deeper, how solid is the case to pursue these charges that seemed like some -- you can have an easier case making than others, potentially.

HONIG: Well, I think we have to be careful when we take on this question in two respects. One, we don't know everything the committee has. We certainly don't know everything DOJ has. Two is, while the January 6th committee made what I think is a compelling credible presentation, it was not subject to cross-examination. We don't know whether some of these witnesses made prior statements that are inconsistent, for example.

That said, given what we have from the January 6 committee, that to me looks like a rock solid foundation for prosecutors. If I was a prosecutor and someone walked me over transcripts of all the hearings we have seen, I would say that this is a great start, let me get to work.

So, I think that much we can say safely, but will they charge, will they not charge, I don't think it's something that we can predict with specificity right now.

BROWN: Yeah, I think that's really a fair point. Look, there is a lot we know, but there still is a lot we don't know, right? And we're going to find out more next week, of course, when the committee gets together and releases its final report.

But, Ryan, the bottom line is, and you noted this, the Americans, they're going to want to see someone held to account for the violence they saw on TV, as hundreds stormed the Capitol.

How much do you think that is weighing in on the committee's decision here?

GOODMAN: I think it has to weigh on the committee's decision, and to me, at that the committee at a minimum, showed the findings that Donald Trump was responsible for the insurrection on January 6. The fact that they are going a step further in saying, no, we actually mean for criminal liability purposes, and they can be charged in the federal criminal code, is where they push this.

[19:10:02] I think that is historically taking a step back and thinking about that, an incredible moment for the country, having Congress say that about a former president. So, I think that alone is that one step in that direction.

BROWN: And, Katelyn, my sources have told me and my colleague Jamie Gangel and Annie Grayer that the committee has not just been focusing on Donald Trump and whether to send a criminal referral to DOJ on Trump. There are others that they focused on heavily during the hearings over several months, including John Eastman, including Rudy Giuliani, including Justin Clark.

So, there's still a lot more to find out about potential criminal referrals next week, right?

POLANTZ: Right, Pam. So, those four names have been circling this week as the other four top people that could also be facing criminal referrals from Congress. Jeffrey Clark, the former DOJ official, Mark Meadows, who's at the White House, Giuliani and Eastman.

And, you know, Pam, when you step back and look at the four names, none of these are surprises, and to see the committee make a move like, that it would not be surprising at all because Eastman and Clark specifically, we know that they are already the subject of pretty robust Justice Department investigations and earlier today, and the federal court, there were new court filings that showed many, many searches and steps taken to look into the email accounts of Eastman, Clark and a few other people. So, those people, at least two of them, we know, are being part of an investigation and looked at right now.

BROWN: Yeah, including as you say, Jeff Clark.

All right. Thank you so much, Katelyn Polantz, Ryan Goodman, Elie Honig. Thank you all.

And OUTFRONT next, they quote, freaked out, and lay down their arms, those words from a Russian soldier and new intercepted audio into OUTFRONT. It is a growing problem for Putin, Russian troops refusing to fight.

Plus, Elon Musk is on the defensive after facing global condemnation for suspending journalists who cover him on Twitter. I'm going to talk to one of those reporters who was banned tonight.

And we have an update to and story that we have been following. The American student who went missing in France is alive. So how is he doing? What was he doing during those two weeks that he vanished without a trace? Well, his father and stepmother are OUTFRONT.

We'll be right back.



BROWN: Tonight, a deadly blitz, rockets raining down across Ukraine. According to the Ukraine's defense minister, 76 missiles were fired. And take a look -- this is the aftermath, entire blocks destroyed. Crucial infrastructure damaged and at least three dead.

This is as OUTFRONT obtains a new intercepted call that the Ukraine defense intelligence says is from a Russian soldier.


RUSSIAN WOMAN (through translator): By the way, the men from Regiment 346 are being taken to Kovrov. Remember you said a month ago, home?

RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): Is that everything?

RUSSIAN WOMAN (through translator): No, these are the ones who laid down arms. Remember I told you, they freaked out and laid down arms, saboteurs or whatever they are called. In other words, those where refuse to fight are being taken there for cohesion training and then to the front line as contract soldiers.


BROWN: And this fits with other intercepts of Russian soldiers calling home, which we play on this program nearly every night. Russia knows it has a problem. That's why the government is blanketing the air waves with ads, playing up the benefits of fighting in the war. Just watch.


ANNOUNCER (through translator): Participants in the special operation received many benefits from the government. Sacha is happy, he now has the kind of salary he could not have dreamed of before, a new profession, new friends, career advancement, free health care for himself and his family, government benefits, also the status of a combat veteran, and therefore, respect. Well done, Sacha, be like Sacha.


BROWN: So Russia, as you see there, they're laying it on thick.

Will Ripley is OUTFRONT in Odessa.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Without warning, a mass Russian missile attack targeting cities across Ukraine on Friday. The military says around 40 does missiles aimed at the capital of Kyiv, forcing thousands underground, subway stations becoming a temporary bomb shelters, train service suspended for hours, scores of students like Katya had to miss school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was sent here about three hours. I want to go home.

RIPLEY: Ukraine says air defense shut down most of the missiles but not all. Several deafening explosion shook the country, districts killing at least three in central Ukraine, terrifying people near the points of impact. Thermal and hydroelectric power plants and substations taking direct hits, triggering an energy emergency with widespread blackouts.

Ukraine's president says all their targets today are civilian, energy and heat supply facilities. As a result of the war, the meaning of the word terror for most people will be associated with the crazy actions of Russia.

Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv, also plunged into darkness, no light, no heat, no water, even no way to cook. Many forced to brave freezing temperatures just to light up for a warm meal.

People need to be fed, she says, cooking on a wood stove.

Ukraine's military monitored Russian jets about Belarus during the strikes. Moscow and Minsk staging joint military drills in recent days. Kyiv is warning of a possible attack from the north.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announces that his friend and ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be there on Monday, two strong men strengthening their alliance.

ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, PRESIDENT OF BELARUS: We will never be enemies of Russia, never looked disapprovingly at Russia, he says. If it was otherwise, it would be like Ukraine.

RIPLEY: Obedience in brothers, resistance in Ukraine.


This democracy under siege, defying danger with a smile.


RIPLEY (on camera): The power grid across Ukraine remains incredibly unstable tonight, Pamela, even on the street. The building behind us is plunged into darkness for the last 12 hours. The lights have just come back on for them, but we know that there are millions of people without electricity, without heat and in parts of Ukraine, the temperatures are sub-zero. It is a deep freeze, and the official start of winter has not come yet. It is coming up next week.

In terms of this meeting happening in Belarus between Putin and Lukashenko, they are watching that closely here in Ukraine because, they have suspected that these two might be plotting something early next year, possibly a ground invasion on Kyiv through the Belarusian border, if you will. Pamela, it comes with a caveat that often misinformation is used by both the Ukrainians and the Russians to try to throw off the other side.

We'll have to continue to be on the ground here and see what happens next.

BROWN: Yeah, keep up the excellent reporting there. Will Ripley live in Odesa, thank you.

And OUTFRONT now, Retired Army Lt. General Mark Hertling. He's a CNN military analyst.

All right. So, General Hertling, we heard from Will talking about Belarus, Putin heading to Belarus to meet with his closest ally, President Lukashenko. As Russia keeps terrorizing Ukraine with this brutal barrage of deadly missile strikes, what do you think is going on here? You think Putin is trying to open up another front in this war?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He is, Pam, but before we talk about the, can we talk about the disparity between the Ukrainians dancing in the subway, continuing to be resilient, and Russians attempting to get Sacha to join a special military operation where they failed miserably?

BROWN: Yeah, what was that at all about? Can we talk about --


HERTLING: You know, I've been involved in ads to try to recruit soldiers, but never seen anything like that before.

Going back -- I am sorry, going back to your question, is Putin and Lukashenko attempting to coerce another northern attack towards Kyiv? I think, yes, they are. It has to do with the fact, Pam, if you look at the basics of things, warfare is made of a constant shipping of offense and defense, forces are either attacking or defending.

That's what's happening on the eastern front and the south eastern front. It's a slugfest out there, both in the Donbas and in Kherson and the southern region.

What Russia is attempting to do is open up another front to draw forces, Ukrainian forces away from the front line in the east up to the north to defend Kyiv. Can they do that? I don't know.

What they are attempting to do that with are these new mobilized soldiers that they have been training. You've got to remember, these are all raw recruits, and they are being allied with Belarusian - there weren't a whole lot of armies, in my view, when I was commanding in Europe that were worse than the Russians were. Belarus was one of them, it was.

So, you're talking about an alliance in the north, it's quantity, certainly, there's going to be a lot of people involved potentially in that northern attack, but I still think Ukraine can handle it. The problem is, they're both dealing with a limited number of forces to conduct these operations against each other.

BROWN: Yeah, absolutely. And you have Ukraine's military chief warning that a major Russian offensive of 200,000 troops could be unleashed possibly on Kyiv as soon as next month. When I heard that, my first question was, can this Russian military with all of its problems even pull that off? HERTLING: No, in my view, no, and I don't have the kind of

intelligence that the General Zaluzhnyi has of the Ukrainian force has, but truthfully, they have been attempting to mobilize, and it just takes time to get forces not only trained in the individual skills the soldiers need but in the combined arms team skills that they would need to conduct that kind of offensive.

You know, Pam, I had a mentor ones that tell me the key to victory on the battlefield are the three T's -- teamwork, training and trust. The Russian military does not have any of those three. They've had failure in training. They don't have good teamwork, and the trust is just abysmal between the soldiers, the leaders and the government.

BROWN: And now, they are putting out recruitment as that look like they are targeting like kids, fifth graders. It looks so juvenile.

General Hertling, thank you so much.

HERTLING: Pleasure, Pam, thank you.

BROWN: Next, Elon Musk is firing back tonight, mocking critics who say that he has gone too far by now banning journalists. A reporter that had his account suddenly suspended responds.

Plus, the U.S. is scrambling tonight to rescue Americans trapped in Peru, as the country quickly descends into chaos. A state of emergency has been declared and, tonight, food is running short.



BROWN: Tonight, Elon Musk is mocking his critics who say Twitter suspension of several journalists accounts amounts to censorship. Tweeting, quote, so inspiring to see the newfound love of freedom of speech by the press.

This is after the Twitter accounts bellowing to multiple journalists, including our own Donie O'Sullivan, were suspended for reporting the account that tracked his private jet.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.


ELON MUSK, TWITTER OWNER: Everyone's going to be treated the same. They're not especially because you're a journalist.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Elon Musk is on the defense over Twitter's sudden banning of several high profile tech journalists, including some of "The Washington Post", "New York Times" and CNN, claiming they violated Twitter policy by sharing information about an online account tracking his private plane using publicly available information, what calls assassination coordinates.

Musk says that is the same as doxxing, the practice of targeting someone by publicly sharing their address and other private information.

MUSK: You dox, you get suspended. End of story.


FOREMAN: But for others, Musk's actions show something else.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: I think this is really about Elon Musk having very thin skin. And he does not like when people are aggressively reporting on him or his companies. And he doesn't like when people are very sharp in their criticism of him.

And if you look at the group of people who were banned, all of them had that in common.

FOREMAN: The new Twitter boss has posed as a champion of free speech, lifting a ban imposed on former President Donald Trump after the January 6th riots. Freeing the account of Congress member Marjorie Taylor Greene, which had been frozen over coronavirus misinformation.

Musk even tweeted just over a month ago: My commitment to free speech extends event in that banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk. But now, that account has been banned too.

JODIE GINSBERG, PRESIDENT, THE COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: I think the action we've seen from Elon Musk are extremely disturbing.

FOREMAN: Without doubt, the sharing of private information about public figures can be dangerous. And Musk recently tweeted that a man had confronted a vehicle carrying his son. But --

GINSBERG: Instead of going to the police, what he did, was he published a picture of that individual and asked his 120 million followers to identify them.


BROWN: And Tom is with us now.

Tom, perhaps, coincidentally, Musk tonight is highlighting the latest release of the so-called, Twitter file. What did they show?

FOREMAN: It didn't look like a coincidence.

The Twitter files in this, case basically it's a long threat talking about the idea that the FBI and Twitter pre-Musk,, were way too cozy and at the FBI and Twitter were working together to in a sense suppress concerns that were being raised by the right by election practices in all sorts of things like that. This is real clickbait for people on the right that want to say, yeah, that's the problem.

Others who have looked at it said, no, it's just -- it's a messy process. We as journalists are always checking in with agencies to make sure that what we are reporting is true. If they say it's not, we try to do something about that and make sure the truth gets out there. So, the Twitter files, exciting to the right, not so much to everybody else.

BROWN: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

And OUTFRONT now, Aaron Rupar, a prominent liberal journalist whose Twitter account was suddenly suspended.

Hi, Aaron.

So, let's look at the tweet that Twitter told you was why you are suspended. You are pointing out that the Elon Jet account, that tracked Musk's private was still on Facebook with a link to it. And tonight, your account on Twitter, it looks like this.

Have you heard anything from Twitter about your suspension? How long it might be?

AARON RUPAR, JOURNALIST: I have not. So I've been mostly relying on Elon's tweets to have any sense of when I may be reinstated. Of course, he is a poll up right now asking people if myself and the other journalists who were banned should be reinstated, immediately or in a week. So, that does kind of imply that are reinstatement is coming at some point.

But to circle back to the tweet that you mention, when I posted on Wednesday, never in my wildest dreams that I imagine that I would get in trouble for that. At the time, you might remember that that was in the news, the @elonjet account because it had been banned on Twitter, despite Elon saying his commitment to free speech extended even to that account, which he clearly did not like, and thought endangered his family for reasons that are kind of unclear to me.

But when I posted that on Wednesday morning, I certainly thought it was innocuous. And then hours later, Elon announced this new policy river linking two accounts of that sort he's construing as a threat, as doxxing. And so, when I log in to Twitter yesterday evening, after getting messages from people that my account has been suspended, I had a notice at the top of my account that indeed, I had been permanently suspended, and here we are.

BROWN: Yeah, you must have been pretty darn surprised by that.

So last night, Musk said that posting a link to someone's personal information is the same as posting that personal information outright. Let's take a look at some of this heated back and forth with journalists.


DREW HARRELL, JOURNALIST: I never posted your address.

ELON MUSK, TWITTER OWNER: You posted a link to the address.

HARRELL: We posted a link in the course of reporting about ElonJet, we posted links to @elonjet, which are now not online, and now banned on Twitter.

MUSK: You dox, you get suspended, end of story. That's it.

KATIE NOTOPOULOS, JOURNALIST: Elon, I have to ask. And I think what everyone is wondering is, it's highly unusual for a journalist at "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" to have their Twitter account suspended. And it just so happens that it's, you know, the boss in charge. You know? So, you know, what is the deal there? Oh, I think Elon has left.


BROWN: So, of course, we should note here, Musk does own Twitter. It is a private company. He essentially can do as he pleases.

Why should the public be paying attention to this story, Aaron? For those of us who maybe aren't on Twitter, or are not as engaged in that community?

RUPAR: That's a good question. I mean, I can't really begrudge people for not caring. I've actually been kind of surprised today how much people care. I've been doing media hits all day, including some international hits, including some international outlets who have asked me about the free speech aspect of this. I've explained to them that, as you mention, Elon Musk owns the platform. The rules are his determine at this point. If he wants to kick people out of his playground, so to speak, he's welcome to do that.

I mean, I do think Twitter has been very vital for reporters in the past decade or so in terms of reporting, gathering information, talk to sources. So to the extent the journalists are trying to inform the public about things that are going on lose access to a vital tool, you, know that can damage society more broadly in terms of getting timely information out, clear formation, accurate information.

But, you know, I can certainly understand if you're not on Twitter and kind of seeing this as sort of obscure story. So, you know, to me, obviously, it's a vital professional tool. I run a newsletter business. I have 800,000 or so followers, or have that money. Often, that hurts.

But, again, if people don't care. I can't blame him for that. That

BROWN: No, I follow you on Twitter. I'm more of a observer than a tweet or, myself. But it is a vital tool that I use a lot in my reporting to see what's going on. And I think that context that you gave is important.

Aaron Rupar, thank you so much.

RUPAR: Thank you, Pamela. Great to join you.

BROWN: Well, OUTFRONT up next, the missing American college student studying in France has been found alive in Spain. So what happened during those two weeks when he completely vanished? His father and stepmother are next.

Plus, Chinese leader Xi Jinping puts his reputation on line by pushing a controversial zero COVID policy. Now the plan is gone, COVID cases are skyrocketing in China and Xi is nowhere to be found. We're live in Beijing.



BROWN: Tonight, the American college student reported missing more than two weeks ago while studying abroad in France is alive tonight. His father getting the news as he was speaking with our producer that his son was actually in Spain.

So the big question tonight, what was he doing for two weeks and why did he seem to vanish without a trace?

Melissa Bell is OUTFRONT.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After more than two weeks, word from an American student who vanished in France, the family of what Kenny DeLand Jr. had been waiting for.

SASKYA VANDOORNE, CNN SENIOR FIELD PRODUCER: And then he just stopped and said, wait, wait. It is Kenny. I have to go. And the line went dead.

BELL: CNN producer Saskya Vandoorne was on the phone with Kenney DeLand Sr. when he got the call from his son.

VANDOORNE: It was about 15 minutes later that he called me back, and he just said, "He's alive".

BELL: The family later releasing a statement saying in part, we are so happy to announce that Kenny is safe. Kenny is in Spain and his mother is in France preparing to see Kenny and hopefully bring him home for Christmas.

Adding, without the media's help, Kenny would not have seen himself in the news.

The 21-year-old senior at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York, had been studying abroad at University of Grenoble Alpes. His parents said they had not heard from him since November 27th.

KENNY DELAND SR., FATHER OF KENNY DELAND: For him to not reach out with no correspondence, this is very uncharacteristic of my son. And this is what creates all the worry that any parent could ever feel.

BELL: His fellow students reported him missing on November 29th, prompting Grenoble prosecutor, Eric Vaillant, to launch an investigation and prompting his parents to create a website seeking answers.

He was reportedly seen at a store in December 3rd, about 90-minute drive from the school. During the search, a woman who hosted him in France said he may have

left voluntarily, echoing a theory that Grenoble prosecutor put forward earlier this week.

On Thursday, Interpol issued a yellow notice, which are used to help locate missing persons, often minors, or to help identify persons who are unable to identify themselves, according to Interpol's website.

And now, a day later, part of the mystery that sparked a multinational search, thankfully solved.


BELL: Now, Pamela, one of the things we learned yesterday was as he left his house, his house mothers house carrying just a change of clothes, his wallet, a phone, was he also had his passport with him. Now, did that signal the intent to cross the border? We don't know for the time being.

All we know as he was found in Spain today. That's where he finally called his father after 17 long days of no news at all -- Pamela.

BROWN: Melissa Bell, thank you.

And OUTFRONT now, Kenny's father, Kenneth DeLand and his stepmother, Jennifer DeLand.

Hi to you both. I'm sure you're both feeling so much relief tonight.

Kenneth, you waited 17 long days to get this call, finally, from your son. Tell us about that moment. And what he said to you.

KENNETH DELAND, FATHER OF STUDENT WHO WAS MISSING IN FRANCE: Well, like they said earlier. I was on a phone with me Saskya Vandoorne and the call came through. And, you know, I couldn't believe my eyes that he was actually calling. Because I tried nearly every day on WhatsApp to reach out to him and it was pretty emotional. I was not showing great composure when I was talking with Saskya Vandoorne.

The stress of this situation was really building and so it was a pretty good feeling to be able to talk to him. And it's just seems surreal, the whole situation. And now it is finally, you know, last chapter, you know? We are hopefully going to get him home for Christmas. So --

BROWN: You say, hopefully.

Jennifer, are you worried that he won't be home in time? That, you know, that you can't say for sure that the ending is so happy right now?

JENNIFER DELAND, STEPMOTHER OF STUDENT WHO WAS MISSING IN FRANCEIt's hard to say. You know, we are remaining hopeful, which is what we've been trying to do. We were really just trying to stay strong and positive that, especially with this weekend coming up, hoping that he would be home. So our emotions have just been all over the place. So it is kind of hard sometimes to believe, I guess.

BROWN: I'm sure. I can't imagine the rollercoaster, especially today. As you said, Kenneth, you're allowed to not have composure on a day like today when you thought, maybe you had feared the worst. And then you get a phone call from your son.

Tell us a little bit more about what he said to you. I mean, what more can you tell us about what he has been up to four more than two weeks? Why he did not respond to your -- like you said, you are reaching out on WhatsApp. Why he was just not reaching out?

K. DELAND: Yeah, he didn't really disclose a bunch of details yet. He did say he was in Spain which completely caught me off guard. I took the phone upstairs and I woke up Jennifer. And I made sure Austin was up so they could hear Kenny's voice, because we are all just waiting with baited breath for him to come home. He made mention that -- dad, stop contacting news outlets, you know?

And I said, but, can, this is what parents do. We are worried about you. I am going to contact as many people as I can to get the word out there. And he said, well, you got the word, out day. I saw myself on the news.

BROWN: And that's why he reached out, right?

So, the last sighting of Kenny was captured on this surveillance video from November 3rd -- a store about 90 miles from campus. That was two weeks ago. Jennifer, can you tell us anything more about why he left France without telling anyone?

J. DELAND: I honestly can't, because we just really did not discuss a lot of details today. You know, we were just trying to tell him how happy we were to hear from him and how much we loved him and missed him, and can't wait to see him. We have lots of time to talk about that stuff. So we figured, you know, we were just going to -- let him how much we love him and --

K. DELAND: I think at this point, just show him how much we love him and get him home, coordinate the -- you know, he has to get from Spain to wherever his mom is. And, believe me, there will be time for asking questions. And I'm sure you guys will probably want to reach back out.

And he will get the good parent interrogation process, with the bright light shining on him and whatnot.


BROWN: Yeah.

K. DELAND: So, no worries there. That will happen.

BROWN: Yeah. And reporters are nosy bunch. We like to know the answers to things right away. But understandably --

J. DELAND: So are we. BROWN: So are you. And as you said, you will be interrogating in due

time. But in that you are feeling that relief and you are feeling the happiness and the love for your son.

Kenneth and Jennifer DeLand, thanks for sharing your time with us tonight.

J. DELAND: Of course. Thank you.

K. DELAND: I do have to add, Saskya and Melissa really were, you know, paramount in getting answers.

J. DELAND: Absolutely.

K. DELAND: And a shout goes out to both of those ladies for all that they did for us. You know, we really appreciate it.

BROWN: They are wonderful journalists, that's for sure. Thank you both.

J. DELAND: Thank you.

K. DELAND: Thank you.

BROWN: OUTFRONT, up next on this Friday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping absent as he pulls a 180 on his all out war on COVID. But the virus is tearing through China.

And tonight, an expert in his country says coronavirus is no worse than a cold.

Plus, tourists trapped. The U.S. now taking action to try to get Americans who are caught in the middle of deadly protests home.

We'll be right back.



BROWN: Tonight, China's U-turn on COVID. A prominent epidemiologist in the country now saying, it should be called the, quote, coronavirus cold. This is a major shift for the Chinese government after nearly three years of forcing the public to live under its zero COVID approach, stoking fears about the virus and forcing residents to go to government quarantine facilities. And when even just a single case in a city like Shanghai, where 25 million people -- that could trigger lockdowns. Not anymore.

Selina Wang is OUTFRONT live from Beijing.

So, what is going on here, Selina? The government now trying to downplay COVID. How is the healthcare system -- how are the people now coping with this outbreak?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I cannot overemphasize, Pamela, just how drawing a contrast this is for a country that's been going through these harsh lockdowns and zero COVID rules for the past three years. A lot of people were caught off guard by this sudden reopening. They felt like they were given enough time resources to get ready.

Across the country, fever medicine, antigen test kits, they're incredibly hard to get. And out of stock here in the capital. The only way to get antigen test in Beijing right now are through these unofficial sellers on social media. People across China are also relying on friends and family overseas to try to send medicine. It's also hard to get delivery of anything right now, especially groceries, with so many driver down with COVID. It's gotten to the point to some districts in Beijing are actually encouraging residents to volunteer as of delivery drivers.


Now, considering how obsessed the government is with control, it's striking how little preparation there has been for this dramatic exit from zero COVID. The country now scrambling to boost the elderly vaccination rate and increase ICU capacity. At a state media event, some health experts even admitted that we were not super-prepared and, quote, certain aspects. The chief infectious disease officer at a Beijing hospital said they have been outbreaks among doctors, nurses, other staff members, putting a strain on the system.

BROWN: So then where is President Xi Jinping in all of this?

WANG: Well, he hasn't made any public remarks on this pivot away from zero COVID. The last time he was quoted in state media was on November 10th, where he vowed to unswervingly carry out, quote, dynamic zero COVID, pledging to resolutely win the battle.

And then on December 7th, that's the day the government announced this drastic U-turn on zero COVID, Xi boarded a flight to Saudi Arabia for a state visit.

But all this is not surprising since Xi is often silent during times of uncertainty, like the early days of the Wuhan outbreak -- the lockdown -- experts say Xi appears to be temporarily distancing himself from others. He doesn't want to tie himself closely to the reopening in case it lead to nationwide chaos and devastation -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Selina Wang, live in Beijing. Thanks so much.

Well, OUTFRONT next, American tourists fearing for their lives as they find himself in the middle of violent protests in Peru. And tonight, a scramble to get them out.


BROWN: Tonight, plans are underway to evacuate Americans trapped in Peru, a country that has descended into chaos after the removal of the president there who was arrested after plans to dissolve Congress. At least 20 protesters are now dead. And in the ancient city of Machu Picchu, hundreds are stranded. The

mayor there warning that they are running low on food, and he is also pleading for helicopters in order to help with the evacuations because the only way in and out of the town is by train, and those services have all been suspended.

Well, thank you so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.