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Erin Burnett Outfront

Putin For The First Time Calls Ukraine Invasion A "War; Cassidy Hutchinson: Trump Allies Pressured Me To Stop Cooperating; Reps For Ex-Georgian President, A Putin Foe, Say He Has Been Poisoned; 150+ Million Under Wind Chill Alerts, Blizzard Warnings In 8 States; CNN Tracks What Happens To Some Migrant Families Seeking Asylum; China's Crematoriums Overwhelmed With Bodies As COVID Rages. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 22, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Putin calls it a war. The Russian president using a word that he's outlawed to describe his own invasion. It is a major development possibly with serious implications.

Plus, a former world leader and guest who's appeared on this program in prison tonight, his health failing. His son's lawyer says he's been poisoned. They say Putin is involved and they're OUTFRON tonight.

And morgues in China overflowing, full of people who were sick from COVID. The government is saying, though, they're not COVID deaths. Why? We're live in Beijing tonight with a special report.

Let's go out front.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Putin calls it a war. For the first time, Vladimir Putin using the word "war" to describe his brutal invasion of Ukraine. For ten months, it's been called a special operation. In fact the word war has been banned. And then today, hours after Zelenskyy visited with Biden in Washington, Putin said this.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict but on the contrary to end this war. We have been and will continue to strive for this.


BURNETT: War. Look, the word war is not semantics for Putin, calling this a war, which again has not been allowed. It's been banned. It has serious implications because it allows Putin to call for full mobilization and impose marshal law across Russia if he wants to.

And Putin's use of the word war comes after his defense minister said Russia was going to be upping its fighting force by half a million soldiers. So it is unclear whether Putin finally slipped up in using the word war, but to be clear, it is not a word he has used in ten months. And he said it as we're getting yet another phone call showing the dire straits among those Putin already has called to his frontlines.

This intercepted was provided to us by Ukrainian intelligence and what you're going to hear tonight is a call from a Russian servicewoman and she's talking about how bad things are in Putin's army. Listen for yourself.


SOLDIER (through translator): They don't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) about people anywhere. It's everywhere, not just here. It's so awful. Nobody cares about anyone. They just made camp here in this forest of small trees without any shelter or building, nothing.

When they arrived, they moved here and there, but in the end, they made camp under the open sky amongst some small trees. They built a shelter from the ammunition boxes.

EXPLETIVE DELETED) it's unbelievable. Nobody gives a EXPLETIVE DELETED) about the people. It's the same everywhere.


BURNETT: At the top, when she says "they", she's referring to the commanders. The commanders don't give an F about the people anywhere.

And this intercept comes as newly released U.S. intelligence shows that the Wagner Group is growing even more influential. A top U.S. official saying today that this group, a mercenary group, of course, in Putin's Russia is now getting weapons from North Korea.

And this matters because the Wagner group is notorious. It's one of the most brutal forces in the world even more brutal than Putin's actual army which has already committed some of the worst known atrocities in this war. And tonight for the first time, reporters have spoken with Russian soldiers who are responsible for tragedies, the massacre of civilians in Bucha. It's a massacre Putin has denied despite the clear evidence.


PUTIN (through translator): The dead bodies have been lying in the ruins for months on end decomposing, but nobody cared about them before that. And no one even noticed, just as no one remembers the hundreds of dead civilians in Afghanistan. Then it turned out it was all just a fake just like the fake in Bucha.


BURNETT: Of course, there was no fake in Bucha.

In just a moment I'm going to speak with one of the reporters who found the soldiers who did these atrocities, who committed to them and then actually spoke to them and actually spoke to them on the phone. But, first, Will Ripley in Kyiv tonight awaiting news of the return of

the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

What are you learning, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just one note on Bucha, Erin, I stood near a mass grave with more than 100 men, women and children. People watched their neighbors sit in the streets and rot for a month because they were afraid the Russian soldiers would shoot them, too, execution style if they moved them. That was the reality of life occupied by Russia, for people who are living in a suburb of Kyiv.

Now, we don't know if President Zelenskyy is back here in Kyiv just yet. We do know that there's video emerged tonight from the polish border where he met with the president of Poland, President Dudu -- President Duda, I should say, and the obvious -- if he was taking the train hike he did on his way out, he would have arrived back here by nu, but his movements are kept carefully and closely guarded secret for obvious security reasons. But he did have meeting with the Polish president.

We know that his wife, the first lady of Ukraine, appeared at a conference of ambassadors today. It would make sense if he were to make an appearance tomorrow if the conference does continue. But where that is, whether he'll be showing up, what he'll be saying, those are all open questions.

Meanwhile the significance of Putin calling this a war, Russia has been making up their own narrative throughout this conflict, Erin. But one of lines they said was striking after the Zelenskyy Biden meeting. They said the West -- the West was responsible for turning Ukraine in their words into a hostile terrorist state. They're saying that the West turned Ukraine into a hostile terrorist state as they continued bombing civilian infrastructure and making life miserable for millions of people.

BURNETT: All right. Will Ripley, thank you very much. Live in Kyiv tonight.

And out front now, I want to go to Yousur Al-Hlou, video journalist for "The New York Times."

And I mentioned the incredible investigation that you and your team have done over months about the massacre in Bucha. So can you tell me how you were able to trace the Russian soldiers? Right? This isn't just like, okay, it's Russian soldiers. You got the exact unit and where they're from and their faces and names, who these individuals are and then got them on the phone.

YOUSUR AL-HLOU, NYT VIDEO JOURNALIST: Thank you for having me, Erin. And yeah, it was like you mentioned a month-long process. And like your colleague was on the camera earlier, I was also in Bucha in the earliest days of its liberation in early April and was witness to the bodies that were strewn along the roads. And in one street in particular where dozens of bodies, some with their hands tied, they have been executed.

So, my colleague Masha and I decided along with our colleagues in New York to set out to find who killed these people, these Ukrainian victims along one street. And through the course of our reporting, we heard from residents who lived along the street that their phones had been routinely confiscated. So when Russian soldiers trespassed and entered their homes and search for men of military age, they took their cellphones. So we asked ourselves could they have taken cellphones of victims? Can we identify who might have pulled the trigger or who might have been near that same crime using that sort of piece of evidence.

So while interviewing families of those victims we asked for their relatives, their dead relatives cellphone numbers, and at the same time we obtained hundreds of thousands of phone records from Ukrainian authorities. And we did a very simple search function, which we took every single one of the 40 victims phone numbers, and we sort of -- we looked for them in the phone logs.

And we found that along this one road of at least 41 victims six cellphones were used to dial Russia. Six cellphone numbers belonging to five Ukrainian victims were being used routinely throughout the month of March.

So while we can't say that the soldiers who dialed -- you know, who dialed back home to Russia killed those victims, we can say that those soldiers were near the scene of the crime within hours of the killing of those victims.

BURNETT: And you -- okay, and you then called those numbers? Those cellphones are in Russia, and you spoke to those people on the other end of the line whether it's families or the soldiers they gave the phones to. I mean, tell me about one of those conversations.

AL-HLOU: So, it's the multi-step process because the numbers dialed was a phone number. We identified using that phone number who the relative was, and by analyzing the social media accounts we figured out who the soldier was in that family. I don't speak Russian. My incredible colleague Masha does so together we prepared for the questions and Masha placed those phone calls. She spoke to dozens of family members of over two dozen soldiers, and in two instances spoke to the actual soldiers themselves.

Those two soldiers confirmed their military unit, and they confirmed that they were in Bucha. One of those soldiers admitted that their command was to clear the road to Kyiv. And he admitted that it was a systemic and deliberate clearing operation, meaning that anyone in their way civilian, non-combatant was ground for killing.

BURNETT: Was ground for killing. So, admitted essentially to doing it if not to a specific murder.


What was that conversation like? AL-HLOU: So I think in preparing for these conversations Masha and I

-- you know, to clarify ultimately it was Masha who was on the phone, but our goal was to establish the presence of these soldiers. Could we say these soldiers weren't in Bucha, and could we say which unit they belong to? And ultimately we were able to identify that 24 soldiers belong to one military unit, and that's the 234th regimen which is a paratrooper unit from western Russia.

And as they moved along one road over days and eventually over a month, they kept a trail of evidence. They kept using victims' phones, and they kept killing civilians.

BURNETT: And then they take those phones and use them to call. It's incredible to imagine it, and it's amazing that you were able to track it down and do that extensive forensic work.

Thanks so much to you, Yousur, for coming and for telling us about it, and, of course, all the hard work of you and Masha and the other colleagues as well.

And I want to go now to Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, now executive director of the McCain Institute.

Evelyn, you know, when you listen Yousur lay this out, right, that they were -- it seems the Russians were systemically doing it, they admit to it, but would literally take the cellphones of people after they killed them of innocent civilians and use them to call home, and then bring them home -- bring them to their relative to get that cellphone.

Just to imagine this, right? I know we've talked about it, but Yousur and her team actually showed this happened.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFNESE FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE, EURASIA, BALKANS & CAUCUSUS: It's amazing. It's so impressive how much evidence we can garner now using modern technology. There were some comparisons I saw on the internet, and I served in Bosnia after that war. All they had where photographs. They did not have what we have today, video and then phone records that you can trace back to people.

But it is pretty horrific. I mean, the killing is against the Geneva conventions, and then taking the phone, that is looting. The fact that they can do that and sleep at night is pretty mind-boggling.

BURNETT: Right, especially as they do this investigation, right, you're talking weeks and months, right? These phones are being used. They're now just like, great, we have a new phone, it's part of our new life, which has some sort of level of sick banality to it, for lack of a better description.

Evelyn, you know, Putin uses the word war today for the first time, a word that has been banned. His use of that word ends up being purposeful, it means you can do complete martial law, he can do complete and total mass mobilization. If he were to move in that direction, if that's what this is about,

what would that mean?

FARKAS: Well, I think, Erin, it would mean a lot of unrest in Russia. We saw when he announced partial mobilization which is supposed to be only people who have military experience, which is a lie because they were grabbing people off the metro and the subways in Russia without checking if they had experience, and they're also taking demonstrators and sending them to the front. So, if, indeed, he is not saying that is a war and he can mobilize any Russian men of military age or perhaps older, that would make a lot of Russians uncomfortable, and I think you will see more of them fleeing.

You have already seen the opposition, of course, quite angry because there are many people in jail right now, including Vladimir Kara- Murza, who's one of the pall bearers for Senator McCain's funeral, a very well-known Russian activist dissident. People are in jail and serving real time for having called the war a war when it was illegal. It is still technically illegal.

So, they're saying Vladimir Putin should also served seven years.

BURNETT: It will be amazing to see what happens here because, okay, it could've been a slip of the tongue, but that is not something that the Russian president has done, it's a mistake he has made in ten months. It is -- it is a word with great meaning to him.

Thank you very much, Evelyn. I appreciate your time.

And next, was it witness tampering? We have new transcripts coming in from the January 6 probe since we have been covering it this week. Star witness Cassidy Hutchinson, says she felt pressured by her Trump aligned attorney.

Plus, look at this picture, the former president of Georgia, a pro- West president just one year ago and now in person. Here is what he told me, warned about his foe, Vladimir Putin, on the show in 2017.


MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT: The only thing that America cannot afford to show the Russians, that America is weak.


BURNETT: Tonight, he is dying in prison. His lawyer and son say Putin is the blame, and you'll hear why.

And more than 100 million Americans in major weather danger right now, record setting cold, hurricane-force winds, once in a generation event, they say. We have an up to the moment forecast.


[19:18:35] BURNETT: Tonight, allegations of witness tampering. Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchison said a Trump allied lawyer urged her to stop cooperating with the January 6th committee, even if it meant risking a contempt charge. This is according to newly-released interview transcripts from the committee.

Hutchison says that her lawyer, Stefan Passantino, assured that if she remained loyal to Trump, that she would be, quote, taken care of. The lawyer also told Hutchinson to downplay what she remembered because, quote, the committee does not know what you can, and can't recall.

OUTFRONT now, Ryan Goodman, co-editor in chief of "Just Security", former special counsel with the Defense Department.

Ryan, let's just be clear, right, any of us who have dealt with situations, right, where you're testifying, if you're under oath, you're supposed to answer what you remember. If you don't recall you say you don't recall. If you do recall, you answer to the best of your knowledge.

Hutchinson says this lawyer told her to down -- specifically to downplay her knowledge, to not bring up certain things.

Is there any mind -- doubt in your mind as you read through this and what happened from the perspective of the lawyers that this constitutes obstruction or this is wrong?

RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JUST SECURITY: There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever. He would have to say that he did not say these things to her. One of them is after she answers a question by the committee she doesn't recall, then she says to him I need to tell them, and he says they don't know what you know. So, you can just say you don't recall. That's telling her to lie.


BURNETT: Right. She's saying I recall and he's saying you don't. That -- that is a right. Flat-out lie.


Nixon lawyer's and senior aides went to jail for those kinds of things.

He also says explicitly according to her this is to protect the president. So, if what she says is true, it's open and shut. The question is can she prove it, or could the Justice Department prove it?

And then we have a bunch of corroborating information. She told her mother, she told a friend, contemporaneous she told someone else so they could arrange a back channel to the committee. He also did something very bizarre. He didn't give an engagement letter for his services, okay? There's probably an absence of an engagement letter.

All of these things. There were text messages giving her these job offers right before her testimony before the committee. There's a lot of evidence.

BURNETT: Right. The job offers are disturbing.

So, now, to that point, Hutchinson also talked about an interaction she had with Mark Meadows, of course, the former White House chief of staff so central to all of this. The committee says we don't know whether he's talking to the DOJ or not, but he is at the core of all of it.

She says the night before she's scheduled to go back to the committee for the second time, a Meadows aide tells Hutchinson, quote, well, Mark Meadows wants me to let you know he knows you're loyal and you're going to do the right thing tomorrow and going to protect the boss. That's a very clear --


BURNETT: Very -- very clear. Does this put Meadows in legal jeopardy?

GOODMAN: Absolutely. I mean, the only thing in some sense he can hang onto here he didn't say it directly. According to her that it's through an intermediary who's a senior aide to him, the current spokesperson for him.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, I see a intermediary, I also see words here that are clearly direct, but --

GOODMAN: Absolutely and part of a conduct of other Trump aides. So he's in trouble, and they could use this evidence against him as a coconspirator. His aide is a coconspirator in that former witness tampering.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Ryan.

And OUTFRONT next, the former president of Georgia, a Putin critic, a man who is appeared on this show, saying he's been tortured in prison. Look at what's happened to him in one year. His son is my guest.

And a bomb cyclone. Nearly half the United States population under wind chill alerts from coast to coast at this hour. Life-threatening weather triggering states of emergency. We are tracking the storms.



BURNETT: Tonight, was he poisoned by Putin?

Just look at this. On the left, Putin foe Mikheil Saakashvili one year ago. On the right, Saakashvili today. His lawyers arguing in court today that the former president of the country of Georgia, a long time Putin adversary, was poisoned. They say that tests show heavy metals in his body, and they say Putin is behind it.

And you're going to hear the details in just a moment, because today, Saakashvili looked extremely frail. He attended this court hearing remotely. It was his first public appearance in months after he was imprisoned for corruption upon return to Georgia from the United States.

Saakashvili's appearance coming just after the Ukrainian president Zelenskyy publicly called on the Georgiana government to release Saakashvili. Now, Mikheil Saakashvili is a man I've known for years. He's appeared on the show multiple times.

He was a loud champion for Georgia on the world stage. He fought against Putin when Putin invaded Georgia.

And here is what else Saakashvili says is now happening to him in prison.


MASSIMON D'ANGELO: Do you recall specifically the time you were beaten when they removed your watch?

MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI: That time, they were choking me and strangling me and beating my hands like this, something like that.

D'ANGELO: And were they stepping on your neck?

SAAKASHVILI: They were stepping on my neck. It's all on video, but they deleted video that would show it better.


BURNETT: Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT to begin our coverage with more on Mikheil Saakashvili's story.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): This is what's become of one of the most influential men in the post- Soviet world, Mikheil Saakashvili, allegedly throwing things at an unidentified figure in a clinic in his native Georgia. He's in prison there on charges he says are trumped-up. The authorities released these pictures to show what they call his, quote, abuse and aggressive behavior.

The trailblazing former president has been on and off hunger strike, demanding better medical care.

This week, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to Georgia to give him just that.

Please make a decision that can save his life, the president said. Transfer Mikheil Saakashvili to one of the clinics in Ukraine, another European country, America.

A new thorn in Putin's side standing up for the first.

The young American trained lawyer led street protests to unseat Georgia's long serving president, former Soviet Eduard Shevardnadze back in 2003. The so-called Rose Revolution was a shot of freedom in the region's arm. Similar protests would follow.

SAAKASHVILI: They'll stay here all night and as long as it's necessary to stop mass scale fraud and rigging of these elections.

WALSH: He was the face of liberty fluent in many languages and caused panic in the Kremlin. The darling of U.S. neocons, Saakashvili soon found himself at war with Russia in 2008, a brief conflict in which Putin said he would hang him by his balls. He didn't and Georgia and its president survived.

But by 2023, Saakashvili left office unpopular and protested against despite the wide spread reform he had imposed on Georgia. He got a second lease of life when he left for Ukraine, but it was sweet and suddenly sour.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2015 gave him Ukrainian citizenship so he could govern the region around Odesa, but they quickly fell out. Saakashvili accused Poroshenko of corruption, then began an ugly series of scenes, arrests, protests leading to Saakashvili's return to Georgia to face trial for abuse of power and hospitalization after hunger strikes.

His rise and fall a parable of Russia's continued grip over its empire.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.



BURNETT: And that, of course, was Nick Paton Walsh with that reporting.

Now I want to bring in Massimo D'Angelo, one of Mikheil Saakashvili's lawyers, and, Eduard Saakashvili, his son.

Eduard, I want to start with you and show the side by side of your father, again, just one year ago after he was arrested, compared to how he looks today, frail and weak. These pictures are stark for anyone, but for you, Edward, how hard is it to see your father like this?


It's really awful. And I think -- I mean, what's different for me is that I've actually had a chance to see him. He was hidden from the public for months, but I've had a chance to visit him in prison over time. And the painful part there has just been watching him slowly decline and then more quickly in the last few months.

And in a way as shocking as the images now are, how awful his health is, the up side is that at least now it's undeniable because the government has been making insinuations it's all fake, et cetera. But when you see this footage, it's completely obvious how far he's declined. So that is kind of one bit at least as shocking as it is, that now there's going to be hopefully more pressure and, you know, outrage at what's happened.

BURNETT: Massimo, a moment ago I played the audio clip that you had shared with us about Mikheil. He was detailing one instance of alleged abuse because of a watch he was wearing is what he says this was about. He told you he was assaulted when he was transferred from the prison to the hospital as well. And I want to play part of that exchange. Here it is.


MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI: I was dragged, kicked, beaten --


SAAKASHVILI: Yeah, for sure.

D'ANGELO: When were you beaten?

SAAKASHVILI: When they forcibly took me out of out of the car because under Georgia law and procedure, they had no right to take someone to hospital if there is no written consent.


BURNETT: So, allegations of abuse, physical assault, rapid deteriorating health as Edouard and talking about. Just to be clear you believe that Putin is behind this, right?

D'ANGELO: Yes, absolutely. And people forget that in 2008 Putin did exactly what he's doing now in Ukraine to Georgia. Under the color of darkness he invaded Georgia. And just like President Zelenskyy is doing today in Ukraine, Saakashvili stood up and fought back.

And because of this, the Kremlin and Putin specifically became his arch nemesis, number one enemy. And because of everything that Saakashvili did in westernizing the country was adverse to what Putin wanted and the Kremlin wanted. And Saakashvili tried to announce to the world that he foreshadowed everything that Putin is doing today to bring the Soviet republic back and to annex the territories that were previously part of the Soviet Republic.

BURNETT: So -- so, Edouard, you know, as Massimo is talking about your father obviously was the president of Georgia when Putin invaded it in 2008. He knows Putin. And even after he left office, he spoke out when he could to warn countries about Putin. He was very vocal about it.

Here's some of what he told me. This is in 2017. He raised his voice. He said this.


MIKHEIL SAASHKAVILI: He likes people he can really manipulate and intimidate. And the only thing that America cannot afford to show the Russians that America is weak because the only thing Putin appreciates -- everybody knows that -- is sheer force.


BURNETT: Eduard, your father believed Putin was a threat to the world. He took great risk to expose that. He returned to Georgia at risk of being imprisoned to make that -- to stand up for that.

Does he have any regrets now about speaking out or about returning?

SAAKASHVILI: I wouldn't say he has regrets about speaking out. I think he very much is what he's always stood for. I don't want to speak for him. I would say that given what has happened, you know, that was a misstep because, you know, obviously the writing was on the wall about how the Georgian authorities are going to react.

Obviously, it's been way worse than any of us were expecting. You know, it's one thing to put somebody in prison. And that's terrible for the family and everything, but to put somebody in this state after just a year of imprisonment where they quite obviously and literally are on the verge of fighting for their life.


That's -- that was unexpected. So -- yeah, so I mean, I would definitely regret going back knowing that that's what would happen. But of course at the time it was difficult to tell.

BURNETT: Right. And, Massimo, when you talk about these heavy metals that have been tested for in his body, do you know anything about these and why they lead you to think about poisoning and Putin, which, of course, has been associated and accused of poisonings in the past. We know that's sort of a fingerprint of Russia's tactics.

D'ANGELO: Sure. We certainly know that's how they operate. And what we did is we composed a team of five independent medical experts, some of the top medical experts in the world, Nobel Peace Prize winners, Congressional Medal of Honor winners and a well-known toxicologist.

And while I was in Georgia getting the tapes that we listened to earlier, my neurologist was there with me and we took samples, hair and nail samples from Saakashvili as well as a biopsy of some of his fat tissue in his stomach area. And we sent them back to a lab in the United States for testing.

And those tests along with some of the blood testing results we received revealed heavy metals, arsenic, mercury, among others. So that is what told us that he was being poisoned. In addition to that he is undergoing what's called a poly pharmacy. He's on a regimen of at least 14 different drugs and most of which are non-FDA approved Russian drugs.

One of them in particular is highly addictive. And to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, our toxicologists have indicated Saakashvili needs immediate detoxification. And you can see the images from court today and his rapid decline. And he's dying. And without U.S. assistance and EU assistance, he will die in prison a political prisoner.

BURNETT: Eduard, do you have hope that you will see your father again free and healthy?

SAAKASHVILI: I mean, I do have hope. It's a kind of hope against hope. It's a very difficult situation, but there is some hope just because of the level of consensus now building this is completely unacceptable.

BURNETT: Eduard, thank you very much for joining us to talk about your father.

And, Massimo, thank you for being with us and sharing those tapes as well. Thank you both.

D'ANGELO: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next tonight, blizzard warnings are going up as more than 100 million Americans brace for a once in a generation deep freeze. We have an up to the moment live update for you.

And heart break at the border where the temperatures are dropping below zero soon. Meet the human beings affected by Title 42. You'll see a Venezuelan family who made it to the U.S. on foot and was expelled immediately to Mexico.



BURNETT: Tonight the bomb cyclone, 150 million Americans, half the United States population under winter weather alerts. You're looking at blizzard conditions. These images that you're looking at are in Nebraska right now.

At this hour, blizzard warnings already in eight states as this once in a generation -- that's what they're telling us it is -- winter storm is sweeping across virtually the entire country. Life- threatening weather triggering states of emergencies already. Airlines already canceling more than 2,200 flights today, more than 6,500 delays, and it's going to be worse tomorrow, way worse.

Erie County, New York, tonight is just an example expecting up to 3 feet of snow. Minnesota already has dangerous road conditions. Spokane, Washington, temperatures are at negative 27 degrees, which is nothing apparently compared to Montana. Florida is expecting its coldest Christmas since 1983, in nearly 40 years.

I want to go straight to Derek Van Dam who is in the CNN weather center.

Derek, it's pretty incredible to see something like this covering pretty much the entire country. Where the most dangerous conditions expected over these next 24 hours?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN WEATHER ANCHOR: Erin, this is like a big sucker punch to the central parts of the U.S. and this arctic outbreak, that is our main concern but second and also very important is the blizzard conditions that will settle in behind it. We'll try to highlight just the snow at first.

From the National Weather Service, an update from them, right across central Indiana and to southern Michigan. This is an area they've highlighted for the potential of snow squalls. That means visibility dropping below a quarter of a mile. Here is the arctic front. It just moved through Minneapolis, Cincinnati, you're next. Your temperatures will tumble in the coming hours.

Interstate 80 moving east and west out of Chicago all the way into 96 across western Michigan. That is an area that is going to be hammered by heavy snowfall.

So, this cold front marches eastward. The windy weather and the arctic air that settles in behind it, it is a one-two punch. It's got its eyes set on the east coast, but I think we're going to keep that all rain.

Let's track this because the temperature drop here is absolutely phenomenal. Nashville, you're sitting at 48 degrees. You advance this less than six hours, just by midnight tonight you're going to drop over 30 degrees Fahrenheit and that's not the end of it.

The cold front marches east, Atlanta, you're next, and then D.C. to New York, your temperatures tumble this weekend -- Erin.

BURNETT: I mean, incredible. Looking at temperatures 9 degrees and this is not even with wind chill. I mean, I'm just looking there, Tennessee down to 4 degrees. It's absolutely -- it's amazing to see this.

All right. Derek, thank you very much. As we're watching this it's going to be crucial over the next 24 hours, really 48 hours as it marches across the country.

And next, we're going to take you to the border where migrants are enduring what is bone chilling temperatures dropping and dropping there. They are stuck outside, don't have the right clothes and everything else. And one family was turned away from the U.S. after a harrowing months-long journey to get her from Venezuela. We're going to take you to border live.

And there's so many dead bodies in China's massive COVID crisis right now, that they can't be burned fast enough.


Sounds disgusting to say it but this is what's happening. What's going on in China tonight?

We're going to live to Beijing and our Selina Wang.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Tonight, do not risk your life. That's a direct quote from U.S. border officials who are warning migrants against crossing the southern border, as this incredible arctic chill is expected to set in, all the way there. As the fate of thousands hangs in the balance, while the Supreme Court weighs whether or not to end Title 42, the controversial Trump era policy that Biden kept in place, that was expelling migrants at the border.

One family's arduous two months journey highlighting the harsh reality that there are no guarantees when they get there.

Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Yeison Virguez and his wife Zuleima walked across the Rio Grande with their two children last week, the family felt like they had finally escape their lives in Venezuela's socialist nightmare.

They were overwhelmed with tears of relief and joy. They survived an often terrifying 2 1/2 month journey traveling from South America into Central America and Mexico.


Did you think reaching this point was going to be so emotional?

He says they never thought the journey from Venezuela would be so painful. Zuleima tearfully said they took this risk for their children. The family stepped across the Rio Grande thinking they had reached the mountaintop.

Where are you?

The family is now in Mexico City. Yeison says the day after the family turned themselves in to U.S. Border agents, they were flown to South Texas, and bused across the border to Matamoros. He says Mexican officials then drove them and a bus full of migrants to Mexico City.

It took just five days to get pushed back down the mountain.

This has to be very confusing for you.

I don't understand it, he says. We were all scared on the airplane. We didn't know what was going to happen. And we didn't even get a chance to ask for asylum.

There are still hundreds of migrants lining up at the border wall to get into the United States, but getting in is far from guaranteed. The Department of Homeland Security reports that over the last week here in the El Paso area alone, 3,400 migrants have been expelled under Title 42.

Thousands of migrants kept turning themselves in to border authorities. The public health restriction known as Title 42 is still being used to quickly expel migrants. It is a confusing system and difficult for those migrants to figure out who stays and who goes.

Yeison and Zuleima now have to figure out what to do next.

When I saw you crossing into the U.S. you were crying. Have you lost faith?

I'm an optimist he says. I hope to touch someone's heart. My wife and son are depressed. We just want an opportunity.

Right before Yeison, Zuleima, and their children crossed the Rio Grande last week, they were so hopeful. They snapped this family selfie. Yeison says his family will not forget touching U.S. soil even if it was just for a brief moment.

He says it was a strong blow to be sent back to Mexico but that he doesn't want to give up and he wants to do whatever is necessary to give his wife and children a better life.


LAVANDERA (on camera): And tonight, Erin, on the streets of downtown El Paso, a potentially dangerous situation unfolding. Temperatures are expected to plummet to about 19, 20 degrees. We have noticed that today, a much larger number of migrants on the streets with nowhere to go, shelter capacity overwhelmed.

This is the door to the Sacred Heart Church. In a few minutes migrants will be allowed in but there is a great deal of concern because many of the migrants will be sleeping on the streets tonight -- Erin.

BURNETT: Those temperatures obviously way too cold for that for anyone to emerge healthy, possibly could die.

Ed, thank you very much.

And next, the horror in China. Crematoriums working overtime, and the government doesn't want you to know it's because of COVID. Wait until you see this incredible reporting and footage from Selina Wang in Beijing.



BURNETT: Tonight, morgues overflowing. You're looking at images of an overwhelmed morgue in China. Workers at funeral homes and crematoriums reportedly working extra hours to deal with the surge in what they are calling COVID deaths.

Now despite this, China formally reporting no new COVID deaths, none.

Selina Wang is OUTFRONT in Beijing tonight.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The burning can't go fast enough.

The smoke behind me has been billowing constantly from all the bodies burning and these crates are all full of yellow body bags.

Workers later opened the metal containers here at a major Beijing crematorium revealing rows of body bags as they load more coffins in the freezing cold temperatures.

Crematoriums in major cities are swamped as COVID sweeps the country. But China has only reported a small handful of COVID deaths since reopening late last month.

I spoke to a man earlier who said his close friend passed away from a fever. Normally, the hospital would hold the body but told him there are too many dead bodies. He said he has been waiting for hours and still has no idea if his friend's body can get cremated today.

There is a long line of cars that snakes around the whole area waiting to get into the cremation area. I'm in the parking lot right now and it is completely full of cars. I am speaking here because there are many security guards patrolling the entire area.

Grieving family members clutch photos of the deceased. Some tell us off camera they know their loved ones died from COVID and waited more than a day for cremation. Busy shops nearby sell items with paper money, clothes, houses, and animals used in burial traditions strewn on the side of the road.

A woman who sells flowers says she is running out of stock. A man selling urns says business has jumped. Even the convenience store and crematorium grounds are getting busier.

Normally you aren't so busy, right, I asked? The man nods and tells me normally there is nobody here.

It is not just in Beijing. Social media video shows crowded crematoriums and funeral homes around the country. At this funeral home in Jinan, the man is saying, it's going insane. Here it is packed with cars.

Vans carrying bodies stretch all the way to the distance in front of this crematorium.

This is a COVID designated hospital in Beijing. There has been a steady stream of elderly patients in wheelchairs being let into this hospital. I spoke to a man waiting outside for his elderly family member who he said is very sick with a high fever from COVID but he said this hospital is running out of bed space.

I asked the worker outside of this hospital, did a lot of people die here? Yes, every day, he responds. I asked, is it all because of COVID? Yes. People with underlying conditions, he says.

China is now going through the painful reopening the rest of the world has already gone through, but it's not sharing the same data. The government now says it is narrowing the definition of COVID-19 deaths only to patients who died of respiratory failure directly caused by the virus.

People we spoke to at the crematoriums may have said their loved ones died of COVID but their deaths and so many others won't be counted in the official tally.


WANG (on camera): And, Erin, it is no surprise that state media is ignoring the scenes we've shown in the story. But for much of the pandemic, Chinese state TV was showing America's overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums repeatedly. The message was look at China's low death toll in comparison, proof that China's system is superior.

But even after reopening, China is still claiming the death toll is low, that less than ten people have died of COVID this month in total. So amid skepticism over the number, the government says it has changed the way it counts COVID deaths. Their method, it goes against the World Health Organization's guidelines and will severely underestimate the true death toll -- Erin.

BURNETT: Selina, thank you very much. Incredible images. The car lines with dead bodies. Wow.

Thanks so much to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" begins now.