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Erin Burnett Outfront

Russians Shell Key Ukraine Southern Region 50 Times In Just 24 Hours; Russian Soldier Accused Of Beating Commander To Death; White House Aide Testified Trump Griped About "Effin' Pence" After January 6; D.A. Now Looking At GOP Rep.-Elect's "Stunning" Resume Lies; Southwest Airlines Stock Falls 5 Percent As Cancellations Snowball; Migrants Continue To Flock To Border Despite Title 42 Ruling; U.S. To Require Negative COVID Test From Chinese Travelers. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 28, 2022 - 19:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Russian rockets raining down on one region, 50 strikes in just the past 24 hours as Putin's forces are in turmoil. Tonight, one Russian soldier is now accused of killing his commander.

Plus, incoming Congressman George Santos under even more scrutiny tonight. A district attorney now looking into the New York Republican's litany of lies as CNN's KFILE uncovers even more discrepancies about his education.

And a COVID crackdown. The U.S. announcing it will now require travelers from China, where COVID is raging, to show a negative test before entering the country. What's China's response?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Sara Sidner, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, 50 rocket strikes in just 24 hours. That's the extent of Russia's brutal onslaught in the Kherson region of southern Ukrainian according to a Ukrainian official. And now, civilians there are being urged to evacuate immediately. It comes as intense fighting is underway in eastern Ukraine where Russian troops are moving out of a key city of Kreminna, according to a Ukrainian military official, who says it could be a crucial first towards cutting off Russia's logistic lines in the east.

All of it happening amid reports of chaos within the Russian military. Russian troops abandoned on the battlefield and taking incoming fire from one of their own tanks. That is according to a newly obtained phone intercept that Ukraine's defense intelligence says it from one irate Russian soldier, though CNN cannot independently verify that or when the call happened. But take a listen to this.


SOLDIER 1 (through translator): We only have 700 men left. A third battalion joined us. Then there were three strikes, three rockets, and they high-tailed it out of here. They just abandoned us. They just (EXPLETIVE DELETED) ran off.

SOLDIER 2 (through translator): That's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.

SOLDIER 1 (through translator): Seven of us were left alone. We walked half the day. Then we just found a spot to lie low for the night. We didn't sleep at all. We waited for the first sunlight and set off again, eventually coming across our own guys. There were only 30 of them left. Our tank, our own tank was shooting at us, 17 of us up real good.


SIDNER: That disorder isn't isolated to the front lines. A Russian outlet now reporting that a drunken soldier recently beat his commanding officer to death.

Ben Wedeman is OUTFRONT in Kyiv.

Ben, Russia's bombardment of Ukrainian cities appears to show no sign of letting up at this point.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara, it's a pattern we've seen before. Russia suffers a humiliating defeat and strikes back by hammering with rocket and artillery, artillery in newly liberated areas. There doesn't seem to be any logic to it, and often the victims are the most vulnerable.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Fighting grinds on in Ukraine in a largely unchanged front line. Russia's failures on the battlefield have pushed the Kremlin toward escalating strikes on civilian infrastructure. The latest target: maternity hospital in Kherson.

This is where we put women and children, says this head obstetrician Inna Filofeeva. When the bombs fell, women fled to the basement with their newborn babies.

We helped those who just gave birth, she says. They're the type of women who will go where they have to go with their children. Everyone was here and worked together very quickly.

Somehow, no one was hurt. But the attack spreads fear among the few who remain.

I was thinking about that baby that was lying there, says Olena Yatsyk, another obstetrician, about our women, about the children we are welcoming to this world. It's all scary. We are giving birth here, and someone is taking it away. For what?

Whether from mortars, tanks, rockets or artillery, Kherson has felt the full force of Russian shelling in recent days. The southern Ukrainian city was liberated in November from occupying forces still eager to make their presence felt. [19:05:10]

In Kyiv, French defense minister met Ukrainian counterpart. The pair laid a wreath at the capitol's wall of remembrance.

According to the U.N., as of December 26th, 6,884 Ukrainian civilians have been killed since the war began. Plus, nearly 11,000 injured.

And the U.N. says the actual number of dead is probably much, much higher.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And this evening, we are hearing reports that there were multiple attempted Russian strikes on Dnipro, Kharkiv, and Mykolaiv, apparently using drones. But according to Ukrainian officials, most were brought down by air defenses -- Sara.

SIDNER: Ben, you always give us the best stories. I appreciate you.

And OUTFRONT now, retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He is a CNN military analyst.

And Doug London, a 44-year veteran of CIA's clandestine service and author of "The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence". Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. The Ukrainian military says that Russia is in the process of leaving Kreminna and that the ferocious Russian assault in Bakhmut is not breaking the Ukrainian's positions. Those are two key cities in the east.

Does any of this mean we are any closer to some sort of an end to what is now a protracted war?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, not at all, Sara. I mean, they're important milestones, certainly the retaking of those cities. But as President Zelenskyy said today in his address to the country, there have been over 1,800 cities that have been retaken by the Ukrainian military. Kreminna and Bakhmut are certainly strongholds, and they are the key to other locations in the Donbas region.

But from a tactical perspective, you have to gain those territorial key points in order to make more headway. It doesn't mean the end. Certainly there's a whole lot more fighting going on. But it does mean that the Ukrainian forces have been continuously successful in the Donbas front.

And it's causing the Russian forces to maneuver forces between the Donbas and the Kherson region. Because Russia cannot afford to lose either of those territories, as President Putin said today when he disregarded the potential for peace talks and said we have to keep these four territories. And, of course, President Zelenskyy of Ukraine said there is no way that's happening because we have been so successful.

So, yeah, those are Kreminna and Bakhmut, critically important tactical battles. But it's certainly not the end of all this. SIDNER: All right. That's helpful.

Doug, Kherson, as you just heard, has been enduring some 50 Russian rocket strikes in just the past 24 hours. And we heard from Ben Wedeman, one of the targets was a maternity ward. Months ago, Putin declared Kherson a part of Russia. What is the logic of destroying it, then?

DOUGLAS LONDON, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF FOR SOUTH & SOUTHWEST ASIA: Thanks, Sara. It makes no sense to us, right? It doesn't make any military sense. But Putin is losing control on the battlefield. What he can't afford to lose control of is the information war. And this is part of it.

Putin needs to come out to appear strong, certain, in charge. And he's striking back with memories of Leningrad and Stalingrad during the siege in World War II, to show that Russia will not let the enemy take their territory, having said Kherson is Russia forever. So, this is very consistent for what we'll see.

We'll see these actions. General Hertling mentioned the retaliation, the need to show a projection of power and strength. He's using the young people at home. Military-aged males are leaving the country.

He's got to aim for that generation that wants stability, that wants a strongman, that remembers the financial meltdown of 1998. So we'll see more of this over the course of events.

SIDNER: The worst things gets, the more crazy the propaganda gets is usually the way of things. General Hertling, here is more from that intercepted call that you heard earlier, that Ukraine's defense intelligence says is between two Russian soldiers discussing the lack of discipline and questionable tactics inside their own ranks.

Let's take a listen.


SOLDIER 1 (through translator): We are at the front, but our tank is hanging back. What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is that?

SOLDIER 2 (through translator): That's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.

SOLDIER 1 (through translator): The tank isn't out front with the man in the rear. It's the man out front and the tank in the rear. We don't have regular soldiers here. They're all mobilized.


SIDNER: Okay. Is this the normal fog of war that happens in a long- term war?


Or is this an indication of something else? HERTLING: You know, Sara, what I'll say is in every army in the

world, there is the expression, those bastards at higher headquarters don't know what they're doing. The tanks in the rear, the soldiers in the front.

But this is anecdotal information we have seen this repeatedly in the Russian army because they are in-disciplined in their operational security in using communication. Ukraine is harvesting this kind of information to show the morale of the Russian army.

And when you have soldiers that are saying, hey, the tanks are in the rear, which truthfully is where they're supposed to be looking for the potential for a breakthrough where the tanks can mass against an enemy force. And the soldiers don't know any different.

That tells me a couple of things. Morale is low, commanders aren't communicating with their soldiers, soldiers don't know what the plan is. Soldiers don't know what they're doing.

This has been the recurring theme in the Russian army since the very beginning of this campaign. And it just -- it continues to be elaborated in these kind of intercepted communications we see.

So, yes, the Russian force is in bad shape. They have the mobilized forces at the front. And they continue to be cannon fodder for Mr. Putin's army.

SIDNER: Doug, I want to go due now because this is a really strange and interesting report. A Russian news outlet reporting that a Russian soldier beat his commanding officer to death. I mean, you just heard from General Hertling about the chaos and disorder you mentioned some of it yourself.

What does this mean as a whole? I mean, when you hear some of these things, are the Russian people putting any of this blame on Putin himself?

LONDON: Well, Putin is very successful here in controlling the narrative. The fact that things are going so poorly on the battlefield, that Russian soldiers are coming home in body bags or severely wounded, he is not going to be able to hide that.

So, how does he find a way to deflect that blame? We've seen all sorts of talk on chatter on telegram and bloggers. We've seen Yevgeny Prigozhin who's in charge of that mercenary group blaming Sergei Shoigu. That doesn't happen without design and certainly Putin's approval.

So this intense messaging effort, this again the information war, to allow the Russian people to have someone against him to complain and vent. But they're going to complain about the bureaucracy, those people betraying Putin. But it deflects blame from Putin himself and we've seen that work, so far.

SIDNER: Gentlemen, thank you so much for your expertise and your insight on this. Now to an update to a story we've been following here. Today marks four years since American Paul Whelan was detained in Russia, a wrongful and cruel detention according to the State Department. He is serving a brutal 16-year sentence in a remote penal colony in Mordovia. That's the same region where WNBA star Brittney Griner was held.

Whelan's brother on this terrible anniversary says it is both awful and mundane, just another day that Paul has to suffer in a Russian labor colony for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

U.S. officials tell CNN that Putin refused to release Whelan along with Griner this month along the convicted assassin who was serving a life sentence in Germany was also freed.

Recently, Erin spoke to Whelan's sister and asked her if the U.S. learned anything after securing Griner's release.


ELIZABETH WHELAN, SISTER OF PAUL WHELAN: I certainly hope so because Paul has been waiting for a very long time. He sat through the previous administration, and now this one watching other people go home. I can't imagine what his life is like day to day in the prison, the resolve that he is showing.


SIDNER: Today, the Biden administration again said it is committed to bringing Whelan home, calling his detention unacceptable.

OUTFRONT next, transcripts reveal former President Donald Trump cursing Mike Pence for not helping him overturn election results.

Plus, serious trouble for Congressman-elect George Santos tonight. The Nassau County D.A. is now looking into his lies about so many things, and now CNN's KFILE has uncovered even more false claims.

Also, Southwest Airlines passengers are still stranded tonight as mass flight cancelations continue.



SIDNER: Tonight, effin' Pence. That's how former President Donald Trump referred to his vice president after he refused to overturn the election on January 6th. That is according to testimony by White House aide John McEntee in the latest round of transcripts released by the select committee.

McEntee also revealing that Trump mentioned a blanket pardon for those charged in the January 6th riot, and also testifying, quote, I remember the president saying well, what if I pardon the people that weren't violent? That just walked into the building? McEntee says that White House counsel Pat Cipollone rejected that idea. OUTFRONT now, Andrew McCabe, former deputy director of the FBI and CNN

senior law enforcement analyst.

Director McCabe, let's first talk about what we just saw from the transcripts. Your reaction to Trump floating an idea about pardoning people who were charged in the January 6th riot.

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yeah, it is amazing on a lot of different levels, sir. I think two things are really important to keep in mind here. One, the fact that he was considering issuing a pardon to anyone who essentially entered the Capitol on that day. It shows you that he knew it was wrong. Those people might face criminal liability for what they have done, i.e., they had potentially done something criminal. I think the second thing is, it shows you undeniably that he saw people who entered the Capitol, who attacked our capital as his people.

So, this should forever put to rest any of these crazy notions that it was actually Antifa, or FBI informants, or somebody else. With that statement, Donald Trump acknowledges that these are his people, he is trying to protect them from criminal liability, i.e., he knows they might face that.

SIDNER: Dang, you're good. I didn't think of that one, McCabe.

You have been very vocal about the ongoing threat for extremism in this country. And Cassidy Hutchinson told the January 6th Committee about several times QAnon discussions took place in the White House, including this exchange with Peter Navarro, saying, quote, at one point, I had sarcastically said, oh, is this from your QAnon friends, Peter? Because Peter would talk to me frequently about his QAnon friends.

He said, have you looked into it yet, Cass? I think they point out a lot of good ideas. You really need to read this. Make sure the chief sees it. And Hutchinson later added, I did not take that as sarcasm.

What does this tell you that this is something that people around President Trump are trying to get him to believe these insane conspiracies?

MCCABE: It's remarkable. You know, it's on a different level from the other comments that Cassidy Hutchinson makes in her testimony about Marjorie Taylor Greene, who apparently, on the plane on the way back from an appearance in Georgia.


She shows the former president photographed with some of her people wearing QAnon t-shirts and says, these are my people, these are my constituents. That's understandable, right? That is what we kind of expect to hear from Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Peter Navarro is a different thing entirely. He is a senior adviser to the president of the United States. He is in the White House every day. He is covering with Trump on all sorts of different issues. The fact that he takes seriously some of these fever dream fantasies of the QAnon folks and is recommending that those positions be brought to the attention of the president of the United States is absolutely ridiculous.

It shows you what a state of chaos, and quite frankly, the lack of quality of people who are advising the president at that crucial time. It is really remarkable.

SIDNER: I want to move on from these transcripts because something really curious has been happening with a certain social media site. Before we go, an internal notice was sent to House staff today announcing that TikTok has been banned on all electric devices managed by the House of Representative, saying it is a high risk to users due to a number of security risks. That's a quote. It is also expected to be banned soon from all federal devices.

What does this tell you? Is this a good call?

MCCABE: It is a great call, Sara. It is a great call. So, we have -- the intelligence community has known for sometime that the proximity or the relationship between the Chinese government and entities, Chinese owned entities like TikTok is too close for comfort. And there is a substantial risk that if you share your personal information with TikTok, it could become vulnerable to being exposed to or used by the Chinese government.

That risk elevates 100 fold if you work for the federal government, if you are in a position of trust with the federal government, your elected representative. So, TikTok should not be present on any devices that have, that are sitting in the hands of the people that we trust to run the government.

SIDNER: Do you think young people should be using it?

MCCABE: I think it is really questionable. I mean, it's very different if you are just a private citizen and you have made the decision that you're not concerned about that risk. Certainly, that is your decision to make. I don't use TikTok for exactly this reason. I don't have anything to do with that. But I think it is something that all Americans should consider very seriously.

SIDNER: Mr. McCabe, thank you so much for the insight. We appreciate it.

MCCABE: Thanks, Sara.

SIDNER: OUTFRONT next, nothing short of stunning. Those the words of a district attorney now looking into a newly elected congressman's multiple fabrications about work, family, and his education. CNN has unearthed even more false claims.

Also ahead, homeland security warning in a memo obtained by CNN about the potential for extremist violence against migrants, including placing land mines along routes they travel.


SIDNER: New tonight, more problems for Republican Congressman-elect George Santos. The Nassau County district attorney in New York, a Republican, announcing that she is looking into the multiple lies that the GOP Congressman-elect Santos pushed during his campaign. Like, that he graduated from Baruch College, that he worked at Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup, and then his grandparents were Holocaust survivors.

Tonight, CNN's KFILE uncovers even more lies that Santos has spread like his parents sending him to an elite prep school.


REP.-ELECT GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): They sent me to good prep school, which was Horace Mann Prep in the Bronx. In my senior year of prep school, unfortunately, my parents fell on hard times. So, anyway, I left school four months to graduation.


SIDNER: Except a spokesman for the school says there is absolutely no evidence that he ever attended that school. Here is another claim that Santos made to push his alleged Jewish heritage.


SANTOS: For a lot of people who are descendants of World War II refugees or survivors of the Holocaust, a lot of names and paperwork were changed, and in name of survival, so I don't carry the family last name, that would have been Sabrovski (ph) -- I carry -- my mother's maiden name was Devolder, which that is the Dutch side of the family.


SIDNER: Except that no records exist at all to back this up.

OUTFRONT now, Eva McKend.

Eva, the Nassau County D.A. oversees a large portion of the district that just elected Santos. What is she saying about all of this?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, tonight, the probes of Santos's many fabrications appear to be growing. The Nassau County D.A., who I should know it is a Republican, has pledged to get to the bottom of this.

I'm going to read for you a statement here. She says: The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-elect Santos are nothing short of stunning. The residents of Nassau County and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress. No one is above the law, and if a crime was created in this county, we will prosecute.

This, of course, is in addition to New York state attorney general, Tish James, a Democrat, looking into Santos as well.

And tonight, our KFILE team unearthed another litany of lies, you mentioned the Horace Mann fallacy. And the more detailed accounts of Jewish heritage. He also claimed that he criticized Goldman Sachs as an employee at the SALT Private Equity Conference.

But Anthony Scaramucci, many of our viewers know well, who runs that conference, says not only did Santos not speak on the panel, he didn't even attend a conference. Of course, we know that Santos never worked for Goldman Sachs.

Most Republican lawmakers, they have little to say about the scandal. But New York Congressman-elect Mike Lawler urged Santos to cooperate with any investigations, called on him to apologize and says, this whole episode has really become a distraction -- Sara.

SIDNER: Eva McKend, thank you for all of that.

OUTFRONT now, Doug Heye, former RNC communications director. And Ashley Allison, former national coalitions director for Biden-Harris 2020.

Doug, I'm going to start with you.


SIDNER: I mean, we must. CNN's KFILE uncovering even more lies that Congressman-elect George Santos is spreading about himself as the Nassau County D.A., as you heard, is looking into all of this.


Are you concerned, and is anybody in the Republican Party concerned, not just about the ones that we know about, the lies that is, but that this might be the tip of the iceberg?

HEYE: Yeah, absolutely. Every conversation that I've had, and I'll say, when people respond, I have had a few folks on Capitol Hill who were always great in responding, who have done so today or yesterday.

But everything I've heard overwhelmingly is that we are reaching a Madison Cawthorn Hall of Fame level of shoes dropping by the day, and almost by the hour. When I was preparing for this hit, I was saying to myself, what is the next two to drop? And then the K-FILE story dropped. It is part of this drip, drip, drip or drop, drop, drop that House Republican so concerned here. We are not hearing a lot from leadership right now. I doubt that we will because their focus is their.

But that is also part of the politics here. He is going to have a vote for the speakership. And then what happens to him after that? I think we will have to see. But, you know, he has some political leverage here, believe it or not, despite all of these crazy, crazy headlines.

SIDNER: I think you said it right there, there's some political moving happening that they need him basically. Ashley, I spoke to Nassau County executive earlier today, Bruce

Blakeman. He is also a Republican, he talked about this and he didn't hold back for a second about what he thought about the lies that keep coming out of Santos's mouth.


BRUCE BLAKEMAN (R), NASSAU COUNTY, NY EXECUTIVE: I think it is clear that George Santos has emotional issues. I think he needs to address those issues with a health care professional because what he did was not normal. I think the more important thing is, is George Santos embarrassed? Does he feel shame at what he did? Because if he doesn't, then I think that we have a real problem going forward.


SIDNER: He also said that he needs help, he meant help from the psychological group, doctors. And she was very clear on that. He thinks it is a real problem.

Do you think that Santos can continue to hold on here and sustain all of this criticism that is coming from the Democrats, of course, but some from his own party?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, currently, the people who seem to be most critical of Santos are the local Republicans. But two dogs point, we haven't heard from leadership because they're focused on who is going to actually be the speaker when Republicans take hold.

Do I think that Santos can hang on? Possibly. You know, in this type of environment, we don't know what tomorrow will bring. I think that he definitely needs to seek help. The voters of his district deserve something better.

But could he potentially be seated as a congressman on January 3rd? Yes, that is the sad part. And I hope that Republicans in leadership say no, we don't want that in our party despite maybe needing him for a vote. But, I'm not sure they will. If they don't, I think that is how he hangs on.

SIDNER: Doug, it doesn't appear, just from outside looking in, that Santos feels shame or even really embarrassment about this. Here he is last night with former Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard on Fox News.


REP.-ELECT GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): I have to face my mistakes, and I'm facing them. The reality is that I remain committed to doing everything that I set forward in my campaign. I'm not a fraud, I'm not a fake.

TULSI GABBARD, FOX NEWS HOST: A lie is not an embellishment on a resume, you said you worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, but they've said, we've got no record of this guy working for us. SANTOS: As I stated, and I continue, we can debate my resume and how

I worked with firms such as Goldman and Citigroup --

GABBARD: Is it debatable? Or is it just a false?



SIDNER: You know, to her credit, she asked him the pertinent questions. He says it is not a fake, he is not a fraud, but he has been lying.

And minority leader and House speaker hopeful, Kevin McCarthy, is still silent about this. Is this because there is a political calculation being made? I mean, how do you see this all?

HEYE: Yeah, there are two political calculations. One, this is a potential vote that Kevin McCarthy may need. Two, to get the job of speaker, regardless of the Santos controversy, he is focused on this in no way he is ever focused on anything before. He has had to go back to his old job of being the whip to get the new job, the speakership. Anything that distracts from this is something that McCarthy and Republican leadership does not want to engage in.

Their focus 100 percent on the speaker's race and then what happens after that, which could be a denial of committees, could be an expulsion. They'll address that at a later date.

SIDNER: Ashley, it is interesting, Santos is constantly talking about honesty in politics.


What do you make of this? Is this someone who can ever be trusted, not only by those he has to work across the aisle, but those he works with on the Republican side?

ALLISON: I wouldn't trust him. I mean, it's clear that the story he told about himself there are untruths. And there seems to be, as he's talked about in the segment, more shoes to drop. But, you know, it's politics. It is kind of disgusting to even have to be talking about this. Someone totally fabricated their life, got elected, and potentially could become a congresswoman of our country.

But that is where we are right now. When you have someone like Donald Trump who lied, and lied, and lied, and the party allowed it, that's how you get a Santos, is that, you know, they take a page out of the book.

So, I hope, you know, Republicans find a way to get rid of him, they get somebody better. But, he needs help, and he needs to not be a sitting congressman. And our politics have to be better because we deserve better as voters. We deserve better as Americans.

It is kind of unbelievable that this is actually happening. It is not unbelievable, but it is upsetting that it is actually happening.

SIDNER: Well, we'll have to leave it there. We'll see what happens in the lead up to January 3rd. Thank you both very much.

OUTFRONT next, Southwest Airlines stocks are tumbling. The travel nightmare continues tonight. Passengers still cannot get to where they want to go.

Also, as China eases COVID restrictions, the United States is worry about the exploding number of cases there, so much so that a negative COVID test will now be required for those flying to the United States from China. We're live from Beijing.



SIDNER: Tonight, Southwest Airlines problems are mounting. The company stock plunging more than 5 percent today, marking its worst day in five months. It's the latest fallout from the travel nightmare.

Southwest cancellations top 2,500 today according to a tracking website. There have been more than 15,000 cancellations since the meltdown began.

Nick Valencia is OUTFRONT.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody alerted us that the flight was canceled. We were at the gate. We had to figure it out on our own.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Southwest passengers, it's another day of delays and disappointment. A week of cancellations, lost luggage, and poor communication, all becoming a bit too much for some.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't get to see my best friend in Florida.

VALENCIA: She had a scheduled flight to take off on time, but when she got to the gate, she was turned away, unable to travel alone due to Southwest staffing shortages.

Did he give you any reason why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just said that I guess their new policy, they don't know when the restriction is going to be lifted. That unaccompanied minors can fly right now.

VALENCIA: Southwest operation has been in lockdown since severe weather hit the weather days before Christmas. CNN has learned that the airlines' Denver hub was dealing with staffing shortages before the weather hit, but stressed that the issue was separate from cancellations.

According to FlightAware, Southwest has canceled at least 15,700 flights since December 22nd, including at least 2,500 scheduled for Wednesday. While other airlines have recovered, staff and union leaders have slammed Southwest for failing to upgrade systems and critical infrastructure.

LYN MONTGOMERY, PRESIDENT, TWU LOCAL 556: Flight attendants have been stranded, not only have they've been stranded, but they have been left to try to contact crew scheduling for hours on end.

TOM NEKOUEI, 2ND VP, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PILOTS ASSOCIATION: If you look at our competitors, right here in Denver, United Airlines for instance, they had the same exact weather system as we did, and they don't cancel as many flights, the recovery has been extremely expeditious versus.

VALENCIA: Southwest CEO Bob Jordan apologized to customers and crew in a video released Tuesday.

BOB JORDAN, CEO, SOUTHWEST: I am truly sorry.

VALENCIA: But admitted that normal service will not be resumed until next week.

JORDAN: Our plan for the next few days is to fly a reduced schedule and reposition our people and planes.

VALENCIA: But for loyal Southwest customers, the message to the CEO was simple.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fix it, fix it. He's got a lot of loyal fans and he is losing them left and right.


VALENCIA (on camera): There really is a lack of confidence. Amongst those passengers that we spoke to that are flying Southwest airlines today, with some electing to drive, in some cases, hundreds of miles to the final destination instead of risking, spending thousands of dollars at a chance to re-book.

And, Sara, looking at this line behind me, you wouldn't think that Southwest to solve this problem, but it is really more of a reflection of how few flights Southwest has taken off today, and 2,500 flights that have also been canceled -- Sara.

SIDNER: All right. Thank you so much, Nick Valencia there.

Also tonight, the Department of Homeland Security warned of potential violent extremism related to the anticipated end of the border policy, Title 42, according to a memo obtained by CNN.

DHS outlining violent tactics discuss online, including putting land mines along migration routes. The memo dated just days before the Supreme Court halted the end of the COVID era policy that allows U.S. border officials to swiftly expel migrants. This as thousands continue to flock to the border despite no guarantees.

Rosa Flores is OUTFRONT in El Paso tonight.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four-year-old Ajerde (ph) and his dad Angelo Sanchez are in line at this El Paso Catholic Church that turned into a migrant shelter, hoping for a warm place tonight.

Sanchez says he left his native Columbia because his son was hungry.

He says his whole breaks when his son asked for food and he can't give him any food.

The wind burn on Ajerde's face, a sign he injured the recent frigid conditions out in the elements without a jacket.

So, he describes that this is what his son was wearing throughout the journey.

Sanchez and his son are part of the growing number of migrants who despite the threat of Title 42, which allows border agents to swiftly expel some migrants to Mexico, they are flocking to the southern border, turning themselves into authorities and some are allowed to stay in the United States pending their immigration cases.

Tuesday's Supreme Court order keeps Title 42 in place while the legal challenges play out in court.

It's deemed a win for the Republican-led states who want to keep the Trump era pandemic public health rule. But even Joe Biden says its end is overdue.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The court is not going to decide until June apparently and in the meantime, we have to enforce it -- but I think it's overdue.


FLORES: While Sanchez waits, one of the church volunteers allows women with children to enter.

Why did you decide to come to the United States now?

Like many migrants we've talked to, he says he thought the border was open.

He says that he learned about it on Facebook.

NATIONAL GUARDSMAN: You see triple strand concertina wire.

FLORES: The Texas National Guard has erected miles of fencing in the El Paso area to change that perspective.

NATIONAL GUARDSMAN: This sends a clear message it, do the right way or don't come in. FLORES: The long lines of migrants that were here two weeks ago, all

gone. As the temperature dips nearly ten degrees and no word yet if dad and son will gain entry into the shelter, he points to the wind burn on his face and says it hurts.

Inside the shelter, the priest that runs it said two weeks ago, 50 migrants needed shelter. Now he has to turn people away, many of them sleep on the street.

FR. RAFAEL GARCIA, SACRED HEART PARISH, EL PASO: We try to do what we can. We're a church, we've got limited resources.

FLORES: Then a sign of hope. There's room for men with children, and Sanchez is next. A prayer answered.

He says that faith moves mountains.

For a father who says he just wants to work to provide for his son.


FLORES (on camera): I spoke to the El Paso deputy city manager tonight. And he says that migrants like the one that you saw in this story, this single dad with his son who turned themself into border authorities. Those are the migrants that are not his biggest worry. He says that his biggest worry right now, Sara, are the increasing number of migrants who are growing desperate in Mexico because Title 42 has not been lifted yet and are crossing into El Paso illegally and then getting stuck here because they don't have connections, they don't have money, they don't have means to get out of this border area -- Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: Rosa Flores, thank you so much for that report.

OUTFRONT next, a surge in people wanting to get out of China as COVID rages there. But soon, they won't be able to enter the United States unless they test negative for COVID.

Also, at the end of this year, a look at what amounts to war in America, gun violence.



SIDNER: Tonight, the U.S. announcing it will require travelers from China to show a negative COVID test result to get into the country. This is after China abruptly walked back its strict zero-COVID policy. Demand for flights out of the country is surging and a U.S. health official says there is concern a new variant could emerge in China.

Selina Wang is OUTFRONT in Beijing.

Selina, you've been reporting on all that is happening in China with the COVID response. What's China's response to the United States and some other countries placing restrictions now on travelers from China?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Sara, before we got that official response from the U.S., that official announcement, Beijing responded to potential travel restrictions by defending its own COVID policy, accusing western media for hyping up China's COVID policy change, and also urged countries to work together. This is what else the ministry affairs spokesperson had to say.

He said, quote, China has always believed that the measures taken by countries to prevent the epidemic should be scientific and moderate and should not affect normal people to people exchanges.

But, Sara, the irony here is that since the very start of the pandemic China has had some of the strictest border controls in the world, but now that China is finally opening up and cases here are surging -- well, other countries are getting nervous. So, in addition to the U.S., so far, Japan, India, Japan, Taiwan and Italy have all put COVID testing requirements in place. In fact, Taiwan and Japan said if the traveler from China tests positive for COVID upon arrival, they'll have to quarantine for several days.

Now, the big concern from countries like the U.S. is a lack of data from China that could help detect new variants. But the global consortium that maintains a data base of coronavirus sequences, they said all the genome sequences China has shared so far do closely resemble the variants already circulating in other parts of the world. But, Sara, the U.S. says that data shared isn't enough.

SIDNER: But, Selina, you've been covering this and you've shown that it appears that COVID is raging in China, even after China has consistently defended its extremely rigid strategy. So what's it like on the ground?

WANG: Yeah, that's right. I mean, Beijing's message is look, everything is fine. But we know that hospitals are overflowing with elderly patients and crematoriums across the country are overwhelmed. Fever and cold medicine are scarce.

We know that there's an explosion in COVID cases. But the situation is getting a lot harder to track because China has stopped reporting daily COVID cases on a national level and it severely narrowed its definition of COVID deaths, only reporting a handful of COVID deaths for this entire month.

It is clear the medical system was unprepared for the sudden reopening. Yes, there is chaos and anxiety on the ground, but still after three years of harsh restrictions a lot of people, especially young people who've already gotten COVID and they're recovered, they are excited to finally be able to travel.

There's a lot of pent-up demand. According to China's travel website Ctrip, within 30 minutes after China announced the new policy of loosening border restrictions, surges for popular international travel destinations jumped ten times, Sara.

SIDNER: Well, now, people will have to test if they're coming into the United States.

OUTFRONT next, the devastating impact of gun violence. The death toll in 2022 equivalent to that of a small city.



SIDNER: Now to what's happening with what amounts to a war at home. We don't call it that, but the numbers of dead say otherwise. Tonight we grapple with the gun violence in America.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't know what was happening. It was very scary.

SIDNER (voice-over): the killings surprise us when they're right in front of us. But they're now commonplace. We call it gun violence in this country, but it's turned into a special kind of warfare in America.

BIDEN: Guns are the number one killer of children in the United States. More than car accidents. More than cancer.

SIDNER: Yet unlike the multitude of marches against cancer, one group created by children does official marches to raise money to fight gun violence.

For the rest of us, often the best we do is send thoughts and prayers. And ever so rarely a bit of legislation like what passed this year in 2022, when the numbers of dead are so high and so disturbing it can't be ignored. Uvalde was that moment for America this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a 3-year-old son named Zane who asks for his sister every morning when he wakes up.

FRED GUTTENBERG, FATHER OF PARKLAND SHOOOTING VICTIM: I can't believe there's going to be 18 families planning funerals. Why do we let this happen? This isn't normal.

SIDNER: The pain of home suddenly childless still echo through the town as law enforcement continues to are try and deny its failings.

REPORTER: Can you tell me what was wrong in my report?

SIDNER: We always hear about the deadliest of mass shootings. We name them by the location where they happen.

Like the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

JEROME BRIDGES, TOPS GROCERY STORE EMPLOYEE: It needs to stop. It really does.

TAMIKA HARPER, NIECE OF BUFFALO SHOOTING VICTIM: I'm speechless. I'm numb. I don't know what to say, what to think. I can barely sleep. SIDNER: Where a racist menace with a rifle fit for war sent hot metal

through 13 soft souls during the most mundane of tasks, grocery shopping.

Or the Highland Park July 4th parade shooting in Illinois, leaving seven dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know how to stop crime and I don't know how to stop crime for my children, who are different today than they were yesterday.

SIDNER: Or the gay nightclub shooting that left five dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's devastating to know that people that you care about can just disappear.

SIDNER: While we can name the worst mass shootings, those are not the shootings that statistically kill the majority of Americans. Just ask any emergency room doctor in a large city.

DR. JOSEPH SAKRAN, JOHNS HOPKINS HOSPITAL: Every day in cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia and Chicago, we have young Brown and Black men that are being slaughtered on our streets.

SIDNER: From the inner city to the countryside -- according to the CDC, 60 percent of gun deaths over the past 20 years are suicides -- young Black men and older White men are the most likely to die of gunshot wounds. According to the CDC data, White men mostly by suicide, Black men by someone else pulling the trigger.

Bullets have erased the lives of those only known by a few and those known worldwide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come here, let me stretch out.

SIDNER: We lost Americans who made us laugh. Americans who made us dance. And Americans who made us cheer from the sidelines in 2022.

But most of all we lost the human potential of a small town. According to the Gun Archive, at last count more than 40,000 people have died in gun-related incidents.


SIDNER (on camera): It kind of makes you wonder what would happen if we treated gun violence like the cancer it has become or the raging war that it clearly is.

Thank you for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.