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Erin Burnett Outfront

28-Year-Old Suspect Charged In Killings Of Four Idaho Students; House Releases Trump Tax Returns After Years-Long Legal Fight; Sources: McCarthy Has Not Secured Speaker Vote After GOP Call; Russia Shells Key Ukraine Southern Region 80+ Times In One Day; England Joins U.S. & Growing List Of Other Countries To Ask Travelers From China For Negative COVID Test. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 30, 2022 - 19:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, an arrest in connection to the murders of four University of Idaho students. A 28-year-old now in custody. He was arrested in Pennsylvania. What was the motive?

Plus, Trump's taxes. Six years of Trump's returns now public. Turns out he paid more in foreign taxes than U.S. taxes.

And fighting for his political future. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy giving concessions behind closed doors tonight as he scrambles to get enough votes to become the speaker of the House. But will it work?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

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

OUTFRONT tonight, four counts of first degree murder. That is what Bryan Kohberger is facing in connection with the shocking murders of four University of Idaho students. That in addition to felony burglary.

P;lice say he was arrested earlier today by state police and the FBI on the other side of the country in Pennsylvania. It caps off a six- week mystery after four students in their 20s were found stabbed to death in their beds as they slept in their off campus home.

The case paralyzing a university town with horror and fear. Tonight, the police chief in Idaho saying, their work is far from over.


CHIEF JAMES FRY, MOSCOW POLICE: These murders have shaken our community and no arrest will ever bring back these young students. However, we do believe justice will be found through the criminal process. This was a very complex and extensive case. Be assured, the work is not done. This has just started.


SIDNER: Kohberger will appear in court next Tuesday. Sources telling our John Miller, they narrowed their focus to the suspect after tracing him to a white Hyundai Elantra that was seen in the area of the murders and that his DNA was a match to DNA found at the crime scene. The suspect is a 28-year-old graduate student at Washington State University, which is eight miles from the crime scene. Police earlier today searching what is believed to be the suspect's apartment.

Veronica Miracle is OUTFRONT in Moscow, Idaho.

Veronica, do we have any idea what the motive might have been behind these gruesome murders or whether the suspect even knows the victims?

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sara, of course, these questions at the front of everyone's minds. It was one of the first questions asked at the press conference. Why did this happen? That's a question that authorities say they cannot tell us.

Prosecutor Bill Thompson revealing today that they are bound by Idaho state law and they cannot reveal a lot of the questions that we have outside of the courtroom because Kohberger was arrested in the state of Pennsylvania. It's until that he returns back to the state of Idaho that they are going to unseal the probable cause affidavit which authorities say will have a lot of the answers that so many of us are looking for.

As you mentioned, Kohberger is going to be in court on Tuesday in Pennsylvania. That will be his extradition hearing. It's at that time that he could waive his right and come back voluntarily to Idaho, or he could fight extradition. If that happens, authorities say this process could draw out and be a -- it could be a very long time before we know exactly why this happened and further details.

I did ask them, did this man possibly know these students? Here is what they had to say.


MIRACLE: Any indication that the suspect knew the victims?

FRY: That's part of the investigation as well. It won't be something that will come out at this point in time. As we continue the investigation and as this case goes to trial, that will be brought forth.


MIRACLE: We do know that Brian Kohberger is a graduate student at Washington State University. And that's about 20 minutes from the University of Idaho. Both of those schools straddle the Washington state and Idaho state lines, so not a far distance from here.

And he was studying in the department of criminal justice and criminology. More details, of course, still coming out, and we'll get those to you, Sara.

SIDNER: Veronica Miracle, thank you and your team for all your reporting.

OUTFRONT now, John Miller, CNN's chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, also Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama, and Jeff Gardere, clinical and forensic psychologist.


Thank you all for being here.

John, I would like to start with you. I mentioned some of your reporting about how investigators were able to trace the suspect's ownership of a white Elantra and that his DNA was matched to DNA found at the crime scene. What else are you learning tonight about how the suspect was identified and ultimately found?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, the car was the key. The DNA, of course, is going to be that critical piece of evidence. But it really circles back, Sara, to the question you asked of Veronica, which is, does he know one of these victims? Did he have a relationship with the people in that house? Because if it was a completely random killing, that's a very risk venture to walk into a house where you don't necessarily know who is there, how many people, whether they are men or women.

So, the idea that he might have known one. Certainly, Kaylee had told friends about a stalker. Is he the stalker? That's one of the questions that is being asked around. Was there a relationship with someone or did he believe he should have had a relationship with someone?

We hope when that affidavit and support of probable cause is unsealed in Idaho, we will learn more of that. But that's days away.

SIDNER: You know, you just mentioned one of the victims. There was Ethan and Madison and Xana and Kaylee, all four of them in their 20s or 20 years old. I mean, their lives just beginning.

Juliette, to you now. A lot big of mysteries remain like the motive and the potential connection, if any, to the victims. You heard what officials said about connection to victims. Here is what was said about the motive.


REPORTER: Have you identified a motive?

FRY: That's part of the investigation. That will come out as we continue the investigation. We're still trying to build that picture just like we have stated all along. We're putting all the pieces together. That will help.


SIDNER: Sometimes we never know the motive, right? JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. That is true.

And, like, John, that this is going to be key -- like what John said, this is key to what the prosecutors are going to be able to build and what kind of case they build. Look, people like me want to have explanations, because then you can give advice and policy and change behaviors and try to get communities safer.

So we want to know the motive, because if they did know each other, that's one explanation. If they didn't know each other, if this is someone who planned just a vicious attack, that's hard to learn anything from. It's hard to protect yourself from. It's hard to minimize the harm any of us with college-age students know that this hit us in a certain way as your kids are off and you think they're going to be safe in these communities and these college communities.

I do want to say one thing. Another point that they made in the press conference was that they still want tips. The exact line was, anything and everything you know about the suspect. That says to me that they are, in fact, still building a case of motive. They want to know, were there connections or they want to strengthen the case about what the connections are.

So, they are still asking for tips in terms of what the motive may be. That may be to build a case. Idaho is a death penalty state. I would anticipate that if they can build that case, they're not going to be shy in trying to get the death penalty in this case.

SIDNER: Juliette, always good perspective, telling people if you know anything, call police. Tell them, especially if it's about this particular suspect.

Jeff, the suspect is a graduate student in criminal justice and criminology and appears to have previously work for or wanted to work on a study about how emotions and psychological traits influence decision making when committing a crime.

How relevant could this small fact be?

JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL AND FOREIGN PSYCHOLOGIST: By itself -- this is something that supposedly he ran through an IRB community at DeSales, an IRB board, I should say. So, we don't know. Just by itself, it could be some sort of a legit, if this is true, some sort of a legitimate study. We're not sure whether he did it for his master's degree he got at DeSales University or whether it was research he was doing.

If this goes beyond him just being a suspect, you better believe that they're going to try to tie that in and look at, is this something where he was trying to learn from criminals? Is this something where he had some sort of a fetish with regard to killing individuals?


Or was this something where he was trying to find out what his own psychology may have been?

But, again, we have to point out, at this point, he is just a suspect. You can't tie those two things together.

SIDNER: Yeah, innocent until proven guilty in this country.

John, back to you. The DNA was used to identify the suspect as you found out for us. What are some of the ways authorities could have gotten his DNA before ever detaining him?

MILLER: Well, the question is, what started -- was it the unknown DNA or was it the car? If they did searches of the cars, for instance, if somebody called and said, hey, this guy goes to school 20 minutes away and the day that they announced they were looking for the car, he got in the car and drove away and we haven't seen him since, you should take a look at him.

How do you get his DNA? One of the things about having a surveillance team on him for four days is, if you saw him go somewhere, have a cup of coffee, get a glass of water, leave something behind, that's call an abandonment sample. They can get that.

They could have gotten access to his toothbrush or something else and made that match. They would confirm that with another match later. That's would get them probable cause. There's a number of ways that could have happened.

Unless his DNA was already on file. That would require some kind of arrest record, which we haven't seen yet.

SIDNER: Those are all really good points.

Juliette, there has been criticism that police were not transparent enough. We did hear from them today saying there are some things Idaho law keeps them from saying. The murders took place six weeks ago. After nearly 20,000 tips and more than 300 interviews, police say they have their suspect.

Despite all the criticism, did police do what they needed to do, even though it took a long time?

KAYYEM: The taking of the long time, if they got the right person, is understandable. I mean, in other words, this may have been a very sophisticated and planned attack in the sense it was hard to find out who he was. They clearly brought in state agencies and the FBI.

So, it wasn't like they closed ranks among themselves. They just closed ranks among talking to the public.

The way I look at it now is I divide the time period into two phases. I do think 24, 48, 72 hours after the murders, it's a fair criticism to say that the community leaders, politicians, law enforcement did not come out fast enough to let the community know what was going on and to also prepare the college students.

We heard about those criticisms. That's long over. They became more public.

Then they went out to the public to ask for advice. I thought that was appropriate as well. So, in both instances, we can learn something. The time it took does not in and of itself tell me anything. They clearly were cooperating with many law enforcement agencies and hopefully, they have the right person.

SIDNER: I think a lot of us in the public have gotten used to CSI and things happening within an hour. There's an expectation that's unrealistic.

Jeff, four college students in their early 20s killed while they were sleeping. Two roommates also inside sleeping, but survived and were not harmed. I mean, what does this tell you about whether these murders were planned or spontaneous?

GARDERE: Yeah, I would have to think that a person was casing the house, perhaps knew where the entrances, exits were, whether to go to the top of the house, start from the bottom.

So, it seems to me, just from what we know right now, it would appear to be something that was well thought out.

SIDNER: All right. Thank you to all of you for all of your insights on this horrific case. Just want to mention the names of those who died -- Ethan Chapin, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle, and Kaylee Goncalves. All of them in their 20s.

OUTFRONT next, six years of Donald Trump's tax returns made public against his wishes revealing just how much or how little he paid.

Plus, Ginni Thomas claims she regrets texts she sent about overturning the election. But the wife of a Supreme Court justice says still believes there was election fraud. More January 6 transcripts dropped.

And, will Kevin McCarthy be the new speaker of the House? It's down to the wire. Tonight, it's not clear that he actually has the votes.



SIDNER: Tonight, Donald Trump paid little in taxes in the first and last years of his presidency, just $750 in 2017 and zilch in 2020 after claiming huge losses that limited his tax obligations. That's according to six years of Trump's tax returns that were released earlier by Congress following a protracted legal battle.

The thousands of pages of documents are raising questions about Trump's wealth that could be investigated by auditors.

Kristen Holmes is OUTFRONT.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Little or no income tax, foreign bank accounts and eyebrow-raising details about loans to his adult children, just some of the finings after the house ways and means committee released Trump's tax returns, spanning from the year Trump announced his first run for president 2015 through his last year in office, 2020.

REP. RICHARD NEAL (D-MA): The research that was done as it relates to the mandatory audit program was non-existent. The tax forms were never audited.

HOLMES: Previous reporting from the Joint Committee on Taxation revealed shockingly low tax amounts paid by the former president, including paying only $750 in 2017, and in 2018 and '19, paying a combined $1.1 million. And paying no income tax in 2020, his final year in office.

Trump offsetting his income by claiming millions of dollars in losses, raising questions about the former president's business failures.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I've been successful in every business I've been in.

HOLMES: And while Trump paid less than $1,000 in U.S. income tax in 2017, the former president's tax bill totaled nearly a million dollars in foreign taxes the same year, indicating notable business dealings in more than a dozen countries, including Azerbaijan, Turkey, China, Israel and Brazil, shedding light on where Trump's business interests were while he was in the White House.

The returns also showed Trump maintains foreign bank accounts while serving in the White House, including in China. Some of Trump's business spending raising eyebrows among experts, including a 2017 claim that one of his businesses DJT Aerospace made exactly the same amount spent, zero net, ensuring there was nothing to tax. Something one tax expert referred to as a, quote, statistical impossibility.

TRUMP: My personal tax returns, which show only that I have had tremendous success.

HOLMES: Trump blasting the release as an outrageous abuse of power.

TRUMP: It's nothing but another deranged political witch hunt which has been going on from the day I came down the escalator in Trump Tower.


HOLMES: The release coming after a years-long legal battle culminating with the Supreme Court decision.

TRUMP: I'm under a routine audit and it will be released. And as soon as the audit is finished, it will be released.

HOLMES: With his 2016 election victory, Trump became the first president in decades not to release his tax returns, sparking interest and concern about his foreign business entanglements and potential financial conflicts of interests.


HOLMES (on camera): And, Sara, a lot of this seems to be a significant failure of the IRS. I talked to one expect who said that much of this, particularly the foreign bank accounts is something they would have found and likely flagged had they conducted the mandatory presidential audit, which as we know now from the House Ways and Means Committee, they did not.

SIDNER: Kristen Holmes, great report. Thank you very much.

OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan. He is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which voted to release Trump's tax returns to the public.

Congressman, thank you for being here.

There are thousands of pages of Trump's tax returns. They are complicated. They do offer a very complex picture into his personal and business finances.

Trump says, look, he is a smart guy, took advantage of U.S. tax law that are on the books. Is that what you see?

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Well, yeah, he took advantage, that's for sure. But it's not clear to me yet -- I think this is why the scrutiny is so important -- whether or not the information supplied and included in these returns happen to be true.

It's one thing for the math to add up, to use the law and put numbers on a piece of paper. But the purpose of an audit is to make sure that there's a factual basis for what's being asserted in the return. When the committee began its work on this, it was all around the question as to whether or not the IRS was properly enforcing the tax code on Mr. Trump. That included auditing him.

SIDNER: And were they?

KILDEE: Of course, we learned -- that's the problem. The biggest, most significant finding -- I guess a bit of a surprise -- was that they were not at all. Donald Trump said he was under audit. He was not. The IRS had a policy since 1977 of auditing the tax returns of the president of the United States. Only in the Trump administration did that not happen.

Barack Obama's, President Obama's taxes were audited every one of the eight years he was president. President Biden's taxes have been audited.

Why is it that when we have a president with lots of complex business arrangements, a history of cheating his business partners out of their money and he is the only president in modern history that somehow avoids having his taxes, an expression of his financial situation, audited while it's a policy of the IRS to audit presidential returns?

It raises a lot of questions. And that's why the committee pursued this. I'm pleased the committee was able to get our access to these documents before Democrats left control of the House, because otherwise, this all would have been swept under the rug. And that would have been a shame. SIDNER: You know, even though the Supreme Court agreed the taxes

could be released, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Kevin Brady, said Democrats had used the tax release as a political weapon. Here is what he had has said. The Democrats have charged forward with an unprecedented decision to unleash a generous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former president, overturning decades of privacy protections from average Americans that have existed since Watergate.

What is your response to that -- I don't know -- his ideas there?

KILDEE: I mean, my biggest response is, he is not an average American. He was the president of the United States of America, with control over the tools of the U.S. government and with tax returns that are so complex that he was able to avoid taxation in the first place.

To somehow say that because the first time in modern history that a president has avoided subjecting himself to a presidential audit, and it happens to be Donald Trump with a history of questionable business practices, that we can see upon reviewing these returns continued to be the case, the notion that that set some precedent I think is on its face wrong.

Just because President Trump says it's a witch hunt doesn't mean he gets a free pass to do whatever he likes to do. Unfortunately, far too many Republicans seem to just look the other way and avoid their responsibility to provide oversight on a president whether he is a Republican or a Democrat.


SIDNER: Do you think that the IRS did its job in this? You said they didn't do the same thing they did to President Obama.

KILDEE: The IRS failed. The IRS absolutely failed. There are going to be questions about why and under what circumstances the IRS made the determination to ignore their own policy manual. That's really a question that I wish we had time to get to while we were in the majority. We will see whether Republicans take this up.

SIDNER: Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

KILDEE: Thank you.

SIDNER: OUTFRONT next, the January 6 transcripts keep coming. The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas says she regrets texts sent to Trump's right-hand man about overturning the election.

Also, Kevin McCarthy really wants to be the speaker of the House, but even concessions he is making to appease critics may not be enough for him to land the job.


SIDNER: Tonight, regrets, she has a few. Just released transcripts from the January 6 Select Committee revealing Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, said she would take back the texts she sent to White House chief of staff mark meadows about trying to overturn the election saying in part, quote, I regret the tone and context of these texts.

Congressman Schiff then asking, quote, and what in particular disturbed you in hindsight about the content of the texts? To which she replies, you know, I would take them all back if I could today. So, I'm not comfortable with any of them being -- I wish I could have rewritten them. I wish I didn't send them.

Paula Reid is OUTFRONT.

Ginni Thomas says she regrets the tone and content of her texts. But she believes Trump's go-to lie, that the 2020 election was stolen?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. Her remorse only goes so far. When investigators on this committee really pressed her about the content of the text messages, which was amplifying and pressing Meadows on these false claims of voter fraud, Thomas doubled down.

She was pressed by the committee vice chairwoman, Representative Liz Cheney, who asked her, so you are aware the president and his allies brought legal challenges which was their right to do but that they lost 61 out of 62 of those legal challenges? Thomas responds, I believe there was fraud and irregularity as millions of Americans do, Representative Cheney

Now, she also admits, Sara, that she has no evidence of this. That was as recently as a few months ago. She said there could be evidence to be unearthed, insisting, I just think there are a lot of things that are being uncovered. So, I believe there was fraud and irregularity contrary to what you believe.

Sara, there's also a lot of questions raised by the exchanges that she had with the former White House chief of staff about the fact that the wife of a Supreme Court justice was pressing a top White House official to try to undermine democracy. It was surprising that she was not asked many questions about her husband, but as a spouse, she does have some confidentiality protection.

She did disclose that when she referred in her exchange with Meadows to talking about all this with her best friend that she was likely referring to her husband. She insists her husband didn't know she was texting with Meadows until he read about it in the press.

SIDNER: It seems like there's more questions to answer there. Thank you so much, Paula.

OUTFRONT now, John Dean, former Nixon White House counsel.

John, thank you so much for being here. I always enjoy talking to you.

Let's start with Ginni Thomas. She defends -- she still defends her beliefs that she believes that the 2020 election was stolen, which it wasn't. Can she have it both ways here?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, when I went through her transcript, I had the impression she was evasive. She wasn't remorseful in general about the fact that she had made these comments and sent these texts out. She was regretful that they had gotten -- they had been released and became public and that she accused of committee of leaking them basically just to embarrass her, which was not the case.

But I -- I think she really was uncomfortable throughout her testimony. Her attorney testified a lot for her, which I have never seen a chair let happen as often as it did in this deposition. So, it was -- it's an odd collection in this deposition.

SIDNER: Paula just mentioned this, that Ginni Thomas also testified that the best friend she referenced in the text exchange with Mark Meadows was, indeed, her husband, Clarence Thomas, who, of course, is a Supreme Court justice.

What did they discuss? Thomas says, quote, I wish I could remember, but I have no memory of the specifics. My husband often administers spousal support to the wife, that's upset. So, I assume that's what it was.

No specific memory here. Seems to remember some things, not others. You know, I have a question for you. If she is discussing any of this with the Supreme Court justice, what are your big concerns?

DEAN: Well, she claimed at the outset of her testimony in a brief statement, there was an ironclad rule in the House they never talked about each other's business. She was in a political lane. Her husband was in the legal lane. Those lanes didn't cross.

It was pretty hard to believe as the testimony unrolled. What we know about their relationship that that's possible. But, you know, anything is possible, I suppose. What I -- what I took away from it was that they often talk about these things. They are sounding boards for each other, which is natural in a marriage.

SIDNER: You know, I know you believe Mark Meadows is target number two after Donald Trump. Donald Trump is right now the only Republican running for the presidency. Is any of this new revelations from these transcripts enough to loosen Donald Trump's grip on the Republican Party, do you think?

DEAN: I doubt it. Not in his base. His base will stay where they are. They don't care about the facts. They often ignore them. They certainly don't read 800 page reports about their president that are highly critical of what he did and examine it in some detail.


So, I think he still got a very good shot at winning the nomination. The powers that be in the Republican Party are not going to be very happy with that. But again, they have a base that is very pro-Trump. So, we will have to see how this story is going to continue to unfold over the coming months. SIDNER: You were there when Nixon went through all that he went

through. It certainly was not the same, was it?

DEAN: No. This is -- this is Watergate on steroids. It really is. It's unrelenting. We are getting information from multiple fire hoses that we have to dip into each day and try to get a grasp of what it is.

Hopefully, there will be a gap where we can take it all in.

SIDNER: John Dean, thank you so much.

DEAN: Thank you, Sara.

SIDNER: OUTFRONT next, Kevin McCarthy racing to lock down votes for House speaker. He is trying to make deals as the votes loom. But does he have enough as of tonight?

Also, Ukraine admits heavy losses have taken their toll from what it calls air genocide as Putin says he intends to strength Russia's military cooperation with China.


SIDNER: Tonight, whip count. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy still does not have the votes to become House speaker next week. This even after a nearly hour-long conference call with various GOP members today. A group of hardliners in his own party saying they will not support his bid. And now, he is willing to make major concessions.

Melanie Zanona is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill.

Melanie, how close is McCarthy to the power position he craves?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not nearly as close as he would like. We are days away from the vote on January 3rd. McCarthy does not have 218 votes, which is what he will need to become speaker.


However, we did just get some news here into CNN that there's at least one Republican holdout, Morgan Griffith, a Republican from Virginia. He's a member of the Freedom Caucus. He was on the fence previously about McCarthy. He says he is going to vote for McCarthy after some of these concessions have been made. So, it's progress.

McCarthy isn't there yet. They had a conference call where they discussed some of the compromises and concessions. One of them that McCarthy agreed to is a broad investigative panel to look into all of the Biden administration probes that would centralize all the investigations that are going to go on. That's something conservatives had been clamoring for. Perhaps most notably is McCarthy agreed to a lower threshold to trigger a vote on deposing the sitting speaker, known as the motion to vacate the speaker. That's something that has been a demand of critics. McCarthy had been reluctant to budge on that. He would be allowing his

critics to fire him at any point during his speakership. But now, as we first reported on CNN last night, he is willing to go down to a threshold as low as five people. It would be around 112 Republicans. That's a major concession for McCarthy.

But they wrapped the call saying they need more work to do over the weekend. They need to resolve some of the outstanding issues. There's no guarantee that's going to happen, and, of course, time is running out, Sara.

SIDNER: Well, thank you so much for all of that.

OUTFRONT now, Harry Enten, our senior data reporter.

Harry, welcome back.

You visit us often. The new Congress begins next week. Republicans will hold the majority in the House, just barely, by an inch. This year's mid-terms were not the red wave many thought it was going to be.

What margin is McCarthy working with at this point?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: He is working with such a thin majority. Republicans got 222 seats. Among first-time speakers, I went back, I looked of first time potential speakers, it is the smallest majority in 70 years. You have to go back to 1953 to find a smaller first-time potential speaker for majority. You can see some of the more recent first-time potential speakers in the chart that we have that essentially showed the majority that Kevin McCarthy is working with is conservatively smaller than, say, Paul Ryan or John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi.

You really have to go back to Dennis Hastert to get the same level. But even that was one seat more. So, right now, the majority he's working with, very small, which is why there's all this late, lot of drama.

SIDNER: Right, lots of drama and lots of concessions being made. McCarthy walking a fine line. He needs the backing of the far right and the moderate wing of his party.

So, is he popular enough to do this within the GOP?

ENTEN: Yes. So, you know, if you look at polling, you see more Republicans have a favorable view than unfavorable view of Kevin McCarthy by about 30 points. What we also know is that is actually not very popular for a potential first-time speaker amongst their own party. He is more popular than unpopular among Republicans.

But the fact is, this is not near Nancy Pelosi levels, John Boehner levels. This is somebody who is liked but not really loved. That, I think, is the issue. If there was a feeling from the base, we have to get the guy through, maybe some of the hand liners may go to him. But right now, there isn't that real push from the Republican voters at large.

SIDNER: So, he needs basically 218 votes to become the next speaker of the House. History suggests, could he win with fewer than 218 votes?

ENTEN: Yes. So, you know, it turns out, it's the people who are actually voting, right? So, let's say a few Republicans decide to actually stay home, some of the folks who are hardliners who say they can't vote for him, but maybe they're not going to vote no. We know, in fact, that there are a number of speakers who became speaker, re- elected speaker over the last 100 years who were able to win with fewer than 218 votes.

So, it's a possibility. The fact is, the fact we are talking about this gives you an idea he doesn't have it sewn up.

SIDNER: Sweating bullets, probably.

All right. Harry Enten, thank you so much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

SIDNER: OUTFRONT next, Russia and China getting cozy as devastating attacks on Ukraine intensify. What does it all mean?

Also, add England to the growing list of countries now requiring a negative COVID test for travelers from China.



SIDNER: Tonight, a Ukrainian official acknowledging that its armed forces have experienced, quote, heavy losses following fierce fighting in the eastern city of Bakhmut. That official adding that Russian attacks are, quote, reminiscent of suicide bombers.

This as Russia's brutal bombardment of Ukrainian cities continues as officials in the Kherson region report more than 80 artillery and rocket strikes over the past day.

Ben Wedeman is OUTFRONT for us in Kyiv.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kremlin launched a fresh round of drone attacks Friday. Ukraine said it knocked out 16 of the Iranian-made Shahed kamikaze drones intended for infrastructure targets.

Seven fell in the capital Kyiv, where air raid sirens rang out shortly after 2:00 a.m. Child's corner, says Maxim (ph), our child used to read here. He and his partner carried their daughter to safety shortly before a drone was shot down nearby, hurling debris into their home.

We are lucky our child wasn't here, says Maxim. Windows were blown out. Here you can see a penetrating hole, shrapnel holes all over. Everything is damaged. And a child would have been sleeping here.

Meanwhile, fighting in the east grinds on.

Overnight, Russian forces shelled along the Donetsk front line. Field doctors here see the developments firsthand. Significantly less artillery damage than we were used to, says this doctor. The fighting distance goes from 15 meters to 1 kilometer, the distance between armies is very small.

On Friday, President Putin held a virtual meeting with Chinese president xi, inviting him for a state visit in the spring. Xi accepted the invitation. Putin claimed relations between Russia and China were the best in history, despite what he called unprecedented pressure and provocation from the west. The propaganda war just as important as the war raging on a gridlocked battlefield.


Ben Wedeman, CNN, Kyiv.


SIDNER: And OUTFRONT now, Steve Hall, former CIA chief of Russia operations based in Moscow, and CNN national security analyst.

Steve, thank you for joining us. After that meeting, the state department said it is watching Beijing closely, adding that there are consequences as it wages war against Ukraine. How serious do you think China might take that warning?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sara, I think they take it very seriously because they understand the economic implications for China should they be caught trying to get weapons or other assistance to Russia. They've seen what the United States has done in the past. Just a couple weeks ago, the United States department of justice conducted an investigation and the FBI ended up arrested a number of people in the United States who were trying to do just that.

So I'm sure diplomatically the United States has messaged the Chinese. Look, you know, don't get involved. The price you pay will be really, really high.

SIDNER: This was telling that Putin was laying the praise on thick. Staying relations between Russia and China are, quote, the best in history, and would stand all tests. Is that true? Or is that propaganda here?

HALL: Well, I mean, the first test is, is it coming from Vladimir Putin's mouth? If it is, it is probably not true. So yeah, no doubt there will be a big propaganda love fest between Beijing and Moscow. And they're going to make public all these wonderful things, these joint expressions of support. The problem for China is that philosophically, they're in agreement with Russia them don't line democracies, they don't like being accused of human rights violations and they believe in spheres of influence and empires. But the other problem for China in contrasting that, is that they are

very involved in the world economy. And so, they have to try to do both those things, walk a very fine line. Behind the scenes, there is a lot more tough talk going on between China and Russia. Russia being a very junior partner.

SIDNER: Just out of curiosity, what is something the United States could do if they do determine that China is aiding Russia against Ukraine?

HALL: Well, there are all sorts of economic sanctions that could be imposed against China. Not just by the United States, the largest economy in the world, but from that huge economic bloc called the European Union. And China does not want to be involved in that. Economically, things aren't going particularly well for China. But there's a lot of geopolitics going on as well.

So, again, China is marking a really, really fine line. It doesn't need Russia anywhere near as much as Russia needs China.

SIDNER: Steve Hall, thank you so much for your insight.

And OUTFRONT next, more countries rushing to put in place new restrictions for travelers coming from China as COVID cases spike there.



SIDNER: New tonight, England will require travelers from China to require a negative COVID test beginning next week. England is joining a growing list of countries to impose restrictions, including France, Spain, and the United States. This as cases continue raging through China, but the country officially reporting the number of deaths in December is only in the double digits.

OUTFRONT now, Dr. Larry Brilliant. He's an epidemiologist who worked with the World Health Organization to eradicate small pox.

Dr. Brilliant, welcome.

You just heard the list of countries imposing restrictions on travelers from China. Is requiring a negative COVID test enough here?

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Sara, thank you for inviting me. No, it's not enough. Especially, what -- if you ask for a PCR test, a negative PCR test two days before you get on the plane and the plane is a 15 or 16-hour flight, by then, it is pretty much not very valuable. I've seen estimates that improve your surveillance by about 10 percent.

It is a good thing to do though. But far better is to also, on arrival, test people. We did this in Hawaii during the peak of the epidemic. We didn't allow anybody into Hawaii because we tested them on arrival with the rapid one-hour PCR test. The other thing you can do, and many places are doing it, and we're

doing a little of it, is waste water surveillance of the airplane. Blue water surveillance and waste water surveillance of airports that are hubs.

The reason for all of this is to make sure people coming in are not infected, and maybe more important, to find out if those are infected with new variants that we don't know about. That's the big risk, Sarah, of all these cases in China. Epidemiologists are on edge. It is a low probability but highly consequential that a brand new variant will emerge out of all these shots on goal. Out of all these mutations that are leading to variants in China.

SIDNER: Dr. Brilliant, I have to ask you quickly about the waste water. Are we talking about the water from the toilet? How do you collect that and test it to see if any of the variants are there? Is that how it works?

BRILLIANT: Yes. We're doing it all over the United States. The CDC has it on its website as part of its announcement and information giving, and where the disease is, and what variants are in what place. It is a wonderful new tool that only in the COVID era has really been brought on board.

It's pretty easy in a contained space. The airplane and most of the airlines are happy to comply with this, and the airports. But it is a program underfunded at CDC. It would help us a lot to determine what new variants are coming in. Not just from China but everywhere.

SIDNER: Dr. Brilliant, last thing, are you worried about China when it is not releasing its daily numbers anymore?

BRILLIANT: I'm concerned. I would hate to think this is deja vu all over again. China has a long history of not being forthcoming. It wasn't forthcoming early with SARS 1. It was forthcoming early with CoV-SARS-2.

And I do worry that they're underreporting deaths, underreporting cases, and I hope they're not underreporting variants. If I have one thing to request of the government of China, please share your sequencing so we can know what new variants we might be dealing with in the future.

SIDNER: Dr. Larry Brilliant, thank you so much for coming on the show.

BRILLIANT: Thank you for having me. Happy New Year.

SIDNER: Happy New Year.

And speaking of which, Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen are back for their annual new years bash. A global celebration to ring in 2023. So put on your party hats and raise a glass with them and their guests, Usher, Kevin Hart, and Patti LaBelle.

Anderson and Andy together again for New Year's Eve, live from Times Square starting tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern. Bell. And a quick thank you to Lindsay, Kelly, Ryan, Trevor, and all of our crew on the set here. Everybody, have a wonderful new year.

"AC360" starts now.