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Erin Burnett Outfront
Biden, White House Defensive As Garland Names Special Counsel To Probe Handling Of Classified Documents Found At His Home And Old Office; Rep. Santos Defiant As Those Who Voted For Him Speak Out; Ukraine Claims Russian Forces "Suffering Heavy Losses" In Soledar; Biden, Obama Praise New Illinois Weapons Ban As Sheriffs Push Back; Ex-Crypto Star Bankman-Fried Speaks Out For The First Time Since Arrest. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired January 12, 2023 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, more classified documents at Biden's private home, the attorney general naming a special counsel. And the question tonight for Biden is, why are Americans only finding out about this now?
Plus, Republican Congressman George Santos under even more scrutiny tonight over a mysterious $700,000 contribution to his campaign, concerns about how, where it was spent and where did it go. So, what do his voters think? We'll talk to them.
In a story you'll see first OUTFRONT, Russians speaking out against Putin's war, one calling it a terrible mess, complete chaos, all of this on camera to CNN.
You'll see it first here. Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, on the defensive. More classified documents and a special counsel. President Biden says he does want to tell the American people everything he knows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me -- I'm going to get a chance to speak on all of this, God willing, soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right. He says he wants to speak but right now the White House is facing a barrage of questions over the classified documents and so far, the administration is speaking very little.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But, again, I'm just not going to go beyond what the president said. I'm just not going to go into the particulars or specifics of what the department of justice did. I'm not going to get into the decisions that was made by the attorney general, and I'm not going to go beyond the lawyers say. I'm not going to go into specifics here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: In case you missed it, she's not going to go into specifics.
Look, it's not a joking matter. The tense White House briefing coming just a couple hours after Attorney General Merrick Garland named Robert Hur, a former Maryland U.S. attorney who worked in the Trump administration as the special counsel in the Biden administration. Hur's appointment literally coming hours after the White House announced more classified documents were found at Biden's home in Delaware. President Biden's lawyer said, quote, all but one document was found in storage in Biden's garage and one document was in stored materials in an adjacent room.
Biden today had this to say about handling the classified documents properly, oddly saying the garage is also where his prized Corvette seen here in a 2020 campaign ad is locked and stored. So, this appears to be the garage where the documents were found. Take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: By the way, my Corvette is in a locked garage, okay? So it's not like it's sitting out on the street.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: As I said it was a bit odd of an explanation.
But, look, here's the thing, we're just learning about all this week, and that is by choice and design. The first batch of documents were found on November 2nd at Biden's office in Washington, D.C. They were given to the National Archives the next day.
On November 4th, the DOJ was notified. Now, during all of this, the public was told nothing. Then on December 20th, Biden's attorneys informed DOJ that additional classified material was found in Biden's garage. And then today, word of another document found last night at his Wilmington home.
Now, here's the thing, with all of this, it was not until this week that the public was told any of it. And frankly, the only reason they told it broke in the news. The news broke on Monday of documents found at Biden's office. The White House statement that came out only acknowledged those documents even though they were well aware other documents were found in the garage.
Well, it took the news media a couple days, that comes out and here we are. So, we do not know why they didn't say anything, contemporaneously or when the news of the first documents broke. But with the revelations of more documents, Trump and Republicans are trying to draw parallels.
Look, it's easier to do that when there's less transparency even though the situations are not the same. Even though from the little we do know, we do know of significant differences, Biden had what's described now as a small number in two locations. Trump had more than 300.
There's a major difference now, the items were found and returned, of course. Biden's attorneys found them, handed them over immediately, notified the archives. DOJ was notified. Trump, of course, as you know only returned some documents after a request was made by the national archives, didn't reveal them all even after a subpoena and FBI search.
And finally, the Biden team, of course, is cooperating while Trump is now under investigation.
So let's begin with Evan Perez OUTFRONT live in Washington tonight.
And, Evan, you've been talking to your sources at Department of Justice. This story has moved very quickly today. We've got a special counsel now. What are you learning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, for the Justice Department now and certainly for Attorney General Merrick Garland, he felt this was a necessary step because of the extraordinary circumstance. Obviously, he'd already appointed a special counsel Jack Smith to investigate Donald Trump and his handling of classified material. It turns out that when he made that appointment he already knew about the first instance of documents that were found at President Biden's former office, private office while he was out of government.
And what we know now is there was a lot of information that Lausch was able to develop, including from doing interviews with people who worked with then-Vice President Biden and who may have been involved in shutting down the transition from his vice-presidency to this private office. Those people have been interviewed, and as a result of that John Lausch, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, recommended that Attorney General Merrick Garland appoint a special counsel.
Now, we heard from officials at the Justice Department that Garland believed that the decision was very easy to make. Once he got the recommendation, he made it very, very quickly, including before he traveled to Mexico, by the way, with President Biden.
But I'm also told by at least one official, Erin, that it certainly didn't help that the White House was putting out a narrative that was incomplete. That certainly reinforced the attorney general's decision that this was a necessary step, again, because of the extraordinary circumstance. The idea that, you know, on December 20th, they knew about these additional documents and yet only disclosed the initial batch when they talked about it this week.
BURNETT: All right, Evan, thank you very much.
And now, Margaret Hoover is with me, of course, host of "Firing Line" on PBS and a staffer at George W. Bush White House. Ryan Goodman, co- editor in chief of Just Security, former special counsel of the Department of Defense as well. And Astead Herndon, national political reporter for "The New York Times".
Margaret, let's start where Evan ended, reporting that obviously special counsel had been recommended, but it was the handling this week that they did not disclose all the documents when the first batch came to light, that according to his source sort of tipped the -- tipped the scales here for Garland to go the direction of a special counsel.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They -- Merrick garland almost had no choice but to appoint a special counsel in the sense he has a former president who's being investigated in a documents case. In order to even have the appearance of handling this and the appearance of a fair and flat playing field he had to appoint a special counsel.
There are a couple of things. I mean, first of all, it doesn't bring great comfort that Joe Biden thinks his documents are in great shape because the Corvette is there and he really loves the Corvette, so government secrets are in good shape. A slip of the tongue --
BURNETT: It wasn't the best moment.
HOOVER: Perhaps not the best moment.
But one thing that really strikes me is that if the reporting is true, that as soon as they found these documents in early November, the Biden team directly contacted NARA and the Department of Justice simultaneously and then Merrick Garland began a preliminary investigation. It could be they didn't want to step on DOJ because they were allowing an internal investigation to play out.
We need to get the information. The problem is, politically, the Biden White House has mishandled the communications with the public, and all that does is create the appearance of obfuscation and impropriety.
BURNETT: Right, right.
And, Astead, to this point, you know, as Margaret said, let's play this moment again when President Biden says, look, I want to tell you everything, I'm waiting -- I'm waiting with bated breath to do it but don't worry because of the Corvette. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Let me -- I'm going to get a chance to speak on all of this, God willing, soon. But as I said earlier this week -- and by the way my corvette is in a locked garage, okay, so it's not like they're sitting out in the street.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITIICAL ANALYST: Listen, Biden, that's like, you know, 3 out of 10 on those jokes. That was not a good time for him. I think this has been an interesting development for this White House.
They've gotten some criticism throughout the administration for not being necessarily as transparent as they could, as forthright as they could. That's certainly not the same as the criticisms of the Trump administration which was on a different level when it came to press. But on the Biden administration there's been a desire to be more forthright and to come out with that information on a number of fronts.
I think this is an example of a White House being a little like cute by a half. To your point, since they had gone through the procedures, it was a different level of time line there could be communication with the public, and I do think that's where the questions are going to be for this White House right now. Why did they not acknowledge both sets of documents when they knew the second batch was coming?
BURNETT: So, Ryan, from what we know at this point, and it's still developing obviously. I don't think that yesterday, we would be talking about more documents being found in the garage, the Corvette, the special counsel, necessarily, but here we are. What possible crimes could've been committed here, from what we do know?
RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPT. OF DEFENSE: So, the crime that I think is the core one, is the same one that would apply in the Trump case which is, did Biden willfully retain these documents, and failed to deliver them to the document for over a course of six years?
And that's what I think the special counsel will be investigating. But to determine that it's willful, we don't really have that evidence right now, but that's what he'll be --
BURNETT: And willful being separate from the obstruction piece of it, which, of course, Trump ended up with a subpoena and FBI search, which of course categorically did not happen here.
GOODMAN: Right, and the FBI search also comes with obstruction of justice and obstruction of investigation as well. There's no indication whatsoever of anything here. In fact, it's textbook of the way you should cooperate with a Justice Department investigation.
BURNETT: Absolutely. Margaret, it is interesting though, of course, when the Trump news was breaking, there was a lot of moral outrage and also outrage that people who held classified documents that anybody would have them, but nobody does this. This isn't something that happened all the time. In fact one of his defenses was, oh, yes, it does.
This, of course, seems to give some air to that balloon. Would we be having this conversation on this level about Biden if it weren't for Trump and everything that's gone on?
HOOVER: I actually think it's a pretty basic rule when you work in federal government that the documents you're seeing especially the secret, top secret TS/SCI documents, those are not yours. Those belong to the government.
The reason the elected have power because it is blessed to them by the public who has granted them that trust. And when you go back into private life those documents, that information belongs to the public. It belongs to the government. Then it goes to NARA and then people and historians and reporters can go access that in order to tell our history.
Transparency is the key. This is how we operate. How anybody ends up with classified documents boggles the mind truly. And so, we need to understand why he has them. We need to understand why Trump has them.
BURNETT: Right. And, Astead, it does -- I mean, it does -- I mean, you're sitting here a lay person you're starting to think they all have them lying around in boxes.
HERNDON: Exactly. I think the point about a legal question is one thing. There's certainly a hypocrisy to the way Republicans were going to come at this.
But for your lay voter, it just muddies the waters. I mean, there is not -- the way the Trump case was supposed to be used was also politically to kind of show him as a careless leader in government as we know he kind of showed in multiple forms, right? But on this specific instance and this specific case, I think the special counsel allows Republicans particularly in the House to make that equivalence between the two president's actions and that has a political impact even though it doesn't have a legal one.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much.
And I want to go to Ty Cobb, a former Trump White House lawyer.
So, Ty, you know, you've been clear that the DOJ has everything it needs in terms of evidence if they want to indict Trump on everything with the Mar-a-Lago documents. But now this whole story has entered into the equation. Do you think this makes it any less likely that the DOJ will charge Trump?
TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: Well, I think it makes it slightly more difficult for them and so arguably less likely only because, you know, one of the things that the Justice Department has to guard against is, you know, an effective assertion of the selective prosecution doctrine. And the selective prosecution doctrine is, you know, can you target one person on a set of facts but not target someone in a similar situation on the same set of facts?
And when we talk about distinctions you've got to keep in mind the issue isn't, you know, whether the garage is locked. The issue is did he -- there is no willful standard, by the way. I would correct that. It's knowingly, which is slightly different standard and subject to specific instructions that, you know, you merely have to be aware of the fact.
And one of the problems --
BURNETT: Well, he said he wasn't aware. He has been specific about that. That's been one of the things they said. He did not know.
COBB: No, I agree. But one of the problems he has in talking about it that way remember he wrote a book and talked about Russia and Iran and Ukraine. And one of the things that the Justice Department is going to do is compare those passages to these documents, and, you know, it'll either show they were likely used or there's no mention of them. But it's a problem for him.
And in addition, you know, here you have a situation -- I mean, nobody's trying to defend what Trump did at all, and he typically responded, you know, in a irresponsible, you know, brash, sort of combative style that doesn't do him or anybody else any good. you know, assuming the narrative that the Biden lawyers were putting out is accurate, which is always something where you have to nail that down, but assuming they contacted NARA immediately and made the disclosures and are cooperating and they continue to provide full cooperation, which by the way would normally include a full interview of the president under these circumstances since it's his intent that governs.
You know, will they -- will they do all the cooperation that's required? That would be up to the special counsel. But it does make -- it does make it slightly less likely in my view that these will be the grounds that Trump gets charged on.
On the other hand, as you know I've always been a champion of the idea let's prosecute him for the, you know, unprecedented and unconstitutional cling to power offenses that he committed. And let the process crimes, you know, be treated slightly differently only because of the avoidance of the third world country problem.
BURNETT: So, let me ask you one question because you mention the special counsel Robert Hur. Do you think he's a good pick for this role?
COBB: I do. I think, you know -- I think, you know, there's no one particular person at the top of a list, you know, who should or should not have been selected. Rob has all the talent and skills and experience that you would want to look for in somebody for this assignment.
He was -- he's a very smart guy. I followed his career closely. He was an assistant U.S. attorney in the same office where I had previously led the criminal division. He was highly regarded.
I dealt with him frequently or several times I guess when he and Rod Rosenstein were together at the Justice Department, and Rod was Rob's assistant, you know, and then he was the U.S. attorney in Maryland. So he has the investigative and trial experience to do a good job here.
I think he has the independence as well. I think, you know, the problem is that no matter what people want, this shouldn't be a fast result because you have to look into who else had access. You know, we know Hunter Biden listed Joe Biden's home including his garage with his address until late 2019. You know, who else had access? Was any use made of it? Are their references and writings to the contents of the document?
These will all be things the just department has to look at.
BURNETT: Right, and it all takes time as you say.
All right. Ty Cobb, thank you very much.
COBB: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: And next, Congressman George Santos defiant despite new questions about where he got $700,000 to give his campaign. So what do his voters think?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was fooled by him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All these people are accusing him, they're politicians, they're lying. They're all liars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Well, it's a story from the ground you'll see first here out front.
Plus, Russians speaking out on camera to CNN against Putin's war. It's pretty incredible to watch, and we'll bring it to you next.
And he just signed into law one of the nation's strictest assault weapon bans. Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois is OUTFRONT tonight.
BURNETT: New tonight, Congressman George Santos refusing to say where more than $700,000 he gave to his congressional campaign came from and again insisting he has no plans to resign. This as three more House Republicans today called for him to step down. Now at least eight House Republicans have said Santos has to go.
Now, he's admitted to multiple lies as a candidate, where he went to school, his religion and a whole lot more personal ones. He also faces more scrutiny for other claims he made like founding a non-profit pet charity and having family members who fled the Holocaust. This all appears to be false.
Despite the growing calls from Republicans for Santos to resign, the new Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy is still standing by him. Santos, of course, supported McCarthy in all 15 rounds of votes for speaker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The voters have elected him. He is seated. He is part of the Republican conference. There are concerns with him so he'll go before ethics. If anything is found to be wrong, he'll be held accountable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So what do the voters who elected Santos actually think?
Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT.
REPORTER: Members of your own party are calling for your resignation.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Santos, a congressman less than a week under increasing pressure to step down.
REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): I will not resign.
MARQUEZ: Santos defiant but the lies, revelations, and questions growing. Many of those who voted for him feel betrayed and want him to go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't feel like I can trust him to represent myself, my interests, or the third district.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm more concerned about him representing to people that of his accomplishments and really not having accomplished or achieved anything that he said he did.
MARQUEZ: The latest concern for his constituents, his campaign money. He poured over $700,000 into his campaign, but there's little indication of where the money came from and concern as to how it was spent.
SANTOS: I've lived an honest life. I've never been accused of any bad doing.
MARQUEZ: Santos being interviewed today by fellow Republican Matt Gaetz on Steve Bannon's "War Room" podcast, suggesting he gave his own campaign the money.
SANTOS: It's the equity of my hardworking self and I've invested inside of me.
MARQUEZ: Republican town supervisor Jennifer DeSena endorsed Santos and trusted him. She says he needs to step down.
JENNIFER DESENA, NORTH HEMPSTEAD TOWN SUPERVISOR ENDORSED BY SANTOS: I thought that he had -- I thought he had the qualifications and seemed so successful and ambitious that I was fooled by him.
MARQUEZ: And to know that's all a fabrication?
DESENA: It's shocking. It's shocking. I was hopeful there would be some explanation, but there was none.
MARQUEZ: Questions of campaign financing aside, the scope of Santos' lies seemed to touch every part of his existence. Among other things, he lied about being Jewish and that his grandparents survived the Holocaust. He lied about working at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. He even lied about being on a championship volleyball team.
JOSEPH CAIRO JR., CHAIRMAN, NASSAU COUNTY REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE: I'm calling for his immediate resignation.
MARQUEZ: The Nassau County Republican Committee says Santos should resign and that he outright lied to them when he presented his credentials.
CAIRO: We have a standard process we followed. We trusted people. We are now going to change our process.
Shame on me for being -- for believing people.
MARQUEZ: Despite the lies, some of his supporters say they'd vote for him again.
You'd vote for George Santos.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did.
MARQUEZ: Would you vote for him again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would.
MARQUEZ: Why after everything you've heard?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay. He's bad. But he has admitted that he's lied. All these people are accusing him, they're politicians. They're lying. They're all liars.
MARQUEZ: For those who didn't vote for Santos, deep frustration and resignation that this is the new norm in American politics.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very discouraging but not surprising ever since the election of Donald Trump. It's been a total swamp.
MARQUEZ: But look, look, we spoke to Republicans and independents who liked the opponent, the Democratic opponent Santos had in this last election but they said they voted for Santos because they didn't like the direction Democrat were taking the country. They worry now that Santos will be such a distraction, it's going to be harder for Republicans to carry out their agenda -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Miguel, thank you very much in Mineola, that district.
Now, a man who leaves a large portion of Santos' district and calls for him to resign, the Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, we'll note, of course, is a Republican. County Executive Blakeman, I appreciate your time.
So, you know, you heard from Santos' voters there. Many -- many of whom were saying he does need to resign. One of them saying, quote, I don't think I could trust him. Which, you know, sort of stating the obvious here, but should this -- should his voters make Congressman Santos reconsider his vow to not step aside?
BRUCE BLAKEMAN (R), NASSAU COUNTY, NY EXECUTIVE: Well, you heard George Santos say that he's been honest his whole life. I mean, this guy is delusional. To lie about such fundamental things and one lie after another makes me very, very reticent to have any dealings with him whatsoever, and I'll not have any dealings with him.
The fact of the matter is how can I entrust him with information? How can I entrust him talking about important issues, such as the environment, public health, economic development, public safety, infrastructure?
This is not somebody that I can deal with on a day-to-day basis because I don't believe a word he has to say. His fabrications were outrageous, and I'm not going to deal with somebody that I can't trust.
BURNETT: As you say and as Miguel point out in his piece, they touch every aspect of his existence, right? The volleyball team, his mother's death, his grandparents, his religion, his job, everything.
But let me play a little bit more for you what he said today about all these calls for him to resign. Here's his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTOS: I'm going to outwork any of the pundits and talking heads that are out there saying that I should resign, that I'm unfit for office. The reality is and the case in point here being is, I'm a workhorse. I've worked my whole life. I've lived an honest life. I've never been accused of any bad doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: I should say he has been charged with embezzlement in Brazil, so he has been accused, so even that doesn't add up, County Executive Blakemen.
But you hear him, he lived an honest life. How do you even square that circle?
BLAKEMAN: He said -- he just told another lie. He said I've never been accused of anything. We know he's been accused of crimes in Brazil.
We know he's been untruthful. We don't know where his money came from. He said he's worked hard all his life. Where? Where did you work? Because it certainly wasn't for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup.
BURNETT: Well, that's true, right? Point taken.
So Kevin McCarthy, though, has been backing him not at all publicly saying what you're saying. He said he won't tell Santos to resign because the voters elected him. And for two days in a row McCarthy has specifically said this about Congressman Santos. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: He's going to have to build the trust and he's going to have the opportunity to try to do that.
He's got a long way to go to earn trust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Okay. But the implication there is there's a road that he could earn that trust. What do you say to that?
BLAKEMAN: Well, America is a very compassionate and forgiving country, and there is a road back for George Santos. It starts with his resignation. It starts with him getting help for his deep emotional issues, and it starts with him trying to rebuild his life not on lies but on substance.
If George Santos was to do that maybe five, six, seven, eight years from now -- who knows -- he could have a productive career in the private sector or the public sector.
But so long as he sits in Congress and stains that institution, I don't see him being able to rehabilitate himself, and I don't think he's going to get a second chance. And I think what you just saw today was more lies. The guy doesn't know how to tell the truth.
BURNETT: County Executive Blakeman, I really appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
BLAKEMAN: Thank you.
BURNETT: All right. I appreciate it.
And next, Putin's forces locked in a bloody battle for that crucial town in Eastern Ukraine that they've made crucial. Both sides suffering heavy losses as we understand it. But some Russians are now risking their own safety and they're speaking out to CNN, and you're going to see them and hear them first here OUTFRONT next.
Plus, the breaking news, a frantic search right now for survivors under way after a string of tornados tore thru Alabama. One county official telling CNN there are multiple deaths, and we're going to have the latest on this ahead.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Tonight, we are just abandoned, that is a quote from a Ukrainian soldier fighting in Soledar, what he said on the situation on the ground as he and his soldiers desperately wait to evacuate.
Soledar is the town in Eastern Ukraine that we've been following and showing you here. It's one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles are being waged right now and it comes as Russian citizens are now speaking out on camera angry and bewildered some of them by their military's performance, calling it a terrible mess, complete chaos.
Fred Pleitgen has this incredible and rare view from inside Russia. It is a story you will see first here OUTFRONT.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): While the situation on the battlefields in eastern Ukraine remains red hot, the mood in Moscow surprisingly frosty. When CNN asked people if they were optimistic about what the Kremlin calls its special military operation in Ukraine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I simply do not get why we haven't won yet. I just don't get it. I'm former military and I just don't get it at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think this points to a complete chaos of our authority that allowed for this terrible mess to happen, a war with a brother nation.
PLEITGEN: All of this after Vladimir Putin standing amid Russian soldiers attempted to rally the nation in his New Year's address.
There's nothing stronger than love for our near and dear, he said, loyalty to our friends and comrades in arms and devotion to our fatherland.
Now, Putin has demoted the man in charge of the land and replacing him with Russia's top general, Valery Gerasimov, whose close to Putin and Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, often accompanying them to military exercises and briefing Putin on the war in Ukraine.
The move comes as analysts say Russia seems to be gearing up for a massive spring offensive after mobilizing more than 300,000 people late last year. But also with its top brass under fire as the only gains Russia is making around the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine are coming thanks to the private military group Wagner.
Wagner's boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has ripped into the army's leadership, essentially calling the generals running the war incompetent, and now in an audio message making clear he is the only one who can give Putin some wins.
I want to emphasize that in the storm of Soledar no other units participated than Wagner. Wagner is known for extreme brutality. This video purports to show the
mercenaries advancing around Soledar, passing the bodies of dead Ukrainian troops. Many are convicts recruited from Russian jails with the promise of freedom if they survive.
It's not clear whether the army's change of command is a move to counter Russia's pressure and many folks on Moscow's streets certainly weren't keen to comment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We have a president. Let him think for us. We have full faith in him, and we trust our military.
PLEITGEN (on camera): Some voices from Moscow there.
And, Erin, tonight, Yevgeny Prigozhin taking another swipe at the Russian defense ministry after the Russian army said some of its forces had also taken part in the battle for Soledar. A telegram channel affiliated with Wagner put out a video allegedly showing two Russian soldiers that they had not fought there and only Wagner forces who are on the ground there. So, you can see a lot of bad blood between those factions -- Erin.
BURNETT: Yeah, a lot of bad blood.
Fred, thank you very much. You know, infighting never a good sign.
OUTFRONT now, retired Lieutenant Army General Ben Hodges. He is the former commanding general for Europe and the Seventh Army.
And, General, I appreciate your time.
You know, you heard Fred there, the woman at the end. I'll let the president do the thinking for us. That, of course, is what you hear from inside Russia. But yet also you heard those men inside Russia, their faces on camera willing to speak to CNN, willing to describe what they saw this war as a terrible mess and complete chaos.
What does that say to you there's really anyone who's willing to do that now from Russia and put their faces on that?
LT. GENERAL BEN HODGES, FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. ARMY EUROPE & SEVENTH ARMY (RET.): Well, Erin, it's always difficult to know what Russian people are really thinking because they don't have a free media. People are scared to speak out often. What really stuck with me was last September, 500,000 Russian military age males left the country rather than get mobilized. So that's a pretty loud statement there.
BURNETT: So you -- when you look at what's happening in Soledar, you're looking even more broadly than that, and of course, it is brutal and the death toll there is terribly high. I know you believe that Ukraine is going to be able to liberate Crimea, which, of course, has been under Russian control since 2014, and frankly prior to Putin's invasion almost a year ago, it seemed Ukraine had kind of given up on. They were fighting in the Donbas and weren't fighting in Crimea. You think they're going to take it back by the end of August. That is a bold bet that you're standing by. How do you see it happening?
HODGES: So, of course, I have to put a huge caveat on this and that's the west continues with sanctions and continues delivering everything we said we're going to deliver. That's the key, obviously.
But I think when I look at the map, Crimea is actually very vulnerable.
There are only two roads that lead into Crimea. One goes over the Kerch Bridge and it's already been severely damaged. It's being repaired, but I expect Ukrainians will revisit that bridge.
And another is so-called a land bridge that runs along the coast of Azov. And the Ukrainians have already demonstrated they can hit it near the city of Melitopol.
So I think over the next couple of months, we're going to see them continuing to press Russian logistics and Russian headquarters and eventually get to the point where they can make Crimea untenable.
They're not going to do just a frontal assault like what we see the Russians doing around Soledar. They're going to make it untenable using long-range precision fires.
BURNETT: General Hodges, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. I always do.
HODGES: Thank you.
BURNETT: All right. Next, President Obama praising the governor of Illinois for signing one of America's strictest assault weapons bans into law. What a growing number of sheriffs tonight are now refusing to enforce.
Governor J.B. Pritzker is next.
Plus, Sam Bankman-Fried, the alleged mastermind behind what's being called one of the largest frauds in American history speaks out for the first time after his arrest.
BURNETT: Tonight, it's been hailed as one of the nation's strictest laws banning assault weapons. Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, praised by Presidents Biden, Obama and Clinton for this, vilified by many in his own state, though, including a growing number of sheriffs for signing a bill which bans a long list of semiautomatic weapons, high capacity magazines and so-called switches that allow guns to fire automatically.
The law also requires people who currently own these weapons to register them. This comes as gun stores in Illinois reporting a massive spike in sales just before the bill was signed by the governor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER KRAHL, ILLINOIS GUN STORE OWNER: We were standing room only. We were overwhelmed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, the Democratic governor of Illinois, JB Pritzker.
And, Governor, I appreciate your time.
So, look, the bill you signed this week, and just gave a few of the headlines. It is extensive. There's a six page list in there of more than 100 guns that are now banned in your state. The White House says this will keep weapons of war off American streets.
You've got the endorsements of former President Obama, of course, from Chicago, praising your bold action, former President Bill Clinton says this law will save lives.
Do you share these big statements? I mean, what do you think specifically it will accomplish, Governor?
GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D), ILLINOIS: Well, let me just remind you that we had several terrible tragedies over the last six months beginning with the Highland Park shooting. Seven people dead, dozens injured, hundreds of people, frankly, traumatized by it. We had shootings at the McDonald's in downtown Chicago, the Benito Juarez High School on the southwest side of Chicago. These were all mass shootings using either a switch or an AR-15-style weapon.
Assault weapons needed to be banned in our state. It's taken a long time for us to organize to get it done. And, of course, we elected a lot of gun safety advocate candidates to the general assembly. And finally, we were able to get this passed and overcome the power of the NRA in our state.
BURNETT: And you're now reportedly facing push back for at least 40 sheriffs in the state. They say they're not going to proactively check to make sure people are registering their assault weapon. And obviously we know part of this law is, well, if you have one already you have to register it.
Gun store owners are reporting a spike in sale. One owner saying standing room only, "The Chicago Sun-Times", another said rifle sales had surged tenfold from a year ago.
Look, I understand you've got to start somewhere, and you're very proud about where you are. But how worried are you about your ability to enforce the law?
PRITZKER: Well, let's start with the fact that sheriffs take an oath of office to enforce the law. And they're obligated to do that, and they will do that.
We also have the state police that are responsible for carrying this out, and they're under my command. And then let's talk about those gun stores. Actually, we did this in a relatively short period of time.
The good news about that is from the time that the bill was introduced to the time that I signed it was only a few days. You can imagine what would have happened if I hadn't signed it as fast as I did after it passed finally the Senate. I did it within a cup of hours of receiving the bill.
So we didn't have a prolonged period of time where people were able to go purchase these kinds of weapons. They are illegal in our state now, and we will enforce the law.
BURNETT: So have you had any conversations with those sheriffs or what are you going to do about them right now?
PRITZKER: Well, I think they're relying upon the idea that the NRA and their affiliates here in the state are filing suit and hoping to take that suit all the way to the Supreme Court and have this law overturned. They won't be successful. We've had, you know, lots of attorneys involved in drafting this legislation.
We believe that we will prevail. And if the law of the land here in Illinois is in place, these weapons have been banned, you can't purchase one, you can't sell one in this state right now.
We're very proud of that fact. And we are truly saving lives. So I'm pleased with where we are. Obviously, you know, when these folks lose at the ballot box and they lose in the general assembly, they decide they've got to go to court in order to see if they can get it overturned. They won't be successful.
BURNETT: And, Governor, of course, you are the governor. You're also a very prominent face in national politics, and I want to get your reaction to our top story tonight which is the Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel after classified documents more of them were found at President Biden's home in Delaware in a garage and an adjacent room in his home and in his private office in Washington.
Do you think, do you have concern about how President Biden handled these documents?
Do you think he could have broken the law?
PRITZKER: Well, I should say I have been a little busy over the past couple of days. So, I haven't focused on all the details. But I can say this, appointing a special counsel is the right thing to
do. There ought to be complete transparency around this. And this is very different than what happened with Donald Trump, hiding classified documents.
This White House, when they found that they had some documents to turn over, did so relatively immediately and have been forthcoming with information about it.
That's not the case with Donald Trump. He was hiding them for months and months and refusing to turn them over. So, quite a contrast between the two.
BURNETT: All right. Governor Pritzker, I appreciate your time. Thank you, sir.
PRITZKER: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: And next, jailed crypto founder Sam Bankman-Fried breaking his silence tonight as we are learning more about exactly who is investing in crypto and losing their pants.
Plus breaking news. We're just getting word of a deadly tornado outbreak across the South. One official telling CNN we have multiple deaths and are still searching for bodies.
BURNETT: Tonight, disgraced cryptocurrency executive Sam Bankman- Fried speaking out for the first time since his arrest, insisting he did not siphon billions of dollars of customers from the crypto firm he co-founded, writing in a blog post, quote, I didn't steal funds and I certainly didn't stash billions away.
The Justice Department, though, begs to differ, indicting him last month on eight counts, including fraud, money laundering, and campaign finance violations.
Look, he is 30 years old. He was worth $26 billion earlier this year, recently down to $100,000. Apparently, he is now on house arrest at his parents' home and somehow was able to post a $250 million bond.
Don't ask me to do the math.
Our senior data reporter Harry Enten is here to break it all down.
Okay. $100,000, a quarter billion, you have been looking into the numbers around crypto, and you've noticed some interesting trends. So who exactly is putting all this money in?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yeah. So, overall, it's only about 16 percent of adults, but the folks who are putting it in --
BURNETT: Seventeen percent of adults, Harry? Only?
ENTEN: Only, but compare that to men under the age of 30, 42 percent. [19:55:02]
Women 50 plus that is the part of the population that doesn't put money in at all. Only 5 percent of them do.
So basically, it's an age and a gender thing. Women are less likely to, and older people are less likely to put money into crypto.
BURNETT: I am still stunned by 16 percent of all adults. Because how many of those 16 percent actually understand what they were putting money into?
All right. So crypto is a relatively new phenomenon, and that's why I say this. It's complicated, right? It's hard to fully understand all the aspects here. The market obviously has been volatile even prior to this debacle. So why are people investing in it?
ENTEN: Yeah, I think it's -- what we found in the polling they say it's easy to invest. It's a different way to invest, and it's a way to make money. Fifty percent of those who invest in crypto, at least 50 percent gave that as a minor or major reason.
But it also may be the celebrity endorsers, right? There have been all these celebrities endorsed it. Larry David, Gisele, Tom Brady, Kim Kardashian, and I should also note all four of those have also been sued over their endorsements and the pushing of cryptocurrency.
BURNETT: Right, OK, and they put money in.
BURNETT: As I said, they've lost a lot of money.
ENTEN: Tom Brady especially.
BURNETT: How are these investments working out for everyone and for these, you know, rich and famous people?
ENTEN: Yeah, so, look, if you look over the last year, the stock market as a whole has been down. The S&P 500, which as you know is a benchmark, has been down about 15 percent.
But look at bitcoin, which is the major cryptocurrency, right? It's down nearly 60 percent. So the fact is it's been a tough market, but crypto has been down overall. Whether you look at something like bitcoin or, of course, FTX, which is adios amigos, went into bankruptcy.
BURNETT: Yeah, right, and that's -- you know, you're talking incredible amounts of money being lost by a lot of people, and including some of those wealthy individuals. Brady mentioned, Bob Kraft.
ENTEN: They endorsed and lost money. They got sued and they lost money. It was lose-lose for them.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Harry.
ENTEN: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, the breaking news, we are learning of multiple deaths after devastating tornadoes have torn through the South.
BURNETT: Breaking news. At least five dead in one Alabama County after a devastating line of tornadoes tore through the south. The coroner in Alabama telling CNN that officials are now searching for bodies. One tornado hit Selma, causing significant damage according to the mayor there, and at least 24 tornadoes so far tonight have been reported across the south, according to the National Weather Service.
The governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, declaring a state of emergency in six counties already. This is broader than one state. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also declaring a state of emergency. Nearly 200,000 people are also without power in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, as the story develops tonight.
Thank you so much for joining us. You can watch us any time on CNN Go, but it is time flow for "AC360" with Anderson Cooper.