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Putin's Private Army Posts Video Claiming Victory Amid Fierce Fighting In Eastern Town Of Soledar; Sources: More Locations Connected To Biden Could Be Searched; McCarthy: "I Always Had A Few Questions About Santos' Resume"; China Braces For Possible COVID Surge Amid Travel Rush. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 16, 2023 - 19:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Russia claims a rare victory, but a former Russian commander is now breaking his silence about the brutal treatment of soldiers on the front lines. We're live in Ukraine.

Plus, CNN is learning more locations connected to President Biden could be a search for classified documents, and the president is frustrated tonight.

And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy now says he has -- he had questions about the life story of Congressman George Santos. So, why was nothing done?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan, in for Erin Burnett. Welcome to a special edition of OUTFRONT.

Tonight, Russia touts a rare military victory.


BOLDUAN: This is video posted by Putin's private army. In it, you see Russian fighters holding a Wagner flag and claiming that they're in control of Maine train station outside the town of Soledar, which Putin claims his forces have seized. This station, train station, is not far from Bakhmut which has seen heaviest and bloodiest fighting of recent. We will take you to this region in a moment to see firsthand the loss and devastation.

It's an area that is symbolically important for Russia, capturing Soledar and Bakhmut would be the most significant victory Russia had in months. But it's also coming at a cost. A former Wagner commander is now speaking out after abandoning the fight and seeking asylum in Norway, and he is revealing why they were constantly being sent more prisoners.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): Every week, they sent more prisoners to us. We lost a lot of men, casualties were high. We would lose 15, 20 men in just our platoon.


BOLDUAN: It's a pretty damning assessment, and it comes as we are seeing new images tonight of Putin's savage attack on innocent civilians. We're going to show you, these are new images just in of the desperate search and rescue operation that is still underway in Dnipro tonight. Twenty-five people are still said to be missing as the death toll now stands at 40, including children -- including three children, killed in this apartment complex.

This brazen attack is one of the deadliest since the start of the war nearly a year ago, and it is renewing Kyiv's urgent calls for upgraded air defenses. That's because, right now, Ukraine doesn't have capabilities to shoot down the type of missile that brought this destruction. However, there is some help on the way.

Tonight, a number of Ukrainian troops are at Fort Sill in Oklahoma to begin training on the sophisticated Patriot missile system. This system can take down tactical ballistic missiles, cruise-type missiles, and aircraft. Much more on that in a second.

Ben Wedeman is OUTFRONT live for us, though, in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

Ben, you've been on the ground in Bakhmut, tell us what you've seen.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, what we saw is people in that city, struggling to survive. We saw soldiers preparing for, perhaps, a Russian onslaught. It was, indeed, a city on edge.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Near Bakhmut's front lines, lost souls wander the streets. Those who can't leave won't leave, or have given up carrying. I put some food on the fire, I chopped some would, said Svetlana, and decided to go out for some fresh air.

Dmytro pays no heat to the shelling. This is my land, he says, I won't believe. The fighting echoes through the fog.

As the Russians seem to be gaining control of Soledar north of here in Bakhmut, the fighting seems to be intensifying. One local resident told us, whereas before mortars were flying over their heads, now it's bullets. Soldiers prepared trenches inside the city, new defensive positions, if the Russians push forward.

Sandbags with wood on top, says Valentin (ph), and three firing positions.

On the ever so slightly safer western side of the city, a makeshift market offers the basics. With no electricity or running water, commerce is conducted in the open.


My two shops were destroyed, says Denis (ph), so I'm selling on the street.

But this food is only for those who can afford it, and Sergey (ph) isn't one of them. I'm living like an effing animal, he says.

Ivan returns home after collecting firewood, the bitter cold is deadly as the shelling.

People have frozen to death in their apartments, he says.

On a bluff overlooking document's artillery officer nicknamed "Pilot" says they are up against troops, many of them convicts, with a private military -- Wagner.

We are finding against soldiers brought to the slaughter, he says. These Wagner guys have to choice. They're sentenced to death.

And then, the order comes to open fire.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And we are hearing unconfirmed reports that the Russian forces have taken a town south of Bakhmut. The danger, at this point, is that if the Russians continue to advance in that area, they could have Bakhmut surrounded -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Ben, thank you so much for your report. Really appreciate it.

OUTFRONT with me now for more on this is retired Army Major General James Spider Marks, and Steve Hall, a former CIA chief of Russia operations, of course.

Gentlemen, thanks for being here.

General Marks, first to you. We just heard what Ben Wedeman has witnessed and what's reporting from Bakhmut, and also the unconfirmed reports that he has tonight about how it could be getting worse there for the Ukrainians, better for the Russians, if you will.

What do you think of that fight here, and how much should Ukraine focus on defending it, as well as Soledar?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, Soledar, by itself, is nothing. It's a place where Russia has decided to make a stand, and Ukraine has resisted, but obviously, they lost that fight. Russia was terribly bloodied as a result of that. That could be described in military terms as a pyrrhic victory. You got a piece of terrain, but it's not key terrain. It won't necessarily add to what I think Russia's ultimate objectives are.

But at the same token, key terrain means important to both sides, it's not important to Ukraine holds Soledar. So, the fact they lost it, it might affect them in terms of morale. If they were able to put to the Russians, then it was a good fight.

Bakhmut, on the other hand, is important because it's a crossroad, north south, east west roads are there. It's deeper into Donbas. If you could take Bakhmut, if Ukrainians could take Bakhmut, you are now advancing your operational, and let's be frank, strategic objectives to try to isolate a part of the Donbas, and that allows the Ukrainian forces then to reduce either to the east and north or west. You can't do both at the same time.

So, Bakhmut is important. But Soledar certainly less so.

BOLDUAN: Steve, you also heard Ukrainian soldier in Ben's piece talk about the Wagner troops who are credited with taking much of Soledar from Russia. Some are former prisoners who were released simply to enter the fight. I want to play something else from the former Wagner commander now seeking asylum in Norway.

Listen to this.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): When the prisoner started arriving, the situation in Wagner really changed. They stopped treating us like humans. We were thrown to the fight like cannon fodder.


BOLDUAN: And hearing that, and seeing what's happening, are you surprised Putin is letting the Wagner group fight this war this way?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's interesting. I mean, the cannon fodder piece, Kate, is a long part of Russian and Soviet era military tactics. They will simply throw a ton of human resources, unfortunately, into the cannon fodder kind of scenario. That part is not surprising.

But the use of Wagner, which is the paramilitary organization run by Mr. Prigozhin, who is an oligarch close to Putin, is kind of interesting because, of course, it takes some of the fight out of the hands of the Russian army itself, the government sponsored army, and puts it in the hands of this private organization, still under the control of Putin, to be clear. It is interesting.

BOLDUAN: It sure is.

And, General, there is also this deadly attack. I want to ask you, that Ukraine says its air defense system can't detect, can't defend against the type of missile that was used. Ukrainian troops, and there are -- with Ukrainian troops arriving in Oklahoma to train on the patriot missile system, all of this kind of happening at the same time.

How important is this training, now especially when you see the obliteration of this apartment building and attack on civilians?


MARKS: Well, the injection of the Patriot system is an incredible step in the right direction, but bear in mind, it provides some very limited air defense capabilities, but not where it's employed. Where it's employed -- it's a spot defense, which is quite phenomenal.

The training is taking place at Fort Sill, and anecdotally, I have a nephew who is going through training at Fort Sill right now. He has been put to the side so that the Ukrainian soldiers get the priority of training and equipment and the resources necessary.

The training for the Patriot is probably a pretty long tailed in excess of six months, so it's going to be awhile before it's fully realized.

BOLDUAN: I didn't appreciate how long that was going to be before it is realized. That's an important factor in all of this.

Steve, today, looking at the fight, and what Ukraine could be getting, Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said these Challenger 2 tanks, I think it's about a dozen or so, that the U.K. has promised to send over to Ukraine, and the way Peskov described it, Challenger 2 tanks will burn like the rest.

He said these more advanced military equipment being sent over from Ukraine, other countries, the way he describes, it says it will not be able to change situation on the ground. It's only going to drag this out.

Not surprising that he would say that, but do you have a sense -- I know it's kind of a big question mark throughout this, if the Russian people believe it?

HALL: You know, I think there is enough people, Kate, in Russia, who are still getting their news and information from the government controlled systems, you know, the television networks and so forth. So, yeah, it probably is bringing true.

In the West, it's comical because I think Peskov was the guy who said a couple days ago they had already destroyed several U.S. provided vehicles which we haven't actually deployed yet. So, you know, when it comes to the Kremlin, we in the West know it's to be doubted, but Russians are probably still buying that.

The interesting thing in their propaganda pieces when they say this will simply prolong things because, of course, that's what they're hoping for. They want to make a signal to Ukraine saying, look, the Americans in the West are willing to fight down to the last Ukrainian, which is an interesting propaganda piece, which may have impact inside of Russia, and perhaps, eventually, in Ukraine as well as things get more and more difficult.

BOLDUAN: That's interesting.

General Marks, how important are those tanks for Ukraine right now?

MARKS: Well, they're getting 14, at least the Brits have indicated that they're going to send 14, which is about a company. So, this is a capability that can provide a tremendous tactical punch, but that's about what it can do.

So, you aren't going to be able to achieve some maneuver capability. This is not necessarily going to lead directly to both operational objectives and, ultimately, a strategic victory. It's great, it's a tactical advantage, but that's it, almost exclusively.

BOLDUAN: General Marks, thank you, Steve, it's great to see you. Thank you both very much.

OUTFRONT for us next, the growing frustration behind the scenes at the White House over President Biden's handling of classified documents.

Plus, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is revealing for the first time that he too had questions about the story's George Santos was telling.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I never know about his resume or not, but I had questions about it.


BOLDUAN: And an alarming close call at New York's JFK Airport. We're going to hear from a passenger who's on board one of the two planes.



BOLDUAN: Tonight, CNN is learning more locations to President Biden could be search for classified documents and other presidential records. That is according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. So far, about 20 classified documents in total have been found first in a private office at the Penn Biden Center in D.C., and then in Biden's home in Wilmington.

And behind the scenes, sources are telling CNN now that Biden is frustrated by how this is playing out and how his White House is handling it. Evan Perez has more reporting for us, he's OUTFRONT.

Evan, what else are you learning about more searches?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, one of the things that the special counsel is going to have to do is to establish with the Biden team whether there is any place else that they need to search. Now, we know that the Biden family had rented a home in Virginia during one of the periods here that we're talking about. And so, the question is, do they do a search there? Any other offices that maybe use during that time.

And who does those searches? Do you want the FBI to do them? Or is the White House going to bring in somebody with the security clearance who can do those searches. I can tell you, on the part of the Justice Department, there's a lot of consternation really about some of the timelines here. If you remember back in November, that's when the first documents were found, there is an investigation begins, an assessment begins, and then you can skip forward to December 20th which is when the second batch of documents was found.

We are told that the White House and certainly the Biden team had told the justice department that they were going to do these searches. Why it took five weeks is something of a mystery. You see the timeline there.

On January 9th, 11th, 12th, and 14th is when the justice department, I'm sorry, when the White House and the Biden team put out various narratives of what exactly happened.

BOLDUAN: And so, Evan, there are multiple Republicans now, including Congressman James Comer, the chairman of House Oversight, who have asked for visitor logs for -- from Biden's home in Wilmington because that is where some adoptions were found. It does not sound like that is happening.

PEREZ: No, it sounds like the White House is saying that there are no visitor laws and the president, his legal team says because it is his private home, there are no visitor logs of people coming and going.

Of course, that is going to be an issue because of the FBI and the new special counsel. They're going to want to figure out who may have had access to those places.

Now, we are talking about a period of six years, they need to try to reconstruct this. As far as Republicans, they just want to make sure that this is something that they can remind the president about because of course, there is still that Trump investigation which is a lot more messy, a lot more documents that were found. You also have a former president who has tried to pretend like none of these documents actually belong to the government when we know they do.


BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. It's good to see you, Evan. Great reporting. Thank you.

OUTFRONT with me now, Alyssa Farah Griffin, former communications director for then President Trump. Also here, Ryan Goodman, co-editor in chief of "Just Security" and former special counsel at the Defense Department; and CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon.

Thanks for being here guys.

Ryan, let me start with you, you just heard Evan's reporting. What do you make of -- you have to say is the possibility of other locations being searched, what -- what do you make of them?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: So, it stands to reason that for national security reasons, we want to have these are the proper search because in a case that there is any likelihood that other classified documents are out there in the wild, they want to recover them. And then for legal reasons, you would think that in some sense, this will have already been conducted.

It's a little surprising that they didn't do all of the properties that Biden was at, and where he might have stored files there. So, the fact that it's happening right now is a bit of an oddity.

That said, if you just compare to the Trump case, President Trump's team was notified in may of 2021 by the archives that they were missing documents. It took them until November of 2022 for them to conduct other searches of which they did find additional documents.

BOLDUAN: Good point. And so, you also now have, John, the White House Secret Service says that there are no visitor logs at Biden's home in Wilmington. This came up because as I mentioned with Evan, James Comer, House Oversight, other Republicans are saying that they want to be investigating.

The fact that there aren't any visitor logs, is that a problem?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's troubling, I think there should be visitor locks for presidents private residences. But I think Republicans have a fundamental problem with consistency because, you know, Trump White House didn't have visitor logs, let alone for Bedminster for Mar-a-Lago.

And so, you can't credibly, you know, as Republicans rail on this as a security failure when the president from your party ignored it altogether. There should be consistent standards applied. I think going forward, they should be the standard.

BOLDUAN: Comer also says that the investigation very clearly Alyssa is coming over this. But as still, a we are seeing, as far as we know, Republicans have not announced any investigation into Donald Trump and his handling, and his refusal to turn over documents. Comer was asked about this difference or distinction, or both this weekend.

Let me play what he said. Listen to this.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): We have been so many investigations into President Trump, I don't feel like we need to spend a whole lot of time investigating President Trump because the Democrats have done that for the past six years.


BOLDUAN: What does that tell you about where this is headed? Does this signal anything to you?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, as a factual matter, of course, the Mar-a-Lago events and the documents were a post presidency wrongdoing by the former president. So, of course, Democrats did not previously investigate that. That would be something that frankly something the oversight committee should look at if they want to have a credible investigation into both the former president and the current president handling of classified information.

But I think it signals, feels like committee is going to be very political, it's going to be very partisan. I think the White House expects that. I think many Republicans frankly want that. There are areas they can do oversight like Afghanistan, border security. They are not going to learn anything that the Justice Department isn't going to know. I think it's frankly a waste of time.

BOLDUAN: Isn't there something, so in terms of oversight of, let's just say, the classification process, there's some to be learned here, there is potentially an area where real oversight could be done. But it is not when you see -- it does not seem like it is heading that direction.

AVLON: No, because they seem determined to take a bipartisan approach to oversight. What we need to do is to break this all together. Look, you know, we need to be applying consistent standards with a sense of perspective on these documents.

BOLDUAN: Even if it hasn't been done in the past, it is important that it happens at some point.

AVLON: Yeah, clearly going forward. Whoever the president is, whoever he visits with, that is important to the American people.

Look, you know, let's talk about the areas we can and should agree on. Biden shouldn't have had any classified documents anywhere. That's the law. If there's anything nefarious, he should be held accountable. I think it's good for the interest of transparency and consistent standards that the special counsel was appointed.

I think the Biden White House got caught flat-footed on this. And Biden has got to take responsibility for that. But the mythic moral equivalence between these two cases, not muddying the waters, doesn't serve clarity, perspective, or an educated guess.

BOLDUAN: People should have able to have two thoughts in their head at one time. I'm not saying you can, John, but some might be able to.

On the point of how it is been handled, though, Ryan, it's not just Republicans who are critical of how the White House has handled this. We now have reporting that Biden's -- a source close to the investigation, says, well, one, Biden is frustrated about this. But, a source close the investigation says the pace of the searchers by Biden's team came as was being described as a source of consternation amongst the Chicago team that was first looking into this matter.


That sticks out to you, why?

GOODMAN: And it sticks out to me because this kind dovetails with, I would imagine, President Biden's concerns about the White House messaging. The White House messaging, they said that they had -- that Biden's team had been closely coordinating with the Justice Department. Now we find that the U.S. attorney in Chicago who had consternation about the pace of their search.

And as Evan pointed out, there is this open question that has not been answered. Why do take them from November 2nd to December 20th to finally conduct the second search? They find documents, why does it take them again until January 11th to go back to the same home, to the room adjacent to that garage?

Now we see that it is not what we might have imagined. Maybe the FBI was slowing them down, maybe the archives was slowing them down. Now it seems to be that the U.S. attorney was concerned that the Biden team space of doing these searches was the problem.

BOLDUAN: In terms of President Biden's frustration behind us scenes about how this is playing out, I spoke with the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and one thing he said is, if he could offer advice to this White House, he would say, you need to separate this. You need to have a separate spokesperson, separate legal team to take all these questions because he says, if it is not already becoming a distraction to this White House, it will dog you, it will eventually become a very a big distraction.

Do you think that's needed?

GRIFFIN: I think that's actually very smart. Two things, I think it is important that the president and his team set expectations now to say, there may be additional documents that come out. We are fully compliant, this is what we are doing, and just be as transparent as possible. The other thing you can't ignore of this, I'm hearing frustration from supporters of the president.

And frankly opponents of Donald Trump who are saying you just handed such a victory to Trump because what Mar-a-Lago is thinking now is, there is no way Trump gets indicted because of how Joe Biden has handled this. There's a lot of political frustration in this handling.

I'm not reading the legal tea leaves, but I think the more he can separate from the White House officially and set expectations low.

AVLON: Look, I think the Biden team did the right thing by having -- sorry, the Justice Department did the right thing by appointing a former Trump U.S. attorney to be special counsel. That is the way it should be done. It ensures a degree, not that the credit will be given, of impartiality in this very serious investigation.

But the fact the of two parallel special counsels going forward, they should be making decisions on the merits, according to the law and not playing the ref through politics in the court of public opinion.

BOLDUAN: The challenge in all of this is, if and when they do that, and they explain that only on the facts to the public, you're still going to have in the next -- in the next segment, in the next sound bite, politicians coming on to do exactly what they're going to do with it.

AVLON: So be it.

BOLDUAN: So be it exactly right.

Standby to standby we like to stay.

Thanks, guys. It's good to see you. Really appreciate it.

OUTFRONT next, Speaker Kevin McCarthy now saying that he had questions about George Santos as calls grow for the Republican congressman to resign. I'm going to talk to one New York Republican who endorsed Santos and now wants him out.

Plus, we hear from a passenger who was on one of the two planes that came dangerously close to colliding on that runway in JFK.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just very glad to be here, full stop.




BOLDUAN: Tonight, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is revealing that he had questions about the life story that Republican Congressman George Santos was selling.

Here's what he told our Melanie Zanona.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I never know about his resume or not. I always have a few questions about it.


BOLDUAN: It's unclear when and if McCarthy ever raise those questions about Santos. But we do know that McCarthy has not called on Santos to resign. He also sent out this message, we will show you on election night, tweeting that Santos would be quote, a great leader and conservative voice for the people of this district.

Melanie Zanona is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill for us tonight.

Melanie, did McCarthy say what questions he had about Santos?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: No, he did not. But, Kate, it was so remarkable to hear Kevin McCarthy even admit that he always had questions about George Santos's resume. That was news to me. It does track with some of the reporting from brown, she reported that Dan, who has a pack allied with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, felt concerned about George Santos and he felt the need to reach out and express those concerns to the lawmakers and donors.

And so, CNN has learned that questions about George Santos back story have been spoiling in circles as far back as last summer, that People were worried that his story wasn't adding up, they were worried about a potential expose dropping.

So, it really speaks to the fact that this was not a big secret, at least in Republican circles. And yet, despite all of that, GOP leaders continue to support Santos. They continue to fund-raise for him, leading up to the November election. They are continuing to stand by him now and have not, so far, called on him to resign, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And also, Melanie, you also asked McCarthy about an allegation that was reported in the Washington times that an aide to Santos, a campaign aide back in 2021 was actually impersonating McCarthy's chief of staff to try to solicit donations. What did McCarthy say about that?

ZANONA: Well, McCarthy did say he was alerted to this incident after the fact, he also said that he did speak to Santos about it. He declined to elaborate further and look, I'm sure Kevin McCarthy was unhappy about the idea that a campaign staffer for Santos was impersonating his own chief of staff. But Kevin McCarthy is known as shown no appetite to punish George Santos.

In fact, not only has McCarthy not called on Santos to resign, but he said he is going to give a George Santos committee assignments, even if they are a less committee assignments, he will be given committee assignments. We are expecting that to happen at some point this week. We will be watching overall to see where he winds up.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Great reporting, Melanie, thank you so much.

And OUTFRONT with me now is Jennifer DeSena. She's a Republican town supervisor who had endorsed Santos during this campaign, but now is calling to resign. Thank you for being here. It is starting to become clear that influential Republicans, even Kevin McCarthy as we are reporting, had at the very least questions about the stories that Santos was telling during his campaign.

And still, Santos said recently, and the way he put it is that he says, I've lived an honest life. I've never been accused of any bad doing.

What do you think is going on with this man?

JENNIFER DESENA, REPUBLICAN TOWN SUPERVISOR: Well, he has not lived an honest life. If he were honest, he would've said who he was and what is real experience was.

Unfortunately, some of what is coming out now that maybe people knew and maybe at upper levels was not known to us in his home district. This goes for me and all my colleagues who spent time going to events with him, walking in parades with him. He held himself out as a very successful, you know, hedge fund investor. He had worked at Goldman Sachs and Citibank, and, you know, a property owner who understood what our residents needed, the former tax relief. He identified with our residents.

And sadly, he lied in order to identify with them. He told stories about having grandparents who fled the Holocaust. It is just false. The things that he said in our district were false. We did not know that there were questions and I for one wish that if there were questions that they had been raced before Election Day. BOLDUAN: Newark Republicans are pretty much speaking with one voice

and calling for him to design, but really only a small number of Republicans in Congress in the broader conference are doing so.

Let me play what we have heard in the last couple of days.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): He's a bad guy. It is his decision whether not he should resign. It's not my decision.

REP. DON BACON (R-NE): This is between him and his constituents, largely. They elected a man and he's -- they had to deal with him on that.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): It is pretty hard not to conclude that he is a bit of a goofball. You can't expel a member of Congress. At the end of the day, it really is up to voters in Nassau County.


BOLDUAN: Kevin McCarthy -- Kevin McCarthy is also not calling on him to resign. Why do you think they are not? I mean, do you think it is all about holding on to the slim Republican majority?

DESENA: I'll tell you, the congressmen from Long Island are not worried about holding on to the slim majority. They are united -- I believe, by my count, is nine Republican Congress members have called on him to resign. So, they are not worried about holding out to the majority. They're worried about a person who lies gratuitously about everything, about his grandparents, about having knee replacement surgery, about having employees who died in the Pulse nightclub massacre.

I mean, it's just a little worrisome that he doesn't seem to be, he doesn't seem to need to tell the truth. That is worrisome. I think he's a threat. I think he's a safety threat in Congress because there are serious questions about where he has received funds from. And I don't think he should receive the committee assignments that are being discussed. I think that -- I think that he's a threat.

BOLDUAN: We're noting that more than, I think more than 900 people turned out this weekend for a fund-raiser for Republicans in Nassau County, which, of course, Santos represents in Congress.

You were there, Santos was not. You have to assume that some of these people of course voted for George Santos.

What are you hearing from them now?

DESENA: Well, they are disappointed because we are very hardworking people. We don't lie to each other. Most people assume that if you lie, you're going to get caught. We are hardworking, really listen to our constituents, and he's not that. He's not one of us.

So, if he had come there, you know, he would have been asked to leave. Everyone in the room was outrage, frankly, because we have done a great job in Nassau County over the past two years listening and, you know, acting on some of the issues that we believe matter in Nassau County.

And he lied, lied to us, lied to the voters, lied to the media. I mean, everyone on both sides seems to have fooled by him. So, no, he would not have been there, not welcomed at our event.

BOLDUAN: Now, he's facing investigations in Congress and campaign finance investigations as well. So, we'll see what comes of that. But thank you for coming on, Jennifer DeSena. Appreciate your time.

OUTFRONT for us next, a terrifying close call at New York's JFK Airport. One pilot forced to abort take off to avoid crashing into another jet. So, what went wrong?


ATC: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)! Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance.

ATC: Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance.


BOLDUAN: Plus, China is already dealing with a devastating surge of COVID cases, reported 60,000 dead. Now, concerns of crisis, they're about to get worse.



BOLDUAN: Tonight, disaster averted. Two planes filled with passengers in New York's JFK airport came dangerously close to planning on the runway.

As one plane was trying to take off, the other crossed in front of it. There is now audio recordings detailing the quick thinking from air traffic controllers to prevent what could have been a disaster.

Pete Muntean is OUTFRONT.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aviation experts are calling it a narrowly avoided disaster at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport Friday night. Two commercial airlines, a Delta Airlines Boeing 737 and an American Airlines 777 on a collision course on the runway.


MUNTEAN: Passenger Brian Healy was on board the Delta Flight, unaware of what was about to take place.

JFK TOWER: Clear for takeoff, runway 4 left, Delta 1943.

MUNTEAN: This animation generated by a flight tracking data shows the Delta flight accelerating for takeoff as the American flight began taxing onto the runway ahead. An air traffic controller in the tower urgently noticed the problem.

JFK: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Delta 1943, Cancel takeoff plans. Delta 1943, cancel takeoff plans.

MUNTEAN: The Delta crew slammed on the brakes, something typically only practice in flight simulators like this one.


HEALY: The captain came on and explained that air traffic control had told him to abort the takeoff because there is another aircraft on the runway.


I didn't really -- it didn't really sink in how serious a near-miss this was.

MUNTEAN: It is the latest example of a top concern for aviation regulators, known as a runway incursion. Federal figures show more than 1,400 incidents reported at airports large and small last year.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: There were plenty of visual cues for this flight crew to know that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

MUNTEAN: Former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz says now investigators will want to hear the cockpit voice recorder, especially from the American flight that crossed the runway. After the incident, that crew asked the tower if they made a mistake.

AA106: The last clearance, we were cleared to cross. Is that correct?

MUNTEAN: The confession is what experts fear could have led to a repeat of the 1977 Tenerife disaster when two 747s collided on the runaway. More than 500 people were killed.

GOELZ: It would have been catastrophic had a collision taking place.

HEALY: I'm really grateful to the captain and to air traffic control for their utter professionalism.


BOLDUAN: And, Pete, this really was a close call. It's not an isolated incident. How worried should people be?

MUNTEAN: Well, the good news here, Kate, is the vast majority of runway incursions simply are not as extreme as this one, so many safeguards in place. The Tenerife crash was really the case study that tipped it up. Regulators looked at hard at pilot procedures, how runways and taxis

are marked, all the down to the words that pilots used on the radio. There's even new technology to track planes on the ground, but the big question here is how this system failed as hard as it did.

The good news, commercial aviation in the U.S. still the safest in the world, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I guess we'll take that tonight. Thanks, Pete. Really appreciate it.

OUTFRONT for us next, real fear that China's deadly COVID surge could get even worse as the Chinese New Year approaches. At what point does the country's uncontrolled spread become a real problem for the U.S.?

Plus, on the run for 30 years. One of the most notorious mob bosses has finally been caught.



BOLDUAN: Tonight, China is bracing for a surge in COVID cases as the lunar New Year travel rush is beginning. New video into CNN shows just massive crowds already in the country's train stations. And just as the Chinese government is revealing, 60,000 people have died of COVID since December 8th when the country lifted its zero COVID policy.

Until this latest update, China had actually claimed that there were just 37 deaths in roughly the same period.

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

We're having a technical issue and we're going to get Dr. Brilliant to reconnect for us and we're going to get him up in just one second.

But as we know, when you look at the numbers that have been reported out of China, just 37 is what China had claimed. The World Health Organization had reached out to China for clarity on what their deaths were and also on how many cases were coming out of the country. And now, we have this latest number now reported revealing roughly 60,000 deaths in that one-month period.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: And we have Dr. Larry Brilliant back with us reconnected. I'm so glad to see you, Dr. Brilliant. That technology is not messing with us once again.

Let me ask you, though, because we are just talking about China and the COVID situation there, 60,000 COVID deaths in China since December 8th. That is a huge jump from what they had claimed where the COVID related deaths in the same period.

Even still with this latest number and this update, how much do you trust the number?

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Thanks for having me, sorry about the atmosphere here. I don't believe that is a credible number. Unless that is death in hospitals, it is very likely that is the case it could be off an order of magnitude. It doesn't seem right.

BOLDUAN: It doesn't do a lot of people.

You know, we have been seeing this video, we'll show people once again, of people already packing in the train stations. Millions of people are expected to travel for the Lunar New Year celebrations this weekend. How much worse could this get?

BRILLIANT: It could get very bad. The number of trips that shine estimates will be taken during the festival is two billion trips, if you can imagine the numbers. If the virus is surging all through China, it could be as many as half a billion people who have been infected with the virus. You couple that with two billion travel people and it is incomprehensible, a large number of potential infections.

BOLDUAN: Which, of course, then begs the question, at what point does -- this uncontrolled spread in China, at what point does it become a real problem for the United States?

BRILLIANT: Well, I think it is directional. I think the subvariants that we have in the United States are already in China. So, that is a problem for China, I think if those subvariants, which are so immuno evasive circulate through the population and a reach immunocompromised people, and well over 30 percent of the population in China is over 60, especially in the villages, I do worry that China could become an incubator for more subvariants if the virus gets into immunocompromised populations. And there are many different subvariants at the same time. That gets exported back and the cycle begins again.

BOLDUAN: Because the concern really is not just the spread, it is the chance to get this virus and opportunity to mutate further. Do you share that concern what we're seeing in China?

BRILLIANT: I do. No one has a really good crystal ball. We have been very good at predicting what this virus is going to do. But it is a moderate risk. It is not a trivial risk. It is not a certainty by any means.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Larry Brilliant, it's good to see you, Doctor. Thank you for the time.

BRILLIANT: Thank you for having me, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it. Finally, for us tonight, caught. Italy's most wanted man has been

arrested after nearly 30 years in hiding. This notorious mob boss, Matteo Messina Denaro, of the infamous Sicilian mafia group known as Cosa Nostra, once Italy's most powerful, of course, he was taken into custody a private health clinic after a raid was carried out by more than 100 special agents.

He had been given already civilian life sentences in absentia for mafia related crimes, including two separate bombings that killed top anti-mafia prosecutors back in 1992 and a torture and murder of an 11- year-old boy who testified against the mob. He evaded authorities for decades. Police even arrested the wrong man in one instance. In a case of a mistaken identity, Italian police tell CNN that the mob boss is now at a secret location.

Thank you so much for being here, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

"AC360" starts now.