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Erin Burnett Outfront

Death Toll In California Mass Shooting Rises To 11, Police Seek Motive; U.S.: Russia Has Rushed "Ill-Trained" Troops To Reinforce Front Lines; DeSantis Defends Rejection Of AP African American Studies Course; VP Harris Dodges Questions On Biden's Handling Of Classified Docs; China: About 1.1 Billion People Have Been Infected With COVID. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 23, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. Police just revealing what they seized from the gunman of the California mass shooting that took 11 lives. As we're learning the gunman was known to police.

Plus, it's a story you'll see first OUTFRONT. We have obtained exclusive military documents that reveal the inner workings of the Wagner Group, the Russian army that is now dominating the battlefield.

And another OUTFRONT first. A young Chinese woman who took on the country's strict COVID policies posted video, if you are seeing this, I've already been taken by police, and now she is missing. There are other fears that other young women may also be targeted.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, 42 rounds. That is how many shots were fired in the Monterey Park mass shooting that left 11 dead inside a dance studio, according to a press conference that just wrapped up moments ago. The L.A. County sheriff was there and answered questions about the motive behind the horrific attack, including rumors that it was committed due to jealous, relationship issues.

Here's what he said.


SHERIFF ROBERT LUNA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY: We're hearing those things too, but have not confirmed any of that information. It's part of what our investigators are diligently looking into.


BURNETT: So many questions tonight. Here's what we do know. We know that the gunman was 72-year-old, Huu Can Tran, and that man is no stranger to police. He visited his local police department, in fact twice earlier this month. So, two times earlier this month. But what he was doing there was reporting allegations of fraud, theft

and poisoning involving his family that are allegations from 10 to 20 years ago. So he is reporting things just this past month going into police from one to two decades ago. And it comes as one of the witnesses who came face-to-face with the shooter who is being hailed as a hero for disarming him at a dance studio in a second location said this about the gunman's demeanor.


BRANDON TSAY, DISARMED GUNMAN AT SECOND LOCATION: I turned around and saw that there was an Asian man holding a gun. He didn't seem like he was here for any money. He wasn't here to rob us. When he was looking around the room, it seemed like he was looking for targets, people to harm.


BURNETT: Looking around the room for targets.

People who knew the gunman tell CNN he used to be a regular at the dance studio. He even met his ex-wife there about 20 years ago, and that woman tells CNN that he was never violent towards her. He did have a temper, though.

Police were able to track the gunman down by linking him to the semiautomatic firearm that was wrestled away from him at the second dance studio. So we'll show you a photo. This is what they're saying is the type of gun he was clearing. To be clear, what you're looking at there is a gun that is designed to rapidly fire 30-run magazines. Extended magazines of that type are illegal in California, nonetheless, there it was.

Natasha Chen begins our coverage OUTFRONT from Monterey Park.

Natasha, the sheriff's department giving this update. I know you were there as they were searching the gunman's home. What else are you learning?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we're expecting a vigil right now held at city hall with a lot of people gathering to mourn those who have been lost, just to be with each other in this community. That's just a few blocks away from this dance studio where we are. I've also been speaking to some folks in the mandarin speaking community, one person whose friend just was listed on the number of people who were identified by the L.A. coroner's office.

Another woman who said she used to come to this dance studio and was checking to see if she might know the people who were hurt or who died. She described this feeling of tightness in her chest when she first heard the news. So a lot of high emotions tonight as they're seeking answers and paying close attention to these new details the sheriff has released.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHEN (voice-over): On the eve of the lunar New Year in the predominantly Asian American community of Monterey Park, California, there was dancing and joyful celebration. Then, gunfire.

POLICE: I got three immediates in here and I got approximately 10 deceased.

CHEN: Police say a 72-year-old man armed with a semiautomatic pistol opened fire on people inside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio Saturday night.

LUNA: Investigators recovered a total of 42 shell casings and a large capacity magazine. Investigators also recovered a Norinco 7.62x25 handgun from inside the suspect's cargo van.

CHEN: Not long after local streets were filled with people celebrating the New Year, at least 11 people were killed in shooting at the dance studio. Several more are still hospitalized.

DISPATCH: Additional units are requested. Multiple victims, gunshot wound.

POLICE: Got one more critical, one more immediate inside the business.

CHEN: After the massacre, the gunman left Monterey Park and police say went to a second dance studio in the nearby community of Alhambra. There he encountered Brandon Tsay working at the ticket booth, who in an interview with ABC said the gunman pointed a semiautomatic weapon at him.

TSAY: My first thoughts was I was going to die here. This is it.

CHEN: Tsay said he lunged at the gunman.

TSAY: I was trying to use my elbows to separate the gun away from him, creating some distance. Finally, at one point, I was able to pull the gun away from him, shove him aside, create some distance.

CHEN: The gun still in his hand, Tsay said he called police. He is now being hailed as a hero for potentially preventing further violence.

After a nearly 12-hour manhunt, law enforcement located the gunman's vehicle and 72-year-old Huu Can Tran was found dead from a self- inflicted gunshot wound.

Police say they still don't have a motive for the attack, but evidence inside the van tied Tran to the shootings, and suggest he may have targeted specific victims. Several people who knew Tran tell CNN he had taught informal dance lessons a the studio where he unloaded a barrage of gunfire, and his ex-wife says that's where they met.

Mymy Nhan, Lilan Li, Xiujan Yu, and Alvero Valentino are among the dead, most of their 60s and 70s. The community of Monterey Park and a tight knit dance community in the

area are now coming to terms with a devastating violence during what was supposed to be a celebration of hope and peace.

ARIENE ALEJANDRO, LOCAL RESIDENT: There is no words to really describe how I'm feeling. I'm just very sad. There is too much hate.


CHEN: We're also learning from police in Hemet, California, that Tran came into their police department lobby earlier this month alleging past fraud, theft, and poisoning involving his family in the L.A. area in the past 10, 20 years. He said he would come back with documentation, but never did -- Erin.

BURNETT: Natasha, thank you.

OUTFRONT" now, Maksym Kapitanchuk. He was a dance instructor for one of the shooting victims, Mymy Nhan. He is joining us from the Lai Lai Dance Studio, which is the second studio the gunman visited, there he was wrestled to the ground.

And, Maksym, thank you for speaking to me tonight. I'm sorry for your loss, this terrible loss. You're back this studio today. What is it like being at the Lai Lai studio right now?

MAKSYM KAPITANCHUK, TEACHER TO MYMY NHAN, LAI LAI BALLROOM SHOOTING VICTIM: Well, it's -- you know, it's very different, but I already see couple of students who came back to dance. So it's a very strong community. It's very strong community. And there are at least two people already who is ready to go back to dance classes.

BURNETT: To go back to dance classes tonight?

KAPITANCHUK: Yeah, or just enjoying themselves, yeah.

BURNETT: Well, are you surprised that it's open, Maksym? I know you were ready to go to work to help anyone who needed it.

KAPITANCHUK: Yeah, you know, I've been working with this community for over ten years. And the thing that I want to tell you, it's incredibly strong and positive community. There they're so dedicated to their craft, even their dance hobby, they're so dedicated to it. As a fact, I already have eight classes confirmed for tomorrow.

So, I know as a fact, this type of violence, you know, it won't put them down. They're going to be fighting until the end. They're going to stay so positive.

BURNETT: So you taught Mymy Nhan, who was killed. And I'm just sharing now with viewers some of the video you shared with us of the two of you together, dancing. So people can see. There you are. There she is in the green skirt. What can you tell us about her?

KAPITANCHUK: Well, the first that comes to my mind, it's her smile. She would always smile. I don't even think I've ever seen her without her smile, even through the mask I can see her eyes smiling. She was the delight of the class, of any party, any class.

BURNETT: And her family released a statement, they said she was a loving aunt, sister, daughter and friend, and the family's biggest cheerleader. Those were the words they used. Sort of fits it sounds like what you were saying about her smile. How would you describe her?

KAPITANCHUK: Well, you know, I met her back in 2010. So she was one of my first students. And she is the one who helped me starting my teaching career at Lai Lai ballroom. She would never miss her class, and she brought so many friends and so many classmates to my classes.

And I -- you know, she would always come to the class, she would always smile, she would always dance her best. She was -- I don't know, she was just delight of the class. That's the only way I can describe her. She would never stop. She would always learn new dances. She would always be very communicative to other people, to other students, would always invite everyone to different parties. Different events, different showcases. I -- the only way I can describe her, it's like dance, it was her life.

BURNETT: Well, Maksym, I'm so sorry for your loss. It's incredible that you are there and there are people there who want to continue and not let this end the joy that came out of that dance hall. Thank you.


BURNETT: And OUTFRONT" now, George Gascon, the L.A. County district attorney. District attorney, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

And I know you've been on the ground in Monterey Park. You've worked closely with investigators here over this past day. The L.A. county sheriff just said investigators are hearing the gunman did have possible relationships with people inside the dance studio. But they don't seem to know more at this time. Does this appear to be a targeted attack?

GEORGE GASCON, LOS ANGELES COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Yeah. First of all, thank you for having me. It certainly -- the indications that he was very familiar with the establishment. As you indicated earlier in your report, he has been part of that community. He met his ex-wife there.

So there certainly is the appearance that this was very targeted. And, you know, he went from one dance studio to the next one, to the Lai Lai, which is also a place where a lot of people go to start, which is the first dance studio where the killings took place, often go -- they frequent both places. So clearly, he knew where he was going, and he was familiar with both of the locations.

BURNETT: So sheriff also gave some seemingly significant new details about the gun the shooter was carrying. He said it was a modified semiautomatic firearm, and on the screen I'm showing an example of what it looks like. A large capacity magazine was found at the scene, we understand, and of course, use of a weapon with an extended weapon like this is illegal in California. And there was evidence also found inside his home we understand that

he was making firearm suppressers. District Attorney Gascon, do you have any idea how he was able to get his hands on this weapon given that so much of this was illegal?

GASCON: Yeah. Obviously, the investigation is unfolding. We know that he has been a gun enthusiast for many years. There is a possibility that some of his weapons he was able to acquire before they were illegal in the state of California. Clearly, the gun that was used here would be legal under the law today.

BURNETT: Interesting. It's possible he accumulated over the years, which is going to be a crucial part of this. I know you've been obviously in the investigation here since this unfortunately started. You spent much of today, though, I know at the center, where families of the 11 victims that we know of so far are getting some sort of assistance after this horrific news, right, to completely out of the blue, that their loved one was murdered like this.

What are you hearing from people in the community right now and what they need?

GASCON: Yeah. So, part of the function that we serve is assist with the investigation. Provide legal advice, and obviously prosecute a case when there is an arrest. In this case, we know there will not be a prosecution. Another component we're working on the major part where function is we provide mass casualty assistance and victim services.

So we have been at the center since early yesterday, and we will continue to be there. We are doing intake and connecting families and community members to services, and we will continue to do this work for the weeks and months ahead. We're here in the grieving. We're hearing people that are completely in a state of shock, and the pain that is going on in the community at the moment.

BURNETT: Yeah. District Attorney Gascon, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

GASCON: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

BURENTT: And next, CNN exclusively obtaining a military document that details the brutal assault tactics of Putin's private army, indicating how they have been able to overwhelm Ukrainian positions. We'll show you.

Plus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking out on Florida's decision to block an AP class on Black history. What he is saying about the decision.

And Vice President Kamala Harris asked about President Biden's handling of classified documents. What she saying or not saying.



BURNETT: Tonight, a senior U.S. military official telling CNN Putin has sent tens of thousands of new troops to the front lines in Ukraine. Those troops, quote, ill equipped and ill-trained arriving over the past months. An intercepted call just obtained by CNN, you can hear a Russian soldier detailing how some of them died before they even got to Ukraine.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): From binge-drinking. Some of them froze to death after an overdose. Some of them after getting into drunken brawls.

RUSSIAN WOMAN (through translator): So in Ukraine, your division doesn't have any casualties, but these guys in Ulyanovsk already have 30 dead?


BURNETT: You can hear her scoffing, dying before they even get to Ukraine. And the same soldier making clear he is not happy for these particular recruitments that do get to Ukraine.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): I'm telling you, these Rambos are coming here, for (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sake.


BURNETT: This is a big part of why Putin's alternate military force, the Wagner group, is increasingly taking the lead in fighting his war right now. In a report you'll see first OUTFRONT, CNN has exclusively obtained military documents that reveal the inner workings of this force. I'll warn you that some of the images you are going to see and the language you'll hear may be disturbing.

Fred Pleitgen has the reporting OUTFRONT from Kyiv.



FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As Russia's invasion of Ukraine falters, there is one group that is having some success on the battlefield. The brutally effective Wagner private military company led by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin.

"Wagner, why are we effective and where does this effectiveness come from?" he asked. First, we have been fighting for many years. Probably we are the most experienced army in the world today.

And Ukraine's leadership is alarmed by Wagner's success. CNN has exclusively obtained a military document outlines Kyiv's assessment of the group. There are also purely military reasons for Wagner's effectiveness, the document says, as the command structure and tactics currently employed are the only ones that are effective for the poorly trained mobilized troops that make up the majority of Russian ground forces.

Ukraine's military filmed this video showing Wagner's assault tactics using waves of fighters trying to overwhelm and encircle a Ukrainian position. The tasks are set to be as primitive as possible to achieve the goal, many assault groups are deployed, and attacks can be carried out for a listening period of time without regard to losses, the document says.

The first waves are often convicts, essentially used as cannon fodder. The deaths of thousands of Wagner soldiers do not matter to Russian society, the military document asserts, and unauthorized withdrawal of a team or without being wounded is punishable by execution on the spot.

Prigozhin makes no secret of the fact that losses don't matter to him. He recently visited a building where the bodies of the fallen were kept.

Their contracts have ended. They are going home, he said.

But Prigozhin also claims to respect the Ukrainians defending against his mercenaries, saying they're fighting with valor. You need to be more careful to send them off in a dignified manner, he recently said while overseeing the exchange of bodies between Wagner and the Ukrainian army.

Internally, though, it's a brutal regime. A pro-Wagner social media channel recently posted a video of mercenaries using a sledge hammer to kill a former comrade who allegedly defected and criticized the group.

The word is out on the battlefield too. Ukrainian intelligence intercepted this call, which CNN cannot independently verify of a Russian soldier talking to a friend about Wagner.

RUSSIAN SOLDIER (translated): One rushed to the Ukrainians. The Wagnerites caught him and cut his balls off.

FRIEND (translated): They sledgehammered one's head off. I saw the video.

RUSSIAN SOLDIER (translated): Well, this one got his balls cut of. That's not a video, just like that --

PLEITGEN: Still, Wagner's morale seems high, the Ukrainians say, and the fighters are often better equipped than Russia's regular forces, thanks to what Ukrainians claim is U.S.-made technology. In contrast to the Russian armed forces, Wagner's main means of communication are American-made radio relay stations and Motorola walkie-talkies, the Ukrainian document says.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And Erin, tonight we reached out to Motorola for a statement on all of this, and they tell us they stopped all of their sales and operations both to Russia and to Belarus as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine. They also say they stand by Ukraine and by NATO.

We know, of course, that Wagner was just listed as a criminal group by the U.S. government. And Yevgeny Prigozhin himself wrote a letter to the spokesman of the National Security Council John Kirby asking what the reason was for Wagner to be listed as such and what crime they had committed.

Tonight, Yevgeny Prigozhin is complaining so far he has gotten no answer yet from the Biden administration -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Fred, with all that reporting tonight from Ukraine.

And now I want to go to the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan.

Ambassador Sullivan, you have met with senior Russian officials. At the time when you were meeting with them about this, they sort of acted like they didn't really know who Prigozhin was or much about him.

What do you read into his incredibly swift ascent to the forefront of this war?

AMB. JOHN SULLIVAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, thanks, Erin, it's great to be with you. I think it's a reflection of how badly the special military operation has gone for the Russian government and the Russian military. As you note in the past, Prigozhin was someone that the Russian government denied was acting on their behalf. When I would mention Wagner, Wagner's activities in Africa, in Syria, they would look at me and say, "Mr. Ambassador, that isn't the Russian government. You're talking about a private party."

But he is now out front much more public than he used to be, and he is being acknowledged by the Russian government, including Putin's spokesman as acting on behalf of Russia.


BURNETT: So it's a huge change. And obviously with that change and that power comes the question, right? This is an alternate military force. Is there a point in time where there is some sort of a -- I don't know what the right word is to use, but confrontation where the Russian military goes after Prigozhin or something like that?

SULLIVAN: I don't know if I would characterize it. Yes, it's a military force, but in some ways it's like taking an outlaw motorcycle gang, putting them in military uniforms and letting them run amok. I mean, this is not a well-trained military organization. Prigozhin has been recruiting in Russian prisons.

BURNETT: Right. SULLIVAN: This is not an organization that's bound by law or morals,

whether it's the Geneva conventions, any code of military justice. This is an outlaw, Prigozhin himself, who spent most of the 1980s in prison in Leningrad, running a group of outlaws who are now acting on behalf of the Russian government.

BURNETT: It's pretty incredible when you say no respect for morality or laws. That's saying something considering the Russian military, the formal Russian military itself has shown none of that regard either.

You to that end have met Putin's new commander for Ukraine, General Valery Gerasimov. Let me show a picture, here you are at a summit with Putin and Biden in 2021, Gerasimov was there as well and you were there. What do you think of Gerasimov?

SULLIVAN: Well, he has been in his position as chief of the general staff, Erin, for a long time, over a decade. He has been blamed by many for the failures of the Russian military in this special military operation. So the fact that Putin and the Defense Minister Shoigu have recently reappointed him to head this special military operation is curious to say the least. It may be related in part to the success that Wagner has had on the battlefield in Ukraine, limited though it may be. These small villages that have taken months for even Wagner to overcome.

But there is a very complex and competitive interaction -- that's a euphemism, competitive -- interaction between Wagner and the Russian military. I think this signal of putting Gerasimov in charge is related the that.

BURNETT: All right. Ambassador, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, Erin. Good to be with you.

BURNETT: You too.

And next, the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis working the crowds at an NFL game.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're the best governor! Run for president!



BURNETT: So, will this work? What does it say about where the Trump base is?

And a terrifying message from a young woman who is protesting China's strict COVID policies. She warns if you see this video that goes public, I've already been taken by police, and she is now missing. It's a story you'll see first OUTFRONT.



BURNETT: Tonight, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis defending his decision to block a new advanced placement course on African American studies from being taught in Florida schools. He says Florida's current standards for teaching black history are, quote, cut and dried history, and that multiple lessons in that particular course go too far.

Here he is.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: We want education, not indoctrination. This course on Black history, what's one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids. And so, when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that's a political agenda.


BURNETT: It's the latest in a long line of culture war battles that DeSantis has been happy to fight amid growing speculation he will run for president.

Steve Contorno is OUTFRONT in St. Petersburg, Florida with details.

So, Steve, we just heard DeSantis say, he laid it out very clearly why he -- this course is not welcome in the state of Florida. What else do you know about that is part of the curriculum?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Erin, this is going to be a study of the African American experience from a whole bunch of perspectives and subjects. It's going to include not just history, but also art and humanities and politics and geography. So it's going to include a lot of topics that you would expect. We took a look at the syllabus. And there are things on it that you could expect in a course like this like civil war and Black communities, Black suffrage and women's rights, and civil rights leaders.

It also includes exposing kids to things that they might not have had a chance to learn previously, like western African empires and black musical innovation. But there is a number of topics in the final section that the DeSantis administration has raised objections to, and this includes the topics that are things like Black feminism, Black queer studies, and reparations movement. And the DeSantis administration says the concepts and the writings in these sections overlap and intersect with critical race theory, which as you know has been banned in Florida, and also may violate a new state law which says you cannot teach that someone might be oppressed or privileged based on their race or color.

So that's a small section of the course. Actually, just six topics in a course that's going to cover more than 100 topics over the course of a year, Erin.

BURNETT: And that's what the objections were about? That those specific six? Or what were they? Was there anything else?

CONTORNO: Yeah, so it's really interesting. Most of the objections are actually around the writings that are suggested as part of this course work because they come from Black thought leaders or activists or historians who the DeSantis administration says have pushed for ideologies that they don't want being taught in Florida schools like communism. Now I talked to a teacher who is currently instructing this class at a high school, and she is just baffled by this assertion that this is somehow injecting politics or ideology.


This is a study of these topics that have been instrumental in civil rights movements of their era. Like how do you talk about the civil rights actions of the last 20 years without mentioning the Black Lives Matter movement, which DeSantis says shouldn't be taught because they push for abolishing prisons.

So, Erin, this is what they are using to convince people that this course should not be allowed in Florida when it is widely available in 2024.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Steve Contorno.

And I want to go now to Erick Erickson, host of "The Erick Erickson Show", and Bakari Sellers, the former Democratic member of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

So, Bakari, what do you say to Governor DeSantis in his defense for blocking this course in Florida?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would say to Governor DeSantis, if he were in front of me, I would say your blatant ignorance is showing. He asked the question who would care about black queer studies? I would say the king of rock 'n roll, Little Richard was a Black gay man. I would say that the architect of the march on Washington, Bayard Rustin, a Black gay man.

I would say one of the greatest minds of our generation, of our lifetime, James Baldwin, he was once asked by a reporter about the challenges he faced in his career growing up Black, impoverished and gay. And James Baldwin laughed and said "I hit the jackpot."

So the type of ignorance he is doing is nothing more, excuse me, than a political ploy. In my heart, Erin, it infuriates me because I have to defend my blackness. I have to defend my blackness to a very small man who ran great campaigns to be governor of Florida. I have to defend my blackness and my being. And that frustrates me.

And the audacity of someone like Governor DeSantis, to come out and tell me what my history is and what can be taught to my children I believe is wholly unacceptable, but this is where we are, and these culture wars is where we are in American politics. BURNETT: Well, and, Erick, that is something that DeSantis is well

aware of, right? And making these sorts of statements and doing these sorts of things has worked for him. That's certainly what he is thinking it will now.

ERICK ERICKSON, HOST, "THE ERICK ERICKSON SHOW": Right. Keep in mind, so this is a draft program. This isn't the final program. The state of Georgia, where I am, has decided they're going to take a wait and see approach. If these remain in, they may not accept the program themselves. This is DeSantis. If they take these out, he gets a win with the right, another win. If not, he gets a win with the right for standing up to what more and people say see as a liberal agenda infiltrating schools.

And he does this now before we have some sort of economic recession when he gets to pivot to the economy for general election voters, but he is locking in Republican votes against Trump right now.

BURNETT: Which is really important, right, that this could be about a ploy for that base. Bakari, to that end, DeSantis has been doing this, not on this particular topic, but on many others, right, over the past couple of years, right, building this up. Just listen to a few.


DESANTIS: In our K through 12 schools, we're not allowing critical race theory in Florida.

We have to protect our girls. It is discriminatory to force them to compete against biological males.

It's inappropriate to tell an 8-year-old that they may have been born a girl, but maybe they're really a boy. That's wrong.

But Florida, we chose freedom over Faucism. We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.


BURNETT: So, Bakari, the question for Democrats is, is it smart for them to automatically take the other side on this, or does that risk hurting them with moderates who on some of these issues may feel differently?

SELLERS: I mean, that's a really, really good question, Erin. And my response would be this. Any time someone is doing what DeSantis is doing to people who look like me, young people who are being educated in these schools, we have to fight back. We can't lay down on these issues.

We don't have to wade into every culture war, though, to answer your question. DeSantis is a very little man. Not literally, but figuratively as well. One of the things that we have to realize is right now he is waging a battle against Donald Trump. He is trying to win over these primary votes, as Erick said. But the unique thing about this party and what they're doing now is

you're not hearing Ron DeSantis talk about pocketbook issues. You're not hearing him talk about inflation. You're not hearing him talk about conservative policies of a day that's gone by. Instead all he does is hit the same note.

The problem is that Republicans have not proved themselves to be able to pivot back to these moderate voters in general elections. And that's the challenge he'll have.

BURNETT: Right. You both seem to agree on that, Erick, that that's what he'll want to do. In fact, Erick, on Saturday, he went to Kansas City to root for the Jacksonville Jaguars against the Chiefs. He doesn't usually love to do touchy-feely stuff with people, but he did plenty of it. And here is how he was greeted.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're the best governor! Run for president!



BURNETT: And, Erick, look, we know DeSantis is a favorite among GOP donors. That has been true for a while. They've been looking for an alternative to Trump. Trump's base, though, voters, have been loyal to Trump.

Is DeSantis peeling off some of them? Is this working?

ERICKSON: Yeah, look, I think so. And I realize you see some polls that have Trump versus DeSantis and Trump is winning, but it's a drought declared for 2024 versus a hypothetical Ron DeSantis, who hasn't announced yet.

I think you do begin to see a shift over time. And these culture issues for Trump voters right now kind of dominate. And DeSantis, behind the scenes, is already saying to people look at these things I got done, including against Tony Fauci who Donald Trump elevated, causing people to shift.

To Bakari's point, there is a concern. Can Republicans flip back to talk about economic issues? I think because Florida is such an economic engine for the nation, he'll have that opportunity.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much.

And next, Vice President Kamala Harris facing questions about President Biden's handling of classified documents. So what was her response, and what wasn't it?

And then a story you'll see first here OUTFRONT. A young woman from China missing after speaking out against her country's strict COVID policies. The haunting video she left for all of us to see.



WALLACE: Tonight, Vice President Kamala Harris facing a barrage of reporter questions and refused to answer whether she was concerned with President Biden's handling of classified documents. The Senate Democrats are speaking out. They are rebuking Biden after an FBI search of Biden's Delaware home over the weekend turned up even more classified material. Not only from his time as vice president, but dating all the way back to when he was a senator.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): There is a real concern that we all should have in how this can happen, has there been any damaging things that occurred because of these documents, and how do we prevent that from ever happening.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): They were not careful in handling classified documents. In terms of the handling of those documents, it's just unacceptable to me.


BURNETT: Manu Raju is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill.

Manu, I know you've been talking to Democrats about Biden's classified documents controversy. What are they telling you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, a lot of them are at a loss of exactly how he got so many documents, at least documents he got from his time as a senator. That was revealed over the weekend when Biden's attorney said that at his home in Wilmington that at least some documents from his team as a United States senator appeared during the search when the FBI searched his home.

Well, when talking to Democrats, they're saying how did that happen? Behind closed doors, members can review classified documents, that of course in secured settings. And according to Dick Durbin, that occurs in settings that are overseen by someone who takes that document away after the senator has reviewed them. Bob Menendez, who chairs the foreign relations committee, another committee that Biden once ran when he was a senator, said the same thing to me. It's unclear how the president could have had that from his time in the office.

So a lot of questions here about exactly what happened here. Even as Democrats do say there is a difference in the situation involving Donald Trump, still concerns about how he got these documents.

BURNETT: Yeah, many concerns and questions. And Biden also taking heat from Republicans obviously in Congress. They're not letting up in any way, finding more documents, of course, well, they probably couldn't think of anything better that could have happened. RAJU: Yeah, and there are a number of committees in the House that

are already pushing forward to investigate. House Oversight Chairman James Comer has asked for information from the archives, asking from the White House and today asking from the Secret Service to provide visitor logs of people who came to Joe Biden's house in Wilmington from the time of 2017 up until now.

But the Secret Service did not actively monitor his house in the middle of 2017 when he was no longer in office. They did later when he became the presumptive Democratic nominee in 2020. They say they don't have those visitor logs, and the Justice Department not yet providing the information that they want about the special counsel that was appointed in this case.

So expect a fight and a standoff between House Republicans and the administration as Republicans try to get more information what happened here -- Erin.

BURNETT: Manu, thank you.

And next, a story you will see first OUTFRONT, a young protester from China posts this video, saying if you are actually seeing it, then she has been taken by police. And now she is missing. And so are some of her female friends.

Plus, the man photographed putting his feet on Nancy Pelosi's desk learns his fate in a Washington courtroom.



BURNETT: Tonight, 1.1 billion. That's how many have been infected with COVID in less than two months. Now, officials claimed that 60,000 have died since the restrictions were lifted, but independent experts say that number is closer to a million dead people from COVID.

President Xi Jinping admitting the surge has been fierce, and the retaliation against those who dare speak out against his COVID policies remains in full force.

Selina Wang with a chilling report about one of the protesters who is missing tonight. It's a report you'll see first OUTFRONT.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you're seeing this video, that means I've already been taken by the police. These are the chilling words of a young woman in China who took part in this demonstration in Beijing on November 27th. It was one of dozens of protests that erupted in cities across China.

They're chanting about they don't want COVID tests. They want freedom.

Police lined the streets, but the mood was calm and peaceful. Many were there to mourn the lives lost where a deadly fire broke out in a locked-down building. This 27-year-old, an editor at a publishing house, said that is why she and her friends took to the streets. She said they followed the rules and didn't have any conflict with the police.

Soon after filming this, she was arrested. She knew her time was nearing. CNN has learned from sources that weeks after the protests, police started rounding up her friends one by one. Most of them also young female professionals.

We tracked down and interviewed one of her friends who has been searching for her. For not revealing any of the sources she's spoken to because of retribution of the Chinese state.

Authorities want to intimidate ordinary people, she said. They want to urn the people into emotionless machines. We can't even gather together to grieve. Police quickly cracked down on the protesters, in some cases, dragging and pushing the demonstrators.

But the Beijing protesters peacefully dispersed. Afterwards, police blanketed protest sites. In some cases, authorities checked cell phones for virtual private networks, and tracked down participant with cell phone data. Soon after, China dropped its zero COVID policy and opened up.

In his New Year's Eve address, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said it was, quote, only natural for different people to have different concerns or hold different views on the same issue. But behind the scenes, their loved ones say the retribution continues.

She's paying a heavy price. We were born into this land so naturally we would want to make China better. But now I feel there is nothing that we can do, she says, breaking down into tears.


Authorities have made no official comment about the detentions and will likely never know how many people have been detained in connection with the protests, if it's dozens, hundreds or more.

As people across China are celebrating the lunar New Year with their newfound freedom, the young woman says the mothers of her and her friends want to know why their daughters were taken from them.

In her final words of the video message, she made this call for help. Don't let us be taken away or convicted arbitrarily. Don't let us disappear from this world, unjustly.


WANG (on camera): And, Erin, we've learned the young woman you saw there is one of eight women detained after the protests. We've reached out for comment on the detentions but they have not responded. Now, the people who know these young women told us they are confused as to why they were taken, describing them as young women working in publishing journalism, saying they're socially minded but they are not organizers. Experts say the police may have been suspicious of young politically

aware women. Authorities have a well-documented history of targeting feminists. At least one of the women detained said she was interrogated about whether she was detained in feminist groups -- Erin.

BURNETT: Incredible. Selina, thank you very much as always for great reporting.

Next, the man in that picture, that's one of the most memorable from January 6th, found guilty.


BURNETT: It's one of the most unforgettable images from January 6th -- a Capitol rioter with his feet on then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk. And tonight, there's an update on that man, Richard Barnett. He's been found guilty of all eight charges against him, including theft of government property.

Barnett will be sentenced in early May. And today's verdict comes as four members of the far right group Oath Keepers were also convicted of seditious conspiracy for plotting to stop the certification of Biden's 2020 presidential victory.

Thanks so much to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.