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Erin Burnett Outfront

5 Ex-Officers Charged With Murder, Kidnapping In Tyre Nichols Death; Russia Fires 55 Missiles At Ukraine, Calls Western Tank Deliveries To Ukraine "Direct Involvement" In Conflict; George Santos' Ex-Boyfriend Speaks Out To OutFront; Attorney General Deciding Whether To Appoint Pence Special Counsel; Relative Unknown Upends Race For RNC Chair. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 26, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, five former members of the Memphis Police Department charged tonight in the murder of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, as cities across the nation brace for the release of the video of Nichol's police encounter, the video that's been described as the vicious and heinous beating of Nichols at the hands of police. The district attorney in the case is OUTFRONT.

Plus, massive missile attacks, Putin launching at least 55 missiles across Ukraine today as the Kremlin accuses the U.S. of, quote, direct involvement in the war, warning of consequences.

And OUTFRONT exclusive tonight, the ex-boyfriend of embattled Congressman George Santos is my guest, as the man he knew, the same person who has lied and lied to the American public.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, a nation on edge. Cities across the country bracing for the release of video that is said to show the vicious and prolonged beating of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols by Memphis police, a beating that has been compared to Rodney King's, and according to the Nichols family attorney shows the father being beaten like a, quote, pinata.

Now, that video according to the district attorney who I'll be speaking with in just a moment shows the entire incident from beginning to end and could be released by this time tomorrow night. Nichols family right now is getting ready to attend a vigil as the five officers who authorities say were directly involved with the 29- year-old's arrest have now been charged, charges which include second degree murder, aggravated assault, and aggravated kidnapping.

Police say officers pulled Nichols over on January 7th for reckless driving. Police say he fled. When officers caught up to him, it sparked a, quote, confrontation. Now, the family's lawyers say that the video of this shows a brutal nonstop beating that lasted for three full minutes. Nichols was taken to the hospital and he died three days later.

The Memphis police chief says the video shows a failing of basic humanity towards another individual.


CHIEF CERELYN DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE: This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual. This incident was heinous, reckless, and inhumane.


BURNETT: President Biden today releasing a statement condemning the violent arrest but pleading for peace. The statement reads in part, I joined Tyre's family in calling for peaceful protest. Outrage is understandable but violence is never acceptable.

I want to begin our coverage with Shimon Prokupecz who is OUTFRONT live in Memphis tonight.

And, Shimon, what is the latest you're learning in this investigation tonight?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, no doubt the district attorney here moving quickly. It's been about 20 days since this horrific incident occurred. Now all five officers indicted, facing murder charges. We also learned some new details of the initial encounter today. The district attorney for the first time revealing some new information.


DAVID B. RAUSCH, DIRECTOR, TENNESSEE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: We continue to pursue every lead. Justice demands it. And our agency exists so that guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer.

PROKUPECZ (voice-over): The law enforcement official in charge of the Tyre Nichols investigation saying he was sickened by what he saw the police officers do to the 29-year-old.

STEVE MULROY, SHELBY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We all want the same thing. We want justice for Tyre Nichols.

PROKUPECZ: Shelby County district attorney charged Demmetrius Haley, Desmond Nills, Emmitt Martin, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Dean with second degree murder, aggravated assault and kidnapping among several other charges. The lawyers for two of the former officers who were all fired last week say they still don't have the details about what happened.

WILLIAM MASSEY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR EMMITT MARTIN: We do not have discovery. We've not seen the video, so we're kind of in the bind right now. And this process is just starting.

POLICE: We got one male, Black running.

POLICE: Set up perimeter.

PROKUPECZ: Memphis police say Nichols was pulled over on January 7th for reckless driving.

DISPATCHER: (INAUDIBLE) car pulled over at the (INAUDIBLE) have one running on foot.

POLICE: Run that tag and see what's the address.

PROKUPECZ: Police say a confrontation occurred and after using pepper spray, Nichols fled the scene on foot.

MULROY: There was another altercation at a nearby location at which the -- the serious injuries were experienced by Mr. Nichols. After some period of time of waiting around afterwards, he was taken away by an ambulance.

PROKUPECZ: Nichols died of his injuries three days later.

DAVIS: This incident was heinous, reckless, and inhumane.

PROKUPECZ: The five officers involved in the beating were fired after an internal investigation found they violated multiple department policies, including the use of excessive force and failing to render aid.


Two EMTs with the Memphis Fire Department were also put on leave and additional officers are under investigation.

RODNEY WELLS, TYRE NICHOLS' STEPFATHER: No father, mother should have to witness what I saw today.

PROKUPECZ: The Nichols family has viewed video of the incident, which has been described as brutal and heinous, and prosecutors plan to release it publicly Friday night with the hopes of easing tensions.

RAUSCH: We are here to pursue truth and justice, realizing that we should not be here. Simply put, this shouldn't have happened. I've been policing for more than 30 years. I've devoted my life to this profession. And I'm grieved. Frankly, I'm shocked.


PROKUPECZ: And so, Erin, there are still many questions that I think authorities here are hoping this video, this horrific video will answer for many of the people who are wondering exactly how everything unfolded because we still don't have that timeline of every event that transpired in this horrific encounter between the officers and Tyre Nichols -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Shimon, thank you very much from Memphis.

And I want to go now to the district attorney for Shelby County, Tennessee, Steven Mulroy. And, District Attorney, I appreciate your time. Obviously, everyone saw a bit of your press conference there in Shimon's reporting.

But, let me ask you. From what we know right now all five officers are facing the same charges, second degree murder as the top count. Attorneys representing two of them say they will plead not guilty. How confident are you tonight that you have the evidence to secure a conviction?

STEVEN MULROY, DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE: Erin, we're very confident that we can secure a conviction. We have a very strong case, and we're ready to let the process go forward.

BURNETT: So during the press conference today you said that there was an initial altercation, pepper spray was deployed at that time. So just on the very fundamental level here, district attorney, do you know what caused this to escalate?

MULROY: I wish I could give a definitive answer to that. I don't think I do know. From the video that we have the officers were already highly charged up from the very beginning of the video in the first incident, the first altercation. And then it just escalated further from there.

BURNETT: So, to that point when you're saying they were highly charged up from the beginning, I understand these officers were part of a so-called Scorpion Unit that tackles organized crime. Do you have any evidence at this point to suggest that when they pulled him over or perhaps the reason they pulled him over or when they pulled him over they found out -- I don't know which it could be if either -- that they knew who he was?

MULROY: We don't have any evidence to that effect right now.

BURNETT: No evidence to that effect. But you're saying they appeared this way from the very beginning of the video. One other question to you on the time line then, I know you talked about the injuries being sustained were in the second altercation. How much time passed generally, or do you know the specifics between when the encounter started and that second altercation?

MULROY: It was only a few minutes. Mr. Nichols fled on foot, and then there was a 10 to 20 minute -- I forget the exact amount of time -- chase before they eventually found him and tackled him. And then the second incident occurred.

And I should just clarify that the video we have doesn't start from the very beginning of the altercation. It kind of cuts in as the first encounter is in progress, so that's what I mean when I say they were already highly charged. I think when anyone watches the video tomorrow night when it's released everyone will see what we mean.

BURNETT: OK, I understand what you're saying. So, you're saying highly charged but that's not the beginning of when they actually pulled them aside. So, it's unclear whether there's something that happened in that time at least from the video or from what you know now.

MULROY: Correct. Yes.

BURNETT: OK, and just to be clear, you're saying 10 to 20 minutes past between when it started and the second altercation where the horrific beating occurred?

MULROY: Can't recall the exact time frame right now, but it was a short period of time before they were able to locate him, again, at the second location.

BURNETT: So the Memphis police chief district attorney says there are other officers under investigation in addition to the five you charged today. We're also aware that two employees of the Memphis Fire Department were fired, and unclear their involvement in this.

Do you anticipate more people being charged?

MULROY: So I can't state anything definitively about that right now, but I do want to make clear that the fact that we charged certain officers today doesn't in any way preclude us from adding later charges further on down the road.


And the investigation is still ongoing. We are still gathering information. We believe that the information we have right now more than supports the charges that we talked about today, but there might be other charges later. We just can't say it.

As for the discussion about the other officers, you know, I hope this incident can lead to another conversation about police reform generally even beyond this incident.

BURNETT: Absolutely. I know you've met with the family to look at these charges. They've also watched this video. The mother has said that they wanted to see first-degree murder as a charge. Obviously, second-degree is the top charge here as of now.

What was their reaction when they heard the charges?

MULROY: Well, we met with the family of Tyre Nichols prior to announcing the charges today, and we told them what charges we were going to ready to submit to the grand jury and it was a very good meeting. They did not express any displeasure during the meeting.

So -- and I could just say to this point, first degree murder requires that we'd be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt to the jury that the murder was intentional and premeditated. There was an intentional and premeditated killing. And if we don't believe in good faith, and the evidence that this point was sustained in such a charge, then it's not appropriate for us to charge it.

But we are comfortable charging second degree murder, which under Tennessee law requires evidence of a knowing killing. BURNETT: Understood. And there are just some local reports, District

Attorney, crossing as you and I are speaking, understood and there are just local reports, District Attorney, crossing as you and I are speaking, saying that at least one of the officers that you charged today was -- posted bond and was released. Are you able to confirm that?

MULROY: I believe that there was at least one that was able to post bond, yes.

BURNETT: All right. And one final question to you, District Attorney, if I may. For the public being prepared to see this video, what was sort of the jarring part that you want to prepare the American public to see? Obviously, in 24 hours, we'll be seeing it for ourselves.

MULROY: Without going into too much detail about the video, which I think everyone can see for themselves, as you said, Erin, I think what struck me is how many different incidents but of unwarranted force occurred sporadically by different individuals over a long period of time.

BURNETT: District Attorney, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for sharing everything that you were able to share with us. Thank you.

MULROY: Thank you, Erin. Goodnight.

BURNETT: All right. Good night, sir.

And OUTFRONT now, Darrin Porcher, a retired lieutenant with the NYPD.

And, Darrin, obviously, you are hearing the D.A. along with me. All five officers now facing second-degree murder charges and he laid out why that was the appropriate charge at this time. What stands out to you about this case, so far?

DARRIN PORCHER, FORMER NYPD LIEUTENANT: What's interesting is normally a police officer is protected by civil service laws, so it takes them while before they terminate the officers. However, if you have an egregious incident such as what would happen with George Floyd, we saw the officers were fired immediately. We see something like the same happening here.

Therefore, there's a level of consistency and what the district attorney stated which leads me to believe that this was an egregious act of excessive force embarked upon an innocent civilian.

BURNETT: Right. And, you know, he's talking about on that tape just pausing as he's thinking about it the number of brutal acts that occurred, you know, sporadically over this timeframe and the video.

Now, the D.A. says these officers are a member of the Scorpion Unit. Now, this was created, we understand, in 2021 as a crime fighting group that was supposed to basically look for guns and drugs. NYPD has a similar unit. So, I know you're very familiar with how these things are. As we try to understand what possibly could've happened here, what can you tell us about their tactics?

PORCHER: Well, generally speaking, when we have an enforcement driven unit, these units have a greater propensity to rack up complaints against them, based on excessive force. But the terminal piece in this is overall supervision. So, I believe that we had a failure in supervision and there was no appropriate oversight to ensure that these officers were doing what they were supposed to do.

Oftentimes, an officer can really go off the deep edge. However, we need supervision that can reel them in and say, cut it, this is what we need to do and act with what was procedurally sound. That didn't happen here and unfortunately, it happens a lot with these enforcement driven units.

BURNETT: And interesting there's five of them. He says they're hyped up from the minute that the tape starts. Now t, be clear, he emphasizes the tape doesn't start at the beginning of the traffic stop, it starts a little bit in, but he described them as sort of all amped up.

Now, there are five of them. You've got sort of a group concept going on here, but all of them are black. As, of course, was Tyre Nichols, the victim here. Different than George Floyd and so many of the other cases we've captured national attention.

Do you think race, though, still was a factor?

PORCHER: I think that we all have something we refer to as an implicit bias and oftentimes, that implicit bias spills over into policing.


So, whether it's an African American, a Latino, oftentimes, officers will have this implicit bias, whereas they may feel --

BURNETT: Regardless of the race of the officer.

PORCHER: Right, exactly. Whereas the officer may feel as if they can act with impunity and not have any repercussions on the backend. And I think that's what happened here.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Darrin Porcher.

PORCHER: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, Putin launches massive missile strikes across Ukraine, as Russia intensifies its assault. We're live near one of the heaviest fighting taking place tonight.

Plus, an OUTFRONT exclusive, the former boyfriend of embattled Congressman George Santos is my guest. He knows Santos well, he repeatedly turned how down his proposals to get engaged. Why does he think Santos is lying?

And Attorney General Merrick Garland now considering appointing yet another special counsel to investigate classified document handling. This time related to the Vice President Mike Pence.


BURNETT: Tonight, massive missile attack. Putin launching 55 missiles across Ukraine as the Kremlin threatens the U.S. and its allies. Putin's top spokesperson saying sending Abrams and other tanks is, quote, direct involvement in the war. As the Pentagon says that the United States will be sending an updated Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The M1A2, which is fully digital and allows for commanders and gunners to more easily scan and identify targets.


Today's escalation of words, the barrage of missiles coming at CNN is learning that the war is intensifying in the south now. You are looking at new video from the city of Marinka. You can see multiple fires raging, smoke blanketing the city.

Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT. He's outside Bakhmut, where some of the fiercest fighting continues to rage tonight.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Ukraine's tanks, taking aim at the invading Russians. Kyiv's forces, rallying to try to halt a massive assault on Bakhmut, the city where there are still some 6,000 civilians, has become a cauldron of fire.

From this vantage point, you can both see and hear just how fierce the fighting is. You can hear impact from heavy weapons, not just every minute, but literally every second. The Ukrainians say that the Russians are pouring a massive amount of personnel and weapons into this area because they seem to want to take Bakhmut at nearly any cost.

There are plenty of regular Russian troops fighting around Bakhmut now. But the Ukrainians say, it's still the Wagner private military company that's leading the charge. With waves of fighters trying to storm Ukrainian positions both north and south of the city, as well as specialized forces like these snipers, claiming to have killed Ukrainian soldier.

All I could see was a curtain window, this sniper says. The person was paired with me saw a thermal outline and I just determined where to shoot.

Wagner's boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, often touts his militia's successes, but the cost is immense. This is a Wagner cemetery in the Krasnodar region of southern Russia. Row after row of fresh graves, a disposable force used to take just a few kilometers of land.

Wagner acknowledges recruiting prisoners straight out of jail and throwing them on the battlefield with minimal training, and only slim chances of survival. That same indifference shown in Russian strikes that kill and maim Ukrainian civilians every day. These folks are cleaning up after a Russian missile landed in their neighborhood near Bakhmut.

We were getting heating from the heating plant which was hit, Yuri tells me. Yesterday at 3:00, it was destroyed, so now we have no electricity, no heating, we have nothing.

And a few miles away, one person was killed in another densely populated area. A couple of long distance drones and missiles that Russia uses to attack Ukraine come down right near civilian areas. This here is only a few yards away from a kindergarten. However, others are used to directly target critical infrastructure.

More than 50 missiles fired just on Thursday. And while many of them were intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses, some were not brought down, adding to the daily toll of destruction.

The missile terror, more motivation for Ukraine's soldiers around Bakhmut to stand their ground and bring Vladimir Putin's invasion to a standstill.

And, Erin, it's certainly some really brutal fighting that we witnessed around Bakhmut today.

The Ukrainians say the Russians are trying to encircle the city and obviously as you can see there, the Russians themselves doing their best to stop that from happening. Meanwhile, the president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he came out today and ripped into those missile strikes that the Russians, once again, conducted, calling for more air defense weapons, but, of course, generally calling for more modern weapons from the West. He also praised the soldiers from Ukrainian forces that are fighting here in Donetsk and in the east of the country, saying that if they make a stand here, they could seriously deplete the combat power that Russia has available on other fronts as well, Erin.

BURNETT: Fred, thank you very much from just outside Bakhmut tonight.

And I want to go down to the Russian investigative journalist, Andrei Soldatov. He's the author of "The Compatriots: The Russian Exiles Who Fought Against the Kremlin".

And, Andrei, you've got some new reporting here. As Fred is talking about the Wagner group and still playing that central and tip of the spear role near Bakhmut, you are reporting it's not just Wagner that's recruiting prisoners to aid with the Russian war effort, that this now goes much deeper than the official Russian state is doing this as well.

What did you discover?

ANDREI SOLDATOV, RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Yeah, it looks like the Russian military factories are suffering from acute shortages and workforce. Even (INAUDIBLE) which is the largest tank factory in the country reported the lack of employees. So now, they're going to use Russian convicts and Russian convicts are already fighting on the battlefield in Ukraine, so now we are going to have to manufacture these tanks on February. BURNETT: So, the formal state, Russian state recruiting convicts to

build the tanks and, now to this point of your reporting, I want to replace something that Putin said recently that speaks to what you're saying about the terrible state of the Russian defense industry right now.


Here he is.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Given that the defense industry is now overburdened and given that you work in three shifts, and there is a high demand for military industrial products, we are now considering the possibility of granting deferment also to those who must be caught up for compulsory military service.


BURNETT: So, it sounds like from what he's saying, they've offered anybody, you are going to come help us build the tanks and fix the defense supply problem, we'll defer your military service. But what your reporting is that's not enough. They are still not able to get people to do to do it?

SOLDATOV: Yes, absolutely. Actually, they started promising protection from mobilization services army already in October. They also promised a pension, some good benefits, and employment for the whole families, in some cases, all of that failed. They failed to find enough people to work in these factories, so now they think that only prison population of the country might help.

And of course, it's a sign of desperation to think the how reliable all these tanks and all this weaponry could be if they would be manufactured by completely unskilled workforce straight out of the prison.

BURNETT: Straight out of prison and they're emptying the prisons to do this and to fight on the frontlines is absolutely stunning.

Andrei, thank you so much for sharing your latest reporting.

And next, an OUTFRONT exclusive. I'm going to speak to an ex-boyfriend of George Santos, someone who lived with him, who turned down multiple proposals from Santos. So, does he believe Santos will resign?

Plus, new reporting tonight that Attorney General Merrick Garland is considering appointing yet another special counsel. This time, for the classified documents found at the home of Mike Pence.



BURNETT: New video tonight of embattled Republican Congressman George Santos under fire for telling a long list of lies to voters, dodging questions from our Manu Raju, specifically refusing to say why among many other lies he falsely claimed to be a member of the Baruch College volleyball team.

Here's Santos' response.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Why did you lie about being on a volleyball team?

REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): You're a liar. You're lying to the American people. When you stop lying in your, in your (INAUDIBLE) reporting, I'll start talking to you.

RAJU: So, wait, you actually were on a volleyball team, is that right? In college? At Baruch College?

Is that true? Is that true?


BURNETT: This as Santos' ex-boyfriend is speaking to OUTFRONT for his first television interview and an OUTFRONT exclusive.

Pedro Vilarva shared this photo with us of him celebrating Christmas with Santos and other loved ones in 2014. He told me that Santos went by the name Anthony Devolder when they dated. They lived together for about a year, and Vilarva says he repeatedly turned down Santos' proposals to get engaged.

Pedro joins me now from Brazil.

And, Pedro, I very much appreciate your time, and I know that you're deciding to speak out was a very careful decision.

Does this George Santos, the one that we are now all seeing, sound like the man that you dated and lived with?

PEDRO VILARVA, EX-BOYFRIEND OF GEORGE SANTOS: No, not at all. Completely different person. It's --

BURNETT: How so?

VILARVA: It's just -- at the beginning of the relationship, he was fine. He was so sweet, caring. He actually like -- he showed like that he cared at all. But, later on, like when I started finding out the lies, I thought that was it, that it was my phone that he stole, that he pawned it that I believe. The jewelry as well from our friend that used to live with us.

And like the tickets to Hawaii that he had purchased for us to go where he was planning to be proposing for the third time as well. The engagement never happened. Nothing like that.

BURNETT: You know, I know you say Santos repeatedly asked you to get engaged before you broke up, and he appears, Pedro, to reference you in an Instagram post that you shared with us from 2015.

He writes: This is my family that I managed to screw up. I will not give up. I will fight to the end. I love you, PV. I miss you.

Now, Pedro, you were 18 and Santos was 26 when you met him. When did you know that you couldn't trust him?

VILARVA: Toward the end of the relationship, he was more like -- it started like -- I started finding out about the lies in December and then it went on to February. And then, that's when I broke up with him and I went on my way.

But then later on, like we still had contact with each other because he did -- like I found out about the lies, and we still kept in contact with each other. Just saying, oh, how are you, how is your mom and stuff, because when I found out she was sick, I still cared about her. And then I went to visit her a couple times later on, but then when I found out about the other stuff, I thought what a psycho.

BURNETT: I want to share a picture of you that you shared with us of you and his mother. You say you were close. And besides, you know, he said she was a survivor of the 9/11 terror attacks, right? She -- he also claimed she was an executive at Citigroup. She was a part of many of his lies.

There you are with her. This was the picture you shared with us.

Did she ever discuss these lies with you? Did she know any of this?

VILARVA: No, I never. No 9/11, no Citigroup, nothing like that.

When I was with them, I never saw her going to work at Citigroup or anything, and they never mentioned anything about 9/11. Even because I was born on 9/11, and if I say like -- if they knew that I was born on 9/11, I think they were going to reference that and say something about it, but I never heard anything about it.

BURNETT: I want to play George Santos, what we've all now heard, Pedro, explaining who he is in his own words over the years.


SANTOS: My grandparents survived the Holocaust.

I'm a Latino Jew.

My mom was a 9/11 survivor.

They sent me to a good prep school, so -- which was Horace Mann Prep in the Bronx.


I actually went to school on a volleyball scholarship. When I was in Baruch, we were the number one volleyball team.

I put myself through college and got an MBA from NYU.

I also founded my own non-profit organization prior to running. I decided to close it. It was an animal rescue. We had a great organization. We were able to save animals, dogs, cats, horses.

I've lived an honest life. I've have never been accused -- sued -- of any bad doing.


BURNETT: I do want to note, of course, he was charged with embezzlement, so he has obviously been accused of bad doing.

But, you know, Pedro, the point is some of these lies were so minor and yet so specific. I mean, the volleyball one, right? Not just saying that he played volleyball, but he had a scholarship, that he slayed teams from Harvard and Yale, that he was the smallest player on the team, that he needed to get two knee replacements.

I mean, you know, he went deep with the lies. Why did he do this?

VILARVA: I don't know. I think he's just out of his mind and one lie led to the other , and now that everybody found out. Like they are finding out like the little stuff as well.

I just think he should not be in Congress. And, oh my God, it was so many things that I found out afterwards as well, things that I did not know, because I still believe that he actually went to Baruch College like he used to say. I already knew about the Citigroup, that he said he used to work, and the like investments, and said so. I already knew those were lies, because I never saw him working actually.

But, then the other stuff, like the stuff about the pets, the -- he actually did used to say about the organization about FOPU as well that he used to do like -- there was another person that also had a pet organization, so they used to have little picky fights with each other, but also -- but then I never saw anything going towards it. Like charity stuff. When we were together, he never used to do anything like that. So, it was --

BURNETT: So, Pedro, you know, what do you say? Are you surprised he's now a member of Congress, that was that an ambition that he had?

VILARVA: He always -- what he always looked for was fame and power. That's all the -- all he cared about. And he got it, he got the fame of the lies and he got the power that he's in Congress now. But it's -- I -- he shouldn't be there.

BURNETT: Well, the story has gotten so big, right? Everyone -- everyone is paying attention to it. You know, he's being spoofed by late-night shows and other comedians.

Here's a clip from this weekend's "Saturday Night Live". I don't know if you saw it, but I'll play it for you, Pedro.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You lied about your mom dying in 9/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I said 7/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. You even lied about being Jewish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I said I was Jew-ish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George, people need to know who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay, well, I am George Santos, Ms. Devolder if you're nasty. I graduated on a volleyball scholarship from Baruch Atah Adonai University.


BURNETT: I see you laughing, people are laughing, but obviously, you know, this is serious stuff. I mean, do you think that he'll ever resign?

VILARVA: I don't think so. His ego is too big and too high. He's not going to resign. If they don't find out something to get him off, he's not going to do it. That's for sure.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Pedro, I appreciate your time. Thank you very, very much.

VILARVA: I appreciate your time as well. Thank you so much.

BURNETT: And next, new reporting on Merrick Garland's new dilemma. Does he appoint another special counsel for Mike Pence's handling of classified documents?

Plus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis making a blow -- a bold push, sorry, for new blood in his party. That new blood -- new? -- includes MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.



BURNETT: New tonight, Attorney General Merrick Garland now considering appointing yet another special counsel to investigate the mishandling of classified documents, in this case, the ones that were found in former Vice President Mike Pence's home. The roughly dozen documents found in his Indiana home were found last week and sources say they include memos about Pence's foreign trips while he was vice president.

The Justice Department and FBI is investigating how those documents ended up in Pence's home and the decision on special counsel is likely only once that investigation is completed.

So, Evan Perez is OUTFRONT.

And, Evan, you know, in the case of here we go again, people trying to understand what is going on here. What more can you tell us about Attorney General Merrick Garland's thinking here on this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what the department is right now looking at is, you know, the circumstances of this case, which is Mike Pence's documents, which are classified documents found at his home. And they view Mike Pence in a different place from the former President Trump and, of course, Joe Biden. In this case, Mike Pence has not declared that he's running for president. So it doesn't necessarily present the immediate conflict of interest issues that the former President Trump's case presented to the attorney general.

That's one of the reasons why he said he had to appoint a special counsel. It happened just a couple days after Trump publicly announced that he was running for office again against Merrick Garland's own boss, right? And, of course, once you do that one, and of course, these documents were found in the home and in the private office of Joe Biden, the president. They felt they had to do a special counsel in that case as well.

So, right now, Erin, as you pointed out, this is being handled inside the Justice Department. They feel, obviously, that the circumstances could change if the facts change as this review continues.

BURNETT: So, you know, of course there's differences in each of these situations, but after we all found out that the material was found at Pence's home, you did have a bipartisan call from some Republican and Democratic lawmakers for a special counsel, given the broader context with Trump and Biden. Take a listen.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I don't know if this inquiry about the special counsel will extend beyond the president and former president. I see no reason why it would include Pence.

REP. DON BACON (R-NE): I think Americans want fairness here. You treat one like you treat the other, that's why Joe Biden has a special counsel and I think we are going to have another one here for Mike Pence.


BURNETT: Did they feel this need though, Evan? I mean, you know, I guess, as you say, you got to see where the facts go, but on the face of it, it does appear to be quite a different situation.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, right, exactly, and I think you can here already from those sound bites, you see where the criticism will come depending on, you know, no matter what Garland decides, right, because, certainly, if you speak to people or supporters of President Biden, they say the circumstances are similar to his, so Mike Pence should also be examined by a special counsel.

Of course again, you know, from the Justice Department standpoint, Merrick Garland doesn't like special counsels. He didn't want to do the first one. He certainly did not want to do the second one. And so, there is a real reluctance to do a third one while this is still being reviewed.

So, I think what you are going to see is they are going to let this review continue, and they will make a decision whether they have to do yet another one.

BURNETT: Right. Evan Perez, thank you very much.

PEREZ: Thanks.

BURNETT: With the latest reporting there.

And next, the MyPillow CEO, Mike Lindell and a little-known Trump lawyer are the candidates for an important position and Ron DeSantis is weighing in on who he wants or does not want tonight, showing his powerful role in the party.

Plus, President Biden thanking the 26-year-old hero who tackled the mass shooter in California who killed 11 people.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You are America, pal. You are who we are.




BURNETT: Tonight, new blood. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis weighing in on the bitter battle dividing the Republican Party, who will be the next chair of the RNC?

It's a race that now includes a former Trump lawyer and even the MyPillow CEO. DeSantis arguing there needs to be changes after the party's poor midterm election results.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Huge majorities of the people think the country is going in the wrong direction. That is an environment that's tailored made to make big gains in the House and the Senate and state houses all across the country, and yet that didn't happen. And in fact, we even lost ground in the U.S. Senate.

And so, you know, I think we need a change. I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC.


BURNETT: Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT with more on the fierce infighting within the GOP.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are all loyal supporters of Donald Trump. But for six years, Ronna McDaniel has been the former president's hand-picked leader of the Republican national committee.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Done such an incredible job at the RNC. Ronna!

ZELENY: Yet tonight, a fresh family feud is boiling inside the Republican Party as McDaniel seeks reelection Friday to a rare fourth term, she is locked in an unusually tough fight in yet another identity test for the GOP.

RONNA MCDANIEL, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRWOMAN: Let's stop bashing each other and let's remember we only are going to win as a united party in 2024.

ZELENY: She is not facing an anti-Trump challenger, but rather two true believers, in a particularly heated clash with a member of the former president's own legal team who believes it's time for new blood in the top Republican ranks.

TRUMP: Great lawyer, Harmeet Dhillon.

ZELENY: She represented Trump before the congressional investigation of the January 6th attack on the Capitol and placed blame for GOP losses in the last three election cycles not on Trump, but on McDaniel and the RNC.

HARMEET DHILLON, RNC CHAIR CANDIDATE: They're really, really eager for some change. And I provide that change and a vision of how we're going win in 2024.

ZELENY: It's far from the classic establishment-anti-establishment divide that roiled the party in the early days of the Trump era. Now Trump loyalists are fighting one another, even as others call for a new direction.

While Trump is at the center of it all, he has taken a back seat to the fight.

TRUMP: I get along with both of them. I haven't taken a stance. Let them fight it out.

ZELENY: Not Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 rival, who says the RNC is overdue for change.

DESANTIS: I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC. I like what Harmeet Dhillon has said about getting the RNC out of D.C.

TRUMP: MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a Trump election denier and peddler of conspiracy theories, is a long shot candidate.

MIKE LINDELL, RNC CHAIR CANDIDATE: With all my due diligence and in prayer, I am 100 percent running for the RNC chairman.

ZELENY: In a battle that's creating strange bedfellows among the party faithful.


ZELENY: Bill Palatucci, an RNC member from New Jersey, believes it's time to move beyond Trump and is supporting Dhillon, despite her ties to him.

PALATUCCI: Gee, I don't agree on everything, but that's what building a coalition is about and that's how you move forward, by embracing people like me who have been skeptics and critics of the former president to build a party that's broader than just the Trump base.

ZELENY: But RNC member Leora Levy of Connecticut believes McDaniel stands the best chance of uniting the fractured party.

LEORA LEVY, RNC MEMBER, CONNECTICUT: In election, there are disagreements. But that doesn't mean that at the core we don't know that we are a family and that we are united by our principles and our policies.


ZELENY: Now gone are the days when party bosses can actually control their political parties. The more pressing challenge is trying to unify the party going forward here.

Erin, this all culminates tomorrow in a secret ballot among the 168 members of the RNC who gathered from all 50 states around the country here in sunny southern California. The question is if McDaniel wins, can she bring all factions together? If she doesn't, what does the RNC look like going into the next presidential race? Erin?

BURNETT: Unbelievable just to see the turmoil and uncertainty.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for your reporting.

And next, President Biden thanking the man who risked his life to tackle the Monterey Park gunman.



BIDEN: Thank you for taking such an incredible action in the face of danger.



BURNETT: And finally tonight, thanking a hero. President Biden calling 26-year-old Brandon Tsay, who tackled and ultimately stopped the suspect in the Monterey Park, California mass shooting, a shooting that left 11 people dead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRANDON TSAY, 26-YEAR-OLD HERO (via telephone): President Biden, hello.

BIDEN: I wanted to call to see how you're doing, and thank you for taking such incredible action in the face of danger. I don't think you understand just how much you've done for so many people who are never going to know you. But I want them to know more about you.

TSAY: I'm still practicing, you know, what I did and what I experienced. For you to call, that's just so comforting for me.

BIDEN: Well, you have my respect. You are America, pal. You are who we are.


BURNETT: Tsay's actions likely led authorities to the gunman, and a law enforcement official tells CNN they were able to trace the weapon to the suspect, giving them his name and description.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" begins right now.