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Erin Burnett Outfront
Chinese Spy Balloon On The Move, U.S. Not Ruling Out Shooting It Down; U.S. Set To Send Rockets To Ukraine That Double Strike Range; Santos Campaign Lists 37 Expenses For $199.99; 2nd Chinese Spy Balloon Detected Over Latin America; Memphis Police Officer Who Used Taser During Nichols Arrest Fired. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired February 03, 2023 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, the Chinese spy balloon now flying over major U.S. cities after lingering near some of America's nuclear launch sites. Will the United States shoot it down?
Plus, the U.S. providing longer-range missiles to Ukraine, double the range of what it currently has. This as Zelenskyy warned that Putin is out for revenge.
And the money questions tonight mounting for Congressman George Santos, questions now about 37 expenses that were exactly in the amounts of $199.99, one penny shy of having to provide a receipt.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, will America shoot? China's spy balloon right now making its way east now over St. Louis. The balloon flying over and lingering over some of America's most sensitive locations, near nuclear sites. CNN has obtained this exclusive video of the balloon over Columbia, Missouri.
Now, first of all, you see below it it's almost Hindenburg style. You can see what appear to be solar panels underneath the balloon. So, that's the image that we have here that we're exclusively showing you.
And just to be clear what you're looking at here is in Columbia, Missouri, which happens to be about 40 miles west of the Calloway Nuclear Plant, which of course could be in the balloon's flight path. The balloon is roughly the size of three buses. It's loaded with sensors and other equipment. And it has already flown over a number of sensitive sites in the United States, especially nuclear ones. It has come close to America's nuclear missile silos in the state of Montana.
Now, just to let you understand what those silos are, they are part of America's so-called nuclear sponge. May sound like a weird term, but it's the way they refer to it because it refers to five states that house most of the United States' nuclear arsenal. Like this one in North Dakota that our Kyung Lah traveled to. It's a heavily guarded facility in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota she filed this report for OUTFRONT years ago.
You hear it about -- see about a hundred feet underground, manned 24/7. This is what the place is that the spy balloon is flying over. Now, the U.S. military says it has been tracking this balloon's every single moves for days. And so far U.S. officials are not willing to say whether or not they will shoot it down or not.
But let's just be honest, this whole conversation is only happening because civilians spotted the balloon and filmed it. Civilians like Chase Doak who provided OUTFRONT this video of the balloon flying over his home in Billings, Montana. So he spoke to us and told us what he thought when he first saw it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHASE DOAK, EYEWITNESS, CHINESE SPY BALLOON IN BILLINGS, MONTANA: I saw it just out of the corner of my eye just out of my office window just a bright white circle in the sky. When I first saw it just in the corner of my eye, I thought it was a star or a planet. But it was broad daylight. So I knew that probably couldn't be the case. So once I finally locked my eyes on it, it was visible to the naked eye as just a sphere just kind of hovering over the airport area.
And that's what it looked like was almost like a small moon. I wasn't sure what to think of it. Honestly the first thing I thought is it might be a UFO. And, to me, it was. It was unidentified, it was flying and it was an object. So --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: He's right about all that of course when he captured it. Doak captured the balloon on camera on Wednesday afternoon.
The Biden administration did not confirm it was a Chinese spy balloon until Thursday evening. That acknowledgement along with video proof seemingly forced the Biden administration's hand. So when the military knew about it, and the public didn't, Biden's Secretary of State Antony Blinken was still planning to head to China. And according to the "Financial Times" was slated to meet with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
And President Biden, they knew about it, right? He was first briefed Tuesday on the spy balloon. On Wednesday, a ground stop was issued for a swath of air space stretching 200 miles. This is from Helena, Montana, to Billings. So, they knew about it. They were watching it.
The public did not find out in any widespread way, we didn't know about it until you all saw it Thursday night. It was only after that that Blinken abruptly postponed his trip to Beijing.
Now, we are covering this story from all angles tonight. Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon. Selina Wang is in Beijing. And Tom Foreman is tracking this spy balloon.
I want to begin with Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon.
So, Oren, what more are you learning from your sources there?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The Pentagon not buying at all this Chinese explanation that it was an errant weather balloon that just happened to have floated off course because of strong winds.
We've already seen part of that response, as you pointed out. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delaying his visit to Beijing which would have been the first visit of the top U.S. diplomat to Beijing in some six years. The question is how much further is the Pentagon willing to go, the U.S. government, the Biden administration on this balloon?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea what this thing is.
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): A Chinese spy balloon drifting across the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the heck is that?
LIEBERMANN: The Pentagon calls it an unacceptable violation of U.S. air space and international law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know this is a Chinese balloon and that it has the ability to maneuver.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's definitely moving.
LIEBERMANN: The balloon is headed east at 60,000 feet. It will be over the U.S. for several more days, the Pentagon says. Though officials not confirming its location.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The public certainly has the ability to look up in the sky and see where the balloon is.
LIEBERMANN: The balloon has made its way from where it was first spotted in Montana on Wednesday down through the middle of the country and to sightings in Missouri, a slow, almost scenic route across the heart of America.
In a rare Friday night statement, China apologized, saying it was an off-course weather balloon. According to the Chinese foreign ministry, it is a civilian air ship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes. Affected by the westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course.
But we've heard the science excuse before from Beijing when China tested a hypersonic missile that went around the world in 2021, they claimed it was a routine spacecraft experiment.
JAMES ANDREW LEWIS, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: They have a massive espionage campaign. This is like TikTok. Does anybody trust China? Of course not. And for good reason. No one trusts China.
LIEBERMANN: China has spy satellites, but one thing they can't do is loiter over one area like a balloon. Key difference here. The U.S. response so far on the diplomatic front with Secretary of State Antony Blinken delaying his high-stakes visit to Beijing.
ANTHONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: The PRC's decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we are prepared to have.
LIEBERMANN (on camera): For now, the Pentagon says they don't plan on shooting this down. There is some risk to people and property. If you blow up something the size of three school buses at 60,000 feet, the debris field can be quite large. But they're not taking that option off the table. If they see this risk increase, that military option is still very much there, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Oren.
And Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT with his magic wall.
So, Tom, you know, you hear in Oren's piece the Pentagon saying this is maneuverable, China has control over it. Show us where this balloon is, where it's headed. What's the flight path?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Based on what we've seen so far, you would believe that maybe it is in fact maneuverable. We know that it came in over the Aleutian Islands, according to the Pentagon and through Canada, dropped into Montana, where it was spotted in a couple of places.
I do want to note that North Dakota, South Dakota where I used to live as a kid, my dad worked with missile bases down there, other areas of interest here. We know it moved on from there at least based on the photographs that we have seen to be spotted down here in Missouri, sort of near Kansas City and then a little bit further on.
This thing is about 11 miles up, a normal airline is going to fly around 5, 5 1/2 miles up. So that's pretty big. You have to have the right conditions to see it. But we don't really know every place it's been. We do have a prediction on where it's going, and that is carried by the jet stream. If it is maneuverable to some degree, you can see maybe those little jogs there, carried by the jet stream, it's expected to sweep over St. Louis, Kentucky, maybe a little corner of Tennessee, tiny piece of Virginia and then over North Carolina, and out to see how fast, Erin, that will depend upon the jet stream.
There's no indication that this thing is wildly maneuverable, but it may be maneuverable within a range.
BURNETT: Right. Thank you, Tom. So let me ask you one other question about the shooting down. The U.S. hasn't ruled shooting it down. They certainly could've done it over Montana, which is sparsely populated. But they claimed concern about ground damage. And who knows. Maybe they want to see, learn more about it. It's unclear what their real reasons are. But they still could shoot it down.
Do you think that still happens, and where could it happen?
FOREMAN: Whether it happens is completely up to them. You're right, Erin, if you look over here, this area out here, you've got a lot of acreage with not that many people in it. Comparatively, if you were going to shoot it down, much easier to do there.
When you move on to what we're talking about now, let's go from St. Louis here on the path. If you follow that path, look at how much heavier the density is of people here. If you weren't going to shoot it down here, it's hard to imagine that you would say it's safer or better to do it here where there is so much more on the ground, so many more people.
If you're going to shoot it down, it looks like you're talking about once it clears the coast. And, again, we don't know how long that would take, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Tom, thank you very much.
And, of course, if you do that, you're doing it to make a point to China, you got to thread the needles.
You've got to hit it right while it's still in U.S. air space off the coast.
OUTFRONT now, retired Lieutenant General Charlie Moore. He's the former deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command and the former vice director for operations at NORAD.
Also with me, Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group.
So, thanks so much to both of you.
So, General Moore, this Chinese balloon is flying over sovereign U.S. territory for days and days with maneuverability of some degree, right? They've been clear that it has that to some degree. Should the U.S. shoot down this Chinese balloon?
LT. GEN. CHARLIE "TUNA" MOORE, FORMER DEPUTY COMMANDER, U.S. CYBER COMMAND: Erin, absolutely. As has been indicated throughout your reporting tonight, U.S. sovereign territory has been violated by the Chinese balloon. They are saying this was an accident. Nobody really believes that. I think any time you're talking about our territory sovereignty, you have to act with very decisive manner, very firm and very resolute.
BURNETT: So, General, when should the U.S. shoot it down?
MOORE: Well, I agree with the reporting that you just had. We unfortunately missed a very good opportunity over the last three days where this was over very sparsely populated areas. In fact, you know, when it was over Montana, I think it's -- Montana is about 43 out of 50 when you look at the states in terms of population density. And I think you could have done it and eliminated that concern about some type of collateral damage or hurting individuals or property on the ground. It's only going to become more complicated as this balloon moves to the east.
And, you know, we could wake up here in a couple days and have it loitering over Washington, D.C. and then I think we'll realize the mistake that we made.
BURNETT: Which, just to even imagine that moment.
Ian, let me ask you because, to General Moore's point, they had the opportunity to shoot it down over Montana. And, in fact, U.S. military was aware of it being there before the public was, right? It was when the public was aware that this suddenly became a story. So they didn't shoot it down when they could have done so without it being noticed.
So, what do you think is happening here?
IAN BREMMER, EURASIA GROUP PRESIDENT & FOUNDER: First of all, if it was found to be loitering over Washington, D.C., as your other guest just suggested, that would put very clear the lie that the Chinese are making that they don't have control over it, they apologized over it that it's doing climate experiments. I'm not saying we believe that in the United States. I'm just saying that that would be a very substantially escalatory move from the Chinese government, which is clearly trying to de-escalate right now.
So I don't think there's anyone in the White House that thinks that that's a significant risk going forward. But it's very clear that Xi Jinping has been trying to engage in a charm offensive by reengaging at high levels with American officials, including saying that there was going to be a Xi Jinping direct meeting with Tony Blinken going over to Beijing. That certainly wouldn't have been expected or normal. You saw that with the recent vice chair's comments in Europe over the past couple of weeks that they really want to show that they're normalizing, engaging and all of the rest.
And the timing of this could not have been worse from China's perspective. So I think this is unfortunate for them. I think there's no question that Biden has to react. You are right that President Biden wanted to continue with that Blinken trip.
But as soon as this became public, it was very clear with the strong and bipartisan outcry, Democrats and Republicans across Congress said that they were going to cancel this trip.
BURNETT: They were hoping that nobody would look up or look out the window of their plane. I mean, I'm laughing, it's not really funny, but I mean, that's clearly sort of where they were.
General Moore, I know that you have knowledge of China's use of balloons before, and in your roles you know as much about this as anyone. What exactly do you think they are doing here, that they are gathering? We look at the path, and obviously these nuclear silos in Montana and part of the nuclear sponge are on the path, now near a nuclear plant in Missouri.
MOORE: Erin, I think they're demonstrating a very asymmetric capability to deal with our space superiority and our overall information surveillance and reconnaissance enterprise superiority. So you can take a device like this, which probably only cost the Chinese equivalent of a couple million dollars. You can park it or loiter it potentially over a target, taking away the limitations that we see with many of our satellite systems.
You could put up dozens or even hundreds of these and still stay on the positive side of the cost curve compared to a multibillion dollar satellite and build in tremendous resiliency and redundancy to your ability to gather information, surveillance and reconnaissance. And we need to be paying very close attention to this and quit thinking about it as one balloon and what it may portend for the future.
BURNETT: So, Ian, this balloon has been spotted across the U.S. in its flight path. So, why do you think China is doing this in plain sight? I mean, certainly, I guess, on a certain level, they knew it was here and they knew that we knew it was here, right? And until it became public, that was how it was for both sides. Is that what they were thinking, perhaps?
BREMMER: Look, the Americans display asymmetric capabilities all the time. I mean, when you look at the export controls that are being placed against China's semiconductor capabilities, getting the allies on board, the Chinese haven't really done anything in response. That's in effort to ensure that the Chinese are not able to keep up with the Americans and other democracies in those critical military and economic capabilities and the Chinese are upset about that.
So, of course, to the extent that they have the ability to display that they can create their own asymmetric capabilities and undermine American national security, that's what they're doing.
My issue is the timing. The timing is bad for Xi Jinping. It's bad for the Chinese government. And I suspect that he was not aware, the Chinese president, of exactly what was going on or the consequences that could have occurred as a consequence of this, because, frankly, this is going to be deeply embarrassing for him. This undermines what his strategy has been for the past couple of months, really since they have gotten rid of zero COVID. It's going to be a problem for the Chinese. There's no way they can walk this back.
BURNETT: General, let me ask you -- you're saying they could have seized the opportunity over Montana to shoot it down and now it's much, much more difficult. Why do you think they didn't? I mean, are they not exactly sure what it's doing and they kind of wanted to observe?
Or do you buy the argument they were worried about hitting a farm in Montana? Or what do you think happened here? There was obviously a big discussion with the president and the Pentagon. LT. GEN. CHARLIE "TUNA" MOORE, FORMER DEPUTY COMMANDER, U.S. CYBER
COMMAND: No doubt there were significant discussions between the pentagon and the White House over this issue. You're asking me to make a guess. My best guess is you touched on one of the issues that could be causing this approach, which is they wanted to gather information about exactly what the system is doing.
We do have some capabilities to do that. Of course, how long you do that versus ultimately taking action is the quandary that they now find themselves in.
BURNETT: Absolutely. All right. General Moore, thank you very much. Ian Bremmer, thank you.
MOORE: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: And next on alert, Southern Ukraine tonight bracing for what could be an even deadlier assault as Russia races more warships into the Black Sea.
Plus, suspicious expenses by George Santos. The New York congressman racking up nearly 40 charges that are literally one penny shy of the $200 threshold needed to get an actual -- to show n actual receipt. So, tonight, we're going to break down those charges. And we'll just show you very clearly why they do not add up.
And just in, the Memphis police officer who was wearing this body cam during Tyre Nichols' deadly arrest has now been fired.
BURNETT: Tonight, the U.S. is set to provide Ukraine with longer- range rocket artillery that will double the reach of its current weapons. This is an absolutely huge development in the sense that Zelenskyy has been pounding the table asking for this to no avail for a year. President Zelenskyy is warning Putin wants revenge for his massive losses on the battlefield.
Russia now placing even more missile launching ships in the Black Sea in a significant move today which poses a major threat to Ukraine.
Sam Kiley is OUTFRONT on the ground in Zaporizhzhia.
And, Sam, Ukraine saying Russia is ramping and it certainly appears that way. More cruise missile launching ships now in the Black Sea. What are you learning?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that these cruise missile ships have been joined by cruise missile launching aircraft in these almost weekly waves of cruise and drone missile attacks that have gone after over the last few months the energy sector in this country. If you combine this latest move in the Black Sea with recent mass maneuvers in Belarus, mass training maneuvers between the Belarusians and the Russians and the mobilization of up to 300,000 Russian conscripts effectively inside the country, it's all beginning to point as the Ukrainian intelligence officials are now saying to an imminent launch of what they believe will be a Russian campaign, possibly opening a front here in or near to here in Zaporizhzhia.
The southern front here has been a bit noisier than it has been recently. There has been an uptick in violence. It doesn't compare with what's been going on in the east. But there is clearly signs of a considerable amount of maneuver going on, possibly trying to get the Russians may wish to get ahead of the deployment of more sophisticated missiles like these longer-range missiles now being promised, and of course the arrival of some 300 plus tanks from NATO and other Western allies.
BURNETT: All right. Sam, thank you very much in snowy Zaporizhzhia tonight.
And OUTFRONT now, Mikhail Zygar, a Russian-born independent journalist and the author of "All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin," which is a groundbreaking behind-the-scenes book at power and politics inside Vladimir Putin's Russia.
So, Mikhail, you have been writing a lot about the growing power of the Wagner Group, which of course is the private Russian military run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, which has been incredibly central in the Bakhmut battle that we've seen along the front. And we now right now understand that the Wagner Group accounts for about 15 percent of all Russian troops on the ground, which is a stunning figure.
So, in all of your reporting, when everyone says who is this Prigozhin and what does he want. Do you think it is a possibility that he could ultimately replace Putin as leader of Russia?
MIKHAIL ZYGAR, RUSSIAN JOURNALIST: You know, that's really interesting, and that's the most hot topic for speculation in Moscow. Because, for the first time ever for the -- after 22 years of Putin's presidency, there is a person who still claims that he's an ardent Putin supporter and who's obviously a person from his inner circle, but possibly he's got the potential to challenge Putin, and he is accumulating people around him.
He obviously has political ambitions. He's the first hero for many years, and he's a hero for the most ultra conservative, the most I would say fascist part of Russian society. And as long as we don't have any liberal part in Russian society, because most of those people, leaders of that part of Russian society have left. Now he's an obvious rival to President Putin.
BURNETT: It's incredible to watch this happened. Now, in the context here, what you're reporting on is how Russians are frustrated that their country isn't winning the war. The Ukrainians say that Putin wants to capture all of Donbas by the end of March as part of an offensive. We'll see whether that occurs or not. But that's part of what we understand his goal right now is to be. What will military failure mean for Putin and for Prigozhin if he does
not succeed even in that in the context of what he'd originally wanted, which is all of Ukraine, that limited goal of Donbas. What would that failure mean?
ZYGAR: You know, it's interesting, but now the ball is not on his side. Because recently right in the beginning of January, Putin appointed General Gerasimov, who is like man number two in Russian army and who was in charge of that campaign from the beginning. Now he's officially commander in chief of that offensive in Ukraine, and actually Prigozhin has to sit and wait until Gerasimov fails in Ukraine.
So Prigozhin is in a very comfortable position because no one really believes that Gerasimov can achieve anything. And recently Prigozhin claimed that Wagner Group is the only effective part of Russian military. And he was boasting with conquering the little city of Soledar that seems to be all of Russia's victory during the last month.
So, now, Prigozhin waits for failure, and that would be the right moment when Russian will think it's the right time to switch loyalty from Putin who keeps on failing to much more aggressive Prigozhin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you so much, Mikhail, for sharing that with us.
ZYGAR: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, we are learning new details about the American Paul Whelan's life inside a brutal Russian penal colony. Guards waking him up in the middle of the night, forced to sew buttons on winter coats. His brother David is my guest with more.
And from trains, planes, hotels, even target? George Santos' campaign reported expenses from all these places. They all add up to the exact same amount, $199.99, just a penny shy of what would be required a receipt to get reimbursement.
BURNETT: Tonight, the official House Republican's Twitter account urging its 1.5 million followers to follow embattled Republican Congressman George Santos, an apparent show of support despite Santos' long list of lies which, as you know now, religion, school, his mother, being a star basketball -- I'm sorry, volleyball player at Baruch College. It goes on and on and on.
And it comes as he faces growing questions legally, right, about his campaign's expenses that do not appear to add up. And this is serious stuff.
Santos' campaign in this just one little instance listed 37 expenses for exactly $199.99. To be clear, that is one cent below the threshold for requiring receipts, so you can get reimbursed without proving you spent money, expenses totaling $7,400. $199.99 spent on almost anything you could think of. Ubers, hotels, planes, train travel, Best Buy, BJ's, Staples and Target.
OUTFRONT now, "The Washington Post" reporter who has done a lot of digging on these expenses, Philip Bump, also the author of the new book "The Aftermath: The last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America."
So, Philip, you point out that 40 percent of these transactions are for tippable expenses. Five Uber trips all in the same amount, $199.99. What about those?
PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. It's sort of fascinating. One of the things I try to do is figure out is there any rational way in which you can consistently come up with this $199.99 figure. And so, I look at things like tipping, right? So, I went to the same restaurant in Queens regularly.
And if you go to a restaurant, you can round up your tip so that you get to $199.99. Uber is a little trickier. Tipping on there, you don't normally go in and add a specific number of dollars and cents to do so. But it is possible that for that category of expense, maybe they finagled the numbers to get to that.
BURNETT: Okay. And you point out two specific transactions. This is out of the tipping range. But where you say the $199.99 charges are actually contradicted by the actual known rates for a company called clear and airport parking. So, tell me about these.
BUMP: Yeah. So here it's hard to actually come up with an excuse. So clear, for example, you pay them a fee and then you get through airport security faster. It costs $189 a year.
Now there's no way to get from there to $199.99. I looked to see maybe if you add sales tax. But you have to have a very specific sales tax of 5.815 percent in order to get from $189 to $199.99. The odds of that are pretty low particularly given that his campaign was in soft accounting, sales tax is well above that.
And then, of course, you have this thing about parking. JFK, where the parking fees were incurred, in order to park there, you have to pay an even dollar amount. You can't get to $199.99 unless JFK that day decided to prorate parking to the second and the person stayed exactly two days, three hours, 59 minutes and 58 seconds. In that case, you can get to $199.99, but that's simply not how it works.
BURNETT: That is certainly not how it works at JFK.
But, look, this is no laughing matter because obviously this all raises the question of whether it was putting in a whole lot of receipts right under the amount to have a receipt to get reimbursed from money that, well, wasn't, you know, just to get money, right, to have the campaign fund himself.
So, is there any excuse for all of this that isn't that? BUMP: Well, that's -- yeah, right. Once you eliminate the possibility
that these are just, you know, it happens to be a coincidence, you wonder why this occurred.
So the campaign itself said back in December when this first came to light, they said that there was a database error and that they were filing amended reports with the FEC that would reflect this. Well, the data that I pulled this week are the most updated and they still exist, regardless of the database error.
It's important to remember if these did go over $200, they necessarily, by law, should have been able to fix them. They haven't been able to fix them. They haven't done so. There's no good excuse for why these figures are where they are. And it just leaves open the mystery, why was it important for this campaign to land at this $199.99 number where they didn't have to have receipts at all?
BURNETT: And I know we have to pose it as a question -- I do say, of course, there are some obvious answers staring us in the face and we'll see if that ends up being the case or not.
All right. Philip Bump, thank you for that detailed work and reporting. As I say, this forensic reporting and actually doing the math on what sales tax would get to what number, and doing the tip is a lot of work.
Elie Honig is with me, he is our senior legal analyst. Also the author of the new book "Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It."
So, Elie, let's start here with Phillip's reporting. So, these are serious things, right? This is -- this would be, if this happened, this would be breaking a law, this would be fraud, this would be present, this would be the end.
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah.
BURNETT: What do you think is happening here?
HONIG: So, it would be all of those things. It would be fraud. It would be campaign finance violations. We know prosecutors are investigating.
And, by the way, they should pay attention to Phil's work there. He should work for the FBI. That's remarkable reporting that Phil did.
The biggest tell to me, Erin, is that prosecutors have asked the FEC, the Federal Election Commission, to stand down. And that's what you do when you're serious about a case as a prosecutor. You don't want regulators. You don't want agencies getting in the way. You want to do what you need to do first.
So to me that tells me a lot about where prosecutors think this is going.
BURNETT: In a very serious direction for him.
BURNETT: All right. So, your new book is about powerful people getting special treatment and avoiding charges.
Santos, we'll see what happens.
HONIG: Yeah, I don't think he's powerful enough.
BURNETT: Not powerful enough, right. That was maybe under the radar. But you talk a lot about Donald Trump in your book. We know the Manhattan D.A. has convened a grand jury to look at hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. This is something you had been talking about for a while. They're actually going to do it.
What do you think this signals?
HONIG: So, if you're interested in a look inside prosecutors' office, I actually provide that in this book and what jumps out to me is I report on the fact that federal prosecutors across the street from the Manhattan D.A. at the southern district of New York, my former office, did this exact same investigation or investigated the exact same conduct two years ago. And if you look at the witnesses that we're hearing day by day who the Manhattan D.A. is putting in front of the grand jury, that is the same list of witnesses who the SDNY looked at two years ago.
What I found so interesting and really in a sense disturbing in the reporting that I have in this book is that when it came time to decide, do we charge Donald Trump, two years ago he's out of office now. The team thought they had sufficient evidence, but they decided not to do it for political reasons, as one person on the inside put it to me for, quote, prudential concerns. And so I think there is a perfect example of Donald Trump dodging justice.
BURNETT: Dodging, although now with this coming back up again, it raises the question. And you thought they had the evidence then, and now someone else might say I'm not going to be afraid to hit the pinata.
BURNETT: So, you believe Trump has escaped justice for so long that you call him a lawless Houdini.
BURNETT: Why do you think he has been so lucky? Because he's had a very long career in a world, in a city where people are looking at stuff.
HONIG: Yeah. I argue in the book that it's not long, that it's actually the residue of design by Donald Trump and failures, to some extent, by prosecutors. I draw comparisons in the book between Donald Trump and some of the big-time criminals who I used to investigate, specifically mobsters. It's become sort of trendy to say Donald Trump is like a mob boss. I used to actually prosecute mafiosos here in New York City.
And as I went back to my old cases, I saw so many similarities between the tactics they used, the intimidation tactics, the way that they know how to say things without quite saying them, send a signal to people. And Donald Trump, we see using the same tactics. And I think that's frustrated prosecutors. But also I argue prosecutors haven't stepped up to the challenge adequately.
BURNETT: Which is an interesting combination.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Elie.
And, of course, get that new book.
And, next, breaking news. The Pentagon just confirming they have located another Chinese spy balloon. We're going to tell you about that right after this.
We also have disturbing details about how American Paul Whelan is being treated inside a Russian penal colony, and guards forcing him up in the middle of the night. His brother David is my guest.
BURNETT: Breaking news, the Pentagon says there is a second spy balloon that has been deployed by China. The U.S. official tells CNN it does not appear to be currently heading to the United States. But this new development coming as the Pentagon continues to track the spy balloon last spotted above Missouri. China claiming it's just a weather tracking civilian air ship that was accidentally hanging out over U.S. nuclear facilities.
Selina Wang is OUTFRONT in Beijing tonight.
And, Selina, we're now learning about the second Chinese spy balloon, this one we understand over Latin America. What more are you learning about all this?
SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, no official response yet on the second spy balloon development that you've just said there. But the decision making here, look, it's a complete black box even here in Beijing we're often just left with the official statement, and what state media is saying.
But what's extraordinary is that earlier, the government expressed regret, it's extremely rare. I can't remember this happening in my time covering China. And it's a big shift from the regular playbook of just hitting back or denying.
But potentially that was an effort to keep the Blinken meeting on track. The government actually apologizing for what it had called a weather balloon flying off course, a claim of course which the Pentagon rejects. But state media here is putting out headlines saying this balloon isn't a big deal and accusing the U.S. of hyping it up.
So this is what "The China Daily" editorial said. Quote, this is not a media event but rather a political balloon from Washington to maneuver the domestic audience. It's hard to imagine any big country in the world would be clumsy enough to rush spy balloons into the air space of what other countries -- of other countries when it owns its own reconnaissance satellites.
So, Erin, we're really left with the mystery of why Beijing allowed it to happen, maybe not even once but multiple times and if it was deliberate or an accident, it's embarrassing for Beijing and it derails this meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Beijing had been gearing up for months, Erin.
BURNETT: So, Selina, what happens here? Obviously, the U.S., from all signals we have, also was planning to go ahead with that meeting even when they knew about the spy balloon, right? It was when the spy balloon became known by the American public that the Secretary of State Blinken cancelled -- delayed the meeting, right?
So it was the public knowledge that caused the problem here. So what happens now?
WANG: Well, there were already low expectations for any concrete outcomes from Blinken's trip to China. But the whole point of the trip was to put guardrails on the relationship. And this event, it just underscores the growing mutual distress between both sides and what some experts say why a face-to-face meeting is more important than ever right now is more important than ever, although, of course, there were those constraints, the public knowledge that you mentioned.
But what's important to acknowledge here is that it's not in Chinese Leader Xi Jinping's interest for this meeting to be canceled. This was supposed to be a part of China's re-opening to the world after ending zero COVID. And this really sours the mood after the goodwill that was built between the two sides on the sidelines of the G20 in November.
BURNETT: All right. Selina, thank you very much, reporting so importantly from Beijing tonight.
And OUTFRONT next, Paul Whelan, the American held in a Russian penal colony, telling his family about his life right now in that colony. Says there's no hot water. He says they wake him up in the middle of the night, and confirms that some of his fellow prisoners are being recruited to fight in Ukraine. I'm going to speak to his brother.
And breaking news, another Memphis police officer we're finding out at this hour was fired due to Tyre Nichols' death.
BURNETT: Tonight, new details about American Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia and is serving time in a harsh penal colony. He is nearing 1,500 days behind bars. Whelan is now telling his family the prison guards wake him up in the middle of the night with bright lights to take his photo, and he's making money by sewing buttons on winter coats for government workers. Money, I mean, let's be clear, it's a few dollars a month.
And he says he's learning to speak Tajik from other prisoners. Whelan also confirming that some prisoners at this penal have been recruited and released to fight in Ukraine for Putin.
OUTFRONT now, Paul Whelan's brother, David.
And, David, I'm glad to talk to you again so everyone can understand what your brother is enduring now. This Sunday will mark 1,500 days that he has wrongly been detained the Russia, serving a 16-year sentence for espionage charges, which he vehemently denies. How is he doing now?
DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF PAUL WHELAN WHO IS WRONGFULLY DETAINED IN RUSSIA: I think he's doing as well as he can. He is surviving, and I think that some of the information we got from our parents in a phone call yesterday about learning Tajik, about figuring out how to get by when the hot water has been turned off for two weeks. It shows that he's doing his best to get by day by day. And hopefully, 1,500 days is the last milestone we have to deal with in this case.
BURNETT: And he continues to endure psychological, physical abuse. I understand your brother said he's woken up in the middle of the night by prison guards with a bright light in his face, you know, just terrifying, take his photo. What more do you know about this and other things he is enduring?
WHELAN: Well, it's sort of an erosion of human rights all the time. He's been woken up every two hours every night for the last at least 2-1/2 years. And you can imagine not having had a single night's sleep. I mean, parents know they get it when they have a child, but usually that child starts to sleep after a while.
But to be able to -- have that going on for years, it's really awful, and obviously living under the concern you'll say something wrong or do something wrong with your uniform and be thrown into solitary confinement, it's a really -- it's an awful experience.
BURNETT: And he's also -- it sounds like he's confirming to your parents that there are people in his penal colony who have been recruited and have gone to the front lines in Ukraine.
WHELAN: Yes. It's unfortunate for them, and I hope it doesn't last long in Ukraine. It's been a positive for Paul that prison was overcrowded, and people who went were part of the danger inside the prison. So from that perspective, the prison is actually a much better place. BURNETT: So, today, we spoke to Christo Grozev, the lead investigator
for Bellingcat, right? He did all the investigation into Navalny's poisoning and Putin's role in that. He is watching, David, an unprecedented number of Russian spies being arrested around the world. He thinks this could help pressure the government to release your brother who, of course, was not released along with Brittney Griner.
He counts now 16 spies arrested, four others expelled just from Austria. Here's what he said about how he thinks this could possibly lead up to a prisoner swap for your brother.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTO GROZEV, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & LEAD RUSSIAN INVESTIGATOR, BELLINGCAT: I do think this is a very likely outcome because Putin needs to get these people back. They're agents of the state. They're not just some spies that got money to spy. They're Russians, professional soldiers. He needs to get them back. With 16 or more of them, he needs to make a trade soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: What are you hearing from U.S. officials, people working on this? Are you hearing that too?
WHELAN: No. We wouldn't get that sort of detail. Our family has been watching the same arrests and hoping those arrests turn into convictions for Russian spies. It may be what the Russians have been waiting for, what the Kremlin have been waiting for to coin my brother and make a release for him. But, yeah, it's hard to know.
BURNETT: There's a new player in all of this, a new ambassador to the United States, Lynne Tracy just arrived in Moscow this week. Of course there were protests when she arrived, but this is a significant move. No ambassadors on the ground since October until now.
Do you think this will make a difference?
WHELAN: Absolutely. The ambassadors, Ambassador Huntsman, Ambassador Sullivan, the ambassadors in Moscow have always been strong advocates for Paul. Ambassador Tracy comes to Moscow after having already spent three years there as a deputy. I think her voice on the ground in Moscow will be a huge help to moving the U.S. effort and hopefully persuading the Kremlin to let Paul go.
BURNETT: All right. David, thank you very much. I appreciate your time tonight.
WHELAN: Thanks for having me.
And next, the breaking news, the Memphis police officer whose body cam showed him firing his Taser at Tyre Nichols on the night of his deadly arrest has now been fired.
BURNETT: Breaking news, another Memphis police officer fired related to Tyre Nichols' death. The police department says that it terminated Preston Hemphill for violating multiple department policies, including personal conduct and truthfulness. Hemphill is now the sixth officer fired after Nichols was beaten and later died.
Hemphill was on the scene of the initial traffic stop. His body cam footage shows him firing his Taser at Nichols. Hemphill's body camera also captures him saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESTON HEMPHILL, FORMER MEMPHIS POLICE OFFICER: I hope they stomp his ass.
(END VIDEO CL.IP)
BURNETT: I remember hearing that as it happened. At that time, we didn't know had who said it, but it was Hemphill. And he has now been fired.
As of tonight, though, he is not among the police officers facing criminal charges at all or for second degree murder.
Thanks for joining us.
Anderson starts now.