Return to Transcripts main page
Erin Burnett Outfront
Source: Pence Subpoenaed By Special Counsel Investigating Trump; Russians Run Over Their Own Dead Soldiers In New Video In To OutFront; Biden Zeros In On DeSantis, Scott Over Social Security, Health Care; 21,000+ Now Dead From Massive Earthquake In Turkey, Syria; Santos Was Charged With Theft Over Several Bad Checks; U.S.: Chinese Spy Balloon Capable Of Monitoring U.S. Communications. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired February 09, 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, breaking news, former Vice President Mike Pence subpoenaed by the special counsel investigating former President Donald Trump's role in January 6. We're getting new details into CNN this hour. We have the very latest as this story is breaking.
Plus, new video into CNN of Russian brutality against their own soldiers. We have this video out Russians running over their own dead and injured.
And new questions tonight about Congressman George Santos. We've got a new report saying he was charged with theft after a series of bad checks were written to dog breeders. A lawyer who has known him since middle school said he asked her for help fight the charges and then she'll tell you what happened next.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, subpoenaed. Former Vice President Mike Pence has now been subpoenaed by the special counsel investigating Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. A source is telling CNN that the special counsel wants documents and testimony, both related to Trump's actions leading up to the election and the January 6 insurrection.
Pence, of course, was at the center of Trump's efforts to cling to power. Trump repeatedly pressured his then vice president who, of course, was the one who was going to go in right to Congress and oversee the certification of the Electoral College to block or deny Biden's win. Here's what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so. Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Pence, of course, refused. And he has since talked about why. Here he is at a CNN town hall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I have one higher loyalty, and that was to God and the Constitution. That's what set in motion the confrontation that would come to pass on January 6th, because I had taken an oath to the Constitution of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Evan Perez is OUTFRONT live in Washington.
And, Evan, this is extremely significant. You talk about a former vice president of the United States, right, subpoenaed in the January 6th criminal investigation into the former president of the United States. This is important.
What more are you learning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is an important moment certainly in this investigation, Erin. It's something that certainly we knew there were negotiations behind the scenes. We reported back in November that the Justice Department had approached the vice president's team about trying to get his testimony. And we know that he has certainly a lawyer, Emmett Flood, who is a hawk when it comes to issues related to executive privilege. So, we knew this was going to be a difficult conversation certainly for the Justice Department to try to get to some of the things that Mike Pence knows.
As you just played some of those clips, you can see that he knows a lot. He is an important witness to this investigation. And the Justice Department and Jack Smith, the new special counsel, absolutely want to get some of those answers.
What we know is that this is obviously related to January 6th. That's what Kaitlan Collins is told by a source. We know that Mike Pence and his team when they published a memoir back in November, they knew that things that were being put in that book were going to be open -- essentially open the door for prosecutors to come and ask him questions.
So, you can bet that -- you know, knowing his lawyer, he is going to go o comply with the subpoena. There are some questions that I'm sure he's not going to be prepared to answer because he still believes that it is shielded by executive privilege. And then the Justice Department will have the option of going to a judge to try to force his compliance to answer additional questions. That's something that's probably going to be down the line.
But, just to give you a sense, Erin, back in his book, in his memoir, he talks a lot about some of his conversations with Donald Trump, including going back to December, right? Talking about -- beginning to talk about challenging the vote and those key meetings in January involving John Eastman and some of the people who were putting together this plan to try to overturn the election. So, all of those things are now open for prosecutors to ask him about.
BURNETT: All right. Evan, thank you very much. Of course, as you get more information, I know you'll give it to us.
Ryan Goodman and John Dean are OUTFRONT with me now.
So, Ryan, let's just start with this.
The former vice president of the United States, subpoenaed by the special counsel related to the former president of the United States, right?
It's an incredible moment in and of itself. Pence is somebody, right, that the January 6th committee had eventually just said, let go. But the special counsel is taking the extra step, they're going to a subpoena.
What is the significance of that at this point?
RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPT. OF DEFENSE: So it's historically significant moment as you describe. And he is an important witness for the Justice Department and he is one of the unknowns in the sense that they already know what other Pence senior aides told the January 6th committee, but there is no transcript from Pence for the January 6th Committee because he didn't show up to answer their questions.
So I think it's very important. And it's basically it looks like it will be a slam dunk for the Justice Department to override executive privilege. So, maybe just more a question of time.
BURNETT: Right. So let me just follow up on that point. You think it will be a slam dunk the executive privilege -- Evan is describing it he can claim it and then they have to go to a court, right? What does that do? You say slam dunk, but does that mean it's fast?
GOODMAN: It can be very fast. Just to give an example, his two senior aides, Marc Short and Greg Jacob, both invoked executive privilege. Then, the judge could immediately decide the question and from all the reports are that she said, no, there's a standing Supreme Court opinion, United States v. Nixon, you cannot claim it. Then they went back to the grand jury to answer questions.
BURNETT: So, John, Trump has been extremely vocal, right, about his anger against Trump for certifying the election on January 6th. Again and again and again, right? This is a matter of public record, just to remind everybody, right, of what Trump said and how crucial Pence was in this moment under investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I think Mike has been very badly hurt by what took place with respect to January 6th. I think he's been -- I think he's been mortally wounded frankly because I see the reaction he's getting from people. They said, why didn't he just hand it back to the legislatures? Why didn't he do that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Right, and there's about -- there's countless where that came from, John. But does it matter at this point now you have Pence subpoenaed in the special counsel investigation into Trump.
Does Trump's public ire and enmity over this issue and Pence's behavior matter?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it does matter. It shows Trump's intent. And I think there's nobody better who can explain that than the vice president who was the point of the anger and the effort to try to get the vice president to do something that was against the law. He refused to do it, as he said. He had taken an oath to the constitution and he was not going to breach that for Donald Trump with his harebrain scheme which we don't even know how it would played out had he done what Trump wanted, other than he would be breaking the law.
It certainly wouldn't have guaranteed Trump the presidency. But it would have been just a flagrant violation of the process for counting votes. So, this is timely. This is a big deal that they're bringing him in to get him on the record. The executive privilege will not hold as Ryan said. The Nixon case establishes that.
DEAN: Nixon's privilege was much broader than even this. So, it's going to -- it's going to go down to the count and it' proceeding nicely.
BURNETT: So, Ryan, what does this signal to you? I know you've got Jack Smith overseeing multiple things, right, one of which is the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. This is specifically January 6th, right, the criminal probe into the former president of the United States.
So the fact that he is subpoenaing pence in that probe at this time, does that signal something to you about where Jack Smith, the special counsel, is headed?
GOODMAN: It does. It signals and suggests that he's nearing an end stage. You only go to Pence after you've already establish what had the other witnesses are going to say so that it can be the most informed back and forth in terms of what they say and ask him with the grand jury that they have as much visibility and information when they're asking him those kinds of questions. So, they already know some of the answers to those questions they can verify where he's coming from.
He is the grand poobah in a certain sense --
GOODMAN: -- that you would only reach out to him after everything is said and done. So, I think that -- it's a strong sign that Jack Smith is reaching that final lap.
BURNETT: John Dean, reaching the final lap in the January 6th probe, which I would say most all views that we've heard, right, was the harder one to establish versus the classified documents which was perceived as more open and shut clear criminal case, right? Does this indicate that not only is he in the final lap but the final lap towards indictment?
DEAN: That's true. He is certainly at least narrowing his witnesses down to test their strength, to see if they indeed would support an indictment. I don't think he's made that decision yet. But this is clearly a part of the process that he's got to go through to decide if this is a prosecutable case.
And it is a complex case. This is just part of it. We don't know how broad he's going to go or how narrow he seeks to draw the case.
But this is a big deal that shows he is certainly going forward. And I'm sure Donald Trump isn't happy to hear this news.
BURNETT: No. I would imagine not. Ryan, on the point of Pence, obviously the executive privilege argument likely to come, he didn't appear before the committee. The January 6th committee, but he did allow his chief lieutenants to and has at moments talked about the significance of this day for him, right? That it had a profound affect on him, the insurrection itself.
Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: January 6th was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol. Lives were lost. And many were injured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Ryan, what do you think his testimony will be like?
GOODMAN: It's difficult to say. I think that if he speaks his truth, it could be very damaging, very damaging to Trump because his truth is that his life was put at risk and his chief of staff even warned his Secret Service detail on January 5th that the vice president, his own safety and security could be put at risk because Trump would turn against him the next day.
So if he tells that to the grand jury, that is the kind of coercive pressure that would amount to a crime under the federal laws for pressuring somebody to disobey their legal duties. So that's what, you know, I think the most likely outcome, but they don't know until they know. And I think that's why it's so important for Jack Smith to get him before the grand jury and get a very good indication of how he would testify were he in the witness stand.
BURNETT: For those who thought jack smith had gone quiet, he just obviously returned to the forefront here of the conversation in a very big way with a crucial and historic subpoena tonight. Thank you both very much.
As we get more on this story as it comes in here, we're going to bring it to you.
Next, we have new video just into OUTFRONT of Russia's brutal tactics on the front line. A tank man commander seen running over his own man. It is brutal but it is important to see.
Plus, Biden taking on DeSantis tonight. An energized president calling out the Florida's governor in his home state. Is it a winning strategy for Biden or not?
Twenty-one thousand staggering death toll tonight climbing from that massive earthquake. Fears that number could go up substantially in the coming hours.
BURNETT: Tonight, barbaric. Russians running over their own dead soldiers. OUTFRONT just getting new video of the cruelty that's taking place among Russians on the front lines. And I warn you that what we're about to share with you is graphic and is disturbing. I'm going to walk you through it. It's footage from a Ukrainian drone of a Russian tank.
The operator of the tank is trying to avoid being struck in doing that runs over his own men. You see him dragging their man, running over another. Like rag dolls, dead, injured they don't care. We're showing this because this horrible image is so powerful. Imagine that just running over your own men, the people fighting and dying beside you like rag dolls.
According to our Tim Lister on the ground in Ukraine, this is consistent with Russia's actions on the battlefield. This isn't some sort of an anomaly. And that tank operator is one of thousands that are like sitting ducks in Ukraine's wide open east.
We have another video. You see a column of Russian tanks believed to be in eastern Ukraine. These roads are straight roads right the middle of nowhere, driving along, spotted by Ukrainian drones. Series of strikes taking out those tanks one by one another all that's left is a charred graveyard tanks still burning.
According to Ukraine, Russia lost about 10,000 tanks and armored vehicles in the loss of human life continues to mount, which is why something that happened today stands out as odd. The leader of the brutal Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announcing today that he will no longer be recruiting prisoners to fight in the invasion.
Now this is significant if he's telling the truth. Because Prigozhin has sent more than 50,000 convicts to the front lines in Ukraine. So why would he no longer be recruiting convicts? Well, the answer is unclear. But the shift in strategy could be blamed on the mass Russian casualties, could be blamed on tank operators driving over their own dead and injured like rag dolls. Maybe the interest from Russian convicts even to join this war is quite simply no longer there.
But now, Russia is stooping to a whole new level to shame its young men into fighting. The face of Russian state television, you see her all the time, we show her to you, is now telling young men it's no big deal if you die 30 years early.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARITA SIMONYAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF RT (through translator): But there is no chance to escape death. The difference in 10, 20, 30 years is really not that big. From the standpoint of the universe, it's not that big. It's not certain which is a better way to die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: It's incredible, no big deal if you die 30 years early, even in a country average life expectancy is only 59.8. That's an incredibly sick thing to say. Imagine that, zero disregard for human life.
And in a moment, I'm going to speak to the Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, a regular here on our show, who has new reporting on how many Russian soldiers are now actually turning to God. In fact, he says Russia is now naming battalions after saints and Russian media bizarrely claims that once the battalion name got changed, people stopped dying. More on that in just a moment.
But, first, Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT on the ground.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Wagner mercenaries in brutal battles around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Among the assault force, convicts, charging in waves, suffering devastating losses.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin often praises his group's battlefield efficiency, but now, a sudden about-face.
We have completely discontinued the recruitment of prisoners into Wagner PMC, he writes. Those who work for us now are fulfilling all their obligations.
Ukrainian intelligence recently gave CNN access to two convicts recruited by Wagner who the Ukrainians captured on the front line. They said they were speaking with us willingly but we're disguising their identity for their own safety.
They were 90 of us in our first assault, he says. Sixty died in the first assault killed by mortar fire. A handful remained wounded. The men say they were essentially cannon fodder but retreating was not allowed.
We were given the task of taking a place and we had to take it at any cost, he says. We couldn't retreat without orders because if we didn't comply, we would be killed.
Four months, Prigozhin personally went to Russian jails with his offer even for murderers and rapists. Fight six months in Ukraine, and if you survive, you'll be free.
Only a handful in my unit came for money, he says. Most came because they had long jail sentences. But there were also some who had only 12 days of their sentence remaining and they went any way.
The Ukrainian believe Wagner so far sent around 50,000 convicts to Ukraine, with a massive attrition rate as high as 80 percent killed, wounded, captured or deserted.
Prigozhin, though, seems unfazed by the losses. Their contracts have ended. They're going home, he just said.
But why would Prigozhin said he change what had he feels is a winning formula? He didn't give any reason but one possibility might be that the Russian defense ministry has sidelined Wagner and is now fully taking control over recruiting convicts. At least that's the view of prisoner advocacy group Russia Behind Bars.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Prisoners are difficult to deal with. Some Russian soldiers might not like fighting alongside prisoners in trenches, but there's big potential and it's easy to recruit masses.
PLEITGEN: Russia's defense ministry didn't reply to our request for comment, but Ukrainian military intelligence believes there is a power struggle unfolding. The leadership of the Russian armed forces is going to belittle Prigozhin's role, he says, so that he cannot strengthen his position in the Kremlin hierarchy.
PLEITGEN (on camera): Now, of course, Erin, there could be various other reasons why Yevgeniy Prigozhin now says he will no longer recruit convicts for the war in Ukraine. He might simply be running out of people willing to go even in Russian jails. Of course, word is spreading that the attrition rates for Wagner are extremely high.
It could also be a shift in strategy by the Russian military that makes that type of warfare less conducive to what the Russian military wants to do. It's really unclear and certainly we're not hearing anything out of Moscow as to what the reasoning could be, Erin. BURNETT: All right. Fred, thank you very much, in Kyiv tonight.
And I want to go now to Andrei Soldatov, the founder and editor of Agentura.ru. It is a website focused on the Russian security services. It is blocked now in Russia.
And, Andrei, I want to start with the new video into OUTFRONT, that's it's graphic and disturbing but for some reason, when you see that tank commander driving over one of his people he fights with -- I don't know what word to use -- you know, friends, colleagues, someone he is living with day to day on the front line -- like a rag doll, it is somehow just so disgusting and horrid it brings this home.
It is a video that says 1,000 words. This is how Russia is treating its own on the battlefield.
ANDREI SOLDATOV, RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Yes, unfortunately. Such a horrific footage, Erin, and reminds me of the Chechen wars in the 1990s when the Russian army had complete disregard for human lives of civilians but also of its own soldiers.
BURNETT: So, this is coming on top of your brand new reporting which I mentioned to viewers a moment ago. Russian forces, you report, are notoriously not religious. And many are turning to religion.
You talk about discovering that they've named some battalions after saints and you reported this incredible line that the pro-Kremlin tabloid says the battalions named after saints miraculously stopped the dying. The headline that you pulled from this newspaper is, quote, there are no more heavy casualties.
As you say, this is bizarre.
SOLDATOV: It is absolutely bizarre, but I think it reflects desperation of the military leadership. They understand that they need to boost moral. And the usual way to do that is to improve discipline, to provide better training or at least to explain the aims of the war.
And the military leadership cannot do that because nobody knows what the victory in this war would look like for the Kremlin or for Putin. So there is a void, and this void is getting filled by mysticism and the church and the Russian Orthodox Church being very nationalistic, well, it's only happy to oblige.
BURNETT: You talk about mysticism. One of the men you reported in your report is a cleric based in Moscow is very aggressive in recruiting Russians for the war. So we pulled a sound bite of him for everyone to hear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREI TKACHEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST (through translator): The best way to die is in war. It's the best of all deaths. People die like pigs, choking on their own vomit. I can tell you.
Or, they go to a rooftop to take a selfie. They slip and fall from the 15th floor with their phone. They got their selfie, such stupid deaths are a dime a dozen.
It's better to die with a weapon in your hand for your motherland, like a real man and a hero and I'll pray for you before you die. God have mercy. And then your soul is off to heaven.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Andre, I mean, it's incredible. That's real. I mean that is real. That's not like some kind of mockery or "Saturday Night Live." That is real.
That well-known Russian broadcaster I played saying it's fine to die 30 years early in the scheme of universe, who cares, that is also real. Does this fall on receptive ears?
SOLDATOV: Well, many people in the church and in the Kremlin, they share a cynical view that Russian men, especially men in provinces, they live completely meaningless lives. So while they get drunk, they get killed and accidents and describe it right now, and that is why if they might be sent to the battlefield, that would give them some meaning.
Of course it's extremely cynical, but unfortunately many people in provinces seems to be -- well, quite receptive because at least if you send your relative or your son to the front line, you are guaranteed to get some money back.
BURNETT: Andrei, thank you very much. I appreciate it and I appreciate you sharing your reporting with all of us as always.
SOLDATOV: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, President Biden taking his message for re-election on the road to the home of his rivals, Florida, calling out Ron DeSantis on his proposals for Social Security and Medicare.
And repeated calls for silence as rescuers listen to any kind of a voice of anyone buried alive after that massive earthquake took the lives of now more than 21,000 people. We'll go to Nick Paton Walsh on the ground.
BURNETT: Tonight, President Biden calling out Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott by name and on their own turf, saying during a speech in Florida that they want to deny access to or outright eliminate Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over 1.1 million people in Florida would be eligible for Medicaid and Governor DeSantis said I agree to expand it. Republicans seem shocked when I took out the pamphlets they were using about cutting Medicare and Social Security. Read from, you know, Senator Scott's proposal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: That proposal from Senator Scott he refers to does call for eliminating all federal legislation, including Medicare and Social Security because he doesn't say otherwise, unless Congress reauthorizes them every five years.
OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He's a leader in the Democratic Progressive Caucus and former economics professor at Stanford.
Congressman, I appreciate talking to you about this. There are some crucial details here to talk about, but first, Biden going to Florida, a state that, you know, he's very open, his aides are open with our Phil Mattingly saying they don't expect to win but they believe is a good place to have this argument and to wage the fight to call out DeSantis and Rick Scott in their own state on Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid. He's clearly energized and confident right now.
Do you hear that in his voice?
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): I do. It was one of the best speeches that I've heard him give. He was passionate. He got an amazing concession from Republicans saying that they're now going to put forward a budget that doesn't make a single cut in Social Security or Medicare. He did that extemporaneously at the State of the Union and I think he's very smart to go to Florida.
BURNETT: Right, and he did. That was an incredible moment, just to be able to play back and forth with them. Okay, great. We have a bipartisan agreement, we all agreed.
But here is the thing, it is easy for everyone, everyone anywhere, to agree Social Security is sacred and can't be touched. Except for and, Congressman, you know this, so many know this, it's words. The only reason social security is around today and the way it is because in 1983, Congress increased the full retirement age from 65 to 67, right? There's precedent to make changes that you can call that an increase in retirement age, call a cut in benefits. Call it whatever you want. It was a change.
Do you believe changes are inevitable now?
KHANNA: I do think there are changes that are necessary. And the question is, what do you do? I'm for eliminating the cap and taxing over $250,000 income so that we can fully fund Social Security, including increasing Social Security benefits. Other people want to cut or raise the age. And that's a choice we have to make.
But, of course, we have to do something. And I think scrapping the cap is the best way to go.
BURNETT: So, the annual Social Security trustees' report says the full depletion of social security will be in 2034, right in then benefits will get cut significantly after that and that they come to the conclusion, right, Congress has to do something. So you're saying Congress will need to make changes. You agree with that?
But when? When do you think this will happen? Do you think this is urgent? Are you willing to put this off a few years?
KHANNA: Well, I think it's urgent and that John Larson actually has a bill calling for strengthening Social Security. He eliminates the cap so that rich people have to pay on their whole income to social security tax. And he actually increases social security benefits and finds solvency.
And that's the real question. I mean, let's just be honest. Do we want people who have done very well to pay a little bit more on Social Security taxes so everyone can get more benefits and it's solvent, or do you want to cut the benefits or raise the retirement age?
It's an honest debate. The Democrats are for increasing benefits and having wealthy pay a little bit more and many of the Republicans haven't been for that. They've been floating like Paul Ryan floated increasing the age, others said we have to cut benefits. Let's have the debate, but I'm glad with Republicans are saying they don't want to do that.
BURNETT: So I want to ask you about New York Democratic Mayor Eric Adams. Yesterday, he said that, quote, woke Democrats have caused the Democratic Party, again his words, to hemorrhage Latino and Asian- American voters. Today, he doubled down and here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: We've allowed a small number that are the loudest and they've hijacked the true meaning of the Democratic Party. We're not for defunding the police. We're not for attacking businesses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: You know, yesterday he was very clear with the word woke, he didn't like it. He didn't like it had done to the party.
Congressman, has the quote woke hijacked the Democratic Party as the mayor of the New York says?
KHANNA: I don't think so. I think the person who still defines the essence of the Democratic Party is Barack Obama.
He was patriotic, he was aspirational, he was hopeful but he believed in a multiracial democracy where everyone had a place. And that to me is the essence of it.
When you hear President Obama speak, he talks about a unifying message, a patriotic message, but he doesn't get into the mud on all of these debates.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Congressman Khanna, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
KHANNA: Thank you. Appreciate it.
BURNETT: All right. And next, an incredible story of survival. A 4- year-old boy who was pulled alive from the rubble after being trapped for 89 hours after that massive earthquake. We're going to take you to the ground tonight.
Plus, new questions surrounding Congressman George Santos. We're learning he was charged with theft after writing a series of bad checks to puppy breeders.
And an attorney who had known Santos since middle school says he reached out to her for help and then she's going to tell you what happened after that.
BURNETT: More than 21,000 and the number will go higher, the deaths of thousands and thousands of people who were just sleeping when the massive earthquake struck. Every minute that goes by, rescuers are desperately hoping to save just one more life, clearing rubble with bare hands, anything to save one more life. Each life is precious as this 10-year-old boy and his parents who were rescued after being trapped for 78 hours.
Nick Paton Walsh is there witnessing the rare scenes of relief of a live saved and horrors of mass death.
Nick, what are you seeing now as they desperately search through the night hours for any more survivors?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, the cold and the dark inevitably slows rescue operations and sadly too does the inevitable realization that many people trapped in the rubble may -- slowly now begin to perish. And here's what we've been seeing over a day marked at times by intense sadness but also some moments of joy.
WALSH (voice-over): Eighty hours in and in Antakya, any sign of hope will do. Rescuers rush in, these buildings first three floors have collapsed down but left their upper floors up right. And little boy aged 8 is inside, possibly alive.
By the time they get to the ambulance, though, it's clear they were too late. Her mother outside only able to watch her everything vanish.
My little one, she says. Don't take her. Don't let her get lost. Antakya's streets chilling patchwork look at what's not left. In its
ruins, anxious crowds of rescuers and locals thinking they heard someone alive, demanding silence so they could listen again. Down here, is Ahmed, the rescuers say, alert, responsive, Syrian refugee. The building next to him barely hanging on at an angle, their work desperately wishing it were quicker.
Across the city, hell has landed. This man guarding his neighbor's books with his father-in-law next to the body of his mother-in-law. He gestures behind him to where he once lived.
It's kind of hard to get your head around just how inhabitable a city of this size has become so fast, literally every street you walk down has a scene like this. And the roads out, they're jam full of people trying to get away to safety because the buildings still could collapse and the roads in, rescuers, people trying to get their possessions back.
Those who stayed, lining every path of the green spaces we can find with tents to try to stay warm. The trees perhaps in just enough space away from buildings that could crumble. New world for children smiling, neither oblivious, nor somehow shaken too hard.
At dusk, and the smoke of fire settles with the dust to choke the streets. But back where we were an hour earlier, there has been relief. Ahmed was saved, pulled out from the hole. His family perhaps still inside.
The medics keep asking him, did you hear any signs of life from them? No, he says. They say he cannot wait for them. That he must be treated after 86 hours entombed, the weight of grief even as he is saved.
His friend Jamil (ph) was pulled from the rubble earlier. I've been given life again, he says. I saw death before my eyes. I saw my own grave.
The same twist of fate here. There have been noises deep inside the bottom of what was once an apartment block. First, out comes one man, Suleiman (ph), age 21. The frantic work of medics suggests he did not make it.
I think it's the impossibility of hope here that somebody could emerge after all this time alive from the wreckage that's driving this large crowd of rescuers, most intense work done by hand, right at the front of the rubble there.
Out comes a 4-year-old boy named Alpaslan (ph), rescuers said. Alive, seen trying even to take off his oxygen mask. His father Tulga (ph) who follows shortly, does not seem to move. Eighty-nine hours in the rubble, the both tore a world apart but found enough mercy to spare its youngest.
WALSH (on camera): Now the scene behind me here where you saw the end of that report, a lot quieter, but still excavators trying to dig through the rubble. I've seen over the past hours dead bodies being taken out from there. Just in the last few minutes before we came to you, Erin, there were some people rushing down towards there, heightened activity.
Often sadly, it seems forlorn hope they may hear a noise, may think there could be somebody who could be rescued.
But it's important thing to remember here -- again, that's what life is like for those who have survived this. You can see people crowded around fires here. The reason my voice broke up before that report is the air here is thick from smoke people burning wood, plastics, whatever they possibly can just to keep warm.
It is bitterly freezing cold here. And that adds to the pressure to get people out from under the rubble. That window for people saving from these collapsed buildings increasingly short here. I've just got to tell you how utterly devastating it is to go around a city once so proud and beautiful as this and see every second or third apartment block pancaked like that behind me -- Erin.
BURNETT: Just horrid. We can see that ash floating in front of you. You talk about that air and what people are enduring even now.
Thank you so much, Nick, from the ground there.
And next, CNN learning that George Santos was once charged with theft after a series of bad checks totaling $15,000 were written to dog breeders. Hear from the attorney who was asked to help Santos, next.
Plus, new details reveal the technology inside China's spy balloon that allowed Beijing to listen to U.S. communications. U.S. officials believe Chinese President Xi Jinping was directly involved. New reporting coming up.
BURNETT: Tonight, CNN learning that Republican Congressman George Santos was charged with theft in 2017. A friend of Santos says the case involved a series of bad checks totaling more than $15,000.
Now these checks were written in his name. They were written to dog breeders in Pennsylvania's Amish Country, all of this in 2017. So you can see the checks here on the screen. All of them, you see the highlighted yellow on the bottom left corner, made out for puppies.
Well, she says Santos claims someone stole his checkbook and that the theft charges ultimately dismissed. Now it's important to say that, important to say his record was expunged at the time. CNN has reached out to Congressman Santos for comment. We have not yet heard back.
OUTFRONT now, Tiffany Bogosian, an attorney who has known Santos since middle school. Santos asked her for help in fighting the theft charge.
[19:50:03] I mean, this is incredible. So, you -- this is somebody that this is somebody you sort of ran into in February of 2020. Somebody you had known as child, known for 20 years, growing up together.
So, you ran into him, and what did he tell you?
TIFFANY BOGOSIAN, ATTORNEY: He called me one night. It was 4:00 in the morning, and he was served with a warrant from the Manhattan warrant squad. It was an out of state warrant, so that's like extraditions. And initially, he thought this had something to do with his involvement as an informant against his roommate that ultimately had his roommate arrested.
We continued and found out that in fact it was a Pennsylvania matter where allegedly somebody had stolen his checkbook and written all these checks from his checkbook, too. It was funny because they were financially unsavvy people that received these Amish breeders that don't really deal day to day, have their own secluded lifestyle.
And when they went to go cash the checks, they learned that there was no money behind the checks. All the checks bounced.
BURNETT: So you, then, you helped him. He is someone you'd known from years ago.
BURNETT: You said, okay, sure, why not -- you send an email to Pennsylvania state trooper. You argue his case. A week later, he goes to Pennsylvania to address the warrant.
So -- and then as we said, this eventually goes away. Whether it should or shouldn't have, it goes away. Did you ever hear from him after that?
BOGOSIAN: The next time I heard from him, he was setting up a dinner for trying to, you know, take my clients' settlement funds. That was the next time I heard from him.
BURNETT: So, I'm going to get to that in just a moment. Did you ever question his story and thinking back, this is someone again, you'd known as a child. Did anything seem weird to you at the time about this checks story?
BOGOSIAN: It did seem weird because of the fact that he also ran a puppy kennel. So it just seemed like so many coincidences. And I believe a week after these checks were written, he held an adoption where he did sell, you know, puppies. I don't know if they were the same puppies, but it was reported that a week after these checks were written, he held an adoption function.
BURNETT: Right. Someone steals his checkbook and writes checks for puppies to Amish dog breeders. And then he has dogs from Amish dog breeders a week later. Okay, kind of putting the exclamation point on the end of this here. So, separately from this, you mentioned the next time you ran into
him. You were introduced by the SEC last month, along with your client Christian Lopez. You say that Santos tried to persuade Lopez to invest in an investment firm called Harbor City Capital, after your client had came into some, a lot of money.
BURNETT: Over a million dollars from a car crash.
The SEC has alleged that Harbor City was basically a $17 million Ponzi scheme. Santos says today he doesn't know anything about this, ask the CEO.
What do you think happened here? How much legal exposure could he be facing? I mean, you had to go in front of the SEC to be interviewed for this.
BOGOSIAN: Definitely. And essentially, after my client gave the documents and his statement, they wanted a written statement that would formalize, you know, what he said. In that week from the statement to them transcribing it to a written statement, they then called me and said the DOJ told them to halt everything and just wait until, you know, their investigation was completed.
BURNETT: And I just want to go back from all of this. Is the reason you're interacting with him all these times is you knew him back in middle school.
BURNETT: As you're saying, he was in middle school. You were in middle school. You were young. But when you look back now, what was he like? Was anything strange? Do you remember?
BOGOSIAN: There were always these oddities that didn't add up. I never would guess it would have taken this life and gone to this extent. But, you know, now knowing what he's capable of, he's definitely, you know, not qualified to be where he is in Congress. And he should really be in jail.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you so much, Stephanie. I appreciate your taking the time and coming and sharing the story. Thanks.
BOGOSIAN: Thank you so much.
BURNETT: All right.
And next, more evidence tonight the China spy balloon was part of a vast military surveillance program. We have learned more on what the balloon was actually capable of, and we'll tell you about it, next.
[19:56:44] BURNETT: Tonight, intelligence from top secret U.S. spy planes is providing startling details about China's spy operations. We are learning that images taken of the spy balloons by high altitude U2 planes show in detail five antennas and huge solar panels, the kind of technology that gave the Chinese not just the ability to listen to U.S. communications and to pinpoint exactly where they were coming from, who they were coming from.
All of this especially alarming as the balloon passed over sensitive military sites before the U.S. Air Force shot it down off the South Carolina coast. And, of course, we know there have been other balloons where that one came from.
These new details come as China is forcefully pushing back against President Biden's very public criticism of President Xi Jinping at the State of the Union.
OUTFRONT now, Will Ripley who tonight is in Taiwan.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fiery new rhetoric from China escalating the suspected spy balloon scandal. Beijing blasting President Joe Biden for criticizing Chinese President Xi Jinping.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Can you think of any other world leader who would trade places with Xi Jinping? Not a joke. Can you think of any who would? I can't think of one. This man has enormous problems.
RIPLEY: China says Biden's remarks are highly irresponsible and violate basic diplomatic protocols.
Problems complicated by a growing pile of evidence, pieces of the downed balloon pulled from the sea off the Carolina coast. Proof the Pentagon says China's weather balloon claim is nothing but hot air.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman says: I have no knowledge about America's claim that this balloon is part of a fleet. I think it could be part of the information and public opinion war that the U.S. is waging against China. The international community can see clearly who is the world's largest espionage and surveillance country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can assure you this was not for civilian purposes. That is -- we are 100 percent clear about that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is that.
RILEY: The U.S. linked the balloon to a vast Chinese military surveillance program, a growing list of global balloon sightings, and questions. The U.S. believes many balloons are launched from China's Hainan Island, where a U.S. spy plane made an emergency landing in 2001.
China took three months to investigate before returning the plane in pieces. Now China is attacking the U.S. for shooting down its balloon and sending the pieces to an FBI lab. The spokesman says the U.S. insists on using force to attack Chinese unmanned civilian air ships which seriously violates international practice and sets a horrible precedent.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asked for a phone call with China's defense minister. Beijing bluntly declined.
BURNETT: And, Will, it's a precarious moment. I know you have been learning that Xi Jinping was directly involved in this program. And in fact, this program is not new, and in fact, balloons flying over the U.S. spying from China is not new. But just how much did Xi Jinping know?
RIPLEY: Yeah, I mean, you're talking about more than 40 countries across five continents, according to a senior State Department official.
RIPLEY: These balloons have gathered intelligence. This program has been going on with President Xi's direct knowledge.
However, lawmakers brief on this have been told that this particular balloon at this particular time may have been dispatched without the knowledge of Xi and also without the knowledge of senior People's Liberation Army and communist party leaders, Erin.
BURNETT: Well, that's incredible. I guess the implications of that incredible as well.
Will Ripley, thank you so much, from Taipei tonight.
Thanks to all of you for join us. See you back here at 9:00.
"AC360" starts now.