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Erin Burnett Outfront
New To OUTFRONT: "High-Altitude Object" Did Not Appear To Have Maneuverability Of Spy Balloon, Aided Biden Decision To Down It; DeSantis Set To Sign Bill That Combats Election Crimes; New Videos Show Former Georgian President, And Putin Foe, Having A Seizure, Falling As He Quickly Deteriorates In Prison. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired February 10, 2023 - 21:00 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 rush to find out what was flying over the United States. The Military, right now, recovering a high-flying object, shot down, today, as we're getting new information, about what the Biden administration does, and does not, know, about the object.
Plus, Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, cracking down on election crimes. But is there really an election crime problem? Guess what? We've got the numbers, and you will come to your own conclusion, I hope.
And Congressman George Santos, accused of paying for puppies, with bad checks, worth more than $15,000. Seems like he may have gotten the puppies, they didn't get the money. I'm going to talk to a reporter, who spoke to the Amish puppy breeders, who say they were scammed. He went and met them.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. Welcome to a special edition of OUTFRONT. I am Erin Burnett.
Tonight, President Biden giving the go-ahead, for the U.S. Military, to take down another object, hovering high above the U.S., this time over Alaska. That object, said to be about the size of a car, they said it was a threat, to commercial aviation passenger jets.
And tonight, our Phil Mattingly is reporting that one of the main reasons that President Biden decided to shoot the object down was well, it came less than a week, after the Chinese spy balloon was shot down.
We're now learning the U.S. Military is in the process of recovering that mysterious object.
So, let's get to Phil Mattingly.
Because, Phil, I know you've got some new reporting, from the White House. You've been talking to your sources there.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BURNETT: We find out about this today. It suddenly gets shot down. What happened, as far as you're learning?
MATTINGLY: Erin, I think, in talking to officials, over the course of the last several hours, there are two very striking elements here.
The first is just how many unanswered questions remain, officials very candid about the fact that they still don't know what the object is. They can't identify it, affirmatively. They don't know what its capabilities are.
They don't know its origin, whether it was state-owned or private- owned, although one official told me they haven't been given any indication, it was a state-owned object, like that Chinese spy balloon. And they also don't know why it was over U.S. airspace, to begin with.
The other element here is just how quickly the decision was made, to shoot the object down, especially when compared to what we saw, with the Chinese spy balloon, which traversed across the United States, over a period of several days.
And the reason here, the driving reason, according to officials, I've spoken to, is where this balloon, or where this object, was actually flying, where it was floating, however it was traversing, and that is at about 40,000 feet. That is at the top end of where commercial airliners usually fly.
And while this is a sparsely-populated area, when it comes to airliners, that in the minds of U.S. officials, who had no concept of what this actually was, created a risk, an unacceptable risk, one official told me, when it came to how the Pentagon was viewing things, and what their recommendations were--
MATTINGLY: --to President Biden.
Now, there were first indications of this, on Thursday evening. The President was briefed, on Thursday evening. They sent two separate efforts up, of fighter jets, to get a better look at what this actually was, to try and identify the object itself. Neither was conclusive.
The recommendation to the President was to shoot the object down. The President made that order, earlier this morning. And it was shot down shortly before 2 PM.
Another key element here, President -- the Canadian leader, Justin Trudeau, said he was briefed on the issue. He supported the decision to shoot it down. This was in the Alaska, in Canada border region. And so, you could see how this process kind of worked through and worked through very quickly. I would also note, my sources, on Capitol Hill, saying they have been informed, throughout this process, about this object. And so, it appears both in the timing how quickly decisions were made here--
MATTINGLY: --the tracking of this, and how they've tried to inform, both international partners, and partners, on Capitol Hill, that there have been some shifts, compared to how the Chinese spy balloon, was operated.
One official told me, look, apples to oranges, in terms of capabilities, and what we know, about these objects, not just the size, which is obviously dramatically different as well.
MATTINGLY: But it is very clear that they are taking a different strategy, here, and moved, very quickly, to take this out of the skies, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much, from the White House.
And of course, just saying, if you're thinking of a -- it's lot smaller than the other, the Chinese spy balloon, right? That was three buses. This is a small car. Still, if you're flying in a passenger jet, a thing of the size of a small car, you can understand that would be catastrophic.
So, my panel is with me now.
Major Lyons, let me just start with you, though. It's amazing, from Phil's reporting. What he's saying is that they don't know what it was, and they don't know what it wasn't. And they're not sure what it could do. And they're not sure who controlled it.
But they shot it down really fast because there was something that they didn't know anything like that about a few days ago. And it turns out that that something was a something.
MAJ. MIKE LYONS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yes.
BURNETT: And that there were a whole lot of some things like that in the past that now they realize were not unidentified aerial phenomenon, but indeed, were Chinese spy balloons.
It's a little scary, and unsettling what we don't know.
LYONS: Yes, it's a new protocol. Clearly, in a post-9/11 world, we probably expected that first air balloon, to be shot down, soon as it violated U.S. airspace.
But it looks like the Pentagon was watching it all along. It was at a different altitude, and clearly did expose this domain gap, with regard to their capabilities. I think, from NORAD's perspective, they now recognize that they have to look further, or look further out, over the horizon.
But this one in particular, obviously, from what happened, last week, the President makes the decision that it clearly violates the airspace. We don't know what it is. We had -- we scrambled jets up to take a look at it. It wasn't emanating a pulse. It wasn't emanating signals. It wasn't necessarily collecting things. There was obviously something in it.
LYONS: It could have been a -- it could have been a balloon from a not-for-profit foundation. It just didn't tell NORAD, it was flying there. So, we don't know really well.
BURNETT: The one you're talking about, today?
LYONS: You're right.
BURNETT: The one today?
LYONS: The one, today.
But when you talk about the context here, Phil, which is what, happened a few days ago, right?
PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST, AUTHOR, "THE AFTERMATH": Sure, right.
BURNETT: We see this one that was at 60,000-something feet, 65,000 feet?
BURNETT: And it usually is up as 100,000 (ph). So then, when they track back and look at it, they go, "Oh, guess what those UFOs were actually?"
BURNETT: I don't know how many Chinese spy balloons, we don't know, in the past, have come.
BURNETT: And it has sparked anger, at the Administration, from both Democrats and Republicans. Two examples right here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): You guys have to help me understand why this baby wasn't taken out long before? SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): I think it was a huge mistake for them not to take down the balloon before it entered the continental United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And now, they're talking about that balloon, specifically, right, as opposed to the fact that then we found out there were others, where that one had come from. But this puts the Administration in a tight spot.
BUMP: Yes, that's certainly the case. I mean, and I think, obviously, the Biden administration does not want to have a scenario, this week, or going into next week, in which there's a balloon flying, over the United States, and they have to tell everyone, "No, it's OK, we wanted to do that." They don't want to have to be in that position again.
So, when they get up there, and they see this thing, and they make the determination that probably isn't going to be information we can glean from it, it's OK to go ahead and shoot it down. It makes sense that the Biden administration, from a political standpoint, is going to err on the side of not having that thing spend any more time, over the United States than it needs to, right?
BUMP: Like that makes sense, based on what happened, last week.
But I also think this raises the question of how many balloon-like objects are there that are approaching the United States, right?
BUMP: I mean, it's pretty clear that it happens with some regularity. And now, this is, to the point that was just made, there's a new protocol.
BUMP: And at least for the short-term, those things are not going to be flying very far.
BURNETT: And Ashley, look, it's an embarrassment. Again, it's the Biden administration, right now. It's an embarrassment that they didn't know these things were happening.
Of course, that embarrassment predates them. The Trump administration didn't know right, that there was one now, we know happened, when Esper was Secretary of Defense, and he didn't know, because nobody knew.
But nonetheless, it's an embarrassing situation.
ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER NATIONAL COALITIONS DIRECTOR FOR BIDEN-HARRIS 2020, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE STAFF MEMBER: It's not great. I think that the Administration acted wisely, and acting quickly, for this object, right here, where there still are a lot of questions.
And when it comes to national security, I want folks to be thorough. I want them to be aggressive, in getting the information. And it seems like they've learned something, over a short period of time, from the Chinese balloon, to what is happening today.
So, not great for the Administration. But I'm hoping our National Security folks are constantly on the clip, learning new things, and trying to act more aggressively, when things are in our airspace.
BURNETT: All right, there is something though, I have to say, and maybe because it's getting late in the night, in a Friday. When we're sitting here talking about these "Objects?"
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO MITCH MCCONNELL, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
BURNETT: We can't even come up with the right word.
BURNETT: Because "Object" is the best we can do.
JENNINGS: Yes. You mean?
BURNETT: Floating around.
JENNINGS: You mean, on "Operation Welcome to Earth" here?
BURNETT: Yes, right!
JENNINGS: I mean, look, we don't know what it was. We don't know who sent it. We don't know who owns it. We don't know what it was doing. And yet, we decided to shoot it down, anyway. I mean, obviously, it was a political decision.
JENNINGS: I mean, you called it an embarrassment. I think that's exactly right, because they couldn't afford to have another one. But it does beg the question. Two things in a week, I mean, how many times is this happening?
JENNINGS: Over a period of years, over the last six months even? And maybe it's not state-owned. But what is up there? I think you have people, in both parties, on Capitol Hill, right now, who are legitimately unhappy, with what they've been told about this.
And so, I think, the shoot-down, today, was political, but probably the right answer, given how they--
JENNINGS: --did the last one.
BURNETT: Well, the situation is unsettling.
All right. Now, the other top story tonight, we are learning that former President Donald Trump's legal team, turned over some more documents, OK, with classified markings. And somebody had copied it on a thumb drive. So, it's on a laptop, so they got the laptop. This is after, right, subpoenas and searches of Mar-a-Lago, all of that, right?
Mike Pence's home then today was searched by the FBI. They found one more classified documents.
So Major Lyons, as a former Intelligence officer, you had nuke codes?
BURNETT: OK. So, you know, the seriousness with which all of, you know, the true seriousness of classified information.
BURNETT: What is going on with this? The politicians do not seem to take this with the level of importance that people like you do.
LYONS: Yes, that's probably right. And there is an over-classification of information, in the government. Something like 50 million documents a year get classified something. Usually it's by haste.
BURNETT: 50 million?
LYONS: 50 million, a year.
LYONS: And on top of that, though, normal policy is a 25-year expiration, before they can become non-classified.
So, there's billion -- a billion or so documents, running around our government that are still technically classified, but could be anything like, could be a weather report, on an Op that they were going to run on something that it really has nothing to do that's actually really classified.
Now, having said that, I don't know what was in the Vice President's house. I don't know what they recovered. It could have been something important. But the bottom line is there's an issue of over- classification. Everybody knows it, is a problem in the government.
LYONS: But there's got to clearly be more awareness, on all sides of the account, in order to -- we have a 20th Century classification system, in the 21st Century, right? BURNETT: Yes.
LYONS: We have emails, voicemails, texts, all kinds of digital dusts out there. Not a lot of focus on privacy. And I think that's where the--
BURNETT: Amazing, a billion, a billion, right? And you say this is someone, who would have known the nuclear codes, right?
BURNETT: You take it with the level of seriousness that it should be.
But Scott, apples-to-apples, Pence has cooperated, hasn't willfully taken documents. That would be similar to what we know Biden, his situation, thus far, in both of those. Biden has a Special Counsel.
So, if Pence gets a Special Counsel, and he's also now got to go testify in the Trump criminal January 6 investigation, does this make him less likely to run?
JENNINGS: No, I don't. I think he's going to run for president.
BURNETT: No matter what?
JENNINGS: Yes. And look, I don't think we have any indication that Mike Pence has done anything dishonest, on either count. I mean, you raised--
BURNETT: No, we don't. We don't. That's what I'm saying, yes.
JENNINGS: You raised the January 6 investigation, which he was subpoenaed for, yesterday, apparently.
I mean, what do we know about Mike Pence? He did his duty on January the 6th by upholding the U.S. Constitution. I don't have any reason to believe he's acted, in any other way, in any manner, other than having fidelity to the Constitution.
So whatever happens to him, A, I think he's been honest, and B, he's earned the right to run.
BURNETT: All right. All stay with me. We're going to continue this conversation.
Next, Florida governor, DeSantis, on a new mission, to crack down on election fraud, in his state, except for there isn't election fraud! Wait until we show you the actual numbers here. It's kind of incredible!
And new allegations, involving, embattled Congressman, George Santos, which lead us tonight to Amish Country, and a potential scam, involving puppies, and thousands of dollars. So, a reporter went there, went to speak to the Amish farmers, who say they were scammed by Santos. And he's going to tell you about those conversations.
Plus, the former President of Georgia, a top Putin foe, remains in jail, now, incredibly sick and fragile. He says he's been poisoned. They've run the tests. His lawyer, tonight, will share exclusive video, of Mikheil Saakashvili, tonight, in prison.
BURNETT: Tonight, is Governor Ron DeSantis solving a problem that doesn't exist?
The Florida governor is now set to sign a bill that gives a Republican-appointed prosecutor, the sole jurisdiction, to go after people, for election-related crimes, which would be really important, if there were election-related crimes to go after. You'd need to pay a person money to do that.
So, the question is, is there a job? Is there something for this person to do?
So, here's the numbers. In Florida, 262 fraud complaints were filed, from the more than 11 million votes, cast in Florida, in 2020, which makes up, we'll do the math for you, 0.0024 percent of the total vote.
Now, of those complaints, 75 of them were referred to law enforcement. So, that gets you down to point 0.0007 percent of the total vote. And ultimately, that led to 20 arrests. Let me get my glasses on. You read this, Scott? 0.0002 percent of the total vote. And then, one of those cases was dismissed by a judge, and I can't do the math there, but it's even smaller than point 0.0002 percent.
OK. So, it's not just me giving you the numbers.
Actually, DeSantis himself knows these numbers, because the day after the 2020 election, he bragged about how incredible the elections are in Florida.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): The way Florida did it, I think, inspires confidence. I think that's how elections should be run.
We're now looked -- being looked at, as the state that did it right, and the state that these other states should emulate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Daniel Lippman is White House Reporter, for Politico, joining our conversation, along with Scott, Ashley and Philip.
JENNINGS: Yes. BURNETT: So, he knows the numbers. You heard him. He said it that if everyone could just do elections, like Florida, things would be great. So, why is he going to spend taxpayer money, on a salary, for somebody, to look at the election fraud that's not there?
JENNINGS: Well, I think two things. One, it'd be amazing if there was zero fraud, and that's probably what he'd say. And number two, he is trying--
BURNETT: That is what he would say.
JENNINGS: And number two, I think he's trying to obviously demonstrate, to a whole group of people out there that he is serious about this particular issue, which is top of mind, for Republican voters, around the country.
So, I don't think it's an illegitimate thing to do, in a state government. But, at the same time, it obviously demonstrates a political message that he wants to get out there.
BURNETT: Well, it's clearly a political message, right? I mean, let's just -- OK, he's playing, into the people, who think that elections are fraudulent, saying, "I'm going to take care of it."
BURNETT: Even though he's on record saying Florida elections are great, and not fraudulent?
BUMP: Yes, 100 percent. I mean, Scott, put it very tactfully. But yes, this is a play, for the Republican primary vote, in 2024, right, because he is trying to ensure that all these--
JENNINGS: Wait, are you surprised?
BUMP: No, no, I'm just saying, just you were very judicious--
BURNETT: I think he's going to put a little bit -- a little bit less--
BUMP: But -- that's it.
BURNETT: --lipstick on this answer.
BUMP: But yes, I mean, this is what -- I mean, most -- the wide swath of things that Ron DeSantis is doing these days are things targeting the same group of people. This particular thing is targeting Trump voters, in particular, people who think the election was stolen. He's saying, "I'm there, I'm fighting for you."
Even those 20 cases, right, I mean, a lot of them were the people, who were told, by county officials, "Oh, you can register to vote now, because felons are allowed to vote," and then they get busted, because they had a certain type of felony, where they weren't allowed to, like this happened regularly in -- of these 20.
And so, even within that subset of cases, these are a little dubious. But yes, I mean, this is, it's a political play. And the people, who are feeling the effects of it, are these people, who are arrested for crimes--
BUMP: --that involve them doing nothing more than casting a ballot.
BURNETT: And while, yes, he would say you want it to be zero, you do. But you also want a good ROI, return on investment, Ashley, which would mean, if I'm going to spend taxpayer money, on a salary, I want to have some returns.
BURNETT: And that this isn't an ROI decision. This is a POI, Political--
ALLISON: That's right.
BURNETT: A PROI, sorry, political return on investment.
ALLISON: What DeSantis is doing is strictly politics. It's playing into "The 2020 election was stolen" without actually saying it.
I don't know if you remember. But before the election, there were people that even law enforcement had to arrest, because of so-called fraud, after an election administrator had told them to register. And they were saying, "This is a waste of money. This is a waste of taxpayer resources."
And so, this is just a ploy that DeSantis is doing. I'm not actually surprised though, because if you also remember, after the 2020 election, a lot of times, this timeframe, is when Republicans launched these voter suppression tactics, so that they set a foundation, leading up not so close to the election, but in the general--
BURNETT: Or, shall we say, they launched their trial balloons?
ALLISON: But -- OK.
JENNINGS: Which Ashley's actually trying to shoot down!
BURNETT: OK. So, Daniel, in this context though, they're trying to figure out -- this is DeSantis, setting his stage, every single day, for what people think will be a presidential run.
Chris Sununu, who is also someone people think will run, obviously Governor of New Hampshire, he says the Republican Party is moving on from Donald Trump. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Donald Trump is not going to be the nominee, right? We're just moving on, as a party, as a country.
If the election were today, DeSantis probably wins, in New Hampshire, I think, in other states as well.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, CO-HOST OF "MORNING JOE," MSNBC: Right.
SUNUNU: So, it's just not getting any better, for the former President. We're just going to say, "Thank you for your service," and move on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Wishful thinking?
DANIEL LIPPMAN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: We've heard this from -- for six years straight.
LIPPMAN: Remember, in 2015, no one thought that Trump was going to be the nominee. In 2016, everyone kept staying, in the primary race, until they thought that Trump would get a knockout blow. And so, this, we've heard this same rhetoric, time and time again.
And with Sununu, going at the race, and tons of other Republicans, jumping into the race, the next few months, we could have a 2016 repeat, where no one -- because politicians have egos, they don't want to -- they want to see "Oh, maybe we'll win in Florida. Maybe we'll win in Super Tuesday," and now -- and then Trump might just waltz to the primary result.
BURNETT: Now, you had a chance, I know, to speak to Glenn Youngkin, Governor of Virginia, who obviously sailed into reelection there that was CRT, parents wanting control over the schools. Is he even considering it, right now?
LIPPMAN: Well, he has to because usually you get only one shot, of being a someone, who could run for the presidency. And so, he has to take his time in the sun. I think it's interesting how he's trying to play both sides. He's trying to be the moderate businessman, from Northern Virginia--
LIPPMAN: --who can speak to parents' concerns, about their role, in education. But he's also trying to do the anti-woke stuff, the CRT music that he thinks that can appeal to the Republican base.
LIPPMAN: And so, that's a tough bargain to manage. BURNETT: It's very tough.
And meanwhile, in the Republican Party, you have a battle. And it's actually a battle that Joe Biden set up. And let me just give everyone a chance to hear it. This is Mitch McConnell, talking about his fellow Senate Republican, Rick Scott.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If we were to become the majority, there were no plans to raise taxes on half the American people or to sunset Medicare or Social Security. So it's clearly the Rick Scott plan, it is not the Republican plan. And that's the view of the Speaker of the House as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Well, you don't need to fight with them, if they're going to fight with themselves like that!
JENNINGS: I mean, look, Rick Scott's been attacking Mitch McConnell, every day, for the last several months.
JENNINGS: And he's been doubling and tripling down on this plan, which literally no other Republican is, on television, defending it.
BURNETT: And let's be clear. The plan is every five years every federal program goes away.
BURNETT: And you got to re-pass it.
JENNINGS: And Biden, in the State of the Union, and then at this event after, is trying to pass this off, like -- and in the State of the Union was trying to say, "This is our deal. You have to do the Rick Scott plan in order to get the debt signal," just blatantly dishonest.
So McConnell is correct in saying, no other Republican wants to do this. How many Republicans you've seen on TV, fighting for the Rick Scott plan, other than Rick Scott?
Final point. Why did Rick Scott release a new plan, today? His new plan on Social Security? Because finally, they realized this is a losing battle. You can't -- he's already dead on this hill. "We're going to go fight on another hill."
So, McConnell's right. No Republicans want to do this. They're not going to do it. And if Rick Scott wants to go out and campaign on it, that's his business. But McConnell's job is to defend his Conference.
JENNINGS: And that's what he's doing here. BURNETT: All right, thanks to all, appreciate it.
And next, the Congressman, who's lied incessantly about his past, once charged with theft, in an alleged scam, now involving Amish dog breeders. We're going to talk to a reporter, who went and spoke to those breeders, directly. The George Santos saga widens!
Plus, exclusive new video, tonight, of a top Putin foe, whose lawyer says, he's being poisoned, and slowly killed, while in detention. They've done the DNA. They've tested it. They see the arsenic levels and beyond. The attorney, for the former President of Georgia, is my guest.
BURNETT: Tonight, George Santos' bad checks. The Washington Post, speaking to farmers, in Pennsylvania's Amish Country, who say they received bad checks, in Santos' name, to pay for several puppies, in 2017. And those checks totaled more than $15,000.
The Post spoke with several breeders, who say they handed over to Santos, four Golden Retrievers, at least three Yorkshire Terriers, two German Shepherds, and an English Cream Golden Retriever. Santos, at the time, was running a so-called charity, called "Friends of Pets United," which he claimed, during the campaign, rescued 2,400 dogs and 280 cats.
OUTFRONT now, Jonathan O'Connell. He's the Washington Post reporter, who traveled to Pennsylvania, and spoke with these Amish farmers.
So, Jonathan, obviously, he -- Santos alleged that someone stole his checkbook, and then these checks were all made out to breeders, breeders from which he got dogs. And he says someone else did this.
Your article starts with a farmer, who says George Santos approached him, looking to buy at least eight puppies. The farmer tells you, quote, "Something inside me said I just cannot trust him."
So you went and talked to this farmer. Tell me more about that interaction.
JONATHAN O'CONNELL, BUSINESS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, Erin.
I mean, obviously, George Santos has been caught lying a number of times, and he's admitted some of those lies.
But what we really want to do here is show that there's, not just political consequences to what's happening here that there are real people, being hurt, by some of his dishonesty.
So, we had learned, a little while ago, actually that there had been a number of people, who had allegedly received bad checks, from him, in Pennsylvania, in exchange for puppies, for dogs, purebred dogs. And we felt, let's find these people. Let's tell their story. Let's hear from them, about what's happened to them. And that actually proved to be much more difficult than we expected.
Anyone who's been through Amish Country, in Pennsylvania, probably knows that the Amish and Mennonites are, they're a very close-knit sort of insular community. They avoid technology, so.
And also, many of them have the same name. So, we called dozens and dozens of people, who breed dogs, in Pennsylvania, looking for the correct people.
And they have phones, many of them. But their phones are not always in their homes. They keep them in a shack and out separate from their barn, or their home, and they might check it once a day, their voicemail.
There's no way to text them any pictures, to see if they actually were -- met George Santos. We mailed people, we mailed farmers, photos of him, and of these checks that we felt that they had received.
And then ultimately, yes, we did drive through, and meet some of the farmers, who -- so that we could show them his picture, show them the checks that we thought that they had received, and they could actively identify for us, "Yes, this person did promise us money. He took the puppies that we had bred, and he cheated us." And--
BURNETT: And they told you that? Like how -- they did confirm that?
O'CONNELL: Yes. And this is not a normal interaction, for these folks, for the most part. I mean, we are driving up, onto their property. And this is -- these are farms with a lot of milk cows, obviously. Some of them don't use tractors, because of their avoidance of technology.
And we are strangers to them, obviously, introducing themselves -- ourselves, and explaining that this person that in some cases, they identified as having been the person, who cheated them, is now in Congress. And some of them had heard that, and some of them were really just kind of shocked to hear that.
BURNETT: I mean it's incredible.
So, what did -- what's kind of stood out to you, from the conversations? I mean, they obviously confirming to you that that's the man, who said that he was going to, pay them, and then didn't. So, you were able to confirm all that. What else stood out to you?
O'CONNELL: These people really, they trusted him.
He showed up two nights, in 2017. He showed up later than he promised a couple of times. It's dark, when he arrived. One of them was the day before Thanksgiving.
Sometimes he had promised, people told us that he had been -- they had -- he had promised to pay by wire, or pay by cash, in some instances, and decided maybe at the last second, or after some negotiation that he wanted to pay by check. And these farmers were sometimes hesitant about deciding to accept a check, but ultimately agreed to and then deeply, regretted it, because, these checks are for $1,500, $2,000, $2,500 like?
BURNETT: A lot of money.
O'CONNELL: This is a lot of money to these people.
O'CONNELL: These are simple people. And it takes -- frankly, it takes some courage for them, to say something about it, because they don't typically do that.
Well, thank you so much for sharing that reporting, and bringing the personal part of this home, right, the individuals, on the other side of this, for whom this money meant so much. Thank you.
And be sure to see Jonathan's full story, in The Washington Post.
And next, exclusive new video, of a longtime Putin foe, that Ukraine's President, Zelenskyy, alleges is being slowly killed. The former President of Georgia's health is precarious, and worsening, tonight. His appearance has dramatically changed. It is disturbing. And one of his lawyers is next.
Plus, royalty sharing, ahead of the Super Bowl, a Rihanna smash-hit, offered up as an NFT. So, what exactly is an NFT you ask? So, you're going to see all about it, in an OUTFRONT investigation, tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(VIDEO - "BITCH BETTER HAVE MY MONEY" - SONG BY RIHANNA)
Don't act like you forgot
Better have my money Better have my money
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Tonight, an OUTFRONT exclusive.
New video, showing the failing health, of the former Georgian president, and top Putin critic, Mikheil Saakashvili. I want to warn viewers that it's disturbing to look at this.
(VIDEO - NEW VIDEOS SHOW FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, AND PUTIN FOE, MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, HAVING A SEIZURE, FALLING AS HE QUICKLY DETERIORATES IN PRISON) BURNETT: The video shows what Saakashvili's legal team says is one of the many seizures that he has suffered, in a Georgian prison. So, you can see this from the surveillance camera. Like I said, it's pretty hard to look at that.
Then, here he is, in another video, you'll see Saakashvili there, in pain, falling out of his bed. Then, nurses in that facility rush in. He literally sort of disappears, before our eyes, in that video.
And then, on the left, I'll show you something else. Saakashvili, this week, appearing, in a court hearing. It was virtual. Just through the screen, you can see his ribs and how thin he is. And that's on the other side of the screen how he looked in 2020, just before he was arrested.
His lawyers say he's lost about 100 pounds. They've reported repeated abuse. And they have done DNA tests that they say show that he's been poisoned with mercury and arsenic. Those DNA tests have been done, by doctors, in the United States.
The differences in these two pictures are very jarring and disturbing. It's important to see them though, because this is happening, right now, right? This is a person who, right now, tonight, is going through this.
And it comes just days after the Ukrainian president, Zelenskyy, said that Saakashvili is being slowly killed. He urged the world to come together to secure his release.
Saakashvili's lawyers say this all comes back to one man and one man alone. And that man is Vladimir Putin. They say Saakashvili was arrested, and convicted, on trumped-up charges, of abuse of power, and that the pro-Putin Georgian Government is doing Putin's bidding.
Saakashvili, of course, was a loud champion, for Georgia, on the world stage, and fought against Putin, when Putin invaded Georgia, spent the years, warning the world about him, including, right here on the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT: He likes people who he can really manipulate--
BURNETT: So maybe Trump could--
SAAKASHVILI: --and intimidate.
SAAKASHVILI: You know, look, yes, and the--
SAAKASHVILI: --the only thing that America cannot afford to show the Russians that America is weak, because the only thing Putin appreciates, everybody knows that, is sheer force.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Well maybe then, not everybody knew that. Now, there's no appreciation for that.
OUTFRONT now, Massimo D'Angelo, one of Saakashvili's lawyers.
So Massimo, the seizures that we saw, on that new video, is it's disturbing. But you say they're becoming more and more frequent. What do doctors think is causing this, and how worried are they?
MASSIMO D'ANGELO, ATTORNEY FOR FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI: They're extremely concerned.
D'ANGELO: I mean, as you can see, in that progression of photographs and video that you just showed, he has radically and rapidly declining in health. You can see him going through seizures. He's got brain damage. He's got a reduction of white matter, in his prefrontal cortex.
BURNETT: And you were able to establish that through testing?
D'ANGELO: Yes, we -- and actually, in some of the videos, you'll see, I was there, with our expert neurologist, Dr. Lakhan. He was a Congressional Medal of Honor Award winner. And we actually took hair samples, and nail samples, and body tissue, and sent them back to labs, here, for testing, which concluded that he had heavy metals, throughout his system, including mercury and arsenic.
BURNETT: Mercury and arsenic, which I know, you're saying could be slowly being put into his system, in some way, while he's in prison.
So, when we look at how he was now, compared to when he was arrested, I mean, that's incredibly jarring. But I want to show just -- and that's before, right, and now.
But even now, compared to late December, that's when you and I last were together, talking about him. That's been seven weeks. How much he's changed in just those seven weeks?
D'ANGELO: A lot. He is continuing the rapid decline. Again, you can see the extreme loss of weight that's continuing.
In fact, the Polish Prime Minister came out, today. We have also 27 European countries that came out, in solidarity, seeking his release. Poland will take him. France will take in. The U.S. will take him. Obviously, President Zelenskyy, you saw him, with those photographs, Ukraine will take him, for medical treatment. He needs to be moved immediately, and go through a detoxification
process. And even then, our neurologist doesn't even know if his current brain damage will ever be reversed.
BURNETT: Right. Just to be clear, because you're talking about brain damage, and a change in the white matter. So you're saying some of this may not be reversible?
BURNETT: So, you have detailed medical analysis, which you say, a Congressional Medal of Honor U.S. recipient, administered, showing mercury and arsenic levels. You say you've got no doubt he's been poisoned.
Christo Grozev, obviously, was a lead investigator, into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, for Bellingcat, says he's now investigating this, at Saakashvili's request.
Do you have any doubt that this investigation leads back to Moscow, to Putin?
D'ANGELO: We have no doubt at all. I mean, this is a story about good versus evil, about the Police State versus the Free State.
Remember, Saakashvili is the father of democracy, in that region. He brought democracy there. There was a non-violent shift in power, for the first time ever, in the South Caucasus region, when he gave power, to the current ruling party, the Georgian Dream, who is led by -- the architect, really, is Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is an oligarch, and clearly a Putin proxy.
So, that is what we're dealing with here. And we need the assistance of the United States, and its allies, to come in and suspend aid. Remember, we're spending -- the U.S. is giving tens of millions of dollars of aid, to support--
BURNETT: To Georgia?
D'ANGELO: To Georgia, to support democratic programs, to support the court system.
D'ANGELO: And there's clearly a backsliding of democracy. And we, as the United States, need to stand up, and be the protector and champion of democracy.
BURNETT: So, the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia spoke out about Saakashvili's condition, saying, "We will continue to implore the government to take the necessary steps to prevent the situation from escalating further... and to provide Saakashvili with the type of treatment he needs."
Is that enough? D'ANGELO: I don't think it's enough. Clearly, the United States, and the Ambassador, is closely looking at the situation. But we need a real effort, here, the suspension of aid, the imposition of sanctions, visa restrictions. These are the avenues that we need to use, in order to expedite his release.
BURNETT: All right. Massimo, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
And next, an in-depth look, at the controversial world of NFTs, crypto assets hyped by many celebrities. But at least one major company selling NFTs is facing growing legal problems. So, on the back of crypto, some might be nervous. Could this boom go bust?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(VIDEO - "BITCH BETTER HAVE MY MONEY" - SONG BY RIHANNA)
Don't act like you forgot
Better have my money Better have my money
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Rihanna's 2015's hit single, back in the news, again, not only because Rihanna will headline Sunday's Super Bowl halftime show, but because the song is now being offered, as an NFT.
NFT stands for non-fungible token, a digital asset that has exploded, in popularity, in recent years. And those who bought the Rihanna NFTs will receive a fraction of that song streaming royalties.
But what exactly are NFTs? We hear about them so much lately. And really, is this a made-up thing? Is this a bubble that's about to burst?
Elle Reeve has this OUTFRONT investigation.
ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): NFTs, typically digital art bought and sold with cryptocurrency, really started going mainstream, after these cartoon ape pictures had their moment on Late Night TV.
JIMMY FALLON, HOST OF THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON, NBC: We're part of the same community.
PARIS HILTON, AMERICAN MEDIA PERSONALITY: Well, yes.
FALLON: We're both apes. HILTON: I love it.
FALLON: Here's my -- this is my ape.
HILTON: It's yours.
MOLLY WHITE, HARVARD FELLOW, SOFTWARE ENGINEER: Bored Ape Yacht Club, it's become the face of NFTs and, I think, maybe not in a good way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is this NFT worth almost $200,000?
REEVE (voice-over): The Bored Ape Yacht Club, a collection of 10,000 ape images, became some of the most prominent NFTs, and they were everywhere, streetwear, billboards, a signature event called ApeFest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ApeFest make some news (ph)!
REEVE (voice-over): They had an air of mystery. The founders of the company were initially anonymous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd walk around the crowd. Now, I knew that like I'd helped create this whole thing.
REEVE (voice-over): Celebs scooped them up, and tweeted about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justin Bieber bought one, where his was 1.2 million?
FREDRICK BRENNAN, PROGRAMMER AND 8CHAN FOUNDER: They were the first NFT that got this much market capitalization, and attention.
REEVE (voice-over): And then crypto crashed! And the NFT market was hit even harder.
Now, the Apes have plummeted in value, and the celebrities that promoted them are facing a lawsuit. So is the company that created them, Yuga Labs. Yuga is also facing a potential SEC violation, all while being dogged by allegations, of racially-offensive imagery, which the company denies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember that time I bought that Bored Ape for $750,000, and now it's worth a gift certificate to Walmart? Like what the (inaudible) happened?
REEVE (voice-over): What did happen?
Yuga declined to sit down, with CNN, for an on-camera on-the-record interview.
Since the collapse of FTX, the crypto industry has taken on an emperor has no clothes vibe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get a haircut?
REEVE (voice-over): The enormous valuations? The awkward celebrity ads? TOM BRADY, FOOTBALL QUARTERBACK: I'm getting into crypto.
REEVE (voice-over): And the big promises about the future? Now all look a bit absurd.
While Bored Ape Yacht Club was not the biggest phenomenon, in crypto, it embodied all of those things.
DAME DASH, RECORD EXECUTIVE, CRYPTO ENTHUSIAST: You didn't buy it for the artistic value of it.
TONY "THE CLOSER" ROBINSON, FORMER NFL PLAYER: (Bleep) no. It's a monkey, man. Nobody buys a monkey for--
ROBINSON: --I mean 300 grand.
WHITE: It's not like someone hand-drew all these Bored Apes, and they were just sort of compiled by computers. It's not that unique. The unique part of it is the speculative bubble.
REEVE (voice-over): A lot of people bought NFTs, gambling, they could sell them for more, to someone else. And celebrity hype helped bring in new buyers.
WHITE: You need this sort of endless supply of greater fools to be putting money into crypto in order for the crypto prices to continue to go up.
BRENNAN: After Hollywood agent, Guy Oseary teamed up with Yuga, in 2021? Celebrities started talking about the Apes. The price soared. Yuga made a commission every time an Ape was sold. In March 2022, a $450 million venture capital investment gave Yuga a valuation of $4 billion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know I'm an investor. I'm a fan. Guy Oseary's my guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many Apes you have?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seven.
REEVE (voice-over): Now, a class action lawsuit claims those celebrities were secretly paid, to tout the Apes, and got them for free, through a crypto payments firm, called MoonPay, which some invested in.
FALLON: I just got my first NFT.
MIKE WINKELMANN, AMERICAN DIGITAL ARTIST: Oh, you did? What was it?
FALLON: Through MoonPay.
REEVE (voice-over): The lawsuit, filed in December, calls this "A vast scheme," to misleadingly promote and sell the Yuga financial products, and inflate their prices. It names Yuga, MoonPay, Oseary, Fallon, Hilton, Bieber, Snoop Dogg, Madonna, Post Malone, and other defendants.
The celebrities did not respond to request for comment.
Oseary says both he, and his client, Madonna, paid full price, for their Apes.
Yuga says these claims are without merit.
In a Twitter Spaces chat, last year, celebrity jeweler, Ben Baller, said he rejected a deal to promote the Apes.
BEN BALLER, CELEBRITY JEWELER: No.
Not once. Not twice. Three times I've been offered a Bored Ape through MoonPay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wanted you to not disclose that they had purchased the Ape for you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly, yes. They wanted it to seem like you bought it for yourself because you liked it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what the craziest thing about that is that a lot of celebrities who are going into this, they're probably just stoked to get the Ape and they don't even realize, a lot of them probably don't consult their legal and (bleep) like that beforehand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
REEVE (voice-over): A MoonPay spokesman denies Baller's claim, and says the company looks forward to the lawsuit being dismissed.
Beyond questions about who bought their NFTs, and why, there's also the question of what the Bored Apes represent. Some show Apes, in so- called Hip Hop clothes, a pimp coat, a gold grill, a bone necklace, a prison jumpsuit.
Record executive and crypto enthusiast, Dame Dash, pointed out that monkeys are an old racist trope.
DASH: If you were a racist, like "Guess what I'm going to do? I'm going to get Black people to love monkeys so much that they going to buy them, and they're going to go to something called the ApeFest and they're going to like it!"
Wouldn't that sound funny? ROBINSON: It would be.
DASH: No, that's happening.
REEVE (voice-over): More accusations circulated online, like in a video, viewed over a million times that Yuga had intentionally referenced memes, from racist forums, on the troll site 4chan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a video going around on the -- on the YouTube showing how Bored Ape is actually racist. And actually, as I look at the sketches, of Bored Ape, they are kind of racist.
REEVE (voice-over): These claims include that there's a resemblance between some of the Apes and Pepe the Frog memes, an infamous 4chan symbol.
These accusations are at issue in another lawsuit.
Artist Ryder Ripps says he thought that Apes were racist, and made copycat NFTs to protest them.
Yuga sued for trademark infringement.
A Yuga spokesperson said the company strongly condemns the spread of hate in any form, and that these suggestions are the incoherent ramblings, of conspiracy theorists.
Fredrick Brennan took an interest, at these claims, because he used to run a similar troll site, 8chan, then tried to have it taken down, after it became a hub of extremist violence.
REEVE (on camera): Is it possible that 4chan memes have so pervaded the culture that they didn't really know what they were trafficking in?
BRENNAN: I don't think so, because there's too many of these.
REEVE (voice-over): Other Apes that critics say look like a Pepe meme, are wearing a sushi chef headband that actually says Kamikaze.
BRENNAN: Kamikaze is actually used as a slur against Japanese people. I speak Japanese. So that was the one that was most shocking.
WHITE: I doubt that they were a massive alt-right troll campaign. I do think it's likely that the creators of the project basically included some nods to 4chan.
The thing is crypto has adopted a lot of the same sort of dog whistles as other racist parts of the internet.
BRENNAN: I was hoping, in my eternal optimism, that people would become a lot more skeptical of tech bros, and that liberal so-called celebrities in Hollywood would view these people with suspicion. Apparently not!
(END VIDEOTAPE) BURNETT: It's incredible. Elle, I may want to watch that three more times, just -- I kind of got to get my head around just the psychology of people wanting to acquire things, for no reason, other than other people have them. And then, it's not even a thing.
This is just one of many crypto companies under scrutiny that right now?
REEVE: That's right. There are several crypto companies, this week, who've announced they're scaling back some of their services, because of much more intense regulatory scrutiny.
And, as for Yuga, one of its co-founders, Wylie Aronow, this week, published a 24-page letter, saying why he was stepping back, from the company, and addressing these widespread rumors that the company and its products are connected to the alt-right. Aronow said that he would refute these rumors, under oath.
BURNETT: Pretty amazing those, and amazing just to imagine that people wanted to buy this stuff, for just because?
REEVE: Well there's a catch phase, in crypto, "Number go up," and that's what mattered. People were making money, and they didn't ask questions.
BURNETT: Wow! It's just incredible. "Number go up," I like that saying, now I've learned that. "Number go up." As long as it goes up, who cares? I guess that was their attitude. And now, here we are.
All right, Elle, thank you so much.
And I hope everyone will watch that amazing piece, again.
Thanks so much to all of you for joining us.
"CNN TONIGHT" with Alisyn Camerota, is next.