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Erin Burnett Outfront

New Videos: Russian Soldiers Slam Leadership, Seen As "Expendable"; Biden Silent As Questions Grow About Unidentified Aerial Objects; Gov. DeSantis Hints At Replacing Advanced Placement Courses In Florida; Quake Deaths Top 36,000, Survivors Still Being Found After 180+ Hours; Architect Of The Capitol Fired After Calls For His Resignation. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 13, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Russian soldiers speaking out against Putin's invasion as we hear from one former Russian prisoner forced to fight, then left to suffer, how he was injured. It's an OUTFRONT exclusive on Putin recruiting convicts for the front lines.

Plus, silence from President Biden tonight, even as the U.S. shoots down three more objects from the sky in three days. Why hasn't President Biden spoken publicly? New details from the White House tonight.

And a passenger jet plunges shortly after takeoff, coming within less than 800 feet of the ocean. What happened?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Russian soldiers revolt, speaking out in new videos tonight.

Here are two different soldiers from different battalions speaking out. You'll see not just them, they are surrounded by their peers.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): We are not prepared for assaults. Our battalion already has losses. Our command is far away from us. Communication is practically nonexistent. The command never comes to us.

RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): The local leadership does not care about us. They consider us expendable material. Their motto is, we'll fight until the last soldier. And then they'll send us more.


BURNETT: And who are those new ones? You hear each voice, but surrounded by groups who are showing their solidarity with the feelings. Well, these new ones that are coming to the front lines are still often coming straight from Putin's prisons.

I spoke to the Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova today. Now you may remember that she interrupted that live news broadcast last year. She's the one that walked there behind with the "no war" sign.

Well, she was threatened with years in prison and told she'll be broken. And you're going to hear the unbelievable story of how she escaped Russia. When I asked her about the prisoners fighting in Ukraine, she said this.


MARINA OVSYANNIKOVA, EX-RUSSIAN STATE TV JOURNALIST (through translator): You have to understand that no one wants to fight for Putin. Normal people don't want to fight for his palaces in Gelendzhik. Normal people don't support these vampires in the Kremlin. That is why he has nothing else left but to work with prisoners for this criminal war.


BURNETT: They don't want to fight for Putin in his palaces, referring to him and his cronies in the Kremlin as vampires. Maybe it's because this is what they get in exchange.

Just listen to what one prisoner told our Nick Paton Walsh in an exclusive report.


CONVICT (through translator): We walk around with bullet wounds, with shrapnel stuck in our legs. No one is being operated on.


BURNETT: No one is being operated on. Well, that same convict then told Nick that more than 90 of the 130 men in his group had been killed, 90 of 130, and that's the reality tonight. Putin is burning through soldiers at an unsustainable rate.

Here's another data point. Today, we read a Norwegian intelligence report that said 3,000 men were called up to fight from Russia's Kola province and half of them were killed in action, just one other data point, they all say the same thing.

And that same intelligence report from Norway also warning Russia could resort to nukes against NATO if Putin feels an existential threat. It raises the obvious connection that losing an incredible number of men could eventually lead to just that.

And inside Putin's military, the infighting is getting more brazen and more public. Today, a telegram post tied to the Wagner Group slammed one of Putin's top generals. Now, it's so vulgar, I can't read most of it, but part of it reads, this pissy-pants expletive is holed up at the command post, sending column after column of troops while the commander of one of the brigades involved in the storming of Vuhledar was killed at the line of contact.

Column after column of men sent to die while their commanders hide. It's a damning statement. But as we've seen, the massive men sent to die is true, our producer Tim Lister on the ground tonight called it a, quote, mulling of Russian forces. And we have shown you some of these videos as we have obtained them that spotlight individual moments to bring this home. That man running on fire across the snow in the field, Russian soldiers being run over by their own like by rag dolls, that's their own tank.

And we have a new video tonight to share with you. These are Russian tanks exploding as they are driving through a minefield, soldiers then, someone fire, flee in every direction.

We have a lot to get to tonight. I want to begin, though, with Nick Paton Walsh and his exclusive reporting speaking to Russian convicts.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And the joy here is fleeting. This dance could be their last. Russian soldiers, most convicts here, living up hours before being sent to the front lines.


They fight to be pardoned. But, here over half died at the front, survivors said, even some after they lived through the battles.

(INAUDIBLE) was jailed for armed robbery and assault but taken out of prison and thrown into the worst fighting outside of Soledar. His unit, joking here before the assault a factory the next day, suffered catastrophic casualties, he told his wife. Victor survived. As he lay injured in hospital, he feared being dragged from his bed and executed for poor performance. This is his last message to his wife.

CONVICT (through translator): The Ministry of Defense executes by shooting, I am being taken to be shot. I want to go back to where I was, but they won't let me. I lost a lot of people here. Remember this. Do not send more people here. It's enough. They want to kill us all.

WALSH: Days later, his wife got a closed coffin back after a call from a soldier who said Victor had died from shrapnel injuries. He is buried here outside Moscow.

There is something very different, though, about Sovalnev (ph) to many of the prisoners sent to the front line to make up for Russia's devastating casualties, most ascend by shadowy private contractor Wagner, when this propaganda video are keen to portray rare survivors coming back joyful, grateful even, and last week claimed to have stopped recruiting in prisons altogether.

But Sovalnev and several convicts CNN has spoken to said they were hired from jail directly by the Russian ministry of defense. It's a remarkable use of convicts directly by Moscow and Ukrainian intelligence said it has captured them on the front line.

ANDRIY YUSOV, REPRESENTATIVE OF DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OF UKRAINE (through translator): Even among Russian prisoners of war in Ukraine, there are now those recruited into the private companies of the defense ministry of the Russian Federation. They emphasized to us that they are not Wagner, but officially invited by the defense ministry.

Here, we hear echoes of internal squabbles and Russian military leadership. Wagner's presence is being diluted with convicts directly controlled by the defense chiefs.

WALSH: Recruitment has surged, and the government figures showing some 27,000 drop in the precipitation population last year when the scheme was just underway with no apparent amnesty to explain it. A large proportion died with this Wagner training video showing one of the reckless tactics prisoners are using, charging forward together at the enemy.

Sovalnev was part of a unit called 08807 and its other frontline survivors know how hard it is to stay alive under the ministry of defense.

We spoke to several from their hospital beds hiding their identity. A former soldier jailed on drugs charges described being sent back twice to the front while injured.

CONVICT (through translator): We walk around with bullet wounds, shrapnel stuck in our legs. No one is being operated on. We were 130 people but have many amputees. There's probably less than 40 of us left.

WALSH: Another convicted on manslaughter says half his unit became casualties.

CONVICT (through translator): We were sent to the very front, I radioed are guys that they were firing at us, they should aim to the right. They still shot at us from both sides. Then I understood they were deliberately firing at us.


WALSH (on camera): CNN reached out to the ministry of defense for comment. We have not received a reply. The fact that they could be getting in on the act of recruiting prisoners is something initially only done by the private mercenary company Wagner shows the possibility of tension between these two parts of Russia's military apparatus. It also shows Moscow's won't really stop at anything in its bid to try to regain momentum in its faltering invasion -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Nick, thank you very much, for that incredible exclusive report from Nick Paton Walsh.

Ian Bremmer is with me now, foreign policy expert, obviously writing in reporting exclusively and extensively on the war in Ukraine, president and founder of the Eurasia Group. So, you've seen videos of prisoners being trained to rush the enemy in

mass. We've seen that. That's a recruiting video. They rushed through the forest and they get mowed down. They send them anyway.

Those exclusive conversations that Nick had with convicts, one saying 70 percent of the men of these groups are dead or amputees, they are sent back out.


Is this mass death doing any damage to Putin?

IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT & FOUNDER, EURASIA GROUP: I wouldn't say it is. I think the level of control that Putin has over the information environment in Russia's overwhelming. I think the anger of the Russian people towards the United States, towards NATO, the humiliation they feel, they believe they're not just fighting Ukrainians but they are fighting the West as a whole, they are training the intelligence, the weaponry.

So, no, he still has very significant support. Keep in mind, as horrible as the treatment of these Russian soldiers, former convicts, are receiving, Russian economy has been standing up relatively well, about three and a half percent contraction over the last 12 months, compared to about 40 percent for the Ukrainians.

I mean, if anyone is suffering here, let's be clear, it's the 44 million Ukrainians, vastly more than the Russian homeland.

BURNETT: Well, I think it's so crucial that you say that, because people say, are there are sanctions? There's a whole lot more that could be done and that has not been done. You look at three and a half percent traction versus 44.

BREMMER: It takes time, it takes time.

BURNETT: It takes -- so within this context, talking about this recruiting now, not just the Wagner group and Prigozhin from the prisoners, but also the actual formal Russian military itself. And there is a fight between these two groups. So, in that context, that telegram quote that I read, I want to share it again.

This pissy-pants expletive, I'm sorry, is just lucky that he is not near fighters who would have 200ed him, which means to kill, just like the 200 other super-intelligent commanders on the ground.

Prigozhin again going after the Russian military, right? Insulting them. But this is so public and vulgar. What do you read into that?

BREMMER: Well, the head of this Wagner Group is responsible for one of the only significant victories that the Ukrainians have had since the beginning of this war. As a consequence, he feels emboldened. He has certainly taken on publicly inside Russia some of the regular forces and their leaders, the commanders. It's one of the reasons why Gerasimov was moved in his position, had direct control on the ground in Ukraine. Putin wants to show he is still very much in charge through the official lines.

Look, none of this, if you're you're asking me does this mean that Prigozhin is suddenly going to be a competitor to the throne in Russia? Not if he knows what's good for him. He's been very clear, he did an interview, a very unusual interview a few days ago where he says, of course, I don't have any political ambitions myself. Yet, he better be saying that because the alternative is very quick ouster.

BURNETT: Right, as others have found out.

So, in the context of this, Elon Musk. Now, you've spoken in-depth with him about Ukraine. He, again, has blocked Starlink from the Ukrainian military, is the latest that we know. Now it's impossible to overstate the importance of Starlink to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy the other day was telling, you know, basically we would not be here without it, right? It has been that instrumental. They admit.

Musk defended blocking it in response to criticism from astronaut Scott Kelly, and Musk said, quote, startling is the communication backbone of Ukraine, especially the front lines, where almost all other Internet connectivity has been destroyed. So, Musk acknowledges. Then he says, but we will not enable escalation of conflict that may lead to World War III.

BREMMER: Yeah, which he said before.

The criticism here that we are seeing is about not being able to use Starlink for drone surveillance directly that would then be allowed to blow up targeting. And the contract that has been signed where the Starlink is being provided for free when it is for humanitarian purposes. So, he's absolutely within the context of what they are doing.

When I was at Davos, I met with a large number of Ukrainian official, some of them directly involved in this program. At this point, it's only about three weeks ago, they did say that right now, they are getting 100 percent of what they need from SpaceX and Starlink, which I was quite gratified to hear. It's not what I've seen a few months ago.

BURNETT: So, you think, so even with this?

BREMMER: This only came up a few days ago.

BURNETT: So, unclear what -- yeah.

BREMMER: It does seem -- look, again, I want to be clear. If it was not for Starlink and Microsoft with the cloud and the cybersecurity, the early days of the war, it's not clear to me that Zelenskyy is still even there. So, don't underestimate the importance of these United States technology companies and what they've done.

The danger, of course, is those decisions are in the hands of a very small number of individuals who can change their mind at any moment. I think that's a very important point for us to remember. BURNETT: Right, individuals and money as a motive. Other things, too,

perhaps, but they are not state actors, is the point.

BREMMER: They are not responsible to citizens. They're certainly not.

BURNETT: All right. Ian, thank you very much.


BURNETT: Ian Bremmer.

And OUTFRONT next, President Biden still silent, even as members of his own party say he needs to address the unidentified objects that are being taken down over the U.S. This is the Chinese government accuses the U.S. of spending more than tens spy balloons to China. We're live to the White House and Beijing.

Plus, Ron DeSantis taking his fight over Black history course to a new level. Is he going too far or not?

And for the first time, we're going to take you inside Syria, to see firsthand the inconceivable destruction left in the wake of the devastating earthquake that is now taking the lives of what we know to be 36,000 people.


BURNETT: Plus, Ron DeSantis taking his fight over Black history course to a new level.


Is he going too far or not?

And for the first time, we're going to take you inside Syria, to see firsthand the inconceivable destruction left in the wake of the devastating earthquake that is now taking the lives of what we know to be 36,000 people.


BURNETT: Tonight, Biden is silent, no word from the president of the United States after three unidentified objects were shot down in the course of three days over North American airspace.

We do know that one object shot down on Friday over Alaska was the size of a car. Another one shot down over northern Canada on Saturday was a small metallic balloon. And a third object shot down yesterday over Michigan was shaped like an octagon.

But what was in these objects and where they came from as a complete mystery to the American public tonight?

Now, we're covering from this at all angles with Phil Mattingly at the White House and Selina Wang who's on the ground in Beijing where the government is now accusing the U.S. of sending spy balloons to China, something the U.S. denies.

But I want to begin with you, Phil, at the White House. Can you take us behind the scenes at the White House? It goes from they know about a balloon and nobody says anything and somebody sees it, it gets shot down and now here we are, three more shot down. The whole thing has multiplied. Why the silence? And will we hear from the president?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's important to note that there is no precedent here in, terms of U.S. fighters taking objects over U.S. skies. First time it's ever happened and happened three times in the course of three days, and we still haven't heard from President Biden, despite calls not just from Republicans on Capitol Hill but also Democratic allies saying more information is needed, the president should speak.


But in talking to senior administration officials they made clear in part there are so many unanswered questions that remain, not just in the public sphere, but also behind the scenes, among officials themselves as they wait for recovery efforts to finalize but also to calibrate a response to the effort, in the sense that the president doesn't want people to panic. They believe that if the panic comes out right now, he'll make it out to be a crisis at a level they don't think it is at the moment.

Now, that still underscores the fact that they don't know a lot about what these three objects were shot down actually are. But when they look through the response at this time, they talk about the officials that they hadn't publicly. John Kirby earlier today, the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke to reporters earlier, and try to give regular briefings about what they do know. I think that is the calibrated response that is necessary at this point in time.

Now, behind the scenes, I'm told that the president is being briefed at a regular clip, speaking to governors, lawmakers, the Hill being briefed as well. Tomorrow classified briefing for all 100 senators. A lot of questions, fewer answers but still wrapping up pressure to hear not just from top ministry in officials but the president himself, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Phil, thank you very much. And as the White House tonight denies a remarkable accusation made by China's foreign ministry that the U.S. has illegally flown high altitude balloons over Chinese airspace, at least 10 times in 13 months, let's go to the ground in Beijing where Selina Wang is OUTFRONT tonight.

So, Selina, the Chinese government is now making accusations about the United States, and I guess the context here, the U.S. did not know China was sending balloons like this over the U.S., they finally realized but one is look like and they can look back in history and see others. So, in that context, I guess it's questionable that they themselves have been sending balloons over China, but nonetheless that appears to be the accusation?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Erin, what we are seeing Beijing do is come out with these much older and aggressive accusations and claims. They're essentially presenting it completely different narrative with an alternative set of facts that the U.S. flat out rejects. Really the strategy is to counter what the U.S. is saying with their own accusations, repeatedly calling U.S. the world's largest surveillance helper and say it's common for U.S. surveillance balloons to illegally enter other country's airspace including China, which is a claim that the U.S. says it's false and just an attempt by Beijing to do damage control.

And at the regular ministry of foreign affairs press briefing, the spokesperson claimed that last year, the U.S. sent warships and planes to carry out close range reconnaissance against China 657 times. Now, meanwhile, state media also reported on Sunday that they've spotted their own UFO above waters near an eastern port city and were preparing to shoot it down. Now they gave no further details about the object, and it's still unclear if it's been taken down.

But this incident has gone viral on China's tightly controlled social media. On Monday morning, this was the top trending topic on Weibo, with two related hashtags, racking up more than 900 million views. The top comment on that story is essentially mocking the U.S. for overreacting. It says, quote, thanks to the demonstration made by the U.S., we must report it in a high-profile manner when we shoot down the object.

Now, I spoke to a Singapore-based defense expert Drew Thompson who said, look, China's messaging lacks credibility, and it is contradictory, but it's largely really directed to the domestic audience, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Selina, thank you very much.

And I want to go OUTFRONT now to Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana, a member of the intelligence committee and the newly established House Select Committee on China.

Congressman, I very much appreciate your time.

So, three more unidentified airborne objects shot down over the weekend. All we seem to know is their shapes. I mean, I guess -- I don't want to say it's funny, but a shape like an octagon appears to be all we know.

Based on what you're hearing in your briefings, what are they? And are they from China?

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D-IN): Well, look, I've been sounding the alarm on this issue since I chaired the first open hearing on identifying aerial phenomenon 50 years a year ago. And after our open hearing, we experienced an increased interest in reporting sightings and shows reduced stigma allow more pilots, more people to say something when they saw something. You know, there was an unclassified report that was released last month as a result of our hearing. And the main takeaway was that we have to continue studying and investigating these things. BURNETT: So, in the last several years, as you point out, Congress

has paid a lot more attention on unidentified flying objects or unidentified aerial phenomenon, as I know they're called. And as you pointed out, you chaired a hearing on the topic.

Marco Rubio, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee at one point, and I quote him, said, you know, there's a stigma on Capitol Hill, some of my colleagues are interested in this topic, and some kind of giggle when you bring it up. But I don't think we can allow this stigma to keep us from having answers to a fundamental question.


I quote him there because, Congressman, very smart, informed people have been open to the possibility that these objects were truly actually UFOs from outer space. They were open to the idea. Meantime, we find out that China has been sending spy balloons over the United States and from the reporting right now at massive scale.

Do you feel, Congressman, that the intelligence community failed here?

CARSON: I don't. Look, in some cases, objects spotted in the sky were no more than debris. In other cases, as we've seen, they could have connections to the Chinese government, and even state actors. There's a lot we still don't know.

We don't know if these objects were completely benign or if they had something to do with a foreign government. At the very least, these objects were a safety concern for pilots. But I'm confident that President Biden did the right thing, that the DOD, and my colleagues will continue to look for answers.

BURNETT: Two and a half years ago, a Senate intelligence report on UFOs said this issue lacked attention from senior leaders. Here we are two and a half years later, and, to the American public, the only reason that we're even hearing about this and the only reason these things are now being shot out of the skies is because somebody saw a Chinese spy balloon that went too low. Some American citizens did, right?

Does the blame here go all the way to the president? Why are we only hearing about this now? It feels like they're on their heels.

CARSON: Well, look, I don't want to speak out of school, but what I will say is that I do have confidence in our intelligence community with regards to this issue, and I have confidence in the Biden administration's response regarding this issue.

I think that there has to be greater communication between members of the appropriate committees and the White House. I think that's a work in progress. We're getting there.

But, at the same time, I think we have to be very cautious and aware that our adversaries are listening into our conversations, they're hearing what we're saying on public platforms. So I think our language has to be measured in a way that does not alert them in terms of our strategy.

BURNETT: All right. Congressman Carson, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

CARSON: Thank you.

BURNETT: And, next, the Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina reportedly ready to run for president. At the same time, another South Carolinian, Nikki Haley, is expected to make her announcement this week. Can either beat Trump?

Plus, we take you inside a crowded Syrian hospital where doctors are scrambling to try to save lives, including the life of this 3-month- old who was pulled from the rubble alive.



BURNETT: Tonight, Governor Ron DeSantis threatening to cut ties with the College Board that administers advanced placement classes. This whole fight is rooted in DeSantis' objection of an AP African American studies course that he claims pushed a political agenda.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: The College Board was the one that in a Black studies course put queer theory in New York the U.S., they did that. They were the ones that put in intersectionality. They put in other types of neo-Marxism into the proposed syllabus.

In Florida, we do education, not indoctrination. This College Board like -- nobody elected them of anything, they're just kind of there, and they're providing service. And so, you can either utilize those services or not.


BURNETT: And there's the threat. So these comments from DeSantis came after the College Board criticized DeSantis publicly.

Now, it is important to note that this AP course syllabus that DeSantis is speaking about had already been revised once in addressing some of the issues DeSantis raised. Now, the College Board say it's didn't do so based on pressure from the governor. Nonetheless, it was some of the issues he raised which were removed.

OUTFRONT now, Erick Erickson and Karen Finney.

So, Karen, you heard Governor DeSantis earlier today, right? He loves this issue. He returns to it again and again and again.

Is he smart to revel in this particular fight?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, I think he believes that this is a winning issue for him, and this is, from a political context, more evidence, of course, of Ron DeSantis really moving to the far right and really trying to claim that mantle and claim that lane in what is likely to be a crowded 2024 Republican primary. And so, I'm sure we're going to hear him come back to this over and over again. He thinks it's a winning issue without thinking about the impact that it has on students in his state.

BURNETT: So, Eric, DeSantis said today that he is confident that he's far from feeling alone this way, but that he is the only one actually willing to take up the fight. So, he's not alone, but he's just a brave voice. Here's how he put it.


DESANTIS: We were just the only ones that had the backbone to stand up and do it because they call you names and they demagogue you when you do it. But, look, I'm so sick of people not doing what's right because they're worried that people are going to call them names. We're doing what's right here.


BURNETT: So, Eric, he's made his bet, and he's climbed in it, and happily so. He thinks this works and he certainly appears to think this is going to work for 2024.

Is there any question that this is about anything other than 2024?

ERICK ERICKSON, HOST, "THE ERICK ERICKSON SHOW": You know, I think convictionally he believes these things, but also definitely it's good politics for 2024 for DeSantis, particularly as the Republican Party aligns more with blue collar voters who are generally skeptical of things like the college board to begin with. It makes him look very populist, whether he is or isn't.

BURNETT: So, you know, let's speak of the GOP race for 2024. Obviously, DeSantis he's been -- he's waiting. Who knows what he's waiting for, he's waiting for more knowledge about Trump, but he's waiting even as he speaks.

And "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that others are not, that Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, they say, is laying the ground work that he wants to run for president, he's holding an event this Thursday in South Carolina to mark black history month, just one day after the state's former Governor Nikki Haley is expected to launch her 2024 bid.

Eric, do you see a lane for Senator Scott in 2024?

ERICKSON: You know, I do. There is a craving for -- among Republicans for someone who's kind of the happy warrior, like he is. He has one of the most unique stories and backgrounds of a Republican.

I think he carves his own lane, and it's not necessarily a lane that other candidates could have. Someone like Scott with his background, his story, the first black man as a Republican, he represented the area of South Carolina where the first shots of the civil war were fired. He's got a story to tell.

Can he get enough of a lane and enough of a constituency to rival DeSantis and Trump?


That's going to be hard.

BURNETT: Well, and, Karen, also, I mean, I will just say he's holding an event Thursday in South Carolina to mark Black History Month, right?

FINNEY: Right.

BURNETT: He has an African American senator. He's from South Carolina. He talks about this. He has worked on police reform.

You got him. Then you've got DeSantis going against the AP on a black studies class. Can Scott walk and chew gum at the same time on this in the GOP?

FINNEY: Well, he absolutely can. I think the question is -- and I think it's going to further open up the fractures that exist in the GOP because, remember, part of what Ron DeSantis and the books that have been pulled from school libraries in Florida object to is any conversation about racism. I was reading about a book about Roberto Clemente that was pulled because it mentions that he dealt with racism.

Tim Scott himself has talked about his own experiences as a Black man. So imagine the two of them on the stage, and one who is, you know, essentially using the full force of the state government to decide what people can learn about and read, and another man who's trying to talk about his own lived experience.

BURNETT: So here's what some of Senator Scott said about Trump, or the only current declared candidate in the Republican field to our Dana Bash. Listen to this.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you want the former president to run again?

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): To the highest level ever? I want the same policy positions that we had before that I believe --

BASH: Can somebody else do that and not somebody who makes things, in your words, difficult?

SCOTT: Well, I hope that we will find our way back to a place where we're talking about principles and not personalities.


BURNETT: Very hopeful, Eric. But the reality is the reality. If Trump is running, does Scott have to take this more on the head?

ERICKSON: Look, I actually think Trump views a crowded field as a good thing so he'll ignore Scott, he'll ignore Nikki Haley, for the most part, maybe a few passive slights. Trump is worried about DeSantis. And he thinks the more people get into the field, the better it is for him.

So he kind of welcomes Scott, welcomes Haley. And he'll welcome others into the race as well.

BURENTT: All right. Thank you both very much.

FINNEY: Thanks.

BURNETT: And next, for the first time, we're going to take you inside Syria where the already completely fragile medical system is collapsing because doctors don't have the equipment to treat those who survived the destructive earthquake.

And the United Airlines jet nose-dives for 21 seconds. Tonight, we hear from a passenger.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one of those thing where's you start counting your blessings and asking yourself is this the last time you're going to see your family.




BURNETT: Tonight, a miraculous rescue one week after that devastating earthquake in Turkey. This man was pulled out alive after 167 hours stuck under the rubble. It's unbelievable.

You can see him hugging the rescuers who helped to free him. It's amazing he even had the ability to do that after so much time. The death toll now surpassing 36,000 killed, and of course, it will go higher. Humanitarian aid is just starting to make its way into Syria where CNN is one of only a few networks to witness the unimaginable devastation on a country so short on medical supplies, of hospitals ravaged by civil war.

Jomana Karadsheh is there OUTFRONT.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Baby Mohamed takes every little labored breath on his own. No mom, no dad to hold his tiny hand. His parents didn't survive the earthquake. The 3-month-old was rescued by neighbor who's brought him to this ICU.

In the room next door, we find the Talia (ph), the 26-year-old who will never walk again. The earthquake brought down her family's home and crushed her back. Her step mom tells us she and her three children were under the rubble for 18 hours. The children survived but they don't know where they are.

In every room of this Syrian hospital, a sweet tale of survival. Many more should've been alive today to tell their stories. Doctors say they tried to save them but didn't have enough supplies to save everyone.

The few medical facilities in rebel-held Syria are barely still standing after years of Russian and Syrian regime bombardment, that left them ill-equipped to deal with the disaster at this magnitude.

DR. AHMAD ALAABD, SYRIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL SOCIETY: We lost a lot of patients because of shortage in medical supplies. If we had them, we could have saved many more lives.

KARADSHEH: This was the scene here last Monday, and other facilities run by the Syrian-American medical society.

ALAABD: This is the biggest disaster we ever had. We dealt with war injuries, but never had to deal with this many casualties at once.

KARADSHEH: The people of this devastated land cried for help, but no help came. Aid to rebel-held northwest Syria is tied in politics and at the mercy of a regime so cruel even at a time like this.

Once again, they're forgotten, they say, on their own, picking up the pieces of their already broken lives. They dig and dig with their bare hands and whatever they can find desperately trying to reach their loved ones. It's too late for rescues now. They just want to bury their dead.

Mohamed is searching for relatives, expressionless and numb, he tells us 21 of them including children.

In this one little town, officials are telling us more than 13 buildings were destroyed. Those were homes. There were more than a thousand people in there. Only 400 survived.

Life here feels like one endless cycle of loss and grief. Most have been displaced time and time again by more than a decade of war. They are now homeless once again.

We were sleeping under the trees, but it was so cold, we came here, Ansultan (ph) tells us. She begs the international community to send them shelters. We just want to tent, she says. I wish we had died with everyone else so we don't go through this, she tells us. We survived only to live this misery and agony.

They have nowhere left to run. Millions are trapped in Idlib. It's the last rebel-held territory in Syria.

Mohamed says that she and her family fled Aleppo province and came here. They escaped the fighter jets and the airstrikes. And she says we came here, and the earthquake followed us. She says death follows Syrians everywhere.


Seven hundred people lived in this now flattened residential complex. Only a handful survived.

Young men from nearby villages came running to help get people out, she tells us. But what can they do? They tried digging. We heard people screaming, get us out, get us out. Then they went quiet. They all died.

Two days later, they pulled a little boy and girl. Their dead bodies were still warm.

Others made it, after hours of this painstaking rescue. Little Ahmed was pulled out alive. The white helmets of heroes of Syria's war did as much to save as they can. They urgently appeal for international support.

ISMAIL ABDALLAH, WHITE HELMETS VOLUNTEER: They didn't send anything. They didn't respond. They let the people here down, and now the people here in Syria know that now they are forgotten.

KARADSHEH: At the Turkish/Syrian border on Saturday, there were no aid trucks lining up. It was a constant stream of the dead. More than a thousand Syrian refugees killed in the earthquake in Turkey returning home in body bags. They say death follows Syrians everywhere.


BURNETT: Jomana, just incredible reporting. And you talk about how little help is getting in. I know that you were able to cross the border. You're one of the few who have been able to do it. So you know how hard it is.

What more are you able to tell us about the struggle to get any humanitarian aid into that corner of the country, which is already so isolated because of the war?

KARADSHEH: Well, Erin, it looks now like the international community is finally mobilizing. The Assad regime, according to the U.N., in the past few hours has agreed to open two more border crossings to allow for aid to come across. But we'll have to wait and see. The regime has a history, and everyone knows the history of this regime, and whether this will happen or not, we'll have to see.

And then you also have U.N. aid trucks that have started crossing over in the past few days more than 50 trucks. But people in northern Syria say that's just too little too late. The U.N.'s relief chief also admitting that they have failed the people of northwest Syria, saying they have all the right to feel abandoned -- Erin.

BURNETT: Jomana, thank you very much. Powerful reporting there from Syria and Turkey. And, next, a passenger jet falling from the sky, able to recover.

Several hundred feet above the Pacific ocean. What happened and what did the pilot tell the passengers? This was a flight to San Francisco.

And the man responsible for the operation and maintenance of the United States Capitol is out, fired by President Biden. How come?



BURNETT: Tonight a plunge equal to the length of the Empire State Building. That's how far a United Airlines flight fell just after takeoff from Maui. It came less than 800 feet from crashing into the Pacific Ocean. Now, the terrifying details are just coming to light.

Gabe Cohen is OUTFRONT.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another alarming incident in U.S. aviation. A United 777 diving toward the ocean just after takeoff.

ROD WILLIAMS, PASSENGER: It certainly felt like a roller coaster.

COHEN: Rod Williams was traveling home from vacation with his family.

WILLIAMS: You start counting your blessings. You start asking yourself, is this the last time you're going to see your family.

COHEN: The flight takes off from Maui, December 18th, climbs 2,200 feet, then suddenly plunges 1,400 feet toward the ocean, falling for 21 seconds, reaching just 775 feet above sea level, before level in ascending once again. The plane, which can carry more than 300 passengers, was mostly full, according to Williams.

What did pilots tell the passengers?

WILLIAMS: They got on the intercom and simply said, well, ladies and gentlemen, you probably felt a couple Gs on that one. Everything is going to be fine. It's going to be okay.

COHEN: The crew itself reported the incident after landing safely in San Francisco, according to the FAA. After its investigation, the pilots, who have a combined 25,000 hours of flight time, received additional training, but neither the FAA nor United will say why the pilots ended up in a dive, telling CNN those safety investigations are confidential.

LES ABEND, RETIRED 777 PILOT: They're being corrected to prevent this behavior from happening again, which indicates to me that something occurred that could have been prevented by the crew.

COHEN: Les Abend is a retired 777 pilot.

What might have happened here?

ABEND: There are numerous things that would cause a distraction. They may have unintentionally lost control of the airplane to the extent that the altitude decayed.

COHEN: It's unclear if weather played a role with a severe storm pounding parts of Hawaii that day.

WILLIAM: It was torrential.

COHEN: Hours earlier, 36 people were injured during extreme turbulence on board a Hawaiian air night approaching Honolulu after a cloud shot up in front of the airplane the n a matter of seconds and there wasn't enough time to avoid it, according to the NSTB. It's been a rough few months for the aviation world, from cancellations to system meltdowns. Two near collisions in New York and Austin and now this mysterious incident with little explanation.


COHEN (on camera): And, Erin, this Wednesday, the FAA's acting administrator is set to testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee about all of these recent problems, and a spokesperson for that committee tells CNN this incident from December is likely to come up during that questioning -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Gabe, thank you very money. It's terrifying to watch. I think about 21 seconds is a long time.

All right. Next, the man tasked with keeping the United States Capitol up and running has just been fired.


Wait until you hear what he's being accused of tonight. He was fired by the president.


BURNETT: There is little Democrats and Republicans agree on now, but members of both parties wanted the architect of the U.S. Capitol fired, and tonight, he's gone. President Biden firing Brett Blanton, the architect of the Capitol today. The architect's responsibilities, obviously, you know, in this day and age include overseeing the Capitol management and operations.

Word came after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy demanded his ouster. An inspector general report accuses Blanton of wasting taxpayer money with his work vehicle, including trips to Florida. He infuriated many in Congress by staying away from Capitol during the January 6th insurrection. He told lawmakers he couldn't drive there because so many people were already there, so he used the work vehicle as a command post.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. NORMA TORRES (D-CA): I am outraged that you would be in a comfortable place, sir, while the rest of us were thinking about dying that day and how we were going to come out alive that day. Outrageous that you were not here.


BURNETT: Blanton, a Trump appointee, is also accused of offering tours to so-called patriots in the weeks before the 2020 election. He denies doing anything unethical.

Thanks so much for joining us. I'll be back tonight at 9:00.

"AC360" starts now.