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Erin Burnett Outfront

Advisers: Make No Mistake, Biden Is Running For Reelection; Reports: DeSantis Now Taking On Small College In Push To The Right; Dr. Sanjay Gupta On Ground In Turkey As Quake Survivors Beat The Odds. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 14, 2023 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: President Biden personally called Davis, Monday, to inform him he would receive the Medal of Honor, and said he looked forward to hosting him, at the White House.

Davis said the call, from the President, prompted a wave of memories, of the men and women that he served with.

The news continues. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, new reporting, from the White House, this hour, "Ready to go." Those are the words, of a Biden adviser, tonight, about a 2024 run. And we're going to tell you what else is going on behind-the-scenes, tonight. This, all-new reporting, from our Phil Mattingly, here at the top of the hour.

Plus, Ron DeSantis' new target is a small liberal arts college. His goal is to turn it into a conservative school. And the man DeSantis is putting in charge, reportedly making more than double his predecessor.

And the space race, as an OUTFRONT investigation takes us inside China's spy balloon-making operation. Famed Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, is OUTFRONT, and hear what he has to say about extraterrestrial life.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. Welcome to this special edition of OUTFRONT. I'm Erin Burnett.

Tonight, "Ready to go," that's an exact quote. Those are the words of a Biden adviser, tonight, telling our Phil Mattingly, about the President's plans, to announce he's running for reelection.

Now, up until last week, President Biden has publicly said he's not ready to make a decision on 2024. He's kept using that word, "Intend," he intends to, but he hadn't made a decision. But privately, Phil can report all the pieces are in place, for a robust national campaign.

So, why is Biden waiting to announce? Well, I'm going to speak to Phil, in just a moment, about his new reporting. But it comes in the context of former President Trump, finally, having his first major challenger, for the Republican presidential nomination. Today, former U.N. Ambassador, and South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley announcing her campaign for president.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: It's time for a new generation of leadership, to rediscover fiscal responsibility, secure our border, and strengthen our country, our pride and our purpose.


BURNETT: Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT live, outside the White House.

So Phil, "Ready to go," that's the tip of the iceberg there, from your sources, telling you about Biden plans to run.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erin, I think it underscores the fact that inside the White House, when you talk to advisers, when you talk to the team, even when advisers leave the White House, they are fully planning, for the campaign.

And not just fully planning. There have been plans and an infrastructure built, over the course of the last several months, in the lead up to an announcement that at this point seems inevitable, not just expected.

Now, that being said, President Biden officially has not made the decision yet. He said so publicly. That's also been the case, privately. But everything that the President's political team that his senior team, have been pushing towards, is that 2024 reelection campaign.

You've seen it in the public messaging, the events that he's attended, in critical swing States, to talk about his key agenda wins, in the first two years, in places like Arizona and Georgia, Pennsylvania. Those are all not subtle. They are all very intentional. And that's what we've seen publicly. Obviously, you also saw the State of the Union address, which really kind of threaded together many of those critical themes.

But it's behind-the-scenes what they've been building, privately, over the course of not just months, but to some degree, two years that has really set the table for what lies ahead. An infrastructure, built to the Democratic National Committee, hundreds of millions of dollars raised, tens of millions of dollars, to build out state-based organizations, in all of those critical battleground States, all driving towards the moment, where the President announces his reelection.

Now, again, it is important to caveat. The President has not said that.

And aides make clear, they don't believe that there's an urgency, at this moment.

Despite the fact that there was - had been planning, for potentially, making an announcement, this month, what they've seen over the course of the last couple of months, both, on the Republican side, the slow build-out of the Republican field, the former President's kind of lackadaisical effort, in those first few months of his own campaign, but also on the Democratic side, the larger kind of national Democratic establishment, has largely coalesced behind the President, is not trying to run against him.


MATTINGLY: There's no primary challengers here. There's no urgency.

What they want to do, right now, is continue the path that they've been on. And that path, as the President laid out, in that State of the Union address, very driven, by those first two years agenda item wins, and also driven by the idea of what comes next. As the President said it more than a dozen times, in that State of the Union address, three words, "Finish the job."

BURNETT: Right, right. I guess that says it all, when you say inevitable, those semantics matter. They show the soul in some ways.

All right, Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

John Avlon, Margaret Hoover, Harry Enten, former Democratic congressman, Mondaire Jones, all with me, here, tonight.

OK, so inevitable, he used the word, hasn't been announced yet.


BURNETT: But you've got the money. You got the operation. Kate Bedingfield is gone, but not gone, but consulting with, again - right.


BURNETT: I mean, it's all there, right? I mean, so does he benefit by doing it this way, waiting to announce?

AVLON: I think there's no urgency for Biden to announce, right now. I mean, the momentum is behind him. The polls show Democrats are actually coalescing against his presidency, after longtime, saying they approved of the job he was doing, but didn't particularly want him to run again. Polls show also that he stacks up best against all the Republican competitors.


And look, giving up the advantage of this incumbency is something that Democrats don't really want to do. They also learned their lesson after Teddy Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter, and weakened him.

So, look, I continue to think that in the fullness of time, this is not a decision that Biden and his team should be taking, lightly, just because they're up in the polls. But he has done a strong job, objectively. He had a great midterm. And he can run a Rose Garden strategy, and he probably should.

BURNETT: He also, right, he's got the pulpit, right? He's got the State of the Union. But he doesn't need to announce, to start holding rallies, or do--


BURNETT: He's got that every day.

HOOVER: That's exactly right. And there's something, look, there's something to the inertia of the incumbency. There is no urgency to announce. But he - I - look, he's going to announce. I just I have to quibble with one thing you've said, which is that--

AVLON: That never happens! Go on.

HOOVER: --which is that like he stacks up against all the Republican competitors best? And that simply means - if it's not Donald Trump, look at Nikki Haley, look at some of these other candidates, say, I don't mean - I don't think that Larry Hogan would get the nomination.

But there are a lot of other candidates that could represent generational change that actually won't stack up well against Joe Biden--

AVLON: Look?

HOOVER: --not in his favor.

AVLON: Look, I agree with you. Just, I mean, look, I'm talking about current polling. Obviously, he stacks up best against Donald Trump. If it's a young, much younger candidate? That contrast is not going to look good. And as far as Larry Hogan goes babe, keep up a lot.

HOOVER: I know!

Charlie Baker! Phil Scott!


BURNETT: So Congressman Jones, well, let's talk about the polling here, because John mentioned something, right?


BURNETT: There'd been approval of Democrats, of the job Biden's doing. And now, he's making a very energetic case about it, right? "Finish the job. Give me another chance," very clearly.

But now you've got 58 percent of Democrats, and Democratic-leaning independents, say they prefer a candidate other than Biden. These are Democrats. This is an ABC/Washington Post poll.

So, what does that say to you? Does he - should he take that to heart, or just ignore it?

JONES: He should consider it, because it goes to, I think, what most Democrats are thinking about, when they do feel concerned about him. And that is his age.


JONES: But put him up against Donald Trump? I feel really good about the odds, once again, in a head-to-head, for this President, going up against this guy.

I think that he's got a tremendous record of accomplishment to run on. I'm a bit biased, as someone who was just in Congress, hoping--

BURNETT: So, these two acknowledge it, right?

JONES: --to pass this.

But objectively, to John's point, I mean, just large scale transformational legislation, much of which still hasn't taken effect, but Americans are going to continue to feel, especially when prescription drug costs are going down, like insulin, which was capped at $35, for Medicare recipients, beginning in January of this year?


JONES: He can run on a lot.

BURNETT: Yes. And that stuff, when it happened, I mean, the midterms had not yet taken effect.


BURNETT: So, it's a fair point to say. People hadn't felt it, then. They will, obviously, by the presidential election.

Harry, when you look at the numbers, how do you see a president, who is waiting to formally announce?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I think he has got all the time in the world, to be perfectly honest with you, Erin.

I mean, if you look at essentially the median President, going back, 40-plus years, when did they announce? They did not announce until late April, April 30th of the year, before the general election. We are still two and a half months until that point.

And Ronald Reagan, who cruised to reelection, in 1984, did not in fact, announce or file with the FEC, until October of 1983.

So Joe Biden, with--

BURNETT: Wow! It's just pretty incredible, right?

ENTEN: Pretty - pretty late.

BURNETT: I mean, in many ways, sort of the model, right? I mean, not as old as Biden. But I mean, that's there's some--

ENTEN: Exactly right. Somebody whose approval rating was kind of middling at this point, but still had the approval of his party, behind him, and had no real challengers, really, in the horizon? And that is basically Joe Biden, at this point. So, in my mind, based upon the numbers, he's got a long ways to go, until he has to really announce.

BURNETT: All right, yes.

And obviously, Mondaire, the other issue is there's no challengers?

JONES: Yes. I mean, look, he's already--

BURNETT: I mean?

JONES: --he's already running, right? I mean, there was reporting a few months ago that like the White House was miffed at Gavin Newsom, right? And then, Gavin apologized.


JONES: And so, clearly, they don't - they're signaling that they are doing this. They just haven't formally announced yet.

BURNETT: Right. And now, part of the reason, Margaret that he has this, the wind in his sails, and this time, is because, I don't know what's going on, on the other side. Not a whole lot. I mean, you remember, remember the big escalator ride? Wasn't that in June? Yes, that's right. That was in June.

AVLON: Yes, well, yes.


BURNETT: OK. So, he was the first to announce now, what was it, the end of October, or whenever it was. And now here we are, and Nikki Haley gets in today?

HOOVER: Well, things have gotten earlier and earlier. I mean, depends on the presidential cycle.


HOOVER: But this is an open field for Republicans. There is no - Donald Trump, of course has this ceiling of maybe it's 30 percent, 35 percent. Maybe it's 40 percent of the base of the Republican Party.

So, the real question is, if you get in early, as a candidate, are you going to be able to generate the fundraising, to take you through, for two more years? And there are some candidates, who are going to be able to do that--


HOOVER: --a lot easier than others. Nikki Haley is one. And this is why, I think, you're seeing her get in. She has a lot of fundraising prowess, and a lot of promise, within the Republican donor class.

Ron DeSantis does too. He's waiting. That's a real question. Why is he waiting?

BURNETT: I don't like to stir the pot.

HOOVER: How much longer he waits?

BURNETT: I don't like to stir the pot over here. But I feel like--

HOOVER: But this is the question. If you--

BURNETT: I feel like John doesn't fully agree!


HOOVER: If you get in early, it's because you have the confidence, you're going to be able to fund your race.

AVLON: Well, look, Ron DeSantis can wait, because he's got a legislative session. He's already seen as a category of two. I think Nikki Haley's smart to get in now. She's - can differentiate herself.

Look, first of all, as someone, whose parents lived in South Carolina, for 30 years, it's fascinating to see South Carolina be at the center of the political universe. Potentially, two candidates running--

BURNETT: Right, Tim Scott, right?

AVLON: --Tim Scott, Nikki Haley? Potentially, Democrats having their first primary in South Carolina?


AVLON: That's extraordinary.

I will say that Nikki Haley, putting aside - she has polished significantly, since she was governor, particularly as U.N. Her announcement video was, to my ears and eyes, pitch-perfect. And I wasn't expecting that. I think she made a case--

HOOVER: Right. Can you say that again, for the microphone? I'm not sure it heard you correctly.

AVLON: No, no, no, no, I really was impressed, on a couple levels.

First of all, she drew a clear contrast, with Donald Trump, implicitly. She made a case of generational change.

But not only that, she called out the far-left, for its excesses, but she also highlighted the nation's challenges, when it comes to race, the region's, Mother Emanuel Church, saying that Republicans have lost that seven out of the last eight popular votes, and making the case that she can expand the base.

That's not a Ron DeSantis pitch, a Ron DeSantis pitch. BURNETT: No.

AVLON: That is someone who's trying to carve out their own lane.


AVLON: And it was done well.

BURNETT: And it certainly - and it's certainly very clear, she wants the job, as opposed to some saying, "Well, is she going to settle for vice president?"

AVLON: No, she--


BURNETT: Making it clear, she's running for the job.

So, Harry, on that front?


BURNETT: Where do you see? And so, Haley's announced. DeSantis hasn't. But everyone believes he will, and then, you've got Trump. But let's just look at the challengers to Trump. Haley and DeSantis. How does that look?

ENTEN: Yes. So, I mean, we can look at Haley, right? And, right now, she's averaging about 3 percent in the polls. And that is low. And most nominees are polling better than that, or most eventual nominees, poll better than that, at this point, in the early polls.

But there are in fact, a few, who polled at Nikki Haley's level, or worse, and went on to win the nomination. Jimmy Carter in 1976, Bill Clinton, in 1992.

Donald Trump was polling very low in the early 2016 polls, right? We tend to forget that.


ENTEN: But he skyrocketed, once he announced.

Compare that to someone like Ron DeSantis, though, who's polling at about 32 percent? There have been, get this, five Republicans, who polled at that level, at the early polls. All but one of them won.

Of course, Rudy Giuliani, the lone exception there, I'm sorry to break your heart, John Avlon.

BURNETT: Rudy Giuliani comes up every night.

AVLON: It's Valentine's Day, Harry! Come on!

HOOVER: Honestly--

BURNETT: With this 30 percent. All right.

HOOVER: We would never have met if Rudy hadn't run for president. So, thank you, for Valentine's Day--

AVLON: That's true.

BURNETT: There's something good that came out--

HOOVER: --showing out. There we go.

BURNETT: There you go.


BURNETT: All right, all stay with me.

And next, Governor DeSantis, giving a small progressive Florida College, a massive makeover. So, how does this square with his battle, against indoctrination, rather than education, as he calls it?

Plus, we go inside the killing of an American aid worker, in Ukraine. There's new reporting tonight, suggesting that the Russian missile strike, that killed him, was a targeted attack. I'm going to talk with the "New York Times" journalist, who investigated the horrific video, from the moment it happened.

And if that Chinese spy balloon, shot down over the U.S. airspace worries you? You may want to consider what else China is working on in the sky. Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, joins me to look at that, and what else is above us.



BURNETT: Tonight, DeSantis versus the New College. It's a small progressive public liberal arts college, in Sarasota, Florida. It describes itself as a, quote, "Community of free thinkers." And Governor DeSantis reportedly wants to take it over, and turn it into a beacon of conservatism.

He wants to model the New College after Hillsdale College, which is a small conservative Christian school, in Michigan, whose alumni list includes numerous Republican elected officials.

DeSantis has removed six of New College's 13 trustees, and replaced them with handpicked conservatives.

The Board also replaced the School President with someone named Richard Corcoran, who is considered an ally of DeSantis, and as a former Republican House Speaker, in Florida, and State Education Commissioner.

And as the "Tampa Bay Times" reports, tonight, Corcoran is getting a base salary of $699,000. Wow! And you don't have the state tax in Florida! And that's more than double his predecessor! Everyone is back with me.

I just was thinking about that for a second.

AVLON: Yes, no, that's--

BURNETT: It goes a lot further.

OK. So, let's talk about the money though, because I'm trying to figure out what's going on here, Margaret.


BURNETT: So "Tampa Bay Times" says that he's making more than double his predecessor. He's getting more than double the housing stipend, $4,000 more for an auto stipend.

HOOVER: And apparently--

BURNETT: Was it going for the Tesla here? I mean, I'm just saying. OK, and it's $100,000 more than the reported base salary of the President of the University of Central Florida, which is an enormous university, right, the largest, by enrollment, in Florida. UCF, 68,000. This New College, 700 students. So?

HOOVER: Look, I cannot--

BURNETT: Money talks, Margaret. What is it telling us?

AVLON: There you go.

HOOVER: Look, here's what I can tell you about the story. I mean, Ron DeSantis - I can't speak to the finances of this university, although it is suspicious that it's double the amount. Perhaps this college, it seems, has been underfunded for many, many years.

Since they left the Central Florida funding system, they have to lobby for their own dollars. They actually don't have huge budgets. They said they actually - they don't have a lot of money. Apparently, they have a $15 million request, into the Florida Legislature. So, perhaps they're going to try to cobble that back, and this will be a well- funded position.

What I know is Ron DeSantis, unlike you just saw this general election video, of Nikki Haley's announcement for President? Ron DeSantis has this ability. As you said, it was so good because it appeals to a general electorate, for a general election.

Ron DeSantis is probably the best person, in the Republican Party, at picking red-meat issues, for the base, and just throwing red meat at them. I mean, it is CRT. It is sending Venezuelans to Martha's Vineyard. It is masks and COVID.

He can pick any culture war issue, and make it his own, and rile up the GOP base. I don't see him doing a lot of like really serious conservative policy reforms. And so, that's something Ron DeSantis is going to have to answer, if he does run for president.

AVLON: But--

BURNETT: But he picks - I mean, he's putting - this is time and effort. This is very specific and very explicit.

AVLON: It's also rank hypocrisy. We're talking about taxpayer dollars here, right? I mean, this small liberal arts college, he wants to turn into a conservative college? This is an ideological exercise of power. This isn't about "Well, we want things to be more neutral and fact- based and not politicized." This is we went explicit bias to balance implicit bias. And with the money, we're talking here, is apparently taxpayer funds.


AVLON: That's the least conservative thing you could possibly imagine!

BURNETT: Yes. And, by the way, just to be clear, he says it is, Mondaire. He has.

Here is DeSantis, just a few weeks ago, talking about New College.



GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): It's important that your tax dollars are funding institutions that you can be proud of, the mission that you can have confidence in. And I think you're going to see that. I think you're going to see some really positive results, very quickly, out of New College.

It is by statute supposed to be the premier honors college in Florida. That's the mission. Clearly hasn't met that mission.


JONES: He's doing a great job of turning the State of Florida into Mississippi, and adding a layer of corruption to it, on top of it, like everything this guy does is rank hypocrisy that makes news anyway.

Whether it's banning books, which is something that we only see in sort of fascistic societies? Or saying that people can't say the word "Gay," in classrooms? Or more recently, sort of firing six trustees, on the Board of Trustees, and more than doubling the salary of the President, in an effort to turn this thing into, like Liberty University, or something like that? This is really, culture - this is really leaning into the culture wars. It's clearly a Republican primary strategy.


JONES: I continue to believe that it does him a great disservice in a general election, when he will have to justify and explain all this. BURNETT: And OK, so, here's the question. So, I understand exactly what you're saying.

And then, you say, "Well, is he playing checkers? Or is he playing chess?"

And if he's playing chess, Harry, he's looking at and saying, "Talking about an Honors College that hasn't fulfilled its mission, is going to work, because I can go make a conservative if I want. But a lot of people are going to hear me about education underperforming, and a lot of people are really worried about that who aren't necessarily in my base," right?

ENTEN: Yes, I mean, I would be playing Candy Land, to be honest, not chess, or checkers.

But here's the deal. If you look at the dissatisfaction with public education, among Republicans?


ENTEN: It, right now, is sky-high. It's 78 percent. Compare that to pre-Pandemic, when it was 58 percent, Republicans dissatisfied--


ENTEN: --with the quality of public education.

But look at Americans overall here. And this will also give you a good picture of what's shaking. And what we see is that the percentage of Americans dissatisfied with the quality of public education is 68 percent. That's up a little bit since 2020.

But, on this issue, I think the question is, are Americans going to hear the specifics that Ron DeSantis is talking about? Are we going to - or are they going to hear him just railing against public education at large? Because if it's the general, he's in much better position than if it's the specifics, in my mind.

BURNETT: Well, and he's really trying out this education, not indoctrination, right?


BURNETT: That's what he wants to stick?

HOOVER: And well, and he's also - I mean, to make it - look, he's not a traditional conservative. He's more of a conservative populist, right? And so, he's, it's like the conservative - no traditional conservative would take on Disney, one of the biggest employers, in your state, and penalize them, because you don't like their--

BURNETT: Politics.

HOOVER: --their language politics.


HOOVER: Frankly, the politics are around language.

I mean, here, he's saying, "We have been giving money, public funds, to a public university, and it has been underperforming. If we're going to be giving money, let's at least make sure that it's doing a job."

BURNETT: My ideology is on--

HOOVER: And I agree with the message, right? It's like by the way, this is something that is eminently undoable, by the next guy, who follows you. So, it's not a great long-term strategy unless he can prove that it's successful.


HOOVER: As a real education reforms at a higher level.

AVLON: It's also, according to its new mission, the opposite of "Education, not indoctrination."

If you want to have a place, committed to free thinking, if you want to improve the educational standards? Absolutely. Should there be more balance between liberal and conservatives, on campuses, like that if you're genuinely into free thinking? Absolutely.

But he seems to be making this a public taxpayer-funded ideological exercise, to the extreme. Now, look, it has worked for him to date. He did a lot of the smash-mouth politics, playing to the base, before his reelection. He won by 20 points. A lot of these issues he takes on that horrify liberals don't necessarily poll badly, as Harry has shown us consistently.


AVLON: But this, using taxpayer dollars, to create a ideological right-wing university, on the public dime?


AVLON: That contradicts the core claim that this is all about trying to remove politics from education.

JONES: I also want to push back on this idea that he's a populist, in some way, right? So, yes, he may be taking on one institution that disagrees with him that finds itself adverse to him, in some way.

But it's not like this guy's out here, supporting minimum wage increase, or taking on Big Sugar, this massive industry, in the State of Florida, or doing any other things that like you see sort of more populist people, including some Republicans, in the Senate, these days, trying to do.


AVLON: Yes. That's a different kind of populist.

HOOVER: It's a conservative populist.


BURNETT: Conservative populist.

HOOVER: Conservative populist.

BURNETT: Harry, in terms of his decision-making, though, we talk about Biden, right, where this has circled back--


BURNETT: --I know we began, Biden taking, as you say, as long as he wants to announce?


BURNETT: Different calculus for DeSantis. But how does he play it? Because he doesn't - he's not announced. And he's polling.


BURNETT: So, does he just wait?

ENTEN: Well, it was funny. I was just crunching the numbers, before we went on the air. And what I did find was that the number of candidates, who get an earlier than the median candidate, more of them win the nomination than those who get in later. That is on the hall, candidates who get in earlier, tend to win than those who get in later.


ENTEN: That doesn't necessarily always hold right. But when you look at this overall, I would - Donald Trump, who right now, I think, in most people's minds, is the favorite, for the Republican nomination, if not a wholesale favorite? He is somebody, who's been in this race, for a long period of time.

And the other thing, which I think back to 2016 and the 2015 cycle, what I recall, yes, I do recall him going down the elevator, or down the escalator.

AVLON: Escalator.

HOOVER: Escalator.


ENTEN: But I also remember him forming an exploratory committee, in March of that year, long before a lot of other people did.

BURNETT: Yes. All right. Well I think of how early that is, relative to where we are this cycle. AVLON: Yes.

BURNETT: All right, thank you all.

And next, a "New York Times" investigation shows an American aid worker was targeted, by a guided missile, in a deliberate Russian attack. That missile attack was captured on video. And I'm going to speak to the reporter, who broke the story.

And the demand for answers, from the Biden administration, over the downed Chinese spy balloon, and what's above us (ph), Neil deGrasse Tyson joins me. What does the giant, in the world of science, think about all the speculation now, about extraterrestrial life?


BURNETT: Tonight, a "New York Times" investigation shows an American aid worker, in Ukraine, was targeted, and was killed by a guided missile, in a deliberate Russian attack.

Now, we're going to walk you through exactly what the investigation shows.

First, witnesses tell CNN that U.S. Marine veteran, Pete Reed, had just arrived, on the scene, in the eastern city of Bakhmut, where some of the fiercest fighting is happening, right now. He was helping a woman, who was hurt. And then, just one minute later, he came under attack himself.


Now, the "New York Times" has done some incredible reporting here, in slowed-down video of the deadly strikes. You can see the missile, frame-by-frame. They report that it is a laser-guided anti-tank missile that can be fired, from three miles away.

Now, Reed's wife spoke to Jake Tapper, today, and said this was a deliberate attack, likely from Russian forces.



A lot of people would say, "Why did he go over there? Why did he put himself in harm's way?" But it was because of that care that he had for people, it really weighed heavily on him, if anyone was suffering.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a "New York Times" Bureau chief, who did an incredible amount of reporting, and analysis, for this investigation.

And Thomas, I really appreciate your time. So, you shared stills with us, from your investigation, of the video that show Pete Reed, standing next to a white van that they were using as a makeshift ambulance, to transport humanitarian supplies.

And I do want to warn our viewers, before showing the next image, for everyone to understand, because this is of the strike.


BURNETT: This image, as you slowed it down, that is the missile hitting the van. At that moment, we now know Reed was killed.

Thomas, can you walk me through how you determined that this was a targeted attack?


So, I think when we think of Bakhmut? I've spent time there. I met Pete Reed, in December, in Eastern Ukraine. We think of a lot of indiscriminate shelling, kind of hitting wherever there are Ukrainian positions, or some places, in the city.

But if you look at the video, that's obviously not indiscriminate. It's an anti-tank guided missile, fired from a position. And in order to fire that weapon, at a target, you need to be able to see what you're shooting at.

So, if you, again, slowing down the video? We have an incredible visual investigations team that looked at the angle of the shot, and measuring, looking at both the missile type that can be caught on camera, and the direction in which it's fired. You can tell that it came from roughly Russian positions, where they had their frontline.

BURNETT: And just to understand, Thomas, from what I understand, from this video, right? He pulls up, in that makeshift ambulance, along with other medics, and because there's been an incident, right, someone had been hit? And they run over to help them. So, this happens.

And then, the strike happens. And after the strike, there's the sound of incoming shelling, as the camera continues to roll, for 20 minutes.

So, this is the context before and after.

I mean, so when you say "Guided," OK, that means it was aimed. But then there's the question of intent. Is there any way that the people, who fired and aimed the missile, did not know who they were aiming at that these were medics helping Ukrainian civilians?

GIBBONS-NEFF: So, Pete's vehicle is the white van that was targeted. It doesn't have any clear indication that it is an ambulance. However, pictures taken prior to that event showed that it did actually indeed have a Red Cross. But other vehicles there that had stopped, I think there are roughly around four to five vehicles that had come to that scene, were marked in one way or another, that they were an ambulance or aid workers.

So, the idea that, indeed, the shooter, or the Russians, who fired, most likely fired the weapon, could tell? I mean, that's tough to debate because, at range, what kind of, what they could see, what they couldn't see, they might have just been able to see a few blobs, in the distance, and decided to fire.

BURNETT: Right. Now, I just add this context, so everyone understands. I mean, witnesses, who spoke to CNN, describe the attack as a prime example of Russia targeting medics, and what are also called the double taps, right, which is, they hit a target, they wait a few minutes, for first responders, and then they hit the same spot again.

Now, obviously, here, they didn't exactly even hit the same spot. They actually hit the vehicle that had pulled up.

But does this - when you put it all together, and your investigation sort of frame-by-frame, does that sound like what happened?

GIBBONS-NEFF: I think judging at where in the city that this strike took place, two miles behind frontlines? It was an elevated position. It was obviously a target of opportunity, for any Russians that were observing the area.

The fact that they could see this spot, fire an anti-tank guided missile, in a direct line, instead of using a mortar, or a Howitzer that uses, goes in an arc, and lands randomly, kind of shows that they had been watching the area.

And it's tough to kind of say this is a double tap, or not, as the woman, wounded that they had responded to, was a way to lure them there? I think that's something that investigators--


GIBBONS-NEFF: --have just taken up, as a war crime case, will be looked at, pretty heavily.

BURNETT: Yes, I mean, I know you've talked to some experts about this. Sort of what is their instinct on whether it's a war crime?


GIBBONS-NEFF: I think, talking to the embassy, talking to people with HRW, it's certainly a - it's been called a potential war crime. Again, it's going to take a lot of investigation, to determine what exactly the Russians could or could not see, and yes, the marking of the vehicles, around the site.

BURNETT: All right. Well Thomas, I really appreciate your time, and showing all of that.

And just important for everyone to understand, what really happened, and for somebody, who really went, and sacrificed their life, to try to make a difference, as his wife said.

Thank you.

GIBBONS-NEFF: Thanks for having me.

BURNETT: Next, our investigation, after the Chinese government claimed the spy balloon shot down over the U.S. was a weather balloon, with important perspective, from Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the space race that the U.S. right now is losing.

Plus, alive, a couple rescued after more than 200 hours, in the rubble, of that catastrophic earthquake. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me tonight, from Turkey.


BURNETT: Tonight, the U.S. is still not able to call, the three objects, shot down by the United States, over the course of three days, anything but objects!

National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, says one leading explanation, is that the objects, shot down, over Alaska, Canada and Michigan, over the weekend, were tied to some commercial-yet-benign purpose.

But this is not satisfying White House critics, who are demanding more answers.



SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): I don't think they're being transparent enough. And I think that's got to change.


BURNETT: All right, meanwhile, an OUTFRONT investigation, tonight, from our Selina Wang, in Beijing, showed six Chinese entities that produce Chinese spy balloons, and are blacklisted, by the United States, openly talking about, their words, killer military capabilities, of their products.

And then, one of them, I mean, this is really incredible, I'll just show you. This was one of their founders had put the screen up, in a presentation, and points to the balloon, and says, "Oh, look, there's the United States, just fly right over." So, there you have it.

OUTFRONT now, Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He is also the Author of "Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization," and many other books that I hope people get.

OK. But, so Neil, let's just start here with this - they're bragging about flying over the U.S. What's your reaction, as you hear this whole story, and have watched this unfold? NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: By the way, if you lift balloons high enough, from the west of the United States, that's what they will do, because these are the prevailing jet streams that move a floating object, circulating around the Earth. So, to say they're like targeting the U.S. - the wind does that for free.


DEGRASSE TYSON: So, I just want to put that out there.

BURNETT: I mean, that's why they're so cheap!


BURNETT: Right? The wind does - the wind does the propulsion?

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes. Yes. The wind is your jet stream, in this. And so, not only that. By the way, just for context, a 1,000 or so weather balloons are launched every day, around the world.


DEGRASSE TYSON: And loaded with the helium, they get very high, they get very large, and they float. The way a drop of oil, at the bottom of water, will float to the top. Slowly, but it'll get there. And then, when it gets there, it kind of hovers there. And it'll move wherever the water currents will take it.

So, by analogy, I'm just saying this is not a new phenomenon that you might find balloons in the air. The fact that--

BURNETT: Sorry, yes.

DEGRASSE TYSON: No. Just A. B, that first balloon, the one that we are certain was from China?


DEGRASSE TYSON: It was very large, you know?

BURNETT: Three buses, or something.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes, something, like that in length. And just the idea that we should feel threatened by something that is large, and slow- moving, that you can pop? I don't know, I just--


DEGRASSE TYSON: --I don't know. I'm more casual about this, a bit.

BURNETT: You make me feel better.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes, maybe I should be.

BURNETT: You make me feel better because, John Bolton was on. Ambassador John Bolton earlier was on talking about that-- DEGRASSE TYSON: I caught that interview, yes.


BURNETT: --could use a nuclear, you know, use it as a nuclear, delivery system.

So, but I guess the separate part from this, is the U.S.-China space race. I know here we're talking near space, right? We're sort of in that in the middle--

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes. Who's going to control the new high ground?



BURNETT: And so, the Space Force Lieutenant General, of the U.S., Nina Armagno, said recently, "I think it's entirely possible they could catch up and surpass us, absolutely," talking about China. And you've got - they've got their own space station now, Tiangong, because we didn't work with them on the ISS. They went and did their own.

DEGRASSE TYSON: It's not that we didn't work with them.

BURNETT: They've got astronauts.

DEGRASSE TYSON: We didn't invite them.

BURNETT: We didn't invite them.

DEGRASSE TYSON: And we left them down--

BURNETT: They went and did it themselves.

DEGRASSE TYSON: We kicked them out of the sandbox. They built their own sandbox.


DEGRASSE TYSON: What do you expect them to do?

BURNETT: The NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson, says China could beat the U.S. to the Moon. I mean, we went once. But then, we didn't go for 30 years. So?

DEGRASSE TYSON: By the way, all this whining? I'm going to call it whining, because I feel strongly about this.

Had we continued on to the Moon, and stayed on the Moon, and on to Mars? We wouldn't be like looking over our shoulder now, wondering who's going to catch up with us. We would have stayed ahead of the world. So, to sit back, kick up our feet, for five decades, and then, all of a sudden say--

BURNETT: Right. DEGRASSE TYSON: --"Oh, let's build Artemis, and go back to the moon," well what's motivating you? "Well, China says they want to go back to the Moon."


DEGRASSE TYSON: So, let's be honest with ourselves that we're not being proactive, for the high ground. We're being reactive.

BURNETT: And on top of that, just so people understand, you're talking about unlimited resources of minerals?

DEGRASSE TYSON: Oh, yes, space.

BURNETT: Everything up there. I mean, it's not just for the bragging rights, right? That's all there.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes. You get that--

BURNETT: Never mind the Military aspect of hypersonic missiles--

DEGRASSE TYSON: You get that.

BURNETT: --and everything else.

DEGRASSE TYSON: But space basically has unlimited resources. Everything that's rare on Earth is common in space. Rare earth metals, even though they're just rare in location, they're not really rare in abundance.

But you'd look at things that we have fought wars over, access to energy, minerals, water? And there's no end of that in space. So, one of my dreams is that we turn space into our backyard. Earth turned space into its backyard. And upon doing so, it would remove an entire category of why we have ever fought wars, which is battling over access to limited resources.


DEGRASSE TYSON: So, I think space might be the best hope for peace, in the future of civilization.

BURNETT: And, of course, now looks like we're fighting over it.

So now, in the context of these objects, OK, three more objects are shot down. And as you point out, there's a lot of objects out there. But, and look, I look at a map of the world, and I see all the satellites up there.


BURNETT: And it's very terrifying because you're like, "Oh, my God, if those started raining down, we'd all be gone!"

[21:45:00] But now, this whole concept of extraterrestrial came up, right? And there had been congressional hearings, about this, about UFOs. And now, we find out most of them were Chinese spy balloons, or weather balloons, or whatever.

But, in the broader conversation, here, does this change your view at all, of the nature, the nature of extraterrestrial life?

DEGRASSE TYSON: No, not really, because we have greater capacity. I've used this phrase before, and I mean it, genuinely. Given the number of smartphones, in the world, today, 6 billion?


DEGRASSE TYSON: We are unwittingly crowdsourcing any possible alien invasion. Because everyone can take high-resolution video of it, post it instantly. And it would be viral, at least as viral as kittens jumping from the table to--

BURNETT: Oh, no, nothing is--

DEGRASSE TYSON: Nothing is - OK, OK. Well it'd be second--

BURNETT: Anything to do with cats, I think, is--

DEGRASSE TYSON: It would be - OK, then after cats, then aliens invading Earth, OK?

So, I think, I'd like it when people need an excuse to look up, right? Look up. And, by the way, the government doesn't want you to not look up. If a billion - hundreds of millions of people look up, and see things that could harm us.


DEGRASSE TYSON: I want the Military to investigate this.


DEGRASSE TYSON: But, by all means.


DEGRASSE TYSON: And so, it's just odd that we have expensive planes, and expensive missiles, to pop balloons. That's a little odd to me, but fine. Protect my airspace.

Now, do I think these are visiting aliens? It would be odd, if they were. Aliens moving across the galaxy, and it's dropping some balloons? Oh, well what alien would do that? I don't want to meet those aliens! I mean, that's--

BURNETT: Oh my god!

DEGRASSE TYSON: I don't want the low-tech aliens!

BURNETT: I mean, the low - I mean, wait, well it's high-tech, to think that you could come in and then launch a balloon.

DEGRASSE TYSON: Look, it's just--


DEGRASSE TYSON: I'm just I'm disappointed. No, yes, we don't know what they are. So, technically, they are UF - the first three, U, Unidentified Flying Object. The government called them a UAPs. That they were just rebranding.

BURNETT: Oh, they were trying to rebrand, because it seems so--

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes. Don't try to fool us here.

BURNETT: Before you leave, the stunning images, from the James Webb. What's your favorite so far?

DEGRASSE TYSON: Oh, I'd say, it is the Carina Nebula. Oh my gosh! It's, this is like--


DEGRASSE TYSON: Oh! Oh! Ah! I just have to bask, in the majesty of that image!


DEGRASSE TYSON: This is a gas cloud, a ridge of gas cloud.

And the James Webb Space Telescope, because it uses infrared light? Infrared can penetrate into gas clouds, where you bear witness, to the birth of stars, stellar nurseries, not only the birth of stars, but the birth of planets. And that's just in front of our nose.


DEGRASSE TYSON: And it does that in addition to looking at the birth of galaxies, in the early Universe.


DEGRASSE TYSON: It's a badass telescope. I'll just go ahead, and tell that.

BURNETT: And if it finds a balloon, then that are a lot of more high- tech--


DEGRASSE TYSON: Call me, if you find more.

BURNETT: All right, thanks so much, Neil.

DEGRASSE TYSON: All right, sure. BURNETT: And next, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, on the scene, in Turkey. Hospitals there are scrambling to save the injured, from the earthquake. It's already claimed more than 40,000 lives. But there are some incredible miracles tonight.



BURNETT: Tonight, rescuers in Turkey report, hearing voices coming from beneath the rubble. This is more than a week, after the earthquake. The voices, another miraculous tale of hope, amid the wreckage that has so far left more than 41,000 known dead, across Turkey and Syria.

Today, cameras caught a couple, being rescued alive, from the rubble of a five-storey building. They had been trapped, 209 hours, prior to that rescue.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been, in Turkey, today, at a hospital, where they're treating some of the survivors. And he joins me now.

I mean, Sanjay, you have seen horrific scenes, in your life, as you have traveled the world, to disasters. But what have you been witnessing, tonight, with the survivors that are being brought in, I guess, the stories of miracle tonight after so many hours.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They really are, I mean, day eight now, Erin. And when you think about this, many times, obviously it's been that many days.

But the space and time, to get these survivors now, to large trauma centers? It can just take some time, so many of the hospitals that are in the quake zone were destroyed themselves. So, one of the biggest trauma hospitals, here in Adana, is the one that's taking a majority of the patients.

So, even just after a few minutes of being there, the doctors we were talking to, they all got these pages. We ran up to the helipad. They brought in a patient on the helicopter. Just a couple hours, outside of a rescue, 26-year-old woman, who had been pinned, under the rubble, they were worried that she was developing Crush syndrome. So, they had to rush her in for emergent dialysis. And this was the process that they were describing to me that was just happening over and over.

I got to tell you as well, Erin, there was a rescue, of an 8-month-old baby, the most amazing story. I've seen disasters, all over the world, but hadn't heard of something like this.

The baby was actually hurtled out of the window, at the time of the earthquake, when the earthquake happened. And then, the building itself was just pancaked.

Mom survived, pinned herself, for 14 hours, eventually gets out, and is trying to dig through the rubble, for her baby. Can't find her baby, thinks her baby has died. Ultimately, a Good Samaritan had found the baby, taken the baby to the hospital, and were able to connect mom and baby at the hospital.

I mean, you see the worst of things, Erin. You see some remarkable things as well, people really rising up. And this is ongoing, seven, eight days out, now.

BURNETT: That's an incredible tale. I mean, gosh, it's, you know?

GUPTA: Yes, yes.

BURNETT: So, when you - some of these people, with 200 hours, and they've been in situations, I mean, obviously, I guess some sort of an air pocket, obviously, but no food or water. I mean, how are they surviving?


BURNETT: And I also should emphasize, of course, it's been frigid.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, you think water alone, the lack of water, people surviving more than, say, 100 hours, would be unusual. And you look in places, like in Haiti and Nepal, places where we saw other earthquakes? That's what you often heard.


Most of the rescues take place, 90 percent, within the first 24 hours. Up to seven days or so after that, you might get another sort of surge of rescues.

But we're going on day eight now. I think the cold weather, as you mentioned, Erin, sort of is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes it very difficult. It's below freezing right now. On the other hand, it may reduce the demands, for water. Perhaps that's playing into this. It could be that there's some pools of water that people are able to tap into, to survive this long.

But, again, it's remarkable. And we don't know, really, what the human body is capable of. There's not a lot of data, on just how long people can survive, in these situations. But we're seeing those rescues, 200 hours out. I'm seeing those, just like you are.

BURNETT: It's just absolutely incredible. And we're so glad to have your eyes, and your heart, there, to see it. Thank you so much, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BURNETT: And thanks so very much to all of you for joining us tonight.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Alisyn Camerota is next.