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Erin Burnett Outfront

New Report: Russia Vastly Underreporting Losses On Battlefield; Rupert Murdoch Acknowledged Fox Hosts "Endorsed" Election Lies; DeSantis Kicks Off Book Tour, Releases Campaign-Style Video Touting His Record As Signs Point To 2024 Presidential Run; CNN Goes To Wuhan Labs At Center Of Lab Leak Theory. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 27, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, exclusive new numbers on Russia's staggering losses on the battlefield as Russian soldiers speak out tonight, telling the world they're, quote, cattle being taken to slaughter.

Plus, Rupert Murdoch today with a stunning confession under oath, admitting his Fox hosts endorsed, his word, Trump's election lies on air. And that's not all he's confessing as Fox fights a $1.6 billion lawsuit.

And an OUTFRONT investigation tonight, our David Culver traveled to the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, as the U.S. Department of Energy in a new report says the virus likely leaked out of that lab in Wuhan, China.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, exclusive new information about Putin's staggering losses. Russia has now suffered more combat deaths in Ukraine than in all of its wars combined since World War II.

This is according to a new analysis by the group CSIS, which has been tracking Putin's movements since before the war. You'll remember, we were bringing you those satellite images every day as the buildup happened.

The number of Russian deaths per month now, they say, is 25 times higher than it was in Chechnya, 35 times the number killed in Afghanistan. In a moment, we're going to have much more on this new analysis.

I also want to bring you tonight the new video we have into OUTFRONT that clearly shows the brutal and bloody battle going on the front lines now, where all this death is happening.

Here's a Russian tank being attacked near Vuhledar. Within seconds, the two men who survived take cover in another burnt-out tank. Ukraine spots that, and that tank is hit again. And then watch as this Russian tank on the horizon is destroyed by a

Ukrainian strike. All of this filmed. You can actually see that tank operator running for his life, literally running for his life. And the Russian fighters on the front line, they know this is happening. See the death, the death of their peers and they're angry that they're being sent to the slaughter.


RUSSIAN FIGHTER (through translator): All we have are small arms and shovels, which just ended up with us getting massacred. We've suffered losses, both dead and wounded. We are simple laymen with civilian jobs. And now they want to send us back out for another assault back to these fortified areas. In the 21st century, the greatest, strongest army of the world is sending people who responded to the call to defend their homeland like cattle to the slaughter.


BURNETT: Look at them again, as we've been pointing out, right, speaking as a group. And they are covering their faces for fear of perhaps the reprisal they could suffer if they are found out who they are. In a moment, we're going to go live to Moscow with more on the breakdown inside Putin's military, because that military is locked in that back and forth in Bakhmut. This has been going on for months.

This was a city. A year ago, it had a population of 73,000 people. The Ukrainian commander there posting on telegram that little will be left of Bakhmut and that, quote, Wagner fighters are attacking in all directions. Little will be left. Little is left.

Another commander on the ground posted this video.


UKRAINIAN COMMANDER (through translator): They want to encircle us. The situation's extremely difficult on the far northern flank. There are nonstop enemy assaults there. We do not have enough means for offensive actions. There are not enough shells, not enough hand grenade launchers.


BURNETT: Now, today, Ukrainian forces did finish some training on the U.S. M2 Bradley armored vehicles in Germany. Those are a step ahead of the Abrams, which is going to take some time to arrive and be trained on.

But for now, those Bradleys obviously could be crucial helping Ukraine Putin's troops.

Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT live in Moscow tonight.

And, Fred, Russia says they are close to encircling Bakhmut. Obviously, things have not gone smoothly, so many die for feet of territory every day. What are you learning? FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah,

first of all, Erin, I think it's absolutely clear the Russians are putting some pressure on the Ukrainians. They're in Bakhmut. Some of the Ukrainians are acknowledging themselves.

But on the whole, it seems as though the Russians are having issues, especially with some of those newly mobilized forces, that they mobilized at the end of last year. With some of these units now coming out and saying they don't really have a real command structure in some cases. And some of them are even finding themselves fighting on the side of people's militias in the Donbas region. And there are some pretty public calls for help.

Here's what we're seeing.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Russian defense ministry video from the war in Ukraine, showing Moscow's troops on the move, gaining ground, beating back Kyiv's forces.


But the reality, at least in some cases, seems different. These soldiers say they were mobilized from Irkutsk in Siberia and they're refusing to fight.

Due to the current state of affairs, we find ourselves in a desperate position as the commanders do not care about our lives, he says. And later adds, we ask for help, we have nowhere else to turn.

The video was published as the Ukrainians say they've decimated Russian forces trying to take Vuhledar in eastern Ukraine. And after a public spat between Yevgeny Prigozhin of the Wagner private military company and the Russian defense ministry over ammo supplies to Wagner around Bakhmut.

Well, Prigozhin says the issue has been resolved. He took another swipe at the defense ministry.

A big number of former soldiers who are now part of Wagner came here because they're looking for more creative freedom, since everyone understands the army doesn't always enable that.

When we asked Prigozhin whether ties with the defense ministry have been restored, a sneaky answer. Guys, you're CNN, enemy spies. Have a conscience. How can I discuss military issues with you, he wrote on the social media channel.

Wagner's forces say they've gained ground around document this weekend. Russian state media released this drone footage of the utter destruction there, and Ukrainians claim Wagner's losses are immense.

Former Putin adviser Sergei Markov tells me he doesn't believe Prigozhin uses his forces as cannon fodder because he owns them. SERGEI MARKOV, FORMER PUTIN ADVISER: Prigozhin, according to my

information, he tried to preserve their lives, because their lives are his property and his business.

PLEITGEN: Their lives are his property?


PLEITGEN: But while progress is hard to come by for his army, Russian President Vladimir Putin's shows no signs of backing down. Instead, he proclaims the Ukraine where it to be a conflict with the west.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, URSSIAN PRESIDENT (through interpreter): They have one goal. To break up the former Soviet Union and its main part, the Russian federation. For what? The push the remnants around, and put them under their direct control.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Erin, we can really see Vladimir Putin shifting into higher gear as he tries to mobilize the Russian nation. Today was the day of the special operations forces here in Russia, and Putin addressed Russia's special operations forces praising how they're fighting, the way he calls, the special military operation, and saying that they were protecting the Russian nation and Russian lands.

Now, the next big speech that Putin is going to have it going to happen in just a couple hours from now, when he addresses the intelligence service, the FSB, here in Moscow, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. We'll be waiting for that. Of course, Fred is there. Thank you so much, Fred, live from Moscow tonight.

And, now, Seth Jones, director of the International Security Program at the CFIS, the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was an adviser to the commanding general of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan and he wrote the new report that we mentioned at the top of the program.

Also with me, retired Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe, who spent a long time training Ukrainian troops.

So, thanks to both.

So, Seth, I want to start with you in new report, because you said the U.S. government was shocked at your finding, and obviously, you've been doing so much tracking of this, and troop buildups and satellites, since the beginning of the war, actually, since well before the beginning of the way. You found a number of Russian soldiers killed so far as good in the entire number of Russian soldiers killed in always combined since World War II. Can Putin continue at this pace?

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, that's unclear, Erin. He is going through Russian soldiers at an astounding rate. As our data shows, there are more dead Russian soldiers than all of those wars since World War II combined. That includes Afghanistan in the 1980s, that includes Chechnya in 2000s, that includes even the first couple of years of Ukraine and Syria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

So, Russia has not had to suffer these kinds of losses since World War II. Part of the answer depends on how much he can continue to lie and get away with it to his population, and his security service can continue to crack down on this population. But every day that goes by, it's going to be a more difficult job for Putin to keep the lid on the opposition.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, you've got numbers that large, even if you don't talk about them, the numbers start to speak for themselves. And General Hodges, it comes as this fighting and document is just so fierce and horrific. The Ukrainian commanders we were just talking about on the ground there, one says the Russians are now using air assault, flying three to five times a night.

He says regular Russian troops, those enlisted troops Seth is talking about, are afraid to advance, and the Wagner fighters, according to the Ukrainians, are attacking in, quote, all directions.


So, General, what do you take away from all these different pieces of what's happening on the frontline right now?

LT. GENERAL BEN HODGES, FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL OF U.S. ARMY EUROPE: Well, Erin, first of all, great work by Seth. That study is fascinating and provides some good context. But it's also interesting that the distribution of the origin of all these casualties -- the BBC put out a map yesterday, I think, or today, that shows almost zero casualties come from Moscow. Yet, the place that you and I discussed a few weeks ago, to Tuva, along with Varacha (ph), those are the places that are off the charts in terms of numbers that are killed.

And this is a traditional Russian way of doing things, to reach out into the hinterland's, to use ethnic minorities to bear the brunt of the fighting, just like the soldiers you showed a few minutes earlier. As long as you can do that, Moscow, the elites don't -- people don't feel it. So he's able to conceal it now.

BURNETT: And, you know, Seth, on that front, we did learn a few moments ago, according to the mayor of the city of Belgrade in Russia that three drones were found in that city. Now, we can't say that is where Ukrainian drones. We don't know enough to say that.

But it does raise the question, in light of other, you, know explosions that Russian bases and within Russia. What changes are you seeing and how Ukraine is fighting this war right now, in light of the Russian casualties, and of course, Ukrainian casualties as well?

JONES: Well, Ukrainians are also suffering significant casualties. What they are doing, I've talked to a range of Ukrainian forces on the frontlines, what they're saying is that wounded are coming back at rates that are much higher than the Russians. When Russian forces are wounded, they're not coming back to the battlefield. They don't want to. Understandable.

But in Ukrainian case, much higher numbers -- are also seeing a lot more innovation among Ukrainian forces and how they're using drones, not just the way I use them when I was in the government for strike or intelligence and surveillance, but for electronic warfare, for targeting, for artillery, and a range of other ways. The software they put together -- just innovation in many ways that shows they are a learning organization in ways that the Russian military is not right now.

BURNETT: And, General Hodges, in his report, Seth notes that, you know, earlier in the war, Russia controlled 30 percent of the Ukrainian territory, right, that they came in, and despite the failures in Kyiv, they had 30 percent of the country, the numbers down to 17 percent.

But when I watched the sort of movement on that, it doesn't change, right? I mean, in places like Bakhmut, it changes by a tenth of a percent over days. Thousands of lives are lost for that one tenth of a percent that then goes the other way a day later.

What does Ukraine need to do right now, General, to change the situation significantly?

HODGES: Well, I think the Ukrainian general staff is actually doing a very good job, at great loss, to stop this Russian offensive that you've been showing so graphically. That area is important, but it's not strategic. It's not decisive.

Yet, the Russians are willing to spend thousands of soldiers to take a town that, if Ukraine loses, it will only move the line a little bit further West. What really matters, of course, is Crimea. Without Crimea, Ukraine will never be safe or secure, and more importantly, it will never be able to rebuild its economy.

And big investors will not invest any Marshall Plan if there's no ironclad security guarantee for Ukraine. So, Crimea is the place. I think the general staff knows that. So they're building up an armored force they will use later, I think, May, June timeframe, away from this meat grinder, and instead go down to the southeast isolate Crimea.

That means that we have got to provide -- we've got to provide clarity. What's our desired end state, and that give capabilities, which means, really, long-range precision fires.

BURNETT: Long-range precision fires, of course, on that list of things they desperately said they want and don't yet have. F-16s as well.

Thank you both very much. I appreciate it, and Seth for sharing your report with us. And next, jaw-dropping new testimony from Rupert Murdoch,

acknowledging under oath that is fox hosts endorsed election lies. One of the nation's top constitutional law scholars says that Fox itself is an institution now could be in jeopardy. Laurence Tribe is OUTFRONT.

Plus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis defending his crusade against private companies like Disney.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: The Wall Street banks will not give alone to someone, say, in the firearm industry -- that's effectively changing gun rights in America.


BURNETT: And the Energy Department says COVID likely originated from that lab in Wuhan, China. Our David Culver travelled to the labs in Wuhan, and we'll see.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the labs within Wuhan, and of course, not too far from the market either.


BURNETT: That's tonight's OUTFRONT investigation.


BURNETT: New tonight, a damning admission. Rupert Murdoch, the titan who founded -- built Fox News, saying under oath that Fox anchors, quote, endorsed false election fraud claims on air, under oath.

According to a new filing, just out tonight, Murdoch acknowledge that Fox hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity spread election lies. And Murdock also then admitted that he wished that it had been handled differently. He wished the Fox had a forceful response to those lies.

He says in here and is filing, I would've liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight.

And, when he was asked what the consequences should be for Fox executives, who knowingly allowed these lives to be broadcast, Murdoch said under oath, quote, they should be reprimanded. They should be reprimanded, maybe got rid of.

I mean, these are remarkable quotes. I mean, Rupert Murdoch, this is his company. And they are part of a $1.6 billion dollar defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox over unproven fraud claims in the 2020 election.

OUTFRONT now, one of the nation's top constitutional law scholars, Laurence Tribe. He's a law professor at Harvard, First Amendment expert as well.

And, Professor Tribe, in this context, how significant is it, as you read through this, when Rupert Murdoch says his anchors endorsed election lies on air, and he admits that -- or he says, he wish Fox had stopped it.


LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: I think it's enormously significant, Erin. His regrets really don't make up for the lie. And it is a severe blow not only to Fox News and the Fox Corporation and all of the talking heads who, behind the scenes, but now on record are saying we know that we are lying, but it helps our bottom line.

What it does to all of them is expose them as liars for profit. What that means is enormously significant, quite apart from the $1.6 billion or more that I expect Fox News will have to pay to Dominion. Quite apart from that, it will change the national conversation. It's not going to be easy for any of these hosts to say to people, you know, we admitted on the slide that we made suckers of all of you, and now listen to us.

A lot of people who bought into the lie are going to think twice. I think that is going to change the national conversation going forward. That may be more important even than driving something like Fox News into bankruptcy.

The most important thing is resurrecting the belief in truth on the part of a lot of people who had been willing to accept the big lie.

BURNETT: So, on terms of the defense, you know, they are trying to prevent this $1.6 billion, I mean, this is massive. Murdoch denied that Fox itself endorsed the false narrative of stealing an election. He said it was just some of their anchors.

I want to read from a transcribed portion of this, as you can hear the argument, Professor, and our viewers can hear it. Murdoch is asked, quote, in fact, are you -- I'm sorry, in fact you are now aware that Fox endorsed at times this false notion of a stolen election. Murdoch replies, quote, not Fox, no Fox. But maybe Lou Dobbs, maybe Maria as commentators.

And the back and forth continues. Question, we went through Fox host Maria Bartiromo. Yes, yes, come on. Fox host Jeanine Pirro. I think so. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. Oh, a lot. Fox host Sean Hannity. A bit.

All were in that document, correct? Yes, they were. About Fox endorsing the narrative of a stolen election, correct? Here he answers, Professor -- no, some of our commentators were endorsing it.

So he's trying to act as if people who are anchors and hosting hours on his networks, Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro are what? Are not Fox? Because they're anchors?

And he's not even saying they're anchors. He is trying to say they're commentators, which is inaccurate.

TRIBE: The whole thing makes no sense. You know, Fox is not a real thing. It's a corporation.

It doesn't have a brain. It's not even an artificial intelligence. It's a bunch of people. And if the CEO of this corporation says, oh, yes, we wanted to keep the lie going because it helped our bottom line, and if all of their voices of Fox echo the lie and say behind the scenes, yeah, we know we're lying, but the Fox isn't lying, that really is an extraordinary, extraordinary myth.

I've got news for you, everybody. There is no Fox. It's just a bunch of people, and they're all lying and they're admitting they're lying, deliberately lying, meeting the test of "New York Times" v. Sullivan, deliberate falsehood that ruins reputations can expose you to damages.

Wake up, that's the law. And it's very clearly not on the side of Fox, whether Fox exists or not.

BURNETT: And, you know, Fox says -- their statement says, in part, they call these damages fanciful -- fanciful damages. Do you believe that Fox really could go away because of this?

And I suppose that's a separate question from whether their viewers lose trust in them. Some of their viewers are not going to pay any attention because they don't care. And maybe some will. But this is a business question. Is Fox News in real jeopardy?

TRIBE: Well, I'm not a business expert. But I do know that common sense tells you that when people are told you're a bunch of suckers, if you want to keep listening to us, you're suckers. That's not likely to win trends and influence people. And that's the bottom line, whether their insurance will bail them out or not, that's a different question.


All right. Well, thank you very much, Professor Tribe. As always, appreciate it.

TRIBE: Thank you.

BURNETT: Next, Governor Ron DeSantis, synonymous with Florida, now talking about his roots in Pennsylvania and Ohio.


And the U.S. Energy Department says the COVID pandemic likely began from that lab leak in Wuhan, China. Our David Culver was there in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic. He tried to get access to those labs again and again. So, we were covering it again. We're going to share with you now what he found. That OUTFRONT investigation is next.


BURNETT: New tonight, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis putting an end to half a centuries worth of independence for Disney. DeSantis signing a bill that gives him more power over the company after it spoke out against his preferred policies, and he sent this warning.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end. There's a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.


BURNETT: Well, DeSantis is kicking off a tour for his new book, and, of course, the growing speculation is that that is really something that will come ahead of his soon to be launched presidential bid.

Let's go straight to Steve Contorno. He just reading an advanced copy of DeSantis' book.

So, Steve, you can't run for president without a book. So, first comes the book, then comes the candidate. He does talk about Donald Trump a lot in this book.

What does he say about him?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it's really fascinating to see how Governor DeSantis differentiates himself from Donald Trump in this book. But he largely actually steers clear of any major swipes at the former president. In fact, he praises him for his massive crowds and his star power.


But he does take a couple subtle jabs, some gentle nudges at the former president in ways that might suggest how he will differentiate himself from Trump on the campaign trail. For example, he points out how little Republicans got done during President Trump's first two years in office when they controlled both the White House and both chambers of Congress. Meanwhile, that comment is juxtaposed against many examples of DeSantis getting a whole bunch of his legislative priorities passed with his Republican legislature in Florida. Say what you want about DeSantis, he's been hugely consequential here. Meanwhile, Trump, DeSantis points out, couldn't get money to build a wall.

He also shows that Trump -- he sets a new narrative for that whole endorsement that he received from Trump in 2018. Trump has been going around telling people that DeSantis begged for that endorsement, cried to get it, said he was going to drop out of the race because he was doing so poorly unless he would get it.

And DeSantis says, look, yes, I asked for that endorsement because I thought it would help, but I didn't think it was the only thing I needed. He actually had a pretty telling passage where he kind of undercuts Trump's attempt to paint himself as some kind of kingmaker in the GOP. He writes, and I quote, I do not think Republican primary voters are

sheep who simply follow an endorsement from a politician they like without individual analysis. But I do believe that a major endorsement can put a candidate on the radar of GOP voters in a way that boosts a good candidate's prospects. I knew that a Trump endorsement would provide me exposure to GOP primary voters across the state of Florida, and I was confident that many would see me as a good candidate once they learned about my record.

Now, DeSantis went on to say that he thinks his debate performance and not the Trump endorsement ultimately won him the race. But, Erin, I covered that race in 2018. I was on the ground here. And the wind really shifted when Trump made that endorsement of DeSantis. And I think DeSantis' primary opponent would've said it was a dud flow as well.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Steve.

So, I want to go now to Bakari Sellers, former Democratic state representative from South Carolina, and David Urban, former senior adviser to the Trump campaign. Of course, knows DeSantis as well. So, David, how long could DeSantis have it both ways, right? Giving Trump credit for his political ascendance and saying, oh, I've done it all myself, you know, it was nice to get the introduction, but I had to win over the room.

They are going to be going against each other in a death match here, David.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: True. And Steve's reporting is correct. So, Erin, I do believe -- he ran against Adam Putnam, a very good candidate when he was running, and the Trump endorsement made the difference. But two things can be true at the same time. Ron DeSantis has governed very effectively and consequentially in the state of Florida. He has been a very effective governor without Donald Trump's help.

So I think that's what you'll see DeSantis, if he was listening to my advice, I'd say acknowledge the former president's help, he helped me get there, but I've stood on my own two feet since I've been here. And if you like what I've done -- he's going to run on his record this session in Florida. And at the end of May, June, he's going to get in the race and point to all of the things he's accomplished.

So, I think he's going to try to have it both ways.

BURNETT: Hmm. I mean, interesting, you're saying end of May, June, the timing, whether he waits that long.

Bakari, in an interview to promote the book, DeSantis defended stepping into these fights with private companies like Disney. We just heard called it the corporate kingdom, even as other rivals for 2024, declared and undeclared, say government intervention and private enterprise goes against Republican values. He doesn't care. It's not if suddenly trying to dodge it here. He's, like, no, no, this is what I think, and here's why. Here's part of what he said.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: If Wall Street banks will not give a loan to someone, say, in the firearm industry, that's effectively changing gun rights in America. Not getting any votes to do that, they're not winning any elections to do that. But they're bringing power to bear in a way that does affect public policy.

So, I think you have to look at how the government's become un-moored from unconstitutional accountability. And I think you have to look at these other institutions that are exercising, effectively, public power.


BURNETT: And, Bakari, DeSantis has no problem defending himself here. He's like he's saying, fine, bring it on. I don't care about traditional conservative or Republican values, right? I am what I am. Is that what he's saying? I'm a populist and not a Republican, and live with it?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do believe so. And I think that Ron DeSantis is echoing something that traditional conservatives have had an issue with for a very long period of time, which is that you cannot tell what the Republican Party is anymore. You have Ron DeSantis who is literally allowing his government in Florida to intervene in free market enterprise, to intervene in private companies, to take over Walt Disneyworld.

These things are absurd if you want to talk about traditional Republican values.


And he uses this bit-of-word salad to effectively say that this is what he's doing, it's a new form of populism. Those words are decently oxymoronic. This is a new type of path that Donald Trump charted. He's going to find himself in trouble, however, Erin, when he tries to thread this needle because you can't be Donald Trump light, which is what he's trying to be and what he's trying to do. You saw Donald Trump tout these populist tunes, and sometimes when you closed your eyes in 2016 you couldn't tell the difference between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in terms of the economic policies.

BURNETT: Right, right.

SELLERS: He's trying to look at some of those things. He's going to have to stand up to Donald Trump. And David even knows that Ron DeSantis maybe afraid to take a punch from Donald Trump.

BURNETT: So, David, you know, DeSantis is also now trying to go beyond Florida in a lot of ways. When he did that interview with Mark Levin, he talked about, oh, sure, I'm from Florida but I'm also from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Here he is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DESANTIS: I grew up in a town called Dunedin, Florida, which is in the Tampa, St. Petersburg area. My parents -- my father's from western Pennsylvania. My mother's from northeastern Ohio. So, that is like steel country -- that is blue collar salt of the earth.

And as you know, Mark, Florida is very eclectic. People come from all over. We do have a culture and so I grew up in that culture. But really it was kind of those Rust Belt values that raised me.


BURNETT: Okay. So, David, you spent a career dealing in Pennsylvania politics as well as nationally. Is this going to work from him? I'm from Dunedin, but I'm also, but I have the Rust Belt values.

URBAN: So, listen, Ron DeSantis' father and I are from the same hometown, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. So, I'm all for that. He's a Steelers' fan. Look, he's got family in Youngstown, Ohio. I bet he's going to find some family in Macomb County, Michigan, right? All these very important places.

BURNETT: Going to find them, yeah.

URBAN: They're going to be there.

But, really, I mean, Ron DeSantis does have a claim to being -- you know, his family is kind of from Western Pennsylvania. And he's made no -- he's talked about it before in the past. The first time I really had an interaction with him, we kind of shared that we're both from Aliquippa. His father is from Aliquippa. So, he's proud of it.

I don't think people are proud of their roots. Bakari gets it. People get it. You want to run on that.

BURNETT: And, Bakari, here's the thing. He's proud of his roots and yet he's Ivy League educated. He says to Mark Levin, I get to Yale, I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn't even know colleges were liberal.

OK, I find that hard to believe. But, OK, let's have the credulity here. I got through Yale and Harvard and came out more conservative than when I went in. So he really is trying to have it all. And I guess, Bakari, do you think it's smart that he brings up this Yale/Harvard education that he would scorn, you know, if he didn't have it?

SELLERS: No. It's not smart. This is a terrible, terrible path that he's going down because he's trying to be all things to all people. And one of the things Donald Trump did in 2016 in the Republican Party was embrace who he was, flaws and all. He said, look, I used the bathroom in a gold toilet but I still care about poor, right? He embraced the kind of ivory tower billionaire aura that he was.

And what Ron DeSantis is trying to do -- Ron DeSantis has soft hands, never really had to work hard. He went to Yale. He's from Florida. Embrace who you are, and people will love that authenticity. They don't like fake anything.


SELLERS: I don't think Ron DeSantis was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. I think he got to Yale playing baseball and having good grades. And, look, it's an American success story. Everybody wants their kids to go to the best schools possible. So, I don't think people are going to begrudge him for that at all. I don't think he's authentic on that and I think he should stick to it.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much. I appreciate it.

And, next, China denies a new report from the Department of Energy, saying COVID-19 leaked from a lab in Wuhan. Our David Culver was there in Wuhan going to those labs as the first cases were being reported. He's OUTFRONT and his investigation is next.

And the brother of disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh, who's on trial for the murders of his wife and son, breaking down on the stand today.



BURNETT: Tonight, calling out China. The U.S. ambassador to China tonight demanding the country, quote, be more honest about the origin of COVID-19. This after a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy found the virus likely resulted from a lab leak in Wuhan where the first cases of the virus appeared. The Chinese government tonight, as usual, is denying the lab leak theory.

Our David Culver has this OUTFRONT investigation on what he witnessed when travelled what is still ground zero for COVID-19.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wuhan, China, you know it as the city from which COVID-19 first emerged. But how exactly it started depends on who you ask and who you believe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to have to push China to be more honest about what happened three years ago in Wuhan with the origin of the COVID-19 crisis.

CULVER: The U.S. Energy Department just the latest agency to assess with low confidence that the virus likely came from a lab leak. That according to two sources.

It's a claim that infuriates Chinese officials.

China's foreign ministry Monday calling on the U.S. to stop smearing China and stop politicizing the issue of the virus origin.

Our first of three trips to Wuhan investigating the virus' outbreak was in January 2020 when COVID-19 was still a mystery illness. Officially, China had only listed about 200 cases of COVID-19 at that point, including three deaths. But our reporting revealed the real number of infected was far greater, and the crowded lunar New Year travel rush was underway, allowing COVID to spread rapidly.

Security outside the original epicenter, the Huanan seafood market told us to leave. Chinese officials linked some of the cases to this market, suggesting it might've started naturally, jumping from animals to humans.

But as the virus went global, the U.S. and other democracies further questioned its origins.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: China is a very sophisticated country, and they could have contained it.

CULVER: The claim of a lab leak, but the focus and scrutiny on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a 30-minute drive from the market, the high-level bio safety lab sits on the institute's sprawling campus, a four-story structure.


At the top, a sophisticated air purification system. At the bottom and underneath the lab, decontamination equipment that allows for safe sewage disposal.

The research takes place on the second floor. Have the Chinese themselves even raised concerns in 2018? At the time, the WIB's director Yuan Zhiming, coauthored a paper pointing out safety issues across all bio safety labs in China. He warned, in part, that there was a lack of enough operable technical standards.

But there is another lower-level bio safety level in Wuhan. The Wuhan Center for Disease Control. Research was also conducted here, including that of bats and coronaviruses.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): I do believe because it was at a level two facility, not level four. Level two is very low-grade security that it did leak out as they are trying to create this monster in the virus with an eye towards creating a vaccine.

CULVER: We drove by the Wuhan Center for Diseases Control in 2021, located just a couple of blocks from the Huanan seafood market, in fact. The Chinese government has repeated repeatedly denied claims that the virus was released from the lab. And its state media unleashed a relentless propaganda campaign, using digital articles, TV reports, documentaries, even a rap song.

The aim: to sow doubt and deflect blame. They've also pushed conspiracy theories, including a lab leak, not a lab in Wuhan. But this one, Fort Dietrich in the United States, the home of a U.S. Army biological laboratory.

Though there is no evidence the virus leaked from here, that has not stopped Chinese officials from pushing their version of a lab leak theory.

Monday's response from the foreign ministry also cited the World Health Organization, which throughout the outbreak, regularly echoed the Chinese government's narrative, taking them at their word.

In January 2021, the WHO sent a team of international experts into Wuhan to research the origins. But that was already more than a year after the initial outbreak. The team initially considered the lab leak theory to be highly unlikely. But when the WHO requested a second field visit for more research, China said no.


CULVER (on camera): So, Erin, as you listen to all this reporting, you see that there doesn't really seem to be a unanimous decision or a conclusion from the intelligence, right? But the majority of the intelligence community still leaned towards this either having occurred naturally or that there just isn't enough evidence to make a decision either way.

Put that all aside, though, and you saw all the propaganda. And you and I have been talking about this for nearly three years, it feels. And the propaganda is starting to penetrate into the population. So while they may not, in China, believe that it started in the U.S., it's caused enough of noise and deflection and blame to really sow enough doubt that really just muddies the water, and that's what the Chinese narrative is hoping for ultimately from the government perspective.

BURNETT: Right, right, muddy the waters enough and people can't see through.

All right. Thank you very much, David Culver. It's incredible to think about that.

Well, next, emotional testimony from the brother of the once prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh who is accused of murdering his wife and his son.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw blood, I saw brains. I saw pieces of skull.


BURNETT: Senator John Fetterman remains hospitalized tonight nearly two weeks after checking himself into Walter Reed for clinical depression. We have an update on his condition.



BURNETT: Tonight, the defense rests in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial. Attorneys for Murdaugh, once prominent attorney, accused of killing his wife and son, called their final witnesses today, including Murdaugh's brother who broke down describing how he cleaned up the blood soaked crime scene once police left.

Dianne Gallagher is OUTFRONT.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The defense resting its case in the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial with its final witnesses today. The defense calling two experts to the stand trying to poke holes and create doubt around the state's timeline of what happened the night of June 7th when Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were killed.

A pathologist questioning how the time of death was initially calculated by the county coroner.

DR. JONATHAN EISENSTAT, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: By far, the best methodology is to do a core body temperature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And an ambient temperature, yes.

EISENSTAT: And an ambient temperature, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, tell me what you learned by sticking your hand under the arm pit of a deceased?

EISENSTAT: You wouldn't learn anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That impression --

GALLAGHER: And a crime scene analyst.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The individual who shot first with the shotgun minimally was stunned, probably blood and material in his eyes. And maybe injured and would have taken some degree of time to recover.

GALLAGHER: Once again floating the defense's two shooter theory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me, it is structurally difficult for the same shooter to have it along two arms and no practical reason for that to happen. Add that to what I believe happened to the shooter who fired first with the shotgun and I think it tips in favor of the probability of two shooters.

GALLAGHER: The state pushing back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You referred to Paul being shot in the back of the head kind of like an explosion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm not a physicist or anything here, but when you fire a shotgun, things are going in a direction that they're going to spiral, right?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So there wouldn't be just like a boom explosion like from a bomb, when you fire a shotgun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, that's more exactly what it would be like, yes.

GALLAGHER: Closing out the day and the defense's case, emotional testimony from the final witness, Alex Murdaugh's younger brother John Marvin Murdaugh who testified about cleaning the crime scene the next day.

JOHN MARVIN MURDAUGH, BROTHER OF ACCUSED: Y'all can imagine what I experienced.


It had not been cleaned up. I saw blood, I saw brains, I saw pieces of skull. When I say brains, it could just be tissue. I don't know. It was terrible.

GALLAGHER: But during cross examination the prosecution called back to Alex Murdaugh's own testimony when he admitted to lying about being at the kennels before the murders happened there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you agree that is not full cooperation?

MURDAUGH: By him not telling SLED that he was at the kennel?


MURDAUGH: I would say that, yes. He lied.


GALLAGHER: Now, the jury is going to be leaving the courtroom, taking a trip to Moselle, the Murdaugh family property, where the murders happened. The judge granted the defense request for the visit today. But before any of that happens the state still has its rebuttal period. The prosecutor saying they are planning to call four to five witnesses tomorrow.

BURNETT: All right. Dianne, thank you very much. She has been covering this trial from the very beginning and we appreciate it.

And next, Senator Fetterman still hospitalized after nearly two weeks. We are learning more about his health tonight. That's next.


BURNETT: Tonight, Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman still hospitalized nearly two weeks after he checked himself into Walter Reed for clinical depression. Today, Fetterman's office released a statement acknowledging his recovery will be a weeks long process. Fetterman originally checked himself into Walter Reed after feeling light headed a week earlier. He is, of course, still recovering from the stroke he suffered last May.

Thanks so much for joining us. "AC360" begins now.