Return to Transcripts main page

Erin Burnett Outfront

New Video Shows Russians Refusing To Fight Putin's War: "Put Us In Jail"; New Court Filings $1.6B Defamation Suit Against Fox News; Mexico Kidnapping Survivor Tells Mom She Saw Two Friends Die; Mexico Kidnapping Survivors Speak To Investigators Amid Search For Suspects Who Killed Two Americans; Source: Autopsies Completed For Two Americans Killed In Mexico Kidnapping, Bodies To Be Sent to U.S. Tomorrow. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 08, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, pleased to go to prison. Russian soldiers on camera begging their commander to lock them up so they don't have to fight. This is an activist who spent nearly two years in Russian prison, who's here with me tonight with a warning and a message to others who bravely speak out in Russia.

Plus, new court documents in the Dominion forces Fox case just coming out as we learn more about how Tucker Carlson said one thing on camera about Trump, and the complete and total opposite behind the scenes.

And is climate change making air travel more dangerous? I'm going to talk to Captain Sully Sullenberger who made that miraculous emergency landing in the Hudson River.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, put us in jail. That's a direct request from Russian soldiers.

In a new video that we have OUTFRONT tonight, you're going to hear a conversation. This conversation is between mobilized Russian soldiers and their commander. The men are angry about their orders. One of them surreptitiously taping this and make it clear that they would rather be put behind bars than die in Putin's war.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): Are we specialists, or something? You don't want us to refuse? We better go to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) jail. Put everyone in jail. We'll stay there. No one will go there to attack.

How long is? Five, seven U.S.? Ten? Don't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)! At least I will be alive and not giving the rest of our life away for whom? For what?

RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): I have no right to put you in jail.

RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): My life is dear. I'm being serious. I'll be earning money in jail and sending it to my family.


BURNETT: Earning money in jail. It's better than the front lines. And you heard him. For whom? For what are they fighting?

In a sense, it is astonishing to hear that, right, that group of men and saying that to their commander, telling him that they'd rather sit behind bars for ten years than fight on the front lines, making it clear they don't know who they're fighting for. And for Putin, a fight that has become so brutal and bloody that now, for some men on the Russian frontline, it is driving them to suicide.

It's a horrible moment, and here, again, those Russian soldiers.


RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator): Like yesterday, a guy went outside, sat on the bench, put a gun to his head, and blow his brains out. He was walking, saying, I'm sick of it. Sick of it. He got on his knees. We heard the shot at 4:00 a.m.


BURNETT: It's hard to hear. But it's important to hear. These men, human beings, forced to fight on the front lines. It does provide important insight into the mindset of the Russians who are fighting.

And it comes as we have new drone video of the fight for Bakhmut. You can see fires burning in the distance there, in that video. Ukraine claims that killed more than 100 Russian soldiers there in just the past 24 hours. That's what the Russians are dealing with, 100 dead in a day.

And inside Bakhmut, the war of words over who is in control is now in full swing. Wagner's boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, today claiming his men control the eastern part of the city. But Zelenskyy's number two general showed up in Bakhmut as well today, his third visit to the city in less than a week. And Ukraine released this new video of soldiers, they say, really driving through the city of Bakhmut.

We've geolocated this. Playing music, storefronts shattered, apartment decimated. They're driving through, playing music, an incongruous and odd thing. It also appears a vital Ukrainian supply line to Bakhmut has been repaired.

Now, this is a temporary bridge you're looking at into the city. The bridge had been destroyed. It means Ukraine no longer has to rely on one dangerous terror that we showed you yesterday. Wearable to fix that bridge that the Russians have blown. That's not a setback for Putin in a months long battle that Russia expected to last just a couple weeks. Now, coming up, you're going to hear from someone who's been a thorn

in Putin's side for years. I just spoke to Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of the punk group Pussy Riot, which is long protested Putin's regime. She was jailed for 21 months in Russia just for criticizing Putin and you're going to hear what she has to say to Russians now.

But, first, Fred Pleitgen is live in Moscow to begin our coverage.

And, Fred, how is Putin talking about the fight tonight?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, if you look at Russian state run media, and you look at -- the Russians do believe that they have a little momentum going on on the battlefield. However, today, once again, Vladimir Putin said Russia is under attack. He said specifically, under attack from the West.

And to Russia on International Women's Day, he also said that for him, it's important that Russia's women become part of that battle as well. Here's what we're learning.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): While the Russian army continues its devastating assault on Ukraine, with losses on both sides mounting, it's all hearts and flowers in Moscow.


Russia celebrating International Women's Day. Many of the women willing to speak to us saying they would make the ultimate sacrifice, sending their boys to fight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): If there's no other way, yes. I would send my son and go myself if declared fit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We collect money for drones. Do what we can. We want our boys to win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I support President Putin. He does everything right. Good man. We love him.

PLEITGEN: And the Russian president is publicly trying to show his love for Russia's women, handing out medals and warning more sacrifices will be necessary.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Now that Russia is again facing direct threats to its security and sovereignty, we see many examples of bravery and determination, courage and willingness to defend the truth. Protect people in the very future of our state itself, the future that we ourselves need.

PLEITGEN: On the frontlines, the going remains tough. The Ukrainians say they've killed scores of Russians in the past day alone, around the embattled city of Bakhmut. That's where the Wagner private military company is unleashing its

cannons on Ukraine's defenses. Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin talking to his own mercenaries about what he says is a lack of ammo hindering further advances.

YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER BOSS (through translator): How are you managing now when you're almost using more ammunition than you receive?

WAGNER SOLDIER (through translator): The guys are from another regiment help us out. They brought a day worth of ammunition. Only that saved the day. When you have more, we help them out.

PLEITGEN: Prigozhin claims Wagner is now in control of all of eastern Bakhmut and claims Russia's true power will soon be unleashed.

PRIGOZHIN: The world is yet to face a fully prepared Russian army, with units not yet engaged in combat, with all the possible state of the art weapons and reconnaissance tools. Perfectly trained, they are biding their time until Wagner opens the operational space for them after Bakhmut.

PLEITGEN: But the Ukrainians say they will stand and fight in Bakhmut, and many more Russian women might find their husbands and sons going into battle as the war drags on.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Erin, tonight, Ukrainians are admitting that the Ukrainians have made some advances in Bakhmut. But you are mentioning that Ukraine's second highest general was in Bakhmut for the third time in a week.

He said that by and large, the defense is there are holding. He's saying that they're trying to force the Russians to make errors, to try to turn the tide there in Bakhmut, which, of course, has become such an important battle -- Erin.

BURNETT: Absolutely. All right, Fred, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now, let's go to the retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, the former commanding general of Europe and the Seventh Army.

And, General, you know, you just heard Yevgeny Prigozhin saying Wagner is in control of all of eastern Bakhmut. That's his claim. But in that same portion, he talks about this lack of ammunition, and how that's hurting further advances and just keeps complaining about this issue of ammunition.

What do you think is happening here?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He is trying to publicize the fact that he's not getting what he wants, Erin. This is the continued personality clash between Putin and Prigozhin and others. You know, when you're in a situation where you are having to ask prisoners to come back to the fight, where you are having -- what the U.S. army calls a sensing session, that was one of the most bizarre ones I've ever seen at the beginning of your clip, with the soldiers are basically refusing to go into the fight and would rather go back to jail, you know you have trouble.

And then, we have someone standing in front of a statue saying, hey, just wait -- the real Russian army is coming. The real Russian army has not come. They're not trained to stand it. They're not going to be there in full force anytime, since they haven't been there in the last 13 months.

And whereas I don't have any precise intelligence of what is happening in Bakhmut. This is been going on for seven months.


HERTLING: And Ukraine has continued to hold that city. As you showed in the one clip with Ukrainian soldiers driving through the town, seemingly in control, Russia might, the Russian military might be able to take elements of the city, but they can't hold it. It's one thing to attack. It's another thing to hold on to what you've secured.

BURNETT: Absolutely. And I want to play for you something else Prigozhin said today. Let me just -- so you can hear for yourself.


PRIGOZHIN: The world is yet to face a fully prepared Russian army, with units not yet engaged in combat, with all the possible state-of- the-art weapons and reconnaissance tools. Perfectly trained, they are biding their time until Wagner opens the operational space for them after Bakhmut.



BURNETT: Perfectly trained, they are biding their time. It's not anything to that? Is that a total load of BS?

HERTLING: Yeah. I just say, Prigozhin is a freaking idiot, Erin. I'm sorry for being that close and direct. But the kind of comments he's making, he is not a soldier, he is not a commander. He dresses up like one. He doesn't understand leadership or morale or maneuverable warfare.

For him to stand up in this place, saying everything is going to be fine, we're biding our time -- but at the same time, another film has him saying, we don't have enough ammo, and another film he's saying we're using prisoners, and you know, it just seems ridiculous. The guy is a joke.

BURNETT: It certainly does seem bizarre, all those things together.

Genera Hertling, thank you as always.

HERTLING: Pleasure. Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Nadya Tolokonnikova. She is a Russian activist and a member of Pussy Riot, who was jailed for 21 months in Russian for criticizing Putin. They called it hooliganism.

Russia recently opened another criminal trial against her in another case, in response to an art show that included her drawing a portrait of Putin.

So, Nadya, I really appreciate your time. You know, you hear some of these Russian women in that report that we just played, saying -- one of them says, I support President Putin. He does everything right, good man, we love him.

Is this the view of most Russians, even now?

NADYA TOLOKONNIKOVA, MEMBER OF PUSSY RIOT: I highly doubt it. It's really difficult to measure what the public actually thinks about Putin, because it's incredibly costly to criticize him. We've seen a lot of -- dozens of political prisoners and Russians. They are appearing every day, people are getting eight years for pushing the like button on Instagram.

And it makes it incredibly dangerous for people to say something against Putin. There was a case recently where an 11 year old girl made a drawing with the Ukrainian flag, and she is currently in foster care. Her dad is under arrest.

BURNETT: Foster care? Her father under arrest? Eleven years old?

TOLOKONNIKOVA: Eleven years old.

BURNETT: It's terrifying. I mean, that brings at home. You know, because you spent almost two years in a Russian prison what happens when you cross Putin in any way.


BURNETT: What risks are people taking out to speak out?

TOLOKONNIKOVA: They can be arrested. Their family members can be arrested. They can be murdered as, but himself, or to other friends of mine who died because they were criticizing Putin, his regime.

It's -- it's not something that I would advise people to do, to go openly against (INAUDIBLE) Vladimir Putin, or at least -- if they are in Russia currently. They can make this choice for themselves, but I wouldn't advise it, because it's worse to risk your life and the life of your relatives.

That's why, whenever Russians are being criticized for not doing enough, I feel for them, because a lot of people I know, they have to stay in Russia. They don't have a voice. They simply cannot speak out against the regime because it's -- it became just incredibly dangerous. They also cannot lead the country, because not everyone is privileged

enough to able to leave the country and start a new life somewhere else.

BURNETT: How bad is it, being in prison in Russia? I mean, you sit, you spent 21 months away from a child that you had, and you had to serve that time.

TOLOKONNIKOVA: It's pretty -- it's really a hell on earth, especially when you're being moved to the penal colony where you have to work, by law. You have to work, and it's practically slave labor.

Luckily, I was able to fight against the system, and years later, after I got out of jail, my prison boss, ex-prison boss, was sentenced for organizing a system of slave labor in a penal colony where I served my time. I was forced to sell police uniforms and military uniforms.

So these days, people who oppose Putin and who say something against the war, they're being sent to colonies to produce military uniforms.

BURNETT: That's an incredible irony. Horrible irony.

I know you just hosted a benefit auction at Sotheby's. It's called My Body, My Business, right? And as Pussy Riot -- it's a performance, it's punk, but it's also art.

And this has been crucial to you. The auction is in honor of International Women's Day, benefiting reproductive organizations worldwide.

So Putin today, he spoke about International Women's Day. He came out and spoke, and I wanted to play for you part of what he said the holiday means to Russia.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It is always filled with special warmth and meeting, with the most kind, joyful and sincere feelings, because this reverence and respect towards women and motherhood is an unconditional value for us, something we have been passing on from generation to generation.


BURNETT: That was today.


BURNETT: So, that's really all there is to say.


BURNETT: Well, I appreciate you taking the time and talking today. And, you say what you have to say. Sometimes, you only need a couple words to say something when it's what you feel, and it says that all. Thank you so much.


BURNETT: I appreciate it, Nadya.

And next, new court filings in the defamation case against Fox News have just been released. This as we learn Tucker Carlson said of Trump, quote, I hate him passionately. Then why was he saying this in public?


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Actually love Donald Trump as a guy.


BURNETT: Plus, authorities ramping up the search for the killers who kidnapped for Americans in Mexico, killing two. This is as we learning how popular Mexico's come for Americans looking for cheap medical procedures.

And why would China build its biggest military facility in the Bahamas? The U.S. military with a new warning tonight.



BURNETT: New court filings tonight in the Dominion versus Fox News lawsuit. Included in the new filings, this new information. Laura Ingraham, as soon as the week after the 2020 election, quote, made the decision not to air the false allegations of Dominion. This is what she said in her deposition.

These, of course, are allegations that the heart of the lawsuit that Dominion voting machines changed votes en masse. This is a sign in the case of Ingraham, that she knew very early that team Trump's claims of election fraud were false.

Paula Reid is OUTFRONT.

And, Paula, what else to these filings tell us?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Erin, they suggest that Fox News could lose this case. Usually, defamation is difficult to prove, the bar is high. You have to show actual malice, that someone knew they were lying.

And the evidence we're seeing here from Tucker Carlson and others strongly suggests that they did know these claims about the election were not true, and they said them anyway. What did they do that? Well, these documents reveal it was all about money and ratings.


CARLSON: They could not have been -- REID (on camera): This is the Tucker Carlson America sees on camera.

CARLSON: The outcome of our presidential election was seized from the hands of voters.

REID: But new courts documents revealing a very different Carlson behind the scenes. Texting a producer on January 4th, 2021, just two days before the Capitol attack, saying of Trump: I hate him passionately. I can't handle much more of this. We're very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights.

Admitting what a disaster it's been is too tough to digest. But come on, there isn't really an upside to Trump.

Those private remarks, a total contrast to Carlson's public comments, like these at a conservative event just a few months ago.

CARLSON: Actually love Donald Trump as a guy. I'm so grateful that Donald Trump ran in 2016. Donald Trump, like, Donald Trump completely changed my view of everything.

REID: His private messages were released as part of Dominion Voting System's $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the right-wing network, revealing that Fox News stars and top executives didn't actually believe the lie they put on air that the 2020 election was stolen. But amid falling ratings, the network continued to promote Trump and his lies.

CARLSON: Voter fraud is something that is real, that just took place two weeks ago.

What happened was, the people in charge rigged the game.

REID: Despite his prior personal objections to Trump, Carlson continues to support him publicly. Defending him after a search warrant was executed at Mar-a-Lago.

CARLSON: No honest person could believe that the raid on Donald Trump's home last week was a legitimate act of law enforcement. It was not.

REID: And seen here laughing with Trump at a golf tournament over the summer.


REID: We expect additional evidence to be released tonight. And the next legal development occurs in two weeks. They'll be a hearing with both sides will try to convince a judge to resolve this case in their favor, without a trial. If that doesn't work, they could settle before this is scheduled to go to trial on April 17th, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Paula, thank you very much, in laying all that out, amazing to see it.

OUTFRONT now, Jonah Goldberg. He left Fox after 12 years there because Dr. Carlson suggested January six was a false flag operation.

And, of course, Jonah, I just have to note, you were subpoenaed and deposed by Dominion in this case. You can speak about that deposition, obviously.

So, let me just start, though, with what is so jarring here and what we're learning. The difference between what Tucker Carlson said about Trump in public versus private, right? There's no nuance, there's no reading between the lines. This is just a starkly clear as it can get.

In private, quote, I hate him passionately. There isn't really an upside to Trump. A demonic force. And we just heard him publicly.

You've known him for decades. Did you know what is real feelings were about Trump, that he passionately hated him, demonic force, stuff like that?

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, look, the few times we talked about Trump talk, he can be, you know, critical of the guy. But I don't remember him saying, I hate him passionately or any of that kind of thing.

I think the thing to keep in mind about Tucker is, first of all, is a lot smarter than a lot of the other people playing the same game that Tucker is playing.


GOLDBERG: And one of the things that you get when you have -- when you're that smart, is you're not only just get it lying to the audience. You get it lying to yourself.

And so, when you listen actually to that clip that you ran in the setup, he's about how he's grateful that Trump ran, and made him change everything, how he thinks about everything -- I think that's -- there's a lot of truth to that, in so far as Trump made -- created a whole new permission structure for a lot of people to just turn on fire hoses of BS and monetize it, and self aggrandized from it.


And I think that Tucker learned from that. And I think he's grateful for that new environment, because he's thrived in it.

BURNETT: Now, you know, the reality in this case, right, as this is laid out, you're talking about defamation, serious things that could, you know, threatened Fox News itself, right? Its existence, depending on how this case goes. Tucker Carlson has been the ratings leader there, right? He's been the conversation driver for Fox now for years.

Does this lawsuit, Jonah, as you see it, threaten that -- his show, his professional existence?

GOLDBERG: Well, you might think it would, except he's kind of spent the last week since the latest Dominion revelations doubling and tripling down on the act. So, maybe he knows something or as a theory of the case, maybe he thinks he's un-fireable, maybe he thinks he's playing a stop me before I kill again game with Rupert trying to get himself fired so he can make himself a matter -- I don't know what's going through his head.

I don't think this is fatal -- this will be fatal for Fox. It would be a big blow. I think you could trigger shareholder lawsuits, all sorts of things. But they could -- Fox is a giant ATM machine. It is not something that they want to lose, for sure.

And I do think that there's going to be a considerable bloodletting down the road. I don't know if Tucker will get the acts.

But I would not buy a lot of stock in Fox CEO Suzanne Scott at this point. She seems to be, you know, getting groomed like Thanksgiving turkey. Why are you giving me all this good food lately? So I think she's going to go.

But the real trick is when tucker's audience realizes that he's playing them. Until they do, he's going to remain popular, he's going to kind of remain faithful to them. He considers his role, as far as I can tell, simply be the voice of his biggest fans. He's not going to disappoint them.

He's kind of like Ferris Buhler running out in front of the parade thinking he's leading it. He's taking cues from the audience and he's doing fan service for them.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Jonah, thank you very much.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

BURNETT: Fascinating perspective, such an insight, given how much you know.

Next, terrifying new details from the mother of one of the poor Americans kidnapped in Mexico.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A van came up, started shooting at the car.


BURNETT: It comes as we're learning just how many Americans cross over to Mexico every year for expensive medical procedures.

Plus, is climate change to blame for the growing number of violently turbulent flights? Captain Sully Sullenberger, who made that miraculous emergency landing in the Hudson River, will tell you about the connection.



BURNETT: Tonight, one of the two Americans who survived a kidnapping in Mexico watched her brother shot and her cousin shot and killed right in front of her, this is according to the surviving victim's mother, who added the cartel members began shooting at the four Americans immediately after they encountered them, this as authorities ramp up their search for the killers. Rosa Flores is Outfront.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two of four Americans kidnapped in Mexico, seen in this disturbing video, are now in the U.S. and preparing to return home, Latavia Washington McGee, a mother of six, heading to South Carolina today, according to her family who spoke to her by phone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I did was say, hey, and tell her I missed her.


FLORES: The other survivor, Eric Williams, remains in Brownsville, Texas, undergoing treatment for three gunshot wounds to his legs. For now, one person has been detained, linked to the kidnappings, a 24- year-old male who Mexican authorities said was watching the victims. Mexican officials would not confirm whether he is linked to a criminal organization.

The U.S. is now working to bring home the remains of Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard, the two people found dead after the kidnapping in the Mexico border city of Matamoros. Their autopsies were completed today. Mexican authorities say they are still investigating what happened after the four Americans crossed the border from Brownsville, Texas. We do know the group was driving a rented minivan and got lost enroute to a clinic where McGee had a medical appointment, according to a close friend.

We just left the hotel where the Americans stayed, and it's about an 11-minute drive to the international bridge where Mexican authorities say that the Americans crossed into Matamoros at about 9:18 a.m. on Friday. McGee's mother says she spoke to her daughter about the kidnapping.


BARBARA BURGESS, MOTHER OF LATAVIA WASHINGTON MCGEE: A van came up and hit him, and that's when they started shooting at the car. The other guy tried to run and they got shot at the same time. She watched him die.


FLORES: The four Americans were ultimately found by Mexican authorities here on Tuesday. Officials here say that Americans routinely go into Mexico for medical care, using ports of entry like the one that you see behind me, but officials urge them to go directly to their destination. According to Patients Beyond Borders, Mexico is the second most popular destination for medical tourism globally, and millions of people travel there each year, expecting to save anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent on major medical procedures, including cosmetic surgery.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is risky having any kind of medical procedure done outside of the United States. You run the risk of going to a doctor or facility that is not accredited. You run the risk, if there are any disputes over the money that you've been charged, or if the procedure doesn't go well.


FLORES: And, there are concerns beyond the medical and legal risks. Officials urge caution when traveling. The U.S. State Department has issued its highest warning, "do not travel to several regions in Mexico, including Tamaulipas state where the group was abducted.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're not only risking your life, but you're also risking the possibility that you may not make it home.


BURNETT: I mean, Rosa, I know you grew up near the southern border, and you have seen, witnessed this boom of medical tourism.

FLORES: Absolutely, Erin. When I grew up here in the Rio Grande Valley, it was mostly people from the valley who would cross over to Mexico to get dental cleanings or general medicine or surgeries. But, the internet changed all of that, since websites are a thing and also social media. Doctors have gotten very savvy. They advertise on social media in English. They include videos and testimonies, and as you've seen, people from all over the country coming here to the border to get these medical procedures now. Erin.


BURNETT: It's really incredible to see those numbers. All right, thank you very much, Rosa.

And next, terrifying turbulence on planes leaving passengers rattled.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My life just like flashed through my eyes. I thought it was the end.


BURNETT: Could climate change have anything to do with this? Our Tom Foreman has a piece you'll see first here at Outfront, and Ron DeSantis going to bat for anti-vaxxed tennis star Novak Djokovic toe to toe with the White House, demanding the Biden administration lift a requirement blocking Djokovic from entering the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Tonight, blame game, a pilot union spokesman pointing the finger at the FAA over a string of recent terrifying incidents on planes.


DENNIS TAJER, SPOKESMAN, ALLIED PILOTS ASSOCIATION: What we need is, for the airlines, the FAA, to do their job. We've got airlines scheduling us to the maximums. They're reducing pilot training. They're basically running along a barbed wire fence right up to the maximums, and we shouldn't be surprised when we see these safety seals start to leak.


BURNETT: It's pretty terrifying, adding to flying fears, an alarming number of violently turbulent flights that are resulting in serious injuries and even a death just the last week of a former White House official.


Tom Foreman is Outfront.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Violent turbulence has been a feature of flying for decades, with each year bringing fresh and frightening examples.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people hit the ceiling, and a lot of screaming.


FOREMAN: A series of recent incidents have alarmed some fliers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was honestly pretty scary. It was kind of like out of a movie.


FOREMAN: And, they have terrified others.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My life just like flashed through my eyes. I thought it was the end.


FOREMAN: Climate change has been scientifically linked to increasingly severe weather. So, amid all the headlines about planes being rattled, a troubling question has emerged. Is the climate making turbulence worse too? Yes says the co-author of this 2019 study, Professor Paul Williams who studies atmospheric science.


DR. PAUL D. WILLIAMS, PROFESSOR OF ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF READING, UK: --which the climate change has made turbulent flights more likely in much the same way that it's made heatwaves more likely as well. Climate change is strengthening clear air turbulence at all flight levels in all seasons, everywhere around the world where there is a jet stream.


FOREMAN: Simply pull (ph) it, he says climate change is creating atmospheric disturbances which generate a ripple-like effect in the air even when no bad weather is apparent. But, proving a link for any given flight is tricky. When a passenger is injured, like the seven who went to the hospital after a Lufthansa flight a few days ago, or if someone dies, as happened with a woman on a private jet over New England, the National Transportation Safety Board notes the incident, but it does not track turbulence on all flights.


PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: And, frankly, that's not enough. We need to have a more robust system, because the attempts at forward- looking radar to pick up clear air turbulence, they simply have not panned out yet.


FOREMAN: More information is key, researchers say, because the threat is not going away.


WILLIAMS: Well, I'd love to see more efforts put into collecting reliable, robust data, as we move into this more turbulent future.


FOREMAN: There are indications the Federal Aviation Administration is indeed going to step up its efforts to collect more data on turbulence, but it's a really big job. Still, if it works, it could lead to smoother and safer flights ahead. Erin.

BURNETT: Certainly. I mean, it's terrifying. I don't think anybody watching cannot - I'd have to admit to yourself, it's scary. All right. Thank you very much, Tom.

And, I want to go now to Captain "Sully" Sullenberger. Of course, we all know him as the hero U.S. Airways pilot in the Miracle on the Hudson landing in 2009. He is also the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization. And. Ambassador Sullenberger, I really appreciate your time. I just want to start with something there that Tom was reporting on, this issue of climate change, and the increased energy in the air, and the relationship with turbulence. Do you have any doubt that there is a connection between climate change and turbulence?

CAPT. C.B. "SULLY" SULLENBERGER, FMR. U.S. AIRWAYS CAPTAIN, "MIRACLE ON THE HUDSON" PILOT: I think it just makes sense that as there is more energy in the air, there is a potential for more turbulence and greater turbulence.

BURNETT: And, - look, it's scary, because we hear about some of this, it's in clear air. There is no way to sense it, right? I mean, it makes it - it's very unsettling and can be scary. It also is in the context of the past six weeks, we've had six different close calls at U.S. airports, major airports across the country, New York to Hawaii, and American, Delta, JetBlue, United, all the major airlines involved in these. Now, we're talking about planes taking off and landing on the same runway at the same time. Some of this, sure people have phones, they film it, but plenty of these are incidents people on board may not even have known about in the moment. Why do you think these things are happening now with such frequency?

SULLENBERGER: Well, I think they're happening a bit more often. And, of course, with people with smartphones, I think people are reporting and making public things that previously were not disclosed as quickly. As to the trickiness issue, I think technology can help. It's going to take some time. But, if there were a way and there are ways that are being developed for aircraft to since the turbulence and automatically download to the ground, the location, the altitude and the intensity of it, so other flights could be let known of that in real time, it would be a great help.

And, in terms of what needs to be done, I think, first of all, we must have continuous predictable multi-year funding for all our central infrastructure for the FAA or the air traffic control system. And, I think if we did that alone, instead of just reacting and trying to play catch up, we'd all be better off.

BURNETT: Meanwhile, the airline lobbyists right now, there is a push to lower the required number of pilot training hours by as much as 50 percent. I believe you strongly object to that, right?


SULLENBERGER: Let me be clear. That idea is dumb, dangerous, and ironically unnecessary. We're looking at the problem wrong if we take - it take that approach. Here is one real life example. If we needed to have more primary care physicians in rural areas, would we suggest that the answer to this problem was to cut medical school in half from four years to two? No. We'd say that's crazy, because it is crazy. So, we need to find ways to select to train, to - and to get the experience necessary to our pilots, rather than try and find ways to cheap and quick, and where there is a critically important training and experience evolution.

BURNETT: Absolutely. All right. Thank you very much, Ambassador Sullenberger - Captain Sullenberger. Thank you.

SULLENBERGER: Good to be with you.

BURNETT: All right, you too. And next, Ron DeSantis picking a fight with the White House for blocking tennis star and anti-vaxxer Novak Djokovic from entering the United States for a tournament in Florida.


RON DESANTIS, GOVERNOR, FLORIDA: I would run a boat from The Bahamas here for him. I would do that 100 percent.


BURNETT: And, a warning tonight about China from the U.S. Military after Beijing builds its largest embassy right on American shores, in The Bahamas.




BURNETT: Tonight, Governor Ron DeSantis siding with an anti-vaxxed tennis superstar, taking up the case of the world's top rated tennis player, Novak Djokovic, against President Biden. The Biden administration decided to block Djokovic from entering the United States, specifically Florida, where he wants to play in a tournament. DeSantis then suggested that he would personally help to get Djokovic into the U.S.


DESANTIS: He should be allowed to compete. Now, I would run a boat from The Bahamas here for him. I would do that, 100 percent.


BURNETT: Outfront now, David Axelrod, former Senior Advisor to President Obama and our senior political commentator. So, David, DeSantis has the White House on the defense. And, here is one stat that perhaps shows a bit as to why, that we found today. The CDC says now that only 16 percent of the eligible population in the United States received the latest COVID booster. Right? So, Americans aren't rushing for the vaccines. Even people who are pro-vaccine aren't rushing for the vaccines. And, overall, in a poll from all the way in September, and that 65 percent of Americans supported lifting all COVID restrictions. So, how should the White House be responding to DeSantis right now?

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRES. OBAMA, & CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think they should take a look at this, but they need to stick with the advice that they're getting from their public health advisors. It may be time the emergency is going to be lifted in May, according to the President, the COVID emergency, may be time to re-evaluate those. But, let's be clear. This is - Ron DeSantis was, in the spring of 2021, a guy who was begging, imploring, people in Florida to get vaccinated, asserting that these vaccines were both safe and effective. By last winter, by December, he was holding roundtables in Florida with doctors who were questioning both the effectiveness and the safety of these vaccines, because he saw this issue shift, and particularly among the Republican base.

So, yes, he thinks everything he is doing right now, and he is doing it pretty effectively. He is like a heat seeking device for these kinds of cultural issues. And, this is part of that.

BURNETT: And, I'm curious, because obviously he has that that you say heat seeking missile for all sorts of things, whether it's social issues, pronouns, things like that. Right? He picks them.


BURNETT: On this one, I'm curious whether you think he is perhaps widening the aperture for more broad support? Because, yes, Djokovic is an anti-vaxxer. But, back to that stat I shared, only 16 percent of eligible U.S. adults--


BURNETT: --have gotten the latest booster. So, that means a lot of people aren't really that into vaccines who are - this vaccine, right, who aren't anti-vaxxed, right? It's not necessarily just that base.

AXELROD: Well, look, I'm not Sanjay Gupta, and I know you're not asking me a public health question.


AXELROD: But, we should note that more people should be getting vaccinated. And now, we have 28 percent of schoolchildren - adults of schoolchildren saying that they're not sure they want to get their kids vaccinated for anything. And, these - this can be a problem for our country in the future. But, as a political matter, you're right. And, I think this is all tied up with general sense of unease about the restrictions that existed during the pandemic, about whether they lasted too long. He has been pushing that as a major theme. And, it's probably - as you say, it may be have broader appeal than some of his other more bass oriented appeals, although this one I think will play to his base. I don't think most Americans are that focused on whether Djokovic plays in this tournament or not. But, the issue has broader applicability, for sure.

BURNETT: Right. Absolutely. All right. Well, David, thank you very much, and I hope that everyone will catch the latest episode of David's podcast "The Axe Files", because it comes out tomorrow, and his guest this week is Michael McFaul, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, who always, I know David, has such incredibly fascinating things to say and thoughts on that. So, eager to hear that.

AXELROD: Indeed he does.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you so much.

AXELROD: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, a warning tonight about China's largest embassy in the world. Why is it a stone's throw from the United States, in The Bahamas?




BURNETT: And, finally tonight, a massive embassy in The Bahamas. China has now built its largest embassy in the world, and they have chosen to do so in The Bahamas. Why? Well, I mean, we can look at where it is, a stone's throw from United States, 50 miles off the coast of Florida. And, tonight, some of America's top generals are warning about it.


GEN. GLEN VANHERCK, HEAD OF U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND: The PRC is aggressively pursuing their economic origin in The Bahamas. They built the biggest embassy around the globe in The Bahamas. They have a very aggressive Ambassador who uses the information space to undermine us each and every day, the resort that they built on top of our cables that come ashore there.


BURNETT: I mean, it is incredible, right, China's biggest embassy in the world in The Bahamas, on top of this 15,000 seat stadium that China built also in The Bahamas which hosts a U.S. college football bowl game every year. The U.S. Military warning China is using The Bahamas to undermine the United States each and every day. It's fascinating when you think about it, Bahamas now, Cuba back then.

Thanks so much for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch Outfront anytime, anywhere, on CNNgo. It's time now for AC360.