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Erin Burnett Outfront

Ex-Trump Economic Adviser: Biden's Move On Failed Banks Not A "Bailout"; Russian Soldier's Letter: "We've Been Sent Like Lambs To The Slaughter"; Texas Border Official Warns Americans: Don't Travel To Mexico. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 13, 2023 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Quote, "Several people," the new reportings, from "The New York Times," and "Reuters."

One war crimes case is reportedly prompted by Russian attacks, on infrastructure, like this one, targeting a Ukrainian train station, last year.

There's also accusations of deliberately targeting a residential building, and parking lot, in Kharkiv. Russia says it only hits military targets.

The other case will reportedly focus on the abduction of Ukrainian children, like these so-called evacuees, from war-torn Eastern Ukraine, shown at a Crimean summer camp. Ukraine says, in a recent report, from Yale University documents that thousands of kids are being taken to Russia, indoctrinated and, in many cases, adopted or fostered, by Russian families, which is a war crime.

The news continues. ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT starts now.




ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: Tonight, President Biden moving to calm panicked Americans. Two banks, collapsing, in three days, and now, the spotlight, on the health of the entire industry.


JOE TACOPINA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: This was a plain extortion.


BURNETT: And Donald Trump's lawyers going on the offensive, ahead of a potential indictment. The former President refusing to testify, before a grand jury. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. CHRISTOPHER OLIVAREZ, SPOKESMAN, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: Our department is urging anyone thinking about traveling to Mexico, especially spring breakers, to avoid those areas, because, right now, it is too dangerous.


BURNETT: And a warning, for spring breakers, after kidnappings, murders and the disappearance of three women.




BURNETT: Plus, Russian wives and mothers, tonight, calling on Vladimir Putin, to stop sending their sons to be slaughtered.




BURNETT: And why it's never too late for the dream.


KIM, FICTIONAL CHARACTER PLAYED BY KE HUY QUAN, "ENCINO MAN": We took a vote, and the computer club feels your presence will be a valuable asset, to our organization.

BRENDAN FRASER, BEST ACTOR WINNER: I just want to say thank you, for this acknowledgement.





And good evening. I am Erin Burnett, and welcome to this Special Edition, of OUTFRONT, on this Monday.

A bank that was the gold standard, for America's tech industry? Poof! Gone!

And tonight, the Biden administration, stepping in, to take over both Silicon Valley Bank, and a bank, all the way on the other side of the country, New York's Signature Bank. So tonight, was this a bailout, by taxpayers? Will more banks fail, and who is to blame?

And joining us now, the House Oversight and Reform Committee member, Katie Porter, Democrat from California, of course, the State, especially impacted by the Silicon Valley Bank collapse. And very well-known, of course, on Capitol Hill, for holding financial institutions accountable, with your whiteboards, running for Senate, next year, in your state, as well.

So, very much appreciate your time.

So, I hope you've had a chance, with your colleagues, to be using that whiteboard, and explaining to them all of what's going on here, with the interest rate risk, and what happened, in each of these cases.

But today, again, Congresswoman, regional bank stocks fall to record lows, despite the President coming out, and speaking, and saying, deposits are safe. Do you think we are at risk of more bank runs?

REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): I certainly hope not. And I think we can take steps, legislatively, to try to prevent these kinds of bank failures, in the first place. Because once you get into them, there are no good solutions. It's just a choice, among difficult choices. And so, I think we can make sure that banks have more capital.


PORTER: And, to be clear, we did that after Dodd-Frank, for this exact size of bank. And then, Wall Street goes to work, lobbying in Washington.

And sure enough, in 2018, Republicans, in control of the House and the Senate - Republicans, in control of the House, excuse me, and they go ahead, and Democrats joined with them, many of them, 30 Democrats, in the House--


PORTER: --16, in the Senate, and they roll back these capital holding requirements.

So, this was preventable, both through better regulation, and frankly, through better decision-making, at the bank.

BURNETT: All right, so you talk about the regional banks, and some of the regulation there, though.

One of the things that really, I find amazing, having covered that financial crisis, as well was, the four letter word, was TBTF, Too Big To Fail, right? These banks, the biggest ones were too big to fail, and they had to be broken up, and that was a big part of the systemic risks in the system.

Since then, the four biggest banks, in the United States, have doubled in size, just about, about 89 percent, according to the latest data, from the Federal Reserve.

And, Congresswoman, I'm curious as to your point of view on this.

We're hearing now that if you put your deposits in those banks, and I'm talking Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, that you're fine. Everywhere else, you got to be worried, but not there.

Do you think those four biggest banks, at this point, are still part of the problem, and should be broken up?

PORTER: Well, those four biggest banks, because of Dodd-Frank, do, as you know, Erin, have more stringent capital holding requirements.


PORTER: But, to be clear, any bank can get into trouble, if enough things, all go wrong, in just the right way. So, I don't think depositors should be moving their money, into those four banks, thinking that they're necessarily safer.


I think that there are a lot of credit unions, and various small community banks that simply do what these - what Silicon Valley Bank wasn't willing to do, which is these smaller banks credit unions, they focus on the finance fundamentals, on remembering things, like interest rates go both up and down--

BURNETT: Well, yes.

PORTER: --rather than, on the bottom line, and being pressured by shareholders.

So, I don't necessarily think the solution is, to move your money, to those four, or to any other place. But I will say, the bigger a bank gets the more systematic effect it has.

But I think what happened is we were so focused, on the too big to fail, that I think a lot of us were saying, "Yes, but Bank Number 11, Bank Number 30, Bank Number 75. If you're a depositor, it's too big to fail in your life"--

BURNETT: That's right.

PORTER: --"and more business." And I think that's what we saw, this weekend.

BURNETT: Are we at a point, though, now, as a country - and I say this with the caveat, obviously, that most people don't have $250,000 in savings.

So, if the FDIC limit is there, and the government observes it, they would be fine. But they bank at banks, who are making payroll, for small local companies, and other things, like that. So, therefore, having the deposit base safe matters, and it matters significantly. It appeared, from what President Biden said, today, Congresswoman, he said, "Your deposits are safe." Did you read that as a blanket, "The U.S. government will provide a backstop, in all cases, for all banks?"

PORTER: Well, I think that's what is happening--


PORTER: --as a practical matter--


PORTER: --with Silicon Valley Bank. And so, what that does is, I think, create the sort of the expectation that that will be true. When you add that to what President Biden says, I think that's where people begin to think the market is, what the rules are going to be.

But to be clear, this is up to Congress. This FDIC insurance limit was already raised from $100,000 to $250,000. And I had a lot of colleagues, Democrats, say to me, "This is ridiculous. The limit should be unlimited. It should be like $20 million."

The point of that deposit limit has never been to insulate anybody from any amount of risk. That's not what it does. It insulates the most vulnerable--

BURNETT: But isn't that exactly what's happening now? I mean, are you saying you do not think it's a good idea, for what they've done, right now, which is a very clear--

PORTER: Well I think we have to be very clear.

BURNETT: --blanket--

PORTER: It's not--


PORTER: Yes. That kind of blanket guarantee of all deposits, of all - of any size, no matter how big, we have to be very clear, it's not free. It comes with costs. FDIC insurance isn't free. It's paid for by depositors. So, what we'd really be doing is saying that--


PORTER: --everyone is going to pay for it. And I don't think that's a decision that the President, or the Federal Reserve, in a moment of crisis should be making. I think this is actually should be a deliberative decision by Congress--

BURNETT: So, OK, so--

PORTER: --kicking in, to account the pros and cons.

BURNETT: I understand. So, it sounds like you would be - you would be willing to consider it, think about it, be nuanced about it. But, at the moment, what we're doing then, do you agree with what Sheila Bair, who was the head of the FDIC, under both Presidents Obama and Trump - Bush and Obama, I'm sorry. What she just said to me - she was very clear, very confident, in using the word, "Bailout?"

So, what you're describing is we are bailing out. This is a bailout, because depositors, taxpayers are going to pay for it?

PORTER: Well, I think what we don't know quite exactly yet with Silicon Valley Bank and with Silvergate yet is to what extent taxpayers will be on the hook.


PORTER: I don't think we have any indication that that will necessarily be the case.

But to be clear, the Deposit Insurance Fund--


PORTER: --which is going to be used, is paid for by a tax on bank deposits. And guess what? We, all of us taxpayers, we also have deposit accounts, we also pay for that.


PORTER: So, I think this is not a traditional situation in which, the sort of traditional use of the term, where we're talking about, "The Executive doesn't get held accountable," or "People get let off the hook." That's not what's happened yet. And I hope that doesn't happen. I'm sure going to fight like hell to make sure that doesn't happen.

I think here, we're trying to use this Deposit Insurance Fund tool, in a way that it wasn't designed for. And we're - in doing that we are creating a precedent that could lead us, into fundamentally rethinking, and restructuring--


PORTER: --how we do banking, in this country.

BURNETT: Well, certainly, this, I think, gives anybody watching a lot of food for thought, with some of these details.

Representative Porter, thanks so much. I always appreciate talking to you.

PORTER: Thank you.

BURNETT: All right, as you heard there, Congresswoman Katie Porter.

And now, we turn to former Trump chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, also the former President and COO, of one of the biggest banks, in the country, Goldman Sachs. And he headed up the National Economic Council. So Gary, let me ask you with the conversation there that I was just having with Katie Porter, do you agree with the use of the word, "Bailout?"



So, at the end of the day, and I think the President made this very clear, yesterday, and today, in a statement that the taxpayers won't pay anything for this. I think they will recover 100 percent of the money that they need to spend, if they need to spend anything. And I bet--

BURNETT: But what about the depositors, who are the taxpayers?

COHN: I bet--

BURNETT: The point that Katie Porter's making?

COHN: They're going to end up making money.

Remember, in this situation, the equity has been wiped out; the bonds have been wiped out; the trust preferreds have been wiped out; the capital structure has been wiped out.

When you end up liquidating, the asset portfolio, of the bank, there will be excess capital. That's most likely the scenario we're in. And someone's going to own that excess capital, which is--

BURNETT: And is there any chance that's the depositor?

COHN: No, I don't think there's any chance it's the depositor.

BURNETT: OK. So then that would, to me - I mean, maybe I'm missing it. But to me, that's, the depositors are the ones, who are paying in their taxes, to get this FDIC backstop.

COHN: It--

BURNETT: And then, they're the ones who aren't going to get the benefit of the upside?

COHN: The depositor, in the United States, has always chosen to pay the FDIC tax, to have the insurance in place. That's not changing. We're not going to give depositors back any FDIC tax.


COHN: That excess return on the balance sheet of that resolved bank will end up going to the government, who stood in, to make depositors good.


COHN: That's the return on the risk that they're taking, right now.

BURNETT: All right. So now, the other point she raised. She raised Dodd-Frank, right? And she was very clear, right, she had supported rolling back some of the Dodd-Frank regulations, specifically that pertained to regional banks.

COHN: Right.

BURNETT: By the way, Barney Frank supported rolling that back when he was on the Board of Signature Bank, which was one of the ones that went under, this weekend.

You supported rolling these back, as she said, a lot of Democrats did, in both the Senate now. She was very clear about that.

But do you think it was a mistake, as she does?

COHN: No, I don't. At the end of the day, we had an old-fashioned bank run. And we have bank runs. If we didn't have bank runs, we wouldn't have the FDIC. We have deposit insurance, to protect depositors, when and if we have bank runs. And so, when you have a bank run, it means that depositors want their money back.

Banks are in business, to drive economic growth, and lend out their money.

BURNETT: That's right.

COHN: The U.S. economy is based on banks' lending. We lend money to buy houses. We lend money to buy cars.

BURNETT: Right. Well they take the deposits--

COHN: We lend money, for credit cards.

BURNETT: --and they lend it out, for those other purposes.

COHN: Absolutely. And if we don't have deposits, we don't have banks' ability to lend and stimulate economic growth.

BURNETT: Right. But in terms of what she's talking about, but some of these Dodd-Frank banking regulations, have they been in place would have prevented what happened from happening? Do you see merit in that?

COHN: I don't, because, as I said, the bank had a big capital reserve.

BURNETT: Talk about Silicon Valley Bank, yes.

COHN: I'm talking about Silicon Valley. I'm talking about entities (ph) banks. Capital--


COHN: You've got two different pools. And I don't want to get technical. You've got liquidity, which is the ability, to meet the depositors' want to take money out, and you've got capital, which is the equity. The capital is not necessarily liquid.

BURNETT: Right, right.

COHN: So, how much capital you have doesn't help you meet depositors' demand.


COHN: So, we've got to understand what these two things are. Capital makes you have the ability to absorb losses.


OK, this is true. But in the case of say, Silicon Valley Bank, and in rising interest rate environment, where rates are going up, quickly, and unexpectedly - well, more quickly than people thought?

COHN: Yes.

BURNETT: I wouldn't say, unexpectedly, but more quickly than people thought, OK? So, they would take their deposits, and then they went out, and they bought longer-duration stuff. And then, they couldn't liquidate it, when people wanted the deposits back.

Could regulation have stopped that? I mean, that just seems like terrible management.

COHN: No - no bank can deliver back all their deposits, at once. It's not the way banks are designed.


COHN: We - banks take in overnight demand deposits.


COHN: They lend for 30-year mortgages. They lend for automobiles.


COHN: They lend for credit cards. And that's how we grow our economy. And so--


COHN: --banks are not designed, to have everyone's cash on hand--


COHN: --every day, to have it.


COHN: They just have something that's called a High Quality Liquid Asset test. So, these banks, all--

BURNETT: Right, of what they can get quickly.

COHN: Right. These banks all passed their High Quality Liquid Asset test, which is a ratio of how much cash you have on hand, to what is the statistical probability, of how much--

BURNETT: Of the deposits - how many deposits.

COHN: --cash will leave the bank.

BURNETT: And they all passed.

COHN: They all passed.

BURNETT: All right, one other point that's coming up, in some conservative circles. Governor Ron DeSantis is saying that this is because of DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion that this bank focused on that as opposed to running the bank.

Now, you actually just made the argument that he's wrong, because you actually said that in terms of all these basic things, they were in line. So, what do you make of a political talking point, like that?

COHN: Look, I think there's a lot of people that want to sort of get in, and create cause and effect. I think we'll have time for that.

Look, I've lived through a lot of crises. And it's very easy to know what went wrong the day after the crisis is over. It's very difficult to know what's going wrong, before it - before you have the crisis. I think it's kind of early for people to be throwing stones here. I really do.

I think what we need to understand is the federal government stepped in. They guaranteed deposits. They've allowed the banking system to function, in the United States. They've allowed banks to continue to extend credit.



COHN: They've allowed the economy, to continue to grow, and function, in the normal fashion that we are used to. That's really important.

Now look, they've done it for a year. So, we've got a year to fix this situation. And over this course of year?


COHN: We'll learn a lot more facts, and we'll have a lot more opinions, of what happened. And I guarantee that we will regulate, for whatever went wrong, this time. But next time, it will be something different.

BURNETT: Yes. It certainly appears to be the case, every time, right?

All right, Gary Cohn, thank you very much. I appreciate it. And next, Donald Trump, in Iowa, tonight, after this - under the shadow, of a potential indictment. His lawyers' new defense, for that hush-money payment is next.

Plus, a rare show of public Russian defiance, wives and mothers, uniting, to send a direct message, to Putin, about sending their sons, their husbands, to war.

And do Fox producers believe their own viewers are dumb? Someone, on Tucker Carlson's team, did. And we have the evidence, ahead.


BURNETT: Donald Trump, turning down a chance to testify, before a New York grand jury, as his lawyers rail against an indictment that hasn't happened.


TACOPINA: He made this with personal funds, to prevent something coming out false, but embarrassing, to himself, his family, his young son. That's not a campaign finance violation, not by any stretch.


BURNETT: A decision on whether to charge the former President, over hush-money payments, to adult film star, Stormy Daniels, appears imminent.


Karen Friedman Agnifilo is OUTFRONT now. She worked, in the prosecutor's office, when the previous D.A. chose not to press charges.

So, you have a perspective on this that very few people in the world do, OK? So, we were in a situation before, where the previous D.A. did not press charges. And we appear to be in a situation, right now, where there are going to be charges. This appears all but certain at this point.

Do you think they'll really do it?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, FORMER CHIEF ASSISTANT D.A., MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: Yes, all indications are that he's about to be indicted, I would say, in the next week or two.

BURNETT: All right, in the next week or two. Now, there's would or will and then there's should. So, you've obviously been in the office, when they reached a different decision.

Do you think they really should do it? Is this the smart move?

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Well, what's happening now is the statute of limitations is about to run, I think, in May. So, that's what they're up against. BURNETT: Ah, OK.

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: They've also been investigating the case long after I left the office. So, they may have come up with more evidence, more information here.


FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Michael Cohen is someone, who you have to corroborate everything he says, because he has convictions, for things, like lying, et cetera.

So, I don't know what other evidence they have, to corroborate him. But I believe the fact that they are about to ask a grand jury, to indict him, that it shows that they do have beyond a reasonable doubt they do have enough.

BURNETT: You believe they've got the goods?


BURNETT: OK. So then, tell me what happens. So, this indictment comes, you're saying, in the next week or two. So then, what happens to Trump?

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Trump will have to appear before a judge, in the Manhattan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is actually the lowest court, in New York. That's what they call it. That's the trial-level court.

So, he'll have to appear there. He'll go before a judge. It's likely that he'll be indicted for multiple theories under falsifying a business record, which is a felony. It's not eligible for bail. So no one will even ask for bail, in this particular matter. And he'll be told what the charges are.

And I'm sure he'll then do what he does always, which is, he'll make several legal claims that will drag things on and on. And I don't see this going to trial, in less than a year.

BURNETT: OK. It doesn't - OK, so that's significant. And that obviously, if you talk about less than a year, that's going to put you actually, give it about a year, right? You're right after Iowa. You're in the heart of the presidential season.

But it sounds like what you're saying is, obviously you don't know what new information they have, or what they were able to corroborate. But you're saying you don't - you don't believe that they would be doing this unless they felt they had it.


BURNETT: That they had a very clear kind of, in their view, a slam- dunk case?

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: I wouldn't say slam-dunk, but I think they feel they can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. And there is no such thing as a slam-dunk criminal case. There's always up to a jury to see how people do, and what their credibility is, at trial.

But they feel they can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, or they wouldn't be doing this extraordinary thing which, is indicting the first indictment, which I think will be of many, of former President.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you about that. Obviously, there's the politics of this, which is, I know, not your area, but of this one, possibly coming first, ahead of, say, classified documents, or January 6, or Fulton County, in Georgia, which was about overturning the election.

But it sounds like, from your perspective, you believe there will be more than just this indictment?

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Yes, I think you're going to see - you're going to see Alvin Bragg, who's the Manhattan D.A., bringing the Stormy Daniels case, first.

Then, I think you're going to potentially see the Fulton County, Fani Willis, Georgia case.

Then, I think Jack Smith is going to bring either the Mar-a-Lago documents case, and or the Jan. 6th insurrection.

And I still think we have to listen and take Alvin Bragg, for his word that his investigation, into the assets, of the Trump Organization, and Donald Trump, is still ongoing. So, we could see those charges being brought, at some point, in the future, as well.

BURNETT: Wow! All of this, coming, in the middle of political cycle, I mean, just incredible. Obviously, it's unprecedented, for a former President to be indicted. And you're talking about multiple possible indictments then.

All right, Karen, thank you very much.

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Thanks for having me.

BURNETT: All right. And the threat of criminal charges looms, as Trump campaigns, in the first primary state of Iowa.

So, as I said, he'd be the first major presidential candidate, to run, while under indictment, if he is charged, in New York, never mind those other cases, Karen just mentioned.

OUTFRONT with me now, Bob Vander Plaats, President of influential Iowa Christian group, The FAMiLY Leader.

Bob, appreciate talking to you again. It's nice to see you, even through the screen!

Let me just start off here with this indictment, which appears to be a pretty much a done deal. We'll see what actually happens here. But it seems that this is going to happen, and it's going to happen very soon.

Would formal charges, over paying off the porn star, Stormy Daniels, affect Trump's standing, with Iowa Christian Republicans, who are so crucial, in that caucus?

BOB VANDER PLAATS, CEO, THE FAMILY LEADER: Well, I think what you're seeing regarding indictment or non-indictment is that Iowa is very open. And you're seeing that, as they welcome Ambassador Nikki Haley, to the State, or Tim Scott, to the State, or Vivek Ramaswamy, or Governor Ron DeSantis, or Mike Pompeo, or Mike Pence. It's a very open field.

The governor, Governor Reynolds says she's not endorsing, right now.


Former governor, Terry Branstad, said he's not endorsing.


VANDER PLAATS: And so, all those indicators show that they're open to somebody, other than Donald Trump.

And so, we'll let the indictment stuff play itself out. But all this is going to be weighed in, politically, as you well know, Erin, in regards to who can win, in 2024. And that's going to be part of the calculation here.

BURNETT: So, in that context, you talk about it as a wide open field. Do you - what do you think, about Trump's visit, to Iowa, and his decision, to run again?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, that's totally his decision, in regards to - should he run or not run again.


VANDER PLAATS: That's he wants to do. He's already made that decision, to go ahead.

But I think what you're seeing, even in the poll numbers, with Ron DeSantis, against President Trump, and you're seeing DeSantis polling really well? The Des Moines Register came out with a poll that's showing Trump's numbers eroding. And that's not only good for Governor Ron DeSantis, but I think it's good for all the candidates, because what it's saying is that there's an appetite, for somebody, not named Donald Trump, in this process.

That being the case, right now, the former President would be our nominee, if this many candidates remained, in the race, just because of the power division. And he has a very solidified base.

So, I think what's going to have to happen, there's going to be a coalescing, at some point, because I think one-on-one, or maybe two- on-one, you have a shot, for a different nominee.


VANDER PLAATS: But if it's one, in a field of 10, it's going to be Donald Trump.

BURNETT: Well, and it's interesting, because you talk about how solid his base is, and you're making it very clear that you may certainly be willing, to move on, from Trump.

But there are so many Republicans, in Iowa, who are saying things, like this. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one else but Trump. Trump or def - DeSantis, he's Florida. That's fine. And anybody - he has no experience in it, besides on Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ron DeSantis, he's an awesome governor. I love him as the governor. I just think it's not his time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump's the only one.


BURNETT: They're loyal, Bob. They are loyal.

VANDER PLAATS: Well, there's no doubt there's a loyal base, Erin. And so, that's why I said, he's going to have 20 percent, 25 percent of that base locked up, who believe Donald Trump's their guy. They liked what he did. They'd like to see him in office, again.

What we're taking a look, is a calculation of who can win in 2024, because the key to governing, is you have to win. And that's why I really believe it's good to celebrate all the things that the former President did, and his administration did. But now, let's turn the page, to another generational leader, whoever that might be, to carry the baton, moving forward, and let the movement move on that way.

BURNETT: Is there room for Ron DeSantis, who you've indicated you would certainly--

VANDER PLAATS: Oh, there's definitely.

BURNETT: But if he doesn't take Trump on, on the things that make Trump, Trump? I mean, I'm talking about the election denialism, the woke, the cultural wars that Ron DeSantis talks about, right? He's studiously avoided taking Trump on, on those. If he's going to win, he's going to have to do that. Where's the lane?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I think what it is, is right now, you're very early, in the campaign process. And you know how these things work. When you're nine, 10 months out, from an Iowa caucus, everybody's kind of playing nice. Nobody wants to offend anybody. But the closer and closer, you get to an Election Day, you're going to give defining differences. And I believe that's going to be up to whether it's Mike Pompeo, or Mike Pence, or Nikki Haley, or Ron DeSantis, or anybody else. They're going to have to define what makes them unique, and why they're the best one positioned, not only to win, at this time, but also to lead, at this time, to unite all of America, not just part of America.

BURNETT: All right. Bob Vander Plaats, thanks so much. Good to talk to you.

VANDER PLAATS: Good to visit you. God bless you.

BURNETT: All right.

And next, as Russian casualties mount, in Ukraine, women, confronting Vladimir Putin, about sending their husbands, and their sons, off to quote, "Slaughter."

Plus, a new warning, to spring breakers, planning to visit Mexico, amid ongoing violence and the recent kidnapping news.

We'll be right back.



BURNETT: Close-quarter combat. That's what some Ukrainian troops are up against, in the relentless battle, for Bakhmut. One deputy commander, telling CNN that his units are literally jumping, into Russian trenches, to regain ground. It is truly hand-to-hand combat.

And while Russian forces, are closing in on Bakhmut center? Keep in mind, this is a battle that's been going on, for seven months that they said would be a couple weeks. A spokesman, for Ukraine's Eastern Command, says Wagner-led units are sustaining heavy losses. They are recording more than 200 Russian soldiers, dead, in 24 hours, hundreds more wounded.

Western officials say, the Wagner units are running out of manpower, and likely have lost access, to prison recruits, due to an ongoing conflict, with Russia's Defense Ministry. Wagner reportedly now turning to sports clubs, and gyms, in Russia, to try to get new recruits.

And the mounting losses are prompting a group of Russian wives and mothers, to call on Putin, to stop sending their loved ones, to war, equating them to, quote, "Lambs to the slaughter."

Joining me now is the former Secretary of Defense, in Trump administration, Mark Esper.

And Secretary, I appreciate your time. So, I want to--

DR. MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Good evening, Erin. BURNETT: I want to ask you about this video. These are Russian women. They say their loved ones were forced to join assault groups, after only four days of training. Now, obviously, we can't independently verify these claims. But as you know, it's very consistent with other videos that we share daily, with our audience.

Does Putin, Secretary, have any shortage, right now, do you believe, of potential recruits, at this point?

ESPER: Well, I would think so, Erin. Reports from, I think, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said that he has committed up to 90 percent of his ground forces, in Ukraine.

And we know, you mentioned the Wagner Group, of their 50,000 soldiers, 40,000 of them are convicts that they took from prisons. And the recruiting drive, last year, they may have pulled in 300,000 soldiers. But an equal amount, we think, left the country.

So, it's a really bad situation, and what they're doing with these younger recruits, sending them into battle, without much training, or any equipment, it's really immoral. And, at some point, the Russian people have to get fed up with, what's happening here, having your young men sent, into this, meat grinder, called Ukraine.

BURNETT: So, we've obtained a letter, Secretary, from a Russian soldier that was first obtained by an independent Russian journalist. And I've got it here.

It reads, quote, "The enemy is spitting (ph) us out like sunflower seeds... Everywhere around us they deceive us. There is no truth anywhere. We've been sent like lambs to the slaughter. To our imminent death... We saw corpses and mutilated people without arms and legs, with their guts hanging out."


What is your reaction to, you know, we were looking at this, seeing this in print, in a soldier's, frankly, incredibly precise and neat handwriting?

ESPER: Well it really is a killing field over there, and Bakhmut, in particular. We know the reports are that for every Ukrainian that is killed, there's anywhere from five to seven Russian soldiers.


ESPER: The Ukrainians report that Russian soldiers are stacking up like logs, a quart of wood, on the battlefield that Wagner commanders are telling their troops, "If you don't advance, we'll shoot you, when you come back." I mean, it is just really immoral, what's happening there. And it's a terrible situation.

And the Ukrainians are fighting, for their country, for their sovereignty. So, look, they're going to - they're fighting to win, and they are winning. What's happening to this generation, of Russian men, is just horrible. And I'm afraid it's only going to get worse, because, at some point, the Ukrainians are going to launch their counteroffensive, maybe in April or May. And it's really going to push the Russians, to a point, where they're going to have to conscript more and more of men, from their country.

BURNETT: And this is happening as within Russia, there is now, some sort of a civil war. I mean, I'm obviously not using the word formally.

But the Institute for the Study of War says that the Russian Defense Minister, they say is, quote, "Likely seizing the opportunity to deliberately expend both elite and convict Wagner forces in Bakhmut in an effort to weaken Prigozhin," obviously, the leader of the Wagner Group, "and derail his ambitions for greater influence in the Kremlin."

So, basically saying that the Russian military is purposefully trying to get Wagner forces killed off, Russians trying to get Russians killed off in the battlefield, en masse.

If you just take a step back, does this shock you at all, to see - know something like this is happening?

ESPER: Well, on one hand is shocking. But on the other, it's not surprising.

I mean, Prigozhin, of course, has made an enemy of many, within the Ministry of Defense, giving his critiques, all the way up to the chain of command, with my former counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, and he is searching for influence, within the Kremlin, and trying to work his way closer, into Vladimir Putin.

Now, what's interesting, too, is Prigozhin, is from the battlefield, said that he's trying to even call the Kremlin, and the Kremlin will answer.


ESPER: So, it's very curious as to what's going on within the country, right now.

And you talked about the young boys being slaughtered. Unfortunately, it seems that Putin is sending the ethnic minorities, across all of Russia, not the young men, in Moscow, or around Moscow, to the fight. But it's really the ethnic minorities that make up a large populate - a large portion, of the Russian population.

BURNETT: Well, of course, as all this happens, you get more saber rattling, out of Moscow, the ongoing threat of some sort of nuclear escalation, here. You have the situation, obviously, rising tensions with China.

And, in this context, former President Trump, as I mentioned, is campaigning, tonight, in Iowa. He just said something. I wanted to play it for you.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Standing before you, today, I am the only candidate, who could make this promise. I will prevent World War 3. Because I really believe--


TRUMP: --you're going to have World War 3.


BURNETT: You know him. You served under him, as President. What's your reaction to that?

ESPER: Well, I don't think we're going to have World War 3. Nobody wants World War 3.

And look, I think we're going to - we, in the Republican Party, are going to have a fine slate of nominees, in the Republican primary, to take on President Trump, as well. And I think many of them are very capable.

And I've argued that I think we need a new generation of leaders, from both parties. And so, I'm hoping one of those younger leaders will rise up, within the GOP, and, I'm hopeful for the nomination contest, this year.

BURNETT: Mark Esper, thank you very much. I appreciate your time, Secretary.

ESPER: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: All right.

And next, how dangerous is Mexico? There is a new warning, from Safety officials, on the American side of the border, to anyone thinking of going there, for spring break.

And newly-uncovered messages, from one of Tucker Carlson's former producers, at Fox, providing a window, into how some people, behind- the-scenes felt, about the viewers that they were lying to. That's next.



BURNETT: Tonight, Mexico's President insisting, his country is safe, even safer than the United States, amid growing security concerns.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, DPS there, has advised residents though, to avoid Mexico, during spring break.

The Warning follows the recent kidnapping, of four American tourists, two of whom were found dead, and the disappearance of three women, who crossed the border, into Mexico, more than two weeks ago.

Joining me now is Lieutenant Chris Olivarez, from the Texas DPS.

And I appreciate your time, Lieutenant.

So, how concerned are you, right now?

OLIVAREZ: Well, Erin, good evening.

We're very concerned, at the State level.

And that's why, because of increased violence, and the fact that the Mexican drug cartels represent a significant threat, to anyone, who crosses into Mexico, and just the sheer volatile nature, of these criminal organizations, and the increased violence? That's why we strongly urge anyone to avoid crossing into Mexico, especially, at this time, especially with the most recent events that took place, in Matamoros, and also now with three women that are missing, from a small border community, here in South Texas that have been missing, for two weeks.


OLIVAREZ: So, it's just it's very dangerous, for now.

And not only that, but we got to keep in mind too, that there's two rival cartels that are fighting each other, over territory, over smuggling, drug smuggling routes, and also the Mexican military as well. And that's why it represents dangerous situation, for anyone, crossing into these border - these border towns, in Mexico.

BURNETT: So, the U.S. State Department is telling Americans to avoid much of Mexico. But when they talk about the popular spring break locations, like Cancun or Tulum, they label those just exercise increased caution. They are not saying to avoid them.

Is that a mistake, in your view?

OLIVAREZ: Well, I wouldn't say it's a mistake. But our posture is very clear, at the State level. I mean, we have a strong message, and that's to avoid any portion of Mexico.

Now, we do know that many Americans have traveled to these resorts, such as Cancun, and many have traveled without incident. But we can't ignore the risks, especially now with the cartels having a heavy influence, in Mexico. And even in those resorts, there is cartel presence in those resorts.

But again, now those that do want to travel, to those specific locations?


OLIVAREZ: All we can say, and all we can strongly urge, is to contact the U.S. Consulate, travel in groups, be aware of your surroundings, be vigilant. BURNETT: Yes.


OLIVAREZ: And just always keep track of updated potential threats, about specific areas, if they do think about traveling to those specific resorts.

BURNETT: So, you just mentioned these cartels that are in a turf war, as you describe it, right now, right?

And the Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, recently proposed a new plan, for the United States, overall, to go after cartels, to designate them, a foreign terrorist organization.

And he said, once you do that, that would be then allow you to, quote, "Give the military the authority to go after these organizations wherever they exist. Not to invade Mexico. Not to shoot Mexican airplanes down. But to destroy drug labs that are poisoning Americans." So making it clear, he's trying to say it's not an invasion. But you could go into Mexico, the, U.S. Military could do that, to combat this.

Do you think that the United States Military, Lieutenant, should be going after the cartels, directly, on Mexican soil?

OLIVAREZ: Well, we're not going to tell you for a fact. I mean, for one, we need to designate the Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organization. That's long overdue.


OLIVAREZ: We did it at the State level when Governor Abbott declared them last year. But I think it's a step in the right direction.

And we know for a fact that Mexico is not going to partake, or even participate, or even want to go after these organizations. So, it's going to be an uphill battle, it's going to be challenging.

Of course, the Military, yes, it's beneficial, to gather Intelligence, and to grab these chemical labs, in Mexico, to reduce the flow of fentanyl that's coming across our borders.

But, as I mentioned, it's going to be an uphill battle, especially dealing with the Mexican government, who are not going to want the United States, to take part, or to go into Mexico, to go after these organizations.

So, it's a foreseeable challenge. But again, we have to see what happens. But I think the first step is designate these cartels as terrorist organizations.

BURNETT: All right, Lieutenant Chris Olivarez, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

OLIVAREZ: Appreciate it, Erin. Thank you so much. BURNETT: All right, and next, a text exchange that Tucker Carlson, and Fox News would not want you to see, one of his own former producers, at Fox, privately mocking viewers, for buying what they were selling, on the show.

Plus, a special night of firsts, and big comebacks, at the Oscar, providing some important reminders, for all of us. That's next.



BURNETT: Even more Fox News texts, coming to light, from that Dominion defamation lawsuit, challenging the right-wing channel, for pushing lies that Dominion claims were, quote, "Good" for Fox's business. So, this time, it's an exchange, between a Fox executive, and a former producer, from one of its biggest stars, Tucker Carlson.

So, let's bring in CNN Senior Media Reporter, Oliver Darcy.

So Oliver, you have found a fascinating exchange, and a very illuminating exchange.


BURNETT: What does it reveal?

DARCY: It reveals, again that behind-the-scenes, the Fox executives, and people working on some of the biggest shows, like Tucker Carlson's program, didn't believe the lies being pushed by Donald Trump, and his team, and privately trashed them, behind-the-scenes.

I'll read you this exchange. It's between Raj Shah and Alex Pfeiffer, a former producer, for Tucker Carlson.

Raj Shah texts Pfeiffer. He says, you "Might want to address this, but this stuff is so f-ing insane. Vote rigging to the tune of millions? C'mon."

Alex Pfeiffer responds, "Is it even worth addressing again tonight? It is so insane but our viewers believe it so addressing again how her stupid Venezuela affidavit isn't proof might insult them."

And then, Pfeiffer goes on, later on, in this exchange. He says, "This whole thing is surreal. Like negotiating with terrorists, but especially dumb ones. Cousin" redacted "types, not Saudi royalty."

And so, I mean, this really highlights what they thought, about Trump's election lies, privately trashing them, behind-the-scenes, but entertaining them, on air, because the audience wanted it.

BURNETT: Well, I mean, it is pretty incredible. And saying directly to, you say Raj Shah, right?


BURNETT: Who was of course, with the Team Trump?


BURNETT: What they thought about it, right, making it very clear what they thought about it.

So, what else have you learned through these internal messages, as you've been combing through them, about Fox executives, right?


BURNETT: So, we're seeing this, at the show level. But what about Fox executives, their involvement, their acquiescence, their support of this?

DARCY: This really saturated Fox at all levels, from the producer level, from the host level, from the Fox News executive ranks, and also from the Fox Corporation ranks. I think that's what's so interesting.


DARCY: Raj Shah, a former White House spokesperson, turned Fox Corporation executive, he's at the parent company, and he heads this Brand team, supposedly. And they're flagging instances, which they think are threatening, to the Fox brand. And those instances actually tend to be when anchors, like Neil Cavuto, would fact-check, Trump's election lies, on air.

BURNETT: Right, right, which he did.

DARCY: That was considered, to Raj Shah, a threat, to the Fox brand. So, I think that's really interesting.


DARCY: It's not just Fox News executives. It's Fox Corporation. Raj Shah, Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch, they didn't want critical coverage, of Trump. And they made that very clear, to their subordinates.

BURNETT: It went all the way at the top.


BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Oliver Darcy.

And next, we saw a lot of stars, at the Academy Awards, last night. But we also got some important reminders of why the comeback, at any point in life, can be such an inspirational and wonderful part of the story.





HUY QUAN: Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Thank you!



BURNETT: Before we go, some moments that show it is never too late to achieve a dream.


HUY QUAN: My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp. And somehow, I ended up here, on Hollywood's biggest stage.


BURNETT: And just years after stepping off of that boat, Ke Huy Quan appeared as a child actor, in some iconic movies.





DATA: That's what I said, I said booby traps!


BURNETT: But after years of being off the big screen, recently to the point that he had lost his health insurance, Ke Huy Quan won an Oscar, last night, for Supporting Actor.

And it just so happened that he appeared in a movie, more than 30 years ago, with another actor, who also won an Oscar, last night, and who also had been down and out, at times, and spent time, away from Hollywood.


KIM: We took a vote, and the computer club feels your presence will be a valuable asset, to our organization.




HUY QUAN: Oh my God! We did it! We did it! We did it! Wow! (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: That man, Brendan Fraser, who won Best Actor, for his role, in "The Whale."


FRASER: So, this is what the multiverse looks like. Oh, my goodness! I thank the Academy for this.


BURNETT: The emotions, the two stars, and their comeback stories, proving that it's never too late for anyone.


HUY QUAN: They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it's happening to me. This, this is the American Dream!


BURNETT: And it is his real life.

We all celebrate it and congratulate them.

Thanks so much for watching this Special Edition of OUTFRONT.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Laura Coates starts now.