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Erin Burnett Outfront

Ukraine Launches War Crimes Investigation After Videos Emerge Appearing To Show Gruesome Beheadings Of Ukrainian Soldiers; Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) Is Interviewed On Leak Of Classified Intelligence And About The War In Ukraine; Police Release Frantic 911 Calls From Inside Louisville Bank; Trump Sues Michael Cohen For $500 Million In Damages; Judge Scolds Fox Lawyers For Potentially Withholding Evidence; Tim Scott Campaigns In Iowa After Launching Exploratory Bid; Xi Calls To "Increase Combat Training" Amid Taiwan Tensions. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 12, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, beasts and murderers. That's what Ukraine's president is calling Putin's forces after horrific video appears to show them beheading Ukrainian prisoners. We are live in Ukraine.

Plus, cries for help. Dramatic new 911 calls from the bank shooting that left five people dead, as we're also learning new details about the shooter's past.

And in a story you'll see first on OUTFRONT, fears growing the U.S. could be dragged into a war with China as Beijing says its military, it's ready to fight.

Let's go, OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erica Hill, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, beheaded. Two horrific videos out of Ukraine that appeared to show Russian troops mutilating Ukrainian soldiers. The video is not surprisingly graphic and what we're about to show you, it's just a few images from these two videos.

So in this one image, you can see what appears to be a Russian soldier crouched over Ukrainian screaming in pain as that masked soldier uses a knife to behead him.

We also have images from a second video, and here you'll see what appear to be the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers that have been beheaded by Russian troops.

This sickening footage sending shockwaves across Ukraine, and it all comes as we're learning Russia's private military was trying to buy weapons from a member of NATO. That's according to those leaked us intelligence documents.

Members from the Wagner Group actually met according to those documents with their so called Turkish contacts in order to purchase weapons and equipment from Turkey. Of course, this is a country that's already providing military support to Ukraine and has publicly opposed Putin's invasion.

Ben Wedeman is OUTFRONT tonight in Eastern Ukraine.

So, Ben, I know you've been looking into these just horrific beheading videos. What more do we know about what happened and when it happened?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, these videos emerged on pro-Russian social media channels and they are truly disturbing, if anything. They are reminiscent of the kind of videos we saw during the rise of ISIS.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): In a war not short of images of brutality and horror, two videos purporting to show acts of unimaginable barbarism, too gruesome to air.

In this series of still frames, a man wearing military fatigues is seen using a knife to cut off the head of another man in army uniform. The victim is seen wearing a yellow armband typically worn by Ukrainian soldiers.

From the voices on the recording, it seems the victim was still alive as the beheading began.

The perpetrator's identity is also hidden, but he's seen wearing a white tie on his leg, a means of identification often worn by Russian fighters.

Ukrainian authorities say they're working to uncover where and when the incident might have taken place, as well as trying to establish the victim's identity and that of the other men in the video.

This is something that no one in the world can ignore, says President Zelenskyy. How easily these beasts kill this video of the execution of a Ukrainian POW. The world must see it.

Ask about the video during the daily call with journalists, the Kremlin spokesman acknowledged the footage was terrible, but added a caveat.

First of all, said spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in the world of fakes that we inhabit. We need to check the veracity of this footage.

At about the same time, another video also emerged on social media, this one believed to have been filmed in the last few days purporting to show the mutilated bodies of two Ukrainian soldiers lying next to the destroyed military vehicle.

Voices speaking in Russian claimed the soldiers had had their heads cut off. Images on the video appeared to show the soldiers hands and also been cut off.

Pro-Russian social media posters said the video was shot near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, scene of the war's fiercest fighting, but CNN is unable to confirm the location.

The United Nations said it was appalled by the videos, but 14 months into Russia's full scale invasion, reiterated these are not isolated incidents.

MATILDA BOGNER, HEAD OF THE U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS MONITORING MISSION IN UKRAINE: We found that there have been significant violations on both sides, summary executions, torture and so on.


And we call on both parties to the conflict to hold the perpetrators to account.

WEDEMAN: Ukraine says it knows the motivation behind the sudden release of these videos, to frighten and intimidate, as it readies to ask its men and women in uniform to launch a major offensive aimed at driving Russia out of the country.


WEDEMAN (on camera): Now these videos come out at the tail end of Russia's winter offensive, and this offensive seems to be ending with a crescendo. The Russians are trying to do everything they can to take the city of Bakhmut. And the Ukrainians are still holding out in one small corner of that city. But in the process, the Russians have turned Bakhmut into a wasteland -- Erica.

HILL: Ben Wedeman, really appreciate the reporting, and live in Ukraine tonight. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Congressman Jim Himes. He's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Good to have you with us tonight.

As I understand it, you had an unclassified briefing this afternoon about this leak of classified intelligence documents. Did this temper any of your concerns?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): We did have a brief, unclassified briefing by telephone today with officials from the Department of Defense. And no, it didn't -- I'm not exactly sure why we had the briefing because it's a little early in the investigation for them to know anything. I suspect it was to try to calm the waters and to out -- to do a little outreach to Congress.

But, no, I mean, I must say -- I'm glad to know that the State Department is reaching out to our allies and I'm glad to know that there's an investigation underway. But this is really serious stuff.

And, you know, what I didn't hear was something I expect to hear in the coming week or so, which is, you know, who did this? How were they able to do this? And most importantly, how can we make sure it never happens again? And this is pretty key for our allies, right? You know, we rely on our

allies to share intelligence and they need to trust us. And right now, for all the soothing tones that I heard from the secretary of state, if I were an ally right now, I would be wondering whether the United States can keep their secrets safe.

HILL: Well, it sounds like the soothing tones are not only concerning on your part to allies, but they weren't soothing you either.

HIMES: Well, you know, I'm not going to be soothed until we know what happened, and have fixed the problem. And part of the reason I've got some energy around this is that, you know, I started doing intelligence work in the Congress here when Edward Snowden did a catastrophic leak, and it just keeps happening.

Of course, the American public is aware of the classified documents that were found in Mar-a-Lago, and at two former vice president's residences. Now, we have this.

You know, this is -- this is -- you know, guarding our classified intelligence is truly a matter of life and death for our sources. It's a matter of life and death for soldiers on the Ukrainian battlefield right now. So we just need to do better and no, I'm not going to be mollified until I hear what the plan is to do better.

HILL: Well, as you said, you're hoping for more information the next week or so. We're hoping that does come to you. Please, let us know.

Meantime, when we talk about the concerns over these leaked documents, some of the newest reporting is that some of them indicate the Wagner Group attempted to buy weapons and equipment from Turkey, a NATO member, of course. That attempt in February. Do you trust Turkey did not follow through there?

HIMES: Well, first of all, I should just say right up front, we don't know to this date which of those documents are authentic, which are not. Some of them apparently may have been altered in some way.

So this is not a moment to launch a big diplomatic effort around, understanding what Turkey maybe doing or what Egypt maybe doing. I know there's allegations with respect to Egypt. We will ask those questions. But again, I really do emphasize that right now, we just don't know what's out there in its totality, and we just don't know what is -- what is authentic and what is not.

Now, we better know soon. I'm not apologizing for anybody at the Department of Defense, but right now, it's a little too early to, you know, start drawing conclusions from what may or may not be authentic intelligence.

HILL: So you may not want to draw conclusions and get it's hard for CNN for obvious reasons. If you can't authenticate these documents, hard for us to be able to authenticate them, but there are these in the documents.

There are also suggestions that the war in Ukraine is at a stalemate at this point, highlighting specifically the weaknesses in Ukraine's weaponry, Ukraine's air defenses.

How do you feel about that assessment? Based on what you know, is that accurate?

HIMES: You know, I would disagree, and this is just my own opinion. I would disagree with the concept that it's a stalemate. I mean, obviously the lines are static, but you know the entire might of the Russian army, this is an army that we have spent generations and spent tens of billions of dollars thinking about fighting, hasn't been able over a period of six months to take a town in eastern Ukraine called Bakhmut that nobody had ever heard of. They couldn't take a town.

Now, the Ukrainians are training up. They're getting new equipment. They are -- they are becoming ever more capable every single day. If and when a Ukrainian counteroffensive materializes, that newly capable Ukrainian military will be moving on a spent Russian force.

So I don't think it is a stalemate. Obviously, time will tell. But I would much rather be, you know, on the Ukrainian side right now than on the Russian side.


HILL: I mean, we have heard the call time and again for more air power, specifically for F-16s. Ukraine's prime minister making that request again directly this time today to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

You were on the show a little over a month ago. You said. You support that move, that second guessing Ukraine is going to slow down these efforts. But the U.S., of course, still hasn't agreed to that.

Do you believe that the U.S. is slowing down the fight at this point?

HIMES: No, I don't think we're slowing down, and I know that we've been arguing for the last 13 months ever since the invasion over the pace and the timing and the types of weapons that gets sent to Ukraine. For my part, I wish it had come faster.

You know, there was always this concern, and the concern is a fair one, that you don't want a guy with access to nuclear weapons to, you know, to go over the edge, right? But I do believe that we have -- we have been too conservative and providing weapons to the Ukrainians. They have shocked us by their ability to use the weapons that they have to beat the Russians.

And I think we should be providing them with whatever it is that they think that they need. They're the ones who are fighting on the battlefield and dying on the battlefield. I'm not sure that if you work in the Pentagon or in this building, the United States Capitol, you should be second-guessing the people who are winning this war in Ukraine.

HILL: Do you think your message is being heard by the folks in the Pentagon who are making some of those decisions? HIMES: Yeah, I do. Look, I think inside the White House there are

differing views and over time, the United States has provided more and more weapons. I do think that there is a case to continue to be more aggressive.

Look, I think there's a moral case, right? Stalemate is not an acceptable thing here. Stalemate is a world in which thousands of people are dying every single week, and we need to provide the Ukrainians the tools to push the Russians back.

HILL: Congressman Himes, good to have you with us tonight. Thank you.

HIMES: Thank you.

HILL: OUTFRONT next, gripping new 911 calls just coming in from inside the Louisville bank, where a mass shooter killed five people.


CALLER: Hi. I'm at 333 East Main Street, we have an active shooter.


HILL: Plus, Trump is suing his former fixer Michael Cohen for $500 million after Cohen cooperated with New York's hush money investigation. Does the former president have a case?

And the judge hearing the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, slamming the network's lawyers and questioning whether they're withholding evidence.



HILL: Tonight, chilling and dramatic new 911 calls from Monday's shooting at a Louisville bank that left five people dead and eight others injured. Those calls coming from both inside the bank and from out, some from witnesses outside.

I do want to warn you. What you're about to hear is disturbing.


CALLER: I see somebody on the floor. And I thought, we heard multiple shots and everybody started saying "Oh, my God" and then he came into the board room.


HILL: The gunman's family is also speaking out for the first time in a statement saying they knew the shooter suffered from, quote, mental health challenges, but they did not think he was dangerous.

Adrienne Broaddus is OUTFRONT.


CALLER: We have an active shooter in our building.

DISPATCH: Do you have a description of the person?

CALLER: Get here now! We need somebody now!

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the desperate calls from employees who were trapped inside the Old National Bank during Monday's mass shooting in Louisville that left five people dead.

CALLER: I'm in the closet with one person. Yeah, I hear, I hear gunshots.

DISPATCH: Has anybody been shot?


DISPATCH: How many people?

CALLER: I don't know. Probably eight or nine.

BROADDUS: One woman can be heard describing the scene as she watched it unfold remotely from another location.

DISPATCH: How do you know you have an active shooter on the site?

CALLER: I just watched it on a Teams meeting.

DISPATCH: On a Teams meeting?

CALLER: Yes, we were having a board meeting.

DISPATCH: Did you see the suspect?


BROADDUS: Minutes after the first calls came in, the shooter's mother called 911.

MOTHER: Yes, ma'am, my son might be (AUDIO REDACTED) he said he has a gun and he's heading toward the Old National on Main Street here in Louisville.

DISPATCH: Main Street Old National?

MOTHER: Yes, (INAUDIBLE). 9Icompound. This is his mother. I'm so sorry. I'm getting details second hand. I'm going through it now. Oh, my Lord.

DISPATCH: Okay, and what exactly is going on with him? What he is saying he's doing?

MOTHER: I don't know. I'm getting this information from his roommate he apparently left a note. He's never hurt anyone. He's a really good kid. Please don't punish him.

His roommate called me. His roommate was concerned. Please, he's -- he's not violent. He's never done anything. He's -- he's --

DISPATCH: Okay. And you don't believe he owns guns?

MOTHER: I know he doesn't own any guns.

BROADDUS: In another call, you can hear a woman inside the bank describing the shooter.

CALLER: He's probably six feet tall. He's a young male.

DISPATCH: How do you know the person?

CALLER: He works with us.

BROADDUS: The release of the calls comes one day after police released body camera footage from the first two officers who responded to the scene.


POLICE OFFICER: Back up, back up, back up! Back up.


POLICE OFFICER: I think I got him down. I think he's down.

BROADDUS: Investigators say 25-year-old Connor Sturgeon was employed by the bank at the time of the shooting.

A former classmate telling CNN he was a varsity athlete in high school and played basketball and ran track, saying, quote, I never in a million years would expect him to be capable of such a monstrous act.

Sturgeon attended the University of Alabama, and in 2018 college essay posted to the website course hero. He wrote, quote: My self-esteem has long been a problem for me. As a late bloomer in middle and high school, I struggled to a certain extent to fit in, and this has given me a somewhat negative self image that persists today. Making friends has never been especially easy, so I have more experience than most in operating alone.

His family says he struggled with depression, but they had no idea he was planning an attack. In a statement to CNN affiliate WDRB, the family says, quote, no words can express our sorrow, anguish and horror at the unthinkable harm our son Connor inflicted on innocent people, their families and the entire Louisville community.



BROADDUS (on camera): And tonight the community came together to remember and honor the five people who were killed here Monday. There were a number of speakers at tonight's vigil from the mayor, the governor and other city leaders.

But there is one that stood out to me. And that was a physician, Dr. Mohamed Barber. He says it's part of his profession to console people and families who lose loved ones. But he said, this time he's having a tough time finding the words to console these families.

And there was just this overwhelming sense of fatigue and sadness -- Erica.

HILL: Yeah. As we heard from the chief medical officer the other day, he is weary.

Adrienne Broaddus, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

Tonight, in a CNN exclusive, Kaitlan Collins sits down with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear who lost one of his closest friends in Monday's shooting. It is his first interview since suffering this very personal loss.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: The police department has also released today that 911 audio that they got of the many calls that people place. One of them is from the shooter's mother who calls to say that her son's roommate has called to say he has a gun, and he's headed toward the Old National Bank. Just to hear something like that to see the mom calling, what's that, like?

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: This person murdered my friend. But still, I can't imagine how his parents must be feeling right now.

COLLINS: This is difficult for you to talk about, I can tell.


COLLINS: And your friend is Tommy Elliott.

What do you want people to remember about him? You talked about what a good friend he was and a great dad.

BESHEAR: He had a great smile. His eyes lit up when he did it, loved life, was always into something. You know, trying to make the city a better place, trying to make University of Louisville better place, trying to -- just always into something.

I mean, heck, he was -- he was trying to plan for me for when I'm done being governor. Which was something I hoped that we could eventually plan together. But amazing human being, a loving dad.


HILL: And we will have much more of Kaitlan's interview with Governor Beshear coming up on "CNN PRIMETIME" tonight at 9:00.

OUTFRONT next, Trump now suing his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, for more than $500 million, claiming Cohen spread outright false information. Does this lawsuit have any merit?

And another Republican inching closer to throwing his hat in the ring against Trump in 2024. Can Senator Tim Scott actually peel away voters from Donald Trump?



HILL: Tonight, former President Trump is suing Michael Cohen for half a billion dollars, accusing his former attorney and fixer of spreading false information in numerous media appearances and books, all while ignoring orders to cease and desist.

Evan Perez is OUTFRONT tonight.

So, Evan, the timing is also interesting here, especially given the suit also alleges Cohen revealed confidential information that led to Trump's indictment last week by the Manhattan D.A.

What else is in here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Erica. And you know, the former president has made a point of saying that what Michael Cohen claims is all false, that all of his entire story is false. And so now he seems to be saying that as a result of what Michael Cohen did is why he has gotten indicted.

And there is a part of this where he says, you know, that Michael Cohen, in his many media appearances, says that by virtue of the -- of Cohen's knowledge of confidential information, he was criminally exposed. So, the issue for the former president is that, you know, it's not clear that Michael Cohen has $500 billion to satisfy such a judgment if he were able to win. What the former president is saying in this lawsuit was filed in Florida is that Cohen wrote a book breached his attorney client privilege in disclosing some of that confidential information.

And in the end of all of this, the $130,000 that was paid to Stormy Daniels in that hush money arrangement, he says, you know, obviously was all Cohen's idea, all Cohen's orchestration and that all of it is false. We'll see how far this lawsuit. It's gets the former president given the fact that obviously he still has the 34 counts that he's facing. They're in Manhattan from the district attorney.

HILL: Yeah. Evan, appreciate it. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Karen Agnifilo. She's former chief assistant district attorney at the Manhattan district attorney's office.

So, Karen, when you -- when you look at this Trump is alleging that Michael Cohen broke attorney-client privilege. He's talking about all these falsehoods that he put out there. Is there a legal merit here? I mean, does he have a case?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's an interesting case here because on the one hand, he's saying everything is false, right? So if he was breaching attorney-client privilege, you're doing that by telling things that were said to you in confidence. But so, is he saying things that Michael Cohen is saying is true because I told him in confidence, and now he's breached that privilege. Or is he saying that the things are false? Because if they're false, why didn't he bring a defamation claim?

So it kind of makes no sense? It really reads to me like he's just trying to put his defense in the criminal case out and try and get his statements out there in the court of public opinion, because if you remember, Judge Merchan basically warned everyone about trying this case in the public and doing anything to affect the criminal trial.

Now, he's going to say, well, I legitimately was able to put everything out there because it's in the course of litigation. And so, it's just the timing is suspect. The claims are suspect.

And I also logistically don't see how this is going to work because if -- in the course of a civil matter, Donald Trump would be subject to discovery and depositions. And what is he going to do? This information yet he's the one who allegedly brought the suit.

I also think it's worth noting that there is a little bit of witness intimidation going on here as well. And he's just using the court system like he -- like he seems to want to do by going after his foes and adversaries.

HILL: So, when you say witness intimidation, that was -- that was one of my thoughts. Is this perhaps in some way, an attempt to silence Michael Cohen?

AGNIFILO: I think it's clear that it is. I mean, he does this after he's been arrested after he has been charged, and he's basically calling. He has a whole section in there about all of Michael Cohen's lies and what a liar he is.

I think he's really trying to intimidate him into not coming forward, because the D.A.'s office knows about the fact that Michael Cohen has a conviction for perjury for lying to Congress and other lies. I mean, that's well known to the D.A.'s office. It's well-documented.

HILL: Yes.

AGNIFILO: So, really, this is a message I think to Michael Cohen and others who might want to come forward and give testimony in any situation against Donald Trump. It's a warning. It's "look what I'll do to you".

HILL: It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Before we let you go. I do want to get your take. So we've just learned that there was another piece of mail containing white powder, which was mailed to D.A. Bragg's office. We know that Bragg has called out the repeated attacks from Donald Trump just yesterday and his lawsuit to question Jordan's subpoenas. He highlighted these attacks and also talked about the thousands --

more than 1,000 emails and calls that have come into the office because of, he says, Trump's words. You worked in that office. How concerned are you for your colleagues' safety, your former colleagues?

AGNIFILO: I'm not at all concerned for their actual safety because the men and women of the NYPD and the investigators who are former law enforcement or trained to be law enforcement at the Manhattan D.A.'s office are complete professionals. They know what they're doing.

And so, I'm not concerned about their safety in any actual way, but it is intimidating. It's intimidating to the whole system, to judges, to prosecutors, to witnesses. And it's hard to be under siege the way this -- the way Trump does -- that's what he does, and by getting Jim Jordan and his committee to, allegedly, come and do this fact finding for legislative process and they're coming to New York next week.

It's this -- it's this fear based intimidation and his followers hear him. And so this is just one example of them listening to Donald Trump and intimidating the D.A.'s office.

HILL: Karen really appreciate being here tonight, thank you.

OUTFRONT next, Senator Tim Scott, speaking in Iowa tonight. He once pledged not to run against former President Trump. Now, the Senate's only Black Republican getting ready to throw his hat in the ring. So does he have a shot?

And Fox News suffering a major blow in court. The judge overseeing the Dominion lawsuit says he plans to now appoint a special master to investigate whether the network withheld evidence.



HILL: Tonight, a judge slamming Fox and sanctioning the network for possibly withholding key evidence. The judge overseeing Dominion voting systems' $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox say he'll appoint outside attorney now to investigate whether Fox lied in court about Rupert Murdoch, an effort to withhold evidence. The decision comes as the trial is set to begin in just days, and jury selection begins tomorrow.

Oliver Darcy is OUTFRONT.

So, another dramatic day in court I think we should say. What else happened today?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: There's no way to cut it other than to say this was a no good, very bad day for Fox News in court, on the eve of this $1.6 billion trial. Jury selection, as you said, is slated to start tomorrow.

The judges really losing confidence in Fox, and he thinks at this point that it's possible they misled the court and withheld evidence. Like you said, he's going to be appointing a special master to investigate that. And if the master -- special master comes back with evidence that Fox did intentionally withhold evidence, it will spell very bad news for the company in the trial.

This case is supposed to start on Monday with opening arguments, and Fox is not in a great position. They're saying, of course, that they weren't intentionally withholding evidence. But the judge saying in court, he is very concerned, he says this is very serious. He says this is very -- he's very uncomfortable right now, not the way you really want to go into $1.6 billion defamation case.

HILL: No, not exactly. So jury selection slated to begin tomorrow.

DARCY: Yeah.

HILL: The trial is supposed to begin on Monday. That's pretty quick in terms of jury selection.

DARCY: Yeah.

HILL: They're giving themselves two days. Do we know how quickly the special master could report back? Has any of that been discussed?

DARCY: We don't know. But it's supposed to start in a very high profile way it looks like on Monday. Guests or not guests, but witnesses who are requiring security are slated to appear on Monday so we could see anyone from Rupert Murdoch to Suzanne Scott, some of these high profile guests that we expect to take the stand in this trial, could appear next week.

This is just not looking good for the company. It is always possible, of course, that they decided to settle. Murdoch could settle on Sunday night, right before this trial. We don't know what's going on behind the scenes because this is going to be a very agonizing process for Fox News.

Having people like Murdoch on the stand, having to testify about how he knew Trump's election lines were not true. He never bought any of them of it. But, yeah, he lied those -- allow those lies to take hold on his -- on his network. It's not going to look good for the network.

And it's going to last for about five to six weeks if it does go to trial.

HILL: It'll really be something. Thanks for keeping us posted on the latest. Oliver, we appreciate it.

OUTFRONT next, former President Trump facing even more competition tonight. Republican Senator Tim Scott announcing he's now running for president. So what is his path to victory?

And China flexing its muscles with military drills around Taiwan? It comes as Xi Jinping calls to increase combat training.



HILL: Republican Senator Tim Scott, just wrapping up a campaign event in Iowa, where he was repeatedly slamming President Biden. This is a Republican dinner. That's just hours after he moved one step closer to officially entering the 2024 race by launching an exploratory committee.

So how does he plan to pull the votes away from the current front- runner, former President Donald Trump?

Jeff Zeleny is OUTRONT.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): I am so happy to be with you.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Tim Scott believes his fellow Republicans deserve more choices in their quest to win back the White House.

SCOTT: Only is it possible for kids Kevin describes raised in poverty in a single parent household one day have the possibility to run for the highest office, in the greatest country on God's green Earth.

ZELENY: In a new campaign video today, the South Carolina senator presented himself as a candidate offering optimism over anger and hope over grievance.

SCOTT: America is a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression. I know it because I've lived it.

ZELENY: More to the point. He's not Donald Trump, whom Scott supported and has taken great care to avoid speaking out against.

Now, Scott has joined a growing band of Republicans testing whether there is a market inside the GOP for a candidate other than the former president who was overshadowing the 2024 race.

Tony and Gail Polashek are among the Republicans eager to turn the page from Trump.

GAIL POLASHEK, IOWA VOTER: I think his time has come and gone, and it's time to move on and move past the divisiveness that surrounded his presidency.

SCOTT: Good morning.

ZELENY: Visiting Iowa today, on the first stop of a three-state tour, Scott had little interest talking about Trump, which some Republicans found refreshing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We like Senator Scott because we think he's an authentic guy with a good positive message.

ZELENY: As he moves closer to an official run, Scott did so not with a big splash, but rather with the library tour, before going behind closed doors to meet with a group of home school parents. He speaks often of how faith has been a central tenant to his public service.

SCOTT: People will say that our message is naive, that our faith is foolish. But they don't know who they're talking to.

ZELENY: His biography is also central to his candidacy, made clear by the timing of the announcement, with today, marking the moment the opening shots of the civil war were fired in the Charleston harbor of South Carolina.

SCOTT: Our country faced the defining moment. Would we truly be one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?

ZELENY: A rising star of the party, Scott is the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate.

SCOTT: I do.

ZELENY: Easily winning a second term last fall. He finished his Senate race with more than $20 million in the bank, which he can spend on a presidential campaign.

SCOTT: If you wanted to create a blueprint on how to ruin America, you would do what President Biden and the radical left has been doing to our country for his entire time in the office.

ZELENY: His sunny-side message of optimism for Republicans comes with a sharp edge view towards Democrats, who, he argues have been divisive and dismissive of the country's racial progress.

SCOTT: That's why I say from cotton to congress in one lifetime. I believe that our nation, it's a story of redemption.


ZELENY (on camera): Now, Senator Scott just finished speaking here a few moments ago and, Erica, he focused extensively on the President Biden, not former President Donald Trump. He said it's time for the party to look forward. But he simply ignored the former president. The question is, is that the way to victory in his party?

But talking to the Republicans who saw him speaking here tonight and throughout the day, they liked his sunny brand of optimism. Of course, it's a question if that can break through in this crowded Republican field. But, of course, those Iowa caucuses start all of this early next year. And now, Senator Scott is one step closer to being in the race -- Erica.

HILL: Yeah, Jeff Zeleny, appreciate the reporting today. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Alice Stewart. She's advised four past GOP presidential campaigns.

So, Alice, you heard from some of those voters there who Jeff spoke with. They say they're ready to move on from Donald Trump. They like Senator Scott's positive message. I know you've also been speaking with Republicans in Iowa. So based on

what you've seen and heard, how much support do you think Senator Scott would have if he does ultimately enter the race?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Erica, he'd have a good deal of support and the people that Jeff talked to in his story. There are representative of a lot of folks that I talked with what I call rational Republicans and social evangelicals who are really ready to turn the page and look at someone who espouses the policies that Donald Trump has, but without the dumpster fire that Donald Trump brings to the arena.

And a few things that are talking with folks that Senator Scott has in his favor is that he looks at and as talking about the voters' future and what is best for them and their future and not his past grievances.

And also in Iowa, a key part of building a grassroots campaign as I've been there many presidential campaigns -- it is about working with the faith community and the social evangelicals, and Senator Scott is able to really connect with them in a genuine way, in a way that they believe is true to his core conviction, and his relationship with them is genuine, and it's not transactional like we had with Donald Trump, who says, if you support me, I will deliver on the Supreme Court. So he has that going in his favor.

One of the challenges that he will have in a state like Iowa that I'm hearing from is that some of the party leaders in the state are still in the Donald Trump camp, and they are fine with this division, and they are fine with what Donald Trump brings to the table. The problem is, while that might be well and good in a primary, that's not a winning message in going to the general election.


HILL: Yes. So we'll see how that all shakes out.

I do want to ask you about what happened today in Tennessee. So we have video of Justin Pearson celebrating after Shelby county commissioners, here you see it, voted to reappoint him as a state representative. This, of course, less than a week after Republicans voted to expel him, and fellow Representative Justin Jones raising a bullhorn to call for gun control on the statehouse floor.

Here is some of what Pearson had to say, addressing supporters after that vote this afternoon.


JUSTIN PEARSON (D), TENNESSEE STATE HOUSE: Our movement is rising. See, they tried to kill democracy. They tried to expel the people's choice and the people's vote. They are awakened a sleeping giant, and it is this movement that's going to change this country.


HILL: Jones, that we should note, of course, has also been reappointed. That happened earlier this week.

You said you were glad they've both been reinstated. Did Republicans mess this up, Alice?

STEWART: They did, Erica. Look, you know, I've worked in the state legislature in neighboring Arkansas. I'm quite familiar with the political dynamics at play in Tennessee.

And look, Republicans clearly were frustrated with the actions and the distraction of the Tennessee Three. But they made a mistake in expelling them. They overreacted, and I'm glad to see them back in their positions.

And speaking with several Republican legislators, they acknowledged that they're saddened by this turn of events. They realized that there are other actions they could have taken, whether it's censuring them or removing them from their committees.

But at this stage of the game, they're ready to get back to the people's business of the state of Tennessee, and they want to work on passing the budget and working together on the core issue at hand here, which is addressing gun violence and having all sides of the table.

But at the end of the day, this Tennessee Three, they violated decorum and protocol, and there should be consequences. But at the end of the day, the right step was taken. They're back in the legislature and ready to work together for the people of Tennessee.

HILL: Alice Stewart, appreciate it. Thank you.

STEWART: Thanks.

HILL: Coming up on "AC360", the ousted Tennessee lawmaker who was just reinstated today, you saw some of his words earlier this afternoon, well, you'll hear more from him tonight on "AC360" when Justin Pearson joins Anderson. That's at 8:00.

OUTFRONT next, China conducting military drills around Taiwan, and Taiwan's foreign minister says the reason is clear.


JOSEPH WU, TAIWAN FOREIGN MINISTER: They seem to be trying to get ready to launch a war against Taiwan.


HILL: We are live in Taipei with report you'll see first on OUTFRONT.



HILL: Tonight, increased combat training. That order coming from Chinese President Xi Jinping as he visited his navy. The heightened training as China completes days of aggressive military drills around Taiwan.

China asserting its, quote, indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, as signs point to an invasion in waiting.

Will Ripley is in Taipei with a story you'll see first on OUTFRONT.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): China may be one step closer to attacking Taiwan, staging massive military exercises miles off the Taiwanese coast.

Senior defense officials in Taipei say 12 Chinese warships surrounded the island, simulating a sea and air blockade for the second time in eight months.

Taiwan's military says three days of war games reveal rapid progress by the Chinese navy, what appeared to be the first ever simulations of aircraft carrier strikes with a highly advanced J-15 fighter fleet China calls the flying shark.

In the Taiwan Strait, China's Shandong aircraft carrier launched 80 fighter jet missions and 40 helicopter flights. The drills came with an ominous warning: China's military is ready to fight.

The Taiwanese military issuing a strong condemnation, saying it does not seek to escalate but is determined to safeguard its sovereignty.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Is Beijing in your view threatening Taiwan with war?


RIPLEY: Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu, speaking exclusively to CNN, condemning China's military moves. Menacing imagery shows a barrage of ballistic missiles aimed at the island. China launched real missiles over Taiwan for the first time last year.

WU: Look at the military exercises and also their rhetoric. There seems to be trying to get ready to launch a war against Taiwan.

RIPLEY: China calls the drills a serious warning against Taiwan separatist forces' collusion with external forces, and a necessary move to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China's exercises like similar drills last August, followed high profile meetings with U.S. House speakers, Nancy Pelosi in Taiwan, Kevin McCarthy in California, meetings the foreign minister calls crucial to counter decades of diplomatic isolation by Beijing.

WU: China cannot dictate how Taiwan make friends. And China cannot dictate how our friends want to show support to Taiwan.

RIPLEY: Support including nine rounds of weapons sales to the island under the Biden administration alone. U.S. intelligence believes the People's Liberation Army is acting on orders from President Xi Jinping himself. The PLA told to be ready by 2027 to take Taiwan by force.

One U.S. general claiming it could happen even sooner, in 2025, two years from now, a war that could involve the U.S. and its allies, as this fragile island democracy fights to fend off a future Chinese attack. And next time, it may not be a drill.


RIPLEY (on camera): But there are concerns tonight that global democracies may not be united, particularly after these comments from the French President Emmanuel Macron, you know, on the heels of his state visit to Beijing, he almost was echoing the Chinese President Xi Jinping's talking points. He was cautioning Europe against being drawn into a Taiwan crisis, saying that Europe should resist pressure to be a follower of America.

Well, here in Taipei, of course, lawmakers are asking, why would an advanced democratic country ignore the lives and potential deaths of people in other countries? They really say that those comments are puzzling, Erica.

HILL: Will Ripley, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

And thanks to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.