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Erin Burnett Outfront

Supreme Court Protects Abortion Pill Access, Major Win For Biden; Russian Warplane Accidentally Bombs Own City Of 400,000+; Another Florida Lawmaker Snubs DeSantis, Endorses Trump; Banking Scandal Grows In China, Experts Warn It Is Tip Of The Iceberg. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 21, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, we do have breaking news. The Supreme Court making a major ruling tonight, one that many across the United States were waiting anxiously to hear. The court ruling just hours before a midnight deadline, right? So we're on a Friday night here, 7:00 Eastern, just this ruling coming out. They're ruling that a widely used abortion drug mifepristone will remain available for now.

Okay. So here's the crucial context here. It was just two weeks ago that a Trump appointed federal judge suspended the medications approval by the FDA. So an appeals court then decided to impose restrictions on the drug that included blocking mail delivery requiring a doctor visit to get it determining what point during a pregnancy. The drug could be used all of this. So, it goes to the Supreme Court, which is now weighed in which is stopping those lower court rulings from taking place.

Now, here's the key, at least until the appeals process plays out, which could take months, so they're going to allow it to be sold while the appeals process works its way through the system.

We have a team of reporters standing by. Paula Reid live in Washington, Phil Mattingly at the White House.

So, Paula, let me start with you. What more can you tell us about this ruling, which literally is coming in the hours before the midnight deadline.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You're exactly right. They just had a few hours to go, but they have revealed that is widely used abortion drug will remain on the market as larger questions. Lawsuits about this medication worked their way through the appeals system.

And you touched on this, but mifepristone, along with one other drugs, they are used in a process called medication abortion that accounts for over half of all abortions in the United States. And last year, after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, a lot of attention turned towards medication abortion not only in conservative state legislatures but also in litigation.

And as you noted just a few weeks ago, a judge who was specifically targeted in Texas invalidated the FDA's longstanding approval of mifepristone, and the question before the Supreme Court over the past few days as well, all right, what happens with that decision, while that case works its way through the appeals process?

They had a lot of options. We weren't quite sure exactly what they were going to do, but they have decided to put that decision on hold, to allow this drug to remain widely available, while this case makes its way made through the appeals court.

But, Erin, this is not likely going to be the last time the Supreme Court weighs in on this because this case is going to be heard at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. They have said it on an expedited schedule. Oral arguments are scheduled for May 17th and whatever happens there will be appealed.

So, the Supreme Court will likely have to weigh in first to decide if they want to hear the case and if they do hear the case to make an ultimate decision on the merits here. Now, we'll note, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito both dissented publicly, but this is a big win for the Biden White House.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much Paula, and it is a big win for the Biden White House, which has just put out a statement.

Let me go straight to Phil Mattingly who is there with that.

And, Phil, tell you more.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, look to Paula's point, the administration has been very clear, White House officials bracing for a very long legal battle, one they knew wasn't going to end with whatever came out tonight. But they were also in the midst of intensively preparing for any result tonight , certainly getting the one that they hoped for and having a statement quite ready just in time about 30 minutes after the decision came down.

The president in that statement, saying, as a result of the Supreme Court statement for Chris stone remains available and approved for safe and effective use. While we continue this fight in the courts, I continue to stand by the FDA's evidence based approval of mifepristone and my administration will continue to defend FDA's independent expert authority to review, approve and regulate a wide range of prescription drugs.

He also says the stakes could not be higher for women across America. I will continue to fight these politically driven attacks, but he makes one final point here. I think this underscores that this is a multipronged response effort preparation that you're seeing from White House officials right now. It's the political one.

The president making the point that regardless of what happens in the courts, the most effective thing for those who support both this medication and also, abortion rights, generally in the wake of the Dobbs decision is to do something about it at the vote, do something about it at the polls, do something about it in the election years. And I think you've seen that approach certainly behind the scenes, preparing for anything that could happen for this case.


But publicly, the vice president has been out throughout the course of this week, talking about this. The president's top advisors on this issue have been rallying as well. They understand the political salience of this issue. They've seen it play out and states and in certain races leading up to this moment, and it's certainly going to be an element of the push going forward legal public health, certainly, but also political, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Phil Mattingly in Washington.

And let's go now to Ryan Goodman and Karen Agnifilo to continue our coverage.

So let's just start off with what this means.

Karen, look, this could have gone other ways. They could have said that you can't -- you can't buy this drug while this works its way through the system, we let the lower court ruling stand, right? There were other ways this could have worked out, and it is a conservative majority court.

So are you surprised at all by this decision that they are allowing the drug to continue to be sold as this works its way through the appeals process?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So this is a little bit of a surprise for sure, given the conservative majority on the court, but when Dobbs came down, they specifically said when they overturned Roe versus Wade to leave this decision up to the states, right? That's what they said. Let the states decide. There's no federal constitutional right to an abortion.

And so this one judge in Texas that was clearly forum-shopped and picked by the people who are antiabortion. They went to a place in Texas, where they knew there was a judge that was 100 percent pro- life, anti-abortion and he's the only judge who sits there, Judge Kacsmaryk. They went there specifically knowing he would rule this way.

There's many people around the country scratching their heads, saying, how can one judge in Texas outlaw this medication for everybody, including in places where abortion is legal. So, I'm very delighted and happy that the Supreme Court has pressed pause. It is not a complete victory because it's just a pause, while this winds its way through the appellate system.

BURNETT: All right. So let me ask Ryan, you were crucial question about this while it winds its way through the system, and Paula was laying out, right, that this is obviously saying we're going to hit pause as it works its way through. Well, the court is going to hear actually on the merits right of mythic history on the whole issue of whether you can block the FDA from allowing this to be sold, even in states that that do have abortion rights.

So when does -- how quickly do we get to a bottom line answer here?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPT. OF DEFENSE: So there's a good chance that this will thrust the decision back to the Supreme Court in the summer of 2024.

The reason is, let's say that there are all argument does take place on May 17th and they take a couple of months before they issue an opinion at the court of appeals of the Fifth Circuit. And then that gets appealed to the Supreme Court. They hear oral argument, they take a couple of months before they render their decisions in the summer of 2024.

Just looking like the summer 2024, which has political implications for --

BURNETT: Right, obviously, the summer before a presidential election.

All right. So this is crucial, now, what do you make of the fact you've got Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissenting. But again, this is a majority conservative court. So that means people like Amy Coney Barrett went along -- obviously we know her personal view is anti-abortion -- went along and said that this drug should be allowed to be sold as this works its way through.

What do you make of that?

GOODMAN: It is a signal, and it's a signal in part because they might have certain views on abortion. But the cases in this particular posture where there's this issue of standing. Can plaintiffs bring claims? Do they have to prove that they themselves would be harmed by the drug being on the market? It's a radical position that's been taken by the courts below.

So, would they really want to flip back a bunch of other Supreme Court precedents to try to take that claim? They've sent a signal the fact. That they only had two justices in dissent, Alito and Thomas, which were expected, is a signal to the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit is a very conservative court, but now they might be thinking, okay, if we go in a certain direction of overturning the FDA, we're going to be overturned by the Supreme Court. And courts don't like to do that.

BURNETT: What do you think about that, Karen? You know, the point here that you had Thomas and Alito with the dissent, but not an Amy Coney Barrett as an example?

AGNIFILO: Yeah, so it's what Ryan is saying. This is just as much about the fight for abortion as it is for process and procedure. So it's really -- it's a head scratching court to for, you know, that -- that's a conservative court, but it's a head scratching court. So I think we just don't know. And the Fifth Circuit is a very

conservative court, so but really what happened in the court below in Judge Kacsmaryk, with this nationwide ban was absolutely one of the most dramatic and shocking rulings that I think someone could do, especially with a drug that has been in effect and improved by the FDA for more than 20 years. And as every other scientists are pointing out, it's safer than things like penicillin and Viagra.

This is clearly a lawless decision that is all about putting forth his own agenda.


And I think that that is not what judges are supposed to do. You're not supposed to be an activist judge. And I do I think that some justices are having an opinion about that. It's about enforcing the law. Not about your own opinion.

BURNETT: Right, because, Ryan, it would seem what -- what you're going to see, watch out, play through right now is exactly the point you made. You -- in a court which supports states' rights, right, and they say federalism, right, and its ultimate definition, how do you allow to not sell this drug in states where there is abortion, where abortion is allowed at any point, right? That would seem to go against what a conservative view of the court would be.

GOODMAN: That's right. And they do seem willing to go against their conservative views on what is the relationship between states and the like when it comes to abortion. I think that there is, you know, the real concern is that Justice Alito, and then seeing how many votes he can never pick up, would want this to go nationwide, and they were just ways in which they can get there through deciding cases overtime, and this is one way they could get there.

He wanted to be there. He wanted to be there tonight. He wrote a dissent a very emotional, somewhat descent of being somewhat angry with his --

BURNETT: Alito's.

GOODMAN: Alito's, yeah, saying that he would have totally upheld the decision below and that this would have been tonight they would have actually made the drug taking it off of the market, and people would not be able to get it in the very state in which abortion is legal. That would have been his decision. So the question is, how many can he ever pick up over time and he would want it across the country.

BURNETT: And does that conversation, Karen, then start behind the scenes Alito, trying to work his fellow conservative justices, who tonight, right, are not on board. But you know, but they know full well, eventually this is going to come in front of them.

AGNIFILO: Yeah, absolutely. There's going to be a lot of conversations behind the scenes about that. And I think also what we should expect to be happening behind the scenes is the FDA continuing -- you know, the FDA fast tracked this drug many, many, many years ago decades ago, and it's really their process and procedure that this judge is hanging its hat on.

The question is, can the FDA do the normal regular procedure and get it approved before we can get before the Supreme Court renders a final decision is think another question that will be very interesting.

BURNETT: All right. Well, both of you, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Of course, as we try to understand the significance of this and I think fascinating what you said, Ryan, that this is going to come to a head, probably in the summer of 2024, the heat of the political election cycle.

Let's go OUTFRONT now to Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California. She's co chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus, and I will note as a candidate for Senator Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat in 2024.

So, Congresswoman, first, your initial reaction to this ruling from the Supreme Court, right? They waited until the final -- the final time here. It's a Friday night, just before seven o'clock. The deadline is midnight. That abortion pill will now be allowed to be sold as this works its way through the appeals process.

Your reaction?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): Well, thanks for having me this afternoon. But let me just tell you we can definitely breathe a sigh of relief. The status quo exists.

But we have to be concerned, though about the future in terms of the attempts by the far right to try to enact a national abortion ban, and I believe that they are going to continue, and that's why as Pro- Choice Caucus co-chair we have to make sure that we fight to get the Women's Health Protection Act passed, and that we codified put into law the right to an abortion.

Politicians, judges should not make decisions about people's health care and about making that hard decision about whether or not a person decides personally to have an abortion or not.

BURNETT: And, Congresswoman, you speak about this as a woman who has -- had to make that decision. You shared your story of having a back alley abortion as you called it in Mexico as a team that was before abortion was legal in the United States. It was obviously well before this abortion pill, which allowed for medical abortions, was available.

You know what is the significance of a medication like this? When you think about how it could have impacted your life?

LEE: Sure, and let me say it. It was very difficult to talk about at age 15-1/2 to have an abortion. It was illegal in California, was illegal in Texas. It was illegal in Mexico, just like now, I was fearful of being arrested, being criminal being criminalized and also, maybe dying.

I was one that survived because during that period, septic abortions was the largest killer of African American women.

And so, fast forward to today, mifepristone is a safe medication. It's been used by over five million people. It's been used over 20 years. The safety and efficacy is not in question.

And in fact, it provides access to abortion care for people who want to decide -- who decided to have an abortion and it's safe and again, it's the prominent method of abortions.


And so, we need to keep this in place. We need to not let politicians and judges try to make it illegal. And so once again, I'm very relieved of this decision. But we have to stay vigilant because they want to establish a national abortion ban and that is unacceptable. Well, we're not going to go back to those days.

BURNETT: We, of course, just saw right in the state of Florida, Governor DeSantis trying to put, you know, putting forth a six week ban on abortions.

And, you know, the other day, the governor of New Hampshire likely presidential candidate Christine Sununu told me. He just is upset. This issue keeps coming up.

He's upset that the right of his party are making it an issue. He said, every single time abortion comes up, a new Democrat gets his wings. That's how he described it.

Ryan Goodman just a moment ago was saying that this is probably going to work its way through the Supreme Court to an actual decision on whether this drug can be sold or not the merits of the case in the summer of 2024, right, right before the presidential election itself.

Is that a good thing for Democrats?

LEE: Well, let me just say the right to make your own personal healthcare decisions is a right that the public wants. The polls have shown this last election has shown that people do not want politicians and elected officials interfering in their personal decisions. And so, whatever the decision will be next year, if in fact that occurs there. Hopefully, it will be the right decision where people can make their own decisions about their health care and their medical decisions.

But believe you, me we thought the elections again last year and we see what people believe what people believe in abortions or not, that's not the issue. The issue is a person's individual right to justice and to reproductive freedom. And people understand that that is the critical aspect of the right to having an abortion. It's not --


LEE: -- what the right wing is trying to tout. It's about personal decisions about your own body and health care.

BURNETT: And, Congresswoman, of course, when I talk about 2024, you're going to be in the Senate race at that time and more than 60 progressive groups right now and California are urging the current Senator Dianne Feinstein to resign. She's missed 70 votes. Obviously, she has shingles, has been hospitalized, and it doesn't judicial nominees are waiting for confirmation and are not able to move forward without her vote.

Now I know you obviously are running for a seat. You've announced that she is retiring at that time, but should she resign before her term is over so that things like those judicial nominees could move ahead?

LEE: Listen, I am --and I've said this before, I am concerned about Senator Feinstein's health. She issued her statement and said that she would be back to work. She's trying to get or she tried to get someone appointed to the Judiciary Committee. She sent the message and, of course, the Republicans stopped that.

And so, I think we need to understand and respect her decisions and pray for her recovery. And then she gets back to Washington, D.C., to do her job. There's a lot of work to do. And so I personally again personally hope that she recovers and recovers well and in recovery.

BURNETT: I do want to note, of course, the governor of your state, Gavin Newsom, has said he would appoint a Black woman to Feinstein seat if she were to resign, and many -- I mean, obviously, I'm not saying anything you don't know anyone watching. Doesn't know they think you would be top of his list. If that happened, would you accept?

LEE: Well, first of all, the governor will make his own decision, he did say and committed to appointing a Black woman, if, in fact that ever -- that time ever came, but he has his own process, and I'm not going to interfere in the governor's process. He'll do the right thing by what he believes is the right thing to for him to do.

And in the meantime, I'm campaigning hard, Erin. I'm raising money, I'm getting endorsements. I'm working with many political people, many grassroots organizations to win this race.

It's in March. It's a jungle primary, the top two, and in fact, we're raising money and we're putting our ground game together and we're going to win this campaign and that's what I'm really focused on. This is a people power campaign, speaking to the issues of the majority of Californians and what they believe is senator should represent, and in fact, that's what my focus is on and we're going to win this race.

BURNETT: Congresswoman Lee, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

LEE: Thank you.

All right, and next, an unbelievable event in Russia today. Russian fighter jet bombing a Russian city because we're getting new details tonight about a desperate attacked by Putin to recruit more fighters for the frontline.

Plus, Trump racking up the endorsements in Ron DeSantis zone state. Some GOP donors are now pulling to DeSantis and one long time Republican donor will be OUTFRONT tonight.


And homeowners rushing to buy guns, amid a slew of armed property owners accused of attacking innocent people for honest mistakes. Well, a story of -- you'll see first OUTFRONT on the rush to arm.


BURNETT: Tonight, a Russian failure and a search for answers tonight because a Russian fighter jet bombed a Russian city. This absolutely happened. This is the moment that Russia dropped a bomb on the city of Belgorod.

That's it. Bomb drops intensity of the explosion. In fact, the explosion was so powerful that it left a massive 65-foot crater in the middle of the street. One parked car sent flying into the air, actually landing on the roof of a nearby building.

The strike took place in a city, right, Belgorod is about 400,000 people, and it is 25 miles away from the Ukrainian border. It's faced regular attacks since the start of Putin's invasion from, you know, Ukraine.

Russia's defense ministry, acknowledging the bomb was dropped by one of its most advanced supersonic bombers, right, so this is they're not denying it right? It happened. It's on camera and tape and it happened and it landed and they admit it.

The SU-34 is one of Putin's prized jets. That is the jet that dropped the bomb. And it is, of course, one that is front and center during the Kremlin victory day parades and other events. So the fact that such a high tech piece of equipment could make such a mistake has Russian commentators now reportedly questioning Putin's war plan, urging the military to avoid such risky flights in the future.


The backlash coming is Russia is facing attention in its own ranks. Here's General Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, speaking on that today.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The Russian lack in leadership, they lack will, the morale is poor, and the discipline is eroding. Russia is expending significant manpower for very little gain.


BURNETT: And tonight, Russia is going to new and extreme lengths to boost that manpower. According to an independent Russian news outlet, Putin's forces kidnapped a student from his apartment in Moscow. According to his girlfriend, a group of unknown people broke into the 21-year-old department handcuffed him, seized his passport and took him off to a military enlistment office.

The young man's girlfriend, saying that he had a deferment from the army, but it had just expired. She hasn't spoken to her boyfriend and says he was, quote, scared that if he did not agree to join the army, he would go to prison. They put psychological pressure on him.

And according to other reports, this is not a one off. These sorts of raids are taking place across Moscow as the fighting continues across Ukraine, which is where Nick Paton Walsh begins our coverage OUTFRONT tonight in Zaporizhzhia.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Studying the silence and the violence punctuated. That's the job here in southern Hulyaipole, where life in the ruins waits for Ukraine's counter offensive to push the Russians right out of their space.

Ludmila hasn't left since the war began and knows her artillery.

LUDMILA, HULYAIPOLE RESIDENT (translated): When there is incoming there is an echo. And when you hear the cracking sound, that's outgoing.

WALSH: It's all they've had to do as they wait down here with only a radio. They say it brought their best news yet this day, learning the Russians have bombed themselves by accident in Belgorod.

Recently, Nina thinks she's noticed a change in the bangs.

LUDMILA, HULYAIPOLE RESIDENT (translated): The shelling is not as heavy as it was. Maybe it is further away, or different guns.

LUDMILA, HULYAIPOLE RESIDENT (translated): The scariest was the start of the war. Now we are used to it. That's a bad habit.

WALSH: We drive out into the plains earlier this week, and the signs are there in the tracks, in the berms that Ukraine might be aiming south to cut Crimea off from Russia. It's quiet.

Then loud.

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (translated): It's far away -- about 2 or 3 kilometers.

WALSH: With the Russians firing from close by, drone operators fly in gaps between electronic jamming.

In these open fields here, each side trying to spot the other, weaken the other ahead of this counteroffensive.

One road is their target -- the cars, the buildings, tiny changes and signs of weakness.

Are they getting ready for the counter offensive or just doing nothing?

OLEKSIY, DRONE OPERATOR (translated): They are preparing all the time. Constantly digging trenches. New ones appear all the time. Vehicles moving all the time, including mechanics.

WALSH: Yards from his head, a Russian booby trap left behind. It's not clear if the Russians they're facing now have similar experience.

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (translated): They seem to be training. There is a rifle range there.

WALSH: After 90 minutes, each drone parachutes down again soon replaced by another. Fly spot shell and repeat. The waiting and watching will soon be over.


WALSH (on camera): Now, Erin, it remains unclear exactly when this counteroffensive may begin. There are indications has been drive around those areas of movement of vehicles of the potential for something to happen, but it's so unclear, but it's so vital for Ukraine to seize this moment to regain yet more territory from the Russians ahead of potentially another winter stalemate later on this year.

So much NATO weaponry headed their way and so many Western expectations that it will be decisively used. So, a lot riding on the days or weeks ahead -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Nick, from Ukraine tonight.

And I want to go now to retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, and Steve hall, who is the former CIA chief of Russia operations.

So, Colonel, can I just start with that Russian bombing of a Russian city, Belgorod, right? And they're flying over Belgorod every day when they're going to Ukraine, right? And it is a big city, and it's a Russian city, 400,000 people live there.

You're a former air force pilot. What did you think when you heard about the Russians dropping a bomb on their own city?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Erin, to tell you the truth, I thought, how could you make a mistake like that? And it was really interesting to me because what they're doing is they're using Russian territory, of course, is a standoff launched area to go and get into Ukraine and target Ukrainian targets.


But this thing went horribly wrong if it wasn't a deliberate act. I -- the other thing that occurred to me is that it could potentially be a deliberate act because it actually -- the bomb actually impacted on a major road intersection in the middle of Belgorod. So this is, you know, a key indicator that something is going terribly wrong with the way the Russians are preparing themselves for this. BURNETT: Can I just ask as a quick follow up there if they had done it

on purpose like that? It was a purposeful act. For what? For what purpose?

LEIGHTON: Would be to sabotage the war effort, to indicate that there's something wrong with the orders that they receiving, and they want to, in essence, protest this, if it is an act like that.

BURNETT: It's pretty incredible even to contemplate that possibility, Steve. I mean, you know, this is an SU-34 warplane, right? They brag about them all the time, right? They're very proud of this. They're incredibly proud of their air force, right? That's the elite group.

So what does this say about the reality?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yeah, I mean, if Cedric is right about that, I mean, that would be fascinating because it would essentially mean you've got some sort of rebellion going on inside -- inside the Russian military.

There are other possibilities we have. We have seen reporting that the Russians have been trying to get you know, microchips from wherever they can, refrigerators. You know, anything that's got a chip in it to make a smart bomb. Yeah.

So, you know, they could have tried to do that, and it's simply failed. It could also be incompetence because we have seen some real difficulty in terms of the recruiting and training across the Russian military, and it's possible you could have simply an incompetent pilot or some other part of the military that that causes to happen.

But I mean, it's amazing in Belgorod, you -- they were worrying about Ukrainians, you know, attacking and now kids in those schools are having to duck and cover because of their own pilots. So that's it's just an amazing situation.

BURNETT: I mean, it truly is. It's sort of your jaw on the floor to try to even imagine this.

So, Colonel, this is in the context right of the difficulty training and recruiting that Steve just mentioned, and those raids that I was telling everyone about a moment ago, now in Moscow, right, you know, and I know people who you know our friends there who talked about, you know, it's happening now when you go down to the subway, right, that they're -- they're looking for young men. But this story was of the 21 year old department rated handcuffed taken to a military enlistment office because his deferment had just expired. And then he joins, he says out of complete psychological pressure.

And we do understand this isn't the only time. This is happening in other places in Moscow, again, and that is significant, the capital. What does this tell you about the truth about Putin's army?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think Putin's army has become very much a hollow army and you know, his Steve indicated with became, comes to the training part of this. I -- they need replacements quickly, and one way to get them is to draft as many people in essence, impress as many people as possible into the Russian army, and that's -- that's what we're seeing here, Erin.

BURNETT: So, Steve, another interesting thing happened today, okay, and the Wagner group head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, he said that the son of Peskov, right, who is perhaps, the Kremlin spokesperson who has been incredibly close to Putin over decades, right? That that his son, Peskov's son is in the Wagner group served as a gunner.

Now, Peskov has not responded to CNN's request for comment on this, but what would this say to you about the relationship between Wagner Group, Prigozhin, and Putin, if Peskov's son was indeed serving with Wagner?

HALL: Yeah, this is a fascinating story line, and it's sort of another chapter in the protrusion chronicles, if you will. So, you got Dmitry Peskov. You know, very high ranking guy. We see him on television all the time, not usually saying anything of much of value, but we see him a lot. He's clearly close to the Kremlin, and there have been questions about what's going to happen with his son who is of, you know, fighting age in Russia, and he's been somewhat defensive about this.

So, now, there's this Prigozhin comment that, oh, yeah, he served in the Wagner Group. It's unclear as to whether or not Prigozhin continues to see a political future for himself, you know, ascending inside of the criminal, perhaps even replacing some of the leaders there with Putin and is that why he's -- why he's trying to gain friends, like Peskov.

If so, I mean, it's an amazing breaking of the Kremlin rules about how you how you play politics in that country. It's very dangerous thing, but it's so much of this is business meaning behind the scenes, it's difficult to see what Prigozhin is up to with Peskov on this particular story.

BURNETT: Yeah, amazing storyline, though, because, you know, we know it's something. It's just so hard to tell exactly what.

Thank you both so very much. I appreciate it.

And next, former President Trump's presidential campaign picking up the support of a lot of Florida lawmakers one by one. So what does this actually say about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' potential presidential campaign? A top donor is next.

And nearly half a million people caught up in a massive bank scandal, one that is robbed many of them of their life savings. It is a story you'll see first OUTFRONT.



BURNETT: Tonight, another backyard snub for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Jimenez just announced his support for Donald Trump for president. That makes him the 10th House Republican in the state to back Trump over DeSantis for 2024. We talked about this last night, there were nine. Now there are 10.

Congresswoman Laura Lee is still the sole endorsement for DeSantis before his expected campaign launch. This is on the same day a new poll from "The Wall Street Journal" shows Trump with twice the support against DeSantis among GOP voters for 2024, look at that, 48 versus 24. Some Republican donors have now been taking notice.

Thomas Peterffy, who is a major GOP donor, told "The Financial Times" and I quote him, because of his stance on abortion and book banning myself and a bunch of friends are holding our powder dry.

OUTFRONT now, another longtime Republican donor, Dan Eberhart.

And, Dan, I really appreciate your time.

You know what's amazing about this is a few months ago, every Republican donor was interested in DeSantis. A lot of them were doing anything you know, give as much money given to DeSantis, right? They wanted to stand over Trump. They thought he was some savior. And certainly, right now, things feel very different.

Do you think DeSantis his presidential campaign peaked frankly, before it even launched?

DAN EBERHART, GOP DONOR: I don't Erin, I think it's awful early and you look, this has been a bad week and perhaps a bad month for Governor DeSantis, but I think we're still in this. You know, this is like trying to determine the winner of the season during spring training. I think we've got a long way to go.



So let's talk about some of the issues here. I mean, I know obviously, you know, Mr. Peterffy mentioned abortion and book banning, but DeSantis is at war with Disney, right, is at the heart of this too, right?

That's Disney speaking out against the law, that restricts the teaching of sexuality and schools, and that specifically appears to have united his potential Republican rivals for president. Here they are.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I just don't think it's not good for the -- for Governor DeSantis. I don't think it's good for the Republican Party. This does not help the team and I just want the team to be able to win in November 2024.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: I don't think Ron DeSantis is a conservative based on his actions towards Disney. I think he's wrong. I think it makes -- rightfully makes a lot of people question his judgment and his maturity.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: I don't believe that government should be punitive against private businesses because we disagree with them. That's the old Republican principle of having restrained government.


BURNETT: So that's three and I should be very clear here. Donald Trump also has come out against DeSantis on the Disney issue.

So where do you stand on this? Are they all right? Or is DeSantis right?

EBERHART: Well, I'm actually a little bit in the middle. I think that Trump -- I think that Governor DeSantis is right to stand up to Disney, and I think he's trying to show that he's anti-woke and his whole messaging where you know Florida is where woke goes to die. But I also think you shouldn't be punitive towards business and he should have stopped probably halfway or two thirds through what he did with Disney, and he should drop it and move on.

BURNETT: So, how do you feel right now overall as a donor? I mean, are you still as eager to look at DeSantis or are you in the camp like Mr. Peterffy of holding your powder dry to wait and see if this is indeed a spring training moment or an indication of how the season will go.

EBERHART: Oh, I'm very enthusiastic about Governor DeSantis. I don't think he's begun to fight. I think he's still focused on the Florida legislative session. And I think that, you know, look, if we picked winners now, we have a President Scott Walker or President Hillary Clinton. I think there's an awful long way to go.

I also if I could, Erin, can I talk about the endorsement -- that congressional endorsements for a minute?

BURNETT: Yeah. Go ahead, right, now 10 for Trump and one for DeSantis. Yeah, you know the media's portraying the stories kind of 10 to 1, but also look at that, as I think these congressmen are just trying to buy insurance against it against the Trump endorsed primary opponent.

And I think that's what a lot of this is about. Not necessarily that they think Trump should be the next president, as they don't want Trump supporting someone running against them in the primary in 2024.

BURNETT: All right. Well, that's an interesting motive and thank you for putting that out there on the table.

Dan, thanks so much as always. I appreciate it.

EBERHART: Thank you. Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: Okay. And next, gun sales are surging. Homeowners want more protection?

Well, we sort of know why, and we have a report. You're going to see first OUTFRONT on exactly how this is happening.

Plus, people being tracked, harassed, even worse, all because they want to get access to their life savings that they put in the bank and now is no longer available. What's going on?



BURNETT: Tonight, the North Carolina man who allegedly shot a six- year-old girl and her parents after a basketball rolled into his yard, made his first court appearance. Robert Louis Singletary surrendering to police in Florida last night, ending a two day manhunt.

He is the latest in a string of property owners accused of shooting innocent people for very mundane mistakes, like a ball rolling into a yard, or in Kansas city, the 16-year-old shot when he rang the wrong doorbell, or New York or a 20 year old woman was killed after pulling into the wrong driveway as they were pulling out, and in Texas, two teenage cheerleaders wounded in a parking lot after they approached the wrong car.

This comes as gun sales are surging, especially among first time gun owners. Why?

Miguel Marquez investigates in a story you'll see first OUTFRONT.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why can't I get it?

MARQUEZ: They don't want their last names used. They are friends, colleagues, gun enthusiasts.

What gun or guns you own know?

SHELBY, GUN OWNER: I have a Ruger and a Rossi, both rifles.

MARQUEZ: Both from Long Island, New York City adjacent, both professionals.

Jenn has her permit but has yet to buy a handgun.

And why do you want to buy a handgun?

JENN, PURCHASING FIRST HANDGUN: I've been wanting to buy one for years. I'm also someone that lives alone for a couple of years now, so probably for safety mostly, but I do enjoy coming to the ranges and shooting. MARQUEZ: She's trying them out, seeing which one is the best fit for her. Shelby like many Americans, made the decision to arm up during the pandemic.

Do you feel safer having a gun?



SHELBY: Because I'm not sure the chaos is over, and I just feel like a lot of people have guns, and it would be good to have. I'm a single female. I live on my own. And why not protect myself?

MARQUEZ: The number of both state and national instant criminal background checks check required before one can purchase a gun and a rough indicator. How many people are either purchasing or possibly being issued a gun permit surged during the pandemic, from under 30 million to nearly 40 million today.

Today, in states like New York, officials say there's a backlog of gun permit applications with more applying every day.

MIKE MARINELLO, OWNER, SOUTH SHORE SPORTSMAN: The licensing agencies are inundated with applications. During COVID, the applications quadrupled.

MARQUEZ: Even in a state like New York, where gun ownership is highly regulated, business at South Shore Sportsman never better.

MARINELLO: Forty percent of my clientele comes from New York City.

MARQUEZ: From New York City, the five boroughs?


MARQUEZ: All five?

MARINELLO: Yeah, Staten Island to the Bronx.

MARQUEZ: And what are they buying?

MARINELLO: Handguns, if they have a license, like the gentleman that just left or, shotguns.

MARQUEZ: Right, by checking in the chamber.

For many, the constant headlines about crime drives them to gun ownership. For others, it's the mass shootings in the fear of not having a gun if everyone else does.

What effect do all these shootings and major events have on your business?

MARINELLO: In the immediate aftermath and most states, that would lead to an increase in sales because everybody looks at the news. And although that's a terrible event, they say the same thing. There's going to be a new law.

MARQUEZ: So there's a rush to get in to buy a gun.


MARINELLO: There's a rush to get the stuff that they think they're going to lose.


BURNETT: All right. It is amazing these stories and the people that they were open. They talked to you on camera.

I know you did talk to a lot of people off camera, who told you a lot -- they didn't want to go on camera.


BURNETT: Tell me about them.

MARQUEZ: Yeah. So, people are sensitive about talking about this because we are in New York City in this area, and a lot of people do buy guns from New York City there. We talk to people who in the medical field, retirees, housewives, they're all gun owners, and it's not just the pandemic or concerns about crime that's driving gun sales. It's kind of a feedback loop, basically. The more they see violence, gun violence, the more they're concerned that everybody around them has a gun, the more they, too, want a gun.

BURNETT: They all want a gun, and then the perception of a rise in crime is driving it.


BURNETT: Wow. All right, Miguel, thank you very much.

MARQUEZ: You got it.

BURNETT: And next, a ticking time bomb, while China's Xi Jinping sets his sights on Taiwan and the world fears of possible U.S.-China conflict, a massive banking scandal on the Chinese mainland is threatening to upend Xi's economy.


BURNETT: Tonight, tip of the iceberg. As China eyes an invasion of Taiwan, President Xi Jinping faces a growing crisis at home that goes to the core of China's economy.


A massive banking scandal robbing nearly half a million people of their life savings, and a year later, that money is still gone, a year later, they can't get it.

Selina Wang has this story that you'll see first OUTFRONT. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In China's central Hunan province this month, demonstrators chant give me my money back. One poster reads, America's Silicon Valley Bank customers got their money back in three days, but China's Henan Village Bank's customers haven't been given a cent in a year.

These protesters are victims of a banking scandal that started last April when several small banks in Henan froze depositor funds, impacting an estimated 400,000 customers, according to a state run magazine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Some depositors myself included can no longer survive because all of our money is stored there. Some people may commit suicide. Some depositors may hurt others, everyone has a tipping point.

WANG: This banking victim in Beijing is a lawyer who is gathering depositors to sue the local authorities. He says all they want is their money back, but instead they're being tracked, harassed or even worse.

While the banks are now open for business, and estimated several 1,000 still cannot access their money. The banks and authorities have ignored the victims' relentless efforts to get answers over the past year.

We're not revealing the identities of all the victims who spoke to us in order to protect their safety. This couple in Shanghai said earlier this year, the government hired people to stake outside of their apartment for weeks.

On March 4th, right before China's biggest annual political meeting in Beijing, they say their car was suddenly stopped on the streets of Shanghai. They were driving to meet a relative and shot this encounter on the phone.

Get in her car, the man in the brown jacket demands. No, she replies. So many people have surrounded us. What are you trying to do? She asks.

The couple says the men then through black cloth bags over their heads and drove them to an island outside of Shanghai.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We were locked up for 11 days. They illegally detained us and confiscated our bank cards, phones and wallets. I tried my best to cooperate with them. Still, they beat me.

WANG: He says the authorities were paranoid they might travel to Beijing to demonstrate during the political meeting. The banks, regulators and local authorities have not responded to CNN's multiple attempts to contact them about these serious allegations.

Last summer, police violently crushed peaceful demonstrators demanding their money back. Then, weeks later, authorities blamed the scandal on financial fraud, arrested hundreds of alleged suspects and promised to start paying depositors back.

Chinese media has reported that the government has the crisis under control, but has ignored the stories of these bank victims.

Meanwhile, pro-communist party social media influencers have been zeroing in on the bank failures in the U.S. This one says explosive news is facing a catastrophe. Another said it might be the end of the U.S. if they fail to handle this well.

And state tabloid "Global Times" published this dramatic info graphic, but the U.S. government quickly stepped in to pay back the depositors in full.

Have you received any sympathy, any response from the authorities?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No, I have not. The government's attitude is that as long as they have suppressed the people with problems, there is no need to pay back the money. It is completely different from how Silicon Valley Bank was handled.

WANG: This depositor from Zhejiang province went to the protests last summer and says he was beaten by the police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If I can't get the money soon, then my children and I can only live on the streets.

WANG: Do you have hope that you're going to get your money back?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): People like us have been robbed of money. We are treated like criminals. If my money cannot be withdrawn, only one option is left for me, which is death.

WANG: Back in Beijing, the lawyer says his relentless legal efforts may be their only hope.

If you do, get the money back, what is your plan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Leave the country with kids and parents because I want my children to grow up in a democratic, free and rule of law country.


BURNETT: Selina, this is amazing, right? People wait a year and still can't get their money. And, you know, from your reporting. I understand, experts think this bank may just be the tip of the iceberg? And how big could this crisis really be?

WANG: Well, Erin, one professor of Chinese business told me that he estimates one third or one quarter of China's small banks are in trouble. But we may not know how this is spreading because the government is getting better at covering up in preventing these kinds of leaks. Now, the root problem here is China's slowing economy and ballooning

debt. A lot of these small banks relied on financial products tied to the real estate sector, so when the property bubble burst in China's economy slowed -- well, funds dried up. And experts say what we're seeing is Beijing willing to oppress people rather than pay the remaining victims to tell the banking system they cannot play fast and loose with money, Erin.

BURNETT: Unbelievable.

All right. Thank you so much, Selina, for that exclusive reporting from China.

And thanks for joining us tonight.

"AC360" begins now.