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Erin Burnett Outfront
Ukraine: Offensive "Taking Place In Several Directions"; Mar-a- Lago Flood Raises Prosecutors' Suspicions; White House Warns China Against "Growing Aggressiveness"; CNN Exclusive: Trump Critic Rules Out 2024 Run. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired June 05, 2023 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Ukraine's offensive. A widespread operation underway right now across eastern Ukraine. Forces on the ground claiming to the seizing territory from Russia, as a disturbing video tonight emerges of the Russian private army holding a Russian commander prisoner. We'll tell you about that.
Plus tonight, a CNN exclusive, Mar-a-Lago employee drained the resort's swimming pool. It's flooded a room where surveillance video logs were kept, the rooms where the documents were. Is an indictment imminent? A former member of Trump's legal team is OUTFRONT.
And a war of words after another dangerous encounter between American and Chinese warships. It's not just the Chinese government that's angry with the United States. Tonight, you will hear some of the hate, the anger coming from Chinese citizens.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, show of force. Ukraine's deputy defense minister telling CNN an offensive is now taking place in multiple locations across eastern Ukraine. And it's not just in Bakhmut, where the majority the fighting has, of course, taken place there. These are the locations we are going to show you here where Ukraine says operations are underway to push Russians back.
One Ukrainian officer on the front lines saying about the current assault tonight, and I quote him: Today, our third separate assault brigade has resumed its advance near Bakhmut .We are gradually advancing, and taking in positions. The Russians are nervous.
Well, he says the Russians are nervous, and according to the chairman of the joint chief of staff, Mark Milley, they have a reason to be right now.
Here Milley is in an exclusive interview today with CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I think the Ukrainians are very well prepared. As you know very well, the United States and other allied countries in Europe and really around the world have provided training, ammunition, and advice, intelligence, et cetera, to the Ukrainians. We're supporting them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And that support is ongoing. And, you know, as I talk about what's going on in Bakhmut, and I pointed to multiple locations where we understand this offensive is now underway, there is growing confusion about what is taking place, specifically in occupied Donetsk, in the Donbas. New video showing plumes of smoke rising over the region. Russia said it was able to stop, what it claims was a large-scale offensive by Ukraine in the region. So far, we don't have a comment from the Ukraine.
So, there is right now as offensive appears to be underway, a true fog of war. But there are some things we do know, and one of them is that Russians are actually still killing Russians. In a video posted to the Russian private -- by the Russian private army Telegram channel for the Wagner Group, this man who is believed to be a Russian brigade commander, so you are seeing him there on your screen.
He claims he fired at a, quote, vehicle belonging to PMC Wagner while under the influence of alcohol, some sort of a confession. Now, so then, when he is impressed on why he did this, why he opened fire and other Russians, he responds, personal animosity.
Now, we can't very verify when this is claimed. But the fact that the Russian private army claims to be holding another Russian commander who say shot at them, and this is a Russian commander, it is a significant development. And in a moment, I'm going to speak to investigative journalist Christo Grozev, who is a wanted man in Russia. His reporting team has been able to identify this Russian commander, and he's going to share some information with you about that.
Grozev is OUTFRONT in just a moment. But first, I want to go to Kyiv where Fred Pleitgen is here tonight.
And, Fred, as we understand, this defensive may indeed in meaningful ways be underway. What is the latest there?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Erin. Well, there certainly is a lot going on in the vast battlefields here in the Ukraine, but the bottom line of things really is that the Russians don't seem to be gaining any ground anywhere, while the initiative certainly seems to be with the Ukrainians.
We have that situation in Belgorod where the Russians still have a lot of problems coming to terms of things there. Also in Bakhmut, the Ukrainians really think they are making gains there. And then in the south of the country, the Russians are saying that they are also under pressure from the Ukrainians.
Here's what we're learning.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Russian military drone video allegedly showing a massive Ukrainian attack in the south of the country. Some vehicles appear to be hitting mines, or being the target of indirect fire.
The Russians claiming they are able to hold the line.
The enemy launched an unsuccessful attempt at a large-scale offensive in the south of Donetsk access, the spokesman for Russian defense said.
But is this already Ukraine's much anticipated large-scale counteroffensive?
The Ukrainians claim they have no info. Kyiv put out this video urging people to not even talk about a counteroffensive. Their message plans love silence.
But anti-Putin Russian fighters are loudly making their presence felt across the border in Russia's Belgorod region. A local governor saying hundreds of munitions have been fired at towns there just in the past day.
It's a far cry from when we were in this area in February of last year when Russia invaded the Ukraine. Belgorod was one of the main staging areas for the attack on Ukraine's northeast, teaming with tanks and armored vehicles, this military hub seemed invincible.
Those streets that you are seeing up there, you can see them right now, you can see more artillery rockets apparently be firing from Russian territory towards the territory, I would say around Kharkiv. I don't if you can hear this right now.
Today, Russia's army appears to be bizarrely absent. This Russian military blogger dodging for cover in the Shebekino village in the Belgorod region.
We are lying in Shebekino on the ground under Ukrainian Grad missiles, he says. Strikes are coming one after another.
The local governor says the shelling from the Ukrainian side has been relentless, was several killed and wounded, and thousands evacuated.
The leader of the Wagner private military country ripping into the defense ministry.
We surrender our historic lands, he says. Today, children are getting killed. Civilians are getting killed in Belgorod, and the ministry defense is not due in a state to do anything at all as it de facto doesn't exist. It is chaos.
And the Russians are also on the back for the area Prigozhin's mercenaries just left, Bakhmut in the east Ukraine. Moscow's forces struggling to fend off a strong Ukrainian military both in the occupied territories, and inside Russia.
PLEITGEN (on camera): You know, Erin, Bakhmut of course is a really interesting place, because the Ukrainians seem to have all but lost that place. Now they say things are going really well for them. They also say quite frankly, they believe why the Russians want to talk so much about the south of the country and the alleged advances the Ukraine's trying to make their is to divert attention from the fact that the Russians are losing ground in Bakhmut.
There was one spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military who said that today was a very good day for the Ukrainian army -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Fred, in Kyiv.
I want to go straight now to retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, the former commander for Europe and the Seventh Army.
So, where do you think we are, General? Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar today says it's not about -- only about Bakhmut. The offensive is taking place in several directions.
So it's present tense. It's multiple locations. What are you seeing?
LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Erin, I've got to start off by first complimenting you on using the clause, fog of war, because that's where we are right now. When we are talking today, we have been talking Bakhmut for the last several months, now we are going to include Valadar (ph), Nuvogonetsk (ph), Shebekino, Belgorod, Kursk, Mulansk (ph), and about 100 other places.
What we are talking about, is an offensive that won't be a massive beach landing like we've seen in the movie "Saving Private Ryan" where tens of thousands of forces are coming together all at once. Instead, it will likely be multiple operations at different locations, with Ukrainian probing, confirming or denying Russian weaknesses, looking for holes and shifting Russ -- of Russian forces that are shifting around, taking advantage of Russian confusion like you just saw on the face of that young shoulder in Shebekino.
It's all going to occur at the time the place of the Ukrainians decision. So what we are talking about right now is a very different type of offensive, and we are seeing a building momentum for it.
BURNETT: So if you were the commanding general for the Ukraine, what would you want to see you can do next? You talk about this building momentum and not a Normandy-like event, but what would you -- what would you say should happen now?
HERTLING: Well, first, it would be an honor to be a commanding general of the Ukraine forces because they are doing so well. But, secondly, what I would like to see is the continued small probing actions with reconnaissance and force. Taking advantage of what Ukrainian forces find on the front lines.
It's not only going to be an issue of what conventional forces do, Erin, it's going to be a coordination between those recon forces, the operational conventional forces, the territorials, so-called national guard, the resistance forces, and even the Russian volunteer corps there are different oblast within Russia itself.
The commander of the Ukrainian forces is coordinating all of those things to cause the greatest amount of confusion.
And I think right now we are seeing indicators of that because you don't know what's going on, I don't know what's going on, and neither do the Russians.
But I bet you General Zaluzhnyi knows exactly what's going on, and he's doing a very good job.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, General. I appreciate your time.
And as promised now, I want to being Christo Grozev, the lead Russian investigator for Bellingcat. He's been putting on Russia's wanted list after his work uncovering the men who poisoned Putin critic Alexei Navalny.
So, you know, I mentioned earlier, you know, Russia is claiming Ukraine's failing and its offensive, specifically they are talking about in Donetsk. They haven't shown any proof, but I know you have been speaking to some Wagner fighters. What are they telling you?
CHRISTO GROZEV, LEAD RUSSIAN INVESTIGATOR AT BELLINGCAT: Well, first, I want to say that whenever there is fog of war, we don't know what the Russians are actually winning or losing, it pays to look at what they are stating. And the more outrageous and easily debunked all their claims about their success, quote/unquote, of the day's, the more likely they are not winning. They are failing.
Today, we had a great example of that because the spokesperson for the ministry first of defense for Russia claimed that in the Donetsk area, they had killed 1,500 Ukrainian soldiers. That's what he said.
BURNETT: So they says they killed 1,500 Ukrainian soldiers today?
GROZEV: Fifteen hundred Ukrainian soldiers today, that will promptly -- Prigozhin, the head of the private army, comes up with a statement which he published about five minutes before the show went on the air, where he said in order for us to have killed 15,000 -- 1,500 Ukrainian soldiers today, this would've meant that we would've taken about 150 kilometers of new territory.
If you put together all of the claim casualties on the Ukrainian side that we have claimed, these are his words, by now we would've decimated the population of earth, and maybe we should go after aliens because there are not enough people on Earth.
Now, Wagner is making fun of the ministry of defense or the ministry of defense has made progress. BURNETT: I mean, that is incredible. That is absolutely incredible.
And, by the way, the fact that they claim that they killed 1,500 in one day, I mean, that's an absurd number, neither side has actually claimed anything at large in the entire war.
But you mentioned Prigozhin being on to take that down, can we talk about him for a moment? Obviously the suit has been going on for months, and it still sort of defies any understandable logic and reason, but now that video he also put out that supposedly shows the interrogation of a Russian brigade commander in the custody of Wagner forces because this Russian commander, ostensibly, well, he admits this confession to shooting at a Wagner, at another Russian fighter.
You have found out a lot about this. What is the story here?
GROZEV: Well, the story checks out. I mean, when I saw this video published by Prigozhin yesterday, less than 12 hours ago, I thought this must be some sort of staging. It can't be that Russian forces granted a proxy army has taken a prisoner of war from the Russian forces.
I have never seen this in history, and I thought this could not happen, even for the absurdity of this war is too much. But then, we are treated with a face comparison, face search, we found that this person in the video is indeed a high ranking brigade commander. He's a --
BURNETT: Brigade commander?
GROZEV: He is a lieutenant colonel who was a very high ranking person, somebody who graduated from one of the elite Russian military academies. Somebody who has a lot of friends in high places, somebody who has a lot of loyal friends who are now extremely angry at Wagner for taking their buddy, their colleague hostage.
BURNETT: I mean, it's absolutely -- I mean, to even consider it, I mean, what the implications of this are. It just feels like at some point this is going to boil over, I don't know in what way. But we have talked about this crackdown that Putin has been engaged in inside and outside Russia on anyone who opposes the war, especially now that there's been these incidents, whether we with drones, or, you know, pro-Ukrainian Russian separatists, whatever you want to call them, a lot of poisonings. What do you know about all of that?
GROZEV: Well, I mean, we do know that there is a special group of killers who go after Russian journalists because they're -- at this point, I mean, we talked before, the Kremlin has lost any concept of reputation cost, and have no limits as far they will go to, sort of, play whack-a-mole, try to stop the flow of information, stop the influences that are still influencing their relatives in Russia.
And a lot of these are journalists, Russian journalists who focus on Russia. And they try to stop these voices from speaking, and spreading the truth. They can't do this with Prigozhin because he has his own private army protecting him, but there's no private army protecting hundreds of Russian journalists living abroad. And we've seen in the last six months at least four attempts of
poisoning, poisoning of Russian journalists. All of them women, by the way, which carries an additional terror factor because, obviously -- I mean, if you go after women, that means you have no boundaries, right? So I think that's part of the messaging that there are no boundaries, and the West should fear Russia more.
BURNETT: Wow, unbelievable. All right. Christo, thank you very much as always for sharing all of this.
Next, a CNN exclusive, we are now learning about a flood in the server room at Mar-a-Lago.
The server like the computer server, right? The same room where security surveillance logs are kept.
And a former member of Trump's legal team, who testified before the grand jury investigating the handling of Trump documents will be my guest next.
Plus, the Republican governor is not afraid to take on Trump with the message tonight for his own party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: If Republicans nominate him, then we are seeing a vote for him in the primary is effectively a vote for Joe Biden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: An exclusive new images tonight of Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, as he is about to be transported to the United States.
BURNETT: Tonight, a CNN exclusive. A Mar-a-Lago employee flooded a room with computer servers containing surveillance video logs. Federal prosecutors investigating Trump's handling of classified documents find the incident and the timing very suspicious as they explore an obstruction case. This news emerging on the same day that Trump's legal team met with special counsel Jack Smith at the Justice Department.
We understand that meeting was about 90 minutes in length.
Katelyn Polantz is OUTFRONT.
And, Katelyn, what else do you know -- I guess let's just start with this pool incident, right? A flooding of the room where the servers with the video logs that would've had video of anything happening in those storage rooms. It gets flooded, and destroyed.
How could this affect the classified documents probe?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Erin, the very least we know it's something prosecutors are asking about as a look into this possibility that there could have been attempts to obstruct the investigation.
So, the -- one of the people, a maintenance worker who was the person that drained the pool that caused the flooding of the room where the IT equipment was kept, or the surveillance footage was kept, that maintenance worker, and another man Walt Nauta, who is a body man to Trump and helps him, and travels with him, those two people were captured on surveillance tape moving boxes at one point in time. And then, there is this incident in October where the pool is drained, and the room where the circuit is being kept is flooded for some reason, we don't know the answer to that yet. We don't know if prosecutors know the asked sort of that yet, but they're asking about it.
And the reason it's coming together in this obstruction investigation is because of the timing. There was a long period of time where the Justice Department, the special counsel's office sought for surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago, not just before the FBI went into look the property in August, but they asked for surveillance footage again after that, and they also indicated to the Trump organization they want to them to preserve their surveillance footage at the end of October, the same month that this flood happened.
And so, we really don't know where this has led prosecutors to at this point in time, we just know it's something that has come up in witness testimony, that they've been asking questions. And we also don't know that if it is intentionally something that had happened, or if you can expect to Donald Trump himself.
BURNETT: Right, these are obviously crucial questions with huge illegal implications as you implied, Katelyn.
So Trump's lawyers were demanding a meeting with Attorney General Merrick Garland about the special counsel investigation, you've done so much reporting on that. Today, they had that meeting with the special counsel Jack Smith himself.
What do you understand about what happened there and then if you can solve it?
POLANTZ: Erin, usually, you don't get a meeting like this Main Justice, unless you believe there is an end of the investigation coming, or the Justice Department wants to be willing to talk with you now.
Now, this was -- I mean, it was requested by the defense. It wasn't something where the prosecutors had informed them of some sort of decision that they were coming on. But, it does appear to be a fairly significant meeting coming at what seems to be, in a lot of indications, the end of an investigation in a very busy investigation. We do know a top career official met with the attorneys as well as Jack Smith himself, the special counsel. But, Erin, it's quite possible there are similar things that have to happen in this investigation. We do know that a grand jury is going to be hearing from a witness in South Florida in this documents probe this week.
BURNETT: Oh, okay. So there's no one is at least one more witness.
Katelyn, thank you very much.
And I want to go now on the back of Katelyn's reporting to Tim Parlatore, a former member of Donald Trump's legal.
And, Tim, I really appreciate your time tonight.
Let me to start with the new reporting tonight that we just heard, a Mar-a-Lago employee draining a swimming pool at the resort that leads to the room that has computer servers with the surveillance video logs being flooded.
Are you able to definitively -- can help us understand what happened here? Can you definitively say that there was nothing nefarious in this event?
TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Well, I will say that, from October until my very recent departure from the team, this is the first time I have ever heard anything about a pool being drained. You know, that timing of it -- I heard the discussion of it a moment ago, but the reality is that all of the surveillance video that would've been relevant to the special counsel's investigation is the video that happened before the raid of Mar-a-Lago, although that was turned over to the DOJ before they got the search warrant.
And you know, for there to be any possible, you know, obstructive intent in October to destroy video, it kind of strains credulity to me because it is already been given over. So --
BURNETT: I understand what you're saying. Katelyn's laying on the timing that by the end of October, they had requested to have everything, and that this flood happened in October. Again, correlation does not mean causality, but --
PARLATORE: So, we had done those searches, you know, that I had directed thereafter, and they had requested and received the video surveillance of the searches that my team conducted. And that was all after October.
So, I think that may be just a misunderstanding of the timeline, because I don't really see where this October demand would fit into anything.
BURNETT: All right. So in addition to this, obviously, and we know they're looking into the, we don't know the significance or whether the implication is this was nefarious or not, these are questions now.
[19:25:03] But "The Washington Post" is reporting two Mar-a-Lago employees were moving boxes a day before the Justice Department came to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve classified documents after the subpoena. You know, sources told CNN that the investigators have asked Trump employees about possible gaps in surveillance footage, whether it could've been tampered with, those have been questions.
And yet in all of this, from what you understand there is no possible pattern of obstruction?
PARLATORE: They have the full video to. There is no missing footage, and you know, while I appreciate that they are going through and --
BURNETT: So you are saying they see possible gaps, and you're saying there are no gaps?
PARLATORE: I -- they haven't discussed any gaps with us, at least not when I was there. The video was complete. There is not any gaps to be had as far as I am aware.
So, I know that they are trying to dot all the eyes here, but they have the actual video, so I don't know what they're looking for their. As for the boxes moving the day before? They were moving boxes while Evan was conducting a search, as part of helping him to connect the search, as I understand it.
So, a lot of these rumors and leaks and innuendos regarding obstruction don't really fit into the actual timeline.
BURNETT: So let me ask you about what happened today. We understand a 90-minute meeting that happened with the special counsel Jack Smith at the behest of the lawyers still working with Trump, right? They want to have this meeting. They do understand the grand jury has at least one more witness, Tim, from South Florida.
But we all -- we all understand that this investigation is wrapping up, and you know, I understand you have talked about it, you don't think an indictment is merited. I actually just want to stick here if I may to this question, very specifically. Do you think an indictment, if they're going to go there for Donald Trump, it's going to come this week.
PARLATORE: I would not think so, just because of the logistics of it. You know, if they are opening a new grand jury down in south Florida and going that direction, I think that for it to be this week would be rather quick. Plus, they had a waiting this morning where I am sure that my former colleagues presented them with a lot of important formation that they would have to follow up on.
So to actually bring it this week I think would be a little bit hasty.
BURNETT: All right, so you don't think it's coming that imminently.
And as I said, you don't believe Trump is going to be indicted, at least that could've changed, you don't think you should be? I guess --
PARLATORE: Right. Based on the facts in the law, I don't think he should be indicted. That being said, I have made a career of representing people who probably should not have been indicted, and ultimately had to go to trial to be acquitted. So, should and will are definitely, not necessarily related concepts.
BURNETT: So, Trump's former White House lawyer Ty Cobb, I speak to him frequently, he believes the obstruction case against Trump is essentially open and shut. He is certainly not alone in that belief, there are many who share that, but he has been very explicit and specific about it, and here is something of what he's told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: There have been false statement after false statement. There has been failures to cooperate. There has been on a chance, you know, to have employees lie to people.
So the evidence is building brick-by-brick, and there isn't a good break in there for the former president. I think this obstruction case is a tight case.
I'd be telling Trump that he's dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: He's not mincing words and as I said, certainly, he knows Trump, he knows the situation, but he's certainly not a lot of that sentiment.
PARLATORE: And apparently he knows more about the facts than the attorneys handling the case.
BURNETT: Well, attorneys defending Trump.
PARLATORE: Right, because when he's talking --
BURNETT: I mean, who have a point of view.
PARLATORE: When he's talking there about the false statements and all of those things, you know, a lot of what he's laying out is the building blocks of it, of obstruction case, it's not anything that I saw.
And so, to build an obstruction case, you have to have actual evidence, not, you know, leaks and innuendos. And the reality is that everything I have seen in this case, you know, there are things that you could try to interpret that way, but I have never seen any solid evidence of obstruction.
BURNETT: So, what would you advise Trump do, Tim, as a lawyer, if he is indicted? If he is indicted, what should he do?
PARLATORE: Look, anytime you have a federal indictment, that is a very serious threat. And, you know, whether you are guilty or innocent, and in fact even more importantly if you are innocent, that has to be the main primary focus of everything, because dealing with the federal criminal system really is something that can be life altering.
And so, you have to set everything else aside, and really focus on that, and make sure that your lawyers are empowered to do everything they can to make sure that they defend you.
BURNETT: Of course, obviously, with his former president and what he is doing, now he's running for president, fair to say, questions about what or whether any that would actually happen.
PARLATORE: Right, and I'm not commenting on the campaign or anything like that, because, obviously, you want your client to continue to live their life and to work their job and everything else. But at the same time, the indictment and the federal criminal case really has to be the primary focus of you, of it.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Tim, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
PARLATORE: All right, thank you.
BURNETT: All right. And next, the story that you'll see first here. The U.S. now enemy number one in Chinese state media. And unfortunately right now, it seems clear that the Chinese public agrees. An exclusive report.
Plus, New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu not holding back on Trump's efforts to be reelected.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUNUNU: He won't even win Georgia. If you are a Republican that can't win Georgia in November '24, you have no shot. And he has proven that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Tonight, the White House warning China against, quote, growing aggressiveness by its military. After this, you are looking here on your screen, this is a near collision between an American and Chinese warships, and this actually occurred in a China Strait. Think about the Taiwan Straight. Look at how close they are?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: It won't be long before somebody gets hurt. That is their concern with these unsafe and unprofessional intercepts. They can lead to misunderstandings, they can lead to miscalculations.
BURNETT: This comes as top officials from the U.S. State Department and the NSA are in Beijing where they had a, quote, candid and direct discussion with their Chinese counterparts today amid these increasing tensions.
Will Ripley is OUTFRONT.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the streets, in the skies, and on the sea, rising rhetoric in the U.S. warns real danger of military confrontation. A growing list of U.S. China flare-ups, fueling fears, anti-American sentiment among the Chinese public.
Chinese state media adding fuel to the fire, blasting the airwaves with outrage. Public perception of the U.S. plummeting. A recent Chinese poll reveals more than half of those surveyed have a very unfavorable, or somewhat unfavorable impression of the U.S.
The U.S. keeps picking on China, says this man in Beijing. It feels like the U.S. is bullying China.
Another making his views clear: I don't like the U.S. All bad things in the world are caused by the U.S.
U.S. poll so many Americans have similar views about China. Even in polarized Washington, countering Beijing has rare, bipartisan support. From the Taiwan Strait to the South China Sea to Singapore, the U.S. and China seem to be spiraling closer to conflict.
On Saturday, a near collision on the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. accused the Chinese warship of cutting off a U.S. Navy destroyer. The U.S. says both ships came within 150 yards, less than 500 feet of each other. The U.S. destroyer took emergency measures to avoid a collision.
A close encounter U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called extremely dangerous.
LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm concerned about, at some point, having an incident that could very, very quickly spiral out of control.
RIPLEY: Austin speaking at this Asian defense summit in Singapore. The Pentagon says China rejected a proposed meeting with its Defense Minister Li Shangfu. Their only interaction, this brief handshake. The U.S. says they did not have a substantive exchange.
General Li had plenty to say after the near collision, blasting U.S. planes of a peaceful passage of the through the Taiwan Strait with the Canadian warship. They are not yet for peaceful passage, he says, they are here for provocation.
Tensions already high, getting even higher. Just days earlier over the South China Sea, a mid-air incident caught on camera, a Chinese jet dangerously sly close to U.S. reconnaissance plane. The U.S. calls this an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver. China says it was just safeguarding its sovereignty, accusing the U.S. military plane of deliberately intruding into China's training area.
A government spokesperson saying, the U.S. should immediately stop such dangerous and provocative actions.
Washington rejects Beijing's territorial claims over nearly all the South China Sea, saying the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows. Tensions rising ever since a controversial Taiwan trip by former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last year. And this year's meeting in California between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Tsai Ing-wen, president of Taiwan.
China also claimed sovereignty of the self governing democracy its communist rulers have never controlled. Launching two rounds of massive military drills near Taiwan, only adding to U.S. concerns of a potential military miscalculation with massive consequences.
BURNETT: I mean, Will, it's amazing to see that. I mean, just think about 450 feet apart in the speed with that wake that those ships were moving, I mean, just think about what could've happened? The White House I know says top U.S. officials brought up this near-collision during their meeting with Beijing, in Beijing today I'm sorry.
What are the Chinese officials saying about it?
RIPLEY: Publicly not much, other than calling on the United States to stop, what they call, provocative behavior, Erin. But look, just the fact that there are talks happening Beijing as an encouraging sign, because for months, the U.S. has been trying to rekindle high-level diplomacy. Remember, there is that thaw when President Biden and President Xi met in Bali last November, but then there was a Chinese spy balloon on the eve of what was supposed to be a very important diplomatic visit by the secretary of state to Beijing. That derailed the whole thing, and basically both sides have not been able to communicate at a high-level ever since.
So if indeed now there are these lower level discussions, perhaps that could lead to higher level meetings which could try to potentially put, you know, some sort of a pause in this escalating tension that really has been going, whether it's time one of the South China Sea, China's deepening partnership with Russia, there's a lot that the U.S. and China need to talk about to avoid a misunderstanding, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Will, thank you very much from Taipei tonight.
And, next, a Republican governor, one of Trump's toughest critics, tells our Dana Bash sort of vote for Trump in the primaries is a vote for Biden in the general.
[19:40:05] But will Republicans listen to him? Dana Bash is next with her exclusive.
Plus, exclusive new images of the prime suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, Joran van der Sloot just as you want to be extradited to the United States.
BURNETT: Tonight, one of Donald Trump's biggest critics says he won't run against him. New Hampshire's Republican Governor Chris Sununu exclusively telling CNN's Dana Bash that he will not run for president in 2024. But Sununu also warning his party that if they vote for Trump, if you vote for Trump, that it means certain defeat for Republicans. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUNUNU: The math has shown Donald Trump has no chance of winning in November of '24. He won't even win Georgia. If you are a Republican that can't win Georgia of November '24, you have no shot. And he's proven that.
If Republicans nominate him, then we're saying see a vote for him in the primary is effectively a vote for Joe Biden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And Dana is OUTFRONT now, our chief political correspondent and co-anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION", and starting next week, the anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS".
So, Dana, he's saying he won't launch a presidential campaign, but how much of an influence does Sununu intend to have in that Republican primary?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, his argument, Erin, is that he can have more of an influence not being in the campaign because as a candidate, you have to be more on message, and you have to be more strategic in order to further your own candidacy.
He argues that, as somebody with a national profile, and as the governor of the first in the nation primary state, he can really push levers more from the outside than the inside.
And what's his top goal as we just heard there? To try to stop Donald Trump. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUNUNU: Former President Trump and his message, his style, his brand, have cost us dearly, and he doesn't represent that Republican Party. He doesn't represent that limited government, local control, individual liberty stuff that we will talk about. He's about himself. BASH: One could argue that you are the one out of step with the
Republican Party, not the candidates running.
SUNUNU: Oh, no, look, you talk --
BASH: The current Republican Party.
SUNUNU: Well, maybe the base, right? Maybe the base.
BASH: The base is -- they are the ones who elect the nominee.
SUNUNU: That's right, and that's the frustration. So I want to make the base bigger. I want to get more independents into the base. I want more young people that have been disenfranchised. It used to be part of the base, but you want to get them back in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: And, Erin, in the short term, another reason why Governor Sununu says he's not running is because of the more crowded field, the less likely it is that one of the 11 candidates right now, it would be 12 if he ran, other than Trump would be able to topple him, just like we saw in 2016. It's simple math. They split the vote and he gets more than everybody else.
He's also pretty harsh when it comes to the candidates who are running and maybe won't get over 1 or 2 percent. He said, you've got a look in the mirror, and you got to get out of the race, and you can't run for vice president. He said that they should make that decision in November or December of this year.
BURNETT: This is really interesting, because again, 1 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent, 6 percent, it does all add up.
Now, meantime, you have this dark world that we are in right now where Americans in general aren't really good with their choices, and you see that with the Democratic side, the presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy junior right now, in the most recent polls, 20 percent of Democrats who say they want him to be their nominee. And today, he took part in a Twitter hosted conversation with Elon Musk.
He continued his ongoing criticism of vaccines. And then, he also talked about Democrats. Here's part of that.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you ask about vaccines, you are a Trump Republican. And if you add a just a religious belief in their efficacy and safety that could not be question, you are a Democrat. And so, I watched that, after all that play out, and watched the Democrats slowly become these pro-corporate, pro-war, pro-censorship Republicans -- you know, what had once been Republicans.
(END AUDIO CLIP) BURNETT: And, you know, Cornel West, the progressive scholar, Bernie Sanders supporter today, said he's going to mount a third party run for president against Biden. These things can really disrupt, a few percentage here and there, in the way this country is split, wow.
How big of a worry is this for Biden?
BASH: Well, right now, they are monitoring it. And particularly in the short term for the Democratic primary, Robert F. Kennedy, they are trying to, you know, make sure that the 20 percent doesn't grow. But they just don't know.
They feel publicly pretty confident, and privately pretty confident that he's not going to get to the point where there is going to be a real threat to Joe Biden in the primary. But the Cornel West development today is different because he says, as you mentioned, he's going to mount a third party run. What that means is that in the general election, he could siphon Democratic votes from President Biden.
And if you see in the last two elections, 1,000 votes here, 1,000 votes there, that is determinative of who is in the White House.
BURNETT: All right. Dana, thank you very much.
And on Wednesday, Dana is going to be moderating that Republican presidential town hall with Mike Pence. That is at 9:00 Eastern. And Dana will be live from Iowa with that.
Meantime next here for the first time in years, we are getting an exclusive glimpse of the key suspect in the Natalee Holloway disappearance. He's about to be extradited to the United States.
And one of America's most notorious spies who was working with the Soviet Union had cost the United States hundreds of millions of dollars, tonight, has died.
BURNETT: Tonight, exclusive new images of the prime suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway. Joran van der Sloot being moved to a Lima, Peru, prison. Van der Sloot is now about to be extradited to the U.S. from Peru where he is currently serving a 28-year prison sentence for the murder of the student there.
Now, he was seen with Holloway just before the disappeared on a class trip to Aruba in 2005.
Ryan Young has our coverage OUTFRONT tonight.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the 2005 disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway, seen for the first time in years in this exclusive CNN video.
Unshaven, disheveled and much older looking, van der Sloot appears to cooperate while getting his blood pressure taken during a medical screening over the weekend at a prison in southern Peru. Van der Sloot was then put back in handcuffs before being driven some 20 hours to another facility outside of Lima, where Peruvian officials say they are preparing to send him to the United States on Thursday.
JAVIER LLAQUE MOYA, PRESIDENT, PERU'S NATIONAL PENITENTIARY INSTITUTION (through translator): It has already been agreed that the U.S. authority will come on the eighth to take him.
YOUNG: Van der Sloot, now 35, is serving a 28-year sentence in Peru for the 2010 murder of Stephany Flores Ramirez. He's being transferred to Alabama temporarily in order to face charges related to the alleged plot to extort Holloway's family after her disappearance while on 2005 graduation trip in Aruba. Eighteen year old Natalee Holloway was last seen driving in a car with a group of young men, including van der Sloot then just 17 years old.
BETH HOLLOWAY, NATALEE HOLLOWAY'S MOTHER: I think we're just hung on to this possibility. I've just not given up hope that the boys or the men would be arrested.
YOUNG: In Alabama, a federal grand jury indicted the Dutch national in 2010 for allegedly attempting to extort a quarter of 1 million dollars from the Holloway family, in exchange for revealing the location of the teen's body.
Declared legally dead by an Alabama judge in 2012, Natalee Holloway's body has never been found, and van der Sloot has maintained his innocence, and no one has ever been charged in her death. Van der Sloot did not find his transfer according to an attorney, who received a letter from his client last week where he wrote: I want to go to the U.S.
Van der Sloot was recently involved in a fight inside his prison ward during visiting hours. His lawyers say he suffered a cut to his fingers and some bruising before being placed in the prisons medical section.
MOYA: Everything is ready for him to be handed over. We have him safe, which is what the U.S. authority request, that he be in good health. That is how we will keep him until the eight. We guarantee that.
YOUNG (on camera): Yeah, as we reported in the piece, we expect van der Sloot here in the U.S. by the end of the week. But keep in mind, these charges at this time the only charges coming from the DOJ, are only related to extortion and wire fraud. None of them have to do with what has physically happened to Natalee Holloway, so no matter the outcome in Alabama, van der Sloot will return to prove to serve the remainder of his murder sentence there -- Erin. BURNETT: All right. Ryan, thank you very much. But, of course,
Incredible to have him coming to the United States this week as you report. All right, thank you.
And coming up on "AC360" in the next hour, what's happened to that plane that flew into restricted airspace that the F-16 were scrambled to intercept. There was that giant boom that frightened so many. Anderson has the latest on that investigation.
Meantime, next here, the FBI agent turned Soviet spy Robert Hanssen, remember him, the guy who sold Moscow, all that incredibly highly classified information. He is dead now.
BURNETT: One of the most notorious spies in American history has died. FBI agent turned traitor Robert Hanssen was found unresponsive in his house today. He was serving a life sentence for providing Moscow with highly classified information, $1.4 million, and diamonds as well. Of course, spies died as a result of that.
Classified material included the eavesdropping tunnel that was built underneath the Soviet embassy in Washington. He was arrested in 2001, caught after dropping off classified material at a Virginia park. He said he did it for the money. He was 79. And we don't know the cause of death.
Thanks for joining us. Anderson starts now.