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Erin Burnett Outfront

75+ million Under Alerts As Smoke Spreads; Feds Inform Trump He Is Target In Docs Probe; Wagner Chief: "Serious" Russian Losses Coming; Pence: Trump "Should Never" Be President Again. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired June 07, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, the worst air quality in recorded history, more than 75 million people affected. The choking haze isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Plus, all eyes on Florida where a grand jury of the Trump classified documents case heard for another witness just today. "The Washington Post" reporting that if Trump is indicted, a majority of the charges will be brought in Florida. So, what does that mean?

And Ukraine gaining back ground around Bakhmut as the chief of Russia's private army admits there will be major Russian losses in Ukraine and inside Russia itself.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the hazardous air now choking more than 75 million Americans. It's an unbelievable situation. These are live pictures I put up on the screen of New York. Thick smoke from wildfires burning hundreds and hundreds of miles away is now smothering the city, that more than eight million affected just there. And it's way bigger than New York. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse -- all of them the images that you see there as I said, 75 million Americans are suffering from the hazardous haze.

It is so bad particularly in New York City that the air quality index there which basically is a measurement of pollution, that they get from a range of zero to 500. Zero to 500, was a 352 this afternoon.

Okay, that sounds bad. It is bad. It's not only the worst since the EPA began recording air quality measurements, but it is the absolute worst on the entire planet today. I mean, it is amazing.

And I want to show just how quickly the situation deteriorated in New York. Those of us who were here sort of saw it. I mean, it was like at the sending doom. This was the scene at 11:00 a.m., within three hours. The skyline goes from being covered in haze too bright orange. It felt like being on Mars, and it smelled like being in a sauna.

New York's governor telling people, quote, don't go out if you don't have to. Officials recommending avoiding outdoor physical activities of any sort. Schools canceled recess, the New York Yankees postponed tonight's game, and the three major airports and they are continue to post delays.

And right now, there is no immediate end in sight. The forecast has the smoke expected Tuesday for the next several days.

We have Athena Jones and Bill Weir standing by.

I want to start with Athena OUTFRONT in New York.

And, Athena, you have been outside obviously double mask, N95, otherwise probably would be impossible to even swallow at this point reporting on these conditions all day. What are you seeing now?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Erin, it's better than it was before but it's still not good. I'm standing on the edge of Manhattan and the eastern edge is looking over the shoulder over the East River into Queens.

You can see some of the buildings. You can certainly make other 59th Street Bridge, but there a lot more buildings behind us that you can't see. And in fact, you are talking about the air quality index. Mayor Eric Adams just gave us an update just a few minutes ago. He said by 5:00 p.m., or as of -- at 5:00 p.m., the air quality index in New York City have 484.


JONES: That is hazardous. That is the highest most hazardous level that you can have. At this, moment according the tracker on my, phone two hours later it's now about to 290. But that's still very unhealthy, and it means there's a risk of health effects for everyone. Not just for people who are vulnerable.

This is why city and state officials are urging everyone to stay inside.


JONES (voice-over): From New York --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never experienced anything like this before. Never to this degree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It did shock me how quickly it came in last night.

JONES: To Cleveland, Ohio, and even as far south as Raleigh, North Carolina -- unhealthy air, blanketing a large swath of the United States. From over 400 active wildfires burning in Canada, more than half of them determined to be out of control. According to the Canadian interagency forest fire center.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: Last year and this year, the worst wildfire season that we've ever had right across the country. JONES: Canada's wildfire season got off to an unusually early and

intense start in May, picking up aggressively this month, largely in Quebec. More than 9 million acres have burned in Canada so far this year, 15 times the normal amount. Smoke from those fires shelving within 500 miles to blanket New York City.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: From that gloom over Yankee Stadium to the smoky haze scarring our skyline. We can see, it we can smell it and we felt it. And it was alarming and concerning.

JONES: The air quality index reaching levels that could be harmful for everyone. New Yorkers being urged to stay indoors as much as possible, or wear a high quality mask.

ADAMS: This is not the day to train for a marathon or to do an outside event with your children.


Stay inside closed windows and doors. Use air purifiers if you have them.

JONES: Wildfire smoke contains particulate matter or PM2.5, among the tiniest and most dangerous pollutants, it's able to infiltrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream and has been linked to conditions like asthma and heart disease.

School districts in central New York, not far from the fires in Quebec, among the first to cancel all outdoor activities. Public schools in New York City and Montgomery County, Maryland, doing the same.

Officials warning the smoke will continue to impact much of the East Coast until at least the weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We expect this to be a multiple day event. So, we expect that advisory to remain in place for the next few days.


JONES (on camera): Now, New York Governor Kathy Hochul says the state will be making available 1 million N95 masks in the public for folks who want to protect themselves. She also said they expect the smoke will move west and so Buffalo, other parts of Western New York will be in the crosshairs soon. They are expecting this to be possibly over the weekend, but that doesn't mean it won't come back.

And according to CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray, this could be something we deal with off and on throughout the remainder of the summer -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Athena. And I guess it's sobering to hear that, but given how Athena is describing it, right? Out of control fires, masks, right? It does not just stop.

So, let's go to Bill Weir. He's in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And, Bill, you know, here's the thing, you are longtime New Yorker, so

am I. I've never experience anything like this. I've never seen anything like this. And it does frankly feel pretty unsettling.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It really is, it really is. We are watching this orange sun going down over Manhattan. And I tell you when I walked out of the door this morning, Erin, it reminded of the times I've gotten off the planes in New Delhi, or Jakarta, or Beijing back in the day, populations, place, cities with four times the people of New York City and none of the air regulations that we enjoy. And I usually take those moments and say a word of thanks for the Clean Air Act, because there was a day when you can taste the air in Los Angeles, but we don't have that anymore.

But this is just a reminder of how precious a blue sky can be especially in the ages of the climate fight. But yet, today was just surreal, to see the way it changed, you show that time lapse -- midday. The street lights came on in Central Park. Of course, they cancelled the Yankees game tonight. The Phillies game down in Philly, even a WNBA game here in the city because trying to keep people inside today.

I have to apologize with not wearing my N95. I was talking to the head of pulmonary medicine at NYU Langone. He said, look, wear what you can, as it gets worse, N95 is much better as you mentioned, Athena mentioned the city's giving out a million of those as well.


WEIR: But you can feel it, you can taste it, and then any sort of exertion, you feel it.

BURNETT: Yeah, and you could -- yeah, and it's got that smell, that the distinct smell literally as if you are in a sauna, which is truly bizarre.

So, Bill, please stay with me. I want to Joseph Allen into the conversation, professor of Harvard University School of Public Health.

And, Joseph, let's to show again what Bill referenced, that time lapse of smoke blanketing New York City today.

You know, I was here, it just started to get dark, you started to notice the smell in the darkness. It was really like an eclipse, okay? Except for smoke. And, you've been talking about studies showing emergency visits to the E.R. go up on days like this.

How dangerous is it really to be breathing this air in?

JOSEPH ALLEN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, Erin, so thanks so much for having me on the show again. And this is an extraordinary event. I mean, those of us who study this topic, this -- study particles in the help that expand a field of public health, you know, the health limits about 12 microgram per cubic meter. We get excited if we see 50 or 100. Today in New York City, it hit 700 micrograms per cubic meter. That's

like the worst air pollution day in Beijing. That's like you can see the end of the runway bad, as everyone in New York has experienced. Never seen anything like this, I'm from New York, too.

And when these events happen, certainly people experiencing things like headaches, and eye irritation. We also know we're going to see an uptick in emergency department visits. We see this every time there's a wildfire, smoke event. They'll be admitted for things like respiratory disease, COPD, and asthma attacks.

And in fact, Erin, I put a number on it. There's a recent study that showed that at the admissions to emergency departments for asthma doubled when the outdoor pollution levels at 50 micrograms per cubic meter. And today hit over 700. So, this is that serious as an air pollution event as it can get.

BURNETT: It's incredible, and frankly, just as a regular citizen, I don't think we have any citizen of how quickly are about it would be, right? It's not something you can leave from. I mean, so just -- you know, the mayor of New York City, not alone in telling people to stay home. You know, you're hearing that across many of the affected areas, including Philadelphia.


But you say that's not the answer?

ALLEN: Well, you know, I think it's good advice but there's -- the dirty secret about your air pollution as I've been calling it as that outer air pollution penetrates indoors. And because we spend the majority --


ALLEN: And because we spend the majority of our time indoors, it turns out that the majority of exposure to outdoor air pollution occurs indoors. I think most people find that totally shocking.

So I think it's good advice to say, avoid time outdoors for the concentrations are high. It has to be paired with the message that indoor exposures are also high and there are steps you should take. If you're in a building with mechanical HVAC system, you have to upgrade to MERV 13 filters.

This will be familiar to people. We've been talking about MERV 13 filters for COVID.


ALLEN: Same filters can -- respiratory, particles, they also capture particles from wildfire smoke.

If you don't have a mechanical system, or you want to supplement, that use portable air cleaners with that HEPA filter. We've been talking about these for COVID for the past three years. So I'd love to see the mayor and everybody else pair that message with

don't spend too much time outside, no vigorous activity. That's great, wear a mask if you're outside, but also, think about that indoor exposure where you're actually breathing more of the outdoor air pollution as surprising as that seems.

BURNETT: Yeah. Well -- and also show the indoor, no panacea shutting the door.

Bill, here's the thing, right? Obviously, we're talking about the wildfire season in Canada. But back to the fact, people lived here with decades, like us have not experienced this. And now, you're hearing these numbers that Joe is sharing, right, and normally you see 12, you're seeing 700. Worst air pollution event in known history with -- is this -- is this climate change playing any role here? What's the macro picture, Bill?

WEIR: Absolutely, absolutely. The Arctic, the northern top of the planet has been warming up four times faster than the rest of the planet. When I do those reports, I can almost hear the viewers and it's glazing over. Like what do I care about what happens in the Arctic?

This is directly related to that. There was a heat anomaly in May over Canada, look like a giant red blob of paint where they had temperatures in the high 90s, way sooner than is normal, that dries things out, one lightning strike sets that off like a tinderbox. And that's why there's over 100 fires burning in central Quebec.

And then the weather patterns connect us. Now, we're breathing the results of a climate in crisis. And you think about the cost of doing nothing. About 10 percent of the economy happens in New York City, and if these folks who work and live here cannot go to work, are locked in their houses or whatever's as result of these sorts of things, that has a knock off effect financially. It's just devastating in ways we can think about, and there's a limited adaptation.

I mean, if the new world is this, how do you adapt to this, Erin? So, a lot of questions to think about as we're stuck inside waiting for this to blow past.

BURNETT: Yeah. All right. Thank you both very much.

And next, some breaking news. We are letting prosecutors have officially informed former President Trump that he is a target of a criminal investigation into his handling of classified documents. Those details are next.

Plus, the head of Putin's private army, tonight predicting that Putin's generals may soon face firing squad, execution squads because of their failures on the battlefield.

And live pictures tonight from Iowa where CNN's town hall with former Vice President Mike Pence is about to begin. The event coming on the same day Pence launched his campaign for president. And this time, he didn't hold back when it comes to taking on Trump. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BURNETT: Tonight, breaking news federal prosecutors have notified former President Trump that he is now the target of a criminal investigation in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. This is federal prosecutors are wrapping up their investigation and a potential indictment could come really at anytime at this point.

We are also learning that the DOJ is planning on bringing a significant portion of any charges in the case at a federal court in south Florida. Now, that's according to "The Washington Post". We're going to talk about more about what that means in the moment.

I want to begin with Paula Reid OUTFRONT with so much of this reporting.

What are you learning, Paula?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Erin, we have learned that former President Trump has been informed that he is the target of a federal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents.

Now, this is a sign that prosecutors could be moving closer to possibly indicting the former president. We are told that this legal team was informed via a target letter that he is now the focus of this investigation. Multiple sources have learned about the letter having it described to them, though none of the sources have directly or personally seen this letter.

It really crystallizes the fact that special counsel Jack Smith in this investigation is focused on former President Trump and not just the people around him. Usually, if you are the recipient of a target letter, it means that you have the opportunity, if you would like, to go before a grand jury. Now, it's unclear if the former president would do that, though it does seem unlikely.

His legal team would advise that. It's also something that he was offered up in Manhattan, the recent civil case and opted not to do that. Now, we know his attorneys met with the Justice Department earlier this week, to discuss what they believe are problems with this case. And as we know, former President Trump has repeatedly said that he has done nothing wrong.

BURNETT: So you also get some breaking details, I know, Paula, about Steve Bannon, and the other investigation about January 6th. What's that?

REID: That's right, and the special counsel's other investigations into January 6, we learned that former White House adviser and longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed to testify, though it's unclear how cooperative a witness he will be. Of course, he was recently convicted for being in contempt of Congress. He's facing a potential prison sentence there. It's unclear if he's going to play ball. It's a little differently as the federal investigation.

But it's also the opportunity if he so chooses to plead the Fifth. It is, of course, a significant witness for them to call, we have learned in terms of a more cooperative witness, our colleague Zach Cohen and I broke the story today, that those investigators in the January 6 investigation also recently spoke with Alyssa Farah Griffin.

She is, of course, a top communications adviser in the Trump White House. She's brought on by Mark Meadows. And it's interesting, she just had an interview with investigators. She didn't go before the grand jury.

But one of the things we learned is that investigators are very interested in Trump's state of mind. They had a lot of questions about that, specifically, Erin, they wanted to know whether Trump really believes in the lies that he was pushing in and around January 6. So, notable, that's what they're asking about right now, but also a sign, Erin, that the January 6 investigation is perhaps not as far along as the classified documents probe.

BURNETT: All right. Paula, and, obviously, that is a big question. When this come if they come together and those details could mean so much.

Thank you very much.

And, of course, I should note Alyssa Farah Griffin, as Paula was reporting, speaking to prosecutors, choosing to do so and do so forthrightly as she always does in a role as you see her here, so frequently, is a contributor.

All right. OUTFRONT now, Stephanie Grisham, former Trump White House press secretary, Jon Sale, former assistant special Watergate prosecutor and former SDNY assistant attorney. He turned down an opportunity to represent Trump. And Ryan Goodman, the former special counsel at the Department of Defense.

So, thanks very much to all of you.

Ryan, let me start just at the very basics here. Trump being informed that he is a target of the investigation. Obviously, it's -- I know people are saying, okay, sure we knew that but we didn't know that formally, and he didn't know that formally. How significant is this step procedurally?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Well, it's similar because we all thought that it is the case --


GOODMAN: -- and in some ways it's the raison d'etre for having special counsel because he's investigating matters of the heart of Donald Trump. It was never stated explicitly, because it could just be that he thinks that it's criminal conduct of classified documents being in Mar-a-Lago, but who is a target?


GOODMAN: The timing of it is suspicious. The fact that he is being told that he is a target at the end of the investigation, there's no way that he wants to hear that or his defense counsel wants to hear that. It does suggest an indictment is coming down the pike for it to be told to him at the stage.

And it is told to him right before the meeting between his lawyers and the Justice Department. Maybe they wanted to alert him, when your lawyers come here to meet with us --


BURNETT: You should know. So, we know at least by Monday.

All right. So, Jon, where do you think we are in terms of an indictment or indictments?

JON SALE, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: The special counsel is appointed with certain regulations. And he is subject to the policies and procedures of the Department of Justice.

And there's something called the justice manual. It's a book. Every assistant U.S. attorney has it. And it says, if somebody is a target, you usually inform their counsel. Maybe you send them a target letter.

And any good lawyers when they receive that we'll ask for an opportunity for a meeting and will present their arguments why the indictment should not be brought. And this case, apparently, they are also have grievances what they claim prosecutorial misconduct.


SALE: And I think we can assume that the department, that the special counsel has rejected those arguments. Now, remember, it still has to go to the attorney general. It's ultimately Merrick Garland can approve a recommendation or disapprove of it.

But it seems like the grand jury, particularly in Florida, is moving ahead. It doesn't look like that they are closing up shop and saying, no, we're not indicting. It looks like they are.

BURNETT: All right.

SALE: And let me tell you what the target means. It means we believe there is sufficient evidence, I want to jury can find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

BURNETT: Beyond a reasonable, and important to mention the standard there.

All right. So, Stephanie, Trump is posing on social media no one has told me I'm being indicted. Of course, the reporting is otherwise.

What do you make of how he is handling it? STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well,

it's typical, Trump right? He's going to try to get ahead of the story, and deny anything. What I thought was interesting that he listed all of the things he has been accused of which obviously communications 101, you just quit listening the negatives. He continues to do that.

It really -- it hit me that, you know, I am reading it all and I thought again, no sane person is going to continue to see all of these issues he is having and think, it's a big conspiracy.

BURNETT: So, Ryan, what do you make of -- Paula is suggesting that by the timing of what you are seeing here, the testimony still occurring in the south Florida, grand jury, that maybe the January 6 of this is lagging, the classified documents. They don't come altogether.

How -- do you see it that way and how does that play out then?

GOODMAN: Definitely see it that way. It seems as, though, the -- if by all accounts, all reports, the Mar-a-Lago classified documents investigation is about to wrap up.

BURNETT: Uh-huh. Unclear whether, though, and just to be clear, whether that's just obstruction or also espionage, all of that would go in that Mar-a-Lago.


BURNETT: And that one bucket, we don't know what charges. That's that bucket. Okay, then?

GOODMAN: Then, the idea that today we find out that the special counsel has subpoenaed Steve Bannon very recently. It's a little shocking, that that would be this late in the game. The January 6th congressional committee identified Steve Bannon as central to their investigation.

So that seems like that is pretty late, why is that happening now? This team is oh there's a lot more time on the clock for that investigation to reach its conclusion, whatever that conclusion will be.

BURNETT: Okay. So, Jon, the federal grant jury, as I mentioned in South Florida. Obviously, you live there, you practice law there, and you know this.

So, "The Washington Post" is reporting that a significant amount of charges in the documents case, again, the Mar-a-Lago silo that we're talking about would be brought in Florida.


What does that say to you? And is that better for Trump or worse for Trump than it coming out of the Washington?

SALE: Well, this may surprise you, but I think it's better for Trump. The national media talking about that this case, if it's indicted, it's still an "if", will be returned in Miami-Dade County, where the demographics may not be so favorable to Trump. Well, it will not be in Miami-Dade County.

Our chief judge issued an order impaneling a grand jury, routine, not a Trump grand jury, it's another grand jury. And it's sitting in Miami-Dade, but it's a Palm Beach County grand jury. They don't sit in Palm Beach because since COVID, there is no safe room for them to sit in. This will actually be if it's indicted, will be a Palm Beach County case where the demographics are a lot better for Donald Trump.

I need to say one thing, though, I always try to do this. The Constitution that he said he might suspend will protect him. It should protect him.

And we should remember, he's presumed innocent now. If he's indicted, he remains presumed innocent. It's a government who has to prove him guilty. And --

BURNETT: The burden of proof is on that side.

SALE: Absolutely. And any of these defenses, whether documents are classified, if they're not, prosecutorial misconduct, they can all be aired out if he's indicted. So I think a fair trial is all we can expect and to be protected by a court.

BURNETT: And we should all -- and we should all, as you point out, hope for, right? That the whole point here is the rule of law and the Constitution and upholding it.

SALE: And we need to renounce this rhetoric which might be called to violence. Everybody has to say, we don't want. He has the right to free speech, but not to incite violence.

BURNETT: Stephanie, obviously, you know, we can only imagine how he will respond when this happens. I guess if it's anticipated, it likely happens. I know you spoke to investigators about a year ago in the January 6 case, which is, as Ryan is pointing out, seems to be moving more slowly here than the documents case.

So, that's my question. Have you spoken to prosecutors about the Mar- a-Lago documents case at all?

GRISHAM: Yes, I have voluntary cooperated with that investigation.

BURNETT: All right. So, now, Ryan, just to make this clear, if she -- Stephanie saying she's also testified in that one. Where do you think those -- majority of the charges we're understanding will come from south Florida -- okay, what does that mean for espionage? Does the espionage portion, if it is included, come from Washington?

GOODMAN: So, they could go either way. They could do what the Justice Department did with Paul Manafort, divide it up into two jurisdictions. So, they could be big charges in D.C., big charges in Florida. Or it sounds like maybe the center of gravity is going to be in Florida. The Espionage Act could be in Florida because what is the Espionage

Act? Willfully retaining the documents. Where did he retain? Florida.

BURNETT: In Florida, right. I understand.

And, Stephanie, what was your experience with those prosecutors? How do their demeanor, their professionalism, is there anything you can share?

GRISHAM: Yeah, I can't share much about what was discussed, obviously. I want to -- I agree with your guests that everybody is innocent until proven guilty. So I want to respect the legal process and Donald Trump.

But I can say they're very professional and they were very even- handed. And, you know, I spoke to them at length for quite awhile.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, all of you. I appreciate your time.

And next, Ukraine gaining ground near Bakhmut tonight. The head of Putin's private military meantime predicting that Putin's generals could soon find themselves in front of a firing squad.

And Mike Pence taking on Trump directly, talking about his former boss more than a dozen times as he officially launches his 2024 campaign.



BURNETT: Tonight, a firing squad. Chief of Russia's private army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, saying he's certain there will soon be major Russian losses on the battlefield in Ukraine, and a loss of territory inside of Russia. And Prigozhin predicts that those losses this will be so significant that firing squads will be ordered to execute the generals responsible for Russian failures, and across a popular revolt that will rise over the military's mistakes.


YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER CHIEF (through translator): We will now suffer serious losses. I am absolutely certain of. It, now we are certainly losing some Russian territory, this part being in the Russian Federation.

There will either be a popular revolt or the state Duma will make a decision for capital punishment and gun them the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) down. And, by the way, I can tell you honestly, I think we're two to three months away from the firing squads.


BURNETT: This comes as Ukrainians are making gains around the key city of Bakhmut.

And, Sam Kiley is OUTFRONT.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ukraine's third assault brigade is an action near Bakhmut, and they claim they are making advances around the city. But their attack is dependent on Soviet era weapons. Modern equipment from the USA and NATO is apparently being held in reserve for Ukrainian offensive.

Do you have a name for your grad?

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (translated): This truck's called Pensioner.

KILEY: Is it good enough for this fight?

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (translated): It's good enough. But I'd like something newer.

KILEY: Ukraine gets no help at all with aircraft. Not so far. This Soviet-era helicopter is ancient, but in combat, almost every day, flying dangerously low to avoid missiles and Russian jet hunter killers.

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (translated): These helicopters are probably older than my parents and maybe even like my grandparents' age. To fly them -- they are very reliable machines.

KILEY: These aircraft will fly more sorties as fighting intensifies. In a relentless cycle of war, Ukraine has now got added range and what it's calling a Russian eco-cide.

This part of Kherson has suffered Russian bombardment across the river for months. Now, near total destruction from upriver.

Russia is widely blamed for the collapse of the dam, at Nova Kakhovka, which has been under its control since March last year. Civilians who survived the Russian occupation of their town and an offensive to free it are now facing down a new horror. Thousands have no drinking water. Here, a drone delivers help -- an adaptation of a system originally designed not to save life but to take it.


KILEY (on camera): Now, Erin, these recent successes that the Ukrainians are claiming may well be in part as consequence of effectively mutinous behavior by Mr. Prigozhin who just the other day captured the commander of the 72nd mechanized brigade, a Russian brigade, the neighboring unit to Wagner in Bakhmut. Beat him up, forced him into a online confession in which he was told to say that he had been drunk and opened fire on Wagner troops.


It's just that kind of collapse of law and order within the Russian ranks that the Ukrainians be absolutely delighted by. If you couldn't -- if Prigozhin didn't exist, I think the Ukrainians would've wanted to make him up -- Erin.

BURNETT: It defies belief.

All right. Thank you very much, Sam, reporting live from Kyiv tonight.

And let's go now to the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan.

Ambassador Sullivan, I'm so glad to have you back.

So, you know, Sam is talking about what the Russians do. They have control of that dam. In fact, they've had control of that dam for months and now they have not provided a single shred of evidence but they are keeping up a narrative that it is Ukraine's fault.

This does seem absurd. It seems to defy credulity, does it?

JOHN SULLIVAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Absolutely, Erin, and you hit the nail in the head. They're in the control of this dam because they invaded Ukraine, in February of 2022, and this war would end and there would be no dam collapse if the Russians have not invaded Ukraine. It's ultimately Russia's fault.

BURNETT: So you obviously saw Putin. You knew him, up close, as ambassador to Russia. So, better than anyone, you have a sense of how he operates, how he thinks. You've got a counteroffensive now seemingly, you know, in full swing. You have attacks on Russian territory. You've got Prigozhin saying all sorts of things. What is Putin's mindset like right now? As best as you can imagine?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think from his background in his training going all the way back to his KGB days, it would never show it. The more difficult it gets, the cooler and calmer that he will try to appear. He is under enormous stress now, Erin. There is no doubt about that.

Secretary Blinken recited in a speech last week in Helsinki how this war has been a strategic catastrophe for Putin and Russia. And day-by- day, whether it's the dam collapse, whether it's Prigozhin, the head is have you accurately described it, Putin's private army, talking about seeing Russian generals being executed. This is calamitous for Russia and for Putin.

BURNETT: Let's talk more about what Prigozhin said, right? He predicted those firing squads in Russia within 2 to 3 months which will target Russia's top generals. Putin's generals. He also suggested Putin might detonate a nuclear weapon in Russia, in Belgorod. I don't know whether it's a false flag, or what, but he said that. He's claimed to take a Russian commander, a top Russian commander hostage as a POW.

I mean, this seems to be reaching some sort of a breaking pit, breaking point even for someone whose actions and words have frankly been quite shocking for a long time.

SULLIVAN: They have been, Erin, and it's -- it's a growing cascade of crazy statements by Prigozhin. I mean, months ago, he was calling the minister of defense and the chairman of the Russian general staff, cowards and traitors. Their children, cowards and traitors.

It has been a further escalation. Every time he speaks, there's something more outrageous and he says, in part to get attention. And the important thing to note, Erin, is how dependent Putin is on him now.

You described in the opening of this segment, this is Putin's -- this is his private army. The success they had in Bakhmut, the Russian government itself just a couple of weeks ago attributed that success at least in part to Wagner, who's dependent on those soldiers that Prigozhin leads.

BURNETT: It's amazing. All right. Thank you very much, Ambassador Sullivan. I appreciate your time as always.

SULLIVAN: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, former Vice President Mike Pence slamming Trump, saying he is unfit to be president as Pence launches his own 2024 campaign. We have new reporting on what Pence sees as his path through the White House. Prosecutors tonight trying to convince the jury that a school security officer should be held criminally responsible for failing to try and stop a gunman who killed 17 students and staff.



BURNETT: You're looking at live pictures from Des Moines, Iowa, where CNN's town hall with former Vice President Mike Pence will begin in just a little bit here. The event comes at the same day Pence formally launched his 2024 campaign for president, directly taken on Trump for his actions on January 6.


MIKE PENCE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Trump's words were reckless, endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol. I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States. And anyone who asked someone else to put them over their Constitution should never be president of the United States again.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst.

And, Gloria, you spoke with the top Pence adviser. He's obviously now the latest Republican to announce this White House campaign.

So, the big question is, what do they see as Pence's path to actually winning the GOP nomination?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, his point to me was that no one else in the field is a traditional conservative. Which is the way Pence sees himself today. He talked about Ronald Reagan for example. This is another important thing he said. No one else has the same combination of experience and character.

And today, what we heard from Pence is a lot of talk about character and about civility and we also heard his wife introduce him and talk about who he is and a funny way, even though he is vice president, they feel the need to re-introduce himself to the American public. She was talking about, you know, you may not know this body spent 12 years in the House, four years as governor, and then another four years as vice president.


So, look at this man, you see that he is clearly got the experience to become the next president.

BURNETT: And they're trying to make that argument. Obviously, they want to -- I guess in a sense reintroduce him so and maybe wash some parts of it away.

And, to that point, Gloria, we know for a long time, Pence was hesitant to criticize Trump. He was very careful. He was very guarded.

He started inserting it a little bit more. But it wasn't until today that it was a boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, right? More than a dozen times he brings him up in his announcement. Listen to this.


PENCE: Donald Trump and others in this race are retreating from the cause of the unborn. What President Trump and others are forgetting is that our administration succeeded not because we compromised or abandoned conservative principles, but because we acted on them.


BURNETT: So, Gloria, how big of a shift is this in this message?

BORGER: Oh, I mean, he crossed the Rubicon today. We have really not heard him take on Donald Trump. And he did it in every way. And he did it even on foreign policy.

He talked about Ukraine. And it was quite strong when he said, you know, former President Trump described Putin as a genius. And then he went on to say, I know the difference between a genius and a war criminal.

So, you can see that, at this point, Mike Pence has decided that he is not going to hold back anymore because what he's got to do is differentiate himself. And he also, Erin, spent an awful lot of time going through exactly what happened on January 6th. Every single detail -- and you heard before, you know, his life was in danger, his family's life was in danger, but he went into great detail about how he felt that he could not go against the Constitution, and if he had to make a choice, he would always choose the Constitution over Donald Trump. And I think you are going to hear him talk about that.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Gloria. And, of course, don't miss -- you will hear him tonight, CNN's town hall with Mike Pence, moderated by Dana Bash. That is tonight at 9:00.

And next, a former school resource officer now on trial for not confronting a mass shooter who killed 17 students and staff in Parkland, Florida.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The defendant will never leave that (INAUDIBLE) while the shooter is in the building.


BURNETT: And Pope Francis in the hospital tonight after undergoing surgery. We have the latest on what his doctors are saying.



BURNETT: Tonight, the Parkland High School security officer who stood outside and did nothing as a gunman killed 17 people inside is now on trial. Scott Peterson is accused of failing to do his job.

Carlos Suarez is OUTFRONT.


STVEVEN KLINGER, PROSECUTOR: Seventeen beautiful people that are lost --

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Broward County prosecutor Steven Klinger, with his opening statement Wednesday, in the trial of former school resource officer Scot Peterson. The 60- year-old is facing 11 charges, including seven counts of felony child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence, and one count of perjury for allegedly following failing to follow his active shooter training during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, five years ago.

He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

KLINGER: You are trained to go toward those shots, to find that shooter because every shot could be a death.

SUAREZ: Instead, prosecutors told the jury that Peterson took cover outside of the building, where the shooting happened, for 45 minutes, as the massacre unfolded inside.

KLINGER: The defendant will never leave that (INAUDIBLE) while the shooter is in the building.

SUAREZ: The prosecution laid out an exhaustive timeline of the shooting for the jurors. The

KLINGER: The future gets out of a Uber on Pine Island Road. There's a little path that goes into the school. SUAREZ: And put former students and teachers on the stand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know that Deputy Peterson carried a firearm?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Deputy Peterson ever enter a classroom that day?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did he enter the hallway?


SUAREZ: At one point, the state played a video of the shooting from inside the school.

Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed that day, was visibly upset at hearing the sounds played in the courtroom. And the defense's opening statement, Peterson's attorney said Peterson didn't know the exact location of the shooter and reacted as best he could.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got 22 witnesses under subpoena who are coming here and tell you that they too heard the same shots my client did, and could not discern precisely where the shots were coming from.

SUAREZ: And painted a timeline of Peterson's whereabouts that morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is not in dispute at all is that when the shooter is on the first floor, killing faculty and children, my client was not even on the scene yet.

SUAREZ: Peterson is the first law enforcement officer to be prosecuted for failing to act during a school shooting. And his defense attorneys made a point of highlighting his credentials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, what we have here is a man with a decorated history of serving the community for 32 years, and literally four minutes and 15 seconds, you are claiming he became a criminal.


BURNETT: And, Carlos, obviously, a hard story on a lot of levels. What could Peterson face if convicted?

SUAREZ: Well, Erin, six of those child neglect charges carry penalties of up to 15 years in prison if Peterson is convicted. He could also lose his pension. And, Erin, as you can imagine, this case is drawing plenty of national attention, in large part because of the police inaction in Uvalde, Texas, but also because of the quake police response at the Covenant School shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this year.

BURNETT: All right. Carlos, thank you very much. And next on "AC360", her book was restricted at a Florida school, and

now a former young poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, she is now speaking out against the censorship of her work. She joins Anderson starting at 8:00.

And meantime, next, new concerns about the health of Pope Francis, who is now in the hospital after undergoing a surgery.


BURNETT: And finally tonight, Pope Francis hospitalized, but now recovering. He underwent intestinal surgery. The procedure was to treat a hernia that had been getting painful. According to sources it was likely related to his surgery back in 2021 that the pope underwent to remove half of his colon. Doctors say the pope, who is 86, is now awakened back at work. He is expected to remain in the hospital, though, for the next ten days. The pope did not only have half of his colon removed two years ago. He also had part of a lung removed after suffering from pneumonia as a young man.

And, as we said again tonight, though, they say he is back to work. And we wish his speedy recovery.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.