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Erin Burnett Outfront
Ukraine Bracing For Strikes As Putin Repeatedly Targets City; Time Running Out For Trump To Respond To Special Counsel; Democratic President Candidate RFK Jr. And Democrats Clash At Hearing; Authorities Theorize Serial Killer Suspect May Have Killed Women In Home; Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) Has Higher Favorability Than Trump, DeSantis. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired July 20, 2023 - 19:00 ET
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ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, fears of an imminent strike. We're going to take you live to Odesa, a city that's been hit hard over the past three days. At the top of this program every night this week, we've shown it to you on live television. Is Putin about to strike again?
Plus, the clock is ticking. Trump's legal team saying the former has just hours to respond to the special counsel as a Trump aide testifies before the grand jury today for a third time, three times.
And just in, investigators think the suspected Gilgo Beach serial killer may have committed the murders in his own home. This comes as the suspect's wife breaks her silence. The sheriff in that case is my guest.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
BURNETT: And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, bracing for attack. I want to show you these live pictures. This is Odesa, Ukraine. It is now just after 2:00 a.m. on Friday morning.
The past three nights, like clockwork, air sirens started blasting right at this time followed by a barrage of Russian missile strikes and it's just a bit of what we've seen and shared with you. Monday evening, 6:55 p.m. Eastern Time, nearly 2:00 a.m. in Ukraine, you see the fireball streaking across the sky in Odesa.
The following day, Tuesday, 7:09 p.m. Eastern Time, again at the start of this program, Alex Marquardt and his team again were there. You hear it capturing this incredible moment on camera. That there what they were looking at was a missile defense system for Ukraine at work against the Russian missiles.
Then it happened again last night, 7:13 p.m. Eastern Time, the sound of explosions could be heard. Again, Ukraine using air defenses to stop cruise missiles.
In fact, as of now and it's 2:01 a.m. in Ukraine. Ukraine's president says Russia used 70 missiles and 90 drones over the past four days. And in Odesa, which has come under the heaviest assault, Ukraine's military was able to intercept the fraction of the missiles last night. In fact, the numbers that have that they had destroyed only five of the 19 missiles fired at that crucial port city according to the Ukrainian air force. It's a city of a million people.
Now, we spoke to retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling about this and he said that's the strategy. He says Russia is firing off as many weapons as it can to test, to see how much air defense Ukraine's cities have, right? And, obviously, it helps them ascertain where the Patriot batteries, for example, placed.
On Russian state television, Putin's propagandists looking at that ratio and celebrating.
(BEGIN VDIEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The same thing that happened at night in Odesa, this is their direct merit, very serious.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This is called the escalation spiral. You hit us, we hit you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is war. This is how it should be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And as that happens on Russia state television we are getting new video into OUTFRONT tonight of the actual front lines. Ukraine's forces using cluster munitions against Russian troops. These are the controversial weapons Zelenskyy had been pressing the United States to provide and finally are being provided. Their question is whether it will give Ukrainians the advantage they so badly need right now. There are some that say those cluster munitions could be transformational. We will see over these next few weeks.
Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT live in Odesa.
And, Alex, you've been out there every night this week. High anxiety right now. Everyone preparing for a fourth night of attacks, everyone there knowing that is around now or the next few minutes from now where every single night this week the missiles have started.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Like clockwork, as you said, Erin. Almost exactly at 2:00 a.m. each of the last three nights. This is a city very much on edge and very understandably so given everything we have seen over the past three nights. The worst attacks on this city since the beginning of the war.
We really have had a front-row seat to these spectacular aerial attacks by the Russians and the air defenses that Ukraine mounted against both those drones and missiles. BURNETT: Yeah.
MARQUARDT: It is quiet right now, Erin, and given that everything that we've seen over the past few nights, I have to admit it is a bit of an eerie quiet knowing that it could be shattered at any moment, that things could really change at any moment right now. We don't have any sign of a strike, but that could change very quickly and we saw, of course, the kind of strike that Russia can mount.
Just last night, some 40 drones and cruise missiles, they use four different kinds of cruise missiles. They used numerous strategic bombers to launch the cruise missiles and almost 20 of those Iranian- made Shahed drones.
We went to one of those strike sites, a destroyed building, administrative building that had nothing to do with the military or the port. Ukraine says that Russia is carrying out these strikes because it wants to damage Ukraine's brain infrastructure after pulling out of that grain deal. Russia says it has carried out these strikes for the past few nights in retaliation for that attack against the Kerch bridge that is connected to Crimea.
MARQUARDT: Whether Russia plans to continue retaliating, that is what we are waiting to see.
BURNETT: Now, Alex, you know, as you await this and as you said, and I think everyone should understand, sometimes you hear air raid sirens before strikes and sometimes you don't and even in the past few days that's been the case where you are which is important to highlight. You don't even get the warning every time. I do know that today, during the day, despite the disrupted sleep, no sleep, you did have rare access to a Ukrainian command post.
What did you see?
MARQUARDT: Well, Erin, we have to remember that as Russia is hitting these cities that this important counteroffensive is going on at the same time. We spent time with the 47th mechanized brigade. This was actually like a couple of days ago.
We spent time with two different groups. One out near the front line. They had some of this new American equipment. We saw one of their Bradley fighting vehicles and then we went to a command post and spoke with the soldiers there and to a man, each of the soldiers told me when I asked how the fight was going, they said it was incredibly difficult.
Take a look.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): In a secret basement bunker, part of Ukraine's 47th mechanized brigade, is desperately trying to find how to punch through Russian lines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of Russians.
MARQUARDT: There are a lot of Russians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In here and overall. They have more guns. They have more shells. And they have more people.
MARQUARDT: CNN was given an exclusive look at this battalion command post at the very front of Ukraine's counteroffensive in the south, filled with maps and feeds from drones.
Stanislav closely watches dozens of drone feeds helping artillery teams try to take out Russian positions.
You can see that from here. You can see how close they are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
MARQUARDT: You can tell them what?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we -- and we guide them.
MARQUARDT: You can redirect them farther, closer, left, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MARQUARDT: How do you think the fight is going in your section?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's tough. It's tough.
MARQUARDT: The no man's land between the two sides is heavily pockmarked with craters from thousands of artillery rounds, but it's these little white dots, some of the countless anti-tank and anti- personnel mines that the Russians have laid are part of what's making the front so limited.
Demining teams called sappers bravely cross the densely mined battlefield, often under fire, to defuse or detonate the Russian mines.
Tral is a sapper who just got back from a mission.
We need to break through the mine barriers he said so that equipment and infantry can pass. The enemy uses constant artillery and mortar fire. It's hard, he says, very hard.
Everyone here, soldiers and generals alike, admit that over a month into Ukraine's counteroffensive, progress is slower than they would like. They argue that the Russians had months to dig in and prepare.
But Ukraine was preparing as well. Soldiers like this team getting weeks of Western training and all kinds of new equipment. Like this American armored Bradley fighting vehicle, rarely shown to the press.
The Bradley team leader named Kach is just 19. He shows us inside which is also used to carry troops across the battlefield. I feel very protected, he says. We know we're safe because it can withstand a lot and has a very thick layer of armor and has been tested in battles.
Why do you wear the American flag?
Kach is just four months out from American training in Germany. His U.S. flag patch, a parting gift for good luck from his U.S. trainer.
The first day of fighting was the most difficult, he tells us. We didn't know what to expect, what could happen, how events would unfold. Early setbacks on this front had meant that Ukraine has had to change tactics, moving more on foot, after many of the newly required vehicles were damaged or destroyed.
The team camps out in a narrow tree line, trying to hide from Russian drones. When their next order to assault will come, they don't know. But soon, they will be back in the fight.
This is the life here, the team's gunner says.
You live by the fact that you're preparing for the next mission.
MARQUARDT (on camera): And, Erin, that team will have many, many more missions before this counteroffensive is over. The Western allies of Ukraine continue to send all kinds of military aid to Ukraine.
Just yesterday, the Biden administration announcing $1.3 billion in new military aid and that package included four air defense systems, complex, sophisticated air defense systems called NASAMs, which actually protect Washington, D.C. Of course, those will be very appreciated in Ukraine. They can knock drones and missiles out of the sky.
Of course, this is something that is very top of mind, not just in all of Ukraine, but here in particular in Odesa as we wait to see whether there will be a fourth night in a row of Russian attacks on the city, Erin.
BURNETT: Alex, thank you very much.
And with me now, former Russian lawmaker Ilya Ponomarev. He was forced into exile. He's the only lawmaker to vote against Putin's annexation of Crimea in 2014, which forced you, Ilya, to have to leave.
So, Alex standing in Odesa tonight and I think what's interesting is, there's -- you know, I was there last week. You get the air raid sirens, but sometimes, Alex, points out in recent days, you don't get the air raid sirens and you still get the missiles. So this has been an onslaught now for at least three days. We'll see what happens this hour.
How long do you think Putin will continue to bombard Odesa? ILYA PONOMAREV, FORMER RUSSIAN LAWMAKER: Before his death, it will be
forever because what he is indeed trying to do right now is to prove that he is the guy who controls the grain deal and whether he wants it to happen, that will happen and whether he doesn't want it, it will not happen, and the reality is that the Black Sea fleet of Russia is weaker than the one of Turkey, and that's why they cannot sink the ships in the Black Sea. So instead they're trying to destroy the ports.
BURNETT: And, obviously, Odesa is the port.
PONOMAREV: That is the port and, so, just technically, anti-missile defense is way harder to shoot those drones when they approach and you usually shoot them in the back because they're coming from the sea. So there is nowhere to put your people in front.
BURNETT: Right. Right. Obviously, promenade, you are right there on the beach there.
Putin made a visit today to northwestern Russia, near the Bering Sea. Really far out there, Ilya. Before he went there, the Kremlin said he would make a regional trip today. They didn't say where.
Obviously, there have been a lot of concerns about his safety and the drone attacks right on Moscow itself, but when you see that in his behavior, how concerned do you think he is about his own safety, his own life or death?
PONOMAREV: Well, that's good he is afraid. That's pretty obvious. He is afraid of our guys who may have a stinger with them or any other anti-aircraft missile that can shoot him from the skies. And also, I think he senses that in the West, the attitude towards him is changing and that somebody may give a command, so let's change the guy in Russia.
BURNETT: So you think he does? I mean, it's evident certainly.
PONOMAREV: Yes, as much as people in America are doing this, as much in Russia, they do believe it is already happening and that somebody from CIA or whatever is working on that.
BURNETT: Right. Right.
Well, and then, you know, you have the Russian sub commander, right, killed by they say a Ukrainian, but tracking app -- they've got infiltration of some sort.
PONOMAREV: Yeah, they don't understand that they cannot control the situation.
BURNETT: So, today in Belarus, video they released, Lukashenko's Belarus, showing the Belarusian forces holding military exercises with the Wagner group which is relocating to Belarus even though Prigozhin himself doesn't appear to have done that. There is still a real question of where the Wagner loyalties lie, and this is crucial, right? Zelenskyy said, well, I need to put troops up on that border, if Wagner is going to come down, Wagner leaves the front, it changes my war.
But you think the Putin-Prigozhin relationship is not what many others think, that others think this is a real coup and Putin was weakened. Do you see -- do you think it might be different?
PONOMAREV: Well, I think it was a real coup, but it was a coup against the Russian military and not against Mr. Putin. I think that Mr. Putin was aware and Mr. Putin is still on good terms with Mr. Prigozhin, and Mr. Prigozhin is one of the most trusted men to Putin and that's why --
BURNETT: One of the most trusted?
PONOMAREV: One of the most trusted, yes. They have a very long history of relationship back in St. Petersburg when essentially Putin was running a gang and what Prigozhin was providing for the gang is an asylum and a gathering place which has to be as secure as possible. So, that's one of the most trusted person of any gang, the guy who provides the premises.
BURNETT: But you're saying that you think that Putin and Prigozhin in a sense may have been in this together versus the military?
PONOMAREV: I think that Putin knew that Prigozhin would not stand against him. That's his -- he was, of course, taking some precautions, but at the end, he trusted Prigozhin.
I think what is happening now is the perfect indication that I was right. I was saying this from the very beginning and the fact that Putin then met with Wagner commanders and that's happening proves that they still are on good terms, and that actually makes me worried because being in Belarus, I am not fear so much about Ukraine. I think that Prigozhin himself wanted to get out of Ukraine for a very long time. He was sick and tired of being in Bakhmut and he lost a lot of men there.
What I'm afraid is that he may turn NATO, there's a railroad that connects mainland Russia with Kaliningrad and running a provocation there is a natural thing to do because in this case, Prigozhin looks like a lone state actor and he is also not Russian, but is acting from the territory of Belarus so Putin will say it's not me. And then the Lithuanians and some Poles would call for Article 5, and that people like Germans would say, why should we do it?
BURNETT: Right. Well, we'll see, obviously, a fearsome proposition there.
Thank you very much, Ilya. I appreciate your time.
PONOMAREV: Thanks very much, Erin.
BURNETT: Ilya Ponomarev, as I said.
And, next, the clock is ticking for Trump to respond to the DOJ. According to his lawyers, he only has a few hours before the deadline. It's tonight.
And it comes as a Trump aide today appeared for a third time before a grand jury. Now, what would necessitate your appearing three times before the jury? So, we'll find out.
Plus, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., trying to re-write history, claiming he never said controversial things that he actually did say.
And thousands of people in a major capital city told to stay indoors tonight as authorities try to track down a suspected lion on the loose.
BURNETT: Tonight, Trump's legal team says he has until midnight. So, just a few hours, that's the time line that he has to respond to the DOJ in the January 6th investigation and basically, it's this. He has to let the Justice Department know by midnight if there are any witnesses or evidence that he wants at this stage to bring forward now that he has been officially informed that he is a target in the investigation.
So, all eyes today were on that federal grand jury. They did meet today and they heard from one of Trump's former aides, a man named Will Russell. He was with Trump on January 6th.
Now, you may not know the name Will Russell, but it's clearly an important one because it is the third time that Will Russell has testified before this grand jury, and it comes as we are learning tonight that even more witness interviews have been scheduled to happen in the future.
So, Paula Reid is OUTFRONT now with those new developments.
So, Paula, can you explain, special counsel, you're learning is scheduling more interviews in the coming weeks, so who are these individuals?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. We learned that over the past several weeks even before the target letter went out, the special counsel has been scheduling additional witness interviews of people they've never spoken with before, and these interviews are scheduled as far out as a month from now. Among the people they are expected to talk to, a former Trump lawyer and also former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik who worked very closely with Rudy Giuliani in the efforts in and around the election.
And Rudy Giuliani was also one of the people they reached out to, but they've been able to complete his interview. They traveled up to New York, sat down with him over the course of two mornings, but we know the former president received a target letter on Sunday. That typically means an indictment is imminent. He was given, as you noted, until today to go before the grand jury.
We don't expect he's going to do that. We also, though, don't expect he's going to give them a formal notice that he won't do it, which leads itself some ambiguity in terms of timing for an indictment, but they can absolutely go ahead and indict the former president or anyone else before they wrap up their work.
We know they did this in the Mar-a-Lago investigations. They indicted the former president and his associate Walt Nauta, and then they continued their work. They even sent out another target letter.
So, it's clear, even if there is an indictment, Erin, from this reporting, we've learned the special counsel's work will continue through the summer.
BURNETT: All right. Paula, thank you very much.
Ryan Goodman is with me now, former special counsel to the Defense Department, along with Alyssa Farah Griffin, former Trump White House communications director, and Timothy Heaphy, he was the top staff investigator for the January 6th House Select Committee.
So, Ryan, Paula was explaining, right, that, you know, in Mar-a-Lago, they did interviews post-indictment. So, is that where we are now? Because a month out, you're looking at August 20th. You get a target letter, everyone saying it's imminent.
Does this change the timeline of an actual indictment when you hear that there are multiple witnesses still scheduled to testify?
RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: I don't think so. I don't think it changes the clock at all. The biggest information we have is the target letter giving former President Trump one last opportunity or last opportunity at the final stages and then it should be imminent. It would be surprising to me if, in fact, he were indicted and then they stopped the grand jury. Of course, they would continue.
BURNETT: So that would be normal to continue gathering evidence?
GOODMAN: Completely normal especially with an investigation that's multi-pronged. For example, we know there's another investigation on mail and wire fraud, if they fraudulently continue to raise money on false pretenses, that would easily continue after an indictment of former President Trump. Or they could be going after other people who are even potentially co-conspirators in the same indictment of President Biden but haven't been indicted yet.
BURNETT: All right. So, Alyssa, one of the people that, well, not scheduled, but that happened today, right, Will Russell that I mentioned, third time they've brought him in. I mean, you know, you would think, you know, on a certain level, you bring someone in, you get -- you get everything you're going to get. But then things develop.
So, obviously, he is important. You know him. You knew him in the White House. Why do think he could be so important?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So it's interesting. Will Russell was what I would call probably a junior or mid-level staffer. He was the kind of deputy for advanced. But, because of that, really had a lot of access to the former president.
He was constantly a fixture on Air Force One, he would go into the cabin to brief him of the runoff show of events he was going to. And, of course, notably on January 6th, he was at the ellipse backstage with him.
So, he -- what I -- this is speculation, but what I suspect they may be trying to get is the discussions and deliberations on the ground that day, ahead of the former President speaking, and then, ahead of the riot at the Capitol. This is someone who could potentially corroborate Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony with regard to, A, the former president potentially wanting to go to the Capitol, not worrying that there were -- might be armed people because, they didn't need the mags.
GRIFFIN: They weren't there for me.
This is someone who would have been privy to these conversations, though himself not necessarily engaging. So I think it's very notable he's been called back in.
BURNETT: Right, called back in three times.
And, Timothy, I know you also believe an indictment is still eminent. And, Bernard Kerik also coming through on this. This is another, right, former, you know, New York police commissioner. That is scheduled in the future.
Do you -- do you think that's important? I know you obviously met with him as well for January 6th deliberations.
TIMOTHY HEAPHY, LED HOUSE JANUARY 6 INVESTIGATION: We did. We interviewed former Commissioner Kerik. I would say it's sort of a halfway interview, Erin, because he came in, he provided some information, but he also made a fair number of privilege assertions, attorney client privilege.
The advantage of the special counsel has that a congressional committee does not have is that they can immediately take a privilege claim that they don't credit to the chief judge of the district, who will quickly adjudicate whether or not the privilege claim is or isn't valid. The appeals court will immediately look at that. They have the apparatus, because it's a criminal grand jury, to resolve privilege assertions, and adjudicate them quickly.
We did not. So while Kerik came in, provided some information, he might have either voluntarily, or be forced to provide more information with direct communications with Mr. Giuliani, or with the president himself, about these bogus claims of election fraud, that he among others was tasked with investigating.
BURNETT: Right, right. Bernie Kerik's role was, right, trying to -- finding places where there was fraud. Of course, there wasn't, but that was what he was trying to do.
Ryan, to the point of Bernie Kerik, but also Alyssa saying, you know, Will Russell coming in for the third time. Is that also standard, to have someone come in before a grand jury three times?
GOODMAN: It sounds as though it might be, in his kind of situation, because his lawyer today communicated that part of the issue is about executive privilege. So, maybe they were saying the first time he comes, and he claims executive privilege, and then they try to push him further, or maybe there are additional questions that they now have other witnesses providing if they want to come back to him.
BURNETT: All right. So there was that surprise charge that we understand in the target letter. The charge could include conspiracy against rights.
Now, when you look at it out of the three statutes that are mentioned in the target letter, and I know that doesn't mean that it's all inclusive. But of the three mentioned, it has the highest penalty of the free, maximum of 10 years. And, you think, as you look at this, you have a better sense of what Jack Smith is thinking?
GOODMAN: So this is a surprise, in that has not been reported before, that they were looking at this. It's not in the select committee's report either. Select Committee mentions about potential offenses, it's not there.
GOODMAN: But when you look at this charge for denial of rights, it's actually like a hand in glove situation. It is about election law crimes. The Department of Justice has prosecuted people time and again for interfering with their ability for their vote to be counted for interfering with their vote to be certified, and for the use of violence to prevent their vote from being exercised.
So, this is something they have tried many times before, or prosecuted successfully, I should say, many times before. It's pretty.
BURNETT: They have prosecuted it successfully?
GOODMAN: Absolutely. So it's the very kind of thing that the Justice Department would want to take off the shelf for this kind of situation.
BURNETT: So, Timothy, as Ryan mentioned, this was not a charge that was included in the January 6th committee referral, the criminal referral to the DOJ. Were you surprised when you saw it? Do you think it applies? HEAPHY: I think it arguably does apply, yes. Look, a lot of statutes
might apply to the core conduct. We looked at the entire federal criminal code, and identified the statutes that we thought were most applicable to the facts that we had developed. The lead counted being obstruction of an initial proceeding, 1512c.
I actually think that's a 20-year statutory maximum, although I don't think a statutory maximums really gotten this. I think the special counsel is going to choose the charge, or charges that seems most applicable to the facts and as Ryan said, the 241, the deprivation of civil rights. That punishes people that deprive people of a fundamental civil rights.
And the right to vote is one of those rights, the theory here would be that the president, by disrupting the joint session, by attempting to prevent the transfer of power, essentially tried to discount or undercut the will of the people, exercised at the ballot box. And that deprived them of their civil rights.
I do think it arguably implies. I do think all of the statutes named in our report, and now in the target letter, and even some others, arguably apply. The challenge for the special counsel week to decide which of them to bring in and who in a conspiracy, should be included in that.
BURNETT: And, right, and as Ryan points out, we may not know the other who's, Alyssa, if there are any for quite some time, even if Trump himself is indicted in the next day or two, or whatever it could be.
But from what you understand, in the Trump orbit now, is there a perception that this is more serious, or more damaging than anything else?
Or is there sort of a blase, oh, another indictment, another bump in the polls?
GRIFFIN: So, the two things I've heard from Trump world is they are concerned about this. They were surprised by the reported charges.
I think that there was an expectation that they might try to pursue insurrection, which the legal team around the president -- former president said, that will be harder to proof. These are much more specific, and they weren't prepared for that. So anytime you are caught off guard, I think that that's weighing on them.
But also, they are absolutely worried about the fact that nobody else has received a target letter because that's making kind of heads spin about, does that mean Mark Meadows flipped? He didn't get a target letter.
Who did? Why didn't Rudy Giuliani? Who is talking to the special counsel that they didn't realize was?
BURNETT: Right, right, you had a question that they didn't get a letter. It doesn't mean they won't, but they didn't yet.
All right. All of you, thank you very much, Alyssa, Ryan, Timothy.
And next, 2024 Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., today, grilled by his own party.
(BEGIN VDIEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the witness's time, do not censor the witness.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not censoring the witness. I'm not censoring the witness. He still --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Plus, new details about what life tonight is like in prison for Gilgo Beach murder suspect as police reveal new details about how he may have lured women to his home and committed the murders there. The sheriff, who was in charge of that case, is OUTFRONT tonight.
BURNETT: And tonight, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., rewriting history, denying he's a conspiracy theorist, despite a long record of bogus claims, especially against vaccines. He also says he is not racist or antisemitic.
Well, Kennedy was a Republican star witness at a hearing about government censorship on Capitol Hill.
But the fire today came from members of his own party.
Eva McKend begins our coverage OUTFRONT.
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democratic presidential candidate and spreader of vaccine misinformation, Robert Kennedy Jr., invited by Republicans to testify on Capitol Hill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the witness's time, do not censor the witness.
REP. STACEY PLASKETT (D-USVI): I'm not censoring the witness. I'm not censoring the witness. He's still talking --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is --
MCKEND: It was the Democrats who asked tough questions. In a testy hearing on censorship, Kennedy telling the committee his views are protected speech.
ROBERT KENNEDY JR. (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The First Amendment was not written for easy speech. It was written for the speech that nobody likes you for. I was censored not just by the Democratic administration, I was censored by the Trump administration.
MCKEND: Democrats accused Republican leadership of giving Kennedy's dangerous rhetoric a platform in Congress.
PLASKETT: That's not just supporting free speech, they have cosigned on idiotic, bigoted messaging. It's a conscious choice.
MCKEND: Regarding Kennedy's blatantly lies, where he said COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and black people. The people who are most immune, are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.
Today, Kennedy brazenly claimed --
KENNEDY: I'm under oath. In my entire life, I have never uttered a phrase that was either racist, or antisemitic. I have spent my life fighting my professional career, fighting for Israel.
MCKEND: Kennedy repeatedly claimed he didn't say things, that are in fact on camera.
KENNEDY: I've never been anti vaccine. But everybody in this room probably believes that I have been because that's the prevailing narrative. I have never told the public to avoid vaccination.
MCKEND: But Kennedy has a long record of attacking safe vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, and promoted false claims like childhood vaccines can lead to autism. And, that HIV was caused by vaccine research, even saying this, on a 2021 podcast.
KENNEDY: I had seen somebody on a hiking trail who was carrying a little baby. And I say to him, better not get him vaccinated.
MCKEND: Kennedy's fellow Democrats pushed back, saying his comments bring shame to his famous family name.
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): You were here for cynical reasons, to be used politically by that side of the aisle to embarrass the current president of the United States. And it brings shame on a storied name that I revere.
MCKEND (on camera): And, Erin, despite some of these outlandish claims that Kennedy has made, he still has some support. The most recent Quinnipiac poll has him at 14 percent among Democratic voters, and likely Democratic voters. Still an uphill battle for Kennedy, as he takes on President Biden in the Democratic primary -- Erin.
BURNETT: Eva, thank you very much from Washington tonight, where those hearings took place.
OUTFRONT now, David Axelrod, the former senior adviser to President Obama.
And, David, let me just start here with your reaction to Kennedy's claims today, that he is not a racist or a conspiracy theorist. He said, and I quote last week at a fund-raiser here in New York, COVID- 19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.
How does he say that, and then say that he's not racist or antisemitic?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Erin, first of all, you're looking at an Ashkenazi Jew who had COVID twice. So, I either didn't get the benefit, or somebody lied to me about my heritage, or something. But, look, those were blatant racist tropes.
He also compared the protocols for vaccines and COVID to not see Germany, and enslaved meant. He's very, very free and easy with those kinds of phrases. And, he has become the darling of conspiracy theorists, and aficionados of those. And of the far-right, you know, he got a very warm welcome today from Jim Jordan. He's been embraced by Tucker Carlson, and others, for those reasons, for his anti- corporate populism, for opposing our support for Ukraine.
But, a lot of his support comes from these theories, and they are dangerous because if you tell parents for example, that childhood vaccines create or, are linked to autism, some member of them are going to believe, it and not give their children these vaccines. And expose them to childhood diseases.
If you tell people that the vaccine, the COVID vaccines are government conspiracies, and they are laced with material that will help government trace you and so on, that encourages people not to use them.
And so, it's really quite dangerous.
BURNETT: Well, it is. And I should say, when you say that the vaccines are used to track you, that was a post he was put on Instagram. He was briefly banned, then he ran for president, and he put them back on, right, alleging that Bill Gates's vaccine were going to put chips in your heads so they can track you.
It was one the most widely shared post that he was ever put out there. And, stuff does matter, it doesn't matter if it's disproved autism, there are still people who don't take those vaccines because they're afraid that the things he said are true.
AXELROD: Well, what's interesting to me about today's hearing, Erin. So, he's been hankering, he's been hungry for debates with people over his theories. Today, he seemed to run from all of, them as you heard in one case.
But in several places, he denied things that he has said repeatedly, and said on tape -- some of it in books, some of it in his writing. BURNETT: Right.
AXELROD: So, the debate he was having today was with himself.
BURNETT: Well, let me ask you one other point, though, about where this may be resonating because we talk about the overall points. I was talking to a prominent force in the Democratic Party last week, and he was talking about concern about RFK Jr.'s resonance among Black voters. The latest polling we have on this front is that voters of color. CNN poll puts him at 28 percent, compared to 14 percent on white voters.
So, he does much better with people of color. Joe Biden, by the way, among people of color, has dropped by 17 points, since 2020. That's a big drop. How serious is this?
AXELROD: Yeah. Well, I don't know that it's serious relative to a race against RFK Jr. Of course, he does benefit from a revered name in Democratic politics, and particularly among African American voters.
I think in the long run, though, there is a concern, particularly about younger Black men, who have sort of begun to kind of leach, migrate away from the Democratic coalition. We saw it in 2020, and that something to be monitored. That is a concern.
But as to RFK Jr., I just have to say this. Bobby Kennedy was one of my absolute heroes, political heroes, and inspired me to get involved in politics. I think, as one of the speakers said today, he would be absolutely appalled, and saddened, by what his son is doing now.
BURNETT: David, thank you very much.
AXELROD: Nice to see you. And, I hope everyone will please watch, or listen to the newest episode of David's podcast, "The Axe Files", which is out now, on the best podcast there is.
And next, police say the suspected Gilgo Beach serial killer may have murdered women in his home. The sheriff who runs the county jail where Rex Heuermann is right now being held joins me next.
Plus, Tim Scott's surprising answer when asked if he would be Trump's VP.
BURNETT: Tonight, did the suspected Gilgo Beach serial killer commit murders in his own home. A source involved in the investigation telling CNN, they are operating on the theory that the accused serial killer, Rex Heuermann, may have lured the victims into his home, when his family was away.
Now, this new information coming as the wife of the Gilgo Beach murder suspect is breaking her silence. Heuermann's wife saying she and her family are going through a quote, devastating time in her lives, and it's especially hard on their elderly family members.
Asa Ellerup filing for divorce, from Heuermann just yesterday. They were married for 27 years.
Rex Heuermann is being held in Suffolk County jail tonight. Sheriff Errol Toulon runs that facility. He has visited Heuermann in his self three times, and he joins me now.
And sheriff, I very much appreciate your time. Thank you for being with us.
And, I understand police have been searching Heuermann's family home for days now. They've removed dozens of bizarre items of glass encased doll, and many others. And we are learning tonight that they have been operating on the theory that Heuermann committed murders in his home, and then disposed of the bodies on that beach.
What more are you able to tell us about all of this?
SHERIFF ERROL D. TOULON, JR., SUFFOLK COUNTY, NEW YORK: Well, first, thank you for having me on, Erin.
And I think it's most important for your viewers to understand the fact that every piece of evidence that can be gathered, whether it's from the storage containers or from his home, could be valuable not only to the murders that he's currently being charged with, but more importantly, if we could connect them to other murders, whether they were in New York, or other locations.
BURNETT: And, is it -- do you think it's possible there are? I mean, I understand anything is possible, but other locations outside of New York?
TOULON: Well, I'm not going to exclude that possibility. And so, I think as we gather evidence, now that we have actual DNA, we can compare it to other crimes that may have occurred at other locations, and we could be very suspicious, and where he could be possibly a suspect.
BURNETT: So, Sheriff Toulon, I understand that Heuermann is obviously in your jail, and he is currently spending all of his time alone, 60 square foot cell, monitor while he eats, has a television but is not watching it.
Is there anything else that you can share with us about the conditions of his current jail confinement, and his behavior?
TOULON: You know, he's currently under suicide watch by a mental health staff, who have put him in that category. And that's really not something that, it's something that generally someone who has notable case coming into our facilities. So, we have to correctional officers.
We have also added some extra technology cameras, facing his cell, because one of the things that we do not want to do is make sure that we are diligent, in the surveillance of him, and make sure that nothing happens to him. Because we want to bring him to justice, the same way he came to us.
Anytime that he is going to be escorted to our facility, we are going to shut down the facility for any inmate movement. Because we don't know if any one of the individuals that are in our custody have come in contact with him previously, and may want to seek retribution.
BURNETT: Sheriff Toulon, I know that you have seen him on three occasions now. You know, you've interacted with him. You've had a chance, you know, for lack of a better word, to look him in the eye, look him in the face. What can you tell us about those interactions?
TOULON: You know, amazingly, no emotions whatsoever.
And when you think about someone, last week that was roaming around the streets of New York, and also in Massapequa Park freely, to be confined in the space that he is currently confined, and you would think that you could see some emotion. But I can tell you though, over the next course of days and weeks, as his circumstances changed -- you know you just mentioned earlier by the fact that his wife is filing for divorce. I don't know if his children will have any contact with him.
And as things start to become more and more distant for incarcerated individuals, you know, their behavior inside of facilities can change, which is something that we really have to be cognizant of.
BURNETT: Sheriff, his wife did tell tonight that she and her family are going through a devastating time. She did obviously file for divorce, 27 years of marriage. So she obviously was married to him during -- any of the murders that you've already accusing him of, as well as in addition to any others that they may be able to bring charges for. And you mentioned his children, adult children.
Do you know whether she is reached out to him, or visited him? Any of them, since he was arrested?
TOULON: So, no one has visited him, other than his attorneys, since his incarceration. And, we are also, you know, monitoring that. Also, he is allowed to have anyone come and visit him, just like any other person in our custody.
But more importantly, he can deny access to any visits. So, someone can come and register for a visit to see him, but he can deny the visit.
BURNETT: Has he denied any visits?
TOULON: He has denied two visits.
BURNETT: Is there anything you are able to -- I mean, were those journalists, or they other people?
TOULON: Yes, actually they were journalists. He did not know who these individuals were that were attempting to visit him. And so, he decided to deny those visits.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Sheriff Toulon, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
TOULON: Thank you for having me on.
BURNETT: All right. Look forward to speaking with you again soon.
And next, who is the Republican presidential candidate that voters want to know more about? I will give you a hint, it is not Donald Trump. It is not Ron DeSantis. But it is someone else in the Republican field, and Harry Enten will tell you who it is next.
And a suspected lion right now on the loose in a major U.S. city.
BURNETT: Tonight, Republican presidential candidate Tim Scott turning the tables on Trump. The senator from South Carolina asked if he would continue being on Trump's ticket, after Trump hinted that Scott could be his VP.
Well, here's what Senator Scott said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think he's overqualified to be my vice president. But I will say, as president, the president is a good guy, we get along really well.
(END VDIEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Punting the answer, but, you know, in a very sophisticated way. And that has been translating on the campaign trail.
The South Carolina senator's super PAC is preparing to launch the most expensive ad campaign of any 2024 candidates so far.
And Harry Enten joins me now to go beyond the numbers.
So, Harry, when we saw him speak there, right, he definitely handled that.
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Uh-huh.
BURNETT: A non-answer but, you know, gregariously.
So, how does he rank right now against Trump and DeSantis?
ENTEN: So, you know, when I was with you on Tuesday, you know, I said I wanted to go underneath the hood. And that's what I like, you I like to go underneath the hood.
So I wanted to look at favorable ratings amongst those who have an opinion of Scott,, DeSantis and Donald Trump. Guess who the most popular is?
It's actually Tim Scott, with an 89 percent favorable rating, ahead of Trump, and ahead of DeSantis.
Let's see what happens as more and more voters get to know who Senator Scott is, and we know, from our last CNN poll back in May, who was the candid that most GOP voters wanted to hear more about? It was Senator Scott.
So, the fact is, more voters want to know more about him. And, those that you know a lot about him like him a lot.
BURNETT: Right, well those are two things, anybody else on that side will be going to have, right?
BURNETT: All right. So, I mentioned his super PAC. And obviously, a lot of the big money, right, that run DeSantis, there is disillusionment there now, right. A long time ago, but as of now, some of that money maybe going to Scott.
How much cash does he have?
ENTEN: Yes. So if we look at how much cash that he has at this particular point, what we essentially see is, in terms of cash on hand, we see he ranks second, second in the GOP field.
Trump is still ahead, but he has far more cash on hand than Ron DeSantis --
BURNETT: Wow, $9 million.
ENTEN: Nine million dollars more. So, this is a campaign that's built to last, and it's somebody who can go on the air and spread his message, and the people have heard that message have seemed to have liked that message.
BURNETT: All right. Now, sometimes, you know, Trump has a lot of money, small don't money donors. Some people get big money donors, and that doesn't always translate, right, to actual voters.
So, how does this growing popularity, that you see? I mean, you said people who know them, they like them. But money, how does that translate in the early states to the polls?
ENTEN: Yes. So, we had a University of New Hampshire poll that came out earlier this week, and what we saw was, while Tim Scott is still in third -- still well behind Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, he was the one who has seen the most movement, and now he's in a clear third place.
I think at this particular point, as he spends more money, more people who he is, the more popular he will get. And, his poll numbers will continue to rise.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, Harry.
ENTEN: Thank you.
BURNETT: Under the hood indeed.
And next, police right now combing the streets of a major city, looking for a lion.
BURNETT: Tonight, a lioness on the loose. Police in Germany on the prowl, looking to track down what is believed to be a lioness, spotted on the outskirts of Berlin, after several witnesses reported a, quote, large predatory kept chasing a wild boar. Thousands are told to stay indoors, as police have deployed 30 police cars and 100 officers, two helicopters in their ongoing search.
Adding to the intrigue, nobody knows where the lioness escape from. They've checked with zoos, animal parks and other facilities, and there is no lioness missing.
Well, thanks so much for joining us. We'll see if that mystery develops overnight.
In the meantime, it's time now for "AC360", and Anderson.