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Erin Burnett Outfront
Trump Expected To Surrender In Georgia Next Thursday Or Friday; Trump Likely To Skip Debate, Do Interview With Carlson Instead; Millions In California On Alert As U.S. In Hurricane's Path; NYT: Troop Deaths, Injuries In Ukraine War Near 500,000; Maui Deaths At 111 As Crews Search Remains Of 2,000 Burned Homes. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired August 18, 2023 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Trump's arrest. CNN learning when the former president is expected to turn himself in to Fulton County officials, as the Secret Service prepares for an historic moment with 18 other codefendants also surrendering.
Plus, Biden targets Trump. President tearing into his predecessor on foreign policy, while holding his own historic summit with two of America's closest allies.
And returning to Ukraine. An American held captive by Russian-backed soldiers for months and finally freed has once again returned to the battlefield. Why? He's my guest.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, negotiating Trump's surrender. Discussions taking on a more urgent tone tonight as sources tell CNN that the former president is now expected to surrender on Thursday or Friday. Now, sources tell CNN that the Secret Service has been camped out at the Fulton County jail preparing for this historic arrest. Because, keep in mind, it's not just Trump who will be turning himself in.
There are 18 others who must also surrender, including a who's who of Trump's orbit. That means Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows, his attorney Rudy Giuliani will be there. Now, all of this coming as the Fulton County sheriff has told us that Trump will be treated just like any other defendant.
Now, what that would typically mean is being thoroughly searched by a jail deputy, receiving a medical screening, fingerprinting, and a mugshot. Now, this is something Trump has so far avoided in the other three indictments he's faced. But Trump negotiating his surrender before he actually shows up at the Fulton County jail is something he won't most certainly want to do, because if he doesn't, he could be faced being put in jail for up to 72 hours. That is typically how it happens in Fulton County.
And the jail there of course is notorious. A longtime defense attorney who has had a number of clients booked there telling the "New York Times" today, quote, it's miserable, it's cold, it smells, it's just generally unpleasant. So unpleasant that the Justice Department's actually investigating the dangerous conditions there after an inmate was found dead covered in bugs and filth.
Of course, it's a far car from the high ceilings and gold-plated ceilings that cover the walls of Trump's Mar-a-Lago, even if he's only in there briefly, it will be impactful.
Paula Reid is OUTFRONT live in Washington to begin our coverage tonight.
And, Paula, what else do you know about what's taking place on the ground, and, as we indicated, the need for these early negotiations before he actually surrenders?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESONDENT: So, Erin, those negotiations are going to take place on Monday. His team will head down to Fulton County, Georgia, to work out the specifics of the surrender. The district attorney has given a deadline of next Friday at noon for this to happen. And here is what this is going to look like.
Right now, we understand this is more likely to happen in the back half of the week. Likely, most likely, on Thursday. He's going to turn himself in to the Fulton County sheriff's office. He is expected to have his fingerprints and likely a mugshot taken.
The mugshot is a sensitive issue. As you might remember, at the federal level, what that usually take a mugshot but don't release it, they offered not to do that with former President Donald Trump because that used those mugshot if somebody goes on the lam. He is one of the most recognizable people in the world. So they didn't do that at the federal level.
One of the big differences is in his federal indictments, he had the processing, the initial appearance and the arraignment all at one time. This is going to be a little bit different. He will be processed and then a judge will set a court hearing day for him.
Now, the district attorney has said that she wants all those of initial court appearances to happen in the week of September 5th.
BURNETT: All right. Paula, thank you very much. Obviously not waste and time in terms of trying to get it started.
Let's go to Ty Cobb, former Trump White House lawyer.
So, Ty, you heard Paula's reporting, right, that they -- it is expected that Trump will negotiate on Monday for what his actual surrender will look like, right, because if you show up without doing that, in Fulton County, the typical situation is you could be put for 72 hours and the jail. That's how it works. So we do expect he's going to negotiate ahead of time.
But do you think, like in those other indictments that bullet referenced, that make exceptions so Trump doesn't have to have a mugshot or go to any of the other standard things that would involve treating like anyone else in Georgia?
TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: So, I would expect they will, you know, accelerate his processing and, you know, in the sense he won't have to sit on a bench with a bunch of felons waiting to see what's next.
I think he will, you know, be handled with respect. The Secret Service will be there.
I think the Secret Service is likely to conduct whatever search is required, you know, processing the defendant. The Fulton County sheriff will accept their search. I don't think he'll be subjected to any physical search, personally, by the sheriff's office.
But I do think they will insist on the mugshot and the fingerprinting. Because that does seem to be routine there and Fani Willis has said that's going to happen. So, I would expect that will happen. I would expect the mugshot will be a forwarded to Trump's pr people and they'll be raising money off of it before he leaves the jail.
BURNETT: Right, right. Certainly, they will seize it as something they can use to their advantage if they can.
So you've got the possibility of a mugshot, probably a mugshot. I think that is the accurate word at this point, probably, being taken of a former president of the United States, right? I mean, that's momentous.
COBB: Yes. But he's also going to be going, Ty, to this jail which has a reputation of a bed condition. You heard how the defense lawyer described it. It is obviously under the DOJ review.
So, even just being there, coming to a place like that, does that have any impact, do you think, on Trump psychologically?
COBB: I have been there. I have interviewed a witness there, many years ago, and it is decidedly substandard by many standards but certainly by Trump standards. And I do think it will have some impact on him. He won't -- he won't enjoy it.
But to the extent that it will rattle him, I don't see that happening.
BURNETT: So, you and I spoke obviously the other day. You said there was no way Trump will hold that press conference next week that he promised to give, going through all of the indictment and show and how there was election fraud left, right and center.
You said -- I think you chuckled, Ty, and said anything he produces will be used as evidence against him in Georgia and that was a crazy thing to do.
Now, what I think is interesting here, he actually backed down, essentially taking your advice, essentially. His lawyers told him to say before trial and he doesn't appear to be planning to do anything like that.
Are you surprised that he actually seemed to listen to someone else and not just to go ahead and do what he wanted?
COBB: It is consistent with the way he's maneuver for these cases over the last couple of months. He has constantly ignored, I think, good advice in terms of how to comport himself. You know, it could be a turning point.
I think it may have come as a surprise to his attorneys that he announced that, and I'm sure that they reacted immediately, as I did, concerned that he could only complicate his circumstances if he proceeded that way. And, you know, it also of course versus the question of, you know, this grand jury has been going on for two years, two and a half years. Don't you think it would have been useful to share any exonerating material with him before they indicted you?
BURNETT: Well, he would think. And of course, as we all know, right, recounts and recounts and cork tests and audits -- there simply wasn't -- the fraud wasn't fair.
COBB: His claims were that almost 70,000 dead people voted, there were 5,000 people under 18. None of that is true.
COBB: So, you know, I mean, whatever was going to be in this document was not going to support the claims that have already been refuted.
BURNETT: Right, right, I can't even remember if it was four dead people or seven dead people or three dead people. Whatever, I actually did go back down and get that a cut number.
So, we have talked a lot, Ty, you and I and the audience listening to you here, about whether or not the case is being brought by the special counsel. The Jack Smith case, the federal election interference case, as well as Mar-a-Lago, could be wrapped up before the 2024 presidential election, or if Trump will succeed and running out the clock and try to pardon himself and those cases. So what did you first think when you saw Trump put formally out he wants that general sixth case to go to trial in April of 2026, a year and a half post-election?
COBB: So, my immediate reaction is, I had just read about him abandoning the news conference and I'm thinking, aha, you know, somebody's got his ear, he's looking to get advice.
And then I saw the -- you know, the 2026 proposal and I laughed because that's nowhere, you know, within the neighborhood of the universe, of possible dates. I think that whoever pro -- I don't think that was a lawyer who decided the date. I think that probably was a Trump dictated date. I'm sure that the lawyers probably proposed something slightly more
reasonable, even though that would be unlikely to be achieved. I think this case -- the election interference case in particular, can easily be tried before the summer of 2024. And I think it will be.
BURNETT: All right. Ty, thank you very much.
COBB: Thank, you Erin. Have a great weekend.
BURNETT: All right. And next, Trump takes a pass. CNN learning Trump is planning to skip the first presidential debate, opting to sit down with Tucker Carlson instead. Smart move?
Plus, the city of Los Angeles tonight under its first ever tropical storm watch. A powerful category four hurricane right now is making its way towards California, the first time in nearly 200 years. A hurricane hunter who just flew into that storm is my guest.
And we'll take you to Hawaii, where searchers right now are still digging through the charred debris of nearly 2,000 homes, looking for 81,000 human beings still missing.
BURNETT: Tonight, skipping the debate. CNN learning the former president is not attending the first four publican presidential debate on Wednesday, which will be in Milwaukee. Instead, he's planning to sit down with Tucker Carlson for an interview that will air around the same time as the debate.
Now, Trump holding no public defense today. He's 2024 rivals, of course, are across the country, testing out debate lines and now taunting Trump to show up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you qualify for the stage, as Trump has, not showing up is completely disrespectful to the Republican Party, who has been made you their nominee twice, and to the Republican voters whose support you're asking for again.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think you owe it to the people to put out your vision, talk about your record, and if you're not willing to do that, I think that people will not look kindly on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Basil Smikle, former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, and Scott Jennings, political commentator and senior adviser to Mitch McConnell.
So, Scott, let me start with you on the Republican side here. Do you agree with Christie and DeSantis that voters will care, voters would think that Trump's move is disrespectful of them?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I agree with him that is disrespectful, but Donald Trump has been disrespecting Republican since 2016, and it's working for him. He has busted party orthodoxy and party norms and party structures since he came onto the scene, and they love it.
And so, as a strategic matter, I don't blame him, frankly. He's got a huge lead. Everyone on the stage, really some few people, may want to take a shot at him. He thinks he can get a low risk high reward environment with the Tucker Carlson interview. Candidly, from a strategic perspective, it's a no brainer to sit this one out and let everyone else tear Ron DeSantis apart.
BURNETT: Basil, I know that you sort of shared that point of view, right, at this point.
BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely, I can't get into Donald Trump's head, I would not even try, but if I were if I see him, I would say, do not go. Your poll numbers are up, what do you have to lose? He has a lot to lose by being there.
Someone like Ron DeSantis has everything to gain by being there. He can find a way if at all possible to reset his campaign. But for Donald Trump, there's no reason for him to be there.
BURNETT: Right, and especially because Chris Christie is going to be on that stage, and you can only imagine what those exchanges will be like.
So, Basil, while the Republican candidates are on the campaign trail, President Biden held a historic summit at Camp David today. And it was historic, Japan's prime minister, the president of South Korea altogether. And he was asked about Trump's comments that he would seek to reduce America's footprint on the Korean peninsula, right, obviously, with that U.S. troops there, the DMZ, the present all over that country.
Listen to what Biden said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is not much if anything I agree on with my predecessor on foreign policy. His America first policy, walking away from the rest of the world has made weaker, not stronger. America is strong with our allies and our alliances, and that's why we endure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OK. It comes, though, as the latest poll shows Biden running neck and neck with Trump on a hypothetical matchup, and Biden's 3- point lead with a three-point lead with a margin of error, right, and the majority of Americans don't want him to run. A majority of Americans also don't want Trump to run either, but actually more than they don't want Biden to run than Trump. So, what gives?
SMIKLE: A couple of things, voters don't necessarily vote for policy, they vote for safety and security, and they vote for presidents that look presidential and engaged in these kind of foreign policy discussions that makes people look presidential. So, it was a good hit. I think it shows Biden as this uniter, which we've him back when he was -- in dealing with Ukraine, building bridges if you will, go alone strategy.
And for voters looking at this, they elected Joe Biden to beat that guy, to beat the one that worked across borders to try to create these kinds of alliances. So, they've got exactly what they voted for. The more Democrat supported Joe Biden now than they did Barack Obama during his time in the presidency.
BURNETT: That's interesting point.
SMIKLE: So what that says to me is that Democrats are not looking for somebody else. Maybe we could have a better bench, and that's another conversation for another day. But, right now, the goal is to beat Donald Trump or any other Republican coming to the general election.
BURNETT: All right. So, Scott, it's interesting because you had him hosting and having that presidential look today, right? Biden wants more and more of that, as he got the infighting going on on the other side. So, the infighting that I am referring to, it was on full display today. Chris Christie goes to Florida, were DeSantis, of course, is governor, to get an idea of how he is going to be handling the debate and attack lines.
Let me just play some of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: If he thinks that he's going to get on the stage to defend Donald Trump on Wednesday night, then he should do Donald Trump a favor, and do our party a favor, come back to Tallahassee, endorsed Donald Trump and get the out of the race.
His point of view on the January 6th riot, he said, well, I wasn't in Washington that day, so I don't know as much about it. Well (EXPLETIVE DELETED), man, I wasn't in Washington either, but I have a TV set and I saw what was going on. And I've got an opinion about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OK. Scott, so yes, DeSantis is down 20 points in national polls since March. That's a ski slope, a downward ski slope.
Do you think that this debate could be the moment that completely ends it for DeSantis or conversely, do you think he can turn it all around in this moment? JENNINGS: He certainly has the chance to do either, right? I mean,
there is love in the water, everyone knows it. Obviously, Chris Christie is gunning for him.
But at the same, time a lot of voters had heard about Ron DeSantis have come from other people. They've come from Trump. They've come from never Trump. They've come from the media. They've come from $20 million in attack ads that have been running against Ron DeSantis.
This will be a chance for him in his own words to lay out who he is and why he is running, and to have a few moments of combat with some other Republicans. So, yeah, is their risk in this, absolutely. But there's also opportunity to try to break through all the noise that tends to surround his candidacy and rise about that with his own voice.
And that's what he's going to have to do right now. Everybody on that stage wants to replace Ron DeSantis as the front runner of the non- Trump candidate. So, he's going to be getting it from all sides.
BURNETT: Right, right. Well, you know, it's interesting that you use the word combat, right? It's appropriate.
Basil, the candidates are also talking about -- they're going to attack Biden. That will be the easy go to four of them, when DeSantis has been taking a lot of incoming to go there. DeSantis today went after Biden silence over the Hawaii wildfires. Of course, now, he's going out there, but he's picking him for that.
Fifty percent of Democratic primary voters, right, we touched on this, they want someone else to be their party's 2024 nominee, notwithstanding that you pointed out that he's more popular with Democrats than Obama was at the same point in that -- in that cycle.
Are you worried that this debate can turn any independent voters or wary voters away from Biden, in part because Trump is not there, so they actually get to look at real alternatives?
SMIKLE: I would be more concerned if the Republican primary electorate actually allowed any of their candidates to be that kind of candidate to talk about crossing the aisle in the way that Biden has done. That does not seem to happen.
Remember 2012, Chris Christie went and hugged Barack Obama, then President Obama, after Super Storm Sandy, and he spent the next several years trying to deny that. If that is the kind of candidate that he will be, with those other candidates on the GOP side will be, there is no wiggle room for them to try to get those disaffected Democrats, if there are any, or independents to come to your side because they're not making themselves into general election candidates. They're staying very focused on the primary electorate.
BURNETT: The primary electorate, which is who the audience is for this debate.
All right. Thank you both very much. Next, for the first time ever, there is a tropical storm watch in California, as Hurricane Hilary heads towards the southwest. Tonight, fears that it could dump years- worth of rain in a day or two.
Plus, he survived months of captivity and was tortured by Russian troops. Yet American Alex Drueke returns to Ukraine months after being free. You tell you why. He's my guest tonight.
BURNETT: Tonight, an historic threat, millions in California bracing as the category four hurricane is churning west of Mexico. These are live pictures of the heavy winds in Cabo St. Lucas right now, the first ever tropical storm watch issued for California today, just expanding or through include all of Los Angeles County.
The biggest concern at this hour is the amount of rain the storm could dump on southern California. I mean, the context here is that it could be multiple years worth of rain in just 1 to 3 days, which could result and life-threatening flash flooding.
President Biden speaking about this today saying that his administration is sending resources ahead of time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: FEMA has prepositioned personnel and supplies to the region, and they're ready to respond as needed. I urge everyone, everyone in the path of the storm to take precautions and listen to the guidance of state and local officials.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Chad Myers is OUTFRONT at the CNN weather center.
So, Chad, where is the storm right now?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There is Cabo St. Lucas, while south of there, still in very warm water, Erin, so this thing grew 75 miles per hour in strength in just 24 hours. It went all the way up to 145.
Now, that number says 130, why? There are men and women in a C130 aircraft that left the Air Force Base this morning, who all the way down into this thing across the Gulf of Mexico, across Mexico and into the storm and found that it was not as strong as the satellites were predicting. So, that's good.
Now we're down to 130, 129 is category three. One for, category four, were splitting hairs here. But now, yes, the very first tropical storm watch for California. Not just southern California, all of it, of course.
BURNETT: I mean, it is -- it is incredible when you think about it, and one of the biggest threats here, tropical storm or hurricane, right, is the rainfall. The tropical storm could be absolutely devastating. A climate scientist at UCLA says it could dump multiple years worth of rain in a day or two. Could it really look like that?
MYERS: Yes, it will. Not could, it will. Daniel Swain, as we were talking about, as I was watching him on YouTube just now.
MYERS: And if you want to get a good idea of what he is thinking, you can go on and find his channel there on YouTube.
Hurricanes, yes, they produce wind. They produce storm surge. But this won't be a hurricane when it gets to North America and southern California. This is just going to be a tropical storm but a very wet one with just tremendous amounts of water in the atmosphere because it picked up all of that water down here in the very warm parts of the Pacific.
They're now will be a significant, life-threatening but infrastructure threatening type of flooding event here for parts of southern California. You have the mountains. You have five or ten inches of rain on top to as the washed down somewhere or washed away roadways, road beds, wash away bridges. This will be a disaster by the time that we wake up on Tuesday.
BURNETT: All right. Chad, thank you very much.
MYERS: You bet.
BURNETT: And joining us now on the phone is Lieutenant Colonel Tobi Baker, a hurricane hunter who flew into the storm.
Colonel Baker, I appreciate your time. I know you flew in, the first mission to collect data inside the category four hurricane, which as we know, is intensifying. What did you see?
LT. COL. TOBI BAKER, SANTA MARIA, CALIFORNIA (via telephone): That's the first time that we went to the storm. It's actually a fairly large storm itself, as you have been saying on the news, it's very large because we've had hurricane level winds from the center all the way out to about 100 miles per hour. That gives you an idea of how large the storm itself is.
And it being a category three storm, it impacts a lot of wind and then collects all this moisture, as it is developing over the oceans. By the time it hits land, all of that water collected is actually going to be dropped or dumped basically onto the land portion.
BURNETT: And what is your biggest concern of the storm, is it the volume of water?
BAKER: No, because the biggest thing with a storm level one is that you hope it never gets to land or interact with anybody at all, so no structure or loss of life. But a good way that the storm is carrying, it's not just the rain that it could bring but also the winds, even as a tropical storm, you still have all that wind. The storm itself, in large, it could bring storm surge, which could cause issues, right, if they're near land. And then a lot of the rain is coming through, being affected and causing a lot of flooding and such.
BURNETT: Your squadron is based in society, and that is because you and your crews are flying into hurricanes often. That's what you do, go to the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico. This is a storm, and there are a lot of hurricanes and the West Coast, usually in Mexico, they don't come up into the U.S.
This is the first tropical storm watch for California, all the way through Los Angeles, so it's the first tropical storm to make landfall in California and nearly 100 years, if it's still a hurricane of any sort, it will be almost 200 years.
I am curious, Colonel, is there any difference in what you're seeing in the storm as opposed to the ones that you see so regularly in the Caribbean and the Atlantic.
BAKER: No, not necessarily. Every storm is different, we always treated the same, go in with the primary purpose to collect the raw data to make the forecasts to both the tracking and intensity as best as possible.
This one is probably a little different because as you mentioned, it's going north. Most storms in the area typically head further west and out to the oceans. This is more of a unique storm just mainly for the direction it's heading in.
BURNETT: So the next flight, I know, colonel, taking off to go into the storm is taking off within this next hour. What are they looking for specifically? Do you know?
BAKER: They're just going to pick off where we left off. It's going to be a long flight. Once it gets to the storm, because I fly it 24/7, use it as a plane, and as long as it's going to affect a population or area land mass or such, we'll fly in, because we're trying to collect the raw data. Again, like you mentioned earlier, this is what provides the forecast at the national hurricane center the best data, along with the satellites that tracked forecasting for direction and distance of the storm.
BURNETT: All right. Colonel Baker, thank you very much. I appreciate you taking the time. Glad your back on the ground, safe, I know you have a lot to go up against. So, thank you.
BAKER: Appreciate it, thank you.
BURNETT: All right. And, next, we're going to take you inside the desperate search for people still missing after the deadly wildfires in Maui. What did our Bill Weir see inside the search zone today?
And he survived months in captivity with Russian-backed forces. Finally, he was free, but Alex Drueke decided to go back to the war zone, and he'll tell you why. He's OUTFRONT next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:38:43]
BURNETT: New tonight, 500,000 casualties. U.S. officials telling "The New York Times" the total number of deaths and injuries in Ukraine war now nearly half a million. A staggering toll. Eighteen months ago, none of them thought they'd be in the situation. None.
My guest tonight, Alex Drueke, he was nearly one of them, after volunteering to defend Ukraine from Russian invaders, Alex spent the 105 days in Russian captivity. He was captured a long with Andy Huynh by Russian forces and held as a prisoner of war. Alex experienced execution threats, physical torture, solitary confinement and food deprivation.
You might remember her mother, Bunny. She was on this show many times, along with his Joy, his now wife, pleading for his safe return. Alex and Andy were finally released. Less than a year after being freed, Alex chose to go back to help the war effort.
And Alex Drueke joins me now.
And, Alex, I am glad to speak with you again, at your home once again. I know you've been back for just about a week -- back in the U.S. from this trip in Ukraine. Obviously, the first time you went there, we went to fight, and you went through horrific things, captivity, torture. You were released, but you did choose to go back.
Can you tell me why?
ALEX DRUEKE, AMERICAN FIGHTER HELD BY RUSSIAN-BACKED FORCES FOR 105 DAYS: I chose to go back because the war is not over, and I wanted it to absolutely everything that I can to ensure Ukraine's victory and stop this war as soon as we can.
BURNETT: So tell me what it was like for you this time. Obviously, you weren't fighting, to be clear with everyone on the. You weren't fighting. You are helping training soldiers, humanitarian.
Tell me what you were doing and where you went, what did you see?
DRUEKE: Yeah, for about the first half of my visit, I was there five or six weeks. For the first half, I was working with the humanitarian group, the patriot, and we were delivering food, medical supplies and middle terry supplies to some of the recently liberated areas out east, the ones having issues getting supplies into the towns. For the second half, I was working with an interview a several different training groups the seat where I could best be used to help continue training Ukrainian soldiers to win the war.
BURNETT: I was over there -- probably, we overlapped glass and saw some soldiers fighting and training in their off days. You spent a lot of time with them as they were training and spoke to them. Of course, they had been fellow fighters with you.
So, how are they doing? What are they telling you about how they feel right now about the war?
DRUEKE: It's a mix, the Ukrainian people and soldiers are still motivated and dedicated, still want freedom and sovereignty and to keep invaders at their country. But we passed 540 days now. It's a very long time, and war fatigue is a real thing. I even saw that in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, you know, there is a certain degree of weariness, tiredness, that we would really up to have the or over, they're tired of their cities being bombed, there are some things (ph) being hurt, tired of loved ones losing limbs and lives. They want the war to be over, so they're motivated to do it, but they're -- they're getting a little tired for how long it's taking.
BURNETT: Yeah. In the counter offensive, I know, look, it's been slower than anyone expected. President Zelenskyy has been open about that as well. Now, there has been progress in recent days, some of which, Alex, I understand is because of U.S. supplied cluster munitions. It appears that is the reason.
We have not been able to actually confirm it. From what you were able to see, because you are there when the cluster munitions were approved by the U.S. to go over, are they playing a role now?
DRUEKE: I really think that they are. The Ukrainian army as made significant progress in the south, around Zaporizhzhia, around Kherson, even in the Bakhmut direction. And, you know, I really do feel like the fact that they are using the clustered munitions exactly the way that they were intending to be used, it is proving very, very valuable in the battlefield.
You know, I think the biggest problem for the counteroffensive and why it's going so slow, the West was very slow and supplying the munitions and equipment that Ukraine needed for the counteroffensive. And that gave, you know, the invaders months of time to dig in, make multiple laps of minefields and trenches. And it's a hard obstacle to go through.
The Ukrainians, you know, they are doing their best. Once they get through them, they will actually crush them. So, I've been saying it since I first came home, and I'll say it again now, you need to give Ukraine what it needs to win the war right now, and I promise you, they're going to win the war right now. We just have to stop dragging our feet.
BURNETT: Alex, you have spent a long time with Andy Huynh when you were in captivity and enduring what you endured, the torture and psychological pressure. I remember speaking to you, right, right when he came home. And he was reunited with his fiance.
And she had been tireless in advocating for him. She came on the show countless times, and they just got married. So, they did, they are now married, and guess who the best man was, it was you.
DRUEKE: That's right, yeah.
BURNETT: Can you tell me about that day, what it was like?
DRUEKE: It was amazing. I mean, that was -- that was just a couple of days ago. And I think all of (INAUDIBLE). There's a lovely service, a lovely wedding, everything went really, really well, and it was -- you know, Andy spent so much time while we were in captivity talking about his fiancee and wondering if he was going to be able to ever -- ever make it back home and get married.
And so, for that to actually happen, for us to all be here and be there in the special day, it was incredible.
BURNETT: I can only imagine. I think it's just so wonderful that you were -- you were his best man, what a -- what a great joy for you both.
Thank you so much. I'm glad to speak to you again.
DRUEKE: Yeah. Definitely, good to speak to you.
BURNETT: All right. And next, we are going to take you to the desperate search for survivors in Hawaii, crews digging through the charred debris, 2,000 burned homes and businesses, 1,000 people still missing.
And also tonight OUTFRONT, a special report here on Putin's brutal private army, which could now infiltrate a country where the United States has over 1,000 troops.
BURNETT: Tonight, Maui's top emergency official who defended a decision to not sound the sirens as the ferocious raged has resigned, effective immediately. A fire killing at least 111 people, including children, mostly around Lahaina. The decision to not use the sirens has brought intense criticism from people there, from citizens, many who have lived in Lahaina for generations only now making their way home to see nothing is left.
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HELEN KAAI, LAHAINA RESIDENT: It's hard to take in. Just seeing at the devastation, we grew up here. This is home to a lot of us.
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BURNETT: Bill Weir is in Lahaina tonight.
And, Bill, you have been speaking to many residents there who are returning. What are they telling you?
BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, Erin, there is just so much angst and worry over the number of the missing, over a thousand people these many days, ten days at the fire. There is spotty communication. We're at a mercy of cell signal after the live shots, so if it breaks up, that's why.
But the roads are open. The communication is largely backed, and a lot of people thought if we heard from the people, we would have heard from them by now. So, they are sort of processing through the stages of grief, while the dog teams and cadaver teams sift through these three and a half square mile crime scene, essentially.
And they are looking at the granular level. There are 40 dogs and ships going in, we met a couple that are actually burned paws, still so many hotspots in there.
The forensic efforts, once they find any sort of remains, takes time, so the head at the task force from Pentagon sent here said today, this is a multi-year effort for the people of Maui, both in recovery and rebuilding. It's just the early days.
So, your heart breaks for the people here who are going through so much. You worry about the air, which is full of these dust, the water, which is unfit to drink, the basic necessities there. But the aloha spirit endures and most of it is just community-led, holding together.
BURNETT: I don't know, for some reason, when you talk about the paws of the dogs getting burned, they are so going into the heat, it gives us the ability to see the picture even more.
I mean, the burn zone search is not even half over, as dogs are going on. So, did they think, Bill, that they're going to be able to find out how many of those thousands missing are there. From what you say, are people assuming at this point that virtually all of them could be dead?
WEIR: I did have a heartbreaking conversation with a community leader. They had a press conference today to call out the leadership of Maui, to include them in the conversations about when to reopen, when to rebuild. She broke down and she talked about the concept that families may never know ultimately, because, essentially, this whole beautiful historic place feels cremated.
There are fears that there are storm systems that are coming that could come to bring rain late in the weekend, which would wash a lot of what's in Lahaina. They are working against the clock, but at the same time, they're coming to grips with the grim reality right now. There's just so much loss and pain right now, and the average tourist does not understand the history behind it, but these people need support more than ever.
BURNETT: Bill, thank you. Bill in Lahaina tonight as you can see the cars behind, people come in, residents allowed to go back home. Of course, home is gone.
Well, next, the brutal Wagner group which has been behind some of Putin's biggest gains will soon focus its attention on a country where American troops are not stationed, at least 1,000 of them.
BURNETT: Tonight, Wagner refocusing its efforts. The Russian mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin now disbanded in Ukraine, may be looking to expand somewhere else, somewhere important to the U.S.
Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Since the military junta overthrew the elected president of Niger, Russian flags have become prominent at pro-coup rallies.
All the Africans know that Putin is ready to save us, this man says. He adds, I prefer that the Russians settle in because today if Russia does so, it's not to exploit resources. It's to help us have peace.
But the Wagner private military company might soon be settling in here as well. France says it believes the Niger junta leaders are already in talks with Wagner to bring the mercenaries to the long independent former French colony.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, after his own failed mutiny inside Russia, says the group wants more business in Africa. In Niger, the country where the U.S. has deployed around 1,000 troops to support counterterrorism operations, that allegedly means Wagner will soon be fighting terrorism here.
I am proud of the guys from PNC Wagner, he said in an audio message. Just the thought of them makes ISIS and al Qaeda into small, obedient boys.
And while some West African nations have threatened to intervene in Niger after the coup, Wagner could confront them or even France, Russian analyst Sergey Markov tell me.
SERGEY MARKOV, RUSSIAN ANALYST: Soldiers of Wagner will be happy to put French army to its knees.
PLEITGEN: Wagner mercenaries were some of Vladimir Putin's toughest and most successful forces in the war in Ukraine. But the group has also been expanding in West Africa for years. CNN filmed the mercenaries training security forces in the Central African Republic, but they're also active or have been linked to Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Sudan, huge countries with vast natural resources, some of which Wagner are exploiting.
Over the past years, investigations by CNN and human rights groups have established Wagner's involvement in and complicity with atrocities against civilian populations in Sudan, Mali, and the Central African Republic. And the French say the group is also behind a smear campaign against them.
Paris says this drone video filmed last year in Mali shows white men burying bodies in a site where a fake Twitter account probably created by Wagner falsely claimed French forces had committed a massacre.
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken saying Wagner is both exploiting and creates instability in western Africa, where Washington has invested in training local military.
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Every single place that this group, Wagner group, has gone, death, destruction, and exploitation have followed. Insecurity has gone up, not down.
PLEITGEN: But for now, Wagner and Russia stock seem to be rising in West Africa. Tailors in Niger's capital busy making more Russian flags to meet increased demand.
PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Erin, the U.S. and its allies remain extremely concerned about the situation there in Niger. A source in the French foreign ministry telling CNN that they consider Wagner to be an organization with an opportunistic and predatory logic, and therefore, Wagner could try to take advantage of the situation -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Fred, thank you very much.
And thanks very much to all of you for being with us.
"AC360" starts now.