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Erin Burnett Outfront

Ex-Trump Aide Claims Giuliani Groped Her On Day Of January 6 Attack; House GOP Clashes With Attorney General Over Hunter Biden Probe; Mexico Suspends Trains Used By Migrants After Injuries, Deaths; Zelenskyy, Russian Foreign Minister Avoid Confrontation At U.N.; New Details On Missing Chinese Officials Once In Xi's Inner Circle; Biden Tries to Sell Bidenomics As Fed Says More Rate Hikes Ahead, Gas Prices are Rising, and Inflation Worries Mount. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 19:00   ET




Explosive new allegations against Rudy Giuliani. Cassidy Hutchinson, the key White House aide, writing in a new book that Giuliani groped her on January 6th, with a lot of detail.

Plus, Garland in the hot seat. Republicans grilling the attorney general even though some of them couldn't seem to get their facts straight.

And, thousands of migrants just arriving at the border. One Texas mayor tonight declaring a state of emergency.

And Mexico tonight halting train operations because of so many migrants illegally jumping on board. Our David Culver has been on that train and is with us tonight.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, explosive allegations against a man once called America's mayor. Former Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson accusing Rudy Giuliani of groping her on January 6th. It's a stunning allegation in her brand new memoir, which she says others also witnessed. Hutchinson claiming this happened as Giuliani was talking about alleged voter fraud. She writes, in part, quote, waving a stack of documents, he moves towards me like a wolf closing in on its prey. We have the evidence, it's all here, we're going to pull this off. Rudy wraps one arm around my body closing the space that was separating us. I feel his stack of documents press into the small of my back. I lower my eyes and watch his free hand reach for the hem of my blazer.

Then Hutchinson continues. By the way, he says, she's referring to Giuliani, fingering the fabric, I'm loving this leather jacket on you. His hand slips under my blazer, then my skirt.

I feel his frozen fingers trail up my thigh. He tilts his chin up. The whites of his eyes look jaundiced. My eyes dart to John Eastman who flashes a leering grin.

I fight against the tension in my muscles and recoil from Rudy's grip, filled with rage, I storm to the tent on yet another quest for Mark.

Mark, of course, being Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, for whom Cassidy Hutchinson worked.

A political adviser of Giuliani telling CNN in response to this quote, it's fair to ask Cassidy Hutchinson why she is just now coming out with these allegations from two and a half years as part of the marketing campaign for her upcoming book release. This is a disgusting lie against Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

An attorney for Eastman meantime calls the allegations libelous and says he does not ever recall having met Ms. Hutchinson.

But, remember, Cassidy Hutchinson, well, everyone knows who she is. Certainly all these individuals know who she is. She was a key witness to the January 6th Select Committee, bravely coming forward to testify and revealing many things under oath, including Trump's refusal to do anything to stop the insurrection.


CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, EX-TRUMP AIDE: I remember Pat saying to him, something to the effect of, the writers have gotten to the Capitol, Mark, we need to go down and see the president now. And Mark looked up and said, he doesn't want to do anything.


BURNETT: And what's also important to remember is that the context of this right now is as both Giuliani and Eastman are codefendants of the former President Donald Trump in the Fulton County case. And today, we learned that pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood will be a witness for a state in the case.

Now, Wood denies that this means he is actually cooperating. But if he's going to be a witness for them, it's important to know why he's so important. Wood led Stop the Steal rallies with Sidney Powell, filed meritless lawsuits to overturn the election, and was a vocal supporter of the pressure campaign to overturn the election in the state of Georgia.


LIN WOOD, PRO-TRUMP LAWYER: I want you to go to the governor's mansion. I want you to circle it. I want you to blow your horns until Brian Kemp comes out and orders a special session of the Georgia legislature. And then he can resign. And then as far as I'm concerned, lock him up.


BURNETT: Of course, Kemp was re-elected.

I just want to be clear, though, Lin Wood apparently now will be a witness for the state in the case.

Evan Perez is OUTFRONT.

So, Evan, a lot of new details here. Obviously stunning allegations by Cassidy Hutchinson. She saw a lot and she knows a lot. She's an important witness.

How much could she share as a possible witness in Trump's trials?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: She was a very important witness, certainly for the January 6th committee, Erin. In their report, a lot of her testimony made its way there. She was very credible to the team that put together that report.

And the one thing that we've not seen yet, though, is any mention of her in the indictments from Jack Smith. But here's where the two certainly what her testimony could align with what Jack Smith and his team are alleging against the former president.


There is a part in the indictment where the special counsel accuses the former president of essentially taking advantage of the chaos, of the violence as cover for his continued efforts to try to get Congress to not certify the election to, again, give him a way for him to remain in power. And those are the things that certainly Cassidy Hutchinson described a lot to the January 6th committee.

She described how the former president essentially stood back and wanted to have some of that violence. And, so, you could see certainly at a trial, at the upcoming trial next year that prosecutors may want to hear from her because she could shed some light into the former president's thinking on that day as he tried to, at least according to her, wanted to have some of that violence and some of that chaos to try to get Congress to not certify the election for Joe Biden -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Evan, thank you very much.

And Ryan Goodman's with me now, of course, OUTFRONT legal expert. And Stephanie Grisham who was press secretary for then President Trump.

So, Stephanie, let me just start with you. You know, obviously, Cassidy Hutchinson was at the center of so many important moments and meetings, and she was there. Do these allegations against Giuliani surprise you at all?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY : It's sad, but they don't surprise me. And, you know, I think even more so the response hasn't surprised me. Giuliani's spokesperson questioning the timing, calling her a liar. John Eastman doing the same thing. This is exactly the MAGA playbook.

But I just want your viewers to think about being a Republican, being a woman and having a book come out with some of these allegations against, you know, the allies and also the man who's pretty much going to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States -- that's scary. You know, people will come at you and say you're doing this for fame, you're doing this for attention, it's by and large not good attention.


GRISHAM: And I think that she showed with the January 6th committee hearings that she's an honest and ethical person who didn't have much to gain from just telling the truth.


And, Ryan, I think, among many things Stephanie said, it is important to note, it's not good attention. Nobody wants that sort of attention. And, obviously, the context here is that you've got Giuliani as a codefendant of Fulton County, John Eastman, who Hutchinson alleges sort of saw happening and gave a leering smile. He's also on those codefendants.

Could any of these allegations come into play during the trial and possibly be used against Giuliani?

RYAN GOODMAN, JUST SECURITY CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: So, it's going to be up to the prosecutors if they can figure a way to get it into the trial. I think it would benefit them if they could.

One might be if Giuliani took the stand they could use it to impeach him. But the allegation includes Giuliani approaching Hutchinson with the documents at the same time and saying we've got election fraud here. So there is a connection. Prosecutors may --

BURNETT: Right. Quite literally the stack of documents she refers to it.

GOODMAN: Exactly. So it's part of this election fraud idea. But this is what he's doing in the moment. So that could be their avenue to bring it into the trial. And I think it could be important. Because he is otherwise thought of as America's mayor in some people's minds, the forewoman for the special grand jury said that she thought of him as a myth figure in her head, and even wanted to go and shake his hand after he came in as a witness.

So I think the prosecutors would want to say, no, that's not who he is, here is who he is. And there's a through line. The through line is certain men in power abusing their power and being willing to break the law in doing it, that's part of the allegations that Hutchinson is now bringing forward as part of the sexual assault allegation. That's what it measures up to as a matter of law, and the allegation that he's breaking the law to stay in power and help Trump stay in power. So, that's what they could present to the juries, like this is your America's mayor.

BURNETT: This is the true measure of the person would be the case made.

I mean, Stephanie, do you think that, you know, Ryan's referring to, of course, Trump's White House. You're referring to Trump's White House, even more broadly. Are people even now hesitant to speak up about allegations like this from Trump's White House?

GRISHAM: Well, absolutely. And, again, you saw today John Eastman already is kind of dangling the potential of suing Cassidy --

BURNETT: Right, libelous, yeah.

GRISHAM: Exactly, which is another, you know, that's another thing that MAGA world tends to do is threaten or actually sue you. And, so, it is a scary thing to come out and speak up. And, as you know and as Donald Trump knows, all they have to do is say, you know, this person is a liar, this person was a low-level staffer, et cetera, et cetera. And they get an entire group of people after you.

Imagine the threats that Cassidy got during January 6th. So, that's only going to be worse for her. So I just think it's important for people to understand. I didn't even work with Cassidy, she came in with Meadows.

But I just have a feeling she's doing this because she thinks it's the right thing to do, there's a small handful of us who are doing that, and it's not for fun.


I can promise you that. It's just trying to do the right thing.

BURNETT: And, Ryan, the context here is, as you talk about, if this is used in any of the cases, to establish who really is the real measure of the person, when it comes to the measure of the mayor, right? America's mayor or somebody very different.

Giuliani's already facing multiple lawsuits, right? He's also got financial issues. Lawyers say he's not paying, right? He's being sued for more than a million dollars in unpaid legal fees by one attorney.

So, how bad is Giuliani's situation right now?

GOODMAN: His situation seems financially dire, and the worse it is financially, then he might actually feel like I've got so much pressure on me, I'm going to cooperate with the feds because I just can't even afford lawyers to defend myself.

The Cassidy Hutchinson allegation also does buttress one of the lawsuits against him. So in May, he was sued by a former employee who says that he sexually assaulted her and sexually harassed her. So, for a $10 million lawsuit.

This evidence from Cassidy Hutchinson, if presented in that trial could also hurt him. So that's another way in which he might think I need to settle that one, for something, several millions, or whatever it might be. So all of this could really break a person, especially when they've got criminal cases, or one particular criminal case against them.

BURNETT: And Cassidy Hutchinson, obviously, has been highly credible. Stephanie, I want to ask you in that context about another Trump aide, a new name to some watching, Molly Michael. She could be a witness for the DOJ in the Trump classified documents case, and, in fact, a crucial one.

"The New York Times" reporting that she testified under oath that Trump directly told her to play dumb about the boxes of classified documents. I believe the quote was, you don't know anything about these. She -- this was someone telling -- or Trump telling someone to tell her, right? It was directly from him to her.

How strong of a witness do you think she is, Stephanie?

GRISHAM: You know, when I saw that in "The New York Times," I've got to say that I worked with Molly Michael, I was there when she actually took the job. I worked with her extensively.

She kept her down and did her job. She was very quiet. She was not even interested in becoming one of the characters that our administration was so known for.

I knew her to be honest and ethical. I guarantee she hates that her name is out there. This is not -- she does not want attention. But I think that she will be a very damaging witness, because of everything I just said.

She's -- I've never known her to be anything but honest, and integral to him, and she's got nothing against him. She hasn't come out with anything against him. I think this is going to be very, very damaging. I just want to say to Molly -- you stand strong.

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

And this new reporting also coming as we have new details from Capitol Hill today. The House Republicans were grilling the Attorney General Merrick Garland there on Capitol Hill. Garland was defending both the integrity of himself and of the DOJ probe into Hunter Biden. Both things today in this hearing.

Republicans multiple times made statements that were false, like this one from Republican Congressman Thomas Massie about January 6th defendants.


REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): You're sending grandmas to prison. You're putting people away for 20 years for merely filming. Some people weren't even there.


BURNETT: All right. That is false. That's the kind of thing that gets out there in the ether and then people kind of start to believe it but it's just not true.

Our fact checker Daniel Dale went through this. No one has gotten 20 years or close to it for merely filming. The only person to get more than 20 years, in fact, was the founder of the Proud Boys Enrique Tarrio. Others getting close to 20 years, where other senior members of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, and they were convicted of seditious conspiracy and other felonies, not merely filming.

OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren who was in today's hearing, also was a member of the January 6 Select Committee.

So, I know on this, Congressman, of course, you're acutely aware of the facts, shall we say. But you were there in the room today. What did you think of how your Republican colleagues conducted themselves in the hearing?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, it was embarrassing. They kept yelling things that were untrue. It really in a way of propaganda, if you say a lie over and over again, some people will believe it.

You know, the other thing I've learned is the MAGA group, if they make an allegation, it's one of two things. It's either something they've done or something they would do. And, so, they were projecting that somehow there was political interference.

Of course, Mr. Trump has said if he gets back into the presidency, he will direct the department of justice to prosecute his enemies. The current president isn't doing that. And the other thing is this was a major distraction from what they should be doing about ten days from now unless they can get their act together.


The Republicans are going to shut the government down. So, diverting attention with this wild stuff is not going to save them from that catastrophe.

BURNETT: And I want to ask you about that in just a moment. But first, another moment from the hearing. Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, you know, insisted that, in his words, the fix it in, for Hunter Biden. And it was a contentious hearing, there was yelling, it was something to see.

But Jordan and other fellow Republicans did try to poke holes in Garland and his testimony. And there were, Congresswoman, a few instances where Garland appeared unable to answer questions that, to just a regular person, could seem legitimate to ask. And I wanted to play some of those.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): October 6, 2022, "Washington Post" writes a story about the Hunter Biden investigation. I wonder have you investigated who leaked that information to "The Washington Post"?

MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't know the answer to that question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On August 20 of 2023, "The Washington Post" article claimed that Mr. Weiss worked with Hunter Biden, and Hunter Biden's late brother Beau Biden. Were you aware that there was a relationship there with the Biden family?

GARLAND: I'm not familiar with this. I don't know when he --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you had personal contact with anyone at FBI headquarters about the Hunter Biden investigation?

GARLAND: I don't recollect the answer to that question, but the FBI works for the Justice Department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. You don't recollect -- you don't recollect whether you've talked with anybody at FBI headquarters about an investigation into the president's son?

GARLAND: I don't believe that I did.


BURNETT: So, Congresswoman, had you had personal contact with anyone at the FBI about the Hunter Biden investigation, or were you aware there was a relationship between the now special counsel and the Biden family, those do seem like fair questions. Were you disappointed in the attorney general's lack of answers there?

LOFGREN: Well, I think he's trying to be very cautious not to say something that is incorrect. For example, he's the head of the Department of Justice, the attorney general. He sees hundreds, thousands of people, were some of them FBI agents?

He made it very clear he has had no direction towards the special counsel on the Biden investigation, it's completely hands off, and if somebody was in the room from the FBI, he certainly doesn't want to mislead us, but he doesn't think he talked to them. But the important point that he made over and over again was that Mr. Weiss who was appointed by then President Trump was not removed because he was investigating the president's son, and then he made him completely independent and would not direct him in any way.

That's what you want. You don't want a politicized investigation. You want somebody who's just going to find the facts and follow the law. And that's, I think, what's happened here.

BURNETT: And I want to ask you one other question, Congresswoman, and it's about Cassidy Hutchinson because, of course, she was a major witness for the January 6th committee, revealed key details about what took place in the Trump White House all around January 6th, right? She was crucial.

And now I don't know if you heard me read the details. But they're out there. Her exact quotes about what she said Rudy Giuliani did. She said he groped her on January 6th and it's pretty graphic and disgusting if you read it. Giuliani's spokesman is denying it, calling it a disgusting lie.

Who do you believe? LOFGREN: Well, Ms. Hutchinson proved to us that she was credible and

also courageous. It's no fun saying things like this and having, you know, weirdoes following Trump world threaten you. So there's no upside for her doing this unless it was the truth. And, so, I tend to believe her.

Certainly, Mr. Giuliani has said enormous numbers of lies. He's had to admit it over and over again. He's losing his law license. You know, he had to settle a lawsuit admitting that what he said was false. So I think his credibility is certainly not as high as hers.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Congresswoman Lofgren, I very much appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

LOFGREN: You bet.

BURNETT: And, next, a migrant crush causing a state of emergency in Texas tonight. Mexico's largest train operator suspending service as migrants are overwhelming those trains. Our David Culver was on that train known as "The Beast" and has a special report next.

Plus, first OUTFRONT tonight, her nickname on the battlefield is unbreakable. The mother of three away from her family for months takes our reporter to the front lines with her.

And why is Xi Jinping making his top officials disappear?


First, the foreign minister, now the defense minister. Who's next?


BURNETT: Tonight, a state of emergency. You are looking at roughly 3,000 migrants streaming across the U.S. border into Eagle Pass, Texas. And this surge tonight forcing the mayor there to declare an emergency. The city is overwhelmed, he says.

Authorities telling CNN tonight that there are indications that more migrants are on the way. And this comes after a dramatic standoff in New York where outraged residents there took to the streets and physically blocked the arrival of an MTA bus carrying asylum-seekers to a shelter.

And now tonight, Mexico's largest freight train company temporarily halting dozens of northbound trains because of the unprecedented number of migrants who are jumping on board on top to try to ride to the U.S. border. Half a dozen people including children have died trying to do this. The train is referred to as the beast. And this has happened just the past two weeks.

Our David Culver exclusively riding on top of one of the trains with the migrants when there was a surge at the border. He's with me now.

And, David, you've been up there on top of this train. I mean, you know, it's referred to as the beast. It's deadly. People try to jump on as it's moving. And you've got -- I want to ask you about it and what's happening now.

But, of course, there is some never before footage you have from your exclusive ride. I want to show it to everybody.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We asked permission to go up, okay, yeah.


Many of these folks tell me they've been on here not hours but days.

Four days on the train but he's been traveling from Venezuela for six months.

He's going to show me the little things he brought with him.

This is everything he has right here. From yesterday this is what he's got.

Now, he finished his food but he has a little bit of water left.

He says he wants to work in the U.S. when he gets there. He wants a better future, a better life. I asked him where are they going, then? And they said they really don't know. But as of now, they're basically just going with no idea as to what's next.

Getting all their belongings out or what they have with them.


BURNETT: David, you've been there and you know how important this train is for desperate migrants. Now the Mexican railroad operator has indefinitely suspended dozens of these trains that go together U.S. border. Will this do anything to stop the surge of migrants?

CULVER: So it might slow it down a little bit. It's definitely not going to stop, Erin. I mean, that flow is continuing and it's coming in strong.

One of the things that we just noticed is that they realized that the trains need to continue at some point. I'm just looking at internal alert that Mexican immigration agencies are going to deploy some agents to try to patrol that because it is incredibly treacherous and dangerous. But let me tell you, the folks that are on that, many of them ultimately get to their destination that.

That couple right there, they're currently in Chicago. The man that we interviewed, he's in Atlanta.

BURNETT: So that risk is worth it for so many of them. Although, people die, many have died in the past few weeks. So, what are you hearing are about what's really going on at the border? We hear of talk of a surge, even a surge way further south coming up. What are you hearing? CULVER: I think attention was shifted away over the summer months

because some of the numbers were certainly going down, and it seemed to be that after Title 42, things were effective at stopping the flow. The issue is when you stop a river upstream, it's still flowing and it's going to overflow at the bank.

So where is that happening? Well, we showed you in June for this broadcast, Erin, where we went down to Mexico city, there are encampments there, there are folks who are overcrowding in the shelters. It is continuing to build up.

I was in touch with folks who were in Tapachula in Southern Mexico. This is at the border with Guatemala. They are seeing record numbers. Where are they going to go, Erin? Most of them want to go into the U.S.

So, they're headed north.

BURNETT: Right, right. As you point out, eventually, it overflows.

David Culver, thank you very much.

And, next, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy and the Russian foreign minister in the same building, actually in the same room, not at the same time, but in the same places for the first time since the war began, physically avoiding each other but launching a war of words.

And Xi Jinping's disappearing inner circle. First the foreign minister, now the defense minister. Gone, vanished, purged? New details tonight.



BURNETT: Tonight, President Zelenskyy of Ukraine and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the same building for the first time since the war began. The bitter foes refused to be in the same room at the same time as both addressed the U.N. Security Council.

Or even now, Russia remains a permanent member, with veto power. And Zelenskyy says that this has made stopping the war, quote, impossible.

Tonight, Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT on the front lines in southern Ukraine.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As Ukrainian artillery hits Russian troops, one of those scoping out Vladimir Putin's forces and directing the fire is not only a career soldier but also a mom of three. Her call sign, Nezlamna, the unbreakable.

I've seen so much at this stage that I can't be easily taken by surprise, she says, but, of course, there is a constant risk. Nezlamna has two daughters and a 5-year-old son. She hasn't seen them

since April.

"Is it tough?" I ask. Of course, they get offended when I'm not there, when they need me as a parent, but they understand someone needs to do this work for our country, she says.

And that work is often gruesome for those on the front lines here in the south. The 47th Mechanized Brigade gave us this video they say shows their troops coming under Russian fire even while collecting the bodies of their fallen comrades.

Their U.S. supplied Bradley fighting vehicles bearing the scars of relentless combat.

This vehicle is really emblematic of just how tough the battle is down here in the south. You can see there's a lot of fire damage. Well, the Ukrainians say that's because this vehicle took hits from Russian artillery 152-millimeter Russian artillery shells. They say this is not an outlier, most vehicles look like this.

The troops say they are making headway, but often still get bogged down in Russian mine fields and artillery barrages.

Bradley driver nicknamed Revo (ph) recalled his toughest mission.

The most scary situation was driving behind a demining vehicle while it was creating a pass for us, he says. We were coming under constant shelling, the rounds were landing a few meters away from us.

Ukrainian forces remain badly outgunned as the country's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is in the U.S. pressing the Biden administration for more ammo.

Nezlamna says she will fight on for the future of her children.

I want them to live in a flourishing country, she says. I said many times that our job is small, we only have to win back our borders, but they will have to rebuild the whole country, and that is a much harder job.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Erin, her husband actually serves in the same brigade as an artillery gunner. And she says there are sometimes situations where she scopes out and spots targets that he then fires at. But what we've been hearing from her and other peoples on the southern front line is that they tell us they need more weapons and they definitely need more ammunition. They say that they have the motivation, they have the skills but now it's the weapons and the ammo that they really need to move forward.

BURNETT: All right. Fred, thank you very much from Zaporizhzhia tonight.

[19:35:03] And OUTFRONT now, top Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was the main opposition candidate to Belarus' strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko in the country's last election, an election the United States government has called fraudulent.

Sviatlana was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. She is now in exile.

And, Sviatlana, very grateful you, be with you in person.

We've spoken many times before, always from halfway around the world. I know you are here now for the U.N. general assembly. And you made a plea today to the Security Council to address Russian tactical nuclear weapons being deployed inside Belarus.

The Security Council met today. That topic did not come up. Why do you believe it is so important and how worried are you that they didn't talk about it?

SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA, BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: You know, I think that undermining serenity and independence with the deployment of nuclear weapons, with the deployment of military forces of different countries should be the topic during U.N. Security Council because this organization is formed to solve such crises like this. U.N. Security Council should declare clearly that their attempts to undermine serenity will not be tolerated.

But, you know, for three years of humanitarian disaster in Belarus for -- occupation of our country by Russia, we haven't heard a word from general secretary about our country. It's difficult to understand because, you know, the security of Belarus threatens the security of the whole region.


TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Without independence with Belarus, there will be no security and peace in the whole region.

BURNETT: Right, and of course, Belarus was a launching pad for the invasion. Wagner troops, we understand, even now are there.

There's been a report in Belarusian state media as well, Sviatlana, that there are more children coming from annexed territory, Russian annexed territory in Ukraine to Belarus. And the first lady of Ukraine has said there's 19,000 Ukrainian children who have been taken from their families and brought elsewhere, some to Belarus.

Do you know anything about what is happening to these children?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Actually, we have all the proof that administration of Lukashenko participated in this abduction of Ukrainian children to our territory, and all these perpetrators have to be brought to accountability for this. We don't know for sure what's happening with children after -- I think after some are sent to Russia, maybe some left in Belarus. But, of course, it's crimes. And these crimes has to be investigated. BURNETT: Absolutely. And, you know, as we sit here and speak, a former

member of Lukashenko's security forces is on trial in Switzerland, on trial for allegedly being part of a hit squad that shot in the back and killed three Belarusian opposition leaders. Now, these leaders predated you. They were before your time.

But you are currently the leading Belarusian opposition leader. Your husband is in prison right now serving an 18-year term. You've got your husband with you. How much does it mean to you to have him there as your -- and I know you haven't even been able to speak to him, write to him in a long time.

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Yeah, actually, he's in prison for three years already. And the last half a year, I don't have possibility to know anything about him. Lawyer is not allowed to come. The latest from children, they believe (ph) what they did (ph).

And it's done especially my husband and to other people in prisons to isolate them, and to make them think that the world has forgot about them, that our fight has stopped. But it's not true. People in Belarus continue to resist. Yes, (INAUDIBLE) in Belarus, because it's very difficult, the price is too high, but people are working for this new opportunity just to get rid of the regime.

People who fled Belarus because of repression, they also continue to fight. We are building structures. We are building institutions. We are very -- we are institutionalized in our relationship with the international organizations. Like we are showing Belarusians another perspective, there is alternative to Ruskimea (ph).

BURNETT: I guess right now, you don't know even know, you know nothing about because you haven't been able to speak to him, you don't know if he's safe, you don't know if he's in solitary, you don't know if he's health -- you know nothing.

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: I know nothing for four and half a year if he is alive, if he is in punishment cell, what his health condition, You know, nothing at all. And sometimes I'm frustrated just not knowing what's going on. The children, of course, asking why their daddy's not writing letters to them, and I don't know what to answer.


BURNETT: Sviatlana, thank you very much.


BURNETT: Very glad to see you.

And, next, a top Chinese official missing for nearly three months, reportedly purged from Xi Jinping's inner circle. Because he had an affair?

It comes as another top official also vanished with no explanation.

And today, the Federal Reserve holding interest rates steady, but signaling it won't stay that way. Rates are going up again this year. Inflation setting off alarm bells again inside the White House.


BURNETT: Tonight, new developments in the story we have been following here OUTFRONT. Xi Jinping's top officials keep disappearing.

And now, the "Wall Street Journal" reporting that Xi's former foreign minister who vanished without any explanation was purged for having an affair and an American love child, apparently. Qin Gang Hasn't been seen or heard from in 88 days.

The real reason is a mystery, but it comes as "Reuters" reports that China's defense minister who is also missing is under investigation and may have been purged, too.

Will Ripley is "OUTFRONT."


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Away from the great halls, glaring lights in the shadows of Xi Jinping's China, a silent storm is brewing. Trouble at the top of the communist party, two high-profile senior officials once trusted members of Xi's inner circle, abruptly vanished from public view with little explanation.


First, it was Foreign Minister Qin Gang, China's second most powerful diplomat on CNN last year.

QIN GANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER: We are fully justified to do what we must.

RIPLEY: A close aide of the Chinese leader winning favor with the help of his wife's homemade moon cakes, "The Washington Post" reports. Just seven months into the job, a dramatic fall. In June, he disappeared. In July, he was dismissed.

The foreign ministry in Beijing refusing to address reporting by "The Wall Street Journal," saying they are not aware of claims Qin was ousted for an extramarital affair during his stand as China's U.S. ambassador in Washington.

Citing sources familiar with a communist party investigation, "The Journal" claims Qin's affair led to the birth of an American-born child, a potential problem for China's national security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So there's a question as to, well, you know, are there such people in China still who Xi Jinping can trust and rely upon to be his closest aides and associates.

RIPLEY: Palace intrigue at a fever pitch, speculation swirling over another apparent disappearance. China's defense minister Li Shangfu last seen in late August, more than three weeks ago. Back in June, he briefly shook hands but refused to meet with U.S. Defense Minister Lloyd Austin in Singapore. Now, Li is under investigation, "Reuters" said last week. A government probe reportedly over the purchase of military equipment.

Last month, a surprise shakeup in the People's Liberation Army rocket force. Two leaders suddenly replaced without explanation. Beijing notoriously nebulous when it comes to bad-behaving senior leaders.

This latest scandal involving the defense minister, setting China's heavily censored social media on fire. From the foreign ministry --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm not aware of the situation.

RIPLEY: A familiar response.

No answers, but plenty of questions about instability at the top, and a potential danger it brings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I do think there's more to it. Xi Jinping, he would not take these measures against such high-level military and diplomatic figures unless he felt some kind of genuine risk.


RIPLEY (on camera): Here is the big question that is raised with all of these purges. What is up with President Xi's judgment? He is the one who hand-picked both of these officials, brought them up the ladder, but them by his side because they are the people he thinks can help him rule China with his one-man rule, apparently, because nobody is indispensable, you can get rid of top officials so visibly.

And, Erin, this is certainly rattling people in the international community because Chinese leaders have long said that their system, because of its stability, is superior to Western democracies. And, yet, what we've seen, a lot of instability as of late.

BURNETT: Yeah, for sure. It's unbelievable. Thank you very much, Will Ripley, from Taipei tonight.

And also new tonight, the Fed signaling that interest rates will go up more by the end of the year just in the next few months, even as the Central Bank opted not to hike them today. One reason for the concern is inflation. It's once again on the rise, specifically energy prices. Drivers in 11 states already pay $4 a gallon, according to AAA.

And all of this is raising alarm bells in the White House where inflation is a huge worry in an election cycle, especially now that President Biden has staked his re-election argument on an economic recovery he dubs Bidenomics.

Our senior White House correspondent Kayla Tausche is OUTFRONT.

And, Kayla, you have been speaking to a lot of sources in the White House. And what are you hearing? How big of a worry is this for them?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are worried about this, Erin. Publicly officials talk up the data that excludes groceries and gas prices, saying that it's volatile, it's unpredictable.

But privately they acknowledge that those are the two components where consumers and voters feel the most regular and sustained financial pain, to which President Biden's favorability fortunes are most closely tied. So now these officials have started their days once again refreshing the AAA online gas charts, and they're paying particularly close attention to that $4 a gallon psychological level.

And they've started holding more regular meetings to try and discuss what, if any, policy options are available to them to try to keep a lid on gas prices, especially going into the election year. I'm told at least two of those meetings happened last week and that they're starting to pick up frequency among President Biden's top political and national security aides. They've talked about some small messaging or regulatory measures that they could introduce that would have some limited impact on prices.

But, for now, I'm told they're going to take a wait-and-see approach, to see if now that the economy is coming off of the peak travel and air-conditioning season, whether that alone allows prices to come down.


But, Erin, as you know, the cruelest irony about all of this is that unless Saudi Arabia and Russia decide to start pumping more oil all of a sudden, or the economy goes into a recession, there's not really going to be a dramatic impact -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Kayla, thank you very much. And, of course, obviously, as Kayla points out, the cruel irony, right, when it comes to Russia. All right. Thanks so much.

And next, Christiane Amanpour will reveal her champion for change.


BURNETT: This week, we're bringing you a series called "Champions for Change". And our chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour, tonight has the story of a bold young journalist suffering under Taliban rule.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Zara has been running absolutely everything.


She's quiet and very modest and humble. But you can see the fire there.

ZAHRA JOYA, FOUNDER, RUKHSHANA MEDIA: My colleagues and other independent journalists, they are taking a high risk. CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over):

Zahra Joya is dedicated to telling the stories of Afghan women. In fact, she started Rukhshana, the very first website that was for women and by women. Only the way her journalists work now is dramatically different since the Taliban's return.

JOYA: Afghanistan is not safe for a woman and for journalists.

AMANPOUR: I've been covering Afghanistan since before 9/11, when the Taliban was first in charge.

For five years, the religious police issued a series of edicts against women, banning them from wearing make-up, from wearing high heels, banning them from work, from education.

But their restrictions and their draconian crackdowns on women now are just as bad, perhaps worse, than they were two decades ago. Afghan women are afraid that this is the beginning of your efforts to erase them from the workspace.

You have a long experience of defying the Taliban. You were in Afghanistan the first time they came.

JOYA: Yes.

AMANPOUR: How did you get around their bans on girls' education?

JOYA: So, I wore boy clothes.

AMANPOUR: Boys clothes?

JOYA: Yes, boys clothes. And I went with my two uncles to school. I lived in a remote village, two hours going to school and back.

AMANPOUR: It was so important to you, even as a young kid, that you were willing to take on that hardship?

JOYA: Exactly. Education changed my life.

All of the people who are interviewing with us and my colleagues, all of them are anonymous because of their safety. We can't guarantee the safety of our journalists.

AMANPOUR: What would happened if they are caught? What is the punishment?

JOYA: If the Taliban arrest them, I'm sure they will be tortured, imprisoned, and maybe they will be killed.

AMANPOUR: Are they scared?

JOYA: Of course.

AMANPOUR: And yet they keep doing it.

JOYA: They're very brave. AMANPOUR: Zahra told me the story of a mother, who was living in such

desperate poverty she was ready to sell one of her children in order to have the others survive.

JOYA: We finally published this story. Our audience, they came to us and reach out to us and said, we want to support and help this mother.

AMANPOUR: That's really powerful.

JOYA: Very traditional Afghan food.

AMANPOUR: Zahra had to flee Kabul when the Taliban took over in 2021, and she's ended up here in London, trying to form a new community, still dedicated to driving positive change in her home country.

AMIE FERRIS-ROTMAN, BOARD OF TRUSTEES, RUKHSHANA MEDIA: That exchange of uplifting stories as well as sad stories, at least that is happening. So, even if you're somewhere in Afghanistan where there's absolutely zero access to education, you still will be able to read Rukhshana Media and still get a sense of what your sisters are going through.

AMANPOUR: Do you ever hope/believe that you'll be able to return home?

JOYA: I only wish. I really miss my country.

FERRIS-ROTMAN: She's got this really almost infectious ambition and drive. She's so strong. She's so committed to what she believes in.


BURNETT: And Christiane joins me now.

I mean, Christiane, you have spent decades covering Afghanistan. How devastating is the situation for women living there right now?

AMANPOUR: Just awful. The U.N. mission in Afghanistan recently took a survey. They found that 69 percent of the female respondents say they are anxious, they are depressed, they feel isolated, they feel dark, they have no hope.

The more the Taliban restricts them and erases them from the public space, the worse it is for their mental health and for the whole situation in Afghanistan. On the other hand, there are many, many young women and girls there who are playing cat and mouse with the system and still trying to learn surreptitiously either online or underground schools like they first did when the Taliban took over in 1996. But here, you know, the women just wish world leaders took their plight really seriously, Erin.

BURNETT: It's incredible, Christiane, as you say, back to 1996, 25 years. Thank you so much very much, Christiane.

And, of course, as you see Christiane's piece tonight, you can also see all of the pieces. Don't miss the one-hour "Champions for Change" special. It is Saturday night at 8:00 here on CNN. And thanks so much to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" begins right now.