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Erin Burnett Outfront
NY Judge Finds Donald Trump Committed Fraud For Years; CNN Team Finds Itself In Middle Of Ukrainian Offensive; Thousands Of Migrants Arrive In Southern Mexico; Embattled Democratic Senator Menendez Takes Page From Trump, Digs In. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired September 26, 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:
Breaking news: fraud. A New York judge ruling that Donald Trump and his family repeatedly committed fraud illegally inflating property values by billions. Is this just the beginning of the end for Trump's business empire? We're going to speak to a Trump business insider who says it was Trump's M.O. to deceive, worked with him for years.
Plus, our Fred Pleitgen suddenly found himself in the middle of the Ukrainian offensive not far from heavily armed Russian troops. An incredible report that you will see first this hour, OUTFRONT tonight.
And we are live in southern Mexico where thousands of migrants are making their way north, some held at gunpoint. This is an OUTFRONT exclusive this hour.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, we begin with the breaking news: fraud. The judge finding Donald Trump engaged in repeated fraud for years. It puts the existence of Trump's entire business at risk tonight.
And a New York judge is ruling that Trump and his sons are liable for providing false financial statements over a decade, right? And here is -- here's the judge's ruling. It is a complete rejection of Trump's arguments that he did not lie about the value of golf courses, hotels, high-rises, his own apartment, Mar-a-Lago, arguments that a judge in New York is ruling tonight are bogus.
The ground-breaking ruling coming just days before the case was going to head to trial. That means that the trial itself will mostly focus not on whether Trump did it but on what he's going to pay for having done it, the damages. And those could be massive and transformational. The New York attorney general is asking for a quarter billion dollars in damages.
And the judge's 45-page opinion is blistering. Just on here, obstreperous the word they used to describe Trump and his lawyers, using the words bogus. Again and again, you see this. And the judge breaks down fraudulent example after example.
Judge Engoron writing that Trump is accused as just one example of inflating the value of his triplex apartment at Trump Tower by three times, overvaluing it by as much as $207 million. Now, in this case, the judge writes, and I quote, a discrepancy of this order of magnitude by a real estate developer seizing up his own living space for decades can only be considered fraud. And the judge continues to say if Trump's business fraud, quote, this is a fantasy world, not the real world.
But it is important to note that this is the entire world that Trump created and sold the world through "The Apprentice" reality TV series, a world that he sold voters, and a world, frankly, that vaulted him to the White House.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Nobody's ever been more successful than me. I'm the most successful person ever to run.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: That is part of why he won. And tonight not only is the judge ruling that fraud was the actual reality, but that Donald Trump and his two sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. are losing their business certificates. That may sound esoteric, but what it could mean is that the Trump Organization actually ceases to exist entirely in the state of New York.
Now, this is an incredible thing to say. And it is an important and ground-breaking moment that we are in.
I want to get straight to Brynn Gingras in New York outside Trump Tower.
And, Brynn, what more can you tell us about what the judge is saying in this ruling?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, Erin, it's a huge groundbreaking ruling. It also paves the way for the New York attorney general really to, like you said, figure out what damages now Trump is going to owe when this civil trial does expected to get started next week.
And again, the judge here deciding on two of the claims, and New York Attorney General Letitia James lawsuit -- civil lawsuits against Trump and Trump Org and his sons, but really the crux of it, right, essentially saying that he and his sons did lie, in fact, about their assets. And we talk about assets. It's his golf courses, it's his hotels, it's his home, as you just pointed out.
The fact that he lied on paperwork according to this judge, the size of his Trump Tower apartment, according to the judge, over-evaluating it by $114 million to $207 million. And also in this court ruling gives a big blow to Trump who essentially said that he wasn't lying on these financial statements and they weren't fraudulent and they contained disclaimers.
I want to read an excerpt of what the judge wrote in his 35-page ruling. It says in defendants world, rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments. Restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land, restrictions can evaporate into thin air. A disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party, exonerates the other party's lies. That is a fantasy world, not the real world.
And my colleague Kara Scannell got reaction from Trump's attorney regarding this hearing, essentially, his attorney saying that this was an outrageous decision and is going to be seeking appeal.
There is, Erin, it's important to point out, an appeal in front of the court right now. There was a decision expected on that appeal some time this week that could factor in possibly a delay for the civil trial that's expected to get started next week. But, as of now, it's a go for next week, and the other matters that will be brought up in that trial.
But, as you mentioned, Letitia James getting a huge win here, essentially, trying to put Trump and his sons out of business in the state of New York, and we can see how that trial continues as it gets started next week.
BURNETT: Brynn, thank you very much.
And I want to bring in now, Ryan Goodman, co-editor in chief of "Just Security", former special counsel at the Defense Department; Jamie Gangel, of course, our special correspondent; and Harry Sandick, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and he's done a lot of real estate litigation in the jurisdiction here at hand.
So, Ryan, you know, we go through here, Park Avenue, 40 Wall Street, Mar-a-Lago, Trump Tower, 7 Springs. Every time they're overvalued by hundreds of millions of dollars. I mean, it adds up to billions. It's incredible.
RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JUST SECURITY: It really is astounding. And the judge says that there is conclusive evidence of this. That's why it does not need to go to trial. It's an open and shut case, according to the judge. And that means that we're just going to be determining, as said, damages up to at least a quarter million dollars or more.
But the big point is also what the judge orders on the basis of this, which is that all of the certificates of these businesses are hereby canceled and there's a dissolution of these companies. He says it, within 10 days, the parties have to recommend to me who will be the receiver, because it's going to go into receivership. So, I think that's a huge impact. BURNETT: And that could be the Trump organization itself, these business certificates. Do we understand from the ruling exactly what that means?
GOODMAN: We don't understand in a certain sense what are the follow-on effects because Mar-a-Lago, for example, part of the valuation, that is part of the factual findings. How is that tied up with the Trump Organization.
But in terms of the Trump Organization or organizations doing business in New York, that seems to be based on this ruling over. It's like you're closed for business pending an appeal. And this will obviously be appealed.
BURNETT: Have you -- when we say this is sort of groundbreaking, certainly in the case of the individual we're talking about it is, but when you look at something like this, this sort of overvaluation. And the judge lays it out.
Here's who is valuing the properties and then you went to the insurance companies and the banks and said, oh, it's 400 percent more. Again and again and again, that's the incontrovertible evidence.
HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: That's right. And this statute only applies to kind of persistent fraud. It's not about somebody who makes a mistake or even does fraud once. It's about a business that's engaged in persistent fraud. And that's what he's determined here.
And he very carefully reviewed the contentions on both sides. There was a lot of evidence on the attorney general's side he concluded and on Trump's side it was sometimes just Trump's, you know, subjective view that I think this is worth more than everybody thinks it is.
BURNETT: By 400 percent, or as Ryan said, 3,000 percent.
BURNETT: It just is what it is.
SANDICK: And it's not credible. You don't need trials to decide these issues. There's no factual dispute that could be had.
BURNETT: So, just to be clear, they -- the judge did not have to make a ruling here, could've just let the whole thing go to trial. But in doing what the Judge Engoron has done and said, the facts are inconvertible guilty, essentially. What -- is that unprecedented or unusual, and what does that leave for the jury?
SANDICK: So, summary judgment isn't unprecedented. It does happen from time to time. But in a case like this where the summary judgment finding isn't just on some small issue, it's on the central question of fraud. It's devastating and now, it's just a matter of how much is this going to hurt Trump and his business and his family? How much will the damages be, will the judge decide to pull the certificate?
So, it's just a question of how bad it's going to be. This was a bad day for Trump and also a bad day for his lawyers who were sanctioned.
BURNETT: And I want to talk about more in a moment, but Harry uses the word devastating. This is devastating.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. This is hitting Donald Trump where it hurts. If you think he is angry about the four cases and those 91 charges, he is furious about this because this is about money, property, his business.
Look, I'm sure we're going to see a playbook where he's going to come out in a very short time and he's going to yell and scream and deny. But there is no question, Michael Cohen once said to me, you want to get to Donald Trump, get to his money. And this is what this case will do.
BURNETT: I mean, obviously, no one ever has known the extent of his real net worth other than the fact that he inflated it. I mean, that was just part of the reality that anybody who covered him knew. But how much of it, I mean, not see the specific, but does this really put it all at risk?
GOODMAN: I think so. And, in fact, the judge says at one point when he says conclusive evidence, he says that he's giving credit to the entire case essentially that the attorney general has mounted that this includes between $800 million and $2.2 billion in overvaluation.
So, it seems to fall apart. There's other aspects of it that just show this to be kind of a house of cards. There's one remarkable line from the judge where he says, Trump says in his testimony that the reason that it's really valued at these high prices is he could find a buyer in Saudi Arabia to pay any price for the property, which is just --
BURNETT: Obviously, a lot has been made of Ivanka Trump who is not in this, the sons are not Ivanka, and Jared and the money they received from Saudi Arabia, a couple billion dollars since they left the White House to invest. It is interesting that in this, it's Donald Trump, and it's the sons, and she has managed to stay away from this.
GANGEL: Correct. So, one of the things that has happened since all of these cases have begun is we have seen Ivanka and Jared distance themselves, and clearly, she has separated herself. I don't know if she was part of the Trump business exactly why. But can we also put this in the perspective of his voters and his supporters?
We have not seen any of these other cases erode support among his base. In fact, he's gone up in the polls. I'm curious about this one because it speaks to what he has sold himself.
BURNETT: Right, right. It speaks to the core of --
BURNETT: -- I'm the most successful person, which is, right?
GANGEL: And now, apparently not so much.
BURNETT: Right. They can read it for themselves. I don't know whether they will, Harry. But they can.
SANDICK: Yeah, it's a very thorough opinion. And the judge -- you know, he's writing for a number of audiences. First, the parties and the lawyers. Secondly, the appeals court that's going to scrutinize this very, very carefully.
But I think the judge is aware that this is a case that's attracted a lot of media attention, a lot of public attention. So it's written for the public audience as well.
BURNETT: Yeah, it's very readable, and it's very readable and it's very compelling. Because it's real estate, you can look at a picture of each place. You mentioned the appeals, obviously, and the unprecedented nature of the fact that his actual attorneys were sanctioned, which you say is very, very rare.
So, how do you evaluate the appeals prospects and timing that we're going to find that out?
SANDICK: So there are two issues. The first issue is that there's a motion pending now to stay the balance of the case. And that's going to be decided by an appellate court in New York in a few days.
Assuming that's denied, this trial will go forward, and then everything will be taken up at the end of the case, first by an intermediate appellate court and then the court of appeals. Those appeals will take years to finally resolve these issues. But it's not clear that the judge will stay his order. So, for instance, if he says, I'm going to order the dissolution effectively of the Trump organization, no judge stays it, the appeal will go on. It won't have the consequence that Trump will think. So, there'll be an important motion if Trump loses to try to stay the dissolution of his business.
BURNETT: All right. And that'll be what we'll be watching.
All right. Thank you all very much.
And, next, the breaking news continues. The New York attorney general weighing in on this stunning ruling by the judge. I'm going to speak on Jack O'Donnell. He's a Trump business insider, worked with him for years and years and years. He's going to tell you about a pattern of deceit that he says he saw from the former president.
Plus, incredible new video tonight from the front lines in Ukraine. When Fred Pleitgen was there, it was a major overnight offensive by Ukrainian forces. You will see it here first.
And more from Jake Tapper's interview with Cassidy Hutchinson this hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: I felt that she -- what she did that day was disloyal.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Right.
HUTCHINSON: And saying that now with the hindsight and the experience that I've had sounds ludicrous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, who is Hutchinson talking about?
BURNETT: Breaking news, New York Attorney General Letitia James just coming out with a statement following the fraud ruling against former President Donald Trump and his sons. James saying, quote, today a judge ruled in our favor and found that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in years of financial fraud. We look forward to presenting the rest of our case at trial.
And tonight, a former top corporate officer for Trump saying he's a first-hand witness to what he calls Trump's long history of fraud.
OUTFRONT now, Jack O'Donnell, the former president and chief operating officer of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.
And, Jack, thank you very much for being with me. I know -- you read through this, and as Harry Sandick, a New York real estate attorney was just pointing out. It's not just fraud once or twice, it's fraud again and again and again over many years. How much is a blow is this ruling to Trump?
JACK O'DONNELL, FORMER PRESIDENT AND CEO OF TRUMP PLAZA HOTEL & CASINO: Well, I think it's a big blow to him. I think, obviously, for the financial aspect of it. But you know Donald Trump, it's a big blow for his ego. I mean, the perception of failure is just devastating for him, you know, as a person.
BURNETT: And, Jack, it goes through examples. As I said, Park Avenue, Trump Tower, his triplex there, 40 Wall Street, Mar-a-Lago. It goes through again and again. In the case of seven springs, which is the big estate that he has up in Bedford, up in Westchester County north of New York, the judge says even giving the defendants the benefit, right, of millions of dollars that they inflated the value of that property by over 400 percent.
And that's what every one of these examples are. But when you read that, does that surprise you? Does that sound unusual?
O'DONNELL: Well, not at all, Erin. Harry said something that the judge referenced as persistent fraud. It's been persistent and consistent for well beyond the decade that the judge referenced. Going back to the '90s, you could almost say fraud was a part of the Trump Organization's mission statement.
You know, we -- I ran a business, it was very successful.
And this is just an anecdotal, you know, response to your question. We -- the plaza was doing terrific and the Taj Mahal was going to open up. That was going to devastate the market in Atlantic City. And at that time we were putting together a budget for the business.
And we projected a slight decrease in operating income. And we had decreased it to $64 million. When that budget got to New York, they went berserk. Meaning Robert Trump, his advisers, the lawyers and ultimately, Donald Trump to my face said this budget won't fly with my banks. And at that time, he was beginning to have huge financial difficulties.
Literally I said to him, well, what can I do, we're not going to be able to do much more money than this. He said you need to make me a budget at $95 million. I literally created a budget for New York that was unrealistic. And that he could submit to his banks so he could borrow money.
And, Erin, you know, it's one thing to lie in the media. It's one thing to lie on a speech that you're giving. But if you inflate the value for your personal benefit, it's fraud, okay? And he has been doing this for years and years.
BURNETT: I mean, that's incredible when you give that specific example, right, that he said lie by $30 million so he could go to the banks. I mean, it's right there, it's exactly here. And, as you point out, that's -- what you're describing would have this fact pattern here. It's years and years before.
So, Jack, do you think the future of Trump Org and of Trump's entire business empire are now in serious doubt?
O'DONNELL: Well, it obviously is in doubt. You have to have corporate standing in the state that you're doing business, and it can be revoked very easily. So, forget the financial side of it for a minute. They could step in and say we're not going to allow you to operate.
Now, it doesn't mean that he couldn't relocate somewhere or maybe whatever, but, no, the organization is a threat right now, and the fines here could be monumental depending on how much he benefitted and who he, you know, frauded in this case.
BURNETT: Yeah, the fines, the dissolution of the business possibly, not being able to have other businesses in New York. I mean, it is -- it is stunning. And I think at the core of exactly who Trump has built himself to be to the world, this is perhaps the most significant thing that has happened in all of this so far.
Jack, thank you very much. I appreciate it. I always do, your explaining that.
And I want to go now to Stephanie Grisham. She is the former Trump White House press secretary, and obviously resigned on January 6th. Stephanie, you just heard Jack lay out, right, specific numbers,
specific examples before the time frame even in what the judge says is irrefutable fraud. Does any of this come as a surprise to you?
STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Sadly, no, it doesn't. But, you know, it is funny. I want to actually make your viewers aware. A lot of the grief that I and a lot of people who have spoken out since the Trump administration get is that, you know, how did you not know who he was before he became president, et cetera.
And, you know, I didn't grow up in New York City. I didn't grow up on the elite coast at all. And I had no idea who he was other than "Celebrity Apprentice". And, so, this kind of thing, now that I've gotten to know him, I've worked with him, et cetera, doesn't surprise me. But I think this is very important for people across the country, especially in Middle America where I am to understand that he's got a pattern, he's got a pattern of deception and a pattern of fraud.
And we don't all know about it because we're all working and doing other things that people in New York maybe -- maybe would know about. But this is really significant, I think, for the election for people to understand that there is a real pattern here. It's not just the left going after him or, you know, the media going after him, et cetera. There's a real pattern here with Donald Trump.
BURNETT: All right, and, as you point out, it is the core of how you would have known him, how voters, tens of millions of Americans knew him. They only knew him in that capacity. And this puts all of that in question.
Now, also today, Stephanie, the former Trump White House aide, your colleague Cassidy Hutchinson, spoke with Jake Tapper. And he asked her why it was so difficult to break away from Trump's orbit, considering how strongly she feels now, right, how open she is now about so many things.
And he asked her specifically about going to work on January 7, 2021, even as she watched people like former communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin denounce the insurrection on television. And here's part of what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUTCHINSON: When I saw Alyssa on TV that day, it was this moment for me where I sort of felt that split, because, on one hand, I was very upset with her.
You know, she was one of my closest friends and I was upset with her for a variety of reasons.
But the one that I think is the most potent for this conversation is I felt that what she did that day was disloyal.
TAPPER: Right. HUTCHINSON: And saying that now with the hindsight and the experience that I've had sounds ludicrous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And, Stephanie, as I mentioned, you resigned on January 6th, right? You walked out the door the day before the incident she's talking about even occurred. What's your reaction to this?
STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I mean, honestly, it hit me hard. Because, you know, look, you go into the White House, you work 24/7, you get these people who are your comrades, you're in the Trump administration and you feel like you're just under siege all the time. And so, I have so many friends out there who still to this day don't speak to me who are still connected to Donald Trump in some way. I know that they also think that I'm also a traitor, et cetera.
And, you know, it -- I don't -- I don't -- I do not blame her for what she said. I understand that. I'm sure that -- I know everybody thought I was a traitor as well. It's just that you get sucked into this world, and if you are going to leave, you're going to have the left going after you because you should've never been there in the first place, and then you're going to have the right going after you because you're a traitor and you're terrible. It's scary, you know?
And so the fact that Cassidy has talked about the fact that she was going to actually join Trump after the administration, I completely understand. People still have to pay their bills and live, and it's a scary thing to think of walking away.
So, I completely understand what she says and I'm so proud of her for speaking out and the things that she's saying now.
BURNETT: Right, and certainly for her being honest about what her feelings were at that time.
All right. Thank you very much, Stephanie.
And, next, a close call on the front lines. Our Fred Pleitgen was there when Ukrainian forces launched a major offensive on Russian forces.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're now hearing a lot of fire, a lot of outgoing fire, a lot of incoming fire actually also as well as the Ukrainians are trying to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: You'll see all of that. We're going to also take you to southern Mexico where migrants are making the dangerous trek north, some parents even forced to leave behind the bodies of their children who couldn't make it. This exclusive report is ahead.
BURNETT: Tonight, a rare look inside Ukraine's punishing offensive.
Our Fred Pleitgen was on the ground in eastern Ukraine when he suddenly found himself at the center of a major push in one of the most dangerous battlefields of this war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: So this is rat where they're going to be working from, and they say that the Russians are actually only about a mile and a half from where we are right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Just a mile and a half from the Russians. In a moment we're going to take you live to Ukraine for more of Fred's incredible reporting from the front lines. It's a story you'll see first here OUTFRONT.
And it comes as Ukraine says it's now, quote, clarifying information about the alleged death of the Russian Vice Admiral Viktor Sokolov in that devastating strike on the Black Sea fleet's headquarters. Russia says Sokolov is still alive. They put a video to try to prove it.
Sokolov making a brief appearance in a meeting chaired by defense minister Sergei Shoigu. As you can see, Sokolov appears just a couple of seconds, in uniform, his head propped up against a pillow. He doesn't move or speak. But there is no outward sign of injuries.
We're going to have much more on this mystery coming up. But first, I do want to go straight to Fred Pleitgen's incredible reporting OUTFRONT in eastern Ukraine.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Rolling into battle as night falls, Ukraine's army attacking in the east around Bakhmut.
For the Ukrainians, this is an extremely important but also very complicated and potentially very dangerous mission. We're going to be located very close to where the Russians are. We're with a front line drone unit called code 9.2. Their drone, the Ukrainian-made Vampire. The crew attaching the bombs as artillery whistles over our heads.
The vampire is fully night-vision capable and plays a soundtrack showing it means business. The team leader's call sign is Groove. He confirms because Ukraine doesn't have a modern air force, tonight, they are the air force.
The drones see in the night like in daylight, he says, we see the infantry, we hit the vehicles, cannons, everything we need to destroy.
Groove also says Russians from the Wagner private military company have returned to the battlefield around Bakhmut. Yes, there is Wagner here, too, they swiftly change their commanders and have returned here, he says. We're breaking through their line of defense and hitting them well.
As the drone takes off, the battle is already well underway. The Ukrainians using western extended range artillery shells and cluster munitions to attack Russian ground forces.
Groove is already busy targeting the Russians.
Oh, something's burning, he says. His unit also managing to take out a Russian-made battle tank by dropping several bombs on it.
The Ukrainian army now starting to push forward. Our photojournalist Dan Hodge films powerful explosions as armored vehicles advance at night. We're now hearing a lot of fire, a lot of outgoing fire, a lot of incoming fire as well as the Ukrainians are trying to move forward, and they say they want to take a key road away from the Russians.
But the Russians are fighting back, firing flares to unmask the Ukrainians' advance and hit Kyiv's forces. Groove remains unfazed, hunting a Russian tactical vehicle before destroying it.
The code 9.2 drone team often hunts Russian armor here, recently even destroying a modern T-90 tank in the highly complex operation. After more than a half dozen missions, the drone returns a final time.
But as we try to get away from the battlefield, a tire bursts on our Humvee. No time for a spare, we push on. We just witnessed an extremely tough battle.
PLEITGEN (on camera): So, Erin, as you can see there, pretty eventful night that we had there with that Ukrainian drone team. And there are two things that stood out the most to us as we were there on the ground. At the one hand, the Ukrainian drones really do have a lot of tasks on the battlefield and they're extending all the time. They're extremely important to the Ukrainians as they conduct offensive operations but also for defensive operations as well.
And the other thing is just the amount of ammunition that was used in that night, the amount of artillery ammunition by the Ukrainians but also by the Russians who can see that when the Ukrainians tell the U.S. and its allies that they need as much ammo as possible, as much as they can get, they certainly aren't exaggerating -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much, reporting live from eastern Ukraine. And obviously we had a little bit of a technical issue there at the very end of that piece.
General Hodges is with me, the retired lieutenant general and the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe, along with the former CIA chief of Russia operations, Steve Hall. General, let me just start with you because you just saw Fred's
incredible reporting with that drone unit. The team leader unit there called Groove tells Fred that, since Ukraine doesn't have an air force, a modern one at this point, that they are the air force. We've talked a lot about drones since day one here. But can they win the war at this point with this air force?
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES, FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL OF U.S. ARMY EUROPE: I have to say I was impressed with Fred's reporting there. I mean, he could smell it and feel it really well done. Of course, there is no one weapon that's going to win anything.
But the Ukrainians are the most adaptive soldiers I've ever seen. They clearly have a level of tech savviness that is unsurpassed I think by anybody's army. And they are achieving aerial effect by using the different types of drones, whether it's for reconnaissance or to drop weapons. It's impressive the way they have adapted.
BURNETT: So, Steve, now I want to show that video again. The commander of the Black Sea fleet, Admiral Viktor Sokolov, participating, they say, in -- meeting with the defense minister Sergei Shoigu today. This is put out as that's what it is so I can't give you more than that. It's a day after Ukraine says Sokolov was killed in the strike.
Now Ukraine says it's still checking. But when you see -- so, that opens the door. But you see the video Sokolov's leaning back in a pillow. He ppars for a couple of seconds. Doesn't say anything.
Do you trust this? What do you think this is?
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yeah, you know, Erin, whenever the Russians come out with something like this, you can never trust it. And it's largely just because of their track record. They are so good, especially on the video side of things in terms of doing these deepfakes and all sorts of other techniques that they've really developed over the years of doing cyberattacks.
So, you know, you start from the perspective of if the Kremlin says something, that's good reason right there to doubt it. But then when they start saying things like, no, no, this is very important, general was not killed. And then they've got him, I don't know, he looks a little propped up on pillows to me, but that's just me.
The real important thing here is that they managed a pretty successful attack, apparently, the headquarters of the Russian navy on the Black Sea. So regardless of who was killed, and the reporting is roughly 30 officers, that's a significant enough of an event in and of itself.
BURNETT: Right. I mean, it is 33 officers. I mean, it is so odd, he's propped up on pillows. There is something quite bizarre about the whole thing.
General Hodges, does it matter whether Ukraine actually got Sokolov in the strike?
HODGES: Getting Sokolov does not matter. But exactly what Steve just said, getting the 30 or so officers around him, that will have a much more significant and long-term effect on the ability of the Black Sea fleet headquarters to operate. In Iraq, we killed -- probably six or seven times they keep replacing. But if you can get all the people around him, that really has an effect.
And it also shows the sophistication of how the Ukrainians knew to hit that building. There is so much going on here, part of this multidimensional approach by the Ukrainians.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. Steve Hall, former CIA chief in Moscow, and General Ben Hodges -- thank you.
And, next, an incredible report on the thousands of migrants who are in southern Mexico right now heading north. Some held at gunpoint for hours. Others forced to navigate dead bodies just to keep moving. It is a special report that you will see only OUTFRONT.
Plus, Commander Biden strikes again. The president's dog has a problem. And there's 11 bites now to his name.
BURNETT: Tonight, new images into CNN showing the desperation at the border as asylum-seekers continue to flood into the United States tonight, 1,400 still crossing daily just at the El Paso border. Many of the migrants' families with small children walking for days with no food and little water in dire conditions. This is an exclusive story that you will see first OUTFRONT tonight.
Our David Culver is there on the ground near the Mexican/Guatemalan border where it starts.
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you touchdown in southern Mexico, be ready to share the road with migrants. We spot group after group marching north. Many of those who just illegally crossed into Mexico head here, this outdoor park turned migration processing center.
We met folks camping out for days, some weeks waiting to claim asylum in Mexico, or to get transit documents to pass through legally or some aren't quite sure what they're signing up for, but they do it anyways.
Rafael Torres Marti (ph) from outside Havana, Cuba. At 26, he sold his house, left behind his 6-year-old son and is traveling with his dad.
He wants to go legally into the U.S. so he want dollars to go through this process here, get his documentation and then get to the northern border, and eventually cross.
He wants to pave the way for the rest of his family to follow.
Hido Duarte (ph) traveled from Honduras with his wife and their two young boys. He's done this before. [19:45:05]
Four years ago, he lived in Minnesota, says he was painting water towers, water tanks, and he said he was deported from Minnesota to Honduras and is now making the trek again.
In the already impoverished state of Chiapas, Tapachula feels the migrant strain. It is overflowing.
A lot of it is just waiting to get into an office and processed eventually. But you've got people from all over. We've met people from Haiti, from Cuba, from Honduras and they're here for many of them an unknown period of time.
Last year, Mexico says some 77,000 migrants applied for asylum in Mexico. More than half of them do it in Tapachula. This year on track to be nearly double that. A record high, not everyone sees it as a burden.
And for some of the Mexican locals, all these people who are not from Mexico are a business opportunity, too. Look over here. You can see some of the stands that are set up to sell food, vendors.
To get to Tapachula, it's an hour's day or a day's walk from the Suchiate River, Guatemala on one side, Mexico on the other. And in the shadows of the official crossing between the two countries, an armada of rafts casually ferrying group after group.
She says it's a really, really hard track.
You can tell they just have such a rush of emotion when they get to this side. And some of them come ready to just continue on.
Others like Mikele Marchan (ph) and her husband Javier Dien (ph) using this as a moment to catch their breath.
They're having their first child, she's five months pregnant.
Days earlier, they crossed the treacherous jungle terrain of the Darien Gap connecting Colombia and Panama. All they own now fits in this small bag. They were robbed and held at gunpoint for hours. But that does not compare, they say, with what they saw.
Oh, my god, they're just describing passing through the Darien Gap and they said several people had already passed away. A lot of kids they saw the remains and he says children who were abandoned.
Those images haunt Susana Alemar (ph), describing the journey she made with her four young kids. But even amidst her tear-filled pain, little ones lighten the load.
He had a little shampoo left in his head.
His 12-year-old sister Sophia (ph) helping clean shampoo out of his hair as he then turns the questions on me. She says I am older than her dad.
Curiosity brings their siblings and cousins and Joe Andre (ph) takes over the mic, telling me why they left Venezuela.
Six years old, he even speaks of Venezuelan economy is bad.
But as they share, disturbing memories surface.
They're talking about -- these are children, mind you, having gone through the Darien and the bodies he's describing seeing a blonde woman.
Sophia's pain as she remembers saying good-bye to loved ones.
A little heartbreaking the friendships that she's lost.
So much behind them, yet, far from over. More than a thousand miles until the U.S. border.
BURNETT: I mean, David, it's incredible to watch that, and heartbreaking to even imagine what you're talking about there saying. I mean, I have in the context of this we've seen some numbers today suggesting that crossings are down in the El Paso area at 30 percent. But, you know, you're there, you're there where those people are coming from on that Mexico/Guatemala border.
You say that this drop we're hearing about is an illusion. How come?
CULVER: I think it really can be an illusion. It can be distracting too from the reality. Because often times we'll assess the situation as a crisis that is either worsening or getting better based on those numbers and the encounters at the U.S. border. But you got to go south of that, Erin. And you see what we have been seeing, and that is a constant flow of migrants that's really not let up.
BURNETT: And, of course, heading north, and just to imagine what it would take for you to do that when you're five months pregnant or with four children, to leave your children dead behind as others have had to do.
Thank you so much, David, thank you.
And, next, 24 Democratic senators now and counting calling on Bob Menendez to step down. Last night at this time when we were talking, it was three. It's now 24. Something big time has changed. Tonight, though, he's still not budging.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why won't you resign, sir, Senator Menendez?
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Because I'm innocent. What's wrong with you guys?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Plus, President Biden's dog attacking yet another Secret Service agent.
BURNETT: Tonight, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez still refusing to resign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why won't you resign, sir?
MENENDEZ: Because I'm innocent. What's wrong with you guys?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: But the tide has turned. At this hour, 24 senators in his own party are calling for his resignation. Among the most notable his longtime friend and fellow New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and the investigation seems to be growing.
Today, an Egyptian national was arrested, one of his alleged co- conspirators taken into custody at JFK airport. Menendez is facing shocking bribery and corruption charges, including allegations he and his wife helped Egypt's government in exchange for bribes, like half a million dollars in cash, 13 gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz.
Our Jason Carroll is OUTFRONT with the latest tonight.
MENENDEZ: Remember, prosecutors get it wrong sometimes.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite the federal indictment accusing him of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, among other allegations, despite more calls to resign today from senators from his own party, Democratic Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey tweeting Tuesday, the public's trust has been broken. Fellow New Jersey Senator Cory Booker saying in a statement he has stated he will not resign but I believe this is a mistake.
Despite all the calls to go, Senator Bob Menendez has said, he's not going anywhere.
MENENDEZ: To those who have rushed to judgment, you have done so based on a limited set of facts.
CARROLL: Perhaps given the political climate, you shouldn't be surprised by Menendez's defiance. He is not the only politician digging his heels in, in the face of indictments and allegations of corruption. The most defiant of them all, former President Donald Trump, impeached twice and indicted four times. But instead of stepping down during his presidency or stepping aside
from his campaign to handle his current legal entanglements, he is pushing forward and has always denied wrongdoing.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: It's a witch-hunt. It's just a continuation of a witch-hunt.
CARROLL: There's also disgraced and defiant Republican New York Congressman George Santos who has pleaded not guilty to 13 federal charges including wire fraud and money laundering.
The freshman congressman is also accused of stealing cash from a fund meant for an Iraq war veteran's dying dog and lying about his resume, all that and yet the strategy is not to step aside, it's remain defiant, stay the course and pull a catchphrase from Trump's playbook.
REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Now, I'm going to have to fight to defend myself. The reality is, is it's a witch-hunt.
CARROLL: There was a time when it wasn't even a question if someone tasked with upholding the law and then was accused of wrongful conduct, they would eventually step down.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: The interests of the nation must always come before any personal considerations.
CARROLL: Take the historic moment in 1974 when former President Richard Nixon facing a likely impeachment resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
NIXON: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.
CARROLL: More recently, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo once praised for his performance during the pandemic resigned in 2021.
ANDREW CUOMO (D), FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR: As you probably know, I'm stepping aside as your governor.
CARROLL: Following allegations of sexual misconduct, the sole charge against the former governor was dismissed. And remember in 2018 when Senator Al Franken resigned his Senate seat following allegations he touched women inappropriately, he said he had no recollection of the women's claims and has since said he regrets the decision to resign.
But as of late, rather than resignation, defiance seems to be the political course of action.
MENENDEZ: Not only will be I exonerated but I still will be New Jersey's senior senator.
CARROLL (on camera): And, Erin, you know it was back in 2015 when the federal prosecutors have charged Menendez with conspiracy and bribery. He didn't resign then. At that point, that trial ended in a mistrial after the jury had been deadlocked and there are other examples.
Bill Clinton, impeached, refused to resign but this political climate seems to be somewhat different. You've got Santos, you've got Trump so perhaps no surprise that Menendez feels he can hang on.
BURNETT: Yeah, although his caucus certainly turning 24 -- three last night, 24 tonight. We'll see where it goes.
CARROLL: And counting.
BURNETT: All right. Jason, thank you.
And next, another bite. President Biden's other German shepherd biting a Secret Service agent again, the 11th bite.
BURNETT: Tonight, another bite. CNN learning that President Biden's German shepherd, his beloved Commander, bit another Secret Service agent working at the White House. It is the 11th known biting incident involving the 2-year-old dog.
One officer was hospitalized after Commander clamped down on arms and thighs and before that he charged at another and First Lady Jill Biden couldn't, quote, regain control of the dog.
The White House said this summer that the Bidens were getting more training for the dog but the sharp bite runs in the family. The president's other German shepherd Major was moved out of the White House after several biting incidents of his own. Don't know what will happen here but some of these are serious.
Thanks for joining us.
"AC360" begins right now.