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Erin Burnett Outfront
Ivanka Trump Repeatedly Testifies: "I Don't Recall"; Trump About To Speak, Hours After Ivanka Testifies; U.S. Carries Out Strikes In Syria Targeting Iran-Backed Groups; 5 GOP Presidential Candidates About To Faceoff At 3rd Debate. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired November 08, 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, Ivanka Trump doesn't recall. The former Trump Org executive vice president under oath repeatedly saying she didn't remember key details about the family business she ran. With me tonight, a top Trump business reporter who was there in the courtroom, former Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb, and Omarosa Manigault Newman.
Plus, Israel tonight says it's destroyed 130 Hamas tunnel shafts. We have a special report of what's inside those tunnels. The spider web crisscrossing underneath Gaza, and what that underground warfare looks like right now as the death toll mounts in Gaza.
And Trump's opening up about a potential VP pick. Could it be that guy?
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, I don't recall -- those three words were Ivanka Trump's most used on the witness stand today in the New York fraud trial against her father and brothers, a trial that could put an end to the Trump family business. Ivanka Trump who was not a defendant because of the statute of limitations said that she struggled to remember basic important details about the finances of the business she ran. For example, when asked if she discussed Trump's finances during a meeting with government officials about acquiring the Trump D.C. hotel, she said, quote, I don't recall. It's worth mentioning in this context that she, of course, was the person in Trump of the Trump D.C. hotel deal. In fact, Ivanka Trump played a crucial role in developing some of Trump's most marquee properties, including not just that D.C. Post Office that became a Trump hotel, but Trump's Doral Golf Resort, and his towers in Chicago and Toronto.
And her job title was executive vice president for development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization. So, of course, it does seem to defy basic reality to not recall. But that is exactly what she said when she was asked what might be the most basic question. Did she ever help review or value assets? Her answer, she does not recall.
Again, she was in charge of development and acquisition. So reviewing and valuing assets, to put it very basically, is core to the entire job. In fact, Ivanka Trump served as a primary contact for Deutsche Bank, the Trump Organization's largest lender, the organization at the heart of this. Attorney General Letitia James took note of Ivanka Trump's responses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: Ivanka Trump was cordial. She was disciplined. She was controlled. And she was very courteous. But her testimony raises some questions with regards to its credibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Ivanka Trump was key in the loop, a central player, something, in fact, that her father loved to brag about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Ivanka is really in charge of that one. And she's done an amazing job. And it's going to be one of the most beautiful --
One of the reasons, I think Ivanka can tell you this even better than me, than we won for the old Post Office. I think we had a better concept because that was a highly sought-after project.
My children now have grown, Ivanka, Don, Eric. They're very, very ensconced in the company.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BURNETT: Ensconced. In the 2013 interview with Forbes, Trump went on to say of Ivanka, quote, Ivanka was always a natural-born dealmaker, but she's become a great builder and manager.
Ivanka Trump's role, in fact, expanded because she built a brand on knowing small but important details of what the project was working on. Over many years I would hear this about people who interacted with her, about how much he knew about specifics of room rates and details about hotels. Just listen to her herself when she was talking about the deal to convert that old Post Office in Washington into a Trump hotel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IVANKA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: I'm going to develop a super luxury hotel, 272 rooms, the largest ballroom of any of the luxury hotels in all of D.C., unbelievable meeting space, unbelievable spas, restaurants, and really bring in a tremendous amounts of life and vitality to Pennsylvania Avenue and obviously the hotel itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Which is why, just one example the prosecutor say her testimony of not recalling didn't add up, when she claims she could no longer remember basic details about that project's financial statements.
Well, Ivanka Trump's business practices, along with those of the rest of her family, have long ago raised questions. We investigated Trump's businesses back when he was president for a documentary here on CNN. I spoke to Andrea Bernstein, a top investigative reporter who has been covering Trump's finances for over a decade.
And just listen to what she said about Trump's New York hotel condominium.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT (voice-over): Similar story in SoHo. In June, 2008, Ivanka Trump told reporters that 60 percent of the units there had sold. Court documents later showed the real number was closer to 15 percent.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, CO-HOST, "TRUMP, INC." PODCAST: There were emails between the younger generation of Trumps, Ivanka and Don Jr., and the brokers, that acknowledge that they realized that the building was not 60 percent sold. But they went ahead and said it anyway.
BURNETT: So they lied.
BERNSTEIN: So, they lied about how many units were sold.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right. Now, in the moment, I'm going to speak to Andrea Bernstein, because she was in that courtroom today.
Also with me tonight, former Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb and Omarosa Manigault Newman, who served in the Trump White House and spent a lot of time over the years with Ivanka Trump.
I want to begin, though, with Paula Reid, because she has been covering this case from the very beginning.
So, Paula, obviously, this was important testimony because, obviously, you've got the Trump family testifying. But in this case Ivanka Trump was not technically a defendant because of the statute of limitations. But she was a witness.
Did she move the needle at all in the case today?
PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Erin.
Ivanka tried many times, many different ways, to avoid having to make this appearance today. But once she was on the witness stand, she is far less combative than her father and her brothers have been when questioned, but given her evasiveness, it's not clear she was anymore helpful to the state's case.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) REID (voice-over): Ivanka Trump breezed passed cameras inside a New York courthouse Wednesday, not saying a word, ahead of her testimony in the state's $250 million civil fraud trial against her father and his company.
New York Attorney General Letitia James addressed reporters before the proceedings.
JAMES: Ivanka Trump secured, negotiated loans to obtain favorable terms based on fraudulent statements.
REID: But on the stand, Ivanka repeatedly said she didn't recall when she was pressed for details about several projects she works on before she left the Trump organization in 2017, including the old Post Office in Washington, D.C., which was converted into a Trump Hotel, a deal her father says Ivanka spearheaded.
FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm honored to be here today to support my family, and especially my daughter Ivanka for her dedication to this project.
REID: During her testimony, Ivanka said she did not recall when asked about a deficiency letter sent by the government, requesting clarity on how the Trump Organization reported its finances, including her father's financial statements.
I. TRUMP: My father trained my siblings and me to see things not for what they are but for what they can be. This is a great example of that.
REID: The hotel was sold in 2022, and Ivanka testified she profited from that sale. She was also asked about financing for Trump's Doral Resort and Spa in Florida and was confronted with an email she wrote to other Trump Organization employees about the bank's long term proposal, saying it doesn't get better than this.
The bank required Donald Trump to maintain a three billion dollar net worth to obtain favorable loan terms. But according to an email presented in court, Ivanka proposed changing the requirement to two billion dollars as part of the lone negotiations, even though Trump's 2011 financial statement estimated his net worth $4.2 billion. They finally agreed to $2.5 billion, but the exchange is significant, because the attorney general is accusing Trump of falsifying his net worth in order to get better loan rates.
Ivanka Trump was previously dismissed as a codefendant in this case and in the previous deposition she tried to distance herself from her father's financial statements.
I. TRUMP: I don't specifically know what was prepared on his behalf, for him as a person.
REID: And during cross examination by her father's attorney, Ivanka testified about the relationship she cultivated with the bank and their willingness to do business with Trump's company. She testified the bank had tremendous excitement to have our account. (END VIDEOTAPE)
REID (on camera): Now, Trump's lawyers will have a chance to put on a defense. That's expected to begin next week.
Got a little preview of how they'll approach this during their cross examination. It's clear they're going to emphasize how the banks were all repaid.
There is no victim here. But it's unclear that that will be enough to sway this judge. Remember, there's no jury here that focuses on the penalties after this judge found liable for fraud. And one of the things on the line here is the Trump Organization's ability to do business in the state trade of New York.
BURNETT: All right. Paula, thank you very much.
And always worth, as we go to Bernstein here, remembering that both sides of this trial agreed to it being this way, right? Trump agreed to having a judge in charge, not a jury, so this is -- this is what they all chose to do.
Andrea Bernstein is OUTFRONT. She has long covered Trump's business, legal matters for NPR. The legal podcast on the court is "We Don't Talk About Leonard" from "ProPublica" as well as on the media.
So you were in court today and you've been there for Trump children's testimony, Trump's testimony, but here for Ivanka.
Did anything about her testimony surprise you, Andrea?
BERNSTEIN: I want to say her testimony surprised me. However, some of the detailed documents that they got into evidence today were illuminating. She was trying hard to get loans for these properties -- Chicago, Doral in Florida, the Post Office in Washington, D.C. was corresponding with various bankers.
And there were emails that came in where she was basically getting rebuffed by the commercial real estate divisions of these banks, like Deutsche Bank, where -- and where some of the bankers were saying to her, this is right after the financial crisis, not long after, and they were saying, we don't actually -- we don't -- there's not of investor interest in what they called hospitality paper, that is loans for hotels and resorts.
BERNSTEIN: And they were offering her rates of maybe around 9 percent. And she was in touch with a number of bankers, and then her husband, Jared Kushner, she testified, introduces her to a woman named Rosemary Vrablic who was formerly at Deutsche Bank, in charge of the personal wealth, their personal wealth portfolio.
BURNETT: Private client division, yeah. BERNSTEIN: Private client division. This is for high net worth clients. And they offer her a rate that is so low that Ivanka says, I don't even we want to negotiate this because there's nowhere where we can do better. It was somewhere around 2 percent.
And the catch was, they had to guarantee it, with Donald Trump's statement of personal financial worth, and that he had to repeatedly certify that he was worth what he said.
BERNSTEIN: So she made that agreement. They got this much better rate with that guarantee, but the underlying statement --
BURNETT: Right, 2 percent versus 9, and that's --
BURNETT: Right, and also just to point out, I guess what you are saying is, the documents spoke for themselves, right?
BERNSTEIN: Yes, exactly.
BURNETT: She may not have recalled, but that's all on paper, in black and white.
BERNSTEIN: She said I think for just about every document, I don't remember, I don't specifically recall. But there she was with this, as you say, in black and white, and what was so interesting is that the minute she was asked about, okay, well, what about these financial statements? Oh, I never recall, I had nothing to do with that, which is essentially the same as what her father and brother said. I mean, Donald Trump sort of admit it, maybe he had some input.
BERNSTEIN: The other two who were in charge of the company and are to this day, basically said all that wasn't us. It was on the accountant. And you think, well, who is running this very large international corporation?
BURNETT: And, of course, she's running the Trump International Hotel in D.C. deal.
BURNETT: So if you're going to be certifying something, took a loan for that and you're in charge of that, of course, you would be responsible for the certification.
BERNSTEIN: And the solution to the old Post Office meeting when she was like I don't remember anything about their questions to us, but she did remember the name of the architect, the name of the individual from the Trump Organization, who made a presentation, what her father said about the Plaza Hotel, all these other details but not the statements of financial condition. BURNETT: Selective amnesia.
OK. So, you know, the attorney general said Ivanka Trump was cordial, disciplined, control, very courteous, right? She made the point about that.
BERNSTEIN: She made that point before she testified, all true.
BURNETT: Right. Okay so she was on brand. You've got which we expected in that regard.
But Letitia James went on to say, her testimony raises questions with regards to its credibility, the veracity question. Was that your impression?
BERNSTEIN: Well, I do think that she is obviously someone who is in charge of the details and she acknowledged them. I mean, she talked about 700 units at Doral, she talked about the spa. We just saw here, talking about the old Post Office. Very familiar in painting a picture of these developments --
BURNETT: Oh, yes.
BERNSTEIN: -- but then when it came to being questioned about the underlying financials, not so much.
BURNETT: All right. And as I've said, I'm known over the years talking to people who even in casual dinners with her would say she knows --
BURNETT: -- everything about every square foot, every number. She prided herself upon that knowledge.
BERNSTEIN: So -- all right, Andrea, thank you very much.
And let's go now to the former Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb.
So, Ty, what is the impact of Ivanka's testimony today as you see it?
TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: I see it is totally inconsequential and perhaps a tactical error by the prosecutors because they didn't get any evidence in that they didn't already have. As you said, you know, the documents really spoke for themselves.
Then, there's a little theater, of course.
COBB: But I am concerned, you know, as a former prosecutor, and somebody who believes, you know, you can't, just because of, you know, Donald Trump's big lie and his crimes, and, you know, the many tragic things that he's done, and the damage he's done to the country, you know, you can -- you can assess him one way, but you also have to fairly assess each of the other individuals associated with him on their own merits.
I don't think Ivanka added, you know, anything to the evidentiary circumstances that --
BURNETT: So, Ty, do you think they should've -- they could've introduce those emails and done that without her testimony as Andrea is saying? You know, the things that prove that the rates that were being offered for loans were 9 percent, and then comes Deutsche Bank with this miraculous 2 percent, and they're like giddy up, let's go, don't ask questions.
COBB: Yeah, exactly, because that's exactly what happened. The chronology is they went through the real estate group and tried to try that route but as you pointed out high wealthy individuals and so they went that route. They got better terms the negotiations on the net worth, that's clear laid out in a series of emails, and I think as I recall one of the emails between her and the lawyers, she was content to leave it three in the lawyers negotiated down, ultimately, two and a half, which is, of course, what you would want in order to maintain flexibility in the event of a market crash or liquidity issue.
So, it's not unusual -- it's not unusual to negotiate that term. I guess I just -- I'm concerned only because I look at what Trump's real goal here is, you know, to turn this into --
BURNETT: Political scapegoating.
COBB: Yeah, political scapegoating, and, you know, his instance that this is, you know, part the idea that this is some sort of a witch hunt, that he's being unfairly attack. And the fact that, you know, she didn't really add much. I'm afraid that -- I'm afraid that sort of feeds that theme. He'll certainly use it that way, and I hate to see him -- I hate to see him get away with that.
So I don't -- I didn't view anything she said as, you know, as particularly significant legally. And I'm concerned that the politics of it may favor Trump and his attorneys' efforts to pretend to be victims.
BURNETT: And to your point, Ty, the point that you're making on that, obviously, the way she handles herself is very differently from how Trump handled that, as Andrea was just pointing out. Letitia James made the comment about Ivanka's performance before she even did her performance, right? It was so on brand, it was so consistent.
Okay. Cordial and --
COBB: And then she criticized her afterwards, and I have to say, that's playing from an ethics book that, as a former prosecutor, I'm not familiar with in the middle of the trial.
BURNETT: Well, do you think Trump himself learns anything from the way Ivanka handled herself? Obviously, it's very different from how he handles himself, but he's going to be back on the stand next week, of course. COBB: Right. Yeah. He, you know, he didn't learn anything. I mean,
this is -- he can't -- he doesn't have Ivanka's intelligence or discipline, in my own view. And, you know, the fact -- I mean, the truth is, the interesting thing is, there is no evidence, and they presented her with none, that she actually was involved with the financials.
So the fact that she doesn't recall being involved in the financials, you know, seems to be consistent with the evidence.
Now Trump, himself, admitted -- actually reviewing some of the financials and making changes. And that was a stunning admission that I think is very damning and legally, very consequential.
So I think -- I don't think you'll see Ivanka again in the case, but I'm sure you'll see -- I'm sure you'll see Trump and several of his officers and directors.
COBB: So it'll be -- it'll be interesting, but I just -- I just hate to see him get away with playing the victim, which I think today gave him an opportunity to do.
BURNETT: All right. Ty Cobb, thank you very much.
And next, former President Trump is about to speak --
COBB: My pleasure, thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you.
He's about to speak, after his daughter just testified in New York. He wants to have his say, even tonight.
Also OUTFRONT, former "Apprentice" contestant and Trump White House aide, Omarosa Manigault Newman.
Plus, the breaking news, the United States retaliating tonight, carrying a series of strikes in Syria in response to attacks on American forces.
And three giant pandas now going back to China from the National Zoo in Washington, ahead of schedule, and this matters. China uses its pandas to send a crucial diplomatic message to the world.
BURNETT: All right. These are live pictures of Florida. Yeah, there's a debate, but this is actually a Trump rally. Donald Trump is holding a rally there tonight. His son, Don Jr., you see, speaking right now. The former president is on the campaign trail, his business empire hanging in the balance.
The New York attorney general's office did rest the case today with that testimony from Ivanka Trump.
And Kristen Holmes is OUTFRONT.
So, Kristen, Trump's going to speak. Obviously, this trial goes at the heart of every single thing by which he defines himself and his life, and his success. So, what are you expecting tonight?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, look, we're likely going to hear about the trial for two reasons. One, as you say, it has consumed and it goes to the core of who he is, and he's particularly angry the fact that Ivanka had to testify, but also because of who is speaking to tonight, and the voters he is trying to court, particularly Cuban voters.
As you know, Donald Trump has painted his legal problems as political persecution, and he believes that that will help him with Hispanic voters, who are going to be very critical in the general election.
And, Erin, I have to say, former President Trump has had the general election on his mind. He certainly believes he's going to be the nominee. He's even asked today about what he would do about a specific person that we all know, if they consider him as a running mate.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOST: Would you consider Tucker, though?
TRUMP: I like Tucker a lot. I guess I would. I think I say I would, because he's got great common sense.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HOLMES: Now, that was the first time I've heard that, and as you know, Erin, I talked to Trump's campaign advisers on a regular basis, but Donald Trump as one to want to stoke a show, to put forward something that people will talk about. So there was, Tucker Carlson. It'll be very interesting.
But as far as I've been told by campaign advisers, there's no one on a short list yet. It's all just up in the air.
BURNETT: Right, right. It'd be whatever he thinks opportunistically at some point makes sense.
All right. Kristen, thank you very much.
And what -- Kristen is there at that rally, awaiting what Trump there and what he'll say about the trial comes just hours after Ivanka Trump's testimony, when she said she did not recall the key details of the center of big business deals and financial loans that she was in charge of. Ivanka Trump has boasted on the record about how involved she was in the business. She wrote in one of her books, quote, I was Donald Trump's eyes and
ears on the board as I was at the Trump Organization and on his reality television show.
OUTFRONT now, Omarosa Manigault Newman. She was a contestant on that reality show, "The Apprentice", and, of course, went on to work on Trump's 2016 campaign and to serve in the Trump White House. She's now the author of the book "Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House".
So, Omarosa, the last time we spoke, you said you are most interested in hearing Ivanka's testimony during this fraud trial. So what was your reaction to what you heard today?
OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER "APPRENTICE" CONTESTANT: Well, the first thing that I noticed, Erin, was how she walked in. It reminded me so much of her mother, Ivana, when she was going through her legal woes with Donald Trump during her divorce. She would always arrive at court dressed in all-black, and she would strut in like a supermodel during fashion week.
And that's what we saw from Ivanka. That's the first thing that I noticed. But from the read out, I was really shocked to hear that she didn't take any accountability, and that she claimed to not know.
This is one of the most shrewd businesswomen I have ever sat in a boardroom with, and I've had to do that now for three seasons with her, but also to go on to work with her in the White House. She knows every detail of every single engagement that she's a part of.
It doesn't matter what the transaction is. She knows the names of the players. She knows the numbers, the figures, the assets. I was a little surprised that she claimed to have not any knowledge about that aspect of the deals.
BURNETT: Right. In fact, you know, she said, "I do not recall," again and again, when asked about so many of the details. Omarosa, including the project, the old Post Office, in Washington, D.C., right, the one that Trump converted into a hotel. And you, you know, sort of where around that, obviously, as part of the Trump team at that time, for quite significantly.
What did you think about her testimony about that project specifically?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: That specific deal, she should be able to tell you how many nails went into every single wall constructed, stairs. This was her project. This was her baby.
She not only negotiated the financing, she helped design it. She brought in the spa. She focused on every single detail.
I know this because I also got married at this particular hotel, and she was very invested in what my wedding was going to be like in terms of marketing for the project. I believe my wedding was the first wedding held there, and she was very much invested in that. She knows every single detail of this project. And I'm really, really
surprised that she would undermine her big, public persona of being a very smart, shrewd businesswoman by saying, I didn't know. I only knew about the pretty stuff, the designs and the spa. It's not believable.
BURNETT: Right. And why -- and why do you think she did that? Because when you were giving these specific examples, I was just saying, over the years, knowing people who would spend time with her, she did know so many details, right?
That was the whole point. People would sit with her at dinner, and she would be talking about room rates, and revenue, and every single specificity.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Yes.
BURNETT: Why do you think she did this today?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: There was only one reason that she would jeopardize herself and hurt herself on the stand, and that's because Donald Trump told her to do that.
BURNETT: Omarosa, we are waiting for the former president to speak at a rally. We saw Don Jr. speaking. We expected him to talk about this. But you just heard him, you know, dangling out there the concept of Tucker Carlson for VP.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: I'm sorry. It's just laughable. He's a showman, he can't help himself. He thinks the presidency is a White House. In fact, next, we'll have "The Apprentice" the White House edition.
I mean, to say Tucker, it just really undermines the importance and the seriousness of running for the highest office in this land.
He literally thinks that he's going to hand out roses like he's on "The Bachelor".
Tucker is not a serious contender for vice president, and he knows that.
BURNETT: All right. Omarosa, thank you. Good to talk to you.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. And next, the breaking news, the United States carrying out airstrikes tonight in Syria, targeting a weapon storage facility that may have been used to target American troops, but obviously, significant strikes tonight. We'll have the breaking details on that.
Plus, a special report on the sprawling network of tunnels in Gaza now being unveiled, because now we understand, more than 100 of them already have been penetrated. Hamas fighters can emerge from these, and vanish. A special report coming up.
BURNETT: Breaking news. The Pentagon just announcing it's carried out airstrikes against the weapons storage facility in eastern Syria that they say is linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other Iranian-backed groups.
They say it's retaliation for more than 40 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since October 17th.
Now, all of this escalation coming amid mounting fears that Israel's war against Hamas could lead to a widening conflict with growing American involvement.
Oren Liebermann, our Pentagon correspondent, is out front in Tel Aviv tonight.
And, Oren, you know so many of the details about this U.S. strike in Syria. What else do you know about them?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it was a pair of F- 15 fighter jets that just a few hours ago carried out an airstrike against weapons storage facility in eastern Syria, according to the Pentagon, a facility used by Iran's Islamic revolutionary guard corps and Shiite militias that are affiliated with Iran's IRGC.
Now, it's important, as you noted, to point out, that this comes after more than 40 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. These attacks have been in sort of ones and twos, small drones and rockets, not larger barrages. But given the pace at which we have seen these, and how frequently they have come, how long this time span is in which they have come, the Pentagon, it seems, felt the need to act, calling it a precision self-defense strike.
So, you also see there in the language used, the Pentagon trying to make sure the situation doesn't escalate. This isn't the first strike we've seen recently. It was right around two weeks ago that the Pentagon carried out other strikes in eastern Syria against a weapon storage facility and an ammo storage facility, again, used by Iran's IRGC and affiliated groups.
So, this back and forth there, it continues, and the U.S. is watching this very closely, aware the situation could escalate in unpredictable ways quite easily. The U.S., very much keeping an eye on this right now, Erin, and watching which way this goes.
BURNETT: Yeah, and, of course, fears -- fears of escalation, when you see all of this.
And, Oren, obviously, the context here is Israel continues the ground assault on Gaza in the heart now of Gaza City, and they're announcing that they destroyed 130 Hamas tunnels shafts so far in this war. Obviously, that's a crucial target for Israel, because they say command centers, weapons, even hostages are in the tunnels.
So what are you learning about the tunnels that Israel says it's taken out so far?
LIEBERMANN: Erin, it was about a decade ago, maybe just a little more than that, that Israel first realized the threat of tunnels. But at the time, these were in fairly small numbers. The 2014 war saw the number of tunnels expand, and since then, it has grown into what Israel calls Gaza's metro.
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The Israeli military controls the air, and says they've encircled Gaza City on the ground. But underneath the surface, Hamas still has the advantage.
Israel is going after Hamas's underground infrastructure. This soldier shows an electrical system he says is used to circulate air underground. The IDF says it's destroyed 130 tunnel shafts since the start of the war. That's just a small fraction of what's known as Gaza's metro.
Yocheved Lifshitz, the 85-year-old Israeli woman kidnapped and released by Hamas said to her daughter that it was like us spider web with tunnels underground.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are huge network of tunnels underneath.
LIEBERMANN: Avi Issacharoff is an Israeli underground operations veteran and co-writer of the hit show, "Fauda".
AVI ISSACHAROFF, CO-CREATOR & CO-PRODUCER "FAUDA" ON NETFLIX: The amount, the spread, the width, and the length, and all of it -- it's so crazy that you cannot even understand to the bottom how big it is.
LIEBERMANN: Israel says there are hundreds of kilometers of tunnels below Gaza. In 2018, CNN was given an exclusive look at a Palestinian Islamic jihad tunnel inside Gaza. It's concrete walls creating a durable underground maze that favors the defender.
ISSACHAROFF: A terrorist can pump out from this hole, shoot a few shots from his ak-47, or an RPG, go down, walk like 100 meters to the east or the south, and then, boom. Pop out from another entrance to the same tunnel, and shoot again against the Israeli forces while they're trying to understand where they are.
LIEBERMANN: Israel created an underground smart barrier along the Gaza border to detect the digging of tunnels crossing the border. The barrier worked, sort of.
Instead of digging into Israel, militants focused on the tunnels in Gaza. A complex the IDF is now trying to destroy.
The U.S. has dealt with funnels on a different battlefield in the Middle East. ISIS dug elaborate tunnels in Mosul, Iraq, forcing the local population to help create the underground passageways. Tunnels can pose problems for even advanced militaries.
But Israel faces an even greater challenge. Hamas is believed to be holding many of the approximately 240 hostages underground, possibly in different groups. Any attempt to destroy Hamas's tunnels could sink the chances of bringing them home alive.
LIEBERMANN (on camera): As Israel begins going after Hamas's underground infrastructure, it is a long process, Erin, one that is very much just at the beginning, it seems.
BURNETT: All right. Oren, thank you very much.
And this comes as one Palestinian civilian in there, in Gaza, is warning that nothing is left of Gaza City above ground this evening. We talked earlier today to Mahmoud Shalabi, the aid worker who story we've been sharing with you.
He told OUTFRONT, he's no longer able to do his job in Gaza, and he's become terrified of being home at night.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MAHMOUD SHALABI, AID WORKER: To be honest with you, the night is scary. Because once the sun drops, then you'll hear no noises from the streets.
There will be no cars, no ambulances moving. I hear the sounds of clashes. I hear the sounds of, you know, the Israeli forces' tanks, the shelling.
It's a bit scary for everyone in the family. For the kids, for me, for my wife. We try to comfort each other.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: Mahmoud has three young children. The United Nations today announced that at least 99 employees working for its relief agency, so far, have been killed in Gaza.
OUTFRONT next, Democrats defying expectations, of course, at the voting booth. And it has left Republicans to pointing fingers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): Yesterday, to me, was a complete failure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Not mincing words, and China and our politics. There are three pandas right now flying back to China from Washington. Their return is a sign of growing animosity and tension between two superpowers. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BURNETT: Tonight, a complete failure. That is the blunt assessment for one Senate Republican after Democrats defied expectations and scored significant winds last night on Election Day.
Those victories included Democrats retaining control of the governor's mansion in deep red Kentucky, Ohio voters approving the right to an abortion in the state's constitution, and in Virginia, Democrats winning control of the statehouse. So, flipping that while keeping control of the state senate.
That is a major rebuke to the rising Republican star, the governor there, Glenn Youngkin.
Republicans now evaluating what went wrong and what they need to do to fix it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
TILLIS: It's about execution. It's about messaging. Yesterday, to me, was a complete failure.
REP. BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-PA): Anybody who tries to engage in culture wars is going to lose.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): When we're talking about some social issues, they can become highly divisive, and we end up not doing as well as we could have.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BURNETT: Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT, he's in Miami. That's the site of tonight's Republican primary debate.
And, Jeff, I want to ask you about that in a moment, because obviously that's significant. But first, I mean, this is not the day that Republicans expected, really on the defensive today after last night's significant wins for Democrats.
What are you hearing?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, it's become a familiar story for Republicans in the era of Donald Trump. Think back to 2018, 2020, 2022, and now, add abortion into the mix which has been front and center for more than a year. And that's what led to some of the results last evening.
Talking to Republicans throughout the day, they are not despondent, necessarily, but certainly disappointed. Now, this does not change the overall trajectory of the next year long campaign ahead of us, there's no doubt that President Biden still faces significant headwinds, but one thing now is clear, abortion is a motivating factor for Democrats and it certainly has been hurting Republicans. And now, Democrats were spending the day trying to think of what
states they're trying to put these abortion referendums on for next year. Arizona comes to mind.
Some want to try that here in Florida, that's more difficult, but other states are also in the mix. So, at the end of this day, a shot in the arm for Democrats, but hardly a predictor.
BURNETT: Hardly a predictor, as you point out, Arizona, right? Those crucial battleground states, they're going to define this election, that's one of them. You get things like abortion on the ballot, for Democrats, maybe that gives them the shot in the arm they need for Biden.
The context here, of course, is you've got the -- well, you got the elephant in the room, not where you are tonight in that room, although he is in Florida holding a rally, but the rest of the Republican candidates are going to be on that stage, where you are, five of them. That's the fewest of any debate so far. So that means we're going to hear more from them, right?
ZELENY: We are going to hear more from them, and I'm told by the top new advisors for all of the campaigns, they're going to use that extra time to draw distinctions between themselves, particularly Nikki Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. They have been really going after each other in increasing tempo over the last several weeks.
And abortion, again, Erin, is going to be front and center in this. Nikki Haley has been calling for a consensus position. The Florida governor, of course, signed a law right here in Florida, having a six- week ban. Others on stage also have different views. That is just one example of the difference this year.
But, look, all of them are trying to make the argument that it is time for a new face of the Republican Party, but the old face is still here. He's just a few miles down the road -- Erin.
BURNETT: A few miles down the road, and speaking at almost the same time.
Jeff Zeleny, thank you.
And next, China using its pandas to punish enemies, which may explain why three giant pandas on loan to the Washington, D.C. zoo are right now, they're going home. They've been taken back to China.
And an OUTFRONT update tonight on Yoni Asher, you know him. We covered that story exclusively. His two young daughters and his wife are still held hostage -- hostage by Hamas tonight. His words today brought European lawmakers to tears.
BURNETT: Tonight, China punishing the United States using one of its most powerful tools, three pandas, among the last still loaned to the United States at this hour are on a 19-hour flight back to China. Their departure from the Washington, D.C. zoo coming amid rising U.S.- China tensions. China now is using its pandas to -- well, invest in other friendships, giving pandas to Russia, and most recently, Qatar.
David Culver is OUTFRONT.
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For weeks, visitors at the National Zoo in Washington have stopped by to say goodbye.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to make sure to see them before they leave.
CULVER: The zoo's three giant pandas now headed to China. The staff called this a hiatus in their five-decade wildly powerful panda program. But Chinese officials will not say for sure if the pandas will be back.
You might wonder why this even matters. There are, of course, far more pressing issues between the U.S. and China. But as we look deeper, tracking where pandas are leaving, where they're going, you get a better sense of the new world order China is hoping to craft.
These cuddly creators used for China's major political and diplomatic needs, especially in places where it hopes to gain.
But China says its focus is on conservation and research.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Nixon's visit to our country --
CULVER: Beijing's panda diplomacy with Washington, as it's called, kicked off in 1972, following President Nixon's historic visit to China. Chairman Mao Zedong gifted two pandas to the U.S.
Seeing their popularity to rise amongst Americans, China's sent more pandas to other zoos across the U.S., eventually loaning instead of gifting them, sometimes for half 1 million dollars for year. At its height, there were 15 pandas in the United States. But in the last decade, the numbers have dropped, coinciding with worsening U.S.-China relations, with three pandas having now left the National Zoo, that only leaves four pandas in the U.S., currently at Atlanta Zoo. The contracts for those pandas expire next year. No word on any extension.
And that could mean that by the end of 2024, the only panda in the zoos in all of the Americas would be Xin Xin, right here in Mexico City.
Xin Xin belongs to Mexico. She's 33, old for a panda, but still a main attraction here, and they are bracing for a possible surge in visitors.
What would you say to Americans who may not have a panda to visit at their zoo, looking for a visit?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the time being, come to Mexico.
CULVER: The pandas that leave the U.S. travel to China by plane. Their destination: the Chengdu research base of giant panda breeding.
Earlier this year, video surfaced on Chinese social media claiming pandas returning from the Memphis zoo were being abused, a narrative partially fueled by Chinese state media. Chinese doctors defended the zoo's treatment of the panda, but others, highlighting countries where pandas are seemingly living the life, like Russia.
Not surprisingly, China's northern neighbor got a new pair in 2019. President Xi Jinping along his so-called best friend, Vladimir Putin, at Moscow zoo.
China is also loaned out giant pandas to other countries, including E.U. nations like Denmark, Finland, and Germany, and in the Middle East, Qatar getting their first panda last year, regions where China is looking to bolster its relations and increase its influence.
Staff at the National Zoo hopeful China might one day send over more giant pandas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hopeful for the future. So we have submitted an application that's being reviewed.
CULVER: But that is up to China to decide.
CULVER (on camera): And, Erin, as you know well, it seems like anything involving China these days is highly politicized. Still, zoo officials tell me they don't want politics involved here. They have no intention to go to the State Department nor the White House for help, but they, of course, do want this panda program to continue. So it's up to China.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, David Culver.
And next, Yoni Asher. You know him, you've seen him several times, since his wife and very young daughters were taken hostage, now has a new warning tonight for the world.
BURNETT: Tonight, an update was story we have been following, closely with you and that's Yoni Asher's story. We've spoken with Yoni several times and his wife, Doron, his young daughters, are hostages right now, hostages in Gaza, under constant bombardment.
We visited Yoni's home and he wanted to show us his daughters toys and their empty shoes. He today spoke with E.U. leaders today in Brussels. He has been indefatigable in his fight to get his family home. His wife is a German citizen, a dual.
And he pleaded with those leaders to do more now.
(BEGIN VDIEO CLIP)
YONI ASHER, WIFE AND TWO YOUNG DAUGHTERS HELD HOSTAGE: Don't be mistaken to think this is Israeli war. They are knocking on your doors. The West is not next. The West is now.
My family are still alive. We can still save them, and all of the hostages. My family, my babies, my wife, they need to get out now. You need to use all the power in order to do so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Yoni ended his comments by reciting the Shema, one of the most important prayers in Judaism.
Thanks so much to all of you for joining us.
"AC360" starts now.