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Erin Burnett Outfront

CNN Team Witnesses Heavy Bombardment and Flares in Gaza; Sources: FBI Approached NYC Mayor on Street to Seize Phones; Source Confirms Dems Reached Out to "the Rock" About a White House Run; Ukraine Says It "Sunk" Two Russian Ships in Crimea. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired November 10, 2023 - 19:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. New explosions in Gaza as Israeli troops surround hospitals that are already on the brink of collapse. Why the U.S. is sounding its lowest alarm yet tonight.

Plus, more breaking news. The FBI seized New York Mayor Eric Adams' phones. Agents approaching the mayor on the straight to get the devices. The mayor of the country's largest city responding tonight.

Plus, the Rock for president. Dwyane Johnson says both parties want him to run for president. And tonight, OUTFRONT is learning he wasn't kidding.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, we have breaking news. New explosions over Gaza and this video of an intense firefight. Flares lighting up the sky, our Nic Robertson on the border, with Gaza, telling us this usually means ground troops are on the move.

This assault comes as northern Gaza's overcrowded hospitals are now bearing the brunt of Israel's intense strikes. The head of a pediatric hospital telling CNN, they were completely surrounded. He says there are tanks outside the hospital, and they, inside, cannot leave. That is raising new fears that the lives of vulnerable patients are at risk.

According to the Palestinian ministry of health which relies on numbers from the Hamas-controlled ministry of health in Gaza, more than 11,000 people have been killed from strikes like this one at a school. Now, CNN cannot independently verify those numbers.

Today, America's top diplomat, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, warned that far too many Palestinians are being killed.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Much more needs to be done to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches them. Far too many Palestinians have been killed, far too many have suffered these past weeks.


KEILAR: We have been trying to get in touch with Mahmoud Shalabi, an aid worker from northern Gaza whose story we've been following closely. But unfortunately, our repeated messages are not even going through. We do however have an audio message that he's sent to us the last time he had a phone connection.


MAHMOUD SHALABI, AID WORKER: No place is safe. If I queue for bread, it's unsafe. If I go to the market, the market was bombed. If I go to the pharmacy, it's unsafe. So, I can't even go to the Indonesian hospital to see what's happening there and provide, you know, support with whatever I can. Because it's really unsafe right now.


KEILAR: Oren Liebermann is OUTFRONT live in Tel Aviv.

And, Oren, what is happening on the ground tonight?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, you saw those pictures provided to us from my colleague Nic Robertson. His teams there and his cameras there, they have seen a heavy Israeli bombardment in northern Gaza. This as the IDF says it's deepening its operation on the ground there, trying to go after the tunnels which they acknowledge is a difficult and complex operation.

Now, weeks into the Israeli ground incursion, the number of civilians killed in Gaza is mounting, as we hear perhaps the most vocal criticisms yet from the U.S. administration of what's happening.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): In waves of humanity, Palestinians fled. Tens of thousands made their way along Salah al-Din Street in Gaza. A six- hour humanitarian corridor for a brief window to escape, as the Israeli military urges Palestinians to move south.

According to the Palestinian ministry of health, in the West Bank, which draws a vigorous from Hamas-controlled health ministry and Gaza, more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7th. On Wednesday, Barbara Leaf, that U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, told the House committee, the overall casualties may be higher.

BARBARA LEAF, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR NEAR EASTERN AFFAIRS: And it could be that are even higher than are being site. It will not only after the guns fall silent.

LIEBERMANN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced some of the harshest U.S. criticism yet of Israel's campaign in Gaza.

BLINKEN: Much more needs to be done to protect civilians and to make sure the humanitarian assistance reaches them. Far too many politicians have been killed. Far too many have suffered these past weeks.

LIEBERMANN: On Friday, the Israel Defense Forces move deeper into Gaza City, targeting Hamas leadership and their center of power.


The IDF says it has struck more than 15,000 terror targets in Gaza, and seized about 6,000 weapons.

LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, IDF INTERNATIONAL SPOKESPERSON: Near the heart of Gaza City, our troops are preparing to launch additional attacks against Hamas infrastructure, again, not against the civilian population. They aren't the enemy. But Hamas is.

LIEBERMANN: Gaza's medical system edging towards collapsed faced another dangerous as Israel carried out strikes near hospitals in that northern part of the strip. The Israeli military now surrounded the Al Nasr Hospital in northern Gaza, according to the hospital director, with tanks, visible on the streets outside.

The staunch U.S. support for Israel has come with a cost. A State Department cable obtained by CNN warns that U.S. support for Israel is being seen in Arab countries as material and moral culpability, what they consider to be possible war crimes.

Despite growing international calls for a cease-fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will continue until Hamas is defeated and cannot return.

The fight, not only on one front. Tel Aviv under a barrage from rocket fire triggered red alerts and interceptions. On Israel's northern border, the IDF says it struck Hezbollah targets after an anti-tank missiles injured three Israeli soldiers at a military post.

And for the first-time, Israel used its most advanced law range air defense system, the Arrow 3, to intercept an oncoming attack over the Red Sea.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): To this point, the IDF says it has encircled Gaza city it is making its way towards a foot of complicity, as a performer saying will be the next phase, perhaps, going after a bigger and more concerted way Hamas's underground infrastructure. And, Brianna, that will come with both challenges and consequences.

KEILAR: Yeah, they certainly will.

Oren Liebermann in Tel Aviv, thank you for that report.

And OUTFRONT now, retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks, and Seth Jones, whose analysis of this conflict is been extensively utilized by the U.S. government. He's the senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

General, you just heard the IDF saying it is now near the heart of Gaza City. What does that fight look like tonight?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, what it really looks like is the extremely difficult fight. Let me show you how this will unfold. When we go back to when the IDF entered into Gaza, they essentially came along three axes and by doing that, you isolated where the primary fight is taking place right now. Going to the next map, what you really see with Gaza City is, if you could fly a drone over Gaza City right now, what you would see is the IDF has created an outer ring, essentially, we're a strong points in different locations that are interconnected visually, through communications, through supporting fire.

And the intent of that is to keep Hamas fighters, or reinforcing kinds of capabilities out. What you would also see then is kind of an inner ring where most of the fighting is going to take place. Most of the clearance of the tunnels, and those individual locations where inventory of weapons systems, were the latest locations of where the Hamas leadership might be located, and what that is intended to do, is to keep Hamas inside, so that Israelis can do some very precise and some very hard fighting.

But this is described, doctrinally, as a three block war. We are on one block or doing some very high intensity conventional fighting. On the second block, you may be doing some very precise targeting, go after individuals. It may be trying to separate combatants.

And on the third block, which is important to understand, the third block, you're probably condemning humanitarian efforts. So, the issue all along is, can you conduct operations and conduct humanitarian operations? Yes. There's doctrine that supports that.

So the international claim that you need to take a technical pause, which is not a military term, there is no term for a pause. You're either attacking or defending. You can simultaneously conduct humanitarian efforts which should take place, which could take place here along the sea, you could bring in some mercy ships to handle a lot of that medical requirements, as well as humanitarian -- you can create humanitarian corridors, and you can bring in resupplies.

KEILAR: And, Seth, I mean, to that point, this kind of fighting, consequences, as Oren was talking about. What kind of casualties could the IDF incur when it begins conducting these kind of operations in the heart of the city?

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, we're already seeing, Brianna, at the IDF incur some casualties already. They are facing a range of improvised explosive devices in and around those areas of Gaza City. They've got rocket propelled grenades that Hamas has a shot, and other groups, frankly, in the area. We have got other types of snipers that have shot at IDF forces. And

we certainly see a range of Hamas operatives coming in and out of the tunnels with additional weapons. So this is a very difficult environment for the IDF. They know it well and this is really where intelligence is so important to identify where those Hamas Islamic jihad and other fighters are, what they have, and where they're going.

KEILAR: And, Spider, Israel intercepting a missile that was fired at the southern Israeli city of Elad on the Red Sea. This was targeted in the drone attack. Israel says it was launched from Syria. But Yemen's Houthi rebels have also claimed the attack. And the IDF and Hezbollah trading fire after more attacks launched on northern Israel from Lebanon. At what, point is this not just missile fire here or there but in the state, it's Israel getting drawn into a multi-front war?

MARKS: Yeah, you need to look at what Tehran is directing. Let's be frank with each other. We have discussed this many times. Hamas conducted their attack on the 7th of October, under direction of Iran. And what Hezbollah does is at the direction of Iran as well.

And so, clearly the intent, I must say, the strategic objective of the attack on the 7th was hopefully to draw the rest of the Arab world into this. So that Israel would collapse. I mean, that's their charter. That's why Hamas and Hezbollah exist. And that's what Iran is trying to achieve.

So what's happening is, clearly, you think that Tehran hopes the Israelis are focused, laser focused, in on Gaza, and might not be completely engaged, as they should, be on the northern border up here. Well, clearly, what the Israelis have been there before is that type of requirement, to fight a multi-front war.

What may happen, if Hezbollah begins to create a number of missiles that would overwhelm the Iron Dome system that Israel has, and if they were to use the tunnel system, which exists, in northern Israel and southern Lebanon as well, so that there could be Hezbollah fighters infiltrating in, we now look at possibility, not the probability, this belongs to our Defense Department and State Department to engage in.

So, we got the Eisenhower carrier strike group, do they then go after targets in southern Lebanon that are conducting these missile strikes into Israel? That is the key question. That broadens the fight into another country.

KEILAR: And I do want to mention that we're seeing some new flares in that region, in Gaza, where this fighting is going on.

You know, Seth, look, this is difficult territory. If there is anyone who knows, it's America post-9/11. So where's the line here for Israel between responding to valid anger over a horrific attack on civilians and that same response creating more terrorists than you're defeating?

JONES: Well, it's a very difficult objective that the Israelis have set out to eliminate Hamas. I actually don't think it's entirely possible, in part because Hamas is an ideology more than just a group. But I would point out that this type of urban combat is extremely

violent. It does impact civilians. That State Department cable is certainly true, that U.S. diplomats have been under pressure.

But I would just remind everyone that as we look across the Middle East, the last several years, the Saudis pounded targets in Yemen, over 15,000 civilians were killed. Syrians killed well over 200,000, with the Russians targeting hospitals and humanitarian aid convoys. 10,000 in Mosul itself, that were killed by Iraqi and other forces as the Iraqis and the U.S. moved into Mosul.

So I will just remind everyone, to, this kind of war is violent, including for other Arab regimes that have been involved in it. So, you know, again, this is not just an Israeli or even a U.S. situation.

KEILAR: General Marks, Seth Jones, thank you so much to both of you. We do appreciate it.

And OUTFRONT, next, we're breaking news. The FBI seizing the phones of New York City Mayor Eric Adams and we're not learning agents will part of to him on the street. The mayor of the largest city in the country, and once a rising star and his party, responds.

Plus, CNN learning Democrats did in fact reached out to The Rock about running for president. Would he have a shot at winning?

And, Ukraine sink into Russian ships today using sea drones, as Russia turns back to Wagner fighters for help.



KEILAR: Breaking news. The FBI seizes New York City Mayor Adams' phones and iPad. It's a dramatic escalation in the federal investigation into the Adams campaign. And it comes just days after FBI agents raided the home of the mayor's top campaign fund-raiser.

Polo Sandoval is OUTFRONT at Gracie Mansion, which is the official residence of the mayor.

Polo, this is the mayor of the country's biggest, a rising star in the Democratic Party. What more can you tell us about what's really a stunning FBI seizure here?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's stunning and quite significant here, Brianna.

Now, at the mansion itself, no obvious signs of any federal investigation, though, as you point out, this seizure of the mayor's electronic device has actually happened earlier this week, though it's just coming tonight. And some pretty remarkable color coming from our colleague Gloria Pazmino's reporting. Now, it paints a clear picture of what went down on Monday night as the mayor, according to city sources-just wrapped up his speaking engagement here in Manhattan, specifically at NYU, when he was approached by FBI agents, the mayor's security detail asked to step aside. It's at that point according to sources that FBI agents then boarded the mayor's SUV and then served him with that search warrant, that court-authorized search warrant that required the mayor then to hand over his cell phones and also that iPad that he often uses to carry out his mayoral duties.


Now, the FBI not commenting tonight, though it's important to point out, as you just mentioned, that this happened just days after the chief, really, the chief fundraiser for the mayor's campaign, her home raided by federal agents last week. Again, just to remind viewers, the focus of that investigation by federal authorities seeking to confirm or at least look into the possibility that the mayor's campaign received foreign funds, which would be illegal.

Sources close to Adams saying immediately after that seizure happened on Monday, he returned home and actually ordered a review. And according to city hall and also some other members of the Adams' administration that they were able to identify at least one person within that campaign that, according to officials, acted improperly. However, they declined to say exactly who that person is, and that they intended to hand over even more electronic devices to federal authorities as they intend to fully cooperate with this investigation.

I want you to read a little bit of the statement that was released by Eric Adams himself through his campaign attorney tonight as the mayor wrote, as a former member of law enforcement, I expect all members of my staff to follow the law and fully cooperate with any sort of investigation, and I will continue to do exactly that.

Though, it's important to mention here that this development says a lot about what federal agents may potentially find on the electronic device of the mayor of America's largest city, a mayor who insists, Brianna, that he has nothing to hide.

KEILAR: Yeah, certainly, Polo Sandoval live for us outside of the mayor's official residence tonight.

And OUTFRONT now, Rob D'Amico, former FBI agent, and Basil Smikle, a New York City-based Democratic strategist.

Rob, starting with you here. We just heard this. The FBI approaching the mayor on the street serving him a warrant right there in his car to seize his phones and his iPad. How extraordinary is this?

ROB D'AMICO, FORMER FBI AGENT: It is a big step. And the FBI doesn't take it lightly that they're doing this to the mayor or the city and the country. And I guarantee headquarters was very involved in it. And the courts itself look at the seizure of phones to be probably the next closest protected one except for, like, listening in on phone calls. So, it wasn't a lightly thing -- it wasn't light from the courts and it wasn't light for the FBI to do this.

KEILAR: Basil, you heard the mayor. He is repeatedly denying wrongdoing but this isn't the first time he's been linked to troubling allegations, right? We know that. His ties include his former building commissioner indicted on 16

felonies for trading favors for bribes. A former deputy mayor named an unindicted co-conspirator in a corruption scheme. A retired police inspector Adams worked with was indicted for conspiring to funnel illegal campaign donations. And his former pastor was charged with fraud and extortion.

Do you find his denials credible?

BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think everybody is just doing a wait and see right now. But with all of these denials, one wonders, you know, what is the end of all of this? So -- that's I think what we're all trying to figure out here.

Just consider the fact that the entire political establishment of New York City right now, actually New York state, is in Puerto Rico for their post-election conference and that they all probably got this news at the same time. And, so, as we've looked at what's happened really since the summer, these individuals being arrested because of concerns or allegations around straw donors in his campaign, as you said, the former commissioner being arrested on bribery charges. The fundraisers home being raided just a few days ago and now this.

There is this escalation which is the word that has been used. And it is problematic for the mayor. There is a wait and see. But I think so many in the political world here in New York are saying this is just too much, and are waiting for him to have a more definitive response to what's happened here and be able to talk more about his involvement or a lack thereof so that the city can move forward.

KEILAR: Rob, let's talk about the range of outcomes here from, you know, nothing to maybe a possibility of evidence tying him directly to illegal donations from a foreign government. What would that mean for him? Could that possibly be jail time?

D'AMICO: It depends. If it's just getting money from a foreign government and it's a violation of the campaign laws, I don't think jail time is likely. But if you look at it as a quid pro quo, was there something in it that the mayor did for those donations or implied at that point or even something else even more serious, was he acting as an agent of the Turkish government, which then gets into very severe fines or very severe jail time of almost up to ten years?


So, it depends what comes from this. I think this is just the beginning of the thread being pulled. Once you get someone's phone, with apps today that people have that they think are secure, I think that's probably one reason they took it very quickly, because if word got out, some of these apps, if you delete those messages, they're unretrievable without having that device.

So I think that's why you saw the act right there on the street getting him into the vehicle and taking his phones and his iPad.

KEILAR: Yeah, giving him no notice, obviously. Basil Adams, I've said it, he was once considered a rising star in the

Democratic Party. You can see him in a lot of photos. He's here with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He's with President Biden. He once called himself the Biden of Brooklyn. "The New York Times" ran this headline why top Democrats are listening to Eric Adams right now.

I mean, are those days now behind him?

SMIKLE: Well, he's definitely had some tough days. He's gone after President Biden and the governor of the state of New York, Kathy Hochul, a member of the same party, because of his concerns around their response to the migrant crisis, and just to put in this sort of point that all of this is happening, why he's trying to manage a crisis. He was in D.C. for meetings and came back very suddenly after his fundraiser's house was raided because -- and he was there talking about the crisis as it was unfolding and begging Washington to do more.

So, even as he's trying to manage this, there are so many policy issues that are going to be sort of neglected potentially because he's got to manage this personal crisis related to his -- potentially his fundraising or anything else that the FBI may be looking at.

But in terms of the rising star factor, he was a mayoral candidate, a Democrat, a black Democrat, the second African American to ever be elected mayor of the city of New York that was also tough on crime, in a way sort of going against a lot of the progressive language and policymaking in New York at the time. So, yes, he was seen as a rising star, maybe not so much anymore.

KEILAR: Yeah. Rob D'Amico, Basil Smikle, thank you so much to both of you tonight.

And, next, an OUTFRONT update. A source confirming Democrats did in fact talk to The Rock about running for president. That's after he said both parties actually wanted him to run. Would he stand a chance?

Plus, Ukraine releasing dramatic video of a strike on two Russian warships.



KEILAR: New tonight, a source familiar with conversations confirming to CNN the Democrats did reach out to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson about running for president just one day after Johnson had the political world buzzing by saying this on a podcast with Trevor Noah.


DWAYNE "THE ROCK" JOHNSON, ACTOR AND PRODUCER: The beginning of the year, at the end of the year, rather, in 2022, I got a visit from the parties asking me if I was going to run and if I could run.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Well, the former professional wrestler, turned movie star, ruled out a run for now, but did not dismiss a future White House bid. And Johnson would be far from the first celebrity to choose to enter the world of politics, of course.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.


JOHNSON: You have two choices.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Blasting into a presidential election in which polls say many voters don't like either main candidate, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, actor, wrestler, superstar is hinting at a run.

JOHNSON: If that's truly what the people want, then, of course, I will consider it.

FOREMAN: If he does, he'd follow former President Donald Trump and dozens of other celebrities who have considered, tried, and sometimes succeeded in spinning their fame into political gold. The one he might most want to study -- Ronald Reagan who used his skills from film, TV, and radio to pick off one political challenger after another, proving that his actor's sense of timing --


FOREMAN: -- and humor --

REAGAN: I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.

FOREMAN: -- could carry him all the way to the White House and with a robust agenda popular with his party, keep him there.

That pattern has been repeated at lower levels. Fred Grandy turned nine years on "The Love Boat" into eight years as a congressman from Iowa.

Sonny Bono was a pop star, then a mayor, then a congressman from California until his untimely and accidental death.

AL FRANKEN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: But I don't think that's how it works.

FOREMAN: Which Minnesota senator started out as a comedian?

FRANKEN: That's right, me, Al Franken.

FOREMAN: And, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger pressed his strong man person into eight years as governor of California.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: I want to represent everybody. I want to be governor for the people. FOREMAN: So, is The Rock ready to enter the political jungle? He's

tipped his hat to a presidential run before. Although, always with hesitation.

JOHNSON: I love our country and everyone in it. I also love being a daddy. And that's the most important thing to me is being a daddy.


FOREMAN (on camera): The thing is we don't know if he would be a good president. When any celebrity runs, we rarely know if they're going to be good at the job. But political strategists know if they're already famous, if they're likeable, if people generally think they're trustworthy, those are big steps towards being electable -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Very good point. Tom Foreman, thank you for that.

OUTFRONT now, former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh.


He is now the director of Mission Democracy.

All right. First off, Joe, I mean, would The Rock have a shot?

JOE WALSH, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Oh, gosh, yes, Brianna, absolutely. I mean, look, we are in the middle of a huge populist moment in this country. The average American is sick of our politics, they think our politics is broken, they're sick of both parties. Somebody from outside of the political world like him would definitely have a shot.

KEILAR: Yeah, I'll be honest. I love his movies. I especially love "Jumanji". I don't know if the skills are transferrable. But if some Democrats want an alternative to Joe Biden so badly that they looked to The Rock, what does that say to you?

WALSH: It tells you that both parties, Brianna, recognize that most Americans don't want this matchup, Biden/Trump. Oh my God, that makes most Americans just roll their eyes. They're turned off by it. And it makes sense.

But I think -- look, it's too late. And if somebody like The Rock were going to run, I think he's universally respected and loved on really all sides. And it would have to be somebody pretty unique like that, that both sides like. But it's almost -- and he'd have to run -- he or she would have to run probably as an independent because both parties are so damaged. But, Brianna, at this point, it's too late.

KEILAR: Okay. As Tom pointed out, Reagan and Trump, both celebrities before becoming president, comfortable in front of the camera, charismatic, they knew how to play and connect with voters. Obviously, The Rock has that, right? Would it even matter what his policy views and positions were?

WALSH: No. It really wouldn't. And look -- look at Trump. What the heck was Trump? He still doesn't have policy positions. He was a Democrat, he was a Republican.

No, that's not -- again, most Americans, Brianna right now, are so fed up and sick of our politics and they recognize that our politics is broken. We are looking for a hero, a heroine, somebody from outside of that ugly world of politics. It doesn't matter necessarily where they are on policy. We're just looking for someone different who can help fix what seems to be so broken.

KEILAR: I would be -- I would be curious particularly, though, on the issue of abortion. And, to that end, on the Republican side, you had the former President Trump sitting down for an interview with Univision. And he repeatedly took credit again for the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Everybody thought Roe v. Wade wouldn't ever happen, and now it did. We stopped a very radical agenda. Something will be worked out now because of what we were able to do. That was a tremendous thing when we did that.


KEILAR: So, look, he does get the credit here. He got the court to where it is so that it was set up to overturn Roe. But politically that issue has so far backfired for Republicans. Is his bragging about this a smart strategy?

WALSH: No. But, Brianna, and I know it's Friday night so I'll be very careful. Trump's an idiot. He doesn't know when not to talk about this issue.

You're right. This issue is killing Republicans in blue states, purple states, and red states. Republicans across the spectrum do not want to be talking about this issue because, Brianna, they don't know how to talk about it. I mean -- and I say that as someone who's pro-life. We don't know how to deal with the position we're in right now. It's energizing Democrats.

KEILAR: Yeah. We've seen the discussion. It's a very difficult one for Republicans.

Joe Walsh, great to see you tonight. Thank you.

WALSH: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: OUTFRONT next, we'll show you the moment Ukraine sunk two Russian ships using sea drones.

Plus, they claim they were just hunting ducks and wild pigs. But the two brothers living in Texas shot two migrants who had just crossed the border. And one of those migrants is speaking out tonight.


[19:43:04] KEILAR: New tonight, dramatic new video that Ukraine says shows the moment it sunk two Russian landing craft with sea drones in occupied Crimea. This amid new signs the war in Ukraine could be ramping up. The U.K. just trained more than 30,000 Ukrainian recruits who will be headed to the front lines, its largest military training efforts since World War II. Russia also trying to recruit former fighters from the Wagner mercenary group back onto the battlefield.

Fred Pleitgen is OUTFRONT.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Ukrainian naval drones near the coast of occupied Crimea. Kyiv says they hitched two Russian landing ships destroying the vessels, a key blow to Putin's navy, Ukraine's military intelligence tells CNN.

According to updated information, they were sunk and can't be repaired, he says, armored equipment was also destroyed , in particular a BMP on board, one of the landing craft.

CNN can't independently verify the incident, and so far, Moscow has not commented on it.

But Kyiv says they are continuing to pile pressure on Russia's forces, Ukraine saying its troops recently struck this corvette in the port of Kerch with several cruise missiles.

And the military intelligence service is claiming responsibility for assassinating a former pro-Russian militia commander in the occupied city Luhansk.

On the ground, though, the going remains tough. The Ukrainians acknowledging they're barely making any progress, even as they release this drone footage purporting to show massive losses of Russian armor near the town of Avdiivka.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: I am sure that we will have success. It's difficult.

ZELENSKYY: While both sides continue to bleed man power with little territory changing hands, the Russians seem eager to get former fighters of what was the Wagner private military company once led by Yevgeny Prigozhin who was killed in a plane crash in august, back on the battlefield.


Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov posting this video, showing his forces training together with Russian mercenaries, some with Wagner patches on the uniforms.

The units practicing everything from infantry assaults to medical evacuations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin himself checking out military dune buggies at the Russian army southern command in Rostov-on-don with his defense minister and his top general. This is the very building Wagner fighters occupied during the group's short-lived mutiny in June.

Putin has long advocated for Wagner fighters to get back on the battlefield.

Today, you have the opportunity to continue your service to Russia by signing a contract with the defense ministry, he says, or other law enforcement for security agencies or to return home.

The Russians claimed hundreds of thousands have already signed up to fight in Ukraine while Kyiv vows to stand its ground no matter how many soldiers Moscow sends.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Brianna, Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying the Ukrainians have been making some pretty important progress in the way south of the country near the city of Kherson where they're trying to cross the mighty Dnipro River. But one of the things Zelenskyy has been saying is that Ukraine will continue to need weapons from the United States and its allies. He says, without those weapons, they wouldn't even be in this fight anymore. But he also says they need a lot more of those weapons to continue to take the fight to the Russians -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Fred Pleitgen, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT next, a story that you'll see first on OUTFRONT, two brothers living in Texas accused of targeting migrants, even shooting a mother of three in the stomach. They claim they were just duck hunting.

Plus, three giant pandas sent home to China from Washington, D.C. ahead of schedule. See the hero welcome they got when they landed.



KEILAR: New tonight, 34 migrants have been rescued off the Florida coast after their boat sank, as they were trying to reach the U.S. The Coast Guard says they were about eight miles south of the Florida Keys. This is a migrant woman who was shot in the stomach after she crossed the border into Texas speaks out for the first time, when she was targeted by two men who claimed they were just duck hunting.

Rosa Flores has this story you'll see first on OUTFRONT.


BRENDA CASIAS CARRILLO, SHOOTING VICTIM (translated): Aunt, I am dying. They shot me.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mark and Michael Sheppard were arrested on manslaughter and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charges but have not been indicted after allegedly shooting at a group of migrants, killing one and wounding another in West Texas over a year ago. The twin brothers told investigators they were hunting ducks, then changed their stories to birds, then to Javelinas or wild pigs, according to probable cause documents.

The brothers do admit to firing the shots.


FLORES: They admit to firing at animals.

MAYR: Mike was the one who took the shot. He believed that he was shooting at a Javelina.

FLORES: Jesus Sepulveda, a Mexican father of two, died from a shotgun blast to the head. His family believes he was targeted because of his race.

Brenda Casias, a Mexican mother of three, was shot in the stomach.

CASIAS: I looked up at teh sky and said, God just give me strength to go on.

FLORES: Casias says she and a group of migrants rushed towards this reservoir, desperate for drinking water, when the two men drove up in a truck and parked here.

The migrants tried to hide. Casias says she hid here. This is where her account and the Sheppard brothers story diverged.

Casias says the brothers knew the migrants were human, screamed expletives in Spanish, come out, F-ing asses and fired twice.

MAYR: We just disagree with her version of the events.

FLORES: Defense Attorney Brent Mayr says Michael Sheppard fired the shots from 150 to 200 yards away, that the brothers don't speak Spanish fluently, and that the shooting happened at about 6:45 in the evening.

MAYR: At that time of night, there is no way that at that distance you would be able to see and recognize those were humans.

FLORES: Mayr's timing doesn't match Casias' account.

What time of day was it?

Five or 5:30 a.m. She says this photo of her wound taken moments after the shooting shows daylight.

Casias says she recorded these voice messages and walked for about an hour before calling 911.

While the FBI and the Texas Rangers are investigating --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a hate crime.


FLORES: -- and lawmakers have called for a Justice Department investigation, law enforcement agencies would not discuss the case, and prosecutors have not filed formal charges against anyone.

Do you think it was racism?

CASIAS: I don't know why they did it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was very tough.

FLORES: Sepulveda's father says the brothers are racist.

Did your clients fire these shots with racism or hatred?

MAYR: Absolutely not. I mean, again, how can you be racist or have hatred when you're out there thinking that you're shooting at some wildlife?

FLORES: Casias says she's learning to live in constant pain.

She said that she's asked God, why her.

She says, it's simple. The migrant who was killed, Jesus Sepulveda, was her rock during the journey.

CASIAS: How is he going to defend himself.

FLORES: And she's his only voice and chance at justice.


FLORES (on camera): I talked to one other migrant victim who are said that this shooting happened during the day, which begs the question, how did these brothers confuse migrants for animals? And if they were indeed hunting, did they go and check on what they had hunted? I asked their attorney these questions, and he says that he maintains that the brothers did not know that these migrants were human and that after they fired the shots, they didn't go and check on what they had allegedly hunted.


And so, Brianna, they didn't report it to police either -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Very interesting. We know you'll continue to cover this.

Rosa Flores, thank you.

OUTFRONT next, a homecoming for the national zoo's three giant pandas, more than 7,000 miles from the U.S.


KEILAR: And finally tonight, a homecoming for three giant pandas who just three days ago called the D.C. National Zoo home. They're now back in China and quarantining after they were boxed up Wednesday and FedExed back to southwest China. D.C. zoo staff are calling this a, quote, hiatus in their wildly popular panda program.

But Chinese officials are mum on if they'll ever return. That is because U.S. relations with China have been deteriorating for years. And Beijing has been busy rewarding its new friends with pandas, like Russia, which got a new pair in 2019, and Qatar, which got its first panda last year.

As for the U.S., Atlanta is the only zoo to still feature pandas from China. That contract expires next year, and there's still no word on an extension.

Thank you so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.