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Erin Burnett Outfront

Now: Gaza Experiencing Near-Total Communications Blackout; CNN Gets Rare, Independent Access to War-Torn Southern Gaza; Senior U.S. Official: Hamas Leader's "Days Are Numbered"; Jury Deliberating in $48 Million Suit Against Rudy Giuliani. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 14, 2023 - 19:00   ET




Blackout. A man whose father and grandfather were killed in a bombing in Gaza can't communicate from Khan Younis tonight because of a total blackout. He's been silenced. And we'll tell you his story.

This as longtime Israeli reporter Barak Ravid has new details in the hunt for Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. He's OUTFRONT.

Plus, Putin speaking out for the first time the reports that he has a body double, taking it on, as a series of unflattering questions flashes across the screen during Putin's annual press conference. Like how many yachts does Putin have? Why are so many people in Russia poor? Who is behind these scathing questions?

And she may be the only Republican woman in the presidential race, but are women voters buying what Nikki Haley is selling? That is the latest story in our special series, "Voters OUTFRONT".

So, let's go OUTFRONT.


BURNETT: And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, a blackout. Gaza's communications network, non-existent. As of tonight, there is a near total blackout in Gaza, no way to get a message in or out.

Just before the show, we tried to speak with a Palestinian man who is in Gaza. Now, when we first heard from Raed Redwan this morning, he was able to share with us something. The video that you are looking at here, this is of shelling and flares outside his window, of his home. At one point, he said he could hear the screams of his neighbors, while the shelling was happening.

His father and his grandfather both were killed. His home was completely destroyed. And he wanted to come on hours like to share his story with you to talk about what life is like, what existing is like in Gaza. But, he has been silenced. And as you can see from this graph, this is what the communications

blackout looks like. And it is that orange line that just down at the bottom. It is sixth, and near total blackout since the start of the war. Only 6 percent of places in Gaza have any kind of signal tonight.

This as "The Times of Israel" is reporting this evening that Israel's flooding of tunnels in Gaza appears to have been successful.

Now, it is not clear what successful means. But CNN has reported that the IDF was flooding some Hamas tunnels with seawater. And what is happening inside Gaza tonight is why the Biden administration is now pressing Israel to wet wrap up its sprawling ground invasion and air assaults on Gaza.

A senior U.S. official telling CNN they want Israel to start using smaller groups of forces, and to carry out more precise missions, a move the United States believes would reduce mounting civilian casualties. As it is right now, and this is a stunning number from U.S. intelligence today, U.S. intelligence sources saying nearly half of all Israeli munitions dropped on Gaza are so called dumb bombs. Unguided bombs, that certainly help explain the enormous civilian death toll, an issue that President Biden talked about today.


REPORTER: Do you want Israel to scale back its assault on Gaza, by the end of the year? Do you want them to tone it down? Move to a lower intensity phase?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives. Not to stop going after Hamas, but be more careful.


BURNETT: Biden's vocal push to focus on saving civilian lives though is appearing to fall on deaf ears. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making clear these audible to tone it down, or anything like that, anytime soon.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Our heroic soldiers have not fallen in vain. Out of the deep pain of their having fallen, we are more determined than ever to continue fighting, until Hamas is eliminated, until absolute victory.


BURNETT: Absolute victory. It's strong words, but does anybody know what absolute victory looks like? If it's absolute destruction, much of Gaza is already there.

Just look at images like these, and this one? This is a child in Gaza today, a child that our Clarissa Ward saw.

Clarissa and her team were in, and were the first Western media to gain independent access to southern Gaza, without an IDF escort.

And Clarissa joins me now.

So, Clarissa, some of those images of children you saw, one can only imagine what it was like for you to be there with them, in person. What else did you see?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we have been trying for weeks and weeks to get into Gaza, as many international journalists have. We've all been relying on the courageous reporting of journalists in Gaza, who have been dying in record numbers, trying to tell the story.

And finally, we were able to gain access on Tuesday, and with a contingent of volunteers at a field hospital, a newly established by the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, built just two weeks ago, and already near capacity. Take a look at a clip from our story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Used to be a stadium.

WARD: Right.

(voice over): Arriving at the Emirate field hospital, we meet Dr. Abdullah Alnakbi (ph).

No sooner does our tour begin when -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, our ambulance -- that's the real life.

WARD: And this is what you hear all the time now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. At least 20 times a day.

WARD: At least 20 times a day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe more sometimes. Which I think we get used to it.

WARD: One thing none of the doctors here have gotten used to is the number of children they are treating. The U.N. estimates that some two-thirds of those killed in this round of the conflict have been women and children.

Eight-year-old Janan (ph) was lucky enough to survive a strike on her family home that crushed her femur but spared her immediate family.

WARD: She said she's not in pain. So, that's good.

Her mother, Hiba, was out when it happened.

I went to the hospital to look for her, she says, and I came here and I found her here. The doctors told me what happened with her. And I made sure that she's okay. Thank God. They bombed the house in front of us and then our home, Janan tells us. I was sitting next to my grandfather and my grandfather held me. And my uncle was fine, so he is the one who took us out.

Don't cry.

But Dr. Ahmad Almazrouei says it is hard not to.

DR. AHMED ALMAZROUEI, UAE FIELD HOSPITAL: I work with all the people, like adult, but the children -- something touching you heart.

WARD: Touches your heart and tests your faith in humanity.


BURNETT: And, Clarissa, as I said. These are images that the world has seen, that it moved so many to such anger and frustration. And yet you are confronted with it yourself to see it, to touch, to actually touch a child, a mother and others. How would you even describe what you saw, when you are actually there in person, after all of these weeks, to actually get there and to see these individual humans, and what they're suffering?

WARD: I think, Erin, what's so striking, honestly, we had a very short window of time that we were able to spend on the ground. And so, you didn't expect to see that much suffering, that much bloodshed, in such a short window. And just after we were talking to Janan and her mother Hiba, that doctor came back and said, the blast you heard a couple of minutes ago, the casualties are starting to come in.

And we went to the front area where the ambulances come, and they brought in a man whose foot was hanging off, they brought in a 13- year-old boy, who also was missing half of his leg. We also talked to a very young little boy, under two years old called Amir, who doesn't get understand that his parents and two of his siblings were killed in a strike on his family home, that has left him disfigured. He is now really alone, except for his aunt, Nahiyah (ph).

And so, I don't think anything really prepares you, honestly, for seeing that in person, in such an intense and impactful way, where in such a short period of time, it does absolutely -- you know, it's a punch in the gut, it's not something that I think even after covering conflicts for all these years, that you could ever really get used to, or feel unmoved by.

BURNETT: Well, Clarissa Ward, I know we are all -- we are all grateful, and everyone is grateful that you are able to get that access, to show the world, because it is obviously so important, and so significant. And you are able to do it, obviously without the IDF. So this is you, really being able to look at it yourself.


Clarissa Ward, thank you so much.

And Clarissa Ward, of course, in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. As she reported, she was at a UAE-run field hospital in southern Gaza.

OUTFRONT now, Barak Ravid, our political and global affairs analyst.

And, Barak, it is -- it is things like Clarissa saw that is moving the world, and moving the Biden administration to push Prime Minister Netanyahu to end this, to pull this, to get this to a different phase.

I know you've been getting some new details about Jake Sullivan's meeting with Israeli officials today, where they talked about this. What did they discuss from your reporting?


I think a big part of the conversation that Jake Sullivan had today in Tel Aviv, it was a series of meetings, one after the other. And the issue of civilian casualties was obviously one of the main issues that he discussed.

But as you said, I think one of the key topics that is part of the disagreement, the current disagreement between the U.S. and Israel, is, when do you take the current operation that is very, very high intensity operation, and scale it down to what the Israeli, and U.S. officials call a low intensity operation? And the U.S. wants this to turn into a low intensity operation within weeks, because first, it will get civilian casualties down, it will allow more humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

And, I think most importantly, the U.S. believes that once the high intensity face is over, regional tensions, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Yemen, all of those will go down, and the risk of a regional war will decrease.

BURNETT: So, a senior U.S. official said today, and this was sort of referring to the heart of this. I mean, again, Netanyahu has not defined with absolute victory means, in the context that they're actually fighting.

But, this U.S. official said that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar's days are, quote, numbered. And that Sinwar had, quote, U.S. blood on his hands, and that the, quote, continue, doesn't matter how long it takes, but justice will be served on Sinwar.

Do you think, just putting what here appears to be just basic facts, but to come formally out of a U.S. official's mouth, is significant? Why? What does it tell you, Barak?

RAVID: First, I think that it's the first time we hear such a thing from a senior U.S. official. And I think that signal, that the White House basically wants Yahya Sinwar dead. And, there is a reason for it, because both Israeli officials and U.S. officials say privately that once Yahya Sinwar is eliminated, you get one step, a big step, closer to ending the war because, I think that both U.S. and Israel are looking for, let's call it, an event that will make it clear, both to the region and to the world, that Hamas was defeated. And the elimination of its leadership is definitely such an incident. BURNETT: So, you know, obviously, last week, Netanyahu made the point

saying, you know, Sinwar's home in Khan Younis was surrounded. And it sort of made everyone think, what's he's saying, it's surrounded and he knows he's there, are they about to do something? But it didn't mean that.

At least so far as we know --

RAVID: Yeah.

BURNETT: -- there's been no inkling of him being caught yet, or of anyone knowing exactly where he has.

Obviously, it's -- you know, it's a small place, a deep network of tunnels, of which Israeli intelligence knows a lot about it. I mean, how hard is it going to be to get him? And what are you hearing about the failure to do so thus far?

RAVID: Well, it's going to be very hard, because Israeli officials admit that he's somewhere in a tunnel hundred feet below the ground, and I think that what they're looking for is for him to make a mistake.

And, Israeli officials say we have a lot of forces there in Khan Younis. They're moving from one part of the city to another part of the city, they are putting more pressure on Hamas leadership. And I think Israel is just waiting for Sinwar and his associates to make a mistake, to move from one hiding place to the other, so that is really intelligence can pick it up, and then try and target them.

BURNETT: All right, and obviously they are still waiting for that now.

All right. Thank you very much, Barak, I appreciate your time.

RAVID: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Barak Ravid, as I said, a senior reporter on all of this.

Next, verdict watch. The fate of Rudy Giuliani in a jury's hands tonight. Will they award two former election workers in Georgia $48 million? And, what is the truth about Rudy Giuliani's, the amount of money he even has anyway?

Plus, Putin, for the first time, talking about a body double, after he was actually presented with this image, on television.


And, why is America's largest credit union rejecting more than half of its Black mortgage applicants?


BURNETT: Tonight, a decision that caused Rudy Giuliani more than $48 million that he doesn't have is now in the hands of a jury. Giuliani was found liable for spreading lies and ruining the reputations of two Georgia poll workers after the 2020 election. Deliberations over how much he has to pay, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, will resume tomorrow, a verdict could come at anytime.

And Jessica Schneider is OUTFRONT tonight, with more on what unfolded in that courtroom, today.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: You heard one side, stay tuned for my testimony.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani promised at the start of his trial that he would take the stand to defend himself in the defamation case against him. But minutes before the final day of trial was set to start, Giuliani backed out. His lawyer, telling the jury Giuliani didn't testify, because we feel these women have been through enough.

The lawyer for former Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, essentially saying that contrived compassion coming too late, after years of threats and harassment they say they're endured because of Giuliani.


SCHNEIDER: The torrent of voicemails Freeman and Moss received after the 2020 election played in court for the jury, deciding how much to award the women.


The judge has already ruled that Giuliani is liable. Now, it's just a question of how much he will pay.

Freeman and Moss are asking the jury for at least $48 million. Their lawyers pointed to these comments from Giuliani outside court this week, to prove that Giuliani still is not remorseful.

GIULIANI: Of course I don't regret it. I told the truth. They -- they were engaged in changing votes.

Hello, everyone.

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani first made (AUDIO GAP) about Freeman and Moss after the 2020 election, including to a Georgia state Senate committee investigating alleged, but unfounded, voter fraud.

GIULIANI: There's a tape earlier in the day of Ruby Freeman and Shaye Freeman Moss, and one other gentlemen. I mean, it's obvious to anyone who is a criminal investigator or prosecutor, they are engaged in surreptitious illegal activity, again, that day.

SCHNEIDER: The mother and daughter detailed in hours of emotional testimony on the stand, how these false allegations upended their lives. They received death threats, they've been forced into hiding, and they have been turned down for jobs. They also recounted the agony for the January 6th Committee.

RUBY FREEMAN, FORMER GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: I've lost my name, and I've lost my reputation. I've lost my sense of security.

SHAYE MOSS, FORMER GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: And it's affected my life in a major way, in every way, all because of lies.

GIULIANI: I feel like I'm defending the rights of all Americans.

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani has refused to back down from the lies, even now, years after his rampage that the 2020 election was rigged.

GIULIANI: It's enough to overturn any election, it's disgraceful what happened.

SCHNEIDER: And Giuliani spread wildly false claims.

GIULIANI: Gee, just about the 700,000 votes that President Trump was ahead by two days ago, had disappeared.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): Now ultimately, Rudy Giuliani might be unable to pay. For months, Giuliani has been buried by legal bills, that his own lawyers say he has no money to pay. Giuliani is not only defending against this defamation case, but he faces several other civil lawsuits, and his law license has been suspended.

Plus, he's been indicted by the Fulton County district attorney, for his alleged involvement in the fake electors scheme -- Erin.

BURNETT: Jessica, thank you very much.

And next, questions that would get any Russian arrested, today actually flash on a screen during a Putin press conference, behind, right there. Questions like, why is your reality different to our reality? And like this. How many yachts does Putin have?

So, who was behind these questions? How did this happen? That's next.

Plus, is the only women in the GOP race also winning the women vote?


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why I think you need a bad ass woman in charge of the White House.


BURNETT: Jeff Zeleny has the latest in our series, "Voters OUTFRONT".


[19:26:21] BURNETT: Tonight, quote, don't run for another term as president, make way for the young. That just one of several, seemingly foreboding questions that flashed onscreen for Vladimir Putin, during his annual year and press conference.

Another pointed question actually focused on Russia's economy and it asked, quote, why do we have so many poor people? A third focused on the dishonesty of Russian state television. I mean, that's sort of incredible, right? It asked, quote: Mr. President, when will the real Russia not differ from television Russia?

Now, what's interesting is, you could see these on the screen, but Putin actually never answered any of the tough questions that, curiously, unexpectedly did flash across the screen. During his highly pre-produced for our press conference.

But how did they slip through? Or was the Kremlin somehow in on it?

Matthew Chance is actually in the room with Putin, and he's OUTFRONT.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was Putin's first big news conference, since his invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago. For hours, the Kremlin leader answer carefully picked questions, restating Russian objectives of what he calls a special military operation.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): There will be peace when we achieve our goals. They haven't changed. This is the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine and its mutual status.

CHANCE: For the first time, Putin revealed more than 600,000 troops are currently in the conflict zone. He gave no indication of losses which U.S. intelligence estimates are extremely high.

The Russian leader did however indicate he believed Western resolve on Ukraine may be crumbling, significant as American aid for Ukraine is held up in the U.S. Congress.

PUTIN (through translator): Today, Ukraine produces almost nothing, but they are trying to preserve something, but they produce almost nothing. They get everything -- excuse the bad manners -- for free. But this freebie may end someday, and apparently, it is ending.

CHANCE: One Russian reporter asked Putin about recent Ukrainian gains across the Dnipro River. They are just small areas Putin said in which Ukrainian forces are now highly exposed.

PUTIN (through translator): I don't know why they are doing it. They are pushing their people to get killed. It's a one way trip for Ukrainian forces. The reason for these are political because Ukrainian leaders are begging foreign countries for aid.

CHANCE: This was a highly staged event with carefully vetted questions. But a livestream of public texts throw up a surprise challenging, how many yachts does Putin have, asked one anonymous message. Why is your reality different to our reality asked another. The glimpse behind the curtain perhaps into what some Russians are really thinking.

In a bizarre moment, a Russian child appeared in a video message asking if her family would ever be replaced by robots.

A moderator then played an extraordinary video of what she said was a deepfake image of Putin, asking the real Russian leader if he had many doubles. You're the first, Putin responded, and, of course, there are rumors he has many.

PUTIN (through translator): I see you can look like me, and speak in my voice. But I've thought about it and have decided that only one person should look like me, and speak in my voice.


And that person would be me.

CHANCE: Meanwhile, as Putin held court, U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich actually appeared in one, another appeal against his detention for alleged espionage denied. Though Putin indicated talks to return detained Americans are ongoing.

PUTIN (through translator): It's not that we refused their return. We do not refuse. We want to negotiate and the agreements must be mutually acceptable and satisfactory to both sides.

CHANCE: What Russia wants though remains unclear.


BURNETT: Matthew, it's incredible that the child asked of her families being replaced by robots, and the moderator than using that to actually ask him directly body doubles. And one would presume, given the pre-produced nature of the questions he answered, that he wanted to answer that one. But, he did not answer those other questions that you mentioned some of, the yacht, people upset about inflation, your reality different to ours -- sensitive and controversial questions that people could get arrested for.

Who do you think wrote them?

CHANCE: Yeah, it's a very odd, isn't it? Because you know this, as I mentioned, was at a highly choreographed event. And each of those questions was carefully vetted. And so, it's astonishing that these made it on to that ticker board.

But there were more than 2 million questions answered -- sorry, asked. And so, presumably, some of these just managed to get through. And if that's the case, as I said, it offers us a very interesting glimpse into what many Russians outside of this staged event are actually thinking, and what they actually want to ask -- Erin.

BURNETT: Yet, it certainly is. And as you say, astonishing, if it was vetted and they knew they were coming, and allowed it. Or didn't, and didn't know it was coming.

I mean, no matter what the reality is, it is truly astonishing.

All right. Matthew Chance, thank you very much.

And Matthew, as I said in Moscow, and was in that room today with Vladimir Putin.

OUTFRONT now, Roman Badanin. He is an independent Russian journalist, the founder and editor in chief of the investigative journalism outlet "Proekt".

So, Roman, it is good to talk to you again.


BURNETT: So, you have reported on the speculation, that Putin uses body doubles, due to health problems and other reasons. And at that press conference, the A.I. image comes up that looks like Putin, speaks like Putin, and the moderator asks him if he uses body doubles? So this is the pre-produced part, like he wanted the question. He was prepared for, it felt the need to address it.

What did you make of this entire moment?

BADANIN: Yeah, hello, Erin. It's good to see you.

Of course -- so, I do believe that the question about Putin's double was 100 percent staged by Putin's press service, and at least once in the past, Putin was also asked about his double. And both now and then, he answered that he didn't have a double.

And we, as journalists, I can only repeat that we believe that Putin most likely is not lying, and there is no double. But it was important for the Kremlin right now to once again inform ordinary people in Russia that Putin is healthy, and doesn't need a double. And, why was this done? Well, I guess it's needed to show that Putin is in great political and physical shape, ahead of his, you know, it's his term.

BURNETT: Yeah, his election. But interesting as you pointed out, right, that if he did address it, it's because he felt the need, they actually felt it mattered, even when what, of course, is not a real election.

All right. So Putin today gives his press conference to a whole room of people kept at a distance. And Matthew Chance was in that room, so he was there with all those reporters, and was talking about it.

You have a new report in "Proekt", detailing what you call the odd precautions that Putin takes to keep people at a certain distance from him. So you see him there, even that table that he is at with the moderator. I mean, it's massive, it's not the way normal TV is set up.

The images of him that it reflects this image, that long table he had during COVID, where the heads of state would sit so far away. And there are large distances between him and public audiences as we see all the time, even outdoors, like in a video that we are showing here, right? He's on the stage alone, it's outdoors, everyone is so far away.

He spoke at an event this fall. He spoke through video to a group of moderators. But the moderators were literally in the room next him. So these people are all in the room next him and, he didn't actually want to appear with them.

What is your conclusion, Roman, and why he is doing this?

BADANIN: Well, just to attract your attention, the journalists today were not really close with Putin.


That was kind of quite enough distance between him and the audience. And, you are right, we need a big investigation, and we examine the recordings of all like 500 or so a Putin's public events for the year, from October 2022 to October 2023.

And we found Putin's, let's say, strange behavior. Firstly, Putin's team of deserves a -- -- despite the fact that the World Health Organization has long declared the pandemic over. At most events, there is no one next to him, or they are officials and journalists who were definitely guaranteed, in some cases. When Putin speaks from the stage, for example, they even build candidates a special fence between him and Russian people. And sometimes, it looks pretty funny.

And the conclusion we have is that Putin sometimes like well, his, he is still afraid of people, he's still afraid for his health and his safety.

BURNETT: Which just shows just a brief glimpse into his mind, and what appears to be in irrational paranoia, at least in the health case.

All right, thank you very much, Roman. Appreciate it.

And next, Nikki Haley, on a mission to bring suburban women back to the GOP. Is she succeeding? The latest in our series, "Voters OUTFRONT" is next.

Plus, the nation's largest credit union rejecting more than half of its Black mortgage applicants.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they denied and we came back, they said, oh, man, there's something else going on.


BURNETT: What is that something else? A CNN exclusive investigation is next.



BURNETT: Tonight, Nikki Haley, doubling down. She is breaking the far- right specifically on the case of a Texas woman who is denied an abortion that her daughter said son -- and their daughters said was necessary to protect her health. Haley is not afraid of this, she is doubling down. And this is what she told voters in New Hampshire today.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't want to see a woman have a rare condition like that, and have to carry the baby full term.

Every state is -- you're going to see them make changes, whether it's listening to their medical board, whether it's deciding what the role the doctor is going to have, and that's the right way for it to happen.


BURNETT: Now as she answered that, she did stopped short of directly criticizing the decision made by the Texas Supreme Court. The question is though, will Haley's position on abortion, and other issues, resonate with other voters?

Jeff Zeleny has more with our series, "Voters OUTFRONT".


HALEY: That's why I think you need a bad ass woman in charge in the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikki Haley is trying to break the highest glass ceiling in politics. But you won't hear her say so, at least not directly. And that's just fine with many of her admirers.

THALIA FLORES, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I think we're past the point of talking about that. She's the candidate, male or female, she's a strong candidate.

ZELENY: Thalia Flores has a front row seat to the New Hampshire primary, and to Haley's rise. Whether or not it's history making.

FLORES: It will be great to have a female president. But that's not what it's about.

ZELENY: As she courts all voters, Haley takes great care to walk a fine line, wielding gender as a humorous shield.

HALEY: I love all the attention fellas, thank you for that.

ZELENY: And a defensive sword.

HALEY: They are five-inch heels, I don't wear 'em unless you can run in 'em. ZELENY: Helene Haggar is blunt about her feelings that it's high time

for a woman in the White House.

HELENE HAGGAR, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: It's time to get the testosterone out of the White House and put a woman in there. But I a specific woman, not Kamala Harris, but Nikki Haley.

ZELENY: At campaign rallies, it's a sentiment echoing from Iowa --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's smart, she's tough, and she's passionate.

ZELENY: -- to South Carolina

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is levelheaded, and speaks to the issues, rather than a lot of rhetoric.

ZELENY: Haley is on the quest to draw suburban women back to the Republican Party, after so many fled during the era of Donald Trump.

Her support among that key demographic is a leading reason she fares better in a hypothetical contest against President Biden, polls show, even as a strong majority of Republican women still backed Trump.

AD NARRATOR: We know her as crooked Hillary. But to Nikki Haley, she's her role model.

ZELENY: Allies of Ron DeSantis are trying to compare Haley to Hillary Clinton in new TV ads, that have been debunked as misleading.

Haley is on the air with ads of her own, featuring her husband, a National Guardsman in uniform.

HALEY: American strength doesn't start wars, it prevents them. That's what I'll do as president.

ZELENY: As the final chapter of the primary comes into view, Haley now rarely repeats a rallying cry from her announcement earlier this year.

HALEY: May the best women win.


ZELENY: She makes clear she's neither campaigning on gender politics, nor identity. But balanced voters like Erin Jorgensen take note of.

ERIN JORGENSEN, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Just because you're a woman, doesn't mean I'm going to vote for you. You have to be -- you have to be the right person. And I'm just happy that maybe the right person is finally a woman.

ZELENY: Whether talking about abortion --

HALEY: I don't think the fellas have known how to talk about it properly.

ZELENY: -- or the economy -- HALEY: There hasn't been an easy time for young families at all.

ZELENY: -- Haley often infuses her answers with her life experience, as a woman, and a mother, which draws admiration from her crowds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's my voice, she speaks for me.

ZELENY: But Vicki Schwaegler makes clear that's not why she intends to give Haley her vote.

VICKI SCHWAEGLER, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I would say it's time for the right resume. We're not looking at somebody, and we're not going to box anybody and, because you're a woman, because your first generation American. That's not who Republicans are.


BURNETT: You know, it's so amazing, Jeff, just a watch over the past year, you know, being in New Hampshire, I remember talking to at the time Democratic voters about Hillary Clinton, right?


And why they were voting for her, and the role gendered played.

And I kept hearing those voters you were talking to that they're not voting for her because she's a woman, they like that, but that's not the reason, there has to be the right person. And I thought that was significant in all of your reporting. She's obviously got enthusiasm for voters you spoke to there.

But, she still has a lot of ground to makeup, doesn't she?

ZELENY: Erin, considerable round to make up. I mean the reality is, Donald Trump is still the commanding leader in this race in New Hampshire, in Iowa, and in fact all across the country. And even in demographic groups including women. But there is no doubt, the enthusiasm is there.

Now, of course, not all of her supporters are women, not all of Republican women are voting for her. But the history making potential of this is really coming alive in the final weeks of the New Hampshire primary. She's only the fifth Republican woman to run a major presidential campaign, so that, of course, is at the heart of all this.

But you're right, Erin. She's not running as a woman. She just simply happens to be one -- Erin.

BURNETT: Yeah, and it is -- it is a difference, and it is a distinction that seems to matter.

All right. Thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny.

ZELENY: You bet. BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, a CNN exclusive investigation of the

nation's largest credit union, rejecting more than half of its Black mortgage applicants.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something was going to affect a generation, all the way down to their kids.


BURNETT: Plus tonight, a former FBI intelligence chief, now heading to prison for helping Putin's henchmen.



BURNETT: Tonight, a Texas entrepreneur, CEO of his own company with a stellar credit score, denied a mortgage by the nation's largest credit union, the same credit union were more than half of Black conventional mortgage applicants were rejected last year.

So, what's happening?

CNN's Rene Marsh has this exclusive investigation.


BOB OTONDI, DALLAS-AREA HOMEOWNER: And it really is a nice neighborhood, you know?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bob Otondi, a Kenyan immigrant turned Texas entrepreneur, knew this was his dream home the moment he saw it. It's in a highly sought after school district that his son so desperately wanted to attend for its basketball program.

So how many homes did you look at before you found this one and said this was it?

OTONDI: We had about six. But this was the one that we -- we all wanted. And we were all praying to get this one.

MARSH: Otondi's first choice for his mortgage was Navy Federal Credit Union. It services military members, defense personnel, veterans, and their families. And it's the largest credit union in the country.

OTONDI: I was the CEO of my company, so I had a pretty good income.

MARSH: Your credit was in the seven hundreds. You had recently sold your house. You had $100,000 for the down payment, which was more than 20 percent.

OTONDI: Correct. I mean, what more could you ask for?

MARSH: CNN reviewed Otondi's financial documents. He even had a pre- approval letter from Navy Federal in hand. But just two weeks before closing --

OTONDI: We got a denial. They sent me a letter saying we are sorry, but your application had been denied.

MARSH: Were you stunned, surprised?

OTONDI: I mean, I was stunned, I was shocked, I was -- hurt

MARSH: The denial letter listed excessive obligations in relation to income as the reason.

OTONDI: When they denied, when we came back and said, oh, man, there's something else going on.

MARSH: And what did you think that something else was?

OTONDI: Discrimination.

MARSH: But it wasn't just Otondi. Thousands of other Black applicants were also rejected. According to a CNN analysis of federal consumer protection data, last year, Navy Federal Credit Union only approved 48 percent. That's less than half of its Black applicants, for conventional home mortgages. White borrowers were approved more than 75 percent of the time. It's the biggest gap among the top 50 lenders.

The data also shows Navy Federal was more than twice as likely to deny black mortgage applicants than white ones, even when different variables, including incomes, debt, property value, and down payment percentage were the same.

OTONDI: I feel validated, at one point, but I also feel, a bit of anger because it shouldn't be happening.

MARSH: Two weeks after navy federal rejected him, another bank approved Otondi for a mortgage.

Navy Federal Credit Union denied CNN's request for an on-camera interview. In a statement, it said it is committed to equal and equitable lending practices, and that CNN's recent analysis does not account for major criteria required by any financial institution to approve a mortgage loan.

That includes credit scores, which are not public. Navy federal declined to provide additional data.

We asked Navy Federal why Bob Otondi's loan was denied, but they declined to comment, citing member privacy.

CNN's analysis does not prove discrimination but it does show dramatic racial disparities in who Navy federal rejects and approves for conventional mortgage loans.

LISA RICE, CEO, NATIONAL FAIR HOUSING ALLIANCE: The Black/White home ownership gap, and the Latino/White home ownership gap today are both wider than they were in 1968, when we passed the Federal Fair Housing Act. MARSH: Lisa Rice has spent decades as a fair housing advocate. She

says the disparities in navy federal's lending data are alarming, and an extreme example of a bigger problem.

RICE: There's definitely a larger systemic issue than we know. And we know that we have a long history of redlining, and the long history of lending discrimination in this nation. Well, all of that data that is sort of tainted with bias is being used to develop the credit scoring systems.

OTONDI: We got the house, thank God, and we moved on. But, what about the ones who were denied? What about the ones who now don't -- can't get their own dream house?


It's something that's going to affect a generation, all the way down to their kids.


BURNETT: I mean, Rene, you know, watching this it is just incredibly striking to us for this credit score, his job, his down payment. I mean all of that in place. You know, in a sense, it's disturbing just on the basics. There's a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there's mostly safeguards in place to prevent this sort of thing.

MARSH: Right, that's right. So that is the agency that oversees consumer lending. It told us that they don't comment on specific institutions, but they say that they do conduct investigations to ensure that banks and credit unions are following fair lending practices.

But we do want to point out, if there is anyone out there, Erin, who feels like they may have been denied a mortgage because of their race or ethnicity, they should file a complaint with their local housing and urban development department, or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Rene, thank you very much for that. It's such important reporting.

And next a former FBI chief heading to prison. Why? A former FBI chief, for helping a Russian oligarch.


BURNETT: And, finally tonight, a former FBI counterintelligence official sentence to four years in prison for helping the man known as Putin's henchman. According to prosecutors, Charles McGonigal used what he learned while working at the FBI to cozy up to the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Now, prosecutors say that he tried to get Deripaska off the U.S. sanctions list. He's banned from entering the country for a long time. He also admitted to helping Deripaska dig up dirt on a rival oligarch for a hefty fee. And before McGonigal was sentenced, he told the judge that he had deep sense of remorse and sorrow for his actions. McGonigal is also actually waiting to be sentenced in a separate case for concealing hundreds of thousands of dollars that he accepted from a former employee of Albania's intelligence agency.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.