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Erin Burnett Outfront

U.S. Navy Shoots Down Barrage Of Drones, Missiles Over 10 Hours; Trump Digs In On Angry Rant, Tells Special Counsel "Go To Hell"; Blinken About To Meet Mexico's President Amid Migrant Surge; Putin Critic Found At Remote Prison After 20-Day Disappearance. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 26, 2023 - 19:00   ET




Fears of an expanding war. The U.S. Navy intercepting a barrage of missiles in the Red Sea as Israel says it is being attacked from seven directions.

Plus, former President Trump telling his foes to, quote, rot in hell, as the FBI investigates death threats against the Colorado judges who ruled to keep Trump off the state's 2024 ballot.

And a CNN investigation, the California man scammed out of more than a million dollars. It all started with a simple text message. And you'll never believe who is really behind it.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erica Hill, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, fears of a widening war, and of greater U.S. involvement in the Middle East. The U.S. Navy intercepting a barrage of missile and drone attacks in the Red Sea today over a ten-hour period. And these are just the latest in a growing number of targeted attacks in the area.

It also comes just one day after President Biden directed strikes against a militia group in Iraq that injured three U.S. soldiers in a drone attack. Iraq now accusing the U.S. of, quote, hostile acts. All of this raising questions and concerns about how deeply the U.S. is being drawn into this expanding conflict in the Middle East.

Israel's defense chief meantime says his country is facing a, quote, multi-arena war with the attacks coming from seven different directions. Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, Yemen, Iran, and Iraq.

And he offered this blunt warning --


YOAV GALLANT, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: I say here in the most explicit way, anyone who acts against us as a potential target. There is no immunity for anyone.


HILL: Iran with its own threat down to take revenge after an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria killed a senior member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The U.S. for its part is still trying to de- escalate the war between Israel and Gaza, as one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's closest confidants, Ron Dermer, meeting at the White House today with the Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Dermer is in Washington for high-level meetings on the next phase of the war as the situation in Gaza deteriorates and hostage talks appear stalled. The face to face meeting comes just two days after Biden and Netanyahu had what Biden referred to as a long talk about Gaza.

Will Ripley is OUTFRONT for us in Tel Aviv.

So, Will, Israel today, also saying it's used ground, air, and naval forces to hit terror targets inside Gaza.

What more can you tell us about those strikes and what's happening on the ground?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, what is concerning right now for people in Gaza is that many of them, 2 million or so, are displaced largely out of the north and they're in the central parts of Gaza in the south. And that is where Israel is intensifying its military operation tonight. That's why you have seen over the last 48 hours some of the deadliest periods we've seen since this war began around 80 days ago. The death toll nearing 21,000 tonight, more than doubled that, nearly 55,000 injured according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry with no end in sight.


RIPLEY (voice-over): The terrifying sound of ongoing bombardment, Israeli shells hitting targets. Closer and closer to this U.N. run school in central Gaza. For thousands sheltering, here it's time to move again. Families forced to flee for their lives and this is not the first or even second time for many.

Once again, they carry the war torn pieces of their lives in pursuit of elusive safety. Just days earlier, many here vowed they would never move again, never. A vow they are now willing to break, only because they know their children's lives are at stake.

OM MOHAMED, GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): There is no safety in the school. We are looking for a safer place. I'm leaving because of the intensity of the airstrikes and the suffering.

RIPLEY: Everywhere else is crowded, there's no guarantee you'll find a spot. But what else can they do?

Even if they have nowhere else to go, they can't stay here. They don't want to die here. The scene, a grim reminder of what their parents and grandparents endured, in 1948 when Zionist militias forced them out of their hometowns. In the cold winter, blankets and mattresses are precious commodities.


Cars and the fuel that run them are scarce. Those who can't afford it hire donkey carts. For the rest, it's a long trek on foot.

It's very tough back there, he says. Bombs are falling on people everywhere. People were injured there. We don't know where we're heading. Everywhere is under threat. We're just moving with the rest of the people.

The destination for many, relatives homes, a roof over their heads even though they are neighborhoods already devastated by Israeli airstrikes.

Street battles raging across Gaza, turning areas north and south of the strip into ghost towns. The scars of battle, raw.

GALLANT (through translator): We are in a multi-arena war. We are being attacked from seven different sectors, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Judea, and Samaria, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran.

Iran's allies in the region engaging a low level hostilities in response, they, say to Israel's war in Gaza.

Yemen's Houthi attacking ships, ships they claim already Israeli affiliated, turning the Red Sea into a dangerous route for world trade. Iran's vow to a vengeful killing of an Iranian commander in Syria, sparking renewed concerns of expanding the conflict. Especially on the Lebanese Israeli border, artillery fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah keeping both countries on edge since October 8th.


RIPLEY (on camera): And the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu writing an opinion piece for "The Wall Street Journal" spelling out what it will take for peace, he said Israel must destroy Hamas, demilitarize Gaza, and de-radicalize the whole of Palestinian society. Erica, getting there is a very long way away from where we are right now, here in Israel and across the Gaza Strip tonight.

HILL: Will, appreciate the reporting tonight, thank you.

Oren Liebermann is live at the Pentagon for us this hour.

So, Oren, the U.S. Navy intercepting more missile and drone attacks over the Red Sea by an Iranian-backed militia. What more do we know about this?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Will mentioned the Red Sea right in his piece there and that is where the focus was earlier today. Over a 10-hour period, U.S. Navy forces operating in the southern Red Sea intercepted a barrage they say was lodged from Houthi controlled areas of southern Yemen. The Houthis are an Iranian proxy that operates out of Yemen. It has carried out attacks in the past on commercial and maritime shipping, attacks that have forced many shipping companies to avoid the Red Sea.

In this case, over a ten-hour period, the U.S. Central Command says they intercepted 12 one-way track drones or suicide drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles, and to land attack cruise missiles fired from the Houthis. So, that is a very extensive barrage intercepted in the southern Red Sea.

The U.S. central command said there were no injuries or report of damages of the shipping as a result of the barrage. But the attacks speak to the ferocity with which the Houthis see their actions and their operations. They say these actions are in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and they say, or at least the Houthi spokesman says on social media that they've targeted the ship that hadn't responded to Houthi naval forces.

The U.S. Navy assets that responded to this barrage, the USS Laboon, a destroyer, as well as F-18 fighter jets from the Eisenhower carrier strike operating in the area. Those ships there as part of a multinational U.S. essentially coalition to try to deal with the threat from the Houthis and a threat the U.S. sees emanating originally from Iran.

And yet, it is still a major concern. The U.S. has tried to separate the war in Gaza from the rest of the region, but as you can see from what we're talking about here, a number of different areas that the Israeli defense minister mentioned there, the U.S. has been unsuccessful in entirely separating Gaza from conflicts in the rest of the region.

HILL: Yeah, absolutely, Oren, appreciate that tonight. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, retired Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges and Nimrod Novik, the former security adviser to the Israeli government, who's involved now in informal talks with Egyptian officials over at Gaza. Good to have both of you with us tonight.

General Hodges, picking up on what we just heard from Oren there. The report of the U.S., the U.S. intercepting more attacks now over the Red Sea, the U.S. hitting targets in Iraq and Syria before that. U.S. troops as we know have been targeted. How real do you think these fears are tonight of the U.S. being dragged into a widening war in the region?

LT. GENERAL BEN HODGES (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL: Well, first of, all congratulations to the well they defending shipping in the region, against these attacks. The United States is not going to be dragged into a conflict, we have strategic interest here, interest in what Oren just said that the administration is trying to separate Hamas from the other attacks.


But clearly, Iran is at the center of all of this. These are not different incidents. These are all connected to Iran which, by the way, is Russia's closest ally. And so, I think the United States has to step back and take a broader, more strategic approach to how we address these challenges.

HILL: Just real quickly, broader and more strategic, how much more strategic?

HODGES: Well, first, you have to see that they are connected. I mean, we've got to isolate Iran from Russia which will have benefits, obviously, in helping Ukraine, but also isolating Iran from the rest of the world, economically, diplomatically, and militarily.

As proud of I am of what our navy has done, these are defensive activities. We need to be on the -- thinking in terms of deterrence, means flattening every place from which these missiles are coming.

HILL: Nimrod, we're looking at this, one, Prime Minister Netanyahu's closest confidant, Ron Dermer, meeting with Biden officials today, as you know, as we know, the administration is really pushing for some de-escalation here. How much sway does the Biden administration, does the U.S. in general, have with Netanyahu?

NIMROD NOVIK, FORMER SECURITY ADVISER TO ISRAELI GOVERNMENT: They do substantially. Naturally, we didn't need the last round in order to demonstrate the extent with which we need U.S. backing. From the lesser important stage of blocking U.N. Security Council resolutions hostile to Israel, important in and of themselves but not in the same measure as the resupply of weapons and ammunition's that are flying in from the U.S. on a daily basis. The Israeli forces are using tomorrow came from Washington yesterday.

So, the leverage is there, and I think the prime minister sent his closest adviser, Ron Dermer, in order to deal with two clusters of issues, one is indeed to try to de-escalate and change the mode of operation of -- to deal with American demand that Israel changes the mode of operation in Gaza in order to reduce civilian casualties and start bringing the war to an end. But the other cluster is no less significant. That's the difference between them on the question of the morning after where the Biden administration reflecting the regional consensus, says no country will continue to the Gaza after unless two conditions are met. One, it's sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, and two, it is in the context of a political arise (ph).

HILL: When we look at the state of affairs today, Israel's defense minister noting, as you just, heard the country is facing attacks from seven different directions, north, south, east.

General Hodges, when you look at the situation there on the ground, how long can Israel continue this war in Gaza at the same intensity as the threats continue to grow on all sides?

HODGES: Clearly, Erica, the Israeli government has settled in for a very long conflict. We've heard that language from leaders of the Netanyahu government certainly support from the United States will be important. But the Israelis have a large military and they've been surrounded by enemies or potential enemies since their creation in 1948.

So I think there are not going to run out of ammunition or that sort of thing. But I do think that their economy, obviously, is going to be suffering to have this money soldiers mobilize for this period of time and to conduct operations like this is also expensive.

What concerns me the most is that -- is the absence, and I think about this as if I were an IDF soldier, an Israeli soldier, the mission given to me by the prime minister is kinetic only. It only talks about destroy Hamas and make Gaza to demilitarize Gaza.

The third condition that the prime minister laid out in his "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece talked about the de-radicalization of the Palestinian society. But the instructions that I received as the military are all kinetic. There is no political dimension that tells me, when this is all over, we have to be able to live with our Arab neighbors, our Palestinian neighbors. I think this is going to make it extremely difficult for them to accomplish their objective.

HILL: As we look at this, it comes back to this morning, after what happens on the other side. I do want to get your take, Nimrod, on this Egyptian peace proposal.

Both Hamas and Islamic jihad rejected it. It would have called for a military pause to release some hostages in exchange of bodies, being held on both sides, and a swap of thousands of Palestinian prisoners for the remaining Israeli hostages. In your mind, is there anything you see as a plan that could work for both Israel and Gaza?


NOVIK: The gap -- well, it was rejected also by Israel and primarily for the third part of the deal that the Egyptians put on the table, which was a comprehensive hostages for prisoners swap accompanied by an end of hostilities. And Israel would not commit to that this time. I think the gap between the two parties is far too wide for such an ambitious plan. It's quite puzzling the Egyptians were probably the most experienced mediator between Israel and Hamas. They've been the mediators for the past cease-fires.

Put on the table a plan they knew would be rejected. So, one wonders whether it was just placing a marker in order to put themselves at the center of those things. As you know, they are in competition with Qatar that sees things quite differently and support Hamas. Egypt does not. So, and it was important for them to show Washington and the hostile Congress that Egypt is relevant to U.S. national security interests.

So I think what drove putting forward the ambitious plan, I would not be surprised if they are working on another one under the radar.

HILL: We will be watching any news of that.

Gentlemen, I appreciate your insight tonight, thank you.

HODGES: Thank you.

HILL: OUTFRONT next, Donald Trump's holiday message, not exactly dripping in Christmas spirit. Among his wishes for his opponents to, quote, rot in hell.

Plus, death threats against the Colorado judges who ruled to remove Trump from the 2024 ballot in that state, now the FBI is involved.

And a CNN investigation into seemingly innocent text messages that have scammed Americans out of millions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will never forget or forgive myself, using that kind of money.




HILL: Tonight, Donald Trump waited on Jack Smith's next move which could come at any moment. Team Trump urged the federal appeals court over the weekend to file into ruled that the former president has immunity from criminal prosecution. And while they wait for that response, Trump himself is keeping busy, attacking smith on social media.

His latest post tonight saying singling out the special counsel, writing, quote, Biden's flunky, deranged Jack Smith should go to hell.

That's on the heels of Trump slamming Smith in the series of Christmas Day messages, including this one: Merry Christmas to all, including crooked Joe Biden's only hope, deranged Jack Smith, the out of control lunatic. May they rot in hell. Again, just for good measure here, merry Christmas.

Jessica Schneider is OUTFRONT.

So, Jess, as everyone is waiting, is there any indication in when we may see that response from Jack Smith?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, Eric, the special counsel actually has to file by midnight on Saturday. So, really, this team to get their arguments into the appeals court at any point this week. You know, they're already dealing with a loss from late last week. That's when the Supreme Court refused to take up their appeal immediately. You know, they wanted it before -- them to take it before the intermediate appeals court.

And the reason that Jack Smith wanted to speed this up was because all proceedings in the case are on pause right now while this appeals process plays out. So the appeals court here in D.C., they will in fact take the next step, they'll hear the case pretty quickly. The arguments will be January 9th.

But that still really means the case will be delayed until at least mid-January which means that March 4th trial date, the special counsel had been aiming toward a lot less likely. And, Erica, that's actually really good news for Trump's legal team

because they've been making delay a big part of their defense strategy. And they already have a lot to contend with as we head into 2024.

So, first up is the civil case against Trump for defamation. That's from E. Jean Carroll. That's still slated to start in mid-January, unless his legal team can figure out a way to delay which they said they've been working on.

And the Manhattan's D.A.'s hush money criminal case, that's also set to start in March. The D.A., though, Alvin Bragg, he signaled that he could be open to moving that start date if it conflicted with other cases.

So, really, Erica Trump's teams, they're going to be working out a lot in the final days of 2023, but even more going into the beginning of 2024 when that campaign season heats up and all these legal cases really starts rolling.

HILL: Yeah, certainly keeping everybody busy. I also wanted to ask you just this reporting that the FBI is now involved. Now investigating these threats which were made against the Colorado judges to rule to disqualify Trump, take him off the state's 2024 ballot.

What do we know of the specifics of these threats?

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, our team has been looking into it, and really, the threats have almost been online on message boards. The groups are monitoring sites and they're saying that the names of those four Colorado state supreme justices who did vote to disqualify Trump from the primary ballot there, their names have frequently appeared in posts, but really there hasn't been any specific threats.

We are seeing one in particular, there was one user on the far-right pro Trump website that posted really a profanity laden message calling for the justices in Colorado to be hanged. So, the FBI is working with local law enforcement in Colorado to really closely monitor all of this.

Erica, there was a police response to one of the justices homes last Thursday, apparently that threat reported was just a hoax. So law enforcement, regardless, is taking this very seriously especially since this is been a surge of threats last year against public officials. They're taking this very seriously, particularly in Colorado right now -- Erica.


HILL: Absolutely. Jessica Schneider, appreciate it. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now is Katie Cherkasky, criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.

Katie, when we go back to looking at where things stand with Jack Smith, how do you expect him to respond, as Jessica pointed, out he has until midnight on Saturday, but how do you expect him to respond to this latest filing by the former president's team?

KATIE CHERKASKY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, the response to the question of immunity is obviously very significant because the overarching question of whether a president, President Trump or really any U.S. sitting president is immune from prosecution is the ultimate question that overrides all the criminal cases that exist including even potentially the Georgia case which is a state case. So, I would anticipate that the big focus for Jack Smith and his team would be to never win on the facts that the actions that Trump is accused of in the indictment fall inside the scope of his official duties as president and therefore he's not immune from prosecution for them.

They're going to have to kind of walk a fine line with that though because there are so many instances where we look at a president is doing in their conduct and there's essentially an entire branch of government and one person. So, where do you draw that line is going to be the ultimate question here. It will be very interesting to see exactly how Jack Smith side proposes that be done versus what Trump lawyers have argued.

HILL: So many people are watching it very, very closely.

I just like to get your take on these continued social media attacks that we see on Jack Smith. How far is too far?

CHERKASKY: Well, in terms of President Trump's opinion, I don't think you're going to be finding any criminal defendant who will feel very differently about a prosecutor going after them. Now, in terms of what his free is that is protected versus what is subject to gag orders, that has been obviously the subject of a lot of litigation here. And I think when we're talking about personal opinions, about, you know, go to hell, things that are more amorphous and not specific directed threats that would actually fall under criminal statute, you're going to run into sort of enforcement with the First Amendment issues.

And so, certainly, I think a big part of Trump's platform is that the DOJ is corrupt, that Jack Smith is particularly corrupt. He's the one who's gone after him in this way. So I think that's going to be allowed to stand under the current status of the gag orders. There's a fine line there the where there's actionable threats that can be subjected to gag orders despite First Amendment rights.

So, I think in this respect, these particular statements probably fall within the allowable side of things, and certainly, not surprisingly, we all know Trump's stance on him at this point, but there is always that opportunity that he can cross that line. And there could be action taken.

HILL: Really quickly before I let you go, we talk about threats and actions, look at what's happening in Colorado. The FBI now investigating these threats against the Colorado judges there. Their names, as Jessica pointed have been put out there in some extreme online forms.

How concerned are you, especially for someone who's in the legal profession as you watch all of this play out? Does it feel like this is becoming the new normal? How much of a concern is that?

CHERKASKY: Well, I think that the American citizens have the right to express their displeasure as it were at certain legal rulings. Obviously, if people choose to violate criminal laws and go pass the point of simply express opinions and issue threats, they can and should be held accountable under criminal laws.

Whether Trump is directly connected to that which I think is an open question in the room, that's going to be probably a stretch unless there's some sort of direct connection that can be made by prosecutor. But certainly I think it's very unfortunate. But not surprising that this is what's been going on here.

HILL: Katie, good to have you with us tonight. Thank you.

CHERKASKY: Thank you.

HILL: OUTFRONT next, you're going to hear from the mayor of one border town overwhelmed by migrants. His message tonight to lawmakers as his city struggles.

And Russian opposition leader says he's exhausted but alive after disappearing nearly three weeks ago. Why his prison location has his team even more concerned tonight.



HILL: Just hours from now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be arriving in Mexico. This is concerns continue to grow of the surge of migrants at the border, and the lack of answers or action in Washington.

Rosa Flores is OUTFRONT.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the migrant caravan forms in southern Mexico with thousands from Central and South America, the scene on the U.S. southern border in Eagle Pass, Texas, has changed. The areas where thousands of migrants were waiting outdoors to be transported for immigration processing last week were emptied out this week. The flow this morning appearing to be down to a trickle.

A senior Customs and Border Protection official telling CNN that while the scene in Eagle Pass has improved, the agency is not out of the woods yet.

CBP is still grappling with elevated numbers of migrant encounters on the U.S. southern border. More than 11,000 migrants are waiting in shelters in northern Mexico, 3,800 in Tijuana, 3,200 in Reynosa, 4,000 in Matamoros. Many hoping to enter legally but some opting to cross illegally, say community leaders. U.S. federal authorities report of the seven-day average of more than

9,600 migrant encounters in December. That number was 6,800 at the end of November.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is scheduled to meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Wednesday in Mexico City. The Biden administration is expected to put pressure on Mexico to do more to stem the flow of migrants.

To deal with the flow, CBP has temporarily suspended operations at several ports of entry in several states to reassign personnel to process migrants. This as CNN learns from a CBP official that the surge is in part driven by pseudo-legitimate travel agencies abroad that promise trips to the U.S., but instead connect travelers to smugglers self of the border. That might explain this recent scene in Arizona.

I work for CNN. Now, I'm wondering where you're from? What country are you from?



FLORES: Senegal? Senegal? Senegal? Senegal? Everybody from Senegal?

Smugglers are dropping off 500 to 1,000 migrants in remote areas of Arizona, the officials said, creating a logistical nightmare for border patrol agents who have to find ways to transport them for immigration processing.

For the volunteers who distribute water to migrants in the desert, it's the children who get them every time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's heartbreaking when you see the little children.


FLORES (on camera): Now back to those 11,000 migrants in northern Mexican cities, one shelter directed telling me that some of those migrants know that they don't qualify for asylum in the U.S., but asylum is the law in the United States. And so, many of them are still trying to enter the United States and plan to seek asylum, many of them blinded by the videos and voice messages that they've received from other migrants who have crossed the border, turned themselves into immigration authorities and have been released to American communities -- Erica.

HILL: Rosa, I appreciate the reporting as always, thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Rolando Salinas. He is the mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas.

Mr. Mayor, Good to have you with us.

You know, as we just heard from Rosa, a CBP official told her that in Eagle Pass, specifically, the scene has improved. They're not out of the woods yet. Secretary of State Blinken set to meet with Mexico's president tomorrow. I'm curious, what's your message to those leaders about the crisis at the border, about what you are seeing firsthand and the impact that this lack of action in Washington is having on your city.

MAYOR ROLANDO SALINAS, EAGLE PASS, TEXAS: I want to tell our leaders, well, thank you for having, me, first of all. This is unacceptable. Our city here, in Eagle Pass, we've been getting slammed with 2,000 to 3,000 people a day. And it's just an unfair, unethical situation, what's going on here in Eagle Pass, we fear ignored by the federal government.

I've called to the government that we need action. There needs to be a consequence to so many people crossing illegally. If somebody breaks the law, there needs to be a consequence and right now, there are no consequences. That's why you have thousands of people coming into my city and it's impacting our citizens every single day in many ways.

HILL: You said you feel ignored, that you've reached out, you've called on the federal government. Has there been any response?

SALINAS: No response whatsoever. Secretary Mayorkas, about two weeks ago, he had the audacity to visit Uvalde, Texas, about 45 minutes away. He didn't come to visit the situation here in Eagle Pass, Texas. I made a call to our president, our vice president, we need action. There needs to be a message to these people that, if you want to come to the U.S., you have to do it in a legal manner and if you don't, there will be consequences.

Until we start deporting these people, they're going to keep coming and they're going to keep affecting the economy, the safety of my community, and it's just very, very frustrating that the United States of America doesn't care about the safety, the security, of the border.

HILL: Over the weekend, I was struck by some of the comments of Maverick County, which, of course, Eagle Pass in Maverick County, who spoke of some of the challenges that he's facing because of the border crisis. I want to play some of that for you.


SHERIFF TOM SCHMERBERGER, MAVERICK COUNTY, TX: On the law enforcement side, we're suffering because we don't have the manpower to deal with what we call the local, this is the criminal elements, and the immigration problem. So it's costing us a lot of manpower


HILL: Are you seeing the same thing? Would you agree specifically from law enforcement's perspective?

SALINAS: One hunted percent, here in Eagle Pass, we have about 45 uniformed officers. On every -- every day we have to help and assist border patrol agents with undocumented immigrants situation, and that takes those resources away from our community, that's why you see an increase in crime, in people walking around our neighborhoods. It's definitely had an impact in on local resources.

We just don't have the manpower, the EMS, the police officers, to keep the city safe with so many people coming in through our borders in an illegal manner. So the sheriff is absolutely correct.

HILL: When we look at what's happening but the migrants once they get here, CNN reporting hundreds of migrants are being transported out of your city each day to try to ease the pressure a little bit. One of the nonprofit that's been receiving migrants says it's really at a breaking point with no end in sight.

How do you see an end to this crisis happening? Is it simply, as you point out, and I shouldn't say simply because it's actually, as we know, it isn't always that easy. Is it deporting people, is it in more forceful message, because there's a message out there of don't come to the United States illegally.

I mean, what is one thing you see that could lead to an end to this crisis?

SALINAS: It starts with hearing the message from the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States. They've been very quiet on the situation. It's very disappointing that they haven't made that message themselves that you can't come into this country illegally, one.


And second, yes, of course, there has to be a consequence to somebody breaking the law.

People know that they're processing that, quick that's where the coming quickly. So unless we start supporting people in large amounts, this will continue to keep going.

HILL: Mayor Rolando Salinas, we appreciate your perspective tonight. Thank you.

SALINAS: Thank you.

HILL: OUTFRONT next, Alexey Navalny finally found in Siberia, at one of Russia's harshest prisons, 20 days after going missing. His top aide tells us how he's doing and tonight, why she's even more concerned.

Plus, a CNN investigation uncovers a major texting scam.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please help me! I don't know what else I can do. I don't have any more money.


HILL: Who is behind the con that has scanned Americans out of billions? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Tonight, Putin critic Alexey Navalny finally found alive after missing for 20 days. The Russian opposition leader posting on social media today through his aides that he's been transferred to a notoriously harsh prison in Siberia, calling his 3,700-mile trek to get there an exhausting and strain route. You can see the journey, sort of roundabout there, on the screen.


OUTFRONT now, Maria Pevchikh, Navalny's close aide who runs his Anti- Corruption Foundation.

Maria, Navalny in this post today talking about this nearly 4,000-mile journey. It's sounded pretty upbeat but it's clearly been a grueling nearly three weeks for him.

When we spoke of you last, you talked about him recently surviving poisoning, about the major health troubles he's been dealing with.

Can you give us an update tonight as to his condition, how he's doing?

MARIA PEVCHIKH, HEAD OF INVESTIGATIONS, NAVALNY'S ANTI-CORRUPTIOON FOUNDATION: Well, we have located him just yesterday after 20 days of not knowing where he is and what's happening with him. We found him in the village of Kharp. This is very far away. This is above the Arctic Circle, kind of northern Siberia, parts of Russia where it's very difficult to get to. And the lawyer managed to see Navalny only briefly.

So, we don't really know many details yet. But hopefully soon, he will write about his journey in a more detailed way. But we know he's relatively okay, he seems fine-ish, given the circumstances and given the complete isolation that he's in. And that's all we know really to this day.

So, the good news is he's alive. And the bad news is we know that they will try, they'll keep doing this to him.

HILL: This is known as one of the harshest prisons in Russia which is saying something, the U.S. State Department saying it really welcomes the news of course that he's been located, but as you're alluding to hear it saying it's like you're genuinely concerned. He could go missing again at anytime.

PEVCHIKH: Absolutely, absolutely. It's been 20 days and these very difficult 20 days. And I don't know how to say yet thank you to everyone who helped us and talk about it and help the spread information including CNN, including all the people on social media who tweeted, who wrote Instagram posts, who kept asking the question, where is Navalny. So that's public pressure. This time, it allowed us to locate him quicker than expected.

And sadly without -- without the public attention, without the support of so many people who are giving us information, giving clues, we won't be able to do it.

HILL: You mentioned his lawyer only had brief access to him. This particular penal colony, this area that's so harsh, does that impact his team's access to him?

PEVCHIKH: Of course, it impacts it massively. Well, imagine, it's a little village where, as I said, above the Arctic Circle where reunites and days could be two hours of daylight and the way it is.

Now you're to fly to the closest airport and drive to get to this village over a frozen river when this river isn't frozen in summer, you have to take a ferry or some other form of transportation to get there. This is a very isolating place. And on top of it, this specific penal colony doesn't allow incoming correspondents, we won't be able to send letters to Navalny like we used to, or perhaps would be without massive, massive delay which will make them ineffective. So the degree of Navalny's isolation has increased dramatically compared to his previous prison near Moscow.

HILL: Maria Pevchikh, we really appreciate your time tonight, and also the insight into what he's facing in this place. Thank you.

PEVCHIKH: Thank you.

HILL: OUTFRONT next, a CNN investigation into the sneaky scams masquerading as legitimate investments, only to bilk Americans out of billions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bad guys are getting good and they're getting better.


HILL: Plus, if you get the latest version of the Apple watch for Christmas, well, consider yourself lucky. Why the newest version of the best-selling watch is being pulled from store shelves here in the U.S.



HILL: Tonight, a new CNN investigation, Americans cheated out of billions in the scam being run out of forced labor camps.

Ivan Watson is OUTFRONT.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please help me, Jessica. Please, help me.


northern California, CY is piecing together his life after losing more than a million dollars in a crypto scam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can never forget or forgive myself, losing that kind of money.

WATSON: CY is one of tens of thousands of victims of a fast growing new form of financial fraud called pig butchering. He asked to remain anonymous to protect his family.

It started in October 2021 with a text message from a stranger.

But was the name of the person you are communicating with?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She claims her name is Jessica.

WATSON: The two quickly became friends, she shared photos and CY talked about the pain of caring for his dying father. After nearly a month, the conversation turned to money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She started to introduce me to cryptocurrency, trading gold using cryptocurrency.

WATSON: Jessica showed CY how to invest, by installing a trading app on his phone that he says looked legit. Little did he know he was a victim, pumping money into a sophisticated con.


For the scammers, a pig fattened up for the slaughtered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I logged back in, the account is gone. What did I do? That's 30 years of my wife and my life building up this -- this wealth.

WATSON: Wealth that had suddenly disappeared. Panicking, CY begged Jessica for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, help me. I don't know what else I can do. I don't have any more money. I cannot buy anything else. I lost everything.

WATSON: But Jessica disappeared, and probably never even existed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the professionalization of fraud services.

WATSON: The FBI says it's seen exponential growth in losses due to pig butchering scams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The big guys are getting good, and they're getting better.

WATSON: An organization representing scam victims tracked their crypto transfers halfway around the world, to this border region in Myanmar. U.S. scam victims say they've been able to trace their money to places

like this. This walled compound across the river is just inside the territory of Myanmar. And that is where we are learning about the conditions inside, some people who work there, they say that they were forced against their will to try to scam Americans out of their hard- earned money in conditions that they described as amounting to modern day slavery.

This compound is where an Indian man named Rakesh (ph) says he was forced to wear for 11 months without pay for a Chinese criminal gang.

The guards have spotted us.

Until they recently released him back to Thailand.

Where was the job supposed to be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They told it was for Bangkok.

WATSON: He too was the victim of a scam. Rakesh, who doesn't want to be identified, says he's first flew to Thailand for what he thought was I.T. job. Instead, he says he was tricked in crossing the border to Myanmar where a Chinese gangster told him to work, or else.

He threatened to kill you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. He warned me like that.

WATSON: And the job? Spend 16 hours a day on social media, targeting Americans with the fake profile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They provided for us. I got a Russia girl. With using a Russian girl fake profile, I need to scam the people.

WATSON: Pausing as a Salt Lake City based investor named Clara Simenov (ph), Rakesh flirted online with potential targets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seventy to 80 percent fell -- fall for fake love.

WATSON: Rakesh shows secretly filmed images of what at first glance seems to be an ordinary office. But he says the boss is routinely punished workers forcing them to do hundreds of squats and beating them if they didn't produce.

And you've helped rescue people who were trapped inside, behind the barbed wire, of that very come bound?


WATSON: Mechelle Moore is one of the group of aid workers based in Thailand who rescued hundreds of victims of trafficking like Rakesh over the last 18 months. She drives me along the border.

MOORE: There's a cartel just there, green roof.

WATSON: Showing compounds a stone's throw away where she says traffic victims are forced to work as online scammers.

MOORE: This is why this is modern slavery. And it's right on to everybody's nose.

WATSON: Satellite images show images of the compounds in the border territory of Myanmar over just three years.

Thailand's minister of justice labels these facilities as hubs for criminal scamming activity.

TAWEE SODSONG, THAI MINISTER OF JUSTICE (through translator): These scammers have to use telephone signals to communicate, that's why they base themselves near the Thai border, so they can use Thailand's telephone network.

WATSON: But he says Thailand has no jurisdiction to crack down on suspected criminals operating outside the border in Myanmar.

CNN asked the military government in Myanmar why it hasn't taken action against alleged criminal gangs on its territory, and did not receive an answer.

So for, now it looks like no one is going to stop this poisonous cycle of exploitation.

Ivan Watson, CNN, on the Thai border with Myanmar.


HILL: Finally tonight, Apple forced to take the latest version of its watch off shelves here in the U.S. The International Trade Commission says the tech giant infringe on other company's patent. Apple asking the White House to step in but to no avail. Apple has filed to appeal. Other retailers can continue to sell their remaining inventory of this version of the watch. They just can't re-stock.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts right after this.