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Erin Burnett Outfront

United Airlines Finds Loose Bolts On Grounded Boeing 737 Jets; Trump Pushes New False "Birther" Claim, This Time Against Haley; CNN On Ground Amid Surge Of Migrants Fleeing China For U.S.; Blast At Downtown Fort Worth Hotel Leaves At Least 21 Injured. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 08, 2024 - 19:00   ET




The breaking news, United Airlines says inspectors have found loose bolts on more Boeing airplane doors, the same type of plane that had the midair disaster with the door blowing out on that Alaska Airlines plane.

And Donald Trump provides another birther conspiracy, this time he's bringing it up against Nikki Haley, as Michelle Obama is sounding her loudest alarm yet about another Trump presidency.

And tonight, an OUTFRONT investigation. We follow the fastest growing group of migrants crossing illegally over the southern border. This group is from China.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, we begin with breaking news. United Airlines revealing that inspectors have found loose bolts on more play indoors plugs. It's really sobering, right, just to hear that. It comes just days after terrifying incidents that you're looking at here on that Alaska Airlines flight. The door plug blown out of the Boeing 737 that took off from Portland, Oregon, with 177 people on board, left that gaping hole in the plane, they were flying right that moment that you're looking at an altitude of 16,000 feet.

The new statement from United tonight says we have had instances that appear to relate to installation issues in the door plug. For, example bolts that needed additional tightening.

Now, let's just show you some images of the door plug itself. That's where it was ripped on the plane on Friday night. You can see the size there. It's about the size of a refrigerator. The NTSB now saying the plane is actually restricted from flying long routes over the ocean the time this happened. Obviously, this didn't happen over the ocean, but it had been restricted from the sorts of, flights because of a warning flight from pressurization had come on three times in recent weeks, which had led them to think, well, then you can't fly over water, in case you need to land quickly. But thank goodness for that, they were following that, because they

did land quickly and everyone was alive. Additional maintenance was requested but it was not completed before Friday's incident. Now, Boeing shares plummeted today, nearly $13 billion were wiped out from Boeing shares today.

I mean, this is hugely significant. Boeing, right, a stalwart of the Dow Jones industrial average, a black eye for Boeing does impact all of America. It is the largest exporter for the entire United States, it is the largest commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world. It is a brand, and it's airplanes stand for American greatness around the world.

And now, you've got this, on top of other disasters, you know of course evolving those best-selling MAX planes in recent years, including two terrible ones -- the fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019. This now raises major questions about the company, its rigor.

Which leads us to this "Bloomberg" headline that we saw today, China's Boeing alternative starts to look enticing. Not a headline that Boeing ever expected, or wanted to see.

Mike Valerio is OUTFRONT live from Portland to begin our coverage.

And, Mike, I mean, that terrifying discovery, right? Another airline, right, that had taken the planes out of service after this incident, sort of out of abundance of caution, and you often expect in these situations take it out of service, although there's no problem, now it's just too cautious.

Now they're finding loose bolts on multiple door plugs? What more do you know.

MIKE VALERIO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know thanks to the reporting from our great and esteemed colleague, Pete Muntean, Erin, that in order to have these findings that united is removing two rows of seats from its aircrafts, removing airline panels, panels from the interior of the aircraft and employing five technicians at a time. And they found loose bolts around the door plugs of these aircrafts.

Now, these are ongoing activities and questions that are being asked from hangers across America to neighborhoods like here in Portland. We are about 20 minutes outside of the airport.

And while we're here, just imagine Friday night from 16,000 feet, a door plug from the Alaska Airlines plane comes crashing down into that backyard, just over my left hand shoulder. That is where Bob Sauer lives. He's giving an impromptu news conference of sorts, a local science teacher, talking about the principles of physics behind the impulse and the freefall of this piece of the airliner.

But he just wants to know like all of us across the country, how this could happen.


VALERIO (voice-over): Critical inspection is underway after a midair scare at 16,000 feet --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This wasn't even the emergency door.

VALERIO: -- when a piece of the plane a door plug, blew out on Alaska airlines flight 1282, carrying 177 people onboard.


United Airlines saying it found loose balls around the door plug on an undisclosed number of its Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft. A hundred seventy-one of those Boeing models have been grounded with the FAA announcing, quote, enhanced inspections after what the NTSB chair calls an explosive decompression during Friday's flight.

Passengers reliving that harrowing moments.

PASSENGER: You heard of big loud bang to left rear or rear like in row 20, and whooshing sound and all the oxygen masks deployed instantly, and nobody got those on.

VALERIO: A Portland school teacher finding the door plug of the Alaska Airlines flight in his backyard, a crucial piece of evidence for investigators.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Getting the door on the other pieces, they will hopefully be able to pinpoint exactly where the failure point was, it remains to be seen if all the fasteners bolts or latches are still on that piece.

VALERIO: The plane's mechanical history also under scrutiny. Prior to Friday's accident, Alaska Airlines restricted the aircraft from flying over the ocean to Hawaii, so it could quickly return to an airport in case of any warnings.

This after the aircraft's auto pressurization fail light came on three times in the past month, the NTSB says. It's unclear if there's any connection between those warning lights and Friday scare.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB CHAIR: That is what we are looking at with Alaska right now and with Boeing right now. That alert that illuminated those three times certainly is very disconcerting to our investigators, and we want to look at that.

SEAN BATES, FOUND PHONE BELIEVED TO BE FROM ALASKA AIRLINES FLIGHT: Found a phone belonging to an Alaska Airlines passenger sitting on the ground.

VALERIO: Sean Bates heard the NTSB calling on the public to help find the missing part of the plane, and found this iPhone on the side of the road.

BATES: It didn't have a screen lock on it, so I opened it up and it was an airplane mode with a travel confirmation and baggage claim for Alaska 1282.

VALERIO: The NTSB says the phone screen intact, and second iPhone, quote, most likely fell off the plane.


VALERIO (on camera): So, Erin, this is a terrible accident, right, but the NTSB and observers throughout the aviation industry keep coming back to these tributaries of luck. Thank God everybody was still strapped into their seatbelts, this was not at cruising altitude at 30,000 feet. Nobody was sucked outside of the aircraft.

Dr. Bob -- for his -- excuse me, for his part, Bob, the physics teacher is saying thank God nobody in this densely populated neighborhood was hurt. People are having dinner, and he said, Erin, he will not be flying on any MAX 9s anytime soon.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Mike.

I mean, this is incredible when you think about, right? The door could've hit somebody. The phones one the ground could hit somebody. By the way, it's incredible that those screens didn't shatter. So many things from micro to macro to think about here.

Miles O'Brien is with me now, CNN aviation analyst.

And, Miles, when you hear the statement from United, right, and this was not -- this is was an Alaska plane that's happened. So, now, United takes their MAXes out, we're just going to double check, abundance of caution and all of that business, I'll be back tomorrow being the implication, and then guess what? No. There are loose balls on earnest close number of planes inspected.

When you hear that, does that kind of make you worried or no?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's kind of horrifying, Erin. I mean, this is the system builds to tighten the bolts, and put wires through them, and inspect them and sign off on them, and then seal things up and ship the aircraft. Something went very wrong along the way here apparently. When you look at that door, and you look at the hole in that aircraft, it does look as if it was just kind of removed.

There's no real sense of metal tearing. It's such a clean break that my initial reaction was somebody did not tighten the bolts.

BURNETT: And that's what it looks like. OK. So, the NTSB has released the diagram of the door. And you've actually looked into this in detail. So, this door, you say is really secured by just the four bolts circled on the screen here. Just by those four bolts.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, four.

BURNETT: Now, that in and of itself, well, I guess that maybe as part of the problem. It did not necessarily need to be, right, I mean, if they were tightened correctly. What could've gone wrong with either the actual installation or perhaps with the design?

O'BRIEN: I don't see -- you know, I'm not an engineer, let me to get the straight here. But I don't see a problem with the design. Assuming the bolts are tightened properly, and the wire is put through them, which keeps them from loosening and, you know, bolts on aircraft, almost all of them have wires or pins right through them so they don't loosen, and if that occurred, that plug should have still been in there.

Now, it does not sound like a lot, for little bolts. But in this case, with that design it probably should be okay to handle the load in this case. But, you know, this takes me back to that light you keep talking about, the pressurization lights.



O'BRIEN: Was that door subtly leaking perhaps? Maybe.

BURNETT: And we just don't -- we just don't know. And I guess that's the other question then is, all these other planes out there that have the same issue, we don't know. Now, whether any of them had the lights go off before, there's a lot more to find out here.

All right. Thank you very much, Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: You're welcome.

BURNETT: And now, I want to go to Stephanie King, the passenger on that Alaska Airlines flight.

So, Stephanie, I've got to imagine, I don't know, watching these videos which I kind of have done again and again and again as I'm sure everyone has, who was not actually there like you are actually there. I'm amazed at how quiet it was. It's just how unbelievable that is to try to imagine being there.

But, of course, you are there. And now, you're hearing loose bolts found during these inspections on other Boeing MAX airplanes that are even with other airlines. They've been grounded now after your terrifying flight and your plane, of course, itself had had the warning light go out three times, and was not supposed to be flown along water routes because of that pressurization warning light.

Gosh, what if it goes through your mind when you hear all of these new developments, Stephanie?

STEPHANIE KING, PASSENGER ON ALASKA AIRLINES FLIGHT 1282: It's pretty concerning I'll be honest. When you go on a flight, you expect that everything is going to be okay. The plane has been assembled properly, everything is tightened up, the pilots are trained, the flight attendants are trained and you expect it to be flying.

And to have something like this happen was so shocking, and I think that's most of the reason why it was so quiet after the event happened because nobody knew what to do or say. What do you say in that situation?

(CROSSTALK) BURNETT: And, I can only imagine. I mean, you get on a plane like that, it had only flown, you know, for a few months. It's brand new. You're probably getting on going, wow, I'm on a new plane, this is beautiful.

KING: Yeah.

BURNETT: You're sitting towards the front I believe, Stephanie, right? So it takes off you're going up, you're only at 16,000 feet. Then you hear boom. So, what did happen next as you remember it?

KING: So there was that loud boom, and at that moment it seemed like air and particles or mist came flying into the cabin forward from the back to the front of the plane. Then from there, it was immediately sucked right back out very dramatically. I mean, you know, your hair was flung backwards from the force there. And then after that, it was just hearing the loud roar of the engines and the wind passing the window.

You know, it's like having your window open on the freeway. It's very loud and it's very unsettling. It's something I will never forget, and I'm pretty traumatized over.

BURNETT: I truly cannot imagine. I know that you had taken a video of yourself with your oxygen mask on. And before it, you actually typed up the text to your loved ones.

You know, in cases when this ends very differently, we often never know if anybody send a text or what they -- you just don't even -- you know, know what they did in those last moments. What you thought might be your last moments, you did. You typed out those texts.

Are you even able to process how you felt? I mean, did you -- did you actually at that moment think I could die?

KING: I did. I definitely thought that was a real possibility. I thought, you know, we might be going down. What I sent my mother was, the plane has exploded, and I'm not sure what's going on, but I love you.

And it was -- it was horrifying. It was traumatic. I'm so glad we made it, but I think that they're definitely needs to be some more investigation to figure out why this happened, and how to prevent it from happening because next time, it might not go so well. There could be lives lost.

BURNETT: Absolutely. Well, Stephanie, think God for this and this time that, you know, as we saw, the pilots and flight attendants were trained, they did do their jobs and they got you all on the ground safely. And thank God for that. Thank you so much for talking to me.

KING: Yeah, thank you.

And next, Donald Trump's spreading birther conspiracy theories. We've seen the song before, right? Well, this time, they're against -- well, that's not hard to guess, Nikki Haley. Theories that, of course, are factually incorrect. Will it work to turn votes against her?

And an OUTFRONT investigation tonight, working on this for a very long time with our David Culver, who was swarmed by Chinese migrants on the ground, before even he was even able to get his mic on, as those Chinese migrants are trying to cross illegally into the United States. Wait until you see his incredible report.

And more questions than answers. The Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is still not saying what landed him in the hospital for days before the president and his own deputy knew he was even there. This as we learned the White House did not know about another hospital stay for Austin.



BURNETT: Tonight, Donald Trump reviving his birther conspiracy theories, this time against his GOP opponent Nikki Haley. He reposted on social media a false accusation that Haley is not eligible to run for president because her parents weren't citizens when she was born.

Just to be extremely clear on this issue, it does not matter when Haley's parents became citizens. Haley really herself was born in the state of South Carolina, a United States citizen, and is absolutely eligible to be president.

The fact that I even had to sit here and say that is exactly why the post happened in the first place, and it is not Trump's first go- around on the birther carousel.

Here's just a small taste of some of what he said back when President Obama was running for reelection.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I want him to show his birth certificate.

You are not allowed to be a president if you're not born in this country. He may not have been born in this country.

He could've been born in Kenya, and gone over to the United States and everybody wants to be a U.S. citizen.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Basil Smikle, former executive director of the New York state Democratic Party, and Margaret Hoover, our political commentator and host of "Firing Line" on PBS.

So, Basil, Trump's post today, you know, this is one of those things you just kind of have to put it out there for it to bear fruit in some cases because people don't get into the technique holes of what makes one eligible or not eligible simply questioning it is where the power in this comes. Does it continue to resonate? BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's racist. It's xenophobic. It

manifested his own presidential aspirations in doing this against Barack Obama.


Does it resonate outside of the Republican Party? No. But for his core, core base, it certainly does. What's going to be interesting to me is how Haley responds, because Barack Obama didn't lean into race, some people didn't like that so much, but he didn't lean into race very much except for a very brilliant speech in Philadelphia I think in May of that cycle. I'm interested to see if Nikki Haley who can't say the word slavery actually finds a way to eject her race and ethnicity in any kind of pushback. It probably won't work for her if she does that, but it would be interesting to see.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's also presenting a dilemma because she's been very careful about not attacking him explicitly on the campaign trail.


HOOVER: And by going after her directly, it requires a response. So, how is she going to thread the needle and respond without attacking him in a way that she has tried so deftly to dance around in terms of directly criticizing him?

It also reminds me that Donald Trump is just replaying his greatest hits. Like he doesn't have new creative jabs at people, so he's recycling the 2012 and 2015 sort of, you know, John McCain, now, he's hitting again. I mean --

BURNETT: Right, right.

HOOVER: You know, the esteemed senator has been gone for five years now. It's -- you know, it may be a sign of a slowing mind, maybe not so sharp as he once was.

BURNETT: Go to same things, yeah, tropes.

SMIKLE: Also a sign that he's worried about Nikki Haley, too. And that's -- that's interesting, right? Because he's out in Iowa campaigning and saying, I really need you guys to get out and vote. Now, on one way, that is kind of a nod to the inevitability of his nomination, but it's also to remind voters, look if you don't come out Nikki Haley is not that far behind, at least three trying to communicate and she can easily slip in there.

BURNETT: And so, former First Lady Michelle Obama came in and weighed in on the 2024 contest. It's interesting timing for her to choose to do that because she chose to do it, now and maybe she's hearing John McCain, and hearing the Nikki Haley. She came out and we heard her today on the new podcast.

Here's part of what she said, Margaret.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: What's going to happen in this next election? I am terrified about what could happen because our leaders matter, who we select, who speaks for us, who holds the bully pulpit, it affects us in ways that sometimes I think people take for granted. We cannot take this democracy for granted. And sometimes I worry that we do. Those are the things that keep me up.


BURNETT: So, what do you think about her choosing to say that now?

HOOVER: Well, it echoes Joe Biden's democracy pitch from Valley Forge over the weekend.

BURNETT: Uh-huh.

HOOVER: It's also a time when Joe Biden is in South Carolina trying to gin up support from Jim Clyburn and African Americans who helped them clinch the nomination of the first place. But I will just say, I think it's really important for those of us who are concerned severely concerned about Donald Trump in the presidency again --


HOOVER: -- I think it's important to make a distinction that the democratic process, a just election is democracy working? The fact that Donald Trump could be elected again isn't democracy not working.

The problem with Donald Trump, the thing that I think she's terrified by is what he would do. His plans for a second presidency.

SMIKLE: Right.

HOOVER: But the fact that he could be elected again, and that possibility happening, it -- it risks undermining people's faith in the electoral process if he were to win again fairly.

BURNETT: Yeah. Basil, I will say also, you have Trump going after Haley. Biden went after Haley at that church in Charleston --

SMIKLE: Right.

BURNETT: -- that to find her governorship according to that horrific massacre. You know, let me be clear for those who don't seem to know slavery was cause of the civil war. Obviously he's talking about Nikki Haley.

So, right now, you have both front runner seeing her as their biggest threat.

SMIKLE: Well, that's true but I would also add in the other layer of this is also Joe Biden doing exactly as Michelle Obama did, reminding that white supremacy is still real, that the effects of slavery are still real, and that we cannot take off foot off the gas, because it's not just about whether or not Donald Trump wins, it's what happens if, whether he wins or not. What happens to our democracy after this election.

BURNETT: Right, which -- exactly, as Margaret saying, too.


BURNETT: All right. Thank you both so very much.

And next, the growing surge of Chinese migrants crossing the southern border illegally. And a lot of them wanted to talk to our David Culver, swarming him, as soon as they spotted him.


DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORERSPONDENT: My mic not even on, but that does not stop this crowd of Chinese migrants from venting their angry having to wait in the cold for border patrol.


BURNETT: And breaking news, incredible images out of Fort Worth, Texas, showing intense damage following an explosion at a hotel.



BURNETT: Tonight, a massive underground operation. A CNN investigation uncovering the staggering number of Chinese migrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally through the southern border, some of them paying more than $20,000 to get in.

Now, the number that came in last year double, it's about double, the Chinese migrants who tried crossing the southern border over the previous 10 years combined. Out of 10 years, double it, you get last year.

David Culver has this OUTFRONT investigation.


CULVER (voice-over): As soon as we pull up, they rushed towards us.

My mic not even on, but that does not stop this crowd of Chinese migrants from venting to producer Yong Shong (ph). They are angry having to wait in the cold for Border Patrol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): What's the place called?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): We're all sick! We have been here two, three days now!

CULVER: This is just one of three makeshift border camps we stop at in eastern San Diego County. Alongside migrants from Latin America at each camp, we meet dozens from China.

[19:30:00] The numbers reflect the surge, from 2013 to 2022, CBP recorded more than 16,000 migrants illegally crossing the U.S. southern border. This past year alone, more than 31,000. That's roughly double the prior 10 years combined.

But unlike those fleeing countries in turmoil, like Venezuela, Cuba, or Haiti, these migrants are leaving the largest economy.

What was the reason you left China?

Their answers vary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His family is poor.

CULVER: Most site deepening financial hardships, despite the Chinese government's narrative of a steadily rebounding economy.

How did you get here? How did you get to southern California?

Their trek north primarily starts in one Latin American country, where Chinese do not need visas to enter.

To Ecuador. How many -- how many of you here came through Ecuador?


CULVER: To really understand their journey, and how it differs from other migrants, you need to see it in action. We touched down in Ecuador's capital Quito, and standing outside of international rivals, we noticed this man.


CULVER: A hired driver, scrolling through photos and messages in Chinese.

A few minutes later, passengers began stepping out. They tell us they are from China, and plan to go to the U.S., but most ask we should not show their faces. The driver approaches this group making sure he's got the right passengers.

He's got a booking for them.

We uncovered an assortment of travel packages offered specifically to Chinese migrants. You can pay smugglers who promised to ease some of the planning stress for $9,000 to $12,000, flights, hotels, transportation booked for you. For $20,000 or more it's a premium service, getting you to the Mexico side of the U.S. border, skipping some of the more treacherous crossings.

We drive through Ecuador's capital city with Long Tai Wai (ph), he shows those private homes and Airbnbs where Chinese migrants when they arrive.

Long's lived here in Quito for five years, he runs a travel agency. He has witnessed the recent surge in Chinese migrants. And with it, a spike in businesses catering to them like this Chinese-run hotel.

The owner estimates there are as many as 100 hotels in Quito, but like hers host Chinese migrants headed to the U.S.

And take a look at this. They've got essentially a how-to guide to go from here and to continue north. They tell you here, how many days you should be preparing, vaccinations you might need, other documents you should carry with you. They even mentioned bringing $300 and hiding that amount of money because of presumably being robbed at some point and needing cash as a backup.

It's advice Zheng Shiqing could've used a few days earlier.

Your parents still think you're in China? They have no idea you left?


CULVER: We met to the 28-year-old back in Quito after he was robbed at gunpoint in Colombia.

I left China because I was not able to save any money. It was really difficult to support myself he tells me. He says some employers in China refused to pay him even after working. Even if they say that Chinese economy is strong, it is all about the upper class, he says.

I wish I was never born, living feels so exhausting.

After saving up enough to restart his trek, Zheng heads to this Quito bus station where ticket sellers hold up like this one in Chinese it reads, to Tulcan, Colombian border.

More than a dozen Chinese migrants boarded the bus north. We go with them for the four-hour plus ride. On board, Zheng and the others plan their next moves.

ZHENG SHIQING, CHINESE MIGRANT: This is California, California. That's the ultimate goal.

CULVER: Zheng plans to stay here in Tulcan for two nights and then a hire a cab to take him over the border.

As a lot of the Chinese migrants are able to pay their way in taxi to get to the international bridge crossing from Ecuador to Colombia, we've noticed a lot of folks, migrants from Latin American countries like these over here are not having the money to do that. So they walk.

In the cold rain, we've met Angelo (ph) and Isabel from Venezuela.

They say it's really expensive to try to cross so they have to walk.

Tulcan residents tell me they see hundreds if not thousands of Chinese migrants passing through each week. And because they are often carrying more cash, they are now prime targets for corrupt police and cartels. But like Zheng, they remain determined. As we return home, he updates

on his trek. Over two weeks, Zheng travels through five Central American countries, at times messaging Chinese speaking smugglers who remotely coordinate with local cartels to get him and others on vans, buses, boats and flights. It cuts his travel time down to about half that of most Latino migrants, but it's costly.


By the time he reaches northern Mexico, he has spent more than $10,000, with one more border to go.

A camera we set up facing the U.S. southern border captures weeks of crossings, thousands entering the U.S. through this gap in the wall. Group after a group, day and night you can hear these migrants shouting in Chinese.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): Goodbye, my motherland!

CULVER: They end up where we started, San Diego County, burning fires through the night to keep warm, and during the day expecting Border Patrol to pick them up. Just before New Year's, Zheng messages us that he too has crossed into the U.S. and is waiting to be processed for asylum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): America!

CULVER: Joining the thousands who've crossed before him, and the many more to come.


BURNETT: I mean, David, this is absolutely incredible to watch, and this is a growing trend, we've been talking about this with you for months, you've been doing all of this reporting, it still incredibly under-covered. And, you know, as part of this, you know, you talk about that they are coming from the second largest economy in the world, right? The Chinese economy.

What is the Chinese government saying about its citizens, tens of thousands of them going to extreme lengths to leave China for the United States?

CULVER: Erin, this is not a good look for them. You know, as you've been talking about, you and I go back a few years now through zero COVID, we are talking about a China that was hyper-nationalistic, and that's what they want to portray now post-COVID, is that they are rebounding, robust economy. This is contradicting.

So, it's very concerning for the Chinese government to have these images, and this narrative now coming out. And it's something that Beijing has said that they are going to crack down against, and that they want to work internationally to come down hard on illegal immigration. It's not often you hear Beijing wanted to work on countries with things such specifically with the West, but this is something we want to step in on, for sure. BURNETT: Absolutely incredible. David Culver, thank you.

And next, there are calls now for the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to resign after he did not tell the White House or his own deputy now, we are still about two hospital stays.

And Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert making headlines again, and not for her work on Capitol Hill under investigations tonight after allegedly punching her ex-husband.



BURNETT: New tonight, there are growing calls for the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to resign. After waiting days to tell the public, the White House, and his own deputy, that he was an intensive care, a list of unanswered questions growing tonight. The Pentagon spokesman revealing that Austin was hospitalized when he had an elective surgery last month, he could not say why the White House or Austin's deputy were not told about that hospitalization, either or what the surgery was for, or if Austin's ever unconscious when he returned to the ICU.

Oren Liebermann is OUTFRONT.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin under fire after undergoing days without telling President Joe Biden and others that he was in the hospital, some Republicans calling for his resignation. Some Democrats calling it a mistake. Everyone demanding answers.

REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): I do hope that every person in the cabinet recognizes that this was not an appropriate step, not an appropriate way to handle what his hospitalization and hopefully there will be greater transparency, at least within the administration.

LIEBERMANN: These were the last publicly released images of Austin, speaking to troops before the holidays. The date was December 21st. One day later, Austin went to the hospital for an elective producer, staying overnight. The White House was not notified of the hospital stay, the Pentagon said Monday, and neither was Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who was supposed to take over Austin's responsibilities when he's not available.

Austin then work from home throughout the Christmas holiday, holding calls with several of his counterparts. A New Year's Day, Austin felt severe pain and was taken in an ambulance from his home in Virginia to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, where he was admitted to the ICU. And his hospitalization remained a secret from all but a tiny few.

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Any commander knows that they have to notify their boss when something serious is going, on that might take them out of the loop.

LIEBERMANN: Joint Chiefs chair, General C.Q. Brown was notified on January 2nd, within 24 hours of Austin's hospitalization. So was Austin's chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen.

The Pentagon says it was her responsibility to notify others when she was sick with the flu. President Joe Biden wouldn't find out until January 4th, a full three days after Austin was admitted to the hospital.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): It's pretty shocking on this because when you're the secretary of defense, you need to make everyone aware that you're actually going to be coming out of pocket.

LIEBERMANN: Deputy Secretary Hicks assumed some of Austin's duties on January 2nd while she was on vacation in Puerto Rico, but even she didn't that he was in the hospital for another two days.

Pentagon press secretary, Major General Pat Ryder, says there was no gap in Pentagon leadership, and there was always positive control, national security. He says Austin is no longer in the ICU, he's in good condition, but still feeling discomfort.

The chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee who spoke with Austin over the weekend was blunt. I remain concerned that vital chain of command and notification procedures were not followed while the secretary was under medical care. This lack of disclosure must never happen again.

In a statement over the weekend, Austin said he takes full responsibility for the lack of disclosure, he said he commits to quote, doing better. What he didn't offer in his statement was an apology.


OLBERMANN (on camera): Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale says he will introduce articles of impeachment for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Those are unlikely to go, anywhere but that's not the point. The point is this is a question of national security, a question of public and press notification.


And now, Erin, it is a major political problem for the Biden administration, which still hasn't given good answers here.

BURNETT: Absolutely. All right. Oren, thank you very much.

So, I want to go to Brett Bruen. He's a career diplomat who's a former director of global engagement and National Security Council official under then President Obama. And he also served under President George W. Bush.

Brett, I appreciate your time. You know not just the timeline that's been laid out here, but what

it's like to be in those chains of command, and, you know, what is normally shared and not shared and when.

Do you think, with everything you know and that we now understand to be the case, that Secretary Austin should resign?

BRETT BRUEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL UNDER OBAMA: I think both he should resign, there needs to be several resignations here, including his chief of staff, as well as other officials. You know, you mentioned the Pentagon spokesperson, he briefed reporters on Thursday knowing then than Secretary Austin was in the hospital, did not disclose that information.

These are not minor mistakes, Erin. There are serious breaches of trust. They're serious breaches of transparency. And they do ultimately effect our readiness as a nation to respond.

BURNETT: Well, I mean, it's embarrassing. I think they got -- certainly, the secretary of defense must realize that at this point, at the very least for the country.

So, you know, we're told that Austin's deputy, Kathleen Hicks, has seen some of his duties while he was on vacation in Puerto Rico. And as you mentioned, the chief of staff, senior military assistant, Joint Chiefs chairman, found out the same time she did that Austin was in the hospital. I'm sorry -- at the same time that he was in the hospital, she did not know even though she took the duties that he was in the hospital for two more days.

What do you make of some of these gaps? Do you think, Brett, when it comes out to why he was originally in, whatever elected surgery and it seems to be some kind of repercussions that came after it, that -- whatever that is it's going to be part of why they didn't want to share it?

BRUEN: I think we're facing, Erin, a credibility crisis and as you point out, we still don't know why he went to the hospital, why he's still in the hospital. We also quite frankly have not gotten the full truth about how things went down. Withholding of information is still, the White House, the Pentagon, it's been coming out in dribs and drabs, it requires us at this point to have a full airing of the facts, there needs to be a public investigation.

And we need new criteria, we need to understand going forward in the future, when do defense secretaries need to call their boss, need to call the White House, and say, sir, ma'am, I'm going to be out of the office the next few hours, in the next few days.

BURNETT: Yeah, it is -- it is bizarre, and it is disturbing.

All right. Brett, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

BRUEN: Sure thing.

BURNETT: And next, police investigating Lauren Boebert for an incident at a Colorado restaurant.

The Republican congresswoman denying that she punched her as ex- husband, so, what happened?

Plus, breaking news at least 21 people we now know were injured after an explosion at a hotel. The hotel in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.



BURNETT: Tonight, quote, I didn't punch Jayson, that's what you have to hear from Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who has to speak out after an incident with her ex-husband where the police were called. The Republican congressman denying anything happened saying, I didn't punch Jayson in the face. And no one was arrested.

So, here we are, an investigation underway. And it is not the first time in recent months that a person who is actually a member of Congress has been under fire for this kind of behavior.

Lucy Kafanov is OUTFRONT.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): I'm Lauren Boebert and I approve this message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cut. That's a wrap.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congresswoman Lauren Boebert is no stranger to controversy. Tonight, the Colorado Republican is the subject of an active police investigation into an alleged altercation with her ex-husband, Jayson Boebert, at the Miners Claim Restaurant in her district Saturday night.

In a statement to CNN, Boebert said, I didn't punch Jayson in the face, no one was arrested. I'll be consulting with my lawyer about the false claims he made against me and evaluate all my legal options.

Boebert's ex-husband telling "The Denver Post" that he does not want to press charges, saying, I don't want nothing to happen. Her and I were working through a difficult conversation.

BOEBERT: We are coming together to take our country back.

KAFANOV: It is the latest in a series of controversies plaguing the far-right brand.

BOEBERT: I'm announcing my candidacy for the 2024 Republican nomination to represent Colorado's fourth congressional district.

KAFANOV: Last month, Boebert announced she will be switching to run for a seat in Colorado's more conservative fourth district rather than facing a tough reelection bid in Colorado's third district. BOEBERT: This announcement is a fresh start following a pretty

difficult year for me and my family. I've never been in politics before. I've never been through a divorce.

I'm Lauren Boebert, and I approve this message.

KAFANOV: After spending nearly two decades with her husband --

BOEBERT: I got married, I have four wonderful boys.

KAFANOV: -- the 37-year-old, who's already a grandmother, filed for divorce last year, citing irreconcilable differences.

In her book, "My American Life", Boebert describes meeting Jayson when she was 16 years old.

BOEBERT: I fell in love with Jayson immediately. And I knew, without a doubt, he was the man I was meant to be with, for better or worse, forever.

KAFANOV: As her divorce was being finalized, Boebert made headlines last September when she was booted from a musical production of Beetlejuice in Denver. Surveillance footage showed Boebert vaping inside the theater, taking flashed photos with her phone, and raising her arms to dance. Her theater companion seen here fondling her breast.

She was eventually escorted out of the show. Video shows her flipping off security.

BOEBERT: I was a little too eccentric.

KAFANOV: Boebert defending her behavior in an interview on OAN.

BOEBERT: I'm very known for having an animated personality, maybe overtly animated personality.


I was laughing. I was singing, having a fantastic time.


KAFANOV (on camera): Police in Silt County where the restaurant altercation allegedly occurred tell CNN that they can't disclose who made that call, nor whether the department received surveillance footage from the restaurant to review. Boebert, meanwhile, sites this incident yet another reason why she's switching district -- Erin.

BURNETT: Lucy, thank you very much, reporting, of course, from Colorado tonight.

And next, we're following the breaking news that I mentioned. There's been an explosion at a hotel in Texas, and at least 21 people have been injured at this hour. The footage is pretty stunning. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Breaking news, at least 21 people injured including one in critical condition after an explosion at a hotel in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. And just look at this, this is Texas you're looking at. This is the blast, how powerful it was, rubble filling the streets outside the Sandman Hotel. Twenty-six rooms inside were occupied at the time of the explosion.

Eyewitness telling CNN it sounded like fireworks. "The Fort Worth Star Telegram" reporting that eye witnesses saw people coming out of the hotel with blood on their faces. We understand injuries at this point, no report yet of death, but we don't know.

Officials say this was a type of gas explosion, and construction work was being done, what sparked the explosion and the full details of the aftermath are still under investigation.

Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

"AC360" with Anderson begins right now.