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Erin Burnett Outfront

DOJ: Informant Says He Got Hunter Biden Info From Russians; Kremlin Reject Calls For International Probe Into Navalny's Death; Trump Attacks Nikki Haley After She Vows To Stay In GOP Race. Aired 7- 8p ET

Aired February 20, 2024 - 19:00   ET




Breaking news, Russian interference. The former FBI informant charged with lying about the Bidens' business dealings in Ukraine, says he got his dirt from Russian intelligence officials.

Plus, President Biden vowing to punish Putin with major new sanctions after the death of Alexey Navalny, as Russia has now detained a Los Angeles woman on suspicions of treason after reportedly donating to Ukraine.

And we take you inside one of the most dangerous prisons, one overrun by terror groups and gangs and where at least one gang leader has his own courtyard, fridge and queen-sized bed.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

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

OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news, Russian interference, the former FBI informant charged with lying about the Biden's business dealings with Ukraine is tonight making a stunning admission, telling the FBI Russia was feeding him false information about the president's son and the president.

Remember, Alexander Smirnov was the Republican star source of information into President Biden and Hunter Biden, someone they repeatedly touted as, quote, credible and most respected.

Here's Republican Jim Jordan just weeks ago.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The most current operating evidence we have is that 1023 form from this highly credible, confidential human source.


KEILAR: Highly credible, he says, but according to the Justice Department, Smirnov, who was arrested last week in Las Vegas, was, quote, actively peddling new lies, after meeting with Russian spies late last year. And according to the Justice Department's new court filing, Smirnov was scheduled to leave the United States just four days ago, for a months-long multi-country trip that by his own description, involved meetings with officials of foreign intelligence agencies and governments.

Foreign intelligence agencies in governments that we now know in the past included Russia.

Paula Reid is OUTFRONT live in Washington for us.

And, Paula, what else are we learning from this filing tonight?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, let's remind folks who made this filing today. Special counsel David Weiss, he's the one overseeing both criminal prosecutions of Hunter Biden and here in this court filing, he's advocating to the court why Smirnov should be detained, why he presents a flight risk.

Now, as you noted, he has been charged with lying to investigators about the Biden's business dealings. But in this new filing, Weiss reveals that Smirnov claims, he claims that Russian intelligence officials shared with him some of the information that he had about Hunter Biden.

Now, this was revealed after he was arrested and he also told investigators that he had, quote, extensive and extremely recent contacts with foreign intelligence officials. He had we learned in this filing previously told the FBI that he had many contacts and foreign intelligence. What they learned in the subsequent interview after his arrest, that he kept up those relationships.

Now, prosecutors did not independently verify, Brianna, if he did have these contacts, if they were legitimate, and if they provided him with information about Hunter Biden. But in this filing, they also talk about the impact that is false statements about the Bidens have had on U.S. politics, on the election. They said, quote, his lies targeted the presumptive nominee of one of the two major political parties in the United States. The effect of his false statements and fabricated information continued to be felt to this day because, of course, these false -- alleged false statements are part of what has boosted Republicans in their effort to try to impeach President Biden.

Smirnov has not gotten to the point in this process where he would enter a guilty or not guilty plea, but in a statement to CNN, his lawyer said that he, quote, is presumed innocent.

KEILAR: All right. Paula Reid, thank you so much for that.

Joining us now is Ryan Goodman, our OUTFRONT legal analyst, and Doug London, former CIA counterterrorism chief, and the author of the recruiter spying and the lost art of American intelligence.

Ryan, you have read this court filing. How strong is the case and the evidence?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARMENT OF DEFENSE: So, the case and the evidence is very strong for the purposes for which the government is using it. So the government is basically saying that Mr. Smirnoff should not be allowed to go out on released before trial. And it's very strong. I mean, it's almost saying, look by his own admissions and what our intelligence community knows to some degree. He is a risk in so many different ways and he's a present risk as well given his very recent, they say extremely recent context with senior Russian government officials who are trying to spread misinformation into the 2024 election.


So it's just really incredible what they're presenting here to the court in a certain sense to the country.

KEILAR: Yeah, sounds like it was to continue with the trip where he was going to meet with officials of foreign countries here.

And, Doug, some stunning information in this court filing is we have learned now that Smirnov has been working with the FBI since 2010, just how significant is this admission that he was also working with the Russians?

DOUGLAS LONDON, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERORRISM CHIEF FOR SOUTH & SOUTHWEST ASIA: Well, there's still a lot we don't know including how much of what he's telling us is true and how much is a lie. But if he's been in touch with the FBI since 2010, it has to inevitably be because of his contact with Russian officials and Russia intel ties.

We still don't know much about him. He's described as a globe trotting, Russian speaking businessman. We could assume at least the U.S. person, some residency here, but that's a long time for a confidential human source relationship, which by their definition is essentially what we would call a CIA, an agent. The FBI's primary interests would be criminal, or counter-intelligence.

So it would be those contacts would make him of interest. But the challenges even if that access was legitimate and it might be what was his agenda was always under hostile control. Did he volunteer under Russian direction or did he turn at some point during the course of his engagement with the bureau?

KEILAR: Yeah. Obviously, many questions. We don't know the answers to. We may not know all of those answers.

Ryan, Republicans, they've been basing really their entire impeachment case against President Biden on information that we now know was fed to Smirnov by Russia.

Let's listen to some of what they've said.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Even a trusted FBI informant has alleged a bribe to the Biden family.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): We already know the president took bribes from Burisma.

REP. MICHAEL WALTZ (R-FL): Incredible, long-standing FBI informant, saying that that a Ukrainian oligarch has given than $5 million directly to the president in addition to the $5 million to Hunter.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Well, every day, this bribery scandal becomes more credible.


KEILAR: What does this do to the basis of their allegations?

GOODMAN: It pulls the rug out from underneath them, to be honest. It's really quite incredible. The except we just heard there from Kevin McCarthy when he was speaker, he's actually announcing the impeachment proceedings at that point and he's using this particular individual, Mr. Smirnov, as the basis for it. That's the justification that he's saying is the trusted FBI source. And lo and behold, in the filing today, Smirnov is saying that he is passing the information about Burisma and Hunter Biden from not just some cutout, but Russian intelligence officials themselves.

And so, I think that's just quite devastating in terms of where that's even brought us to this point in the country, given that this is the source of some of that information.

KEILAR: Doug, what do you think? I mean, you have the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee saying this is our most corroborating evidence?

LONDON: Brianna, I think it's another brilliant success as a part of Russian intelligence in meddling in our elections by taking advantage of our inherent weaknesses and strengths as opposed to 2016, as far as information narrative goes, the Russians have been able to amplify actual U.S. content with what but U.S. political groups and political officials have been saying and claiming which feeds their narrative.

Now, obviously they're going to complement that through clandestine activities such as directing sources against us and trying to make us believe they're credible. And by at least establishing that he had legitimate contexts, refreshing intelligence, and I presume he must have to have compelled the FBI's interests, they could then feed information that would suit their purposes and influence rather than inform decision-making.

KEILAR: I do want to read to you another part of the special counsel's filing here, Ryan. David Weiss writing this about the 2024 election, quote, Smirnov's, efforts to spread misinformation about a candidate of one of the two major parties in the United States continues, he is actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials in November, very recently. It seems obviously very clear here that Russian never stopped trying to metal in U.S. elections.

But what does this tell you, Ryan, about the extent of Russia's efforts? GOODMAN: So in a certain level, this is Russia's playbook. We're used to seeing it from 2016. We're used to seeing it from 2020.


But this is quite incredible that we have the DOJ telling us in real time this time around that it's ongoing and that these contexts were extremely recent. I think is part of the reason they've said that in this report is to say its extremely recent that he met with the Russian officials and its in coordination with these ongoing efforts where he's actually trying to inject it into the 2024 election.

So I think its not just that the DOJ is speaking to the court, which they are, and that's their principal purpose, but I think has just the American public, as we see this, it's a wake-up for us in the sense that they are alerting us to an ongoing Russian misinformation campaign because the DOJ is also identifying this information as false, derogatory information. I think that's really important to understand.

KEILAR: Really incredible developments this evening.

Gentlemen, thank you so much. Ryan Goodman and Doug London, we appreciate it.

And OUTFRONT next, President Biden vowing to make Putin pay for the death of Alexey Navalny. Next, I'll be speaking to a friend of Navalny who says the Kremlin is also responsible for a suspected poisoning that he survived back in 2018.

Also breaking, former President Trump firing back, taking on Nikki Haley after she tore into Trump, calling him a disaster and vowing to stay in the race.

And they were some of the first tourists to visit North Korea since the start of the pandemic. What did they witness? We have a special report ahead.



KEILAR: New tonight, President Biden vowing to make Putin pay for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, promising to hit Russia with crippling sanctions there will be announced this Friday. This as Putin spokesman is rejecting the growing calls for an international investigation into Navalny's death. And as Navalny's own mother is now making this plea to Putin directly:


LUDMILIA IVANOVNA NAVALNAYA, MOTHER OF ALEXEY NAVALNY: Behind me is the IK3 Polar Wolf Colony where my son, Alexey Navalny, died on February 16. I haven't been able to see him for five days. They won't give me his body. They don't even tell me where he is. I'm addressing you Vladimir Putin. The solution to the issue depends

only on you. Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexey's body be immediately handed over, so that I can bury him humanely.


KEILAR: Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT in southern Ukraine.

And, Nick, Putin appears to be extremely defiant for someone who insists he had nothing to do with Navalny's death.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, a man who would never even mentioned Navalny's name when he was alive today gave the deputy director of the Russian prison service a sense a promotion, some suggesting, his critics, that may have been related to the untimely horrific death of Navalny near the Arctic Circle. At the same time, too, we're hearing that Russia has detained U.S.-Russian citizen, Ksenia Karelina, a 33-year-old, Los Angeles resident into Ekaterinburg for sending they claim just slightly more than $500 in humanitarian aid to Ukrainian civilians.

And also, too, we are hearing of the remarkable news that a Russian pilot who defected in September with the helicopter he was piloting to Ukraine -- well, he appears to have been found dead, potentially shot in Spain.

So, a series of suggestions here that essentially Putin is certainly unbowed after the intense international criticism around Navalny, but frankly, you would expect that from the Kremlin man who is now on for nearly three years, pushed his forces in an illegal invasion into Ukraine.

KEILAR: Yeah, and Putin, Nick, also hailing this withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the key eastern city of Avdiivka as an unconditional success, he's vowing that Russian forces are going to continue to advance their, which, of course, is the big question. What is the latest that you are seeing and expecting?

WALSH: Yeah, look, we do expect the Kremlin to feel buoyed by the withdrawal by Ukraine on Saturday from Avdiivka, but their comments are also reflected in the things Ukrainian officials are saying. Ukrainian commanders on the frontline near Avdiivka accepting that Russia has significant forces in Avdiivka and may just continue to push forward to the next village in their site.

That's just there near Avdiivka. Now, the key thing we're also hearing along the frontline, other areas where Russia appears to be probing, if not having some limited says, a tiny village called Robotyne, was one of the main successes of the summer counteroffensive by Ukraine. They took it them, but they appear to be under intense pressure now.

Two separate nights in a row, Ukrainian officials saying they've had to repel intense Russian onslaught there, and at the same time, too, we're hearing (INAUDIBLE) south of Avdiivka held by Ukraine under intense pressure, and suggestions further north along the front line, Russia is pushing again, too. The real fear here, frankly, Brianna, is that we're looking at a

moment potentially where Western aid has run out. It's impacting ammunition. It's already impacting morale and we're going to be seeing that sort of tipping moment on the front line where Russia, you can hear in Kherson with the lights are off constant shelling. Russia has plenty of ammunition, plenty of troops, and is facing Ukraine with the opposite.

Back to you.

KEILAR: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT now, Peter Verzilov. He is a Russian opposition activist and a member of the anti-Putin group Pussy Riot. Peter also says the Kremlin is responsible for a suspected poisoning that he survived back in 2018.

Peter, first of all, we're so sorry for your loss. You were very close with Alexey Navalny. You had been friends for years.

What is his death mean for the fight against Putin in Russia?

PETER VERZILOV, LONGTIME FRIEND OF ALEXEY NAVALNY: Well, obviously, it's a huge historical loss for many tens of millions. I would say hundreds of millions of people around the world because besides being my personal friend and one of my best friends over the past many, many years, Alexey symbolized -- has great historical importance for people in Russian, for people around the world who hope to one see Russia a free and Democratic country.


He was like -- Alexei Navalny was essentially Russia's best present chance for democracy. Obviously its a huge personal tragedy, huge historical tragedy. You see him gotten now.

KEILAR: You have vowed to take revenge and destroy this regime. How do you make that happen when you can't be in Russia? When opposition leaders cannot be in Russia without facing prison or possibly death?

VERZILOV: Well, in my particular case, I do -- I'm located -- mostly located in Ukraine these days. And what we do with in close work together with the Ukrainian forces, we do everything we can to stop the Russian aggression, to stop the occupation, to help Ukraine win back those territories that have been taken from it illegally by the invading Russian force.

And right now, that's one of the best ways to turn this world into better and just place into make Putin go -- we make Putin disappear from the political life and from Russia, and change the world into completely different place. Avenge, as you said, the death of my close friend and Russia's opposition leader.

KEILAR: And Navalny had survived famously, a suspected poisoning by the Kremlin in 2020, which is about 18 months after your suspected poisoning in Russia. And Navalny is he's now gone and his family says that it's because Putin poison him again, Russia has been silent on speculation that it is behind the death, as well of a Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine last year.

So many of Putin's enemies have met these sudden and mysterious deaths. Prigozhin, Russian oligarchs, journalists, activists. Why do you think Putin acts with such apparent impunity?

VERZILOV: Well, first of all, Putin has this fascination in destroying his opponents with -- in ways that will threaten and make other people afraid of him. In his view, that this gives him the strength of his own political power and give -- allows him to appear more like the statement that he wants to be.

Putin is a crazy and sick person who has a lot of fascination for destroying other people's lives, destroying countries, conquering countries. And, you know, as a sick man, he does a lot of sick and disgusting things, including murdering people, murdering his opponents.

KEILAR: I spoke last night to Evgenia Kara-Murza, the wife of Vladimir Kara-Murza who is a top Putin critic currently serving a 25 year sentence in Siberia. And I asked her if Navalny's death makes Putin stronger or weaker? And this is what she said.


EVGENIA KARA-MURZA, WIFE OF JAILED PUTIN CRITIC VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA: I believe adopts the fact that Vladimir Putin eliminates every single of his opponents is indeed a sign of weakness because no strong leader would have to do anything like this.


KEILAR: Yeah, Putin in his opposition, keeps them off the ballot, maybe signs of weakness. Is it enough in your opinion, of a weakness to bring Putin down?

VERZILOV: Well, obviously, you know, to bring Putin down, it will require a combination of all forces that we have available. For example, we think that it's very important on the American side that Congress passes the aids to Ukraine bill, which is stuck in the lower house right now, because in our view, that's one of the main things that can make Putin weaker, one of those things that can actually help achieve victory both in Ukraine and Russia.

And definitely, you know, the more of these crazy actions that Putin does, the more chances he gives to the world, to actually overcome him, find victory over him.

So we have to continue to use those chances and not give up no matter what Putin does, no matter what moves he makes next.

KEILAR: Yeah. We'll continue to follow that. Obviously, it's very much stuck in Congress, but it isn't dead yet. So well be keeping an eye on that.

Peter, again, our thoughts are with you. Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us.

VERZILOV: Thank you.

KEILAR: And OUTFRONT next, sources telling CNN that President Biden's campaign now plans to zero in on the crazy expletive that Trump says in public, as Trump responds to Nikki Haley's decision to stay in the race.

And an OUTFRONT exclusive, we're going to take you to a huge prison complex housing killers and mobsters, one that is so dangerous, our David Culver had to actually be escorted by armed soldiers.



KEILAR: Tonight, former President Trump just slamming fellow Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, questioning why Haley is still on the race even though she's trailing him in her home state of South Carolina.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She's not working. She's here. She's down by 30, 35 points. And everybody knows that you're not supposed to lose your home state. She just can't get herself to get out.


KEILAR: Today, Haley vowed to stay in the race, quote, until the last person votes saying she has, quote, no fear of Trump's retribution.

OUTFRONT now, Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, and Jamal Simmons, former communications director to Vice President Harris.

And, Scott, I mean, Haley saying she's not going anywhere as Trumps campaign is issuing a memo projecting he's actually going to have enough delegates to clinch the nomination here in less than a month.

What is Haley's goal?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, short-term, I'm not sure she has a strategy to win. Obviously, Trumps on track to get the delegates probably before the end of March as his campaign pointed out today.


Long-term, she may be setting herself up to be the "I told you so" candidate. I mean, it may not be about getting the nomination anymore. It may be about a world where Donald Trump gets the nomination patient. Donald Trump loses to Joe Biden and Nikki Haley steps up and says, hey, I tried to tell you and she's trying to position herself for the future. I question whether what she's doing now is going to be putting herself

in position for the kind of party that Donald Trump has built over the last few years. But I think that's the longer-term game that she might be playing because the short-term game ain't working. I mean, she's not going to win South Carolina and these states coming up or not, not looking to hot in the polling right now for her.

KEILAR: Yes. She's definitely been more long longer view here.

And, Jamal, she's staying in the race. She's attacking Trump pretty aggressively. She's calling him unhinged. Many in her own party is too cowardly to say how they really feel about the former president.

Can Democrats use that to their advantage because she is also criticizing Joe Biden to be clear?

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the criticisms that she's making on President Biden are the criticisms that everybody is making about President Biden. So I don't think Democrats are quite as worried about that.

But it is helpful to have a Republican or conservative voice that is going after President Trump, former President Trump, because that does remind people that there were things about him that you may not -- you may even not remember, but when you hear them, you know, you don't like them. I think that's the part is important.

The second part is Donald Trump from all accounts has work to do with the middle of the electorate. He's tried in the past to try to triangulate, to bring think back an old phrase, to triangulate and to show people that he's not as conservative as maybe some of the most conservative people in the party. He can't do that while he's battling Nikki Haley.

So he's going to have to get back into a fight with Joe Biden. He kept from doing that as long as Haley is still hitting him, basically from the left.

KEILAR: There was an interesting moment, Scott, were Haley got emotional. She was talking about her husband who is in the National Guard and currently deployed overseas, whose absence from the campaign trail was recently mocked by Trump, which is very odd, especially for Republican candidate.

Here's what she said.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wish Michael was here today, and I wish our children and I could see him tonight, but we can't. He's serving on the other side of the world, where conflict is the norm.


KEILAR: What did you think about that moment and I guess what kind of impact or the fact that it may not have an impact with Republican voters when normally you would expect that it would?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean, this goes to Jamal's argument from just a moment ago that this primary is affectively over from the perspective of Republican voters have already made up their minds. They're not weighing two candidates right now. You look at the polling. Trump nationally right now is leading at 80-20. He's winning by 20 plus, 25 plus points in South Carolina.

These aren't people who are weighing two different people. They're just waiting to vote for Donald Trump.

Now to what Donald Trump said about Nikki Haley's husband, several days ago, and to what she was responding to in that speech, it was despicable. It's wrong. And, you know, if I were her, I would be emotional, too, and I know that there are servicemen and women all over this world who saw that, and were disgusted by it. And I know there were spouses and family members sitting at home looking at an empty table at the empty chair at the dinner table, who were disgusted by it.

What is the numerical impact of that? I don't know, but I know what's another log on the fire of people who just when they think they might be coming back around Donald Trump, they are reminded about things like this. So, it was not a good thing to say. It was a terrible thing to say.

She's right to be emotional about it. The electoral impact and the Republican primary, though at this point, Brianna, is negligible because the minds are made up and they're not open to changing at this its point because they've already decided what they want to do.

KEILAR: Jamal, what do you think about President Biden seeing an opening here? Sources telling CNN he's told senior campaign aides to ramp up the focus on the, quote, crazy S-word, I guess I'll call it that. Trump says in public, like mocking Haley's husband and so on.

SIMMONS: Oh, I think this has always been the Democratic strategy, which is to remind people of the crazy S-word that Donald Trump represents. And that when they may get reminded of that, they will then say a second look at Joe Biden like, okay, so we have a guy who's maybe a little bit older than we want. But then we got this guy who's kind, of corrupt and kind of chaotic and maybe its more chaotic than we want. So, we just don't want that kind of chaos.

You know, we're talking about quantifying this. There are you know, this. There are 170,000 active troops around the world right now serving our country, and they have families, they have friends.


And when you take after one of them, I got to believed that there like when my old boss, Max Cleland was in the Senate, all those vets kind of stuck together. I got to believe that people all kind of get zinged little bit when they hear it.

The United States, over -- the United States has taken years to build this kind of security framework around the world and Donald Trump undermining NATO, not take holding Russia to account, going after Nikki Haley's husband, he's undermining our very security nature of what it is we look for a commander in chief to provide.

KEILAR: Yeah, the guard takes on a lot of responsibility. I think a lot of Americans don't realize how much. They're quite overburden. So shout out to the guard.

Jamal Simmons, Scott Jennings, thank you so much to both of you. Really appreciate it.

And also tonight, Democrats deploying Kamala Harris as a weapon for 2024. The vice president was in the battleground state of Pennsylvania today, part of this effort to make her more visible on the trail. It's also making her a bigger target for the GOP.

Jeff Zeleny was with Harris today. He's OUTFRONT.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's a weapon for Democrats.

KAMLA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These extremist are trying to take us backward, but we're not having that.

ZELENY: And weaponized by Republicans.

HALEY: We will have a female president of the United States.


HALEY: The hard truth, it's either going to be me or Kamala Harris.

Vice President Kamala Harris is it the red hot center of the 2024 campaign? Firing up the party's base and taking fire from rivals who argue a vote for President Biden may as well be a vote for a President Harris.

While vice presidents are always a heartbeat away from the presidency, Harris's burden is even higher, as concerns over Biden's age have dramatically escalated.

ZELENY: As she steps up her travel across the country, Harris often starts with an urgent plea to protect abortion rights.

HARRIS: Let us be very clear about who is responsible: Former President Trump handpicked -- handpicked three Supreme Court justices because he intended for them to overturn Roe.

ZELENY: Today in Pittsburgh, Harris announced $5.8 billion in clean water investments, replacing lead pipes and more, as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law Biden signed in 2021.

HARRIS: Clean water -- can you believe that in the United States of America, that is still not necessarily guaranteed to all people? ZELENY: Her biggest assignment is trying to win over skeptical young voters. Black and Latino supporters, and those protesting the administration s policy toward Israel


ZELENY: All part of rebuilding Biden's spring coalition.

TANISHA LONG, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER IN PITTSBURGH, PA: We're just so tired of being told that its our job to prevent a Trump presidency.

ZELENY: Tanisha Long welcomes the vice president's greater visibility in the investment in clean water. But said voters want to hear more about their second term plans.

LONG: The only messaging were receiving is if you don't vote for Biden, you're voting for Trump. And what a lot of younger voters want and a lot of voters of color is we want people to earn our votes.

ZELENY: Harris has often been a punch line during her three years as vice president.

HARRIS: I went off-script a little bit.

ZELENY: But allies now believe she could be a critical lifeline for a reelection bid facing steep challenges, a second impression she's trying to make by taking on Donald Trump.

HARRIS: Former President Trump has made clear time and time again his fight is not for the people. He fights for himself.


ZELENY (on camera): The vice president was busy selling the accomplishments of the Biden administration, literally standing on the streets here in Pittsburgh, watching some of those lead pipes be replaced.

But, Brianna, she was also listening -- listening to the concerns of Democratic officials and community leaders here who have deep concerns about this presidential campaign and are concerned about the reelection effort. But there is no doubt, she is at the center of this race. Unlike anyone else, Republicans also intend to make her the center. There'll be gearing up their campaign against her, I'm told, shortly -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be watching.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT next, we'll take you to one of the most infamous prisons in the world where killers, terrorists, and gang members can be seen roaming freely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Behind one of these gates, folks can kind of moving comfortably and casually from cell to cell. It's kind of an indoor/outdoor complex.


KEILAR: And well hear from two of the first tourist to enter North Korea since the pandemic and this trip was a lot more than just sightseeing.



KEILAR: Tonight, Ecuador roiled by violence as gangs and terror group stirrup chaos nationwide. And tonight, CNN has a rare inside look at the country's prisons, including the lavish accommodations for the country's most notorious gang leaders.

David Culver has this story you'll see first on OUTFRONT.


CULVER (voice-over): It does though they're stepping into a war zone. Ecuador's military and national police trailing armored vehicle in a raid of one of the country's 35 prisons.

Inside, prisoners stripped down, hands tied, scenes like this have played out across Ecuador over the past few weeks. The armed forces making a very public show of force, attempting to reinstate order within their own prisons.

It's part of Ecuador's effort to neutralize terror groups and weed out gangs, which have unleashed chaos nationwide from a live TV studio, armed takeover, to random shootings in the streets. This most recent surge in violence sparked by this suspected escape of this man, Jose Adolfo Macias known as Fito.


On January 7th, officials reported that while serving a 34-year sentence for murder and drug trafficking, the notorious gang leader vanished from this prison in Guayaquil.

A drone's view allows us to grasp the scale of this complex. It is sprawling, not really much of a prison uniform. They're all kind of in their own clothes.

Officials tell us it's made up of five different prisons, through military and prison sources. We get a sense of the layout. We learned the women are kept here.

These buildings house the men and they range from minimum to medium- security. And over here, maximum security known as La Rocha or The Rock. With the military escort, we go past the first of three perimeters. Any farther, we're told, too dangerous, even with armed soldiers. We're told inmates are separated based on gang affiliation and are essentially self-ruled.

And you can see behind one of these gates, folks kind of moving comfortably and casually from cell to cell. It's kind of an indoor outdoor complex.

CNN obtaining these videos from inside. By prison standards, they reveal a life of luxury for Fito, drug kingpin.

The images captured last year by members of Ecuador's military. They appear to show Fito's cell, messy, but complete with home comforts. A mini fridge, a queen bed, upscale shower fittings, artwork featuring an image of a Fito himself with guns and cash.

He lives like a king, you can hear one of the soldiers say in this video obtained by CNN and verified by Ecuador's military.

Outside his own courtyard at a half dozen fighting roosters believed to be his, a military source tells us Fito had a fresh fish important for his meals, and somehow even managed to shoot a music video from within the prison walls.

Ecuavisa showing these images of Frito's 42nd birthday in 2022. The prisoners reportedly enjoyed cake, music, and drinks. The night capped off with fireworks

He had more power outlets than a Marriott Hotel room, Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa said late last year.

So why escape?

Ecuadorian security experts believed that Fito was tipped off that he was going to be transferred in the same complex back to The Rock, maximum security. Fito spent a few weeks in The Rock last year. Moving him there involved in estimated 4,000 police and soldiers. His sudden disappearance suggesting he wasn't ready to leave the comfort of his cell.

The government's focus now is to reassert control within, but it won't be easy.

Prison rates have turned up everything from laptops to guns.

Noboa also announcing the construction of new prisons designed by the same company behind El Salvador's notorious mega prisons, where thousands of suspected gang members are locked step.

Back outside of the prison in Guayaquil --

You can hear there's church services going on, some sort of religious ceremony loud speakers.

Soldiers and police stand guard on the perimeter, knowing that its often the gangs whose still dictate what happens on the inside.

David Culver, CNN, Guayaquil, Ecuador.


KEILAR: OUTFRONT next, North Korea, welcoming its first tourists since the pandemic. And tonight, we hear exclusively from those who were allowed in.

And two arrests tonight in the mass shooting of the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl celebration.



KEILAR: Tonight, Kim Jong Un has a new set of wheels courtesy of Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader gifted Kim the luxury Russian-made Aurus as a sign of their, quote, special relations. Kim had first admired Putin's car when the two met in Russia in September, the gift coming as North Korea has opened up its door to tourists for the first time since the pandemic, but only Russians.

Will Ripley spoke to two of them.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: After years of near total isolation, North Korea is rolling out the red carpet for Russian visitors. This group of 100 believed to be the first post- pandemic tourist, visiting Kim Jong-un's hermetically sealed nation, amid its deepening ties with Russia.

They flew from Vladivostok to Pyongyang on a vintage Russian plane operated by Air Koryo, North Korea's only airline. I've flown it more than a dozen times when Westerners were still allowed in.

Diplomacy with the U.S. collapsed in Hanoi in 2019, when observers say Kim made a strategic pivot, bolstering his nuclear arsenal, prioritizing ties with Moscow and Beijing, both protecting Kim from fallout at the United Nations for his unprecedented missile testing binge.

Russia is reportedly releasing millions of dollars in frozen North Korean assets, facilitating access to international banking networks, "The New York Times" reports, setting the stage for a new chapter of Kim's nuclear ambitions, possibly with the help of Russian rocket scientists.

This Russian tour and perhaps more to come is about more than sightseeing. It's about the bigger picture of international relations. Russia and North Korea strengthening ties, icing out the West.

Ilya Voskresensky is a travel blogger from St. Petersburg, a tough job these days. Many European nations ban Russian tourists, the result of Putin's war on Ukraine. [19:55:07]

ILYA VOSKRESENSKY, RUSSIAN TRAVEL BLOGGER VISITING NORTH KOREA (through translator): I signed up for this tour at the moment, I heard about it. It's like stepping back in time, reminiscent of the stories my grandparents told me about life in the Soviet Union, the empty streets, the lack of advertisements. It's surreal.

RIPLEY: Elena Bychkova is a marketing professional from Moscow.

ELENA BYCHKOVA, RUSSIAN TOURIST VISITING NORTH KOREA: The meticulous preparations for our visit felt like being in a theater production. But amidst the choreographed scenes, I couldn't shake the feeling that there's another side to North Korea, one that remains hidden.

RIPLEY: Beneath the carefully controlled facade, encounters with North Korean children, revealing curiosity, genuine interest in the outside world.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Tourism is one thing, but tonight, there's growing concern about this deepening military partnership between Russia and North Korea. An investigative organization out of the U.K. says that North Korea is firing ballistic missiles. They analyze one of them and they said hundreds of components in that missile were made in the United States, possibly within the last three years, Brianna, at least 14 Ukrainians dead by North Korean missiles. And of course, an exchange Vladimir Putin promised help Kim Jong Un launched his own satellites and rockets.

KEILAR: Will Ripley, fascinating report. Thank you for that.

OUTFRONT next, police charging two men after the deadly mass shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl celebration.


KEILAR: Tonight, charges in the deadly mass shooting at the Super Bowl rally in Kansas city, two men facing several charges, including second-degree murder. Officials say the shooting started after an argument and one man pulled out a gun. Almost immediately, others also pulled out their guns and there was a shootout.

The two men had been in the hospital since the shooting. One woman was killed and more than 20 people injured.

Thank you so much for joining us this evening.

"AC360" starts now.