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Erin Burnett Outfront

Russia Arrests American For Alleged Donation To Ukraine Charity; House GOP Scrambles As Biden Inquiry Source Is Indicted For Lying; Israel Fired On Gaza And Convoy Despite Taking Approved Route. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 19:00   ET




Damage control. Republicans scrambling to contain the fallout after the former FBI informant at the center of their impeachment investigation was indicted for lying, defending their investigation, and quizzing the president's brother today behind closed doors.

Plus, new details -- the boyfriend of the American detained is speaking out tonight after she was arrested and charged with treason for allegedly donating just over $50 to a Ukrainian charity. Tonight, he shares what he's hearing from his girlfriend imprisoned in Russia.

And a CNN exclusive, we now know a truck carrying much needed aid to thousands of people in Gaza was hit by an Israeli airstrike, despite the promise of a safe route.



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

OUTFRONT tonight, detained in Russia. New details tonight about the thirty-three-year-old from Los Angeles who is now behind bars in Russia charged with treason after allegedly donating just about $51 to a Ukrainian charity. Her boyfriend, Chris Van Heerden, will be joining us here in a moment.

This all coming as Vladimir Putin is punishing mourners arrested at memorials for Alexei Navalny with military registration summonses, according to an independent Russian human rights group. One detained man telling Russian media that authorities threatened to break his fingers if he didn't sign the military papers.

And that comes as Russia continues to gain ground along Ukraine's eastern front. One soldier seen here hoisting a Soviet victory flag over a newly captured village after a key victory seizing the eastern city of Avdiivka.

Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT live for us in southern Ukraine.

And, Nick, Russian soldiers meeting more Ukrainian resistance where you are. Tell us what's happening on the ground.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, look, in multiple locations, it's pretty clear that even Ukrainian officials at the highest level can't deny there's bad news. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy referring to four separate parts of the frontline where he said Ukraine was doing -- sorry, someone background here. You're hearing in Kherson a constant artillery jolt, and its dark round. People give the lights off, so don't become a target.

Now, one of the areas that's been mentioned as a place of potential Russian progress claimed at the highest levels in Moscow by the defense minister speaking to Vladimir Putin is in fact just across the river from where I'm standing, a placed called Krynky, which has been a place where Ukrainian pushed across the river trying to get towards Crimea, held that position a great peril, many losses, and now Russia yesterday claim that essentially clean the Ukrainians away from there.

Ukraine denied that vehemently and even drone video of rush and putting up a flag and then fleeing that particular area. But still, it's one of four places where Russia claims they're putting a lot of pressure on the Ukrainians. Another one is near Avdiivka, where Ukrainian commanders say Russia still has enough strength to keep pushing forward on to the next village. There's pressure to the south of that two, near an area called Marinka and also to the north of Avdiivka near Kharkiv, an area called Kupiansk all bad news for Ukraine being no doubt.

And Volodymyr Zelenskyy talking about all those four separate areas, whilst also saying, look, in the last week, we've taken out seven Russian fighter jets, but Kyiv now having to thread this complex balance between being as candid as they can to their Western partners about how that lack of Western aid is translating into real losses of territory and men on the battlefield, but also keep morale high. But still, its fascinatingly awful frankly, for those watching this war, Brianna, on Ukrainian side to observe how many places now its clear Ukraine is under intense pressure, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yeah, we'll see if that is heard here in Washington or if it continues to fall on some of these deaf ears.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT now, Abbas Gallyamov, he is a former speechwriter for Vladimir Putin.

Abbas, thank you for being with us tonight.

And you've heard Vladimir Putin vowing he will push ahead with Russia making gains in eastern Ukraine, most notably in the key city of Avdiivka.


What do you think this does to Putin's plans in Ukraine since he's gaining territory there? ABBAS GALLYAMOV, FORMER PUTIN SPEECHWRITER: Oh, this is really going to strengthen his domestic standing and it will really depress this, you know, this displeasure, this discontent, which was obviously growing in Russia. The selection campaign which is under way in Russia now, it started in a really bad way for him. And so, this victory is now breaking the trend, the negative trend. It's now again -- he is on the winning end, it's solidifying his control over the country.

And it means he might actually get control strong enough so that the result of the election would really legitimize him likely, to again seem like the whole Russian population voted for him. For now, if there had been no (ph) this victory, he would have failed to do this to achieve this end. It would have become, you know, obvious that the -- like he stole the election, he stole the victory. It was not genuine victory.

But now with this strong background of military achievement, he might produce the impression which like would allow him to get additional injection of legitimacy, which really badly needs with all his ratings going down for two years.

KEILAR: There are two Russian media outlets reporting that mourners at memorials for Alexei Navalny are being detained. They are also being given summonses to report from military service, which is a pretty big punishment here. Could that backfire? Or is his response so punitive, so aggressive that the effect is that it totally crushes dissent?

GALLYAMOV: Well, normally, it will definitely backfire, you know, because this discontent is growing. And at some moment it will become so strong, probably it would happen at the moment of military defeat or some military riots, something like what happened during Prigozhi's time, or maybe at some other moment. But it will explode and with very strong.

Actually, you know, the crackdown is very strong now, so I'm not expecting anything like an explosion or revolution to happen right now, but it's just gaining, you know, potential -- the vast majority of the population, not proponents of the opposition. Those who were previously loyal to Putin, but they don't like this crackdown, and they are becoming more and more, you know, like unloyal.

KEILAR: Abbas, I also want to ask you about Navalny's death because his family, his team, many others, look at this and they say, Putin is behind Navalny's death. Of course, the Kremlin denies that. But if we examine that as a possibility, why would Putin choose now to have Navalny killed if that's what has happened here?

GALLYAMOV: It's very complicated and dynamics inside the Russian politics in Putin's onto Russian, Russian in general. You k now, this technocratic group plus hold them like this, which are there not dusk. They're just more technocratic who are against escalation.

They suffered a big defeat. They actually let putting down very strong because they allowed this opposition candidate Nadezhdin to start the procedure to gathering signatures who have himself registered for the election. And this -- this thing opened, made an opening in the brick wall, all

of a sudden, Russian people felt that it was not punishable to display their anti-war sentiment by giving signatures. And so, the whole country lined up in these long queues, people were standing in lines in Nigeria, headquarters trying to give their signatures to support him.

And so he feels that like since discontent is growing and its being the only thing you can do is really to chop off heads of all the opposition leaders so that at least lead this discontent be like, you know, unstructured so that literalists, because like the election is coming and what if this leaders, they're trying to organize some kind of activity anti-Putin activity. So it's better for them to be totally disorganized.

KEILAR: Well, Russians may want an alternative, but certainly their alternatives are diminishing.


We're seeing that before our eyes.

Abbas Gallyamov, thank you so much for your time this evening.

GALLYAMOV: Thank you very much

KEILAR: OUTFRONT next, we'll speak to the boyfriend of the American who is now being held in Russia after allegedly donating money and a small sum at that to a Ukrainian charity. She -- he just received a letter from his girlfriends. So what is she saying to him tonight?

Plus, Republicans just wrapping up a closed-door meeting with Biden's brother as they scramble after their star source for information on the Biden family -- after their star source was just indicted for lying.

And CNN learning that the president's dog has now bitten Secret Service personnel, at least 24 times. We're going to tell you what the Biden family is saying about it.


KEILAR: Tonight, detained in Russia, new details about the thirty- three-year-old from Los Angeles who is now behind bars in Russia on charges of treason for allegedly donating about $51 to a Ukrainian charity, her boyfriend, Chris Van Heerden, who were going to speak with here in just a moment, is telling OUTFRONT that she went to Russia on January 2nd to visit her family, almost immediately was picked up by Russian authorities, but then was released and then arrested again this month.


Van Heerden, who also just received a letter from Ksenia calls her the sweetest, kindest person that you will ever meet, someone full of love and joy. But now, this woman who was a U.S.-Russian dual citizen is facing

years in prison. The possibility of that, because Russia is accusing her of quote, providing financial assistance to a foreign state in activities directed against Russian security.

And tonight, according to the State Department, the Kremlin is so far refusing U.S. officials to have any contact with Karelina.


MATTHEW MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Russia's not recognized dual citizenship, considers them to be Russian citizens, first and foremost. And so oftentimes we have a difficult time getting consular assistance, but we will pursue it in all matters where a U.S. citizen is detained.


KEILAR: Matthew Chance is OUTFRONT live in Moscow for us.

And, Matthew, what are the Russians saying about Karelina's detention here?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they say they've remanded her in custody until April and they're also putting a bit more detail on what she is suspected of doing. A statement from the FSB, which is the Federal Security Service here, the old KGB, their press office saying that since February 2022, she proactively collected money in the interests of Ukrainian organizations, which was subsequently used it says to purchase medicine items, equipment, weapons, and ammunition for the armed forces of Ukraine.

In addition, in the United States, the FSB says she took part in public rallies in support of the Kyiv regime, so pro-Ukrainian rallies. Now, these don't seem -- this doesn't seem like much, but in the context of the environment in Russia right now, where there is deep suspicion to anybody you shows any kind of dissent, this was enough to attract the attention of the Russian security services and to actually now charged with treason incredibly serious crime, obviously in which -- if she's found guilty, she could face up to 20 years in prison.

And so, it really is astonishing that someone like Ksenia Karelina, who is my understanding, works in a beauty parlor in Los Angeles. She's not an activist at necessarily already, or a campaigner in any way, that she should be targeted in this way by the Russian authorities.

KEILAR: All right. Matthew, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT now, Chris Van Heerden who is the boyfriend of Ksenia Karelina.

Chris, first, just tell us a little bit about Ksenia. What should people know about who she is? CHRIS VAN HEERDEN, BOYFRIEND OF U.S.-RUSSIAN CITIZEN ARRESTED IN

RUSSIA: She's the light of the room. She's very positive, very friendly, very happy, very funny girl that's so much life in her. She's so alive, full of joy. And I tell you what, anybody that gets to speak to her falls in love with that her because that's who she is.

She's just a light. She sees. She's so kind. She sees the good in everyone believed me. She's unbelievable. She's just -- she's unbelievable.

KEILAR: Chris, I know this is very difficult. The situation that she's finding herself in and you are going through with this. Can you tell us a little bit about the circumstances of how she decided to go to Russia, how she was detained, and if she had any fear that anything like this could happen?

VAN HEERDEN: She had no fear. She was so proud to be going home. She's -- I mean, she's so proud Russian, as she is American. But she was this excited to go.

She hasn't been home in a while. I mean, there was a pandemic. There's a war. So she hasn't been a while. She was so excited.

She's more worried about not being around her grandparents. And then they are very old and she wanted to spend time with grandparents. So I, of course, bought a plane ticket for both, then surprised in this -- it's hard for me because I bought that plain ticket, get but she had no idea. We had no idea.

And then we went to Istanbul for New Year's, spent four days in Istanbul and where she went on to go home, and I came back to L.A. And I remember the last conversation she was so happy that she would be able to see her mom and her dad and grandparents and little baby sisters, eight years old. And yeah -- I mean, the flight from Istanbul to her hometown, near Ekaterinburg, was four hours and my flight back to L.A. is 14.

So by the time I got back to L.A., I was supposed to have a message and I didn't and I reach out to her and no reply. And a couple of hours later, she phoned me and she told me what happened.


And she got detained as she entered.

KEILAR: She was detained she was she entered, but then she was released. And at that point, did she have no worries that anything further would happen? Tell us about that. What happened before she was ultimately detained?

VAN HEERDEN: All I know -- all I know is when she got to then released, they send her back home. She was able to go see family and I do know they kept her phone. They held onto a phone, so and I had contact through her -- through mother's phone.

But as time led on to her coming back, which is about three weeks, like we never spoke about anything. She didn't want to speak about anything. Two days before her flying back to L.A., I had to ask her, said, is everything good? Are you coming home? Right, I'll pick up you up at the airport, knowing she doesn't have a phone yet, and she was told not to leave a city, and she said, yes, he said, babe, it's all good. I spoke to them and they said I can come and get my phone and it's all good.

And I remember the last hour before all of this happened was she was so excited and relieved that nothing is wrong and she can go home. And it was a Friday morning, in Russia, which means it was Thursday night here. I went to bed and I woke up the next morning. And I never heard back from her.

KEILAR: And you saw this video, which we are seeing, you have since not spoken to her but you have just received a letter from her.

Can you tell us anything about what she said and if you know anything about the conditions that she's facing?


KEILAR: I'm sorry, Chris.

VAN HEERDEN: Watching this -- wow.

The letter she -- she's more worried about me, that who she is. She's more worried about me and I'm like -- and she's telling this beautiful, it's a love story. She's telling this beautiful memories that she's holding it, gives her motivation is all these good memories and but you also makes it clear that it's day by day. One day, she wakes up and she's so positive and so strong and believes that she will be home soon.

She believes in America. She believes that they will help her get home. And then one day, she says one day, it's like this, sit on my bed and stared at the wall for hours, like knowing that I'm going to be her forever because that's what she's thinking.

I know she's safe. She made it clear to me that she's with two people, two ladies. That's very kind and were good and she's got conversation in there, and she's just telling all -- she's just more worried about me and that breaks my heart because she's -- that's who she is, she cares about everyone but herself.

KEILAR: Chris, I know. Like I said, you haven't spoken to her, were you -- were you aware of this donation that she had made to a Ukraine charity? I mean, it's a pretty paltry sum in the scheme of things here. Had she talked about that?

VAN HEERDEN: No. No. She -- like she -- she is so proud to be Russian. I'll tell -- I mean that like she is so proud to be Russian and she doesn't watch the news. She doesn't intervene with anything about the war and she's proud to be Russian.

And we never spoke about it. She doesn't want to speak about it. She's just like, you know like I said, if you saw how happy she wants to go home, she did not have a worry in a world. She did not for the life of a thing that she would be in this situation.

KEILAR: So when you see because ahead of her next hearing, which is February 29th, the Russian government is accusing Ksenia of treason, which could bring this sentence of up to 20 years in prison. You know, what goes -- what goes through your mind as you hear that?

VAN HEERDEN: Knowing Ksenia is that's the difficult part is, I know who she is. She's so full of life. She needs to be out there, in the sense that she needs to be with her friends. She needs to live life because she loves life.

And knowing that this -- this is the same woman that she's a beauty esthetician. She's a full-time esthetician. This is who she is.

She takes care of yourself and knowing that we she is right now, she cannot take care of us. I know how mad that drives her because she's got to wash her face. She's got to do her hair, and she's got to take care of her skin.

And knowing to you to just read in year life sentence in 20 years hurts, it's really difficult to get that.


And then the only thing that really helps me right now and then I'm sure she'll -- I don't know, but its the fact that you guys, the media show so much love and support and I believe in America, I do believe that America will bring her back to me and that's the hope I'm holding onto.

KEILAR: Well, Chris, listening to your -- you're talking about the small things she enjoys that you were so sad that she will not be able to, and we thank you so much for sharing with us about Ksenia.

VAN HEERDEN: Absolutely.

KEILAR: And we'll stay in touch with you. Thank you.

VAN HEERDEN: And if this means anything like, I know she's got a court hearing in -- on the 29th. She's got to be again.

And what I just learned, if she was supposed to have one yesterday and she did not have a lawyer to represent her.

Now, I do understand people are afraid to just touch this, but we do have lawyers that's willing to help, and it's insane amount of money. So we've created a GoFundMe page that which will be active soon in -- God, like God forbid people -- God willing people will just help and lets show that she just know it broke my heart to know she said then she, didn't even have a lawyer. To each who want to help anyway, please.

KEILAR: I know, I know, Chris. That is such a huge concern for you right now. And we thank you so much for speaking about her with us. Thank you.

VAN HEERDEN: Thank you so much

KEILAR: Chris Van Heerden, we appreciate your time tonight.

OUTFRONT now, is Andrei Soldatov, Russian investigative journalist whose website has been blocked in Russia.

Andrei, what did you think of what you just heard there from Ksenia Karelina's boyfriend

ANDREI SOLDATOV, RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, it is clear that the local office of the FSB was tasked to keep tabs on everyone if an American passport in the region. So that's why they detained here immediately and after that way, they informed the headquarters out there in Moscow. And after that, it was up to Moscow, the headquarters of FSB in Moscow to decide what to do about her.

So that is why she was detained second time to find something which might incriminate her. So either they hacked her devices and the founder information about this transfer, or maybe they had some information prior to arrest, but it is absolutely the clear to me that as a main goal of the whole operation is to build up a bank of hostages with American passports.

KEILAR: So that's the motive as you see it, is to build up a bank of hostages.

SOLDATOV: Yes, absolutely. Moscow wants desperately to have a conversation with American, sounding need to have some leverage. The more Americans they can have as hostages, the better to them.

KEILAR: So you think it's very possible because now were learning from her boyfriend. She was initially detained. They took her device. She was actually using a relative's device to then contact someone else's phone to contact him.

You think that they learned about this donation, which is a small sum. I mean, were talking $51.80 to first responders in Ukraine to -- do you think that they just took that from her device? What do you think the likelihood is that they are tracking that kind of thing more broadly of Russian Americans who might be returning home to see family or so on?

SOLDATOV: I think there's two options are equally possible. They could find this information on her device. It is absolutely possible they had time for that. But also they could have some information prior to coming to Ekaterinburg, because, of course, Russian security services, as we know, that getting more and more active at infiltrating while banking systems used to found and to help refugees, and civil society in Ukraine, and in Russia. So it's about both opportunities are all possible.

KEILAR: Andrei Soldatov, thank you for being with us.

OUTFRONT next, President Biden's brother grilled by Republicans as the GOP tries to salvage their impeachment inquiry, now removing any mention of the man that was there star source of information on the Bidens.

Plus, a CNN investigation into a strike on a U.N. convoy that was carrying crucial aid to people in Gaza.


That convoy was promised safe passage, but it was hit.


KEILAR: Just moments ago, House Republicans wrapping up an interview with President Biden's brother behind closed doors as they try and push through their effort to impeach the president. This sit down lasting more than eight hours and happening despite the fact that the GOP star source for information on the Biden family was just indicted for lying.

Those lies had been the centerpiece of the Republicans impeachment push. Top House Republicans, including Congressman Jim Jordan, pointing to an interview, the informant Alexander Smirnov did with the FBI form describing this called a 1023.


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


KEILAR: The most corroborating evidence now not so much.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDNET: What Smirnov is not true. Would you concede that?

JORDAN: Well, yeah, that's what the FBI saying.


KEILAR: Evan Perez is out in -- OUTFRONT in Washington.

And, Evan, I know that you've been digging into Smirnov's background here, his history with the FBI, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we learned that as early as 2020 when Smirnov first tells the FBI these allegations about Joe Biden and Hunter Biden that they were getting -- they were going to get $5 million a piece from this Ukrainian company Burisma, that the FBI believed or had reason to believe that he was lying, that they could not corroborate at least some of the claims that he was making.


And there was some suspicion that at least some of the claims were false. The question is, what happened after that? What we know is that Scott Brady, who was U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, who had been assessing some of these information that he turned it over to David Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware, who has indicted Hunter Biden in a couple of cases and he's the one who's now charging Smirnov with these flying to the FBI with his false claims.

So the question is, Brianna, what happened in intervening three years during which time, of course, Republicans kind of latched on to this and have, you know, ran with it, including making it public. We also know Brianna that is no indication that Smirnov was ever polygraphed, which is a standard part of the FBI's process to vet sources. We don't know exactly why.

We know that he was a source for some foreign intelligence services in addition to the FBI. That's part of the appeal in some ways for FBI when they're running these informants.

But really, the complications of running someone like this is part of what I think the FBI, the Justice Department, David Weiss, are now facing questions over and I think you're going to here a lot more from members of Congress as to why it took this long to unravel these alleged lies.

KEILAR: Yeah, lots of questions. Evan, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter. She sits on the Oversight Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you for being with us. Can you tell us what happened at that closed-door hearing today?

REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): What we heard today was that there's no evidence that James Biden had any engagement with the president or took or that President Biden took any official action on his behalf. This is remarkably consistent.

Once again, and what we learned is there is no evidence that President Biden committed an impeachable offense. And so, Republicans have said this was about following the evidence. It has been followed to a dead end.

And now, I think its time to look at the evidence going the other direction. What we're learning about possible Russian interference in our democracy?

KEILAR: I want to listen to something that Congressman Matt Gaetz said. He left the meeting questioning James Biden's credibility. Here it is.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): There are a lot of things that Mr. Biden saying in there, they're directly contradicted by documents.


KEILAR: Are you aware of those contradictions?

PORTER: I have not seen any of those contradictions. And I think that if there was contradictions did exist, we would be hearing about them with some specificity and some detail.

Look, I think its telling that Republicans continue to conduct these proceedings behind closed doors rather than in the public like where the public can decide for themselves whether Mr. Biden, whether James Biden is a credible witness. The reality is, I understand the need to look into allegations, they have done that month after month after month. And what we have found on the Oversight Committee is no evidence to support an impeachable offense.

KEILAR: You say this is now a dead end very clearly. Listened to what Republican Congressman Andy Biggs says.


REPORTER: No second thoughts about this?

REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): No, no, because there's other corroborating evidence with other wrongs (ph) to the president.


KEILAR: Do you think it's possible Republicans still have other evidence aside from what they had from this informant?

PORTER: Given that this has been going on and is consumed, so much of the oversight committees time and work this year, if they had strong evidence, we would have seen it long, long ago.

What the oversight committee needs to do is go back to working on behalf of the American people. This is a committee I've served on for several years. It's the committee where I got the Center for Disease Control director to commit to free COVID testing for every American, where I held big pharmas' feet to the fire, even with Republican leadership, we've had productive hearings early in this Congress about topics like unemployment fraud.

And its just evolved into this wild goose chase. If Republicans have good evidence, we would have seen it long ago.


KEILAR: As you said, this is Republicans falling for Russian disinformation. And certainly, Smirnov is a Faberge egg on the face for Republicans. But Democrats have had something of their own before, in 2017, when they pedaled, what was the later largely discredited Steele dossier about Trump and Russia.

Do you have concerns that the political animosity, the divisions are so severe that both parties are vulnerable to furthering disinformation?

[19:40:09] FOSTER: Well, when any member of Congress, Democrat or Republican makes an incorrect or false statement, that is a problem and they have to fully own that. And so, I think that did help feed into this culture of distrust and partisan bickering. But I think my job is to stay squarely focused on the people that I worked for, the American people.

If there was evidence of wrongdoing, I would be side-by-side with my Republican colleagues in pursuing it, but there is no such evidence. And if there's not, it is not an appropriate use of taxpayer resources to continue to pursue something merely for political purposes when the Oversight Committee needs to be doing investigations into things like price gouging, needs to be tackling problems like the cost of prescription drugs.

KEILAR: Congresswoman Katie Porter, thank you so much for being with us

PORTER: Thank you

KEILAR: OUTFRONT next, a CNN exclusive, a U.N. convoy delivering aid into Gaza and coming under fire. It was promised safe passage. So why was it hit by an airstrike?

And a small spacecraft barreling toward the moon. If it sticks the landing, it will be the first U.S. moon landing in more than 50 years.



KEILAR: Tonight, a race against the clock for a hostage deal with Hamas.

Israel's war cabinet minister saying, quote, there are quote -- there are quote, initial signs of progress that optimism coming though with a warning that Israel will invade Rafah if there's no real progress here in the next two weeks. And it comes as an exclusive CNN investigation has revealed a shocking attack on a U.N. aid convoy trying to deliver desperately needed aid to Gaza.

Katie Polglase is OUTFRONT.


KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER (voice-over): This is how desperate the people in northern Gaza are. This aid truck filmed at the end of January is one of the last enter the region. And here's why -- aid so often caught in the fighting.

Now CNN can exclusively reveal that this truck carrying vital food headed for northern Gaza was hit on February 5th by an Israeli shell, despite an agreement to provide a safe route. CNN has seen the internal U.N. incident report and the correspondence between the U.N. and the Israeli military that show the route of this convoy was agreed upon in advance. And with starvation imminent for many across Gaza, experts say hitting

a food truck is a potential war crime.

JANINA DILL, OXFORD UNIVERSITY'S INSTITUTE FOR ETHICS, LAW AND ARMED CONFLICT: Looking at it with the available facts, it's really difficult to see how this could be a legal attack. And so at minimum, it would look like a very serious violation of international humanitarian law, whether it's also criminal, then depends on questions of intent.

POLGLASE: The trucks that off as part of a U.N.-marked convoy of ten up Al Rashid road in the early hours. It reached an IDF holding point at 4:15 a.m., stationary for over an hour. It was then hit at 05:35 a.m. Fortunately; no one on board was killed.

The U.N. says they were hit by Israeli naval gunfire. And in satellite imagery taken just two hours after the attack, CNN identified ships that could only be Israeli naval boats. They've been deployed along the coast and are attacking Gaza from the west.

JULIETTE TOUMA, GLOBAL DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, UNRWA: We share with the Israeli army the coordinates of the convoy. And only when the Israeli army gives us the okay, the green light, does UNRWA move. And the purpose of this deconfliction process is to make sure that aid convoys don't get hit.

POLGLASE: It's not the first time this has happened. Many other aid trucks have been hit since the beginning of this conflict. The U.N. says northern Gaza is still home to reported 300,000 civilians. UNRWA says half of its mission requests to the north have been denied since January and since this latest attack, they've taken the painful decision to stop trying to deliver aid to the north at all.

The IDF says it's helping to coordinate humanitarian relief in Gaza, but aid agencies say they faced repeated delays while some staff are detained and even tortured. A U.N. mission in December described one aid worker who said he was stripped, beaten, and blindfolded.

Even when convoys are allowed through, some routes are simply not possible. This large crater blocking Al Rashid Road just weeks before it was designated by the IDF as the main route permitted for humanitarian vehicles.

DILL: Such large percentages of the population are at such dire need at such immediate risk of starvation. From that perspective, it's really hard for me to understand what kind of potential military rationale could be advanced to justify actions like this.

POLGLASE: As the humanitarian crisis deepens, the question is whether Israel will be held accountable in a court of law for depriving so many in Gaza of aid.

Katie Polglase, CNN, London.


KEILAR: OUTFRONT next, the U.S. attempting its first moon landing in more than 50 years. So how hard will it be to pull off?

And new secret service documents obtained by CNN reveal the Biden's dog has bitten Secret Service personnel, at least two dozen times.



KEILAR: Tonight, you're looking at just how close the space ship Odysseus is to the moon right now. A new image posted just moments ago showing the moon surface here ahead of its historic but uncertain moon landing tomorrow, landing itself terrifying and also incredibly difficult, more than half of all attempts have failed.

Kristin Fisher is OUTFRONT


KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days after lifting off from Florida, Odysseus is now barreling towards the moon, sending back spectacular pictures of Earth along the way, and is now hours away from the most perilous test yet, for the robotic lunar lander, a softer control hold landing on this surface of the moon.

Intuitive Machines is trying to pull off something no private company has done. And if successful, it will be the first time in American made spacecraft has done it since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

STEVE ALTEMUS, INTUITIVE MACHINES CEO: We are steely eyed rocket scientists but deep down, this is quite emotional feeling to be here at this position.

FISHER: Just last month, the Pennsylvania company, Astrobotic Technology, had its first lunar landing mission end in failure. And last year, the Japanese company, iSpace and the government of Russia both crashed landers into the moon.

So, why is it so tough to repeat a feat that was first accomplished more than half a century ago?

The biggest reason is also the most frustratingly terrestrial one, money. NASA's budget at the peak of the Apollo program was more than 4 percent of all U.S. government spending.

Today, NASA's budget is 1/10 the size, just 0.4 percent. Even as NASA attempts to return astronauts to the moon under the Artemis program, in an effort to save money, NASA is outsourcing robotic lunar landings to companies like Intuitive Machines for a fraction of what it cost in the 1960s and '70s.


ALTEMUS: Do it for $100 million when in the past its been billions of dollars. FISHER: Then there's the purely technical challenge of landing a spacecraft in a specific spot, roughly a quarter of 1 million miles away.

DR. SCOTT PACE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY'S SPACE POLICY INSTITUTE: Some people have likened it to hitting a golf ball in New York and having it go into a particular hole in one in L.A.

FISHER: The distance means there's also a time delay, roughly three seconds for signals from mission control rooms on Earth to get to the moon and back.

PACE: A lot can go wrong in that time. So when the vehicle is actually landing, it pretty much is on its own

FISHER: Finally, there's the experience factor, the loss of the Apollo era expertise that no amount of new technology can make up for.

PACE: Simply because somebody else did it in an earlier age doesn't mean that this generation or this organization can do it.

These are people doing it for the first time. And there's no -- there's no substitute for that experience.

ALTEMUS: We all collectively have to be resilient to failures and we all have to be helping each other lift up and break down these barriers so that we can begin a lunar economy. That's what this is, a beginning of an emerging economy around the moon.


FISHER: By this time tomorrow night, we will know if Odysseus has succeeded or failed. It all comes down to this. The landing is set for 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

And, Brianna, one more thing I should note. This is also the first time that anyone is attempting to land on the south pole of the moon. Scientists say that's where water and ice it says. It's where America wants to land astronauts. And China does, too.

So it's a competitive spot, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. We're crossing our fingers and our toes, hoping they pull it off.

Kristin Fisher, thank you so much.


KEILAR: OUTFRONT next, the president's dog involved in at least 24 biting incidents, one requiring multiple stitches and other tearing through a Secret Service agent's shirt.


KEILAR: Tonight, new documents obtained by CNN show President Biden's dog Commander has bitten Secret Service personnel at least 24 times, and that's in addition to at least 11 previously reported biting incidents. They weren't just all little nicks either. This is a Secret Service agent's shirt after Commander bit him in the chest. A bite to a different agent required six stitches. The first dog has since been removed from the White House.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.