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Erin Burnett Outfront

New Video Appears To Show Downing Of Russian Spy Plane; Private Investigator Working With Trump Tracked Georgia Prosecutor; Trump, Haley Hold Final Rallies Hours Before South Carolina Polls Open. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 23, 2024 - 19:00   ET




Shot down. One of Putin's prized spy planes crashes to Earth. Ukraine taking credit now, as the war with Russia hits two years.

So what are Russians think about Putin's invasion? We'll be live in Moscow.

Plus, potential new trouble for Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis. New cell phone data is raising questions about the timeline of her relationship with her top prosecutor in the Trump election case.

And voters in South Carolina hours away from heading to the polls in the next crucial Republican primary. Nikki Haley trying to close the gap with Trump. Will her tough attacks today help?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Jim Sciutto, in again tonight for Erin Burnett.

And OUTFRONT tonight, Putin's prized spy plane shot down. This is new video into OUTFRONT, which appears to show the moment a Russia A50 spy plane is blown out of the sky. Ukraine's air force is taking credit tonight. This is a rare and crucial aircraft used by Russia to detect incoming Ukrainian missile strikes and to help pick Ukrainian targets on the ground.

We are now two years into Russia's brutal full scale invasion of Ukraine. The cost in human terms has been enormous and devastating. Many tens of thousands reportedly dead and wounded charges of vast war crimes by Russian forces. And Ukrainian cities in ruins from the beginning civilians have been the deliberate targets of Russian air attacks.

It remains the largest and bloodiest war in Europe since World War II and it's far from over.

In a moment, I'm going to speak with the Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas. Her country borders Russia, is a member of NATO, providing critical aid to Ukraine amid concerns that Putin could spread his war to other countries, including NATO allies. That concern is part of the reason Biden is hitting Putin within new round of punishing U.S. sanctions.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm announcing more than 500 new sanctions, in respond to Putin's brutal war of conquest and response to Alexei Navalny's death, because make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Alexei's death.


SCIUTTO: And tonight, Alexei Navalny's team is calling the ultimatum that Navalny's mother is facing in order to simply get her son's body back. Quote: Hell on earth. The Kremlin refusing to hand over Navalny's remains unless his family agrees to a private and closed funeral.

Our Matthew Chance is in Moscow today. He had the chance to speak with Russians about Putin's war in Ukraine now entering its third year.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two years into his special military operation, the Russian leader seems increasingly isolated. But as Putin commemorates Russia's war dead, he's also vowing to press on, his country on a war footing, in everything but name.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will continue to strengthen the armed forces in every possible way. We know it is difficult for you and we will do everything possible to help you complete the mission you have been assigned.

CHANCE: After months of hard fighting, Russian forces are making gains on the Ukrainian battlefield, recently taking the ruined town of Avdiivka, in the country's east.

But this was a costly and fragile victory. Even planting a Russian flag on the debris is fraught with risk.

But with Russian presidential elections next month, Putin seems keen to bolster his image as a war leader, recently flying in a strategic bomber for the cameras. With no real opponents, Putin doesn't need sky high ratings.

But he seems to enjoy public adulation, meeting carefully organized crowds on a campaign visit to the Russian region.


You're the best, cries one young girl crowd. In fact, he's the only leader in for nearly 24 years that many Russians have ever known.

We have a good president who will help us and we will win, says this mother. I think the end is near, she adds. Once we get our lands back and destroy all those scum, says this woman, we will win. Yes, we pay a big price, she admits, but it's worth it.

But not all Russians agree. For more than a week now, people have been laying flowers at makeshift memorials to Alexei Navalny, the late Russian opposition figure, was provoked outrage.

Privately, many Russians hope this country's direction, well eventually change but few believe that change can happen soon


SCIUTTO: Matthew joins me now from Moscow.

Matthew, I wonder, have we learned anything more about the timing of Navalny's funeral giving the -- well, just punishing restrictions. The Russian government is posing on his mother any memorial service

CHANCE: Yeah. Well, those restrictions have converted into an ultimatum with the Russian authorities according to Navalny's team, saying that she has to decide now whether she is going to a private funeral in Moscow, or whether the alternative comes into play, because they say they'll simply bury the remains of Alexei Navalny in that Arctic penal colony.

And at the moment, Jim, we just don't know which way the Navalny family and the Navalny's mother have going, have gone. And so, it could be any time.

But in the meanwhile, look, people in Russia and across the region are really watching carefully to see what happens next in Russia.

SCIUTTO: No question. Good to have you there in Moscow. Matthew Chance, thanks so much.

OUTFRONT now, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

Prime Minister, thanks so much for taking the time today.


SCIUTTO: Tomorrow, of course, marks the two-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces, they're running low on ammunition. Russia is gaining ground in the east.

Do you fear that two years in, Ukraine maybe losing this war?

KALLAS: Well, we have to believe in Ukraine's victory and that means we also have to act accordingly. That's why we have, you know, several meetings with the other leaders. What more can we do? What more can we send to Ukraine? Because that is the rule of the battlefield but the one who has more ammunition will win.

So we can't afford Russia winning. We have to support Ukraine so that they can push back. SCIUTTO: European allies have been stepping up, sending more ammunition, new weapons systems, but the U.S. still has not renewed its military assistance to Ukraine. And I wonder in your view, can Ukraine defend itself without U.S. military aid?

KALLAS: Of course, it is very, very difficult. I mean, we in Europe, we tried to do everything we can and definitely looking into our warehouses, what more can we give.

But, of course, if U.S. would be on board wholly, then it would be a huge help. But I think we shouldn't underestimate our own power. There's no question which side has more power, but it has to be put in action and sent to Ukraine.

So that requires everybody who has been supporting Ukraine to do there utmost to continue so.

SCIUTTO: Estonia, of course, does its part. It allocates 3 percent of its GDP to its own defense this year. But, but you have told me at times in the past and you've said this publicly, that some European allies are not investing sufficiently in their defense and in the alliance's defense. Do you believe that that is changing, that the war in Ukraine is sufficiently changing their commitment?

KALLAS: First of all, we are investing 3.2 percent of our GDP to defense in Estonia. But I mean, we are in this war for two years now, and I would have thought that when Russia started, it's full scale war two years ago. It would have been a wake-up call for everybody to invest more to defense. It hasn't been so.


But now, we see that countries are investing and surely -- slowly but surely still doing this. The question is whether it's too late to do it. I hope -- I hope not.

SCIUTTO: Just a week -- this week, Estonia stopped a Russian-directed influence operation inside your territory, arresting a number of individuals, including Russian nationals. Your country is clearly a target. It has been a target before going back to 2007, a massive Russian hybrid attack then. And you've been very public saying that if Ukraine falls, the Baltic states, including Estonia, will be Russia's next target.

I wonder. Do you feel even stronger about that today, given perhaps Russia's own perception that it is winning in Ukraine?

KALLAS: First of all, I've never said that Baltics will be next. Ive said that NATO will be next.


KALLAS: There is -- in NATO, we don't have any first and second class countries. We only have NATO allies. So attack on one is attack on all.

If Russia wins in Ukraine, then they could test NATO and that means all of us, not only those who have a border with Russia.

But the second thing is that we have to be aware that Russia is conducting the shadow war against soul of us. And I think here, we are very aware of these kind of but operations, what they are very good at this sewing the chaos, supporting the fuel onto the fires that already in our societies.

So we have to be very much aware of this and that's why we are making this public, and also advocating for others to do the same.

SCIUTTO: Yeah, and you could say that that sort of interference certainly happening in this country as well.

Former advisers to former President Trump have told me that if he is reelected, he will take the U.S. out of NATO. And as you know, he recently goaded Russia to attack NATO allies who don't allocate 2 percent of their GDP to defense which you can continues to stand by.

Have a quick listen and I want to get your reaction.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been saying, look, if they're not going to pay, we're not going to protect, okay? We don't want to be a stupid country any longer.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Does this mean you're not going to defend NATO countries if they haven't paid their 2-point-whatever percent?

TRUMP: Yeah, sort of, it does.


SCIUTTO: If he is re-elected, do you have confidence that Trump would order the U.S. to defend Estonia if it were attacked?

KALLAS: Oh, well, we do our 2 percent as I said, we do 3.2 percent. So he wasn't clearly talking about us.

But besides that, I was seen in Munich in the security conference and in one debate or panel, I was together with Hillary Clinton, and he -- she said there that, listen carefully what Trump is saying, because everything he says, he's planning to do as well, so take him very seriously.

And I think everybody is taking that very seriously. It's not a surprise. I mean, he has been of that opinion longer already. So, you know, the question is, what can we do about this? We still think that, you know, America -- the United States is, you know, credible, most reliable ally in NATO, and it should be like this because otherwise, it is detrimental for the security of the world.

SCIUTTO: The Biden administration hit Russia with new sanctions today, some 500 targets in response to Alexei Navalny's death, but also tied to the two-year anniversary of the full-scale invasion. We've seen sanctions through the years on a number of Russian entities, industries, et cetera, yet the war continues extrajudicial killings continue.

Do you still have confidence in sanctions as a weapon of foreign policy? Or is the sanctions policy failing in your view?

KALLAS: Well, it's not failing. What Russia wants us to believe is that, oh, you know, sanctions are not working. They're hurting you more than hurting Russia. This is not true.

I mean, we see their economy in a very, very poor state.

SCIUTTO: You have always expressed hope and I wonder as you're looking at this anniversary tomorrow, what are you hopeful about?

KALLAS: Well, first of all, maybe we were overly optimistic last year, but we should avoid the top of being overly pessimistic this year. We definitely have to believe in Ukraine's victory because without the goal -- victory as a goal, we don't achieve anything.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching closely.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, thanks so much for joining us.

KALLAS: Thank you

SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, the private investigator working for Trump tonight claiming that he has cell phone data that raises new questions about Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis's relationship with her top prosecutor, data that my next guest says could be devastating.


Plus, we are just hours from the next crucial primary. Both Donald Trump and Nikki Haley in South Carolina making their final pitch to voters and it got personal.

And one year after the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon, officials are now tracking another balloon over the southwest.


SCIUTTO: Tonight, a private investigator working for Donald Trump says, he has information that could be a major revelation in the effort to disqualify prosecutors in the Georgia election interference case. According to the investigator, cell phone data shows that the lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade, made late night visits to the area where the D.A. Fani Willis lived in late 2021. This is important because both Wade and Willis claim their relationship only started in 2022 after Wade was already hired.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did your romantic relationship with Ms. Willis began?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no romantic relationship with Mr. Wade until early in 2022, whether it'd be January or February or March, early in 2022, correct?


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I will say sometime between February and April? Yes, sir.


SCIUTTO: Now, Trump is arguing that if Wade and Willis were dating before she hired him to work on the case, then she personally profited should be disqualified and the case should be dismissed.

OUTFRONT now, Nick Valencia is in Atlanta.

Nick, I wonder what more you're learning about what this private investigators says. He uncovered in this case.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, ultimately, just to be clear, the ultimate authority on this is going to be Judge Scott McAfee and what he allows to be admitted as evidence in this case, he's the gatekeeper on what happens next year. But he has some more information to go off of than he did just 24 hours ago.

Steve Sadow, the defense attorney for Donald Trump in this case, suggests in his latest filing that he could prove that Fani Willis and Nathan Wade were not entirely truthful about when their relationship began, when they testified at her disqualification hearing last week. Sadow hired a criminal investigator who used subpoenaed cell phone data and cell phone information, which says that Nathan Wade's cell phone was located in the vicinity of Fani Willis' condo on at least 35 occasions in 2021, during the 11-month period.

The report goes on to suggest that Nathan Wade cell phone was located there several times well into the late evening and early morning hours, and there was at least 12,000 interactions between Willis and Wade by phone. That's' a text messages and cell phone calls.

So listen to this very interesting, because listen to what Nathan Wade had to say last week about this condo in his visits there during his testimony last week.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think prior to November 1st of 2021, you were at the condo more than ten times?

WADE: No, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it'd be less than ten times?

WADE: Yes, sir. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, if phone records were to reflect that you were

making phone calls from the same location as a condo before November 1st of 2021 and it was on multiple occasions, the phone records would be wrong?

WADE: If phone records reflected that, yes, sir.


WADE: Maybe wrong.


VALENCIA: So now in this filing, Sadow is basically saying that Wade was not telling the truth when he testified there.

And just a moment ago, Jim, we got a new filing from the district attorney's office. They were forcefully pushing back on these claims. Not only do they say that this cell phone data is not relevant to this disqualification hearing, but more important only they say in this filing that it does not prove that Wade and Willis were in the same place at the same time.

Ultimately, it is going to be crucial what is admitted as evidenced and the continuation to this disqualification hearing at continues next Friday at 1:00 p.m. -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, thanks so much.

OUTFRONT now, let's dig a little deeper, Ryan Goodman, our legal analyst and co-editor in chief of "Just Security", and Stephanie Grisham, former Trump White House press secretary.

Good to have you both on tonight.

Ryan, if I could begin with you, and let's just stipulate here. None of this affects the evidence against Trump and his alleged co- conspirators regarding election interference. This is about a hearing regarding the disqualification or whether it would be justified to disqualify the D.A. or the lead prosecutor.

But this new cell phone information, could it indicate potential perjury? And if so, would that be disqualifying?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: So the new information on the cell phone data if it proved to be reliable and the judge found a reliable, then it could be devastating to the prosecutors because it would basically go to their testimony in which they both said that their romantic relationship only began in 2022. This would contradict that in which Mr. Wade said that he did not spend the night at special prosecutor's -- sorry, the district attorney's house or apartment.

And the evidence here is not just that he entered into her neighborhood, but on one occasion, it says that she called him late at night and then an hour just about over an hour later, then he appeared at her apartment. There was there for several hours and the other one is that he leaves I like 3:30 in the morning and then he texts after he returns home just about an hour later at 04:00 a.m. in the morning.

So put those together, it's a deep concern and it could actually implicate whether or not they can proceed with the prosecution.

SCIUTTO: So, Stephanie, a private investigator hired by Trump's team, does this tell you something about how worried Trump is about this particular case and the evidence in this case?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Oh, absolutely. I think this shows he's very, very worried about it, and, you know, I think that Fani Willis has shown to be a very strong woman who's not going to back down from him. And no matter what he says, I think that that intimidates him as well.

I think this whole thing is unfortunate. I don't know why they wouldn't have disclosed close this relationship at the beginning. I think that if you're going to go against Donald Trump, you need to know that his team is going to dig and dig and try to find anything that they can, and whether or not he's above reproach.


We can all talk about that at some other time, but they should be above reproach if they're going to go after him. So I think this is unfortunate. I've said all along, I do believe they should have stepped aside and let somebody else to take the case.

But let us see what happens.

SCIUTTO: Ryan, do you believe the judge will allow this evidence in and I wonder how relevant you think the Willis filing tonight saying that that data does not indicate what Trump's lawyers say it indicates.

GOODMAN: So I think the judge is probably going to let it in. It's really up to him in his discretion. But if he doesn't let it in, then we have this cloud that overhangs the entire case and the trial and the like. So he might say, look, I mean given the other side and opportunity to clear their names by letting it in. So I think that's one piece, but then, of course, that's exactly right that they now get to another prosecutors side, tried to fend off this information and say whether or not they think it's accurate.

For example, the idea that Mr. Wade visits her neighborhood, 35 times over nine months, to me that particular part of it is not very incriminating or concerning. There's a lot in that neighborhood is like a nine-mile radius. So it's the other part that's maybe more of the concern that they need to rebut.

SCIUTTO: Understood. So, Stephanie, before we go, Trump, of course, has spent a lot of time disparaging Willis. He's posted about her on social media is called her names, claim she's racist. Trump's made his vendetta against her very personal. And by the way, this is something we've seen in other cases, going after judges, clerks, you name it. What would it mean to Trump both -- I mean, really, largely,

politically if she were to be disqualified?

GRISHAM: Well, no matter what, I think, whether she was disqualified or not, I think this is going to be the perfect venue for him now to constantly talk about the fact that he's playing the victim, that, you know, everybody's against him. You know, what he's doing right now, because as Ryan is that many times like this, this has nothing to do with the evidence but this is meant to humiliate them. This is meant to put a cloud as Ryan just said, over the case.

And so, politically, I think he's already got a win here, no matter what happens, he gets to say that this whole process was corrupt. And no matter what anybody and I believe no matter what Fani Willis and her team come back and say, even if they show proof that he was -- I don't know grocery shopping at 3:00 a.m. in her neighborhood, I think that no matter what, the base and Republicans will just grab onto this and say, you know, the fix is in.

SCIUTTO: And again, we should note, does not affect the quite significant evidence of attempts to overturn the election in Georgia.

Stephanie, Ryan, thanks so much to both of you.

OUTFRONT next, Republicans are struggling to respond to Alabama's controversial Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are babies. Could this hurt the GOP come November?

New images tonight from the spacecraft that landed on the moon, as we're learning the robotic lander is on its side, but still alive and well.



SCIUTTO: Tonight, just hours away from polls opening for South Carolina's Republican primary, former Governor Nikki Haley, and former President Donald Trump, both holding their final rallies in that state, with Haley urging voters to help her stop Trump's march to the nomination as Trump is seeking a knockout blow.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I defeated a dozen other fellas. I just have one more fella I gotta catch up to.

TRUMP: Tomorrow, we're going to win this state and then were going to tell crooked Joe Biden, you're fired! Get out of here! You're fired!


SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT now, South Carolina Republican strategist, Chip Felkel and Basil Smikle, former executive director of the New York state Democratic Party.

Good to have you both here, gentlemen.

Chip, if I could begin with you. From me everything you see in here on the ground and South Carolina, will Nikki Haley close the gap at all with Donald Trump tomorrow?

CHIP FELKEL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Unless you close it, obviously, she's not going to win. I think shell probably get within 20 points maybe. She run an aggressive campaign, but I don't think shell get much closer in that

SCIUTTO: Basil, so Haley, of course, very publicly vowing to stay in the race, win or lose tomorrow. In fact, if she's already planning stops in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Utah starting on Sunday, you see the map there. In the simplest terms, and it is, of course her right to keep running.

Why do you believe she's staying in? Is it insurance policy for the GOP if Trump falters or is it something else?

BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it could -- it could be a couple of things and they're not mutually exclusive. She could be laying the groundwork for a potential 2028 campaign, as others have said, she could be making the argument now that you could make later that she was the one that was trying to stop Donald Trump and trying to bring the Republican Party back to where -- you know, into the party that she knows and was running in ten years ago.

But there's also this other issue of whether or not the donors, particularly the large donors will actually see a path for her and try to continue to fund her going forward. If she loses those kinds of donors, she really does lose the narrative and then operationally, she loses the ability to travel to all of these states and actually do that kind of groundwork.

So I think both things can be true, but for her to be able to make the case to anyone that she should go forward, she's going to have to get the support of a lot of deep pockets to be able to do so.

SCIUTTO: Chip, we already know reproductive rights are already a weak spot to say the least for Republicans. And amid tomorrow's primary, you're seeing Republicans including Trump himself rushing to say they support IVF after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that that embryos are babies. I want to play what Trump just said it as rally.

Have a listen.


TRUMP: I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious little beautiful baby. I support it.


The Republican Party should always be on the side of the miracle of life and the side of mothers and fathers and beautiful little babies


SCIUTTO: The issue as you know, though, Chip, is that Republicans are not seen by many voters as on the side of women's right to choose, right? What when and how they have babies.

And I wonder even with these strong statements in support of IVF, given it was obviously Trumps decisions that overturned Roe v. Wade, is this an issue of association for Republicans here, right? That particularly women voters and others will look at this and say, here's one more thing, right, I have to worry about with Republicans in power?

FELKEL: I think you're right there. We already know that abortion is going to be a big issue in the fall with even Republican women. So this was an unfortunately for Haley. I think she teed this up for Trump with her stumbling the other day in terms of how she responded. So this is Trump seizing the moment to try to get back or push back a little in terms of what's already going to be a big issue for Republicans against Biden.

SCIUTTO: Yeah, it's a good point. I mean, because Haley's answer, it seemed to at least agree with the point from the Supreme Court ruling, the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, that embryos were, in effect, minors, were children.

As you know, Basil, Democrats, of course, use Roe v. wade to motivate voters in the midterms, seem to work and in a whole host of other special elections, since then, how are Democrats looking at this? I've already seen very strong statements from Biden and others seeming to capitalize on this.

SMIKLE: No, I think, I think Democrats are right to seize on it immediately. I think what you do is two things. One, you can attach the most extreme policies in different parts of the country to any Republican, right, because -- you know, there's some that are going to not be so draconian, others more so, and I think it doesn't matter.

You attacked -- attached Republican to the most extreme and use that at amplify that for the rest of the country. But also, I think it is an important point that Democrats can argue that if you don't like these policies, if you have Donald Trump back in the White House and a Republican Senate and House, you better believe that these policies can become nationalized.

And that's a really strong talking point because I would imagine that over the last several decades, Republicans wanted to do a few things, right? Get their judges, get conservative judges on the bench, flip state houses, which a lot of them word during the Obama years Democrats lost a thousand seats. But now you have these states making these very, very extreme policies.

And, you know, those are policies that even Republicans can't embrace, that's a problem.

SCIUTTO: For a national ban -- legislation for national ban on the table. SMIKLE: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Any Republican speak about openly.

Basil, Chip, thanks so much to both of you. Watch political developments, to watch this weekend, and we will have special live coverage of tomorrow South Carolina primary here on CNN. That begins at 04:00 p.m. Eastern Time with Erin and Wolf.

OUTFRONT next tonight and incredible new image of the moon taken just before that historic lunar landing. The mission did not go quite as planned, but can we still call it a success? I'm going to ask a woman who spent more time in space, that anyone in NASA's history.

And quote, if you don't control the fear, it will swallow you up. Those are the words of Ukrainian soldiers. The war enters its third year with no end in sight. We're going to be on the front lines.



SCIUTTO: Tonight, a new image just coming in from the spacecraft that landed on the moon. There it is, the company responsible for the vision also revealing what happened in those tense final moments right before Odysseus landed on the moon, actually tipped on its side as it touched down.


STEVE ALTEMUS, INTUITIVE MACHINES CEO: I'm going to pretend that's the rock that the lander is leaning on. We think we came down with like I said, about six miles an hour this way and about two miles an hour this way, and caught a foot in the surface and the lander has tipped like this. And we believe this is the surf -- the orientation of the lander on the moon.


SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT now is Peggy Whitson. She has spent more time in space than any one in NASA's history, was the first woman to command the International Space Station.

Good to have you on, Peggy. Thanks so much for joining.

PEGGY WHITSON, FORMER NASA CHIEF ASTRONAUT, NOW AXIOM ASTRONAUT: Man, no, its so exciting to be here to congratulate the Intuitive Machines team. They really pulled up a historic feat. Spaceflights, never an easy thing and when you're doing something for first -- trying to do a lot of new first, there's a lot of problem-solving in along the way and their team of engineers had to do a ton of problem-solving. I and I would call it some really sporty programming, and engineering in the last few minutes to make the flight successful.

SCIUTTO: Yeah, Bill Nelson told me it was a little bit of Apollo 13 and that the final orbit to get that those other sensors up. I wonder when you look at this photo. This photo we should know taken before the landing about six miles above the surface of the moon, what stands out to you?

WHITSON: Well, the rough texture, everything, you know, they're trying to land things in a very difficult place. In the previous lunar landings have been done that easier places, but now that we know there's potential for ice water under the surface, this makes it an ideal place to land and to have futures stations or outposts where we might mind that water. And so it's really exciting to actually take on this big challenge and go to the harder spot.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, I'm just curious about this because this was something of a machine controlled landing here. And obviously the advances since 50-some-odd years ago during the Apollo missions have been enormous in terms of technology and so on. But, you know, Buzz Aldrin, I mean, he was controlling the joystick when the lander happened in 1969.


Does it show that every humans help in these situations, right? Because several of the other attempts at landings have had some issues on the moon.

WHITSON: Well, that's definitely true, but we need to develop these technologies to do some automated maneuvers here and get more probes there. The more we learn about the surface, the more success we'll be when we send humans back. And so that's part of what Intuitive Machines is doing is developing those technologies and new information that were going to need to be successful in the future.

SCIUTTO: And this, this is part of that plan as, as you well know, to get humans back on the moon. But someday on Mars, this, this craft would bring supplies to them just as someone like you who spent time in space physically as a human being, how important is it to send people as opposed to just machines and probes out to space to you and for us?

WHITSON: Doing things automated helps us capture a lot of information in advance and makes us more successful when we send humans. Humans have the adaptability and flexibility to adapt to those changes that we might find along the way, but I think probably one of the most important aspects of this mission is how space is changing, the paradigm of how we do space exploration is really changing.

You know, it used to just be a government trying to do all this themselves are we are including commercial aspects, much like the company I'm working with, Intuitive Machines, we're all trying to develop new technologies and use that innovative flexibility to go even further.

SCIUTTO: No question, even depending on those private companies. Peggy Whitson, thanks so much. Great to have you on tonight.

WHITSON: Thank you so much SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, two years into Russia's brutal invasion of

Ukraine, you're going to hear from a soldier who is still in the fight even after cost him so much, including his eye.

And U.S. fighter jets tracking a mystery balloon floating over Utah, and headed east.



SCIUTTO: Tonight, two years of bloody, brutal combat, and eye lost in battle and six months of hell in a Russian prison. Those are the horrors one Ukrainian soldier has endured. And as the war enters another year, he is still in the fight.

Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If one man stories spanned all two years of Ukraine's war, you might expect it had ended abruptly by now.

But Oleksandr is alive, a glass eye from the siege of Azovstal. Gratitude from surviving Russian prisons, courage from battling in the summer counter offensive. And now, exhaustion from fighting in Kherson in a daring advanced across the river that Russia claimed it ended this week.

Two years ago, you remember shock about Russia's brutal attack, but also Ukraine's bold defense.

OLEKSANDR, 36TH MARINE BRIGADE (translated): I personally didn't believe it, but I imagined something could happen. But we underestimated our strength as if someone was deliberately putting a stick in our wheels, But our guys were ready, those were some of the strongest men I know and have known.

WALSH: Serving already four years around Mariupol, he had a friend move his family to Denmark, and slowly is unit fell back to the Azovstal plant unaware of the iconic battle it will become.

What was the worst part of Azovstal?

OLEKSANDR (translated): When you look at your friends, your boys who are wounded, you want to help them but you can't. This is the worst. We had no medicine. The boys were just rotting.

WALSH: Is there a flashback that is most vivid to you?

OLEKSANDR (translated): There are many flashbacks, but mostly, I think, only about my guys. Those that I lost and those that are alive but now in captivity.

WALSH: Four hundred colleagues died, 45 taken prisoner. He said surrender, the worst feeling.

OLEKSANDR (translated): Panic. I mean, it wasn't really panic, it was a bad feeling, a feeling of powerlessness, especially when they take away your weapon. It's like you're standing naked. It was like Russian roulette. No one there was sure of anything.

WALSH: Six months in prison, the Russian anthem daily, porridge boiled cabbage, friends dying, and threats of being hung or shot, they ended abruptly.

OLEKSANDR (translated): We didn't know that we were being released. They put us on buses and took us somewhere else. Our eyes were duct taped. No one saw anything. They just took us out, and that's it, you are in Ukraine.

WALSH: He rested and returned to fight in the bitter and bloody southern counteroffensive near Regina. He said he was grateful to feel fear again. So your experience is left-wing feeling more courageous or more fearful on the front line?

OLEKSANDR (translated): I'm not an iron man. I get scared too. It's good to have fear in you. You just need to master your fear. If you don't control it, it will swallow you up. You won't be human anymore.

I don't pity the recruits. Pity is bad quality. You just have to do your job.

WALSH: We talked in Kherson and his break from assaulting Russian positions across the river, a risky advance Ukraine hoped would edge towards occupied Crimea.

It hasn't. Many lives have been lost and the city of Kherson liberated now for 15 months, is also an exhausted ghost and while Western support has slowed, Russia has not.


OLEKSANDR (translated): This is difficult freedom. I don't argue. But I don't want to lose it. They were well zombified, the Russians. They simply win in numbers. People are getting tired and that's it. It will be difficult but we will try.

WALSH: No end is insight. He says, he does, of course, not want his son to fight in this war. He is seven.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Kherson.


SCIUTTO: Powerful story.

OUTFRONT next, a mystery balloon raising some eyebrows at the Pentagon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCIUTTO: Tonight, the U.S. is tracking a small balloon spotted floating over Utah by NORAD fighter jets headed east. Officials do not know yet where it came from. They do stress it does not pose a national security threat. The balloon significantly smaller than this one. That, of course, the Chinese spy balloon that traversed the U.S. last year. You'll recall it used U.S. internet service providers to send data back to Beijing before American fighter jets shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean.

Thanks so much to all of you for joining me tonight.

"AC360" starts now.