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Erin Burnett Outfront

Willis In Courtroom For Key Hearing On Her Fate In Trump Case; Trump Attends Hearing In Docs Case As He Tries To Delay Start Date; Thousands Gather In Russia To Mourn Navalny At Funeral; CNN On Front Lines As China And Taiwan Near A Breaking Point; Dr. Sanjay Gupta Meets Man Who Can Send Texts With His Thoughts. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 01, 2024 - 19:00   ET




Back in court. Fani Willis making a surprise appearance in a Georgia courtroom where Trump's allies are doing everything they can to get her kicked off Trump's election interference case. And the decision tonight rest with the judge who could announce his decision at any time. Will he remove Willis and possibly end that case?

Plus, thousands of Russians from all over the country bravely turning out for Alexei Navalny's funeral as Putin snipers watched from nearby. And Russian state television totally ignored all of this. My exclusive guests, the director of the Oscar-winning film "Navalny" and investigative reporter, Christo Grozev.

And breaking news, Alaska fishermen discovered another possible spy balloon. They're about to give it to the FBI. Is it from China?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Fani Willis back in the courtroom, the Fulton County district attorney making a surprise appearance as Trump allies are making their closing arguments, trying to get her kicked off the election interference case.

In a heated hearing, Willis's lawyers accused Trump's team of harassment and embarrassment, a fishing expedition to get her removed from the case because of allegations that her relationship with the top prosecutor created a conflict of interest and misused taxpayer money.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to make clear to the court that I -- the law in Georgia suggest and it's very clear that we can demonstrate an appearance of a conflict of interest, and that is sufficient.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once you have the appearance of impropriety under forensic misconduct, the law in Georgia is clear, that's enough to disqualify.


BURNETT: Well, that's the Trump argument. Willis's lawyers though pushed back and they did it aggressively, accusing Trumps allies of twisting the facts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The defense has to show an actual conflict, and in this instance, they have to show the actual conflict would be that Ms. Willis received a financial benefit or game and did it based or got it based upon the outcome of the case. He doesn't make any sense.


BURNETT: Now, to say the stakes are high is a serious understatement in this case, right? Willis's case against Trump could collapse if she's disqualified. A new prosecutor could change the charges, drop them entirely, or take a lot of time to get up to speed.

That is why Willis walked into that room today and tonight. It is anybody's guess as to how the judge in the case will decide. It is a crucial decision.

And Nick Valencia is OUTFRONT. He's live outside the courthouse in Atlanta.

And, Nick, how is the district attorney's team -- Willis's team feeling about her chances to stay on this case?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, those close to her tell me that Fani Willis doesn't think defense attorneys for the former president and his allies reached the threshold to disqualify her. But watching her attorney argue, it was clear that he got bogged down in the legal weeds and technicalities.

And I have to tell you from where I was sitting during some of those arguments, it was clear that the judge seemed incredulous.


CRAIG GILLEN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: These people, Your Honor, is a systematic misconduct and they need to go.

VALENCIA (voice-over): One after another.

JOHN MERCHANT, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think you know it when you see it.

VALENCIA: Defense attorneys pushed for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to be disqualified from former President Donald Trump's Georgia election subversion case.

MERCHANT: If this court allows this kind of behavior to go on the entire public confidence in the system will be shot. VALENCIA: Willis's arrival during a short break in the hearing took

the courtroom by surprise. She nodded in rock back and forth in her chair as the state argued why she should stay on the racketeering case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A mere fishing expedition.

VALENCIA: The defense claimed Willis and the cases special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, started dating before she hired him for the job.

MERCHANT: She put her boyfriend in the spot paid him, and then reap the benefits from it.

VALENCIA: And that she benefited through meals and lavish trips he paid for.

MERCHANT: She's received a personal financial benefit of over $9,200 in this case that she can't account for.

VALENCIA: The lead attorney defending Willis said she paid Wade back in full, arguing this has been an effort to harass and embarrass Willis.

ADAM ABBATE, FULTON COUNTY DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: An actual conflict has not been shown and more importantly, are in conjunction with that, there has been absolutely no evidence for the district attorney has benefitted financially at all.


VALENCIA: Willis sitting at the prosecutors' table, just feet from her attorney as the judge questions several of his arguments for why there's no grounds to disqualify the D.A.

JUDGE SCOTT MCAFEE, SUPERIOR COURT OF FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: There is a relationship and that money has changed hands. There's maybe still an open question of where the ledger stands. But I think it was conceded that that balance could run in one way or in the district attorney's favor. Is that contested?

ABBATE: Yes. What's not contested is that a relationship did develop.

VALENCIA: Last month, Willis testified she started dating Wade after she hired him and denied any impropriety.

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I'm not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.

VALENCIA: Willis has asked multiple times to bring Trump's racketeering case to trial as soon as possible, and the hopes of settling it before the presidential election. But for now, the wait continues.

MCAFEE: I hope to have an answer for everyone within the next two weeks.


VALENCIA (on camera): And so, now, we wait for Judge Scott McAfee, who as you heard there, said that he's going to have his order in the next two weeks. He did tell the court that he's going to have to get through some legal issues, makes him factual determinations. But it is going to take time.

Ultimately, though, Erin, he's going to have to decide what is the threshold for disqualification. Is it an actual conflict of interests or simply the appearance of one? Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Nick, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now: Ryan Goodman, OUTFRONT legal analyst; Michael Isikoff, who has spent extensive time with Willis and her team for his new book, "Find Me The Votes: A Hard Charging Georgia Prosecutor, A Rogue President, and the Plot to Steal An American Election"; and Van Jones, former special adviser to President Obama.

Ryan, I hope to have an answer in the next two weeks. I can't really find the word quickly of -- had to describe the look on his face. But here we are. You have said repeatedly that if Fani Willis is disqualified, the case could be in major jeopardy for several reasons, right?

Which way do you think the judge is leaning?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: It seems as though the judge is leaning not towards disqualification and leaving it instead, her a question of discipline for other authorities to determine --

BURNETT: Bar or whatever?

GOODMAN: Yeah. And that there'll be other consequences for the D.A., but not taking her off the case, necessarily, at least not by him.

And it looks as though that's partly because there's not really a strong presentation and that there was a conflict of interest. That's one of the pieces that in some sense when unrebutted by the prosecutors side.

BURNETT: Quick follow, not by him or someone else who could take her off, and when. How would that play out?

GOODMAN: So it would probably play out over the next several months in which she would be investigated by ethics oversight boards, and commissions. And there -- also there's a new commission that's about to be empowered in all likelihood by the legislature in Georgia. They could come down on all sorts of questions and not just about conflict of interests, including whether or not she was truthful on the stand.

BURNETT: So this doesn't go away even if she remains on?

GOODMAN: Oh, I think there's a cloud over her now for several months.

BURNETT: All right. That is ominous or even if it does continue. And but -- Michael, I mean, in that room, the judge did seem to rattle the lawyer for Willis's office. You could see that in the way he -- there's sometimes sort of stumbling and then Willis walked up as I just showed you there, handed him notes during his presentation and you heard Nick Valencia saying at one point, the judge and it seems incredulous at the arguments being made by the lawyer.

The D.A. tells Nick Valencia she was not pleased with his approach and thought she was going to stand up and say something herself.

Okay. You know who these individuals, what is your read on? What happened in that courtroom? The reaction today?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: I am totally sure that Fani Willis was itching to get up there and argue her case before the judge, especially because Mr. Abbate was stumbling a bit.

Look, Judge McAfee has, you know, has earned a reputation for being pretty evenhanded throughout this and I think he showed that today in his sort of evenhanded skeptical questions for both sides during the -- when the lawyers for the Trump defendants were making these assertions about how Willis had a personal interest in the case and that the evidence shows that they began the relationship before they testified to, before she hired Nathan Wade.

The judge was a bit skeptical. He said, what's the personal interests when they -- when they kept bringing up Terrence Bradley's text messages. You know, he pointed out there's nothing in that text -- those text messages that say, how he knows where -- when the relationship began, and any other details about it.

And he pointed out that Ashleigh Merchant, the lawyer, didn't lock him in, didn't go sit down and probe for those -- answers to those questions and get affidavit.


But at the same time when Andrew body, the lawyer for the D.A.'s office got up there and the questions came about the state of the law and whether its actual conference, conflict or an appearance of conflict.


ISIKOFF: He, McAfee, pushed back on the argument that appearance was not an appropriate standard, and I think that's where this ball game is right now.


ISIKOFF: It's not an actual conflict. The Trump lawyers haven't proven that by any means. But if it's an appearance which is kind of a loosey-goosey standard, it just looks bad. Then, you know, Fani Willis could be in trouble.

BURNETT: And to that point, Van, appearance of a conflict versus an actual conflict that is really, really what this is about, actually beyond that courtroom, the public perception, even if a case goes ahead, what is now the public perception?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, it's unfortunate. I mean, this is the case that people had thought felt strongly about. They thought it was strong, they thought she was strong, and also, even if Trump becomes president, he cant make it go away because the state case.

And so the fact that people went digging around in the garbage can and found some stuff and now they're throwing it on her and say, now, you're dirty, that's -- that's the way the game gets played unfortunately. But I think the judge has to make a really strong decision because first of all, highly consequential for the country.


JONES: Second of all, you know, it's not, it's not clear. It's not clear to me that the level -- that the conflict of interest is not -- she's got some extra reason because it's relationship to go after Donald Trump. It's what is a conflict of interest about, and that's where I think he's got to --

BURNETT: Well, we serve pretty damaging to a relationship if you're in it and you're hiring someone as a favor. And then you've tried to hire someone else and someone else after that and someone else after that. Then, finally, you settle on the guy you're dating. I mean, that's -- but that's what it would be.

So that is some perspective, Ryan. But to that point, you have said that the cell phone data that was obtained by private investigator hired by the Trump team is what could be the most damaging. It shows a 35 occasions in which his phone was hitting a cell tower near where she lived in the wee hours of the morning, I suppose in 2021, that's obviously before she hired Wade and is also before they said the relationship began.

Willis's lawyer said that this doesn't indicate anything about whether they were dating. Here's how.


ABBATE: I think that's the point. I would say, yes, that is the point. He referenced that that's an area that he was not uncommon for him to be in. Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade never denied that he had been to that condo before. The specific testimony that was elicited by Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade was that he never he had never laid his head, was the direct quote, at that condo, which these records don't prove that he laid his head anywhere.


BURNETT: Willis seems to be smiling as he was making that argument. What did you think about it?

GOODMAN: I thought that was a pretty awful place --

BURNETT: To be blunt, yeah.

GOODMAN: Yeah. For a lawyer to be to be saying, hey, look, he only said he didn't lay his head there. But, yes, there might be evidenced that he was there for several hours in the middle of the night from like 12:30 a.m. --

BURNETT: Because he left before the morning?

GOODMAN: Yeah. So that is not where you want to be. And in some sense, even if something is technically true.


GOODMAN: I'm sure it's technically true that he didn't lay his head there, that is not where you want to be. There could still be a lie, because you've misled everybody by saying it's -- or suggesting never (ph) there overnight.


GOODMAN: And that's what this cell phone evidence is strongly indicative of, and they haven't really rebutted that.

BURNETT: Right. And the text messages as well. I mean, I didn't mention those, but thousands of those as well.

All right. Thanks very much to all of you.

You can catch more, by the way, of Van on this Sunday's episode of "THE WHOLE STORY", he travels to his home state of Tennessee to explore how the states politics have transformed ahead of Super Tuesday, and Van airs at 8:00.

And OUTFRONT next, Trump also back in court today, trying to delay the start of his classified documents case. But why his lawyers now pushing for an August trial date that could lead to a verdict well before the election. How come?

Well, the former Trump White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, will be next.

Plus, incredible images of bravery tonight. Thousands risking their lives to turn out for Alexei Navalny's funeral. Investigative journalist Christo Grozev and Oscar Award-winning director of the film "Navalny" are with me to remember their friend.

Plus, our Sanjay Gupta with a special report. You'll watch a man control a computer with his thoughts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gives me the opportunity to be able to continue to do things that I'm able to do now just by thinking about it. (END VIDEO CLIP)



BURNETT: Tonight, Trump in court again, this time for a hearing in his federal classified documents case. And Trump didn't need to be there but he chose to be there. And the hearing touched on a number of issues, perhaps most important, when the trial will actually begin.

Jack Smith's team has asked for that July start. Trump's team asked for August 12.

Now, according to our Katelyn Polantz, who was in the courtroom, Trump barely looked at Jack Smith and the proceeding, not more than once or twice the entire time.

OUTFRONT now, Ty Cobb, the former Trump White House lawyer.

So, Ty, of course, the judge in this case is Aileen Cannon, nominated to the bench by Trump. She has thus far issued decisions in this case that have been friendly to him, but, you know, we don't know what she will do at this point. You've followed the hearing very closely today.

What did you make of her comments today? Did you get any insight on her thinking?

TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: So I think what we heard from her today at the end of the end of the hearing I'm told. And based on the reporting, was that she had a comment. There's so much to do.

That's not the last time we'll hear that. She'll do it again when she delays the trial, repeatedly to get beyond the election.

I think its the richest thing that happened today was when she said you know pointed to all the motions that were pending as a reason for why, you know, it was going to be difficult to be paired.

Well, Jack Smith and his team proposed a schedule months ago that would have resolved half of those motions and had the case ready to go on a schedule that would have ended before now, you know? And she rejected that and she delayed all the serious work that is necessary under the Classified Procedures Act.

So I think the trial date, even the Trump proposed today is highly unlikely. I think they only propose the August date as a chess piece in the D.C. case. They would love to have her schedule August date, knowing that she'll move it to hold off Jack Smith in D.C. And I think that's -- I think that was their game plan. And I think that they're likely to succeed in that.

BURNETT: I don't want to say are being fatalistic. I know you're being honest, but it is, but it is a grim assessment, but I think important the way you lay it out, that they don't meet August 12th. They're using as a chess peace in something else, knowing that she'll delay it even further. So that's not a real date from the Trump team.

I did mention Katelyn Polantz's reporting from inside the courtroom and she was in there. She saw Trump, Ty, appear to grow impatient at 03:00 in the afternoon. That was a five-hour hearing. So it was just before it ended. He started to get impatient.

But, you know, obviously, he was there by choice. Its a long time for him to be there, so he began shaking his head according to her reporting, as the DOJ prosecutor stood up to deliver his closing argument. And before that, she said people in the courtroom seemed a bit more relaxed than it prior hearings.

At one point, Judge Cannon even let her hair out of being pinned back at one point. So, just maybe sort of a more casual set of interactions. What do you make of that, that there was that sort of calmness, but then Trump choosing to be there the entire time?

COBB: Well, I think he was there the entire time basically as a compliment or waved to her. I think he recognizes as does most of the litigating world that she has really gone out of her way and that gutter rebuked by the 11th Circuit to favor Trump in these proceedings. And I think he wanted to repay the -- repay the favor by showing up and yeah, the absolute right to be there. But he didn't have to be there.

Also, I think in terms of the dynamic at 03:00 and that's sort of, you know, that's a long time for him to go without a Diet Coke. So I can see why he might be cranky, but he probably was mostly cranky about what the government was saying in terms of the political schedules are irrelevant. You know, this case is trying to go. We can get this case done.

These issues that they're raising in terms of wonder I'm going to do these fishing expeditions with federal agencies, is unprecedented and they haven't established any evidence that would justify such a fishing expedition. Even though she's said she would entertain it.

I think Trump doesn't like it when the government speaks and the government gets its way.

BURNETT: All right. Ty, thank you very much. Appreciate your thoughts and for good weekend.

COBB: My pleasure. Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. And next, defying Putin. Huge crowds showing up as Alexei Navalny was laid to rest.

More than 100 people were detained. Navalny's close friend, who was wanted by Putin is next.

And breaking news, we are learning tonight the commercial fishermen off the coast of Alaska have now found what could be another spy balloon.


BURNETT: Tonight, thousands and thousands of Russians in a striking show of dissent, defying Vladimir Putin, to say goodbye to the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and you see Navalny there. He had an open casket at a church in Moscow. Now, among the very few allowed inside the church were Navalny's parents but outside that church, there were a huge force of riot police snipers in some cases, crouching on rooftops, metal barriers blocked access to the entrance of the church.

And then listen to this --


BURNETT: They're chanting and what they're saying is Russia without Putin. Think about the incredible bravery of all those people choosing to do that.

At this hour, 115 people have been detained. The Kremlin saying it had made its word to arrest any show of support for Navalny taking action. In fact, Russian television barely mentioned any of what we are showing you tonight, mass demonstrations on the streets. It's a big deal in Russia, didn't see it on state television.

The Kremlin in a statement saying it has nothing to say to Navalny's family as his wife, Yulia, alleging a Navalny was killed on Putin's orders, at a penal colony.

OUTFRONT now, Navalny's close friend, the investigative reporter Christo Grozev. He exposed the plot to kill Navalny with Novichok on that airplane. He is on Putin's wanted list now.

Also with me, Daniel Roher, the director of the Oscar-winning CNN film, "Navalny".

I am glad to see both of you, although not under the circumstances we're talking tonight.

Christo, you had to watch your friend laid to rest today and to see his face. The images were incredibly moving. What -- what stuck with you the most?

CHRISTO GROZEV, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, I think it was the closure of this point (ph) of disbelief, but that's -- I heard this from many, many Russians who spoke up on (AUDIO GAP) with them the important moments today was two-fold. One was they finally realized that they both (AUDIO GAP). And the second thing that everybody felt was the hope is not lost because what everybody hope would happen, people would come in there thousands or tens of thousands, they did have.

And this means that here is not (AUDIO GAP) forever, and that can be there (AUDIO GAP) people can follow Alexei's own legacy and advice which was don't give up. The fact that they're trying to kill me means that they're afraid of us and just take that fear. BURNETT: Daniel, you spent a lot of time with Navalny making your film, and I want to ask you about something that happened today specifically, which is the music, and the music that was played was music that Navalny had chosen for a funeral that unfortunately he knew very well could happen.

And he was buried to a song from his favorite movie, "Terminator Two". And his spokesperson wrote, Daniel, Alexei considered "Terminator Two" the best film in the whole world referencing the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger sinks into the vat of molten metal, gives a thumbs up I know too many. It may seem like just a theatrical moment. It was very symbolic to Navalny, right?

DANIEL ROHER, DIRECTOR, ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING CNN FILM "NAVALNY": Yeah, Erin, I'm laughing right now because Alexei and I would have debates about this. He would say "Terminator Two" is the greatest film ever made. And I watched it last night and his honor. And today, I am agreeing with him. "Terminator Two" is the greatest film ever made, and it's particularly symbolic.

You know, the theme of that film is -- there's a famous quote in the movie, the future is not set. The -- there was no fate, but what we make for ourselves, it's about agency, it's about being brave and it's about being strong in the face of unimaginable opposition and odds. And that idea, that notion is what I'm carrying forward.

And of course, playing that song and evoking that film is so Alexei. So, of course, have to be crying and smiling at the same time because that's in the spirit of Navalny.

BUNRETT: And, Christo, I know that you right now are doing everything. You're dedicating everything of yourself to find out exactly what happened to your friend and so I want to share what Navalny's close aide, Maria Pevchikh, who of course, you know very well said in a bombshell video that was posted on Monday.

Here she is.


MARIA PEVCHIKH, HEAD OF INVESTIGATIONS, NAVALNY'S ANTI-CORRUPTION FOUNDATION: Navalny was supposed to be free in the coming days because we had achieved a decision on his exchange. In early February, Putin was offered to swap the FSB killer, Vadim Krasikov, who is serving time for murder in Berlin for two American citizens and Alexei Navalny. I received confirmation that negotiations were in the final stages on the evening of February 15th. On February 16th, Alexei was killed.


BURNETT: Christo, have you learned anything more?

GROZEV: It's hard to find out what exactly happens in terms of decision-making but one of the hypothesis, the one that Maria espouse in that video is that Putin led everybody believed that he was willing to go along and negotiate, possibly a swap of Alexei Navalny for an assassin who is serving a life sentence in Germany because putting standing to kill a refugee in 2019.

But that the reason for him to negotiate this only to send a message at the end by killing Navalny to the rest of the world, that there are no red lights for him anymore, that he will not stop at anything and it's part of the bluffing game with that is true. It's part of his bluffing gain to cause the West, to cause the United States to believe that he will stop -- stop at nothing in Ukraine and to stop the West from arming Ukraine.

This is a very plausible scenario. This is what, what is typical for somebody from the KGB background, like, like Putin. But what we do know at this point is that there's almost no innocent hypothesis. There's almost no scenario in this was in which this would be a natural death.

There were -- one of the -- one of the things we discovered was that there was a discrediting campaign against Yulia Navalnaya that started about ten days before the murder.


And this campaign was amplified on the day of the murder. And this suggests that they had been planning for this.

And they knew that Yulia Navalny will take over from Alexei and that they needed to prepare a character assassination campaign. This all points to other evidence such as the fact that they're withholding the body -- we're withholding the body for nine days before handing it over to the parents.

All of this point in the direction of willful assassination.

BURNETT: Fascinating what you say about ten days before they start this campaign, and on the day of the escalation.

Daniel, Yulia did share her grief for the world today. A video of special moments with her husband saying, I don't know if I can handle this or not, but I will try. His daughter, Dasha, whom, you know, we all know paid tribute to her father's saying she promises to make him proud, but neither were able to attend Navalny's funeral. His son couldn't go his brother couldn't go.

It's not clear they'll ever be able to go to Russia, again. And yet despite all of this, Navalny loved Russia.

Daniel, from conversations with him, what do you think about the fact that he now has his final resting place there?

ROHER: You know. Erin, what you just said moved me deeply and, I'm feeling the sadness of this moment. I understand that Alexei being laid to rest about 20 minutes, a 20-minute walk from where Dasha and Zakhar grew up, in a small apartment where Yulia and Alexei raised their children. And I think that's fitting. Navalny wouldn't want some giant state funeral. He would want to be

with the people. He would want to be in a community where his family can walk to see him into visit him because they will go back one day, Erin.

Yulia and Zakhar and Dasha will go back to Moscow one day. And I hope to go as well. I hope to go visit Alexei one last time.

BURNETT: Thank you both very much.

And tonight, Vladimir Putin under fire. We've got incredible new video into OUTFRONT. It shows the moment that Ukrainian soldiers came under heavy Russian fire as they took up positions inside what was once a house. It comes as Putin has made his darkest and most specific threats yet about using nuclear weapons account against the West.

OUTFRONT now, the retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe.

And, General, it is wonderful to be with you in person. I know, obviously usually you are joining us from Germany.

So Putin has threatened to use nukes more openly than he ever has in his speech that he just gave, warning of the destruction of civilization. Those were his exact words. How serious is this to you

LT. GENERAL BEN HODGES (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. ARMY EUROPE: Well, of course, you have to take him serious because he doesn't care about how many innocent people might be killed. But I think this is a continuation of his style of using threats bluster, because he sees how we overreact every time.

There's no upside for Russia if they use a nuclear weapon, zero. Our president has told them that there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia, if they use a nuclear weapons. So really, for the Kremlin, their nuclear weapons are most effective when they don't actually use them because we deter ourselves, we overreact.

BURNETT: So the "Financial Times", Max Seddon had this great report earlier this week, he had obtained intelligence documents showing the Russian threshold for using nuclear weapons. And it was much lower than anybody thought. In fact, making the navy more effective was actually a justification for using a nuclear weapon of some sort, stopping aggression was a definition which, of course, could be defined anyway, one wants to define it.

Are you surprised? Is that the threshold, at least when they're written documents of what they say is that low?

HODGES: Well, that is lower than what I had always believed, but you have to be skeptical whenever you have a Russian document, you know, what's the purpose of this document? How did how did we get this?

And again, I think this is part of an effort by the Kremlin to make us be weary and it works.

BURNETT: To halt Ukraine aid more.

HODGES: Yeah, it works because even the administration which has done so much and the German government, the top two contributors are not willing to say we want Ukraine to win. Our objective is for Ukraine to defeat Russia. And I think this is tied to their concern.

BURNETT: So Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says there's nearly $300 billion, $285 billion, in frozen Russian assets. She's saying that should be sent to Ukraine. And obviously you've got the call congressional money on hold. Obviously, $285 billion in frozen Russian assets, that massive amount of money. But how much of a difference with something like that make even if you had small portion of it?


HODGES: Well, that's -- the quick math here, that's about four or five times the size of the aid package right now that were all waiting to get through. So that would be an enormous boost for Ukraine, both for purchasing what they need to win this war, but also even for reconstruction.

But it also would be useful because it would send such a strong signal to the Russians that there are consequences for what they do. And right now, a lot of the people around Putin have not really felt the consequences for supporting him.

BURNETT: And so, you think that'd be a good idea?

HODGES: Absolutely.

BURNETT: All right. Well, general, it's great to see you and thank you.

HODGES: Thanks for the privilege.

BURNETT: And next, breaking news, a year after the U.S. shot down the Chinese spy balloon, we're now learning that Alaska fishermen tonight have discovered what could be another spy balloon.

And the Chinese coast guard with a major show of force around a key U.S. trading partner tonight.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've been out on this boat for less than two hours and we've already seen at least four Chinese coast guard boats.




BURNETT: Breaking news, another possible spy balloon, this one was found by fishermen off the coast of Alaska, who are going to bring it to FBI agents when they get to shore. So they literally found this in the water and they're bringing it back. So the fishermen are not certain what they found as a balloon, but the FBI determined that it looked enough like one to warrant further investigation. So that's where we are now as tensions between China and Taiwan are reaching a fever pitch.

China's coast guard showing force around a group of islands controlled by Taiwan, within spitting distance of the mainland.

Will Ripley is OUTFRONT.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Just off the foggy coast near Taiwan's frontline Kinmen Islands, the Chinese coast guard intercepts a Taiwanese tourist boat. Taiwan's coast guard calls it an unprecedented forced inspection, triggering panic among passengers and the public.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It was very scary. I was afraid that I might not be able to return to Taiwan.

RIPLEY: These are the waters where that incident happened, where the Chinese coast guard boarded the Taiwanese tourist boat and checked everyone's ID, spooking a lot of the people on board. You can see how close we are to the skyline of the Chinese city of Xiamen. There are Chinese construction votes all throughout these waters. Pretty easy to mix up, which side the Chinese side of the Taiwanese side, you're on when you're this close.

Cross strait tensions rising here, ever since the lunar New Year holiday. A Chinese speedboat capsized in a chase with Taiwan's coast guard. Similar to this one several years ago, Chinese fishing boats accused by Taiwan of trespassing the island's territorial waters, more than 1,000 times last year alone.

CHEN CHIEN-WEN, DEPUTY CAPTAIN, KINMEN COAST GUARD: As the speedboat was snaking, trying to evade inspection, and even drifting. It capsized and four people fell into the sea.

RIPLEY: Two Chinese fishermen drowned. Two others survived, telling a conflicting story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Even if we make quick turns, we won't capsize. It only capsized when it was rammed into.

RIPLEY: An infuriated Beijing accuses Taipei of covering up the fishermen's deaths. Chinese officials blamed Taiwan's ruling party, reiterating Beijing's sovereign claim over Taiwan, promising to step up patrols in the area.

Taiwan is deploying its own coast guard in response, analysts say the mainland may be testing how far it can push Taiwan, trying to erode its ability to control waters long governed by Taipei.

We've been out on this boat for less than two hours. We've already seen at least four Chinese coast guard boats, including that one right over there, which just made a U-turn. Our captain says that means they're monitoring us just like were watching them.

Rattling the nerves of Taiwanese tour vote operators.

Do you worry that this could be the place where there could be the beginning of a bigger conflict between Taiwan and mainland China?

MR. CHANG, TOUR BOAT OPERATOR IN KINMEN, TAIWAN: To be frank, I'm concerned. But this is not what all people want. If there is conflict, both sides would be devastated.

RIPLEY: Both sides watching what happens next, surging tensions on the Taiwan Strait, threatening to spill over.

Will Ripley, CNN, Kinmen, Taiwan.


BURNETT: Incredible report by Will.

Next, our Dr. Sanjay Gupta with a special report on how a man is now able to control a computer using only his thoughts.



BURNETT: Tonight, a medical and technology breakthrough. A man battling ALS able to control a computer using only his thoughts. It's amazing and our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta was there given unprecedented access to see how it happens.

And Dr. Gupta is OUTFRONT with this remarkable story.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Up, down left, right -- everything you are watching happen on this screen right now is being controlled only with Mark's thoughts.

So that just sent out a health notification.


GUPTA: He describes it as contracting and then relaxing his brain.

MARK: It takes concentration. It's a pretty involve process. Its one I don't take lightly.

GUPTA: This has all been pretty sudden for Mark. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2021. Mark has since lost control of his hands and arms. He would likely lose his voice.

Mark didn't hesitate to sign up for a clinical trial to have this placed in his brain. It's called a stentrode.

MARK: The one thing about this disease is it affects your physical, but not the mind. To me, it gives me the opportunity to be able to continue to do things that I'm able to do now, just by thinking about it.

GUPTA: In the world of brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, it is still early days. In fact, up until recently, it's mostly led to monkeys being able to play pong. But Synchron was one of the first companies in the world to get FDA approval for human trials. And Mark is one of those first humans.

It's all the brainchild of this man, Dr. Tom Oxley.

DR. TOM OXLEY, CEO, SYNCHRON: Text messaging is a really critical element of how we communicate with their family and friends now. So that's usually what people mostly want back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then that will text --

GUPTA: So you just sent a text?

MARK: I did.

GUPTA: That's pretty cool.

MARK: Very simple. Yeah. Pretty cool.

GUPTA: Dr. Oxley is a neurologist who first started thinking about the possibility of brain implants while in his native Australia.


OXLEY: For people who have got paralysis or motor impairment, but they have that part of the brains still working, then if you can put a device in, get the information, get it out of the brain then you can turn what previously was a signal controlling your body into a single that controls the digital devices.

GUPTA: The stentrode is the device that Oxley and his team at Synchron created. It's a cage of thin wire mesh with electrode sensors that can detect the electrical brain activity translate that activity, and then transmitted to devices such as a phone or a computer.

MARK: It's amazing. It's all I can say.

GUPTA: And just like a stent, it doesn't require open brain surgery. Instead, it's able to travel through the body's natural network of veins and sit in a major vein, right in the middle of the brain.

OXLEY: This is the actual deployment now.

GUPTA: I even tried my own hand at implanting one.

OXLEY: Keep pushing out the same license slow going there we go. So that's deployed on top of the brain inside the blood vessel.

GUPTA: I think the procedure went well.

OXLEY: It went well. It was your first attempts. No practice. And you landed it perfectly.

GUPTA: The procedure is minimally invasive and you can't see the device just by looking. The stentrode is threaded up through a vessel along the neck.

Right here you can feel a little cable, that's actually connecting that stent to a device. It now sits right underneath the skin here.

And it's from there, signals are sent out that can help him control these devices in his environment.

Our brains have billions of neurons firing electrical impulses that control our movements, everything from shaking hands to taking a step. Each and every one of those actions is associated with a specific electrical signature. The stentrode, which again sits right here around that area of the brain responsible for movement, learns to recognize those specific electrical patterns and essentially creates your own personalized dictionary of movement.

What can a BCI not do?

OXLEY: One myth for BCI is that it can read your thoughts. I mean, there's 80 billion neurons in the brain and you'd have to be watching all of them to have some sense of the complexity that's going on inside the brain.

Basically, I was just take a snapshot of particular domains of function.

GUPTA: And so, what we're looking at on Mark's angiogram here, this is the actual stentrode.

Dr. Raul Nogueira implanted the stentrode into Mark's brain.

DR. RAUL NOGUEIRA, ENDOWED PROF. OF NEUROLOGY & NEUROSURGERY, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: If you read wants to cure a problem like paralysis, you really specifically read the signals from your motor cortex from the center of movement in the brain.

GUPTA: Previous generation BCIs tried to measure brain activity from outside the skull, but newer generation BCIs, including the one from Elon Musk's Neuralink attempt to sit right on top of the brain. The stentrode is sort of in-between.

NOGUEIRA: I'd like to make this comparison of going through a concert or a symphony.

GUPTA: Listen to the brain outside of the skull for concert hall. And the music sounds garbled, difficult to hear if you're too close, you only hear one instrument but. By sitting in the center of the brain, like the stentrode does, you can hear the entire symphony more clearly

NOGUEIRA: I hope is that in the next five to ten years, you're going to see this in the patient setting.

GUPTA: It's a hope for patients of the future and a chance for Mark to continue living a full life now.

Ten out of 10.

MARK: Woohoo!

GUPTA: Nice.

MARK: Ready for a tournament.

GUPTA: The brain control interface, pong tournament.

MARK: Exactly.


BURNETT: Sanjay joins me now. I mean, Sanjay, this technology is incredible. I mean, it would obviously it completely changes Mark's life and others like him.

One thing that stood out to me though, is that it obviously takes such an incredible amount of concentration to make this work. And if you have competing thoughts or contradictory thoughts, which seems to sort of a human failing for all of us, how does this technology deal with that?

GUPTA: Yeah.

Well, first, I got to tell you now even as a neurosurgeon myself, I learned so much about these brain-computer interfaces. I mean, we're all learning. But one of the things to keep in mind is even after the devices implanted, it takes months to accomplish exactly what you're talking about, Erin.

So he had an implanted than several months later when they actually started to try and control things in his environment. And during the time in between, it's focusing on actually developing that concentration, understanding how to actually think about that's something, and have it result in an action.

It's not how we are programmed to do things. We lift our hand. We do something right away. Here, you just have to think about it and recognize that that's going to result in some sort of outcome.

So it's not immediate. You're going to hear about these implants being put in. But then it will be months before you hear about them actually doing something for the individual because they need to train over and over again for months.

BURNETT: All right. Sanjay, thank you so much.

GUPTA: Got it. Thank you.

Such an amazing story, and amazing to see Sanjay actually doing brain surgery and, of course, getting it right.

Well, thanks so much to all of you for joining us. Anderson starts now.