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Erin Burnett Outfront

Trump's Hush Money Case Delayed, Georgia Lead Prosecutor Resigns; Texas Governor Has Bused 105,000+ Migrants Across The U.S.; Boeing Tells Airlines To Eye 787 Cockpit Seats After Severe Plunge; New Video: Russia Hits Odesa In Deadliest Attack Since Invasion. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 15, 2024 - 19:00   ET




Breaking news on this Friday, Trump's hush money criminal trial has a new date. This as the lead prosecutor in the Fulton County election case has just resigned. Will Trump face a criminal trial before the election?

Plus, could a button on the back of a Boeing 787 cockpit chair lead to a jet plunging in mid-air, causing bodies to go flying into the roof? Well, OUTFRONT has obtained the pilot's manual with revealing details about that very chair. And we will speak to a pilot who's flown that plane hundreds of times.

And she's a South Dakota governor on Trump's list of possible running mates. So why is she selling up shoe inserts and dental work?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, the Trump trials in complete chaos at this hour. A New York judge just ruling that the start of Donald Trumps criminal hush money trial is now delayed. As the lead attorney on Trumps Georgia election interference case has resigned tonight. So on the hush money case, let's start there. The trial had been set to start this month, ten days from now in March 25.

And now the judge says, well, it likely won't start before even mid- April, and that comes after a dispute between Trumps defense team and prosecutors over documents in the case.

The delay playing directly into Trump's self-declared strategy in all his legal cases.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want delays, obviously, I'm running for election

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Obviously, he's running for election, so he wants delays. He doesn't want verdicts here. He doesn't want people to see this and he's concerned what voters will see and hear in his legal cases during the closed days of the election. And a huge reason for concern is the Georgia case.

Now, judges just ruled that District Attorney Fani Willis can stay on the case or lead prosecutor has to go, but Fani Willis stays in place. And that case will be televised live nationally, which means that voters will see everything that happens before Election Day, evidence witnesses, maybe even Trump himself that will be broadcast daily while Americans are deciding who to vote for, as early voting is open. And if Fani Willis gets her way, that trial will still start on August 5th, that's exactly three months before Election Day.

But Willis has said she believes the trial could conclude in the very early part of 2025, which would be right around the time Trump is sworn in if he's elected. So the real question becomes, how quickly can the Georgia case move forward without the top prosecutor, Nathan Wade, because he is forced to resign. So, Fani Willis up on top, she stays in plays, but he has to leave and Trump and his co-defendants that accused Willis, of course, of profiting from her now ex- boyfriend, Nathan Wade.

And immediately after this decision, that Fani Willis got to stay on the case. Trump's campaign quickly fundraising off the judge's decision today, sending the message to supporters, quote, Fani Willis, can continue the which and against me, rigged system against us.

And then, of course, links to donate money. Paula Reid is OUTFRONT in Washington.

And, Paula, what more are you learning about these delays in Trump's legal calendar which have such huge significance in these months before Election Day?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it's incredible. Right now, there's not one firm trial date for former President Trump ahead of the November election. And as you just said, this has been his strategy, but it's not just as lawyers who are achieving this. He's good lot of help from prosecutors and judges in delaying these cases.

Let's take what's going on in New York, the hush money case that the district attorney's frame coming is an election interference case. That was the only case that was definitely expected to go before November. Now, the judge ever seen that case on the day it was supposed to start in ten days. It's going to hold a hearing to figure out why federal prosecutors just handed over tens of thousands of pages of new evidence and he may move the trial.

Then we look at the January 6 election subversion case. There, the Supreme Court has that case on pause while they consider whether Trump has immunity. Aaron, they were asked by the special counsel to resolve that issue months ago. So this case could go forward.

Now, their decision probably won't come until June and then they need to give lawyer several months to prepare for that case.

Remember, this case doesn't go before November and Trump is reelected. He can make both federal cases go away. The other federal case, classified documents. I was in court two weeks ago when the judge heard arguments about pushing that back. We still don't have a new date.


And lastly, the case we've been talking about all day down in Georgia. Fani Willis had originally said she wanted to do this in August. A lot of folks thought that was ambitious given the scope of this case. But then these proceedings to possibly disqualify her this has pushed the case back.

So her decision of a romantic relationship with the lead prosecutor helped Trump delay this hearing. Even though she was found not to have an actual conflict, right now, it's unclear when that case will go.

Again, this is an astonishing victory for the former president, but it's not his alone. He's getting a lot of help from the system.

BURNETT: Certainly is and others -- others' poor decisions. They said, you always are your own worst enemy.

All right. Paula, thank you very much.

And I want to go now to Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgia NAACP. He has been friends with Fani Willis for 26 years. They worked together at the Atlanta City solicitor's office. He's also been friends with Nathan Wade for 16 years.

And Gerald, I appreciate your time.

So, you know, both of them very well. I know you had a chance to speak with Nathan Wade after his resignation today on the back of Judge McAfee's decision, what did he tell you?

GERALD GRIGGS, HAS KNOWN FANI WILLIS AND NATHAN WADE FOR YEARS: He told me he's going to continue to practice law and continued to do justice in the State of Georgia. And he's excited about the next chapter of his life.

BURNETT: Was he prepared for the judge to rule the way he did. And does he feel this was fair?

GRIGGS: Well, we had a person conversation. It wasn't about that particular aspect of this whole endeavor. He's resolute and continuing to practice law and continued to do justice for the citizens of Georgia

BURNETT: So the judge in his ruling, Gerald, talking about your friend Fani Willis he said she showed a quote, tremendous lapse in judgment. That's the quote from the judge that she acted unprofessionally. Now, look, you've known for a long time. You've known him for more

than 25 years. Do you know whether she has any regrets about the decision she made and how she handled all of this?

GRIGGS: I've known Fani for a long time. I've known her to uphold the highest standards for the practice of law and for her personal life. And I think that she will continue to uphold those standards as she has in the past. I think Fani is focused on trying this case, and although the cases in Fulton County, and I think that's her focus.

BURNETT: So the judge warned of the potential -- Gerald, of a future gag order against Willis because of these specific comments that she made at church. Let me play them.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I hired one white man, brilliant, my friend and a great lawyer. And I hired one Black man, another superstar, a great friend and a great lawyer.

Oh, Lord, they're going to be mad when I'm calling them with all these nonsense. First thing they say, oh, she's going to play the race card now. But no God.


BURNETT: The judge actually joked specifically called those comments legally improper and in his ruling, he said, the time may well have arrived for an order preventing the state from mentioning the case in any public forum to prevent prejudicial publicity. But that is not the motion presently before the court, which seems to be at least an opening, if not an invitation for there to be such an invitation.

Gerald, what's your reaction when you hear with the judge is saying and you hear what your friend has said?

GRIGGS: I think my friend was opining on the decisions that are being made around this case. And I think she was also stating and pushing back on the attacks by politicians.

I think the judge, if he's opining, issuing a gag order, the gag order should be on all parties because there's not just the prosecutors office that is talking, that's not just the defendants that are talking. It's not just the judge who is talking.

So I think to avoid the appearance of any impropriety, if he's thinking about issuing a gag order, it should be against all parties so we can get to the actual disposition of this case in the four walls of a courtroom.

BURNETT: And I want to ask you one other thing, Gerald, before we go, Nathan Wade, in your conversation. Obviously, if he's being replaced, someone has to come in, get up to speed. Obviously, the D.A. Fani Willis being in position makes a difference, but someone else has to come in. She had tried to hire multiple people before she actually hired Nathan Wade. Did he give any indication to you about how long he thinks it's going

to take people to get up to speed? What position the case -- situation the case is in, whether they've sort of had their eyes so much focused on this entire imbroglio about their relationship and the judge that they haven't had chance to focus on the case? Did he give you any information there?

GRIGGS: No, but I've known Ms. Willis for a long time. She's one of the best prosecutors in the state of Georgia, and she's a trial attorney. And so I think that she would have no problem getting up to speed and trying this case herself. She's tried the longest RICO case in Georgia history. This one is no different.

So I don't think it's going to take any additional time for anyone to get up to speed. She has her team. She has some of the best lawyers in the state and she is one of the best lawyers in the state.

BURNETT: Gerald Griggs. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your taking the time and sharing this with me.


GRIGGS: Thank you for having me.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you.

And so now, let's go to Ryan Goodman, our OUTFRONT legal analyst, and Michael Isikoff, who has spent extensive time with Willis and her team for his new book, "Find Me the Votes: Hard Charging Georgia Prosecutor, Rogue President, and the Plot to Steal an American Election".

So, Ryan, you heard what Gerald just said. You know, this is his view of his friends. Fani Willis knows what's going on, to try this herself, with her RICO experience, that there would be no reason to indicate that this would cause a delay, her remaining and Nathan Wade being removed.

How do you see it? And what happens here that August 5th date is still technically her latest request for the trial?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: So, I don't think it changes the baseline, which is that we might very well get the date of August 5 as the start. She wears already ready to go to trial with others who instead decided to plead guilty. And so, our August 5th might be the start date then in terms of the nuts and bolts, it'll be about seating a jury. In the past, it has taken a long time in Georgia to seat a jury in a RICO case, but those that other case was different in this case, you might actually have the problem of people actually wanting to serve on the jury because its such an historic case that might go a little bit more quickly, but even by her own standards or what she has said or expectations, the trial will go until after the election. There won't to be a verdict after the election, even if she gets her start.

BURNETT: So you may see those some of the visuals of it before, but important that what you're saying is that removing the lead prosecutor, you're agreeing with Gerald's assessment, at least, it doesn't necessarily that in and of itself does not mean a delay?

GOODMAN: I think that's right. I think a lot of the work has already been done and they've got a lot more time to prepare for August 5th.

BURNETT: All right. So, on that, Michael, I know you are really watching the next few weeks as an indicator for how quickly the judge, the judge gets this case back on track, right?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: Sure. And, you know, it's going to be really important to see how Judge McAfee rules from here. Does he tried to get this case back on track, tried to set a trial date very soon and also whether the defense lawyers, the Trump lawyers, are going to try to appeal this ruling.

It's interesting, in their comments today, both Steve Sadow, the Trump lawyer, and Ashleigh Merchant, the lawyer for Michael Roman, who brought the motion to begin with, did not say specifically that they're going to try to appeal. So they may realize this is it. And now, we're going to pivot to the actual case in mind. And I think that's -- that, was one takeaway from the responses today.

BURNETT: Another thing Ryan that stood out to me was Judge McAfee's reference to the Georgia bar, and the Georgia -- obviously the bar association in a state is the police for lawyers in the state would have the ability to disbar somebody or to punish them in other ways, and there our other investigations going on here.

So even -- even separate from the appeal point that Michael just raised, is this really just clear sailing or is it possible that there are punishments that come along for Fani Willis here, that do derail this in these next few months?

GOODMAN: I think the next few minutes are going to see a number of different institutions in Georgia reviewing Fani Willis and Nathan Wade, the judge almost invited that too. He listed out all the institutions, including the Georgia state bar and I cant imagine that somebody going to take up that invitation. It just takes a group of lawyers to file an ethics complaint.

Same thing happened to Bill Barr when he was U.S. attorney general in summer of 2020. It can happen to Fani Willis as a district attorney. And in the court's opinion, he also says that there's an odor of mendacity remains and refers to her testimony and refers to Nathan Wade's testimony --

BURNETT: An odor of mendacity.

GOODMAN: That's the exact quote, an odor of mendacity. So that is an invitation to somebody to bring up an ethics charge.

BURNETT: Do you bring up an ethics charge on lying?


BURNETT: Michael?

ISIKOFF: Yeah. Well, I just wanted to correct Ryan there. The odor of mendacity, quote, which is in that opinion and obviously left out at everybody, but if you read it closely, he's not referring to Fani Willis' testimony. It comes right after he's talking about Terrence Bradley, the lawyer who was supposed to be the star witness for the Trump lawyers. And he says, you can't credit anything he had to say.

He takes shots at Nathan Wade for misrepresenting on his interrogatories, but he never specifically says that Fani Willis gave testimony that that he does not believe or that was contradicted.

But I just want to make one central point or two central points here very quickly --

BURNETT: OK. Hold on, before you do that, before you do that, I want to give Ryan a chance to respond because he's pulled up over odor of mendacity



GOODMAN: So, sorry to do this, but the paragraph begins an order of mendacity remains. The paragraph continues reasonable -- questions about whether the district attorney and her hand-selected lead SADA testified untruthfully about the timing of their relationship further underpin the finding of an appearance of impropriety on their part.


That's a direct reference to --

ISIKOFF: It's not a finding by him and he does discredit the testimony --


GOODMAN: But the point is the order of mendacity is obviously a reference to her. It's the same paragraph.

ISIKOFF: I did not read it that way. I think it can be interpreted differently.

But in any case, the really important thing here is that this case is going to go to trial. It may not be before the election. And if Donald Trump is elected president, he will probably not be on trial in Fulton County. But what's important is everybody else will and this is the only case in which all the enablers of Donald Trump, all the confederates, all the coconspirators have been charged criminally, and they will have to go on trial, for Mark Meadows, to John Eastman, to Rudy Giuliani, you can go on all the list -- they will be almost certainly on trial even if Donald Trump is on -- serving as president.

BURNETT: And, Ryan, a quick response to that, and it will be televised in these cases, right? So if it's Trump, but also others, so we -- we, the voters will see all of this.

GOODMAN: A hundred percent and this is the only case that will be nationally televised. The federal cases will not, and the New York case will not. This will have a national audience every day that's -- it's before the trial.

BURNETT: And it will be those days leading into the election, possibly, if she gets -- if she gets what she wants in the trial date.

All right. Thanks so much to both of you.

And next, an OUTFRONT investigation, the Texas Governor Greg Abbott says, donations, not public money, is being used to bus the migrants to blue states. But that does not add up


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my name. That's my phone number. But I definitely didn't give $2,000 to Greg Abbott's campaign of busing people to D.C.


BURNETT: And just in, Mike Pence officially saying, no way, he can endorse Donald Trump.

And did a button on the back of a pilot's chair used to move the seat back and forth lead to their nosedive that sent passengers flying and hitting the ceiling by the dozens, blood everywhere? OUTFRONT has just obtained the pilot's manual with revealing details on that button and the chair. And well speak to a pilot who was flown that jet hundreds of times.



BURNETT: Tonight, 105,000, that's the number of migrants. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has bused across the country to Democratic-led cities like New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Tonight, we have an OUTFRONT investigation into a website Abbott predicted would save taxpayers from having to flip the bill for this program. He claimed there'll be so much interest that he could pay for it with donations. In fact, here's what Governor Abbott said when the busing program started.


GOV. GREG ABBOTTT (R), TEXAS: If people across the country are so eager to participate in this, we should put a website link up and let them participate. And as soon as we do that, the donations have come in.


BURNETT: It turns out that was not true.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Did you give this program $2,000?

HENDRIK VOSS, PROGRESSIVE ACTIVIST: Hell no, for sure not. I wouldn't give a cent to any hostile, racist policies that he is standing for.

LAH (voice-over): He's referring to Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Abbott's office has bused more than 100,000 migrants and climbing to Democratic cities across the country, saying those cities should share Texas's immigration influx.

One of the arrival cities, Washington, dc, where progressive activist Hendrik Voss lives.

VOSS: I think it's very cruel and racist to use migrants as pawns use them as political stunt. Basically, yeah, that's nothing. I want to be connected to.

LAH: So imagine his surprise.

So this is, this giant spreadsheets.

When we found Voss's name, on a list of donors to bus migrants out of Texas.

And there you are.

VOSS: Huh, well.

LAH: Two thousand dollars.

That's your cell phone number, right?

VOSS: Yeah.

LAH: That's definitely you, right?

VOSS: That's absolutely me. That's my name. That's my phone number. But I definitely didn't give $2,000 to Greg Abbott's campaign of busing people to D.C.

LAH: Voss's financial records show he did not send Texas money. He has no idea how his name ended up on this list of people who donated to the migrant busing program.

In fact, CNN found a number of issues with donations collected by the site promoted by the Texas governor.

ABBOTT: But as soon as the announcement was made, we were overwhelmed with phone calls, with letters, with requests about people providing buses, people driving buses, people paying for buses. And I want to tell American where are you can go to help. Go to


But it likely will mean that it will be no cost to the state of Texas for providing these buses.

LAH: But a CNN analysis shows, the donations didn't come close. Abbott has collected only a tiny fraction of his goal, and at least a couple of the donations are suspicious, besides the mystery of Voss's name appearing on the list, the largest donation, $900,000 mysteriously vanished. It appears to be a mistake or a hoax. The donation website show the tally going from $1.3 million to just over $400,000.

When we look through all of the information, it appears that the largest donor, a woman from Texas, we could not find her. And she had donated $900,000. So, that discrepancy is just been quietly corrected by Texas.


NOAH BOOKBINDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CREW: It definitely matters. It is unusual to have private donors to a government function. So there aren't always a lot of rules around it.

LAH: Noah Bookbinder is president of a left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

BOOKBINDER: Whether it's a mistake or whether it's intentional, that is potentially misleading the public.

LAH: CNN attempted to reach those supposed $900,000 donor. But the phone number entered into the Texas donor site was disconnected, and CNN could not find anyone with that name.

VOICE PROMPT: The person you're calling cannot accept calls at this time.

LAH: It's ironic that you're on here.

VOSS: Yeah. So, yeah, I definitely would want to know how that happened and how many ended up on that list.


LAH: We did reach out to Governor Abbott's office to find out exactly how Voss's name ended up on that lists. The spokesperson did not have a specific response to some of the anomalies that CNN found, but we did learn that just because we were given this list with, a list of donors and those cell phone numbers, it doesn't mean, Erin, that that money actually went through -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Wow, it's really incredible. I'm calling number not even going through. So when it gives almost $1 million, I mean, it's stunning.

All right. Kyung, thank you very much.

I want to talk about this with Basil Smikle, former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party.

Basil, I mean, obviously, Kyung's reporting is incredible. I mean, as -- is incredible and it shows some real issues with government, exactly the government that gives Americans so much anger and outrage these days. The issue at hand though, does remain. Mayor Adams in New York, Mayor Johnson in Chicago, they are very critical of Joe Biden. Joe Biden specifically, I mean, there's no -- no beating around the bush on this, in terms of the crisis itself.

So, can Biden get a handle on this before the election?

BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's hard to say whether or not he actually can -- he's not going to solve the problem before the election. This is a decades -- this problem has been decades in the making.

He's issued more executive orders on immigration than Donald Trump did. He's got to try to find a balance between what the policies during the Obama administration, because he was actually critical of that and not engage in what I would call the politics of cruelty, which is what has transpired here. Look as a child of immigrants, whether it's on the border or it's in New York, what were seeing is inhumane. And I think what Joe Biden can do is find a way to give those Democratic or those mayors and governors some --

BURNETT: Should he use an executive order to just close the border, let the courts challenge it, but close it?

SMIKLE: I don't know if that's the exact path that he should take. What I do think should happen is what mayors and governors already doing, essentially, asking for forgiveness and not permission, meaning that give them the space in the room to actually try to solve these problems locally, get them a pass to be able to get jobs, earn an income, contributing their taxes, and then find a way after -- as we move on to try to see if we can solve this problem.

That's what's happening anyway. So continue to give the -- these mayors and governors and opportunity to do that. But by the way, put Congress back to work to get them to find a bipartisan solution which was already on a table.

BURNETT: I want to ask you about the other store, I mentioned a moment ago, which was Mike Pence coming out and saying he will not -- he will not endorse Donald Trump. Here's exactly how he put it.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Donald Trump is pursuing and articulating an agenda that is at odds with the conservative agenda that we governed on during our four years. And that's why I cannot in good conscience endorse Donald Trump in this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Now, to those who say, well, I mean, come on, Erin. How do you think that's anything? I mean, this guy was almost killed. What -- that his life was threatened to be exact. He's come out repeatedly against what Trump did on January 6.

To those who say that, I say, look at Mitch McConnell getting in line. Look, there's so many other examples of people who no matter what we know, they have publicly said about Trump, are now backing him because he's the nominee.

What do you say to Mike Pence who refuses to do it?

SMIKLE: Well, you know, in his statement, he said some people should not be surprised by this. I'm a little surprised by it. As he wasn't as forthright as say Chris Christie or even leader in the campaign, Nikki Haley, and talking about their differences with Donald Trump and why he's not good for the party.

He was a -- he was quiet on that, and, you know, for him to understand perfectly. He felt his life was being threatened by Donald Trumps supporters. I get that. I don't know if any somebody else comes to stand with him in support of his statement against Donald Trump. That's what remains to be seen. How many people operationally fall in line with Donald?

BURNETT: Right, right. As you point out, it's a lonely island and Chris Christie roaming around.

All right. Thank you so much, Basil. Appreciate it.

And next, did this button on the back of the pilot's cockpit seat lead to a sudden and violent plunged midair? Boeing is now checking airlines and I check every single one of those seats on that plane.


Could this really been the cause though?

A pilot who was flown this plane hundreds of times is OUTFRONT next.

And South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem facing questions about her social media posts like this one for shoe insert.


GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: It's totally built me inserts for running, separate ones for my cowboy boots.



BURNETT: And tonight, Boeing telling airlines to check all 787 cockpit seats after "The Wall Street Journal" reporting an incident with one of those seats may have caused this terrifying plunge -- the one that sent passengers flying through the cabin hitting the plane ceiling.

There was blood all over the ceiling.


This was during that Latam flight from Sydney to New Zealand. Investigators now believe a flight attendant hit a switch located on the cockpit seat while serving a meal to the pilot. That button moving the pilots seat forward and the pilot into the controls.

Well, that's how the explanation is right now, they're saying, what apparently caused the plane to that nosedive in such a serious and terrifying fashion, injuring 50 people on board.

Well, OUTFRONT has obtained a pilots manual to the 787. So what you're looking at on your screen, there's a manual we've obtained. It shows the button in question and it explains how it works. So were looking at a little closer now.

The manual states, quote, a secondary horizontal power control is located in the upper seat back near the head rest, guarded by a cover for easier horizontal seat movement when not seated.

Right. So that's exactly how they describe it. Now watch this video which shows exactly how that button works, seemingly like when you're adjusting a motorized seat in your car, it's just that instead of being next to you, right? When you might be putting up Florida backward, it's actually on the back of the seat back.

OUTFRONT now, Tom Stevens, he is a retired 787 pilot.

And, Tom, I really appreciate your taking the time. So, now, you've heard what investigators believe happened. You have actually been in that seat hundreds of times, 27,000 more plus hours of flying time, much of that on Boeing aircraft. So, you've sat in that chair. Does that explanation add up to you?

CAPTAIN THOMAS STEVENS, RETIRED BOEING 787 PILOT: Well, in all the times I've used that switch entering the cockpit, to gain access to the seat more easily, it's placed where one can activate it, move the seat back backward, and then that allows for enough room to get in the seat. And then that's the last time that that switch is used. After that, there are switches down closer to, you know, one seat that moves the switch forward.

BURNETT: So I want to pull up the pilot's manual again, are the manual for the 787 that we obtained. There's no warning about using the button. I mean, it's just described as a button to move seat back and forth. It looks fairly innocuous.

I mean, you know, you have a cover guarding it, right? Were you ever briefed on this? It was there any indication given that this could be an issue?

STEVENS: Not at all. In training, I was never -- I was never told about the switch. I didn't know it existed until I got on the airplane for the first time it was pointed out. Since it's a guarded switch, one all need do is lift the switch and activate it and it moves the seat back and then the cover closes. And then after that it's no longer in use and at no time, did it ever seem like it would be a problem for us.

And it would be very difficult to accidentally raise that guard and activate the switch.

BURNETT: Yeah. I'm also wondering, even if you do, you're describing something which has a function, right? The point is to move the back- and-forth to get in and out of it, not to throw you with great force at some kind of a panel.

So if this is what happened, the pilot pushes it and then he's pushed into the controls by the chair again, sensibly this moving forward and backwards. So it's not like, right? I mean, it's moving slowly.

I mean, would doing this cause this harrowing drop, passengers thrown to the ceiling?

STEVENS: It's hard to imagine that it would. It never came close to that happening to me, and all the times that I've been on the airplane. I only used it to move the seat back, and then once I was in the seat, it was never used again.

No other crew member would ever have touched that switch. There's no reason to. But in no case is that was it going to make contact with the control column, since there's accommodations for that on the seat bottom itself.

BURNET: All right. So I spoke to a passenger on that plane. His name is Brian Jokat. He happened -- the pilot came back after the plane landed and was talking to passengers. He described the conversation, and here's what he said


BRIAN JOKAT, PASSENGER ON FLIGHT THAT EXPERIENCED "MID-AIR DROP": He openly admitted. He said, I lost control of the plane. My gauges just kind of went blank on me and that's when the plane just took a dive.

BURNETT: So literally he said the gauges went blank.

JOKAT: Yeah, he said they malfunctioned, uh-huh.

BURNETT: And did he -- did he say that made him so he didn't have the ability then to even control it, to fly it?

JOKAT: He said for that brief moment, he couldn't control anything and that's when, you know, the plane just did what it did.



BURNETT: So when you hear that, what do you think as a pilot, is there anything you can interpret from it?

STEVENS: That comes as a complete surprise to me. I never had had the forward panel lose power. If it did, I suppose there's the possibility of autopilot disconnection. But that never happened to me. I would imagine that in order for the aircraft to pitch forward to an unusual attitude record, it would require actually pushing on the flight controls.

But that never happened to me. And I'm quite surprised that that's -- that's what happened. So, this is very puzzling to us all.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I very much appreciate your time while we all do. Thank you for coming on.

STEVENS: You're most welcome.

BURNETT: And next, breaking news, one of the deadliest attacks in Ukraine since the war began, as our Jim Sciutto reports that Putin has new plans for the war after the sham presidential election that is happening as I speak.

And the South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, got our teeth fixed she wants everyone to know about it.


NOEM: I can be confident when I smile at people and know that they can actually appreciate and see the kindness in my face.




BURNETT: Breaking news, new video just in to CNN showing the aftermath of a devastating strike on a crucial port city of Odesa. This is the deadliest strike on Odesa since the entire war began. At least 20 people are dead and Ukraine says one of the missiles hit as rescuers had come in to try to help the wounded.

This comes as protests are breaking out in Russia as the sham presidential election is underway there.

Take a look at this as video inside a polling station. This is a fire set there raging right next to a ballot box. And near St. Petersburg, a woman launching a Molotov cocktail at the front door of a polling station. And in Moscow, a woman detained after dumping green dye into a ballot box, destroying the votes inside.

CNN chief national security analyst Jim Sciutto, who has been covering this part of the world for years, is with me. Also, of course, Jim has a new book, "The Return of Great Powers".

And, Jim, speaking of great powers, it is no secret that Putin will be elected to an unprecedented fifth term. And you have some new reporting tonight about his plans once the election is over. What have you learned?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right. I'm told by senior U.S. military officials that the U.S. assessment is that Putin will feel emboldened by this election. And as you correctly describe, a sham election, embolden to expand his war in Ukraine even further, including the possibility of another mobilization of military age men in Russia to fight in the war in Ukraine.

And adding into his confidence in the view of U.S. intelligence, Erin, are increasing delays here in this country over U.S. military aid to Ukraine and public differences in this country over that, and in Europe as well. He draws confidence from that.

BURNETT: Well, so emboldened and broadening war, the mobilization point obviously crucial. And you've got some new reporting. Jim, also in your new book about fears of a second Trump presidency and those fears are coming from the people who know him best, right? The people who were in the room who were closest to him the first time around, what have you learned from them?

SCIUTTO: That's right. The people who served him at the highest levels and they -- this is not my word, their word catastrophic is how they describe it.

This from General John Kelly who have his course, chief of staff, to Trump in his first administration. He said to me, a second term with him, Trump, particularly when he would not be worrying about reelection, it would be fundamentally a catastrophe for us.

He is not alone. I also spoke to John Bolton, who, of course, was his national security advisor, longtime, lifetime lifelong Republican. He said, I just don't think he has enough of a brain. Again, his words direct quote, quote, to have an articulated view on U.S. China policy because he thinks everything through the prism of how does this benefit Donald Trump. NATO would be in real jeopardy. I think he would try to get out.

They say that he will reengineer America's relationships with its adversaries, China, Russia, friendlier, and also walk away from decades-old partnerships, alliances with NATO, also, South Korea, Japan, U.S. allies in Asia, and they've told me he has no interest in a second term of defending Taiwan from a potential U.S. invasion -- Chinese invasion, rather. It'd be a mark turn.

BURNETT: It would be -- it would be seismic.


BURNETT: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BURNETT: Great to see you

And China is watching the possibility of a second Trump presidency. Tonight, the country laser-focused on the election and Will Ripley is OUTFRONT with this report.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the Chinese capital, Beijing, no shortage of people sounding off about Donald Trump.

WANG FENG, COFFEE SHOP OWNER (through translator): I think Trump will probably get elected because he's pretty good.

MR. YANG, PROPERTY AGENT (through translator): If Trump were to be elected, he will undermine us even more through economic blockades or tariffs. Or he could instigate waters.

RIPLEY: Publicly, the Chinese government is playing neutral, criticizing the U.S.-China policies of former President Trump and current President Joe Biden. State media mocking the messiness of American democracy, political chaos, deep division.

On Chinese social media, comments like these, are these two old guys all they've got left old against old. They both are tough on China. We need to speed up our preparation for battle. And this prediction, Trump is going to be back.


Remember six years ago when then President Trump traveled to Beijing, Chinese leader Xi Jinping pulled out all the stops, the lavish state banquet inside the forbidden city, a first for any U.S. president since 1949, the founding of communist China.

China's rulers have historically preferred leaders they can manipulate through personal relationships and flattery. Trump's ego-driven diplomacy seemed at the time like a perfect match.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think were going to do tremendous things for both China and for the United States.

RIPLEY: Then came the trade war. Trump's tariffs and trade barriers sense bolstered by President Biden still battering Beijing's economy. Now, Trump says U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods will skyrocket to 60 percent or higher if he wins a second term.

China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, voicing concerns over those U.S. trade and tech controls, warning of bewildering levels of unfathomable absurdity. But experts say some aspects of Trump's foreign policy actually benefit China's strategic interests. His doubts about traditional American alliances, like NATO, admiration for strongmen, like Russia's Vladimir Putin, and North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

WEI-TING YEN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, FRANKLIN & MARSHALL COLLEGE: If I were a Chinese leader or in the Chinese leadership, I won't be worried about Trump's presidency, simply because Trump is just less predictable. RIPLEY: That unpredictability on display this week, Trump abruptly reversed his hard-line stance on TikTok, opposing a bipartisan bill that would essentially banned the Chinese-owned app in the U.S.

TRUMP: There are a lot of people on TikTok that love it. There are a lot of young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it.

RIPLEY: Trump himself tried to ban TikTok in 2020, citing a national security threat.

U-turns like this could inject even more instability in a fraught U.S.-China relationship.


RIPLEY (on camera): The bottom line essentially is that Chinas sees Trump as pretty transactional, which could be good for them, could be bad for them. They've kind of been on both ends of that, Erin, here in Taiwan, they're very diplomatic about it. They say whether it's Trump or Biden, they're going to have support of the United States.

But clearly there is some concern, albeit under the surface, that President Biden has said four times he would defend Taiwan if China made a move. Trump has not one said whether he would defend Taiwan. He also said he hadn't, but he criticized Taiwan about chips and a lot of other things. So, certainly a lot to watch out here.

BURNETT: Yeah. Certainly so, and wonder if Taiwan saying they would both defend Taiwan with us, whether that's the case or not.

All right. Will, on this early Saturday morning in Taipei, thank you so much.

And next, the South Dakota governor, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem now selling shoe inserts from her official Twitter account and she's facing a lawsuit from pushing a cosmetic dentistry firm. So what's it about?



BURNETT: And tonight, she's doing it again. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem acting more like a saleswoman than a governor in a new video, she posted online, which is the second this week, tonight, selling custom insoles.

Sunlen Serfaty is OUTFRONT


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem --

NOEM: Totally built me inserts for running, separate ones for my cowboy boots. SERFATY: -- posting another video to her social media accounts, this time talking up custom insoles created for her by a South Dakota business.

NOEM: I'm going to be perfect. I'm going to be like bionic woman, right?


SERFATY: The new video coming just two days after this flashy five- minute informational style testimonial about a company that was not even based in her state.

NOEM: With the team here was remarkable and finally gave me a smile now that I can be proud of.

SERFATY: Lavish praise of her dental work done by a Houston area cosmetic dentistry firm posted to the governor's official social media accounts.

NOEM: I chose the team here at Smile Texas because they're the best.

SERFATY: A consumer advocacy group calling foul, alleging that she's acting like a part-time social media influencer and slapping her with a civil lawsuit filed in a superior court in D.C., alleging her post is breaking consumer protection laws, promoting medical tourism with the governor, potentially cashing.

That lawsuit alleging she likely either received free dental care in exchange for this advertisement, discounted dental care in exchange for this advertisement or she was paid and received free dental care for the advertisement.

Unfortunately, Noem did not mark this as an ad or advertisement when posting. So she is participating in an unfair and deceptive practice.

CNN has reached out to the governor's office and Smile Texas, asking about any financial agreement and to the governor's office about why she sought treatment out-of state. Neither have responded.

In South Dakota, the video also leaving many puzzled. A state senator calling the video strange and possibly unethical, asking for a formal inquiry.

REYNOLD NESIBA (D), MINORITY LEADER, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE SENATOR: She paid for this dental procedure or did she agree to store in this infomercial and partial or full payment of that? And if so, was this unethical or illegal based on South Dakota statue?

SERFATY: All this comes as Noem is being considered as a vice presidential candidate for Donald Trump.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: And Kristi Noem as well, I should say.

TRUMP: Right.

INGRAHAM: Are they all on your shortlist?

TRUMP: They are.

SERFATY: And Trump publicly and privately telling people she is on his potential VP shortlist, with the two meeting privately at Mar-a- Lago, just last month.

NOEM: I will do everything I can to help him win and save this country.


SERFATY (on camera): And in South Dakota, there's not yet a formal inquiry looking into all this opened up just yet, the Democratic state senator who is co-chair of the committee, who would eventually potentially handle this, said he intends to bring this up at the next meeting in July -- Erin.

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

Thanks so much to all of you for being with us this hour. We'll see you on Monday.

"AC360" starts now.