Return to Transcripts main page

Erin Burnett Outfront

Lawyers Receive Jury Instructions In Trump Hush Money Trial; China: Military Drills Testing Ability To "Seize Power"; Trump Supporter Fighting Law Protecting Election Workers. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired May 24, 2024 - 19:00   ET




Breaking news, attorneys in the Trump hush money case now have the all-important jury instructions. This as Trump goes out of his way today to insult the judge and Biden gears up to unleash a new fresh round of attacks.

Plus, seizing power. That's what China says it's now training for as its ships and aircraft surround Taiwan. Is the U.S. about to be drawn into a war with China?

And an OUTFRONT investigations, CNN tracking down a wealthy Trump supporter who's now leading a high-profile campaign to block a law designed to protect election workers. Why?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Boris Sanchez, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news: the lawyers and the Trump hush money case have now received those all important jury instructions -- instructions which are key to the verdict. They explained to the jury what it must find a convict Donald Trump on 34 criminal charges.

Now this new development comes as Trump is hurling new insults at Judge Juan Merchan, calling him corrupt and deeply conflicted.

And while Trump is on a rare break from the courtroom, he's still fixated on the trial that could ultimately make him a convicted felon, the first former president and major party presidential contender to hold that dubious title.

Just a short time ago, Trump writing online, quote, I am being incorrectly an unconstitutionally prosecuted because I called a legal expense a legal expense.

And the attacks continuing.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just a witch hunt. This is a political witch. We have a judge who's totally conflicted and it's very unfair to the American system.


SANCHEZ: In the days ahead, the world will find out if the jury of seven men and five women would convict or acquit the former president. And a big question, will Judge Merchan who's been the constant target of Trump's attacks, even tonight on Truth Social put the former president in prison?

Either way, the Biden campaign is ready to pounce. CNN is learning that Biden is gearing up to go after Trump in a major way once the verdict is read and a new ad voiced by Robert de Niro is giving voters a taste of what's to come.


ANNOUNCER: Now, he's running again this time, threatening to be a dictator to terminate the Constitution.

TRUMP: If I don't get elected, it's going to be a bloodbath.

ANNOUNCER: Trump wants revenge, and just stop at nothing to get it.


SANCHEZ: Brynn Gingras is OUTFRONT live in New York covering the Trump trial and MJL Lee is live for us at the White House.

Let's start with Brynn.

I mentioned those jury instructions. It's now in the hands of the attorneys. What more are you learning?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Boris. Remember, these jury instructions serve as really a roadmap for jurors to follow how to interpret the law and apply that to all the evidence, all the testimony that they have been hearing over the last couple of weeks. Now, we know when we last had court on Tuesday, both sides of the fence of the prosecution were still negotiating some major issues that they wanted in those jury instructions and some of them are complex issues.

The judge said, you know what, give me a minute. I'm going to decide about that. So, clearly, he has decided since both sides have that final copy, though, were not going to know what those jury instructions look like. They're not going to be made public. We will only find out when the judge actually reads them to the jury.

Now, let's talk about what's ahead, right? On Tuesday, when jurors were turned from the long holiday weekend, essentially, we are going to hear closing arguments, what I'm sure the lawyers are working on over the long holiday weekend.

Now, we expect those closing arguments to actually possibly bleed into Wednesday, after those are complete by both sides. Then, the judge is going to give those jury instructions. We expect

those to last about an hour then, of course, deliberations. The jurors are going to go into a room and they are going to discuss this case until they render a verdict.

During that time, we understand the former president, he'll be in the courthouse. He's going to be in a side what they determined as a war room waiting for their verdict to be rendered. Now when it actually does, we know that it's going to be red 34 counts, right? Each one, one at a time, guilty or not guilty for each of those counts.

If there are any guilty verdicts and if there is a punishment to be made, that is going to be the judge's discretion.


Now, our understanding is that the judge's also going to be picking the sentencing date if there is any guilty verdict and its possible this judge could decide to pick that date after the November election, Boris.

So that means voters could be going to the polls with the former president on the ballot as a convicted felon. So we'll have to see, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, it'll be historic, no matter the outcome.

Brynn Gingras live from New York, thank you so much.

The Biden campaign, of course, is watching all of this very closely tonight.

MJ Lee is OUTFRONT at the White House.

MJ, what are you learning from your sources about how the Biden team plans to address the trial?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, just like everybody else, the Biden campaign is waiting to see how next week goes. Is the former president going to be found guilty or not? Could there be a mistrial? Will we even get a decision next week?

But eventually, the trial is going to end and the campaign knows that the coverage of the trial is also going to slow it down. And that they think will give them an opportunity and more of an opening than they have had in recent weeks to really try to make their case. And I'm told that they do believe that the end of the Trump trial is going to basically coincide with what they see as a more aggressive phase of their campaigns.

So, we are talking about the kinds of ads that they ran. We, of course, saw two new ads earlier today. One of them which you played earlier in the show, and also just the messaging and the rhetoric that we are going to hear from the campaign, is going to be more ramped up, including what we will hear from directly from the president himself. And, of course, you know, no matter what happens next week, the campaign is going to have to calibrate and decide what is our messaging going to be, what exactly is our strategy going to be depending on, again, exactly what happens next week.

But I am told whether he is a convicted felon or not, whether he is guilty or not, the campaigns basic thrust of the message and making the case against Donald Trump. That is not going to change.

And just the final thing that I would note, too, a reality that the campaign is grappling with that I think is just so core to how the Biden campaign is thinking about everything, is that the vast majority of voters they believe still do not believe that it is going to come down to Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and they want to convince more voters as many voters as possible before November that it is going to be Donald Trump on the ballot.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, it's crazy that the politics are just one of the many fascinating aspects to all of this.

MJ Lee live from the White House, thank you so much.

OUTFRONT now, Lanny Davis. He's a former attorney for Michael Cohen.

Also with us, Elon University law professor, Steve Friedland.

Gentlemen, thank you both for sharing part of your weekend with us.

Lanny, Biden's team as MJ mentioned is watching closely to see how this trial is going to end. Your former client, Michael Cohen, was, of course, the star witness. His credibility was certainly called into question on the stand.

Do you think that the prosecution still was able to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt even without Cohen?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: Yes, I wrote an article in Real Clear Politics in which I headlined that the jury can convict of both times, two times, beyond a reasonable doubt without relying on Michael Cohen's credibility, even though in New York Supreme Court judge found Michael to be credible and truthful subject, even after the Trump class examiners and led to a finding of fraud by Donald Trump.

But let me at least just describe the two crimes that can be resulting in a guilty verdict by -- not even looking at what Michael Cohen testified to.

Number one, was Donald Trump primarily motivated, or seriously motivated by the political pressures of the campaign to pay off Stormy Daniels and keep her quiet? The answer to that question was yes from his own friends, not from Michael Cohen, David Pecker, Hope Hicks, and others. That's checked that box. They can convict without even hearing Michael Cohen.

The second one is did Donald Trump lie? You just saw him when he described the $35,000 a month checks that he signed and sent to Michael Cohen while sitting president. Did he lie when he called them legal fees rather than reimbursements for the advances that Michael paid for the hush money and for other things? The answer is, don't believe Michael Cohen, believe Allen Weisselberg's handwritten notes in which he took $110,000 doubled it, and then described in his own handwriting that that doubling is a reimbursement to Michael Cohen.

If you just look at that document, it's about math and not about legal fees.

SANCHEZ: It's interesting though, because Weisselberg himself didn't testify and there were reports of Cohen's testimony that he didn't corroborate, for example or he didn't testify that the payments that were made to Daniels that he told Trump that they might be illegal.


He also didn't testify that he counseled Trump to falsify those business records. You don't think Lanny that there are potentially gaps in his testimony?

DAVIS: The document speaks for itself. Believe you're lying eyes. The jury's going to look at a document and let me just correct one thing that I said, the total amount in that document by math was $420,000 --


DAVIS: -- which was to be repaid to Michael Cohen.

He divided by 12, Boris, and got $35,000, voila, the very same amount that he paid. Nothing about legal fees. If that's true, and the jury sees that document as the closest person to Michael Cohen, to Mike -- to Donald Trump named Allen Weisselberg, that document alone, they can vote to convict without relying on Michael Cohen.

SANCHEZ: Professor Friedland, I'm eager to get your perspective because you were in court nearly every day for the John Edwards hush money trial back in 2011. A lot of people look to that case when talking about this one because Edwards was accused of campaign finance violations to cover up an affair during a presidential campaign, he was ultimately acquitted.

You see a lot of similarities in the case. What do you make of Lanny's argument?

STEVE FRIEDLAND, LAW PROFESSOR, ELON UNIVERSITY: I think there are many similarities between the two cases and John Edwards had a stronger argument that he was making the pavement to protect his wife, who was stricken with cancer at the time. I do believe however, that there can be narrative that Donald Trump was not directing this, and I think that's what the defense is saying that Michael Cohen went rogue, and they still have that opportunity to say that this was not about the election, it was about the family.

So the -- it will depend on which narrative the jury takes --

SANCHEZ: Lanny, it seems like you wanted to jump in on the question of intent. DAVIS: Just really quick. I agree and respect that comment, and I'm only saying that these independent evidence, not in the Edwards case corroborated the fact that there was primary political motivation. Pecker said it was about the campaign. Hope Hicks said it was about the campaign. Keith Davidson, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, said it was about the campaign.

Edwards didn't have independent testimony that that was the only reason and his wife having cancer could have been a reason, but the law in an instruction will say any serious reason that was politically motivated is a crime and that is what we leave up to the jury and I do agree with you. It's up to the jury to decide. But they don't need to rely on Michael Cohen's testimony.

SANCHEZ: I do want to play some sound of a conversation that Erin recently had with Mark O'Mara. He's the defense attorney who handled the George Zimmerman case, among many others.

Here's what he predicted.


MARK O'MARA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This case has a greater chance of mistrial in any of the ones we have seen and have covered with past couple of years. This is going to be tough for getting a unanimous verdict.


SANCHEZ: Professor Friedland, you see this ending in a mistrial?

FRIEDLAND: I get that it well could. There are lots of witnesses. It was over six weeks. The jury has now taken this break and all it takes is one person to hold out.

I think here, there's two different layers of the case, the falsification of the records. But then you have what was the motivation? What was the intent?

I think this could end in a mistrial very easily.

SANCHEZ: Lanny Davis, Steve Friedland, we have to leave the conversation there. Thank you both.

DAVIS: Thank you, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

And while Trump's trial is about to come to a close, a criminal trial for Hunter Biden is now just days away from beginning, a trial that could end with jail time for the president's son.

Hunter Biden now set to stand trial on June 3rd on charges that he lied about his drug use to be able to buy a gun. The final pretrial hearing ending just a short time ago.

Evan Perez is OUTFRONT.

So, Evan, what could today's rulings mean for Hunter Biden's fate?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's another piece of history that potentially is being made here. Boris, because obviously as you pointed out, if he is convicted, he could end up getting some jail time. This is the son of the sitting president of the United States, and he's being tried by the Justice Department by a special counsel, David Weiss.

And what we heard today in court is a little bit of the contours of how the judge is limiting some of the evidence that jurors are going to be able to hear in this case, which is now it looks like its going to last as my as much as two weeks there in Wilmington, Delaware. The judge ruled that a number of things that prosecutors are allowed to tell the jury including some of Hunter Biden's spending on drugs, for instance, items. So some of the text messages and other information from his now infamous laptop, as well as testimony from three women that he was involved in during the time that he was allegedly using drugs, and the time that he owned this firearm, as well as some of the statements that he made in his own memoir where he talked about his drug use.


Now, what the judge said, though, was there she limited on some of the things that prosecutors did want to ask and Hunter Biden's own lawyers were pushing back on. For instance, they're not allowed to bring up the fact that he's facing tax charges in Los Angeles. That trial is set now for September as well as bring up the fact that he had a paternity case in Arkansas or his dismissal from the U.S. Navy in 2014, also for drug issues. Again, all of this could change if Hunter Biden decides to take the stand in his own defense.

Overhanging all of this, though, Boris, is the fact that the Supreme Court is hearing a case related to this law that Hunter Biden is charged with violating. And so, everything could depend on that.

SANCHEZ: A conservative leaning court that has ruled in favor of Second Amendment advocates in the past. We'll see how it plays out.

Evan Perez., thank you so much.

PEREZ: Thanks.

SANCHEZ: OUTFRONT next, RFK Jr. and Donald Trump both speaking at the libertarian party convention. So who are the voters they're leaning toward? We're going to take you there live.

Plus, Chinas says its forces are now training to, quote, seize power over Taiwan. What is behind this massive show of force?

And Morgan Spurlock, the filmmaker who upended the fast food industry after recording himself eating nothing but McDonalds for a month has passed away at the age of 53.


MORGAN SPURLOCK, FILMMAKER: Can I get the double quarter pounder with cheese meal?


SPURLOCK: I think I'm going to have to go Super Size.




SANCHEZ: New tonight, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. trying to take down Donald Trump.


ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Trump said that he was going to run America like a business. And he came in and he gave the keys to all of our businesses to a 50-year bureaucrat wouldn't ever been elected to anything and had no accountability. With lockdowns, the mask mandates, the (VIDEO GAP) the greatest restriction on (VIDEO GAP) the country has ever known.


SANCHEZ: The independent presidential candidate delivering that message at the libertarian party convention amid growing fears on the right that Kennedy could hurt Trump more than he could hurt Joe Biden.

Trump is also looming large at the convention. He's set to speak there himself tomorrow.

Eva McKend is OUTFRONT at the convention.

Eva, a big speech from Kennedy. Trump, of course, is threatening to overshadow him tomorrow. I'm wondering from the people that you've been talking to there, who has more appeal?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, what I can tell you is that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gave an address that was really tailor-made for this crowd. He touted himself as a fierce defender of individual freedom, a cornerstone of his campaign has been protecting civil liberties. He aired this routine grievance about being silenced during the pandemic.

But something that stuck out to me was how he talked about guns. He told this audience, which they wanted to hear, that he will protect their gun-rights. But historically, you know, he has supported an assault weapons ban was very critical of the NRA.

Still though, Kennedy attracting a really wide ideological diversity among supporters. Let's take a listen.


PATRICK MALONE, ATTENDING LIBERTARIAN PARTY CONVENTION: I think that if you really listen to what he has to say and all the different points that he has to say, I think he sells himself. He is a great orator, very smart. He's an attorney. He is litigated for years against United States government. So he knows the problems that we have to address for the next four years and into the future.

JOANNE GOREL, ATTENDING LIBERTARIAN PARTY CONVENTION: I think he'll fix science. That's the big thing is that they tried to make him out as if he's anti-science, but the truth is, it really makes a difference who pays for the research, the outcomes of the research are different depending on who pays for it.


MCKEND: And, Boris, there are some Trump supporters here in the crowd. Some people that will ultimately vote for the libertarian nominee, but the two people that you heard from there, the man from Virginia, the woman from New Jersey, they both voted for Clinton in 26 16, and Biden in 2020. That is why both parties so nervous tonight about the threat of RFK Jr. -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Eva McKend, live from the Libertarian National Convention, Eva, thank you so much.

Let's bring it in Scott Jennings and Kate Bedingfield.

Scott, Trump obviously rushing to the libertarian party convention one day after Kennedy, a recent NBC poll found that twice as many initial Trump supporters as Biden supporters choose Kennedy when the options are more than just Biden and Trump, 15 percent of Trump's supporters go to Kennedy versus 7 percent of Biden supporters.

How worried do you think Trump's should be about a part of his supporters ultimately leaving him for RFK Jr.?


SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think they should both be worried about it. There was a Cook Political Report survey of the swing states this week and it showed RFK pulling a little more from Biden. It was like four to three, so obviously, both campaigns have something the worry about.

I actually think only Trump has a fighting chance of recovering them. If you're a RFK person who's being pulled out of the previous Biden camp. I find it hard to believe you'd be going back to Biden. But I think Trump has a fighting chance of getting them back.

And that's obviously why Trump is going to speak at this convention because he thinks he can have a conversation with them.

So I do expect -- if RFK makes some ballots, I expect him to get some votes and I expect both campaigns to be scrambling to try to recover those people for the rest of the year. SANCHEZ: Okay. Just a few minutes ago, the DNC put out a statement bashing Kennedy, saying, in part, quote, much like his campaign for president, RFK Jr.'s speech today was a bizarre and poorly received exercise in narcissism. There is no support for RFK Jr. and he has no path to victory.

But poll after poll shows that there is significant enough support for Kennedy to potentially tilt the election. How worried should the Biden camp be right now?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, both of those things are true. There is no path to victory for RFK Jr. There's not a path for him to get 270 electoral votes, but there absolutely is reason for both the Biden campaign in the Trump campaign to be concerned about RFK Jr. I mean, look, Joe Biden won the election by -- in 2020, by essentially 45,000 thousand votes in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin, we have every expectation I think anybody watching, we should have every expectation that this is going to be an equally close election.

So any third party candidate who is able to pull relevant numbers in some of these swing states could potentially impact the outcome. So I think, you know, what you've seen the Democrats do from the outset is to continue to try to define RFK Jr. to continue to try to bring forward some of the most outrageous things that he said about vaccines, you know, and really not allow him to skate along as this undefined avatar for a third choice who isn't either Trump or Biden.

So I would imagine the Democrats will continue to do that and they're wise to do so.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, his positions are certainly ambiguous, let's say.

Scott, I want to ask you about this reporting in "The New York Times". Michael Bender reporting that Republican Senator Tom Cotton is now a top contender to be Donald Trump's vice president.

How closely do you think Trump is looking at Cotton to be his running mate?

JENNINGS: It matches what I've been hearing that he's a late entrant into the thing here. Look, I think this is an area that campaign where Trump has an embarrassment of riches. I think Vance, Rubio, Governor Burgum, Tim Scott, Tom Cotton, any of them are great choices, all politically defensible and all bring something to the table.

So I think it's real. I don't know who it's going to be, but I think any of those choices would make a great running mate for Donald Trump.

SANCHEZ: Kate, Senator Cotton, he's 47 years old. He's much younger than Trump Biden, or even Vice President Harris. He's married with two young kids, Harvard educated. He joined the Army after September 11th. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and he was at odds with Trump on January 6th, by voting to certify Joe Biden's victory.

This is an impressive resume aside from the politics, right? Do you think this is enough to appeal to independence and swing-state voters, and perhaps those Republicans that have supported Nikki Haley in these zombie primary after she got out?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think the fact that he opposed Donald Trump's position on January 6 probably is enough to be in that he won't be chosen. I'm certainly not a Republican. I'm not in Donald Trump's head or inside his campaign, but everything we know about him, we know that he prizes loyalty. We know how he feels about those who certified the election and those who continue to say rightly that Joe Biden won in 2020. So I have to imagine that will be a significant hurdle for Tom Cotton.

But I also think certainly yes, he has a very impressive professional resume, but he also has positioned don't forget on choice, that really underscores, you know, how far outside the mainstream the Republican Party has moved on this issue, and for Donald Trump, who's trying to recapture some of these suburban women that he's lost. I think bringing somebody like Tom Cotton on the ticket who really underscores the kind of most extreme position on reproductive rights.

I'm sorry, I think you're seeing my dog in the shot. I apologize is probably a challenge for Trump and I think doesn't move the ball forward for him on that issue.

SANCHEZ: We hope your puppy is having as good night as we are.

Scott Jennings, Kate Bedingfield, thanks.

BEDINGFIELD: He had thoughts. He had thoughts on Tom Cotton he wants to share.

SANCHEZ: Happy to hear them, maybe on another hour.

Kate Bedingfield, Scott Jennings, thank you all so much.




SANCHEZ: OUTFRONT next, China now accusing Taiwan of playing with fire as its forces trained to, quote, seize control over the island. Is the U.S. about to be drawn into a war with Beijing?

Plus, an OUTFRONT investigation. Meet the wealthy Trump supporter who's leading the charge to block a bill that would protect election workers.


REPORTER: Do you feel bad at all for the harassment that they said they faced?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not, because they weren't harassed.



SANCHEZ: Tonight, China's test to, quote, seize power in Taiwan. That's the alarming warning coming from Beijing, whose military is launching a major show of force around Taiwan, for the second day in a row.


China using 49 aircraft and 19 warships to conduct military drills that it says are intended to test its ability to, quote, seize power and occupy key areas.

This as the Chinese defense ministry says that Taiwan's new president is pushing the island into a dangerous situation of war.

Will Ripley is OUTFRONT on the ground in Taiwan.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taiwan's nightmare scenario in this Chinese military simulation, warships encircle the island, two days of intensive drills, practicing Beijing's power seizure capabilities, test run for communist China's army to potentially attack and occupied Democratic Taiwan.

China's military drills just miles off the Taiwanese coast are reminder for a lot of people here, just how fragile Taiwan's democracy is and some fear, it may be running out of time. That's why thousands are here at a pro-democracy protest in the capital Taipei.

They know this would be impossible in Beijing.

SEAN CHANG, FINANCIAL ANALYST: You will be put into jail. You will put into jail.

RIPLEY: John Chiang is a financial analysts and father of two.

Do you worry when you when you see these pictures of China pulling me --

CHANG: I've been told China invasion since I was 10, I still waiting for them, okay? I hope they come right now because we still have the power to fight against them. I want to finish at my generation. I don't want my kids to continue my fights.

RIPLEY: Chen Pei-wen when took the day off from high school to be here. She came with her uncle who worries at Chinese attack, maybe coming soon.

You don't identify as Chinese?


RIPLEY: Taiwanese. CHENG: Yeah.


CHENG: They do not have democracy, but our democracy is constantly improving. There are no human rights, or even basic rights in China.

RIPLEY: She says she and her friends fear what the future could bring, a fear shared by many here outside Taiwan's parliament.

Inside, chaos and turmoil. This brawl broke out last week. Opposition lawmakers demanding reforms they say are badly needed to increase the ruling party's accountability. Some of those opposition lawmakers, seen as friendly to China, they want to scale back the power of Taiwan's new tough on China President Lai Ching-te. He's barely been in office for a week.

These protesters say the president's opponents are trying to trade Taiwan's democracy for economic benefits from Beijing.

LI HONG CHENG, RETIREE: I live in San Jose, California.

RIPLEY: Why did you come all the way here?

LI: Because I support democracy.

RIPLEY: Li Hong Cheng (ph) is retired, born in Taiwan, in the U.S. for 40 years.

LI: War is not good for anybody. Taiwan is not such a big island and half of Taiwan would be probably be decimated, annihilated by all those bombs.

RIPLEY: He says the Taiwanese people must do everything possible to prevent war, to protect Taiwan's hard fought freedom.


SANCHEZ: Will, there are a lot of questions about why this massive show of force is happening now. How much of it has to do with the newly elected president taking office?

RIPLEY: Yeah, it's significant that it happened on the week of the president's inauguration. But a lot of people might wonder, well, why didn't they do it when the president was elected back in January? One answer frankly, is the weather, the weather on the Taiwan strait just is not conducive in January to holding these kind of drills, but things are now clearing up, which is why were able to see this happening here in May.

And this is what senior security officials here in Taipei told us we should expect, and they're expecting more drills like this because frankly, Boris, Beijing is not happy with this new Taiwan government and they're trying to do everything they can to try to make it look week, to try to stabilize it, to try to inject doubt into the Taiwanese public as to whether they're safe under this new president. SANCHEZ: Will Ripley, live for us in Taipei, thank you so much, Will.

And OUTFRONT now, retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

General Hertling, thanks so much for being with us.

China launching its largest military drills in more than a year, and they specifically said it was designed to test their ability to, quote, seize power over Taiwan. That language stood out. It was alarming to you. Why?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, it did stand out, Boris, and good evening.

First of all, it's because China has conducted these operations over the last two decades. They had been increasingly robust and they've grown over the last few decades as the Chinese military has improved since the early 2000s.

China is using something they call green zone at -- gray zone activities or hybrid strategies in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits and the Philippine Sea.


They all fall below the conflict of -- or I'm sorry, the threshold of armed conflict. But they aren't considered act of war, but they are attempts at intimidations, only over certain areas. You see any similarities with what the Russians have done in Ukraine.

We have taken on the strategy of something called strategic ambiguity, but we have tried to protect international waters, but China is becoming increasingly emboldened in this area and its becoming increasingly dangerous.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, that's strategic ambiguity is an open question. If China were to invade Taiwan, it could draw the United States into a conflict.

Do you think that the U.S. is prepared for that?

HERTLING: Well, when you think about a potential Chinese-U.S. operation or conflict, it isn't the on the ground invasion of a mainland. Certainly, you don't want to get involved with an Asian mainland war, but it is defending the sovereignty of Taiwan, much like the sovereignty of Ukraine against the Russia, but it will be the piece time use of military force.

And as I said before, I was in China in 2000, Boris, and what I saw them attempting to do and their 20-year plan was improving, not only their equipment but their training and their doctrine. At the time, it seemed a little bit ambition, but truthfully, over the last 20 years, they have mastered some of the arts of what they're doing.

So when they say they are now basically conducting an exercise to invade Taiwan, we have to believe them. And I know the U.S. Navy has been involved in protecting the freedom of navigation in the area. But this is much more dangerous and much more intense than we've seen before.

There were a lot of films today of Chinese aircraft going over the Taiwan zone, something that has happened before, but Taiwan for the first time is filmed those aircraft and they have seen more and more dangerous since, as Will Ripley just reported, there has been a new election of a new Taiwanese president who is trying to ensure the sovereignty and freedom of the Taiwan people.

SANCHEZ: General, I want to pivot for a moment and ask you about someone I believe as a friend. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says that he's temporarily transferring authority this evening to undergo a, quote, minimally invasive and non-surgical medical procedure related to a surgery that he had to treat prostate cancer last year. This transparency is coming after Austin sparked controversy. You and I discussed it over the air, when he had two surgeries without telling the president, his deputy and the public.

What do you make of this new approach?

HERTLING: Well, first of all, it's a good approach, Boris, it's something that military leaders and defense officials should do whenever they're about to undergo procedures.

And I think were seeing this as a news story because of what happened last time. This would not make a break. The level of interests if it hadn't happened in such dire consequences back a few months ago.

So, yeah, the secretary is turning over as powers to the deputy secretary for a few days while he undergoes minimum procedures. But truthfully, Secretary Austin and I are classmates. We're the same age, 70-year-old people have these kinds of surgeries and they should announce them when their partner so the government.

So it's a good move by Secretary Austin.

SANCHEZ: We certainly wish him the best health.

General Hertling, thanks so much for being with us tonight.

HERTLING: Pleasure, Boris. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Next, we're going to take you to one county where 100 percent of its election workers quit because of constant threats. But those attacks could not stop one woman from returning.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love this country. I love elections. It's who I am. I had to come back.


SANCHEZ: And Morgan Spurlock whose film "Supersize Me" detailed the horrors of eating fast food every day has passed away.



SANCHEZ: Tonight, an OUTFRONT investigation. In the key swing state of Nevada, election workers have been driven out of the job by threats and harassment. So why is there an effort to block a law that would protect election workers?

Sara Murray spoke with the wealthy Trump supporter that's leading that effort.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the job for five days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I've been here about eight months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My first year here full-time.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the Washoe County, Nevada, elections office, everyone is new to the job.

CARI-ANN BURGESS, INTERIM REGISTRAR OF VOTERS, WASHOE COUNTY: I've been in my current position for five months.

MURRAY: Cari-Ann Burgess is the top election official in this battleground county is the third registrar of voters in just four years.

With 100 percent staff turnover since the last presidential election, Washoe is emblematic of a nationwide trend. States are gearing up for 2024, while experts say threats and harassment are driving election workers out of the job.

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, at least 36 percent of local election officials have left the jobs since 2020.

Burgess had quit before, too.

BURGESS: I lost patches of hair because of the anxiety. Yeah, it was -- it was not great.

MURRAY: After working elections in her home state of Minnesota in 2020, she traded irate voters for sunsets on Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, taking a job managing this small beach front ice cream shop.


BURGESS: It was just a mental break that I needed. I got to order the ice cream. I got to figure out what flavors we're going to have in the store every week.

MURRAY: It didn't stick.

BURGESS: I love this country. I love elections. It's who I am. I had to come back.

MURRAY: But her interim appointment in Nevada's second-largest county received an icy response.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you seen her resume?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One must wonder if Cari-Ann has friends in high places.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hiring Ms, Burgess -- shady, shady, shady.

MURRAY: The clean sweep of the elections office isn't enough to pacify the county's chief election skeptic.

ROBERT BEADLES, PRO-TRUMP ELECTIONS SKEPTIC: Now you have this Cari- Ann, she maybe the nicest gal in the world, but she's certainly not qualified to be a registrar of voters.

MURRAY: Robert Beadles, a pro-Trump businessman and self-described constitutionalist, led the campaign to remove previous registrars.

BEADLES: We had 40,000 more votes and voters, this is treason. So, we're going to fire her, or lock her up.

MURRAY: Do you feel bad at all for the harassment that they said they faced?

BEADLES: Absolutely not, because they weren't harassed.

MURRAY: He devoted significant time and money to pushing the kind of election skepticism that ballooned nationwide after Trump's baseless claims of fraud in 2020.

BEADLES: They're literally just counting everything behind closed doors and come out and tell you who wins, how do you trust it?

MURRAY: Beadles is on a crusade against a new state law that protects election workers from retaliation, intimidation, or interference in their work.

Why would someone fight a law that makes it a felony to harass or intimidate election workers?

BEADLES: When you read it, you'll see that if you just simply asked an election worker why they did what they did, if that just slows them down from their job, that could get you four years in jail. You know that?

MURRAY: But Burgess sees it as a tool to protect and retain her new staff.

So if someone's yelling at you and saying you rig the election or you're not doing your job, right, you're not going to call the cops.

BURGESS: No, I'm going to walk away from them.

MURRAY: But if someone's following you to your car --

BURGESS: Or following me home? Absolutely. I'll call 911.

MURRAY: What do you make of people like, you know, Robert Beadles who say they just don't believe that there was harassment of your predecessors?

BURGESS: I'm so sorry you feel like that, that you believe that. I was one who lived it.


MURRAY: Now, an audit of the 2022 elections in Washoe County really highlights the pitfalls of an all-new workforce. They pointed to a number of issues they had, including errors on the ballot that required a costly reprint.

Now since then, obviously this office has added staff. It's done more training, but one of the fears among election experts is even these small innocuous errors could whip up a conspiracy theory and undermine faith and our elections, Boris,

Sara Murray, thanks so much for that report.

MURRAY: Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Next, "Super Size Me" director Morgan Spurlock has passed away.



SANCHEZ: Tonight, the man best known for his film "Super Size Me" has died at just 53 years old. Morgan Spurlock mission to eat nothing but McDonalds for a month, upended the fast food industry.

Stephanie Elam is OUTFRONT.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With his reddish hair and horseshoe mustache, documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock was known to turn the lens on himself.

SPURLOCK: I'm ready. Super size me.

ELAM: -- as he explored aspects of life, often with an irreverent tone.

SPURLOCK: America has now become the fattest nation in the world. Congratulations.

ELAM: Spurlock grabbed the nation's attention with his 2004 documentary, "Super Size Me".

SPURLOCK: Yeah. Could I get to the double quarter pounder with cheese meal?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Large or supersize?

SPURLOCK: I think I'm going to have to go supersize.

ELAM: For 30 days, the filmmaker eight only fast food from McDonalds, always supersizing his meal. He gained 25 pounds and let viewers see what his diet was doing to his health.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unfortunately, you cause some major harm to your heart, your liver, your blood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to die. You'll die.

SPURLOCK: I want more, more and more and more.

ELAM: The documentary took a toll on his physical and mental health while helping bring awareness to the nutrition content of fast food and exposing a nationwide obesity epidemic.

Born and raised in West Virginia, Spurlock graduated from New York University in 1993. He then began his production company, Warrior Poets, and took "Super Size Me", his first film to the Sundance Film Festival in 2004.

It won him a best director of honor before being nominated for an Academy Award in 2005 for best feature documentary. Many of his projects took on social and political issues.

From a satire about searching for Osama bin Laden --

SPURLOCK: Yoo-hoo, Osama.

ELAM: And even a mock-umentary about Homer Simpsons' baseball journey.

For a CNN original series, "Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man" --

SPURLOCK: We met a guy who named his Kid Possum.

ELAM: He told stories from an insider's perspective on CNN's ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT in 2014, he talked about the future of human interaction.

SPURLOCK: One day, we'll be able to upload our consciousness so that long after you and I are gone, our brains and our thoughts or memories will live on in a machine and they'll be able to tie that to a 3D hologram of you so that you'll be able to have a conversation with your grandkids, your great grandkids, your great-great-great grand kids.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Is that really -- is that really you?

SPURLOCK: And it's really me.

ELAM: In 2017, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Spurlock outed his own behavior, admitting to his personal sexual misconduct in a social media post writing, quote, I've come to understand that after months of these revelations, that I am not some innocent bystander, I am also part of the problem.

He stepped down as chief executive of his production company, but remained a prolific writer and director.

Morgan Spurlock was 53 years old.


ELAM (on camera): And Morgan Spurlock passed away in New York, surrounded by his friends and family according to a statement from his brother Craig, who went on to say that Morgan gave, quote, so much through his art, ideas and generosity. The world has lost a true creative genius and a special man -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

And thank you so much for joining us tonight.

"AC360" starts right now.