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Erin Burnett Outfront

House GOP Votes To Hold Attorney General Garland In Contempt; Police Identify Man Found With Gun, Ammo, Axes, NYPD Patch; Trump Says He's Living A "Nightmare" As He Braces For Sentencing; Russian Navy Ships Now In Cuba, Just 90 Miles From Florida. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired June 12, 2024 - 19:00   ET




Breaking news: the House holding the attorney general in contempt. Marjorie Taylor Green saying that Merrick Garland deserves to go to prison. Will it backfire?

Plus, more breaking news in New York. Police arrest a man found with a loaded gun, one hundred rounds of ammo, heavy body armor, and two axes. Just what was he plotting?

And Donald Trump says he's living a, quote, nightmare, as he prepares for sentencing. How his onetime opponent, Ron DeSantis, could come to his rescue.

Let's go OUTFRONT.


HILL: Good evening. I'm Erica Hill, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news, held in contempt and now threatened with prosecution. The Republican led House voting tonight to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt for defying a congressional subpoena. Just one Republican in the House voted against the measure. And right after that vote, House Speaker Mike Johnson, not ruling out the possibility of prosecution.

Republicans claim tonight's vote was about Garland's refusal to hand over audio tapes of President Biden's interview by the special counsel in the classified documents case. The DOJ has, of course, released transcript of the interview. Republicans, though, want the tapes, too.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): It's time for Merrick Garland to stop stonewalling and released the Biden tapes.

REP. TOM EMMER (R-MN): So, the question that should be asked is, what are they hiding and why?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): We think we're entitled to -- we don't think. We know were entitled to all the evidence. And that includes the best evidence which is this audio tape.


HILL: There is some irony there, of course. Congressman Jim Jordan, who just heard from there himself has defied a congressional subpoena. And it's really not just about defying a subpoena over audio tapes, take a listen to Republican Congressman James Comer on the House floor today.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): President Biden's Department of Justice appears to be taking every step to insulate him from the consequences, whether it's hiding these audio recordings or attempting to give Hunter Biden a sweetheart plea deal to shield Joe Biden from facing accountability for his role in his family's influence peddling schemes.


HILL: So it is important to note here, Republican spent months investigating Biden so-called influence peddling schemes as you just heard them referred to and admitted that they came up with nothing. They wanted to impeach him for it, but knew they didn't have votes in their own party for that.

And when it comes to Hunter Biden, it's important to remember, of course, that plea deal famously imploded. He was convicted this week by a jury on federal gun charges, prosecuted by the same DOJ Republicans accused of protecting Joe Biden.

Going after the DOJ though is exactly what Donald Trump wants. The former president furious over his New York state conviction, which, of course, is not under the DOJ's purview, and also furious about those other pending cases.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, all of a sudden, within a matter of months, I end up with four cases. Now, of course, it's from the White House and the Department of Justice.

They are in total conjunction with the White House and the DOJ, just so you understand. This is all done by Biden that his people.

The whole thing is rigged and it's all caused by Biden because Biden has weaponized the Department of Justice.


HILL: Manu Raju is OUTFRONT in Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, I know you've been speaking with Republicans since this vote. What are you hearing? MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. There's a realization, Erica, that perhaps not a whole lot is going to happen here, even though this is an incredibly rare event and was the attorney general of the United States referred for prosecution essentially for contempt for defying the House over a subpoena. And in this instance, in particular, this would go to the U.S. attorney's office here in the District of Columbia. They would have to make a decision about whether to move ahead with prosecution, but there's also a separate wrinkle here.

The president, the United States as a asserted executive privilege over these audio recording but the Republicans want, and that is a position of the executive branch and the Justice Department saying, because the president has asserted executive privilege, they cannot release this to Congress. And then ultimately, the courts may have to decide whether or not the Justice Department is right in that position, and that could take some time to sort out.

In the meantime, though, there are still anger within the ranks, including from some Republican hardliners who are calling for prosecution of the attorney general and even prison time.



REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Is Merrick Garland above the law? I mean, I thought the whole argument is that no one is above the law, and now that we've held him in contempt of Congress, he should be prosecuted by the Department of Justice and he deserve see the exact same fate as Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon.

REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): Oh, I mean, the Department of Justice isn't going to go prosecute the attorney general. I mean, but, you know, it's important.

RAJU: So, this is symbolic.

ROY: I wouldn't call it symbolic.

We're going to hold him in contempt. We'll see what he does. I mean, hopefully, you look at this and you see there is ways.


RAJU: And as the speaker of the House was walking off the floor tonight, he was asked by our colleague Kit Maher about whether or not he believes that the Justice Department should move ahead with prosecution now and he said that he is pleased with the outcome of the vote. He went on to say, look, we did our job and contempt as I think it sends an important message but then he said, as far as the next steps, we'll see what happens next.

But in talking to lots of Republicans tonight, Erica, they don't expect a whole lot will happen after this intense fight with the Justice Department -- Erica. HILL: Yeah, intense, it certainly was.

Manu, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, good to have you with us tonight.

I do want to note for transparency here, CNN is suing for access to the Biden audio tapes.

Your Senate colleague, Democrat Mark Warner told the "AP", quote, you've got to release the audio. Do you agree?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): I think that the attorney general has an obligation to follow the direction of the president of the United States when the president of the United States asserts executive privilege. You can't go after the agent when the principal has said, no, this is an executive privilege matter.

That's the thing you sue over. You sue the president and say in a civil case to a court, hey, this was an improper assertion of executive privilege.

The rich thing here is that Republicans continuously obstructed us. The Trump administration continually obstructed Congress over and over and over again, over 100 times, as I recall, and virtually never did President Trump actually asserts executive privilege. So it was asserted by all of his minions, but he never actually made the assertion.

Here, the president did what the Reagan memo from years ago requires the president to do and make the assertion. Once he's done that, that binds the attorney general, I believe and going after the attorney general is improper and unfair.

HILL: So you're saying Republicans went down the wrong road. There is what I'm hearing from you.

I do want to get you in a couple of other topics, so I would love to get your take on Hunter Biden tonight as well, sir. As you know, convicted and criminal court on guns charges, President Biden has said that he would not pardon his son, but the White House today didn't rule out the possibility of the president perhaps commuting and eventual sentence. Would you be okay with that?

WHITEHOUSE: I think that the course of justice should be followed. I don't think the fact that somebody is the president's son entitles them to be out from under rule of law. The president I guess gets to make that decision once he sees what the sentence is, but having been a United States attorney. the sentence for a first offender in a reporting crime like this, particularly with the overlay of his drug addiction and the judgment impairment that relates to all that, I'd be really surprised if the sentence in this case was enough to justify anybody thinking about commuting it. HILL: We'll be watching for sentencing, a few months away at this point.

You sit as I noted on the Judiciary Committee. Justice Alito has refused to recuse himself from January 6 cases saying to you and Senator Durbin in a letter last month that the flags use by January 6 rioters likes flown outside his home -- homes were not put up by him, but by his wife, and intimating in that letter that the flags were flown in response to neighborhood politics. He wrote in that letter that she, his wife, was, quote, greatly distressed at the time, due in large part to a very nasty neighborhood dispute, and went on to note, a house on the street displayed a sign attacking her personally.

So, Erin spoke with that neighbor who laid out this timeline of events. Take a listen.


EMILY BADEN, FORMER ALITO NEIGHBOR: I just want to emphasize that the interaction that happened on February 15th is the one that they're using as an excuse for why they flew the flag. And I really want to hammer home the fact that that happened on February 15, and their flag went up two or three weeks before that. At best, he's mistaken, but at worst, he's just outright lying.


HILL: So she says, Justice Alito is mistaken or outright lying in terms of that time lame.

Do you feel you need further clarification from Justice Alito?

WHITEHOUSE: Yeah. And the problem is that with respect to the nine justices of the Supreme Court, and those nine individuals alone, there is no place in the law for any proper fact-finding to take place.


Every other government official is subject to fact-finding, even the president had to submit to an interview about the documents in his garage. These justices won't allow themselves to be subjected to honest fact-finding.

So we now have the statement from a justice of the United States Supreme Court that is demonstrably false unless he was a time traveler. So, we really need to fix the rules over there. And that's why this Supreme Court ethics effort that I'm engaged in is so important, they should not be on an island of their own creation where no fact-finding about what the truth is ever gets done.

HILL: Real quickly. You talk about the limitations there. Constitutional scholar, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe told CNN recently, he thinks the chairman of your committee, Dick Durbin, isn't doing enough. He says there should be hearings on Alito.

Do you agree with that? And is that something could your committee be doing more?

WHITEHOUSE: We are having I think a lot of work going on in a lot of different ways. I don't think anybody has ruled out the prospect of a hearing. You need to think carefully through who the witnesses would be at the hearing. You probably don't want to lead with a justice of the Supreme Court and walk right into a separation of powers objection.

So you need to build the case carefully. We have some subpoenas out. The finance committee is doing its own investigative work. So there's a lot going on and I think as a former prosecutor, you want to build these cases carefully, and in proper sequence.

HILL: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, appreciate your time tonight and we will be watching to see what comes out of that. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, David Urban, GOP strategist, former senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

David, good to have you with us tonight.

Let's talk about what happened with Merrick Garland today. House Republicans voting to hold him, of course, in contempt. Do believe this is what Republicans should be focusing on at this moment, five months prior to the election?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, Erica, that's a really good question, right? Do the American people around the United States, are they focused on this issue right now? Probably not.

I think most Americans are focused on paying their bills, gas prices, getting their kids either graduated from high school and college, off to summer camps. You know, they're going about their life, and the things that impact them are, you know, household issues, gas prices, inflation, maybe kids graduate college, they're worried about looking to the rent, buying a home, saving for a home. I mean, all those things that are really pocketbook issues, I think probably affect a much more.

That being said, I don't think that the attorney general should just be able to get a free pass on this. You know, Senator Whitehouse, as you noted, the Senator Whitehouse, CNN, and Senator Warner and others believed that the audio tapes should be turned over.

They turned over a transcript -- transcripts have been made public. But the audio tapes haven't. And there's obviously get reason behind that because I believe the audio tapes probably reveal that the President Biden to be what the special counsel said, kind of a doddering old man, and it's probably embarrassing. And that's why they don't want to release them.

HILL: The president has exerted executive privilege, which you also heard Senator Whitehouse talking about. Do you think it would've been better for House Republicans in this moment to challenge President Biden himself and his use of executive privilege over that audio, instead of going after Garland? URBAN: Well, you know, that's a tactical issue best left for the House Republicans. I think --

HILL: Yes. But what's your opinion?

URBAN: Yeah. So, my opinion is I think they're looking to go after the attorney general just like the former Democratic House went after, you know, members of the Trump administration, to wit, you know, Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, who are sentenced to prison. They're going to jail for failing to show up, for, you k now, contempt, of Congress and obstructions.

So we will see. I think what's good for the goose is good for the gander. And I think that's what House Republicans are up to at this point.

HILL: We've got 30 seconds left. President Biden said he will not pardon Hunter Biden. White House wouldn't rule out a commutation of an eventual sentence. Do you see a difference between the two?

URBAN: Yeah. Look, I think that's all too cute by half, Erica, right? Either you're going to do it or you're not going to do it.

Listen, what I'd like to see happen is I'd like to see president Trump come out with a statement saying, look, if Hunter Biden commits to a program of sobriety and inpatient or maybe outpatients shows up, keeps his sobriety. I'll pardon him.

I'd love to see President Trump to say that, be magnanimous, you know, offer on his part, shows humanity and really flip the tables on the Democrats.

HILL: We'll see if he is listening to you tonight, David. Good to see you. Thank you.

URBAN: Okay. Thank you.

HILL: OUTFRONT next, New York police arrested man with a loaded gun, with hundred rounds of ammo body armor and two axes. The man also had a public transit worker vest.


So just what was he plotting?

Plus, new reporting shows how Donald Trump moved nearly $5 million from his campaign to his businesses. Why? We have a reporter who broke that story.

Plus, a show of force. A Russian nuclear-powered submarine, part of a Russian fleet, docked just 90 miles from Florida right now. So just what is Putin up to?


HILL: Breaking news, police announcing the arrest of a New York man who had -- listen to this list -- a loaded gun, 100 rounds of ammunition, a hatchet, an ax, several knives, the man also had a bulletproof vest with an NYPD patch on the front, as well as an orange public transit employee vest. Now, all of this found after a routine traffic stop by officers.


JEFFREY MADDREY, NYPD CHIEF OF DEPARTMENT: An obstructive plate turns into an arrest for a person that is heavily armed, gun, knives, weapons -- very dangerous to our community.



HILL: Yeah, very dangerous.

OUTFRONT now, John Miller, CNN's chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, who also served as deputy commissioner of intelligence and counter terrorism of the New York Police Department.

So, you're reporting here, John, is that Joint Terrorism Task Force, is now investigating this. This all started with a traffic stop. What more do we know about this and about this suspect?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So they spot this black SUV, it's a Ford Explorer, very much like the kind that the NYPD would use as an unmarked police car, but the back license plate is covered off with one of these tinted things where you can't really read the plate.

They do the stop based on license plate. They spot a Taser with the person and a knife. They asked him to step out of the car. Then they see the gun. They placed him under arrest, and the search reveals the rest of this.

So what you have here is the most routine police stop that reveals at a time of extraordinary concern about terrorism a person who right now there is no indication was planning or about to commit a terrorist attack, but who certainly seem to be driving around with the supplies to do one.

So, it's being investigated by the detective bureau. That's being followed by the intelligence bureau and the JTTF is also looking into the joint terrorism task force is also looking into his background, his social media, and so on. Some of the things they have seen are not messages about attacks or ideology, radicalization, but there is an image of a flag that's been used by al-Qaeda.

One of the collapsible batons he had, had etched into it in Arabic, "God forgive me".

So you could have a person who has a drug history, potential mental health issues, trying to deal with family issues, that has a lot of weapons, or you could have something else and they don't know yet. HILL: Right, and we don't know yet. So I know you will bring us more information as soon as you have that. You talk about this heightened concern right now about terror attacks. That has been here for some time, but it's only elevated after what we saw just yesterday, eight people with suspected ties to ISIS arrested after entering through the U.S. southern border.

What does this say right now in terms of how significant the threat of a major terror attack is on U.S. soil?

MILLER: Well, it's really interesting, Erica, because right now, at a time when the war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan is over, the war in Syria has wound down, there is this malaise that we might be in a lower threat area than we have been before. But there's an article right now in "Foreign Affairs" magazine by Mike Morrell, the former deputy director of the CIA, who was at the helm the night they caught bin Ladens, and Graham Allison, an expert in weapons of mass destruction from Harvard.

And they say in part: The stated intentions of terrorist groups, the growing capabilities they've demonstrated in recent successful and failed attacks around the world and the fact that several serious plots in the United States have been foiled. Point to an uncomfortable but unavoidable conclusion, put simply, the United States faces a serious threat of a terrorist attack in the months ahead -- in the months ahead.

And I would say coming from Mike Morell, who was there from before 9/11 until the capture and killing of bin Laden, that's quite a statement.

HILL: It is -- it is sobering to put it mildly, but really important too that we have at John. Thank you.

OUTFRONT next, Trump claims he is living a, quote, nightmare as he prepares for his sentencing in his historic criminal conviction, but could Ron DeSantis actually help him out?

And the U.S. is on high alert tonight as Russian navy ships, along with the nuclear submarine, arrive just miles from the Florida coast.



HILL: Breaking news: I'm living the American nightmare. That's a direct quote, the headline of a new fundraising email for Donald Trump as he awaits sentencing in his hush money trial conviction, the email goes on to say, quote, can you believe this? Ive had to speak to a probation officer after my rigged conviction?

Important to, once again, note, of course, that conviction was not rigged. It is true though that he spoke with a probation officer which all convicted felons awaiting sentencing in New York must do.

And with that sentencing now just a few weeks away, a former foe of Donald Trump could actually pay key role in how lenient a potential probation may be.

The name of that former foe? Ron DeSantis.

Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former President Donald Trump was convicted in New York, but he lives in Florida. So if he is sentenced to probation as some legal analysts expect, he would likely serve it in the Sunshine State, and there, officials from the two Republican senators on down have called his conviction a mockery, a sham, outrageous, a disgrace.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the hell happened to him, by the way? Man, did he go down. Ron Desanctimonious.

FOREMAN: Trump and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis mocked each other while vying for the GOP nomination. But since dropping out, DeSantis has endorsed Trump, trials and all.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Trump is superior to the current incumbent, Joe Biden. That is clear.

MARK O'MARA, FLORIDA ATTORNEY: They're going to go hands off on him. There's no question about it.

FOREMAN: For noted Florida attorney, Mark O'Mara, it all adds up to a clear conclusion.

O'MARA: I think Florida is the friendliest state for Donald Trump to serve a probation in, without question.

FOREMAN: O'Mara predicts Trump the felon on probation could be very much like Trump the free man in Florida, traveling when and where he wants, not subject to surprise visit from his case officer, and meeting with anyone he pleases, including others who have broken the law, because it would be up to state officials to decide how closely Trump is monitored.

O'MARA: Even drug tests are at the discretion. Most of it is at the discretion.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP AIDE: There's not a prison built our jail built that would ever shut me up.

FOREMAN: Of course, like several of his former advisors, Donald Trump could be sentenced to time behind bars, maybe years. But this was Trump's first felony conviction and it was for a non-violent offense.


TODD BLANCHE, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Look, there's a system in place that were you rely on precedent and somebody like President Trump should never, never face a jail sentence based on this conduct. FOREMAN: Trump could get house arrest or some other sentence all together, but with probation, there is one big caveat. If Judge Juan Merchan in New York thinks Florida is going too easy --

O'MARA: It's his sentence, and if he actually caught wind that it is not being imposed, he can stick his nose in it.


FOREMAN: We reach out to Governor DeSantis if he had any reaction to what is really a speculation from court watchers at this point. No reply, but this is absolutely clear. Big Republican power players in Florida are already acting like Trump has won this appeal that he keeps promising. And if he ends up being under probation in Florida, that suggest it could be pretty much a walk on the beach -- Erica.

HILL: Yeah. It is fascinating.

Tom, appreciate it. Good to see you, my friend.


HILL: Also new tonight, Donald Trump banking nearly $5 million in campaign funds, moving that haul to his own businesses and entities all the while not giving a penny himself to his own campaign.

OUTFRONT now is Dan Alexander who broke the story for "Forbes".

So, Dan, you looked at all these numbers, this FEC data, at -- give me a sense, some $4.6 million. Where is this money going?

DAN ALEXANDER, SENIOR EDITOR, FORBES: Yeah, the bulk of it has gone to the company name Tag Air, which is one of Donald Trump's aviation companies. Now he's no longer flying around and Air Force One. And when he got out of the White House, his aircraft fleet was in pretty rough shape, 757, he had $4 million of engine overhauls, which they did. You got the thing back in the air.

And then he started charging the campaign millions of dollars in order for him to fly around to all these states. And so he's sort of reaped a return on that investment.

HILL: So you mentioned the plane, and that's a big -- a big chunk of the money. This got us thinking of a little moment back in 2016 when Donald Trump was bragging that he only paid for that plane to fly around the country. Take a listen to that.


TRUMP: I'm self-funding my own campaign. I'm putting up my own money. Would that big plane flies into Ohio, you know who's paying for it? Trump is paying for it.


HILL: So things were a little different in 2016, than they are now in 2024. And it isn't just the plane that we're talking about here, but other Trump businesses and entities are also caching in off the campaign.

Walk us through what you found.

ALEXANDER: That's exactly right. If you go down the down Trump's home Mar-a-Lago, which is, of course, doubles as a private club, that's where he launched his 2024 campaign about a month after he announced that you see the campaign paid the club tens of thousands of dollars. It's continued doing that, hosting events and functions over the next several months. Now, the total is $332,000 of campaign donor money that has gone into his private business via Mar-a-Lago.

And that's -- you can also see this in Las Vegas where he owns a hotel. You can see it as golf club down in Palm Beach, in Bedminster. Wherever he goes and wherever the campaign goes, people are spending money and in many cases, they're paying Donald Trump for services, even though he no longer is putting a penny in his own campaign.

HILL: So, any campaign obviously would have to pay for the hotel it used and the flights that it took, I guess the question here is, is any of this illegal the way that it is being done with the Trump campaign, and then ultimately the benefit to Trump businesses?

ALEXANDER: We don't really know. And the reason that we don't know is because water for it to be illegal, the payments would have to be non- market value. In other words, if you were overpaying aviation company, then that would be illegal. But if he's paying a market rate, that might be ethically questionable, but is still legal.

HILL: Uh-huh.

ALEXANDER: Now, Trump doesn't have to disclose much here. We don't know how many flights this covers. We don't know how much fuel has been burned. We don't know, for example, when they were renting space in Trump Tower, how many square feet they were renting. And so although we know the total amounts of money, it's really hard to make an assessment about whether those amounts of money represent fair market value for the services that the campaign is receiving.

HILL: Yeah, the lack of a breakdown does certainly raised more questions. I know you reach out to the Trump campaign. They deflected, they didn't answer your questions directly. We'll see if we get more out of this as the campaign and continues over the next few months.

Dan, great to have you tonight. Thank you.

ALEXANDER: Thank you.

HILL: Coming up tonight, Kaitlan Collins sits down with Nathan Wade, the former Fulton County prosecutor. You'll see it right here on "THE SOURCE" at 9:00 p.m.

OUTFRONT next, the U.S. now on high alert as a Russian nuclear-powered submarine floats less than 100 miles off the Florida coast.


We are live in Havana.

Plus, we're learning more about the brutal conditions faced by the hostages who were just rescued by Israel over the weekend. You'll hear directly from the father, his son remains captive in Gaza.


HILL: Tonight, the U.S. at this hour is closely tracking a Russian nuclear-powered submarine and other warships that are now just 90 miles off the Florida coast. That Russian flotilla arriving earlier in Havana. It includes a warship that's been used to test a hypersonic missiles, one of the most advanced weapons in Russia's arsenal.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is OUTFRONT from Havana.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With a 21-gun salute, three Russian naval ships and a nuclear-powered submarine enter Havana harbor. Russia's warships and spy ships have frequently resupplied in Cuba over the years.

But these ships are the largest convoy in some time and boast some of the most modern weapons in Vladimir Putin's arsenal, including a warship that's been used to test a hypersonic missiles.

Their arrival comes as Putin threatens to retaliate to U.S. weapons shipments to Ukraine.


Do we not have the right to do the same, he says, to mirror these actions?

In route to Cuba, the Russians skirted the coast of Florida, tracked by U.S. and Canadian worships, all visible from tourists aboard a cruise ship.

While they boast some of Russia's most cutting-edge weaponry, Cuban officials insist the ships' presence just 90 miles from the U.S. poses no threat.

That's a nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, just over my shoulder there. And according to Cuban officials, none of these ships are carrying nuclear warheads. All of them are here for peaceful intentions.

We'll just have to take their word on that, but clearly, Vladimir Putin is showing the United States, the West, that if they can put sophisticated weapons of war on his doorstep, will then he can do the same.

As Cuba endures the worst economic woes in decades. The war in Ukraine is reuniting them with our Cold War era patrons in Moscow, despite Cuban official statements that the communist run island is not involved in the war and that Cuban citizens are forbidden from participating, Cuban mercenaries continued to fight on the front lines of Putin's invasion.

And during a meeting with Putin, the Kremlin in May, Cuba's president issued its most public endorsement of the war so far.

We wish you success in the military operation, he said.

Russia has increasingly sent oil to keep the lights on in Cuba, as blackouts worsen, and promised greater investment in tourism and agriculture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States answer to what Adlai Stevenson termed Soviet blackmail in Cuba was --

OPPMANN: This revived partnership may bring back memories of 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when Soviet nuclear warheads were briefly placed in Cuba. But times have changed, says a former U.S. official.

ERIC FARNSWORTH, FORMER U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We're not sending missiles to Cuba to recreate the missile crisis or anything like that. But it does show that they can continue to project force and power and it does show that they have allies in the region willing to accommodate them.


OPPMANN (on camera): And, Erica, those are the ships just behind me taking up all the berths in Havana's harbor where cruise ships usually would go. Starting on Thursday, Cubans will be given the opportunity we are told to tour the main frigate there that shoots those hypersonic missiles.

Ad then from here, Pentagon officials say the ships will continue on and they believe to Venezuela, certainly, we expect the U.S. military to be tracking every step of that journey.

HILL: Yeah. Patrick, appreciate the reporting tonight. Thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Bob Baer, former CIA operative and CNN intelligence and security analyst.

Bob, when we look at this, this is the largest show of force. Russia has sent to Cuba in years. It includes, of course, that nuclear- powered submarine. Putin is clearly looking to send a message here. I know U.S. officials say they're tracking it.

Do you think they're taking this seriously enough?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, if they're not, they should be. This is clear escalation on Russia's part. Putin is furious that we've allowed to Ukrainians to use our weapons to hit Russia itself. The Ukrainian has been doing a lot of damage inside Russia.

And Putin's message is, you're absolutely right. Erica is -- you know, you escalate, we escalate.

And what we should be worried about is not this, this flotilla in Havana, but what an accident occurring, which could occur in any time, you know, could happen in Poland and also, we can expect the Russians to expand these provocations, whether it's in North Korea or Venezuela, it just doesn't matter. I think were going to see him popping up everywhere, sending us messages.

HILL: To that point, this escalation. I know you've said that you believe there should be a back-channel at this point to Putin. But is that even an option at this point?

BAER: Oh, I think there's no choice. The Ukrainians are losing this war. The Russians are flattening cities. They've got unlimited amount of artillery shells, 155, which by the way, cost about a tenth of what they cost us to produce, and they're going to keep going.

I mean, Putin is modeling itself on Stalin in World War II. He's just going to keep flattening parts of Ukraine until it moves and I think in order to save Ukraine, we should have a back-channel and we should discuss what would it take to negotiate this.

I don't know what those terms but be, but somebody like the CIA Director Burns going to Moscow and sitting down with Putin, hammering something out is the best way out of this and could avoid, like I said, an escalation, or real escalation.

HILL: Based on what you know, how opened you think Biden administration officials would be to that?

BAER: Well, they better pretty soon because the last thing we know -- we need is this war to spill over into the Baltics, or into Poland or someplace like that when it -- and the Russians are pushing back everywhere.


Even in Paris, that there is covert action, and they're -- they're dealing with the far right in Europe and the far right could back out of any support of Ukraine at this point so that, you know, the deck is not favoring Biden. And the earlier he gets in negotiations, the more were going to get out of it.

HILL: Bob, always good to have your insight and your expertise. Thank you.

BAER: Thank you.

HILL: OUTFRONT next, the hostages just rescued from Hamas, revealing the brutal torture they suffered while in captivity. This as hope grows of perhaps bring home more hostages still being held. The father of one of those is here next.

Plus, a bittersweet milestone for the survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting as they graduate high school today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is such a monumental day and we all can feel what we've lost.




HILL: Tonight, we're learning more about the brutal conditions faced by one of these really hostages held by Hamas, and before he was rescued over the weekend.

The family of Andrey Kozlov telling CNN he was psychologically tortured by his Hamas captors and in extreme heat as one example, the family says, he told them they would cover him with blankets. They know though, that Andrey is actually one of the lucky ones. He was rescued along with three other hostages, including Noa Argamani.

More than 100 hostages though remain captive.

Sagui Dekel-Chen is one of them. In fact, he's been held for so long now that he has yet to meet his newborn daughter.

Erin spoke with his father Jonathan after the release of these four hostages.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Joining me now, is Jonathan Dekel-Chen. He's Israeli American and his son Sagui also has dual citizenship. He is still being held captive by Hamas in Gaza tonight.

And, Jonathan, I know it's got to be such mixed emotions when you see that video of Noa and her father Yaakov, finally, were reunited. I was with Yaacov and crying thinking you might never see his child again and now, of course, he is and they're together.

It's a moment you've dreamed of experiencing and, of course, you haven't yet. What do you feel when you see that?

JONATHAN DEKEL-CHEN, FATHER OF ISRAEL-AMERICAN HELD HOSTAGE BY HAMAS: I'm overjoyed for all four of the hostages who are released. These are young people who can, after we hope some recovery and a lot of help, will be able to reclaim their lives and it's really extraordinary moment. And I can only hope that the other 121 hostages and their families, those who are alive and those who've already been murdered, will have similar moments of getting their loved ones back.

BURNETT: Does it give you hope for Sagui? I mean, it's been a long time since anybody had been freed or found alive. And then all of a sudden four, does it change how you feel?

DEKEL-CHEN: I think that this event is joyous as it is, is in a way a cautionary tale, because it is the exception that proves the rule. The rule is that we've seen that there is no way to solely by military means get hostages out alive from the terror tunnels. The exception here for these really lucky four who were rescued in an incredibly heroic operation is that they along with three earlier rescues, were all held aboveground.

BURNETT: Right, in homes.

DEKEL-CHEN: In homes aboveground.

And that is an entirely different situation and as for all of the hostage families, we don't want the euphoria. I mean, were all for euphoria, but not let the euphoria obscure the facts and the facts are that the rest of the hostages, the vast majority of them are not going to be able to be rescued by military action alone.

BURNETT: Because they're -- because they're underground.

DEKEL-CHEN: That's correct.

BURNETT: Has the Israeli government, the American government, Jonathan, have they -- have they reached out to you since the rescue of those four hostages?

DEKEL-CHEN: No, they have not.

BURNETT: What is the latest that they have even told you about where Sagui is, or whether they think he's in a tunnel or what have they have they given you any indication of what they think?

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, the last absolute confirmation that we had was way back in the late November, early December with the release of 40 of the 109 hostages were released. Some of the women from the kibbutz who are released and teenagers were able to tell us that he was alive and wounded at that time, and that's the last information that we've been given.

BURNETT: Six months ago.

DEKEL-CHEN: It's a lifetime ago, many lifetimes ago.

BURNETT: Six months ago, of course. And December is when his daughter was born, his third child.


BURNETT: And I know you've talked about the joy that that she gives, but how is your daughter-in-law, how are the other children -- how are they managing here? It's more than more than six months since they've gotten those words.

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, they're his own two older daughters, aged almost three and almost seven. And they want their dad home. They want their dad home. Nothing is forgotten.

They were traumatized by the events of that day. I mean, they have their own trauma. BURNETT: Yeah.

DEKEL-CHEN: They were there while 200 terrorists and many hundreds of looters rampaged through are small community and I have a younger daughter with her own family who were on kibbutz Nir Oz during that day and they're equally traumatized. Just by a series of small miracles, they were not harmed physically or taken captive during that horrific black Saturday.


BURNETT: All right. Well, Jonathan, I appreciate your time and thank you very much.

DEKEL-CHEN: Thank you for having me.


HILL: OUTFRONT next, the survivors of the Sandy Hook massacre graduating high school tonight. How the 20 students who lost their lives were honored.


HILL: Tonight, the survivors of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting graduating from high school. They were just first-graders when they tragically lost 20 of their classmates in that massacre 12 years ago. Tonight, they still feel the weight of that loss.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is such a monumental guy and we all can feel what we've lost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should been all classmates reuniting one last time. And I just can't -- I can't do that. It can never be that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we all are carrying their memory through us and making sure that they're walking stage right there with us.


HILL: The school's principal reading the names of all 20 students who were murdered in that attack, also leading a moment of silence and honoring, of course, the six teachers and administrators were also killed.

Wearing white and green ribbons on their gowns, each inscribed with "forever in our hearts" to remember the victims.

It is a tragedy that has understandably shape the course of their lives. Many of the survivors now activists, some of them meeting recently with Vice President Kamala Harris to push for gun control.

Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Erica Hill.

"AC360" starts now.