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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Michael Cohen's Aggressive Pitch Promising Access to Trump; Michael Cohen Accuses Avenatti of Circulating False Information; AT&T Cooperated in Mueller Probe; Who is the Russian Oligarch Linked to Cohen Payments?; Interview with Rep. Jackie Speier (D), California; Three Americans Released by North Korea on Their Way Home. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 9, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:11] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, breaking news, Michael Cohen aggressively selling himself to companies after Trump's election, offering access to Trump. Did the president know about it?
Plus, Cohen paid half a million dollars by a company link today a Russian oligarch. Who is Viktor Vekselberg? And Trump waiting to greet the three Americans just freed by Kim Jong-un, an incredible evening ahead. My guest, a woman who knows the horror of being held prisoner in North Korea. Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, pay to play. Stunning new details this evening about the president's long time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, promising access to the president. According to multiple people, shortly after President Trump's win, the president's fixer, Cohen, was aggressively pitching himself to potential clients. Like pharmaceutical giant Novartis. A company that Cohen immediately approached according to one source.
Another source describing Cohen's sales pitches boiling down to this, "I don't know who's been representing you, but you should fire them all. I'm the guy you should hire. I'm closest to the president. I'm his person lawyer."
And it appears that pitch worked for Novartis. Cohen who is now under criminal investigation in New York is accused of being paid nearly $2 million by major companies for so-called insight into the president's thinking. Taking millions from a client list that didn't just have Novartis on, it also included AT&T, Korea Air Space and a company linked to Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders today questioned again and again about these transactions. And again and again, the answer to nearly a dozen questions was pretty much the same response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know whether Mr. Cohen ever approached the White House as a representative of any of these companies, whether the president was aware of the payments or whether he was aware of that Mr. Cohen was marketing himself? SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not aware, and again,
I would refer you to outside counsel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has the president taken any action during the administration to benefit Novartis, AT&T, Korea Air Space?
SANDERS: Not that I aware of.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that Michael Cohen was ever in any way qualified by insight into this administration?
SANDERS: I'm not going to get into somebody else's qualifications.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Can't get into it. Refer you to outside counsel and not aware. But Sanders should be aware because she is the president's press secretary and she speaks on his behalf. So, if she doesn't know the answer to these simple and important questions, surely at least she would know whether the president comfortable with his personal attorney, trying to profit from his ties to him, for engaging in a pay to play scheme. Is the president OK with that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president promised to drain the swamp, so does he feel is appropriate that Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, was selling access to him?
SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to weigh in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the president in any embarrassed or ashamed of that? Because it seems to be the definition of swamp the behavior --
SANDERS: I think that would be up to those individuals who make the decision to hire someone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the president think it's appropriate that his personal attorney was selling access to him given that he promised to drain the swamp?
SANDERS: Again, I purposely, as our team, we're not engaging in matters in this process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Not engaging, I'm not going to weigh in. But after being pressed by Fox's John Roberts, Sanders finally gave an inch, seeming to shed some light on the president's thinking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Is the president concerned that major corporations were given money to somebody very close to him as time when they had business before the federal government?
SANDERS: I haven't heard the president express any specific concerns about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So she hasn't heard the president express any specific concern s about that. Whoa. I mean, the president hasn't expressed concerned about his personal lawyer possibly making millions off the office of the presidency? He won't even express those concerns to her privately when publicly, when it's others like Hillary Clinton accused of pay to play? He has been more than happy to express his concerns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She engaged in corrupt pay for play at the state department.
They try a lot of bad stuff. Pay for play. Pay for play. It's illegal.
This was big stuff. Pay for play. It's illegal. I mean, it's illegal.
Access and favors were sold for cash. It's called pay for play.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: He knows the definition. By his definition, access sold for cash is pay to play. And that is exactly what the president's right hand man is accused of doing. So he should be outraged. That is unless he didn't know about it.
So let's go to Pamela Brown up front at the White House and Pam, there are clearly more questions today from -- been answers from the White House. And it should be very simple for answering the question. If this happens, he'd be very concerned, yet it was apparently very complicated question for her to answer today.
[19:05:02] PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you saw Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stonewall reporters on many different fronts when it came to these questions about why the president's personal attorney Michael Cohen was getting paid more than a million dollars just after the election in return to promises from him that he would give access to the president and to the new president.
Of course as you pointed out, Erin, President Trump since the campaign, has been talking about draining the swamp and so one would think that these revelations would be concerning to him. It is unclear as whether the president knew and Sarah Sanders wouldn't go there today with reporters saying that she simply wasn't going to engage and that the president hadn't expressed concern to her. It is hard to believe that the two didn't discuss this, considering it's been in the headlines for the past 24 hours.
The president as you know, Erin, is an astute observer of the news and this of course has to do with him. His person attorney promising this kind of access. I did speak to one White House official today who tried to down play it, saying, look, this is Washington. People try to pay for access all of the time. And sources within Trump world say they're hardly surprised by these revelations that shortly after the election, it wasn't just Michael Cohen. There were others who started these consulting firm, promising access, or at least the perception of access. The question remains tonight, Erin, how much the president knew about this?
BURNETT: That is the crucial question. And, of course, it should be easy for him to say he's outraged about all of it, right? Unless he knew more than they want anyone to know. Thank you very much Pam.
And I want to go now to Shimon Prokupecz because Michael Cohen is now challenging some of the allegations by Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney that are out there, Cohen claiming that Avenatti is circulating false information, some of which by the way is information you haven't heard on this network because we're only reporting information we have independently verified and confirmed with multiple source. Shimon, what can you tell us?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's exactly right, Erin. So this relates to a court filing just made within the last half hour. And really it's the first time we're hearing from Michael Cohen or his attorneys. And it takes issue with some of the things that Michael Avenatti had distributed yesterday in a tweet that he posted online. Certainly there were some things in there that this filing says were inaccurate. That we, as you said, did not report on.
However, he does go into some information that appears at least in part to be accurate from what we've reported on and let me read to you what it says. It says that Mr. Avenatti has published some information that appears to be from Mr. Cohen's actual bank records and Mr. Cohen has no reason to believe that Mr. Avenatti is in lawful possession of these records.
So he's taking issue -- this is Michael Cohen's attorneys, they're taking issues just how did Michael Avenatti get a hold of this information and now they're asking basically a judge in New York to take a look at this, to perhaps seek this information from Michael Avenatti. They also say that some of this information was seized in those FBI searches that occurred at his home in office at Michael Cohen's office.
So certainly the issue here for the attorneys is, yes, A, that Michael Cohen, that Michael Avenatti have posted some information that they say is inaccurate, but they're also, they want to know just how Michael Avenatti got a hold of this information. And Avenatti just moments ago, he responded to this lawsuit with his court filing, I should say. And here's what he said. He's essentially calling it baseless. Says that Mr. Ryan's submission, that's Michael Cohen's attorney, on behalf of Cohen, it's baseless, improper and sanctionable. They fail to address let alone contradict 99% of the statements and what we released. So certainly Michael Avenatti continuing the fight here, not backing down and we'll see if the judge in New York actually entertains this.
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much Shimon. I want to go now to our National Political Reporter, MJ Lee, Politics Editor for "The New York Times," Patrick Healy and former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean
MJ, you've been breaking so much of this story. You know, these payment from Novartis and how it was Cohen who approached Novartis from your reporting and you're learning a whole lot more about this relationship and how it came together.
MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, you know, this is such a fascinating look at how access is paid for and bought in Washington. As to what we are told, is that Cohen after the election aggressively pitched himself to multiple companies trying to say look, I know the president really well and I can give you access. I can give you a better understanding of how this administration will work. So Novartis, the pharmaceutical company, struck a deal with Michael Cohen. A one-year deal. $100,000 a month so that Cohen could help them.
BURNETT: Hefty retainer.
LEE: Sure is. On health care policy no less. But the twist is that this company apparently had an initial meeting with Michael Cohen and then decided wait a minute, this guy actually can't help us that much in health care policy so we're not going to work with him.
However, they decided to pay out the rest of the contract any ways so in the end, Michael Cohen received $1.2 million from this pharmaceutical company. So yesterday, Erin, we learned about a lot of these payments that were flowing into Michael Cohen's bank account and now we are seeing this sort of better picture of the man who suddenly realized I am the personal attorney to the president-elect and I can capitalize on this.
[19:10:11] BURNETT: Right and it almost sounds like, and I'm inferring, but if they pay off the rest of the contract, OK, we think you're worthless, but just in case, we don't want you to bad mouth us to him so we'll pay out. What's $1.2 million? Hey, we're Novartis. That's why drug prices are so high. That was just unnecessary.
John, more breaking news on this. You know, just heard Shimon, right. Michael Cohen's lawyer disputing some of the facts in Stormy Daniels attorney's report. You know, Cohen says, for example, some of the information being alleged is about a different Michael Cohen. By the way, I want to be clear. None of the information that may or may not be about a different Michael Cohen has appeared on this network, so it's nothing that we're talking about right now. If Cohen is right, though, that some of what Michael Avenatti is alleging is wrong, what does this do to Avenatti's credibility? John?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I'm sorry. I didn't know it was to me. Happy to respond to that. I don't think it's going to do a lot to his credibility. We don't know what his source was. It could have been a subpoena in a civil suit. It could have been as he intimated in a number of interviews, that he's getting information leaked to him. So it could have come from a bank employee. It could have come from a treasury department employee. So I, you know, and it was his source may have coming -- led (ph) the Michael Cohens that were dealing corporations. So, I think what has happened is probably going to be an innocent error on his part if it's the wrong Michael Cohen. I don't think it's going to affect his overall credibility though because he's got solid documentation for everything he's been doing so far.
BURNETT: Right. And again, Patrick, what we're talking about here, you all have been talking about Novartis AT&T, this company that may be linked to a Russian oligarch, is linked to Russian oligarch whether the payments are not obviously is a question right now. But all of that is independently confirmed and not under dispute at this time. You heard the president though. He's very clear. Access sold for cash. It's called pay for play.
PATRICK HEALY, POLITICS EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. We heard this so much during the campaign and he loved to talk b about draining the swamp and now as Republicans winning primaries on Tuesday night who are using the train the swamp argument as well. But the reality is in this case to a fundamental problem of how the Trump Administration operates, President Trump does not seem to have much respect, or frankly, use for the civil servants who populate the government. He doesn't go to long-time veteran advisers for advice for council.
HEALY: He goes to this small group of friends who everybody knows. Everybody who's got serious money knows that people like Michael Cohen have long histories with President Trump, that President Trump feels very comfortable around these old friends, but he likes to get on the phone when dong angry or lonely in the White House, and he calls them up.
And people like Rupert Murdoch don't need to go who we Sean Hannity necessarily, don't need to go call, you know, go out and put up a shingle and ask for $100,000 a month. But people like Michael Cohen, this is part of their business. It's about deal making, trading access and being close to the big guy. And that is how President Trump operates.
BURNETT: And now of course the question will be whether any of this was illegal or not. Illegal. I mean, MJ, that's what they're obviously going to be looking at. You know, I poke to Cohen's lawyer back in March and he was proud to admit that Cohen was the president's fixer, right? It was, you know, it was something they were sort of putting out in a sense marketing very boldly. Here's how he put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN SCHWARTZ, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY: Look, Michael was the fixer. We all know Mike. It could be anything. It's not that this man, there were a ton of matters that took place that Michael fixed. And Donald Trump wasn't involved in every single matter, all right? Believe me, Michael Cohen got calls at 3:00 in the morning. Michael and I would be at dinner. The boss would be calling him all the time. BURNETT: I'm sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: MJ, you know, in the past, Cohen has said he'd do anything to protect Trump, but now, obviously, you know, you have him maybe profiting off the relationship with president. Today, at least Sarah Sanders seems at best to be distancing themselves. This is now strained, toxic, what sort of relationship is there between these two --
LEE: Very complicated. I mean just keep in mind that this relationship has been so based on loyalty. Donald Trump is obsessed with loyalty and Michael Cohen has said so many time, I am so loyal to this man. But now, the difference that he's under criminal investigation and we know that investigators are looking into his business practices, but also other issues that involve the president directly, so whether it is the payment to Stormy Daniels. That was about protecting President Trump in other women. Those are deals that Michael Cohen has been involved in and now he knows he is under the heat. He know that some of these actions that he took on behalf of Donald Trump happily in past years now might make him liable and now -- make him, you know, get him into legal trouble, so that loyalty is really going to be tested.
BURNETT: It certainly is. And John Dean, I guess the big question here now for the president is, right, it should be easy for him to say he has a problem with this, and the fact that they won't raises this questions, it raises questions like did he know about it.
[19:15:07] And John, do you think it is possible Michael Cohen was doing this when it comes to Novartis, AT&T, Korea Air Space, whatever else that maybe, was he doing all of this completely on his own or do you think the president knew about it?
DEAN: It's very difficult knowing Donald Trump's business MO for the last decades, that he didn't know about it because he does not like people trading on his name. He doesn't like to be particularly when they're trading on his name and he's not getting a piece of the action. So I would be surprised if he didn't know.
BURNETT: And that of course raise many serious implications, legal implications.
BURNETT: Thank you all. Next, more breaking news, AT&T, which made Michael Cohen a lot of money for access into Trump's thinking (ph) insight. AT&T says it is now cooperating with special counsel. We have details ahead.
Plus, mysterious Russian oligarch, the one with links to the company that paid Cohen half a million dollars. Who is Viktor Vekselberg and just how close is he to Vladimir Putin?
And she accused Trump of forcibly kissing her in Trump Tower. Now she's running for public office. She won the Democratic nomination in her state. She's OUTFRONT tonight.
BURNETT: Breaking news, a new development in the Mueller probe. AT&T says it cooperated with the special counsel's team in connection to payments it made to Michael Cohen's consulting company.
[19:20:09] AT&T is releasing a statement tonight saying, "When we were contacted by the special counsel's office regarding Michael Cohen, we cooperated fully providing all information requested in November and December of 2017."
OK. We know AT&T paid at least $200,000 to Cohen's company called Central Consultants. AT&T though declined to answer questions about how it became aware of Cohen's firm or who approved the contract.
OUTFRONT now CNN Senior Media Correspondent, Brian Stelter, Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez, and former Federal Prosecutor, Renato Mariotti. Brian, you have been breaking this news. I mean this story is getting stranger and more shocking in some ways. AT&T is now admitting it was contacted by Mueller's team and cooperated. What are you learning?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPNDENT: Yes, in November, six months ago, that's when Mueller's team reached out. This is a great example of how much more Mueller knows and the public knows. We're just finding out about these payments. But he knew about them six months ago. Now AT&T says, as you mentioned, hasn't been follow-up since, it considers the matter closed, but all those other questions that you've been asking today, about how did you know about Cohen in the first place, who decide to give these payments, those questions remain unanswered.
BURNETT: Right. Because, you know, MJ Lee is reported Cohen aggressively reached out to Novartis.
BURNETT: We don't know who exactly who --
STELTER: The AT&T case, we don't know exactly. You know, we do know all throughout last year, AT&T had a lot of business before the government. This channel CNN part of Time Warner is being bought by AT&T. But the government has blocked the deal. There was a lot of lobbying with that. But AT&T is also is net neutrality regulations and other issues before the government that it wanted to see movement on. So there were a lot of reasons to hire Cohen for what they call insights into the new administration.
BURNETT: Renato, what's your reaction to this?
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, first of all, I agree that one thing this also tells us is that Mueller's team doesn't leak. This is yet another surprise that we're learning months afterwards, right? But in addition to that, I will say it is not surprise me that Mueller's team looked into this. And I guess one thing you have to wonder is, did this happen before or after they referred the Michael Cohen case to the southern district of New York, to the Manhattan prosecutors.
I would assume this happened beforehand. And you know when I was reading all of the news yesterday, Avenatti released and so, I was thinking back to when I was a federal prosecutor and what I would subpoena and what I'd asked for, it appears to me happened was Mueller's team saw some very questionable, very unusual financial transactions going in and out of this account that was create d by this Shell (ph) company that was supposed to just be handling the Stormy Daniels payment or at least he would think that. And they started to investigate them and they got it records from 2all these companies inquired and, you know, that appears have led to a criminal investigation of Michael Cohen.
BURNETT: You know, Evan, you're talking about AT&T, also Novartis as I mentioned, Korean Air Space, those are three of the ones we that we're aware of tonight, right. They've all confirmed it. This isn't just, you know, a source. They have confirmed these payments. They were all hoping Cohen would provide advice and insights. Those are the words we've been given. What do you learning about, you know, what the reasoning was, or why they pay this seemingly astronomical fees to Michael Cohen?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. This is a list of clients and certainly the expertise that they're listing, that would make any lobbying firm here in Washington jealous, frankly. If you look at what Novartis has told us, we put it up on the screen there, Novartis the pharmaceutical company, they said that they've hired Cohen's company to engage on U.S. health care policy matters.
AT&T says that they wanted insight and understanding of the new administration. Korea Air Space said they went to Michael Cohen for some legal advice. So again, this is a level of expertise, apparently a variety of expertise of Michael Cohen was selling to these companies and they were buying.
BURNETT: You know, Renato, obviously you got the Senate, which now wants to investigate the AT&T's payments. You know, obviously, you've got this big deal. Up in the air right now, right? AT&T waiting a judge's decision. You know, they argued for weeks, month, on whether it should allowed to buy Time Warner which is the parent company of CNN. Now we're finding out that AT&T cooperated with questions by, provided information to the special counsel at the end of last year. If the judge wasn't aware of that, could that impact this case?
MARIOTTI: I don't think it likely will, but it's interesting. I mean it certainly adds to what is a circus atmosphere for antitrust case. I have to tell you, Erin, I spent many years litigating antitrust cases and they're usually not this high profile and they're usually not this colorful. I mean we already have the president of the United States talking about this merger, talking about CNN.
There's a lot of speculation and I believe AT&T has made the argument that there's a political motivation behind blocking the merger, which was very aggressive. It's a very aggressive move by the justice department to block that merger on an unusual theory. This just adds to that. It adds to the drama around it. I would imagine (ph) the judge though would be focus on the effecting competition.
[19:25:19] BURNETT: Evan, what does this reveal about how deep Mueller's probe is going? That you had all these payments, some companies to Cohen, right? I mean, obviously Viktor Vekselberg, one of those companies and maybe that's how it started, we just don't know, could be link to a Russian, but these others are not.
PEREZ: Right, now, they were digging in deep on this. They went to the companies in November. Novartis said that they talked to the Mueller investigators sometime late last year in the fall and we know that Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch, was stopped. He is one of a couple of Russian oligarchs who were stopped and questioned by Mueller's investigators earlier this year. So it shows you that they are making sure they at least get an explanation for what these payments were, to make sure they understand exactly what this might have to do with Russian collusion.
It appears that what they did is what they -- at least some of the information that they had, they kicked over to the southern district of New York to the Manhattan prosecutors who are now handling the bulk of what Michael Cohen is facing. We don't know what else Mueller has, however, so there's a lot of unanswered questions as to whether or not there's part of this that are still having to do with the Russians.
BURNETT: And Brian, that's the crucial point here. We know what we know. We do not know what we do not know.
STELTER: I'm thinking about viewers at home, hearing about these shady practices, thinking to themselves, this is exactly what the president campaigned against. This is the stench of the swamp. It stinks in here.
BURNETT: It does and he had said many times that what we seen to be seeing here is very clearly pay to play, but yet the White House today refusing o condemn it.
And next, Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian billionaire at the center of allegations about Michael Cohen, said to be on Putin's speed dial. So who is this Russian oligarch and three American detainees freed by North Korea. They're on their way home right now stopping in Anchorage and heading to Washington.
What was it like to be a prisoner in North Korea? We're going to be joined by a woman who was. Nora Ling (ph) is my guest.
[19:30:40] BURNETT: Tonight, we're learning more about Viktor Vekselberg, the billionaire oligarch who is linked to Columbus Nova. That is the firm that Stormy Daniels lawyer says paid half a million dollars to Michael Cohen's company Essential Consultants, that shell company, right?
Well, Vekselberg is close to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. He's currently sanctioned by the United States for activities that include interfering in the U.S. presidential election.
Cristina Alesci is OUTFRONT.
VIKTOR VEKSELBERG, RUSSIAN OLIGARCH: I think Russia should be more open for global market.
CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Born in Ukraine, Viktor Vekselberg is an oligarch who's one of the richest men in Russia, with a net worth of more than $13.5 billion and he's part of Putin's inner circle.
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: As Putin has consolidated his power, Vekselberg has drawn closer to him.
ALESCI: A source confirms those ties, telling CNN that Vekselberg has a close relationship with Putin. He's now in the spotlight after a report surfaced that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators questioned him about hundreds of thousands of dollars his company's U.S. affiliate paid to President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen after the 2016 election.
Here's how the companies are linked, Vekselberg co-founded the Renova Group in 1990 to invest in energy, infrastructure and metals. His cousin, Andrew Intrater, is the CEO of Columbus Nova, a company identified in public documents as a U.S. affiliate of Renova.
Sources tell CNN, Intrater was also questioned by investigators. His firm paid Michael Cohen's shell company Essential Consultants a half a million dollars between January and August of 2017.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: Michael Cohen should not have been accepting money, especially under the circumstances at this time from anyone with Russian ties.
ALESCI: Columbus Nova has released a series of statements denying any lengths to Vekselberg or Russian influence. The latest statement and the most forceful saying in part the claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova's engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue. The company says although Renova is its biggest client, it is not controlled by Vekselberg, stating, Columbus Nova LLC and Renova U.S. Management LLC are not now nor have ever been owned by any foreign entity or person. In fact, since its founding nearly 20 years ago, Columbus Nova has been and continues to be 100 percent owned by Americans.
But Renova listed Columbus Nova as a U.S.-based affiliate on its own Website. That reference was removed in the past year, according to CNN's KFILE.
Other mentions of links between the two companies have also been removed from both of their websites.
As late as SEC filings lists Columbus Nova as a U.S. -based affiliate of the Renova Group. BOOT: Hard to believe there's no connection to Donald Trump or the
notion that this Russian -- this giant Russian corporation is completely independent of a company that appears to have been an American subsidiary just is not very credible.
ALESCI: So, Erin, just more context on those sanctions. They're pretty harsh punishment, which could include freezing assets, travel ban, that sort of thing. So, it's no surprise when we talk about this company Columbus Nova, that it would want to distance itself from a person Vekselberg who's essentially on an economic and international blacklist -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you, Cristina.
Certainly as Cristina points out, it would make every sense to distance yourself.
OUTFRONT now, Democratic Representative Jackie Speier of California. She sits on a House Intelligence Committee.
Great to talk with you, Representative.
Columbus Nova, you just heard, says Viktor Vekselberg had zero involvement in paying Michael Cohen, do you buy it?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: I buy it, because I think this is a huge shell game on the American people. I think that Columbus Nova is a shell operation. I think that he is from I understand a cousin to Vekselberg. He has paid Michael Cohen of close to a million dollars.
[19:35:05] And it is a company located just outside my district, interestingly enough, that is interested in gaining traction in Silicon Valley. But they have basically given all this money to Michael Cohen for what purpose? Michael Cohen can't introduce them to anyone in Silicon Valley.
BURNETT: Right. So I just want to be clear, because when I asked you, they said they had zero involvement, do you buy it? When you said, yes, you buy it. You weren't buying zero involvement, you're saying you buy there was involvement? Just to be clear.
SPEIER: Yes, yes, I believe --
BURNETT: OK, so I know, Congresswoman, that you have been aware of Vekselberg for quite some time and as you point out, this company located right outside your district. What more can you tell us about Vekselberg?
SPEIER: Well, actually I can't tell you much more about Vekselberg because we haven't had the opportunity to interview him because the committee has been prematurely shut down in its investigation. We are now operating as the minority members of the committee and we will seek to have Vekselberg and frankly Columbus Nova come in to talk with us, because this is unraveling before us.
And what's most interesting is that you have a shadow lobbyist operation in Michael Cohen not being disclosed to the American people, not filing any documentation, and I am deeply troubled by this pay-to- play.
BURNETT: You know, last night, I spoke with the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and I asked him for information about Vekselberg and specifically why Vekselberg was on the treasury secretary sanctions list, which he is, right? He's now sanctioned. Mnuchin sanctioned him.
Here's how he responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: We were very careful. We took our time. We used both classified information and open source information. I can't go through the specifics of this, but we were very careful.
(ED VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, Congressman, you heard him. He says they used classified information and open source. Do you think the administration should share more details about Vekselberg and other oligarch sanctions, some of whom of course seem to be linked to the Russian investigation like Oleg Deripaska?
SPEIER: Without a question, and I think we also need to know why his cousin out of the blue contributed heavily to the inauguration of President Trump when he has not been giving contributions to anyone else previously. There is something afoot here that really deserves our attention I believe the Devin Nunes and the majority of the House Intel Committee should reopen this investigation because right now it is perfectly obvious to me that they were doing the bidding of the president, and that alone and not the American people's work.
BURNETT: All right. Representative Speier, thank you for your time.
SPEIER: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, breaking news, a live pictures out of Alaska. The jet carrying three Americans who have been held prisoner detained in North Korea. Laura Ling who spent 140 days as a prisoner in North Korea is my guest. She'll talk about what that trip home is like.
And a Trump accuser winning a Democratic primary race. Now, she wants the surveillance video of what she says was Trump's sexual misconduct. She wants those tapes released. Rachel Crooks is OUTFRONT.
[19:41:55] BURNETT: Breaking news, the three Americans held prisoner in North Korea and heading back to the U.S. right now. This is their plane in Alaska. Not long after they landed we received a statement from the three
which reads in part, quote: We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and the people of the United States for bringing us home.
They have been held captive in North Korea from between a year and two and a half years and they are now set to land in just a few hours in Washington. That is where the president and the first lady will meet them personally in the early hours of tomorrow morning.
OUTFRONT now, Laura Ling. She spent 140 days in a North Korean prison, accused of illegally entering the country. She and Euna Lee were pardoned after former President Bill Clinton flew there and met with Kim Jong-il.
I mean, I just, you know, Laura today thinking about you and, you know, how you must feel looking at this moment, you know, reliving what you endured and went through and that homecoming. You've been on that plane heading home. You were there for almost five months, about five months in North Korean prison.
I mean, what do you think is really going through these three Americans' minds tonight?
LAURA LING, HELD CAPTIVE IN NORTH KOREA: Well, Erin, I think that they are ecstatic. I think that they're relieved and I think there's probably a little bit of disbelief because, let's not forget that just a few months ago, the United States and North Korea were threatening to annihilate one another.
And so, I can only imagine that they were scared out of their minds because they probably felt that their fate was in some ways connected to the geopolitical situation and for them to now be finally coming home reuniting with their families, I mean, I'm sure that they are just overjoyed. I got chills listening to you read their statement.
BURNETT: I mean, it is just -- I mean, you know for any of us, impossible to imagine. You though, of course, know. You can feel what it's like.
I mean, what was your trip home like? That long trip with the stops and everything that you went through?
LING: You know, it was incredible and I'm so eternally grateful to President Clinton and his team for embarking on that very unpredictable journey to North Korea to retrieve us. But walking down the steps of that plane, seeing my family, being able to embrace them.
You know, I definitely saw how my parents had aged because they had worried about me so much and that was really heart-wrenching. It was hard to deal with some of the media attention. And so, I hoped that these three Americans are able to have, you know, the peace and privacy that they deserve to really reconnect with their family and catch up. BURNETT: And, you know, I know when you were there obviously, you were so isolated from the world. I mean, how did you find out you were going to be going home? How did they break that news to you as we try to imagine what happened with these three men?
LING: Yes. Well, there had been a lot of discussions. You know, I was engaging with my captors to try to figure out what was necessary to get us home. And I was told that a very important envoy had just touched down in Pyongyang, and that his visit went -- if his visit went well, we would get to go home and if it didn't, we would not get to go home.
[19:45:04] I was told that it was someone that I'd requested and I had actually asked and requested that President Clinton served as the envoy, and he's so graciously accepted.
BURNETT: How long did it take for you to feel like you were finally free?
LING: Oh man. You know, I think that I -- there are little things that I came to appreciate so much that things that we take for granted, even things like music, taking a walk on the street, seeing the stars at night became little treasures for me and there are things that we don't really think about. And I don't think I ever felt as strongly as I do or did about the value of freedom. So that's something that I just hold dear, you know, now more than I ever have before.
BURNETT: Beautifully said.
Now, you know, according to the official North Korean news agency, Laura, President Trump requested Kim Jong-un release these three Americans. Some say Trump deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for what he's doing with North Korea and Trump actually spoke about that this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you deserve the Nobel Prize, do you think?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it.
Do you know what I want to do? I want to get it finished. The prize I want is victory for the world, not for even here. I want victory for the world because that's what we're talking about. So that's the only prize I want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Laura, do you think he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize?
LING: Well, I'm not going to answer that question. You know, that's up to like a committee.
But I do think that what is being lost in this conversation is human rights. So, we have heard very little about the egregious human rights abuses that are taking place in North Korea, and I hope that in conversations going forward, this becomes part of the dialogue and that North Korea can be convinced that a path forward for truly lasting peace is to release its political prisoners and to allow its people to have the freedom that they so rightly deserve.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much and thanks for your time.
LING: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: And next, a woman who charges President Trump forcibly kissed her has won a Democratic primary in Ohio. Was Trump her motivation to run? She's next.
And Jeanne Moos on Ivanka, Boris Johnson and a picture that's worth a thousand tweets.
[19:50:l8]B URNETT: New tonight, a Trump accuser is one step closer to elected office. Rachel Crooks won the uncontested Democratic primary for a seat in the Ohio State House. She was working for a real estate firm when she introduced herself to Trump that was at Trump Tower back in 2006, and that's when she says he started kissing her.
And Rachel Crooks joins me now.
And, Rachel, you are one step closer today to winning a seat in the Ohio statehouse. You're part of a record-breaking number of women running for office this year. How much of your run is driven by this president, President Trump?
RACHEL CROOKS (D), REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT FOR DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY, OHIO: Well, of course, when I spoke out about President Trump, that did sort of propel me into a national spotlight and a lot of people in my area really turned to me then to ask me to run and were inspired by my courage and I think my integrity and wanted me to be a strong voice for them in the statehouse. So, in part, it definitely stemmed from you know being someone willing to speak up, but, you know, now, we're focused on the Ohio statehouse and what we can do for our district.
BURNETT: And, you know, Rachel, as part of this and the courage that you had and coming forward, you know, the president personally slammed you, right? You know when you told your side of the story you know he denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, not only that you made, but many other women made.
"The Washington Post" profiled you and he responded on Twitter about you. He said, quote, a woman I don't know and to the best of my knowledge never met is on the front page of the fake news "Washington Post" saying I kissed her, for two minutes yet, in the lobby of Trump Tower 12 years ago. Never happened. Who would do this in a public space with live security cameras running? Another false accusation.
You have asked for the president to release the footage from those security cameras. You said, all right, bring it on, put that footage out there. Have you made any progress?
CROOKS: No. I mean, he owns the building. If there was footage, I'm sure he wouldn't release it, but, of course, he knows the truth. I have emails documenting my encounter with him with three different people and I know the exact date that it happened. So, for him to make that claim, it's just you know typical Trump behavior, denial and lies.
So, I'm not too worried about it. I think a lot of Americans really see through his lying behavior.
BURNETT: And, you know, Rachel, to your point, a majority of Americans, 80 percent of them, believe the president had affairs before winning the White House, two-thirds of them, 67 percent, say that he knew about the payment to Stormy Daniels and that he knew about what it was made for at the time, right? I mean, that people really believed he knew everything and that he did what he is alleged to have done.
Yet, his approval numbers have been going up, 41 percent is the latest number we have here at CNN. Does this surprise you, Rachel?
CROOKS: Well, you know, these times are interesting. Nothing really shocks me anymore, but I think for him to have an affair or affairs, multiple it seems, speaks of his character, but at least those are consensual.
I mean, I'm more concerned with his behavior with me and the other 18 or so women who, you know, he thrust himself on us in a non-consensual manner. I mean, that speaks to his lack of respect for women and I -- we represent half the population, so how can we really expect him to represent us in government if he has clearly no respect for us?
BURNETT: All right. Well, Rachel, thank you again very much as you move to the next steps in your race for the Ohio statehouse -- thanks.
CROOKS: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, no, Ivanka is not posing with a Trump impersonator.
[19:58:20] BURNETT: Tonight, a picture worth a thousand words. Here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited the White House, little did he know Twitter would anoint him man of the house.
It happened after he and the president's daughter tweeted this photo, getting this reaction. This looks like Ivanka posing with a Trump impersonator. Tweeted someone else, bloody hell, he's even doing the thumb, President Trump's signature move. Of course, there are plenty of actual Trump impersonators.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the bigger hands.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pronounced China.
MOOS: But the British foreign secretary didn't even need a wig.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long have you been cutting your own hair?
MOOS: Naturally, President Trump's face was swapped with the foreign secretary's.
This isn't the first time the Donald Trump-Boris Johnson similarity has been noted.
VOICE: He looks like Donald Trump if he drowned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
MOOS: Someone replied to Ivanka, the creepier version of your daddy.
But, hey, the British foreign secretary is often compared to other people?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When that man is himself clearly part Cabbage Patch Kids.
MOOS: Ivanka was accused of being her own wax mannequin twin. Is that a screw-on hand she has?
But the best pair of doppelgangers lately, the president and this Spanish farmer who credits her hair color for the resemblance. Still, it's easy to tell them apart. She's the one with a hole and he's the one who rather be swinging a golf club than a shovel.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: And thanks to all of you for joining us.
"AC360" starts now.