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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump, Allies Run With Conspiracy Theory About FBI "Spies"; Mueller Team Indicates It Is Ready For Papadopoulos' Sentencing; Kushner Met With Mueller Team A Second Time For 7 Hours; Tom Dems Slam DHS Secretary Over Intel Ignorance "Deeply Troubling"; Officials: Kim is Concerned of Coup While Meeting Trump; Lava Bombs Raining Down on Homes in Path of Lava. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired May 23, 2018 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[19:00:00]

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, Trump with little help from his friends. Peddling a conspiracy theory aimed at destroying the special counsel's credibility. Is it working?

And Jared Kushner sitting down with Bob Mueller for a second time. What happened in that seven-hour interview? We have new details tonight.

And the Homeland Security secretary taking her loyalty to Trump to a whole another level.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, Trump and friends. Together unleashing a coordinated assault on the Justice Department, pushing Trump's theory that the FBI planted spies in his campaign. Now they've provided no evidence to support the claim. The president himself offering not one fact or piece of evidence to support his incendiary allegation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, RPESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All you have to do is look at the basics and you'll see. It looks like a very serious event. But we'll find out.

When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happen. I hope it's not so. Because if it is, there's never been anything like it in the history of our country. I hope it's not true, but it looks like it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Of course it looks like it is. We'll see what the documents say. He's seen no documents, he's seen no evidence, but he has no problem throwing out there something so serious. Even his own lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has admitted that President Trump doesn't know if there was a spy in his campaign. So, let's start with the facts because here are the facts as we know them this evening. The FBI used a confidential source to speak with members of Trump's team. CNN is reporting that person was not embedded in the campaign as the president alleges. And the New York Times reports -- and this is really important, so hear me out.

They report the FBI only sent the confidential source to talk with Trump advisers, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos after the FBI received information that made them suspicious about those two Trump advisers' ties to Russia.

OK, so let's play again part of what Trump said today about his claims of a grand conspiracy against him at the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I hope it's not true. But it looks like it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: He hopes it's not true.

Here's the thing. You know, putting it out there again and again, with no facts to support it. He certainly acting like someone who wants everyone to believe it's true. In fact, he's the one who put it out there and he's tweeted about his conspiracy theory nine times over the past five days. That's nine times in five days.

And being the marketing success that he is, President Trump is even branding his alleged scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We now call it spygate. You're calling it spygate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: No, we aren't. But, Mr. President, really no one except for you and your cronies are calling it spygate. Because, as I said, there's no evidence or facts to support it right now.

Trump's allies are taking the story and running with it. From television to radio to the halls of Congress. Here is what Trump supporters are hearing hour after hour. Take Trump's friends at Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a deep state, political hit job now spying on an opposition party campaign.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The greatest scandal in modern political history. The FBI spying on the 2016 Trump campaign.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: I think it's really unwise to dismiss out of hand the notion that the FBI could have found within itself to spy on the Trump campaign.

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE, FOX NEWS HOST: The FBI's job is not to spy on, you know, campaigns.

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: The president of the United States just tweeted this. "Spygate could be one of the biggest political scandals in history." He is right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Those are the Fox T.V. hosts. Here are the president's loyal pundit friends and loyalists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I believe they committed crimes in doing so. Purposely. Sent people into the Trump campaign to plant false information.

COERY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: If there was a spy placed on the Trump campaign, it is the most egregious, most disgusting thing that our country as a democracy has ever seen.

JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST: It's clear that they had eyes and ears all over the Trump campaign.

RUSH LIMBOUGH, "THE RUSH LIMBOUGH SHOW": They're acknowledging they had a spy. But they're now saying, oh, it was to protect Trump. It was to help Trump. BS!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And then there are Trump's friends on Capitol Hill who are eager to join the chorus and pump the boss' unfounded claim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: If they did this, if there was a plan, if there was a spy, if there was an informant put in the other party's campaign during the election, that is as wrong as it gets.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR: If they ran a spy ring or an informant ring and they were paying people within the Trump campaign, if any of that is true, that is an absolute red line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And again, unfortunately, right now, there is zero evidence. Conservative websites though are jumping on board, pushing the theory which lacks evidence.

[19:05:00] And the president said that this person, you know, the one he calls a spy, (INAUDIBLE) abandoned, was only there according to his tweet, to spy for political reasons and to help crooked Hillary win. That's what he said. So now, you see, he's got this whole thing, right. A person is there to spy for political reasons to help Hillary. That is a huge thing to claim. It does threaten American democracy. It is not something that anyone should throw out there.

The president of the United States should not be saying any such thing unless he had absolute hard evidence that it was true. He doesn't. He's admitted it. His own attorney has admitted it. And as of right now, there is zero evidence that the FBI planted spies in Trump's campaign to help Clinton.

The facts don't seem to matter though to this president. What matters is if it's working for him. And by that measure, he can see a measure of success. American's confidence in the Russia investigation is slipping. The numbers saying the Mueller probe should end is up six points in just one month.

Tomorrow, we may get some crucial answers because the head of the FBI will brief some lawmakers on this source.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT. And Jeff, obviously, this meeting incredibly controversial, but also now very important. What are you learning?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, the meeting is very important. You could almost see the gleam in the president's eye today. Earlier today, we were asking him questions on the south lawn of the White House. Calling it spygate, he clearly has seized upon this as you said as a way of branding this, as a way of really escalating this over the last four to five days or so. You know, simply turning a rumor into a full blown conspiracy theory.

But we are learning tonight something new about that meeting tomorrow. There have been serious concerns and questions that it was only going to be a Republican-only meeting. We are told that the president was indeed also concerned about the fact that it appeared to be partisan, it appeared to be not on the up and up. So, now the White House is saying this evening that there is going to be a second briefing. There's going to be a briefing after the Memorial Day recess in a week or more, including the Gang OF Eight. That is the leadership of both. The House and the Senate Republicans and Democrats are going to get the same information.

However, this is not going to change the timing of the meeting tomorrow. So there's still apparently going to be the same briefing tomorrow with a couple of top Republicans who you're showing there have been raising these same concerns. Devin Nunes, chief among them. It's going to be at the Department of Justice.

And the Democrats, there may be a briefing tomorrow for Adam Schiff, who is the top Democrat in the House in that committee, but clearly, the big Democratic briefing after Memorial Day. So a bit more equality here, but, Erin, clearly, the president injecting spy into this today more than he ever has before. No evidence of that at all. Erin?

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny. You know, and obviously, you know, significant development if you've got just Republicans being briefed tomorrow and then you don't have the bipartisan leadership until next week. That could cause a problem.

You heard though Jeff say Adam Schiff, a ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, the Democrat could be briefed tomorrow as well. That obviously would be significant if that happened.

I want to go now to the Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu who sits on the House Foreign Affairs and House Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thanks for your time. And you heard Jeff Zeleny, so, Chairman Nunes, Trey Gowdy, are going to be briefed tomorrow. You're going to get the bipartisan group after Memorial Day. There's a question, maybe Adam Schiff will be briefed tomorrow. Would that be enough? Would you be satisfied with that? Two Republicans and one Democrat tomorrow if that's what happens.

REP. TED LIEU (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Not at all. And why would they have to have a second briefing? I'm sure many of us could clear our schedules and go to the same briefing. There's no reason to make this partisan.

But let's take a step back. Why is the president so concerned about this?

I'm a former prosecutor. There's nothing wrong with the use of confidential sources. That's a legitimate and a vital tool of law enforcement as well as counterintelligence units. And it's something that we just maybe do for our investigations.

Why would a president's campaign somehow be exempt from investigation or exempt from the use of confidential sources?

BURNETT: Yes.

LIEU: There's no reason for that.

BURNETT: No. And look, the president has raised completely unfounded claims. It is obviously in his interest to do so because it plays to his base. You know, his own personal interest, right, which is what he has put first and foremost.

But there are some questions here, Congressman, which have been raised as a result. I'm curious if you know the answers to any of them. One which could end up being important is how did this source first come in contact with the Trump campaign to begin with, right? We know who the person is. We know that this person is a professor.

Did he approach the FBI or was he sent by the FBI because they had other intelligence?

LIEU: I don't know, but my answer would be, it doesn't matter. Either you trust law enforcement --

BURNETT: Why not?

LIEU: -- to do their investigation --

BURNETT: OK.

LIEU: -- the way they deem fit or you don't. In this case, it started out as a counterintelligence investigation. Meaning that FBI agents were concerned that a foreign power, in this case, Russia, was trying to meddle in our elections and meddle with the Trump campaign. So they would do this to protect Americans and to stop the meddling from a foreign power.

[19:10:02] That's why you do a counterintelligence investigation.

BURNETT: Now, the president, you know, says he feels -- you know, he feels violated, right? He feels that this is the greatest scandal in American political history. Part of the reason he feels that, right, is that there was a source who was talking to people in his campaign briefing the FBI and he didn't know about it.

The former director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper, was asked today about this whole situation and here's what he said. He's talking here to Joy Behar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOY BEHAR: So, I ask you, was the FBI spying on Trump's campaign?

JIM CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: No, they were not. They were spying on a term that I don't particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence --

BEHAR: So what does it like --

CLAPPER: -- what they do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: If this was your campaign, Congressman, would you feel that you were invaded by the FBI if you found out about this now? You know, that they didn't trust you handling your own campaign. They didn't tell you about the time. They were doing this behind your back

Would you feel like you were quote unquote spied upon?

LIEU: No. I would fully cooperate and I would want to know why are some of my campaign officials engaging in activities that caused the FBI to want to have a counterintelligence investigation. And in this case, George Papadopoulos has already pled guilty, former Trump official.

BURNETT: Yes.

LIEU: Few more Trump officials pled guilty. There were legitimate reasons for this investigation to have started. BURNETT: Congressman, you know that the president also keeps referring to a deep state. He's referred to this as part of that. There's this deep conspiracy in the deepest bowls of the government against what he deems as an upstart insurgent leader like himself.

You asked the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, today about this. The president's repeated claims of a deep state. It was a really important exchange and I want to play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEU: Do you believe there is a criminal deep state at the State Department?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't. I haven't seen the comments from the president. I don't believe there's a deep state at the State Department.

LIEU: Thank you. You formerly served as CIA director. Do you believe your colleagues at the CIA are part of that criminal deep state?

POMPEO: You know, this term, deep state, has been thrown around. I say that's the -- the employees that work for me at the CIA nearly uniformly were aimed at achieving the president's objectives and America's objectives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: That's pretty firm. He doesn't see there are any deep states at the CIA or at the State Department. Were you satisfied by Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state and his answer?

LIEU: I was. Secretary of State Pompeo was pushing back on Donald Trump's allegation that there's somehow this criminal deep state. And when you look at this investigation, FBI Director Wray is a Republican. Rod Rosenstein is a Republican. Robert Mueller is a Republican.

DNI Director Coats is a Republican. If any of them had any problems with this investigation, they would have said something. They clearly didn't have any problems with this confidential source. So again, the president is trying to smear the Department of Justice and the FBI and that is harming our nation.

BURNETT: Congressman Lieu, thank you very much for your time.

LIEU: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, breaking news. The president's son-in-law Jared Kushner sitting down with Bob Mueller's investigators for a second time for seven hours. And guess what, we know a whole lot about what they talked about. That breaking news is next.

And, is Kim Jong-un reluctant, afraid to meet with Trump because he's afraid of a coup if he leaves the country for a couple of days. And does that mean then that Trump is responsible for his safety if he's deposed? These are actual questions being asked in the White House tonight?

And breaking news, live pictures of the volcano in Hawaii that keep getting so severe. Some of its flow is turning blue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:17:25] BURNETT: Robert Mueller is ready to sentence former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos. A filing from the special counsel's office tonight telling a judge to prepare his sentencing. Papadopoulos of course has admitted to lying to the FBI.

Tonight, we are also learning the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has met with Mueller's team for a second time. This interview happened last month and it lasted seven hours. His prior interview was back in November.

So again, November, you're looking at April and the second one seven hours. This coming as Kushner's White House security clearance has been restored. Remembered, he lost his interim clearance in February.

OUTFRONT now, former Federal Prosecutor, Renato Mariotti, Laura Coates, also former federal prosecutor, and "New York Times" Op-ed Columnist, Frank Bruni.

All right, thanks to all. There's a lot happening here and a lot happening even as we're speaking. So, Renato, let me start with you. Mueller's team says we're ready to sentence George Papadopoulos, right, who's been cooperating and giving them information. They had a second meeting with Kushner. It was seven hours long.

Does this mean Mueller is getting close to wrapping up? I mean, can we actually get there with that?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, he's certainly getting close to wrapping up the Papadopoulos piece in the investigation. Remember that Papadopoulos in his cooperation deal mentioned the supervisor who turned out to be Sam Clovis and others who he interacted with.

So unless, Mueller comes out with charges against Clovis or somebody else soon, I would expect that that portion of his investigation is wrapped up. And then, as to Kushner, it suggests -- this suggests to me that he's trying to wrap up at least a piece of what he's looking at regarding Kushner.

You know, remember that Kushner is being looked at relating to the obstruction inquiry that he has. We know that that is something that Mueller has been trying to focus on wrapping up initially.

BURNETT: So, you know -- and look, Kushner -- you know, many has settled in the (INAUDIBLE) here, Laura, all sorts of questions, right? But you know, whether it's about financial dealings or his family getting a bailout from the Middle East. All of these questions that have been swirling. Yet his lawyer, Abbe Lowell appeared on CNN a few moments ago and he said that Mueller asked him pretty specific questions. But what's interesting here is, what he asked and what did not apparently come up according to Kushner's lawyer. Here's Abbe Lowell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABBE LOWELL, KUSHNER'S LAWYER: The office of special counsel is looking at two things. They're looking to see whether there was collusion with Russia in the campaign, and whether or not anybody in the campaign was involved, and if that violates any law. And they're look at this broad topic they call -- or the media calls obstruction of justice.

They would have asked questions of all their witnesses including Jared Kushner about those topics. But he has a unique role.

[19:20:00] He was there in the campaign. He was there in the transition, and he worked in the White House when events occurred after the inauguration that is of interest to the counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Laura, what do you hear when you hear that? I mean, right, collusion, obstruction of justice, but you don't hear anything about, financial malfeasance to bail outs inappropriately from foreign governments or anything like that from Abbe Lowell.

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it's curious to me that they didn't ask any of those questions, but again, a lot of financial information is available without having to ask the person about disclosures, financial forms. These can be very black and white topics. It's a matter of paperwork.

But what's very interesting to me was his phrasing of the media's term of this obstruction of justice.

BURNETT: Yes.

COATES: As if we have pulled it out of thin air. It's actually a codified principle in the law. It can be a crime to do so. And so what it appears to me is that he was trying to suggest that he is simply being asked about the thing that he is uniquely positioned to know about. Which of course makes him very obviously somebody who would be in the interest of Robert Mueller and his investigative team.

And that to me was not surprising. He tried to couch it in language to be far more dismissive of his role. Given the new statutory clearance being issued.

BURNETT: Yes.

COATES: But I think, ultimately, we already expected that the very reasons he is interested in Jared Kushner are the reasons he outlined perfectly. BURNETT: And so, Frank, you know, this comes right, as we learned Kushner had his security clearance restored and obviously it had been put on -- had been put on hold in February given all of the questions swirling around. Obviously he had -- you know, has done countless edits to his application form, et cetera.

But how significant is that. That it gets restored. I mean, does that say anything about where they are or how they are co concluding vis-a-vis Jared Kushner?

FRANK BRUNI, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, we don't know but it definitely challenges the long standing belief that Jared Kushner among everyone in the family might be in the hottest water of all.

BURNETT: Right, right.

BRUNI: I mean, it is hard to believe that if Mueller and Mueller's team had found all sorts of things that suggested Jared Kushner was able to be influenced by foreign governments, in constant contact with governments in the way that it was unsavory. It's hard to believe they wouldn't have flag to the FBI and this wouldn't show up --

BURNETT: Even big pro quo or money coming from foreign officials to his family company, right?

BRUNI: Right.

BURNETT: He would presume that would all cause and issue there.

BRUNI: You have to presume that. And it makes you wonder, you know, there's so -- we know a lot about Mueller's investigation, but there's so much more we don't know. And a lot of our fundamental assumptions like Jared Kushner was the one who had the most to fear, those may turn out in the end to be wrong. It's going to be fascinating once this report finally comes together and we learned everything.

Because I think we're going to find out we were right on track with certain things and we were way off the mark on other things.

BURNETT: And, you know, one person trying to throw everybody off the mark is Rudy Giuliani, Renato, right? I mean, you know, he's out there, left, right, and center frankly doing a good job swirling up the water, putting a whole lot of dirt in it so you can't see the floor and, you know, charging up the president's base.

He now says today -- he tells the Washington Post that he wants the president to talk to Mueller. Quote, I guess I'd rather do the interview. It gets it over with it. It makes my client happy. Which of course is completely the opposite of what he said before, right. When he said I don't want him to do it, he'd be crazy to do it basically.

But the president, you know, repeatedly has said that he wants to do it, right? So good cop Trump, bad cop Rudy Giuliani. And now tonight, Renato, just a moment ago, Giuliani talking to BuzzFeed and saying no, guess what, this whole thing about telling the Washington Post I want to do an interview, no, not so. I'm not going to do it until spygate as they call that whole imbroglio that they have self- created, is figured out.

So, what's Giuliani's game here, Renato?

MARIOTTI: Wow. Well, certainly a lot of misdirection as you're pointing out. I will say that I -- when I heard Giuliani say, oh, sure, I want to have my client interviewed. It really reminded me of what defense attorneys a lot of times do at a trial which is they promise the jury in their opening statement that oh, my client's going to testify. And then at the closing argument, they say oh, my client wanted to testify so bad, but I told him not to because the government doesn't have enough evidence.

I think here, what he's really trying to do is he's creating all these reasons and excuses for why Mueller is a bad guy, and that's going to be the excuse for why Trump is going to take the Fifth or fight the interview.

BURNETT: And Laura, you know, Giuliani also in the Washington Post, right, which predates the BuzzFeed threat about quote unquote spygate. He told the Washington Post he's worried the interview may not happen. It could be a perjury trap if that's the whole point because he said, quote, truth is relative.

COATES: So that certainly --

BURNETT: I thought those kinds of comments were for Kellyanne but I guess not.

COATES: I mean, the idea of truth being relative coming from an attorney and former U.S. attorney of New York is very shocking to me. But not in consisting with how he has betrayed himself over the last several weeks.

What he's trying to do is wag the dog, had these very magnanimous gestures, Erin, and at the end of it say, well, it's not the (INAUDIBLE) the person being interviewed to tell the truth. I'd like to villainize the person who I think the American people will follow our narrative saying it's entrapment.

Remember, just because you're speaking to an investigator and you may have handled to tell a lie, does not transform an otherwise benign interview into a perjury trap or entrapment. It is always incumbent upon the person who is giving the interview to be truthful.

[19:24:59] If what Rudy Giuliani has to say is true, that means no single person ever interviewed in trial or any interview was ever in anything but a perjury trap. And that's wrong.

BURNETT: Although it is amazing, Frank, that you have a billionaire, a bully, these are objective facts from things he says and does. Successfully to so many painting himself as the beleaguered victim.

BRUNI: Absolutely. And is what all of this kind of quarter turns and half turns and full turns by giuliani. They're trying say, look, we're trying to get to a place where we can talk to Robert Mueller and his team. Like, we really want to get there. But spygate, but deep state. But a donation to a Democrat over there. Like we can't do it because we're up against something so corrupt and poor, pitiful us.

Yes, they're playing the victim and, you know what, what's really scary is it's working to a certain degree. There was a poll two weeks ago, 53 percent of American's thought Mueller's investigation was politically motivated, and only 44 percent thought it was legitimate.

These counter narratives, because Trump and his allies are so shameless and are willing to weave the most Rococo (ph) conspiracy theories, it's actually working.

BURNETT: Which is pretty incredible. Thanks very much. When you think about it, Bob Mueller's team has not leaked a single thing. Silence taking the high road. At least thus far when you look at the polls has not worked. We'll see. Jury's still out.

OUTFRONT next, the credibility of another Trump administration official questioned tonight. Why is the Homeland Security secretary putting herself on the line for the president again and again on things that are not true?

Plus, Michael Cohen speaking out about his former business partner flipping. Who is the man known as the Taxi King and what could he have on Cohen?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: New tonight, President Trump's yes woman. The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen today praising the president publicly. It comes a day after she acted like she didn't know Russia meddled in the election to help Trump which of course is the conclusion of the bipartisan senatorial committee and the intelligence community.

[19:30:09] She is willing to praise him, to cover for him and even to feed his vanity while ignoring the facts. Why?

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Thank you as always for your leadership, on behalf of the largest law enforcement agency in the federal government.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The secretary of homeland security was heaping praise on the boss at a roundtable over immigration and violence, just a day after she slapped aside assessments by the nation's top law enforcement and intelligence agencies that Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the election.

NIELSEN: I do not believe I've seen that conclusion, that this specific 2intent was to help President Trump win. FOREMAN: Kirstjen Nielsen's resume is surprisingly short for a

cabinet member. Yes, she did disaster response work in the Bush administration and some private cyber security consulting. But then she was chief of staff to John Kelly as he ran DHS.

Based on that experience, a former security official told a "New Yorker" in a normal administration, there isn't a chance in hell she would get nominated for the job she holds.

Why was she? All signs point to loyalty.

NIELSEN: If there's a wall before that needs to be replaced, it's being replaced by a new wall. So, this is the Trump border wall.

FOREMAN: Nielsen fiercely defends the president's projects from the border wall to merit-based immigration. When people at a private meeting said he used a vulgar term for some African nations, she said --

NIELSEN: I did not hear that word used, no, sir.

FOREMAN: When the president said he would send the National Guard to deter illegal immigration, she explained, sort of, how many troops?

NIELSEN: It will be strong. As many as needed to fill the gaps that we have today.

FOREMAN: What will it cost?

NIELSEN: We're working that real time.

FOREMAN: Why now?

NIELSEN: Why today, not yesterday, tomorrow -- today is the day. Today is the day we want to start this process.

FOREMAN: And when Democrats and some outlets erupted over the president's characterization of some immigrants --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are animals.

FOREMAN: The White House said he was referring to violent criminals and Nielsen jumped in.

NIELSEN: Personally, I think those lawmakers owe the president an apology. They are distorting facts in a dangerous way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: None of that saved her from what sources say was a brutal dressing down by the president during a recent cabinet meeting. Some sources say afterwards, she was ready to resign. But then Homeland Security denied it, and every the loyalist, Nielsen is still on the job -- Erin.

BURNETT: On the job, and, of course, praising him today. Thank you so very much, Tom.

And OUTFRONT now, former adviser to the Trump campaign, Steve Cortes, and Democratic Strategist, Maria Cardona. Both here with me.

So, Maria, look, it's a pattern. We see her, you know, complimenting him, you know, not remembering the Russia thing, not remembering what he said in the Oval Office, again and again.

Is this about being nice to him? Or is there more to it?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, I think that this is really damaging not just to the country, but to her personally. She's the secretary of homeland security. The fact that she said she didn't know or didn't see the intelligence reports that we all know 19 intelligence agencies have underscored that this is true in terms of Russia meddling in our election and you said it that it was also underscored by the Senate Republican-led Intel Committee.

BURNETT: Right. Chairman Burr.

CARDONA: That intelligence is there. But she didn't see it. It even makes her out to be -- I'm not finished.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: A liar or it makes her out to be incompetent. Either one should make us quiver in our shoes.

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Or either. Can we get back the reality?

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: Not finished here, because she's the secretary of homeland security.

CORTES: Well, no, I can also decide when I can speak, Maria. It doesn't mean that you own the airtime.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Why neither though? Why neither?

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: Because in her confirmation hearings, to be Department of Homeland Security head, under oath by the way, not just on the record, but under oath, she conclusively said, time and again, under intense grilling, that she accepted the intelligence community.

BURNETT: So, you just answer the question. She lied.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: No, she didn't lie. Listen and you are also very -- and this is what you do. You're very selectively showing a portion afterward in that same discussion with CNN. She clarified exactly what we meant, what she meant.

CARDONA: Which is what?

CORTES: But here's I think the bigger point. You -- today, Secretary Nielsen, President Trump, went to Long Island, New York, to talk about solutions for a community under siege by the most violent gang that's ever operated in the United States.

Rather than talk about that, rather than talk about what we're doing to help real Americans get out from under the threat and the terrorism frankly of MS-13, you'd rather fixate on perhaps a slight misstatement by Secretary Nielsen.

CARDONA: It's not slight, Steve.

BURNETT: The animals issue I think has been talked about exclusively.

CORTES: And please --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: This is what he said.

[19:35:00] But I don't think it's insignificant. If the person in charge of homeland security of the United States says she's not aware that Russians meddled in the election.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: Look, people these are very nuanced statement and she clarified it afterwards.

BURNETT: -- and you forget --

CORTES: I didn't say she forgot it.

CARDONA: Then she lied.

CORTES: She did not lie. Here's what's important, right? Here's what's important.

We've had no control over our immigration system in this country. And because of that, MS-13 has been allowed to unleash its terror in places like Long Island and Northern Virginia and Southern California. President Trump, thank God, and Secretary Nielsen and Tom Hoeven and a strong, strong group of leaders have said enough. We are going to get control of this system.

But instead of talking about that story that really matters to real Americans --

BURNETT: We've been talking about that story quite a few times. What I want to talk about right now is Kirstjen Nielsen because I do think it matters if the secretary of homeland security knows who threatened the United States democratic process. It matters and I think is significant. CORTES: She said so on the record and --

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: It matters because --

BURNETT: Yesterday, she said she didn't say it, OK?

CARDONA: She didn't recall. And it matters because this is the biggest national security issue that is facing us, of our time. And she is sitting there saying she doesn't recall. That's scary.

CORTES: Here's the other thing, she clarified it. She said Russia wanted disruption in our system and that is very clear, because, by the way, they did things for Trump, they did things against Trump. And that is not my opinion --

BURNETT: She would not come out and say what the chairman said last week, which is that they wanted to help Trump. That's what the intelligence community said. And, by the way, on that, she's not alone. In saying something that seems to be, I'm going to say what my boss wants to hear. There are a few other examples.

CARDONA: Exactly, a pattern here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK TOM, FORMER HHS SECRETARY: Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can't thank you enough for the privilege you've given me and the leadership that you've shown.

REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. President, thank you for the honor to serve the country. It's a great privilege you've given me.

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and blessing you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president still strongly feels there was a large amount of voter fraud and attempted to do a thorough review of it, but a lot of states didn't want to cooperate and participate.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I bet there was little coverage. I bet it's brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized then they were the master minds behind the Bowling Green massacre. You don't know that because it didn't get covered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Obviously, because it didn't happen.

Steve, it wasn't the largest audience. Republicans have said there was no voter fraud. There was no Bowling Green massacre. Russians also interfered in the election with the intent of helping Trump.

Why do these people say things that are not true when -- is it just because they think Trump wants to hear it?

CORTES: No, this idea that Trump loves yes men or women is so untrue. And I'll tell you, specifically to this issue, I can speak with personal experience and credibility on immigration. The debate on immigration within the White House has been intense. There are people for instance who wanted to end DACA immediately and start deportation. Then there are people who wanted to continue the Obama practices on DACA and everything in between, OK?

And I know because I was involved in these debates. This is a president who tolerates a wide range of dissent internally and opinions.

BURNETT: But not in public?

CORTES: Well, no, and in public. Look, he appointed people -- he appointed New York Democrats to incredibly influential positions in his government, people like Gary Cohn. I don't think Gary Cohn voted for Donald Trump, by the way.

CARDONA: He's not there anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

BURENTT: -- you're being correct on that.

CORTES: But he was there through the most important -- I mean, he had to do with the taxes. My point is, the idea that he's an autocratic megalomaniac who needs love there through the most important. The idea he needs love from his subordinates is simply not true at all, and I know that first hand and the public --

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: But interestingly enough, Steve didn't answer your question, which is why did they lie? And they lie because their boss lies. Their boss lies every single time he opens his mouth. He is up past 3,000 lies since the moment he took office.

America deserves better. America deserves better. He is an inept president that is unfit for office.

CORTES: He's an inept president who's making us more prosperous and more safe and he's getting more popular by the day.

CARDONA: He's a lair.

CORTES: And it's driving you people crazy.

CARDONA: He's a lair.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: He's living rent free in your heads.

BURNETT: We hit pause.

Next, Michael Cohen pushing back after his former business partner strikes a plea deal with prosecutors. How much does the so-called taxi king know about Cohen.

Plus, breaking news, the live pictures on the lava that is now tearing through Hawaii, as fissures large enough cracks in the earth for homes to fall in. And new pictures just coming in showing a home actually literally sinking into one of those volcanic cracks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:43:43] BURNETT: New tonight, Michael Cohen claiming the so-called taxi king is of not threat to him. Evgeny Freidman, Cohen's former business partner, is avoiding up to 100 years in prison by cooperating with feds. But today, Cohen denied that he and Freidman were ever partners, tweeting in part, quote, Gene Freidman and I are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other.

Of course, the problem with such a claim is that Cohen himself is claiming to the court that Freidman is responsible for Cohen's unpaid back taxes. Extremes, right, if you have nothing to do with each other and there's no relationship. So, just who is Evgeny Freidman, the Russian immigrant known as the taxi king?

Brynn Gingras is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GENE FREIDMAN, COHEN'S FORMER BUSINESS PARTNER: My business is only three things. It's either excellent, very good or just good.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gene Freidman's rise in the New York City taxi business earned him the nickname, the taxi king. The Russian immigrant is a long time business associate of the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Freidman is now the latest to be linked to Robert Mueller's investigation after reaching a plea deal with New York's attorney general and agreeing to help investigators with ongoing state and federal probes, "The New York Times" reports.

Seth Hettena, author of "Trump/Russia" describes the longstanding relationship between Cohen and Freidman.

SETH HETTENA, AUTHOR, "TRUMP/RUSSIA: A DEFINITIVE HISTORY": Freidman himself has called Cohen a dear, dear friend and their relationship goes back many years. [19:45:06] GINGRAS: Freidman made millions by managing over 800 New

York City taxi medallions or licenses to operate a cab between 2012 and 2015 according to the New York attorney general's office. Some of those medallions are owned by Cohen.

But in 2016, the taxi king's empire started falling apart. He defaulted on a loan, his company has declared bankruptcy, and he was indicted for tax fraud. Facing decades in prison, Freidman agreed to be a potential witness for the government, according to "The Times", leading to this tweet from Cohen today: I am one of thousands of medallion owners who entrust management companies to operate my medallions, according to the roles of a New York City and Limousine Commission. Gene Freidman and I are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other.

But as recently as last year, Freidman's company managed most of Cohen's taxi businesses, city records show. Freidman's attorney said this in a statement. Mr. Freidman has a long standing relationship with Mr. Cohen and considers him his friend. Mr. Freidman has accepted responsibility for his pasts actions. I have no comment on the details of my client's plea agreement and what if any impact it may have on other matters.

So, what would Freidman know about Cohen's business practices or possibly the special counsel's investigation?

HETTENA: I think that Freidman may have information on Cohen's taxi medallions and his kind of his more direct business, own personal business dealings, as well as his relationship to Trump. I think that's why you see such a light sense, because prosecutors are certain he has a lot to offer.

GINGRAS: All this putting more pressure on the president and renewing questions about whether Cohen will flip on his longtime friend if faced with federal charges.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GINGRAS: And we reviewed the court transcripts from yesterday's hearing with this plea agreement and interesting to note, as part of the agreement, Freidman will be exempt from any future criminal prosecution as it relates to the medallions over that three-year period. So, it's interesting to note what future prosecutions is out there in these investigations that he could be exempt from.

BURNETT: Well, such crucial questions. And as you point out, Cohen's claims -- I mean, a year ago, managing each other obviously adds up.

Thanks so much to you, Brynn.

And next, Kim Jong-un fearing tonight he could be deposed if he travels to meet with President Trump. Is a coup likely?

Plus, live pictures of the violent eruptions and toxic steam clouds. Dangerous lava bombs hurled. One man living to tell about a strike. We've got the breaking details ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:50:26] BURNETT: Tonight, CNN is learning that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is worried he could be overthrown if he leaves North Korea for the summit with President Trump. An official also telling us the administration wants additional high-level talks to get assurances from Kim that he's committed to giving up his nuclear program before the summit.

Now, this all coming as our Will Ripley is in North Korea, still out of communications. You saw him here 24 hours ago, still out of communication. He's en route to the nuclear site that Kim promises to destroy tomorrow.

OUTFRONT now, Gordon Chang, "Daily Beast" columnist and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World", and John Kirby, former State Department and Pentagon spokesperson.

Thanks very much to both of you.

Gordon, I mean, this reporting, Kim is afraid that there could be a coup if he leaves this country, is this a possibility?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": It is a real possibility. You know, one-man dictatorships are the least stable form of government. That's political science 101.

We do know that Kim Il-sung, his grandfather, had created the most stable of the unstable one-man systems because of the overlapping security services and spies. But we've also got to remember there's a lot of evidence of instability, all of these purges and executions.

And there's one other element, Erin. And that is, Kim has agreed to give up his weapons, according to South Korea's president. I'm sure there are a lot of generals back in Pyongyang who are not very happy to hear that.

BURNETT: I mean, John, it also is at this point, right? If Kim Jong- un, the so-called supreme leader of North Korea is afraid to leave his country for a couple of days because there could be a coup knocking him out of power, if he is that vulnerable, why are we even negotiating with him?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, I think -- and to some degree, it's all the more reason to negotiate and try to get to a better outcome here. I mean, because if he feels that unstable, if he feels that vulnerable, then, you know, rash actions may result from that.

So, I think it's all the more reason why, it just convinces everybody that the situation on the Korean peninsula is not sustainable long- term. And we need to try to get to a more peaceful, stable outcome on the back end of it.

BURNETT: Even if he, John, actually can't do what he promises to do at the summit, because he gets -- there's a coup or something like that.

KIRBY: Yes, but remember, Erin, he used the same excuse back in 2015, when he was supposed to meet with Putin. He said, I can't do it because I've got this coup. I don't -- Gordon is much smarter on this than me, and I'm not certainly doubting that it's not possible.

BURNETT: Yes.

KIRBY: But he's used this before. It could just be a negotiating tactic. It could be a stalling technique. It could be something to try to get more out of the American side.

I still think that, I'm where Pompeo is, I think that the printing process is going forward. I think there's still a better than not chance that this summit happens.

BURNETT: And yet, Gordon, when we talk about the U.S. side, the Pentagon tonight is making public its assessment of Kim. Which, by the way, this is Trump's Pentagon, right? Secretary Mattis is his secretary.

They have come out with their assessment of Kim. And the conclusion is, is that the primary function of Kim Jong-un is to, quote, ensure perpetual Kim family rule at the expense of the North Korean people.

I mean, I'll say this again. This is Donald Trump's Pentagon, saying that to do anything with Kim is to perpetuate the family rule at the expense of the North Korean people.

CHANG: Yes.

BURNETT: That's a pretty stunning thing to come out of Trump's own Pentagon at this time, isn't it?

CHANG: Well, you know, that's history, though, Erin. I mean, we've seen that. I think the Kim rulers have realized that destitution is actually good for Kim family rule, because when people are weak, when people are scrounging for food, they don't have the means to resist.

People who resist authoritarian regimes are often middle class, got a lot of money, got a lot of property, and have influence.

BURNETT: Yes.

CHANG: So, the Kim family has sort of looked at this and said, uh-uh, poverty is really good for us.

BURNETT: And yet, John, though, here's the thing. If the Pentagon is saying to do this at the expense of the North Korean people, here's what Donald Trump has been saying about Kim Jong-un, right? He's been promising Kim that he's going to protect him, that he's going to keep a guy in power who wants to hurt the north American people.

Here's Trump -- I mean, the North Korean people. Sorry. Here's Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're willing to do a lot and he's willing to, I think, do a lot also. He'll get protections that will be very strong. I will guarantee his safety, yes. We will guarantee his safety and we've talked about that from the beginning.

He will be safe. He will be happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So, what do you say to that, John? He's going to be safe. He's going to be happy. A guy of Trump's own Pentagon is coming out and openly saying that he wants to perpetuate himself at the expense of his own people.

KIRBY: And we talked about Kim being on this big charm offensive and this is Trump's charm offensive. The only way I can read is that he's trying to convince Kim to move forward, have the summit, you know, to trust that it's the right path forward.

It is, though, to Gordon's point, though, it's a dangerous position to be long-term, because you might be setting up expectations for this summit that is just -- they're not sustainable.

[19:55:05] They're not achievable, you know, in one meeting with this guy.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to both of you.

By the way, conventional weapons not even put on the table yet by the Trump administration, which is, you know, ripping up the Iran deal because they weren't on the table by Obama. So there's all sorts of issues here.

Next, a lava mountain in Hawaii scorching everything in its path. We're live on the ground.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Tonight, blue flames, toxic gas, homes in danger of falling into giant cracks in the earth. The newest explosions from Kilauea are getting hotter and more dangerous.

And Stephanie Elam is there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than three weeks in and Kilauea shows no sign of letting up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my backyard.

ELAM: Residents forced to dodge creeping lava flows, as they rush in and out to check on their property.

(on camera): Are you concerned about how much you're breathing in here?

STACY WELCH, EVACUEE: I am. I feel saturated when I go home at night. I just feel like I can't get clean. It feels like it's stuck on my skin and my lungs.

ELAM (voice-over): The images getting stranger by the day. Here, methane gas from burning vegetation creates blue flames, rising from cracks in the road.

Lava bombs raining down on homes.

DARRYL CLINTON: Snapped it in half at the ankle and foot.

ELAM: Darryl Clinton was struck by a bowling ball-sized lava bomb as he checked on his homes. This CNN interview with Clinton, just the day before, showed the danger of the falling lava.

CLINTON: I just wanted to live. I didn't care if they cut my leg off down there or not.

ELAM: Where lava isn't the problem, cracks are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the house is literally falling into that crack system here.

ELAM: This home in Leilani Estates on the verge of being swallowed. The crack itself offering neighbors a rare glimpse deep underground. Officials say lava is still dripping into the ocean, creating toxic gas laced with glass particles.

WELCH: Not knowing hour to hour where it's going to pop up.

ELAM: For residents like Stacy Welch, it makes for a risky trip home, as long as home is still there.

(on camera): When you look at this and you see this black lava now, what does it make you think?

WELCH: Uncertain. Definitely, uncertain that --

ELAM: We're safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: And that lava is on the street behind her one-acre lot and on her street, there are very large cracks just feet away from her driveway. That drive is something that is a new routine that she does every day, Erin.

BURNETT: Wow, it's just incredible to see, as this develops. Thank you so much, Stephanie.

And we now have a live camera on the volcano. CNN does. So you can watch it at any time, and as long as you want, on cnn.com.

Thanks for joining us. "ANDERSON'S" next.