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Biden Orders Flags At Half Staff To Mark 500,000 U.S. COVID Deaths; Supreme Court Allows Release Of Trump Tax Records To New York Prosecutor; Merrick Garland Has Senate Confirmation Hearing For A.G. Almost Five Years After GOP Denied Him One As A Supreme Court Nominee; CPAC Schedule Includes Trump As Speaker; CNN: Pence And Trump Have Spoken Twice Since Inauguration; Airlines Begin To Ground Planes With Similar Engines; Pilots Managed To Return Aircraft Safely With No Injuries. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 22, 2021 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And it is just the beginning.

Perseverance is now at work in what astro-scientists believe was a river delta on Mars hunting for signs of life.

Thanks for joining us. "AC360" starts now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: So this is not the kind of Monday to ease you into the week, it's the other kind.

John Berman here in for Anderson.

Flags are flying at half-staff tonight at the White House and Capitol. They were lowered late today when deaths from COVID crossed the 500,000 mark.

The President, Vice President and their spouses held a candlelight ceremony and a moment of silence at the White House tonight to honor the fallen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We often hear people described as ordinary Americans. There's no such thing. There's nothing ordinary about them.

The people we lost were extraordinary. They span generations, born in America, immigrated to America. But just like that, so many of them took their final breath alone in America.

I know all too well. I know what it's like to not be there when it happens. I know when it is like when you are there, holding their hand, as they look in your eye, they slip away.


BERMAN: The President tonight, and to put it in perspective, he took office with fatalities having just crossed 400,000. Nearly a hundred thousand lives have been lost since then, a quarter million in the last three months, 500,000 plus in about a year.

And though there are any number of ways of expressing these awful figures, whether it's so many football stadiums, this many towns, this city or that or these wars combined, it boils down to this.

By now we all know someone who grieves or worse, someone who is gone. And whatever scale the loss may be, whether they're close enough to touch or too large to grasp, it is clear by now that we've all seen too much.

More on this tonight along with confirmation hearings for the first Attorney General in four years who was not expected to serve as the President's personal lawyer and Captain Sully Sullenberger on the dramatic engine failure aboard a United 777 over the weekend, the cool professionalism that the crew demonstrated and growing concerns about the engines in question.

And because it's one of those Mondays, there's more. It's actually where we begin with the Supreme Court clearing the way for the former President's accounting firm to turn over his taxes to a Manhattan grand jury.

In other words, with apologies to Gerald Ford, our long national farce is over. And make no mistake, it's been going on longer than you might imagine, just shy of a decade since the not yet even once impeached private citizen said this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe I'm going to do the tax returns when Obama does his birth certificate.


BERMAN: Well, President Obama did do his birth certificate, but the failed casino operator did not do the tax returns.

And here's what he said about it three years later.


QUESTION: You questioned his citizenship during his campaign. And you said afterwards, if he produced that long form birth cert, you'd produce your tax returns, but you didn't do it, did you?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. Did he do it? And I will be if I decide to run for office, I'll produce my tax returns. Absolutely. And I would love to do that.


BERMAN: Love to, mean it, but no. It's kind of like that New Yorker cartoon where the guy says to someone on the phone, no Thursday is out, how about never. Is never good for you? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: At some point prior to the election, I'm going to be giving out a financial report.

I don't mind releasing. I'm under a routine audit and it'll be released.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Donald Trump has every intention of releasing his tax returns once a routine audit is completed.

TRUMP: I will release my tax returns against my lawyers' wishes when she releases her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted.

I would love to give them, but I'm not going to do it while I'm under audit. It's very simple.

PENCE: Those tax returns will be coming when that routine audit is done.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: Any closer to releasing your tax returns?

TRUMP: Well, I'm thinking about it. I'm thinking about maybe when we find out the true story on Hillary's e-mails.


BERMAN: And that's where they left it. It is not, however, where it stands now.

More on that from our Randi Kaye.


KAREN MCDOUGAL, EX-PLAYBOY MODEL: Was attracted to him. Yes, he's a -- he's a nice-looking man.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That's former "Playboy" model Karen McDougal sharing details about her alleged affair in 2006 with Donald Trump.

Adult film actress, Stormy Daniels claims she had an affair with Trump around the same time.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And you had sex with him.


KAYE (voice over): Donald Trump has denied having a relationship with either woman or knowing anything about alleged attempts to silence them in the final months of his 2016 campaign.

[20:05:04] KAYE (voice over): But so-called hush money payments made to these two

women are at the heart of New York prosecutor Cyrus Vance's investigation.

And now with the Supreme Court's latest ruling, Vance will have access to years of Trump's personal and corporate tax returns dating back to 2011.

In 2018, Trump was asked about so-called hush money payments made by his former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen.

REPORTER: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000.00 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. No.

REPORTER: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don't know.

KAYE (voice over): During Michael Cohen's congressional testimony, he suggested Trump was very much in the know, as he wired $130,000.00 to Stormy Daniels' lawyer.

KATIE HILL, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: In addition to the personal check for $35,000.00 in July 2017, is there additional corroborating evidence that Mr. Trump while as sitting President of the United States directly reimbursed you hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER DONALD TRUMP ATTORNEY: There were 11 checks that I received for the year.

KAYE (voice over): The New York prosecutor will be looking to these documents for possible violations of campaign finance law by Trump and his family. Also whether the Trump Organization disguised hush money payments as legal expenses.

Beyond that, prosecutors in New York are hoping to figure out the source of Trump's wealth, who his business partners are, who has loaned him money and whether the Trump Organization profited during his presidency.

No doubt, investigators will want to know how in 2016 and 2017 Trump paid just $750.00 in Federal income taxes, according to "The New York Times" and took some bizarre deductions, including $70,000.00 to take care of his hair and writing off hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to his daughter, Ivanka, as a consultant for the Trump Organization.

All of it perhaps, part of those alleged aggressive tax avoidance tactics that Michael Cohen alluded to during congressional testimony.

COHEN: Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in "Forbes," and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.

Everything was done with the knowledge and at the direction of Mr. Trump.

KAYE (voice over): As a sitting President, Donald Trump couldn't be indicted. But now, citizen Trump is no longer protected by the walls of the Oval Office.


BERMAN: And Randi Kaye joins me now live from Palm Beach near Mar-a- Lago. Randi, I can't imagine the former President is sitting at home tonight happy about this.

KAYE: No, in fact, he's just here at Mar-a-Lago across the water here behind me, John, and you're right, he is probably very unhappy about this.

As you know, he has been fighting the release of his financial records now for years and his tax returns. In fact, after the Supreme Court issued its decision today, he issued a statement lashing out at the court and the investigation, calling it a continuation of the greatest political witch hunt in the history of our country.

But there is a bright spot for the former President here, John, the fact is, is that his tax records and these financial documents will not be released to the public. They're not going to be given to Congress, unless that New York prosecutor Cyrus Vance files charges.

In that case, those records would be part of the court record, part of the public record, and we would all be able to see them.

But for now, they will be kept only for the eyes for that grand jury and for those investigators. But I can tell you, John that the horse is really out of the barn. I mean, the former President has exhausted all efforts here to keep those records private.

His accounting firm issuing a statement as well saying that they are committed to fulfilling all of their professional and legal obligations.

So again, all efforts exhausted here for the former President -- John.

BERMAN: All right, interesting. Randi Kaye, thank you very much.

Joining us now, "The New York Times" Susanne Craig, who shared the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the former President's finances, also CNN legal analyst and former Obama White House ethics czar, Norm Eisen.

Susanne, I want to start with you because you know, as much about the former President's tax information, probably almost as any private citizen in the U.S. What do you think would be most significant that prosecutors will now have access to?

SUSANNE CRAIG, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it is interesting, because the news today and the headline is, is that the tax returns are going to be turned over. But what is actually, I think, really significant about today's decision, is that the tax returns are one piece of it, and also going to be turned over are going to be the records from the accounting firm, which will include notes and communications between the accounting firm and Donald Trump and the Trump Organization.

And I think with all of this in information that's coming in, they're going to start to be able to piece together what they're looking for.


CRAIG: For example, just on you know, the payment to Stormy Daniels that's been much discussed. You know, we didn't see that in the tax return information that we have. It's not there, it's not a line item.

But they will potentially be able to get a lot of detailed information about what is in the legal fee category and that could be there, it may not be, but they're going to start to be able to see a picture that's going to come together.

BERMAN: Talk a little bit more about that, because that's interesting, Susanne, obviously, in the tax returns, you're not going to see a line item that says hush money to porn star, it doesn't work like that in the tax returns.

CRAIG: No -- or there could have been, you know, a payment that we would have seen in the tax returns to Stormy Daniels, it's just not there. But it could have been put in another category like legal fees, or we just don't have transparency into it with the tax return information that we saw.

But Cy Vance in Manhattan now is going to be able to go and potentially get all of that sort of detailed stuff. And I think that that's when this is going to start to come together when you see the pieces being put together through all of these disparate pieces of information.

BERMAN: That's an important distinction. It is the notes and the other information from the accounting firm itself that could be significant, it could be the decoder ring to understanding the tax returns and the tax data, some of which you've seen.

CRAIG: And the accounting firm has it out so, it's going to be really interesting to see what's in there.

BERMAN: Ambassador, you say the accountability era against Donald Trump now begins. What do you mean?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: John, thanks for having me back on the program. Ex-President Trump managed to successfully forestall criminal, civil, two impeachments, regulatory and a variety of other legal remedies. But he could only delay them, John, because in our rule of law system, as the Supreme Court wrote, when it first decided the Manhattan DA's right to subpoena these materials, nobody, including a President is above the law.

So now he's going to face very serious jeopardy. When I worked on the first impeachment, we looked at these records for the hush money payments and prosecutors have said that they were not accurately booked.

Now, these Mazars work papers may shed some light on them. There's a lot of other records of that. There's tax issues, there's insurance issues. There's bank loan issues. And that's just one case, John.

He is also looking at serious potential criminal liability in Georgia for his shameful call to Brad Raffensperger to just find 11,780 votes, civil cases, and on and on. So accountability is coming for Donald Trump.

BERMAN: In terms of just the taxes and the financial information, how much jeopardy, do you think he is in or could be in, Norm? And put it in perspective because, you know, we know that a sitting President can't be criminally charged or hasn't been criminally charged.

But it's pretty unprecedented for a former President to face criminal charges, too, isn't it?

EISEN: It is. But we've never had a President like Donald Trump before, John. I think it's healthy that this is unfolding at the State level, including in New York, because you don't like to see that specter of Donald Trump saying, well, the guy who beat me is now retaliating. There's no question about that.

And I think the jeopardy is substantial. Just look at the hush money payments. We know, we already have some evidence in the public record that those were reflected as legal fees.

John, they were not legal fees. And in New York State, when you create false books and records to cover up for another issue, and we know Michael Cohen pled guilty to campaign finance crimes in connection with these hush money payments, that's a Class E felony. That is a serious felony, and that's just the hush money payments.

As Susanne says, there's so much more in New York and that's before you get to the other criminal and civil cases. So Donald Trump has got to be feeling very, very uneasy tonight.

BERMAN: Susanne, we heard in Randi Kaye's piece from Michael Cohen, who was talking about some of the things that the President -- former President alleged to have done from inflating the value of his properties for better loan deals, to undervaluing them for tax purposes.

Based on what you know and what you've seen, what would be the Holy Grail here for prosecutors? What questions do you have that are unanswered?

CRAIG: Well, I mean, I just think going deeper into the documents and matching up, you know, some of the things that aren't in the tax returns that could be deeper in other documents that they have.

You know, you mentioned the valuations. That's one thing that's been talked about a lot, you know, on that -- I mean valuations can be tricky because normally, a valuation comes from a professional advisor and you can say, well, I relied on professional advice.

But then you have to go deeper and say well, did they seek two or three valuations? Could they go valuation shopping? And there, you know, you start to build a case. And these are the things that I think are going to be potentially embedded in some of the other information that Cy Vance, the prosecutor that's involved will be getting.


BERMAN: And just one last question, Susanne, consulting fees for Ivanka Trump, which is something that you exposed in your reporting. What more information might there be on that?

CRAIG: I think you're just going to be looking for specifics about where the money went not also -- not only to Ivanka, but whether consulting fees paid to his other children. I mean, what did they do to earn them? You know, was it a no-show thing or what exactly was behind those fees? Was it was an attempt to just simply avoid the gift tax?

BERMAN: Susanne Craig --

CRAIG: So those will be dependent on what they are going to be looking for.

BERMAN: Susanne Craig, Norm Eisen, thank you both so much for helping us understand this. It is a new era as Norm points out, that is for sure.

Next, our medical team on today's COVID milestone, but also what could be the road to recovery?

And later the long haul airliner you're most likely to fly and questions about safety in the wake of a fiery engine failure over the Rockies over the weekend. My conversation with Captain Sully Sullenberger ahead on 360.



BERMAN: The President tonight spoke to the tremendous sadness of the moment and of tonight's COVID milestone. He also reminded Americans to take heart in how far we have climbed back up as a nation.

Half a million lives have been lost, but as of tonight, more than 64 million vaccination doses have been given.

Perspective now on the moment from CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta; also CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen. And Sanjay, you know, it's interesting, President Biden expressed

sadness and shared a moment of grief with the American people and that's important emotionally and psychologically.

But it also might be important in terms of battling this pandemic, because one of the most significant things that you note as we sit here, 500,000 deaths later, is the possibility of something you call empathy fade. The idea that we're lost the ability to care enough anymore. Why is that so important?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John, first of all, this is -- it's a sad -- it's a sad moment, you know, obviously, what is happening, as you've said, and, you know, it makes you angry as well, I think because you do realize so many of these deaths were preventable.

And there are still lessons to be learned right now. I mean, you know, no one should be looking at this in the rearview mirror, we still have to -- there's lessons that we've learned over the last year that can still be applied right now and lives could be saved.

But one of the things, John, I think just this reporting on this, you know, you tell you the story of one person who has died from COVID and you will listen to that story, maybe have a lot of empathy.

If I tell you that story 500,000 times, what happens is that people's compassion starts to fade, or their empathy starts to fatigue. And, you know, my point was earlier is that we can't let that happen. We cannot let that happen. Because that would be -- that would be essentially missing the biggest lesson of all that we just become -- this becomes normal, that these numbers sort of wash over us and we sort of suffer from the psychic numbness. This is not normal.

I think about this with my kids all the time. They should not think that what happened this past year was normal. This should never happen again and we've got to learn the lessons now to make sure that happens.

BERMAN: I think it's such an important point, such an important point.

Dr. Wen, our viewers, the country has looked to you for guidance, in fact, so much the past year. So what's going through your mind tonight?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I think to what Sanjay just mentioned about this really unthinkable milestone that we've just hit. I also think about all the lives that we could have saved, but didn't because of a variety of things that happened to lack of a national response.

And I also think about what still needs to be done. My biggest fear right now is complacency. We do see the numbers trending in the right direction, thankfully, cases falling, hospitalizations falling, deaths falling out last, but we are not out of the woods yet.

We don't have nearly enough immunity in the U.S. from vaccines, from people recovering and we still have the vast majority of the country that is still potentially susceptible to coronavirus.

There are projections that we could lose upwards of 150,000 people in the U.S. by the summer and all of those deaths and suffering that's to come, just as we've been saying for the entire pandemic, this is not preordained. There are things that we can do right now to continue to be on our guard for one another.

The vaccines are coming and they are fantastic and there is so much hope. But there are things that each of us can still do right now to protect ourselves and one another.

BERMAN: What happens depends on what we do and what has happened is very much a result of the decisions we made. And, Sanjay, as you have noted before, this is a uniquely American failure what's happened here over the last year, over these 500,000 deaths.

What do you think the major lessons that have been learned are?

GUPTA: This is the thing I've been thinking about the most, John, I think over the last several months now. You know, I mean, some of them are very tangible lessons. We didn't invest in our public health system. And this is sort of a larger problem.

We tend not to invest in things that are preventative, that we don't, you know, have an immediate benefit. You know, things that are invisible, we tend to pay less attention to, so this idea that we could have not maybe essentially become pandemic proof, as some people have described it to me with investments of $10 billion to $15 billion, and those suggestions were made, and yet we didn't do it for our public health system.

But I think a lot of it, John, also has to do with just how we evaluate risk in our society. I mean, I was having this conversation with someone the other day. If it was primarily young children who were affected by this, would our response have been different? Do we value the elderly less in this country?

I bring it up because it's a philosophical thing. There are so many tangible things: testing, masks, communication, sourcing of materials, supplies, all those types of things, but just who are we? Our humanity. What did we really show? I think that that is something that really harmed us here because so many of these deaths again as Leana and I have been saying, were preventable.

No family likes to hear that their loved one's death was preventable and I apologize for saying that. But so many were and we still can apply the lessons that we're learning right now to the future.


BERMAN: Dr. Wen, in terms of new information and where we are tonight, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the C.D.C. talked about a new study during today's briefing that shows teachers were a probable source of several school related COVID-19 outbreaks.

But the Director didn't say the teachers need to get more priority for vaccines. How do you reconcile that?

WEN: Yes, it's a major mistake. The C.D.C. and the Biden administration needs to step up right now and say that teacher vaccinations are essential. They keep on saying that it's up to State governments and not the Federal government. This is not true.

The Federal government can allocate vaccines specifically for teachers. They can even deploy the National Guard to give vaccinations to educators, to school staff.

If getting our children back in school in-person is really a priority, we need to be vaccinating our teachers. And as Sanjay mentioned, this is about societal priorities and I think it's time for the Biden administration to show us what their priorities really are and if it's about children and our future, then we should also be protecting teachers and school staff, too.

BERMAN: Sanjay, Dr. Wen, thank you both for what you've done tonight. And also throughout the whole year throughout all of this. Appreciate it.

A reminder, CNN presents a special memorial to the 500,000 lives lost so far. It airs tonight at 11:00 Eastern Time.

And just ahead, almost five years in the making, Judge Merrick Garland finally gets a Senate confirmation hearing. This time as President Biden's picked to be Attorney General. Sharply partisan questions, but also a moment that silenced the room. The details when we return.



BERMAN: Almost five years after President Obama nominated him for the Supreme Court. Merrick Garland finally got a Senate hearing denied him by Republicans. Not for the top court in the land as in 2016 but this time as the nation's top law enforcement official Attorney General. More now in a tense hearing from congressional correspondent Ryan Noble.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Merrick Garland President Biden's pick for attorney general making it clear. The Justice Department he runs will be different from the one he would inherit.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I am not the President's lawyer. I am the United States lawyer.

NOBLES (voice-over): Garland pledged an independent DOJ, one that would follow the rule of law and pursue prosecutions aimed at confronting America's biggest problem.

GARLAND: If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6. The heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.

NOBLES (voice-over): Garland, a federal judge said the investigation into the January 6 insurrection will be a massive job and his top priority.

GARLAND: I think this was the most heinous attack on a demo on the Democratic processes that I've ever seen and one that I never expected to see in my lifetime. One of the very first things I will do is get a briefing on the progress of this investigation. I intend to give the career prosecutors who are working on this matter 24/7 all the resources they could possibly require to do this.

NOBLES (voice-over): Garland took tough questions from Republican senators on a wide range of controversial topics, like his support of the death penalty for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, something he says he doesn't regret. And Garland says he has now come to question capital punishment in general.

GARLAND: Because of how seldom it's applied and because of its disparate impact on black Americans and members of other communities of color. Those are the things that give me pause.

NOBLES (voice-over): He also pushed back on the idea of defunding the police.

GARLAND: President Biden has said he does not support defunding the police and neither do I.

NOBLES (voice-over): Arguing that well, reform of policing is necessary, a wholesale reduction in funding is not the answer.


BERMAN: Ryan Nobles, joins us now. Ryan, Democrats, obviously supportive of the Garland nomination. What are you hearing from Republicans though?

NOBLES: John, it looks right now as though this nomination is going to sail through the United States Senate. You know, Joe Biden obviously going with a more moderate pick and Merrick Garland, and that seems to have resonated with Republicans, and they were particularly impressed by his performance today, both Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn from Texas left that hearing saying that they believe a Garland should be confirmed.

So, while there are other nominees that the Biden ministration is nervous about, Merrick Garland is no longer one of them. And he's expected to be confirmed as the next Attorney General in very short order.

BERMAN: Ryan Nobles, thanks very much.

So, perhaps the most poignant moment of the day Judge Garland's response to a question about how his own painful family history informed his career and prosecuting injustice and tolerance.


GARLAND: I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-semitism and persecution. Country took us in and that protects us. And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back. And this has the highest best use of my own set of skills to pay back. And so, I want very much to be the kind of Attorney General that you're saying I could become. I'll do my best to try to be that kind of attorney general.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): I believe your heart --


BERMAN: What a moment. Perspective now from CNN chief national correspondent John King and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, I mean, the emotion in that moment was palpable. I mean, you could sense the world stood still in that hearing room and beyond when Judge Garland was talking about it, and not just because of what he was saying there, but also his history, prosecuting Oklahoma City, the history now with the attack on the U.S. Capitol. History going forward, the fact that Judge Garland has pledged to prosecute white supremacy and the crimes that arise from that it really was remarkable.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a remarkable moment. And what you could hear in his voice is really somebody who spent his entire career devoted to public service. And when he talks about pay back, he's not talking about pay back, like we, you know, like we've heard over the last four years as in vengeance or revenge, he is talking about paying back to this country that he is so devoted to, and when you look at his resume, it is a resume of public service.

And I don't think that anybody's sitting in that room whether they agree with the Biden agenda or disagree with the Biden agenda, could not help but feel simpatico with him. Because they too, in their own ways, some more than others, consider themselves public servants. And there's, you know, you can only admire what he was saying there.

BERMAN: John, the messaging wasn't subtle overall, with Judge Garland.


BERMAN: He never did. Particularly not this time with Judge Garland saying I'm not going to be the President's attorney. I'm going to be, you know, the attorney of the United States. And what a time to take over as the attorney of the United States. I mean, there is so much to do.

KING: Look across his desk in the months ahead, he's going to be confirmed easily, he's going to get overwhelming Republican support as well as Democrats. He's got to have to make a tough decision about the president's son, perhaps the Delaware Attorney General, a U.S. Attorney, excuse me, looking into Hunter Biden's taxes, if there's something there, that's a very difficult decision for the Attorney General.

If there's nothing there, it's still a difficult decision. He has to be transparent and try to convince Republican skeptics, they scrubbed it, and that's the way it came out. Rudy Giuliani investigations possible Trump investigation, so he was saying he's not the President's lawyer.

He wants to remove politics from the Justice Department. He wants to remove politics in terms of the President's relationship with the Attorney General John, you know, the beat, a lot of politics is going to come across his desk, that plus the insurrection investigations, plus race relations, plus voting rights. This is an incredibly difficult job and an incredibly consequential moment.

BERMAN: And Gloria, he did face direct questions about what are you going to do about the Hunter Biden investigations? What are you going to do about Andrew Cuomo in New York, what are you going to do about the U.S. Attorney investigation into the Russia investigation? How do you think he answered those questions?

BORGER: He said, I don't know yet. I don't know enough about it yet. What he did say when he did make clear is that he has not talked to the President of the United States about Hunter Biden, and that he has not yet picked up the phone and called John Durham, who is doing the investigation into the FBI, his role in the Trump-Russia matter. That he is someone who, like a good judge hasn't heard the case yet.

And so, he showed that he had an open mind that he wasn't likely to sweep anything under the rug. And don't forget, there's a context here for Merrick Garland. People respect him as a judge. We know what happened five years ago, and what a difference five years make when he couldn't get a hearing as a Supreme Court nominee. But he comes into that role with a lot of respect on both sides of the aisle. So when he says I got to figure it out, I think I have to take him at his word.

BERMAN: Gloria and John, don't go far.

(voice-over): When we return, he's back or he will be. This weekend, the former president will give us first public speech since leaving office and by the sound of it. The far-right already got the talking points. We'll explain with "360" returns.



BERMAN: The Supreme Court decision on the former president's tax documents comes just as he's about to make his first public appearance since leaving the White House. He's scheduled to speak this weekend at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference now more commonly as CPAC. A source tells CNN the speech will be about the quote, future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, neither of which it seems can quit the former president.

For instance, just this weekend, the number two Republican in the House Congressman Steve Scalise was repeatedly asked a simple question about who won the election. And he couldn't answer it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The election was not stolen. Correct?

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): Look, Joe Biden's the president. There were a few states that did not follow their state laws. That's really the dispute that you've seen continue on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I asked you, is he the legitimate president of United States? And do you concede that this election was not stolen? Very simple question, please just answer.

SCALISE: Once the elect once the electors are counted, yes, he's the legitimate president. But if you're going to ignore the fact that there were states that did not follow their own state legislatively set laws, that's the issue at heart.


BERMAN: So those replies as squirrely as they are, aren't as bad as what's on the agenda at CPAC. For starters, there's a seven-part series on protecting elections they say, that's right, seven parts. It spans almost the entirety of the conference.

And just to give you a taste of what's in store, here are some of the session titles. Protecting Elections Part 2, Other Culprits, Why Judges And Media Refuse To Look At The Evidence. There's Protecting Elections Part 3, The Left Pulled The Strings Covered It Up And Even Admits It.


And if a seven-part series isn't enough, there's also this panel. Did Your Vote Count? Ask the Experts.

Back with us, John King and Gloria Borger. And John, the titles of these sessions really get to the world that the former president is now living in. You say it's almost a parallel universe. What do you mean?

KING: It is a parallel universe. Look, what happened today, America marked this horrific, horrific milestone, 500,000 of our friends and neighbors and relatives dead from COVID. Most of that is on President Trump, who walked away from science, walked away from common sense, ignored a pandemic on his watch.

What happened on January 6, an insurrection that came after a rally led by the former president. He is stained by history, he stained by his actions, he stained by his record, but he has what used to be an organization born of William F. Buckley about conservative ideas, about rebels, about challenging the establishment now it's the Trump second fan society. That's what it is John, pure and simple.

I covered CPAC for years, that organization doesn't exist anymore. This is the Trump parallel universe right now. Let's keep promoting the big lie. The big lie that is an attack on the truth, attack on the fact, attack on decency, and attack on democracy. Go for it.

BERMAN: Gloria, one person who will not be at CPAC this weekend is the former vice president, Mike Pence. And you've got some new reporting tonight on the relationship between the former president and former vice president and what's been going on there? What have you learned?

BORGER: I was told by a knowledgeable source that Pence and Trump have spoken a couple of times since the inauguration. Pence called Trump once and it went the other way around the other time. And I was told that the relationship is amicable. That's it. My source would go no further, and would not describe the contents of the phone calls. But as you mentioned, Pence has decided to hang back and stay quiet for six months. And my source said to me, look this, this is the tradition.

Remember that of the outgoing president and vice president, give the president the new president some room. Obviously, Donald Trump has decided not to do that. And Mike Pence has decided, yes, I'm going to hang back a little bit. And that may be more about him, and trying to see the lay of the land than anything else.

BERMAN: All right. That's interesting, trying to figure out where Mike Pence currently fix. It's on the Republican spectrum. John, where does he fit on the Republican spectrum going forward?

KING: That's -- it's tough. The old Mike Pence was a Christian conservative. He was sort of a chamber of commerce, lower taxes, less Washington, right? When he was in the House of Representatives and his Indiana governor, he was your traditional, if you're a Democrat out there, you might disagree with him. If you're a liberal out there, you might disagree with him. But he was a principled conservative, coming out of his Christian faith in his smaller, less government Midwestern roots, if you will.

Look, he's now a Trump Republican. He is Trump's vice president. That's hard to escape. He's smart right now, John, lay low, lay low, because you don't want to be part of promoting the big lie again. Lay low because you want to respect the new administration as it tries to deal with the pandemic.

Lay low, because you never know what Donald Trump is going to do. If you Mike Pence, you've been caught up and enough of it already. Can he recover from that? You know, we got a long way to go to 2024 and beyond. And we don't know what Donald Trump's role will be when we get to those elections. So, the smart -- Pence is doing the smart thing right now it's just stay out of it.

BORGER: Right. And don't forget he's got different friends than the president. I mean, for example, Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, is a very close friend of Mike Pence as he runs the Republican Governors Association. So, has he broken up that relationship? Absolutely not.

BERMAN: We should add, John, what would happen, what would have happened to Mike Pence had he walked on stage at CPAC given the fact that he presided on January 6, when they verify the Electoral College cow? How would that crowd have received him? KING: Well, the program he just went through answers your question, they're going to still continue to promote the big lie. Mike Pence honor the Constitution. He honored his duty on that day. And again, all the praise he got from Democrats who didn't think much of Mike Pence for the first, you know, three years and 11 months of the Trump administration, he did stand up in the end, and he did the right thing.

Now, there are a lot of Trump supporters on the floor of CPAC who would remember his loyalty as the president for most of it. But you're right, the anger right now, for those who still want to promote the big lie and help the former president live in Fantasyland that he won the election in a landslide as he likes to say they still have issues with Mike Pence. He's smart to stay away from all that.


BORGER: And what will Donald Trump say about Mike Pence there?

BERMAN: It's a great question. I mean, what will he say in general when he goes on to that stage and who will help him prepare for it? If anyone what will his message be if anything coherent? Those are some of the questions I know we should don't have answers to those yet. I think there's a great deal of concern in some Republican circles about what he will do. Lindsey Graham (INAUDIBLE) --

KING: I hope Daniel Dale is resting, he's going to be (INAUDIBLE) --


BERMAN: Daniel Dale is at a spa every minute up until Sunday so we can be ready in rest for.


Gloria, Lindsey Graham spends some time golfing with the former president.

BORGER: Of course.

BERMAN: And apparently sharing his phone with the former president so he could call U.S. senators and basically tell them you had my back. I'm going to have yours now. What's the significance of that?

BORGER: This -- look, for Lindsey Graham wants to portray this a Donald Trump wants to help us win back control of the Senate. And he's working day and night to make sure that happens. What this is really about for Donald Trump is vengeance, revenge, call it what you will. And he wants to get back at those folks and primary those people or help primary those people who weren't with him on the big lie, and that's what this is about, for Donald Trump. So watch out.

If you were on the other side of this, whether you're in the House, or whether you're in the Senate, or whether you're deciding to run for office, for Donald Trump there's one litmus test and that is you have to buy into the rigged election. And as, you know, as John was pointing out, is that what the Republican Party has become.

BERMAN: John, I have to imagine that people who didn't call might be more interested than those that he actually did in this case.

KING: Donald Trump selfless team player said no one ever.

BERMAN: John King, Gloria Borger, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.


BERMAN (voice-over): Up next morning the airborne drama over the weekend and engine failure an engine on fire debris falling from the sky. I'm going to speak with Captain Sully Sullenberger who obviously knows a thing or two about an aircraft in distress.



BERMAN: New developments in the United Airlines flight over the weekend were the engine of a 777 caught on fire before the pilots landed the plane safely back at the Denver Airport where it took off. Here's what the right engine looked like.

That's not what passengers or crew wanted to see when they look out the window. The engine cover was torn off and debris fell to the ground. Korean Air has just grounded all of its 777 with that same type of engine and Boeing suggests the same for all airlines using the engine.

Perspective now from someone with an experts eye, retired airline pilot Captain Sully Sullenberger, who, of course, famously landed his damaged U.S. Air Flight on New York City's Hudson River back in 2009.

Captain Sullenberger, thanks so much for joining us. I want to play some of the mayday call from the aircraft and get your thoughts. So, let's listen


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 328, heavy. We've experienced engine failure, need to turn. Mayday, mayday. United, 28 (INAUDIBLE). United 328 heavy. Mayday, mayday, aircraft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 328 heavy, say again, please. Repeat all that again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Denver, departure. United 328, heavy. Mayday, aircraft, just experienced engine failure, need to turn immediately.


BERMAN: So Captain Sullenberger, what did you hear in that? What do you make of how the captain and crew handled the situation? SULLY SULLENBERGER, PILOT: While they were doing what aviation professionals do, they were doing their job and doing it professionally. Let me tell you from personal experience, it's very, very rare to hear someone say Mayday, mayday, mayday over radio.

You know, years ago, I happened to hear an airport the fire chief talk about an aircraft accident he had worked. And he said his advice to everybody in the profession is manage the situation, or the situation will manage you. And clearly this crew is managing the situation.

BERMAN: So the investigation obviously ongoing, but from some of the video you have seen the pictures of the debris, and the fact that now we are hearing about the ideas of fractures in the fan blades. What do you think happened?

SULLENBERGER: Well, it's too early to tell for sure. And that's part of what the investigation we'll find out over many months. But from the photographs I've seen at least one piece, probably from an engine either the right side of the airplane below the right wing. It seems to be an uncontained engine failure. As you probably know, engine failures and airliners are very rare, and uncontained failures are even more rare.

In fact, our famous flight that landed in the Hudson, a number of years ago, I had been flying at that point for 42 years, 20,000 hours in the air. And even though we'd practice for engine procedures, I had never experienced the actual failure in flight of any of the single engine, not what time.

So, our technology is very reliable. But the fact that this happened, and we've had some similar accidents in the last several months in the last several years, we raise red flags that perhaps we don't have as good an understanding of these particular engines as we thought.

And I'm sure they'll be reviewing the design, the inspection protocols, the technology that you use to look for microscopic defects and the maintenance procedures and training that's been done. And they'll find the answers and they'll correct whatever flaws that they find in the entire system.

BERMAN: So you know better than most what it's like to experience this kind of emergency. How much does the safe outcome depend on the training, how much depends on the type of person, the type of mindset and experience about the people in the cockpit?

SULLENBERGER: Well experience matters. And it often makes the difference between success and failure, life and death. But we all train intensely. So over many decades, we'd have to obtain the skill, the knowledge, the experience and the judgment to handle whatever happens, even if it's a novel event that we've never trained for.

One of the other things that we have to develop over many years is to be able to calm ourselves when a sudden, extreme crisis hits. There's a huge startle effect. And we'll be aware of it as it happens when our blood pressure and pulse spike. And sometimes our perceptual field will narrow and television because

of the stress. But we have to sum it up from within the presence of mind and the mental discipline to compartmentalize our minds and focus clear to the task at hand in spite of the stress. And that's something pilots are able to do and summon up on a moment's notice to solve problems just like this.

And of course, we have trained as cruised to help and support and cross check each other and we also have protocols to follow. They will help us solve these problems one at a time until we solve them all.


BERMAN: Captain Sullenberger an honor to get your perspective, thanks so much for taking the time.

SULLENBERGER: Thank you. Good to be with you.

BERMAN: Let's hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME".