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North Korea: "Merciless" Response To Any U.S. Provocation; North Korea Threatens U.S. With Pre-Emptive Strike; Trump Will Be Briefed On North Korea While At Mar-a-Lago; New Video Of "Mother Of All Bombs" Air Strike; Officials: "Mother Of All Bombs" Kills Dozens Of ISIS Fighters; Officials: MOAB Bomb Destroyed 3 Underground Tunnels, Weapons; Trump White House Visitor Logs To Stay Secret; In Reversal From Obama, Trump WH Will Not Release Visitor Logs; Aired 7- 8p ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OutFront next, breaking news on the brink. North Korea threatening a merciless response to provocation from the United States. If it test a nuke, will the U.S. strike back? Plus stunning new video reveals the deadly effects of the mother of all bombs. New video tonight. Was it though the right of wrong weapon? And the Trump administration announcing it will keep secret who visits the White House.

What or who are they trying to hide? Let's go OutFront. And good Friday evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, the breaking news, we will go to war. That is the grim threat from North Korea tonight to the United States as it's possibly just hours away from testing a nuclear weapon. The retaliation could be massive. President Trump already declaring North Korea "a problem that will be taken care of." North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister responding tonight to the Associated Press saying President Trump's actions have become "more vicious and more aggressive." Promising a "merciless response if provoked.

This weekend marks the 105th birthday of the North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung. It is a major holiday there, celebrated with the militaristic show of force. This time signs point to the north being primed and ready to possibly conduct its sixth nuclear test. So What's Donald Trump doing it right now? That parade could be starting in the next hour or so. Well, he's at Mar-a-Lago golfing over -- while he spend Easter weekend in Florida. All this though as the vice president, Vice President Pence is going to Seoul. He will arrive there for the start of an 11-day mission to Asia. Alexandra Field begins our coverage in Seoul, South Korea. Alexander, this is a crucial day in North Korea about to get underway.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The eyes of the world are watching North Korea. The question is what happens next. We do expect that they will put on this military parade as a show of their military might, but the world is wondering whether or not they'll go a step further, launching a very provocative action, a potential sixth nuclear test. Analysts in the U.S. say that they are primed, prepped, and ready to carry out the test any moment. It's impossible to predict exactly when a test could happen but the more important question is what happens next? How could or will the U.S. react? U.S. Warships are in the region in the waters off of the Korean Peninsula, a move that has enraged Pyongyang. They say that the presence of those warships threaten global security, threaten global peace and could bring the region to the brink of thermo nuclear war. China is calling for cooler heads to prevail if tensions are rising.

The U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will make his way to South Korea this weekend. Then onto Japan where he will be meeting with the allies talking about how to counter the North Korean nuclear threat, discussing all of the options that Washington says are on the table, including of course the possibility of some kind of military option. It's a big fear here in South Korea where people believe that any kind of preemptive strike from the U.S. would put them directly in harms way. Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Alex. And the president as I said, as this is happening, playing golf in Florida. Athena Jones is OutFront at the White House.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump is spending Easter weekend with his family in Florida where he was spotted today on the links at one of his golf clubs. Following the president to his Mar-a-Lago Resort, rising tensions with North Korea.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a very big problem in North Korea.

JONES: A high-level North Korean official telling the Associated Press, we are comparing Trump's policy toward the PRK with the former administrations. And we have concluded that it's becoming more vicious and more aggressive. That after the president took to Twitter to blast the regime and prod China. Tweeting Thursday, I have confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they fail to do so, the U.S. with is allies will, U.S.A.

The back and forth comes as Vice President Pence will soon embark on an 11-day trip to the Asia-Pacific region. His first stop, South Korea. A senior administration official saying Thursday that military options with regard to North Korea would likely come up during Pence's visit. This weekend, the North is expected to celebrate the birthday of the country's founder with a military parade. And it could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test experts say.

Asked if Thursday's bombing of ISIS targets in Afghanistan, the second significant show of force by the U.S. in a week was meant to send a message to the rogue regime, the president would only say --

TRUMP: It doesn't know if this sends a message, it doesn't make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.

JONES: It's a thorny foreign policy challenge then-Candidate Trump more shadowed last year with comments about the country's leader, Kim Jong-Un.

TRUMP: If you look at North Korea, this guy, this -- may -- I mean, he's like a maniac. OK? And you got to give him credit. This guy doesn't play games. And we can't play games with him because he really does have missiles and he really does have nukes.

JONES: The president have been pushing China, North Korea's biggest trading partner to help curve the nation's nuclear ambitions and is trying to use a promised trade deal with the world's second-largest economy as an inducement.

TRUMP: President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea and I said the way you're going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea. Otherwise, we're just going to go it alone.

JONES: And we're hearing some pretty ominous language from North Korea, some of which you already mentioned that army spokesman who was accusing the Trump Administration a "serious military hysteria" and promising a merciless response to any provocation by the U.S. and then that high-level official who spoke with the A.P. also said the country is ready for war. It's the kind of heated rhetoric that is very concerning to you as allies in the region.

So it will be interesting to watch this weekend whether the -- whether the North Korea launches another missile test. And also what comes out of the vice president's visit to the region. Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. As we said, he is on his way to Seoul at his hour. OutFront tonight, Colonel Cedric Leighton, former member of the joint chief of staff, Gordon Chang, author of nuclear showdown, North Korea takes on the role. And Sue Mi Terry, former CIA Senior Analyst on Korean issues who of course spent a lot of time on the ground. Colonel, let me start with you though. If Kim Jong-Un primed for a nuclear test?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, FORMER AIR FORCE COLONOL: It sure looks like it to me, Erin. And the reason I say that is there's so many preparations in and around their main nuclear testing facility that the evidence seems to be very close to the evidence we've seen at prior nuclear tests, so my view is that yes, they are really ready for a nuclear test at this point in time.

BURNETT: And Sue Mi, there's also with this rhetoric, the situation, Trump talking about his armada sailing up along the Korean coast, the nuclear submarines, Kim Jong-Un responding in kind. Can Kim Jong-Un back down now?

SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA SENIOR ANALYST ON KOREAN ISSUES: He has to act in some way but I'm not sure if sixth nuclear test this weekend is the answer. Sure. North Korea is ready to test, that's for sure. But I think there are other things that Kim Jong-Un can do. He can do just a normal missile test, he can premount an ICBM and showcase. So it give him a safe facing measure without necessarily conducting a nuclear tests this weekend. BURNETT: Right. As you point out, it would be the sixth test. I

mean, it's very significant as we've understand. This doesn't happen all the time. This would be a huge event, Gordon. I mean, we are moments away from this, you know, whatever it might be, parade, military procession in honor the Kim family. The whole world is watching Kim Jong-Un tonight, right? This is what he wants, the whole world is watching. How does he react?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN; NORTH KOREA TAKES ON "THE WORLD": So, I think that he's got to show -- as you mention, some strength. But also, you got to remember that if this were -- let's say Thursday, we would all be saying that there would definitely be the sixth test. But I think Trump stunned Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler, and it also stunned Kim Jong-Un especially with the test of that mother of all bombs intended to go after underground facilities and North Korea has a lot of them. So I think that they probably won't test and the reason is until they think they figured him out, they're going to be very cautious of dealing with the American leader.

BURNETT: And Colonol, you know, North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister saying, I just want to quote what he said, "We are comparing Trump's policy toward the DPRK with the former administration and we have e concluded it's becoming more vicious and more aggressive." I mean, that's certainly objectively a true statement. When Obama was president though, Kim Jong-Un obviously incredibly aggressive toward him as well. He play videos where Obama's head was erupting in flames, New York City was being struck by a missile. I mean, Colonel, what will Kim Jong-Un really do to Trump?

LEIGHTON: Well, one he could do, one of the others that happened was the Sony hack, and one possible scenario is that North Korea may choose to use its cyber efforts, cyber warfare unit to actually go in and do something that would affect to not only the critical infrastructure in the United States but also potentially in South Korea. They've already done that to the banks there and to the media in South Korea before. And it could be another choice for them as this anniversary comes up.

BURNETT: Yes. Of course, Gordon, their goal obviously is though ultimately the United States. That's what this is about. That's what gives Kim Jong-Un so many (INAUDIBLE) legitimacy is that adversary. The vice foreign minister also said if the U.S. comes up with the dangerous military option, we'll deal with it with our preemptive strike, this means war which is what they came out directly and set. How far is North Korea along in its nuclear program? I mean, if they don't test, is that a sign of weakness in any way?

CHANG: Well, it certainly is. But they will test because they got to sell this stuff to the Iranians and the Iranians want to see if it works. You know, they have maybe somewhere between 15 to 30 weapons at this point and they're probably at the point where they can accelerate the enrichment of uranium so they can actually put maybe three or four more bombs a year into their arsenal. And that makes them a real threat because they can disperse them, they can put them underground. We can't find them. And it gives them sort of a sense of deterrence. BURNETT: And you know, when the U.S. talks about a preemptive strike,

as Trump has said, right? Obviously the real question is, you know, would they be able to strike in a level and cost millions of casualties possibly before the U.S. could obliterate their program. As a former CIA Analyst, do we even know as the United States where all their nuclear facilities are, how deep below the ground there, do we even know?

TERRY: We certainly do not. I mean, we know some sites but we do not -- cannot counsel all the sites. There are a lot of covert sites that have nuclear weapons and missiles. This is why maintenance should be such a dangerous -- I mean, I think right now, we though - we have to back down and look sort of week or we have to sort of follow through. So if there is a nuke test what are we going to do, right? I mean, if we don't do something, it makes us look sort of weak.

BURNETT: And Colonel, is that the case? If there is a test, whatever that is, if it's tomorrow or five days from now, whatever it is, you're all agreeing it's happening. Does Trump have to strike, do something?

LEIGHTON: He doesn't have to but he's also done something --

BURNETT: But he's not a guy who wants to look weak. I mean, we all know that. I mean, it, you know --


BURNETT: As Sue Mi is saying, I mean, if he looks weak, he wouldn't -- he wouldn't accept that, would he?

LEIGHTON: I don't think he would. And that's -- I mean, he -- technically, he doesn't have to do something but I think he would and the question is exactly what form that action would take. He has to be very careful to keep everything that he does within bounds so that it doesn't precipitate, for example, in our (INAUDIBLE) attack on Seoul or something like that. That of course would be a very difficult and terrible scenario. But I think that what will happen is we will get to the brink and he -- both he, President Trump and Kim Jong-Un will figure out some way out of this but it will be very, very close to that 11th hour.

BURNETT: Of course we are talking about two leaders who are very, very unpredictable in a bizarre way perhaps meeting their match on that. Thank you all three. And next, stunning new video of the mother of all bombs striking ISIS. We are learning new details at this hour about that bombing and whether the military used the right weapon. Plus the Trump Administration tonight says they will not release the names of people who visit the White House. Why? What is the big secret? And another stinging public relations problem for United Airlines. This from a scorpion.


BURNETT: Tonight, new video of the devastating hit from the mother of all bombs. We're going to show you right now the moment of impact. The pentagon releasing this video of the colossal blast which hit what official say is a network of caves and tunnels what they say were used by ISIS fighters. Apparently a pretty small group were there for the biggest bomb -- non-nuclear bomb since World war II. Only 36 ISIS fighters were killed. Barbar Starr s OutFront with new details tonight.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The largest conventional bomb ever dropped in combat exploded above a complex of caves and tunnels in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan. The top U.S. Commander adamant the mission was only about killing ISIS.

GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: The timing of the use of this weapon was simply the appropriate tactical moment against the proper target to use this particular munition. So it is not related to any outside events.

STARR: It does deliver a psychological message to ISIS. One military official tells CNN the massive bomb is powerful enough to destroy nine city blocks.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It will level that area and provide an unbelievable amount of concussion to that area. So it will collapse caves, it will blow up things, and it will -- if you're alive afterwards, you're going to have perforated ear drums and a lot of trauma.

STARR: General Nicholson says it all went according to plan. Caves and tunnels destroyed, Afghanistan officials saying dozens of ISIS fighters killed.

NICHOLSON: We have persistent surveillance over the area before, during, and after the operation. And now we have Afghan and U.S. Forces on the site and see no evidence of civilian casualties nor have there been any reports of civilian casualties.

STARR: The bomb had been in Afghanistan since early January. Nicholson signed the final order authorizing the mission just 24 hours before the bomb dropped. Afterwards, local Afghans described the enormity of the blast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night's bomb was really huge. When it dropped, it was shaking everywhere.

STARR: And as you say, Erin, a lot of firepower on this one mission. General Nicholson estimates there are still upwards of 800 ISIS fighters inside Afghanistan. Erin?

BURNETT: All right, Barbara. Thank you very much. 800 left, 36 killed by the biggest bomb in the U.S. Arsenal. OutFront now, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona and Colonel Doug Macgregor, both served in Iraq. Colonel Francona, let me start with you. That number, 36 ISIS fighters is what they're saying about the number that was killed. Obviously, the network of tunnels they say also impacted by this. Was this -- I mean, but this so is, you know, like the headlines around the world, the mother of all bombs, the acronym emblazoned on the side of this missile, the biggest bomb used since World War II and a nuclear bomb. Was this way too much power for the target?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.) MACGREGOR, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, no, not at all. The target really was the tunnels and cave complex, the people that were killed was kind of ancillary benefit. Yes. We would like to kill more of the ISIS fighters but the goal was to shut down that tunnel and cave complex that cannot be used in the future. So, it will allow us to bring them out in the open and then engage in conventionally, so, yes, this was the right -- this is the -- this was the perfect target for this weapon.

BURNETT: Colonel Macgregor, was this the perfect target for this weapon? I mean, how much of an impact does using this weapon with the -- with the attention it has garnered around the world, how much of an impact does it have to use it?

COL. DOUG MACGREGOR (RET.) U.S. ARMY COLONEL: You know, strategically I don't it's going to have much impact at all. Remember, there are still 40,000 Taliban fighters on the ground in Afghanistan who are rapidly advancing, recapturing ground, they previously lost the U.S. trained Afghan police and army are falling apart. The situation in Afghanistan is certainly not favorable to us. And I think this actually distracts people from that reality. Killing these people, destroying this particular cave complex along the border with Pakistan is not going to make any difference strategically to what happens in that country at this point.

BURNETT: So, Colonel Francona, then it does -- and then it also begs the question, OK, then what next? I mean, we've already used this bomb, so then what?

FRANCONA: Well, this was a step in the process. You know, we've been fighting in that province for quite a while. ISIS has been there. We had a big battle there in August and it's just continuing. As the Colonel says, the Afghans are not doing well. The situation is worse, and the Taliban on the ascent, and now we're seeing the spread of ISIS. So, I think the focus now is going to be going after ISIS in this one particular area.

The use of this weapon was driven by this one particular target. I agree with the Colonel, this doesn't change the situation at all. This was a big tactical weapon, it was a big bomb. But it really doesn't change the situation. It does send a signal, I believe. I know we were told by the pentagon that the use of this weapon at this particular time coming on the heels of the attack in Syria and prior to any kind of event in North Korea is merely a coincidence. I'm trying to believe that and I'm falling all the time.

BURNETT: Yes. And Colonel Macgregor, I want to ask you about that because it does seem that these things fit together, right? The president authorizes strikes in Syria, this bomb is used in Afghanistan. It's been around since 2003, used just now under President Trump after the Syrian strike. The president speaks and talks about an armada that he has, that's his word, sailing towards the coast of North Korea and brags about his nuclear subs that are even more powerful than the ships themselves. Is there any concern that trigger happy is a word that should be used here? MACGREGOR: Well, the first point is that we attacked two undefended

targets. We need to keep that in mind. The last one was an attack by an aircraft that would have been shot out of the sky against any capable opponent, including North Korea. We'd never have been able to deliver the bomb. So the notion that we're sending messages I think is ludicrous nonsense. No one in the Russian general staff, no one in Tehran and certainly no one in the Chinese high command is impressed.

I think you have to see the truth. There is no strategy, here is no coherence strategic framework guiding the application of American military power. Which to me as someone who voted for this president and supports him, is very disappointing. Now we're moving on to Korea. I don't know what the point is. I don't know what's going to happen, but again, I see no viable strategic objective that we are going to accomplish with force there.

BURNETT: Colonel Francona, what do you say? The thought that people would be scared or intimated as ludicrous non sense and no one is impressed, do you agree?

FRANCONA: I don't know and I don't we -- any of us know. We don't know what goes on in the mind of Kim Jong-Un as this progresses. If it was meant to send a message, I don't know. I don't know if the message was received (INAUDIBLE) when we -- when we dropped 59 tomahawks there. I don't know if the message will be received in Afghanistan with the ISIS. We just don't know that yet. What I'm concerned about is we're sending the messages and as the Colonel says, why are we sending them. What's the overarching strategy that drive those messages. I don't know.

BURNETT: Colonel Francona, Colonel Macgregor, thank you both.

MACGREGOR: OK. Thank you.

BURNETT: Sobering conversation. And next, the Trump administration tonight saying, guess what? We're not going to tell you who comes to see the White House. No logs. Not going to be public anymore. They say the reason is grave national security risks. Really? Is this just another layer of secrecy? And Bashar al-Assad, a brutal tyrant in full denial about the death of Syrian children killed in a chemical attack that he launched.



BURNETT: Breaking news. The White House announcing tonight that it will be keeping its visitor logs private. That means very simply, we will not know who visits the White House. This is a total break from president. Athena Jones is OutFront. And Athena, why? This is a drastic change from the Obama Administration.

JONES: It is and Communications Director Michael Dubke explain -- try to explain why they're making this move siting "grave national security risks and privacy concerns." Now, it's not entirely clear what grave national security risks would be involved with the release of this kind of visitor information but I can tell you that during the Obama Administration, sensitive meetings like with the potential Supreme Court justice or with top national security officials were scrubbed from the records before they were released.

This is a move that the Trump White House apparently doesn't want to take. Now, this new is prompting criticism from both political parties. People who are concerned the White House is trying to hide this information, hide information about who was come to meet the president, who was influencing the president and shaping his policy. The group CREW citizens were responsible in ethic in Washington is blasting Trump promise to -- promising to "drain the swamp and then taking what they call a massive step away from transparency with this move." CREW is among several watch dog groups that are suing the Trump Administration over this issue. Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Athena, thank you very much. And OutFront now, former senior communications advisor for the Trump Campaign and former communications director for the transition team, Jason Miller, former advisor to four presidents including Nixon and Clinton, David Gergen, and former Clinton White House Aide Keith Boykin. David, let me start with you. Because of no visitor logs for the Obama White House, can you just -- can you give a specific example that I think is very germane. We know that the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak visited the Barack Obama White House at least 21 times. So without logs, we would not know that, we certainly will not know if Trump meets with someone like that who of course is now so central to the Russian collusion investigation, right?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: That's absolutely true. I do think couplings need to be kept in perspective, one is this is entire -- acting entirely within their legal right as the White House.


GERGEN: And, secondly, it is -- before President Obama, there was a lot of withholding of this information. You may remember when Hillary Clinton was putting together her health care proposal, the Clinton White House put clamps on what names were released.

And when the Bush -- George W. Bush White House, when Dick Cheney had his energy task force, they were very tough about releasing any names, even though they have a lot of people from the industry at the table helping to write the plan. So, there is precedent.

But President Obama voluntarily decided to go forward with released some six million documents or pages of logs. And I think that there is -- it established a new commitment to transparency and to accountability that has now become sort of the norm for government.

And so, what the -- the Trump White House is acting legally but I think unwisely, especially given his record of secrecy starting with tax returns, going on to his golf game, for goodness sakes and now the visitor logs.

BURNETT: So, Jason, you know, this is something important, though, because Barack Obama was the one who started this. I think as David rightly points out, it is now the expectation that these logs be public. But President Trump repeatedly slammed Obama for transparency specifically. Let me play it for you, Jason.


TRUMP: President Obama is the least transparent president in the history of this country.

DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST: Why do we want to see President Obama's college records?

TRUMP: Transparency. Does that make any sense to anybody?



TRUMP: Seriously, transparency.

LETTERMAN: What does that mean transparency?

TRUMP: It means there are so many things we don't know about our president.

There's a total lack of transparency. This is a very, very sad day for the United States of America.


BURNETT: It's his even words, Jason. I mean, he sure sounds like a hypocrite.

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I got to set the record straight on a couple of things. I mean, first and foremost, this is a return to how it was set up during both the Clinton White House and the Bush White House. And with regard to the Obama administration, let's keep in mind that they redacted a whole heck of a lot of names that we were really never given clear reasons on to why they were redacted or why they weren't.

But there's the fact of the matter is, that there are security issues, are issues about who's coming in to meet with the president. Need to be able to do some of those in private. And the other --

BURNETT: So just redact those names. You just it yourself, right?

MILLER: No, but I think that -- look, it's never going to stop. We don't want to scare people from being able to come into the White House. I think the other thing, too, is I think it's hypocritical for these groups to attack the Trump administration. Why aren't they filing the similar type lawsuits against Congress? I don't see any calls to find out who each member of Congress has met with.


MILLER: This is completely overblown. This is totally hypocritical on their end. Absolutely hypocritical.

BOYKIN: Jason, I feel sorry for you to have to defend the indefensible once again. This is hypocritical on the part of President Trump. It's hypocritical on the part of the Republicans.

I worked in the Clinton White House. I remember when people in the Republican party were attacking Hillary Clinton, attacking them about the people who were meeting with Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton.

And now, for Republicans to come into office to have control over the entire government and have a president who has not released his tax returns, a president who has not divested from his business, who hasn't set up a blind trust, who won't release the visitor logs and to use your excuse to say, that's what Bill Clinton did, I thought this guy was supposed to change things and drain the swamp.


BOYKIN: He's creating the swamp.

MILLER: No. That's -- I'm glad you brought up this point. When you talk about what President Trump is doing putting the five-year ban on administration officials coming out --

BOYKIN: Don't change the topic now.



BURNETT: Hold on, both of you hold on a second. It's a fair point but I want to follow up on one point, Jason, because Keith and David both mentioned the Clinton administration. You really benefitted from logs, Jason.

BOYKIN: Thank you.

BURNETT: Last summer, the State Department calendars released to the "A.P." showed more than half the people outside of the government that met with Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, gave money to the Clinton Foundation. You remember that. You guys were touting that you were thrilled to have that information, right? It was pay to play, that's how you guys said at the time. So, aren't you glad about those visitor logs, right? You benefitted from them.

MILLER: I think the administration has made it very clear what the issue is here. It's security. We need to I think tamp down some of this apoplexy coming out from the press corps this evening. I think when you look at the what president is doing on draining the swamp --

BOYKIN: What is the situation, Jason? What's the issue? How is it that the Obama administration was able to release six million names? What's the security issue?

MILLER: But again, the Obama administration was redacting names left and right. BOYKIN: It's not a national security meeting. There are a lot of

people whose names can be released.


MILLER: You're going to say right now that every name that was redacted during the administration was purely for national security --

[19:35:04] BOYKIN: I did not say that.

MILLER: That's what I'm asking.


BOYKIN: You're going from six million to zero.

BURNETT: Let me get David in here as the person who's been there through, by the way, some pretty shady administration. We're talking about Nixon, right? Do you buy this national security at all?

GERGEN: It's total B.S.

BURNETT: There you go.

GERGEN: You can run this in a very -- you can regulate this. If you've got some -- as the Obama administration, which did, I have six millions it did redact some of them. That when they were important security conversations, but that's so rare. It has so little to do with this.

And by the way, as national security really was threatened when Congressman Nunes went in? Wasn't it helpful at the end of the day what he was doing in this? I think it was.

I want to go back to one thing that's very important for this conversation. This is not a left-right issue. The organization that's been really on the front line for a long time, trying to get more transparency, trying to sue to get these logs out is Judicial Watch. That's a conservative group. They're trying to set on both sides of the aisle, standards of transparency and accountability.

If the president wants to float those standards and norms, he's within his rights. But then voters are within their rights to make judgments about his secrecy and how much truth they're getting out of the White House.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate all three of your time tonight. There's a lot more to talk about and lime glad that we've started. That was fruitful. Thank you.

And next, one of the president's most trusted advisors moving up in the power list. He's a Democrat. So, how is this going over with Trump supporters?

And the Syrian president -- is anyone buying his unbelievable story that all of this fake video? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:40:54] BURNETT: New tonight, Steve Bannon on the outs and a registered Democrat on the in. The National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, stock apparently surging in the White House, now with Trump's ear.

Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump's inner circle may be getting another makeover, and so may some of his policies.

TRUMP: I think we have shaken things up, but I think we've had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency.

MURRAY: Chief strategist Steve Bannon is licking his wounds after a public dressing down by the president, who described him to "The Wall Street Journal" as "a guy who works for me." Now, Washington's favorite parlor game, parsing the Trump palace intrigue is kicking into overdrive, as the downfall of one aide appears to be giving rise to a lesser known face in the West Wing.

Gary Cohn served as Trump's economic council director, the former COO of Goldman Sachs is a registered Democrat, though he's also given money to Republicans. And he's been quietly pushing a more centrist agenda in the halls of the White House.

The success of the moderate faction in the West Wing, which includes Cohn, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and deputy national security adviser for strategy, Dina Powell, was on clear display this week.

The president insisting China is no longer a currency manipulator, abandoning this refrain from the campaign trail.

TRUMP: We are going to label China a currency manipulator, which is what they're doing.

MURRAY: And lavished praise on Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, after lampooning her during the campaign.

TRUMP: In my opinion, Janet Yellen is highly political and she's not raising rates for a specific reason, because Obama told her not to.

MURRAY: As the nationalist champions in Trump's White House appear to be losing ground, some internal alliances may be shifting.

Policy adviser Stephen Miller, a prominent Trump cheerleader on the campaign trail --

STEPHEN MILLER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Are you ready to elect a man who can't be bought, who can't be purchased and who will only answer to the American people? MURRAY: -- found a kindred spirit in Steve Bannon. Now, a senior

administration official says Miller has been branching out, working more closely with Jared Kushner's office of American innovation, and insisting Ivanka Trump and her policy pursuits on paid family leave.

As for the president, he ended the week noncommittal on whether a staff shakeup is in the works, telling "The Wall Street Journal", "From day to day, I don't know."

Now, this weekend, Donald Trump top staffers are taking a much needed break from all this West Wing turmoil and spending the Easter holiday with their families. President Trump is doing the same, hitting the links today at his golf course in Mar-a-Lago. It is his 17th trip to the golf course since becoming president -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Sara, thank you.

And next: new trouble for United Airlines. Another shocking incident on board. The victim is OUTFRONT.

And Syria's president says this video of dead children is staged.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: You have a lot of fake videos now.



[19:47:29] BURNETT: New tonight, united against America. The Russian foreign minister says his country and Iran now stand with Syria against the United States. It comes as Syria's president says children hit in a chemical attack of sarin gas aren't really dead.

Bashar al-Assad saying in an interview, quote, "You have a lot of fake videos now. Those dead children, were they dead at all?"

Yes, they were. Children died in the sarin gas attack committed by Assad. And Assad and his wife and children are living in an alternate universe.

Nick Paton Walsh takes us inside that world.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the world of most Syrians -- rubble, bombs, indiscriminate slaughter, even chemical weapons.

Welcome to the world according to Bashar al Assad where things that make him look bad simply doesn't didn't happen.

AL-BASHAR: We don't know whether those dead children, were they killed at Khan Sheikhoun? Were they dead at all? Who committed the attack if there was attack? WALSH: Denial is nothing new for a man who was an eye doctor trained

in London, yet has found himself a hated dictator. In his 17-year reign, he swung from reformist to murderous. U.S. missile strikes on talk from the Trump administration like this --

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.

WALSH: It's unclear whether that's on the verge of happening.

He denied that bombings like this have ever happened.

He's denied being behind this sarin massacre in 2013 before agreeing to give his chemical weapons up under pressure from Russia.

Denial pretty easy if your world is in a palace that you haven't really left for five years. In fact, this may be the only time Assad left war time Damascus in a military plane en route to meet Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin -- a public sign of the Russian support that has turned the war in his favor.

The center of Damascus is a lot quieter than the rest of Syria, at least now when the regime on the military front hurt. When a place is damaged, it's often repaired.

The Syrian first lady, British-born Asma al-Assad, once a brief darling of "Glamour" magazine, even dubbed, quote, "a rose in the desert" by "Vogue", can enjoy the charm she flaunts on Instagram, often sharing photos of her with her family.

[19:50:03] Assad never knew this lonely twisted roll was coming his way, rushing into the presidency after his older brother's fatal car crash, yet he adapted to it with terrifying speed and strategic patience, the last man standing in his warped reality, whose personal fate influences how much longer his people suffer.


BURNETT: And Nick Paton Walsh is with me now.

Nick, inside Syria, Assad clearly does have support. The big question, though, is how strong is his base?

WALSH: Pretty strong, to be honest. I mean, he is the figurehead for that side of the Syrian civil war, no doubt, and his international backers like Russia and Iran, keeping him in position, is sort of a key part of their global aim to some degree because so much of the diplomatic efforts to end the war involve Western powers saying he needs to step down from power and perhaps they focus too much upon his fate, making it impossible for him to step down.

If he leaves power, would the war suddenly stop overnight? Perhaps. To be honest with you, that's a pretty optimistic idea. This is an existential fight between two different sectarian parts of society. They're not suddenly going to lay their arms down overnight in the event that Assad does choose a different part for himself. So, basically, I don't really see imminently, unless some miraculously

odd moment takes him out of this world, that he's going anywhere at all, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Nick, thank you very much.

Important perspective, and just think about that family right there, them and their three children living in that fancy palace, posting pictures of perfection on Instagram, while those attacks are happening.

Tonight, one of the biggest threats facing the world could move incredibly fast and kill millions. Our new film "Unseen Enemy" examines the rising risk of a deadly disease outbreak.


DR. LARRY BRILLIANT: Over the last three decades, there's been about 30 newly emerging diseases that have the potential to be pandemics. If we do nothing, it's not a matter of if there will be a global pandemic, it's just a matter of when and which virus and how bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world changes around us at increasing speed. We cause a lot of that change, migrating to cities, stripping the earth of its resources, and altering prime evil jungle.


BURNETT: "Unseen Enemy" airs tomorrow night, must see, on CNN at 9:00 p.m.

And next, another shocking incident onboard a United Airlines jet. The victim, OUTFRONT.


[19:56:32] BURNETT: Breaking news, former New England Patriots football star Aaron Hernandez found not guilty of two more counts of murder. He was accused of killing two men in a drive-by shooting. But Hernandez isn't free tonight. He is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole for a separate murder conviction.

And now, another terrifying incident. A passenger stung by a scorpion, the United flight was headed from Houston to Calgary when the scorpion dropped from the overhead bin, landing on a passenger's head. This happened the same day that Kentucky doctor, David Dao, was dragged off the plane.

OUTFRONT now, Richard Bell and his wife, Linda.

I mean, this is pretty scary when you think about it. You're sitting there, you're completely captive. Richard, what happened?

RICHARD BELL, PASSENGER STUNG BY SCORPION ON UNITED FLIGHT: I felt something on my head so I grabbed it off my head, not knowing what it was at all. And I just happened to grab it by the tail, so when I was holding it, I was holding so that it couldn't really sting me at that point.

Then, a gentleman next door to us, he was from Mexico, and he said that's a scorpion, and it's a light collared one, it's very dangerous, so then I dropped it. So I was trying to get it off my -- I was eating, so it was on the tray. And I was trying to get it off the food tray, and it stung me on my thumb, right around my nail.

And then I kind of flipped it on to the floor and we covered it up on the floor at first, and the flight attendants were there trying to figure out what to do. And then a next door neighbor, he got off and took off a shoe off and he whacked it off with his shoe and disposed of it.

BURNETT: I mean, it's pretty scary. I mean, there are dangerous scorpions. You talked about the gentleman from Mexico saying next to you, said this was one of them. Look, a sting by some species can leave you with heart and lung failure. This can be incredibly serious.

When you were stung, Richard, what was the first thing that went through your mind?

R. BELL: I didn't think about it at all, I just thought of really getting rid of it. That's really all I was thinking about. And afterwards, you start, okay, what do I do? So, you start Googling on the internet. What do you do with bites?

Good thing we have Internet on airplanes now. And the flight attendants, the pilot was very good, the flight attendants were very attentive.

BURNETT: So, I want to ask you about that, because I know they had medical care ready for you at landing. Did they give you any explanation though of how this scorpion got on the plane in the first place, right? I mean, it was presumably just crawling somewhere on the overhead bins and just happened to drop down on you.

LINDA BALL, HUSBAND WAS STUNG BY SCORPION ON UNITED FLIGHT: Well, we had a couple that was returning from Honduras to Calgary, and they couldn't fit their guitar case in the overhead bin, so they put it above ours, that's the only thing that I can think of, because the scorpion was dangling.

I sat down and it was probably just -- it fell enough that he felt it on his head. So we don't know where it came from. But when we researched and went on Google, the first scorpion, which was like a wheat brown and, of course, it was poisonous, so here we are in the air not knowing if things go sideways, what's going to happen. So we were pretty scare.

BURNETT: Thank you so both very much. Appreciate it.

R. BELL: Thank you.

BURNETT: And thanks to all of you from joining us.

"AC360" is next.