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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Monster Hurricane Devastates Islands, U.S. East Coast Threatened; San Juan Mayor Says Blackout Possible For 6 Months; Hurricane Hunter Talks To CNN As He Flies Through Deadly Storm; Mueller Asks White House For Docs Related To Trump's Actions As President; Report: Manafort Offered Russian Billionaire Private Campaign Briefs. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired September 20, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:02] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next, the breaking news. Hurricane Maria leaving behind total devastation, 100 percent of Puerto Rico tonight no power. Could the storm hit the U.S. mainland next?
Plus, more breaking news. A new report says former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort offered to give private briefings to a Russian billionaire. This as CNN is learning Special Counsel Bob Mueller wants documents directly related to President Trump's actions.
And the deadly Mexican earthquake. A desperate search for survivors, now a race against time.
Let's go OutFront.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, the breaking news. Maria, a powerful hurricane bringing death and destruction across the Caribbean. The deadly storm is now considered one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever. It has moved off of Puerto Rico, completely devastating that island.
It's now expected to gain strength again. Slows down over land, expected to gain strength again over open, warm water as Maria churns north. Forecasters putting Maria on a possible collision course with the U.S. mainland. Models show the hurricane potentially impacting Cape Hatteras and the outer banks of North Carolina.
This is Maria as seen from space. Right now, sustained winds at 110 miles per hour and as I said, going to speed back up. It was a monster category 4 when it slammed Puerto Rico this morning.
High wind, heavy rain, storm surge, leaving the island in a complete blackout. Heavy damage to buildings and basically no phone service, no power. Crucially as we said, 100 percent no power.
We are getting a first look at the catastrophic devastation also on the island of Dominica. So complete that these first images are coming to us days after Maria struck there. We're going to have much more on that in just a moment. We are live in San Juan where Maria made the direct hit today. Also in the Dominican Republic where that storm impact is just starting to be felt.
I want to begin with Tom Sater though OutFront in the Weather Center. Tom, obviously, hits Puerto Rico as a category 4. Slows down over land, now continuing to gain strength. And people on the East Coast now need to be aware.
TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We do. All of the above. I mean, we missed a category 5 landfall, Erin by just two miles an hour so this definitely was the strongest since 1928.
What we have now is a category 2. The mountains of Puerto Rico, nicely shredding the system apart, although after of course Maria shredding parts of Puerto Rico. We've got a system now that we're going to have to watch because it didn't take long for this eye to reform.
I mean, I'm little surprised by how quickly this thing is getting back to strength. I mean, the waters are in the mid to upper 80s. The storm surge threat for the Turks and Caicos, up to 12 feet. That's actually higher than we have more so many islands of the Lesser Antilles which is up to 11 feet.
Lot of that has to do with the slow slope of the ocean floor. And of course with this system being a strong as it is, pushing in that direction.
If you missed it last night, about this time, Erin we were going through an eye wall replacement cycle. That was good news because usually, it loses strength. But by 11:00 by midnight, it was still gaining strength, up to 175 miles per hour.
So had to toss a prayer up to the big guy upstairs and hope for something because there's no wiggle room. It was going to hit something. First, the southern coast of St. Croix. Some of that interaction in the lashing of the coast helped break the system down a little bit.
Spared St. Thomas, they did not have the direct were hit, of course it was unexpected too, they were hit with Irma but still some strong winds. Then of course you get the (INAUDIBLE), now this is the other island right off the coast interacting with the eye there as well. By 6:15 in the morning, it had dropped from a 175 miles per hour to 155. And thought it doesn't sound like a lot, but 20 miles per hour is a big difference.
But now that it's made its way through, the eye is next on Turks and Caicos. I believe it's going to stay about 50 miles away from making a landfall there. But this is what we're watching now, Erin as you well know. (INAUDIBLE) in good agreement, obviously, there's going to be some separation on the next couple of days out, but it gets more critical.
Here's the new track from the National Hurricane Center. They keep it as a category 3. But with this rapid development we've seen the last couple of hours, I wouldn't doubt a possible category 4. By day four or five, we're going start to see more wind, that's shear, trying to break the system down.
So they drop it to a 2 on Sunday afternoon, and on Monday, a category 1. But really, where does it go from here? We know the waters are cooler. That's got to help the system break down.
But to help better understand Maria, we've got to talk still about Jose. Can you believe this system is still going on? This is still a tropical storm and we've had significant flight delays in the coast. But just like Harvey that moved into Texas, we knew they had 72 hours before landfall. But then we knew there was no steering current whatsoever, and it was going to stall and drop record rain.
But thank goodness this is dropping record rain over water and not over land, but we've lost the steering current. So when you look at the models and we'll put them into agreement here, they're going the base itself on this area of high pressure. If it hugs the coastline, this will slide Maria more toward working with the outer banks. And many some storm surge in coastal erosion.
Again, if it slides away, which is what we want, it'll take it off more to the east. But with Jose hanging out there right now, it gives us an indication that this area of high pressure is holding steady, so that's unfortunate for us now.
[19:05:08] We still have no definite answer of what's going to happen. Just moments ago, new models came in, European in blue, U.S. in red and they were hugging the coast. Just about 30 minutes ago.
They still a little bit but they're starting to edge away from the eastern sea board, is what we want to see. But Erin, we cannot be definite. This is several days out. This is Thursday evening, so again, every day is going to be critical to watch.
BURNETT: And as you say, such a record breaking storm here again and again. And then you're showing the ability to speed up incredibly quickly. All right, Tom, thank you very much.
As we speak, Hurricane Maria's deadly bands are starting to pummel the shores of the Dominican Republic. That's where Polo Sandoval is OutFront, he's in Punta Cana. Polo, what is it like there? Obviously, we can see the winds starting to coming in around you.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Erin and officials who we just heard from few minutes ago warning that it is certainly going to get worse tonight before it gets any better. Though the eye of Hurricane Maria is about 75 miles due east of where we are here in Punta Cana, we are certainly feeling the effects.
Yes, as you point out, those palm trees are surely waving around in the wind. Those are -- that's going to continue throughout the night. And there's also the threat for flooding as we heard from officials a little while ago. We are expecting anything from seven to 10 inches of rain here in the Dominican Republic for a country that has seen already plenty rain from Irma, from Jose that has potential threat devastating flooding. And as you're able to see some of these brand new pictures that we just shot by our CNN colleagues, you can definitely see that not only is there a potential for wind, but also for some of that flooding as well.
What does that all mean for locals? Well, for locals, many of them have closed their shop, they've gone home. The government will be shutting down for the next hour. That means nonessential operations will be shut down until Friday.
For tourists, close to 4,000 of them, Erin, they will be hunkering down many of them here in this hotel. Others possibly in some shelters as well because the airport here in Punta Cana, a very popular tourist destination for not only the United States but for Europe, likely not going to open until tomorrow afternoon, Erin. At least tomorrow afternoon.
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much Polo. Still amazing how many tourists still choose to stay. I know some of them probably did try to get out. But, still stunning people are still there.
Tonight in Puerto Rico as the sun goes down, everything stopped. The rescues, the searches, there are no lights. It is dark, entirely dark. And apparently, it could take months to get the power back on.
Just think about that for a second in the modern world. Months with no power. This is part of the United States of America. Leyla Santiago is OutFront live in San Juan, and Leyla, you are there. Fast destruction.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Erin. We have seen this develop from early hours this morning from 4:00 in the morning when it really picked up the winds, it still is a little windy. It still raining is a little bit, but I tell you what, the governor has said that they had actually just sent out the first crew of rescue teams that is going out into the area.
But you're right, power is a major issue. One hundred percent of the island without any power. And then the governor has also said that a curfew was put in place about an hour ago. And yet, you still see some cars that are moving around trying to get past flooding roads, trying to get past debris like this. This is part of the roof that actually a neighbor in the area told me when it came down last night, she thought the entire building came down.
And not one neighbor in this area has been able to tell me exactly where this roof even came from. Really making the point of how powerful and vicious Maria has been with Puerto Rico.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANTIAGO: OK, I know we had some technical problems with that story. But let me go ahead and continue to tell you, exactly what we have seen today.
Those shelters remain full tonight. They have 12,000 -- more than 12,000 people in them right now. The governor saying that power is out on across the island. It is expected to remain out for not just weeks, but possibly months because of the infrastructure here. That power system is very vulnerable given that this is an island with some major economic problems right now.
And it's not just this area where we are right now in San Juan. Right now, much of the island is seeing some major flooding. Much of those major roadways and highways are not passable because of all the damage on the roads.
[19:10:06] Communication, Erin that is also a major problem. Some of the people we've talked that have been still walking around past curfew, are on the streets because they're trying to reach loved ones. A lot of people unable to reach people by cell phone, by land line, by internet because communication is a major problem right now on this island.
So, again, flooding, power out, flooded roads, lack of communications. Really a hard time for Puerto Rico now that Maria has past. The rebuilding is just beginning, Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Leyla, thank you very much.
I want to go straight now to Richard Henning, you know him, he's the flight director for NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And right now, he is back doing his job. Flying over Hurricane Maria in the jet you see on your screen.
Richard, thank you very much for talking to us again. You expected this catastrophic hit. It has happened. There is no power in Puerto Rico and there may not be for much of the island for four to six months says the governor.
You're over the storm right now. We're obviously reporting, it is strengthening, it is gearing back up. What are you seeing?
RICHARD HENNING, FLIGHT DIRECTOR, NOAA (via telephone): Well, we're seeing exactly the same thing. We took off from Barbados this afternoon, flew across the top of the storm and now, we are actually sampling the atmosphere out ahead of the storm, north of Puerto Rico.
We're about 350 miles north of Puerto Rico taking some really critical observations with those drops on that we talked about previously, those instrument packages that fall by parachutes from our aircraft from 45,000 feet. They're going to get a really nice three dimensional picture of the atmosphere that's going to spear this storm over the next couple of days.
What we did see as the aircraft was above the storm is exactly what you see on satellite. The eye is very quickly reforming northwest of Puerto Rico. So the National Hurricane Center forecast that it's going to regain major hurricane status looks like it's right on track. It looks much better than it did just a couple of hours ago.
BURNETT: And obviously, yes, we saw the eye, you know, yesterday and then it did sort of get damaged of course by flying over Puerto Rico. Yesterday, it's that -- it's obviously sinister, but seemingly beautiful from space, and then today going away but you say that you anticipate what you're seeing is that is rapidly reforming.
HENNING (via telephone): Yes, it is. The thing to remember is that 90 percent of the storm did not go over Puerto Rico. The only part that went over Puerto Rico was the core of the hurricane, the eye wall, the innermost eye wall. And that did get severely disrupted by the mountainous terrain.
However, the rest of the storm, which is still pretty much perfectly designed, remains intact. So really, as long as the storm has given the opportunity to redevelop that inner core structure that it had before, or at least something close to it. It is going rapidly intensify back into a major hurricane. I would not be surprised if it did that by tomorrow morning --
BURNETT: So, that's --
HENNING (via telephone): -- because it's approaching the Turks and Caicos.
BURNETT: Which of course has already been decimated. But as you point out again, just like the storm has done before, intensifying so quickly. How concerned are you, Richard from what you see? What do you see in terms of the track and possibility of a strike on the East Coast mainland?
HENNING (via telephone): Well, right now, we're gathering the data that's going to be critical in those computer models that everybody sees now that the best forecasters in the world in terms of tropical meteorology at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, they are closely looking at those models and not only using the models but using their years of experience. And right now, for the time being, it looks like the United States might and I really want to emphasize might, be somewhat lucky and that the storm might stay offshore.
But again, everybody along the East Coast from probably North Carolina, all the way up to New England, needs to pay very close attention over the next couple of days because as your meteorologist pointed out, the lives of Tropical Storm Jose and Hurricane Maria are very much intertwined. It's a strange meteorological situation, but that is a fact that what happens to Jose is going to have an impact on where Maria goes over the next few days.
[19:15:04] BURNETT: Well, Richard, this is -- we're going the keep monitoring this as that storm rapidly hits the accelerator once again. Thanks to you. Obviously as we said, calling from within that storm.
And next, the breaking news. Sources telling CNN Special Counsel Robert Mueller is asking for documents specifically related to President Trump in this Oval Office meeting with Russian officials.
Plus, the Washington Post with a major report saying Paul Manafort offered to give private briefings to a Russian billionaire tied to Putin and the Kremlin during the presidential campaign. Is this collusion?
And the hunt for survivors of that deadly Mexico earthquake continuing at this hour. It is growing more frantic. The clock is ticking. There is hope for miracles. Can searchers find survivors?
BURNETT: Breaking news on the Russia investigation at this hour. Major new developments tonight. Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants new documents from the White House about President Trump's actions. Including a controversial meeting in the Oval Office between Trump and the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the United States.
Also tonight, the Washington Post is reporting that Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort offered to provide briefings on the 2016 race to a Russian billionaire, an oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.
[19:20:07] All right, these are obviously two major stories. Our Jessica Schneider is in Washington and Washington Post reporter, Tom Hamburger who broke the Manafort story is also with me.
Jessica, let me start with you so we can understand what documents here Mueller is looking for from the White House that have to do with the president. What do you know?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we know that Mueller's team, they want an array of documents and e-mails. That could potentially shed some light on certain key events since President Trump took office.
So first of all, sources telling CNN they want information surrounding the dismissals of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in February and FBI Director James Comey in May. One source confirms in fact that Mueller's team is also requesting information about an Oval Office meeting the president had with Russian officials one day after firing James Comey, where President Trump reportedly told the Russians that Comey was quote, a real nut job and that firing Comey had relieved quote, great pressure on the president.
Now, all this comes as we do know that Mueller wants to talk with some key staff both current and former like former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former press secretary Sean Spicer, current communications director Hope Hicks, and White House counsel Don McGahn but no interviews have been set up yet.
Plus in fact, Mueller's team wants to get the facts straight about what exactly happened on Air Force One when that first statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer was drafted. Of course, Erin, the president's lawyer is at that time said that he wasn't involved then several weeks later, the White House (INAUDIBLE) said President Trump had weighed in.
So, tonight, White House Lawyer Ty Cobb tells us he's not commenting. We'll only say that they are fully cooperating with the special counsel, but of course, Erin, all of this points to the fact that Mueller's team, they're zeroing in on the president's actions while in office. And of course, they continue to dig on any possible obstruction of justice. Erin?
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much Jessica. Obviously, very significant because these are documents of course that directly pertained to the president of the United States.
Let's go now to the Washington Post Reporter Tom Hamburger who broke the story on Paul Manafort. Tom, this is obviously incredibly significant. We're talking about that report, your report that Paul Manafort as campaign chairman just as Trump was about to be the formal nominee, reaches out to one of the most -- one of the wealthiest and most important people in Russia closest to Vladimir Putin, Oleg Deripaska.
He is close to Putin himself. What exactly did Paul Manafort offer Oleg?
TOM HAMBURGER: So, you know, Erin, in this vast (INAUDIBLE) of e- mails that's been turned over to investigators by the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization, there are series of -- that Paul Manafort had with a former aide of his, the guy who ran his office in Kiev. And as part if their discussions, he asks how are things going with Oleg Deripaska.
He asks about former clients in the region who have -- who may owe him money. And specifically, under apostrophe he says, if it would be helpful, we can offer him briefings. Now, Manafort spokesman, Jason Maloni has told us since that he offered brief that the discussions are really quite innocuous and that the briefings are simply to -- would be to provide information about the campaign.
He presented to us his sort of (INAUDIBLE) campaign briefings. But the person who would be receiving that is, as you suggested, a very unusual person.
BURNETT: Yes, and I mean, I can't imagine that it would be routine to provide briefings to someone who is in the inner circle of Vladimir Putin. You say in one of the e-mails that you quote here, Tom, quote, if he needs private briefings, we can accommodate. Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016 e-mail.
As you say, portions of these e-mails were read to you along with other Manafort correspondents. Tell us how close Deripaska is to the Kremlin, to Putin himself?
HAMBURGER: So he has been described in some publications as the second wealthiest man in Russia. And there was a State Department table that was leaked years ago in WikiLeaks which describe him as one of the very few people who are close to Vladimir Putin in Russia. So, he's a very powerful guy, one of the wealthiest people in the country. You don't get to that position of wealth and power without having a good relationship with the Kremlin.
I should note, Erin that there have been times when he has publicly had some conflicts with Vladimir Putin. But the two are believed to be very close. And as investigators look for ties between the Kremlin, prominent Russians and the Trump campaign, this is going to be an area where they'll be looking.
BURNETT: Yes. And we're going to be talking more about Oleg Deripaska in a moment. Obviously, he and Paul Manafort had a long relationship that included significant financial dealings.
And now, Tom the information that you have, these e-mails that you have been -- some of these that you have seen are coming from information that was turned over to congressional investigations and of course to the special counsel.
[19:25:01] How central is this development in the investigation? Because again, you now would have, from these e-mails the campaign chairman for Donald Trump offering to brief a Vladimir Putin confidante, thorough briefings on this election.
HAMBURGER: Yes. So, we think that these documents are being reviewed very closely by Mueller. They certainly are by three congressional committees that are looking at this. And I can tell you, Erin they do present something of a complex picture.
For example, while it shows Manafort wanting to use his position as campaign chair to recover some debts and maybe to offer a favor to a powerful Russian, they also show in one case, when a junior campaign adviser suggested that candidate Donald Trump meet with Vladimir Putin himself. Manafort rejects the idea and make sure to make it clear that Donald Trump is not doing any such meetings.
So, in some ways, it's an insight, a window into what was going on inside the campaign. And then one of the things we're looking at is there was more interaction with Russians than we've previously known.
BURNETT: Certainly so and who knows, but perhaps an awareness of Donald Trump shouldn't be doing this, but maybe I can. Who knows? Well, we'll see if that's what bears out as more information comes out. Tom, thank you so very much. Obviously, a huge report here in the Washington Post.
And next, more of our breaking news, our panel joins us including details on the Russian billionaire that Manafort reportedly promised briefings to. I'm going to tell you what Oleg Deripaska told me about his relationship with the United States.
And how Russia weaponized Twitter with a fake pro-Trump account to influence the presidential election. This is an OutFront investigation tonight.
[19:30:05] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And breaking news we're following on the Russia investigation, sources telling CNN that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is requesting documents from the White House related specifically to actions of the president, including his firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director Jim Comey.
Mueller also interested specifically in the Oval Office meeting between Trump and Russian officials in which he bragged about firing Comey. According to "The Washington Post" and "New York Times," there are 13 specific areas that Mueller wants document from the White House and president about.
We also tonight are following reporting from "The Washington Post" that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered to give a Russian billionaire with close ties to Putin private briefings on the 2016 campaign.
These are obviously very significant developments tonight. I want to go now to the former White House counsel for Richard Nixon, John Dean, former CIA chief of Russian operations, Steve Hall, our senior political analyst, Mark Preston, and editor in chief of "The Daily Beast", John Avlon.
Steve Hall, let me start with you and "The Washington Post" report. They're saying then-chairman Paul Manafort offered to brief this oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, just before Trump was formally nominated, offered briefings, plural. What's your reaction?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Erin, this is a big deal. At the very least, what you have is Manafort, you know, at that time, the campaign manager, offering to Deripaska, who he has to know because he's done business with him for a long time, has the know about his contacts with Putin directly and then Kremlin, and he's offering a private briefing for these types of things.
Now, if you're Russian intelligence, the way you're going to interpret that is as follows. We have a very senior person who might be close to somebody who could be the president of the United States who is offering private discussions to talk about what's going on in the campaign. Russian intelligence is going to be all over that.
Deripaska is plugged into the entire Kremlin system and if I were the Russian intelligence officer who's hearing this, I would say, yes, absolutely, you take that meeting or better yet, we do a more discreet type of meeting that's not going to be public, and we need to talk to this guy because he's reaching out to us and offering us information. It might not be secret information yet, but it's something that we can leverage and perhaps use down the road.
So, this is a significant thing that the Russians will interpret in a very, you know, way that's advantageous to them and not to the United States of America.
BURNETT: And, Steve, you're familiar with Oleg and you know that he is -- it is fair to say, right, that he is close to Vladimir Putin. He is an inner circle oligarch.
HALL: He's a senior oligarch. And, you know, whether or not, the inner circle question is always something that's, you know, sort of up for debate and --
HALL: -- as your reporter indicated earlier, there's the issue of, there have been types when they have clashed. This is basically just sort of disciplining that Putin normally does with many of his oligarchs. So, safe to say, he's very close to Putin and to other power centers in the Kremlin.
BURNETT: So, John Dean, you know, you hear all that. Oleg Deripaska, he's plugged in. He's connected. He could be, he's a confidant.
Deripaska obviously then linked to Putin. We have lots of images of them together. They spent a lot of time together. He's also close to Paul Manafort and this is something people may not know fully. Manafort worked for Deripaska at one point. They had an investment partnership with Deripaska poured $19 million into.
John Dean, what do you think the significance is of Manafort offering to brief Deripaska?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, it doesn't strike me as criminal on its face unless there was some quid pro quo between them, or this was a way to get a debt settled or it could be interpreted it that way. I don't think there's any restriction on him briefing, per se, I don't know of a violation of any law off the top. It's just certainly bad taste and certainly politically, not very advisable.
But it sounds like it could be part of something larger. And that would be a problem.
BURNETT: So, John Avlon, I actually went to Toronto to interview Oleg Deripaska a few years ago, and I went to Canada to interview because the United States refused him a visa.
Here's a small clip of part of our conversation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Let me ask you, though, about this, this whole issue and this everybody in the U.S. I say I'm going to interview Oleg Deripaska. They say, that guy is scary. That's what they say, that guy is scary. And I just wonder, when you hear that, does that make you feel good or annoyed?
OLEG DERIPASKA, RUSSIAN OLIGARCH: I pay no attention.
BURNETT: You pay no attention.
What about this issue of the visa in the United States. Do you think it's unfair -- I mean, obviously, every time you read about that, I know you've been trying to get a visa. They've refused it -- obviously, given some of the cases going on right now. Why do you think they won't change their mind? DERIPASKA: Why? Because it's very difficult. They have limited
information. They don't want to discuss the moment and actually I have no time to discuss.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:35:00] BURNETT: None. You know, "The Washington Post" -- no, it's a "Wall Street Journal" report that was because of ties to organized crime in the Russian mafia, according to "The Wall Street Journal." Oleg continued when he was talking to me, to criticize the expansion of NATO and say American leadership needs to change. Of course, Barack Obama was president of the United States.
How significant when you put this in context, this is a guy who's plugged in, who has a point of view, a point of view he certainly fits with the Trump campaign as then candidate Trump came out?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I mean, it's more deeply unsavory characters attached to the Kremlin who seem to be casing the joint with regard to the Trump campaign. The open question is, is Paul Manafort a grifter who comes in as chairman, who has this really, you know, shady pals and business dealings, $19 million partnership, as you point out, with this guy who himself is tied with Vladimir Putin.
Is Manafort trying to use the campaign? Because he's clearly offering a bridge to the campaign. And when you add this to all the other examples we have -- I mean, you've got a picture of a campaign that's got more interactions with Russians than they do probably with ordinary Americans in states they've written off. And the fact this guy is tied to the Russian mob, is tied to the Kremlin, these are not innocuous emails. This may be Manafort trying to see if he can get more money out of the guy, but there's every indication that this is nothing in the universe of normal in a presidential campaign.
BURNETT: Mark Preston?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, a couple of things. One, it seems like we talk about this every night, Erin. Another shoe has dropped so to speak. There seems to be more oxygen to fuel the fire that there was some kind of connection with the Trump campaign. Maybe not with Donald Trump himself, but certainly with his associates.
And I do think that our viewers are really starting to see the dirty underbelly of political consulting where these folks are not only making money here in the United States, but really trying to leverage the relationships that they have with lawmakers here to do work overseas for an incredible amount of money. Paul Manafort was certainly one of those people.
And you do have to wonder this as well. With all the leaks about Manafort, including what we have reported here at CNN about how they're going back many, many years looking into his past, are they trying, they being the Mueller investigators, are they trying to pressure Manafort to try to give up somebody bigger? It would be interesting to see how this really does all shake out.
BURNETT: And, of course, when you're talking, John Dean, about somebody bigger, that ties of course to the reporting, "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" tonight saying they want documents from the White House on 13 topics. CNN reporting specifically on what several of those are, but the bigger person than Paul Manafort as the campaign chairman, there aren't that many and certainly, Donald Trump would be first and foremost on that list.
DEAN: Absolutely. And the documents they are looking would deal directly with him. That will raise the question of whether the president will try to exert executive privilege on this. The White House special counsel has given no indication they're going to do anything other than try to cooperate. That's certainly been his position.
But this is a good test case. Their position is weakest in the area because of the Nixon ruling, the U.S. versus Nixon. That's where the subpoena, the grand jury, was shown to be effective where as congressional subpoenas don't work.
BURNETT: As we're seeing.
Quick final word to you, John. We're reporting on four of the things they want information on, the meeting -- the Air Force One discussion about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russians, firing of Flynn and Comey, and the meeting with the Russians in the Oval Office. That leaves nine other instances that the White House, the president's related to. They want documents on that we don't know.
AVLON: Watch that space. Those nine other categories, these can become big document dumps. If they've identified nine areas where they feel there's smoke and maybe fire and that they're not things that come to the top of the mind, that's the place to watch. There's much more here, folks, much more to come.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you, all very much.
And next, an OUTFRONT investigation. We have new details tonight about a fake pro-Trump Twitter account linked to Russia in an attempt to sway the 2016 election.
And desperate search for life. Survivors of the Mexican earthquake, some of them children, still being pulled from the rubble. Time is running out.
[19:43:08] BURNETT: Tonight, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says he'll be hearing from Twitter as part of its probe into Russian meddling during the 2016 election next week. The news comes as CNN is learning more about how Russia used Twitter as a weapon in its campaign to influence the election, using fake pro- Trump Twitter accounts to influence votes.
Drew Griffin has this OUTFRONT investigation. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twitter is saying it is not in the business of policing political thought or messaging. And that's whether it's coming from Republicans, Democrats or Vladimir Putin. And while Twitter will not confirm, Russian actors were using its platform to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, the proof it happened is adding up.
This Twitter account at Tea Party news had a following of more than 22,000. It blasted the Twitter world with pro-Trump, conservative, anti-immigrant stories and rhetoric throughout the campaign and among its followers was the now fired member of the Trump administration, Sebastian Gorka.
What Gorka and other followers of Tea Party News may be surprised to learn is the account has been outed by Russian journalists as being apart of Russian propaganda campaigning. The account has been linked to the Internet Research Agency, which a report by U.S. intelligence officials says is a shadowy company tied to the Kremlin. All part of the Russian government's attempts to meddle in the U.S. presidential race.
Twitter accounts created as part of the Russian propaganda campaign helped the Russians form an entire army of automated Twitter bots and trolls that overwhelmingly supported one U.S. candidate.
SAM WOOLLEY, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, OXFORD INTERNET INSTITUTE: Most of the accounts are made to look like Trump supporters but actually begin and end in Russia.
GRIFFIN: Samuel Woolley with Oxford University's Internet research group analyzed over 17 million tweets and found networks of automated accounts that retweet each other and played a powerful role in determining the flow of information in the 2016 election, some by foreign governments, attacking the U.S. through fake news.
[19:45:16] (on camera): This is literally manufacturing interest in a tweet --
GRIFFIN: -- by rapid fire repeating these retweets.
WOOLLEY: That's right. People like to tell me, propaganda's been around forever, but when I say when you computationally enhance propaganda, you have a much more difficult time parsing information and understanding actually what's going on.
GRIFFIN: Is weaponize a word that you would use?
WOOLLEY: They are absolutely weaponized.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Tea Party News has been shut down by Twitter. The company won't say why, but according to Russian investigative journalist Andrey Zakharov, the end of Tea Party News came just at the Russian media began exposing it.
ANDREY ZAKHAROV, SPECIAL REPORTER , RBC.RU: They stopped to operate it exactly after our investigation. The last tweet was on the same a day or one day before it.
GRIFFIN: Zakharov tells CNN the account was one of 50 such accounts. With more than 600,000 Twitter followers, including at least one member of Donald Trump's administration. Contacted by e-mail, Sebastian Gorka now seems to indicate he knew all along Tea Party News was a Russian site, telling CNN he followed the site for the same reason I follow CNN, he wrote, to know what the enemies of truth are doing.
Samuel Woolley says getting important followers to a Russian propaganda account was an important part of Putin's disinformation campaign.
WOOLLEY: The hope of the bot and the hope of the creator of the bot actually more pertinently is that someone picks it up and tweets it out and then lots of other people make it viral. All of those which are things were started at small trends pushed out by bots and then picked up by mainstream news media and politicians.
BURNETT: I mean, Drew, this is incredible. So, when you put all this together, as you report, we're talking about possibly 50 accounts or maybe more, but I know you're saying at least 50, 600,000 people following them. What is Twitter doing about it?
GRIFFIN: Erin, it may surprise you, but not much. But that's by design. Twitter is relying on its open platform to basically police itself. Twitter will remove and does remove accounts that are dimmed to be acting like automated spam or promote terrorism, or hateful conduct, but when it comes to judging fake news from the truth, Twitter's response is basically user beware.
The company's head of public policy wrote a blog about this, saying Twitter's open nature and real time nature is a powerful antidote to the spreading of all types of false information, and says this is important because we, Twitter, cannot distinguish whether every tweet from every person is truthful or not -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Drew, thank you very much and perhaps why weaponize is the right word, impossible to actually defend against that so clearly.
All right. Well, next, war of words. The president of Iran demanding an apology from President Trump for, quote, extremely offensive comments.
And desperate search for life in Mexico tonight. They are trying to save those trapped in the rubble including children. We're live there with the latest.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:52:03] BURNETT: Breaking news, a frantic scramble tonight to save lives including the most vulnerable children. Right now, rescue workers and ordinary citizens in Mexico are doing anything they can using their own hands to try to rip apart rubble, concrete and bricks, trying desperately to save children. Twenty-one children were killed at the school, others still trapped possibly in that rubble. It's a horrific thing to imagine, but a desperate race against time.
We've seen through the day rescuers raising their fists, which is a call for silence because they're trying to locate children who are still alive, including one young girl who they believe is still alive. It's just impossible to imagine this. This is a scene that we're seeing across Mexico after the deadly 7.1 earthquake. Mexican government says at least 225 now died, and that number will unfortunately rise.
Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT in Mexico City.
And, Miguel, you've been at that school all day. They are still hoping they can save children, including that little girl they believe is alive.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We believe that 8- year-old girl is alive and the pace is frenetic here right now. Let me give you a sense of just what's going on here. The heavy machines are trying to pull out a lot of the bigger debris that they've been pulling out of there all day, no longer are we having the long silences here, but instead, they are moving in stretchers and doctors and everything into this area.
But keep in mind: this is just one scene of many across all of Mexico.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Hand by hand, brick by brick, residence and rescuers alike are working around the clock to fine survivors of Tuesday's deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico. Here in Mexico City, 75 miles from the epicenter, all eyes on this elementary school where rescuers work to reach survivors they believe may still be trapped inside.
Immediately after the quake yesterday, these children were pulled from their collapsed classrooms. CNN's now learned at least 21 of their young school mates have died along with four adults.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, MEXICO CITY RESIDENT (through translator): Emotions are very difficult to control and see what is happening to our neighbors even though we do not know them. It hurts and we put ourselves in situation of parents and the children that are trapped in that school. It's really painful.
MARQUEZ: Across the city, scenes of determination as hundreds band together to remove debris and find the missing.
Others, like these teachers provide comfort to the tragedy's youngest witnesses with songs. And more help is on the way at this airport in Panama. Rescuers in
full gear lined up to forward flights headed to the disaster zone.
Here's what they will find.
[19:55:03] At this site of demolished buildings, handwritten signs and fists raised high requesting silence so crews may here calls underneath heaps of concrete. Still, the sounds of sirens are welcome here, a passing ambulance, a possible indication that someone's loved one has been found alive.
MARQUEZ: Now, they just called for another moment of silence, it is not clear what's happening now. They brought in several more stretchers and they have a fire truck, a very large ladder truck coming in now, trying to get access back there. Clearly, they are on to something.
It is -- what is not clear is whether there is more than one person alive back there. The 8-year-old little girl, we are relatively sure is a live, the Department of Defense here in Mexico put out a picture of a rescuer holding her hand. They were able to get water to her.
But they are disturbing signs. They asked for fentanyl, a very heavy painkiller earlier in the day. Lots of stretchers, lots of doctors and lots of nurses also going back there. But this is the scene in one place in Mexico tonight, but this is playing out in many, many places across the country -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Miguel. As we all hope and pray for a miracle for that little girl.
Also want to talk about the U.N. today, and President Trump who came out talking about the Iran deal. He said he's made a decision on what he's going to do. There is a big caveat. Here he is today at the U.N.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Will you remain the deal, Mr. President?
REPORTER: Have you decided to stay or to leave?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I have decided.
REPORTER: OK, can you tell us what your decision is, sir?
TRUMP: I'll let you know, I'll let you know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So maybe he's decided, maybe he hasn't decided. One thing we do know is that he told world leaders the deal was an embarrassment to the United States.
And Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, responded today, calling Trump's words ugly and ignorant.
OUTFRONT now, Tony Blinken, who is deputy secretary of state under President Obama when the nuclear deal was reached. You obviously a big part of this and you know a lot about it, Tony. Who is right here, President Trump, it's an embarrassment, or President Rouhani, Trump's words are ugly and ignorant?
TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I'd like to say neither. But here are the facts, Erin: the deal's working. It's a good deal. It has prevented Iran from speeding to a nuclear weapon. It's made us more secure. It's made countries in the region more secure.
So, when President Trump says it's an embarrassment, you know, the truth is I don't think he can tell you what's in the deal and I wonder whether he's even read it. The international organization charged with monitoring the agreement, monitoring Iran's compliance has said that Iran is in compliance with its obligations.
BURNETT: The IAEA.
BLINKEN: The IAEA.
President Trump himself twice certified that Iran is complying. So, if he turns around in a few weeks' time and decertifies them and says they're not compliant, on what basis? What's changed? That'll open up a big, big can of worms.
BURNETT: So, President Rouhani says if the deal collapses, Iran has a lot of options. And, obviously, he's talking bluster. I was with them earlier this week, look, they clearly don't want the U.S. to get out of this deal. They are talking bluster. But he says they could resume enrichment to a higher level, right, of uranium.
Is that a direct threat that they would speed towards a nuclear bomb if the deal -- if the U.S. gets out?
BLINKEN: Well, I think what Iran is saying is if the deal pulls out of the deal, then the deal is off, and Iran no longer has an obligation to stop enriching uranium to the high levels and it would have the material, if it chose to do that, get a bomb.
But here's the thing, I do think Iran will stick with the deal even if we pull out. We want them to continue to trade with Europe, France, Germany, the U.K., with Russia, with China, all of which has now allowed by the deal. So, the chances are, we stay in, and then we'd be in a real bind, because we would want to stop those countries.
BURNETT: And they won't.
BLINKEN: They won't. We'd have to try to sanction them, we'd wind up getting a fight with our closest partners.
BURNETT: As Rouhani said earlier this week, they got $200 billion and energy and construction investment needed and they'll go ahead with all those other countries and not with the U.S. BLINKEN: That's right.
BURNETT: So they have that stick.
But here's the thing, you got two missile tests earlier this year from Iran as you know, Tony. A missile test last year that Iranian state media said on the site of the missile, you know, they wrote, Israel must be wiped off the earth.
How is that in compliance?
BLINKEN: Well, the deal was just with regards to Iran's nuclear program. And we were clear from day one that this didn't dissolve Iran from responsibility for all the other things it was doing that are objectionable.
BURNETT: These are conventional tests.
BLINKEN: So, on one hand you get missile tests that are problematic but mostly, you have Iran's destabilizing activities throughout the region. Those are not part of the deal. None of our partners who negotiated with deal with us wanted to put other issues in the deal, Iran refused as well.
But here's the thing, we at least took the nuclear problem off the table for a long time, far into the future. As problematic as Iran's behavior is now in many places, it would be far harder to deal with if we had nuclear weapon. At least we've taken that off the table. We need to stand strongly against their other activities, but we need to keep the nuclear deal in place because it is making us more secure.
BURNETT: An interesting case. And Trump is conflating the two, perhaps not realizing.
All right. Tony Blinken, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
And "AC360" starts now.