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CNN Exclusive: IRS Shares Info With Special Counsel In Russia Probe; New Details About Russian-Linked Facebook Ads; Trump Blames Slow Disaster Response On Puerto Rico Being "In The Middle Of The Ocean"; White House Scrambles To Show Trump Is Concerned About Puerto Rico. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 26, 2017 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:00] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: -- poll numbers that still strange, but we'll find out shortly what the outcome will be, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And stay with CNN for the early results. Kaitlan, thanks very much.

Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next, breaking news. A CNN exclusive on the Russia investigation tonight. The IRS sharing information with Special Counsel Robert Mueller about key Trump campaign aide.

Plus, Trump under fire for his response to millions of Americans in Puerto Rico suffering after Hurricane Maria. Suddenly today, he says, oh, he's going to go to Puerto Rico, doing it because he got called out.

And the president claims he's not preoccupied with the NFL anthem debate, so why tweet 24 times about it?

Let's go OutFront.

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, the breaking news. CNN has learned that the IRS' Criminal Investigation Division is now sharing information with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This is about key Trump campaign officials in the Russia investigation.

Investigators are said to be looking at possible tax and financial crimes by the former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. They're looking at his records as far back as 11 years. Mueller and the IRS are also said to be sharing information about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

These developments come as we're learning Mueller's team could start interviewing current and former White House staff this week. Among those Mueller is going to be talking to, we understand, is the former chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former press secretary Sean Spicer, communications director Hope Hicks, and White House counsel Don McGahn.

Investigators are looking for documents, e-mails, everything related to the dismissals of Flynn and of course the former FBI director James Comey.

Also tonight, new details about Russian-bought political ads on Facebook during the election. We know more about them tonight and we're going to tell you. They range in topics from promoting gun rights to the threat undocumented immigrants pose to the United States. The key question is this, how did the Russians know who to target with those ads?

That is the big crucial question about collusion. Did they make the decisions just by following news reports and randomly throw it out there, or is there something more to what appears to be their sophisticated targeting?

We're going to begin our breaking coverage with Evan Perez in Washington. And Evan, you are breaking the story about the IRS and special counsel. We are now talking about tax returns. This investigation has moved to that crucial point. What more are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. This is an important development. The IRS is now sharing information with investigators working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This comes after the two sides were somewhat at odds for months over the scope of Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling.

Mueller's investigators initially wanted information on several people associated with the Trump campaign. Including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser.

Now, we're told by sources that the IRS had concerns because of what they thought were perhaps far-reaching and broad requests for information from Mueller's investigators. In the case of Manafort, the scope includes possible tax and financial crimes that date back to January of 2006. Now, that's 10 years before the Russian meddling in the presidential election last fall, Erin.

BURNETT: So Evan, your reporting indicates that all of this also comes down to the July raid --

PEREZ: Right.

BURNETT: -- of Paul Manafort's home, which of course was done as he and his wife were sleeping. Officers came in and broke the locks. What happened there?

PEREZ: Well, that's right. There were some tensions between the IRS and the special counsel behind the scenes of that FBI raid on Manafort's home in Alexandria, Virginia. Multiple sources tell us that the IRS did not participate in the July raid because of IRS objections that the search would interfere with a separate IRS investigation of Manafort. Now, we're told that the IRS and the FBI initially were cooperating on their own Manafort probe well before last year's election and before Mueller was appointed. The special counsel's office did go ahead with that search of Manafort's home with only FBI agents carrying it out. Now, that's kind of unusual for the IRS to sit out a search in an investigation that centers on tax and financial matters.

BURNETT: Absolutely. So when you're talking about an investigation, now tax, financial matters, money laundering, whatever it might be, does this mean the Special Counsel Bob Mueller now has access to tax returns, not just Paul Manafort's but possibly the president of the United States tax return?

PEREZ: Right, that's the big question that we've been asking here for months now. Now, it's not clear whether the special counsel has asked for or obtained the president's -- President Trump's tax returns. Sources do tell us that if Mueller's office does have Trump's tax returns, then the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees this investigation likely would have needed to sign off given the sensitivity surrounding this all.

[19:05:03] As for Manafort and Flynn, given the scope of those investigations, Erin, it's more likely that Mueller already has obtained those tax records. A former high level Justice Department official talked to us today about this and said that the information shared by the IRS would include anything tax related, tax return related, and such things such as real estate and banking records and metadata about the tax returns.

The IRS is very restricted in what information it can share, even with other government agencies, and it would normally need a specific grand jury subpoena in order to share tax returns with another agency. The IRS Criminal Investigative Division and the special counsel both declined to comment for this story, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Evan, thank you very much. Obviously significant developments tonight.

We are also have more breaking news on the Russia investigation. Facebook preparing to turn thousands of ads sold to Russian-linked accounts during the election over to Congress. And we're getting new information at this hour on what these ads were. How specific they were. Who they targeted.

These are the crucial questions. Manu Raju is OutFront on Capitol Hill with this breaking news. And Manu, what do you know?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, a whole host of questions have been raised by these ads, Erin. I talked to the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who made it very clear that the question that the investigators are now probing is how the Russians exactly knew how to target these ads. Was it simply that they had very vast knowledge of the way politics works in America, or were they getting some advice or any help from someone to help geotarget and help put these ads in key places that could change how opinions have been shaped. Now, some of these ads were aimed at just stoking antipathy over our divisive social issues and involves some very controversial groups like Black Lives Matter. Some ads paint them in both the positive and a negative light.

Now, Erin in the coming days, Facebook is turning over these ads over to Capitol Hill, roughly 3,000 or so to look through exactly what the Russians' strategy is. But I can tell you, I talked to Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr who said very clearly that this is just one platform, Facebook, in which they're probing.

Also, they want to get into Twitter. They plan to talk to representatives of Twitter this week and they want more information from them as well going forward. A huge new area of focus for this investigation now that they have learned about what this strategy was by Russians on Facebook, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Manu. There are so many questions there. The expertise of the targeting, but also that the ads appear to, at times, target both sides. At least to the Black Lives Matter issue.

OutFront now, a member of the House Intelligence Committee which is investigating Russia's involvement in the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro joins me.

Congressman, I appreciate your time. You heard Evan Perez reporting here, leading our show. From where your investigation is tonight? Is it possible that the crimes that we're going to be talking about here are limited to money laundering and tax fraud?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Sure. You know, the House investigation of which I'm part is of course separate from Robert Mueller's investigation, but it's totally possible that there are money laundering issues here and that he is following the money because there may have been crimes committed.

BURNETT: So at this point, from your investigation, do you have any evidence, any evidence of links, that any of this linked directly right now to the president of the United States? Whether we're talking financial fraud or collusion. Is there anything from your investigation right now that goes directly to the president?

CASTRO: Well, because obviously a lot of this is classified, I can't directly answer your question. But I'll just say that there are many troubling things that we found.

BURNETT: Do you think Robert Mueller has Trump's tax returns tonight?

CASTRO: I hope he does. I don't know whether he does or not, but I certainly hope that he does.

BURNETT: So when you talk about troubling things, I want to ask you about these Facebook and Twitter. And I know you talked about the need to have them come in and talk about their role and what might have happened.

Facebook said it would share the 3,000 ads it sold to Russian-linked accounts with your committee. I don't know how many of them you have had a chance to see at this point. Do you see anything specific there? Anything that makes you think, OK, this is a smoking gun, this is something we need to look at?

CASTRO: I have not had a chance to review those ads. I'm looking forward to seeing them. And as has been mentioned previously, the big question is whether any part of this was an inside job. Whether the Russians who purchased the ads and put them out there to sway the election were somehow assisted by Americans and whether those Americans were part of the Trump campaign.

BURNETT: And so that is a question, because the Trump campaign successfully and aggressively, as you know Congressman used social media to target voters. In an interview with Forbes, Jared Kushner actually gave them in a detailed interview about what he did. And he said, and I'm quoting him, speaking to Forbes. "I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting."

The article then continues to explain how in their words, "In a nondescript building outside San Antonio, Kushner had built what would become a 100-person data hub designed to unify fundraising, messaging and targeting."

[19:10:08] Now Congressman, we know the Trump campaign did this very well. They got voter targeting down, Russia obviously targeted voters. The Senate, obviously, intelligence committee chair Richard Burr says there's no evidence yet that there was any collusion between the two. Trump campaign and the Russians.

When you look at these ads right now, targeting on both sides, do you see any indication that they worked together, that they shared information or targeting?

CASTRO: Well, we still need to first review the ads and then bring in more witnesses to come to a conclusion on that. But I will say what's a concern is that they had a completely rookie team running the most consequential election in the United States and the largest election in the United States. The person who was in charge of their digital operation out of San Antonio had never run a campaign before except for a local election there that he lost.

So sure, it's possible that they hit a home run on the biggest campaign they ever worked, the first time. But we're going to have to figure that out.

BURNETT: So interesting. You're actually saying the targeting may have come the other way, the sharing. That the Russians had targeting and may have shared it. It's not (INAUDIBLE) but you're considering that as option. I just say -- it's sort of interesting, the way I posed the question, it was sort of more the other way around. But you're saying it could have gone the other way if it happened.

CASTRO: I think that anything is possible at this point. We don't know for certain. That's what we need to get to the bottom of.

BURNETT: So longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone testified before your committee today, Congressman. Afterwards, he came out, spoke to reporters briefly, he said he thinks the special counsel is trying to get Paul Manafort to turn on Trump, basically to turn in the bigger fish who would be the president of the United States. Here's roger stone.


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: I think what's happening here is that the special counsel will try to manufacture a crime and then say look, Manafort, we won't prosecute you for this if you simply admit you were colluding with the Russians and that Donald Trump knew everything.


BURNETT: Do you think Manafort will turn on Trump, Congressman?

CASTRO: I mean, that's hard to know right now. And I think that Robert Mueller's investigation has been a thorough and professional one that has moved at a brisk pace. And it's being conducted I'm sure, just like any other federal investigation.

BURNETT: All right, Congressman Castro, I appreciate your time as always. Thanks.

CASTRO: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, Trump says his criticism of NFL players has, quote, really caught on. Well, I'm going to speak with an NFL star who says Trump just doesn't get it.

Plus, North Korea on notice. The president said the United States is, quote, totally prepared for devastating, his word, military action. This as satellites tonight pick up disturbing signs of military activity inside North Korea.

And the president's explanation for why relief efforts to Puerto Rico have been so slow.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITES STATES: This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean and it's a big ocean.


[19:16:29] BURNETT: Tonight, the White House moving meetings and scrambling to organize a last-minute trip to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. In fact, it's so last-minute that a prescheduled meeting with the Thai prime minister will likely have to be moved. A meeting they already announced was going to happen.

So the sudden decision to go comes after intense criticism that the president simply hasn't done enough, and here's the reality. He hasn't really said anything at all, including from some in his own party, there's criticism.

Senator Marco Rubio saying, quote, returning from Puerto Rico now, tremendous damage, potential for serious crisis in areas outside of San Juan. Must get power crews inside ASAP.

Now the president telling reporters the earliest he'll be able to travel there is next Tuesday. Keep in mind, that's about two weeks after the storm. So you got thousands of people homeless and millions more without food and water and power. And of course, it didn't take two weeks to go to Florida or to Texas.

And today, the president is defending his administration's response. Here he is at the White House.


TRUMP: This isn't like Florida where we can go right up the spine or like Texas where we go right down the middle and we distribute. This is, you know, a thing called the Atlantic Ocean. This is tough stuff.


BURNETT: Oh, he flew to both of those places just like he'll fly to Puerto Rico.

Leyla Santiago is been on the island traveling to the hardest-hit areas. She's OutFront tonight with more on the growing health crisis.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane Maria battered more than the buildings of Puerto Rico. It crippled many of the island's hospitals in desperate need of fuel to keep generators running for power. At Hospital Del Maestro, two patients in critical condition died.

DR. JOSE DOSAL GARCIA, E.R. DIRECTOR, HOSPITAL DE MAESTRO: If the condition of the hospital will be normal, the patient would have more chance. We have more probability to manage the condition, but it was even though they were so critical, we don't have the facilities to manage that type of patient.

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: My biggest fear is that we won't get to anyone, everybody in time. And we're not getting to everybody in time.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz says she's getting SOS text messages in the middle of the night from hospitals and homes for the elderly, begging for diesel.

CRUZ: When I say humanitarian crisis, it's not a phrase. It's -- you can touch, you can feel the life just coming out of people.

RAFAEL MELLADO, CANOVANAS MEDICAL CENTER: All our back is against the wall. I mean, we don't have the resources.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Staff at this emergency room tell us they have enough diesels to carry them through the next two days. Rafael Mellado keeps the clinic in Canovanas running, and he says they have 15 days worth of medical supplies.

MELLADO: For 15 days, I mean, we're going to have -- we're going to have lack of money, lack of resources.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): That's the fear for the people trying to get through Maria's aftermath alive.

CRUZ: We'll make it. But there will be a long list of people to remember on the way.


SANTIAGO: And you know, when it comes to those two deaths, Erin, I was talking to the director of the emergency room there, and he was very clear that their prognosis was never promising, but also said why play with people's lives. Obviously, they have a better chance if there is power, if you have a focused team, if you don't have to worry about other things like basically running the hospital.

[19:20:01] And I should also mention, Erin, that tonight at the children's hospital, there's about -- there are about 12 children connected to ventilators that the director there says, he doesn't know how much longer he can keep that going without power.

BURNETT: Stunning just to consider that and talk about 12 children, and as the woman you just were speaking to said, that there going to be more lives lost here because of the slowness of the response. Leyla, thank you very much.

I want to go now to Retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore who oversaw the military response to Hurricane Katrina, along with Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst.

General Honore, it's been six days since Hurricane Maria, and just to give people a sense of how the world has changed so dramatically. On the top, that is what Puerto Rico looked like the night before Maria struck. And on the bottom is what it looks like now.

Millions of people have no power. The island is virtually dark. People cannot get food, they cannot get water. The House Speaker Paul Ryan is one of many to call this a humanitarian crisis. There are 3.4 million Americans on the island.

And yet the president of the United States did not send one tweet in the aftermath until he said, quote, they're in deep trouble, last night, referring to Puerto Rico. He sent more than 20 about the NFL and sports over the same time. None about Puerto Rico, OK, until he was deluged with criticism. Is this, General his Katrina, as some are saying?

RET. LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE: COMMANDED MILITARY RESPONSE TO HURRICANE KATRINA: It has very a lot of similarities. I'll be honest with you. During Katrina, I made a statement that the bureaucracy in Washington was looking at a calendar, and the survivors in New Orleans including myself are trying to get them out there, we're looking at a watch.

It appeared that the bureaucracy got boiled down in its own plans and did not activate DOD in a timely manner. Only the Department of Defense has the expeditionary logistics. Regardless of what we see, it takes logistics to solve the issue.

In the isolated place like Puerto Rico, that expeditionary logistics should have been moving since Saturday and Sunday. Something got distracted here. I think everybody got an opinion what it was. But we've got to do better than this and we've got to assure the people of Puerto Rico that if it happen again, it won't happen this week.

BURNETT: So are you saying when everybody thinks what it is? I mean, are you saying -- I just want to make sure I'm clear and not inferring anything from what you're saying. But you're saying the president was busy doing something else. Obviously in this case he was talking about people kneeling --

HONORE: Well, I think the president might have been playing golf. I think the secretary was on his way to India and the chairman was getting ready for his hearing this morning. We lost about three days of decisive time in putting the Department of Defense. I think the president was very clear today that they will have a major role.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made a statement that they're going to open the barn door and send everything that's required. But we've lost in the meantime about five days of response that we should have had the first team.

FEMA is a great organization, and I'm not getting into the patting on the back. They got there early. The problem is, they were running tasking through North Com for so many MREs and so many aircraft.

That mission should have been given to the Department of Defense. That is the plan we had for going to Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands when I was the First Army commander. And along the way, something changed. The National Guard was there doing the best they can, but they got to have resupplies, they got to have satellite radios.

All the stuff we needed in Katrina, but this time, you need it for 3.4 million people. Again, the bureaucracy looking at a calendar and the people looking at a watch wondering when the military would get there because they know they're the only force. We got to break rules.

In Katrina, President Bush said, Honore, evacuate the city of New Orleans, do what you got to do. On Saturday, a TSA agent told me everybody has to have an I.D. I overruled him and we loaded the airplanes. They're going to have to break the rules.

American airlines said they left with a half load of plane because they couldn't process them. You got to break the rules, put the people on plane. BURNETT: And Gloria, this is -- we have heard this. Right now, American airlines said they're going to up it to three flights a day, right, but they weren't allowed to change the number of flight. And because of terror concerns, there's all the scans that you have to do if people coming in. But you do scans, anyone who's come from Puerto Rico knows that. That wasn't being waived.

The president though, Gloria is now trying to do damage control, right? He shocked his own staff. They had put out the schedule, saying he's meeting with the Thai prime minister, and he said, oh no, guess what, I'm going to go to Puerto Rico on that day.

This is all after the storm of criticism, and then one of his last tweets just a short time ago, very different than his Puerto Rico is in deep trouble which offended so many last night. He says, "America's hearts and prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. V.I. We will get through this and we will get through this together."

Politically Gloria, how much damage has been done for him? I mean, he's trying to spin it fast here?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a problem and I think he recognized it. The first sign that we saw that he recognized it is that, when he did his press conference today with the prime minister of Spain, the first thing he did was talk about Puerto Rico.

[19:25:06] You know, this president understands optics better than almost anyone in public life, and he knows what's going on. And now they're sending the USNS Comfort over there which is something that some people argue the hospital ship that should have been sent days ago. I would argue, and not just because you're here, General Honore and some in Congress have proposed it, is that you do need somebody in charge like General Honore was after Katrina, to kind of oversee some kind of concerted military effort, to oversee a substantial aid package which congress should probably approve.

And you know, you need somebody to take command and control. And that is -- you know, that has not happened. And yes, there were reasons and maybe people were asleep at the switch, et cetera, et cetera, but now something has to be done, and somebody has to coordinate it. And it's not coming out of the White House, it has to be on the ground.

BURNETT: All right, thank you both very much.

And next, two dozen tweets later, Trump insists he's not preoccupied by his NFL fight. This as he brags behind closed doors it's really catching on.

And North Korea reaching out to Americans who they think will help them better understand President Trump. One man they want to speak to is my guest tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: New tonight, stuck on defense. President Trump once again defending his attacks on NFL players who do not stand for the national anthem, shrugging defiantly off criticism that he was preoccupied with the issue at the expense of things like hurricane relief or the healthcare bill.


TRUMP: I wasn't preoccupied with the NFL. I was ashamed of what was taking place because to me, that was a very important moment. I don't think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem. To me, the NFL situation is a very important situation.

I have heard that before about was I preoccupied. Not at all, not at all. I have plenty of time on my hands.


BURNETT: Well, president of the United States hopefully doesn't have plenty of time on his hands. But putting that aside, Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT at the White House.

And, Jeff, completely seriously, the president has no plans to let this issue go. He is defiant.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He does have no plans to let it go. But we'll see how much he talks about it in the coming days. There's no question at all today there was a sense at the White House that Puerto Rico was becoming a worse situation and the president was not talking about it enough.

But on those NFL, the whole NFL situation, the president believes he's on the right side of this. At a dinner here last night at the White House, he told a group of conservatives, he said, look, I'm saying what millions of Americans are thinking. And that is indeed his mindset on this.

And he's also, of course, Erin, trying to change the subject from a whole lot of bad news here. The health care bill collapsed again, the North Korea situation escalating, no good options. So, this is something the president can seize ahold to. There's no one necessarily on the other side of the issue immediately talking back to him, so he likes what it does for his base.

And, of course, he has an eye on Alabama tonight, that Senate race is tough for this president. So, the NFL situation is one thing that he believes puts him in good stead with his base. But, Erin, again, we'll see if he keeps tweeting about this. So far, it's 24-6, NFL to Puerto Rico.

I'm told by some aides they hope he talks more about the crisis at hand. Of course, tomorrow, he talks about his tax plan. We'll see if he's tweeting as well -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. And, of course, in that 24-6, it was zero until last night when he

broke the Twitter silence on Puerto Rico saying it was in deep trouble, which offended so many and has tried to recover from that.

OUTFRONT now, April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and John Avlon, editor and chief of "The Daily Beast".

John, you're next to me. Friday to today, 24 tweets about the NFL debate and sports. Six times in the past 24 hours on Puerto Rico. He says he's not preoccupied by the NFL. To me, just objectively, that would appear to be false.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, it's four times the tweets about the NFL than a humanitarian going on right now for almost a week affecting Americans. And that's something that people don't appreciate.

BURNETT: Which by the way, last night, we led our show with it was 20-0.


BURNETT: Right? People were calling this out. Then we started with 1 through 6.

AVLONB: Then he decides to pivot to criticizing Puerto Rico's infrastructure and its need for a bailout. Which itself doesn't exactly breed empathy and that moral leadership from the White House that doesn't seem to preoccupy him. He would rather engage in culture war conversations than deal with the responsibilities as president.

We see too often, whether it's North Korea, whether it's the health care bill. These are things that, you know, he has not only real responsibilities but an ability to enact. And instead, in the off- the-cuff comment, he says he's got plenty of time on his hands. Well, if he does, he should probably be focused on executing the job of president and trying to pass major legislations.

BURNETT: So, April, last night, you know, he had this dinner with conservative leaders, private dinner.

A source told CNN Trump spoke out about the reaction and said, quote: It's really caught on. It's really caught on. I said what millions of Americans were thinking.

He's referring to the NFL. I

I mean, clearly, April, he is proud that he is responsible for this topic dominating the conversation. This is what he wanted.


APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, Erin, you know, yes, millions of Americans are talking about this. His base likes this. Yes, we can give him that. But there are many more millions who are very upset. They're African-

Americans who are very upset. I mean, we saw Stevie Wonder take a knee. We have seen lawmakers talk about this.

This president exacerbated the issue. Now, mind you, there were NFL players who were taking a knee before the president made this statement. But because he did this, he challenged the NFL.

And these NFL owners who are mostly Republican, and this multi-billion dollar enterprise, wanted to make sure they stood by their million dollar players and locked arms. And basically, the NFL, and I talked to a lot of people today in the NFL about this. The NFL is saying, look, you will not challenge us. We will unify.

But at the end of the day, now if the president drops this, you know, it was the winning picture for the NFL, it was the optics, and it will go away. But if the president continues, and, Erin, I'm going to say this, this president -- this is not just for now. This is a beef that the president has had really with the NFL for a long time. They would not allow him to be an NFL owner years ago.

So, now, this is all coming back, and old haunts are becoming new again. And, you know, so this president, it all depends how he feels, what stirs him up.


APRIL: And it can either go away or it could keep on going.

[19:35:02] BURNETT: And, John, when you look at things when the media discusses them and there's bipartisan condemnation, the Mexican- American judge being one other example, the Muslim ban being another example, the tape about grabbing women's genitals another example. It doesn't end up hurting him. And in many cases, it ends up helping him.

Here we are. You're going to call NFL players SOBs, could this help him with his base?

AVLON: No, and I think we -- I want to be really clear about this. Yes, he got elected president of the United States. Despite all the things during the campaign that alienated many Republicans and folks like that. But we're talking about a presidency with a historically low approval rating.

And he may believe as a color commentator or culture war issues, he solidifies a portion of his base, but we're talking about somewhere around a third of the American people. That is not a success story, even if you dial it up to 40. And, you know, it's funny -- there were some Trump voters on a focus group this morning on CNN. And these were hard-core Trump voters and they were dismayed and disappointed with the fixation on the NFL.

So, I don't know that this is the political win he believes it to be. Maybe if he was a talk radio show, but I'm sorry, there are real responsibilities with the presidency. And he's letting down his supporters by not actually doing the job, let alone the rest of us.

BURNETT: And, April, you know, we had seen his approval rating tick up a few points in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Harvey. And yet here we are now, this issue has taken his focus off the ball when it comes to Puerto Rico. No matter what he says, it's clear. He lives on Twitter. He didn't tweet about it, OK?

Is that going to hurt him or no? Because he's certainly fixing it quickly.

RYAN: We'll see, Erin, because, you know, football, the major league sports, people love their sports. They want something to get away from the reality of the day. And they fixate on these players and these games. They actually feel that they're on the field.

And when you have a president who's interjecting his words, a president's words can move markets. It can send people to war. It can cause people to link arms and take a knee. We'll wait and see.

I mean, if the president continues down this road, it could cause, I mean, more, and also what this president did do, he has opened the door possibly to a football team saying, hey, we might need to look at Colin Kaepernick.

AVLON: He elevated the issue. I think that's the irony. He elevated the issue far beyond where it was before.

RYAN: He did, he did.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both.

Next, the Pittsburgh Steelers coach fired up about getting dragged into a political debate.


MIKE TOMLIN, PITTSBURGH STEELERS HEAD COACH: They're asking us about right or left. We're a football group. That's what you guys don't understand. We don't care.


BURNETT: And North Korea repositioning fighter jets and missiles tonight. Is Kim Jong-un preparing for a strike?


[19:41:24] BURNETT: New tonight, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers defending his team's decision to stay in the tunnel during the national anthem. Mike Tomlin saying it was about the team showing unity. It had nothing to do with disrespecting the national anthem. He also said it's not his job or his players' job to find middle ground on this issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOMLIN: That's for you political beatniks to ponder. We're a football group, man. You're asking us about middle ground. You're asking us about right or left.

We're a football group. That's what you guys don't understand. We don't care, largely professionally speaking. We have personal opinions, yes. Professionally, we're about to kick a ball off.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin. He was a former teammate of Colin Kaepernick, and says the violence in Charlottesville helped motivate him to decide to retire from football, focus on human rights issues. He's also endured personal loss at the hands of police. His cousin was shot and killed by a police after his car broke down and he was waiting for a tow truck.

Anquan, thank you for being with me tonight. I know this issue is one you have spent incredible personal time thinking about, making a decision in terms of your entire direction of your life. You're focusing on human rights issues now. As a player, though, I know you did think about this and chose to never take a knee during the anthem.

What's your view right now? Is it right for players to do that or not?

ANQUAN BOLDIN, FORMER NFL WIDE RECEIVER: I think it's every player's right, if they feel like -- if they feel the need to take a knee, it's more within their rights. So, you can't say that a player is right or wrong for taking a knee or not taking a knee.

BURNETT: So, you support their decision to do so. When you made the decision not to do that, can I just ask you why that was? Obviously, I know you think that there's race issues in America, so it wasn't because you didn't think there was a race issue? Was it an issue about the flag, that you thought it would be personally disrespectful for you? Or what was your thinking?

BOLDIN: Well, the reason I never took a knee was to make sure that the message was never misconstrued (ph). I wanted to make sure the message stayed the message and people couldn't point to me kneeling as a reason not to deal with the real issues that guys were trying to bring light to. I think the people that don't really want to address the issue, they will hide behind the fact of saying that guys are disrespecting veterans, guys are disrespecting the flag, or guys are disrespecting the anthem as opposed to just dealing with the issues that guys are bringing forth.

BURNETT: President Trump is sticking by his comments today, and I know you heard him, Anquan, attacking NFL players who don't stand. You know, he obviously called them SOBs, today he said they're disgraceful.

Now, some of the fans do seem to agree. I want to play for you a moment and I'm sure you have seen, what happened at the Dallas Cowboys game last night. (BEGIN VIDOE CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were very adamant about wanting to separate that message from the national anthem -- John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Lisa. As they take a knee collectively --


BURNETT: Obviously, Anquan, you can clearly hear the boos when they drop to their knees. The president today heard that and tweeted, the booing at the NFL football game last night when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees is the loudest I have ever heard. Great anger.

Anquan, is it possible the fans will support the president over the players?

BOLDIN: Well, I think you have fans that see it both ways. I think you have fans that stand behind the president, thinking that it's disrespectful to the flag, and then I think you have fans who stand behind the players and the issues they're trying to raise.

One thing that I would bring to light is, number one, kneeling during the anthem was not brought about through players.

[19:45:04] It was actually encouraged by a veteran that met with Colin Kaepernick. Number two, for those people who are saying it's a disrespect to the flag, you should go back and read the flag code. Because if you're pissed about guys kneeling, saying it's a disrespect to the flag, the next time the Fourth of July rolls around and people are wearing the flag on their clothes or they're using flag napkins or flag plates, then you should be pissed off as well.

BURNETT: President Trump says there were good people on both sides in Charlottesville, Anquan, when a white supremacist drove a car through a crowd and killed a woman, intended to kill people. In this case, the president says players who kneel during the anthem are SOBs. So, he doesn't say there's good people on both sides. He said they're SOBs.

Why do you think there are not good people on both sides for the president of the United States on this issue?

BOLDIN: Because it's an uncomfortable situation that he doesn't want to deal with. I mean, it's unfortunate that we have a president whose rhetoric is very divisive in this country. And I think there's other things that's going on in this country besides him worrying about a player kneeling or standing. We have a situation in Puerto Rico where people are actually losing their lives. And I think it's incumbent upon the president of the United States to pay more attention to that than he is to a football game.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Anquan. I appreciate your time. Thanks.

BOLDIN: Thank you.

BURNETT: Anquan Boldin.

And next, satellites showing North Korea moving fighter jets and missiles tonight. Is it another step closer to the brink by Kim Jong- un?

And it's a horse race in Alabama for Jeff Sessions' Senate seat. Polls are about to close. They're going to close in the next few minutes. Can Trump's candidate come from behind?


[19:50:41] BURNETT: New tonight, North Korea right now moving fighter jets, missiles and fuel tanks, a major move, pick up by U.S. satellites, surveillance. North Korea is readying for war coming as President Trump ups the rhetorical ante, warning today that the United States is ready with a military option against North Korea.

Here he is in the Rose Garden.


TRUMP: We are totally prepared for the second option, not a preferred option. But if we take that option, it will be devastating, I can tell you that. Devastating for North Korea. That's called the military option. If we have to take it we will.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Bruce Klingner, the former CIA deputy division chief for Korea. He's spoken with North Korean officials as recently as this past June.

And, Bruce, I appreciate your time tonight. I mean, I know that they're still asking for information, the North Koreans actually wanted you to come to Pyongyang this month to talk about president Trump right?

BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA DEPUTY DIVISION CHIEF FOR KOREA: Right. Well, you know, these kinds of meetings have been going on sometime between North Korean officials and usually former U.S. officials or academics. But after September 1st, U.S. citizens aren't supposed to or not allowed to go to North Korea absent a visa and for humanitarian workers.

BURNETT: So, in your prior meetings, I know you didn't have them in North Korea anyway. I mean, as a former CIA, you know, chief for Korea, I could see why. But this is information they wanted, right, about President Trump. Can you tell us about this request, what it is they wanted to know?

KLINGNER: Well, I don't want to go into details of the request. Certainly within the change of the administration that you would expect North Korea to be reaching out to people who perhaps have more access to the Trump administration than perhaps people that were inviting before. Also, those would more represent mainstream thinking on North Korea now, which is predominantly those advocating increasing pressure while leaving open the door to diplomacy as oppose to really leading with engagement.

BURNETT: So, the president called Kim Jong-un "rocket man" at his speech at the U.N. last week and on Twitter, of course. Now, it seems he decided that was either too light or perhaps too flattering, so he's calling him "little rocket man" on Twitter, which is clearly an insult.

Will a name little rocket man angered Kim Jong-un? Does this -- is he moved by that sort of thing?

KLINGNER: Well, we need to keep in mind that North Korea has been insulting U.S. and South Korean leaders for sometime --


KLINGNER: -- using very racist and sexist comments about leaders.

You know, I don't think it's helpful for the president to reiterate or to use sort of, you know, ad hominem attacks, in a way it really detracts from the main objective which is focusing not only attention on the growing North Korean threat and its defiance to the international committee, but trying to rally nations around the world for increasing pressure on North Korea to more fully implement not only U.N. resolutions but U.S. law and international law.

BURNETT: So, Bruce, when you went to Stockholm, it's where you actually went to speak with North Korean officials I know in June, you know, you not only been in Korea as CIA chief but also spent time with them. Kim Jong-un's true motivation and personality, of course, are mystery to many, a mystery that they desperately want to know more about.

What more can you tell us about him?

KLINGNER: Well, contrary to widespread, sort of misperceptions, he's not crazy nor was his father crazy. So he's not going to wake up some day and just start a nuclear war. You know, he is obviously a brutal terrible dictator but as "Los Angeles Times" recently reported, there is a CIA assessment about Kim Jong-un, that he is very ego-driven, that he's very likely to respond strongly to any kind of insult.

We saw the North Korea reacted to the movie "The Interview" but conducting a cyber hack on Sony Pictures, as well threatening 9/11- style attacks against U.S. theaters or U.S. theater-goers.

So, having the president of the U.S. might induce North Korea to do more a strong response than they otherwise would have.

BURNETT: All right. Bruce, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

KLINGNER: Sure. Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, breaking news, those polls moments away from closing in Alabama. This is a crucial night for the president. Can his candidate's president pull off an offset or does his own base desert him?


[19:58:18] BURNETT: Breaking news, moments away from polls closing in the crucial Alabama Senate race that's pitting President Trump against his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Trump and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, it's an unusual pairing, but it is a pair here, backing interim Senator Luther Strange, Bannon, and Sara Palin supporting Roy Moore.

Moore is the anti-establishment candidate, even arrived by horse today in a show to cast his ballot.

Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT at Roy Moore's headquarters.

And, Alex, the president's name is not on the ballot, but the stakes are incredibly high for him tonight if he can't deliver.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. And he took a huge gamble on this race and we will see momentarily if that bet pays off. The polls here are due to close in a few minutes. We are here at the watch party for Judge Roy Moore. We understand he has arrived in the building.

This race has been part of the fight for the soul of the Republican Party and we have seen these fight playing, this divisions playing out over the course of the past few days with the president and vice president headlining rallies for the establish candidate Luther Strange while at the same time Steve Bannon last night doing the same for the outsider candidate Judge Moore.

Bannon wasting no time at lashing, whipping, tearing into the Republican establishment, saying that they are the most corrupt and incompetent group of individuals in this country. Now, he did finish by saying that a vote for Moore is a vote for Trump, meaning that he does believe that he is making clear that he's not here to oppose Trump but really here to support his base. The president has made clear he'll come back and campaign for whoever wins this race. But this is a major test of the president's power of persuasion -- Erin.

BURNETT: Certainly is, and that base, which is of course so crucial to him and his own reelection.

Thanks so much, Alex. And moments away, literally seconds away from those polls closing, we got those results. Thanks for joining us.

Anderson is next.