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Three Ex-Trump Campaign Officials Charged In Russia Probe; Ex- Trump Campaign Adviser Sought "Dirt" On Clinton; Pleads Guilty To Lying To FBI; Paul Manafort, Rick Gates Indicted On 12 Counts, Including Conspiracy Against U.S., Money Laundering, False Statements. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 30, 2017 - 19:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Clarissa Ward reporting from Kiev in Ukraine. Thanks very much. That's it for me. Special breaking news coverage continues right now with "Erin Burnett OutFront."

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. "OutFront" tonight the breaking news, the clearest evidence yet of collusion. Three members of the Trump campaign are charged to plead guilty in the Russia investigation today. That guilty plea surprise bombshell, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser pleading guilty to making a false statement to FBI investigators about his contacts with Russian agents.

George Papadopoulos tried to set up multiple meetings between Trump campaign officials and Russian agents with the promise of "dirt on Hillary Clinton" and of thousands of her e mails. Papadopoulos lied about these meetings and he is now cooperating with Robert Mueller's team.

When asked about this bombshell today, the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tried to dismiss Papadopoulos completely and his role in the campaign.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was extremely limited. It was a volunteer position. And again, no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign in that regard.


BURNETT: OK. Here's Papadopoulos with Trump at a March 2016 meeting of Trump's foreign policy advisors. (INAUDIBLE) meeting those guys at the table and George Papadopoulos is there. And unless that is not be enough for you, here's Trump himself speaking to the "Washington Post" about that "volunteer."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George Papadopoulos, he's an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy.


BURNETT: Excellent guy, part of the foreign policy team. And by the way, on this word volunteer that Sarah Sanders used, Papadopoulos was a volunteer, just like Paul Manafort in a sense, right, who didn't take a salary as the chairman of the campaign and kind of like the President himself, right, who isn't taking a salary at all as President of the United States.

This breaking news on Papadopoulos is crucial, though, and it comes as Mueller charges Paul Manafort and Rick Gates with 12 counts of criminal misconduct, including conspiracy against the United States and $75 million of improper funds, including money laundering.

Both are under house arrest tonight. Their bond set at $10 million for Paul Manafort, 5 million for Rick Gates. And the charges could result in up to 15 years in jail for Manafort, nearly 13 for Gates. These are very, very serious charges tonight.

Although earlier, the press secretary, again, Sarah Sanders dismissed all of it saying it actually isn't about Manafort, Gates, or Papadopoulos, or even Donald Trump. No, guess what, it's about Hillary Clinton.


SANDERS: Today's announcement has nothing to do with the President, has nothing to do with the President's campaign or campaign activity. There's clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the President to influence the election.


BURNETT: Evan Perez and Jim Sciutto are covering every detail of this major breaking news in the Russia investigation. I want to begin with you, Jim, and then to you, Evan.

But, Jim, you know, this is as close as we have gotten to collusion, and the evidence that was unveiled today of George Papadopoulos in those e-mails, some of which refer directly to the campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is startling.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Erin, indeed. And remember, from the beginning until this recently as this morning, President Trump and the White House have dismissed both the allegations of coordination with Russia, and any meaningful contact with Russian officials, dismissed all of them as false.

In George Papadopoulos case today we learned of e-mails and communications that belie that claim in very clear terms. And in a court opinion just unsealed there is this language that says this is a matter of national importance. The U.S. is investigating foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion in those efforts by American citizens.

That's the -- those are the very opening lines of this court opinion that was unsealed today. And we see, in fact, progress in that case with today's revelations.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): It is a clearance evidence yet of Russian efforts to connect with the Trump campaign and campaign officials interests in responding.

Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos plead guilty on October 5th to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, tied to the Kremlin, including one claiming to have "dirt on Hillary Clinton."

The special counsel's office says that its January 2017 interview of Papadopoulos was part of a then still open investigation into, "whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere in the election."

Papadopoulos who joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 was in repeated e-mail contact with Russians to set up a meeting, first, between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump, and later between Trump campaign officials and other Russians.

[19:05:02] According to court documents, one foreign contact told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that he, "learned that the Russians had obtained dirt on then candidate Clinton." In May, Papadopoulos e- mailed a high ranking Trump campaign official who CNN has learned is former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort that, "Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and had been reaching out to me to discuss."

Manafort then forwarded that e-mail to another campaign official who CNN has learned is Rick Gates stating, "We need someone to communicate that D.T. is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

Today, the White House said that Papadopoulos never acted in an official capacity.

SANDERS: He reached out and nothing happened beyond that, which I think shows, one, his level of importance in the campaign and, two, shows what little role he had within coordinating anything officially for the campaign.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): But e-mails included in the court filing indicate that he did at times have campaign backing, including one in which a campaign supervisor told Papadopoulos, "I would encourage you to make the trip if it is feasible."


SCIUTTO: And he, in fact, had repeated communications with senior campaign officials, but beyond that just the timeline of events potentially telling. Look at this. In April, Papadopoulos is told that Russia has thousands of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. In May, Papadopoulos e-mails Manafort, of course the campaign chairman at the time about, "a request from Russia to meet with Trump."

It's the next month, in June, you remember that was the Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr. and Russians who were also offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. The very next month, July 14th, Papadopoulos proposes another meeting in August or September between Trump campaign members and members of Putin's office. The office of the president of Russia, adding, it has been approved from our side saying that it wasn't just an empty offer, but he got an approval from more senior officials in the campaign.

Then in August, a campaign supervisor, again, there are e-mails that prove this, Erin, encourages Papadopoulos to go ahead and accept a proposed meeting again between Trump campaign associates and Russians. There is a lot here in this file with electronic proof of those meetings and communications.

BURNETT: There is and that's part of sustaining about that. We're going to have more in this in a moment. Stay with me, Jim.

But I want to go now to the criminal charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and then this is substantial here, 31-page here, indictment that we're looking at. Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is "OutFront."

And, Evan, tonight Paul Manafort and Rick Gates under house arrest with between $15 million in bail between them. This is unusually harsh.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really is. I mean, if you consider that Bernie Madoff was, you know, had $10 million bail agreement when he was arrested. So this sort of gives you a sense of how harsh they're going after both Manafort and Rick Gates.

And then these charges as you described in these 31 pages, 12 counts in all, the alleged conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principle, that's basically acting as a foreign agent for -- on behalf of Ukraine, false and misleading U.S. foreign agents registration act statements, again, failing to register as an agent of Ukraine, and then when they did allegedly misleading the government and seven counts of failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts.

And, Erin, we're talking about $75 million that go through these bank accounts, these offshore accounts in Cyprus and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines places where according to the government they were trying to hide this money, $15 million alone that was spent on things like clothes and cars and real estate, even a million dollars on landscaping.

If you read this document, what the government is trying to tell you here is that Manafort and Gates were essentially hiding all of this money, trying to use offshore destination to wash it, and then they lied about it. BURNETT: I mean it's pretty stunning. And in the 31 pages obviously incredibly detailed as you point out. I mean, every single landscaping bill is in here, and by the way, there's something strange about the landscaping bills adding up to nearly a million dollars. I don't know what those were.

But, look, it makes it clear from your reporting, Evan, that Mueller wants to squeeze Manafort. I mean, what is his ultimate goal here?

PEREZ: That's right. I mean, if you look at this and you see them -- I mean, they're throwing the book at Manafort. And, you know, they're -- I think one of the goals here is to get Gates and Manafort to have, perhaps, divergent, you know, interests and essentially, you know, Manafort is -- they think might be able to flip up.

And so, who is above Manafort? I mean, you're talking about the campaign manager and so the persons above him are, of course, the President and other people closer to the President. So it's clear that this is where the direction that they're going with this case, Erin.

BURNETT: Right. Of course, there's a question of whether -- what Manafort would know about the President certainly related to Russia, but also possible financial fraud or crimes himself.

[19:10:07] Let me bring Jim Sciutto back here, Evan, because, you know, for both of you, the big question here is whether this is the beginning or whether this is the end. You know, we're now seeing, you know, these documents and a guilty plea. You know, Jim, you're reporting that these court documents about Papadopoulos in particular seem to be very much the beginning, part of a larger investigation.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, it's hard to imagine this is the end, and Evan knows this as well better than me, that when you have prosecutions like this the prosecutors will go and what they can get the goods on immediately and that is clearly Manafort's and Gates' business dealings are something that there's a money trail. You can document this in a legal sense very quickly, then you look for other witnesses who might look to help you out, and that appears what they -- it's funny.

We've been talking for some time, is there someone in this mix who might be -- who might begin cooperating, and you have at least one of those people, Papadopoulos, a name that was not on many people's lips before today is someone who we know that for weeks now, has been and as the court filing says, he's been providing information and answering questions for some weeks now.

BURNETT: And that obviously could be very crucial, because nobody knew that he was cooperating and certainly no one in Trump world knew he was cooperating. So, any conversations you might have had with them in that time, that's going straight back to Mueller.

So, Evan, do you have any indication when we talk about where this goes, and others that have been questioned. You know, we knew General Flynn, right, was of interest. Jared Kushner was of interest. Anybody else? I mean, are there other names like that still possibly on the table here?

PEREZ: Right. There's a lot of mystery about some of the smaller players, Erin, about whether or not they have come in and perhaps given some information to the special counsel. We don't know whether or not. For example, Michael Flynn has provided any information.

It appears that for all the speculation that there might be a deal in the making there, there isn't one yet. And part of the issue there is that Flynn just didn't do businesslike this for an agent representation, that is he was working on behalf of the Turkish government. He did it for a very, very short period of time compared to Manafort.

As far as Kushner, there has been -- according to him, no -- his representatives, there have been no requests for information from him. And so we do know that there is some interest in Kushner's dealings, but we don't know whether or not the special counsel believe that there is something there to bring his charges on.

BURNETT: Right. And, of course, again, the big question, as you say, when you talk about flipping up, the big question is, does this go to the President?

PEREZ: Right.

BURNETT: Thank you both so very much. And I want to go now to Jeffrey Cramer, former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Nia-Malika Henderson, Senior Political Reporter, and John Dean, President Nixon's White House Counsel during Watergate.

So, John, how momentous is today?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I thought it was a pretty big day. I thought the Manafort timing was very interesting and that they let that go out and follow up from the special counsel's office with the Papadopoulos indictment or their plea -- guilty plea they had there right after the White House had said, "Oh, there's nothing to look at here."

So I think it's a big day. It was well orchestrated by the special counsel. And certainly -- to me, that's just the tip of the iceberg that we saw today, and there's much more to come.

BURNETT: Tip of the iceberg. I mean, Jeffrey, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty. And when we talk about that, we learned about that today, we learned about all this today. But he actually pleaded guilty a few weeks ago, and he has been cooperating with the special counsel's investigation since July, but no one knew about it, right? Nobody knew about it.

So during that time, he could have interacted with Trump people, essentially as an agent of Robert Mueller and they would not have known it. How important is he?

DEAN: Well, when you read the indictment --


BURNETT: Go ahead, Jeffrey. Sorry, go ahead.

CRAMER: OK. I think that's crucial, because you're right, there's three months where he was dealing with the special prosecutor, but no one knew about it. So while he can't then be sent back in wearing a wire or something like that, would represented people, he can't be an agent of Mueller as you indicated and deal with representative people.

He can be sent back in wearing a wire dealing with people a little bit above him, who probably wouldn't have been represented at that time. So he had a conversation with this gentleman in the last three months.

You're probably viewing that in your mind because chances are Robert Mueller knows about the conversation and the chances are pretty good. He's probably heard your voice in that conversation.

BURNETT: That's pretty stunning. I mean, Nia, when you think about what we're talking about here and I think just to underline what Evan just said. You're talking about a bail here. Bernie Madoff was the same level of bail that they have put on Paul Manafort. That is the level of gravity with which we all need to understand the story should be taken.

You know, Trump tweeted today, Nia, that there is, in his words, all caps, no collusion. He tweeted the other day that, "It's now commonly agreed, after many months of costly looking, that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with H.C."

[19:15:07] Nia, tonight, though, we're at the closest we have ever been to just that.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think that is right. Donald Trump is wrong with that tweet essentially saying there is no there, there. We see today that there is plenty there, there and probably more to come.

If you look at some of the transcripts that had come out of the court sessions, it sounds like what we learned today from Papadopoulos is part of -- is sort of a smaller part of a larger investigation. It was really stunning to read his plea deal.

First, we got the Manafort indictment, that 31-page indictment, 12 counts. And then the Papadopoulos really detailed accounts of his e- mail exchanges with high level folks in the campaign, Manafort and Gates talking very specifically about Hillary Clinton e-mails and Russia.

I mean, this is -- you know, we use the word sort of bombshell over and over throughout the course of this investigation. I think this was one of those days. Well, this really was a bombshell because for the first time we really got a sense that there were conversations at the uppermost levels of the Trump campaign about Russia, about Hillary Clinton, and about e-mails.

You have the White House kind of still saying, "With Papadopoulos there is no there, there. He was just a volunteer." But my goodness, I mean, you read that account of his interaction with Paul Manafort and with Rick Gates and it certainly seems like there is, if not outright collusion, then an attempt at collusion.

BURNETT: Right. And that is the crucial thing here. And then from there, how high does it go? All of you are going to stay with me, as we continue to cover this major breaking news tonight.

The inner circle indictments, how big a deal are they? We're talking about Manafort and Gates. And where do they tell us about who is next? That crucial question of how high this will go.

Plus, President Trump admitting tonight that the indictments are causing worry and may affect his standing with world leaders. And Arwa Damon, the first reporter to get to the scene of the ambush in Niger, the very first reporter, she is there. She has our exclusive reporting "OutFront."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People here are terrified, confused, and reluctant to talk.



[19:21:01] BURNETT: Following the breaking news at this hour, President Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his protege, Rick Gates, under house arrest tonight after being indicted in the Russia investigation. Their bond set at a stunning combined $15 million. My panel is back with me.

John Dean, let me start with this point, because Evan had mentioned Bernie Madoff had the same bail as Paul Manafort. $10 million bail for Paul Manafort, 5 million for Rick Gates, house arrest. Their passports are taken away. They're only allowed to go out of their homes for medical reasons or religious imperative. What does this tell you?

DEAN: Well it tells me historically, there's never been a precedent like this with an independent counsel or special counsel investigation. I can think of none where these kinds of conditions have been imposed upon those who were subject or targets of the investigation.

So, that's unprecedented in that regard suggesting how big this is and how troubling it is. In fact, we're talking about really the internal security and national security on both the issues that are being looked at, both the fraud as well as the collusion issue.

BURNETT: So, Jeffrey, you know, when you take this up to the jail time that they would get if convicted, Manafort, 12 to 15 years, Gates, 10 to 12 years. If they turn in others, Jeffrey, could they reduce those sentences? Could they negate them entirely? I mean, I'm trying to get how much leverage do these charges, these fear now of being under house arrest for the next year this goes on, and then going to jail for 15 years. How much leverage does this give Mueller?

CRAMER: This is tremendous leverage. This is a very strong indictment, it was called the speaking indictment and that it tells a narrative. It tells a tail. And you can tell just by looking at the indictment what the special prosecutor has.

He has how the money was made. He knows the filings weren't done. He has the companies that were set up. He knows Manafort owns the companies. He has the lawyers that were sent. He knows how the money was taken out. He didn't get the mortgages that were done and lies to the FBI. So from beginning to end, it's a very strong case and a hard case to defend.

Having said that, and since he's looking as you indicated at 10 year to 15 years, there's a lot of fire under his feet. And I was a prosecutor for 12 years in New York and Chicago and have had defendants sweat for a lot less than 10 years to 15 years in prison.

BURNETT: I mean it's a long time. Paul Manafort is 68 years old. It's most likely a life sentence. Rick Gates, I believe, is obviously a bit younger than that, 10 years or so, but I mean, this is sort of the end of your life if you think about it in many ways.

I mean, Nia, the White House is now -- especially when you think about this leverage, the sweat that they're feeling, now trying to completely diminish Paul Manafort's role. Here's Sarah Sanders today when asked about his role as campaign chairman.


SANDERS: The President hired Paul Manafort to handle the delicate process which he did and he was dismissed not too long after that.


BURNETT: So, Nia, they're trying to say that, say Manafort's indictment had absolutely nothing to do with the campaign, except for he was the chairman of the campaign.

HENDERSON: He was the chairman of the campaign. He was essentially with the campaign from March until August, you know, 4.5 months, 5 months with the campaign at a really crucial time over the summer.

As Donald Trump is wrapping up the nomination, he is making sure that all of the delegates stick with Donald Trump. And as he's accepting the nomination and everything that goes on during the summer, you know, lead up to the general election.

They are essentially trying to use the, my name is Paul, and I don't know you all, defense. And you've seen them do that before. You see them do that, for instance, with Flynn. They had one point described Flynn as a volunteer. They also are describing Papadopoulos as a volunteer.

With Papadopoulos, it is true that he was a volunteer. Usually when people join campaigns like that, they are serving in a volunteer capacity, so that doesn't work. They're also trying to use sort of what about-ism excuse, use of what about Hillary Clinton, what about the dossier.

So I think -- I mean, we see today that they don't really have a great defense for this, particularly not publicly, and this I think is, you know, it's essentially political spin. It's not going to have any effect on the Mueller investigation --

[19:25:11] BURNETT: Right.

HENDERSON: -- which seems really rock solid, not a lot of leaks.


HENDERSON: I mean it is a surprise to everybody today with the Papadopoulos thing.

BURNETT: And that's good. It should be surprising people in the sense of -- I mean, obviously, you know, we're in industry that lives on leaks, but we also want this to be done with the utmost of integrity and it is important to happen this way.

I mean, Jeffrey, when you have three former campaign officials charged with crimes, one obviously pleading guilty to false statements, the one who was, you know, promised dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Russian agent. Is this just the tip of the iceberg?

Because I know, Jeffrey, you're saying you go forward with the ones you have that are rock solid. So does that mean the other stuff they have obviously is much less rock solid? Is there going to be a whose next?

CRAMER: I think there's definitely a whose next. And as they present you with -- proceed with the cases, they're able to make a document terry case against Paul Manafort. It's impossible to cross examine the document or wire (ph) transfer. That's what makes that strong.

But now you just wait. Now you wait for the people who may have spoken to you before, who know you're willing to indict for what's called 1001 counter, lying to deferral officials under the criminal code 1001. And now they're going to come back to you and perhaps clarify some of their answers.

So now I think there's going to be a lot of inbound traffic going to the special prosecutor for people they may have spoken to before while the Manafort case moves forward with a normal criminal prosecution, and then sooner or later I think he brinks.

BURNETT: And, John, on the blinking, what about this whole issue of Manafort and all this leverage that's been on him as Evan Perez says to flip up. And the only person above him was the President. DEAN: Well, that's very potential at this point, because as you said, this is a life sentence for him and it looks like a very solid case. When you also, though, read that plea agreement, you realize how little they are telling us because they say in that agreement, "These aren't all the facts we have." And those are pretty incredible facts. And they keep talking about senior campaign officials. So it's a description of collusion in that plea agreement as well.

BURNETT: And, Nia, the other thing is the charges we have today, right, are related to money laundering, conspiracy and collusion, but not about obstruction of justice, which as we all know has been a very important area for Robert Mueller, and we didn't hear anything about that today.

HENDERSON: Right. I mean, I think today proved how little we know about this investigation, right? And how it's being conducted in a way that we might not like in Washington, because we like leaks, but it is being conducted in that way, in a very serious way.

I mean, all the things we heard about Bob Mueller in terms of the way he likes to conduct the investigations, the way he likes to conduct himself just as a professional I think proved true today by the surprise. And that they have done this under the radar. They have done it quietly and there's a lot more that we don't know, and we're going to be finding out about it.

The press in a way that the White House in some ways was caught up by surprise I think today as well. And I think a lot of Washington, a lot of the nation is going to be surprised by what we find out in this investigation.

BURNETT: All right, thank you all very much.

And next the breaking news, reacting to the latest Mueller charges, White House officials, we are learning about the President's reaction tonight, that is next our breaking news. And the response tonight from Republicans in Congress, top Democrat is calling the indictment "chilling story of Blanton Law bringing (ph)."


[19:31:58] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Breaking news, President Trump reacting tonight to the news of charges and a guilty plea in the Russian investigation.

Sara Murray is OUTFRONT at the White House.

And, Sara, what is the president saying?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's had a couple of reactions from what we understand from sources. I mean, the first reaction is he seems to be kind of stunned that George Papadopoulos, who many White House officials are saying played a relatively minor role in the campaign, is now at the center of this controversy, and the center of questions about whether there were Trump campaign officials who were attempting to collude with Russian officials. That was one reaction.

But we're also told by sources that the president is frustrated. He's getting ready to head off on this big Asia trip. He feels like it puts him on less firm footing when he's getting ready to negotiate internationally. This in many ways has been the cloud that hangs over his head. And he certainly does not feel like he's in his strongest -- at his strongest politically, or in terms of diplomatic relations, when news about this investigation continues to follow him around. So, I think what we're seeing is continuing frustration privately from the president.

At the same time, publicly, the White House has obviously been defiant about the news today, insisting that it has nothing to do with the campaign, and also insisting that they believe this investigation is going to wrap up quickly, although they haven't offered any evidence as to why they believe that.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate it, Sara.

Let's go now to Democratic senator from Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who's been looking at Paul Manafort, and he's also the former attorney general for the state of Connecticut.

Thank you very much, Senator. I appreciate your time.


BURNETT: You just heard Sara reporting. The president is worried about this impacting his upcoming trip. Tonight, of course, his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is under house arrest and could be facing up to 15 years in jail.

Will Paul Manafort turn on Trump?

BLUMENTHAL: That's a big unknown. But one point is clear. These indictments and convictions show why I fought so hard for a special counsel.

And very tellingly, to answer your question, is CNN's report about what was said at the Papadopoulos plea proceeding, that there is a larger investigation of which this agreement is a small part.

Clearly, this investigation is in a sense just beginning. It's the end of the beginning. Not the beginning of the end. And we can expect to see more indictments.

BURNETT: So, on the issue of George Papadopoulos, because this is what goes to the heart of collusion. Obviously, the former policy adviser for the Trump campaign, he's pleaded guilty to bout lying to his contacts with Russians. But what we know and it's in great detail here from the e-mails, right, is that he talked about -- Russian agents said they had dirt on Hillary Clinton, thousands of e-mails on Hillary Clinton, as you can see here.

And then he continues to talk about his relations with multiple Russians, talking about a meeting that's been approved from our side, referring to someone high ranking at the Trump campaign and refers to Paul Manafort directly in one of these e-mails.

Is this in your view, Senator, what we have here from George Papadopoulos, is it collusion?

[19:35:02] BLUMENTHAL: It's very compelling evidence that points toward collusion, when it's viewed along with all the other evidence. For example, the concealed meetings, including Jeff Sessions, the June 9th meeting involving Kushner and Russian agents, and the meetings with the Russian bank with Jared Kushner, the outreach by the Cambridge Analytics to WikiLeaks and all of the kinds of collusion that are demonstrated by other evidence.

But here's another important point, the meeting that occurred on April 26th, and then reported on April 27th clearly went up the chain of command. And so, the contacts went back and forth, and Donald Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty from Jim Comey on the very day that this individual, George Papadopoulos, was interviewed by the FBI for the first time.

BURNETT: I mean, when you talk about collusion, though, you know, your colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham, has made the point, that just having these conversations with the Russians, whatever it might have been about, conversations are not a crime. Here he is.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I have no idea about the contact between Mr. Papadopoulos and the Russian professor was, it's OK to talk to Russians, it's not OK to get help from a foreign government when it comes to your campaign for either side.


BURNETT: Does he have a point? These conversations or meetings in and of themselves are not a problem. It's only if the information was actually exchanged, which we do not in this plea see evidence of yet.

BLUMENTHAL: And that's why we're still a ways from any sort of conclusion, any sort of charges of collusion against others in the campaign. But clearly, the evidence in this offer of proof at the time of the plea shows contacts aimed at collusion. And we'll see where the investigation goes.

BURNETT: You know, I know your committee, and you and I have been talking about this. You have been looking at Paul Manafort. You actually have reached a deal with him over the summer to negotiate terms with the an interview, hand over documents. But then he stopped returning your committee's calls. I know you're still waiting to talk to him and see those documents. Obviously, that's changed I'm sure with what's happened today.

What do you think he is trying to hide? Is there more than we see in these 31 pages, $75 million of income tax avoidance, money laundering? BLUMENTHAL: He was acting as an unregistered Russian agent, receiving

$75 million, and then laundering it through various real estate transactions and shell corporations in states where he could be prosecuted, if there's a pardon at the federal level. And clearly, he's hiding a plethora of money that came to him, but also this conspiracy against the United States that may involve others as the indictment clearly says, and he may try to protect others, but the special counsel is intent on prosecuting him.

COOPER: All right. Thank you so very much.

Senator Blumenthal, I appreciate your time tonight.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

COOPER: And next, the White House says the indictments have nothing to do with Trump or the Trump campaign. Of course, though, that's not true.

And a CNN exclusive, from the scene of the deadly ambush in Niger. With the only reporter on the ground there, our Arwa Damon.


[19:42:23] BURNETT: Breaking news, our Jeff Zeleny reporting that President Trump was seething over Mueller's investigation. Today, he watched the developments unfold on television in his private residence. This as the White House says this has nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, former Republican Congressman Jack Kingston. He was also a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, and former counselor to President Bill Clinton, Paul Begala.

Thanks to both.

Congressman Kingston, let me start with you.

They're trying to make this argument it has nothing to do with the president or the president's campaign. Why do they do this? This, of course, has everything to do with the campaign.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what Paul Manafort was doing from 2007 to 2012 was working for the Ukrainian government. He was only an interim campaign manager from about May or June 2016 to August 2016. So, it did have --

BURNETT: Congressman, he was the chairman of the campaign. He delivered the convention to President Trump. I mean, you can't be serious.

KINGSTON: Erin, Trump already had the nomination wrapped up. I actually --

BURNETT: He absolutely did not have it wrapped when Paul Manafort joined. I remember the first conversations I had with Paul Manafort. People thought Ted Cruz was going to win.

KINGSTON: No, no, no Erin, I have to disagree with you. I was going to be a delegate to that convention, because of that reason and I decided not to be a delegate because there was no fight anticipated. Now, I think building up to it, weeks out, you could say that there was discussion of that. But I can tell you that Manafort's deal was to try to secure the convention nomination, but that was it.

And I don't think it was a heavy lift, because it was wrapped up at that time, and he was fired immediately --

BURNETT: I'm just going to say, you're wrong about that. It was not wrapped up when Paul Manafort joined. But I don't want this to get into a debate whether Paul Manafort was important or not, because he was important during the time he was there.

KINGSTON: Let me say, now, you're right, when he joined, there was some question, but during the convention itself, it had been settled prior to coming to Cleveland. And he was fired afterwards because of his Russian connections.

BURNETT: Paul Manafort, OK.

OK, Paul Begala, your response as to whether this is about the Trump campaign, and, of course, we're not even getting at Papadopoulos who has nothing except for the Trump campaign.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's like arguing whether water is wet. The notion that the Trump campaign chairman was not connected to the Trump campaign is ludicrous. Now, we have the campaign chairman and another high ranking aide under indictment, they have the presumption of innocence, I will point out, as a good loyal American. And so, they have not been convicted of anything.

[19:45:00] But the charges look like they're serious.

And now, we have another Trump adviser who has pleaded guilty, Mr. Papadopoulos. What this tells us is, the Russians were not acting alone, and that Mr. Mueller has an insider. These are two terrible developments for the Trump White House. We know to a certainty, the man has pleaded to it, that he tried to work with Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. That's a huge problem for Mr. Trump about and now, we know that he is -- what's the phrase that the Mueller team used? Yes, proactive -- I forgot the word.

BEGALA: Proactive assistance.

BURNETT: Assistance, yes. BEGALA: Which, boy, that sounds like he's going to give them a lot

more. In fact, they say that in the documents, in the charge of documents, they say, this is just a small part of the story. I --


BEGALA: And through federal investigations, this is where it begins, but this is not where it's going to end. And Donald Trump should be seething because he's probably terrified right now.

KINGSTON: Paul, let me say, you would agree that Donald Trump is not responsible for things that Paul Manafort may have done before he was associated with the campaign, which seems to be where the focus of these indictments are.

BEGALA: Well, the focus of the Manafort indictments are today, but a brick is not a wall. And Mr. Mueller is an expert brick builder, wall builder. He's going to set those bricks in there one by one.

BURNETT: And Papadopoulos, Congressman, of course, is 100 percent about -- during the campaign.

KINGSTON: Let me say this about him. As somebody who's active during the campaign, I never met him, I never heard of him until today, he may have been the key player, I seriously doubt it, I would have known about it. Plus, his name would have been in the news and he would have gotten some job in the administration if he was a big trusted adviser.

It looks to me like he was a kid. He was one of the many volunteers in there.


KINGSTON: He was in a photo op with these volunteer advisers --

BURNETT: The president spoke about him specifically. He was authorized by Paul Manafort to have meetings with Russians, which could have provided dirt on Hillary Clinton in thousands of emails. You can characterize him in whatever way you like, but he was important enough to have those conversations.

BEGALA: Right.


KINGSTON: He was in those meetings, but everything that we have shows that those meetings were not accepted and the campaign did not --

BURNETT: But not by the campaign. He said they were approved by the campaign. So, OK.


KINGSTON: I don't know that they were approved, Erin. There were I think seven e-mails where he asked to set up meetings, and six of them --

BURNETT: Before we go, before we go, I do want to ask you, Paul, about Tony Podesta, a major Democratic strategist and Washington lobbyist.

BEGALA: Right.

BURNETT: Brother of the Clinton campaign chairman, of course, John Podesta, is now stepping aside from his lobbying firm, the Podesta group, and he's doing so because of these charges. Podesta Group, he's referred to his company be in Paul Manafort's indictment, we reported. The firm didn't fully disclose the extent of its work lobbying for the Ukrainian group tied to Manafort, right? Related into this lobbying in Ukraine.

Does this mean any Democrats are in trouble as well here, Paul?

BEGALA: Could be. And if they are, tough luck. I'm not going to put my party ahead of my country.

If Democrats were involved in anyway, they should pay the price. If the Democrats did something wrong, they should pay the price. But it is embarrassing to say the campaign chairman for Mr. Trump is not connected to Mr. Trump, or that campaign adviser who Trump himself named as one of his five foreign policy advisers was not connected.

When the day comes if it does? If Donald Trump is indicted, I'm sure we will hear, well, Donald Trump really had nothing to do with the Trump campaign. That's how absurd this has become. But I'm putting my party behind my country, putting my country ahead of my party, Jack.


KINGSTON: Paul, I'm with you on that, brother. America comes first, and with you 100 percent on that. But I also know that Paul Manafort did things outside of the campaign, prior to being part of the campaign. And you would agree to that. Forty-seven people were indicted when Bill Clinton was president. Now, I'm not blaming all of those on Bill Clinton.

There are people who are in the circle of --


KINGSTON: You can't blame everything on the candidate on their behavior.

PAUL: You're embarrassing yourself brother.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both. I appreciate it.

And next, Niger. Our Arwa Damon exclusive, she's the only reporter, she went to the exact scene of the ambush, you are going to see exactly where that happened for yourself. That exclusive is next.


[19:52:51] BURNETT: Tonight, a CNN exclusive.

Our CNN international correspondent Arwa Damon traveling to the site of that deadly ambush in Niger that left four American soldiers dead. She is the first journalist to visit this remote and dangerous place. And for the first time, you're going to see it, the place where this happened, the aftermath of that bloody ambush with ISIS fighters and you'll hear from the people who saw the attack.

Here is Arwa.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this vast terrain, it's the wooded sections that worried the Nigerien solders most. It's ideal cover for an ambush. So, they have (INAUDIBLE)

We're headed back to the site of an attack that has thrown this remote border region into a global spotlight. October 4th may have been America's first casualties in these lands but not Niger's. Their patrols regularly come under attack.

The ground outside Tongo Tongo is littered with heavy caliber machine gun empty shells (ph).

And we asked the soldiers were with if they know if they were fired by American or Nigerien forces.

(on camera): No, they can't be entirely sure because they used similar weapons they said.

We're only given 10 minutes on the ground in the village. People here are terrified, refused and reluctant to talk.

We tracked down the detained village chief's uncle and older brother and they insist the attackers came from elsewhere.

Initial reports were that the attack occurred some 10 kilometers outside of Tongo Tongo, after the convoy stopped and villagers stalled them.

(on camera): They were both swearing on the Koran that the American and Nigerien convoy never actually stopped here. That they just drove through the village. And when they hit the very outskirts, that's when they heard the first gun shots.

(on camera): And there are signs of the attacks every where. That's the school we're being told were burnt down in the attacks. It's a single classroom. We have to wrap it up right now, though, because our escorts are understandably quite anxious about spending too much time on scene.

But you can see how close it was to the village. They hadn't even made it out. (voice-over): Weeks after the attack, many questions remain, and so

too does the threat.


BURNETT: That's an amazing report, Arwa, I mean -- and one of the things, seeing you there, there seems to be a lot of open terrain right by the village and also, it does seem to be very small. I mean, people knew what was going on.

DAMON: Well, Erin, that's where it actually gets a bit confusing because the villagers are insisting that up until the moment that the first shot rang out, they actually had no idea what was happening. They said they didn't know who the attackers were. They've never seen them before.

They described a scenario where even they themselves were surprised by the attack. Yes, this is a tiny remote village. And there's that wooded area around it, too, that does provide the ideal back drop for anyone who wants to launch an ambush.

And the villagers were saying they've never seen an American presence in their area before and they never witnessed the sounds of the gunfire, the explosion that they heard during the time frame that the attack took place. And another thing that the soldiers were actually saying, Erin, which is that they were surprised when they heard about the U.S. and Nigerien convoy and its configuration because based on the threat levels that they've experienced in this area, they saw that that convoy that was ambushed, it was very lightly-manned and very underequipped for the type of threat that exist out there.

BURNETT: Of course, you know, it's (INAUDIBLE). But pretty incredible just to see what you were able to see there.

Arwa, thank you so very much -- going on the ground there and not afraid to get answers.

And next, more on our breaking news, the three former Trump campaign officials charged. One guilty plea in Mueller's Russia probe.


BURNETT: Tonight on CNN, a massive day, Robert Mueller's probe, three former Trump campaign officials charged. Don't miss the special report on the Russia investigation coming up at 11:00 Eastern.

Anderson is next.