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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
DHS Secretary Nielsen Nearly Resigned After Trump Berated Her; Giuliani Under Fire For His Defense of Stormy Daniels Payment; Giuliani: No Lengthy Prep For Trump For An Interview With Mueller; White House: Trump "Not Influenced" By Ex-Aide Selling Access; Trump Supporter: His Toughness Is "What The World Needs;" Trump Touts T.V. Ratings as He Greets Freed Americans; Kellyanne Conway's Husband Trolls Trump, Again; New Details About Michael Cohen's Ties to Russia, Ukraine. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 10, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. The president's Homeland Security secretary reportedly almost resigning after the president berated her in front of the entire cabinet. Kirstjen Nielsen is speaking out tonight.
Plus, legal troubles mounting for Michael Cohen as new reports reveal more ties between Cohen and Russia.
And Trump's tough talk rattling America's closest allies, but is his base loving it, and more loyal than ever?
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news. A cabinet in chaos tonight. President Trump's Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen telling colleagues she was close to resigning after the president berated her in front of his entire cabinet. According to "The New York Times", Nielsen reportedly drafting a resignation letter after what was described as a lengthy tirade in the White House from President Trump just yesterday.
One source telling CNN the president was furious at the lack of progress towards securing the country's borders. This report is just the latest example of a White House in utter turmoil. Many of the president's top advisers have been fired or resigned, several in just recent weeks. Trump's cabinet itself now holes a record for the highest turnover in a century. Just to be clear, a century is 100 years of American presidential history. It's stunning.
That statistic, according to NPR tonight. You see on the screen some of the key players who have been hired, fired or just gone since the president took office. Most recently the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, fired V.A. Secretary David Shulkin, fired Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, resigned, in his case under pressure over the use of private planes. Former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster resigned after the president publicly slammed him on Twitter.
It's a stunning number of departures given that the president has bragged about how just -- how great it is to work at President Trump's White House.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The White House has a tremendous energy and we have tremendous talent. So many people want to come in. I have a choice of anybody. Everybody wants to be there. And they love this White House because we have energy like rarely before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Everybody wants to be there. Well, it sure doesn't look like that from the facts. Have tremendous talent, well, for the members of the cabinet who remain, ethics is a major issue for some.
Just moments ago, the White House spokesman Raj Shah admitting that they White House itself has concerns about embattled EPA Chief Scott Pruitt who is under fire for serious ethical brief breaches, including spending and management. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is accused of wasting taxpayer money, same for HUD Secretary Carson.
Well, Secretary Nielsen is not the only official who is reportedly threatened to quit with all of this. One source telling CNN the Chief of Staff John Kelly, of course a mentor to Nielsen has made it clear he'd resign if the president wanted him to and if the president berated him like he's never been berated in his career. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also offered to resign, according to a source. Both of them have been spoken to in furious terms by this president.
In fact, "The New York Times" reports several weeks after Kelly started, the president lashed out at him and Kelly did say 35 years of serving his country he has never been spoken to the way President Trump spoke to him then.
Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT at the White House. And Jeff, Secretary Nielsen is speaking out tonight, trying to smooth the waters over here. What is she saying?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, smooth the waters as much as is possible, but not speaking directly about the potential resignation that "The New York Times" reported that she was close to reaching. Now, the reality here is every cabinet secretary who has been in the room with President Trump certainly has been under his fire, but nothing sets him off more than immigration.
And I'm told that meeting on Wednesday in the Cabinet Room was very heated, was incredible heated. She spoke back to him about it, tried to defend herself. She's hardly been a shrinking violet on this issue at all. So this is what she says tonight in a statement released just a few moments ago, Erin.
She says this, "The president is rightly likely frustrated that the existing loopholes and the lack of congressional action have prevented this administration from fully securing the border and protecting the American people. I share his frustration." She goes on to say, "It's my great honor to represent the men and women of DHS who work every day to enforce our laws and secure our nation."
So, again, Erin, not necessarily responsive to what is she going to do about it, you know, is she going to stick around? Is the president going to keep her around? The point here when you work for President Trump, you have to endure a lot of this. The question is, how long will people want to accept it --
ZELENY: -- and put up with it?
So in this case, the White House certainly not coming to her aid or defense. That statement from the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders simply talked about the president's issue and urged top crack down on immigration. Didn't come to her aid at all. Erin?
[19:05:00] BURNETT: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.
Interesting that her statement talked about her loyalty to the men and women of the DHS, not to the president himself, which is obviously very crucial here.
I want to go now to "New York Times" White House Reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis who was one of the reporters on this breaking news. Former adviser to four presidents David Gergen, and our Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston.
So Julie, let me start with you because you've been working on this breaking story. What can you tell us about what happened in this room? We're hearing words furious, angry, berated.
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it's very heated, as Jeff said. The meeting -- the cabinet meeting was in large part to discuss border security. That was the top item on the agenda. And we have heard the president in the last several weeks talk about how dissatisfied he is with the level of enforcement and border security in the country and he really went at Secretary Nielsen on that point.
There were other cabinet secretaries as well who were implicated. Jeff Sessions was part of the discussion at one point, the attorney general, but he really focused his anger on Secretary Nielsen. She did push back and there was an attempt, I think both in the room and afterwards by a lot of the other members of the cabinet, including Vice President Mike Pence, to try to sort of calm things down and talk the president down. Secretary Nielsen was obviously very angry and upset. But this has been a long time coming, it wasn't as if this was a sudden blowup that nobody expected.
President Trump and Secretary Nielsen have clashed in the past on this. He often expresses that he's not getting done what he wants to get done on this issue, and she feels she's doing what she can do. But I think there's also a sense right now of why is she in this position if everything that she is trying to do is not enough? It doesn't appear to be enough to satisfy the president.
BURNETT: I mean, David, it is pretty stunning, though, you know, because as Julie points out, there's been tension between the two before. But you now have the president berating her in front of everyone else in the cabinet. And by the way, you have a cabinet in chaos headline that had, you know, sort of been dormant for a week or two while we've been talking about North Korea and pay to play with the president's personal attorney, and all the other news that's out there.
You know, you're the cabinet secretary threatening to resign after the president berated her in public. And David, what's shocking is, this is not the first time this has happened, his berating people.
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Oh, it's happened -- I think he has a long history. When I first heard it, I thought, well, maybe there is a gender issue here. Maybe she feels as a woman she's being singled out. But if you think about it, you know, there been many instances. The one you cited General Kelly saying he's never been talked to like that in 35 years of public service.
Going way back to Michael Cohen, remember the bar mitzvah his child had and Trump openly berated him in front of a bar mitzvah, they got a crowd. You know, this is a voice of an angry child who has never really, you know, grown up and conquered a lot of his inner demons. And he lashes out periodically.
And you know, he gets in the way of -- and drives people away from him at the very time, say on North Korea, there is some promise in the administration, getting those three Americans back. The other crowning moment in there. He steps all over it with this kind of story.
And it -- she is -- I don't know if she's going to resign or not, but I would bet she will not last long. Because even the fact that she's been threatening this to resign, wants to think about it, will it tempt the president to get rid of her.
BURNETT: Right. And now, of course, you have this leaking out there, Mark. And the president looks bad, right? Berating, furious, blowing up in front of others. It looks at best out of control and inappropriate to do so in such a public setting.
And the fact is it's leaked out there. It's made him look bad. Does he recover from it and say, fine.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, there is no doubt he recovers from it because he recovers from everything. But, his type of recovery is certainly a lot different than, you know, the four of us that are sitting here discussing it right now. I mean, we have a different definition of it.
Just to pull back the curtain a little bit and what's happening inside the White House right now is when President Trump goes and he does this kind of public berating in front of others, what he's doing is that he's showing his lack of knowledge about the situation at the time. And by him imposing himself in that way makes him look like he's in charge.
This is from people who have worked with President Trump --
PRESTON: -- on these issues in dealing with him in the White House. And while you don't see a big outcry from the cabinet, you see them quietly, you know, consoling her or trying to help her is because they realize that if they publicly go after him or if they challenge him for what he said, they will become the next victim of President Trump and nobody wants that. 2 BURNETT: I mean -- and that's the thing about this, Julie. You know, this was a meeting of the entire cabinet. Of course we all know this is a group the president has forced to do meetings with right in front of the television cameras before, right? When he had them, you know, profess their loyalty to him.
I mean, here's a taste of what we've seen when the cameras are on in these meetings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can't thank you enough for the privilege that you've given me and the leadership you've shown.
[19:10:00] REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. President, thank you for the honor to serve the country. It's a great privilege you've given me.
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right. All three of those cabinet members are gone, just to make the point, but it went around the room and everybody had to do this. I mean, Julie, are the president's closest team members losing patience with him?
DAVIS: Well, I do think this is all part of the job if you're in President Trump's cabinet. As David said earlier, there is like sort of a ritual humiliation that goes on every now and again. And you are expected to kind of speak up on behalf of the president in a way that previous White Houses -- that was not involved in the cabinet job description.
Let's not forget that Secretary Nielsen, one of her earliest deeds in this job was to go to Capitol Hill and testify, and she was asked about that famous Oval Office meeting where President Trump used a vulgarity to describe African nations. And she sat there in front of the committee in the Senate and told them that, no, that had not happened. And she pushed back, when, of course, she'd been in that meeting. And we know from many, many sources that it had happened.
So -- I mean, she had -- that's the sorts of things that, you know, his cabinet members have to do. And so, she's very familiar with that. And -- so I think that makes it all the more bitter when --
DAVIS: -- either behind closed doors or in public they get this kind of treatment from the president.
BURNETT: Well, because you realize, David, that, you know, no matter what you're willing to do to humiliate yourself publicly, he'll still do this to you. That's what Kirstjen Nielsen learned today.
GERGEN: I agree. And I think it goes through not just the way he treats his own people, with so much disrespect. It's increasingly the pattern we see around the world. It was international relations. The bullying quality.
He's a -- he's relentlessly a bully with everything and everybody. That's what the Europeans have felt here recently on the Iran agreement and on the trade that they're forcing him, you know, that -- you know, he's brought that to other parts of the world. He's trying to bully the Chinese. And he's trying to bully in the Middle East.
GERGEN: It is a -- it's a pattern that -- and a really powerful nation can serve him well, but it's the pattern of an authoritarian. It's the pattern of somebody who can't get enough power.
BURNETT: And Mark, what happens next here, right? The deputy press secretary, as I pointed out really for the first time just directly admitting there are ethics challenges with Tom Price. They expect he'll be able to answer to them, but they're saying he does, indeed, have to answer to them.
So now you have Kirstjen Nielsen threatening to resign. Tom Price -- I'm sorry Pruitt, Scott Pruitt. I confused Tom Price in the intro, on the rocks here as we know in Congress but now possibly from this White House. Will there be more departures in the near future?
PRESTON: Well, if you are Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, he does not want to see any more departures. They're having a tough enough time getting through their CIA chief, you know --
PRESTON: -- given what her background is. But look what could happen. You are going into an election right now where all Senate Republicans want to do is try to get as many judges through the chamber as possible for fear that they will lose control of the chamber in this election. They don't want to have to deal with having to go through a whole new round of confirmation hearings for a Homeland Security director, for an EPA administrator or for anybody else right now. BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much.
And next, more breaking news. The White House tonight denying Trump's personal attorney was able to sell access to the president. This as we're learning more about the money Michael Cohen was getting. And hey, there's a whole lot more of it than we knew even a few hours ago.
Plus, a White House official mocking John McCain's health, saying, quote, he's dying anyway.
And Trump's tough talk on the world stage. How is it going over in Trump country?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How are you feeling?
RON FARSTER, TRUMP VOTER: Great, great. We finally got somebody with some balls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:17:29] BURNETT: Breaking news. The White House firing back after reports that President Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen was selling access to the president. The White House Spokesman Raj Shah telling reporters tonight, quote, the president makes up his own mind about policy matters. He's not influenced by the kinds of things that you are referencing.
This is the president's new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, tells CNN today that President Trump, quote, wasn't aware that Cohen was profiting off his ties to Trump. And now Giuliani is under fire from his own law firm. The firm and Giuliani today parting ways because the firm in its statement is taking serious issue with comments that Giuliani made. You remember his claims it would be totally normal for Michael Cohen to pay a porn star $130,000 without his client, Donald Trump in this case, even knowing about it?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do out of his law firm funds or whatever funds, doesn't matter. I take care of things like this for my clients. I don't burden them with every single thing that comes along.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OK. The firm is slamming Giuliani. And they issued a statement that reads in part, quote, speaking for ourselves, we would not condone payments of the nature alleged to have been made or otherwise without the knowledge and direction of a client.
That's pretty much as nasty as it can get. It sounds like in legal language to say about someone who you were working with a day ago.
OUTFRONT now, Harry Sandick, former Assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York where of course Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation, and Anne Milgram, the former New Jersey attorney general.
OK, thanks to both. Harry, this law firm clearly lived it.
HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes.
BURNETT: I mean, I'm saying this is what, at best, unethical?
SANDICK: Yes, I think that's right. There are ethics rules that apply here. It's also totally not conventional and the firm wants to make clear to anyone who's listening that they're not endorsing the description of what normal life is like at this firm. This is a firm that many years ago had an issue with Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist.
ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL: He worked there.
SANDICK: He worked there before he was put through the criminal process. So they want to make clear that this is not normal. A normal disbursement is like you print briefs for a $1,000 or something. That you might do without specifically clearing with your client. You wouldn't do this without clearing it with your client.
BURNETT: I mean, and if you do, I don't know what it says about your client. Anne, it would be pretty shocking. A $130,000 here or there. Who cars? I mean, it's stunning.
MILGRAM: Yes, it just not done. I mean, this is not what lawyers do. There's no version of this that I think anyone who practices law would say is appropriate or normal. I mean, there are ethics rules that prohibit this kind of thing. And it just -- it also doesn't make any sense, what lawyer would put out a $130,000 on behalf of their client without an agreement to have it paid back?
[19:20:06] Like, it just -- it sort of I think defies understanding.
BURNETT: And so when they say in the statement, speaking for ourselves, we would not condone payments of the nature alleged to have been made or otherwise without the knowledge and direction of a client. Sounds like they're either saying, right, that he was doing something, as I said, at best unethical.
BURNETT: Or that he's lying, and, you know, he -- Cohen did know.
MILGRAM: Well, I mean, for the law firm, I think this is potentially with equal disbarment what Cohen --
MILGRAM: -- done with the payment. I mean, it's a significant step for him to pay that level of money and then to say he was making that action without a client's understanding or knowledge. So we don't know that for certain, but it's -- this is a very serious thing that Michael Cohen has done and basically saying I paid a $130,000 personally from my home mortgage equity loan and I didn't -- my client had no knowledge of that, and I didn't have any expectations of, you know, whether I would be paid back.
BURNETT: So you're talking disbarrable, putting aside whether there's, you know, bank fraud or whatever else may be here in the criminal investigation that could result in jail time. At least, you know, losing your license to practice law.
I mean, Harry, you know, this also comes as Giuliani is saying the president has -- there's been no prep sessions, no lengthy ones, nothing formal to prepare him for an interview with the special counsel. But if they do, it's just two days of prep, that's all it's going to take.
SANDICK: That's hard to believe. You know, just based on my own experience, preparing clients either for depositions in major commercial cases or for meetings with the U.S. attorney's office, the Department of Justice, you do a lot more than two days of prep for an important meeting like that.
And also, it has to unfold over a long period of time so the witness can really catch on to what you're telling them about the process so they can review all of the documents. This is a very complicated investigation. It would be very surprising if this were a two-day prep.
BURNETT: I mean, which you know, as I said, as a lay person seemed shocking. But it's interesting you both as lawyers, I know Anne, you also agree with that.
MILGRAM: Yes. And you also -- you really need to figure out how is he answering questions, and then work through the right way to answer a question. And so their -- first question is, how is he answering them? And they would want to know that as they're even considering whether or not he walks into that interview.
So, I find it hard to believe that they haven't actually started prepping, even if it's informal Q&A sessions when they're sitting in a room with him.
BURNETT: And they certainly don't expect to do this any time soon. I know you both think that. But, you know, seems like they're trying to drag this out, right? Well, he's got to deal with North Korea, he's got a lot going on. And all of a sudden it's July 4th, then who knows, this goes on and on and on.
But Pence is saying today, you know what, it's time to just wrap this whole thing up. We're all done. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our administration has provided over a million documents. We fully cooperated in it. And, in the interest of the country, I think it's time to wrap it up, and I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Will it have any sway?
MILGRAM: I don't think so. I mean, the first point is, I'm sure the special counsel is working very quickly. I mean, we've already seen a series of indictments, and, you know --
MILGRAM: -- 19 people indicted --
BURNETT: Record in terms of speed of an indictment coming out of a special counsel.
MILGRAM: They're moving quickly. I know it doesn't feel that way for the American public, but they're moving quickly. The second thing is that, the only person who really gets to decide whether or not the investigation is done is the special counsel. He's the only one who really knows, and his team, they're the only ones who know all the evidence that they have. And so whether it's the vice president or any of us, we don't know.
BURNETT: And every other historical investigation has taken years.
SANDICK: Yes, this is very fast. And they have a lot of people working very hard. I agree with what's been said.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much.
And next, President Trump thanking Kim Jong-un, saying he was excellent to the three Americans he held prisoner. But was he? And what about the other Americans who didn't come out alive?
Plus, Michael Cohen's complex web of connections to Russia. We have more details on that tonight.
[19:27:50] BURNETT: Breaking news. This is live from Indiana tonight. The vice president is there along with President Trump. They are holding a campaign rally together. It's a big night for them and it comes as Trump is wrapping up his biggest week yet in foreign policy. Here is Pence talking about it just a moment ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: He's a man of action. And how about all the action this week? This president took action on Iran. We saw progress on North Korea and the new American embassy will open in Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Israel on Monday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So are Trump supporters happy with all of this? Ready to vote again for all things Trump? Martin Savidge is OUTFRONT.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. An hour's drive north of Pittsburgh along the banks of Allegheny River. Here, the hills are green and the politics red.
TRUMP: My fellow Americans --
SAVIDGE (voice-over): President Trump's tough talking foreign policy may trouble some diplomats, but not his base.
Did you vote for Trump?
FARSTER: Yes, I did.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): How are you feeling?
FARSTER: Great, great. We finally got somebody with some balls.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): I'm (INAUDIBLE) gas station on Pennsylvania's Route 66 talking to trucker Ron Farster who believes for too long, enemies, even allies, have taken America for granted.
FARSTER: Everybody's taken advantage of the United States. We've always been too easy and gave them what they wanted.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): It's shaping up to be quite a week in Trump's world. Withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran, welcoming home three Americans detained by North Korea, then announcing the time and place of a historic summit with North Korea's leader. And Monday, going forward with his controversial move to U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
DAN WAGNER, TRUMP VOTER: Dan Wagner loves all of it. Retired from the Air Force, he says as presidents go, Trump has become his new foreign policy favorite.
Reagan used to be because what he did, he told Gorbachev, tear down this wall. Trump's more, you don't, I'm going to smack you. And that's what the world needs.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Trump got 74 percent of the vote in Armstrong County. And voters we talked to say when it comes to America's international dealings, forget diplomacy, it's all about respect.
Brian Fleming Smith (ph) says the U.S. has been too soft for too long and he's not bothered one bit America is out of the Iran nuclear deal.
BRIAN FLEMING SMITH, TRUMP VOTER: There were some bad deals made, and, you know, you can't trust all of these regimes that are out there. You know, think he's doing what he thinks he right.
SAVIDGE: That is not what most Americans believe. According to a recent CNN poll, 63 percent of those asked said the United States should not give up on the Iran nuclear deal.
Calvin Lane voted for Trump and now regrets it, worrying that Trump has become too unpredictable.
(on camera): So you voted for the man but you're thinking now maybe you shouldn't have?
CALVIN LANE, TRUMP VOTER: Yes, that's what I'm thinking. He's a little too reckless to be in charge of everything.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Dawn Piper has no regrets. She likes what Trump's doing. At a restaurant, she tells me unpredictability can be a positive since it keeps opponents guessing.
DAWN PIPER, TRUMP VOTER: And I think that it is a good thing to not know, you know, because sometimes the best defense is not knowing what the offense is.
SAVIDGE: Back at the gas station, I asked owner Chris Tolliver if he ever worries that Trump's words could go too far and maybe lead to war.
CHRIS TOLLIVER, CO-ONWER OF BENCH RACERS, TRUMP VOTER: That does worry me a little bit, the war part of it, he does come across a little harsh sometimes. But like I said, he says what everyone else was probably thinking, you know?
SAVIDGE: The reason Trump voters don't have a problem with how Trump sees the world is because many of them see it the very same way.
SAVIDGE: Erin, as I always do, I finished by asking the voters if they would vote for president Trump again. Lately I've been noticing a trend. The answer is still yes, but then some voters say that could depend on who is running against him -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Martin. That's the crucial question, right? No one knows who that person is at this point.
OUTFRONT now, former Republican candidate for governor of New York, Rob Astorino, who has been friends with President Trump for more than 15 years, and former Clinton White House aide Keith Boykin.
Keith, the images last night -- let's talk about this for the president -- they were straight out of a TV or move production, executive produced by the president of the United States, right? Almost 3:00 in the morning. He walks up to the plane, walks inside with the first lady to meet with the freed Americans first.
Then he comes out, thunderous applause. The men follow him with the peace signs, as you see there. Then Trump acknowledges he knows all eyes are on him and the detainees at this moment. Here's how he puts it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's very early in the morning. I think you probably broke the all time in history television rate for 3:00 in the morning, that I would say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Did he ruin a serious and important moment by talking about the ratings? Or not? Was it just a presidential moment there?
KEITH BOYKIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE UNDER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Well, I mean, it was a scripted moment for television, even at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. It was clearly designed for President Trump -- he didn't have any family members there. No friends were there of the three hostages who were returned. It was all about showing and showboating for Donald Trump.
Now, mind you, he does this -- trying to make this story all about him. He did not go to see the body of Sergeant La David Johnson, which returned from Niger in October after four American soldiers killed there. That report from the Pentagon just came out today about the damaging incident that took place in Niger. He had nothing to say about that for 12 days.
Trump is trying to make every sort of foreign policy, quote, unquote, victory about him but ignore the failures. And don't forget, too, there were 11 -- 11 American detainees who were released from North Korea during the Obama administration and Obama didn't go out and fly out to the planes and make a big press deal out of it.
BURNETT: That's interesting. Now, you're three to 11, although there is a fourth and I want to talk about that, Rob, because there was an area he was criticized last night, beyond the ratings, which you can laugh at or be offended by. He said Kim Jong-un had treated these Americans excellently. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We want to thank Kim Jong-un, who really was excellent to these incredible people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: They were held prisoner. One of them when he was in Anchorage, Alaska, according to the vice president, said to Secretary of State Pompeo, quote, asked to go outside the plane because he hadn't seen daylight in a very long time.
ROB ASTORINO, FRIEND OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, let's go back to 3:00 a.m. I mean, he's right. With all due respect, who is watching Don Lemon reruns? Even Don is not watching his show at 3:00 a.m. So --
BURNETT: He's got better things to do. He might be out and about.
ASTORINO: Having fun somewhere.
But you know what? It was a great moment yesterday. Donald Trump is playing the long game on this. At least the long game into June and Singapore. So far, you know, everything that he has done has thrown off the North Koreans because they've never had to deal with somebody like him.
[19:35:02] ASTORINO: Because everything was always just so steady and they took advantage of America. They browbeat three presidents and cheated their way through and they got what they wanted.
Now they're dealing with somebody who, quite frankly, they don't know how to deal with. He's gotten to this point where we could literally have world peace. Remember that photo from space at night of North Korea and South Korea, dark and light? Yes.
BURNETT: They made the exact promises they've made now. We shall see if this works.
But the point is, as he goes out and he has his moment, Kim Jong-un was really excellent to them. You said 11 detainees to President Obama, three to Trump. You didn't see three, but we said three tonight. There is a fourth.
The fourth is Otto Warmbier, OK?
BURNETT: He was returned with brain damage and here is what his father said about how he was returned by Kim Jong-un.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRED WARMBIER, FATHER OF OTTO WARMBIER WHO DIED AFTER BEING HELD IN NK: Otto had severe brain damage. Otto was systematically tortured and intentionally injured by Kim and his regime. And this was no accident.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: It's heartbreaking.
BURNETT: And yet the president says excellently. Rob, why couldn't he have prepared and said, thank you, Kim Jong-un, for sending them home. There are ways to be diplomatic, which are not offensive.
ASTORINO: We're not going to get that from him. We're not going to get that from him. And the big thing is --
BOYKIN: They're not going to get what?
ASTORINO: Those words. We've seen it. He comes out with words that sometimes are inartful or inappropriate, but the action is what is going to really count.
BOYKIN: But wait a minute, I recall during the election that Donald Trump was the very first person who said you can't fight radical Islamic terrorists unless you use the right words, radical Islamic terrorism.
BOYKIN: Now you're saying his words don't matter? He's called Kim Jong-un an honorable person, even though Kim Jong-un has not only detained Americans, he's killed his own people and family members.
ASTORINO: He's not honorable in any way.
BOYKIN: Why did Donald Trump call him that?
ASTORINO: Look, none of these are going to matter. What we're talking about tonight about what choice of words he said, whether it's excellent, it's not going to matter if they get a peace agreement in Singapore. That's it. That's what this whole thing is about. And I think he's got to lay down some roses for Kim Jong-un in order to continue the progress that has been made so far.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both. Got to leave it there.
Next, Kellyanne Conway's husband taking on Trump again. His latest shot at his wife's boss.
Plus, Michael Cohen's ties to Russia. We have more details on the byzantine ties here and how important they are. Could they be the reason Trump hired Cohen in the first place?
[19:41:14] BURNETT: Tonight, Kellyanne Conway's husband again throwing shade at the president. George Conway treating polls about GOP voters who want a Trump challenger in 2020, right, totally discretionary think to do. He chose to do it.
He responded to an article about age gap in Republicans who support Trump and he highlighted some stats that he wanted to tweet out. Ages 25 to 34, 57 percent yes. Referring to those who want someone to challenge Trump. Ages 35 to 44, 58 percent yes, want somebody to challenge Trump.
Now, this is a pattern with George Conway. He routinely trolls and mocks the president on Twitter.
OUTFRONT now, National Affairs Correspondent for "The Nation", Joan Walsh, and former communications director for the Ted Cruz campaign, Alice Stewart.
So, Joan, let's just review some of George Conway's greatest hits.
JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: Yes. BURNETT: Because there are some really great ones. After Giuliani's stunning interview on Fox News, you know, when he said that Trump had paid Michael Cohen back for the porn star payments to Stormy Daniels, George Conway tweeted out a link to the FEC Web site, that's Federal Election Commission.
WALSH: Very helpful, very helpful.
BURNETT: Suggesting the payment violated campaign finance laws. Then he tweeted and then deleted a retweet of one of our reporters, Kaitlan Collins, about officials being reluctant to speak about Donald Trump because he says one thing and does the opposite. George Conway added: So true, it's absurd, which is why people are banging down the door to be his communications director.
His wife, by the way, was supposed to be the person that Trump wanted to be the communications director. Look, it's pretty -- it's pretty stunning. Last month, he tweeted a "New York Times" article about Trump's lawyer discussing pardons for who ex-aides. George Conway's comment, this is flabbergasting.
Joan, what's going on here?
WALSH: It's kind of flabbergasting. I mean, look, Kellyanne Conway, she's a professional. She stands on her own. She's entitled to her own career. I know she came at our Dana Bash really hard when Dana asked her about this.
But it's newsworthy. To have someone's husband undermining their boss, it would be newsworthy obviously if Melania Trump did it. It's not about male/female. Feminists, not feminist. I'm a feminist.
If John Kelly's wife, Karen did, this, if Rebecca, Sean Spicer's wife Rebecca did this --
BURNETT: How about Kirstjen Nielsen's husband, right? I mean, you're point is it shouldn't be a gender issue.
WALSH: It's not a gender issue. It's just very strange to have a husband or a spouse, let's say spouse coming out and undermining his or her spouse's boss. It's weird.
BURNETT: I mean, Alice, it is hard to imagine, right -- if my husband started tweeting these nasty things about Jeff Zucker, I'd be livid, right? I mean, it's my boss, right? I mean, I'm just saying, it's not a male/female thing, it's like he's hurting her.
What's going on? You know them both. What's happening here?
ALICE STEWART, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: Look, I do. This is not about a male/female thing. This is George Conway, very successful, top of his game in the legal community. If you look at the context, most of his recent tweets, they're specifically about Rudy Giuliani and how he's been handling his time with the president. Maybe flying a little too close to the sun and putting spotlight on some of the comments that he's made about Michael Cohen payments and more focusing --
BURNETT: He's saying they're federal election commission violations.
WALSH: And, Alice, they started before Rudy came on. I mean, they go back to -- they go back to his saying that the president had to testify. I mean, he was Paula Jones' lawyer, so he does have a certain kind of credibility on issues of whether the president has to testify or not.
So, the first couple were like, OK, this is legally interesting. But ever since then, they've been very undermining. They're not just legal tweets.
STEWART: If you look in context with most of them, are specifically calling attention to legal issues with legal aspects of this administration. He as an attorney feels about them. There are also quite a few about Major League Baseball and the Philadelphia Eagles.
[19:45:02] So, you have to look at this from the standpoint of someone who is top of their legal game.
And my point is, this has absolutely nothing to do with Kellyanne Conway's work performance in the White House. The president is satisfied with her work performance. This week, she did a tremendous job with military -- the employment of military spouses and opioids.
BURNETT: I mean, you know, and this is a guy who quickly holds a grudge. I mean, it's like shut up, guy, what are you doing? I mean, it just doesn't fit.
I want to get to the point, though, both of you were saying, we've all made the point this is about a spouse and not about sexism. But Dana Bash did ask Kellyanne about this. You raised this point.
Here is how the exchange happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's fascinating to me that CNN would go there, but it's very good for the whole world to have just witnessed that it's now -- excuse me, that it's now fair game what people's -- how people's spouses and significant others may differ with them. I'm really surprised, but very -- in some ways relieved and gratified to see that. That should really be fun.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, I actually, first of all, I would ask you that if you were a man.
CONWAY: No, you wouldn't.
BASH: A thousand percent I would.
CONWAY: No, no, no, no --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALSH: No. I mean, I think that was incredibly unfair to Dana, who was doing her job. It's one thing to say, I have my opinion, he has his. We have a marriage. We're all adults.
You can say that, but when you get so aggressive and you insult someone's journalism and you kind of make dark allusions -- well, now, everything is fair game. Something is off here. Something is very much off here.
STEWART: It was absolutely a fair question. Dana did a fine job in that interview, as she does with all of them.
Look, Kellyanne, I talked to her that afternoon. She was glad to have the opportunity to answer this about her husband. Her point was, as Joan just said, Kellyanne has her views, my husband has his. As most couples, we disagree on a lot of things. So, that was the point that she wanted to get out, that a couple may disagree, and he's free to tweet whatever he wants to.
BURNETT: And, of course, we can all remain curious as to how they could disagree about something so integral to her life, but they do. They manage to make it work. And who the heck knows why? But it's pretty amazing.
Thank you both.
And next, Michael Cohen's curious connections to Russia, ties that stretch back for years. We have new details next.
Plus, you know the signature, right? And the relish with which he puts it on a piece of paper, but do you know what it says about the president? Jeanne Moos does.
[19:50:53] BURNETT: Tonight, the legal pressure building on Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen as new details about his ties to Russia are coming to light.
And Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT with what we've learned.
MICHAEL COHEN, PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO THE PRESIDENT: I look forward to giving all the information that they're looking for.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Cohen presents himself as an open book with nothing but well-known and legitimate ties to Russia. Recent reports, however, are suggesting a more nuanced story of Donald Trump's trusted attorney.
SETH HETTENA, AUTHOR OF TRUMP/RUSSIA: A DEFINITIVE HISTORY: He's been tied with Russians and Ukrainians for years.
FOREMAN: Seth Hettena wrote this "Rolling Stone" story on Cohen's Russian ties, saying Cohen's uncle Morton Lavine owned a New York club infamous as a Russian mob hangout and Cohen had a share in the place too before the election. Cohen also ran a fleet of New York taxies with the Ukrainian-born partner, when Trump Tower went up, there was Cohen urging the family of his Ukrainian-born wife to buy condos.
In a five-year period, he and people connected to him would purchase Trump properties worth $17.3 million, "Rolling Stone" says, money pushed Trump's way by the scrappy graduate from Michigan.
HETTENA: Trump didn't hire him because he went to Harvard Law School and he clerked for a Supreme Court justice. Trump hired him, I think, because he has these kinds of connections, and to Trump, those are seen as valuable and beneficial.
FOREMAN: Once he was in with Trump, Cohen proudly proclaimed his loyalty.
COHEN: If there is an issue that relates to Mr. Trump that is of concern to him, it's, of course, of concern to me. I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.
FOREMAN: But Cohen's connections continue to raise curiosity. Just after Trump took office, Cohen passed on a proposed peace plan for Ukraine favorable to Russian interests. There are new reports of money flowing into Cohen's accounts from a company with ties to Russia. And back in 2015, a Russian born American real estate mogul e-mailed Cohen about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, saying, I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.
The deal never happened, and today --
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You didn't know anybody close to Putin or connected to Putin who was telling you they wanted to help Trump become president of the United States?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I did not.
FOREMAN: Cohen denies doing anything wrong. Nothing has been proven against him. The special counsel has already looked at many of these connections and, indeed, there is nothing inherently improper about knowing or dealing with Russians. Still, the entirety of his contacts is undoubtedly what drew the attention of investigators -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Tom.
And next, Trump's supersized signature. Do you know what it reveals about him? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[19:57:58] BURNETT: When Trump signs an executive order, what does science and size have to do with it?
TRUMP: It's a big one.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not just big, it's enormous, it's colossal. It's huge!
Marking his territory when it comes to President Trump's signature, even oldsters won't be needing their reading glasses.
"Why? Why is his signature so big?" someone tweeted. Author J.K. Rowling responded, I didn't believe in graphology until about three minutes ago. She linked to a Website what large handwriting means.
An independent handwriting expert confirmed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The size of the signature correlates with narcissism, with ego, a grandiose sense of self-importance. The size alone equals, I'm so important I don't need to obey margins. I can just scribble like I'm a movie star or a rock star.
MOOS: Or a president, or a best-selling author?
Trump supporters dug up J.K. Rowling's signature, I guess you're no different then.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it's funny because she is throwing stones about Donald Trump, but she also has a really big signature, which I think is a success trait.
MOOS: That goes for both of them, but graphologist Bart Baggage (ph) says Rolling exhibits a fluid feminine flow, while President Trump's signature looks like a hacksaw.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His sharp, angular, scissor like M's and N's.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which basically is a lack of compassion.
MOOS: Tweeted one critic, it looks like the result from a polygraph. He's lying, of course. A polygraph, a seismograph, since we're comparing size, the handwriting expert signature's no shrimp, perhaps not Trumpian.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really the epitome of narcissism.
MOOS: Internet pranksters keep changing the president's signature. When it comes to certain presidents and authors, the writing's not just on the wall, it takes up the whole wall and it can take big hands to sign a big signature. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: And thank you all for joining us.
"AC360" starts now.