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Trump Accused of Politicizing Pardoning Power; Trump Pardons Conservative Pundit, Considers Pardoning Blagojevich and Martha Stewar; Source: Trump Repeatedly Pressured Sessions About Recusal; Kim Jong Un's Former Top Spy to Deliver Letter to Trump. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for me, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the situation room. Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, the president considering more pardons tonight. Is the pardon frenzy all about a signal to his allies?

Plus a source telling CNN the president pressured the Attorney General Jeff Sessions multiple times to get control of the Russia investigation again. Was this about obstructing justice?

And Trump refusing to condemn Roseanne's racist tweets. Why won't he take a moral stand on this one?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, pardon spree. Today with little explanation, announcing on Twitter, the president said he will pardon controversial conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, saying D'Souza was, quote, treated very unfairly by our government. It's Trump's fifth pardon since taking office which in it of itself by the way is big news. And I'm going to get to more on that in just a moment.

But first, why D'Souza? I mean, today Trump said he didn't know D'Souza, who of course confessed to illegal campaign contributions. Trump said he's never even met the guy. He claims no one asked him to pardon him. So then why did he?

Well, a White House official tells CNN that Trump began considering the pardon several weeks ago and coincidentally, that would be when D'Souza appeared on the president's favorite morning show to say he was a victim of a, quote, political hit.


DINESH D'SOUZA, CONSERVATIVE AUTHOR: I think in my case, a congressional oversight committee has my file. And it very clearly red flags me as a conservative who made a movie critical of the Obama administration. So the FBI which uncovered this was clearly signaling to Obama and to the holder Justice Department, hey this guy's a political enemy, let's prosecute him. So what's interesting is that my case is quite clearly a political hit.


BURNETT: A political hit by the FBI and the Obama administration. Sound familiar? Of course that's something president Trump believes he too is the victim of.

This tweet from just two weeks ago from the president says it all. Quote, wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI, quote, spied on the Trump campaign with an embedded informant, all caps. If so, this is bigger than Watergate.

So D'Souza, victim of Obama, the FBI. What Trump has called and his allies have called the deep state. And Trump today also telling reporters on Air Force One that he may pardon or commute the sentence of another man who was convicted of corruption, the former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. Now Blagojevich is serving a 12-year prison sentence even after a judge rejected his plea for reduced sentence.

One of the last times you may have heard from Blagojevich, well, roll the tape.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: I'll do anything. Legal and ethical and honest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course. Money, money, money.


BURNETT: So what suddenly brought Blagojevich back to Trump's mind? Could part of the reason be this op-ed from Monday's Wall Street Journal? The headline for Blagojevich, "I'm in prison for practicing politics."

Now when I read this op-ed, I said to myself, this is a letter written for an audience of one, for Trump. Blagojevich writes, quote, the rule of law is under assault in America, it is being perverted and abused by the people sworn to enforce it and uphold it. Some in the Justice Department and the FBI are abusing their power.

Blagojevich continues with these lines clearly meant for the president. "I learned the hard way what happens when an investigation comes up empty after the government has invested time, resources, and manpower, when they can't prove a crime they create one."

All right, so far President Donald Trump has pardoned five people and that is something that is not normal. His three predecessors all took nearly two years before pardoning anyone. But Trump did his first pardon just seven weeks into his term. Now that was Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who along with Scooter Libby, and maybe sailor, Kristian Mark Saucier, claimed to be political targets.

And today, the president is floating one more name to possibly pardon. Another person he believes was wronged by the Justice Department, specifically by Jim Comey. And that person is Martha Stewart. A woman Trump used to love and more recently publicly loathed.


MARTHA STEWART: We're going to make a scrumptious meatloaf sandwich which is Donald's favorite sandwich.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Martha Stewart failed when she did the "Apprentice" and I just kept chugging along, every year it was a big hit.


BURNETT: Trump's latest public slam of Stewart calling a failure that you just saw there was just this year at a rally in Pittsburgh. And Trump by the way has made her disdain -- I mean, I'm sorry, Stewart has made her disdain for Trump pretty obvious. Here's something she did tweeted out flipping Trump off, that was in 2017.

So why is Trump now offering her a pardon? Sure she's a celebrity, people know this.

[19:05:00] But pardoning Stewart is slamming Trump's nemesis, Jim Comey. James Comey. It turns out Comey was the one who built the case against Martha Stewart.

Now Trump would like you to believe that he is writing moral wrongs. But the real question is, are these pardons really about himself?


TRUMP: I'm fighting a battle against a horrible group of deep-seated people. Drained the swamp that are coming up with all sorts of phony charges against me.


BURNETT: Phony charges, the swamp. Are these pardons really about sending a signal to Trump's allies? People like Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, all of whom are facing the possibility of decades behind bars if convicted. That the president is saying, I'll pardon you if you just remain loyal to me. See what I've done to these other high-profile people?

Jeff Zeleny is traveling with the president today, he's live in Houston. And Jeff, you know, look, we've got five pardons from this president. At this point in the prior presidencies of Bush, Clinton, Obama, we had not had a single one. What is Trump doing here?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it is exceedingly unusual. And something that most White House aides were not expecting at all today. When the president did fly here to Houston. He is supposed to be focusing on the midterm elections. This is hardly the Republican message for the midterm election. But in many respects, talking to a variety of White House aides today, it is also something the president privately has been saying for a long time. He is obsessed and so many of those thoughts revolve around James Comey. So it's clear what he is trying to do here as you laid it out all there in the introduction, he is trying to paint a narrative, show that he is not the only one in his view -- the president is not the only one in his view who's been wronged by the Justice Department.

He's drawn a thread here with James Comey. You know, he's looked back through some of his previous cases. You know, ironically, he is friends with a lot of these people as you pointed out. But more importantly, the president is trying to paint a broader picture here that when the Mueller investigation reaches its climax, whenever that will be, that they too cannot believe the findings of that because of these other cases here.

No question the Rod Blagojevich op-ed in the Wall Street Journal absolutely directed at the president, at the White House here. But it's interesting, Erin, I would be surprised if the president was just concerned about Rod Blagojevich as he was using his story perhaps to paint a broader narrative here about James Comey.


BURNETT: All right, well, certainly it appears that that is part of it. Blagojevich couldn't have written that op-ed or letter, whatever you want to call it, more effectively not to this president. Thank you so much. Jeff Zeleny in Houston with the president.

And I want to go now Victoria Toensing who knows more about this than almost anyone. A former legal advisor to President Trump and also attorney for Scooter Libby who was among those pardoned by this president already.

Victoria, great to have you back. So --


BURNETT: -- this is the crucial question. Is President Donald Trump sending a message with these pardons to people like Manafort, Flynn, Cohen?

TOENSING: You know, Erin, if their lawyers don't know that the president has pardon power, they better get into another line of business for goodness sakes. The president has pardon power, we all know that and it's unfettered. And what is this thing about, well, every other president did it -- didn't do any in the first couple of years. Well, better to do like Bill Clinton and reward a whole bunch of people on your way out of office like -- including Mark Rich who gave him about $500,000 for the Clinton Library? It's an unfettered power.

And I can see the president taking great joy in righting these wrongs. He did that with Scooter Libby who had done nothing wrong. He had one testimony, and somebody else had a differing testimony, and Scooter got indicted. And guess -- here's another threat here. It's not just James Comey, it's also Patrick Fitzgerald. And those of us in the criminal defense business --

BURNETT: (INAUDIBLE), the prosecutor, yes.

TOENSING: -- these are two of the most despicable, despised, unethical prosecutors to ever come down --

BURNETT: Are you saying though -- I want to be clear because, you know, you're talking about his unfettered power and I want to talk more about that because it is but it is with reason. But first, are you saying he would pardon them? We're talking about Cohen, we're talking about Manafort, we're talking about Flynn.

You're saying, yes the --

TANSIN: I have no idea. Why would I know? I have no idea. He hasn't pardoned them yet, and he could have.

So this is -- I'm saying that the lawyers for these people don't need to see a pardon for somebody else to figure out that the president has pardon power. They already know it. We learn it the first year in law school.

BURNETT: So when you talk about his unfettered power, I want to ask you about that because first of all, I did mention the last three presidents for a reason, and that is, it is unusual to do it this way. There are plenty of pardons, I'm sure we could go all through everybody and say, what about that one, what about that one? People don't all agree and they might have been crazy.

[19:10:01] The point is they each waited nearly two years --


BURNETT: -- before their first pardon. And they did it through the Department of Justice.

TOENSING: No, no, no, no. Bill Clinton did 40 pardons that did not go through the Department of Justice. That's not accurate.

BURNETT: Why isn't Trump going through the Department of Justice --

TOENSING: I don't know, why did Bill Clinton do 40 of them that did not go through the Department of Justice? Because I can tell you the Department of Justice sucks its thumb and waits years to ever get something through. This is a much better way to do it. And there is no requirement that he goes through the Department of Justice.

BURNETT: No, there isn't, right? It's been executive order that it's been done that way in the past. So part of the reason, Victoria, you know, I know, and hopefully our viewers know, it's been done that way is to take away the appearance that a president is doing something for personal reasons, for political gain.

We're talking about a president here who is pardoning people who Jim Comey -- look at Martha Stewart, right, that he's (INAUDIBLE) about that pardon today. Jim Comey obviously built the case against her. Or we're talking --

TOENSING: And many people criticized Jim Comey for it. That it was a really picayune case, it was ridiculous.

BURNETT: But shouldn't he care it looks like a personal issue or something about his own political point of view about the Obama administration and the FBI?

TOENSING: No. These are people -- he is righting wrongs. Dinesh D'Souza was wrongly prosecuted. He made a total of $20,000, two contributions, and paid people back for two contributions for a good friend of his who was running for the Senate and he was criminally prosecuted. That does not happen.

And on top of that, the lawyers for the Eric Holder Justice Department misled the court, cited case law wrongly, and for that they were chewed out and he was never sent to prison because they were trying to get him to prison. Usually that kind of conduct is met with a fine and a promise to never do it again.

BURNETT: The president has tweeted, of course that's how he chose to do it, Victoria. He tweeted this news about Dinesh D'Souza. He said, "We'll be giving a full pardon to Dinesh D'Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our own government."

As you know the president likes to talk about how he himself has been treated unfairly, whether it's by the U.S. Constitution, which he said is not as well written as the Russian constitution in some context,. He's also said it specifically about the FBI raid on his personal attorney Michael Cohen's office. Here he is.


TRUMP: The attack on what we all stand for. So when I saw this and when I heard it -- I heard it like you did, I said, that is really now in a whole new level of unfairness.


BURNETT: Is that what this is all about?


TOENSING: -- on your show that I thought it was a despicable act to -- for the government to go into an attorney's office and raid it. You know, those of us who have small law firms, we're concerned about this because they never go into the big offices. The FBI never goes into white and case, or any major law firm, even though all kinds of shenanigans are going on --

BURNETT: They said he was going to shred and destroy documents and that they had evidence to prove that, that's how they got the warrant.

TOENSING: Well, you know, who knows. Who knows what they said. I think it's a very important deal to go into the president's lawyer's office and take documents. When he's got lawyers that he's working with and they're very well respected lawyers in New York.

BURNETT: So would you advise him to continue doing pardons at the pace he's been doing it, which of course --

TOENSING: It's a slow pace.

BURNETT: -- it's unprecedented at the time but also doing it without going through the Department of Justice? Is that your advice to him?

TOENSING: I think he should do it any way he wants to. That's what the constitution says he can do. Barack Obama pardoned what -- like several hundred drug dealers in --

BURNETT: Yes, in clemency.

TOENSING: -- one fell sweep, yes. So, you know, different presidents have different ways of doing it. Daddy Bush pardoned the secretary of defense, whose name escapes me right now, I can see a picture of him prior to his going to trial.

So the pardon power is used just as each president is a different person, they want to use it the way that they feel comfortable. I think he took great joy, I know in giving Scooter Libby a pardon. He told me, you know, I'm so happy, I'm making him happy. So the president is righting many wrongs that have occurred not just in the Obama administration but in other administrations, and that's what the power should be about.

BURNETT: The president tweeted this morning a quote from your husband and your law partner, obviously you are both roles in each other's lives, here's the tweet. "The recusal of Jeff Sessions was an unforced betrayal of the president of the United States." And of course he quotes Joe diGenova, former U.S. attorney. Betrayal?

TOENSING: Joe and I have certain different styles. I wouldn't quite say it that way. I think Jeff is not running the Department of Justice now as well as he should be because of this recusal. And so I really do think it is a problem.

BURNETT: You think it's a problem but you wouldn't go so far as to say it's a betrayal of the president?

[19:15:03] TOENSING: Well, he's Italian, what can I say? He talks differently.

BURNETT: All right, Victoria, thank you very much, I appreciate it.

And OUTFRONT next, more on our breaking news. A top Democrat says Trump may be sending a signal to campaign aides who are under the microscope, right? We're talking about people like Manafort.

And breaking news, CNN learning Trump repeatedly pressured Jeff Sessions to overturn his recusal from the Russia investigation. Could those efforts come back to haunt him? And North Korea ready to hand-deliver a letter from Kim Jong-un to the White House tomorrow. An historic and unprecedented move.

We'll be back.


BURNETT: Breaking news, Democrats sounding the alarm tonight over Trump's parade of pardons. Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, tweeted just a short time ago, "The president's ad hoc use of the pardon power is concerning enough. But the possibility that he may also be sending a message to witnesses in a criminal investigation into his campaign is extremely dangerous. In the United States of America, no one is above the law."

OUTFRONT now, Norm Eisen, former Obama White House ethics czar. April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks. And Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor.

Renato, Senator Warner is obviously suggesting that the president is sending a message, right to people like Cohen, people like Flynn, people like Manafort of, you know, hey, stay loyal to me and I'll pardon you.

[19:20:11] Is that a possibility or, you know, Victoria Toensing said, look, they don't need him to tell him that, they know -- they already know.

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I got to tell you, Erin, that was the least objectionable thing that Victoria just said in the last segment. She said so many lies and demonstrable -- things that are false statements that you could easily look up and find are false. It was hard for me to sit through that segment, to be very frank with you.

Look, I think it's very clear that Trump is using this to send a message. He didn't just choose these -- you know, this handful of people at random. I think we have six pardons now. He didn't choose these people at random, he's choosing people who, you know, who are ultimately, you know, either connected to people who are investigating him, who are -- who have committed crimes that, you know, seem to be -- you know, that his aides seem to be investigated for. And frankly, those people are all people who were rightfully convicted despite what Victoria said.

BURNETT: So Norm, on this issue, right, Dinesh D'Souza, right, that pardon that just happened today did not go through the Justice Department's Office of Pardon Attorney, right? That's the standard way that you would do this, you know. And historically, that's how it has been done most of the time, although not all the time.

You heard Victoria Toensing say, look, no problem, he can do it however he wants, who cares if he doesn't go through that office and completely goes around it every single time, it's irrelevant. Is it?

NORMAN EISEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, Erin, it's not. When I was serving in the White House Counsel's Office, after almost two years, President Obama did his first set of pardons. Proper procedure was followed.

For example, you're supposed to wait five years. This D'Souza pardon was not -- did not allow the five years to run. That's the regulation. You are supposed to have an expression of contrition. D'Souza was all over Twitter today slamming everybody inside. He almost equaled Victoria Toensing's performance, although not quite.

This is clearly message-sending because the people who are involved -- D'Souza was prosecuted for what? Campaign finance violations. Well, does that sound familiar? This is part of the Mueller investigation. And who was he prosecuted by? Preet Bharara, Trump's antagonist.

And the same if you look at Blagojevich, Stewart. The nature of the offenses, the people who prosecuted them. Jim Comey on Martha Stewart. For what? A false statement.

Again, that's what Flynn pled guilty too. So this is no -- there's nothing right about this at all.

BURNETT: You know -- and you have this sort of blaming the Obama administration as we pointed out, blaming the FBI, which of course is music to the president's ears.

April, when it comes to Martha Stewart, obviously Jim Comey is the one who built that case. So all of a sudden they go from, you know, loving each other to loathing each other, and now back to this pardon being dangled out there.

You know, when Martha Stewart was released from prison --


BURNETT: -- she hosted her own version of the "Apprentice". And let me just play for you a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody sent me -- don't get hurt. I got (INAUDIBLE) a Donald Trump's steaks. So I can't eat Donald Trump. And then they said, no, he owns the company. They didn't slaughter him.

STEWART: Too bad.

TRUMP: It's like Martha Stewart. You know, she goes on, she puts on the "Apprentice", it fails and then she blames me for failing.

STEWART: I'm supposed to fire him on air and then Donald liked it too much. And look at -- you know, it's fantastic for him.


STEWART: It's built him a platform. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

STEWART: So now he thinks he can be president.


BURNETT: I mean, all that hate, April, is now just, you know, hey, it's water under the bridge because Jim Comey is the one who built the case and that is more important than anything.

RYAN: It's a strategically placed potential pardon. And -- I mean, it sends a message to Comey, it sends a message to the nation, not only is Comey involved in that, but look at what it was about. Conspiracy, correct?

Then I think about Rob Blagojevich. I can't ever get his name right, his last name, forgive me. But here's the deal with him. He was impeached, and he had corruption charges. Convicted on corruption. That says a lot within itself.

And then today, on Air Force One, the president didn't come back to the press to tell them. He wanted it to be presidential. He made the press come to the nose of the plane, to go into the flying oval as he was sitting at the desk in the flying oval, for them to hear his words. This is strategically placed. He wants people to know what he's doing.

To send a message to America, send a message to those who we think may flip.

[19:25:03] He wants to make a statement. And this is not -- normally it's always when you have a pardon, a clemency, why and who are the people that are involved? But we know the answer. It's in front of our face.

BURNETT: And, you know, Norm, look, the president always used to talk about how -- you know, he had this view of being president that didn't match what being president is, right? It didn't match with the fact that there were other people who could check your power. It didn't match that there was a constitution that could tell you what to do, right? He said the constitution is quote unquote treating him very unfairly. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: I have to do it myself. My daughter would go crazy. She said, dad, that's not presidential. I'd say, who cares?

I'm the only one, believe me, I know them all, I'm the only one that knows how to fix it. I don't know if it's presidential but I'd rather do it myself, and who cares.


BURNETT: I mean, Norm, that's the thing, right? The whole thing was wanting to be able to do it all himself and having no one who could tell him what to do. Well, that's not the reality of the job except for when it comes to pardons. You heard Victoria, she said, he had (INAUDIBLE) great joy and a thrill was the word she used last time when she talked to me about how he felt about pardoning Scooter Libby.

Is it just that he loves that feeling in part of being the king? I can, you know, bestow upon you this pardon?

EISEN: Well, clearly, he's getting ego rush from granting these pardons. He enjoys thumbing the nose of his adversaries and stroking those who are in a position to incriminate him, encouraging them that deliverance will be coming.

But just like when he -- Erin, just like when he thought he was going to be able to do what he wanted, he's found out that the law pushes back, and he's going to find out that there are limitations on this too. He's even talked about whether he can do a self-pardon. The constitution does not allow that. The constitution does not allow corrupt pardons.

If he does it with corrupt intent, he's going to get in trouble. And here's the worst part, he may think he can pardon his way out of trouble, he can send this signal, but he can't because he can only pardon federal offenses.

And the states are ready to come after the Michael Cohens and the Paul Manaforts. They have huge New York state liability. So the president's going to be disabused again of his wrong impressions.

BURNETT: Is that a sure thing, Renato? Because obviously, if New York state, let's say Michael Cohen, they go ahead, they charge him, they convict him, he gets 50 years. I'm just pulling this out of the air, right, but he can't pardon that if that's New York state. Are the states really going to do it?

MARIOTTI: They can do it for many offenses but not for all, Erin, because unfortunately obstructing a federal investigation is only a federal offense. Or lying to the FBI is only a federal offense. Norm is certainly right though that there's a lot of -- a lot out there that they can be charge with on the state side.

But what I would say is there -- I think everyone here agrees, you know, there's clearly a signal being sent, and one thing I will say for sure is these pardons are not doing justice.

BURNETT: All right, thank you all.

And next, breaking news. CNN learning President Trump has pressured Jeff Sessions multiple times to overturn his recusal from the Russia investigation. Is this obstruction of justice?

Plus Trump demanding apologies again for things said about him. So why can't he just denounce the racist remarks of Roseanne Barr?


[19:31:13] BURNETT: Breaking news, a source tells CNN President Trump has pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions multiple times to overturn his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Now, obviously, Sessions has refused to do so.

OUTFRONT now, Harry Sandick, the former assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. And John Yoo, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush.

Thanks to both.

Harry, you're with me. Can you unrecuse yourself? I mean, is this even possible for him to do this?

HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I don't think it's possible given the reasons why he recused himself. Sometimes a conflict could alleviate -- you know, you own stock in a certain company or something, and you sell it, and now, you're able to participate it. But not here, where he got out because he was viewed as being a partisan of the president and maybe had meetings with Russian leaders during the campaign.

BURNETT: All right. So, John, is there anything wrong with the president of the United States multiple times, pressuring the attorney general to unrecuse himself? Is it obstruction of justice or not?

JOHN YOO, DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, OFFICE OF LEGAL COUNSEL UNDER GW BUSH: I don't think so. I think what's going on here is President Trump, sounds like he's grousing, whining, complaining. He's obsessed with the Russia investigation.

But it doesn't sound like he's really trying to get in the way of the investigation. He hasn't -- he could order Sessions to take control of the investigation, if he refused, fire him. He could order Rosenstein to do it. It doesn't sound to me like this is really enough for obstruction of justice.

BURNETT: Interesting, Harry, because, you know, to John's point, he grouses a lot. I like that word, John. He grouses a lot about this particular issue and how Sessions recused himself, how he thinks it's the worst thing ever, he's a terrible attorney general.

Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have -- which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president.

I am disappointed in the attorney general.

He should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself and we would have put a different attorney general in.


BURNETT: All right. You can't say he's hiding what he thinks, Harry, there.


BURNETT: I mean, obviously, we're now reporting there's been private conversations where he's pressured, but that's obviously public. Sessions, though, has stood up for himself. He told "TIME" magazine, quote: I think I did the right thing. I don't think the attorney general can ask everybody else in the department to follow the rules if the attorney general doesn't follow them.

What does it say to you about Jeff Sessions that he has stood firm, refused to resign, refused to unrecuse? What does that say?

SANDICK: I think what it says is this is someone who was a U.S. attorney for 12 years, he knows the Department of Justice is composed primarily of career employees who follow the rules, and he wants to follow those rules as well. And that although he's willing to carry out very vigorously the Trump administration policies on crime and immigration and civil rights, much to the dissatisfaction of the Democrats --

BURNETT: Fair, yes.

SANDICK: -- but he's not willing to break the rules of the department.

BURNETT: What does it say to you, John, that Jeff Sessions is absolutely refusing to do what the president wants, and basically giving him the -- I don't know what appropriate word to use, you know what I'm saying. Go ahead.

YOO: I wish there was an equivalent for the word grouse here.

So, look, first, I think what sessions is doing is actually helping Trump, even though Trump doesn't realize it. Trump is turning into a big whiner about this investigation. But actually the more independent, the more swift and effective the investigation is, if the investigation clears Trump, the better it is for Trump.

So, Sessions -- think about what it would have been like if it had been opposite. Suppose Sessions hadn't recused himself. Then you would have had unending stories about Trump pressuring Sessions, pressuring Mueller. And no one would have had faith in the credibility of the investigation.

[19:35:02] I can't imagine -- Sessions was a high campaign official in the subject of this investigation. I think it's a close call that he properly recused himself and actually by getting out of the way, it makes sure that the Mueller investigation and its conclusion will be as credible as possible.

That's the only thing that can really clear Trump in the minds not just of the Congress, but of the American people.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, Harry, here the thing is, is that Trump had stayed away from criticizing Mueller for a while, then started doing that.


BURNETT: Right? And now, he's got his pit bull attorney, Rudy Giuliani, doing it publicly. Here he is calling Mueller's whole group a lynch mob.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: We'll challenge Mueller to write whatever you got. Take your best punch, with all your 13 Democrats there. You couldn't find a Republican?

So, you got a group there that's a lynching mob. So, let them do their job. And, boy, we're ready to knock the heck out of you.


BURNETT: OK, by the way, in terms of party affiliation, what he's saying at this point is not backed up in fact. But the point that I want to make here is, lynch mob?

SANDICK: No, that's not fair. That's offensive. Lynching is this terrible historical moment. This is a normal investigation being conducted by talented prosecutors trying to work as quickly as they can to get to the end.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much.

And next, President Trump speaking out again about Roseanne's firing. But still, he will not condemn her racist remarks. Why?

Plus, the U.S., this new hope tonight for the Trump/Kim summit. So, why can it still happen on June 12th?


[19:40:12] BURNETT: Tonight, President Trump doubling down on his refusal to denounce Roseanne's racist comments about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, making it about himself. The president tweeting tonight, quote, Iger, referring to Bob, CEO of Disney, where is my call of apology? You and ABC have offended millions of people and they demand a response. How is Brian Ross doing? He tanks the market with an ABC lie yet no apology, double standard.

Of course, Bob Iger is the CEO of Disney which owns ABC. Brian Ross is the investigative reporter, who was suspended from ABC after they publicly said he made a serious reporting error in a story about Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

But all of this avoids the issue of the racist comment itself, right?

OUTFRONT now, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation", Joan Walsh, and former adviser to the Trump campaign, Steve Cortes.

So, Steve, why can't the president just say, you know what, what she said was dead wrong, but, and then go on whatever diatribe, right? But why not just say, it's wrong?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. Well, Erin, listen, it was wrong. I'm saying it. I think the president would say it, but I want to take exception --

BURNETT: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) he hasn't.

CORTES: Hold on, no, no, but you said he refused. He was not asked about this. So, that's an incorrect statement.

He didn't refuse to comment. He just didn't comment. And that's a big difference. Look --


BURNETT: He's coming out and saying, Bob Iger should be apologizing.


CORTES: OK. And, by the way, Bob Iger should apologize. You know why? Because Brian Ross issued a blatantly false statement about the president --


BURNETT: He's been president for six months and put out a statement saying it was wrong exactly as a journalist --


CORTES: But they didn't apologize, yet, yet he did call and apologize to Valerie Jarrett when something offensive was said about her. Well, why doesn't he owe that same courtesy to the president of the United States? And, by the way, to investors all over the United States who suffered miserably from that fake news story out of ABC?

I think what we're seeing here, here's I think the bigger question or the bigger point. There is a double standard at play. There just clearly is.

Roseanne was fired and she should have been fired. What she said was reprehensible. Samantha Bee said something probably even worse, and so far, no sanction on her.

WALSH: No, no.

CORTES: No sanction right now on her.


CORTES: That is the double standard of the left at play.

BURNETT: Double standard, Joan?

WALSH: No. I'm not going to Samantha Bee right now because I want to answer your original question unlike Steve. First of all, the president refuses, Erin, to comment on --

CORTES: Did not refuse.

WALSH: He demands an apology from Bob Iger. Steve, he is the president, he needs to get thicker skin. He was -- Brian Ross made a mistake in the course of reporting --

CORTES: A mistake?

WALSH: -- a real story about the president. The president is comparing himself to people -- he's asking for apologies for things that are about policy. Yes, people have used some tough language, language that I wouldn't use.

But he -- rather than facing a crisis of race mechanism our country that he has helped promote, he's demanding an apology from Bob Iger, because he's whiny bully. That's what bullies do.

CORTES: Here's what the left always does. When you don't want talk policies --

WALSH: Oh, what we always do.

CORTES: -- you resort to racism. This has become -- it's become a scarlet letter.

WALSH: This is racism. It's what she said --


BURNETT: The first thing you said, you said what she said was wrong, she should have been fired --

CORTES: You called the president a racist?

WALSH: He is.

BURNETT: Hold on, Steve, you went on to say what you wanted to say. That is not what the president did. He's not able to apologize for these things.

WALSH: He's not able to do what you just did.

BURNETT: Steve, on this issue of racism --

CORTES: Wait what does the president have to apologize for? Roseanne Barr said these things.

WALSH: He called her and congratulated her on her ratings. He made it a tribute to him.

CORTES: Hold on --

BURNETT: He needs to denounce. Steve, I should have said denounce. He should denounce what she said. He's someone who has complimented her many times. They have complimented each other. He's now coming out and demanding an apology to himself for something ABC did six months ago and suspended someone and refusing to denounce Roseanne for saying Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby equals VJ for Valerie Jarrett. Won't denounce it.

WALSH: Yes, listen, Roseanne is -- those comments were reprehensible --

BURNETT: Right, but again, you're saying it, but the president won't. Why?

CORTES: Look, it is not incumbent on the president that he denounce every single person who happens to support him for whatever their reprehensible behavior is. By that standard, by that standard, if we're to carry that logic forward, is Bernie Sanders responsible for that monster who showed up with a gun and shot Representative Scalise?

WALSH: That's ridiculous.

CORTES: That's -- no, it's not ridiculous.

WALSH: That person didn't know Bernie Sanders, Bernie Sanders had never praised him, no one knew who he was --

CORTES: It's just as unfair.


BURNETT: He comes out and praises Roseanne, he compliments her on her ratings --

WALSH: Right.

BURNETT: -- and then when Roseanne is fired, his comment is to come out and demand an apology from ABC for something they did to him.

CORTES: Which he deserves.

BURNETT: And you're somehow saying, Steve, that we are derivatives away from him calling her out for what she said.

[19:45:03] WALSH: This is just like Charlottesville where he refused --

CORTES: Are you saying he supports Roseanne's statement? I mean, let's cut to the chase.


WALSH: There are good people on both sides, but there are no good people with the Nazis, Steve. There were no good people with them, Steve.

CORTES: That's not what he said. He was talking about --

WALSH: Yes, he did, good people marching with the Nazis. CORTES: No. He was not, Joan. Joan, he was talking about --

WALSH: What was he talking about?

CORTES: -- both sides of the monument debate, which is very, very different, good people on both sides of the debate over monuments. He was not saying there were good people among the Nazis.

Look, here's -- let's cut to the chase, are you saying the president's a racist?

BURNETT: He said there's good people on both sides.

WALSH: What you're talking about is the general monuments debate, stop.

CORTES: Is the president a racist?

BURNETT: OK, OK, hold on, let me just play something. Here's some clues.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.

Look at my African-American over here, look at him.

Pocahontas. Pocahontas.

I call her Pocahontas. That's an insult to Pocahontas.

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.


BURNETT: Steve, that's the context around somebody he publicly lauds and compliments repeatedly, saying something racist and he refuses to denounce it. That's the context.

CONTES: You also could have played the inaugural address, and I was there on the mall when he said it, open your hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. All right? That is something you could also say.

BURNETT: Does that make up, Joan, for these other comments?

WALSH: No, it doesn't, and it doesn't make up for the years of birtherism, and demanding the death penalty for the Central Park Five and then when exonerated by DNA, saying they still deserve the death penalty, he insisted they were still guilty.

He has a pattern of racism. He discriminated against black tenants in his buildings. We know this history. You cannot say one sentence at his inaugural makes it OK.

BURNETT: All right. We end it there, because, Steve, you started it. Thank you to both.

Next, it could hold the key to an historic summit just days away. There is a letter, there's actually a North Korean in this country, one of the top aides to Kim Jong-un, who is on his way. We'll tell you how for the White House.

And a picture is worth a thousand words. Jeanne Moos on this dynamic duo in the Oval Office.


[19:51:09] BURNETT: Tonight, a letter from Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong- un's envoy, you see him there, met with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York today, and he's heading to Washington for an unprecedented meeting with President Trump, carrying a letter from Kim Jong-un addressed personally to Trump.

Jim Sciutto is OUTFRONT.

And, Jim, this official -- obviously, his last name is also Kim, but this is very significant. First North Korean of this level to be in the United States in nearly 20 years and a meeting with the president.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of first. Face-to-face with the secretary of state today in New York on U.S. soil. That's never happened before and now, a trip to Washington, and an extraordinary waiver, right, because there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries, a special waiver has to be issued to leave the 25-mile radius of the U.N. building here in New York.

That for instance during the Iran nuclear negotiations for two years, no Iranian official was granted that.


SCIUTTO: So, he's going to walk into the White House with a letter, unclear what this letter says beyond what has been said already and what is clearly still unclear is whether the North Koreans could have committed to what the U.S. demands for these negotiations to be substantial, which is to say give up --

BURNETT: Denuclearization as we define it.

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

BURNETT: You know, whatever.

SCIUTTO: It was interesting to what Secretary Pompeo -- because he was asked today what changed. You know, the summit was off last week, now it's back on. Did they send you an indication that they are willing to play ball on this issue? And his language was, was that I believe that they are contemplating

the right path. In other words, I believe they're thinking about it. That's not -- that's not quite a commitment to send the president to meet him.

BURNETT: And how does this work tomorrow, right? I mean, obviously, the summit would be less than two weeks away if it goes ahead as scheduled on that date. But how does this work? You know, you're leaving this area -- is he taking the train? Is he taking the shuttle? I mean, how's he getting, the North Koreans?

SCIUTTO: We've asked. We don't know what method of transportation he's taking. We do know that he has an invitation into the White House. We do know that this is unprecedented.

And it's not clear what merited that unprecedented move.


SCIUTTO: We may know tomorrow.

BURNETT: Well, interesting as you say, during the entire Iran negotiations, such a waiver was never granted and here we are granting it before we even have a negotiation.

Thank you very much.

And next, Jeanne Moos on that other Kim summit -- oh I was glad I was out yesterday. Here we go. This is next.


[19:57:31] BURNETT: President Trump's big meeting with Kim. Not that Kim. This one.

Here's Jeanne.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Instead of being in a typical photo off.


MOOS: Kim Kardashian was here, in an Oval Office photo op that inspired this "Daily Show" caption for her. I broke the Internet. And for him, I broke the country.

It was a summit of reality show stars, not to be confused with that other summit.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kim changed in his words.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Referring to Kim as His Excellency. MOOS: Make that her excellency, though someone did replace Kardashian's head with Kim Jong-un's.

The only Kim he could get, mocked "The New York Daily News". The only president who can juggle two Kim's at once, quote, a conservative commentator.

Kardashian arrived at the White House, stayed about an hour, making the case for prison reform, then left, leaving it to Twitter to go nuts. This Addams family reboot looks amazing.

But some didn't see Morticia. They saw Melania.

A podcaster captioned the president saying, you are Melania now.

Both have done their share of posing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you even describe that booty?

MOOS: "The New York Post" described her as Kim Thong Un and front page the Oval Office photo with a headline, "Trump meets Rump", which inspired a backlash. This cover is sexist and pathetic. Do better "New York Post".

But Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump weren't the oddest Oval Office couple. That title goes to Richard Nixon and Elvis.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BURNETT: You can't believe that's real life.

And coming up tomorrow and CNN, President Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon sits down with our Fareed. You don't want to miss this exclusive. It's at 9:00 Eastern, tomorrow, right here on CNN.

And thanks so much to all of you for joining us. We'll be back here tomorrow same time. Don't forget. You can watch OUTFRONT anytime, anywhere. You just have to go to CNN Go.

"AC360" with Anderson begins right now.