Return to Transcripts main page


White House Looking To Revoke Security Clearances For Ex-Intel Chiefs Who Happen To Be Critical Of Trump; Prosecutors Now Have 12 Audio Tapes Seized In Cohen Raid; Trump Tweets All-Caps Threat To Iran; WSJ: Trump Team Submits Counteroffer for Interview with Mueller; Trump's Push to Drill in Alaska Refuge Spurs Heated Debate; Alleged Russian Spy Met with Multiple U.S. Officials in 2015. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired July 23, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:03] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, breaking news, political payback. The President threatening to pull security clearances of former top intelligence officials. Is this Trump's witch hunt?

Plus, Paul Manafort in court, five witnesses granted immunity. Will Manafort be spared or spend the rest of his life in prison?

And our special OUTFRONT series, Trump allowing big oil in there into America's wild, drilling in Alaska. The debate that's pitting neighbor against neighbor. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news. Trump's real witch hunt. Because the President is threatening to punish people who disagree with him. And in this case, it's a very specific group of people. America's top former intelligence chiefs, the people who ran America's intelligence agencies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the President consider Senator Paul's suggestion and call for the removal of former Director Brennan's security clearance?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not only is the President looking to take away Brennan's security clearance, he's also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice and McCabe. The President is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they've politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances.


BURNETT: Let's be clear, it's an unprecedented thing if it happens. No president's ever done it and it's an extraordinary list of people. The former CIA Director John Brennan, the former CIA Director NSA Chief General Michael Hayden. Former FBI Director James Comey. Former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and the former National Security Adviser, Susan Rice.

So, I just want to be clear here that almost all of these individuals have worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents, right, for decades in government. To get to the top of those organizations, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA. The only exception is only work for Democrat to Susan Rice. What they actually all have in common is not their politics. What they have in common is that they have criticized this President. Here's a small sample.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I really do wonder whether the Russians have something on him. I think his behavior was just unbelievable.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I don't think he has a full and appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russians' intentions and actions that they are undertaking in many parts of the world.

SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER UNDER PRES. OBAMA: What his motivations are, I think is a legitimate question, one that I trust that the Special Counsel is investigating. But the policies that this President has pursued globally have served Vladimir Putin's interest.


BURNETT: Yet the White House insists that the threat that they very explicitly labeled by name today is not personal or political.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their free speech, he doesn't like. And he wants to punish them for it.

SANDERS: No. I think you are creating your own story there. The President doesn't like the fact that people are politicizing agencies and departments.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Isn't the President doing exactly what you just said the President doesn't want all these people doing, politicizing matters of national security by going after his political enemies?

SANDERS: No, the President is not making baseless accusations of improper contact with a foreign government.


BURNETT: Now, when it comes to facts, the White House should be aware that Comey and McCabe actually no longer have their security clearances, so when she said she's looking into that, we can check the box there. You don't actually need to do that.

General Hayden tells CNN he no longer even goes back for classified briefings. But if the President is serious about pulling security clearances for people who disagree with him, he's going to have his hands full because according to a report from the Director of National Intelligence, this year more than 4 million people, 4 million people have access to some type of classified information in America. That is a lot of people who may have criticized the President.

So this idea of punishing your enemies or those critical of you, well, here's the thing, it's straight from the playbook of those the President admires, including strong men like the Turkish President Erdogan. Here is President Trump at the NATO summit. Remember he let Merkel and Macron and everybody, Trudeau go ahead and then he walked side by side with Erdogan, an autocratic leader who has reportedly arrested more than 100,000 people in a purge of his political opponents, including members of the military and judges.

That's the model we're talking about here. Because to strip the former intelligence chiefs of their security clearance is unprecedented. Never mind but the President's team didn't actually check the facts of who even uses those security clearances. This move today should upset all Americans.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT. And Jeff, the big question here is, you know, this comes out and they list all these names. Is this for real? Are they just trying to change the conversation? What's going on?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, it's certainly had that effect of changing the debate, changing the discussion. And I am told by a senior administration official just a few minutes ago that the President is, quote, more than comfortable with how all of this is playing out.

[19:05:13] He likes this debate in the public sphere. He likes to be having this argument against old Obama officials. This is not a new argument. He has been angry and seething at the Obama administration officials, who he is watching a lot on cable television. Let's be honest about this. So he likes this debate.

The question is, is he ever going to go forward and actually do this and revoke those security clearances? That what's we don't have a clear understanding of. This administration official said he may at some point but he's fine with this playing out that's playing out. But it certainly did change the subject.

We were talking about Iran, talking about the Russia investigation, the Putin meeting and now we're talking about this. So we'll see if this is actually something he actually does or if it is something like he has threatened before like, you know, essentially firing Jeff Sessions. That has never happened before as well.


ZELENY: So we will see as this plays out. But it is unprecedented. It is something that has never happened before and the President seems to like this discussion. He thinks it fires up his base. It's the latest chapter in the deep state argument, Erin. BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. Of course what fires up your base may or may not be good for the country, whatever your base may be, right? Stuff and the whole point about it.

OUTFRONT now, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And Senator, I appreciate your time.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you.

BURNETT: The White House, you heard, Sarah Sanders said not just John Brennan, let me just list all the rest of them which she then preceded to do. Brennan, Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice and McCabe. Security clearances could be stripped. It would be an unprecedented action if it happens. Your reaction?

WYDEN: Erin, I have taken on the leadership of both political parties in the intelligence community. So I don't get a whole lot of invites out to Langley or Quantico. As I listen to this, it sounds to me like Donald Trump is talking about building an enemies list, and then the question would be, if that's the the case, are taxpayer resources going to be used to go after critics?

BURNETT: I mean, that is the big question, right? You then heard Jeff Zeleny, report he's more than comfortable with this conversation. The big question for you, Senator, is, if he goes through with this threat, If he doe through with this s there anything you in congress can do about it?

WYDEN: Well, obviously we're going to have to have Republicans get serious about pushing back. I mean, again and again they have made excuses. It seems to me after last week we ought to be talking about a bill that would sanction the Russians. We certainly need to protect our democracy, we ought to pass my bill to make sure that every American gets a paper ballot. So the Republicans are going to have to push back.

BURNETT: So, you know, former FBI Special Agent Frank Montoya talking about the President doing this. It's an abuse of power even though he has the authority. Would you agree? If the President does have the opportunity. He wants to do it, Brennan, Comey, whoever, you guys are toast. I'm taking it away.

WYDEN: This is just plain wrong. I mean, the idea -- and that's why I characterize it building an enemies list in order to look at the possibility or strategize of ways to go after your critics. It's contrary to everything that our country is all about. And that's why Democrats and Republicans are going to have to oppose it.

BURNETT: But, Senator, you said -- all right, let's, you know -- the Republicans need to step up, all right. So Sarah Sanders today -- one of the top Republicans, I'm sorry, in the Senate, John Cornyn, responded this way to the news. I wanted to quote what he said to CNN. Some of these former officials have obviously donned the uniform of the opposition team to President Trump and I can understand his aggravation. But I'll wait to see what actually he does. Now, look, Cornyn has criticized the President but he's come out today agreeing with the assessment that these former intelligence officials are on the opposition. And saying he understands the President's aggravation. It doesn't sound like Republicans are jumping on board with your point of view.

WYDEN: I just hope that -- and you saw this last week in the Senate on judges, that Republicans will come to their senses on some of these issues. They did when they said no to an extreme judge who also hid some very derogatory information about his background. They came to their senses. I hope they will here as well. And I think -- you asked what the motivation is, this is a twofer. Obviously, President Trump dislikes a number of these officials personally.


WYDEN: But this is also a major distraction. Look at what he's been doing the last few days, he has been twisting himself into a pretzel to try to make sure that people wouldn't think he's in Putin's pocket. So this is a twofer. He can go after his enemies and it's a major distraction.

BURNETT: So the President called the Russia investigation, which you mentioned, a hoax in a tweet this weekend, right? This is after he said, oh, wait, I didn't mean to act like I was friends with Putin. I didn't mean it. Well, now it's back to being a hoax. He tweeted in part, "So President Obama knew about Russia before the election. Why didn't he do something about it? Why didn't he tell our campaign? Because it's all a big hoax, that's why, and he thought crooked Hillary was going to win."

[19:10:11] Of course, obviously, a basic fact check here, Trump's campaign was informed of this. But the President's spokesperson said today that when he said hoax he wasn't actually talking about the Russia investigation. So, you know, we're back to the kind of oh, let's try to backtrack. Here is how she put it.


SANDERS: The President is referencing the collusion component. Once again, the President has faith in the intelligence that suggests and maintain that Russia was involved in the elections. However, it's also important that that same information concludes that it had no impact on the election and that the President again would like to repeat that there was no collusion.


BURNETT: Again, just to make sure we put the facts out there, of course he constantly questions whether Russia was involved in hacking the U.S. elections. But to her point, there was no collusion and, you know, do you buy this explanation?

WYDEN: When I heard the Sanders explanation, I said, you've got to be kidding me. They literally change their position every few hours and the President's credibility, in my view, has just evaporated. And as I have said several times in recent days, the fact is he didn't take on Putin when it really counted and he's been trying to come up with one excuse after another for why he didn't.

BURNETT: Senator, do you think that if he goes ahead with this threat to strip these security clearances, an unprecedented action in the United States of America, that would be grounds for impeachment or does that not go far enough in your view?

WYDEN: I will tell you that if he goes forward with what he's been talking about today, the idea of building an enemies list and then we'd have the prospect of whether taxpayer funds were being used to deal with critics, I would rule absolutely nothing out if he pursued that strategy.

BURNETT: All right. Senator, thank you for your time. Appreciate it tonight.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me.

BURNETT: And next, breaking news. A dozen audio tapes made by Michael Cohen tonight in the hands of prosecutors. So what's on them?

Plus, President Trump's all caps threat against Iran. He says he's reacting to Iran's threat. So does it add up?

And the alleged Russian spy, Maria Butina, why did she meet with several American officials?


[19:15:59] BURNETT: Breaking news, more secret tapes. Federal prosecutors tonight in possession of 12 different audio recordings that were seized during FBI raids on Michael Cohen, the President's former lawyer. This is according to court filings. And it comes just three days after we learn there's a tape of Trump and Cohen talking about a payment to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump.

Kara Scannell is OUTFRONT. And Kara, what do we know about these additional tapes? Right now there are a dozen out there.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Erin. We've learned today that there are a dozen audio tapes that are now in the hands of prosecutors who are investigating Michael Cohen. What we've learned of this is that one of them is the tape we've been talking about since last week, where Cohen is discussing with Donald Trump the payment that American media made to Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model who alleged an affair with Trump. And that payment and its recording came before the election.

Now, what we've learned is that 11 of these other tapes include conversations day Cohen had with members of the media and reporters. Now, what we don't know is exactly how many of the 11 are with reporters and what other individuals might have been picked up on these tapes. Now all of this has come out because initially Trump's lawyers had wanted these tapes to be kept secret and out of the hands but prosecutors by saying that they should be covered by attorney/client private.

That on Friday they withdrew that request. And the special master, the court appointed person in charge of reviewing these files that were seized in that raid for privilege said, OK, now that they've withdrawn this request, I'll hand them over to the prosecutors. So, Erin, that is the latest there. But we do know that there are other tapes, including ones that Cohen has recorded with Trump. Sources tell us that those are rather mundane and have to do with such things such as, hey, can you call me back.

BURNETT: All right. Kara, thank you very much.

And I want to go now to the former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Harry Sandick, that's of course with Cohen's under investigation. And White House Correspondent for Politico, Eliana Johnson. OK, great to have both you.

Harry, you heard Kara reporting. We got 12 tapes now. What do you think?

HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well I think there are two questions. First of all, what's on the tapes? And second of all, why did they withdraw their claim of privilege? Not to go too inside the weeds on the legal side, but in general if you're under investigation and you can keep documents out of the hands of the government --

SANDICK: You do.

SANDICK: -- you do. So did they let these go because they knew that they were going to be ordered disclosed anyway and they're avoiding a bad ruling by the judge? Or because as Giuliani suggested, they're exculpatory or for some other reason.

BURNETT: And I want to talk about what Giuliani saying in a moment. Eliana, first, though, Trump's, you know, strategy now is go after Michael Cohen, right, the guy who said he take a bullet for him, Trump is now out for him. When Trump found Cohen recorded him, he tweeted in part, "Inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client. Totally unheard of and perhaps illegal." And, by the way, probably every client of a lawyer would agree with that.

But the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders today tried to downplay how worried Trump is about all of this. Here's how she's put it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did the President feel when he found out that his longtime lawyer and fixer had recorded him surreptitiously?

SANDERS: While the President maintains that he's done nothing wrong on this specific topic, I'd refer you to the President's outside counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Eliana, how worried is President Trump?

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: You know, Erin, I think we are getting only part of the answer from Sarah Sanders. If we've seen anything over the past week, it's really that there's a disconnect between the President and some of his top advisers. The fact that the President's tweeting about this and he's tweeting angrily I think is far more revealing as to his state of mind about this.

SANDICK: The question to me is, is he simply resentful that Michael Cohen is now an enemy rather than a loyal friend or do these tweets reflect a worry that Michael Cohen really has something on him, not necessarily that will be legally damaging but that will be really damaging to him in the court of public opinion?

BURNETT: Right, which, of course, you know, it's an interesting distinction you make, right? There's being legally afraid. I'm just being absolutely livid at somebody for selling you out. Harry, as you pointed out, Trump waived executive privilege on that tape, right, between himself and Michael Cohen about the Playboy playmate I'm sorry.

Rudy Giuliani says that's because Trump said I'll do it in the form of a check so it can be properly documented, right? The Trump tried to do it the right way and he had nothing to hide.

[19:20:12] And hence, let's go ahead and put that it out there. That's Rudy Giuliani's explanation. Does it add up?

SANDICK: Well, I mean, in general, very broadly speaking, doing something by check rather than cash is proof that you don't want to hide something. But the question is, was the underlying payment legal? However it was made. If it was made --

BURNETT: It was before the election, obviously.

SANDICK: That's right. And if it was made essentially as a reimbursement to AMI. So that they would be made whole for having kind of played this intermediary role, paying off McDougal to help protect the President, there's a question why that wasn't disclosed in the financial filings of the campaign.

BURNETT: Right, because it wasn't. And now, you know, they're saying, OK, well we ended up paying them back. And, look, there's a lot we don't still know obviously on what happened here.

But Eliana, it does come as we are learning new details about Michael Cohen himself. So he, you know, he's been running into Michael Avenatti in restaurants in New York for awhile now. I remember him telling me about one of those instances. And apparently it happened again and they talked. And this was just the other day. And the source says Avenatti pitched Cohen on resolving their differences and working together against Trump, basically joining forces. Avenatti just came on CNN moments ago and talked about this.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Frankly, I think that he is waiting for Donald Trump to appear in the middle of a dark forest and lead him out to salvation. And I don't think it's ever going to happen. We have zero interest, Wolf, in cooperating with Michael Cohen until and unless he comes to the conclusion that it is time for him to come 100% clean and do the right thing, disclose what he knows about the president and let the chips fall where they may.

BURNETT: Cohen and Avenatti on the same side, Eliana, do you buy it for a second or is this just great P.R. for both of them?

JOHNSON: I think it's more the latter than the former, Erin. I would note that Michael Cohen, somebody who has surreptitiously taped his client and it's been pretty public about turning on him doesn't seem like somebody waiting in a dark forest for Donald Trump to rescue him. And I think Michael Avenatti has been far more successful trolling Donald Trump in the media and running a sort of media campaign against him that gins of his base than he has about actually forming alliances that have been legally damaging to trump.

BURNETT: I mean, that's the thing here. Would you ever buy these two joining up?

SANDICK: Yes. No. The person who holds the keys for cooperation is the U.S. attorney's office, not Michael Avenatti. Cohen if he wants to protect himself and his family, as he said he does, needs to reach out to them. There is nothing right now that Avenatti can do for him.

BURNETT: Right, right. If Cohen has something that they want, they'll get it from Cohen.

SANDICK: That's right.

BURNETT: Avenatti doesn't yet to get involved. All right, thank you both very much.

And next, former FBI Director Jim Comey asking Americans why is Putin missing from the list of leaders Trump has publicly attacked?

Plus, our special OUTFRONT series debuts tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to one of the last truly wild places on earth.


BURNETT: This is an amazing piece coming up. The passionate debate at the heart of the arctic national wildlife refuge and the President.


[19:27:12] BURNETT: Tonight, Trump's all caps threat against Iran heard around the world. That tweet reads, "To Iranian President Rouhani, never, ever threaten the United States again. Or you will suffer consequences the likes of which through throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious."

Trying to read it the way one would read something like that sent in all caps from the President of the United States to the president of another country. Now the White House says, hey, President Trump was just responding to a threat from Iran.


SANDERS: He was responding to comments made from them and he's going to continue to focus on the safety and security of American people.


BURNETT: Imagine when your kid comes to you and say, well, he did it, so I get to do it, too. OK. Look, if trump feels the need for an all caps threat against Iran on Twitter because he is responding to them, then perhaps he should have responded many times since taking office. Because there's been a lot of threats from Iran. Where was the response when Iranian politicians burned the U.S. flag in parliament chanting death to America?

Where was the response when the Iranian President Rouhani warns, quote, we will bring the U.S. to its knees in this battle of wills. And what about a response from the Ayatollah, the Supreme Leader himself, Khomeini rolled (ph) about Trump -- tweeted about Trump saying this man's corpse will be worm food while the Islamic Republic of Iran stands strong.

I mean, that's threat. But President Trump did not respond to any of those threats or didn't response to many others leveled from Iran since he took office. Just now, just today, in all caps.

OUTFRONT now, David Gergen, a former Presidential Adviser to four presidents and Susan Glasser, CNN Global Affairs Analyst and Staff Writer for The New Yorker. I mean, David, this is the big question. I mean, all of a sudden you get this big all caps, worm food didn't bother him. I mean, you know, we can laugh, but, you know, funny or not funny. Is this all about -- let's just -- we don't want anybody paying attention to Russia or anything else? Let's just start talking about Iran?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, it's clearly something that he does often and that is deflect attention from he doesn't want you to be watching to something he does want you to watch. And I think that's part of it. And the Democrats and others have gone after him for that.

But I would hesitate to say that's all of it, Erin. There is a strong feeling with John Bolton and others that Iran is now more vulnerable than it has been. Its economy is weak. There's a lot of restlessness in Iran. Its currency has dropped by half --

BURNETT: Yes. GERGEN: -- since the beginning of the year. And this is an administration, the Trump administration wants to get rid of the Iranian government. And failing that, they want to weaken the Iranian government. It makes to easier to deal with the Europeans and others and try to put the squeeze on them. So I think it's a double barrel motivation.

BURNETT: Susan, you know, the President ending with be cautious. Just a moment ago, the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, who, you know, many of us have met him in person, including you, right? He's got a dry sense of humor. He has responded on Twitter in all caps. "COLOR US UNIMPRESSED, BE CAUTIOUS" in response to Trump.

How dangerous is it to play this game with the Iranian regime, right? I mean, you know, you're basically taunting each other with annihilation and war on Twitter.

SUSAN GLASSER, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, you know, it's interesting, you're right. The Iranian foreign minister is an astute user of Twitter himself. When I interviewed him last year, he made the point to me that unlike Donald Trump, he actually consults around quite widely before he sends out his tweets. So, I think this was a very calculated response on the part of Iranians.

They have interestingly tried not to take the bait up until now from President Trump. When he withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, you did not see the Iranians say, forget it, that's it, we're done as well and we're just going to start redeveloping our nuclear program. They chose, instead, to, you know, work with the Europeans who have remained parties to the deal, along with Russia and China.


GLASSER: And to try to find a way around it.

You know, will Trump push them into a corner now is an interesting question, but I do think David is making an important point. There is a through line of the Trump foreign policy that is really all around organizing and isolating Iran and seeing Iran as the focus of American efforts in the Middle East in a much more concerted way.

And so, I think that, sure, the president wants to distract from Russia. And let's not forget, it's been one week since Helsinki and he still hasn't told us whether Vladimir Putin was telling the truth or not when he said that he made important verbal agreements with Donald Trump behind closed doors in that meeting.

BURNETT: I mean, it's amazing that was only one week ago. You can say that almost of any week of this presidency.

David, the thing is though, you know, in that tweet when he said you will suffer consequences, the likes of which few throughout history have suffered before -- it obviously is incredibly and one must assume intentionally reminiscent of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury. Like the world has never seen.


BURNETT: Kim Jong-un came to the negotiating table.

Now big question what happens from there, David. But is this what the president is trying to do?

GERGEN: Well, I don't think that worked very well with the North Koreans. They did come to the table but now, they're skipping meetings and they're going into their dodging habits. As other presidents have found, they're extraordinarily difficult to work with.

So, I think that -- I think the president, frankly, on North Korea has sort of overpromised and under-delivered so far. And yet he tells us that things are -- he's satisfied with it. He can't be satisfied.

As CNN has reported, the president was fuming over the weekend about the lack of progress with North Korea. He tells -- tweets everything that is fine. But he is -- you have to remember that only a short while ago the administration was promising they'd have a deal and have everything all set by the end of this year. They're nowhere close to getting a deal in North Korea right now.

BURNETT: Susan, you know, the former FBI Director Jim Comey just tweeted, thought experiment, make a list of all the public figures in this country and around the world the current president has criticized. Ask yourself, why is Putin missing from the list? No responsible American should ever stop asking why.

It's tweets like that are why -- President Trump says he wants to strip Jim Comey of his security clearance. Does Comey have a point, though?

GLASSER: Well, first of all, I guess Comey has also pointed out he no longer has a security clearance, and I did think that even more than the Iran tweet, the decision to have the White House press secretary announce essentially a White House enemies list from the podium today that included James Comey and other national security --


GLASSER: -- former officials who have criticized Trump, you know, really smacks of something very un-American, very anti-democratic, small "D," and something that even for Trump, you know, is an ill thought through diversion. You know, they didn't even bother to check that the list of names included people who didn't have security clearances.

BURNETT: Right, Jim Comey and McCabe, yes.

GLASSER: We'll see.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both.

And next, breaking news. Trump's team going back to Mueller. They've got a new counteroffer about this interview. This interview is like waiting for Godot. So, what's on the table and what's not?

Plus, Trump's push to drill in Alaska's wildlife refuge.


TRUMP: We fought like hell to get Anwar. He talked me into it.


BURNETT: How is this playing, though, on the ground? Bill Weir is there with a special report.


BURNETT: Breaking news, President Trump's legal team submitting a counteroffer tonight to the special counsel Bob Mueller over terms for a possible interview with the president. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting tonight that Trump's team is willing to face questions about collusion with Russia.

So, that's obviously extremely significant, but they want to curtail questions about obstruction of justice, which, of course, would involve questions about the firing of the former FBI Director James Comey, also, of course, possibly Michael Flynn. Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani also telling "The Journal" an interview between Trump and Mueller is, quote, still on the table.

OUTFRONT now, "Wired" Contributing Editor, Garrett Graff, also author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror".

Good to have you with me. I really appreciate your time, Garrett.

So, what do you make of the fact that these negotiations are still going on? I mean, it's kind of -- and, obviously, Rudy Giuliani is the one -- he appears to be leaking it or certainly talking about it.


BURNETT: This interview that never seems to happen is still on the table.

GRAFF: Yes, and I think that that in some ways is just the most significant piece of news out of this. I mean, regardless of what the specific details of the deal or the offer or the counteroffer are at this point, the idea that the negotiations are still ongoing, that they're not, you know, dead on the operating table yet is significant, because I think that that shows that Mueller is still going to keep pressing on this and that the president hasn't totally closed the door on this. I mean, this is now, you know, I've lost track at this point, probably an eight, nine-month process.


[19:40:00] GRAFF: But it looked like this was pretty dead up until basically this new news breaking.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, you know, and it comes, Garrett, as Paul Manafort made a rare court appearance in Virginia today. And he was wearing a green jumpsuit, rumpled collar. Mueller's team has convinced a judge to grant immunity to five witnesses testifying against Manafort.

So, that's two women and three men. They get immunity. They all appear connected to financial institutions and real estate dealings of Manafort.

How significant must their information about him be, Garrett?

GRAFF: Probably significant to Manafort, not particularly significant to the context of their own professional jobs. As you said, these appear to be people largely tied to the financial dealings that Manafort has, probably the facilitators of it, and something that we should sort of expect will take center stage as this trial comes down about sort of the ins and outs of Paul Manafort's financial machinations.

BURNETT: And, of course, the Manafort team has gotten another week or so, ten days, right, to go through a lot of these documents. So, this trial now has been postponed. So, it's not starting this week. It's going to start, you know, a week and a half or so later.

The president, though, Garrett has tried to distance himself from Manafort again and again, right? Falsely claiming that Manafort only worked for his campaign for a short period of time, which is certainly untrue and it was most significant time.

Can the president successfully distance himself from his former campaign chairman as this trial starts up?

GRAFF: I think it's going to be pretty hard. I mean, these are going to be daily headlines about, you know, Paul Manafort really being charged with conspiracy against the United States. I mean, that's an incredibly serious charge, even if you're not talking about the one- time campaign chair of the incumbent president, the victor in the presidential race.

BURNETT: All right. Garrett, thank you. Appreciate it. Talk to you soon.

GRAFF: Talk to you soon.

BURNETT: And next, the fight over Trump's move to drill in one of the most controversial places in the entire United States of America.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are changing the world everywhere so fast, but why not leave a few places unspoiled? (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Bill Weir there on the ground in Alaska.

And the accused Russian spy, why was she meeting with multiple American officials?


[19:46:13] BURNETT: Tonight, President Trump drilling in Alaska. The president taking the first steps that would allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an incredible step, Trump signing legislation that would open up 1 1/2 million acres of land to the oil business for the first time since 1980. And the big question, at what cost?

Bill Weir is OUTFRONT. The amazing images and the first part in our OUTFRONT series.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is magnificent. Wow.

(voice-over): Way up in the tiptop of Alaska, an airplane can feel like a time machine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see in there, like little babies running around.

WEIR: Because the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, commonly known as ANWR, is the kind of pure wilderness most of America paved over long ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it is. We are in the heart of the Arctic refuge.

WEIR (on camera): Welcome to one of the last truly wild places on earth.

(voice-over): The coastal plain brims with life from musk oxen to bears, both grizzly and polar. Birds that will migrate to the backyards of all 50 states. But as Florian Schulz has captured over the years, the most common creature is the caribou, and not just a few, put hundreds of thousands, the kind of herd unseen since the plains buffalo were wiped away. When Florian is here with his family, he can't help but wonder how long it will last.

FLORIAN SCHULZ, FILMMAKER, WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER: We need to keep some of these places untouched. We are changing the world everywhere so fast, but why not leave a few places unspoiled?

WEIR: For almost 60 years, that was the rationale that protected ANWR from this. These are the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay that fill the famous pipeline and power countless lives.

But since there are billions of barrels elsewhere, nature lovers have long argued there is no need to drill here, and for decades, that argument held until --

TRUMP: One day, a friend of mine who's in the oil business called and said, is it true that you have ANWR in the bill? I said, I don't know, who cares? What is that?

He said, well, you know, Reagan tried. Every single president tried. I said, you've got to be kidding. I love it now.

And after that, we fought like hell to get ANWR. He talked me into it.

WEIR: December's tax cut bill also opened ANWR to drilling, thanks to Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, who slipped in the provision, knowing that it would only need 51 instead of 60 votes to pass.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: It is wrong for those from the outside looking into who have taken a nice trip into an area and say, this must be protected.

WEIR: But conservationists point out, there is already a huge glut of American oil.

(on camera): Oil companies are laying people off up here, right, because prices are so low?

NICOLE WHITTINGTON-EVANS, THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY: Oil companies have been laying people off. And, you know, for the first time in the last five years, I was seeing more oil company workers leaving the state of Alaska and going to places like North Dakota than coming into the state.

WEIR (voice-over): But much like Trump's efforts to revive dying coal mines, the rush to drill here seems driven more by politics than economics.

(on camera): Former Speaker of the House Tom DeLay once said if we can drill in ANWR, it will break the back of the environmental lobby.

DAN RITZMAN, SIERRA CLUB: well, they haven't drilled in ANWR yet. We know that the Arctic regions are heating twice as fast as any other part of the world. And it just makes zero sense to come here and look for more oil that's just going to exacerbate that problem.

WEIR (voice-over): And among those opposed is the Gwich'in Nation, the northern most tribe of Native Americans.

[19:50:02] (on camera): How many people live here?


WEIR: I think about 150 people live on my floor of the apartment building.

(voice-over): Their numbers may be tiny, but they're definitely not outsiders. GEMMILL: Archaeological evidence shows we've been here over 25,000


WEIR: And the only reason they survived is caribou. Back in the day, they would trap the animals in these hand-made corrals. These days, they use guns and snowmobiles, but still need the animals to survive in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in America.

(on camera): Groceries at the midnight sun can cost twice as much as the whole foods in Manhattan. Gasoline up here runs $10 a gallon. But still, given the choice between oil money and caribou, there is no debate. These folks will stick with the one animal that has kept them alive for thousands of years, and they cannot imagine drills and trucks and pipelines across what they call the sacred place where life begins.

GEMMILL: Look what happened to the Plains Indians and the Buffalo. That's not going to happen to my people. We're not going to allow that to happen again.

WEIR (voice-over): To Gwich'in, they are a Native American David against a Goliath of oil companies, Republican lawmakers, and the Inupiat, a coastal tribe of Native Alaskans, eager to drill and cash in.

EDWARD REXFORD, UNALAKLEET, ALASKA: Now that the U.S. is saying we can finally do this, now we have the other side, the environmentalists saying we can't do this. What's wrong with this picture?

WEIR: As the government rushes towards development, community meetings lay bare the fight, tribe versus tribe, neighbor against neighbor.

ADRIENNE TITUS, UNALAKLEET, ALASKA: We have thousands of gallons discovered in places that have already seen destruction, but restraint is what we lack. When did we all become owners of the land? It has always owned us.

WEIR: Bill Weir, CNN, Kaktovik, Alaska.


BURNETT: And that's just the first installment. Tomorrow, part 2 of our special OUTFRONT series. Bill is going to take you to an Alaskan town where all anybody talks about is Trump, the weather, and polar bears.


WEIR: Skinny, hungry polar bears aren't the only warning sign up here. That is the Kaktovik airport, and they're moving it away from the coast, due in part to sea level rise.


BURNETT: That is tomorrow, only here OUTFRONT. And next, new details about who is financing the alleged Russian spy

Maria Butina.


[19:56:45] BURNETT: Tonight, new details about meetings between alleged Russian spy Maria Butina and American government officials. That's right, officials, plural. She met with multiple of them.

A person who arranged the meetings confirms that in 2015, Butina met with a high-ranking official at the Federal Reserve and an official at the Treasury Department, and we're learning even more about Butina's financial backer.

Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina naming Russian billionaire Konstantin Nikolaev as her backer in Senate intelligence committee testimony earlier this year, a source tells CNN. Butina launched a gun rights group in Moscow.

MARIA BUTINA, ALLEGED RUSSIAN SPY: (INAUDIBLE) because freedom is very important, and the basis of any freedom is, of course, gun rights.

MURRAY: And used it to build ties with one of our key avenues into U.S. politics, the National Rifle Association. She and associates even tried unsuccessfully to arrange back channel communications between candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nikolaev's office acknowledged she invested in Butina's Russian gun rights from 2012 to 2014 was their last contact. The funding was to support their efforts in Russia to raise awareness around certain domestic issues, according to a statement from his office. Retired CIA chief of Russia operations, Steven Hall, says Vladimir Putin often taps local billionaires to back his influence operations.

STEVE HALL, RETIRED CHIEF OF RUSSIAN OPERATIONS: You still have Kremlin control over this very wide net that Putin has cast.

MURRAY: Allow the Russian president to claim he wasn't involved in the scheme.

HALL: All of these people can say, look, we're not members of the Russian intelligence service. We're not members of the Russian government. And to the western ear, that sounds right. But in truth, that's not really what's going on.

MURRAY: Court filings describe Butina's funder as a Russian businessman with deep ties to the Russian presidential administration, but don't explicit named Nikolaev. According to Forbes, the 47-year- old is worth just over a billion dollars. He made most of his fortune investing in Russian ports and railways. He is also on the board of Houston-based energy company American Ethane.

Butina's lawyer insists she is not a spy and she has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent in the U.S. But she landed powerful introductions in U.S. political and financial spheres. Alongside her mentor, Kremlin-linked banker Aleksandr Torshin, Butina attended 2015 meetings with Stanley Fischer, then the Federal Reserve vice chairman, and Nathan Sheets, at that time the treasury undersecretary for international affairs under the Obama administration.

The Center for National Interest think tank arranged the meetings. We facilitated meetings for Aleksandr Torshin in his capacity as vice- chairman of Russia's central bank, the executive director said. It was his decision that Maria Butina would accompany him as an interpreter.


MURRAY: Now, so far, no one else has been charged in Maria Butina's alleged scheme, including these Russians who allegedly helped her out, but we could get more information on Wednesday. That's when she is expected to be back in court -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Sara, who again has been following this story since the beginning.

And thanks so much to all of you for joining us. We'll see you back here tomorrow night.

"AC360" with Anderson begins right now.