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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump Ally Roger Stone Pleads The Fifth; Standing By For New Mueller Court Filing On Michael Flynn; Dow Sinks Nearly 800 Points Amid Confusion Over Trump Policy. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 4, 2018 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thanks very much. And to our viewers, thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, OUTFRONT HOST: Out front next, breaking news. Roger Stone pleading the fifth. This as Bob Mueller is about to drop a major court filing about Michael Flynn any moment.

Plus, the Dow dropping 800 points today. Is Trump to blame for this plunge?

And more evidence tonight of possible voter fraud in North Carolina. You've got to see this to believe it. And we actually went to talk to these people. Some of them say they were completely duped into filling out absentee ballots. Our Drew Griffin investigates. Let's go out front.

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. Out front this evening, the breaking news. Roger Stone pleading the fifth. The President's long- time confidant, Roger Stone, tonight rejecting a request from the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify and turn over documents. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, requesting the interview and information. That committee of course is still conducting its investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. Election.

Stone's snub coming just days after he insisted he had nothing on the President. Yet President Trump has been for a long time very, very clear that anybody who pleads the fifth is someone who has something to hide.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have you seen what's going on in front of Congress? Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment. Horrible. Horrible.

The mob takes the fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?

When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the fifth, so they're not prosecuted, I think it's disgraceful. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: You heard him. Have you seen what's going on in Congress, Fifth Amendment, horrible. Well, that's Stone tonight. And it comes as the Special Counsel, Bob Mueller, at any moment is expected to provide new details in his investigation. We are anticipating any moment he's going to submit what will be one of the most important court filings to date, expected to describe just how valuable the President's former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, has been to Mueller.

Up until now, Flynn's cooperation has been a mystery. What we know is it was a year ago when Flynn flipped. He started cooperating with the Special Counsel. He was part of the President's inner circle, a central player. And Mueller has now pushed his sentencing back four times, presumably because Flynn was still useful in providing information, again, for about a year. In the year since Flynn has been charged, he has rarely spoken out. But in private, he has been talking to Mueller, after he did plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

CNN Crime and Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz is out front live in Washington. Shimon, obviously some very big developments tonight. I want to start with Roger Stone pleading the fifth. He's been very prominent in both the Hill investigations and Mueller's investigation.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CCRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, and certainly, you know, in recently it's all been about the Mueller investigation. And what we know is that countless number of people, several people have appeared before Mueller concerning Roger Stone. Most recently, you know, in the news it's been Jerome Corsi who was an associate of Roger Stone.

And really what the Mueller team is trying to figure out all along is whether or not somehow where's WikiLeaks, was Julian Assange communicating with anyone in the campaign through a third party, whether it was Roger Stone or whether it was Jerome Corsi or other people, and were they giving a heads up that any of these e-mails were about to be released. And certainly that investigation, Erin, is still continuing. They still continue to try and figure out.

They're still talking to witnesses related to Roger Stone. And the other thing, as you'll all recall, that Jerome Corsi, you know, that case is still pending whether or not he actually gets charged, that's still under way so we're trying to figure out exactly hat the next step is here for Roger Stone.

BURNETT: I mean, obviously very significant here. And Shimon, as for the Mueller filing on Flynn, I mean, we are expecting this at any moment now and obviously, you know, Flynn, inner circle for the President, and then cooperating now for almost a year with Bob Mueller. What are we likely to learn from this filing?

PROKUPECZ: So, we're hoping to learn a lot, you know, this filing, we've sort of been sitting on the edge of our seats here all day waiting for this to come. We've been told it could come, it should come within this hour. And really the key points of this memo is going to illustrate to us how substantial Flynn's cooperation has been. That is whether or not he has been providing substantial assistance, whether or not his assistance or whether or not his cooperation has been impactful on the investigation, whether there are certain things that the Mueller team could not have learned without his cooperation, where his investigation stands.

That is all of his contact with Russians, his contact with people in the Trump campaign. Did he tell them anything? Did he tell them he was going to be speaking to Russians about sanctions, about any other things? All of that we hope to learn in this sentencing memo which could come at any point within the hour.

[19:05:00] BURNETT: All right. Shimon, thank you very much.

And of course as we anticipate that may come here within the next hour, we are awaiting it. I want to go now to John Dean, former Nixon White House Counsel during Watergate, Gloria Borger, Chief Political Analyst and Author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror." OK, thanks to all of you. Gloria, this court filling, as Shimon said, everyone really would (INAUDIBLE) pins and needles. This could be very significant.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I think Shimon described it really well. I mean, the key we're looking for here is how valuable a witness was General Flynn. How much substantial assistance did he give to Mueller. And, you know, Flynn is at the center of this, particularly during the transition where, you know, we know that he's been -- the Special Counsel's office has described about how he lied about his communications with the former Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, before the Trump administration took office about sanctions. And whether he and other people in the campaign were calling foreign nations to find out how they would vote in the United Nations about Israeli settlements, which is something you don't do until you've taken office.

BURNETT: Right.

BORGER: And we also know that the acting Attorney General, remember Sally Yates, ran down to the White House with her hair on fire talking to the then White House Counsel, Don McGahn, saying you have a problem here with General Flynn. He could be subject to blackmail by the Russians. And it took the White House almost three weeks to say Flynn ought to leave. And that was, they said, because he lied to the Vice President about it. A lot to learn tonight.

BURNETT: Right. Eighteen days that it took him to do that.

BORGER: Yes.

BURNETT: I mean, Garrett, you know, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying. He did agree to cooperate, right, that was a year ago. Now, what I'm curious about, Garrett, because you know the inside here, you know, so well about Bob Mueller, four times Bob Mueller has delayed Michael Flynn's sentencing. What does that tell you? I mean, you would think that means he's been really valuable. Would that be right? GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, "INSIDE ROBERT MUELLER'S FBI AND THE WAR ON GLOBAL TERROR": Well, so it could mean two very different things. One, it could mean that he's been very valuable across a wide range of this investigation, or it could mean that he has just had unique insight into one very specific and important part of the investigation as it continues to unfold. Remember, you know, we've seen this story play out in a couple of different surprise twists as these cases have unfolded.

You know, George Papadopoulos took one of these plea agreements and cooperation agreements and we thought that he had been a key figure, that he had provided key information. The sentencing memorandum came out for Papadopoulos and it turned out that he had provided virtually nothing of any value whatsoever.

BURNETT: Right. He, of course, served his, what was it, 12, 10, something like that days in jail as he's supposed to come out --

GRAFF: He is in prison right now in Wisconsin, out next week.

BURNETT: Right, right. But, John Dean, what is your take on this Flynn filing tonight?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, one key may be the sentence he's actually given. Papadopoulos, it surprised me after the memo that he only got 14 days. And then you have Van Der Zwaan who was the Dutch lawyer, who also cooperated, he got 30 days. So, judges -- different judges do sentence in different ways but obviously that will be one of the things that will tell us the degree of cooperation with Flynn. He could get probation and that would be a pretty good sign he's got some pretty valuable stuff.

BURNETT: You know, Gloria, tonight that -- this comes as we have this Roger Stone information, right, invoking the Fifth Amendment after the request from the Senate Judiciary Committee from the Democrat there, Senator Dianne Feinstein, right, interview and documents. Their investigation is still ongoing.

Stone's attorney wrote in a letter to Feinstein when this request came in that Stone has already testified to the House Intelligence Committee saying, "These requests, as previously stated to staff, are far too overboard, far too overreaching, far too wide ranging both in their all-embracing list of persons to whom the request could relate with whom Mr. Stone has communicated over the past three years, and the documents concerning imprecision of the requests". Does it sound like Roger Stone has something to hide?

BORGER: Well, it sounds like Roger Stone is just -- if he's going to talk to anyone, he's going to talk to Bob Mueller and I believe he has not. And I think that --

BURNETT: Now, that's the best reason he's told us, is that he hasn't. Yes.

BORGER: -- that he has not. And this, you know, Roger Stone can say what he wants to the Democrats, quite frankly, on the Senate Intelligence Committee because they're not in charge. The question is what happens afterwards when the Democrats take over the House and he could potentially get subpoenaed. At some point, and maybe John can talk about this, this becomes a battle between the Special Counsel and the Intelligence Committees because I would presume that if the Special Counsel says let me handle Roger Stone, that the Intelligence Committee would back off.

[19:10:09] BURNETT: So let me ask you John about that, right? You've got Senate Intelligence Committee with its investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee as we're talking here, and you've got the President, though, explicitly, John, talking about people who take the fifth when it comes, not just to court, but to Congress. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Have you seen what's going on in front of Congress? Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment. Horrible. Horrible.

The mob takes the fifth. If you're innocent, why are you are taking the Fifth Amendment?

When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the fifth so they're not prosecuted, I think it's disgraceful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: I mean, John, it is pretty stunning here the parallels, right. He's talking about Democrats and Clinton aides and of course Roger Stone was his confidant and associate.

DEAN: Indeed, indeed. With Roger, however, hypocrisy and shame are not big personal issues for him. He's got a reputation for doing pretty much what Roger thinks he wants to do and doesn't care much about the public feeling about his actions.

So, actually, the fact that he did take the fifth was from a legal standpoint probably his only option at this point. His lawyer probably advised him to take it because it's the only way he can protect his rights. And he doesn't know exactly what his status is at this point. So I think that probably be was pretty much insisted on by his lawyer, and a smart thing to do.

BURNETT: So Garrett, as we await this Flynn filing, as we said, any moment now, what do you think this means for Mueller? You've got the Flynn filing. You have Cohen's sentencing coming up on the 12th. You have Papadopoulos getting out of prison in the next few days. You have the Manafort victory and now of course accusing him of lying, possible retrial. But is all of this a sign that he is tying the bow, that he is almost complete?

GRAFF: It certainly seems like we are in the beginning of the end. It's possible the end might stretch out for quite some time to come, but we certainly do see Mueller wrapping things up in distinct areas of this investigation right now. And that seems significant. That's something that we haven't necessarily seen in earlier stages of the investigation, and sort of throughout -- we're seeing sort of Mueller, sort of court filing by court filing. Pretty methodically laying down the building blocks or the puzzle pieces of the case that he is putting together and we're beginning to see pieces connect. And I think that one of the things that we'll know between the Flynn documents this week, the Cohen documents and the Manafort documents is we're going to know a lot more about this case and what the reality of the question of the Russia's influence in 2016.

BURNETT: All right, thank you all very much. And of course from all of that, the crucial question is that, do the bread crumbs lead to the Oval Office and the President of the United States or not.

As we await that Flynn filing any moment, stocks today plunging, a complete free fall. Trump bragging about a China trade deal that apparently doesn't exist.

Plus, CIA Director Gina Haspel breaking her silence on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And what she's telling senators has them convinced that the President isn't telling the truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There is not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: One of the senators with Haspel today is out front.

And the Bush family making a surprise return to the Capitol just moments ago to say farewell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:17:27] BURNETT: Breaking news tonight, stocks plunging, a free fall of nearly 800 points. Investors afraid the China trade war is still on, despite Trump proudly announcing that it's resolved. Investors say learning the trade truce with China is just not what they hoped it would be.

The President had tweeted glowing praise to the talk saying, "China has agreed to reduce and remove tariffs on cars coming into China from the U.S. Currently the tariff is 40 percent." So that would be a big thing to agree to, right? Then went on to say, "Farmers will be a very big and fast beneficiary of the deal with China. They intend to start purchasing agricultural product immediately". The operative word there turned out to be intend that there is no deal.

Jeff Zeleny is out front from the White House. And Jeff, you know, when you look at this, today one of the worst market point drops in U.S. history. What is the White House reaction?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, the White House is saying absolutely nothing about this, at least publicly. And I can tell you as this was dropping throughout the day, as the market was dropping throughout the day, there was silence at the White House today. There was an opportunity for the President to have a public appearance when he was signing a bill, an unrelated bill on funding the coast guard actually. They closed -- had that closed press, so he was not able to answer any questions perhaps about this or other matters.

But we do know the President pays so much attention to the stock market. He's talked so much and he's, in fact, measured the first two years of his presidency on this. Now going in the other direction, he didn't say anything at all, but we do know that he will try to blame someone.

The reality is coming out of the G20 summit in Argentina. They thought that the outlines that confines of a trade deal would make the market more relaxed, relieved. But the fine print of what actually happened in that conversation is actually doing the opposite.

So, Erin, the President is saying nothing publicly, tweeting nothing but privately no question he would be seething about this. There, of course, is the Bush funeral tomorrow, so we do not expect the President to talk about this, but boy, Erin, certainly not good for this White House.

BURNETT: Certainly not at all, especially when you look at this year. Any market gains are long gone. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.

Out front now, Stephen Moore, Informal Adviser to the White House, Author of "Trumponomics" and Robert Reich, Former U.S. Labor Secretary under President Clinton and Author of "The Common Good." Thanks to both. Steve, you know, look, the President, no doubt coming out and bragging about things that have not yet been formally agreed to which can always be tough when people are trying to save face in a final negotiation.

There's a JPMorgan trading note this morning, Steve, this morning. It says, "It doesn't seem like anything was actually agreed to at the dinner and White House officials are contorting themselves into pretzels to reconcile Trump's tweets, which seem if not completely fabricated then grossly exaggerated, with reality." Ouch, Steve.

[19:20:13] STEPHEN MOORE, INFORMAL WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Yes, I think one of the messages here that investors and politicians should take from today's market rout is that markets don't like tariffs. And there is a lot of uncertainty now about whether or not maybe the White House oversold this deal that was made over the weekend. It looks like it was kind of a handshake deal.

And one of the things that was interesting, Erin, is, you know, that China put out a little statement about what they thought the deal meant and the U.S. put out their statement and there wasn't a lot of intersection. So maybe there wasn't a real meeting of the minds. Look, I think Trump is in this for the long term. I think that Trump will not back down when it comes to China. And he basically said today, look, if this doesn't work out, we're going to have to slap them with another round of tariffs, which is might be the right thing to do but it's not exactly what markets want to hear.

BURNETT: Well, no, and it's in a sense, Bob Reich, you know, he likes to threaten that and hope he never has to actually do it and then get credit when the market recovers. But the reality of it is is by coming out and bragging about a deal you don't have. You might end up actually having to go ahead with all of this stuff.

ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY UNDER PRES. BILL CLINTON: Erin, the real danger here is that, you know, markets don't like uncertainty. Markets don't like it when a President says one thing and the truth is revealed to be something else. Markets get very jittery, particularly when tariffs. Steve, as you said, when there's a lot of talk about raising tariffs and trade wars, there's already a climate of fear out there. And what Donald Trump is doing is just adding to that climate of fear.

Steve, I don't know if you saw today another Trump tweet that tariffs are great. Tariffs are good things. In fact, tariffs mean more money coming into the United States. I mean, I don't understand where Donald Trump is getting his economics from. The people who are advising him obviously are not teaching him anything about the real means of tariffs.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: -- where Steve, he literally wrote, I am a tariff man.

MOORE: Yes. I mean, look this is --

BURNETT: I mean, that's ridiculous, right?

MOORE: This is a negotiating strategy by Trump. I mean, first of all, to put all the blame here on the White House overselling this deal, I think is an exaggeration because the truth is, you know, from my sources at the White House, they thought they had an agreement with China that certain things would happen and China seemed to be backing off. So, look, the Chinese are hard to negotiate with. They don't have the same -- you know, they don't always keep their word, they cheat, they steal, in terms of trade -- this is an abusive trade relationship.

BURNETT: But why would you go out and say that China agreed to get rid of their tariffs and we're going to be such beneficiaries? I mean, when you don't have a signed deal, if you're going to make someone look bad, they're not going to want to sign it. I mean, the President just tweeted a moment ago --

MOORE: That's a fair point, Erin. I mean, look, I think one of the things that Trump ought to do, I mean, if you want to get them to yes, keep kind of trying to nurture them to yes. And I think that the problem is that he doesn't trust them and neither do some of the other negotiators on the White House side in this negotiation. But the stakes are huge here.

REICH: That's precisely the point. If you don't trust them and if you worry that they are going to waffle, you don't want to claim credit for a concession before they've actually given the concession. Otherwise you could -- you run the risk of pushing them even further -- BURNETT: Well, you both seem in agreement on that, that those tweets

were mistakes.

REICH: And also creating chaoness (ph), more than what chaos.

BURNETT: Can I just jump in. He just tweeted a moment ago about this, an update on it.

MOORE: Yes.

BURNETT: So the President just says, "We either going to have a REAL DEAL with China, or no deal at all -- at which point we will be charging major tariffs against Chinese product being shipped into the United States. Ultimately, I believe we will be making a deal, either now or in the future. China does not want tariffs".

MOORE: Yes. Look, I mean, that's a total negotiating tactic by Trump. He's used this actually fairly effectively, Robert Reich, with Canada, with Mexico, with Korea, saying, look, unless you start lowering your tariffs and open up your markets to American goods and products, which by the way, Robert Reich, would create more American jobs and higher wages for Americans, then we're going to slap you with this punitive tariffs. And that negotiating tactic has worked with these other countries. What we don't know is --

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: The problem is it's not working. It's clearly not working.

BURNETT: Sorry, I just want to play something because I think part of the problem here is you have a President who thinks that he alone and he with his personal relationships can get to yes, right? Clearly that's the way he sees things with President Kim, right, in North Korea and now with President Xi. In fact, so much that he got Larry Kudlow, who we all know to say exactly what Trump wanted to hear about this dinner with the Chinese premier. Here's Larry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: At this dinner, I saw real chemistry between the two.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: OK, Steve, that's what Trump wants to hear, but clearly this is not about chemistry. Trump wants to think he can have dinner and shake hands and then go out and tweet and that's not how it works. Does he realize it?

[19:25:04] MOORE: I think that's a fair point. By the way, I always thought that that was the problem with Barack Obama as well, that he thought he could charm these foreign leaders to do things and they, you know, oftentimes they wouldn't do it. So I think that's oftentimes a flaw of American leaders to think that they can charm, you know, foreign leaders to do things that they don't want to do. And I think, look, Trump feels very strongly. I think most Americans are behind him, that we're in a very abusive trade relationship right now with China. And I would ask Robert Reich, if you don't think these punitive tariffs are the right way to go, how are we going to get China to behave itself?

REICH: What do you mean exactly by behaving itself?

MOORE: Well stop imposing high tariffs on us. Stop stealing our intellectual property.

REICH: Donald Trump has an idea that somehow the worst the Chinese are and the worse the Chinese economy goes, the better for us. It's a zero some content.

MOORE: No, no, no, no, no

REICH: And that just doesn't work. Steve, let me just say, his discussion of tariffs is just akin to what Congressman Smoot and Hawley were talking about in 1930. In terms -- I mean, we -- this trade war it could go, it could escalate and escalate and escalate. I think that's the where the markets --

MOORE: Because Trump is going to win this trade war. That's why you're wrong.

BURNETT: I'm glad the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act has made it on the program to remind everyone obviously one of the most, you know, important predicates to a world war. Thank you both very much.

MOORE: OK. Thank you.

BURNETT: And now Republicans not towing the President's official line on Jamal Khashoggi after a CIA briefing on his brutal dismemberment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: If he was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes, guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Pretty clear. Senator Menendez was in today's briefing with Gina Haspel, the CIA Director. He's out front.

Plus, Drew Griffin investigates tonight, shocking accusations of election fraud in North Carolina allegedly to help the Republican candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Do you remember requesting an absentee ballot?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mmm-hmm.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): So you don't know how that absentee ballot showed up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: New tonight, breaking her silence. CIA Director Gina Haspel finally briefing a small group of Senators on the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And tonight those Senators, including GOP Senators who usually back President Trump, said the CIA Director completely contradicted Trump on the role of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: There's not a smoking gun, there's a smoking saw. It is zero chance, zero that this happened in such an organized fashion without the Crown Prince.

CORKER: If he was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes, guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Thirty minutes guilty. Haspel's briefing coming after she came under scathing bipartisan criticism for failing to appear at an all-Senate briefing last week, a briefing where other administration officials toed the president's line of letting the Saudi crown prince off the hook.

The CIA, of course, concluded that Mohammed bin Salman personally directed the brutal murder.

OUTFRONT now, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez. He was briefed by the CIA director today.

Senator, did you learn anything? What was new today?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, I can't get into the specifics of the briefing, but I thought that it was pretty clear that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia had directed the killing of Jamal Khashoggi prior to this briefing. I am resolute in that belief after the briefing. And this is not a question of who done it.

It's a question -- I know in my mind who directed this, and that's the crown prince. And now, the question is what will we do about it?

BURNETT: And that is a crucial question. I want to ask you first, though, Senator, about why we're even in this position. The takeaway that you have, the takeaway from the CIA vastly different than the talking points we've been hearing from the Trump administration, right, that the whole Senate heard last week by Secretaries Mattis and Pompeo. Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: No direct evidence linking him to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Pompeo and Mattis, of course, as you know, Senator, were just toeing the boss's line. Lest anyone forget, it's this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, he strongly denies it, he vehemently denies it. I hate the cover-up, and I will tell you this, the crown prince hates it more than I do.

We are with Saudi Arabia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: I mean it's pretty stunning, Senator. But the question is why? Why is the president and his secretary of state and his secretary of defense refusing to accept the intelligence?

MENENDEZ: Well, because they're all toeing the same line. They are all in with the crown prince. They think that it's strategic to the administration's views both on Iran, it's strategic as it relates to oil prices, and they're not willing to give up that strategic relationship. I think they're making a wrong calculation.

The reality is, is that Saudi Arabia is still going to see Iran as an existential threat. The reality is that the Saudis are also going to see the concern of extremism as it relates to threats to their own country. The reality is they have 30 years of our weaponry and they're not going to turn away from us overnight.

So, there is a real opportunity here to send not only the crown prince but also a global message that you cannot violate the international law, kill with impunity and -- without a real consequence. And that's what's at stake here. It's not just the Saudis, it's also a global message.

BURNETT: I hear your point, but what does the United States do? I mean, obviously, there are sanctions now on other Saudis who were involved with the murder. Their assets have been frozen, bank accounts, they have been banned from coming to the United States.

Should the crown prince be on that list?

MENENDEZ: Well, this is why Bob Corker, the chairman of the foreign relations committee and myself as the ranking Democrat on the committee sent a specific request under the Global Magnitsky law, which is a law that violates human -- that sanctions human rights violators for a determination on the crown prince specifically. And if that determination comes forth, as I believe it should, then, yes, those sanctions would be applicable.

This is why I want to see, you know, Senator Graham and my legislation on these Saudi Arabia Accountability in Yemen Act, which would not only make Global Magnitsky mandatory, not discretionary for the president, but also that would seek sanctions against anyone who arms the Houthis or who denies humanitarian assistance in Yemen. These are critical elements of bringing an end to the Yemen conflict.

BURNETT: So what happened -- Lindsey Graham, today, your colleague said, if the Saudi government is going to be in the hands of this man for a long time to come, I find it very difficult to do business because I think he's crazy -- talking about MBS.

It's a crucial question. At this point, should the United States demand that the crown prince be replaced and do everything possible to make that happen because he personally directed this foul murder?

MENENDEZ: I think it's very clear that the United States should sent a very strong message to the king about the realities that you cannot kill with impunity, that there are consequences.

[19:35:03] The crown prince has a series of other things that happened before. You know, the tension of the prime minister in Lebanon, arresting of a whole host of individuals in a hotel, the estrangement from Qatar. There's a lot of stuff here.

At the end of the day, the Saudi government must make -- royal family must make a decision, is this in the best interest keeping MBS at the core, at the future of the Saudi relationships.

BURNETT: So you're not going so far as to call for his replacement directly.

MENENDEZ: Well, that's a question for the Saudi government to determine but I think we should send a very strong message that what he is doing is consequential as relates to U.S./Saudi relationships.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Senator Menendez. I appreciate your time tonight, sir.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

BURNETT: Next, a touching moment. Former President Bush makes a surprise return to the capitol to say farewell to his father.

And the breaking news, Bob Mueller at any moment expected to reveal new details on what he's learned from the president's former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

We have been awaiting that any moment this hour, and those details. We're standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Tonight, President George W. Bush and his family making a surprise return visit to the Capitol Rotunda this evening to say farewell again to President George H.W. Bush.

[19:40:00] The family, they stood there and then President George W. Bush was hugging some of the other mourners and people who had come to pay their respects. Many of them lined up since last night to see the former president, to pay their respects.

OUTFRONT now, presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of "Leadership in Turbulent Times". She's in the Bush family for a long time. And we're going to talk about that in a moment.

But, Doris, you know, they didn't expect that the Bush family would return within the past hour. George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Laura Bush and the children coming. Obviously, a very moving thing to see people that we have seen as politicians, as leaders, as a president, mourn as a family and as children.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I mean how true. I mean, there's a certain sense of formality about these presidential burials and laying in state because it's a military thing. They start the day, the person is inaugurated to plan it, but underneath, it's a family.

And it starts as a family, it starts in their hometown. Their body was brought here. They were a citizen, now they become president again and then they go back to their hometown. And all the while, the people most connected are the family.

And to be able to show that warm toward the other people and toward their father, it's really a respite from everything that's going on today.

BURNETT: It certainly is. And very moving and lovely that they did choose to return so unexpectedly. You know, for the citizens who were there coming to pay their respects, to George W. Bush and Laura Bush walk in.

I mean, earlier today, Doris, something else happened that was rather surprising in these times, to say the least. President Trump and the first lady visited privately with members of the Bush family. We also saw Laura Bush, about 20 other relatives visiting the White House at the invitation of Melania Trump, which, you know, ordinarily this would be what you would expect in this kind of a situation.

But this is not just any old situation, right? The John McCain funeral was -- you know, we heard words about the divisiveness and the rancor that has so plagued this nation since President Trump took the Oval Office. Do you think the truce between the bushes and the Trumps is here to stay?

KEARNS GOODWIN: You know, whether it is or not, I think it was a wonderful thing to see in these last couple of days. I mean, certainly the example, I think, in death of president bush sr.'s respect for the presidency, his civility and his decency I think had an impact on President Trump.

He issued a gracious statement right from the beginning. He called a national day of mourning. As you say, these meetings took place.

So, even though there's been toughness between the families way back from 1988 when suddenly Trump announced himself to Lee Atwater as I'm available for vice president and Bush Sr. said that's rather strange and unbelievable and the things said about Jeb and the things he said about Thousand Points of Light.

But right now, I think President Bush Sr. never let resentments bother him. He went to become a friend of Clinton who had defeated him and made him crushed. So, I think that set an example for President Trump, at least in the last couple of days. That's all we can ask right now.

BURNETT: Right. The history here is not just one of political rancor, right? It's been deeply personal. Here's some of the things President Trump has said about the Bush family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thousand Points of Light. I never quite got that one. What the hell is that?

I think Bush is probably the worst president in the history of the United States.

Poor Jeb Bush, I mean, this poor guy with this low energy. It's sad. No, it's sad.

I came up with that term. It became so defining. It's like having it on his forehead, I am low --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Look, some of those things, you laugh, but I mean they're pretty awful things to say. The Bushes, of course, in response didn't attend the 2016 convention and Bush 41 actually reportedly told people he was voting for Hillary Clinton, which of all things would be something President Trump could never get over or forgive, you would think.

KEARNS GOODWIN: No, you're right. In fact think of all the people who became never Trump people could never even come into the administration because they had opposed President Trump. So the idea that he said he voted against him, that's the thing that would matter the most, I think, to President Trump.

But still, in this moment, in this time, he was able to rise above it, the president was. And, you know, whether it means anything long term for a few days, it's made us all feel a little bit better about the presidency. And that's what President Bush Sr. wanted, respect for that institution which should override these resentments from the past. BURNETT: Right, and we understand he very explicitly did not want to

have the same experience as the country did during the funeral of John McCain.

On a personal note, Doris, we have a picture that you sent us. This is back in 2006. This is you with Barbara Bush, George H.W. Bush, and tell me about the picture. We're going to put it up and tell me about it.

KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, what happened is my son, Joey, who's in the picture. I should call him Joe now. He's Mr. Joe. Not Joey anymore.

But anyway, he had served in Iraq.

[19:45:01] He joined the army right after 9/11 having graduated from Harvard that June. So, President Bush and Barbara invited us up to spend the day in Kennebunkport and we went in that ridiculous cigarette boat. I was terrified. We came back to lunch, talked about President Clinton who had just been there before and about their growing friendship.

But then as we left, I went to go to the bathroom which was right outside the oval driveway and I locked the door and could not get out. I keep trying and trying. They're all waiting right outside for me.

Finally, President Bush sends my son, Joey, to see if he can come in the window and get me out. He can't. He has to take a hammer and break the lock.

So, I walk out of the bathroom and he says to me with this huge smile on his face, at least you write well. Every time I'm in a bathroom now, I'm afraid to lock the door. I'm afraid I'll be stuck in President Bush's bathroom.

So it was a great day overall.

BURNETT: I'm sure it was. Thank you so much, Doris. Wonderful to see you. Thanks for sharing your story.

KEARNS GOODWIN: You're welcome.

BURNETT: And next, Drew Griffin investigates what frankly are now alarming accusations of election fraud in North Carolina. These were allegedly to help the Republican. This could swing things, and it is sparking a criminal investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: So, you filled out an application for an absentee ballot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. She filled it out. She said she was going to bring it back for me to sign it and I never saw her again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: That's next.

Plus, Don Jr. saying he can't decide whether to put an angel or a star on his tree, so instead he did this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:50:16] BURNETT: Tonight, investigators in North Carolina opening criminal probes into voting irregularities in the state's congressional election. This as more evidence surfaces of possible fraud, including some residents who say they were duped into filling out absentee ballots and didn't even know who they voted for. Someone else filled them in.

It could have major implications on the race. The Republican Mark Harris is leading the Democrat Dan McCready by just about 900 votes.

Drew Griffin investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Emma Shipman is the story in a nut shell. She had no intention of voting until a woman showed up at her door.

(on camera): But do you remember requesting an absentee ballot.

SHIPMAN: No.

GRIFFIN: So, you don't know how that absentee ballot showed up?

SHIPMAN: I don't. I really don't.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Shipman is now at the center of a vote fraud investigation in Bladen County, North Carolina. She is one of several voters coming forward to talk about a group of people showing up at door steps offering to help fill out absentee ballots and taking them away with no idea of what happened.

And, no, Emma Shipman doesn't know who she voted for.

(on camera): When the names were picked, do you want this guy or that guy or that gal or that guy, was that you picking them?

SHIPMAN: No.

GRIFFIN: So, you don't know what happened with your voter or your ballot?

SHIPMAN: No, no. No, I don't know what happened.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It turns out Shipman was targeted by a small group of loosely connected people. Most with some criminal records, and all tied together by a Republican operative in this rural county, a convicted felon, convicted of insurance fraud who was also connected to questionable absentee ballot activity in another election -- McCrae Dowless.

(on camera): Hi, McCrae Dowless, this is Drew Griffin trying to call you on every phony can find for you.

(voice-over): Dowless appears to be in hiding. He worked for the campaign of Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris who won by just 905 votes. Harrison's campaign admits the state board of elections is asking for documents for its investigation and emphasized that if McCrae Dowless broke the law, the campaign was not aware of illegal conduct in connection with the ninth district race. The campaign intends to cooperate fully with the investigation.

As for the McRae Dowless operation, here is what Democrats allege -- Dowles's ex-wife relatives and friends, fanned out across Bladen County registering people to vote, requesting absentee ballots, then later signed themselves as witnesses -- a handful of people signing more than 100 ballots.

LACEY ALISON: She left me a sandwich from a local sandwich shop.

GRIFFIN: Lacey Alisyn wasn't planning to vote until a woman showed up with an application.

(on camera): So, you filled out an application for a absentee ballot.

ALISON: No. She filled it out said she was going to bring it back for me to sign. I never saw her again.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Alison it turns out had the woman's number. She's the daughter of one of McCrae Dowless's ex-wives Lisa Brit who had signed 42 of the suspected ballots.

(on camera): Hi, Lisa.

This is Drew Griffin with CNN, I'm recording this call. I want to ask you about these absentee ballots. Can you tell us what's going on here?

LISA BRIT: I have no comment, baby. Thank you.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Another woman, Ginger Eastin (ph), who signed 30 ballots, told CNN affiliate WSOC that Dowless paid her between $75 and $100 to harvest ballots. She handed them into Dowless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like I said, I don't know nothing what happened after I dropped them off.

REPORTER: So, you don't know with certainty whether they were sent to the elections office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't.

GRIFFIN: Beside the multiple witness signatures, there are also 1,600 absentee ballots that were never returned in Bladen and a neighboring county, a number so high officials say that's suspicious too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: And, Erin, regardless of how this criminal case comes out, the state board of election in North Carolina has a decision to make. They can either certify this election and send the Republican Mark Harris to Congress or decide there is so much trouble they need to hold a new election.

And a new wrinkle tonight. The incoming majority leader for the House Democrats, Steny Hoyer says his new Democratic controlled House is not seat Mark Harris if there is any trouble questioning the validity of the vote here in North Carolina District 9 -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Drew Griffin.

[19:55:00] And, next, Jeanne Moos on how the Trumps want to make your Christmas great again.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: How about looking up at your Christmas tree and saying, angel, star, a little bored with those? How about a cutout of Donald Trump?

Here is Jeanne.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Trump has been petting the Christmas tree hauling horse, lighting the national tree, even puffing out of a mocked up chimney like Santa Claus.

But who knew he ends up as an ornament. His son Don Jr. posted this meme on Instagram, couldn't decide between an angel or a star. So I picked both. Prompting someone to comment, Mr. Mueller is coming to town.

We know what makes the president merry.

TRUMP: I told you that we would be saying merry Christmas again, right?

We're saying merry Christmas again.

We are going to be celebrating merry Christmas again.

MOOS: His other son Eric celebrated by hawking the all new ornaments from the Trump store. The Trump helicopter sells for 55 bucks.

Bet you can't tell what this is. It's the Trump golf bag ornament. And this is Trump Tower, tweeted a critic. If you shake the Trump tower globe, does it snow indictments?

And for Trump foes, there is a mockup ornament of the baby Trump blimp.

TRUMP: I'm saying merry Christmas to whoever the hell wants to hear it.

MOOS: But this is something you won't find for sale on the Trump website.

Meet corkscrew Donald, the perfect way to open a bottle of Trump wine.

It was created by the same designer who dreamed up, the Hillary nut cracker, twisted gifts for under the tree or on top of it.

Jeanne Moos, CNN. Must be a Democratic cork. New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: All right. No comment.

Thanks for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch the show any time as we awake the Flynn filing.

"AC360" starts now.