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Erin Burnett Outfront

Sessions: Russia Collusion Claim A "Detestable Lie": Sessions Refuses To Discuss Conversations With Trump; Dems Slams Sessions For "Stonewalling". Aired 7-8p ET

Aired June 13, 2017 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:08] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next, breaking news. The attorney general under fire, defiant and angry, stone walling basic questions and could Trump fire special counsel Robert Mueller if he wanted to?

Plus Trump mock after his entire cabinet hits craze on him on camera. What was like to be at that table? One of the people keeping the praise. Well, my guest tonight was there. He did it. Let's go OutFront.

Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. "OutFront," this evening, breaking news, an appalling and detestable lie, those are the words of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He came out today in fiery testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions emphatically denying any charge that he colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The suggestion that I participated in any collusion that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process is an appalling and detestable lie.


BURNETT: After that, detail opening statement defending himself and promising the American people transparent government, in his words, Sessions infuriated Democrats by leaving many of their questions unanswered.


SESSIONS: I still do not recall. I don't recall. I don't recall any such meeting. I don't recall it. I don't recall it. I don't have a detailed memory of that.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: I believe that the American people have had it with stonewalling.

SESSIONS: Senator Wyden, I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.


BURNETT: As for those meetings, much of it comes down to this. Those meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that Sessions had during the campaign. You know, he insisted and today insisted that they were in keeping with his role at the time as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But it is important to remember this: The Washington Post called every single member of that committee and found not one other member of the committee spoke or met with Kislyak during the campaign.

So let's be clear. Twenty-six members on the Armed Services Committee, only Sessions met with Russian's ambassador during the campaign. And at the time of those meetings, what he had that none of his colleagues had was he wasn't just a U.S. senator, he was a leading Trump surrogate and foreign policy advisor.

We begin our breaking coverage with Jessica Schneider. And Jessica, obviously, a fiery aggressive statement but then a lot of questions still going unanswered.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Erin. And that left Democratic senators going so far to say that Sessions was stonewalling. The attorney general refused to go into detail about his actions surrounding that stateful (ph) one-on-one meeting between James Comey and the president inside the Oval Office in February 14th. And Sessions also refused to recount his conversations with the president particularly as they related to the decision to fire James Comey as FBI director. All of those refusals made for several contentious exchanges.


SESSIONS: Thank you very much --

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Attorney General Jeff Sessions grew angry and frustrated with the continued questions about a possible meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in April 2016.

SESSIONS: This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me and I don't appreciate it, and try to give my best and truthful answers to any committee I've appeared before.

I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recused myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.

SCHNEIDER: The attorney general repeatedly rebuffed the speculation that has swirled since James Comey's testimony last week when the fired FBI director briefed senators in a close hearing that Sessions may have met with Kislyak for a third undisclosed meeting at the Mayflower Hotel.

SESSIONS: I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel. SCHNEIDER: His denial was concise but when pressed by Chairman Richard Burr, his answer seemed less clear.

SESSIONS: I would gladly have reported the meeting, the encounter that may have occurred, it sounds like occurred, in the Mayflower if I had remembered it or did actually occurred which I don't remember that it did.

SCHNEIDER: Sessions remained stern and emotional as he fought back against all allegations he had improper contacts with Russians during the campaign.

SESSIONS: The suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process is an appalling and detestable lie.

[19:05:06] SCHNEIDER: But Sessions repeatedly refused to comment on the details of his interactions and conversations with the president.

SESSIONS: I'm not able to comment on conversations with high officials within the White House. That would be a violation of the communications or rule.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Just so I'm understanding does that mean are you claiming executive privilege here today, sir?

SESSIONS: I'm not claiming the executive privilege because that's the president's power.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: What is the legal basis for your refusal to answer these questions?

SESSIONS: I am protecting the right of the president to assert it. Assert it if he chooses and there may be other privileges that could apply in this circumstance.

SCHNEIDER: Sessions explained that his recusal from the Russia investigation resulted after weeks of consultations with Ethics officials and disclosed he did not receive any information about the probe even before his formal recusal.

SESSIONS: From that point, February 10th until I announced my formal recusal on March 2nd, I was not briefed on any investigative details. Did not access any information about the investigation.


SCHNEIDER: And Attorney General Sessions also faced questions about special counsel Robert Mueller. In fact, Vice Chair Mark Warner asked if Sessions would have any roll and an effort should want to emerge to fire Mueller. Sessions of course responded that it would not be appropriate for him to involve any efforts to fire Mueller since Sessions has - to recuse himself from that Russian investigation. Erin?

BURNETT: All right, Jessica, thank you. And I want to go to Jeff Zeleny. He is with the president was earlier today. And Jeff, the president, did he watch his attorney general?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, he indeed from the moment he stepped on Air Force One in Washington, to the moment he landed here about 94 minutes exactly, I am told he watched the entire time from his private office at the front of Air Force One, watched all the testimony.

Now the White House has not said what the president officially thinks about how his attorney general did. But early indications talking to some officials, so far it seems pretty positive but we've not heard from the President himself on this yet. And we do know that there have been, you know, some attentions between the two. The President was furious of the attorney general for recusing himself in the first place here. But so far, we do believe the President thinks he did an OK job, but we'll probably have to wait to hear and watch social media to see how the President actually reacts to this. But he watched all of it.

And of course this trip, Erin, was designed to change the subject. It was designed to try and switch the topic back to jobs, the economy, of course that is a very tall order. The Russia cloud follows the president wherever he goes. Erin?

BURNETT: It does follow him wherever he goes (INAUDIBLE) attempt to try to change the conversation, he did drop a stunning statement on healthcare.

ZELENY: He indeed he was meeting earlier today with some Republican senators at the White House and talking about the need to reform healthcare. And he said behind close doors the House version of the healthcare bill was mean. And he said it was, simply something a more generous needs to be done in the Senate version of the bill.

By the time he arrived here in Milwaukee, he was talking of health care as well. He said hopefully we can get this done. But Erin, there are no timelines on the table here. This bill is a long way from being signed.

BURNETT: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

UpFront tonight, one senator who questioned the attorney general at that Intelligence Committee hearing today, Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich. Thank you so much for being with me. Senator, I appreciate your time, of course, you were there with the attorney general. He was emotional. He called the idea that he colluded with Russia "appalling and detestable lie." Do you believe him?

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, that's what this investigation is all about. We need to get to the bottom of what happened and follow the facts wherever they take us, frankly.

BURNETT: There were a couple of key things from the attorney general to address that he did for the firs time today. One was a possible third meeting with the Russian ambassador which is under FBI investigation. Attorney General Sessions categorically said he does not have one-on-one meeting or even recall meeting the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel.

Do you take him as his word? Did you find that believable?

HEINRICH: There just weren't a lot of specifics about that meeting. He provided very little. And we're going to have to make sure that his testimony today matches up with what other people who were there experienced then I hope we can get to the bottom of that as well.

BURNETT: So, you know, he said I don't recall. That would I imagine if there was any sort of a meeting even if casual, would you think that - that would be consistent what he said today that he was honest?

HEINRICH: Well, we'll just have to see certainly if it was just a sort of pleasant trees and there were number of people together, that would not constitute collusion.


HEINRICH: The question is why didn't he report that along with the other meetings. I think it's - if I've had a meeting with Ambassador Kislyak or thee (ph) for that matter, I would go the extra mile to make sure that every time I connected with him that I was transparent about that to the U.S. Congress.

[19:10:14] BURNETT: Now, there was - the meetings which were talked about today. Another key thing what Session's version of what happened in the Oval Office, that crucial interaction with the president and the former FBI director Jim Comey. Comey says the President asks everyone including Sessions to leave the room, except for Comey, and here's what he told your committee last week about that meeting with the president in the Oval Office.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: My impression was something big is about to happen, I need to remember every single word that is spoken. And again, I could be wrong, I'm 56 years old. I've seen a few things.

My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering, and I don't know Mr. Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing, and so, I knew something was about to happen that I needed to pay very close attention to.


BURNETT: He could have been more clearer. He felt something big was about to happen. The attorney general has a completely different recollection, senator. Here's what he told your committee today.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Do you remember lingering? Do you remember feeling that you needed to stay?

SESSIONS: I do recall on being one of the last ones to leave.

RUBIO: Did you decide to be one of the last ones to leave?

SESSIONS: I don't know how that occurred.

RUBIO: Would it be fair to say that you felt like you perhaps you needed to stay because it involve the FBI director?

SESSIONS: Well, I don't now how I would characterize that, Senator Rubio. It didn't seem to be a major problem. I knew that Director Comey, long-time experienced in the Department of Justice, could handle himself well.


BURNETT: Didn't seem to be a major problem. Was that answer acceptable to you, senator?

HEINRICH: No it wasn't. And I just don't think he lead us subordinate in a position like that. I certainly would not felt comfortable in that similar situation sort of leaving somebody works underneath me, for me, alone with the president. I find that to be fairly unusual.

And the fact that he minimizes it so much, I find troubling as well.

BURNETT: You know, he answered that question as you could see in the way that he did.


BURNETT: But there were many questions that you all asked today that he wasn't even that forthright on. Here he is.


SESSIONS: I cannot answer that. I'm not able to comment on conversations with high officials within the White House. I'm not able to discuss with you confirm or deny the nature of private conversations that I may have had with the president.


BURNETT: He said he wasn't stonewalling that all of that was consistent with the policies of the Department of Justice in how to respond to those questions, fair?

HEINRICH: Sure I felt stonewalling to me. I have deep concerns any time (INAUDIBLE) the attorney general refuses to answer questions under oath. And the attorney general refuses time and time again without ever invoking executive privilege. He seem to invent a brand new legal standard of appropriateness. This is not a backyard barbeque. You either answer the answer under oath or you invoke executive privilege. BURNETT: Did you walk away from this trusting him more or not, that' the bottom line.

HEINRICH: I walked away from this. Being highly concerned that there are now seems to be a concerted effort by the administration to obstruct this investigation.

BURNETT: And so you think he was obstructing and impeding today the attorney general of the United States?

HEINRICH: He wouldn't answer the most basic questions under oath and we're not going to be able to get to the bottom of this entire matter, unless we have honest answers from the administration.

BURNETT: All right, Senator Heinrich, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

HEINRICH: Thank you.

BURNETT: For now Paul Callan, our legal analyst, John Avlon, Editor- in-Chief of the Daily Beast, Anna Palmer, Senior Washington Correspondent for Politico, and David Gergen, former presidential adviser for four presidents.

David, let me start with you. I'll give you a chance to react to Senator Heinrich just finished.


BURNETT: He said that he thought that stonewalling (INAUDIBLE) attorney general, you know --

GERGEN: Right.

BURNETT: -- not answer questions like this. The attorney general says he was protecting the president's right claiming executive privilege even though the president didn't do so and that's why he did not answers. Does that add up?

GERGEN: No. Let me back just for a moment. I saw (INAUDIBLE) the attorney general helps him up personally, helps his own reputation because he made persuasive case about his recusal why he recuse himself. And I thin he (INAUDIBLE) the question the third meeting with the Russian ambassador very well. It didn't seem like much (INAUDIBLE) contrary to the testimony.


GERGEN: But on the question about what is conversation with the White House staff, the conversation with the president, over 40 years watching such activities, watching testimony like this in Washington, I have never ever heard someone say, well, I can't answer that question because I want to preserve the president's right to invoke executive privilege.

[19:15:07]. That, as far as I can tell, is an invented ground for refusing to testify. I can't see anything on the record. I looked over DOJ, Department of Justice documents or Article V which is mostly about Freedom of Information. I think the Department of Justice has to come forward and explain (INAUDIBLE). He refused to answer questions.

BURNETT: And you just heard, Paul, Senator Heinrich say it adds up to him to -- an administration that is seeking to impede the investigation, that his takeaway. He was very loud and clear about it. Is it yours?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. It was a stalling tactic really to answer these questions. You know, normally when executive privilege is going to be invoked by an administration, there's a sit- down between the president, the attorney general and he is going - and president would say, listen, this is an that is a protected conversation. I don't want you to answer questions about it. And then they will be back and forth between Congress about how this is going to be handled and the rest of the questions, of course, there will be answers.

In American history, that's the way it's been handled. Obviously, this is very unusual with this today, I'm not going to answer the question, I can't answer the question. It's a confidential area. Well, state the grounds for the confidentiality. He was never able to do that.

BURNETT: So, Anna, there were a couple of crucial things that happened here in this issue of meetings. And that is what much of this may come down to is these meetings and what they really about, right, between Sessions and the Russian ambassador. He -- during his confirmation hearing not be mentioned in those meeting, and today he denied that that was a lie, at least he said it was not purposeful. Here's what he said.


SESSIONS: There is the assertion that I did not answer Senator Franken's question honestly at my confirmation hearing. Colleagues, that is false. This is what happened. Senator Franken asked me a rambling question after some six hours of testimony that included dramatic new allegations.


BURNETT: Now, you know, we can talk it was a personal slam but it is crucial because he's basically saying it was rambling and he didn't make the point, he didn't make it clear what he was asking. So, let me just play for everyone what Senator Franken asked. Here he is.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), JUDCIARY COMMITTEE: CNN has just published a story and I'm telling you this about a new story that's just been published, so I'm not expecting you to know whether or not it's true or not but CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that "Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump." These documents also allegedly say, "There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government."

Now, again, I am telling you this is just coming out. So -- you know. But if it's true, it's obviously extremely serious, and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians. And I'm unable to comments on it.


BURNETT: So Anna, obviously, it was a long question. But what Franken was asking seems to be clear or not?

ANNA PALMER, POLITICO SENIOR WASHINGTONG CORRESPONDENT: I think it seems to be very clear. He was saying were you as a surrogate for the Trump campaign having conversations with the Russians. He clearly kind of try to make light of his role as a surrogate and say, no I didn't. He tend to backtrack. I think it's pretty (INAUDIBLE).

BURNETT: All right. So, you know, he said he had no meetings with the Russian ambassador, now then it leaked to the press that he had two such meetings, right? So then he said oh OK, well I didn't mention them because they weren't in my role as Trump campaign. They were in my role as a senator. His office explained it specifically and Sessions was "Asked during the haring about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign, not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee."

That is crucial because the Washington Post called all 26 members and during the time of the campaign, only one of them had meetings with the Russian ambassador. It appears certainly from the Russian side of things they wanted to meet with Sessions for a reason.

He says they weren't important meetings. It would seem they were.

PALMER: What's hard to tell, right? I was in the meeting, he were in the meeting, we don't now what was being talked about. But clearly, Russia had a lot of interest in making headway into the Trump campaign. But I would say what I think is most stunning is how he changed his testimony this time. He was not emphatic about anything in this hearing today. He was saying I don't recall. He was very wishy washy on a lot of things. He wasn't going to get caught in the same trap in case something else potentially comes forward.

[19:20:07] BURNETT: Right. And did not answer that crucial question as to why you wouldn't in any situation you just mention them.

JOHN AVLON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, DAILY BEAST: That's right. BURNETT: If it really was nothing involved or if the Russians cared and to you it was irrelevant, why wouldn't you just mention it? Because it wouldn't matter.

AVLON: That's right. And the problem is the pattern over the context of the administration and saying I don't recall so many times is not designed to breeze (ph) to confidence, it's the designed to protect yourself. The problem is with the question -- when he answered, you know, Senator Franken's question is that he offered that he hat not had any meetings.

Now keep in mind, this is after, you know --

BURNETT: Right. And the question was actually what would you do if you found out other people had meetings.

AVLON: He offers I didn't have any contact.


AVLON: That we know of at least two occasions where -- that was not in fact the case. Which also in the context of -- in October intelligence report before the election showing that Russia was trying to play an active role in influencing. So it's not like this is a brand-new concept even though that report was new that day. So the idea that any contact with the Russians wouldn't be in the foreground of folks minds on that campaign is hard to believe. It's also irresponsible.

CALLAN: Can I just add. You know, this is a red herring, the wandering nature of Al Franken's question. The one thing that is clear as day is Sessions volunteering, I had no contact with the Russians. I don't know about anybody else. I don't know what the rest of your wandering question was, but I'll tell you one thing, I had no contact with the Russians. And of course now we know we have contact twice with the Russians. So I think it's a red herring to blame Franken for asking a wandering question when there's such a definitive answer given by the senator.

AVLON: Yes. And contact is not an accusation of collusion. What he was upset about and I can understand why. That wasn't the accusation. That wasn't the question at that time. It's simply did you have contact and if you didn't tell truth, why. Why (INAUDIBLE) of that.

PALMER: So let me ask you, David, because what we saw today, you know, it's like what we've seen from Coats and what we see from Rogers, right? We've seen a lot of "I don't recall, I can't answer."


BURNETT: Now, look, we know there's a lot of smoke. We also know at this point there's been absolutely no evidence that there is a fire or an underlying crime, right? So if truly is nothing to hide, why so many "I don't recalls" "I can't answer this"?

GERGEN: There's a good explanation. And, you know, I think that's convenient forgetting (ph). But what I think the question now is has the administration entered a phase we saw last weekend this week of being evasive, of not really trying to help these committees in Congress. Sessions said today, will come you back, he was asked by Warner. I'll come back if appropriate. Everything was -- any decision in the future, I will do it if it's appropriate. They gave him a lot of latitude to continue being evasive and refuse to answer. I think the Mueller investigation now becomes all the more critical because it's obvious these congressional committees are not going to get everything they want from people around the president.


GERGEN: And that's why the whole idea of firing Mueller at this point, you know, which is now being bruited (ph). It's like stunning.

BURNETT: So, Anna, you know, the other moment, of course, you know, Comey in his prepared testimony said that after that meeting in the Oval Office which I just talked about with Senator Heinrich, after that meeting, he went to Sessions and implored him, that was his statement, right, implored him to never be left alone with the president. That's what he said. So Sessions of course was Comey's boss, right? He was the one who would have prevented that from happening again. Here's what Session said today about what he did about that.


SESSIONS: I believe it was the next day that he said something, expressed concern about being left alone with the president, but that in itself is not problematic. He did not tell me at that time any details about anything that was said that was improper. I affirmed his concern that we should be following the proper guidelines of the Department of Justice and basically backed him up in his concerns and that he should not carry on any conversation with the president or anyone else about an investigation in a way that was not proper.


BURNETT: All right. So sort of -- he never said I went to the president and said, you know, don't do this or not, right. Which begs the question -- we do know, by the way, Anna, after these conversations between Comey and Sessions, there were additional one- on-one conversations between the president and the fired FBI director. So, did the president not listen to his attorney general or did the attorney general not bother to tell about (INAUDIBLE).

PALMER: I think what (INAUDIBLE) Jeff Sessions try to have Jim Comey two ways. One, he was strong guy. He doesn't need to stand up for him.


PALMER: He's the, you know, FBI director. And then you have this other side of him where he's saying he's weak. He shouldn't -- needed to be fired. I think he's trying to have both sides of the coin there which is just kind of, you know, it's comical in some ways where Jeff Sessions trying to have both ways.

BURNETT: And trying to obviously slamming the FBI before a fired FBI director, right?

PALMER: Right.

GERGEN: Can I ask a follow-up question that is when Mueller has his testimony, the White House can invoke executive privilege in a criminal activity, so Sessions may have to answer the same questions but do it fully.

[19:25:15] CALLAN: They could still -- they could -- they could try to invoke the privilege but it would wind up then going to court and the privilege would be stripped in a criminal investigation because there's a constitutional right for a grand jury to get that information.

BURNETT: And we're going to talk more about Mueller in just a moment because there was a stunning revelation today. Trump meeting -- he actually met Bob Mueller, a day before Mueller was named special counsel. What did they talk about? Plus, Trump's friend Chris Ruddy, drops a bombshell message about Trump possibly firing Mueller. Was he doing the president's bidding? We have a report on their special relationship.

And breaking news at this hour, young American in North Korean' captivity for 17 months on his way back to the United States in a coma. What happened to him?


BURNETT: Breaking news. Tonight we're learning President Trump met with Robert Mueller the day before Mueller was named special counsel. The White House official telling CNN the president actually had interviewed Mueller for the FBI director job which of course he had held a few years before.

Now there's talk thought that Trump may be considering firing the special prosecutor. Manu Raju is OutFront live on Capitol Hill.

And Manu, Republicans are warning the president and they are doing so very openly to not do this.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes indeed, it create a major uproar on Capitol Hill, probably more so than the uproar that we heard after James Comey was suddenly fired by the president. This because, of course, Republican after Republican has praised Bob Mueller's appointment, saying that he was the right person for this position as special counsel.

Now, earlier today, I had a chance to talk to a number of Republicans who are saying to the president, don't do this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The idea of firing Mueller is just a nonstarter. I never heard from the president. I don't know where this is coming from. As far as I know, that's not even a remote possibility.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think the best thing to do is to let Robert Mueller do his job. I think the best vindication for the president is to let this investigation go on independently and thoroughly.


RAJU: Now earlier today, Erin, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did testify before a Senate committee and said that it was his decision, not the president's decision about whether or not to fire Bob Mueller, saying that he has no, quote, good cause to do that at this moment and there's no secret plan to remove. And even Attorney General Jeff Sessions today said he had confidence in Bob Mueller in this position. So, even as the White House is not exactly expressing its own confidence behind Bob Mueller, there's a lot of support, even from the president's own cabinet. His own administration and his own party on Capitol Hill, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you.

And OUTFRONT Now, Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst, and Michael Mukasey, the former U.S. attorney general.

Michael, let me start with you. What do you advise the president of the United States to do right now?



BURNETT: I was going to say other than get off Twitter --

MUKASEY: No, you know, sure. On this subject -- you're talking about this subject, right?


MUKASEY: Because he's got other things to do and worry about and he's doing them and worrying about, I hope. But on this subject, I would urge him to keep his peace.

BURNETT: So, Jeffrey, you know, we're reporting that Trump actually interviewed Mueller for the FBI job the day before he was named special counsel, interesting timing, obviously, of course. One would -- yes, you --

MUKASEY: Maybe talk to him about who to pick, huh?

BURNETT: Well, I mean, all I can say is that we're reporting that he interviewed him for the FBI job. I mean, is there a significance in that other than coincidental timing? One would presume Mueller at that time knew he was going to be special counselor or thought it might happen and then it wouldn't have been discussed clearly by the president.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I'm not sure he would have -- I doubt Robert Mueller knowing that he was going to be the special counsel interviewed for the FBI job. That sounds very unlikely to me.


TOOBIN: But if he was interviewed for the FBI job and then approached to be special counsel, as long as he disclosed it to Rod Rosenstein, who was the one who chose, who chose him, I -- you know, and it was all aired out, I don't see any sort of conflict of interest or anything like that.

BURNETT: Now, you have now the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, both weighing in what the president should do about Mueller, OK? One of the things that Sessions was willing to answer today and Rosenstein in an appropriation committee hearing was actually this question. Here they are.



As long as I'm in this position, he's not going to be fired without good --


BURNETT: All right. Sessions I'm sorry wasn't there, but he was very clear. He didn't see any reason to fire Mueller. He wouldn't want Mueller to be fired. He wouldn't have anything to do with it. They're being very loud and clear.

MUKASEY: Both loud and clear.

BURNETT: And you -- you agree under all circumstances?

MUKASEY: Absolutely.

BURNETT: OK. So, let me go through some of those circumstances because this is where you have some starting to raise some questions.

OK. Let me start with you, Jeff. Members of the legal team hired by Mueller. With did an analysis here at CNN, found that they donated almost exclusively to Democrats. So, $56,000 donated, more than half of it came just from one lawyer who's working on now from Mueller on this.

So, can they be impartial if they're donating money to Democrats?

TOOBIN: You know, absolutely. Remember, the person who's going to be making the decisions here is Robert Mueller who has donated to nobody and who is one of the most highly respected law enforcement figures in recent American history. So, he's the decision maker. You know, I think it's also fair to point out that Mueller has hired

some very distinguished people. Michael Dreeben, who is the affiliate specialist he hired, he is the most respected criminal law appellate specialist in the United States, a legendary figure in the solicitor general's office. Andrew Weismann, who was -- I was a colleague of his in the eastern district of New York in Brooklyn. He went on to run the Enron task force.

I mean, these are highly qualified people and, you know, as private citizens, they gave money.

BURNETT: So, Newt Gingrich today, Michael, said we're in a place where people think this is going to be a neutral professional investigation. They're delusional. Obviously, he -- you know, supported the president. That's what he had so say.

Now, you have Comey and Mueller, as we all, they've known each other for a long time, Washingtonian years ago when they were sort of flipping at the FBI, both under fire, Bob Mueller, Jim Comey's unusual friendship.

[19:35:01] They have praised each other in the past. Here's a quick snip.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He was very supportive to me personally. He was one of the finest people I've ever met.

ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: I have found him to be a man of honesty, dedication and integrity. His experience, his judgment and his strong sense of duty will benefit not only the bureau but the country as a whole.


BURNETT: Is that friendship relevant in light of people like Newt Gingrich coming out and saying what he's saying tonight?

MUKASEY: It's relative. Is it dispositive? No.

BURNETT: So, you think that there is this -- anybody questioning this is on the long --

MUKASEY: He's not -- not anybody questioning is on the wrong track. I think that anybody saying that that's a basis of getting rid of Bob Mueller is on the wrong track. Those are two different things.


TOOBIN: And also, remember, you know, Comey is not Mueller's target. I mean, one thing if he was supposed to be investigate Comey. Comey is a witness.

BURNETT: But let's just be honest. Part of this could come down to who hide in these meetings about the loyalty pledge and about the General Flynn investigation, right? Do you trust Comey or do you trust Trump?

TOOBIN: That's one factor. And, look, you know, Mueller is going to be attacked because special prosecutors always attacked. I mean, I'm sure you remember -- I'm sure Michael remembers how --

MUKASEY: Some of them deserve it.

TOOBIN: Well, some of them deserve it, but also -- I mean, how the Clinton people attacked Ken Star relentlessly.


TOOBIN: And, you know, they thought it was justified and I'm sure the people who attacked -- who will be attacking Mueller will think he's justified -- they're justified.

BURNETT: So, Senator Chris Van Hollen in the testimony today brought up something that wasn't really a good answer for Mike. It was basically a Nixon like Saturday night massacre scenario in which the president would fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, find somebody else who would be more malleable and that person would then be willing to fire the special counsel.

MUKASEY: He doesn't have authority to fire the special counsel. He doesn't have to get somebody who's more malleable.

BURNETT: Absolutely. But the scenario that was put was sort of, you know, they put a fig leaf in front of the president by doing it this way. And here's how the exchange went down.


SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), APPROPRIATINS COMMITTEE: I'm actually more worried about the scenario at this point where if you were to receive an order from the White House to fire the special counsel, I'm less worried about you doing it because you've just testified today that you would only do it based on good cause. I'm worried about in the circumstances the president trying to keep going until he found someone willing to take that action.


BURNETT: Any likelihood about it? As you pointed out, the president could do it himself.


TOOBIN: Is that true? I'm not sure. Is that true? I thought the regulation says he has to go through the Justice Department to fire them.

MUKASEY: They have to go through the justice department ultimately. Any -- there's no such thing of somebody who's independent of the executive in the executive --


BURNETT: If Rod Rosenstein refuses to do it, can the president would have to fire him to find somebody else?

TOOBIN: People can quit rather than execute the order. That's what happened in the Saturday night massacre. Eliot Richardson quit, William Ruckelshaus quit, Robert Bork agreed to fire Archibald Cox.

MUKASEY: Because he didn't want the Justice Department denuded of senior people.

TOOBIN: Correct. For whatever reason, he's the one who did it and someone would do it for Trump if he wanted eventually.

MUKASEY: It's the authority of the president, is my point. But what's your question?

BURNETT: My question is, what are the chances?

MUKASEY: Slim and none.

BURNETT: Slim and none?

TOOBIN: I pretty much agree, yes.

BURNETT: I mean, it would seem at this point, I think we all can agree on that. Certainly, we would have agreed about that with Director Comey a few weeks ago, but things have changed.

TOOBIN: We were surprised then, too.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much.

And OUTFRONT next, Trump's friend, Chris Ruddy, drops a bombshell message about Bob Mueller. So who is Ruddy? Does he speak for Trump at all? Our special report on their relationship.

Plus, breaking news, an American college student held prisoner in North Korea for more than a year about to arrive in the United States, coming back in just a little bit of time here this evening. We're learning tonight, though, that he has been in a coma for more than a year. It is a tragedy.

The question is, whether it was due to botulism and a sleeping pill as the North Koreans claimed, or whether they did it?


[19:43:12] BURNETT: Breaking news: Chris Ruddy, the close friend of the president of the United States who said Trump is considering firing Bob Mueller, is fighting back against the White House. Sort of a situation you couldn't have made up.

So, who is Chris Ruddy?

Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's a confidant, a counselor in the inner circle, but pulling strings from the outside.

Over 20 years, Chris Ruddy has cultivated a unique relationship with President Trump, at times serving as his voice.

CHRIS RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX MEDIA: The president I think is frustrated. And he's talked to me about this in the past and he said it very publicly, that they want to investigate everything relating to his administration.

MARQUARDT: At other times, keeping in arm's length.

RUDDY: Well, it's hard for me to say. I certainly don't speak for the president or can reveal what's on his mind.

MARQUARDT: What is clear is that Ruddy, who was the CEO of pro-Trump conservative media outlet Newsmax has the president's ear.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Newsmax, you like Newsmax? I like it, too. The great Chris Ruddy, I like it, too.

MARQUARDT: So, when Ruddy speaks, people listen. Like Monday night when he made the explosive comments that Trump is considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller.

RUDDY: I think he's weighing that option.

MARQUARDT: This morning, claiming he didn't speak with Trump but defended the comments.

RUDDY: I think it's a consideration the president has had because Mueller is illegitimate as special counsel.

MARQUARDT: It's not the first time that Ruddy has made waves. In February, he sparked a frenzy with this.

RUDDY: I think there's a lot of weakness coming out of the chief of staff. I think Reince Priebus, good guy, well intentioned, but he clearly doesn't know how the federal agencies work. He doesn't have a really good system. He doesn't know how the communications flow.

MARQUARDT: The speculation that Ruddy was speaking for Trump since he'd just had drinks with the president at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club.

RUDDY: I'm a member of the club.

MARQUARDT: Where Ruddy has been a member for a decade.

The White House scrambled and just hours later, Ruddy tweeted, Reince just briefed me on new White House plans, impressive.

[19:45:04] So, with all this power, why doesn't he join the White House?

RUDDY: I run a fairly large media company, Newsmax Media. So, it would be hard for me to leave it. But I feel I can be more influential and helpful to this country and to this president by speaking on shows like yours to give people the other side of the story.


BURNETT: So, he's actually saying he wants to be helpful to the president. They're friends. He's a member at Mar-a-Lago. He's a fixture on the conservative political world. But yet you report he also has close ties to the Clintons.

MARQUARDT: Close ties. After aggressively covering President Clinton's scandals in the '90s, even fueling conspiracy theories. They did become friends. They went on a trip together in Africa to support an AIDS project and he even donated a million dollars to the Clinton Foundation. So, he's a complex character.

BURNETT: Not as simple as it seems. All right. Thank you very much, Alex Marquardt.

And breaking news next, an American man, young American about to land in the United States after being held for more than a year in North Korea. But as his family was in anticipating a joyful reunion, they found out that their son was in a coma. His captors in North Korea say he contracted botulism. Is it true?

And did President Trump order his cabinet to flatter him in front of television cameras? Well, guess what, someone who is in that room who flattered him is going to come OUTFRONT. The head of the V.A. is my guest.


BURNETT: Breaking news, an American detained in North Korea for more than 17 months is set to land in Ohio in just a few hours. But how did he end up in a coma?

Michelle Kosinski is OUTFRONT.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Otto Warmbier is finally on his way home, released from prison in North Korea after more than a year.

But not simply released to walk free. The 22-year-old college student is being medevaced back home to his parents in Ohio. The U.S. has now learned he is in a coma and has been for nearly 15 months.

North Korea claiming he contracted botulism, a potentially fatal food poisoning also spread through contaminated water and fell into a coma after being given a sleeping pill.

[19:50:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're grateful today that he is being released and on his way back to the United States.

KOSINSKI (on camera): Just based on the fact that he's been in a coma for a year, the State Department must express something besides gratitude, I'm guessing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have been extremely concerned about his situation all along.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Warmbier's parents just found out a week ago about his condition, saying in a statement: We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korea. They spoke to CNN about staying hopeful just last month.

FRED WARMBIER, OTTO WARMBIER'S FATHER: Cindy and I are encouraged by this. Our mission is to bring our son home.

KOSINSKI: The University of Virginia student was visiting North Korea in January 2016 as part of a tour group on his way to study abroad in Hong Kong. His crime, North Korea says he tore a poster off a wall in his hotel, a propaganda sign lauding the regime. They released video, accused him of crimes against the state, and sentenced him to 15 years hard labor.

OTTO WARMBIER: I beg that you see how I am only human and how I have made the worst mistake of my life.

KOSINSKI: Since that time, the State Department had been urging North Korea to let Sweden because the U.S. doesn't have diplomatic relations with the rogue nation meet with Warmbier and three other Americans detained there. The State Department says last month the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, met with North Korean officials in Norway and North Korea agreed, Swedish diplomats could visit the prisoners.

But, after granting permission, the North Koreans also urgently asked for another in-person meeting in New York. That meeting was last week. That's when the U.S. discovered Warmbier has been in a coma since March of 2016, the same month he was sentenced.

U.S. special representative Yun landed in North Korea yesterday with a medical team and demanded Otto Warmbier be released on humanitarian grounds.

The State Department emphasizing that Dennis Rodman, former NBA player and friend of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, now on his fifth visit to North Korea, had nothing to do with Warmbier's coming home.

Obviously, there is a lot that is not known about this, but we do know U.S. officials have not yet accepted North Korea's explanation of what happened here and asked about it tonight, Secretary of State Tillerson said it is a delicate situation and the State Department is working on it.

Also not clear, if anybody ever got access to those other three detained Americans or what their conditions are -- Erin. BURNETT: All right. Michelle, thank you very much. It's incredibly

tragic, horrific story as we will keeping following exactly what happened there.

There are new details tonight about what really happened, by the way, at President Trump's bizarre cabinet meeting yesterday. It was the first meeting of the full cabinet and it started with the members going around the table praising the president on camera. In a moment, you're going to hear from David Shulkin. He was there. He praised the president. He's the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

But, first, I want to play a portion from the meeting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an honor to be able to serve you.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. President, thank you for the honor to serve the country. It's a great privilege you've given me.

ELAINE CHAO, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I want to thank you for getting this country moving again and also working again.

DR. TOM PRICE, HHS SECRETARY: I can't thank you enough for the privilege that you've given me and the leadership that you've shown.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people.

DAVID SHULKIN, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Mr. President, thank you for your support and commitment to honoring our responsibility to America's veterans. I know that this is personally very important to you.


BURNETT: And the man you saw there at the end, David Shulkin, the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

And, Secretary Shulkin, thank you for being with me tonight.

What went through your head during this first full Trump presidency cabinet meeting?

DAVID SHULKIN, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Well, Erin, it was a very good meeting actually. We had a chance after the press left to talk about issues in depth. I actually spent about 12 to 15 minutes going through what we were doing in the V.A. and how the cabinet could help us advance that agenda. So, I thought it was a very productive meeting.

BURNETT: And obviously, the reaction to what we all did publicly see was not all that positive. "The Chicago Tribune" summarized it this way: Trump's cabinet meeting competition, I love you more, Mr. President. "The Washington Post": Trump touts amazing progress, basks in praise of his cabinet.

And even "The New York Post," Mr. Secretary, which, of course, is friendly to President Trump, had this to say: President Trump held a bizarre cabinet meeting Monday where he claimed to have accomplished more than any president since FDR before giving his administration the opportunity to shower him with praise.

Were you told to praise the president or encouraged to say something nice about him as your introductory comment?

SHULKIN: Oh, absolutely not. The president doesn't script the cabinet and we're given the ability to say what's on our mind.

[19:55:04] You have to remember that this was really the first full cabinet meeting where that group had ever been in the room together, and so, people were not given instructions but people weren't used to knowing each other.

And so, what the president does is he actually opens up these meetings to the press that I think is really unusual. And so, you saw something that frankly no one had a script for.

BURNETT: The president made some major promises to vets, Secretary Shulkin, when he ran for office. And one of them was that veterans who have fought in America's wars can go to any hospital they choose. Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to ensure every veteran in America has the choice to seek care at the Veterans Administration or to seek private medical care paid for by our government.


BURNETT: Now, veterans got the ability partially to go to non-vet hospitals under President Obama, right, but there were rules under that. They had to be more than 40 miles from a hospital or they had to have waited something like 30 days to actually get an appointment in order to have a full choice.

Is the president of the United States now committed to giving veterans the full choice, no restrictions applied?

SHULKIN: Well, right now, the president has signed an extension of the current program so that veterans are allowed to continue to get the choice in the community, and we're seeing more veterans than ever before, about 18,000 more a day being able to get care in the community. We're going to be working with Congress and with the president's support to change the choice program hopefully this summer through legislation to open up choice so that veterans don't have those restrictive rules that they've had in the past.

BURNETT: So that you hope will change because all this does come down to wait times. A V.A. inspector general report from just March identified widespread inaccuracies that really frankly vastly understated veteran wait times for appointments last year. They said appointments for new patients and specialists, 36 percent of veterans had to wait longer than a month for an appointment. I mean, that is stunning for people to hear, longer than a month.

The V.A. scheduling system though didn't report that. They said only 10 percent had waited longer than a month.

What's the issue here? I mean, are you going to be able to fix this so that we know what the truth is and vets don't have to wait?

SHULKIN: Well, first of all, right now we have published our wait times for anybody to see on our website so that everyone can see what those wait times are. There is no other health care system in America that has done that. So, in terms of being open and transparent about where our problems are, we're trying to be clear about areas that we do have wait times that are too long and what the real story is.

Let's remember, we also have same-day services in primary care and mental health at every single one of our medical centers across the country.

BURNETT: The president also promised a White House veterans hotline where veterans could call, and he talked about this multiple times during the campaign. Here he is.


TRUMP: I will create a private White House hotline. This could keep me very busy at night, folks. This will take the place of Twitter.

I will instruct my staff that if a valid complaint is not acted upon, then the issuer who brought it directly to me -- and I want to have it -- will bring it directly to me and I will pick up the phone personally and get it completed and get it taken care of. That's a lot of work.


BURNETT: Secretary, it's not a light matter, but obviously if this were to take the place for Twitter, you would have a lot of grateful Trump voters, a lot of grateful Republicans. You probably among those who would appreciate it.

Is this going to happen? Where are you in fulfilling this promise?

SHULKIN: Well, July -- I'm sorry, June 1st, a couple weeks ago, we opened up the White House hotline, so it is live right now. I was down answering phone calls, and it's important to get a sense about why people are calling in so that we can help them deal with their problems.

But we've helped over 3,000 veterans who have access to the White House hotline, and we'll continue to expand those services to be able to make sure that we can address the issues that are important to our veterans. BURNETT: Has the president chosen to take any calls at this time?

SHULKIN: What we're doing is we're giving information on a daily basis over to the White House so that they're informed as to the information that's coming in. And that's how we're keeping the president updated.

BURENTT: Right. Just to be clear, at this time you're not aware of him actually taking any calls?

SHULKIN: No. He's not taken any calls at this time since June 1st.

BURNETT: All right. Secretary Shulkin, I appreciate your time. Thank you for being with me tonight.

SHULKIN: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: Obviously not taking the place of Twitter yet.

Thanks for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT any time anywhere on CNN Go.

Anderson is next.