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Erin Burnett Outfront

Supreme Court Denies Trump's Last Effort To Shield Tax Returns; Biden's A.G. Pick Vows To Cast Wide Net In Capitol Riot Prove: Begin With People On The Ground And "Work Our Way Up"; Garland Gets Emotional Talking About His Family During Hearing; U.S. Now Surpasses 500,000 Coronavirus Deaths; Source: Trump Offered Kim Jong-un Ride On AF1 After Summit; Some Texans Hit With Astronomical Electric Bills After Outages. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 22, 2021 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Trump's last-ditch effort to hide his tax returns denied by the Supreme Court as the former president's legal troubles pile up.

And breaking news tonight, the United States hitting the grim milestone of 500,000 people dead from coronavirus, President Biden trying to comfort a hurting nation. A nation that had zero deaths and only 35 known cases a year ago today.

Plus, why was Kim Jong-un offered a ride on Air Force One? Why? Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, a major legal blow for Trump from a Supreme Court he thought he stacked to protect him. Trump tonight lashing out at the Supreme Court after justices said the former president must turn over his tax returns to Manhattan prosecutors. Now Trump, of course, has completely hidden his taxes for years and now the truth may come out.

Trump issuing a meandering statement packed with lies and grievances that I won't repeat because they are lies and grievances. But he concludes with a slam of the Supreme Court writing, "The Supreme Court never should have let this 'fishing expedition' happen, but they did."

Look, the former president is nervous. He's angry at the Supreme Court that he put all those justices on. But there's reason he should be nervous, because right now we know very few details about what Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is investigating. His only response today, a tweet, "The work continues." And it is good that he is silent. He should be until he has something to say. It is better late than never when that time comes for Americans to see

the truth of a person who ran for president and won while refusing to do what every other president has done for the past 40 years, which is to show his taxes, to show whom he owes money to. Because Trump kept saying one thing about his taxes and doing another.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe I'm going to do the tax returns when Obama does his birth certificate.

If I decide to run for office, I'll produce my tax returns, absolutely.

We'll see what I'm going to do with tax returns. I have no major problem with it, but I may tie them to a release of Hillary's emails.

I'd love to give them, but I'm under audit. When the audit is finished, I'll give them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes or no, do you believe voters have a right to see your tax returns before they make a final decision?

TRUMP: I don't think they do.

As soon as that's finished, whenever that may be and hopefully it's going to be before the election. I'm fine with that.

If I were finished with the audit, I would have an open mind to it. I would say that. But I don't want to do it during the audit.


BURNETT: Saying one thing and doing another, excuse after excuse Trump never released a single thing. Maybe it was because he didn't pay taxes. I mean, remember the New York Times report that showed Trump did not pay a dime in federal taxes for 10 out of 15 years, maybe. Maybe that's the reason, but Trump is proud of not paying a dime more than he owes.


TRUMP: I mean, honestly, I have brilliantly used those laws. I have often said on the campaign trail that I have a fiduciary responsibility to pay no more tax than is legally required.


BURNETT: So if that's nothing, that's nothing. So maybe the truth is that he didn't owe any money because he was a business failure. Now, that would humiliate Trump. He'd do anything to hide that because it would expose that this is not true.


TRUMP: Part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich. I built a great company in a relatively short period of time with

billions of dollars of net worth.


BURNETT: So maybe there are people in countries, though, that he's involved with that would have made American say no way. Maybe that would have raised National Security flags. Whatever the reason is, Trump went to every possible length he could to hide his taxes from the world and he succeeded until now.

And this blow from the Supreme Court comes as his legal troubles are mounting, big time. The New York Attorney General is looking into how the Trump Organization valued its assets, whether they completely lied, also illegal. Then, there are lawsuits from two women who are suing Trump for defamation and there's a fraud lawsuit filed by Trump's niece. There's also a possible charge of incitement for the insurrection by D.C.'s attorney general.

And there are two investigation into Trump's attempts to pressure Georgia Republican officials to overturn the free and fair state election there.


TRUMP: So, look. All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more that we have. Because we won to state.


BURNETT: Jim Acosta is OUTFRONT live in Washington. Jim a lot of lawsuits, obviously, but this is a major blow from the Supreme Court on something Trump has done everything possible to hide and successfully done so until today. How concerned is he?


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a massive defeat for the former president. I will tell you, Erin, I talked to a Trump advisor earlier today who said they were just happy to have been able to keep the President's tax returns under wraps for this long.

But it may not be for much longer, because the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has won this huge victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, the High Court deciding that the president's accounting firm has to turn over these tax records, some eight years of tax returns that Trump has tried to keep secret for all of these years and financial documents.

It's not just tax records, it's also financial documents tied to the Trump Organization and all of that is going to be swept up by Cy Vance and put into this investigation. He's hired a new prosecutor recently with a specialty in this kind of white-collar financial crime activity. And Erin, I will tell you, talking to the President's advisors, people

who speak with him on a regular basis, this is the kind of thing that concerns the former president the most, that he could get ensnared in some sort of criminal investigation and that may be what's coming next.

Now, all of this is happening, Erin, as the former president is trying to make a comeback on the public stage. He's expected to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference coming up this weekend. But, Erin, these are not the kinds of headlines that Donald Trump wants as he's trying to make a comeback to the public stage. To have people speculating as to whether or not he's not going to be looking at running for election in 2024, but evading prosecution between now and 2024. That is how things are stacking up in Trump world.

But Erin, I will tell you, one of the things that we have to keep in mind is a lot of what we think we know about Donald Trump's history of paying taxes is already well known. You mentioned that "New York Times" investigation that showed the former president has paid very little taxes over the years. But that is not going to obviously absolve him of massive embarrassment if it comes out in the coming weeks, coming months that there is a potential criminal prosecution looming over the President's head, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much. Jim mentioning Cy Vance and I mentioned him as well, and he's doing the right thing, which is doing his job and not out there litigating it in the public stage. But he is at the center of this entire story.

The District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has been trying to get his hands on these documents. So once he finally gets them after this huge victory, there is a whole lot that he could then explore.

Pamela Brown is OUTFRONT.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A criminal investigation spanning more than two years that could threaten former President Donald Trump his businesses and members of his family.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance investigating whether the Trump Organization violated state laws, which could include tax fraud, insurance fraud or other illegal schemes. Now, a break in the case with Vance's office being granted access to eight years of Trump's tax returns and financial records, concluding a legal battle that lasted for 16 months and two trips to the Supreme Court.

Originally focusing on allegations of hush money payments made to women who said they had sexual encounters with Trump before the 2016 election. Trump has denied the affairs and knowledge of the payments.

The Trump Organization has said it has paid all applicable taxes and is in compliance with the law. And Trump himself has called it a 'fishing expedition'. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This is a continuation of the witch-hunt, the greatest witch- hunt in history. There's never been anything like it, where people want to examine every deal you've ever done to see if they can find that there's a comma out of place.


BROWN (voice over): Vance has been pursuing other lines of investigation as well. Prosecutors have subpoenaed one of Trumps creditors, Deutsche Bank, which has lent Trump more than $300 million and interviewed two of its employees. They've also interviewed Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who testified to Congress how Trump would exaggerate or minimize the value of his assets when seeking loans, insurance or favorable tax treatment.


LACY CLAY, (D) HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Did the President or his company ever inflate assets or revenues?


CLAY: And was that done with the President's knowledge or direction?

COHEN: Everything was done with the knowledge and at the direction of Mr. Trump.


BROWN (voice over): Also subpoenaed records relating to fees the Trump Organization paid to consultants, including one to a company owned by Trump's daughter, Ivanka, according to people familiar with the matter who tweeted that the investigation was 'harassment pure and simple'. The investigation recently expanded to include the Trump family compound in Westchester County and tax deductions related to development plans of the property according to lawyers and people familiar with the investigation.


Trump himself seems worried about the legal jeopardy he might face now as a private citizen. A source telling CNN that he has been asking his associates about the potential criminal exposure he might face after his impeachment trial is over.


BURNETT: That was our Pam Brown reporting.

And I want to go now to Russ Buettner, investigative reporter for The New York Times who's done extensive reporting on Trump's taxes and Laura Coates, former Federal Prosecutor. Thanks to both.

So Russ, you and your team, you've unearthed what we've seen thus far publicly about Trump's taxes. You were the guys who got them and broke all this information of not paying any taxes for 10 out of 15 years. Cy Vance, though, is about to get a whole lot more than just a dump of taxes, explain.

RUSS BUETTNER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it's interesting that the taxes show you sort of top line detail of these things. There are big categories for legal expenses, for example. But it's not broken down, so you have to really do outside work to sort of match it to reality.

But Cy Vance is going to get the documents that will show the underpinnings of those records. So for example, I mentioned legal fees, there are some years where they're claiming close to a million dollars or more legal fees just through individual businesses, but Cy Vance will see what each one of those was.

So if there's a case where, say, there was a payment to Stormy Daniels that was buried in there and then covered up as a legal fee to Michael Cohen, they would have the documentation to show that. It's a real roadmap to almost everything they've done and it has to be incredibly unnerving for Donald Trump to think that Cy Vance is going to have that roadmap sitting in his office.

BURNETT: I mean, just to just to be clear here, Russ, you're talking about that which is pretty stunning that they could get that sort of documentation, but also these big questions people have about how much money does Donald Trump owe, to whom does he owe it, I mean, there would be a lot of information on that if you get this backup information, too, right?

BUETTNER: There could be, yes. One of the great things - we came across this and did investigation on how much money he got from his father. And the tax records show you again these big numbers, but the audited financial statements from his accountants, which are not part of tax filings often have a narrative explanation of what was done and why it was done and that can really lead you to understanding sort of the legality and what they were worried about and they were going to show those things to banks and what they wanted banks to see or not see.

And then he's also going to have correspondence from the Trump Org to the accountants, which, again, will go to their mindset and their motivation for seeking certain things.

BURNETT: So Laura, when you put all this together, how much trouble, I'm sorry, could Trump possibly be in here?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The equivalent of Pandora's box at this point in time. I mean, you're talking about all of the treasure trove of information. And Cy Vance has already been very clear with the appeals court that what may have begun with the hush payments, but through grand jury testimony and statements that had been made and other unearthing of evidence that has led them to know that they need to have these documents, probably for corroboration on some points for insurance fraud or tax fraud allegations. But remember, all of these so far is part of the grand jury

investigation, not a criminal trial prosecution. So the idea of a grand jury is to be able to have access to all sorts of information to determine whether a law has been broken. But if they have all of the information that has and Michael Cohen's testimony in the past, perhaps, other statements by the president, the ideas of whatever could be through the accounting firm, they could really have the equivalent of Pandora's box.

There's no other explanation for why he is probably extraordinarily uneasy as our colleague said, but the idea here is it's very terrifying if you've been trying to keep the information away and now there's ultimate transparency on a whole host of issues, this is really a really huge decision by a court that has three of his own appointees on it.

BURNETT: Which is amazing just that their jurisprudence, obviously, is without question, but they did the right thing. There was no question what that was.

I mean, Russ, you're looking at some of these things. You've reported on $747,000 fee. That's just one example of what could be a myriad set of examples. A fee, though, that matched a payment disclosed by Ivanka Trump, which would be some sort of illegal self-dealing if it continues down that path and what we shall see. So does this then go beyond the former president?

BUETTNER: I mean, to his family I think it very well could. Look, this is a family company. He's presented us with some massive operation. It's really a very small company that operates on two floors and front tower. And the people he trusts are really have for 10 or 15 years now been his children and they're involved in every decision that's made. You mentioned those consulting fees. Those were for licensing deals.


And when we look at those on his tax returns, they're essentially all revenue. He gets a million-dollar check for putting his name on something. There's a small fee that entity pays to have its tax returns filed and then it has no other expenses. But then in some of these cases, you see a million dollar or a $5 million payment to unknown consultants and we're able to match that up to find that some of those went to his children.

Well, if they didn't do any work for those and that was just a gift, that could rise to the level of a fraud and at a bare minimum could cause him to have to repay some taxes at a time when he seems to be under a cash crunch.

BURNETT: Right. At a bare minimum, as you know point out, Laura, I mean, the penalties here. Let me ask you one other thing here because of another loss the former president had today, Laura, though, the Supreme Court also denied an appeal from Pennsylvania Republicans over the state's mail-in voting procedures. OK.

So again, you had justices that the foreign President put on the court and they all voted against him. There was one dissent though that came from Justice Clarence Thomas that seemed to show some support for Trump's election lie.

Thomas writes, "We are fortunate that many of the cases we have seen alleged only improper rule changes, not fraud. But that observation provides only small comfort. An election free from strong evidence of systemic fraud is not alone sufficient for election confidence."

What do you make of that dissent?

COATES: It's odd that a member of the Supreme Court in light of all the other judicial rulings across the country would sort of insinuate that our election integrity or there is no integrity in our election system. It's an odd thing knowing that there has been so many decisions, including by people on the other side of the court in the sense of those who actually signed on to the majority opinion.

And so what he's actually saying essentially is an odd statement, given the fact that the Pennsylvania case was all about whether the state legislature relying on the state Supreme Court could make some changes essentially regarding how they were able to receive already valid votes. I mean, three days after or before in light of a pandemic here.

It doesn't transform it into some sort of a widespread voter fraud, even the Attorney General did not think so. And there's been no evidence aside from Clarence Thomas' statement to suggest anything to the contrary. I'm not sure why he would make that statement whatsoever.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate both of you very much. Thank you.

And next, Biden's pick for attorney general says investigating the Capitol Hill insurrection will be his first priority.

Plus, the breaking news, the United States tonight just this hour surpassing half a million deaths from coronavirus. Tonight President Biden with a message to the American people.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While we've been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow.


BURNETT: And CNN learning Trump offered North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un a ride on Air Force One for real.



BURNETT: Tonight, day one of confirmation hearings for Joe Biden's Attorney General, Merrick Garland, now complete. Garland vowing to make the investigation into the capital riots his number one priority.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Investigations, I began as a line assistant U.S. Attorney and as a supervisor we begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who are involved and further involved. I can assure you that this will be my first priority and my first briefing.


BURNETT: Garland then indicating the investigation could work its way all the way up to Trump.

OUTFRONT now Harry Litman, friend and colleague of Merrick Garland for 35 years. Also a former U.S. Attorney and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

So Harry, I really appreciate your time. Look, I'm remembering that day listening to Mitch McConnell who after voting to acquit President Trump said, "President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office and as an ordinary citizen. He didn't get away with anything yet." After he laid out that Trump was responsible practically and morally for every single thing that happened.

How far do you think Merrick Garland will go and prosecuting Trump?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, WORKED WITH GARLAND AT DOJ: All the way as long as the facts and the law take him there. This was the biggest piece of news out of the hearing today. He's a non- controversial nominee. He could play it safe.

But he made it clear what I think people in the department understood, you can't just do a comprehensive aggressive investigation of the insurrectionists and all the low lifes and not consider the role of Trump, which we all saw or Trump Jr., are you a hero or a zero, Giuliani trial by combat. Those factors are really potentially part of the criminal puzzle here. It doesn't mean he'll bring charges, but he brought it to himself to say this is my call.

There will be some people who will be saying you need a special counsel and Garland made it clear, this is part and parcel of the bigger investigation with us.

BURNETT: So his experience prosecuting domestic terror is very deep. He led the case against the Oklahoma City bomber. It was brought up a number of times today. Garland has called that case the most significant thing I've worked on, that's his quote. So how will that experience influence how he handles the January 6th insurrection?

LITMAN: It was really impressive the way he did it. He was down the hall and he could have been the person in Washington kind of having daily conference calls. He went to Oklahoma City. I remember being there when he begged, basically, the Deputy Attorney General to let him go. He was there on the ground. He carried around at all times the names of the victims. He really was hands on about it. That was a searing experience for him and he made clear today that the

January 6th experience was far more searing, far more grave, so you can expect him, I think, to leave no stone unturned.

BURNETT: So we also saw him get emotional today talking about what motivates him to do the job. I wanted to play that part.


GARLAND: I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution.


The country took us in and protected us. And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back and this is the highest best use of my own set of skills to pay back. And so I want very much to be the kind of Attorney General that you're saying I could become. I'll do my best to try to be that kind of attorney general.


BURNETT: Unexpected and something that I am sure had to connect with anybody watching. You know him. Were you surprised that he did get so emotional, tearing up there?

LITMAN: I was a little surprised, but it was so lovely. Look, his smart, his integrity came through with every sentence, but there were also flashes of his extraordinary decency and humility and that was a prime example of it. And it seemed absolutely genuine to me, but I was really struck at the emotion of the moment.

I think it overtook him somewhat by surprise as he explained his commitment to equal rights under law for people now who face oppression, because he had experienced or his family had in the past.

BURNETT: So let me ask you one final thing, obviously, he was pressed significantly today by Republicans on whether he's going to allow those investigations into Hunter Biden and the origination of the Russia investigation, both of which are being handled by Trump attorneys appointed by Trump. Whether he'd allow those to go forward without any interference. So how clear was he on that and how much of a headache will these be for him?

LITMAN: Medium and a big headache. He was impermeable today, because he could say I haven't been there yet. On 2016, Erin, I think it's a dead letter. There's hardly anything to pursue. Hunter Biden is a different matter. The indication he gave to me was that he would keep the Trump U.S. Attorney there who's a well-respected career professional.

That won't be enough for a lot of people. People will be screaming in the Senate. It will, I think, impede Biden's agenda some, but that's just the way it goes. He's going to let it be independent in the sense that it stays with a Trump U.S. Attorney, but I do not see him having a special counsel even though many Republicans will screen for it. BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Harry. Always good to see


LITMAN: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, the United States surpassing an unthinkable mark, 500,000 deaths from coronavirus. So how many could have been prevented?

Plus, why some Texans are being hit with massive power bills, thousands and thousands of dollars after the state failed to keep their power on?



BURNETT: President Joe Biden leading the nation in marking a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, holding a candle light ceremony at the White House as the U.S. death toll hits 500,000 dead Americans. You see the candles there.

It's the highest reported death toll for any country. Biden promising the nation will beat the virus but saying to never forget the Americans who lost their lives to COVID.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This nation will smile again. This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again. And as we do, we will remember each person we've lost, the lives they lived. The loved ones they left behind.

We will get through this, I promise you.


BURNETT: Five hundred thousand Americans is about the population of the city of Atlanta, Georgia. It's more than the combined losses of two world wars and Vietnam for the United States. It is a number that, frankly, for every single one of us was unimaginable a year ago.

In fact, here in the United States one year ago today, there were 35 reported cases and there were no deaths, no deaths. One day later, former President Trump said there was nothing to worry about.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have it very much under control in this country.


BURNETT: But since he said that, 500,000 Americans have died.

Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT tonight. Kaitlan, Trump did, you know, try to distance himself from the

pandemic, he tried to downplay it. He's admitted that obviously in interviews. It is a very different story with President Biden who is banking his entire presidency on COVID and leading the country of it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, President Biden has said that he knows that his time in office will be judged on his response to this pandemic. And I think so will former President Trump's and how he responded a year ago, and what could have been different had he not downplayed it in the way that he did.

And you saw just how different their leadership tones are today. The way that President Biden came out, he spoke. Erin, he said that he gets a little card every day that he carries around with him with his schedule that says the number of infections in the United States and the number of deaths from coronavirus in the United States. And every day, he says he looks at that.

And, of course, seeing him come out there tonight where those 500 candles, each one representing 1,000 people who died from coronavirus, I couldn't help but think that that is the same spot where former President Trump accepted the Republican nomination last summer, in front of this massive crowd on the South Lawn, a lot of people not wearing a mask, while we're there, and just to see how different it is now with President Biden, and, of course, Vice President Harris also out there.

So, we should note that today as they were trying to mark this day also lowered the flags at the White House to half staff and all flags on federal grounds for the next several days.

This also comes as he is still pushing for that coronavirus relief bill to get passed on Capitol Hill.

We're expecting a vote on it in the House later this week.


But you are seeing on this week, on this day, just how different President Biden's response is and how he is trying to be much more empathic than his predecessor was.

BURNETT: All right. Kaitlan, thank you.

I want to go now to two doctors that we've been following the pandemic with since the beginning and you have seen on this network on some of the darkest days.

Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health and emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, who just completed a shift in the ER, and, Dr. Murtaza Akhter, and emergency room physician who's been treating COVID patients in hospitals across the country.

Dr. Spencer, let me start with you.

You know, when the pandemic first hit last spring, you are at the center of it here in New York and as bad as it was in New York and across the country, you know, when you think back a year ago, did you ever think that we would hit 500,000 people dead from this virus?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER, DIRECTOR, GLOBAL HEALTH EMERGENCY MEDICINE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITYT MEDICAL CENTER: Absolutely not. Even a year ago, Dr. Fauci warned that we might reach 240,000 deaths, and we doubled that. You know, we've gone through such horrible pain here as a country, and we're going to need a moment of national grieving.

The way that I'm thinking of this is when I worked in West Africa in 2014 treating Ebola patients. When you go there, you don't touch anyone. You're not allowed to have physical contact. And at first, it's strange, but eventually you get used to it.

And then you come back to the U.S., and you touch people in your physical and it's very unsettling and I feel like a sense we are in the same scenario where we are in this limbo, in this crisis, and that people are undermining how difficult it's going to be to go back to a sense of normalcy despite how much we want it. Part of that is because 500,000 of our friends and loved ones are no longer going to be here when this crisis fades.

And I think we all need to keep that in mind, as this passes, that we're going to have to think how we memorializes and think of all the people, friends, colleagues, loved ones that we've lost.

Dr. Akhter, Dr. Fauci was asked today about this horrible milestone and whether more could have been done, right? And we know that yes, more could be done or want to play exactly how he said it today.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Five hundred thousand Americans, families grieving all across the country, did this have to be?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, certainly some of it, but not this bad, George. I mean, I believe that if you look back historically, we have done worse than most any other country, and we are a highly developed, rich country.


BURNETT: And, Doctor, worse than any other country, and we are the richest country in the world by so many measures. How many of these deaths when you think and look at all those shifts you've done in the ER, could have been prevented?

DR. MURTAZA AKHTER, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Yeah. I mean, that's a great question and the best way of preventing those deaths would've been preventing infections to begin with. And really the best way of looking at it is comparing with other countries, how people have done that, even if you compared to our European counterparts who've done far worse. And let me tell you a statistic, Erin, if you compare to how Taiwan

did, of the 500,000 that we lost, if we acted like Taiwan, we would've saved 499,900.

I know that sounds phenomenal, how could that possibly be? But that's how marked difference our country's had with some of the other countries that did so well. I'm not saying necessarily we shoot for being number one, we should be, but to be as low as we have been, cost hundreds of thousands of lives there really could've been prevented. It's not maybe, it's would have been prevented from dying.

BURNETT: It's incredible.

Dr. Spencer, the CDC director today, Dr. Walensky, said the 7-day average for cases has dropped by three quarters since January 11th. Seven-day average for hospitalizations down 60 percent. You know, we have seen a plunge in all of these metrics and deaths as well.

What do you think is behind these declines?

SPENCER: I think there's a lot of things. One is that we are vaccinating people. You know, 1.5, 1.7 million people per day. We have had already 80 million Americans who have been infected by COVID and have some level of protection against reinfection.

But the statistics that you point out, let's remember that they're much better than they were a few weeks ago and that's certainly heartening, but they're still not great, right? You know, the 7-day average for cases is the same as it was in the summer and it's the same for hospitalizations. I'm glad were going in the right direction, but this is not a time for complacency.

The best way for us to get back to normal is not to double-down right now, not to throw off our masks, not to eat indoors, not to do other things that we know can risk reigniting outbreaks.

The majority of people in this country, despite previous infections and despite, you know, two months of vaccines, the majority of people still have no protection against COVID and can get infected and can continue to spread throughout this country, so we need to doubled out right now. It's not to be -- it's not to, you know, to instill fear, but still let people know that this isn't over and we need to double down.

BURNETT: Well, it's a pretty powerful point. You need to remind people, right, where we were last summer. Everyone remembers how that way.


Yes, there's a vaccine now, but those were dark times.

Dr. Akhter, are you optimistic about the trends, or do you think that some of these numbers, as good as they may look, could be deceiving?

AKHTER: I completely agree with Dr. Spencer. I'm glad that he said that because the thought that maybe I was going crazy. Yes, the numbers the last week or two look great. But COVID hasn't been around for last week or two, it's been around for last year at least.

And if you look at that whole graph as Dr. Spencer mentioned, we have basically gone down to levels that we were at the peak of the summer. Remember the peak of the summer, Erin, when you had me on your show a lot because how terrible things were in Arizona --


AKHTER: -- and how terrible things were in the country. So now for us to say how good things are, I guess we've taken this as our new normal, that we're just going to have a ton of hospitalizations, we've got a ton of cases, and we have a ton of deaths, and that will be okay.

It's clearly not okay. I'm glad that is trending in the right direction. But remember, those waves came down before, and when the next wave came, it was even more so. So, a lot of the reason we've had this downside is because of the holiday surge, and I'm really hoping that it continues to go down, but as you can imagine at this point, I hate to say, I'm a little pessimistic about how things will go.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate both of you taking the time. Thank you very much.

AKHTER: Thank you for having us.

BURNETT: All right. And next, new details about Donald Trump's stunning offer, because that's the right use of the word for this, to fly Kim Jong-un home on Air Force One.

First, then it was Ted Cruz, now we're learning about another top elected official in Texas who left the state during the middle of the winter chaos.



BURNETT: New tonight, former President Trump offering Kim Jong-un a ride home on Air Force One. This was after their 2019 summit in Vietnam. This is according to a former top official who is with Trump on the trip.

I want to bring back Jim Acosta.

Jim, I mean, we all know it's a love letter. Remember, that Trump talked about? But this is -- this is incredible. This is a sitting president of the United States, offering a brutal dictator a ride on Air Force One?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, I mean, this is I think goes to when Donald Trump said that he, and Kim Jong-un fell in love, quote, fell in love during their summits, during the Trump presidency. Yes, I can tell you that I talked to a former senior administration

official who was with the former president, the president for this trip, in Vietnam, and at the conclusion of that trip when it did not result in anything, remember, it ended up being a big failure, Trump said to Kim Jong-un, we'll, if you would like to go home faster, I can offer you a ride on Air Force One. It shocked aides around the then president. I talked to this former senior administration official is with Trump who said he was just doing this for his friend.

And I can tell you Erin, this is something that has also been confirmed by Matthew Pottinger, who's a former national security official, he said some of this to the BBC just a couple of days ago. So this was confirmed to us as well.

BURNETT: OK. So, Jim, tell me what happened? I mean, so, aides -- so, Trump just does this? Out of the blue? Then what happens? How much do we know about -- I mean, obviously, it didn't end up happening.


BURNETT: But do we know why? Who put the kibosh on it, or what happened?

ACOSTA: According to what we are hearing from our sources, and from what Matthew Pottinger told the BBC, it was Kim Jong-un who said no.

It's a good thing he did, I was talking to a former administration official earlier today who said, we may still be in Pyongyang right now, had we taken Kim Jong-un taken Donald Trump open on this offer. Keep in mind, not only is Kim Jong-un there with the president for the summit, he has his entire entourage of people, and had all of those people get on Air Force One, obviously, it would be a massive national security problem for the administration.

But, Erin, this goes to show you how cozy Donald Trump was with Kim Jong-un, during this administration. It presents a challenge to the Biden administration because, obviously, Joe Biden has made it very clear he is not going to take the same approach Donald Trump did when it comes to the North Korean dictator, Erin.

BURNETT: It's just pretty credible, though, when you think about it. Just -- the lack of thinking about, it frankly, not just on the national security level, and image, and that sort of thing.

But how you would actually do it to your point --


ACOSTA: But with Trump, shocking, but believable.

BURNETT: -- land in Pyongyang. I mean --

ACOSTA: Right, exactly. Yeah, they've gone to Pyongyang, what would happen next? I have no idea. This official I spoke with earlier today said that there was no plan for what came after that, Erin.

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

ACOSTA: You bet.

BURNETT: And next, why so many Texans are facing, you know, sky high power bills. I mean, some of these like many thousands of dollars, after a deadly storm that left them without power.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How much have you been charged now?

NORAH FLORES, EDINBURGH, TEXAS RESIDENT: Now, I have -- my bill is this, this one,


BURNETT: And NASA releasing jaw-dropping new video just tonight from Mars.



BURNETT: New tonight, another top elected official in Texas left the state during the power crisis. Ken Paxton, the attorney general, traveling to Utah with his wife, reportedly, on Wednesday, when millions are still without power, and water.

It comes, of course, as Senator Ted Cruz is dealing with the fallout of leaving the state, and going on vacation to Cancun.

Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Imagine a horrifying shock Norah Flores experienced when she printed out this electric bill for last week's charges, during the winter storm disaster, in Texas.

How much have you -- how much have you been charged now?

NORAH FLORES, EDINBURGH, TEXAS RESIDENT: Now, I have -- my bill is this, this one, $3,315. It's just for maybe 5 days. Not even a month. So, yeah.

LAVANDERA: Flores works in a nursing home, making $11 an hour. Even as she sat in the dark, and cold, with her husband, and children, for 3 days without power, she kept seeing the charges skyrocket.

Are you scared this will wipe out the savings you have? Can you afford to pay this bill?

FLORES: No, not right now. I don't have any savings. I've already spent my money within this month. They don't have any saving money at this time. So, really, I'm scared about that, yes. LAVANDERA: State lawmakers holding the hearings this week scrutinizing

what went wrong in the power grid chaos. But the state's Republican leaders are scrambling to respond to calls for regulation of the states energy market.

Senator Ted Cruz, who is trying to rehabilitate his image after his well-documented, 24-hour trip to Cancun, in the middle of the crisis, now saying that regulators should act swiftly to prevent this injustice.

But in 2019, Cruz tweeted that the success of the Texas energy market was built on deregulation.

And after one week of intense criticism, for his handling of the crisis, Governor Greg Abbott is calling for state officials to help.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Texans suffered 3 days of freezing cold, without power, and should not be subjected to skyrocketing energy bills.

LAVANDERA: State officials say they are working to find relief for residents on variable rate electric plants, who are facing these crippling electric bills.


One lawmaker said that federal disaster aid could help cover the cost.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you saying they'll use the disaster relief funding from the federal government?

REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX): Yes. That's the current the plan with the federal assistance.

LAVANDERA: FEMA says federal disaster aid can be used for temporary housing and housing repairs. It does not include provisions to use the money to pay off energy bills. Texas created its power grid to stand on its own, to be free from federal regulations. Texas consumer watchdogs say it's on Republican leaders to fix this mess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Homeowners are being hit with these massive bills. Something has got to be done with it, and ultimately, it's a Texas problem. And, you know, we need to figure out a solution, here, with our local lawmakers.

LAVANDERA: There are still millions of people without water in Texas. Water distribution sites, are set up all over the state. Crews are working to repair water main breaks, and people like Rachel Stephens (ph) are recovering from the mess left by the aftermath.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have lines that were just gushing water. So, now, we've got zero water in the House. Just due to having to turn it off until somebody come out here to start fixing things.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LAVANDERA (on camera): And, Erin, it is really amazing to hear the news tonight of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is already under fire for a series of other controversies, in situations he is involved with.

A spokesperson for Paxton telling us that he will not tell us when the attorney general, his wife who's a state senator left, and came back to the state. He said that he left after the majority of powers turn back on in the state, but this is significant because the A.G.'s office, that investigates allegations of price gouging, and that sort of thing in these types of crises and that's exactly some of the concerns that many Texans had last week as this crisis was unfolding -- Erin.

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

And next, wait until you see what "Perseverance" just set back from Mars.


BURNETT: Perseverance has sent something back from Mars. Just watch this. It is the first time we have ever seen video.

This is -- this is the landing. You see how that blowing out sand as it cruises into landing, a harrowing descent to the Martian surface just last week and it is just beginning.

"Perseverance" is now at work in what astroscientists believe was a river delta on Mars, hunting for signs of life.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.