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Erin Burnett Outfront

Biden Delivers Major Speech With 6 Days Until Midterms; WSJ: Trump Aide Granted Immunity, Set To Testify In Docs Probe; U.S.: Russians Have Discussed Conditions A Tactical Nuke Would Be Used. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired November 02, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, President Biden about to give a major speech moments from now on what he calls the unprecedented path to chaos in America. We're going to bring it to you live.

Plus, desperate emails between Trump attorneys revealing they viewed Justice Clarence Thomas as key to stopping the certification of the 2020 election.

And Russian commanders are discussing using nuclear tactical weapons. The former director of national intelligence is my guest tonight.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Biden's major speech this hour, with just six days until election day, President Biden any moment now will deliver a major speech. The topic is the threat to democracy, and it comes on the heels of a violent attack on the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband Paul.

Biden betting this will turn the tide of the midterms. But as he prepares to speak, only 9 percent of likely voters say voting rights and election integrity are the most important issues to them. Fifty- one percent say the economy is their number one concern, 51 percent.

And today, that issue was front burner. The Fed raising interest rates by another three-quarters of a percentage point. Rates have been rising at an unprecedented pace with mortgage rates now above 7 percent for the first time in 20 years.

And you can see the stage there where President Biden will be speaking in just moments from now.

Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT live where Biden is about to speak.

And, Phil, this is obviously an important speech. They have put a lot of time into this.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, that's right. And he's actually walking up right now, so I'm actually going to turn it back over to you and the president of the United States.

BURNETT: Yeah, he is going to begin speaking here, approaching the podium. And now, let's listen to President Biden.


Good evening, everyone.

Just a few days ago, a little before 2:30 a.m. in the morning, a man smashed the back windows and broke into the home of the speaker of the House of Representatives, the third highest-ranking official in America. He carried in his backpack zip ties, duct tape, rope, and a hammer. As he told the police, he had come looking for Nancy Pelosi to take her hostage, to interrogate her, to threaten to break her kneecaps.

But she wasn't there. Her husband, my friend Paul Pelosi, was home alone. The assailant tried to take Paul hostage. He woke him up and he wanted to tie him up. The assailant ended up using a hammer to smash Paul's skull. Thankfully, by the grace of God, Paul survived.

All this happened after the assault, and it just -- it's hard to even say. It's hard to even say. After the assailant entered the home asking, "Where's Nancy? Where's Nancy?" Those are the very same words used by the mob when they stormed the United States Capitol on January the 6th when they broke windows, kicked in the doors, brutally attacked law enforcement, roamed the corridors hunting for officials, and erected gallows to hang the former Vice President Mike Pence.

It was an enraged mob that had been whipped up into a frenzy by a president repeating over and over again the big lie, that the election of 2020 had been stolen. It's a lie that fueled the dangerous rise in political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years.

Even before January the 6th, we saw election officials and election workers in a number of states subject to menacing calls, physical threats, even threats to their very lives. In Georgia, for example, Republican secretary of state and his family were subjected to death threats because he refused to break the law and give into the defeated president's demand to just find him 11,780 votes. Just find me 11,780 votes.

Election workers, like Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, were harassed and threatened just because they had the courage to do their job and stand up for the truth, to stand up for our democracy. This institution, this intimidation, this violence against Democrats, Republicans, and nonpartisan officials just doing their jobs, are the consequence of lies told for power and profit, lies of conspiracy and malice, lies repeated over and over to generate a cycle of anger, hate, vitriol, and even violence.


In this moment, we have to confront those lies with the truth. The very future of our nation depends on it. My fellow Americans, we're facing a defining moment, an inflection point, we must with one overwhelming unified voice speak as a country and say there's no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America, whether it's directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever.

I speak today near Capitol Hill, near the U.S. Capitol, the citadel of our democracy. I know there's a lot at stake in these midterm elections, from our economy to the safety of our streets, to our personal freedoms, to the future of healthcare and Social Security, Medicare, it's all important. But we'll have our differences. We'll have our difference of opinion. And that's what it's supposed to be.

But there's something else at stake, democracy itself. I'm not the only one who sees it. Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy at -- is at risk, that our democracy's under threat. They too see that democracy is on the ballot this year, and they're deeply concerned about it.

So, today, I appeal to all Americans, regardless of party, to meet this moment of national and generational importance. We must vote knowing what's at stake and not just the policy of the moment, but institutions that have held us together as we've sought a more perfect union are also at stake. We must vote knowing who we have been, what we're at risk of becoming.

Look, my fellow Americans, the old expression "freedom is not free," it requires constant vigilance. From the very beginning, nothing has been guaranteed about democracy in America. Every generation has had to defend it, protect it, preserve it, choose it. That's what democracy is. It's a choice, a decision of the people, by the people, and for the people.

The issue couldn't be clearer, in my view. We the people must decide whether we'll have fair and free elections, and every vote counts. We the people must decide whether we're going to sustain a republic, where reality is accepted, the law is obeyed, and your vote is truly sacred. We the people must decide whether the rule of law will prevail or whether we will allow the dark forces and thirst for power put ahead of the principles that have long guided us.

You know, American democracy is under attack because the defeated former president of the United States refused to accept the results of the 2020 election. If he refuses to accept the will of the people, refuses to accept the fact that he lost, he's abused his power and put the loyalty to himself before loyalty to the Constitution. And he's made a big lie, an article of faith in the MAGA Republican Party, the minority of that party.

The great irony about the 2020 election is that it's the most attacked election in our history. And yet, and yet, there's no election in our history that we can be more certain of its results. Every legal challenge that could have been brought was brought. Every recount that could have been undertaken was undertaken. Every recount confirmed the results. Wherever fact or evidence had been demanded, the big lie has been proven to be just that, a big lie every single time. Yet now, extreme MAGA Republicans aim to question not only the legitimacy of past elections, but elections being held now and into the future.


The extreme MAGA element of the Republican Party, which is a minority of that party, as I said earlier, but it's its driving force. It's trying to succeed where they failed in 2020, to suppress the right of voters and subvert the electoral system itself. That means denying your right to vote and deciding whether your vote even counts.

Instead of waiting until an election is over, they're starting well before it. They're starting now. They've emboldened violence and intimidation of voters and election officials.

It's estimated that there are more than 300 election deniers on the ballot all across America this year. We can't ignore the impact this is having on our country. It's damaging, it's corrosive, and it's destructive.

And I want to be very clear, this is not about me, it's about all of us. It's about what makes America America. It's about the durability of our democracy, for democracies are more than a form of government. They're a way of being, way of seeing the world, a way that defines who we are, what we believe, why we do what we do.

Democracy is simply that fundamental. We must, in this moment, dig deep within ourselves and recognize that we can't take democracy for granted any longer. With democracy on the ballot, we have to remember these first principles. Democracy means the rule of the people, not the rule of monarchs or the moneyed, but the rule of the people.

Autocracy is the opposite of democracy. It means the rule of one, one person, one interest, one ideology, one party. To state the obvious, the lives of billions of people, from antiquity until now, have been shaped by the battle between these competing forces between the aspirations of the many and the greed and power of the few, between the people's right for self-determination, and the self-seeking autocrat, between the dreams of a democracy and the appetites of an autocracy.

What we're doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure and, in my view, is the biggest of questions, whether the American system that prizes the individual bends towards justice and depends on the rule of law, whether that system will prevail.

This is the struggle we're now in, a struggle for democracy, a struggle for decency and dignity, a struggle for prosperity and progress, a struggle for the very soul of America itself.

Make no mistake: democracy is on the ballot for all of us. We must remember that democracy is a covenant. We need to start looking out for each other again, seeing ourselves as we the people, not as entrenched enemies. This is a choice we can make. Disunion and chaos are not inevitable.

There's been anger before in America. There's been division before in America. But we've never given up on the American experiment. And we can't do that now.

The remarkable thing about American democracy is this. Just enough of us on just enough occasions have chosen not to dismantle democracy, but to preserve democracy. We must choose that path again.

Because democracy is on the ballot, we have to remember that even in our darkest moments, there are fundamental values and beliefs that unite us as Americans, and they must unite us now. What are they?

Well, I think, first, we believe the vote in America's sacred, to be honored, not denied, respected, not dismissed, counted, not ignored. A vote is not a partisan tool, to be counted when it helps your candidates and tossed aside when it doesn't.

Second, we must, with an overwhelming voice, stand against political violence and voter intimidation, period.


As I've said before, you can't love your country only when you win. This is no ordinary year. So I ask you to think long and hard about the moment we're in.

In a typical year, we're often not faced with questions of whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put us at risk. But this year, we are. This year, I hope you'll make the future of our democracy an important part of your decision to vote and how you vote.

I hope you'll ask a simple question of each candidate you might vote for. Will that person accept the legitimate will of the American people and the people voting in his district or her district? Will that person accept the outcome of the election, win or lose?

The answer to that question is vital. And, in my opinion, it should be decisive. And the answer to that question hangs in the future of the country we love so much, and the fate of the democracy that has made so much possible for us.

Too many people have sacrificed too much for too many years for us to walk away from the American project and democracy. Because we've endured our freedoms for so long, it's easy to think they'll always be with us no matter what. But that isn't true today.

In our bones, we know democracy is risk -- is at risk. But we also know this: it's within our power each and every one of us to preserve our democracy. And I believe we will. I think I know this country. I know we will.

You have the power, it's your choice, it's your decision, the fate of the nation, the fate of the soul of America lies where it always does, with the people, in your hands, in your heart, in your ballot. My fellow Americans, we'll meet this moment, we just need to remember

who we are. We are the United States of America. There's nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.

And God bless you all. May God protect our troops. May God bless those standing guard over our democracy.

Thank you, and Godspeed.


BURNETT: And that was the president of the United States speaking in Washington. He spoke for just over 20 minutes, speaking about what he sees as a grave threat to democracy in America, and saying that is what is on the ballot, telling Americans that they should think long and hard and that if someone in a race that you're voting for is not willing to accept the results of the election, making it clear that that is not where Americans should cast their vote, beginning with the very powerful and graphic description of what just happened to Nancy Pelosi's husband Paul, and making it clear that this is a crucial moment for America.

Phil Mattingly is there in the room with the president.

Phil, obviously, Union Station there. This was a crucial speech for the president. What more are you learning about why he decided to give this speech at this moment?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, the message was sharp and urgent. The location was very intentional, Union Station, about two blocks away from the Capitol building. You can see it.

The president made reference to the January 6th attack on that building, and also made clear that, in his view, the country is simply not in a better place. The threat to democracy has not been diminished.

It is very notable that the president started his remarks with a very detailed run through of the attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband Paul Pelosi, and here's the reason why. Advisers that I've spoken to said the president has been weighing, giving these remarks over the course of several weeks. It has regularly been a conversation he's been having with senior advisers particularly as it contains to a number of Republicans who refuse to commit to accept the election results if they lost.

But what really triggered this, what really ensured that he was going to make these remarks was that attack. Obviously, he noted he is friends with Paul Pelosi, has a very close relationship with the speaker herself, and how that affected the White House and perhaps, most importantly, how that really sharpened their view of the stakes of the moment is critical here.

Now, as I noted, the president's been talking about this for several weeks. You remember, Erin, he gave a very high-profile speak about this very issue September 1st in Philadelphia.

The differences, though, between those two speeches I think are very noticeable. This was sharper, this was more direct, this was more intentional. And I think it underscored the fact that this is six days out from an election.

Yes, this was political. The president was saying vote on these issues, you should cast your vote on these issues and this should be a decisive issue for your vote.


That was a different approach than he took on September 1st. But I think more than anything else when you talk to advisers, what they recognize as Democrats have been calling on them to message on the economy, to try and address some of their vulnerabilities electorally that we've seen over the last couple weeks is that the president has been increasingly unsettled by what he's seen, and perhaps most unsettled for an individual who launched his campaign on the idea of healing the soul of the nation on breaking the fever, on following the former president and really changing the direction and perhaps the tone of the country.

That simply hasn't happened. It hasn't happened and perhaps particularly in the wake of the attack on Paul Pelosi, there's concern it may be getting worse. That drove the urgency of his remarks, that's why the president gave the speech that he gave tonight, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Phil, thank you very much.

Interesting Phil's comment -- I mean, you could -- when you heard it. This didn't seem to be something that was just written in the moment post-Paul Pelosi. It seems like this was a working document that a lot of work had been put on, obviously. Then, it was punctuated by the urgency of that attack on Paul Pelosi.

OUTFRONT now, Dana Bash, our chief political correspondent and co- anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION"; Phil Mudd, former CIA counterterror official; Bakari Sellers, the Democratic former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives; and here with me, Al Schmidt, Republican former Philadelphia city commissioner, who defended the vote count there against Trump's baseless claims of fraud.

Al has been in the midst of this. He's experienced facing death threats and the political violence.

Let me start with you, Al.

He laid out here in detail what was at risk. At the beginning I was sort of sitting here with you watching you as he was laying out in graphic detail what happened to Paul Pelosi, right? He didn't mince words. He said he came in with a hammer to smash Paul's skull.

He wanted people to understand the graphic nature of the violence. And that's something that you've experienced yourself. Did you think he met the moment with that? AL SCHIDMT, PRESIDENT & CEO, COMMITTEE OF SEVENTY: I think he did,

and especially pointing out that this rhetoric and this political propaganda is dangerous and that there's some number of deranged people out there who are motivated on act on it. Whether it's --


SCHMIDT: -- threats to election officials and I don't just mean myself. It happened throughout the country, Democrats and Republicans in big cities and rural counties, but to -- on Capitol Hill as well. Clearly, there are some number of people who are willing to act out as a result of, you know, the lies that they've been consuming for two years now.

BURNETT: And, Dana, you know, there was a point where he tried to lay out extreme -- the extreme MAGA element in this country. He made it very clear that that's who is responsible for this. But then he said they're a minority of their party, but they are the engine of their party.

Did he walk the line of talking about the stakes of the moment, while not alienating anyone or being too political himself?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's incredibly difficult to thread that needle. Of course, it was political, it was very political. You're sort of alluding to the notion of what the goal -- one of the goals of the speech was, was for the president to speak as president, as a president, to stand there and reassure Americans as much as he can, as much as people are listening, who he's trying to reach, that the votes will be free and fair, particularly even people on the Democratic side who are seeing intimidation and other issues already going on.

But when I mentioned this is inherently political, that's another part of this. As high-minded and high-brow and important ideologically, philosophically about democracy this was, this was also a speech intentionally given this close to the election because even though the threat against democracy does not rank even close to the highest on the list, which is the economy, people in the White House, Democrats who I talked to say that it matters as a base motivator -- particularly for what they see as the, quote/unquote, Biden coalition, people who came out, voted for him in 2020, may not be that excited about voting in a midterm but might actually listen to the stakes as he laid them out and say, "Okay, fine, I'll go vote."

It is very much also a get out the vote speech.

BURNETT: Bakari, did it succeed in that? You know, there was that moment where he was very clear when you are casting your vote, ask yourself the question, will that person accept the outcome, win or lose? And that should determine who to pull the lever for.

Of course, we know there are people who have made it very clear that they may not accept the vote or that they won't accept it if they lose in races all across this country. BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, I agree with Dana. I

don't believe that this was -- I mean, this was a political speech, but what this was not was a partisan speech. This wasn't a partisan speech at all.

In fact, he focused on what the fundamental tenets of this country are and he spoke as president of the United States. So, that's first.


And second, this is unique as our colleague Ron Brownstein says. I think that this is an election of double negatives. You have a lot of candidates, particularly in Senate races, where voters disapprove of both candidates.


SELLERS: And what the president did tonight was go out and say, look, you're going to simply have to vote on the person or vote for the person who will actually keep democracy intact.

And so, there are a lot of voters out there that are still weighing the fact that they may not care for either candidate, but they want to cast their ballot. And what Joe Biden gave tonight was a closing argument for all of those voters in the middle of the country who are not sure, they're not partisan Democrats, they're not partisan Republicans. But remember you're American and remember that this is the United States of America.

And he's not talking about all Republicans. He's not talking about all Democrats. But what he is saying is that "We are united as one, and democracy should matter".

And so in those elections where individuals literally despise both candidates -- and we saw that in 2016 with Trump and Clinton, but we saw that Donald Trump actually won those voters who disapproved of both candidates. I anticipate you'll see that in places like Georgia where there are some voters who disapprove of Warnock and some voters who disapprove of Walker.

And what the president did tonight was put a pin and a litmus test and say, we're all Americans, vote for those who will stand for freedom and democracy. And he was strong and sharp. And I think he did that eloquently.

BURNETT: So, Phil, when you heard how he began, right, with the graphic description of the attack on Paul Pelosi, you know, be began with the window broke in -- which, you know, can we just emphasize that that is refuting a conspiracy theory that the former president put out about the window breaking out, which law enforcement said is false, right? The window was broken in by the attacker. Even the words there seem to me to be very considered.

He then ended with: This is the path to chaos to America. It's unprecedented, it's unlawful, and it's un-American. Phil, how -- how bad are things in this country right now? When you

look at history, when you look at the history of the political violence in the '60s, in the '70s and, of course, in further-back history, how bad is it now?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think it's worse -- and I'm typically positive on these issues -- worse than most Americans think. And I base that on travel overseas to democracies and also too to totalitarian countries. The reason is quite simple -- first, most Americans don't have passports and most Americans don't travel. They assume that they can walk down the street and that their trip to the grocery store will be safe.

Boy, I did not see that around most of the world. That's a thin line between safety and lack of safety. They assume that they will be able to vote in 2024 and 2028 without restrictions on their voting. I did not see that when I traveled the world.

Let me cut to the chase here. When you have leadership, not just the population, but leadership telling you not to trust institutions and not to trust the vote, this -- and is why I'm surprised -- starts looking to me like some of the semi-authoritarian places I traveled around the world. Leaders telling people, if I don't win, it's not true, you have to keep me in office and that leads to violence, Erin.

BURNETT: And that's the risk that we're in right now.

Al, he -- he did not dedicate a lot of time to one thing, but he did dedicate some time to it, and it was a detail I think was important, and I want to ask you about it. He said people need to be informed, engaged, and patient. And he did that in the context of explaining that 27 million people have already voted, and those votes will not start to be counted until after the polls close.

So the results we see on election night may be very different than the results we see, he said, a couple of days later. That's what happened last time, and that vacuum, that change, right, because it was a change in how things looked, is where the conspiracy theories flooded in.

Do people understand -- what more can be done for people to understand this, that what you see at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday night may not be what you see at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night?

AL SCHMIDT, PRESIDENT & CEO, COMMITTEE OF SEVENTY: And, you know, as soon as he said patience, I wrote it down right away and ended up scribbling "patience is a virtue", because when it comes to elections right now, it really is.

There's a real vulnerability, I think, in the strength of our democracy in that window between when the last vote is cast and the last vote is counted.

And the more expeditiously that gets done with maximum integrity to, in no way, you know, jeopardize the legitimacy of the election, I think is really important. And it's something that I think secretaries of state across the country have really stressed that you need to have patience, especially in states like Pennsylvania where we can't begin processing mail-in ballot envelopes until election morning in a state that's so evenly divided and with a very close Senate race on the horizon.

BURNETT: Right. So, you could be looking at days, whether it's there or in Arizona or in obviously many other states -- Georgia, whether it goes to a runoff. I mean, we can go through state after state after state in this crucial moment.

All right. Thank you all so very much.


I appreciate your time.

And, next, just in, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting now that Trump aide Kash Patel has been granted immunity and will soon testify before a grand jury regarding the classified documents seized at Trump's Mar-a-Lago. This is very significant. You get immunity when they know you have something to give them.

Plus, a power struggle inside Russia. The leader of Putin's private army, a man that we have been telling you about for months, is now using Russia's failures on the battlefield to gain influence inside the Kremlin.

And the Parkland shooter formally sentenced as more victims' families get their final say.


BURNETT: Breaking news. "The Wall Street Journal" now reporting that Trump aide Kash Patel has been granted immunity by the Justice Department and is set to testify in front of the grand jury in the Mar-a-Lago documents case.

Evan Perez is OUTFRONT.

So, Evan, what more can you tell us about Kash Patel and his relevance to the case and also just this fundamental point of you don't just give anybody immunity, right? You give immunity when you know there's something bigger to get, right?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And in this case, Erin, he had appeared before the grand jury. He had declined to answer questions citing his Fifth Amendment right against incrimination.

So, what has happened is the Justice Department went to a judge, and this judge has now ordered for him to provide this testimony, obviously under this grant of immunity, meaning the Justice Department can't charge him in answer for those questions that he does answer, according to the "Wall Street Journal's" reporting.

[19:40:16] Now, he's a big deal for this investigation. This is the investigation obviously of the Mar-a-Lago documents, because he has claimed that the former president declassified these documents, no proof of course has emerged that the former president actually declassified those documents. So those are the things that the prosecution is going to want to focus on when he does appear before the grand jury.

BURNETT: All right. So, you've got this breaking news on Kash Patel. And then you have some newly released emails, Evan, that show that Trump attorneys back in 2020 describe Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as, quote, key to their plot to delay Congress from certifying Biden's victory.

How did Trump's lawyers hope this would play out?

PEREZ: They were hoping, this was a sort of a flyer they were taking. They were hoping that Clarence Thomas, that justice Thomas, would be the person who could at least put on hold the certification of one of these states and, again, give an opportunity for the delay on January 6th and perhaps open the door for the former president to remain in power.

Of course, this is an email from Kenneth Chesebro to one of the other Trump attorneys at the time. And they acknowledged, however, that this was a very small chance that this could succeed. They knew that this was sort of like, you know, their last chance to try to delay things, at least buy time for Trump and his legal team as they were trying to persuade obviously some of these states to somehow throw out their election results and keep the former president in power, even though he had lost the election.

BURNETT: All right, Evan Perez, thank you very much.

And now let's go to Norm Eisen. He's the former counsel to House Democrats during Trump's first impeachment trial.

So, Norm, let's just start with the breaking news here that Kash Patel is set to testify in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. He has received immunity.

So I just want to truly to understand the significance of this as best we can because you've worked with clients on getting immunity. So the fact that he cited his right to self-incrimination to not testify before the grand jury before and they decided to give him immunity.

What does that mean that they know he has to give up?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Erin, it signifies that in this investigation of the classified documents that the Department of Justice has found there is probable cause that crimes were committed when these documents were removed from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, that Kash Patel himself has some fear of self-incrimination. That's why you get an immunity order because what you have to say could get you in criminal trouble.

And, Erin, I think here it also signifies grave criminal peril for Donald Trump, because it's pretty unusual to give this immunity to a witness. It means it will be very difficult for them unless he lies to prosecute Kash Patel. Why do you do that? Because you think a witness has incriminating information about someone else.

BURNETT: Right. And that person obviously here it's very clear who it is, right? He's talking about moving the documents at Mar-a-Lago, whether they were, you know, the classification status, at the behest of the former president. So, I just wanted to emphasize how significant that is.

Now, what about those emails that we're finding out that Trump's team was batting around talking about Justice Thomas as key to their plot to delay the certification of the election, basically saying that he could step in and issue some sort of stay so that one state wouldn't certify and the whole thing could be on hold.

Now, look, we know that Clarence Thomas' wife was election conspiracy theorist. We know all of that. But do we have any sense from this, whether they were just guessing that Thomas would do this because of that? Or whether there was something more?

EISEN: Well, we know that Clarence Thomas' jurisprudence, his legal views are outliers, that he wanted to try to help President Trump. He said it in litigation at the time at the Supreme Court, tried to hear the case. And he said it afterwards.

What we don't know is whether these lawyers had more information. Look, it was well known that Ginni Thomas was a right-wing activist.


EISEN: Did they have more information? Did they know that Ginni Thomas was part of this plan?

She communicated with mark meadows. So did Eastman. Had Meadows said something? That's what we don't know.

But now that these emails are out, that part of the investigation is going to continue with some intensity, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Of course, we should note, Eastman at one point had clerked for Thomas.

Thank you very much, Norm. I appreciate your time.

And, next, power moves. The head of the Russian private army and close Putin ally is looking to capitalize on Russia's losses in Ukrainian. We're going to tell you exactly what Yevgeny Prigozhin is doing tonight.

Plus, the Parkland high school shooter facing the bereaved families of the victims one final time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You shouldn't be sitting there with a mask on your face. It's disrespectful.



BURNETT: Tonight, CNN reporting that the Russian military has discussed how and under what conditions to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine. It comes amid a growing power struggle inside Russia.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of Putin's closest allies and a leader of the notorious and brutal private army, the Wagner Group, is using the mismanagement of the war to jockey for power inside of the Kremlin.

Now, Prigozhin is someone you've heard a lot about here on this show. We've been covering him and the Wagner Group for months. But there's no question that in recent weeks, he has grown more emboldened and his influence seems to have increased quite exponentially.

Natasha Bertrand is OUTFRONT.

And, Natasha, I know you have some fascinating reporting on Prigozhin's place in Putin's orbit. So, what more are you learning?


NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, Erin. So, what we're told is that Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is the head of that mercenary force Wagner Group, he actually confronted Putin directly last month about the war in Ukraine saying that he believes that it's being completely mismanaged and that the generals that Putin has put in charge are completely botching the war effort there.

And this was deemed significant enough, this meeting, presidential daily brief. The reason why the U.S. intelligence community found this meeting so interesting is because it says a lot about Prigozhin's ambitions and also his standing within Putin's inner circle. It's not just anyone who can confront Putin directly on this kind of thing. Members of Putin's inner circle don't usually descent openly to his policies.

But it also says a lot about Prigozhin's ambitions, because what we are told is that he has become more and more embolden in terms of challenging the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu for influence. And, of course, he's been telling people he wants more resources, more responsibility, more everything really for Wagner forces, who are notoriously brutal and who are operating in Ukraine at a large scale, upwards of 5,000 mercenaries now operating in Ukraine.

So, the Kremlin is really walking this tight rope, Putin in particular, because it's not only Prigozhin who has confronted him. It's other senior officials who are saying you need to change something about the way this war is going. U.S. intelligence officials are concerned about that. Some of these officials are saying you need to do something more, potentially drastic. Erin? BURNETT: All right. Natasha, thank you very much. And a significant

detail there from Natasha, right, not confronting to say, oh, you shouldn't have done this, confronting to say, you need to do more, you need to up the ante, right? So, that -- that particular angle.

I want to bring in now, the former director of national intelligence in the Obama administration, the retired Lieutenant General James Clapper.

Director Clapper, so let's just start with that. Prigozhin's power, look, he's been a crucial player here. It has no doubt increased quite quickly. What does that say to you?

Is that a threat just to the Minister of Defense Shoigu? Is he a threat to Putin? What's actually happening here?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, Erin, a couple things struck me about this. First, I think it's the visible tip of the iceberg in terms of the palace intrigue that must be going on in the Kremlin today. I'm sure there's more of this jockeying and backstabbing and this sort of thing we're not seeing. This is just what's visible to us.

The other thing about it is I think it is a dramatic comment on the erosion of the prestige and stature of the Russian military. When someone like this, a private -- an oligarch with a private army gets direct access to Putin and complains about the performance of the Russian military, which is accurate.

And the other thing about it is I think it does speak to the erosion of Putin's power and the fear and the intimidation factor that has prevailed with him for years. Now it seems to be dissipating.

So, this is an interesting development, but -- and I think there's more of it that we're not seeing.

BURNETT: Yeah. I mean, to your point, right, if we are seeing this, we can only imagine sort of what we actually can't see.

Now, we do know that Prigozhin, as Natasha was reporting, did confront Putin about the way the war was going. It wasn't to criticize Putin as far as we understand or to say he should back off. It was to say they could escalate. She talked about the fear of whether this could go in a more drastic direction.

This is in the context in which CNN is reporting that Russian generals have discussed what conditions to use a tactical nuclear under in Ukraine, how and under what conditions. So, this isn't just a general discussion about whether they should use a tactical nuke. It's specifics of how and when and in what way. Does that say anything to you?

CLAPPER: Well, it's not surprising to me, Erin. I'm quite sure there has been a lot of discussion among Russian senior officers about nuclear weapons and whether they should be used or not or when. What's missing from all this, or at least what's missing from the reporting that's available to -- accessible to us, is what exactly would the objective be on the part of the Russians to use nuclear weapons? What would they try to do beyond what they're doing already, which is using conventional weapons, gradually destroying the civilian infrastructure of Ukraine?


So, I think -- I still -- I still feel that the prospect for the use of nuclear weapons is unlikely, but not as improbable as it was before February 24th.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time, General.

And next, the Parkland school shooter learns what is now his official fate.



BURNETT: And finally tonight, the gunman who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, nearly five years ago, was formally sentenced. The judge handing down 17 life sentences without parole, one for each murder victim.

Jennifer Guttenberg, along with her husband Fred lost their 14-year- old daughter Jamie in the massacre, didn't plan to speak at the hearing, but she changed her mind and told the shooter to face the reality, just as she has had to.


JENNIFER GUTTENBERG, PARKLAND VICTIM'S MOM: You shouldn't be sitting there with a mask on your face. It's disrespectful to be hiding your expressions under your mask when we as the families are sitting here talking to you. Lowered down in your seat, hunched over, trying to make yourself look innocent when you're not.


BURNETT: Unclear why he took his mask off.

The Guttenbergs, along with other family -- of victims' families, wanted the death penalty for Cruz. He will though spend the rest of his life in prison.

It's time now for "AC360".