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Erin Burnett Outfront

Trump Ally Testifies In Hush Money Probe; Trump Intensifies Attacks On Prosecutor Who Could Soon Indict Him; Xi, Putin Meet In Moscow Days After Arrest Warrant Issued For Putin; Reports: U.S. Government Launches Investigation Into TikTok's Parent Company Over Improper Access To Personal Info Of U.S. Citizens. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 20, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Trump's Hail Mary. Could an 11th hour witness, a lawyer Trump's team put forth save the former president from an indictment in the hush money case?

Plus, China's Xi Jinping cozies up to Vladimir Putin, as Ukrainian questioned Putin's surprise inside Ukraine. Ukrainian ambassador to the United States raising questions about whether it was staged. She's OUTFRONT.

And TikTok, its parent company spying on American journalists. This is according to my guest, who is one of the two reporters targeted. What could this mean for the 100 million Americans on TikTok?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, a game changer, it is the 11th hour. And at this moment, former President Trump's team chose to call up a witness to testify before the Manhattan grand jury investigating the hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Now, the hope is that this witness could save Trump from being the first former president in United States history to be indicted. So who is this person this witness? Well, his name is Robert Costello. You see him right there today. He was a one-time legal adviser to Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen.

Cohen, of course, is the key witness in New York's case against Trump. Costello today met with the grand jury for three hours and then emerged to tell reporters why he testified.


ROBERT COSTELLO, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: The only thing I am doing is trying to tell the truth to the grand jury. If they want to go after Donald Trump and they have solid evidence, so be it. But Michael Cohen is far from solid evidence. This guy, by any prosecuting standard, and I used to be deputy chief of the criminal division in the Southern District of New York, I would not have touched a guy like Michael Cohen, especially if he is a convicted perjurer.


BURNETT: He is, of course, a convicted perjurer. He served time for that. Cohen, as we know, admitted to paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election to stop or from going public about an alleged affair with Trump. Now, the payment itself, it's important to say here, is not illegal.

What matters here is whether it was improperly classified or not. Trump's hope is that Costello could turn around an impending indictment and get Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney who's remained tightlipped about the details about this investigation, to back off. So, did Costello deliver for Trump?

Well, tonight, the entire nation needs to know, the entire nation is on edge and waiting, as Trump stands by claims he's hours away now from being arrested. He is now calling on his supporters to protest. In New York, police setting up security cameras and barricades in Washington. Officials tell CNN they are preparing for demonstrations that could erupt if Trump is indicted on these charges. Twelve agencies now currently on standby.

Kara Scannell begins our coverage OUTFRONT live, in New York, outside the courthouse.

And, of course, Kara, the former president has said that he could be arrested tomorrow. That's what he has been loud and clear about. What are you learning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin. The former president made that statement, one of his campaign officials kind of walked it back saying he had not actually be informed that. It was based more on a speculation, that the anticipation of what may be coming. As you said, Costello went in before the grand jury today for three hours. He told us he initially contacted the Manhattan DA's office and Trump's lawyers saying he had material that could contradict Michael Cohen's testimony.

When Cohen pleaded guilty, he said he had made the hush money payment and coordination with and at the direction of former President Trump. That gets to the heart of this case, trying to prove Trump's involvement in his knowledge in whether he intended to commit a crime.

But Costello saying he provided 330 emails and documents to the DA's office, that he was asked questions in the grand jury. He felt they were cherry-picking those questions. He didn't get into the details that he said he had.

But the key thing he was testifying to today was he said that when he was working with Cohen, back in 2018, that Cohen had said that he was unaware of Trump having done anything wrong and that Cohen had made his payments on his own.

Now, Cohen was called back to the district attorney's office today. He was here for a couple of hours standing by to see if he would be a rebuttal witness, someone dropped before the grand jury after Costello's testimony. He was not called today. He has said he does not think he is going to be called back.

We've seen a number of these witnesses, everyone that has some kind of tangential piece to this hush many payment and the timing of it, come before -- meet with the prosecutors, or go before the grand jury.


So, there are a few witnesses left that could possibly come in. So, this all feels like we are nearing the possible decision. You also get the feeling down here tonight that the securities ramping up, people are preparing for the decision. We have security cameras are installed unlike polls today. They removed all the trash cans as a security measure.

And they put up barricades all along the court house and the perimeter of the buildings around it, Erin.

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

And let's go now to Ty Cobb, the former Trump White House lawyer.

So, Ty, you know, you have been watching all of this here. These final moments, right, the drama, Costello being brought in to contradict what Cohen had said. Cohen ostensibly, such that we know, at the core of the case and that exists against Trump here. So, how important could Costello's testimony today be in the decision of whether Bragg charges Trumped or not?

TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: I think it would be very consequential. Robert Costello is a highly respected, very experienced criminal defense attorney who was once a highly respected prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. Cohen also was once a lawyer, but when it comes to credibility, that's as far as these guys can be compared because Cohen has so routinely told different stories about how this hush money payment scheme was hatched and executed.

And apparently, concluding to Costello when Costello represented him that is at flagrant odds with the story he has said to the grand jury.

BURNETT: So, you know, look, which could all be very crucial if Michael Cohen, obviously he has admitted to lying, he's a convicted liar about other things, he served time for that, but he is the core of this. Costello's reputation, gravitas really could matter.

Now, Costello did not speak tonight after he left the courthouse. I want to play a little bit more of what he said. Here he is.

COBB: Sure, thank you.


COSTELLO: I listen to Michael Cohen stand in front of the courthouse and say things that are directly contrary to what he said to us. Now he's on the revenge tour and I understand it, but I don't condone it. That's why I went in there to tell these people the truth about who the real Michael Cohen is and what he was actually saying at that moment.


BURNETT: He also, Ty, you heard Kara reporting say, though, that he felt the question today to him or cherry-picked. Do you think there is any way that Alvin Bragg uses Costello to not charge Trump or are charges inevitable?

COBB: I think charges are inevitable. Costello does give Bragg an off ramp from the decision to proceed in this case, which has been widely criticized by experienced lawyers, no matter what their party affiliation. The decision to proceed in this case was initially in the hands of the United States attorney's office for the Southern District. They made a very clear they were not going to proceed with this, based on a foundation that was Cohen because of his lack of credibility.

They abandoned it and went to Bragg's predecessor, Vance. He looked hard at it, he concluded it was pointless. He consulted with a number of outside experts in addition to people internally.

Mark Pomerantz, one of the attorneys who was working on the Trump investigation for Vance and later for Bragg, you know, demeaned this particular case, the Cohen case severely in his book and statements, while explaining he thought the better case was and the financial improprieties.

So, almost everybody who has looked at, it except Alvin Bragg, has decided that it doesn't pass the smell test, particularly because it rests so heavily on Cohen. And at the end of the day, I think everybody understands that these particular charges, contrived as they may be, they would not be brought against any American not named Donald Trump. And that's the part that has the former prosecutor and a lawyer -- just because you have a bad man, but centrally bad, met someone who is not well liked, you should not distort the justice department or the justices decisions in order to get him.

BURNETT: Here is and the other part of it. If what you say is the case, there are other, obviously, cases out there, which legal scholars feel very differently about of both parties. Whether it be the special counsel investigation into January 6th, the insurrection, classified documents, or, of course, what is happening in Georgia, right?


Where we understand Trump's attorneys today asked the judge to basically cloth the grand jury's final report as evidence as we are also awaiting what could be an imminent decision there from Fani Willis. So, I mean --

COBB: Exactly.

BURNETT: These cases are all very significant and meaningful is the point I am making.

In this case of this development in Georgia, though, Ty, because I know this was once the case at one point you felt was the strongest and most important out there. What do you think of it now?

COBB: So, I never thought it was the most important. I've always been clear I think jack smith's case is the most important because it is the constitutionally most significant to the country. I think the Georgia case, as highlighted by the filing today, there has been a series of missteps. We know that Fani Willis was sanctioned by the judge and accused of misconduct in connection with political fundraising that she had, the statements she made.

As you and I have discussed before, when the grand jurors talking glowingly about shaking hands with Rudy Giuliani while holding her a popsicle that she got at the party with the DAs, my response was, grand jurors aren't supposed to party with the DA.

So, I think there is a little hair on that case. I think there will be some delays that make it impossible to get that to trial before the election. I think the only case that has a chance to go to trial before the election is the Bragg case.

BURNETT: Such that that is.

All right. Well, thank you very much for that perspective. I appreciate it, Ty.

And next, Ron DeSantis --

COBB: My pleasure, Erin, nice to be with you.

BURNETT: -- you, too, breaking his silence about Trump's potential indictment. Watch this.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star, to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.


BURNETT: That's pretty direct, right? Trump is not happy about it. Wait until you hear what he said.

Plus, nuke 'em. That's the warning from a Putin ally coming to Putin's defense now that a warrant is out for his arrest. This is China's Xi Jinping gives Putin a boost.

And the only surviving son, a convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh speaking out for the first time about the suspicious death of his former classmate. He says he had nothing to do with it.



BURNETT: Tonight, Donald Trump ramping up attacks on Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg, as he awaits a possible indictment, accusing Bragg of everything from prosecutorial misconduct to election interference.

So, who is Alvin Bragg, the man who might be the first to hand an indictment to an ex president?

Brynn Gingras is OUTFRONT.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who could argue he's recently had reasons to, well, brag. He is the first Black person to lead that office. He won a major tax fraud case brought against the Trump Organization last year.

ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: This was a case about a lying and cheating.

GINGRAS: But, now, in just a second year of holding office, he may become the first prosecutor to indict a U.S. president. Bragg always remained mum on the possibility of criminal charges against Donald Trump for his role in the hush money scheme.

BRAGG: The last thing I want to do is run afoul of any rules and in any way negatively impact our investigation.

GINGRAS: Internally, Bragg is not backing down as the pressure in the case builds. He recently told his staff in a memo he would, quote, not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office that's Trump repeatedly calls him out by name on social media while also denying any wrongdoing.

DAYNA PERRY, FORMER NEW YORK DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I imagine Alvin putting his head down and just looking very carefully and methodically at all the facts of the case.

GINGRAS: An indictment would be a culmination of a nearly five-year- long investigation that began when Bragg's predecessor Cy Vance held the office. It's been a rocky road getting to this point.

BRAGG: I bring hard cases when they are ready.

GINGRAS: Two senior prosecutors and this officer resigned last year when Bragg signaled he wouldn't pursue criminal charges against Trump.

MARK POMERANTZ, FORMER PROSECUTOR, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: I think the evidence was there. This is not a personal issue or a fight. It's a disagreement about prosecution policy.

GINGRAS: Bragg ramped up the Trump investigation this year while continuing to weather major criticism about being soft on crime in New York City. Last year, an internal memo surfaced urging his team to not prosecute certain low level offenses. It came the same week the city buried two police officers killed on duty. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know you are tired of these laws, especially

the ones from the new D.A.

GINGRAS: The former federal prosecuted is Harlem raised, Harvard educated, and while his current growth thrust him into the political spotlight, he maintains he is a lawyer at heart, once representing the family of Eric Gardner and fighting for numerous social justice causes on his way to the D.A. seat.

BRAGG: I've been advocating for changes to the law so that police can be held accountable.

GINGRAS: But no bigger battle than now as Bragg may make history once again.


GINGRAS: And part of Bragg's resume also includes being a chief deputy attorney general at the New York A.G.'s office where he helped sue the Trump administration more than 100 times. He also led the team that sued the Trump foundation. Those who know Bragg and his character say, at the end of the day, he is going to make a decision in this case that rests on justice being served and not politics -- Erin.

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

And OUTFRONT now, Darren Porcher, former NYPD lieutenant, Elie Honig, CNN senior analyst Stephanie Grisham, former Trump press secretary.

So, Stephanie, let me start with you. I want to play you something from Trump's personal attorney said this weekend. Here it is.


ALINA HABBA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Let's see if they arrest him. I will tell you what, if they choose to do so for a misdemeanor, which frankly he did not even do, it's going to cause mayhem, Paula. I mean, it's just a very scary time in our country.


BURNETT: So, Stephanie, obviously, you know, you resigned on January 6th. She uses the word mayhem to describe what might happen if he is charged now. Trump is calling for protests as well and posts on his social media platform repeatedly.


What do you think about that, all these calls to take to the streets?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I watched that interview and I was -- I was very surprised. Just -- she is an officer of the court. That felt like it was a threat, and immediately, I thought to myself, she is performing for an audience of one. She wanted one person to see that, Donald Trump. Because he, right now, just wants to see everyone fighting for him. But I thought it was wildly irresponsible.

Again, we've got the specter of January 6th over us. Right or wrong, we need to keep that in mind. People died that day. And so, I think people calling for protests or saying it's going to be mayhem, that could be telegraphing things to people out there that it's just irresponsible in my mind.

BURNETT: Certainly right, because now, you know, there is hindsight as we debates whether there will be charges for foresight. Elie, you worked with Alvin Bragg. You've known him for years at the SDNY. And so, Bragg's predecessor Cy Vance did not move to charge Trump in this investigation. OK? So, let's be clear. In fact, the case was completely dead in the Manhattan DA's office into two people very publicly quit over the lack of charges in general for Trump.

So, now, here we are now on the eve, possibly, of a huge, monumental decision by Alvin Bragg. Are you sure brag will move to charge Trump at this point?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm not entirely sure. There are two ways this would not result in an indictment, both of them very unlikely. Brad can decide not to move forward or he can decide to present this case to a grand jury. And the grand jury might vote not to indict. That is extraordinarily rare, though.

Basically any prosecutor who wants to get an indictment can get an indictment because it's such a one-sided process. I think the strategy today in calling his lawyer, Robert Costello, is to try sort of a Hail Mary but poke a hole and the key element of this case, which is the Donald Trump not know about the hush money payments, that's not illegal, did Donald Trump know about the false booking, the false accounting of these hush money payments?

And it seems that may rest entirely on the word of Michael Cohen, who is a very problematic witness and perhaps the thought as if Costello can cast just enough more doubt on Michael Cohen's credibility, maybe, just maybe, that will result in what we call a no bill, meaning the grand jury declining to return an indictment, but I think chances are, in the high 90s that we see an indictment.

BURNETT: Right. But it is important to know that Bragg still could choose not to. And, you know, you hear those close to him saying he's going to do what's right. And so, let's see what happens here.

Darrin, obviously, law enforcement in New York City, D.C. as well -- mayhem, protests in the streets there on high alert. Can you take us inside their preparations?

DARRIN PORCHER, FORMER NYPD LIEUTENANT: Sure, the teachable moments would be January 6th when we had the riots on the Capitol. The NYPD is going to attract the intelligence from the incidents that occurred that day and present that to the fortification of security in the downtown area. We developed something we referred to as the ring of steel. It's a series of cameras and high visibility posts of police officers in uniform that presents a level of omnipresence. These components would ensure that the downtown area is safe.

We go back to 9/11, after the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center, we erected numerous cameras in the downtown area. Therefore, it allows police officers a bird's-eye view as of what's happening. So, I can guarantee you, what happened on January 6th will not happen when -- if Trump is possibly indicted, as relates to this particular incident.

BURNETT: All right. At least in New York. It's incredible we've been having these preparations be necessary.

So, Elie, one of the lawyers who quit, because Cy Vance did not indict Trump, and, by the way, not over the particular issue of hush money, but just in general was upset that he did not indict Trump, wrote a book. That book actually came out recently. Mark Pomerantz wrote it about Bragg. He says, at one point, Alvin Bragg commented he could not see a world in which we would indict Trump and call Michael Cohen as a prosecution witness.

And yet, unless there is just something that nobody knows about, that's exactly what he is going to do if he moves ahead.

HONIG: Yeah, from a prosecutorial point of view, to stake a case solely on the word of Michael Cohen -- yes, there are checks, yes, there are documents. But on the key issue of did Donald Trump know about and authorize the false booking, if you base that solely on Michael Cohen, you are asking for trouble.

I mean, there is one example we just read from Mark Pomerantz. If you go beyond that, Michael Cohen is convicted of perjury. He's been -- people say the crimes he committed were before Donald Trump. Not true, he was convicted of financial fraud and tax fraud for himself. He also said the exact opposite back in 2018. He told the FEC, these payments were entirely non-political, entirely legal. So, he's going to be a very problematic witness.

BURNETT: Absolutely. Stephanie, look, you have lawyers casting doubt on this. That's in the legal scheme. Obviously, politically here, this is a whole other thing. You have a voted in da to office, politicians -- Republicans accusing Alvin Bragg of pursuing this for political purposes.


"The New York Times" is reporting the Trump team had been pressuring Ron DeSantis to weigh, in which is obviously interesting. He's out of power but he is likely to challenge Trump in 2024.

So, today, DeSantis did break his silence. Well, he didn't say what Trump expected. Here he is.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I can't speak to that. But what I can speak to is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction and chooses to go back many, many years ago to try to he was something about porn star hush money payments, you know, that's an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.


BURNETT: So, Stephanie, Trump has lashed out in response to that, you know, attacking DeSantis's poll numbers, and, you know, Desanctimonious, all of that. What does Trump hear here? I mean, DeSantis, I mean, that's a unique kind of slapping somebody as you smile at them.

GRISHAM: Yeah, I mean, shots fired by DeSantis, right? I think it was pitch perfect, though. He managed to say the words porn star and hush money twice, while also calling into question this elected D.A., you know, if it's weaponizing the government, et cetera.

So, I thought it was pitch perfect. Donald Trump, the way he lashed back so quickly and as childlessly as he did, told me that he was angry, but also bigger picture, he's really nervous about DeSantis. That is the only reason he is focused on him so much.

You have not seen him talk about Nikki Haley or Pompeo. I know he's not in the race yet, or Pence, even, as much as he was for a while there. So, he is very, very nervous about DeSantis and what he did today, DeSantis, I'm sure is getting a lot of rage at Mar-a-Lago right now.

BURNETT: Yeah. I mean, talk about DeSantis having his cake and eating it, too, as they say.

All right. Thank you all very much.

And next, China's Xi Jinping meeting with Vladimir Putin, singing his praises. Can Ukraine trust China in any possible deal? Ukraine's ambassador to the United States speaks out next, and raises questions about whether this Putin visit to Ukraine was staged.

Plus, the BBC ordering its staff to delete TikTok from work phones. The latest company to crack down on the app over security concerns. I'm going to talk to a reporter who has evidence TikTok's parent company spied on her, and she has a warning tonight.



BURNETT: Tonight, one of Russia's top propagandists issuing a stark warning to anyone trying to follow through on the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant of Vladimir Putin.


VLADIMIR SOLOVYOV, RUSSIAN STATE TV PRESENTER (through translator): Let them know any attempt to carry it out is a declaration of war with an immediate nuclear strike against that country. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: I mean, that's remarkable.

And it comes amidst a remarkable four and a half hour meeting in Moscow between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping as the Chinese president tries to play the role of peace broker, even though, you know, who's he going to see in person, who's he spending days with.

China is coming to Putin's defense calling on the ICC to, quote, avoid politicization and double standards over the arrest warrant.

Matthew Chance is OUTFRONT in Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a crucial state visit, the first by a Chinese leader since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and just days after the Kremlin's strongman was indicted for war crimes. Now, one of the world's most isolated leaders gets to sit at the side of one of its most powerful. It's a potent alliance.

XI JINPING, CHINESE PRESIDENT (through translator): It is true that both of our countries share the same or similar goals. We have exerted efforts for the prosperity of our respective countries. We can cooperate and work together to achieve our goals.

CHANCE: But China has so far drawn the line at military aid for Russia's war. There are concerns that may change, but right now, it's only Chinese diplomacy on the table. A Kremlin-leaning peace plan calling for talks but stopping short of demanding a Russian withdrawal, a key Ukrainian demand.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have carefully studied your proposals on settling the acute crisis in Ukraine. Of course, we will have an opportunity to discuss these issues.

CHANCE: But there's little sign Putin's open to compromise. This was the Russian leader on Sunday driving through the captured and devastated city of Mariupol. Local residents, according to state media, are shown thanking him and asking to shake hands when a heckler briefly makes her voice heard.

None of this is true, is the cry. It's all for show. But the Russian leader seems undisturbed. And now with one of the world's most powerful leaders at his side in Moscow, President Putin may increasingly feel he can afford to ignore his critics.


BURNETT: And, Matthew, it is pretty incredible to have Xi Jinping there, to have this in Moscow, the significance of that clear to anyone. The other question, though, is China's peace proposals. Are they serious, as you see them, understanding all sides of this so well?

CHANCE: Yeah, well, I mean, look, the Chinese definitely take it seriously. They've recently forged a diplomatic agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and off the back of that success, they see themselves as peacemakers in this conflict as well. The Russians say they take it seriously, and why wouldn't they? The peace plan does not call for Russia to withdraw from the territories it's conquered. It's only when you get to Ukraine and its western backers like the United States that you start hearing a bit more skepticism, the idea that China is not an honest broker in this conflict.

A good illustration of that, they visited each other, Xi and Putin.


More than 40 times. They've met face to face. And there hasn't been one phone call yet between President Xi and his Ukrainian counterpart, Zelenskyy.

BURNETT: All right. Matthew Chance, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

And OUTFRONT now, Oksana Markarova, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States.

Ambassador, I so much appreciate your time tonight.

You know, today, the Chinese President Xi began his trip to Russia, a three-day trip as his foreign ministry spokesman said, and I quote, the ICC should take an impartial stance and avoid politicization and double standards, specifically referring to the International Criminal Court charging Vladimir Putin with war crimes.

Do you trust President Xi, or is he all in behind Putin?

OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all, let me comment on the ICC. I think they have taken very impartial stance as an independent, free and fair judiciary body, analyze the facts and made very, I think, independent decision which supports of course the facts.

With regard to the visit, of course we are looking -- we are watching the visit with a great interest. And we just hope that everything that China publicly says about sovereignty and territorial integrity, that all the discussions will start from that, and they will clearly tell Mr. Putin that violating sovereign territory is a time.

BURNETT: President Xi has indicated he would speak with President Zelenskyy. And, of course, John Kirby, the adviser to the National Security Council in Washington, has encouraged that as early as this morning.

Have there been any plans made for a call or virtual meeting or anything between President Zelenskyy and Xi?

MARKAROVA: Well, not that I'm aware of at the moment. And I'm sure we'll hear about it when the time will come. But President Zelenskyy has been very open about speaking to our friends, our strategic advisers, but also everyone, essentially, about the fact that nobody wants peace more than Ukraine. First, Russia has to get out from our country and has to stop this war because nobody but Russia started this war.

BURNETT: You know, Vladimir Putin did something that surprised many this weekend. He visited Mariupol, obviously, occupied by the Russians right now. And while he was there, he allegedly met with Ukrainian residents. And then he got heckled by somebody off camera, his security services seemed to abruptly turn.

Let me just play it for you.


BURNETT: And you can see there is the woman shouts, this is not true, it's all for show. The security services sort of turned their heads sharply.

What was your reaction when you saw that, and what was your reaction, I guess, to begin with when you heard that Putin was in Mariupol?

MARKAROVA: Well, first of all, as our intelligence says, we can never be completely sure it was him, you know. It was during the nighttime. He visited what looks like Mariupol. But it would not be surprising for him to visit something they attacked, they've visited Crimea in the past.

BURNETT: And let me ask you one of the questions, though, because you mentioned if it was him or if he was there. I am curious what you thought about the fact that this happened at night, and of course, Anton Gerashchenko, the adviser to the minister of internal affairs in Kyiv, did also raise the question about whether it was even Putin, right? So there were questions about whether it was Putin, and then there were questions about whether he was actually there, and questions raised, in part, because of the time of day it was.

There is a lot of speculation about this. Do you have any doubt that it was Putin or that he was actually there in Mariupol?

MARKAROVA: Well, look, I don't know, I'm just telling you what our intelligence says that it's very difficult to confirm 100 percent that it was him. But it was during the nighttime. We all have seen pictures and satellite pictures from Mariupol. The city is 90 percent destroyed, destroyed by Russians who attacked it repeatedly since the beginning of this reinvasion on the 24th of February.

Even if during the night he was there and he visited a small portion of the city to pretend that there is something there, you know, they have destroyed the city and they have terrorized the city and they have killed so many people and they have stolen so many children from Mariupol.

So, in any case, whether it is him in Mariupol or it's not him in Mariupol, but they are showing him visiting Mariupol, it's another war crime in addition to what they have done to Mariupol.


BURNETT: Yeah, as you talk about those children, those children taken from there and so many other places in Ukraine are the reason that the ICC has charged Vladimir Putin himself with war crimes.

Thank you so much, Ambassador, I appreciate your time tonight.

MARKAROVA: Thank you.

BURNETT: And, next, just who is TikTok spying on? I'm going to talk to a reporter who says the app's parent company spied on her to track down her sources.

Plus, the only surviving son of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh speaking out tonight about what he calls the vicious rumor surrounding the unsolved death of his classmate.


BURNETT: Tonight, the BBC, the latest employer telling its staff to delete TikTok from work phones because of security concerns. This comes as the Justice Department and FBI have reportedly launched a criminal investigation into TikTok's parent company ByteDance for spying on Americans and gaining access to their personal information.

This is according to a report in Forbes written by my next guest who says she is one two American journalists ByteDance spied on, and in an attempt to uncover the source of leaks inside the organization.

And Emily Baker-White is OUTFRONT now with me. She, of course, is a tech reporter at "Forbes."

So, Emily, obviously, I know you are going to be protecting your sources here. But you're working on a series basically at this time about what was happening, ties to China at the company, and then you found out that you were being spied on.


How did you figure that out?

EMILY BAKER-WHITE, FORBES REPORTER SPIED ON BY TIKTOK: Yes, so it came to my attention from a source inside the company that there was a team at ByteDance that was trying to figure out who was leaking information to me, and that that team wanted to pull my IP address- based location from my use of the TikTok app to try to figure out where I was to see if they could find any people who worked at TikTok or ByteDance at the same place at the same time, in order to figure out that those people might be sourcing me.


BAKER-WHITE: And so I find that --

BURNETT: Go ahead.


BAKER-WHITE: And we reported a piece on this, but we had to keep things really vague in order to protect our source. And so we didn't say who was being surveilled or why, but we said there was this plan to surveil American citizens. And after that ByteDance launched an internal investigation to try to figure out what was going on and why we thought that.

And they then learned that the team that we had written about, in fact, had pulled data from my TikTok account to try to figure out where I physically was in order to figure out who was talking to me.

BURNETT: All right. So they were actually doing this. What I find interesting is so many parts of this, of course, that this isn't just, you know, people kind of fear-mongering. This happened. It happened to you.

You were being spied on by ByteDance, which is the Chinese company that owns TikTok. So I'm curious, Emily, as to your point of view on what we are hearing now, which is President Biden wants TikTok to be spun off into its own company. And that would theoretically separate it from ByteDance.

But is there anything to that? I mean, it seems like these companies essentially operate as one company regardless of whatever their former corporate structure will be.

BAKER-WHITE: So that's definitely what our reporting has shown over the past year. So I've talked to a lot of employees at both TikTok and ByteDance who describe them internally as really one in the same. And I think that's part of the reason why the Biden administration is skeptical that TikTok can operate independently from ByteDance while ByteDance still owns it.

And that's been the question as the Biden administration has been negotiating with TikTok. TikTok has been arguing, we can put in place all sorts of data management systems that will limit foreign access to U.S. user data. And the question has been, can they do that in a way that's satisfactory if ByteDance is still owning and controlling TikTok.

And it seems like the Biden administration has decided in recent weeks that the answer to that question is no.

BURNETT: Yeah, well, it certainly seems, and what they can do and what they actually will do, right. I guess a lot of this would come down to trust, as crazy as that may sound.

All right. Thanks so much. Emily, I really appreciate your time and sharing your story. And, of course, I hope everyone will check your reporting on all this as you've done it so extensively on Forbes.

And next, Alex Murdaugh's son breaking his silence and addressing the growing questions about the unsolved death of his classmate. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: Where is your emergency?

CALLER: Hello. I just going down Crocketville Road. I see somebody laying out.


BURNETT: Plus, one of the most famous cities in the world burning as police in riot gear clash with protesters.



BURNETT: Tonight, vicious rumors. Alex Murdaugh's son, surviving son, speaking out denying claims he was involved in the mysterious death of a former classmate. Buster Murdaugh saying he had nothing to do with the death of 19-year-old Stephen Smith whose body was found in the road near the Murdaugh home in 2015. The investigation into the murders of his mother and brother, for which his father was found guilty, prompting law enforcement to revisit this cold case.

Dianne Gallagher is OUTFRONT.


911 OPERATOR: Where is your emergency?

CALLER: Hello. I just going down Crocketville Road. I see somebody laying out.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been nearly eight years since the body of 19-year-old Stephen Smith was found in the middle of this country road in Hampton County, South Carolina.

The teen's death gained national attention in June 2021, nearly six years after he was killed, when the state law enforcement division said it was opening an investigation into his death based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.


GALLAGHER: Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife and son earlier this month.

JUDGE: For the rest of your natural life.

GALLAGHER: And investigators have never revealed what information they gleaned from the Murdaugh murders investigation that resulted in this case being opened.

Today, new private efforts launched to uncover the circumstances spearheaded by Smith's mother Sandy and two attorneys. The first goal, exhuming Smith's body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think we have cause to show why a fresh set of eyes on this will be beneficial. It kind of has to start with a fresh, new look at the body.

GALLAGHER: Initial reports that the nursing student died on July 8th, 2015, from blunt force head trauma originally said to be the result of a hit and run. But the accident investigation team report cited, quote, no vehicle debris, skid marks or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle.

SANDY SMITH, STEPHEN SMITH'S MOTHER: I just love my son. Since I couldn't protect him, I'm going to fight for him.

GALLAGHER: Smith's mother said she worried her son may have been targeted because he was gay. According to police files, during interviews with friends and family after Smith's death, the Murdaugh name kept coming up but no suspect has ever been named and authorities have never connected anyone in the Murdaugh family to Smith's death.

Still rumors and innuendo persisted as the Murdaugh case spawned podcast, documentaries and a rabid social media following, often with Buster Murdaugh, a former classmate of Smith, at the center of the speculation.

He broke his silence in a statement provided to CNN this morning saying in part, I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith's tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and my brother. These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family.


Smith's attorneys caution the public, this is not about the Murdaughs.

ERIC BLAND, SMITH FAMILY ATTORNEY: This is not an Alex Murdaugh 2.0, or any Murdaugh 2.0. This is Stephen Smith 2.0. It's all about Stephen.


GALLAGHER: And it's all about a mother who at the heart of this for nearly eight years has simply wanted to find out what happened to her son and who did it to him. Sandy Smith started a GoFundMe. She's raised roughly $25,000 to pay to exhume the body of her son if a judge signs off allowing it.

And, Erin, we asked SLED about the investigation into Stephen Smith's death. They said it is active and ongoing and told us they have made progress.

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

And, next, dramatic new video this hour of riot police facing off with protestors setting fire across a major city tonight.


BURNETT: And finally tonight, police in riot gear squaring off with protestors in Paris as fires are set across that city. This is the fifth night of demonstrations as people take to the streets outraged by the French President Emmanuel Macron to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. That would still be less than what it is in the United States which is 67 for anyone born after 1960.

Police in Paris say at least 70 people have been arrested tonight, and these strikes would be on top of a walkout by sanitation workers which has left Paris buried under more than 10,000 tons of garbage.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" begins now.