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Erin Burnett Outfront

New Witness Raises Questions About Strength Of Trump Hush Money Case; DeSantis Jabs Trump: "Don't Know What Goes Into Paying Hush Money To A Porn Star To Secure Silence" Over Alleged Affair; Ukrainian Ambassador On Putin's Mariupol Trip: Intel Shows We Can Never Be Completely Sure Where He Was Or If It Was Him. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 20, 2023 - 21:00   ET




PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: The news continues. ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT starts now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, will a last-minute witness stop a D.A., from charging the former President? A famed defense attorney, on why Robert Costello's testimony, today, could be a game-changer.

Plus, China and Russia cozy up, meeting after Putin makes a surprise trip, inside Ukraine. Why some are questioning whether the entire thing was staged.

And the surviving son, of double murderer, Alex Murdaugh, speaking out, denying today that he had anything to do with the mysterious death, of a former classmate, as this formerly cold case is busting open tonight.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I am Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, if Donald Trump's very public prediction comes true, this would be the eve of his impending arrest.

But CNN is learning tonight from sources that any arrest would not happen, until next week, if Trump should be indicted, this week, over a hush money scheme, involving a porn star, when he first ran for president.

Now, this is a live look, outside, the New York City courthouse.

We do know there was a last-ditch attempt, today, by Trump's legal team, to keep the former President, from being criminally charged. If that charge happens, of course, it would be an historic first.

Now, the last-ditch attempt though has a name, because it's a person, and that person is Robert Costello, an attorney, who's previously represented Trump allies, including Steve Bannon, and Rudy Giuliani. He also happens to be a former legal adviser, to Michael Cohen, who admitted to paying out the $130,000, to Stormy Daniels.

Now, Costello and Cohen both appeared, today, at the Manhattan criminal courthouse, where a grand jury is investigating that scheme.

Only Costello testified today though. And he appeared at the request, of Trump's team, to counter Cohen's testimony. He was there, for nearly three hours.

Now, Cohen was available for rebuttal, but ended up not being needed, according to his lawyer.

The big question, of course is did Costello say anything, today that would prevent Trump from being charged in the scheme? He says, he told the grand jury that Cohen once told him specifically that Trump flat- out did not know about the payment.


ROBERT COSTELLO, FORMER LEGAL ADVISER TO MICHAEL COHEN: That's what he said at the time. Is it true? I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you tell the grand jury that?

COSTELLO: Yes, I did. But I had to force that into an answer.


BURNETT: Now, Cohen blasted Costello, for making, quote, "False statements," about him, during his testimony.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Bob Costello, if he was any more imaginary, in the statements that are coming out of his mouth, he'd be a number one New York Times' bestselling fiction author.


BURNETT: Four different courtrooms in America had activity, involving Trump, today, right? It goes way beyond this indictment in New York.


You have Costello, and Cohen, of course, here in New York. Elsewhere, in Manhattan a federal judge rejected a joint request, by Trump, and E. Jean Carroll, to hold a single trial, in Carroll's defamation and rape civil suits, against the former President. That's just in New York.

Now, in Washington, Evan Corcoran, the Trump defense attorney, who Special Counsel, Jack Smith, wants, as a key witness, in the classified documents probe, he was back in a federal courthouse.

And then, there's Georgia, of course. And there, Trump's team filed a motion, seeking to quash the final report, of a special grand jury that investigated whether Trump and allies, interfered, with the 2020 election. A source also tells CNN that Georgia prosecutors are considering racketeering and conspiracy charges, in that investigation.

And we begin though, tonight, with all of that going on, with a probe that may come to a head first, that could bring the first indictment.

The NYPD and law enforcement agencies are preparing for the possibility of a Trump arrest, in that hush money probe. Police setting up barricades, there are security cameras that were just newly-installed, after Trump has called for protests, on social media, and rallied his base, to, quote, "Take our nation back."

We begin tonight with our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez.

So Evan, when you put all this together, about obviously this hush money scheme, how these payments were classified, right? That's what this is about.


BURNETT: Where are we, right now, in terms of timing, for these key decisions, in the Stormy Daniels' case?

PEREZ: Well, in the New York case, the New York District Attorney case, it appears that he -- the earliest we'll see Donald Trump have to come to court may not be until next week.

Now, we do know, Erin that the grand jury was meeting, today, and we expect that they will be back again, later this week. So, an indictment could come, and would be filed under seal.

But the plan, for law enforcement, for him to be brought, to New York, for him to be brought in, and fingerprinted, and for the first appearance, before a judge, would not come till at least next week.

And that's partly because of the careful choreography that is being orchestrated, to try to keep the former President, safe, as he comes to New York.

Because, obviously, you can see, just from the preparations there that you just showed pictures of, in New York, there's a lot of concern, about some of the people that are -- that might be brought to New York, who might act upon, his call for protests.

And, of course, that might bring people, who are going to be counter- protesting, his appearance, there in New York.

So, there's a lot of activity that the Secret Service, the New York Police Department, are all very concerned about, and they want to make sure that they can bring the former President in, safely, and have him see his day, in court.

BURNETT: All right. So, Evan, obviously, this case has come, and is likely to be the first indictment--

PEREZ: Right. BURNETT: --surprising many, right, who had thought it might come from elsewhere. Specifically, many thought from Fulton County.

So what can you tell us about the developments, there, and the charges that are under consideration, in Fulton County, Georgia, where of course the President, and his team has now filed to essentially take that grand jury report out of circulation?

PEREZ: Right. The New York District Attorney certainly has catapulted his case, ahead of what we all thought, which was that the case down to the special grand jury, in Georgia, was going to perhaps be the first, because we've been hearing, from that District Attorney, that a decision would be imminent.

And that word, "Imminent," has been one that's been hanging over the former President. So, it's the case that he is most frankly--


PEREZ: --most worried about. And it's because of what Don Lemon and others were reporting today, that the District Attorney was considering racketeering and conspiracy charges. This is along the lines of what she has previously said, was being considered.

But again, the idea being that the former President, and his effort, to remain in office, to try to find votes, and try to find people, and the officials there, in the State of Georgia, to help him overturn the election, that that would be the case that they're trying to bring down there.

Now, according to the reporting, we have, they have at least three recordings, of the former President, urging Georgia officials, to do this. So, that's part of what is now being looked at there.

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

And, of course, I should note, for everybody, right? One of those recordings is something that no one knew about, until about a week ago, right?


BURNETT: So, totally new information, in that case as well.

Thank you, Evan.

And I want to go now to the former Assistant Special Watergate Prosecutor, who turned down a chance, to represent Donald Trump, in the Mar-a-Lago documents case.

Jon Sale, I appreciate your time, and welcome to the show.


BURNETT: So, I know you know Robert Costello, right? So, I gave a quick headline of him, right? He has represented people, like Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani. Some people will make judgments about that as they will.

What can you tell us about him? What kind of a lawyer he is, his character?


SALE: Well, I think we have to be careful, about equating a lawyer, with his clients, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

So, I -- well Robert Costello, for starters, is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, in the Southern District of New York, where I'm also an alumni of that office. He has an excellent reputation, he did as a prosecutor, he does, as a defense lawyer. He's honorable. He's a good lawyer. And I have no doubt, zero, that he would -- I don't want to say double negative -- he would not lie under oath. And--

BURNETT: All right, well then -- yes, go ahead.

SALE: Well so, whatever he brings to the table, I don't think he has an agenda, other than to tell the truth.

BURNETT: All right, this is significant, because obviously, a lot could be resting on him.

And he did come out, after his three hours, in front of the grand jury, and spoke, to the press. He said he was frustrated, with the experience, because he said that he had wanted to talk about 300 emails that he had exchanged, with Michael Cohen that he thought were very important.

But he said prosecutors did not want to talk about that. But they were way more narrow. And here's what he said about it.


COSTELLO: They were getting upset, because they'd ask me a limited question, based on one of these six emails, and I would volunteer information that I thought the grand jury needed to hear.


BURNETT: So Jon, what does this say to you? He would volunteer information that the grand jury needed to hear. But they would only ask about six emails, when he had 300 he thought were important.

SALE: Well, where I start is that no one's above the law, including Donald Trump.

But that has to be viewed in a spectrum of we don't want to be involved in selective prosecution. We don't want to be prosecuting Donald Trump, for a matter, we wouldn't prosecute someone else for.

I don't know why the prosecutor doesn't just let it all come out, before the grand jury, and let them decide. A target of investigation, such as Mr. Trump, has the right, to have the grand jury, here, exculpatory evidence, and then let them be an independent body, weight it all, and vote, and apply the law, equally to him, the way they would to anybody else.

But let me say, Erin that, if you're going to compare the credibility, of Michael Cohen, and Bob Costello? I mean, that's not even worth a discussion.

But Michael Cohen is a defense lawyer's dream as a witness. I mean, a first year law student could destroy him, on cross examination.

And there's not a camera he doesn't love. He's on every TV show, in the world. And I don't criticize the media, or the public, for wanting to hear it. But when I was a prosecutor, if I had a cooperator, and they went on every TV show? I would pull that cooperation deal.

BURNETT: So, let me just ask you the bottom line, as you see it, then. Do you think there's any chance that Alvin Bragg does not indict Donald Trump, at this point?

SALE: I do think there is a chance.

If a prosecutor does a thorough investigation, and decides not to prosecute, he has not failed, in his obligation. And, I think, Bob Costello's testimony, if nothing else, should cause Mr. Bragg, to at least pause, and think if this is the right case, if there is the facts, and the law, Donald Trump should be held accountable.

But frankly, I don't think this is the case. And I think beyond a reasonable doubt that Bob Costello's testimony, tips the scale, in favor of not bringing this case.

BURNETT: All right, Jon, thank you very much. I appreciate your time, and the context that you bring to this--

SALE: Thank you.

BURNETT: --which was so important.

SALE: Great.

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Ryan Goodman, Karen Agnifilo, Basil Smikle, and Scott Jennings.

Thanks very much to all of you.

So Karen, you worked in the Manhattan D.A.'s office. So, you're very familiar with all of this, right? You know obviously, you were there, when there was a decision, not to go ahead and indict, on other issues, related to Donald Trump.

How much do you think Costello could impact the decision, on whether or not to indict Trump?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, FORMER CHIEF ASSISTANT MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I think at this point that Alvin Bragg will likely ask the grand jury, to decide, right? They've heard all the evidence.

And they've also heard Costello, right? He was there for over three -- or almost three hours, today. So, to say that there was any selective questioning of him? He had almost three hours to say whatever it is that he wanted to say. The grand jury will have heard his testimony.

And I think, at this point, Alvin Bragg, will likely leave it up to the grand jury, to decide if they believe that this case, beyond reasonable doubt -- that's not the standard, in the grand jury, by the way. The standard in the grand jury is probable cause.



BURNETT: And it's simple majority, right?


BURNETT: So, it's if you what an indictment, you get one.



FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: But sometimes, when the defense presents evidence, whether it's a defendant testifying, or other evidence, that's exculpatory? And again, almost three hours, that's a long time, to say whatever it is, he had to say. And I think that that could influence a grand jury, here. So, we'll see.

But I don't think that Alvin Bragg will not ask the grand jury to vote on this matter, at this point.


And Ryan, so Michael Cohen was not asked to testify. So, he was there, to be prepared, for a rebuttal. Costello testified, and then they said they did not need Michael Cohen, which we'll see if that's significant.

But then, Cohen obviously went out, and gave a television interview. And here's what he said.



COHEN: Typical Donald J. Trump play, out of the playbook. Figure out how you're going to muddy the water, as best as you possibly can. Denigrate the person, disparage them. They did the same thing to Cassidy Hutchinson.


COHEN: They did the same thing to anyone and everyone that is it -- is for the truth.


BURNETT: So, he goes on to say, "The beauty is that I have facts," OK?

Now, you obviously heard what Jon Sale says about Costello, and his unimpeachable integrity, and the -- his reputation. But what does this come down to then, for a grand jury?

RYAN GOODMAN, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JUST SECURITY, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPECIAL COUNSEL: So, I think, in part it might come down to Cohen testifying. But then, what is there, to corroborate, what he has to say?

Prosecutors often have to include accomplices, to the crime, or some bad actors, especially when they're prosecuting, for example, organized crime. So, you're going to have some prosecutors' witnesses, like that, who have flipped, and are cooperating. They're not the most appealing characters, and have done things, like lie, in the past, and commit past crimes. But you need to then go through and corroborate everything.

So, there is corroboration, in the case, in the form of checks that are written by Donald Trump, an audio recording with Donald Trump, and Michael Cohen, and other witnesses that can testify as well.

Because, part of this involved the National Enquirer is part of the hush money payments scheme. And they have even a public document with the federal prosecutors that, explains their role, in the scheme, and that it was done to influence the election.

So, there's a lot of corroboration. It's a question of whether that can be put together in such a way that it would convince a jury, and that is an open question.

BURNETT: Right and that is the open question.

Basil, you also have, of course, a D.A. here, right? It's an elected position. There's a lot at stake, right? You want re-election. I would assume D.A.s, let's just assume, they always want to do the right thing. But it's there's pressures, OK?

After everything that the D.A., Alvin Bragg, has gone through here, is there an off-ramp, for him, if he wants one? I mean, you heard Karen say he's going to go ahead and hand this to the grand jury. Is there an off-ramp, if he wants one?



SMIKLE: Here's a guy, who -- and I know him. I voted for him. If you look at his background, he has represented white-collar, while he's been involved in white-collar crimes, or fraud investigations. He was worked at the U.S. Attorney's Office, so he sort of understands how that works.

And despite what may happen, in New York, or maybe even counterintuitive, to being an elected official, in New York, he's going to try to stay out of the papers, and off of TV, because he wants to be very careful.

On the other hand, he campaigned, as a criminal justice reformer. And, as such, he has been pilloried, from the Right, particularly Donald Trump. Lee Zeldin, who ran for governor, ran on taking him out of office, if he had won.


SMIKLE: And so, he's in an incredibly difficult position, because if he chooses not -- if there is no indictment, here, Donald Trump can say, "Look, my protest -- my supporters got out there. They pushed him back." And there're going to be questions about whether or not he was up to the task.

On the other hand, if there is an indictment, Donald Trump is going to come out, and say, "Look at this Democratic zealot, going after"--


SMIKLE: --"going after us." He won't even say "Me." He'll say "Us."


SMIKLE: So, it's a tough position, for him, to be in. But I have to think that he has enough experience, and support, to at least be--


SMIKLE: --I don't want to say, hold back, but at least be a lot more careful than maybe one would think. He's the former President of the United States. Tough call!

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You said something in your answer that caught my attention. You said, if he doesn't indict, people will say he wasn't up to the task.

What task? What's the task? Is the task to get Donald Trump at all costs? Or is the task to do what's right, or to just to execute the laws?

And I think that's where Republicans have legitimate questions, about this prosecutor. Is he thinking about his political constituency, who would say what you just said, "If you don't get him, you weren't up to the task?" Or is he actually thinking about the law?

As prosecutor, he has downgraded something like 52 percent, of felonies, down to misdemeanors. In this case, he's taken a seven-year old paperwork misdemeanor, and inflating it to a convoluted novel, felony. And I think a lot of Republicans are looking at him, thinking, "Is he more political than justice-minded, here, because of where he represents, and the voters that he has?"

SMIKLE: Since you asked? I would say, for the last several years, through two impeachment hearings, through a January 6th hearing, there's a constant push, to hold him accountable.

So, the question is, is this holding him accountable? If the facts say that we need to move on, and think or look at something else, I get that, and I think most voters would get that. But there is going to also be this question of, is there going to ever come a point in time, when Donald Trump will be held accountable, for the things that he's done?

JENNINGS: Well, I would think, I--

SMIKLE: That's a legitimate question.

JENNINGS: I mean, I would think the people in Georgia, and the Special Counsel, at DOJ, have more legitimate things, to care about than perhaps this one.

BURNETT: And it's interesting -- will be interesting to know, what they think about this, and whether, if they also were taken aback, as everyone was, frankly, by the fact that this appears to be coming first, before anything else.

All right, all stay with me.


Next, Ron DeSantis, breaking his silence, today, about the potential looming indictment, for Trump. DeSantis, taking a swipe, and then, there was a counter-swipe, from Trump, which, of course, tripled down and escalated it.

Plus, we shine light, on the prosecutor, who could become the first in history, to criminally charge a former President. We'll tell you who is Alvin Bragg?

And Vladimir Putin, flaunting his friendship, with China's leader. After Putin's charged with war crimes, what that power-play could mean? Ahead.


BURNETT: DeSantis versus Trump. The looming threat of an indictment, triggering the first real back-and-forth, between the top two Republican presidential contenders.

Kristen Holmes is OUTFRONT, in West Palm Beach, as Florida resident, Donald Trump, and Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, traded some nasty shots.

And Kristen, this was very direct, today, all sparked by the possible indictment in New York.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. So, this is the first time we actually heard Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, weigh in on this potential indictment.

And the thing to keep in mind here is that this was not unforced. We saw, all weekend long, Trump allies, and advisers, essentially goading DeSantis, into responding.

At one point, Trump's Super PAC was actually sending out what was essentially a tracker, showing all of the Republicans that had rallied behind Trump--


HOLMES: --and singling out DeSantis, for not commenting, at this time.


So, when DeSantis finally got up there, we heard him say, the traditional rallying cry. He said that the D.A. was politicized, and he vowed not to get involved, if this somehow trickled down, into Florida, where they both live.

However, he didn't fully support Trump, and he seemed to take a jab at him, when he said this.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I just I can't speak to that.

I have no interest in getting involved in some type of manufactured circus, by some Soros D.A., OK? He's trying to do a political spectacle. He's trying to virtue-signal for his base.

I've got real issues I got to deal with, here, in the State of Florida.


HOLMES: So, when you talk about real issues, that is actually the part that Trump allies, and advisers, took issue with. They said that it shows that DeSantis doesn't understand what the base Republicans feel, that they actually care about this, and they tore him apart on social media.

But former President Trump, of course, not wanting to be left out of a mud fight, he also responded, to that first part, about those payments.

This is what he said. He said, "Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out" all "about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he's unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are," quote, "Underage."

And then he shared a photo that suggested that DeSantis had acted inappropriately, with teenage girls, while he was teaching history, in Georgia, when he was in his 20s, something that he has shared, on several occasions, when he is slamming DeSantis, just showing you how ugly this is going to get.

We are still a year and a half out, and DeSantis hasn't even entered the race yet. And this is what we're seeing.

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

I mean, it was pretty amazing, I will say, Basil, that moment. I mean not--

SMIKLE: Well--

BURNETT: I mean, "I wouldn't know about," how many times did he get the words, "Hush money" and "Porn star" in there?

SMIKLE: Right, right.

BURNETT: All right, and then -- and then defending?

SMIKLE: Right.

BURNETT: It was a -- politically, that would be walking the high beam.

SMIKLE: The virtue signaling, that's just a -- that's a great line. Listen, that's the -- I think that is one of the things that would scare Donald Trump, the fact that number one, Ron DeSantis, as a governor, has executive authority. He knows how to use the budget, to get his political ends. This is the same guy, who was influencing these hyper local school board elections.


SMIKLE: So, it is clear that he understands how this thing works. And for him to be able to go up in, on TV, every single time, and say, "I don't know how hush money works," I imagine that's going to be over and over and over again, in commercials everywhere, this great--

BURNETT: And amazing that that wasn't the part that upset Trump.


BURNETT: Trump was upset by another part of the statement, and, of course, responded by taking it straight down to the gutter.

JENNINGS: Absolutely. I've been trying to sort out the politics of all this today. The Trump people are going crazy, as our reporter pointed out. They're more angrier with DeSantis than they are with Bragg.

And if you just analyze this, through the lens of judgment, Donald Trump and Bragg? Maybe they have the worst judgment here. DeSantis is the one, who actually, via his answer, exercised some good judgment.

I mean, Ron DeSantis did not cause Donald Trump, to have sex with a porn star, while his wife was at home, pregnant. Ron DeSantis is not causing-- BURNETT: Alleged.

JENNINGS: --Ron DeSantis is not causing Alvin Bragg to bring a dog of a case.

DeSantis actually gave a reasonable answer, today that I think would probably sound reasonable, to 90 percent of Americans. So, I thought he did a good job, today.

And I don't understand why the Trump people believe that it's a political opponent's job, to defend him, from his own terrible judgment. DeSantis did not do any of the things that got Trump into this trouble, in the first place.

BURNETT: So, I want to ask you, Karen, when we talk about the timing here, because I think this is important. And I don't know if a lot of viewers have been hearing this. I know I haven't.

But this whole thing we keep talking about, about "Well, OK, the law is the law if this is the right thing to do, if, then do go ahead, and indict." But then that people will still say even if they believe that there should be an indictment, not first, this shouldn't be the first one. There should be others first.

There's a reason for that you say?

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: Yes. So, when Alvin Bragg was elected D.A., about a year and a half ago, if you recall, there were three Trump matters, handed to him that were pending, in the D.A.'s office.


FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: One was a case, right, the Trump Organization case, that had already been indicted, and went to trial, and they got a 17- count conviction on.

And there were two pending investigations that Cy Vance hadn't indicted, yet either. One, involving the valuation of his assets, and one, involving the Stormy Daniels hush money payments.

Alvin Bragg came in, and looked at both of them, and said, "I want more evidence."

And so, to the people who say that this is a political decision, to bring this case? He had a case that he could have brought two months, into his tenure, where the two prosecutors resigned in a huff, because they thought there was enough evidence. Alvin Bragg didn't.


This case, for the last year and a half, he has been gathering more evidence, in both cases. This particular case, clearly he feels that he can corroborate, Michael Cohen. And the statute of limitations is about to run, in May. And so, it's now or never, with this case.

BURNETT: Right, which Ryan does give it some more perspective, because if he has until May, he's either waiting to let Fulton County go first, because he doesn't want to go first, or what? It does give some important context to this.

GOODMAN: Yes, absolutely. So, Fulton County will probably go in May. So, if he waits? Then, it's actually he could lose the case. He can't bring it because statutes of limitations has run. And then, he's not going to wait for the Department of Justice, because it looks like they'll only make the decision, sometime, in the summer. So, that's why you'd have to bring this case, now.

And I just want to say, just to Scott's point about does this sound like a dog of a case, and selective prosecution?

It is a situation, for the rule of law, in which Michael Cohen was prosecuted, and served time, for the hush money payment. And the federal government said that he acted in coordination, and at the direction of Individual 1, who was not charged. The rule of law usually charges the principal in that kind of situation. But the subordinate is the one, who served time. Individual 1 was Donald Trump.

BURNETT: And we're going to see, of course, what happens here, with Individual 1, in these next coming days.

All right, all thank you so very much.

And next, Putin and Xi, together, in Moscow, as the Russian leader, was heckled, in Mariupol.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is not true, it's all for show.


BURNETT: You'll hear why some Ukrainians question whether that trip, in the dead of night, in front of a nice-looking building was even real.

Plus, Donald Trump, stepping up the attacks, on the prosecutor, who could be poised, to become the first-ever, to criminally indict him. So, who is Alvin Bragg? We're going to take a closer look, for you, tonight.



BURNETT: Tonight, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping getting ready, for another major meeting. They sat down together, earlier, for remarkable four and a half hours. And now, there's going to be more.

Xi is in Moscow, for days, visiting with Putin, portraying himself, as a peace-broker, between Russia and Ukraine, although, of course, he has not spoken to Ukraine. Yet, China is defending Putin, calling on the International Criminal

Court, to avoid politicization and double standards, in the Chinese words, after, of course, the ICC issued an arrest warrant, for Vladimir Putin.

This came after Putin made a surprise trip, to the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol, in Southern Ukraine, where he was heckled, by someone, off-camera.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is not true, it's all for show.


BURNETT: "This is not true, it's all for show." That obviously wasn't expected.

OUTFRONT now, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan.

So Ambassador, I want to ask you about that.

But first, this visit, right? Four and a half hours, today? And they're meeting tomorrow. And they're meeting the day after. I mean, this is an epic visit. What is Xi up to with this, spending all this time, with Putin?

JOHN SULLIVAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA, FORMER ACTING SECRETARY OF STATE UNDER TRUMP: Well, Xi's mission is a lot more complicated than Vladimir Putin's approach to this mission. Putin is very dependent on Xi. Xi has got an audience other than Putin and Russia.

Xi's also looking at Europe. The E.U., a huge market, for China, it's very important, for their economy. So, he wants to be perceived, as somebody, who's interested, in trying to make peace. He wants to maintain credibility, with the Europeans, but he also wants to support Putin, and Russia, because they're an enemy, of the United States. And what frustrates us is good for Xi.

BURNETT: So, in this, ahead of this visit? And certainly Putin wanted this, these visuals, out there, before Xi arrived. He went to Mariupol, over the weekend.

And while he was there, he allegedly met with Ukrainian residents. And then, he got heckled, with someone off-camera. You see his security detail, suddenly swivel their heads. Let me just play the moment for everybody.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is not true, it's all for show.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: And you see the security detail, sort of next to him, turn his head.

So, the person yells, it's, "This is not true, it's all for show," which appeared to be reality sort of piercing a carefully stage- managed visit, and possibly, an incredible moment. I mean, obviously unclear exactly what happened.

But how do you think this sort of a thing, this sort of a moment, in this context, of going to Mariupol, for the first time, going into the warzone here, for Putin, would impact Putin, would sit with him?

SULLIVAN: Well, Erin, one of the main purposes of the trip, in visiting Mariupol? Mariupol is a city that Russia leveled, reduced to rubble, drove the population out.

He's going back, driving around himself, in a car at night, trying to show that Russia is rebuilding Mariupol, life under Russia in occupied-Ukraine, is returning to normal.

And what this heckler is saying is, "It's all a show. It's all fake. It's all staged. He's come in at night driving around at night. It's all a show," because the world knows that Russia reduced that city to rubble.

BURNETT: Right. So, I mean, obviously, you see the buildings, behind him, right, if they put some sort of a temporary facade on, to make them look OK. And as he's driving, he's turning the wheel, quite dramatically, for what appears to be a straight road.

I spoke earlier with Oksana Markarova. And, of course, you know her, Ambassador, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States.

SULLIVAN: Sure, yes.

BURNETT: And I asked her about the visit, Putin's visit. And here's what she said.


OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Intelligence says we can never be completely sure where he was, and whether it was him.

Especially during the nighttime? I mean, we all have seen actual pictures, and satellite pictures, from Mariupol. The city is 90 percent destroyed.


BURNETT: And Anton Gerashchenko, who's the Adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs, in Kyiv, actually raised the question about whether it was even Putin, who was in Mariupol, right?

So, there's a question, first of all, whether this even happened in Mariupol. And then, there's a question as to whether well, if it did, was it even him? He posted several images of Putin, in recent days, showing that they all looked a bit different than each other.

Ambassador, what does it say to you that this speculation is even out there, in very respected and credible quarters?

SULLIVAN: Well, and it's very common in Russia, Erin, this type of speculation, conspiracy theories, paranoia, it comes up all the time.

People always speculate, when there's some public moment, with Putin, and maybe there's some controversy, surrounding it, or some danger, was it his body double? Saddam had body doubles. We believe Vladimir Putin has got body doubles. These are the Russians themselves speaking, and we extend to the Ukrainians.


On the other hand, I'm sure Putin ultimately kind of enjoys this, right? It's sort of this man of mystery. Is it really Vladimir Vladimirovich? Is it his body double? I'm sure the KGB agent that lurks within him, is kind of amused by this.

BURNETT: All right, Ambassador, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

SULLIVAN: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Ambassador Sullivan.

And next, just in a new memo, circulated within the NYPD, all officers expected to be in uniform, and ready to deploy, tomorrow, after Donald Trump urged his followers, to protest his potential looming indictment.

And later, another Murdaugh, denying involvement, in another mysterious death, and blasting, quote, "Vicious rumors." We take a closer look, at this reopened cold case, ahead.


BURNETT: Just in, a new NYPD internal memo, is telling all New York officers, to be in uniform, and ready to deploy, tomorrow. This memo is in response to former President Trump's social media posts, calling on followers, to protest, after he suggested that he could be indicted, and arrested, tomorrow.

And at the head of this whole investigation is the Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg. So, who exactly is he?

CNN's Brynn Gingras is OUTFRONT.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, could argue, he's recently had reasons to, well, brag.

[21:45:00] He's 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 lying and cheating.

GINGRAS (voice-over): But now, in just his 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 a hush money scheme.

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

GINGRAS (voice-over): Internally, Bragg isn't 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," as Trump repeatedly calls him out, by name, on social media, while also denying any wrongdoing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I imagine Alvin to be putting his head down, and just looking very carefully, and methodically, at all of the facts on the case.

GINGRAS (voice-over): An indictment would be a culmination, in 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 (voice-over): Two senior prosecutors, in his office, resigned, last year, when Bragg signaled he wouldn't pursue criminal charges, against Trump.

MARK F. POMERANTZ, AMERICAN ATTORNEY: I think the evidence was there.

This is not a personal issue or a fight. It's a disagreement about prosecution policy.

GINGRAS (voice-over): 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.

DOMINIQUE LUZURIAGA, JASON RIVERA'S WIDOW: I know you were tired of these laws, especially the ones from the new D.A.

GINGRAS (voice-over): The former federal prosecutor is Harlem-raised, Harvard-educated. And while his current role thrusts him, into the political spotlight, he maintains he is a lawyer at heart, once representing the family of Eric Garner, and fighting for numerous social justice causes, on his way to the D.A.'s seat.

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

GINGRAS (voice-over): But no bigger battle than now as Bragg may make history once again.


BURNETT: And Brynn, it's amazing, watching that right, the new NYPD internal memo, coming out? "Everybody be in uniform. Show up to be prepared." And there have been heightened concerns, at Bragg's office, as well.

So, what are they doing, to gear up, for a possible indictment? And we still say possible, because we don't know.

GINGRAS: Yes. And, I mean, listen, one of the things they're doing is local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, they're looking at the chatter, online. And now as with our reporting that he may not even come to New York, next week, if an indictment actually happens, that chatter can only build.

So, there are security measures that are being already in place. We're seeing cameras being put up, downtown. We're seeing barricades, security briefings, this memo, saying get officers all in NYPD uniform. So, there's measures being taken place.


GINGRAS: As far as Bragg, there is a real concern about a threat against him, and anyone in his office. He, of course, has said, "We won't tolerate it. We are going to work with the NYPD to prosecute it should anything happens."

But again, as with this whole story?


GINGRAS: It's a wait-and-see approach, Erin.

BURNETT: I mean, absolutely.

All right, Brynn, thank you very much.

GINGRAS: Thank you.

BURNETT: So much interest is obviously going to continue here, in Alvin Bragg.

And next, the surviving son, of double murderer, Alex Murdaugh, speaking out today, slamming rumors, tying him, to a mysterious death. That's next.



BURNETT: Tonight, new scrutiny, on yet another death, linked to the Murdaugh family. It's prompted Alex Murdaugh's only surviving son, to publicly deny rumors, he was involved, in the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, a former classmate of his.

Smith was found dead, in the middle of a road, about 15 miles, from the Murdaugh home. Authorities originally ruled his death, a hit-and- run. But new information, from the Murdaugh double murder probe, has put that in doubt. And the Smith family now wants Stephen's body, to be exhumed, for a new investigation.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is OUTFRONT.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 a 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 announced that 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 (voice-over): Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison, for the murders, of his wife and son, earlier this month.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): And investigators have never revealed what information they gleaned, from the Murdaugh murders investigation that resulted in his 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

RONNIE RICHTER, PARTNER, BLAND RICHTER, SOUTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY: We think we have good cause to show why a fresh set of eyes on this would be beneficial. It kind of has to start with a fresh new look at the body.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Initial reports said 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 loved my son. And since I couldn't protect him, I'm going to fight for him.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): 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 podcasts, documentaries, and a rabid social media following, often with Buster Murdaugh, a former classmate of Smith, at the center of this 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 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 a Alex Murdaugh 2.0 or any Murdaugh 2.0.

This is a Stephen Smith 2.0. It's all about Stephen.


GALLAGHER: At the heart of this, it really is just a mother, who for nearly eight years, has wanted to find out what happened to her son, and who did it to him.

Sandy Smith started a GoFundMe. She has raised roughly $75,000 already that she says she'll use to pay, to exhume her son's body, if a judge signs off, on a petition, allowing it.

We did ask SLED about the death investigation. They said that they have made progress, into Stephen Smith death investigation, Erin, but would only say that it remains active and ongoing.

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

And thanks to all of you for being with us.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Alisyn Camerota is next.