Return to Transcripts main page

Erin Burnett Outfront

Russian Nationals Claim Responsibility For Attack Inside Russia; E. Jean Carroll Seeks New Damages For Trump's Comments On CNN; Biden, McCarthy Meet on Debt Limit: No Deal Yet, 10 Days Until Default; Sen. Tim Scott: "I'm The Candidate The Far Left Fears the Most". Aired 7-8p ET

Aired May 22, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, another Russian official who criticized Putin's war dead tonight as new video into OUTFRONT shows Russians fighting for Ukraine turning on their own country.

We're going to tell you also what an A.I.-generated picture of the Pentagon has to do with Russian propaganda, a picture that was fake but led to a dip in the market.

Plus, just in to CNN: E. Jean Carroll now seeking even more in damages from Trump after the former president insulted the writer again at CNN's town hall. And it's just one day after she won her sexual abuse and defamation case against him.

And he's the son of a single mother, rose from poverty and become the only Black Republican in the Senate. But does Tim Scott's amazing life story translate into a path to victory?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, another Putin critic dead, this time, it's Russia's deputy science minister, Pyotr Kucherenko. He was just 46 years old. Well, according to the ministry of science and higher education, Pyotr Kucherenko was feeling ill while on a plane with the Russian delegation that was returning from a business trip to Cuba. That's their quote.

The flight on Saturday reportedly made an emergency landing in southern Russia, but it was too late. Doctors apparently could not save him.

Well, OUTFRONT spoke to Russian journalist Roman Super, who, of course, shed light on Kucherenko's suspicious death. Super says that he has spoken to Kucherenko who's claimed last year that his passport had been seized, and it was impossible for him to leave Russia unless with a government endorsed and sanctioned trip like the one to Cuba, that was his last.

But Kucherenko urged Super in this conversation to get out and get his family out of Russia. He told Super, quote: You can't imagine the degree a badge and the degree of brutalization of our country. You won't recognize Russia in a year.

Super night tells OUTFRONT: Everything I knew I wrote. Pyotr Kucherenko was a normal person and like all normal people, he condemned the very idea of war, especially a fraternal one.

Now, Kucherenko's shocking death, you know, remember, Alexey Navalny, right, he survived poisoning on a plane. We don't know what happened here, but of course, he's only 46 years old, and he is far from the only Russian to suffer untimely demise. Since the start of the war, more than a dozen high-profile Russians have mysteriously died.

Most recently, a senior military official died. She fell out of a 16th floor window. And some of the others who have died, one full out of the windows hotel, another one fell out of a hospital window, another fell down a flight of stairs, another fell off a boat -- well, it goes on and on.

And it all comes tonight as we are witnessing what seems to be a remarkable show of any kind of resistance inside Moscow itself. What you are looking at here on the screen is the flag of free Russia. It's flying over Moscow State University.

The group who posted this video is known as the Freedom for Russia Legion. It's a group made up of a few hundred Russians who are currently fighting on behalf of Ukraine.

And tonight, we have new video into OUTFRONT showing two of these fighters commandeering a Russian military vehicle. Take a look at this.


RUSSIAN NATIONAL (through translator): My father told me, go and be a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) tractor driver. But no, I decided to join the military.

RUSSIAN NATIONAL (through translator): Trophy. A BTR 82A from the Russian Federation's FSB. Ukraine, that's it. The Russian volunteer corps at work.


BURNETT: As I said, these are groups of Russians who are fighting on behalf of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, today, Russian state television ran wild with this artificial intelligence image of what was a large explosion near the Pentagon. This morning, it was artificial. The image we shared by numerous accounts, with the blue check mark on Twitter, those accounts were fake.

The blue check mark is a whole another story, but they were fake blue check mark accounts and they shared it, and the full it was real. The U.S. stock market dropped after the picture was posted. We have a lot to get to tonight. I want to start with Fred Pleitgen

who is OUTFRONT live in Kyiv tonight.

And, Fred, what is the latest on the ground there?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDEN: Hi, Erin. Well, certainly, the Russians very much caught off guard and up in arms about this cross border raid that happens by those Russians who are fighting on behalf of Ukraine, but also, of course, fighting against Vladimir Putin as well.

One of the main things we picked up is that this happens in a key region for Russia. This happened in Belgorod region, which is a highly militarized part of Russia and one of Vladimir Putin's main hubs for his war against Ukraine.

And the latest we have tonight is that the authorities there are describing the situation there right now on the ground as a very tense, and they say they have even evacuated at the local population.


Here's what we're learning.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): A rude awakening for Russians in the border area with Ukraine. Gunfire and explosions as two groups known as the Free Russia Legion and the Russia Volunteer Corps, Russians fighting for Ukraine so that they could capture another village and enter another in Belgorod region.

Today, it's time for everyone to take responsibility for their future, one of the leaders says. It's time to put an end to the Kremlin's dictatorship.

Kyiv acknowledges the Free Russia Legion are part of Ukraine's security forces but says Ukraine has nothing to do with the incursion into Russia.

Putin's spokesman irate. The purpose of the Ukrainian sabotage in the Belgorod region is to divert attention from the situation in the Bakhmut direction, he said.

The raid spoils what was supposed to be Russia's a big victory lap. Flanked by his mercenaries, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin claiming to have taken all of Bakhmut this weekend.

Today at noon, at 12:00, Bakhmut has been fully captured, he said.

Shortly after, Russian social media channels filling with provocateur propaganda. Mercenaries screaming a victory and celebrating with champagne showers.

But Ukraine's deputy defense minister quick to deny the Russian claims. HANNA MIALAR, UKRAINIAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator):

The Ukrainian armed forces retain control of industrial facilities and private houses in the southwestern area.

PLEITGEN: From the air and from the ground, Bakhmut looks apocalyptic. Any strategic value the town may have had for the Kremlin, laid to waste.

Ukraine's forces already fighting back, making what they say have been significant gains. North and south of Bakhmut, taking swathes of land back quickly.

Bakhmut was supposed to be both strategic and symbolic for Russia in its fight for control of east Ukraine. But Wagner says their forces will withdraw on May 25th, after months of ferocious fighting and countless dead.

The city will be placed under Russian military control, with commanders have done withdrawing then advancing recently.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Erin, tonight, despite those claims by Yevgeny Prigozhin and also, by the way, by the Kremlin as well, the Ukrainians are saying that some of the most intense fighting going on in Ukraine is happening right around the Bakhmut area, as the Russians continue to hit that area, the Ukrainians fight back and they say they are not going to give up an inch of their territory without a fight, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Fred, thank you very much, from Kyiv tonight.

I want to go now to retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, he was, of course, the former commanding general of Europe and the Seventh Army, and Alexander Rodnyansky, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

So, thanks very much to both of you.

General, since Fred was just talking about Bakhmut, this is fascinating what we are seeing happening. Russia is now saying it's captured Bakhmut. You see the champagne showers, et cetera, that the Wagner mercenaries are doing. Ukraine says, no, that the fighting for Bakhmut continues. They will fight for every single inch.

What is exactly happening there?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's tough to explain, Erin, because we are looking at literally a PowerPoint maps, often, and we are seeing red areas and yellow areas and it doesn't give the situation in terms of the terrain.

The Ukrainian forces, as I've watched them, have pulled out of Bakhmut. They have done a very good withdrawal, and they are now in the high ground in the areas of Yahidne, Khromonov, and Ivanivske, three areas to the northwest, and southwest. They can control the city via the high ground.

So Russia is basically commanding rubble right now. A town that they have destroyed, they are now in the middle of it. There is no tactical value for that right now, and Ukrainian forces who have pulled back can now have a greater capability of conducting operations against that, so even they did before.

And I would suggest, soon, we may see Ukrainian forces surround the Wagner forces or whatever is left in the city of Bakhmut.

BURNETT: It is pretty incredible to watch that happening.

And, Alexander, into this, right, Wagner -- they are putting out these videos, celebrating their victory that they say that they control it. And the chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, says that the fighters are going to pull out of Ukraine on May 25th, which obviously if they did that, they are giving up Bakhmut and everything else.

So I am trying to understand what is happening here. I mean, Alexander, does Ukraine believe that provision is in fact doing that, withdrawing?

ALEXANDER RODNYANSKY, ADVISER TO UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: No. We obviously can't believe any word that they are saying. This is a side that's been lying consistently throughout, before the invasion, during the invasion.


So, we take it with a grain of salt at best. Obviously, we can't believe a single word.

BURNETT: So, General Hertling, in the meantime, this group of Russian fighters that are fighting on behalf of Ukraine, right? Several different groups of them, as they call themselves, but they are all fighting against Russia. They took a number of actions today, there was the incursion into Belgorod, right, which is actually Russian territory, full Russian territory, by any measure.

They claim they captured Russian military vehicles, and then we saw the so-called flag of Free Russia flying over Moscow State University. How meaningful are these incidents, General?

HERTLING: This is all part of shaping operations, Erin. What I would suggest, what occurred today and it's a magnificent tactic, is this liberty of Russian Legion or Russian Volunteer Corps, the so-called green men are now going in the opposite direction. They are trying to free Russian territory.

The institute -- this is what is called a rage. A raid is a surprise attack meant for a specific purpose. And they threaten a smaller objective, they kill or capture people, they cause movements of the enemy to protect the object of the raid.

So in other words, this is an area where there are very few Russian soldiers, and now, unfortunately, because of this incursion into Russian territory at Belgorod, Russia has to move defense forces there, as well as some other places like Kursk.

And what we have seen in Moscow itself, with the flag that you showed flying over Moscow university, all of this is to accomplish the intent of an objective of pulling Russian forces away from the areas which they are defending.

This is shaping operations, and the Ukrainians are doing it very well, along with the legion of Russian -- the Liberty of Russian Legion or whatever they want to call themselves --


HERTLING: In order to get Russians to look in other directions.

BURNETT: It is stunning, though, in a certain level, you think about, you know, Russians attacking in a place like Belgorod. I mean, again, to imagine 16 months ago, 18 months ago, having this sorts of conversations.

Alexander, we also mentioned at the top of the show, yet another Russian official, and there have been so many in the past year, who have criticize the war publicly or privately, mysteriously now dead.

I spoke with your father recently, obviously a renowned and award winning film producer, lived in Russia until the beginning of the war. He has publicly criticized the war. He is still doing so. He came on the show to do it.

Putin has now ordered his arrest, even though, of course, he is outside Russia, but, you know, it makes him a wanted man. I want to play something your father told me when I asked him if he was concerned for his safety.


ALEXANDER RODNYANSKY, UKRAINIAN FILMMAKER, RUSSIA ORDER HIS ARREST: I am not anymore in Russia, but I know how -- the Russian intelligence, in following the people who are protesting. We don't have a fear, nothing would prevent me from speaking the truth about what is going on in Ukraine, and the way things are.

Definitely, I would -- most of my friends are trying to tell me that they should be very careful, and they will be very careful. But I will do what I did.


BURNETT: Alexander, you obviously are proud of your father, but you must be deeply concerned for his safety, too.

RODNYANSKY: Absolutely. It is concerning, it is always concerning. We know what Russians are capable of, we know what they do with their enemies, and also with people they considered traitors.

But the good news here is, I think that's what my father is alluding to, he was never a Russian citizen. We are all Ukrainians, obviously, and for the Kremlin, as perverse as that sounds, that is a pecking order lower. So that is lower in the priority list. They usually hunch people they consider traders first, although that's the perverse reality that I am talking about. No doubt there is danger, and I want my father to be careful, of course.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you both very much. I appreciate it.


BURNETT: All right. And next, E. Jean Carroll seeking another $5 million in damages against Trump after the president mocked hurt during CNN's town hall. That would double the $5 million the jury awarded her for sexual abuse and defamation already.

Plus, down to the wire. Speaker McCarthy about to speak with reporters after meeting with President Biden. The two are trying to hammer out an agreement to avoid a default on America's debt. Negotiations have fallen apart several times. So, where do things stand at this hour?

An American Paul Whelan has been wrongfully detained in Russia, sounding optimistic that he could soon be free.


PAUL WHELAN, AMERICAN WRONGFULLY DETAINED IN RUSSIA: I remain positive and confident on a daily basis that the wheels are turning.


BURNETT: Whelan's sister will be my guest.



BURNETT: New tonight, E. Jean Carroll is now seeking new damages, at least $10 million in total, we understand, from former President Donald Trump, after her comments about him at CNN's town hall. A jury earlier this month found Trump, of course, liable for both sexual abuse and defamation. One day after the jury's verdict, Trump on CNN called Carroll a, quote, whack job, said the trial was rigged, and that her allegations were a fake story.

Paula Reid is OUTFRONT.

So, Paula, what happens now?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it really is remarkable, when you think about the timeline here, right? He -- she was awarded a $5 million from the jury, and just a day later, he went and made remarks that were almost identical to the ones that had just been argued about a trial.

And now, E. Jean Carroll is asking the judge to take those remarks that he made at the town hall, and add them to another defamation lawsuit that she previously filed against the former president. Why did she have multiple defamation suits?

Well, her original won in 2019 relates to things he said while he was in office, and has been bogged down in appeals and legal challenges, trying to establish whether he can actually be sued for comments he made while in office.

Now, the other comment he made after he left, that has already gone to trial. So she is acting to amend the other lawsuit that is live, and at this point it is unclear whether the judge is going to allow that lawsuit to go forward at all, or whether the judge will allow these additional comments to be added to her cost.

BURNETT: All right, so that's obviously important and we are talking about a lot of money. But will you also have new reporting, Paula, in the special counsel's investigation into Trump's handling of classified documents. I understand you are learning what was in the notes that one of his lawyers was forced to turn over to the special counsel. Notes, of course, that I use forced, because Trump fought very hard to keep these notes away from the special counsel.


What do the notes reveal?

REID: These are remarkable, Erin. These are notes from Trump's attorney Evan Corcoran, and they are from -- they are memorializing a time period last spring after they received a subpoena from the Justice Department demanding that they return into classified documents.

Now these notes reveal that the former president was having this conversation with his lawyers asking look, how can we push back on this subpoena? How can we fight?

We would never have access to this kind of interaction between a lawyer and a client if it wasn't for Jack Smith's efforts to go to court, to fight to get around attorney-client privilege by successfully convincing the court that this advice that Corcoran gave may have been used in the commission of a crime.

So, we know, of course, the special counsel is looking at whether anyone tried to obstruct their ongoing investigation, and these efforts to get back classified documents. Now at least one source did suggests to us, though, that this conversation, this is exactly the kind of advice that any client would be seeking, so we will see what these notes mean to the special counsel.

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

So, let's bring in Ryan Goodman, of course, our legal expert.

So, Ryan, let's start with the E. Jean Carroll news. So, you've read her legal team's new filing, and it is a bit unclear to me whether she is asking for a $10 million in total, inclusive of what she had, or $10 million in addition. Either way, it is a lot of money and do you think they have a solid case here for more damages? RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: I

think they do, because the question for punitive damage is to demonstrate that the defendant acted maliciously with spite. Or, willfulness in his disregard for her rights, wanton disregard for her rights.

And yes, if he carried this out as a continual pattern of behavior where he keeps defaming her again and again, gets another opportunity after a unanimous verdict, and does it again basically calling her a liar.,

BURNETT: Right, the same words, it wasn't even like you tried anything new.

GOODMAN: That's right.

BURNETT: So you think that when Paula is laying out the case, and the judge would had to allow this incident to be included in an incidents that was when he was president, there have been questions if that's actually allowed to go ahead, do you think that this moves forward, all in?

GOODMAN: I mean, it's a permissive rule within the particular jurisdiction to amend complaints, and a very smart move by her lawyers because they could have tried to file a new complaint like New Hampshire, based on a town hall.

BURNETT: Right, because that's where it was.

GOODMAN: But it's really smart to go back to the original judge who heard the first trial, and go there, and then the judge may say things like you don't have to retry everything. We've already heard it, at least on the truthfulness, that has been decided by a jury. Now we go to the question, is he immune from jurisdiction because he committed these commits originally while he was president? Different questions but the same judge is very helpful to them.

BURNETT: All right, so let me ask you about the new reporting on these notes from Trump's lawyer, Evan Corcoran. They fought to keep these away from the special counsel, they lost, they have them.

Now, we do not know anything in them, so what we know is that some of these notes say that Trump asked if he could fight a subpoena to recover declassified documents that were still in his position, I'm sorry.

I have to admit, I first heard that, and I thought of course you want to fight a subpoena. But I guess wanting to fight it, because they were still in his possession, is that an acknowledgment? What do you think the real meaning of this is?

GOODMAN: Ordinarily, if you told me that a client of a lawyer said can we fight the subpoena, I would think that that is nothing to write a new story about. There is nothing very value about that. But here, it does go to the question of is he trying to willfully retain the documents? BURNETT: Right.

GOODMAN: Does he know he has them, and he is trying to keep them? It truly suggest that's what he's doing, and this is a world where the comparison to the Biden and pence case -- they want to get them back to the government as soon as possible. He has to be subpoenaed, and now he is trying to fight subpoena. That is not a good fact for him when it comes to this criminal investigation.

BURNETT: Right, and again, we don't know what else there is in these notes. We do know that they appear to be copious in some way, whatever that means.

But, all right, Ryan, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT next, no deal, the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has left the White House and says there is still no deal on the debt ceiling. This is for one of the nation's biggest banks has a so-called war room in place for a possible default.

Plus he grew up in poverty, was raised by a single mother, now he is the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate. Can Senator Tim Scott turn his life story into successful run for the White House?



BURNETT: New tonight, President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy meeting as the United States marches toward a debt default with no solution right now in sight. The two offering some optimism that an agreement could be reached in the next few days.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We still have some disagreements, but I think we may be able to get where we have to go. We both know we have a significant responsibility.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we both agree that we need to change trajectory, that our debt is too large, and I think at the end of the day, we can find common ground.


BURNETT: Well, it was an important meeting, and it comes as McCarthy says a deal has to be reached this week for the U.S. to avoid its first debt default.

The Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, of course, reiterating the default date will be June 1st, and that has big banks very nervous tonight, frankly for the first time. Usually, this is a brinksmanship and everyone thinks it's going to work itself out. They feel differently this time.

James Frasier from Citigroup describing this debt ceiling crisis is more worrying than prior ones.

And Jamie Dimon over it JPMorgan says his bank has a war room to plan for a default, that right now has daily meetings that may soon ramp up to three times a day. That is according to the latest reporting in "Reuters".

Jeremy Diamond is OUTFRONT at the White House to begin our coverage tonight.

We just have days now, it is good that they are meeting and coming out of it and saying that the meeting wasn't worthless, but the real question is, when is it going to be worth something? Where is the deal? Where does this stand?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Erin, that's the key question, and it is a surprisingly optimistic tone when you consider the fact that in ten days, the U.S. could potentially default on its debt obligations. We heard the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reaffirming that high likelihood, that early June will indeed be the X date where the U.S. can no longer pay its bills.

We just heard from the speaker of the house, Kevin McCarthy, he emerged saying it was a productive discussion. He said the tone of the meeting has been better than it ever has been at this point in the negotiations, and he said that those negotiators, those White House staff and McCarthy's deputies, they will get right back to the negotiating table this evening with a bit of a clear sense of direction from that key principles from the president. That being said, it is very clear that there is still a wide gap between these two sides.


I asked the speaker of the House specifically about something that Biden raised at the beginning of the meeting, which is that he wants revenue to be on the table here. I asked if he was able to talk about that, he said flatly, no, that is off the table for him. He also said that cuts to defense spending or also off the table.

And so, it's very clear that there are a lot of issue still to resolve, and, as Congressman Patrick McHenry, one of the lead negotiators on the Republican side told me, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. But the speaker said that he expects to be speaking with the president every day going forward -- Erin.

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

And I'm sure Patrick McHenry learned his lesson from the speakership itself, right? You don't at this point, you are not going to count anything until you actually have it all sitting there.

OUTFRONT now, Republican Congressman Dusty Johnson of South Dakota. He is a close ally to Speaker McCarthy and has been in his ear throughout these talks. He's also the chairman of the Republican Main Street Caucus, which is a group of more than 70 House Republicans.

So, Congressman Johnson, I appreciate your time.

Everyone should know that over the weekend, you warned that the U.S. was quote, at real risk of default. I was just talking about the banks and how they are saying that this feels different than other times. They are more concerned.

Do you still feel the same way, that there is a real risk of default tonight?

REP. DUSTY JOHNSON (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I think there is a real risk, but it is receding ever so slightly. The staff talks this morning, I think went better than they have in quite a number of days. I got the sense that the speaker and the president's conversation was also helpful. We are a long way from the end zone, but at least we are pointed in the right direction.

BURNETT: All right. So, look, I mean, I would like to hear more than receding ever so slightly, but it sure better than the alternative. I hear you on that.

So, Republicans, though, obviously, have, you know, used default -- the threat of a default to secure spending cuts. So the White House has offered to cap future spending, which look, we are all dealing with inflation. If you do that, that would amount to a 5 percent cut as opposed to these automatic inflation linked increases, right? House Republicans rejected that.

Can you tell me why?

JOHNSON: Because we told them this was going to happen, when they passed on a party line votes the two trillion dollar American rescue plan. We said, well, well, how are you going to pay that? When they did the $1.7 trillion Inflation Reduction Act? We said, how are you going to pay for it?

When they did the $1.7 trillion omnibus just in December, we said how are you going to pay for it? The Democrats, with one party rule in this town back then, could have raised the debt ceiling any of those times. Instead, they put our whole country in a box when they gathered up the six trillion dollars worth of one parties spending, and then expected that they were going to get the debt ceiling raised for free.

We are moving towards insolvency. We need the big boys and the big girls to start moving spending in the right direction.

BURNETT: All right. Now, that may all be true, but you mentioned two trillion so I do want to ask you something. You did vote for a two trillion dollar spending bill, it was President Trump's COVID relief bill, and that did add to the debt.

How is that two trillion different than their two trillion?

JOHNSON: Because one was in the early days of the pandemic, when everybody, everybody agreed that we needed those resources. It passed 98-0 in the U.S. Senate. When you got Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders singing from the same sheet of music, clearly you are in a national emergency.

But then go forward 18 months later, when we got the vaccine, when infection levels are coming down, when hospitalization levels are coming down, when we are already coming out of a recession, a recession that had been over for more than a year, you do not need to spend like you are in the Great Depression when you are already a year into recovery. That's the difference, and I think it's a pretty gosh darn big one.

BURNETT: So let me ask you though, when they say, or when you put on the table claw backs for some COVID relief, my understanding is that that was putting out there and had gotten nowhere. Is that something that could go through?

JOHNSON: Yes. I think that is one of the areas where we are closest on agreement. Patrick McHenry is right. Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.

BURNETT: Well, as I said, you learned -- he learned the hard way as we were all there, that late night, Speaker McCarthy, he knows. Yeah.

JOHNSON: Yeah, we all learned the hard way than. But that is an area where I think the president has said the pandemic is over. Those dollars, I mean, tens of billions on obligated, that is relatively low hanging fruit.

BURNETT: All right. And then, one final question, the 14th Amendment, that President Biden says he believes he has the authority to take out of the picture, raise the debt limit on his own. That would be invoking the 14th Amendment. Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe supports that, saying that it could be possible.

Do you think that there is anything to that?

JOHNSON: I don't know why in this country we continue to get more and more comfortable building an imperial presidency. I get that it is hard to get things through Congress, but listen, I raise concerns about executive overreach under the last president, and, of course, I have raised them with this president. We do not want to live in a country where a president can sign $600 billion checks, student loan forgiveness, without permission and by congress, and we don't want to live in a country where the president can in an unlimited way borrow money.

Let's just have Congress do their job. How about that?

BURNETT: Yeah, I would say it looks like executive orders, I think that everyone could agree. It's from looking at -- presidents of both parties, it is all way to over used.

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

JOHNSON: Thanks for having me.

BURNETT: All right. And next, Senator Tim Scott. He was raised in poverty by a single mother. He talks about this a lot and how much it impacted his life. He went on to become the first black Republican senator in the South in more than Now he wants to be president. So, what's his path?

Plus, American Paul Whelan. He has been wrongfully detained in Russia since 2018. He was able to call CNN and say he thinks possibly he could be home soon. His sister will be OUTFRONT.


BURNETT: Tonight, Republican senator Tim Scott struggling to say how he would differ from Donald Trump after officially announcing that he is going to run against him for the nomination for the GOP for 2024. He dodged on what he felt about Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election.


INTERVIEWER: What will you offer voters that former President Trump will not?

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the question is, I'm running for president. Period. I plan to win.

The question is, what do the voters want in a president? They want someone who can persuade on the issues that matter the most.

INTERVIEWER: Would you ever try to overturn the election you lost?


INTERVIEWER: What do you think about President Trump's behavior after the 2020 election into January 6th?

SCOTT: We can do two things here. We can have a conversation about President Trump or a conversation about my vision for the future.


BURNETT: So, what does Senator Scott's vision for the future and his campaign look like?

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT.


SCOTT: My family went from cotton to Congress in his lifetime.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From cotton to Congress, those weighty words form the arc of to Senator Tim Scott's rise, and frame the argument for his presidential aspirations.

SCOTT: My grandfather said to me, son, you can be bitter or better. But you cannot be both.

ZELENY: As he opened his Republican campaign for the White House today in South Carolina, Scott made clear his biography is his message. An optimistic vision for America, he said, is shaped from opportunity, not oppression.

SCOTT: This isn't just my story. It's all of our stories.

ZELENY: It is his story Scott believes sets him apart from a growing field of contenders. He is the son of a single mother who he invited onstage in North Charleston.

SCOTT: Thank you for standing strong in the middle of the fire.

ZELENY: And praised her guidance through a challenging childhood and for believing in him when he did not yet believe in himself.

SCOTT: We live in the land where it is absolutely possible for a kid raised in poverty, in a single parent household, and a small apartment to one day serve in the people's house. And maybe even the White House.

ZELENY: Today at 57, he's the only Black Republican in the Senate and the only African American to serve in both chambers of Congress.

He was elected to the House in 2010 and appointed to the Senate two years later by then Governor Nikki Haley.

THEN-GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It is very important to me, as a minority female, that Congressman Scott earned the seat.

ZELENY: Who is now a rival in the GOP primary. Scott won a special election for a Senate seat in 2014. He was elected again in 2016 to a full term and in 2022 seized reelection in a landslide. If elected, Scott could also be the first unmarried president since Grover Cleveland.

Along the way, his fate has been a central tenant.

SCOTT: People will say our message is naive, that our faith is foolish. But they don't know who they are talking to. Conservatism is my personal proof. There is no ceiling in life.

ZELENY: As he presented himself as the candidate offering optimism over anger and hope over grievance. And race is pivotal to his message, using it as a shield and forward and a warning to Democrats.

SCOTT: I am the candidate of far left fear is the most. When I cut your taxes, they call me a prop. When I re-funded the police, they called me a token. I disrupt their narrative, I threaten their control. The truth of my life disrupts their lives.


ZELENY (on camera): Senator Scott did not mention any of his rivals by name but he did remind Republican voters they do have a choice. He framed it like this: choosing between grievance or greatness -- Erin.

BURNETT: Like the bitter butter that he said his grandfather had. All right. Thank you very much to Jeff Zeleny.

Next, the State Department saying there is no higher priority than bringing home American Paul Whelan from Russia, where he is in a confinement. Whelan's sister is next. How optimistic is she that her brother will be coming home soon?

A man accused of murdering four University of Idaho students entering court, but refusing to accept a plea. We got the latest on that.



BURNETT: Tonight, no higher priority. That's how the State Department today described how important it is right now to bring American Paul Whelan home from Russia. The comments coming in response to a CNN exclusive.

Our Jennifer Hansler had an interview with Paul Whelan who spoke to her on the phone from the brutal penal colony where he's been sentenced to 16 years confinement. Here is part of what he told her.


PAUL WHELAN, AMERICAN WRONGFULLY DETAINED IN RUSSIA: Well, you know, I've got the usual aches and pains of forced labor and poor living conditions. That's a daily reminder of where I am and how long I've been here and the need for our government to get me home. So I remain positive and confident on a daily basis that the wheels are turning. I just wish they would turn a little bit more quickly.


BURNETT: Whelan has been wrongfully detained already since 2018 on espionage charge. His sister Elizabeth is OUTFRONT now.

And, Elizabeth, I really appreciate your time and I know we've spoken regularly about your brother. Of course, while you've had the opportunity to hear his voice at times, we and the American people really have not. But, you know, you hear this, we hear him talk about optimism. He is maybe coming home.

What do you hear in his message?

ELIZABETH WHELAN, SISTER OF PAUL WHELAN: Well, I think -- oh gosh, when I listen to that, I hear his courage and resilience on display. I think I've got a certain amount of concern that people are listening to this and thinking, oh, he is upbeat, he is confident. You know, this is a strength he has to bring every single day. This is his courage on display. And I don't want anyone to think that he is, for some reason, content where he is.

He is in a forced labor camp in Russia. He's been there for almost four and a half years. How would any of us feel at that point to be able to respond the way he has, I think it's amazing. BURNETT: It is remarkable. Even something he said there. Right, he

said I have the regular aches and pains of forced labor. I mean, to him, regular aches and pains of forced labor.


I mean, to him, regular aches and pains of forced labor, I mean, this is a moment to step back and say, how truly horrible this situation is. He did talk a bit about his prison conditions.

Let me just play that part.


P. WHELAN: The food is not very good. The actions are hitting hard. Everything is watered hard. Medical care, dental care is provided privately.


BURNETT: Interesting, he's talking about the sanctions from Ukraine, that's affecting the food and everything getting water added to it. A day in the life of -- can you tell us about what he's told you about his life in prison and what he is enduring?

E. WHELAN: Well, you know, a good example is the heat was completely turned off in February to the prison. They are in a place where it is sub-zero temperatures. So, they went for a couple of months there living day and night in below freezing temperatures. You know warming up, not even 30 degrees.

And a good example about the food, he told us that for example sometimes they are served soups, such as one with beetroot in it, and now the beetroot is taking out before they are served the soup. They are basically being served warm beet water as soup. It is that sort of deprivation that is going on, and he has to live with that day after day.

It's one of the reasons why, when we can send food to him at the U.S. embassy, it is so important because it is keeping him alive.

BURNETT: It's incredible. He did have a message for President Biden, Elizabeth. I'm going to play that.


P. WHELAN: Mr. President, I've been held hostage for more than 52 months. The only crime I've committed in Russia is that of being an American citizen. Freedom is not free, it comes at a price. But the loss of freedom is even more costly. I pay that cost every day Russia holds me. Please follow through with your promise and commitments, truly make my life a priority and get me home. Thank you very much. Priority, and get m

(END AUDIO CLIP) BURNETT: And, obviously, he had thought about that. There is something so poignant about it, though, Elizabeth. You've watched Brittney Griner and others come home, right? She was released from Russia in a prisoner swap. Your brother is still there. Do you think the president hears this? That this is the top priority of the State Department after this interview says it is?

E. WHELAN: I think so. I think the president cares deeply about Americans who are held wrongfully. But you hear that faith in Paul's voice. That needs to be met with an equal response. I really believe the administration is working just as Paul is confident that they are to get him home but Russia is wrongfully detaining Americans.

We have got to get on top of this. Paul is a hostage and whatever it takes to get him home, get Evan home, we have to do it.

BURNETT: All right. Elizabeth, thank you very much. I'm glad to speak to you again.

E. WHELAN: Thanks so much.

BURNETT: All right, coming up next on "AC360", that fake image we showed you of a bomb blast outside the Pentagon that spread online today caused panic, the markets fell. It was fake. It is a sign of things to come? That is the dystopian reality we may be living tonight at 8:00.

In the meantime, next, the man accused of murdering four University of Idaho students appearing in court. When asked to enter a plea, he refused to speak.



BURNETT: Tonight, not guilty pleas for the man accused of brutally stabbing for University of Idaho students. Brian Kohberger appearing in front of an Idaho judge today, stating silence, staring straight ahead as the pleas were entered on his behalf. He didn't speak.

Jean Casarez is OUTFRONT.


JUDGE: Count one, burglary. Count two, murder in the first degree. Count three, murder in the first degree. Count four, murder in the first degree. Count five, murder in the first degree.

Mr. Taylor, is Mr. Kohberger prepared to plead to these counts?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You Honor, he is standing silent.

JUDGE: Since Mr. Kohberger is standing silent, I am going to enter not guilty pleas on each charge.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Brian Kohberger appearing in an orange jumpsuit, only answering to yes or no questions during his arraignment in Idaho court.

JUDGE: Anything you do say any other than through your lawyers could be used against you in a court proceeding. Do you understand that?


JUDGE: Do you understand these rights?


JUDGE: Do you have question about the rights?


CASAREZ: The 28-year-old quietly following along and glancing at his attorney as the judge read through the charges.

JUDGE: You understand the maximum penalty?


CASAREZ: Prosecutors say Kohberger entered an off campus house at the University of Idaho in November of 2022, and stabbed for students to death, Kaylee Goncalves, Maddy Mogen, Xana Kernodle, and Ethan Chapin.

He could face the death penalty if found guilty. It was male DNA found on a knife sheath discovered at the murder scene linked through genetic genealogy, multiple sightings of a white Hyundai Elantra from surveillance video, cell phone tower data that put Kohberger near the students home at least 12 times before the murders, and comparison DNA testing of trash outside of Kohberger's family home that eventually led to his arrest.

Body cam video later released showed that governor had been pulled over for an unrelated incident as he drove cross-country after the murders.

JUDGE: Alleging that you --

CASAREZ: Kohberger's trial has been set for October 2nd, and is expected to last six weeks. While there is no word on coworkers defense, his attorney recently told a judge and they are investigator found information favorable to the defense known only two surviving roommates Bethany Funk. She has agreed to speak with the defense.

And while indictment documents have been unsealed, investigators are still searching for a motive.

Jean Casarez, CNN, New York.


BURNETT: All right. Thanks so much to Jean and thanks to all of you for being with us.

"AC360" begins now.