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Erin Burnett Outfront

Feds Have Trump On Tape Post-White House Talking About Classified Docs; Video: Patriot Missiles Used Against Russia Attacks In Kyiv; Soon: Final Vote On Debt Bill In The House To Avert Default; Trump Tries To One-Up DeSantis As Both Campaign In Iowa. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired May 31, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, CNN exclusive reporting: federal prosecutors have Trump on tape admitting he kept a classified Pentagon document after he left the White House. Trump also on tape undermining his own defense. So, is it a smoking gun for prosecutors or not?

Well, the former White House lawyer for Trump, Ty Cobb, will be OUTFRONT.

Plus, a new message from the head of the Russian private army, the Wagner Group, and this is directly to CNN. We are learning new details about just how paranoid Putin has become about other Russians. And we've got that for you this hour.

Plus, a court clearing the way for a Manson family member to be granted parole. Will the Manson follower now in her 70s go free?

Let's go "OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Trump on tape. Federal prosecutors now have Trump's own words as key evidence in its classified documents investigation. According to sources, Trump is heard on tape acknowledging that he held onto a classified document about plans for a potential attack in Iran.

So that is significant in and of itself, right, admitting that he held onto that. And then, secondarily admitting there are limits to his actual ability to declassify documents, which undercuts the main defense we've heard from again and again, which is that any document he wanted declassified was just, poof, declassified.

And we've heard this ever since the FBI's search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago back in August of last year. Here is someone from Trump's inner circle just days after that search.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is from President Trump's office. It just came in a few minutes ago. He had a standing order, there is the word I've been looking for, that documents removed from the oval office and taken to the residence were deemed to be declassified the moment he removed them.


BURNETT: And a few weeks later, Trump himself made this infamous statement.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified even by thinking about it.


BURNETT: A magical thinking excuse.

And then, a few weeks ago, of course, during CNN's town hall, Trump said it again.


TRUMP: I have no classified documents. And, by the way, they become automatically declassified when I took them.


BURNETT: Now, Trump's campaign tonight responding to CNN's reporting. The statement reads, in part, quote: Leaks from radical partisans behind this political persecution are designed to inflame tensions and continue the media's harassment of President Trump and his supporters.

Now, Kaitlan Collins helped break this exclusive report. She joins me now.

So, I mean, Kaitlan, this is incredible when you think about it, right? You know, Trump always saying, I hope there's tapes. James Comey infamous, lordy, I hope there are tapes. And now here there actually are.

So, what more do you know about the actual context of this conversation Trump was having?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: So, what's fascinating to me is this is months before that huge fight that happened to get the documents that Trump had back to the national archives, back where they belong. That's when they sent those 15 boxes, it was around December, January. This was back in the summer of 2021.

He's not at Mar-a-Lago. He's at Bedminster, his club there in New Jersey. And he's angry. He's in this meeting where people who are writing an autobiography for his former chief of Mark Meadows are.

He's angry about this "New Yorker' story that's been published. It's focusing on General Milley and how basically, General Milley who is the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, one of the highest-ranking officials in the national security realm for Trump, was worried he would try to take military action in Iran as he was in those waning days the presidency, disputing the election results, of course, lashing out at many people around him.

And what's notable of this recording, which we haven't heard, but people have described to us is he's indicating that he's got this document that he says will undermine what Milley is saying. The point of this is he's indicating he can't share it with the people in the room with him because he's aware of the fact that he has a limited ability in his post-president period to declassify documents, despite what he is claiming publicly.

He says something to the effect of, if I could show you this, but he can't actually show it to them. You can even hear him --

BURNETT: That's the significance.

COLLINS: You can hear him on the recording, you know, rustling a paper around. We don't actually know that that was in fact a document. We don't know that that document was returned. But he is indicating to these people that he knew he took classified information and he had it but he couldn't show it to them.

BURNETT: Right. And interesting, as you say, we don't know where that document is now. What are you all learning that investigators did with this information when they got the tape they listened to it, what have they done with it?

COLLINS: It doesn't appear that they've known about it for that long. Because recently -- I mean, this episode has generated enough interest that they took the step of having General Milley come in and speak to the investigators.


And we don't know if he was subpoenaed. We don't know the exact details of that. But he is still the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is still conducting business on a daily basis in the Pentagon.

He was called before the investigators. And so, the fact that it was big enough for them to speak with him, which I'm told did happen recently, is really notable. And I think it raises the question of whether or not Trump's legal exposure here, given so much of this is undercut what he said publicly at town halls, the idea that what his attorneys have said as well, which is that everything happened so quickly when he moved that he just took these documents with him, didn't really know what it is.

This audio seems to show he does know what he has, that he can't show it, and it's a big interest to the special counsel Jack Smith.

BURNETT: All right. Kaitlan, thank you very much. It is incredible when you think about the reality of the fact that there are tapes. All right. So, OUTFRONT now, let's go to former Trump White House

lawyer Ty Cobb.

So, Ty, you know, when we've talked about this so many times. You have told me the special counsel has an open and shut obstruction case in the classified documents probe. You've been clear about that for a long time.

But now, we know the special counsel has this tape of Trump admitting there are limits on his ability to declassify documents. Let's just start with that one very specific point. What does that mean for possible charges here?

TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: Well, it could mean two things. One, it further enhances the obstruction case because it eviscerates the two defenses that Trump has put forward, the first being that merely by taking documents, he declassifies them, or that he has the authority if he is playing with the ducks in the hot tub to declassify them in his own mind.

Those are out the door now because he's admitted that he understood there were restraints on what he could do with documents. As we know from the 16 agency letters that were disclosed two weeks ago and the multiple people who advised him to that effect from the White House counsel's office upon his departure. So that's a compelling fact.

This makes it easier to prove. But it wasn't -- it's not in real dispute. On the other hand, it does show that he's been deceptive in his own statements.

The second is it could put additional pressure on Jack Smith to tie the obstruction case to the actual possession in use or dissemination of the classified documents. Now, whether he will or not is, of course, for him to decide. It's a strategic decision.

You know, my own view is he doesn't -- he doesn't need to, you know, extend or compromise the obstruction case by taking on the burden of the classified documents case because he gets the full benefit of the classified documents, evidence anyway in through statements like this.

So I think this makes the obstruction case more compelling. It could add the two cases, the obstruction and the possession and use of the classified information together. But that would delay things. And I don't think -- I don't see any eagerness on the part of Jack Smith and his team to slow down. I think they have -- I think they have their foot on his neck.

I noticed that Trump, as he did three days before he was indicted by Alvin Bragg, was raising money today on the alleged coming indictment by Jack Smith. So I think Trump and his own team believe this is going to come quickly.

BURNETT: All right. So, you know -- and I just want to follow up on this point about what the documents were about. We understand that what he's talking about on the tapes is this classified document detailing a potential strike on Iran. He's rustling papers around. It's unclear whether that was the exact paper, sort of the implication

is that it is, but it's unclear. But he's talking about classified information, acknowledging the limitations and sharing it.

But does it increase the chances for charges here, you know, related to whether it be espionage or anything like that, given that you're talking about sensitive classified information about foreign policy?

COBB: It could. But I'm not sure that it will, given who the audience was and what the intent of the conversation was. It would be different, of course, if he was selling this, you know, to --


BURNETT: But you're saying because it's Mark Meadows, essentially a ghost writers' team that it may be different?

COBB: Right. But the question you ask about what was he rustling? One of the key questions that is open here is the document that we're referring to here --


BURNETT: All right, it sounds like we just lost -- Ty's connection there froze.

But I want to go straight to our panel here to respond to what he was able to share with us. Ryan Goodman, former special counsel to the Department of Defense, and Alyssa Farah Griffin, former Trump White House director of strategic communications.

OK. So, welcome to both of you.

So, Alyssa, let me just start with you to respond to what Ty is saying here. You worked closely with Trump, obviously, and closely with classified documents in several of your roles both at the White House and at the Department of Defense. Did you get the sense that Trump understood the rules of classification beyond, oh, if I think about it, therefore it is?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. He very much so did, and I can think of a number of instances without seeing anything that would go into the classified space, where he wanted to declassify something, maybe because of how it was playing in the media or something that he thought was being perceived inaccurately, and he went through the channels working with his national security advisers and others, and was told not to.

So he knew there was a process in place in the West Wing. There were many things that he was interested in declassifying that never were, in fact, put out.

Can I note one thing on this? Because the legal side, Ryan knows much better than me, as does Ty Cobb, but the national security and homeland security implications of this document existing at a country club in New Jersey, military options to take a strike on Iran -- I mean, we've had our former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, Robert O'Brien, still travel with security details because the threats from the Iranian regime, after the Soleimani strike, that we would just willy-nilly have this document laying around?

BURNETT: We should remember the context here. I think it's really important that you raised, and I'm so glad you did, right, that Trump authorized a strike of a high ranking IRGC member, right, and that there had been this very clear articulated -- that there was going to be a response from Iran.

GRIFFIN: Exactly, and to simply have those options lying about posed threats to anyone who came in proximity to them, there's espionage concerns as well, it's stunning on multiple levels.

BURNETT: So, you know, Ryan, I think that context here is so crucial when we talk about the legal ins and outs here, right? I mean, Ty Cobb has been very clear on the obstruction part, I know that you agree with him on that. But in the context of what Alyssa saying, this document being out and about at a country club when people have security details who were former members of the administration because of threats from Iran, does that change the case here on espionage for the special counsel?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL DEPT. OF DEFENSE: Absolutely. So, this is probably among the most highly classified documents in the national security apparatus of the U.S. government, the plans for attacking Iran. And it would be enormously prejudicial to U.S. national security to have this out there in the wild, let alone to be discussing it with people who do not have security clearances, the other people in the room according to CNN's reporting have no security clearances.

BURNETT: That's right, yeah. They were ghost writers for Mark Meadows book.

GOODMAN: That's right. And that's what the Espionage Act is about. It would nail almost any U.S. official who has them out and about and discussing them with people writing an autobiography for some official, that is what the espionage act is for. It says willful retention of espionage information. We know that Trump has it, that is willful retention, he has it after being in office, and this is national defense information at the highest order.

BURNETT: So, Alyssa, you know, when you go through the details here, are you surprised -- we understand, from things we already know, we knew we had classified documents lying around his office. So clearly he knew he had them. We have established that already.

But we obviously had not established with respect to a document like this one. Are you surprised, even given what you know, the love letter from Kim Jong Un, information about Emmanuel Macron, whatever we know that he had, that this would have been among the documents?

GRIFFIN: This is very striking to me, because I've always said this case is going to come down to what is actually in the documents. The public should never know beyond high-level what is in the documents because of the security implications, but military options, that's usually eyes only, that's password protected, that's something with, I had a TSSCI security clearance, unless there is a reason I would need to know, I would never have the ability to know something.

This is the highest tier of senior officials who are literally making decisions on a military strike. And it seems like the motivation was simply to defame Mark Milley, or to try to say that he was going to -- he wanted to be more aggressive toward Iran, which by the way I worked for General Milley as well, I would always believe him over Mark Meadows or Donald Trump in terms of his intentions. He was somebody who knew the risks posed by Donald Trump taking some kind of just action that was significant in the final days of his presidency. And this is just reckless, at every level.

BURNETT: So, Ryan, in that context, when Trump has said, and I repeat it, over -- played him and others over many -- over a year, right. I'm sorry, documents were deemed to be declassified the moment he removed them. You could classify them just by saying it's declassified, even by thinking about it, says Trump. They become automatically declassified when I took them.

This at least exposes all of those things to be lies. Does that matter?

GOODMAN: Absolutely. It matters in the first sense of that he can't raise it as a defense.


And then it also matters in the way in which Ty Cobb just referred to it. He said, now, we can look back at all those statements and they were deceptive, exactly.

So, that's what the prosecutors would say to the jury. Why do you think he's engaging in this public deception? Why is he not owning up to it? Why is he making up an excuse that we now know to be a lie, or wrong, or false? That is incriminating as well.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much. I appreciate it.

And I -- we have Ty Cobb back.

And I just want to, Ty, ask you one very crucial thing here, which is at this point given all of this, given what you know, given these tapes, if you were still Trump's lawyer in this case, what would you tell him to do based on how solid the evidence is now against him?

COBB: So, I would be explaining to him that one of the things that's confirmed, Erin, there is the discussion we've had over a year about my beliefs that Meadows has been cooperating all along. Two, for the reasons you just described and the sensitivity.

You know, these -- the Milley documents will never see the light of day, and it makes difficult to be part of the church. There are mechanisms you can go through, but it is -- it would be difficult to use them as exhibits because there are crown jewels, we are not going to share that with the world.

But I would be telling Trump that he's dead. He needs to -- he needs to see you what he can work out, you know, what might be a reasonable resolution with certain admissions by him.

I know for a fact that will never happen. Trump is not capable of being accountable. His narcissism cripples him in that way, he will not admit guilt.

He wants this to delay as long as possible, with the hope that he'll be in the presidency before this gets to a jury. That he can then pardon himself under his own theory, and he's already shown the willingness to burn the country down. This is not an obstacle in his head. He believes he can win. And he will never, ever admit guilt.

So there will be a lot of people telling him that, at least three of the prosecutors involved, all good lawyers -- Todd Blanche, John Rowley, Jim Trusty -- experienced Department of Justice officials, I'm sure will be trying to explain that to him. But he won't -- he won't yield. He's not going to yield on that.

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

And, you know, you mentioned Jim Trusty. So, everyone's going to want to hear what he has to say. He's going to be joining Abby Philip tonight at 9:00. So make sure you tune in to that interview to see what he does -- what he does say to her about all of this.

Well, next, is Putin running scared? We have some new details about the growing concerns inside the Kremlin about other Russians.

Plus, does McCarthy have the votes? The final vote in the House on raising the debt ceiling is starting soon, within the next few minutes here, we understand. And it is still not certain whether it will pass.

And China firing back, accusing Washington of fabricating facts after a mid-air military encounter between the two countries was caught on video.



BURNETT: Tonight, debris from a U.S. Patriot missile raining down on a street in Kyiv. The stunning video proving that the most sophisticated air defense system in the world was used to stop Russia when it fired 11 cruise and ballistic missiles at the Ukrainian capital this week.

This comes as Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian private army, the Wagner group, lashed out in a response to a question from CNN about whether he would be a holding a press conference in Russia.


YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER CHIEF (through translator): We are getting ready for a long, hard war. The first message to CNN is that you have to respect Russia.


BURNETT: Now, Prigozhin went on to issue a violent threats, violent and graphic threat. Certainly not the first time that progression has lashed out, of course, under pressure.

The war he is fighting has caused that pressure, making its way deeper into Russian territory. Drone and artillery attacks in the country are on the rise, so much that Vladimir Putin's top propagandist is saying that nuclear weapons should be used to destroy Elon Musk's Starlink satellites, which is crucial technology that Ukraine it is believed to use to launch drone strikes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think it's time to turn up the heat. We understand that all drones and everything else works for Americans only while Starlink exists. So if we carefully launch our nukes into space, then there will be no Starlink left.




SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ukraine's not claiming responsibility for these attacks inside Russia. But, if Kyiv gets blamed, that's just fine. There's more to come.

MYKHAILO PODOLYAK, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY (through translator): The number of incidents is constantly increasing. Not only in the border areas, but also in the depths of Russia. It's already happening. The scale will be exponential.

KILEY: Here, an oil refinery in Russia's far south is set aflame. While along Ukraine's northern border with its invader, civilian areas are hit by shelling.

Apartments riddled with shrapnel, commonplace in Ukraine, a new experience for Russians. Ukraine's new strategy is taking shape inside Russia. Drone in artillery attacks have hit Russian targets in an arc, along its Ukrainian border provinces of Bryansk, Kursk, Belgorod, Voronezh, and Krasnodar.

And Moscow has not been spared either. On the deck of a Royal Navy warship, key Ukrainian ally, the United Kingdom, gave Kyiv a green light to attack Russia.

JAMES CLEVERLY, U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY: Legitimate military targets beyond its own border are part of Ukraine's self defense. And we should recognize -- we should recognize that.

KILEY: In response, former Russian president and close Putin ally Dimitry Medvedev claimed on Twitter that as the U.K. is in an undeclared war against Russia, any British official could be considered as a legitimate military target.


Now that would be an escalation even Vladimir Putin might resist.


KILEY (on camera): Now, Erin, you mentioned the use of nuclear weapons against Starlink satellites there. That would be technically impossible. I have to say also a locally they're not used by a drones that could strike as deep into Russia as Moscow.

But this, I think, should be seen, what we're seeing in Russia, as a completely new phase of the Ukrainian strategy. This could be effectively what we have all been talking about, which is the beginning of their counteroffensive. They're launching it, and they're launching it in Russia -- Erin.

BURNETT: Wow. So well-said.

All right. Sam, thank you very much on the ground in Ukraine tonight.

And OUTFRONT now, I want to go to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist. His latest article details the Kremlin's panic over the increasing number of anti-Putin Russian exiles living abroad.

So, Andrei, I want to play more from Prigozhin, who told CNN that he and his allies speak directly to the Russian people, because he says Russian state media is trying to hide the true reality of the war. Let me play another brief clip here for you.


PRIGOZHIN (through translator): We discuss how to best convey an honest agenda to the Russian Federation population about what is happening. So as on the one hand, not to sow panic, and on the other hand, to mobilize society and not mollify it as some, including the federal media, are currently doing.


BURNETT: Andrei, what do you think he is doing here?

ANDREI SOLDATOV, RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, first of all, we all understand that Prigozhin already has his media empire. He has his troll factories, his recording his videos almost on a daily basis. So obviously it has no communication problems.

It is about something else, and that's the fact that he is sensing that Vladimir Putin, well, they saw, will have no choice but to start preparing the country to enter into the next stage, to switch to the war mode. And for that, there would be a substantial effort, including mobilization and tightening of rules, and it is quite obvious that Prigozhin wants to be part of this effort.

And he does have his own ideas, for instance, to mobilize elites by sending their kids to the battlefields. So he is very resourceful.

BURNETT: So, in your new article, you talk about a growing number of anti-Putin Russian exiles, and that the Kremlin is very afraid of this, and has been attempting to stoke a paranoia among them, perhaps of what's, you know, killings them or poisonings, or who knows what it might be. But that the Kremlin has this worry of enemies plotting abroad.

What more are you learning?

SOLDATOV: Well, they say that there is a combination of things. First of all, these attacks on Moscow have a huge profound psychological effect on Moscovites and on the Russian elites. Everybody immediately remembered that 23 years ago, while what happened (AUDIO GAP) Vladimir Putin to become president was fear felt by many Moscovites because back then, I remember that very vividly, there was a serious attack on civilians in Moscow.

So, Putin promised the Russians to protect them. And that is why so many Russians decided to sacrifice their liberties -- civil liberties in exchange for this protection. And now there is no protection, and there is no liberties, and everybody understands that, including the Kremlin. That is why they are getting paranoid, and we hear reports about more poisonings and more attacks on Russian political opposition in exile.

BURNETT: All right. Andrei, thank you very much. I appreciate your time tonight.

SOLDATOV: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, an important vote on America's debt. As I said, it's really just about to start in the House. The thing, of course, with Kevin McCarthy is, well, you can't say you've got it until you've got it. It's unclear if he has the votes, and whether there's trouble ahead for his speakership. So, as we await that vote count, we're going to go live there.

Plus, North Korea. Kim Jong-un's sister now vowing to launch another spy satellite after the latest attempt today failed. Why this is possibly very significant for North Korea's nuclear ambitions.



BURNETT: We are just moments away right now from the final vote on raising the debt ceiling in the House of Representatives, and it is a fraught situation. This vote has virtually no room for error for the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He appears confident, at least for now that he has enough votes from Republicans to pass the deal.

Some Republicans, though, are threatening to oust McCarthy as speaker over the deal that he struck with President Biden.

So let's go straight to Capitol Hill and our Lauren Fox who has been breaking so much of this.

So, Lauren, I guess, let's just start here with this crucial vote. You know, we remember the speaker's vote when, you know, McCarthy thought he had it. And he didn't. So just because you're confident, you don't necessarily know if you've got the goods. Does he have the votes, and if so, does it come at a cost to his speakership?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Republicans and Democrats are extremely confident, Erin, that they are going to have the votes tonight. In fact, they got a little bit of a preview of that earlier today with the House rule. That was the procedural step in this entire process, but they believe that they are going to have the votes and Kevin McCarthy and his allies are confident that they could have a majority of the majority.

That is a key thing for that Republican majority, and part because some of that concern you've heard from members on the far right is that they are going to take steps perhaps to oust him if he cannot get that majority of the majority. He is very confident tonight, Erin, his allies are very confident tonight that he will easily be able to pass this out of the House of Representatives.

BURNETT: All right. And as you just heard it from Lauren, right, he needs a majority of the majority, or else that speakership threat really becomes very real.

So, Lauren, then you go to the Senate, five days until the U.S. defaults, right? Getting it through the House is fine and good, it's important, but if it doesn't get to the presidents desk than it is moot.

So there are a lot of complaints from senators at both parties. What is the latest there?


FOX: Yeah. There is a lot of hand wringing from Republicans and Democrats, although many of them realize that the only option is to vote for this, or risk a default. So what you are going to see is this coalition in the middle in the U.S. Senate. But how quickly they move is really the key question right now.

Republican and Democratic leaders are telling us that they could see this start to move as soon as tomorrow, but they have to have a time agreement. You need all 100 senators to agree to do that. And like you noted, there are some expressing concern. Some of them are calling for amendment votes. If they get those votes, they are saying that they will not stole this process out. But you have to get that agreement first.

I also want to note that there are some Democrats and some others who are already threatening to vote against this legislation.

Here's Bernie Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Sometimes you have to stand up for what's right. This bill will eventually pass. The idea that Republicans want to hold us hostage is unacceptable.

But at the end of the day, you know what? The American people, in my view, are sick and tired of seeing deficit reduction come on the backs of working people who are struggling.


FOX: And John Thune said yesterday that he is very confident that Republicans are going to be able to get the votes that they need. That is going to be a number of them, in order to get this passed with a bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate. But again, they might lose some on their side as well. In part because there is a lot of concern about the fact that defense number, Erin, is not high enough for Republicans.

BURNETT: All right. Lauren, thank you very much. Monitoring that, of course, as the vote begins. We're going to be showing it to you.

Also, tonight, Trump trying to one-up DeSantis in Iowa, both candidates are campaigning there tonight. In fact, they're all converging on the state over the next few days.

Trump actually choosing not to hold one of his hallmark rallies in Iowa, instead choosing to speak at smaller events with grassroots activists. Some surprise stops, diners, pizza restaurants, according to one source. So it's sort of a different strategy.

It comes as DeSantis has been criticized by donors and people in his own party for his lack of retail politics.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't make excuses. But we have to be able to get the job done.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to seize the reins of the Republican Party from the hands of Donald Trump, pitching himself as a fighter who can win.

GOV. DESANTIS: This bureaucracy is imposed its will on us for far too long. It's about time we impose our will on it, and that it answers to we, the people.

ZELENY: On his first full day of campaigning across Iowa as a declared presidential candidate, DeSantis made clear he would draw distinctions with the former president on his terms.

GOV. DESANTIS: I'm going to counterpunch. I'm going to fight back on it. I'm going to focus my fire on Biden, and I think he should do the same. He gives Biden a free pass. I'm focusing on Biden. ZELENY: But long before DeSantis can confront President Biden, he must

first get through a Republican primary, in a growing field of challengers, including former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who are poised to enter the race next week.

But Trump still enlarges (ph) over the race, tonight, he arrives here to offer something of a rebuttal to DeSantis. The latest sign the race is intensifying, with the Iowa caucuses early next year among the first test for the strength of Trump's grip on the GOP.

Simon Yentes (ph) is among the Iowa Republicans weighing their options. And at this point, she is utterly undecided.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a tremendous amount of respect for many things president Trump did in office. So I have to keep that in mind. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for what Governor DeSantis has done in Florida.

ZELENY: DeSantis addressed those Republicans directly. Bluntly saying Trump can't win a general election.

GOV. DESANTIS: I think our voters are looking at this and they say, yeah, we appreciate what he did, but we also recognize there are a lot of voters that aren't going to vote for him. We have to accept that.

ZELENY: Even his questions about his own electability remain unanswered, DeSantis touts his deeply conservative Florida record, as he introduces himself to Iowa voters, he stepped up his subtle contrast with Trump.

GOV. DESANTIS: At the end of the day, leadership is not about entertainment. It is not about building a brand. It's not about virtue signaling. It is about results.

ZELENY: At his side was his closest political adviser, his wife Casey, who picked up the argument where he left off.

CASEY DESANTIS, WIFE OF RON DESANTIS: At the end of the day, I say that it matters in the moment. And you see how leader conducts himself when the lights are on.


ZELENY (on camera): And it was Casey DeSantis who made perhaps some of the sharpest comments of all. She said that voters should not elect people who are beholden to the polls, who blow in the winds. She called them listless vessels.

Now, she did not mention President Trump by name, but that was her clear assertion there.

But, Erin, at the end of the campaign as the governor heads to New Hampshire and then on to South Carolina this week, he is introducing himself to Iowa voters as a person of strength.


The question is, though, as this field continues to grow and grow, is the supporters for the never Trump lane going to be divided? Will that be a challenge for him?

But President Trump here in Iowa tonight, he will be campaigning in a small way tomorrow -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you.

And we do have two presidential town halls coming up on CNN over the next week. On Sunday, the former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. She will be live in Iowa for a town hall starting at 8:00. And a town hall with Mike Pence will be on Wednesday night at nine.

Meantime, up front next, Kim Jong-un's sister vowing North Korea will have a spy satellite in space soon, after the first attempt failed. It's a launch that is raising the stakes in Pyongyang's nuclear standoff with the United States.

Plus, a Manson family member who took part in the grisly murders that terrified Los Angeles in the country might be about to get out of prison.


BURNETT: Tonight, the Chinese military accusing the United States of, quote, fabricating facts and framing China. This after the Pentagon showed that video of a Chinese fighter jet coming within 400 feet of a U.S. spy plane, which is flying in international airspace.

And this coming, this tension rising as China's ally, North Korea, is also upping the ante tonight. The sister of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is saying that North Korea is determined to send a spy satellite into orbit.


All of this done in an effort to boost the accuracy of North Korea's nuclear weapons.

Will Ripley is OUTFRONT.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time in seven years North Korea is trying to put a satellite into orbit. This time, it is military purpose is no secret. Unlike these launches in 2012 and 2016, Pyongyang no longer promises peaceful civilian research. North Korea wants to deploy a spy satellite.

Experts say it could improve the accuracy of nuclear weapons. Raising the stakes in an escalating standoff with the U.S. and its allies.

North Korea undeterred by a failed first launch early Wednesday. A new rocket Chollima-1 crashed into the Yellow Sea. The nation's space agency blames a new engine system with unstable fuel, state media says. The agency investigating serious flaws, vowing to carry out a second launch as soon as possible.

In South Korea and Japan, air raid sirens sounded within minutes of the satellite launch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was framed as a wartime alert.

RIPLEY: Millions of mobile phone users woke up to evacuation warnings later canceled.

Missile and satellite tests have become part of our daily lives, this Seoul resident says. Another saying -- if North Korea attacks with missiles, that is the end of them.

But this may be just the beginning, analysts say. More missile and satellite launches all but certain.

MALCOLM DAVIS, SENIOR ANALYST, THE AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE: It did cause concern in South Korea and Japan because it simply they don't know what North Koreans are planning to do. It could easily have been a ballistic missile test.

RIPLEY: The U.N. secretary general strongly condemns the launch. The latest brazen violation of human Security Council resolutions by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, flaunting his growing arsenal alongside his young daughter, seen by some as a possible successor. China and Russia blocking attempts at the U.N. to punish Kim's missile testing binge with tougher sanctions.

Japan says North Korea's continued actions threaten the safety and security of our country, the region and the international community.

South Korea racing to retrieve what it says is debris from the failed launch.

We're at North Korea's brand-new satellite control center.

In 2015, I met with the director of North Korea's satellite program. He told me his team of 300 scientists was working nonstop to make North Korea a space superpower.

What can you say to the world to prove that this is not a ballistic missile program in disguise?

Why on earth would we have an intention of trying to drop nuclear bombs on the world, including the United States? The director of scientific research said at the time.

Eight years and a barrage of ballistic missile tests later, North Korean scientists learn more from every launch, even failure brings cam closer to success.


RIPLEY (on camera): And tonight, a sign that North Korea is confident they will be launching more satellites. They are actually releasing images that came out minutes ago, Erin, of this failed launch. They talked about the field launch within hours of it actually happening.

This shows that Kim Jong-un not only intends to have the spy satellite in orbit he's developing other weapons as well, hypersonic missile, a nuclear submarine, advanced solid fuel ICBMs that can be launched without warning, even missiles, potentially nuclear missiles, with multiple warheads -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Will, thank you very much, from Taipei tonight.

And next, a major ruling could pave the way for the release of a Manson family member who took part in those terrible murders in Los Angeles.

And godfathers becoming fathers, again, at the ages of 83 and 79.



BURNETT: Tonight, a California court paving the way for a member of the infamous Manson family who was a convicted murderer to be released from prison on parole. Leslie Van Houten, now in her 70s, was 19 years old when she took part in one of the Manson family's grisly mysterious murders, the murder spree that terrified Los Angeles and the country for months.

Natasha Chen is OUTFRONT.


LESLIE VAN HOUTEN, MANSON FAMILY FOLLOWER: Living with the events of that night is difficult.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seventy-three-year-old Leslie Van Houten has been pleading for her release for decades.

VAN HOUTEN: I knew that what I did is inexcusable.

CHEN: Currently, serving a life sentence, Van Houten was a member of the Charles Manson cult that terrorized Los Angeles on the summer of 1969. She has been found suitable for parole five times since 2016, but never freed because two governors have blocked her release. The most recent was last year, but now an appellate court rulings has Governor Gavin Newsom's decision, quote, amounts to unsupported intuition, fails to account for the decades of therapy, self-help programming, and reflection Van Houten has undergone in the past 50 years.

If that decision stands, Van Houten could be the first defendant in the Charles Manson murders of August, 1969, to be set free. She was a teenager and on drugs when she joined the Manson cult.

VAN HOUTEN: I believe that he was Jesus Christ. CHEN: Van Houten was not part of the group that killed five people

including actress Sharon Tate who is then pregnant and married to director Roman Polanski. But the next night, she did participate in killing supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary, stabbing her 14 to 16 times and wiping suspects' fingerprints.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're making a decision to allow a murderer to come back into your neighborhood, my neighborhood. Last time they were in my neighborhood, they killed my family.

CHEN: Van Houten claims she was handed a knife by a fellow Manson follower who told her to, quote, do something.

VAN HOUTEN: I'm very sorry for what happened.

CHEN: In the half centuries since, she has been a model prisoner serving on various councils and groups within the prison, getting a masters degree and mental health treatment.


The appellate court's ruling puts her the closest she's ever been to freedom. But her fate now depends on the governor petitioning the state Supreme Court to review that decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She just said, I have to -- I just have to sit back and collect myself, to think about this for a while. So it is a big change. She is ready for the challenge.


CHEN (on camera): That's Van Houten's attorney. She told me that her client is deeply grateful and looking forward to translate what she has learned in her long rehabilitation to community service.

Now, she is getting processed for release. That could happen in a matter of days. That is unless the governor petitions, as we mentioned, the state Supreme Court to review this case. And as of this afternoon, Newsom's office told us they don't have updates on if and when that is happening -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Natasha, thank you very much. It's fascinating. Need to watch all that footage.

All right. Well, coming up on "AC360", as we said, the House is going to be taking back the key vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling in the last hour, and, of course, in this world, it's a nail biter and you don't know until you know. Anderson is going to be following the developments from Capitol Hill live at 8:00.

Meantime next, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro of "Godfather" fame, they are not a about to become great grandfathers or grandfathers, no. They're becoming fathers again.



BURNETT: And, finally, tonight, the godfather is about to become a father again.


AL PACINO, ACTOR: I spent my life protecting my family.


BURNETT: And yes, you heard me correctly, 83-year-old Al Pacino is not going to be a new grandfather or a new great-grandfather. He is going to be a father again. Pacino's 29-year-old girlfriend is now eight months pregnant, due in the next couple of few weeks we understand.

And, by the way, it's not just Pacino who's the only godfather to become a father. His long old friend Robert de Niro just welcomed his seventh child at the age of 79. De Niro is also a grandfather to four children.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.