tv Dateline MSNBC January 14, 2019 12:00am-1:01am PST
>> it's a strange thing that happens among the bogs of marshes, the soft soil here in coastal florida. things of a way of coming up, things buried in the ground, in the past, or bones. it was july 2003, beaches quiet, snowbirds back up north. so no one noticed at first what was starting inland in a town called pembrooke pines, where donna, a rookie, really, had just been assigned to a brand-new cold case unit. >> the sergeant came into the office and dropped a box of papers right on my desk and said, here, see what you can do with this. and i began to wonder, hmm, is this a test to see could she really do this? >> to say the case was a challenge was an understatement and now all the forgotten mystery, the disappearance 15 years earlier of a man named david jackson.
the file offered nothing, really, beyond the basic bio. to unearth the truth, even the rookie cop knew she'd have to learn about the victim. so she began with something easy. she found david jackson's mother, judy carlson. >> he said, are you sitting? i said yeah. he said, they reopened david's case. >> the detective and judy talked about david for hours. she loves talking about her boy, even now to us. >> david was my first child. he was just -- loved everything and everyone. ♪ happy birthday to you >> he would walk in the room and everyone would be a magnet to him. >> david was the eldest of judy's three children and mark jackson idolized his older brother. >> he looked out for me and he was that way with his friends,
with everybody. >> doug brown was one of those friends. brown and david worked together at a burger king where david became a manager. brown also had a front row see to the budding romance between jackson and a pretty 16-year-old co-worker named barbara britton. >> they were together that's awesome. if you can find love, that's awesome. that's what we all want. >> detective velasquez paid a visit to the girl. happy to help, she told the detective. same thing she told us when she talked about the david that she knew. >> a very good looking man, started talking, sweet, nice, kind, swept me off my feet. he was a good guy. >> and as she talked it became clear, deep emotions would not stay beneath the surface. >> i was young. i was still going to school. this was my first love.
>> two youngsters in love and then things happen, don't they? >> mom, i've got something to tell you. i said, what? and he said, barbara is pregnant. >> judy was surprised, a little worried maybe but nowhere near as barbara's parents, particularly her dad, an ex-marine who was not very impressed with young mr. jackson, or so judy heard. >> mr. britton did not like him. i don't know why. >> still, david was walking on air. >> he said, mom, i'm going to have sell the truck and i said why and he said i'm going to be a father and a husband. >> so the handsome boy and girl got married, even though they were just kids and very soon parents to a son john jackson and they fought, made up, fought again, babies having babies is no easy thing.
>> we were just too young and to have a baby and all the time -- it was difficult for him and it was difficult for me. >> so who is was the first person to say, you've got to have a divorce? >> my dad. >> how did david take it? >> he was just kind of like -- let's just -- >> get it over with? >> find somebody, some lawyers and see what we have to do and that was it. >> the two divorced in 1985. david arranged weekend visits with john. >> how were they together? >> wonderful. johnny just clung to him. they loved each other. >> they all moved on. a couple of years later, barbara married again, michael wolff, an ex-military man like her dad. about the same age as her dad, too. >> your dad and new husband probably saw eye to eye a lot. >> they sure did. they had a lot in common, they would talk a lot. >> wolfe took barbara and john to live with him in arizona. but david wanted to be a part of his son's life. so he traveled out west to see the boy. >> he went out there with a
friend of his and they saw johnny for three days. i've got pictures of johnny in like the old western town and everything. >> maybe it was something about the distance, said barbara. >> we became very good friends and we used to talk a lot. >> in fact, what she felt deep in her heart never did go away. >> i'll always love david. >> and then it was june 25th, 1988, david's brother mark was flying into town to visit the family. david was to pick him up at the airport but when mark arrived, he waited and waited, no david. mark jackson had terrible feeling. >> no matter what, he would have been there for me. i knew something was wrong, i knew something bad happened. >> oh, yes, very bad. and as the rookie detective donna velasquez poked around deep in the past, that something was reaching up through the mud to tell her its long neglected story.
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lauderdale, the day the mystery began, when a young man named david jackson failed to meet his brother mark at the airport. >> it was a gut feeling that something was wrong and i knew it. >> 15 years later, donna relived that puzzling time. david's ex-wife barbara, by then remarried and living in arizona, got a call from david's worried mother. barbara says she wasn't worried. not then. >> i thought, well, okay, he was with one of his girlfriends and she said, we're doing a missing person's report and i said, no, he's going to call me in a couple of days just like he always does and he never called. he never called. >> one day turned into the next. police, family, everybody tried to find him. but couldn't. >> started looking, searching, canals, pipes, little bridges on dirt roads, anywhere, a car that
looked like his drove by, you did a u-turn and you chased it. >> how long did that go on? >> that went on until they found his car. >> which, more than three months later, turned out to be at the airport. so did he just take off? his close friend didn't think so. >> if he got on a plane and he -- maybe he wanted to do something different and i was like, no, he wouldn't do that. >> for one thing, david had been preparing for the arrival in two weeks of his 5-year-old son john. this was a big one, a month-long summer visit. >> he was preparing for this visit? >> oh, yeah, he wanted everything perfect. >> and right in the middle of preparations he vanished? it didn't make sense. but the days turned into weeks, months, years. not a sign of david. the please went on to newer cases but his mother never let up, phoning, nagging, writing. she knew david was out there somewhere.
>> i wrote letters to oprah winfrey, to america's most wanted. and then i thought, okay, make i can have a picture of him on the semis. i did all of the letters. but it was -- it took me a long time to finish any letter about him because i didn't want the ending to be like i thought it was. >> a little piece of her still hoping for good news. part of her mourning a loss. >> i found a therapist right away. she said take like 20 minutes every day, either scream and cry in the morning, scream and cry at night. >> can anybody who hasn't been in your shoes understand what it's like for a mother? >> no. >> now years later the investigation was back in high gear. judy told the detective that in some corner of her heart she still hoped david might just turn up safely some day. the detective, however, not for a minute did she think was alive. had he died accidently, surely a
sign would appear. when bodies are not found, it's because someone intentionally hid him. david jackson might show up, just not alive. >> and my wheels started turning and i started thinking, you know, we live in florida. with the crazy weather that we have and the water table that we have, if he were ever buried somewhere, somewhere along the line he will pop up. >> maybe, detective velasquez thought, remains had popped up. after all, it had been a decade and a half since he disappeared. she googled unidentified remains. >> it's going on 10:00, 11:00 and i'm sure my husband is saying where, is that old girl. >> one site after another, dead end, until she got one created by a florida medical examiner. promising.
but exhausting. >> i'm there typing away and typing and typing and it pops up about 100 matches. >> but she was determined. she finally dwindled it down to a possible three. >> one of them really stands out for me that says white male and it says over 6 foot. david's a tall guy. and he's a white male. possibly. >> those particular bones, just a few partial skeletons, turned up during possible construction at a walmart parking lot not far from the place where david lived, surfaced just a year after david dyed had been gathering dust in storage for 15 years. the detective went to see a forensic anthropologist but when the doctor measured the bones -- >> she comes out and says it's looking like he's only about 5'9". >> still, she had a hunch that she had finally found david jackson and she wasn't the sort of person to give up on a hunch. >> and i said, can we please do
this one more time? she comes back and she says, honey, i was wrong the first time. she says, this person is anywhere between 5'9" and 6'1". i said, oh, my gosh, i think i've hit paid dirt. >> she waited for a lab to compare samples and ten days later called the testing facility and she said, i hope you're sitting down and i said why, and she said we have a 100% match? and i said, what? because i'm not believing what i'm hearing. >> 15 years after he disappeared, david jackson had finally been found. the question now was, what happened to him? how did he end up here? coming up, a strange coincidence or was it? >> it's an erie feeling, you know, that he was in the area that i didn't even know about. >> when "dateline" continues.
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it was good detective work that identified david jackson's remains, what was left of them. but a fewer chance that a partial skull was found at all. >> they were getting ready to build a walmart and a construction worker came across some bones. he reported it. they went out and dug up a bunch of bones.
>> and put the bones somewhere and forgot about it? >> they were found about a year after he disappeared and they sat in the morgue for 15 years. >> sat there all those years, even those that loved david held out a shred of hope that he was alive somewhere. >> as far as i know he was disappeared, he was missing. >> but now detective velasquez had a hard truth to tell. he was dead. not missing. he had been murdered all of those years ago, likely before his friends and family even knew that he was gone, which put a final on his mother's hope for return and apparently an ex-wife's what ifs. >> were you seriously thinking, maybe some day i'll get back together with him? >> when it's your first love, you always think, wow, you know, what if?
>> strange how things turn out. barbara had moved back to florida, remarried again, had a daughter, took a job at walmart, but still held a candle for david even as he lay under the ground practically next door to the very walmart where she worked. >> what did that do to you? >> it's an erie feeling, you know, that he was in that area that i didn't even know about. >> such an odd coincidence, too odd, maybe? time for a chat. detective velasquez called barbara got herself invited over to barbara's house. barbara seemed to have no problem talking about david. >> she said she cared about him a lot. and i say, well, how is david as a father? well, david became abusive towards johnny physically and emotionally, verbally. >> wait a minute. this was a whole new wrinkle. up till now, everything about david's history had been squeaky-clean.
>> as an investigator and as a mom, i began to say, did you ever call the police? she said, oh, no. i never called the police. she says, i just thought he would change. she proceeds to tell me that, i documented the injuries with photographs. never produced any photographs for me. >> barbara changed her story, said it was really her father, not her, who accused david of abusing his son and today she questions the allegation. >> by dad was looking to counselors and having them evaluate it and stuff like that because i would just be like, this is david, you know, what are you talking about? >> but, of course, the detective couldn't talk to barbara's father about abuse or murder or anything else. harry britton had been dead for years but barbara had more information for the detective. she recalled a troubling conversation she had had with david. at the time, david was working for coca-cola, delivering the product.
>> he told me that someone was placing drugs on his coke-cola route and through his route they were being taken off of the truck. i said, wow. that's pretty serious. she says, yeah. >> interesting. >> very. >> to the detective, that sounded like a made-up story, almost as if she was trying to divert suspicion away from someone. an ex-wife would qualify, of course, as a person of interest in this kind of case but as velasquez and we learn, barbara had an alibi. she wasn't anywhere near florida, she said, when david disappeared. >> i was not in florida. i was in arizona in the apartment. i was nowhere around here. >> and lacking any further evidence, the detective was stalled, dead in the water, unless maybe the man barbara was married to at the time knew
something, michael wolff. a little checking revealed wolfe had been married seven times. number six, a woman named nancy graham, lived in alabama. velasquez called her. >> i told her, i'm investigating the disappearance of david jackson and she said to me, how much evidence do you have against him? and i said, i can't discuss the evidence with you but i can tell you that it's enough for me to put him away right now. i was just totally bluffing. i had really nothing. i'm just throwing it out there. >> uh-huh. >> you know, fishing that long line, if something bites, i'm reeling it in. and she says, honey, let me call you back. >> the minutes tick, by, velasquez waits by the phone and when nancy calls back, what she said blew the case wide open. >> she started telling me about
who was involved, how it happened, where it happened, what they did, how they did it, how they planned it. >> they? why, yes, they. and, by the way, beware the sting of an ex-wife's tale. >> she says, i'm going to tell you everything you need to know. but they can be welreally expensive. a puppy, so to save money i just found them a possum. dad, i think he's dead. probably just playin' possum. there he is.
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up with was an increasingly web of relationships. david jackson was married to barbara britton. her father disliked david. barbara later married wolfe and they divorced and he married two more times. but now finally one of wolfe's ex-wives, a woman named nancy, was telling her she knew everything about what happened to david. >> can you tell me again? >> i know how he was killed and what they did with him. >> how did she know? according to the ex, michael drank, a lot. >> every night he would almost down a whole bottle of scotch and i guess he just needed to talk. >> and the story wolfe told implicated more than just himself.
here's what happened, as nancy heard it. wolfe and harry britton rented a hotel room on that long july night, invited david to a meeting there. >> and when he gets at the hotel, they have a very small conversation and michael shot david in the head. >> he told me he had to get so drunk to do it and that the first shot didn't kill him. he had to shoot him again. >> after which, as nancy relayed the story -- >> they did take his car to the airport and left it there. then they took him over to -- i mean, there was an empty lot there. >> uh-huh. >> and that's where he buried him. >> he did not spare the detail, said nancy. >> and he did tell me he poured some corrosive and i think it was lime is what he poured over the body. >> sure enough, that was consistent with the investigation. >> along with that story came what sounded like a motive. david disappeared, you remember,
as he was preparing for a visit from his 5-year-old son john. >> they decided david needed be rid of because they didn't want him in his life. >> david killed just to keep him out of his son's life? >> and, boom, it clicked for me all of a sudden, i said, wow, that's over child custody. that's why he's not here today. >> that was the motive? >> that was the motive. >> that was wolfe's confession a true story or just alcohol-fueled bravado? there was no way to know for sure but it was enough to bring about the arrest in october 2004 of michael wolfe, now living in ohio. but an arrest is not a conviction made and as michael wolfe cooled his heels, he sent a letter and centered on a conversation with his ex-wife barbara's father harry a few months before the murder. a reporter who writes for the broward county new times read the letter.
all michael would admit to was meeting harry in a park near the walmart overlooking the place where the bones would come out. >> michael looked over to that plot of land and said, well, if you needed to bury a body, that would be a good place to do it. and then he concluded his letter with, and i don't know if he had listened or not. >> apparently he did. >> if michael wolfe had really not known anything beyond that point, it would get him off the hook and leave it in the hands of harry britton. >> so michael was pinning the murder on no one but harry, who was safely dead and could tell no tales. but she believed she had enough evidence to bring michael wolfe to stand trial for the murder of david jackson. >> we did the arrest warrant and
within a couple of days we were flying out to ohio to extradite michael wolfe back to florida. >> how did he react? >> he said some pretty harsh words. >> what did he say? >> he said, i'm [ bleep ]. >> finally, after 15 years, she had made sure someone was going to be held accountable for the death of david jackson. >> it was the culmination of 16 months of such a long, grueling up and down tiresome investigation of nights of not sleeping, of days of going to work and living off of coffee. i thought, you know what, this is what it's all about. >> it was november 2007 when michael wolfe went on trial for murder. after so many years, any physical evidence was long gone but what prosecutors did have was the verbal confession, the drunken story his ex-wife that he had told her.
>> he told me he shot him in the head and he told me that he had a silencer on the gun. >> now she, too, was called to the stand. that was enough. the jury was out less than an hour. the verdict was guilty. at the sentencing, life in prison, david jackson's family confronted michael wolfe, not just to condemn him, but to ask a question because there was still a piece missing, something that didn't make sense. what was david doing in that motel room the night they killed him? why did he walk into that trap? >> mr. britton was ten minutes down the road. david is not a stupid child at 24. why would mr. britton want to see him in a hotel? >> they demanded there would be no justice, they told wolfe, unless everyone was held
accountable. outside the courtroom, david's brother encountered the state's attorney and said, he's going to tell you. he said, he's not going to tell me anything. he said, i saw it in his eyes. he will tell you. >> in fact, it was two days later when wolfe finally confessed the true measure of his guilt and gave police firsthand his unedited version of events the night they say they buried david jackson in the shifting florida clay. was someone else involved? oh, yes, said michael wolfe. she certainly was. coming up, what made david go to that motel? >> it was a woman who was on the phone. david takes the phone, comes out a while later, he's all spruced up, ready to go out. >> when "dateline" continues.
in november of 2007, the man who shot david jackson to death was found guilty of the crime and sent to prison for the rest of his life. but a couple of days after he was sentenced, wolfe sent out word that he was ready to tell the rest of the story. sure, he said he was the trigger man and, yes, his father-in-law was determined to get rid of david permanently. but to set their trap, to lure david to the kill site, the motel, they needed bait and that bait, said wolfe, was barbara. barbara who did not require percent situation.
quite the contrary, said mr. wolfe. >> barbara britton is in the middle. from what i was able to learn about david, he would have never gone to that hotel room to meet harry britton. he would have never gone to that hotel room to meet michael wolfe. he would have gone there to meet barbara. >> the woman who claimed to hold a torch all those years is the very same woman who called him on the phone and enticed him to go to that hotel room to be killed. >> they needed to use barbara as the lure because david still had feelings for barbara. >> evidence? david had a roommate and that roommate heard david take a phone call just before he went out that night. >> he was pretty sure it was a woman who was on the phone. david takes the phone, goes into his room, comes out a little while later, he's all spruced up, ready to go out, he's got a smile on his face, combing his hair, he's putting on his cologne and david jackson left
the apartment at that point. that was the last that any of his friends saw him at that point. >> what really happened at the motel? wolfe said he hid in the bathroom when david arrived. >> barbara answered and he was glad to see her. they sat on the edge of the bed and barbara had a stun gun and barbara hit david with a stun gun. >> but the stun gun malfunctioned so wolfe stepped out of the bathroom with his gun. >> he had the gun wrapped in the towel and about that time harry britton came into the room and said, he's not dead yet, he's still breathing. shoot him again. so he said i thought him again and that shot killed him and they put david's body in the back of harry's vw and transported it to the site where they had already predug the grave so all they had to do was lay the body in there and cover him up.
>> but that wasn't the end of wolfe's tale. a year after the murder he got a call from harry britton. >> he learned that they were going to build a walmart. >> where the bones were? >> where the bones were. >> and harry, michael wolfe told him, you've got to come back down here and move the bones. >> wolfe flew back to florida. >> michael says he found what he could and put them in a trash bag and put the bones out for the trash in a plastic bag. >> michael wolfe's story seemed to tell it all and to cast barbara britton in a leading role. and once she heard that story, detective velasquez was convinced, barbara, determined to keep david away from their son, was a pull partner in his murder. >> what are the chances that either michael wolfe or harry britton forced her to take part in this scheme?
>> forced? >> yeah. >> you don't have to force a willing participant. >> and you believe she was willing? >> yes. >> the detective couldn't help remembering, she said, what barbara told her when she heard that david's bones had been identified. >> strangely enough, the first thing she said to me was, how many bones do you have? >> come on. >> she had participated in retrieving those bones and they thought they had gotten them all. when they had left about 50% behind. >> all this time, said the detective, she just knew barbara had been lying and now she had the goods. we asked barbara about all of this, of course, about her ex-husband's allegations that she was deeply involved in the murder. and she denied it. >> and you had no part in killing david? >> no, i did not. i had no knowledge and i had no part and, you know, little lies here and there that mike keeps changing his story, i think it's just psychotic.
it's just psychotic for the things that he has said. i was 21 back then. i was very -- i don't think company plan much, you know, i mean, i'm not stupid but i'm not that smart. >> now, said barbara, it was all ex-husband michael wolfe's doing and says that that make essence of the strange behavior, particularly the time that david disappeared, when her ex-husband was not with her at home. >> he would always go on business trips and every time i asked he would tell me, don't worry about it, you know, i've got business to take care of. >> but she knew nothing at all about the murder, she insisted. until the penny dropped during a conversation years later with her father. >> i wonder, you know, what he's doing, if he's coming back, i wonder, you know, where he's at or what happened? and he would just be like, you don't have to worry.
he's not around to bother you. >> what was that like to deal with? >> very, very rough. it's my dad. it's my dad. i couldn't accept it. and what satisfaction did it get, you know? did it satisfy him because it sure didn't satisfy me. >> still, in december 2007, it was detective velasquez who got what she wanted. she had worked hard to prove what she believed to be true. that barbara was an integral part of the plot to kill david jackson. and finally now barbara britton was arrested and charged with murder. and now perhaps the jury could answer the question. do you believe this woman? a woman whose hands literally shook, whose tears flowed at the mere mention of her departed ex-husband? do you believe the things she said? >> all the time it was, he's missing. of cells. they doing important stuff.
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maintained her innocence, claims there was a certain reason michael wolfe lied about her that way. it was payback, she says, for something that happened when they were married. and here came another one of those odd stories. earlier, remember, there was the one suggesting drug running on david's delivery truck. now a story about michael and gun running. >> i was putting away laundry one day and i saw a bulge in a dress shirt pocket. >> yeah. >> and there was quite a bit of money there and when he got home from work that night i confronted him on it and he told me that he was doing gun runs to haiti. >> barbara said she told the police about wolfe's alleged gun running. >> and he got mad and even told a cellmate of his -- >> you're going to pay the price? >> yeah. >> interestingly. wolfe hasn't commented but keith, barbara's defense
attorney, suggested wolfe had a much more practical motive. >> michael wolfe was initially offered a 15-year plea bargain to testify against whoever his accomplices might be and lo and behold, there was an option at that point to maybe get that 15 years back. that was his motivation. >> in other words, said barbara's attorney, wolfe would sell out barbara any way he could to get a reduced sentence. of course, there was the uncomfortable fact of the two unprompted confessions of his ex-wives, in which he portrayed barbara as sort of a black widow, intent on having david killed. >> well, there are two versions that he gave to each of those ex-wives. >> the stories were not entirely consistent, said attorney seltzer. besides, barbara was at home in arizona the night of the murder. how does he know that?
>> a phone bill from her mother's home placing calls to her home in arizona that night when nobody else could have been there. >> what's a phone bill of that age doing lying around somewhere where it can be grabbed for evidence by the defendant? >> the father was a meticulous record keeper. >> what's to say that wasn't an answering service that picked it up. >> michael wolfe testified in their first deposition that they had no answering machine. >> could have been someone else in the home. >> we questioned mr. wolfe about that and he said nobody was there. >> but as the defense prepared for trial in december 2010, something changed. >> there was new evidence discovered. >> lenny is the prosecutor who inherited the case. >> and that new evidence is what we considered a jailhouse snitch and he came forward and said that michael wolfe fabricated the entire story about barbara participating in the murder of david jackson. >> the jailhouse snitch was well-known, the d.a. said, mostly for the false information
he provided. still, after three years in jail, it was enough to get barbara released and placed on house arrest pending trial. and, then, prosecutor bendale met michael wolfe to ask him about testifying against barbara. didn't go well. >> the blow came to me when he said, what am i getting in return? what will my sentence be reduced to? >> now the state reassessed its options. >> i think with any case you're taking a 50/50 chance. it's the lack of forensics, the lack of physical evidence that a jury wants to see but most importantly, again, the fact that you have a co-defendant that is giving the testimony which is the foundation of this prosecution who wanted something in return. >> the people who conducted the investigation, you know, deep down in their guts are sure that she was at the center of it. did you think so, too? >> what i think as a person and what i think as a prosecutor, i have to keep them separate.
and while i may have believed that barbara was a full participant in this, what i can prove is totally different. >> so you made an offer? >> we made an offer. >> barbara britton was offered two more years of house arrest and eight years of probation. she would avoid trial but she had to plead guilty to accessory after the fact in david's murder, meaning she acknowledged knowing about the crime but only after it occurred. something she had always denied. >> you've got to remember, hi the option to go to trial and take it as just taking your chance with 12 to 14 other -- >> jurors who would hear a story about a control freak who very cleverly manipulated men to get them to do awful things? >> right. they already know what you are there for. >> even though she accepted the deal, barbara was not happy.
true, there was no prison time, but she was a felon now. >> you have a title over your head. it's life changing. it's very life changing. >> do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth? >> yes, i do. >> detective velasquez joined barbara at the sentencing hearing. >> judge, for the record, david jackson's mother would like to speak. >> of course. >> david's mother read an impact statement. >> barbara, i've cried endlessly for 24 years. i've wanted to die myself to be with david. >> her gaze fixed on the woman her son once loved. >> you are guilty. michael wolfe is where he should be in prison. your father is where he should be and you would join him one day because that is where you should be. in hell.
>> david's brother mark was not at all sure that justice was served. >> if you lose in trial, that's god's will. you can't control that. but i think it should have gone to trial. i think society in two years when she comes off of house arrest needs to worry. >> we have a picture of david. >> but his mother -- >> there is justice. yes. and she's a felon now for life. she's got to live with all that. i don't. every time i get out of bed in the morning, one leg says guilty and the other one says felon. >> and as for the detective who so doggedly pursued the case who now thinks a murderer got away -- >> at first i was disappointed so i had to make peace with it and when i put my head down at the pillow at the end of the night, she's a felon. mentally when you're in prison here, do you ever escape that? >> as for barbara, barbara is spending her house arrest in her
father's home, that old vw, the one that they allegedly carried off david's body is still parked outside. welcome to "kasie dc." i'm kasie hunt. we are live from snowy washington from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. eastern. tonight, we know when the mueller investigation is likely to end and now we know how a big part of the fbi investigation began. we're going to go inside that "new york times" bombshell about a counterintelligence probe into president trump. as "the washington post" reports, the president went to great lengths to conceal what he and vladimir putin talk about.