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Source: Consternation Within WH About Priebus-FBI Contacts; Trump Attacks Media, Double Down On Campaign Promises; GOP Rep: Town Hall Protesters May Prevent Obamacare Repeal; Boehner: Obamacare Repeal And Replace Not Going To Happen; Trump Vows To Bring Back "Beautiful Clean Coal"; Hundreds of Coal Workers Look to Trump Amid Job Cuts; Police: Banned Nerve Agent Killed Kim Jong Un's Brother. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: -- starts right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next. Breaking news, the White House pushing back tonight after CNN's exclusive reporting about conversations between the FBI and the White House. Well tonight, a source says the president himself is frustrated. While democrats are asking, did the White House break the law?

Also, President Trump promised to protect coal country, but more plants are now set to close. Is the president to blame?

And Gabby Giffords, the congresswoman shot during a meeting with voters, now some republicans are invoking her name as a reason not to attend their town halls. Her husband, Mark Kelly speaks out tonight. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Poppy Harlow, in tonight for Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, "BREAKING NEWS": the White House pushing back against CNN's exclusive reporting that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to knock down reports about communication between Trump associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence. This as a source close to the president tells CNN there is consternation tonight in the White House over this story, saying, quote, "This is the type of distraction the president does not need right now." On Capitol Hill, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi releasing a blistering statement, charging that Priebus is quote, "committed an outrageous breach of the FBI's independence," "damaged his reputation and tainted the impartiality of the FBI." Our Pamela Brown begins our coverage OUTFRONT tonight. And Pamela, is the White House pushing back?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, today, the White House isn't denying CNN's exclusive reporting, that it requested the FBI to speak out against a report about Trump's associates and their contacts with Russians, but it pushed back against any suggestion that put pressure on the FBI to do so, saying the contact over the report was made by the FBI first. This as we learn more about what FBI Director James Comey told senators on Capitol Hill about the active investigation into Trump's associates and Russia.


BROWN: Today, the White House is saying it did nothing wrong, after CNN's exclusive report that the FBI refused the White House's request to knock down media reports about contacts between Donald Trump associates and Russians during the campaign. A senior administration official says the unusual White House request came only after the FBI approached White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, to say a story in The New York Times as not true. The White House explained its actions by saying the conversation happened on February 15th, after a 7:30 a.m. meeting led by Priebus. FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe asked Priebus for five minutes alone after the meeting ends, according to senior administration officials, and calls The New York Times report, quote, "total B.S." Priebus, the White House said, asked McCabe, quote, "Can we do anything about it to set the records straight? And follow up phone calls, administration officials say both McCabe and FBI Director James Comey, declined Priebus' request, but did tell him he could cite top intelligence officials to say there's nothing to the story.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I have talked to the top levels of the Intelligence Community, and they have assured me that that New York Times story was grossly overstated and inaccurate and totally wrong.

BROWN: The back and forth between the White House and the FBI raises questions about whether either side violated long-standing Justice Department procedures.

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's very, very important that you limit contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice for two reasons. One, you don't want actual pressure placed upon the Department of Justice in connection with the investigation or prosecution. And two, you don't even want the appearance of political influence with respect to investigation or prosecution.

BROWN: According to these DOJ memos, the communication should only happen when, quote, "It is important for the performance of the President's duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective." And the memos preclude FBI officials and White House officials from talking directly about pending investigations.

GONZALES: Typically, the contact from the Department of Justice side comes from the attorney general or the deputy attorney general. It would be unusual for the FBI director or the deputy director to have conversations with White House officials without the presence of the attorney general or the deputy attorney general because they report up to the attorney general.

BROWN: With the unusual communication now under scrutiny, President Trump railed against the leaks that have plagued his administration, writing on Twitter, "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. Find now." And he accused the press of fabricating stories. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm against the people

that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name.


[19:05:07] BROWN: The White House denied talking about the FBI investigation, saying the discussion only centered on the reports. And a U.S. official says that the Deputy Director of the FBI Andy McCabe did not talk specifics about the case. Poppy?

HARLOW: Pamela Brown, great reporting. Thank you very much. Let's go to Sara Murray, she's at the White House. Sara, what are your sources telling you tonight about this story?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we have - or, sorry, Poppy, we have been told that this has been causing a little bit of heartburn within the White House tonight, these conversations between White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and senior members over at the FBI. And I was told by someone close to the president that this is really not the kind of distraction he needs right now. The president wants to focus on the top line items of his agenda, and he's grown frustrated with these stories that revolved around his staff rather than the big items that he want to accomplish.

HARLOW: And in response to this story, Sara, I mean, the White House barred CNN, they barred The New York Times, and other major media outlets from a press gaggle inside the White House today. You were there when this happened. It is stunning. What can you tell us?

MURRAY: Well, that's right. Obviously, we knew the White House wasn't very pleased with CNN this morning. But what was interesting is this move they did to hold a gaggle with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and not just to block, for instance, all television, all wires, all newspapers, and rather, they cherry picked the news outlets that they wanted to allow into this meeting. So, while they allowed every other major television networks, they didn't allow the CNN. And while they allowed some newspapers in, they didn't allow The New York Times, they didn't allow POLITICO. That's the kind of thing that made this bizarre, was to see the White House picking and choosing outlet by outlet. Now, I've reached out to a number of folks in their communication shop today to get a better understanding of why they decided to do that and go one by one, choose outlet by outlet.


MURRAY: So far, they have not responded to that question, Poppy.

HARLOW: Not only bizarre but incredibly troubling. Sarah Murray, thank you very much for the reporting at the White House tonight.

Evan Perez is with us, Mark Preston, our Senior Political Analyst is also with us, and our Legal Analyst Paul Callan. And Evan, let me begin with you. Given what Sara's saying about the frustration that is palpable within the White House that goes all the way up to the president himself, it does not appear. This is a story that's going to go away any time soon.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Poppy. And, you know, the irony is, is by what they have been doing, which is to try to say that The New York Times story is false or that there was nothing to it. They've actually drawn more attention to it, including by trying to pressure the FBI, you know, to try to go out there and knock down the stories. One of the reasons why the FBI did not do that is because even though perhaps there was some parts of The New York Times story that were not completely accurate, the essence of it is true, which is that there were contacts between people associated with the Donald Trump campaign, and people in Russia, people who are on the radar of the U.S. Intelligence Community. And this is a very serious issue, because this was happening at a time that the Russians were trying to interfere in the U.S. election. That's the important essence of what The New York Times reported, what the CNN has reported, what other news outlets have now picked upon, and that fact is not going away. This is the reason why the FBI did not want to go out there, cherry picking which parts of the story to confirm or to knock down.

HARLOW: Yes, not to mention the investigation is still going on, and the president, you know, instead of assessing --

PEREZ: Absolutely.

HARLOW: -- and talking about the substance of the reporting attacks, the leakers and the media. To the media point, Mark, the reaction from the White House to this story, barring CNN, The New York Times, other major media outlets of this, you know, from this gaggle. This after the president just said today at CPAC, after he double downed on the fake news, and saying that the media "the enemy of the American people", he said that at one point, and we're going to do something about it.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So, we can look at this two ways. One way is that, in -- we're seeing CNN getting punished for its report, Evan's report and our other colleagues' report, on this meeting regarding the FBI talking about, you know -- you know with Mr. Priebus, you know, regarding the investigation, what have you. We can also look at it as -- it's a very savvy media operation in some ways, certainly Donald Trump is, because he knows that the media will chase this shiny object. And we've seen him since, you know, day one of the campaign, is that he has taken to Twitter and he has put out statements that would force the narrative to change, from what the narrative is of that day. And of course, when you upset an entire press corps, for excluding some of their colleagues from attending, basically a basic briefing, that does help tend to take your eyes off of the ball. So, it could have been done intentionally, no question.

HARLOW: Right. And so, back to the meat of this, the substance of the reporting. Evan, what do we know about FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's role in all of this? Because he's to the White House is pointing to. They're pointing their finger at him for their argument. Do they have a leg to stand on? [19:09:57] PEREZ: Well, there's a reason why they're pointing at him. They're trying to - they're trying to throw him under the bus. They're saying that he initiated the contact. And they know because the FBI is not going to be able to respond to this. We're told that there's a different version to this story that certainly Andy McCabe was told. It's not clear exactly that there was a -- that he first reached out to Reince Priebus to try to have this conversation. Either way, it was inappropriate for the White House to start pressuring - try, you know, repeated contacts with the FBI. And let's not forget, it didn't stop there, they started contacting other agencies that are also looking at this Russia matter, they're also investigating this Russia matter, and trying to get them to knock down the story. There was a lot of energy placed on trying to knock down a story, when this is still, as you mentioned, an active investigation. Andy McCabe is the Deputy Director of the FBI, he didn't (INAUDIBLE) in a - in a tough place. He cannot really defend himself because, you know, this is something that is ongoing.

HARLOW: So, Paul, here is what House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement today, the Trump White House has been caught trying to pressure the FBI into undermining a vital national security investigation, which is in violation of Department of Justice rules, and which may also be illegal. Is it illegal?

PAUL CALLAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: That's a hard question. The (INAUDIBLE) in the details here. Remember, the president is the person who's in charge of the Department of Justice, and the FBI, he's actually the boss of these agencies. And this rigid protocol about restricting the ability of the president to communicate directly about criminal investigations arose out of the Watergate scandal, when believe it or not, Richard Nixon got the acting Director of the FBI to destroy evidence in the case. And so, these protocols, limiting contact with the president, to specific situations evolved. But criminality is a different thing, remember, these regulations are internal regulations, he would have to prove that there's an attempt to obstruct justice, and that an order was communicated to the FBI, with the intent of curbing an investigation that might lead to the White House. Now, that's a very serious allegation, and I don't see that based on what we know so far. So, we have to know exactly what was said, and the context in which it was said before we can make a judgment as to whether it's a criminal act.

HARLOW: That's certainly raising more than just eyebrows.

CALLAN: Well, it's a - at best, it's a rookie political move for, Poppy, people operating at this level.

HARLOW: Paul Callan, nice to have you. To you all, Evan, Mark, as well, have a good weekend. OUTFRONT next, police say toxic nerve agent that can kill within minutes took out Kim Jong-un's brother was the North Korean dictator behind it.

Also, we take you to the heart of Coal Country tonight to a town that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump, but is now about to lose hundreds and hundreds of jobs. Do they blame the president? And Trump speaking to conservative activists today in full campaign mode. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.



[19:15:00] HARLOW: Well, tonight, President Trump sounding a lot like candidate Trump at a major republican gathering. He attacked the media, he attacked Hillary Clinton, and he promised the crowd they would get jobs, a wall, and better health care. Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT.


TRUMP: Now, you finally have a president, finally, it took you a long time. It took you a long time.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump taking a victory lap today before a roaring crowd of conservative activists.

TRUMP: The forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no longer. That is the heart of this new movement and the future of the Republican Party.

ZELENY: It's Mr. Trump's Republican Party now, his realignment of the GOP already under way. Hailed as a hero today at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Mr. Trump outlining his "America first" agenda that goes against the grain of recent republican orthodoxy.

TRUMP: But there is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency or a global flag. This is the United States of America that I'm representing.


ZELENY: At the same gathering last year, just outside Washington, many conservatives were coiled at the idea of a Trump presidency, he cancelled his appearance, and of course, went on to win. But it was here CPAC six years ago where the idea of Trump's bid forgoal to win the White House first bring to life. He stopped short of running back

then, but his words sound pressing.

TRUMP: I will tell you the reason that I'm thinking about it is that the United States has become a whipping post for the rest of the world.

ZELENY: But now, after five weeks in office, the president is faced with making choices over which campaign pledges take priority and how he will pay for them.

TRUMP: We're also putting in a massive budget request for our beloved military.

ZELENY: Carol Marino is an early Trump supporter from North Carolina, who for now is giving the president the benefit of the doubt, that his agenda won't break the bank.

CAROL MARINO, CPAC ATTENDEE: I'm not overly concerned that he's going to blow the deficit. I'm really not. I think he'll find the way to kind of shrink the waste and then use that someplace else.

ZELENY: The president rallying supporters to help him fulfill campaign promises, including dismantling Obamacare. Even as GOP lawmakers have come under fire this week from constituents demanding they leave the law in place.

TRUMP: They're largely -- many of them are the side that lost, you know, they lost the election. It's like how many elections do we have to have? The bottom line, we're changing it. We're going to make it much better.

ZELENY: The question is how are they going to make it better. Now, Poppy, lawmakers will come back to Washington next week with the sounds of those protests still reverberating in their ears, and when the president makes his address to a joint session of congress on Tuesday evening, he will outline some more specifics on health care, but the reality here is house republicans in the White House still have not yet decided which one will go first in presenting their plan, the house republican plan simply does not insure as many people. The nation's governors also in town here in Washington this weekend will be talking with the president as well. The rallying cry for replace and repeal suddenly becomes much harder when you control the government. Poppy?

HARLOW: Easier said than done. Thank you, Jeff. OUTFRONT now, republican strategist Doug Heye, (INAUDIBLE) communications for former house majority leader Eric Cantor and conservative radio host Ben Ferguson, nice to have you both here, gentlemen. We have a lot of news to get to tonight. Let's take a moment and listen to a radio interview that certainly struck a lot of us. This is Republican Congressman Mo Brooks talking about Obamacare and those angry voters who have been packing republican town halls. Let's roll it.


[19:20:04] MO BROOKS, UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN FROM ALABAMA: Are a - in my opinion - a significant number of congressman who are being impacted by these kinds of protests, and their spine is a little bit weak. And I don't know if we're going to be able to repeal Obamacare now because these folks who support Obamacare are very active, they're putting pressure on congressmen.


HARLOW: I don't know if we're going to be able to repeal Obamacare because the angry people are going to the town halls and yelling at us. Ben, is that cop out to blame these ruckus town halls? Republicans can't follow through on their single biggest promise of the election?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: Let's be clear, I think there's a lot of people in congress that are not fighters like Donald Trump is. And they also are weak republicans, they're not leaders. It's the same reason why you have people like John Boehner who are no longer in office, because they didn't know how to fight for things. This president has been in office for literally 30 days, and there are already people that are trying to undermine him within The Republican Party because they're too afraid to actually do what the - it was blatantly obvious.

HARLOW: Look, Ben, let some (INAUDIBLE)


FERGUSON: As if people that voted for him want it.

HARLOW: Come on, he's the one who said repeal and replace on day one. Doug, I mean, he's the one who said repeal and replace on day one. Perhaps look at this polling numbers. Perhaps this is why it might be a little bit tougher now to repeal and replace, because the polling shows us that the most Americans ever are in favor of Obamacare right now, 54 percent. Brand new poll came out yesterday, people approve it versus 43 percent who don't. And those who disapprove it, only 17 percent want it actually completely gone. I mean, could have be it, Doug?

DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. That - look, that's part of it. And certainly - or members are hearing from voters as they're - as they're going to town halls, but Ben used the word fight and fighters, and that really to me demonstrates really the split that republicans have right now, even as they by and large support President Trump.

When I work for Cantor in the house, every week in 2014, we're met with members, members of leadership, committee chairs and staff on a weekly basis to put together a replacement bill. What we saw was that we weren't able to get there. It wasn't for the lack of fighting. The more we heard people talk about fighting, the more we saw in this how to shut down the government, republicans were the ones responsible for this in 2013, is that people wanted to fight, but didn't necessarily have a plan or how to win that fight. And that's what's important, is winning.

HARLOW: Well, so to that point, guys, let's just listen to - hold on Ben.

FERGUSON: Poppy, here's one thing about that poll number.

HARLOW: Hold - Ben, hold what I know is a great thought, and let's listen to house speaker John Boehner on exactly Doug's point.


JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I shouldn't call it repeal and replace, because that's not what's going to happen, they're basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it. If you pass repeal without replace, you'll never pass replace, because they will never, ever agree on what the bill should be. In the 25 years that I've served in United States Congress, republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like, not once.


HARLOW: So, Ben, is Boehner being more honest than some republicans in Congress right now in terms of what they have promised?

FERGUSON: I -- no, I think John Boehner is a guy that obviously did not know how to lead on this issue, and that's why he's not in that position anymore. He was an incredibly weak leader, who did not get a lot of things done and did not know how to actually get his members around him. But let's also be clear about something about that Obamacare poll that you just put up a minute ago. One of the reasons why that poll number is so high right now, people like me is, because the democrats have done an amazing job of getting their messaging out of fear mongering that somehow you're going to lose healthcare coverage completely, and then have to wait for a new plan.


HARLOW: You will lose health care coverage completely if Obamacare is repealed. Those are the facts.

FERGUSON: No, if they - no, no. The fact is this, Congress have said - the president have said that there will not - you do not have to worry about losing a plan, going without coverage, a replace would be there and it would be simultaneous, so there would be no gap in coverage. Democrats have fear mongered on this, implying that somehow you're going to lose Obamacare and there will be nothing there to replace it with, which is not the truth. I think we had the new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who is a leader, talk about this very clearly. Republicans went to these town halls, where there was a lot of democrats there, by the way, that were out there as agitators, not all of them are republicans. If you went to any these town halls and I've seen them. They were not all republicans there.

HARLOW: Ben, I got to get Doug in for the last - for the last word. I mean, is Ben right because they promised to replace - repeal and replace on day one, hasn't happened. And they don't have a plan to replace.

HEYE: Well, we're working on a plan to replace, and as we're - as we're talking to these -

FERGUSON: Exactly.

HEYE: -- talking to members through - in their districts as they come back to Washington and they hear about this, one of the things we're learning, this is exactly what John Boehner's point is, is that these are very difficult things to do. I think Ben and I would agree that one of the reasons democrats pushed these large-scale entitlement programs, is because they know that once they're enacted, and keep in mind, it took Obama and the democrats a year and a half to get Obamacare replaced. It's very hard just - it's very hard to repeal those things and change those things. And so, as we're just starting this process, to think that we're going to get to a magic finish line very quickly, I think is very difficult. There's a reason -

HARLOW: So you agree with Ben's fear mongering by liberals that is making it so popular?

[19:25:00] HEYE: Well, I think it's a difficult thing to do, regardless. Look, there's a reason that we call Social Security and Medicare third rail issues that you're not even allowed to touch or talk about. Obamacare is a - is too.

FERGUSON: It's fear mongering (INAUDIBLE).

HEYE: Sure, there's fear mongering going on, I agree with that.


HEYE: But also - but also, Poppy -

FERGUSON: When you walk out there - when you're - when you're elected official -

HARLOW: Hold on. Let Doug finish.

HEYE: I think - I think -but Ben, please understand, the legislative process is designed to be a slow process, whether you're enacting something or slowing something down. I think Trump and a lot of - a lot of people came into Washington thinking that it was an eight-lane superhighway, but the reality is, we're on a two-lane country road here. The legislative process months slowly. Obama had a super majority with democrats, it took him a year and a half. To think republicans are going to be able to do this in three months, it's just foolish errand.


HARLOW: -- the premiums have gone way up and they're unaffordable for a lot of American families, but I will also say that this two-lane country road is not what the republicans promised and it's not the same as repeal and replace on day one. We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much. OUTFRONT, next, one republican is invoking Gabby Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot as a reason not to hold a town hall. Her husband, Mark Kelly speaks to OUTFRONT. And we'll take you to an Ohio town where coal is everything, but two coal plants there set to shutter. The Trump supporters there blames the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's 100 percent up to Trump. I mean, I think he's got a lot of say-so in it.


HARLOW: Tonight, President Trump with arousing message to Coal Country, "Your jobs are coming back." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're preparing bold action to lift the restrictions on American energy, including shale oil, natural gas and beautiful clean coal. And we're going to put our miners back to work.


HARLOW: But that promise is already being put to the test. Across America, a big number of coal plants shutting down. And tonight, we take you deep into Ohio, the heart of coal country where residents are now betting on President Trump to save not only their jobs but pretty much their entire towns before it's too late.

Here's Martin Savidge with the story you will only see OUTFRONT.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Ohio, it's hard to find an area more remote or more red than Manchester, where two out of every three votes were for Donald Trump.





SAVIDGE: The tiny town sits along the bucolic banks of the Ohio River.

JUNE WILSON, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: It's something about the water here, you get it in your blood and you don't want to leave.

SAVIDGE: Folks can tell you when the town started, 1791, and when they believe it will die.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: June of 2018 is the last I personally heard on.

SAVIDGE: That's when two large coal fired coal plants on either side of the town are projected to close. The news broke just after the election.

WILL RICHARDS, STUART POWER PLANT EMPLOYEE: It was definitely shock to myself, my friends, co-workers, family, people in the local community. I mean, I think some people are still in shock.

SAVIDGE: As it stands now, the union says about 700 jobs will be lost in a town of just 2,000 people. The coal supplier says it will cut an additional 1,500 jobs, tax revenues and property values will plummet.

So, what about all those rallies?

TRUMP: I love in Ohio. You're not working Ohio.

SAVIDGE: All those problems of jobs and reenergizing coal.

TRUMP: Jobs, jobs, jobs.

SAVIDGE (on camera): So, if he is the energy coal president, why are coal plants still shutting down?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's all up to Trump. I mean, I think he's got a lot of say so in it. To me, it's poor business decisions.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The mayor agrees, it's not Trump's fault. He blames plant owners and management.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Men in overalls built this country, the men in suits have destroyed it.

SAVIDGE (on camera): But he is a man in a suit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he's touched the working people. He's stood up for the working people.

SAVIDGE: Did you vote for Trump, hoping that he would save your job?

RICHARDS: That's not the only reason I voted for him. But I did vote for Trump because I just -- I like the way his views are on stuff and I like the way he doesn't try to be politically correct on everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was very positive towards coal, where others weren't.

SAVIDGE: You don't think that despite all this talk of coal, bring the jobs back, that somehow your coal-related job?

RICHARDS: No, at first, I don't feel let down. But I personally hope that he steps in on this part as well.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Put some pressure on. You know, let's rework this coal industry around.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): These Trump voters are trying to convince now President Trump to keep his promises about jobs and coal.

(on camera): If he can't, if he doesn't?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, I don't know. I guess I see what future holds. But I don't necessarily hold it against him, but I guess more of a disappointment.

SAVIDGE: If they were just empty promises, then in Manchester and other towns with coal-fired power plants, futures once so bright will soon face a much darker days.


SAVIDGE: The company that owns that power plant says that no final decision has been made about closing them. But the union that represents the power plant workers says the company tells them the plants are going to close next year. It's possible they could be sold, but industry experts say not likely, because coal-fired power plants are not particularly popular these days, either to own or operate, or to buy -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Thank you so much.

Marty Savidge reporting for us.

Republican strategist Doug Heye is back with me.

And, Doug, you know, there are a lot of reasons those coal jobs are going away. Of course, part of it is regulations, a lot of it is automation, a lot of it is the glut of cheap natural gas. I mean, is the president running the risk of making a promise that he simply cannot keep to these people? I mean, this is their livelihood, this is supporting their families.

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Potentially, absolutely so. But I also look at it in the context of -- I spent a lot of time in North Carolina, my home state, over the past couple of months, and I hear a lot of conversations from folks whose family used to work in, say, textiles that we heard from these people who dealt with coal.

And the one thing that I have consistently heard Trump supporters, well, at least he's trying.


HEYE: So, Trump, because of his rhetoric, which causes a lot of consternation in Washington and in New York, gets credit in places like North Carolina and Kentucky.

HARLOW: I understand that. Look, I spent a lot of time in Kentucky specifically and one of the women in Kentucky -- I'll never forget when she said this to me a few weeks ago.

[19:35:03] Poppy, the coal trucks are back out.

And it was like that was everything to this town. The issue is, he didn't say I'm going to try, he said I'm going to do, I'm going to deliver.

HEYE: Uh-huh. That's where the risk is, Donald Trump has sold himself very successfully to the country as the most successful businessman we have had basically ever, right? So, where he's not able to deliver those successes, where he's not able to bring the plant back or some jobs back, like he did say with Carrier, whether he did or not is obviously a separate argument. That runs the risk of saying that he didn't deliver on those promises.

But people are willing -- HARLOW: They are.

HEYE: -- communities to give him the benefit of the doubt.

HARLOW: But I know how these CEOs of these companies think. They think 10 years out, 15 years out. And if they're looking at a new president come in in four or eight years, who might slap on those regulations again, they're not going to reopen these plants. That's another road block he's facing.

HEYE: Absolutely. And again, it's not just regulation. Automation, as you mentioned, which is affecting that not just coal, but so many industries throughout the country, where the jobs may not be coming back at all. That's one of the risk that Trump faces, but again, I -- you go back to the core Trump supporters, those are the voters you showed.

HARLOW: Yes, totally. But you know what, Doug? In North Carolina, in Kentucky where I was, they're holding him to account. They want to see results because --


HEYE: No question about it. Absolutely.

HARLOW: Thank you. Have a good weekend.

HEYE: You too.

OUTFRONT next for us, police say a chemical, a banned chemical weapon killed Kim Jong-un's brother. Is the Korean dictator behind this assassination?

And on a much lighter note, since it is Friday evening. Jeanne Moos on how the president turns a friendly handshake into a bit of a tug of war.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He goes to pull me in, I step in, wrap in here, wrist lock.



[19:40:35] HARLOW: Police tonight say a nerve agent killed Kim Jong- un's half brother. Authorities revealing Kim Jong-nam's face and eye show the presence of VX, an internationally banned chemical weapon. It's the most potent and toxic of all nerve agents that can kill within minutes.

So, does the evidence point to North Korea's dictator?

Our Clarissa Ward is OUTFRONT.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some of the last moments of Kim Jong-nam's life -- he approaches airport security to complain that someone grabbed his face and that he's feeling dizzy.

He's escorted to the airport medical clinic. A Malaysian newspaper shows a photograph of him slumped over in his chair, apparently unconscious. He dies before reaching the hospital.

In a twist that reads like the script of a Hollywood thriller, Malaysian authorities now confirm that the half brother of North Korea's dictator was killed by VX, an internationally banned, highly lethal nerve agent that can kill within minutes.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: If you get any of it on you, you're dead, there's nothing a doctor can do for you. You know, you just die, you get a microscopic dot on you of VX and you die.

WARD: South Korea is pointing to the volatile North Korean state and the leader himself is the prime suspect. The dramatic assassination took place in broad daylight, moments after Kim entered the crowded check-in hub.

Malaysian police claimed that two women who can just be made out here wipe Kim's face with some kind of liquid. One of the women can be seen walking off, wearing a bizarrely eye-catching LOL t-shirt.

Two female suspects, one from Indonesia and one from Vietnam, are now in custody. And it gets more surreal, Indonesian authorities say one of the women told police she believed she was participating in a prank for a TV show, a claim Malaysian officials dismissed.

KHALID ABU BAKAR, MALAYSIAN INSPECTOR-GENERAL OF POLICE: These two ladies who are trained to swab the deceased face, you know? Afterwards, they were instructed to clean their hands, and they know it is toxic.

WARD: The hunt is now on for these four North Korean suspects, who left the country on the day of the attack. Among them, a senior official with the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur. In yet another bizarre twist, police said someone tried to break into the mortuary, where Kim's body is being kept, after which they stepped up security.

BAKAR: We know who they are. So, no need for me to tell you.

WARD: So, why would North Korea's erratic leader want his own half brother dead? Of more concern to U.S. officials is how the dangerous dictator got his hands on one of the most deadly chemical weapons in the world and what else he could do with it.

BAER: It's a nerve agent that has terrified intelligence agencies in the West for a long time because it's so lethal. Saddam Hussein was accused of having it, in fact, he didn't. They couldn't figure out how to weaponize it. What disturbs me is they have figured out how to weaponize it and

deliver it. Now, will he use it on South Korea? Would he use it in the United States? There's simply no way for us to know.


WARD: The Pentagon has said that it should come as no surprise that North Korea would engage in assassination practices, but it has not confirmed the use of VX. But, Poppy, it is very difficult to believe that officials are not extremely concerned about this. The fact is, this attack happened in broad daylight in a major international airport. And if the VX nerve agent had been disbursed more widely, many people could have been killed, including potentially Americans -- Poppy.

HARLOW: That is stunning. Clarissa Ward, thank you so much.

OUTFRONT next, one Republican citing the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords as the reason he's not holding a town hall. Well, her husband Mark Kelly is speaking out tonight. He is my next guest.

And Jeanne Moos on how to protect yourself from being pulled into the president's inner circle.


[19:48:44] HARLOW: Tonight, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords speaking up, challenging GOP lawmakers to hold town halls no matter how heated they get.

Giffords saying, quote, "I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning, my offices were open to the public. To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this, have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls."

Those comments coming after Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert said, quote, "The House sergeant at arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed -- just as happened there."

Remember, 19 people were shot in that near assassination of Congresswoman Giffords, six of them died.

OUTFRONT now is her husband, Mark Kelly. He's also the cofounder of American for Responsible Solutions, which aims to reduce gun violence.

Thank your for being on OUTFRONT tonight and let me just begin with this and get your reaction to Congressman Gohmert your wife's shooting as a reason not to show up at the town halls with his constituents.

What's your response to that?

CAPT. MARK KELLY, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT; HUSBAND OF GABBY GIFFORDS: Well, I mean, if he doesn't want to do town halls, he should just say he doesn't want to face his constituents. He shouldn't hide behind Gabby.

[19:50:01] I could tell you this, if Gabby were still in Congress, she would still be regularly holding town halls.

Meeting with your constituents is the most basic thing that a representative should do in a democracy. And, I mean, Gabby has done in excess of 50 public events just this year. So, you know, hiding behind her is not a good excuse.

HARLOW: There are lawmakers, as you know, who do have serious concerns about their safety. I want you to listen to Republican Congressman Scott Taylor on Monday on this program, right, before he held a town hall on how seriously he is taking what he calls are safety issues and safety warnings. Listen to him.


REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: Very seriously. I mean, I think there are a lot of Republicans around the country who are -- that our people are afraid, my staff is certainly concerned. So, we try to take as many safety precautions as possible, both in the structure, but also having backup of local law enforcement.


HARLOW: Do you think, though, that his concerns are legitimate?

KELLY: Well, I think, I mean, you always got to be, you know, aware and you want to take certain steps, you know, to make sure, you know, that your constituents are safe. And it sounds like that representative -- I'm not sure who it is -- it sounds like he actually met with his constituents.

You know, in 2009, when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, you know, Gabby had a lot of very heated town halls and she kept doing them. And, you know, like I said, she would continue to do them today. You know, if these representatives are really concerned about the safety of their constituents, you know, they should join us and not side with the Washington gun lobby.

You know, I'm a gun owner, gabby is a gun owner, background checks for gun sales are supported by nearly 90 percent of all Americans. They should go and talk to their constituents about that and passing that kind of legislation is what's going to keep them safer.

HARLOW: On that point, before we let you go. This morning, the president addressed the CPAC gathering and he spoke about a lot of issues, but one of them is an issue you care deeply about and that is guns.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will protect our Second Amendment.

You know, Wayne and Chris are here from the NRA, and they didn't have that on the list, it's lucky I thought about it. But we will indeed, and they're great people. And by the way, they love our country.


HARLOW: I mean, you mention background checks, universal background checks, how hard that was to get passed, didn't even get passed under President Obama. And now, when you look at the fight that you face with President Trump in office, where does your fight go from here?

KELLY: Hey, you know, I'm a veteran. I served this country for 25 years. There is nobody that love this is country more than me. And I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment as well.

But the Second Amendment doesn't mean that we should give criminals, suspected terrorists, people that are dangerously mentally ill and domestic abusers easy access to firearms. And I imagine if I had the opportunity to sit down with President Trump and explain that to him, you know, I think maybe we could find some common ground.

HARLOW: It sounds like you want a meeting with the president, is that right?

KELLY: Absolutely. You know, any time, love to meet with the president and talk about this. You know, I even saw some, you know, common ground in some of the presidential debates where he specifically talked about trying to restrict access to firearms from suspected terrorists. So that's something that this Congress and this administration should move forward on.

HARLOW: Mark Kelly, appreciate you joining us. Thank you.

KELLY: Thank you for having me on, Poppy. Really appreciate it.

HARLOW: And we do want to mention that we have invited Congressman Gohmert to come on the program. He has not taken us up on that invitation. He's welcomed to come on OUTFRONT anytime.

Coming up next OUTFRONT, Jeanne Moos in many ways to defend against President Trump's power hand shake.


[19:57:51] HARLOW: The element of surprise, it's one of Trump's favorite strategies and it starts with his handshake.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chances are you'll never shake the hand of President Donald Trump. But with all the recent coverage with his bizarre grab and yank handshake technique, some are getting defensive. For instance, this instructor at a Columbus, Ohio martial arts academy --

ROBIN GIESELER, RELSON GRACIE JIU-JITSU ACADEMY: Here's what you do, and I'm not suggesting you do this to the president. MOOS: This fourth-degree black belt demonstrates a wrist lock that

the president's Supreme Court nomine obviously didn't deploy.

GIESELER: If he grabs really hard, I go with it. I wrap around the elbow. I bend the wrist in, the other hand wraps over top of the knuckles, boom.

MOOS: Heck. Canada's prime minister managed to thwart the grab and yank without resorting to a wrist lock.

An inventor who specializes in useless investigations created the Donald Trump handshake robot so he could test various anti-grab-and- yank measures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. First, we'll try regular hand shake. Hand on shoulder. OK, I'm going to try squeezing his hand really hard.

MOOS: The robot is timed to yank randomly to keep the element of surprise. When none of the techniques worked, he offered to fit the robot with a fist bump.

But perhaps the most mesmerizing re-creation of the presidential handshake was done by a CGI artist in Sweden. This was kid's stuff for Anders Ryttar who works at home on his farm.

So how long did you spend on this animation?

ANDERS RYTTAR, SWEDISH CGI ARTIST: About three hours, including feeding the chicken from eating some lunch.

MOOS: Even Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling repeated it.

As for that wrist talk demonstrated by the black belt --

GIESELER: Now, you have what we call the goose neck.

MOOS: -- pretty sure the goose neck would give the Secret Service goose bumps.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


HARLOW: All right. Thanks so much for joining us. Erin is back Monday. I'm Poppy Harlow. Have a great weekend.

"AC360" begins right now.