Return to Transcripts main page


CNN Exclusive: Trump Campaign Aide E-mailed About Effort To Meet Putin; President Trump Calls For Unity After Angry, Divisive . Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: OutFront next, breaking news, a new e-mail tonight revealing an attempt to set up a meeting between Trump officials and Vladimir Putin during the campaign. The person behind that e-mail, now President Trump's deputy chief of staff. CNN exclusive reporting, next.

And, is Donald Trump fit to be president? Former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is my guest tonight.

Plus, that very enthusiastic supporter at the Trump's rally holding up a blacks for Trump sign, who is he?

Let's go OutFront.

And good evening everyone, I'm Jim Sciutto in for Erin Burnett. And OutFront tonight, breaking news, a CNN exclusive.

A revealing e-mail from the aide of President Trump under new scrutiny tonight by congressional investigators. The e-mail detailed an effort to arrange a meeting between top Trump officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign.

Multiple sources say that the e-mail was sent from Rick Dearborn, who is now Trump's deputy chief of staff. CNN has learned that the e-mail was sent around the time of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and then campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Russians offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Dearborn was a top campaign aide at the time.

Manu Raju and out team broke this story, and he is with us OutFront tonight. So, Manu, what details are you learning about this e-mail?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Jim. Congressional investigators have unearthed this e-mail from this top Trump aide that references previously unreported efforts to arrange a meeting last year between Trump officials and Vladimir Putin. And this is according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Now, the aide, Rick Dearborn, the president's deputy chief of staff and former chief of staff to Jeff Sessions as a senator, sent this brief e-mail to campaign officials last year, relaying information about an individual who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin.

Now, the person in this e-mail was only identified as being from, quote, "W.V." which one source told me it was a reference to West Virginia. Now, it's unclear who this West Virginia individual is, what he or she may have been seeking or whether Dearborn even acted on this request.

One source said that it's believed that this West Virginia individual had political connections in that state. Now, that same source told me that Dearborn in the e-mail did appear to be skeptical of the requested meeting. Which that e-mail came out in June of 2016.

Now, as I mentioned, Dearborn, the former chief of staff of Jeff Sessions, as well as a top policy in the campaign and investigators I'm told have questions about whether he played any role in arranging two meetings that occurred last year between the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey Kislyak and Sessions.

Dearborn was also involved in helping arrange a 2016 event at the Mayflower Hotel, which Trump delivered a major foreign policy address and where there may have been any sort of encounter between Sessions and Kislyak. Questions about that as well.

Now, Dearborn, Jim, did not respond to multiple inquiries seeking comment. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to comment, but she would not respond to a number of e-mails that they had about the basics of exactly what this e-mail was about. She said to me we're not going to comment on potentially linked documents.

SCIUTTO: Now this e-mail among 20,000 pages in documents produced to congressional investigators. Now, we know the timing of this could be key because it was set around June 2016, the same time roughly as Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower here in New York. Have you found any connection between the two?

RAJU: We don't know if there's any connection between the two yet. We really don't have many details other than the fact that this e-mail does now exist and something that investigators want to learn more about and want to question Dearborn about as well.

Now, intelligence experts say, this kind of request made by this unidentified West Virginian really fits a pattern of Russians trying to gather human intelligence and seek unwilling and sometimes (INAUDIBLE) partners as part of their covert operations. But a lot of questions unanswered. But it appears to fit a pattern of Russians trying to work with the Trump campaign.

We'll see if this was something that -- another example of that or whether the campaign didn't really do anything with that. We still don't know those questions just yet. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju, with the CNN exclusive report tonight. Thanks very much.

And OutFront, former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, joins me now. General clapper, thank you for taking the time. We're now reporting that investigators are focussing on this e-mail from Rick Dearborn, then a top policy aide in the Trump campaign, of course the deputy chief of staff. Two staffers in that e-mail, Dearborn relaying information about an individual looking to connect Trump officials with Putin. You of course led the Intelligence Committee's assessment on Russian interference in the election. Based granted on what little we know about this now, what can you make of this development?

[19:05:02] GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I can't make a lot of it and on its face it may or may not be nefarious. This would have been, had we known about it at the time, the kind of thing that, to use the phrase I used before would have caused the dash warning lights to blink.

But in the absence of knowing the actual intent and content, you know, it's hard to comment much on this revelation.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Now, you have said that during your time as director of National Intelligence, you saw no direct evidence of political collusion, any form of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, though, of course, investigators still probing the depths of that.

As you look at the pattern here of Russians at least reaching out to Trump world to establish contacts, meetings, e-mails, et cetera, from the Russian side, is there any significance of those contacts?

CLAPPER: Well, we made the point in our intelligence committee assessment that the Russians clearly favored Trump, then candidate Trump, to be elected. And so they saw in him the potential for improvement in relations, perhaps ultimately relief of sanctions. So they saw a ray of hope with him. So it's not -- it's not surprising, in fact, I think very consistent that they would want to try to engage with him even more Inauguration Day.

SCIUTTO: Understood. OK, I want to turn now, if I can for a moment to ask you about the president's campaign rally last night. You said that his speech made you question his ability, his fitness to be commander-in-chief. I wonder if you can you tell us what signals, what signs, what evidence have you been watching that give you that level of concern?

CLAPPER: Oh, Jim, at the outset, a couple I think of points I need to make. First of all, this is very, very difficult for me personally to be critical of a president. My dad served for 28 years in the army and instilled in me respect for the commander-in-chief and the incumbent in that position.

And certainly in the 50 years or so that I served, 34 of that in the military, that was clearly my instincts. And I have served as a political appointee in both Republican and Democratic administrations so this is not about politics or any that sort of thing. It is about the country.

And so my comments are motivated by that. And what caused concern is this sort of heckle -- Jekyll Hyde business where he'll make a scripted teleprompter speech which is good and then turn around and negate it by sort of, you know, unbridled, unleashed, unchaperoned Trump. And that to me is -- that pattern is very disturbing.

So today, he made a very conciliatory speech professing or asking for unity, which is what he needs to do. Last night, I was all prepared to talk about Afghanistan and actually I thought the way that turned out was good.

He made the right decision, and essentially reversed a campaign position and he's not the first president to do that. And he came out in the right place. And it appears that there was a deliberative process involving his national security team and they prevailed upon him with the position he came out with. And that's what I was prepared to speak to.

And then the bizarre performance at this rally, which I found very disturbing, and one other point I need to make, repeat something I did say last night, which has not been quoted as I don't speak for the intelligence community. This is me as a private citizen now and so I'm not representing the I.C. So I do want to make that clear.

SCIUTTO: I understand --

CLAPPER: But I think, just the pattern of on again/off again and of course, you know, as I mentioned last night, he was very quick to call out or characterize the intelligence community as Nazis, but seemed somewhat reluctant to call out the real ones, the wanna-be Nazis in the case of Charlottesville. And -- so that sort of thing and the personal engagement that I had with him before he became president and then, again, this on again/off again, you know, who is the real President Trump.

And I thought Leon Panetta made a good point in the Wolf Blitzer session about a decision that the president needs to make, about what role does he want to play as president.

[19:10:03] Does he want see that -- reinforce divisiveness or does he want to promote unity and get on with his agenda.

SCIUTTO: Understood. And to be clear, you're not saying he's mentally unfit. That's not your argument. You're raising questions about his judgment, in effect, in the office of president.

CLAPPER: Exactly. I'm not a psychologist, psychiatrist. I cannot make any comment about his mental health, his sanity or any of that sort of thing. I just -- all I can comment on, really is, the behavior that I have observed. And I find that worrisome.

SCIUTTO: It sounds like you saw -- I don't want to say a different Trump, but at least a different message from Trump in his comments today as opposed to yesterday. Do you believe personally that the president can right this ship?

CLAPPER: Actually, I do. I think he could, and I think it would have profound impact on the country. If he can, in an unguarded moment, convey sincerely his scripted appeals for unity. And -- so that the body language matches the words and so far there's a discord there. They don't necessarily comport.

SCIUTTO: Understood. If I could turn to another topic. President Trump last night referenced how he has in his view gained North Korea's respect. Here's how he said it last night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You see what's going on in North Korea. All of a sudden, I don't know, who knows. But I can tell you what I said, that's not strong enough.

Some people said it was too strong. It's not strong enough. But Kim Jong-un, I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us.


SCIUTTO: Now, today new photos from North Korea appear to show unexpected advances in Pyongyang's missile program. North Korean state media also saying today that President Trump's posts, quote, were weird and ego-driven, describing his tweets there.

As you look at North Korea's larger behavior here, its advances in missile technology, nuclear technology, do you see evidence that North Korea is fundamentally changing its behavior in response to Trump?

CLAPPER: No, I don't. I think the North Koreans already have an abiding respect and have had for a long time about our military capabilities and what we could do to them. And the president's rhetoric I don't think had any impact on that one way or the other.

And the thing that concerns me about, you know, using up his non- kinetic chips so to speak, and by engaging in the same kind of rhetoric as the North Koreans (INAUDIBLE). And I don't think that's particularly helpful and I don't -- the North Koreans are bent on achieving a nuclear missile capability. And they are not going to deviate from that. At least not by virtue of threats.

I think the only path ahead with the North Koreans is some form of negotiation. So I think what Secretary Tillerson has been saying is exactly right. And I think Secretary Mattis, who's been very careful about distinguishing between a peremptory attack which would be a disaster of a apocalyptic proportions or apocalyptic I guess is the right word, excuse me.

But that if the North Koreans initiate an action against Guam or any -- our ally or anyone else that we will retaliate. And the North Koreans, they understand that. So I think that the path ahead for them is through some form of negotiation.

SCIUTTO: General Clapper, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim. Thanks for having me. SCIUTTO: OutFront next, more on our breaking news on the Russia investigation. This as we're learning from Republicans just how consumed the president is with the Russia investigation.

Plus, a shut-down threat from the president if he does not get the funding he wants for his border wall. Will he go through with it? White House officials just chiming in.

And Hillary Clinton reveals what she really wanted to say to Trump during this famous debate moment.





[19:18:17] SCIUTTO: And welcome back to OutFront. And we are following breaking news. CNN learning tonight that congressional investigators have discovered an e-mail from a top Trump aide that references a previously unreported attempt to arrange a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Vladimir Putin.

Sources say that the aide is Rick Dearborn, who is now President Trump's deputy chief of staff. And that the e-mail was sent around the time of the recently revealed June 2016 Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

OutFront now, CNN Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston, also Marc Fisher, he's the author of the Donald Trump biography, "Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power", as well as Washington Post congressional reporter, Karoun Demirjian.

Mark, if I could begin with you here. CNN's reporting top member of the administration, top policy aide during the campaign, another meeting -- attempt at a meeting between Trump campaign officials and in this case Vladimir Putin himself. How significant these news?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Very significant for couple of reasons. One is, we haven't talked a whole lot about Russia in the recent weeks. It has been an issue that has taking the back burner to all the other controversies that President Trump has engaged in.

But the fact is, if this e-mail exists as we are told, there is more smoke around potentially where there could be fire. We saw Donald Trump several times try to squash any of these investigations, whether it be the congressional investigations or whether it be the investigation by the FBI director, former FBI director.

Now we see that in fact, it is much more widespread, Jim, than was previously saw. And I should note, time and time again, we've seen Donald Trump say that there was never any collusion. He calls it a hoax, he calls it a witch hunt, but then we see information like this.

[19:20:07] SCIUTTO: Karoun, sources telling CNN that this Rick Dearborn e-mail sent around the same time with that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting of Donald Trump Jr., the Russians who are offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton. While certainly no collusion established at this point, what are we seeing potentially from the Russian side here? Multiple attempts to reach the Trump campaign it seemed from multiple directions.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I think this particular episode tells you more about what the Russians were trying to do than necessarily shedding more light at this point on what the Trump campaign was trying to do because we don't know what the response was yet. (INAUDIBLE) from others in the campaign.

But it certainly is an indication of what we knew, which is that there was a concerted effort by Russia to try to make inroads into this election. And this is a much more direct sort of approach to try to directly approach somebody who's within the ranks of the Trump campaign, through what seems to be somebody with at least American ties, if not American themselves.

It shows that basically there were -- it was not just one off but there are multiple avenues that we're being pursued, which, you know, is something that you would frankly expect if Russia was bent on trying to establish connections or trying to Trump -- help the Trump campaign or be involved and affect the elections somehow that they wouldn't just -- the things wouldn't just be accidental.

And this goes towards establishing a pattern of behavior of what's happening from Moscow. The question for whether this affects the probes of the Trump team is going to depend a lot on what the response was to that in treaty and whether it was positive, whether it was negative, whether it was -- you know, went beyond just Dearborn. And those are questions that have not yet been answered by what we know.

SCIUTTO: And former Director Clapper reminding us just a few moments ago that it's the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that the Russian preference was for Donald Trump to win. They thought that he would be a friendlier chief executive to Russia than Hillary Clinton.

Marc Fisher, if I could ask you, it's CNN own reporting that part of the feud between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, is Donald Trump being in the words of sources talking to CNN irate that McConnell did not stop or somehow protect the president from this Russia investigation? The New York Times had similar reporting last night as well.

You literally written a book, a book on Donald Trump. How do you explain that continued focus there?

MARC FISHER, AUTHOR, "TRUMP REVEALED": Well, he clearly doesn't like and he's never liked it when things go on that he doesn't know about in advance. He doesn't like surprises, he doesn't like people criticizing him. And so, just as we saw last night, the way he reacts when people tell him what to say, so the contrast between that very stiff formal speech and then the very next day, that lashing out. We see the same thing in regard to the investigation, where he was given words to say sometimes that he honors the investigation, will cooperate with it. But then when it's the real Donald Trump, we see him reacting in public, and as well in private with people like Mitch McConnell, saying where is the loyalty, why aren't people allowing me to do my job, why are they coming at me with this little pity things as one thing after another. That's the way he sees it and so he reacts quite angrily both privately and publicly.

SCIUTTO: Then Mark, this is part of a pattern here, right? Because he expressed privately and publically frustration with the fired FBI director, James Comey for not protecting him from the investigation. Publically criticized his own attorney general for recusing himself from the Russian investigation, not protecting him and now the Senate majority leader.

I mean, that shows, does it not, a fundamental disregard for checks and balances? I mean, these people don't work for the president.

PRESTON: Right. I mean, you literally took the words out of my mouth. Basically, what you're seeing here right now is a misunderstanding of how things work and how our government was set up. It's a basic civics lesson.

There are three branches of government. When Donald Trump was elected president, Jim, I think that he thought that he was going to come in and that Congress works for him, that everybody in Washington works for him. That's not how our government has been established.

And, when you see the likes of Mitch McConnell, when you see the likes of Lindsey Graham or John McCain, these are all folks who have seen presidents come and gone. And guess what, they're still here in Washington.

So when Donald Trump leaves, most of these members of Congress will remain here. So he's got to be very careful about trying to push them around.

SCIUTTO: Karoun, I want to ask you because there's a personal element it seems to the battle between Trump and McConnell. But there's also a political element here with Donald Trump appealing to his base. I wonder, does Donald Trump have a point here in that it's not like the Republican base or Americans in general are particularly happy with senators and lawmakers in Washington.

Is Trump on to something here in effect taking it to the establishment as it were Republican Party?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, Congress' approval ratings have always been -- well, not always, but lately have been visibly low and I suppose it is easy if your approval ratings are equally low as the president (INAUDIBLE) point a finger across Washington D.C. because Congress is worse. [19:55:11] But that's kind of been the way it's been for a while. And, yes, he can make maybe some political headway off of that, but the problem is that I don't think it's actually going to shake lawmakers to their core. They believe in some of these strictures about the way legislative process works, about protecting people who are incumbents in their seats and not necessarily -- they're not following Trump in endorsing Jeff Flake's primary opponent, for example, because they know that power can shift in D.C. back in forth quite quickly.

They also know that there are majority in places like the Senate who barely swim. So you don't want to play fast and loose with the rules as Trump is suggesting. You don't want to play fast and loose with, you know, the questions of loyalty because that can backfire really quick when things put in D.C. And a lot of these members have been in place for a long time and have seen Washington go through different iterations, seen Congress' popularity numbers rise and fall. More falling lately than rising.

But are not -- are going to be swayed by certain political messages from the president that attacking the core of their institution is probably not going to work because it hasn't worked thus far.

SCIUTTO: Right, and big test coming up in 2018 in the midterms as well.

Thanks to all of you.

OutFront next, Trump's two sides. He's one way reading from a teleprompter, tell the different way when he's scripted. Whiplash, anyone?

And Trump threatening to shut down the government in order to get his border wall. Republican Congressman Steve King is OutFront.


SCIUTTO: Breaking news, whiplash. The president goes unscripted and unhinged to -- on message with a call for unity, all in less than 24 hour. President Trump speaking at the American Legion Convention in Reno, Nevada today. Stuck, this time with a teleprompter.


TRUMP: It is time to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us. We are one people with one home and one great flag.


SCIUTTO: So, note those remarks and then look at this. Trump in Phoenix just last night unscripted.


TRUMP: It's time to expose the crooked media deceptions and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions. And, yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage. The only people giving a platform to these hate groups is the media itself and the fake news.


SCIUTTO: Something of a roller coaster, we're seeing with this president. He began his rally last night with this message of national healing.


TRUMP: It's time for us to follow the example of our brave American soldiers. They form a single, unbreakable team. That's what we are, we're a team. As a nation, we're a team.


SCIUTTO: Minutes later, though, he was back on to some petty political payback.


TRUMP: One vote away, I will not mention any names. Very presidential, isn't it? Very presidential. And nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who's weak on borders, weak on crime. So, I won't talk about him. Nobody knows who the hell he is.


SCIUTTO: He was talking, to be clear, about his fellow Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of Arizona.

Jason Carroll is OUTFRONT in Reno where the president wrapped up his very scripted speech today.

Jason, how is the White House staff dealing with these two different sides of President Trump?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly there are a number of people in the White House who would rather deal with the Trump that they heard today. He was scripted, he was on message, guided by the teleprompter and it was well-received by many of the veterans that we spoke to today. They said it was measured. They called it focus.

One veteran from Florida said it was a, quote, welcome departure from what he heard yesterday. So, that was Trump today versus Trump yesterday where you've got some of his own people, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for example, saying there would be in discussion of that controversial former sheriff, Joe Arpaio, and then, of course, Trump goes on ahead and talks about him. You hear there from the sound where he even said he had been advised not to talk about the two senators and goes on to all but name both of these senators.

So, frustrating for some of those within the administration, but, Jim, you also have to remember, there are still some of those in the administration who recognize that that rally, that campaign style speech that he gave yesterday was not for the press. It was not for critics. It was really for his base.

They also recognize that Donald Trump is a man who ascended to the White House much by being himself, being unscripted. And, so, there are people who certainly want to stay on track and be, quote/unquote, more presidential. But if the past is any indication, expect more in the future from this man, this president, to be just as he's been in the past and that's to be unscripted and essentially being himself -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Don't wait for that pivot. Jason Carroll in Reno, thanks very much.

OUTFRONT now, Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser and communications director to President Obama, and Jason Miller, former senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign and communications director for the president's transition team.

Dan Pfeiffer, if I could begin with you, really night and day, the comments last night and today, the unscripted ones and then the scripted ones. How do you explain that difference?

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, you know, we have been having this conversation for almost two years now. There is only one Donald Trump. It's the one we saw last night in Phoenix. Every once in a while, maybe he's tired. Maybe his advisors have a little luck to not get him to do something crazy or detrimental to his overall effort.

But he always reverts back to the mean and the man is divisive, off script. Phoenix is Donald Trump. We know that by now. And a few minutes on a teleprompter this morning isn't going to change that.

SCIUTTO: Jason, how do you respond to that? It's -- we know Dan worked for a different party, but it is in the comments themselves, strikingly different messages. Fewer than 24 hours apart.

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Jason Carol stole a little of my thunder earlier when he said that you and members of the mainstream media are not the target audience for speeches like last night. Last night was a campaign style event. So, of course, you'd give a campaign style speech.

But looking at the past three days of President Trump's remarks, you know, he gave the speech about troops in Afghanistan on Monday.

[19:35:04] He gave the campaign style speech last night in Phoenix. And then today, he had the veterans' event in Reno, Nevada.

I think you look at some of the messages that did come across in all three events. For example, in all three events, he denounced bigotry and hate and embraced unity in all three events. He did it in different styles, he did it in different ways. On one event, on Monday=, it was at the beginning of the event -- SCIUTTO: He did contradict -- I mean, he had the message of unity and

very quickly made comments not very unifying, you must admit.

MILLER: Look, he made it very clear denouncing bigotry and hatred and embracing unity. I mean, those are very clear that he brought up. And I think an important take-away from this is President Trump, particularly on some of these more unifying messages is doing it not just where you expect him to but also in places, say, today's veterans event, where you wouldn't expect him to.

Now, look, part of the reason why President Trump won, why he got 306 electoral votes and the reason why he is so popular is because he's not a boring politician. He's not a blow dried stiff who just gets talking points wheeled out to him and sounds like every other politician on Capitol Hill. There is a reason why he won and he won so convincingly in places where a lot of Republicans don't always do that well.

SCIUTTO: But if that -- but, Jason, if I could ask, and I want Dan to pipe in, but if that formula is working, why is his approval rating in the mid-30s?

MILLER: Well, he's always had a mix of styles. There is another survey that came out a couple of days ago that said, actually, in a lot of the key states, his numbers really haven't moved that much, compared to where they were just before going into the election.

I mean, look, fundamentally, people voted for Donald Trump because they wanted change. They wanted to see things done differently. If they wanted to see a scripted politician, they could have voted for Secretary Clinton, but they didn't. They went for Donald Trump because they wanted to see something different.

Look, the fact of the matter is, we still have a pretty divided country when we talk about politics. But where I do think the president has an opportunity now as we look ahead, as we start getting into the fall and talking about tax reform and some of the other things, these are some unifying themes and issues I think you can bring people together on.

SCIUTTO: OK, Dan? I know you're itching to get in.

PFEIFFER: Yes. Let's put aside his campaign style, whether that worked or whether it didn't. I mean, Jim is right. His approval ratings are historically low for a first-term president or any term president, frankly.

But he's not a candidate right now, even though that was a political rally, he's president. When the president of the United States goes on stage and essentially leads the audience into chanting CNN sucks, questions the patriotism reporters, attacks the home state senators of his own party who is dealing with brain cancer without a single word of well wish, then that is not unifying.

And that is -- it's different what Donald Trump was doing as a candidate, what he's doing as president. And he has yet to understand the gravity of his words as president. And that has consequences, policy consequences in the sense that because he's fighting with his own party, his agenda is stuck in the Senate. It has political consequences in the sense that his approval ratings are in the toilet and it's dangerous for those reporters who are there to be treated that way and have the crowd incited against the.

And so, the president's statement is problematic.


MILLER: Dan, very important point of distinction here is when President Trump ran and won, it wasn't just about taking on the establishment Democrats. I mean, it was also about taking on the establishment Republicans on Capitol Hill. And for the fact that he went and called out --

PFEIFFER: You can still say something about John McCain when he's suffering for brain cancer. That would not kill him to have the tiny shred of decency.

MILLER: Dan, hold on, President Trump did not say anything about Senator McCain and what he's going through on health issues, not at all. And so --

PFEIFFER: That's the point, that's the point.


SCIUTTO: -- against McCain did make those comments about --

MILLER: But he referenced the fact -- I mean, he referenced the fact that he was a deciding vote against moving Obamacare repeal forward, which is exactly accurate. And quite frankly, I think a lot of supporters out there would wish that the president would get out there and do that a bit more.

SCIUTTO: Gentlemen and to our viewers, we're watching here Trump arriving just moments ago back on the South Lawn of the White House from his trip to Reno today. There is the president.

We talked a little bit about approval numbers. I want to show numbers from a new poll getting to the president's credibility as well. This poll from Quinnipiac University asked the question, is president Trump doing more to divide the country or more to unite the country? Two to one margin says he is doing more to divide than unite the country.

Jason, how do you answer that?

MILLER: Well, I don't think so. Again, I think a lot of this is the coverage we see on TV. I mean, when it's constant coverage talking about a divided country, of course, people are going to think that it is divided. But when you look at some of the -- again, some of the unifying things that President Trump is talking about --

SCIUTTO: To be fair, a lot of our coverage is playing the president's comments as we did on last night and again today uninterrupted. So, the people that had responded to that poll had an opportunity to hear the president's words.

[19:40:05] MILLER: But, Jim, where I would respectfully disagree is the fact that again his criticism of bigotry and hate and also his embracing unity, a lot of those messages haven't always been played nearly as much as we've seen some of the other comments. And so, I don't think people necessarily get the full picture of everything that the president is saying.

SCIUTTO: As a matter of fact, we played all the comments from start to finish. But I get your point about perhaps editorial emphasis.

Jason Miller, Dan Pfeiffer, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

And OUTFRONT next, the president threatens to shut down the government if he does not get the money for his border wall. Why would he do that? I'll ask Congressman Steve King.

And he stands behind his man. We'll tell you about this devoted Trump supporter and his strange past with a violent cult.


SCIUTTO: New tonight, think twice about a government shut down. That is House Speaker Paul Ryan's message to President Trump after the president threatened to close the government last night to make sure that the wall is built.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't think a government shut down is necessary and I don't think most people want to see a government shut down. Ourselves included.


SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT now, Republican congressman from Iowa, Steve King.

Congressman King, thanks for joining us.

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Thank you, Jim.

[19:45:00]SCIUTTO: As you know, President Trump said last night he'll willing to shut the government down if that's what it takes to build his border wall. Your own leader in the House, Paul Ryan, he says that's not necessary and in fact not in the party's interest to do so. Who's right?

KING: I agree with both of them. And I know that, you know, Paul Ryan and I had this discussion back in January and the discussion was about the president needs -- we need to provide the president the resources he needs to secure the border. That said to me resources to build the wall as well as to enforce the law.

And when the president says he will deal with the government shut down if necessary, I don't think it will be necessary. And I think that's what Paul Ryan is saying, it won't be necessary. We'll get the resources to the president's desk. But if the Democrats are able to obstruct this and find a way to shut the government down over it and I'm not sure they can do that, but if they can do that way to do that, the public won't tolerate a government shut down over denying a mandate from the American people that was delivered with the election of Donald Trump.

So, we need to follow through on this and I think Republicans will come in line and I don't know that Democrats will. But historically, they have voted also for building a fence, a wall and a fence on the southern border.

SCIUTTO: As you know, Donald Trump during the campaign did not think a shut down was a good thing at all for a president back in 2013. He tweeted, and I'm quoting here, My sense is that people are far angrier at the president than they are at Congress re the shut down. An interesting turn. That's a tweet.

Listen to what else he had to say at the time.


TRUMP: Nobody wants a shut down.

Whether there is a shut down, who knows? That would be horrible if it was.

I really think the pressure is on Obama to make a deal because he doesn't want this on his resume.


SCIUTTO: Isn't it the president (ph) now on President Trump now to make a deal?

KING: I think President Trump has sent a good message to the Congress. And that is I'm going to insist I get the $1.6 billion to start the construction on the wall on the southern border. And that's a presidential promise. If he's not willing to demand that funding, then he's not following through with the impetus of the dedication and the commitment he's made. I think it's a good tactical maneuver.

SCIUTTO: But is that border wall which many, even Republican Congress who -- representatives live along the border don't believe is necessary, Will Hurd among them. Is that worth it to fulfill a campaign promise worth shutting down the entire government on all the other budget priorities that your own party has?

KING: Well, I imagine this -- I mean, let's just imagine, the sequence of this would come about in this way if there was going to be a shut down. An appropriation bill would be started in the House, sent to the Senate, to the president, and if the president said the money is not in here that I insisted on, I'm going to veto this bill, now go back to work and get me a bill with a funding in it. That's the cycle of it.

So, it would actually be the willful function of Congress to refuse to fund something that the president demanded.

Then, we'd figure who's going to blink. Is the president going to blink or is Congress going to blink? And I will say, we already know that Congress is going to blink because they blinked in 2013 over a much higher principal than this.

We also know that Democrats were ready to shut the government down if they didn't get the half a billion dollars in funding for Planned Parenthood. If you look at the value of the principles here involved, I think the result is already know is there is going to be funding for the president, $1.6 billion in that budget, and the only thing that keeps that from happening is if the president doesn't insist.

I think he will. I think he's given his word. We've got to get started building that wall and I am going to have to convince Will Hurd that it's a good idea.

SCIUTTO: On another topic, CNN has confirmed that the White House has prepared paperwork to pardon the former sheriff Joe Arpaio. Trump last night even suggested that he's going to make it happen. I just want to be clear -- remind our viewers, a judge found tat Arpaio's office engaged in systematic racial profiling of Latinos, ordered him to stop detaining people based on suspicious of being undocumented immigrants. And despite that judicial order, Arpaio was then found guilty of criminal content for not following it. Is this someone in your view who deserves a presidential pardon?

KING: I believe so. And I saw this because I sat on the judiciary committee and I have been down to Maricopa County. I visited with Sheriff Arpaio some years ago.

But I watched as this political prosecution was put together when the Democrats were in the majority. And they didn't like the idea he was enforcing immigration law. So, at this case --


SCIUTTO: It was a judge who declared him in contempt. It wasn't Democrats in Congress. It was a judge that declared him in contempt of the ruling.

KING: Well, judges aren't perfect either, and judges have a political agenda, too. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee went to the floor of the Senate about six months ago and gave a little lecture to Chief Justice Roberts that said if you're concerned about our confirmations being political, stop making political decisions with your court, and our confirmations will no longer be political either.

[19:50:15] We've got a politicized court and a lot of Obama appointees who have been political. It's also the case for a number of others.

SCIUTTO: You are close with Steve Bannon, President Trump's now former strategist. The day he was fired, he gave a very interesting interview to "The Weekly Standard" and he said, quote, quite explosive words. He said that the Trump presidency that we fought for and won is over. We still have a huge movement, and we'll make something of the Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It will be something else, and there will be all kinds of fights and there will be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.

That's a remarkable charge to make from Bannon as he goes out the door.

Do you agree with him that that presidency, that agenda, in effect, that Trump voters elected him to enact, that that's over?

KING: Well, even if I had a suspicion that it is, it's my job and my commitment to continue to push the agenda that are the convictions that I believe in and I promised my constituents I would promote. And lot of that is wrapped up in the Trump agenda. I wanted that platform in the Oval Office, the American people came together and elected a conservative platform with border security in it, into the Oval Office, and Mike Pence is a component of this, as well.

I think that might have caught Steve Bannon on a pessimistic day. I have not talked to him about that quote, but I have spoken with him since then. And I know he's committed to the Trump agenda and the platform. He's not going to let up, I'm hopeful the president won't let up, and I don't intend to let up.

There's -- he had two big white boards on that office in the West Wing, Steve Bannon's office. And on it were the list of all of the Trump promises and those that were completed he put a check mark behind. I think Steve Bannon is going to continue to promote those -- that agenda that is the Trump agenda. And I think the president will follow through on most of those, as well.

I've got some concerns, but I think the president needs help on this wall. I think he should have an individual who would be responsible for the full package of the wall, the strategy, the political strategy, the engineering, the funding, all the pieces. I don't know if the president knows that's not central in the mind of anybody I can find in the executive branch today.

SCIUTTO: OK. Congressman, thanks for taking the time tonight.

KING: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And tonight, we're learning more about one of the more noticeable attendees last night, this man that reads Trump and Republicans are not racist, and holding that sign: blacks for Trump. He's been spotted standing behind the president at other rallies, but his views are ones that the Trump campaign might not want to be associated with.

Jessica Schneider is OUTFRONT.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He calls himself Michael the black man and has been prominently featured behind Donald Trump at rallies around the country.

TRUMP: I love the signs behind me. Blacks for Trump. I like those signs.

SCHNEIDER: But the man behind the sign --

MAURICE SYMONETTE, "MICHAEL THE BLACK MAN": I'm about to tell you something that's off the chain.

SCHNEIDER: -- is a controversial conspiracy theorist. He once heckled Barack Obama at a rally in Florida. His group holding signs saying Obama was endorsed by the KKK.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Hold on, hold on, hold on, everybody.

SCHNEIDER: His Website that he promotes on his t-shirt spews headlines like: ISIS and Hillary race war plot to kill all black and white women of America with MS-13, and Hillary is the true racist.

SYMONETTE: We got to make sure that Hillary don't win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right, man. Hillary for prison.


SCHNEIDER: The man whose real name is Maurice Symonette has a knack for getting himself up close and personal with the president.

SYMONETTE: I'm right here with Donald Trump.

SCHNEIDER: He was within feet of Donald Trump at his victory party on election night.

SYMONETTE: Mr. President, Mr. President, I love you.

SCHNEIDER: And was hobnobbing with there are Florida Governor Rick Scott at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser in March.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I saw you on TV with Trump, you did a good job.

SCHNEIDER: The Trump campaign isn't responding to questions about how this man always seems to get so close, or if they're concerned about his past.

Symonette admits he joined a black supremacist cult in Miami in the 1980s, led by a man called Yahweh bin Yahweh, who is charged in connection with 14 murders and served 11 years in prison. Symonette was acquitted in 1992 of conspiracy to commit murder charges. Symonette insisted in a radio interview Wednesday morning he doesn't get his prime spots at rallies courtesy of the president or his team.

SYMONETTE: I wasn't placed there. I put myself there. They've seen me a lot of times. So I was like -- I was about sixth in line. I got there like 8:00 that morning.

SCHNEIDER: Symonette has been politically active for years, supporting Republicans.

SYMONETTE: The Democrats, they're the worst thing that ever happened to the black man --

[19:55:00] SCHNEIDER: He performed before a Rick Santorum rally during the 2012 Republican primaries, though Santorum's spokesman says the senator had no role booking the pre-rally entertainment.

SYMONETTE: I am for Trump absolutely and absolutely utterly against Hillary.

SCHNEIDER: And Michael the black man says he plans to remain prominent.

SYMONETTE: I was glad to be there to keep the message out to let everyone know what the Democrats are doing, destroying the black man and white man of America.


SCHNEIDER: And the White House is not answering questions about how Michael the black man got so close to the president at the Phoenix rally last night. They referred all questions to the Trump campaign, which didn't respond to our request for comment. Symonette insists he waited in line for hours for his prime spot, but he certainly seems to be in close proximity to the president and his team quite often -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jessica Schneider in Washington.

OUTFRONT next, Hillary Clinton on Donald Trump in her own savage words.


SCIUTTO: Tonight, we're learning what Hillary Clinton was really thinking and feeling during the presidential campaign. That brings us to tonight's number, 318. It was 318 days ago that Clinton was feeling incredibly uncomfortable during one unforgettably awkward debate moment.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it lurking, call it looming. It certainly looms large in our memory of the Clinton-Trump debate. Spoofed by "SNL" with music from "Jaws."

We've heard Hillary talk about it.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I thought, whoa, this is really weird.

MOOS: But we never heard her talk about it like this.

CLINTON: It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.

MOOS: In excerpts from her book, "What Happened," Hillary describes their second debate.

CLINTON: No, go ahead, Donald.

TRUMP: No, I'm a gentleman, Hillary. Go ahead.

MOOS: Gentleman? She thought not. Trump paced behind her, swayed behind her, as she debated whether to stay calm and keep styling --

CLINTON: Or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly, back up, you creep?

MOOS: Prompting this tweet, I need a backup you creep t-shirt ASAP.

(on camera): Some fact checkers say that Trump wasn't intentionally looming over Hillary, but rather was staying by his chair in his assigned space. At times, it looked like he was using his chair to exercise.

(voice-over): Trump has said Hillary walked in front of his position to get closer to people asking the questions.

TRUMP: Believe me, the last space that I want to invade is her space.

MOOS: Hillary's space was definitely invaded back when she first ran for the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sign it right now.

CLINTON: Well, we'll shake on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, I want your signature.

MOOS: George W. Bush handled Al Gore's invasion with a nod.


MOOS: Hillary now says she may have overlearned the lesson of staying calm.

CLINTON: I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of difficult men trying to throw me off.

MOOS: I a debate, what goes on behind your back doesn't stay behind your back.

Jeanne Moos --

CLINTON: Back up, you creep.

MOOS: CNN, New York.


SCIUTTO: Well, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

I'm Jim Sciutto. "AC360" starts right now.