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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Awaiting Senate Vote On Tax Bill, House Must Re-vote; W.H.: Trump Will "Likely Take A Big Hit" On The Tax Plan; Deputy FBI Director Questioned As GOP Sen. Calls For His Firing; Don Trump Jr. Stokes Russia Conspiracy Theory; Third Judicial Nominee Withdraws From Consideration. Aired 7-8pm ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very disturbing. Brian Todd reporting, thanks very much. That's it for me. Thanks for watching. Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, OUTFRONT HOST: OutFront next, breaking news. The Senate voting on the tax bill just moments from now, as the House has to revote because the bill broke legislative rules. Over at the White House, team Trump insisting the tax bill will not benefit the President himself.

Plus, a top Republican calling for the Deputy Director of the FBI to step down. All part of a Republican effort to undermine the Russia investigation. Will it work?

And a navy pilot sees an unidentified flying object. Why he insists it is, quote, not from this world. Let's go OutFront.

SCIUTTO: Good evening. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Erin Burnett tonight. And OutFront tonight, breaking news. We're standing by for a landmark vote, one that will upend the nation's tax code as we know it.

The Senate expected to begin voting shortly on the final version of the massive Republican tax bill. But now the House in something of an embarrassing twist has to vote again on the 1,997 page piece of legislation due to a procedural error. Still, all signs point to this bill passing.

A major accomplishment, no doubt, for the President, but it is not without controversy. Especially when it comes to who wins and who loses. The President has been adamant that he is on the losing side when it comes to this bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. Believe me. This is not good for me. Me, it's not -- I have very wealthy friends. Not so happy with me, but that's OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Today, Sarah Sanders defended that remark.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, we expect that it likely will certainly on the personal side could cost the President a lot of money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: However, analyses of the tax bill have shown that claim to be very misleading. Case in point, it dramatically lowers taxes on so-called passthrough businesses. Which is how most if not all of Trump's own businesses are structured.

That change specifically benefits real estate investors, and of course, it is real estate that generates tens of millions of dollars per year for the President. Which may explain why Sarah Sanders had to change her tune halfway through that briefing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: In some ways, particularly on the personal side, the President will likely take a big hit. But on the business side, he could benefit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: But let's be clear. President Trump's personal and business lives are so intertwined that it is nearly impossible to separate the two. And of course, we have no more clarity on the issue because, of course, the President has not and will not release his tax returns. A lot to get to tonight on this breaking news story.

Sunlen Serfaty is OutFront live. She is on Capitol Hill. And Sunlen, the Senate is about to vote as we said, but this will eventually have to go back to the House for a revote. Explain how that happened tonight.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is really an unexpected last-minute setback, Jim, for Republicans up here on Capitol Hill that will force Republicans in the House to have a second vote on this tax bill and delay final passage of the tax bill.

So how did all of this happen? Well, there are some technical changes that need to be made, some technical glitches because of the Senate's budget rules that need to be changed to the Senate side. They will make those changes, those tweaks tonight. They will vote on that tonight. But of course, the House has to vote and pass through a mirror image of that bill.

So the Senate will vote tonight, the House will revote tomorrow. There is no question that this will still indeed go forward and pass through. The bill is certainly not in jeopardy. But this is a day, of course, Jim, that Republicans wanted to be celebrating a big passage of this tax bill today. And certainly not wanting to focus on some technical procedural glitches, certainly not want to talk about a second House vote. That's to say Republicans are already seizing on this issue saying this speaks to rushed nature of all of these. So, minor delay, minor setback for Republicans. But most likely, by the end of tomorrow, this bill will be passed here on Capitol Hill and be sent to President Trump for his signature.

SCIUTTO: That's right. And before Christmas, as the President have said. Sunlen Serfaty on the Hill.

Jeff Zeleny, he is OutFront at the White House tonight. Jeff, you got to say very clearly here. a major legislative win for the President. The House is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow as Sunlen said. Do we know when the President will get that moment of signing this bill?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it is a major legislative win and it's the first big one of the year. That's why this is being seen here at the White House as a big deal.

Now, Jim, look for that signing ceremony, the President to sign the bill, into law to come immediately after that. There's some procedural matters that have to happen in rolling the bill, sending it formally from the Capitol here to the White House, but the President is not waiting.

I am told by advisers and aides tonight, the President has invited Republican leaders and others here to the White House tomorrow afternoon for a ceremony and event marking this passage of the bill.

[19:05:08] They want to keep this sort of energy and spirit alive here. So the President will sign it at a later date. We're not exactly sure when that will be. But tomorrow he'll be having Republicans here at the White House to marked this big of their big legislative achievement, the only big achievement in a legislative way so far this year, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Now, as you know, at least for now, public opinion polls show that this bill not particularly popular. And President Trump himself, a new CNN poll finds that his approval rating has sunk to yet another new low. The numbers there down to 35 percent approval rating. What's the response at the White House?

ZELENY: Jim, that is one of the things that our new poll today, you're right, shows the President Trump's approval rating is at 35 percent. That is something that is a record low for every President dating back to Eisenhower in the first term of the presidency. So in modern polling, this President has a low rating.

And that's just not, you know, because of legislative achievements. That's because of the full picture of what's going on here. Of course, the Russia investigation, all the President, you know, his travel ban, everything he says that has been controversial, that is all factored into this here. But White House officials hope that this big achievement will actually help lift some of those numbers. That is their hope and belief. And Republicans, Jim, in this town, hope the President sticks to talking about this and not a variety of other matters. But again, as we know, a lot is built into that 35 percent. There's a lot that some Americans don't like about him. Not necessarily having anything to do with the tax plan. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks very much.

OutFront now, Douglas Holtz-Eakin is the Former Director of the Congressional Budget Office. I should mention, he supports this tax bill. And Robert Reich, he's Former U.S. Labor Secretary under President Clinton. His new movie "Saving Capitalism" is on Netflix now. He is opposed to the bill.

Doug, if I can begin with you. You heard the White House there again defending the President's claim that this bill hurts him. But a couple of facts here. Forbes is estimating that this -- the President himself could benefit to the tune of $11 million based on the most recent tax return we have seen, of course, from 2005. We don't have the whole picture here. How do you respond to that?

DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE: It's hard to imagine this doesn't help him personally. I mean, the only story you can tell is one where he has such enormous tax losses from past losses on his business that he has no taxable income on his passthrough part and he's not making that much at the White House. He is donating most of it to charity, but it's a pretty implausible story.

And as you said, if we had his tax returns, we'd know the facts. We don't. But it seems really unlikely to me.

SCIUTTO: I mean, you mentioned it there, passthrough. Because basically, what you do as a real estate developer now instead of paying a personal income tax rate up to like 39 percent, they now call that in effect a corporation, so you pay the 21 percent, the new corporate tax rate, is that right? Is that why the benefit is most likely to come to him?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: The passthroughs are an idea where you take business income, whether it's a partnership or an s-corporation or could be in a real estate or some industry, and you pass through the business profits to the owners. The idea was to make sure that business incomes are taxed at the appropriate rate. The rate at which the owner should be taxed. If they're a high income individual, taxed at a high rate. If they're low income individual, it should be taxed at a low rate.

So, the passthrough idea was an innovation tax policies to sort of get things right. When they changed the rates, however, there are winners and losers like every other part of tax reform. Among the winners are anybody who has a passthrough structure and -- because we have lowered the rate on that.

SCIUTTO: And that includes real estate developers which, of course the, President is. HOLTZ-EAKIN: It includes real estate developers. That's it.

SCIUTTO: Which the President often reminds us that he is.

Robert Reich, the claim here from Republicans is that this is going to be -- this is going to add to growth. Why? You're going to put more money in the hands of corporations and that the middle class is going to get a tax cut as well. What's your response?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY UNDER PRES. BILL CLINTON: Well, there's no evidence that that has ever been the case, Jim. The way you grow the economy is you invest in people. You invest in education and job skills. You invest in their health. You invest in infrastructure that binds us together.

And this bill is actually not only not doing that, it's going to make it harder in the future to make those kinds of investments in our people. This is trickle-down economics on steroids. This is an example of the kind of worst Republican kind of thinking about, you know, you give big corporations, big tax breaks.

You give billionaires and real estate developers big tax breaks, and somehow that's going to help everybody else and make the economy large and grow. Well, it's just not going to happen. In fact, quite the opposite.

SCIUTTO: Douglas, how do you respond to that, because you look back to the Reagan tax cut in 1986, often cited in the debate leading up to this tax cut. You look at George W. Bush's tax cut in the early 2000s. Is there any economic evidence with those two cuts that it significantly added to economic growth?

[19:10:02] HOLTZ-EAKIN: Let's be very clear. This isn't '86 where we raised taxes on corporations to finance large cuts and marginalized on individuals.

SCIUTTO: You know, but I asked a simple question. I asked a pretty basic question there. Is there evidence that past big tax cuts actually measurably added to growth?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: We have never done this before. So there is no past evidence on this experiment. We will, for the very first time in the history of the United States, move from a global system of income taxation to a territorial system of income taxation. We will change a status quo where every firm has the incentive to put its intellectual property, it's patent to trademarks overseas. Put the production over there.

When you make some money, keep it over there. And if there's ever a merger acquisition, move the headquarters over there. The fundamental importance of this bill is the reforms to those tax incentives so the incentive is now to locate in the U.S., innovate in the U.S., hire and pay better in the U.S.

SCIUTTO: No, I hear that.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: And I started to try before. So you can't say this isn't '86, oh, there's no evidence from those episodes.

SCIUTTO: Well, it would help if you could cite a previous tax cut that measurably added to economic growth. I mean, that's --

HOLTZ-EAKIN: It's not about the tax cuts. It's not about the tax cuts. It is about the reforms. If I could finish --

REICH: Doug, it's not about the tax cuts. Wait, can I -- wait. I have to ask.

SCIUTTO: Well, let's give Rob a chance to answer.

REICH: I just -- if it's not about the tax cuts, what is it actually, Doug? I mean, what is going on here? This is the biggest tax cut I have seen in living memory. If it's not about the tax cuts, what is your view of what this is about?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: This is about tax reform of business taxation in the United States. Beginning with the c-corporations so that we no longer have the status quo that drives economic activity outside of the United States but instead puts it here. And in this process -- can I finish? You asked the question. In the process --

SCIUTTO: Please do finish.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: In the process, there's incentives for the accumulation of capital. We know the shortest route to productivity and higher wages is higher capital per worker. That's what this is about.

And the passthrough provisions are meant to level the playing field between passthroughs and c-corporations which is just good tax policy.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, Robert, because this gets to one of these points which I think Douglas is referring to. A lot of U.S. companies because of the occurring tax structure, they've hid their profits. I mean, Apple to the tunes of tens of billions of dollars overseas. There is a provision in this tax bill to bring some of that back at a reduced rate. Is that a benefit of this plan that you recognize?

REICH: Well, I don't understand. I mean, in 2004, the George W. Bush administration had a very similar provision. You know, a tax holiday, bring all of those profits back. We'll give you a much reduced rate, and it didn't lead to any growth or investment new jobs. In fact, quite the opposite.

You know, we have had a precursor for this. And it shows that there is absolutely no positive outcome. We're going to have a $1.5 trillion addition to the debt.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Bob, what was the precursor?

REICH: We are also going to have 13 million people who lose their health insurance. What is good about this when we're giving huge tax breaks to people at the top and huge tax breaks to big corporations? You know, at least most of the American public knows what's going on here.

SCIUTTO: Folks, we're going to have to leave it there.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Just to be clear, and hopefully Bob will read the bill.

SCIUTTO: In fairness --

(CROSSTALK)

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Yes. This isn't a tax holiday. You have to pay the tax on your earnings overseas whether you bring it back or not. And the litmus test of this bill success will be does the money come back. I admit that.

SCIUTTO: OK.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: If it doesn't come back, then this reform will not have worked. But --

REICH: The litmus test is whether this actually leads to growth, and most Americans, and it doesn't and it won't.

SCIUTTO: Well, that will be the test. We'll see that in the numbers. Douglass says it's the first time we've tried this. Robert says previous ones, that there's no evidence of it. We're going to continue this conversation. Thanks to both of you tonight.

And OutFront next, Republicans step up their attacks on the Russia probe, renewing calls for heads to roll. Plus, the White House says there is no trouble with Trump's judicial pick, so why have three of them dropped out of the running in just one week?

And Donald Trump the robot, now in Disney World's Hall of Presidents. Why does he look like actor Jon Voight?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:17:57] SCIUTTO: The breaking news, the FBI's second in command facing intense questioning from the House Intelligence Committee right now. Andrew McCabe has been testifying behind closed doors on Russia all day. This as a top Republican is calling for McCabe to be fired.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the GOP Chairman of the Judiciary Committee saying that he wants McCabe out. Republicans slamming him for what they believe is anti-Trump bias. A drum beat against McCabe comes in the midst of a concerted effort by Republicans to discredit the FBI and the DOJ as the Russia probe intensifies.

OutFront tonight, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He's Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. I understand you just came out of this long questioning of the Deputy FBI Director. You've heard the Republican charges. Do you believe that he's biased against the President?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I haven't heard anything that would disqualify him or discredit him or suggest that he's in any way biased against the President. Or give any reason to remove him from his job, no.

SCIUTTO: Part of the argument here that you hear from Republicans, they note that his wife, she ran for office in Virginia as a Democrat. She received at the time contributions from then Democratic Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, a very close friend as well of the Clintons. How do you answer their questions about those personal ties to the Democratic Party?

CASTRO: That his wife has her own life. And she's free to run for office. But people in general have their own political preferences. There were only two candidates for President, two main candidates for President last year. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

So every American that voted, most people voted for one of those two. So I don't think that alone gets you anywhere near discrediting somebody from serving their role in the FBI.

SCIUTTO: Beyond the personal comments, personal ties, rather, as you know, this criticism is also based on text messages now made public between FBI officials trading a series of text messages trashing then presidential candidate Donald Trump.

[19:20:10] And one of those conversations appeared based on those released messages to have taken place in McCabe's office. Does that concern you?

CASTRO: Well, from what I understand, included in those text messages were critical comments about other politicians who are not Republicans also. So it wasn't just comments about the President. But remember also that the investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election is much bigger than any single person. And so I think the investigation has been run fairly. And it should proceed.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, just you're aware that this is in effect an increasing argument you're hearing from some Republican lawmakers as well as right-leaning newspapers, websites, television stations about Robert Mueller himself. And raising questions about the FBI. We heard from Donald Trump Jr., the President's son, just a short time ago tonight, making this argument. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: My father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign, and people were oh, what are you talking about. But it is, and you're seeing it. There is, and there are, people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: That is a remarkable charge from the President's son. People at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America. What's your response to that?

CASTRO: That it's an irresponsible charge. And also that the President, his family, and many of his associates are looking for every single angle and way that they can to discredit Bob Mueller and discredit any kind of investigation into any cooperation between Americans and the Russians who interfered with the 2016 elections, including any Americans who were associated with the Trump campaign or the Trump organization.

SCIUTTO: I want to mention another comment. I spoke yesterday with James Clapper, of course, the Former Director of National Intelligence under President Obama. And I asked him about the relationship between Trump and Putin, including the phone call that Trump spoke about between Putin this week, including some mutual admiration expressed between the two.

Listen to what Director Clapper told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FMR. DIRECTR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: This past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset. And that's what he's doing with the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Working an asset. To be clear, in this interview, because I followed up a number of times with Director Clapper. He said he was speaking figuratively. He was not alleging that the President is actually a Russian asset, but he did make clear the he believes Putin is working him as such. That's a remarkable charge to make. Is he alone in that concern?

CASTRO: Well, I don't think it's any surprise. Everybody knows that Vladimir Putin is a former officer in the KGB, that he's a very savvy and skilled politician. And that Russia has an agenda, not only for its region in the world but in geopolitics generally.

So it's no surprise that he would do everything possible to try work over a rookie president who has never served in government before, that is now dealing with the vast apparatus that is the United States government, and all of our relationships in the world. So that's not a surprise at all.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Castro, many thanks, and happy holidays. Merry Christmas to you.

CASTRO: Merry Christmas.

SCIUTTO: OutFront next, the White House gets defensive when asked why three of Trump's judicial picks in just the past week alone could not pass muster.

And new questions tonight about that deadly train derailment. Why was it going 80 miles an hour in a 30-mile an hour zone?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:27:35] SCIUTTO: New tonight, Trump's judicial picks under fire. Three of his nominees have now withdrawn in just the last week. You may recognize the most recent, Matthew Petersen, from this video that went viral.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Have you ever tried a jury trial?

MATTHEW PETERSEN, TRUMP JUDICIAL NOMINEE: I have not.

KENNEDY: Civil?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: Criminal?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: Bench?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: The White House is brushing off the troubles saying they are all, quote, standard. Here is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Every administration has individuals that don't go all the way through the process. We've had 60 nominees and only three that haven't gone through this process. He has withdrawn his nomination. We haven't continued to go forward. That is pretty standard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Let's be clear. It is not standard for a judicial nominee who will serve for life if confirmed to be stumped by the most basic legal questions. It is not standard for judicial nominees to blog favorably about the KKK. That's right, the KKK. That was the case with Brett Talley.

And it certainly not standard for a judicial nominee to say that transgender children are evidence of, quote, Satan's plan. Those are the words of Jeff Mateer. The White House has withdrawn its nominations of Talley and Mateer. Petersen withdrew his own name.

OutFront, CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, April Ryan, and Daily Beast Editor In Chief, John Avlon. So, Jeffrey Toobin, you know a thing or two about judge appointments and so on. The White House says this is standard. That's 3 out of 60 nominees so far who had to be withdrawn. Is that standard? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's not standard, but what's much more extraordinary about these judicial nominees, and this counts for all 60, is how much ideology matters. This has been an enormously successful group, you know, who represent anti-abortion rights, anti-gay rights, anti-voting rights, anti-separation of church and state.

These nominees have been idealogically uniform in a way that no prior administration has been. They have also been the least diverse group. I mean, if you saw that original shot, there were five white men sitting at that table. Five. And that is typical of the Bush nominees.

Very conservative, almost exclusively white men, and almost all getting through. These three didn't, but look, they are the exception. Most of these nominees are getting through.

SCIUTTO: April Ryan, this is a strategy, certainly, inside the White House and a strategy that appears to be working by and large.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It all depends upon what you mean by working. Yes, they have people who espouse their ideology, and I talked with the NAACP recently, and they said, you know, when you think of those issues with that ideology, you think of the alt-right, and the alt-right means white supremacists.

But look at this. When you have Petersen, when he said he did not serve, this administration is doing what it's been doing -- bringing people in who are not the typical judge or the typical politician or the typical secretary of some department. And with that, it leads to a lot of problems.

And when you vet these people, you get the people who are not the American bar association who they're not using anymore, to say yay, they're worthy or not. What they're doing is getting people from inside and outside the White House to vet these people, and these people who are vetting may not have the same kind of experience as the ABA.

So, it's just a cyclical process that's been going on. We have seen in this administration.

SCIUTTO: The vetting, I mean, certainly, John Avlon, the vetting appears to be a consistent issue here.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And look, Jeff and April are right. I mean, this is about ideology being elevated over experience. That's dangerous for a judiciary.

It also, I mean, you know, we're not talking about different kinds of experience. We're talking about no experience in being a judge for a lifetime appointment. So, if the key criteria for the White House counsel's office is ideology, that's great, but they're actually going so far as to nominate people with no judicial experience for lifetime federal judgeships.

That should -- I mean, Democrat, independent, Republican, that should stop you in your tracks. That's a question of competence.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: These are lifetime -- we should remind our viewers. At the highest level, these are lifetime appointments.

TOOBIN: Right. In fairness, if you look at the circuit court nominees, the intermediate appellate court nominees, many of them are very qualified. I mean, there are several Supreme Court law clerks, former Supreme Court law clerks.

But again, ideology is paramount. I mean, they are all either Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia clerks. They're all uniform ideologically. That's what really is driving these appointments more than competence, more than experience, and it's been very successful.

And remember, it also includes Neil Gorsuch, who has the seat that was kept open by Mitch McConnell for almost a year.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask a question, Jeffrey, on that point. If a Democrat had been elected, would not the judicial appointments have been decided by a similar ideological test, just from the other side of the spectrum?

TOOBIN: Well, we have a very recent example of that. We have the Barack Obama presidency, which had almost half women nominees, very substantial numbers of racial minorities. But not ideologically as far left as these nominees are far right. I mean, you know, there is no question that Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan are supporters of abortion rights, are supporters of gay rights, but you don't have the same kind of ideological extremism on the left that you did have on the right.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: April, I want to ask you, because of course, the biggest judicial appointment is the Supreme Court appointment of Neil Gorsuch.

RYAN: The Supreme Court, yes.

SCIUTTO: And there was a "Washington Post" story today that the president considered pulling that appointment because during the confirmation process, Gorsuch expressed some lack of comfort, one might say, with the president's criticism of judges on the bench.

What do you know about that story? And is that in line with the president's loyalty test we have heard in other cases?

RYAN: Most definitely, that loyalty test -- I mean, even if you're in the seat, he likes to be able to say you're fired. He has that prerogative, but that happened, it happened a little after the process, after the confirmation process, when the president was testing some of the waters when it came to some of these statements by judges or orders by judges.

This president likes to be able to say this person is in my corner. But when you -- it's almost like the Justice Department. There should be a line between justice and the White House. And there's supposed to be a line between -- really, I mean, the checks and balances.

There's supposed to be a line between the federal, the judicial and -- well, the judiciary and the executive as well as on the Hill.

[19:35:04] And the line -- and the president is showing that he's kind of erasing that line. He's saying, look, if you don't lean towards my ideas, I'm going to pull you.

But the line is no longer there. The president is reaching in. And he's sending that, he's throwing that veiled threat to Neil Gorsuch. So, we'll see how that plays out down the road.

SCIUTTO: The president certainly hasn't kept his views private about the Russian investigation, and Mueller's investigation.

John Avlon, I want to ask you, the president did deny this "Washington Post" story, as he is want to do. He called it fake news. Do you believe the president's denial?

AVLON: Unfortunately, we're in a situation where we can't automatically take the president at his word. If there are multiple sources, there's probably some truth to it.

A president can be impulsive. We know he values loyalty. That comment Gorsuch made was a little edgy for the current crop, where he said that it was disheartening to see the president target the judiciary.

But, I think, overall, it's evidence of a lot of what we have seen. An emphasis on ideology, sometimes at the expense of competence. Of course, there are competent conservative jurists, and the progressives.

But we forget sometimes that the ideal of nonpartisanship in the judiciary itself has sort of been eclipsed by hyper-partisanship, and the extreme edge of that, it can bleed into as we see in these three folks, into rank incompetence based on lack of experience.

SCIUTTO: Quick final word, Jeff, before we go.

TOOBIN: Well, just -- I mean, remember, the only justice that Neil Gorsuch voted with on all of his first 15 cases was Clarence Thomas, the most conservative member of the court. The conservative movement won a huge victory with the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, and that's more important than Donald Trump's rages, because Neil Gorsuch will be on the Supreme Court long after Donald Trump is gone from the White House.

SCIUTTO: Good point. Jeff, John, and April, thanks so much for joining us tonight.

And OUTFRONT next, we're learning more about that deadly train derailment, and hearing first-hand now from survivors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I looked out the front of the train where there should be another passenger car, and I just saw forest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: And the former Navy pilot who saw this UFO over the Pacific and said, quote, it was not from this world. He'll be my guest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:41:17] SCIUTTO: New tonight, more than double the speed limit. That is how fast an Amtrak train was going when it crashed yesterday, causing 13 of 14 cars to derail. Passengers onboard comparing the horrific crash to being inside an exploding bomb. The accident near Seattle left at least three people dead, more than 100 injured.

Jason Carroll is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Investigators now in day two of trying to determine a cause behind the Amtrak derailment, one sobering point already clear. Train 501 was traveling about 80 miles per hour as it rounded a curve and derailed. That's more than twice the posted 30-mile-per-hour speed limit.

BELLA DINH-ZARR, NTSB SPOKESWOMAN: The brake was automatically activated rather than being initiated by the engineer. And that simply means that that's part of when there is an accident, the emergency brake system goes in place. So, it was not something that the engineer actually initiated himself.

CARROLL: Three people onboard the train were killed, including Zach Willhoite, his friend described him as a mass transit history enthusiast. Many passengers wanted to be onboard for the train's inaugural run from Seattle, through DuPont, to Portland.

Bob Snyder (ph) was in car five. He remembers the moment it approached the overpass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifteen minutes or so, and then I noticed some what would feel like normal turbulence on an airplane, but for a train ride, it's unusual. It wasn't until I came to and I could get a sense of -- I looked out the front of the train where there should be another passenger car, and I just saw forest.

CARROLL: Snyder says he suffered only minor injuries. So, too, did Charlie and Beverly Hevner (ph), both crawled their way to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After getting myself upright and my legs unfolded, I saw her legs, and I reached down and I shook one. And she shook it back. I said, you all right? She said, I think so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was this body lying there. He had -- hardly had any clothes on. The clothes had been ripped off him. And he was obviously dead.

CARROLL: Dozens were injured as the train cars careened off the overpass and onto interstate 5, about 15 miles south of Seattle.

For years, some local community leaders have fought against Amtrak using this stretch of railway in DuPont, citing potential safety issues. Recently, millions of dollars in improvements were added to these tracks, including Positive Train Control, technology that automatically slows down a speeding train but unfortunately was not activated.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: And, Jim, one of the major questions that investigators are trying to answer is whether or not the engineer was distracted before the accident. He wasn't the only one inside that cabin. There was also a conductor inside the cabin with him as well. They'll be looking to talk to both of those people to determine if they knew anything at all. They say they'll be conducting those interviews with them once those two have recovered from their injuries.

Jim, they were also able to recover two cameras inside that cabin as well. Those cameras were apparently badly damaged, according to NTSB, but they're hoping that will yield some information for them as well. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Twice the speed limit. Incredible. Jason Carroll on the scene, thanks very much.

OUTFRONT next, close encounter with a possible UFO? The Navy pilot who had one says this mysterious craft outran his F-18 supersonic jet. He'll be my guest.

And controversy at Disney World. Is that you, President Trump?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From the beginning, America has been a nation defined by its people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[19:48:38] SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT tonight, a stunning claim from the man who ran the Defense Department's multi-million dollar UFO program, a top secret operation that was for years, dedicated to, yes, investigating UFO sightings.

Erin spoke with him. And when asked does he believe there is alien life out there, this was his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LUIS ELIZONDO, FORMER PENTAGON MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL, RAN UFO UNIT: My personal belief is there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Now this video you are seeing here is presented as possible evidence. It was captured by a U.S. Navy fighter jet in 2004 off the coast of California. If you look closely, it appears to show a whitish oval object about the size of a commercial airplane hovering over the ocean. What is it exactly?

OUTFRONT now, the man who witnessed this object. He's retired U.S. Navy pilot, Commander David Fravor.

Thanks very much for joining us tonight.

COMMANDER DAVID FRAVOR, U.S. NAVY PILOT (RET.): Thanks, Jim. Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: Commander, you were in the cockpit there. Explain to us what exactly you saw.

FRAVOR: Yes. When we -- there was two of us, two airplanes, four people. We had F-18s. We had got vectored out to the west after they terminated a training exercise to investigate an object. When we arrived, the cruiser with the Aegis system said it was merge plot which means they couldn't break us up from the blip.

[19:50:00] We started looking around as we both looked out the right side of our airplane, we saw a disturbance in the water like a sea mountain when the waves are breaking over the top, so a white water.

And a white object, oblong, pointing north moving erratically left, right, north, south, up, down, all around. As we started clockwise flow around the disturbance watching it, I decided that I would go lower and the other jet stayed high to observe both of us. As I got to about the 12:00 position, the object started to mirror us. So, now we're both in a clockwise flow opposite circles. The object is lower than me, I'm above him and I'm looking at him with my eyes.

We get all the way around the circle as I'm descending. Now, there's a 2,000 to 3,000 foot difference between us vertical. I'm at about the 8:00 position and the tick tack is about two. I cut across the circle, so across the middle. And as I got close to it, probably within a mile to a half mile, it rapidly accelerated to the south and disappeared in less than two seconds.

So, then we turn back around -- go ahead.

SCIUTTO: Go ahead. You're an experienced pilot. You've been up in the air a lot. I imagine you've seen a lot of things in the sky.

What was it about the movement of this or the appearance of this that made you believe it wasn't from this world as opposed to something else?

FRAVOR: Well, the first thing is it had no wings so you think, OK, it's a helicopter. There's no rotor wash in the water, there's no rotors. When helicopters move side to side they're kind of slow. They pick up speed going the other way. This was extremely abrupt like a ping pong ball bouncing off the wall. It would it and go the other way and change directions at will.

And then the ability to hover over the water and start a vertical climb from basically zero up towards 12,000 feet and then accelerate in less than two seconds and disappear is something that I have never seen in my life.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure you've spoken to people. You've told the story to some people who react with skepticism, shake their heads a bit.

FRAVOR: Yes.

SCIUTTO: What do you say to people who doubt the encounter?

FRAVOR: Well, I think it's easy to doubt what you can't explain. But when you actually see things and this is not the first account of someone seeing a UFO, but in this situation, you're talking about four people, all eyeballs on ranging in experience from relatively new in a fleet squadron, which is BFA 41 to myself who had over 16 years of flying and well over 3,500 hours nonstop.

So, I would argue that it wasn't a weather balloon, it wasn't a flair, it was an actual object that we've tracked, we looked at somewhere for around five minutes before it rapidly accelerated.

SCIUTTO: Now, the Defense Department analyzed this video. Did they take it seriously? Did they come to any conclusion?

FRAVOR: Well, you can't really discern what it is until there's a couple of shots when it gets closer, there's a couple of objects coming out of the bottom. You can estimate how fast it leaves the sight of that screen on the whiff. And, you know, you have to ask exactly based on the field of view what they would estimate that is, but when it leaves the screen on the video, it's moving pretty fast.

SCIUTTO: Commander Fravor --

FRAVOR: That's from a stand still.

SCIUTTO: A remarkable account. Thanks very much for joining us tonight.

FRAVOR: Well, you're quite welcome. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, robots, Donald Trump. This in Disney World's famous Hall of the Presidents, but why doesn't he look like the real thing? Jeanne Moos looks for answers.

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[19:57:50] SCIUTTO: Taking the stage tonight, a new likeness of president Trump that couldn't be more unlike him.

Here's Jeanne Moos. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: George Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throughout history.

MOOS: Introduced Donald Trump to Disney World's Hall of Presidents.

TRUMP: Three very simple words, we, the people.

MOOS: Yes, well, we, the people, all seem to be noticing the same thing best described in two words. Jon Voigt, there is an uncanny resemblance to this Trump supporter.

JON VOIGHT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: He will save our America and he will certainly make it great again.

MOOS: Read one tweet, congratulations for Jon Voigt to being elected to Disney's Hall of Presidents. To be fair, someone noted, every robot in the hall of presidents looks like they were designed by a guy who lost his glasses. From Obama to Bush, some imagined the other president's reactions to president Trump's presence.

TRUMP: To stand here among so many great leaders of our past --

MOOS: There is one other theory on why President Trump doesn't quite look like himself. Looks like Disney World expected Hillary to win. Noted someone else, I'm not saying Disney made a Hillary robot and last minute changed it into Trump clothes, but a petition with more than 15,000 signatures asked Disney not to let Trump's figure speak. It was ignored.

The president recorded the audio at the White House.

TRUMP: And that the best days of our great nation are still ahead of us.

MOOS: Tweeted one critic, anyone that could hack into this and replace the audio with the "Access Hollywood" tape is a national hero.

Well, someone did dub in the "Access Hollywood" audio as well as sound from the Trump/Rubio dust up over hand sounds.

TRUMP: He referred to my hands if they're small something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem, I guarantee you.

MOOS: We can guarantee what Lincoln would say.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: No men are created equal.

MOOS: But not all robots.

TRUMP: Look at those hands. Are they small hands?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Thank you for joining us tonight.

I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Erin Burnett.

John Berman is in for Anderson Cooper tonight. And "AC360" starts right now.