Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Begins Initial Preps for Possible Mueller Interview; Trump Aide Played Key Role in Pursuit of Possible Clinton E-mails; Dow Tumbles as Trump Threatens China with New Tariffs; Trump Meets With Pruitt as Calls Grow for the EPA Chief to Step Down; Evangelical Leaders Call for Meeting with Trump; National Guard Troops Moving in Support of Border Control Mission. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 6, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, a CNN exclusive. The president has began preparing for a possible interview with Robert Mueller and we have new details just ahead.

Plus, the markets plummet the worst beginning to April since the Great Depression. The reason, Trump's tariff.

And, the president meets with his EPA chief amid multiple scandals as we learn that even Pruitt's landlord, the lobbyist, changed the locks on him. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, a CNN exclusive. We are reporting that President Donald Trump's lawyers have began to prepare him for a possible interview with the special counsel. This is the clearest indication yet that Trump and his team are open to an interview with Robert Mueller which is been the subject of an intense debate among Trump's team.

The president himself has been vocal an interview, saying multiple times, at least publicly, that he wants to sit down with Mueller.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sir?



TRUMP: I would like to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?

TRUMP: 100 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

TRUMP: I'm looking forward to it actually.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To reach a higher standard, you would do it under oath?

TRUMP: Oh, I would do it under oath.


BURNETT: Now, whether the president will back his act -- his talk with action remains to be seen. And Trump's own advisers fear it could expose him to charges of perjury.

Let's get straight to Pamela Brown on this CNN exclusive report. And Pamela, obviously, this is you know -- lawyers have been saying, oh no, no, no, all kinds of parameters, but if they're going ahead with possible preparations for this interview, that's a significant development you're reporting tonight. What do you know about these preparations?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, clearly they're entered a new phase with this, Erin. We've learned that the preparations between the president, his legal team, they have been short, informal, and included going over potential topics with the president that Robert Mueller and his team would likely raise in an interview. This is according to two people familiar with the situation who I spoke with along with my colleague Gloria Borger.

Now, while the president has not formally agreed to a sit-down interview with Mueller, these preparations under way, Erin, are a sign that president's legal team is intensifying deliberations over whether to allow him to come under Robert Mueller's questioning. And it is the clearest sign yet that Trump and his team remain open to

this possibility of an interview with Mueller despite concerns from people around the president that we've reported on that such an interview could expose him to possible perjury charges.

Now, the sources did caution that the more formal, lengthier proceedings to prepare for any possible interview have not began. These initial steps are in its infancy. Both White House lawyer Ty Cobb and the president's attorney Jay Sekulow declined to comment for our story, Erin.

BURNETT: So, the president, Pamela, of course has said publicly, you know, any time he's given the chance, no problem, no problem, no problem. But obviously, that's easy to say even if you don't mean it at all. Is he saying the same thing behind closed doors? Is he really pushing hard to do this?

BROWN: You know, sources tell us, Erin that the president shows more enthusiasm outwardly than behind closed doors at this prospect of sitting down with Robert Mueller's team. Publically, as you pointed out, he has said he would love to do the interview under oath. Privately though, Trump has been more equivocal about answering Mueller's questions depending on the day. And Trump has wavered as friends and advisers have cautioned him of the risks of speaking to prosecutors who have already charged 19 individuals with criminal offenses, including lying.

So multiple aides were told, Erin (INAUDIBLE) the president continue to describe him as obsessed with the Russia investigation. He is becoming increasingly frustrated, agitated as details of the probe emerge, and he feels the investigation undermines his presidency. He's grown increasingly the bitter that it is not concluded.

The president's legal team, Erin continues to go back and forth with Mueller's team about the scope of a possible interview. Those negotiations continue.

BURNETT: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you very much with that exclusive report.

And I want to go now to Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor, Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary with the Department of Homeland Security, and Glen Donath, former federal prosecutor and he represented President Clinton in the Lewinsky and impeachment hearings, he also represents a client who has been before the special counsel in connection the Manafort-Gates/Ukraine allegations.

So Glen, let me start with you because you were part of President Clinton's team during his Ken Starr interview. You heard what Pamela just said though, the president is obsessed with the Russia investigation, believes it's undermining his presidency, but his willingness to focus on preparing for an interview, has feelings about doing one really -- in her words, depend on the day.

Trump is very different than Bill Clinton was.

GLEN DONATH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: In many ways, Erin, good to be with you. I'll believe it when I see it. It's very -- it's one thing to say publicly (INAUDIBLE) for an interview, it's another thing to prepare and see where all the vulnerabilities are.

Bill Clinton was a very careful lawyer, a very disciplined president.

[19:05:04] He made no public statements about lying about his investigation. President Trump you've seen step in it again and again as most recently as yesterday with his Stormy Daniels comment, which was a disaster in terms of his legal standing.

So, my guess is once he perceives the full extent of the jeopardy into which he might be subjected, he might well change his mind.

BURNETT: I mean, Renato, you know, that's -- it's pretty incredible here as Pam is saying that they are going ahead and starting this preparations. Look, the reality of it is, is this is a president who constantly says inaccurate things. Solomon Wisenberg worked on Ken Starr's investigation and he put it this way, I quote him, Mueller hasn't hesitated to charge people for lying on some pretty tangential stuff.

How big of a concern should that be? Perjury charges be for the president? RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The president should be very concerned about being charged with a false statement. I mean, obviously, there is an open question as to whether or not a sitting president can be charged. But certainly -- you know, as we know, Bill Clinton was impeached for matters relating to obstruction of justice. So, there certainly has to be a lot of concern in the president's camp.

I will tell you if I represented President Trump, I would tell him, no way on an interview, we absolutely can't do it. There's no upside for you, there's all downside. And the fact that they're starting to prepare, tells me that he is more inclined to go that direction or interested in exploring it. I can't see why you would take the time of the president of the United States if you were doing what I think a lot of people including reportedly John Dowd said which is to politely decline the interview, and if there's a subpoena, take the Fifth.

BURNETT: I mean, Juliette, you know, one of the issues here, of course, is that, you know, Trump's personal team on Russia currently consist of one lawyer, Jay Sekulow. To the point of John Dowd that Renato just mentioned, right. John Dowd quit, so you now have Jay Sekulow as the personal lawyer who is on this, and at least five major law firms have declined to represent the president personally in the Russia matter.

What does this say to you as you have, you know, Jay Sekulow preparing him for a possible interview?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: So, I have to say, I think it's probably a good thing that Jay Sekulow is prepping him just in case because you don't know what's coming around the corner. At least get the president acclimated to the kinds of questions he gathered, sort of judging how the president would do.

It sort of like a trial run or test run. The lawyer may eventually after hearing Trump and how he perform say, no way are we doing this. So, I think this is in some ways the best lawyering we've seen out of Trump's team. Take a step back here, I mean, the fact that the president can't find a lawyer is just so remarkable, and I think that has, not just -- it had something to do with sort of Trump as a client.

But I think also, what animates to everyone's concern about coming into this administration, it's challenges to people coming in to fill slots that are necessary is that, everything that gets close to Trump or anyone ends up needing a lawyer. And so, you just don't -- you know, if you're a smart law firm, you just don't want to get implicated in what could really be a very, very messy ordeal, and you don't know if Trump has going to do pardon. You don't what he's going to do.

BURNETT: So, Glen, you know, let me -- we have a deposition actually that the president, you know, took under oath during the campaign, and he was actually asked a question about whether the campaign was helping his hotel business which is a pretty crucial question, and opens itself up to all sorts of crucial legal questions. That's what he was asked, and I just want to play the response so that people understand what we're talking about. Here is the president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And do you attribute that to the extent that has an effect because people associate you with the hotels and they want to be a part of your political campaign, to the extent they're favorably disposed.

TRUMP: We'll make (INAUDIBLE) of the campaign. You know, people said there's never been anything like this. O'Reilly said the other night I think something to be (INAUDIBLE) because this is one of the great phenomena that he's ever seen in his lifetime, you know. So, I mean, it's been pretty amazing if, you know, 17 people run and I end at the top of, you know, one of two parties.

So I don't know how it's going to happen from here. We'll see. I mean, we're going to know in five months, right? But, it's been, you know, been a lot of wins, we've beaten a lot of people, and I think people like that. So I think it's how a -- I think it'll be great for the building in question.


BURNETT: I mean, you know, it's pretty incredible here, Glen, when you hear that, right? I mean, he's going on a tangent, he's embellishing, he's talking about how well he did. Unnecessary comments all over the place, but by the way, at the end, he comes back and he answers the question and he admits the campaign is going to be great for his business, which would seem to be not something a lawyer would want him to say.

When you hear that answer, Glen, and you think about what he's walking into now, what do you think?

DONATH: I think it would be a disaster.

[19:10:01] And I think --you know, my sense of this president is he's an, a, very full sense of confidence given -- you know, he's had something like 4,000 civil lawsuits, I read, so he's been deposed a bunch of times. He believes he's an expert on litigation and trial law. He's never been -- if you had an experience like this with a special counsel with the quality of prosecutors and the single- mindedness that they brought to this task, with all due respect to Mr. Sekulow, he is -- he's not being represented by a criminal defense lawyer with experience in this area.

And, I think he thinks based on his life experience, he can talk his way through this and sort of stumble and into it to the right answer, yet he stepped into it over and over again in this case from tweeting about or telling Lester Holt that he fired Director Comey to get rid of the Russia investigation, to tweeting that he knew about Flynn having lied to the FBI. So he's -- I think he would be walking into a buzz saw here. BURNETT: Renato, what do you make when you hear that answer. You know, even the (INAUDIBLE) with Bill O'Reilly. Bill O'Reilly the other night said something that, you know, basically, it's one of the great phenomena that he's ever since in his lifetime. I mean, that gets interjected in a middle of a -- an under oath deposition.

MARIOTTI: Exactly. And Erin, you know, there have been other depositions where the president said that he did -- he was asked, how did you prepare for this deposition, and he said, I didn't prepare at all. You know, that is a disaster.

Yes, and that's a scary thing if you're a lawyer in that situation. And I absolutely agree that Jay Sekulow is totally out of his element here. You want somebody -- this is arguably the most important criminal investigation that we had in my lifetime. You know, I'm 41 years old.

So, you know, you want to have somebody who's very season in experience, and know something about criminal investigations. And I will tell you, you know, this is like -- having Jay Sekulow handle this is like having a podiatrist to your heart surgery. He's literally somebody who does not have experience in this area, who's out of his element, and I would be very, very concern if I was close to the president. I would be advising him that he needs a new legal team and he needs to take the -- you know, he needs to take the Fifth and not get interviewed.

BURNETT: All right, well, thank you all. Of course, getting a new legal team obviously easier said than executed, as they have shown, but the podiatrist analogy was a little frightening. Thank you all.

And next, more CNN exclusive reporting tonight. One of Trump's foreign policy advisers in the campaign saying a key role in pursuing possible Clinton e-mails. Who is he and how far did he get? New and exclusive reporting next.

Plus, the DOW takes a nose dive, the worst start of April since the Great Depression. Is the president to blame?

And a Texas mayor who voted for Trump now turning on the president as troops and a new wall comes to his town.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you vote for him again?



[19:16:23] BURNETT: Tonight, another CNN exclusive. We are learning that a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser thought he had Hillary Clinton's missing 30, 000 e-mails. He thought he had them. And then he was pushing the FBI to investigate.

His name is Joseph Schmitz. And he is in this now infamous picture of the Trump campaign foreign policy team. As you now know, many of these individuals involved with the Russia investigation. George Papadopoulos where it all began, who is now cooperating with Robert Mueller in the Russian probe in this picture. And at the same table of course, candidate Trump and Jeff Sessions himself.

Jim Sciutto is OUTFRONT with this CNN exclusive. And Jim, we're now learning about this individual, Schmitz, and that he was -- thought he had these Clinton's e-mails. What was he doing?

JIM SIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And keep in mind, Schmitz was no coffee boy, right? I mean, he advised the campaign for a number of months. He was actually considered for the secretary of the navy in the Trump administration.

And he, we are told by sources, was relentless in his pursuit here, and he really believed that he had the real deal, Clinton's e-mails. So much so that he took them to three major agencies, the FBI, took them to the State Department, he took them to the Intelligence Community's inspector general. And then he went to the House Intelligence Committee with these, his attention being to get them verified. He didn't want to lose security clearance in light of the fact that these came from the Dark Web but, to get them and possibly to disseminate them.

That's the issue here because it appears to fit in with a broader effort in the campaign to get these e-mails regardless of where they were coming from.

BURNETT: And -- OK, so, you know, when you talk about him that he was obviously no mere coffee boy and he was under consideration for secretary of the navy, right, this was an accomplished person with a real resume, who knew about things like security clearance. But when you talk about his obsession with these e-mails and he's pushing and pushing and pushing the FBI for investigation, this does speak to the kind of people Trump had on his campaign team.

SCIUTTO: It does. And the kind of activity that they were open to doing. George Papadopoulos, he bragged to an Australian diplomat that he'd been offered by someone connected to the Russians Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails. You had Donald Trump Jr. accept that famous meeting in Trump Tower, told at the time by the Russians that they were bringing dirt of Hillary Clinton. His response to that was, I love it. He took the meeting and here you have Joseph Schmitz who like you said was a serious character, he had been the inspector general of the Defense Department in the Bush administration now on the Trump campaign. And he is told that, oh, these had been dragged up, off-dredged up off the Dark Web and take them so seriously that he goes to these agencies with the intention, it appears of getting them out into the public sphere.

And as you said too, it speaks to the tea member who were willing to do that and who are advising the Trump campaign at that time.

BURNETT: Yes, it certainly does. All right, thank you very much, Jim Sciutto with this exclusive. I want to go to former FBI Senior Intelligence Adviser Phil Mudd. And obviously, Phil, we're learning, Joseph Schmitz, a serious character with a serious resume, who was under consideration for secretary of the navy at one point, thought he had these e-mails. Obviously was excited to pursue them and get them and then took it to the FBI.

Do you have an issue with what you did?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER FBI SENIOR INTELLIGENCE ADVISER: I don't have an issue with presenting information to the FBI. I have an issue with an individual connected with the president, pressing for a federal investigation on a political opponent. That is a tin-pot dictatorship. That is not a democracy.

If he wants to pass information over that he thinks is relevant, feel free. But the reporting is not that, Erin. The reporting is that this individual was shopping information around including the FBI to try to get the FBI to use its massive power to investigate a political opponent.

[19:20:05] BURNETT: -- is that he was pushing for an investigation.

MUDD: Correct.


MUDD: The tone was set during the campaign when the president and his future National Security adviser, a general said lock her up. That is lock up my political opponent, Hillary Clinton. We cannot have this here.

I want to shop at Banana Republic, I don't want to live there. If you say when we wake up in this country of 330 million people that everybody is equal in the eyes of the law, you cannot then still say that the president of the United States and his advisers can walk across Pennsylvania Avenue to the FBI and say, we get to decide if you get to investigate our political opponents or not. We don't do that in this country, Erin.

BURNETT: So what does it say about the campaign when you look at that picture, right, and you see Joseph Schmitz in it, and you see George Papadopoulos in it, and you see Jeff Sessions in it. And of course, there's questions now as to what he knew or did not know or do or did not encourage about meetings with Russians. But this is the foreign policy team as it came together, and of course you had Flynn on this team as well.

MUDD: It's not a question of the campaign, it's not a question of Washington, it's a classic question of leadership. I worked at the White House, I worked at CIA, I worked at the FBI. Leaders set the tone. If the tone is more loose, the workforce starts to get the impression that stepping over the lines is OK. And what you're seeing now with Scott Pruitt at the EPA.

If the leadership says, we will never violate any ethical boundary, and you won't even get within 10 yards of an unethical boundary, the workforce starts to interpret that as a clear message. The message again from the president was, lock her up. That is the leader of one campaign gets to say, if I get to be elected president, I'm going to try to put my opponent behind bars.

The workforce whether it's the FBI, the CIA, a presidential campaign, the workforce starts to say, if the leader of the campaign says that's OK, I think I'm going to act on that. I think that's what you're seeing here. It's a leadership issue.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Phil Mudd.

MUDD: Yes.

BURNETT: And next, stocks nose-dive on Trump's trade war talk as his own advisers try to contradict him.

Plus, Trump meeting with and standing up for his embattled EPA chief despite growing calls for Scott Pruitt to go including from the president's chief of staff.


[19:26:10] BURNETT: Breaking news. Stocks plummeting as fears of a trade war with China surge. The DOW plunging nearly 600 points today, the start to April is the worst for stocks since the Great Depression. And if Trump's trade war happens, the front line will be Americans Midwest.

Martin Savidge is OUTFRONT.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This could be America's next war zone, Iowa. If a trade war between the U.S. and China breaks out, then America's heartland is on the front lines. And Ron Hick's (ph) farm will be one of the many battlefields.

(on camera) How worried are you?

RON HICK: Well, it's a matter of concern when your largest soybean export customer is having negotiations with your government.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): And President Trump's take no prisoner negotiating style is worrying the rural constituency that helped put him in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have some concerns with the president.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): China is threatening to put a 25 percent tariff on all U.S. soybeans. The result for Iowa's soybean farmers has been a week of stomach churning values swings for a crop that hasn't even been planted yet.

HICK: Well, I grow more than a 125,000 bushels a year, so a (INAUDIBLE). Yes, actually there's $50,000, so that's a big deal.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): America is the number one producer of soybeans.

GRANT KIMBERLY, SOYBEAN FARMER: In the United States, one of every three rows that you see driving down the road up a soybean field will end up in China.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Grant Kimberly is sixth generation farmer in his family. Like many, he's hoping the tariff threats don't become reality.

KIMBERLY: I want to encourage both governments to continue the dialogue and --

SAVIDGE (on camera): You would like cooler heads to prevail.

KIMBERLY: And make sure that cooler heads prevail in this whole situation.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): But for pork producer Dave Struthers, just the threat of tariffs on pork could have a significant impact on the price he gets today for his pigs.

DAVE STRUTHERS, HOG FARMER: A market hog right now is only worth about $100. It takes me about $120 to produce it.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): He says he's losing about $2,000 a week and he's already thinking of going to the banks for loans. But crop prices aren't the only thing a trade war might jeopardize. There's also a very real political price that Republicans could pay at the midterms and beyond.

You see, the biggest pork and soybean states are overwhelmingly red states controlled by Republicans.

(on camera) You don't think the chinese just sort of capriciously picked soybeans?

KIMBERLY: No, the Chinese are very politically astute.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Kimberly has firsthand insight. His family is personal friends with Chinese leader Xi Jinping who even visited Kimberly's farm six years ago.

(on camera) The man who was now the president.

KIMBERLY: Exactly.

SAVIDGE (on camera): As American farmers calculate the cost of a potential trade war, some already have become victims.

STRUTHERS: That's the problem, you know. There's innocent victims here.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Which means GOP leaders should be concerned with the potential cost in rural American votes.

(on camera) Did you vote for this president? STRUTHERS: I did vote for this president.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Do you in any way feel regretful?

STRUTHERS: You know, I want to see this play out. Am I going to vote for him again? I'm going to say it depends on who's running against him.


SAVIDGE: Erin, there is still a couple of weeks before planting actually begins up here in Iowa. It is possible the farmers could adjust their crops, maybe less soy and more something else. But not likely. Sure, all the farmers we talk to say they are confident that there won't be a trade war and something will be worked out in their favor.

I will point out that farmers will tell you by their nature they are the most optimistic people on the face of the earth because so much of what they do relies on so much beyond their control. Erin?

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Martin. And important there what you saw in terms of the cost and the implies, it depends who's running against him, you heard there at the end.

OUTFRONT now, Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama, and Grover Norquist, president of Americans For Tax Return.

So Grover, let me start with you. The soybean farmer that Marty spoke to there at the beginning of his piece Ron Haqq (ph) gave an estimates that it could cost him $50,000 a year if these tariffs go through, and the reality of this is, is that these tariffs if they go through would hurt some people very badly in a very big way.

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: Yes, absolutely. Look, tariffs are taxes. When you put taxes on the American people or you put taxes on their products, it damages them and I think we're having an instructive moment here.

There are some politicians you think, you think you can tax things and has no effect. There's no supply side economics, it doesn't, there are no incentive factors.

There are tremendous effects when taxes are laid and tariffs are just another kind of tax at the border. They hurt the economy.

BURNETT: And, obviously, you know, when you talk about putting taxes on, if that's the words you're going to use, you are undermining the effects of the tax cut which passed. I want to ask you about that in a moment.

But, Austan, first, the frank truth of this is that the president shocked the world last night with this $100 billion bombshell. It was about 24 hours and 30 minutes ago that this news broke. This top economic adviser did not even seem to know about it ahead of time. Here's Larry Kudlow, the same -- who is the head of the National Economic Council, same position that you held under Obama, here's Larry Kudlow today.


REPORTER: When did the president first tell you that he was going to announce these additional potential $100 billion in tariffs?



BURNETT: All right. Look, Austan, here's one of the things I like about Larry, he thought about his answer and then he sounded very resigned and he answered the truth, which last evening, as when everyone else found out about them. The president clearly did not take the time to discuss this in any detail with his chief economic adviser, didn't seek his counsel. Is this normal?

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's not normal. Now, I didn't have that job, but Larry is an old friend of mine, though we disagree on a lot of policy, I warned Larry before he went in, I said, Larry, if you're going to go in a situation where they're not going to listen to you and they're going to make you get up and defend everything that Donald Trump just tweeted out with no thought, that's going to be a very difficult job, that's going to put you in a bad position.

And that's what they did. This is tariffs -- tariffs are a bad idea, but an even worse idea is to be doing your economic policy via Twitter, which is what the president seems to be doing. I hope that like some of the other things that he's done on Twitter, they just don't do this. They just -- they get interested in something else, and they just kind of forget about this.

BURNETT: Right. Of course, the president though, I mean, what's interesting is, you know, the markets went up, right, Grover? They went up one day because people said, oh, he's not actually going to do it. And then I don't know if this is exactly why, but it certainly gave the impression that in like people not believing that he was going to do what he said he was going to do, so he said, I'll do another hundred billion.

Now, again no one sure if that's exactly what the motive was, but it had a little bit of the feels of that and the truth is Grover, the markets are down 4-1/2 percent since Kudlow's predecessor Gary Cohn quit. Tariffs were his last straw. The tariffs, if you look at the market, Grover, and you look at, of course, the impact on individual, that could happen in some of these states, seem to be taking away the benefits of the corporate tax cut, which you so ardently for.

NORQUIST: Sure. Look, when we cut taxes, the president reduced the business taxes, individual taxes -- very helpful the economy. We've seen a stronger economy over the last year as a result of the anticipation of the lower taxes and the reality of the lower taxes. But tariffs are a form of taxes, they are taxes they're just taxes at the border and all taxes hurt economic growth. And so, it's not a good idea to do them.

I understand the president's position. He is trying to force a negotiation with China. He's trying to get their attention -- $100 billion would get anybody's attention.

BURNETT: Well, yes.

NORQUIST: My sincere hope is that this is the prelude a negotiation, to go into the WTO and try open up China's markets and particularly their abuse of our intellectual property, their theft of our intellectual property, something the president's been trying to get at and he's right to do that.

BURNETT: Austan, before we go, quickly. Yesterday, the president was going to give a speech on taxes. He literally threw his papers up in the air and said they wanted me to read this. It's boring, I won't -- I won't do it. Of course, it was -- it was funny although what he replaced it with was not so funny.

But the point I make is this, was it taken as a sign of disrespect by those who work around in people like Larry Kudlow, people like Peter Navarro, who actually took the time to put this together and prepare a substantive speech for the president on taxes.

GOOLSBEE: Well, I mean, it was a sign of disrespect. It was a sign that he does not respect what they gave them. Now, if you work in the White House, you know, you got a -- you can put up put on your big-boy pants, you know, if the president doesn't like what you're saying -- too bad.

[19:35:04] You know, do what the president wants.

But I think this action that the president just -- he's going to fly off the handle if he feels like it, or he's going to say things that none of his senior advisors even knew that he was going to say, that's all funny until someone loses an eye, and we're about to lose an eye on this, if we do not pay close attention and try to find a way to ratchet this back, we're going to create a global recession, and that would be a terrible tragedy.

BURNETT: Thanks very much to both of you. And I will point out to our viewers why you may not agree on a lot of things you agreed on this and I think that's pretty significant.

Next, Trump today defending and meeting with his EPA chief. Why is he ignoring the calls from even those closest to him to fire Scott Pruitt?

And evangelicals want to meet with the president. Is it about Stormy Daniels? I'm going to ask Tony Perkins, the man organizing the sit down.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Tonight, a senior White House official confirming to CNN that President Trump met with his embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt today. This as calls grow for the president to fire Pruitt. But Trump is standing firm, defending Pruitt, tweeting, quote, EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who is doing a great job but is totally under siege.

Well, Pruitt is under siege thanks to controversy after controversy after controversy.

[19:40:02] Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT the White House.

And, Jeff, even the White House chief of staff wants Pruitt gone. That's John Kelly. Will that make the president change his mind?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, it's unlikely that the chief of staff's viewpoint here will away on the president. The reality here is John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, does not like these headlines. The substance of the matter, the overspending, the entitlement in that department simply is not something that follows in line with what he told cabinet secretaries several weeks ago. They had a sit-down with all cabinet secretaries, and to stay out of the news on this.

Scott Pruitt has not done that. But, Erin, the difference here is this -- there is a chorus of conservative leaders, business leaders, Trump donors more importantly, who are telling the president to stick with Scott Pruitt.

I am told that Harold Hamm, an Oklahoma oil and gas man, a billionaire, a key Trump supporter, called the president and told him to leave Scott Pruitt alone, leaving the agency the substance of what he's doing there they believe is good. The question is, this is the president's decision. Will the headlines, the bad headlines, the draining the swamp, weigh out over the substance of what he's doing at the EPA? Only the president knows that -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff.

And David Gergen, former adviser to four presidents is OUTFRONT.

Obviously, David, we're talking about an EPA chief, you know, with a massive set of spending questions, including, you know, at one point $100,000 a month private jet and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Is the president keeping Pruitt at this point just to spite his chief of staff, John Kelly?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, we do know, Erin, is that in recent weeks, he's been going around Kelly. He seems to be paying less and less attention to his advice and I don't know how long Kelly will be willing to put up with that.

But, clearly, the president is -- I mean, leaks are coming that Kelly wants to go, and the president is going to keep him, you know, more disclosure to come out that drive Pruitt down, you know, Trump is picking him up. And I do think that Kelly's involved. But I think more importantly right now, Trump is trying to get as far as he can with Pruitt because Pruitt is on a rampage. He's on a rampage about destroying them much of what's been done in the Environmental Protection Agency, and Trump wants to get as far as he can with that and Monday maybe the ethic stuff will finally knock him out. But he's gone a long way with Pruitt. And I think Trump approves it.

BURNETT: I mean, you know, what's interesting here, David, is, Rene Marsh tonight is reporting that Pruitt significantly, obviously, it's significantly below market rent of a room. Remember, the $50 a night, a rent that he was paying from a lobbyist, was even more fraught than we actually knew. She's reporting the lobbyists actually, you know, who gave the room to Pruitt thought, but he would move out last April, only be there for a little while, but he didn't.

So, she started texting him kind of gentle reminders linked to other rentals, all of which he ignored. Finally, so frustrated he wouldn't take the hint and leave, she changed the keypad code to access the apartment, essentially she changed the locks on the EPA secretary. It's pretty stunning. By the way, he stayed there until August.

GERGEN: You don't know whether to laugh or cry on some of these stories. I mean, a room for $50 a night, and then he overstayed his welcome by three or four months. It's like -- it's unbelievable. I don't know what kind of human being he is.

I mean, that's the thing. It's his character that comes in question on this. So, the grandiosity and thinking he can take advantage of the system, you know, he can have the lights on, he can have flashing lights on the car driver on Washington so we can go through the traffic. I mean, it's -- it goes on and on and on. I do think eventually, it's going to bring him down, but as I say I think Trump wants to ride this train as long as you can.

BURNETT: Right. Of course, showing that morals and ethics are, I supposed, OK when politically expedient.

Thank you very much, David Gergen.

GERGEN: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, evangelicals meeting with the president. Will Stormy Daniels come up? I'll ask Tony Perkins who is going to be there front and center.

And breaking news, the first National Guard troops are now on their way to the American-Mexican border and we are live there tonight.


[19:47:28] BURNETT: Tonight, some of the president's most ardent and important supporters are calling for a sit-down with President Trump.

Evangelical leaders organizing a meeting, and on the agenda, concern over the Stormy Daniels allegations. Now, that is according to NPR. One key leader helping to organize the meeting is Tony Perkins, the

president of the Family Research Council and he is here in New York tonight.

And it's great to see you in person, Tony. I really appreciate it.


BURNETT: So, this meeting is obviously getting a lot of talk. NPR is reporting that Stormy Daniels is going to be on the agenda for this meeting?

PERKINS: It's news to me. As one of the key organizers, that's news. That's never even come up in the conversation. We started that conversation two years ago here in New York.


PERKINS: Evangelicals really forced into a room with the president because of the policies of Barack Obama and the prospects of Hillary Clinton continuing those, and evangelicals came out, impressed with what they heard, supportive of Donald Trump. Two years later, they remain supportive because he's followed through on those promises.

BURNETT: So, one of your fellow evangelical leaders who's also involved in organizing the meeting, that's who NPR was quoting, and I just want to read to you what he said.

We are very concerned about the allegations, referring to Stormy Daniels. It is a concern of ours that 2018 could be very detrimental to some of the issues we hold dear, like preserving religious liberty and restricting abortion rights.

And, obviously, the context there perhaps is to the extent the Stormy Daniels and these other issues are impacting voters, it could mean very significant losses. Is that something you agree with it?

PERKINS: No, I take issue with that. In fact, I have to say, that's not somebody who's been part of organizing this because, Erin, I can tell you that in our conversations which actually begin at the funeral of Billy Graham, that that's never even come up. That's not even been a consideration.

The consideration is, yes, we do believe the GOP is in trouble. They're in trouble because Republicans in Congress have not delivered on their promises, and the only hope that the Republicans have is Donald Trump communicating to evangelicals that he continues to need their help to further and continue the agenda that began two years ago.

BURNETT: So, at this point, I know you and I have talked about this before, but you do not have any concerns about the allegations?

PERKINS: No, I mean, look --

BURNETT: From Stormy Daniels or any of the other women about this president?

PERKINS: When we met with him two years ago and there was the Hollywood video and there were all the issues from the past, we knew there were things in this past. That's why most of us were not with him to begin with and it was only --

BURNETT: Right, you supported Ted Cruz.

PERKINS: I did. And I campaigned across the country for him. But it came down to a choice, not a hypothetical. A choice between Hillary Clinton, who would continue the policies of Barack Obama, and taking a risk with Donald Trump.

[19:50:06] Two years -- not quite two years later, we're almost two years later, he's actually kept his promises that he made to those evangelicals.

Are those issues a problem? Yes, they're a problem --

BURNETT: The issues of morality, character --

PERKINS: That's why they were not -- that's why evangelicals did not support him initially.

If this becomes present day behavior, it is a problem.

BURNETT: Right, that's what you've told me. You've said if it's in the past, you will forgive. It is happening now, then you -- then that would change --

PERKINS: It's in the past. From a standpoint, that doesn't make it right. It doesn't make it acceptable. We tell our children this is wrong. We hold ourselves to the standard that says this is wrong.

But what I'm saying is, we knew there were issues, we just didn't know the details. Now, we know the details, we're asked, does it make a difference? No, it's still a problem. However, here we are, the choice before us was either to support him --

BURNETT: But even with that problem, you still made the choice you made.

PERKINS: We did, that's correct.

BURNETT: The point is though, obviously, you know, Jeff Flake recently said the president should be challenged by a Republican in the 2020 primary. You obviously did not support him in the last primary. You supported Ted Cruz, in part I believe because of some of these very serious moral questions.

Would you consider supporting someone else, a Republican?

PERKINS: As long as this president keeps his promises that he made to evangelicals and continues -- and to the voters --

BURNETT: But if someone else makes the same promises, as a Republican and does not have the same moral challenges, would you switch? That's the question.

PERKINS: No, here's the -- here's the commitment. That's why the president I think is enjoying the relationship with evangelicals, is that he -- there was really a transaction. He said -- he wrapped himself in the most conservative party platform, he's now been executing on that, and as long as his behavior that we're talking about here is the past and stays in the past, that support for him will continue.

BURNETT: So, I'm going to talk about the EPA chief Scott Pruitt.


BURNETT: Obviously, there's a lot of issues there that have come life, right? Including pushback about $100,000 a month private jet charter that was proposed, $70,000 in two desks for his office suite. You know, things like that.


BURNETT: Never mind the condo --

PERKINS: Which the president has been clear about that. These things are problematic, as you look at them in their face.

BURNETT: But these are happening -- the point you are making about now versus the past. These are things happening now. You know, I don't know if you just heard, because you were in the --


PERKINS: I listened. No, no, I listened.

BURNETT: OK. So, David Gergen made the point about that this is an issue of character, of someone who has a sense of grandiosity, a question, we said, what kind of person is this?

PERKINS: OK, but let's put this in context and I have spoken to a number of these cabinet secretaries who are being threatened and harassed when they get on planes and they're flying in coach. Their security and I have a background --

BURNETT: I didn't bring up the first class. I brought up $100,000 private jet charter and two $70,000 desks.

PERKINS: For instance, with Tom Price, when Tom Price -- when the president kind of pushed him out because of that, Tom Price said it was because my security people told me we needed to do this because of the threat.

You are saying because like in the case of Pruitt, let's take with Scott. He is getting eight times the number of threats that his predecessor got.

BURNETT: What does it have to do with desks?

PERKINS: The desks were actually bulletproof desks. Now, I don't know why --

BURNETT: In his office suite within the EPA?

PERKINS: Well, that's what I'm told. And I mean -- this is how vicious things have become in this polarized political environment. So, I think you have to look at that all in the context, the personal security.

BURNETT: Do you though understand the concern some might have, that they say you are speaking for evangelicals, as a man of faith, a man who defends morals and character, and we are seeing someone who appears to be compromised on that front --

PERKINS: Well, wait a minute, are we talking about Scott?


BURNETT: Scott Pruitt, it doesn't seem to bother you, why?

PERKINS: I don't see where he is being protecting, protected, where he is being forced to take a private jets in some case for whatever reason, protective reason.

BURNETT: What about the condo?

PERKINS: I don't know all the facts on the condo.

BURNETT: Well, $50 a night is significantly below market.

PERKINS: I haven't looked in all of the details of that, so I can't speak for that.

BURNETT: But I mean, look --

PERKINS: Look, these things are being looked at --

BURNETT: It just feels like you are cherry picking.

PERKINS: No. Me? I'm not cherry picking.

BURNETT: You are saying I'm OK with this and this --

PERKINS: I don't know the details of that.

Here's what we know about Scott Pruitt. Scott Pruitt has actually been accomplishing the president's agenda more than probably so than any other agency. And that has some on the opposing political side upset. The fact that he worked to get us out of the Paris Accord, the president likes him. It's been good for business.

Yes, the left is upset with him. And they are going to find anything they can and if there's anything there, I believe it will come out. But I don't think there's anything there.

BURNETT: OK, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. Tony, good to see you again in person. PERKINS: Thanks.

BURNETT: And next, the breaking news, the first National Guard troops are heading to the Mexican border tonight.


[19:56:58] BURNETT: Breaking news tonight, the Pentagon says National Guard troops are moving on President Trump's order to secure the border with Mexico until the wall was built. Along the border, though, the wall is not always popular, even among Trump supporters.

And Ed Lavandera has been on that border. He is there tonight in the town of Laredo.

And, Ed, you have been there, talking to people about troops, which are now, of course, on their way. What are they telling you?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting, Erin. As people have listened to what President Trump has said over the last few days, it was the comment about keeping the National Guard here on the border until the wall is built, that has really kind of seemed to raise the stake among a lot of people here who have been kind of opposed to the idea of building a border wall in many parts of the southern border. And that kind of language has ratcheted things up a little bit.

There are a number of people who definitely support the ideas. In fact, we're talking with one border patrol official earlier this week, along this particular of border, south of Laredo. This is an area that border patrol agents say have seen a great deal of increased traffic and drug smuggling through here. This is the kind of area that might be a prime candidate for a wall location as federal officials debate and figure out where those, where the proposals will be to put these border walls.

But, you know, it's interesting. Laredo is kind of an interesting place, the mayor the city here, Erin, actually voted for Donald Trump. He is an independent. He supported Donald Trump and because of the president's continued push for the wall, attacks on NAFTA, Laredo is one of the largest ports in the United States. It has the mayor here in the city questioning whether or not he can continue to support the president.


PETE SAENZ, LAREDO MAYOR: Well, I'm worried because it hasn't ceased. As a matter of fact, it has gotten more boisterous.

LAVANDERA: Could you vote for him?

SAENZ: I don't know. I guess it depends on what improvements.


LAVANDERA: We've kind of heard this repeatedly from some people and landowners as well is that, you know, again, the refocused energy and debate about this particular issue starting to raise concerns once again about what exactly is going to come of this border wall. Many people here opposed to it. There are a number of people, I don't want to make it sound like it's everybody along here that opposes this idea, but it has a great deal of opposition from not just city officials and congressional officials along the border here, but it's something that with the language they've heard this wake, they're much more concerned about now -- Erin.

BURNETT: And, Eddie, do people know? I mean, you got troops now on the way, you know, 150 of them, does anyone know what they are going to do?

LAVANDERA: Well, officials have said those National Guard soldiers that are in the process of being deployed, we've got some new information that just in the last couple of minutes about those deployments. They will be acting in support roles, not necessarily working on the front lines down there.

Texas National Guard officials say that over the next 72 hours, 250 personnel will be deployed and more notices will be going out next week, but it's not exactly clear, Erin, here in Texas where they're going to be -- Erin.

BURNETT: Right, so many questions.

And, Ed, thank you so much, live in the border tonight.

Thanks for joining us to all of you.

"ANDERSON" starts now.