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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump on Saudi Arabia's Possible Role in Journalist's Disappearance; Sources: Saudi Intel Officer Oversaw Botched Interrogation; AP: Trump Says Ex-Attorney Cohen was "Lying" When He Testified that Trump Directed Him to Break the Law. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 16, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. That's it. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, breaking news, President Trump says blaming the Saudis for the apparent murder of a "Washington Post" contributor is another case of guilty until proven innocent. Mr. President getting played?

Plus, the President making headlines at this hour about his former attorney, Michael Cohen, about the midterms and about Stormy Daniels. One of the reporters who just spoke with President Trump is my guest.

Also, a top EPA official, in charge of children's health sidelined by the agency. Why she thinks the Trump administration wanted to stop her in her tracks. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, I'm Jake Tapper in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news, President Trump telling the Associated Press that blaming Saudi Arabia for the apparent murder of "Washington Post" contributor Jamal Khashoggi is another case of being, "guilty until proven innocent," I don't like that. President Trump then goes on to compare the situation to allegations against his Supreme Court justice. "We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned so we have to find out what happened."

The President's stunning statement as three sources tell CNN that a high-ranking officer with the Saudi Intelligence Agency oversaw what the Saudis are now claiming was an interrogation of Khashoggi that went wrong. That officer, according to one source, has close ties to the inner circle of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or MBS as he's known.

So the Saudis' cover story now hinges on whether you believe the King and Crown Prince MBS knew nothing about this. Here's President Trump earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It depends whether or not the King or the Crown Prince knew about it, in my opinion. Number one, what happened? But whether or not they knew about it. If they knew about it, that would be bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: If they knew about it. Let's look at the facts. On the day that Khashoggi vanished, Turkish officials say a 15-man team flew in from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul. Among the Saudi operatives was an intelligence officer and an autopsy specialist who, according to "The New York Times," brought with him a bone saw. Not the kind of instrument required even at a brutal interrogation.

Now, those men are believed to have been inside the Saudi consulate when this surveillance video shows Khashoggi entering the building at 1:14 p.m. local time. Needless to say, Khashoggi never came out.

Now, aviation data shows those same 15 Saudis may have been on a flight back to their home country within a day. So, do you believe that a ruthless crown prince who rules with an iron fist would know nothing about this? The same crown prince who jailed hundreds of perceived opponents and dissidents in a brutal crackdown earlier this year, the same crown prince who detained princes, businessmen, clerics, academics, journalists, women's rights activists, even a poet?

Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia to meet with the Crown Prince about the investigation into Khashoggi's death. Afterward, Pompeo said he, "emphasized the importance of conducting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation and the Saudi leadership pledged to deliver precisely on that."

How much stock is anyone in the Trump administration putting in Saudi pledges? The Saudis originally claimed they had no idea what happened to Khashoggi. Now, the Saudis are pledging to deliver a timely investigation, timely, two weeks after Khashoggi disappeared. Timely. And in terms of how thorough and transparent it will be, Turkish officials say that their investigators discovered that rooms in the consulate, once they were allowed in there, rooms there had recently been repainted. Not to mention, of course, the cleaning crew that reporters saw entering the building yesterday before the investigators were let in.

Are U.S. leaders really buying this? Or are they being played? Or are they part of a charade? Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT at the White House tonight. Jeff, tell us more about President Trump likening the Saudi denials to Brett Kavanaugh?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that is simply something that we have not heard him say before, but a bit of a word on the President's day. He had no public events on his schedule, so I'm told he was watching all the news coverage of this, was agitated throughout the day about how this news coverage was critical of him and critical of his administration not doing more, but then, he decided spontaneously, I believe, to do more interviews, and it was in that Associated Press interview just a short time ago that he compared what was happening in Istanbul to Judge Kavanaugh, saying, guilty until proven innocent, making a play on that. Jake, that is discounting all history here. That is discounting everything that the Saudi kingdom has done and that U.S. intelligence knows they have done.

[19:05:14] The reality here is this. This White House, this President, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner as senior adviser, they have wanted to forge this relationship with the Saudi Crown Prince. They have wanted to sell arms. They have wanted to do more. They certainly, you know, need this Saudi kingdom in their endeavors with Iran, but there was a sense here today that the White House is simply out of the picture. Republicans on Capitol Hill elsewhere saying more must be done, the U.S. must do more moral leadership, simply, you know, oblivious to the fact here, but the President still saying now, drawing this to a domestic political argument, that simply does not square with the facts here or the reality of what we know. So we'll see what the President says tomorrow when he actually has events on his schedule, we believe, if he'll talk about this publicly, but boy, Jake, it's naive at best, likely much worse. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us.

And now more on the CNN studying new reporting that just broke. Sources telling CNN that a Saudi mission to interrogate and possibly abduct journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul was organized by a high- ranking officer in Saudi Arabia's main intelligence service and that Khashoggi may have been injected with some kind of tranquilizer before he died in the consulate.

Arwa Damon is in Istanbul for us. Arwa, what more are you learning about what the Saudis are claiming happened inside that consulate?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, again, this is all based on those three sources, Jake, but as you were saying there, according to one of them, Khashoggi may have been injected with a tranquilizer. That may have been what led to his death and then there was this amateur effort to try to cover it up. Now, this senior officer is being described by a source as being close to the inner circle of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, MBS, although it's unclear if MBS ordered an interrogation or an abduction at this stage and you'll remember that CNN has previously reported that several U.S. officials have said that it is highly unlikely that such an operation would go ahead without the direct knowledge of the Crown Prince.

Why was Khashoggi targeted? Well, according to one of the sources that CNN spoke to, it was because of the perception that he was very close to Saudi Arabia's arch enemy, Qatar, although there has been absolutely no direct evidence of that. This officer's reported to have put his own team together, according to these sources, that he was not entirely transparent with Riyadh, he was not entirely forthcoming and you'll remember that yesterday, we were reporting that we are expecting a report to come out from Saudi Arabia where the government, the kingdom does actually acknowledge that this was an interrogation that had gone horribly, terribly wrong.

That being said, it's also worth mentioning, Jake, that a Turkish official also told CNN that Khashoggi was cut up following his death and while we were expecting the investigators and forensic teams to search the consul general's house tonight after waiting outside for hours once the road had been blocked off by police, no such investigation or search of those premises took place, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Arwa Damon, thank you so much.

OUTFRONT now is Maine's Independent Senator Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats. He sits on the Senate's Intelligence and Arm Services Committees.

Senator, good to see you, as always. At this point, given all this reporting, do you believe the Saudi denials that the Crown Prince and the King knew about this? Are you prepared to believe that this was, as President Trump put it, rogue killers?

SENATOR ANGUS KING, (I) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't believe the denials. Why would you believe the denials? Because they've had progressive denials. First they said they knew nothing whatsoever, he left in good shape, they don't know what happened to him. Now, you know, they concede that he was there, maybe he was killed. No. I just don't believe it. And that an operation of this sophistication with two jet airplanes coming in, 15 people, there was just a report in "The New York Times" moments ago that people that were seen getting off that airplane and going into the consulate were people who were closely identified with the Crown Prince, who traveled with him, who got off the plane with him in Paris or in America when he was over here on a goodwill mission about a year ago. So, no, I don't think their denials hold water. I mean, the evidence is building up, you know, obviously, we want to wait and see, but so far, the weight of the evidence looks like a pre-planned assassination. A guy arrives with a bone saw?

[19:10:03] TAPPER: Right.

KING: That doesn't sound like an interrogation plan to me.

TAPPER: Senator, President Trump just moments ago told the Associated Press that he thought this whole line of discussion that you and I are involved in right now is another example, as with Brett Kavanaugh, of guilty until proven innocent, and he has said multiple times that basically his administration believes the Saudis. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They deny it. They deny it every way you can imagine.

I just spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of what took place with regard to, as he said, his Saudi Arabian citizen. I've asked and he firmly denied that. It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And just tonight, he stressed again, he does not want to presume they're guilty until proven innocent, as he said. Do you think the President's being played, or is this all part of a charade in which the Saudis, like, need some sort of excuse because they got caught? How do you make sense of this?

KING: Well, you could play that clip that you just played and put it beside a clip from last summer with President Putin of Russia and it would sound almost exactly the same. He denied it, he told me firmly he denied it and that seems to be enough. I kind of feel like it's back to Sergeant Schultz, remember, I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing and it's not wanting to know.

The relationship with Saudi Arabia is complicated. It's important they're a counterweight to Iran. I can understand the President's reluctance to wade in prematurely, but to basically bless the denials, it seems to me, doesn't set back the -- doesn't advance the course of finding out what actually happened. Let's find output what happened, and then let's move forward.

And remember, the Congress on a bipartisan basis has already weighed in on this. Bob Menendez and Bob Corker sent a letter to the President under the Magnitsky Act last week that gives the President 120 days to decide whether sanctions should be applied in a situation like this to individuals as well as possibly to the country. So, I think there's bipartisan concern about this, and I wish the White House would take it as seriously as it appears to be.

And again, I don't know everything that happened but the circumstantial evidence seems to be building up day by day that this was a planned operation and an operation of this sophistication without the approval of the Crown Prince is pretty close to inconceivable.

TAPPER: I should note for those under 50 that your Sergeant Schultz reference was a reference to the TV Show, "Hogan's Heroes" just to --

KING: I was wondering if you would know, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, we had UHF when I was growing up. I want to ask you one last question, senator.

KING: All right.

TAPPER: This morning on Fox, Senator Lindsey Graham had some harsh words about MBS, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it, this guy's got to go. Saudi Arabia, if you're listening, there are a lot of good people you can choose but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree with that, senator? Does MBS have to go?

KING: Well, I think Lindsey's a little bit out over his skis on that although I guess they don't ski in South Carolina, but he's reached a conclusion. I haven't reached. I think it does, as I've said before, certainly appear to be a planned execution, but I think we need to have more facts. The other piece is, you know, this is a kingdom. This isn't a democracy. It's not like this guy can be voted out of office. And he has seized a lot of power. I understand the Arabic word is "watsa," he's got the "mojo," he's got the juice over there. He's got a lot of power. He is consolidated at over the past two years. He is 32 years old. He's probably going to be there for a long time.

But I think that he -- the world's got to hold him to account for this, and see that he realizes that there are limitations. He's trying to liberalize the culture of his country, but he seems to be more repressive on the political side, and he's very intolerant of any kind of dissent and that seems to be what was behind this terrible incident.

TAPPER: Senator Angus King, Independent from the great state of Maine, thank you so much for your time, sir, always good to see you.

KING: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: OUTFRONT next, the breaking news, President Trump in a new interview talking midterms, accusing his former fixer Michael Cohen of lying. We'll talk to one of the reporters who just sat down with the President in the Oval Office.

Plus, President also doubling down on his attack on Stormy Daniels. You might remember earlier today he calls her horse face. Was this all an effort to distract from the Saudi story?

And Trump weighs in on what he thinks is his biggest threat. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:18:29] TAPPER: Breaking news, President Trump going after his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, telling the Associated Press tonight that Cohen was "lying" when he testified that Donald Trump directed him to break the law. That testimony happened back in August when Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including campaign finance violation inside the payments that Cohen made or orchestrated to keep women quiet about alleged affairs with then candidate Donald Trump.

OUTFRONT now, one of the A.P. reporters spoke with President Trump, Zeke Miller, also joining me, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Harry Sandick, National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation, Joan Walsh, and former Director of Legislative Affairs for the White House, Mark Short. We should point, Mark, signed a non-disparagement agreement with the Trump campaign back in 2016.

Zeke, let me start with you. What else did the President have to say about Michael Cohen?

ZEKE MILLER, AP WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, he called Michael Cohen a PR guy who essentially acted as a contractor. Obviously, that's not -- that's minimizing Michael Cohen's role, understandably, given what has happened to Michael Cohen since and then went on to say that all the things that Michael Cohen, that got him in trouble, had nothing to do with him as the President, that they had to do -- they had to do with his other business dealings. That is not true, given that -- given what two of the charges Michael Cohen pleaded to regarded those payments, involvement with the President, but you know, he's correct that some of the other things that drew prosecutors' attention to him did not involve the President, but the question when it comes to those two payments the President denying that he had done anything wrong, Michael Cohen had a very different opinion sort of and the Federal Court had a very different opinion a couple months ago.

[19:20:00] TAPPER: All right. Let me ask Harry, from a legal perspective, this Michael Cohen case is with the southern district of New York, where you used to work. What does it say to you that is going after Cohen like this, calling him a liar?

HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: We've seen the reporting that Michael Cohen's being meeting with prosecutors since he pled guilty, supposedly he's had 50 hours of meetings with prosecutors where they would be debriefing him about activities involving potentially the President, potentially others in the President's circle and we haven't seen any witch hunt tweets in a while but there was one today and now these statements to the Associated Press, so it certainly makes it seem as if he was aware that perhaps the heat is turning up again.

TAPPER: Interesting. You noticed the witch hunt watch is back.

SANDICK: Exactly.

TAPPER: Zeke Cohen -- Zeke, I mean, Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis has responded on Twitter. He said, "Under oath, Michael Cohen acknowledged and took responsibility for Trump's bad behavior. Trump calling anyone a liar is a compliment." How confident do you think the President is that he can win the battle for public opinion here if not the legal battle?

MILLER: You know, he does seem pretty confident in that and that's certainly the way the President has viewed this. We've seen that over the last year and a half when it comes to the broader Russia investigation and certainly in our 30-some odd minutes with him this afternoon. That was really, every time we asked about Russia, every time we asked about Michael Cohen and matters such as that, it really was clear that he was making a political case, that Michael Cohen was sort of, you know, calling him the PR guy and not a real lawyer, a contractor, essentially all of those little things that taken together are an attempt by the President to really try to minimize the way the public views Michael Cohen's involvement within the broader Trump organization.

Obviously, Michael Cohen is somebody who was the President's, you know, very close confidant of the President, both within the Trump organization and also at the early part of his political life, but the President certainly wants the rest of America to have a different perspective, and different impression of that.

TAPPER: We should also point out there are actually tapes of the President talking with Michael Cohen about these payments that he denies he knew anything about. We should point out, Harry, Cohen has not worked out a cooperation deal with anyone at this point. He's giving investigators information they need and he says he's doing it on his own volition, not as part of an arrangement.

SANDICK: That's right. And that's actually not surprising. That typically before the government wants to offer a cooperation agreement, they need to spend a lot of time with the witness, figuring out, is he telling us something that's informative, that's useful in our cases, but even more importantly, is he telling us the truth? Checking him, showing him documents, prior tapes, to make sure that before the government offers a cooperation agreement, they have a responsibility to make sure they believe the person. That's the process that's going on right now from what we've seen in the reporting.

TAPPER: And Zeke, let's turn to another part of the interview. You and your team also wrote that President Trump said that he will not accept the blame if the Republicans lose control of the House in the midterms. What more did he have to say about that?

MILLER: Well, he said he believes he's an asset to Republican candidates facing those tough reelection battles next month and said that he thinks that his party can potentially defy that trend of where the incumbent -- the party of the incumbent President doesn't perform very well in that first midterm after the swearing in. At the same time, saying that if the Republicans were to lose control of the House, as many polls and experts predict, and certainly that's the consensus of a lot of Republicans in Washington, that he doesn't believe he deserves any of the blame for that, that he has been a net asset for Republicans down ballot. Talk to Republicans on Capitol Hill, often you get a very different sense of that, but certainly when you look at the President's travels over the last couple months, he's certainly cherry picking those districts where he believes he can make an impact and you look at the places potentially that he's not going to, those are the ones where, you know, lawmakers and those on the ballot say, maybe he's not so much of a help.

TAPPER: Mark, let's bring you in. Flashback to 2014, Democrats lost control of the Senate, President Obama admitted that the election was a," shellacking." And said the party, "the buck stops right here at my desk." Isn't that traditionally the situation when Presidents lose seats during a midterm? They accept responsibility and some blame.

MARC SHORT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS UNDER TRUMP: Yes, I think that's fair, Jake, but I think it's also important to recognize this President's being campaigning tirelessly to help Republicans and the reality is that with the 23-seat majority, the average loss of first general presidency is more than that. The average loss when one party controls the House, the Senate and the White House since FDR is about 48 seats, so I think that there's a lot of factors that would play into this, Americans liking divided government, a lot of Republicans who are chairmen of committees who are forced to step down because of term limits. Republicans has put in place. The Democrats have not put in place on conference (ph). I think the President is also, though, helping in a lot of the Senate races that look a lot more favorable for Republicans right now.

TAPPER: Joan?

JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: Well, you know, I think that first of all, we've got -- don't we've 40 Republican congressmen who have retired this cycle?

TAPPER: There are a lot.

[19:25:00] WALSH: Then we've got 25 seats that are -- that districts where Hillary Clinton won that are occupied by Republicans and right now the Democrats are ahead in the polls in, like, 19 of those. So, yes, it's a terrible judgment on the President. You talk to people in Congress and they say that. Even George W. Bush took the blame for the 2006 turnover. So you know, I'm not surprised because this President doesn't accept the blame or responsibility for anything. He tries to take credit for things other people have done. It's not shocking, but it doesn't really matter what he says. He will be to blame.

TAPPER: All right. Zeke Miller, Harry Sandick, thank you so much. Joan Walsh and Marc Short, stay with me.

OUTFRONT next, President Trump adding Stormy Daniels to the long list of women when he has attacked for their appearance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'd look her right in that fat ugly face.

A person who's flat-chested is very hard to be a10.

Grab them by the [ bleep ].

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Plus a top EPA official responsible for protecting kids has been sidelined. The reason? Dr. Ruth Etzel is my guest. He'll tell us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Tonight a Twitter war that you might frankly find debased and embarrassing and, yes, it involves the President of the United States. President Trump attacking Porn Star Stormy Daniels to whom he paid hush money to keep quiet about his alleged extramarital affair with her. He tweeted, "Federal judge throws out Stormy Daniels' lawsuit versus Trump, Trump is entitled to full legal fees." That's a quote from Fox News, and then Trump writes, "Great. Now I can go after horse face and her third rate lawyer in the great State of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed. She knows nothing about me, a total con."

[19:30:05] Horse face. Just the latest attack by the President on a woman's physical appearance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'd look her right in that fat, ugly face of hers. I'd say, Rosie, you're fired.

STERN: Have you ever had sex with a fat woman in your life?

TRUMP: I've had sex with women that got fat.

STERN: Right. We know that. We understand that.

TRUMP: Many times.

She's as beautiful a woman as I've ever seen.

STERN: She looked like Cindy Crawford.

TRUMP: She gained about 55 pounds in a period of -- she was like an eating machine.

A person who's flat-chested is very hard to be a ten.

The boob job is terrible, you know, they look like two light posts coming out of the body.

How come the deeply troubled women, you know, deeply, deeply troubled, they're always the best in bed?

You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.

She's about 5'1". Do you like girls that are 5-foot-1. They come up to you know where.

When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You can do anything.

TAPPER: In an interview last week in "Rolling Stone" magazine, Donald Trump said the following about you. Quote, look at that face, would anyone vote for that, can you imagine that, the face of our next president? Mr. Trump later said he was talking about your persona, not your appearance.

Please feel free to respond what you think about his persona.

CARLY FIORINA (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, it's interesting to me, Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Tonight, the president is doubling down on this attack.

Joan Walsh and Marc Short are back with me.

Marc, let me start with you. Not only did President Trump call Stormy Daniels horseface in the interview with the "Associated Press", he's refusing to back down from it. He was just asked if it was appropriate to insult a woman's appearance, and he said, quote, you can take it any way you want.

Is this something that you can defend at all?

MARC SHORT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS UNDER TRUMP: Jake, no, the president, regardless of her profession, should be treating her with respect, and no, I don't think it's helpful, particularly in light of so many positive things to be talking about. The president has here three weeks before the midterm election with a record that on the economy and national security, Dow going up 500 points today, it's not the subject that I think is preferred.

But more importantly, he should be treating her with respect.

TAPPER: And, Joan, one argument that I've heard from Trump supporters on social media today is this is not news in the sense that, you know, you saw those clips, most of them from before he ran for president. But I mean, this is who he is, and he's president and the American people knew who he was when they went to the voting booth.

JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: Yes, and I think we largely have James Comey to thank for why he is president. It's a great shame to me that most white women did vote for him but most women, American women, did not vote for him.

And I think, you know, it's awful, listening to the greatest hits of misogyny, you know and it's another day, another sexist taunt from the president. This is the world we're living in. But as we talked about in the last segment, Jake, the midterms are going to be brutal for him, and largely, it's the trend of college-educated white women away from the Republican Party. They now prefer Democrats on the generic ballots more than 60 percent prefer Democrats.

I think they narrowly went for Hillary Clinton, demographers differ about that. It was very close, however. It's not close anymore.

So, this is taking a toll, and I don't think we can just excuse it because, well, we've heard it all before. It's -- you have a daughter. I have a daughter. It's horrible to hear.

TAPPER: Yes, and, Marc, obviously, there's a political dimension to this beyond the moral one. Outgoing Republican Congressman Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania tweeted today, quote, to say this is unbecoming of any man, let alone the POTUS, the president is a vast understatement and to say this enables teenage boys to refer to girl with such names is obvious. It's all very embarrassing. Again, beyond the morality of this, the congressman is from a swing district and I can't imagine -- there are a lot of Republican women candidates out there in Arizona, for example, Congresswoman McSally running against a Democratic congresswoman, Sinema. This is not the kind of thing they want to be talking about.

SHORT: Jake, look, let's put the politics aside. It's just wrong. We should be treating Stormy Daniels and others with respect and that's just the bottom line.

TAPPER: And, Joan --

SHORT: What Joan said, though, a second ago, though, I think that -- I know she's still frustrated that more people across this country decided in the Electoral College to support Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton, but I think in the midterms, you're going to see Republicans continue to pick up seats in the Senate. So I think that's the political reality we face.

TAPPER: So, Stormy Daniels did respond to Trump's tweet.

WALSH: Yes.

[19:35:00] TAPPER: And again, I don't -- I don't know that this is something that helps her case or whatever, but she wrote, ladies and gentlemen, may I present your president. In addition to his shortcomings, he has demonstrated his own incompetence, hatred of women, like himself a troll on Twitter, and perhaps a penchant for bestiality. Game on, tiny.

Your response.

WALSH: Yes, tiny. I'm not going to go there. She's gone there. She's entitled to go there. She gets under his skin. Calling him tiny is not going to de-escalate this battle but I don't think she cares.

I think she's happy to have it with him, and he is not man enough to stay out of it. So, you know, I'm sure all three of us, we have this in common, that we're sad that we're sitting here talking about this, and I just say to women who are upset about it, go knock doors for a woman candidate.

Poor Barbara Comstock in Virginia. So many Republican women are hurt by this. But go knock doors for a female Democrat. You can phone bank for them. Don't get caught up in debating the word horseface.

TAPPER: And, Marc, this is, of course, the same president who has insisted that he respects and cherishes women. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have tremendous respect for women, and I am going to protect women.

I cherish women. I want to help women. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, Marc, I've spoken with Kellyanne Conway and other people who have worked in the Trump administration, and whether people want to believe it or not, a lot of women who have worked for President Trump really have positive things to say about how he promotes them, how he supports them, whether it's Nikki Haley or Dina Powell or Kellyanne Conway, but he doesn't seem to understand that when he says things like this, he undermines that because it sounds like he's talking about chattel when he talks about women like they're just objects.

SHORT: Jake, I agree 100 percent. I mean, the top two deputies in legislative affairs were women, Joyce Meyer on the house side and Amy on the Senate side and I think that the president always treated them with respect. He always was appreciative of the advice they gave him.

And I agree that, again, he should be treating Stormy Daniels with respect too. That's just the reality of it.

TAPPER: Marc Short, Joan Walsh, thank you so much.

OUTFRONT next, Republicans complaining about the growing deficit but aren't they part of the problem now?

Plus, a top scientist at the EPA sidelined from her job, why she says the Trump administration wanted to stop what she was doing. She's my guest.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:41:01]T APPER: Tonight, the deficit up 17 percent from last year, and Republicans are playing the blame game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It's very disturbing and it's driven by the three big entitlement programs that are very popular, Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. That's 70 percent of what we spend every year. There's been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs. Hopefully at some point here, we'll get serious about this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Of course, the new tax cut also contributed to the increased deficit and Democrats are seizing on McConnell's comment, alleging that this was the plan all along, to enact huge tax breaks that disproportionately help corporations and wealthy Americans and then the deficit goes up even more and now McConnell calls for cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Let's talk about this. OUTFRONT now, Stephen Moore, former senior economic adviser to the

Trump campaign and an informal adviser to the White House. And Catharine Rampell, a columnist for the "Washington Post."

Stephen, I'll start with you. The tax cuts did not pay for themselves as Republicans pledged that they would. They are contributing to the deficit going up, correct?

STEPHEN MOORE, FORMER SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER TO THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, Jake, I think you're kind of burying the lead here. I mean, the big story in this Congressional Budget Office report is that just in the last nine months, since the tax cut was passed, the CBO has increased its growth estimate for the next 10 years by $6 trillion. Let me say that again: $6 trillion additional growth because we've had such strong growth this year.

That -- if the federal government takes 18 percent of that, that's $1 trillion, so we've already effectively paid for two-thirds of the tax cut. But look, the other point is, Barack Obama increased the national debt by $10 trillion in 8 years. For Democrats to be saying somehow the Republicans are responsible for these enormous deficits, I think both parties are responsible, quite frankly. But come on, I mean, for Democrats after $10 trillion to say that the Republicans are borrowing too much, it's like Al Capone saying there's too much crime on the streets.

TAPPER: Catherine?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: All of that is bogus. First of all, the deficit was supposed to go down this year, according to the Trump White House. Second of all, the numbers that we're talking about are actually from the Treasury Department, not from the CBO. This is from Trump's own administration.

Third of all, we're talking about primarily tax cuts and spending increases that were put in place under this administration under a Republican-led Congress. That's why the deficit went up. Historically, basically at least since the end of World War II, the economy and the deficit have moved in tandem. That is, when unemployment falls, the deficit shrinks.

In fact, the last time that we had unemployment below 4 percent, we had a budget surplus. That was in 2000. We have seen a massive decoupling of those two trends, of budget deficits and the economy, and that is because, largely, the fact that this administration, despite claiming to be fiscal hawks, claiming that they were going to, in fact, pay down the debt, if you may recall, has done the exact opposite.

TAPPER: Stephen, obviously --

MOORE: Look, I mean, Catherine --

TAPPER: The Senate and the White House and they, you know, the economy is a Republican economy right now. The good and the bad.

MOORE: Thank you.

TAPPER: We're focusing on the deficits.

I want to play what current Republican leadership was saying about the deficit during the Obama administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Our debt is a threat to this country. We are on the verge of a debt crisis. Our debt, it's already bigger than our economy. Our debt, it's a sign of overreach. It's a sign that the federal government is doing too much.

MCCONNELL: The national debt threatens our way of life. The Democrats' spending spree has brought us to the brink of an economic calamity. Who proposes more spending as a solution to a debt crisis?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[19:45:04] TAPPER: So, Stephen, is the debt no longer a threat?

MOORE: Look, you know, I advised Donald Trump on the economy. One of the things that Larry Kudlow and I and others always said to him is the most important thing to do in terms of the economy is turn the economy around. Create more jobs. Get the economic growth rate up. That's what Americans care the most about.

And by the way, Catherine never mentioned the fact that we have $6 trillion more GDP over the next decade.

(CROSSTALK)

RAMPELL: The economy's been growing for the last nine years. You can't -- we have a short-term sugar high.

TAPPER: Let's do one at a time. Let's do one at a time. Go ahead, Stephen.

MOORE: I'm saying they've said that the economy is going to be $6 trillion larger since the tax cut passed.

RAMPELL: And they still say the tax cuts will not pay for themselves. They still say the tax cuts will not pay for themselves.

MOORE: No, but here's the point. I think where I am and I think a lot of Republicans are now, we care most about prosperity for the country and putting people in jobs. And if it takes a little deficit spending to do it, I think most Americans would say, let's put --

RAMPELL: A little? A little?

TAPPER: Let's give Catherine the final word.

RAMPELL: They've added $2.7 trillion to deficits over the next decade.

MOORE: What about the $10 trillion that Obama added? I mean, $10 trillion --

RAMPELL: Because of a recession. We're adding $2.7 trillion to the deficit in a growing economy. That's a very different thing. And that's why it's so disturbing. What happens when there is a recession next time around.

MOORE: There's a big difference between Obama's deficits and Trump's deficits.

RAMPELL: Yes, one was during a recession.

MOORE: We have roaring growth. Under Obama's deficits, we didn't get a boom. We got a boom --

TAPPER: OK.

MOORE: By the way, Jake, you said most things are going well with the economy. What's not going well with the economy? We have 7 million more jobs today than we did -- than there are people to fill them. That's an incredibly -- it's not a good economy. It's a phenomenal economy.

RAMPELL: It's a continuation of previous trends.

MOORE: Yes, right.

TAPPER: The deficit went up 17 percent from last year.

MOORE: But other than that, you can't point to a single thing that's not going right with the economy.

TAPPER: Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln.

Stephen Moore, Catherine Rampell, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

OUTFRONT next, a top EPA official now on paid leave. She'll tell me why she thinks the administration sidelined her.

Plus, our race of the day. Tonight, we're going to take you to the home of one of the most vulnerable Republicans. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:50:05] TAPPER: Tonight, a top EPA official in charge of protecting children's health has been sidelined. Dr. Ruth Etzel is a pediatrician and in charge of protecting kids from environmental toxins such as lead, but she's been put on paid administrative leave for the last three weeks and she's now speaking out because she believes the action is related to the work to protect children.

And Dr. Etzel joins me now.

Thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it.

Why do you believe that you're being put on paid leave is related to your work at the EPA?

DR. RUTH ETZEL, EPA EXPERT ON CHILDREN'S HEALTH PUT ON LEAVE: Well, I'm not entirely sure, but for the last two years, my staff and I have been working very hard on a big federal strategy to reduce children's exposure to lead and its adverse health effects. It was just about to come out when this happened. And so, I think perhaps it's related to that strategy.

TAPPER: Did anyone say we don't want this report to come out or stop doing this report or anything like that?

ETZEL: Never.

TAPPER: Did they --

ETZEL: In fact, they kept telling me lead poisoning was an important priority.

TAPPER: Did they tell you why they were putting you on suspended leave?

ETZEL: They did not.

TAPPER: Now, we asked the EPA and they said something about they're suspended while they investigate some allegations. Do you have any idea what these allegations are?

ETZEL: I don't. I saw something on the internet a while back that they thought they were allegations from my staff, but that part doesn't make sense. We have a great staff in the Office of Children's Health Protection. And in fact, the staff are the ones that did all the work of putting together this major federal lead strategy.

So, my terrific staff are still continuing that work, and I have no doubt that they will be successful.

TAPPER: Do you question the leadership of the EPA in their desire to protect children from lead? Is that something that you do not think they're committed to, as you are committed to?

ETZEL: I have a hard time knowing because what they continue to tell me is that lead poisoning is very important. But --

TAPPER: Combating it, yes.

ETZEL: Combating it, but if you watch their actions and not just listen to their words, you find out that they're not walking the walk that they would be walking if they really wanted to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.

TAPPER: Such as what? What are they not doing they could be doing?

ETZEL: So, for example, we know that after the Flint catastrophe, many children get lead from drinking their tap water, and there's a lot the EPA could do about that to try to eliminate the sources of lead poisoning like tap water and like aviation gas and other things. I just don't see that happening.

TAPPER: Do you question the administration more writ large, the Trump administration, their commitment to environmental safety writ large?

ETZEL: I think it's not a high priority. This particular administration doesn't seem to adhere to the EPA mission, which has always been to protect both human health and the environment.

TAPPER: By appearing here with me right now, are you worried at all that you are putting your job at risk? You're suspended right now, not fired.

ETZEL: Actually, I'm not suspended. I'm on something called administrative leave with pay.

TAPPER: Administrative leave with pay.

ETZEL: And the only thing they said is I should not do my job. Well, my job is kind of like being the chief lifeguard. I'm looking out for possible hazards to children and trying to prevent them. If they don't want the chief lifeguard around, what does that mean for children?

TAPPER: How long have you been doing your job? How long have you been in this position?

ETZEL: I have been in this position three and a half years.

TAPPER: Three and a half years. Before that, were you at the EPA, or did you something else?

ETZEL: Oh, no, I worked at the World Health Organization where I was in charge of children's environmental health activities and I have worked at the CDC and I've worked at the Department of Agriculture. I've been a professor in the School of Public Health. So, I've been around.

TAPPER: What do your employees, the people in your division, what did they tell you about what's going on with you not there?

ETZEL: They aren't really able to tell me anything because I am not able to speak with them.

TAPPER: You're not allowed to speak with them?

ETZEL: No.

TAPPER: You're not allowed to talk with them. They said you have -- how did they tell you the news you were suspended with pay?

ETZEL: They handed me a memo that said I was on administrative leave and I should not do any of my EPA duties.

TAPPER: And you really have no idea why they're doing this. They refer to some investigative allegations. But you don't know what they're talking about. Do you think this is because they don't want the chief lifeguard, as you put it, on the job?

ETZEL: Well, there are two reasons that you might try to get rid of a chief lifeguard.

One, maybe the chief lifeguard doesn't know how to do the job, but I have been doing children's environmental health protection now for 35 years. So I do know how to do the job.

The second is, maybe saving children doesn't matter anymore. I hope it's not the second.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Etzel, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

And every night until the midterms, OUTFRONT is looking at one key race. Tonight, Virginia's tenth congressional district, one of the Democrat's top targets as they try to take control of the House. It's home to one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country, two- term Congressman Barbara Comstock.

Jessica Dean is OUTFRONT with today's "Race of the Day".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Donald Trump's name isn't on the ballot here in Leesburg, Virginia, but still, his name looms large in this district.

(on camera): Is President Trump a factor in your decision?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course. Of course.

DEAN: Tell me why.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much time do you have?

DEAN (voice-over): Just miles outside of Washington, welcome to ground zero of the Trump resistance. Democratic voters in this highly education, wealthy, and increasingly diverse district see this election as a chance to right what they consider the many wrongs of the Trump presidency. The most recent polls for the tenth congressional district show Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock trailing her Democratic challenger, State Senator Jennifer Wexton.

STATE SEN. JENNIFER WEXTON (D), VIRGINIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: People are concerned about the coarsening of public discourse, the lack of civility, and the inability to get anything done in Congress.

DEAN: Wexton has received support from a number of outside groups looking to flip this seat blue. Trump's latest approval rating in the district, a meager 35 percent. The president's low numbers are proving to be a drag on Comstock.

AD NARRATOR: Barbara Comstock might as well be Barbara Trumpstock.

DEAN: But Comstock says she's no rubber stamp. REP. BARBARA COMSTOCK (R), VIRGINIA: I'm my own woman and I focus on

the priorities of my constituents. I have worked with a Republican governor and a Democrat governor, a Democrat president and now a Republican president. And I work to bring people together and get results. And that's our record, and we're proud to run on it.

DEAN: In February, Trump suggested shutting down the government over immigration. Comstock rejected the idea.

COMSTOCK: We don't need a government shutdown on this.

DEAN: Comstock touts her independence in TV ads.

AD NARRATOR: Barbara is a fighter for women and she's working across the aisle.

DEAN: But supporters say they'll stand by her because she largely votes with Trump.

MARK SANDGROUND, SR., VA 10TH DISTRICT VOTER: I'm a Republican. And I'm in favor of Barbara Comstock. I think she will help our president make America great again. I think she's wonderful because she's supported our president.

DEAN: Republicans aren't giving up on the race. The National Republican Congressional Committee has already spent $3.6 million, and plans to spend another $2 million on ads like this one.

AD NARRATOR: Dangerously wrong, that's Jennifer Wexton.

DEAN: Virginia voters have seen a flood of ads from both sides.

PRITI KHANA, VA-10TH DISTRICT VOTER: I have had no clue who Wexton was until I saw the ads. And that's how I researched her and got to know her.

DEAN: Whether it be a resistance to Trump or a move to a Democratic candidate, Wexton will accept the support.

WEXTON: Some people are obviously anti-Trump, but a lot of people have really concluded that Democrats are -- we have their back on affordable health care. We have their back on gun violence prevention, and we're interested in finding solutions, not just scoring political points.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And, Jessica, we heard from a few voters in your piece. I know you talked to a lot of people today.

What were you hearing on the ground?

DEAN: Interestingly, Jake, we talked to some voters off camera, asking them if they wanted to share their opinions with us on camera, and they said, look, we're planning to vote. We're planning to vote for Comstock. We just don't feel comfortable saying that out loud and saying that on camera, which was an interesting dynamic.

Also, we're here at the Loudoun County sheriff's office. That's where Congresswoman Comstock is tonight doing a roundtable on the heroin addiction here in the United States and what they can do here locally. And she says that that's what she plans to do in the weeks leading up to the election. She wants to talk to as many voters as she possibly can, as we get closer to Election Day -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Dean, from the site of one of the most competitive house races in the country in Virginia, thank you so much.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.