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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Trump: Manafort Pardon Not "Off The Table"; Trump: Rosenstein "Should Have Never Picked A Special Counsel"; Exclusive: New Details About Trump's Answers To Mueller. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired November 28, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, OUTFRONT HOST: Out front next, President Trump dangling a pardon in front of Paul Manafort. Is the President at risk of truly obstructing justice?
And the man who's becoming a central player in Bob Mueller's investigation. Who is Jerome Corsi? And is he the link between the Trump campaign and Russian backed WikiLeaks.
Plus the Trump administration accused of turning a blind eye to U.S. Intelligence, sparking a bipartisan revolt and major rebuke from the Senate today. Let's go out front.
Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. Out front tonight, obstruction of justice. President Trump may be dangerously close to obstruction as he dangles a pardon for Paul Manafort, telling the New York Post today, "I wouldn't take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?" It's a big thing to say, that a pardon is on the table, to say it explicitly as the President of the United States has just done.
Paul Manafort tonight is in solitary confinement, convicted on eight counts, most of them for fraud, charged with hiding $60 million in income, and Bob Mueller says Manafort is still lying to him again and again and again, even after Manafort promised to cooperate with the Special Counsel. So, Trump's talk of a pardon so openly is raising a serious legal threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The President should understand that even dangling a pardon in front of a witness like Manafort is dangerously close to obstruction of justice and would just fortify a charge of obstruction of justice against the President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Let's be clear. Obstruction of justice could be an impeachable offense, and the man you just heard is likely to be the next chairman of the Judiciary Committee. So that's the man who would lead impeachment proceedings against President Trump. Those words matter. As for Trump, he continued today, not only to dangle a pardon for Manafort, explicitly, to the New York Post, but essentially to justify it by comparing Bob Mueller to Joseph McCarthy.
The President today tweeting, "At least three major players are intimating that the angry Mueller gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts and they will get relief. This is our Joseph McCarthy era". Keep in mind, of course, as we've said again and again, Bob Mueller himself is a Republican, lauded by both Democrats and Republicans.
Let's go to Evan Perez out front live in Washington to begin our coverage. And Evan, this is not the first time we've heard Trump address a Manafort pardon, but this is very, very direct, right? Why would I take it off the table? On the same week that we're hearing that Manafort, according to Mueller, is lying.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. It's almost like the President is trying to telegraph something to not only To Paul Manafort but also to some of the other characters who we know have been before the Mueller investigators and are still essentially part of this investigation. But look, the President has had multiple meetings with his lawyers, and they've counseled him not to say these things about pardons, simply because you don't want to add any more evidence, any more information to Bob Mueller's investigation that goes towards a question of obstruction of justice. It's the very question, the very thing that you just raised in your intro is why his lawyers keep telling him, don't say this stuff. But he keeps coming back to it.
And look, the issue is that the President's power to pardon is absolute, right? It's in the constitution. He has this ability. So, it's really not necessary for him to do this, but I think part of the issue here is that it goes beyond the Mueller investigation, as you pointed out. This is also a political problem for the President, because it does raise the question of whether or not this goes to what people will try to use to try to impeach him. Again, that's something that the President seems to be willing to go to, simply because he thinks that it's a political battle that he can win.
BURNETT: All right, Evan, thank you. And Evan's going to stay with us.
I want to go now to the former Chief of the Organized Crime Section at the Department of Justice, James Trusty, knows a lot about this, also a long-time friend of the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Also with me, former Obama White House Ethic Czar and former Ambassador, Norm Eisen. OK, thanks to both of you. You both know this issue really well. This could be a crucial turning point for the President, right? So directly tonight, I wouldn't take it off the table, why would I take it off the table. You heard the incoming Judiciary Committee Chairman says this is dangling a pardon and dangerously close to obstruction, which is an impeachable offense. Norm, you think this shows corrupt intent. Why?
NORMAN EISEN, FMR. W.H. ETHICS CZAR UNDER PRES. OBAMA: Erin, thanks for having me back on. We have seen a pattern of conduct from the President, starting with the demand for loyalty from Comey, asking Comey to drop the Flynn case, firing Comey, dictating a false statement for a key witness, his son, now this pardon dangle.
[19:05:01] Any one of these by themselves you might say, oh, it could go either way, but now there's almost two years of it, and I think it is taken together, it is very substantial evidence of what you look for in obstruction, interference with an investigation with corrupt intent, with some improper purpose. So, we'll leave it to Bob Mueller to say in the final analysis what the weight of the evidence is, but I believe that if this were anybody other than the President of the United States, he would have been indicted for obstruction long ago.
BURNETT: Indicted for obstruction long ago. What do you say, James?
JAMES TRUSTY, FMR. CHIEF OF THE ORGANIZED CRIME SECTION, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Yes, I guess I'm not quite drinking that kool-aid. I mean, look, I think we all take the Presidential tweets as gospel at our own risk. He tends to be very quick to say all sorts of things, sometimes perfectly consistent, sometimes not. But I can't think of a federal prosecutor that would try to build a case around that tweet and say, no matter what the history, no matter what the kind of political or moral blame you might have for the President is, to try to build a legal case for federal obstruction on his kind of ruminations like that seems pretty farfetched to me.
BURNETT: OK, but to the point, though, let me say it because obviously the reason that you have the incoming Judiciary Chairman, and obviously that's a pretty significant person, because he would oversee any impeachment proceedings, saying that this is as close as it gets to obstruction is because it wasn't just to the New York Post, right? He said that actually right before the New York Post. It's because of the pattern. Let me play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And one of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that trial. You know, they're making up stories. People make up stories.
I must tell you that Paul Manafort's a good man. I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. He happens to be a very good person, and I think it's very sad what they've done to Paul Manafort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: James, I mean, you know, Trump has never criticized Manafort and again and again and again he says positive things, even after Manafort agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. How is that not dangling a pardon, saying, just be quiet, don't worry.
TRUSTY: Well, I mean, if this is a crime, it's the most conspicuous crime in the history of man to have a tweet that basically says, why would I give up the possibility of pardons in front of whatever, 300 million Americans and God knows how many other people. I mean, most obstruction takes place quietly and maybe more effectively because there's a criminal intent. So, look, there are certainly political repercussions and I'm not saying that congressmen in the new House of Reps won't pursue impeachment. But in terms of the law, in terms of a criminal violation, this is a real stretch, no matter what you have to say.
And by the way, complimenting Manafort while Manafort was beginning to cooperate with the probe seems a little inconsistent with suddenly dangling a pardon. This is a guy who already went to trial, started to cooperate, and now he's in breach. So I'm not sure what the timing would be for any sort of dangle anyway. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to offer it up now.
EISEN: Well, if this were just one comment to the New York Post, if it were just tweets, if it were just words, if it were just even, Erin, that the series of clips you played, but it's actions. He did fire Comey. He has, again and again, manifested an intention and actions to interfere with this investigation. He did dictate a false statement for his son, a key witness. And it's that larger pattern. These are more tiles in the mosaic.
We'll find out, but I think that the fact that Bob Mueller has invested so much time and energy in looking at the obstruction question tells you that it's serious. There are a series of cases in the federal court, the Sentolo (ph) case, the COP (ph) case, many cases where far less interference than this by those who had a legal duty but abused their legal duty for an improper purpose were prosecuted for obstruction. And the -- I think there's very powerful evidence here.
BURNETT: So, James, let me ask you, because obviously the New York Times has reported, right, Manafort's legal team has been briefing Trump's team on their actions with Mueller. As a regular citizen, that sounds really strange to me. My understanding is that that can happen, but it is incredibly unusual for it to be happening now, as they report it still is, which is after Manafort was supposedly cooperating with the Special Counsel, to still be cooperating and sharing information with team Trump. Why do you think they're doing that, and do you see that actually as a positive? Like, hey, if they're going to be communicating a pardon, they'd do it that way, the President wouldn't need to communicate it via the air waves.
TRUSTY: Well, I don't know that -- I can't say that I know specifically why they would continue to work within a joint defense agreement. I mean, most joint defense agreements contemplate that if your client suddenly has an adverse interest to the rest of the team, to which you're essentially extending attorney-client privilege, that you withdraw from that agreement. So, you know, normally, you'd expect if somebody starts to cooperate, that they withdraw from that agreement and they're never part of the team again.
[19:10:01] Here, maybe because it's so conspicuous, because everything is so public, including the filings that have been filed and will come that might be something where they feel they can still communicate. That part is unusual but, again, I don't know that I can put anything particularly sinister about the fact that the attorneys are in touch.
BURNETT: I just want to -- some things -- news here just coming in as this interview that the President gave The Post is coming out. You know, obviously, I showed you the tweet, right, where he compared Mueller to McCarthy and earlier today, he had retweeted an image which shows Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who appointed Mueller, among others, behind bars, right. So he put Rod Rosenstein, his Deputy Attorney General, behind bars.
It is now coming out that in his interview with the New York Post, they asked why? Why do you think Rod Rosenstein belongs behind bars? Trump replied, quote, he should never have picked a Special Counsel. He declined to comment on whether he's planning on firing Rosenstein. Norm?
EISEN: Well, Rod Rosenstein is one of the finest public servants that our justice system has ever seen. I've known him for a quarter of a century. And he may be exceeded in that capacity only by Bob Mueller. They're two outstanding men, both rock ribbed Republicans, and I think it's just terrible that the President, apart from the legal issues, which are profound, Erin, it's atrocious that we have a President of the United States who threatens criminal prosecution against his adversaries for doing what? Following the law. It was not a close question to appoint a Special Counsel. It was required under the law.
Like the Sessions recusal was required. So, you have a President here who's run amok. He's off the rails. No wonder he's a named subject in an obstruction of justice investigation.
BURNETT: James, you know Rod Rosenstein. What do you make of this, the President saying he should never have picked a Special Counsel, declined to comment on his firing. Certainly, obviously, sounds like he wants everyone to go there and think that. I mean, it couldn't be more clear. That doesn't concern you?
TRUSTY: Well, not a whole lot. I mean, the reason is a couple of things. One is, you know, Rod's professional death watch has been going on for about a year and a half. There's been literally parades of media watching him go to lunch, thinking he's about to turn in his resignation, and it hasn't happened.
TRUSTY: And so, whatever we think about the daily barrage of tweets and retweets, at some point, I think the President actually respects the job that Rod Rosenstein and Bob Mueller are capable of doing. There's a whole lot of unknowns that none of us have, including whether they're emphasizing obstruction of justice or other things in their investigation. So, look, I don't like seeing the barrage of tweets.
BURNETT: We can all agree that retweeting an image of him behind bars and saying that he should never have done perhaps the most crucial thing in his career is hardly showing respect.
TRUSTY: Well, totally agree. But I think, again, it goes back to the fact that when -- I think there's a devilish side of President Trump that really enjoys having everybody hot and bothered about everything he says. I'm not sure that he views these comments as Gospel. I think he throws them out, sometimes in frustration, sometimes to just get attention, and all of us react like this is exactly the state of the union at this moment. I just am not sure that's the appropriate way to look at it at this point. There's such a daily barrage of crazy comments coming from all quarters that it's hard to sift through and figure out the legal evidence.
TRUSTY: Yes, yes.
EISEN: No, this is the President of the United States. He's our most senior law enforcement official. He's supposed to signal respect. He exemplifies the Constitution. And for him to denigrate our constitutional norms, to drag these fine public servants through the mud, we should be angry and outraged. I am.
Frankly, I think it would be wrong not to speak out about it, and the American people are disgusted by it, Erin. In the latest Gallup poll, the President has his highest disapproval and his lowest approval yet and he should, because his behavior is a shameful betrayal of the sanctity of the Oval Office and of our Constitution.
TRUSTY: You can have political and moral views. Nobody's contesting that. The question is whether a tweet is the federal crime, and I would submit to you it's not enough, even with the pattern you're talking about.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both.
And next, we are learning this hour that President Trump has answered two key questions from the Special Counsel. There's a big caveat in there of what he's saying. Now, what happened to this guy?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have one of the great memories of all time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Yes. Having some memory issues now.
Plus outrage on Capitol Hill after the Trump administration dismisses the finding from the CIA.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no direct reporting connecting the prince to the order of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And Ivanka Trump says lock her up doesn't apply to her and her use of personal e-mail for official business of the United States. Does that add up?
[19:18:29] BURNETT: New tonight, we now know President Trump's answers to two key questions asked by the Special Counsel, Bob Mueller, right? Remember, he has submitted a whole slew of answers. Two of them we know. And two sources are telling us that Trump told the Special Counsel in writing that Roger Stone never told him about WikiLeaks.
Now, of course, we know Mueller's team has been investigating whether Stone knew about the dumps of hacked e-mails from the DNC and Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta. Those came out at key times during the 2016 campaign via WikiLeaks, which is an intelligence arm of the Russian government intelligence. Trump also telling Mueller he was not told about the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between his son, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer who promise dirt of Hillary Clinton.
Out front now, Evan Perez back with me. He broke this exclusive report. Eliana Johnson, a White House Correspondent for POLITICO and Harry Sandick, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Harry, these are two crucial questions, right?
HARRY SANDICK, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes.
BURNETT: Did the President know about that infamous meeting and what did he know about WikiLeaks and what -- the Russians, as we know, are, you know, intelligence arm of the Russian government, according to the U.S., is behind that. What does that tell you?
SANDICK: Well, it tells me a couple of things. One, assuming that it is true, it would be important in a way that clears Trump of so-called collusion allegations, because those are two of the biggest things that Mueller is looking at right now. But it also is interesting, because on both legs of this, the Trump Tower meeting that Manafort attended and the WikiLeaks piece that Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi have information about, there have been significant public reports talked about on this show and elsewhere that essentially the witnesses who Mueller would need to prove that Trump is lying either aren't cooperating or are lying themselves.
[19:20:21] BURNETT: And Eliana, you know, the President answering these questions, but in whatever way, I mean, because from what I understand from talking to people who have been questioned by the Special Counsel, the Special Counsel knew the answers to all the questions before they asked. So if the President's going to assume that and perhaps the answers are not ones that he wants him to have, he would say, well, to the best of my recollection which make it and out. The problem is, we understand that he put that in the questions. The best of my recollection, I don't -- I'm not 100% sure, right? Except for this is what he has said before about his memory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have one of the great memories of all time. People know me for my memory. I have a very good memory. I have a good memory, like a great memory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So now, Eliana, he's saying, well, I mean, you know, I don't really remember if I knew about that meeting. I don't really remember what I knew about WikiLeaks, but to the best of my recollection, no.
ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: That will certainly be cited by news reporters when we get a fuller view of what these answers were but that almost certainly, that to the best of my recollection line and his answers was put there by the good lawyers that the President has who are protecting him from the legal ramifications of lying to the Special Counsel. They don't want to put the President in a position where if he is not telling the truth in these answers, he could potentially perjure himself and expose himself legally. So this surely was on the advice of lawyers who are saying, in the event that Robert Mueller knows otherwise, you need to leave yourself an out here and that explains that phrase in his answers.
BURNETT: It's just the whole sadness of the whole thing basically because it's -- in the event Robert Mueller knows you're lying, lets put a cover in there. I mean, Evan, you know, this is your reporting about what these answers were, you know, so let's talk about one of these questions, right, where he says, I didn't know anything about that infamous meeting, right? So, we know, on June 6, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. is trying to set up the meeting, you know, where he's like bring it on, bring on the dirt, I love it, right?
Well, he called a blocked number twice, one of those calls four minutes, a second one, 11 minutes long later that day. And then two hours after the meeting on June 9th, Trump Jr. places another call to a blocked number. So, how important are these blocked numbers, Evan, to this whole investigation? For example, Donald Trump had a blocked number.
PEREZ: Right, it's actually one of the tantalizing things, Erin, that has never been answered, has never been clarified, certainly in public testimony, and certainly the -- nobody says that they know what it is. That Donald Trump Jr.'s attorneys say he doesn't remember who he called and the President's lawyers seem to not have any idea of what this is. But I can tell you this. If there is someone who knows, it would be Robert Mueller and his investigators, because, you know, the intelligence agencies, the NSA, they have a way to be able to get to information like that, even if it's blocked. So if there's anybody who might have an answer to that, it would be Robert Mueller's team. And so we don't know, obviously, what that answer is. But I certainly think that by the end of all of this investigation, we might get -- find out who he called.
BURNETT: So, Harry, let's talk about that. So as Evan's saying, blocked to us but not to Bob Mueller. So let's just say that call was to Donald Trump Sr., right? Donald Trump Jr.'s testified in front of a committee, right, that, oh, I don't know whose number that was and his father saying, I don't remember it. I mean, OK.
If they can prove that it was from son to father, and that means you've got these two calls right as the meeting's being planned, you've got the call right afterwards. What does that do? Because I would imagine one thing they cannot get is an actual transcription of what was said on those calls. So, it's damning but still circumstantial, yes?
SANDICK: I think that's right. I mean, you could try to show that the father and son are both lying, that they, in fact, do remember the call, remember what was said and that they're saying, I don't remember, is itself false. But it's hard to prove that without some sort of corroboration. You know, you would want to see maybe were there e-mails right after the call saying, I just spoke to dad, you know, big news or something like that.
You know, absent something like that, it's hard for me to see a strong obstruction of justice or false statements case coming out of this. We really also see the limitations of the written questions. If somebody were to have said that to me and I was a prosecutor, or even in the civil case, I would have documents to show them to say, OK, you say you don't remember. I'd like to try to refresh your recollection. You can't do that in written questions.
BURNETT: And Evan, you know, so you have this one, that one, which you know, would seem when they can prove the blocked number would be damning and yet perhaps not. You also are reporting on Roger Stone and WikiLeaks, Trump's answer there. Oh, I didn't know about it. And of course, Roger Stone himself has said he didn't know WikiLeaks -- he didn't discuss it with Trump and he obviously -- he said he didn't know it was related to Russia.
[19:25:14] But we all know President Trump has made public statements about WikiLeaks right around the time that those e-mails were coming out from WikiLeaks. What does all that add up to you there? Can he weasel out of that in a question, or is there possibly a smoking gun that Mueller has?
PEREZ: Look, to me, it doesn't seem like a smoking gun and I think that's, you know, I think that's the genius of the Trump lawyers stringing this out over 11 months, right? Keep in mind, Mueller asked to sit down with the President, to have this -- to have a sit-down with a President and have an interview back in January of this year. Here we are, we're almost to December, and we are still just talking about the written answers that were provided. And so they have managed, at this point, to not have the President sit down with Robert Mueller's investigators, and that's a huge victory, because it means that the President has been shielded, has been protected, really, from having to do exactly what you're talking about, which is do follow-up answers, right? Follow-up questions that may have gotten him in trouble, because we do know the President, one of the things that once you let him talk, he kind of does get himself into trouble. So, I think the lawyers have done an amazing job to protect this President.
BURNETT: And Eliana, do they feel that they have succeeded, that he is in the clear from any possible perjury?
JOHNSON: I think they've protected him in these written answers thus far, but you can tell, I think, in the President's tweets, he's often very transparent about what's on his mind. And I think it's absolutely clear, the President is tweeting about Robert Mueller and excoriating him on a daily basis if not more than that, and though his lawyers have done a good job of protecting him in this case, the President is still feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety about this probe. It is on the forefront of his mind and in that sense, and in that sense, it does, I think, make those of us covering the White House wonder whether there's something that we still don't know about here, because there's -- the President is certainly feeling the heat of this, as Mueller and his team reach -- look toward closing their investigation and issuing a report.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate all of your time.
And next, a closed door briefing on the murder of The Washington Post columnist backfiring in the White House. Republicans in droves voting against President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I changed my mind because I'm pissed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Plus, why President Trump is now predicting he's going to be robbed of the Nobel Peace Prize.
BURNETT: Tonight, the Senate defies President Trump, voting overwhelmingly against White House policy on Saudi Arabia. The vote was 63 to 37 and it was to yank American support for Saudi forces in Yemen.
[19:30:03] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Tonight, the Senate defies President Trump, voting overwhelmingly against White House policy on Saudi Arabia. The vote was 63-37 and it was to yank American support for Saudi forces in Yemen. The reason? Bipartisan anger at President Trump for backing Saudi Arabia and not his own CIA assessment about the crown prince's involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Here's Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, on why he joined 14 other senators in flipping their votes on Saudi Arabia against the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I changed my mind, because I'm pissed. The way that administrations handle this Saudi Arabia event is just not acceptable. The briefing today did not help me at all better understand the role that MBS played in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: That is the crucial question, and the briefing he's referring to was today. The entire Senate briefed on the brutal murder and dismemberment of "The Washington Post" journalist and American resident, Jamal Khashoggi. The CIA Director Gina Haspel who has seen all the evidence and whose agency concluded that the Saudi crown prince personally directed the murder was not there. She did not brief senators.
Instead, the president sent Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Pompeo, after writing an op-ed, here's a printout, which refers to, quote, Capitol Hill cater walling and media pile ons and continues to say that no matter what, quote, degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake, went today to parrot the president's refusal to believe American intelligence community's conclusion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I do believe I've read every piece of intelligence that's come in, in the last few hours, I think I've read it all. There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That's all I can say in an unclassified setting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Just keep in mind here, this man recently had Gina Haspel's job. He was running the CIA. So these are all the people who worked for him, who run intelligence for the United States, who have concluded this and he just came out and obviously said he doesn't agree.
Those words more than, quote, pissed off Senator Graham. And others, including Senator Rand Paul. Here he is moments ago on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: The CIA concluded with high probability that the crown prince was involved, and so that conclusion's being completely sloughed over and people are turning a blind eye to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT tonight at the White House.
Kaitlan, you know, with all this out there, why wasn't the CIA director, the one who reached this conclusion, at the briefing, and instead, others who were going to go along with the president's denial of that were? Where was she?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question Mike Pompeo refused to answer two times today, but senators who were in the room during that briefing said that Pompeo and Mattis told them it was the White House's direction that the CIA director, Gina Haspel, was not a part of the briefing today, though they did not elaborate why, in that briefing, and the White House hasn't elaborated on why she wasn't there to us either.
Now, that raises the question, because there was a clear request from the senators to have her there, as you just heard from Lindsey Graham and from Rand Paul, because not only is she the CIA director, but she's the one who's listened to the audio of this killing that they said that they have at the CIA, and she's the one who traveled to Turkey in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi's death to do some investigation. So, that is why they wanted her there today.
But when Mike Pompeo was asked, why isn't your -- the CIA director here, briefing us with you, he kind of smirked and said, well, I was asked to be here and then he repeated that line again, but he did not go any further than that. Of course, as you just showed, he is downplaying his own former intelligence agency's assessment that it was the crown prince who ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, which is stunning given that Mike Pompeo used to run the CIA, not that long ago.
But, Erin, it seems that this briefing is backfiring on the administration, because they were hoping to convince those senators not to further resolution to withdraw U.S. support from the Saudis in Yemen, and instead, by not bringing Gina Haspel to that briefing, but not being forthcoming with all of the information they know about the death and who ordered this death, it seems to have backfired on them and have some of these senators, even those who are key allies of the president's switch their votes.
BURNETT: All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much.
And I want to go now to Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat, member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He was at that classified briefing today from Secretaries Pompeo and Mattis and not Director Haspel.
So, Senator, good to have you with me.
Secretary Pompeo, of course, siding with the president, quote, turning a blind eye, as Senator Paul says, to the CIA. Now, Pompeo says, look, I've read all the intelligence, there's no direct reporting, his words, that connect the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to Khashoggi's murder.
[19:35:03] Your response?
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Well, the emphasis he put in that sentence was on the word "direct." He's saying we don't have the smoking gun but if you were to push him, I suspect he would say he's not disputing the CIA report or a conclusion. He's not disputing that there's massive amounts of indirect evidence in terms of the family members of the crown prince and the associates, the body guards, other members of the team closely related, not disputing the notion that this type of action would never happen without the crown prince's approval.
So, it's a choice. It's a choice to ignore it.
BURNETT: And what do you make, though, of the fact that Secretary Pompeo, who ran the CIA, who should have utmost respect for it, who you are saying actually would if pushed agree with the CIA, is publicly actually sounding like he's doing the opposite? He sounds a lot like his boss who says, I'm standing with Saudi Arabia.
MERKLEY: It is exactly what he's doing. He's saying that because Saudi Arabia is a stabilizing force and helps us on a number of our projects in the world, we're going to ignore the fact that they murdered a U.S. resident. That's what he's saying.
BURNETT: So, do you feel today that you got something out of this briefing? You heard Senator Graham. He said he didn't get answers to the questions that he had about the crown prince. Do you feel the Trump administration was forthright and honest and put what they had on the table today?
MERKLEY: What I came out with today -- came away with was that the president really wants to maintain this relationship because, as he said, they buy our stuff. They buy our arms. And that Pompeo comes at it from the direction of, I want this relationship because they help us on other things.
But both of them, therefore, saying, we're going to just ignore the fact they murdered a U.S. resident, and it's so weakens our leadership in the world to say, you can murder one of our American residents and we will not protest. We will not make an issue of it. We will just say, well, we have economic interests, so we'll ignore it.
That is such a downgrading of the U.S. role in the world to fight for human rights and keep principles that are so important.
BURNETT: So, the president, you know, you heard this mention of a tape, right? And the president says there is a tape that captured part of the murder. The defense secretary says the United States does not have the tape, and it's a contradiction that certainly from what these two men have said on tape does not get more stark than this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We do not have the tapes. We do not have the tapes. At least I'm not aware that we do.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have the tape. I don't want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OK, this is a pretty basic and important thing. Does the United States of America have a copy of the tape or not?
MERKLEY: Yes, well, it appears that I'm taking these folks at their word, that what we have is a transcript of the tape rather than a tape itself.
BURNETT: So the president misspoke?
MERKLEY: I couldn't quite catch the president's words, but --
BURNETT: The president said, quote, we have the tape. I don't to hear the tape.
MERKLEY: Oh. Well, my understanding is we have a transcript.
MERKLEY: But not the tape itself.
BURNETT: So, Gina Haspel, then, is the only person, as we are aware at this time, in the United States who has heard the tape. It is among other evidence she has but she has heard it and she, of course, is the chief who's making the assessment that the conclusion that the crown prince directly ordered this assassination.
MERKLEY: Yes. We wanted to hear her analysis of all the connections that are involved here, because there are many, and they've been reported in the open press, so we have heard about the brothers' connection. We've heard about the body guard's connection. We've heard about many associations.
We wanted her to put the picture to us in the classified setting, how did they get to high confidence that the crown prince was involved, and clearly, the administration does not want her to talk to Congress. We must really demand, and if not know, in January, when the Democratic Congress comes in, the House, we need to demand to have that briefing and hear firsthand all how they put the picture together.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Senator. I appreciate your time.
MERKLEY: You're very welcome. Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, just in, President Trump in a new interview making -- saying why he says he will not be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That is what he is talking about in an interview just moments ago.
Plus, how a conspiracy theorist who doubted Obama's birth certificate has landed on Mueller's list.
[19:42:14] BURNETT: Just in, the president telling the "New York Post" he does not think he'll be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. And he is comparing it to being robbed of an Emmy for "The Apprentice."
The president saying, quote, well, they'll never give it to me. We should have gotten the Emmy for "The Apprentice," you know? I had the number one show, "The Apprentice."
Trump went to specifically complain about "The Amazing Race," which is I guess what won the Emmy instead of "The Apprentice" in that year. Again, this rant was in the context of winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
OUTFRONT now, Scott Jennings, former advisor to Senator Mitch McConnell and former special assistant to President George W. Bush, and Maria Cardona, former senior Hillary Clinton campaign adviser and DNC communications director.
Scott, you are laughing, but he is saying he should have got en the Emmy for "The Apprentice" and that he is similarly being robbed of the Nobel Peace Prize. Comparable?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, they're certainly not comparable. I don't think he's earned the peace prize yet but I think he could if he ends up solving the North Korean problem, which is not solved, but he's further down the road than it was during the Obama, Bush and Clinton years, then I think you could make a case for it. But we're not there yet.
I didn't think Obama deserved the Peace Prize in '09 because he hasn't accomplished anything either. So, to me, I think these things should be awarded once an accomplishment is in the bank. And if he puts one in a bank, then maybe he's a conversation.
BURNETT: Well, Maria, as we know, the president has, for a while, a bit of a bee in his bonnet about the peace prize and talking about how he wanted it. Here's just one example.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'll tell you one thing. We're not playing games, and I remember, you know, it was very rough, three, four months ago --
CROWD: Nobel, Nobel, Nobel!
TRUMP: That's very nice. Thank you. That's very nice. Nobel.
I just want to get the job done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Maria, he let that play out as did we. He enjoyed basking in that. But he does care about this.
MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, sure, Erin, he cares about it but not necessarily because he cares about the country and what an actual -- what actual actions that would deserve a Nobel Peace Prize would mean for the country. He cares about it because that is how narcissistic he is.
It's all about him. It's all about what he thinks he deserves. It's all about what he thinks he can win, and no, I don't think he's going to get the Nobel Peace Prize because I agree with Scott, he hasn't done anything to deserve it.
[19:35:03] And I don't think until the proof is in the pudding that he will actually do something to deserve it. In fact, I think what he has done is completely the opposite of making us more safe.
BURNETT: So, just to make this point, though, about this Emmy issue. In October -- on October 20, 2016, so, more than two years ago, Scott, at a debate between Trump and Clinton, Clinton said there was even a time when he didn't get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting the Emmys were rigged against him. This has come up before. Trump interjects, should have gotten it and everybody laughs.
Clinton, though, says, this is a mindset, this is how Donald thinks, and it's funny, but it's also really troubling.
Scott, is it really troubling? I mean, he's still obsessing even now, an interview with "The New York Post" about not getting an Emmy and now, we're talking about, what, five years ago. He's till obsessing about it, never mind the comparison to the Nobel.
JENNINGS: Look, people with big egos at this level of politics and entertainment in our culture, they are proud of their work. I mean, Hillary Clinton criticizing someone for having a big ego, essentially, in this case -- I mean, give me a break.
He thought the show was great. He thought he got robbed. It's one of the most famous things he's known for, so I understand. I mean, I wouldn't dwell on it but, you know, he's proud of it and he's disappointed that he didn't win an award.
I mean, I don't think -- I mean, I think people at this level get disappointed about things.
BURNETT: This evening, Maria, Ivanka Trump defending her use of private e-mail. This is the first time breaking her silence on ABC. Here she is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Not only to her but to the entire nation as a whole.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OK. So, what she said -- sorry, Maria, I ran the wrong one. My e-mails have not been deleted, nor was there anything of substance. Nothing confidential that was within them. So there's no connection between the two things, referring to herself and Hillary Clinton.
What do you think? We should take her at her word?
CARDONA: No. I think what she said is completely ludicrous. I think it's the epitome of elitism, of hypocrisy and frankly stupidity. The fact that she even did this going into the White House, was she not present for the two years where her father railed against Hillary Clinton, calling her crooked Hillary, saying lock her up?
BURNETT: And yet, Maria, you did say we should take Hillary Clinton at her word.
CARDONA: Well, but here's the thing. Hillary Clinton actually, and a lot of people who are around here -- who are around her, she apologized for it. It took some time, but she apologized for it, and acknowledged that it wasn't the smartest thing to do. And the people around her did the same thing.
Do we think that it was completely blown out of proportion? Of course it was. Which is why now, there really is no difference between what Hillary Clinton did and what Ivanka did. She says that none of her e- mails were deleted. Her lawyer was the one who chose which ones were supposed to be turned over. It's the same thing that Hillary did.
So, until the FBI does an investigation about her e-mails, we're never going to really know what happened there.
BURNETT: Scott, doesn't Maria have a point? I mean, it's really impossible for someone with the name Trump to say, just take me at my word on e-mails, isn't it?
JENNINGS: Well, look, they made a mistake in the beginning, that's clear. But there is no comparison if you look under the hood of this. And yeah, Hillary chose which e-mails to preserve after they deleted the 30,000 and after she had her staff smash her phones with a hammer.
BURNETT: You're trusting Ivanka Trump to tell you she didn't delete any. You're taking her at her word. That's all I'm saying.
CARDONA: Exactly. We don't know whether she deleted any, Scott. We don't know.
BURNETT: You just trust her, Scott?
JENNINGS: Here's what the White House should do. In order to circumvent what is going to happen, which is an investigation by the House Democrats, they should create their own time line and their own transparency. I take her at her word. They need to show their work and prove it and as long as they do that, in advance of what the House Democrats are going to do, this will be a minor blip, soon forgotten.
CARDONA: And Republicans should froth at the mouth with outrage about this, the same way they did with Hillary or have Ivanka apologize or they should apologize for having done it to Hillary. BURNETT: Thank you both.
And next, a conspiracy theorist obsessed with the idea that President Obama wasn't born in the United States. Who is Jerome Corsi and why is he now central to Bob Mueller's investigation into Donald Trump and Russia?
Plus, Jeanne Moos counting down to Christmas with the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Three, two, one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:51:41] BURNETT: Tonight, President Trump praising three men who he claims are all being asked to lie by the special counsel, telling "The New York Post" in an interview, quote, I have three people Manafort, Corsi, I don't know Corsi, but he refuses to say what they demanded.
Manafort, Corsi and Roger Stone -- it's actually very brave.
Well, Corsi is Jerome Corsi. He is a close associate of Roger Stone. He's now front and center in the Mueller probe, and wow, does he have a story you're going to want to hear?
Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.
JEROME CORSI, CONSERVATIVE AUTHOR: Glad to be back with you again.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jerome Corsi's seemingly rejected plea agreement and his willingness to spill the details landing the conservative author on Mueller's bad side.
CORSI: Well, my attorneys said that special counsel wasn't very pleased. They said we'll take it from here.
MURRAY: Draft court filings into he received in plea discussions shed light on how a right wing serious theorist landed at the center of Mueller's investigation, into whether there was a connection between WikiLeaks and President Trump's inner circle.
E-mails included in the draft filings show how Roger Stone, a long time adviser to Trump, allegedly sought information from WikiLeaks, using Corsi as a go between.
CORSI: Roger Stone writes in July when I'm in Italy, and he says, get to Assange. So, I copied that email, I forwarded it to Ted Malloch, an associate in London. MURRAY: Malloch, a London based professor who runs his own consulting
firm was eager to make end roads with the Trump team, Corsi says, and Corsi introduced him to Stone.
CORSI: He would love to have had a policy position working for Trump, and Roger basically was saying, if you want something from me, why don't you do something for us and I can show Mr. Trump how you can be important to us.
MURRAY: A few days after Trump e-mailed Corsi to get to Assange, Stone sent another e-mail to Corsi, this time encouraging him to have Malik visit Assange. Earlier this year, Malloch was questioned by investigators at Boston's Logan Airport. He was specifically asked if he visited an embassy in London where the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange lives. He said he had not.
As for Corsi, he followed up with Stone in early August 2016, writing, word is friend in embassy plans two more dumps. One shortly after I'm back, 2nd in October. Impact planned to be very damaging before referencing Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and the Clinton Foundation.
Corsi insists he was never actually in touch with Assange, even though his email came months before WikiLeaks began releasing Podesta's emails. Another eccentric character in Mueller's probe, Corsi has a PhD from Harvard, a background in finance and a penchant for spreading conspiracy theories, casting doubt on John Kerry's Vietnam War service and even writing a book about Hitler secretly surviving the fall of Nazi Germany.
He and Trump were both particularly enthralled with the racially charged and inaccurate theory that President Obama wasn't born in the U.S.
CORSI: For a few years, I lived in the Plaza Hotel, Trump owned it, and, of course, we got to know each other. And then in 2011, when the birth certificate issue came around, there were a few instances where Donald Trump called me to ask me questions and discuss it with me.
[19:55:01] MURRAY: Now, Corsi said he and Trump talked in a couple of occasions in 2016 but these days, it's their lawyers sharing the information. Corsi says he won't take any plea deal that says he knowingly lied to investigators and as of Wednesday, he still has not been charged with a crime.
Back to you, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Sara, thank you.
And next, Jeanne Moos taking us inside the festivities at the White House.
BURNETT: Today, Melania Trump painting Washington red.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president counted down. The first lady pressed a button to light the national Christmas tree.
TRUMP: Three, two, one --
MOOS: A nice normal green tree, technically a blue spruce. When it came to sprucing up the White House, 40 red cranberry covered trees lining the east colonnade had some critics seeing red or at least seeing car wash brushes, or seeing the women from the hand maid's tail with their bonnets.
You are correct if you thought the red trees would become the butt of jokes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Soaked in blood. Soaked in sweet, sweet blood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Check these out. A lot of people said it looks like Christmas in hell. Then Melania said, exactly.
MOOS: But you know what Melania really said?
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: We are in the 21st century and everybody has a different taste. I think they look fantastic. In real life, they look even more beautiful.
MOOS: Tweeted one supporter, I think the red trees are as fashion forward as he is. I love 'em.
Oh, come on, you regular trees are green with envy.
The first lady's office said the red motif is an extension of the stripes found on the presidential sale and the Be Best ornaments are an extension of Melania's campaign encouraging kids.
The first lady seems to like red right down to her fingertips. Tweeted someone, the gloves are killing me. Is it cold or is she trying not to leave fingerprints?
Twitter users needled the red trees by inserting the creepy girls from "The Shining". But unlike "The Shining", when you peek out from your fingers, the red trees are still there.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: And thank you for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT anytime, anywhere. You just have to go to CNN Go.
I'll see you tomorrow night.
Anderson starts now.