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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Top House Dems Raise Prospect Of Impeachment, Jail For Trump; Plea Hearing Scheduled For Accused Russian Spy; Trump's "Humiliated" And "Super-Pissed" About Chief of Staff Mess. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired December 10, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:16] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, Trump lashing out as the words jail time and impeachment are swirling. Plus an accused Russian spy now cooperating with federal prosecutors, the same Russian spy who tried to infiltrate top Republican circle attending (ph) an event with candidate Donald Trump. What is she telling investigators tonight?
And job vacancy, Trump "humiliated and super pissed" over his chief of staff opening. The latest on the biggest job in Washington that no one publicly seems to want. Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. And OUTFRONT tonight, anxious, "super pissed and alone." President Trump increasingly afraid about his political future as Democrats are preparing to take over the House, putting them in charge of any impeachment proceedings. This coming after the president's former personal lawyer implicated him in two campaign finance felonies, which some Democrats say are already grounds for impeachment.
President Trump tonight lashing out at Michael Cohen, saying the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Playmate Karen McDougal were fine. The president tweeting, "Democrats can't find a smoking gun, that's because there was no collusion. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction wrongingly (ph) calling it campaign contribution, which is not. Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced, witch hunt."
First of all, let's just be clear about one thing. The collusion with Russia question is not related to the possible felony payments to Daniels and McDougal. These are two separate problems that the president may have. He's trying to mud the waters there by using his familiar words like witch hunt.
The former CIA director, John Brennan, now obviously a Trump critic, ridiculing the president's tweet today saying, "Whenever you send out such inane tweets, I take great solace in knowing that you realize how much trouble you are in and impossibly it will be for you to escape American justice. Mostly, I'm relieved that you will never have the opportunity to run for public office again."
OK, let me just repeat that last night there from the former CIA director. Never have the opportunity to run for public office again. OK, that obviously could lead you right to this felony issue. And Brennan is not alone. Democrats are increasingly raising the "I" word using it directly, impeachment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFRONIA: This president in my estimation has done everything possible to certainly be eligible for impeachment. And so I really do think that it should be started.
TAPE TAPPER, STATE OF THE UNION HOST: Are those impeachable offenses?
REP. JERROLD NANDLER (D), NEW YORK: Well they would be impeachable offenses.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: I think you are beyond the stage that led to the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, whether or not you think that that was worthy of impeachment or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: The word is out there. So let's just not forget one thing, impeachment is a political process, that means the Republican led Senate has to conduct a trial on any impeachment claims that are approved by the House which of course as Democrats. You can get it through the House as you got impeachment in the case of Clinton through the Republican House then you got the Senate.
Now, up until now, the Senate, the Republican led Senate has been very protective of the president. Even the former FBI Director Jim Comey, and this is important. Now he's a fierce Trump critic. He's a Republican but a fierce Trump critic, god knows (INAUDIBLE) Trump he know that.
This weekend he called on Americans to "use every breath they have to oust Trump." In his opinion, the president should not be impeached.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I hope Donald Trump is not removed from office by impeachment, because it would let the country off the hook. And it would drive into the fabric of our nation a third of the people believing there was a coup.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: A coup. Is Comey right or will Democrats move full steam ahead? Shimon Prokupecz is live in New York tonight. And Shimon, the president obviously very concerned. It's obvious about what Michael Cohen has already told prosecutors.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, and he should be, Erin. You know, the president is central figure in this investigation and the SDNY here in New York, the campaign finance investigation. He's the central figure in this. And it was Michael Cohen whose soul purpose in cooperating with the SDNY. Prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum, the reason he cooperate was to provide information on the campaign finance charges. There was nothing else that he provided information with. And when you think about the way in which prosecutors explain that the president, individual number one, directed and coordinated with Michael Cohen in making these payments, also in the way that these payments were structured, in the way that they say these payments were hidden by the organization. By the Trump Organization, they went through shell companies, the way in which they paid Michael Cohen, are all ways in which the president of course should be concerned, and, of course, his attorneys should be concerned.
[19:05:08] And, you know, I think prosecutors here lay out a very good case, that if the president, if Donald Trump wasn't the president, he probably would have been indicted or charged in this case as well.
Now, of course, Erin, you know, there's a lot of arguments being made about whether or not they could wait until he's out of office. That is a possibility. It is something that the FBI agents could still pursue, or a new prosecutor under a new administration could take up and bring charges against the president for once he's out of office.
BURNETT: All right, Shimon, thank you very much. And I want to go out front now to a Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, member of the House Judiciary Committee, and congressman, i appreciate your time.
Look, as we said, we're at a crossroads for this country. The president says the payments to women now, that obviously would be felonies, he says this is all a witch hunt. Now, we are talking about specific felonies, Congressman Jerry Handler, obviously your colleague, who incoming chairman likely here, he said these are impeachable offenses, do you agree, congressman?
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I think it's important to remember, this is President Trump's Justice Department who is now said that he directing Mr. Cohen's commit two felonies. This is very serious. I think it's important that again we await the final conclusions of the ongoing special counsel investigation because based on what we've seen in the last week, we're starting to get an real window into the special counsel's investigation, status of that investigation.
My guess is, my educating guess is there's much more to come. We need to wait until all of that information is presented to Congress and if in fact warns over from office side I don't think it will hesitate to do it. But need to let the special council finish his work, we need to prevent the president or anyone on his behalf from interfering or impeding or attempting to undermine that investigation. I think there's much more to come.
BURNETT: All right. So, I walk to about this because obviously we're talking about felonies on the payments of women campaign finance violation and then the Russia issue collusion, obviously the legal term would be conspiracy as another issue
In terms of these partial payments to women which obviously would be felonies, right. I mean felony is a felony, that is an impeachable thing. You want it to be, congressman. Today, Republicans are saying those hush payments are not a big deal. Here's Orrin Hatch late today if you heard him on his plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I don't think he was involved in crimes but even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws, if you want to you can blow it way out of proportion you can do a lot of things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And, you know, look, the president obviously saying, it's OK. Even if it he was involved in crimes Hatch is agreeing. Republican senator John Thune would be the number two Republican over in the Senate. The congressman says, "It's hard to read too much into it." I mean Congressman Cicilline, what is your response to Senator Hatch and Thune who are acting like these payments even if felonies are not a big deal.
CICILLINE: Well, of course, it is a big deal. Any time -- and this is the first time in our history that the Department of Justice has concluded the president of the United States directed another individual to commit two felonies. No one should lose side of that. This is a very serious offense. This is a crime directed by the president according to Mr. Cohen. If this turns out to be true, of course it's serious.
The question is, what other information will Congress have that may in addition to that warrant proceeding with impeachment because this obviously part of the investigation with a separate case, the special counsel is a different one. But I think we have to wait for that. But no one should minimize. This is monumental that the president of the United States is directing another individual to commit two felonies as part of an effort to defraud the American people and win an election. We should not make a lot of this in a way. And it's very disappointing to see members of the United States Senate minimizing this behavior.
BURNETT: So congressman, let me ask you, though, because while you're saying it's important it also sounds like you're saying, let's get everything else first. Do you think we need more than a campaign finance violation as monumental as it is? I'm sorry.
CICILLINE: No, I think this is very important. But I do think we have -- it is one opportunity. We're going to have one opportunity to make a judgment as a Congress as to whether or not impeachment is appropriate. We owe it to the American people to get all of the information so make the most informed judgment with all of the evidence. You can only do this once. You're not going to have several bites of the apple so I think it's important to wait until we get all the information. But no one should think that is not by itself sufficient to remove the president from office.
BURNETT: Right. So you're saying it may be sufficient, but you're not going to move on alone or with anything else until you get more information. I mean, so when Senator Chris Murphy says, and you heard him there in our introduction, look, we're beyond where we were when the Clinton impeachment proceedings began. That was the point he was making.
BURNETT: Is he right? I mean, do you think you're placing the bar to start a Trump impeachment higher because there's already -- there could be so many more offenses?
CICILLINE: Well, I think we owe it to the American people to allow the special counsel to finish this investigation because it may in fact provide even a more significant basis for impeachment proceedings, but we ought at least let that process be finished before we proceed.
[19:10:07] And I think we worked hard to make sure a special counsel was appointed. We work hard to make sure the attorney general recused himself. Now we need to allow Mr. Mueller to finish this. And by the way, while we're doing that, we need to do the things we ran on. Drive down health care costs, rebuild the infrastructure of our country, raise family wages, take on the pervasive corruption in Washington, and get the government working for the people again. We can do both things. The agenda that is -- the urgent need to the American people and at the same time, hold this administration accountable. Await Mr. Mueller's report and take whatever action that requires.
BURNETT: Congressman Cicilline, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
CICILLINE: Thank you. Thank you.
BURNETT: Next, breaking news this hour, another Russian domino, alleged spies cooperating with the feds. That's the news tonight. Very significant development. What does she know? And heat may be turning up on the Trump Organization.
Out front tonight the former executive and insider speaks out about what the feds can be looking at. And the scramble on for a new chief of staff, is it a challenge though that no one wants to accept?
BURNETT: Breaking news, alleged Russian spy Maria Butina is now cooperating with federal prosecute as part of the plea deal.
[19:15:05] Butina is admitting, she and long time Republican operative Paul Erickson, with whom she had a romantic relationship "conspired with the Russian government official for Butina to operate in the United States under the Russian official's direction. It's a huge thing to have happen.
Butina has been in jail since July on accusations of trying to infiltrate U.S. Republican political circles to advance Putin's interest. She met Donald Trump Jr. She attended in an event session with candidate Donald Trump. More on that in just a moment. I want to go first to Sara Murray. Sara, obviously a significant development here that she is admitting to this, cooperating, what more can you tell us about that?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Erin. Of course, this plea deal is not final until it all goes down in court on Wednesday. And the judge agrees to it. But I'm going to read you a portion of the plea agreement that CNN has obtained a part of. It says, Butina agreed with and conspired with a Russian government official, Russian official, and at least one other person to act in the United States under the direction of Russian official without prior notification to the attorney general. So that's part of her plea agreement.
The Russian official here is Alexander Torshin, he is a former Kremlin linked banker. Who is essentially her handler while she was here in the United States, so she's admitting that she was working here in the United State providing information to him, and that will be part of her cooperation. As explained her contacts with Russian officials what back and forth was like.
The other part of her cooperation as we understanding is that she's likely to provide information about what is going on with her boyfriend, Paul Erickson. His role in this sort of flat shoes carrying out in the U.S. We also know there's a South Dakota fraud investigation into Erickson so she may cooperate on that as well. Again, Erin, we're just getting the beginning details of this. We are expected to hear more when she's in court on Wednesday.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Sara. I mean, you know, look, we've had her lawyer on this program many times, right. He was a graduate student, completely innocent, now obviously to this plea deal significant development. I want to go now to Harry Sandick, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District, CNN political chief correspondent Dana Bash, and David Gergen, former adviser to four presidents including Nixon and Clinton. So Harry, on the legal side here, let's start with this, how significant is this, right?
They said no, no, no, no, no. Nothing, she's in jail for months, and now all of a sudden, conspired with a Russian government official against being a spy essentially?
HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT: Right. I think it's very significant in the context of the national security investigation that led to her arrest in the first place. It's unusual for someone who's associated with Russian intelligence to become a corroborating witness. It's very risky for them. Personally, they can't go home again. So if she's really is cooperating, that would seem to be something that would be very significant to the intelligence side.
BURNETT: And, you know, when we say David Gergen, obviously, this is the NRA Republican circles, she met Donald Trump Jr. at an event. And she gets into an event with Donald Trump himself. She's the first person he calls on. Here's their exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MARIA BUTINA, ALLEGED RUSSIAN SPY: I'm visiting from Russia. So, my question --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin, good friend of Obama, Putin. She loves Obama a lot.
BUTINA: My question --
TRUMP: Go ahead.
BUTINA: If you would be elected as a president what will your foreign politics especially in the relationship with my country. And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging both economy or you have any other ideas?
TRUMP: OK. Obama gets along with nobody. The whole world hates us. I know Putin and I'll tell you what, we get along with Putin. I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OK. That was the first question, he calls on her of that exchange. She meets Donald Trump Jr. She then socialized with one of Trump's campaign aides, J.D. Gordon, multiple times, a concert, dinner, drinks multiple times.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
BURNETT: I mean, that's quite close to the Trump campaign.
GERGEN: Well, it is quite closely Trump campaign. I would caution on one point. As I understand it, the prosecutor's are going after her are not related to the Mueller investigation per se.
BURNETT: That's right. This is a separate -- it's always been a separate case?
GERGEN: It's a separate case. So that this doesn't add weight on the Mueller issue, it does say there are a lot of efforts by the Russians to evade, to change, to understand, penetrate and to reshape U.S./Russian relationships. I mean that's pretty obvious, but I do think we ought to -- and it's significant that she's changed her story. She will probably be deported before this is over.
BURNETT: Which raises Harry's question --
BURNETT: -- of going home when you have agreed to cooperate, obviously there's risks on that front. But Dana, let me ask you. You know, she gets into an event with the future president of the United States. She gets the first question. She meets Donald Trump Jr. She has who knows what it was, it looked like a dating thing maybe not with J.D Gordon who's on that, obviously, part of the campaign. Is this all just coincidence?
[19:20:00] DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: No, absolutely not. And it looks as though from Sara's reporting that it's going to be spelled out as anything but coincidence when we actually see assuming this plea deal does go through
And I think, yes, it's separate from the Mueller investigation. But big picture it is still incredibly, incredibly important. If she does plea, which will effectively say she is saying that she is guilty, for the first time a Russian national has said that about the 2016 campaign. That's a really big deal.
Never mind that as you just played in that clip and examples you just talked about, Erin, she was hiding in plain site. You know, she was not hiding the fact that, yes, she said she didn't come out and say I'm a Russian spy. She said she was a graduate student and so and so forth.
But come on, you know, it doesn't take anyone who has done much more than the watched a good spy movie to know that you got to be careful in situations like this when you have a Russian national and you're dealing with a political campaign or even the U.S. government. And so that is really stunning.
The last thing I will just say is that just by way of the time line when she asked then candidate Donald Trump that question, we now know based on the filings on Friday of last week and before that, the Trump Organization was actively trying to get Trump Moscow up and running.
BASH: Remember that as well.
BURNETT: Right. Actively trying to do that and who knows what the marketing things were right with the penthouse, everybody being considered with Putin himself. I mean hearing the point Dana just made. How rare is it for a Russian spy to cooperate?
The first that we have known in this case. But also this is after months and months and months of adamant ardent denials. And now all of a sudden OK.
SANDICK: Well, you know, every defense lawyers for its press release is, my client is innocent an then next press release is, my client is fully cooperating and has accepted responsibility. That happens a lot.
BURNETT: It exhibiting (ph) Michael Cohen.
SANDICK: Right. Most defendants do not go to trial. Now this defendant has some particular issues as David was saying, if she is to be deported that's dangerous, the government could give her a certain type of visa, that would allow her to stay in the United States as part of her overall package. And so one would assume or hope for her sake, that if she is going to be giving this information about intelligence issues, that the United States would allow her to stay here afterwards. So that maybe part of her package. Maybe she doesn't want to go home.
So, this lip from, you know, I'm innocent to I will help you with the investigation is often the way it goes. BURNETT: And, you know, the context here, though, David, right, as
Dana's talking about, 16 associates of Donald Trump that we now know of had contacts with Russians during the campaign, right? J.D. Gordon and Maria Butina would be one of many. And these contacts for people with strong connections to the Kremlin in so many of these cases, all the way up to members of the GRU, the Russian intelligence arm. It is getting harder and harder for Donald Trump to defend what he has said many times before, which is this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It has nothing to do what they started out looking for Russians involved in our campaign. There were none.
I have nothing to do with Russia, to the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GERGEN: This to me is really the extraordinary part of what we're looking at tonight. It is 16 associates are trying to penetrate and try to form relationships, offering dirt on Hillary Clinton of one kind or another. Getting into the inner circle around President Trump.
BURNETT: There were none. The best of my knowledge is nothing.
GERGEN: That's right, there none. So, you know, I worked in campaigns, I covered campaigns, I can't remember any campaign in which any Russian talked to one of the leaders of the campaign. They may have met at a cocktail party, diplomatic party of some sort, but to have this kind of extensive campaign on the part of the Russians and to have an open door on the part of the Americans, is absolutely without precedence.
GERGEN: It's extremely -- it's extremely suspicious. And the real question to Mueller case is, what happened after they met?
BURNETT: What happened after -- to David's point in 2017 with Wall Street Journal, President Trump says, I was never involved with Russia, there's nobody on the campaign that saw anybody from Russia. We have nothing to do with Russia. I mean that's just blatantly false. It's also blatantly lie. At that point he knew full well about the meeting and obviously been fully, you know, reported on.
BASH: Yes. And, look, I mean this was in the court of public opinion talking to the press and that is not a felony, whether you're president or not, to not tell the truth to the press. The question is as David of course rightly said, is with all of these contexts, these 16 people that were in and around the Trump campaign who had direct contact with Russia during the campaign, what -- how did it come to fruition, and also a reminder that I'm sure David had this told to him, when he started out in campaigns as part of the basic protocols of working on a campaign. [19:25:12] When a foreign national approaches you, you don't engage. You pick up the phone and call the FBI and say, guess what, a foreign national just approached me, especially if it's a Russian. And that didn't happen in this case, and so the question is, was it just ignorance of those protocols? Never mind ultimately the laws. Or was it because there was something more nefarious, and that is what we have to wait for Robert Mueller to tell us.
BURNETT: Thank you very much.
GERGEN: This is protocol 101. Everybody understand that.
BURNETT: Right. I just to be clear to this point, there are people on there who knew that.
BURNETT: There are people to Dana's point who may have known.
BURNETT: But let's just say Paul Manafort now.
BURNETT: And there are others who knew full well --
BURNETT: -- when you get that call.
BURNETT: They got those calls --
GERGEN: And the book of the context were in the relevant months leading. Let's just see we're getting a nomination.
BURNETT: All right, thank you all. And next, one of the most important jobs in the country about to be vacant. The president stewing, said to be humiliated. Tonight, a new name surfaces for chief of staff. And one person who didn't like Trump's top pick for the job, his wife. Is Melania Trump going more influential?
BURNETT: Breaking news, humiliated and "super pissed" is how sources describe President Trump's mood tonight after his pick of chief of staff, Nick Ayers, unexpectedly turn him down. So unexpectedly, in fact that Trump had already given Ayers an assignment assuming that he'd be taking on the new role. So it was like it's done, the press release is done, here's your first job.
So, now we're learning Trump's list is vast for possible chief of staff. He's starting from scratch as he increasingly anxious about his political future. OUTFRONT now, Kaitlan Collins.
And, Kaitlan, you're reporting, look, Trump is already asking Ayers to look into political issues, and here we are.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that shows you two things. Just how much President Trump thought he was counting on Nick Ayers taking this job and did not know that there was a chance he could turn it down, even though Nick was insistent during those negotiations that he wasn't going to stay on for those two years that President Trump wanted. But, two, it also shows you just how concerned President Trump is getting for what Washington is going to look like in January. When you have those newly empowered House Democrats with what they vowed to say is going to be strict oversight of his administration.
So, that is a growing concern for him, he realizes that, and he wants his new chief of staff to be more politically focused, to essentially be by his side to help guide him through the tumultuous next few years that are going to happen. And he often claimed he did not think John Kelly was politically shrewd enough to do that job.
BURNETT: So, who, Kaitlan, is in the running at this point from this vast list, right? You go from one to who knows what?
COLLINS: It's a big list and people are all over the place, some of them are names that have been brought up in the past, have you to look at the fact that this list is just roughly 24 hours old, because President Trump didn't have a backup. He thought Nick Ayers was going to agree to that timing, and now, he's essentially starting from square one with this list.
But there are a few names that have risen to the top. One of them is the U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer, who when he was asked about taking this job yesterday, essentially said he's got a pretty tough job now negotiating those talks with China. And he's happy with where he is. But also, Congressman Mark meadows, who just said in a Fox News interview that he had not set up any kind of interview with President Trump, though he would be honored to take the job if he's on the list. But also, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is also a name that's been floated among several others.
But, of course, White House officials are saying this list is fluid, it could change certainly over the next three weeks, but they do realize they've only got three weeks left with John Kelly who was in his office today on this job and they know that the clock is ticking, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Kaitlan.
I want to go now to Paul Begala, former White House counselor to President Clinton, and Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, both people with experience working directly with a president.
Scott, we now have gone from a list of one, and it was all done. President is humiliated and, quote, super pissed. He is now in this position. He doesn't look good, he doesn't like that.
Why aren't people lined up here?
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think people weren't lined up because it was widely assumed that Nick was going to take the job. So, I don't think folks were out there knocking on the door saying, hey, consider me your backup plan, no one thought he was going to turn it down. Now, I think the president has an opportunity to find someone who can do a couple things, number one, deal with these investigations, I think it would be good if they had a chief of staff who lived through some investigations before and understands what that's like in the White House.
Number two, I think the person has to be a realist. It's not all Mai Tais and Yahtzee out here. They have to understand the challenges. They have to understand the things they can change and the things they can.
And they also need to not be cynical. They need to have a glass half full view of the world, and understand it's a high honor to serve in the White House, and it's not about them. It's about the American people and the president.
BURNETT: You think there's going to be a line now, Scott? You think there's going to be a line?
JENNINGS: Yes, I think they're going to be people who want the job. I think they're all going to be qualified. And it's the president's job to find someone who checks a couple of good boxes. Investigations and politics are two in my list.
BURNETT: Paul? .
PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: It's kind of like I'm -- I'm sure there's a line to King Henry VI's wife, but it didn't work out very well for any of them. It's a fool's errand.
General Kelly, think about this, he's a four star marine who served with great honor and distinction in our country. He was in charge with Southern Command, which is all of our military assets, in South America, Central America, the Caribbean.
BEGALA: Donald Trump wouldn't let him run 16 acres there on Pennsylvania Avenue. The problem here is Trump, not the staff or the chief of staff. And many good people are not going to want to take that job, because the president's impossible. He doesn't want a chief of staff, maybe he should do away with the job.
But that's the problem here. Fish rots from the head down. And my honest advice to him seriously is, Nick Ayers would have been the wrong pick anyway, sir. He's a campaign guy like me, like Jennings. The campaign doesn't start until 2020. The best way for Trump to be re-elected in 2020 is for him to get a
lot of stuff done in 2019. So, I would urge him actually to hire a former member of Congress or current one. I think Meadows is probably too dislike by the Republicans, as much as the Democrats. But Pete King from New York, Kay Bailey Hutchison, a former senator from my states of Texas, these are people respected in my party and deeply admired in the Republican Party --
[19:35:02] BURNETT: You think they'd take it?
BEGALA: If he gets stuff done, he could get reelected.
BURNETT: So, Scott, the big question is, though, if you get stuff done, and I think you alluded to this. He's got to deal with possible impeachment proceedings and the likelihood of that is growing by the day, right? So, he's got somebody's going to have to deal with impeachment. Someone has to deal with the trade with China and the market going down a thousand points in any given day and who knows what the heck is going on with all of that, right? He's got a lot of problems.
JENNINGS: Yes, they have a lot of challenges, and I think if you take this job, you have to be clear with the president up front, like I'm not a magic wand. I can't sprinkle magic dust in all of this and make it all go away. I can give you good advice, as Paul said, maybe someone who can deal with the hill a little bit, I can talk to those guys and give you the best view of what you can and cannot do.
I don't have as rosy outlook on what is possible this year as Paul does. I think very little is possible given the investigatory environment.
JENNINGS: But I do think they can give it a good faith effort, and if the White House gives a good faith effort to try to get things done, maybe they look like the bigger people here if the Democrats overreached on investigations. A chief of staff can help you manage all that if you let them.
BURNETT: So, here's the thing, we talk about this White House being in chaos, which it has often been and maybe in some sort of constant state of. However, Paul, I bring you back to a tweet from Donald Trump, 2012: Three chiefs of staff and less than three years being president, part of the reason why @BarackObama can't manage to pass his agenda.
Paul, here's the thing, Obama did have three chiefs of staff in his first term, and that is the same as Trump, In which you can say Obama's White House was full of chaos. So, maybe people who are picking on Trump for the situation are being too harsh.
BEGALA: That's entirely possible. I'm always too harsh on our president. Honestly, I just can't stand him.
I just don't think it's comparable though. He's also on -- about to have his third attorney general. He's already had two secretaries of state.
BURNETT: That is a little bit much.
BEGALA: I think the cast here is unique. It's a fair point, it sounds people are too rough on him. Honestly, he's my president, I do want him to succeed, but golly, he is his own worst enemy.
BURNETT: Scott, final word?
JENNINGS: You know, I think they're going to find somebody good, I think that there's going to be a good list to choose from, they don't have to make a hasty decision here. As Paul pointed out, the president may operate for some time without a chief of staff. At the end of the day, the biggest issues facing him, the investigatory paralysis and getting the economy on track for his re-election campaign. The chief has to be fully focused on those two issues.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both.
And next, President Trump scrambling to find his new chief of staff. So, one of the reasons that Nick Ayers is sayonara and we're back to zero, feeling humiliated with a vast list is Melania. We'll tell you why.
Plus, Trump throwing his former fixer under the bus. But here's the question tonight: Is there anyway that Donald J. Trump did not know what Michael Cohen was up to when he was paying off women? Former vice president of the Trump Organization, Barbara Res, is OUTFRONT.
[19:41:43] BURNETT: Tonight, Vice President Pence's chief of staff taking himself out of the running to be President Trump's next chief of staff. I mean, not even out of the running, it was done, he was out. So, he didn't want it.
And we are now learning that Ayers also had some resistance from -- well, the First Lady Melania Trump herself.
Kate Bennett is OUTFRONT.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): With the West Wing once again rife with staff shake-ups, one person is asserting her influence, someone who may avoid the spotlight but isn't about using her voice, First Lady Melania Trump. More and more appears to be weighing in. Some mentioned the resistance by Melania towards Trump's chief of staff John Kelly, who was now out the door, and whether what sources say her dislike for Nick Ayers may have done to that relationship as well, had Ayers accepted the job. After all, this is a first lady who says she isn't shy about telling the president who has his back and who does not.
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: I give him my honest advice and honest opinions, and then he does what he wants to do. INTERVIEWER: Has he had people that you don't trust working for him?
M. TRUMP: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: And what would you do?
M. TRUMP: Some people, they don't work there any more.
BENNETT: It was during the Africa trip this fall that Melania Trump staff had a dustup with Mira Ricardel, a member of Trump's national security team, and after trying to influence her husband behind closed doors that Ricardel could be a bad apple, Melania took matters into her own hands. Her communications office releasing a statement saying, quote: It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that Ricardel no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House, a message even the president couldn't ignore, shortly thereafter, firing her from her White House job.
Melania Trump's bruising public statement unprecedented for a first lady.
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: No one, and I've known for a long time, no one influences Donald Trump more than Melania Trump.
BENNETT: While her predecessors such as Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton, for example, wielded significant influence with their husbands, neither chose to be as transparent as Melania Trump, who may have been using pointed words in the same way the president does to get her point across.
Melania Trump's influence on the president happens other ways as well, whether it was her trips to the border to focus on the crisis facing separated immigrant families or her work with the opioid crisis.
MELANIA: My husband and his entire administration are committed to fighting the opioid epidemic.
BENNETT: Trump has been listening.
It's still a first couple with a lot of mystery, however.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you think it's easy to be first lady when you're married to me? You think it's easy.
BENNETT: Almost one year after the Stormy Daniels story broke in the press, and cancelled trips and separate motorcades followed, Trump and his wife seem to be back in the swing of things, joining him for events, even demonstrating more handholding than hand swatting, an indicator that Melania Trump has her husband's ear and isn't afraid to use it.
BENNETT: Of course, Erin, Melania Trump has always been an adviser to her husband, Donald Trump. They speak of quite a bit on policy issues, but perhaps two years into her tenure now, she's feeling more comfortable using her voice.
Back to you.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much.
And next, federal prosecutors looking closer at the Trump Organization. Just how afraid should the president be? Former vice president of the Trump Organization is OUTFRONT.
Plus, it's called the one finger salute that's caught everyone's attention. But the media has quite a tough time figuring out how to cover the story.
[19:49:23] BURNETT: Is there any way Donald J. Trump did not know about Michael Cohen's triple digit payouts to a porn star and a playmate? Payments there are campaign finance felonies.
Well, tonight, we know that prosecutors are looking at the Trump family business, and this could be very crucial. According to "The New York Times," federal prosecutors are investigating what, if anything, executives at the Trump Organization knew about Michael Cohen's hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
OUTFRONT now, Barbara Res, former vice president of the Trump Organization who worked with Donald Trump for more than 15 years.
You know him incredibly well and you know him and how he negotiates. You know how he runs his business. So, this was when he was Donald J. Trump, not President Trump.
[19:50:03] BARBARA RES, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Right.
BURNETT: Michael Cohen pays $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to be quiet about this alleged affair, pays money to Karen McDougal, playmate, to be quiet. Is there any way that Donald Trump didn't know about it?
RES: I can't imagine that, no, absolutely, he knew about everything. Anything major, absolutely. Even things that weren't so major he knew about. People just told him what they were doing and he said, fine, go ahead and do it, and he gave them authority to do things within the confines of what they were doing and the same (INAUDIBLE).
BURNETT: OK. So, it's interesting you're saying small things and big things. But $130,000 is not small. So there's no question he wouldn't know. He's trying to distance himself from Cohen as you know, Barbara, right? I mean, he's called him a two-bit and all kinds of things, not very smart last week. He tweets, you know, he makes up stories to get an already reduced deal for himself and gets his family off scot-free. He lied for this outcome and should in my opinion served a full and complete sentence.
Now, Cohen was guy who said he would take a bullet for Trump --
RES: I know, I heard of that.
BURNETT: As a reporter who talked to Cohen and so many of my colleagues, I'm sure my colleagues would say the same thing. He did -- whether he wanted to be at the White House or not, he stayed loyal for a long time even after he felt abandoned by the president.
When people close to Trump see him talk about Michael Cohen like this, people who may know who knows what about this payment or other things, does this make them more likely to talk, do you think?
RES: You know, I think people know that Trump would do that. Even if they didn't do what Michael did, which was, you know, go south or whatever they call it, flip, Trump gets what he wants out of people when they have -- he can treat them fine, but he has reason to flip on them, he does this.
So nobody should ever expect him to be completely loyal to them, even if they're completely loyal to him.
BURNETT: So, that, and, of course, he's showing that now. Now, when it comes to whether it's mall or big, let's take the Trump Tower meeting. You know, Rudy Giuliani is saying that he thinks that Mueller thinks that Manafort is lying about it, right, that Trump knew about it, that President Trump then-candidate Trump knew about this meeting.
Don Jr. is the one who was involved in setting the meeting up, he makes the call to a blocked number.
Barbara, is there any way Donald Trump Jr. would have not told his father about this meeting, in your view?
RES: I can't imagine it because I certainly know people that were more experienced, that have more standing, that were more respected by Trump that still wouldn't pull a stunt like that. I can't imagine that Junior would do something like that. He would be too afraid. What if something went wrong? He would be -- his father would bury him.
BURNETT: And you're saying there was -- the kids weren't empowered to do whatever you want.
RES: Absolutely not. Very few people are empowered to do anything they wanted to begin with. But, you know, his inner circle was comprised of people that were loyal to him, not that they were good at what they were doing. And, of course, Trump thinks he knows everything, so he's going to dictate to someone like Tillerson (ph) who's going to dictate to his son.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Barbara Res. Good to see you as always.
RES: Thank you. It's nice to be here.
BURNETT: And next, reporters forced to blur the line between a good story and, well, can you tell what that is? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[19:58:05] BURNETT: So, what do you do when you want everyone to know how angry you are and money is no object?
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ted Pelkey has taken finger pointing to a whole new level with his seven-foot tall wood carving of a middle finger salute mounted on a 16-foot pole.
Are you the kind of sort of give the finger sort of guy like when you drive?
TED PELKEY: All I can say is it's probably happened before.
MOOS: But this isn't road rage. This is rage against Westford, Vermont town officials. For a decade, the town has refused to give Pelkey a building permit to relocate his recycling business onto his own commercially zoned property.
PELKEY: Face that stood out by the road and scream something, nobody will listen, right?
PELKEY: The statue is up there not saying a word, boy, it's working good.
MOOS: Lights are trained on it 24/7. Motorists on Route 128 can't miss it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Way to go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's beautiful. I wish I had one.
MOOS: You'd think a seven-foot tall chainsaw carving of a finger would cost an arm and a leg.
Four thousand bucks, actually. Pelkey hit on the idea while at a bar having drinks with his wife.
PELKEY: Yes, about two Long Islands into it.
MOOS: Sadly, TV stations have felt obliged to blur the image.
PELKEY: No. CNN don't have to blur it.
MOOS: Oh, yes, we do, Ted. Local reporters have gotten creative.
REPORTER: Pelkey's hand gesture that's hidden behind by my hand up here is a response to this. Their meeting minutes from the development, a review board last year. MOOS: The chair of the Westford Select Board wouldn't say much because they're anticipating a court hearing. The process would be the same with or without the Pelkey's recent sculpture. Turns out the law can't lay a finger on Ted because his finger is considered public art.
PELKEY: Really made me feel warm and fuzzy.
MOOS: But when I made a warm and fuzzy gesture --
Here's the finger I'll give you.
At least you can't say he never lifts a finger.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: Thank you so much for joining us.
Anderson starts now.