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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
House Probes Trump's Plans to Give Saudis Nuke Technology; Interview with Democratic Congressman Adam Smith; Interview with Tom Steyer. Aired on 7-8p ET
Aired February 19, 2019 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN: I can wait to meet you. Congratulations. A wonderful family. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room. Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, CNN: OutFront next, meddling in a federal investigation, President Trump reportedly trying to get a political supporter to oversee the investigation of Michael Cohen. Is this obstruction of justice? Plus, the Trump campaign calling Democrats socialists. Is it true? And he spent more than a hundred million dollars of his own money toward impeaching Trump. Tom Steyer is not done and he's OutFront tonight. Let's go OutFront.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, cheating the system. New evidence that President Trump may have obstructed justice and this in a whole new way. Let me explain, the New York Times reporting that President Trump tried to derail the federal investigation into his former fixer Michael Cohen. How? By pressuring then acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to put a Trump supporter and former Transition Advisor in charge of it. Someone who knew Trump may have thought it would have kept him in the clear.
Now, let's be clear, this is an explosive charge and the President knows it. Tonight, moving quickly to deny the charge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ask Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to change the leader of the investigation into your former personal attorney Michael Cohen?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. Not at all. I don't know who gave you that, just more fake news. There's a lot of fake news out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: There's quite a pause there, wasn't it? And then the old fake news excuse. Just to be clear about this. The U.S. attorney the Trump reportedly wanted in charge of the Cohen case is a guy named Geoffrey Berman. He is a Trump supporter. He donated $5,400 to the Trump campaign. He served in the Trump transition and even over at Fox News, a friend of the President says that if these charges are true, that Trump tried to put Berman in charge of the Cohen investigation, this is bad. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHEPARD SMITH, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: Would that be obstruction?
ANDREW NAPOLITANO, COLUMNIST: Yes. Well, it would be attempted obstruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Attempted obstruction. According to The Times, there's no evidence that Whitaker actually went through with this because Berman actually had already recused himself from the Cohen investigation. But the thing is that Whitaker knows that being pressured by the President of the United States to put a supporter of his in charge of a criminal case that may involve the President is a huge problem.
But under oath, Whitaker denied he had ever been pressured by Trump to interfere with an investigation. Here he is in his own words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the Special Counsel's investigation or any other investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Tonight, that answer is under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury. Pamela brown is OutFront live outside the White House. And Pamela the President knows this is a huge charge and this would possibly be obstruction in a whole new way. There was that long pause we heard when he was asked about it and then, of course, he went back to the fake news crutch. He's trying to deny it.
PAMELA BROWN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, that's right. You heard the question asked to him and after he paused denied that he ever made this ask to former AG Matt Whitaker to have the U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman un-recuse and oversee the Cohen probe. Now, this denial is in response to this New York Times reporting today that in fact he did made that ask because he viewed Berman as an ally.
But sources told me and my colleague, Laura Jarrett that the President was upset about the Cohen probe, his former fixer, and how it implicated him the payments to two women during the election and that he did fume to Matt Whitaker about it over the phone. The President thought that Whitaker should do a better job controlling the investigators in the probe that Whitaker oversaw is acting an attorney general.
And if you read that Justice Department statement carefully, there isn't a denial that President Trump and Whitaker discussed the SDNY probe. And during recent congressional testimony, Whitaker would only say he wouldn't discuss conversations with the President when he was asked, whether he did speak to him about the SDNY investigation. In contrast, he told the committee he never spoke about the Mueller probe to President Trump.
So you look at the comparison how he answered those two questions about the Mueller probe saying that he never talked about it with Trump compared to SDNY saying he's not going to talk about those conversations. But this latest reporting there about Trump fits into this pattern where he believes officials in the Justice Department roles should show loyalty to him and do his bidding. As you'll recall, the President was furious when former AG Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe and he never got over it, Erin.
BURNETT: He certainly never did. Of course, he's still taking the opportunity to take shots at him now that he's gone.
Thanks very much, Pamela.
BURNETT: And OutFront now I want to go to Jack Weiss; former Federal Prosecutor and former Democratic member of the Los Angeles City Council, Carrie Cordero; former Counsel to the U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and David Gergen former Presidential Adviser to Four Presidents. Jack, if the President pressured his Attorney General at the time, Matt Whitaker, to put a Trump supporter, Trump donor, Trump transition advisor in charge of the Michael Cohen criminal case, is that obstruction of justice?
JACK WEISS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It is and I think it is because the stakes here, the criminal stakes for Trump are much higher arguably than in the Mueller case because here you have Michael Cohen who knows where all of the dirty laundry is, where all of the bodies are buried inside Trump Tower, the Trump family, Trump business dealings, every crooked land deal, every bit of money laundering they did for a Russian oligarch who bought a condo in Florida.
Everything the Trump did wrong or may have done wrong before Trump was elected to office, Michael Cohen has been singing about and that has Trump petrified. That's why if we believe what the New York Times reported and I do because my guess is Matthew Whitaker told someone at the Justice Department, "Hey, Trump asked me to do something about Berman, what do I do?" If it's correct, then I think it's potentially devastating for Trump.
BURNETT: Potentially devastating, Carrie?
CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE U.S. ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: It certainly is. I mean, look, in terms of his political exposure I think it is. It's not clear that he would be charged because Justice Department policy says that he wouldn't actually be charged. But I think this is now the third investigation that has been revealed that he tried to obstruct. The first was the Michael Flynn case when he asked former Director Comey if he could make the case and go away.
The second was the overall Russia investigation and we can look to the firing of Director Comey and a whole host of other activities and pressure that the President placed on investigators and Justice Department officials to try to make that investigation go away. And then this would be the third investigation if the allegations are true that the President tried to replace the leadership with the goal of making the investigation go away or be limited or be cabined or stay away from any exposure that he might have in it.
BURNETT: So David Gergen, The Times also report as Pamela was talking about, the President's desire for loyalty and his feeling that everybody around him should be loyal to him. The Times quotes Mr. Whitaker saying - this is the quote from the article, I'm sorry, he privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to, and here's the quote from Whitaker, jump on a grenade for the President. David, is that the role of the Attorney General?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER ADVISER TO FOUR PRESIDENTS: It has never been in the past, at least it certainly hasn't been when the government has conducted itself honestly and with integrity. I think here, Erin, listen, if the report is correct and I'm assuming that it probably is correct, because it's a very, very thorough piece, it's got four names on it from the New York Times, I just don't think they would go with this kind of story unless they're very confident. But still people have to come under - now have to be brought in and testify under oath because what you see happening here with Whitaker and with the President is they may be very carefully parsing what happened.
Let's say the President called and said, "Matt, would you consider the possibility of Berman? Just explore and get back to me." The President can say, "I never asked." He just simply suggested it. I never asked and we have Whitaker issued a statement saying he doesn't address the question of whether he was asked or even whether he got a call, he simply says I was never pressured. It might have been a suggestion, but I was never pressured and I've made no commitments. That's what he said now under oath to the House and what he said here publicly.
For most Americans, that kind of call from the President of the United States would look like an ask.
BURNETT: Yes, I mean this is the whole - yes.
GERGEN: But if you got big clever lawyers - yes, if you got lawyers who are cleverly saying, "No. No. No, formulate it this way." He could say, "Look, I'm telling the truth." He never asked. He just suggest it.
BURNETT: Carrie, what's the standard here for obstruction? I mean, because I think as David is saying, yes, we all would know getting a call like that especially from someone like Donald Trump is - I've been on the receiving end of a phone call from him once years ago when he wanted me to come over and do something with the apprentice taping - the timing of taping, and that guy wouldn't give up.
I mean, he wanted to do something and he wanted something. This is the President of the United States we're talking about now. There is no such thing as just a suggestion that isn't pressuring is there when it comes to obstruction?
CORDERO: Well, the key with obstruction is it is an intent crime. So the prosecutors - if an obstruction case were prosecuted, they'd have to show that the individual had corrupt intent. Again, the President isn't probably going to be charged with obstruction, given DOJ policy.
But it certainly is something that Congress should look at from the perspective of there are now three cases that he potentially has tried to obstruct and those are impeachable offenses.
BURNETT: Jack, obviously we know we're talking about, he ordered Robert Mueller to be fired back in 2017. There was that. There's the possible role in the Jim Comey firing and he has said before, Jack, that he will get involved if he needs to in these investigations. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What's happening is a disgrace and at some point I wanted to stay out, but at some point if it doesn't straighten out properly I want them to do their job, I will get involved ...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Impeachable, Jack, what we're now seeing when you look at the pattern and this latest report?
WEISS: I think it's indictable and I think once he's out of office he likely will be indicted for this conduct because the statute of limitations on this runs for another five years. Look, he's not a subtle guy and whatever he said to Matt Whitaker I would be shocked and amazed if it was subtle. What Congress needs to do now is get to the bottom of it and when they get to the bottom of it, my suggestion would be this, new Congress needs to end the practice of having members ask the questions, the Democratic Congress needs to hire professional prosecutors to put witnesses under oath, and under professional examination so you won't end up with this sort of parsing defense that perhaps Matthew Whitaker has based on the clip you saw a few moments ago.
BURNETT: So David one last thing I want to ask you, this article also gets into the President's issue with the truth when it comes to public statements versus reality, which could matter for Mueller. The example they give as Michael Flynn and Sean Spicer who was then the press secretary. He was supposed to go out and tell everyone what happened, the White House had said Flynn submitted his resignation, it was voluntary.
The President didn't want Spicer to say that. The reporting, "'Say that,' Mr. Trump ordered. But was that true? Mr. Spicer pressed." And this is that Trump told - asked for the resignation as opposed to was given it. "'Say that I asked for his resignation,' Mr. Trump repeated." Obviously, he did not care what the truth was or that Sean Spicer was supposedly in the job of telling the truth to the press. GERGEN: Right, absolutely. That was a major part of the story that
the President basically ordered a false story, a false tale to be told to the press. It's very similar to what happened on the Tower meeting and when they were in the airplane and he dictated the statement about what happened to this. And very likely what happened in the last few hours with the New York Times story that has broken. This is a pattern that we've seen. It's very, very distressing to see it because it shows, it underlines the fact that you can't really believe anything on face value. There's always another story behind the story.
CORDERO: Erin, it also shows that so many of the things the President does in public actually is what's going on behind the scenes. When he appointed Matt Whitaker as Acting Attorney General, most Justice Department veterans were astounded because it was someone who had never been confirmed by the Senate when there were a whole host of Senate confirmed assistant attorney generals and others who could have been appointed to that position. It was so unusual that the only reason it looked like he was appointed was to be able to do something improper and now based on this reporting it looks like that's what the President tried to do.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you all very much. I'm just remembering that time on Air Force One when he was asked if he knew about the payments to stormy Daniels and he said, "No," quickly and that obviously was false. It was a lie. Now, there was a long pause today and I wonder if that pause was his mind wondering, "Can I do it again?"
OutFront next, Bernie Sanders jumps in the race and the President is quick to use the socialist label.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The Democrat Party has never been more outside of the mainstream. They're becoming the party of socialism --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Plus, House Democrats launching an investigation accusing Trump of siding with Saudi Arabia and its crown prince over top national security officials when it comes to nukes. What is it with Trump and Saudi Arabia? And the billionaire who made a name for himself by calling for Trump's impeachment is now taking on Democrats and saying, "Step it up." Tom Steyer is OutFront.
Tonight, Bernie Sanders is in. Senator Sanders officially announcing he's running for President. He says he'll win this time because the Democratic Party is now more like him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNIE SANDERS, UNITED STATES SENATOR: You may recall that in 2016 many of the ideas that I talked about, Medicare for all, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, all of those ideas people was, "Oh, Bernie they're so radical. They are extremely American people." Just won't accept those ideas.
Well, you know what's happened over three years? All of those ideas and many more are now part of the political mainstream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: The Trump campaign seizing on this saying, "Bernie Sanders has already won the debate in the Democrat primary, because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism." OutFront now, Mia Love, former Republican Representative from Utah and Bob Reich former Labor Secretary under President Clinton, also the author of the common good. Thank you both.
Mia, is the Trump campaign right, Democrats, socialists, same thing, synonyms?
MIA LOVE, FORMER UTAH CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, I think - well, we have to make that they have to try and stay away from that if that's what they want to do. Let's remind people what socialism actually is. Socialism is an economic system in which the ways of making a living, whether it's working through a factory, office are actually owned by society and not by personal or private individuals. So if they're going to move away from socialism, they need to talk about that, and if they're going to move towards free-market systems, they have to talk about that also because they will be painted as socialists or socialism type of implementing socialism type policies if they don't make that very clear.
BURNETT: And Robert, Trump is trying to do that, he's trying to brand them with just that imprimatur. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: To those who would try to impose socialism on the United States, we again deliver a very simple message. America will never be a socialist country.
The Democrat Party has never been more outside of the mainstream. They're becoming the party of socialism.
We are alarmed by the new calls to adapt socialism in our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: He clearly thinks, Bob, that using the word as scary and going to upset people.
ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Well, this is not a new Republican tactic, Erin. In 1935 Republicans accused Franklin D. Roosevelt of being a socialist for proposing Social Security. In 1965 Republicans accused Lyndon Johnson of being a socialist for proposing Medicare. Many Republicans accused Barack Obama of being a socialist for proposing the Affordable Care Act.
I mean this is a label that Republicans have used for at least 80 years every time the Democrats proposed something that turns out to be remarkably popular and durable.
BURNETT: So - go ahead.
LOVE: But I don't see anybody moving away from that. I don't see any of the Democrat candidates moving away from that title and that's all I'm saying is that I remember the days of just listening to people saying, "Look, free markets have taken people out of poverty. More people out of poverty than any other economic system in the history of the world." I don't see anybody talking about that. What they are talking about are socialist policies, which is going to make it a lot easier for them to paint them as socialist.
REICH: No. I think that 70% of Americans right now are in favor of Medicare for all by four different polls. Two-thirds of Americans right now are in favor of free college tuition of public universities. You go down the list. We have over 50% of Americans want a $15 minimum wage. These policies are not - call them whatever you want call them, they are fair, people believe in them, I don't think that the labels mean anything anymore.
BURNETT: Okay, I will fairly say, Robert, though that they cost money and when you tell people Medicare for all, they say, "Yes." And so you go, "Guess what, you're going to lose your private insurer possibly and your costs are going to go up, our free college isn't free because someone has got to pay for it via taxes. I mean paying for things complicates the whole issue a little bit.
LOVE: And so you couldn't say all of these things.
REICH: Well, it does and I think Democrats do need to say that we are pragmatic and we've got to cut the bloated military spending and we've got to - that $1.9 trillion tax cut for big corporations and the wealthy, we've got to repeal that. We can't afford that. We're going to put that money instead into education and healthcare.
LOVE: Once second, so --
BURNETT: So in terms of people running away from the label, some of them have and let me just play Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. Here they are.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH WARREN, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM MASSACHUSETTS: I am a capitalist. Come on. I believe in markets.
ELIZABETH WARREN, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM MASSACHUSETTS: I will tell you I am not a Democratic socialist.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: All right, so they're running away from it, Mia, but then
you hear things - okay, go ahead.
LOVE: Okay. Okay, but it's one thing to say those things, it's another thing to actually say how you're going to implement some of these policies that are actually taking away. I mean, how do you pay for the free college? How do you pay? It sounds great, but how do you pay for Medicare for all?
REICH: Well, I just mentioned a bunch of ways of paying for it.
LOVE: How do you sustain all of these things?
REICH: I just mentioned several ways of paying for it and also let me just mention one other thing ...
LOVE: Okay, but let's remember, hang on a second.
REICH: ... and also let me just mention one other thing.
LOVE: Let me finish.
REICH: Excuse me.
LOVE: Let me finish, because - let me just finish, because you have to remember that I am a product of my father who came to this country with absolutely nothing and he had three jobs in order to make ends meet. The people that actually gave him those jobs are people that are said that they're not paying enough or they're not taxing people enough. And what I'm afraid of is there's going to be a point where you tax somebody so much that the people that don't end up getting the jobs that they need are the ones that really want to help their families, the ones that need another leg up, the ones that want to go from the lowest common denominator up to the middle class and beyond if they choose. Those are the people that are going to get hurt.
REICH: Mia, nobody is talking about - Democrats I know are not talking about increasing taxes on the middle class or the poor. They're talking about increasing taxes on the very wealthy, doing exactly the opposite that Donald Trump and the Republicans have done in terms of that $1.9 trillion tax cut.
BURNETT: But I think what Mia is saying increasing taxes on the people who employ the people who --
REICH: The other point that I want to get in very, very quickly if I could is that Medicare for all is actually - it has shown, a number of studies have shown that it's cheaper than our current for-profit private Medicare system that tries to avoid sick people. It's the most expensive per capita in the world and actually Americans living standards and length of time that we are alive turns out is shorter than many other advanced industrial countries. Everybody else has as a system that looks like Medicare for all. It's a single-payer system. It's crazy we don't.
BURNETT: All right, I'm going to hit pause there. A lot more to talk about. I didn't get to play it, but I'll leave everyone with this thought, Amy Klobuchar are running for the Democratic nomination. "If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would." That's on free college. She says it's not affordable.
Conversation to be continued. Thank you both. And next, did the Trump administration go against the advice of top National Security officials with plans to try to give Saudi Arabia nuclear technology. Plus, billionaire businessman, Tom Steyer, is my guest. He spent millions trying to impeach President Trump and now he's targeting Democrats. He says, "Don't have the courage to do it."
New tonight, whistleblowers pointing the finger at President Trump for helping Saudi Arabia go nuclear. Democrats launching an investigation based on the report that you see here. It details claims from multiple whistleblowers saying that team Trump ignored repeated warnings from top national security officials, warning saying not to provide Saudi Arabia with nuclear technology.
I want to be clear that story Arabia is not a nuclear country. They're not in the nuclear club, so enabling them down that path is a big, big deal. And despite the warnings of the top security officials according to the whistleblowers, Trump plowed ahead anyway. And the report concludes that those efforts may still be ongoing today.
Now, the Saudi nuclear plant we learn here was pushed by Trump's former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and the company at the center of it was founded by former American generals. It's a plan that one current official says was "a scheme for these generals to make some money." So why didn't President Trump stop it? I mean, what is it about Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince and Trump? Saudi Arabia was the first country that Donald Trump visited as President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs, so I would like to thank all of the people sitting with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Trump's sycophancy toward Saudi Arabia, of course, reaching new heights as he stands in open defiance of an American congressional deadline to officially state whether the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was behind the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
It's a conclusion that Trump's own CIA reached pretty much immediately. This is not hard. Except for Trump who has said MBS is a friend. For him, this is hard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hate the crime. I hate what's done. I hate the cover-up. And I will tell you this, the crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Again, what is it about Trump and Saudi Arabia?
Kara Scannell is OUTFRONT.
And, Kara, you know, as we go through this report, just how concerned were security officials about this plan to provide this technology to Saudi Arabia, this nuclear technology?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: I mean, Erin, they were worried. They were so worried that they at least half a dozen times based on the findings in that report. And so, you know, what it tells us is that the National Security Council staff, they were worried about a couple things. They said they were worried about conflicts of interest that would exist because of the private company that was founded by the generals and Michael Flynn who had worked for one of the subsidiaries of that company. They were worried about the conflicts that could be illegal if you're making money off the administration.
They were also worried that this could violate the Atomic Energy Act, which requires and has limitations on how much the U.S. can export technology to a foreign country without the approval of Congress. They were worried that this process was going to bypass that. So, these NSA staffers raised these concerns to their ethics folks internally and then also to the legal department.
Then they brought them even to the top lawyer on the National Security Council. He told them to stop working on the plan. But they didn't.
Michael Flynn and his aides continue to push for this plan. Again, these concerns were raised. Michael Flynn's team was wanting to get this private plan before Donald Trump, before he met with Saudi officials.
That was the goal and these internal -- the staffers said, hold on a minute, this doesn't make sense. They brought it, again, to the top lawyer. The lawyer said to stop working on it then after Michael Flynn was fired, top aides at the Security Council were continuing to push this plan. And all we know really from this report is the first three months of the administration, but it's these concerns that were raised by the whistle-blowers covering just that beginning period that have Cummings' committee now very concerned and want to get to the bottom of whether the U.S. and the administration is working in the best interest of U.S. national security or in the interest of lining the pockets of those that were close to the administration, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Kara.
I want to go now to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. Congressman, I appreciate your time.
So, you know, Congressman, Michael Flynn and other top White House officials were pushing this plan, right, to transfer this nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. You know, you hear they're saying there were at least half a dozen times that it was raised that this at best could be inappropriate and unethical, at worst, illegal. Do you have any concern there were quid pro quos here?
REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Absolutely. I mean, this is the big problem with president Trump having the business interests that he continues to have and not disclosing them. There's no transparency.
We know that Trump industries, the companies, they're done business with Saudi Arabia. They've gotten money from Saudi Arabia, just like they've gotten money from Russian interests as well as part of their private industry. We don't know the details.
So, when something like this comes up, you have to ask yourself the question, is the president looking after the interests of the United States or looking after his own personal business interests? And then you mix in Michael Flynn and all these others who have been getting paid. Michael Flynn was paid, that's part of the reason he's going to jail, by sovereign funds from -- by the Russian government, I believe by the Turkey government as well.
So, is it the U.S. interests or is it the business interests of Donald Trump and the people around him? And we don't know.
BURNETT: And we don't know. Of course, when you talk about it impacting policy, talk about transferring technology. Of course, you're also, you know, talking about this whole situation, you know, with this horrible dismemberment of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
BURNETT: The president has deep ties to Saudi Arabia, we know this, Congressman. This has been going on for a long time. He visited, his first trip as president, as I mentioned, $110 billion arms deal with the country announced at that time. Jared Kushner apparently hangs out with the crown prince until 4:00 in the morning once, talks to him regularly on a first-name basis.
And in terms of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the president refuses, is in defiance of Congress right now, he won't hand over -- won't say that it was done at the direction of the Saudi crown prince, even his own intelligence has said it. In fact, he takes the crown prince's side publicly repeatedly like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I spoke with the crown prince yesterday, and he strongly said that he had nothing to do with this.
They deny it.
[19:35:01] They deny it every way you can imagine.
I hate the crime. I hate what's done. I hate the cover-up. And I will tell you this, the crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: How much looking into does this warrant? I mean, obviously --
SMITH: A great deal.
BURNETT: -- we talked so much about Russia. Sorry. Go ahead.
SMITH: Particularly when you're talking about the murder of Khashoggi. I mean, it's slam dunk as far as the intelligence community is concerned.
Saudi Arabia obviously did it. They fully believe that MBS was involved. So ignoring that is just wrong, and, again, points up to the conflict.
Now, I will point out one fact that you ought to know. We have negotiated. We've negotiated with the United Arab Emirates on a similar deal regarding nuclear power.
SMITH: And the agreement is, you know, they don't get to generate anything. The nuclear material has to come in from the outside, has to be disposed.
SMITH: So this type of an agreement can be negotiated with, as we did with the UAE, with Saudi Arabia. But here, there's such a conflict. When you hear the president dismissing the obvious facts of what Saudi Arabia has done, it gives considerable concern.
BURNETT: Right. Of course, there's that nuclear power facility near Abu Dhabi.
I want to ask you about the president declaring a national emergency to secure funding for the wall, chairman. I know this is very important to you. Sixteen states have now sued to stop it. The president today says, hey, I'm not worried about it at all. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think in the end, we're going to be very successful with the lawsuit. So it was filed. It was filed in the ninth circuit. And I actually think we might do very well even in the Ninth Circuit because it's an open and closed case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: The ninth circuit has ruled in his favor recently regarding the wall. Is he right, this is open and closed?
SMITH: No, it's absolutely not. If reports are to be believed, his own lawyers have told him that he's wrong on this.
Look, there's a degree of nuance here. I mean, first of all, you can argue over whether or not this is actually an emergency. But the real part of this that's clearly illegal, the national emergency statute from 1976 does give the president broad authority to declare an emergency, but when he's going to take money from other agencies, it is very prescriptive about where that money has to go.
And the money that he wants to take out of DOD, I mean, let's not forget for the moment that even if he could do this, it's still a terrible idea. It is not our top national security priority to build a wall at our southern border that people will go under and over, anyway. Taking money out of the Department of Defense for this purpose makes us less safe.
But it's also illegal because the law says that you can only use money from the military construction budget to build something that is going to provide protection for U.S. Armed Forces. And President Trump has made it clear, this wall is to stop people coming across the border and threatening the country. It has nothing to do with force protection within the military.
And, therefore, I think the slam dunk goes the other way. This is clearly an illegal action.
BURNETT: All right. Chairman, thank you very much.
SMITH: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, Tom Steyer, the billionaire businessman who's been leading the call for Trump's impeachment, is now targeting specific Democratic members of Congress. Steyer is OUTFRONT.
And Elizabeth Warren's newest message to voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For those of you who may leave here and think, oh, my gosh, I must be turning into a nerd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Is nerding out the answer to beating Trump?
[19:42:10] BURNETT: Tonight, the push to impeach. The billionaire Tom Steyer who flirted with a presidential run and put $120 million behind Democrats in the midterms is taking on the person who would launch impeachment proceedings against President Trump, hosting a town hall tonight to force Jerry Nadler, powerful chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to take action.
Tom Steyer is OUTFRONT.
And good to have you back, Tom. I know, obviously, you've got your town hall tonight. Why do you think this impeachment right now, this conversation, is still Democrats' top priority, or should be their top priority?
TOM STEYER, FOUNDER, NEED TO IMPEACH CAMPAIGN: Well, Erin, I believe that we have a crisis in the United States. The crisis is the president of the United States. And that the Constitution gives us one solution, which is to impeach him and remove him from office. And until that happens, the country's at risk, people are going to be suffering and we'll not be doing the right thing.
So, I think it's the crisis and, therefore, we should deal with it directly.
BURNETT: All right. So when you say it's the crisis, look, you're being very clear where you stand. So you're holding this event in the district of Congressman Jerry Nadler.
Now, Jerry Nadler is very important, right? He's the chairman of the committee that would initiate the impeachment proceedings and he's been extremely careful, as you are probably painfully aware, to not jump on the impeachment train.
Here's his reason.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: You don't necessarily launch an impeachment against the president because he committed an impeachable offense. There are several things you have to look at. One, whether an impeachable offense is committed, how many, et cetera. Secondly, how important were they? Do they rise to the gravity where you should undertake an impeachment?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Right. So, he's saying to be impeachable, you need to have a crime, a crime of gravity. Not everything would reach that level. It would happen during the presidency of President Trump and if it isn't, there won't be the votes to impeach. Why is he wrong?
STEYER: Say that again, Erin?
BURNETT: I said --
STEYER: Why is he wrong?
BURNETT: Why is Jerry Nadler wrong? STEYER: Well, I think what he's saying is true and actually we have a
president who has committed impeachable offenses and they do rise to the level of impeachment, and if you simply look at the last week, you look at his fake state of emergency, you see a president who's willing to go directly against the Constitution, to contravene Congress' right to allocate the money in our society because he didn't get his way and he threw a fit.
So, in fact, what we've seen is a president who's going at the most important issues that a president can do. The separation of powers that Mr. Nadler has actually specifically referenced, if a president goes after the separation of powers, that's an impeachable offense.
BURNETT: But yet, Chairman Nadler is not starting impeachment proceedings and showing no signs of doing so, right? He's seeming to be much more cautious. What are you going to do about it?
STEYER: Well, what we're trying -- we have 7.3 million people who've signed our petition; 26,000 of them are in Congressman Nadler's district.
[19:45:06] In fact, we polled his district and 96 percent of the Democratic primary voters think this president is unfit for office. So, we have -- what we're trying to say is this is a movement of Americans across the whole country.
STEYER: Very specifically in his district and they are demanding action from their Congress and their congressman.
BURNETT: So would you primary him? Is that the -- that sounds like what you're saying, you're saying, look, 96 percent of your primary voters would support this, so if he doesn't do it, you could fund someone to challenge him in a primary?
STEYER: Actually, what we're doing, Erin, is something much earlier than that. We're making the point that, in fact, his constituents, the people who have put him in office, did so for a very specific purpose as they want action and they want this president held to account. And we're just evidencing that and trying to show that and that's why we're in his district so that he can understand how much his constituents are asking him to do this and we believe he will do it.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Tom. Good to talk to you again.
STEYER: Thanks, Erin. Thanks for having me.
BURNETT: All right. Tom Steyer there in his town hall, as I said, happening tonight.
And next, Elizabeth Warren's new 2020 strategy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WARREN: So now we're going to get wonky for just a minute.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Plus, Jeanne on why the race for 2020 has already gone to the dogs.
[19:50:16] BURNETT: New tonight, Elizabeth Warren with a new idea. This item, universal child care. Is there any way for the numbers to add up?
Well, Warren is counting on the careers of professor to give her cred.
M.J. Lee is OUTFRONT.
WARREN: I'm going to nerd out with you and say oh, man, it's a good bill.
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren hits the campaign, his distinctively wonky style on full display.
WARREN: Let's really wonk out for a minute here.
Can I get an amen from an electrician on that?
So, now we're going to get wonky for a minute.
For those of you who leave and say, oh my gosh, I must be turning into a nerd.
LEE: The former lawyer and bankruptcy expert regularly responding like this to questions from voters on everything from net neutrality.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, I have a question about Internet regulations.
WARREN: All right.
LEE: To renewable energy policies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any proposals that we can move past this antiquated system of energy?
WARREN: So, you want me to wonk out for a minute here, right? You want me to get this crowd up on net metering, right? Do I have any net metering wonks here?
LEE: A less than a year out from the Iowa caucuses, Warren has already unveiled a pair of major policies.
WARREN: I am a candidate.
LEE: First, she called for a wealth tax on Americans with assets of $50 million or more.
WARREN: Reforms that close loopholes and giveaways to the people at the top. And an ultra millionaire's tax to make sure that rich people start doing their part for the country that made them rich.
LEE: And today, she released a sweeping universal child care plan, guaranteeing child care for all parents for the moment their children are born until they enter school.
WARREN: Families are buckling under the weight of it. It holds people back. They decide they can't work because they're worried about the cost of child care.
LEE: Advisers and friends say Warren's knack for the town hall style question and answer format traces back to her years in the classroom. She taught special needs children in the 1970s before eventually becoming a law professor, most recently at Harvard Law School.
One former student, California Congresswoman Katie Porter, says Warren's approach in the classroom mirrors her style on the stump.
REP. KATIE PORTER (D), CALIFORNIA: The magic of Elizabeth as a teacher is that she's able to grasp really technical information, down in the details of how the legislative code for bankruptcy works and what subsection 2-B22 means. At the same time, she's able to bring it back up to what is the real world impact this law is having.
LEE: That view echoed by another former student, Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy, who endorsed Warren at her official campaign announcement earlier this month.
REP. JOE KENNEDY III (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Her classes were known as the hardest classes at school. Not necessarily because of the subject but because of the teacher. She had you drinking from a fire hose in that class. It was really something to be part of.
LEE: Warren showcased those professorial instincts during a visit to the University of Puerto Rico last month.
WARREN: Anybody else worried about the rising tuition?
LEE: In an increasingly crowded field featuring plenty of star power, Warren is hoping her policy chops will set her apart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have already hit --
WARREN: It's a nerd thing.
LEE: Now, Warren says that her universal child care plan is going to be paid for by the revenue from her wealth tax and her advisers tell CNN that she is going to have other proposals that are also going to be paid by the same revenue. Erin, this goes to show how central this idea is going to be to her
BURNETT: Right, the tax.
BURNETT: All right, thank very much, M.J. Appreciate it.
And next, Jeanne on the canines upstaging the candidates.
[19:57:51] BURNETT: Is 2020 the year of the dog?
JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's something about a candidate having a dog. That seems to scratch an itch whether you're a long shot candidate, Pete Buttigieg with two shelter dogs or well known Senator Elizabeth Warren.
WARREN: Say hello, Bailey. Say hello.
MOOS: More than happy to talk baby talk to a Golden Retriever.
WARREN: That's our Bailey.
MOOS: Who she's been introducing along with her husband.
WARREN: I thought I would bring the two guys in my life, Bruce and Bailey.
MOOS: Supporters can't keep their hands off.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, hi, sweetheart.
MOOS: Candidate and spouse stroll off holding hands and a leash. Some candidates put their dogs in commercials.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: That's why we approve this message.
MOOS: And even campaign merchandise.
But there are perils to promoting pets. When Kristen Gillibrand posted her labradoodle Maple, someone tweeted, if Maple isn't a rescue, I take issue. Someone else suggested a new collar, Trump take a walk.
Beto O'Rourke has two dogs, Artemis and Rosie.
Among the dogless contenders, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, though she tries to make up for it by posting canine supporters. Cory Booker got put on a spot by a kid.
UNIDENTIFIED KID: Did you ever have a dog?
MOOS: No dog, but Booker made a quick save.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: If I should become president of the United States, would you help me get a dog? Would you help me?
MOOS: President Trump says he doesn't have time for a dog.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn? Would that be -- feels a little phony.
MOOS: He prefers to call his opponents dogs, while would-be opponent Joe Biden posed recently with a shelter dog, Major. That he adopted to keep his old German Shepherd Champ company.
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: He's -- watch this. Champ, you want to play golf.
MOOS: Even President Trump might like a dog that doubles as a golf partner.
BIDEN: Where's the golf club?
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.
BIDEN: Go get the golf ball.
MOOS: New York.
BURNETT: And thanks so much to all of you for joining us. See you back here tomorrow.
"AC360" starts now.