Return to Transcripts main page


Oversight Chair Demands White House Docs On Security Clearances; Manafort Lawyers Plead For Shorter Sentence In VA Fraud Case, Claim Mueller Is Trying To "Vilify" Him; Dem Calls On Hannity To Testify Over Cohen Hush Money Remarks; Christie: "I'm Confident" Southern District Of New York Is Trying To Build Case Vs. Trump; Dems Want Trump's Tax Returns Amid Questions About Fraud; Top Dem Warns Party Not to Force Trump Family to Testify. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 1, 2019 - 19:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, ANCHOR, CNN: I'm Brianna Keilar. Wolf will be back on Monday. Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, CNN: OutFront next. Breaking news, House investigators give the White House an ultimatum as Democrats vowed to investigate security clearances. Team Trump is fighting back tonight. Plus, President Trump takes on Michael Cohen and his former fixer says, "Not so fast." Who's winning this war? And Trump accused of low-balling the value of his properties. Is he saving millions of taxes or violating the law? Let's go OutFront.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, a top-secret ultimatum, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee demanding more information about Jared Kushner and how he got top-secret security clearance. The deadline for this, Monday. Now, this big development coming after the New York Times reports President Trump himself intervened, overruling concerns from intelligence officials about Kushner having access to America's biggest secrets.

The New York Times actually cited internal White House memos detailing the President's order. The White House is now firing back. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone saying he will only make some documents available to the committee and he says, "Don't try and go around me. Don't try to go around me to talk to White House staffers," especially to the person who wrote one of those memos about the President's order, the former Chief of Staff John Kelly. Don't even think about it.

Today, in fact, the counsel to the President, Kellyanne Conway, didn't even deny that the President overruled the Intelligence Committee because they realized that memo is out there. They now know that cat is out of the bag. He gave his son-in-law access to America's top secrets. Here's what she says.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The President has the absolute right to do what was described ...

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: OK, not denying it. Absolute right. "Hey, who cares?"

Well, you know what? If it's that simple, Kellyanne, if he has the right to just overrule America's intelligence leaders, then why won't the White House just show the memos detailing how and why he chose to do it then? Why?

Well, there's actually a pretty easy answer to that one. It's that the President lied.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, AMERICAN JOURNALIST: Did you tell General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials? The career veterans?

TRUMP: No. I don't think I have the authority to do that. I'm not sure I do.

HABERMAN: You do have the authority to do it.

TRUMP: But I wouldn't. I wouldn't do it.

HABERMAN: OK. You never ...

TRUMP: Jared is a good - I was never involved with his security. I know that he - just from reading, I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people actually but I don't want to get involved in that stuff.


BURNETT: That was false. And what Ivanka Trump, Kushner's wife said a few weeks ago is false too.


IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The President had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.


BURNETT: OK, perhaps she didn't know what her father did, perhaps she did. The real reason for the President not telling the truth about allowing Jared Kushner to have access to America's top secrets is that officials at the FBI and the CIA had a slew of concerns about Kushner.

There were questions about his family's business dealings and debts in foreign countries that could make him vulnerable, and things like this, we learned from The Washington Post last February that officials from at least four countries including the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico had discussed ways they could manipulate Kushner.

And there's also this, in order to get top security clearance you have to fill out a form, a long, long form, 127 page long form, it's very thorough, people when they're going to work for the government and get top security clearance, they get lawyers, they go through their information because it's really important you do it because you want to serve the country. You're trying to put every possible thing out there, even something that wouldn't even be relevant because you want to do the right thing.

So there's a question on there that says, "Have you or any member of your immediate family in the past seven years had any contact with a foreign government, its establishment such as embassy intelligence or security service inside or outside the United States?" Kushner didn't answer the question. He left off more than 100 contacts and in fact he had to go back and amend it three times.

So the first time, I don't know, maybe that was a mistake, then the second time, and then what about the third time? It was pulling teeth for him to finally include things like a meeting with then Russia Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, a meeting with the Head of Russian state- owned bank arranged by Kislyak and perhaps most damningly that Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer who has admitted she is a Russian agent.

Manu Raju is OutFront on Capitol Hill. Manu, where do things stand now between the White House and the Oversight Committee when it comes to getting these memos or interviews or any information about why the President did this?

MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Erin, this is shaping up to be one of the first major clashes between House Democrats who are investigating all aspects of the Trump presidency and the White House.


Just late this afternoon the House Oversight Committee staff had a call in a discussion with White House staff asking about those memos that John Kelly wrote, memorializing the concerns that were raised about Jared Kushner's security clearance. The fact that the President overrode those concerns and ordered him to move forward on the security clearance as well as Don McGahn then the White House Counsel, the similar memo that he wrote about concerns that were raised by intelligence agencies.

Well, according to a tweet from the Oversight Committee, the White House staff refused to confirm or deny its existence three times. Now, this comes after Elijah Cummings has actually sent a letter to the White House demanding a range of documents relating to security clearances because of his concerns that established protocols were not followed by a range of individuals not just Jared Kushner but people like Michael Flynn and others. And he asked for those documents, by last month was the deadline which the White House has not yet complied with.

So he is saying if those documents are not turned over by Monday, he's going to move forward with subpoenas and demand those documents from the White House. At that point, we'll see what the White House decides to do but, Erin, this again is shaping up to be a major confrontation between the new Democratic majority which is pushing forward to investigate this and the White House at the moment refusing to comply with these Democratic requests, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you very much and I want to go straight now to the Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings who sits on both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. Congresswoman, I appreciate your time tonight.

So when you look at the legality of it, the President of the United States have the legal authority to grant a security clearance so, Kellyanne was right about that. Of course, the thing is the President didn't tell the truth about the fact that he did it. Why do you think he lied about it?

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, hi, Erin, it's great to be back with you and look what a week we're having. I believe the President lied about it because he lies about a lot of different things and in his efforts to cover up any wrongdoing or any questions that may come up later. I mean, we know the whole purpose of this security clearance program is to make sure that those who have that we entrust with America's most precious secrets are not subject to compromise, are not vulnerable, or not subject to being blackmailed.

And the President just totally, obviously, disregarded that and we know for his family members, but the main question for me is who else within this administration has security clearances that they should not have. And I believe that Chairman Cummings is absolutely correct to get to the bottom of it and I know he's going to be relentless in his efforts to do just that.

BURNETT: So we talk about the reason these forms exist and they're as detailed as they are, it's exactly what you say, you want to be better safe than sorry. Give all of the information to the intelligence community and they find out what matters or what doesn't matter. Because I want to be clear there and I know I laid some of this out, but intelligence officials were concerned about Kushner.

They were concerned about him having access to America's top secrets for a slew of reasons. The President of the United States ordered them. John Kelly details that he felt ordered to overrule. What does it say to you that the President of the United States would overrule the intelligence community?

DEMINGS: Well, I really believe that General Kelly memorialized this incident because he knew the President would probably not be truthful, number one, if the issue came up, and number two, if some security breach happened as a result of Jared or others having that security clearance. Look, those pages, those documents are very detailed as they should be.

And the fact that Jared left off over a hundred contacts that he had with people that you wouldn't have contact with on a regular basis or every day, maybe one time, OK, he forgot, over 100 times I don't think it's reasonable to ask the American people or Congress or anyone to believe that that oversight was not intentional. BURNETT: I mean, it seems very clear that it was. I guess it would

be the motivation we just don't know and to that effect as a member of the Intelligence Committee, Congresswoman Demings do you have any specific information that makes you concerned about Kushner and his access to top-secret information?

DEMINGS: Well, Erin, let me just say this, the fact that he had difficulty and it sounds like it was pretty substantial difficulty getting the clearance, the intelligence community I believe was adamant that he should not be granted a clearance. For the President of the United States to overrule that tells me that the President doesn't have a clue about the purpose of the intelligence community.


The purpose and how important it is that we keep America safe and that those we trust with America's secrets should be of high caliber. So the fact that Jared could not get a clearance and the President had to step in and overrule the intelligence community really should really concern all of us. And the President says he doesn't have that authority, obviously, he did, but the fact that he lied about it lets me know that he knew or he should have known that the behavior that he engaged it was inappropriate.

BURNETT: Yes, certainly when he did that interview he had already done it so he knew he could do it. So he was not only lying about that he could do it, he was denying about that he did do it. All right, thank you very much, Congressman. I appreciate your time.

DEMINGS: Thank you so much.

BURNETT: And next, Democrats are testing Trump's redline digging into the money trail. Could they finally find something including the tax returns? Plus, Donald Trump Jr. mocking the Me Too movement.


JERRY FALWELL, PRESIDENT OF THE LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: My boys always have guns in their hands. That's not something --



BURNETT: And a top Democrat says Sean Hannity should testify after the host said this about Michael Cohen and hush money payments.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: I can tell you personally he said to me at least a dozen times that he made the decision on the payments and he didn't tell you.


[19:15:00] Breaking news, Paul Manafort's legal team tonight making a last-ditch

attempt for a reduced sentence, saying a 24-year sentence behind bars would be clearly disproportionate. Those are the words they use to his crimes of bank and tax fraud. They're also saying he's nearly 70 and claiming, "The Special Counsel's attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a light long and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this Court."

Obviously, 24 years for someone who's about to turn 70 as he is, they're putting as a life sentence. His health has dramatically deteriorated thus far, we understand in prison. OutFront now, CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez, former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Harry Sandick.

All right, Evan, so they come out and say, "This is terrible. This is not OK." You actually think this is a pardon play, how?

EVAN PEREZ, SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: It's a total pardon play. Look, if you read the sentencing memo that they write here, they mentioned very often in this memo that there is no collusion, that Mueller was appointed to look into collusion, and he found none. And that according to this memo according to Manafort's attorneys that really Manafort is being prosecuted.

He's being punished for essentially for working for Donald Trump, that if he hadn't gone to become chairman of the Trump campaign that none of this would be happening to him. And they point out a couple of times they used terms like tightening the screws to try to use the Manafort prosecution to try to get to Donald Trump.

And keep in mind, Erin, this is a court, T.S. Ellis, the judge there who had expressed some skepticism about the Mueller team at the beginning of this case. He said that you're not really after Manafort, you're after Trump. So look, we don't know if this is going to work, but this is probably the only place it has a chance of working if any place.

BURNETT: Harry, what does it say to you that Manafort could still be trying to play that pardon card given that he was cooperating, but then not as to - what does it say to you?

HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I think he recognizes it's the last best way out by basically just saying things in this brief that he knows are going to get back to the President, the notion that he's being punished purely for his association with Trump, and, of course, there's an element of truth in that, none of this might have been uncovered had there not been an investigation. But, of course, he committed an immense amounts of criminal activity and the Trump investigation happened to touch upon him, but it's not as if he committed those crimes for Trump. He committed those crimes out of greed for himself.

BURNETT: Right. And John Dean, it is a pretty choice that they would make that argument. OK, you got caught because you work for Trump, but you were defrauding the government of millions of dollars. I mean, it's almost as if like - I mean, come on, right?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, also, Erin, the investigation didn't start with his joining the Trump campaign. This is something that was actually in the works before he joined the Trump campaign. He's trying to now turn around and use the Trump campaign to cover an investigation he might have otherwise still been caught in and just say it was accelerated. I hope the judge gets that sorted out, because it would be quite unusual to get the protection of a corrupt campaign to somehow nullify your earlier corrupt activities.

BURNETT: So now we also have Democratic Congressman, Harry, David Cicilline calling on the Fox News host, Sean Hannity, to come before Congress after this exchange last night between Hannity and his friend President Trump on Cohen's hush money payments.


HANNITY: I can tell you personally he said to me at least a dozen times that he made the decision on the payments and he didn't tell you. Hel told me personally.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He did and he made the decision. And remember this he's an attorney, whatever decision he makes, he's supposed to rely on an attorney to make a decision.


BURNETT: Did Hannity just - is this going to happen here, Harry?

SANDICK: I think he's made himself into a witness. I mean, one way in which you can make an assessment about the credibility of somebody like Michael Cohen is to find out whether he said things that were consistent or inconsistent with his testimony in the past. Sean Hannity making a serious charge saying, "He spoke to me many times. He said things that were inconsistent." I would think that the southern district and the congressional committee that Chairman Cummings just convened two days ago would want to hear from Sean Hannity.


BURNETT: Yes. Look, Michael Cohen was - there were a couple things that a lot of reporters know that he said in that hearing that were not consistent, the staff job, and this among them. John, the former New Jersey Governor and the former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie and, of course, Trump transition guy who supported Trump at one point told CNN last night he remains convinced the Southern District of New York is a bigger threat to President Trump than Bob Mueller. Here's why.


CHRIS CRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: What they're doing, I'm confident, is building a case for two things. One; to go after those around the President who may have committed crimes and two to build a case, if they have one, I don't think they have one at the moment, but if they're trying to build one against the President for when he leaves office.


BURNETT: Do you think he's on to something, John? That's a threat?

DEAN: I was just saying I thought he made a very good case, I happened to see that interview, and he knows the southern district very well. He was a U.S. attorney in New Jersey. These are the closest neighbors you can get. So he understands well the career people that are in there, they're not people that are concerned that this is the President of the United States. It's in their sights and I think he's right on. I think he's giving Trump a good warning and I'm sure he's delighted not to be a part of this administration as much as he wanted to originally.

BURNETT: And he certainly did, Evan, and I'm sure the President will say, "Oh, this is just him being sour grapes, but your reporting shows no." The President has long believed that the biggest threat could be the Southern District and not Bob Mueller.

PEREZ: Oh, absolutely, Erin. And keep in mind, the Southern District of New York, the jurisdiction is much broader, if you remember Mueller. The problem for Mueller is that he's supposed to be looking at alleged collusion and what happened in 2016. The number of laws and the number of places that the Southern District can go to is so much broader and so that's the danger.

And certainly people around the President have been telling him this since last year when this first began with Michael Cohen raid, that this was definitely a danger, and I think he knows that. And keep in mind, he might have been able to fire Robert Mueller, but he can't get rid of the Southern District of New York.

BURNETT: And Harry, a quick bottom line to you, do you think that that could happen, that indictment from the Southern District after he leaves office?

SANDICK: I think it's possible based on what we've seen. I mean, there's a question about what his criminal intent was in terms of the hush money payments. But the Southern District without really much of a disguise individual one, puts him right at the center of a crime. So it doesn't seem at all surprising to me that this could be something that's contemplated by the prosecutors.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. So you got that hanging out there and then you've got Democrats plowing through Trump's red line and that is following the money trail.


ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, DEMOCRAT NEW YORK: To your knowledge, did the President ever provide inflated assets ...


BURNETT: And some Democrats calling for Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. to testify before Congress. Could going after the President's children even if they did something illegal backfire?


Tonight, President Trump defending his red line accusing Democrats of going after his finances tweeting, "Now that the 2-year Russian collusion case has fallen apart, there was no collusion except bye Crooked Hillary and the Democrats, they say, 'Gee, I have an idea, let's look at Trump's finances and every deal he has ever done." Well, putting aside that Mueller, of course, is not done, the President is wrong. A lot of people have been trying to follow Trump's money trail for a long time. Jason Carroll is OutFront.


JASON CARROLL, CORRESPONDENT, CNN(off-camera): It took just about four minutes, but during that time, freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have created a road map for a House subpoena of Trump's elusive tax returns.


CORTEZ: The Washington Post reported on the Trump Links Bronx course in an article titled, "Taxpayers built this New York golf course and Trump reaps the rewards."


CARROLL: While, questioning Trump's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, Ocasio-Cortez suggested Trump's Bronx property is a boondoggle for him, but a bust for taxpayers in her district. The back story, Trump didn't build the course nor does he own it. He secured a generous 20-year deal to manage it. Starting in 2015, taxpayers spent $127 million to transform an old garbage dump into what you see now.

And there's this, taxpayers for the first four years got virtually no return on their investment, starting this year Trump has to pay the city a minimum of $300,000. In short tax experts say nothing illegal of the deal but that doesn't mean taxpayers here were not severely shortchanged. John Liu was the city's comptroller when the deal was in the works.


JOHN LIU, NEW YORK STATE SENATOR: I cautioned the city against this deal. The fact to the matter is Trump did get a sweet deal.


CARROLL: The White House declined to comment on the recent growing interest in the President's tax returns, but Liu says Ocasio-Cortez's line of questioning brings into focus Trump's other properties where Cohen and local officials allege values were deflated to reduce tax bills.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CORTEZ: The President claimed in financial disclosure forms ...


CARROLL: In 2017, CNN found that Trump had fought the tax assessments of all 12 of his U.S. golf courses except the one in Bedminster, New Jersey. That included his Trump National Golf Course in Westchester, New York, which Trump claimed in campaign filings was worth more than $50 million.

[19:30:01] Yet in 2015, his attorneys argued it was worth significantly less, $1.35 million. Again in 2017, the Trump Organization claimed in federal election filings another property, Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, was valued at more than $50 million, but looking back to 2014, Trump's lawyers claimed it was worth no more than $5 million.

With these tactics, tax experts say Trump could be saving millions, but at taxpayers' expense.

In response to Ocasio-Cortez's questions, Cohen noted that Trump's tax returns would show the truth.

STEVE ROSENTHAL, SENIOR FELLOW TAX POLICY CENTER: The congresswoman's testimony really sharpened the focus, really highlighted the stakes. What is going on with the president's personal financial positions and to what extent are his finances in conflict with his duties in running the government.


CARROLL: And Steven Rosenthal, who you just heard from there, testified in front of a Congressional House and Ways Subcommittee about presidential tax returns. The chair of the House and Ways, Congressman Richard Neal, does have the power to request the president's returns, and Rosenthal says Neal is laying the groundwork to do just that.

However, while the committee does have the authority, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin whose department oversees the IRS, will decide whether or not such request is ultimately granted -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Well, I think we know that that will be not forthcoming, let's say. Easily. All right, which sets up what comes next.

All right. Thanks so much to you, Jason.

I want to go now to Russ Buettner, a reporter for "The New York Times" who has done extensive reporting on the president's money, and Lee- Fort Tritt, a University of Florida law professor who specializes in estate planning, things that are right at the center of the Trump story.

So, Russ, obviously, Jason was going through a few examples and some of these are pretty incredible, right? You say $50 million here and $1.3 million there. This is even in a percentage base, well outside of the range of what anybody could reasonably understand. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though.

RUSS BUETTNER, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right, and you can run afoul of laws in doing that sort of thing. The way that usually works in a commercial property, the property owner would submit an income and expense statement saying how much they're making and what the profit is, and there's a multiplier used to fig out what it's worth. They often argue about that multiplier. It's called the capitalization rate.

But if the data that's submitted, the statement that is submitted is not true, not accurate, which you submit under penalty of a crime usually, you can really run afoul. They don't often check that, they don't go in and look at your books as an auditor might later on.

BURNETT: So, theoretically, somebody might be looking at it. Reporters like you are looking at it, but I'm talking about people like the Southern District or whomever. Somebody could be looking.

BUETTNER: Right, you have to have subpoena power to get their records and figure out if their profit was true.

BURNETT: All right. So, there could be serious questions here, Lee. As we pointed out, people find ways to pay less taxes, right? That's the point, the reason the tax code is I don't know what, like a mile high. I'm exaggerating -- I'm being like Trump there and exaggerating there, but it's high.

Because you can take advantage of whatever is in there, but there's a difference between that and some of what Trump did, right?

LEE-FORD TRITT, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Yes, I agree with you. I think any individual person might be conservative on their taxes or aggressive on their taxes. If you go so aggressive, you're going to pass into illegality. I think "The New York Times," and Russ is more familiar with this than I am, "The New York Times" did a great job of showing how the Trump family, Fred, Sr. and his children, have really used valuation distortions to create and take advantage of these tax loopholes.

These tax loopholes aren't illegal. Many rich people do it, especially in real estate development. But if he knew better and they push it too much to fraud, absolutely illegal crimes have happened.

BURNETT: All right. So, let's talk about this. When you see absolutely illegal crimes happen. We don't know, but it's possible with these examples. You have to look.

It puts a new light on this exchange that the president had with reporters at "The New York Times" about his money.


SCHMIDT: Mueller was looking at your finances, your family's finances unrelated to Russia -- is that a red line? HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. I would say yes.


BURNETT: Red line.

BUETTNER: Red line. Right. And there's a lot there. Part of what he could be wanting to hide in his tax returns is just how much money he actually makes and what the sources of it are. Some of the issues we raised went back to how he got huge chunks of his wealth through his parents. That was through some trust funds and his father's estate, through which they just grossly undervalued some properties.

There was a body of properties that moved through a trust in the mid- 1990s that they attached a valuation of $41 million ultimately.

[19:35:04] Banks a few years later valued the same portfolio at $900 million. That's a huge jump.

Some of the time were actually valued at below zero even though they were kicking off tremendous amounts of revenue. Part of what lee ford was addressing is Donald Trump is a real estate professional, should know the difference.

BURNETT: He should know the difference and he has lawyers who definitely know the difference, Lee-Ford, right? I mean, part of this is like, come on. It seems -- it defies rational looking at this, to think that he would think it was OK.

TRITT: Yes, to a degree. I mean, President Trump holds himself out to be a real estate mogul, an expert in the field. If you went to some -- if you decide to sell your house, Erin, and you went to an appraiser to appraise your house. You could rely on them, you're not in the real estate market.

But Donald Trump, he's always in the real estate market. So just because -- and I have seen the White House do this, they push back saying he relied on experts. He had appraisers do it. He has lawyers do it.

Well, that doesn't exculpate him. If he knew better, if he knew these were based on wrong numbers and he's in the know, he knows the market. Well, then it's getting closer to fraud.

BURNETT: Well, and you know what on that, I wish I had my sound bite ready. No one knows more than I, and I go through all the things he knows nothing about, including the generals and everything else. Real estate, he knew a whole hell of a lot. That's the area where they're trying to say, oh, you know, he relied on other people.

Thank you both very much.

TRITT: Yes. BURNETT: And next, a top Democrat warning his party not to push the president's children to testify, saying it would backfire.

And Trump says this outrageous comment about the death of American student Otto Warmbier was misinterpreted.


TRUMP: I don't think that the top leadership knew about it. I don't believe that he would have allowed that to happen.


BURNETT: So what did he mean then?


[19:40:34] BURNETT: Tonight, a top Democrat warns, don't go after the Trump children. Congressman Gerry Connolly of the powerful House Oversight Committee, you know, he's got a lot of power, right, to have them come in and testify. But he's telling his party -- don't force Ivanka and Don Jr. to come in.

Here's what Connolly told me.


REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I demur a little bit on the family members. I think it would be the better part of wisdom for us to allow the Southern District to call Donald Trump Jr. Before them if there are criminal matters they're investigating. I don't see an upside to our doing that. I think it just frankly adds to the narrative on the other side of the aisle that we're just out to get the Trumps or something like that.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation", and Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Joan, I was a little surprised when the congressman said that.


BURNETT: That it could be the wrong move. What do you say?

WALSH: I totally disagree. I mean, you know, sometimes we talk about them as the children. We're not talking about bringing Baron in front of any of these committees. We're talking about two adults. One runs the president's businesses. And the other is a senior adviser at the White House.

They both have said things, they're both privy to matters that the committees are investigating. Don Jr. is at the center of the most public example of potential collusion, cooperation with the Russians around the June 9th Trump Tower meeting.

BURNETT: He was there.

WALSH: Ivanka allegedly has played a role in her husband's getting this security clearance that security officials don't want him to have. You know, she's not a child. She has a senior job in the White House.

So I think this is kind of crazy.

BURNETT: Scott, you know, I guess you can hear what Joan is saying and what Connolly is saying. If the roles were reversed, let's just say Hillary Clinton was in the White House and, you know, she fired Comey, and we're investigating why she fired Comey. I could see all these things having happened, and Chelsea Clinton is a senior adviser.

Would you say let's not hear from Chelsea?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think that the congressman is correct in his assessment. I don't know what his motivations are, but the idea that the Congress could ever get to a senior adviser to the president would just not happen. There's a long-standing Justice Department opinion that was reaffirmed in the Obama years in 2014, I believe, that the president's senior most advisers could not be compelled to testify before Congress. So, I think they're barking up a dead tree there.

Now, Don Jr. --

BURNETT: I'm saying, would you feel the same way if the shoe were on the other foot? I gave the Clinton example because I think it would be the way things would be.

JENNINGS: Yes, here's how I feel. I think the senior's senior most advisers should not be compelled to testify because it would interfere with their ability to give the president advice and it would be a separation of powers issue. I agree with the Justice Department's stance on this which has existed in numerous administrations.

Now, Donald Trump Jr. is a different story. He's not a government official. He doesn't enjoy the same immunity and the same protections. But I think, politically, to go after him when this committee is supposed to do government oversight when he's not part of the government, I do think Congressman Connolly has a point that it would probably look to a lot of Americans like it was a vendetta instead of proper government oversight.

WALSH: I disagree with you there, Scott, because first of all, as I said before, he was at the Trump Tower meeting, which is material. I think these investigations are already going and are going to continue to look at in which ways is the president's business wrapped up in his foreign dealings, his foreign policy, whether it's Russia, whether it's Saudi Arabia.

BURNETT: According to Michael Cohen, and you know, again, you can dispute the source all you want, but it raises questions. Don Jr. was involved in these checks. These hush money payment checks that were paid while the president was in the White House to Michael Cohen for Stormy Daniels.

WALSH: So, there's really -- there's not a bright line where OK, this is the business, the family business, and this is government. What we're all looking at is the ways the family business and government and oversight has been mixed. So it's too late for that.

BURNETT: So, Scott, now we have the president today, you know, he came back and he's tired and jetlagged and he's bitter about the week. I get it, who wouldn't be? He's mad they did this meeting while he was in Hanoi, and so he decides to lash out at, who, but Michael Cohen.

So, he's upset about Michael Cohen working on a book. By the way, this makes him mad. I remember some meeting he had, he was yelling at reporter doing a book and I think still profiting off him.

[19:45:04] He tweeted it was going to be a love letter to Trump, and Congress must demand a transcript. Cohen is fighting back. His spokesman saying, quote, POTUS has yet lied again. What's the difference between 9,000 or 9,001 lies, I believe referring to "The Washington Post".

Is this the best way to discredit Cohen? I mean, honestly, Scott, does anyone care about Cohen writing a book?

JENNINGS: Well, I think if Cohen wrote things down that are directly contradictory to what he said to Congress, that is relevant information, and that Congress should seek that. It's not clear to me how much he actually wrote down.

I don't particularly find Cohen to be a reliable narrator here. He's been all over the place. I don't necessarily find many members of this committee in both parties to be reliable.


BURNETT: A year ago, it was a love letter to Trump, now it's -- does it really matter?

WALSH: It's just not surprising.

JENNINGS: Well, yes, of course it does. If he wrote things that are directly contradictory to what he testified under oath, that would definitely go to the heart of his credibility.

BURNETT: I don't have to read a book. I would go to the tape where he said I would take a bullet for the president. He was a total sycophant for a long time.

WALSH: He denied Trump knew about the payments. He certainly changed his story, Scott. You know, there is some mystery. I don't think we have an answer about when he shifted his allegiance.

He claimed the other day it was Charlottesville and Helsinki. I don't think that's true. But we know there was a time when he admired this man, he would take a bullet. So, maybe there was a draft of a proposal that was going to be, you know, admiring, praising.

JENNINGS: You know who knows it's true? Robert Mueller knows that it's true. What I would say is you have a bunch of unreliable narrators and one reliable person here. And that's Mueller, and the Democrats should let Mueller come forward here, and everybody should before we start jumping to conclusions about how valid Cohen is.

WALSH: I would agree with you if I thought for sure we were going to see the Mueller report. That's not guaranteed so this oversight is crucial. You may disagree about what they're doing, but they're entitled to do it. It's their job.

BURNETT: Look, Devin Nunes wants to see it, and that's important, right? Look, I think people, hopefully people are going to get onboard with it. Let's get it out there.

Thanks to all.

And next, Trump now says his controversial remarks siding with Kim Jong-un on the death of the American Otto Warmbier were misinterpreted. Warmbier's parents, though, are speaking out.

And Donald Trump Jr. mocking #metoo today.


JERRY FALWELL JR., LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: Mmy boys also had guns in their hands, so we didn't -- that's not something --




[19:50:46] BURNETT: Tonight, president Trump falsely claiming he's being misinterpreted on the death of Otto Warmbier, tweeting, of course, I hold North Korea responsible for Otto's mistreatment and death. Except that wasn't what he was talking about, right? What he said was that he took Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, at his word. That Kim did not know about what happened to Warmbier.

And Warmbier's family is now firing back, saying, quote, Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son, Otto. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.

Brian Todd is OUTFRONT.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Analysts called it a low point in an already dismal news conference.

TRUMP: He tells me that he didn't know about it. And I will take him at his word.

TODD: The president saying he supported North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's stance that Kim didn't know of American college student Otto Warmbier's deteriorating condition in a North Korean prison.

TRUMP: I don't believe that he would have allowed that to happen.

TODD: Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, was arrested for allegedly stealing a political sign during his tour of Pyongyang in early 2016, during what was widely seen as a show trial, he wept.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. A year and a half later, North Korean diplomats abruptly asked for a meeting with their U.S. counterparts and told them the young American was in a coma. Warmbier was quickly evacuated and died just a couple days after returning home.

Trump initially attacked Kim and his regime for the death.

TRUMP: We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime.

TODD: And he embraced Warmbier's parents, even inviting them to the State of the Union Address.

TRUMP: You're powerful witnesses to a menace that threatened our world. And your strength truly inspires us all.

TODD: Analysts said that seemed to be a far cry from his comments this week.

TRUMP: He felt badly about it.

TODD: Trump has in fact struck a different tone for months now with Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: And then we fell in love. OK? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they're great letters.

TODD: Tonight, facing backlash from the family, the president took to Twitter, saying he had been misinterpreted on Thursday. Quote: Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto's mistreatment and death. Most important, Otto Warmbier will not have died in vein. I love Otto and think of him often.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: This president is responsible for having Otto Warmbier returned to this country, and be reunited with his family in his final hours. The president is saying that there's no indication Chairman Kim knew what happened to Otto Warmbier when it happened.

TODD: But that seems improbable, experts say, because after his death, doctors who examined Otto Warmbier said they believed he had been in a vegetative state for 14 months before being sent home.

(on camera): If he's in a vegetative state for 14 months, does Kim Jong-un not know about it at all during that time?

ROBERT KING, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO NORTH KOREA FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Kim would have known as soon as they had determined that this was something that wasn't reversible. He would have known immediately.

TODD: Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BURNETT: All right. Next, Donald Trump Jr. feeding red meat to the base.


TRUMP JR.: The left hates Donald Trump much more than they love America.



[19:57:06] BURNETT: Donald Trump Jr. giving his party red meat as his president prepares to run for re-election.


TRUMP JR.: The left hates Donald Trump much more than they love America.


BURNETT: The president's oldest son also raising eyebrows with this exchange with evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr.


FALWELL: My boys always had guns in their hands, so we didn't -- that's not something --

TRUMP, JR.: #metoo.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

I mean, Doug, this all happened at CPAC, right? That's the annual conservative gathering in Washington. You know, it's not always like this, though.

What do you make of the vitriol coming from the president's own family that we just saw there?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, HISTORY PROFESSOR, RICE UNIVERSITY: I think Donald Trump Jr. Just gets all ginned up about saying some reckless things. He constantly wants to overstate, you know, his criticisms of Elizabeth Warren or gun issues. He's kind of a product of our time where you want to make the news cycle by saying something outrageous. We think Donald Trump says outrageous things. Well, his son seems to at times want to one up his father.

BURNETT: Yes, and you know what. I have always found perhaps the emotional and psychological part of that relationship may be something that history will show to be quite fascinating and important.

Look, Doug, the Republican Party under Trump is so different from what it was, right, with the Bush family at the helm. And there used to be, remember, Fox News used to be on the sort of midstream Republican side of things. And then now they went over to Trump and abandoned the likes of the Bushes.

There's a new original series Sunday here called "THE BUSH YEARS: FAMILY, DUTY, AND POWER". You're a contributor.

What do the Bushes think now about where their party is?

BRINKLEY: Well, you know, there's a book out called "The Last Republicans" that seems like a completely different Republican Party. I mean, you had a Jeb Bush being maligned by Donald Trump for his low energy. George P. Bush is now the Texas land commissioner.

While he voted for Trump, it was with a huge amount of reluctance, and it's well known that George W. and George Herbert Walker Bush before he passed weren't fans of Trump. So, it's a different Republican Party. And they were so-called globalists, the Bush family. They believed in America's relationship with NATO and Europe in a way that Donald Trump is much more of a nationalist.

And so it's a lot different. There's no populism to the Bushes. Donald Trump ran on a populist agenda.

BURNETT: Yes, it's obviously quite different, and fascinating to see.

All right. Doug, thank you so much. I want everyone to know you can see a whole lot of Doug. You see him on our network and our show, but he's a big part of this big show, the CNN original series. It's called "THE BUSH YEARS", and it premieres Sunday night right here on CNN, 9:00.

And thank you all so much for joining us. I hope you have a great weekend. We'll see you back here on Monday.

"AC360" with Anderson starts right now.