Return to Transcripts main page

ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Democrats Eye Trump's Longtime Assistant Rhona Graff; Trump Silent on American Detained in Saudi Arabia. Aired on 7-8p ET

Aired March 5, 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: Watch everything that's going on here in Washington. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us. Thanks very much and to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM. Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, CNN: OutFront next. Trump in a fight, stonewalling Democrats as they launch sweeping investigations. What happen to the man 24 hours ago said he cooperates with everybody and anybody? Plus Trump organization facing new question tonight. A big subpoena coming and a U.S. citizen allegedly beaten while held captive in Saudi Arabia and yet there's silence from the President. Let's go OutFront.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, Trump says, "No." Refusing to hand over documents. We are learning tonight that the White House is finalizing plans to fight back against the Democrats who have put sweeping requests out for documents. The White House wants to limit what they're going to give up.

The top White House lawyer already rejecting Democrats' requests for information about Jared Kushner's security clearance, sending the Chairman of the Oversight Committee this letter, which slams Democrats for "overly intrusive document requests," that, of course, after the President, according to the New York Times, lied about not overruling the intelligence community to give Kushner that request. And the President tonight is not hiding his anger and frustration at the document requests.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I guess we got 81 letters. There was no collusion. That was a hoax. There was no anything and they want to do that instead of getting legislation passed, 81 people or organizations got letters. It's a disgrace. It's a disgrace to our country. I'm not surprised that it's happening. The people understand that when they look at it, they just say presidential harassment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Presidential harassment. The President tweeting those exact same words later today and some Republicans are leaping to his, I guess it's important to reference back in the day made the case to impeach President Bill Clinton is now telling CNN that the President believes they, he's referring to Democrats, are out to take a wrecking ball to his life as Graham defends him.

The President and his team's refusal to cooperate though most when you look at hypocrisy here flies in the face of the President's own words just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you going to cooperate with Mr. Nadler?

DONALD TRUMP, President OF THE UNITED STATES: I cooperate all of the time with everybody ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All the time with everybody. Well, that was yesterday and today is today. Tonight, according to a Democratic leadership aide, we have some new numbers. Since Democrats took over the House. There have been six refusals from the Trump administration to appear before House Committees, 30 refusals to respond or stalls on document requests and, of course, now the White House trying to point blank not give over documents.

It all comes as according to a new Quinnipiac poll out today, nearly 60% of voters think Congress should do more to investigate Michael Cohen's claims about the President's unethical and illegal behavior. And when it comes to trusting the President, only 30% of Americans say Trump is honest. Abby Phillip begins our coverage, OutFront live outside the White House. And Abby, obviously, they are now trying to point blank refused, deny, fight, what is going to be the strategy here?

ABBY PHILLIP, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Erin, the scope of Congressman Nadler's request to the White House this week came as a bit of a surprise to White House aides, because of how it really touched upon every aspect of the President's life in his presidency. And in response to that, they come up with a strategy that essentially involves stalling and stonewalling these committees, trying to restrict the number of documents that they hand over, restrict the information that they hand over, especially as it relates to President Trump's conversations as President, and particularly his conversations with his council here in the White House.

The idea here is to try to exert some kind of executive privilege or confidentiality around some of this information. And the White House also suggested that the President himself suggested today that they would be looking at President Obama as a model for how to do this. The President suggested President Obama didn't respond with a single letter to Congress when they requested it. That's not exactly true.

But the Obama administration did it similarly try to restrict the scope of how they would go forward with responding to some of these requests and that's what the White House is looking at now. How much they'll actually be able to do is yet to be determined. I think the lawyers are going to have to really take a fine tooth comb to all of this and figure out where they can thread the needle and figure out where they can hold back when it comes to some of these requests, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Abby, thank you very much. And I want to go OutFront now to the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel in the midst of all of this. Chairman, I appreciate your time tonight. I mean, look, the President today says, "Look, these investigations are presidential harassment." Those are the words he's using.

[19:05:01]

And, obviously, their requests are extraordinarily broad in terms of what documents they're asking for people and organizations they're requesting information from. Are Democrats in danger, Chairman, of overreaching by making such broad requests?

ELIOT ENGEL, CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: No, not at all. We are just upholding our end of the Constitution which says that we have the right to do this, Article 1, and I can just speak for me. I'm not out to get the President, I'm asked to get the truth.

BURNETT: Obviously, I mentioned Lindsey Graham who had back in the day been one of the leaders of the impeachment charge against President Clinton and now singing a very different tune. But he's not alone, there are other Republicans defending the President, Senator John Cornyn among them. Here's he is today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN CORNYN, REPUBLICAN, TEXAS: I think what the Democrats are worried about now is that after all of the hysteria over the alleged collusion that they're worried the Mueller report will come up with basically nothing against the President as regards collusion. So that's why I think they're launching this full frontal assault which, well, as I say, it is prelude to impeachment and we'll make sure that we can't get anything else done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Would these investigations, Chairman Engel, be happening if you actually believed Mueller had something on the President, if he had collusion lockdown?

ENGEL: I don't think that these investigations of our move one way or another by whatever Mueller has or doesn't have. I know I can say that for me. I think that Mueller will come out with his report. I think the report should be made public. I think the American citizens have the right to know and we're going to keep doing what we do as an investigatory body of Congress. It's got nothing to do with another.

BURNETT: So I want to ask you, look, you've been saying you're going for the truth and you have obviously said impeachment is not your goal in the past. But there are some in your party who are moving and moving aggressively in that direction. Some of them in Congress. Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters today tweeted "For the faint of heart, who've been waiting for every T to be crossed and every I to be dotted, now is the time to demonstrate your patriotism. Support impeachment."

I guess she's referring to people like you, those faint of heart, what do you say, Chairman, to her?

ENGEL: Well, I think impeachment is premature. I don't think that we should be doing anything that simply works up to impeachment. I think that we should be doing things because we care about the Republic and I think impeachment is the farthest thing from my mind. I mean, first of all, it's not a matter of just impeachment. It would be a matter of impeachment or conviction and we're nowhere near that.

So I think we should not waste our time right now talking about what may or may not happen down the road. But we should do our job in terms of investigating and that's what every Congress is supposed to do to the executive branch.

BURNETT: And you are investigating or requesting, right, along with the Chairman of the Intelligence and Oversight Committees. You've sent letters to the White House requesting detailed information on communications between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. You want the documents, you want the interviews with knowledge of the context, translators, do you think you're going to get everything you want? Have they responded?

ENGEL: Well, we haven't gotten a response yet. I would hope that we get a response. Look, it's been several months, long time since Helsinki when Putin and Trump met. We still don't know what went on there. There's all kinds of conflicting reports about documents being shredded or torn up. The interpreters are the only ones that were in the room with Putin and Trump. We don't know. We want to know the truth. That's all we're looking to find out.

BURNETT: All right, I want to ask you about another big story tonight that you're in the center of, you helped draft a resolution condemning anti-semitism after some more controversial comments from the freshman Congressman Ilhan Omar, who is one of two Muslim women now in Congress. And just so our viewers understand the whole story, because it is a very significant one. Here's Suzanne Malveaux.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ILHAN OMAR, UNITED STATES CONGRESSWOMAN: I know how it feels to be hated because of my religious beliefs. I am proof that as Americans, we can embrace our differences.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN(off-camera): Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar sworn into office just two months ago, now facing an extraordinary public admonishment from her own party for several controversial comments about Israel supporters and American politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK SCHUMER, UNITED STATES SENATOR: Her remarks were reprehensible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take the floor with some other top Democrats with the resolution which does not mention Omar by name. "Acknowledges the dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti- Semitic stereotypes" and "rejects anti-semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance." The most recent issue for many of her fellow Democrats, Omar's remark criticizing Israel at this town hall last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OMAR: I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[19:10:05]

MALVEAUX: The ADL and some Jewish lawmakers strongly denouncing her comments as anti-semitic. President Trump seizing on her past comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Congressman Omar is terrible what she said and I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Omar fighting back tweeting "I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I'm not pro Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks."

It's not the first time Omar's comments had generated controversy. Last month, Pelosi called Omar's tweets deeply offensive after Omar described the impact of pro Israel lobbyist in the U.S. as all about the Benjamins baby. Omar later apologized saying, "Anti-semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-semitic tropes. This is why I unequivocally apologize."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And I just want to make sure everyone had the full story there, Chairman. So, obviously, you've written this resolution, you do not name her in the resolution by name, but it's clearly aimed at her just like the resolution about Steve King and white supremacy was aimed at him even though he wasn't mentioned.

Congresswoman Omar has a pattern of similar comments. Do you think she is an anti-Semite?

ENGEL: I don't throw names around. I think the remark she's made have been very troubling. I've spoken out very publicly and forcefully about it and saying that she should apologize. Look, you hope that people get elected to office and they grow. I would hope the same thing would happen to her. But I'm not going to sit silent as long as there are people who are yelling out anti-semitic tropes or anti anything tropes, by the way.

I'm opposed to Islamophobia. I'm opposed to hatred of any group. So I certainly am not going to be quiet when there's anti-semitism. I fought against anti-semitism my whole life.

BURNETT: And I want to ask you when you mention Islamophobia, there is talk tonight that you may add language into this so it isn't just about condemning anti-semitism, it also be condemning Islamophobia or anti-Muslim bias. Are you going to add that wording in or are you going to keep this specifically to anti-semitism?

ENGEL: Well, first of all it's not up to me. The leadership has been looking at it and the whole bunch of people have put their imprint on it and has said what we think would happen. So I think a lot of things is still being decided as we're talking now.

BURNETT: And I know when we talk about white supremacy, people understandably in some cases want to call something out as racist or white supremacist and not say that the person doing it is a racist. So they'll say, "That's a racist comment." But they don't want to say the person is a racist. And I just want to understand with Congresswoman Omar, it's clear what you're saying is that some of the things she has said have been clearly anti-semitic, but you just don't want to level the word, the charge anti-Semite at her.

ENGEL: Well, I'm hoping that she'll grow and she'll change. I'm hoping. Some people change their beliefs, I'm hoping she'll change hers. I think what she said was wrong and hurtful. I think she should understand that and I've been very vocal about it and I feel very against strongly and certainly against anti-semitism, but I think these tropes are not to be washed away and the same thing again for anti anything.

We need to have discussions here in Washington not on the basis of race or religion or national origin, but on what's best for the American people.

BURNETT: You're the Chairman of a really important committee, Foreign Affairs, this is the center of a lot and it's certainly the center of this discussion about Israel. At what point do you say to her, Congresswoman Omar, "Look, you're not on this committee anymore." You strip her of her seat. Are you close to that or at that point?

ENGEL: No. I am not close to it. First of all, it's not up to me. This is done by the leadership. I don't know that that would do anything except exacerbate the situation even more. I'm looking to get rid of anti-semitism. I'm not looking to punish anybody. I think that it's very important that we keep our eye on the prize and I think that whenever there is hatred being spewed or again at racism, anti- semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, I think we have to speak out and that's what I'm doing here.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much, Chairman.

ENGEL: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, President Trump says the growing number of investigations are Nothing but payback.

[19:15:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They cannot stand the loss. They could not stand losing in 2016.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Plus, the House Intelligence Committee hiring of a former federal prosecutor to investigate Trump. A man whose experience is going after Russians. What does that mean? And other than Trump's family, she may know the most about President Trump. So just who is Trump's longtime assistant Rhona Graff and what do Democrats want from her now?

Tonight, revenge for 2016. That's what Trump claims behind House Democrats sweeping investigation on him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What the Democrats want to do, they cannot stand the loss, they could not stand losing in 2016, the anger. And they just haven't gotten used to the fact that we won a lot of states that haven't been won by Republicans in a long time. But essentially, what they're saying is the campaign begins ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: The campaign begins now? Well, OutFront now, CNN Political Commentators Keith Boykin and former Clinton White House Aide and Scott Jennings, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. Keith, the campaign begins now. He says it's all about anger and sour grapes.

KEITH BOYKIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE UNDER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I think the campaign began a long time ago actually when President Trump won the election, he never stopped campaigning. And what happened is that Republicans were in control of Congress for two years and they had no oversight, no accountability. They didn't ask any questions about his violation of the emolument clause. [19:20:02]

They didn't ask any questions about the nepotism and hiring of people in his family. They didn't ask any questions about Jared Kushner's security clearance. They didn't ask any questions about the $25 million fraud settlement that he paid two days before he took office.

They spent years investigating Hillary Clinton over Benghazi and they won't ask the basic questions that the American people need to know, where are Donald Trump's tax returns, what are his finances about, he hasn't divested his business from his personal holdings. So the American people are finally getting to know the answers to these questions through this oversight and it's overdue.

BURNETT: What do you say, Scott? I mean is this actually what the President wants, the more investigation is the better right now?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think the Democrats may have played into his hands a little bit. The sweeping nature of all of these letters that went out today may appear to some Americans like a Festivus like airing of grievances rather than legitimate government oversight. I mean this looks like they're going after anyone who has ever been within a hundred feet of Donald Trump and it's going to seem like overreach.

Now, that's not to say there aren't legitimate areas of oversight that they could explore, but when you do it in this omnibus fashion I think the President is going to find some sympathy out there for people who think these folks don't have any interest in governing, they just have an interest in paralyzing this administration and anyone who's ever met Donald Trump.

BURNETT: Well, some of the sympathy ever come from you, Keith. When the President says, "Oh, just get back to work." This is going to be the new thing. "Let's do infrastructure." Fill in the blank, jobs, you name, it let's go do immigration, whatever. It sounded a lot like somebody you know.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'd rather see them do legislation. We negotiate out legislation with so many things. Actually, things that we agree on like infrastructure, but they want to focus on nonsense.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These allegations are false and I need to go back to work for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Go back to work. All of this is a sideshow. It sounded exactly like his friend, Bill Clinton.

BOYKIN: Well, yes, and remember that Republicans including Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell voted to impeach and remove Bill Clinton from the White House as President. And now, they don't want to do any investigation over Donald Trump who is the least transparent President in American history. The first president since Nixon not to release his tax returns and the only president in the entire history of the United States who had no public service, government experience before he come into office.

So we know nothing about him except for this carefully calculated curated public relations facade that he presented to us through the reality television. We don't know anything about his background. It's just what he tells us. The American people have trusted this man to be our commander-in-chief of the military and the leader of our country and we don't know anything about who he's really working for.

This is not an overreach. It took so much time to get to this point that that's the reason why you have 81 different letters sent out.

BURNETT: So Scott when you hear Chairman Engel say this is about the truth and Chairman Nadler say the same thing yesterday and you've got 81 people getting letters. Do you believe them, impeachment is the farthest thing in his mind as Chairman Engel just said?

JENNINGS: I do not believe them. Number one, if you look at all the polling out there, Democrats overwhelmingly want to impeach this President. Number two, these people who in House leadership have to respond to the left wing of their party who are desperate and bloodthirsty to get this President. I do think Donald Trump has a point. A lot of this is about revenge. A lot of this is about not getting over an election.

Again, there may be legitimate areas of oversight. I do not dispute that, but I think a lot of this is going to be looking like overreach and this is the great danger for the Democrats, overreaching on this and hurting themselves going into the next election.

BURNETT: Well, you do have a fight within your own party, Chairman Engel, I couldn't have politely slap down Maxine Waters any more than he did. She's like, "Come on, you faint of heart." And the response from people like him is, "It's the farthest thing from my mind. Basically, it would be irresponsible."

BOYKIN: Well, I mean, there are some people who want to see Donald Trump impeach clearly and there's some people who want to wait and see what happens. There's still a Mueller investigation going on. But the one thing that is clear I think that's true for all Democrats is that there is a clear sense of hypocrisy between what Donald Trump did when he was a candidate and a private citizen to what he's doing as President.

Remember, he demanded everything about Barack Obama, his birth certificate, his college transcripts and he won't release any information about his own life or his own background. He's even hiding his high school transcripts. I mean, this is the exact element of hypocrisy from Donald Trump.

BURNETT: Scott, you got to agree with that.

JENNINGS: You know what, I think if the Democrats want to fight about and complain about Donald Trump's high school transcripts while he's talking about having a revved up economy going into 2020 that's a debate I'll take.

BOYKIN: What about his tax returns, Scott? What about his tax returns, Scott?

JENNINGS: That's a debate I'll take.

BOYKIN: How do we know who he's working for? How do we know what his interests are with Russia or Saudi Arabia or any other government that he seems to be coddling right now? Unless we have full disclosure. And mind you, this is not the position that Republicans took when Barack Obama was President or when Bill Clinton was President, so at least admit that your being inconsistent.

[19:25:01]

OK, thank you.

JENNINGS: I think these kinds of issues that you're raising are legitimate issues for a political campaign, which is different than trying to ruin 81 lives with congressional oversight that has the intent of paralysis and not legitimate governing.

BURNETT: All right. We'll hit pause on that. OutFront next, the Trump Organization facing new questions tonight, a new investigation and it came from Michael Cohen's testimony. Was it a crucial tip-off? Plus, President Trump's longtime gatekeeper, Rhona Graff, one of the 81 people Democrats want to hear from. Why? She could be the key to the Trump investigations.

New tonight, another probe into the Trump Organization. A source confirming to CNN that New York's Department of Financial Services sent a nine-page subpoena to Trump Org.'s longtime insurance broker, Aon. This after Michael Cohen accused President Trump of inflating assets under oath. OutFront now, former Federal Prosecutor Laura Coates, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Harry Sandick, and our Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash.

Harry, so let's just be clear if Cohen knows about this, it happened when Trump would be running Trump Organization. So could Trump Org. be in trouble?

HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes. It's a very interesting development and you can see sort of the dominoes falling. Cohen somehow comes up in the Mueller investigation. They send it to the Southern District. Based on what he pleads guilty to there, he gets called before Congress. He gets asked questions about insurance issues by Congressman Ocasio-Cortez based on his answers. Now, there's an investigation by Department of Financial Services. We can see the connections and the links between all of these investigations and so now it's another, and we've lost count, another possible path of investigation that should concern the President.

[19:30:05]

BURNETT: Right, and, Laura, let's be clear, right? If Cohen knows about it, as I said, it means it happened when Trump was running Trump Organization. They were there together. By all accounts, the president at the time, Mr. Donald Trump, knew everything going on at Trump Org.

No one would be cooking the books without him knowing. Could this end up on his doorstep?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And in fact, you already see the parallel investigations going on into this thing. It's almost like we were all tipped off the second Michael Cohen used the first and last name of Allen Weisselberg, when he's talking about David Pecker and AMI, his name has come up about 200 more times even in the course of testimony linking him to the person who would have information about the inflation of assets among other things.

It's very clear that not only will Weisselberg have information about Donald Trump but also his father. He's been a long-running part of the Trump Organization. We already know there's been lots of investigations into all of these things.

BURNETT: So, Dana, you know, as Harry mentioned, it was the freshman Democratic Senator Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez who raised this issue of -- and I want to ask you whether I'm using the right word here, but inflating assets, possible fraud. Here's the exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: Yes.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Who else knows that the president did this?

COHEN: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman, and Matthew Calamari.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And where would the committee find more information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?

COHEN: Yes, and you would find it at the Trump Org.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: It was an important exchange for her.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was. Now, to be clear, "The New York times" had done reporting based on anonymous sources about five days earlier talking about the fact that Michael Cohen --

BURNETT: That's where they got the question. BASH: Exactly, had gone to and spoken to prosecutors in New York

about this very issue. Having said that, we know in our business and your business, a follow-up question is half the battle. And getting him to say that under oath was huge. Absolutely huge.

BURNETT: Yes.

BASH: The question is how much does the Southern District already have or know based on that reporting and also CNN's reporting from a couple months ago that they had already been looking into Trump Org, asking for documents, asking to talk to senior officials there. These are dots that are now being connected about what that topic was, and potential other topics as well.

BURNETT: And to be clear, Harry, you know, we talk about inflating assets. This could be fraud. This is a very serious thing. This isn't just trying to get a little extra money on your home on Zillow.

SANDICK: No, absolutely not. And so, in the federal system, you have wire fraud and mail fraud to the extent wires and mails were used to commit this. And in the state system, you know, separate and apart from the Department of Justice headed by the president's appointees, insurance is typically a state regulated matter.

That's why we see the New York Department of Financial Services. It used to be the insurance commissioner of New York. That's part of what is conducting this investigation. So, you could be state charges too.

BURNETT: All right. So, also new tonight, Laura, Adam Schiff is hiring a man named Daniel Goldman to lead the House Intelligence Committee's probe into Trump, and his resume is perhaps very significant.

Assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York for ten years. He was the deputy chief of the district's organized crime unit. He has a record of fighting Russian organized crime in particular, racketeering, gambling, and money laundering, and he's won convictions against the acting boss of the Genovese crime family when it comes to racketeering and murder.

Should Trump be worried about Goldman leading this?

COATES: Absolutely. And really, it's not so much the Russian connection, although that does add a different level of intrigue to the fact that Adam Schiff and members of the committee are probably looking at this in a similar way to the way the mafia operates. And precisely because the testimony of Michael Cohen that also corroborates that, the idea that a lot of this case will be built, if any, against the president of the United States and the investigation based not on direct statements or orders but a lot of innuendo and the assumption of what one wants through their body language or the pats on the back that come later. Much the way you prosecute actual mob cases.

What's most interesting about his particular resume is the themes that have Manafort and Cohen all over it, money laundering, conspiracy related crimes. These are things that have already met the intrigue of Mueller and the SDNY and they want someone to be able to unpack it and figure out where to go from here.

He was also a frequent commentator on MSNBC. He's once a commentator on this network as well, talking about these issues. Just the way the president looks for people to praise him, this person has been critical and justifiably so about these topics.

BURNETT: Harry, Schiff selection of Goldman is significant?

SANDICK: Yes, it's a very sensible thing to look to the Southern District alumni network, as other people have before, to try to find people like Dan who have prosecuted organized crime cases, looking at organizations, people who feel loyalty to the leader of an organization, trying to work with cooperating witnesses.

[19:35:19] These are some of the challenges that the Schiff committee will face. So it's sensible for him to have reached out to somebody like Dan.

BURNETT: And yet Trump's response, Dana, today, of course, on Twitter, you know, bringing crooked Hillary Clinton, as he always does, and saying the Democratic heads of the committees have gone stone cold crazy, he puts in caps. Is it getting to him?

BASH: Oh, it's obviously getting to him, but it's also tactical. It is part of now the classic Trump move that we have seen so many times, which is go after the people who are going after you. You know, signal to the base that they should be fired up and just throw as much as he can out there at the people who are trying to investigate. I wouldn't even say attacking, trying to investigate him in order to muddy it as much as possible for political reasons, never mind legal reasons.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much.

And next, her name came up again and again during Michael Cohen's testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Rhona. Ms. Rhona.

COHEN: Rhona Graff is the -- Mr. Trump's executive assistant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And now, Democrats want to talk to her. What does she know?

And an American physician allegedly tortured in Saudi Arabia, reportedly blindfolded, beaten, and electrocuted. Why is the president silent?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:40:34] BURNETT: New tonight, Trump's gate keeper, Rhona Graff, Trump's personal assistant of 30-plus years, facing growing scrutiny amid mounting congressional investigations.

Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congressional investigators digging in to President Trump's family business, campaign, and administration are going straight for Trump's long time assistant.

COHEN: Rhona Graff is the -- Mr. Trump's executive assistant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would she be able to corroborate many of the statements you have made here?

COHEN: Yes, her office is directly next to his, and she's involved in a lot that went on.

MURRAY: After Michael Cohen pointed lawmakers to Rhona Graff in his congressional testimony, the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee followed up with an expansive document request aimed at 81 individuals and entities including Graff.

Graff has worked for the billionaire businessman for three decades. She was Trump's gate keeper. Those who wanted to reach Trump often had to go through her first.

DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: Rhona, let me have the call, please?

MURRAY: Trump reportedly doesn't use e-mail or text message so she often coordinated his calls, even providing at times a coded system for callers who needed to get through. The woman behind the scenes also took her occasional turn in the spotlight.

TRUMP: Rhona, come here. I'm going to make you a star.

MURRAY: Even appearing on NBC's "The Apprentice."

RHONA GRAFF, TRUMP'S EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT: Hi, this is Rhona of Mr. Trump's office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He asked me to call you and tell you to meet him tomorrow morning at the New York Stock Exchange.

MURRAY: Despite her loyalty to Trump, she passed on a job at the White House to remain in New York with her family, but soon, Washington came to her. Investigators from the House Intelligence Committee then led by Republicans interviewed her as part of their Russia probe in December 2017. Now, Democrats are following up with a lengthy wish list for her, which includes documents pertaining to payments to Michael Cohen or American Media Inc., the parent company of "The National Enquirer", to benefit Trump or his campaign, Russian investments in the Trump family business, Trump Tower Moscow, the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, contacts involving WikiLeaks, and communications involving Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: If there are bodies buried somewhere in the Trump organization and somewhere in Donald Trump's campaign or even his more distant past, Rhona Graff would be able to point out where they lie.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, we obviously don't know what kind of documentation Rhona Graff has and if she will willingly hand it over to the committee. If she does cooperate, Erin, she will be a potential treasure trove of information.

BURNETT: All right, Sara. I would say, over many years, calling over there, always a very gracious person. Fascinating now that she's in the center of this.

Thank you so much.

And next, Saudi Arabia accused of torturing a U.S. citizen. So, why is President Trump not speaking out?

And the president doesn't just salute the American flag. No, no, no.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:47:21] BURNETT: Tonight, President Trump's silent, not speaking out about an American held in Saudi Arabia who allegedly has been beaten, tortured, and jailed. Dr. Walid Fitaihi studied and trained at George Washington and Harvard. He is a dual citizen. He returned to Saudi Arabia to found a hospital, speaking out on human rights.

He was then among those detained in the Saudi crown prince's purge of his rivals on a corrupt anticorruption spree in 2017. Fitaihi was held in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, and according to his lawyer, he has yet to be charged with a crime. He says he's been beaten and tortured to a point he's had to be sent to a prison hospital.

Now, before his murder, Jamal Khashoggi tweeted about Fitaihi's detention, drawing attention to it. Khashoggi wrote in part, what happened to us? How can we arrest the likes of Dr. Walid Fitaihi? How can we justify it?

Many people, of course, asking those same questions after Khashoggi himself was murdered in a horrific fashion. A murder the U.S. intelligence community has concluded was directed by the Saudi crown prince himself.

OUTFRONT now is CNN exclusive interview, Howard Cooper, Dr. Fitaihi's attorney and friend.

I appreciate your time. I hope that by talking to you, we can draw more attention to this and hopefully change this horrific situation.

I mean, Howard, what do you think the Saudis have done to your friend, Dr. Fitaihi?

HOWARD COOPER, ATTORNEY FOR DR. WALID FITAIHI, AMERICAN DETAINED IN SAUDI ARABIA: Well, Erin, as you said in your lead-up here, it's clear that Dr. Fitaihi has been both physically tortured and psychologically abused. He's been incommunicado for the most part for about 15 months, since November of 2017. The reports of his torture are obviously horrific.

But this is a man who has been imprisoned, kept away from his family, with no charge, with no understanding as to why he's there, and you know, in violation of really just basic human rights.

BURNETT: Have they given any reason for his detention? And alleged treatment?

COOPER: None.

BURNETT: None, none at all. No response.

COOPER: None whatsoever. No response.

BURNETT: So they haven't even said what they allege he did, nothing?

COOPER: Nothing.

BURNETT: All right. You know, look, it's awful when you hear this, and it's awful when you hear the response, which of course, has been deafening silence. I want to play for you, Howard, something President Trump said about the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman's involvement in Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Here's the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I hate the crime. I hate what's done.

[19:50:01] 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: Of course, I got to say it again, right? That's not the reality. The CIA concluded that the crown prince personally directed it, Khashoggi's murder. Do you think MBS is giving the same story to President Trump about Dr. Fitaihi?

COOPER: Well, Erin, it's impossible obviously for me to know. But if Dr. Fitaihi has been languishing in a Saudi prison without any process whatsoever. He's an American citizen.

What's happening to him in a country that's supposed to be allied with the United States and enjoys the relationships with the highest levels of our government is mystifying. That said, you know, there's man here and family involved here, and the hope is that now that Dr. Fitaihi's situation is coming to the attention of the public, that President Trump or his son-in-law, Jared Kushner will use their close relationship to somehow convince the Saudis and to call upon the Saudis to release Dr. Fitaihi and let him and his family travel to the United States.

BURNETT: You know, Jared Kushner was just over with the crown prince and he's been over there multiple times since his imprisonment. Do you know that he's said anything to MBS yet?

COOPER: We have no information that there's been any communication at all at that level. And let's keep in mind this is a gentleman who is non-political in is a man who got his medical degree at George Washington University and at Harvard, who was in the United States for many years, several decades, worked at the renown Joslin Clinic outside of Boston and went back to Saudi Arabia to fulfill his dream of using his family's wealth to build a hospital.

And before he was arrested, Dr. Fitaihi was running a hospital and he was a motivational speaker, someone who is talking about mental health issues in Saudi Arabia. He had a huge following. And, Mr. Khashoggi had it right. What could possibly have been the thinking about arresting a gentleman like this? He's an intellectual and it's really just impossible to understand how he is being held for this long or at all, frankly, in a Saudi prison.

BURNETT: And I just want to make a point. People who are arrested as part of that 2017 purge, there's no one on that list, there's no one in prison now. There's no one that's gone through anything that's happening right now who has not done so at the direction of MBS.

COOPER: That is certainly our understanding.

BURNETT: OK.

COOPER: This is a situation where with a telephone call to MBS, the White House could insist that Dr. Fitaihi be released and he and his family will allowed to leave the country and come to the United States.

BURNETT: So, last week, the president tweeted about another American who had been released from Yemen, a hostage. His tweet said in part, we will not rest as we continue our work to bring the remaining American hostages back home. We work every day to bring Americans home.

Why do you think that hasn't happened?

COOPER: My fervent hope on behalf of his -- my fervent hope on behalf of Walid Fitaihi and his family is that President Trump will do what he said in that tweet and work tirelessly to bring this man home. As I said, he's an American citizen. And it's simply outrageous what's been happening to him.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you so very much for joining us and for making sure that more people know about this in the hopes that something can be done. Thank you so much. COOPER: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And, next, a much lighter note. Jeanne is after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:57:50] BURNETT: Trump gets his snuggle on with Old Glory.

Here's Jeanne.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ever since the flag hugger in chief did this the other day, the president holding and murmuring sweet nothings to the Stars and Stripes has led to strife.

JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: Who does that?

MOOS: If that flag could tweet, it would say hashtag, metoo.

But one man's grope is another's patriotic caress of Old Glory, which the White House tweeting a photo captioned, America. And Donald Trump Instagrammed, oh, hell, yes. Supporters posted, awe. I love when he hugs the flag. Makes me teary.

We hug our precious flag that stands for so much. The other side burns it.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: I believe that's the first time flag has ever volunteered to be burned.

MOOS: Colbert concocted a soft core commercial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you physically attracted to flags? Just can't keep your hands off then call today.

MOOS: Kimmel also flogged the flag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now you can own a piece of history. A flag embraced by the United States. Gaze proudly upon the orange stain left by the president's face.

MOOS: In real life, you can actually buy vinyl stickers of the presidential flag embrace as well as posters. Some would rather unsee it. Someone else turned it into a sail that's capsizing a boat.

Critics pointed out that President Trump isn't the only flag loving leader. That's Venezuela's former leader planting a smooch on his flag.

Snuggling with the Stars and Stripes is nothing new. President Trump is a serial flag hugger.

He's done it around half a dozen times. At least he's consistent. He only locks his arms around the American flag.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Just Jeanne to find something I hadn't noticed. Why did he serially hug the flag?

Thanks for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT any time. Just go to CNN Go.

"AC360" starts now.