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Trump Admin. Official: Border Closure Would Be "Catastrophic"; White House Official: "We Could Be In A Whole World Of Hurt" If Trump Shuts Down Southern Border; Trump Threatens To Shut Down Southern Border As WH Official Warns: We Are In For A "World of Hurt"; Mayor Tony Martinez (D) Texas Is Interviewed About The Process To Vet Individuals In Detention Centers; Whistleblower: WH Approved Security Clearances For 25 People Despite "Serious Disqualifying Issues"; Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) Virginia Is Interviewed About The Concerns Of The Whistleblower; Source: Allegations Won't Dissuade Biden From Running; Source: Allegations Won't Dissuade Biden from Running as Second Woman Alleges Him of Unwanted Touching; Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) Oregon is Interviewed About Abolishing Electoral College. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 1, 2019 - 19:00   ET


DREW GRIFFIN, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: ... facing real problems because they have many more of these 737 Maxes in their fleets, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN: Drew Griffin reporting for us. Drew, thanks very much. Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, CNN: OutFront next, a world of hurt. A White House official says that's what Americans could be facing as Trump threatens to shut the southern border this week. Plus, voters weigh in on accusations against Joe Biden. What women are saying tonight? And you may be surprised by this one. And Beto O'Rourke meeting with cheers as he calls for an end of the Electoral College. This is Democrats take the first step toward abolishing it, good idea or sore losers? Let's go OutFront.

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, a whole world of hurt that from a Trump administration official who tells CNN it would be quote catastrophic if the President shuts down the southern border this week. It is a drastic step, but it is one that could come at any moment from this President on Twitter. He has repeatedly said he is willing to do it and do it this week, if Mexico does not do more to stop the flow of migrants crossing the southern border.

The President's acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney says it can be done and here's how.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We need border security and we're going to do the best we can with what we have. If closing the ports of entry mean that, that's exactly what he intends to do.


BURNETT: Intends to do. But, of course, the devil is in the details because just shutting the southern border is not really easy. OK, forget all the parts that aren't former border crossings, the whole wall discussion. The border itself all-in it is about 1,900 miles long, a little bit more. There are more than two dozen ports of entry. So it would be a massive feat with a massive price tag.

According to Forbes, when it comes to trade alone, not even including at all the cost of actually doing the shutting and enforcing it trade alone would cost the United States' economy roughly $1.7 billion a day, a day, and the states that would feel the most pain, you can see them on this map. OK. The red.

Of the top 10 of them, all but California, are actually red states. Illinois, I'm sorry, California, Illinois, all of the rest voted for Trump of 2016 including, let's just say, Michigan. The President barely won that by two-tenths of one percentage point. It is a huge risk to hurt those states. Is it the one the President really will take? Well, he certainly hasn't shied away from making the threat.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mexico is going to have to do something, otherwise I'm closing the border. I'll just close the border. There's a very good likelihood that I'll be closing the border next week and that'll be just fine with me.


BURNETT: Abby Phillip is OutFront live at the White House tonight. Abby, the President showing no signs that he's going to back down from that threat. Of course, at this point all of this is a threat, but he's been pretty explicit that the timing could be in the next few days.

ABBY PHILLIP, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Exactly. And in some ways this is not the first time that the President has done it, but aides within the White House and the administration are a little bit on the edge today as they try to figure out exactly when President Trump might make a decision like this and whether he might do it at all. This is something that has been kicked around in the White House for months and months. They've gone through all of the various scenarios for what this might look like and the economic damage being a key point here that aides have raised to the President as to why it's not a good idea.

But we're hearing that obviously he's upset about what's going on at the border. He's angry that no one is doing anything about it and the President who has, at one point said, "I alone can fix it," wants to be the one to do something about it even if it means billions of dollars in damage to the U.S. economy. Aides told CNN this afternoon that it's anyone's guess what he's going to do, some of them are looking at Twitter just like the rest of us. But they've also pointed out that there's been not really much of a decision-making process in the White House around this and that they haven't really gamed out how long a closure could last, what it might even look like.

And so with that in mind, there's a sense that perhaps the President is not quite at a decision point yet. He's obviously going to the border on Friday, but this situation is getting so dire and so serious and it's causing him so much anger really that I think aides believe that he could be serious this time around. One thing that's also being considered within the White House according to sources is perhaps naming some kind of immigration czar to deal with this issue of illegal crossings of the southern border.

That's an idea that's been talked around from her months and months, sort of like closing the border. But again at this very moment when the President feels like the situation is at a crisis point, all of these things have come back on to the table. It's anyone's guess whether he'll go forward, but it's clear that within the White House many people around the President have been making this argument that the damage to the US economy would be equal to what it is to Mexico if not greater.

Mexico being the second largest trading partner to the United States, so that argument has been made to President Trump. The problem is this is a President who wants Mexico to do more.


And he is convinced that this is the way to do it even though aides also tell him that closing the ports of entry, for example, it's not going do anything about illegal crossings between ports of entry, so it may not even solve that problem either, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Abby. I appreciate it. So let's go now to Tony Martinez. He is the Democratic Mayor of Brownsville Texas. So, obviously, you're on the front line of what we're seeing right now, Mayor. Good to have you back on the show.

So just trying to understand about what exactly you are seeing right now. We understand there's 2,000 migrants have been released as of Friday in the Rio Grande Valley, about 300 everyday in Brownsville alone. Can you explain to us what the process is to vet these individuals? They're coming in and now being released out of detention centers, so what's the vetting that is happening?

TONY MARTINEZ, MAYOR, BROWNSVILLE: Well, I think the probably the most important part is that everybody understands that these people cannot be given over to us without their paperwork being processed by the Customs and Border Protection officials. So they generally come to us with all of their paperwork, they also have to be cleared from a health standpoint and what we, again, we had happened last week was we had some health issues with some of the folks and we've resolved those.

And then on Saturday they presented to us about a hundred folks that did not have their documentation even though they had been processed, but they were released without the paperwork given to them as they should have been done. But thus far we have a system in place that we have a drop-off point. We tried to get them transported to wherever their final destination is as quickly as we possibly can. And if there are some impediment, then they will be taken to the shelter, given some food, clothing if need be and taken care of until we can get them transported.

BURNETT: So when people hear about all of these individuals being released from detention centers, it sounds like you're saying that you do know who they are, they have been vetted. You're able to say for sure none of these people being released are criminal. They're going to appear in court as ordered on their court date. You're a hundred percent confident in that, Mayor?

MARTINEZ: Well, I'm as confident as confident can be in the sense that I've been working in the shelter for the last couple of days and I've experienced this migration situation for a good part of the last three or four years on a very, very special personal way. So they come with telephone numbers, we get those telephone numbers, we call the relatives. We say we already have arrangements for transportation or if you don't, go ahead and make some arrangements so that we can get them going to your house or wherever it is that they're going.

So, no, we've got a good system. We can handle whatever we've got going right now at this particular point. I think what's important to the public is to know that this uncertainty of how many of they're going to release is something that we've been talking with the Customs and Border Patrol about. And so therefore they have really worked pretty well with us, but for some reason lately it's been a little bit different.

BURNETT: OK. So let me just - there's two things I want to get to the bottom of. One, it sounds like you're saying you're able to handle the numbers that are coming through. This whole you're inundated, overwhelmed, it's flooding, it's out of control, you take issue with that first, am I right?

MARTINEZ: Right. No, no, no, we feel very comfortable. We're very well-organized. We're very well-prepared and the numbers haven't overwhelmed us at this particular point. And I don't anticipate that they will as best as I've seen it thus far.

BURNETT: OK, the second point that I wanted to just put an exclamation point on because the President uses this as a talking point. Crime, you're sure that criminals aren't being released.

MARTINEZ: We haven't had any increase in crime. As a matter of fact we're the 54th safest city in the United States and I think as of this year just even the homicide has been reduced, I think we had four homicides last year, we have just one this year. So we have a very, very good police --

BURNETT: Right. I know, I understand exactly you're saying, Mayor. But I mean I'm talking about someone that might go on somewhere else. Every time you get a headline like the headline in New Jersey right now, the headline --



MARTINEZ: Yes. Yes, no, I don't know how they can get through the process, they have a criminal check. So by the time that we get them, I mean unless something goes wrong between now and whenever something happens that's untoward society. But for the most part, I mean, all of these people --

BURNETT: They've already been checked.

MARTINEZ: I mean, I see a lot of kids.


MARTINEZ: Yes, they've already been checked and they wouldn't be given to us if they had criminal records to begin with.


BURNETT: And so what's going to happen to these kids, where are some of these families going?

MARTINEZ: They're going all over the United States to be honest with you. I mean this past weekend we've had people gone to Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky and I think probably we're basically just a way station for these fellows or these people to finally get to their final destination. And I think that's where your biggest problem is going to be in the long run. You're going to have to figure out how do you - we know the impact here, but they're here for a very short period of time, what's the impact on the other communities.

BURNETT: So let me ask you, because as you know it could happen any moment, any hour, any day. In the next few days, the President has threatened to close the border. He seems very serious about it. Look, a lot of people around him don't want him to do it, they say they'd be a bad for trade, it could hurt people. The word catastrophic was used by one White House official.

But he seems very serious. Mayor, what would happen if the President goes ahead with this and closes the border? What would you think happens?

MARTINEZ: It'd be disastrous for us to be honest with you. We have probably about - I have three ports of entry here and we have approximately 10,000 vehicles coming across on a daily basis. We've got about three or 4,000 people that cross on a pedestrian level. The trade, we have a lot of auto parts that come here that we eventually ship out to Ohio and to Michigan.

We have tons of crossings in the sense and we have some agricultural products that right now is the time of the season for the harvest and so it would create an enormous problem for us and I would like to see the administration reconsider those kind of efforts and if there is some sort of end game that we somehow or another coordinate all of our efforts and try to do, how do we solve this problem otherwise you're going to have rising car prices, you're going to have rising food prices. The ripple effect would be tremendous.

BURNETT: All right, Mayor Martinez, thanks for your time again.

MARTINEZ: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next White House whistleblower speaking out claiming dozens of officials were given security clearances despite "serious disqualifying issues." What were they? Well, Democrats are now threatening a subpoena for the White House. And voters reacting to two women who say Joe Biden made them feel uncomfortable. Is it disqualifying? And it's one thing, almost every 2020 Democrat candidate agrees on.


BETO O'ROURKE, 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, let's abolish the Electoral College.



BURNETT: Now Democrats are actually taking steps towards doing it.


Tonight, a whistleblower sounding the alarm on White House security clearance. According to a letter from Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, a career White House staffer who has served both Democrats and Republicans in the White House says that Trump's White House pushed for security clearances despite "serious disqualifying issues." Issues like foreign influence, conflicts of interest, even drug use.

The staffer alleging the White House overruled concerns for 25 individuals and a source tells CNN tonight that two of them were indeed Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. And now, the Oversight Committee plans to issue subpoenas to the White House to find out exactly what went on. Manu Raju is OutFront live on Capitol Hill and Manu what else are Democrats saying this whistleblower told them? These are obviously very serious allegations of widespread seeming abuse.

MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, serious concerns raised by Tricia Newbold who has served in Democratic and Republican administrations for 18 years now working in the Adjudication Manager in the personal security at the White House. She raised concerns not only about the 25 individuals who's security was granted despite these concerns that were raised, but also about systemic problems within the security clearance process at the trump White House.

She alleges to the Democratic and Republican staff on this committee that an unusually high number of people with interim security clearances were given access to classified information after they were later deemed they should not have gotten classified information. She also content there were not adequate staff to review the security clearance process and not adequate security personnel to overlook the personnel files. In her testimony behind closed doors, a day long last month she also made the case that White House officials retaliated against her after she personally raised concerns, even doing things such as putting personal security files up very high so she could not reach them and what she said was an effort of "humiliate her."

Now, Republicans say that she have concerns but they were mainly directed at Carl Kline who was the personal security director at the White House and that's who Elijah Cummings wants to subpoena to interview going forward, but the Republicans say overall her concerns are overblown, but never the less, Erin, Democrats want to make this a big focus, at least, of this Committee's investigation in the days and weeks ahead, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Manu. And OutFront now Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly who sits on the House Oversight Committee. So you've had a chance to hear from her, what have you learned that is most concerning from this whistleblower, Congressman?

GERRY CONNOLLY, OVERSIGHT & GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: I think we had reports about a year ago that there were problems with Mr. Kline being too ready to give interim security clearances to people who's security clearance applications were still pending were problematic. I think we understood that this was a systemic problem that extended to permanent security clearances as well.

This whistleblower says she identified at least 25 individuals who's security clearances should not have been granted or have huge problems that were swept aside.


That's very troubling. We're talking about the White House. We're not talking about a dairy queen and what can go wrong with security clearance having corner shaved in order of expedience or the assistance of somebody get one even if they don't qualify.

BURNETT: Do you acknowledge, Congressman, that the President of the United States does ultimately have the power to do it, it appears he did, to deny or grant security clearances even over the strenuous push back of his security team?

CONNOLLY: Yes, I think is the power of the President that's ultimately in his hands. That doesn't mean he should that power especially when it favors a relative and especially when it overrules a near unanimous set of concerns brought to the attention of the White House about a particular individual and the recommendation they not be given the clearance.

BURNETT: So, obviously, this memo, this letter that we have and that you've, of course, heard from the whistleblower 25 people she says that this happened with. According to the memo by the Republican staff, they've responded, they said Newbold, this is of course the whistleblower, "Newbold pointed to two examples when the Obama White House granted security clearance eligibility to individuals with questionable backgrounds."

And the examples there, one of them was someone with foreign citizenship, another was someone with a drug problem, is that what you're seeing on the Trump list as well? Are those two things that are equal, this is just something that happens in every administration?

CONNOLLY: No. No, they're not equal and as I've said what this whistleblower has said is that this is a systemic problem in this White House and it involves drugs, it involves criminal activity, it involves serious financial issues, it involves contacts with foreign agents and foreign governments not reported or not explained. I filled out a security clearance, all of those things have to be covered satisfactorily before you're granted a security clearance and I wasn't applying for a job in the White House. So it's even more serious when we're talking about the White House and the very height, very top level of U.S. security.

BURNETT: Before you go, Congressman, I want to ask you about your colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee. The Chairman there, Chairman Nadler, plans to hold a vote on Wednesday and that vote is to authorize subpoenas because he wants the full Mueller report. Do you support that or would you say, "Look, you know what, let's wait and see, let's see what Attorney General Bill Barr gives us and if it's not acceptable then we do the subpoenas.

CONNOLLY: I'm deeply concerned Erin that frankly time is not our friend, the longer time goes on the more the false narrative sets in that this is all ancient history. It's all been settled. There's nothing there. We've seen a four page summary, not written by someone named Robert Mueller about a 400-page report written by Robert Mueller.

I think all of us need to see the report and should settle for nothing less. And if that requires a subpoena, so be it.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure.

BURNETT: Congressman Connolly, I appreciate your time.

CONNOLLY: Thanks for having me tonight.

BURNETT: And next, a second woman now accusing Joe Biden of unwanted touching, but what do voters think?



PIA MORRISON, MARYLAND DEMOCRAT: I don't think it's a disqualifier.


BURNETT: Plus, 2020 Democrats getting cheers with this.


O'ROURKE: Yes, let's abolish the Electoral College.

WARREN: Get rid of the Electoral College.


BURNETT: But is that really a good idea?


Tonight, breaking news, a source telling CNN at this hour that the allegations against Joe Biden won't dissuade him from running in 2020. They are noting though that his final decision has still not been made. This comes as tonight we are learning about a second woman who has come forward to allege that the former Vice President touched her inappropriately this at a Connecticut fundraiser in 2009. She says, "It wasn't sexual, but he did grab me by the head," Amy La poste tells The Hartford Courant newspaper, "He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth."

Now, Biden's camp has already spent days on the defense after another woman, Lucy Flores, says Biden smelled her hair and kissed the back of her head at a campaign rally in 2014. Let's go to Jeff Zeleny. So, Jeff, what more do you know about Joe Biden's thinking?

ZELENY: Well, Erin, good evening. We do know that the former Vice President is planning to proceed as he was always going to and likely to jump into this race by all accounts at the end of April or so. Now, all of his advisors that we have spoken to said that this is not going to change his mind. We saw a string a parade of former female staffers coming out in support of him. But, Erin, one thing is clear, if he runs it's a new world order.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, everybody.


ZELENY(off-camera): As Democratic Presidential hopefuls took the stage today in Washington, it was the candidate in waiting, Joe Biden at the center of the conversation.


KATIE METTLE, MARYLAND DEMOCRAT: He kind of has already had the reputation for being kind of handsy and women developed gut instincts for these things. So when someone kind of shows their face, we're like, "Yes, I know who you are."


ZELENY(off-camera): Katie Mettle is passionate about the environment and eager to see Democrats win back the White House.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I'm a tactile politician.


ZELENY(off-camera): She's weighing both as she considers new allegations against the former Vice President.


METTLE: I think that it's perfectly valid to have complex feelings towards people like Joe Biden and I continue to have complex feelings.


ZELENY(off-camera): As voters mingled at one of the largest Democratic gatherings yet of the 2020 campaign, other women said they wanted to hear more from Biden.

MORRISON: I'm willing to allow him to apologize and to evolve and how his thinking around these issues.

ZELENY: It's not a disqualifier?

MORRISON: I don't think it's a disqualifier. I think if we look back over a lot of candidates, they have something that we're concerned about.


ZELENY(off-camera): The conversation comes as Biden is explaining and apologizing for parts of his long record.


BIDEN: Stand and be sworn if you will.


ZELENY(off-camera): Including Anita Hill's testimony during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas.


BIDEN: She's taking advantage of her reputation was attacked. I wish I could have done something and I oppose Clarence Thomas nomination, I voted against him.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZELENY(off-camera): Yet as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee,

critics say he should and could have done more. The allegations against Biden have reverberated across the Democratic Presidential campaign.


Where for the first time in Party history, five candidates are women.


ZELENY: Is it enough in this case though to just say, "Oh, that's just Joe being Joe."

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, here's what I think. I have been through a lot of this in the past year, questions about a lot of other male politicians. And I would say this: if we spend our whole time talking about what men have done or could do, we're never going to talk about what women can do. And my position is we have some extraordinary women running for president right now.


ZELENY: So, Senator Klobuchar, obviously, a Democratic senator from Minnesota, she said she spent a lot of time over the past year talking about male politicians with problems. Of course, Al Franken is who she's referring to there.


ZELENY: We, of course, know that that became the central issue.

So, Erin, the question is this. Not if Joe Biden decides to jump in, it's if any of this can keep him out and change the calculations and what other Democratic candidates choose to use as an issue about this. Will a Kirsten Gillibrand make an issue? Will Elizabeth Warren and others?

So, this is something that changes the Biden calculation, but they say his plans haven't changed -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff.

And I want to go now to our political commentators Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation", and Maria Cardona, Democratic strategist.

So, Maria, you've seen these allegations that are out there. You don't think they are necessarily disqualifying for Joe Biden, why?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, let's be very clear this certainly does not rise to the level of any kind of sexual assault or a sexual allegation, and we just need to remember that. However, I do think that it's -- it depends on how Joe Biden continues to respond to these, whether they are going to be disqualifying. I think that if he apologizes to Lucy Flores, apologizes to this woman

who now has her story in the "Hartford Courant" and he publicly says he needs to go a little bit further than what he's done this far. He needs to acknowledge his behavior has made women uncomfortable and he's gone too far, that he realizes that and that essentially he's going to cut it out. That he's going to check himself on this kind of behavior moving forward.

That means he's not just listened to them, which he says he's doing.

BURNETT: He says he's going to listen.

CARDONA: Exactly. But he's got to do more and acknowledge that his behavior as innocuous, and as innocent as he may say that it is, and I believe that it was. But it's not how he intended it, it's how he made them feel that actually matters and that's what he needs to acknowledge.


JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, "THE NATION": I agree with Maria, it is not necessarily disqualifying. Women voters and men voters will make the decision whether it's disqualifying or not.


WALSH: And I also think he has not quite gone far enough with his semi-apology.

We know that times have changed. They have changed in the adulthoods of three of us, I think it's safe to say. And things that even each of the three of us might have thought, well, it's just boys being boys, it's the cost of doing business in a man's world, we have come to realize it's a violation of our personal space, our integrity.

BURNETT: Although never would I have thought that about an Eskimo, a nose rub. I'm saying that one feels different if indeed that happened.

WALSH: If indeed, that is really in a different realm, and that would always have been uncomfortable. Is that what you're saying?


WALSH: Twenty years ago, that would have been very, very weird.


WALSH: So yes. And I think, you know, I got a release today from his office, and I have to say they are going a little bit far. They are starting to say some of these things are photo shopped. They're saying -- there's a reference to a cottage industry of lies.

We can go on YouTube and maybe some of these things are misunderstood. And we do have a situation where Stephanie Carter, the wife of the former defense secretary, that says that photo that looks awkward, it was not. He was being my friend.

We need to know those things, because it is true. It's all about context. Men can touch -- a close male friend can touch you in a way that a stranger can't. But they really need to be careful not to be too defensive and discrediting these women who are coming forward.

BURNETT: And, Maria, I think it's important to note the politics of this. Number one I want to say just for the record just because something is politically expedient doesn't mean it didn't happen or it should be demeaned because of that.

CARDONA: That's right.

BURNETT: That being said, there is a political element to this. Lucy Flores, right, who is the first who came out on Friday, she supported Bernie Sanders last night. She went to a Beto O'Rourke rally this weekend. And to her credit, when she was asked why she's coming forward now, she said politics is part of the reason. Here she is.


LUCY FLORES, ACCUSED BIDEN OF AWKWARD KISS: I would say politics was definitely the impetus. The reason why we're having these conversations about Vice President Joe Biden is because he's considering running for president. And frankly, the reason why I felt so compelled to finally say something was because over the years as this behavior was documented, as it was frankly dismissed by the media and not taken seriously, that conversation was not coming up in the discussions.


[19:35:15] BURNETT: So, Maria, is this all about Joe Biden being a front-runner? I mean, I have to say I really give her credit for admitting it happened. But, yes, the reason I'm coming out is speak is because he's a front-runner and therefore, I thought it needed to be heard, that seemed very genuine.

CARDONA: Yes, I agree with you. And I do think that people should know the context of it, so that everybody can make their own decisions. But yes, right now he is the front-runner and so, there's a very good possibility, I mean, everyone has a good possibility right now, because we never know how it's going to end, but he could be the nominee.

And so this is the kind of information that needs to be out there. But I also agree with Joan that his campaign, he needs to be careful not to go on the defensive, because one thing that Democrats I don't think have learned our lesson as much as we should is that elections are not so much policy based because we know that Joe Biden from a Democratic standpoint has been great on most policies. He has a terrific record on women's issues overall, right? And that's what his campaign has said, and that's true.

But voters will make decisions viscerally. And if what they keep seeing and hearing are these comments from women who made Joe Biden feel uncomfortable and his instead of apologizing and acknowledging it moving forward, his just being defensive that's not going to bode well for him.

BURNETT: Or defensive. I mean, there's also a point, they're going on offensive. And that's -- I'm not equating at all the allegations, but I am saying in terms of the way of handling it, that's out of someone else's play book.

WALSH: It is. And that's problematic. And I want to say on behalf of Lucy Flores she actually was a whistle-blower in the Sanders campaign about sexism and the way women were treated not by senator Sanders but some of the staff.

So, you know, I think, if we're going to give that context of her being a supporter, we should also say she was willing to say some tough things about her own candidate. He's not her candidate this year. She's not endorsed anyone.

So, I appreciate it was a political decision. He is the front-runner. This is something we need to know, but it's not as if she's out there doing this for Senator Sanders. She's not.

BURNETT: Right. Well, it gives Joe Biden a taste of what he'll have to deal with per se. It has nothing to do with his decision, but I would beat in his heart of hearts that, of course, it will. Thank you both very much.

And next, a growing number of 2020 candidates taking steps to kill the Electoral College.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Electoral College is at this point indefensible.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One person, one vote and get rid of the Electoral College.


BURNETT: I'll talk to a senator who's trying to make that a reality.

Plus, a surprising new twist in the battle between the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and the "National Enquirer", a private investigator hired by Bezos now accusing Saudi Arabia of hacking and leaking explicit texts to Bezos' girlfriend.


[19:41:35] BURNETT: New tonight, growing calls by Democrats to abolish the Electoral College. Beto O'Rourke and Julian Castro greeted by tears today as they called for an end to the way the United States chooses its president. And they're not the only 2020 candidates that are Democrats making that call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should abolish the Electoral College.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, let's abolish the Electoral College.


GILLIBRAND: One person, one vote and get rid of the Electoral College.

BUTTIGIEG: The Electoral College is at this point indefensible.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. He's introduced new legislation proposing a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College. That's what this would take. It's not a small thing, everybody. It's a big deal, it's a big decision. It's what this country was founded upon.

So, Senator, I know you've come to this decision knowing that and having thought through it. This is how this has happened since the founding father has established this country. There's only been two times since 1888 that we have ever had a different person win the popular than the Electoral College. Obviously, they've both have been in this century.

Why do you believe now is the time to get rid of the Electoral College altogether?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Well, we know the Electoral College, Erin, was founded on a routine foundation, that it was founded as an effort, as a strategy to accentuate the strength of those states who were slave states. And there's just no justification for it now.

But think of the modern consequences. It means that any state that leans significantly blue or significantly red gets little attention in the election, and the weight of the voters in that state get little chance to weigh in, if you will. That would change completely if you're on a popular vote, because every citizen's vote would weigh equally, and that's had the way it should be.

BURNETT: So, former Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, says, OK, guys you're making a big stink about this now, i.e. with the Electoral College. He's pretty critical of what you all are saying. And here he is.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), FORMER CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: You talk about the Electoral College, they should get rid of. That's not going to do it. I mean, there's people saying, wait a minute, you have a bunch of babies whining here because they lost the election, something like this. No, show leadership. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: He says you're a bunch of babies whining. Is this just about being a sore loser?

MERKLEY: Well, I think Schwarzenegger needs to learn a bit about American history and the dark side of how the Electoral College was founded, and it also wouldn't hurt for him to embrace the notion that whoever wins the election with the most support of the most citizens should be the person who takes the office. That's the fundamental nature of democracy.

BURNETT: But you're only making this stand now after Hillary Clinton won the popular -- this isn't something I've heard people argue about before. There is this event that happened and then it became a big deal.

MERKLEY: Well, it's true. It's been in the conversation for a long time. I remember back in high school this question being debated. But certainly in history has shown we have a system that the flaws have been exposed in. And it diminishes the legitimacy of our president which is something we should be concerned about.

BURNETT: Before we go, Senator, I want to ask you about Vice President Joe Biden. He has just come out, we're hearing now from sources, that he has not been dissuaded from his decision one way or another by the allegations out there, including one from Lucy Flores. Of course, you're familiar with that. A campaign rally she says in Nevada when he touched her inappropriately.

[19:45:01] Biden has not fully apologized, but he has said: In my many years on the campaign trail and public life, I've offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once -- never -- did I believe I acted inappropriately. There's now another allegation tonight, I don't know if you're aware, Senator, but from a second woman who spoke to the "Hartford Courant" about him rubbing his nose with her and made her feel very uncomfortable.

Do you think these accusations are enough to disqualify Joe Biden from running?

MERKLEY: I think that the important point here is that women need to be listened to very, very carefully. It is completely possible that two individuals involved in the interaction will view that interaction very differently.

And men in particular need to listen because the kind of sense of personal space that maybe in the past people were offended but didn't speak out, now they're speaking out. It's so important for us to listen. But as to the political realm, I think it's important for voters to weigh this as part of their consideration.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time, Senator Merkley, as always.

MERKLEY: Thank you. BURNETT: And next, a private investigator for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos claims the Saudis stole the texts, the sexts to his girlfriend, and then leaked them to the "National Enquirer". It's a huge allegation. Does he have proof?

And Jeanne Moos on why the race for 2020 is cursed.



O'ROURKE: So (EXPLETIVE DELETED) proud of you guys.



[19:50:22] BURENTT: Tonight, the parent company of the "National Enquirer" firing back after an investigator hired by the CEO of Amazon claims that Saudi Arabia has access to Bezos' phone before, and this is important, before photos and texts proving his extramarital affair were leaked.

So, the tabloid is saying the only source for the story was Lauren Sanchez's own brother. But, OK, they said they got it from the brother. Bezos investigator, though, no way, saying the tabloid knew all about the messages before it approached Lauren Sanchez's brother, and knew about them from the Saudis.

Athena Jones is OUTFRONT.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After this salacious headline, a January "National Enquirer" expose about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' affair with former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez, a stunning new twist. A probe conducted by Bezos' long-time investigator to find out how the tabloid got the story now leading to a very specific claim about Saudi Arabia.

Gavin de Becker writing in "The Daily Beast", our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos' phone and gained private information. De Becker said his team spoke with a long list of sources, including Middle East intelligence experts, Trump advisers and sources at "The Enquirer's" publisher, American Media Inc., run by longtime Trump friend, David Pecker.

AMI denied the Saudi link, telling CNN Business it relied on only one source for its story, Sanchez's brother, Michael Sanchez. AMI's statement read: American Media has and continued to refute the unsubstantiated claims that the materials for our report were acquired with the help of anyone other than the single source who first brought them to us. De Becker argues that while texts and photographs sent from Bezos and Lauren Sanchez were shared with the "Enquirer" by Michael Sanchez, the tabloid knew about the messages before approaching Sanchez. He believes the Saudi government was the source of that knowledge but said it was not clear whether AMI was aware of those details.

NOAH SHACHTMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: What De Becker is implying is that the Saudis may have tipped the "Enquirer" off and then they went to Sanchez. And indeed, Sanchez has said that "The Enquirer" came to him, not the other way around.

JONES: Sanchez has admitted to leaking to the "Enquirer" but claims he acted out of support telling, "Page Six", I would never sell out my sister. Everything I did was to protect Jeff and Lauren.

De Becker, who has for decades worked with celebrities, including Scher, Olivia Newton John, and the Cosbys, according to "The New York Times", did not present any concrete evidence to support his allegations, but he said he had turned over his findings to federal officials.

His claims turned what was a tawdry tale about the personal life of the richest man in the world and the owner of "The Washington Post" into a geopolitical mystery. Bezos in a February post on "Medium", implied that AMI tried to extort him to please Trump or the Saudi government, which is upset with Bezos over "The Post" coverage of murdered columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Saudi government has denied any links to AMI.

Bezos and "The Post" have been frequent targets of Trump.

TRUMP: He owns Amazon. He wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it. That's not right.


JONES: And now, Saudi officials have not responded to CNN's request for comment. And De Becker says he is not going to comment further than that "Daily Beast" op-ed he wrote.

Meanwhile, Michael Sanchez, Lauren Sanchez's brother, called De Becker's claim a smoke and mirror's distraction containing zero evidence. We know that De Becker turned his findings over to federal officials, so we'll have to see what happens there.

BURNETT: Interesting. Interesting how Sanchez hasn't jumped on it, because it supports his view that he didn't go to them. They came to him.

All right. Thank you very much, Athena.

And next, Jeanne Moos on 2020 candidates swearing off swearing.


O'ROURKE: I don't intend to use the F-word going forward.



[19:57:58] BURNETT: They all want to be sworn into the White House. Well, to get there they're hopeful that swearing will help.

Here's Jeanne.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the story of a cuss word added to the presidential campaign.


MOOS: And the cuss word --

O'ROURKE: So (EXPLETIVE DELETED) proud of you guys.

MOOS: Subtracted -- Beto O'Rourke swears not to publicly swear using the F-word as President Trump uses a swear word to describe investigations involving him.

TRUMP: They're trying to take you out with bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED), OK? (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

MOOS: It got so much applause, the president decided to use it at his next rally, slightly embellished.

TRUMP: For defrauding the public with ridiculous bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

MOOS: And even spawned its own hashtag.

Many of the president's supporters are going a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) over the president saying bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

Amen, tweeted actress Kristy Swanson. Inject the Trump directly into your veins, read another tweet. But Beto O'Rourke's even stronger course word.

O'ROURKE: I was like, yes, what the (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I mean, I'm running for --

MOOS: Delivered with his 10-year-old daughter Molly beside him, caused a fellow Democrat to confront O'Rourke.

DEMOCRATIC VOTER: We already have one Vulgar-in-Chief. Do we need to replace him with another?

MOOS: In the past, it was Ted Cruz who used an ad to attack Beto for his language.

AD ANNOUNCER: Sharing his wit. O'ROURKE: How (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up is that?

AD ANNOUNCER: His wisdom.

O'ROURKE: What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) are these guys doing?

MOOS: Now to Democratic voter.

DEMOCRATIC VOTER: Come on, Beto, clean up your act. Honestly.

O'ROURKE: Yes. No, great point, and I don't intend to use the F-word going forward.

MOOS: For the innocent old days where Joe Biden delivered the F-bomb in a whisper.

BIDEN: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.

MOOS: And many of Beto's supporters think their guy dropping the F- bomb is the bomb.

That it shows his passion and disarming him makes us a nation of ninnies. But these days, this is a nation with even self-help books help themselves to expletives.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

O'ROURKE: So (EXPLETIVE DELETED) proud of you guys.


MOOS: New York.


BURNETT: Thank you for joining us.

Anderson starts now.