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Washington Post: Rosenstein Told Trump He Gives Mueller Probe "Credibility"; FBI Director: Russia Poses A "Very Significant" Threat; PA Voter Credits Trump for Economy: "Something's Going Good"; Trump Defends Charlottesville Comments After Biden Attacks; Trump Defends Charlottesville Comments As Being Perfect After Biden Hits "Both Sides" Remarks; Trump Defends Charlottesville Remarks: I "Answered Perfectly"; Biden Tops Dems, Raises $6.3M In First 24 Hours Of Campaign; Biden Speaks Out On Grief And Relationship With The McCains. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 26, 2019 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We really appreciate it. To our viewers, the new season of UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA starts Sunday night, 10:00 pm Easter, only here on CNN. Thanks for watching. Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, Trump digs himself into a hole again defending his comments about Charlottesville all because of Joe Biden. Plus, friendly fire, Biden splashy entry into the presidential race now has Democrats attacking each other. And the man who oversaw the Mueller probe reportedly assured President Trump if he was on his side right in the middle of the investigation. Let's go out front.

Good evening. I'm Jim Sciutto in tonight for Erin Burnett. And out front tonight, Trump takes Biden's bait. The President inexplicably relitigating his disastrous response to the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Why now? Two words, Joe Biden. Former vice president resurrecting the President's very fine people remarks in a campaign video and the message clearly getting under Trump's skin.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you still think that there were very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, I've answered that question and if you look at what I said, you will see that that questions was answered perfectly. And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general.


SCIUTTO: He answered the question perfectly? Let's play for you the original answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in

Charlottesville. They started, they showed up in Charlottesville to protest ...

TRUMP: Excuse me, they didn't put themselves down as neo, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.


SCIUTTO: Other than white nationalists, no one thought he answered that question perfectly. CEOs dropped out of Trump's business councils. Thanks to those remarks. Republicans widely condemn them and the President's top Economic Advisor Gary Cohn considered quitting. But the President now trying to rewrite his own history suggesting his comments were also somehow taken out of context.


TRUMP: People were there protesting that taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee, everybody knows that.


SCIUTTO: What we do know, those protests were organized by white nationalists, many in attendance wore swastikas and it is hard to make the case that very fine people were marching along alongside people who were chanting this.


CROWD: Jews will not erase us. Jews will not erase us.


SCIUTTO: Pretty clear message. Biden clearly using those images, those messages to trap the President and Trump could not help but take that bait. Abby Phillip out front live outside the White House. Abby, do people inside the White House really think this is a good battle for the President to fight again?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, they do not, Jim. And President Trump really delving back into one of the most difficult and tumultuous times in his presidency is clearly not something a lot of White House aides would like to be talking about today of all days, especially when this Friday started with some really good economic news, 3.2% GDP that the President wanted to tell. But instead he talked about this.

And I really have to take people back to that time in this presidency. There is not really much of another time in Trump's time here in the White House that has been so difficult for White House aides. Gary Cohn almost resigned over this issue. Many people close to the President really were torn by this. Some of them speaking out publicly about their displeasure with how he framed this conversation, but the President is not one to back down and he's not backing down here.

Especially since that this attack is really coming from Joe Biden, someone that the President is known to be very much concerned about when it comes to 2020. The President thinks Joe Biden is the guy who's going to give him the biggest run for his money if Biden is able to get out of the Democratic primary. And so he did, in fact, take this bait.

He's not backing down. He's not really wanting to do so, but he might be walking into a trap relitigating an issue that caused him to lose a lot of support in the polls at the time that it happened, even if it didn't cause them to lose support among his base.

The question is, can President Trump move on from this and will he at some point really grapple with the fact that this was actually something that the country thought was handled poorly and maybe in the future will he change the way that he talks about this issue? It seems based on his answers today, he really doesn't have any sort of retrospective view of this issue. He's sticking to his answer that this was all about history and not at all about the hate that everyone saw on display in Charlottesville that day, Jim.

[19:04:58] SCIUTTO: And you think it'd be easy to condemn that hate in simple terms. Abby Phillip at the White House. Out front tonight, Van Jones, former Special Advisor to President Obama as well as host of THE REDEMPTION PROJECT here on CNN, April Ryan, White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks and Scott Jennings, he's former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. Good to have all of you on.

Van Jones, Charlottesville, this was not a shining moment for this President even within his own party. Does it make any sense politically for Trump to try to relitigate this, to try to fight this battle again, and to fight Biden specifically?

VAN JONES, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: It doesn't and I think part of it is - the picking of this particular scab. We have to remember, there is a terrorist movement in this country, so white supremacists' terrorist movement is a violent movement. It killed Heather Heyer that week using ISIS tactics of driving a car into a crowd of people.

So the reason that is a high standard for the President here is because when you're dealing with a violent terrorist movement in your own country, you've got to get every word exactly right. You don't want to be freelancing. And so whether - so when the question gets hard.

Minimally, you got to question his judgment. You do not want to give aid and comfort to a terrorist movement in your country that has just killed an American citizen in any way. And I understand that in his mind he saw it as this thing about the statue.

Unfortunately, that interpretation doesn't go along with the facts that the march that we're talking about and the murderer that we're talking about didn't come out of the fight around the statue, it was a white supremacist thing from the very beginning and that level of detail matters when you're the head of state in a country with a terrorist movement.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, there was no second guessing the message of those chanting protesters there. April, tell me who the President tried to speak to here? Who is he trying to convince by fighting this battle again and really I mean attempting to rewrite the facts of, as Van noted, who was in that protest and who planned that protest.

APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: The President is trying to reach that base, Jim, that feels that they've been left out, left behind. Those people who actually to some extent supported what the tiki torch carrying marchers, if you will, the anti-semites and white supremacists who were marching out there. And not only that those who the President feels, who feel like they haven't had enough war, been touched by government.

So there's a certain group of people in this nation that still feels that there needs to be a divide and they need to propel. That's who the president is trying to touch. But also I want to go back to something that Van said, he said it was a scab, I beg to differ I love Van so much, but van I think you would agree with this, I think this is a wound that has yet to heal, and the President just goes for it because it's very sensitive. And when someone like a Joe Biden brings it up, it causes it to ooze.

The president tried about five or six times to fix this. He went over and over it. If he was on a teleprompter and said the words we already prepared everyone was like, "Oh, my God, the nation is fine." But when the President spoke extemporaneously, we were like, "What in the world?" He tried so many times and yet again with this Robert E. Lee statement, we're back to where we were in 2017.

SCIUTTO: Scott Jennings, to your credit you have criticized the President for these comments in the past. I just want to ask you this because it would seem a simple thing to do for a president to unequivocally condemn the supremacists involved in this and all that they stand for. I just wonder politically is the President trying to avoid here intentionally turning off some of his supporters? Is there a political reason why he won't take that simple step?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, a couple of things. Number one, I want to go back to something Van said and I agree when you're dealing with situations like this, precision is required. And when you look back at the transcript of what the President said, he actually did say in the middle of a lot of words that he condemned the neo-Nazis, that he condemned the white nationalist and he did that.

But it was in the middle of a very long statement, and there was ambiguity and it was hard to follow and hard to understand. And so even though I think in the middle of it, the President got it right there for a moment. You just have to have more precision. You have to have more clarity in a moment like that.

And by the way, there are people in this world, the polling clearly shows most people think these statues should not be taken down, but if you are a person who showed up at that to talk about a statue when they bring out the Nazi flags and they bring out the torches, you probably got in your car and went home, OK, because you're not there to deal with that. You're there for some other reason, so the good people left when the Nazi Flags came out.

I don't think the President is trying to reach a base here. I think the President is responding to Joe Biden. Joe Biden has made this moment the animating piece of his candidacy so far and the President clearly sees Biden as a formidable opponent and he's responding to the attack. The President never lets attacks go unanswered and I think that's what we're seeing tonight.

Look, Republicans do not cater to these people. We do not cater to these people. They have no quarter in the Republican Party, I promise you.

[19:10:28] SCIUTTO: April, your response.

RYAN: Well, yes, please. I remember that time as we all do and I remember specifically, David Duke was writing messages on Twitter to the President about this. And people were wondering, "Do you disavow this?" There was a lot of ambiguity going on and it was upsetting to a lot of people who are Republican who believe in humanity and this was totally against what we had seen and what we were striving for, I guess, as a nation to come together.

There is a divide and that incident, that deadly incident in August and the President's vacillating on words helped create a divide in August of 2017 with Charlottesville. We didn't know where he stood for a long time and then it perpetuated with other things that the President said and we're not going to go down that line.

But we need to know for sure where this president stands on Robert E. Lee, where he stands on the confederacy and things of that nature, because Robert E. Lee, if you really look at it, he believed that slaves were better off in this country even though they were going through the horrific torture that they did versus Africa. If you look at the totality of Robert E. Lee, that's not something that all Americans can hug a statue for.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point. I'm glad you brought it up, because the President had another opportunity today to condemn the white supremacist and he went off in this grand offensive of how great General Robert E. Lee was who, by the way, fought against his own nation to preserve slavery, so again at best a lost opportunity.

RYAN: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Van, I wonder on the race here because the President is responding in large part here because Joe Biden made this an issue in his announcement video. This is the battle for the soul of the nation. That's why he was referencing Charlottesville. Is the President's response in part because he sees Biden as a very threatening opponent for 2020? JONES: Look, I don't know. I mean the Republicans that I talked to

you especially those who helped Trump win in the industrial Midwest frankly are not concerned and don't care about any of our candidates except for Biden. They always say, "Well, Biden could give us trouble." So that may be in his head, it may not be in his head, but honestly I think the President more to the earlier point, it's a sensitive topic, it's probably the one thing that he has said, that has come back more than anything else, that was a moment for him that he did not handle properly, because if he had handled it properly, we have a different conversation.

So I just think he reflexively when you throw that thing at him, I think he reflexively tries to defend, tries to explain. I'll tell you what, Joe Biden if anybody thought he's yesterday's man, Joe Biden has sucked Donald Trump into the conversation that he wants to have just by posting a YouTube video. Joe Biden apparently knows how to deal with Donald Trump. I don't think Donald Trump knows how to deal with Joe Biden.

SCIUTTO: Fair observation. Scott?

JENNINGS: Jim, if I might - yes, I think Van has raised a very good political strategic point here. If this conversation about 2020 is about the economy, about, "Are your lives improving? Is your paycheck getting bigger?" That set of issues, Donald Trump is in a very good place. If the conversation is about other things, then that advantages the Democrat.

I heard some people yesterday questioning why Joe Biden's video didn't mention jobs and opportunities and so on and so forth, this is why because this morning's GDP report showed the President is going to be able to run on the economy if that's how he can frame the conversation. Biden wants to have a different one. That's how his video was set up. This is what it was for and the President went for it today.

I would submit if I were advising the President, we've got to get on topic which is number one issue for you is the economy, don't take the bait on these things like you did today.

SCIUTTO: Well, if you could keep it on topic that would be impressive, Scott Jennings. April, Vann, always good to have you on and I hope you have a good weekend. You can catch, we should note, Van Jones this weekend on CNN. His new series. It's a great one, THE REDEMPTION PROJECT with Van Jones premieres Sunday at 9:00 pm. It's a hopeful story, really hopeful stories and this is one of them.

OUTFRONT next, day two of the Biden campaign and already fellow Democrats are on the attack.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Joe Biden is on the side of credit card companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [19:14:54] SCIUTTO: Plus, Rod Rosenstein's promise to the President.

What he reportedly said he would do in order to continue overseeing the Mueller investigation. And Trump versus Biden in a battle for the ages.


TRUMP: I am a young vibrant man. I look at Joe, I don't know about him ...



[19:18:58] SCIUTTO: Tonight, cashing in, Joe Biden's campaign has announced that he raised $6.3 million in the first 24 hours of his official run for President. It is the most of any Democratic candidate so far, surpassing even the prolific fundraising hauls of Beto O'Rourke and Bernie Sanders on the first days of their campaigns there.

He's only been in the race for a day, but some of those very same Democrats are already going after him as well as president Trump who's trying to fundraise off his entrance as well. Out front now Grant Woods. He's a longtime friend of Vice President Biden. Mr. Woods, thank you for taking the time tonight.


SCIUTTO: So you look at the numbers here, you look at the fundraising, but you also look at the direct attack from the president and some of his competitors. He's clearly the frontrunner here. Is Joe Biden ready for this on day one?

[19:19:50] WOODS: Oh, yes. He's more than ready. I think this is the - it's an interesting time. I think maybe this is the time when the perfect guy is now ready to step up and take the stage at the perfect time. In other words, these are not normal times. We've never had a presidency like this. We've never had an attack on our basic institutions like this; the freedom of the press, the courts, the Congress.

We've never had this sort of crisis and we need somebody when the ship of state is listing, we need somebody to straighten it up and get us back on track and I think this is the guy. I think and maybe there's a reason why it took so long for Joe Biden to be in the right place at the right time, but I think this is his time. I think the country needs him right now to get us back where we should be.

SCIUTTO: OK. I get that that's his argument and that was very sort of central to his announcement video there about the fight for the soul of the nation. But the fact is decades in government gives him a long record, which gives his opponents a lot of stuff to take aim at.

Bernie Sanders' campaign, they've already sent out a fundraising email taking shot at Biden for attending a private event with donors last night. Elizabeth Warren she took this swipe at Biden. Have a listen.


WARREN: At a time when the biggest financial institutions in this country, we tried to put the squeeze on millions of hard-working families who were in bankruptcy. There was nobody to stand up for them. I got in that fight because they just didn't have anyone and Joe Biden is on the side of credit card companies.


SCIUTTO: He's going to have a lot of fights like this and this is inside the Democratic Party. He's got a primary to win here first.


SCIUTTO: It's not going to be easy.

WOODS: Yes. No, it's not going to be easy and that's OK. I think he's up for the competition, but I have a real basic message to Democrats. You would think with this disaster of a Trump presidency that there was no way he could be reelected and that's just not true. It's sad, but not true.

He can be reelected and he's going to be reelected if we don't nominate somebody who can actually win. So you can have the Bernie Sanders of the world and Elizabeth Warrens, all I can tell you is I will guarantee you they cannot win the presidency. When you go to Michigan, when you go to Wisconsin, when you go to Pennsylvania, I'm from Arizona, let me just try it here, I know where - I've been doing this my whole life, I have been intimately involved in elections, every election cycle in Arizona my whole life, OK?

Joe Biden beats Donald Trump in Arizona, write it down. Bernie Sanders has zero chance. Elizabeth Warren has zero chance. So I understand that at some point in time you want to say, "Well, what about this issue? What about that issue? We wish he was more to the left. We want to try to stake out new ground, more progressive ground."

That's all fine if this was just another year. It's not another year. The future of our country is at stake. Our basic institutions are at stake. You think the last two and a half years have been bad? Try eight years of Donald Trump.

So my message to Democrats is, look, we can have a nice primary, that's fine. But why don't we nominate somebody who can actually win and that's Joe Biden.

SCIUTTO: To your point when Democratic voters are polled, oftentimes they put at the top of their list the quality and the candidate they want as someone who could beat Donald Trump among Democratic voters. I would ask you about something personal. Please, go ahead and I want to ask you about something personal.

WOODS: OK. Well, Jim I want to say that - OK, well, think about that some of these people remind me of in some of those comments we just heard in the Bernie crowd. It's like the people who didn't like Hillary and they voted for Jill Stein because she wasn't pure enough. She wasn't progressive enough. How'd that work out for you? How'd that work out for you, you got Donald Trump? Don't do it, again, please.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about how both you and Biden, you were very close to the McCain family. You were Senator John McCain's longtime chief of staff. You were a eulogist at the Senator's funeral. I don't have to remind you that, as was Biden, and they had a personal connection.

WOODS: Right.

SCIUTTO: I want to play an exchange this morning between Meghan McCain, of course, John McCain's daughter and Joe Biden today as he made his first television appearance on The View. Have a listen.



MEGHAN MCCAIN, ABC ANCHOR, THE VIEW: You really understand grief and pain in a way that - I've never met anybody else in life like it, does death ever get easier?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. Look, there's going to come as we've had our private conversations. There's going to come a time when you think your daddy walk by that closet and smell that fragrance that was there and you pass something, a feel that he loved or when you sit there out on in Arizona and that beautiful - looking over the creek. You're going to get a smile before you get a tear.


[19:24:51] SCIUTTO: Listen, his career and his personal life shaped sadly so much by tragedy going back to the car accident where he lost his wife and daughter. But through losing his son, you know this better than anybody, he connects with people. Is that something that will make a difference for him.

WOODS: He does.

SCIUTTO: The difference for him on the campaign trail?

WOODS: I think it's going to be huge difference. He's a people person. It's not a bunch of baloney. You can tell this guy he relates to people, he respects people, he respects the average working guy, the average mom and dad. He tries to put himself in their shoes. There was nobody who was a better or bigger friend to the McCain family in this time of grief than Joe Biden.

He flew out there several times just on long flight out to Arizona, made the drive couple of hours up to Sedona just to spend a little bit of time with John. No fanfare, nobody knew about it, then he drove back, got back on the plane and went home. He was that sort of friend and he's been there for the family since then. I know Cindy talks with him regularly as he said there he's talked with Meghan.

This is a good guy. I'll also say in the attorney general world since I was an attorney general, Beau Biden was really a very, very special leader. It's such a tragedy we lost him so young. He was a great, great guy and after what happened to his young family, then to have to go through that with his son and a son with such great potential, boy that should never happen to anybody. But look how he's dealt with it and it's a measure of the man.

And Jim, I just think we've had great people and real human beings, good human beings most of the time in the presidency. Certainly, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, good people, you could tell they were good people. It would be nice to have a really good person, a good human being back in the White House like Joe Biden.

SCIUTTO: Grant Woods, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

WOODS: OK. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, the man who oversaw the Russia investigation making a promise to the President in order, apparently, to keep his job. And a serious warning tonight from the Director of the FBI.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR OF THE FBI: I do think that Russia poses a very significant counterintelligence threat.


SCIUTTO: What does the Trump administration doing about that, particularly as 2020 gets closer. James Clapper is my guest.


[19:30:35] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: New tonight, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein assured President Trump that he was on his team in a bid apparently to save his job. That according to "The Washington Post". This reportedly happened during a phone call last September after there were reports that Rosenstein considered wearing a wire to record his conversations with the president.

According to an administration official, Rosenstein told Trump, quote: I give the investigation credibility. I can land the plane.

OUTFRONT now, one of the reporters who broke the story, Matt Zapotosky.

Matt, good to have you on tonight.

So, tell us about this phone call between Trump and Rosenstein, and what it appears that Rosenstein was trying to accomplish here.

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. So, it's in the context of "The New York Times" breaking this huge story that Rosenstein, according to the account of former FBI director, deputy director, Andrew McCabe, broached the idea of wearing a wire to monitor the president or to use the 25th Amendment to oust him from office. So, Rosenstein goes over to the White House to explain what happened.

And first, he has this meeting with the White House chief of staff, he won't get into a lot of details and then he gets on a call with the president. And essentially he's trying to diffuse the situation. In some measure, he's probably trying to protect his job and he ends up offering the president some vague assurances about the Mueller investigation. He says that he's on the president's team, he says that he's going to land the plane, according to one person that we've talked to sort of familiar with this call.

It's hard to know exactly what that means. What he was trying to convey. He -- but that is what he said. His mission seems to be two- fold which is save his job and calm the president down, make sure the president doesn't do anything drastic.

SCIUTTO: Did he convince the president? What was the president's thinking on Rosenstein because the president has -- had repeatedly attacked him prior.

ZAPOTOSKY: Yes, the president left the call thinking, gosh, maybe this guy is on my team. And that was a little bit of a change. The president had not been a fan of Rosenstein. Rosenstein after all appointed Bob Mueller to lead this probe that so irked the president. The president derided Rod Rosenstein as a Democrat from Baltimore, even though Rod Rosenstein is a Republican from a different part of Maryland who the president appointed.

But this call did give the president some kind of assurance that Rosenstein was going to be loyal to him. Even though Rosenstein used somewhat vague language, it wasn't like he was promising to end the Mueller probe, that is what he said, so that was the president's reaction. He was convinced.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and that assurance coming while that investigation is still underway. He was overseeing it.

Matt Zapotosky, thanks very much.

OUTFRONT now, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Harry Sandick, and senior White House reporter, Nia- Malika Henderson.

So, Harry, what does this mean for Rosenstein? Does that make you question his impartiality as he was still overseeing this investigation?

HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: It does to some extent. It is not advisable for the deputy attorney general who's supervising an investigation into the president to meet with the president and give him any assurances or give him any insight into the investigation. I mean, going back months, people said Rosenstein should be praised and he's protecting the investigation and people are saying this is at odds with that. Maybe he was subverting the investigation.

And the truth is that Rosenstein is just a person who has done some things that probably deserve praise and some things like this that it is hard to say how to praise them. He described sometimes as a survivor and obviously someone who is a bureaucratic survivor makes compromises sometimes. This looks like a compromise and it's not something, if he said it, it is not something he should have said.

SCIUTTO: Right, a creature of Washington you might say.

SANDICK: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: And, Nia, both Democrats and Republicans pointed at Rosenstein throughout the investigation as the protector of Mueller so long as he was there, everything would be OK. Does this change the view of the role he actually played?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, it certainly complicates I think his legacy. In some ways, you see Rod Rosenstein going out in a bit of a legacy burnishing tour at this point. He was talking -- I believe yesterday in light of some of the thing that's have come out recently, you did have a situation where both Republicans and Democrats did think he was the protector of Mueller.

[19:35:06] But then, with this report from "The Washington Post," you do see that he had other duties there too. Protecting his job was one of them. And then mollifying Trump and those all went together.

The idea of landing the plane, I think a lot of Republicans are happy with the way this plane was landed and you have Democrats wondering maybe what that loyalty had to do with the way this plane was landed. Rod Rosenstein obviously signing on to Bill Barr's framing of the Mueller report, standing behind him in that press conference. Some people said well maybe Rod Rosenstein isn't on board with Barr, but clearly he was very much on board in terms of basically exonerating the president of collusion and also saying there was no prosecutorial evidence toward obstruction.

SCIUTTO: Nia -- Harry, Nia makes a great point because it was Barr and Rosenstein who decided not to indict, in effect, for obstruction of justice despite the long list of instances of obstruction of justice that Mueller compiled and corroborated for the report.

And he talked about landing the plane, is that a reasonable connection to make between that ultimate judgment and what he was promising the president there?

SANDICK: It does sound like a reasonable connection. And, you know, this sort of asking for loyalty, we saw this before with Jim Comey when he was the FBI director. And he was asked for loyalty. And he kind of hedged it and said I think something like -- I give you honest loyalty, but wouldn't go along with just the loyalty oath.

And later, he wondered, you know, maybe I shouldn't have said that or maybe I should have said absolutely not and forced the confrontation then. It is hard to know whether Rosenstein should have done something like that in his meeting.

But it's hard not to draw the connection now between that statement, which seems to suggest some loyalty, I'm on your team, and then kind of standing quietly behind the attorney general as he gave this sort of really inaccurate summary of the Mueller report.

SCIUTTO: Nia, I wonder big picture before we go, how does the Justice Department look in this -- you have the end of the long investigation, Justice Department appointed by the president but has a larger role as the senior most lawyers in the country here, they're role in interpreting the Mueller report and making the final decision on the outcome of this report.

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, Democrats criticized Bill Barr saying he was acting like the president's attorney not like the country's attorney and top law enforcement official. And I think all of this really leads to Democrats really pressing for more answers. It sort of gives them fuel, they obviously want to have congressional hearings. You have the president stonewalling saying his administration officials aren't going to respond to any subpoenas.

But my goodness, reports like this, you know, raise further questions. And you imagine that Democrats are going to want to have some answers. We'll see what the president does in response.

SCIUTTO: They want to test those on the Hill, will they get that opportunity?


SCIUTTO: Nia-Malika, Harry Sandick, thanks very much.

OUTFRONT next, the blame game. The Trump administration pointing the finger at President Obama for not doing enough to stop Russia.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The previous administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls.


SCIUTTO: Plus, the road to the White House running through the Rust Belt. Is 2020 all about Trumponomics?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not a guy that I really would say, hey, that is my guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you'll vote for him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I'll vote for him.


[19:42:27] SCIUTTO: Tonight, very significant. That is how the FBI Director Christopher Wray describes the threat that Russia poses to the United States today.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I do think that Russia poses a very significant counter intelligence threat, certainly in the cyber arena, certainly what we call the malign foreign influence territory, certainly in their presence of intelligence officers in this country. So, in a lot of ways, yes.


SCIUTTO: This comes of course after we learn that security officials have struggled to get the White House to pay attention to the dangers that Russia poses to the U.S.

OUTFRONT now, former director of national intelligence under President Obama, General James Clapper.

Thanks very much for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: So you have the FBI director talked about this. You have your replacement, Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, talking about the seriousness of the threat with 2020 coming. The president did not talk about a lot and we reported just recently that senior officials have been told not to bring it up because he considered it about his 2016 election somehow undermining his victory here.

Can the U.S. effectively respond without presidential leadership?

CLAPPER: Well, first of all, I'm gratified to see Director Wray speak publicly and the fact it is continuing and we'll be faced with the same kind of problem in 2020. So, that is a good thing.

I think President Trump from the get-go, from when we briefed him in January of 2017 about this does not want to deal with it because acknowledging Russian interference, despite the document that -- the exhaustive documentation of the Mueller report, causes doubts about the legitimacy of his election. He just can't get his head around that.

So, meantime, you know, we have a profound threat and while all kinds of things have been done on -- agency by agency or department by department basis, what is missing is the galvanizing impact of the president speaking forth rightly and directly to the American people about this threat. And from the bully pulpit only he occupies.

And it's great that Director Wray and Director Coats are speaking about it, but the absence of leadership, think, not so much for the government maybe but for impact on the American public.

SCIUTTO: OK, beyond the impact of the American public, does Russia listen to the president's silence on this and take that to some degree as an invitation to interfere again?

CLAPPER: Oh, absolutely, you know? And with all of this controversy that goes on in this country, the big winner is Vladimir Putin.

[19:45:07] And so, you know, the Russians are -- have been reinforced based on the success of -- I think exceeded reinforced based on the success of -- I think exceeded their wildest expectations and the doubt and discord and discontent that they were able to sow in this country.

SCIUTTO: Rod Rosenstein in something of a parting shot, taking a shot at the Obama administration for its response to the election interference in 2016. Have a quick listen and I want to get your reaction.


ROSENSTEIN: Some critical decisions about that Russia investigation were made before I got there. The previous administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls and how they relate to Russia's broader strategy to undermine America.


SCIUTTO: To some degree, you agree with him because you advocated for exactly that.

CLAPPER: Well, yes. But I have to say -- I guess I'm guilty of this, too. We all have our selective memories of what occurred.

So, suggested as some do that the Obama administration didn't do anything is not true. For one, President Obama directly and pointedly -- didn't ask, directly and pointedly confronted Putin about the interference I think in September of '16 --

SCIUTTO: In G20, I think --

CLAPPER: Or whenever. And, of course, we did make a public announcement, I say we, then Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and I put out a joint statement on October 7th warning of the Russian interference and where it was being directed from.

Unfortunately, our statement got emasculated by the revelation of the "Access Hollywood" tapes the same day and the dumping of the John Podesta tapes. And then, when the Obama administration took probably its toughest action against the Russians, December 29th when the imposed sanctions, kicked out 35 Russian operatives and closed two dachas, which the Russia used for intelligence collection, and oncoming national security adviser negated or undermined that action.

So -- and in the meantime, what did the Trump campaign do? You know, had many, many contacts with Russians which we were watching and were concerned about, none of which were reported to the FBI. They aided and abetted Russian meddling notably by then candidate Trump on 27th of July 2016 when he exhorted the Russians to go find the missing emails, thereby asking an enemy of ours to help him in opposition to his -- to help defeat his opponent.

So I think the big factor, though in the president's mind was not wanting to be seen as tipping the scales in favor of one candidate to the disfavor of the other against the backdrop of President Trump then already alleging a rigged election.

SCIUTTO: The system was fixed. Understood. Yes, a bit rich to point out that criticism.

CLAPPER: Yes, disingenuous as best.

SCIUTTO: Director Clapper, thanks very much for taking the time.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next this hour, the Trump economy powering on. How much will this help Trump in 2020.

And age is just a number for President Trump.


TRUMP: I just feel like a young man. I'm so young. I can't believe it. I'm the youngest person --



[19:51:46] SCIUTTO: Tonight, President Trump touting strong economic news. And the economy has some voters saying they're going to stick with Trump in 2020.

Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twenty- eight-year-old business owner Chris Trott, twice an Obama voter, flipped to Trump in 2016.

CHRIS TROTT, OWNER, ERIE FLEET SOLUTIONS: He's not a guy I would want to go and have a beer with or golfing with --

MARQUEZ (on camera): But you'll vote for him?

TROTT: I'll vote for him.


TROTT: Because what he's doing seems to be working. MARQUEZ (voice-over): Saddled with college loan debt, Trott took a

huge gamble years ago, starting his own vehicle modification business. It's growing. He might soon hire his first full-time employee. The strong economy gets his vote, as does the president. Maybe.

TROTT: I'm going to have to hold out and say it's probably going to be Trump, but I'm still open to seeing different things.

MARQUEZ: A common refrain.

Democrats here hold a sizable registration advantage over Republicans, but many voters cross over. Until 2016, no Republican had won Erie County since 1984, when Ronald Reagan did on his way to winning re- election.

Trump campaigned in Erie and returned here after his election. He carried the county by fewer than 2,000 votes. Clinton won the city, Trump with suburbs and rural areas. Last year's midterms saw Democrats flip, 35 suburban and rural precincts back to their candidates.

One of those places, the borough of Girard in the Erie suburbs.

Business owner Karla Gooden, a Democrat who voted for Trump, has soured on his presidency.

KARLA GOODEN, OWNER, SALON 11: I don't even admit that I voted for him.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Why?

GOODEN: Because he's so -- like, his personality is nasty. Like, I don't feel like he's a good role model.

MARQUEZ: So you won't for him in 2020?

GOODEN: No. I don't think I will.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Down the street at the Girard Diner, owner Dick Crosby credits the president for the strong economy. He sees Trump as unbeatable in 2020.

DICK CROSBY, OWNER, GIRARD DINER: You can go to almost every business around here and you'll see a sign in the window for "help wanted." They can't find people to work. So that tells you that something's going good.

MARQUEZ: His sister, Mary Lawry (ph), a die-hard Democrat voted for Clinton in 2016, but says she'd have a hard time pulling the lever for a candidate that's too progressive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what the country's ready for. I don't know if they're ready for a woman president or a gay president or any of that stuff, either.

MARQUEZ: The economy here, paramount. DEMONSTRATORS: What do we want?

MARQUEZ: All 1,700 members of Erie's largest union, United Electrical, went on strike earlier in the year. Trump won many rank- and-file union votes in 2016. Both parties vowed to fight for those same voters in 2020.

JIM WERTZ, CHAIRMAN, ERIE COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Going into 2020, we're looking very strong. I think 2018 built a lot of momentum.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Do you think you can count on union votes in 2020?

VEREL SALMON, CHAIRMAN, ERIE COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, we've got to work for them. And I can count on them thinking and believing in this region.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The Rust Belt, a major route on the road to the White House.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Erie, Pennsylvania.


[19:55:03] SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, President Trump sizes up his 2020 competition.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The last time Donald Trump looked in a mirror and saw a truly younger man was when Jimmy Fallon played his mirror image. But when the 72-year-old president was asked how old is too old to be president.

TRUMP: I just feel like a young man. I'm so young. I am a young, vibrant man. I look at Joe, I don't know about him. I don't know.

MOOS: Those comments left 76-year-old Joe Biden momentarily speechless when he was asked about them on "The View."

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he looks young and vibrant compared to me, I should probably go home.

MOOS: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the most vibrant 70-something candidate of them all?

The battle of the elders spilled onto twitter in side by side comparison and challenges. Show me Trump doing this, I'll wait.

The president's description of himself as a young vibrant man inspired blow back of vibrant imagination and so young practically infantile. I'm the youngest person in the history of people.

As for President Trump's nickname for Biden.

TRUMP: So, I sort of refer to him as Sleepy Joe.

MOOS: Joe said that's the opposite of what he usually hears.

BIDEN: At the other end, hyper Joe.

MOOS: These two are hyperactive even before Biden officially announced.

BIDEN: I wish we're in high school, I could take him behind the Jim.

TRUMP: He said I'd like to take him behind the gym. I dream of that.

MOOS: Fighting like two grumpy old men.

Maybe these two should take a page from Ronald Reagan vowing not to make age an issue.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.


MOOS: Even young Mondale cracked up.

The issue of age never gets old.

TRUMP: I am a young, vibrant man.

MOOS: A young vibrant ham, there someone fixed it.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

TRUMP: You need tremendous stamina.

MOOS: New York.


SCIUTTO: Thanks for joining us. I'm Sciutto.

"AC360" starts right now.