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Trump Calls Mueller Probe "Russian Hoax" In 1.5 Hour Call With Putin; Trump Sides With Putin Over His Own Aides On Venezuela; Fmr. Member Of Ken Starr's Team Says It's Time For Congress To Launch Impeachment Proceeding Against President Trump; Unemployment Rate Fall To Lowest Level Since 1969; Trump Seizes on NYT Report that FBI Sent Investigator to Meet with Ex-Aide Papadopoulos; Undecided Voter on 2020 Dems: "It's Who Can Win". Aired 7-9p ET

Aired May 3, 2019 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And they, just like the thousands of my colleagues here at CNN, they deserve your praise and your protection. We dedicate tonight to them. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks for watching. Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTRONT next, Trump caves to Putin, failing again to confront the Russian leader when it comes to election meddling and siding with the dictator over his own top aides. Plus, new calls for impeachment proceedings coming from one to 10 stars prosecutors. That prosecutor is out front. And a former FBI official and Republican telling me why it's wrong to say Trump's campaign was spied on. Let's go out front.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, Trump kowtows to Putin, calling up the Russian President for the first time since the Mueller report that found the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election. So, did Trump take putting on?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We didn't discuss that. Really, we didn't discuss it.


BURNETT: So what did they talk about?


TRUMP: Over an hour and we talked about many things. We discussed five or six things. We also went into great detail on various things.


BURNETT: Great detail, various things, five or six things, in fact, but nothing about Putin's attack on Trump's country. Let's play the full exchange. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP: Excuse me. I'm talking. I'm answering this question.


TRUMP: So we had a good conversation about many different things, Okay?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ask him not to meddle?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP: We didn't discuss that. Really, we didn't discuss it.


BURNETT: Didn't discuss it? Look, the President called up Putin and they talked for an hour and an hour and a half and yet couldn't bring up the one issue that his own top aides have been warning him about. Just take what Trump's own FBI Director said days ago.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show ...


WRAY: ... 2020.


BURNETT: A dress rehearsal for an attack on the 2020 election. An attack on America, but the President of the United States didn't bring it up, so what did he discuss? Apparently, the fact that he thinks the Russia report is a joke.


TRUMP: We discussed it. He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse. But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever, so pretty much that's what it was.


BURNETT: That was it. What about Mueller's findings that, quote, the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion? Nothing about that. Just talk about how the whole thing was a mouse. Trump even going on Twitter to discuss his call with Putin and there

he wrote, "We discussed Trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, Nuclear Arms Control and even the 'Russian hoax.'" That's what he thinks. But, of course, it's not a hoax. Mueller's investigation has so far resulted in 199 criminal accounts, 37 people and entities charged. The majority of them, of course, Russian. Five people sentenced to prison and that's on Russia.

Today Trump didn't just kowtow to Putin on Russia's election interference. He also took Putin side on another crucial front.


TRUMP: Venezuela was one of the topics and he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he'd like to see something positive happen for Venezuela and I feel the same way. Well, not looking to get involved is just blatantly false, according to Trump's own top team.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is our hemisphere. It's not where the Russians ought to be interfering. This is a mistake on their part.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Maduro is surrounded by Cubans and has been supported by Russians there in Venezuela. And we've told the Russians and we've told the Cubans, that's unacceptable.


BURNETT: Well, you're telling them that but the president says that Putin is not looking at all to get involved. Too bad Trump feels the same as Putin, not Pompeo. Abby Phillip is out front live outside the White House. Abby, why is the President so afraid yet again in this lengthy call to go against Putin?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the question, Erin, that people outside of the White House are really stewing over and have been for over two years now. But inside the White House, a lot of people believe that this is just part of President Trump's belief that building a personal relationship with Putin is part of unlocking, in the President's view, the key to stability in foreign relations around the world.

Now, a lot of people think that's pretty naive, but you see some patterns here in the way that the President is dealing with the Russian interference issue but also the Venezuela issue. The President has repeatedly taken Vladimir Putin's side almost repeating word for word things that Vladimir Putin tells him that are contrary to what he's being told by his own aides.

[19:05:10] And we're also learning tonight that in the case of Venezuela, this is what has been happening behind the scenes. The President has been expressing some doubt about the intelligence that has gone into the assessment about what's going on, on the ground in Venezuela. And then in this call with Putin this morning, the President then took exactly what Vladimir Putin said, repeated it to the press as fact and seemed to throw the entire U.S. foreign policy when it comes to Venezuela up into arms.

It's still an open question why the President continues to do this, why he continues after two years now that he has his full team in place in all levels of national security apparatus here, why he continues to doubt them. But it is something that has now caused his secretary of state and his national security adviser to really try to pick up the pieces on this issue of Venezuela that has been so sensitive.

And frankly, Erin, lives are at stake here, but the President seems to be in this moment taking Vladimir Putin's side on such a sensitive issue, Erin.

BURNETT: Abby, thank you. And now Steve Hall, former CIA Chief of Russia Operations, April Ryan White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and David Gergen who, of course, served as Adviser to Four Presidents.

So David let me start with you, the President initiates this call. He calls President Putin and it goes for over an hour, says the President. An hour and a half says Putin's top aide. No mention of Russian interference. How is that possible?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER ADVISER TO FOUR PRESIDENTS: Well, it's just another day at the office, isn't that right? It's not surprising but still breathtaking that the President of the United States contradicting his own top intelligence people, contradicting the head of the FBI who just week ago was saying this was a dress rehearsal for 2020 interference in our elections.

It has basically dismissed the whole idea of Russian interference and it's called, again, into question, are we really entering the election period in which the Russians are going to have free play in our election system, tilting the board and at the same time there's going to be evidence of suppression of voting in a variety of places around the country.

Does that really going to give the voters confidence in our system? I don't think so. I think the very point that Russians are making is to undermine our democracy.

BURNETT: I mean Steve, it did seem - I mean it was sort of stupefying to refer to the entire thing as a mouse, sort of refer to it as a joke that Putin is smiling.

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: I mean, Erin, I'm stupefied. The question is why and that's what everybody has been asking in the lead up to this piece. And I think sensible minded people are saying, "Why is it they were having another Helsinki moment where the President of the United States who first and foremost if he has that long of a phone call he's got to raise with everybody.

His political opponents, his own Secretary of State, his own intelligence services, everybody has said that the Russians did this. They attacked our democracy and he doesn't do anything. When you answer the question, why I've only got two options for you. The first is the Russians do indeed have something on Donald Trump, whether it's business related or whatever that hasn't been made public yet that makes him very cautious when dealing with Vladimir Putin or he simply doesn't get it. He simply doesn't understand what Putin and Russia are all about, either one or neither one is a good option.

BURNETT: No. And April, when Steve refers to a Helsinki moment, that's what we were thinking of when this happened. It is incredibly reminiscent of this.


TRUMP: So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.


BURNETT: He was excoriated for that by Democrats and Republicans. That was Helsinki. It was nearly a year ago. Why are we back here?

APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Yes. You know why we're back here? And it's not a learning curve issue, this President has been president long enough and he understands what's going on. Going back to the Mueller report, Erin, where the report talked about this President being president and the Russians hopeful that he would be president because it would be favorable to them, this just goes back to prove what the Mueller report said.

And I talked to an official, a former intelligence official who does not want to be identified but that official said, "Look, this is showing that Trump is under the control of Russia." So this is very bad and going back to President Obama, then President Barack Obama when he told Vladimir Putin to knock it off.

Not only did he tell him to knock it off, I've been told he leveled a warning or a threat, if you will, that there will be something to follow if you don't. So for this President not to at least say, "You've got to stop it," or even question, something is wrong. You got to wonder why he didn't do it.

[19:10:00] BURNETT: Steve, we have a picture of Putin on the phone with Trump. We don't yet have one of Trump on the phone with Putin, but we have this picture. Aside from the bizarreness of the phone and the phone cord, which I bet you would have a lot to say about, actually. The point I'm making here is that he's not smiling although, obviously, the way Trump described the conversation was there was a moment that Putin was described as smiling obviously very friendly. What does Putin take away from the call? And I guess, Steve, perhaps most important from Trump's performance after the call with the American people in the press.

HALL: What Vladimir Putin takes away from this is he sits back and he says, "Okay, we did this massive influence operation. These active measures against the United States that led to the 2016 elections. The guy that we wanted to win over the person we didn't want to win, that worked out Okay for us. Yes, we took some lumps along the way, but our return on investment on this has been amazingly good and we can do it again in 2020 and we will."

RYAN: Exactly.

HALL: I think that's what Vladimir Putin takes away from this.

BURNETT: And again just to emphasize what, Chris Wray, President Trump's FBI Director, is saying is it was all a dry run and they're in the midst of a much bigger attack and bigger plan now which the President of the States, of course, didn't even acknowledge existed in that call.

David, this is taking on intelligence agencies. Perhaps, in the past, Trump could say, "Well, maybe intelligence agencies run by people that aren't my people." Now, of course, Mike Pompeo has said, "This here on Venezuela are Trump's hand-picked people in their hand-picked jobs." Here they are.


TRUMP: Venezuela was one of the topics and he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he'd like to see something positive happened for Venezuela and I feel the same way.


BURNETT: So he said not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela. Of course, David what I referred to there, Pompeo saying, "We told the Russians and Cubans their interference is unacceptable." Bolton, "This is not where the Russians ought to be interfering." Those are the top two national security advisors the President has.

GERGEN: Yes. It was the Secretary of State who just yesterday said the Russians along with the Cubans are, quote, invading, they're invading Venezuela. I think there are two things that Putin is seeking here and he's won on both counts here today in this phone call.

One is to weaken our democracy here at home to undermine faith and trust in the system that we've had for so long and we've always believed in, in voting. And the second is to give himself a room to create mischief in countries where we may be vulnerable. They can advance their own interests and that's what he's done in Venezuela. The President has given him a pass for the Russians going in there and defending the Maduro regime.

We've been trying to help the opposition in Venezuela. This weakens the opposition and it's the President who is tearing up his own foreign policy to serve some ulterior motive we can't even figure out what it is.

BURNETT: And what's fascinating about that too is this is so close to home, right? This is Venezuela.

GERGEN: Yes, absolutely.

BURNETT: This is in the same hemisphere. There is no difference in time or space. April is the President aware of what his staff is saying? I mean he's watching TV all day, I don't know how he misses it, but why does he publicly contradict Pompeo and Bolton?

RYAN: Because he doesn't care. It's about him and what he feels. He goes by his knee-jerk reactions versus listening to those who are supposed to advise him who understands what's going on. I mean the President still gets bullet points on intelligence if he does that anymore.

So I mean why would he listen to people? He believes that he is the end all be all when the decision is made, it's about him and his decision alone, period. End of story.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. And next, a new call for impeachment proceedings coming from a former member of Ken Starr's team. He's out front. Plus, President Trump touting today's big job numbers.


TRUMP: The economy is unbelievable. We're 3.6 percent unemployment. That's the lowest number since 1969.


BURNETT: With numbers like those, are Democrats doomed in 2020? And Trump seizing on a report that the FBI sent an investigator to meet with a former campaign aide calling it worse than Watergate. But hear why a former FBI official under Trump, a Republican, says the President is wrong.


[19:18:18] BURNETT: Tonight, a call for impeachment proceedings coming from an unlikely source. That's one of Ken Starr's prosecutors who says there's enough evidence from the Mueller report for Congress to launch impeachment proceedings against President Trump. Out front now, Stephen Binhak, who was a prosecutor on Starr's team for the Whitewater investigation. And Stephen, I really appreciate your time.

So just get to the core of this, you say there is no question at this point, you've obviously read the full report, all 448 pages ...


BURNETT: ... that there's enough evidence for Congress to open impeachment proceedings now. Why?

BINHAK: Well, it's pretty simple, impeachment is a question of whether the president has committed a high crime misdemeanor. We learned from Nixon that the Saturday Night Massacre with the firing of Archibald Cox that is an interference with the investigation and to Nixon it was enough to spur an impeachment inquiry on the House side and I think the same evidence exists here.

In fact, in the report you see that Mr. McGahn, the President's own White House Counsel did not want to carry out the President's order to encourage the firing on Special Counsel because he thought it might be a Saturday Night Massacre, the same words. So when the President acts in that way, there is a political solution.

It's written into the Constitution and the Constitution absolutely contemplates that the Congress will have vigorous oversight of the executive branch. The Congress should have vigorous oversight of the executive branch. In this case, that's opening up hearings and seeing what happened and seeing if articles of impeachment should be returned.

BURNETT: So just to be clear, obviously, you give the example of Don McGahn and that's firing request which he said came directly from the President that he refused to carry out.

BINHAK: Yes, Erin.

BURNETT: Is there anything else that stands out to you? Is it just one thing or there are others? I mean I'm sure there's plenty of specifics, but what else would you highlight as grounds?

[19:20:04] BINHAK: I think the firing of Comey is another example where the President was acting in a way to further his own - in his own legal benefit. I think the efforts to influence Sessions to agree to unrecuse himself or to fire the Special Counsel. To me that is all falls well into the boundaries of the Saturday Night Massacre idea and that is the firing of your own prosecutor.

I don't think that's a crime, a federal criminal crime under the code. I do think it is impeachable conduct and that's where Congress is supposed to step in. That's why we have separation of powers. That's why the president under the Constitution cannot pardon himself from impeachment proceedings.

BURNETT: All right. So you've read it you see impeachable conduct. Let me get to the part of the issue here. The issue here is that, among many issues, is that people like Nancy Pelosi, they don't think that they can get this done and they worry that if they don't get it done, they repeat Clinton, then they're dealt a loss in the election.

And to this point, a recent CNN poll found about 37 percent of Americans believe President Trump should be impeached, 60 percent, close to it, oppose that move. Would launching impeachment proceedings change those numbers?

BINHAK: It might.

BURNETT: So why?

BINHAK: So the fact of the matter is a lot of people have not read the report, most people haven't read all 400 pages, most people probably haven't read 50 pages. So they don't know what happened. So of the majority of people that are not in favor of impeachment right now, some are Trump supporters, never want to have an impeachment proceeding under any circumstance. Some are Democrats who believe that if this goes forward, it'll backfire and cause President Trump to be reelected.

Remember, President Clinton's popularity went up after he was impeached and other people just don't know enough about it. So again I just come back to two points, one is that impeachment is a political remedy that's in the Constitution. And if the politics are right, the people will follow on and remove the President or as an impeachment --

BURNETT: But you're ultimately saying you see impeachable conduct in the report and you think that the American people will too. A proceeding of impeachment basically is forcing that information regularly and constantly into their face. I mean the more they know the more they'll see. Is that it?

BINHAK: Well, I agree that the more they know, the more they'll see. But I don't necessarily agree that even if you have full hearings that you'll get two articles of impeachment in the house or removal in the Senate.

BURNETT: Right, the Senate.

BINHAK: But the point again is that the Constitution contemplates that the Congress will exercise vigorous oversight of the of the president. Right now what we've had is the executive branch that is Mr. Mueller worked for Mr. sessions and Mr. Barr who work for Mr. Trump. The executive branch has investigated itself right and Congress hasn't done anything.

Now, Congress needs to act. It can't say, "Oh, well, the executive branch investigated it. Now we'll just step aside."

BURNETT: Well, as you know, the president has a lot of defenders in the Senate. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham certainly among them this week says he won't call Robert Mueller to testify because his report was the end of things and the reporter is now in the rearview mirror. Here's Lindsey Graham.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I am confident that this investigation of the Trump campaign was thorough, complete, exhaustive. I'm not going to do any more. Enough already. It's over.


BURNETT: Is the Mueller report the end of things or just the beginning as you see it?

BINHAK: Well, it's a political decision and for Senator Graham, he's making a political decision that he can stop the investigation and that's Okay. But I still think that from a constitutional perspective, from separation of powers perspective, the Congress really has the oversight power over the executive branch and it should exercise that power.

Now, if ultimately the politics aren't there to return articles of impeachment or remove the President, that's Okay. But I believe that the Congress abdicates its duty if it doesn't ...

BURNETT: Going after the proceeding.

BINHAK: ... investigate.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

BINHAK: Thanks for having me.

BURNETT: And next, the unemployment rate now at a nearly 50-year low. So are voters feeling the benefits? Plus, President Trump's seizing on a report claiming it is proof his campaign was spied on. The word though is really specific and important word. A former top FBI official, Republican law maker under Trump says that's not the case and he's my guest.


[19:26:57] BURNETT: Tonight, jobs, jobs, jobs, those are the words from President Trump today after the new jobs' report showed the unemployment rate at the lowest level in 50 years. President Trump tweeting, "We are the envy of the world and the best is yet to come." Out front now, Jim Bianco, Economic Analyst and President of Bianco Research, Jen Psaki, former Obama White House Communications Director, and Rick Santorum, former Republican Presidential Candidate and, of course, Pennsylvania Senator. Thanks to all.

So Jim, you live and breathe this, is it all good news or do you see any signs for concern?

JIM BIANCO, PRESIDENT, BIANCO RESEARCH: Well more than not, it is good news. The unemployment rates at near 50-year low, job creation is up. So let's start with it that overall this is a good report. Within it, there are a couple of concerning parts. One is retail. Retail brick-and-mortar stores, lost jobs again for the third month in a row, you could call that the Amazon effect. There is a big shedding of jobs going on there.

The participation rate, meaning the people that are staying in the workforce, that fell as well too in this report. People exited the workforce. So these were some of the warning sort of black clouds in this report. But overall it's still more of a sunny day than it was a rainy day in this report.

BURNETT: So, Jen, I want to get straight to this new CNN poll that we have. On this, President Trump hits a new high on his economic approval ratings, 56 percent of Americans say he's doing a good job in the economy. That's a really good number when you look at the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. Are we looking at another four years of President Trump? [19:29:36] JEN PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS

DIRECTOR: Well, I think if you also dig into this poll, Erin, it also tells you that people aren't feeling it. There are areas where they prefer Democrats. There are also areas where they have concerns about Donald Trump. You showed up there his disapproval rating. I think that reflects some areas that are underneath the economic umbrella, including his handling of health care and his handling of things like the cost of college education that reflect what people are feeling in their homes.

[19:30:04] So, does it mean another four years with Donald Trump 18 months from an election? It's always better at any point of time for incoming president to have good unemployment numbers, but I think there's a lot of other issues at play here.

BURNETT: So, Rick, sort of the point Jen is making, I am curious why you look at -- and obviously, you know, I don't want to read too much into comparing one poll to another because there are different polls, but these numbers are important to mention, right?

Fifty-six percent of Americans say he is doing a good job in the economy in our latest poll. But the most recent Monmouth Poll shows only 12 percent of Americans say their families benefitted a great deal from recent growth in the U.S. economy. So, they're saying, it seems like people think, OK, he is doing a good job but it is not helping me.

Isn't it that perception that matters most to voters?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I guess it is. I mean, look, all I can say is that the numbers are pretty compelling. I mean, one number I saw was high school, folks with high school education, their wages went up 6 percent.

I mean, this is exactly what Donald Trump said he was going to do, he was going to take those, the forgotten workers out there, folks that Joe Biden thinks are the key to his election, and he's actually delivering. Wages for lower income people are going up.

And so, he is delivering on his promises, and it is a matter -- look, I think a lot of things you're seeing on polls are distraction from the Mueller report and all the other things that are going on. Now that that is hopefully somewhat behind us and the president, if he's smart continues to focus on this economic news and start bringing it home to the American public, particularly in the campaign, I think it is a strong position to be in.

BURNETT: It seems that way. The question is at what risk. Jim, you mentioned a couple of concerns in an overall as you see it very strong report. But that's the question here. There have been months and months of headlines, recession is coming, stocks tumble, are you ready for the financial crisis of 2019? Those are a few. It was everywhere. There were experts saying it was a big risk.

Were those fears overblown or are they still there? JIM BIANCO, ECONOMIC ANALYST: No, I don't think fears were overblown

last year. The stock market was down a lot. The Federal Reserve raised rates. There was fear there would be a mistake and cause recession.

But I do think they're rapidly dissipating. First quarter GDP rebounded nice, stock market is back at all-time highs, the dollar is stable. So, most of the indicators you would look at have gotten materially better than they were three, or four months ago, so is consumer confidence and outlook on the economy.

BURNETT: So what about here are some details, though, Rick. Let me ask you, 14 percent of Americans say taxes have gone down because of Trump's tax plan. That's not true. They're inaccurate saying that, right? The vast majority of people's taxes went down. Only 14 percent of people feel that way. That's actually a big messaging issue.

SANTORUM: Yes, no, I agree with that. But let's look at this. I mean, number one, you have a big chunk of the American public, over 40 percent, doesn't pay federal income taxes. To say my taxes didn't go up, that's probably accurate, and look at folks in the Northeast and West Coast that had a lot of state and local taxes, they probably didn't see taxes go down much either.

BURNETT: That's true. As a percentage of overall taxpayers, it is a small number.

SANTORUM: No, I'm saying folks that felt the tax reductions are the people who frankly are the ones most politicians and economists are concerned about, those are the working folks who are paying taxes, making enough to pay taxes, middle income, middle, higher income, they're the ones that didn't have big state and local tax deductions who are benefitting from the tax cut. And that's a chunk of America helping the economy.

BURNETT: So, Jen, do people like Joe Biden are at risk, though? Because Joe Biden said the other day people didn't get the tax cut. He did. What he said wasn't factually true either. Is he going to get called out on it or is it going to work for him to campaign on the economy?

PSAKI: Look, I think Joe Biden and a lot of the Democrats will keep campaigning on issues they think people are talking about at the kitchen table, which is always the case in every presidential race, right? But it's changed a little bit.

Right now, if you look at recent CNN polls and other polls, the issue is Democrats are focused on health care, their climate change, their guns. I expect they'll talk about that. They'll also talk about the economy as relates to helping people make their lives better. So, things like cost of education.

So, I think Joe Biden, he can be a little rough with his words sometimes, or not exact with his words sometimes, but what he is trying to get at, people have to choose between who makes people's lives better and he thinks he is presenting the best option.

BURNETT: So, Jim, when you look at the runway, 18 months, a lot can change in 18 months, right, but, you know, I guess there's sort of a sweet spot where things need to be really good or turn around significantly to change the outcome of an election.

[19:35:02] What is your biggest fear over the next 18 months, biggest risk for the economy?

BIANCO: I think it is probably Federal Reserve right now. Interest rates, they have been raising rates, they're on hold now. Inflation is low. But they seem to want to find a reason to keep raising rates. That's what was behind what happened in December and January.

And I fear they might try to find another reason to raise rates again the next 18 months, and it might not go well this time like it did last time.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much.

And next, did the FBI spy on Trump? As you know, the president says yes. Today called it worse than Watergate. But a former top FBI official, Republican lawmaker, says it's just not true.

Plus, the fight for 2020. Joe Biden may be the frontrunner for Democrats, but what about in a state that matters first and most, Iowa?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think right now it is still wide open.



BURNETT: Team Trump tonight seizing on a "New York Times" report that the FBI sent an investigator posing as research assistant to meet with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in 2016.

[19:40:09] Now, President Trump saw this and tweeted today, quote: This is bigger than all caps Watergate. Trump campaign statement says there's no other way to describe it, the FBI spied on the Trump campaign in 2016.

OUTFRONT now, former assistant FBI director under President Trump and former Republican state senator in Nevada, Greg Brower.

Greg, good to have you back.

So, President Trump says bigger than Watergate, his campaign says no question about it, this was spying. Why is this wrong?

GREG BROWER, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FORMER GOP STATE LAWMAKER: Well, I would submit, Erin, that it is not wrong, and without confirming or denying the reporting, this reporting would nevertheless seem to suggest that the FBI was engaged in the typical sort of counterintelligence work that I think most Americans --

BURNETT: So what the FBI did was not wrong, how the president is characterizing it is wrong. Just to be sure I'm clear.

OK. So, go ahead, you're saying normal counterintelligence.

BROWER: The reporting would seem to reveal normal counterintelligence work that happens every day, likely happening as we speak somewhere in the world, and for anyone to suggest the opposite just reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of how the intelligence community works.

BURNETT: So Attorney General Bill Barr is using this word, this is a man that spent a long time in government and should know the definition of terms and why they're so significant. He said many times he believes the Trump campaign was spied on and doubled down on that this week in his testimony. I'll play that for you.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think spying is a good English word that in fact doesn't have synonyms because it is the broadest word incorporating really all forms of covert intelligence collection. So I'm not backing off the word spying.


BURNET: What's your reaction to that. He is not going to back off.

BROWER: Erin, hard to make sense of that non-explanation explanation. Spying is a term that would in my experience as a federal prosecutor and as an FBI official never be used in this context by professionals in the intelligence community. It's just not -- this is just not spying, this is counterintelligence work.

And moreover, what's puzzling to me and many others about the attorney general's comments and his description is the fact that as attorney general, he is uniquely positioned to be able to get a classified briefing on all of the details that went into this investigation, to the beginning of the investigation. That is all at his disposal.

So, to continue to express confusion or wonder about what happened and promise to get to the bottom of it simply doesn't make sense to most observers who have been in the field.

BURNETT: So he's being political. There's no other way to put it it would sound like, he is saying what the president wants him to say.

BROWER: Well, certainly, at least half of Washington sees it that way, which is very unfortunate for the attorney general in my opinion, and unfortunate for Department of Justice, but yes. As we end this week, half of Washington apparently believes that.

BURNETT: So I want to get to the report. The report is about this informant, the latest "New York Times" report, she was going by the name of a pseudonym Azra Turk. She was working alongside a man called Stefan Halper. That was an FBI informant, a Cambridge professor who had met with George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, right? Two Trump aides during the campaign.

Now, we have known about Stefan Halper since May, right? We knew about this, right? We knew that George Papadopoulos bragged about information the Russians had to the Australians who told the Americans who then looked into it to see if there was something untoward happening. We knew about Harper.

So, when Trump seizes on this and says it is worse than Watergate, this is such a huge development that there's a woman working alongside Halper, does that change the story or develop it now that there's an additional person working as an informant?

BROWER: Erin, it really doesn't. It again confirms, reporting suggests and confirms in my mind that if accurate, this is yet another classic example of how the FBI does counter intelligence investigations. But, frankly, you're right, there's not a lot new from previously reported but all seems to be standard operating procedure for the FBI.

BURNETT: So, Attorney General Bill Barr confirmed something in his hearing which is the Trump campaign received a briefing in August of 2016 about Russian threats specifically, right? We know here at CNN that President Trump himself was personally warned that month by senior U.S. intelligence officials that foreign adversaries specifically including Russia would likely attempt to infiltrate his team or gather intelligence about his campaign.

[19:45:02] Now, we know that some of the meetings with the informant happened prior to that. Do you think it is a fair question for the Trump team to ask now, whether the warnings went far enough or were detailed enough?

BROWER: I don't, and I'll explain why. It was good to see the attorney general corrected his prior testimony because I will tell you that it is publicly known that both campaigns were briefed after their respective conventions. At one point, Senator Grassley wrote a letter to the FBI I answered asking for information about the briefings, we made it clear the briefings did happen.

But to the extent that there was an ongoing investigation, counterintelligence or criminal investigation that may have touched on the Trump campaign, that's something that would not be briefed to campaign officials, because those same officials might potentially be subjects of that investigate. That's just investigations 101.

BURNETT: OK. So, to you, this all adds up is the bottom line.

BROWER: Right.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much. Good to have you as always.

BROWER: Thanks, Erin.

And next, the fight for 2020. Is it all about a fresh face or experience?


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Some Democrats are like, you know, time for some new blood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, new blood that would lose would be horrible, wouldn't it?


BURNETT: Plus, Jeanne Moos on Joe Biden getting folksy.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Folks, folks, look, folks. Folks --



[19:50:26] BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight, the fight for 2020. Joe Biden may be the front-runner nationally but in the crucial state of Iowa, it is a wide open field.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT.


BIDEN: It is good to be back in Hawkeye Country. I'll tell you, man, it has been a while.


ZELENY (voice-over): Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the far and away front-runners in the Democratic presidential race. Or are they?


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You want to win Iowa, you campaign in Iowa way.

ZELENY: The Iowa way means one thing for certain. Front-runners can be fleeting.

One voter after another sharing a similar sentiment. The 2020 race is as wide open as a country highway.

(on camera): Do you think at this point there is a front-runner in the race nine months before the Iowa caucuses?

JANE CRANSTON, IOWA VOTER: No. I don't think there is. I think right now it is still wide open. ZELENY (voice-over): Jane and Ed Cranston are following the

Democratic primary far closer than most. Often, the race comes right into their living room. Like when they hosted a visit from Julian Castro.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you all for coming and for this amazing turnout.

ZELENY: They intend to meet and take a measure of all candidates.

After Trump won in 2016, they formed a group with their Democratic friends to get ready.

J. CRANSTON: We called our group the Pot Luck Insurgency because it is an Iowa pot luck but we want it to be edgy, too.

ZELENY: They're in no hurry to pick a favorite, saying they want to watch the candidates grow and be tested.

J. CRANSTON: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head. It is who can win and that is a hard thing to judge, especially so early. But that's what everybody is looking for.

ED CRANSTON, IOWA VOTER: It is critical. Bernie got a lot of people excited, so we still need that same excitement this next round.

ZELENY: When Biden visited Iowa this week, Ed was there listening closely, and going in for a brief handshake.

E. CRANSTON: So it was good to touch the flesh. I'm impressed. I think he didn't disappoint.

ZELENY: Nine months before the Iowa caucus, the field of candidates now stands at 21, with a mix of old faces and new ones. That speaks to a critical question facing voters.

(on camera): What do you say to Democrats when it is time for some new blood?

SARA RILEY, IOWA DEMOCRAT: Well, new blood that would lose would really be horrible, wouldn't it? I think Pete Buttigieg is wonderful. But Biden has so much more experience and I want a president who will be ready from day one.

ZELENY (voice-over): Yet not everyone sees a golden lining in experience.

Jen Kerrigan (ph) says he loves Joe Biden but doesn't believe she could vote for him.

JEN KERRIGAN (ph), IOWA VOTER: This is a terrible thing to say, but it is his age. And I know that's wrong, that is not politically correct to say that.

ZELENY: She actually likes Cory booker but is keeping an open mind and attended an organizing session this week for Elizabeth Warren. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Senator Warren has more paid staffers on the ground here in Iowa than any other campaign, with about 50 or so. She and other candidates are trying for a strong showing here to move beyond Iowa.

Erin, one thing is clear, votes are looking for someone who could beat President Trump. No consensus on who that is. The Iowa caucuses nine months from tonight -- Erin.

BURNETT: Nine months from tonight. All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

And next, Jeanne on Joe Biden trying to really live up to his folksy image.


BIDEN: Folks, folks, folks.



[19:58:12] BURNETT: Tonight, a word Joe Biden can't stop saying. Here is Jeanne.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Biden is known for his folksy image and, boy, did he leave up to it. From the first words out of his mouth --

BIDEN: Folks.


Look, folks.

Folks --

MOOS: Get used to it, folks.

BIDEN: Look, folks. Look, folks.

Folks, look.

MOOS: Trump may be famous for saying --

TRUMP: I know words. I have the best words.

MOOS: But even President Trump doesn't spew the same word --

BIDEN: Folks.

MOOS: -- at this rate in a single speech -- BIDEN: Folks --

MOOS: Biden's first speech is a 2020 presidential candidate in Iowa.

BIDEN: Folks, look --

Folks --

MOOS: As Trevor Noah put it.

TREVOR NOAH, COMEDIAN: People don't just love Joe Biden because he's a down to earth every day man, no. People love him because he's an adorable goofball.

MOOS: Joe blew a few words.

BIDEN: To wage a war on tritter -- on Twitter. I think of it the first way.

MOOS: The day before, he created his own words.

BIDEN: The UAW took extradible cuts in their future.

MOOS: A cross between incredible and extraordinary.

While President Trump prefers an earthy cuss word --


MOOS: Biden makes B.S. sound quaint.

BIDEN: That is so much malarkey.

MOOS: He even gets folksy about foreigners, in his case, the Chinese.

BIDEN: They're not bad folks, folks.

MOOS: In a single half hour speech --

BIDEN: Folks, look.

MOOS: We didn't look. We counted.

BIDEN: Folks --

Folks --

And folks, we have to stop it.

MOOS: We thought he stopped at 32. But later, he stopped for a chocolate and vanilla ice cream cone and folksy Joe had one more to go.

BIDEN: Any of these folks want ice cream, it is on me.

MOOS: Jeff left $40. You're welcome, folks. Jeanne Moos, CNN --

CARTOON CHARACTER: That's all folks.

MOOS: -- New York.


BURNETT: Thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend.

Anderson starts now.