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Erin Burnett Outfront
President Trump Seething After Cohen Says He Covered Up "His Dirty Deeds;" "National Enquirer" Publisher Strikes Deal With Feds In Cohen Probe; Senate Defies Trump, Moves Ahead With Yemen War Resolution; Interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), Vermont; Interview with Rep. Denny Heck (D), Washington. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired December 12, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Keep up the great, great work. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT tonight, President Trump seething and unusually silent after his long-time fixer gets three years in prison and hints there's a lot more to come.
Plus, the "National Enquirer" reaching a deal with prosecutors tonight, admitting it paid hush money to a play mate and here's the key, to influence the election.
And a top contender for Trump's chief of staff out of the running. Who is going to take the job? Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT this evening, President Trump seething, watching his former fixer, his long-time lawyer, the man who knew where skeletons were buried, get ready to go to prison. This is, we're learning, Michael Cohen might do even more damage to the President. Cohen sentenced to three years in prison in part for crimes that according to federal prosecutors were committed, their words, in coordination with and at the direction of Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, your reaction to Michael Cohen's sentencing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, is Michael Cohen covered up (ph) your dirty deeds?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: No answer. Dirty deeds. Why did the reporter use those words? Well those are the exact words Cohen used today when explaining why he paid a porn star and playboy model for their silence just before the 2016 election. After learning that he is heading to prison for three full years, Cohen today saying, "A blind loyalty to this man," that's Trump, "that led me to choose a path of darkness over light. I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds".
And tonight, a major development on those alleged dirty deeds. American Media, the owner of the "National Enquirer" is reaching a deal with prosecutors in connection with one of these payments. Specifically here, the $150,000 payment to Karen McDougal, the Playboy model. Prosecutors saying flat out, "AMI", that's American Media, the parent of the "National Enquirer", "admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with the candidate's presidential campaign and in order to ensure that the women did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 election. AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election".
Principal purpose. Influencing the election. Prosecutors could not be clearer. And the two people at the center of this payment deal to McDougal, let's be clear, Michael Cohen, 12-year fixer for the President, and the man you see there, the Chief of the "National Enquirer" and AMI, David Pecker, a long-time personal friend of Donald J. Trump's. This is a big deal. Prosecutors are now going to the heart of the matter, getting closer and closer to the President of the United States.
We've a lot to get to tonight. I want to start with Jeff Zeleny OUTFRONT live outside the White House. And Jeff, the President tonight with these major developments said to be seething.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, the President was unusually silent publicly about Michael Cohen and that's something he's not been for several weeks and months as this has developed. You'll remember eight months ago, the President was seething then at the fact that Feds raided Michael Cohen's office. I'm told that he was seething today at what was playing out in the courtroom in New York. He was watching the TV coverage of this and he was saying, in three words, an official told me, he said, he's a liar. That's the President saying that of his long-time fixer and aide.
But never mind that, Erin. This felt like a different day here at the White House, largely because of this. For all the twists and turns into this, you know, sort of confusing investigation, Michael Cohen stands among equals as being the closest person to the President who's not a family member who now is in the middle of this. So, the President has been seething for a while, but first, he denied the involvement and then he threw Michael Cohen under the bus, saying he was weak.
But hearing this today, the President unusually silent, and you heard the reporters asking him questions there. He's not tweeted about this yet at all. Look for that to be coming at some point, if not tonight, probably tomorrow. But I am told he's still sticking behind the fact that he says Michael Cohen is a liar but, Erin, the reality is here, Michael Cohen knows a lot and the words at the end of the hearing, he said I will keep cooperating with the government. That must be unsettling to some here at the White House, Erin?
BURNETT: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much. Of course, Michael Cohen is a liar, except for when he's telling the truth, which prosecutors say he is, because they have corroborated this with others and that's where the AMI plea deal comes in, which could be so crucial. OUTFRONT now, John Dean, former Nixon White House Counsel, Anne Milgram, former Federal Prosecutor and Patrick Healy, Politics Editor for the New York Times. Anne, the parent company of the "National Enquirer" right now striking this deal, right? So Michael Cohen, as I said, of course, he is a liar except for when he's telling the truth and they say they've got this as fact, that this was done to influence the election from others, obviously including AMI. Clear on that plea deal, admitting they paid the hush money to help influence the election. How big of a deal is it?
[19:05:10] ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: To me, this is an enormously big deal and I think this is really the story of the day, which is that before this, we had Michael Cohen saying we did this to influence the election, but again, Michael Cohen would be difficult to use as a witness. He could be discredited. There are lots of problems with him. And Donald Trump would argue, obviously, it wasn't about the election, I was just doing a payoff to protect my wife or whatnot.
You now have someone else independently saying in a public statement of a non-prosecution agreement, no, we did this for the election. And I think that's consistent with all the other evidence that we've seen as well in terms of the timing of the payoffs, the conversations with, in this case, Karen McDougal's attorney, but to have it now from another witness, it's devastating for the President. And they could charge him after -- if he were to lose the election in 2020, they could charge the President under the statute of limitations will not have run.
MILGRAM: This makes it a case. If you just had Michael Cohen, it's complicated. With these two people, I think it's --
BURNETT: And they do say, right, you know, in the original, for Michael Cohen, right, it said they had other -- they had multiple, right, and they used the word, plural, in terms of people backing up Michael Cohen's story so now we know one of them. Possibly there could be even more. I mean, Patrick, principal purpose of influencing the election.
PATRICK HEALY, POLITICS EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right.
BURNETT: That isn't even a purpose, a hope for. That is principal purpose. This is obviously very significant.
HEALY: It's huge and what we're learning today is that there was a conspiracy that Donald Trump is directly implicated in to quiet what would have been a massive political threat at sort of the key moment in the election when he and his campaign knew that they were having trouble with female voters, that they were going up and Hillary Clinton did have that kind of momentum in September and October, that this was a direct threat. And this AMI, you know, bombshell is huge because it goes to what was a Donald Trump pattern, you know, for many, many years, which was basically figuring out ways to use money to silence, you know, to threats or deter threats. And it is that level of corroboration that takes this well beyond Cohen.
BURNETT: Well beyond Cohen and also I want to make the point for people watching, right, these affairs had happened in the past. These two that we're talking about -- who know, these are the two we know about at this point. He could have paid them off a long time before, right? It happened in the weeks before the election when the pee tape is coming out, the pee-word tape, so obviously context here is everything.
John Dean, this is getting closer and closer to Trump himself. This is his personal lawyer and his close friend.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Indeed. It's at his doorstep right now. I would say that today's change or the formal plea being accepted and the sentencing has really put this right in the President's lap, and there's corroboration now with the AMI. There's also probably additional corroboration given the statements that were made by the government in the courtroom today would suggest that they have even more evidence than we know about, could be somebody like Mr. Weisselberg, the Chief Financial Officer. He was given immunity to testify in this case, and he probably has backed this all up as well.
BURNETT: Well, I mean, you know, as we've heard, you know, Barbara Res, former V.P. at Trump organization saying there's no way payments of these sizes would have ever not been known exactly by the President, which of course is what people are now directly saying. The President's the one who's saying he didn't know. Everything else would indicate he did.
And Anne, to this point, he has completely switched his strategy because at first, let's remember that moment in Air Force One. He said, I have no idea about any of this. Let me just play that moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael Cohen make it, if there was no truth to her allegation?
TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael's my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: No, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: I mean, Rudy Giuliani obviously subsequently admitted that the President did know and now the President himself is saying, OK, OK, but it's no big deal. Last night he told Reuters, "Number one, it wasn't a campaign contribution. If it were, it's only civil, and even if it's only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?"
I don't know if he meant to say we did. OK, it's very clear. He's moving the goal post. I knew nothing about it. Now, OK, but who cares.
MILGRAM: Yes. What is the shifting -- so that goal post has moved consistently. I mean, it is stunning that he's actually come to the point of admitting that he knew, right, and I think it's important because again, I'm sure that the Special Counsel's office can prove that or the southern district can prove that and so, you know, he strikes me as admit what you can't deny, deny what you can't admit. He's caught on this and he cannot deny that he knew. There's enough evidence against him so now he's switching to say, well, it wasn't about the election. It was other things, and you know, Giuliani has even said publicly, though, this would have been terrible if it came out.
[19:10:06] So, there's no question that it was connected to the election. There's no question now that there's a lot of people who could testify. And don't forget that 2014 meeting that we found out about last week in the papers that were submitted, which was Trump, David Pecker from AMI and Cohen all agreeing this is exactly what they would do. And so, you know, the playbook, they set the playbook in 2014 and then they executed on it in 2016 when they had threats come up.
BURNETT: And look, his best defense now may be, I didn't think I would win the election but that doesn't matter, Patrick, because the point is, you still were doing it to influence, right? That's the felony. It doesn't matter if you can prove you thought you were going to lose, as he did.
HEALY: Right. No, that's not going to hold up at all. And whether it's, you know, if it's two years out, I mean, he's looking at enormous legal liability. And again, I mean, as Anne said, you know, when John said, we have -- apparently there's probably multiple corroboration here, you know, for his sort of implication.
And what, you know, what Trump does now is, you know, he goes to his playbook. You know, he goes to vilifying Cohen as much as possible. He probably goes to double downing on Rudy Giuliani as well. The prosecutors and sort of the out of control prosecutors to satisfy the base, Republican reading stories about whether the President can pardon himself over and over again. But it doesn't get away from the fact that the President lied when he said no on Air Force One about, you know, about the payments, and it doesn't get away from the very fact that he has enormous legal liability now.
BURNETT: And John Dean, on that front, the Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff just told CNN that based on these developments, the Justice Department should re-examine that precedent, right, that a sitting President can't be indicted, which is debatable but seen as somewhat of a precedent. Here's Adam Schiff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't think that the Justice Department ought to take the position and it's certainly not one that would be required in any way by the Constitution, that a President merely by being in office can be above the law, can escape the enforcement of the law by essentially waiting out the law, by waiting out the statute of limitations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, John, what are the odds, you think, that this sitting President would be indicted and separately, if he were to be -- this were to go all the way to the end, how long would someone, in this case him, go to jail for, for doing -- go to jail for doing this?
DEAN: Well, there's a real good argument that a president -- a sitting president can be indicted, and the principle is that no man is above the law. The 1973 memo that was written was really addressed to the Vice President who -- Spiro Agnew who was claiming, you can't prosecute me, you can only impeach me so the legal counsel issued the opinion saying, no, Mr. Vice President, you're wrong, you can be indicted, it's the President who can't be indicted.
And then that was reaffirmed in 2000 during Bill Clinton's but not major changes in the thinking in the opinion. It is a dubious policy. And particularly since we do have now a 25th Amendment that a president who can't fulfill his duties can be replaced by the vice president temporarily and then you could proceed with a case and not really disrupt the operations of the government.
BURNETT: Anne, quickly, before we go, could he go to jail for this?
MILGRAM: If he were -- my view is he will not be charged by Robert Mueller for this. It's just Mueller's going to follow the existing Department of Justice precedent, whether or not he lawfully, constitutional could do.
BURNETT: But let's say after --
MILGRAM: If he is in 2020 and the statute of limitations, which I believe is five years, would not have run and he was charged, the answer is yes.
BURNETT: He would go to jail.
MILGRAM: I mean, it would depend on the sentence but it's very possible.
BURNETT: All right. Something to think about if everyone takes a step back. These are moments when we say this is a real conversation we're having about a sitting President of the United States. Thank you all very much.
And next, former long time "National Enquirer" editor joins me. We're talking right about one payment now. What more? Could Trump's favorite tabloid and close friend, David Pecker, have on the President.
Plus members of Trump's own party delivering a sharp rebuke to him when it comes to the ruler of Saudi Arabia. Will the President listen?
And one of the President's fiercest defenders tonight out of the running to be his chief of staff. So, now, we're on to plan C. What is it?
[19:18:04] BURNETT: How much more does the "National Enquirer" have on President Donald Trump? I mean, that's a hugely pressing question tonight. After reaching that plea deal (ph) with prosecutors, the tabloid is admitting to paying off at least one woman, Karen McDougal, you see her there, the Playboy model to influence the election. So the big question is what else does the editor in chief, the "National Enquirer"" chief and long-time Trump friend David Pecker know?
OUTFRONT now, the former L.A. Bureau Chief at the "National Enquirer", Jerry George, who worked at the Enquirer for 28 years. Jerry, you know more than anyone tonight how important this story is, and this big development. So, all of this is, they're saying, yes, this payment to Karen McDougal, it was done expressly for the principal purpose of influencing the election. So that's one woman. How much more could the "National Enquirer" have just as a matter of course about Donald Trump, Jerry?
JERRY GEORGE, FORMER L.A. BUREAU CHIEF OF "NATIONAL ENQUIRER": Well, Erin, this could well be the smocking gun that the President alluded to a couple weeks ago. I mean, this firmly entrenches him in a huge campaign finance scandal, and it totally backs up Michael Cohen's testimony, and it says a lot, also, about the loyalty of his friends.
BURNETT: Right. And obviously, in this case, we're talking about David Pecker. I mean, let's be clear. You worked there for 28 years. David Pecker was a friend of Donald Trump's. I mean, you know, there was -- you know, in some case, they said, what, Donald Trump was the silent editor of the "National Enquirer".
GEORGE: That's true. David Pecker had given the Trump organization free reign to dictate the coverage, and of course, you know, cover up any unflattering stories about the candidate during the election.
BURNETT: So, let's just, again, the summary here, right, is the "National Enquirer" pays a Playboy model for her story, right. So she's happy, she thinks they're going to publish it, right, but the whole point is they're never going to publish it because they're going to help Trump, right? David Pecker is going to help Trump.
[19:20:06] How common was that? I mean, what I'm trying to get at, Jerry, is could there be more of these sorts of payments? How common was this sort of thing, this catch and release as it's called?
GEORGE: There are other instances of this involving other women. And there's also the Saudi connection that David Pecker has obtained through President Trump.
BURNETT: And just give everyone a little bit more of a sense of that, what you're referring to.
GEORGE: Well, you know, American Media put out a Saudi special, a tourism special earlier this year, seemingly out of left field. It was racked at Walmart, and it was a glossy, and it wasn't the terrain for, as usual, with the Enquirer. And then shortly after that, the Enquirer bought up, swallowed up its competitor, Bauer publications, so the money came from somewhere. I think it's suspicious and a lot of people do.
BURNETT: Yes. No, I -- you summarized it well and obviously in light of the President's defiant and mind-boggling defense of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, instead of his own intelligence, that takes on perhaps a much more sinister tone. Jerry, ultimately, how worried do you think President Trump should be tonight because David Pecker and American Media have agreed to cooperate in order to avoid charges with prosecutors on this specific issue of paying off women?
GEORGE: I don't think that the President is going to be able to wiggle out of it this time, you know? I think this could very well be the beginning of the end.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jerry, I appreciate your time. Someone who obviously sat and edited and looked at these types of things for 28 years.
OUTFRONT next, Republicans in a rare move going against President Trump. Why a stunning rebuke late tonight.
Plus the list growing tonight of contenders out of the running to be the President's chief of staff. What happened to this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This is a hot White House. We are a White House that people want to work with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:25:45] BURNETT: New tonight, defying President Trump, the GOP-led Senate voting against the President, moving forward to end American support for the Saudi Crown Prince's war in Yemen. It is an unprecedented vote and it's a major rebuke of Trump's full-throated constant support of the Saudi Crown Prince. The man, let's all recall, that the CIA has concluded directed the brutal murder and dismemberment of American resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Manu Raju is OUTFRONT. And Manu, this was a major slam against the President from his own party late today.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, bipartisan group of senators pushing this forward, 60 senators agreeing to move forward on this resolution, expected to pass the Senate probably tomorrow. Now, one of the sponsors on this bill, Democrat Chris Murphy, said that this is -- represents the firmest rebuke of Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Congress has given in the history of our relationship.
And this is in no small part by the administration's handling of the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a number of Republicans and Democrats have had it with Saudi Arabia, want the administration to go much further, are frustrated with the President's siding with the Crown Prince and they believe that the CIA has been unambiguous in its own determination. But at the same time, Erin, some Republicans are siding with the President, including in the House where they took steps to deny this resolution from coming forward for a vote.
This resolution to pull back support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. However, in the Senate, other actions bound to take shape, including formally placing the blame on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Expect that to take shape in the coming days. And if that passes both chambers, that would land on the President's desk and, Erin, he need make a decision, to sign it or veto it in the face of congressional opposition, Erin?
BURNETT: And pretty incredible. Congressional opposition, intelligence community opposition, just stunning. Thank you so much.
RAJU: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, one of the cosponsors of the Senate resolution rebuking Trump today, Senator Bernie Sanders. And Senator, I appreciate your time. Look, the vote overwhelming, 60 to39, bipartisan, defiance of the President and his personal repeated embrace of the Saudi Crown Prince. Are you confident you have enough votes for this Yemen resolution to ultimately be passed?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, I am not much into speculation, but I think we're in pretty good shape. We have, as you indicated, a bipartisan support and the reason for that is that Democrats and Republicans and the American people are thoroughly mortified by what we're seeing in Yemen, which is now the worst humanitarian disaster on earth. We're talking about 85,000 children having starved to death over the last three years, according to the United Nations. Millions of people in that country are now facing imminent starvation. 10,000 cholera cases every single week
And I think what the Congress is now saying is that we do not want to continue participating with Saudi Arabia in that war as a result -- which the famine came about as a result of the Saudi intervention. We want out.
BURNETT: So, your resolution, obviously, you know, in part, right, you'd stop the armed sales, American arms sales that are going to Saudi Arabia that are being used for that war in Yemen. The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, though, is urging a no vote on your idea, Senator Sanders. Instead he's pushing Bob Corker's bill, it's much more narrow, right? It would simply condemn the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for his role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Is there any situation under which you would support that bill?
SANDERS: I think that bill probably has a lot of good things in it and I could very well support it. But the main thing right now is that the United States has got to end its participation in the war in Yemen, instead of supporting more and more bombs falling on to that horrific situation. What we have got to do is bring the warring parties together, stop the war, and start working with the United Nations on humanitarian help for a very -- a country which is suffering terribly.
BURNETT: Now, you know, as you said, you may well, at some point, support Senator Corker's bill. He, of course, has been on your side when it comes specifically to the person who has been in charge of this war from the beginning, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. MBS, he is in charge of this. He is also, of course, according to the CIA, the one who directed the horrible dismemberment and murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Here's Senator Corker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: There's no question that this crown prince directed it, monitored it, knew everything there was to know about it.
If he was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes, guilty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: Do you believe holding MBS personally to account as Corker wants to do is the real deal? I mean, could that end up getting where you want to get? Because he is the guy in charge of the war.
SANDERS: Erin, Erin, we're talking about two different things. We're talking about, now, a humanitarian crisis where millions of people face imminent starvation. That has got to stop. We got to stop that war.
In addition to that, obviously, I agree with Senator Corker, that the crown prince is responsible for the murder of Khashoggi and he has got to be held accountable and this raises the question of a new relationship with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a despotic country. They do not have any respect for human rights or democracy. I think we have to rethink our relationship with that country.
BURNETT: You know, President Trump was just asked by "Reuters" of his vow, to your point, to stand with Saudi Arabia means that he is standing with the person in charge, who's in charge of this war, the crown prince, and he says, quote, it certainly does. He's the leader of Saudi Arabia. They've been a very good ally.
That's just the latest, of course, Senator, and the president's full- throated, constant defense of MBS, the crown prince, who, of course, the CIA concluded directed that foul murder. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hate the cover-up. And I will tell you this. The crown prince hates it more than I do.
I spoke with the crown prince yesterday, and he strongly said that he had nothing to do with this.
It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Senator, why do you think President Trump is standing personally with Mohammed bin Salman?
SANDERS: Well, it's hard to say, exactly, but I think for a start, President Trump is, in my view, not a great fan of democracy. He likes authoritarian leaders all over the world, whether it is Putin in Russia or MBS in Saudi Arabia or even, you know, the leader of North Korea.
Second of all, it is possible that there are financial dealings between the Trump enterprise and Saudi Arabia as well. But the bottom line is, this country, which has stood for democracy and human rights throughout our existence, should not be partnering with somebody who murdered a dissident in cold blood and is now leading an effort in Yemen which is causing mass starvation and the worst humanitarian disaster on earth.
BURNETT: Senator, you know, when you think about what's happening here, the horrors that are happening, it's not just the president who's supporting the man in charge there. "New York Times" is reporting that Jared Kushner is also personally involved, right? I mean, we know he has a personal relationship with the crown prince but now he's had conversations after Khashoggi's murder about, quote, how to weather the storm. That's literally the words that are being used. Totally on his team.
Does Congress need to investigate Kushner's relationship with MBS?
SANDERS: Well, I think that the new house of representatives, Democratically controlled, will be probably taking a very hard look at the Trump family's relationship with Saudi Arabia.
BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time, Senator. Thank you, as always.
SANDERS: Thank you very much.
BURNETT: And next, President Trump claims he has a long list of candidates for chief of staff. But who wants that job right now on the list?
Plus, accused Russian spy about to appear in court. He home country's claiming she was tortured in the United States. Tonight, why is the Kremlin coming to her defense? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[19:38:07] BURNETT: Out of the running, Congressman Mark Meadows, staunch supporter of President Trump, someone reported to be one of the top choices for the chief of staff is out of the running. Both Meadows and the White House putting out statements saying he's not leaving Congress and it comes after former Senator Rick Santorum told me last night he won't take the job. Of course, Nick Ayers, who was, like, done, the press release was written that he was taking the job, left the president hanging, and that is why we are where we are now, which is not a good place.
OUTFRONT, Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent at "The Nation", and Scott Jennings, former special assistant to George W. Bush.
OK. Another one out here, Joan.
JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: Yes. And it's a really sad reality TV show now, Erin. It's like nobody wants the rose. What's going to happen?
And, you know, I mean, look, like the president, don't like the president, you have to admit this is a thankless job. He wants an alpha figure. He wants, you know, someone with a high-profile, but he also wants someone subservient. Those two things don't go well together. John Kelly learned that.
By the end of the show, Scott might get a call, depending on how Scott does here tonight, Scott could be next.
BURNETT: There was -- Scott reporting he was watching television.
Look, he told "Reuters", Scott, that there are 10 to 12 people who want the job so badly. This is what he said in the Oval Office yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Lot of friends of mine want it. A lot of people that Chuck and Nancy know very well want it. I think people you'd like. We have a lot of people that want the job, chief of staff. So we'll be seeing what happens very soon. We're in no rush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Scott, if so many people want it, why haven't they found someone yet? Every time there's a name under consideration, it leaks so all these people dying for it, all that's leaking is all the people who are turning it down, Mnuchin, Mulvaney, Ayers, Meadows, Santorum.
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, I think that they were definitely caught flat footed by Nick not taking the job.
[19:40:04] Ayers was widely thought to be taking it. That obviously prevented them from doing other list building. So, they're still recovering from that.
I have no doubt that several people want it. That doesn't mean they're qualified and ultimately I think that's why it's a good thing Meadows is not taking this job. I know he supports the president but that doesn't necessarily make you qualified to run the White House staff or to be the best person for this job.
I think they are taking the right posture by taking their time. He doesn't have to have a chief of staff because in many ways, he's his own chief of staff, and so I think the only thing worse than having three chiefs of staff out of the gate would be having four, and if you make a hasty decision that turns out to be incorrect, that's what you're headed for, a quick cup of coffee and you're out.
So take your time. Make a good pick. Make sure the person's qualified to do crisis management because that's where we're headed here.
BURNETT: Let's talk about how hard it's going to be to get someone. A lot of people want it but qualified is the big issue.
Piers Morgan, you know, I love Piers, and he was Trump's first "Celebrity Apprentice", he wrote a letter laying out why he would be a good chief of staff and it was sort of, obviously, a joke, but there was a lot of seriousness in it.
In part, Piers writes: Why is it considered such a poisoned chalice? One of the many reasons I love Piers Morgan. Because everybody knows there can only be one chief in the White House and his name is Donald J. Trump. You're your own chief and always have been. That's no longer a sensible way to run things.
Let's just say, Joan, that's the way of using a joke to say something very serious.
WALSH: Well, I think it is serious. I mean, we talked about it over the summer. There were all these -- there were rumors that he was saying, why can I be my own chief of staff. So, I mean, they could conceivably go back.
I don't think anyone will totally let him do that but that's basically the job is an administrative job. Scott is right. There will be a lot of crisis management. But that's why I think it's so hard to find someone.
I have no internal sourcing about the Nick Ayers decision. Scott knows more than I do. But that's just seemed like, you know, a lot of Mueller stuff coming out, lot of legal stuff coming out, and suddenly someone who's been, by some accounts, angling for the job, doesn't want it. What's going on?
BURNETT: I mean, Scott, you know, to this point, you've got Nick Ayers, right, mentioning his family. Rick Santorum's name also was mentioned, I believe a "Washington Post" story that he had met with the president at the Army-Navy game. I asked him about it and here's what he told me last night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The bottom line for me is, just really like Nick Ayers, my family situation really doesn't allow me to do that right now. I would, again, be honored to do it at some point in time, maybe, but at this point, it just doesn't fit for me and my family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Now, look, Scott, you know, I want to make it clear. Rick is incredibly committed to his family. I know that about him. We all know that.
He's sincere. But you got Nick Ayers also citing his family. Meadows now wants to stay in the House.
I mean, Scott, how hard is it going to be for the president to get someone who is really qualified? Because I think we all can be honest, John Kelly took a hit in his credibility and reputation for what he endured in that job. And nobody else wants to have that happen to them.
JENNINGS: Yes, I think you have to be very clear with the president up front. I'm coming in to serve you and I don't want to be subjected to any kind of humiliation down the road and if you do that to me, I'm not going to stick around and take it. I think you have to be clear about that. You have to be clear about all the things that you expect to be given the authority to do. You have to be clear about what you will and won't do as it relates to public statements.
I think the key here is getting clear with the president up front about all these criteria and then if you can get to an agreement on that, I actually still believe this is one of the greatest things you can do.
BURNETT: You trust him? If he said to you, Scott, OK, I'm not going to make you have to go out and lie in public. I'm not going to humiliate you. I promise you when I fire you, I won't do all kinds of back stabbing. Would you sign it and believe it?
JENNINGS: If I were discussed -- to discuss this thing, I would do two things. I would talk to my family about it. If they were on board, I would make my list, which I just laid out and it would include a few more things and absolutely.
Serving the president and serving your country is a high honor. I know it's not all rainbows and unicorns out here these days, but that doesn't make public service any less noble. They will find somebody, they will be qualified, and I hope that person goes into it with a good attitude despite the challenges.
WALSH: Scott has not ruled it out. I just want to make it clear.
JENNINGS: Do you share that hope, though?
WALSH: No, of course not.
BURNETT: Because it is the presidency.
WALSH: Well, it's this president. I mean, Scott is right. You know, I can say in a bipartisan way, we need public servants. Public service is very important to, you know, on either side.
But this president consistently lies. He lies to the people around him. He could make a commitment to anyone, and he will break it the next day.
There's no way for someone unless they have a higher goal, I don't know what that would be, unless they have an ambition, unless they have another thing that they want to accomplish with this job, no one can accept -- can expect that he's going to keep his word if he makes a promise like that.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both. To be continued.
And next, Russia defending a Russian spy, alleged, she's going to plead guilty to it, accused of infiltrating Republican circles with a contact in the Trump circle.
[19:45:07] They say she's been tortured in the United States.
Plus, Pelosi's power walk. The shot that has people calling her a hero.
BURNETT: New tonight, torture and the Russian spy?
In an exclusive interview with CNN, the Russian foreign minister tonight saying accused Russian spy Maria Butina was tortured in American prison. This ahead of Butina's plea hearing tomorrow morning in Washington where she's set to plead guilty to conspiring to act as an agent of the Kremlin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON: It's not about justice. It's not justice. It's just inquisition. It's medieval inquisition because she's intimidated, she was tortured and she was treated not like a human being, not like a woman. I think she was treated and still is treated probably as a terrorist or something like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congressman Denny Heck who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, tortured, treated as a terrorist, medieval treatment. That is some accusations, series of accusations from the Russian foreign minister.
[19:50:04] It's not just anybody. It's the foreign minister of Russia.
What's your reaction?
REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: They lie. They lie through their teeth. This is the same country that said they didn't have anything to do with the attempted assassination with a Russian expatriate in England. This is the same country that said they didn't have anything to do with shooting down a Flight 17. This is the same country that denies involvement whatsoever in some of the bombing by Syria against civilians. They lie.
BURNETT: So, let me play another sound bite of what the Russian foreign minister is saying today. Here she is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKHAROVA: All her steps which were -- were already taken by her just to defend herself, are supported by Russia, by Russian side, by Russian officials, and by Russian people, just because she's a political prisoner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Supported by the Russian side, Russian officials and the Russian people. That is as full-throated of a defense as you can get. Again, I want to make it clear to our viewers, this woman is going to be plead guilty tomorrow to being an agent of the Kremlin, right, in common parlance, we would use the word, spy.
What do you make of this full-throated Russian defense, Congressman?
HECK: Well, again, this is the same country that has murdered up to something like 13 journalists since Putin returned to power in the Kremlin. So there really is nothing that comes out of their mouth that you can trust. The fact of the matter is they throughout all these lies, they hope to deflect, deceive, and cause so much confusion that people to get to the point where they say, I just don't know what to believe.
But the fact of the matter is this is very significant because you know what she's getting, she's getting due process. If she were accused of this crime in Russia, she wouldn't be getting any due process. The fact of matter is, she had an attorney, she went through the process. She's now admitting her guilt.
And what is truly significant about this, emblematic about this, Erin, an example of the depth and breadth that Russia went to to interfere in American democracy and to try to steal our 2016 election.
BURNETT: So, Congressman, let me be clear, right? I mean, she tried to infiltrate GOP circles. That's the allegation, right?
HECK: Tried to?
BURNETT: She was in a relationship -- she's going to plead guilty to it as of now, right, that's the allegation from prosecutors. You mentioned the election. I want to make sure people know, she had multiple contacts with J.B. Gordon. He was on Trump's national security team during the campaign, senior member, anticipated joining the transition. They went out several times together.
Is there any doubt in your mind that she was targeting team Trump?
HECK: So, she is just one of many. We have now documented that there were at least 16 Trump operatives who had communication or interaction with Russians or Russian operatives during the course of the campaign. So, she doesn't stand out all by herself. This was a part of a pattern that speaks to the Russian effort to, again, steal our election in 2016.
Erin, I'm going to say something tonight I haven't said before. I've been talking about the Russia investigation for nearly two years now since I went on the Intel Committee, but in light of what happened today, in light of all the events of the last couple weeks and all the sentencing memos that had been filed, 36 indictments, three prison terms and the like, I'm prepared to say something I've never said.
The writing's on the wall. The walls are closing in. This is the beginning of the end for the Trump administration.
BURNETT: And when you say beginning of the end, that means impeachment? It means he's gone before the end of the term?
HECK: I don't know precisely what it means except what I intend for it to mean is this, that the Mueller investigation is getting closer and closer. Now, they now have the president as an unindicted co- conspirator for campaign finance laws, breaking campaign finance laws, but we also know that they're going down two other tracks.
They're going down, of course, the Russian interference track, which was their core mission. We already know that there was collusion. Collusion is different than conspiracy and coordination. And that remains it be seen based on Robert Mueller's final work product.
They're also exploring as we full well know obstruction of justice activity on the part of either the president or people on his behalf. I don't think that Bob Mueller's going to be deterred here, Erin. It's interesting to note that yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Mutters Ridge in Vietnam where a very young second lieutenant, Mueller, won the Bronze Star for valor.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Congressman. I appreciate it.
HECK: You're welcome.
BURNETT: Sobering comments tonight.
Next, Jeanne Moos on the shot that has turned Nancy Pelosi into a star.
[19:58:01] BURNETT: New tonight, Nancy Pelosi's star power.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At that now-famous Oval Office meeting --
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We should not have a Trump shutdown, or you'll have --
TRUMP: A what? Did you say Trump? Oh.
MOOS: -- there was a lot of shade thrown, but when Nancy Pelosi put on shades for exactly five seconds, that became the moment her fans immortalized.
Pelosi like a rock star. That look when you just got finished manhandling a man baby. The new power suit for women, red coat, sunglasses, nerves of steel.
For a politician who almost saw her position as House speaker to be blown up, it must be sweet to be compared to the cool dude in "CSI Miami."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burn, baby, burn.
MOOS: Critics threw cold water. When you're getting excited by Nancy Pelosi putting on sunglasses, you need to take a deep breath and maybe look in the mirror.
Tell that to whoever made Pelosi gangster by adding Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
Pelosi joins other sunglass-wearing women who went viral like Hillary and Elisabeth Moss from "Mad Men."
At the meeting, President Trump Nancied and Chucked the two leaders to death.
TRUMP: Nancy. Chuck. Nancy. Do you have walls? Nancy, I'd have it passed in two seconds. The last time, Chuck. Nancy, I need ten votes from Chuck.
MOOS: But why waste time with two separate names when you can combine them into one? Nanchuck. Nanchuck was the brain child of two CNN anchors, Lemon and Cuomo. Or if you prefer Lemonuomo.
Cuomo gave Lemon credit.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: My name was not good. I had Pelomer and Schelosi. Nanchuck was great it's like Bruce Lee would do with those things.
MOOS: From Bruce Lee to Jay-Z.
Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi. Also known as Nanchuck.
Jeanne Moos, CNN --
PELOSI: The fact is, you do not have the votes.
TRUMP: Nancy, I do.
MOOS: -- New York.
BURNETT: Thank you for joining us.
"ANDERSON" starts now.