Return to Transcripts main page

Erin Burnett Outfront

Don Lemon Speaks Out After Elon Musk Cancels Deal; Putin Warns West: Russia Is "Ready" To Use Nuclear Weapons; Wisconsin Voter: "Pleasantly Surprised" By Biden's "Energy Level". Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 13, 2024 - 19:00   ET




Don Lemon live on why Elon Musk is telling him that his X contract is, quote, canceled. The abrupt announcement after Lemon's wide ranging interview stay with Musk. We now have never-before-seen clips from that interview. What set Musk off?

Plus Putin's red line. The Russian dictator directly threatening the United States and again, raising the possibility of using nuclear weapons as the U.S. is issuing a new warning about Putin and nukes.

And Senator Katie Britt tonight defiant, speaking out today about her misleading State of the Union story and the new attention she's getting, whether she wants it or not. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Elon Musk tells Don Lemon, quote, contract is canceled, end quote.

Now in a moment, I'm going to speak exclusively with Don Lemon and he has clips of the nearly hour-and-a-half interview with Musk. Clips like this one that we receive from Don's production team.


ELON MUSK, X OWNER: Don, the only reason I'm doing this interview is because you're on the X platform and you asked for it. Otherwise, there would not do this interview.

DON LEMON, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: So you don't think -- you -- do you think that you wouldn't get in trouble or you wouldn't be criticized for the same --

MUSK: I'm criticized constantly. I could care less.


BURNETT: And we're going to have more clips from Lemon's interview with Musk in a moment. In a statement earlier today, Lemon writes in part, quote, there were no restrictions on the interview that he willingly agreed to. We had a good conversation. Clearly, he felt differently. His commitment to a global town square where all questions can be asked and all ideas can be shared seems not to include questions of him from people like me.

Now CNN reached out to X for their comment and their response is, quote: We reserve the right to make decisions about our business partnerships. And after careful consideration, X decided not to enter into a commercial partnership with the show.

Now, this decision coming as Musk had, of course, publicly courted Lemon and has repeatedly made a commitment to free speech when he bought Twitter again and again and again.


MUSK: Well, I think its very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech, where -- so, yeah, Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square.

Free speech is meaningless unless you allow people, you don't like to say things you don't like. Otherwise, it's relevant.

I really can't emphasize this enough. We must -- we must protect free speech. And free speech only matters, it's only relevant when it's someone you don't like saying something you don't like.

It's annoying when someone you don't like says something you don't like. That is a sign of a healthy functioning free-speech situation.


BURNETT: Again and again and again. And remember, Musk's X has over a quarter billion daily active users, a quarter billion people on this planet resolve it, use it, it is the town square.

And joining me exclusively OUTFRONT is Don Lemon.

So, Don, you do this 90-minute long interview with Musk. You sit down with him. This is the culmination. He had actively courted you to come on.

One of his tweets: Have you considered doing your show on this platform? Maybe worth a try. Audience is much bigger.

It had been public. Then, you had reached a deal. I'll talk about that later.

Then he texts 24 hours after this 90-minute-long interview, which is the first of your show launching. He says contract is canceled.

What happened?

LEMON: First of all, it's good to see you, Erin. Thank you for having me on.

BURNETT: Me, too. LEMON: That's a good question for Elon Musk quite frankly, what happened. I don't know.

As I said in my statement, I felt really good about the interview. I said to him as we were doing the interview -- and it was tense at moments, but you've been involved in tense interviews.


LEMON: I said to him, I think it's good that people see folks like you and I who have different worldviews come together and talk, as he says, have free speech. Free speech is only important when someone you don't like, or I would say someone who doesn't have your same point of view are -- someone is -- if they're allowed to speak freely and to say their point of view.

Apparently, that doesn't matter to Elon Musk. It's just for maybe talking points for him or rhetoric because it doesn't seem to matter when it's about him -- questions about him from people like me.


BURNETT: All right. So when you said that, I wanted to play some of the clips because some of them are illuminating. These are clips that you shared with us.

This is a part of the conversation with Musk where you ask him about hate speech. Here it is.


LEMON: Hate speech on the platform is up. Do you believe that X and you have some responsibility to moderate hate speech on the platform, that you wouldn't have to answer these questions from reporters about the great replacement theory as it relates to --

ELON MUSK, TWITTER OWNER: I don't have to answer this question.

LEMON: The great replacement theory as it relates to Jewish people. Do you think that --

MUSK: I don't have to answer questions from reporters.

Don, the only reason I'm doing this review is because you're on the X platform and you asked for it. Otherwise, I would not do interview -- this interview.

LEMON: So you don't think -- you -- do you think that you wouldn't get in trouble or you wouldn't be criticized for things?

MUSK: I'm criticized constantly. I could care less.


BURNETT: Illuminating in so many ways.

All right. I have two -- I have two things I want to ask you about that, Don.

First, the great replacement theory, as you bring it up, you know, he has tweeted -- a tweet he shared: Increasing illegals boost Dem voting power, causing them to recruit more. If Dems win president, House and Senate, they'll grant citizenship to all illegals and America will become a permanent one party deep, socialist state.

Right? He has gone there directly. How much does he stand by these ideas?

LEMON: Well, he didn't quite seem to understand that he did -- originally, he did that with Jewish people, the sort of a great replacement theory thing that he did with Jewish people. And he got in trouble and he had to go to Auschwitz and answer questions and apologize and go with Ben Shapiro.

But he doesn't understand that that sort of rhetoric that he talks about, the great replacement theory and a migrant invasion, that's what radicalized shooters, using their manifestos. Those exact words.

The people who go and shoot up people, whether they be Latino people who live in Texas, or Black people who are in a supermarket in Buffalo, or Jewish people who are, who are worshiping those people use the same rhetoric that they are tropes, that they're either racist for Latinos or Black people, or for Jewish people.

And I wanted to know if he had -- if he felt any responsibility as someone who has the one of the largest social media information platforms in the world --

BURNETT: Quarter billion people.

LEMON: A quarter billion people. I think its 455 or 500 million we can users a week and it doesn't seem that he feels that he has any responsibility with that because he seemed really averse to facts, that facts did not matter to him. It didn't matter that he retweeted things that were offensive to people.

And this whole -- the whole idea of what I was asking him about, it -- was it offensive? And did he feel that his platform should have better moderation? Because the things that I asked him about were not supposed to be on his platform, according to his own rules, his own content rules. They were supposed to be removed from the platform.

He says, well, we don't amplify them. But it doesn't matter. They're there. They're in the public forum and people can find them -- photographs of our tweets of Jewish people depicting them with big noses and these caricatures of African-Americans, you know, in -- in demeaning ways.

BURNETT: The big lips and --


BURNETT: All right. And you used the word amplify. I want to use that word in a moment because it's very important to what -- what is happening to you and to try to understand this in the context of how newsworthy this is to talk about free speech in a platform where a quarter billion people use it today, half a billion people every week.

But one other thing he said there, he said, the only reason I'm doing this interview, Don, is because you're on the X platform and you asked for it. Otherwise, I wouldn't do it.

LEMON: No accountability.

BURNETT: No. No, no. I'll be honest, Don, when this was announced, you were criticized. You know that. I know it.

LEMON: Yeah.

BURNETT: We all heard it. People were saying, why would you do this? Why would you go on X?

And then they see your first interview is with -- well, for 24 hours, but is with -- what -- your boss. So what do you say to that criticism?

LEMON: Well, first of all, he's not my boss because it -- X was only a -- it was only content. It was -- there were -- they were a distribution partner. So he never was my boss. They never had any editorial control of the show.

The only reason I was doing it is because of distribution. I wanted to -- I wanted what I was doing, my work, to be seen by the biggest number of people who could see it.

And when you have -- what did you say? Three hundred and -- well, however many millions a people a day, 500 million --

BURNETT: Quarter billion, 250 million a day, yeah.

LEMON: Yeah, 500 million weekly, that is -- that's the largest, you know, opportunity for people to be able to see what I do. And I truly believe in free speech. I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it.

And so, if you -- I took X, I took --

BURNETT: You took him literally, at all those sound bites, you said about free speech.

LEMON: I took Elon Musk. I took X. I took their managers at their words because they pursued me so hard that they were going to put me on the platform and give me as much assistance and support as they promised.


And they did not do that.

BURNETT: The chief of Twitter who Elon hired, Elon Musk hired, Linda Yaccarino -- LEMON: Right.

BURNETT: -- when you're deal was announced in January, she was onstage at the largest tech conference in the world in Las Vegas. She said, we've been waiting for your return. Welcome, Don Lemon.

So they said in the context of amplify it, so they -- in trying to really understand the impact of what free speech is. You'll be able to post your show on Monday with this interview on twitter. But it won't be the same because contract is canceled.

Can you tell me why? In the context of the power of that platform, what changes?

LEMON: Well, it's similar to your last question -- again, X was distribution partner. There were -- it was limited content for them that I had to do a couple of things that were exclusive to X per week or per month and that was 24 hours -- exclusive to them for 24 hours.


LEMON: And then it went everywhere. My show is always going to go on every streaming platform.

BURNETT: But they were giving you marketing. They were giving you algorithmical amplification to make up a word.

LEMON: Right, right.

BURNETT: Right? That's -- that's what it was about.

LEMON: And that was also special content, that had to -- that we partnered with advertisers, that were -- that was going to be exclusive to X or exclusive to whatever different distribution partner that we were --


All right. So when he -- you said talking to someone like me, Musk has a controversial history of tweets recently on a lot of issues, right? That involve race, ethnicity in America, DEI is one of them.

So he responds to a post on X, the post was speculating that the IQ of Black airline pilots is lower than Air Force graduates. So, Musk responds, quote, it will take an airplane crashing and killing hundreds of people for them to change this crazy policy of DIE, which appeared to be a purposeful, you know, of flipping DEI, which he has criticized in many tweets.

I understand you talked about this with him, specifically with facts. What did he say?

LEMON: He said that he was -- it would be awful if -- if that were happening, if because of DEI that the skies were less safe. He said the same thing about -- about students in medical school. And I told him, I -- as I pointed out to him, there was no evidence about that when it comes to the airlines, there's no evidence that that was happening when it came to medical schools.

BURNETT: You said, what, that you were saying how many -- what percent of pilots are Black.

LEMON: Right. But it was also -- just to give it context, we were talking about the Alaska Airlines flight.


LEMON: Right, where the door blew off.


LEMON: And a woman pilot landed it.

The woman pilot landed that plane safely without incident and Boeing took responsibility for it.

So I did not understand his logic when he was talking about Black pilots or women pilots or minority pilots, when that woman landed the plane safely and Boeing said it was because of a faulty door.

So I think what Elon Musk is doing is getting information from right- wing bloggers or extremists.

BURNETT: And was that clear to you from what he said?

LEMON: Yes. Because when you go and look at the things that he points to, it is often -- quite often from extremist groups and extremist groups who are putting out information that is just false.

BURNETT: All right, let me play another clip. This is a clip where you actually talked about --

LEMON: And, by the way, Erin, 5 percent of airline pilots in this country are African-American, 5 percent. So he's -- it's completely bogus what he's saying, and he has a responsibility as the owner of the biggest social media platform, at least one, to moderate his content and to be more careful about it. That is just simply a fact.

BURNETT: So here's another clip. You talked about ketamine in this particular instance, something that he has discussed before. Here he is.


LEMON: You talk about your ketamine use and depression. Have you -- you also have said --

MUSK: The reason I -- I should say, like, like the reason I mentioned the ketamine (ph) prescription on the X platform was because I thought maybe this is something that can help other people. That's why I mentioned it. Also, I'm not a doctor. But I would say, if someone has depression

issues, they should consider talking to their doctor about ketamine instead of SSRIs.


BURNETT: Very civil conversation, but that is where it got very personal.

LEMON: Well, it got personal but I didn't put that out there. He has spoken very freely about his use of -- those are prescription drugs, but about his use of ketamine, I would not have brought it up if --

BURNETT: Well, on X, he posted it.

LEMON: He posted it.


LEMON: So I would not have brought it up because that's someone's personal information. So I asked him about it.

Also, it's no secret. His drug use or alleged drug use, I should say, has been extensively written about it by very credible news organizations, like "The Wall Street Journal".

And I asked him that and he said, listen, I have not read "The Wall Street Journal". I don't read "The Wall Street Journal". I don't have time to read about everything that people write about me, I would never get anything done.

But also remember on Joe Rogan, he took a puff of marijuana, right? And he said it was just a joke, and I only took one puff.

Elon Musk is responsible for satellites, for Starlink.


He's responsible for Tesla. He's responsible for a number of different companies on the -- in the stock market.


LEMON: And I think that it is important for people to understand his mindset, whether he's using drugs legally or not, even -- even if the ones he -- that he's using --

BURNETT: Well, one of that most powerful people on the planet.

LEMON: He's one -- but one that he's supposed to be -- that he is using prescription-wise, that he's following the -- a doctor's orders under that.


LEMON: But yes, he's one of the most consequential people to the planet. And that was one reason why I was attracted to do X.

BURNETT: Right. Obviously, we don't have any evidence either way on his drug use, but I think it's important that it comes up. Obviously, we've got a clip there. You -- there's more --

LEMON: CNN did not report that. "The Wall Street Journal" strictly reported that.


LEMON: That was not my reporting, but I had to ask him about it, and I also asked him if he was concerned about another Biden administration. One reason I wanted to ask him those questions if he was going to lose his security clearance because of that, or he might be in jeopardy of losing his security clearance, and he said no, because he did say to me, I do not use drugs illegally. I have random drug tests and I've always passed those drug tests. So --

BURNETT: All right. So you mentioned Biden and in this conversation, you did talk about Trump. And again, given his role, he's one of the most powerful people in the world running X, who he is going to support, whether he donates, the meeting that he took at Mar-a-Lago is a huge consequence --

LEMON: Uh-huh.

BURNETT: -- in the context of everything that he tweets.

And here's part of the conversation you had with him about Trump.


LEMON: You recently met with Donald Trump in Florida. What did you guys talk about?

MUSK: I was at a breakfast at a friend's place, and Donald Trump came by. That's it.

LEMON: What did you discuss?

MUSK: I don't -- let's just say, he did most of the talking.

LEMON: Did he ask you for money?

MUSK: He didn't.

LEMON: Are you going to loan him money to help pay his legal bills?

MUSK: I'm not -- I'm not paying -- paying his legal bills in any way, shape, or form.

LEMON: Did he ask for a donation?


LEMON: Are you leaning towards anyone? MUSK: No.

LEMON: You're not leaning towards anyone because you've been very --

MUSK: Well, I'm leaving -- leaning away from Biden.

LEMON: You're leaning away --



BURNETT: The trademark laugh there.

LEMON: Yeah.

BURNETT: Which by the way, in the context of the contract is canceled 24 hours after that interview, it just shows there was a lot of back- and-forth and give-and-take. What did you take away from his comments on politics?

LEMON: Well, he says he's not going to endorse anyone now, but he may do it later. He says he's not going to give money to anyone now, but he may do it later.

You never know with him. He may, you know, be endorsing someone now on the platform. But, you know, what's interesting to me in all of that and all these questions about what people are asking me, what I asked Elon, what happened? What did I do?


LEMON: During the course of that interview, I never -- I never raise my voice. I told him, you know, I think this is important for people to hear, especially considering how -- the type of discourse that we're having in the country right now. And he supposedly says this is a public square for all.

Maybe we're learning that a public square should not be privately owned by someone who doesn't think that there should be any moderation on that platform. So it was interesting because at the end, I could tell that he was upset and he was uncomfortable. It was tense.

And I said, listen, I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable, as a matter of fact, I would go and have a beer and hash things out. You and I do not disagree -- you and I do not agree on much --


LEMON: -- but I will fight for your right to be able to say what you want to say. That's what freedom of speech means to me.

BURNETT: And 24 hours later --


LEMON: And 24 hours later, it means -- freedom of speech does not mean, I guess, the same thing to him as it does to me.

BURNETT: Contract is canceled.

Don, thank you very much. I appreciate it. I appreciate everyone be able to hear part of these clips.

And Don's full interview with Elon Musk comes out on Monday. You can watch "The Don Lemon Show" on YouTube and anywhere that you get your podcasts.

Looking forward to hearing the whole thing.

LEMON: Thank you, Erin. Good to see you.

BURNETT: And next, U.S. intelligence with a new warning that Putin may resort to nuclear weapons because of his inability to win in Ukraine. How concerned should we be that Putin will actually follow through with that threat at this time?

Plus, Trump taking over the RNC. The group now laser-focused on election fraud. A top Republican election official who has stood up to Trumps lies will be OUTFRONT.

And why some voters and a crucial battleground state are telling CNN they were surprised after listening to Biden.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His energy level was quite impressive.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was surprised, pleasantly surprised.




BURNETT: Tonight, a warning shot. Putin putting the U.S. on notice not to send troops to help Ukraine. He says Russia is ready to use nukes and he's boasting that his arsenal has an edge on America's. It comes as a new U.S. intelligence assessment finds that Russia struggles on the battlefield, could make Putin more likely to follow through.

Fred Pleitgen begins our coverage tonight OUTFRONT.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Moscow's troops claiming they're on the offensive, releasing this video purporting to show Russian clustering munitions destroying three Ukrainian combat choppers, even though CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video. Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with Kremlin- controlled media directly warning the U.S.: don't send troops to help Ukraine, even though the Biden administration has never even come close to saying they do that.

We know what American combat troops on Russian territory are. They are interventionists, he said.


That is how we will treat it, even if they appear on Ukrainian territory. And Putin even taking his threats, nuclear, saying Russia would have the edge over the U.S. in a war using atomic weapons on land, in the air, using strategic bombers and at sea with Moscow's powerful fleet of nuclear armed subs.

From a technical point of view, of course, we're ready for nuclear war, he said. The missiles are constantly combat-ready.

Secondly, and this is accepted by everybody, our nuclear triad is more modern than any other triad. Actually only us and the Americans have a triad.

Struggling on the battlefield. Ukraine says it has hit Russian oil refineries, including this one just over 100 miles outside Moscow, with long distance drones.

Putin calling this attempted interference in the upcoming Russian presidential election he's set to win by a landslide.

The main goal is to, if not disrupt the presidential elections in Russia, he said, then at least to somehow interfere in the normal process of expressing the will of citizens.

Ahead of that vote and after the death and burial of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Navalny supporters say the kremlins crackdown is escalating.

The former head of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, Leonid Volkov, assaulted and beaten with a hammer outside his home in Lithuania.

While the Kremlin hasn't commented so far, Volkov blaming Putin for the attack.

It was another obvious typical classic gangster hello for Putin from the same Petersburg gangster. Vladimir Vladimirovich, hello to you, too. What else can I say? Continue working against Putin, that's what needs to be done. Let's go on.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Erin, Lithuanian intelligence also say they believe that this attack on Leonid Volkov was organized and orchestrated by the Russians. They believe that one of the goals of that operation may have been to stop the Russian opposition in Lithuania from conducting operations ahead of what they call the undemocratic elections coming up in Russia. They also believe another goal might be to sow panic and the Baltic States. Of course, the Baltics, key NATO allies of the U.S. in Europe -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Fred, thank you very much.

And I want to go straight out front now to the Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

And, Congressman, it's great to see you and to see you here in person.

So look, the U.S. -- the context of these nuclear threats is the latest U.S. intelligence assessment which we've seen. You've obviously seen up in much -- in much more detail in a classified sense. But what we've seen is a report assessing that Putin could use nukes due to an inability to achieve the decisive wins he needs in the Ukraine.

That that is, that is very much on the table. Are you more concerned now that Putin could cross that line?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): I'm less concerned now. And the reason I'm less concerned is that first of all, I think I think collectively the government believes that he would not use nuclear weapons unless he thought that his own survival, his own personal survival, and his regime survival was at stake.

And we're obviously a long way from there.


HIMES: You know, there's a lot of reasons why he may be doing what he's doing right now. Of course, the French President Macron, weirdly, a couple of weeks ago said that we shouldn't rule out NATO troops on the ground.

The man has an election coming up. Not only he's going to lose that election, but a pre-election, people say crazy things.

Bottom line, when he was talking about using tactical nukes in Ukraine, I think he got some very strong messages from the two countries that are allowing him and his economy to survive, China and India. And those messages were pretty clear.

BURNETT: So when Alexei Navalny's wife, Yulia, says that that election that you mentioned is probably going to win the inevitability of course of that, that he shouldn't need not be recognized by the U.S. even as a leader. Do you agree with that?

HIMES: Yeah, I do. I mean, I -- there's lots of internationally law implications here and what that really means. But, you know, the man's a murderer. The man is a gangster. The man has violated every tenet of international law and the United Nations charter. You know, Russia being a member of the Security Council in the United Nations.

So, you know, I'll tell you what we really need to do and what's really important is that the Congress pass the supplemental package that allows the Ukrainians to continue to fight as well as they have up until the point where they started running out of ammunition. That's frankly on us, not on the Ukrainians.

BURNETT: And so, you mentioned gangster and that brings me to what Fred was reporting that Alexei Navalny's former chief of staff, struck by hammer, tear-gassed last night outside his home in Lithuania.

Is there any doubt in your mind who was behind that?

HIMES: Well, I don't like to absolutely jump to conclusions without seeing the evidence, but come on, you know? The only question is how is it that he avoided falling out of a seven-story window?

BURNETT: That it could have been worse.

HIMES: Right, it could have been worse.

BURNETT: And in all -- and obviously in great seriousness, of course, could be in the future. I mean, we see this happen again and again.

I want to ask you about two other things.


First, the vote today on TikTok, it's significant, House overwhelmingly bipartisan, 352 to 65. I mean, I don't know when we've seen anything in this particular House like that to ban TikTok unless its spun off from its Chinese parent company.

I don't know what that really means once you've already, you know, technologically owned something, does that really change anything? But nonetheless, it was significant. It was bipartisan. Bill supporters say TikTok is a serious national security threat to the U.S. You've seen it banned and a lot of states from use in, you know, state devices.

But at the top Democrat on the Intel Committee, you voted against this.

HIMES: Yep. Yep.

BURNETT: You voted against it. So tell me why.

HIMES: Yeah. Look, as the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, I have a pretty good and specific feel for what the Chinese threat is. I also know that while it is a very serious potential threat, meaning they could demand information from TikTok, personal information, by the way, they can buy that information, too. They can steal that information. They're pretty at that.

BURNETT: Right, I guess that's what I would say.

HIMES: We do worry that maybe in a moment of crisis, they would use that platform to try to insert messages. But here's why I voted no. First of all, it was enormously rushed. Secondly, when you say states have banned it, one state banned it, and the United States federal district courts said you cannot ban it. There are first -- there are First Amendment implications at stake. That's the state of Montana.

So I am a very serious First Amendment person and the notion that the United States and I understand the risks, I really do, would say, we are going to ban this venue for 150 million Americans to express themselves to have political conversations. You know, there may be a way to square that circle, but it doesn't happen in a three-day legislative process that it was constricted.

And oh, by the way, remember we tell countries, we tell Vladimir Putin, we tell them Chinese, we tell the Iranians, you shouldn't be shutting down newspapers, television stations, social media sites.

BURNETT: So, you're saying you're being consistent. And --

HIMES: Freedom of expression really matters.

BURNETT: All right. Freedom of expression really matters. I just want to ask you about this -- this issue of what Don Lemon was talking about, right? He had to deal with X, formerly Twitter, Elon Musk, that would have amplified marketing support, all the things that happen with Tucker Carlson, and X.

And after this interview, Musk did not like it. And that has been canceled. Contract is canceled.

What do you make of that? Not that specific. But if the power that Elon Musk has over who is heard in this country and whose voice is amplified to a quarter billion people every single day, half 1 billion people every single week.

HIMES: Yeah, look, we live in a world where we have lots of media outlets. I'm sitting in one of them right now. We have Fox News, we have MSNBC, both of them with well-known editorial biases. X's, Twitter's bias is not predictable because it's dependent on Elon Musk.

But more than ever before in our lifetimes or anybody's lifetime, we have a choice of media, so I don't necessarily think that it is a problem, that those a different be outlets have different biases. It's up to us as citizens of a democracy, Erin, to be critical consumers of that media, to be thoughtful about it.

Look, if we don't take seriously --

BURNETT: But there's so much credulity out there, that's the thing.

HIMES: Well, two things to say about that. Yes. I was in the chamber on January 6 and came face-to-face with a lot of people who were absolutely convinced, all evidence to the contrary that the election had been rigged. But I also want to be very careful because we can't decide that the American public is not capable of making their own choices. If we decide that, that will lead us toward away from democracy, let's

put it that way.

BURNETT: Uh-huh.

HIMES: So there are things that we can do, but we just need to make sure that Americans are more -- are better critical thinkers in the way they consume media.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you so much, Congressman. I appreciate it and I appreciate the thoughtful conversation.

HIMES: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. And next, Trump's takeover of the RNC includes a new legal team focused on election fraud. And here is the person he has chosen to lead that effort.


CHRISTINA BOBB, HOST OF WEEKLY BRIEFING: It's becoming glaringly apparent that Donald Trump absolutely crushed Joe Biden in the election.


BURNETT: Plus Republican Senator Katie Britt, defiant today, lashing out at her critics after her misleading state of the union response


SEN. KATIE BRITT (R-AL): They slaughtered me across the airways.




BURNETT: Tonight, the Trump national committee. CNN is learning that the RNC is hiring new lawyers to focus on election fraud. The issue, of course, that Trump specifically and personally obsesses over since his loss in 2020.

And so who has Trump tapped as senior counsel for election integrity? That's the title and the person is Christina Bobb, an election denier who worked for Trump and the far right, One American Network.


BOBB: It's becoming glaringly apparent that Donald Trump absolutely crushed Joe Biden in the election.

The American people resoundingly choose Donald J. Trump and Democrats are trying to steal it. There are many counties and precincts that voted solidly Republican

yet somehow the state still seems to have gone to Joe Biden. That itself is an indication of foul play.


BURNETT: This is the latest step in Trumps clear takeover of the RNC.

Dozens of staffers were laid off this week as he cemented his hold on the nomination his handpicked candidate for chair, Michael Whatley, elected to lead the organization. His daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, is serving as co-chair, after suggesting that Republican voters want to pay Trump's legal bills.

OUTFRONT now, Stephen Richer the Republican official who heads Maricopa County, which is the largest election department in Arizona. Steven spoke out about Republicans' attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, stood up for the facts and the numbers there.


He is now facing a primary challenge for his job as Trump's team is attempting to take over the elections apparatus in Arizona.

So, Stephen, I really appreciate your time and I know over these past couple of years, we have spoken more times and either you or I would ever have hoped we would have to speak, although I do always enjoy seeing you. It's not the context of the conversation.


BURNETT: So, Kristen Holmes, our reporter, obviously, who covers Trump campaign, she is reporting that there's some fear inside the RNC as Trump's team takes over, and that those who were not already fired are scared. They could get fired for it in any way appearing to be, you know, out of line are part of the old guard. Do you see this as the routine to the extent that it is occurring, the party's presidential candidate exerting such influence over the RNC? Or is this something somewhat different?

RICHER: You know, I don't know the history of the RNC, but that does seem like a toxic environment. As far as attorney hires, it's really a tale of two attorneys, one attorney that was hired as Charlie Speas (ph) who is the commensurate, he's a consummate professional, who's a longtime attorney an election law at a very reputable law firm, represented the Romney team in 2008.


RICHER: Lots of super PACs, very credentialed person. But then Christina Bobb is somebody who had struggled to be a senior associate at a major law firm, who's only qualifications or that she's willing to say extremely crazy things. And so you look at something like that. You don't really know so

what's going to happen at the RNC, and how is that going to manifest for the attorneys that the RNC hires on the local level because those are the attorneys that are very important to the election process that we run here in Arizona.

BURNETT: And let me just make this very clear. So people understand, right? It's not just a puts in somebody who will say what he wants to say. It's at that it comes with power and it comes with power, Stephen, that you see that we may not see, but you're saying that that enables them to have incredible influence at the local level.

RICHER: So the RNC will always higher local counsel to represent it in all of its election disputes and in really ensuring the peaceful and successful administration of elections. And in 2022 and in 2020, the RNC had very responsible legal counsel for local council and arrows so now we worked closely with those people and they would help us out and we would work with them. We would get them what they needed and they wouldn't do too crazy of things. And so we really appreciated that.

Now with Christina Bobb in there, I don't know if this is a signaling that they will have similarly minded people who just want to allege every crazy conspiracy theory under the sun as their local counsel for Arizona and that will damage that productive relationship that we've had with past counsel.

BURNETT: And throw into question the thing that matters most, right, which is how local elections are operated in this country. It is -- it operates at the lower -- at the local level. You obviously have been -- were in charge in Maricopa County, the largest, most important in Arizona, a state that was a 10,000-vote margin last time around, must win.

A columnist for "The Arizona Republic" has referred to your primary challenger in this race that you are in now as part of the, quote, MAGA drive to take over Maricopa County. And the headline refers to it as an impending blood bath.

What is at stake here, do you think, Stephen?

RICHER: I just hope after everything that we've seen over the past few years that that is figurative and not literal in his characterization of this as a blood bath because we all know that election officials and election administration has been a very -- it's been a powder keg and so I'm going to continue to push back where there are falsehoods, whether it's Christina Bobb or whether its anyone else regarding the election administration practice in Arizona. That's what I view as my responsibility and my duty to the people of Arizona.

That being said, I don't know if that's necessarily the best play in Arizona primary, but I think we stand strong chance. Ive made a lot of improvements to the office. Ive been a no nonsense administrator and I'm a longtime conservative. And so I think that that will ultimately win out with Arizona primary voters, even if it's not the soup du jour in terms of what's popular to talk about at the local grassroots party meetings. BURNETT: All right. Stephen, thank you so much. Good to see you again.

RICHER: Thanks very much

BURNETT: And next our special series Voters OUTFRONT. And tonight, we are hearing from the swing voters in battleground state who could make or break Biden's reelection changes.


JEFF ZELENEY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Do you think if there's no change in policy, he can't win Wisconsin?



BURNETT: And Republican Senator Katie Britt, fighting back and doubling down today after her State of the Union rebuttal speech.



BURNETT: Tonight, motivated and pleasantly surprised. That's the exact words of some Wisconsin voters and how they are talking about President Biden as he campaigned in their key battleground state today, wrapping up a campaign event in Milwaukee just moments ago.

Wisconsin is Biden's first stop on a two-state swing since he officially clinched the Democratic nomination this week.

So, Jeff Zeleny is there in Milwaukee with the president tonight and has this Voters OUTFRONT report.



ZELENY (voice-over): As he sets off on a long road to reelection, President Biden's first-order of business is exciting Democrats about his candidacy, not simply easing concerns. He's taking a second term.

BIDEN: Our plan is working. America is coming back.

ZELENY: Here in Wisconsin, LuVerda Martin has been watching and for her, Biden turned a corner with his State of the Union Address.

LUVERDA MARTIN, WISCONSIN VOTER: I was actually quite motivated by what I saw. I felt relieved with the talking points and how he expressed himself and his energy level was quite impressive.

ZELENY: You sound surprised?

MARTIN: I was surprised, pleasantly surprised.

ZELENY: When we first met Martin last year. She was uncertain about another term.

MARTIN: I'm on the fence. I'm not sure. I'm concerned about his age.


ZELENY: As a rematch with Donald Trump comes into sharper view, Martin said, any questions about Biden pale in comparison to concerns about the alternative.

MARTIN: I just don't think he gets credit simply because he's not as loud and boisterous about what he is doing.

ZELENY: Today in Milwaukee, Biden touted the bipartisan infrastructure law, which paves the way for a $36 million investment to revitalize the downtown corridor.

Signs of progress come alive at other job sites across town.

Plumber Rashawn Spivey is helping replace lead pipes with copper ones.


ZELENY: He introduced Biden during a December visit, but told us for some, Trump's appeal was real.

SPIVEY: Everybody likes to look at, you know, the circus of all of it. And then by the time they make it to the ballot box, then they had to get real.

ZELENY: By that, you mean vote for Biden?

SPIVEY: Yeah, because he's the most experienced.

ZELENY: The president's week-long blitz through battlegrounds is a partial roadmap for his best shot at reelection with stops in Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, with a visit to Michigan on Thursday.

DAVID CROWLEY, EXECUTIVE, MILWAUKEE COUNTY: If you're going to win Wisconsin, you have to win it through Milwaukee.

ZELENY: David Crowley is executive of Milwaukee county, where turnout among Black voters is central to Biden's reelection. He said fear of Trump winning may not be the same motivator as last time.

What's the balance of no Trump and yes to Biden?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, I think that there's a delicate balance, but for me, I just don't vote against something. I wanted to vote for something. I want to think about President Biden, he has given us a lot to vote for.

ZELENY: Wisconsin is among the states with the tightest margins. Trump won by nearly 23,000 votes in 2016 and Biden carried the state by less than 21,000 votes, four years later. The 2024 campaign is hardly a perfect sequel, a set of complex policy and political challenges hang over the race. The Israel-Gaza war is both.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No change in policy, he will be the reason that the Democrats lose. And Wisconsin is a swing state. Without the constituents that works so hard to help him get elected last time, myself included, he definitely will not win.

ZELENY: A fight over reproductive rights has also injected a new dynamic into the presidential race.

MARTIN: People have not moved on.

ZELENY: It motivates Martin, a nurse, midwife, and mother of three, who said she has started to look at the old race in a new life.

Is this something that excites you, a rematch with Donald Trump?

MARTIN: Not at all.

ZELENY: What's the word you use?

MARTIN: Not excited. I think there's a couple of words. It is what it is.


ZELENY (on camera): So for all the similarities in this race, certainly, the same characters, Erin, you can already feel it has actually so much different. Think of everything that's happened in the last four years, the Supreme Court overturning Roe versus Wade. Of course, the Israeli war in Gaza immigration, the economy that Biden administration accomplishments on infrastructure.

This race is about new issues. The question is, how will all of these fall? It all becomes part of the dynamic here, going into the next eight months campaign. But one thing is clear, like all presidential races, this one also will tell us something about the country, and it's getting underway -- Erin.

BURNETT: Thank you so much, Jeff Zeleny, in Milwaukee with the president tonight.

And next, Senator Katie Britt speaking out today defending her State of the Union response, and responding to the negative attention that she's been getting.



BURNETT: Tonight, quote, they slaughtered me. Those are the words of Katie Britt speaking out today about the fallout over her State of the Union rebuttal, which included a very misleading story about a sex trafficking victim.

Sunlen Serfaty is OUTFRONT.


SEN. KATIE BRITT (R-AL): That's where I spoke to a woman who shared her story with me.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Katie Britt, defiant and hitting back.

BRITT: The liberal media isn't interested in the truth. They're interested in burying the truth about Joe Biden and his border crisis.

SERFATY: Not accepting responsibility for her misleading portray hell of a woman who survived sex trafficking in her response to the president's State of the Union Address.

BRITT: They want to silence a conservative woman for speaking out on this topic. They don't want to bring light and help the women who are actually being trafficked.

SERFATY: In her speech, Britt says she traveled to the Del Rio sector of Texas where she spoke to a woman who had been sex trafficked starting at age 12, then suggesting that it had happened in the U.S. before saying --

BRITT: President Biden's border policies are a disgrace. This crisis is despicable and the truth is, it is almost entirely preventable.

SERFATY: But Karla Jacinto, the survivor, spoke to CNN saying the abuse happened in Mexico, not the U.S., and when President George W. Bush was in office, not Biden.

KARLA JACINTO, TRAFFICKING SURVIVOR: I hardly ever cooperate with politicians because it seems to me that they only want an image, they only want a photo. And that to me is not fair.

SERFATY: All this as Britt has faced days of the fallout of her speech and relentless mocking of her style.

BRITT: I'll be honest with you, a bingo card of 2024 for Katie Britt, I did not have this on it, right? And so certainly didn't have Scarlet Johansson playing me.

SERFATY: Spoofed on "Saturday Night Live".

SCARLET JOHANSSON, ACTRESS: My name is Katie Britt, and I have the honor of -- serving the great people of Alabama. But tonight, I'll be auditioning for the part of scary mom. And I'll be performing an original a monologue called this country is hell.

SERFATY: Britt trying to get political mileage out of the piling on, attempting to poke fun at herself.

BRITT: Everybody knows when your mom goes into scary mom mode, like get out of the way, because stuff's about to get done.

SERFATY: And the firestorm, she is now in, saying the irony is that Speaker Johnson before her speech, tried to assure her there wouldn't be one.

BRITT: He's like, no, don't worry about, you know, people are going to tell you horror stories about all of these things that happened and people's career being blown up over it. And he's like, it'll be fine.


SERFATY: And Senator Britt typically does not do hallway interviews on Capitol Hill, unlike other senators. So it's notable that the few times that we have heard from her since last week speech have been on friendly platforms -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Sunlen, thank you very much.

And as always, thanks so much to all of you for being with us.

"AC360" starts now.