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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump Attacks Democrat Senator Who Confirmed Vulgar Remarks; GOP Senators At Odds Over Whether Trump Made Vulgar Slur; Trump Criticism Dominates Republican Public Events. 7-8pm ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[19:00:00] MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., AMERICAN ACTIVIST: -- positions that are neither safe nor popular nor politics but we must take those positions because our consciences tell us they are right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King a truly, truly great man. That's it for me. Thanks for watching. Erin Burnett "OutFront" starts right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront, next, Donald Trump playing defense tonight in the S poll scandal. Is he in denial? Plus, did President Trump really say s-hole? His defenders are spinning a new theory tonight. Call it is s-house defense.

And the incredible shrinking wall coming maybe to a border near you. Let's go OutFront.

Good evening everyone, John Berman here in for Erin Burnett. OutFront, in denial, call it not the whole denial not the whole of denial. The president was a new declaration that he is not a racist following the Oval Office meeting saying he would rather have immigrants from Norway and Asia than blank hole countries in Africa.

He also has a new attack on the one Democratic senator at that meeting, he wrote, "Senator Dickey Durbin misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting. Deals can't get made when there is no trust. Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military."

Senator Durbin said that the president referred to Africa nations as blank hole countries. But as the president arrived back at the White House just moments ago went says Senator Durbin totally misrepresented that meeting and two Republican senators support the president on that were getting a new explanation for what their basing that on.

An explanation that might reveal their claims as a load of well, blank. Here we go, a senior Republican source familiar with the matter tell CNN that some Republicans at the meeting say they did not hear the president call them shit hole countries. They heard the president call them "shit house countries", house not hole. So that is where their denials come from. House not hole. This was Senator Durbin's response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I don't know that changing the word from hole to house changes the impact which this has. I stick with my original interpretation. I am stunned that this is their defense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: No denials that the president said he would rather have folks from Norway than the hole/house nations in Africa, which is why some folks are calling the president's word racist to begin with. But the president sees no problem on that front.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I'm not a racist. That now lives in the (INAUDIBLE) of presidential denials along with Richard Nixon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well I'm not a crook.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: And Bill Clinton who said --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So far (INAUDIBLE) according to Congress, Nixon kind of was and Clinton kind of did. As for President Trump. President Trump himself said today is honoring about the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King with, "Acts of civic work and community service." But the president himself chose a different course today, a golf course. His 95th day at one of his golf resorts.

Our Jeff Zeleny is OutFront at the White House now. Jeff, President Trump just arrived back there from his resort in Palm Beach. Does the White House really think this house not hole defense which is sort of breathtaking in its audacity, do they think it's going to work?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John it is breathtaking. And in fact, we tried to ask the president that very question as he was arriving here just a few moments ago. It is kind of an odd question to ask the president of the United States, so I guess you can say he started it here. But he did not answer any of our questions as we walked in to the White House, really setting up what is going to be a fascinating four days to come here, John.

We know in a substance ways the deadline for government funding, a potential government shutdown looming on Friday. We know this immigration which looked like a bipartisan deal was coming together only a week ago. Suddenly looks like anything but that.

So, what the White House is facing here, they believe this has (INAUDIBLE) this a little bit. I mean Republicans -- a couple senators who are in that meeting said look the president did not say that. A member of the cabinet said the president did not say that.

But John, I think setting all that aside, the substance of the matter tonight is this. Democrats and Republicans are a long ways away from reaching a deal on immigration. That immigration deal was supposed to keep the government open on Friday. They have a lot of heavy thinking, a lot of work to do between now and then. Never mind all this conversation which likely will continue between S hole and S house. John?

BERMAN: All right, Jeff Zeleny for us at the White House. OutFront tonight, Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings. She is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Representative, thank you so much for being with us.

[19:05:03] So we're getting the spin that the White House and these Republican senators who backed the president side are basing on the fact he said and I'm going to say the words hopefully for one last time, shit house countries, not shit hole countries. Does that distinction matter to you?

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D), CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: hi John. First of all, Let me say this, when the President of the United States has to repeatedly say because of his words or his actions that he's not racist, we have a definite problem.

I think the fact that we are talking about this during Martin Luther King's birthday is just a painful reminder that racism is still the ghost in the room and it has found its way to White House. It's almost insulting. It's definitely disturbing and disappointing that the other two Republican senators in the room would suggest there's a difference between hole and house. And I just think that is ridiculous and they really should be ashamed of themselves.

BERMAN: Well, look, that's what they're basing their claims on, are they simply lying about the substance in the meeting?

DEMINGS: I think they're trying to use a technicality as an excuse. For the people who come from Haiti or African nations, or other immigrants who believe in the American dream and trying their best to make America their home, whether you say hole or house it is insulting, it's degrading, it is divisive and the president owes them an apology. And if the other Republican senators in that room are going to use that as an excuse, a technicality that he did not disparage those nations, they owe them an apology as well. BERMAN: So the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was on Fox News

today and she was defending what the president said. This is Alveda King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALVEDA KING, NIECE OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: People were saying that President Trump has called Haiti and Africa a bad word. Well, he was referring to the corruption in those countries that needs to be fixed where they actually are hell holes over there because of the strangle hold of corruption.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: What's your response to that?

DEMINGS: You know, John, everybody is entitled to their opinion. I worked in law enforcement for 27 years. I have spent quite a bit of time providing security, for example, for white supremacist groups who were demonstrating in Orlando. And it is clear to me and having to, you know, listen to the things that they have said during those demonstrations is pretty clear to me what the president meant. I did not hear him talk about corruption or other report from the senators who were in the room. They didn't put it in that context that he was talking about corruption or crime or the problems in the area. But he referred to those nations in that disparaging way.

BERMAN: So even before, you are a member of Congress, and even before this latest mount of statements, you said that you believe that then- Donald Trump, now President Trump is a racist. So the question is how do you then deal with such a person? What is your advice to your leaders in Congress right now who are trying to hammer out a deal on Dreamers, who's trying to hammer out a budget agreement. How do you want to see them approaching this man you called a racist?

DEMINGS: Well, let me say this. As I indicated earlier I worked at the police department for 27 years, served as police chief. And let's put this in the context if a police officer had used those remarks to refer to people from other nations, he or she would have been fired. And so they would have been fired because -- if they were racist or they had the appearance of being a racist, perception is reality. Both are a problem.

But with that being said, here we are in about less than a week we need to -- we certainly do not want to shut the government down. We have 800,000 children out there who are dependent on us to come up with legislation that protects them. I believe they are priority. I believe we have the obligation to continue to work for a deal to protect those 800,000 children who are depending on us.

BERMAN: You say --

DEMINGS: So I am hopeful that the president and other colleagues on the other side of the aisle will come up with meaningful legislation that will protect the DACA kids. BERMAN: You said they want to shut the government down. But are you

willing to shut the government down if the president doesn't sign on to some deal on dreamers because we're talking about Saturday or Friday night at midnight.

DEMINGS: Well, what I will tell you I'm not going to telegraph what I will do here on your show.

[19:10:04] But what I will tell you is this, DACA is a priority. Those children are here through no fault of their own. They were promised that they could stay here through the previous administration or rather previous administration. I believe that this president has an obligation to not punish them and drag them through the political games that are being played unfortunately out of this administration.

BERMAN: One thing --

DEMINGS: And my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

BERMAN: One thing that I don't think should be lost in the back and forth here was the deal that was brought to the president that presumably, you know, Dick Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois had signed on and presumably some Democratic member of the House included funding, some funding, limited funding for something that could be construed as a border fence or border wall. Is that something that you could vote for if it included protection for Dreamers? Could you vote yes on a bill that gave money to one of the, you know, to President Trump's border wall?

DEMINGS: As I said, I do believe that the Dreamers have to be a priority. Look, I also believe --

BERMAN: Is that yes?

DEMINGS: -- that our national --

BERMAN: Is that yes you can vote --

DEMINGS: Let me say this, our national security is critical. And I believe even the White House has said that he's talked about -- he talked about the wall during the campaign but he's also talked about fencing, he talkeda bout technology. I have no issue with enhancing our border security. Our national security is important. But we will not do that at the expense of the dreamers.

BERMAN: We're just learning I think that some of your colleagues are going to boycott this State of the Union address. Do you see yourself going to listen to the president later this month?

DEMINGS: You know, it's very possible because we have quite a few more days to go. And while I am currently planning on attending, I have invited someone who was involved in the Pulse Nightclub shooting. They are certainly excited about being there and having that experience. But between now and the time of the State of the Union, who knows what the president might do or say. And so we have to play that on day by day. BERMAN: All right, Representative Val Demings, thank you so much for being with us tonight. Happy New Year.

DEMINGS: Thank you so much. Take care.

BERMAN: OutFront next, did the president say S-hole or S house and does it really matter what term he used?

Plus, Mitt Romney standing up to the president over this whole controversy. So where's the rest of the Republican Party?

And Steve Bannon on deck. The president's former chief strategist prepares to testify in the Russia probe and we just learned about one other key aide about to testify.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:28] BERMAN: New tonight, Republican rips Senator Lindsey Graham firing back as two other Republican senators in the room with the president say, it is false to say that the president referred to African countries as "s-hole countries." Not an exact quote because I didn't swear that time. Senator Graham who previously told Senator Tim Scott the reporter remarks were basically accurate tell South Carolina's post courier, "My memory hasn't evolved. I know what was said and I know what I said." Senator Graham today also lamented that the president of the United States is now using such explicit language.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The discourse right now is pretty low. We're producing some pretty good policy but those of us in my business need to up their game is pretty embarrassing when you have to take your children out of room just to report the news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: OutFront now, National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation, Joan Walsh and former Republican Congressman Jack Kingston. He was also a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

And Joan, I have to say the reporting tonight from a senior Republican source familiar with the meeting is that these Republican senators Purdue and Cotton are basing their denials of this discussion on the fact and I'm going to say it this time because it's important, they say the president said shit house and not shit hole and that changes everything. When I first heard that, I was like that can't be. That can't be how they are justifying what they're saying.

JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: It changes nothing. I mean actually on this program, Thursday night, Rich Lowry, said that same thing. He heard that but even Rich Lowry, devout Republican, defender of President Trump agreed it doesn't change anything but this is what they're saying. Now they're using it as a basis to basically impeach, deride Dick Durbin, claim this never happened and the two word, I can't wait to bring Jack Kingston in here because I think he's going to agree with me this time, the two words mean the same thing. Right Jack?

BERMAN: So congressman, let me ask you first before we ask you anything else.

WALSH: Sorry.

BERMAN: Would you agree that on substance, blank hole and blank house, there's very little difference?

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, 2016 TRUMP CAMPAIGN: I do agree with Joan. I don't see the difference. I will say thins. I know David Purdue and Tom Cotton very well and I know them to be fairly accurate. But I think, you know, beyond the discussion is, in a private room people say things. I've been in these private rooms with members of Congress and people throw elbows rhetorically and say things. But generally speaking, you don't walk out and go and, you know, like a song bird and say well he said something or if it was so offensive to you. You might get up and walk out right there on the stop, now I've seen that happened. But, you know, apparently everybody in the meeting stayed in the meeting and then later decided that there was a political advantage and talking about this.

But I think if you're sincerely worried about dreamers and the budget that you would say, look, we got to get beyond this because this is now become the story.

BERMAN: What was Senator Graham, you know, if you're following the reports of the meeting, Senator Graham, Lindsey Graham, a Republican who has been friendly with the president of late did stand up we're told --

KINGSTON: Yes.

BERMAN: -- to the president in the meeting and said his piece in that meeting. And Senator Durban said he was very impressed by that and Senator Graham today, if you saw him, was a little bit sort of, you know, I don't know if he was shaken up by it. But it clearly affected him what he heard and he said he wish he hadn't heard that. So Senator Graham did take a stand there, congressman.

KINGSTON: Originally if you remember he said he made one sight and then the next he was asked about this, he said I said I'm going to say. I think that he should have stayed there and really that way you would be advancing the cause of DACA.

[19:20:06] You know, (INAUDIBLE) this is that Tom Cotton and David Purdue voted for Donald Trump. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin did not. So there are -- you can't take the politics out of this situation but you can put the substance back in it which is, you know, let's talk about the border wall. Let's talk about chain migration. Let's talk about merit base immigration. Let's talk about e-verify, birth right citizenship. There's a lot of things to be discussed in a short period of time if they really want to get to a deal by Friday.

WALSH: But Jack, I honestly think the president took all of that substance right out of the conversation when he used that word. He then made calls the entire evening asking friends what do you think? I think it went well. I think it was the right thing to say. I think the basis going to lake it.

The president had a problem. Two days before that, he talked about a bill of love. I'm going to bring -- we're going to (INAUDIBLE) a bill of love for these DACA kids and then he got a lot of push back from his conservative, anti-immigrant base. So and, he, I believe, he went in there dropped that word, knew it would get out, was challenged by Lindsey Graham and he's the one who now has made it very hard to talk about what is the substance of a bill that could get bipartisan support and now we're back to is this guy a racist and what kind of bill does he want? Does he not want any brown immigrants in this country? There's a reason to be asking that question. He's the reason.

KINGSTON: You know, but still those questions if you want to talk about merit or you want to talk about countries of origin as part of the immigration mix. For example, I think the visa lottery idea is obsolete at this point.

BERMAN: They all agreed. That part of that deal they all agreed to get rid of the visa lottery.

WALSH: Sounds like it --

KINGSTON: And what I'd hate is you know politically (INAUDIBLE) do. If you don't want to do something, any excuses out there and you can pin your hat on it particularly if you want the issue rather than the solution. If you want the politics of it to continue into an election year then you can say, well, because he said something that's offensive to my tender ears and I, as a U.S. senator, have never ever heard such language nor has such words ever come from my precious lips. You know, if you wan to say that then end of discussion.

But I think the reality is, we pay all of them, Democrats and Republicans to sit down and hammer out these differences that we're going to have in a country of 320 million people. And so to me, they need to start really getting back in the room and saying, look, everything we say in here obviously is going to get outside, so let's all clean up our language but let's try to figure out a deal.

And one thing I do know, John, that is important, Republicans have told me as most House members will support a bill that the president will sign. There's a lot more flexibility out there than you would think. So, if they get back to that choose (ph) the bipartisan meeting attitude, I think they can come up with a solution.

BERMAN: Joan, is this how sausage gets made as the congressman was suggesting there?

WALSH: I don't think so. I think this is a different brand of sausage altogether with this president. I just feel like, you know, I heard what the congressman was saying and I kind of felt like he was saying about Democrats, they want this to continue as an issue.

But really happened was on Tuesday, on Wednesday, Thursday before that meeting, there really were Democrats ready to compromise. Dick Durbin went in there with Lindsey Graham because he thought, the two of them thought they had a deal, they had a potential deal and then, you know, there were other people in the meeting that they didn't expect. It got tense. Now there's no deal. So, you know, I think this president felt like he walked out too far and he had to walk back and he had to throw gross word into the mix to do so.

BERMAN: Congressman just to be clear, are you comfortable with either description of the president used there either the S hole or S house?

KINGSTON: No. Because I do know it's going to have the ramifications that it has had.

BERMAN: Not just the ramifications. I mean can something be bad in and of itself and not just for its consequences?

KINGSTON: No. John, you know, I actually lived in Africa. I have three children that I sponsor for about 10 years in Rwanda. I've traveled there many times with Senator Jim Inhofe. You know, it's offensive and I understand the criticism of it. But John, I do want to say one thing. The people who are on this games in the Senate, the gang of three, the gang of six or the gang of eight, or whatever. You know, there's almost this we own the issue because we've been dealing with it for a long time. And unfortunately, you know, you have 218 votes that you have to have in the House and 60 in the Senate. And a lot of times I've seen the small groups kind of run off in a little inner circle, maybe even an elite arrogant type of fashion saying our bill is the best bill and if we don't get it, it's the one that's going to pass. And I think there's some rank and file push back on the bill. The nerve (ph) of these people thinking on an issue this big, that there's the six of them are going to have their way.

BERMAN: Thank you very much. Congressman Jack Kingston, Joan Walsh, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

WALSH: Thank you.

KINGSTON: Thanks.

[19:25:02] BERMAN: OutFront next, a Republican senator calls out his colleagues and urges them to stand up to the president. Will they?

And three people close to the president set to testify in the Russia probe. Steve Bannon, Cory Lewandowski, Hope Hicks, these were campaign all stars. And one, a key White House insider what might they reveal?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: New to night, Republicans under fire and facing new push back from voters over the president's blank hole comment last week. Republican member Cathy McMorris Rodgers was booed while speaking about civil rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To Edmond Pettis bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That's there. The crowd also reportedly yelled liar after she said she wasn't sure the president made the racist slur. This all coming as Republican Senator Jeff Flake said it's time Republicans started standing up to the president. OutFront, David Gergen, a former presidential adviser to four presidents, Perry Bacon Jr., senior political reporter for 530a (ph), and Mark Preston, CNN senior political analyst.

You know, David Gergen, I want to start with you. Jeff Flake said it's time that Republicans start standing up to the president. They're not. It is Senate largely. The question is why?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, some have. And I think we to draw attention to that. Lindsey Graham, obviously, we seen from the show. Mitt Romney, you know, Chuck Hagel, the former senator from Nebraska, former defense secretary said it was embarrassing for the country.

So there are some who are beginning to stand up and more power to them. Why don't others do that? Well, John, you know, politicians today of both sides of the aisle, I might underscore, you know, think it's much more important to save their seats than to save their souls. And you find that the Republicans are looking at those polls. And they see 60 percent of Republican do approve of the way the country is moving. They like Trump.

That's a pretty -- you know, they don't want to run up against with that. If they break with the president, as Flake did, he'd pay a huge price for that. They don't want to pay that price.

But I would tell you this, I think a number of them are growing increasingly uncomfortable. It's the same kind of discomfort that you see in the White House staff as reported by the Wolff book. And people are publicly taking, defending the president but increasingly are disturbed underneath it.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: You know, it's interesting, Perry, because David brought up Mitt Romney, who is not yet in the Senate but, you know, maybe soon. He came out against what the president said today. Let me read you what Mitt Romney wrote.

The poverty of an aspiring immigrants' nation of origin is as irrelevant as their race. The sentiment attributed to the president is inconsistent with America's history and antithetical to American values. May the memory of Dr. King buoy our hope for unity, greatness and charity for all.

Now, this is interesting for several reasons. One, he's a senior Republican, an elder statesman of the party. But number two, he's Mitt Romney, who's considering a run for Senate in Utah right now, seems to be leaning toward running for Senate in Utah. What role do you think Mitt Romney will play going forward if he becomes a U.S. senator?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVE THIRTY EIGHT: I think Romney, you know, there was reporting that President Trump wanted Orin Hatch to run for re-election and Orrin Hatch did not. And I think because Orrin Hatch has been a pretty strong supporter of the president. And I think that Mitt Romney gets there, he'll join and perhaps even lead the anti-Trump caucus among the Republicans.

You know, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake are probably going to be gone next year. But if Romney is there, that will be one consistent critic. And a big factor is here Donald Trump lost the Utah primary in 2016, did pretty poorly in the general election, even though he won.

So, if you're a Utah Republican, like Romney, who's got a big brand of your own, you can't afford to irritate Trump without worrying that the base that much.

BERMAN: And he doesn't have to worry about the base at all, I mean, to an extent because, you know, Donald Trump won, I think, just 51 percent of people in Utah voted against Donald Trump, right, between Evan McMullin and Hillary Clinton and that's not good for a Republican in that state.

You know, Mark Preston to you, I was also struck by the timing of what Governor Romney did today, because were wondering when he announce, it may come soon for all we know, you know, would he state where he stands in relation to the president. This seems to be that statement.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It seems to be that statement. Let's talk a pause and see what we heard from Mitt Romney in the past. Remember, he gave that speech back in 2016 where he was so critical of President Trump not only for his politics and policy but for his personality, for his persona, only to then go out and have dinner with him during the transition after Donald Trump had become elected president and Mitt Romney was entertaining the idea of trying to become the secretary of state.

So, I do agree with Perry that we could see Mitt Romney, assuming he runs, come to Washington and become the face of the anti-Trump movement and dare I say that he would be asked to run for president as a freshman senator.

BERMAN: You're just saying that because you're a political reporter and you would like to see the story.

You know, David Gergen, Ben Carson, who is at an event, a Martin Luther King event today, Ben Carson, the secretary -- you know, HUD secretary in side the administration, he did point out that at time, he disagrees with the president. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN CARSON, HUD SECRETARY: You know, I'm a member of this administration. I don't agree with the president about everything that he says. Or of how it's said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It's actually pretty striking to hear from a member of the administration. He's saying that now. Does anyone say it to the president behind closed doors?

GERGEN: Not very often in most presidencies. I think Rex Tillerson has made it clear there's times he disagrees with the president and he's been willing to take it. But I want to -- coming back to Mitt Romney, there must be -- Mark can talk about this -- there must be a part of him that feels like he was humiliated when the president dangled the secretary of state job, made him come running and took it away from him. There was -- it seemed pre-planned as a way to get some revenge against Romney for his earlier statements in the campaign.

And so, he comes with that baggage and I think he will be an independent voice. I think he's one of the people, John, once you run and represent your party as a nominee of the party for the presidency, you also have gained a loyalty to the party as such. I think that Romney is more interested in saving the party than he is in saving Trump.

BERMAN: You know, Perry, at "FiveThirtyEight", you watched elections very carefully, any sign that Republicans are scared of what this will do to their electoral prospects. We saw Congresswoman McMorris- Rodgers get booed there at that town meeting. Grassley, Senator Grassley at a similar situation.

BACON: Yes. I think you see a lot of signs that you saw -- in the last few days, you've seen Mia Love running in Utah. She's in a moderate House district. You saw Barbara Comstock. You didn't see a lot of members criticize Trump these last few days. But the ones who have are often in very vulnerable political situations. They're in House races or in Senate districts where they might, Senate state, where they might ultimately lose.

So, I think that you see that. At the same time, as David was alluding to,

At the same time, as David was alluding to, Trump has an percent approval rating among Republicans overall. He has the Fox News support. He has Mitch McConnell support. He has Paul Ryan's support. He has most of the activists support.

So, it's really hard as a Republican, even if you're in a close race, to criticize the president openly. It's not going to help you politically. That's why Jeff Flake is leaving Congress and it's free to give the speeches because he's not running for reelection because he knows that the base is with Trump right now.

BERMAN: Mark Preston, last quick question to you. Next November, if, you know, GPD is at 4 percent or 3.5 percent, or the stock mark it's a 35,000, will anyone be talking about s-holes or s-houses?

PRESTON: Yes, absolutely because Democrats are going to insure that that's the case and they're going to do it to try to rally up the Democratic base, Latinos, African-Americans. They're going to try to get everyone to the polls. So, that is I shudder to say this now, John, but if you have children cover their ears when they're watching TV because there's going to be a lot of that in the next few months.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Mark, David, Perry, great to have you here tonight. Thank you very much.

BACON: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: OUTFRONT next, three White House insiders set to answer -- three Trump insider set to answer questions on the Russia investigation.

And that false alarm in Hawaii exposes the potentially serious problem of safety. Are any of us truly ready if a real missile heads this way?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:41:14] BERMAN: Busy week ahead in the Russian investigation. White House communications director Hope Hicks, we just learned, will testify to the House Intelligence Committee as soon as this week. That is in addition to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who testifies tomorrow, and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski will talk later this week. These will be the first appearances to the committee since Michael Wolff's incendiary book "Fire and Fury". So, what might come out of it?

Evan Perez is OUTFRONT tonight.

Even, what do we expect from these interviews that will a book play a role well?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, John. All three of these witnesses are seen as having key knowledge about possible contacts between Trump campaign associates and people suspected of being Russian operatives. Of course, Hope Hicks is the big one. She's one of the president's closest aides. She's been with Donald Trump since the beginning of the campaign, and we know that she played a role in helping the president craft a misleading statement that was issued in the name of Donald Trump Jr., when the public's first learned about that now infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

The president's son, of course, had organized the meeting after Russians promised to provide damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Steve Bannon on the other hand, you know, he reportedly made those comments in that newly published Michael Wolff book calling the Trump Tower meeting treasonous, so you can bet that he'll be asked about those comments. And, of course, Corey Lewandowski, he ran the campaign for a time and he'll have to answer questions about his interactions with George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser who, of course, has now pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, John.

BERMAN: So, Evan, on a completely different front, former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates already charged with false counts of money laundering and lying on federal records. They'll be in court tomorrow morning.

What is going on with this hearing and when will their formal trial actually begin?

PEREZ: Right. Well, there's a lot apparently on top for this hearing tomorrow, but we expect that it's going to focus on the possible trial date. Right now, that's being contemplated for May, but we expect that there could be a delay in that scheduled. Lawyers for Rick Gates, one of those charges is still trying to get the judge to relax bail terms.

It's rather unusual two months after these charges were brought that these issues are still being worked out but that's what -- I'll be in court tomorrow to see what else comes up in the hearing, John.

BERMAN: All right. Evan Perez, it's going to be a busy week. We're sure we'll be talking to you again soon.

PEREZ: I'm sure.

BERMAN: OUTFRONT now, former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter.

Richard, you know this parade of Trump campaign insiders and White House insiders going before the House Intelligence Committee, Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks, what do you think the most valuable thing is that the committee might be able to learn from them?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, we'll see what their testimony reveals, but the scope of the committee's investigation is considerably broader than that of the special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Mueller's job is to focus on crimes that were committed. We know the Russians committed some crimes here and four Americans have been indicted. Two pleading guilty to various crimes in connection with this investigation.

But his investigation focuses on crimes. Congress is responsible for finding out about conduct that was criminal, as well as conduct that was not criminal to find out how Russia influenced this election, who in the United States was collaborating with the Russians, whether or not that collaboration was a criminal offense. And the Congress is responsible for trying to figure out how to protect us from this ever happening again.

So, there's going to be a broad inquiry by Congress. And these senior White House officials and former campaign officials who are going to be called to testify and in case the Steve Bannon, both the former campaign official and former senior White House official, there are revelations are going to be very important for Congress doing its job in finding out what happened in connection with a Russian interference with the election, obstruction of justice in the White House, various other things that may or may not be also investigated by Robert Mueller.

BERMAN: And then Hope Hicks -- this is very interesting -- Hope Hicks, you know, isn't a former White House official. She is the current White House communications director. It's not often you see you know a White House administration official like this going up to testify in front of an investigation like this. And she also already testified to the special counsel Robert Mueller. Does that present any complications or what you would be looking for there?

PAINTER: Well, her testimony in front of Congress had better be the truth. That's true for all of these people. Those who testified and given no statements to Robert Mueller of course are obligated to tell him the truth as well. So, if there's then consistency between the testimony that's given to Robert Mueller by anybody, whether their current White House official or anyone else, and what's that in front of Congress, that's going to be a serious problem.

BERMAN: There been some talk that the House Intelligence Committee was getting politicized and, you know, and essentially almost shut down. The fact that these three senior officials are going before that committee this week, does that make you think that maybe the committee has work some of those problems out?

PAINTER: Well, that helps that they're actually taking some testimony. Congress has shown repeatedly over the past several years that investigations are highly political. They spend hours and hours days and days and days on the Hillary Clinton email thing and that was driven by the Republicans. And now, there seems to be very little desire on the part of the Republicans to investigate the Russia business.

But I think people are getting the point that voters expect a thorough investigation.

BERMAN: Richard Painter, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

PAINTER: Thank you.

BERMAN: OUTFRONT next, the false alarm heard around the world. We'll tell you what officials in Hawaii are doing tonight to guarantee that it never happens again.

And --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have a very, very big and powerful wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That's what the president has been selling. Is the president though the only one buying it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:51:14] BERMAN: A lot of finger pointing tonight over the false alarm Saturday morning that sent Hawaii into a panic for 38 agonizing minutes, as residents there believe they were under imminent attack. The wrong button being pushed triggered alerts to go out via text message, radio and TV, reading: This is not a drill.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.

Tom, the person responsible for this mistake has been reassigned. But a whole lot of questions remain. What can you tell us about how this happened?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it was all this talk about the North Korean missile and nuclear program. You can understand the tremendous concern when people suddenly were confronted with this message, that said very explicitly, ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii, seek immediate protection. This is not a drill.

So, how did this happen through an official government channel?

Well, you have to think about what happens with launches like this. Every time a missile launches from North Korea, the infrared signal is picked up by U.S. ships and by satellites and other assets and they're tracked by the military. They want to know how fast they are traveling, how high it is and where it might be going.

If military commanders think it is headed towards something like Hawaii or some other U.S. asset, they will try to shoot it down for one, but they also alert the state to start its emergency notification system.

In Hawaii, this is how that would work. They would have a signal that would go out to sirens on the ground that would start sounding off, and also to radio and TV and to cell phones sending a warning message to people out there.

And the real goal here, bear in mind, you are about 4,600 miles from Pyeongchang. Flight time or missile would be somewhere around 27 minutes. They are trying to get many of those minutes, 15, 16 or so for people to run to some sort of relative safety, so by the time the missile would hit, they would have a chance to reduce casualties, John.

BERMAN: So, what went so wrong that sent so many people scrambling? And why did it take so long for it to get corrected?

FOREMAN: Well, here's what went wrong in the first place. Officials in Hawaii said basically, the person who was conducting a test that day, and they've been doing periodic test of the systems, loaded in an actual alert message. Not a test message. And then when the computer asked him, do you really want to send this message, he inadvertently pressed yes, and it went firing out there to the radio and TV and to cell phones out there.

Now, very quickly, they started sending out messages saying it's not true but they couldn't get it to the official channel here officially for 38 minutes. And because every state has its own system, yes, there are concerns that something else like this could happen somewhere else.

BERMAN: Thirty-eight minutes. Tom Foreman, thanks so much. OUTFRONT next, Jeanne Moos on the president's wall that seems to be

growing a lot smaller.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:57:53] BERMAN: Is the president's promise of a great wall just a metaphor?

Here is Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far, it's been a wall of words.

TRUMP: I will build a great, great wall. We are going to have a very, very big and powerful wall. An impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful. It's going to be a Trump wall. Nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.

MOOS: But it's also a shrinking wall. The eight prototypes are as tall as expected. But after promising at least a thousand mile wall, the administration proposed a new structure running about 316 miles with 407 miles in replacement and secondary wall.

TRUMP: Yes, it could be some fencing.

MOOS: Fencing? Trump fence doesn't have the same ring.

TRUMP: They have to put my name on. I want a gorgeous wall, you know? The Trump wall. Oh, will that be a beautiful wall.

MOOS: Already, comedians are mocking the prototypes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The venetian. See through means that immigrants can see a better life, but they can't touch it. Just look at the decorative fringe of the spoke razor spikes.

MOOS: Talk about looking sharp.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One man even wore a spandex wall costume.

MOOS: At a possible $18 billion, the cost of the wall isn't shrinking.

TRUMP: Who is going to pay for the wall?

CROWD: Mexico.

MOOS: Nope. Mexico says no way.

And remember how every time a Mexican leader dissed the wall, it grew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not going to pay for that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) wall.

TRUMP: The wall just got 10 feet higher. It's true. MOOS: False. The prototypes are still 30 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: What are the walls going to be made out of?

MOOS: Concrete, steel and hype? A YouTuber created this mashup.

TRUMP: The wall just got 10 feet higher.

I'm building a wall. I'm building a wall. I'm building a wall.

We're going to have the wall.

MOOS: Even it won't keep out the proverbial fly on the wall.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: All right. Thanks for watching.

"AC360" starts now.