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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks Resigns; Washington Post: Mueller Investigating Trump's Apparent Effort to Oust Sessions in July; Interview with Congressman Ted Lieu of California; Interview with Congressman Tom Rooney of Florida. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired February 28, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:12] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next breaking news, White House in turmoil. Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, the president's perhaps closest confidante, gone, abruptly resigning, just a day after admitting she's told lies for the president. What's behind her sudden departure?
Plus more breaking news the day after Jared Kushner loses his top secret security clearance, news tonight dozens of other aides have also been downgraded and Trump sounding like a Democrat on gun reform, calling outlaw makers for being afraid of the NRA. Is this a reality show or is this the real Donald Trump? Let's go OutFront.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. Outfront tonight the breaking news. The White House rocked by a major resignation tonight.
One of the president's trusted advisers, Hope Hicks, his communications director. The 29-year-old has been with the president for three years and worked with his daughter Ivanka before that originally topped to be the campaign's press secretary and she rows stunningly quickly, by far the youngest person in the president's inner circle.
Just to give you an idea of how vital Hicks is to the president. One of the president's close allies telling me tonight quote, "She was his last emotional crutch." That how crucial she is.
And that source telling me Hicks departure was sudden. The source saying Trump berated Hicks after her testimony to Congress yesterday, you know, the nine hours in which she admitted to telling lies on behalf of the president. According to the source, Trump asks Hicks after the testimony, how she could be so stupid. And then apparently that was the final straw for Hope Hicks.
As news of her sudden departure broke another one of the president's allies telling CNN quote "I'm just floored, I don't think it's possible to overstate the significant and just the importance of her role within the White House. She's an invaluable team member and one of the originals."
The only originals now from the Trump campaign who actually remain in the White House tonight our Jared Kushner who of course stripped of his top security clearance yesterday. Ivanka Trump and Dan Scavino who works with the president on social media.
Hicks, is at the center, a three controversies that have rocked the White House two of which are core to the Russia investigation. She was reportedly with the president the weekend, he decided to fire then FBI Director Jim Comey. She was involved in writing the Donald Trump junior statement about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians. And just weeks ago she was crucial in drafting the White House statement defending Rob Porter, a man whom she was dating seriously. Porter of course is the former White House top aide accused of abusing two ex- wives and a former give friend.
Hopes -- Hope Hicks is the third communication director to leave the White House. Today, one in three Trump administration officials have left. One in three. That is in just the first year of the Trump administration according to a study tracking this.
Jeff Zeleny begins our coverage out front live at the White House. Jeff it's a stunning development. There is no one more important to the president emotionally who was there every step of the way, he's emotional crutch as it was described to me. What are you learning about Hope Hicks stunning departure?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Erin there's no question that we have stood here several times over the last 13 months and talk about a resignation and departure, this one is different. Hope Hicks was not a political expert but she was a Donald Trump expert. She worked for him longer than virtually anyone else on staff. She joined right before he decided to announce for president. And was along with him entire way and sat just steps outside the Oval Office.
She saw everything he did. She played a major role here. So this is coming across as a major bombshell. People across the West Wing were surprised. People were crying. They were upset.
In fact when she held a meeting with the few small staffers who report to her, she was crying and upset because she wants to pursue other opportunities. But Erin, there are many questions saying, why? Why is the timing of this right now? Is it related to her testimony on Capitol Hill? Unclear, but the timing is certainly is what it is.
Is it related to her hours and hours over a couple of days of testimony in a December to a Bob Mueller special counsel team? Unclear. But that certainly also played a role into this pressure cooker situation. But it is that Rob Porter resignation a few weeks ago that the president became angry at her at least questioning her judgment for one of the first times. We do not know if her resignation is related to that either. She said she does want to pursue other opportunities.
But Erin the question here going forward is that many advisers say, how will the president get along without her? He calls out the name, Hope, Hope, for so many things.
Her voice is quiet on the outside. We never saw her on Sunday shows. But inside this White House it was loud and clear. In the coming weeks, Erin, in a few weeks when she leaves that voice will no longer be here. Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you, very much Jeff Zeleny. And obviously it's a big loss for this president, you know, a person who relies on individual, and this individual perhaps more than any other. Whatever her role is, helping him with a tweet, being there when he just needed someone to talk to, she was a person, and that is going to be avoided.
Now our senior political analyst Mark Preston joins us. White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks April Ryan here. And the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library Tim Naftali here with me in New York.
[19:05:19] Tim, she was with him from the beginning. And she, you know, at times interviewing him when he was a candidate she always there. Any meeting he would have with the press, she was always there. Any time in his office she was always there. You know, as this source told me she was his last emotional crutch. How big is this?
TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Well, you know, all presidencies have changed. OK. And the team that starts with the president might not be the same team that's with that president for years into the first term.
NAFTALI: But what we're seeing is a dramatic turning of the inner circle. And given the President Trump is among the more conspiratorially minded presidents we've had, loyalty matters the more for him than for more presidents. So this must be a very emotional thing for him.
This coupled with the fact that he can't talk to Jared Kushner anymore about elements. But, remember, we have a president who doesn't want the details. He doesn't want to sit and read that material.
He doesn't have a loyalist who can give him that material. I believe the president should feel a little at sea (ph) as a result of Hope Hicks' resignation and we don't even know -- you know, if it's because he pushed her out by mistakes, then he's also going to worry now that she's not going to be completely loyal later on as she gets asked a very tough questions by the Mueller investigation.
BURNETT: And these are crucial questions April. I mean, you know, as Jeff Zeleny was pointing out, right, she's testified to Mueller. There was the whole imbroglio with Rob Porter and her involvement in handling that situation. And then yesterday of course the nine hours of testimony with the House Intelligence Committee where she admitted to telling lies for the president, which is very significant.
APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: White lies.
BURNETT: And some of the headlines there. And, you know, one of the -- you know, a source tell meeting that the president berated her last night. That was his response. It wasn't -- We'll get through this together. Hope he did a good job. It was how could you be so stupid as to say that you had ever lied for me. I mean what are you hearing about the timing and the reason here, April?
RYAN: What I'm hearing from my sources is that the timing is real. I mean, what happened yesterday just further put the nail in the coffin for her. You know, I understand that, you know, during the time when she wrote the statement about her then-boyfriend Rob Porter, General Kelly was very upset.
And there's been tension between both. And this just totally sealed it. And she had -- this is what I'm being told from some sources that she had given tentative resignation at that time around the Rob Porter statement. But after this, what happened yesterday with the white lie, they were like it's time. And even though you've heard from a statement from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, also you heard from one from General Kelly, there still tension about this. There's still a very big upset.
And the president's back is against the wall with this Russia situation. And that's one of the reasons why we see him not wanting this investigation to continue and thinking about cutting the Mueller investigation off. And this once again just puts another nail in that coffin, and that's something he doesn't want. So, what I'm hearing is that she may have given a resignation, but it was a forced resignation.
BURNETT: And, you know, Mark Preston, here's the thing. I think as Tim is pointing out. The president now alone in a way he has not been.
He is a person, you know, just even from covering him and knowing him for more than a decade that I have, he needs a person around him at all times. That person that he's going to call out their name and they are there and that person by the way has always been a woman.
And now she's gone, right? Wasn't always Hope but its Hope now. And now she's gone. I mean how significant is this moment for the president?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's very significant but it's not just for the president, it's for the country. And quite frankly it's for our diplomatic relations with other countries.
Hope Hicks has been really the blanket for Donald Trump. You know, the thing that he could grasp onto and feel comfort from. That he knew was loyal.
Look, when you come to Washington, and became president of the United States, you get a lot of friends. Everybody wants to be your friend. They want to be there. They want to offer you advice. But you don't get a whole lot of loyal friends.
2Those are the folks that you have been with most of your career, folks who might have been with you in previous lives, folks that you can trust and rely on that want to be near you because they like you, not because they like the power that you have. And it is concerning. And to add to that, we also saw the Deputy Communications Director Josh Rafael decide that he is leaving as well. He is somebody else who's also a very close to the family.
[19:10:03] So this really was a one-two punch right to the Trump family. And what we know from President Trump's habits is that he goes upstairs to the private residence. He gets on his phone, he watches cable television, he starts to tweet out, you know, he does his things.
What he's not going to have though he's not going to have what he goes downstairs to the Oval Office, he's not going to have that familiar face that he can trust, that he likes, that he feels comfortable with anymore.
BURNETT: And Tim what does that mean? When you talk about, you know, how he can be conspiracy theory minded. You know, one person was telling me now there's nothing from stopping him from being a mad man, the person who knows the president.
You know, obviously but perhaps using the word lightly, but perhaps not. I mean, when we saw that sheet of paper the other day, when he was listening to the families and students from the high school shooting, at the end it was, I hear you. And he was of course around the criticized would to hint him that. the reason I'm pointing it out is Hope Hicks is the one who wrote that, she's the one who gave him that.
NAFTALI: Well, I mean every president brings their own mafia with them, they called the mafia whether it's the boss in mafia the Georgia mafia there. And these are the people as Mark was saying that they trust. And as presidents get more comfortable, they don't need that team as much.
Richard Nixon, for example, needed that team, and it was a tremendous blow when he had to push out his closest aides. In fact, he told his speech writer that he was considering, believe it or not, suicide. This is 1973.
So different presidents have different emotional needs, but they all seem to need this group of loyalists. This is a president who's losing them all with -- before the second year is done. We should expect, I'm afraid, more ranting, more misbehavior, more acting out, unless Kelly and he have formed some kind of bond. What's most interesting here is he's allowed Kelly to push his son-in-law out. We'll see though.
BURNETT: Right. And now April what is the reaction inside the White House? You know, a White House which let's be honest, leaks like a sieve and almost always negatively about other people in the White House. But Hope Hicks was someone, you know, there hadn't been leaked. That would seemed to be very well-liked by a lot of people. What's the reaction inside the White House and the perception of the boss when he is losing someone as important as she was to him?
RYAN: Well, there are people who can step into that role and one person that we haven't talked about, Kellyanne Conway. I know when the president has gotten in trouble on Twitter, she's gone to him and said "Sir, how can I help you?" Instead of saying, "You should have done it this way", she'll step in "Sir, how can I help you?" Or talk to him that way. You know, how can I help?
And he leans on her somewhat. They talk. So I believe she may play a bigger role in that piece. But when we look at what is happening, how they reactively say it today, they canceled the press briefing.
And there was a fear that someone could have gotten a little bit of inkling or a leak of what was happening. They didn't want to step on this listening session for guns.
RYAN: So that's one of the reasons why they canceled the briefing today.
So a lot of this is strategic and they did not want this to get out until they wanted it out. They wanted to put the gun issue for the president to make his statements and then for this come out.
BURNETT: Right. They wanted him to have his moment which is what he wanted and not over --
BURNETT: -- shadowed by Hope Hicks --
BURNETT: -- which of course has --
BURNETT: -- obviously completely happened. Mark?
PRESTON: Listen, this is a tough day. This is a very tough day right now for President Trump. And as Tim and April and yourself and I are just kind of ruminating about what's going to happen. I think there is great concern because Donald Trump is not a product of Washington. He doesn't have allies in town. He wasn't a former senator. He wasn't a former governor where he was surrounded by people that believed in him not necessarily and came with him here. He surrounded himself by people right now that are folks who have either made their career in politics or folks who have tried to make their career in politics and saw this as a golden opportunity to go to the White House.
He is in I think a lot of trouble. And as Tim said we're going to see a lot of ranting and perhaps behavior that could top what we've seen so far.
BUTNETT: All right. Thank you all very much.
RYAN: But what's new? What's new? BURNETT: Well, I guess that's the case, if she was the last thing between him and that then, you know, it was a thin barrier indeed. But nonetheless such that it was whips for the barrier is gone. Who will follow Hope Hicks out the door?
One of the crucial questions this hour, Trump not happy we're now hearing with the chief of staff, John Kelly either. Plus the attorney general for the first time fighting back against President Trump. What made Jeff Sessions snap and stand up for himself?
And trump shutting down his own party over guns. What's his end game?
[19:18:22] BURNETT: And we're following breaking news the shocking exit of one of Trump's closest advisers, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks resigning. It comes just hours after her nine hour testimony to the House Intelligence Committee as part of the Russia investigation. The timing of the announcement could not be worst for the White House because it comes less than hour after the president wrapped up an unprecedented meeting with Congress about guns. That's what they wanted to everyone to be about tonight, but unfortunately when you are hemorrhaging people from your inner circle in the White House, that's unfortunately going to take over.
So now for Republican candidate for New York Governor friend of President Trump for more than 15 years, Rob Astorino and Democratic Strategist Paul Begala. OK. Thanks to both of you. Here's the thing Rob. I mean this is -- that there's no way to kind of make this look nice. This is a big deal. And it's a big loss for this president.
ROB ASTORINO, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR NEW YORK GOVERNOR: Personally, it's a very big loss. You know, as a CEO or as president or anyone at the top, it's lonely. And when you go in there, you have the team, and you have your team.
The team is built around by people professionals that you're going to have run and then your team other people who know you best, who you really, really trust. Hope was one of the people he really, really trusted. So with her leaving there's only handful left, and he's going to feel like he's on an island. And that mistrust is already there with leaks and investigation and in fighting and it really could get worse.
BURNETT: And here's the thing, Paul. I mean whatever debates there are and the time someone telling me it was the way he was berated her for her testimony yesterday. There could have been other reasons as well. We are not 100% sure. But here's the thing. He canceled the press briefing today, the press shocked because they wanted these guns meeting and wanted the video on the president and to be all about that. They knew the minute this came out and no one is going to be talking very much about that.
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right.
BURNETTL: And yet it still came out, which would indicate she don't want to wait. Nobody wanted. This was done.
[19:20:15] BEGALA: And for the White House, that's a shame, right, for the adversaries it's great. But the meeting today was remarkable. It was amazing. It's kind of you don't see very often. President was completely transparent.
BEGALA: As a Democrat I thought he was very open to the Democrats.
BURNETT: Yes, certainly it was, certainly it was.
BEGALA: He was more than fair and this is -- I'm not exactly a Trump lover. I was ready to come on tonight and say always nice things, but I'm still -- I'm glad I did. But this thing is awful for the reasons that Rob states personally but also professionally. This is his fifth communications director in 13 months in the White House. And by the way the person who put out the statement on November 11th right after the election, she put out the statement said "There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity on the campaigns". That's a lie. She may not have known it.
BURNETT: She may not have known it or that could have been what she perceives to be a white lie. We don't know.
BEGALA: We don't know.
BURNETT: We don't know which category is it.
BEGALA: Certainly impulsive (ph) like when she have the President write a statement for Donald Trump Jr. that said in leading a Trump tower where they were trying to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, they both primarily talk about adoptions that's a lie, we don't know is she knew it was a lie, but I bet Mr. Mueller is going to find out. So she's been behind a lot of really awful lies in this White House maybe because the President is ordering her too, maybe because it's her nature I have no idea, but --
BURNETT: Or she doesn't know. We don't know.
BEGALA: We don't know. She's his wife I think it's going to be hard to get top notch person to go in there after you burn through five people. Most of whom have left with their credibility in tatters.
BURNETT: Right, so that's the thing, I mean who is going to go work for him now?
ASTORINO: I think it's time for the Mooch part 2. Come on already you liked it don't you? It's time.
ASTORINO: Look, they need somebody good to get in there and keep things on track. Sort of like what General Kelly has seemingly been able to do, but they're going to need that and they're going to need that quick. BURNETT: And we were talking about of the people who are the President's insiders that he trusts, two of them, Jared and Ivanka are family, one of them stripped the top security clearance as of yesterday, well see how that pans out, and then Dan Scavino who's been with him through the campaign, as far as the inner circle goes certainly in that over not family member. Senator Richard Blumenthal come out and says not just going to be Hicks.
They never mind one -- three people are gone from the administration already I mean in this inner circle Rob. Here is what Blumenthal said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Hope Hicks stepping down is only one step in what needs to be a complete review of National Security practices and protocols. There is no way that Jared Kushner can continue doing his job if she stepped down, it should be only a short time before he does as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: I mean, is that -- is that what's happening here? Because I mean this is the last thing the President can afford on a personal and emotional level. But is that's what going to happen?
ASTORINO: A part of that is natural. I was down there in December, and saw Dan Scavino who I've known forever. I told Dan, I said you look like a character on walking dead. You are exhausted. And that's how it is there and you're there 20 hours a day. You got to get there before he gets there, you got to leave well after. And it's just nonstop. So I think it's natural. I mean she's 28. She's fairly young, so she's inexperienced
BURNETT: 29, I believe, yes.
ASTORINO: And, you know, I don't know, look, I don't think she was forced out. Because I do believe there is a shelf life working in the west wing. You're there constantly and at some point the rope ends, I mean you're ran out of it. You're exhausted and you want to go out and make money and do other things. So I think it's natural that there's always going to be a turnover. The way it happened, how it happened today is probably not the way they wanted it as an exit.
BURNETT: I think at the least we have to -- anyone would have to admit that, this is not how you want it to happen. You want your big guns staying and now nobody cares. Let me ask you Paul, the Mueller -- Washington Post is reporting tonight Mueller is investigating Trump's apparent effort to oust Jeff Sessions in July.
Now Trump was public and on tape talking about how much this Sessions was the worst ever. So that is not secret but Mueller looking at it could be significant. And we're going to be talking much more about Sessions in a moment. But part of the Washington Post report includes Trump has derisively referred to Mr. Sessions as Mr. Magoo, a cartoon character who was elderly, myopic and bumbling according to people with whom he has spoken.
Trump has told associates he has hired the best lawyers for his entire life but stuck with Sessions who is not defending him and he's not officially he's loyal.
BEGALA: Why do they leak everything? I love that they do. OK, but professional in me says look I don't mean to break your heart but everybody says unkind things about somebody they work with. And every President complains about this person or that person in his cabinet or in the state. They do. And again, I'm not going to defend Donald Trump. The much bigger problem are these efforts to remove the Attorney General. It doesn't matter if they've done in public.
If Mueller can prove that that's done with a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation into the Russia case and the Trump case, that's obstruction of justice. That was a big if. But the President can fire the Attorney General for any reason but he can't do it for corrupt motive. That's a crime. And that's what I think Mueller is trying to get at.
[19:25:14] BURNETT: And that certainly what it seems to be looking at. Rob, what do you make here, because we are going to talk much about Sessions, but of the leaks? Of the fact that even the people closest to Trump are willing to go tell "The Washington Post," that he called Jeff Sessions Mr. Magoo, who is elderly, myopic and bumbling. I mean but its constant these leaks.
ASTORINO: Yes, and that's a problem, but again there's their team and there's your team. I guarantee you it's not his team. It's part of their team. And people in the White House who were brought in who he maybe have never had a relationship with, who either don't like or want to --
BURNETT: But do you admit that someone he's known for a long time, other Presidents have been able to get some of those people on board.
BURNETT: We didn't hear about George W. Bush or Barack Obama nasty things they might have said someone?
BURNETT: But we do about Trump because he doesn't seem to be bringing new loyal people in?
ASTORINO: We are in a whole new world. This is an administration that none of us ever could have predicted it would have acted this way either I mean it's just -- it's constant. The chaos is constant. But I think part of it, people are maybe feeling they've got to either save their reputation at some point and work with the press, which is very -- if they're doing that, they shouldn't be there. They should not be there.
BURNETT: Well, there's some of that going on for sure.
BEGALA: The big thing is this investigation. That's the overhang on everybody. You have to go all the way back to Nixon with find a White House with this many people in potential peril. And God help me say lightly cannot lie (Inaudible). Blue, purple, you can't lie to Mr. Mueller you're going to prison.
BURNETT: All right, were going to hit pause because we do have this breaking news up on The Washington Post. The special counsel Robert Mueller now looking at Trump's efforts to ousts Attorney General. This is according to The Washington Post, the story just breaking right now we're going to have a much more at the reporter who broke the story.
OutFront next, plus Kushner not the only one to loose his top secret security clearance. Tonight, we're learning dozens, dozens of people. We would have that on an interim basis have now been downgraded not maybe cut.
[19:30:54] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Breaking news, "The Washington Post" reporting tonight that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating President Trump's apparent efforts to drive Attorney General Jeff Sessions from his job.
Now, the report is that they are specifically looking at last summer in July, which would have been around the same time President Trump said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very disappointed with the attorney general. But we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Now, Sessions didn't respond at the time. But now after the president has said many things like that about him, he is fighting back against the president's latest public shaming. Sessions responding to the president this morning, and I'll explain exactly what happened here, saying, quote: I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department, will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.
It's a stunning rebuke. It's a highly unprecedented response from Sessions and it came directly in response to President Trump's tweet this morning, in which he said, why is AG Jeff Sessions asking attorney general to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse? It will take forever, it has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey, et cetera. Isn't the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? Disgraceful.
Now, we have these angles covered tonight. I want to go, though, first, to Josh Dawsey of "The Washington Post" who joins me on the phone with this breaking news.
So, Josh, your headline on the story, Mueller investigation examining Trump's apparent efforts to oust Sessions in July. What is the bottom line of your report tonight?
JOSH DAWSEY, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): Sure. Thanks for having me. So, our reporting indicates that in late July, President Trump was obviously belittling his attorney general on Twitter, calling him beleaguered, as you play there for your listeners, you know, criticizing him, saying he was disappointed in him, and behind the scenes fuming about him to a number of his advisers and people around him.
What the special counsel is interested in is whether the president in doing these things was trying to push sessions out so he could exercise more control over the investigation. As we and others have reported, the president has been fuming that, you know, Jeff Sessions recused himself from the probe. He wanted someone who would be more loyal to him. He said that time and time again.
And in that time period, there were behind the scenes machinations, along with a public shaming campaign that was seen as trying to push Jeff Sessions out of his job. And what Mueller's team is asking witnesses, calling witnesses that they've already interviewed, asking a series of very detailed questions on why was he doing that?
DAWSEY: What we see as his rationale? What did he want people to know? Was he really just disappointed in Sessions performance which would be lawful reason to push out an attorney general? Or was it more nefarious reason for that?
BURNETT: Right. I mean, obviously, this would get to the heart again of an obstruction of justice case which, you know, we know they have been looking at with Comey, and now, you are reporting actively asking these questions about the president's efforts to oust Sessions in the summer. And, of course, everything he said about Sessions, he didn't respond to, that is until today when it wasn't actually personal, when it was about the department.
You also report, Josh, in your story, behind the scenes, I'm quoting from your report, Trump has derisively referred to Mr. Sessions as Mr. Magoo, a cartoon character who was elderly, myopic and bumbling, according to people with whom he has spoken.
BURNETT: It's pretty stunning. I don't know if you heard our last panel. But they were just saying the stunning nature of the fact that people are willing to share that with you, that the president would say something so negative and derogatory about his attorney general?
DAWSEY: Sure. But I think if you read coverage out of a swine house, they're often lively and colorful reports from our news outlets, from other news outlets. The president talks to a very wide circle of people. I've had sources tell me that in the course of one weekend, he can talk to 50 or 100 people on the telephone.
He gets fixated on certain issues, particularly Jeff Sessions, no one has really enraged him quite as much in the last year and a month, or a month and two than Jeff Sessions has. He felt betrayed. He's frustrated.
[19:35:01] And there's been a lot of venting about Mr. Sessions. I had, you know, senior person tell me in the course of reporting this story that they just don't bring up Jeff Sessions anymore to the president for fear they know which way it will go if he hears his name. So -- anyway.
2BURNETT: Which is pretty incredible. They don't bring his name up to the president. And as you point out, Josh, in your reporting, no one has outraged the president quite as much as Jeff Sessions in the past year or so.
All right. Thank you very much, Josh Dawsey, for your reporting here. This breaking news from "The Washington Post."
I want to go straight to our Jessica Schneider now.
You know, Jessica, obviously, this is very significant report from "The Washington Post" tonight. And it comes as when you hear the president's tweets or the comments that we just played that he had said about Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions never responded, right? He never, never responded to an insult from President Trump.
But today when the president came out and slammed him, called him disgraceful, in handling the investigation into the FISA process, he fought back and he fought back loud and clear.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He did. He issued that statement, Erin, that it's not a statement we have seen before. We haven't seen Jeff Sessions push back.
But the reasons really for this, Erin, are twofold. So, first of all, as you mentioned before when you were talking to Josh Dawsey, this was attack on the Department of Justice as a whole and the way it operates. The president asked in that tweet, why did Jeff Sessions ask the inspector general to investigate these potential FISA abuses?
Well, that's exactly what the inspector general does, that's his job. So, you know, here's the description for inspector general, is to investigate by DOJ employees, that's exactly what the I.G. is doing. And the I.G. at that point can make criminal referrals to the DOJ for any prosecution.
So, the I.G. has been doing its job. Second reason that Jeff Sessions pushed back today, my colleague Laura Jarrett told by a source that the attorney general, he really viewed this tweet as going too far. Since the president in this specifically called out Justice Department lawyers. It was right at the end of his tweet. He said in it, why not use them for the investigation?
So, given that the president in this tweet was essentially directing a prosecution by the DOJ, the attorney general felt he needed to speak out and push back. But granted, Erin, you know, the president has urged prosecutions by the DOJ before, particularly as it relates to Hillary Clinton. But it does seem at this time, today, this morning, the attorney general had enough -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jessica Schneider, with those new details from you and Laura Jarrett as well. Thank you.
And, now, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, thanks very much for being with us tonight.
Not really what we expected to be talking about frankly on anything, but that's the way the world goes, the world completely changes every hour when it comes to covering this administration. What's your reaction to the president's attack on the attorney general? And to the crucial thing that happened today which has never happened before, which is Jeff Sessions fought back?
REP. TED LIEU (D-CA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you, Erin, for your question.
I think what we are seeing now are high level officials ranging from John Kelly to Jeff Sessions pushing back on the president saying we're not going to take any more of your bullying. We're going to stand up to you and we're going to do what is right.
And Jeff Sessions' statement today was rather remarkable. He's basically saying the president was asking him to do something that he considered dishonorable and something that would violate his integrity and he was not going to do it.
BURNETT: Right. The first words from his response, perhaps the most crucial, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor. Very clear that he felt that the president was doing exact -- the president is implying he was doing the exact opposite of that.
What's the president trying to do here? Obviously I ask this in the context of "The Washington Post" report about the special counsel investigating the president's apparent efforts to oust Sessions as far back as last summer. What is he trying to do right now, Congressman?
LIEU: I'm former prosecutor, and I can tell you the actions of Donald Trump are not consistent with that of an innocent person. If we are to believe that this whole Russia investigation is a hoax, then why would Donald Trump keep trying to obstruct it?
He fired Comey. He tried to fire Mueller. He tried to put pressure on Rosenstein to resign. And now we know he tried to oust Jeff Sessions.
Those are the actions of a guilty person, someone who has something to hide.
BURNETT: Now, is it possible that maybe he has something to hide, but it has nothing to do with Russia, Congressman. And I ask this -- I mean, is it possible that he wants people to be loyal to him, if they're not loyal, he thinks there is no there there. And if you're not going to be loyal and help me do that so I can move forward and do my job, then I want to get rid of you. Is it possible that that is the motive and it's not actually covering up for anything?
LIEU: It's possible. But if you look at the over all context, it's not likely, because as we sit here today, Donald Trump has still not implemented bipartisan congressional sanctions law on Russia. He still refuses to condemn the Kremlin or Putin for attacking American democracy in 2016, and he still has not ordered the NSA or FBI to prevent another attack.
[19:40:07] So, if you take that in context, it looks more like he has something to hide specifically about the Russian investigation.
BURNETT: And just one more reaction here to this report in "The Washington Post", that Mueller is looking at Trump's apparent efforts to oust Sessions as far back as July. One of the crucial line here, people with whom the president has spoken. So, they are saying multiple people say that Trump derisively has referred to Mr. Sessions as Mr. Magoo, elderly, myopic and bumbling character.
LIEU: I'm not surprised. I think that could explain one reason so many administration officials have already departed the White House, why there's been scandal after scandal. And I get a very real sense you have Americans who want to serve their country and the White House and then they're confronted with a president that's taking actions and making statements that are harmful to the nation and they can't reconcile the two.
So, either they leave or in this case, they are pushing back.
BURNETT: Thank you very much, Congressman Lieu. Appreciate your time.
LIEU: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: And now, the guns meeting. It was an extraordinary meeting between the president and lawmakers from both parties. It was all on camera as the president wanted it to be. Trump at one point calling out members of his own party saying they are, quota, afraid of the NRA.
Here's how that played.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun but get this weapon at 18. I don't know. So I'm curious what you did in your bill?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't address it, Mr. President. I think --
TRUMP: You know why, because you are afraid of the NRA, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT.
And, Phil, look, he didn't mince any words and he said it multiple times. What's the reaction on the Hill to the president's meeting?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erin, surreal. That was the word used by Senator John Cornyn, the second ranking Republican who was in the room, seated right next to the president. And I think that kind of encapsulates everybody felt about the meeting, whether Republican or Democrat.
Take Democrats, they sat there next to the president for almost an hour and listened him to all but endorse several of their proposals which do not have a majority support for Republicans right now. I think one of the key questions I've heard from Democrats, both the lawmakers who are there and aides who are working on this issue, which Trump did they get today? There's kind of legend on the Hill right now of, is it Tuesday Trump or is it Thursday Trump?
Now, what does that refer to? Immigration. If you remember, the wide-ranging, live on TV immigration meeting the president had on DACA, where he seemed open to just about everything. Forty-eight hours later, that door was completely closed. And DACA, well, we all know that hasn't been resolved at all. So, Democrats are trying to figure out right now if these doors are actually open or if this was just another, as one aide told me, performance by the president.
Now, Erin, shift over to Republicans and one charitably put it that they were perplexed, another, this probably describes better where people are right now, is furious, whether it's comments seeming to target they were furious, the comment to NRA or when it came to something known as gun violence restraining order which Vice President Mike Pence was trying to explain to him. The president says do due process afterwards. Take the guns first. Republicans are very upset about that idea, very upset that they felt the president put them in a bad position on this debate.
Here's the reality right now on Capitol Hill. House Republicans have made clear they have done issues when it comes to legislation on what they are going to do going forward. Gun controls, gun restrictions, that is not in the bailiwick going forward. And I can tell you just a few hours before the meeting, Erin, Senate Republicans had come to the conclusion that in terms of the near term future for debate, it didn't exist. There were no plans to move forward on something in the next couple of weeks.
Clearly, this meeting was almost incredible. I think you can describe the big question becomes, does it scramble this debate entirely? Does it change the direction of the way things are going? Or frankly, does Thursday Trump come out in a couple of days, Erin?
BURNETT: Right. And, of course, Thursday Trump will be influenced by everything going on with Hope Hicks and all the coverage he's receiving there as well.
Thank you so much, Phil.
And next, did something happen with the House Intelligence Committee yesterday that made Hope Hicks resign so suddenly today? I'm going to ask a congressman who is in the room.
And Jeanne Moos with the truth about exactly what qualifies as a white lie.
[19:48:08] BURNETT: Breaking news, Hope Hicks resigning. One of President Trump's closest and longest serving advisors resigning suddenly as communications director, roughly 24 hours after meeting with the House Intelligence Committee, where she admitted telling white lies on behalf of the president.
A White House official tells CNN Hick's resignation did not have anything to do with her testimony yesterday. But a source close to the president says he criticized her for admitting to telling lies on his behalf.
OUTFRONT now, Republican congressman from Florida, Tom Rooney, who sets on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Rooney, you were in the room. Do you think Hick's testimony has anything to do with her sudden departure from the White House?
REP. TOM ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: I don't know. I read somewhere today that there was reports that she had told some of her friends a few days ago that she was talking about leaving. So, I mean, it may have played a role, but I'm not sure it was a determining factor. But I wouldn't blame her.
The committee hearing yesterday lasted for nine hours and the one thing that got out that you've led this program with that Hope Hicks lies for President Trump was obviously leaked by the Democratic side of the aisle to the media and that has driven the news today. Not the nine-hour testimony that she gave of her knowledge of what Russian collusion or lack thereof may have been in the 2016 election cycle, but this one nugget.
And that's why tonight, I'd asked our Chairman Conway that we need to end this investigation. It has been going on for a year. We interviewed scores of witnesses and now, we have gotten to the point now where we are literally bringing people in for nine hours just so the Democrats can leak to the press something as ridiculous as white lies, not having anything to do with the Russia investigation, but that that drives the whole story for the whole next day.
BURNETT: So, I want to ask you a couple of questions, but let me just, because it is important, you know, and you were there, so you will know. [19:50:03] Our congressional reporter Manu Raju is saying that Hicks
was pressed about whether she'd ever lied for Trump in the room, she acknowledged she has had to tell what amount to white lies, but that obviously white lies is the term being put about everywhere, Congressman. Did you remember what terms she actually used? Did she even use those words or how exactly did she phrase it?
ROONEY: The question was have you ever lied for the president? And which as you know is an extremely broad question. That could be like me telling a staffer to tell somebody that's calling on the phone that I'm not here. That would be asking my staffer to lie for me. So, that would include the question being asked was.
So, I actually chimed in at that moment and said, can we please specify as to whether or not if you are asking her if she's ever lied for the president with regards to the Russian investigation, her testimony here, or anything that she said during this testimony, because then that would be an impeachable -- in a court room, that would be impeaching the witness that she is not truthful. And of course to that she said she has not lied with regard to any of those things.
So, then the question is, so you are talking about white lies and she repeated that. It wasn't exactly in that time frame, but that's how the term white lies came out.
BURNETT: I understand. So, someone else used the words and she did repeat it, but what you are saying, she was -- I may try to understand, she was explicitly --
ROONEY: It was a trap. It was a trap and that is what our investigation has become.
BURNETT: But I just want to make the point, you are saying she was explicitly saying she had never lied about anything related to the Russian investigation --
BURNETT: -- or collusion or anything else, as part of the answer. That's what you're saying.
ROONEY: Exactly. But that's not been in the news at all today. That's what our investigation has become. I have never gone on TV, Erin, by the way, to talk about the Russian investigation --
ROONEY: -- because I don't think it's appropriate. But I'm coming on today because it needs to end. If we have reduced ourselves so far to get to the point now where we're just leaking stuff like this, rinky- dink things like Hope Hicks tells white lies for her boss, then we have gone completely off the rails and this investigation needs to end. BURNETT: So, let me ask you, "The Washington Post" report -- is
reporting the special counsel is looking in detail into the president's comments, state of mind when it appeared he was determined to oust Jeff Sessions as attorney general, when, obviously, you know the back and forth between the two gentlemen today.
BURNETT: Do you think none of that is legitimate or a possible obstruction of justice. I know that maybe perhaps beyond the purview which your committee is looking at, which perhaps is what you are specifically referring to. Or are you also trying to say that there's just no there there at all and you think Bob Mueller is full of it too?
ROONEY: No, I have comment or I have no -- I don't want to imply at all that whatever Mr. Mueller is doing is somehow legitimate or illegitimate. That is completely separate criminal investigation that has nothing or should have nothing to do with the House Intelligence Committee, which has four parameters which we've talked about ad nauseam that deal with the intelligence community.
And in our investigation, over the last year, we have had not one witness come forward or interviewed that has given us any evidence of collusion, conspiracy, coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Not one. And so, now, we are basically going through the motions and trying to find tabloid types news to give to you guys that becomes the driving cycle of the day and that needs to end.
But with regard to Mr. Mueller, I don't want to make any mistake. His investigation is his investigation and I'll just leave it at that.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Congressman, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
ROONEY: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: Appreciate it.
BURNETT: And next, Jeanne Moos on the color of lies.
[19:57:57] BURNETT: Tonight a true story. Jeanne Moos defines white lies.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With a president who loves to say --
TRUMP: Believe me. Believe me. Believe me, I know.
MOOS: You better believe critics pounced when the soon departing White House communications director told the House Intelligence Committee.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She sometimes has to tell white lies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She occasionally tells white lies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White lies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The color of lies.
MOOS: To some, it made Hope Hicks into a white liar and inspired the hashtag #whiteliesmatter.
Twitter took it a step further, coming up with white lies that Hope Hicks might tell.
For instance, based on this now famous video, a Hope Hicks white lie might be nobody saw your bald spot.
Remember when Kellyanne Conway drove critics nuts when she used the phrase --
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Alternative facts to that. But the point really is --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait, alternative facts?
MOOS: Well, now, white lies are the new alternative facts.
Actually, there's confusion about whether the words "white lies" came out of Hope's lips. That's why some news organizations put them in quotes and others didn't. Her testimony was given behind closed doors. She acknowledged telling little, not substantive lies. It may have been the source describing her testimony who actually said white lies.
Whether she used Fleetwood Mack wordings, or Jason and the Scorchers, it is the same gist taken at the president's love for nicknames --
TRUMP: Lyin' Ted, Lyin' Ted.
MOOS: A "Washington Post" cartoonist created lying Hicks with a nose that grows.
TRUMP: Believe, believe, believe, believe, believe. Can you believe it?
MOOS: Not if it's a white lie.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: And thanks so much for joining us. You can watch OUTFRONT anytime, anywhere, you just have to go to CNN Go.
"AC360" begins right now.