Return to Transcripts main page

ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

White House On Edge Over Who Might Be Fired Next; Ex- FBI Deputy Chief May Be Fired Days Before Retirement; White House Calls Poisoning Of Ex-Russian Spy An Abhorrent Attack; Interview with Rep. Jackie Speier (D), California; White House Spins GOP Loss By Saying Dem "Embraced" Trump Policies. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:10] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next. Ditching the deadweight -- President Trump falling increasingly frustrated with his cabinet, the cabinet falling short of his expectation.

And breaking news, the former top FBI official who is the target of Trump's repeated attack could soon be fired by Jeff Sessions. And Russian spy games, 23 Russian diplomat ejected by America's closest ally after the poisoning of a former spy. Is this a return to the days of the cold war? Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news -- President's purge. President Trump set to be on the verge of firing everyone left that he considers a deadweight. And the growing list of officials on thin ice is a teen. We were supposed to believe this about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have by far the highest I.Q. of any cabinet.

We have a cabinet that there are those are saying it's one of the finest group of people ever assembled as a candidate as a cabinet. And I happen to agree with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: The finest group of people ever assembled for a cabinet with highest IQs and it turns out a group that includes some people the president may now be about to evict, like Ben Carson, the Housing and Urban Development secretary, CNN has uncovered, damning new e-mail showing Carson and his wife personally selected the $31,000 dining set. Despite about the Carson have denied it.

And one e-mail a career official rights, "I believe Allison has printouts to the furniture, the secretary. And Mrs. Carson picked out." I think this is a very reasonable price and the funds are available. Well, here's the very reasonable break down. The Carson approved in e-mail, people, $25,000, and yet it came out above that, at the 31.

Also on president's possible purge list tonight-- Secretary David Shulkin, the Department of Veteran's Affair and inspector general says Shulkin used taxpayer money for his wife to travel on a 10-day trip within Europe. And then his chief of staff lied about it. And then there's then there's Betsy Devos, the lightning on education secretary causing alarm at the White House for her interview on 60 Minutes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they're doing?

BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: I have not intentionally visited schools that are under performing.

STAHL: Maybe you should.

DEVOS: Maybe I should. Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well, DeVos for now for one appears to be safe. But also on the president's list to possibly asked H.R. McMaster, his National Security Adviser, and his Chief of Staff John Kelly. And don't forget who's already out the door, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, fired by presidential tweet. Tom Price, the Secretary of Human Services, ousted for racking up with estimated to be hundreds of thousand of dollars in private flights. Never mind Steve Bannon. Michael Flynn, Reince Priebus and obviously this list is not even close to exhaustive.

The bottom line is that this is a White House so that list of 43% is turnover rate according to one study. And frankly, that 43% is before some of the recent oustings. And now, the president appears to want us to forget about his bragging that the team at the highest IQs and with the finest group ever assembled by a president. Instead, he says he's getting close to the team he actually wants and the people are falling all over themselves to fill the vacancies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.

And I have a choice of anybody. I could take any position in the White House and I'll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position. Everybody wants to be there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Everybody wants to be there. Ten top people for every job. In that case, why is the president today replacing Gary Cohn, his National Economic Council Director who quit in opposition to Trump's tariffs with Larry Kudlow, a conservative economist and TV host to vocally opposed Trump's tariffs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LARRY KUDLOW, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Tariff hikes are prosperity killers. They always have been and they always will be. Tariffs are taxes and the ones who suffer most are the users.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: OK. Point made. The president's mercurial urges to purge the people closest to him often without any warning is upping ante in White House where staffers thought they knew what chaos was. And officials inside the White House tell CNN now they are on edge tonight.

Kaitlan Collins begins our coverage OUTFRONT in St. Louis where the president is tonight. Kaitlan you're talking to people inside the White House. What are they telling you?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Erin. They're describing this atmosphere on ease essentially in the West Wing and staffers are on edge because there has been a string of departures and firing lately coming out of the White House. And they feel like they're in the dark because they can't see who's next, who's going to be the next one fired and who's going to be the next one walked out of the White House because some of these departures they've seen coming for a long time now like the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that was widely reported that it was coming.

[19:05:01] But then there are some that catch a lot of people at the west wing by surprise like the president's personal aide Johnny McEntee who is marched off White House ground on Monday. But a lot of this unease is coming from the president himself here, Erin, because as you just heard him they're on the south lawn. He's the one saying he's not fully happy with his cabinet and he may be making some changes in the near future to get it just the way he wants it.

Now the two of the most immediate future of course seem to be the Veterans Affair Secretary David Shulkin because the president has been essentially developing an exit plan for him and figuring out who he can replace him with so he can get him out of the Veteran's Affairs agency. And the other seems to be his national security adviser H.R. McMaster, someone the president has been fed up for a while. So those two seem to be the next ones on the chopping block.

Now one cabinet official the president does seem to be annoyed with and doesn't seems to be the subject of series of embarrassing story is the treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, who the president spent the day with here behind me at this Boeing facility. They actually just took off from Saint Louis. But Erin, to be clear, they are going back to a very chaotic West Wing awaiting the president in Washington tonight.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much Kaitlan. And of course the treasury secretary had been under fire, right, when his wife got off a private plane that they paid for a taxpayer dollars on the day of the eclipse and tweeted about all of her designer brands, sunglasses and shoes and everything else she was wearing. But that's the distant past. Now he's OK, others are in the spotlight. Eliana Johnson joins me, National Political Reporter for Politico. Mark Preston, Senior Political Analyst and Jackie Kucinich, Washington Bureau Chief for "The Daily Beast".

Mark, OK, it's hard to even keep track of all this.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think.

BURNETT: But you can imagine only sitting there what it's like. I mean this was highest IQs and the best team ever assembled, except for apparently it wasn't the team that he says that he wanted and now he's trying to get there. And now -- I mean you got to be on edge if you work there.

PRESTON: You're going to be on edge if you work there. And if you ever thought about perhaps leaving the private sector to go and work in the White House, you're going to be saying to yourself no way. And the reason being is that if you are wealthy and you have done well in your life, for you to go into the administration, you have to divest everything. You're going to have to take your money, you're going to have to move it out of your control, you're going to have to put it into a blind trust, and when you do that --

BURNETT: Even though the president's family. I'm sorry to just insert this.

PRESTON: Doesn't have to do that.

BURNETT: Doesn't have to do that.

PRESTON: Anybody else has to do it. That is very arduous and that is really difficult. So, I'm sure some people are looking at what happened to Rex Tillerson, looking at what happened to Tom Price, look what's happening now with H.R. McMaster, look what's happening now with John Kelly, and saying, wait a second, you know what any thought of going in is done. And let me just add one thing, Erin. Remember the generals, I love my generals, looks like he's going to get rid of all of his generals.

BURNETT: I mean there's nobody use to be or to be safe. I mean Jackie it is pretty stunning when you think about it.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: It absolutely. It's not only like that they're fired, it's how they were fired. I mean what happened to Rex Tillerson was humiliating. He was fired via tweet.

So again to Mark's point if you're divesting all your world goods and just to be humiliated by the president of the United States, it's not a good look. The other thing, not only are people from the White House looking or outside the White House looking in, the world is looking at this, right? I mean the president word this isn't a time of tumult in the world.

This high profile on North Korea meeting that going to happen, right now its happening without a secretary of state. And there's no guarantee that Pompeo, his nominee, will sail through the Senate because Democrats I'm sure are going to try to make a point here.

So it really, the timing of this isn't great. And if you're other world leaders looking into the United States, you're probably just as nervous as people in the White House looking out.

BURNETT: I mean, Eliana, the president, you know, with his -- there's 10 top people waiting for every job. What are you hearing about whether people really want to work for the White House? I mean it's safe to say you don't have 10 top people for every job. But I mean just on the point to there. I mean are great just people dying to work there?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: You know, Erin, I think there's increasing trepidation among senior Republicans and then really Republicans at all levels about joining this White House because the loyalty that's been given to the president really haven't -- hasn't been returned. And I think Jeff Sessions is really case in point of that. He was the first Republican senator to back the president. And he's been ritually humiliated over and over again.

But look just to step back for a second. I think what's happening here is that the president's been in office a year, he's gaining confidence, and he's beginning to really listen to him self and trust his instincts. And I don't think anybody thinks it's bad that he replaced the secretary of state he didn't get along with, with one that he's getting along with better.

But the -- where you hear from White House aides are that the president's moods and his opinions and views about his cabinet secretary than the other people close to him change so quickly. And for reasons as flimsy as the media coverage that they are receiving, which can change very quickly that they worry that he'll be, if he's in touch with instincts, and acting on instincts, shuffling out cabinet aides on a routine basis.

[19:10:07] BURNETT: Yes. I mean and Mark, you know, this is a man you clearly thrives on creating in security and others. It's always operated in business. It's how he talks to one person when another isn't in the room. This is the way he is. This is something that people who have covered him and followed him have known for a long time. I mean, I've seen it myself.

PRESTON: It is accepted. And, you know, I actually sat down with Sam Nunberg today for an extended interview to talk about the interview that you had with him. One of the things that came out in the interview was that he acknowledged Donald Trump didn't treat him well. But he said you know what, I wasn't a good enough employee. And I said, wait a second.

Now during the interview wait a second, you are now saying you're putting the blame upon yourself. Basically, what I was -- I what I learned from just talking to Kim and from others now is that there's a missing amounted of guilt that Trump puts upon you, even if you are right, you are wrong. And that's a bad way to go through life.

BURNETT: Well, its some would say, I'm not a psychologist, but I think you go in the emotional abuse sort of down the angle here possibly.

Jackie, you know, the president has said he likes differing view. OK. Larry Kudlow, I was, you know, mentioning him obviously coming in and taking Gary Cohn's job even though Gary Cohn-Gary Kudlow completely agree on something on the opposite side of the president. Here's what the president said about Kudlow on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm looking at Larry Kudlow very strongly. I've known him a long time. We don't agree on everything, but in this case I think that's good. I want to have a divergent opinion. We agree on most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And then here's what the president said about Tillerson who obviously had different point of view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I actually got along well with Rex. But really it was a different mindset. It was a different thinking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And then Gary Cohn, when Gary Cohn announced he was going, here's president said about Cohn who also had had different point of view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have a feeling he'll be back. I don't know if I can put him in a same position. Now he's not quite as strong on those tariffs as we want him to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. So Jackie, he says he wants people of differing point of view, but when they have different points of view they seemed to end up in one place and that is out.

KUCINICH: Well, I think he wants it until he does it. The other thing about Larry Kudlow is he's very differential to the president, he likes praising the president. No, he doesn't agree with him on tariffs, but at the end of the day he'll say, you know, Mr. President it's your decision.

So, I think if these people yield to the president then they're in good graces again. But Rex Tillerson had a whole host of issues with the president, not only on Russia, but on the Iran deal, on the Paris accord. I mean there a whole --

BURNETT: Yes.

KUCINICH: -- bunch of things. So -- and wasn't -- and it sounded like things got a little heated there on many occasions. So the president doesn't like someone else trying to strong arm him.

BURNETT: I think that's bottom line. Eliana, does the turn stop at any point?

JOHNSON: You know, Erin, let me just say quickly about the competing view points. I think it's a really complicated call during components that with the president because I would point out that Jim Mattis, the Secretary of Defense really shared all of Rex Tillerson's views but you've not heard the president say a negative word about Mattis.

And so I think it's a bit more complicated than the president simply wanting people who agree with him around him. But whether the turn stops, I think that comes down to whether the president's advisers can prevail upon him to, and let him know that stability is necessary for governing. And thus far they haven't seemed to have succeeded.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. Next, Jeff Sessions, you heard his name in a tight spot tonight.

Is he about to fire Deputy FBI Director? I mean Trump has attacked repeatedly days before this pension kicks in. This is a crucial night for Jeff Sessions and his future for Trump.

Plus, the White House, finally slamming Russia for suspected poisoning with double agent in the U.K. What took so long? And Republicans suffering a stunning upset in the Pennsylvania special election. How the White House and Republicans are spinning the loss tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:17:36] BURNETT: Breaking news, CNN is learning the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility has recommended Attorney General Jeff Sessions fire former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. President Trump has been calling for McCabe firing due to his role in the Clinton e- mail investigation, putting intense pressure on Sessions to do just that.

And if Sessions acts in the next three days before McCabe officially retires, McCabe could lose his pension after 20 plus years at the bureau it's gone. Pamela Brown begins our coverage OUTFRONT. So Pamela what else do you know about this recommendation to fire Deputy Director McCabe?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we've learned the recommendation dims from a DOJ internal watchdog report that has been made public yet that alleges McCabe authorized the disclosure of sensitive information to wall street journal reporter having to do with Clinton Foundation investigation just before the election. And that he also misled investigators about it.

Now the article in question here essentially called McCabe objectivity into question as a lead official overseeing the Clinton probe. And the information he authorized was seen as an attempt to help his image to pick it in the media at the time after it was revealed his wife accepted half million dollars from Clinton family ally Terry McAuliffe's PAC when she was running for state senate in 2015. Now, we should note here Erin that McCabe was one of the few agents in the FBI who could authorize giving information to reporters. But now his attempt to push back on it on this article hasn't caught up in this I.G. investigation with his pension now hanging in the balance, Erin.

BURNETT: I mean, obviously, it's a crucial moment. It's a crucial decision for secretary -- for Attorney General Sessions. I mean look Trump has been public about his anger at Sessions for not firing McCabe, incredibly public Pam. What will Sessions do?

BROWN: That is the big question. You know, you're right he's been the target of president for several months. And it says he's been the face of Trump ire against the FBI really a political punching bag for the president and in turn the president has directed his anger at the I.G. or at the A.G. we should say for not firing McCabe.

Here's what he tweeted. As you'll recall this he said, "Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. A Comey friend who was in-charge of Clinton investigation that got big dollars for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the swamp. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits, 90 days to go."

So, Erin, he's supposed to retire on March 18th, but now his fate of whether he'll be fired before then is really in the hands of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

[19:20:08] A lot of pressure there of course as you're seeing publicly from the president. But we should know McCabe will have a chance to respond to the A.G. and make his case for why he shouldn't be fired, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Pamela.

So now let's go to retire FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Gagliano who worked with McCabe, knows him, and former Assistant Secretary for the Department Of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem. All right. James, you're next to me. You worked from the McCabe. Should he be fired?

JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Well, I mean you have to look at it from the perspective of the way the I.G. has looked at this a lack of candor for an FBI agent, Erin, whether they've been on the job for day two days or three days in fronts of their retirement. That is a fireable offense. It is an apex violation, there's a reason for that.

In 1972, the Supreme Court had a case called Giglio versus the United States which required that the prosecution must disclose any negative details about potential witness. FBI agents testify. Generally speaking federal cases have a 94%, 95% conviction rate because there's a reason.

When an FBI agent raises their hand, it says I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me god. BURNETT: People believe him.

GAGLIANO: Juries believe it. So it is true, and this will come out. We're hearing that within this next week, if this is true that Andy McCabe was less than forthright, exhibited lack of candor, in other words, like during this administrative process because its not a criminal process yet.

BURNETT: Right.

GAGLIANO: That is a fireable offense.

BURNETT: Right. That's what they're saying in this, you know, form their internal conclusion. I mean, Juliette, you heard the reporting, right? You're getting this from the Office of Professional Responsibility.

They've taken inspector general report. They have concluded that McCabe should be fired. Do you think firing is fair?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, it's hard to tell without knowing the basis. I will say with three days to go it does seem a little mean petty and unnecessary. And reason why it's unnecessary is because there is no question in my mind if he is fired McCabe is going to fire back.

And there will be litigation regarding whether he got due process, regarding the findings against him. And in that litigation, guess what, you know, evidence number one is going to be? The tweets of President Trump going after McCabe personally to get him fired.

In other words, McCabe will say the fix is in. I tend to believe that this has less to do with McCabe, it has everything to do with Sessions. To me this has to do with Trump trying to get rid of Sessions without firing him directly with related to the Mueller investigation.

He's essentially saying to Sessions you either fire McCabe or you're not listening to me. And that seems to me yet another sort of foul (ph) vote that Trump is making against Sessions. So I think it has more to do with Sessions and McCabe at the stage.

BURNETT: Which -- and it's obviously is a crucial moment, right, because now the president who said fire him if Sessions hasn't done it.

GAGLIANO: Yes.

BURNET: Now he can say look at this report. So if you really don't do it then you --

GAGLIANO: Right.

BURNETT: -- you're against me. I mean you do know McCabe while you work with him. Were you surprised at the conclusions, you know, in this lack of can the phrasing is? GAGLIANO: My experience in with Andrew McCabe he was virtuous and honorable FBI agent. He spent most of his career down to FBI headquarters. I didn't serve with him down there.

What people have to understand also is it doesn't matter that this is two or three days away from his effective retirement. If you lead the FBI under investigation, if the investigation concludes, Erin, nine months from now, they can retroactively go after your pension. So that they --

BURNETT: So you lose what you got and they close (ph) that.

GAGLIANO: Absolutely. And I understand the over arching political issue here, but the I.G. is not a bipartisan. It's a nonpartisan entity. They are going to conclude their investigation when it's done if it's three days before his retirement or nine months from now.

BURNETT: So Juliette, the president -- as you point out slams and humiliate Sessions, you know, that the point that you made Juliette publicly and regularly. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Sessions should never have recussed himself, and if he was going to refuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.

We're disappointed with the Attorney General, but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And of course, Juliette, you saw the tweets Pam shared, right, one of which included McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. Do you think Juliette, Sessions, will caved and fire McCabe?

KAYYEM: Yes. I mean, I'm just guessing here but my expectation would be that Sessions probably will, which then will bring about more litigation, and all of this unfolds again. And I want to be clear here, you know, when we talk about Sessions and the lead up story that you did at the opening of the hour.

So we're now talking about McMaster, Tillerson, and Sessions as sort of the three people with bull's eye right now. And we tend to think of it'll Trump didn't get along with them. But if you take a step back, why didn't Trump get along with these people whether it's Tillerson in what he said about the Russian getting killed in the U.K., whether it's Sessions recusing himself or whether it's McMaster who's been quite public about concerns about Russia.

[19:25:06] They all, right, or sort of inconsistent with the president on one the same issue which is Russia. And this is something to note. I don't think this is random chaos. I think this is actually targeted getting rid of the guys who object with him on the issue that he is most worried about. BURNETT: Very interesting point. And as you point out there, there is a consistency across those cases. Thank you both very much.

And next tensions escalating tonight. Twenty-three Russian diplomats expelled over the poisoning of a double agent. So, what's Putin going to do because there's a promise now? And Republican spin after their candidate lost that special election last night. What or who is really to blame?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Breaking news, the White House standing by the U.K.'s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a small English town. The White House also agreeing that Russia is to blame, calling it an "abhorrent attack."

Russian now is threatening got in the U.K. saying response is coming. It all comes after another suspicious death of Russian in the U.K. this week. There's a businessman the U.K. was refusing to extradite.

OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congresswoman from California Jackie Speier who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Congresswoman, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

Look, this is escalating tonight. U.K. expelling diplomats, Russia's threatening to respond, their ambassador to the U.N. says, oh, don't worry, we destroyed all our chemical weapons. There's nothing to see here.

Congressman, is there any question in your mind as to whether Russia is responsible for the poisoning?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: There is no question in my mind Erin and this is yet another example of how Russia doesn't play by the rules, and now, it appears U.K. is going to investigate other deaths that have taken place in the U.K. that were under suspicious circumstances.

This is the KGB Russia that we have come to know and since Vladimir Putin was in the KGB, this is I think got his fingerprints all over it.

BURNETT: I mean, here's what President Trump has said about Russia and its role in the poison attack. I wanted to play it for you. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It sounds to me like it would be Russia based on all of the evidence they have. If we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Is that a good response? A strong response from president Trump?

SPEIER: It's hardly a response, and what's very interesting about every provocative action taken by Russia since President Trump has been in office, he has never once said anything publicly about President Putin. If you notice in that little clip that you played, it was -- you know, well maybe it's -- maybe it's Putin.

But he didn't come right out and say I am condemning President Putin. We will not tolerate this. We stand our friends and allies in the U.K.

I mean, it's always measured and it's very interesting that he has never officially made any statement against would have been acts of provocation by Putin for the last year.

BURNETT: The Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked directly. Actually, it was a very unusual moment, the BBC was there. He was at some agricultural event and they sort of door stopped him. They asked him directly whether he was behind the poisoning.

And I just wanted to play for you his dismissive response so our viewers can also see his face.

(BEGIN VDIEO CLIP)

REPRTER: Is Russia behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (translated): Look, we're busy here with agriculture. And you ask me about some tragedies. Get to the bottom of things, first, then we'll talk later.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And what he said, I'm sorry, Congresswoman, because you couldn't hear him. He was sort of laughing. He said, look, we're busy here with agriculture and you want to ask about some tragedies get to the bottom of things there first, then we'll talk about this.

And this comes as a former KGB agent tells "The Mirror" in the U.K., the Russians have a list of people Russia may kill. Christopher Steele, he said, is on it, the former spy behind the Trump dossier, and Bill Browder, a former American citizen.

Is Putin directly calling the hits here?

SPEIER: Oh, I don't think there's any doubt that he is making the calls. He was making the calls in my estimation on the engagement by Russia during the presidential election and campaign and I would certainly believe that something this significant that could easily escalate as this has would have come from the top.

BURNETT: So, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. today, talked about this. She condemned Russia. She said her concern is that if something isn't done immediately, chemical weapons like this could be used in New York or elsewhere in the United States.

Is she right that Russia could do this here?

SPEIER: Well, I have no intelligence to suggest that, but I would certainly think that if they're willing to do it the U.K., they are going to be willing to do it in the United States if we do not set them back 2dramatically. And I don't think we have taken the sanctions that the Congress overwhelmingly voted for and that the president signed. We haven't taken one action -- and by we I mean the president and the administration -- not one action that they should have taken after we passed those sanctions.

So, again, very kind of limp-wristed in his efforts in dealing with Vladimir Putin.

BURNETT: And before you go, Congresswoman, I have to ask you about the House Intelligence Committee into Russian meddling and the Trump campaign, obviously ending in debacle. And the Republican heading up the Russia investigation on your committee says there's going to be a vote on March 22nd on the final version of his report of what happened. He says he's hopeful the Democrats are going to sign on to parts of it.

Will you?

SPEIER: I would find it very hard to sign on to any of it and I would suggest that when you say his report, you're really talking about Trump's report, because this is a script from the president that has basically been an amplification of the tweets that he has been tweeting out for the last year.

[19:35:03] And, you know, as he said yesterday, oh the decisions been made, oh this is great, it's over, there's no collusion -- there has been plenty of collusion. The question is, has it risen to the level of criminality?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Congresswoman.

SPEIER: Thank you.

BURNETT: I appreciate your time tonight.

SPEIER: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, Democrat Conor Lamb poised to win that special election in Pennsylvania. Are Republicans right to call this a one- off?

And defying Trump. The risks that some are taking to help people in this country illegally stay in the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think there's a lot of strong feeling the Jewish community, we cannot let this happen. It's our responsibility. What was done to us cannot happen to other people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Tonight, the White House trying to downplay what appears to be a stunning defeat for Republicans in Pennsylvania. Democrat Conor Lamb holds a roughly 600-vote lead with only the last remaining ballots to be counted. The White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah claiming tonight when he was aboard Air Force One, so I quote him: The Democrat in the race really embraced the president's policies and position.

So, I guess it was a win.

OUTFRONT now, former Republican candidate for New York governor and friend of Donald Trump, Rob Astorino with me here in New York, and former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, Robby Mook, joining us from Washington.

OK. Robby, let's start with you. The Democrat in the race really embraced the president's policies in position, so I guess to Raj Shah and this White House, this is a win for Donald Trump.

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, it's -- I guess I can give an award for spin on this one, but this -- like many things from the White House, it's just a bald-faced lie. Conor Lamb campaigned in favor of the Affordable Care Act, which the president tried to end he campaigned against the president's tax cuts which were arguably the main accomplishment, really the only accomplishment the Republicans have had this year. He campaigned for people's right to form a union and organize. He campaigned for a woman's right to choose. I mean, the list goes on and on.

This was not a conservative Republican. There was a conservative Republican on the ticket. He lost in the district that the president won by 20 points.

So, this is what it is. It's a bad loss for the Republicans in a district that never should have been marginal in the first place, and it's the sign of the wave election that seems to be coming.

BURNETT: So, Rob, the Republicans don't want to admit. The White House spin is this guy is pro-Trump. Republican Congressman Chris Collins today said, quote, this was a one-off. We've won five. They've won one. I'm feeling pretty good.

Are you feeling pretty good?

ROB ASTORINO, FRIEND OF PRESIDENT TRUMP OVER 15 YEARS: I know Chris Collins very, very well. I think that there's a little truth to this in that I think it was in a little bit of anomaly. You've got I almost started as a Republican primary.

I mean, Lamb is a dynasty in the Pittsburgh area. His whole family has been there for a long time. They've been in politics.

He did not bash Trump. He stayed to local issues. He ran away from Pelosi. He didn't talk about transgender issues and things like that.

BURNETT: No, but on things like abortion, health care, these are core Trump issues.

ASTORINO: He's pro-life. He's for the Second Amendment and did not want restrictions.

BURNETT: After 20 weeks, right?

ASTORINO: Yes, it's a totally different kind of race. But a loss is a loss. Now, they did win five House elections before that, so they are five-in-one. The Alabama race, come on, that was -- you know, you got Roy Moore there, I mean -- nobody should have voted for Roy Moore in that race.

BURNETT: I mean, how many hockey sticks are you guys going to say you have?

ASTORINO: No, but I do think --

BURNETT: There's always, oh this was a one-off, I mean, you know, a certain point --

ASORINO: I agree with Robby. I do think that this is a potential wave year for the Democrats. The Democrats are highly motivated to come out. And Republicans are kind of staying home.

BURNETT: Right. I mean, Robby, what do you think is the bigger thing? That Democrats turned out. I mean, because, you know, in the areas that Trump won, he's still won, maybe not by as much but he's still won, right? Was this more of a turnout issue in the suburbs, where all of a sudden, Democrats who didn't bother to go out for Hillary Clinton they did yesterday?

MOOK: It's really both. You had two things at play here. The first is that you did have Democrats turning out. I think the sign of that was in those absentee ballots. So, typically, older voters in western Pennsylvania, the kind of people that are allowed to vote absentee essentially, the laws that are very strict, those would typically favor a Republican in a general election setting. They actually helped Lamb. That says to me those are Democrats excited about turning out going that extra mile to vote absentee.

But look, in a district like this that voted for the president by 20 points, you had people switching over to the other party. So, it was really both.

BURNETT: Right. As you -- as you I think acknowledged, you admitted it was not good. OK.

ASTORINO: No, it wasn't good.

BURNETT: All right. The Pennsylvania race obviously was a win for you, Robby, for Democrats. The party though is obviously still rebuilding after Hillary Clinton's loss, and so, of course, cue Hillary Clinton, she is talking right now. She was in India, you know, pitching her book. And, you know, she made some pretty shocking claims about the divide between blue and red in this country.

Let me just play a clip for you, Robby.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product. So, I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward, and his whole campaign, make America great again, was looking backwards. You know, you didn't like black people getting rights, you don't like women, you know, getting jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Robby, it's not just Republicans, there are plenty of Democrats who find this pretty hard to swallow.

MOOK: Look, I -- here's the thing. I worked for Hillary Clinton on two of her campaigns. She has been a mentor and someone who I've admired tremendously and did make history in our country by being the first woman to be nominated by a major party.

The -- 2016 is over and Donald Trump loves to pull every time something's going wrong and the White House is a mess right now, he loves to just reach out pull back Hillary and push back.

And I -- you know, as a party, we got to focus on the future, we got to focus on the candidates that are running. I love Hillary. I'm going to let those comments stand by the side. This is not what this election is about. It's about the candidates running right now.

BURNETT: So, you -- you're basically saying we shouldn't be talking about the past and Hillary at this point, but you're not happy with it, right? I mean, be honest.

MOOK: Look, I have made my own interpretations of what happened in the election. The fact is we did lose the Upper Midwest. We have got to win those electoral votes if we're going to win the presidency. And the way we do that is by moving forward as a party and focusing on the candidates and now.

[19:45:01] And I just -- I mean, I just believe this. We can't keep relitigating our last candidate. We got to move forward.

And I have all the respect in the world for her but I'm going to let her do her comments and the rest of us are going to focus on the future.

BURNETT: All right. I mean, look, she's the one out there saying this. What do you say, Rob?

ASTORINO: Oh come on. Robby, please, you can't just --

BURNETT: I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward --

ASTORINO: You can't be quiet on that one, because if Lamb had run that kind of race, said those things, he would have lost by 25 points, which is why Hillary Clinton lost those areas. It was despicable what she said.

She's basically saying if you voted for Trump -- anyone who voted for Trump is a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. I mean, think about that. My wife took --

BURNETT: And doesn't like black people.

ASTORINO: And doesn't like black people, and racist.

BURNETT: And doesn't like women.

ASTORINO: And that's all that she was saying in the campaign, which is a big reason why she lost those kind of areas. And the Democratic Party, unless they start moving away from that they're going to lose races that they could win but they won a race that they shouldn't have won because they didn't pull that junk.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much.

MOOK: Thanks.

BURNETT: And next, desperate undocumented immigrants going underground to try to avoid deportation.

And terminated via Twitter. Jeanne Moos is ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:50:00] BURNETT: Tonight, some people in California ready to rage war with President Trump. They're trying and willing to break the law to keep immigrants who are here in this country illegally hidden.

Kyung Lah has an OUTFRONT exclusive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We can't show you where we are, or who lives behind this door, because the family in this apartment in California is on the run, from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since my mom's status here isn't safe, then we had to just pack everything up. Everything else just was left behind.

LAH: Off the grid since last year say these two girls, both citizens, born in the U.S., both in high school. ICE deported their father for illegally crossing the border. Their mother overstated tourist visa and is also undocumented. The girls feared their mother was next.

(on camera): What's happened since then when you had to pack up and leave?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We become homeless for five months. We moved schools. We went somewhere else because we had to leave the city. We were sleeping from house to house, anywhere we could find. LAH (voice-over): Then they heard about an interfaith network of religious group, pledging to resist Trump's immigration policy by hiding them in safe houses, even in spare rooms of congregate homes.

The network estimates dozens are being hidden at any one time, it connected the family to this Jewish woman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I grew up in a time when the Holocaust was not so far behind me.

LAH: She signed for the apartment, a cover for the family she's protecting.

(on camera): Do you hear the echoes of history here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A hundred percent. I think there's a lot of strong feeling in the Jewish community we cannot let this happen. It's our responsibility. Look, what was done to us cannot happen to other people.

LAH: This is technically aiding and abetting somebody who is here undocumented.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't see it that way. I see it as taking a step to help someone who is in need, to help a family in need of support.

LAH (voice-over): It's just a big sigh of relief, says the girl's mother. What happens to me doesn't matter. Everything I'm doing here is for my girls.

(on camera): How would you describe the fear that you carry?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I put a smile on my face every day. But deep down, I'm hurt. And I'm still hurting.

REV. ZACHARY HOOVER, LA VOICE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: I want to say a couple of things.

2LAH (voice-over): Reverend Zach Hoover leads the Interfaith Network, 2,000 congregations of various faiths have been trained across the country, the great majority here in California. But Reverend Hoover says the network of sanctuary and safe houses remains most active.

(on camera): The federal government might listen to all of this and say you're violating the law.

HOOVER: Yes, I'm not going to lie. That makes me very nervous and there's a part of me that you know sitting here talking to you I think gosh should I be having this conversation? But the truth is our folks are facing much greater fear every day. You know, as we sit here in this church, I am just reminded that god that I worship and that guides my life is one who does not always bless every human law. I am convicted that we are doing exactly what we should be doing.

LAH (voice-over): The girls have both been accepted to separate colleges in the fall, a family united for as long as they can be.

HOOVER: We're going to do everything in our power to try to convince members of Congress not to support a deportation machine that's ripping families apart, you know, and there's a part of me that thinks that a different way is possible. But most of the time, I'm preparing for this to get worse.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: In a statement to CNN, ICE says, quotes: Knowingly harboring an alien is a federal crime. The statement continues: Current ICE policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations. This includes places of worship. DOJ guidelines do say that harboring is punishable up to five years in prison.

But, Erin, we're talking about a very nuanced situation here. We're talking about clergy, congregants and homes that need a warrant in order to enter -- Erin.

BURNETT: Kyung, thank you very much. 2 And OUTFRONT next, Jeanne Moos and the art of a pink slip.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:57:59] BURNETT: Here is Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rex Tillerson has been added to the "Jimmy Kimmel Show's" collection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, you can pay tribute to all of Donald Trump's ex-cabinet members with departed staffer commemorative plates.

MOOS: But the dishy part was how Tillerson was fired, by tweet. A tweet that ended --

STEPHEN COLBERT, LATE NIGHT TV HOST: Congratulations to all. Congratulations, Rex, you won an all-expense paid trip to beautiful get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of here.

SETH MEYERS, LATE NIGHT TV HOST: Even when you get fired from Domino's, the manager takes you into the crappy office and tells you face to face.

MOOS: But, hey, not face to face is President Trump's way. When he fired FBI Director Comey, he sent an aide with a letter to FBI headquarters. But Comey ended up hearing the news on TV, as he gave a speech.

After Tillerson was fired, Obama photographer Pete Souza posted this picture of President Obama conferring with his secretary of state captioned: Back in the day when our secretary of state was treated with respect.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT TV HOST: Donald Trump spent more time firing Little John than he did firing his secretary of state.

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-REALITY TV STAR: Little John, you're fired. You go out there and knock him dead. He is a great guy.

Rex is a very good man.

MOOS: A White House chief of staff did call Tillerson to warn his time as top diplomat was up, but there was nothing definitive until the tweet was posted.

Some were even comparing to "Sex in the City", why you asked is Rex Tillerson like Carrie Bradshaw?

SARAH JESSICA PARKER AS CARRIE BRADSHAW: Oh, Burger broke up with me on a Post-it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On a Post-It?

PARKER: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry, I can't, don't hate me.

(EXPLETIVE DELETED) is concise.

MOOS: More concise than President Trump, with his 253 character tweet.

Andy Borowitz 's satirical headline imagine Tillerson saying, I hope Trump finds out he's impeached on Twitter. Who says breaking up is hard to do when you break the news like this.

CONAN O'BRIEN, LATE NIGHT TV HOST: He fired him on Twitter.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --

O'BRIEN: Yes, it makes sense when you consider that Trump hired Tillerson on Tinder.

MOOS: -- New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Hats off to you, Conan.

"AC360" starts now.