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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Shulkin Says He Was Fired Via Trump Tweet; Trump: Our Country Is Being Stolen Due To Illegal Immigration; Trump Congratulates Egypt's El-Sisi For Win In Undemocratic Election; Sinclair Broadcasting Defends Its False News Promos. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 2, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:08] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next. "You're fired," the two words President Trump loves most are the ones getting him in trouble tonight. And Trump's Twitter tirade stoking fear over immigration. These facts are raw. Did he do it to send a racial dog whistle?

Plus, breaking news. The Dow, thanks to Trump's tariff, tariffs that are hitting state after state that voted Trump in 2016. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, you're not fired. The President talks the tough talk on firing but when it comes down to it he isn't saying the two words, you're fired, to someone's face. And tonight there are real consequences.

The White House is still trying to square two completely opposite stories about Veterans Affairs Chief David Shulkin's exit. The White House insists that the Veterans Affairs secretary resigned but Shulkin tells CNN that is not true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: General Kelly gave me a heads up that the President would mostly likely be tweeting out a message in the very near future and I appreciated having that heads up from General Kelly.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So the tweet fired you?

SHULKIN: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Shulkin's answer very telling about how the President himself handles the big tough conversations with his most important staff but it also significant legally. If Shulkin resigned, President Trump can name his interim replacement, but the President may not have that right if Shulkin is fired, which means any decisions made by Shulkin's replacement now could be challenged legally. That's a problem for the White House.

And President Trump's fear of stepping up and telling someone to his or her face that they're fired is a big issue. Because Donald Trump's administration is firing people at a record never before seen and at least modern American history, so far the Trump Administration is a nearly 50% turnover rate, and Trump's cabinet itself now holds a record for the highest turnover in a century according to NPR. That's 100 years just to be clear, century, 100 years modern American history, pretty stunning.

I mean look at this names. You're looking at everyone who has been fired or resigned since President Trump took office. This list goes on and on. Yet in just about every case, it was not the President of the United States who did the firing.

The President's former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired by Chief of Stuff John Kelly or tweet. His former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon fired by Kelly as was Anthony Scaramucci. His former FBI Director James Comey fired by a letter delivered by the President's personal bodyguard. By the way, Comey wasn't even there. He found out from television. The bottom line is Trump won't do it himself which is a pretty big thing to say about a man who built his celebrity and his brand of toughness that he holds so near and dear on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're fired. You're fired. You're fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Trump liked to say those words to the cameras but he admitted to me once that he didn't even like doing it, even then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Scott, you're fired. It was very hard. Doing that was very hard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: That was very hard. Is that why after months of publicly humiliating Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and letting him twist in the wind. The President would rather send tweets like this one today than actually fire him. Here's the tweet, "So sad that the Department of "Justice" and the FBI are slow working, or even not giving the unredacted documents requested by Congress. An embarrassment to our country."

It is why Scott Pruitt the embattled Environment Protection Agency administrator is still hanging around despite new revelations that he stayed in the apartment of an energy lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Those revelations are why former Trump ally and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says, Trump should step up and fire Pruitt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: If Mr. Pruitt is going to go it's because he shouldn't never been in the first place.

TRUMP: Does he have to go?

CHRISTIE: Listen, I don't know how you survive this one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So far though Trump not pulling the trigger on Pruitt. And did you hear something else Christie just said there? He also said Pruitt never should have been there in first place, which raises a really important question. That it's not just that the President doesn't know how to fire someone. Christie is also saying that the President actually doesn't know how to hire the right person.

Look at the people who have been accused of wasting taxpayer dollars on things like private jets and vacations. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, remember his wife posting a photo of them walking up a government plane on the day of the eclipse. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Interior Secretary Ryan Zenke, and there's Urban and Housing Development secretary Ben Carson. Remember the $31,000 dining room set and these guys are still there. Trump the business man said that he would change Washington. But can he really make good on that promise when he can't seem to run an efficient administration.

Boris Sanchez is OUTFRONT at the White House. And Boris a big question tonight, you know, this comes as the President was alone this weekend in terms of no chief of staff, no one that had been around him at least traditionally at these times that he sort of like to bounce things of off or have their to listen to him like Hope Hicks.

[19:05:06] BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin, and what you saw was a tweet storm from the President attacking Mexico and Democrats saying that a deal on DACA was dead. You know that the President not bare with some familiar faces like John Kelly or Hope Hicks, instead opting to spend the weekend with people who sources say often rile up the President.

He was there with some Fox News host including Jeanine Pirro and John Hannity as well as the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. And now sources familiar with the conversations that the President was having with them tell us that they essentially told him that his base believes he is getting soft on immigration and going a step further. They told the president that they believe that success for Republicans in the midterm elections depends on his ability to tout success on the border wall. That he's making progress on this long promised plan to build a border wall with Mexico.

Something that the President clearly has been frustrated by and that he cannot do because of the stalemate in Congress, so you got that, you got news report on a cable outlet talking about immigration and then moments later, the President unloads his frustration via Twitter as he often does on weekends at more a lot there, Erin..

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

And OUTFRONT now, I want to go to Barbara Res, former executive vice president of The Trump Organization who worked with Donald Trump for more than 15 years, David Gergen also with me, former presidential adviser to four presidents, and Eliana Johnson, White House Correspondent for "Politco". Thanks to all.

Barbara, let me start with you. Shulkin, you know, and have a second cabinet member who essentially says I was fired by tweet, right? Maybe John Kelly was involved. But certainly the President never, you know, had that conversation personally. And, you know, and obviously he is -- this is the guy who built his celebrity, his brand it's on those two words "you're fired." Is this the man that you know in terms of how he wanted to deal with people individually or directly when it came to these tough conversations?

BARBARA RES, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I never saw him fire anyone. I heard him talking about it. And, you know, the difference between then and now is when he had on a whim wanted to fire somebody, he usually told someone like me or somebody else that was high up in the organization and we generally if it host a matter or didn't do it because usually it was not a good idea. But to fire someone himself, no, he didn't do that. He got someone else to do it for him.

BURNETT: So you're saying he didn't do it himself and often when he wanted to do it, it wasn't the right idea and you were there to sort of talk him off the ledge?

RES: Yes.

BURNETT: Right, I mean that's pretty incredible. Because Eliana, you're saying we're going to see more people fired not by the President and maybe not even by the chief of staff. I mean you're saying we're going to see more firings by tweet.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER., POLITICO: Well, you know, I think Chris Christie's comments over the weekend were indicative of the fact where he said the transition began in chaos where the President up ended the plans that he laid and installed a new people to run the transition, the plans Chris Christie have made were never used.

So I think what we're seeing is really a feature and not a bug. Rex Tillerson fired by Twitter, now David Shulkin fired by Twitter. And I think the people who are wondering when this sort of chaotic style is going to end, I don't think it will. I think there will be future firings on Twitter because I think that this is the way that Donald Trump is running his presidency. This is what he's comfortable with. He doesn't like confrontation as Barbara mentioned and so I think people expecting this to change are ill-advised then we got to get used to this for the next three years, at least.

BURNETT: I mean, David, from what Barbara is saying, this is how he operates. I mean she worked with him for 15 years, right. I mean he wouldn't do it himself and when he wanted to do it as she says it was often the wrong idea.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, Erin, the truth, we have Presidents in the past who have not liked to fire people. Going back Dwight Eisenhower of all people who was a famous and good administrator asked his Vice President Richard Nixon to fire his very, very powerful chief of staff. Nixon didn't like doing it that he was -- say he was a frat boy for the President, but there it was.

I think what is unusual about this President is he's brought such inexperienced young people in to help recruit and then vet the staff. He's personal office is a third size of recent personnel offices and he's had this extraordinary sort of set of turnovers and firings so that is completely chaotic and even people who were very close to him really care about him, you know, shake their heads in dismay.

BURNETT: Right which is true. I mean to someone knows the President. I remember Barbara, a story. They said, he fired someone and it was a bad idea. So another person just went ahead and hired them. Sometimes that's the way it's handled. Well, if he's going to make this mistake I'll just go ahead and hire this person and then fix it that way, which I guess doesn't probably surprise you.

RES: No and I'll tell you real quick story about someone that really had to go and we wanted him fired with someone that worked under me and I told Donald because Donald hired him, he said go ahead and fire him. It took three firings to get him fired because the guy went back across the street to Donald's office and said, you know, why did you fire me? And he said OK, you can have your job back. He just can't do it face-to-face.

[19:10:03] BURNETT: Which is a pretty incredible thing that anecdote in and off itself, David.

GERGEN: Yes, you know, he is -- there are certain things that people just don't like to do and I, you know, I know don't blame him particularly for that. I -- what we hold -- unhold him accountable for is the lousy administration in running this thing like a family business that didn't succeed. I mean he's never felt threatened by business career. He was never accountable to anybody. And now in it in watching he's increasingly acting like he's not accountable to anybody there either.

RES: That's absolutely true. He was never accountable. But he used to listen to people. And he doesn't do that now. He has a few good people, decent people, he doesn't listen to us.

BURNETT: I mean because, Eliana, we're already at records, right. When you look at it and it's pretty incredible, you know, the NPR statistic. We haven't had this much cabinet turnover in a century. I mean that's a pretty stunning thing, you're talking about a hundred years since the cabinet have this much turnover. And, you know, when you look at the nearly 50% of his staff turnover overall, it would seem it's pretty much impossible to run anything consistently when you have this much turnover and even the people who are there are afraid because while he doesn't want 2to talk to their face, he's certainly happy to bad mouth them publicly or passive aggressively on Twitter.

JOHNSON: That's right. And the other phenomenon I think that you see developing is the President has always relied on outside advisors and going up to the residents and phoned his friends outside the White House. But increasingly, I think you're seeing that he is relying on more people outside the White House than he is inside the White House, you saw that at Mar-a-Lago this past weekend.

But what that means is that his closest advisors inside the White House are increasingly unaware of what his plans are and what his next move is going to be, so you've seen them entirely surprised by the firing of the Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. John Kelly, the White House Chief of staff had spoken with Shulkin last Wednesday morning, and told him that he was not aware of any plan for him to be fired and he was fired at 5:30 p.m. that afternoon.

And so I think it is just impossible to run a White House in an effective manner when you don't have trusted aides who are ready into your plans and can help you execute that.

BURNETT: There's also this hunt David, you know, for the leakers now at the time, by the way, you're talking to people who are outside the White House, if the President hasn't realized these people all talked to all of us in the press that's how this (INAUDIBLE) leaks out all the time, eight. They're happy to share it. Ron Kessler has a new book out on the White House and he spoke to CNN over the weekend, he actually is now claiming that one of the few people left, one of the few people from the beginning left around the President that he appears to trust is the biggest leaker. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD KESSLER, AUTHOR. "THE SECRETS OF THE FBI" AND "THE FIRST FAMILY DETAIL": While I was interviewing Kellyanna at the White House, she forgot that she was on the record and she started lashing into Reince Priebus. She said the most mean cutting and honestly untrue things about Reince. And I didn't include them in the book because they were so unfair. So if you wonder, you know, why there are so many leaks out of White House, one of the reason is Kellyanne is the number one leaker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So does that data put Kellyanne on the chopping block when the President sees that or does he not --?

GERGEN: I doubt it. And we should note she denies.

BURNETT: Yes.

GERGEN: And just think there's Sara and that people in the White House staff take their cues from the President. And if you got a President who lambaste people regularly on Twitter and in public and in private, you know, people around him are going to start doing the same thing, you know. So it's not at all surprising that she would go on the attack against some of her fellows even in some White Houses, you know, when you're on his staff you feel like you're among friends that you can trust and other White Houses, and this is one of them, you have to keep your back to the wall because the knives may come out when you're not. BURNETT: I mean it's pretty stunning. And Barbara, final question to you on Attorney General Session, who is has been publicly humiliated by the President for months. Today, "The Department of "Justice "and calling it an embarrassment to our country". Jeff Sessions is not stepping aside, he is not resigning at least as of yet. So what's the President thinking, do you think? I mean obviously maybe not just Hope but Sessions is going force him to fire him.

RES: I'm not sure that Trump really wants Sessions to go. I'm not sure. I think he maybe wants everyone to think he hates him because of some decisions he doesn't like and also the fact that Sessions has sort of rubbed up against Donald, but Trump -- President Trump, excuse me. But I'm not sure he really wants him to go because he would tweet him out too wouldn't he.

BURNETT: All right well, thank you very much, I appreciate your time, all of you.

And next, the President's Twitter tirade over immigration, does it matter that his facts are wrong? Plus, President Trump cozying up to yet another strong man. This one, winning an election with 97% of the vote, and the same script that anchors across the country we're told to recite. (INAUDIBLE)

BURNETT: Why this could be only the beginning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:18:45] BURNETT: Tonight, President Trump going on a Twitter tirade about immigration, tweeting impart "Congress must immediately pass border legislation, use nuclear option if necessary, to stop the massive inflow of drugs and people. Border Patrol Agents and ICE are great, but the weak Dem laws don't allow them to do their job. Act now Congress, our country is being stolen".

OUTFRONT now, former counselor of President Bill Clinton, Paul Begala and former Communications Director for the President's Transition team and former deputy Communications Director for the Trump Campaign, Bryan Lanza, all right.

Thanks3 very much to both.

Well, Paul, Chris Cillizza is not, you know, here at CNN some did up this way talking about that tweet "Donald Trump's latest dog whistle on immigration is more like a scream". Do you agree, is this a racist dog whistle?

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON HOUSE COUNSELOR: It's not a dog whistle it's a foghorn, no it's a dog whistle it's like a hand, and a wink and a not it's simply racist to say that people are stealing our country, really?. Immigrants like my grandparents or Donald Trump's mom who herself was an immigrant or his grandfather came from Germany. Of course it's racist.

I think the more interesting question is why. I think it's because he knows he's in a weak position. He's had millions and millions of people march. The biggest marches we have seen in American history just in its first year. Women's march and the young people have marched the other day for our lives.

[19:20:02] He's lost special elections in districts -- in district of Pennsylvania won by 20 points. He lost the special election for the Senate in Alabama which he won by a million points.

So he's weak and the biggest thing, the weakness which he knows is Mueller. As Mueller circles, Trump gets more hysterical. And so he's got to do something to fire up the base and so he trots out his racist anti-immigrant stuff.

BURNETT: Bryan is there any way to interpret our country is being stolen when you are referring to immigrants coming from the south as anything other than racist?

BRYAN LANZA, FORMER COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR, TRUMP TRANSITION TEAM: Well, I mean, I think we both have to agree there's the distinction between the legal immigrant and an illegal immigrant. Now, legal immigration is simply that we --

BURNETT: OK. But our country is being stolen --

LANZA: Yes.

BURNETT: -- talking about --

LANZA: Yes.

BURNETT: -- people who skin is brown coming from the south?

LANZA: No. He is talking about illegal immigration in that tweet. And to try to decipher anything other than that is just trying to --

BURNETT: Talking about border patrol agent.

LANZA: He is talking his whole deba -- he's whole presidential campaign was about illegal immigration. So, they're trying to change it into something that it isn't now and saying he has a problem with legal immigration is just inherently dishonest. We all know where he stands --

BURNETT: Right. But what immigrants are you trying to say he's talking about? He's talking about border patrol agent.

LANZA: He's talking about illegal immigrants. He's talking about the illegal immigrants process.

BURNETT: Right. But he is talking about the Mexican border?

LANZA: Yes. And illegals are crossing Mexican border to get to the U.S.

BEGALA: They are crossing to go home, you know this. In the last 10 years we have lost over a million Mexicans.

LANZA: Absolutely.

BEGALA: They're going home. Mr. Trump's wall will only slow down their departure. Why is he pushing this? Because he is trying to distract from Mueller and from his own political problems. That's what's going on here.

LANZA: What I say about this is, this is something that the President talked about from the very beginning of the campaign. When I see these tweets this morning, I don't see a President trying to distract. I see the President trying to bring more attention to this issue because he's frustrated that not a lot of progress has been made. Schumer came forward with part of the negotiation. Trump came forward, we should continue the negotiation.

And it's the Democrats who walked from the table to finding the real solution for DACA. And it's the Democrats who created this DACA political --

BURNETT: So Bryan --

LANZA: -- (INAUDIBLE) by the failure of the President Obama during the years of the administration.

BURNETT: I want to talk about the DACA issue but first when you say that this is not racist. I just want to play what the President said about Europeans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and white supremacists. Here he is.

LANZA: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now, I say to myself, "Why aren't we letting people in from Europe? I have many friends, many, many friends and nobody wants to talk this. Nobody wants to talk this. Nobody wants to say it. But I have many friends from Europe, they want to come in.

We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African-Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it's so dangerous. You walk down the street you get shot.

You have a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.

And you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: When you add to that the "birther" issue, Bryan, how do you square this as not racial?

LANZA: You know, I square from my own experience with the President. If he had a racial issue, he would have had an issue with me. He would have had an issue with me being the deputy campaign communications director to his campaign. And if he had a racial issue with me, he would have add an issue with being communications director to his campaign. And he would have an issue with me going into the administration and visiting as his guest to several events throughout the year. So, what you guys try to -- what the media tries to portray and what the partisan, you know, partisan try to do --

BURNETT: Well, I'm just playing his own words here, Bryan.

LANZA: 3 Yes, sure. But I'm telling you my experience. And my experience is completely --

BURNETTT: Well, that's fair.

LANZA: -- contrary to what's happening. And there's many of other ethnic Republicans or ethnic people who work for the President who tell you different experiences from Lin Patton, from Omarosa. But it's something that everybody wants to ignore because it doesn't fit in there that we're going to try to play.

BURNETT: Yes, Omarosa is obviously not the most complimentary of the President at this point. But Paul, what's your response to --

BEGALA: Ebbs and flows.

BURNETT: -- Bryan saying his personal experience was that the President wasn't racist, but obviously many things the President has said could be interpreted otherwise? 33 BEGALA: Well, Bryan can speak to his personal experience far better than I can. I would never try to, again, say something like that, that Bryan can personally testify too. So, I can't peer into his soul. I wouldn't want to.

But I can look at his actions, his comments. And by the way, not just what I think. Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House said that it was quote, the very textbook definition of a racist statement when President Trump said that a judge who was born and raised in Indiana with Mexican lineage couldn't rule in his case. The very definition with text, text with definition racist statements says Paul Ryan.

Tim Scott, the senator from South Carolina says, he doesn't think the President is racist but that he is racially insensitive. Now, that's a very diplomatic way of putting it. But these are members of his own party who look at what the President says. I can't pear into his heart. I'm sure Bryan is right. But if you look, if you look at what he does, when he says we need more immigrants from Norway and fewer from crummy countries.

BURNETT: S-holes.

BEGALA: Yes, I just don't want to use that kind of. Even -- when you're below my standards, you really suck. OK? Because I have none, I have a potty mouth. But we don't want people coming from African countries and Latin American countries we want people coming from Norway. Is Norwegian a skill? No.

[19:25:09] BURNETT: And, you know, and Bryan before we go, I want to ask you about the tweets because he did tweet out today, "Mexico is the absolute power not the let these large caravans of people enter the country. They must stop them at their northern border which they can do, because their border laws work. Not allow them to pass to into our country which has no effective border laws." And then when he went on about the caravans, he tweeted, "These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act."

And, I'm curious, Bryan, what you think he's trying to accomplish here, 33because obviously, the caravans are people who are seeking asylum. There's no way that you could be on a caravan and get DACA, right? You had to come in DACA before 2007. You had to be under 31 by 2012 and that's just, it's factually false. Does he care?

LANZA: Well, actually, you're expecting the accurate, like, listen. This was done by executive memorandum. So you can debate in changes any time.

BURNETT: All right, but in fact this, Bryan right now is one of those car -- no, the facts are right now, according to the law, Bryan, you cannot claim DACA coming in and where these caravans. That is a fact.

LANZA: It's not according the law. This was done by executive memoranda. DACA was treated by the executive memoranda, which means that any president whether it's this president --

BURNETT: Right.

LANZA: -- or eight years from now, a different president can change the dates of anything related to DACA. So it's not part of the law as we're talking about. And what he is saying is that the more people who come here, kids at young age become an additional sort of population of DACA kids in the future that have the potential to become DACA, until we acts the results --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: I mean, are you talking about the potential (INAUDIBLE) of DACA.

LANZA: Sure.

BURNETT: The reality is they cannot become DACA right now. That is the fact. But he tweets something contrary to that fact, Bryan, why?

LANZA: No, I think you misunderstanding it. He say -- he sees it in the larger scope where he sees, unless we fix this legally rather than executive memoranda, anything can happen with these kids which is why we need to do something now. Any he is actually accurate, anything can happen to these kids, a decade from now, any kid who comes today, you can have the different president from a different party say, you know, what --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Right. But, you know, what, taxes could be 90% in 10years. I mean, all kinds of things can happen. LANZA: But that's --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: But the reality is at a moment in time, you tweet as the president. You mean the tweet fact or you don't tweet a fact. It's pretty simple to me.

LANZA: Listen, I don't disagree with you, but I think, your sort of micro picking this thing and you're looking for your solution. I see that tweet completely differently and he is accurate. Since it's not --

BURNETT: It is not accurate.

LANZA: -- quantified in the law, at any time, any president whether five years, eight years or 10 years can just say we're creating a new class, a new population of DACA kids by the stroke of a pencil. It doesn't have to be a pen. So he's not --

BURNETT: OK.

LANZA: -- you see it differently and I think other people see it differently as well.

BURNETT: No, I see the facts. Go ahead, Paul.

LANZA: I see the facts too, I mean, this is an apple to me.

BURNETT: Paul?

BEGALA: The President's tweets will be more unhinged and more racist suddenly the closer Mr. Mueller gets. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Keep your eye on Russia and you will be able to understand why Mr. Trump is freaking out on Twitter.

BURNETT: All right, thank you both very much. I appreciate your time as always, Paul, Bryan.

And next, breaking news, the "Wall Street Journal" reporting the special counsel is looking at long time Trump adviser, Roger Stone's claim that he met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

And local news anchors across the country reciting messages that sound well earily-like (ph) that of the President. What the President and their company are saying about this tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:31:38] BURNETT: New tonight, President Trump congratulating yet another strong man for a win in an undemocratic election. The White House announcing Trump congratulated Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a phone call today. Sisi won with 97 percent of the vote, and this comes as the White House confirms Trump discussed meeting with Vladimir Putin during their call when Trump ignored advisors' advice to not congratulate Putin on his reelection. OUTRONT now, former CIA director and NSA director, General Michael Hayden.

And, General Hayden, thank you for your time the president was criticized when it leaked that he congratulated Putin for his reelection when he was told in all caps not to do so.

Today, though, totally different story. White House proudly announcing that he congratulated el-Sisi. By the way, el-Sisi's 97 percent of the vote compares to Putin's mere 77.

And -- so, is the president doing this out of defiance like you're right I congratulated him, or do you think there's another reason?

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR UNDER PRESIDENT BUSH: So, I think there's an element of defiance there, you can't tell me what to do. But there's also a pattern, Erin, we seem to make this phone call to Putin, as you mentioned, to Sisi today, and he made the same kind of phone call to the president of Turkey, Erdogan, after a referendum there that most observers believe was unfair and probably ended Turkey's 90-year experiment with democracy.

There seems to be an affinity between the president and these kinds of leaders, autocrats who are able to govern through their own act of will. And I'll just add the personal comment it seems that the president would like to, would envy that style of government here, but of course he can't do it within our constitutional system.

BURNETT: Right, you know, he's made comments about big president for life. In fact, he said that about the Chinese President Xi, when he was reelected or we reauthorized as the word maybe.

Here's President Trump talking about Xi but then also about Putin and Sisi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's now president for life.

(APPLAUSE)

No, he's great. And, look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll give that a shot someday.

He is a strong leader, what am I going to say is a weak leader? He's making mincemeat out of our president. He is a strong leader.

I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President al-Sisi. He's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Why is he so drawn to these strong men? HAYDEN: Again, a certain admiration for the style with which they govern. I think a desire, I wish that he could govern in the same way and I don't think it's more complicated than that.

It's also possible, Erin, that it's easier to deal with these kinds of leaders -- I mean, when you talk to a President Macron or a Chancellor Merkel or a Prime Minister May -- I mean, they themselves are on top of complex political systems and they have to accommodate their own domestic dynamics. I think the president just wants simple conversations and simple answers.

BURNETT: And, you know, today, the White House also, General, confirmed that Trump and Putin discussed a face-to-face meeting, possibly at the White House. Now, nine hours after they confirmed this that he had done this, a White House official is now sort of trying to say, oh, the meetings just casual.

[19:35:03] It's not a formal invitation you know as I said about nine hours later, they're trying to downplay it quite a bit.

What do you make of this though that the president brought it up, an invitation, and even had at least broached the possibility of the White House?

BURNETT: So, a couple of points I think are clear. Number one presidents don't get to be casual, all right? When presidents say things, they have great meaning, and they really have meaning when they say them to a foreign leader. So, that's one.

Second, I believe what he offered to Putin was true and that dramatically broke ranks with other governments in the West whose subjective at some sacrifice on their own part over the past several weeks have been to support the British in isolating the Russians. And here you have the president kind of inviting Putin over for sleepover with no promise.

I mean the president said it was a great phone call and so, I'm looking to see, so did Putin agree to leave the Donbass in eastern Ukraine, give Crimea back, stop propping up Bashar al-Assad, extradite those 13 Russians that we've indicted? No. I mean, this is almost unconditional respect that the president is willing to give Putin and it harms our relationship with our allies.

BURNETT: That's a powerful statement. Presidents don't get to be casual. You can throw the word around but it just doesn't -- it isn't inaccurate when you're talking about the president of the United States.

I want to ask you about the Russia investigation since we just mentioned Putin. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting tonight, General Hayden, that Bob Mueller's team is looking into whether Roger Stone met with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, during the 2016 election. This is something obviously Stone had bragged about and then later denied.

How important could such a meeting be? HAYDEN: Well, I mean, we're kind of stacking these meetings up like cordwood now, Erin. This is in the face of a campaign that said it had no contacts with the Russians at any time.

You've got Stone with this most recent report, Stone predicting the dumping of the Podesta emails. Don Jr. exchanging text messages with Julian Assange. Don Jr. -- Don Jr. and Jared Kushner having a meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos meeting with a Maltese professor running for the Russians. And then, finally, Rick Gates meeting during the campaign in the fall of 2006 with someone we believe to still be a GRU agent.

There may be explanations for any, some or all of these, but there are an awful lot of contacts.

BURNETT: There are as you say, stacking up like cordwood.

Thank you very much, General Hayden. Appreciate your time tonight.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, one of the largest media companies forcing its anchors across the country to pass on a very specific message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Tonight, the relationship between the company that wrote those words and President Trump.

Plus, the markets tank as Trump tweets and China fights back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:41:47] BURNETT: Tonight, the biggest owner of local T.V stations in the country fighting back after criticism that its anchors were forced to read scripts on the air promoting a pro-Trump agenda. The promo read on Sinclair broadcasting owned stations brought to light how, thanks to a now viral video, put out by the Web site Deadspin.

Take a look.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

BURNETT: I want to mention that most of the Sinclair stations are also CNN affiliates.

Brian Stelter is OUTFRONT with more. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A broadcasting behemoth with many critics, some now calling it a propaganda arm for the Trump administration. With around 200 stations, Sinclair is the biggest local T.V. player in the country. Today, it reaches more than a third of U.S. households, and it's trying to get bigger, awaiting government approval for its takeover of Tribune Media.

The company's conservative vent is becoming more visible with promos echoing Trump's anti-media rhetoric.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that CBS 4 News produces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: That viral mashup is just the latest example. Stations are required to run terrorism alert desk segments about security threats. These are known as must-runs inside Sinclair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's the bottom line --

STELTER: Also must run, these rah-rah commentaries from former Trump campaign advisor Boris Epshteyn.

BORIS EPSHTEYN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: The president is here to get results and not to call staff or cabinet members.

STELTER: During the presidential campaign, Jared Kushner reportedly inked a deal with Sinclair for better coverage. Sinclair calls that a mischaracterization.

But the company's politics are no secret. It's controlled by executive chairman David Smith and his family. With his brothers in the early '90s, Smith built his father's three T.V. stations into a mega broadcaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of your stations are in the top markets?

DAVID SMITH, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, SINCLAIR: Well, we're in Baltimore to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with the vast majority of being middle market, the Flint, Michigan's, Kansas City's Birmingham.

STELTER: His views radiate out to local stations, sometimes creating tension between management and local journalists.

Some local staffers are expressing anger about recent corporate mandates, with one telling me, quote: It sickens me the way this company is encroaching upon trusted news brands in rural markets.

Responding to the uproar, Sinclair sent a memo to stations that says, quote, we are focused on fact-based reporting and it calls the goal of those now viral promos to reiterate our commitment to reporting facts in a pursuit of truth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: A bit like the Fox fair and balanced slogan. It's innocuous sounding, but everyone knows what it really means.

Tonight, we know one staffer at a station has resigned as a result. We know another station up in Wisconsin refused to air these promos. The company's dealing with the fallout from this and I'm hearing from staffers all across the country in these local newsrooms who just feel deeply uncomfortable having to broadcast this.

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

And I want to go now to Deadspin video editor Tim Burke.

When you saw all of those anchors on the screen echoing each other, that's the viral video created by Tim.

And, Tim, thank you.

You know, Brian's saying someone's resigned. Others are extremely upset. One channel refused, the anchors refused to tape those promos. You wrote the anchors looked like hostages and proof of life videos, and I know you had a link to ask local anchors and reporters to reach out to you, to speak out.

What have they been telling you?

TIM BURKE, VIDEO DIRECTOR, DEADSPIN.COM: Well, thanks, Erin. I've been hearing both from current Sinclair employees, past Sinclair employees and future Sinclair employees. The current ones are really in a fix because the state of local T.V. news means that moving from job to job isn't very easy. They feel like they have a responsibility to do their jobs simply for the sake of their families, but their independence which they knew they were giving up to some degree when they started working for a Sinclair station has really been challenged by the degree to which they are required to read this message on air.

BURNETT: I mean, it's -- you know, a pretty hard situation and I think you put the emotion of it, right? These people -- they're supporting families, right, you want to ask someone just to step up and quit. That's a much easier said than done.

The executive chairman of Sinclair, David Smith, you know, has been defending what he calls the company's corporate news journalistic responsibility promotional campaign, how's that for a mouthful? But given the attention your video is getting, right, you have put the spotlight on this in a whole new way and brought it to a much broader audience, do you get the sense that more employees will come forward publicly, that they will not feel alone or isolated?

BURKE: Oh, absolutely. I'm already seeing it happen. Certainly, there are a few employees who have felt bold enough to speak out about this in public. The reaction from viewers is really I think driving some of this. There are a number of people who live in Sinclair markets who saw our

video before their local market showed this promo. And so, it's really turned a lot of the audience against their local stations and I think that there's a sort of a local PR aspect to anybody from that station coming out and saying, look, we didn't write this. This is not our local station speaking. This is our corporate parent.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Tim. I appreciate it and, you know, what a public service you've done by putting that video out and bringing so much broad attention to it. Thank you.

BURKE: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next breaking news: fears of a trade war causing stocks to plunge again. We're going to talk to one supporter who says it's changing his livelihood and that could change his vote.

Plus, Jeanne Moose on why the look on the Easter bunny's face says it all.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:51:44] BURNETT: Tonight, the Dow dropping sharply off 459 points. The markets uneasy on two fronts, the president's attacks on Amazon and fears of a trade war with China. China fighting back against the president's tariffs by hitting American wine, fruit, steel and pork, which could have a huge impact for U.S. pork producers. China is their second biggest market and look at this, eight of the top ten states that produce the most pork voted for Trump in 2016.

"Washington Post" columnist and CNN contributor, Catherine Rampell is OUTFRONT.

And, Catherine, earlier tonight, I spoke with a hog farmer in Sioux County, Iowa, Tim Schmidt, and he said that he's a Trump voter. He said these tariffs are going to have a very clear impact on his bottom line from day one. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: how much will these tariffs cost you, Tim?

TIM SCHMIDT, 2016 TRUMP VOTER & IOWA HOG FARMER AFFECTED BY THE CHINESE TARIFF: Well, the U.S. sells $1 billion worth of products, pork products to China. That equates to about $7 per head marketed in the United States. So, our farm markets about 5,000 head a year. That would equate to about $35,000 for our farm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: I mean, that's a lot of money. That's one farmer in a very, you know, a state that voted for Trump.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That's one farmer but, yes, that is not a small chunk of change. Iowa in particular is actually going to be hit hard by these tariffs not only because of the pork products, but because ethanol is among the 128 products that China has said that it will raise tariffs on.

And remember that this first round of tariffs that China has announced is only in response to the steel and aluminum tariffs that we have levied so far. And we have more tariffs coming down the pike, and China could decide that it's going to retaliate against those as well. Those will probably come out to about $60 billion and China has reportedly been considering tariffs on soybeans which would also hit Iowa.

BURNETT: Yes.

RAMPELL: So, there were all of these crops that could really hit the heartland, could really hit Trump voters. And you're talking about costing a lot of money. You're also talking about a lot of jobs and here's what Tim said just about Sioux County, Iowa, but by the way, 82 percent of the votes went for President Trump.

Here's what Trump's tariffs mean for job losses there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Will this mean job losses in Sioux County?

SCHMIDT: In Sioux County alone, there are 3,700 jobs that are impacted by pork production. And I would image that if the tariffs continue, that they will have an effect on jobs long term, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Jobs and possibly votes. Tim Schmidt said, look, he didn't like the field of candidates he had to choose from, but he did choose Trump. He said that if these tariffs are still here in three years, that vote would be in question.

RAMPELL: Look, Trump said trade wars are good and easy to win. This is exactly why he was wrong, right? If you start a trade war and this was clearly the opening salvo when a trade war when we levy tariffs on Chinese goods, the country on the other side of that will retaliate and it will cost jobs. It will cost companies money.

BURNETT: Right. And it may -- you know, the president can make an argument about the overall economy, maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong. When it comes to individual states and individual votes, that may really matter the most for him.

Thank you so much, Catherine.

And next Easter at the White House, and it wasn't the president but, of course, the bunny that stole the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:58:03] BURNETT: Tonight, the president and the bunny suit. Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it's not President Trump's running mate in 2020, it's the Easter bunny, and it was the bunny's face that stole the show. How we all feel when @RealDonaldTrump opens his mouth.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We call it sometimes tippy-top shape.

MOOS: The bunny looked perpetually stunned. A WTF face or as a conservative commenter tweeted, the Easter bunny looks like a Hillary supporter on election night.

The president's Easter greeting veered off the bunny path despite his youthful audience.

TRUMP: Just think of $700 billion because that's all going into our military.

MOOS: Actually, there was a U.S. Navy commander inside the bunny suit. Tweeted a rabbit relative, I can't watch.

The Trump Easter bunny is traumatized when a tweets showing photos of less shell-shocked White House bunnies.

But enough about the Easter bunny's expression. What about expressions of affection between the president and the first lady?

With stories of another a bunny making the rounds, maybe the Trump's have hit a rough patch. But the president thanked and patted Melania, they held hands. They blew whistles together. To start the eggroll races, he kissed her goodbye.

Though truth be told, the president's hand-holding and embrace with Energy Secretary Rick Perry seemed even more impassioned.

The first lady and other luminaries read to the kids.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: The name of the book is you (ph).

MOOS: And before Kellyanne Conway read "God Gave Us Easter", she egged the kids on.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Girls, we left open the first female president of the United States' job if you want it.

MOOS: Before the president wet his whistle, he checked.

TRUMP: You think anybody hears this whistle before? I don't think so.

MOOS: What big ears you have, Mr. President, all the better to ignore the press.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BURNETT: And thank you so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.