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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Sources: Senators Urge Sessions To Stay On As Atty. General; Trump Warns Of "Violence" If GOP Loses Midterms. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 28, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- thanks, as usual. And thanks very much to our viewers for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next, breaking news. Polls closing now in three important elections tonight. What will tonight mean for Republicans hoping to hang on to the slimmest of majorities in the Senate?

Plus, is Jeff Sessions' future as Attorney General now in doubt? One Republican selling out Sessions while others are coming to his defense. And breaking news, a new recording tonight of President Trump behind the closed doors telling Evangelical leaders there will be violence should Democrats win in November. What exactly is he talking about? Let's go OutFront.

And good evening, I'm Jim Sciutto in again tonight for Erin Burnett. And OutFront tonight, breaking news. The first polls just closing on election night. Right now, we are standing by for the first results from Florida. What happens tonight will set the stage for a costly and contentious November election there. One that could be key to determining the balance of power in the Senate. We are also watching Arizona, where polls will close shortly.

Republicans casting their ballots in what has become a nasty competitive contest to replace Senator Jeff Flake. Flake, sometimes a fierce Trump critic, yet all three candidates have embraced the President, though Trump has yet stayed out of this race choosing not to endorse a candidate, but first, the fate of Jeff Sessions.

Tonight, there are renewed doubts about the embattled Attorney General's future, a man the President has publicly bashed on Twitter and in private, talked about firing. Now, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, in a stunning about-face, apparently opening a door to Session's replacement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), ARIZONA: We need an attorney general that can work with the President that can lead the Department of Justice. This relationship is beyond repair.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: We should remind you this is the same lawmaker who, a year ago, said there would be, quote, holy hell to pay if Trump were to fire Sessions. Graham is not, however, on the same page as some Republicans, sources telling CNN that Sessions is getting calls of support from other senators, perhaps the most meaningful one from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I have total confidence in the Attorney General. I think he ought to stay exactly where he is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: According to the Wall Street Journal, Sessions is tiring of the constant attacks from President Trump, which have grown only more personal and more vicious.

Abby Phillip is OutFront live at the White House tonight. Abby, what led do we believe to Senator Graham and others to warm up, it seems, to the idea of Trump replacing Sessions?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Hi, Jim. There's no question that some cracks are showing in what used to be a wall of support for Sessions among Senate Republicans, including some people who are his friends, his personal friends. But it seems like the attacks from President Trump, the relentless barrage of them coming from the President on a weekly basis, and some other policy disagreements with Sessions on some issues like criminal justice reform and even marijuana sentencing have led some Republicans, including Lindsey Graham, to say maybe the time will come soon for the President to finally move on from this situation. There is a caveat, however.

And as you pointed out, Mitch McConnell, not on the same page with this. The big caveat is what does this mean for the Mueller probe. We know President Trump is upset about Sessions and about the Mueller probe and he's blaming Sessions for that. Lindsey Graham is saying whoever replaces him needs to be willing to protect Mueller, but that's clearly not what President Trump wants.

So it really pushes to kicks the can down the road here in terms of when President Trump might make a decision like this, perhaps, after the midterm elections, but there is no question we've been reporting. President Trump has been talking about this in recent weeks, especially as the Mueller probe has been heating up. But Jeff Sessions is fighting back.

Last week, he had a breakfast with some Republican members, his former colleagues. A long-planned breakfast our sources are telling us. But at that breakfast, he did get some support from those colleagues. And that information is coming out now at a time when he is under fire. And I think, Jim, that is no mistake. Sessions is not sitting back as he has been in the past and just letting these blows from the President come and hit him.

SCIUTTO: He's been remarkably vocal at times. Abby Phillip, at the White House, thanks very much.

OutFront tonight, Senator Mark Warner, he is the top Democrat, of course, on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Warner, thanks very much for taking the time tonight.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So as you know, your Republican colleague, Senator Graham says that the President's relationship, in his words, with the Attorney General is, quote, beyond repair. In your view, is Sessions position as Attorney General in particular danger now from the President?

WARNER: It's so hard to predict this President on virtually anything. What I think is important is we've got to preserve the Mueller investigation.

[19:05:00] And if the President were to try to fire or remove Sessions, that the Mueller investigation's integrity needs to be driven and guided by Rod Rosenstein and not some person that would -- the President might try put in to try to stop the investigation. Let's step back a moment and look. I think there is no surprise in my mind as the wall start closing in on this beleaguered White House, when you've got the President's campaign manager convict, when you've got the President's personal lawyer pleading guilty, when you've got the President's CFO potentially talking to the Mueller investigation with immunity. This is a White House that seems under assault. And then you've got the President with not even the decency of treating the -- John McCain with the appropriate level of respect that he deserves from every American. This is a President that seems like he is lashing out at anyone, and I think it maybe because the walls are closing in.

SCIUTTO: I do want to ask you about Senator McCain. Of course, you had a long history with him as a colleague. But before I get to that, Senator Mitch McConnell's position, the Senate Majority Leader, has for some time been -- there is no need for legislation to protect the Mueller investigation because the President is not, McConnell believes, going to fire Mueller. Have you been able to attract any Republican support, have you and your Democratic colleagues, for a measure to make a law in effect to prevent the President from firing him?

WARNER: That's clearly what I would support. And there are a number of Republicans who have been part of co-sponsoring that kind of legislation. The Majority Leader Mr. McConnell has not moved on that because the White House continues to say Mueller or the President is not going to fire Mueller. But I think this is at best jump ball. I got no insight to what the President may do or not do, but I don't think it's coincidence that with this series of dominos starting to fall.

And I think I believe there will be more coming from the Mueller investigation as well. We've still not heard any resolution or sentencing of General Flynn and whatever stories he had to tell. We've clearly got whatever Mr. Cohen has in terms of additional information. We still hope to bring him back before our committee. We have the CFO.

I think it would be the wiser course to go ahead and -- so many of these Republican senator friends that I have who said, don't worry, Mark, if, you know, the stuff really hits the fan we'll be there to protect Mueller. Well, that day of reckoning may be coming sooner than any of us would like. So, let's take it off the table by passing a law protecting the integrity of this investigation. Let it finish. For a President who says he's got nothing to hide, I don't know why he doesn't go ahead and then speak to the Mueller investigation. But let's this come to its conclusion just as our investigation has to go ahead and have its ability to conclude as well.

SCIUTTO: Senator Graham's reversal on this has been particularly marked in light of his past comments saying there would be holy hell. Now saying, well, maybe it's necessary. Is it possible that Senator Graham wants the Attorney General job?

WARNER: Listen, I'm not going to speculate on another colleague. I work well with Senator Graham. I've got a lot of respect for him. But on this issue, we are really talking about whether rule of law is going to be able to be maintained in our nation, whether there is the fact that no one is above the law including Donald Trump.

And my fear and what we see consistently from this, Mr. Trump and his White House is there is a band of folks that no matter what norm, no matter what rule, no matter what the facts may stay, they're going to try to undermine those facts, undermine those norms, undermine rule of law. And I think we all have to be guarded. I think, should this President take those actions, all of us as United States senators, we will be judged by history.

And particularly, at this moment in time, when I think all of us are reflecting back on John McCain and his call and his final speeches to say, we need to rally to put our common interests as Americans first. I would not want to be somebody standing with Mr. Trump should he take those kind of radical actions.

SCIUTTO: I do want to ask you about John McCain. Senator Graham paid tribute to him on the floor of the Senate today. Here is some of what he said. It got emotional at times.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: He taught me that honor and imperfection are always in competition. I do not cry for a perfect man, I cry for a man who had honor, and always was willing to admit to his imperfection.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: You, of course, served alongside Senator McCain for a decade. If I could ask you, what do you remember most about him? And do you believe that that reputation of honor will have an impact on the division that you and I are well aware of right now today in this country on Capitol Hill? [19:10:14] WARNER: Well, there are so many lessons. We've all got stories of John McCain, as Lindsey said. I was on the receiving in of his anger a number of times. I was also on the receiving in particularly his advice to me on this role in the Russia investigation to stick at it and get to the truth.

I remember him in many ways. One of the lessons I learned the most from him was the absolutely essential nature of American leadership around the world, that when there's a crisis whether there's a war or refugees or human rights, if we have to wait right for the rest of the world to get its act together, we're going to be waiting a long time. That American leadership is the only essential fact that in a sense keeps the world headed and relatively the right direction.

And my fear is and my concern is, quite honestly, is we've seen that leadership erode under Mr. Trump, and I can't think of a starker contrasted for John McCain for all of his imperfections. He was willing to acknowledge when he made mistakes, but nobody questioned his loyalty and his commitment and his service to our country. And when the going got rough, he would always be able to rise the occasion. I wish I could say the same things about Donald Trump.

SCIUTTO: Senator Mark Warner, we appreciate you joining us the night.

WARNER: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: OutFront next, breaking news. President Trump heard on tape behind closed doors, warning of violence should Democrats win in November. Plus, Rudy Giuliani revealing tonight his strategy to take on Bob Mueller, but could it already be backfiring?

Also breaking tonight, polls close -- beginning to close in a number of contests the President is closely watching. We are standing by for the very first results.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:15:47] SCIUTTO: Breaking news now, President Trump warning of violence if Republicans lose the midterm elections. Trump made those comments last night during a dinner with Evangelical leaders which was closed to the press. CNN listen to a recording of the remarks in which Trump says the following, "People say I'm not voting because the President doesn't like Congress. It's not a question of like or dislike. It's a question that they will overturn everything that we've done and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently, " he repeated. "There is violence. When you look at Antifa, these are violent people."

OutFront now, White House Correspondent for Politico, Eliana Johnson, former Advisor to four Presidents including Nixon and Clinton, David Gergen, and Anne Milgram, she's a former Federal Prosecutor. David, if I could begin with you, the President appears to be saying here that Antifa will respond violently if the Republicans lose the majority. Antifa, of course, a constant talking point for the right wing here. I mean, what is he trying to do here? DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: To be fair to the President, calling Evangelicals into the White House and appealing for their political help has been done by every president --

SCIUTTO: No question.

GERGEN: -- you know, since Jimmy Carter first won the evangelical vote in '76. But never ever has any president come even close to saying if my side loses there's going to be violence. I think it's irresponsible. It demeans the presidency. It demeans our politics. And I think it is especially insulting to the Democrats.

SCIUTTO: Eliana, is this revealing of how concerned Trump and his advisers are that he will lose, that Republicans will lose the House because, of course, there are enormous consequences for him personally. It raises the specter, increases the chances at least of impeachment.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: The remarks are revealing because what we've been seeing from the President in terms of his public-facing remarks, particularly on Twitter, are talks of a red wave. And that's been echoed by Fox News. But these private remarks really indicate that the President is aware that there's a real prospect that Republicans may lose the House and that he's acutely aware of that and perhaps worried about that, and that he's warning supporters that they need to get out to the polls. And he said, I'm worried if I'm not on the ballot. People aren't going to get out to the polls, which is something that has historically happened, most recently with Obama. So, that's what I thought was most revealing about these private remarks.

SCIUTTO: Anne, if I can, I want to turn to the Mueller investigation now, some revealing comments from Rudy Giuliani. He told The New York Times quote, "Mueller is now slightly more distrusted than trusted and Trump is a little ahead of the game. So I think we've done really well. And my clients", of course, the President, "is happy".

Now, we should note that as -- to the facts here, Giuliani's claimed is not accurate. Trump has a 45% approval rating in the latest Fox News poll, 59% approve of the Mueller investigation. Facts aside though, how telling are these comments from Rudy Giuliani in terms of the President's strategy?

ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, you know, what's not surprising about it is that it does seem that Giuliani is really -- it's not a legal strategy so much, it's a political strategy and a strategy to appeal to the public and try to basically argue that the investigation is not legitimate and, therefore, we should discount everything that happens. You know, I question how effective that is when we see week after week indictments, convictions, guilty pleas coming against folks that have been charged by the U.S government as part of Mueller's investigation. But it really is, there's no question that he was just I think very transparent in saying this is what my client wants and this is what I'm doing.

SCIUTTO: Right. David, really there's no evidence that the President, regardless of a successful conviction of Paul Manafort, the events with Michael Cohen and his guilty plea and deal. There's no evidence the President is going to back off this strategy of laying attacks onto the Robert Mueller in the investigation?

GERGEN: No, I think all the evident points just in the opposite direction. And I think this is all going to come to a head after the midterms. And the Sessions future is going to be determined then and there's a good chance he will try to go for a new attorney general who will either the block Mueller or fire him, one way or the other.

SCIUTTO: And to that point, Eliana, Trump has ramped up his attacks on Mueller of late just to remind our viewers. Here are some recent examples.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[19:20:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you see Mueller with the conflicts, he's so conflicted. Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. I could go into conflict after conflict. I think that the Mueller investigation has been totally disgraced.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So, on Twitter he's been doing quite the same thing, and his typical monicker for the Mueller investigation is Bob Mueller and his angry group of Democratic thugs.

GERGEN: Yes. You know, I think there's one factual question here. In fact, I would say it was a mistake. The Fox poll that now has Mueller's approval rating at 59%, a month ago his approval rating was 48%.

SCIUTTO: It's up 11%.

GERGEN: It's gone up 11% in the last month. That's hardly evidence that he'd being seriously discredited to here in recent days.

SCIUTTO: Right. Listen, follow the numbers there. Anne, Rudy Giuliani also told my colleague Dana Bash, that Trump's legal team has not heard from Mueller's investigators now for nearly three weeks. And Giuliani said that in his view Mueller's office is still studying the latest letter from team Trump. But I wonder, do you think that Mueller has concluded that in fact the President and his lawyer have no genuine intention of sitting down with the Special Counsel?

MIGRAM: I think there's a couple of things to think about. The first is that the last overture from the President and Giuliani was really, I think, would have tied the hands of the Special Counsel too much. And it would have been impossible for him to have actually accepted that. And I think Giuliani and the President both know that.

So I think what we're seeing now is Mueller has to decide what his next move is. Does he subpoena the President? Does he go ahead and write a report without having any testimony by the President? What is he going to do? And remember that we are now dangerously close to what the Department of Justice sort of creates as a period of time before a political election where they don't make anything -- you know, they won't do any overt investigative activities that would essentially become public. And so, you know, that date would generally be this Saturday, September 1st, but it's already so political that I think Mueller will be very wary of acting soon.

SCIUTTO: Yes, not wanting to repeat the mistake of James Comey. Eliana, you cover this White House. From your perspective, is the talk, is the back and forth about parameters of any conversation with the Special Counsel or his investigators, is that for show or do you think that there's -- that this President may, indeed, sit down with the Special Counsel eventually?

JOHNSON: I think we've reached a point where the President's lawyers have made it clear he has no intention of sitting down with Robert Mueller. The talk of a perjury trap I think made very clear that this interview is not going to happen, that they are going to raise the stakes and press Mueller to take this to the Supreme Court. I think that they think that would be beneficial to them, not only as a matter of law but as a matter of optics because I think they think it would be beneficial for Mueller to appear to be pushing his power to the max and pressing his case in front of the Supreme Court. So, no, I don't think they have any intention unless the Supreme Court rules against them.

SCIUTTO: And perhaps testing Trump's new appointee, presumably if it's Brett Kavanaugh, and he has some experience on past Special Counsel investigations. David, Eliana, Anne, thanks very much.

Coming up next on OutFront, the breaking news. Polls beginning to close now in a number of races that could determine the balance of power in Washington. We are standing by to break down those results. And one of the President's favorite punching bags called Capitol Hill to testify behind closed door.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:27:31] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to breaking news. Now, polls closing in Florida, results just starting to come in there. And in Arizona polls will be closing in just a few hours. Three Republicans there are vying to fill the seat of retiring GOP Senator Jeff Flake. All three of those candidates have embraced Donald Trump, including Martha McSally, though she has not yet revealed whether she actually voted for him in 2016. However, she did emphasize to our Kyung Lah today her record of voting along with Trump during her time in the House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE FROM ARIZONA: I had a 97% voting record with the President's agenda. More than anyone else in the Arizona delegation. So those are just the facts.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: Kyung Lah is OutFront now from McSally headquarters. Kyung, we've seen these Republican candidates rush to support Donald Trump, at least in the primaries. Is there danger that that strategy could backfire against them in the general election in November?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And you're getting to the heart of the problem for someone like Martha McSally. She is the front-runner. She is the expected winner here. And if she does win, she is someone who comes from a moderate congressional district. And you heard her right there, Jim. She has pitched to the right, embracing trump through the senatorial primary, and now she is going to have to figure out how to talk to the moderates in the middle.

She only has 10 weeks to get that message out, and those moderates include more than one million registered voters. Democrats are going to be looking to see if she has any major shifts. That's going to be the heart of their attacks against Martha McSally, again, should she win.

Now, we can't leave you without talking about Kelly Ward. She is entering today still saying that she is a contender, still saying that she believes she's going to win. She is basically Trump on steroids. One GOP operative, Jim, told me that if she wins it would be a huge disaster for the GOP establishment, jokingly telling me if she wins he's going to leave the state. It is a joke, but that's how problematic it could be for the establishment here, Jim.

SCIUTTO: All right. Kyung Lah, on top of it there for us, thanks very much. OutFront now, Maria Cardona, she's a former DNC Communications Director and Scott Jennings, he's former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. Both are now CNN Political Commentators.

Scott, if I could begin with you, these candidates embracing Trump, state it was Trump won by three points, so it's a pretty tight race there. Is that a potential danger during the general?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think it was a danger not to support the President in a Republican primary. I mean, you can't really run against Trump and expect to win a Republican primary. I think McSally handle it just right. She touted her voting record, which is true. She's voted the Trump agenda 98% of the time.

[19:30:02] In fact, she's the only one of the three candidates that has a demonstrable voting record of support for Donald Trump, and that was wise to do that.

She also felt the momentum of the race late and she started running ads against Kyrsten Sinema in the last week of the campaign because she could feel the momentum moving her way and she wanted to show Republican voters that she's got what it takes to win a battleground seat.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Maria, Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic nominee there, what are the chances for your party come November?

MARIA CARDONA, FORMER DNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRCTOR: Look, I think if McSally wins, and everybody seems to think she will, though it's not a done deal. I think, you know, Kelli Ward is a possibility. I actually hope that Joe Arpaio wins because it would be a shoo-in for the Democrat.

But I think that herein lies the conundrum for Republicans. You heard McSally say she has a 97 percent voting for Trump. That could be an ad that is run in the general election in a state where Trump won barely by three points, in a state whose demographics are changing, the voting electorate is younger, it is multicultural, a lot of Latino voters, with what Trump has been doing with immigration.

And you have McSally who used to be on the right side of immigration. She has flip-flopped on that. She erased a lot of the YouTube ads she had supporting President Obama for what he has done with the Dreamers. I think that is going to hurt her very badly against somebody like Kyrsten Sinema.

SCIUTTO: Scott, you have a fair point. If you look at the generic ballot numbers so far, they've moved back a bit but it has been a Democratic advantage, and a lot of the voters are driven by subjects like immigration.

JENNINGS: No questions, and that's why I think you are seeing McSally right out of the gate focused on national security. She is a fighter pilot, she bombed our enemies after 9/11, and contrasting herself against Sinema who was out protesting us going after Osama bin Laden wearing a pink tutu at a protest rally in Phoenix.

And so, right out of the gate, what you're seeing is McSally going right after what they see is Sinema's big weakness. This is a state that loves our military, loves our veterans and really does believe in prosecuting the war on terror and we've got a candidate in McSally who did and a candidate in Sinema who fought against it.

SCIUTTO: And quite a late senator in John McCain, of course, a veteran.

JENNINGS: Yes.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you both about what the president told a group of evangelical leaders last night about what happens if Republicans lose the midterms, lose their majority. CNN was played a recording of these comments now, and among the quotes he said the following. They will overturn everything that we've done and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently, he repeated. There is violence. When you look at Antifa, these are violent people.

What do you think, Maria, the president was trying to signal here?

CARDONA: I think he is doing what he does best, which is injecting what I believe -- and I think a majority of Americans believe, is disgusting, very unpresidential-like fearmongering into the election because it's the only way that he can win. This is him being as divisive as he can, to gin up his base which I

think frankly has certain elements of racism, bigotry and, frankly, white supremacy. I think that's what he was getting at there. I think it is so incredibly reprehensible and irresponsible for a sitting president of the United States to be doing something like that, and I think it's another reason why candidates for Congress should be very concerned, especially the ones that are completely embracing Trump and even those who try to then get away from him in the general election, Democrats are going to completely tie every single Republican candidate as tight as they can to Trump, and especially because of these kind of divisive comments which will be very hurtful in the general.

SCIUTTO: Scott, your response. Fair criticism?

JENNINGS: Yes, I don't understand the comments about violence. I mean, it's possible he is responding to the protests that have gone on, the running of Sarah Sanders out of a restaurant, the chasing of Mitch McConnell by the abolish ICE people around Louisville. Maybe he is thinking of that.

I do think it's true that if the Democrats win the House, they're going to quickly move to try to stifle this presidency and upend all the progress that he president --

SCIUTTO: But that's not violence to be fair.

JENNINGS: But that's a different -- when I heard the comments, I thought he was mixing two issues. To me, it is a really vital talking point for the Republicans to say, if you like what we've been doing, if you like 4 percent unemployment don't elect Democrats because they're going to put a stop to everything we've been doing. That's a good talking point.

Then he mixed it into something else that I didn't quite understand. So, I don't -- I don't think it is appropriate rhetoric. Look, we pride ourselves on peaceful transition of power in this country after elections, and so we need to keep doing that.

SCIUTTO: Maria, I know you wanted to respond.

CARDONA: No, I just think -- I just think it is ridiculous when you are going into a general election for him to say something like that, because to me what it indicates is how scared he is of a coming -- and I don't even like to call it a blue wave because I do think that this is going to be difficult for Democrats, no matter what happens it is going to be difficult for Democrats.

[19:35:11] So, Democrats, get out there and vote. This is not a done deal. And -- but what it does tell me is that with the Fox News poll today that had the 11 percent generic ballot in favor of Democrats -- Fox News, Jim, OK. And to the president that's real news. So I'm sure that went to heart for him.

He is very concerned, and that is why he is making these comments, because he knows that in a general election where Republicans are in such turmoil and are in danger, that's the only way that he can gin up his base.

SCIUTTO: Scott and Maria, thank you for talking out peacefully.

CARDONA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: We can do that, right?

CARDONA: Always.

SCIUTTO: Right. Great to have you on tonight.

OUTFRONT next, our breaking news continuing as we are getting our first glimpse of the results out of Florida now. What tonight could tell us about Republicans' chances of holding on to the Senate.

Plus, the Justice Department official in Trump's crosshairs facing lawmakers, what Republicans wanted to know from Bruce Ohr.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:40:05] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Breaking news. We are getting our first results from primary election tonight in Florida where the heated battle among Republicans there in a race that could help determine the balance of power in the Senate.

Our Tom Foreman has been watching those numbers.

Tom, tell us what are the early results so far?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the early results so far, with 31 percent reporting would make the White House very happy.

Congressman Ron DeSantis is Donald Trump's guy in all this. He asked Donald Trump to endorse him, Donald Trump did. Adam Putnam is secretary of agriculture for the state.

And look at this, it started off with a strong run by DeSantis up there, pretty convincing numbers in those areas. Interestingly enough, you look at this area right up here, where it's very strong at the moment, that is where DeSantis works as a Congress member. So you would expect him to have strong support there.

The comeback so far has been more up here in the panhandle though for Adam Putnam. The question is can he get enough people in those areas to make a difference and even these numbers out a little more.

And what happens when some of the bigger population centers check in here and what difference do they make? Bear in mind, this was Hillary Clinton territory some time ago and yet it is a place right now Palm Beach -- we don't know about Broward County yet, but down here in Miami-Dade, right now DeSantis, Donald Trump's guy, is doing very, very .

On the Democratic side, a different equation right there. At the moment, Gwen Graham, former Congress member, holds a lead. We have 44 percent reporting. There's still a lot of room to be gained there. Andrew Gillum, who had the backing of Bernie Sanders, is hanging in there. Philip Levine, who was former mayor of Miami Beach, you can see the pale blue doing strongly.

Here are the others right now in that race on the Democratic side. They're the ones who will face off against whoever winds up winning the governor's seat here, which, of course, Rick Scott is leaving to go run for the Senate.

SCIUTTO: Right. So, the governor's side, let's look at the Senate side of the battle where, as you mentioned, you got Rick Scott going up against the incumbent Bill Nelson. What are we seeing there so far?

FOREMAN: Well, what we really see is a case of what the money being spent here is going to look like. Right now, if you look at outside spending on these campaigns, Bill Nelson is getting most of -- most of the fire and most of the water at the same time, $5.9 million dollar by outside groups spent against him, $7.3 million spent for him.

Down here for Rick Scott, not quite so much against him, the governor, running for Senate now. And it doesn't look like much in being spent in his favor but that's because he is funding a lot of this himself, so it doesn't show up the same way. Nonetheless, it is an area where Republicans would like to hang on and flip this over and change that seat. It's one of the real possibilities of them doing that. At the same time that Democrats are hoping somehow they can flip the state in the governor's seat.

SCIUTTO: Tom Foreman, thanks very much. Two very crucial races this year.

Back to Maria and Scott.

Maria, on this -- I mean, this is the thing you talk about. It may look good on the house side for Democrats.

CARDONA: Sure.

SCIUTTO: But the map for on the Senate side for Democrats always has been more difficult here.

CARDONA: Yes, sure.

SCIUTTO: And this is one that the Republicans could flip in their favor, right?

CARDONA: Certainly -- right, exactly. Again, I like to sound more the alarm with Democrats to make sure that we understand that nothing is a done deal. I do think that this one will be difficult because some -- it seems to be a lot of the energy is on Rick Scott's side.

But, but this is, again, Florida, very similar to Arizona. You have changing demographics. You have younger voters. You have multicultural voters, all of whom despise Trump and all of whom can be messaged to say that every single Republican running on the Republican ticket is going to be pro-Trump.

In a state where you have, again, growing Latino population, a lot of Puerto Ricans have moved in, Trump has been dismal on the issue of hurricane Maria recuperation. And you have the report today where you have so many more deaths in hurricane Maria than initially thought, I think that there is certainly a message to be messaged to all of these Puerto Ricans and Latinos in general, that this is not just an administration that has been dismal to Latinos but Rick Scott is going to be tied to him.

SCIUTTO: Scott, you are more sanguine about Rick Scott's chances?

JENNINGS: I'm bullish on Rick Scott. I think it is a great race for Republicans for two reasons. One, if they beat an incumbent Democrat here, it virtually makes it impossible for Democrats to take control of the Senate. Number two, this is a resources sponge. Rick Scott is a great fundraiser and he's going to spend his own money. As was mentioned, it is an expensive race.

So, I think this is the most expensive state of the cycle. It all works in Rick Scott's favor. The polling right now looks great, in the polling averages Scott is ahead. So, I think we're in for a flip here. I'm bullish on this.

I mean, you think about the race we talked about before, Arizona and this one, if Republicans hold Arizona, which I think is a must win for Democrats, if they flip Florida, it's two more years of Republican control in the Senate, which even if the House goes Democrat means Trump and McConnell can continue to do judges.

[19:45:05] SCIUTTO: Right. They continue to do judges but --

(CROSSTALK)

JENNINGS: Legislation will come to a halt, but the judges continue.

CARDONA: Look, I hope they underestimate Nelson because Nelson has only lost one race in his life. Rick Scott has spent more money I think than anybody in history in these kinds of races, of his own money, and he has never hit 50 percent. So, it's not like he is very well-liked.

And so, I think -- again, I do think it will be hard. I urge Democrats to do everything that they can to get out there and to mobilize and energize not just our base but independents and Republicans who also despise this administration, and let's get out there and vote.

SCIUTTO: Scott, Maria had two chances to call out the voters. I have to give you a fair --

CARDONA: He wants them to stay home.

JENNINGS: I'm a political analyst and I would tell you when you are an incumbent senator like Nelson is here and you are stuck below 45 percent, I guarantee Maria's buddies here in Washington have hit the panic button on this one.

SCIUTTO: Maria and Scott, thanks very --

CARDONA: How about we make a bet?

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: I'll mediate that one.

Thanks to both of you.

OUTFRONT next, the Justice Department official who president Trump called a creep. Tonight grilled by Republicans, what he is saying about the conspiracy theory, that he conspired against Trump's election.

Plus, it is a call that has the Internet dialing up the jokes.

(BEGI VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Enrique?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:50:19] SCIUTTO: New tonight, President Trump's latest target in the Russia probe in the hot seat. Long time Justice Department official Bruce Ohr grilled by Republicans today in a closed door on Capitol Hill, questioned over his ties to Christopher Steele, the former British spy behind the so-called Trump dossier.

Jessica Schneider is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's been the president's punching bag for weeks.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. They should be looking at Bruce Ohr --

SCHNEIDER: The president has threatened to revoke Ohr's security clearance --

TRUMP: I suspect I'll be taking it away very quickly.

SCHNEIDER: -- and has rattled off insults about the career Justice Department official over Twitter nine times this month, calling Ohr a creep, and pushing an unfounded conservative conspiracy theory that Ohr met with former British agent Christopher Steele several times in 2016 solely to sabotage Trump's candidacy, tweeting the big story that the fake news media refuses to report is low life Christopher Steele's many meetings with deputy A.G. Bruce Ohr and his beautiful wife Nellie. It was Fusion GPS that hired Steele to write the phony and discredited

dossier paid for by crooked Hillary and the DNC. Congressional Republicans picked up on Trump's attacks, promised to probe Ohr for answers behind closed doors. No Democratic lawmakers attended the hearing.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: I think it's really important for us to establish a timeline regarding Bruce Ohr's activities and Nellie Ohr's activities. There's a lot we don't know when Bruce Ohr learned that his wife was working with an agent of a foreign government to destabilize a presidential election and potentially a presidency.

SCHNEIDER: Bruce Ohr was recently demoted at the DOJ, but for years, he led the organized and racketeering section. He focused on Russia organized crime, and according to "The New York Times," he first met Christopher Steele in 2007. Republicans are seizing on Ohr's meetings with Steele in 2016 after the FBI stopped working with Steele because of his contacts with members of the media.

Conservatives contend the timing of their correspondence is suspicious since they argue the two spoke often around crucial milestones in the Russia investigation. Republicans are also raising questions about Bruce's wife, Nellie Ohr and her work with Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned the dossier. CNN has reported Nellie Ohr, who was a Russia expert relied on open source documents to pull together information on Russian oligarchs.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC), HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: What we see, at every critical juncture, when we've been able to see something happen, every single time, there was significant contact between Christopher Steele and Bruce Ohr prior to that. And so, you know, it could be an unbelievable coincidence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Neither Bruce Ohr nor his attorney have made any comment, so there haven't been any answers directly from Ohr about why he was communicating with Christopher Steele or did hand over some information to the FBI after they ended their own relationship with Christopher Steele. And today, after grilling Ohr for eight hours, conservatives say they want to call back Glen Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, as well as former FBI attorney Lisa Page. They want to ask them more questions at a public hearing -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

OUTFRONT next, Jeanne Moos dials up the meme machine after Trump's technical difficulties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You want to put that on this phone one, please? Hello?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:57:53] SCIUTTO: When things get awkward for President Trump, the memes follow. Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a speakerphone that refused to speak.

TRUMP: Enrique?

MOOS: When President Trump called the president of Mexico --

TRUMP: You can hook him up.

MOOS: In front of a horde --

TRUMP: You tell me when.

MOOS: -- of press. Awkward.

But the president wasn't the only one pressing buttons. Internet meme makers edited in music.

TRUMP: Hello?

MOOS: From the credits on "Veep" to the theme from "Curb Your Enthusiasm".

TRUMP: Enrique?

MOOS: Critics offered technical suggestion. For instance, a phone featuring buttons for Russia, nuclear launch, Diet Coke, cheese burgers and chicken.

"The Daily Show" left a message.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are calling you from the investigation team of IRS. We have just received a notification regarding your tax filings.

MOOS: President Trump is a meme machine. The other day he inspired two memes during one visit with kids.

Kids opted to draw red and white stripes. But someone noticed the president has colored his flag wrong, creating a blue stripe.

Now we're pretty sure the president knows what color the stripes really are.

As someone noted, he literally has it pinned to his suit coat. Plus, he likes to wrap himself it in. Someone suggest head might be drawing a Blue Lives Matter flag in support of police. Another taunted it's the Russian flag.

As for the other moment that was flagged, call it the glare. It's not so intense in the video, but the photograph was irresistible to captioners. Don't you bleepin' flip on me.

Another day, another meme. And by the way, once you get the speakerphone to speak, make sure it doesn't keep listening after you hang up.

TRUMP: Goodbye, Enrique.

MOOS: Twice.

TRUMP: OK.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Thank you very much for joining us.

"AC360" with John Berman starts right now.