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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Senate Intel Leaders Shoot Down Trump's Wiretap Claim; Spicer: Trump Stands By Wiretap Claim; WH Cites Media As Proof Of Trump's Wiretap Claim; Calls Grow In GOP For Trump To Retract Unproven Wiretap Claim; Nunes: Still Don't Believe Obama Ordered Trump Tower Wiretap; WH: Trump Stands By Wiretap Claim (Despite No Evidence); WH Cites As Proof Of Trump's Wiretap Claim; White House Doubles Down On Trump Wiretap Claim; WH Cites Media As Proof Of Trump's Wiretap Claim; Aired: 7-8p ET
Aired March 16, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: Next, the breaking news, Trump stands alone. Top republicans and democrats say there's no proof of his wiretapping claim, the White House digging in on the accusation, citing the media as proof. Plus, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is OutFront defending the travel ban and her boss.
And will veterans be taking the brunt of Trump's budget cuts? Let's go OutFront. Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. We begin OutFront with the breaking news. President Donald Trump stands alone. Tonight, congressional leaders giving their strongest rebukes of Trump's claims of wiretapping. The House Speaker Republican Paul Ryan saying "no such wiretap existed", that's a quote, and the top republican and the top democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee came out jointly and said there are "no indications that Trump Tower was under surveillance by any element of the United States government."
Also, the top house democrat telling CNN he thinks the FBI Director James Comey will debunk Trump's wiretap claim publicly in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday. Now, despite all of this, and as you could see, there are two major republicans there who are standing up and saying this did not happen, the White House Spokesperson, Sean Spicer is unyielding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Are you saying that the president still stands by his allegation that President Obama ordered wiretapping or surveillance of Trump Tower despite the fact that the Senate Intelligence Committee says they see no indication it happened? Mr. President --
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. First of all, he stands by but again you're mischaracterizing what happened today.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Spicer refused to say whether Trump was relying on classified information to base his claims, instead pointed repeatedly to news reports.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: The New York Times reported the following, Sean Hannity went on Fox days after the election, Heat Street reported, Andy McCarthy writing a national review, Sara Carter from Circa reporting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Jeff Zeleny begins our coverage OutFront at the White House. And Jeff, the president seems to be boxed in on this. You know, it is not a small thing when the house speaker, when the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee come out, members of his own party and say what he said happened did not happen.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDNT: Erin, he seems to be boxed in by the facts on this here. You're right about the republicans. And they came out and said, look, this didn't happen. They said that only after they were briefed by FBI and other intelligence officials here. Now, remember nearly two weeks ago, it was the president himself who asked for congress to weigh in on this in the first place. Now they are but not in his favor. President Trump is even more isolated tonight in his substantiated claim, President Obama was spying on him at Trump Tower after saying this to Fox News Wednesday night --
DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.
ZELENY: The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee for the first time said they see no evidence to support the president's assertion. Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016. Senators Richard Burr, a republican and Mark Warner, a democrat said in a joint statement. At the White House that blunt and bipartisan assessment sent Press Secretary Sean Spicer into a frenzied string of explanations for something that is increasingly indefensible. He had this exchange with our Jim Acosta.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You were just quoting Sean Hannity there. The house and Senate Intelligence Committees --
SPICER: I also quoted -- I get you're going to cherry-pick --
ACOSTA: The FBI Director, you're citing Sean Hannity --
SPICER: No, no. OK. You also look over -- you also tend to overlook all the other sources. Because I know you want to cherry-pick it. But - no, no, but you do. But where was your concern about the New York Times reporter? You didn't seem to have a concern with that. ACOSTA: We have done plenty of reporting on all of this.
SPICER: No, no. But you want to cherry-pick one commentary -- one piece of commentary.
ACOSTA: These connections between (INAUDIBLE) associates of the president to the Russians, has all been looked at.
SPICER: No. Wait. How do you know all this? How do you seem to be such an expert in this?
ACOSTA: I'm saying that this has been looked at, Sean.
SPICER: How do you know it's been looked at? Hold on. Hold on.
ZELENY: For nearly two weeks the president's wiretapping claim has hung over the White House like a storm cloud. As one congressional leader after another has discounted it. Speaker Paul Ryan added his voice again today to the list of skeptics.
PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The intelligence communities in their continuing widening ongoing investigation of all things Russia got to the bottom, at least so far, with respect to our intelligence community that no such wiretap existed.
ZELENY: The White House says the president still stands behind his wiretapping accusations and he acknowledged learning it from conservative news sites not the intelligence agencies at his disposal.
TRUMP: I said, wait a minute, there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about. I've been seeing a lot of things.
ZELENY: But none of those things has added up to any evidence. He asked congress to investigate and now the answer has been the same from both parties and both sides of Capitol Hill. It's all heading toward a full boil next week when FBI director James Comey is called to testify before congress. Adam Schiff, the top democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told our Manu Raju he expects Comey to debunk the wiretapping claim.
ADAM SCHIFF, UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE FOR CALIFORNIA: But on that question, he should be able to answer it than put that to rest.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: He didn't say no, the president was not wiretapped?
SCHIFF: I do because there's no evidence of this at all.
ZELENY: Now, Congressman Schiff said the FBI Director would be able to put an exclamation point on all of this and then the congressman said the ball is back in the president's court to explain what he believes is a baseless accusation. So Erin, we'll see if that actually happens here after that hearing next Monday on Capitol Hill.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff. And you saw Manu Raju there at the end Jeff's piece. Just moments ago, he had a chance to speak to the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. And Manu is now OutFront on Capitol Hill. Manu, what is the chairman telling you?
RAJU: Well, he's still standing by what he said yesterday which is, I don't believe that Trump Tower was wiretapped under the orders of Barack Obama. Even as Sean Spicer continued to dig in. Now, Spicer today also pointed to a statement that Devin Nunes made yesterday suggesting it was, "possible that there was some surveillance that incidentally picked up some communications of the president. Now, I asked him, is there any evidence of that? He said no. Take a listen. You said yesterday though, that was your words, I don't believe.
REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Yes. I don't believe that the president ordered a physical wiretap of Trump tower.
RAJU: And what do you make of the -- of the --
NUNES: It's all about a physical wiretap or other surveillance activities, which is the question.
RAJU: And today --
NUNES: We want to make sure that no surveillance activities were used for political purposes.
RAJU: Do you have any evidence to suggest that any incidental collection may have picked up Trump's -- Donald Trump's communications at all? Do you have any evidence to suggest?
NUNES: Other than General Flynn, we don't.
RAJU: So he's referring to the Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who had to resign after those contacts with the Russian ambassador were picked up and later leaked to the press. But clearly saying there, Erin, that, no, he has not seen any evidence to suggest that President Trump's communications were picked up as part of broader surveillance and that's what Trump was using to defend himself because they're saying that perhaps they're looking into it, perhaps Devin Nunes raising that specter but making it very clear, he's seen no evidence yet, another suggestion, other signal the White House is increasingly isolated in the response to this, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Manu. I want to go now to our Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston along with the former assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem, former CIA Chief of Russian Operations Steve Hall, and former Reagan White House Political Director Jeffrey Lord. Mark, let me start with you, right? I think Manu raises a key point. The president specifically said wiretap in his tweets.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And we just had one more through, Jeff Session, Jeff Session said yesterday in Richmond, Virginia that he himself in as the attorney general had never briefed Donald Trump on any kind of wiretapping allegations that Donald Trump -- President Trump had made a couple weeks ago. What is really problematic for the president is that he does seem to be in an island of his own. This wasn't something that had leaked out of the White House that they thought, you know, had happened to President Trump.
This came directly from President Trump. This was a Saturday morning, this was him on Twitter. And how he went about it is very unconventional and very reckless in many ways, Erin. So, look, at the end of the day, it's the issue of credibility and I think right now that it's starting to erode a little bit for the president.
BURNETT: Jeff, let me ask you, right, in the exchange we saw between Jim Acosta and Sean Spicer, Jim Acosta was saying the heads of the intelligence committee on the senate, democrat and republican, have been briefed by the FBI and they say there is no evidence. Donald Trump and in this case it was Sean Spicer, his proxy, is saying that it's media reports that the president is citing. And here's how Sean Spicer put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I 've been reading about things. I read in -- I think it was January 20th the New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article. I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I think if you watch -- if you watched the Bret Baier and what he was saying and what he was talking about and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident you could mention the name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, Jeff, how does all this add up? Right? The FBI is saying it didn't happen. He's citing specific media reports. All I can do is speak for CNN in which we have reported is that there were Russians that may have been caught up in surveillance, that were being surveilled and if those Russians happened to talk to someone related to Trump that may have been picked up. That is all we have ever reported.
JEFFREY LORD, FORMER REAGAN WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. Right. Erin, I have to say I think there was a wild disagreement here. Just minutes before I came on here, just minutes before I came on here, I heard from a CNN viewer who was just livid and believe it's not the president that's isolated but the media that's isolated. And the question is, you did a -- I mean, it was just a great job letting Sean Spicer run on and you showed the entire clip or most of the entire clip.
And he asked the same thing I'm hearing from people here and that I've raised in a separate column. I mean, one column after another, one news story after another has quoted government sources saying that there were ties from the Trump campaign to the Russians. Where did that information come from? That's the question now and --
(CROSSTALK) BURNETT: Right. It could have come from surveillance of Russian nationals, which is what we have reported may have had happened. No one has ever said there was a surveillance of Donald Trump or anyone related to him or Trump tower, which is the only thing Donald Trump, Jeff has said happened.
LORD: Erin, the implication repeatedly has been that Donald Trump or his campaign had ties to the Russians which in turn influenced the election, which in turn cost Hillary Clinton the election. That's the narrative. And I can tell you, I mean, there are people out there that just don't believe it and they believe this is a put-up job. They do not think the president is alone. They're with him.
BURNETT: What do you say, Juliet?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY: Well, look, there's two different issues and I think Jeffrey is sort of purposefully merging them all together to avoid the reality that Trump made up a tweet and everyone knows it was now made up. No one's seen any evidence of it, even one of his transition chair people has said there's no evidence of it. The second issue is the one that we ought to all be focused on of course, which is whether how and why and to what extent did Russia interfere with our election.
We've been distracted for 10 days and while we've been distracted for 10 days, both our enemies and our allies are taking notice. Just for one example. Sean Spicer in his attempt to sort of unwind whatever it is that was wound up throws Britain, the British Intelligence Agency under the bus and says, well, we heard they were possibly spying on Trump. That required them to come out.
BURNETT: Yes. They said it was ridiculous. Yes.
KAYYEM: Our greatest ally, our supporter, and saying it was ridiculous. This is having impacts well beyond the e-mails that people might be getting supporting or not supporting Trump. The world is watching and it's -- let's just say it's not a very good show for the United States.
BURNETT: Steve, there have been multiple calls now for the president to retract his tweets, right? And there's been no evidence and, you know, I'm sure now he'll say, well, let's see what Comey has to say specifically. But again, the democrat and republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committees have said the FBI has given them no indication that anything that the president alleges and the specificity of wiretap or the generality of surveillance actually occurred. And there are other republicans who are saying he should retract. Here they are.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLES DENT. (R) PENNSYLVANIA: President Trump must provide proof or evidence to substantiate that claim. If he cannot -- if he cannot then he should retract.
REP. TOM COLE, (R) OKLAHOMA: I think you ought to walk it back if the evidence doesn't support the charge you made. In this case, I don't think it does.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I think the president has one of two choices. Either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: There's of course no indication, Steve that he would ever do anything like this. What is the reaction? What do you think the Russians make of all this? Is this something that makes them jump up and down?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Yes. In short. Erin, the Russians must be extremely pleased how there -- what started as a multipronged influence -- attempted influence on our elections which apparently they had some (INAUDIBLE) the intelligence community has -- is now gone on for several months and now we're at the point where you have, you know, a democracy that's, you know, both sides questioning each other, a lot of questions surrounding the president himself, involvement, scandal with the intelligence communities.
This is -- this is all way above and beyond what the Russians would have hoped for. But I think Juliet got it exactly right. It seems to me that all of this whether we're talking about the potential for leaks, whether we're about wiretapping or other types of surveillance, all of this serves to draw our attention and perhaps even more importantly resources away from what ought to be the key question, was there any contact, cooperation, or collusion with the Trump campaign and the Russian government. That's the key question that I think we're trying to -- that he's trying to distract us from at this point.
BURNETT: Right. And there has been quite a bit of distraction from that. All right. Thank you all very much.
And next, bogus claims and broken promises. Donald Trump has said quite a few times that something happened and we'll find out about it in a few days or a few weeks. When do we take him at his word?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If I decide to run for office, I'll produce my tax returns, absolutely. And I would love to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Love to do that. Plus the U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, she is OutFront tonight. Her reaction to her boss' wiretapping claims. And the president loves Mickie D's, but does McDonald's love him back tonight?
BURNETT: We're following breaking news at this moment. The White House doubling down on the President Trump's unfounded claim that Former President Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower. Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisting that the president stands by this allegation and that he will eventually be proven right. Multiple congressional leaders are saying there is no evidence at this time to support the claim.
But here's what's interesting about this. What Trump did, you know, coming out on a Saturday morning and saying these things happened and then saying, oh, you'll see what's going to come out in the next couple of weeks, it will be really interesting. We have seen this in the past. In fact, it is a very distinct pattern for this president. Tom Foreman is OutFront to show you.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The fuse on the explosive wiretapping claim was lit by a flurry of tweets. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped. This is Nixon Watergate, a new low. Yet a skeptical lawmakers have pressed the president for details, he has waffled.
TRUMP: I've been reading about things. I read in -- I think it was January 20th, a New York Times article, where they were talking about wiretapping. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.
FOREMAN: It's a pattern. In the election just weeks before the vote when many polls showed him trailing, he said --
TRUMP: The election is rigged, it's rigged like you've never seen before.
FOREMAN: He produced no evidence, yet when Hillary Clinton took the popular vote, he flung out another unsupported claim. In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally. On his tax returns, for years he promised he would release them. In May 2014 --
TRUMP: If I decide to run for office I'll produce my tax returns, absolutely. And I would love to do that.
FOREMAN: In February 2016.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When are you going to release your tax returns?
TRUMP: Probably over the next few months. It's being worked on right now.
FOREMAN: And a few months later he said hopefully --
TRUMP: Before the election, I'll release.
FOREMAN: Now he says he's under audit and can't. An explanation many tax experts find mysterious, questionable, and unsupported by the law. On Barack Obama's citizenship.
TRUMP: Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?
FOREMAN: For years Trump implied Obama was hiding something. Then when the birth certificate appeared, a new unsubstantiated claim came with it. An extremely credible source has called my office and told me that Barack Obama's birth certificate is a fraud. He said Muslim crowds in America celebrated on 9/11.
TRUMP: And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, with thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.
FOREMAN: He hinted at scandal in the election, tweeting he had spilled the beans on Ted Cruz's wife and Tarring Cruz's father too.
TRUMP: All I did is point out the fact that on the cover of the national inquirer there's a picture of her -- him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast.
FOREMAN: And yet, well, headlines and outrage and days of furious debates have followed all of these incendiary claims, one thing never has real, credible, official proof in any of these cases. Erin?
BURNETT: All right, Tom, thank you. OutFront now, Jason Kander Former Missouri Secretary of State and former republican senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum. Jeffrey Lord is back with me. Senator Santorum, you know, usually on this show, you know, you endorsed Trump early when you got out of the race. You have often come on to defend him. Can you defend him on these things, you know, when he comes out and says something happened? And then he says wait until you see what happens, a couple weeks, you're going to see some interesting things and then we never do and in none of these instances did what he said turn out to be true. Can you defend that?
RICK SANTORUM, FORMER REPUBLICAN SENATOR FROM PENNSYLVANIA: Well, let's just set aside the issue of the wiretap and, you know, president says there's more evidence to come out and so we'll wait and see what that evidence is. But clearly this was -- this was an attack that he launched against the president in -- on the issue of wiretapping that was effective in changing the narrative out there. And as we've seen from a lot of this previous report, I had marveled at his ability to be able to put his opponent on defense and change the subject, change the attitude of election and really take advantage of that situation.
Here is the problem that I see for President Trump. We're not in an election anymore and it's not his opponent that he's throwing off. I think it's him that he's throwing off. I'm someone who is a strong believer in the Trump message. I loved his budget address. I think he's absolutely right on with the policies that we need for this country. And I'm someone who would like to see him not try to work to throw off his opponent which in this case he has no opponent and who he's hurting is not a rival, he's hurting himself because he's now the president and it doesn't matter whether he blames Barack Obama or not. People don't care about Barack Obama anymore. They care about one person.
They care about the president and he's the president. And so I just would hope that he would look at taking advantage of the popular positions that he's taken on immigration and on trade and on taxes and Obamacare and drive those things home and stay -- keep his administration focused on that.
BURNETT: Yes. Because Jeff he's not doing that and he can't blame that on the media. He's the one who woke up at 6:05 or 6:35, I don't remember which it was in the morning, and sent out all these tweets about wiretapping. It's just one example, right? He's the one who does these things. No one else does this to him, Jeff.
LORD: Right. Well, I mean, on the wiretapping situation, I mean, obviously I just -- I think he's right. I think he was surveilled. Either that or there's -- I mean, I would be decidedly low tech and there may well be, you know, the kind of hacking going on here that's above my pay grade that makes everybody seem like, you know, they're being done in by somebody else when in fact there's still somebody else involved. I don't know how that works.
BURNETT: Right. But I mean, it's almost -- let me get to the point, Jeff. I mean, I don't want to make this be all about wiretapping.
LORD: Yes. No. Yes. Right.
BURNETT: It's kind of the (INAUDIBLE) right? The FBI is saying it didn't happen. The former DNI Chief is saying it didn't happen and yet people like you are still coming on and saying you think it happened. Like based on what?
LORD: Based on the New York Times and the Washington Post and the guardian in the U.K, and the BBC. I mean, I am reading these stories all the time.
BURNETT: You're saying based on intercepted communications which -- let's just take Michael Flynn. That was an intercepted communication of the Russian ambassador. We know who that was. That was not a Trump associate.
LORD: But how did that make its way to the media and for what purpose?
BURNETT: Jason, let me ask you. When this happens, when the president pressed to substantiate, right? When he said something happened, the birth certificate for example or anything else, he very often says -- well, have said or others have suggested, basically it wasn't me. Let me just play some examples.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There's this doubt. People have doubt. Again, this was not my suggestion. I didn't bring this up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You yourself calling him a racist?
TRUMP: No. He was called that by the Obama Campaign. He was called it loud and clear. He was extremely insulted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But why did you put him in your tweet if you don't believe it?
TRUMP: I -- they said it. I didn't say it. You know, the president's thinking about signing an executive order where he wants to take your guns away. You hear this one. Somebody said that that's what he's thinking about. I didn't say he's citing it. And I've heard it from numerous networks and I've read it in the papers. You know, my source is the papers, so they're pretty good sources.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: I mean, Jason, first of all, there is the fake news, obviously, I thinks the papers are pretty good sources. But the jokes aside, you know, he is- - his defenses don't suit the messenger. Can that keep working for him?
JASON KANDER, (D) FORMER MISSOURI SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, the messenger is him and he just keeps lying so I certainly hope not. And, you know, put the politics of this aside, the president just keeps lying like he's done this about every week. And we give you two really practical reasons that aren't about politics, that aren't about democrat or republican, why that matters to us as Americans. The first is if the president keeps doing this, then it's going to really hurt his credibility with the American people and the reason we care about that is because the president has the responsibility of delivering really important news.
What happens when President Trump has to go on T.V. and change the threat level or say that there's a very specific terrorist threat that we need to look for and we're not sure that he's telling the truth. That makes us less safe. And let me give you a second really practical reason, we're all out here trying to raise kids who tell the truth. And when you're sending your kid to school, you know, to elementary school where he would get in trouble for doing what the president is doing, you know, and he turns around and says, well, the president does it, I mean, he's a role model.
BURNETT: What do you say that to, Senator Santorum, especially the credibility issue, that some point people may not believe him when it's very important that they do. And as you are pointing out I guess even in selling the core message that you believe in that he may lose power in doing that and leverage because of these other things.
SANTORUM: Look, I think these are all legitimate points. I mean, I have to say that, you know, I'd like to see the president come out there and talk about what he knows not what he's read in the paper. I understand you read things in the paper. I see things on T.V. but when you're the president of the United States, what the assumption is that that you have better information than what's in, you know, the national inquirer or what's even the New York Times, which in some cases are very similar publications.
So, for me, I'd like to see the president talk more about what he actually knows, what he's been briefed on and stick to those things that are really much more in line with what a president would be talking about.
BURNETT: All right. I'll leave it there.
LORD: And you should quit making stuff up. BURNETT: Thank you all. Thank you all. And of course we'll be back
to discuss this more. Next, our big interview, the U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley coming and speaking with me, telling me what it is like to work for Donald Trump right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, UNITED NATIONS AMBASSADOR: He doesn't tell me what to say. I don't have to take directives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: You'll see that full interview next.
And one group of people who could feel a major impact from Trump's budget cuts. Military vets. Not the group you were expecting me to say, right? I'm not talking about the endowment for the arts or public broadcasting. I'm talking about vets. And we're going to tell you why.
[19:32:45] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, our rare interview with one of the highest ranking women in the Trump administration, the ambassador to the United Nations and the former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, is OUTFRONT. I sat down with Ambassador Haley moments ago. We talked about Trump and Russia, talked about North Korea, and the travel ban which she initially opposed.
But we begin with the breaking news this hour -- the top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat and Republican, saying there's no evidence Trump was wiretapped by the Obama administration.
I asked the ambassador whether it was a mistake for the president to make this claim when there so far is no evidence of it being true.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, Erin, I haven't heard any of that news until just a few minutes ago, so I'm not sure about the facts in terms of what that is. But what we always said was, you know, an investigation needed to be done and once the facts came out, the answer would be there. And so, certainly, that's what I'm going to go back and look, and I think we need to look at the facts, we need to look at the testimony and see what happens.
BURNETT: So, if it turns out that what they say, the Democrat and Republican leaders, say is true, there was no wiretapping, no surveillance, then what the president tweeted was not true and it sort of started this wild goose chase and it was baseless. Will that hurt you? Because, you know, his credibility hurt is yours.
HALEY: No, that's not going to hurt me. You know, what you're seeing is the United States is in an interesting position. On one side we're coming out very strong. Everyone at the United Nations knows, you know, that there's a new administration in town and they're responding positively. One, that we have the backs of our allies. We're making sure that we have it strongly. But, two, we're calling out things that are wrong.
If the president goes and thinks something has happened and he goes out there and puts it out there, you know, the goal is to make sure that the investigation happens, make sure we find out the facts. If it happened, deal with it, if it didn't happen, deal with it. And so, I think that's what he's doing.
BURNETT: But I do get to this point, if it didn't happen, then you can pick the word you want to use, it was untrue, it was false, he lied, whatever it might be, but that makes people wonder the next time he says something happened --
HALEY: And I --
BURNETT: -- maybe it didn't happen. That is a hit to credibility, isn't it?
HALEY: Well, I understand that, but he'll answer for that. You know, he'll -- he knows what is made him put the tweet out there and so I think he'll answer to that.
BURNETT: Your view on Russia and that of President Trump has differed at times.
[19:35:01] He's been in defense of Vladimir Putin at one time in an interview, he thought -- when he was asked about Putin being a killer in an interview. And what he said, Ambassador, was there are a lot of killers, you think our country is so innocent? That's a quote from him.
Putin's Russia, of course, as we know kills dissidents.
BURNETT: Kills journalists. He's called Putin smart.
You have said unequivocally, you've been definitive about this, the United States cannot trust Russia. Is the president being naive?
HALEY: I would never say that the president is naive or even imply what he knows or what he thinks on those -- I do know that he's very aware of the things I've said. He is not in any way told me not to say them and he's not in any way said you need to work with Russia.
And so, the way we look at Russia is the way we look at every other country. If we see something that's wrong, like their involvement with Crimea and Ukraine, or we see something like them supporting and not fighting the chemical weapons situations in Syria, we're going to call them out on it.
But if we see where we can work with them on issues like ISIS, we absolutely are going to do that. So, it's not about are they a friend or a foe. It's how can we find them to be a friend when we need them and when they're a foe, we're going to stay true to American values and call them out on it.
BURNETT: Are you concerned, Ambassador, that Trump himself or the Trump campaign could be compromised in any way by relations with Russians known to U.S. intelligence as these investigations are looking at?
HALEY: I have no reason to be. I know that everybody else wants to talk about it, but there's nothing that's been concerning to me at all. I know that ambassadors do what ambassadors do, which is go and talk to everyone and try and communicate their stances as much as possible. That's part of doing your job. I haven't seen anything or heard anything that would imply otherwise.
BURNETT: I want to ask you about the other news, the breaking news here, the travel ban. It was supposed to be in effect today as you know. It was blocked. And you came out and said it's not a Muslim ban, specifically referring to the second new travel ban. Two judges say that it is, and one cited specific comments as part of the reason.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
I think Islam hates us.
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NYC MAYOR: Tell you the whole history of it. So, when he first announced it he said Muslim ban. He called me up, he said put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, when then-candidate Trump proposed a Muslim ban, you were vocal, called it un-American. You called it unconstitutional. Why do you believe the intent has changed from what these statements say when judges say these are admissible?
HALEY: Well, first of all, the daughter of Indian immigrant parents, I would never support a Muslim travel ban. I would never support a ban that, you know, labels people based on their religion.
What I will support and what I do support is what the president's intention is, which is -- and I saw this as governor -- can we vet these people properly before we allow them to come into the United States? And as governor, I saw that in many cases, we couldn't, and if you've seen my record, we stopped them from coming in or attempted to stop them from coming in.
The president has a genuine concern about the safety of American citizens. That's what you want your president to have a concern of.
All he said was he wanted to do a temporary stop and he wanted his administration to prove to him that they were doing all they could to vet. There's not one U.S. citizen that should question that, because we know the terror in the world, we know the threats in the world. We want to make sure we're doing to everything we can to protect people in this country.
BURNETT: So, you believe that he has changed his view?
HALEY: In my conversations with him, as well as with other officials, in no way have they ever implied this was a travel ban. In every way, they have said, we have to protect the American people, how do we know for sure that we're not allowing any terrorists or threats in?
BURNETT: And do you have concern, if it was really about that it would have targeted countries, let's just say, where the 9/11 bombers came from, whether that'd be Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Lebanon or the United Arab Emirates, none of which are on this list, does that worry you?
HALEY: Well, you know, I think what you want to talk about is this narrative of a Muslim ban -- if he really wanted to do a Muslim ban, there would be a dozen other countries on the list. You know, and you got -- I mean, Indonesia is mostly Muslim. None of them are on the list.
So, if that was his intent, the list would have been a lot longer. What he did was he went by factual basis where is the threat, where are the terrorist threats that we have, and where to we have the least information on the people from that country. That's how it was chosen.
It's all about terrorist threat and it's not like we're not seeing those threats all across the world. He's just trying to get in front of it to stop any chance that something could happen.
BURNETT: I want to move to Asia. The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is there right now, particularly talking about North Korea. And he called for a new approach to North Korea.
His words specifically, Ambassador, were, "The diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed."
[19:40:01] There have been six rounds of sanctions since 2006 against North Korea. There have been five nuclear tests over that time frame.
Has diplomacy failed?
HALEY: I think what you can look at is North Korea has not budged on anything, so we have to take a new approach. What I will tell you is we are taking North Korea very seriously. It is a top priority that when you look at the fact that North Korea over the last year fired 24 -- did 24 ballistic missile tests, two nuclear tests, you have to question. And then on top of, that does multiple ballistic tests at the same time, and you've got the assassination of his brother, you have to call into question what will work and what can't.
And so, I think what you're seeing Secretary Tillerson do is go and talk to South Korea and let them know that we have their back, go and talk to Japan and let them know that we need to work together and continue to be the allies that we've been, and then go to China and say, OK, what more do they need to do for you to be -- to consider them a threat?
And at this point, this is number one priority for the United States and we're going to do something about it.
BURNETT: So, you're saying number one priority, which fits with what the then-CIA chief John Brennan told me last fall. He said, this is going to be the number-one issue facing the incoming president, and indeed we now know that it is.
But what is this new approach? Knowing that China is the key to this is not new. What is new? I mean, is a pre-emptive strike now openly on the table?
HALEY: You know, I know everybody wants just one action that happens. This is about showing that we're serious in the United States about North Korea. This is about showing we're not about talking anymore and we need other countries, specifically China and Russia, to step up and show us that they are as concerned as North Korea, you know, as we are.
And so, we're going to call on them to act. That's what this is all about, is calling them to act and see exactly, do they think it's a threat or not? And then we will plan our decision based on what they do.
BURNETT: So if they don't, if it isn't satisfactory, then a preemptive strike is on the table?
HALEY: I would never do a hypothetical, but I would tell you all options are on the table.
BURNETT: So, when you say all options are on the table -- let me ask you, have you spoken to, do you have a relationship at all with the North Korean envoy here at the U.N.?
HALEY: I do not.
BURNETT: Not at all? No meetings or anything? Would you meet with him?
HALEY: Not until they do something positive. You know, we're not seeing any positive actions come out of North Korea.
And so, I can meet with them, but all they're going to do is continue to show through their actions that they're not listening to anyone. So, at this point, it's reason why we don't want to get back into the Six-Party Talks. We're not willing to do that. Been there, done that, and it hasn't worked.
What we're saying now is, you've got a decision to make. We're going to talk to China and find out what their decision is. We're going to talk to Russia and find out what their decision is. At the end of the day, North Korea has to show some sort of positive
action that they take our thoughts seriously in order for us to move forward.
BURNETT: You know, during the campaign, you had a contentious relationship with President Trump. I mean, most of it was verbal. I don't know at what point you actually met for the first time. Here you both are.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: Every time someone criticizes him, he goes and makes a political attack back. That's not who we are as Republicans.
TRUMP: She's very weak on illegal immigration. You can't have that.
HALEY: Donald Trump is everything we hear and teach our kids not to do in kindergarten.
TRUMP: Nikki Haley, who backed the wrong horse --
HALEY: Mr. Trump has definitely contributed to what I think is just irresponsible talk.
TRUMP: I've given her tremendous contributions over the years but I guess now that I'm running she doesn't like me quite as much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Ambassador Haley, how often do you talk to President Trump now?
HALEY: Pretty often. I'm in D.C. quite a bit, you know, whether it's in meetings, we had lunch week before last, me, him, and the vice president. We're constantly in communication.
And you know what I'll tell you is, I've always been true to myself and when I see something wrong, I call it out, regardless of who it is. He knows that about me. We were friends before the election. He was a supporter before the election.
BURNETT: Right. As he pointed out, he had donated you money then.
HALEY: Yes. And so -- but he also knew I stood strong for what I believed in. And so, as that political play happened, we said what we thought.
At the end of the day, I can tell you the number one thing we both want to see is a successful United States, a strong United States, and one that leads again. And so, we have a great working relationship.
What I am thrilled about is he allows me to do my job. He doesn't tell me what to say. I don't have to take directives. I am part of a group that makes decisions on how we're going to go about doing things forward. He's been unbelievably supportive of the job I've done. BURNETT: Have you changed your view then? When you said Donald Trump
is everything we teach our kids in kindergarten not to do as an example, do you not feel that way anymore?
HALEY: Well, what I said that, I was referring to his tone. And I do think that tone matters. And I do think you have to be careful in the way you do that.
Having said that, his tone is his tone. His mannerisms are his mannerisms. But his actions are solid. And that's what I appreciate about him, is he's always been about action and that's, honestly, is what I want to see happen.
[19:45:05] BURNETT: Do you want him to get off Twitter?
HALEY: I think he's fine if he's on Twitter. I'm on Twitter. You know, for us, and I have always been on social media, it's important to have that communication with the public. He feels like he needs to have that communication with the public.
And so, you know, you're not going to stop him from tweeting any more than you'll stop me from tweeting. It's just -- you know, it's another way to get the news out, and if he feels like he's not getting the proper things out in the news, he's going to go out and tweet it. So, until the relationships mended between the media and the president, you're going to continue to see him tweet his own news.
BURNETT: Do you think he understands the significance, though, of his tweets? When we talked about the wiretapping, right? He tweets that out and that is false, if that was a lie. Does he understand the harm that that can do to himself, to his own administration?
HALEY: Well, he would never knowingly lie. I mean, I can honestly say that's not his intention. What I do think he's trying to do is notify the public of what's going on. He's trying to give them the real story of what he knows.
And so, I think it's unbelievable that you've got a president directly communicating with the people. But I can tell you, I understand that, because he's worried that people won't find out what he's thinking, what he believes, and so, he's telling them directly.
BURNETT: The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was here. And you were with him, with him and Ivanka Trump. You went to a Broadway show. I guess it was "Come From Away."
HALEY: It's a fantastic show.
BURNETT: I don't know enough about Broadway. But I know you were there last night.
Do you and Ivanka Trump have a close working relationship?
HALEY: We do. Yes. I consider -- you know, we respected each other before. We work well now. Same with Jared Kushner. I respect both of them tremendously. BURNETT: Ambassador Haley, thank you so much for your time.
HALEY: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
BURNETT: And that, of course, was the U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Next, are military veterans in danger of losing their jobs? Why? President Trump's budget, of course. We'll explain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICK MULVANEY, OMB DIRECTOR: We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And why was a tweet from the official McDonald's account making fun of Trump's hand size? Jeanne Moos on a possible Mac hack attack on the POTUS.
[19:50:55] BURNETT: Tonight, the Trump administration defending budget cuts to nearly every government agency, eliminating many programs altogether. The budget White House budget director saying that the proposed budget puts taxpayers first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MULVANEY: We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good. Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward. We're not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: One group fearing for their jobs, though, in some cases military vets.
Rene Marsh is OUTFRONT.
RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Air Force veteran Frank Lagunas has worked at the EPA for six years, but tonight, he fears he could soon be unemployed. President Donald Trump's proposed budget calls for slashing 3,200 jobs at the EPA, and military veterans could make up a big chunk of the cuts.
FRANK LAGUNAS, MEMBER, THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES: If you slash the budget unilaterally as it's been proposed, you're going to have a detrimental effects to veterans.
MARSH: While in the Air Force, Lagunas went to war in Kosovo in 1999. Today at the EPA, he says he fights a different battle as a water quality analyst. Veterans account for almost a third of the 2 million federal workers. In 2015, more than 1,200 employees at the EPA were veterans.
LAGUNAS: When military leave service and are looking to get jobs out in the civilian sector, one of the places they look to acquire a job is with the federal workforce.
MARSH: That's because the federal government prioritizes hiring veterans.
While on the trail, Trump repeatedly pledged his support for vets.
TRUMP: We're going to take care of the vets, believe me.
We must also do more to help our veterans find jobs.
MARSH: Critics of the cuts say those statements don't square with the proposed budget.
JOHN O'GRADY, PRESIDENT, THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES: They're not going to be spared. I see veterans being cut from every agency and department.
MARSH: At the Housing and Urban Development Agency, Trump wants to eliminate a program proponents say has been vital in reducing homelessness amongst veterans. The Office of Management and Budget calls the program ineffective and it proposes boosting spending for the Veterans Administration.
Dan Caldwell with conservative-leaning Concerned Veterans for America says the budget makes veterans a priority.
DAN CALDWELL, CONCERNED VETERANS FOR AMERICA: People using veterans as shields to basically try and block any cuts in wasteful spend big saying this will harm veterans because veterans work in the federal government is disingenuous.
MARSH: Asked whether vets would be spared from the cuts, an EPA official told CNN in an e-mail, quote, "The blueprint is a proposal. There are many steps left in the budget process including congressional action."
Little solace for vets like Frank Lagunas.
LAGUNAS: Even though it's not been identified, certain programs are going to get cut that are going above and beyond what is already being stipulated. So, the potential is always there for any of our jobs to be cut.
MARSH: Well, Trump took to twitter a few hours ago tweeting his commitment for veterans saying, quote, "We will rebuild our military. We will keep our people safe. We will take care of our vets." But, Erin, I spoke to several veterans who work inside these federal agencies and they say they don't feel taken care of when they see this proposed budget. That says, it is important to remember it is a proposed budget. It still needs to pass through Congress, and there are items in the overall proposal that even his own Republicans won't go for.
BURNETT: All right. Rene, thank you.
And on a much lighter note, McDonald's Twitter account hijacked at the expense of the president. Was it the hamburglar or a hacker?
Here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Like salt on a wound, there was nothing sweet about this mctweet from McDonald's. "@RealDonaldTrump, you are actually a disgusting excuse of a president and we would have love @BarackObama back. Also, you have tiny hands."
This to a guy who's been photographed eating McDonald's who knows the menu.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What did Donald Trump order?
TRUMP: Fish fillet sometimes. The Big Macs are great, the quarter pounder with cheese.
MOOS: The tweet lasted only about 20 minutes before McDonald's deleted it, later posting, "Twitter notified us our account was compromised, hacked by an external source." A McHack attack."
Seth Meyers tweeted, "Clown on clown crime." Someone else made the Donald resemble Ronald McDonald.
Was the culprit the hamburglar or perhaps rival Burger King?
While the president probably wasn't lovin' it, this guy may have been. Barack Obama was photoshopped into the president's meal asking, too much special sauce?
Trump supporters suggested a boycott. Once it became known the account was compromised, there were mostly jokes. "In fairness, Trump's hands make their regular cheeseburger look like a Big Mac."
Do my hands make my burger look big?
To think the president once did a McDonald's commercial --
TRUMP: Big and tasty for just a dollar. How do you do it? What's your secret?
MOOS: And guess who has to clean up this whole McDonald's PR mess?
Former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs, who is now global chief communications officer for McDonald's.
What does the president like about McDonald's?
TRUMP: At least you know what you're getting. I don't want to go into a restaurant and say, Mr. Trump would like a hamburger to go.
JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN: Yes.
TRUMP: Now, I don't know what they're going to do to that hamburger. If they like me, I'm happy.
MOOS: At least his hamburger didn't get spit on. Someone just spit out a tweet.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: Delicious taste tester job.
We'll be right back.
BURNETT: Anderson is next.