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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
WH Tries to Distract from Russia Accuses Clinton of Collusion; Trump Wants State Dept. to Release Remaining Clinton E-mails; WH: Trump's Sexual Harassment Accusers are Lying; Conservative Website Washington Free Beacon Funded Anti-Trump Research That Founded Dossier; NY Times: Russian Lawyer Shared Trump Tower Meeting Talking Points with Kremlin. Aired on 7-8p ET>
Aired October 27, 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 HOST: "OutFront" next breaking news, President Trump now wants the State Department to release Hillary Clinton e- mails. Does he know she's not the president?
Plus, the White House saying all of the women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment are lying. Well, really? I know one of them, and Mr. President, she isn't the one lying.
And new details about the Niger ambush. What made the U.S. troops split up when things went so horribly wrong? Let's go "OutFront."
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. "OutFront" tonight, the breaking news. President Trump wants the rest of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Trump making it clear to the State Department that he wants it to release any remaining Hillary Clinton e-mails in its possession immediately. It is part of a new offensive by the White House to turn the tables on the Russia investigation, putting the focus on Trump's archenemy, Hillary Clinton.
Trump tweeting today, "It is now commonly agreed after many months of costly looking that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump, was collusion with HC," exclamation point. And a short time ago, the White House doubled down with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders asked about the Mueller investigation into possible Russian collusion, she answered with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are seeing now that if there was any collusion with Russia, it was between the DNC and the Clintons, and certainly not our campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Taking issue of the now the implement dossier containing allegations about collusion between Trump, Putin and Russia. First of all, that dossier was opposition research which a multiple sources confirmed to CNN was funded by Republicans opposing Trump in the primaries before Clinton and the DNC got it. She got it after they lost. So to say Clinton colluded with Russia doesn't add up to the basic funding of the research. And Trump says, by the way, that the whole dossier itself has made up anyway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think it's very sad what they've done with this fake dossier. It was made up and I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Again, that money was paid by Republicans and then by the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Basically, anyone who ran against Trump would have wanted this information. Why? Well, because some of it is true. Because Trump's other point, calling it a, "fake dossier, is not true."
CNN has confirmed some parts of the dossier are in fact accurate, specifically the conversations between foreign nationals. Other parts uncorroborated at this time. But parts of it being true is why the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper said that what matter is not who paid for it. What matters is, is it true?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The key thing is, doesn't matter who paid for it. It's what the dossier said and the extent to which it was -- it's corroborated or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And then there's this, Trump's fundamental allegation of collusion between Hillary Clinton and Russia is absurd on the face of it because you've got to remember one thing that U.S. Intelligence has made loud and clear publicly is that Russian President Vladimir Putin hates Hillary Clinton personally. And he actively meddled in the election, first and foremost, to bring her down. That was his most important and first goal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLAPPER: He did so to demean Secretary Clinton, and third, that he sought to advantage Mr. Trump.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was he had a clear preference to the person running against the person he hated so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Sara Murray is "OutFront" tonight at the White House. First, though, I want to go to Gloria Borger because I know, Gloria, you have more on the breaking news about the president demanding the State Department release all remaining Hillary Clinton e-mails. You've broken the story. What e-mails is the president talking about, Gloria? Obviously, we're not talking about the private server here, but e-mails that the State Department has that we haven't yet seen.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president has made it clear directly to the Secretary of State and told that he wants these e-mails released. He also wants the entire backlog of FOIA request finished at the State Department. What he's talking about is that the State Department still has 40,000 pages of records which may include some e-mails that Hillary Clinton sent to Secretary of State.
The State Department has processed about 32,000 pages of those, but right now, a court has ordered the State Department to process 500 pages of records per month. If you did it at that rate, it would take years to get the Clinton e-mails out. And as we all know, the president doesn't like Hillary Clinton very much. And was wondering why these things can't be done sooner.
[19:05:03] And he was told, well, Mr. President, there's a huge backlog of not only Hillary Clinton, but everybody else. And then the president said, I want it done.
BURNETT: So he wants it done and it's coming on the heels of another Clinton related story coming from the president, Gloria. As you know, the president is personally pressing the Justice Department to lift a gag order on an FBI informant who played a crucial role in the investigation in the Russian efforts to gain influence in the American uranium industry during the Obama Administration.
This is important because Clinton was Secretary of State at the time.
BURNETT: Obviously, it involves the potential, that's been the allegations out there all the way back in the campaign of a-pay-for- play involving the Clinton Foundation. You broke this story. What more do you know tonight?
BORGER: Well, look, I think we know that, first of all, the president is still very concerned about Hillary Clinton for some reason. We also know that the president had gotten a request from Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who loves to have whistle blowers before his committee. And Chuck Grassley had said, I would like to have this person testify. And the president then said to his counsel or directed his White House counsel to talk to folks at the Justice Department to make this happen.
And Chuck Grassley today seems very pleased by that request. Someone like Adam Schiff has come out and said, look, the president should not be directing the Justice Department what it should or should not do. The White House has pushed back saying he didn't direct. But he made it very clear that he wanted this gag order lifted.
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Gloria Borger. And Sara Murray is "OutFront" at the White House. And, Sara, on this issue of releasing the Clinton e-mails, obviously the president wants that, the White House talking about Clinton collusion on the Russian dossier. The president weighing in on this uranium deal that's the focus on Clinton, Clinton, Clinton, even though the election ended nearly a year ago and now, this is a concerted effort to hit her. What is the president trying to do here?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a little bit perplexing that this is how he's using his time in the Oval Office. Today, Sarah Sanders was asked, obviously, about the president's comments on uranium. She basically said that this is all in the interest of transparency, that that is what this White House is pushing for.
But obviously, this opens the president up to attacks of the notion that he's using the Oval Office, not only to settle old political vendettas by going after things specifically involving Hillary Clinton, but that he's using it to try to instigate investigations that draw attention away from investigations into allegations of collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russian officials.
I mean one of the things to remember when you're looking at the president, for instance, weighing in on how the Justice Department should handle this issue of the FBI informant and the uranium case, is that president was out here at the White House suggesting that this was the next Watergate.
So in many ways, even if he is pushing for transparency, even if that's his goal, he's also sort of put his thumb on the scale of what he thinks the outcome is here. He obviously thinks that is a scandal, a scandal that took place under the Obama administration and as you pointed out, well Hillary Clinton was at the State Department.
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Sarah Murray.
On the "OutFront" now, the Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler whose a member of the House Judiciary Committee. And thank you very much for being with me.
So, you know, you heard Gloria say these e-mails, if they were to release them at a pace that they are currently doing, it would take years to see them all. Is -- does the president have a point? Why aren't all those e-mails out there?
REP. JERRY NADLER, (D), NEW YORK, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, the State Department has to make priorities as to which e-mails should be there. I don't know whether these e-mails are important to go ahead of the queue or other e-mails that should be done first. They have only certain amount of manpower to deal with it -- with this. And by the way, under the Trump administration, the State Department has been denuded. They have much less manpower to deal with this for anything else.
But more to the point is, the president ought not to be getting involved in these issues as one of your correspondents said. The president should not be putting his thumb on anything to do with the Justice Department or with e-mails or former campaigns, as he's gotten involved because he should be with the interviewing candidates for the U.S. attorney's offices who could be investigating him, as he's gotten involved with firing Comey.
All of these things take away the independence of the Justice Department in terms of doing justice. And it's all part of a concerted effort to take away from the intention from the only really important issue, which is that Russia attacked the United States. They didn't do it by attacking the buildings, they attacked our elections. We are told by the intelligence community they may do it again. We have to investigate to find out how they did it, who helped them do it --
NADLER: -- if the Trump people helped him do it or not and has -- or someone else and --
BURNETT: Or someone else who is not related to the campaign.
NADLER: -- and what to do to prevent it? That's the important issue. All these extraneous things, just think of them, with the uranium seven years ago, which is -- our relevancies only determined --
[19:10:06] BURNETT: OK.
NADLER: -- only to the purpose of taking attention away from the one real issue.
BURNETT: And if you are right, the purpose is to take attention away, that maybe the case, right?
NADLER: And it --
BURNETT: But when it comes to this uranium situation, you know, there are still questions. If you look at PolitiFact, they'll say you can't totally grade whether this is a complete lie or not in terms of whether there was a pay for play --
NADLER: The real issue with uranium, with uranium issue is that this Russian company wanted to buy a company with -- for the right to extract and mine uranium. Not to take it out of the United States, ot to sell it, not to get rid of it from the United States, but to deal with it in the United States. And this goes before a multi-agency committee. None of those agencies, the Security Agency, the National Security Council, the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security, raise any objections and there's no evidence whatsoever that Hillary had anything to do with it or ever hear of it.
BURNETT: Well, right, there was a State Department representative on the board, as you pointed out, it was not her. She said she doesn't know anything about it, right? I mean, then you get into the gray area. I mean --
NADLER: But none of the agencies, never mind the State Department, none of the other agencies raised any objections.
BURNETT: Right, which is a fair point. I'm not saying it isn't a fair point. I'm just saying does -- is there a point that, you know, seven years ago and she's not president isn't really a reason to say we shouldn't look into whether something untold or pay for play happened, right?
NADLER: Except that the president's going out and saying she was colluding with the Russians. This is a terrible scandal. There's no evidence that, A, that she had anything to do with it, B, there's no evidence that anything wrong happened. These kinds of deals are OK'd by this committee all the time. This was an absolutely routine thing as far as we know. Until someone comes along and says it wasn't routine, look what happened, out of the routine.
BURNETT: So do you support then taking the gag order off of this crucial FBI informant? I mean, you know, to your point, if there's nothing to hide, why not?
NADLER: Maybe. I don't know enough about that to say.
NADLER: I'm all in favor of all kinds of transparency, et cetera. And certainly, our committee ought to be investigating -- getting into investigating the real questions. And frankly, I don't care that much about this because it's not a real issue. The real issue is that they -- our election was attacked. It will probably be attacked again next year. And what are we doing about it?
NADLER: And the president of the United States is the only person saying it didn't happen. And that means he's not defending us.
BURNETT: To this point, though, of there's the issue of the attack itself and, as your point, doesn't matter who was involved just making sure it doesn't happen again. But then there is the issue of collusion.
NADLER: Oh, it does matter who is involved. Yes.
BURNETT: Well, yes, but that's a separate issue was my thing.
NADLER: Yes, OK.
BURNETT: You're saying first and foremost, you need to stop it from happening again.
BURNETT: Then we need to know if anyone was involved. Trump today, tweeted, "It's commonly agreed after many months of closely looking, there was no collusion between Russia and Trump."
NADLER: It's a lie. It is not commonly agreed. There was obviously a lot of collusion. The question is how high. Every day we -- every day -- every so often we get new information about involvement. We now know that that lawyer who was at the meeting with Trump Jr., et cetera, did in fact have information about Hillary Clinton from the prosecutor general of the Soviet -- of Russia. So there was involvement, whether there was deliberate collusion. Remains to be seen, but that has to be investigated.
BURNETT: And I just want -- the news we have right now, and as someone's going to correct me if I'm saying this incorrectly, but we do have some new reporting on the dossier itself, which is that the original funding was from the Washington freebie to Fusion GPS, which then obviously worked with the British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele on that dossier.
So the original funding would come from Washington Free Beacon, which is of course --
NADLER: Which is the right wing paper.
BURNETT: Right wing paper then to Republicans against Trump in the primary, whether it was PACs or supporters or donors of the campaign, and then to the DNC. What do you make of this new development that the initial funding came from the Washington Free Beacon?
NADLER: Well, we knew from a -- for a long time ago, the initial funding was from Republican sources and then switched after he won -- after Trump won the nomination to Democrats. But I would agree with the former fead of the CIA, the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper when we had on a clip of it a little while ago.
It doesn't matter who funded it. The question is, there are various statements of all sorts of allegations about the president and the Russians. The question is, is it true? Some of the allegations have been corroborated.
NADLER: Some have not. That's the question. Who funded it is irrelevant. Campaigns do opposition research all the time. This was opposition research, nothing wrong with the Washington Free Beacon funding it, nothing wrong with the Democratic National Committee funding it, nothing wrong with anybody funding it. The question is, is it true?
BURNETT: Right. And that's of course is the big question. We still don't know that full answer to tonight's --
NADLER: We know that some of it's true.
NADLER: None of it's been debunked as far as I know.
BURNETT: Right. Some of it is true as we said specifically at CNN. We've confirmed some of the conversations between foreign nationals and that dossier did occur as reported in there.
Thank you so much, Congressman. I appreciate your time.
And next, the White House tonight says all 16 women who have publicly accused the president of sexual harassment are liars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[19:15:01] SANDERS: Yes. We've been clear on that from the beginning and the president's spoken on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Plus, dramatic and troubling new details tonight about the ambush in Niger. Did a communication breakdown leave four American soldiers to their deaths? And a stunning new report tonight as the Russian lawyer who met with team Trump during the campaign share her plans before the meeting with the Kremlin.
BURNETT: New tonight, the White House insisting that each and every woman who has accused President Trump of sexual harassment are liars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obviously sexual harassment has been in the news. At least 16 women accused the president of sexually harassing them throughout the course of the campaign. Last week during the press conference in the Rose Garden, the president called these accusations fake news. Is the official White House position that all these women are lying?
SANDERS: Yes, we've been clear on that from the beginning, and the president's spoken on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So here is what the president has spoken about these women.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no idea who these women are. Have no idea. The stories are total fiction. They are 100% made up. They never happened.
I think they want either fame or her campaign did it. And I think it's her campaign.
The events never happened, never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Trump has yet to sue any of his accusers like he promised to do as you saw right there. [19:20:02] Second, one of the Trump accusers is someone I have known for years and we shared her story with you that day that "Access Hollywood" tape came out. What she said is true, Trump did sexually harass here.
"OutFront" now, CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers and David Gergen, former adviser to four presidents including Nixon and Clinton. Also with us, Bloomberg News senior White House correspondent, Margaret Talev. Thanks to all.
Kirsten, let me start with you. You've been outspoken about your own experiences about harassment. When you hear the White House today, Sarah Sanders, the female press secretary say that all these women accusing Trump of harassment are liars, what do you think?
KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Well, I wish I could say I was surprised. Obviously this is something that Donald Trump has said before and I don't really expect Sarah Sanders to say anything different. You know, this is sort of the typical response when men are accused of sexual harassment. I'm looking if it was one or two people, maybe. But when you have so many different people coming forward and telling really consistent stories, you know, it's just hard to believe that all these women are making it up.
And -- but I, you know, the Trump people have been more than comfortable obsessing over, for example, accusations made against Bill Clinton. But -- and accepting them as completely true, but then any accusations against him or anybody that he likes aren't true.
BURNETT: I mean let's just remember that debate, David, right, where Donald Trump on St. Louis, remember we were all there, right, at a press conference with Bill Clinton's accusers. He brought them all there to do that. He was thrilled to jump on that, and believed all of them. And when these allegations about Harvey Weinstein came out, Trump in that case also said he wasn't surprised. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I've known Harvey Weinstein for a long time. I'm not at all surprised to see it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So basically, David, accusers should be believed when they are accusing Bill Clinton or Harvey Weinstein, but not when they are accusing Donald Trump.
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It's all very weary and sad. I wish we weren't talking about things like this, but I think we should be. You know, the Kirsten Powers of the world need to be listened to because, you know, we as guys don't understand as well as we should.
But the patterns, you know, one case after another. Now, we've had, you know, clear patterns of men in power and variety of industries abusing women. A lot of men are going down. Donald Trump because he's president can just refuses to play and he's not going to -- I don't think he's ever going to tell us anything more than he said so far. But it is sad.
BURNETT: Margaret, you know, and to the point David's making, we are seeing more men called out for serial harassment, right? This is growing. Women are empowered and we have more names now on this list, right? Mark Halperin in the media world on that list now.
Is the president going to remain untouchable? Is this really in the rear-view mirror for him?
MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, all of the allegations that were being referenced in the question in the Rose Garden the same questions are allegations that were raised last year. And then since the election of President Trump after, actually fairly soon after the raising of all those allegations has inoculated him to a large degree against, you know, returning to this debate unless either new allegations surface, any new women were to come forward or unless you see the Republican power structure raise these questions.
Look, if Bob Corker or John Mccain wants to give a speech on the Senate floor raising this question or let's take an even bigger leap stretch here, the Republican leadership in the House or Senate, we'd be having a different conversation right now. But none of that is happening. In fact, if you looked at what happened in the briefing room today it's not even like there were a surge of reporter's questions following up on this.
You got to assume any White House communication shop worth its salt, the minute the Weinstein allegations broke thought these are questions we could face again. How do we want to handle it? But the truth is, for President Trump, nothing really has changed factually since last year. And I think that's a large part of what explains their ability to handle it this way.
BURNETT: Although one thing, Kirsten, that that would seem interesting. And look, this president often says he's going to sue people and doesn't do it. OK. So it's not as if this is only the incident in which that has happened. However, let's take Temple Taggart, one of Trump's accusers. She came on the show, talked about how she felt when Trump kissed her. She said on two different occasions. Here is how she said it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TEMPLE TAGGART, ACCUSED TRUMP OF SEXUAL HARRASMENT: I felt awkward and just remembered in my mind going what does he think is this? Like, I'm thinking he's married, this is awkward for me. He is much older. This is not what I came here for.
So I just -- I -- to me it was it like, I hope he knows that I'm here for business. I'm not anything other than business.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Kirsten, to be clear, Temple Taggart is a person with a face and a name. She's out there. She has said her story, she has said her name as have many of these other women. Trump has not sued her, even though he said he would.
POWERS: Yes, exactly. I mean, I would think if somebody accused me of doing something like that and I had the resources, which he certainly does have, I certainly would sue them. I wouldn't want my name slandered that way. So I think it is a little suspect, and I don't want to be encouraging Donald Trump to sue this poor woman.
[19:25:11] But, you know -- but it is sort of interesting. It's the same way with the Bill O'Reilly settling, you know, for $32 million and then saying I have all this information that I can prove my innocence, but I'm just not going to. It's like, yes, I don't think so. That's just not really the way that it works. I mean, people, if they can prove their innocence, people will prove their innocence.
BURNETT: So basically, David, it sounds like you are all in agreement that unless there is some new development, a new accuser, that for Trump, this is over. Even though let's be clear, for Bill O'Reilly, these things happened in the past. For Harvey Weinstein, they happened in the past. For Mark Halperin, they happened in the past. They're still bringing these people down and ending their careers.
GERGEN: Yes, yes. But I want to respectfully argue that something has changed since the election. And that is that the curtain has been pulled back and we've now seen a string of men accused by a hugely long string of women of sexual harassment in places of power, men in power. And I think that -- I think people will take that into account and thinking about this president and evaluating what values he represents. You know, I don't think we're going to get more evidence.
I think this probably is in the past evidentiary terms, in terms of any kind of illegal, the consequences. But I think people, you know, who are thinking about their president and what they want to talk to their children about, and how they want to have heroes for their children. This -- what we're going through now does bring us back to Donald Trump. And a lot of people will complete, is it really fair that the person who has the most power has -- he can just dismiss it and brush it aside?
POWERS: But I think --
BURNETT: Yes, yes. Oh, I'm sorry.
POWERS: I was -- I think this is who your stakeholders are. And his stakeholders don't care, right? So the voters, his voters, don't care. And so they don't feel they have to be accountable for it. Whereas, for a long time, a lot of these other men were able to get away with it because their stakeholders didn't care. And then all of a sudden --
POWERS: -- you know, younger people I think started speaking up and, you know, and through social media, you know, I think there was a real threat and they had to respond to it.
BURNETT: All right, thank you all so very much.
And next, the breaking news this hour, we now know who originally paid for the research that eventually became the infamous Trump-Russia dossier. That's next. And the Russian lawyer who met with the Trump campaign about dirt on Hillary Clinton has denied ties to the Kremlin. Not true, according to a big new report tonight.
[19:31:02] BURNETT: Breaking news: the conservative Website "Washington Free Beacon" saying tonight they were the ones who first paid the research firm Fusion GPS for opposition research on President Trump. Fusion, of course, is the firm that then produced the infamous Trump Russia dossier using the former British intelligent agent Christopher Steele.
Ken Vogel broke the story for "The New York Times" and he's with me on the phone. So, Ken, tell me exactly what you're learning.
KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Yes, Erin, so we just figured it out today because the representatives, actually lawyer, from the Website "Washington Free Beacon" told the House Intelligence Committee that, in fact, they initially did retain Fusion GPS to do research into a number of their current Republican presidential candidates, including Donald Trump. This is in October 2015. As the Republican primary was just heating up and Trump was sort of pulling into the lead.
They say that they ended the research in May of 2016 when Trump was essentially clinching the Republican nomination. They're sensitive to this time frame because Paul Singer, the hedge fund billionaire who was a major funder of the "Free Beacon", was one of the leading sort of anti-Trump Republican donors and he has since gone to great lengths to make the peace with Donald Trump, President Trump. So, it definitely threatens that rapprochement.
And they're very careful to say that this time frame does not happen funding the Steele research, the research by Christopher Steele into Trump's Russia ties, that they got out of this business before Fusion brought him in.
BURNETT: So, I just want to be clear. OK, so they initially funded it, but obviously the money to this Website would have come from at the time the anti-Trump Republican donor, the billionaire, Paul Singer, OK? So, this all makes sense. But this is how it all started as a conservative Website. From your reporting, Ken, I just want to read that "Free Beacon", saying in a statement, quote, one of the work product that the "Free Beacon" receipt appears in the Steele dossier.
OK? So this is crucial. One of the work product the "Free Beacon" appears in the Steele dossier. You continue, or the statement continues, I'm sorry, from the "Free Beacon" to say: The Free Beacon had no knowledge of or connection to the Steele dossier, did not pay for the dossier and never had contact with knowledge of or provided payment for my work performed by Christopher Steele.
So even though they are admitting that some of the stuff they paid for is in that dossier, they are taking incredible pains to try to say that they themselves didn't create the dossier or have Christopher Steele create the dossier.
VOGEL: Yes, that's right. Because it's such an explosive subject, where Trump has sort of alluded to his knowledge saying that he thought he knew who the Republican donor was and this was baked up, cooked up by political opponents and therefore, does not have credibility like an intelligent document, which is it is sort of being used as currently in both the Mueller investigation and the congressional investigation.
There has been an effort to sort of retrace the steps of Christopher Steele. That's why the "Free Beacon" and Paul Singer's allies are so careful to assert that it was neither Singer nor the "Free Beacon" that was funding this research that is now at the center of this white hot controversy that really threatens the very existence of the Trump administration.
BURNETT: All right. Ken, thank you very much. Ken Vogel from "the New York times" just broke this story.
Joining me on the phone now is Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst. Michael Zeldin is with me, our legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the DOJ. David Gergen is also back.
Lee, let me just start with you. What is the significance of this, that it's not traced that the genesis of the dossier itself, whatever semantical game they're playing -- obviously, when it started over time and different funders, whether it was other Republicans and other Republican campaigns or PACs, and then, to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
[19:35:10] It got more and more fleshed out and longer.
But the initial funding coming from the conservative Website, "The Free Beacon".
What's the significance, Lee?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Are you asking me, Michael?
BURNETT: Michael, I'm sorry, yes.
ZELDIN: OK, Lee Zeldin, a representative from Long Island --
BURNETT: Yes, that's exactly -- he's out there, and he's laughing. Go ahead, Michael.
ZELDIN: A distant relative from Minsk I expect.
So, I think the bottom line here is that who funded it doesn't matter as much who funded it doesn't matter as much what's in these memoranda. And Mueller will focus on the truth of the proposition, not the funder of the proposition.
But what's interesting, of course, to keep in mind is that the dossier is really not a single piece of work, a singular report, but rather, it's a series of reports, series of memos that are put together in a report. And so, when they say, when the "Free Beacon" says one of our work products made it into the dossier, that means one of the lines of work the dossier writer Steele was working on was, in fact, funded by them, so they can call, if you will, to use your commercial, they can an apple a banana, but it's an apple. They funded part of Steele's work because that's what the "Free Beacon" was up to at that time, at the behest of their donors.
BURNETT: Which, Jeffrey, is important, right? I mean, it's also important, this genesis of the funding, Jeffrey, because the president is trying to muddy the waters here and act like this dossier is evidence of collusion between Hillary Clinton and the Russians, OK? Here is the president on Wednesday when he was asked specifically he was asked which Republican is behind the dossier. Here's how he answered it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'd rather not say, but you'll be surprised. You'll be surprised.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Now, Jeffrey, we don't know whether he knew or didn't know at that time. What's your interpretation? He's obviously smiling and laughing as he says that.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): Right, the first thing to point out is that there is nothing unlawful or improper about anyone funding research, whether it's "The Free Beacon", whether it's Republican candidates, whether it's Hillary Clinton. There's nothing improper about hiring a private investigation firm like GPS to look into the backgrounds of candidates.
TOOBIN: What makes this interesting I think, what makes "The New York Times" scoop important is that the idea that GPS was brought in by Hillary Clinton to invent negative things about Trump is obviously untrue. This investigation began at the instigation of a Republican news operation. They're the ones who paid GPS to get involved, to start doing this research. It was later continued under the funding of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC and that produced this dossier.
But the idea that this was from the beginning some hit job against, you know, ginned up hit job by Hillary Clinton is clearly incorrect. It was initially at least a Republican effort to defeat Donald Trump.
BURNETT: Let me just, David Gergen, to give you u a follow to this, Trump tweeted on the 19th of the month, workers of firm involved with the discredited and fake dossier take the Fifth. Who paid for it? Russia, the FBI, or the Dems or all. You know, clearly, he is creating a link here that this is some sort of you know, collusion working together between, even not take the FBI for a second, Democrats and Russia.
So, obviously, the significance of the fact that Fusion GPS was originally hired by conservative Website is relevant in terms of what the president is trying create here as an image.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely is. I think we have to distinguish between the legal questions here and the political questions here. The legal question really is what's in the dossier true or not true. I agree absolutely with that.
But the political question is who funded it. And the president thought he had a handle on this. He thought he had a way in to really go after Hillary Clinton, to go after the Democrats, to essentially muddy the waters, so that nobody can see what was going on. And in effect, even a claim that the FBI might be behind it and gin up more allegations that Mueller and Comey, you know, they've been in bed together on this stuff and then Mueller really ought to resign. You've seen some of the conservatives push on that now.
And essentially to discredit everything that's going on from the Democrats because after all, it was originally funded by Democrats, funded by Hillary. Now we know as Jeffrey just said that's not true. It started with the Republicans, the conservative funding, you know, putting some money in, brought the dossier going, and then was picked later by the Clinton people.
[19:40:08] That puts a different political light on this and I think frankly gives -- last time I was arguing that the Democrats looked really bad if they were funding this alone. Now, I think we know the Republicans are, they all shifts. I think Trump ought to go after his own people and stop going after Hillary.
BURNETT: Well, and, of course, we know there were Republicans -- we don't know at what point it switched hands, this information, right?
GERGEN: I agree.
BURNETT: And, Lee, I just want to make an important correction here. "The Free Beacon" statement says none of the work product that the "Free Beacon" received appears in the Steele dossier, not one, none. So, they are -- I mean, obviously, this goes with what they are saying. They had no knowledge or connection to the Steele dossier. They are trying to distance themselves.
Does the genesis ultimately of this matter?
ZELDIN: Well, as, David, said, in political terms, it may take some air out of the balloon of the argument this was a hit job on the president. But in legal terms, I stand sort of as you will by my original statement that it's the content of the matters that constitute the dossier that in the end will matter to Mueller, not who funded it at the outset or over the course of its life. BURNETT: Right, and, of course, on that front, just to make clear to
everybody what we've confirmed here at CNN, is that some of the conversations between foreign nationals as reported in that dossier did in fact happen. Other parts of the dossier have not yet been corroborated.
So, there could be other things that are true. Those conversations between foreign nationals could have been specifically set up to make people think other things were true. There's still a lot of questions, but we know some things in that dossier are indeed true. Others are uncorroborated as of tonight.
Thanks very much to all three of you. And next, a revealing new report tonight about the Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the campaign. Did her marching orders come directly from the Kremlin?
And deadly bacteria in Puerto Rico claiming at least three lives, sickening scores more. Desperate residents forced to wash clothes and bathe in water that can kill them.
[19:46:04] BURNETT: New tonight, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower is connected with the Russian government. This is a charge that Natalia Veselnitskaya has repeatedly denied, but "The New York Times" reporting that the talking points that Veselnitskaya brought to Trump Tower were shared directly with the Kremlin eight months before that Trump Tower meeting.
And tonight, "The New York Times" reports that when Veselnitskaya first researched information believed to be damaging to the Clinton campaign about Democratic donors, quote: She took her findings directly to Mr. Chaika, Russia's top prosecutor, and a man whom she has said she knows personally. Mr. Chaika was highly pleased with her report, according to a former colleague of Veselnitskaya who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.
And "The New York Times" also reports that Veselnitskaya and Russia's top prosecutor coordinated then on distributing these talking points. Reporting, quote: The memo she brought with her to Trump Tower closely followed a document that Mr. Chaika's office had given to an American congressman two months earlier, incorporating some paragraphs verbatim.
BURNETT: Well, one of the people at the heart of Veselnitskaya's memo is Bill Browder, an American born financer and fierce Putin critic central to the Magnitsky Act which sanctions wealthy Russians. It's the very act that Putin most wants repealed.
And Bill Browder is OUTFRONT tonight.
Bill, thank you very much for being with us. Obviously, you are central to this memo. I want to start by asking you, your reaction to this "New York Times" reporting that Natalia Veselnitskaya shared the talking points, that she eventually used for her meeting at Trump Tower with Russia's top prosecutor.
BILL BROWDER, AMERICAN BORN FINANCIER/PUTIN CRITIC: Well, it's definitely no surprise from where I stand. I've known Veselnitskaya for a number of years on the other side of the barricade. It's clear, it's also been clear to me and it's now becoming clear to the rest of the world that she was an agent of Vladimir Putin, that she was closely coordinating all of her work, effectively being instructed by the Russian government.
And there's one more thing that has come out of the story, which is that in addition to the prosecutor and Veselnitskaya having the same talking points, Vladimir Putin just last week was using the same talking points word for word in a public presentation he was making about me in front of a number of journalists and academics in Sochi. This is a Kremlin operation top to bottom. It's now got evidence to prove it.
BURNETT: And you use the word agent. You use that word very purposefully, right? I mean, you're not just using it casually. But you used the word "agent" to describe Natalia Veselnitskaya.
BROWDER: Indeed. Natalia Veselnitskaya was not an independent operator. She was working as part of a Kremlin project. She was dispatched to New York to try to repeal the Magnitsky Act, which is something Putin hates more than anything because it puts his own money at risk of being frozen in the United States and elsewhere. She was working for him.
BURNETT: And Veselnitskaya's memo that she gave to Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, was about the Magnitsky Act and it was about you, an alleged tax fraud scheme. If this meeting at Trump Tower was the best the Russians got when it came to the Trump campaign, on an issue this serious to them, does it actually lead you to think there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign?
BROWDER: I have actually no idea whether there was collusion or whether there wasn't collusion between the two. All I know is that they came with a specific ask and their ask was to repeal the Magnitsky Act. Now, we don't know what they were offering in return and I think it's probably premature to say this is all they were offering. They could have been offering a lot more. We don't know what they were offering, and we don't know whether the people in that meeting accepted what they were offering.
BURNETT: But you're confident there was a real offer. Not just that we got some dirt on Democratic donors that they didn't really have. You think there was a more substantial offer.
[19:50:00] BROWDER: Of course, 100 percent. I mean, these are not stupid people. These are people that are operating at the highest level on behalf of Vladimir Putin. They're well-trained. They probably thought about it for a long time in advance. They don't go into a meeting with some nonsense offer. They're going to a meeting with a real offer to get something real in return and that's why we still don't know was what they were offering.
BURNETT: No, we certainly don't because what we know is that we're told they offered some dirt on Democratic -- things related to Hillary Clinton and Democratic donors and didn't really deliver on it. So, yes, we don't yet know that full information if there is more.
You, Bill, of course, have been a critic of President Putin. He charges you with tax fraud. He's actually charged you with murder. The Kremlin put you on Interpol's international police watch list recently. And in this memo to which I said you are central, it charges you manage money for two Democratic donors, the Ziff brothers and that they stole money from the Russian government by evading taxes.
What's your response to those charges?
BROWDER: It's complete and utter nonsense. There's no basis of that whatsoever. It's no doubt that these charges came from the Russian prosecutor who is effectively involved in the killing of my lawyer, Sergey Magnitsky. And this is all retribution and revenge after we got the Magnitsky Act passed in the United States. There's no truth to it whatsoever.
BURNETT: All right. Bill Browder, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.
BROWDER: Thank you.
BURNETT: OUTFRONT next, defenders of the first President Bush say age and illness explains his behavior towards some women. That's next.
And at least three people in Puerto Rico have died from killer bacteria. Desperate for water, they are washing up in rivers and streams that may breed the bug.
BURNETT: This weekend both former Presidents Bush will throw out the ceremonial first pitch of game 5 of the World Series in Houston. It'll be Bush 41's first public appearance since facing groping allegations.
Athena Jones is OUTFRONT with more.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President George H.W. Bush facing allegations from at least three women who say he touched inappropriately. The accusers, one of whom asked to remain anonymous sharing remarkably similar stories about the president touching them during photo-ops. Actress Jordana Grolnick met Bush last year at a theater in Maine.
JORDANA GROLNICK, ACTRESS: There was a photo op, an intermission, he came backstage to take a picture. I was with a group of girls, and he was in a wheelchair. He was just hanging around in the group. He said, do you know who my favorite magician is. And we said, no, who? And he said, David Copperfield, and at that moment, I felt him grabbed my behind.
JONES: In a now deleted post on Instagram, actress Heather Lind from AMC series, "TURN: Washington's Spies", wrote that Bush touched her inappropriately a few years ago as they were posing for this photograph.
And while Lind did not get into the specifics of the incident, she referred to it as a sexual assault. He didn't shake my hand. He touched me from behind his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side and told me a dirty joke. And then all the while all being photographed, touched me again.
A third woman who wished to remain anonymous told CNN she met Bush at a VIP event in Houston in 2015. She said he squeezed her behind a couple of times. It was unmistakable. It was not just a pat. It was a serious squeeze.
Spokesman Jim McGrath acknowledged the incident, referring CNN to a statement released Wednesday that cited the president's age and physical limitations.
To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke. And on occasion, he has patted women's rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent, others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.
McGrath confirmed he was referring to the David Copperfield joke mentioned by all three women when he wrote the statement.
Reaction to the story has been mixed with some coming to the president's defense, including NBC's Andrea Mitchell who tweeted: Mrs. Bush was at his side, he is in a wheelchair with Parkinson's syndrome. Really? Someone should be ashamed and it isn't 41.
Dr. Daniel Amen, a neuroscientist and brain imaging expert who does not treat Bush said illness like his can lead to unusual behavior. Amen said it is noteworthy the alleged incidents occurred late in his life.
DR. DANIEL AMEN, NEUROSCIENTIST AND BRAIN IMAGING EXPERT: It can also affect the front part of your brain, things like judgment, forethought, impulse control and people who have never acted badly or inappropriately their whole life, all of a sudden they start to do things that are out of character.
JONES: Jordana Grolnick thinks that's an excuse.
(on camera): Do you think his age and his medical condition excuses and explains his action?
GROLNICK: No, I don't think it excuses it and I don't think it explains it. In order for us to have progress, then for women to reach the true equality that we deserve to have, I think we need to stop making excuses and letting that be, you know, OK.
JONES: Now, there's several thing we done know here but these revelations are sparking a debate about whether age or illness excuse touching that left some women feeling violated and uncomfortable -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Athena, thank you very much.
And another developing story: Americans facing a growing and deadly health crisis in Puerto Rico. A killer bacteria found in the urine of rodents are now thriving in the water where people are doing their laundry because they don't have water. At least three people have already died from the bacteria. And there are 76 suspected or confirmed cases of it, a numbers that is expected to keep rising.
Martin Savidge is OUTFRONT.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jorge Antonio Sanyet struggles to understand how his father died two weeks after the hurricane, describing the symptoms that came on so suddenly.
Nausea, stomach pains, headaches and diarrhea. A doctor acknowledged the flu and sent the man home where it only got worse.
(on camera): So, the family brought him to this regional hospital where unfortunately he died. And it was only then they learned what had made him so sick, Leptospirosis.
(voice-over): I asked Jorge if he knew about that.
No, I have never heard of it before, he tells me.
The source is bacteria and animal urine making its way to rivers and lakes especially after flooding. Hurricane Maria triggered massive flooding while knocking out fresh water to many on the island.
In desperation, Puerto Ricans have been turning to potentially contaminated rivers and waterways to wash, even to drink.
The Cruz family still has no water at their home so every other week, they've been coming to the river. They do laundry and the children play.
I asked Jose if he had any fear about the water for his family. His answer was simple.
But in the town of Juncos, Maria Flores is worried. It's why every day, she along with her daughter and grandchildren come to town and fill plastic jugs at a community well. We're in desperately need of it, she says. I live on the second floor and I carry the containers with water every day. Ijt's exhausting.
As the number of confirmed and suspected cases of Leptospirosis have grown, the government is trying to keep public fear in check describing the situation is neither an epidemic nor confirmed outbreak, but they are treating it as a health emergency.
Puerto Ricans have endured a long list of suffering in the aftermath of Maria, now comes another potentially threat lurking in the water, some of it relying on just to survive.
BURNETT: Martin is live in Puerto Rico tonight.
I mean, Martin, it's been more than five weeks since hurricane Maria. Why are there still people who don't have fresh water?
SAVIDGE: Erin, it comes down to the greatest frustration of all which is the lack of electricity. I just got off a flight with the Army Corps of Engineer, in fact, the man who's in command. He says the assessment by Army Corps is that 80 percent of power grid in Puerto Rico has been damaged and the numbers are staggering. He says, just listen to how many power poles they need, 62,000 power poles, 6,100 miles of cable, and that's just to get started. The task is monumental.
BURNETT: Wow, that is incredible. That number does say so much.
Martin, thank you very much. Continuing to be on the ground there and tell the story.
Thanks so much to all of you for joining us. We hope that you all have a wonderful and safe weekend. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT anytime, anywhere. You just have to go to CNN Go.
"AC360" starts right now.