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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump Can't Quit Twitter, Attacks U.S. Senator and Media; Pence Says Report He's Running For President "Disgraceful and Offensive. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 7, 2017 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next, addicted to Twitter, the president just can't stop attacking the media and a sitting U.S. senator. Twitter helps get him in the White House, will it also do him in?

Plus, President Trump frustrated with how things are going on in Afghanistan turning to former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince for advice. Prince is my guest tonight.

And uproar over a Google employee saying women aren't biologically suited to be engineers.

Let's go outfront.

Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, addicted. The president cannot control himself, spending his day on a Twitter tirade.

It started at 6:38 a.m. this morning, he's an early riser. He spent the next 38 minutes lashing out. The president of the United States started by calling the mainstream media, fake, failing, phony, and inept. All of his words.

And then continued his attacks on -- this time on the Democratic senator, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Presumably after watching Blumenthal talked about the Russia investigation on CNN this morning. Trump tweeted about Blumenthal's past, misrepresentations about serving in Vietnam.

Words, the president used to talk about Blumenthal on Twitter, lied, defrauded, con artist, child, and baby. And the tweets kept coming.

This afternoon, Trump tweeted about North Korea. I'll read this one in full, quote, the fake news media will not talk about the importance of the United Nation Security Council's 15-0 vote in favor of sanctions on North Korea.

Now, ironically, he tweeted this just as CNN was talking about this very topic at the time of the tweet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It means North Korea would attack an attack. The president says he would not allow to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Sort of talking about North Korea, right? Well, anyway, this network of course has covered the U.N. vote for days and I even interviewed Trump's U.N. ambassador about the sanctions. But those facts don't seem to matter to this president because he moved on deciding to go after Blumenthal again this afternoon.

A lot of few hours go by between then and then tweeted, quote, I think Senator Blumenthal should take a nice long vacation in Vietnam, where he lied about his service, so he can at least say he was there.

Well, short time later, Blumenthal, who was already booked to come on CNN went ahead with his appearance and did not take Trump's bait.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I will not be distracted by this bullying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well, today's tweet storm, it is fair to say, it's disappointment for many who hopes Trump's new chief of staff, General Kelly, would police Trump's tweets. A source telling CNN that Kelly would look to moderate Trump's tweets but didn't say it's not really among his highest priorities.

And maybe there's a reason for General Kelly's seeming hesitancy to stop the president's tweeting. Look at some other Trump backers who suggested publicly that the president tone down the tweets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We're going to defend him very, very aggressively when there's nonsensical stuff being said about him and he'll probably dial back some of those tweets. It's just the way it works.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I'll try to encourage him not to tweet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well, the (INAUDIBLE) in the panic, Chris Christie, of course one of Trump's earliest supporters, never even got a full-time job with the administration. So maybe it's the fact that they took on the Twitter.

You know, all seriousness, Trump of course has called Twitter his, quote, honest and unfiltered message. But now even loyal Trump voters are saying, enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY STARNER, TRUMP VOTER: He overreacts and doesn't have all of the facts before he tweets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't like those tweets. I really don't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if he felt that way, I don't think he should have tweeted it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Sara Murray begins our coverage OutFront tonight near Trump's New Jersey vacation location. And Sara, there was a lot of speculation that the new chief of staff, John Kelly was going to come in. He was going to be able to rein in the president's Twitter problem. But so far, certainly with today's tirade, that is not seem to be the case.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, absolutely. Some people had hopes that John Kelly would be able to rein this in. And he was here in Bedminster this morning as Trump began his first sort of Twitter tantrum of the day. But, sources have taken sort of a more realistic view of this saying that Kelly's goal was to maybe moderate some of Trump's tweets around the edges but not to make his highest initiative policing the president's social media theme.

Instead, I think what we've seen from Kelly is that he's been more concerned at the outset of trying to unify Trump's team, trying to oust a couple of people that he viewed as particularly problematic. We certainly saw that with Anthony Scaramucci.

But also saw him go out of his way and make this effort to speak to the entire staff at the executive office building. That was the kind of thing that actually was a very positive message to some people who felt like they didn't hear from senior staffers.

When Reince Priebus was in charge, there was an indication to them at least that Kelly wanted to get a pulse of what the organization was before he went and made wholesale changes.

But as for whether he will ever be able to stop President Trump from tweeting, I think it's highly unlikely. Erin you quoted the president's own words. He does believe that this is his way to speak directly to the people.

[19:05:08] BURNETT: I think he does. All right, thank you very much, Sara Murray.

And OutFront now, our Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston, White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks April Ryan, and Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Thanks to all.

April, 13 tweets. I think that supposed perhaps he perceives that to be his lucky number from this president in one day. Almost all of them of course were attacks, and I used some of the words.

A person familiar with the new chief of staff, John Kelly's thinking tell CNN that he's not going to try to -- it's not a high priority to change the president's relationship with Twitter. Should it be? APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: You know, the question is, is this president able to listen to someone when it comes to his impulses in going on Twitter.

This president is on a working vacation and as you said, 13 tweets today. It says a lot.

But again, he is president of the United States. The former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says, when he tweets it's official.

So, you know, the question is, is the president going to allow someone -- will he allow someone to help him curb his habit, his Twitter habit and words matter and even if it's in a 140 characters.

BURNETT: Well, they do matter and they matter when they overshadow other words that he may wish or many in his administration may wish are getting more focus, right.

Mark, Sara Murray is saying there's a new normal in the West Wing. Basically, people work on an agenda for the week, right. They're trying to do this week's infrastructure week, energy week, American dream week. And then they wait to see how long it takes until the president blows it up by tweeting.

So let's just take a couple of these weeks, right. Infrastructure week was June 5th. The day before the president went after London's mayor on Twitter. Remember that? Took his words out of context, continued going after the mayor the next day as well and that became the story.

Then it was energy week and energy week, you could all be forgiven for having it forgotten. It was energy week because that's the weekend he posted those tweets about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and her face.

You know, Mark, in all seriousness, this is what he has done on Twitter.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: (INAUDIBLE) right now Erin and, you know, he doesn't want to hear that. He wants to put the blame and shift the blame to his staff and to Capitol Hill to say, you know, why are we not getting things done.

But as I've said a couple times throughout the day today, he has 35 million Twitter followers. Some people have pointed out to me that half of those are fake. Let's assume that he only has 17 million Twitter followers.

Could you imagine if he was able to marshall that behind a health care vote or behind an infrastructure bill? Or if he was to say we really need tax reform. And by frankly, if he wanted to go out right now and say, I'm going to hold a prime time news conference, all of the networks are going to take it.

He hasn't done that to marshall his agenda forward. And he only used Twitter right now to -- what appears to me, and perhaps others would disagree, to attack his own critics.

BURNETT: Right, to attack his critics. And in very personal and derogatory ways, where we saw that with Senator Blumenthal. OK, he's a critic, Democratic senator.

So what. Goes with the territory?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I have a different view of this. I think the tweeting is great. I think he -- this is who Donald Trump is. This is-- you now, we spend a lot of time reporting -- complaining about how everything is so scripted in politics and people give canned statements. These are anything but canned.

The American people want to know what kind of president they have? They know exactly what kind of president they have because Donald Trump tells them in his own words, 13 times today and frequently on other days.

I think this is exactly how he should run his presidency. And I think the American people should decide if this is the kind of president they want.

RYAN: Wow. Oh, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: April, tell me I'm wrong.

RYAN: You're wrong. I'm sorry.

TOOBIN: OK.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Jeffrey, words matter. Words matter. Markets are shaken by words. Wars are started by words.

When you have a president of the United States, the last I guess 40 some odd presidents, 44 presidents that we've had, we've looked at the fact that they are supposed to be leaders, more leaders that our children can look up to. Also, leaders of the free world. And now the script has changed.

This president says that he is a modern president. He's modern day presidential. But does that mean that modern day presidential now can attack people at will. And then if you attack him, he attacks back.

I mean, where is being above the fray? Where is that? And what is the precedent that it sets for our children? What is the precedent that it sets for just the nation? That's my question.

TOOBIN: I mean, April, this is exactly what we spent months saying during the campaign. He's not presidential, he's attacking John McCain, he's attacking Megyn Kelly.

This is who he is. He's not going to change. He's 71 years old. He got elected president of the United States against all odds and certainly against most of our predictions and certainly mine. [19:10:04] This is how he operates. This is what has worked for him and I think, you know, the United States deserves to see who they elected and this is who they elected.

RYAN: That's true. That's true. That's true.

BURNETT: Mark, part of the issue here is, you know, the North Korea tweet, right? So, he wants attention on that, he was getting tons and tons of attention of it on this network which of course it's pretty clear he watches despite -- after he says he doesn't, given his Blumenthal issue this morning.

But when you look at the U.N. sanctions vote, right. One could consider, look, that significant, right? You got that through, you got China and Russia onboard and yet today is actually the 200th day of his presidency, Mark. The 200th day.

We talked about 100, we're now at 200. When it comes to his legislative agenda, yay, he got Neil Gorsuch. But here are the things he said he was going to get done well before where we are now. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.

I'm lowering your taxes big league. My contract costs to the biggest tax cuts since Ronald Reagan.

We will also repeal and replace the total disaster known as ObamaCare. We're going to stop it day one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: 0-3 there, Mark. Those were big promises and that was the legislative agenda that his base elected him to fulfill. That's what they wanted. Not the tweets.

PRESTON: Right. And I would go so far to say that Neil Gorsuch really is Mitch McConnell's pick because Mitch McConnell is the one who changed the rules in the United States Senate that allowed Neil Gorsuch to pass, you know, with the bare majority through the United States Senate. So I would actually give that to Mitch McConnell.

Look, when you look at what the president has been saying in his promises, they are not that much different than we've seen from other presidents who have made promises. However, his promises are so definitive and he is so sure of himself until they don't happen.

And when they don't happen, the blame doesn't rest with him, Erin. The blame rests with others. And I think that's the biggest problem right now or certainly one of the biggest problems facing Donald Trump as we head into September and he needs Republican allies on Capitol Hill to get anything done. BURNETT: And Jeff, before we go, look, when we talk -- you just heard some people from his base, and by the way, Miguel Marquez just went to Michigan, just went to Wisconsin, and it was the exact same thing that people were saying about Twitter. And their frustration with the lack of success on the legislative side.

Gallup poll, 62% approval is where he started with support with white voters who do not have a college degree. In May, that went down to 56. We're now down to 53.

It's eroding bit by bit but overall you're now looking at a nine-point drop.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I mean, that this is the problem, is that he's not getting done what he says he's getting done. The Twitter thing is a side show. I don't think that's --

BURNETT: Well, it's not a side show because it's part of the reason he's not getting the other things done.

TOOBIM: I'm not sure that's true. I think he didn't get health care through because it was plan with only 15% of the population supported it. I mean, it was not a popular or I think it's safe to say a very good plan. That's the problem not Twitter.

BURNETT: All right, we will leave it there. Thank you all very much.

And next, Mike Pence ripping a report that he's running for president. Did his unusual reaction make things worse? Well, the vice president's spokesman is going to come OutFront, next.

Plus, is a mercenary force the way to end America's longest war. A man look at the proposal and the president's heir Blackwater founder, Erik Prince is OutFront.

And all the president's men cue the impersonators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you know a mutant known as Wolverine scaled the Statue of Liberty in a climatic showdown with Sabretooth?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:17:27] BURNETT: New tonight, we're learning that the vice president, Mike Pence will travel to Bedminster this week to meet with his boss, President Trump. The plan visit comes as the vice president and his team are shooting down a report in the New York Times that pence is gearing up for a White House run if President Trump does not run in 2020.

OutFront, Vice President Mike Pence's spokesman, Marc Lotter. And I appreciate your time. Mark, thank you. Look, the vice president has called the report in the New York Times disgraceful and offensive. You tweeted it's ridiculous, you tweeted it's wishful thinking. Why such kind of a full-court press over the top response?

MARC LOTTER, VICE PRESIDENT PENCE'S PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think it's very important for people to know that vice president has only one focus and that is to deliver on the president's agenda. And to make sure that the president is re-elected in 2020. And that's the only election in 2020 that Vice President Pence is focus on, is the president's re-election.

BURNETT: So, you're not worried about he who (INAUDIBLE) protest too much sort of response to this? I mean, you know, guys coming out with an actual statement from the vice president was pretty unprecedented.

LOTTER: Well, I think when you see speculation, conjecture, half truths masquerading as news on the front page of the New York Times, it's important that you push back on that. And the vice president feels firmly about this. Is that his voice needed to be added to that discussion.

And this is one of the things that you see this with both President Trump and with Vice President Pence, is that they're going to tell the American people what's on their mind. And they're going to make sure that people know where they stand on the issues and when they confront stories that are not necessarily drawing the conclusions that have anything to do with facts and reality, they're going to let the people know about that.

BURNETT: OK. So let's talk about these facts and reality. And, you know what, let's not have it come from what I know you all would refer to as a mainstream news organization. I want to quote Roger Stone who is of course a friend of this president and a major supporter, one of the first to aggressively come out in his defense.

He tweeted, talking about the vice president's pac right to raise money. He said, "No vice president in modern history had their own pac less than six months into the president's first term."

LOTTER: Well, I think what you got to see here is that the vice -- prior to being vice president that Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, so he needed a federal regulated political organization to be able to take care of the basic political needs that he would have as he is out campaigning for and supporting Republican candidates for the House and the Senate. Something that the previous vice presidents had already established once these new laws took into effect.

BURNETT: So Roger Stone you think it's off base, the president's own, you know, front and inner circle off base, too?

[19:20:01] LOTTER: The one thing I would point out is that when the vice president had a fundraiser for his leadership pac just two or three weeks ago, Ivanka Trump actually introduced him at that fundraising event. That's an important piece of context. This is not something that is dividing this administration. What you see is that the president, the vice president are firmly committed to supporting Republican candidates in the House and the Senate and you see Ivanka Trump out there supporting the vice president's efforts.

And one other thing I would point out, the very first check that was cut from the vice president's leadership pac was to the president's re-election effort, maximizing all of the donations they can make for this entire cycle.

BURNETT: So, according to the Federal Election Commission, when we look at the vice president's pac, it's raised more than half a million dollars, $540,000. A Super Pac aligned with the president has raised less than half that, 204,000.

What I'm trying to understand, if this is really all about being for the president or to help Republican governors or to help Republicans in the House and Senate, there are pacs for all of those things, right? You could raise money for the president's pac or for the RNC or for the Republican Governor's Association, right? There are already pacs for those things.

LOTTER: What you'll see is the vice president is going to be very busy this summer supporting Republican candidates at all levels. He has spoken to state party dinners, he's spoken to Senate and House candidates, and worked to support them. He's also going to be working to support the broader efforts, and of course he's going to support the re-election efforts of the president and vice president.

BURNETT: But can you explain why have your own pac when -- you know, he's going to put the time in to raise money. I think everyone understands your argument on that. But why not raise money for those people, why raise it for his own pac and then hand it off?

LOTTER: Because just as much as the vice president needs to be able to travel and to support those candidates, he needs an apparatus to be able to do that. This is the method that they're doing this because you have to remember, the vice president was a state-wide elected official prior to that. Now, he's got a federal apparatus where he can support his own political travel to support House and Senate candidates in partnership and the full support of the president of the United States.

This process goes all the way back into the transition with the president-elect prior to inauguration in full support of setting up this apparatus because the vice president, the president are firmly supported -- are firmly rooted in making sure that we elect Republicans at all levels of government in the coming years. That's what this is an apparatus to do.

One thing I would also point out is that this pac cannot even support the election of the president and vice president any further. They've already maxed out all of the donations --

BURNETT: So then what's it for if not -- LOTTER: -- supporting Senate and House Republican candidates who are

moving forward and we're going to support the president's agenda to make America great again.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you, Marc, that the president's poll numbers, obviously we have one with a 33% approval rating. I don't know, there may be others that look not as bad as that one but obviously the numbers have come down. You can't dispute that.

He's going to be 74 years old in 2020. Of course there's the Russia investigation. Can you say, Marc, tonight, that no one, nobody, has have a conversation with the vice president about himself, about him running in 2020?

LOTTER: Let me be absolutely clear. There is only one election that the pres -- the vice president is focused on in 2020. That's his re- election as vice president alongside President Donald Trump.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much. Marc Lotter, I appreciate your time.

LOTTER: Thank you.

BURNETT: And I want to go to Alex Burns now, reporter for the New York Times who wrote the piece on the Republican shadow campaign for 2020. Which by the way I should point out included others than Mike Pence and I'm going to get to that in a moment.

But you heard Marc Lotter, right, categorically false, false, false. And the statement that the president actually put out which is what I referred to as so unprecedented about your article. He said, "The allegations in this article are categorically false and represents just the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration."

You stand by it, right?

ALEX BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Of course. I think allegations is a strong word to use for what was in that story. Nobody is accusing the vice president of doing anything illegal or scandalous. We're describing events that are largely happening in full view of the kinds of fundraising that he's doing, the pac activity that you just -- I asked Marc about.

I think it's striking that Marc didn't answer your last question when you sort of put it in a pointed and categorical way. Can you rule out the possibility that anyone has had a conversation with the vice president or on his behalf about 2020? He didn't really respond to that.

And now the part of the story that clearly got the biggest rise out of the administration was this notion that, a two advisers for the vice president have, you know, not gone around drumming up opposition to the president, not gearing up to challenge him in the Republican primaries. But basically indicated to Republican donors we want to be ready no matter what happens just in case. BURNETT: So, when he comes out the way he did, right so strongly. One would think that if they really are saying what you wrote was false, they would ask for retraction. That's what you would do because you would say, I know it's false, retract it. They have or have not asked you for one of those?

BURNS: As far as I'm aware, they've not asked for any kind of formal correction. They've obviously attacked the story.

BURNETT: Right. They're coming after you publicly but they're not actually going on the factual basis.

[19:25:02] BURNS: Which is their prerogative. And they told us in advance that they were going to push back very, very hard on the story. We published it because we were entirely confident with our reporting on the vice president's activities and the activities of the people around him.

BURNETT: Now, what's interesting here is your article was about the Republican shadow, right? And it wasn't just about Mike Pence, although they have successfully made it a 100% about Mike Pence by their incredibly strenuous response. But you also wrote about Kasich, Senator Cotton, Ben Sasse. All of them, none of them have commented.

BURNS: No, they haven't. And it is the striking thing -- one of the striking things about the vice president's response is that, this story was describing this larger mood in the Republican Party of uncertainty about the president's strength and his intentions for 2020, and the kinds of precautions that a number of people in the party are taking. Some of them -- you know, like John Kasich, are looking at 2020 and campaigning in 2020 even if President Trump does run again, which is a good deal more brazen than anything we reported about the vice president. But we are talking about Mike Pence now.

BURNETT: And the bottom line is, it seems looking at this, that that statement that Mike Pence put out was actually for the eyes of one person, that he didn't need a statement for, right? He wanted the president to see him slam this down because he doesn't want the president to question his loyalty because we know what happens when that happens.

BURNS: Nobody knows better than Mike Pence what happens to people in the inner circle who crossed that line with the president. There is nothing this president values more than loyalty, maybe not even winning.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Alex Burns.

BURNS: Thanks Erin.

BURNETT: And next, the president said to be frustrated with how things are going in Afghanistan and the complete lack of a plan right now. He is then reportedly asking Blackwater Founder Erik Prince for help. Well, guess what? Erik Prince is my guest tonight.

And a Google software engineer claims that women aren't biologically suited for tech jobs and they can't handle high stress work. Yes, he did say that. So, should Google listen or fire him?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:30:20] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: The president said to be frustrated with the war in Afghanistan and the debate over what to do next is dividing the administration. Top Trump strategist Steve Bannon and national security adviser H.R. McMaster turning the Blackwater founder Erik Prince for advice. And Prince is going to join me in just a moment.

But, first, Barbara Starr is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A military plan for Afghanistan has been delayed for months amid sharp disagreements in the White House between the president's top advisers.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've had now three sessions within the National Security Council exploring a full range of options and when I say a full range of options, I mean the entire landscape.

STARR: The president's chief strategist Steve Bannon is reportedly seeking the advice of Erik Prince, the controversial former head of the now disbanded contractor firm Blackwater.

Prince's plan: use military contractors instead of U.S. troops for a variety of unspecified missions in Afghanistan.

While leading Blackwater, Prince's mercenary force was criticized for how it dealt with civilians in Iraq. Several former employees were convicted in the 2007 incident in Baghdad in which 17 Iraqi civilians were shot and killed. One of those contractor's convictions was overturned just last week.

The Trump administration defending Prince and his proposal.

SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: If you look at Erik Prince's track record, it's not about milking the government. It's about the opposite. It's about saving the U.S. taxpayer money. So, this is a cost-cutting venture. We open the door here at the White House to outside ideas.

STARR: Still, defense officials have long noted that in some operations, contractors are not less expensive than active duty military members who are paid considerably less.

The man leading the fight in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, is arguing for a few thousand more troops to train Afghan forces mainly, in addition to the 8,400 troops already there, a plan believed to be back by Secretary of Defense James Mattis and national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, COMMANDER OF U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: We have a shortfall of a few thousand, and this is in the NATO train, advise, assist mission. So, this could come from the U.S. and its allies. STARR: Still, Nicholson may not have the full backing of the

president who is thought to be frustrated with Nicholson's command of the Afghanistan war, something that McMaster denied in an interview with MSNBC.

LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I can't imagine a more capable commander in any -- on any mission.

HUGH HEWITT, MSNBC HOST: Does Secretary Mattis? Does the president?

MCMASTER: Absolutely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: A major unanswered question, would Afghan President Ashraf Ghani even accept Erik Prince's contractors? Erin?

BURNETT: All right. A big question. And thank you very much, Barbara.

OUTFRONT now, former Navy SEAL, Erik Prince, who is the former CEO of the private military security company Blackwater. Now, runs a company called Frontier Services Group.

And, Erik, thanks. Good to see you again.

ERIK PRINCE, FOUNDER AND FORMER CEO, BLACKWATER: Good to be here.

BURNETT: You point out that the United States has had 17 commanders in Afghanistan in 15 years.

PRINCE: Seventeen --

BURNETT: When you see that number in black and white, it's stunning.

PRINCE: Absolutely. There's been no unity of command. And that's just military commanders. It's not even counting the amount of ambassadors and chief of station from the CIA that we've gone through.

Who has really been in charge of Afghanistan? Nobody. It's been extremely fragmented. We've had up to 140,000 troops in the country and we're now spending, the Pentagon consumes more than the entire defense budget of the U.K. just in Afghanistan and we're losing.

BURNETT: So, you are proposing a solution and this solution, you know, you've written about it in "The Wall Street Journal" op-ed, a private military force. So, I know you don't like the word mercenary. Explain to me why it's not the right word.

PRINCE: Because I'm recommending is a rationalization. You still have 9,000 U.S. troops, another 4,000 NATO. They'll rotate every six to nine months. So, when those troopers leave, all of the experience and local knowledge that they have leaves with them.

There's another 26,000 contractors in the country. This plan takes it from that overspend to a much smaller number. The Afghan forces need help at the battalion levels. Battalion is the

basic unit of command there. That's where the rubber meets the road and the Afghans are continuing to lose dozens and dozens, thousands per month. Embedding mentors at the battalion level, attaching to the Afghan army does not even meet the thresholds of the U.N. definition of mercenary.

[19:35:01] BURNETT: So --

PRINCE: So, they're not mercenaries. They would be attached as long- term trainer/advisers. Imagine them as a --

BURNETT: Are they -- are they military employees of the United States or people that your --

PRINCE: No, they'd be --

BURNETT: -- they are contractors?

PRINCE: They'd be military employees of the Afghan government. Imagine them as a skeletal structure that provides leadership, intelligence, medical, communications and logistic support to all those Afghan battalions so it works reliably.

Second, they need air power. Less than 40 percent of the U.S. provided air power to the Afghan forces still even functions, because the maintenance and training has been such a failure. So, they need government support, they need mentor support and they need air power, all attaching to the Afghan government which doesn't meet -- you guys like to throw the mercenary word around -- they're not mercenary. They're attached --

BURNETT: But then what are they if they are being paid by the Afghan government or U.S. taxpayers, but they don't work for the -- for the Pentagon?

PRINCE: Under the U.N. -- no, they don't need to. If we want to Afghanize this, this is the longest war in American history --

BURNETT: Are they Americans?

PRINCE: They could be Americans. They could be foreign nationals. They could be NATO allies. They can be from the global SAF community of professionals, most of whom have served in that country already that have a lot of experience that want to go back.

I mean, I've been in contact with, you know -- remember, in the months after 9/11, a hundred CIA officers and a couple hundred special forces guys backed by air power crashed the Taliban. The more we've gone to a conventional war with a conventional army, we've gone backwards every year since then. They've surged up to 140,000 troops, as soon as they pull back, it fails again.

The reason I talked about in that op-ed, you have to put someone in charge. There has to be a lead federal official or in this case, almost a bankruptcy trustee, that rationalizes the U.S. presence that is in charge of all policies.

Second, they have to stay there for a while so you have that continuity of decision making.

BURNETT: OK. So, the word you used for that person was viceroy, was an American viceroy.

PRINCE: And I mean viceroy. That's a colonial term. The last --

BURNETT: It is a colonial term.

PRINCE: Sure. But the colonial term came from -- in the British empire, they had very little communications and you had to put someone in charge the can make the decision absent a ship going back and forth. But in this case, it really means someone that can rationalize the basic mess that is U.S. policy been, whether it's in Afghanistan or Pakistan, we have gone backwards.

BURNETT: So, when we use the word, though, obviously, you pointed out it is a colonial word, right? The definition is a ruler exercising authority in a colony on behalf of a sovereign. In that case, Trump would perhaps be the sovereign. Afghanistan an American colony. I mean, it's a loaded word. I mean, have the Afghans --

PRINCE: I say that --

BURNETT: -- are they talking to you about this? Are they open to it?

PRINCE: I've talked to plenty of Afghans about this. When they understand that we're not there to colonize, but merely -- that viceroy -- that lead federal official term is someone that will rationalize, so we don't go through a commander every elect (ph) we have been, or different ambassador every two years, or who -- so, there's been a complete fragmentation of unity of command. That has to change.

BURNETT: So, I know that you said -- you wrote an op-ed.

PRINCE: Yes.

BURNETT: Reince Priebus, H.R. McMaster, Steve Bannon reached out to you.

PRINCE: Correct.

BURNETT: And they wanted to hear more?

PRINCE: They wanted to hear more and then weeks later, they said, OK, figure out what that actually of the costs. Give us a -- give us a comparison.

And so, rationalizing and going down to a true battalion level mentor program that supports the entire Afghan army -- remember, the Afghan special forces works. There's about 17,000 of them because they've been mentored by U.S. special forces in exactly the way I'm recommending. They used to do village stability operations. That works really well. Again, it was shut down by conventional army generals. So, mentoring the rest of the Afghan army in that same proven model works.

Second, give them some air, give them some government support so when the battalions order resupply, they get their food, their fuel, their ammunition, their parts on time, that's what you need to keep the Afghan forces afloat. All the rest, that goes from a $45 billion spend this year. Next year, the Pentagon needs over $50 billion, more than the entire U.K. defense budget. All that takes you down to less than 10.

BURNETT: Less than 10 is what you say it's going to cost.

PRINCE: Forty billion back to the Pentagon.

BURNETT: So --

PRINCE: So, there's -- look, there's a lot of people that say, just pull out of Afghanistan. I disagree with that because I think the Taliban or ISIS would raise their battle flag over the U.S. embassy in six months or a year. That's bad.

But continuing the same I would say insanity that we've been doing for the last 16 years has to change. I think the president is uncomfortable with that level -- with that continuing on -- of that course.

BURNETT: Have you spoken to him about this?

PRINCE: I have not. Nope.

BURNETT: So when you talk about H.R. McMaster, national security adviser, and Steve Bannon, are you still talking to them about these ideas?

PRINCE: The -- I would say General McMaster does not like this idea because he is a three-star conventional army general. And he is wedded to that idea that the U.S. Army is going to solve this.

But I think for the president, he's got to say, after 16 years, when do we -- when do we try something different? And this -- here's the thing, the U.S. isn't doing anything below the core level, right? That's the highest unit of movement of the Afghan army. They're not doing anything at the ground level of the Afghan army.

So, this can operate there, operate effectively and create the off ramp for the rest of the U.S. forces to leave. Let's be done.

[19:40:00] We're still losing Americans. There were two American kids killed last week in the first 30 days of their deployment. Enough.

BURNETT: So, Steve Bannon was more receptive to this?

PRINCE: I think Steve Bannon and other folks even at NSC, and even quite a few in Congress.

BURNETT: And quite a few in Congress. And General Nicholson himself, have you spoken to him?

PRINCE: No.

BURNETT: No. And this viceroy, this person would be an American?

PRINCE: Again, viceroy was a term only to describe the U.S. official, not a colonial official.

BURNETT: But it would be a U.S. -- an American?

PRINCE: Absolutely, yes.

BURNETT: It would be an American?

PRINCE: A government U.S. -- a U.S. government employee. Call them a special envoy but they have to control DOD policy and spending and rules of engagement and State Department authorities and CIA authorities. You have to combine so you don't have the inner agency process doing nothing with a big committee group think that accomplishes nothing. Sixteen years is a long time to be doing anything and we're failing.

BURNETT: And -- but just to be clear, you're talking about an American here that would be at the top administering all of this.

PRINCE: In there, they would be in Kabul. Absolutely.

BURNETT: Over there. Right, in Kabul.

PRINCE: No more 9-1/2 time zones away.

BURNETT: The U.S. -- the less than $10 billion would be paid for by American taxpayers but the people that they are paying could be any nationality at all, right? Just to be clear that I understand.

PRINCE: Look, well -- $3.5 billion already, the Pentagon has slated to support the Afghan forces. That pays for their payroll, their vehicle parts, their fuel, all of that. That continues. There would be a continued rule for U.S. special operations forces, the 2,000 or so that are there.

BURNETT: Yes.

PRINCE: They continue on. This program can spool up underneath what the DOD is doing. But this kind of program can stay long term. It costs a fraction of what we're spending now and the Pentagon can spend that money on reset.

BURNETT: Yes.

PRINCE: But let's figure out how to cauterize this endless bleeding that we have in Afghanistan.

BURNETT: You know, obviously, you have connections to Trump's inner circle. You're talking about that you were reached out to by Steve Bannon, among others. Your sister is -- PRINCE: I did not. Actually, I wrote that op-ed because between my

wife and I, we have a lot of kids. Some who will serve in the military soon. The idea of them going to Afghanistan and getting killed, like those kids last year, I couldn't tolerate that. So, I wrote that op-ed with one audience in mind, the president read it and that's what triggered this discussion.

BURNETT: They said the president read it and --

(CROSSTALK)

PRINCE: I'm told he read it at his desk, circled it and said, learn more about this.

BURNETT: So he knows who you are and obviously, as I said, it's not just that you know Steve Bannon and others. Your sister is Betsy DeVos, who, of course, is education secretary.

PRINCE: That's my big sister, yes.

BURNETT: All right. So, let's talk about another thing that you're central to here. A lot has been made of a meeting that you've had with a Russian who is close to Vladimir Putin on the remote island of the Seychelles during the Trump transition, right? This meeting that everyone knows what happened now.

Who from the Trump team asked you to take the meeting?

PRINCE: No one. Zero. I was there on business. OK?

I was there meeting with Emirati officials. And there's lots of other people. I met a guy and clearly the U.S. intelligence community felt necessary to unmask me and leak it to the media, but if the media and the obsession on the Trump/Russia collusion, they are kind of jumping the shark if they're thinking that I had something to do with that, because this meeting occurred in January long after the election.

So, there's either all this grand Trump collusion plan before the election or not, because if they asked me to go meet with some Russian -- which no one actually did -- I was -- happened to be there and I met a Russian.

BURNETT: Who did you meet?

PRINCE: That's pretty thin. Some fund manager. I can't even remember his name.

BURNETT: A fund manager but you don't remember his name?

PRINCE: I don't remember his name. We didn't exchange cards.

BURNETT: How long was it? The meeting, do you remember?

PRINCE: It probably lasted about, as long as one beer.

BURNETT: So, it was a casual setting? PRINCE: Absolutely.

BURNETT: Over beers.

OK. Let me just say why this meeting is getting so much attention, because I know you're minimizing it.

PRINCE: But it's really not.

BURNETT: Well, it has been reported on extensively. Let me lay out the timeline here, Erik, because understand so you know this, but not everybody else does. Before this meeting happened between you and somebody who is a Putin confidant and I know that from talking to people who know a lot about this meeting. So, this person isn't just a random Russian.

In December, "The Washington Post" reports that you met with Trump transition officials at Trump Tower, right, because you know people there. That makes complete sense.

That same month, I'm also aware there was a meeting at Trump Tower between Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed. In December, "The Washington Post" reports then that you had a private meeting with the Emirati crown prince, Mohammed Bin Zayed.

Then the meeting comes with the Russian in the Seychelles in January. I know the Emiratis delivered the Russian to the meeting.

That's why the question is so important, whether you were working on behalf of the Trump team or even if they didn't ask you, was anyone on the Trump team aware that you were at this meeting?

PRINCE: No one was aware from the Trump team that I was even there.

BURNETT: No one was aware that you were there.

PRINCE: It was private business. It had nothing to do with the U.S. government. It had nothing to do with the Trump team or the transition team or anything else.

BURNETT: And what was the meeting about, then?

PRINCE: Future business. It's -- the Russian was someone that the Emiratis had done business with and said maybe someone useful for you to know.

[19:45:02] BURNETT: And that was pretty much the extent of it?

PRINCE: That's it.

BURNETT: And in terms of, and you're saying it was all -- when people talk about whether there was a possible backchannel or anybody -- all of that, you're saying, no, off the table?

PRINCE: Complete hogwash. BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate it and I appreciate you

answering our questions about it. Thank you, Erik Prince.

PRINCE: I'm amazed about the continued obsession with this, but when you have people dying in Afghanistan, Americans dying, let's figure out a way to cauterize the losses.

BURNETT: All right. I appreciate it. Thank you.

PRINCE: You bet.

BURNETT: And next, outrage tonight after a Google employee claims in a 10-page memo that women workers are neurotic and have a lower tolerant for stress. Well, should he be working there?

And it's the golden age of impersonators. Jeanne Moos rounds up the best.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Tonight, outrage over a Google engineer's manifesto. The software engineer who has not been identified by CNN argues that women are not suited for tech jobs because of biological reasons and that men have a, quote, higher drive for status.

[19:50:08] Also that higher rates of anxiety disorders among women. I guess that's what he says. It may explain why there are, quote, lower numbers of women in high stress jobs. He writes that the gender wage gap is a myth.

Well, OUTFRONT now, a woman who knows this is not myth, Erica Baker, a former Google engineer. Erica left Google in 2015 after she compiled a spreadsheet of her co-workers' salaries which highlighted unequal pay between men and women at the company.

Erica, thanks for coming on. And I know you have read this entire 3,300-word manifesto. Your reaction?

ERICA BAKER, FORMER GOOGLE ENGINEER, LEFT GOOGLE OVER GENDER PAY GAP: Yes. It's ridiculous. It's full of myths that have been disproven and debunked a long time ago. And it is amazing to me that someone who is as smart as a Google engineer could continue to believe in those myths.

BURNETT: So, let me just read another part of it. I quote here from the manifesto.

Feminism has made great progress and freeing women from the female gender role. But men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we as a society allow men to be more feminine, then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because mean will leave tech and leadership for traditionally feminine roles.

You know, but, certainly, it seems that there's a point here in terms of the gender stereotypes that exist clearly in the tech world.

BAKER: I don't believe those gender stereotypes exist in the tech world, specifically at Google where people are permitted to be whoever they want, however they want. I recall very many people at Google who didn't adhere to any specific gender roles. So, I think that that might be that person's own experience that they are pushing out to everybody else. But definitely, especially in the Bay Area, they're really -- what your gender role is whatever you define it as. There is none that you have to adhere to.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you, the V.P. of diversity at Google released a statement, right, when this manifesto got out. And thus far, they have successfully withheld the name of the person who wrote it, the manifesto itself.

In the response, Google says: Part of building an open and inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those alternative views, including different political views feel safe, I'm sorry, sharing their opinions.

So --

BAKER: Right.

BURNETT: So, is Google doing the right thing by encouraging an open dialogue. Now, we don't know what they are doing to this person or not. But it would -- would it be right to say, you're going the still work here at Google, and let's have a conversation about whether men have a higher drive for status and women have higher rates of anxiety disorders and everything else he writes about?

BAKER: So, there are multiple points what you said. First, I don't think that it is worthy -- or the things that that person wrote are worthy in that screed are worthy of being debated, right? Just like I wouldn't debate, you know, that though earth is flat, I wouldn't debate all the stuff that's in that manifesto that they wrote. There's no -- there's no need to debate those things.

Second, I am a little pit disappointed in Google's response thus far. I think that if they are working to foster an open and inclusive environment, then they would make it so that 30 percent of their workforce, which is the number of women engineering, wouldn't feel excluded by this one person, right? And I hope to see Google do the right thing here, and remove that person from the workforce, especially because Google is a very peer-review driven culture, to get promoted at Google, you have to ask your peers for reviews. Peers sit on your hiring committees and your promotion committees.

And if that person has access to the careers of women, who he thinks are subpar by nature, then that person is going to have a negative effect on the careers of women. And I don't want to see that happen.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Erica, thank you very much for your time.

And, by the way, Google leadership positions, so our viewers know, 25 percent of them are held by women. And, of course, as we all know, women are 50 percent of the general. So, really, really long way to go.

OUTFRONT next, the Trump administration keeping impersonators in business.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've got another letter from a real little boy, who loves our president. This one's from a real little boy named Cucumber.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:57:41] BURNETT: Cosmopolitan bias had its moment, and now, actor Pauley Shore is keeping it alive.

Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They came. They were seen. They were impersonated.

From Spicey --

MELISSA MCCARTHY AS SEAN SPICER: This is soapy water and I'm watching that filthy, lying mouth.

MOOS: To Scaramucci.

MARIO CANTONE AS ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: I love you. I frigging love you.

MOOS: And we hate to see you go.

(on camera): Faces are changing so fast in the Trump administration that fresh impersonators are needed.

(voice-over): So, when this happens --

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE POLICY ADVISER: Jim, Jim, Jim, I appreciate your speech.

MOOS: -- there's someone to do this.

PAULY SHORE AS STEPHEN MILLER: Jim, I love your little speech and all.

MOOS: Comedian Pauley Shore said he needed to watch the exchange between Trump's senior adviser Stephen Miller and CNN's Jim Acosta only three times to mimic it.

SHORE: I don't know. I felt what he was feeling, condescending and Mr. Know-It-All.

SHORE: Look at me directly in my forehead and tell me I'm not lying.

MOOS: Though CNN contributor Ana Navaro tweeted, Peewee Herman has got to be Steven Miller.

The point isn't to just create a mirror image, but to distort it for comedic purposes.

ALEC BALDWIN AS PRESIDENT TRUMP: Wrong, wrong, wrong.

MOOS: Comedian Fortune Feimster seems right to portray Sarah Huckabee Sanders reading letters at the White House briefing.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: My name is Dylan Harbin, but everybody calls me Pickle.

FORTUNE FEIMSTER AS SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: This one is from a real little boy named Cucumber.

MOOS: Feimster can call on her Southern roots to nail Sanders.

CHELSEA HANDLER, COMEDIAN: And do you feel like you're lying all the time?

FEIMSTER: Yes.

MOOS: But even old impersonators are new again. Bill Maher used Reggie Brown to demonstrate the conservatives would go nuts if President Trump's words came out of Barack Obama's mouth.

REGGIE BROWN AS BARACK OBAMA: I'm speaking with myself. Number one, because I have a very good brain.

MOOS: These days, imitation is the sincerest form of mockery.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

BROWN: I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose voters.

MOOS: -- New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And thanks for joining us.

Don't forget. You can watch OUTFRONT anytime, anywhere. Go to CNN Go.

"AC360" starts now.