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Steve Bannon Facing Subpoena From House Intel and From Special Counsel Mueller; GOP Struggles to Avoid Shutdown After President's Vulgar Remarks; H: Focus Should Be On Immigration Policy, Not Vulgar Remarks; DACA Deal In Peril; "The Apprentice" Defense; President's Doctor Gives Him a Clean Bill Of Health; WH Doctor: Pres. Trump in Good Health, No Cognitive Concerns. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 16, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

A very busy night tonight. The government is rushing toward a shutdown over immigration and President Trump's racist remarks on it remain front and center. Today, the White House put out a story completely at odds with lawmakers from both parties who heard him say in vulgar terms that he wants fewer people here from El Salvador, Haiti and African countries and more coming in from Norway. Clearly, someone is lying and we'll have more on that shortly.

We begin breaking news that could be, could be very significant in the Russia investigation. Steve Bannon has just left the House Intelligence Committee hearing room and there's word emerging on his testimony or as it happens his non-testimony. Mr. Bannon, who answered plenty of questions as you know from Michael Wolff, refusing to answer questions to Congress on legal instructions apparently from the White House. That's according to a lawmaker who was in the room who I'll talk to in a moment.

The question is, can Steve Bannon actually do that legally? We'll find out.

That as well tonight when word of the development hit this afternoon, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, quote: We've been completely cooperative throughout this entire process. We're going to continue to be cooperative. But also claiming the legal right not to cooperate, as Bannon just did today.

His testimony uncooperative enough to earn him a subpoena from the panel. But that is only part of the picture. Bannon also got subpoenaed by Russia's special counsel Robert Mueller, making him the first known member of President Trump's past or present inner circle to receive a subpoena.

So, we begin tonight with what he is saying, what he's not saying, and why he claims he does not have to talk.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us now from the Capitol.

So, Steve Bannon, he's been in the House Intelligence Committee hearing now about ten hours. Talk to me about what has been going on.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has been a rather contentious affair, Anderson. After about 90 minutes this morning in which he was talking about his role during the campaign, he was asked about the transition period after President Trump won the election last November, and he at that point, his lawyer interjected and he would not answer questions about exactly what happened. He, in fact, he said that he was not going to do that because of presumably this could interfere with executive privilege.

Now, not only would he not talk about the transition period, he would not talk about his time as the chief strategist in the Trump White House.

Now, this was enough to get some pushback from both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Now, we are told that he was hit with a subpoena, issued a subpoena soon after that on the spot to compel him to testify. Now, Mike Conway, the Republican running the Russia investigation, just spoke to us outside the hearing room and said that subpoena was going to remain in effect. The committee is essentially recessing and will revisit this issue at a later date to compel him to provide this information going forward.

Now, in addition to this, Anderson, he also downplayed his comments to Michael Wolff, the author, where he said the Trump Tower meeting from June 2016 was treasonous, he said in effect that was hyperbole, pushing back on that, but would not talk about his time in the transition and in the White House, Anderson.

COOPER: And we are going to talk to Congressman Himes in just a moment who was on this committee.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed Bannon as well to appear before a federal grand jury. What do we know about that?

RAJU: Well, we are now being told that Bannon in fact confirmed behind closed doors that he was hit with a subpoena. He told the committee that he was -- that Mueller has asked him to testify before the grand jury, so that is something that he appears likely to do, it seems. And, Anderson, he's probably unlikely going to be able to exert that executive privilege that he did today when he would not disclose this information to the House, and the question is also who told him to assert executive privilege. The White House today not saying whether or not they are the ones who in fact told him not to disclose key communications, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Manu Raju -- Manu, thanks.

A short time ago, I spoke with a member of the Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut.


COOPER: Congressman, what exactly happened in the hearing with Steve Bannon today? Was he cooperative? REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, Steve Bannon and

his attorney asserted a remarkably broad definition of executive privilege. Now, remember, it is the president who has the executive privilege, so they went back, conferred with the White House and the White House said that anything that happened, any communications that happened while Steve Bannon was in the White House or during the transition, any communications were off-limits.

So, while we were able to ask and answer a lot of different kind of questions, there were an awful lot of questions we weren't able to answer based on this very novel theory of executive privilege.

COOPER: Yes, first of all, can someone claim executive privilege for things that happened before President Trump became president?

HIMES: Well, I'd answer that in two ways. Again, I think this will probably keep the lawyers busy but I certainly have never heard of an example where either executive privilege is claimed for a president- elect, I have never heard of privilege being claimed for conversations between two people that don't include the president, which were precluded from being asked about today.

[20:05:15] And, you know, this raises some very serious questions about whether we will get straight answers from anybody who is or was associated with the administration or is or was associated with the transition.

COOPER: Wait a minute. So he's claiming executive privilege not for conversations between just between him and the president, but between him and Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump or anybody in the White House?

HIMES: That was the claim. And again, it's a pretty novel idea, this idea that conversations between people that are not the president, that they can be protected by executive privilege is one that I think is pretty quickly going to be disputed by most of the legal profession.

Anderson, I would also point out that past presidents, if we want to look to precedent here, past presidents have waived executive privilege whenever there was the possibility of criminal wrongdoing. Here, we see from a president who says there's absolutely nothing there, we see probably the most expansive claim of executive privilege, what amounts essentially to a gag order that I think we have ever seen.

COOPER: Did the committee serve Bannon with a subpoena during the meeting as it's being reported?

HIMES: Well, that is correct. It didn't make any difference in the end because the committee has proceeded as long as witnesses appear voluntarily, has given witnesses slack not to answer. So in an effort to remove that slack, if you will, a subpoena was served but that didn't make any difference to the White House's assertion of executive privilege here through Steve Bannon and his attorney.

COOPER: And I just want to be clear. Bannon's attorney, did he tell the committee that the White House directed Bannon not to answer questions about his time in the White House or the transition?

HIMES: No. He was clear about that. He said up front that any questions that pertain to those two periods of time, transition or Steve Bannon's time in the White House, would be off-limits which again, led to as you might imagine, all sorts of discussion and argument within the committee today.

COOPER: Today, the White House press secretary said the White House encouraged people to cooperate with the investigations. Again, I don't understand how you square that with then the fact they reportedly tell Bannon not to talk about his time even in the transition.

HIMES: Yes. I mean, you just don't. There is no squaring that.

There is also no squaring the fact that the president has been adamant that these investigations should be wrapped up as soon as possible. He wants them over. We are now going to spend significant amounts of time, you know, litigating, discussing, arguing whether this claim of executive privilege makes any sense at all in a legal context. That's going to take time.

So, yes, it's a really puzzling thing.

COOPER: So, I mean, obviously, the reporting, he's been subpoenaed by Mueller but does -- I mean, do you have any power to force him to come back and actually answer questions in front of the committee?

HIMES: Sure we do. You know, ultimately if the chairman of the committee, of the investigative committee, Mike Conaway, at this point, makes a determination that this expansive, this incredibly expansive claim of executive privilege doesn't apply, Steve Bannon, if he continues to refuse to answer questions, he puts himself at risk of being charged with contempt of Congress.

COOPER: And did you find -- I mean, was there a bipartisan breakdown in terms of how Republicans on the committee or how Democrats on the committee viewed his answers, or do you think it was bipartisan?

HIMES: Yes. I will tell you it's bipartisan. I don't want to get into the specifics of exactly who said what, but no, there was a great deal of consternation, very much on both sides of the aisle. Look, every member there is a member of Congress. We are very serious about asserting our prerogatives and our rights and, of course -- and I'm glad to say that members of both parties really pushed back hard against this unprecedented claim, what looks an awful lot like a gag order.

COOPER: And just finally, if Steve Bannon who has given lots of interviews on camera and certainly to Michael Wolff and others, to Josh Green, if he wasn't going to talk about anything in the transition and he wasn't going to talk about any conversations with anyone in his time in the White House, what was he willing to talk about?

HIMES: Well, you know, you raise a very good point there. It won't surprise you to hear the fun detail that there was more than one copy of the recent book "Fire and Fury" in the room. And, of course, in that book, Steve Bannon was expansive on things that happened and things he said and others said during those two periods of time, and yet there he was saying, no, I won't answer those questions because I have been asked by the White House not to.

COOPER: Congressman Himes, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

HIMES: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: So, Steve Bannon won't answer certain questions and he's citing executive privilege even though some of the conversations he's refusing to testify about were not even with the chief executive present and some of them took place during the transition before Trump was even chief executive at all.

[20:10:04] Now, the question is, is that legal? To do that, to claim that in those circumstances? And how could someone who had so much to say to author Michael Wolff, apparently have so little to say now? On top of that, he's now on two hot seats, one before Congress and the other, if he doesn't cut some sort of deal, before Robert Mueller's grand jury.

Joining us is someone who got to know him well, Josh Green, author of the great book "Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency". Also, Georgetown Law School's Carrie Cordero.

Carrie, legally, can he assert executive privilege for things that happened during the transition and for conversations between him and basically anyone who worked in the White House?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he certainly can assert executive privilege or he can say that the president has asserted executive privilege for his time in the White House but I agree with the congressman that it really is a novel articulation of executive privilege to assert it during the transition. There is only one executive at a time. And the president is not the president until the inauguration and he assumes office. So, it's a very novel and untested theory that they are putting forth here.

COOPER: What about between him and conversations with other people in the White House, with the chief executive not being there?

CORDERO: Well, that's a little more broad. I mean, they can make an argument that there are privileged executive branch communications that are deliberative that might involve giving advice to the president. It's a little more squishy than direct communications with the president, but it's certainly a more -- it's sort of a middling claim. It's more legitimate than the claim there is privilege over the transition communications.

COOPER: Josh, given how on the outs the president and Bannon are now, does it surprise you Bannon would cooperate with the white house's direction to not answer questions about his time in the transition or the White House?

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it doesn't. I think there's been a misperception that because Bannon was publicly humiliated by Trump, that therefore, he's looking to get some sort of revenge. I mean, according to people I have talked to around Bannon, that's absolutely wrong. I spoke to two people today familiar with Bannon's mindset going into this testimony who said to me that this claim of executive privilege was meant to demonstrate Bannon's loyalty to President Trump.

COOPER: So, it was meant to demonstrate loyalty. So it's like an olive branch, essentially?

GREEN: Exactly. Yes. I think Bannon's larger goal here, sure, he would like to avoid getting charged with contempt of Congress, getting in trouble with the special prosecutor but in the near term what he wants to do is get back into Trump's good graces. One way I think he believes he can do that is by toeing the White House line when it comes to executive privilege and refusing to answer these questions.

COOPER: We're going to continue our conversation in a moment. We'll also get into how Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury" is playing a part in all of this.

Also ahead in the hour, how team Trump is reacting, how they are facing the government shutdown, the continuing smokescreen over the president's racist remarks and how a question from Jim Acosta was a conversation ender for the president today.

Also, the White House doctor revealing the results of the president's medical exam. We'll have details on that when we continue.


[20:16:50] COOPER: Steve Bannon's 10 hours on the House Intelligence hot seat are over. He did confirm to the committee he's been subpoenaed by special counsel Mueller and he earned one as well from the panel for his non-answers and his claim of executive privilege, as you heard. You heard committee member Jim Himes describing the novel nature of that claim as well as this: the book that he says is playing such a big role in the committee's effort to get answers.


HIMES: It won't surprise you to hear the fun detail that there was more than one copy of the recent book "Fire and Fury" in the room and, of course, in that book, Steve Bannon was expansive on things that happened and things he said and others said during those two periods of time, and yet there he was saying, no, I won't answer those questions because I have been asked by the White House not to.


COOPER: Back now with Josh Green and Carrie Cordero.

Carrie, is it possible the subpoena from Mueller's team was issued because of what Bannon said in the Wolff book, specifically calling that meeting in Trump Tower treasonous, pointing to potential money laundering?

CORDERO: So, I kind of doubt it, Anderson. I don't really think that the special counsel's team is chasing what they are reading in a -- for public consumption book. I think they have the evidence that they have been gathering through investigative techniques and they probably knew they wanted to speak with a whole list of White House officials and former officials, Steve Bannon being one of them.

The timing of it may be tied to the book and the reaction to the book. In other words, the publication of the book, the subsequent reaction and then the fact Steve Bannon left the White House, now he's a former official versus a current official, and that might have changed the timing of it.

But I don't think as the congressman just said, that the House committee was looking at the book and then deciding what to ask as far as questions, that to me indicates a not very rigorous investigation if they are relying on this book and I don't think that's at all what the special counsel's team is doing.

COOPER: Josh, I mean, Bannon wasn't in the room when the president decided to fire Comey. He wasn't in the room for the Trump tower meeting or the drafting of the statement about that meeting, but could he have second-hand knowledge of those? I mean, I suppose he could have second-hand knowledge of those incidents based on conversations he had with other people in the president's inner circle.

GREEN: Yes, I mean, I had in my book -- he was still in the White House when Comey was fired. I have a quote from Bannon saying, you know, telling Trump you can't fire the FBI. Of course, Trump went ahead and tried to do that by firing Comey anyway.

So, Bannon certainly has knowledge that would pertain to some of the issues that Mueller is presumably looking at. Where I'm not sure he does, though, is in what he told Wolff, the idea the meeting was treasonous I think is more of a Bannon opinion than a legal diagnosis, and also, he wasn't yet in the campaign at the time that that meeting happened.

So, it's not clear to me, it's never really been clear to me whether this is Bannon asserting what he believes to have happened, or stating what he knows to have happened.

COOPER: Carrie, I have seen some reports that one of the reasons that Mueller's team may have subpoenaed Bannon is basically a negotiating ploy, that they would offer him to not have to testify in front of a grand jury but to have him speak to staffers of Mueller more privately.

CORDERO: I actually think it might work a little bit differently than that. So, I have seen that suggestion that this is a negotiation to get him to talk voluntarily.

[20:20:04] It could be a little different. A couple variations I think are also plausible theories is that one, they offered him to talk voluntarily and sometimes a witness, particularly if they are concerned about reaction of outside, for example, in this case, the White House, he might actually want a subpoena because then he can say look, I'm compelled, I have to go.

COOPER: It gives him cover in a way.

CORDERO: It gives some cover. So, that's -- I'm not saying that's necessarily the case but I think that's a possibility. Another possibility is that Bannon and his lawyer said he was going to assert privilege or the special counsel's office had reason to think that he was going to be asserting all sorts of different executive privileges in his interview and they used the subpoena instead to head that off and just make it a mandatory compulsory appearance.

The other, the third factor from the special counsel is that he -- when he goes in the grand jury, he doesn't have his lawyer present with him.

COOPER: So talking to Mueller, he cannot exert executive privilege, he has to answer the questions?

CORDERO: Well, he can assert it, but he's in front of a grand jury, it's more compulsory, you have enforcement powers of the grand jury and the court. So, he can play less games with it and the lawyers can play less games with it than they can with congress.

COOPER: All right. Carrie Cordero, I appreciate it. Josh Green as well, thanks.

Coming up next, the other drama playing out tonight, there's a lot of them. The looming government shutdown and the cloud of dishonesty surrounding the president's racist remarks on the sticking point, immigration. Someone is lying and we are keeping them honest, ahead.


COOPER: As we said at the top, the government is just days from a shutdown.

[20:25:02] The standoff is over immigration and the controversy, not to mention the dishonesty, is what the president said about certain countries -- vulgar, racist, confirmed by people who heard it. And now, what the administration is at best blowing smoke about.

CNN's Jim Acosta had tough questions today for the president and his press secretary. He joins us now.

So, you were in the White House today. You asked the president about his comments last week, about immigration. What happened?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, I was less concerned about these comments that the president made last week in which he described countries in Africa as a shithole mainly because we have been through that over and over again. The White House is really denying it and hanging that on Senators Perdue and Cotton, who say they didn't hear that, they don't recall it.

And I was more interested today in following up and asking about this remark the president made that he would prefer to see people come into the United States from countries like Norway, which is obviously predominantly white. And so, here's what happened when I tried to ask the president that in the Oval Office earlier today.


ACOSTA: Mr. President, did you say you want more people to come in from Norway? Did you say that you wanted more people to come in from Norway? Is that true, Mr. President?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want them to come in from everywhere. Everywhere. Thank you very much, everybody.

ACOSTA: Just Caucasian or white countries, sir, or do you want people from other parts of the world, where there are people of color?



ACOSTA: And, Anderson, I don't know if you saw that at the end there, but the president of the United States in the Oval Office, in the White House, ordered me out, essentially ordered the press out. Typically that is not something the president does. The wranglers as you hear will say, thank you, please go. Eventually, we will go. But to have the president point at you and say you're out I think goes beyond what the president really should be doing in the Oval Office in my view in terms of dealing with the press.

The other thing that I think caught my eye as the day went on is just a few moments later, we were escorted into the Roosevelt Room, where he gave some remarks with the president of Kazahkstan and at the end of those remarks we tried to ask more questions about these remarks the president made last week. On that occasion, Anderson, it was -- it was pretty startling because two press aides for the president basically stood right up in front of me, right in front of my face and started shouting so loudly that I couldn't ask my question of the president.

They essentially blocked his view of me and blocked anything that I could be saying, trying to shout me down. And so, it was just another episode here at the White House that reminds you that at times here, it just doesn't feel like you are covering the president of the United States. You feel like you are covering the president of just some other country that is less democratic than this one.

COOPER: Jim, Sarah Sanders was pressed today about whether the president made those racist remarks. Her answer was complicated. She didn't deny it. Instead, she said that she chooses to rely on those who have denied it, shifting explanation of what happened there.

I mean, are these people just lying? It seems like what Cotton and others came out this weekend sort of quibbling about what was said. I mean, it's the difference between the word house and hole.

ACOSTA: Exactly. As if there's a difference. I would remind people there's plenty of indoor plumbing in Africa.

But getting back to what Sarah Sanders was saying in the briefing room, she was saying she would side with people who were in the room. Well, Senator Dick Durbin was in the room. He said he heard that remark. Senator Lindsey Graham was also in the room. He's not denied the remark was made. And as a matter of fact, he told Senator Tim Scott that's exactly what happened.

And so, the White House is choosing to rely on the word of Senators Cotton and Perdue, not from Graham and Durbin, bipartisan senators who were invited over to the White House to try to craft some way out of this immigration impasse. They just haven't been able to do that at this point.

But, Anderson, it just goes to show you when we try to ask for straight answers over here, it is just extremely difficult. They can filibuster.

They can move on to the next question, they can go around us. At one point, Sarah Sanders described the president's remarks as strong language and not always politically correct. To go after countries, to talk about countries in that fashion, that's not going against political correctness. That is really just being discriminatory towards people coming in from those countries.

COOPER: Yes. Jim Acosta, appreciate that. Thanks.

Earlier today, "THE LEAD's" Jake Tapper spoke with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He was in the room, as you just heard from Jim Acosta, with the president.

Remember, Senator Durbin says he heard the president utter racist remarks. He also told Jake that walking into the Oval Office seemed to him like walking into a setup.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: We call him two days later, Senator Graham and I, and say we have done it, we met your criteria, we have a bipartisan bill, we are ready to go, then to be called into the president's office to explain it to him and find that we have been sandbagged.

General Kelly, Steve Miller as I understand it invited five other members of Congress who were not in favor of immigration reform or in a very harsh sense, and they were there to refute any assertions we made that this was a good policy.

So, you asked me where we are today, I will tell you where we are. We are finding that more Republicans are willing to step up now, distancing themselves from those outrageous comments by the president, and really I hope join us in a bipartisan effort to solve this problem. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So given that the question is how open is the president to compromise, remember how agreeable he was the last time he met with lawmakers, saying he would go with whatever the lawmakers in the room came up with because he respects them. Remember also in the same meeting how some of his fellow Republicans staged a kind of in the moment intervention. As the president seem to backing the position of the Democrats on DACA, in conference (ph) of the immigration reform, Republicans intervening immediately to bring the president back to a harder line. So is that what happened this time, a White House intervention?

Joining us now two David, to have been on the room when deal were made, David Gergen and David Axlerod.

David Axelrod, I mean you hear Senator Durbin, is that anyway for a president or Republican or Democrat to operate and negotiation on something as fraud with tension as DACA?

AXELROD: No, I mean look, David Gergen and I have been both in the room as you mentioned. But generally with presidents who have some sense of what they want to do. Last week, literally one week ago the president was in a room with cameras talking about a bill of love, that's what he called this immigration bill that he hoped to sign. And urged for a bipartisan bill, but they're clearly is a group within the White House that doesn't want to see that done and they staged an intervention before Senator Graham and Senator Durbin got over there.

What it really speaks to is, that this president doesn't really have a lot of grounding in any of this. And, you know, I've said before, you know, the hat during the campaign said make America Great Again. The hat now should say rent this space. Because he just doesn't seem to have firm moorings. And that is -- that is concerning. What he said in that room, and I've know Senator Durbin for 40 years. So I have great faith in his veracity. But what he said in that room was deeply disturbing. But this is another piece of the story that's also disturbing which he doesn't seem to know exactly what he wants or where he stands. And therefore, he's being buffeted between various factions.

COOPER: You know -- I mean David Gergen, we saw that -- I mean just clearly on camera in that DACA meeting when he agreed with Senator Feinstein, saying, oh yes, you know, that's what we'll go with, just DACA first and then, you know, other stuff after, we're comprehensive immigration reform using a phrase that I'm not even sure he understood how that's commonly used. And then, you had, you know, McCarthy -- Senator McCarthy jumped in and said well actually, you know, Mr. President I think mean is this. Congressman McCarthy (INAUDIBLE).

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. This is all very peculiar, it is question that lead to my experience going back sometime. Anderson, listen, typically, you will have in any White House factions. And usually there's a moderate versus a more hard line or more extreme group in the White House and they pit off against each other and they try to present, you know, they try to bring in different people representing their views to influence the president. What was unique about this in my experience was that the president himself said I'd like to talk to these two guys. He seemed to be in and, you know, Durbin had a conversation with him, president called Durbin around 10:00 in the morning and Durbin called, you know, Lindsey Graham and said I have had the best conversation I've ever with the president and a long, long time, I am really optimistic we're going to get this done. He wants just come down to the White House right away.

And it was the White House staff, not a faction within the White House, but the White House staff which then apparently invited then five hard line conservative opponents of this plan that was emerging to as David said to sandbag it. Or as we heard from Durbin to sandbag it. And in effect to what the White House staff did was sabotage prospects before getting this bill done. And persuade the president by the sort of in effect -- manipulating him by rounding up all these hard liners. So that is extremely unusual. I just not -- I'm not aware of that, I think it does support David Axelrod's valid point on many issues like this. The president is not anchored and he an be buffered by the various forces in politics.

COOPER: Right, which what the DACA has always been as sort of influence by whoever the last person in the room is. David Axle rod if you were advising the president, would you say to him, let's sir maybe if you, you know, offer even with a whiff of apology or a regret about your words in the Oval Office meeting, that might help this -- get this DACA deal back on track or is that just anti ethical to who the president is, that it wouldn't be worth suggestion -- suggesting.

AXELROD: Look, I think first of all, they need to decide what it is that they want to accomplish. This bill that was presented to them really was a compromise. There were things in there that Democrats wouldn't like, there were things in there that Republicans wouldn't like. That's the nature of compromise. And so he has to decide how much he is willing to match his words that he wants an agreement, you know, with his actions and/or how much is going to get jerked back by this group in the White House and his, you know, activist base which really believes that giving these any sort of status to these DACA young people as amnesty.

[20:35:15] Which is, you know, betrayal on their part. He -- but I must say this, Anderson, I do believe that they are going to get something done and the reason I believe it is because it would be a political calamity for the Republican Party at the end of the day not to do something. I watched this really moving video of this gentleman being shipped out yesterday after 30 years here.


AXELROD: And back to Mexico and it just tore you apart. They don't want that multiplied by a million on television going into 2018.

COOPER: Yes, we saw him being separated from his family at the airport saying goodbye to them. David, David, thank you very much.

Coming up just ahead, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders again, says her boss is not a racist. This time using "The Apprentice" defense. We'll explain what that means. We'll also explain and talk with author Cornel West about that and a whole lot more.


COOPER: The White House press secretary today again said her boss, the president of the United States is not a racist.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I think that is an outrageous claim. And frankly, I think if the critics of the president were who he said it was, why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV.


[20:40:09] COOPER: Well remarkable as it is for that kind of question to even come up in public discussion, Harvard professor Cornel West believes the nation is in what he calls a spiritual blackout. (INAUDIBLE) the question reflects, he joins us now. Dr. West always good to have you on. I wonder what you make --


COOPER: What do you make of everything that has been going on over the past several days regarding the president's reference to, you know, s-hole countries?

CORNEL WEST, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, I think it's not just a matter of words though, it has to do with the spiritual bankruptcy, the collapse of integrity, honesty and decency. Is not just the matter of being a racist, is not just the matter of being a sexist and a homophobe. I think he's all three. But that's even less important than the possibilities of a fascism in the making in which you scapegoat black people, brown people, immigrants, gays, lesbian, trans. He scapegoat the weak and the vulnerable, you link it to the rule of big money, Wall Streets have been breaking record. Big military with the expansion of the military, and then at the same you time under cut rule of law, that's what we seen I think today with Steve Bannon.

So amazing to see Steve Bannon going in, so big and bad and emerging as a kind of kitten differential to his boss and not want to tell the truth. I thought he was a truth teller in al context. So its very clear that they're running from something. This is driven by both a fear, a contempt and a hate. And this is Martin Luther King Jr. week my brother, and the only thing embrace the back of fear is love, love of truth, love of goodness, love of beauty and a Christian like myself, a love of God, love of the holy. But will that kind of love be strong enough, because the fascism and that's in -- and the making is one of the most dangerous moments in the history of this nation my brother, let's be clear, but let us not be deceived.

COOPER: You know, I think it was James Baldwin, the great American writer who said, that and I'm paraphrasing, but essentially though, its ignorance and power combined which is the greatest threat to justice in the world. And I thought of that when the president made those comments because there certainly racist comments but they're -- they're just deeply ignorant, a lack -- they show a lack of understanding of the continent of Africa. You know, three weeks ago according to "New York Times", he made statements saying that everyone Nigeria, you know, lives in huts and that everybody from Haiti has AIDS.

WEST: No, I mean that's just part of both diffusion of the ignorance, the arrogance but also the contempt that's too often manifest toward people of color. But the important thing though is to keep track of the fight back, this is Martin Luther King week. We got William Barb or out there with the poor people's campaign. You got the women's movement, not just the woman's movement, the concerned with corporate feminism. But poor women here around the world. You get the labor movement trying to bounce back. You got young people of all colors concerned about police brutality. You got lives the movement for black lives at the Senate (ph). There is an awakening taking place given the kind of racism, sexism, homophobia and fascism in the making with Wall Street remaining relatively silent as they break down to the bake and for big military. We have to keep track of the social forces behind the president.

Is just not a matter of the president's words, it's also what's behind him and how his policies are reinforcing the wealth and equality. Reinforcing the polarization, where is the love of truth, love of beauty, and for religious folk a love of God concern with the least of this. That's the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., that's the one we've got to focus on my brother given these very bleak moments in which we find ourselves in the history of this empire.

COOPER: You're optimistic. I mean you sound optimistic despite what you say is a very bleak time.

WEST: No, I'm not an optimism all, I'm a blues man. The blues has nothing to do with optimism, nothing to do with pessimist and the blues producers prisoners of hope. Prisoners of hope. When B.B. King says nobody loves me but my momma, she might jive into that's not optimistic. And he says it with a smile, he said it with style. I'm a blues man, a blues man is focused on the love just as what love looks like in public. (INAUDIBLE) where love feels like in private. How do we preserve whatever traditions of love of truth, goodness and beauty that we have left, because so much of our democracy is completely shattered given this present situation.

COOPER: You know, I was reading your book "Hope on a Tight Rope" and one of your quotes in it, you said, "You can't leave the people if you don't love the people. You can't save the people if you don't serve the people". I mean how do you apply this to this president -- to this presidency to this time?

WEST: Well it's true that I say brother Donald Trump, because he's made in the image of God just like you and I, but he chooses to be a gangster, he chooses to be a racist, he chooses to be homophobe and he chooses to be a fascist in the making. But it doesn't mean that he can't change. Now I'm not making a program on change. [20:45:02] But a very important that specify myself as a Christian, we understand what it means for people to be made that across politically and line (ph) of the lines. And therefore, when you're talking about the fact that he has a certain love for himself and a love for people who are behind him, it's a minority but it's a minority that is now in power. He's got a right wing base that is now in power, dangerous as can be. And he has a certain love for them relative to how he's manipulating them because so many of them are poor.

So many of them will be marginalized and his interest for the most part is tie to 1%. So it's a very complicated and simple at the same time where is the love of working and poor people, we need a fight back across the board. Where is the solidarity across race as this nation continues to undergo the kind of spiritual bankruptcy that we are experiencing. But a bounce back is always possible.

COOPER: Dr. West, I'm going to listen to a little Dr. B.B. King after the show tonight. I appreciate --

WEST: Little B.B. and the John Cole (INAUDIBLE) my brother.

COOPER: Nothing wrong with that, can do any better. Dr. West, thank you. Appreciate it.

More breaking news, the president's doctor says he can stand and lose weight but otherwise he's in great shape. Dr. Sanjay Gupta was there for the White House briefing, he asked some questions. He joins me next.


[20:49:59] COOPER: The president's doctor is giving him an overall clean bill of health absent the desire for President Trump to lose some weight, perhaps get some exercise. But the president insisted on something not customary for a routine physical, something the White House physician described.


DR. RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: I was not going to do a cognitive exam. I had no intention of doing one. The reason that we did the cognitive assessment is plain and simple because the president asked me to do it. He came to me and he said, is there something we can do, a test or some type of screen that we can do to assess my, you know, cognitive ability?


COOPER: Well joining me now from the White House is CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. So Sanjay you were in the briefing room today when the results were shared. Dr. Jackson said the president scored well on his cognitive test and is in excellent health. I'm wondering what your assessment was.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, it's interesting with that cognitive exam, I would think of that more like a screening tool, if you will, to try and find the early signs of dementia or some other sort of cognitive problem. And, you know, they -- it's about a 10-minute exam. It's not very extensive. They describe you name, you identify animals. You draw a cube and a clock, and you recite as many words as you can in a minute. So, you know, again, the doctor said he scored a perfect score on that, 30 out of 30. That's a good sign, but it's a screening tool, Anderson, it's not a diagnostic tool if you will for dementia.

COOPER: The doctor also reported that the president's cholesterol numbers have gone up over the past year. Should that be cause for concern?

GUPTA: Well, yes. I think so. I mean keep in mind first of all he is on a cholesterol lowering medication. He has been on that medication, his cholesterol numbers have gone up and pretty significantly, total cholesterol, I know you pay attention to this numbers Anderson, but 169 I believe is what it was a year ago. And now it's 223. So you get an idea despite the medications, that's gone up. And, you know, we talk a lot about his diet and lack of exercise. That's a little bit of a picture of the impact of that.

So you do have a situation now where you have a president who has high cholesterol despite cholesterol lowering medication, who has evidence of heart disease based on a previous CAT scan, a coronary calcium CAT scan of his heart, and he has this borderline obesity in terms of his weight. So you sort of balance that with the fact that the doctor says he's still in excellent health, that the function of his heart is fine. So he still says he's in excellent health despite those things.

COOPER: I mean something in terms of cholesterol, you can have -- I take two cholesterol medications. You can, you know, depending on what they -- they are you can do that. So I assume that something the president could take either switch medications or add something to it.

GUPTA: They're going to increase the dose. They're going to increase the dose and they certainly can do that, that's a good option. It's what he certainly needs as Dr. Jackson pointed out. But again, you know, when we talk a lot about the diet and the lack of exercise, you get a little bit of a picture here just over a year to see his cholesterol level go up, you know, nearly 50 points.

COOPER: Yes, Sanjay, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, we're going to try to sum up the in order to at least strange days and which we can help find ourselves and a way to hope that you make smile, the end of another day "The Ridiculist" is next.


[20:56:24] COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." The state of the union speech is two weeks from tonight, but we're getting a jump on things tonight with the state of the ridiculist. And ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you the state of the ridiculist both flat out bonkers. We're not even three weeks since the New Year and there have been two false alarms about North Korean missile launches. Reports the president of the United States paying hush money to a porn star he may have had an affair with and Washington is buried under a debate about which word the president used to disparage people from Africa.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Some Republicans actually heard the president say shit house instead of shithole.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is such a silly discussion whether it was shit house or shithole. What matters here is not the second syllable. It's the first syllable.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: Either way, Trump is being a complete ass-house, who maybe, maybe, just maybe doesn't belong in the white-hole.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are currently sitting on air discussing whether he said shithole or shithouse.

TREVOR NOAH, HOST, THE DAILY SHOW: Now everyone in Africa is walking around like, ah, that changes everything. We live in a shit house, not a shithole.


COOPER: As the majority of the people who were in that Oval Office meeting twist themselves into plausible deniability pretzels made up of semantics and slight of amenia. Here's what White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said this morning.


SANDERS: Look, the president hasn't said he didn't use strong language, and this is an important issue. He's passionate about it. He's not going to apologize for trying to fix our immigration system.


COOPER: Of course he's not going to apologize. So this is the same as the supposed locker room talk defense after the Access Hollywood tape. It wasn't about the word. It was about how the president thinks about women, just like this is about the president's racist thinking, not some vague concept of strong language. For instance, here's some strong language of multimedia artists projected on to the main entrance of the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Now, as you know, the president gave Norway as an example of where he wants immigrants to come from. And we all know what that means. The Homeland Security secretary was asked about it today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Norway is a predominantly white country, isn't it?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY, HOMELAND SECURITY: I'm -- I -- I actually do not know that, sir, but I imagine that is the case.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Kirstjen Nielsen doesn't know for sure if Norway is predominantly white. Norway. Let me just repeat that. The secretary for Homeland Security claims she doesn't know for sure if Norway is predominantly white. Norway. This is notable not only because her first name has a J after another consonant like the word fjord, but her last name is Danish and Norwegian according to

And in fact, Nielsen is one of the most common names in Denmark. About 5% of the population if my studies are correct. And also she's Homeland Security secretary. And, yes, all available statistics bear out the fact that there are mostly white people in Norway. You can also use the trusted journal of having eyes in your head. I'll show you scenes right now from You don't even need your glasses to figure out this one, which I suppose is why Senator Orrin Hatch took his off before it was his turn to question the homeland security secretary. Take a look.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) UTAH: I'd like to begin with --


COOPER: It was pretty quick, so let me just show you that again because I want to make sure you got this. The senator took off glasses that he actually wasn't wearing. I repeat the senator took off glasses that he was not wearing. Imaginary glasses. Invisible glasses. However you want to conceptualize it, he was not wearing any glasses, but that didn't stop him from removing them.

[21:00:09] And somehow that's the perfect way to frame the times in which we live in the state of the Ridiculist.