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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump Ordered A Freeze On Some $200 Million Worth Of Assets That Were Dedicated Toward Syrian Recovery; Dr. Ronny Jackson Is The New Veterans Affairs Secretary; Video In The Case Of Alton Sterling, A Man Killed By Police In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, In 2016 Was Released; Detailed Look at Special Counsel Robert Mueller; Coffee to Get Cancer Warning in California. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 30, 2018 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: To call that a surprise doesn't begin to describe it. It was a surprise to his own staff. And tonight the confusion it caused remains.
CNN's Boris Sanchez joins us now not far from Mar-a-Lago with more.
So, Boris, what is the latest on this uncertainty that apparently exists between the President, his public comments and really the rest of his national security apparatus, his own closest advisers?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Jim.
Yes, confusion is certainly an understatement. We heard from a senior White House official today who essentially told us that they had no idea what the President meant by his comment during his speech yesterday to a union in Ohio. He further said that we should let everyone else take care of what's going on in Syria, the longstanding civil war there, something that is likely music to the ears of Vladimir Putin and Iran, two nations that have a tremendous amount of interest in the ongoing war in Syria.
We should note we got a statement from the state department within the last hour trying to clarify a report in "the Wall Street Journal" that President Trump ordered a freeze on some $200 million worth of assets that were dedicated toward Syrian recovery. That statement from the state department essentially says that aid, foreign aid is constantly being re-evaluated and that in light of the President's request, they are now doing that for these funds.
Further, the statement emphasizes pushing the international community to do more in Syria, kind of dovetailing off what the President said yesterday, encouraging foreign partners to share the burden there. If you read between the lines that essentially goes with what the President was saying about letting others take the lead when it comes to handling the future of Syria and its leader, Bashar al-Assad.
Unquestionably, it draws into question some of the President's own statements on the Middle East, notably if you recall during the campaign, President Trump criticized several leaders, President Obama and President Bush, for their efforts in Iran not only in telegraphing what they were going to do, but further for leaving a vacuum once the United States withdrew from Iraq for ISIS to form. You will recall President Trump called Barack Obama the founder of ISIS.
So doing the same thing now, at least hinting that he is going to do the same thing now in Syria, certainly a lot of scrutiny to be placed on that, Jim.
SCIUTTO: No question. Boris Sanchez there in Florida.
Let's bring in the panel, Jen Psaki, Bryan Lanza, and Philip Bump.
Jen, if I can start with you, arguably. I mean, going to war is the most solemn decision a President will make. We have the U.S. soldier killed just in the last 24 hours in Syria. This disconnect between the President and his own most senior advisers, the Pentagon said it was blindsided by this. How much trouble is that inside an administration?
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A significant amount of trouble. And here is why. One, when you make a decision like this, which every President has every right to do, there's a significant amount of preparation that goes into it.
The department of defense needs to prepare for how exactly are they going to withdraw 2,000 men and women who are in Syria. That we need to take steps to inform our allies and make sure they are aware. That's something the state department would be doing.
And then the second is that it really sends a bad message to our partners and allies around the world. I mean, if you look at what the troops are doing in Syria, many of them are working with Arab and Kurdish militias.
So what are they thinking about this? They have been important partners to them. They have been consistent partners to them. And I think they are probably looking at this and wondering what happens as well. So there are significant implications when you go against the recommendations or a typical process that the national security team goes through.
SCIUTTO: Allies would want to know if U.S. soldiers are going to be shoulder to shoulder with them tomorrow or next month.
PSAKI: Exactly. What will happen?
SCIUTTO: Bryan, I want to play, if I can, some comments from then- candidate Trump and President Trump on military strategy and telegraphing it. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to tell the enemy how I am thinking. Does that make sense?
Surprise. Remember, they used to call it the element of surprise.
I keep saying, whatever happened to the element of surprise?
You know I have been saying the element of surprise.
We are too predictable.
We need to be unpredictable. We have to be unpredictable.
We want to be unpredictable, folks. We want to be unpredictable.
I'm not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don't talk about military response. I don't want to be one of these guys that say, yes, here's what we're going to do. I don't have to do that. You know why? Because they shouldn't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: So how do you reconcile the President's many proclamations about, you know, playing your cards close to your chest with what he just did yesterday?
BRYAN LANZA, FORMER DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I think if you look at during the campaign he has made his position clear on military engagement. He wanted less in the international stage. So when he makes statements like hey, you know, Syria, you know, we are going to get our troops out of there, that's consistent to what he said with the campaign.
[21:05:07] SCIUTTO: How is that consistent?
LANZA: I think there's two very different things. He hasn't gone into the granular level of what military engagement look like or what diplomatic engagement looks like because he wants to keep that close to his vest. But if you look at what he said during the course of the campaign, he said he is going to be the President that brings the troops home. He is going to be the President that has less military engagement throughout the international stage. Those two things can be consistent with what he said in the campaign and they are consistent today.
SCIUTTO: Doesn't that sound like a lot of what President Obama said about bringing the troops home, and then he was criticized?
LANZA: Listen, I think, you know, history is obviously 20/20. And I think Barack Obama, we can say he made a bad decision. I think we will look at what this looks like now in the time he removes these troops to see where ISIS is. I think there is -- the ISIS, you know, was somebody that Barack Obama never took seriously. You know, he called them the J.V. team, and he let that sort of metastasize and get bigger in that region.
We are now seeing sort of the shortening of ISIS. We are seeing the elimination of it, the sort of breaking apart, and that's the consensus. So it's a different frame time. To try to overlay them as the same thing is not consistent with the truth.
SCIUTTO: Philip Bump, if I can, on multiple national security issues, you can talk about Syria, you can talk about the Mexico border wall, but of course non-national security issues, Roseanne Barr's rating. This is a President who says what he wants when he wants as his inner circle is shrinking and questions mounting about who he is listening to, right. I mean, which advisers are willing to challenge him on these decisions?
PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: No, that's absolutely true. And it will be sort of interesting to watch. The Post is reporting tonight that Trump actually had reached out to defense secretary Mattis about the issue of potentially withdrawing troops from Syria. That's what the administration told the Post. And further, that he had asked for a plan for what that withdrawal looks like.
So this, there apparently was some conversation within the administration. But one of the things that we have seen is Donald Trump will make proclamations, make pronouncements about what he wants to do and then he gets internal pushback, particularly from Mattis. One can think of, for example, the transgender ban. So it's going to be interesting to see how that power dynamic in particular plays out.
All of that said, yes. I mean, what Donald Trump was doing this week was the classic Donald Trump, which is there's nothing he loves more than standing in front of an audience that's cheering for him and just talking about what comes to the top of his head. It is essentially his twitter account, the live version, right.
And so, that is what he was doing. I'm not surprised that he has been thinking about this thing and therefore it came out in front of that audience. We have heard multiple reports as well over the course of his presidency. He goes down to Mar-a-Lago and he talks to people he know in Mar-a-Lago. What do you think about x, y, and z? I'm sure (INAUDIBLE) as well. It's how he operates.
SCIUTTO: Jen, you hear then from Philip Bump there of the "Washington Post" saying they are reporting tonight that in fact he at least had a conversation with Mattis about kind of laying the ground work here. I mean, we have seen this with Trump before where, you know, you are seeing the policy play out in real-time, right?
SCIUTTO: Even the discussions that might normally have been confined to the situation room, they are right out there in public. Is that what we are seeing here?
PSAKI: I think we are clearly seeing an element of that. Obviously, there have been discussions about what they are going to do in Syria. The big problem is this is not a joke. This shouldn't be talked about flippantly at a campaign event. This is a serious foreign policy decision that impacts the security of the United States, impacts our partners and allies.
And as you have been talking about on your show, there are serious implications about our withdrawal, including the rise of Iran in Russia, other proxies that are even more problematic. It's not clear even from his riff at the campaign event that he has an understanding of that, and that is very alarming.
SCIUTTO: Bryan, are you concerned at all because the President did say leave it to others. The others on the ground in Syria, they are not friendly players, right. I mean, we are talking about Russia and Iran, Bashar al-Assad.
LANZA: True. I think when he was referring to others, he was referring to the international community as they usually step in during moments like this. Whether it was Iraq, whether it was other sort of these conflict areas, the international community does step forward and they get engaged, and that's the diplomatic Trump that we are not seeing.
SCIUTTO: You envision a peacekeeping force or something?
LANZA: Not a peacekeeping. Just, you know, engagement from the international community. Maybe they can set parameters on what a de- escalation looks like. So when the President makes these comments, he expects the international community to step up. We have carried a lot of that burden for the past - for several generations. We now have a President who says that we need to share that responsibility throughout the community. And I think that's consistent with what he is saying.
SCIUTTO: Philip Bump, do you see that playing out here if the U.S. were to withdraw from Syria, the international community would then stand up to Russia, Iran, and Bashar al-Assad?
BUMP: I think the critical context that's missing from what we just said is that on the campaign trail, Donald Trump said why don't we just let Russia deal with Syria? He has said before, let's give it to them to deal with. And I think that there certainly is an element -- I don't know that Russia necessarily wants. I mean, certainly they like to occupy as much (INAUDIBLE) space as they can, but Syria is not an easy thing to have to manage, And so I think there's an element there that is more difficult than it seems.
But it's important to note that, a, Donald Trump has consistently sort to talked about excluding the United States from international agreements. He has consistently done things that have been perceived by our NATO allies as undermining the NATO alliance. He has said on the campaign trail that he thinks that Russia should deal with Syria. I just simply don't know what there is either in the campaign or in Donald Trump's presidency that would lead anyone to believe that what he is saying is actually what we need is an international force in Syria, not the United States going it alone.
[21:10:14] SCIUTTO: As you said and point, none of this should surprise us because we have heard these positions before for months and a couple of years going back.
Philip Bump, Bryan, Jen Psaki, thanks very much for staying late with us on this Good Friday.
Next, two views on the President's pick to run the VA. His White House doctor, the one who had such a flattering assessment of his patient's health.
Later, breaking news in that deadly police shooting of Alton Sterling. An action now taken against two officers involved.
[21:14:18] SCIUTTO: President Trump's choice to run the massive department of Veterans affairs, Dr. Ronny Jackson is drawing widespread praise for his work as the White House physician. His choice with zero experiencing running big organizations, well, that's raising questions even among those who know him well in his current capacity.
Former White House ethics czar Norm Eisen for one. He worked with Dr. Jackson in the Obama administration and has co-authored a stinging opinion piece in "The New York Times." His perspective now along with that of GOP strategist Scott Jennings.
So, Norm, in your op-ed in "The New York Times" today, you questioned Dr. Jackson's qualifications to run the VA, but also importantly his independence from the President. Explain that to us.
[21:15:05] NORM EISEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, I know Dr. Jackson. He was a wonderful physician for all of us when he ran the White House medical unit in the Obama administration. But he simply is not qualified to take on one of the most complicated health care management jobs in the world. He doesn't have the health care management experience. He does not appear has been properly vetted. His appointment came as a surprise to many of the President's advisers.
But most troubling, Jim, was his performance at that press conference when he talked about the President's health because he put on a show that made the President happy but was not legitimate. He predicted the President's health seven years in the future. He talked about how the President might live to 200 if he had a better diet. And most troubling of all, he gave the President the wrong testing to address the cognitive issues, the psychological issues that were swirling around.
SCIUTTO: A lot of issues there. Let's set that medical examination aside for a moment.
But on the issue, Scott, of running the VA. It's got serious issues. The lives of wounded veterans and ill veterans really hang in the balance there. There have been some treatment issues. People have died waiting in line. How do you defend this decision to choose the President's doctor, in effect, to run this sprawling bureaucracy facing real challenges?
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, first of all, I think that norm is soft-selling what he said about Ronny Jackson today. I mean, he called him a liar and a quack. I mean, he basically said this rear admiral of the United States Navy went before the American people and lied and said that he may not have even conducted correct medical tests despite his years of excellent training. So let's not pull punches here, Norm. You called this man a liar and a quack. Here's what I think.
SCIUTTO: I do --
JENNINGS: Let me finish.
SCIUTTO: I do want to set that issue aside.
First, I want to get to the issue which is the central one here of running the VA. That's the job at hand here. Do you believe that he is qualified to run the VA and can help solve these real, present and, you know, life-changing problems that the VA faces?
JENNINGS: Well, I hope he does a good job. And I think we need to give this man a chance. I'm not going to fight Norm on the fact he has non-traditional qualifications for this. And I do also prefer that the President go through a better vetting process for Presidential appointments. I did Presidential personnel vetting for President George W. Bush. And I would prefer a stronger vetting process. I think what we have to hope here is that Dr. Jackson's qualifications are thoroughly probed in the confirmation process.
But I think we have no reason to believe he is of low character. We have no reason to believe he is a liar and we have every reason to believe he is an excellent doctor. And we also have most importantly every reason to believe this man cares deeply and passionately about his country and about his fellow veterans. And I think that alone should cause all of us to say, we wish you well, and we hope you clean up this agency because it's vital.
SCIUTTO: Norm, is that enough? The fact that he is a military man himself? In fact, he is still in uniform. Is that enough in your view?
EISEN: No, Jim, it's not. The VA job is one of the most complex healthcare management jobs in the world. You are treating -- responsible for treating the health of hundreds of thousands if not millions of American veterans, a variety of other social services to them.
Ronny Jackson runs a medical unit of a few dozen people. I don't question his patriotism or his decency. I was very well treated by him as a doctor. But that doesn't suit him to run one of the most complex medical bureaucracies and one of the most troubled ones, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Scott, this CNN's reporting that the President said to aides that Ronny Jackson's performance in that press conference, praising the President's health, was a factor in him selecting him for the VA. He also commented, my CNN colleagues have reported to others that he thought he looked like the central casting version of someone who should be in that role. That appears part of the President's calculus here in choosing him.
JENNINGS: Well, it's part of the President's calculus in choosing a lot of aides these days. I mean, he likes people who know how to communicate. He puts a lot of stock in communication ability. And I hope Dr. Jackson's management abilities and his abilities to run an organization like the VA live up to how the President views his communication abilities.
Look. There's no question he has never managed anything this large. But not that many people around Donald Trump right now have. And I think Ronny Jackson's prior service, Ronny Jackson's patriotism, Ronny Jackson's knowledge of the veterans system, it is going to help him succeed in this role.
Look, we could try to tear this guy down before he even starts this job, but I just don't know what good that does.
[21:20:01] SCIUTTO: Well, Norm, Scott, we are going to have to leave it there. Thanks very much for taking the hard questions.
EISEN: Thanks, Jim.
JENNINGS: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Coming up, disturbing new video from an officer's body camera showing the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. We are going to show you the video and bring you breaking news about what has happened to those police officers. That's next.
[21:23:48] SCIUTTO: There is breaking news tonight in the case of Alton Sterling, a man killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2016. Police were responding then to a call from a homeless man about a man with a gun. Video from the officers' body camera has now been released, which we will show you in just a moment.
Just this week, though, authorities announced that no charges would be brought against the two officers. But tonight one of those officers has been fired. The other has been suspended for three days without pay.
Here now is that body cam video. I just want to give you a warning here. It is extremely disturbing to watch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your problem?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't move. Stop.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I did?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't (bleep) move. I'm shoot your (bleep). Put your hands on the car. I'm going to shoot you in your (bleep) head. You hear me? Don't you (bleep) move!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Hold up. Hold up. You're hurting my arm. Hold on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tase him. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get on the ground! Get on the ground!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pop him again, Howie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (bleep).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get on the ground! (Bleep).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shots fired.
[21:25:48] SCIUTTO: Just so difficult to watch. CNN's Nick Valencia joining us now from Baton Rouge.
Nick, I know you spoke to the attorney for the officer who killed Alton Sterling, fired the deadly shots. What can you tell us about what he said?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The attorney for Blane Salamoni tells me they are obviously disappointed in the chief's decision. They plan on appealing and that process could take as much as 90 days for it to start.
I asked him if his client really wants to come back to work in law enforcement in Baton Rouge after everything that we have seen on that video. And he tells me it's less about wanting to come back and work as a police officer here, more about wanting to clear his name. Reportedly, he was very emotional about the news, and he plans to appeal - Jim.
SCIUTTO: Tell us about the Sterling family. They lost Alton Sterling here. How are they reacting to this?
VALENCIA: Well, it's clearly very difficult for the family. I spoke earlier as well to Chris Stewart, who represents the children for Alton Sterling. You remember he has five children between the ages of about four or five to 17. And they are trying their best that they can to keep those kids from watching the video. They don't want them to have to see their father that way.
Reportedly, one of the family members of the Sterling family passed out after seeing the video. I asked them about this notion of closure that the police chief brought up at the press conference. I said, do you think that the family will get closure after seeing these videos? They say the real closure will come if the city steps up, according to the attorney, and goes forward with the civil lawsuit.
One of the things, Jim, real quick is they are haunted by what they saw on this tape. They are haunted by what happened at the end. As Alton Sterling's body is laying there and he is bleeding out, the officer, Blane Salamoni, walks over and called Sterling stupid, uses profanities. The family sees that as laughing in the face of death and their loved one - Jim.
SCIUTTO: Goodness. You can understand why. Nick Valencia, thanks very much for joining us.
Joining us now is former LAPD officer David Klinger and CNN law enforcement analyst and former Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey. He is co-founder of the consulting group 21 century policing solutions.
Chief Ramsey, let me ask you first. You watched that video. Do you think the police officers behaved correctly?
CHARLES RAMSEY, FORMER PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: No. No. I mean threatening to shoot the individual in the head, all that sort of thing, the swearing, no, that certainly is not standard procedure.
SCIUTTO: David, you look at this and based on what we know, do you agree that they did something wrong here, that they should have paid for it with more than losing their jobs?
DAVID KLINGER, CRIMINOLOGIST: That's some of the worst police work I have ever seen in my life. And those two officers, particularly the shooter, should be embarrassed as should anybody with any sort of law enforcement background who knows anything about how to deal with people.
As Chuck just said, the inappropriate language, threatening to kill somebody. And if you listen carefully to what the shooter says, he tells Mr. Sterling that first I'm going to shoot you in the blankety blank and all these awful words if you move. Then he tells him put your hands on the car. Then he tells him again I'm going to shoot you if you move. What sense does this make?
We had a completely out of control police officer who is making no sense, and he spun out of control. He got very emotional. I heard your reporter say that he got emotional when he heard the news of being fired. This is a guy who can't control his emotions. He cusses at the very beginning. He shoots him. Then he cusses at him some more. Then there were a bunch of other terrible mistakes that were made.
SCIUTTO: Listen, I don't mean to demean or dismiss the dangers that police officers, uniformed police officers, face around the country every day. But is this more than embarrassing, chief Ramsey? Was it criminal behavior by these police officers in your view?
RAMSEY: Well, you know, when you have these kinds of cases, your district attorney or state's attorney will review it. And in the light of whether or not it could be criminal. The department will look at it administratively. Did you violate policy procedures, training, and the like?
[21:30:00] But certainly training does not include pulling your gun, pointing it at someone's head, threatening to kill them, swearing at them, giving them commands, move, don't move. I mean it's just -- it's terrible. He should have been fired quite frankly in my opinion. But one of the things that's problematic in policing, there is no centralized database where you can enter that kind of information into so that he could never hold another law enforcement job anywhere in the United States. So he could be fired from here, but theoretically, he could go somewhere else and get hired. That's a scary thought.
SCIUTTO: David, it seems a consistent problem that we see in instances like this is the opposite of de-escalation, right? Because I know that part of training, the police are trained when the circumstances merit to find a way to de-escalate rather than to escalate.
SCIUTTO: Are police departments around the country trying to do a better job of that?
KLINGER: I think they are, and I think perhaps chuck knows a little bit more about this than I do in terms of his consulting work. But definitely there's a movement. But to move towards de-escalation, that's a good thing. But we have to understand two things. Number one, there's times where de-escalation is not the correct way to go. This situation, however, they escalated it. They started out hot. They walked right up and put their hands on him. There's no need to do that. We don't have time to go into every single tactical blunder that went down here. But suffice it to say that when we go back to this issue of de-escalation, yes. But these officers escalated from the outset, and that was completely improper. Unless there's something going on that I know nothing about, which is possible, they should not have handled it that way from the outset.
SCIUTTO: As David said, Chief Ramsey, I know this is something that you're working on.
RAMSEY: Yes, well, it is. De-escalation training is something that is part of police training in practical every city across the United States now. What these officers did of course is not an example of that. They did just the opposite. They actually caused a situation to elevate even higher. I think to keep it in perspective, though, you know, police officers have contact with citizens every single day. They arrest people every day. They take some very dangerous people off the street, including those that are armed, and there's no injury to the cop, no injury to the citizen. But when you have instances like this, you have video, it certainly gives the impression that that's like standard police work, and nothing could be further from the truth.
SCIUTTO: I get it. It's a fair point. I deal with police often, and we've got to give them credit where credit is due.
Chief Ramsey, David Klinger, thanks very much.
SCIUTTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller is in the eye of many storms in Washington, of course. Some Republicans want him fired. Democrats say there will be a constitutional crisis if he is. Just ahead, a detailed profile of Mueller by CNN's Gloria Borger.
[21:36:27] SCIUTTO: He may not be a man for all seasons, but in today's Washington, without a doubt, he is a man for this season. Special counsel Robert Mueller is the point man in charge of the Russia investigation. His team of prosecutors has already indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election. And he has obtained guilty pleas from five people for various charges, including Michael Flynn, President Trump's first national security adviser, and Rick Gates, the former deputy chairman of the Trump campaign. What's more, there is no sign that Mueller's investigation is coming to a close.
Here is CNN's Gloria Borger with the first of a two-part profile of a man who once headed the FBI.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Special Counsel Robert Mueller is a mystery man, perhaps the most private public figure in Washington. But as the leader of the Russia investigation, he's also at political ground zero.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I think the public trust in this whole thing is gone.
BORGER: And in the sights of a president who wants him fired.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "A.C. 360": Last June, the president ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but backed down after the White House counsel threatened to quit.
BORGER: Putting Mueller in the bizarre position of investigating whether the president tried to fire him. But you'll never hear about it from Mueller.
GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean this is someone who has turned down more press conferences and interviews than most people in Washington ever get the chance to give. He doesn't really like talking about himself. He doesn't really like speaking with the press.
BORGER: At the start, Mueller was a bipartisan favorite.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would have been on anybody's list of, let's say, the top five people in the country to have, you know, taken on this kind of a responsibility.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We all need to let Mr. Mueller do his job. I think he's the right guy at the right time.
BORGER: With a long resume. At 73, he's been involved for decades in some of the Justice Department's most celebrated cases: Mobster John Gotti, Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega
ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: The wreckage of Pan Am 103 --
BORGER: -- and the Pan Am 103 bombing in Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, a case that still remains personal.
MUELLER: I'll never forget the visit I made to Lockerbie where I saw the small wooden warehouse in which were stored the various effects of your loved ones. A white sneaker, a Syracuse sweatshirt, Christmas presents and photographs.
GRAFF: He's been effectively the same Bob Mueller in every place he has ever worked, whether that was the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco in the 1970s, whether that was the George H.W. Bush administration in the 1980s, whether that was the D.C. homicide prosecutor's office in the 1990s, or the FBI in the 2000s.
He is hard-driving. He's tenacious. He is incredibly thorough and has a very strong sense of right or wrong.
BORGER: Not Republican or Democrat?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Four and a half years, 2,000 meetings, I didn't hear him say anything political.
BORGER (on camera): Really? In Washington?
MUDD: I know that sounds weird. He might have said that guy's a jerk. I didn't see it as a partisan issue.
BORGER: How would you describe his politics?
LISA MONACO, FORMER MUELLER CHIEF OF STAFF: Not.
MUDD: As in there are none?
MONACO: He's apolitical. He is non-partisan. He is, as I think has become quite clear, a pretty law and order guy. But he doesn't speak of things in political terms.
[21:40:04] ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.
BORGER (voice-over): Which is partly why President Bush picked him to run the FBI in 2001.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The FBI must remain independent of politics and uncompromising in its mission.
BORGER: Mueller arrived at the FBI just seven days before 9/11. He served most of his term under Bush. And when President Obama asked him to stay for two more years, it required an act of Congress. The Senate approved 100-0.
His M/O.? A "by the books" guy even after hours.
MUDD: People told me, after Christmas, we're going to the director's house, a guy that never really interacts with us. At the end of the party, he would flick the lights. It's on the invitation it's 7:00 to 9:00. It's 9:03. Lights on. That's kind of a signal. BORGER: Married for 50 years to a former teacher, the father of two
daughters, there still wasn't much small talk about family at work. A literally buttoned up and buttoned-down boss.
MUDD: I remember him telling him, director, you wear a white button- down shirt every day. Can you wear tattersall or something?
GRAFF: I asked him years after he had been director, what was the deal with the white shirts when you were at the FBI? He said, I understood I was leading the FBI through a wrenching period of change. I wanted to wear the white shirt because I wanted the other FBI agents to be able to know that this was still the agency that they had signed up to join.
BORGER: His dress code as unforgiving as his work ethic.
MONACO: He was in the office between 6:00 and 6:30 every morning, and he would always plop his briefcase down in the chair opposite my desk, not sit down and kibitz or shoot the breeze. Immediately, what's happening? What's going on?
BORGER (on camera): What if you're not a good briefer?
CARLOS FERNANDEZ, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Then you're done. Then you're done.
FERNANDEZ: Then you're done. The boss likes a good briefer. People used to wake up at 4:00 in the morning and study for two hours before briefing the boss. It was like the big test of the day.
MUDD: There's not a lot of back and forth. Very quickly, you're going to go through the details of the case.
BORGER: Would you assume that he is managing the special counsel investigation the same way?
MUDD: Oh, heck yes. I wouldn't assume it. That is his -- it's not like a professional choice. That's his DNA. What's going on today? What have you got? What have you got? I don't want to hear a lot of noise. I want to hear what the facts are. Let's talk about. What's your judgment? What do you think? Let's here our decision. Let's go. I never saw him unsecure, ever. Ever.
BORGER: Never ever?
BORGER (voice-over): The pressure on Mueller now as special counsel is intense, but he's seen worse.
FERNANDEZ: You forget this is a man that in his early 20s fought in Vietnam. I don't think there's anything in Washington that's going to give him any type of fear that he faced when he was a young man.
BORGER: Mueller grew up in the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs and attended an elite boarding school, a classmate of John Kerry. Then to Princeton.
But the combat death of a classmate David Hackett in Vietnam inspired Mueller to join the Marines.
GRAFF: He was wounded in combat, shot through the leg, received a Bronze Star with Valor, Purple Heart, and, you know, was right back in the fight a couple of weeks later.
MUELLER: I always did consider myself fortunate to have lived through the war in Vietnam. And there were many men, such as David Hackett, who did not. In some sense, you feel that you have been given a second lease on life, and you want to make the most of it to contribute in some way.
BORGER: After graduating the University of Virginia Law School, Mueller soon found his way to the Department of Justice and remained there for most of the next four decades.
MUELLER: My colleagues here at the Department of Justice pass and present --
BORGER: With two short breaks to give private practice a try.
GRAFF: Bob Mueller has been notoriously unhappy every time he has tried to be in private practice. He just can't defend guilty people. He'll meet with a client, they'll explain the problem, and he'll say, well, sounds like you should go to jail, then. You know --
BORGER (on camera): So he'll tell his client --
GRAFF: It sounds like you're guilty. Bob Mueller is someone who sees the world in very black-and-white terms.
[21:44:24] SCIUTTO: Part two of Gloria's profile in just a moment, including Robert Mueller's dramatic showdown in a Washington hospital room alongside James Comey.
SCIUTTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has had a long and intense history in official Washington, especially during one particular incident under then Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Here again, is CNN's Gloria Borger.
BORGER (voice-over): By 2004, Muller was running the FBI when his phone rang. It was James Comey, then-deputy attorney general. It was the first time Mueller and Comey would find themselves in a very controversial legal drama.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was very upset. I was angry.
BORGER: Comey was worried the Bush administration was determined to keep a waterless eavesdropping program that Mueller, Comey and their boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, thought was illegal. But Ashcroft was in the hospital recovering from surgery, leaving Comey in charge.
COMEY: I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that. Called Director Mueller with whom I had been discussing this matter and who had been a great help to me over that week and told him what was happening. He said, I will meet you at the hospital.
SCIUTTO: They had to race administration officials to Ashcroft's bedside.
COMEY: Director Mueller instructed the FBI agents not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances.
[21:50:05] BORGER: In the end, Ashcroft backed Comey and Mueller.
GRAFF: He enlisted Bob Mueller because he knew Bob Mueller had this incredible non-partisan reputation in Washington. While Comey might be able to be personally blamed for having political motives or thinking politics, no one was going to be able to attach that to Bob Mueller.
BORGER: That was then. Now, Trump views their relationship with suspicion.
TRUMP: He's very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome.
BORGER: Mueller loyalists deny it. It's all part of the new landscape as he investigates the president.
REP. TREY GOWDY, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: In Congress, we just politics infects and invades everything.
BORGER: And it has. News of disparaging text messages about Trump led Mueller to remove a member of his team.
GOWDY: I think they are devastating. They are beyond showing political preferences. It very much impacts peoples' perception of fairness.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President --
BORGER: The president declassified a document challenging the FBI's professional behavior.
TRUMP: I think it's a disgrace. What's going on in this country. I think it's a disgrace.
BORGER: The intended message to Mueller was clear, your investigation is contaminated. Mueller remains silent. Instead, letting his work speak for itself.
GOWDY: He is the best hope to produce a product that my fellow citizens can have confidence in. It will not come from Congress. Let me assure you of that. It will not come from a bunch of politicians. I hope it can come from a former Marine who was the head of the FBI and a U.S. attorney. But he has to be mindful of the perception. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and I'm going to wait on the product that he produces.
SCIUTTO: Coming up, why your morning coffee may soon come with a warning about cancer risk.
First, a preview of Sunday's new installment of "American Dynasties, The Kennedys."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: You know their name. You don't know their whole story.
ANNOUNCER: A key battle over education brings the civil rights struggle to the forefront of Jack's mind. Confronted with the violence, the fundamental injustice, the Kennedys realize that America needs civil rights legislation now.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All men are created equal, and the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence.
ANNOUNCER: "American Dynasties, The Kennedys," new episode Sunday at 9:00 on CNN.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[21:56:45] SCIUTTO: Coffee may soon come with a cancer warning, at least in California. A preliminary court decision means that coffee sellers may have to warn some very sleepy people of cancer risks due to a chemical in the roasting process.
Earlier, I spoke with CNN chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta.
SCIUTTO: Sanjay, I have to ask, I'm a coffee drinker. I'm sure there's a few tens of millions who might be watching this. What exactly is this and how worried do coffee drinkers like myself need to be? DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me cut to the
chase then, since you asked the question. I think it's going to be good news for you and the other coffee drinkers out there. I think this is probably going to feel more like panic than prudence. It shouldn't be. I think practically speaking, I don't think there's a risk really at all for the people who are coffee drinkers. What we are talking about a certain chemical which is typically thought of in industrial processes, dyes and molds.
But also in certain foods when they are heated or baked or roasted, for example, it can release this substance. Coffee beans are one of the substances. When you see them coming as a plant, they are pale in color. After they are roasted, that's what gives them the darkness. That's when the chemical can be released. The saying in medicine is that it's the dose that is the poison. In this case, the dose is so low, even in the animal studies, it was so low that it really was not a problem in terms of potentially causing cancer. In very high doses, potentially, yes. That's why this concern has come up at all.
SCIUTTO: Of course, you mention cancer risk. Folks are still going to wonder, is this something I should reduce just to be safe. We also hear of the studies that show the benefits of coffee drinking, at least in moderation. In your view, does this risk even if it's small outweigh the benefits of drinking coffee?
GUPTA: It's interesting you ask that question. In some ways that was the question that came up with this particular lawsuit in California. Starbucks, other people who are coffee makers saying that there are so many health benefits to coffee, they should outweigh the risks. There's good reason for them to say that, decreasing risk of heart disease, your risk of Alzheimer's, even decreasing your risk of certain cancer. I think there are significant benefits. Again, while the chemical in and of itself is a potential cancer-causing substance, it's the dose. You need 100,000 times the dose you get to cause some problem. One thing I will say -- I know you are a coffee drinker -- the World Health Organization looks at hot beverages as a concern because the hot beverage itself can cause this damage to the esophagus. That could potentially actually set you up for certain cancer. Low risk, but if you make a change, I would say don't worry about not drinking coffee, you may want to let it cool down longer and not let it be so hot.
SCIUTTO: Got it. Good advice, comforting advice.
Sanjay Gupta, thanks very much.
GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Thank you so much for watching "360."
It's time to hand it over to Don Lemon. "CNN TONIGHT" starts right now.