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What Triggered Trump's Twitter Tirade?; President Trump: No More DACA Deal; Local Anchors Forced To Read Same Script About "Fake" News; Wall Street Journal: Mueller Team Looking Into Roger Stone's 2016 Claim That He Met With Julian Assange. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired April 2, 2018 - 20:00   ET


20:00:15] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin tonight keeping them honest, with what the -- what President Trump did on his Easter vacation. In short, he tweeted, and it's being seen as a reflection of the company he's been keeping lately, who is in his ear and who is not.

So, after a weekend at Mar-a-Lago with Fox's Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, former Fox Executive, Bill Shine, immigration hardliner, Stephen Miller, and oddly enough, boxing promoter, Don King, he had plenty to tweet about -- attacking the news media, except for Fox News, and Sinclair Broadcast Group, the big local broadcasting chain whose anchors nationwide read a statement attacking fake stories which the president endorsed.

He also attacked Amazon and his own Justice Department, putting the word justice in scare quotes. He attacked Democrats for not wanting any border between the U.S. and Mexico, in his opinion. He attacked Mexico for not enforcing its own immigration laws.

And most notably, he also issued a string of tweets on the hundreds of thousands of young people known as DACA kids, the ones whose future you'll remember was thrown in doubt by action he himself took back in September when he rescinded the program protecting them.

Since then, he's promised to deal with the so-called Dreamers, with, quote, great heart, in his words, and said this back in early January about new legislation on immigration.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It should be a bill of love. Truly, it should be a bill of love, and we can do that.


COOPER: Well, in the three months that followed, though, the president has sought to tie legislation on their fate to funding the border wall and restrictions even on lawful immigration. In other words, the president has been kind of all over the map on this one. Right now, it seems, he's in a very hard line place.

He began with a tweet just yesterday morning: Border Patrol agents are not allowed to properly do their jobs at the border because of ridiculous liberal Democrat laws like catch and release. Getting more dangerous. Caravans coming. Republicans must go to nuclear option to pass through touch laws now. No more DACA deal.

Now, in fairness, that was his second, not his first tweet of the day. The first one simply said happy Easter. In any event, that one DACA tweet has a lot to unravel and some terms you might not be familiar with.

First, keeping them honest, catch and release is not actually a law, Democrat or Republican. It's a practice, a controversial one, of releasing non-criminal undocumented immigrants on their own recognizance in part due to a lack of detention facilities, in part the White House claims due to immigration law loopholes.

Caravans are groups of migrants fleeing Honduras, Guatemala and elsewhere who are making their way across Mexico together, not separately, to avoid, they say, being preyed on.

The nuclear option is getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate so the minority party, Democrats currently, could no longer block legislation.

So, with that out of the way, here's the next tweet also on Easter morning. Quote: Mexico is doing very little, if nothing at all, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their southern border and then to the U.S. They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the dug drug and people flows or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. Need wall.

The president followed a few moments later with this: these big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act.

The president continued today with four more tweets on the subject, also surrounded by kids at the White House Easter egg roll. In response to a question, the president said this about DACA kids.


TRUMP: The Democrats have really yet them down. They've really let them down. They had this great opportunity. The Democrats have really let them down. It's a shame. And now, people are taking advantage of DACA, and that's a shame. It should have never happened.


COOPER: Well, keeping them honest, what the president neglects to say is that his own executive action rescinding the program precipitated all of this. He also neglected to mention that he has, at times, signaled he's open to virtually any compromise whatsoever on immigration. Listen.


TRUMP: This group comes back, hopefully with an agreement, this group, and others, from the Senate, from the House, comes back with an agreement, I'm signing it. I mean, I will be signing it. I'm not going to say, oh, gee, I want this or I want that. I'll be signing it because I have a lot of confidence in the people in this room that you're going to come up with something really good.


COOPER: So, in the space of a little less than three months, the president has gone from being eager to sign just about anything to a Twitter rant about just about everything and very quickly, factually inaccurate rant. Not one single new immigrant can actually take advantage of DACA, as the president claims, unless they come here by a time machine, it's, of course limited, to people who have lived here since June of 2007.

Mexico is taking efforts to control its southern border. That began four years ago. Now, you can argue it's certainly not enough, but not that it doesn't exist.

And it's hard to see what ending the Senate filibuster, pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, has to do with anything, perhaps that they either reflect the views of his harder line advisers, certain Fox News anchors, his own harder line impulses and/or personal beefs, so sad that the Department of Justice and the FBI are slow walking or even not giving the unredacted documents requested by Congress, an embarrassment to our country, the president tweeted.

[20:05:03] He also said this: So funny to watch fake news networks among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more fake NBC, which is a total joke.

The president also attacked Amazon, apparently because founder Jeff Bezos also owns "The Washington Post". He also mentioned what an honor it was to host the annual Easter egg roll, but surprisingly, or perhaps thankfully, had nothing to say about the bunny.

More now on the president on the attack from CNN's Pamela Brown, who joins us from the White House tonight.

So, do we know why the president is in attack mode?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there could be a few reasons here, Anderson. We're told by sources that he's certainly feeling the heat when it comes to immigration, as you pointed out. He spent the three-day weekend at Mar-a-Lago, surrounded by a parade of allies and hardliners on immigration, particularly Judge Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity, who were reminding the president that, look, the midterms are coming up and told him that basically, that this could hurt his party, if he can't tout success in building the border wall.

That is on top of the vocal criticism from Ann Coulter that the president has been acutely aware of, that he was reminded of over the weekend. We're told that the president was already frustrated that there has been sort of a lack of progress in his view on building the border wall. He felt like he was cornered in signing the omnibus bill with very little funding for the wall. All of this was exasperated with reports on Fox News about these caravans, Central Americans trying to come to the U.S.

And so, as we see, this is spilling out on Twitter, after he was sort of reminded of all of this over the weekend by these allies, but it isn't just on the immigration issue. It's a myriad of topics the president is touching on, including Amazon, NAFTA and Mexico, his own Justice Department today.

Some may say that, look, it's because he's lost some of his moderating forces in the White House, including Hope Hicks, the communications -- former communications director, who left last week, and this is the first week that the president is without her by his side. She was seen as sort of a daughter to the president and someone who was a moderating voice, but even when she was here, by his side, he still went through these fits of fury. So, I think that really, the bottom line here, Anderson, is, this is just the president being the president.

COOPER: It's obviously not the first time, though, that the president has gone after multiple groups in just one day.

BROWN: Absolutely. I mean, if you look at his Twitter feed, it appears that the primary purpose, or the way he views it primarily is to go after people, to go after groups, it's really his outlet for him, the way that he communicates with people in the outside world. Which always makes it more curious when he doesn't go after people or groups that you think he might -- would go after, such as perhaps Vladimir Putin, such as Stormy Daniels. You know, it calls even more attention when he doesn't go after those people, because of the fact that he's so regularly using it to kind of go into attack mode on issues that are top of mind for him, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Pam Brown, appreciate it. Thanks very much, Pam.


COOPER: Some perspective now from CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, as well as CNN political analyst, Molly Ball.

Ryan, I mean, should anyone be surprised at this point that the president goes down to Mar-a-Lago, hangs out with people from Fox News and then goes on a hard right tear on Twitter? Which by the way, it seems like most people on Capitol Hill basically just ignore now.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think we should be surprised at all. As Pamela said, this is Trump being Trump. This is someone who, in his 70s, is not going to -- is not going to change. And this -- the accumulation of the staffing changes at the White House have been to, you know, take off some of the guardrail, some of the restraints that he previously had.

Let's be honest. It's not like they were serious guardrails or restraints previously. And he loves this platform. He loves the fact that any thought that pops into his head can be immediately, you know, disseminated to his people, and he's very easily worked up on certain issues, especially immigration. He's been very worked up about the omnibus bill that he claims he didn't want to sign, that had no funding for his number one priority, this wall.

I mean, not only that, the funding that it did have said it could not be used for anything other than see-through fencing. And so, it was very easy for him to get worked up by what's on the -- circulating in conservative media right now, which is dejection about his immigration policies not passing. I mean, not only that, the funding that it did have said it could not be used for anything other than see-through fencing.

And so, this is -- this is classic Trump. I don't -- we're going to be having this same conversation, Anderson, a year from now, assuming he's still in office.

[20:10:00] This is who he is -- yes, go ahead.

COOPER: Yes. Molly, I wonder how worried do you think he is about the base? I talked to Chris Ruddy from Newsmax, we're going to play in our next hour, who was down in Mar-a-Lago, who kind of pooh-poohed the notion that, you know, being surrounded by folks on Fox News, that he's getting this message, that he needs to be fearful of being too soft on immigration, that he's not too soft on immigration.

But do you think there is truth to that, that the idea that people are delivering the message to him that, people in your base are starting to wonder about where you are on immigration?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's clearly the message he's getting from somewhere. And you do see it popping up here and there in conservative media, which I think is really interesting, because up to this point, conservative media has really been an amen chorus for whatever it is that Trump decides to do. And if he were to decide, I thought, if he were to decide that the border wall wasn't such a good idea, they would just find a way to justify that and explain it and why it was a good thing.

So, it is interesting to see conservative media holding Trump accountable for some of his promises, particular on immigration, which was such a signature issue for him. It's hard to blame him for being frustrated. The achievements of his first year in office were achievements for the Republican Congress. They were tax cuts and judges. Those weren't the things that Trump really feels in his gut and campaigned on, in his view, to the Trump base.

And so, you see him getting restless, wanting to do tariffs, wanting to do something about immigration, and, you know, as Ryan said, having fewer moderating influences around him. And, you know, I think -- we in Washington know that Congress doesn't do anything in even numbered years, but if you are Joe six-pack, that doesn't make any sense, that's stupid. Why can't the Congress keep going even though there's an election many months from now? So, I think part of that, you can't really blame Trump for being annoyed. COOPER: Yes, Ryan, I guess the bigger question is whether the

president really understands things, like, what DACA is. He says big flows are people are trying to get into the U.S. to, quote, get in on the act. DACA obviously doesn't apply to people that arrived after 2007.

So, A, what is he talking about there? And last week, Thursday, we were reporting on, he made a speech in which he talked about, he tweeted about this, as well, even tweeted out a picture of fencing on the border that he said is the beginning of building the wall, when, in fact, we went down there and it's basically just rehabbing existing fencing that was put up under the Bush administration.

LIZZA: Yes, in the omnibus, there was no money for his wall, specifically said, it wasn't allowed to be built. And, look, his tweets were sort of a hodgepodge of facts and fiction about immigration policy. You know, sometimes he talks about Mexico having this very, very tough immigration policy, which it actually does.

I mean, in 2014, they changed the law in Mexico because of the crisis on the southern border there, and they're fairly aggressive about deporting people from Central America, something that Trump sometimes points out. Now, he's sort of arguing that they're letting all these people through.

And as you -- well, a couple points on DACA, one, of course, President Trump ended the program. It doesn't exist right now. And even if it did exist, it would not necessarily mean that anyone crossing the border would be eligible for it. And then, you know, he also made this point about, if you had 51 votes in the Senate, he could pass what he wanted on immigration -- that's not true, either. The immigration bill that went through the Senate didn't even clear 51 votes. So, that's not quite right, either.

So, a lot of errors in his tweets over the weekend and today.

COOPER: Yes, Ryan Lizza, Molly Ball, thanks very much.

Perhaps no surprise, we should point out the president just tweeted again, we'll have more on that next. You'll hear from a former White House chief of staff who's got plenty to say about how this White House is operating.

Also later, we'll dig deeper into the Sinclair broadcasting story, and that statement so many of its anchors were told to read. Was it just a declaration of principles, or as many argued, pro-Trump propaganda? Our guests debate, you can decide when we continue.


[20:17:45] COOPER: While most of us take a few days off, we try to unplug, the president on the other hand lets his tweet flag fly, especially on immigration. In fact, he just tweeted again, we should point, quote: as ridiculous as it sounds, the laws of our country do not easily allow us to send those crossing our southern border back where they came from. A whole big wasted procedure must take place. Mexico and Canada have tough immigration laws, where as ours are an Obama joke. Act Congress.

Then this came minutes later: Honduras, Mexico and many other countries that the U.S. is very generous to sends many of their people to our country through our weak immigration policies. Caravans are heading here. Must pass tough laws and build the wall. Democrats allow open borders, drugs and crime.

Those were just the latest in a string of tweets, we should point. We've been talking about what it might mean and what it says about who the president has been listening to and who he may not be anymore, including Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Now, earlier today on "THE LEAD", conservative commentator, Bill Kristol told CNN's Jake Tapper that General Kelly has little to do these days beyond calling cabinet members to warn them they're about to be fired on Twitter.

Leon Panetta has a unique perspective on this, as both a former White House chief of staff himself and someone who has been speaking out forcefully for so-called Dreamers.

Secretary Panetta, where do you think DACA stands right now, given the president's tweets this weekend, declaring DACA dead and then blaming the Democrats?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, frankly, I don't think the president rationale is working at all with the American people, certainly with Latinos, but more importantly, with the Congress. I think the reality is that the president is the one who got rid of the DACA program, and created this crisis. He has failed to be able to work out any kind of approach on Capitol Hill that was acceptable to him to try to fix the situation, and now he's standing back and basically blaming everybody else for the problem. I don't think it's working.

COOPER: It is also interesting, because you now have a situation where it seems like, you know, people still read the president's tweets and reporters report on them, doesn't seem like anyone on Capitol Hill really pays them any attention. Is that your impression, as well?

PANETTA: Yes, I don't think there's any question. One of the things that has happened over the course of this -- these last many months of this administration is that the Congress has gotten to the point where it simply doesn't take the president's tweets, in particular, with any degree of credibility.

[20:20:14] They've experienced a president who says one thing one day, then says something else the next day. They know better than to take any action based on what he's urging, because in the end, they're not sure whether he'll stick to it. So, they basically keep quiet and do what they have to do without responding in any way to what the president is saying.

COOPER: These tweets obviously came after, you know, he was at Mar-a- Lago, he was there without his Chief of Staff John Kelly. You've been a White House chief of staff, obviously, before.

Do you think it's telling that Kelly was not with the president while all of this happened?

PANETTA: Yes, it's -- it's obviously not a good situation in the White House. You know, I think we've known that for awhile. But the reality is that the whole purpose of a chief of staff is to be able to work with the president, to have a trusting relationship with the president, and to be able to -- to at least provide some degree of discipline with regards to how that president presents his positions to the country.

Not being there in Mar-a-Lago and having a group of individuals visit Mar-a-Lago that looked like the bar scene from "Star Wars," and then, for him to start tweeting based on that kind of conversation is just, I think, another reflection of the chaos that this president engages in as president.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, you talk about the bar scene in "Star Wars", I wasn't going to put it like that, but you did have Stephen Miller, very hawkish member of the president's team, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Bill Shine -- I mean, sort of the -- you know, the bright lights of Fox News, if you will. Don King, you know -- who is really -- I don't even need to try to describe Don King, other than he stomped somebody to death once.

How unusual is it for a president to echo those around him instead of setting the agenda himself, or to surround himself -- I mean, obviously, I guess it's normal for people to want to have like minds around them, but it is interesting to me, just the extent to which he's just not only watching Fox News, but actually consulting with these people from Fox News.

PANETTA: Well, you know, I think what we all have to do is to kind of remind ourselves of how presidents have always acted in the past, whether they were Republicans or Democrats. Normally, presidents, of course, they want to meet with people that are friendly to them and most presidents have done that. But when it comes to policy, when it comes to pronouncements by the president of the United States, normally what every president I've known has done is to engage his chief of staff and the responsible staff in the White House or military leaders, depending on what the issue is, to sit down and have a policy discussion in which they arrive at a decision by the president and then they develop a process for presenting that decision to the American people.

This is the only president that I've ever known who has basically thrown that whole process out the window.

COOPER: I mean, it's interesting, because I remember from the start of this administration, you raising concerns about just the -- the makeup of the White House, how, you know, the weakness of the chief of staff, how people didn't have kind of individual lanes of authority, people could just wander in and out of the Oval Office. Several of President Trump's outside advisers have been telling him that he may not need a chief of staff or a communications director. I mean, what kind of impact do you think it would have if President Trump were actually to eliminate those positions?

PANETTA: Well, you know, in many ways, it feels like that's the case right now. Even with John Kelly as chief of staff, this president basically goes off and does whatever he wants to do, tweets whatever he wants to say and conducts policy by his tweets. And so, you very much have a situation in which a president of the United States is basically out there, kind of operating on his own.

Now, most presidents usually have a support system. They have staff, they have a chief of staff, they have policy individuals who have experience in the areas that they're involved with. That's normally the way it's supposed to work. We are in never never land right now with this president, not knowing from day-to-day just exactly what he's going to say, what he's going to tweet or what he's going to do.

COOPER: Secretary Panetta, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

PANETTA: Thank you.

[20:25:01] COOPER: Well, coming up, the president's barrage of tweets, as we've heard, took aim at both DACA and Mexico. Just ahead, I'll talk with Univision anchor, Jorge Ramos for his perspective on them.


COOPER: President Trump's tweets declaring the death of DACA landed after time the president spent with his -- some of his allies at Fox News.

Univision anchor, Jorge Ramos has, of course, spent much of the past year defending the so-called Dreamers and is the author of "Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era."

Jorge, the president tweeted DACA is dead. Do you think he's right? I mean, do you think that there is the political will to actually get a deal done with this president?

JORGE RAMOS, ANCHOR, UNIVISION: I don't see any political will from the president. I mean, we have to remember that the president who killed DACA is Donald Trump. He did that last September.

And he could have changed that. He didn't have to do it, but he was offered by the Democrats to have DACA approved in exchange for a few miles of the border and he said, no. So, at this point, I don't think President Trump wants to do anything that might favor up to 2 million DACA kids, Dreamers, and the person who did it was precisely Donald Trump.

COOPER: I mean, he continues -- he's blaming the Democrats for -- for killing DACA.

RAMOS: I don't think he's right.

Look, it was President Barack Obama who, in 2012, established DACA, and it is President Donald Trump who killed DACA. They want to have some kind of negotiation with the president. They offer him up to 300, 350 miles of border, of wall, and he said, no.

So, at this point -- look, we've been hearing all kinds of things about President Trump. He said that this was going to be a bill of love, that he had the heart to help the Dreamers. If he wants to help the Dreamers, he can change that immediately. He's not going to do it.

I think something happened during the weekend. We are dealing with the most anti-immigrant president since the 1950s. Not only killing DACA, he wants to end legal immigration. He wants -- he has arrested 30% more people than President Barack Obama since last year. So I don't think this president is going to do anything for the Dreamers and the Dreamers know that.

COOPER: A Supreme Court ruling back in February ensure that DACA will be in place at least through the fall. Do you think that a DACA is a real danger of expiring that Congress would actually have?

RAMOS: I don't think the Congress is going to do anything about it with a Republican majority. They can not only approve DACA, they can help the Dreamers, they can also have immigration reform if they want to. They simply don't want to do it. I don't see any political work to do that.

So for the Dreamers, they have two options. One is to wait for the courts to rule on this, the other one is what they already call plan B. And plan B is to wait until 2020 to see if Donald Trump is going to be re-elected or not. But for many of them, Donald Trump is not an option right now. And, you know, the real wall right now on immigration is called Donald Trump. Trump is the wall.

COOPER: The president tweeted that, "These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act." I mean, that just technically that's not true, no one can enroll in DACA. What do you think is going on here?

RAMOS: He has no idea what he's talking about. He precisely said that these caravans, first of all, there are no caravans, there's one group of about 1500 Central Americans going from Chiapas, which is in the southern part of Mexico going all the way to Tijuana. This is not the first time they've done it. Every year they do it and their purpose -- and we talked to Univision, spoke to the spokesperson, they clearly say that their purpose is not to illegally come to the United States. They simply want to bring attention to the violence in Central America. Many of them are from Honduras.

So there's no invasion, no one wants to invade the United States. And they cannot take advantage of DACA for -- to apply for DACA, to qualify for DACA, you would have to have been here in this country before 2007. Eleven years ago, this is completely impossible. I don't know what the president is talking about.

COOPER: The president also accused Mexico of doing, in his words, very little, if not, nothing to stop illegal immigration through their border and they tend to pull out of NAFTA if they don't do more. The relationship between President Trump and Mexico's president, I mean it's really been chilly, this cannot help and now the fate of NAFTA is further in doubt.

RAMOS: This is not helping. Even though the Mexican government released also a statement saying that Mexico and the U.S. are cooperating on immigration. The fact is that since Donald Trump announced his candidacy on June 2015, nothing has been good in the relationship between Mexico and the United States.

COOPER: Jorge Ramos, thanks very much.

RAMOS: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, coming up ahead, if you've ever wanted what it would sound like to hear dozens of local news anchors read the exact same script all across the country, wonder no more. The largest owner of local T.V. stations in the United States made anchors read a script railing against fake news. Sounds familiar, well, we'll take a look on what's behind it next.


[20:37:44] COOPER: The largest owner of local T.V. stations in the United States is defending a move that critics are calling pro-Trump propaganda. By its own account, Sinclair Broadcast Group owns and operates close to 200 stations across the country. Local news anchors were forced to read a company mandated script railing against so- called false news and fake stories, a script that sounded pretty much like something the president would say. Take a look.


MULTIPLE SPEAKERS: The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these fake stories, stories that simply aren't true, without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.


COOPER: Well, after that video went viral the president tweeted about the backlash saying and I quote, "So funny to watch fake news networks among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke."

Now, the company is defending the identical promos as a journalist take initiative. Gary Tuchman goes into detail.


MULTIPLE SPEAKERS: The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An identical script read by local news anchors across the country at stations all controlled by one company, the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories without checking facts first.

TUCHMAN: To media watchers, the tone sounding you release similar to false claims or fake news by President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

TUCHMAN: The message mandated by Sinclair to air frequent in its local news broadcasts has done to, "Create maximum reach and frequency," that according to internal company memos obtained by CNN. It's the latest move by a media giant that critics say is pushing pro- Trump propaganda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Former FBI Director James Comey testified before the U.S. Senate on Thursday.

TUCHMAN: Last year, former Trump White House staff campaign senior adviser Boris Epshteyn was hired as Sinclair's chief political analyst.

[20:40:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I've said to my previous commentary, the media coverage of this administration seems to be a lot of hype and very little substance.

TUCHMAN: His regular segment is reportedly mandated as must-run nine times a week mandated by corporate bosses. It has rankled news rooms for cutting into local news time. In December 2016, Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly told a group of business executives that in the run up to the election the Trump campaign struck a deal with Sinclair. Better news coverage in return for more access to then candidate Trump.

Most viewers at Sinclair stations likely don't even know their local news is being shaped by a national conglomerate, which started as one station in Baltimore had an explosion of growth in the last 20 years. Sinclair now owns or controls 193 stations and markets across the country. The biggest operator of local T.V. stations in America and the company is poised to control even more since a bid to buy Tribune Media would give Sinclair access to 72% of every household in the nation. That deal is currently under review by the Trump administration.

Most of Sinclair stations are CNN affiliates, meaning CNN shares content and resources with them and vice versa. "AC 360" made repeated attempts to have a Sinclair representative on the program with no success. The company did, however, send us a statement that reads in part, "It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsroom accountable." Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, earlier, I spoke with NewMax CEO Chris Ruddy who frequently speaks with the president. Here's what he had to say about this.


CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO AND PRESIDENT, NEWSMAX MEDIA, INC: I agree with the sentiment of the Sinclair editorial. I agree with the president that the media is -- should not be calling Sinclair unfair. I generally think Sinclair, if you look at their local news reporting has been generally fair and not biased. I've watched a number of their stations. We have one on the local market here.

That said, there is a tremendous danger when major T.V. networks are homogenizing and packaging news at the local level.


COOPER: Joining me, our NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik as well as ABC News legal analyst and Mediaite founder Dan Abrams.

Dan, what do you make of what Sinclair is doing? I mean owners of stations have obviously tremendous latitude. Can you remember though anything like this before?

DAN ABRAMS, FOUNDER, MEDIAITE: No. I've never seen anything like this before and I think the two things that are really troubling to me are number one is that local stations sort of pride themselves on independence, right? You ask a local station, you know, what different you, we're independent.

And then you hear all these people saying exactly the same thing across the country and it sort of detracts from that argument. But maybe the most important thing to me is the lack of transparency. Meaning, if Sinclair wants to come out and say, look, there's been liberal media bias for years out there. It is time to combat that. Fair enough. That is absolutely there right to say it and you know what? A lot of people would agree with them that the mainstream media has tended to be left of center.

But to pretend that this isn't that kind of statement, to pretend this is just kind of a statement of how good we are as local news reporters and how we're going to go in depth and we're going to get the real story, et cetera, just feels disingenuous and that's my bigger problem here.

COOPER: Well, also, David, I mean it seems they're claiming -- what they're claiming, they were talking about is not actually what they were talking about. I know you spoke with Sinclair executive Scott Livingston, what did he have to say?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, NRP MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: He said two things. He said first, this is a differentiation for us. Sinclair prides itself on rigorous journalism, I mean, its local markets.

And let me be clear, when I used to be a reporter for the "Baltimore Sun" and I'd cover Fox 45 there in Baltimore, they did some of the best coverage locally in the market. But they said this is a calling card for them. They're just praising what they do and presenting it publicly. They're also doing is essentially trashing much of the rest of the media.

He says they're really just expressing concerns about the way in which fake stories as they put it get circulated in social media and by some media outlets. But, you know, the echoes of President Trump's rhetoric are so very strong and, as Dan says, I think they have every right to present this as their corporate statement of belief. The fact that they put it in the words of their anchors, they're trading on the trust that many of these local news anchors have built up over the years with their audiences. And I think that corrodes to standing their own anchors have in a sense, not simply by dent of what they're actually saying, but by dent of the fact they didn't say it at all. They're simply reading from a teleprompter.

COOPER: Well, also, Dan, I mean to the -- the point that David just made, it's not as if they were actually saying, you know, fake stories that are ginned up by somebody online like the pizza gates story or a real problem if they get into the news cycle, there seem to be -- they don't in fact use any specific examples of what they consider a fake story and it sure sounded from the way all the things that were -- the anchors were reading where they're talking about, you know, reporters like Maggie Haberman from "New York Times" who have a Twitter account and that all of these people are doing kind of one sided reporting.

[20:45:23] ABRAMS: Well, of course, they're talking about the liberal media. I mean come on, we can sit here and we can pretend that like maybe that's not what they're talking about, but of course that's what they're talking about. They're talking about the liberal media. And as I say like that's OK to criticize the liberal media. But I don't think it's OK to just pretend that this is just a statement by the anchors.

I think David makes a good point here, which is these anchors are now in a tough spot. You had people out there saying, you know, they should all quit. They should just stand up and say, you know what, I'm done. Well, you know, that's a nice theoretical thing to say and it's a nice principal point to make but it's a lot harder for these anchors who, you know, these days those jobs are tough to find.

If they say I won't do it, they'll be celebrated by some, they'll be lionized by many in a particular community but they also may lose their jobs. And so, you know, you are putting them in a difficult spot to have to make that choice and particularly many on the left sort of demanding of them to say don't say it, if they say you have to say it, then quit. You can understand the sentiment but, boy, that's a tough spot to put all of these anchors in.

COOPER: David, I mean the president's tweet in support of Sinclair today, it basically -- I'm not sure it helps Sinclair with what its trying to accomplish. I mean Sinclair is saying, you know, this isn't about left or right, this is us just expressing our values of being fair. I'm not sure the president weighing in on the side of Sinclair while trashing, you know, CNN and NBC and others really helps their point.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, and it's hard to look at this controversy over these statements being read aloud by anchors. In the absence of thinking about how Sinclair handles themselves both on the air and off the air. You know, they are now in 190 stations, they're looking to take over more than 30 more from Tribune Media in a deal that's getting scrutinized down in Washington. And the reason that matters is they are nationalizing their coverage on their local newscast and a lot of that national coverage in the selection and in the kinds of things that are selected becomes more conservative.

COOPER: David Folkenflik, Dan Abrams, thanks very much.


COOPER: Well, there's some new reporting tonight on the Mueller investigation to tell you about. The "Wall Street Journal" says that Mueller's team is investigating potential links between Trump adviser Roger Stone and a meeting he says he had with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, details on that ahead.


[20:51:56] COOPER: "The Wall Street Journal" tonight reports that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible links between longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Now, in its report, the newspaper says it has an e-mail dated August 4th, 2016, in which Stone wrote he'd had dinner with Assange. Then as now pretty much confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, an e-mail Stone tells the paper was a joke.

I'm joined now by one of the reporters who wrote the story, Shelby Holliday.

So, Shelby, Roger Stone says this isn't true, that he never dined with Assange and that, "It's not what you say. It's what you do. This was said in jest." That's not dissuaded Mueller's team it seems based on your reporting from actually looking into it, is that correct?

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Right. So there's an e-mail and it says he dined with Julian Assange. As you said, he tells this as a joke. He did not deny that he actually wrote this e-mail. He simply said it was all just a big joke, claiming that he had been in touch with Julian Assange.

We do know that after he wrote this e-mail, he went on to tell a crowd in Florida he had been in contact with Julian Assange, and his statements have shifted over the past year. He told the House Intelligence Committee according to reports that he spoke to Assange through an intermediary, but when we approached him about this story, he said he never talked to Assange in 2016, especially on that day, on August 3rd, 2016. If you pull back and look at the timeline here, this comes a few days -- his e-mail comes a few days after President Trump called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails. And it also comes after reported contacts between Paul Manafort, who's facing a number of charges, and a man that the Special Counsel's Office said hinted at is linked to Russian intelligence, Konstantin Kilimnik.

So that timeline leading up to this e-mail is very curious. And then following the e-mail, Roger Stone went on Twitter and praised Julian Assange. He predicted that it would be the Podesta's time in barrow. He went on to say liberals want WikiLeaks to stand down, but he -- they won't. The payload is coming. So he predicted this e-mail release for months after the e-mail that said he'd dined with Julian Assange.

COOPER: Do you know whether Ecuadorian officials in London have been cooperating with Mueller's team? I mean, obviously, Assange is holed up at the embassy there for years. If there actually was a dinner with Roger Stone --


COOPER: -- it would have had to have been at the embassy?

HOLLIDAY: That's great. That's unclear. And also Julian Assange was not available to respond to comment. They've -- he has not had internet access off and on recently, so it's hard to know. Roger Stone actually sent us a screen grab. We gave him multiple days to show -- to prove to us that he was not in London because that's where he'd have to be. All he sent us with a screen grab of what appeared to be a flight booking with the name Roger. He said he was flying from Los Angeles to Miami on that night and couldn't possibly have been in London.

But I've talked to different prosecutors, and some say dining doesn't necessarily have to mean that he was there in person. He could have called him on the phone and caught him during dinner, or maybe they had FaceTimed. Other prosecutors say that's pretty concrete language and dining would mean dining. But at this point, there's no -- beyond the e-mail, beyond the screenshot booking, we don't have any proof that Roger Stone was or was not in London. And he wouldn't -- he didn't provide any other evidence.

[20:55:11] He scoffed at me when I asked if he could put me in touch with people he had been with on that day. And he sort of just laughed the whole thing off. And even when I asked, is there a 2016 on the screenshot, he said, are you kidding me? So it's hard to know. It's hard to know, and even people close to Roger Stone say they aren't exactly sure when to believe him and when he's telling the truth or when he's not.

COOPER: Yes. I mean there is sort of a performance art at times to some of his statements in the past.

HOLLIDAY: Right. He calls himself a political trickster. And if you watched the documentary, "Get Me Roger Stone", he actually really loves this reputation, that he's -- he pulls off political tricks, and sometimes he does things -- he says he's never broken the law, but that he does things that sort of raise eyebrows and stir the pot, I guess you could say.

What's unclear is --


HOLLIDAY: -- if he was communicating with -- if he was communicating with Wikileaks and also Guccifer, some people call him Guccifer, if he's talking to these two groups that spread hacked e-mails, Hillary Clinton's e-mails before the election, did he know that they were working in tandem with Russia as U.S. intelligence agencies have said, and did he know -- did he have knowledge of a hack and still encouraged the release of these e-mails? That would be a crime under the federal election -- I'm sorry -- the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Even if you know of the crime, you didn't commit the crime, but you helped spread it or you helped disseminate the e-mails, you could be in trouble.

COOPER: Yes. Shelby Holliday, appreciate the reporting. Thanks very much.

HOLLIDAY: Thank you.

COOPER: Just ahead, President Trump goes on a weekend tweet storm and declares DACA dead. He's also on the attack once again against the mainstream media. No surprise there. The latest on all of that ahead.