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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

President Trump Reacts To Cohen Plea, Manafort Verdict; A.G. Sessions To Pres. Trump: I Took Control Of The Department Of Justice The Day I Was Sworn In; WSJ: "National Enquirer" Publisher, David Pecker, Granted Immunity; "National Enquirer's" Safe Held Damaging Trump Stories ; Pres. Trump: Flipping "Almost Ought To Be Outlawed;" Pres. Trump Concerned About White South Africans; Pres. Trump Sparks Angry Response From South African Government; Rep. Hunter Enters Plea On Charges Of Misusing Campaign Funds. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired August 23, 2018 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:12] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

Tonight, somewhere, former mob boss, John Gotti, rotting in his grave must be smiling, because the president of the United States is now on record attacking a former close associate for cooperating with law enforcement and praising a convicted felon for staying silent, perhaps even thinking about rewarding that silence with a pardon.

Today, we heard the president put silence and loyalty to him, seemingly above truth and the law. He spoke out against flipping, as he calls it, even as it was reported that another Trump friend and associate flipped and received federal immunity, David Pecker, the tabloid publisher who bought and buried "Playboy" model Karen McDougal's story of a long affair with President Trump. The president also belittled his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, yet again and said that impeachment proceedings would reduce Americans to poverty.

His remarks came during a conversation with Fox in which he had high praise, of course, for himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I give myself an A- plus. I don't think any president has ever done what I've done in this short -- we haven't even been two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The president also went on to warn about what he believes would happen if he were ever impeached.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don't know how you can impeach somebody who's done a great job. I'll tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, as for some of the factors that might lead to he has impeachment or expose him to legal liability, President Trump again claimed that buying the silence of two women during the closing days of the campaign was not again the law, even though his former longtime attorney, Michael Cohen has now pleaded guilty to exactly that, saying he broke the law at the president's direction. In the interview released today, the president continued to try to distance himself from his former lawyer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Didn't do big deals, did small deals, not somebody that was with me that much. You know, they make it sound like I didn't live without him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, the president went on to talk about what he called flipping, people who make plea deals, confessing to crimes, in other words -- the kind of things that mob bosses never liked very much either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know, they make up stories. People make up stories. This whole thing about flipping, they call it. I know all about flipping, for 30, 40 years, I've been watching flippers. Everything's wonderful and then they get ten years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go. It almost sort of ought to be outlawed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It almost ought to be outlawed, cooperating with law enforcement, confessing.

And what about the old mafia term, Omerta, staying silent? Well, the president seems to like that a lot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much, is he went through that trial.

INTERVIEWER: Are you considering pardoning Paul Manafort?

TRUMP: I have great respect for what he's done in terms of what he's gone through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: What he went through, for the record, is a federal trial on 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud, in which a jury of his peers convicted him of eight felony counts facing possibly decades of prison time and he's got another federal trial coming up soon. Paul Manafort is a convicted felon and a time loser, to use the term the president usually used, as a serial law breaker, a man who cheated taxpayers out of millions of dollars.

In the eyes of the president, though, he's a stand-up guy, a friend of ours, as they used to say in the mob.

More now on that interview and other big news out of the White House, CNN's Jim Acosta joins us.

So, I understand you're learning more about the advice the president is getting about issuing pardons related to the Russia investigation.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. I've been told by a source familiar with legal discussions inside the president's legal team that he has been advised for months now to avoid any pardons in the Russia investigation, including for Paul Manafort.

It's interesting, to point out, Anderson, that earlier this evening, "The Washington Post" was reporting that Rudy Giuliani had told them that -- in just the last several weeks, Rudy Giuliani has had to talk the president out of pardoning Paul Manafort, saying that that should wait at least being considered until after the Russia investigation is over. What's interesting about all of that, Anderson, is that yesterday here at the White House, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, apparently was giving us a false or incomplete information, information that did not add up when she said that a pardon was not under discussion, has not been under discussion.

And then this evening, Anderson, she put out a statement saying this pardon is not something being discussed in the White House. And the president has not made a decision on pardoning Paul Manafort or anyone else.

Well, just because the discussion is not happening inside the White House, Anderson, doesn't mean it's happening in other places. It could have happened up at Bedminster or anywhere else and so, it's interesting to see the White House sort of parsing its words on this issue.

Clearly, Anderson, from talking to the source that I've been talking with about all of this, this is something that's been under discussion, it's something that's been on the president's mind, and it appears it's been on the president's mind lately as well.

COOPER: It's also incredible to hear the president yet again go after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, you know, going after him in that interview.

[20:05:05] And we're going to talk more about it later. But where do things stand tonight on that?

ACOSTA: Well, you heard what he said earlier this morning on Fox, where he said, what kind of man is this? Once again seizing on this recusal that Jeff Sessions decided to go with early on in the administration, to stay out of the Russia investigation. That has obviously been under the president's skin ever since then. And once again, the president went after Jeff Sessions. What changed today, Anderson, and I think this was something of a

watershed moment in this relationship, this punching bag relationship where the president constantly beating up on Jeff Sessions, is that Jeff Sessions fired back. The attorney general showing what a lot of people in Washington have been waiting for for a long time, which is some independence, which is what the Justice Department should have from this White House, and saying that what he decides to do over at the Justice Department will be independent of political considerations over at the White House, something a lot of people in this city has been waiting for a long time, Anderson.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

A lot to talk about. Joining us, three people who have seen just about everything, including all of this -- David Gergen, AXS TV's Dan Rather, and investigative reporter, Carl Bernstein.

Dan, I mean, I've been reading some of your tweets today. You were suggesting Martin Scorsese should direct the movie of the Trump presidency with his familiarity with "Goodfellas" and stuff. What do you make of just the last couple of days alone?

DAN RATHER, HOST, AXS TV'S "THE BIG INTERVIEW": Well, we move ever deeper into kind of political theater of the absurd. And I did suggest that Martin Scorsese might be the person to do the Donald Trump biopic. He's had "Goodfellas," "Gangsters of New York," or you might want to turn to the people who did "Sopranos". But in the case of Scorsese, and I say this only happened he's had a lot of experience of bringing these kinds of characters to film, so he should do the biopic.

But now on a serious note, this whole Trump era has moved into a completely different position now. But by my own analysis, let me say my own opinion, I think before the last 48 to maybe 60 hours, that they were setting in a kind of outrage fatigue in the country, just saying, well, it's Trump. I mean, I can't think about that anymore.

But the Manafort guilty verdict and the Cohen guilty plea, I think, changed the dynamic into a much more dangerous period for Donald Trump personally and politically for the American presidency and therefore, for the country. But I do use a word, sure, what else can you say about it? You know, I think with you on several occasions going back a month, maybe a year, I suggested what was happening in the Trump era was worthy of a Shakespeare play, perhaps something by the ancient Greeks.

But it's moved into a whole different era now, and I do find that when someone tweets, any suggestion about gangster movies, a gangster connection here, that that seems to resonate with the public. So I don't think there's the outrage fatigue anymore. I think people are centered on this.

I know there are going to be Trump people who say, well, people out there in the country in flyover America don't care. I don't believe that for a second. Because Americans, whether they're Trump supporters or not, somewhere down in their core believe that the American presidency should be about honor and integrity.

And it's very hard to see what's been happening these last few days and hear what the president is saying, trying to move us into a belief that truth is not truth, crime is not crime, facts are not facts.

COOPER: Right.

RATHER: The American people have a lot of common sense. And it may be a long time coming. I, myself, think it's far too early to talk about impeachment, as long as the Republicans control at least the Senate and have effective control of the Supreme Court, I don't think there's going to be impeachment. But this story is yet to unfold in its full --

COOPER: Yes. And, David, to you -- to Dan's point, the president of the United States now, you know, truth is not truth, crime is not crime, the president is now saying, you know, people who confess to crimes are flippers and that ought to be -- almost outlawed, because it's not fair. People who admit what they've done is wrong, people who stay silent and, you know, fighting and going through a trial and get convicted as felons, they're stand-up people.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN & CLINTON: I think, Anderson, that all four of us here tonight would agree that it's deeply offensive to have a president of the United States who is our guardian of our legal justice system, he's the foremost protector of the law, rule of law in the country, so blatantly disagree and dismantle much of what we believe and undermine much of what we believe.

But I do agree very much also with Dan's analysis, that the dynamics have been changed. Donald Trump, you know, is a control freak in many ways. He wants to control everything and he controlled this epic battle against Mueller for month after month, because he alone had the platform and Mueller couldn't speak.

[20:10:06] We've talked about that before. But Mueller has now had a chance to speak in the courtroom. And I think increasing now, Trump is losing control of the narrative and Mueller is taking it away from him.

And you can already see it in a Fox poll that came out today. It was fascinating, because in July, when you ask Americans, do you approve or disapprove of the Mueller investigation, in a Fox poll, it was 48 approve, 40 disapprove. Today, this week, it's 59 percent approve. It's gone from 48 to 59. And the disapprove has gone from 40 to 37.

I think you can see the power of the courtroom can change the dynamics and Mueller is holding a lot of cards. We don't even know what they are. And Trump himself must be panicked, because he doesn't know what the cards are. And he has lost control.

COOPER: Although, Carl, how many times have we been on, you know, been at points where we've said this is an inflection point in the presidency. This is a tipping point, a turning point, whatever the phrase you want to use. And yet, you know, it just continues on. CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Here's what's different. We

have now seen in its naked ugliness the instinctive lawlessness of this president of the United States. And the sewage, the stench of the sewage, seeping from the White House swamp is starting to waft across the country. It's becoming tangible. There has been a change.

And I think people are now getting a look at the real Donald Trump in a way that is taking the blinders off some eyes. Not enough eyes off Republicans in Congress, his enablers and protectors through these awful months of his presidency.

We're also seeing great examples of his incompetence. The rails are starting to come off, visibly. You hear it in the halls of congress, in private from Republicans, but a few of them suggesting it in public, in ways that they have not. We're into a new era of the Trump presidency, in which he is not only not in control in the way of his authoritarian instincts, his authoritarian instincts are starting to fail him because too many people are on to those authoritarian instincts and they frighten people, the frighten what he is trying to do to this country, its traditions and its institutions of justice.

And remember, in every despotic, tyrannical country, that the leader has tried to seize the institutions of justice and undermine the press as a real means of controlling through authoritarianism. And people are starting to realize that.

COOPER: But, Dan, just the lies. I mean, it's -- whether the law or not, and you know, we've had people arguing, you know, good people on all sides of the political aisle arguing law, and that's an important thing, but just the lies. I mean, you talk about the swamp. This is at the heart of the swamp. And the lies, just the number of lies is overwhelming.

RATHER: And this is a good example of how much has changed in the American political landscape. The word "lies" has been used in describing much of what Donald Trump has said for quite a while now.

This is something new. Previous to this, everybody, including the press, was extremely reluctant to say anybody else had told a lie, much less a president of the United States. But President Trump has so clearly adopted the attitude, if I, Donald Trump, say it, no matter how a big a lie and the word is just, no matter how big a lie it is, it isn't going to matter.

There have been books written about the effect of big lie technique by authoritarian leaders going far back in history. And much of what President Trump has been doing is a version of the big lie, which is to say, tell a lie, know it's untrue, but given the bully pulpit that is the presidency --

COOPER: And repeat it over and over.

RATHER: And repeat it over and over and over.

It's one reason why he tweets so much. He bombards it and he counts on the power of the presidency to persuade and influence. So, he feels, and I wonder if he still feels given the events of the last couple of days, but he felt where he was kind of invincible, that he could say any damn thing he pleased. And if he said it often enough, people were going to believe it.

I would think, to use a poker phrase, now he's checking his cards about that, as he's increasingly cornered and he's called to account on these lies.

COOPER: Well, David Gergen, the fact that David Pecker of AMI, American Media Incorporated, which owns the "National Enquirer" and a bunch of other sort of tabloid-like magazines, that he in Donald Trump's term flipped and was cooperating with federal prosecutors along with Michael Cohen -- I mean, that's pretty stunning.

[20:15:17] I mean, David Pecker, there's no telling how many files David Pecker has on the man who's now president of the United States. There's no telling how many catch-and-kill stories, or, you know, sleazy things that David Pecker has access to that he has on the president.

GERGEN: That's absolutely right, Anderson. That's one of the reasons the president, I think, is so concerned and upset and panicked. We hear these continuing reports from inside the White House to that effect, and because he has lost control.

And one of the harsh lessons in life is that loyalty runs both ways. And Donald Trump is a guy who's never been loyal down, he's only loyal to himself. And he cuts people loose.

And now, people are turning it on him. And they're -- they're disclaiming their loyalty to him, they're breaking their bonds with him, to save themselves. And I think that has made it particularly dangerous.

But let me emphasize one other thing is he can still cling on to office a lot longer than people think. This is not -- I don't think that he's down and out yet. He's down, but he's not out. And, you know, a lot still is going to depend on what Mueller has, ultimately, on the collusion question.

COOPER: Well, the other thing, and we'll discuss this when we come back, because we've got to take quick break, is we have never seen Donald Trump ever truly cornered with his back against the wall and truly down, and we have no idea what he is capable of, for better or for worse, when truly cornered and that's something, obviously, you know, we may come to witness, we may not.

Coming up next, we'll talk more about the attorney general, how much longer he might be the attorney general.

And later, one of the president's earliest congressional supporters, now the latest alleged felon, Duncan Hunter. We'll tell you about his day in court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:21:12] COOPER: More now on President Trump's latest shot on the guy who along with being his favorite punching guy you'd be surprised to learn is also the distinguished attorney general of the United States of America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department. And it's a -- sort of an incredible thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The president also said the only reason he appointed Jeff Sessions is that he supported him during the campaign. The two have been at odds ever since the attorney general recused himself from the Russia probe. He put out a statement reading, quote: While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards and where they are not met, I take action.

As we've been reporting tonight, just how long he remains in the job, that's, of course, an open question.

Joining us again, David Gergen, Dan Rather, and Carl Bernstein.

Dan, it is incredible, Jeff Sessions has probably done more than anyone else in this administration to execute the president's agenda. I mean, getting judges through confirmation processes. The fact that he is the person the president is focused on with such mockery constantly is extraordinary.

RATHER: Well, it's the ultimate irony, and you're dead right. Sessions has done more to advance the Trump agenda, not only with judges, but in other ways, than anybody I can think of in the administration. But the fact that President Trump uses what you called a punching bag all the time, I think tells us a lot, because it raises anew the question that none of us have answered now. If President Trump is not guilty of anything, then why does he act like he's guilty, by doing such things as saying, well, Sessions told me he was going to recuse himself about the Russian probe, that this is eerie, and I'd -- I'm prepared to say this, there's never been anything quite like it in the history of the American presidency.

My friend, David Gergen, who's a presidential scholar and served in all kinds of White Houses might know, but there's been nothing like this.

COOPER: Carl, I want to read you something, because it's something that's very close to some of the stuff you and I have talked about before and I want to hear your thoughts on it. Something Dan actually tweeted yesterday. He said, the question as we enter the next chapter of this nation lies not on the actions of the president as much in the GOP leaders and party faithful who seem determined to explain away criminality for their own cynical grip on power. Carl, you pointed out about Watergate, that in the end, it was

Republicans finally which turned the tide. Do you -- other than some Republicans saying some things, whispering, you know, we still don't hear an awful lot of folks going on the record. Even, you know, Speaker Ryan, his response to the Michael Cohen, you know, guilty pleading was basically, well, oh, well, we need more information.

BERNSTEIN: Well, Ryan is a great example of the most craven leadership of a political party, I think, that I've ever seen in all of the years that I've been covering politics. The fact is, there are two things going on at once and they're running on parallel tracks. The Republicans in Washington, who have shown no inclination and probably won't show any inclination to have any kind of spine until after the midterm elections.

But also, we have to look at who Trump's constituency is. He still commands 80, 90 percent approval of those people in this country who call themselves Republicans. And that's a huge difference between now and Watergate. And Watergate, when Nixon left office, perhaps 50, 52 percent of the people according to -- of Republicans according to polls approved of Nixon still.

[20:25:00] Disapproval rating of Trump's is extraordinary. And he is the president of his base during a cold civil war in this country. And he has brought that cold civil war to the point of ignition, and when we talk about the danger of the next few months, that cold civil war is fraught, because he is intent on doing whatever he has to do to hold on to these powers, to hold on to his presidency, and his them ready to stand behind anything that he does.

And that's the extraordinary difference between, one of the extraordinary differences between a period of Watergate and now, because the behavior and conduct, as demonstrated by Donald Trump is so far beyond what would have been approved in 1974, by Republicans, voters, and representatives in Congress alike. That's the real difference. And we'll have to wait for the midterms to see if anything changes.

COOPER: David, do you agree with that?

GERGEN: Yes, I agree with most of that. And listen, I think for all of us here, this Republican Party is increasingly unrecognizable. It has become the Trump party. And because of what many consider the cowardice of Republican leaders, if Trump goes down, this party may go down with him.

You know, they -- the values that they're setting forth, they're unwillingness to face up to realities, the way they pay no attention to scientific evidence on various things like climate changed, there's a whole range of things now the way this tax bill has been presented, a whole range of things now which I think is going to lead this party in serious, serious trouble, with -- especially with minorities, of course, but increasingly with women and very much so with millennials. So they're going to pay a price for this.

And if they don't change soon, start drawing some red lines, very clear red lines, I -- look, I think the consensus coming out of what is happening with Jeff Sessions today and the Hill and the Senate is that he may well be removed from office after the midterms. And we're now building towards a climax after the midterms is that there's a very real danger that Sessions will be out and Trump is going to fire Mueller or put somebody in to close down the Mueller investigation.

And Republicans have to help protect the special counsel now. They -- if he gets fired without the Republicans making that protection, they're going to be responsible, they're going to be jointly responsible for dismantling this investigation.

COOPER: David Gergen, Carl Bernstein, Dan Rather, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. Good to have you all.

RATHER: Thank you, Anderson.

GERGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next, we've touched on this already, reporting that long time Trump friend and ally David Pecker was granted immunity to give prosecutors information on the Michael Cohen case. Our legal experts weigh in on the possible significance of this in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:31:25] COOPER: We mentioned at the top the man who kept some of Donald Trump's secrets and no doubt other people secrets as well, has cut a deal with the feds. According to the "Wall Street Journal", David Pecker, head of the company that publishes the "National Enquirer" was granted immunity in the Michael Cohen investigation. In court Tuesday, Cohen says, I am the CEO of a media company at the request of the candidate were together, squelched stories effectively implicating Trump himself.

That company is AMI, which publish the "Enquirer" and David Pecker, it now seems clear is the David on the tape that Michael Cohen made just before the election discussing the possibility of getting the rights to Karen McDougal story which were already bought by AMI in a catch and kill deal just before the election.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

MICHAEL COHEN, FMR DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David. You know, so I got -- I'm going to do the right away. I've actually kind of spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding.

(OFF-MIC)

COHEN: Yes. And -- it's all the stuff -- all the stuff, because, you know, you never know where that company, you never know what he is doing --

(OFF-MIC)

COHEN: Correct. So, I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for financing which will be --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: What's that? What financing?

COHEN: Well, I have to --

TRUMP: Pay with cash?

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no, I got -- no, no, no.

(OFF-MIC)

COOPER: Well, Allen Weisselberg is the Trump organization's chief financial officer, Daivd is David Pecker, Mr. Cohen and the candidate probably talking about the Karen McDougal catch and kill arrangement. So, there's additional reporting about the Associate Press, that the "National Enquirer" kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories that it killed, as part of its relationship with Donald Trump.

Here to talk about all of it, CNN Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin and Anne Milgram.

Jeff, you wrote a lengthy piece in "The New Yorker," as I recall --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Yes.

COOPER: -- about David Pecker.

TOOBIN: I did.

COOPER: So, what do you make of this and about this idea that there's a safe, I mean potential information that David Pecker or AMI would have -- why would have on Donald Trump is --

TOOBIN: Is enormous. And, you know, David Pecker was very open with me including talking about Karen McDougal saying, look we supported Donald Trump and I wanted to help him by making this deal with Karen McDougal. That may -- you know, it's certainly not unlawful to support a candidate, that's what magazines do. But getting involved financially in buying silence for -- in return -- as a political favor is potentially a big problem. Its part of what Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to. We obviously know there are these two hush money deals, but inside this safe, you know, it is certainly a possible that there's more in there.

COOPER: If -- Anne, if David Pecker got immunity in the Cohen situation, does that mean it would be do -- or I don't know if we notice, it would be a blank immunity for anything and would he --

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, we don't know.

COOPER: -- cooperate in any case with prosecutors?

MILGRAM: Yes, I mean -- what I would assume is that he's been given immunity to have any conversations with them. I would assume that he is basically refused to walk in because he would incriminate himself as Jeff said.

TOOBIN: Right.

MILGRAM: If he's paying money and if it's related to the political campaign, he's potentially guilty of a crime. So I think what happened here, is he saw that liability and he refused even walk in the door without a grant or immunity. So, if he had any sense, any decent lawyer they would have basically said he wants immunity and all.

TOOBIN: And I'm sure -- and I'm sure that's right. And so, he is now free of prosecution from both the southern district of New York which did the Michael Cohen investigation as well as the Mueller investigation which, you know, are starting increasingly to bleed together.

[20:35:05] COOPER: But if -- so if he -- if it seems logical that he walks in with a grant of just blanket immunity, would the southern district attorneys ask him about other cases not related to --

TOOBIN: I have to believe.

MILGRAM: I agree.

COOPER: Yes they --

TOOBIN: They certainly would be free to do that. And, you know, given the scope of the relationship between Trump and Pecker, it's going to be -- you know, it's a lot to talk about because they go back to the '80s together. And -- yes, the "Enquirer" was an organ of support for Trump in a really extravagant way.

COOPER: Right, I mean they were anti-Ted Cruz stories --

TOOBIN: Right.

COOPER: -- another thing.

MILGRAM: Remember, also that the government doesn't just give out immunity. You can't walk in and say hey, you know, I'm potentially guilty of a crime, I want immunity. They had to make proffers which means that they have to go in and the lawyers had to go and says here's what we know and here's what we would say and here's why we want immunity. So, the government already probably has some of this information or at least some sense of the --

COOPER: But by the way (INAUDIBLE) is related to Michael Cohen.

MILGRAM: Correct.

TOOBIN: It might have been. But that's a very important point that he is making, that that, you know, you have to show the government you have something worthwhile before they'll give you immunity. Because, it's a big deal to give immunity to someone because you are potentially avoiding prosecution of serious crimes. So the fact that they gave him immunity suggests that Pecker has something serious that they need.

COOPER: The interview that the President gave which aired this morning, in which he talked about, first of all, the campaign finance violations of Michael Cohen, that they weren't really campaign finance related. You're talking about --

TOOBIN: They said they weren't crimes.

COOPER: He said that they weren't crimes.

TOOBIN: Yes.

COOPER: And because it wasn't campaign money. And also that he talked about flippers as being something that should almost be outlawed. Did that make any sense to you?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean it's really, you know, it's hard to be shocked by stuff that Donald Trump says. But, you know, all of federal law enforcement just about is based on the idea of building cases from the bottom up. You get lower and middle level people to plead guilty and cooperate. That's how all --

COOPER: Right, it deals are almost -- I mean that's what courts exist.

TOOBIN: Well -- and that's how you get the heads of organized crime families, that's how you get the leaders of drug -- you know, the President is very big in talking about how evil MS-13 is, this gang from Central America. Well, the only way they prosecute people from MS-13 is by using flippers. So the idea that there is something sinister about flippers just because it led to the conviction of Paul Manafort is really surreal.

MILGRAM: I agree. And the thing to remember is that the people who flip and cooperate they plead guilty or crimes. They are sentenced, they get a benefit which actually in the end is a better for on sentencing, it can be good. But it still as a rule, they do a lot of time on the crimes that they committed.

COOPER: Anne Milgram, Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.

Coming up, why is the President suddenly interested in South African land policy? It could it have anything to do with the Fox News report and a white nationalist talking point. Whatever the reason, the information he tweeted about was wrong, we're keeping him honest, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:42:09] COOPER: Well the President is all of a sudden concerned about South Africa or more accurately concerned about some the white people in South Africa. Currently after watching a segment on Fox News, the President tweeted and I quote, "I've asked Secretary of State Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. South Africa government is now seizing land from white farmers. And he tag Dr. Carlson, Fox News in the tweet, that it since -- since that more it seems to get a lot of his information or misinformation at times.

Land reforms obviously complex racial, the sensitive issue in South Africa where past policies for decades force removed black South Africans from the land in favor of whites. As for the President keeping it simple and keeping them honest, there's not as he tweeted, large scale killing of farmers. Research from one of South Africa's largest farmer organization, it shows that's actually reached a 20 year low, 47 killed in 2017, 2018, obviously, it still a high number, there's a huge crime situation in South Africa.

But getting the facts wrong, its curious that the President is suddenly interested in South Africa at all since the only other time as President has tweeted anything about South Africa was in September of 2017, he tweeted, honor chose to luncheon for African leaders this afternoon, great discussions on the challenges and opportunities facing our nations today.

Four months later he reportedly called African a nations s-hole countries in private meetings and suggest that the Nigerians mostly living in huts. So the question is why is the President suddenly tweeting about South African land policy particularly relating to whites. Although and the obvious reason to Dr. Carlson talked about it last night and when he suddenly tweets about South Africans why is it an issue regarding white South Africans. The anti-defamation league calls an extremely disturbing at the President's echoing quote, long standing and false white supremacist claim.

The South African government is also hitting back at the President, tweeting and I quote, "South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation. It reminds us of our colonial past".

Joining me now is Professor Cornel West, of Harvard and Princeton. Author of numerous books including "Race Matters", "Black Prophetic Fire" and the "Radical King".

So, Dr. West, I want to get your reaction to the former ambassador of South African Patrick Gaspard, he tweeted that President Trump was quote, "Attacking South Africa with a disproven racial myth of large scale killings of farmers. This man has never visited the continent, has no discernible Africa policy." I'm wondering if you agree with that.

CORNEL WEST, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: You know, Brother Anderson, there's a wonderful line in the T.S. Eliot poem that says, we're distracted by distraction. There's fairly clear he's in a panic mood, it's fairly clear he's lying again. I read recently, told 429 lies in 558 days. So we shouldn't be surprised.

The important thing is, is that he's at a moment in these last days where it looks like brother Donald Trump, are equally of a gangster, racist, misogynist, he's a brother because he made in the image of God, he's brother because he could not change, he's not a devil, but he's a human being who chooses devilish action.

[20:45:06] He's a human being who chooses to be demonic. He is reaching the end, he is meeting his match with brother Mueller. When Mueller lays bare and discloses the facts Donald Trump will not just be shaking in his boots, but will be saying good-bye. But he expresses something deep in the American culture. The very important to keep in my mind, it come from the people but on intimate terms of catastrophic. And keeping track of gangsters, he's not all by himself, he's not isolated. He reflex something in the culture, he's got followers.

So even after Donald Trump, we've got to come to terms with what produce him. Corporate elites still running amuck. The Wall Street still breaking the records, stock market breaking the records, wealth inequality still increasing, racial divide still deep, the homophobia and the patriarch is still running amuck. So it's not just getting Donald Trump out of the way, but his on his way out, it seems to me. And I think we have to keep track of his humanity as he goes out.

COOPER: It's interesting, you talk about this is a distraction which obviously a technique he's used before. But I mean what do you think it says that really the first time the President has decided to comment on issues in Africa, effect -- I mean Africa is an extraordinary continent with many different countries in it, you know, other than that one tweet about meeting with African leaders in which I think he welcomed leaders from a country that doesn't exist. He chooses to offer focus on a small population of white people in South Africa.

WEST: You know, he's in over his head. He's got a white supremacist tilt, there's no doubt about it. I wish he could say something about Uganda, what's going on right now with the arrest of opposition leaders, by the U.S. ally, which he say something about Yemen, with the Saudi attack on those precious people especially women and children, U.S. supported Saudi forces doing that. So he's in over his head. I don't think we ought to take it too seriously, because he's at this point simply just throwing whatever he can and hopes that it sticks and tries to get us away from the fact that he is going under.

And I think, in many ways, you think of the tiers of Fred and Mary Ann, his mother and father, this is the son that we produced, look at the levels of mendacity and criminality, but as a human being he can still change. I'm not making a program on it. But I'm saying that because I don't want us to be self-righteous in our criticism. I think that even after Trump we're going to have to be just as righteously outraged and full of indignation in terms of the wealth and equality, in terms of the prison situation of educational inequality, in terms the way women are treated, gays, lesbians, trans and especially black and brown folks.

COOPER: You really --

WEST: At once Trump leaves the racism doesn't leave, racism doesn't leave my brother.

COOPER: You really believe people could change?

WEST: Oh absolutely, my God, I know you can be better, I know I can be better. That that -- (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But I don't know if I can be --

(CROSSTALK)

WEST: -- rather is hard to think of a better panel than that, everybody can be better, you see. I'm a Christian not because I'm naive, I'm a Christian because I believe we all have the capacity, given our wretchedness to be better, and that's true for everybody, right wing, left wing, center, liberal, across the board. But we have to be honest intended about our foes. Now, Donald Trump is my foe, there's no doubt about that. We swing at each other.

But even still, even as a gangster that he chooses to be, I know I've some gangster in me and I've got to try to control it.

COOPER: So -- this is maybe getting off topic, but -- so in your belief, is the key to change to acknowledge in one's wretchedness, is the word that you used?

WEST: The key to change is to have the courage to criticize, the courage to hope and the courage to love and to bind what others to be forces of good before the worms get your body. That's the history of the species that its best. But the dominant history of the species is hey is resentment, domination, oppression, that what's so beautiful about democracy, that's what so beautiful about love and justice. What love looks like in public just like tenderness, it will lot feels like in private.

That tenderness, that love in democracy is an interruption from the dark and vicious history that somebody of all of us have to wrestle with in the depths of our soul, that's what it is to be human. And let's just be honest about it, all of us stand in need of transformation. We used to say at my church if the kingdom of God is within you everywhere you go you ought to leave a little heaven behind. How much heaven are you leaving behind? Donald Trump not leaving too much heaven, but a whole lot of here or right now. Or indeed, that's why he's got to go. And he will go.

COOPER: Dr. West, it's always an education, I appreciate talking.

WEST: Thank you so much, my brother. You stay strong.

COOPER: All right, you too, thank you.

I want to check in with Chris, see what he is working on for "CUOMO PRIME TIME" at the top of the hour. Chris. No? No of Chris.

[20:50:11] There you are. Hey Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey I was just playing. I heard you the whole time. No I'm kidding Anderson. You know, I'm down in Washington, D.C., the strange land where nothing really works the way it would anywhere else, so even the coms are a little screwed up. So we came down here are for a couple of big reasons. One, there's so much in the air the White House needs to defense. So literarily, Mohammed is gone to the mountain and Kellyanne Conway is going to come on from the White House and defend everything that in the air, and it's also going to give us a chance my friend to meet some with some of the familiar faces from the White House press briefings and get their perspective on where they are think we are and why do they think we are headed. So we're going to take it all on from the capital.

COOPER: All right, Chris, look forward to it. That's about nine minutes from now.

Coming up, Congressman Duncan Hunter entering a plea to federal charges that he and his wife misused the quarter of the million dollars and campaign funds for trips, bar tabs (ph), vacations and a plane ticket for a pet rabbit. The latest, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:55:17] COOPER: Republican Congressman and early Trump supporter Duncan Hunter was in court today, pleading not guilty to federal charges, and he and his wife misuse a quarter of a million dollars and campaign funds for personal expenses. A Republican aide tell CNN that Hunter has agreed to step down from his Congressional committee assignment even as he claims this is all politically motivated. Indictment is 47 pages, it alleges that Hunter and his wife falls five record conspire with each other to use campaign funds to live well beyond their means and things like trips, restaurants and yes an airline ticket for a pet rabbit and there's more.

Randi Kaye has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lavish lifestyle despite being strapped for cash. In 2015 alone California Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife allegedly took a family vacation to Italy that cost more than $14,000 and a trip to Hawaii for $6,500.

All of it prosecutors say paid for with campaign funds. In the indictment, a disturbing patterns. The Hunters are accused of disguising their purchases as benefitting veterans and charities. Case in point, an alleged 2015 conversation between Duncan and Mararet Hunter about buying Hawaii shorts. They'd run out of money the indictment says, so she suggested he buy the shorts at a golf pro- shop, so that they could falsely describe the purchase later as some golf balls for the wounded warriors.

And in an effort to justify why that lavish vacation to Italy was paid for with campaign funds, the indictment says, the Congressman tried setting up a tour over U.S. naval facility during the trip. When naval officials couldn't make it work, he allegedly offer said this terse response, tell the navy to go f themselves. Prosecutor say the couple was in such dire straights they overdrew their bank account more than 111 times over seven years. The Congressman who was pleaded not guilty to the federal charges suggested that it wasn't his fault. REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, (R) CALIFORNIA: When I joined the Marine Corp I give power of attorney to my wife because I was gone all the time.

KAYE (voice-over): His wife Margaret allegedly spent plenty too.

MARGARET HUNTER, DUNCAN HUNTER'S WIFE: I'll be at the campaigning forum, yes standing in forum.

KAYE (voice-over): $200 on tennis shoes, at Dick's Sporting Goods which prosecutors say, she then claimed were for dove hunting event for wounded warriors. Also $152 on make-up at Nordstrom, disguising it as gift basket items for the boys and girls club of San Diego. A $394 purchase from Macy's prosecutors say was listed as gift baskets, too. She too has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

(OFF-MIC)

D. HUNTER: That'll come out in court. I mean that's for the court and for her, right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was she in charge of those big charges?

D. HUNTER: She was the campaign manager of the campaign.

KAYE (voice-over): At Costco, the Hunters spent more than $11,300 in campaign funds according to the indictment. More than %5,700 at Walmart. If everything in this 60-count indictment is true the temerity is tough to hide. For example, the indictment says Duncan Hunter claimed $257.40 reimbursement from campaign funds for driving his car on a trip to Virginia Beach with a fellow Congressman. Despite the fact they did not use Duncan's car on that trip. He also allegedly spent more than $1,000 at a ski resort in Lake Tahoe even though his personal bank account balance was barely $15. Duncan saying he's not worried about the investigation, saying it's all just politically motivated.

D. HUNTER: This is modern politics and modern media mixed in with law enforcement that has a political agenda. That's a new Department of Justice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Randi joins now, I mean is there any evidence at all this is politically motivated? Looking through that indictment it's hard to see.

KAYE: No, it's certainly not in the 47 page indictment at all. But what we saying with Duncan Hunter saying is that the prosecutors were involved in this case has attended the Clinton campaign event. But sources told CNN that the guy, the prosecutor who actually chose to indict was appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year and there's no connection at all to the Clinton campaign or campaign 2016.

COOPER: Right, it's also to say this, the new Department of Justice is run by Jeff Sessions. KAYE: Exactly who appointed the guy who now has indicted him. So, it's certain an interesting circular argument that he's making. But it's worth pointing out also that his campaign treasure, Duncan Hunter's campaign treasure, according to the indictment, had warned him, he had said, look, you can't do this, this is against the law. You can't spend campaign funds of people have given you on yourself and your family, and he apparently according to the indictment if it's true, told his campaign treasure that well that was silly, that was his quote.

COOPER: Well, it also seems like he's distancing himself from his wife in his public comments.

[21:00:01] KAYE: Yes, they had no interaction in court at all today.

COOPER: Yes. Randi, thanks very much. We'll definitely follow that. A reminder, don't miss "Full Circle", our daily interactive newscast on Facebook, it's a lot of fun. You pick some of the stories we cover. You see weeknights 6:25 p.m. Eastern on facebook.com/andersoncooperfullcircle, all one word. The news continues. Want to hold it down to Chris down in D.C. "Cuomo Primetime" starts now.