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Bob Woodward Book: Mattis Says President Trump Has Understanding of a "Fifth or Sixth Grader"; NY Times: Mueller Will Accept Written Answers from Trump on Questions About Campaign Collusion With Russia. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 20:00   ET


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

We have new details on the book that has shaken the Trump administration by all appearances, rattling the president. The title is "Fear: Trump in the White House."

The picture that "The Washington Post's" Bob Woodward paints is, frankly speaking, terrifying, of a president whose own defense secretary reportedly compares him to a fifth or sixth grader. A president, his chief of staff reportedly calls an idiot and unhinged.

John Kelly also quoted as saying of the boss, it's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We're in crazytown, telling staffers as well, I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had.

Remember, that's the current White House chief of staff who denies calling the president an idiot. More on that shortly.

The book describes a president reportedly seen as so dangerous by one cabinet member, he actually swiped a document off the president's desk, in his words, quote, to protect the country. A president who allegedly mocked former national security adviser H.R. McMaster behind his back, saying he dressed in cheap suits, quote, like a beer salesman. A president who according to Woodward calls Attorney General Jeff Session mentally retarded and says he talks like, quote, a dumb Southerner while reportedly mocking the man's accent.

As for Reince Priebus, his first chief of staff, Woodward reports the president referred to him as, quote, excuse me, a little rat he just scurries around. For Priebus' part, Woodward reports that talking about the president's Twitter habit, he referred to the presidential bedroom as the devil's workshop and called the early morning hours and Sunday night the witching hour.

Bob Woodward says the people who told him all this anonymously, but nearly all on tape either directly witness or took part in the events they described. And now, we have new details on one such episode, the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, the president's claim that there were good people on both sides, and his subsequent backdowns.

CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel has new reporting on that, joins us now with the breaking news. What have you learned?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, we've been so interested in the national security details and swiping documents off, but there are stunning details about Charlottesville and how after that first speech, the White House staff convinced him to go and make second speech. Rob Porter, who is the staff secretary, sits down with him, and Woodward reports this very dramatic scene where they're in the White House residence and Porter is urging him along, and Trump is reluctant. He says things like, I don't know about this, it doesn't feel right to me.

But eventually, they get the speech done and then he does it. It sort of looks like a hostage video when you watch it. He goes back up to the residence. What does he do? He turns on the TV to Fox and a reporter says the president has made a course correction, and Trump explodes over it.

And we have his exact words. Woodward reports that President Trump says, that was the biggest F-ing mistake I've made. You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn't do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?

Sounds like Donald Trump. And then he goes on to say, I can't believe I got forced to do that. That's the worst speech I've ever given. I'm never going to do anything like that again.

COOPER: And from what I understand, it was the next day that the president then went forward and doubled down on what he already said.

GANGEL: Right. This is the famous Trump Tower speech. And Woodward reports details we've never seen before about the staff doesn't know he is going to do it. And he asks for some paperwork of what he had said, and they go down, and they say don't take any questions.

He says I'm not going to. And then he surprises them. He says that they are shocked about it.

And it really is Woodward reports a turning point for the White House. He quotes that chief of staff John Kelly said, I think we're going to lose. We could lose a third of the cabinet, that we're on the knife's edge. And there's --

COOPER: Gary Cohn apparently talked about --

GANGEL: Gary Cohn, it's a stunning scene. So, Gary Cohn goes in with his resignation in hand, and Trump berates him and says this is treason. You're a traitor. He says, this is your wife and your Park Avenue friends. This is all according to Woodward's reporting.

And he says to Cohn finally, you have to stay for the tax bill. And he convinces Cohn to stay, and he leaves. But it is a horrible, horrible scene.

And Chief of Staff John Kelly is quoted as saying to Cohn afterwards that if it was me, having been berated by Trump, quote, I would have taken the resignation letter and shoved it up his -- six different times.

[20:05:01] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And can I just add a little bit of that, because I spoke with somebody familiar with what went on during that situation today, and there were a group of senior officials who were waiting for Cohn to resign. And if he had resigned, I was told there would have been an exodus right behind him. But since he didn't, people stayed.

COOPER: We're going to have more with Gloria and David Gergen in just a moment.

More now on reaction to the book, Chief of Staff Kelly saying, quote, the idea I ever called the president is an idiot is not true, end quote. He did not then deny the other specific things Woodward quotes him as saying, such as the White House is crazytown, the president is off the rails.

We should also point out, multiple news outlets have already reported that General Kelly has privately disparaged president Trump. No surprise the president has also weighed in.

Let's go to Jim Acosta for that at the White House.

So, what's the president had to say?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it seems like the president wants to get in to a war of credibility with Bob Woodward over this topic. I'm not sure it's a war he is going to win, but it's a war he is waging.

And we can show this tweet that he just put out within the last hour challenging Woodward's credibility, Anderson. The president says the Woodward book has already been refuted and discredited by the general, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly. The president goes on the say the quotes were made up frauds, a con on the public, and then he suggested this quote that Bob Woodward, who has been in this town going all the way back to the Watergate days of Richard Nixon and helped break the Watergate story is a Dem operative, a Democratic operative. And he says notice timing, apparently suggesting that Woodward was trying to time this to somehow influence the midterm elections.

The president earlier today reached to a conservative outlet, "The Daily Caller", to defend himself and to go after this book, saying that -- at one point, saying it's just another bad book, and again challenging Bob Woodward's credibility, saying that he has credibility problems. But, Anderson, as you know and we've talked about so many times, the president with his problems with telling the truth has his own credibility problems. And I'm not sure he wants to fight this fight with Bob Woodward.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, frankly, the president is on tape talking to Bob Woodward, telling Bob Woodward that Bob Woodward has always been fair to him.

ACOSTA: That's right. COOPER: We'll play that tape coming up.

It's not just the president. I mean, a number of administration officials have come out against the book in different ways.

ACOSTA: That's true. And, Anderson, one thing we should point out, this did not all come out when these excerpts came out this morning. This took some time. So, the White House was caught somewhat flat- footed by all of this. They did not have a response ready for several hours, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders put out a statement, the press secretary, saying this book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees told to make the president look bad.

But, Anderson, as you know, many of the people quoted in the book are still in the administration, including John Kelly, the chief of staff who, yes, is pushing back on some of the comments, but not all of the comments. But, yes, the Secretary of Defense James Mattis has put out a statement saying that portions that have been attributed to him are not true, as has Rudy Giuliani, who as we know from these excerpts released by Bob Woodward earlier today is described by the president as something of a baby in a diaper at one point, and Giuliani is saying that did not happen -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, thanks. Again, it's somewhat strange here, the president saying what he is saying about Bob Woodward, quote, that he has, quote, had a lot of credibility problems because as I just mentioned, when he called Bob Woodward last month to say he regretted not talking to him before the book, the one he is complaining about, he had this to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's really too bad, because nobody told me about it, and I would have loved to have spoken to you about it. You know I'm very open to you. I think you've always been fair.


COOPER: So who are you going to believe on this one? President Trump or President Trump?

By the way, the president in that actual recording when he said nobody had told me about it, meaning the book, in that very same recording later on, Woodward points out to him that Senator Lindsey Graham had told the president about the book and Woodward's desire to interview the president. Mr. Trump admitted, oh, yes, he had been told by Senator Graham. So what he had been told about not being told about the book, he then contradicted and said, actually, he had been told about the book.

Joining us now is former Obama White House senior adviser, David Axelrod, Carl Bernstein of -- and I'm going alphabetically here, Bernstein and Woodward fame, David Gergen who has served numerous presidents, Republican and Democratic, dating back to the Nixon administration, and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

David Gergen, I mean, I'm not even sure where to begin on this. The -- what stands out to you as --

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN & CLINTON: First of all, I think we ought to talk about the credibility issue. I've known and worked with Bob Woodward for 40 years, and Carl and I go way back.

And it's true that on a number of his books, there have been questions and people have refuted and said, no, I never said that and so forth. But you look at the series of books, he has enormous credibility coming out of this series of books. Every single book that he has written to the best of my recollection has been proven in its essence.

Yes, there were some details he may have gotten wrong or something may have been mistold to him, but his credibility is extremely high, stretching all the way back to Watergate. And far being from a Democratic operative, just ask Bill Clinton what he thought about his book about the Clinton administration, you know?

[20:10:06] I think I can hear Carl laughing.

He went after -- Clinton just exploded about a lot of the stuff that was in there. I think -- a lot of people thought that his book about George W. was very favorable, very sympathetic.

So I just think this whole thing -- we should not be questioning Bob Woodward's credibility. We should be questioning what's in the book. What's in the book is a portrait of a guy who suddenly once again in a very serious way revives questions about his fitness for office.

COOPER: You know, Carl, when I first started hearing what was being said are these quotes, essentially look over here, these quotes, the first word came out of my mouth is like this is unbelievable. But, of course, this isn't unbelievable. This is actually makes perfect sense.

It's extensions. It's an amplification of the things we've heard the president say before and others in the administration say before. The details are extraordinary, but none of it is out of the realm of possibility, frankly.

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: It's not only not out of the realm of possibility, yes, there has been reporting on this, a good deal of it. But now, we have a coherent, indisputable narrative that is absolutely chilling in the following way. The people closest to the president of the United States in his White House and in his administration are saying they see their job as protecting the United States from the president of the United States.

That he is a danger to the republic. That is the text of this book. Every meeting that bob writes about, that is the subtext. And it's not just a sentence here or somebody calling somebody an idiot there. It is detail piled upon detail about the substance of all of those meetings, about the subjects of those meetings, about trade, about the special prosecutor, about all of the issues, about Charlottesville.

This is deadly serious. Nobody should take any kind of comfort from this book or joy at what bob reports because, yes, all of us who have been covering Trump have been doing pieces of this. Now we have Trump naked in a whole coherent narrative about his presidency, about his recklessness, about his dishonesty, about his lack of ability. And it is a frightening, damning portrait.

And one question it seems to me particularly about General Kelly, at some point, the Congress of the United States -- General Kelly I would think ought to resign for the sake of the country. It's derelict to continue in that job knowing what he does. But somebody on Capitol Hill, Republicans particularly, have got to have the guts to call Kelly up there to an executive session hearing and say, General Kelly, tell us what you think, what you really know about this president and the threats that are described in this book to the republic.

COOPER: Jamie, I understand that Woodward has made some comments now about the response?

GANGEL: He put out a statement saying he stands by his reporting.

And just from what Carl said, let's also remember this wasn't -- you know, in Watergate, there was one Deep Throat. These are dozens of deep throats.

He had dozens of sources. He has hundreds of hours of taped interviews. Almost every interview was taped as you said at the beginning.

So people may be denying things now for their own reason. Maybe they're denying it because they do consider themselves the thin blue line, and they feel that it's more important that they be in the job, but there are tapes.

COOPER: David Axelrod, I mean, just the portrait painted of this White House, I mean, crazytown is the phrase apparently that General Kelly used. I know you've been on the receiving end of a Woodward book when you were working the Obama White House. A, do you believe he has credibility issues as the president is now claiming? And B, just the portrait of this White House, I'm wondering how it compares and how much it alarms you, somebody who has actually worked, you know, in the Obama White House?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, let me deal with the credibility issue. It is -- it is preposterous to assume that all of these stories and all of these sources are concocted by Bob Woodward to present a negative portrait of this president. And has been pointed out, many of these anecdotes square up with things that have been reported elsewhere, though not in this detail.

So, I don't think there is any question. I mean, no book of 479 pages is necessarily impeccable. And you may have some it nits to pick here and there. But this portrait is pretty stark and thoroughly credible. What it paints is the picture of a White House that is like nothing that we've ever heard of.

[20:15:02] I mean, you know, Carl can speak to the end of the Nixon presidency in which Nixon was in a state and there are people around him trying to prevent him from doing anything destructive. But this has been the practice almost from the beginning, apparently, in this White House. You have an entire White House staff where many members of it conspiring as Carl says to keep the president from doing harm to the country.

What I wonder about, though how does one function in that White House? How does the president -- tomorrow morning, now he knows what's in this book. What does he say when he sees General Kelly, if he sees General Kelly? What does he say when he meets with General Mattis whose quoted as saying he has a fifth grade or a sixth grade understanding of the world? You know? I mean, it's just mind- boggling.

I don't know how one operates in a White House like that. And this -- you have to believe this can only blow a much larger riff between the president and those around him, and it contributes to my concern which is it appears as if the president is hurtling towards some sort of wall, that, you know, I fear that we're going wake up in the not too distant future, and you're going to see, you know, mass firings and mass pardons because he seems to be increasingly unhinged. I don't think this book is going to help.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, people, you know, members of his cabinet, members of the people around him, his advisers removing documents from his desk so that he doesn't sign them and just depending on the idea that he'll just forget about them, gambling on the deal that he'll forget about them.

We're going talk to Carl and Gloria and everybody else after the break. Also, we'll bring new developments as well on negotiations between Team Trump and Robert Mueller and some sort of presidential Q&A. We're getting new information that.

Later, the controversies surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his hearings for Supreme Court nomination begin with fireworks and protest.

Also tonight, the very latest on Tropical Storm Gordon coming ashore tonight, packing still what could become hurricane-force winds.


[20:20:17] COOPER: Well, let's be honest. This is one of the nights here when most of official Washington is talking about a single subject: Bob Woodward's new book. And given that one piece of reporting and it concerns the White House legal team's ambivalence about letting the president sit down with Robert Mueller, this next bit of breaking news, fits right into the conversation.

CNN has learned prosecutors for special counsel have responded to the Trump team's latest proposal regarding a possible interview. A source familiar with the matter telling us the discussions involved the possibility of written questions for the president.

"The New York Times" tonight goes further, reporting that Mr. Mueller has already told the Trump legal team he will accept written answers on questions about campaign collusion with Russia.

Back with our own team on this.

So, "The New York Times" report was the original one who reported that Mueller is going to accept written questions as part of their investigation for Russian interference, but not written questions about obstruction of justice. Is that right?

BORGER: He didn't say -- from what we know is he didn't say anything on obstruction. So that is still a question out there.

And, look, while the president's lawyers do not want the president to testify in any way, shape or form, some of this is obviously good news, because if they can get a take-home test, even if it's on collusion, that's fine, although they would have rather the president answered questions on collusion, because that was before he became president.

COOPER: So does this mean they're there's not going to be an interview?

BORGER: We don't know. We don't -- this is -- we don't know. It's up in the air. The obstruction issue, this question, the president's lawyers believe they have a good case to make on it because they can say there is executive privilege that they can claim on a lot of conversations, say, about the firing of James Comey.

This is ongoing. This took Mueller three and a half weeks to respond to the president's lawyers. So, it doesn't seem that anybody is in a rush to do this and get this done right now.

COOPER: We should also point out, David, that in Woodward's book, Woodward describes John Dowd as putting the president through mock -- basically, mock interviews. And according to Woodward, the president did very poorly, stumbling, contradicting himself, lying, saying at some point that it was a goddamn hoax.

GERGEN: Yes, and Jamie Gangel has reported further from the book that when the president broke down, it just didn't work and he really got angry and they had to call it off, the mock interview, that his own lawyers went to Mueller and reenacted for Mueller what had happened with Trump to convince him that if he called him in, he would not get necessarily get straight answers. The president of the United States might perjure himself. We don't know what recommendation he made.

But I think it's also very clear tonight that on the reporting that Mueller has kept the door open to a personal interview. He hasn't closed that door.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: And I think it's much easier to get written answers from his point of view, Mueller's point of view on whether the president knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting or not. That's just a question of fact.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: Whereas on obstruction, it's a question of motive. What did you do and why were you doing this? And you need the president himself to do that.

COOPER: Carl, Woodward writes that Dowd saw the, quote, full nightmare of a potential Mueller interview. Apparently the president didn't see it, asking Dowd, quote, you think I was struggling. What is the president's lack of self awareness, assuming this is exactly what happened indicate to you how this eventually plays out?

BERNSTEIN: I think his lack of self-awareness characterize his whole presidency. That we don't know how this is going to play out, and there is a poker game going on obviously between the White House, the president, and Mueller's inquiry.

I think it's very possible that the special prosecutor does not want to take this issue to the Supreme Court, spend months and months having it adjudicated, that he wants his investigation to come to a conclusion, that he has an awful lot of evidence of many things. We don't know what it is, but we've seen enough hints of it in court and that he wants to produce a report, a vast narrative that will show both how the cover-up by Donald Trump of the obstruction of justice in trying to investigate things about Russia and its interference in a campaign. He is going to show that obstruction, and he is going to address the question of collusion.

We don't know what he has, but I think we do know he wants to present an integrated report that presents both those issues. And we've seen Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, say finally out loud, what if m of us have been saying for weeks and weeks that the president wants to suppress the special prosecutor's report.

[20:25:02] They're looking for ways to claim executive privilege. That if he gets a new attorney general, he can order the new attorney general to say don't turn that report over to Congress, that this obstruction question also goes to the collusion question. Why is the president of the United States unwilling to answer openly these questions about, quote, collusion? Why the cover-up?

COOPER: David Axelrod, we learn to have had time John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, the president's personal attorney, went to Mueller's office and reenacted the interview. The goal being to argue to Mueller that the president was not capable of telling the truth or as David said, might perjure himself and could not testify. Dowd has denied this happened.

But if it's true, what does it say that the president's own lawyers do not think he is capable of telling the truth? And we should point out, John Dowd ultimately left.

AXELROD: Yes, nothing good, nothing good. I mean, imagine -- think of it for a second that your lawyers go to the special counsel to plead because they can't trust their own client. And so, you know, it doesn't bode well for this entire process.

That's why, you know, my strong feeling is that we may end up in a situation where the president tries to cut this short. He is clearly waging a campaign against Jeff Sessions that seems to be picking up in intensity every day. One way to get ahold or try to get ahold of this investigation is to remove sessions from that position.

But, you know, I think Carl's right. There is a level of delusion around the president. It's evidence in some of the comments that he makes publicly. It's evidenced in his tweets, and it's supported by what you see in that book. And so, it's disturbing from the standpoint of his defense, but it's more disturbing from the standpoint of the fact that the guy is president of the United States, and we're having this conversation.


BORGER: Yes, but, Anderson, here's the odd thing. All of his lawyers do not want him to testify. The reason that John Dowd quit was because after this mock interview, he said to the president, you can't -- I can't as your lawyer let you sit before the special counsel. But the president himself still believes that if he went mano-a-mano with Bob Mueller, that he would be able to come out of it just fine, because that's the way he views the world. It's me against him.

GERGEN: Yes, just one final point. What the lawyers learned -- had told Mueller was the president of the United States is not fit to come up here and testify to you personally. He will perjure himself. He'll get muddled. We shouldn't do that.

If the president of the United States is not fit to go have a two-hour conversation about the past under oath, what does that say about his fitness for the office of the presidency?

COOPER: We'll leave it on that.

Coming up, the other big story here in Washington tonight, the confirmation hearing for the president's Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh got off to a rough start today with shouting matches not just confined to the multiple protesters who were dragged out of the room. Details ahead.


[20:31:39] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The hearing for the President's pick for a Supreme Court got off to all the drama you might expect for someone who could very well change the direction of American justice for decades to come. Add to that the fact there was a late-night document dump hours before the hearing. Accusations of information being hidden and screaming protesters in the public gallery throughout, and the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh was off to the races.

In a moment I'll speak with a senator who was there, but first a look at some of the fireworks from Democrats in the early moments of the hearing.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D) CALIFORNIA: The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago 42,000 pages of documents that we have not had an opportunity to review or read or analyze.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: We have been denied -- we have been denied real access to the documents we need to advise --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, regular order is called for.

BLUMENTHAL: Which turns this hearing into a charade and a mockery of our norms.

SEN. CORY BOOKER, (D) NEW JERSEY: The rushing through this process in a way that is unnecessary. And I appeal for the motion to at least be voted on.


BOOKER: I appeal to your sense of fairness and decency, your commitments that you've made to transparency --


COOPER: Well, joining me now is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island who was there for all of that.

Senator, Republicans accuse Democrats of disrupting today's hearing by what they say is mob rule. I'm wondering what your reaction to that is.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND: Well, that seems a little bit exaggerated. I think we followed proper regular order throughout the whole committee process. I don't think you could go in a simple private contract case in a district court in any community in this country and dump 42,000 pages of documents on a litigant the evening before the trial and not expect that the judge would give you a continuance. That's just basic fairness.

And so for us to ask for that, not to mention all the other documents that are hidden or obscured or not allowed to be seen or kept secret, I think it was really important that we try to assert our rights. This was not a proper normal process. This was bizarre, and we shouldn't be rolled by it. And we shouldn't have gone quietly.

COOPER: How -- I mean how much of this was preplanned and sort of coordinated in advance between the senators, the Democratic senators?

WHITEHOUSE: Not much. Not much, as you would in front of every big hearing, there was -- I think one conference call with most if not all of the judiciary members. But that's pretty much standard stuff. I think we were all very eager to each say our piece and to try to bring to light the fact that this is the most bizarre hearing process for a Supreme Court nominee that the country has ever seen. And that we have at this point maybe 10% of the documents that relate to this guy's tenure in government. And a 10% by the way that was selected by his friends to be the most, like, bland and unchallenging 10%. It's not even a statistically sampled 10%. It's just the 10 they wanted to give us.

COOPER: During his opening statement today, Judge Kavanaugh vowed to be what he said would be a neutral and impartial arbiter, saying and to keep an open mind in every case if affirmed to the Supreme Court. Do you doubt him on that?

WHITEHOUSE: Absolutely. That is what I would call confirmation etiquette treacle. All of the judges come in and they say that stuff, and then they get on the court and what happens is they pack up into a Republican gang of five.

[20:35:12] And by my count, they have rendered 73 different decisions with just the five Republicans that have given substantial benefits to big Republican funders and interests. And in that pursuit, they've run over all sorts of supposedly conservative judicial principles with respect for precedent right at the very top of the list. So you got to look at their behavior and not just what they say.

COOPER: But is that only a Republican trait? I mean there are -- there's Democrats and liberals on the court who vote as a group as well.

WHITEHOUSE: We've never seen anything like this. There is -- not that I've ever seen. I mean, when the five Republicans go off and change the law for the benefit of big Republican interests, that does leave four dismayed Democratic appointees saying what the heck just happened around here. But to blame that on the four Democratic appointees who are getting rolled and who are not changing the law, I don't think correctly tells that story.

COOPER: What is your end goal here? Because -- I know, you know better than anyone the Democrats likely don't have the votes to block Kavanaugh's nomination.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think there are two. One is to raise concerns about the way in which this was done and try to get more Americans interested in the fact that we're being so badly and so unprecedentedly rolled on this nominee. And the second is to lead into the question from there why. Why is it that the Republicans are so desperate, break so many rules, break so many conventions to try to jam this particular individual on the court. And that turns into this larger question of the Supreme Court 5-4, all Republican decisions that have given a huge, huge benefits to big Republican interests.

COOPER: Senator Whitehouse, appreciate your time. We'll see more --

WHITEHOUSE: Good to see you, Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks very much. Joining me now, Jeffrey Toobin, Anne Milgram, Jonathan Turley, Charlie Dent, Jen Psaki and Michael Caputo. Everybody on this panel is smarter than I am. So I'm just going to really turn it over. Jeff, what -- I mean it was contentious from the start. What stood out to you today?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That the Democrats woke up, that the Democrats showed up and they fought back. I mean, you know, the key issue here is they don't have the votes. And they can make noise, and they had some very good arguments that it's absurd to suggest you can turn over 42,000 documents the night before a hearing and expect anyone to read them. And this staff secretary, which Brett Kavanaugh was, was a very important job in the Bush administration, but what will it add up to? I don't know.

COOPER: Is it that unusual to have these documents released like they were?

JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: It is. I think the Democrats had a good point that this is a considerable amount of documents to produce at the last minute. There is a lot of documents obviously that should have been produced. But the Democrats also have a problem with their own record. You know, they're going to be complaining that he doesn't answer questions. But, you know, the Ginsburg rule where nominees refuse to answer questions was actually forged under a Democratic chairman. It's been used repeatedly by the Democrats.

And so it's going to sound a lot like complaining about the weather. You know, that this has been the way -- much of this has been the way confirmations is gone. Their best point I think was that these documents should have been produced earlier, and there's a lot that still should be produced.

TOOBIN: You know, the Ginsburg rule is basically a myth, the way it's been used. Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her testimony could not have been clearer in saying that abortion -- the right to abortion is a fundamental right for Americans and watch Brett Kavanaugh say absolutely nothing in response to every single question about abortion.

TURLEY: I disagree with that. Kavanaugh is going to basically mimic what Kagan said which was absolutely nothing about Roe v. Wade. And so whether the Ginsburg rule meant something at the beginning, it certainly means something today. That is -- if starting with Ginsburg, they have cited that hearing to say nothing. I've always been a critic of it because I don't understand what the purpose of these hearings really are ultimately.

COOPER: Anne, what is the purpose of them? I mean.

ANNE MILGRAM, FMR FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I mean look, the idea behind this is that this is a lifetime appointment. I mean Brett Kavanaugh is 53 years old. He will sit on that court probably for the next 30 years and will impact all of our lives in ways we cannot even imagine yet. And so there should be a full and thorough airing of what his views are and how he will see the law. I do understand, and this is true of both Democrats and Republicans. Nobody wants to answer specific questions of how they will rule on hypothetical facts or even on existing facts, but there has to be more of a conversation about people's values and legal views than we're seeing, than we've seen I think in the last few nominations.

TURLEY: I think the problem is no one wants that conversation until they're in the minority, right? That's only in a conversation that minority senators want to have. Right.

COOPER: Michael, I mean do you see this document dump, if that's what it was, as inappropriate?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FMR TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Well, I don't know if it's inappropriate. I think that calling out about the documents is kind of a smoke screen. They have 300 opinions to refer to. I understand their complaint. They're in the minority. And if you want to pick judges, you got to win elections.

[20:40:05] What I really want to see is more and more of these protests during the hearing. I want to see more of that. I want them to wear their pink hats. I want them to embarrass themselves.

COOPER: You think it has the --

CAPUTO: The opposite effect. I think normal Americans see that as ridiculous. They see that as, you know, just chicanery. And they see it as trying to manipulate the process. Most of the people I know, I live in fly-over country they, find that hilarious. They don't think they don't support that at all. And I want them to do more of it. I think it's going help us in the midterms.

COOPER: Congressman, what did you see today?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I saw several Democratic senators auditioning for President of the United States. That's what I thought I saw today. And I think this is a -- the sorry spectacle. I'm of the opinion if the nominee is temperamentally fit, qualified, right experience, well read in the law, that's worthy of support. You know, I saw my Senator Pat Toomey support Judge -- Justice Sotomayor because he thought that she was fit.

And he took some grief from his base, but nowadays it seems that, you know, you hear people calling Kavanaugh an idealogue. And many of this people calling him an idealogue are ideal logs. I mean that's what we're watching. I think this is really a sad thing for the American people to have to watch this.

TOOBIN: But, why is it sad to know whether a nominee is going to vote to end Roe v. Wade, like the President promised during the campaign? Why is that something that should be a mystery? Why shouldn't we know what's going to happen?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And why it is sad to know, to have the time to go through the documents that would give people the answers that we still don't have answers on. People feel that this is being pushed through and jammed through without the proper time to evaluate when it is a lifetime appointment for a guy who is very young. DENT: I also heard too that Sandra Day O'Connor was going to overturn Roe v. Wade. I think we heard the same thing about Justice Kennedy too. I happen to support a woman's right to choose. I voted that way. And, you know, I do think a lot of these justices once they get on the court are very careful not to want to revoke rights that have already been established, whether it's on marriage equality or even abortion rights. I think --

COOPER: Jeff, I mean you have written extensively on the court into great books. I mean is there something that changes once you --

TOOBIN: You know, there is this mythology of the surprise President that the idea that, you know, that Presidents don't get what they bargained for. Look at all the justices on the court right now. They are all exactly as advertised. You could argue that Anthony Kennedy was sort --

COOPER: Wasn't Suter sort of a prize?

TOOBIN: Well Suter was somewhat of a surprise. But George W. -- George Herbert Walker had no -- had no interest. Sorry?

TURLEY: It's like a heart attack is a surprise.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean -- I mean well it was -- he got more liberal as he, you know, later in his tenure. But look at all nine justices now. They are all absolutely as advertised. And remember this process. Donald Trump didn't pick these justices. The federalist society pick these justices, and they're very good at it. Neil Gorsuch is now over with Clarence Thomas beyond Justice Alito, beyond Chief Justice Roberts in the most conservative members of the court. I have ever reason to believe Brett Kavanaugh will be the same way. Elections have consequences. Donald Trump won the election. But we should know what we're getting.

COOPER: Right, I mean that the point. I mean the President, Donald Trump, won. He gets to appoint the people he wants to appoint.

PSAKI: There is. I mean the reason he saw and I agree with Jeffrey, thank goodness Democrats woke up. I think many Democrats across the country were happy to see them with a little more pep in their step today at the hearing. I disagree with you. I think seeing them active, seeing protesters out there is going to get a lot of people out and excited about the elections in November.

CAPUTO: On our side, yes. Absolutely.

PSAKI: Well -- OK. I guess we'll see in November. We can place a money wager on it. But elections do have consequences. I think that's one of the points that they're making. Look, this is -- they know ever single Democrat who spoke today knows they don't have the votes. But they still want to -- they have a legitimate concern they were expressing based on the document dump, and they wanted people to know about it and to wake people up. It's hard to break through in this environment. CAPUTO: I love Lindsey Graham's statement during the hearing toward the end of the hearing where he was talking about do you suddenly expect a conservative President is going to choose a liberal justice? I mean it's OK for Hillary Clinton to talk about she has a litmus test on upholding Roe v. Wade, but Donald Trump can't? I mean that to me, it's just, again, it's the minority speaking up with the only voice they have.

TOOBIN: And Lindsey Graham was so insistent that a President gets to pick, right?


TOOBIN: Just like Barack Obama got to pick Merrick Garland. And he got a vote, didn't he?

MILGRAM: And the hearing --

COOPER: And the answer to that was no, obviously. We're going to take a quick break. More on this subject when we come back. I just want to get the panel's take on the breaking news on Robert Mueller. And the President also the latest on the path to drop Storm Gordon, on inclusion of course with the Gulf Coast, we'll tell you where it is now and what to expect.


[20:47:40] COOPER: There is plenty to talk about tonight with the panel with the Kavanaugh hearings, which sounds like the title of a Robert Ludlum book. And the breaking news the "New York Times" reporting that Robert Mueller has agreed to the President answering certain Russia probe questions in writing. Luckily we have some lawyers here who we can talk to about this.

You know, we've talked and so much about whether the President is going to sit down or not. I'm wondering what you make of this latest reporting idea, that Mueller is going to go with the idea of written questions, at least on Russian collusion questions.

MILGRAM: So, I think it's important to break this into two parts. One is the part about the collusion question and the campaign and what if any role Donald Trump played. And that is what they're going on written questions for. And I see that as Mueller's effort to move this along. He more than anyone will be aware of the fact that he wants to get this done. There is a time frame he is aiming for. And those are questions that I think I don't like written questions period, but I think those are questions that are easier to see.

COOPER: Does that give you a window into Mueller's -- that there is no there, there?

MILGRAM: No, it's that Trump is a witness. He's a witness. And I think he is an important witness particularly on the airplane with Donald Trump Jr. So I do think that there are important questions they will want to ask the President about, what role did you have in crafting the statement about the meeting, the meeting in Trump Towers. The second part though the obstruction, I think they will try to sit with the President. I think they're just splitting it into two to get one piece done.

COOPER: Jeff, do you see this the same way?

TOOBIN: I basically agree. I mean these negotiations have again on longer than the reunification of Germany. I mean, this is just absurd how many months they've been talking about this. Mueller -- and they both want to get this over with. I think Mueller knows that if he subpoenas, it's likely to be a Supreme Court case that ends in June, and then who knows what happens. The President doesn't want to be subpoenaed. So there is some interest in reaching some sort of settlement. The problem, as the Bob Woodward book illustrates, is the President's lawyers think their client is a liar.

And putting him under oath or even in an office interview when they think he's going to lie is problematic. And I still think they're going to do everything they can to avoid this.

COOPER: Mr. Turley, what do you -- I'm wondering what you make of Woodward's reporting on this to Jeff's point about what the President's attorneys think of their client.

TURLEY: I could help to think would -- it was like for Kavanaugh, you know. He is being questioned on deferring to the President. And, you know, he must feel like that scene in "the graduate" where Dustin Hoffman is banging on the window on the outside. Every report coming into that hearing room today was the President running around the capitol with his hair on fire.

[20:50:11] And that's not exactly the environment you want to talk about deferring to a President. I think that what comes out of this book if it's true is quite alarming. I mean there's no question about that. Some of it I just find hard to believe. I can't believe that any two sane lawyers would essentially perform in front of Mueller like they're doing improv at the park to say, look how bad our client is. That's why we won't do this.

If that's true, then obviously they're not very good lawyers and things have gone way, you know, over the line in terms of the control of this litigation. But what's coming out of this book is obviously alarming. It's not going to help the President. But more importantly it puts a spook into the Republican ranks. He's about to go into the most difficult period of any President in modern history if the house flips.

And he -- I was the lead counsel in the last impeachment trial. And I got to tell you, at the end of the day when that vote is called, you need those Republicans to really be unified and not be having doubts. Books like this tend to put a spook into those ranks.

COOPER: Michael, I'm wondering as a supporter of the President, what do you think of the book?

(CROSSTALK) CAPUTOR: I think there's probably some truth to it. I think there's probably a lot of fabrication there. I'm going read it and try to figure out what I believe. I don't believe that the lawyers were, you know, pantomiming for Mueller. I don't believe that the conversation between Bannon and Ivanka Trump went down the way the book says it does. There's a lot of things to doubt.

COOPER: In the book Bannon is yelling at her that she's a staffer.

CAPUTO: Would never happen. That conversation would never happen. I know both of them. It would never happen. But I can tell you this. I believe that the reporting out of the "New York Times" today heartened a lot of us around the President. I believe --

COOPER: Heartened because?

CAPUTO: Because I believe, it looks like that the Mueller team is negotiating in good faith, and it appears to be that they're open to, you know, having questions and answers in writing. I think it's an indication that they're willing to compromise. And up until now, I've been doubtful about that.

COOPER: All right, we got to end it there, I want to thank everybody on the panel.

I want to check in with Chris Cuomo to see what he's working on for "CUOMO PRIME TIME" at the top of the hour. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So what we're going to do tonight is bring on friends, confidants, and people who've been inside the White House with Donald Trump to get their reaction to the book. What do they think is fact? What do they think is fiction because Anderson they're in a tough place. They cannot write this off like Omarosa's book even though they're using the same defense play on it.

This is Bob Woodward, all right two Pulitzer prizes, we all know his legacy. And he's got hundreds of hours of interviews and documents the things to back this up. I can't believe they want to have a fact fight with this man. So we'll see how they defend it, and we will get into what happened today with Kavanaugh and what it tees us up for tomorrow.

COOPER: All right, a lot to talk about Chris. That's about seven minutes from now. See you then.

Tropical Storm Gordon taking aim at the Gulf Coast tonight. Where could come at shore soon. Potential damage it could bring next. We'll have details ahead.


COOPER: Tropical Storm Gordon is nearing hurricane strength and is expected to hit the Gulf Coast tonight. Maximum of sustained winds or 70 miles an hour. The storm is about 70 miles south of Mobile, Alabama, now. Our Nick Valencia is not far from there, he's on the Dauphin, Islands and joins us with the latest. What's the scene there?


COOPER: Obviously we're having some connection problems. That is a problem when reporting on hurricanes with the weather. We're going to try to get Nick back. Let e see if we do have him. Nick, are you there? Oh, well, lost him.

So as we said, the winds are about 70 miles an hour. It's not clear yet exactly where this is going to be making landfall. It is roaring, as we say, toward the gulf coast. It's expected around -- actually, let's go to Allison Chinchar in the weather center right now. Allison, if you could give us a sense where this is right now, where it may make landfall.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, so right now it's just about 50 miles off the coast. When we reference that, we mean the center of circulation. Winds are still 70 miles per hour. That's only 5 miles per hour off from hurricane strength. The key thing to note is even if it doesn't get up to a category 1 storm, the impacts are still going to be the same, Anderson. And that's going to be the very heavy rain. We've already had several inches dumped in a lot of these places, and additional rainfall will come down. Not to mention you have storm surge, three to five feet in this red area here and about two to four feet Anderson, in the orange areas that you can see.

COOPER: And what are the biggest threats right now that the storm poses?

CHINCHAR: Right. So the main concern is going to be heavy rain but also severe weather. You have the threat for waterspouts, tornadoes, that's going to be well throughout the overnight hours. So for a lot of those folks there, please make sure your phones are charged and you have access to those emergency alerts in case tornado warnings take place. And one of the thing Anderson is this is going to not only impact the gulf region but take a look at this map. Heavy rain is going to push inland state for states like Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas.

So even areas well inland are going to end up taking a lot of rainfall from this system over the next couple of days.

COOPER: All right. We'll be following it. Allison Chinchar, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Reminder, don't miss "Full Circle" our new daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You pick some of the stories that we cover, join us 6:25 p.m. eastern weeknights, every weekday night on, all one word.

News continues right now. I want to hand over to Chris "CUOMO PRIME TIME" starts now. Chris?

[21:00:00] CUOMO: Thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to "Prime Time." Fear is spreading as Watergate journalist Bob Woodward pulls back a curtain on another White House revealing some of the darkest secrets yet of the Trump presidency.