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President Trump Fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions, New Acting AG Expected to Oversee Mueller Probe; White House Announced Tonight That It Has Revoked The Press Pass of CNN Chief White House Chief Correspondent Jim Acosta. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired November 7, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We begin tonight with breaking news that has potentially explosive implications for the Russia investigation. Now normally we'd be covering the aftermath of the midterm election results which seem like a week ago, but were just last night when Democrats took control of the House and Republicans picked up seats in the Senate.

Normally, we'd be covering a stunning press conference during which the president claimed victory and lashed out personal at members of the press which happened a few hours ago. But as we've said many times, these are not normal times because eclipsing both of those major developments perhaps with the purpose of eclipsing those major developments -- the president fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Here he is leaving the Justice Department a short time ago.

Administration officials told CNN Sessions wanted to try to stay until the end of the week but was told, in fact, he had to leave today. The news broke shortly after president was asked about his beleaguered attorney general at the conference at the White House. Here's what he said.


REPORTER: Can you give us clarity, sir, on your thinking now after the midterms about your attorney general and your deputy attorney general? Do they have long-term job security?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd rather answer that at a little bit different time. We're looking at a lot of different things, including cabinet. I'm very happy with most of my cabinet. We're looking at different people for different positions. It's very common after the midterms. I didn't want to do anything before the midterms.


COOPER: Didn't want to do anything before the midterms. But even as some midterm votes were still being counted, he fired Sessions, more accurately according to an administration official, he had John Kelly do it for him.

Now, the president says Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, will take over as acting attorney general. He's expected to take charge of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, the investigation that the president was asked about several times today.


REPORTER: Would you consider removing Mr. Mueller from his position?

TRUMP: I could have ended it any time I wanted. I didn't. And there was no collusion. There was no anything. I didn't. It should end because it's very bad for our country.

They should also get people that can be fair. Not 13 or 14 or 17, I call them the angry Democrats. They are angry people. And it's a very unfair thing for this country. It's a very, very -- forget about unfair to me, it's very bad for our country.

REPORTER: On the Russia investigation, are you concerned that you may have --

TRUMP: I'm not concerned about anything with the Russian investigation because it's a hoax.

REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President. Going back to the Russia investigation, and potential investigations from the now-Democratic majority in Congress, some say that you could stop all this by declassifying --

TRUMP: I could. I could fire everybody right now.


COOPER: Well, he didn't, quote, fire everybody right now, but he did fire Sessions or had Kelly fire him. As you know, the president never seemed to be able to get over the fact that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and there are big questions about his replacement, whether he might be asked to recuse himself or whether he should recuse himself over past statements he's made.

Matthew Whitaker was a CNN legal commentator. Here's what he said back in July of 2017.


MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I can see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces the budget so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: To dwindle his resources.



COOPER: Well, that same month, Whitaker also commented on Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer, who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton.


WHITAKER: I mean, you would always take that meeting. We have no information right now that would suggest that he knew who this individual was that he was meeting with, or who the three were going to meet with. They just knew they must have been sold the fact that there was some really good information that they need to hear and having been in campaigns, I know what that pitch looks like and you would always have somebody from the campaign take that meeting and hear that person out.


COOPER: Whitaker made his feelings about the Russia probe crystal clear in an opinion piece for CNN back in August of 2017. The headline, Mueller's investigation of Trump is going too far.

Joining us now is CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz who joins us right here.

Can you just walk us through what we know happened here, and what the implications are for the Mueller investigation?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So, really, the implications are tremendous for the Mueller investigation since that now Whitaker runs this entire investigation. The DOJ and the attorney general were sort of separate and kept separate. It was the deputy attorney general who was running the entire investigation and was overseeing it.

Now, you have a person, a loyalist that some are calling, to the president, who frequently visited the White House who knows the president, knows the president well, was at the Department of Justice essentially because many people think he was spying on the Department of Justice on behalf of the White House for the president who's now going to make all the decisions in terms of this investigation, where it goes, whether there's any other subpoenas, any other grand juries.

[20:05:04] COOPER: Right, because Mueller would have to go -- in the past, it was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to actually get approval to do certain subpoenas and take certain actions. Now he would be going to Whitaker.

PROKUPECZ: He would be going to Whitaker and also the other thing is Whitaker has to be briefed on this entire investigation. And we don't know where that stands right now.

COOPER: We don't know if he's already been briefed.

PROKUPECZ: We don't know.

COOPER: It is important to point out that at the time he was making those comments on CNN and stuff, he had not seen any actual evidence.

PROKUPECZ: Right. COOPER: Didn't know what Mueller had.

PROKUPECZ: He had not seen any evidence. We don't know that he has even seen any evidence up to today. It could be the deputy attorney general briefed him finally today.

The other big question is, is Mueller going to come in and meet with him? Is he going to go meet with Mueller to get briefed on where the investigation stands?

The implications also go for the report which eventually everyone's expecting to come either in December or the beginning of the New Year and what does Whitaker do with that report? Does he limit the special counsel where they can go, what they can write in this report? Those are going to be the big questions.

COOPER: And does it become public?

PROKUPECZ: Right. That is the big thing. Does it become public? Does Whitaker say, OK, we let certain parts of it in, do we send parts of this to Congress, do we not? Or do I feel -- Whitaker could say I feel here you overstepped your authority, so this is not an issue, we should not be investigating --

COOPER: Today, there was this call from Democrats for Whitaker to recuse himself. I mean, that seems highly, highly unlikely.

PROKUPECZ: No, it's ultimately up to him. Much as it was under for Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions, ultimately, decided on his own per the ethic ethics counsel at the Department of Justice that he should recuse himself.

The ethics folks could go to Whitaker and say, hey, we see issues here, Whitaker say, hey, you may see issues here, but -- the president put me here, I'm doing what the president wants me to do and I'm essentially taking over this investigation and this Department of Justice which is going to be entirely, everything there will be overseen by him.

COOPER: Yes, Shimon, stay with us.

Joining us now is former federal prosecutor Laura Coates, also former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, journalist and author Carl Bernstein, and CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, I mean, you say this is the president, himself, essentially taking over the Mueller case. Explain that.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST:" Well, the -- Robert Mueller is an employee of the Department of Justice and under the regulation, he is to be supervised as an employee of the Department of Justice, which means it's usually the attorney general unless the attorney general is recused. Now, because there's a new acting attorney general, he is the supervisor of the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker. Look at what he has said about the Mueller investigation. It is

virtually identical to what Donald Trump has said about it, that there are no crimes here. It needs to be forestalled. It needs to be ended. And the only question is when or if Whitaker decides to shut it down.

COOPER: Dave -- sorry, who do we have?

Carl Bernstein, how do you see this? I mean, this has been talked about now for quite a while, the idea of Jeff Sessions -- you know, the president has been making fun of Jeff Sessions publicly, privately. It's no surprise he got rid of Jeff Sessions. Did you expect Rosenstein, though, to step up into the role?

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I think Rosenstein has been surpassed by Whitaker's appointment unless Whitaker recuses himself.

More important, what we saw today, is a kind of coup against the rule of law, a kind of action that you see in a tin pot dictatorship in which now we have the president of the United States who clearly from the beginning has been trying to shut down, bury the Mueller investigation. He is on the road to doing it. He's done it today after the election. Under the cover of night as it were. And this is anti-democratic in the sense, lower case "D," in the sense we now have a president of the United States who is willing to totally undermine the system of justice in this country for his own ends.

COOPER: Laura, I mean, is there anything to stop if Whitaker wanted to do what he said on television and cut the budget for Robert Mueller's team? Is that possible?

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, he could limit and try to hamstring the nature of the investigation. Remember, what Rod Rosenstein's role was, was essentially to have an oversight of the Mueller probe in terms of subpoena power, whether or not to subpoena the president of the United States, whether to impanel the grand jury, to what sense to seek indictments, all that is important and has some budgetary implications.

But remember, as it stands right now Whitaker is not Senate confirmed. But he wouldn't fall under the Vacancy Reform Act, someone who could stay for 200 of more days. He's not somebody who could possibly technically fall under the recess appointment. If he did, it would only be through January. Whatever power he could wield would be temporary.

Now, even temporary power can be very impactful, Anderson, including the ability to hamstring.

[20:10:00] However, the most concern I think I have about Matt Whitaker, is not that he's shown his hand at this point in time. It's the nature of his temporary appointment.

Can he then go back and inform the president of the United States about what he's learned after being briefed by Mueller and his team? Will he be able to be a form -- not just when he was chief of staff for Jeff Sessions but right now, in a temporary capacity? And so that's a very big concern.

But either way, if he were to try to limit or even fire Robert Mueller, remember, there is an existing legislation, it has to be for cause, and that for-cause finding of why he may be let go or dereliction of duty has to be reviewed by Congress. There are checks in place to have an oversight function even over Matthew Whitaker.

COOPER: John Dean, do you believe Whitaker's past public comments, you know, casting skepticism on the Mueller case, meet the bar for recusal?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I read those regulations today, as a matter of fact, and there's a catchall in the regulations that says even an appearance of bias is a basis under the existing regulations to recuse. And if he was to honor those, he, indeed, given his prior statements, he would do so. Anderson, I don't think he's going to do so, though.

COOPER: How likely -- John, how likely do you think the president got some sort of a promise from Whitaker that he wouldn't recuse himself? Obviously, if he recused himself, that's what the president freaked out about Jeff Sessions.

DEAN: Exactly. And I think there was discussion of this. I don't know if it was at the presidential level, but if you look at the press on this and go back a few months, there was discussion of Whitaker coming in to replace Rosenstein as the acting deputy attorney general, and that was after he'd already made all these remarks about his attitude about Mueller going further than he should go. And that was the first time my antenna kind of quivered. I said, that would be interesting because they're placing somebody who's got a definite bias in front of the investigation which would be highly unusual.

But now, we've accomplished it not only for the special counsel, but for the entire Department of Justice.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, I think you wanted to say something.

TOOBIN: Well, I was going to make a similar point that recusal is the exact reason why the -- as you pointed out, that the president was so angry at Sessions. There is no way this whole crisis is going to be repeated. The whole point of appointing a stooge is to make sure he continues to act like a stooge. And that is undoubtedly -- undoubtedly why he's there.

There's also the element of the election. The Republicans who now -- who are now in charge of the Senate are an expanded group of Trump supporters. Even the sort of pretend moderates like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker will be gone. The president can install anyone he wants at the Department of Justice now, and the Senate will confirm him. They only need a majority and they'll get that.

So, this president is now in charge of the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation, and he's exercising it with Whitaker's appointment and he will exercise it with whoever he nominates for the full-time attorney generalship. COOPER: So, Jeff, are you saying that basically the president can end

the Mueller investigation?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean --


TOOBIN: You know, the question -- I mean, that would raise the question of whether the House of Representatives moves to impeach him. Certainly, Nancy Pelosi does not want to have that fight because that was a loser in 1998. But if they fire Mueller, that's the fight they may have.

BERNSTEIN: Not only can he end the investigation, and he has the legal power to do it if he's going to exercise it through this appointment, we all know that what has driven Donald Trump the craziest and angered him more than any other thing about Mueller's investigation is that he does not know what Mueller is doing. He has no roadmap that his lawyers have been able to provide him of what it is that Mueller knows and where Mueller is going. It's one of the reasons he fired Comey is because Comey was not sufficiently forthcoming to give him a look at what was going on in the investigation.

And this is truly, you know, the fox at the henhouse, that he now has the ability through Whitaker to get a full picture of what is going on in this investigation, which are the crown jewels in terms of what he does to extricate himself from terrible, terrible legal problems for himself and his family and in itself, it is a kind of -- it is an obstruction of justice and we're going to see if some people in the Congress of the United States have enough backbone to say we must have the rule of law prevail here.

[20:15:02] COOPER: Well, the other question, Shimon, has Robert Mueller baked this in? Has he kind of gamed this out already?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, so, yes, he has. I think they were prepared for this because Rod Rosenstein who was overseeing this was prepared for this. You know, because he thought he was going to get fired a few weeks ago and Whitaker was going to take over his job. So, he was prepared for this.

The FBI, most importantly, the FBI has been prepared for this. Why? Because that's where all the evidence lives, all the intelligence lives. That's where all the documents live.

All of that is in the hands of the FBI. They have been prepared for this. We know they have been planning just in case, for some reason the president says stop this investigation, or do this, get rid of this, don't do this, they have been preparing for it.

COOPER: But what does that mean, Laura? I mean --

COATES: I can't be so apocalyptic perhaps as my colleagues about the idea the president now controls the Mueller probe. In a sense, he's always controlled the executive branch which includes the Department of Justice. That's no surprise. But there has been, as you said, baked into the ingredients here the idea that if pundits are able to opine about this and the recusal or perhaps the resignation of Jeff Sessions, you better believe that Mueller has as well.

Remember, when he had all the indictments, including the most recent one about Russian nationals, he included within the language of the actual crimes that there were American citizens who are, perhaps, unwittingly a part of it or somehow in cahoots and at least one person raised his hand later on, I think his name was Roger Stone to indicate perhaps he's one of these people. Now, he wasn't indicted at the time. There were others who were lingering in the anonymous factor there.

But I believe that Mueller has had this jury -- the grand jury impaneled for a sufficient amount of time to be able to anticipate the conclusion of his investigation, which means that there could be indictments forthcoming. They could already be sealed. They could already be somehow a part of the system. So if he anticipates it and he knew his time is short.

But the one thing holding him up, of course, was that you have the midterm elections. That's now gone. And the subpoena power now goes to the Democrats.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody. Reaction from Democrats on Capitol Hill has been consistent that the Mueller investigation must be protected from interference from the president. What does that mean now that Sessions has been fired? We're going to hear from Senator Chris Coons in just a moment.

We'll also hear from someone who knows all too well what it's like to have a target on your back placed there by the president. Democratic Senator Jon Tester who just won re-election in Montana, he joins me shortly as well.


[20:21:36] COOPER: Well, Democrats in Congress are warning that the rush is a investigation must be protected now that the president fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and named an acting attorney general who in the past spoken out about the investigation. Both Nancy Pelosi and Schumer have called for Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself. Congressman Jerrold Nadler who will become chair of the House Judiciary Committee when Democrats take control said Sessions' firing fits a clear pattern of interference by the president.

Joining me now is Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks for being with us. Today you tweeted the president crossed a red line by firing sessions. Doesn't the president, though, have the authority to fire anyone within his cabinet?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Anderson, he does have the authority to fire members of his own cabinet. What he can't do is fire members of his own cabinet and replace them with partisan loyalists going around the succession procedures for the Department of Justice, in an attempt to influence or impede or end the special counsel's investigation.

So, if it's done for an improper purpose, he shouldn't be doing this.

COOPER: CNN is reporting tonight that for Whitaker, ending or trying to suppress the Russia probe is not an optimism. Now, I know you say he should recuse himself. But if he isn't trying to shut down or suppress the investigation, why would that be necessary? And do you believe -- I mean, I guess do you have any faith in him?

COONS: Well, I'm concerned because of comments he made, actually ironically, on CNN, just over a year ago in 2017 when he was hypothesizing about exactly this scenario, when he suggested that the president might relieve Attorney General Sessions and then replace him with an acting attorney general who given his authority to control the budget could squeeze the investigation and bring it to a halt.

So, you know, if -- if Whitaker were to publicly state that he was leaving supervision of the investigation to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and take action to confirm that, I think that would be address the concerns that I and many other senators, both Republican and Democrat, have raised about this step.

COOPER: That seems hard to imagine, though, given the president's fury over Jeff Sessions recusing himself, you know, the president has long said publicly had he known that in advance, he wouldn't have even put Jeff Sessions in that job.

COONS: That's right, Anderson. He's said over and over both that he dismisses the ongoing investigation led by Robert Mueller as a hoax or witch hunt and that this was the cause of his sharp break from Jeff Sessions who was his greatest loyalist in the Senate, his first endorser in the Senate, and someone with whom he was very closely aligned ideologically. It was because Jeff Sessions followed the ethics rules of the DOJ and recused himself that the president gradually became more and more publicly and privately furious at him.

COOPER: How long could the president actually leave Whitaker as acting attorney general? Is it possible he could leave him in there overseeing the Mueller investigation until it's concluded? I mean, is in a time limit by which he has to actually, you know, send somebody, nominate somebody?

COONS: Under the Vacancies Act, I believe it's 210 days. So, because he's not confirmed, the president should have followed the succession statute and put in the next person in line, but he didn't. He went around to someone who was not confirmed by the United States Senate. So he can serve in an acting capacity, I believe it's for 210 days.

[20:25:00] I'll remind you that will then take us obviously into the next Congress at which point the majority by which he might then be able to confirm a new attorney general is likely to go up in the Senate.

I'll also just mention, Anderson, you know, partly I think what we're seeing here today is the president's mastery of changing the subject. We had a significant political win last night, a switch of at least 28 seats, maybe as many as 35 in the House. Democrats now will have firm control of the House in January and that means the president's ability to legislate with both houses of Congress supporting him is at an end.

This significantly weakens him and as you saw in today's long and meandering press conference, he's declaring the election a victory when, in fact, he really decisively lost one house of Congress and Democrats will now be able to compel much more transparency. Hopefully, we'll find a way to work together on important legislation, but the president now faces the end of one-party rule in Congress.

COOPER: Do you think the president has a firm understanding, I mean, he doesn't have the experience of having had this happen, of what that actually means on a day-to-day basis just in terms of his ability to get stuff done?

COONS: No, but I think many of the folks around him grasp clearly just what it's going to mean in terms of a likely barrage of investigations, subpoenas, requests for documents. You know, I thought that Nancy Pelosi's press conference after last night's results extended an olive branch, made it clear that there's a number of important areas in infrastructure, in health care, in drug pricing, where there really could be constructive bipartisanship here between the House, the Senate, and the White House.

The president today made some positive comments about her, but mostly was combative and suggested generally that if Democrats ask for things like his taxes, that he'll take on a war stance. I don't think he personally grasps exactly what it's going to be like if the House fully exercises its powers.

COOPER: Senator Chris Coons, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

COONS: Thanks.

COOPER: There's no shortage, no shortage of topics for our political team tonight. With me, David Axelrod, Gloria Borger, Van Jones, Kirsten Powers, Marc Short, and David Urban.

I mean, Gloria, if there was any doubt that keeping Sessions was a political move, I mean --



BORGER: Right. Everybody told him he had to wait until after the election and he waited, what, 24 hours. Less than 24 hours.

And I think people are kind of surprised that -- we knew this was pent up for months and months and months and he couldn't control himself, but if he doesn't want any investigations by the House Judiciary Committee, he's just guaranteed one I think because people are going to want to know why did you -- why did you fire Jeff Sessions at this particular point? Isn't Whitaker conflicted? And they're going to want to know the whole story here. And so I

think it's clearly something that has judiciary --

COOPER: David Urban, you know Matt Whitaker. I want to ask you about your opinion of him but also just because he has made public comments about things he saw no evidence of, I mean, he was not privy to evidence, so he's making public comments as they come.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENATOR: Pose a hypothetical on this network, if you were king and you wanted to kill us, how would you do it, right? That's his original sin which he's now going to be forced, flogged over and over in the public debate, in the public square.

Look, you heard Senator Coons. If only he's guilty, only if you impute some malice, aforethought here by the president doing any of this, Matt Whitaker is a patriot. He's not going to fire Bob Mueller. The statute is pretty clear.

He can ask questions about Mueller according to the independent -- the special counsel statute. He can inquire on some things. He's not going anywhere. It's a much to do about nothing I think.

COOPER: Kirsten, do you think it's much to do about nothing?

KRISTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I mean, I -- it feels like maybe I'm really old fashioned but if you're going to have somebody who is in a position to be overseeing an investigation, you want them to be as neutral as possible. And this strikes me as not being as neutral as possible. And maybe in this new world, this seems normal. But I think you want somebody who hasn't already expressed opinion about how the investigation is supposed to be going.

URBAN: You have to find a monk some place perhaps --

COOPER: All right. We're going to take a break. We're going to get the whole panel in in just a moment. Just ahead, more on what's been a remarkable day here in Washington.

And later, I'll talk with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as well. Get his take on Jeff Sessions' firing plus the Democrats' victories and losses last night.


[20:33:33] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Kirsten's mom just called. Mom, Kirsten's still on T.V.


COOPER: As we mentioned earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has concerns about the new acting attorney general who's taking over for fired Jeff Sessions. She wrote this on Twitter. "Given his record of threats to undermine and weaken the Russia investigation, Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from any involvement in Mueller's investigation. Congress must take immediate action to protect the rule of law and the integrity of the investigation." Back now with our political team. David Axelrod, I mean, there is no appetite certainly on the Senate -- in the Senate to send sort of some protection for Mueller, it seems, or ask Whitaker to recuse himself.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, no. And let's just be clear, the thing that infuriated Donald Trump was that Sessions recused himself. He's not sending Whitaker over there to recuse himself. He's not recusing himself.

What he said on T.V. here on CNN, it seems to me, was like an audition tape for the job that he now has. So he's going to be there. I don't think the Senate is going to be very active in oversight here despite things that have been said before.

I do think that, you know, he has a new reality, which is this House, this Democratic House that's coming in, and we'll see. Dave assures us that he's not going over there to mess with the Mueller investigation, but I do think that there's going to be heightened alert on the part of this new House.

[20:35:01] VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A lot of fear. A lot of fear. Who knows? Maybe this is all just, you know, coincidence (ph) -- certainly about coinquining (ph) where I think we've --

AXELROD: Coinquining.

JONES: You know, maybe. But I think when you listen to most Democrats, they say, "Listen, Sessions is perfect for Trump. He's terrible on every issue. He's terrible on immigration. He's perfect for Trump. There's only one thing he's not good on and that's this investigation."

And so what is Trump scared of? That's the lens through which people are looking at Whitaker. Why him? What are you scared of? And we could be in a situation where it all works out fine, liberals feel silly for having been concerned. But it feels more likely, because they slow motion, almost a self-coup by, which a president pulls power to himself that he's not supposed to have to protect himself.



MARC SHORT, FORMER W.H. DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS FOR PRES. TRUMP: We're talking about coups now and I think for every day for the last year we talked about is today the day that Donald Trump is going to fire Bob Mueller. We've been talking about this repeatedly. He's not firing Bob Mueller.

The reality is there used to be a point in time when conservative, limited government conservatives, opposed special counsels on the basis that they go beyond the limitations. And what you see is something that starts as a Russia investigation that now is prosecuting people because they failed to register as foreign lobbyists. I think there was a time when Republicans hated this concept and then during the Clinton year they fell in love with it and they decided this is something that we're going to think was a --


COOPER: But, Marc, to Van's point, Jeff Sessions was, you know, the early supporters of the President in the Senate and in terms of a cabinet member who was actually executing the President's agenda, he was doing a great job.

SHORT: He was the one who defended the President most on the campaign, there's no doubt about it. Van's right on that. But at the same --

COOPER: But he was moving judges through. I mean, wasn't he doing a good job in that sense?

SHORT: I think a lot of that was kind of the White House counsel's office. But at the same time, Anderson, you as a president I think should be allowed to put in place a cabinet he has faith and trust in. And that is eroded, there's no doubt about it.

AXELROD: Marc, let me ask you this question. It's not -- I don't think the fear honestly at least I don't have this fear that he'll fire Mueller, but he laid out a blueprint right here about how to emasculate the investigation. And isn't that a legitimate concern given the fact that he kind of laid out his feelings on this?

SHORT: I think at this point we're still talking about a Russia investigation. I think Dave can confirm to you that our campaign could hardly coordinate with our state directors in battleground states suggest that we're colluding with the Russians --

AXELROD: I'm not suggesting anything. I've said to Democrats, you know, Bob Mueller is an honorable person. I knew him when I was in the White House as the FBI director. If he comes back and says, "You know what, there's nothing there." I'm going to say I believe him because I know him. He's thorough. He's honest.

COOPER: He's an honest person, I agree with that.

AXELROD: And I think everyone should do that. It's good for the country.

SHORT: He has this tremendous record of service for our country. My concern is with the statute in general. It's not --


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's what Whitaker could do. He could say, OK, you have this report, that's it. It lives here. It's not public. It may go -- it doesn't --


SHORT: There's no way.

BORGER: Wait a minute. He could say this needs to be heavily redacted. We're going to heavily redact it because privilege or whatever other issues there are, and I know this is a discussion. And not with Whitaker at this point, but I know this has been discussed.

So he can say, OK, well, we're going to redact it and then they'll have a fight. And Mueller may say, you know, I'd like this released to the American public because they have a right to see it because we've been working on it for however long and that could -- and so to protect the President, he could --

COOPER: So House Democrats are already talking about if he's fired or if that happens, calling him to testify.

BORGER: Exactly. And that's what this would guarantee.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: I mean, look, again, just to pick up on Marc's point. Independent counsel statute, right, was widely decried by both Democrats and Republicans. It wasn't reauthorized for this exact reason because you get these big, big investigations that's run for years. Start at one thing, end on something else. The Mueller investigation needs to wrap up and for all Americans.

JONES: Look, to David's point --

URBAN: He's a very honorable guy. He's going to come back with something that's thorough and we just need to put it to bed.

JONES: Several weeks ago we were here for the midterm election and I just wanted to make a few comments. I know its ancient history. It was, you know, almost a day ago. But, you know, you did say something interesting. You talked about the House Democrats.

You know, yesterday I think a little bit of crying in the beer on the part of liberals and progressives feels like we didn't have what we really wanted. In the cold light of day, something really extraordinary happened yesterday.

You know, you have the House now firmly in the hands of Democrats. You saw real victories in the Trump heartland, industrial heartland, and states that he's got to hang onto. You saw a rainbow wave of women, of gays and lesbians, of all kinds of people. And I think the momentum and the heart and the enthusiasm is going to carry forward.

[20:40:00] I just wanted to -- look, you know, David, I think we talked about this a little bit before. I think that it's not just going to be the fact that you have the House going against Trump. You've got an energized movement now that's going to be standing up for more of these values.

COOPER: Although in exit polls on, just from last night, the midterms which feel like they were months ago, Robert Mueller actually did not score very well. I mean, there wasn't a huge difference, but more Americans seemed to distrust the Russia investigation. What is it? BORGER: 46 percent-41 percent.

SHORT: And if you asked people to even rank their top 10 issues, it doesn't even show up. If ask them, the direct question is negative. But if you ask them to rank their top 10 issues, it's not even on there.

AXELROD: Right. And my I hope is that Democrats use this new majority to do what the members who got elected said they wanted to do, which is address the kinds of issues that have been neglected relative to health care, relative to economic security and a variety of issues that are important to people in their lives. That said, there is a responsibility that comes with the oath you take and if there are egregious constitutional problems, they're going to have to respond to it.

COOPER: It is interesting, just on a -- I'm always interested in sort of the personal side of all this stuff. It always interests me that the President is so averse to actually firing somebody face to face it seems like, obviously with Comey.

But Jeff Sessions was there from the beginning. You would think maybe -- I mean I kind of assumed, thought, but maybe just call the guy up or something and maybe he has subsequently, but it was Kelly from all the reporting who actually fired him.

JONES: Yes. It's like this is Donald Trump character on T.V. --

AXELROD: Yes, I saw him fire someone every week.

JONES: Yes, exactly, on television. As long as it is like, you know, some fake thing. He's like, you're fired and I love it. In real life, he's like, "Would you please do it," you know.

URBAN: Let me tell you, I don't know if Marc can say this, I've been yelled at by the President. He's pretty tough. I've been on the receiving end. Yes, he's pretty tough.

BORGER: Kelly needs Jeff Sessions until the end of the week, apparently, according to CNN.

COOPER: Listen, I would avoid trying to fire someone if I could. I don't, you know --

JONES: You're not (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: I just find it interesting. Everyone, I appreciate the discussion. A very busy post-election day for sure.

Coming up, we'll talk with Senator Bernie Sanders. His thoughts on whether he believes President Trump can really work across the aisle after the Democrats seized control of the House and whether the Democrats can as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:46:24] COOPER: Whether their party wins or loses, most presidents usually hold news conferences the day after the midterm elections. President Trump, of course, doesn't often follow usual conventions. But as you've seen him today, he did. But the results were not all that usual. Here's a brief sample.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you expect that when the Democrats take over the chairmanship of all these important committees you're going to get hit with a blizzard of subpoenas on everything from the Russia investigation, to your cell phone use, to your tax returns?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ready? If that happens, then we're going to do the same thing and government comes to a halt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they start investigating you, that you can play that game, investigate them.

TRUMP: Better than them. They can play that game, but we can play it better because we have a thing called the United States Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you compartmentalize that and still continue to work with them for the benefit of the rest of the country?

TRUMP: No. If they do that, then it's just, all it is a warlike posture and it will probably be very good for me politically. I could see it being extremely good politically because I think I'm better at that game than they are, actually.


COOPER: For his reactions to what the President said and to this very busy news day, I spoke with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders shortly before the broadcast.


COOPER: Senator Sanders, the President basically throwing down the gauntlet today saying that if Democrats launch investigations into him, then his words, we're going to do the same thing and then government comes to a halt. What do you say to that?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: What I say about that is that Democrats in the House have a constitutional responsibility for oversight. And I think to a large degree, the Democratic victory last night, regaining control over the House, was telling the President of the United States we're going to end one-party government, you simply cannot do anything you want anymore, and that's important.

On the other hand, Anderson, I don't want to get caught up in all of these investigations. That's important. What is more important and what the American people want, is for us to start addressing the real needs that they are experiencing. I believe that Democrats are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. COOPER: So does oversight mean getting the President's tax returns, protecting Mueller, you know, possible impeachment proceedings?

SANDERS: No. What it means for a start is to make sure that the Mueller investigation, looking at possible collusion of the Trump campaign with the Russians, goes forward in an unimpeded manner and that has got to happen. We need legislation to protect that investigation.

I hope very much that Trump does not believe that by firing Sessions today that he's going to interfere with that investigation because if he does, that's a very serious offense. That has to do with obstruction of justice which I personally believe is an impeachable offense. But right now, my hope is that the Mueller investigation goes forward unimpeded and we see what -- where it takes us.

COOPER: I want to ask you about Andrew Gillum and Beto O'Rourke's losses last night. Some are taking that as an indication of where the Democratic Party really is right now. That it's actually more moderate than it is progressive and that there's a lesson in Beto O'Rourke's loss that he was farther left than needed even. He didn't convince any people, Republicans, who might not --

SANDERS: You know, Anderson --

COOPER: Go ahead.

SANDERS: Anderson, I've been hearing that argument forever. And that was the argument that led to Republican control of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. It led to the loss of something like a thousand legislative seats in statehouses all over this country.

[20:50:05] Democrats can't be progressive. We've got to be Republican light. Man, that is such a total mistake and a bad way to look at the political world.

COOPER: Do you believe -- when President Trump now is talking about bipartisanship, I mean, do you believe that 1 percent or do you believe that at all?

SANDERS: Anderson, this is what I do believe, and this will surprise some of the viewers. I believe that Trump really does not politically believe in anything. You know, he used to be in a Medicare for all system. He used to believe in taxing the wealthy. He used to be pro- choice. I don't think he believes in anything. I think his only concern is to win elections, that's what I think.

And I think, maybe I'm wrong on this, that if we pass strong legislation, raising the minimum wage, and in the first year of a four-year phase-in for Medicare for all, that calls for lowering the eligibility age for Medicare from 65, which it currently is to 55, make covering all children in this country, young people in this country with a Medicare for all proposal, lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

You know what, I think if we pass that legislation, you would probably have a Trump saying, "This is a great piece of legislation. How great a president am I for supporting this thing."

So I think what the Democrats have got to be is bold, speak to the needs of where the American people are on economic issues, and I think we'll have good public policy and set the stage for the next elections.

COOPER: All right. Senator Bernie Sanders, thanks for your time.

SANDERS: Thank you.


COOPER: Coming up just ahead, the White House is suspending Jim Acosta's press pass "until further notice." We'll talk to Jim about what happened next.


[20:56:18] COOPER: The White House is suspending CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta's press pass until further notice. The word came down hours after Acosta asked the President questions at the news conference this afternoon. Jim joins us now. So take us through what's going on.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I went back to the White House actually to do a live shot for your program just before 8:00. And when I arrived at the gate, the Secret Service came out and informed me that my press credentials were being, I guess, revoked temporarily, suspended.

And the Secret Service officer came over to me and asked me to hand over my credential, and I did. And I told them, I said, "Listen, I know you're a professional, you're just doing your job and thanks for your service." I handed him my credential I've had for five years.

COOPER: I want to read reaction from a few of your colleagues covering the White House. Jeff Mason from Reuters just tweeted, "I was seated next to Acosta at today's press conference and did not witness him 'placing his hands,' that's in quotes, on the young intern as the White House alleges. He held on to the microphone as she reached for it.

Peter Baker from "The New York Times" tweeted, "False predicate to punish reporter. This is what the President wants. If he really thought @acosta was unfair, then why did he call on him? Because he wants the confrontation."

Maggie Haberman tweeting, "Acosta, who the White House is alleging, 'placed his hands' on the young intern said, 'Pardon me, ma'am,' as he tried to ask his question."

I also want to read a statement that CNN has just released. The statement reads, "The White House announced tonight that it has revoked the press pass of CNN Chief White House Chief Correspondent Jim Acosta. It was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference. In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support."

Anything else you want to add?

ACOSTA: Well, I was, you know, I was just trying to ask a question of the President at this press conference and it was obviously a question they didn't like. It was about his racist ad on the caravan that they're running before the midterms.

He and I we're going back and forth there and as you can see in this video, this intern came up to me. They're describing her as an intern. I don't really know who she is, and attempted to take the microphone away from me. All I can say at that point is that I was trying to hang onto the microphone so I could continue to ask the President questions.

Obviously, you know, I didn't put my hands on her or touch her as they're alleging. And it's just unfortunate that the White House is saying this. You know, we all try to be professionals over there. And I think I handled myself professionally and I appreciate all the comments from my colleagues.

I do think, Anderson, that this is a test for all of us. I do think they're trying to shut us down to some extent inside the White House press core, and to some extent I think they're trying to send a message to our colleagues.

COOPER: And you had no advance warning in this. This was simply when you got to the White House to go do a live shot that you were just informed by Secret Service?

ACOSTA: Yes. I saw the statement on my phone from Sarah Sanders that my press credentials were being revoked. I thought, well, maybe I'd get inside the White House for one more live shot on your show. And at that point I was simply blocked from entering the facility.

As a matter of fact, there was an officer who stood in front of the doorway to the security booth that I've gone through every day for the last -- or every working day that I come to the White House for the last five years.

So it was a pretty surreal experience. I never thought in this country that I wouldn't be able to go and cover the President of the United States simply because I was trying to ask a question.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, we'll stand and we'll see what happens. Thanks very much.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

COOPER: Appreciate it.

ACOSTA: Appreciate it. COOPER: The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris Cuomo. "Cuomo Prime Time" starts right now.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you, Anderson. Hello, everyone. I am Chris Cuomo sitting next to Anderson. Welcome to "Prime Time."

We have a reshaped Washington, D.C. The power has shifted on all levels of government, but the game remains the same. The President is distracting from the big story of the Democrats winning the House and state races all across America with the big move of his own.