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Deputy National Security Adviser Forced Out of White House After Melania Trump Called for Her to Be Fired; Judge Hears Arguments in CNN Lawsuit Against Trump Administration; "Cereal" Voter Conspiracy; President Trump: Voters Wear Disguises To Vote Twice; Michael Avenatti Arrested On Domestic Violence Charge, He Calls The Allegations Completely Bogus; Text Messages Show Robert Stone Discussing WikiLeaks Plans Days Before Hack; "Invasion" Talk Disappears Post-Midterms. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:13] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin tonight with breaking news. The senior national security official who found herself at odds with the first lady has been fired and as striking as that lead sentence may sound, it's no more so than the statement yesterday from First Lady Melania Trump's spokesperson that catapulted this story into the public eye.

Quote: It is the position of the office Of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.

She is deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel. She's out. Her forced departure coming as the president said to be in a foul mood upset over the midterms, sulking about his reception in Europe.

One White House official telling CNN, these are not my words, quote: yes, he's pissed at damn near everyone.

Now, we've been expecting some kind of manifestation of it all day. Tonight, it seems it came. More from our Jeff Zeleny who joins us now from the White House.

So what are you learning, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it has been a mystery really for the last 24 hours or so surrounding all the drama here with the deputy national security adviser who's not well- known outside. But inside the White House, she is very well-known. She's been on the job seven months. She's John Bolton, the national security adviser's top deputy, but after Melania Trump and the first lady's office fired that shot across the bow of the White House, it was unclear what her future was. Even though the president was saying he was going to remove her.

Well, that finally happened this evening and we got this press secretary -- or this statement from a Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. She explained it briefly like this. She said: Mira Ricardel will continue to support the president as she departs the White House to transition to a new role within the administration. The president is grateful for her continued service to the American people and her steadfast pursuit of national security priorities.

So, Anderson, you don't see the word resign I resigned or fired in there. But she clearly was removed from her job. It was not her own choosing or doings. In fact, she was trying to convince allies to persuade the president to change his mind on this.

But I'm told that he knew it was a deal breaker after the first lady weighed in. The questions, though, why did this become so public in the first place? And that is still being discussed here and sorted out.

COOPER: Well, I mean, is there any clarity what was the reason that the first lady not only chose to weigh in publicly, but what the problem was in the first place between the first lady's office or the first lady and Ricardel?

ZELENY: We talked to a variety of people here, and this is the story as we've been able to piece it together. We are told that the first lady and her office felt that they were disrespected by her office. They said the national security adviser and their team was not taking seriously the -- the work of the first lady's office, particularly when she was traveling to Africa to be at the beginning of October. They said that she did not treat the staff with respect.

And they also said that she was trying to get the White House counsel's office to investigate members of the first lady's office, which they declined to do over some inappropriate activities. So at the end of the day, though, it was not just the first lady. The Defense Secretary James Mattis, others have complained about her abrasive behavior, how she was treating military aides and others.

But it took apparently the first lady to make this public to make this actually happen. We're told she's been arguing behind the scenes, the first lady has, talking to the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly for a long time to try and get this to happen, but John Bolton, national security adviser, was arguing to keep her in her position. So, this very public grenade, if you will, essentially moved the ball forward, Anderson.

COOPER: And is there any indication the president actually did this firing, himself? Because obviously in past firings, Jeff Sessions, Comey comes to mind, it's not something he actually did personally.

ZELENY: No, there's no indication that he walked into her office today where she was working today and said, "You're fired". That did not happen. We do believe it was by staff, the White House chief of staff or someone in his office, but it was made clear that he is not going to serve at the White House, but she is going to still stay somewhere in the administration.

But, Anderson, again, why this all became so public, that I think shows the dysfunction that's very much alive tonight here at the White House -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, Jeff, thanks. More now on the president's mood that's playing out in the West Wing,

citing multiple administration sources, "The Los Angeles Times'" Eli Stokols writing, quote, Trump has retreated into a cocooned of bitterness and resentment.

"New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman is also CNN political analyst, who've been reporting extensively on this joins us now.

What have you been hearing?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Cocoon isn't the analogy that I heard, but certainly, he is treating into a lot of anger. You had a bunch of factors going on in the past week. The midterms were what they were and while he talked up the Senate losses, he knows that the loss of the House is potentially very damaging for his administration in terms of subpoenas the Democrats will drop on them after January.

[20:05:03] He did not want to go to Paris for a variety of reasons. One of which is that he knew he wouldn't get a good reception. He doesn't like travel. He doesn't like sleeping in beds that aren't his own or in hotels that aren't his.

And he knew he was coming back to hours upon hours behind closed doors with his lawyers, his personal lawyers, preparing to give answers to the special counsel Robert Mueller. I think that loomed very heavy in his mind. You add all this up, and you get a pretty torrential bad mood.

COOPER: You know, lots of first ladies have had huge influences in the White House. Usually, it's behind closed doors. I mean, Nancy Reagan, of course, comes to mind. She got rid of several people.

HABERMAN: Hillary Clinton, I mean, travel-gate or something.

COOPER: Right. So what is going on with the first lady making, actually her office making this public statement? It's -- I mean, again, I haven't heard of it happening before. I may be wrong.

HABERMAN: No, it's extraordinary I think, Jeff captured it correctly. This is actually a first lady who has not sought to have a heavy hand within the West Wing. She has tended to be more stepped back. She has advised her husband personally but tended to only get involved directly with her husband's staff as necessary.

And this speaks to a level of dysfunction that she had been complaining to John Kelly, that John Kelly had been complaining to John Bolton, that others had complained to John Bolton and the president and nothing happened. So you had the first lady's staff take this extraordinary step of going public. We've heard from multiple people the president was not happy about it, but clearly the first lady won.

COOPER: So essentially it's trying to box the first lady's office or the first lady trying to box the president in to pulling the trigger on this.

HABERMAN: Yes, or at least box in John Bolton, right? I mean, one of the things we know about this president is he is incredibly uncomfortable with interpersonal conflict. He doesn't actually like firing people despite the tagline of his show. That is almost always as you noted outsourced. And he enjoys watching some level of drama.

So, yes, I think it was about boxing both of them in and just making it impossible for this to just sort of drag on longer. There were legitimate reasons many people offered up as to why Ms. Ricardel was a problem, and this had been going on for some time.

COOPER: But just on a personal, I mean, from a personal family dynamic, it's just an interesting thing, if the first lady has been saying privately to the president, this person's got to go, saying it to John Kelly, to then put out a public statement, it's like a game of chess.

HABERMAN: The inside part is always said out loud with this White House. It's unusual to see it from the first lady with this kind of a situation where she felt like she and her staff had been being abused, essentially, by this national security deputy, and that nobody was listening to her, that she had to go public with it essentially as a whistle-blower is shocking.

COOPER: I want to bring in the rest of our team. Jen Psaki is here. She served as White House communications director for President Obama. Also, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who was at the White House today. And CNN's Abby Phillip.

Abby, I mean, I guess this was a win for the first lady. I don't know if that's way she or her team would see it. It's certainly a sign of the impact she can have.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does seem, though, like a double-edged sword for her. In the first place, the fact she has to be public about this, this is a sign that she hasn't been able to influence her husband and, therefore, even his staff to get what she needed done behind the scenes and not go nuclear as she had to do this week. But, yes, she did force the president's hand. She did in some ways kind of publicly humiliated him by doing it without letting him know it was happening. He was blind sided by it according to our sources.

And so, both of those things are kind of both pluses and minuses for her. I think Ricardel is gone but she's not fired from the administration. She's just being moved somewhere else, at least as far as we know. I think it leads to a lot of questions about, what more might be behind this? It does seem that an interpersonal dispute between the first lady's staff and deputy national security adviser would not necessarily rise to the occasion of doing something so public and so extraordinary.

And also where does this go from here? Is this something that we're going to see more of? Are there more people, as Melania Trump has implied in the past, who she'd like to get rid of because she thinks for whatever reason they don't belong working in her husband's --

COOPER: Jen, I'm thinking if, you know, Michelle Obama had done this how that would be interpreted. Is this weird to you?

JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Extremely. And I think a couple of things stuck out to me. One, this is a woman the deputy national security adviser who nobody had ever really heard of before a couple days ago and this role in any White House is really the person running the process. They're overseeing the meetings and the Situation Room. They're really kind of a senior staffer moving paper around.

So, the fact that this is the Hill Melania Trump decided to fight on is strange. I would also say that on the double-edged sword front which I think is a good point, the drawbacks for Melania are that the way she's allowing herself to be defined are on a strange choice of a jacket that she wore on a trip that was in poor taste.

[20:10:02] A strange outfit in Egypt or some people liked it, an anti- bullying campaign that people see as ironic and not in a good way. And now, she's kind of publicly calling for the firing and successfully, I guess, of an official who was really a senior paper pusher.

So it's strange. Most first ladies, Michelle Obama, for example, Hillary Clinton, first lady, you know, Laura Bush, they define their role on their own terms and she's really allowing this to be defined in a way that's not ad advantageous to her.

COOPER: Ken, I'm wondering how you see it and also should the first lady be weighing in on a national security adviser even if she is a paper pusher?

KENNETH CUCCINELLI, PRESIDENT, SENATE CONSERVATIVES FUND: A couple points. One on Jen's point about definition. Because Melania Trump is more reserved than many of her predecessors, everything she does in the public has more weight in defining whatever you may view as her, you know, brand, you if you will.

But here, I suspect that the public aspect of this was partly, I don't want to say to compensate, but because this was born out of problems at a staff level, three different people, the chief of staff, General Mattis, the first lady, herself, had all had problems with this same person, and their staffs had had problems.

And realize, I've been a principal, you're loyal to your people. And I think that there may have been, while I wouldn't have done it this way, may have been some element of trying to provide some vindication to the staffs of each of these people. And she did. Whether you like it or not, she did.

And so, do I expect to see a lot of this? No. But I also think that Melania Trump isn't going to have these kinds of process problems that they experienced in October and her staff.

COOPER: Maggie, in terms of changes in the administration, we've already seen nine senior administration officials leaving in the course of the administration. There's more to be expected, traditionally after midterms, that often happens. But more, I mean, there's more to come.

HABERMAN: We assume there's more to come. And certainly everybody in the White House, not everybody, but almost everybody right now feels as if they're in a bit of limbo. They know that the president has talked openly about making changes. They know that there are cabinet officials who he is targeting and they know there's the ever-present rumor now going on over a year that John Kelly is going to be leaving.

That one seems truer than it has in the past or likelier than it could have been. But the president actually just kind of lets these things marinate forever and ever and ever until sudden he makes a decision. I think most people think this is going to go past Thanksgiving and then we'll start to see some changes.

And again, to your point, it is not unusual after a midterm, after losses he saw to make changes. A bunch of people are expected to go the campaign, and that should not be a surprise. But I do think you're going to see him making changes at agencies. You are going to see him making some changes to senior staff.

The one thing we have talked about as a staff exodus from the West Wing, there are not a ton of people left. There have been a lot of people who left already and they are -- they have been having trouble for two years attracting with exception to the office to the White House counsel a lot of top talent and I think that's going to continue.

COOPER: Al right. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it. More to come.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: The judge in CNN's trial against the president says he'll make a ruling tomorrow afternoon of Jim Acosta's press pass being revoked. Coming up next, what we can learn from what happened in court today.

And later, a tragic update on the fires in California. The images are just extraordinary. The death toll has risen to at least 50. More than 100 people, most of them senior citizens, are missing in one northern California county. We'll take you to the fire lines ahead.


[20:18:00] COOPER: The judge in a federal lawsuit that CNN brought against President Trump says he will rule tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. CNN sued the president and several White House aides for suspending Jim Acosta's press pass, saying it violates the First and Fifth Amendments.

The case was assigned to Judge Timothy Kelly who was appointed originally by President Trump. Today, the judge heard arguments in a hearing that lasted about two hours. The judge said, I quote: We've all seen the clip of the White House press conference where in the judge's words, Acosta, quote, wouldn't give up his microphone, which is a point the Trump administration made in its briefs.

CNN's lawyer also brought up a fund-raising e-mail that the Trump campaign sent touting the decision to take away Acosta's press pass and attacking CNN's, quote, liberal bias. The judge asked CNN's lawyer about the company's position on the original White House accusation that Acosta placed his hands on the White House intern who tried to grab the microphone. CNN's lawyer responded, quote, it is absolutely false.

With me now, CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

So, Jeff, the fact the judge pushed any ruling until tomorrow, is there a significance in that in itself?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I don't think it's a lot of significance, but it is certainly a small victory for the White House since CNN's lawyers have said every moment that Jim Acosta is lacking his press pass is a violation of the First Amendment. So the fact he put it off a day suggests that they don't -- the judge doesn't see the same immediacy as CNN's lawyers do.

COOPER: According to CNN's reporters who are in the courtroom, the judge expressed skepticism about some of the CNN's argument, including that the revocation of Acosta's pass is, quote, content-based discrimination as CNN is alleging. That's a crucial phrase, isn't it?

TOOBIN: That is absolutely the heart of this case. And I wish I thought as a CNN employee, and First Amendment supporter that this case was as easy as some people think it is, but, you know, if the judge feels that this was disruption and the White House was reasonable in judging it as a disruption, not an expression of views that are protected by the First Amendment, he could say, look, I don't run the White House.

[20:20:07] I'm not going to tell them how to run the White House. If they think it's a disruption, that seems reasonable to me. They can take the pass away.

Now, of course, our lawyers have a very different view of that, that Jim Acosta is being a journalist, asking hard questions in sometimes impertinent ways is the heart of what journalism is about. And so that -- that's the counterargument, but, you know, you just don't know -- I mean, just to answer your question, I'm sorry, but you said about content, you know, it's permissible to punish a -- someone who doesn't follow the rules, but it is impermissible to punish someone for speech that you object to. That you find too liberal, too conservative, that you object to the content.

So, whether Jim Acosta's behavior was speech or simply behavior that can be punished, that's the heart of this case.

COOPER: The fact that the White House, specifically Sarah Sanders initially claimed Jim Acosta was physical toward a White House intern trying to take back a microphone, not only it's not true, not only the White House put out altered video footage of it, but they're not even using that in their argument anymore and the judge understandably wanted to know why.

TOOBIN: Well, that's right because Sarah Sanders and the White House made a big deal about the fact that Jim Acosta, you know, behaved, essentially assaulted this White House employee who was holding the microphone, as the video came out. That was just utterly untrue.

They have changed their argument to, from violence by Jim Acosta, to disruption by Jim Acosta. And that, you know, I think it shows that they realize the violence argument was a total loser and simply not true, but disruption is not necessarily an argument that will lose in front of this judge.

COOPER: Right. Jeff, stay with us because I want to bring in ABC News veteran Sam Donaldson.

Sam, thanks for being with us.

You came up in court today, and I know you submitted a declaration in support of CNN. Can you explain why you think this case is important, especially given your own experience covering path presidents?

SAM DONALDSON, FORMER ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Sure, Anderson. It was wrong. And it's unprecedented. I don't know of a president who's ever threatened, let alone actually pulled a White House pass from a reporter.

Sure, presidents don't like uncomfortable questions. Would you? Would I? Why did you say this? Why did you do that? Questions that they may not have already answer for.

You saw the testy exchange the other night. Jim wants to know, why do you call it a caravan? Why do you call it an invasion? Are you trying to demonize immigrants if front of the elections? The president can say, yes, I'm trying to gin up my base.

Of course not. He's got to have something to say and he tried and it was a testy exchange. If people want to say, I think Jim went too far, I think he was a little too tough, he didn't have to do that. That's a fair debate. I thought it was OK, of course, I'd been there, not in a position like that.

Let me tell you something, Anderson, what happened next was just outrageous. The president turned away and then came back and launched a very strong personal attack on this reporter. And what did he say? You can read the transcript for yourself.

Then he came back again. He wouldn't let it up. He was angry and he pulled the pass. Why? Because he's angry at Acosta for asking questions that he doesn't want to answer.

COOPER: When you famously covered President Reagan, you would often, you know, you doggedly asked questions and follow-ups during very fraught times in American history, sometimes you would yell as Reagan was walking to the helicopter trying to be heard over the sound of the helicopter which is not a coincidence that the Reagan White House had set it up that way. Did they ever threaten to revoke your press pass or were you ever

worried about that?

DONALDSON: No, I wasn't worried about it. I know on one or two occasions, someone, not the president, would call my boss in New York and say he shouldn't do that, I mean, I think that was terrible what he said or did or what-have-you. My boss had seen it and thought I did okay. I never had any repercussions about it.

But I didn't have to deal with someone like Mr. Trump. I mean, with Jimmy Carter, with Ronald Reagan, with Bill Clinton, and with every president I went down there, John Kennedy, I never asked him a question. I didn't have the courage to.

But I never had to deal -- other reporters haven't had to deal with them. I don't know quite what you do. You try to get truthful and full answers to questions. That's all you're asking for. And almost all the time, the president's cover gave some answer that was okay, whether it was the answer the public wanted to hear was another thing.

So I didn't have to deal with it. I asked, yes, follow-up questions, but they were put in a way that the president accepted them and responded.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, are there -- I mean, there are actually two constitutional claims, I guess, that CNN is making here.

[20:25:05] Obviously, the First Amendment claim. The other is a Fifth Amendment claim. Can you explain to people who aren't attorneys what that entails?

TOOBIN: Well, the gist of it is that First Amendment is simply punishing Jim Acosta for exercising his First Amendment rights. I think everybody understands that. That's the claim.

The other claim is that they took the pass away without due process of law, that they didn't really -- they didn't allow Jim Acosta to make advertise case. And I think, frankly, that's a weaker claim. I'm not sure they need to have a full due process hearing.

If I could follow-up on one thing Sam said because I think it's so important, is that if CNN and Jim Acosta lose this case and he loses his press pass, every journalist who asks a question of the White House is going to have in the back of his or her mind, am I being too aggressive, am I going to lose my press pass, should I ask a follow-up question? Because that's really what this fight is about is that Jim wanted to ask a follow-up question.

And, you know, I don't really object to the president saying nasty things to Jim Acosta and to CNN. I mean, think it's terrible some of the things he says, but he certainly has a right to say it. But taking Jim's pass away is a completely different level of harassment because that's stopping him from doing his job, and I think, you know, this is one reason why so many news organizations, everyone from "The New York Times" to Fox News, has weighed in on this case on CNN's side because they're worried who's next and what are their reporters going to have to worry about when they ask questions?


Jeff Toobin, Sam Donaldson, really appreciate you being with us, Sam. It's great to see you. Thank you so much.

Coming up next, the president revives a favorite claim about election fraud and all the people who he says voted illegally. The question is, does he have any evidence this time? We're keeping them honest.


[20:30:25] COOPER: We began the broadcast with the White House firing and with new reporting on what is said to be the President's foul mood over a number of things, including the midterms. Here's, perhaps, another sign of it. He is, once again, leveling a favorite unsubstantiated allegation about the election.

Speaking to "The Daily Caller" he said, "The Republicans don't win and that's because of potentially illegal votes. When people get in line that have absolutely to right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again." He went on to say, "If you buy a box of cereal, you have a voter ID."

Now, the last part is easy because I'm not a big foodie, but there is one food item I do shop for a lot and its cereal. I basically live on cereal that's why I look so healthy. I can assure you, except for frosted lucky charms, which as you all know are magically delicious, no ID is necessary to purchase any cereal, thank goodness, or any other breakfast food. As for the fraud allegations, the cars and disguises and so on, I am told that we may have some video of that. Let's take a look.


All right, obviously that is from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Maybe that is where Mr. Trump got the idea of people going into their cars and changing disguises because the President offered actually no evidence to back up his claim. And keeping them honest, that's probably because there isn't any that we know about.

Don't take our word for it, listen to the authorities who are actually in Florida who say there's no evidence of voter fraud. Ballot disputes, yes, signature issues, yes, outdated voting machines, yes, but not the kind of voter fraud the President is alleging, not in Arizona, either. Not anywhere during this election or according to state attorneys general and secretaries of state, in any recent election.

No evidence of people doing what the President says they did and did, he claims, in large numbers, large enough to flip the House. You know, not only is the President saying it now, he was saying it during the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need ID. You go out and you want to buy anything, you need ID and you need your picture. In this country, the only time you don't need it in many cases is when you want to vote for a president, when you want to vote for a senator, when you want to vote for a governor or a congressman. It's crazy.


COOPER: That was late July at a rally in Tampa, Florida. The President sowing the seeds of distrust in the electoral process raising an obvious question the very next day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the President still believe that millions of people are voting illegally in this country? Is that the basis for this push for requiring voter IDs?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Even if there are 10 people that are voting illegally, it shouldn't happen. The President wants to see the integrity of our elections systems upheld and that's the purpose of his comments.


COOPER: Sarah Sanders could offer no evidence of widespread illegal voting, but this kind of allegations date further back for the President. Here he is tweeting about it just after taking office, "In addition to winning the Electoral College in the landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Back -- there's no evidence of that.

Back then just like now he offered no evidence. The voter commission he set up a short time later in part the critic say to validate his groundless claim was disbanded after a year without finding evidence of the kind of voter fraud the President was alleging back then and still is today despite the advice he got nearly two years ago from a leading Republican.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So I would urge the President to knock this off. This is the greatest democracy on earth. You're the leader of the free world. And people are going to start doubting you as a person if you keep making accusations against our electoral system without justification.


COOPER: That was the January 2017 version of Lindsey Graham.

Back now, Jen Psaki, Ken Cuccinelli, Abby Phillip, and Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, does the -- I mean, do we know if the President actually believes this or he just thinks this is effective?

HABERMAN: Actually I was thinking exactly about that when you were just talking about this. It is often hard to tell whether he actually believes it, because he certainly says things privately to people sometime that may clear he knows how cynical this is. Other times he delivers this very convincingly and seems to believe it. I don't think it matters one way or the other.

He's the President of the United States and he is out there saying, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying officials in every other state and judges who are telling you that what I'm saying is not true?" It is a huge problem. There is already for a variety of reasons people are losing faith in institutions in this country and the institutions of democracy.

[20:35:00] And if people don't believe that elections are fair and are being conducted well, that is a very, very dangerous slope to go down and he is just pouring grease on it.

COOPER: Jen Psaki, I mean, when you were in the Obama White House, how seriously did the administration take what the President was saying on the campaign trail?

PSAKI: Well, Anderson, this was the issue we were most focused on before we knew, of course, the impact of the Russia hacking. So this was in the months leading up to the election and this was an issue we met about frequently to talk about how he could bring together a bipartisan group of members.

There was actually a letter that was put out and that was put out the same day that the tapes came out of President Trump using some poor taste language about women. But, you know, this was our focus.

We wanted to bring together, as Maggie said, there was great concern about this and we brought Democrats and Republicans together to try to make the point that these are legitimates. We do -- I mean, we do have a process for monitoring. We do have a process for helping states and governors. That was really where our efforts were focused on.

And it's, you know, President Trump has been running for re-election, I think, for quite some time, as Maggie and Abby can attest. He just lost the midterms as we've been talking about and it's clear he's feeling the heat here and he wants to begin to sow the seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of elections leading up to his own re-election in two years. Whether he believes it or not, that has to be in the back of his mind.

PHILLIP: And probably the thing that debunks this whole idea the most is the fact that if there was such massive voter fraud in 2016 and it always favored the Democrats as President Trump seems to suggest, why would he have then been elected? It just doesn't make any sense.

There's no way that anyone would concoct a scheme to allow President Trump to win the electoral college vote, but not the popular vote if the intent was to have the Democrats win. Not to mention the fact that President Trump put together a commission on this and they had to disband themselves because they couldn't, A, find any voter fraud and, B, they couldn't get the cooperation even of Republican states.

So this is so outlandish and it also surprises me that no one has yet apparently told the President that you don't need an ID to buy cereal. It also highlights how kind of out of touch he is about how this all works, about what is required for people to go about their day-to-day lives. I don't think the President has gone grocery shopping in probably many, many years.

COOPER: Ken, I mean should the President be doing this?


CUCCINELLI: But I think that the -- one of you commented about the -- I think it was Maggie, about the loss of confidence in institutions. And let's face it, when you look at Florida, you can also see why there's some loss in confidence of institutions. The same place has been making the same kind of mistakes for so long now, it's unbelievable.

And now the elected official there says, you know, maybe I won't run for reelection this time. I think she said that before. But this whole debate currently starts with those 83, 93 -- 83,000 votes that were there, weren't there. And when you don't follow your own rules, you invite the lack of confidence in the institution. Does the President push that and use hyperbole? Yes, he does.

COOPER: Right. Why not stick to that, though, rather than -- I mean, this idea of people going in and out of cars wearing disguises in numbers so massive that it affects, you know, the popular vote is ludicrous.

CUCCINELLI: When I was running conventions for Cruz in the primary, we were winning the state conventions while the President was winning more primaries. It wasn't that obviously Senator Cruz won some of them as well, but we were coming away with delegates far in -- out of proportion to the primary results, and they couldn't catch up to us.

And there are strategic response was a messaging response. It was when you have this two-level election, that's not a fair system, that's a rigged system. And, look, that messaging worked. It worked.

COOPER: And that's the lesson he's taking away, that this works.

CUCCINELLI: It worked. And I understand to even put fairly why that message worked because it isn't what people are used to, but it was the rules in place at the time. So when you start to get outside people's expectations, you invite exactly that kind of attack and it worked for him there. And in Florida it definitely adds to the doubt, but I have very little sympathy for Broward County in having that all dumped on them. This is repeated, continuous and I have serious questions about the legitimacy of what --

HABERMAN: But they kind of -- everything can be true at once, right? I mean -- CUCCINELLI: Yes.

HABERMAN: -- it can be true there are huge problems in Florida that this continues over and over again. That the margin is -- it appears to be so big that, you know, this is a mandated -- state-mandated recount. This isn't -- that is why this is being done --


CUCCINELLI: Yes, yes, came within numerical boundary.

HABERMAN: Right, number one. But, number two, it can be true that people can have concerns about that and still not consider it responsible to claim that voters are sneaking into their cars and wearing wigs.

[20:40:06] CUCCINELLI: Absolutely.

PSAKI: Or that it's a case of voter fraud. And I think if you look at Broward County, Andrew Gillum and Senator Nelson probably would love to have had the ballots be more clear there. And I think any Democrat or Republican is probably looking at this thinking, are you kidding? Why isn't that fix? Why isn't there a clear ballot that everybody can vote on?


PSAKI: So there's agreement on that, but that's not voter fraud. And I think that's the point many of us are making.

CUCCINELLI: Right, I hear that.

PHILLIP: I mean (INAUDIBLE) ways to have a messaging argument when the odds of this process overturning the results on Election Day are pretty slim. I mean, this could just go as everyone wants it to go in terms of the process playing out without all of these conspiracy theories being muddled up into it. It's like --

CUCCINELLI: Well, the kicker here, though, in terms of impact, is when new votes come into the count that weren't there originally. I mean, that is an enormous change and you can call it incompetence if you want, but in this divided era, no one will discount the potential for fraud and for intentional misconduct.

COOPER: Ken Cuccinelli, appreciate it, Jen Psaki, Abby Phillip, Maggie Haberman, as always.

There's yet more breaking news. Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels is under arrest on allegations of felony, domestic violence. CNN's MJ Lee joins us now with the latest. So, what do we know at this point?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, what we know is that Michael Avenatti has been arrested for domestic violence. According to the LAPD, he has been booked on felony domestic violence charges. We are told that the domestic violence report was taken yesterday in West Los Angeles and that the arrest was made today.

Now, we did just get a statement from Michael Avenatti responding to this, so let me just read that for you. He says, "I wish to thank the hardworking men and women of the LAPD for their professionalism. They were only doing their jobs in light of the completely bogus allegations against me. I have never been physically abusive in my life nor was I last night. Any accusations to the contrary are fabricated and meant to do -- meant to harm my reputation. I look forward to being fully exonerated."

So obviously this is a very vehement denial that we're getting from Michael Avenatti, and knowing him, this sounds like someone who's going to deny this and fight this. Anderson?

COOPER: The original report, which I believe was from TMZ, claimed that it was his -- what they say was his estranged wife who I believe he's going through a divorce proceeding with. His wife, though, to you, directly, has denied 100 percent that this happened with her saying she hasn't even seen him for months. Is that correct?

LEE: That's right. The TMZ report did create some confusion initially because it did say that this incident involved his estranged wife who he is currently in the process of getting divorced from. That story was actually then changed to just say a woman rather than estranged wife.

I did speak with her on the phone earlier tonight and she said that she hasn't seen Avenatti in months. She was not at his apartment this week. And she also said that he is not somebody who would ever hit anyone. This also --

COOPER: MJ, sorry, Michael Avenatti's making a statement. Let's listen.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: -- and very succinct. First of all, I want to thank the hardworking men and women of the LAPD for their professionalism and their work today. They had no option in light of the allegations.

Secondly, I have never struck a woman. I never will strike a woman. I have been an advocate for women's rights my entire career and I'm going to continue to be an advocate. I am not going to be intimidated from stopping what I am doing.

I am a father to two beautiful, smart, daughters. I would never disrespect them by touching a woman inappropriately or striking a woman.

I am looking forward to a full investigation at which point I am confident that I will be fully exonerated. I also want to thank everyone for their support that has reached out. You know my character. You know me as a man and I appreciate it. Thank you.

COOPER: That's Michael Avenatti who's just, I guess, MJ, been released from custody. We're, of course, going to continue to follow the story tonight. There's even more breaking news this time in the Russia investigation, potentially big development as we wait for new moves from Special Counsel Mueller. That is next.


[20:48:17] COOPER: Lot of late developments tonight. Here's another and it could play into all the news lately surrounding Trump associate, Roger Stone, WikiLeaks and potential charges in the Russia investigation. Now, at the center of the story, text messages that Stone has just made public.

Our Sara Murray joins us now with the breaking news. So what's in these text messages?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So these are text messages between Roger Stone and one of his associates, Randy Credico, who he has said was his back channel to WikiLeaks there from October of 2016, the very beginning. And in them, Randy Credico says big news Wednesday.

He goes on to say, "Hillary's campaign will die this week." That was the week that Julian Assange was supposed to hold this big press conference and deliver a bunch of dirt. He didn't do that, but just a couple days later, that's when WikiLeaks started rolling out all of these disclosures of John Podesta's hacked e-mails then, you know, the Clinton campaign chairman.

And so Roger Stone is putting these messages out trying to show that, you know, in fact, Randy Credico was his back channel.

COOPER: And so why release them now --

MURRAY: I think that --

COOPER: -- when he's had them all this time?

MURRAY: I think that Stone and his attorneys are very frustrated that Credico has been out there insisting he was not a back channel, insisting he only relied on publicly available information at the time. And they feel like people believe Randy Credico and they don't believe Roger Stone.

Remember, Roger Stone was out there in 2016 saying he was in touch with Assange, seeming to predict that stuff was going to be coming. And now he's putting forth these text messages to try show, "Look, I was telling the truth. I did have a back channel. I was getting some kind of information from Randy Credico." Where, how he was getting it, who knows.

COOPER: Interesting. Sara Murray, thanks very much. Appreciate it. Fascinating stuff.

I want to check in with Chris to see what he's -- actually we'll check in with Chris in just -- actually, you know, I'm told he's ready now. Chris, what are you working on? CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm here. I just had to get my makeup done. I want to look good for you, Anderson, you know. I don't like coming in that kind of half done up.

[20:50:02] So we're going -- we're going to be talking tonight with the man who believes that he has the support to keep Nancy Pelosi from being speaker, Seth Moulton, you know, the congressman. He's going to come on tonight.

We're going to talk about his feelings about who should lead the party, what it means for Nancy Pelosi, what's the strategy. And I also want to talk to him about what the Democrats plan to do about Matthew Whitaker. There's a lot of talk, but what are they actually going to do? We're going to talk to him.

Then the story that just hit, we just saw Michael Avenatti put out a strong defense against these allegations. What does this mean for him going forward? And, we got to look at the White House. I mean, we always say that it's chaotic. They always say it's not true, but it's never been more true than it is right now. What happened with the First Lady? Why did she have to go public, and what is going to be the fallout? We're going to take it all on.

COOPER: Yes. It's kind of unprecedented for a First Lady to make a statement like that about a national security official. Fascinating stuff. Chris, we'll come to you in 9 minutes from now.

Coming up next on "360," remember the weeks and weeks of the President warning over and over at his rallies about this impending invasion as he called it. He rushed active duty military personnel to the border.

Now that the election is over, have you notice the President doesn't seem to be talking about did any more? If it's such a dangerous invasion, how come? We're keeping them honest, next.


[20:55:11] COOPER: Tonight keeping them honest, update on the thousands of troops sent to the border for a mission which looks now more than ever like a political ploy, an effort by the President of the United States to rally his base before the midterm elections, an effort that may cost taxpayers somewhere between $42 million and $100 million according to Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Now, we have to rely on that estimate, because despite our asking repeatedly, the Pentagon will not tell us the actual cost. And as we said, when all this hysteria was being whipped up, you can make your case about immigration reform, but it should be made on the facts. There's no doubt it's a controversial and complicated issue.

But the facts were largely abandoned by this White House, and now so, too, have the story. For weeks and weeks the President before the election and his allies in the media spoke about an impending invasion that they said was headed for the U.S. border over and over again.

The President talked about this invasion and announced he would send thousands of American troops to the border, even as the caravan of migrants was hundreds of miles away.


TRUMP: At this very moment, large, well organized caravans of migrants are marching toward our southern border. Some people call it an invasion. It's like an invasion.

But that's an invasion. I don't care what they say.

Because you look at what's marching up, that's an invasion. That's not -- that's an invasion.

That's an invasion of our country.

When you looked at that bridge loaded up with people, that's called an invasion of our country.


COOPER: Went from some people called it an invasion to it's an invasion, "I call it an invasion." It was really apparent on Twitter that the President was very concerned about this so-called invasion.

From October 16th to November 6th, also known as Election Day, the President sent 45 tweets mentioning the border. Nine tweets about this caravan between October 16th and Halloween. He warned without evidence of criminals, unknown middle easterners he said, gang member, a very bad people supposedly mixed into the group.

Now, that same group of migrants is closer with weeks having gone by, but suddenly there is relative silence from the President on this supposed invasion. Since the election, there's been just one tweet and it was on Friday. It was a link to a "President Proclamation addressing mass migration through the southern border of the United States."

Nothing about invasion or gangs or murderers or middle easterners, all that talk it seems has gone away. But those thousands of American troops, well, they, of course, still have to do their job and they are as they always do, a job that Defense Secretary James Mattis tried to explain today.

On his way to visit troops in Texas, Mattis said the Defense Department missions do not involve military personnel directly participating in any law enforcement or even coming into direct contact with migrants. So the question is what is this mission about?


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think many of you are aware President Wilson 100 years ago, a little over 100 years ago, deployed the U.S. army to the southwest border, that's over a century ago. The threat then was Pancho Villa's troops revolutionary raiding across the border into the United States, New Mexico in 1916. And there's a more recent history of DOD support on the border. It spans four administrations in both political parties. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, keeping them honest, the Defense Secretary just -- was trying to justify the President wanting troops at the border by comparing a group of migrants, many with young children fleeing violence at home and economic issues, to Pancho Villa's troops attacking New Mexico in 1916.

You can decide for yourself whether that's an appropriate comparison. He is correct that more recently other administrations have also had DOD support in it support roles along the border. When Secretary Mattis got in front of the deployed troops at Donna Base Camp, he had a simple message. Put up razor wire and don't watch the news.


MATTIS: There's all sorts of stuff in the news and that sort of thing. You just concentrate on what your company commander, your battalion commander tells you. And if you read all that stuff, you know, you'll go nuts, you know what I mean?


COOPER: Well, on that point, we can probably all agree. If you were a member of the military, your son or daughter was deployed on a pretense that was said to be a vital importance at national security, just before the election, but then seemed to disappear at least from the President's mind after the election, suppose that could drive anyone nuts.

Reminder, don't miss "Full Circle," our daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You get to vote on what we cover. We get all the details and watch it weeknights 6:25 p.m. Eastern at We'll be coming from Washington, D.C. tomorrow night on "Full Circle" and also here on "360."

The news continues right now. I want to hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris?

CUOMO: You know, Presidents Obama and Bush did use the DOD support, but they used the National Guard. The National Guard is exempt from posse comitatus, the law that doesn't allow the use of active duty troops for law enforcement mechanisms.


CUOMO: They also were willing to work with governors. Both of those boxes are not check right now by this administration. It's a meaningful distinction. Anderson, thank you very much.