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President Trump: Pardon for Manafort "Not Off the Table"; Bill to Protect Mueller Doesn't Get a Vote; Interview with Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired November 28, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hey, good evening. Thank you for joining us.

We begin tonight with breaking new developments in the Russia investigation and what they could mean.

First you should know is that Republican senators today blocked bipartisan legislation to protect the special counsel. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says it's just not needed.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: This is a solution in search of a problem. The president is not going to fire Robert Mueller. Nor do I think he should. Nor do I think he should not be allowed to finish. We have a lot of things to do to try to finish up this year without taking votes on things that are completely irrelevant to outcomes.


COOPER: The solution in search of a problem, he says. The majority leader seems to be suggesting there's no reason to believe the president would take action to undermine the special counsel, to delegitimize his work in the public eye, or otherwise short circuit the investigation.

Now, defenders of the president say he has yet to actually do anything along those lines.

Keeping them honest, though, if a bill protecting the special counsel is, as Leader McConnell says, a solution in search of a problem, is it a problem when you fire the attorney general, replacing with someone who has spoken out publicly against the Russia probe? The president has.

Or tweets like this one today a problem. While the disgusting fake news is doing everything within their power not to report it that way. At least three major players are intimating that the angry Mueller gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts and they will get relief, this is our Joseph McCarthy era.

OK. Maybe by now you're accustomed to a president rage tweeting at the man investigating him. If that's no longer a problem or no longer so shocking, what about this item that he retweeted today? It's a photoshopped collection of people the president has frequently lashed out, suggesting they're traitors. Among, the 44th president of the United States, Robert Mueller in the upper left, and the current deputy attorney general of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, whom the president handpicked for the job.

This is something the president actually tweeted out. No doubt he would say, well, I just retweeted it. And yes, that is true.

But the president of the United States who you think has a lot of important stuff to be reading and deciding and working on at all times took time to find this and retweet something from what is essentially a Trump fan account, calling the deputy attorney general, the special counsel, former President Obama traitors? Is that a problem?

It is to a Republican who co-sponsored the bill to protect Mueller.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: With the president tweeting on a regular, daily basis that the special counsel is conflicted, that he is leading so-called 12 angry Democrats and demeaning and ridiculing him in every way to be so sanguine about the chances of him being fired is folly for us, I believe.


COOPER: Oh, we'll bring in more on what Senator Jeff Flake has to say in just a moment. He joins me. Here's Democratic co-sponsor Chris Coons of Delaware talking about the possibility of Trump trying to move against Mueller.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I don't know what would give me the idea that President Trump might do something unpredictable, except that he does it almost every day.


COOPER: Well, CNN has exclusive reporting tonight that the president in his written answers to the Mueller team said that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks nor was he told about a 2016 Trump Tower meeting. The source said he made clear he was answering to the best of his recollection, which as you probably know, that's the kind of thing a lawyer tells you to say so you have some wiggle room.

The president also spoke today to another problematic question, would he try to undermine the special counsel by pardoning a key cooperator? Here's what he told "The New York Post" today about pardoning Paul Manafort. Quote: It was never discussed but I wouldn't take it off the table. Why would it take it off the table?

Why would the president take it off the table? That's a good question. All presidents do have nearly unlimited pardon power. But why did the president decide to answer "The Post's" question in that way? If his answer is seen as enticing Manafort to lie for him, holding out the idea that he might reward Manafort for his help after the fact. That is the kind of thing that can get a president impeached.

I'm reading here from the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon which accused him among other things of endeavoring to cause prospective defendants, and individuals duly tried and convicted to expect favored treatment and consideration in return for their silence or false testimony, or rewarding individuals for their silence or false testimony, which is really just a fancy way of saying that it's a no-no to ask someone to lie for you if you're in turn promising to pardon them down the road.

Now, we should say that we have no evidence the president is doing anything similar in talking about pardons today. He was asked a question and he answered it. But he also did choose to answer it in exactly that way.

More now on the developments, including the president's answers to a pair of key question on WikiLeaks, the meetings with Russians at Trump Tower, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us right now.

So, what the do we know about these answers that the president gave Mueller?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. Essentially what we know is this was in writing obviously that they handed it in as part of a set of questions. It was several questions.

[20:05:01] These were the two key points that certainly we have all been focused on that the special counsel has been focused on.

And like you said, Anderson, the president essentially is denying that he had any knowledge of that Trump Tower 2016 meeting that his son Don Jr. set up with the Russian lawyer, and also Roger Stone, whether or not he was communicating with Roger Stone about what he knew about WikiLeaks and whether there was going to be additional dumps of e- mails concerning John Podesta and whether or not Roger Stone and the president were communicating about that.

All of that he's denying, and as you said, you know, his lawyers carefully worded these answers to say that at least based on the president's recollection, he doesn't remember ever having these communications.

COOPER: And it's important. The reason Mueller has been focusing on these two things is the scope of his questions was limited. He wasn't supposed to ask any questions about the obstruction of justice or potential obstruction of justice or anything that happened while the president was president. So, he's focusing on WikiLeaks and the idea of this Trump Tower meeting, which was potentially a huge deal because that was, according to the e-mail that was sent to set up that meeting, the first time the Trump campaign was told that the Russians were actually backing the Trump campaign.

PROKUPECZ: That's right. That is an important part of what Mueller is looking at. The idea that if anyway that the president knew about this in advance would set off alarm bells. He would have had to do things to go to lawyers. Perhaps go to the FBI. Put things in place to protect himself.

And the idea that he would not have done any of that and knew this and allowed this meeting to go on would be damaging both legally and even politically at this point. You know, it's interesting because there are these phone calls, blocked phone calls that we've all focused on about Don Jr. and we still don't have definitive answers on what those he blocked calls are. Don Jr. has told congressional investigators he doesn't remember anything about the phone calls, who he spoke to.

Now, with the Democrats taking over, they intend to go after that information to try and see if they can subpoena those phone records and find out who placed those calls.

COOPER: And just again on that Trump Tower meeting. I mean, it was Manafort, Jared Kushner was there for a time. There's also the candidate at that point, Donald Trump, had promised big information about Hillary Clinton at a press conference that then never took place.

PROKUPECZ: That's right. That never took place. And what's interesting, you know, the Russians set this up to say we have, you know -- they wanted to talk about adoptions and then they come in and they say, well, no, we want to talk about Hillary Clinton and dirt, and all this different things that were happening in this meeting. And whether or not anything that was going on in that meeting, whether it was relayed at any time to then the candidate, Donald Trump, you know, even though the president has right now is saying, no, it's still not definitive from the special counsel's team.

COOPER: Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

You heard a bit at the top from Senator Jeff Flake, co-sponsor of the Robert Mueller protection bill, and there's also the breaking news about pardons. The senator and I spoke at length earlier this evening.


COOPER: Senator Flake, the president saying he wouldn't take a pardon for Manafort off the table. His pardon power is absolute. As long as there's not a quid pro quo behind the scenes, a pardon for Manafort would be legal, right?

FLAKE: Right, right. The president's pardon power is nearly absolute. And so, yes.

COOPER: In terms of your push for a vote to protect Mueller, why do you think the Republican leadership, Mitch McConnell in particular, continues to refuse to allow a bill to protect Mueller to come to a floor vote?

FLAKE: No, I can't understand it at all. You know, when this bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee, the bipartisan vote of 14-7, the majority leader said at the time, there's no worry. Nobody is being fired. The president is not going to fire Mueller.

Well, now, the attorney general has been fired and someone who has been installed who has expressed hostility toward the Mueller probe, and he now has oversight for that probe. So, I don't know why we're not more concerned here. I really don't.

COOPER: I mean, if you look at Mitch McConnell's argument, over phenomenon they're not concerned about the president firing Mueller, what would be the harm in passing something to protect Mueller?

FLAKE: Yes. That's my feeling as well. I know the president wouldn't like it obviously. But I think that's exactly what we need to do. The president needs to know that the Senate will not stand for him firing Mueller. And the message he's getting right now is that the Senate and the leadership will protect him.

So I think that's the wrong message to send. There are some who have legitimate concerns about the constitutionality, but they can certainly vote no. I think the constitutional scholars on both sides of the issue are in disagreement on this. I think it's structured in a way that it is constitutional. So, I hope that we can pass it.

COOPER: The president's supporters will say, though, look, he hasn't taken any action to block or defund or curtail the Mueller investigation. Yesterday, he told "The Washington Post" he has no intention of doing anything to stop it. So, despite some of his tweets, he hasn't shown any concrete steps of stopping it.

[20:10:02] Do you -- does that --

FLAKE: Just look at what has happened. The attorney general has been fired. And oversight for the investigation has been taken from the deputy attorney general where it belonged. Rod Rosenstein, and given to Matthew Whitaker who has not been confirmed by the Senate and like I said, who when he was auditioning for this job, expressed a lot of hostility toward the Mueller probe and indicated at that time that there are ways that you could without firing Mueller, neuter the probe, like starving the probe of funds.

And we just don't know how much interaction there is right now between Mr. Whitaker and Mr. Mueller. Mr. Mueller might have to ask permission to issue certain subpoenas or to take certain actions that might be denied by Mr. Whitaker. When the report is actually issued, it will be Mr. Whitaker's job to decide what the Congress sees and what it doesn't see.

So those kind of things are very much in question. And I think it behooves us to move in the Senate.

COOPER: I mean, you have roughly, what. a month and a half left in office. Is this the end of the road for you in terms of trying to protect Mueller?

FLAKE: Well, I can speak out as a private citizen. But right now, I have some leverage because there are a number of judges, about 25 or so that we haven't moved through the Judiciary Committee that my vote is needed to move them through. I indicated I won't vote for those judges. In fact, more than a dozen are slated for a vote tomorrow morning in the Judiciary Committee. I will vote no which means they can't progress to the floor.

In addition, I just voted no on one that they had to bring the vice president in to put over the top on a cloture vote. So, there are a number that will have problems on a floor vote as well. I can use that leverage and I well, but, unfortunately, by January 3rd, somebody else has to take it up.

COOPER: And just last, I want to ask you about CNN's reporting that the president told Mueller in writing that he wasn't told about WikiLeaks, wasn't made aware of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting. The president may be telling the truth here.

But if for any reason he isn't, what would the consequences actually be? I mean --

FLAKE: You know, I don't know. We'll have to see the totality of the Mueller report. Hopefully he will. But I don't know what context that would be in or what evidence we would have to the contrary. So, I'd have to see it in the context of the report.

COOPER: Do you find it hard to believe that then president -- then candidate Trump was not informed of the Trump Tower meeting by his own son?

FLAKE: You know, I don't know. I'll wait for the Mueller report on that. I don't want to speculate. When you're the candidate, you're usually informed of those kind of things.

COOPER: Yes. Senator, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

FLAKE: You bet. Thanks.


COOPER: Let's get some more perspective now. Once again tonight, we got some of the best legal, political and reporting minds in the business here with me. Shan Wu, Laura Coates, Gloria Borger, Kirsten Powers, former presidential candidate Rick Storm, and in some far off distant land called New York, CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, a creature of New York.

So, Gloria, the defendant -- there's a lot of stuff that just seems normal. When I saw that retweet from the president, the president is defending an image that shows his own attorney -- his own deputy attorney general behind bars.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You could say it was shocking. But it isn't shocking anymore. That's what's so shocking about it, is that he is accusing effectively his own deputy attorney general of treason. And it just seems to me he's accusing Bob Mueller of being Joe McCarthy, and the rage that we're seeing now seems to be getting more and more frantic every single day.

And I think it's because the walls are kind of closing in on him and maybe Manafort's attorney has been telling him things that he's not happy to hear because he's been keeping him informed on what's been going on in the Mueller negotiations, and Giuliani has said they knew it wasn't going well. And so, you know, I think this is a president that is under an awful lot of stress because he seems to be spending all of his time, all of his time, tweeting about --

COOPER: Laura, it is a little ironic for the president to be talking about Joe McCarthy in a negative way when the president's idol, Roy Cohn, was the right hand man of McCarthy. He was like the snake behind the power.

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Did you want to have common sense -- it's hard to inject here. It is ironic. It's hypocritical.

And what's so shocking is the president has essentially tried to create his own list of people who he thinks are his political adversaries, his enemies including the press, people who are required by law and ethical obligations to recuse themselves, Jeff Sessions. Somebody entitled and required to appoint a special counsel, Rod Rosenstein.

He's accusing people of doing the wrong thing when they're required to do that which they did.

[20:15:02] And so, that's really difficult for people to wrap their mind, especially, because remember, the president of the United States is the head of the executive branch, whose role it is to faithfully ensure the laws are faithfully executed. If you don't understand that people need to actually follow the law, then, of course, everything that follows that will be hypocritical, will not have common sense and logic.

And Gloria is right. I mean, you get hotter under the collar the closer you are to the flames. Every statement he makes, everything entices Mueller and the scrutiny, and special counsel to say, why is the lady protesting so much?

COOPER: Senator Santorum, do you think Rod Rosenstein belongs behind bars? Do you make -- I mean, are you immune at this point to the president's retweets or tweets?

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR, PENNSYLVANIA: I guess yes. I think we all are. I mean, to the way the president interacts on Twitter, I think Rod Rosenstein has made a lot of bad decisions as deputy attorney general, and I don't believe there should be -- there should have been a (INAUDIBLE) probe. I think it should have been handled internally within the Justice Department.

Having said all that, that is not an appropriate retweet on the part of the president, but, again, that's par for the course.

COOPER: Jeff, from a legal standpoint, the fact the president says he's not ruling out a pardon by Manafort, I mean, he didn't -- I assume he was asked by "The New York Post" about this. Does that -- I mean, could he be accused of sending a message to Manafort?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He sure could. And he sure could be -- it could be obstruction of justice.

You started the program talking about Nixon. You know, this idea that the pardon power is absolute is not true. If someone walks into the Oval Office with a suitcase full of cash and says pardon somebody in return for the cash, that's not -- that's not protected.

And to use the pardon power to interfere with a pending investigation which is the only interpretation possible of what the president was saying today, that is an obstruction of justice. Now, remember, we are in the realm -- criminal prosecution is off the table. He's president. He can't be prosecuted. This is now a political matter of impeachment. Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler, the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee, they said they're not interested in pursuing impeachment as long as it's impossible in the Senate.

But is it, in fact, obstruction of justice? Could the House of Representatives conclude that this abuse of the pardon power is obstruction of justice? Absolutely.

COOPER: Shan, do you think he was sending a message to Manafort?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think he was. And to Gloria's point, why could the tension be increasing on the president right now, this whole odd joint defense agreement between Manafort and the Trump lawyers, that's very reckless thing to do. I mean, you just don't do that when someone is cooperating.

And the most intriguing aspect is that could convert the lawyers into witnesses.

BORGER: Exactly.

WU: If Trump's team is telling Manafort, hey, don't say this, say something else. That is obstruction. They could end up having to testify about that. It would essentially pierce the privilege aspect of it.

COATES: They could also convert to defendants themselves, because although impeachment may be off the table if it's a full, hardy quest by the Democrats and the House to try to guard the Senate, it doesn't apply to somebody like a lawyer. Maybe Giuliani.

I don't know what he's done. No one really does. But the idea of somebody who is not the president of the United States maybe dangling a carrot and influencing or trying to impede an investigation, well, that actually could be something that you could go under. Now, the jury is still out on that, but it's a possibility.

COOPER: Let me get Kirsten here for a second. Because, I mean, it is fascinating - one of the things I find fascinating with this president is that -- he does for the lack of transparency, he is also incredibly accidentally transparent. I mean, he does say stuff which is in his head which many presidents wouldn't say. KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Yes. I also think

another thing that is different and maybe the lawyers can correct me if this isn't right. As a layperson it seems that pardons -- you know, I don't think -- I think other presidents were more judicious, obviously, in considering who they gave pardons to, and followed more of a process.

But I think because Donald Trump doesn't do that and he sent the message clearly from the beginning that he wasn't going to do that, it opens up these kinds of situations where you have somebody angling for a pardon the way Manafort is, in such an overt way. I just don't think in the past you would have been able to do that. You wouldn't have been able to anticipate what the president would do.

COOPER: But, Jeff Toobin, you've had plenty of sleazy people trying to get pardons from the president in the dead of night as they're leaving the door of the White House after their term is just about up.

TOOBIN: That's right. I mean, Bill Clinton really shamed himself by pardoning Marc Rich, a fugitive; his brother. I mean, the end of the Clinton administration was really a very bad low point.

[20:20:04] If I could just go back to the lawyers for a second, I don't think there's anything necessarily improper about lawyers talking to each other when they're all being investigated. I think what's really bizarre about all this is that Manafort's lawyers are telling all this stuff to the Trump lawyers and everyone else even though they're supposedly cooperating with the Mueller investigation. I think that just shows how much Manafort has given up on the legal system and is putting all his bets on getting a pardon, because he's just -- that's his only hope, because he's now burnt all his bridges with Mueller.

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We'll talk more about this when we come back.

Also tonight, with all this playing out, Russia and Ukraine on the brink perhaps of open warfare, will the president eat with Vladimir Putin in Argentina later this week? We'll take a look at that.

And later, what the United States does and does not about the murder of that man, Jamal Khashoggi, and allegations the Trump administration is not saying all that it knows about what role Saudi Arabia's ruling crowned prince played in it. CNN reporting is that the CIA believes he ordered the killing, MBS ordered the killing. The administration is saying something else. And to some, the CIA director's absence in the key briefing today speaks volumes. Details on that.


[20:25:32] COOPER: A lot happening tonight in Washington between the breaking news on the president talking about pardoning Paul Manafort, the prison meme retweet and CNN's exclusive reporting on the two key questions that he gave Robert Mueller about WikiLeaks and the Trump Tower meeting with Russians. In addition to talking about pardons in that interview today, he also

complained about how his reality show, "The Apprentice", was robbed of an Emmy, which, it was, but he talked about it. He's president, and he's still thinking about that.

I don't take the stand on whether it was. I never watched it.

Back now with the team.

Gloria --

BORGER: He talked about it and why he didn't win the Nobel -- why he's not going to win the Nobel Peace prize.

COOPER: Right, in relation to why he's not going to win the Peace Prize, that he had the number one show and he's probably going to win an Emmy.

BORGER: That's right. He's not going back to "The Apprentice" because Schwarzenegger ruined it.

COOPER: Right. I'm not sure, by the way, ratings equate to Emmy's. But anyway, I digress.

The CNN reporting that Mr. Trump told the special counsel in writing through his attorneys who obviously worked that need to know anything about WikiLeaks during the campaign, and also didn't know anything about the Trump Tower meeting, we don't know what Robert Mueller knows. A number of people who testified in front of Mueller have said that they felt he already had the answers to things they were being called to ask about.

BORGER: Right, which would make a lot of sense that he would. And it's also not surprising that the president would say I had no knowledge of either of these things even though he seemed to be foreshadowing what he thought was going to occur, particularly with WikiLeaks. We're going to do a big dump and we're going to have all this information on Hillary Clinton e-mails. He then didn't have it. So it's not surprising.

I think that what we see there is the lawyerly -- you should excuse the expression -- wiggle room that is put into this.

WU: No offense taken.

BORGER: Yes, right --

COOPER: Lawyerly is not a bad word.

BORGER: Wiggle room is not the word, but they would say to the best of my recollection. Trump has said he's got the best memory of anyone in the universe. Now we put weasel words in there so that he could --

COOPER: Shan, do you agree Mueller knows the answers to those questions?

WU: He certainly knows who that block phone call was --

COOPER: He does?

WU: Yes. That's easy to get that information. And I think that's generally true.

I mean, at this time in the investigation, they're going to know most the answers. That's why we're seeing so many false statement problems come up. They already know those questions. They're testing the credibility of the people that are coming in, and most of those tests are being failed.

COOPER: Senator Santorum, you heard Senator Flake saying, you know, that he wants a vote to protect the special counsel. Do you think that bill deserves a vote?

SANTORUM: No, I don't. Number one, it's never going to be law. So, I don't understand what Jeff Flake's game here is.

He's holding up judicial nominations which are important nominations for a bill that never is going to become law and not accomplish what he wants to accomplish. To get a vote on it?

COOPER: You say never become law because the president isn't going to sign it.

SANTORUM: The president is not going to sign that bill, and there's not enough to override the president's veto on this. I mean, this is a quixotic venture on his part to show that, you know, he's standing up to the president because he's running -- he thinks he's running for president in 2020.

So, what he's doing is just really harming the ability for these judges who deserve to get on the court. We have shortages on the court right now, and he's blocking nominations for no good reason.

COOPER: Kirsten, the flip side of that -- you know, we had Mitch McConnell saying the president isn't going to fire Robert Mueller. If -- and this is a problem -- a solution in search of a problem.

POWERS: Then pass the bill.

COOPER: That's the flip side of that argument.

POWERS: You can say if it's not going to be an issue, then just pass the bill and sign it. I mean, what's the problem if he's not --

SANTORUM: There's constitutional questions as to whether this is something that the Senate can and should do. And then there's just the idea of raising the specter of saying, OK, we're going to vote for this because we're concerned the president is going to do this.

I don't think most Republicans and I talked to a lot of them, are concerned the president is going to do anything to stop the Mueller investigation because they know that would be a cataclysmic disaster for the president to do. So this is just more hype and more drama than it is reality.

BORGER: But he fired his attorney general, right?

SANTORUM: He fired his attorney. He wanted to fire his attorney general two years ago when he recused himself.

BORGER: He put Rod Rosenstein behind bars on a tweet today.

SANTORUM: He didn't but he retweeted it.

BORGER: Right, but that's his own deputy attorney general. And he said he did it because he should never have picked a special counsel.

SANTORUM: I agree with him on that.

BORGER: Why in the world would you ever think that the President of the United States would do something like fire Bob Mueller?

SANTORUM: Because it's not in his interest to do so. It's not in his interest to do so. He knows that.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: But write every single thing that has enticed the Mueller probe has been a self- inflicted wound by the President of the United States, number one. Number two, this notion that we have only relevant laws on the books is a joke.

I mean even in the home state of Kentucky where Mitch McConnell live, they actually have a law in the book that says you've got to take an oath that you haven't been involve in a dual nor to be a public official. That's not in a relevant law by anyone measure of things.

If you think about this, this is a law that would actually protect somebody who is overseeing something that's -- it just to be American people. Now, whether you like what he's doing or not --

SANTORUM: He's not going to sign the bill, so it's an irrelevant exercise.

HENDERSON: I think that the notion of it being an exercise in futility because of the President's own inclination is a different question in whether or not it's useful and important law it is.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Let's -- we're going to take a break here. I want to thank everybody.

Coming up, more on what seems like the President's, well, agitated state of mind for someone who say over the Mueller investigation is a possible medium with Vladimir Putin could be just days away. We'll talk it over with retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters next.


COOPER: As we mentioned, there's a lot swirling around in the Mueller investigation, including what we now know were two answers the President gave to written questions. Two sources telling CNN that the President denied being told about the 2016 meeting promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, and also denied that Roger Stone told him about WikiLeaks.

Now, all of this is bubbling up as the President is getting ready to head to Buenos Aires for the G-20 summit where he could be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

[20:35:03] Joining me now to talk about it all is retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, the strategic analyst and author. Thanks for being with us.

Let's talk about, first of all, the Putin thing. We still don't know what was discussed between Vladimir Putin and President Trump behind closed doors in Helsinki.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: And we will never know most likely unless the Russians tell us. It's definitely a problem. I suspect that even Trump's most loyal henchmen, and they are indeed henchmen, I like that old-fashion English word, are advising him not to embrace Putin in Buenos Aires.

But Trump is such a creature of impulse and it's hard to imagine him not at least going off into a corner with Putin and that's always dangerous. But also, we don't know what Trump and his people are telling the Russians because today in Izvestia (ph), you know, the Russian papers, they're convinced that there's a full blown meeting going to happen probably Saturday or maybe Friday between Putin and Trump and it's odd.

I mean, even if we move the issue of whether Putin has something over Trump, which I continue to believe, Trump is just drawn to him. It's -- there's this --


COOPER: He's drawn to power, I mean, it seems like.


COOPER: Any sort of person who seems to exude the kind of power that he wishes he had.

PETERS: Yes, indeed and that's the case with everybody from President Xi to Kim in Korea, to Erdogan. But there seems to be something special about Putin that just draws the guy, and we should all be terribly concerned about this because right now the media is so concerned with other things. We're kind of blowing off the crisis in the black sea (INAUDIBLE) straight and see a bizarre.

COOPER: Of course, that's between Russia and Ukraine.

PETER: Ukraine. And, again, the Russian papers, the Russian media, they sound -- they're beating war drums. Now, that may be mean nothing in the long run. Putin has been amassing troops. And Putin is very concerned. He wants Ukraine back, at least two-third. He believes, he believes it belongs to Russia. It's a mystical tie. And he also, in a very practical level, wants a land bridge. He wants a land bridge between Russia and Crimea, not just the $4 million bridge over the (INAUDIBLE). There's that. There's a crisis with the Ukrainian church, the Orthodox Church succeeding from the overlordship for the Russia --

COOPER: Which is a blow to Putin?

PETERS: It's a huge blow to him. You mentioned wide (ph), but also it further divides Ukraine and Russia. So a lot of things that we're ignoring are building to a head. Does that mean Putin is going to get a green light from Trump to invade tomorrow? No, not necessarily. But we need to pay attention.

COOPER: But, you know, to the idea of a green light, if you're a world leader and you're looking at how the U.S. is responding to things, you look at how President Trump has responded to the murder, you know, the butchery of this journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and how continually no matter what the CIA says, you know, you have John Bolton saying, "Well, look, I didn't listen to the tape. I don't speak Arabic, why would I listen to, you know, a tape of somebody being killed?"

PETERS: That infuriated me. You don't want to listen to that tape? Hey, I don't speak Arabic either, but I will tell you, if you listen to a tape of somebody being tortured to death, you can figure out a couple of things out. The screams are universal. The gloating tone of the torture is universal. And these people are cowards for not even listening to the tape. I mean it's just astonishes me that they would take such a position.

But, yes, the President's position on Khashoggi has squandered much of the remaining credibility we have. And, you know, I'm a real politic say. I want what's best for this country, security wise internationally. But we've been presented with this false dichotomy, the idea that real politic, practical approach to strategy precludes human rights.

In the age of hypermedia when we're constantly bombarded with images of suffering around the world, why support -- rational support for human rights around the world is indeed a part of real politic?

COOPER: Which is interesting because, I mean, what the President often says is, "Look, there's a lot of bad people, a lot of bad things happened to a lot of, you know." But you look back at Ronald Reagan who would, you know, talk about a particular soviet dissident and even if he wasn't able to make a difference for all of dissidents in one blow to highlight the plight of one person can make a difference and it can have a ripple effect.

PETER: Well, the fact that you can't do everything doesn't mean that you shouldn't do anything. And, yes, picking moral examples. There is a place for ethics that forgotten word in Washington. Indeed, for morality in our policy, and it doesn't mean compromising our security, what it means is whether a legal resident of the United States is murdered in a consulate on foreign soil, that you take a stand on that.

[20:40:00] And by the way, Anderson, the 1970s are over. We do not need Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia desperately needs us, desperately. But for all the armaments they've bought and will continue to buy, the Iranians with all their old junk would eat them alive.

You know, any U.S. military officers ever been around the Saudis in training and schools in the desert can tell you that they expect us to do it all for them. And we can't and we shouldn't. Trump is shaming us.

COOPER: Colonel Peters, I appreciate you being with us. Thank you.

Coming up, more on Jamal Khashoggi's murder. One nagging questioning after that close door briefing with senators, why wasn't the CIA director there? We'll have that, plus you'll hear from Senator Jack Reed next.


COOPER: We spoke before the break about Jamal Khashoggi. Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave senators a closed door briefing on his murder and afterward defended the Trump administration's response. He said there is "no direct reporting connecting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the killing."

Sources have told CNN that the CIA has assessed with high confidence that the prince directed the murder which the President doesn't seem to want to believe or to believe. The Trump administration did not send CIA Director Gina Haspel to the briefing. Here's what Pompeo said when ask why she wasn't there.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I was asked to be here, and here I am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But senators we're frustrated. Normally, in your past role as CIA director, you would be here briefing senators on an issue this sensitive. Why isn't the CIA director herself were today?

[20:45:08] POMPEO: I was asked to be here and I'm here.


COOPER: Well, joining me now is Senator Jack Reed. What's your understanding of why Gina Haspel wasn't there, because Dick Durbin said that he was told it was at the direction of the White House that Haspel didn't attend? The CIA said the notion that anyone told her not to attend the briefing is false.

SEN. JACK REED (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I think Senator Durbin insight is probably more accurate than anything else. Obviously we wanted her there, and it was not just one senator but a broad range, a bipartisan range wanted her opinion. Many of my colleagues have not had the opportunity to hear directly from the agency about their conclusions. They want her to do that or ask questions. And the sense I have, Senator Durbin's comment is indicative, is that she was told not to go by the White House.

COOPER: What did you make when you heard Bolton say that he hadn't listened to the tape because he doesn't speak Arabic, why would he need to listen to it?

REED: Well, I think he have to listen to it. One is it's not just the words, those can be translated and understood. It is a sense of what took place. You know, hearing how quickly Mr. Khashoggi was assaulted, was there any discussion, you don't really have to understand the language. You can understand screaming and hollering and ultimately what happened, what's been described in the press as what happened to Mr. Khashoggi.

COOPER: Senator Lindsey Graham switched his vote on the bill to end the U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. And I want to show our viewers just -- what he had to say about this. Let's take a look.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I changed my mind because I'm pissed. The way the administration has handled the Saudi Arabia event is just not acceptable. I said, listen, it's pretty obvious to me that we're a co-equal branch. You made your assessments about what the intelligence shows. I'd like to make my own. The only way I can make that assessment is to be briefed. If it is credible that the crown prince was complicit, then I will take action consistent with that.


COOPER: There does seem to be some pretty strong bipartisan support on this. Do you think -- is there enough that any potential president veto could be overridden?

REED: Well, they have strong support. We had 62 votes on the resolution with respect to Yemen today. I think this whole issue of getting access to the CIA report for all my colleagues is important. And so we have a bipartisan basis of support.

I think we work step by step. The first step would be to take action in the Senate. We hope we can get the Sanders-Mike Lee bill through. And then hopefully the House, if not this House, but the next House, could pick it up and we can move forward.

COOPER: I mean you introduced legislation requiring a public report on the killing of Khashoggi.

REED: That's right.

COOPER: Why do you think that's so important?

REED: Well, it's important because the Khashoggi murder was a violation of the basic norms of international behavior. And even the suspicion that the crown prince was involved or high level members of the Saudi government was involved raise a serious concerns about their conduct, their reliability, and our relationship with them. And there's been -- the President has gone out of his way to dismiss this.


REED: It can't be dismissed. It has to be evaluated. I think the only way it could be evaluated was one, to get a redacted report out that doesn't compromise sources and methods of intelligence agency, but comes to a conclusion. It probably will be much different than the President's conclusion.

I think honestly that the long -- the best approach would be an international investigation by credible in a neutral authorities so these questions could be asked. You know, the question to the President, well, we may never find out whether the crown prince was involved or not. Well, you'll never find out unless you ask probing questions, unless you take with the evidence and try to put together into a picture.

COOPER: Yes. Senator Jack Reed, appreciate you.

REED: Thanks.

COOPER: Thank you very much.

I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're going to go very deep on two questions tonight. The legalities of what it means that the President says a pardon is a possibility for Paul Manafort. What does that mean legally? What are the parameters? Are the abilities of a President to pardon absolute? You'll hear arguments on both sides of that tonight.

We will also be talking about the political considerations of what will happen next in the Mueller probe with this new information about what the President said in his answers, and more importantly, what he did not say.

And then we have a moral argument tonight about what's going on at the border. There's a reason it's being called a humanitarian crisis right now, not even one in the making. And we have a special announcement on that to make as well, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Chris, that's about 10 minutes from now. I'll see you then. Thanks very much.

There are still thousands of Central American migrants in the border city of Tijuana as Chris was just talking about.

[20:50:01] Univision's Jorge Ramos is there. We'll talk to him what he's seeing and if he thinks there could be more violence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: At the border in Tijuana tonight, thousands of Central American migrants are taking shelter as they wait for a chance to seek asylum in the United States. Their crowded conditions at the makeshift camp and even more migrants are now expected to show up in the coming days. That's a drone shot of it.

CNN crews have visited the site and found pretty bad conditions, including open sewage drains. This, of course, is in the wake of last weekend's clash at the border where authority said that rocks were thrown at border patrol officers, teargas was fired in return.

Now amidst all of this, there's a new estimate tonight on how many undocumented immigrants now are in the United States. The Pew Research Center says the number continues to shrink.

The centers estimate shows about 10.7 million undocumented immigrants in the country in 2016, the most recent year that government numbers are available. That is the lowest estimate in a decade.

[20:55:07] Now just before airtime, I spoke to Univision's Anchor, Jorge Ramos, who is in Tijuana.


COOPER: Jorge, the situation where you are now in Tijuana, some have described it, I know the city's mayor has described it as a crisis. He's been asking for humanitarian help. Can you just tell me what you have been seeing, what you've been hearing?

JORGE RAMOS, ANCHOR, UNIVISION: What I'm seeing right now and what I'm hearing is that we're right in the middle of a humanitarian and international crisis. Of course there's a lot of blame to go around. We can blame the Central American governments for extreme poverty, for rampant corruption, for the gangs, for the violence.

We can blame the Mexican government for allowing all the Central American immigrants to come here. But we can also blame the United States and the Trump administration for creating a bottleneck.

Let me just give you an idea, Anderson. We are right here in this refugee camp. In this refugee camps, there are about 6,000 people, among them, 1,000 children. And they want to go to the other side of that wall. That's the United States right over there. But they can't because every single day the Trump administration is only processing about 100 asylum applications. And with that, it will take months for many of the people over here just to go to the United States legally, so many are trying illegal ways to get into the United States.

COOPER: What are the conditions in the camp like? Because I was talking to our reporter, Leyla Santiago, yesterday, it looked like there was a lot of water on the ground. People were complaining about access to food, about -- even the toilet facilities.

RAMOS: It is -- the conditions are terrible. The -- what I see, I see a lot of trash around me. I've been talking to families all day long. Many of the kids are sick. You can see people coughing. It is getting really cold at night. There's no possibility for them to go anywhere else.

COOPER: Are more people continuing to arrive to stay at that camp?

RAMOS: Yes. They're coming every single day. They have hundreds more, sometimes thousands more. The numbers that I have are these -- in this camp last night, there were about 6,000 people, but thousands more are coming.

The new government told me that they are considering between 9,000 Central Americans to 15,000 Central Americans. And after Christmas, in January, February, more are coming.

COOPER: Is there any sense from what you see or what you hear that frustrations could boil over to the point where there'll be another clash with Mexican officials, with U.S. border patrol?

RAMOS: Well, let me just say this. Trump is the wall for them, because they realize that they cannot go to the United States legally. And they also understand that -- that they might face teargas again.

Teargas is not a strategy, but they learned very fast, so they are not trying to go in mass again to the American side, but they are doing something completely different, probably more intelligent.

I was talking to some of our correspondents' right here at the border. If you go five miles that way or 25 miles that way, the wall that you see behind me disappears. And guess what? I mean, if they don't see a legal possibility of applying for political asylum, they're just going to go a few miles and then they're going to try to cross.

I mean, that's exactly what's happening right now in the Rio Grande Valley where it's been reported a record numbers of family units trying to cross. That is what's happening. So, if there is not a legal possibility for them to go to the United States, they're going to try to do it illegally.

COOPER: Just finally, the people that you have spoken with there who have been met with long waits to claim asylum, if they're not going to go someplace else, are they planning to just stay where they are now and hope eventually to have their claim heard?

RAMOS: Yes. I think if President Trump wanted to send a message to Central America, that people shouldn't come, that message really hasn't reached them. More people are coming. They're willing to stay here. I talked to many of them throughout the day and they are willing to wait as long as it is necessary because for them it's not a possibility to go back to their countries of origin.

I mean, we're talking about thousands of dollars to go back to their countries of origin and they decided to come with the caravans because they didn't have to pay coyotes, $4,000, $5,000, $6,000, $7,000, $8,000 to come to the United States.

So once they are here, once they saw the possibility of coming collectively, therefore, without having to pay the coyotes and being more protected, they're not going to go back to their countries of origin.

So this is a real crisis, a humanitarian crisis, an international crisis. It has to be resolved by many countries. And teargas is not a strategy. Teargas was used. They understand it could be used again, but they're trying completely different ways of getting to the United States.

COOPER: Jorge Ramos, I appreciate your reporting. Thank you.

RAMOS: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: Hey, a quick reminder, don't miss "Full Circle." It's our daily new interactive newscast on Facebook.