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Border Wall Funds Could Be Diverted from Money Meant for Puerto Rico, Texas and Other Areas Hit by Disasters; WSJ: Kushner, Other White House Aides Lobbying for Restraint on Declaring National Emergency to Get Border Wall. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired January 10, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:12] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: For hundreds of thousands of people tonight, it is not a good evening. A good evening would be knowing that tomorrow, Friday, is payday and the bills are being taken care of.

This evening, though, they've got empty pay stubs and growing troubles. Many are furloughed. Some are working without pay. Coast Guard officers, TSA screeners, air traffic controllers, U.S. marshals guarding drug lord El Chapo, border agents. Yes, border agents.

Day 20 of the government shutdown over border wall funding, and some of the men and women President Trump met today on his visit to McAllen, Texas, are on the job but not getting paid.

Now, back home, he is reportedly getting closer to declaring a national emergency to get the wall built. And according to CNN -- new CNN reporting, the administration is examining the idea of funding the wall with disaster relief money. You heard that right. The Trump administration is examining, actively examining the notion of using unspent money earmarked for disaster reconstruction in Puerto Rico, Texas, California, Florida and elsewhere.

Now, keeping them honest, that idea is a long way away from President Trump's recent claim that unspecified economic gains from the replacement for NAFTA would supposedly and indirectly pay for the wall. It is even farther away from the oft repeated promise that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Lest we forget. Cue the montage.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I promise, we will build the wall.

And who's going to pay for the wall?


TRUMP: Who's going to pay for the wall?




TRUMP: It will be a great wall.

Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

Mexico will pay for the wall.


COOPER: So, that was a lie, perhaps the most widely repeated one since the check is in the mail.

Mexico is not going pay for the wall. Now perhaps Puerto Rico will. And speaking of checks in the mail, before leaving for the border today, and once again after he arrived, the president said this.


REPORTER: When you say Mexico is going pay for the wall, you never expected that they would write you a check. But during your campaign --

TRUMP: Of course I don't expect. Excuse me. When I say Mexico's going to pay for the wall, do you think they're going to write a check for $20 billion or $10 billion or $5 billion or two cents? No. They're paying for the wall in a great trade deal.


COOPER: Silly us. He didn't say Mexico should just write a check. I mean, how stupid can you be to even think that? And what kind of dummy can believe that after looking at the president's campaign website and reading the words, and I'm quoting from the campaign website, it's an easy decision for Mexico. Make a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country, year after year.

That's right. Just one easy payment. Operators were standing by.

But wait, there is more. How about some Tex-Mex word salad.


TRUMP: They say a wall is medieval. Well, so is a wheel. A wheel is older than a wall.

And I looked at every single car out there, even the really expensive ones that the Secret Service use, and believe me, they are expensive. I said, do they all have wheels? Yes. Oh, I thought it was medieval.

The wheel is older than the wall, you know that? And there are some things that work. You know what? A wheel works and a wall works. Nothing like a wall.


COOPER: Nothing like a wall, he says.

As we like to point out, the merits of a wall aren't for us to say. They're for you to decide. But the president is supposed to make the case for it honestly. Anyone who is working without pay deserves to know why, deserves not to be treated like a pawn or used in a photo-op or have their paycheck sacrificed on their behalf without their say so. Some may side with the president. Some may be okay with giving up paychecks, that's for them to say, not the president.

At the end of the day, no matter where you may stand politically, we all deserve a president who even if you disagree with him, takes responsibility for his decisions. And to his credit, that's what President Trump did in that meeting with Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi. He told them on camera about the shutdown, quoting, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I am not going blame you for it, unquote.

It's like when Harry Truman said of himself, "the buck stops here." it's strong stuff, except we learned today the president never meant that.


REPORTER: Does the buck stops with you over this shutdown?

TRUMP: The buck stops with everybody.


COOPER: Yes, not me. Everybody. The buck stops with everybody.

The whole idea of the buck stopping is that it stops with one person, the leader, the person in charge. Not with this president. For a guy who has spent his life hoarding money, this is one buck he clearly does not want, which is weird, because during the campaign, I seem to recall him saying how he and he alone was the only one who could solve the nation's problems.

If only we had another montage.


TRUMP: I alone can fix it.

Nobody builds walls better than me.

This is so easy.

[20:05:01] We're going to fix it.

Who can fix things better than me?

I'll fix it.

I'm the only one that can fix it.

I'm the only one, believe me. I know them all.

I'm the only one that knows how to fix it. I alone can fix it.


COOPER: I guess that means that he alone can work the tower at Kennedy and run the national parks and rescue boaters and run the NIH and screen the bags and guard El Chapo.

More on the breaking news that the president is considering a national emergency and that the money to build a wall might be money that was originally earmarked to rebuild disaster areas.

Barbara Starr joins us from the Pentagon with that.

So, this is new to me. What are you learning about this whole notion that money for disaster areas could go to the wall?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think it's new to everybody tonight, Anderson. What we are hearing from administration officials is indeed they are looking at unspent disaster recovery funds from floods and some of the bad storms and hurricanes that we've had, places like Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, California. Looking at some of the money that was earmarked for disaster relief to specifically help the people that need the help the most and see if they can legally take that money, shift it over to their plan to build this wall.

It's a bit of uncharted territory. The president would have to declare that national emergency first. He may run into legal challenges, but the law is there. And by all accounts, they are looking very seriously tonight at trying to take advantage of it. Looking not just at disaster recovery money, but military construction projects at bases across the country that are aimed at keeping the military ready.

So, the bottom line, if you're going to take money from any of these places, something is not getting done -- Anderson.

COOPER: So, just to be clear, let me get this straight. The president may be taking money away from areas hit by disasters, areas like Puerto Rico, in order to build the wall? I mean, I'm surprised that that is really under consideration.

STARR: Under consideration, look, you know, is it a negotiating tactic, is it really going to happen, how will Congress and the courts react to all of this? But this is what's on the table. And they're looking at the potential of, you know, a 300-mile construction project, possibly using military troops, contractors or the Army Corps of Engineers.

A lot of questions still to be answered. It seems like they want to get their hands on the money, if you will, and then figure out all of these answer after that. COOPER: So if the president does declare a national emergency, how

soon could construction on a wall begin?

STARR: It would be about an 18-month project. But some officials are saying they actually could begin building that high steel slat wall that they're talking about within 45 days.

But there are still other complications. There are areas where potentially the federal government does not own the land. They would have to invoke eminent domain, take that property away from private property owners, potentially. That may take them right into court.

So, all of this very theoretical. You say 45 days? It could be stuck in the courts for some time.

COOPER: All right. Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

STARR: Sure.

COOPER: Back now to the president's trip. It's a visit, by the way, that according to a report in "The New York times," the president said he did not even want to make. That's what he reportedly told news anchors in a background briefing before his trip on Tuesday. He said he was talked into going by his advisers and dismissed it as pointless.

We'll go next to CNN's Jim Acosta in McAllen, Texas.

Jim, how much closer is the president tonight to declaring a national emergency, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said, Anderson, that he's still thinking about it. He told reporters earlier today that his advisers, lawyers at the White House, have told him that he could do this, he could declare a national emergency and that it would stand up in court. One thing that his advisers have been telling him is that the more he talks about this being a crisis and an emergency and so on, that would actually strengthen their case.

Anderson, the president may see declaring this national emergency down on the border as a way out of this fix he has gotten himself into. Essentially, he has painted himself into a corner on this wall fight. And basically, by reopening the government but declaring a national emergency, he knows Democrats will take him to court. It will be tied up, as Barbara said, for some time.

But at the same time, he could go back to his base and say, see? I reopened the government. I got things going again, but at the same time, I took things as far as I could go in terms of getting emergency funding for a wall on the southern border with Mexico.

But at this point, Anderson, it's not exactly clear the president will pull that trigger. He keeps talking as if he might do it, but we haven't gotten a firm sense as to whether he will actually go to that drastic measure.

COOPER: And talk about the president's visit to the border today. What happened?

ACOSTA: Well, it's interesting, Anderson. As much as I guess the president grumbled privately that he shouldn't make a trip down here and he thought it was waste of time, I guess there were some other officials we talked to who have heard the same thing and said the same thing. The president came down here, met with border patrol agents, met with other law enforcement officials, and at one point said that the nation is under attack down here on the border.

[20:10:00] Now, Anderson, I can tell you here in McAllen, Texas, this community has consistently been ranked one of the safest communities in the country. So the president picked sort of a curious spot to make that case.

And, Anderson, just so you know, there is not a wall all along McAllen, Texas. There are various spots where there is no wall at all. There is fencing. There is chain-link fencing.

I went to an RV park this evening where there are RVs right along the river where people can play shuffle board and drive around in their golf carts, and they're not being besieged by convoys and caravans of migrants coming in and causing all kinds of crime and mayhem.

And so, what you saw earlier today, Anderson, is the president hyping this case for a wall on the border, just as he has been spreading other misleading statements. For example, as you were saying earlier, and he said this time and again when he was down here in the border area talking with law enforcement officials, he said -- well, I never said that we would write a check to Mexico, when, of course, his campaign put out statements saying Mexico can end this once and for all, make a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion to the United States.

So, yes, the president did try to make this case down here, half hearted as it might have been. But also, many points throughout the day, Anderson, making a lot of misleading statements because he knows he's kind of running out of time in making this case to the American people that he should have this wall on the border -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Jim Acosta. Jim, thanks.

I want to dig deeper with "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers, former Trump campaign aide Steve Cortes, and CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, who has advised Democratic and Republican presidents dating back to the Nixon administration.

Steve, I mean, the president today saying, I never said Mexico would, you know, write a check for $5 billion or whatever. His website actually did say that. I mean, he repeatedly said Mexico will pay for it, and they specifically pointed out that it could be a one-time payment.

STEVE CORTES, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Right. Well, look, I think Mexico still will pay for it. I think that's very viable.

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: Why does the president lie about it today, saying he never said that when he does? He did?

CORTES: You would have to ask him. But I think the most sensible way to get them to pay for it is tax remittances. I think that's a very painless way.

COOPER: It doesn't concern you that the president just lies like water flowing down a river?

CORTES: No, hold on. I think you need to be careful when you say lies. First of all, when he said Mexico was going to write a check, I think that was hyperbole, clearly, an applause line at rallies.

COOPER: It was actually a line on a website that nobody was applauding for.

CORTES: Right. But that's not from him.

COOPER: There it is.

CORTES: Look, I don't think any serious -- I don't think any serious person believed that Mexico was going to hand us a gigantic check with "wall" in the memo. You don't pay for the wall up-front.

COOPER: You don't think thousands of people who heard him say and who themselves chanted "Mexico is going to pay for it" and read that website in which he says it will be a one-time payment, you think people just don't think that he is making it up?

CORTES: I think that -- I think that Americans whether they're border patrol agents, whether they're people all across America who care about our sovereignty, I think they want, first of all, border security. Secondly, it does make sense for Mexico to pay. I think it's fair and just that they pay. Whether they pay up front or over time, to me doesn't make very much difference.

COOPER: Kirsten? To you, does it seem that the president has just lied about this? And today lied about lying about it?

KIRSTEN POWERS, "USA TODAY" COLUMNIST: Yes, I just don't understand, Steve, you're basically saying we shouldn't expect that what he said would happen would happen. He said this over and over. I mean, you've seen the montage. You've seen the website.

So I guess if that doesn't bother you, I think it was pretty clear that he was saying Mexico would pay for it. And the reason he is saying that is because it's really, really expensive. And if he wasn't saying that, he would have to say I'm going to spend, you know, tens of billions of dollars of your money, Americans, building this wall.

And that's not what people wanted to hear, because it's not something that, A, we even need, it's a manufactured crisis. It's -- there is no crisis, no matter how many times they say it at the border. This has been debunked over and over. It's not going to stop any terrorists from coming in. It's not going

to stop the drugs that he claims are coming through there, because they're not coming through that way. They're coming through ports of entry. People fly into the country.

So, you know, I think it does matter that he said this, and he's gotten himself in a real bind because of it, because of making a promise that he can't keep.

COOPER: David --

CORTES: It is so insulting for you to say that it's a manufactured crisis. Because you know who doesn't believe it, by the way?

POWERS: Oh, god. Here we go.

CORTES: Who cares about my opinion, but the frontline cops who are guarding the front door of America, customs and border protection. They tell us it's a crisis. Their union wants a wall. Eighty-nine percent of their members in internal polling tell us they want a wall.

If they believe that there's a crisis there, I don't know how we can sit in TV studios and pontificate to them and tell them it's not a crisis.

POWERS: So, literally nobody else can have an opinion about it other than them? There can be no other facts how drugs come into the country or how terrorists come into the country?

[20:15:03] CORTES: I'm saying their opinion is incredibly important, and it shouldn't be --

POWERS: No, you're saying it's the only thing that matters. There actually are other facts.

CORTES: I didn't say it's the only thing. But I think it's incredibly important and perhaps the most important opinion of all, is what do the frontline cops who are protecting America, what do they say the situation is like?

COOPER: You don't use that argument for, when Donald Trump says I know more than my generals, I don't hear you saying, we got to listen to the frontline troops, the privates, the sergeants, the master sergeants and the generals when Donald Trump says, you know, attacks his generals. You know, I -- by your argument, the military folks on the ground are the main people we should listen to, Donald Trump certainly doesn't believe that in the case of the military.

CORTES: Tell me what situation you're talking about. I don't know what you mean.

COOPER: Making fun of McMaster, making fun of Mattis, not listening, not taking their advice. I mean, that's not listening to the people on the frontlines, him attacking the guy who's running the war in Afghanistan. CORTES: Look, he is the commander in chief. Ultimately, the

decision, whether it's the border, whether it's Syria or Afghanistan, the decision rests with him.

COOPER: But he is saying he knows more than those people. Why does he know more than generals, but he doesn't know more or nobody knows more than these unnamed border patrol officers who work very hard who we're talking about?

CORTES: Right. They're not a name, first of all. Brandon Judd has been all over television telling us.

COOPER: A union official.

CORTES: What I'm saying -- right. And his membership, by the way.

But what I'm saying is this. Customs and Border Protection, which is the most Hispanic agency in the federal government, which has been unfairly demonized constantly by the left, that group has told us this is the resource we need to secure the border. On top of that, it just makes common sense, I think, for anybody who looks --

COOPER: I don't think they said this is the resource. In fact, they're understaffed right now. And so, I'm sure there are plenty of border officers --

CORTES: Of course.

COOPER: It's not the resource.

David Gergen, we haven't heard from you. If the president does declare a national emergency and order a border wall built, which is where this seems to be headed, to get the government reopened, is that the best option at this point? Because then it ends up in the courts. How do you see that?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, from Trump's point of view, I guess it's the best of a bad set of options. He's got himself in a corner. He is desperately looking for a way out. He's turning to this ridiculous idea of taking money away from Puerto Rico and California and other places and putting it on what is not a serious crisis.

Look, the most important -- there are all sorts of people around this country, special interests who have got their hands out all the time for money from Washington. The most important people in this case are the members of Congress. They are the ones who decide how money should be spent, what sort of priorities we should set in terms of spending.

And the president had a Republican Congress, Republican Senate and a House for two years, and we never dealt with this as an emergency. There was no effort to get them to come up with the money, and now that he can't get a consensus, he ought to do what most presidents do. He ought to go back to the drawing board, try to form a new consensus, find a compromise and not go down this crazy road we're going on right now.

This is a -- he's treating the money that Congress puts forward on specific things, he's treating it like a piggy bank that he, the president, can come and over the top of the heads of whatever Congress has said and spend it. That is not what the Constitution says. This is an end-run around the constitution. It's an end-run around the Congress. And we ought to be very clear about that.

COOPER: Kirsten, it is kind of incredible, if, in fact, they do take money for reconstruction in Puerto Rico or elsewhere. You know, we didn't hear from the White House, there's a crisis in Puerto Rico, for the months and the months and the months that people were dying in the wake of the storm.

I'm not talking about in the immediate storm itself. In the months after the storm, the thousands of people who we now know died because they didn't get a ventilator or they couldn't get their medication for diabetes or for asthma or whatever it was, the thousands of people that died, you didn't hear them every single night from the White House, a drumbeat, saying, this is a crisis, this is a crisis. Thousands of people have died, and they weren't saying on the news every night this is a national crisis.


COOPER: Now, they're going to take money from those people, from the people in Puerto Rico for this? How is that going to play?

POWERS: It's outrageous to take money from, really, frankly anything to pay for this wall. Again, because the campaign promise he made was that Mexico was going to pay for the wall. So, we have to always remember that, this was never supposed to be coming out of -- being paid for my the taxpayers and certainly not being taken from very important things like disaster relief.

[20:20:03] And so, I think that, you know, and the fact that we have people that are right now going without pay, having to work for free and with no end in sight, and the president keeps claiming that he's negotiating, but all he is really doing is saying give me what I want. Give me what I want. That's my negotiation.

COOPER: Well, we got to leave there it. Kirsten Powers, Steve Cortes, David Gergen, thank you all.

We've got breaking news. New reporting on the voices counseling against declaring a national emergency over this. Also, the potential safety impact of just about every important federal worker from the baggage screeners to the air traffic controllers working without pay. We'll talk to a man who speaks for thousands of airline pilots.

And later, Michael Cohen's new starring role. What he might say in his upcoming testimony before a House committee. We learned that today. He is going to testify publicly in front of the House February 7th. What his old client, the president, has to say about the news that he will, tonight.


[20:25:09] COOPER: More breaking news on the border showdown. It comes on top of CNN's reporting that the Trump administration is weighing the possibility of tapping into disaster relief money to build the border wall if the president declares a national emergency. Just moments ago, "The Wall Street journal" posted a new story on White House aides telling the president not to.

Michael Binder is one of the names in the byline. He joins us by phone.

So, Michael what's your reporting on this?

MICHAEL BINDER, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (via telephone): Hey there, Anderson. Ah, yeah end as much as the president is talking about his intention to declare emergency, there's some real questions about this inside the White House. Kellyanne Conway has been public for a couple days now saying it lets Congress off the hook.

We're reporting now that Jared Kushner has urged caution inside the White House. What he's saying in Oval Office meetings is, listen, this cannot be a PR stunt. If we're trying to do this to win the day on Democrats, it's the wrong move.

What his message has been is, if we do this, we have to be ready to build the wall. It has to be a means to an end and has to be the wall, not the shutdown.

COOPER: So Kushner is saying don't declare a national emergency?

BINDER: Well, he's saying if we -- if the White House, the administration is ready to move dirt and ready to act on a border wall, then he suggests -- he would be -- fall in line with this. But remember, this is a Trump White House where messaging often runs the day.

I mean, you look at the senior staff in the White House right now, I could come up with close to half a dozen people who are just messaging communications press folks. That's because this president puts a lot of emphasis on winning the PR message. What Kushner is saying here is, let's slow down. Even though we're three weeks -- approaching the three-week mark on the shutdown, a national emergency should only be used if we're actually willing to start moving dirt and putting up the barrier.

COOPER: What about the Acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney? Do we know where he is on this?

BINDER: Yes, Mulvaney, from my reporting, has been, I would say, among the most consistent and most persistent, if not loudest voices in favor of this. And that goes back -- this predates his new title of acting chief of staff, goes back to when he was OMB chief, Office of Management and Budget. And from what -- what we're reporting, too, is that -- is that it's helped.

About two months ago, then Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told Trump, you can declare a national emergency and the Pentagon will help build the wall. And from what I'm told, this is -- that was at Mulvaney's urging and Mulvaney's research that led to that. So, he's been among the most consistent voices in the White House urging Trump to -- encouraging Trump to do this.

COOPER: Interesting. Michael Bender, thank you. The reporting is from "The Wall Street Journal" right now.

Last night, our Randi Kaye reported on Wendy and Mark Schneider (ph), both air traffic controllers. She has been furloughed. He is working without pay.

Today, they got a preview of their pay tomorrow. Her pay stub came to zero dollars and zero cents. Mark's showed $3.73. He told Randi Kaye he had no idea why that exact amount. He said he couldn't even find that out because people in payroll who could tell him have been furloughed.

Meantime, air traffic controllers marched in Washington today. They were joined by TSA workers and airline pilots.

Captain Joe DePete is president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. He recently wrote to the president urging to end the shutdown that he says is affecting the safety of the U.S. airspace.

Captain DePete, the president said that this could go on for months or years, and in Congress there is certainly no signs of a compromise. At this point, do you feel discouraged? I know you were at the rally earlier today.


COOPER: And you said things are getting very serious.

DEPETE: Yes. Well, you know, serious, Anderson, because, you know, the primary mission of the airline pilots association, our number one focus is on safety. And, you know, it concerns me as this becomes prolonged that the implication may be that it begin to affect the safety, security, and the overall efficiency of the airspace system.

We have the safest airspace system, the envy of the world really right now. And it has a lot -- that ecosystem has a lot of moving parts to it. And it concerns me because, I mean, when you look at the number of people who now will go without a paycheck tomorrow, you know, it becomes quite serious.

COOPER: Yes. In your letter to the president, you wrote that the government shutdown is, quote, adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system.

DEPETE: Right.

COOPER: I mean, do you really believe right now travelers are less safe? CAPT. JOE DEPETE, PRESIDENT, AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL: No, not right now because -- let me put it to you this way. You know, just take the shutdown aside for a moment. Pilots constantly make decisions on whether or not, you know, take an aircraft into the sky or going, you know, into a mission or looking at anything, is a -- whether it's safe or not. We're basically risk experts when it comes to stuff like that. And the same thing for the air traffic controllers. But, it is difficult to judge if something like this is prolonged as to what effect it might have on the system.

COOPER: Can you breakdown for us what happens in a government shutdown for, you know, for employees that you represent, for air traffic controllers, for TSA people?


COOPER: Because, I mean, obviously we've been reporting on TSA personnel, you know, calling in sick, looking -- needing to in some cases look for other jobs. And air traffic control is certainly a huge example.

DEPETE: Oh, it is. And, you know, and I think that is really the sad part, because really what's at stake here from a labor, you know, and I am a labor leader obviously as well is, you know, the impact it has on the livelihood of these individuals and the stressors that they're under right now.

So it doesn't surprise me that after coming to work with, you know, not being paid and the long hours that they're facing right now, you know, that's the impact. So there's impact -- you know, it has a bad impact on them and their lives, it has a bad impact on the safety and security, like I mentioned, and also on the future of their profession because it probably will affect people's willingness to want to step into a profession like that and possibly, you know, experience the same thing.

COOPER: It's also hard to calculate the impact, you know, just the anxiety, the concern about, you know, making payments on your house.

DEPETE: Right.

COOPER: About sending your kids to day care. All of the, you know, the day to day financial decisions somebody has to make when all of that is up in the air, you know, we're all distracted.

DEPETE: You're absolutely right. And, you know, here at the Air Line Pilots Association, you know, we have programs to help our members do it. And the impact on the aviation economy is going to be great. And what worries me is the impact on safety.

And you know, Anderson, pilots do their jobs every day, and so do the controllers. And what we're asking, and the reason I sent that letter to the President of the United States and also to Congress, is to make them or ask them to do their jobs.

It's just a shame because we, again, we are the envy of the world in terms of the efficiency and safety of our aviation system. We have moved 2/3 of the world's population when you think about it.

And, you know, America, listen very closely here because this is really important, safely to their destination without any fatalities since 2009. And when you consider that we're putting people in metal tubes in the lower stratosphere, that's an enviable record.


DEPETE: And we do that through a very aggressive -- we used to take a forensic approach towards, you know, trying to figure out what went wrong on a flight or anything like that. Now, it's a risk predictive model. And so now, it's even more important to have everybody at their station with the resources they need to do that mission.

COOPER: Captain DePete, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

DEPETE: Thank you.

COOPER: I want to note, we reached out to the FAA about the concerns raised over air safety, and they said in part, "The traveling public can be assured that our nation's airspace system is safe. Air traffic controllers and the technicians who maintain the nation's airspace system continue to work without pay to fill a critical mission to ensure the public's safety." They add, "We sincerely thank FAA employees who are working to keep the traveling public and our skies safe."

A very busy night, when we come back, the breaking news about Michael Cohen testifying before the President. His one time fixer goes to prison to serve his three-year sentence, he's going to go to Capitol Hill. He's agreed to testify before the House Oversight Committee next month. The latest on that.


[20:36:46] COOPER: Well, Democrats have only been in charge of the House for a week, but things are already different. Four weeks from today, the President's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, will testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee.

Two sources tell CNN that Cohen consulted with the special counsel's office before agreeing to testify. Our Senior White House Correspondent Pamela Brown joins us now with the latest on this. Pam, what more do we know about this testimony?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the first time, Anderson, Michael Cohen, the President's former attorney and long-time fixer, will be testifying publicly in front of the House Oversight Committee, and Michael Cohen is a key figure.

He is the first person close to Trump, connected to the Russia probe that the House Oversight Committee has called before them, and he can offer a wealth of information. Of course, as you know, he pleaded guilty to the hush money payment story, the presidential campaign paying off two women to silence them. He said that he did that at the direction of Donald Trump, and he was with Donald Trump for more than a decade, involved with the Trump organization, finances, Trump Tower Moscow. So, it is expected that Congress members will be asking Michael Cohen about all of these topics.

And Michael Cohen has been sort of taunting President Trump today about that he's been tweeting a retweets about what he could discuss with Congress about Russia, about the hush money payments.

And let's not forget, he has been the target of attacks by President Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the President's attorney, over the last several months since he's been cooperating with Robert Mueller and SDNY prosecutors. They say he is a liar. They say he is weak.

So, Michael Cohen wants to use it as an opportunity to publicly testify in an effort to clear his name before he heads off to prison the following month in March, Anderson.

COOPER: Are there limitations about -- I mean, can he talk about anything related that he's told Mueller? Can he talk about stuff that he's told the Southern District of New York? Or can he go into, you know, Trump organization stuff?

BROWN: That's the big question, because that is still under investigation. And we don't know when the Mueller probe is going to wrap up, but there is a very good chance it could still be ongoing when he testifies in early February.

But the expectation is that at the very least, he will be speaking to lawmakers about the Russia probe behind closed doors. That is something that Michael Cohen's lawyer has communicated to Congress members about sort of the parameters of any testimony, because a lot of what he knows, the knowledge he has on the Russia probe is still very much under investigation.

And as you said there in your lead-in to me, he did consult with Mueller's team before agreeing to testify to the Congress members.

COOPER: Yes. Pamela Brown, Pamela, thanks.

With me now, CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and former Federal Prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, my gosh, you think people are going to watch this?

COOPER: Are you saying the testimony? I think, yes.

TOOBIN: Yes. That's what I meant.

COOPER: I clear my calendar for that whole week.

TOOBIN: It's February 7th, boy. No, I mean, this is going to be amazing.

COOPER: I haven't seen you this excited.

TOOBIN: Come on.

COOPER: I don't know when.

TOOBIN: Since -- I don't know when but, you know, this is going to be showtime.

COOPER: But are there things he won't be able to talk about?

TOOBIN: Probably the Russia stuff is going to be in closed session with the intelligence committee.

[20:40:01] I assume the transcript will be released at some point after that, but I don't think he'll be able to talk about that in public. Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you.

COOPER: No, no, I was -- I'm interested how excited you are. Jennifer, things like Trump organization, financial history, you know, taxes, is that all open?

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It might be. I mean, here's the one questionable part. You know, he may have some exposure there himself. We know that he didn't become a full-fledged cooperator with the Southern District, and the reason is reportedly because he wasn't willing to give up all his own criminal conduct and others that's close to him.

COOPER: Because he might have been --

RODGERS: He might have more exposure. So if that conduct relates to the Trump organization, then I think he might not be willing to talk about that. And the other thing is that might still be under investigation by the Southern District of New York.

They may have investigations into the Trump organization. They may have asked him and his lawyers that he not disclose that stuff publicly. But if those two things are not the case, then yes, I think we may hear a lot about the Trump organization.

TOOBIN: You know, I think the big story here is going to be something that goes on behind the scenes is that when you prepare a witness for a trial or for testimony, it's extremely time consuming. 10 hours of preparation sometimes for every hour in the courtroom or the hearing room.

Will he sit with investigators and staff of the Oversight Committee before he testifies in public so they can organize their questioning in a way that is productive and revealing? I don't know the answer to that. It is whether he will agree to do that, but if he doesn't, I think he could actually be somewhat disappointing.

But if he does, you know, all the great testimony in history in Congress, you know, Oliver North, to a certain extent, but certainly John Dean and all the Watergate witnesses, Alexander Butterfield, the person who revealed that White House tapes existed under -- in Watergate, all of that had been prepared by staff. And I think that's going to be very important if these are prepared.

COOPER: And Michael Cohen can decide that for himself whether or not he wants to do that?

TOOBIN: Probably. I think that's right, although, you know, it will be a negotiation to a certain extent. I mean, I think Jennifer is raising a lot of these issues. They may want to put certain subjects off limits. If they do, then he'll agree to a preparation. There'll be a negotiation.

COOPER: Jennifer, because I mean Michael Cohen has said that he sees himself as a John Dean type figure.

RODGERS: Yes. I mean, I think he's looking to be cooperative, certainly that's what he's saying. And so if he means that, then I think he will sit down with them. And he's going to prison, he may want to cut that time short. You know, he's still looking to cooperate in a lot of ways. So, hopefully as Jeff says he will.

COOPER: I mean, if he really wanted to cooperate, there were -- I mean to your point, there were things -- he wasn't a full cooperating witness.

TOOBIN: He had a very bizarre situation when he pleaded guilty. Most people plead guilty, and they either have an agreement or they don't. He pleaded guilty. He agreed to cooperate, but he didn't have an agreement. It's an unusual situation. But it's quite clear that he is trying to appear cooperative now. And my certainly sense from talking to people involved in this case is that he wants to sort of come clean about everything now. And I expect he will try.

Now, let's keep in mind the Republicans are going to go after him like crazy. First of all, he is a convicted felon for lying among other things. As Rudy Giuliani points out all the time, this is a lawyer who taped his client, which is a bizarre thing to do. So, I mean, Democrats are going to treat him like he's St. Francis of Assisi. That the, you know, Republicans are going to go after this guy as, you know, the criminal that he is.

COOPER: Right. Although -- I mean, for -- you talk about Donald Trump as a street fighter, Michael Cohen patterns himself, you know, in the same way, whether or not he is the tough guy that he claims.

RODGERS: Oh, yes. I mean, we've heard him on tape talking to reporters and such when he was acting as the fixer, right? I mean, he knows how to fight back, you know. And he's got the goods, I think. I mean, depending of what he is willing to talk about, what he's able to talk about, he's going to have a lot of detail. He's going to have a lot of information. A lot of it is going to be very incriminating against the President.

So, you know, they can go after him all they want, but if he just keeps coming back with the facts and maybe recording, whether they were appropriately made or not, that's going to be very damaging.

TOOBIN: And there are no rules of evidence, so no hearsay problems. What did the President say to you? What did he say? What did the President say? What did Donald Trump say? You're going to hear that over and over again, and he can answer those questions all he wants.

COOPER: Fascinating. Jeff Toobin, Jennifer Rodgers, I think it's already on your calendars.

TOOBIN: Yes, I got it.

COOPER: President Trump set a choice for the next attorney general. William Barr has just weighed in on whether or not he thinks the final Mueller report when it's done should be made public or not. We'll tell you about that ahead.


[20:48:15] COOPER: President Trump today declined to say if he would commit to a full public release of any Mueller investigation that something -- the Mueller investigation report, telling reporters, "We'll have to see. There's been no collusion, whatsoever." His nominee to be the next attorney general, William Barr, of course, would have authority over that investigation, including whether to make the conclusions public.

Barr met with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon, including Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar. She says he told her he would support releasing some information, but wouldn't guarantee a total release of the report. I spoke with the senator just before air time.


COOPER: Senator, when President Trump says we'll see about any final report from Robert Mueller becoming public, how does that square with what William Barr told you today?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: That does not square well to me. It makes me very concerned. I am glad I finally got my meeting with Mr. Barr. He was originally not meeting with most of the Democrats on the committee, and so I had to send out a public tweet and invite him to coffee, but it did work. And we had a lengthy meeting.

And of course, one of my major focuses was this report because when you have the White House talking about perhaps not releasing it, I think we have a major problem on our hands, because the public needs to know.

Now, Barr did pledge that he thought the public should get information that was public, but he seemed to equivocate and kind of hedge his bets about saying, "Well, I'd want to look at the rules." And to me the concern there is he's talking about his rather expansive view of executive power.

And if he interprets it in a way that somehow limits that report, then the public is never going to see that report. And so that's why -- that's something that I'm really going to be pushing on at the hearing. COOPER: And I mean there's obviously a big difference between some information being made public and the entire report released in, you know, unredacted form.

[20:50:04] Did you get a sense of if he is confirmed that he would defer to President Trump's wishes on that? Because, I mean, that certainly seems like why he's being given this job.

KLOBUCHAR: Exactly, because of the tryout with the 19-page memo where he wrote this memo as a private citizen, is what the White House has said, where he opined on obstruction of justice and how really -- voice to really broad view of executive power, similar to what we saw from Justice Kavanaugh.

And so my concern is that the White House is hand picking people that have these views and now we're zeroing in on the moment, where after this lengthy investigation, where we've had dozens of indictments and clear connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, the public has to know this.

COOPER: And so just to be clear, he did not commit in anyway today to making sure that the whole report would be public?

KLOBUCHAR: He committed to making, as his words, as much as he could make public, those kinds of things. But here's the problem when you're the attorney general, you can perhaps limit, issue an opinion, limit what comes out. And that's what really bothers me about this, that there may be some gray area in between where he'll make determination that we can't see the whole report.

COOPER: In true to Michael Cohen's upcoming testimony before the House Oversight Committee, obviously you want to have a chance to question Cohen yourself. But, what do you hope your House colleagues do ask him because, I mean, that is potentially fascinating testimony?

KLOBUCHAR: I guess so. I think that we want to know what he knows, you know. There is about stories we know that he taped certain things. I think we want to know or what his involvement with -- was with campaign, what he as much as he can possibly tell the committee that doesn't interfere with the investigation, I do find it interesting because you would think that somehow as he is facing this prison sentence that the prosecutors involved in the Mueller investigation must have allowed this to continue, but I would think there are -- there may be some things that he can't reveal.


KLOBUCHAR: But I think we're about to find out.

COOPER: Just ask for the shutdown, I mean, there are increasing signs the White House is laying the groundwork to declare the national emergency to build a wall with military funds. At this point if it gets the government reopened, would you perhaps grudgingly be OK with that?

KLOBUCHAR: I don't think anyone can be OK with the President circumventing the law. Basically Congress, the House and the Senate have at various times, the Senate in December, the House now has said, look, we need to reopen the government. We need to do it without a shutdown or we need to get this going without this wall.

We want to give you money for security in the mix of things, like fixing some of the fencing that's there, using the best technology. There was already $1.3 billion in one of the bills, $1.6 billion in the other and they haven't spent what they had last year.

So I think it's a pretty clear direction from Congress. And now for him to circumvent it, to me is just wrong. And I know there's going to be major legal challenges to that as well as perhaps legislative challenges.

COOPER: Senator Klobuchar, appreciate your time. Thank you.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Great to be on, Anderson.


COOPER: Let's quickly check in with Chris and see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Boy, oh, boy, if as reported, Anderson, the special counsel is looking at misleading or contradictory public statements, including those made to the press as evidence of obstruction of justice the President has problems.


CUOMO: I have two guys tonight who made these kinds of cases for the government to talk about how realistic that is and how it would work. And also putting into context what these Manafort revelations mean. Mueller talked to one of the pollsters, what does that mean for the overall probe?

And then the big question right now about the national emergency is not the legalities. I know we're caught up and it's kind of relevant. Would it be legal? Would it not be for the President to declare it? That's not the big question. The big question is, where would the money come from? I have some answers on that that are going to be very troubling for people.

COOPER: All right. Chris, we'll see you in about six minutes from now. We look forward to that.

Coming up, for an update to a story we brought to you earlier in the week about a little boy waiting for potentially life saving experimental product. We'll be right back.


[20:58:32] COOPER: We're going to update you on an interview we did Tuesday night with a mom named Sara who's son, Max, is suffering from a rare degenerative disease called PKAN. She told us that she'd been informed by a doctor that because of the government shutdown and its impact on the FDA, an experimental trial for a product that might help Max and other kids with PKAN was being delayed.

Well, the head of the FDA was watching and within minutes contacted us to get in touch with Sara and find out exactly what was going on. The FDA told us the shutdown in this stage isn't impacting trials like this, though it has been impacting food safety inspections.

And to their credit, the FDA immediately reached out to Sara and has been in touch with her a number of times trying to offer any assistance and advice they can. We don't exactly know yet why Sara was told the timing of this trial was being affected by the shutdown. The person who indicated that to her declined to show us any correspondence or anything indicating where they got that information.

So the good news is the FDA has been incredibly responsive in following up with the mom who's trying to save her child. The bad news is it's not something they, themselves can fix, though they'll tell us -- though they tell us they will continue to try to get her answers and help her explore any possible treatment options and wish her the best.

A reminder now, don't miss "Full Circle," our daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You get to vote on the stories we cover, get all the details. Watch it weeknight at 6:25 p.m. Eastern at

The news continues right now. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CUOMO: Thank you, Anderson.