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Acting Attorney General Reveals He's Been "Fully Briefed" on Mueller Investigation and It's "Close to Being Completed"; Interview with House Majority Whip James Clyburn. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired January 28, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:19] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin tonight with a major development in the Russia investigation. Now it came out of the blue and it's merely the most significant in a whole string of related developments all breaking late today. There's new word on when and where Michael Cohen will be testifying next as well as a new legal team he's got. Also, Roger Stone who once said he would never testify against the president now says he might, and we'll talk about that.

As for the president himself, he's not ruling out a pardon of Roger Stone which is big news by itself but it was all overshadowed late today when the Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker became the first official with direct knowledge to say publicly that the Mueller probe is, and I'm quoting, close to being completed.

He said that, and they said something else in addition to it that's raising concerns among Democrats including one senator, Chris Coons of Delaware, who calls it quote chilling.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us now with the latest.

So, what exactly did the attorney general say or the acting attorney general say?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Anderson, certainly stunning to hear him say those words, to come out and say that this investigation is winding down. It's near an end. And it was. It was the first time in the more than 1/2 years that this investigation has been ongoing that someone from the Justice Department commented publicly about the status of this investigation.

The other thing certainly that he commented about was how he had been fully briefed on this investigation, he then described how when he was a private citizen, he didn't have as much knowledge on this investigation, but now that he's been fully briefed, obviously, he has a lot more knowledge of this investigation and the most significant part obviously coming at the end of his comments, and here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, I have been fully briefed on the investigation. And you know, I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report. I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed, you know, either through the various means we have, but right now, you know, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible.


COOPER: How significant is it that Whittaker would comment publicly about this? Because, he was sort of rambling there.

PROKUPECZ: There was some rambling there, but certainly the fact that he stood there. This was not expected. He was talking about something else. He was at a press conference that had nothing to do with Russia. It was a completely different investigation and it caught all of us by surprise that he would even comment in any aspect on this investigation.

Normally, when you have people who stand there, they'll tell you no comment, no comment, but what is so significant when you start saying that an investigation is starting to wrap up, it's coming to an end, it can signal that there won't be anymore significant law enforcement action, so it could be that in this investigation, we see no more arrests, we see no more indictments, we see nothing new happening here because if what he's saying is true, that means that pretty much all of the significant law enforcement action has been wrapped up, and that the big players, so to speak, have all now been charged, arrested, have been spoken to.

So, it is certainly significant and it's also significant because the Department of Justice just never comments on the status of any investigation.

COOPER: Yes, Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

More now on how all this is being received at the White House. Jim Acosta is there for us tonight.

Has the White House responded to what Whitaker said?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House has not responded and this comment from the acting attorney general came after a lengthy briefing, a rare briefing in the White House briefing room conducted by Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, earlier today. It certainly caught us by surprise as much as it caught Shimon and his team by surprise.

But, Anderson, one thing that we should point out and you were just noting, that the acting attorney general was sort of rambling a little bit in that answer. It seemed to me he didn't sound exactly sure of himself, perhaps he is exactly sure of what's going on, but he would not be the first person close to this White House to predict that the Mueller investigation would be over soon. The former White House attorney Ty Cobb who was advising the president on the Mueller investigation had that prediction back in 2017 that the probe would be over by the end of 2017 and, of course, here we are.

COOPER: I mean, the White House, Sarah Sanders was asked directly about Roger Stone's chance at a pardon. Explain what she said.

ACOSTA: That's right, and there was tap dancing around this question. Take a listen to this as some of my colleagues in the briefing room pressed Sarah Sanders on whether or not Roger Stone could actually receive a presidential pardon from President Trump. It sure sounded as though over the last few days Roger Stone is campaigning for one and here's how Sarah Sanders answered that question earlier today.


REPORTER: He said I'm not aware of that when asked if the president has ruled out a pardon for Roger Stone. So, does that mean he hasn't ruled out a pardon?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, I'm not aware of any conversation regarding that or need for it.

REPORTER: Sarah, just to follow up, can you guarantee that the president won't pardon Roger Stone?

SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals that are just ridiculous of things that I haven't talked about.


ACOSTA: And, Anderson, so you saw there, Sarah Sanders was trying to turn to me for a question there in the briefing room but she never really ruled it out. And I think that basically indicates that this is a live option for the president. When I was able to ask Sarah Sanders a question, I asked her whether or not these -- you know, these aides, these associates of the president who are pleading guilty, who are being indicted in this Russia investigation with this growing list of people in that category, are they concerned that the Trump presidency is somehow threatened by the Mueller investigation and Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said nothing could be further from the truth. She sort of pushed back on that notion.

But she didn't really at this briefing today, Anderson, deny whether or not someone close to the president had working knowledge as to what Roger Stone was up to in that summer of 2016 when he was talking to WikiLeaks and in discussions with intermediaries, potentially with WikiLeaks and it was all up in the air by the end of the briefing.

COOPER: Yes. Jim Acosta, Jim, thanks very much.

Because this all could be a legal and political deal, I want to turn to legal and political big deal, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

So, the acting attorney general makes these comments, surprising Shimon Prokupecz and a lot of other people. What do you make of the fact that he chose to comment about it, ending in sort of rambling way? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, when he was

appointed, a lot of people including me said he was clueless and unqualified, and I think he vindicated the prediction today. It was -- I didn't know what the heck he was talking about. I mean, first of all, the idea of saying that an investigation is almost over is something as Shimon said, the Justice Department just never does.

Now, it is interesting news, since he is not some outside observer. He is not even like Ty Cobb was who was walled off. He is actually the supervisor of that investigation so that's real news.

Now, I don't know what almost over means. Does it mean one month, does it mean six months, that's not -- months, that's not clear but the thing that was chilling and bizarre was he says the decisions are going to be reviewed. That's not his job. I mean, his job is to supervise the distribution of the report but reviewing decisions, I don't know if that was just a brain freeze on his part, and he was just sort of saying words.

COOPER: Right. And that's certainly what some Democrats at the very least found chilling, concerning.

TOOBIN: It is chilling. Now, in his defense, he may not know what he's talking about. But I don't think the -- that's, I think, the best you can say.

COOPER: That's always a great defense.

TOOBIN: It is -- ignorance of the law is sometimes an excuse.

COOPER: Gloria, what's the sense in Washington tonight about what Whitaker said? Because, again, I know some Democratic senator are expressing real concern. Does anyone know what's going to happen to that report?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, and nobody really knows what he meant. I mean, he got out over his skis, but no one knows what he was trying to say. When you listen to him, you have to think, look, is he trying to pressure Mueller to end this quickly? Was he sending a message to the president, don't worry, all of these decisions that Mueller made are going to be, you know, reviewed? Who knows?

COOPER: Let's play what he said again just because it is sort of odd.

BORGER: It is.

COOPER: And to me, it wasn't necessarily that he was trying to send a message. It was just that maybe he wanted to just show that he is an acting attorney general and knew something. So, I don't know, let's take a look.


WHITAKER: You know, I have been fully briefed on the investigation, and, you know, I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report. I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed, you know, either through the various means we have, but right now, you know, the investigation is I think close to being completed and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible.


TOOBIN: Anderson, I am fluent in English. I have been speaking English since I, you know, practically learned to talk. I have no idea what those words mean. I just, you know, Gloria you're spar smarter than I am. Help yourself.

BORGER: I'm also sort of good add English. Did he mean the decisions need to be reviewed? I'm confident they're going to be reviewed. Well, what does that mean? Does it mean he disagreed with some of the decisions that were made?

COOPER: I have words in my head, and I can stream them together, and I'm going to do that now.


COOPER: And this is what I'm doing now.

BORGER: You know, the first rule of holes, stop digging and that's exactly what he was doing.

[20:10:01] I mean, if I'm sitting in Bob Mueller's office, and I'm one of the attorneys who have kept my mouth shut for, lo, this many months, and I was listening to Whitaker, I would be pretty upset, and pretty angry and feel pretty pressured at this point to wrap up an investigation that you're not ready to wrap up.

And by the way, what is Whitaker have to do with anything. It's going to be the new attorney general, Bill Barr.

TOOBIN: Which is good news, frankly, because whatever else you can say about Bill Barr, this is a competent, qualified person who understands the criminal justice process, who has been in situations like this before, who demonstrates real understanding of both the political and legal environment, who knows if we're going to agree or disagree with the decisions he makes, but clearly, he's someone who understands the stakes and the issues here. You certainly can't say that about Whitaker.

COOPER: Gloria, there is this bipartisan bill being proposed in the Senate which is cosponsored by Richard Blumenthal, who's obviously a Democrat, and Charles Grassley is a Republican which would essentially mandate that Mueller's report be given to Congress and made public which would be, you know, remarkable. It's pretty significant that Grassley, who's a staunch Republican, the current Senate pro tem and former judiciary chairman, would put his name on that. Isn't it?

BORGER: Well, you know, Grassley I think has made the point in the past, you spent $25 million on this, you being the American public and you have a right to know what's in the report since you paid for it. So, he's kind of old fashioned that way. I don't know whether this

thing is ever going to go anywhere. But it's clear that members of Congress who are responsive to their constituents are interested in letting their constituents know what Mueller thinks and what Mueller thought.

And again, we don't know what kind of report Mueller is going to deliver, whether it will be full of things where you can claim executive privilege or not, but I think, you know, in the end, Barr has made it pretty clear that he thinks the American public has a right to know too.

COOPER: And, Roger Stone, I mean, the fact that the White House wouldn't rule out pardoning Stone, not a surprise?

TOOBIN: Not a surprise. And if you look at how Roger Stone is behaving, I think this is a pardon play. He has not said a bad word about the president. I think if you look at the people who are in this investigation and, you know, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, I think all of them are angling for pardons, I think Manafort would like a pardon.

But I think given the fact that he made so much money, he's in a somewhat separate category, but the others who are just, and I use that word advisely, just accused of false statements, I think they all think that the president is going to cut them loose at some point.

COOPER: Gloria, what are you hearing?

BORGER: Look, the worst thing that could possibly happen to Roger Stone is if the judge imposed some kind of gag order on him because he wants to talk about this case. He wants to talk about how he has been maligned and how he will defend the president until the very end, and it's very clear that he does want a pardon, although he says he'll clear himself.

But Roger Stone has never met bad publicity. He says that himself. He's raising money off of his trial.

Today, I popped in my inbox, you know, a fundraising gimmick for Roger Stone to help him pay for the trial, and the judge better not put a gag order on him or that's all going to have to stop.

COOPER: He gave you a rock, Jeff, with his name.

TOOBIN: I'm sorry, we didn't plan this out. Tomorrow I'll bring it. One of the ways he's raising money is he has these polished rock --

COOPER: Stones.

TOOBIN: Which he autographs Roger, so they are Roger Stones.

BORGER: Can I get one? I want one.

TOOBIN: I have to sell a lot of these. No, I only have one.

COOPER: Is he early morning walking the beach in Fort Lauderdale, and picking up stones?

TOOBIN: He actually bought boxes of prepared rocks. But I was in his house a couple of weeks ago. So, it was quite striking for me to see the FBI agents. So, they came in with a little more fanfare than I did.

COOPER: Do you think each of the FBI agents got a signed stone?

TOOBIN: There are probably still some left.

BORGER: Jeffrey, get me one next time.

TOOBIN: OK, I will.

BORGER: Thank you.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, Gloria Borger, thanks very much.

Coming up next, how much the government shutdown may have caused the economy and how willing the president may be to do it all over again. We're keeping him honest.

And later, California Senator Kamala Harris, the newest Democratic presidential candidate, we'll talk about with former Republican presidential candidate and the man who helped make Barack Obama president, John Kasich, and David Axelrod, on Kamala Harris's expectations and perhaps echoes of Obama.


[20:18:44] COOPER: Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are back on the job. Many won't be getting paid until Thursday, or even Friday, which is five weeks without money coming in and possibly just about two weeks from the next shut down to get more financial pain.

So, what's the administration's advice? Well, don't ask them because they seem to believe the buck stops pretty much everywhere.


SANDERS: My advice would be to call your Democrat members of Congress and ask them to fix the problem so that we don't have to continue having this process and so that we actually secure the boarder and protect American citizens.


COOPER: Actually, not everywhere. It sounds like where them the buck stops elsewhere.

Keeping them honest, whether or not you agree on the need for the kind of border wall the president says he wants, it's not even clear what he wants, the shut down shows it comes at a cost above and beyond the billions of dollars the president now wants Congress, not Mexico to pay. There's also the billions of dollars in lost or deferred wages and salaries and the ripple effects from that. Today, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put that price tag

at $11 billion in lost economic output, 3 billion of which will never be recovered and their estimate may be on the low side because the CBO did not take a variety of incorrect factors into account that could also slow the economy.

[20:20:02] Now, just to underscore, the Congressional Budget Office is nonpartisan and the report is broadly in line with other private sector studies but here's what the president's top economist said at a joint appearance with treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin.


LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISOR: Look, the hardships for individuals was always the key problem here, in my judgment. And as Steve Mnuchin said and others, I'm glad we're back to work. I'm glad all the federal employees, I'm glad all the people furloughed, TSA, go right down the line, I think those individual hardships were the biggest issue. And I think everybody's glad we can reopen and put folks back to work.


COOPER: So there's that. On the other hand, he also continued doing what the administration has been doing for weeks now, down playing the impact.


KUDLOW: We frequently disagree with CBO. With all respect, they're doing the best job they can. I get that. No, I won't acknowledge any of that right now, and you know, in a $20 trillion economy, it's awfully hard to make even the best guesstimates of those kinds of small fractions of numbers. That's what you're looking at here.


COOPER: Small fractions of numbers.

Keeping them honest, he's not saying as Wilbur Ross said the other day, that 800,000 are a rounding error, he does seem to be saying their contribution to the economy is a rounding error. Does president Trump truly understand the sacrifices he's imposed to get what he wants, and that question is by no means the only one.

Now, remember, the president is again threatening to declare a national emergency if Congress doesn't give him what he wants, he puts the chances at less than 50/50. He doesn't explain how it can be an emergency two Thursdays from now, and it's not an emergency now, and wasn't five weeks ago before the workers began paying the price.

Here's how White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, here's how she tried to square that circle.


REPORTER: It's an emergency, Sarah, or it's not an emergency. You can't have half an emergency, right?

HUCKABEE: No, you're missing the point. It is not just an emergency. It's a crisis at the border, but the national security and a humanitarian crisis but there's a process in which the president wants to exhaust all options primarily doing what we feel is the best one, which is a legislative fix. But if Congress doesn't do their job, then the president will be forced to make up for all of their shortcomings.


COOPER: Well, the White House has yet to offer credible evidence that what's happening at the border is an emergency, let alone that it's a very special kind of emergency, the kind with no urgency, that somehow demands no immediate action, none, perhaps beyond threatening the livelihood of people who bore the brunt of it the last time around again.

More now on the congressional panel that President Trump is depending on to get him out of this mess but that he's also threatening to bypass if negotiators don't reach agreements that he likes. Late today, I spoke with a Democrat whose job revolves around knowing where his members stand, House Majority Whip James Clyburn.


COOPER: Congressman Clyburn, the president puts the chance of negotiators being able to reach a deal at less than 50/50. Do you agree with those odds?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), MAJORITY WHIP: I think they're much better than that. I think we have two sides who realized that this is something that must get -- realize that this is something that must get done. We have to secure or border. We cannot do it with Homeland Security not being funded.

We have to restore the faith and trust of the American people in the governmental process. And so, we're going to work on doing that over the next three weeks and I hope the chances of getting the deal done are much better than 50/50.

COOPER: What role would you see any new wall or fencing playing in a deal?

CLYBURN: Oh, I think it depends on how you define a wall. I have said that I'm all for a smart wall, a wall using technology, using drones and scanners and X-ray equipment that will make the wall too high to get over, to wide to get around, too deep to borough under. That is a smart wall.

I was glad to see the president on Friday use that term when he talked about a wall.

So, it says to me that we can reach common ground. The language is already getting a bit common. And so I think that we can get to where we need to be. COOPER: Even if the bipartisan panel does reach a deal, there is no

guarantee it will be something the president will support, should negotiators focus on a deal that the president will sign rather than something that could simply pass both chambers?

CLYBURN: Well, I think that we ought to settle on what we can do in both chambers. We are a separate and equal branch of government, and I don't think that we are subservient in any way to the executive branch.

[20:25:09] We are coequal partners.

So let's come together here, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, and decide on what we think will work best. Hopefully, as deliberate over numbers, that is on finances, they will consult with experts as to how best to spend that money. And I would hope that they will have the benefit of all of that in their deliberations and maybe then in sitting down with representatives of the president, they can convince them of why it is they should sign on to whatever the agreement is between these two bodies.

COOPER: You know, the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says Democrats have funded border barriers in the past and refusing this time because President Trump is asking for it. What about that, because Democrats have in fact funded border barriers in the past, what's different about it this time? Isn't it possible that there are some areas that could use fencing or some kind of barrier?

CLYBURN: Well, that may be, and that's why we want to consult with experts. I think that what the Democrats got turned off is the president saying we're going to build a wall from sea to shining sea. We're going to have a big beautiful 30 foot high wall. That's the kind of stuff of which the Berlin wall was made. We know that does not work.

Walls, historically, have not worked for what they are intended to work. We believe that using technology that's available to us now can build a secure wall of technology scanners, drones and as I said, x- ray equipment, that will allow us to check every car coming through the ports of entry.

Now, you know, the drugs that the president keeps talking about I understand 78 percent of that comes through the ports of entry. They don't come over fences.

COOPER: Yes --



And so how do we know, you can't do that by building a wall, you got to have the technology that will allow you to detect that stuff if it's in an automobile or in some other kind of motorized vehicle.

COOPER: The Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said that any final bill to fund the department of homeland security should include a provision to end government shut downs for good, automatically renew funding if Congress and the White House can't come to a deal. Is that something you would support?

CLYBURN: Absolutely. We are the only government I know anywhere that this shut down the government over policy arguments. That, to me, is a bit sophomoric, if not ancient. We just really need to get that out of our system.

Sure, we can disagree over policy. But we ought not put families at the risk because of policy disagreements. A lot of these families, we have already read that over $3 billion will never come back into this economy that was lost during this shut down. We ought not do that to families.

What do we know about the health of people who were not able to get their medications because they did not have income to purchase them? This kind of stuff we ought not to lie (ph). What has happened to people's credit who's now at risk because they were not able to pay their mortgages and other household bills on time.


CLYBURN: That kind of stuff cannot be recouped. So, the government ought not be doing that, and I would think that the president would have much more compassion going forward than he demonstrated in the pass.

COOPER: Congressman Clyburn, I appreciate your time. Thank you, sir.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.


COOPER: Well, the congressman is known as a deal maker as are many Democrats and Republicans on the panel, which is drawn exclusively from House and Senate committees responsible for appropriating money.

Joining us to look at where if anywhere solution may exist, former Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes and Democratic strategist, Paul Begala.

Paul, I also want to ask you about Kevin McCarthy's comments that I asked Congressman Clyburn about it. Democrats have funded border barriers in the past, so what's different this time around? Is it only the president is asking for the funding?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I thought what Mr. Clyburn said was entirely reasonable. If I were in the Trump White House, I would be happy with what Mr. Clyburn said. Democrats have voted for it in the past and they might vote for some of it in the future but you just can't solve the problem with concrete alone. That's what Democrats are saying.

By the way, back then when they voted for it, there really was a crisis of immigration coming from Mexico, and guess what, those actions that President Obama took worked. There are a million fewer illegal immigrants, undocumented folks from Mexico today than there were in 2007. So, what we did worked. There's no crisis now.

The crisis now is actually folks seeking asylum, people coming to the port of entry surrendering legally under our laws, and asking to be protected from terrorists back at home.

COOPER: Steve I mean, for the President or his base, is there any deal that works without the word wall included in it somewhere, somehow?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, look, I don't want to get lost in the semantics, I don't care if they use the word wall. But the point is we need barriers, and I call barriers a wall. So, is there a deal without barriers, without significant barriers that work for the base? No, there is not.

Look, this was the foundational promise of Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. We know that a wall is a very necessary tool. It's not the panacea, of course not. And a lot of Democrats are trying to set up a straw man argument here where they say, "Well, the wall won't solve everything so it's not worth doing anything." Well, that's, you know, that's ludicrous logic.

That would be like saying there's no reason to reinforce our front door because somebody might break in the back door. Well, we should do all of the above when it comes to illegal immigration in America.

A wall is a critical tool, it's not just my opinion, it's the opinion of law enforcement, opinion of Customs and Border Protection, the people on the ground protecting America and so --


COOPER: Do you have a number in mind, like -- of how much, you know, how many miles of wall would be acceptable -- an acceptable compromise?

CORTES: Well, look, I think we need hundreds of miles and billions of dollars. You know, this can't be lip service. You know, this can't be token. Any real deal, any real compromise has to include a lot of reforms but included in those reforms is the wall for America.

I'm afraid quite honestly that the Democrats aren't serious at all. Congressman Clyburn is clearly, but the leadership, Speaker Pelosi, is not serious at all. She said not a dollar for the wall, not $1 for the wall.

So, they're not serious. They're not going to negotiate, which is why I believe the President is going to be forced to do this without the Congress.

COOPER: All right, we're going to take a quick break. I want to hear from Paul when we come back.

Also later, five police officer shot in Houston. They've been serving warrants according to law enforcement source. We have the latest on what we now know, coming up.


[20:35:19] COOPER: As we reported, the shutdown count down clock is clicking again. Federal employees returning to work today with another deadline looming in less than three weeks, and no sign of the President budging on his demand for a wall.

Now, the President and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did meet today but she told reporters the law didn't come. She says they spoke about infrastructure, so you can make of that what you will when it turns the where things may stand in negotiations.

Back with Steve Cortes and Paul Begala. Paul, the amount of push back the President is getting from conservative commentators, we know that that kind of criticism helped influenced his decision to renege on the deal back in December. I mean, it's going to be interesting to see how much if it all it affects what he does going forward.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. He doesn't need to be -- if anybody has a terrific appeal to his base, it is Donald J. Trump. He doesn't have to worry about Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. OK. This is like my honest assessment, is that he is wise to move to infrastructure.

He should sit down with Nancy Pelosi -- he made a great many promises, the wall being the biggest and Mexico was going to pay for it. Mexico is not going to pay for it. He's not going to get it. So move to your other promises, Mr. President, infrastructure package, which you could campaigned on Democrats support. Prescription drug reform, President Trump campaign on it, Democrats supported. Child care, he could do this.

You know, after Reagan lost the midterms in '82, he came back. You know what he did? He worked with Tip O'Neill, a Democrat. He and signed the MLK holiday. He raised taxes to help pay down the deficit that he helped to create. He worked to reform Social Security and save Social Security with the Democrats. There is a path for this president. He just seems like he can't do this, like a one hit wonder. It's like disco inferno is the only song in his jukebox, he can't get off it.

COOPER: Steve, I mean, Ann Coulter on Friday called Trump a wimp for agreeing to the fund -- fund the government without wall money. How much sway do you think she and Rush Limbaugh as the world actually have over the President?

CORTES: Look, you know, I don't know about specific commentators, but I think that Donald Trump is incredibly loyal and pays terrific attention to his supporters. And for very good reason, by the way, because, you know, we pulled off the greatest electoral upset in U.S. history, in U.S. political history. And so we deserved and earned that kind of respect from the President and I would hope from the Congress.

You know, Paul Begala mentioned Tip O'Neill. I wish we had a Tip O'Neill on the Democratic side of the aisle right now. Instead, we have a speaker and a Democratic leadership that is focused on one thing and that's resistance. That's the entirety of their agenda is resistance to this President rather than what makes sense for America, what enhances the security and prosperity of this country.

So, I implore the President. I believe he will hold the line. But he has to hold the line on this. Again, this is a foundational promise. Nothing can come before the security of the American people.

All of the people on the border tell us that there is a crisis there. All of the law enforcement folks who are involved, the sheriffs, Customs and Border Protection, so I think it's really honestly arrogant for people to sit in T.V. studios in Washington and in New York and say there's no crisis there when the people who have to deal with it tell us emphatically that there is.

BEGALA: I just got back from South Texas, there's not a crisis. There is a real problem with refugees, with asylum seekers, Steve. They're not going to be stopped by a wall. In fact, they're coming to our ports of entry. The President is putting those kids in cages for goodness sakes. That's the crisis.

CORTES: The asylum issue is absolutely a crisis. It is absolutely.

BEGALA: Right.

CORTES: And you're exactly right --

BEGALA: And cages won't get us out of it.

CORTES: -- the complexion of illegal crossers has changed entirely. It used to be primarily young men coming from Mexico, now it's largely families coming from Central America. That's the definition to me of a crisis.


BEGALA: They're not crossing where there's no fence or border, they're crossing at the port of entry presenting themselves saying America take them.

CORTES: No. Many of them approximately -- that's not true.

BEGALA: They're asylum seekers, Steve.

CORTES: That's not true. Many of them are crossing illegally.


BEGALA: -- threatening our children.

CORTES: They are not waiting at the port of entry. They are crossing illegally. We've seen it many times. And sometimes, by the way, trying to cross violently illegally, throwing rocks and storming the barricades that do exist thankfully in certain parts of the border, but there is a crisis on the border. When we are arresting internally in the United States tens of thousands of dangerous illegal immigrants and when we're at the border, we're apprehending hundreds of thousands. Even if the numbers are down, it's still in the hundreds of thousands every single year. That's the definition of a crisis.

You know, Sheriff Napier from Pima County said -- they asked him, is there a crisis at the border in Arizona? He said, "There has been a crisis the entire 31 years that I have been in law enforcement here."

Previous presidents and congresses chose to ignore that crisis for a lot of selfish reasons and this President has the guts to stand up and say, "I will no longer ignore crisis, the long-term crisis that has festered our southern border."

COOPER: Paul, isn't part of -- I mean, if there is a crisis, isn't part of the crisis that there's not enough immigration judges to hear asylum cases and the fact that this administration has changed the rules on what makes you eligible for asylum, that if you're just, you know, if you're being beaten by your husband, if you're being extorted by a gang and your life threatened by a gang, that's not good enough.

[20:40:11] BEGALA: That's the real problem. It has changed. Steve is right, it's no longer -- the predominance of the crisis is no longer young men seeking work which it was years ago. It is this. And we have to do something about this but they're not a threat to America, they're escaping or trying to escape persecution at home and that's why we have this asylum laws.

I think it's tragic that the President stands to put children in cages and to scream some of this racist stuff that he screams about folks who were doing exactly what Steve, you or I would do if our children were being threatened by narcoterrorist (ph).

COOPER: Let's end it there. Paul Begala --

CORTES: I wouldn't march them all the way across Mexico. I would take asylum, Paul, in Mexico, to take children on that incredibly long journey across the gigantic country of Mexico tells me if not about asylum, they're economic migrants.


BEGALA: Yes. And for Trump it's not about asylum or migration, it's about ginning up his right wing base so he can survive the Mueller. That's what this thing is about. It's about Robert Mueller --


COOPER: Steve, would you want your kids living in, you know, wars in Mexico?

CORTES: I'm saying that they would take us -- if it were about asylum, if they were fleeing for their lives from Honduras and Guatemala, when they got to Mexico and were offered very generous asylum terms and work permits, yes, they would take it there. The fact that they then cross the entirety of Mexico to come to the U.S. border tells me that it's about economic migration.

They're not -- and look, the numbers prove this out, 90 percent of them who apply for asylum are determined to be ineligible for asylum who come from Latin America. So they are gaming our system. They know that asylum is a way to game the U.S. system. It's unfair to Americans.

And by the way, a lot of Americans live in terrible circumstances in this country. I'm a lot more focused on trying to raise their standard of living before we raise the standard of living of Hondurans and Guatemalans.

COOPER: All right, Steve Cortes, Paul Begala, thanks.

Coming up, with one eye and what the current President does in regard to the wall, we're also starting to look toward the next presidential election. The count down to November 2020 has already started, as you know. We'll take a look at where it stands now and a warning from Democrats about one potential candidate in particular. Also shortly, a CNN Town Hall with Kamala Harris, Jake Tapper at 10:00.


[20:45:55] COOPER: Later tonight, our Jake Tapper moderates the Democratic Presidential Town Hall with Senator Kamala Harris who formally launched her campaign as you probably know yesterday with a speech in Oakland, California. Her speech never once mentioned the name Donald Trump but obviously his presence loomed large over the race.

And separately, there's already a grumbling about a potential spoiler for the Democrats. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says he is seriously considering running as an independent, potentially splitting the anti-Trump vote.

Joining me now, two CNN Senior Political Commentators, former presidential candidate and former Ohio governor, John Kasich, and former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod.

So, Governor, how formidable of a candidate do you think Kamala Harris is right now? What are would you say her strengths and weaknesses are and what do you think she needs to accomplish tonight at a town hall?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think first of all she had a terrific turnout in Oakland. I mean, the crowds were huge and so it was a success. The real question, Anderson, is she able to articulate a message that does not take her over really on the left where -- because the country is basically, you know, center right, conservative, maybe a little bit left, it depends on who you're talking to, but basically center.

And if she is out here with Medicare for all and, you know, the kind of $5,000 for every family and all of these things, I don't think that gets her to be closer and closer to the center. Now, she has to win a nomination, but I think that's really a challenge. So, I think tonight what she has to do is to kind of capture people's imagination. That's what's really important with the candidate.

David's on with us tonight, he can tell you what it was like to watch Obama capture people's imagination, and then the policies kind of fit in, I believe kind of below that. So tonight, she has to be likable, intelligent, which I'm sure she's going to be, and the fact that she will be able to communicate something that kind of stirs people's hearts.

COOPER: David, I mean, you've got this fascinating op-ed on I read about Kamala Harris. You point out some of the hurdles that she faces. You also write that she "brings enormous assets" to the race that make her an instant top tier candidate. Who within the primary field poses the biggest challenge to Senator Harris do you think at this point?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I mean, she -- there are lanes in these contests. She is in a progressive lane, and there are a number of candidates who fill that lane. There are several women in the race, Senator Warren, Senator Gillibrand, perhaps soon Senator Klobuchar to divide the advantage that she might have there.

There's another candidate of color who is likely to get in the race, Cory Booker. And, you know, we haven't even gotten to Vice President Biden who if he gets in would be an immediate front runner in the race. I would put her in the -- and Beto O'Rourke who's still mulling it over. I would put her in the top tier for sure.

She's got many, many strengths as a candidate. She can raise money. She's got a great personal presence. She comes from California, and the Californians have moved their primary, I think, to advantage her in this race. And she is a woman of color and if she gets past the first few primaries and caucuses, you come to states like South Carolina where that's a tremendous advantage.

So, she's got a lot going for her, but I do think the divided base, the fact that she does have to get through those early contests and that's not going to be easy to do. So, you know, and I think she's a bit cautious. We'll see how she performs tonight. And I thought she was terrific in her rollout, but the message itself was a very familiar list of sort of (INAUDIBLE) liberal or progressive Democratic issues. And so what is the story she's telling as the governor says, and what are the underpinnings of it.

COOPER: Governor --

KASICH: You know, the other interesting thing, David, I'd be interested in David's view on this. You know, she was kind of viewed as a tough prosecutor, and I'm picking up this fact that she may want to kind of run away from that. And I personally think that would be a mistake.

AXELROD: She has to, yes, yes.

[20:50:02] KASICH: Yes, because --

AXELROD: No, I agree. You know, I think she got -- go ahead Governor, I'm sorry.

KASICH: I was saying that that kind of is appealing and moves her out of that one lane being defined as a progressive or, you know. And it makes her -- moves her a little bit closer to the center, you know what I'm saying? Joe Biden is --

AXELROD: I couldn't agree with you more.


KASICH: I was going to say, David, I was going to say --

COOPER: David, you respond.

KASICH: I was going to say when Joe Biden gets --

AXELROD: I know --

COOPER: Go ahead, David.

AXELROD: We're going to work this out, Governor.

KASICH: Yes, we are.

AXELROD: My feeling -- she was asked about this. She is under attack from the left for some of the stuff that she did as a prosecutor. She did not apologize for it when she asked about it in her first week as a candidate. I think she recognizes this is something she shouldn't run away from. And you're quite right that it could wind up being a real strength for her should she emerge as the nominee.

COOPER: Yes. Governor, I want to play an example of the reaction that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is getting as he's out promoting his book talking about a possible White House run. I'm just going to play this.


HOWARD SCHULTZ, FORMER STARBUCKS CEO: I am seriously considering running for president as a centrist independent. And I wanted to clarify the word independent, which I view nearly as a designation on the ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire [INAUDIBLE].


COOPER: Not exactly the reaction you want when you're rolling out that or running it out for flagpole to see who salute. But essentially Democrats, Governor, they're saying a third party challenge from, you know, Schultz would just help President Trump get reelected. Do you agree with that?

KASICH: I don't and I'll tell you why. I mean, yet -- everything is yet to be kind of, you know, brought out into the open as to who is running and what their message is going to be, but here's the sense I have.

If the Democrats pick somebody, David calls it progressive but it's really on the left, and not anywhere near the center and you have Trump who's out here on the right, you could have a lot of disaffected voters in the middle.

Now, a lot of people say they're independent, but they're really not independent, they're sort of like, you know, weak Republicans or weak Democrats. The question is, are people in either of those places willing to then vote for somebody who is not aligned with a political party? That's the question.

You know, people say, well, it could never happen. Well, there's a lot of things that are happening today that we never thought would happen and I think politics is not immune from the enormous change.

So to determine how he's going to do, there's a lot of factors that have to unfold before we can decide. But if it's really polarized left and polarized right, I believe there's a space in the middle and it could be historic.

COOPER: David, what do you think?

AXELROD: Absolute gift to Donald Trump. This would reduce the ceiling. He can't get above 45 percent of the vote. He may not be able to get there. This would reduce the ceiling he would need to win.

And let's be clear, Howard Schultz is pro-choice. He is pro-climate action. You know, he has essentially the same profile as Mike Bloomberg who said -- that urged him today not to run and Bloomberg said, "I have researched this to a fair thee well and I must tell you that you cannot win but you can elect Donald Trump." I believe that's what would happen.

COOPER: Yes. Governor Kasich, appreciate it, David Axelrod as well.

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, how you doing, Anderson? We are going to try to get deep on this new information from the acting A.G. Who would have thunk (ph) it that his wife was right. He says that the Mueller probe is winding up, that he's been fully briefed. What does that mean and why is he saying it?

COOPER: He was sort of rambling when he said it too.

CUOMO: He was. He was. But, you know, it raises questions of veracity, but also of relevance. And we're going to look at where the probe stands with Roger Stone and this kind of nagging question, why did they go so hard and heavy with the searches of Roger Stone?

They say, "Well, we think he's a flight risk." And they also said, "We were worried he may destroy things." What would they be looking for from Roger Stone with an indictment that is so water tight in terms of proving the false statements? We're going to take you there tonight.

COOPER: Well, I also think, if somebody has been, you know, in the bulls eye for quite awhile, you would think somebody would -- if they had documents that they wanted to destroy, they would have destroyed them by now, but I guess, you know, you never know.

CUOMO: They're dealing with a different kind of bird here, you know. If it is true that during the congressional testimony when they were asking him if he was speaking to Credico he was saying no and texting Credico at the same time, this is a ballsy fellow.

COOPER: Yes. The stone is on him. Chris, thanks very much.

Up next, breaking news on the shooting of multiple police officers in Houston. We're going to have the latest on these horrific shootings. We'll let you know what we know when we come back.


[20:59:11] COOPER: Well, there's breaking news tonight. Four Houston police officers had been shot. The chief of police just spoke at news conference. He says two of the officers were shot in the neck and are in surgery right now, both in critical but stable condition. The other two are in stable condition.

A fifth officer was injured but not shot and is expected to be released from the hospital soon. The chief of police says this all started when a narcotics unit tried to serve a warrant at a home. Two suspects inside the home were killed in an exchange of gunfire.

Also a reminder, in just one hour, CNN's Jake Tapper moderates a Democratic Presidential Town Hall with Senator Kamala Harris. That's live from Des Moines, Iowa. First, the news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CUOMO: All right, thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to "Prime Time." We have new information on the status of the Russia probe. The President's acting attorney general offers up an estimate of when it should end. His words has a key member of the Senate calling them chilling. The investigative minds are seated for Cuomo's court to take on the relevance here.