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Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Interfered with Mueller Investigation or Talked to President Trump About It; Interview with Democratic Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI); Virginia House Delegate Drafting Articles of Impeachment After Second Sexual Assault Allegation Against Lieutenant Governor Fairfax; After Physical President Trump's Doctor Says He Is "In Very Good Health"; Federal Prosecutor Reviewing National Enquirer's Handling Of Its Reporting On Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos; Saudi Connection To National Enquirer Parent Company Adds Mystery To Feud Between Bezos And Trump Ally Becker; Negotiations Close In On Reduced Border Funding. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired February 8, 2019 - 20:00   ET


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

A very busy night including a new and serious allegation against one of the top three Virginia Democratic elected officials, all of whom are facing pressure to step down.

Also, major new developments in the strange and sleazy case of alleged blackmail and extortion of Jeff Bezos, America's wealthiest man, by the publisher of "The National Enquirer", a long-time ally of the president.

We begin, though, keeping them honest with the Democrats' first big televised hearing in what's expected to be a parade of them as they look into all corners of the Trump presidency.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker today going before the House Judiciary Committee. He confirmed he's been fully briefed on the Russia investigation. He denied ever talking to President Trump about it or in any way interfering with the probe.

That said, no one pretends that congressional hearings are remotely about the witness letting it all hang out. They're adversarial encounters and revelations if any good grudgingly.

Today was no exception. The acting attorney general did his best to say as little as possible. Lawmakers at times talked more than he did, which is almost always the case. You may call the effort today grandstanding, sincere pursuit of the truth or perhaps a little bit of both.

Here's a sampling.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The time for this administration to postpone accountability is over. MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I do not intend today to

talk about my private conversations with the president of the United States.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This is a Department of Justice oversight hearing, supposedly, oops, I'm sorry, back to theatrics again. The curtain opened up and we found out what was really going on. No, we want to damage the president.

WHITAKER: I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel's investigation. We have followed the special counsel's regulations to a T.

NADLER: Have you been asked to approve or disapprove a request or action to be taken by the special counsel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

NADLER: I've asked the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

NADLER: Point of order is not in order until the question is answered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not operating under the five-minute rule anymore then?

WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up, and so I'm -- I am here voluntarily. We have agreed to a five-minute rounds.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: I don't know what kind of suicide wish you had or whatever, but it's good to see you.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: I'm confused. I really am. We're all trying to figure out who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you say the special counsel's investigation is a witch hunt? Are you overseeing a witch hunt?

WHITAKER: Congressman, as I've mentioned previously, the special counsel's investigation is an ongoing investigation, and so I think it would be inappropriate for me --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you wouldn't oversee a witch hunt, would you? You'd stop a witch hunt, wouldn't you?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Do you know what's under the redactions, Mr. Whitaker?

WHITAKER: I do, sir.

JORDAN: You do. Let me frame it this way. Did Rod Rosenstein give the special counsel the authority to investigate specific Americans?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Is Mr. Mueller honest?

WHITAKER: Congressman, I have been on the record about my respect for Bob Mueller and his ability to conduct this investigation.

SWALWELL: Do you believe he's honest, yes or no?

WHITAKER: I have no reason to believe he's not honest, so yes.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Did the president lash out at you? I'm not asking what he tweeted. I don't have a lot of confidence in the veracity of his tweets. I'm asking you under oath.

WHITAKER: Congressman, that is based on an unsubstantiated --

CICILLINE: Sir, answer the question yes or no. Did the president lash out to you about Mr. Cohen's guilty plea?

WHITAKER: No, he did not.


COOPER: That was Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline.

He joins us momentarily. There was another moment of note at the hearing today. Two Republicans, including ranking member Doug Collins of Georgia raised the issue of Roger Stone's arrest in Florida, which CNN was there exclusively to cover, suggesting along with the acting attorney general that there was something nefarious about CNN's presence there.


COLLINS: Are you familiar with public reports or otherwise that a CNN reporter was camped out outside of Stone's house when the FBI arrested him?

WHITAKER: This wouldn't be part of the investigation.

COLLINS: I am aware of that. It was deeply concerning to me as to how CNN found out about that.

WHITAKER: Well, I'm glad we're going down that road, Mr. Attorney General, because did somebody at the Department of Justice seemingly share a draft indictment with CNN prior to stone's arrest? Or prior to a grand jury's finding of a true bill?


COOPER: Now, keeping them honest, this should be on our Ridiculist. CNN has been upfront from the start how we came to be there that morning. In fact, we wrote a full piece on it the day of the arrest. Congressman Collins likely knows the real story we he probably had a shadow conspiracy because it tucks neatly into the idea that the mainstream media is in cahoots with the special counsel.

As I said we can only guess because we invited the congressman on the program and, shocker, he declined.

[20:05:01] The truth is we got the scoop through plain old shoe leather reporting and a little luck. A CNN producer and photojournalist were there because our ongoing reporting at the courthouse where the grand jury meets led us to suspect an arrest might be imminent. Armed with that, our team was just staking out Stone's house. They arrived about an hour before FBI agents went in. No tipoff, just hard work.

That's what it looked like on the Hill today, from the view from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to go now to CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House.

What's the reaction been from the White House on the hearing today?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, so far, no reaction from the president yet. We did hear from him yesterday saying that he thought Whitaker would do a good job. My understanding from talking to sources over here, I talked to one White House official earlier this evening who said that they thought that the hearing for Matt Whitaker went about as expected.

And the one item that they were really listening for was that exchange over whether or not Matt Whitaker had briefed the president on the Mueller investigation. And when Whitaker denied that, they felt that pretty much matched up with what the president has said in the past and according to this White House official, who I spoke with earlier this evening, the president and Matt Whitaker have not had a discussion about the Mueller investigation and that's their story over here and they're sticking to it.

But keep in mind, Anderson, Matt Whitaker, you might say his five minutes are almost up here in Washington. He's really just holding down the fort over at the Justice Department. What really matters is what the incoming attorney general, that we expect to be the incoming attorney general, William Barr, what he does with the Mueller investigation. He gave a lot of tea leaves during his confirmation process and really both sides took away some comfort that he may be a straight shooter in all of this.

But, Anderson, make no mistake, Matt Whitaker is going to go down as somebody who pretty much said what the president wanted to hear, and that is partly why he had this job. He was not going to recuse himself in this investigation. While he did not interfere with the Mueller probe, he certainly made his feelings known about it before he got this job.

There were lawmakers who tried to poke and prod and, I guess, throw him off his talking opponents today, but when the White House, Anderson, is telling us this evening that they felt like it went about as expected, their feeling over here, Anderson, is that Matt Whitaker escaped from this process pretty much unscathed. For the White House, which has been in desperate search of a win lately, I think they got one with Matt Whitaker's testimony, despite all those fireworks that we saw today -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

A moment ago you heard a portion of the questioning from Congressman David Cicilline. He's a Democrat from Rhode Island. He joins us now.

Congressman, thanks for being with us. I apologize for my cough and my cold.

Today, while under oath, Acting Attorney General Whitaker said he had not talked to the president about the Mueller investigation, that he hasn't interfered in the investigation in any way or blocked the funding. Did those answers give you comfort that he's handled the Mueller investigation properly?

CICILLINE: No, not at all. In fact the real question is, how did Matthew Whitaker become the acting attorney general. It was clear from his public statements, from the things he wrote, that he was auditioning for a job in the Trump administration and was a critic of Robert Mueller, critic of the investigation, said all kinds of things which suggested that he had made decisions about whether or not this investigation should even go forward.

He's then plucked out of the attorney general's office. He was the attorney general's chief of staff. The president ignored a statute that says here's the succession of Senate confirmed people who should replace the attorney general in a vacancy.

The president ignored that process. You have to wonder why. Why did he pick Mr. Whitaker?

The hearing today makes it very clear the reason he picked Mr. Whitaker is because he already had views that he was going to protect the president. Although he says he didn't talk to the president, he couldn't remember whether other people that he had shared the information that he received from the special counsel with, other members of his staff, he couldn't answer the question whether or not they shared that information with officials at the White House or the president.

So, he was very evasive. He was clearly contemptuous of Congress, didn't believe he should be participating in an oversight hearing. I think it was very clear he should have recused himself. We're not done with him. He didn't answer many questions and we intend to bring him back in a deposition so we can get those answers.

COOPER: I mean, it is surprising the acting attorney general would not a categorically that the Mueller investigation is not a witch hunt.

CICILLINE: Yes, it was shocking. Here it is he says he respects Mr. Mueller. He's an honest man, he respects the men and women of the department, but he would not -- he was fearful because he had an audience of one.

He knew the president was watching him and he could not say anything that would draw the anger of the president because my guess is he wants to continue to work in the Trump administration. It was an audition for the president. He didn't answer questions that the committee asked. He was really contemptuous. I mean, every time we got to what was shared, he danced around and refused to answer the questions.

COOPER: You referenced this, there were those tweets in commentary Whitaker made before he was named the acting attorney general that were critical of the investigation.

[20:10:03] Is there any real evidence, though, that you know of that indicates he's acted improperly in any way when it comes to the Mueller investigation while being the acting attorney general?

CICILLINE: Well, we just don't know because he would not answer today about conversations that he had with the president. He would not answer or could not answer whether the information he learned from the briefing from Mr. Mueller was communicated to the White House or the president's legal counsel by others.

So, we have many more questions that he hasn't answered. What we do know is that the ethics officials at the White House recommended that he recuse himself because of his prior statements. He refused to follow their advice. He also said, you know, I don't have any idea what the president thought about Jeff Sessions' recusal.

Now, he was chief of staff to Jeff Sessions. He said under oath today I have no idea how the president viewed that. We all know just from what's in the public domain how the president viewed it.

So there are real questions why he's there, why he didn't recuse himself. So, as a consequence, we really don't know what actions he's taken in his capacity as acting attorney general. He refused to answer many questions and suggested somehow that although he wasn't invoking executive privilege, he had decided not to answer them pursuant to some DOJ policy.

So we're committed to getting those questions answered because the American people have a right to know that he didn't do anything improper, interfering in any way or sharing with the president and his legal team any of the information he received from the special counsel.

COOPER: I mean, it is, you know, it defies belief to say that you don't know what the president thinks of Jeff Sessions recusing himself. I mean, that's probably the one thing the president has been crystal clear on and not changed his opinion of from the get-go.


COOPER: In the hearing today, you repeatedly asked Whitaker if the president had lashed out at him over Michael Cohen's guilty plea and he denied that the president ever did that. Do you believe him?

CICILLINE: Well, I mean it has been publicly reported from credible sources that in fact the president did lash out. The way he answered that question is very interesting. He sort of paused in a very, very long period of time. You know, I think he was not being forthright with the committee. And

I asked him again whether the president or others had expressed their displeasure and he was very cagey in his answer.

But, look, I believe the public reporting.

COOPER: Congressman Cicilline, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

CICILLINE: Hope you feel better.

COOPER: Thanks.

I want to bring in the lawyers. CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, the former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. Also with us, investigative and author, CNN political analyst, Carl Bernstein, who fair to say he's seen a few of these, especially during the Watergate scandal.

Carrie, so, Whitaker did say today under oath that he hasn't discussed the Mueller investigation with the president, hasn't interfered in the investigation. So, does that put to bed concerns that Whitaker could have impeded the Mueller investigation?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it goes a long way. If we have to take him at his word, he was under oath, that he says he didn't do those things. Then I think we have to give that its due.

On the other hand, he does not come across as credible as a person filling the position of acting attorney general. And we can go back just a couple weeks when he gave a press conference and he said something along the lines of the investigation, the special counsel's investigation was wrapping up. And when he was asked under oath today, his response indicated that that wasn't true at all.

And so I think the difficulty with his testimony today is that because there were times when he was evasive and combative and disrespectful to a co-equal branch of government, that it harms his credibility. And so, even though he testified for several hours, we still have these lingering questions as to whether or not he was really fully truthful.

COOPER: Carl, I mean there were plenty of fireworks in the hearing. Now that it's all over, though, what do you actually take away from what you saw today?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That we watched Mr. Whitaker be Houdini-like in his escape from being straightforward. That he was equivocating throughout, that he was not giving straight forthright answers to many of the questions. Yes, he said somewhat forthrightly that the president and he had not directly discussed the Mueller investigation. Then when it got to the question of the Southern District, it started to go south a little bit.

And throughout the questioning it was very clear not just his contempt and disdain for the committee and for the Congress of the United States, but that he too sees this hearing as part of the battle in the cold civil war that's going on in this country, and he wants to appeal to the president's base rather than answer the questions. You know, you always have to go back to the same as Donald Trump, why won't Donald Trump speak truthfully and fully? Well, why won't Mr. Whitaker speak fully?

There were easy questions to answer. Rather, he chose throughout to equivocate and go off on a side road throughout the proceedings. So he was not very credible.

[20:15:01] COOPER: Jennifer, I mean, he refused to answer a lot of the questions that he was asked today by the Democrats, including whether he thought the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt.

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. That was very strange. That was an easy one for him to answer. I mean, people who have managed to remain on the president's good side or at least decent side, like Bill Barr managed to say that.

So it's unclear why he did that. I mean, look, the question asked for an opinion. It's not something that's ever going to be the subject of a perjury count or anything like that, which makes it all the more puzzling as to why he couldn't just give that one up and at least try to rake back a tiny bit of this credibility that we've been talking about him losing throughout the course of the hearing.

COOPER: Carrie, Whitaker acknowledged he had been advised by top officials at the DOJ that he should recuse himself from overseeing the investigation, given his past statements. But, as we know, he chose not to follow that advice. If what he said today was truthful, do you think his decision to not recuse was appropriate?

CORDERO: Well, it's a really hard call. He had made many statements expressing an opinion about the investigation. It's within the authority of the attorney general to make that decision himself. So, he did have the authority to make the decision himself.

Would I have recommended it to him? No. Because this investigation is so important to the public's understanding of what happened. It's the most important national security investigation in a generation, and it affects the presidency.

So why if you're going to assume the role of attorney general would you want any kind of cloud over your tenure in terms of making decisions. It might not have been the required thing for him to do to recuse, but it probably would have been the right thing to do.

COOPER: You can make the argument, though, Carl, if he had recused himself that the president would have been just as angry at him as if -- as he was at Jeff Sessions.

BERNSTEIN: Not only can you make the argument, I think you would be right. But one more question that occurs is why in the course of this hearing, if he really wanted to be straightforward, did he not say at some point it is really important that the department of justice find out what happened in the election of 2016 and what the Russians did. At no point was there any assertion that it mattered to him, the subject of the investigation.

He was mightily disconcerned about anything having to do with this horrible act that all of our intelligence community agrees to. The reason we have this investigation. And he just ignored it.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, it's -- it's interesting, Jennifer, one thing that Whitaker did reiterate with the Justice Department's current position is that a sitting president cannot be indicted. William Barr has said the same thing. There's no indication Mueller will deviate from that.

Do you believe that's essential moot point at this point?

RODGERS: It's starting to sound like. We don't know what the Mueller report will look like or what we'll even see from the Mueller report, but I think the consensus at this point from what we know, which is a small fraction of what Mueller knows, is that he will not try to indict the president because of that standing policy. It seems highly unlikely given Bill Barr's views even if Mueller wanted to try to seek an indictment that Barr would allow him to do so, because, of course, Mueller has to run these charging decisions up the chain.

I think that's probably right. That was just a little dig on Whitaker's part to kind of get that in there, that at the end, there will be no indictment of this president so in his view what are we doing here.

COOPER: I mean, Carrie, Chairman Nadler did indicate subpoenaing Whitaker is still a possibility. If a subpoena were to be answered, would that compel him to answer the questions he refused to answer today? Would that make a difference?

CORDERO: He might challenge it. We might get into litigation between the branches and he could exert different authorities in terms of not wanting to reveal internal executive branch information, so it's possible he could challenge it or they could delay it.

I have to wonder to what end is this really helping the judiciary committee. He's going to be out of the position very soon. The Senate needs to confirm the attorney general nominee so that we have a credible, professional, experienced individual in that position that people have confidence in his decision-making. And so, the committee could continue to do this, but I expect that he might challenge it and it wouldn't be a smooth road.

COOPER: Carl, what did we learn about the Democrats' power in what are going to be upcoming investigations from what we saw today, or the lack of power?

BERNSTEIN: I think we learned that they have to find a way to be more effective. That there was grandstanding going on, on both sides here today. Their frustration was evident. Their right to this information seems to me is genuine and is there.

But they have got to find a way to appeal to all Americans, not just those so engaged in this cold civil war, but people in the middle as well to come around to their point of view that we need to know what happened here, because this is a matter of grave national security.

[20:20:18] I do not think that that was necessarily conveyed. It became a real contest of combatants without conveying the seriousness.

And one last point. I think that it's going to take some really good journalism and it's going to probably happen in books and in recapitulations done by news organizations a few months down the line of what Mr. Whitaker's conduct in this investigation and in this administration has really been. I think we're going to find out the truth, and I don't think it's going to be very pretty.

COOPER: Carrie Cordero, Jennifer Rodgers, Carl Bernstein, I appreciate it. Carl is going to stick around, come back shortly on another subject.

Coming up next, though, the breaking news out of Virginia. The new allegation against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. Growing calls for him to step down.

Later, more new developments in the alleged blackmail scheme targeting Jeff Bezos. The Feds are now investigating American media and long- time Trump ally David Pecker. Also, the possible Saudi connection. The author of Tom Friedman from "New York Times" takes on a possible intersection of politics, oil money and sleaze.


[20:25:34] COOPER: Well, Virginia's political mess just got a lot messier. A second woman has come forward accusing Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of prior sexual assault. Fairfax is first in line to the governor's seat. It was thought he might assume the state's governor, Ralph Northam, was caught up in his own controversy involving a racist photo in his yearbook.

Governor Northam is still in office. Lieutenant Governor Fairfax finds himself facing more allegations.

Ryan Nobles joins us now from Richmond with the latest.

So what are we learning about this new accusation?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, no doubt this new accusation by a separate woman is very serious. Her name is Meredith Watson. She alleges that back in 2000 when both she and Justin Fairfax were students at Duke University, that Justin Fairfax raped her.

She says in a separate statement that she believes that Fairfax specifically targeted her because she was a prior rape victim and that she wouldn't go to the authorities or tell anyone about it because she hadn't done it the first time that she had been raped. Furthermore, her attorneys provided the media with a series of e-mails that show that she was talking to people about this incident and that it had bothered her for some time.

In fact, we'll show you one of those e-mails. This came from a solicitation from Duke alumni hoping to raise money on behalf of Justin Fairfax's political campaign. This is how Watson responded. She said, quote: Justin raped me in college and I don't want to hear anything about him. Please, please, please remove me from any future e-mails about him, please. Thank you.

And, of course, Anderson, we should point out tonight that the lieutenant governor vehemently denies this accusation and the prior accusation from Dr. Vanessa Tyson. He says he has done nothing wrong and that as of tonight, Anderson, he has no plans to resign.

COOPER: I know you're speaking to local delegates in Virginia. What have they been saying?

NOBLES: Well, Anderson, in the beginning, there was a real kind of a wait-and-see attitude being taken by many of the elected officials here in Virginia. They did not initially call for the lieutenant governor to resign after Dr. Tyson's claims against him. They wanted an investigation. They wanted this to be looked into.

The mood has changed quite a bit here in Richmond after the second accuser has come forward. In fact, the entire Virginia House Democratic caucus has called on the lieutenant governor to step down. Taking it a step further, we know that delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington plans to file impeachment proceedings against the lieutenant governor on Monday morning if he doesn't resign before then.

We should put this into context. It's not easy to impeach a governor here in Virginia. It would be a lengthy process and it would require Cooperation from the Republican speaker of the House. But it just shows the level of pressure that is on the back of this lieutenant governor right now because of this scandal.

COOPER: And just nationally, what sort of reaction has this been getting?

NOBLES: Yes, again, we saw very quickly after the photo that appeared in the governor's medical school yearbook, Ralph Northam, that racist photo, we saw 2020 presidential candidates quickly weighing in, calling on the governor to step down. They again were not as quick to call for the lieutenant governor to step down, but that's changed in a big way as well. We've seen a number of candidates for president in 2020, including Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, former Secretary Julian Castro, John Hickenlooper.

And, also, perhaps, the most important of that potential 2020 group, the former governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, he was among the first to call for Fairfax to step down. The pressure from the national scene is immense as well and it is all directed at Lieutenant Governor Fairfax.

COOPER: Obviously, there's political calculations for politicians in the state. What happens if the lieutenant governor resigns or is impeached from office, who would take his place?

NOBLES: Well, you know, Anderson, that is not exactly clear. You have to keep in mind that this has never happened in Virginia's history going all the way back to the Civil War. But most experts that I've talked to believe that were the lieutenant governor to step down, that it would be the governor that would have the opportunity to immediately replace him.

Now, you appoint someone that would immediately take office. Now, we believe that person would be forced to run in a special election this fall, but what would be interesting about this drama and all the scandals that have engulfed Richmond over the past week, it would be the current governor, Ralph Northam, who would have the responsibility of replacing Justin Fairfax if he were to step down in the next few days.

COOPER: Ryan, just one note. I think you said that the new accuser didn't go to officials but in the statement provided by her attorney, she said she did go to the dean. I just want to make sure that we get that right.

Ryan, thank you very much.

NOBLES: That's right.


COOPER: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

NOBLES: Yes, you're right. Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: OK, cool. Ryan, go ahead.

NOBLES: Yes. So she didn't -- yes, she talk to law enforcement officials, but she did talk to the dean of the school and officials at Duke University, you are correct, yes.

COOPER: Cool, thanks for the clarification. Ryan, thank you.

Today, the President had his second physical since he's been in office. As you may remember last year's report was mostly glowing with the caveat that his diet needed some tweaking and he should get some exercise.

It's a new year, new doctor who reports that the results are still being finalized but, "I am happy to announce the President of the United States is in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency and beyond."

Our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us tonight. Sanjay, does anything in particular jump out at you from this statement?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, they -- I think it's pretty much what we expected. The last line, the President being in very good health, anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency and beyond, so, you know, it's very optimistic again, very similar in some ways to the tone that we saw last year. One thing they made a point of is that the exam took four hours, there were 11 different specialists involved, so pretty involved exam, but also that the President did not have any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia.

They put that line in there I think on purpose. You know, you may remember back in 2007 actually, Anderson, President George W. Bush had a colonoscopy requiring sedation, had to invoke the 25th Amendment at that point, so that's always something that comes up here. That was not the case with President Trump's physical exam today.

COOPER: And when you get the full results, what kind of stuff do you look for?

GUPTA: Well, you know, there were all sorts of data that were presented last year, very basic things in terms of his height and weight for, you know, 6'3", 239 pounds. Cholesterol, that's something that a lot of people pay attention to, 223, a little bit high there. They wanted to bring some of these numbers down and obviously check some of these things again. But a lot of focus I think specifically on his heart.

He had an echocardiogram last year to look at the function of his heart. And, you know, there was a lot of discussion about the impact of his lifestyle overall on his health. In fact, listen to a couple of the exchanges from last year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain to me how a guy that eats McDonald's and fried chicken and all those Diet Cokes and never exercises is in as good a shape as you say he's in?

DR. RONNY JACKSON, EXAMINED PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's called genetics. I don't know. It's -- some people have, you know, just great genes. You know, I told the President that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old. I don't know.

GUPTA: And he doesn't have heart disease, is that what you said?

JACKSON: He does not have heart disease, no.

GUPTA: Because he had a CT scan before that showed calcium in the coronary blood vessels.

JACKSON: He does -- he did. He had a -- so, I think -- so technically he has non-clinical athroscrotic (ph) coronary -- coronary atherosclerosis.


GUPTA: Some of that is maybe semantics, Anderson. I mean, you've heard these terms before, coronary atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart disease. People use these terms interchangeably. And, you know, I think what the test has shown that he does have a mild form, common form of heart disease. Let me show you quickly the test that we are talking about, I think this is important, people may have heard of this test, the coronary calcium score. President Trump's score 133 and you can see how it's gone up. The concern is when you get certainly over 100 that it could increase your chances of having a heart attack in the future, which is why there's such a focus by the doctors on evaluating his heart and his cholesterol.

COOPER: Is that the test that looks for calcium inside the walls of the arteries?

GUPTA: That's exactly right. It looks for calcium. It's an indication of plaque. And if I remember correctly, I think you've had it done, I had it done in the past. And you do it to basically sort of predict your chance of having a heart problem in the future.

COOPER: Sanjay, thanks very much.

GUPTA: You got it, thank you.

COOPER: Well, still ahead tonight, a letter threatening to reveal embarrassing private photos that Jeff Bezos was meant to quiet the Amazon billionaire and had the opposite effect.

Now, federal investigators are looking into wrongdoing, possible wrongdoing by the David Pecker-controlled "National Enquirer." Was a crime committed? Was it blackmail or extortion attempt? We'll talk to former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu and Carl Bernstein.


[20:38:08] COOPER: Another shoe dropped in a story that may end up having more footwear in it than your local Payless store. We learned today that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are reviewing the "National Enquirer's" handling of their reporting on Amazon founder and "Washington Post" owner, Jeff Bezos.

Bezos you will recall is accusing the "Enquirer's" parent company, "American Media" and publisher David Pecker of blackmail and extortion, threatening to publish embarrassing private photos of him if he doesn't drop his investigation of how the "Enquirer" came to have them.

"American Media" as you know, reached a non-prosecution agreement with the Southern District in which the company admitted paying $150,000 to help then candidate Donald Trump hush up his alleged affair with Karen McDougal.

Now, part of that deal involved AMI keeping its legal nose clean. They put out a statement today saying that the company, "believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos."

Joining us now is former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu and back with us as well, Carl Bernstein. Shan, so the Southern District of New York, they're now reviewing the "National Enquirer's" actions. Based on what you've seen so far, do you think what they did amounts to extortion or blackmail?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I do, actually. I think it fits the elements for it. Oftentimes we associate extortion only with the idea of I'm going to hurt you if you don't pay me cash, but it can be broader than that.

I mean, here, the hurt, the harm, would be the damage to the reputation, the embarrassment and the benefit rather than being cash is the tremendous value actually of Bezos' media voice. And that's what they apparently wanted him to weigh in on their behalf for that.

So I think that does fit what can be an extortion. There's interstate communications going on and there could also be state or local charges with regard to what we commonly think of as blackmail.

COOPER: I mean, also, Shan, the fact that this was all written out obviously helps their case.

WU: Oh, yes, very much so. It was quite explicit actually. And certainly, a defense lawyer would argue, well, they're just trying to make sure that false stories don't get printed or they're maybe trying to dissuade "The Washington Post."

[20:40:10] But, you know, typically that kind of conversation does not involve the threat of releasing dirty pictures about the journalist. So, I think that's not going to be much of an argument for them.

COOPER: Carl, I mean, whether it's criminal or not, what do you think the "Enquirer's" actions say about the importance of investigative journalism, the importance of not backing down in the face of this type of behavior?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that Jeff Bezos in this instance has acted heroically in terms of establishing that neither he nor "The Washington Post" will be intimidated. That the extortionist demand, and you have to call it that, legally or whether it's not just the legal term, the extortionate demand by the "National Enquirer" and its lawyers was that "The Washington Post" cease reporting honestly about matters that Bezos has raised in his letter.

And in response, what Bezos has done here is exactly what Katharine Graham, the great owner of "The Washington Post" during Watergate did. When faced with the Nixon administration's threat to take away the television licenses of "The Washington Post" company, which were the economic lifeblood of the paper, because of the Watergate reporting that we were doing at "The Washington Post," Katharine Graham refused to back down, backed her reporters, and did not cave in to such extortionate demands.

And it's -- there's a tradition in this. But the really amazing thing that's happened here is that the "National Enquirer" has now opened itself up not just to an examination by the Southern District, but rather the subpoena power of that office of the U.S. attorney in the Southern District to look into every aspect of its behavior in this incident and get to the bottom, as I suspect they will, of whether or not there are people in the orbit of Donald Trump who are somehow involved in this.

That's the subtext that Mr. Bezos seems to be suggesting in the so- called crumbs that he's leaving for witnesses to pick up and take a look at. And the Southern District is going to do it.


BERNSTEIN: We're going to find out what happened here.

COOPER: Shan, I mean, could this also constitute a violation of a deal that federal prosecutors made late last year with the "Enquirer's" parent company AMI? I mean, it granted them freedom from criminal prosecution essentially if they kept their nose clean while at the same time providing substantial important -- what they called substantial important assistance to the government.

WU: It very much could jeopardize that, Anderson. I mean, as you say, they have to keep their nose clean. Being charged with another crime would be tremendously problematic. And if that happens, I think that deal is off. So they're really in a very bad situation here.

I mean if that deal is off, they have already admitted to their complicity in those crimes there with the campaign finance crimes that Cohen was charged with, so they're right back facing those. They have no defense to that.

On top of that, you've got the possibility of new investigations going on with regard to the extortion. And then perhaps the most intriguing aspect is why is Mr. Pecker so upset about the Saudi connection?

And as they dig into that, it's possible if you find a money trail back to the Saudis, we know that AMI has been interested in getting Saudi funding and there could be issues there in terms of foreign money influencing the election.

COOPER: Shan, I mean, this claim made by Bezos' security chief, Gavin de Becker, who's, you know, very well known in the security realm that he believes that it's possible that a government entity may have gotten a hold of Bezos' text messages. The most obvious question is which government entity or could it also mean a foreign government?

WU: Exactly. And if it's a foreign government, it goes right back to this idea of foreign influence in the elections. And that can also, if they had resources monetary helping with this, that could also be another campaign finance violation.

And there's also the intriguing aspect of if AMI was getting resources from the Saudis or some other government that they're also acting as an agent for that foreign government, there will be a third (ph) violation and we saw that go on with the Manafort and Gates situation. And that's an area that the Justice Department has become much more rigorous about enforcing is the third violations.

COOPER: Yes. Carl Bernstein, thank you very much, Shan Wu, as well. Obviously we're going to be keeping an eye close on this story. Appreciate it. Much more ahead, "The New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman joins us. He thinks Bezos should win a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. I'll talk to him about that and the notion that Saudi Arabia may play into the drama, next.


[20:48:43] COOPER: The revelations from Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, accusing the parent company of the "National Enquirer" of attempted extortion and blackmail are certainly getting reaction not just from federal prosecutors examining the conduct of AMI, but from pretty much all corners of the country and not just because the alleged blackmail involving potentially embarrassing and very personal photos of Bezos.

In his post, Bezos mentions that David Pecker and his company have also been investigated for actions they have taken on behalf of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government. Separately today, the White House refused to meet a legal mandate to tell Congress whether the White House thinks that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Here with inside in all of this is "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman, also the author of "Thank you for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations."

Tom, I want to go to the Saudi angle in a moment, but first just explain why you think that Bezos has -- what he's done is so significant, because I saw you tweeted that you're nominating him for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Well, you know, Anderson, we're living through a time in our public life where all of these elites in politics, we see the entire leadership of the state of Virginia in media, caught up in Me Too and other ethical misbehavior, business elites.

[20:50:02] You know, it's been a long time since you saw a high level public figure, in the case of Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in America and one of our most innovative entrepreneurs, stand up and do something purely on ethics to say to the "National Enquirer," "Yes, you may have salacious pictures of me, go ahead and print them."

I don't want to see that. I feel bad about it. But if the price of not doing that is giving into what appears to the reader, extortion, that he would not pursue an investigation into how they got those pictures, then I stand up and applaud.

I stand up and applaud any time now when I see public figures in business and media or government standing on principle impart also because we have President who is utterly without shame backed by a party that is utterly without spine and embraced by a network that is utterly without integrity and that's really dominating our public life right now.

COOPER: It's interesting because some legal, you know, scholars have said that they're not sure if it's a clear cut case of blackmail or extortion. It certainly -- I mean, I'm not a lawyer, but it certainly seems to be as -- I mean, coming pretty close. I mean, to get a letter saying, "We have these photographs of you, I'm going to explain them in detail to your attorney and oh, if you don't go ahead and if you publish what we want you to say, you know, we won't show these photos."

FRIEDMAN: Yes. It -- I not (INAUDIBLE) either it. It may not fit into the exact legal definition of extortion, but to the casual reader, if your neighbor did that to you, you'd call the police and say, "My neighbor is trying to extort something from me."

COOPER: The Saudi angle on this is also obviously, you know, a big part of it. In the post on medium, Jeff Bezos is quoting "The New York Times" when they reported, and I'm quoting, "After Mr. Trump became president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker his loyalty with a White House dinner to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia. At the time Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions." I mean, it's hard to imagine a more complicated layer to all of this than a potential Saudi connection.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. I mean, what we know is that -- what has been reported is that AMI, which owns the "National Enquirer," was looking for investments and investors. They had done a very glossy take out on the Saudi Crown Price Mohammed bin Salman and Pecker brought, you know, Saudis to the White House, probably at some kind of trade off, who knows.

But, yes, it's all -- you know, I think the Saudis need to step back and ask, on the one hand, why are we in all of the stories. And at the same time, I want to be fair to them. You know, there is no proof here. Bezos may have been putting that out as a lure to get people to look into it more.

Both the Saudis and Trump were grieve by the washing -- had a grievance with "The Washington Post" because "Washington Post" was doing its job in the Saudi case following up as well as it could on the crown prince's role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi who is a Saudi columnist. And in the case of Trump, reporting honestly and fairly on the Trump administration.

And anyone knows anything about journalism, Anderson, knows that Jeff Bezos is not writing headlines or dictating editorial, let alone assigning stories for "The Washington Post." As he said, any more than Randall Stephenson of AT&T is dictating who you should have on your show. And Trump at some level probably knows that, but he's trying to intimidate them.

I think, you know, the "National Enquirer," Anderson, is to journalism what the world wrestling federation is to Olympic wrestling, you know what I mean. Yes, their words are printed on paper and in that sense I guess they're involved in journalism just as wrestlers all, you know, wrestle on a mat.

But the fact is, they clearly were in two businesses. One was the catch and kill business and we don't know enough about that because God knows what they've -- what stories they've caught and killed to protect this President, and by the way, what leverage they have over him.

They were in that business and they were in the business of printing headlines about flying saucers who landed in Hillary Clinton's backyard to get you to buy their newspapers at the stand at the grocery store. So they're clearly in two businesses. And boy, I'd sure like to learn a lot more about the first one.

COOPER: Yes. And what they have, as you said, on file about President Trump because that relationship goes back a long, long time. Tom Friedman, thank you very much.

FRIEDMAN: Always a pleasure.

COOPER: Coming up, the biggest story flying under the radar tonight, efforts to head off another government shutdown. We had new word on where the negotiations now stand. It might surprise you.


[20:59:08] COOPER: Well, the big story today in Washington was the partisan divide on display at Whitaker hearing, the unsung story was all about quiet compromise behind closed doors to head off another government shutdown.

CNN has learned that Republican and Democratic negotiators are exchanging border security proposals that contain far less funding for a border wall than President Trump has demanded. The later proposals peg the top line funding number for border barriers around $2 billion, according to two people familiar with the talks. That's far less than the 5.7 billion that the President wants. Both sides are expected to work through the weekend as the deadline approaches a week from now.

A reminder, don't miss "Full Circle." It's 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

I apologize for my voice tonight. I have a little bit of a cold. The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris Cuomo for "Cuomo Prime Time."

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Anderson. Even sick, you're still our best. I am Chris Cuomo, welcome to "Prime Time."