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House Judiciary Demands Info from 81 People and Groups, Including White House, Trump Org, Campaign and Transition; Interview with Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island; New Yorker: President Trump Tried to Quash AT&T-Time Warner Merger. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired March 4, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:18] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

Today, the House Committee responsible for impeachment proceedings sent the president a message. Eighty-one letters to nearly every person, institution and business entity connected to Donald J. Trump, signaling the president is about to face more scrutiny on more fronts than any president ever has.

We're putting them up on the screen.

And as you can see, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. are on the list. David Pecker, who runs the "National Enquirer's" parent company, the Karen McDougal payoff guy, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg is there, COO Matthew Calamari, the president's former personal secretary, Corey Lewandowski, and others. The Trump Organization itself, the president's discredited charity. They're all getting letters from the committee requesting documents, so are campaign officials, Michael Flynn, members of the inaugural committee, Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks.

There are Russian billionaires on the list, Julian Assange, people involved in the Trump Tower meeting. The Judiciary Committee, they want information from all of these people and entities. It is, by any measure, a daunting list. And as you can see, the names go on.

Together, they know more things about more specific aspects of the president and his dealings, some going back decades. So, if there's anything fishy with any of it, they would probably be in a position to know. Yet today, when asked whether he'd cooperate with the committee, the president preferred to focus on one aspect of the investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I cooperate all the time with everybody. And you know the beautiful thing? No collusion, it's all a hoax. You're going to learn about that as you grow older. It's a political hoax. There's no collusion. There's no anything.


COOPER: No collusion, no anything. That is, of course, the president's long-standing refrain, and it very well may be true. It might not. That's what Robert Mueller's report will likely, hopefully settle.

But tonight, that's not the point, because keeping them honest, whatever you may think of the president or his actions, whether as president or before, it's not just a question of collusion, it's also potentially obstruction of justice. Perhaps witness tampering, as well.

And during his testimony last week, Michael Cohen suggested numerous other items for Congress and law enforcement to look into, including fraud on the president's part.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me, there's no Russian business, and then go on to lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie.


COOPER: Well, Cohen also shed light on efforts he made to silence Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and the apparently deceptive way in which he was paid for his work, which may have violated campaign finance law with the president's knowledge.


COHEN: That was in order to hide what the payment was. I obviously wanted the money in one shot. I would have preferred it that way. But in order to be able to put it onto the books, Allen Weisselberg made the decision that it should paid over the 12 months, so that it would look like a retainer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And did Mr. Trump know about this reimbursement method?

COHEN: Oh, he knew about everything, yes.


COOPER: Well, Cohen says he knew and suggested the names of people, such as Allen Weisselberg, that lawmakers should contact, many of whom are now getting letters from the Judiciary Committee. And on top of that, he also put fresh focus on other allegedly questionable practices, some of which reportedly date back decades for the president, including this.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?

COHEN: Yes. OCASIO-CORTEZ: Who else knows that the president did this?

COHEN: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman, and Matthew Calamari.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: And where would the committee find more information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?

COHEN: Yes. And you'd find it at the Trump Org.


COOPER: Although we do not know specifically what the House Judiciary Committee is seeking from the Trump Organization, we do know that the company either has or is about to get a letter in the mail and there's more tonight, including another avenue that a number of leading conservatives believe could lead to impeachment on its own with nothing added. It involves the president reportedly leaning on the Justice Department to block a business deal involving our parent company, because, again, reportedly, the president didn't like CNN's coverage of him. We'll talk about that, we'll talk about all the other ways the president could now be vulnerable, either legally or politically or both and you'll hear from some who have called this kind of wide-ranging scrutiny long overdue and those who disagree, say it's completely unfair.

What you won't hear is anyone who is downplaying how serious this potentially is, except perhaps the president.


TRUMP: Now we have people that lost and, unfortunately, you put the wrong people in a couple of positions and they leave people for a long time that shouldn't be there.

[20:05:11] And all of a sudden, they're trying to take you out with bullshit, OK? With bullshit.


COOPER: Excuse the language.

CNN's Jim Acosta joins us now from the White House with more on how the president is reacting to the apparently widening investigation.

So, any word from the White House on this?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not much, Anderson. Just that little bit of audio that you played just a short while ago, where the president said that he cooperates with everybody. The White House press secretary did issue a brief statement saying that Chairman Nadler of the judiciary committee knows full well that some of the things he's seeking are protected by law, as private conversations that the president and some of his aides have as they're doing the people's business inside the White House. But, Anderson, that is an indication, when the White House says

something like that, that they're going to try to stand in the way of cooperating with this investigation, which is no B.S., no matter what the president says.

COOPER: So they plan to assert executive privilege, at some point?

ACOSTA: It does seem to be that case. You know, the White House has not pulled that trigger up until this point. I talked to a White House official earlier this evening who said the president has not made a decision about that. Although if you look at exactly what Chairman Nadler's committee is seeking at this point, a lot of this falls under the area that, according to this White House official, falls under executive privilege.

Now, whether or not they go down that road, we'll have to wait and see what happens with that. If you remember what happened with Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general, he went up and testified up on Capitol Hill, was viewed by many Democrats as not being terribly cooperative and really not a productive witness, and so, the White House could go down that road, where they try to on obfuscate and drag things out and perhaps flood the zone with as much documentation and information as possible, as a way to jam up this investigation.

But I talked to one of the targets of this probe, one of the names on that list who didn't want to speak on the record, but was basically saying, listen, you know, if there's one cautionary tale in all of this, if you're going to go work for a campaign or an administration, it's best to hire a lawyer beforehand. And, Anderson, I would suspect, if you're a white-collar attorney here in Washington, dealing with government corruption, defending clients who have been accused of government corruption, your phone is probably ringing off the hook this week.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, other White Houses would set up elaborate war rooms, staffed with a lot of people, in order to deal with things like this. Do we know if this White House has anything like that in place?

ACOSTA: No signs of that, Anderson. And one of the things that we can point to is what happened last week with Michael Cohen. When the president was over in Vietnam with that summit with Kim Jong-un, it was almost deafening silence coming out of the White House, and out of the president's team over in Hanoi, when we were asking these questions about Michael Cohen.

Remember, Michael Cohen brought up a whole slew of these issues that are now falling under Chairman Nadler's investigation, going into the president's business dealings, the Trump Organization. (AUDIO GAP) Michael Cohen was basically pointing a finger at it, you know, how the president was shielding himself from paying taxes and paying high insurance rates on his personal properties and his golf properties and so on. And there just wasn't anybody inside the White House who was willing to field those questions.

And my guess is, Anderson, dealing with the Nadler investigation, we're going to have some more of that same deafening silence. It's another way of dealing with the questions. You can set up a war room, sort of like they did back in the Clinton administration, or you can have no war room and not talk to anybody, which might be what happens, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, appreciate it, from the White House, thanks very much.

Perspective now from 181 recipients of a letter from Judiciary Committee. He's Jerome Corsi, long-time conspiracy theorist, birther and associate of Roger Stone. I spoke to him and his attorney, Larry Klayman, earlier this evening.


COOPER: Mr. Corsi, this letter that you received from the Judiciary Committee, what exactly are they requested that you provide them now?

JEROME CORSI, AUTHOR, "SILENT NO MORE": Well, there's three specific requests. One has to do with anything I did with foreign countries, another with the Russian federation and a third with WikiLeaks. And it's pretty ridiculous. I've given all of this information to the special counselor in far greater detail. It's going to be very expensive. It's really harassment.

I don't have paper copies. I've got external hard drives, which I turned over to the FBI. They extracted the information, going to cost me thousands of dollars. And in the end, I didn't have any contacts with WikiLeaks. I didn't have any contacts with Russians.

COOPER: So all of the information, did they return that information to you or do they still have it?

CORSI: Oh, they still have it. The special counselor's office. But I'd be happy if they turned it over. It would save me thousands of dollars and endless harassment to go get it again.

COOPER: So what happens next here? Do you plan to comply with the request?

CORSI: Well, I don't see -- I mean, there's no reason to fight it. If we fight it, it will just delay it. I just think it's, again, harassment. This is more Russian collusion. And after two years, we don't have a single indictment on the specific topic of Russian collusion by the Mueller team.

[20:10:04] COOPER: I guess, you know, you did send an e-mail to Roger Stone who you've long had an association with. I think it was on August 2nd, 2016, referencing Julian Assange. You said, "word is, friend in embassy," meaning Assange, "plans two more dumps, impact planned to be very damaging."

In the past, you've said that you used what you called forensic analysis or deduction to figure out that they were going to do that. Do you really expect people to believe that, though? Because, I mean, it doesn't seem to make sense that you were able to just deduce that. It sounds like somebody told you that. CORSI: Well, Anderson, I don't know what people are going to believe

and what they're not going to believe. They may not believe the truth, but the truth is, I did connect the dots and figure it out. In fact, if you take a look at my book, I wrote a whole book on all of this. None of this is secret. I've discussed this many times. "Silent No More" is my book.

COOPER: Right, you said you connect dots. Jeff Toobin, you know, wrote a piece about this last month, saying basically that your claim is dubious. He said, quote: There was nothing about the prior disclosures that would give you any basis to predict that Podesta's e- mails would also be made public and --

CORSI: Anderson, I want to interject --

COOPER: -- that Podesta's e-mails were going to be disclosed --

LARRY KLAYMAN, JEROME CORSI'S ATTORNEY: Anderson, I want to interject here, because we're not going to get into areas that deal with the Stone prosecution or anything else. There's a gag order there. Jerry came on to talk about Jerrold Nadler's request --

COOPER: I mean, he's talked about all of this before on television numerous times before.

KLAYMAN: He has, but we're not getting into it now. We have a judicial order. Roger Stone is out there saying things. We're not going to violate that gag order.

CORSI: Let me just say, for what Mr. Toobin believes or doesn't believe is not my problem. What we testified to, I spent 20 hours -- I wrote this in "Silent No More," we spent 20 hours with the special prosecutor going over everybody I've been in contact with, in 2016, 2017. My attorneys at that time, David Gray (ph), who is still my attorney, as well as Larry, we begged the special prosecutor, if you know anyone we were talking to, tell us.

I'm confident I had no contact with Julian Assange directly or indirectly. I did connect the dots and figure it out. Whether people believe that or not is not my problem.

COOPER: Mueller has laid out claims that you lied multiple times in your interview with his office. You rejected the plea deal they offered. Where do you stand at this point with them? I mean, do you think they're going to --

KLAYMAN: Anderson, he has not laid out claims that Dr. Corsi lied. He has not. In fact, that's the reason that Dr. Corsi is not indicted. That's simply not true.

COOPER: Well, he is the person referenced in the indictment on Roger Stone.

CORSI: I am person number one. But Anderson, as I pointed out, again, please read "Silent No More." As I pointed out, the one count that Mueller wanted me to plead guilty to was testimony that Mueller had allowed me to amend. And I thought that was completely fraudulent.

I was amending my testimony constantly. You've got to read the book.

COOPER: Just lastly, I mean, there are obviously a number of people watching this who are going to say, look, you have been an advocate of many conspiracy theories, from President Obama not being born in the U.S. to, you know, the questions about what really happened on 9/11 --

CORSI: No, no, I have not questioned that one. You -- you may have accused me of that one, before, even, but I have not. I find it -- I never wrote anything about 9/11 at all.

COOPER: Well, I think you -- you were talking about fire -- yeah, on a radio show, I think I actually have the clip.

CORSI: I have one clip on a radio show, but it never got published. We decided, ultimately, I changed my mind on that and did not publish it. But here's my point --

KLAYMAN: Anderson, let me say one thing here about the birth certificate. The birth certificate, there's been forensic analysis on that. He never said that Obama was born in another country. But the birth certificate appears to be fraudulent.

COOPER: You're saying forensic analyst by people linked with Joe Arpaio, is that the forensic analysis you're talking about?

KLAYMAN: Well, people can get things right.

COOPER: I'm just saying, is that the forensic analysis you're talking about?

KLAYMAN: There's other forensic analysis, the birth certificate uses the word "African-American" in 1961. That term was not used until Jesse Jackson --

COOPER: So you don't believe that President Obama was born in the United States?

KLAYMAN: That's not what I said. I said the birth certificate, there's forensic analysis and it's fraudulent. Don't beat up on my client because of that. It's inappropriate. Do some research.

CORSI: Anderson, I may not believe, as readily as you do, perhaps, government official explanations.

COOPER: Do you believe the president was born in the United States?

CORSI: I said, and Larry's right on this, I want to see the original official 1961 birth records from Kenya. That will settle it. I don't know where he was born. I'm happy to see the 1961 records and admit I was wrong.

The state of Hawaii will not show those records to anyone, including to law enforcement. I don't know why. COOPER: You did admit you were wrong about something just today,

which I want to point out, you apologized for a false story about Seth Rich stealing e-mails and releasing them to WikiLeaks, stealing them from the DNC.

[20:15:12] CORSI: And when I'm wrong, I'll admit it. There was one story, I relied upon an article that Admiral Lyons had written in "The Washington Post" and they subsequently retracted, and I agreed, because they retracted the story, I retracted my story. I didn't retract anything else I've written on Seth Rich. I didn't retract my statements that I think the theft of the DNC e-mails was likely an inside job.

In deference to the Seth Rich family, I retracted one article that ended up being based on a story that "The Washington Post" retracted. When I'm wrong, I'll be happy to admit it.

COOPER: So I guess the question is, given your record on, you know, on Obama's birth certificate, on the Seth Rich matter, why should people believe you?

KLAYMAN: Wait a second. There's nothing wrong with his record on the Obama birth certificate, Anderson. Don't twist things. We came on your show --

COOPER: The birther movement has been discredited --


KLAYMAN: Let me say something. We came on your show, I think you're more honest than the rest of the people on CNN. Why don't you keep that --

COOPER: You made this apology just today. It would be irresponsible of me not to ask you about it.

CORSI: I don't object to you asking about it. I answered it. I apologized for one story.


CORSI: I've written 22 books since 2004. Two of them were number one bestsellers. Some of them were on the bestseller list.

I believe my books are well footnoted. People may not agree with me. I do not readily accept government explanations, as many people seem to. I challenge government explanations. And I will probably continue to do that as long as I'm alive.

COOPER: Jerome Corsi, I appreciate your time, and Larry Klayman, thank you very much.

COOPER: Thank you, Anderson.

CORSI: Thank you.


COOPER: All right, let's dig deeper now into where the judiciary committee is heading and the ground it may cover up to and including the question of impeachment.

Joining us for that is Congressman David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, who is a member of the committee.

Congressman, you just heard Jerome Corsi, who said the request from your committee is ridiculous, he called it harassment, said he's already given all of this information to the special counsel and can't you just get it from them?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, it's a kind of ridiculous claim. He says on the one hand, he's already produced it, which is why we recommended a very short timeline of just a couple of weeks for people to come in compliance, because we specifically said, if you've already produced this material for either the special counsel or the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York or any other government body, just provide us what you provided them.

COOPER: He claims he doesn't have copies.

CICILLINE: Well, all he has to do is authorize them to furnish us with a copy. It will be easy to come into compliance. But look, the Judiciary Committee has a responsibility to collect these documents so that we can begin our oversight work. This went out to a number of organizations and individuals we believe have information relative to our oversight responsibilities. And that's separate and apart from the special counsel, who has a very limited inquiry that relates to Russian -- the Russian attack on our democracy, and whether or not there was a conspiracy with any of the Trump officials or Trump campaign officials.

We have a much broader responsibility to do oversight. This focuses on corruption, obstruction of justice and abuse of power as kind of the three main areas. And we are beginning that work now in earnest, because the Judiciary Committee has been prevented from doing any oversight for the last two years under Republican control.

COOPER: There are going to be a lot of supporters of the president who are going to say, look, maybe -- it looks like the Mueller investigation is winding down. If there is no evidence of conspiracy or collusion, if there's nothing that the president can be indicted on, then what Democrats are doing in the House now, what your committee is doing, is basically a phishing expedition. Just send out as many letters as possible, call as many people in, and just, you know, grind this for another two years, trying to find out anything that might be untoward.

Is that fair?

CICILLINE: Well, first -- no, it's not fair at all. Look, the Judiciary Committee has institutional responsibility to hold the administration accountable, whoever the president is, to do oversight. All of these requests for documents are based on information that has come to the judiciary committee that requires us to begin to collect evidence to do appropriate investigations. We've hired outside consultants to assist us in this work. There's a lot of work to do here. We have a responsibility to -- we understand how it might be looked at by folks.

But this is our responsibility, as members of Congress to uphold the rule of law, to ensure that the administration is not engaged in acts of corruption, abuse of power or obstruction of justice. And we have a responsibility to gather evidence, to bring in witnesses, to make factual determinations, so that we can take appropriate action, as the Judiciary Committee. The fact that it hasn't been done in two years, I know it may look like a new exercise, but we ought to have been doing this for the last two years.

We pleaded with our Republican colleagues, we have a 500-page document, which lists all the times we attempted to do oversight under Republican control, but they would not do it.

[20:20:05] So we have a lot of work that's backed up. But this is a core function of the Judiciary Committee.


CICILLINE: By the way, we're doing it while we're doing our other work, too. But this is one of our responsibilities and we owe it to the American people to do it.

COOPER: You know, one of the things we heard a lot the last two years was kind of a new invention of executive privilege, where the White House wasn't actually claiming executive privilege, but people would appear before committees and say, well, I don't think I'm going to say anything about that because I think that's what I -- you know, that's private between me and the president and I'm -- I just think that's, you know, covered by executive privilege, even though the White House itself was not claiming executive privilege. And that just seemed to be accepted by Republicans who were running the committees.

Is that -- does that game work anymore?

CICILLINE: Well, of course -- no, it doesn't work. And of course, we have the responsibility to collect evidence, to listen to testimony, and people have the obligation to answer. If we were prohibited from collecting information or hearing from witnesses or having documents produced because people thought it would make them look bad or they were uncomfortable, the president might not like it, we wouldn't be able to do our oversight as we're required to by the Constitution.

So, if people are going to claim a reason not to produce documents or testify, they have to invoke a legally recognized reason to do that. And simply saying, I think the president would prefer I not answer this, is not an invocation of executive privilege. The president is going to have to do that and do it in front of the American people if he's going to try to prevent witnesses from testifying or producing documents.

But look, we're going to get at the truth, and we're going to get the materials and the evidence we need to find out exactly what happened here and to hold this administration accountable.

COOPER: Well, Congressman Cicilline, appreciate your time, as always. Thank you.

CICILLINE: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up next, we have breaking news. What former FBI Director James Comey has to say about the pending Mueller report?

And later, the president's national security adviser, John Bolton, tries to clean up president's defense of north Korean dictator Kim Jong-un over the murder of Otto Warmbier. We're keeping them honest, next.


[20:26:16] COOPER: There is breaking news. The former FBI Director James Comey fired by President Trump writes in an opinion piece published by "The Washington Post" that the new attorney general, William Barr, should not limit the public disclosure of the Mueller report when it's finally issued. Comey writes, and I quote, every American should want a Justice Department guided first and always by the public interest. Sometimes transparency is not a hard call.

Here with me tonight, Neal Katyal, who back in the late '90s drafted the special counsel regulations, and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

So, Jeff, you see Comey citing what he says is Justice Department tradition of disclosing information that's of public interest. William Barr didn't talk about tradition, though.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: No, he talked about the regulation. And you know, Neal was instrumental in writing this regulation. As I read it, I mean, it leaves a lot up to Barr. And, you know, I don't think he is obliged to release a lot of the Mueller report.

I hope he does. I think a lot of Americans hope he does. But if you are inclined to read that regulation narrowly, it could be a very small disclosure to Congress and thus to the American people.

COOPER: Neal, do you agree, depending on how you read it, the attorney general could, within his rights, decide to have a very small disclosure to Congress?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER U.S. ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, the attorney general does have general discretion under the regulations, because the regulations are written not just for presidential wrongdoing, they were written for all sorts of high-level wrongdoing. And so, they're written in general terms. There's certainly nothing that forbids disclosure when you're dealing with an investigation like this. And indeed, the commentary to the regulations, I think, does require it, because it talks about public administration and the -- public confidence in the administration of justice. And here -- and that's why this -- you know, in the Comey argument, I

think, is largely right. Comey's basic argument is that when you're dealing with something that has massive public concern, the Justice Department has traditionally erred on the side of more disclosure rather than less, looking at Ferguson and things like that. I think he goes far too far when he talks about trying to defend what he did with Hillary Clinton, because that's a really different thing. We're talking about here the kind of fundamental question a democracy faces, which is, if allegations that your top leader, your numero uno, the president of the United States is possibly engaged if crimes, and that is the paradigmatic case for when disclosure is necessary, because after all, the president wields the prosecution power.

The president picked Attorney General Barr. The president installed, you know, Matthew Whitaker, you know, before that, and the attorney general before that, Jeff Sessions. All of those provide opportunities for cover-up as well as the firing of Jim Comey. And so, that's why this is different.

COOPER: I want to kind of change topics here. Because, Jeff, there's a fascinating article in "The New Yorker" by your colleague, Jane Mayer. And among other things, she writes that President Trump ordered Gary Cohn, who at that point was his top economic adviser, to pressure the Justice Department to oppose the AT&T/Time Warner merger. Obviously, Time Warner, at the time, was the parent company of CNN. AT&T is now the parent company of CNN.

TOOBIN: You know what's so interesting about what Jane disclosed in this piece is that it dovetails very well with the Jerry Nadler document request that came out today. Because what that's really about is not so much identifying criminality in the Trump administration, but abuse of power. I don't think --

COOPER: That's what's behind the Nadler --

TOOBIN: Right. The idea that, you know, presidential misconduct, even impeachable conduct, can be beyond simply just violation of the criminal code, but abuse of power. And if this story, you know, could be proved in a more -- you know, with witnesses, this could be the kind of abuse of power that might even rise to the level of impeachable offense, because it is something only the President can do. Only the President can stop an investigation -- you know, or can initiate an anti-trust investigation solely for political reasons. Now, you know, we're a long way from that, but that is, if it's proved, I think, an abuse of power.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's pretty stunning. Gary Cohn, you know, was what, number two at Goldman Sachs. I mean, for the President to put him in that position, if this is true, it's -- I mean, Neal, George Conway, obviously, husband of Kellyanne Conway and frequent tweeter against the President said that if "The New Yorker" report is true, this could be grounds for impeachment on the basis that the President by working to stop the merger was basically trying to interfere with the First Amendment.

NEAL, KATYAL, FORMER U.S. ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Yes, George is 100 percent right as is Jeff Toobin. I mean, what Trump is basically doing is bringing back King George III. I mean, not just on his odious views of race and so on but on, you know, the most fundamental value we face, which is free speech. That's the heart of our democracy. And this isn't like some antitrust technical thing.

I mean, the allegation in this "New Yorker" piece is that the President isolated CNN because he didn't like their speech. That's what despots do. That's what people like Putin do. And Jeff's absolutely right, the core of impeachment historically, if you look at the ratification debates, is all about abuse of the public trust. And this is, if it's true, and you know, we don't know if it is, but if it's true, that's kind of a core classic impeachable offense.

COOPER: Couldn't Gary Cohn just put out a statement about whether or not this is true?

TOOBIN: Well, I think he's going to have the opportunity to testify about that under oath in the -- I mean, that is -- that cries out for an investigation by Congress, that whole exchange about the merger.

COOPER: Yes. Jeff Toobin, thanks very much, Neal Katyal, as well.

Coming up next, how a tough-talking president and a hard line national security adviser both end up bending over backwards to not hold a dictator accountable for the death of an American. They're not keeping them honest, but we will.


[20:35:42] COOPER: National Security Adviser John Bolton has spent decades honing his reputation as a hard liner, especially in North Korea. He's even clashed with the boss about it, especially last year when he advocated what he called a Libyan model for the country. No American concessions until Kim Jong-un physically opened up his entire nuclear program.

Negotiations, he once said, legitimatized the Kim dictatorship. But keeping them honest, confronting nuclear-armed dictators, well, that seems kind of 2018 for Bolton, especially when the boss is bent on cutting them slack, even when it comes to the horrible death of an American after 17 months in North Korean captivity.

Here's the President after meeting with Kim last week, absolving him of responsibility for the death of Otto Warmbier.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some really bad things happened to Otto, some really, really bad things.


TRUMP: But he tells me, he tells me that he didn't know about it and I will take him at his word.


COOPER: He didn't have to, but he did. And remember, not so long ago, John Bolton didn't think that talks with Kim Jong-un should even take place, which leaves him with the choice that all top officials have when they clash with the boss. They can always step down or they can do verbal back flips instead, as he did this weekend on Fox News.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVIDER: When he says I'm going to take him at his word, it just -- it doesn't mean that he accepts it as reality. It means that he accepts that's what Kim Jong-un said.


COOPER: You got that? What you heard the President say about taking Kim at his words doesn't really mean, you know, that he really takes him at his word. Except then on "State of the Union" on CNN, Bolton says the opposite, that the President really does take Kim at his word.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you take Kim Jong-un at his word?

BOLTON: The President takes him at his word, that's what it makes.

TAPPER: I know he does, but what about you?

BOLTON: My opinion doesn't matter.


COOPER: So now, the President does but Bolton doesn't or he doesn't want to say. He won't say, even though as, you know, John Bolton has really been shy about voicing his views on foreign affairs, especially when Democrats are in charge. But to his credit, sometimes when they're not, he's bucked the boss before, just not this time when it matters. This time he's playing word games over the President's questionable interactions with some of the world's most dangerous characters.


BOLTON: He's not saying he's siding with dictators over Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He believes them.

BOLTON: He has expressed his opinion about what they've said on these various points.


COOPER: Points like Russia interfering in the 2016 elections, which the President's own intelligence officials said they did. The President expressed the opinion, as John Bolton calls it, that virtually anyone could have done it other than Vladimir Putin.

As for Kim Jong-un, I just want to play you one other opinion the President has expressed after meeting the man who imprisons and tortures generations of his own citizens.


TRUMP: He's a character.


TRUMP: And he's a real personality and he's very smart. He's sharp as you can be and he's a real leader. And he's pretty mercurial. I don't say that necessarily in a bad way, but he's a pretty mercurial guy.


COOPER: Max Boot joins us now. He's a CNN Global Affairs Analyst and author of "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right." I mean, your book title, the "The Corrosion of Conservatism" is sort of perfect for this.

You have John Bolton, clearly very conservative, who is, you know, always voices opinions whether you agree with them or not, you know, very strongly, tying himself in knots not to avoid contradicting the President.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. I think he's earning an Olympic gold medal, if tap dancing were an Olympic sport, because he's clearly tap dancing around the fact that he is very deeply opposed to what President Trump is doing in the case of North Korea. And if this were any other president doing this, he would be breathing fire and fury on Fox News about this is appeasement, sellout, et cetera.

But you know, Anderson, I was certainly not in favor of appointing John Bolton. I was actually quite critical of him. I am no fan of John Bolton. But I actually kind of appreciate the fact that you have somebody in the White House who has a different view and perhaps may be a check on Donald Trump's desire to reach out to Kim, his new best friend with whom he claims to be in love. So, I think somebody like John Bolton can actually serve as a reality check upon those impulses.

COOPER: If, in fact, he does that -- I mean, he said, you know, obviously in that Fox interview, he said, well -- or maybe it was to Jake, he said, "Well, look, my opinion doesn't matter." He's the national security adviser, actually, his opinion matters greatly or at least should matter greatly to the President. The hope is, fine, I understand him not expressing it on television, but you would hope he would express it face-to-face with the President.

BOOT: Right, I think that's the big question. We don't know what he's saying behind closed doors.

[20:40:00] And I will say, even what he's saying in public is not going to sit well with President Trump, because Trump wants complete toadyism from his surrogates and officials. So he's not going to appreciate the fact that Bolton pointedly refused to endorse his position on North Korea.

But I think you bring up the right question as what is he saying behind closed doors? Does he actually confront Trump and say, "Hey, Mr. President, the intelligence community is right, Kim Jong-un is not going to give up his nuclear weapons." Or does he tap dance around in the Oval Office as well and refuse to tell Trump straight to his face that he is living a fantasy when it comes to North Korea? I think that is the important question and we don't know the answer to that.

COOPER: You know, Bolton also suggested on Fox that American national interests were weightier and more important than individual cases like Otto Warmbier. Obviously, leaders have to make difficult decisions that there may be a greater good and it may be terrible for individuals or family or, you know, however one wants to phrase it.

It seems though what the President is doing though is not really that, it's just toadying up to Kim Jong-un. He genuinely seems to like him or he genuinely believes he's a real leader. And that to me is, I guess, the most stunning two words, the idea that he is a real leader.

BOOT: Right. And this is very much the opposite of Ronald Reagan's approach, even though Trump and Bolton, everybody else claims to revere Ronald Reagan. In fact, you saw what happened in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan was able to negotiate with the Soviet Union while still calling them out for human rights abuses, still saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," and Trump doesn't do that.

He feels he has to go all in, in flattering these dictators to get deals and there's no evidence that approach actually works. And it creates some cognitive dissidence because on the one hand, Bolton and Trump are thundering about human rights abuses in Venezuela committed by the Maduro regime. On the other hand, they're giving a pass to Kim Jong-un who is even a worse human rights violator than Maduro. So, it doesn't add up.

It's not a credible policy but, you know, the one thing I will say to John Bolton's credit is I don't actually think that's his policy. I think he's dealing with a very head strong President who knows very little and has very strong ideas he wants to pursue. And I think the question is to what extent will Bolton be able or even willing to try to steer Trump in a different direction.

COOPER: It is -- I mean, it's interesting because, you know, the President had very tough words for North Korea when Otto Warmbier's parents were standing by his side and he was speaking and at the State of the Union, very tough words about North Korea when Otto Warmbier's parents were there.

It seems like when the President is face to face with somebody, he says one thing. Then when he's face to face with Kim Jong-un, he says something else. And, you know, the knock on him has always been, well, he sort of takes the opinion of the last person who left the room and a lot of people discounted that early on, but that does seem to kind of hold some truth. BOOT: I think that is true, Anderson, and that's why Trump has no credibility. I mean, this is somebody who lies an average of 20 times a day in 2019. He says one thing and then says something else, and so nobody knows what to believe and that's part of what makes him such an unreliable negotiator, and why he's not a good negotiator, whether he's negotiating with Nancy Pelosi or Kim Jong-un.

COOPER: Max Boot, thanks very much.

We've got some big breaking news now on the one leading Democrat who until tonight had yet to say whether she's running for president, Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee. She spoke tonight on a New York area cable outlet, News 12 Westchester. Here's very quickly what she had to say.


HILLARY CLINTON, 2016 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm not running, but I'm going to keep working and speaking and standing up for what I believe.


COOPER: Hillary Clinton not running. Some had raised some questions about that, but sounds like there's no doubt.

As the night continues, next, it may never happen, but if it does, what form would a criminal case against the President look like? Could it be based on prosecutions in the 1980s against organized crime? We'll look at that.


[20:47:37] COOPER: In an opinion piece in today's "New York Times," CNN Contributor Garrett Graff writes that a hypothetical prosecution of President Trump could be based on tactics used against organized crime back in the 1980s.

And I'm quoting, "The parallels between the Mafia and the Trump Organization are more than we might like to admit. After all, Michael Cohen was labeled a rat by President Trump last for agreeing to cooperate with investigators, interestingly, in the language of crime, rats generally aren't seen as liars. They're rats precisely because they turn state's evidence and tell the truth, spilling the secrets of a criminal organization."

Joining me now is investigative reporter, David Cay Johnston, author of "The Making of Donald Trump." So, David, as someone who's investigated, written about the Trump Organization for decades, do you agree -- I mean, do you see a parallel between the way the Trump Organization was run and organized crime?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, TAX AND ACCOUNTING COLUMNIST: Oh, absolutely. And in addition to the federal RICO statute, New York State has a similar statute and both of them would allow prosecutors to reach far back into Donald Trump, Donald Trump's past, including what I think is one of the most troubling episodes in his life, and that was all the favors and business relationship he had with Joseph Wexelbaum, a major international cocaine trafficker Donald did favors for.

COOPER: There was also -- I mean, they've also been allegations about connections between Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, and various figures associated with mob families in the construction business.

JOHNSTON: Right. And -- exactly right. When Donald was building Trump Tower, he was able to use non-union -- illegal immigrants from Poland to tear down the old bomb with Teller (ph) because of the mob connections he had through Roy Cohn.

When he put the building up, Trump Tower is a cement building. There was a concrete strike in New York while it was being built. Every project in New York, you know, the sidewalk in front of your house, all stopped, except Trump Tower, because of Donald's mob connections.

COOPER: You've pointed out before that Donald Trump has been connected, as I said, to various figures in his career, but if there ever were a criminal investigation of the Trump Organization, do you see a road map investigators could follow, that is similar to where the Southern District of New York handled, you know, the war on organized crime?

JOHNSTON: Oh, yes. What you have to have are a series of events that show a criminal enterprise, that the Trump Organization while appearing to be a real estate firm is really a criminal enterprise.

[20:50:06] And I don't think meeting the standards of either the federal RICO statute or the New York State Statute would be at all difficult. I was a little surprised with the list of 81 people who Jerry Nadler sent letters and request for documents too today that it didn't include several people from Donald's past, Joseph Wexelbaum and some few surviving people connected with construction of some of his buildings and the mob connections involved there.

COOPER: I mean the irony of this is that Rudy Giuliani who, you know, was the guy responsible for heading up many of those investigations into the mob just so happens to be the same man as now President Trump's attorney.

JOHNSTON: Well, he's his television lawyer and he keeps getting the law wrong as many of us have been pointing out time and again about this. But I agree to you, there's certainly irony that Rudy made his reputation that way. Just remember, he didn't prosecute the cases personally, other lawyers working under him did.

COOPER: Yes. He held the press conferences. David Cay Johnston, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Look, the tricky part of this -- that was a great conversation, by the way, Coop, the -- is that the President has Rudy Giuliani not working as his lawyer, working as his press attache --

COOPER: Right.

CUOMO: -- making the case that this will stay in the public's fear. But what if it doesn't on the Southern District side? That's when all of this questions that Garrett Graff laid out very tantalizingly for us today may come home to roost and that's why we've got Graff on tonight. I'm going to ask him three questions about this.

Also, we're going to take on what's going on in general with oversight. We've got one of the main hotshots for the Democrats. Hakeem Jeffries is here. He's going to be one of the parts of the tip of the spear of this. Why? What's the basis for these questions? Where do you think it will go? What do they planned to do?

And Corey Lewandowski is on that list. Does he like that? Does he believe that Trump and abuse of power can even go in the same sentence? He'll make the case.

COOPER: Corey Lewandowski is joining you tonight?

CUOMO: Yes. Why, do you know something different? Am I wrong?

COOPER: No. I'm just --


CUOMO: Oh, just came somewhere else?

COOPER: No. I'm looking forward to it. Good. It's appointment viewing. Chris, thanks very much.

CUOMO: You had me nervous there for a second, Cooper.

COOPER: By the way, I loved seeing your son on the air last week. It was so cool, Mario.

CUOMO: Anderson Cooper and the sexy hair cut. And then on Instagram today you cut your hair.

COOPER: Again, yes, (INAUDIBLE) advice.

CUOMO: And he said, "Did he cut his hair because he thought I didn't say something nice about his hair?" I said, "I'm sure whatever he did has nothing to do with you."

COOPER: No. I tried to play basketball with him in the hallway out there, I was -- it was very sad.

CUOMO: Yes, I told him, stay away from his face. Don't hit Coop in the face.


COOPER: Chris, thanks. I'll see you in a few minutes, about 7 minutes. The President offers is a sudden new reason why he walked out of talks with Kim Jong-un and kind of defies logic. "The Ridiculist" is next.


[20:57:00] COOPER: Time now for "Ridiculist." And tonight we have a do it yourself guide on how to transform your life in a very specific way. "The Ridiculist" presents how to go from fixer to ultimate scapegoat in one easy lesson, because in addition to being, as the President once called him on Twitter a rat, Michael Cohen is also somehow apparently now indirectly responsible for the disintegration of talks with North Korea.

The President twitted last night, "For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar and fraudster, at the time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the walk. Never done when a president is overseas. Shame."

The Michael Cohen hearing contributed to the President walking out of talks with Kim Jong-un. I'm confused because I thought it was about sanctions. I wonder what on earth could possibly have given me the impression it was about sanctions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the North Korean demand for lifting up some sanctions, the real sticking point here and that you did not --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- want to do that and they did?

TRUMP: It was about the sanctions. But it was about sanctions. I mean, they wanted sanctions lifted but they weren't willing to do an area that we wanted. They were willing to give us areas, but not the ones we wanted.


COOPER: All right, it was the President who said it was about sanctions several times. Then fast forward a few days, perhaps a chance to say get over the jet lag, catch up with some Fox News coverage, and President changing now it's because of the Michael Cohen hearing, which I'm sorry, but I'm just not really following the logic here.

Is the President suggesting that Kim Jong-un was going to go along with everything he wanted and then watch the Michael Cohen hearing? Because even if that was the case, what part could of Cohen's testimony could possibly have any bearing on a North Korean negotiations? I just want to try to think that's true.

Did perhaps North Korea's dictator decide he could not negotiate in good faith after he heard that Cohen say that Trump once paid someone to bid on a giant portrait of himself? You know, somehow I doubt that. I doubt that that would offend Kim Jong-un's delicate sensibilities. There he is walking past a 7-foot-tall portrait of himself at the Pyongyang Airport. So maybe it was this that made the talks deteriorate.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: I am providing the committee today with several documents. The copies of letters I wrote at Mr. Trump's direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores.


COOPER: Again, not sure that the murderous dictator of the most oppressive and brutal regime of the world would really care about what the President got on the verbal section of the SAT's in the early 1960s.

So maybe the President's point was and if you can at all avoid it, I would recommend not trying to follow the President's tweet logic, especially if you're prone to migraines, but maybe his point was it simply having the hearing was a bad look while he's overseas and that contributed to the breakdown of -- or actually pass the Tylenol because he said it was about the sanctions. He also went kind of full Oreo speed wagon and said it was simply time for him to fly.


TRUMP: It was a very interesting two days and I think actually it was a very productive two days, but sometimes you have to walk and this was just one of those times.


COOPER: Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler."