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President Trump Pressured Staff to Grant Security Clearance to Ivanka Trump; Sen. Mark Warner (D) Virginia is Interviewed About the Extent of President Trump's Cooperation with Investigators. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired March 5, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:16] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin tonight with breaking news. You'll only see it here. CNN's Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins have just learned that President Trump demanded a security clearance for his daughter Ivanka over the objection of two top advisers, one of them retired four-star general.

For the president, though, family came first, just as it reportedly did for his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Special treatment by all appearances for both.

CNN's Pamela Brown joins us now with details.

So, what have you learned?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we've learned that President Trump pressured his then Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to grant his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump a security clearance against the recommendations, this is according to three people familiar with the matter speaking to me and my colleague Kaitlan Collins.

Well, as you know, the president has the legal authority to grant clearances. But most instances are left up to the White House Personnel Security Office, which would then determine whether a staffer should be granted one after the FBI conducts a background check. But after concerns were raised by the personnel office, President Trump pushed Kelly and McGahn to make the decision, saying things like it's no big deal, they'll probably be leaving soon and going back up to New York, so that it didn't appear that the president himself was tainting the process in his family's favor.

Now, after both refused, Trump grant the security clearances according to sources we've been speaking with. And, of course, this development comes on the heels of "The New York Times" reporting, Anderson, that Trump ordered Kelly to grant Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner, a top security clearance despite concerns raised by intelligence officials.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the White House cannot comment on security clearance issues nor can it respond to every anonymous source. Kelly could not be reached for comment and McGahn declined to comment for this story, Anderson.

COOPER: Let's just remind, Pamela, our viewers of what Ivanka Trump herself said just last month about security clearances.


IVANKA TRUMP, FIRST DAUGHTER: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance.


COOPER: So what's -- I mean, it's the exact opposite of what you've learned, right?

BROWN: It is the exact opposite. But several sources tell us, Anderson, that it is feasible that Ivanka was unaware of the red flags that were raised during her background check process as well as the president's involvement in it. A person familiar with her process, she said she did not seek nor have outside counsel involved in her process, as no issues were ever raised. And then a separate person added that she was notified by career officials that her clearance had been granted.

Now, we should also note just because concerns are raised about a person getting a security clearance, it doesn't mean that person did anything nefarious and we do not know what the precise concerns were in this case. Also, typically, people aren't notified there are red flags in their background check. Usually they're just told either you have this security clearance or you didn't get one.

It is noteworthy, though, Anderson, that the president himself denied to the "New York Times" several weeks ago that he ever got involved with the security clearance for Jared or his family and that he even claimed that he didn't know whether he had the authority to grant clearances -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Pam Brown, great reporting. Thank you.

Pam just mentioned this comes on the heels of that "New York Times" reporting that the president intervened in Jared Kushner's clearance. One of the reporters on that story is Maggie Haberman, who's also a CNN political analyst. She joins me now.

Maggie, you were in the Oval Office interviewing the president in late January. He clearly lied to you about not being involved with Jared Kushner's security clearance.

Did Ivanka Trump's security clearance come up?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I didn't ask her about her security clearance. But remember, these two were pretty closely linked. And some of the delays in her security clearance -- some, I don't think all -- had something to do with her husband's because married couples tend to be linked together, although this was an unusual circumstance in this White House obviously.

It's not a surprise. He was much more focused as I understand it and as Pam's reporting suggests, on Jared Kushner's clearance. That was really his focus in part because Jared Kushner had this portfolio, has this portfolio that deals with a lot of sensitive global issues. Ivanka Trump, however, also was under this same limbo status.

And I think that it bothered both of them. You can characterize it whatever you want. You can say that they complained and pushed the president to do something. You can say as we wrote that they repeatedly made complaints about this to the president and it might not have been an outright pressure but just voicing their upset with it.

Whatever it was, the president intervened. It's not a surprise he did it with hers as well. But it does go to, as you noted, a real contradiction in what Ivanka Trump said on camera and what the president said. There is a world where it's possible she didn't know. It is not a likely world --

[20:05:00] COOPER: You think that is possible?

HABERMAN: It is possible. But it is not likely.

It is, however, hard for me to fathom still why the president not only said to me that he didn't have any involvement in this, but that he didn't think he could legally.

COOPER: Part of CNN's report is Ivanka Trump wanted high-level clearance so she could study briefing books on foreign trips. Why is she in the White House? Like what does she actually do?

HABERMAN: In terms of foreign trips, it's a great question. The way it was described to me by a couple of people who were familiar with the evolution of Jared Kushner's clearance problem -- remember, we were told early on, I went back and looked at this recently, there were reports early on right after the president was elected that he wanted his son-in-law and daughter to have high-level clearances and the president did a tweet November 16th, 2016, that he wasn't doing that. Another typically false news story.

What ended up happening a couple of months later, they joined the White House, they both put in for security clearances. The way it was described to me by people who were around at the time was that Jared Kushner sat in on one briefing early on during the transition and he enjoyed it, he liked being a part of it and wanted more. I think that there is a addictive quality to having access to this kind of information. What exactly Ivanka Trump needs to do with that information is unclear.

She does have certain programs she has pushed for that have global impact. But those are primarily economic, not national security based.

COOPER: She's still making money, though, from the hotel, from --

HABERMAN: Yes. It's going to raise a ton of obvious questions. It's going to raise a ton of questions about not actually stepping back from businesses.

COOPER: She's making millions and millions a year from this stuff. HABERMAN: Correct. And it is going to once again raise questions

about the fact that the president and his family who are serving in the government did not really step away from the business. And these are just obvious questions. There's nothing surprising about them.

COOPER: Well, also, Pamela mentioned that I guess based on her reporting that the president had said something like oh, it's not a big deal, they're going to probably go back to New York soon. If anything, that would be a reason not to grant them a security clearance, that they're just going to quickly go back to New York, they're going to be able to access secrets, they're going to go back to New York and re-engage in the world of business and Jared Kushner's going to re-engage with the Qataris and the Saudis and the Chinese trying to get money to bail out 666, this building that was in trouble for his family.

HABERMAN: Right. I mean, this is why I think Chris Christie was on this network with Chris Cuomo last week after our story posted making the point that this is why you don't -- yes, Chris Christie obviously his relationship with Jared Kushner is legendary, but he made a valid point for any administration, which is this is why you do not have family in appointed positions in the White House because it just clouds the judgment, impacts the judgment on every one of these steps and you had the president -- we had reporting that the president had been complaining about this lack of a security clearance for months around Jared Kushner to White House officials and asking them if there was anything they could do, not just Don McGahn, not just John Kelly, but others.

And nobody wanted to get involved in this. The president did not want to have his hand in it and ultimately had to.

COOPER: You've been covering obviously Donald Trump for decades. Do you get the sense that he understands the presidency isn't supposed to be a family business or is it just that's the way the Trump Organization was and he sees no reason not to just continue with that?

HABERMAN: I think it's some combination thereof. And I think he's a 72-year-old man and he's not going to change and he has a real inability to say no to members of his family, frankly, I think is a big piece of it. And that's what you're seeing here, particularly his daughter.

And I think this was just an obvious problem. This was always going to be a problem. The view that Jared Kushner and Ivanka took was that there were not legitimate reasons that their clearances were being blocked, that this was all part of Don McGahn, the White House counsel, and John Kelly, the chief of staff, disliking them.

And it is certainly true that their relationships with them were toxic by the time this all happened. But wouldn't that have been a reason for them to -- I just don't understand the logic under which they would have wanted to prolong this clearance confusion. Don McGahn and John Kelly. It's hard to understand what planet in which they'd be doing this to play games. I do know that John Kelly has been accused by others of using the

clearance system to go after people he didn't like. And I'm putting all of that aside because there were legitimate issues being raised as far as we understand it by the FBI and by others.

COOPER: All right. Maggie Haberman, appreciate it. Thank you.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Joining us is "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers, former RNC chief of staff Mike Shields, and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, I mean, does it make sense to you that Ivanka Trump, A, has a clearance, B, you know, claimed her father had nothing to do with it, and C, it appears according to the reporting that her father did have something to do with it?

[20:10:00] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it makes sense because I've covered the Trump administration and I know that nepotism is one of the guiding forces. But the real question at the heart of this here -- and let's stipulate that the president has the right to declassify any documents he wants, he can give security clearances to anyone he wants.

But why -- what was it that the intelligence agencies saw in the background of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump that made them want to deny them security clearances? What was the financial, the personal, the political -- what was the issue? Because that's why they review people for security clearances, because they want to protect the country from threats to national security.

What was it?

COOPER: Mike, if Hillary Clinton had won and she gave Chelsea Clinton a high-level security clearance over the objection of her White House chief counsel and chief of staff and Hillary Clinton -- and Chelsea Clinton's husband, who's also involved in finances, also got a security clearance, wouldn't Republicans justifiably be screaming from the rooftops?

MIKE SHIELDS, FORMER RNC CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, look, President Trump ran with his family. I mean, it wasn't a secret. They were involved with every aspect of his campaign. When he had a television show his family was a part of his television show. So, the American people knew that his family were going to be sort of --

COOPER: But the question is are you telling me Republican -- I know you don't really want to answer this but -- it's hard to believe that Republicans --


COOPER: -- would not -- that you would not be, you know, saying are you kidding me? Chelsea Clinton is sitting around sitting in on meetings and going overseas and meeting with foreign leaders? SHIELDS: Look, there's a lot of things the Clintons did that

Republicans would criticize. Bill Clinton arguably could have lost a security clearance if he was a government staffer --

COOPER: So this doesn't bother you?

SHIELDS: -- after lying about having an affair was compromised.

COOPER: This doesn't bother you?

SHIELDS: If we're talking about the Clintons -- well, what I'm saying is that, of course, partisan politics are going to come into this. Of course, they are.

But the fact of the matter is Jared Kushner actually has a real portfolio. He is leading Middle East negotiations on behalf of the president and the president has the right therefore to say I want him to have a security clearance, my daughter's an adviser to the White House, I'm going to give her a security clearance --

COOPER: But it doesn't bother you that he is seeking funding or having meetings in his business life with folks, Middle East leaders, with Chinese companies in order to get funding for his family's company? I mean, during the transition. That doesn't bother you?

SHIELDS: Well, it's not a matter -- look, the president of the United States has a right to do this --

COOPER: No, I'm asking you is it appropriate for Jared Kushner to, you know, on the one hand have business relationships with the same people that he now is apparently dealing with on a diplomatic basis?

SHIELDS: I think that stuff has to be sorted out. There's clear lines that they will tell you they have drawn on those issues. And therefore, it's fine.

COOPER: Kirsten, when does this stuff get sorted out? Because you know, it's been two years now. And you know --

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Well, I'll answer your question. If the same thing happened with Chelsea Clinton, Republicans would have gone bonkers. First of all, if she had just ever been offered a job in the White House, they would have gone crazy over that.

And I think actually justifiably so. I mean, I don't think it's appropriate. I don't think I would have thought it was appropriate if Hillary Clinton did it. And I don't think it's appropriate when Donald Trump did it.

And it's particularly inappropriate because he brought in people who really don't have any expertise in the areas that they're responsible for. They have no government experience. So, if she took Chelsea Clinton and put her in charge of the Middle East peace process, yes, that would be a problem.

I don't know, Mike, why you can't just admit that. It's so clearly a problem. It's not a question of whether or not he has a right to do it.

And then, Jeffrey raised a really key point around these security clearances is why does the government feel like they shouldn't have security clearances? I mean, you have Don McGahn, setting aside John Kelly and the issues that John Kelly has with the president and Jared Kushner. Don McGahn has no reason when he was the White House counsel to try and deny the president what he wanted in this case. And yet he said he didn't think that the security clearance should go through.

So there's obviously something that's problematic. And I think that whether the president has a right to do it or not you have to ask why he doesn't care what he's basically being told about the conflicts.

COOPER: I mean, Jeff, this is the very reason that our nepotism, you know, laws or guidelines, but they don't apply in this case.

TOOBIN: They don't apply in this case. That's why companies have nepotism rules. That's why other parts of the government have nepotism rules. But the president, understandably, is exempt from these rules.

But you know, if you acknowledge that the president has the right to put his family members in important jobs, shouldn't they have to once there abide by the same rules as everyone else?

[20:15:02] That is, get a security clearance on the merits, not just because their father overrules the intelligence agencies. I mean, that's what makes this so outrageous.

If he wants to have them work for him, fine. But once there, shouldn't they have to get a security clearance like everyone else?

COOPER: Mike, shouldn't the same rules apply?

SHIELDS: Anderson, back to your point about Hillary, think back to when bill Clinton was elected and he openly said my wife is going to be a part of policy discussions. She led --

COOPER: Right. And that went over really well.

SHIELDS: And Republicans -- no, you're right. Republicans at the time criticized her.

And Democrats defended her and said, wait a minute, she's a family member, she's involved with this. She's got her own --


POWERS: No, that's not what happened.

SHIELDS: But she's in the White House --

POWERS: She had expertise.

SHIELDS: She wasn't elected. She wasn't elected. COOPER: What is Jared Kushner's expertise? What is Jared Kushner's

expertise in Middle East peace and what is Ivanka Trump's expertise in anything?

SHIELDS: Well, the same expertise that a business person who runs for office who's never been a politician has brings to government which is they've negotiated deals, they've run a successful business, they've created wealth and created jobs --

COOPER: There's questions about his success.

SHIELDS: He didn't run as an insider Washington politician and neither are his family members.

COOPER: But he hasn't created a successful business it should be pointed out. He inherited it from his dad. His dad was in prison after what, I guess hiring a prostitute to blackmail another relative.

So, there's certainly questions about the family business. Do you really -- do you really believe he's qualified to negotiate Middle East peace?

SHIELDS: Look, I believe that the Trump ticket, the Trump campaign, the Trump brand was that business people who aren't politicians who aren't a part of how everything's been going in Washington are going to come and do things differently. That's what they're doing.

COOPER: So you're totally cool with it. Everything's great.


SHIELDS: Experience they had to these issues.

COOPER: All right. Mike, thank you. Kirsten Powers, Jeff Toobin as well.

Just ahead, what the president said about cooperating with the growing investigation into him and what we're just now learning about plans to do the exact opposite, keeping them honest.

Later, the president claims he was a top student. Learning about his efforts on his behalf to make sure his grades never see the light of day. We'll talk to the reporter who got that story ahead on "360."


[20:21:34] COOPER: Nearly two out of three people believe the president of the United States committed crimes before taking office. That's what new polling from Quinnipiac University shows, and at any other time with any other president in any known universe, that answer would be just as unthinkable as the question itself.

I mean, think about it, 64 percent of people, including a third of Republicans, believe that Donald J. Trump was a criminal when he raised his right hand and took the oath of office. A full 45 percent say they believe he's committed crimes while in office. Now, that ought to be shocking. Now it's kind of barely surprising.

But as normal as the completely abnormal now is, determining whether or not the president of the United States is a crook is still important. So, is a president keeping his word, especially when it comes to the investigation, no matter what he may think of it?

In case you missed it yesterday, or in case you miss it now, and all the denials and expressions of contempt for the inquiry, here's what he said just yesterday when asked whether he'd cooperate with the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee 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 --


COOPER: I cooperate all the time with everyone. Which would suggest he'll cooperate now, though he clearly believes there's nothing to find. He'll cooperate all the same because, as he says, he always does.

Again, that was yesterday. As the Judiciary Committee was sending out letters to 81 people, entities and organizations with connections to Trump world asking for documents pertinent to the investigation. And the White House, they were also promising cooperation.

But keeping them honest, just a day later, all that talk of cooperation is kind of ringing hollow. Officials are telling CNN's Kaitlan Collins that behind the scenes, officials are planning to resist the document request even as they brace for more. As for the president himself, he began the day by hitting the old caps lock key on his electric Twitter machine.

Presidential harassment, he tweeted in caps. Seems he left out the cooperation part. Then adding to the spirit of cooperation, he called the probe, quote, the greatest overreach in the history of our country and a big fat fishing expedition desperately in search of a crime.

Now, you might think that was about it for the cooperation today. But there was more, this time with a light dusting of bipartisanship. Quoting again: Now that they realize the only collusion with Russia was done by crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, Nadler, Schiff, and the Dem heads of committees have gone stone cold crazy. 81 letter sent to innocent people to harass them. They won't get anything done for our country.

Keeping them honest, in addition to not sounding especially cooperative, the president's suggestion that all 81 letters went out to what he calls innocent people, that's not true. Michael Flynn got a letter. He's a convicted felon, so is Rick Gates. Paul Manafort is a convicted felon. He's awaiting prison sentencing. George Papadopoulos has already served prison time. Roger Stone is awaiting trial, hasn't been convicted.

But those are just facts. Those are real facts. Not alternative ones.

As is the fact that whatever the political motivations for the House investigation may or may not be, it's hard to call it completely groundless. Not when you consider the cases that Robert Mueller's already brought and won and what the Southern District of New York is uncovering, or the payoffs to porn actresses, the rulings against Mr. Trump's discredited charity, the sexual harassment allegations, Michael Cohen's testimony.

There is plenty to look into, and you might think the president wants this to be over quickly, he'd be taking the advice of one of his old lawyers, Ty Cobb, who advised cooperation back in 2017 when it was just Robert Mueller in a Republican-controlled Congress doing the investigating.

President didn't do that. Key members of the campaign on instructions from the White House as you know refused to answer questions from lawmakers.

[20:25:06] Sometimes kind of inventing a president -- a executive privilege, excuse me. But it wasn't real. It wasn't actually executive privilege. Actual executive privilege has to be claimed by the president himself.

The president railed in public against the investigation.


TRUMP: It's a total witch hunt. I've been saying it for a long time.

They have this witch hunt.

They have this witch hunt.

It's a witch hunt. That's all it is.

They have phony witch hunts.

It's like a witch hunt. It's like a witch hunt.

The witch hunt continues.

The entire thing has been a witch hunt.

This is a pure and simple witch hunt.


COOPER: That's from the president who cooperates with everyone all the time. More now on the extent of any of President Trump's cooperation with

investigators. Earlier today, I spoke with Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.


COOPER: Senator Warner, how much do you actually expect the White House to cooperate with all these requests from the House? Especially given our reporting today that they intend to try to limit what Democrats can get their hands on.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I hope the White House would cooperate. I mean, Congress is a co-equal branch of government. We have a right to receive this information. I'm not going to get into the specifics of all the various requests that some of the House Committees have made. But the fact is the American people deserve the truth and Congress has a rightful role to provide appropriate oversight and again, I hope that the White House would move forward in cooperation.

COOPER: The White House is likely going to argue executive privilege applies here, and I'm wondering what you think about that because the president, he does have the right to withhold certain information from Congress and certainly executive privilege would seem to apply at least in some of the cases here.

WARNER: I'm sure there are appropriate places where executive privilege would dominate. But what I understand is the White House may be issuing in a sense almost a blanket denial and that goes against the very nature of a co-equal branch of government. You know, my hope would be that -- my expectation I guess would be that the house made fairly extensive requests. There will be some back and forth.

But at the end of the day, the Congress has the right to provide oversight, including over all aspects of the executive branch, including the president and the law's got to be followed.

COOPER: President Obama's former senior adviser David Axelrod criticized the scope of the document request. He said the wide- ranging nature of it too easily plays into the witch hunt meme. Do you think he has a point there?

WARNER: Listen, I have not reviewed all of the extensive requests from the House. I know that in --

COOPER: But just the fact that it's so extensive, does that risk certainly just from an optics standpoint --

WARNER: Anderson, all I can tell you is with our investigation in the Senate that's been bipartisan, we've made a series of requests and we've been very successful with having those requests honored.

COOPER: I guess what is the end game in your opinion for Democrats in all these investigations? I mean, certainly a lot of Democrats have expressed skepticism about impeachment, particularly since the Senate's in Republican hands. So, if some wrongdoing is found and impeachment isn't on the table, then what?

WARNER: Well, Anderson, you know, in our investigation we started over two years ago because a foreign power, Russia, massively intervened in our elections and it has been bipartisan shown from the intelligence community. They did that to help Donald Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton.

Part of our investigation has always been about following the facts, where the truth lies, and was there -- what level of collaboration or collusion was there between Trump officials and Trump campaign and the Russians.

The one thing we know at this point is that there was an unprecedented level of contact between Russians and individuals from both the Trump business organization and from the Trump campaign. Where that all leads, I'm reserving my final judgment until we see all of our -- all the final witnesses and we can reach a final conclusion.

COOPER: Just lastly, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr was asked today if he thought Michael Cohen was truthful in his testimony last week. He said that Cohen certainly has not been truthful in the past and that Cohen made a lot of accusations and (INAUDIBLE) to substantiate them.

Do you agree with Burr's characterization there? I mean, certainly, Michael Cohen has not been truthful in be past. We know that.

WARNER: Listen, Michael Cohen doesn't have a good level of telling the truth. Of course, neither does Donald Trump. Uncertain (ph) on these areas that Mr. Cohen asserted, we'll be able to have background documentary evidence one way or the other, as we get additional documents, and if there was one thing I took away, I can't comment on the private testimony he gave to the Senate Intelligence Committee but from the public testimony, it did appear at times that if in Cohen was simply trying to smear Donald Trump, he could have gone further. He seems, for Cohen at least, relatively restrained.

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

WARNER: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: Well, certainly no surprise that there's an intense feedback loop between the opinion hosts of Fox News and President Trump. Now, there's a new article in "The New Yorker" that really vividly documents those connections, the details. We'll talk to the author ahead.


COOPER: If you want anymore proof of a clear and convincing feedback loop between the opinion hosts of Fox News and President Trump, well, last night the President posted a string of tweets quoting Fox News personalities. There was one from Tucker Carlson, plus a video clip of Lou Dobbs assailing the Democrats congressional investigations. He also quoted Sean Hannity. "We the people will now be subjected to the biggest display of modern day McCarthyism which is the widest fishing net expedition, every aspects of the President's life all in order to get power back so they can institute socialism," at Sean Hannity. Like I said, that was just last night.

The reason that's important is because earlier that exact morning, "The New Yorker" zeroed in on the President's intense cozy relationship with Fox News. Right on cue as they say.

Joining me now, the author, the magazine's chief Washington Correspondent, Jane Mayer. Jane, thanks so much for being with us.

I mean it can be hard at times to tell who's actually behind the wheel in all this. Whether it's Fox advocating for policy positions that the President then latches onto or if it's the President advocating for policy positions that Fox News ends up latching onto?

JANE MAYER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: I mean in fact, it's impossible sometimes to tell who's really calling the tune. I spent months working on the story and talked to more than 75 people and kept looking at Fox and watching Trump's tweets.

[20:35:07] And it's just a constant loop back and forth and back and forth. You know, some days it seems like "Fox and Friends" starts with a particular subject and then President Trump tweets about it. Some days it's the other way around. But whatever it is, it's a continuous loop that you can see.

COOPER: There's also, I mean, the number of people from Fox who now work in the administration, you know, whether it's people in actual policy positions, I mean people who are contributors on Fox like, you know, Bill Shine who is now, you know, dealing with communications there.

MAYER: Yes. And these are major posts. I mean they've always been, I think or at least in recent times, there have been people from the media who have landed in kind of spokesman jobs in various administrations.

What you see in the Trump administration is major posts are being filled by talking heads from Fox. And so you also see the door revolving in the other directions. But the particular thing that got me going on the story was that Bill Shine who'd been the president of Fox News became the White House Communications Director and Deputy Chief of Staff last summer. And so you literally had someone from Fox in the position of the top job controlling the President's message. And it's been -- there's been coordination ever since.

COOPER: Yes. I mean you write -- your article opens up with this detail of, you know, Sean Hannity press core, you know, being led to where the President is on a trip, you know, and sort of brought in by the Secret Service on mass. Sean Hannity is already on location and basically he's part of the administration entourage. He's --

MAYER: I mean he's literally hugging members of administration in this thing and the other press are sort of kept behind the rope line by the Secret Service. It's -- I've been a White House reporter. I was during the Reagan administration. I've never seen anything like it and I talked to a lot of presidential historians, they've never seen anything like it.

And of course the reason it matters is there's a concern that the country's biggest cable news network would be use as kind of a mouthpiece or almost state news and that's what people worry about. And not just liberals worrying about it. There are a lot of conservatives who I talked to, people who used to be on Fox who say there's no descent, no kind of criticism of the President that it's getting through on Fox News. I mean -- and there are exceptions. Let's just be fair here.

COOPER: Right. You know, Chris Wallace --

MAYER: The good reporters.

COOPER: Right. Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, I mean they've done -- you know, they're reporters.

MAYER: Right. But there's -- but the overall message there is just straight out of Trump's mouth and back again.

COOPER: Yes. Obviously Shepard Smith too has been, you know --

MAYER: Very good.

COOPER: -- very fair in his coverage. It's interesting though because, I mean, initially, you know, back when Trump first kind of entered the race, it didn't seem like Fox News kind of knew which way to go on the President. I don't know if they were led by their opinion people or if it were something from the leadership from Murdoch on down. But, you know, you think back to the days of Megyn Kelly and all of that. I mean I don't know if they suddenly saw the writing on the wall and realized, you know, the money for us is following -- is this guy and that's what led them kind of down this path. Do you know how it worked?

MAYER: You know, it's -- it is really interesting. Rupert Murdoch was a critic of Trump's --

COOPER: Right.

MAYER: -- in the beginning of the campaign. And then Roger Ailes, who was running Fox News at the time, was, as you say, is very uncomfortable with the situation. Among other things, it was true that Trump was getting great ratings. And it's still true. I mean the thing is he's bankable. And Trump -- and there's financial incentive actually for Fox to do good news about Trump. Their ratings go up when Trump looks good and people -- their audience sort of turns away when there's bad news for Trump. So they actually make more money by making him look good.

COOPER: You talk about, in the beginning of the article, whether Fox is a propaganda, basically, machine for the administration. I mean do you believe it is?

MAYER: Well, I mean, you know, I think it's a big concern. I think there are a lot of questions raised by all of this reporting I was doing. And there's more reporting to be done. But I mean we've seen that there were a lot of favors that were done for Rupert Murdoch by this administration. It could be there are innocent explanations. People need to know more about it.


MAYER: And I think, you know, I think that it's a situation that I wouldn't like to see in this country where we have a state propaganda coming out of --


MAYER: -- one of our largest cable companies.

COOPER: Yes. Jane, again, it's a fascinating article. It's in "The New Yorker." I recommend people read it. Thank you so much.

MAYER: Thanks for having me.

[20:39:59] COOPER: Coming up, new insight tonight about the lengths the President Trump's friends went to, to make sure his high school transcript never got out after he said that he heard President Obama was a terrible student and talked about that. New reporting from "The Washington post," I'll speak with that reporter next.


COOPER: We all remember how citizen Trump perpetuated the birther lie about President Obama. What you may not remember is he also questioned President Obama's intelligence telling the Associated Press back in April of 2011 that he heard that Obama was a terrible student and he should show his school records. Well, wouldn't you know just a few days later, the headmaster at Mr. Trump's own high school got an order from his boss to find Trump's school records and help burry them.

There's new reporting tonight in "The Washington Post." In a moment, I'll speak with the reporter, ask the details. First let's point out that this all came from something Michael Cohen said in testimony last week that the President was determined people not see his academic records.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER LAWYER: I'm providing the committee today with several documents. 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: Well, joining me tonight is "Washington Post" reporter Marc Fisher.

Marc, can you just explain exactly how President Trump's high school records were buried?

MARC FISHER, SENIOR EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Yes. This is going back to 2011 when Trump was considering running for president in 2012 and he was out there attacking President Obama saying that he should release his academic records and that he was a poor student.

[20:45:08] And immediately after that, within hours really after Trump made that statement, the top officials at the New York Military Academy where Trump had gone to school for five years received calls from wealthy alumni who were friends of Trump's, ordering them to find Trump's academic record, retrieve them, remove them and hand them over to those alumni supposedly for safekeeping.

Well, the top people at the school did the first part of that. They went and found, they combed through a basement archive and found the records and they brought them to the superintendent of the school and he decided not to give them to those alumni but rather bury them in a place where no one could find them on campus.

COOPER: So they are literally buried --

FISHER: Well, I don't know about literally buried --

COOPER: -- as far as what happened?

FISHER: -- but they are hidden somewhere on campus and the idea was that they would not be retrievable by then current members of the school staff.

COOPER: Last week during his testimony, Michael Cohen said he had threatened the President's schools over his records, did you find out if Cohen was, in fact, behind this?

FISHER: Well, Cohen was, as he said last week, was threatening Trump's colleges and high school and ordering them to make sure that there was no record of his academic achievement that was available to anyone. And so that's the message that filtered down to the headmaster and superintendent at the Military Academy. So he apparently was not in direct contact with the school officials but this was filtered through other people.

COOPER: So who knows where the President's high school records are now?

FISHER: Well, that's not clear. The folks at the Military Academy now aren't talking and all of the schools that the President attended. People are saying these are records that are governed by privacy law and are not available to the public unless the President decides that he wants them out there. And he has said that repeatedly that he's not going to let them out even as he claimed that he was a top student at the Military Academy and elsewhere. And that turns out not to be the case. COOPER: Yes. I mean probably none of this would really matter unless Donald Trump hadn't gone after President Obama about, you know, alleging things about his grades. Obviously there's a certain level of hypocrisy there. It was -- he did say -- I mean I think his exact quote was he was one of the top guys at the whole school, right?

FISHER: That's right. He said he was one of the top students at the Military Academy. We don't have his records. We've spoken to some people who've seen them and they report that they were mediocre but we don't have the details on that. And we wouldn't have them unless the President decided that he opened up those records.

COOPER: Well, maybe they're under audit or something as well. Marc Fisher, appreciate it. Thank you.

FISHER: Thank you.

COOPER: Let's check in with Chris. He's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I think it is a vexing question to try to figure out which --

COOPER: I like that you use the word vexing.

CUOMO: I thought you'd like. It's a word that guys like you would know. The -- you know, what lies matter anymore?


CUOMO: You broke that very compelling news about security clearances not just with Kushner but with Ivanka, the daughter. That's another lie in the same way. What matters to people? It seems pretty clear to guys like us that people who support him don't care about the lying. They expect nothing better from this political process. He's just -- it's basically like judging someone in a bar fight for using bad language.

You know, I think their expectations are disaffection is so extreme they don't expect anything better. So how do you make people care about the things that matter? Part of that is what we select to talk about. Part of that is them raising that expectations. So tonight, we got somebody who says he wants to do that.

Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado has entered the race for president. What's his case to them? Why will he be something better? Is it just about Trump being bad or does he have something to offer?

And we have exclusive reporting. The crisis on the boarder is real but it's not what the President has told you. What "The New York Times" came out with today about the flow right now --


CUOMO: -- is nothing compared to what is feared to be coming. I have those numbers. I have who they say is coming and it is frightening because we're not ready.

COOPER: Chris, 11 minutes from now, we'll see you then. Thanks very much.

The man President Trump wants overseeing America's public lands is a former old industry lobbyist. Coming up, an inclusive CNN investigation uncovers what he may have already done for his former clients.


[20:53:49] COOPER: President Trump has tapped another former lobbyist to fill a key cabinet post tied to the environment on board already of course as the new EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who lobbied on behalf the coal industry for years. He replaced Scott Pruitt who left certainly under cloud of ethics controversies.

At the Interior Department, President Trump's choice to oversee public lands is a former oil industry lobbyist named David Bernhardt. The nominee is currently the acting secretary. Now, a CNN review of industry request shows the Interior Department appears to have been working overtime to grant requests to the very companies that Bernhardt lobbied for.

Here's CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: It was advertised as a press conference acting secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. National Park. But when the speeches were over --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's going to conclude our press conference today.

GRIFFIN: -- it was clear Bernhardt wasn't about to take any questions.

Sir? Excuse me, sir. Drew Griffin with CNN, can we have a few moments of your time. We'd thought this was a press conference and we'd thought we get a few questions to ask you. We're doing a story. Sir, can you stop for one second --


GRIFFIN: There may be a good reason Bernhardt and his staff are uncomfortable about questions on camera because since he's been at the Department of Interior, a curious pattern has emerged.

[20:55:08] And the fact that more than a dozen of your former clients have been getting favors through the Department of Interior --


GRIFFIN: Since Bernhardt join the agency, the Department of Interior has made at least 15 policy changes or decisions specifically requested by his former clients that benefited them according to a CNN analysis.

JESSE PRENTICE-DUNN, CENTER FOR WESTERN PRIORITIES: Yes. We're seeing favors both large and small being granted. Everything from specific projects getting green lights to larger policies that are either being rolled back from the Obama administration or moved forward in the Trump administration.

GRIFFIN: David Bernhardt defines the Washington, D.C. revolving door, moving between government jobs to a major lobbyist for the oil and gas industry. Now, this oil and gas lobbyist is back in government service. Appointed first as deputy secretary of the Interior by President Trump in 2017 and promising in this ethics letter not to be involved. To recuse himself from any decisions involving 26 different groups, mostly in oil and gas that he has lobbied for but only for a certain amount of time.

Curiously, 13 of his former clients have gotten what they wanted from the Department of the Interior since Bernhardt's been there. And one name keeps popping up again and again, the Independent Petroleum Association of America or IPAA. One of the group's requests, do something about the sage-grouse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The deteriorating health of the bird has sparked the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history.

GRIFFIN: In 2015, the Obama administration implemented a protection plan for the bird which meant lots of federal lands across the west would be either off limits or more difficult for oil and gas exploration. The IPAA, Bernhardt's former client, repeatedly lobbied department officials to loosen restrictions.

Records reviewed by CNN show Bernhardt involved in three meetings with Interior officials on the issue. IPAA and other groups thanked Bernhardt for his involvement. And by December of 2018, the Trump administration released a plan to amend sage-grouse protections and open vast swaths of western land for oil drilling. The industry requests and actions taken go on and on. Fracking, offshore drilling, easing of safety requirements, former clients asking and receiving favorable decisions from the government agency run by the former oil lobbyist.

PRENTICE-DUNN: We're talking about the literal fox guarding the hen house but this administration doesn't seem to mind the notion that a lobbyist is going to now regulate the very industry that they used to work for.

GRIFFIN: Bernhardt's spokesman said the acting secretary is fully in compliance with his recusal agreements and critics who say he is granting favors are categorically incorrect, either misunderstand the law, regulations and the acting secretary's ethics pledge or they are deliberately misleading. Myron Ebell with the Competitive Enterprise Institute defends the acting secretary's actions this way.

MYRON EBELL, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Dave Bernhardt is not pursuing his agenda or that of any people he worked for as a lawyer. He's pursuing the agenda that President Trump won the election on and is implementing.

GRIFFIN: But the acting secretary isn't so eager to talk about any of that.

DAVID BERNHARDT, ACTING INTERIOR SECRETARY: I'm happy to visit with you at any time. Right now is not the time but go ahead and talk to my press folks and we'll set something up.

GRIFFIN: OK, just to be clear your press folks have told us that you are inaccessible for the next several weeks.

BERNHARDT: They haven't talked to me. So I'll talk to them.

GRIFFIN: Within minutes of this conversation, Bernhardt's staff in Washington was sending an e-mail to CNN confirming there will be no interview.


COOPER: So, Drew, seems like the bottom line is all of these decisions may be helping David Bernhardt's former clients but the department says that's just policy not granting specific favors.

GRIFFIN: That's right. It's a distinction that Interior makes between these decisions that benefit industry in general that also just to happen to benefit a former client. Because that changes our part of a bigger matter, the Interior Department says it's all OK. David Bernhardt is not violating any rules.

COOPER: And I'm sure his former clients are pretty happy about this. I mean they get what they want and they don't have to pay him.

GRIFFIN: International Petroleum Association told us for instance, Anderson, they have had no direct contact with Bernhardt since he joined the Interior Department and these policy changes, they are now getting our changes they have been fighting for, for decades. So you have the Trump administration with an oil lobbyist at the Interior Department and a coal lobbyist at the EPA making those long wish for policy changes for industry come true. Anderson? ` COOPER: Drew Griffin, great reporting. Thank you, Drew.

That's it for us. The news continues. We want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CUOMO: Thank you, Anderson.