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House Judiciary Chair Nadler: Former Acting AG Whitaker Would Not Deny Reports That President Trump Called to Discuss Michael Cohen Case; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) Connecticut is Interviewed About Nadler's Comment About Whitaker Discussed Cohen with President; Manafort Slapped with New York Charges Minutes After Sentence Increased to More Than Seven Years in Prison; . Jim Himes (D) Connecticut Is Interviewed About Michael Cohen's Obtained E-mail. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired March 13, 2019 - 20:00   ET


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

We begin with breaking news. It could shed light on whether the president of the United States talked about possibly obstructing justice with the nation's top law enforcement official at the time. Today, former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker met with the top Democrat and Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Now, according to Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler who is a Democrat, Whitaker talked about what the president said to him in the wake of Michael Cohen's guilty plea about his former fixer as well as a Southern District of New York investigation of Cohen and the man known as individual one in court documents, also known as the president.

However, the top Republican congressman, Doug Collins, says that's not what Whitaker said. Discussing either of those things especially with a man at least nominally in charge of them raises questions about whether the president was trying to exert influence perhaps unlawfully.

Now, remember, during public hearings last month, Whitaker refused to discuss what if anything the president said to him, but he did however address one very specific question.


REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Did the president lash out at you after Michael Cohen's guilty plea for lying to Congress about a Trump Organization project to build a tower in Moscow?

MATTHEW WHITAKER, THEN-ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president specifically tweeted that he had not lashed out.

CICILLINE: I'm asking you, Mr. Whitaker, did the president lash out at you. I'm not asking what he treated. I don't have a lot of confidence in the veracity of his tweets. I'm asking you under oath.

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

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

WHITAKER: No, he did not.


COOPER: So, according to the former acting attorney general, President Trump did not, quote, lash out at him. The real question, though, is just what did the president say and that is what tonight's new reporting could shed light on. I say could because it is in question.

CNN justice correspondent Laura Jarrett starts us off.

So what exactly did Whitaker say today and again, according to Chairman Nadler's accounting of events?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Nadler said that Whitaker didn't deny that the president called him to discuss the case of his former lawyer Michael Cohen and other personnel decisions in the Southern District of New York. A little bit vague there about what exactly was discussed.

And Nadler also said that Whitaker was involved in conversations about the recusal of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in the Southern District of New York and whether prosecutors there went too far in pursuing the campaign finance case against Cohen. Why does any of this matter, especially now that Whitaker is gone? Well, as you said, it goes to the question of whether the president was trying to put his thumb on the scale in some way or influence the investigations into Cohen where he was directly implicated. And in some cases, Whitaker was on the receiving end of these calls and maybe the only one who really knows what happened.

COOPER: So, the ranking member on the committee, Congressman Doug Collins, Republican, he disputes almost the entirety of this account, correct?

JARRETT: That's right. We have two diametrically opposed versions. Collins says that Nadler is reading into Whitaker's testimony, pushed back on Nadler's characterization of their interview, downplaying what Whitaker told the committee and saying there is simply no evidence that Whitaker discussed the Cohen case with the president.

But interestingly, my colleagues Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb on the Hill report tonight that Whitaker thought that some of the campaign finance charges against Cohen were, quote, specious, pointing to the failed effort to prosecute implicate John Edwards on similar charges, and this is according to GOP aides who were in the room, Anderson.

COOPER: I don't quite understand how Nadler and -- the Democrat and the Republican can have such diametrically opposed accounting of what Whitaker actually said and the meaning of it. I mean, is the transcript going to be released? Is there any way to tell what Whitaker actually said?

JARRETT: Well, unfortunately for us, this was behind closed doors today. There is no transcript. So, like most things in life, I think it's going to come down to credibility determination and whose side you believe and which one sounds more like the facts -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Laura Jarrett, thanks.

JARRETT: Thank you.

COOPER: You'll recall this question of whether the president asked him acting attorney general to take action against the Southern District. It has come up before. Such as this moment not long after Whitaker's testimony.


REPORTER: Did you ask Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to change the leadership of the investigation into your former personal attorney Michael Cohen?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. Not at all. I don't know who gave you that -- that is more fake news. A lot of -- there is a lot of fake news out there.


COOPER: So does the president still believe that?

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us now from the White House.

So, what's the White House saying about this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPODENT: So far, Anderson, no official statement from the White House about this.

[20:05:03] But expect them to point to what the Republican in the room is saying about all of this. His version of events as just laid out down playing what chairman Nadler described this as saying it is not nefarious and Whitaker actually didn't reveal anything new about his conversations with the president, saying that he only had conversations with staff about the Cohen probe.

But, of course, because there is no transcript, it is going to be one of those things where it is a he said/he said. Whatever their version of these events are, so the White House could use the talking points from Doug Collins, the Republican and be able to say without them being checked against any transcript of what Matt Whitaker actually said.

COOPER: And according to your reporting, the president was very unhappy that Whitaker had to testify in front of Congress in the first place.

COLLINS: Oh, yes. He did not like seeing Matt Whitaker getting grilled by the Democrats on that committee. He actually liked Doug Collins, because Doug Collins, when his view of things pointed out what he said was absurd testimony that he was having to give. And the president also didn't like his relationship with Matt Whitaker coming under such scrutiny.

Now Whitaker would not answer questions about the president lashing out at him only pointing to the president's tweet. Though, of course, we know from our reporting that that happened not just once, but twice when the president was rattled by these developments in the Michael Cohen probe in New York.

COOPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins from the White House -- Kaitlan, thanks very much.

I want to get reaction now from the leading voice on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut joins me.

Senator, I'm wondering what you make of this? I mean, if Chairman Nadler's account of this is correct, Whitaker did not, in fact, deny the president called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case, what does that say to you?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: What it says to me is that the president was attempting to influence potentially that investigation in New York where he was an unindicted co-conspirator and, in fact, he was called individual number one but clearly he was that person in a possible campaign finance conspiracy involving Michael Cohen.

The only way to really reconcile these two accounts from Collins and Nadler is to take an earlier version from Republican counsel who said that Whitaker insisted he could not remember any conversation with the president. Perhaps Congressman Collins means by do not remember that in effect he denied those conversations. But Chairman Nadler has been very clear, he said there was a conversation as indicated by the fact that Whitaker did not deny it.

COOPER: So the -- is it clear to you, though, what exactly is being alleged -- OK, is Nadler saying he didn't deny there was a conversation, the idea that the president was talking about personnel issues in the Southern District of New York, which I assume -- the biggest personnel issue is the fact that the recusal by the person that he appointed to head the Southern District of New York related to the Cohen case, I guess, is there any way to find out what was said in that meeting? I mean, is it possible the transcript should be released or would be released?

BLUMENTHAL: The transcript should be released, just like I've insisted that the entire Mueller report should be released. And very possibly, Matt Whitaker should be brought back before the committee in public under oath.

Chairman Nadler is a very careful and meticulous attorney, and he uses words carefully. There is a lot of smoke here, which indicates fire. More questions than answers. And very likely there needs to be a release of this transcript, but also more testimony to establish exactly what Whitaker is saying, because he seemingly is playing both sides of this street in a very disingenuous way. COOPER: So even if the president did call Whitaker and talked about

the Cohen case, if no action was actually taken by Whitaker, is there any issue in terms of legality of it?

BLUMENTHAL: There is very definitely an issue. If the president called the acting attorney general of the United States about an ongoing investigation of him in the Southern District of New York, where he was named as a an unindicted co-conspirator, any conversation would be wildly improper. And evidence of potential obstruction of justice. Even if nothing came of it in terms of Whitaker acting.

Clearly, the president's intent in calling Whitaker was to influence the outcome. Clearly that kind of attempt, whether it produced action on Whitaker's part was improper, verging on outright obstruction of justice. So, this report is potentially explosive.

[20:10:02] Whitaker has denied very specifically in his opening statement in public that kind of conversation. But even some backtracking indicates that perhaps there was such a conversation and Whitaker should remember it.

COOPER: What is the law in between the president doing something as you say improper, and doing something illegal, attempting to obstruct justice? I mean, obviously, there is many things that may be improper and unseemly which are not actually illegal.

BLUMENTHAL: Key question, we need to know more facts. Before we reach a conclusion, we need to know what the president's actual words were and what his intent was, to be gleaned from those words. We need to know whether Whitaker took any action, how Whitaker interpreted it.

We're not likely to know those facts in the next 24 hours. The only way to really obtain them is to have Whitaker back and Chairman Nadler has been pursuing very assiduously and meticulously an investigation that has historic consequences. The president's potential conversations with Whitaker indicate that he's treating the Department of Justice like his own personal attorneys.

And the American public has a right to wonder why is Whitaker so vague and disingenuous if there is nothing to hide.

COOPER: Senator Blumenthal, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

COOPER: Joining us now is Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general during the Obama administration, also CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers.

So, Jeff, Chairman Nadler saying that Whitaker did not deny the president called him to discuss the Cohen case. A non-denial is not the same thing as a confirmation, is it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's not, but, I mean, there is a very simple solution here. And Senator Blumenthal mentioned it, which is just bring him back. Bring him back for public testimony and have him spell out in public what went on in this conversation or conversations, plural, with the president about the Cohen investigation in the Southern District, because this couldn't be more important.

Remember, Richard Nixon was forced out of office because on June 23rd, 1972, the so-called smoking gun tape, he was caught using the CIA to tell the FBI to stop investigating Watergate.

So the issue of the president controlling the Department of Justice regarding investigations of himself is both historically and legally very important.

COOPER: Neal, if this conversation did happen, and it was just a conversation and it was the president venting or saying, you know, gosh, I think what is happening to Michael Cohen is -- I think they're going too far in the Southern District but nothing came of it, as in no action took place, does that then besides perhaps being inappropriate, does that -- is that illegal?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER U.S. ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Yes, still devastating for the president both criminally and as a matter of politically. So, you know, it would be one thing, Anderson, if the president were having that conversation with you and going in and criticizing -- criticizing the Southern District investigation and the like.

But here, he's doing it to his hand-picked lackey, this guy Matthew Whitaker who is the most unqualified person to ever serve as attorney general in the history of the United States, who was put in there for one reason. He only had one qualification, which is he's gone on your network and gone and dissed the Mueller probe and stuff like that.

So, when he has that conversation, it's pretty obvious what is going on at this point. This isn't venting like to you or something like that, and the criminal intent there could very well be met because it doesn't require completion, it just requires an attempt to try and do something that is illegal.

COOPER: Neal, do you really think he's the most unqualified person to ever head the Department of Justice in the entire history of the United States?

KATYAL: Oh, yes. And I think even Donald Trump agrees, which is why he didn't try to put him up for a nomination and put Barr in. This person is really -- he really had one qualification and we're seeing it play out in the conversation today with Chairman Nadler.

COOPER: Kirsten --

TOOBIN: In fairness, we should point out --

COOPER: Go ahead, Jeff.

TOOBIN: We should point out that Robert Kennedy was close in terms of unqualified. He turned out to be a good attorney general but -- I mean, I think Whitaker and Kennedy were pretty close in terms of their qualifications.

COOPER: Qualification, OK.

Kirsten, here we are again. Two heads of the committee, the Democrat and Republican, with two directly opposite versions of what happened. It's -- and this makes me nervous because we don't really know what happened or what was said.

[20:15:00] KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Right. Well, the thing is that Congressman Nadler is saying that he pressed him and he wasn't answering the question, right? So, that's not the same thing as necessarily giving an answer. In his public testimony, he was basically saying he wasn't going to talk about conversations that he had with the president. And so, I think him not answering shouldn't be construed as somehow giving information.

I do think it is true that he isn't seen as being probably the most trustworthy person in the sense that he was hired clearly as a Trump loyalist who wasn't qualified for the job. And so, it's not hard to believe that maybe he was doing the president's bidding here.

But you have the ranking Republican member saying explicitly that this didn't happen. And it is hard to square that. Unless he somehow really is playing with the language, but he's -- he said very clearly, that this didn't happen. That he, in fact, said he did not have any conversations with the president about Cohen at all.

COOPER: And, Jeff, what Whitaker denied under oath in his prior testimony, that the president lashed out at him, and he denied that, I mean, it doesn't exactly give him much cover of what constitutes lashing out could be subjective and it was -- that term was used in a report that he was basically denying.

TOOBIN: Right. I mean -- and the notion that Matthew Whitaker -- where it came out that he doesn't exactly remember what went on in this conversation. You know what it is when you talk to the president of the United States and you're the attorney general, especially if you are the attorney general for just a few weeks, it's a big deal. It is a big deal in your entire life.

And the idea that Matthew Whitaker -- well, I don't know, we were talking and I don't remember. That is absurd. The question is, would he agree to answer the question if he came back? This seems to me of significant importance that the House committee could go to court and try to find him in context -- contempt if he tried to invoke executive privilege. Because, again, this is exactly the kind of conversation that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon -- the abuse of the Justice Department.

This is something that the Congress should investigate. And not rely on like he said/he said on a closed-door meeting.

COOPER: Neal, isn't executive privilege, the White House has to invoke not -- not Matthew Whitaker?

KATYAL: Yes. The White House is the only individual -- entity that can invoke it and here I do think there is a problem because, Anderson, Whitaker previously didn't just testify in Congress that the president didn't lash out. He also testified in response to a question of did the White House reach out to you in some way to express dissatisfaction? Answer, no.

So, Whitaker didn't have any problem remembering that just a month or even less than a month ago. But now, all of a sudden, he's got this memory deficits and I 100 percent agree with Jeff Toobin. I mean, I worked with the attorney general every day, I remember every one of those conversations, they're big deals, and certainly, dollars to donuts, I remember every conversation I've ever had with the president of the United States.

So, this idea that he just kind of forgets is really, really tough.

COOPER: Stand by, everybody. I want to take a quick break. There is more coming up.

We're going to look at Paul Manafort sentencing today, his additional prison time. What it might mean for the ongoing Mueller investigation and the new charges he's facing tonight and why they may be so important just in terms of a potential presidential pardon on the federal charges because these are state charges.

Also tonight, exclusive details on an e-mail obtained by CNN that seemed to promise Michael Cohen he could sleep well because he had friends in, quote, high places. The interpretation of that now is -- well, it's open according to where you stand. There is people denying it means what it sounds like it means.

We'll be right back.


[20:23:29] COOPER: Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, was sentenced to a total 7-1/2 years in prison today. It was Manafort's second appearance before a federal court judge in as many weeks, this time on charges of obstruction and conspiracy. The Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced him to an additional 3.5 years after another judge in Virginia had sentenced him, as you may remember, to almost four years on a series of financial fraud charges.

Then, moments later, literally minutes later, the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance charged Manafort with mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy. The question, of course, is what happens now?

Back with our legal and political team, Neal Katyal, Jeff Toobin, and Kirsten Powers.

Kirsten, first of all, there's this waiting game right now for Robert Mueller to finish up, unclear when that's going to happen. It seems like -- there is reporting it would be two weeks ago and there was talk from the Trump supporters it would be a year ago. Who does it benefit this kind of waiting game? I mean, the president, so he can keep up his witch hunt attacks, or Democrats, they're going to keep open the question of, you know, conspiracy or collusion or does it benefit anybody?

POWERS: Well, I mean, I do think it would be hard if the Mueller report came out and enough of it was released that people could feel like we were getting the full story and he didn't find anything in terms of collusion. I think, obviously, Republicans would say, OK, we're done with this, let's move on and Democrats might still want to continue to investigate. So, in a sense, having it not come out probably, I would say, helps Democrats more.

[20:25:05] But that said, I'm saying that under the assumption if they didn't find something. If they do find something, then obviously that would be very bad for the president if he found collusion.

COOPER: And, Jeff, I mean, Mueller's prosecution of Manafort, that ended because Roger Stone next on the docket and we learned that Michael Flynn's Cooperation is still ongoing. Other than that, what's left here for Mueller to resolve besides delivering his report?

TOOBIN: Not much.

COOPER: Stuff we just don't know about?

TOOBIN: Well, the great open question is whether there are more charges to be filed. But the Roger Stone trial is probably going to take place in the fall. It may be run largely by the U.S. attorney's office in Washington.

There are the two indictments of the Russian officials in connection with that the hacking and social media stuff but those people will never show up for trial. So I don't think there is any trial there.

So at least based on what we know, if there are no more indictments, and that's a big if, all that is left is the report. And, you know, we don't know if the report is going to be five pages or 500 pages. I mean, the regulation that Neal played a big part in writing gives Mueller and the attorney general a lot of flexibility here and we don't know how -- how Mueller and Barr are going to exercise it.

COOPER: And, Neal, it is also been reported that the Mueller probe is funded through September. Does that mean he might -- if it is still working on this probe all the way up until then? You know, maintaining a staff and keeping -- you know, that there is more to come?

KATYAL: Well, he's under no obligation to spend those funds so he could close up shop earlier, but I think Jeff is right to say there is a lot we don't know here and Mueller has run a ship without any leaks.

But the one thing we do know, which happened today, instead of the future, think about the present and you have the president's numero uno, his top campaign official going to jail now for 7-1/2 years. I mean, that doesn't happen. You have to look over American history and I think you would find one president whose campaign chair went to jail and that is not a good precedent for President Trump, which is Mitchell who was Nixon's campaign chief. So this is a real devastating thing to think that our president put in

charge of his campaign a guy going to jail for so long and the number two guy, Rick Gates, also going to jail.

COOPER: You know, Kirsten, just from a political standpoint --

TOOBIN: And another fact --

COOPER: Go ahead, Jeff.

TOOBIN: No, but -- go ahead, Anderson, it is OK.

COOPER: Go ahead. Another fact, I like facts. Go ahead.

TOOBIN: Well, it's that Manafort is really over as far as the Mueller investigation is concerned. He tried to cooperate, it was a fiasco and he lied and wasn't -- so the idea that there may be something further with Manafort in terms of cooperation or other evidence or other testimony, it is just not going to happen.

So, you know, yes, he's been sentenced to 7-1/2 years and people could agree or disagree about whether that is a good sentence, but he's just over as a witness in a case as far as federal court is concerned.

COOPER: But, Kirsten, there is the state now charges in New York which are fascinating and just from a political standpoint, I'm wondering how you think that plays. Because you could make the argument that Republicans could point to that and -- or anybody could point though to that and say, well look, that is politically motivated, they, you know, announced these charges right after the sentencing of Manafort, and it makes it pardon-proof, if, in fact, he's found guilty in New York on state charges, that is not something that the president can pardon him for.

You know, how do you think it --


COOPER: And the flip side is for people that want to see Manafort spend more time in prison and not be pardoned, this gives them the likelihood that even if he's pardoned by the president, he will spend time in jail.

POWERS: Yes, I mean, I think to a certain extent the lawyers could answer that better than me. Everything I know about the Southern District of New York, I learned on "Billions". So, you know, I -- it seems unlikely to me that --

KATYAL: Good show.

POWERS: That they would do something like that. But they would -- that this entire thing would be constructed and they would charge these crimes as I guess what Republicans might be claiming happened that it was some sort of politically motivated thing. It just doesn't seem likely to me that is how the law works but the lawyers here could speak more to that. COOPER: Yes, well, certainly they have -- the state authorities have

been work on for a long time.


COOPER: But we'll talk about this more later.

POWERS: Neal Katyal, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you, Kirsten Powers as well.

Coming up, did someone from the presidential orbit dangle the idea of a possible pardon in front of Michael Cohen in April of last year, that's after -- right after Cohen's office was raided, after he was charged. We'll have the details on an e-mail that CNN has obtained next.


COOPER: An exclusive tonight, CNN has obtained a copy of an e-mail promising Michael Cohen that he could sleep well because he had friends in high places. The e-mails from April of 2018 was sent to Cohen by an attorney who said that he was speaking with the President's lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

With that cast of character, it's a story full of people who aren't exactly known for restricted hearings to the truth, so Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger joins us try to help sort out what it may mean.

So, Gloria, what exactly do this e-mail say?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Anderson, they are from April of 2018, after Michael Cohen's home and his office were raided. And they're between Michael Cohen and an attorney Bob Costello, and they mostly focus on the relationship between the White House, the President, and Michael Cohen. Let me just one of them. One of them -- spoke with Rudy, very, very positive. You are loved. Sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places.

Now, Anderson, we don't have Michael Cohen's response. And we're hoping to get that. But we do not have that. So -- and we also know that these are documents that the Congressional committees have.

COOPER: And this was, I mean, there's an e-mail from Michael Cohen to the attorney talking about setting up some kind of a -- or referencing sort of making a contact, is that right or is it from the attorney to Michael Cohen?

BORGER: It was from the attorney. It was from the attorney to Michael Cohen. We only have the e-mails from the attorney to Michael Cohen. And in that, you know, he talks about -- he says that Rudy Giuliani was grateful for setting up this kind of a back channel. So we don't really know what that means.

[20:34:57] Cohen sympathizers say this is the first step in dangling a pardon, was that what this was about? Were they trying to place kind of a mole as an attorney working with Michael so that attorney could tell Rudy Giuliani everything Michael Cohen was thinking? This is of course before Michael Cohen declared his independence in July.

And I spoke with the attorney last night, Robert Costello, who called that utter nonsense and said, "Look, what we're trying to do was smooth out what had become a rocky relationship between Cohen and the President, there are bit some stories written at that time, about the President being angry with Michael and vice versa." And that he said, "Michael had asked him to please make sure they all know that I'm good," as you know they were part of a joint defense agreement at that time.

COOPER: And shortly after the first e-mail was sent, the President had some kind words for Michael Cohen on Twitter.

BORGER: Yes. The President did. He said Michael is a business man for his own account, lawyer, who I have always liked and respected. Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry. I don't see Michael doing that, despite the horrible witch hunt and the dishonest media."

So the President at this point was making the case, "I gotcha, Michael. You know, I know you're on my team and I think," -- look, everyone at this point after the raid on Michael's home and office, was kind of worried what did the feds get? And so they were both worried about it, what did the feds get. And you can say that there was concern from the White House too.

COOPER: It's fascinating. Gloria Borger, thanks so much.

BORGER: Yes, sure.

COOPER: So earlier I spoke with Congressman Jim Himes, Democratic from Connecticut and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.


COOPER: Congressman Himes, this e-mail to Michael Cohen stating that he can "sleep well tonight" because he has "friends in high places", I wonder how you interpret that.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, it points to a topic that I don't -- I can't get into it with great specificity but which as the press has reported, was a subject of some of the conversation with Michael Cohen on he was before the Intelligence Committee. And there are real questions and these comes out of course from a lot of this public as well, there are real questions on the topic of pardon dangling.

And again, I can't be terribly specific about it but I think it is far from the end of that conversation. I think that when the intelligence committee transcripts are released, there will be some very uncomfortable days for a number of people and there will be questions to follow up on.

COOPER: So, again, as you said, you can't go into specifics, but you're saying based on what you've learned in the Committee's investigation, can you say if you have a clearer picture of what actually happened here in regards to a pardon?

HIMES: Well, you see a fairly clear picture emerging from what is public. The President tweets alone where he calls people who are cooperating rats and weak, and when he praised those not cooperating quite so much as strong. I mean, its language right out of the godfather. To answer your specific question, yes.

Now, remember, Michael Cohen is not somebody whose testimony you take at face value.

COOPER: Right.

HIMES: But if Michael Cohen were to produce e-mails, were he to produce written information that was corroborating it would cause you to think maybe there's something to what he's saying. And as I said before I think this is a story which has not been fully explained at all.

COOPER: And that is the difficulty. I mean, you know, Michael Cohen is a convicted liar. The President, you know, has certainly lied and stretched the truth and, you know, we all know his record on that. With so many people with, you know, difficulty telling the truth, is it even possible to figure out conclusively where the truth actually lies?

HIMES: Sure it is. And I would point to the -- to Michael Cohen showing up and handing over checks signed by the President backing up his statement that I was reimburse the by the president for paying hush money to Stormy Daniels. There is documentation and again I don't want to get into too much detail but he provided documentation to the Committee, these are people who communicate by e-mail and they communicate by text. Though the President does not, the President's people do.

And again, I think there is much more to the story that -- part of the reason of course we're being quiet about exactly what happened in the testimony of Michael Cohen is that his testimony and the information that he provided will probably cause us to call in some of those people. And we don't obviously want them to know exactly what Michael Cohen said prior to having the opportunity to speak to them.

COOPER: And when does a transcript of the testimony get released? I mean, is it when all said and done?

HIMES: Well, unlike some of the other stuff from the Russia investigation, there's no question of classified material being released here because Michael Cohen of course didn't have access to classified material. So that won't be an impediment the way it is with the other transcripts or some of other transcripts.

[20:40:00] Again, the one dynamic keeping these transcripts from being released right now is -- and you can draw the conclusion and infer what you will from this, we will almost certainly want to bring in additional witnesses as a result of the testimony that Michael Cohen gave in the two days before my committee, and we won't necessarily want those witnesses to know exactly what it was that Michael Cohen provided or said about them.

COOPER: And just lastly, I want to get your take on the other breaking story tonight, the former Acting Attorney General Whitaker would not deny the President called him to discuss the Cohen case as well as personnel decisions in the Southern District according to Congressman Nadler.

HIMES: Yes, that's correct. And I guess it surprises pretty much no one that Matthew Whitaker, when he was acting attorney general, that he was acting in defense of the President. This is of course what an awful lot of the President's people have done.

I think the President himself acknowledged that Whitaker's role was there and certainly Whitaker made statements earlier that prior to his becoming attorney general acting that would suggest that, so no surprise.

Now, the big question of course is, there's difference between people talking about stuff and things actually being done. So the question for us as the body of government charged with oversight is did the acting attorney general take any actions which would have compromised any of the investigations of Trump or the Trump administration or more broadly the Russia question.

COOPER: Congressman Himes, I appreciate it. Thank you.

HIMES: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: So there's more breaking news tonight. Ahead including President Trump's decision to ground the Boeing 737 MAX after two deadly crashed in the last five months. Question one, why was the United States the last to do it and what was behind the decision? We'll have that ahead.


[20:45:23] COOPER: Tonight the newest version of the world's best- selling airliner is now grounded in this country. And one question is why now? The other is why not ground the Boeing 737 MAX series sooner. Why did it take two deadly crashes and practically the rest -- the whole rest of the world acting first before the decision was made and -- the President made his announcement late today, or did everyone else jump the gun and act before enough facts were in. Here's part of what the President said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Airlines are agreeing with us, the safety of the American people and all people is paramount concern. Our hearts go out to all of those who lost loved ones, to their friends, to their families in both the Ethiopian airlines and the Lion airlines crashes involved the 737 MAX aircraft. It's a terrible, terrible thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: The President said the Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Department agreed with the decision, but short time later the acting FAA Director said the decision was in fact his, meaning the FAA's. He said the agency just got, today, got enough information to see similarities between the earlier Lion Air disaster and the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 earlier week.

Lion Air investigators suspect that a hardware and software system designed to push the planes nose down when it is pointing too high might have instead acting to put the plane into a dive. Now, the FAA says it now has data suggesting the Ethiopian 737 may have followed to some degree a similar flight path.

If you recall just yesterday after a phone call from the Boeing CEO, the President did not take any action. Today after another call from Boeing he did.

Here to talk about it is former Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo, she currently is a CNN Aviation Analyst as well as a plaintiff's attorney for accident victims and their families, including we should add in cases against the Boeing company. Also CNN Aviation Correspondent Richard Quest joins us.

So, Richard, the grounding of the planes, what does it mean for air travel in the US because there are not a lot of the planes actually being used, correct?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: No, there's not a lot. But they are in some key markets, southwest has a couple of dozen, American similarly, United has the MAX 9. And so we're already starting to see some delays in some lines as the airlines switch the planes out and put in replacements. And this all happens at a time of course when capacity is pretty tight at the moment. There aren't a lot of spare planes about.

So I would expect to see a bit of confusion, a few delays, a few cancellations as the airlines pretty much learn to switch out the new planes, find replacements, lease or borrow, those brings some out of retirement to make up the difference.

COOPER: Mary, why do you think the FAA didn't move quicker on this compared to, you know, the rest of the world, basically?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the FAA usually takes its queues from Boeing, and not just in this in many other instances, and it was following Boeing's lead. Boeing after the accident, after the first one, after the second one said that the plane was safe and insisted that there was nothing wrong with it, and didn't need major change, and the FAA simply agreed with them.

And you could see that in both in the airworthiness directive and in the additional directions that they put out on March 11th after the second crash. The FAA said, "Well, based on what Boeing has told us," so they were following the lead of the manufacturer.

COOPER: So how long, Richard, is it going to take for this issue to be fixed? I mean, we're talking a matter of months or weeks or do we know?


SCHIAVO: Months.

QUEST: Yes, I think you are. I looked back at the 787 grounding and that went on for just over 90 days. Now, the difference slightly is here that Boeing has already done much of the work, and the patch, and the fix, and the repair because of course it was working on the Lion Air. But it hasn't been -- that hasn't been put into practice yet and it hasn't been authorized.

And there's one big difference I think with this fix over the 787. With the 787 there were fires and problems and delays, but there were no deaths. Here you have had two aircrafts with very serious loss of life. So before Boeing will be allowed to put in the fix, and it to be re-certified and that's another question. The FAA is clearly going to have to answer questions. They certified the 787 and that has really serious problems. They certified the 737 MAX 8 and that had deadly problems.

[20:50:01] So I don't think there's going to be a rush to get these planes back in the air. I think you are looking at weeks, maybe even months.

COOPER: Mary, I want to go back to something you said, that the FAA takes the lead of the manufacturer.


COOPER: Does that make sense to you? I mean does that -- I know you're a plaintiff's attorney and have gone after Boeing but, I mean, does it make sense that the FAA would take the lead of the company? Seems like, you know, a conflict of interest.

SCHIAVO: No. And when I was inspector general of the DOT, we're constantly investigating why the FAA seemed to be a toothless tiger and took, you know, took the Boeing's word for it and took the airlines' words for it. It's not just for Boeing, it's not like they have a special treatment for Boeing.

The FAA does its job through a series largely of designated inspectors and, for example, at Boeing, the inspectors, the surrogates, if you will, to do the inspections for the FAA, often are picked from Boeing employees. I was tasked to look at the certification of the 777 and there they had 4 million lines of code and 150 computers, and the FAA readily admitted, no, we don't know if the computers are safe, we don't know what the lines of code do. All we know is that they followed our procedure and the designated inspector said they did. 95% of that plane was self-certified.

And so, that's how they do it, through a series of designated inspectors. And so they defer what they will readily admit is to the knowledge of Boeing as it outstrips the knowledge of the FAA.

COOPER: Wow. It's fascinating. Mary Schiavo, appreciate you being with us, Richard Quest as well. Thank you.

I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "CUOMO PRIMETIME". Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So the theory becomes the FAA had every reason to follow what Boeing does, because that's what it does and you heard Schiavo there refer to this kind of rotisserie of people going from the private sector to the public sector. We thought we were going to stop that. That was part of draining the swamp. We hear about that all the time with the FDA.

Tonight we're going to look deeper at that, Coop. We're going to look -- I have somebody here who understands why the FAA does what it does, to kind of reveal what we all suspect here, which is this timing doesn't make any sense. The way this has happened just doesn't make any sense, so we heed to make sense of it going guard. We're going to take that on tonight.

Also we're going to look at the latest developments with what we see in the Cohen case and what this President has done and whether it is wrong. Not simply criminal. We got the RNC Chair here tonight to talk about her thoughts on that, what matters, politically, and how does it affect 2020.

COOPER: All right. Lot to cover tonight, Chris. We'll see you about seven minutes from now.

Coming up, the saddest "Ridiculist" ever. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Time now for the "Ridiculist." And tonight it's profoundly bittersweet, the brains behind this segment, one of my longtime writers on this program, the brilliantly funny Faith Kleppinger is leaving for new adventures.

Now, to say that Faith will be missed is a gross understatement. For more years than I can remember, she's been making me smile and everyone here smile with her wit, and warmth, her well-placed puns, and more than occasional profanities. I, of course, have done my part. I giggle uncontrollably and I offer an occasional public apology which I've had to do several times thanks to Faith.

But it's Faith who's made these last few minutes every night pure candy.


COOPER: Mike & Ike do not exist. They are got real people. They are candy. And as such, do not possess genitals. Sourpatch kids are not real kids. Starbursts don't have real stars in them. And there isn't an actual ranch where the jolly rancher works.

Yankee candle unveiled its first ever limited edition candle collection inspired by and created just for men. It turns out some smaller companies have been trying to tap into this market. Original man candle, for instance, has draft beer, pot roast, and rodekill- scented offerings. Can't you smell the roadkill?

Dyngus Day isn't some totally fake holiday cooked up by a "Seinfeld" writer like Festivus. Dyngus Day is a real thing. Obscure but real.

I'm not going to let you do this one. Sorry. Last night on a flight from Paris to Dublin, Depardieu reportedly peed on the floor. They saw an actual thespian actually thes-pee-in. Oh, it's full of puns. Now, all I can say is they should thank their lucky stars it wasn't the-fart-tu (ph). Sorry. That made me giggle every time I read it.

He hasn't commented on this incident. The-fart-tu, I know you got it, but [laughter] all right. Sorry. [Laughter]. Sorry. This has actually never happened to me. Always see this sort of thing on Youtube.

Ah, yes, Gerard Depardieu, Dingus day which I did have to apologize for, the segments that turned me into a human blooper real. Thank you, Faith.

Without faith, without you, I'd just be another guy telling toilet jokes if front of CNN and Blitzer has that audience pretty locked up. Seriously, though, I want to thank you Faith, we all do and I wish you great writing and continued success in all you do. Truthfully, I've been dreading this day for years because I always knew that one day you would decide to use your remarkable talents in other ways, and now we should all have to muddle along without you because if I've learned anything over the years, is that you got to have faith in life, and on the "Ridiculist."

[24:00:09] Thank you, faith.

The news continues, I want to hand over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIMTIME".