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Source: Mueller Told Justice Department Three Weeks Ago He Wouldn't Reach A Conclusion on Obstruction; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) Connecticut is Interviewed About the Mueller Report; Avenatti Charged with Trying to Extort $20+ Million From Nike, Also Accused of Wire and Bank Fraud. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired March 25, 2019 - 20:00   ET


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

The attorney who made Stormy Daniels a household name and sparked the case that ended with Michael Cohen sentenced to prison is now himself at risk, if found guilty, of also going to prison. Michael Avenatti was charged today in what the feds call a multimillion dollar extortion attempt and say the alleged shakedown was caught on tape. On top of that, he was also charged in a separate case involving wire and bank fraud. He was arraigned just moments ago at a courthouse in Lower Manhattan.

You're looking at a live shot. We're expecting him to come out shortly and possibly speak to reporters. We'll bring you that when he does.

There's also multiple new developments in the fallout from the attorney general's summary of Robert Mueller's investigation. Big ones, including new reporting that Mr. Mueller told Attorney General Barr three weeks ago he would not reach a conclusion in an obstruction of justice case against the president. That would be left up to Barr.

Also tonight, the latest on the efforts by Democrats to make the full report public. But Senate Republican Mitch McConnell blocked a move. So there's that and a reality that we now have key answers to some central tenets of the special counsel's investigation, but a lot of questions remain.

The first big answer being this, taken from Attorney General Barr's release, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. That is, of course, both legally and politically enormous, insufficient evidence to make a case against the president or people close to him for criminal conspiracy with the Russian government during the 2016 election. Effectively, no collusion as the president has said all along. At least none that the special counsel believes can be prosecuted. There's good news for the president and arguably better for the country that the president of the United States did not criminally conspire with a foreign adversary to get elected.

Now, Democrats and those who dislike the president may be disappointed, but for the country, having a president that hasn't conspired with an enemy is certainly very good news. That said, the Barr letter is not saying what the president is saying it says.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no obstruction and none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration.


COOPER: Well, in fact the attorney general who cited very few passages from Robert Mueller's report specifically cited this one with respect to obstruction of justice. Quoting now: While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. Those were Mueller's words.

According to the attorney general, the special counsel, quote, did not draw a conclusion one way or the other as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. He deferred to the attorney general who decided along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that it did not, which leaves the question just what did Robert Mueller say about it in the body of his report?

Watergate conspirator and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, certainly no stranger to moments like these, had this to say to Don Lemon last night.


JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: We haven't really seen the underlying report, but I have some suspicions that the reason that he boiled this down the way he did is because it's not very attractive, Don. While he didn't find -- his words are very different than Barr's, I suspect.


COOPER: He suspects. And so do plenty of Democratic lawmakers. But in truth, we don't know one way or another.

Democrats have made releasing the full Mueller report to the public their top priority, something the president today said he's also OK with. As it stands, we don't really know the underlying facts that went into the attorney general's decision not to pursue obstruction charges.

On the conclusion front, we don't know if the Mueller investigators reached any determination about why so many people lied so much about their contacts with Russians. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos all charged with lying. People involved in the Trump Tower meeting with Christians were caught in multiple lies. And we still don't know why, nor do we know if Robert Mueller knows.

We still don't have, as CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein often points out, a simple factual account of what happened in all of this. Nor do we know what's behind the president's willingness to give Vladimir Putin the benefit of the doubt time after time on Russia's election interference.

Did Robert Mueller have a theory or provide any facts that bear on the question? Again, we don't know, and that should be pointed out. Nor do we know what, if anything, the Mueller investigation uncovered that potentially sheds light on any of these other investigations into the president and his dealings.

What we do know, however, is that the report, if accurately summarized by the attorney general, dispels some of the harsher allegations against the president by Democrats, by former intelligence officials and others over the years. We have a senator on the program who's said he's seen evidence himself of collusion. He said it before the Barr summary came out. Tonight, we'll ask him whether he still maintains that.

Does the Mueller report contain any evidence that supports the senator's claim? Even if it might not rise to level of criminal. Another unanswered question.

[20:05:01] As is the president's reaction to it all, when asked today whether the special counsel acted honorably in the investigation, the president replied, yes, he did. If that's really what he believes, it's certainly a far cry from what he's been claiming for months and months, saying things like this about the special counsel.


TRUMP: The problem with the Mueller investigation is everybody has got massive conflicts.

Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. In fact, Comey is like his best friend.

These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I've ever seen.

I call them the 13 angry Democrats.

I could go into conflict after conflict. But sadly, Mr. Mueller is conflicted.

Mueller was not Senate confirmed. Because of all the conflicts, they didn't want to bring him before the Senate because he's very conflicted.

He's conflicted, and I know that his best friend is Comey, who's a bad cop. He put 13 highly conflicted and, you know, very angry -- I call them angry Democrats in.


COOPER: Well, more now on the president's reaction. CNN's Jim Acosta is at the White House for us tonight.

Has the White House seen the full report yet?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: According to a White House official I spoke with earlier this evening, Anderson, no, they have not seen the full report. And as to this notion that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, informed the attorney general, William Barr, three weeks ago that he would not be bringing an obstruction case, I asked the White House just a short while ago and got an answer to this.

And they say the president, the White House did not know about that, that Mueller informed Barr he would not be seeking any obstruction charges. And so, over here, they seem to be as much in the dark as to what's contained in the full Mueller report as everybody else. It's in the dark as to whether or not they'll push for a full release of that report. We still don't have a straight answer on that.

As you were saying a few moments ago, the president said in the Oval Office earlier today, he's OK with that idea of releasing the report, but he's leaving it to the attorney general to decide what ultimately to do about that.

COOPER: In terms of the president declaring full exoneration, obviously the vast majority of the summary was a huge victory for him, there's no doubt about it, full stop. Is there any concern about that narrow bit of nuance between Mueller and Barr on obstruction?

ACOSTA: Not at this point, Anderson. Honestly, they were too busy celebrating to appreciate the nuances of just about anything.

I will say at one point in the driveway of the North Lawn of the White House, I saw the White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, almost dancing in the driveway as I approached her. She was beaming. Multiple officials behind the scenes were jubilant over this news because they see this cloud being lifted over the president that's been there since the 2016 campaign, Anderson.

And who can blame them? That cloud has been there for some time. As you mentioned just a few moments ago, there are all of these other investigations looming. The question is how the White House, how the president responds to all of that.

But obviously the question moving forward, you know, is still why is the president -- why does he have this situation where every time we go out on a foreign trip, he seems to align himself with Vladimir Putin when it comes to this issue of interference in the 2016 election. That obviously is a question that we may have some answers to in the full Mueller report. It's hard to imagine a situation, Anderson, where the public never gets a full understanding of the answer to that question.

But as you were just saying a few moments ago, we just don't know the answer to a lot of questions around here with the exception of these answers that the president and his team have been desperately seeking for the last two years now.

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

Just moments ago, we learned where the top Democrat in Congress stands in all this. CNN's Manu Raju joins us with that.

So, what is Speaker Pelosi saying tonight, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Speaker Pelosi had a private meeting with her leadership team just earlier are this evening and she made it pretty clear that she believes the focus of her caucus going forward should not be on the Russia investigation, should not be on the Mueller probe, but should be instead on these economic issues, pocketbook issues, on their agenda. She believes that's how the party should focus going forward.

It's in line with what she's been saying some time but in the aftermath of the bill Barr letter, she wants to make it pretty clear to her caucus that it makes sense not to focus on all the fallout and the messy fallout from this, particularly in light of the finding that the Trump campaign, according to Bob Mueller, could not find -- could not establish that the Trump campaign was involved in a conspiracy with the Russian government.

Now, I asked Nancy Pelosi about this leaving a meeting earlier this evening, whether she believes there's still collusion, and she didn't want to engage.


RAJU: Speaker Pelosi, are you ready to say there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in light of the Mueller finding?

REPORTER: Does this exonerate the president you think?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think that the Mueller report was clear. The president is not exonerated.


RAJU: So, in the end, she said, I think the Mueller report was clear, he was not exonerated. We tried to press her a little further.

[20:10:01] She said I'm not going to be having a press conference about the soul of our democracy in the hallway of the basement in the Capitol.

So, it shows you, Anderson, where she wants to keep her focus. But still, several of her committees plan to push forward. Of course, they're demanding by next week to provide the report to the House and the Senate.

Also, Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, told me earlier this evening he still plans to investigate Russia interference. He said the criminal investigation that Mueller launched is much different than a counterintelligence investigation that he's launching. He said he still wants to know if Trump has been compromised in any way by the Russians, by financial interests at all.

That's going to be still a focus for Adam Schiff. So, while Pelosi wants to move forward and to talk about these issue, at least some of her committees still plan to probe these Russia matters and will keep it still in the news, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Manu Raju, Manu, thanks.

Joining us now is Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and member of the Judiciary Committee.

Senator Blumenthal, do you agree with Speaker Pelosi that Democrats should focus on their agenda and message and not the Mueller probe and Russia interference? Should Democrats essentially move on?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We should definitely focus, Anderson, on the challenges ahead to our country. Infrastructure, that is rebuilding our roads and bridges, health care, making it more widely available and reducing the costs of pharmaceutical drugs. Veterans issues and our national defense, which is increasingly complex and challenging.

But at the same time, we need to protect our nation against the continuing Russian threat of meddling in our election. And that was the purpose of the Mueller probe at the very outset. It began as a counterintelligence investigation, and we need to know and see that Mueller report. All we have right now is the Barr summary. So, we can establish how close the wrongdoing came to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, whether there was noncriminal wrongdoing by the Trump campaign.

Clearly, there is evidence of some cooperation there. And also very, very importantly, the statement by Mueller, one of the few statements that quoted in the Barr summary, that the president is not exonerated on the issue of obstruction of justice.

COOPER: You said earlier today that, quote, there is evidence of collusion, no question. Do you stand by that claim? Because it sure seems like Robert Mueller's conclusion is very different.

BLUMENTHAL: We don't know what Robert Mueller's conclusion is because we haven't seen it. All we've seen is the Barr summary. Even if the Mueller report says that he could not establish, that's his word, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that's a very high bar. There may still be evidence. In fact there is already in the public realm. And that evidence is what I was citing.

For example, the president's encouragement of the Russians to provide more hacked information. His knowledge of the WikiLeaks release and his encouragement there, his negotiations on the Trump Tower Moscow at the same time that he was praising Vladimir Putin. A string of highly significant public evidence of cooperation that may have only been tacit, without criminal intent, but his own campaign manager shared polling data, sensitive, private polling data with the Russians while they were attacking this country through a campaign of misinformation.

COOPER: But isn't -- I mean, that is all things that Robert Mueller likely looked at, and yet still came away -- I mean it's one thing, yes, the president said in a press conference, you know, Russia, if you're listening -- I can't remember the exact quote -- finding the e- mails. But Mueller knew that, looked at it and still said no crime here.

BLUM ENTHAL: And that's why we need to see the report. I can't emphasize enough how important transparency is.

We have the Barr summary. We do not have the Mueller report. We have no idea what his reasoning was.

Absence of criminal intent on the part of some or all of the Trump operatives who engaged in cooperation and what looks like conspiracy but maybe not, without that culpable intent, but also on the issue of obstruction. After all, obstruction is an effort to hinder an investigation. The fact that there was insufficient evidence of conspiracy may be due to the hindering of the investigation, and that's the essence of obstruction. That's the crime where Mueller did not exonerate the president.

COOPER: The Trump campaign, as you know, sent out a memo to the media today accusing you and others of lying to the American people about claims of collusion. They clearly see you as ripe for attack. What about that? Are you worried your credibility has taken a hit?

[20:15:01] Do you feel you have anything to apologize for?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, in that letter, apparently, I haven't actually seen it, but they took a part of a quotation without the whole of it. And the second part of it said in effect whether there are going to be criminal charges remains to be seen. So I stand by the contention that there is evidence. It may not rise to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

I know as a former prosecutor that sometimes that proof comes very close but it has to be beyond a reasonable doubt, and particularly when it's the president. It's a very, very high bar. So the effort to discredit critics is certainly not a new phenomenon for this administration. I'm going to continue to speak out. I won't be deterred or silenced.

COOPER: But shouldn't the bar be high? I mean, if -- you know, I know it's -- in a court of law, it's beyond a reasonable doubt. Given the seriousness of this, given it's the president of the United States and it's as serious as it gets, shouldn't the bar be that high?

BLUMENTHAL: Absolutely. It is under the law. I respect the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

But at the same time, in order to prevent wrongdoing of this kind in the future, Congress continues to have an oversight function. We have a responsibility, independent of the special counsel, to devise new legislation reforms that will safeguard against this kind of Russian interference in the future. And that's where there is bipartisan agreement, as well as on the need for transparency.

After all, the president himself said today that he's in favor of transparency. If he's serious about it, he'll back the bipartisan bill that I've introduced with Senator Grassley that would require it.

COOPER: All right. Senator Blumenthal, appreciate your time. Thank you.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

COOPER: We'll get a pair of legal opinions now and some of what the senator said. Joining us for that, CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero and former Whitewater independent counsel Robert Ray.

Carrie, what do you make of Senator Blumenthal's claim that there was collusion but it didn't rise for the level of a crime?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's probably something to it. Senator Blumenthal should be in a position to know some information that perhaps is not available to the public. And the crime of conspiracy, which is what the theory of collusion is, would be a high level. That would be a high bar to meet to be able to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there is evidence supporting a prosecution.

So I think that there probably -- there could be some information available to those in a position of access that is something below a criminal prosecution standard and above nothing there.

COOPER: Robert, do you agree with that?

ROBERT RAY, WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I think that might be trying to parse things too finely. I mean, the more important distinction is what Senator Blumenthal is talking about would be what standard he might consider appropriate to pass upon an article of impeachment. And obviously there, as Gerald Ford famously said, impeachment is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives says by way of an article of impeachment.

I do think, though, that the standard still would be is it a high crime, emphasis on the word "crime." And the Justice Department now, through the office of special counsel, has made a determination both with regard to collusion and with regard to obstruction that there's not sufficient evidence that a crime was committed. It seems to me -- by the president. It seems to me that that finding has consequence, and it not only has consequence insofar as the criminal law is concerned, but it's certainly, although it's not determinative, it does bear upon the question of what the Congress intends to do about it, if anything.

COOPER: Carrie, last night you accurately guessed that Attorney General Barr did not take only 48 hours to reach his decision regarding obstruction. I wonder what you made of the news that Barr had roughly three weeks heads up from Mueller that Mueller wasn't going to make a decision on obstruction, that it was going to be left out to Barr?

CORDERO: Well, I'm glad that we were able to get that reporting today and I think it makes a lot more sense than the narrative that appeared to some over the weekend, which was that perhaps he decided within 48 hours. That just didn't make sense to me. I think the reporting today indicating that he had been briefed on it, that he had some time to think about it, I'm sure he was briefed on what the special counsel was going to put in the report before it was delivered, and so, I think that reporting made a lot more sense and is consistent with how an attorney general would handle a significant decision like this one.

COOPER: Robert, do the American people have the right to know what the facts are that led Mueller to not exonerate the president on obstruction?

[20:20:03] RAY: I think they're entitled to context, and that would include facts, obviously, to understand the prosecutorial decision- making. I don't believe that it is correct as some Democrats have suggested that that means that the Congress is entitled to what amounts to the entire investigative file.

COOPER: Right, the underlying documents, not just the report by Mueller.

RAY: But, Anderson, I think as a practical matter, it's incumbent by way of disclosure of the final report in some fashion to provide the American people with context in connection with the facts that were gathered during the course of the investigation, to understand the basis of the prosecutorial decision that was made.

COOPER: It seems, Carrie, also -- I mean, just for learning the actual narrative of what occurred in terms of Russia's involvement in trying to influence the election, the Mueller report would have more details in that that would be beneficial for everybody to learn, Democrats, Republicans.

CORDERO: I think in order for the public to be able to put together the entire narrative of what transpired around 2016 election, it's going to take piecing together several parts. Part of that is looking at the charges that the special counsel brought already in terms of -- particularly, the indictments of the Russian intelligence officers and their activities. Part of it will come from the special counsel's report, whichever portion of it, however much of it is able to become public. Part of it will come from the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation, which is ongoing in which they presumably will wrap this year, and then there may be another part that will come from other investigations perhaps out of the House.

And I don't think that there's going to be one document that summarizes it all. I think it will have to be an assimilation of all of those different inquiries and investigations.

RAY: I might add also, that I think it's going to be amplified in part by testimony that you're likely going to see from the attorney general, if not from Bob Mueller himself. I imagine sometime probably as soon as April.

COOPER: Robert, if you believe the Mueller report should be released to the extent possible, what is the extent possible? I mean, obviously, you know, anything classified would have to be scrubbed.

RAY: Right.

COOPER: Or redacted. Anything about directly grand jury related I guess would also have to be redacted.

RAY: Maybe not. I can also imagine insofar as the president is concerned that if there's a question about disclosure of necessary grand jury material in order to provide appropriate context for the American people, I can imagine the Department of Justice going to a court to get a court order to open up some of that. I think where you're going to see the department resist too much disclosure is with regard to uncharged other individuals.

COOPER: Fascinating. Robert Ray, thank you so much. Carrie Cordero as well.

CORDERO: Thanks.

RAY: Quite welcome. Thank you.

COOPER: Michael Avenatti has just stepped out after being charged. Let's take a look.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: I will take a brief statement but will not be accepting any questions.

First of all, I want to thank the federal agents for their professionalism and courtesy today. They were outstanding throughout the process, and I wish to thank them for everything they did today in connection with this matter.

As all of you know, for the entirety of my career I have fought against the powerful, powerful people and powerful corporations. I will never stop fighting that good fight. I am highly confident that when all of the evidence is laid bare in connection with these cases, when it is all known, when due process occurs, that I will be fully exonerated and justice will be done.

Thank you.


COOPER: That's Michael Avenatti appearing live in downtown New York after spending at least several hours in court. We're going to have more on the charges against him on both coasts in New York and California as well by different prosecutors. We'll have that in just a moment.

Also later, the president saying people did evil things, treasonous things that launched the Russia probe. He seems to be talking about top intelligence officials at the end of the Obama administration. Just ahead, we'll talk to one of them, former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.


[20:28:53] COOPER: As you saw just before the break, Attorney Michael Avenatti has just left the federal courthouse not as an advocated, as a defendant. Here's charged here one case in New York and in second case in California.

CNN's Kara Scannell joins us now with the latest on both.

So, can you just explain what these cases are?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Anderson. So the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan charged Michael Avenatti with extortion saying that he and an unnamed co-conspirator tried to shake down Nike, alleging that they were telling Nike they were going to release damaging information about the company at a sensitive time just ahead of its quarterly earnings announcement unless they were paid as much as $25 million.

Now, prosecutors said that when Nike learned of this and the lawyers from Nike, they immediately brought it to the authorities' attention. They worked together and had audio and video recordings capturing some of Michael Avenatti's threats.

In one of these threats, Avenatti said, I'll go take $10 billion off your clients' market cap. I'm not F-ing around. Avenatti told Nike's attorneys, according to the complaint, he added, I'm not continuing to play games. You guys know enough now to know you've got a serious problem and it's worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing.

Now across the country in Los Angeles at about the same time, Avenatti was charged by prosecutors there with wire and bank fraud.

In that case, prosecutors allege that Avenatti tried to embezzle more than $1 million from one of his clients to pay his expenses. They also allege that he submitted phony tax returns to a bank in order to get more than $4 million in loans. Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: How does Mark Geragos fit into this? He was a CNN contributor up until today.

SCANNELL: Yes, that's right. So a source familiar with the investigation tells me that Mark Geragos was the unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator in this case. Now, Geragos has not been charged with any wrongdoing so far and he was a CNN Contributor until today.

COOPER: All right, Kara Scannell, appreciate it. I want to go deeper on this. Two CNN Legal Analysts, Paul Callan joins us and Shan Wu as well. Shan, looking at the New York case first, what do you make of these charges?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Very unusual. I expect a very robust defense by Avenatti claiming he was just zealously representing his client and trying to get a settlement. It sounds like he is asking for hush money, not necessarily illegal, and he's familiar with that kind of case.

COOPER: So wait, it's not illegal to ask for hush money? WU: Well, when we talk about it as hush money it sounds more illegal. But when you reach a settlement, there's usually a nondisclosure clause and a non-disparagement clause and that's basically the equivalent of being paid to be quiet in the future.

COOPER: Paul, how strong do you think these charges are? I mean, the federal prosecutor's case, the New York case, I mean, does Avenatti saying things like, "I'll go take $10 billion off your clients' market cap." Does that go beyond, you know, a normal lawyer, you know, in a tough negotiation?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, Anderson, called this the use of a law license as a weapon of extortion. And the claim is that Avenatti was claiming that he had to be paid as much as $25 million not to give a press conference, which would have embarrassed Nike. But it's -- it is an unusual set of charges in New York. I have to think, by the way, that his California case might be even more serious and possess a greater danger to Avenatti.

COOPER: Why is that?

CALLAN: Well, the California charges allege that he embezzled $1.6 million from one of his clients and he took that money and he used it to fund his law firm and a coffee company that apparently was having financial problems during that time period.

In addition, he borrowed $4.1 million from a Mississippi bank using fraudulent copies of tax returns. Now, in these tax returns, he claimed that he had made multimillions of dollars per year.

In fact federal prosecutors say for several years he didn't even file federal tax returns and he never made the amount of money that he claimed. When you put all of those things together, federal prosecutors say he faces 50 years in prison as a maximum sentence in California. So those are dangerous charges for him.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, Shan, the unnamed co-conspirator referred to in the complaint said to be Mark Geragos, who again was a CNN contributor, no longer is as of today. What role do you think he could have had in all of this, because at this point he hasn't been charged with any crime?

WU: Very interesting he was not charged. That's generally frowned upon to use this unindicted co-conspirator idea. We're familiar with it from Nixon and, of course, President Trump has been talked about in that realm as well because the person doesn't really get a chance to defend themselves in court, they're not actually indicted.

It sounds to me like Geragos may have been a co-counsel or also working on the matter legally with Avenatti. The question is why is he not indicted? This immunity is a possibility or perhaps they feel the evidence against him is a little more ambiguous, very extraordinary. They have two attorneys being charged in a case where the two of them can both argue that they're representing clients.

COOPER: Shan, if you've got immunity, again, we don't know -- what would that indicate, that he was cooperating?

WU: Yes, that would indicate that he was cooperating and that they would be -- the prosecutors would value that cooperation a lot in order to give him the immunity.

COOPER: So cooperating, would that be sort of while the investigation -- would it be afterward or while the investigation was going on or both?

WU: It could be both. It would be both.


WU: It's hard to know right now.

COOPER: Paul, if -- I mean, if -- it's obviously a remarkable turn of events, given sort of how Michael Avenatti came into the spotlight, the allegations, you know, he was making against Michael Cohen and others. If true, you said this is for both, is it 50 years for both if you're adding up both indictments?

CALLAN: No. Actually, Anderson, the California federal prosecutor said the statutory maximum for the charges he was facing in California was 50 years. Now, of course, that doesn't mean he'll get 50 years.

[20:35:02] COOPER: Right.

CALLAN: However, on top of that, you would have the New York charges. So, that's the maximum sentence he would face. He wouldn't get a sentence that high, but this is a very serious charge that if convicted he would go to prison for these charges almost certainly.

COOPER: Yes. We'll obviously continue to follow it. Paul Callan, thank you, Shan Wu, as well.

Just ahead, more on the President blaming former intelligence chiefs for the Russia investigation. Former Director of Intelligence James Clapper will join us.


COOPER: Well, now that Robert Mueller is done investigating the President, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is calling on Congress to investigate former top U.S. intelligence officials.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If Congress is so gung-ho to call people up to the Hill, the list I would start with are Comey, Clapper, Brennan and other people in the FBI who perpetuated this absurd lie and this absurd idea that the President of the United States was somehow a foreign agent and colluding with another government.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Joining us now is former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, author of "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life of Intelligence," and was named there by Sarah Sanders. So Director Clapper, what is your reaction to what Sanders said?

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, first, I wonder if she was conflating or confusing collusion, whatever that is, with the Russian interference. And certainly those of us that she named, John Brennan and Jim Comey and I are part of the group that were tasked by President Obama to put together all the reporting we had on the Russian interference, and which we did. President Obama directly and personally confronted Putin about the Russian interference in September, and did not accept at face value Putin's protestations.

[20:40:11] John Brennan directly did the same thing with his counterpart. On October 7th of '16 we put out a statement. We say we, Jay Johnson, the Secretary Homeland Security, and I put out a statement. We're pretty forthright one about warning of the Russian interference in our election. This is a month before the election, which unfortunately got drowned out by the "Access Hollywood" tape revelation.

On December 29th, the administration, you know, issued a series of sanctions, PNG, 35 Russian operatives close to Dutch's, et cetera. And then, of course, on January 6th we issued our intelligence community assessment documenting the Russian interference in which we had very high confidence in the evidence that we presented to then President-elect Trump at Trump Tower.

I think what gives rise -- now, and I will once again emphasize that in that intelligence community assessment there was nothing about collusion because we didn't have sufficient evidence of that to include it.

And I have so stated publicly, starting with March 4th of 2017 when I appeared on "Meet the Press" and I consistently said we didn't have the evidence at the time contemporaneously and it was my great hope that the Mueller investigation would resolve that once and for all, and apparently it did.

And regardless of your political stripes, whether you're an opponent or proponent of President Trump, that's a good thing for all of America. I would just note that my former general counsel, Robert Litt, has written an excellent treatise on the nuances of the language in the Barr memorandum, which without going into it will just say emphasizes the importance of transparency and having access, public access to the entire report.

COOPER: In terms of, you know, things you have said on television subsequently, just over, you know -- I don't however long you've been talking on television, do you regret anything you have said in terms of raising questions about the President's behavior or some of the things the President has done or said?

CLAPPER: No, I don't. And I have put that in writing in my book as well. I have concerns and, as do others, and I have tried to be factual and temperate and moderate about it, but I do have concerns. No, I don't have any regrets.

COOPER: And do you still have the same concerns about, you know, the President, his relationship with Vladimir Putin, his tendency to side with Vladimir Putin against, you know, former intelligence officials or even his current intelligence officials?

CLAPPERS: You know, I do have concerns about the President's unwillingness or inability or whatever to call out the Russian interference in the election. And I would just point out that one of President Obama's objectives in tasking us to do that report on the Russian interference was to hand it off to the next administration. So the Trump administration would have that as a basis for taking action against Russia, which sort of hasn't happened in some ways.

COOPER: So, I mean, just lastly, you've said before that you don't understand what you say are the strange personal deference to Putin by the President. Does Barr's summary of Mueller's findings, because that's all we've seen, clear that up for you at all, or you certainly want to see the full report?

CLAPPER: Well, like everyone else, I would very much like to see what Mueller actually said in his report and hopefully answer some of the unanswered questions that I think still linger that the three and a half page summary that the attorney general provided, which was, you know, it's kind of like headlines, details at 11:00 sort of thing --


CLAPPER: -- doesn't cut it.

COOPER: Yes. Director Clapper, appreciate you being with us. Thanks.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up next, new reporting from "The Washington Post" says President Trump recently asked some of his top aides for ways to limit federal funding from going to Puerto Rico which is still struggling in the wake of the devastating hurricane back in the fall of 2017. We'll have details from "The Washington Post," ahead.


[20:48:00] COOPER: Ever since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico back in the fall of 2017, the Trump administration's response to the disaster has been controversial, certainly. You might recall these images, President Trump tossing paper towels into a crowd after he visited the island, while the mayor of San Juan was criticizing the administration's relief efforts.

Today, "The Washington Post" says the President asked top advisers for ways he could limit federal funds to a still struggling Puerto Rico during an Oval Office meeting earlier this year. On the byline is Josh Dawsey who's also a CNN Political Analyst. Josh, can you just explain your reporting about what the President has been saying about Puerto Rico?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. So the President has gone frustrated with the Puerto Rico aide. He is wanting to limit the amount of Housing and Urban Development grants, also known as HUD grants that go there, as well as food stamp assistance to the island.

Obviously the island was racked by Hurricane Maria and has such struggled to get back on the grid, people still without power, lots of folks there in desperate need of government assistance and the President has instead said that he prefers money to go towards other disasters in the continental of the United States.

He thinks that Puerto Rico's officials are misusing the money, are not giving it to their citizens properly. He really doesn't want any more money to go there and has told his aides that. And there's currently a battle going on over the next round of disaster funding and food stamp money. And the President is putting his finger on the scale here to say he thinks Puerto Rico has received enough and doesn't need anymore.

COOPER: I mean, is it -- is there anger toward Puerto Rico on the President's part? Or -- I mean, is it, as you say, that he just feels like they're misusing the funds? And do we know how it's going to affect any federal aid headed to the island?

DAWSEY: Well, it's an amalgamation of both, Anderson. I mean, the President certainly grew frustrated with political leaders after the storm. You remember his public tiffs today with the mayor of San Juan and kind of grew to believe that Puerto Rico's officials on the ground were not particularly competent.

He also has been concerned that he doesn't think Puerto Rico is spending its money correctly. He read a "Wall Street Journal" story from late 2018 that showed how some bondholders and folks in the private industry were benefiting from federal government funds and that really set him off by the accounts of several different administration officials we've spoken to.

[20:50:13] And since then, there's been a desire to really cut back on the funding that goes to Puerto Rico.

COOPER: The cuts in food stamp benefits to Puerto Rico, how much has that impacted residents in the island?

DAWSEY: Well, my colleague, Jeff Stein, went to Puerto Rico last weekend, Anderson, and spent several days on the ground and he found that there were a lot of people in desperate need.

You know, more than a 40 percent cut in food stamps, likely people who run social safety net programs, nursing homes, people who are kind of living on the cusp of just trying to even get back to somewhat where they were near before the storm, really still struggling in Puerto Rico. And the portrait he painted there was pretty grim and it's a place where all the advocates, the elected officials or residence he talked to in Puerto Rico say if anything they need more government assistance than they're getting not a slash in government in government assistance.

COOPER: And what role, if any, is Congress playing in this? Is there any legislation on the horizon that could possibly be passed and signed into law?

DAWSEY: Right. There's legislation that could come up as early as this week on Puerto Rico assistance and you have a number of Democrats who are pushing heavily for it. You have some Republicans even though quietly behind the scenes are pushing for the country to get a bit more.

But there's also a number of other states that are affected as you all know from tornadoes and hurricane and other kinds of damage, fires, that are part of the package. So, it's kind of a melting pot of money that goes and what the President and the White House wants certainly matters quite a bit in these discussions.

COOPER: Josh Dawsey, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

COOPER: All right. Chris is back. Let's see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour. Welcome back.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's good to see you my friend. Some things are simple, some things are complex, Puerto Rico, simple. They've been shunned by this administration. They got the numbers wrong there, they got the importance wrong there, and they have been carrying it through as some type of vendetta against the island.

I was just there on vacation with my family and the help is real. The need is real, though it has been. It's even worse now. They're not back. That's simple. Complex is why I'm here in Washington, D.C. I came here to get the President's two main lawyers, Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani. We're going to have them both on tonight.

Anderson, listen to this, I've never heard of this before. They're tag teaming my show with "Sean Hannity Show" tonight. It's such a statement of where we are as a culture right now that literally they're going to be switching mid show going back and forth on the two shows preaching to the converted on one, preaching open minds on the other. It's a really weird time, but we need to have an understanding of what this report means and what we still need to know and we're going to get deep on that tonight.

COOPER: All right, about seven minutes from now. I look forward to it. Chris, thanks very much.

Still ahead, the father of a first grader killed in the Sandy Hook massacre has died of suicide. Sadly, he's just one of three apparent suicides this -- in the past week or so with possible ties to school shootings. More ahead.


[20:56:12] COOPER: Well, there's sad and difficult news to report tonight, news that's a reminder to us all about how fragile human life is and how important it is to whenever possible reach out for help or reach out to help those in need.

The father of a little girl who was murdered in the Newtown massacre was found dead early this morning. Jeremy Richman was his name. He was 49 years old. His daughter, Avielle Richman, was six when she was killed along with 19 other children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

After the massacre, Mr. Richman co-founded the Avielle Foundation, a nonprofit name for his daughter that focused on violence prevention through research and community engagement. I spoke with Jeremy and his wife Jennifer about their daughter and their lives in 2013 for a CNN documentary.


JEREMY RICHMAN, FATHER OF SANDY HOOK VICTIM: She was such a wonderfully fun child and she would light up. You know, I wish that you got to meet her. You would have just been blown away. She's fun. She's funny. She would have made you smile.

You know, every day we need to get out of bed and Jen and I came up with just a beautiful idea to get us out of bed and every day we try to find something of beauty, something that makes you feel the world is a good place. And then every day we want to make sure that we try to and really strive to give back something of beauty, something to the world.


COOPER: Striving to give back something of beauty to the world. Jeremy Richman is 49 years old and the cause of death is an apparent suicide. It's often impossible to know for sure what may be in someone's head or heart that leads to depression and sometimes to death by suicide, but there have been several other recent deaths that we want to make you away of.

In Florida, mourners are grieving the death Sydney Aiello. She was a 2018 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who died by suicide last week. She survived the attack on Valentines Day last year that kill 17 people at the school in Parkland. Her mom told CNN affiliate WFOR that Sydney suffered from survivor's guilt and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Saturday night, another Parkland student apparently also died by suicide. The student has not been publicly identified but is a sophomore according to the Miami Herald. Again, we don't know what caused these three people to have these thoughts and to unfortunately act on them. It is important to know that help is available. Reaching out for it can be hard and it's made harder by the stigma, which unfortunately still surrounds suicide and it's made harder by the silence that also surrounds suicide.

It's not easy to talk about it if you're having thoughts of suicide and it's certainly not easy to talk about if someone you know is suffering and you want to help them. It's often hard to know what to say or how to help, but reaching out in both cases and talking, that is essential.

There is help out there and it's just a phone call away. If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We're showing you the number right now at the bottom of your screen, the number, 1-800-273-8255, 1- 800-273-8255.

There's also a text line and you can text home to 741741 to have a confidential text conversation with a trained crisis counselor from an organization called Crisis Text Line. It's very popular among young people in particular who may be -- or anybody who may be more used to or comfortable with texting than talking to a counselor then on the phone. Counselors are available at the Crisis Text Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We had an important and extensive conversation about suicide prevention with Dr. Christine Moutier, who is the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention earlier tonight on our show on Facebook on "Full Circle."

It's our daily interactive newscast on Facebook and that's posted right now and it's an important conversation with a lot of detailed information that could help you or someone you love.