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DOJ: Will Take "Weeks Not Months" to Release Mueller Report; President Trump Claims GOP Will Become "The Party of Healthcare". Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired March 26, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, another busy night.

Late word on what the president said today behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. Some controversial statements that he reportedly hoped would stay behind closed doors even though he doubted they really would. Well, they did get out, and we'll bring you the details.

But we begin with a major new development about something the president talked a lot about today in private and public, Robert Mueller's conclusions. A Justice Department official telling CNN that we could be reading his report within weeks and not months. Weeks. This official also telling us there are no plans to give the White House an early copy.

And another official, this one with the administration, confirming that indeed no one at the White House has seen a copy, which means that when the president today said what you're about to hear him say, he almost certainly had not read the entire Mueller report.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better. It said no obstruction. No collusion. It could not have been better.


COOPER: Keeping them honest, the president appears to be painting with a very broad brush there. He's suggesting he's seen the Mueller report which he says was great when there's no evidence that he has. And he's saying it exonerates him entirely.

Now, to be generous, the president isn't always precise with his language you may have noticed. Assume for a minute that he's conflating the Mueller report with Attorney General Barr's four-page summary of it, which is all that he or any of us have seen. At least that we know of.

But even allowing for that, he's still falsely characterizing the conclusions. The Barr summary does not say there was no obstruction of justice. It says that he, the attorney general, decided not to pursue an obstruction case and his summary includes this now famous passage from the full Mueller report on the subject of obstruction of justice, quoting: While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

As to the president's no collusion claim, it's more clear-cut and certainly more favorable to team Trump and I want to point out good news for the country. Someone who disliked the president may be disappointed in the fact the report didn't find he or his campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia to impact the election. But the fact that the president didn't do that is good news for America.

Quoting from the Barr summary and again not the Mueller report but the Barr summary of it, quote, the special counsel's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

So, according to the Attorney General Robert Mueller found no evidence of chargeable crimes. And that is certainly a major vindication for the president. Was there inappropriate contact with Russians that didn't rise to the level of criminality? Conduct that CNN national security commentator Susan Hennessy today called awful but lawful? We don't know. And we won't know one way or another until the complete Mueller report comes out. Until it does neither we nor the president nor anyone else can really make blanket statements about what Robert Mueller did not or did uncover.

The Barr summary as you know says the special counsel identified two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, which of course parallels what the intelligence community more broadly suspected in early 2016, concluded later that year, and has maintained ever since. Even as it has, the president has resisted that conclusion and, of course, has a long history of giving Vladimir Putin the benefit of the doubt, something that we don't know the Mueller report will speak to or not. What we do know is we've often turned to author strategist and retired Army Colonel Ralph Peters for the subject as we do tonight.

Colonel Peters, so, the collusion question, which is not really a legal question, may be answered. But what remains I guess unanswered which are many things, one is why the president has acted the way he has continually toward Putin over the course of the last three years.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: And indeed, Anderson, that is the primary question. And it's astonished me we've all lost sight of that. Everything else is important, from the question of obstruction of justice to whether or not there was formal collusion. But the issue of whether Vladimir Putin and his cronies have any direct influence over the president of the United States and his decisions, I cannot imagine a question more important, I cannot imagine something more important for our intelligence agencies. And unfortunately, because of the way the intelligence world works,

there may not be answers in the Mueller report. We may never get the right answers. But it comes back to exactly what you said. Why. Why won't the president ever criticize Putin?

COOPER: The president has said one thing on this really which he's essentially said wouldn't it be great if we could get along with Russia, it would be a good thing, not a bad thing? Might it also be as simple as him having an affinity for strong authoritarian leaders or sort of wanting to emulate them or being intimidated by them?

I mean, it's not just Putin. Kim Jong-un, who he said he actually likes as opposed to John McCain, who he -- was not his sort of person. Kim Jong-un, according to Sarah Sanders, the president likes him and therefore he eliminated some sanctions.

[20:05:01] Also about Duterte in the Philippines, Mohammed bin Salman and others.

PETERS: Well, in the through the looking glass world of Trump, things are possible that we never would have thought possible before. But Trump has criticized at some point every other leader, even President Xi of China. He's certainly been vociferous at times in his criticism of Kim. But he won't criticize Putin.


PETERS: And why does he want sanctions relief? Why has he been slow rolling sanctions that passed? Why does he seem to just dovetail with Putin's view of the world?

Now, Anderson, I may be utterly wrong. I may be influenced by my background as an intelligence officer. But again, I go back to what so far has not been addressed, the Steele dossier. And it's been pooh-poohed and mocked.

But that is the way the Russians do business. Given Trump's behavioral profile, he was a perfect target, and, you know, you want various explanations. Hey, the Steele dossier is one viable one. Now, did the Russians help Trump just because they hated Hillary so much? Did they just want to disrupt our system? It may be a combination of many things.

But at the end of the day, we need to know whether or not Vladimir Putin -- whether he has any sort of control over the president of the United States. Why does Trump have to meet with him behind closed doors without witnesses?

Again, as a former intelligence officer I look for patterns. And the Trump pattern of behavior with and toward Vladimir Putin troubles me deeply.

Anderson, I've got to stress something. I have not flacking for the Democratic Party. I believe both parties have failed us miserably. In the last presidential election we had the choice between Lucifer and Satan. But I care about the United States of America. I want it to be well

and honestly governed. I want American security. And so, I need to know more about this and I can't let it go. I just can't let it go. The Steele dossier just rings true to me.

COOPER: In the -- obviously, the Barr memo is all we've really seen --

PETERS: And precious little.

COOPER: Yes, precious little. I'm wondering what you made of what you saw in that and how important it is to you that as much of the Mueller report actually be released. Because we've now learned it may be weeks, not months.

PETERS: Well, we're going to be arguing about this for a while. And when we do get something in weeks it's not going to be complete. We'll see what we get, and there will be a great deal more to talk about.

And by the way, with the initial reaction to this very -- this painfully brief and tendentious Barr letter with the dolorous reaction on the left and the premature euphoria on the right, I was reminded of the wonderful old serial "The Bowery Boys" where they used to say "don't jump to contusions."

And I'm afraid a lot of people have been jumping to contusions. This is going to play out for a long time. I certainly want to see what's in it.

But everything that was in that brief Barr letter matters. Of course, it matters. I'm a little disappointed -- I believe in Robert Mueller. He's a man of integrity.

I was a little disappointed he didn't pony up to the bar and make a decision one way or the other about obstruction of justice. I trust his findings, that there was no formal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and the Russians.

So, it's not a question of getting Trump, as much as I may dislike him personally. As an American citizen the best outcome for me would be the president is blameless and flawless and Russia has no grip on him.

COOPER: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

PETERS: Thank you.

COOPER: More perspective now on what we might see in the actual Mueller report.

Joining us, investigative reporter and author and CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein. Also former Nixon White House counsel and CNN contributor John Dean.

So, Carl, Barr is saying that they'll make a version of the Mueller report public. We're told it's going to be in weeks. How much discretion does he have about what ends up in the version that's released?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, except for grand jury material and national security excisions which might in both instances require a judge to give permission for material to be used, he has an awful lot of discretion, to let us see almost everything. And it's imperative that we see everything.

COOPER: But he could -- the other side is he could redact stuff --

BERNSTEIN: He could. And redaction is no satisfactory answer here because what we know is that we have this very basic finding about, quote, collusion or no conspiracy with the Russian government. And the ambiguous conclusion of Mueller that is quoted by Barr about an obstruction that may or may not have been an obstruction.

[20:10:00] We need to see everything about it because presumably, and this is a presumption, the whole Mueller report will tell a tale. There will be connective tissue that hopefully will answer some of Colonel Peters' questions there. We know almost nothing from what Mr. Barr served up the other day except a legal conclusion that's very important.

But in terms of the underlying facts, in terms of a narrative about what happens either with the Russians or with an obstruction or non- obstruction, we know nothing so far.

COOPER: John, in terms of the DOJ saying it has no plans to give the White House an advance copy of the Mueller report, A, that doesn't mean that they wouldn't brief them in advance of more details of what's in the Mueller report, I assume, or does it? And also, I mean, do you think it's still possible that the White House is going to demand to see an advance copy, to see if there's anything on executive privilege?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I would think that would be one of their arguments. They want to see something that should be withheld for executive privilege reasons because they did supply information to the special counsel with the precondition that they could later invoke executive privilege. That would not be a reason, however, to breach the norm where they get some sort of deep briefing on this before it's sent over.

They could -- there could be like a 24-hour period to withhold it going public if they want to exercise privilege. There's another area that would be withheld, is the case that's have been referred out for other U.S. attorneys to look at. And if there's material of that nature in there, that will obviously be --

COOPER: They wouldn't want the public -- prosecutors in various jurisdictions to have their cases, that their hands tipped.

DEAN: They don't want to tip witnesses off in those cases as to what's going on or possibly even the defendant in those cases. So, that will be withheld too.

COOPER: It does seem -- Carl, the president's saying -- the president is a very good marketer, obviously, and has an incredible knack for defining things in a certain way very successfully, whether they're true or not. So, he is out there saying the entire report is great, no collusion, no obstruction, when by all accounts he actually hasn't seen the report.

BERNSTEIN: Also, he got a football and he ran with it here. And what he did get with the football was kind of a good reading in the first part about, quote, no collusion or conspiracy with very carefully stated the Russian government. And he'll keep running with that. And we saw Mr. Giuliani running with it with Wolf Blitzer this afternoon on "SITUATION ROOM."

There's another element to this, though, and that is the whole classified counterintelligence investigation and how much of that can be redacted in such a way that Congress, the senior members of Congress who are cleared to see this material can get that part of the story. All of this fits together. We need after two years to definitively know what happened not just with the president of the United States, with his campaign, but what the matrix of all of this that we have been talking about, debating, journalists have been writing about, there's been huge controversy, the country is driven by what has occurred here and there now is presumably the means of finding out a good deal that could clarify things if the attorney general of the United States and the president of the United States is willing to allow this material out.

And the Republicans on the Hill, this is not a good piece of news that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, stepped in and said, well, maybe we won't pass that legislation that says -- or that resolution that says that this material should be released.

COOPER: John, we heard from former Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday saying that in his six years as attorney general, he never actually received anything from a prosecutor without a charging recommendation. How outside the norm is it of what Mueller has apparently done?

DEAN: Very outside the norm and certainly in the federal system. That was certainly the standard practice in my time even and it's probably been ever since. So, it's very unusual that Mueller did not make a recommendation. And it's hard to believe that he was somehow hung up on what decision to make. He just doesn't seem like somebody of that nature.

BERNSTEIN: Can I ask John a question?

COOPER: We're actually out of time.

BERNSTEIN: I'll ask him outside.

COOPER: John Dean and Carl Bernstein, thanks very much.

Coming up next, new reporting on what the president said this afternoon about the Mueller investigation and his new effort to unravel Obamacare, all of it when cameras were not rolling.

And later, after all that, why did authorities just drop all charges against Jussie Smollett? Chicago's mayor is furious.

[20:15:01] We'll have all the details ahead.


COOPER: Breaking news on the president's take on the Mueller report. This time as we mentioned at the top of the program behind closed doors, he spoke today at a luncheon with Senate Republicans, but the contents of the conversation have gotten out.

It's in no small part due to Maggie Haberman's reporting. She's, of course, "The New York Times" White House correspondent and a CNN political analyst and joins us by phone.

So, Maggie, what was the president's mood like up on Capitol Hill today?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Ebullient for him, Anderson, as ebullient as he gets. He clearly felt vindicated, made that clear. Described the last two years with, you know, a curse word to describe what he had been through, then ticked through a litany of either pet peeves or concerns or legislative issues.

[20:20:01] Said he wanted the party to focus on health care. He thinks that's incredibly important. He was critical and he had charts accompanying him on the amount of money that the government has spent toward Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. And that I think caught a lot of attention afterwards.

But look, this is feeling valedictory for him and it's comparable to how we saw him right after the 2016 presidential election.

COOPER: It was just yesterday we were learning back in February the president was talking about ways to limit aid to Puerto Rico. So he brought charts today. Was anything determined about what he wants done or not done?

HABERMAN: No. I mean, he talked about -- he compared spending for aid to Puerto Rico, compared to places like Texas that have been hit and ravaged by hurricanes and he suggested that these are coincidentally red states in Southern America had been spending their mother better. I think this is a remark he thinks plays well with his base of support but at the end of the day Puerto Ricans are American citizens and he's talking about how they deserve less relief money.

It's ironic thinking this is a president who comes from New York, which was hit by a terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001 and anyone who suggested that New York should not get aid afterwards was criticized pretty aggressively and it's sort of interesting seeing how he's going about this especially considering New York's very large Puerto Rican community.

COOPER: What exactly did he say about Obamacare?

HABERMAN: He said that Obamacare can't be fixed and that he gets attacked when he says, that and I'm paraphrasing, but that it can't be fixed and he gets criticized for saying it but he has to say it. Suggested again as he did on his way into the luncheon that the Republican Party will become known as the party of health care.

Remember, the Justice Department filed this suit yesterday to get rid of the ACA entirely. It was a move that was criticized by some even within the administration as really questionably timed given that health care is an issue the Democrats won the midterms on in 2019. The president is coming off arguably his best few days in two years of his presidency, and to immediately step into such a controversy struck some people as surprising.

COOPER: And did he elaborate at all, do we know, on the notion he brought up yesterday wanting an investigation into the Russia investigation?

HABERMAN: He did bring that up, and he has again talked about having Lindsey Graham investigate the investigators and how the Mueller probe came to be. You know, Lindsey Graham has certainly sounded interested in that. He expressed on Twitter the desire to have James Comey, the fired FBI director, come testify before the Senate. We'll see where that goes.

COOPER: All right. Maggie Haberman, thanks very much.

HABERMAN: Thanks, Anderson.

More now on the question what Democrats do with this moment and with the president in a far different position than they might have imagined.

Joining us today, "USA Today" columnist and CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers and Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

I mean, Kirsten, should it come as any surprise the president is as Maggie says in an ebullient mood, in a good mood right now? I mean, who wouldn't be?

POWERS: Yes, no. Of course. I think that there's a major sigh of relief among not just the president but among the people around him who were also caught up in this investigation and they have a lot to be happy about in terms of the finding around collusion.

I think that there is still a question of what is actually in Mueller's report. And I think that if Democrats are able to get their hands on that it may be a different story, it may not make the president so happy. But for now, I'd say that yes, he has a lot to be happy about and it is strange for him to be bringing up health care, an area where the Republican Party really is not favored when it comes to electoral politics, and you'd think he would just be focusing on what is pretty undeniably at least one big win for him.

COOPER: Paul, one of the things he does seem to be focusing on also is talking about getting vengeance on those he feels wronged by. You know, it seems -- does that -- obviously it's not -- I don't know. Do you think that's wise? PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: With malice toward all and

charity toward none. I haven't looked to see what President Reagan said after Iran Contra. Actually the independent commission review board, it was p a special counsel, it was a review board.

He said: I studied the board's report. Its findings are honest, convincing and highly critical. And I accept them.

He called for unity, called for moving forward. Now, that's Ronald Reagan. And I don't think anybody's going to confuse Donald Trump with President Reagan.

But it really is interesting. He can't get out of his own way. I don't know if it's because he is worried that the full Mueller report won't be quite as nice as the carefully selected 65 words that we got from Attorney General Barr.

[20:25:08] That's all we got, 65 words from Mueller in the Barr letter. And I would guess, knowing that Barr was put there by president Trump, that they're pretty favorable to Trump because that's what Mr. Barr wants to see and believe.

So, I think this lashing out, maybe it's just what he does. Maybe it's like even at a birthday party, you know, he throws cake at his guests or something. I don't know. But I suspect that he's still pretty worried.

COOPER: Do you think the idea of bringing up Obamacare, do you think that has anything to do with concerns about, you know, weeks from now the Mueller report coming out and people still focusing on it, this gives people something else to focus on and it's obviously a very lightning rod issue?

BEGALA: If I were advising him and if he were still worried about the Mueller report, and if I worked for him I would be, I would find issues that he stands for that are popular with the American people. And repealing Obamacare would take away the protection of pre-existing conditions, of which half of all Americans have a pre-existing condition.

It would deny health care instantly, if he wins this lawsuit, to 23 million Americans who now get health care and are better off for it. It's a stone loser politically. So the fact that President Trump is raising it now, it's kind of evidence of how he's never been above 50 percent. His entire presidency he's never had majority support.

And despite a strong economy, despite actually terrific skills at manipulating social media particularly and encouraging his base, he's never got above 50. And it's because -- maybe it's because he really does want to take away health care. Maybe we ought to -- I ought to start believing him that he's serious when he says he wants to take away health care from 23 million Americans and pre-existing condition protection as way from hundreds of millions.

COOPER: Kirsten, I mean, something the president supposedly said in his meeting is he forgave Hillary Clinton after the election. Your thoughts on that are? Because it seems like he brings her up a lot.

POWERS: What does he need to forgive her for? It doesn't even -- I mean, I really was puzzled by that. I don't know, you know -- she didn't do anything to him. So, I mean, they ran against each other.

Of course we look at past presidents and the friendships that they've formed. You look at the first President Bush and Bill Clinton, who you know, became good friends. You don't -- you just don't see this kind of inability to move forward the way the president seems to have had but now says he needs to forgive her.

I've never heard anybody talk this way about a former -- you know, somebody that they ran against, a former opponent. It's not really -- it's not personal. It's just a campaign.

COOPER: Paul, you know, we talked about this last night. Nancy Pelosi saying the Democrats in the House should focus on their agenda, their message, not the Mueller probe. I guess also then by extension impeachment. How many of them do you actually expect to listen to her on that, and is that something you also firmly believe they should do?

BEGALA: I strongly believe in it. During the transition before Nancy became speaker, again, I talked to her about this. I asked her about impeachment. She said what do you think? I said I think your imposition is on impeachment is we're all for it is as soon as the Republicans ask you to do it, because if it's not bipartisan on takeoff it won't be bipartisan on the landing.

That's her position and it has been since the beginning of her term as speaker. It's very wise. Constitutionally wise most importantly but also it's politically very wise. There are some Democrats who want to rush toward impeachment. I've long thought that's a big mistake. The Democrats now have some power. And they should be judged on I think legislation more than investigation. And the priority should be legislation more than investigation.

And look what Speaker Pelosi's doing. She's moving a health care bill. Not a radical one to take over the entire health care but to improve Obamacare and to get prescription drug costs down. I think she's absolutely been brilliant on this.

COOPER: Kirsten Powers, Paul Begala, thank you very much.

Up next, more breaking news. Prosecutors make a stunning announcement in the Jussie Smollett case. And what they have to say and why Chicago's mayor and police chief superintendent are outraged.


[20:32:36] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news from Chicago tonight, the 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct against actor Jussie Smollett had been dropped. Prosecutors had charged Smollett after they say he staged and elaborate hate crime against himself, but then suddenly that same -- the same prosecutor's office dropped the charges. The move stunned the Chicago's mayor and the police superintendent who weren't made aware of the decision in advance. Both were visibly angry at a press conference this afternoon, especially because the police say hundreds and hundreds of hours and manpower were deployed in the investigation because staging hate crime makes victims of actual hate crimes reluctant to come forth.

Wolf Blitzer spoke with Mayor Rahm Emanuel this evening.


MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: There's no sense of contrite, no sense of remorse. The fact is, Wolf, in this act, he not only obviously all the resources of the police to investigate and get to the bottom of a alleged hate crime that turned out to be a hoax, the financial problem, but then taking all the notions of what a hate crimes and the reasons we have those laws on the books is to protect people of faith, racial background, sexual orientation that they cannot be a victim of crime, a violent crime of any nature because of who they are, what they believe or how they -- who they love. And he used that for his self-promotion.


COOPER: Well, Smollett's lawyers say he, in fact, was attacked and that misinformation they say lead to a rush to judgment against him. To make matters even more confusing, an assistant state attorney says, "We did not exonerate him." We'll talk about how unprecedented and frankly confusing this whole moment is. But, first, our Randi Kaye on how we got here.


JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I gave the description as best as I could. You have to understand also that it's Chicago in winter, people can wear ski masks.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When actor Jussie Smollett broke his silence describing the alleged attack against him, he was indignant. Investigators interviewed hundreds of people and scoured dozens of videos from surveillance cameras but were unable to find any evidence of the attack on camera.

These two men seen on camera were brought in for questioning though and after 47 hours they confessed to attacking Smollett, but here's where things get murky. They told investigators Jussie Smollett paid them to do it, something Smollett has denied.

SMOLLETT: Who the (INAUDIBLE) would make something like this up or add something to it or whatever it may be?

[20:35:07] KAYE: Still, police said they had evidence that the actor paid two men, brothers, $3,500 to stage the attack and gave them money to buy supplies. So despite his very public denials, prosecutors charged Smollett with disorderly conduct, accusing him of staging a hate crime. RISA LANIER, COOK COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: Smollett directed the brothers' attention towards a surveillance camera on the corner which he believed would capture the incident.

KAYE (on camera): In fact, Smollett told investigators it's likely the incident was caught on camera, turns out the 45 second attack was just out of view. Officials also say the actor knew the two men he paid in the attack, both did some work on the show "Empire" and one provided him with illegal drugs.

(voice-over) The men were never charged. Smollett, meanwhile, pleaded not guilty and paid $10,000 bond.

SUPT. EDDIE JOHNSON, CHICAGO POLICE: I'm left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?

KAYE: Soon, police say the alleged motive became clear.

JOHNSON: He was dissatisfied with his salary so he concocted a story about being attacked.

KAYE: Same reason why police say the actor sent himself this threatening letter on the set of "Empire" just days before the alleged attack. Smollett's case seemed to be edging toward trial when suddenly just today charges were dropped.

JOHNSON: Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology.

EMANUEL: This is without a doubt a whitewash of justice. Mr. Smollett is still saying that he is innocent, still running down the Chicago Police Department. How dare him? How dare him?

KAYE: Jussie Smollett sticking to his story despite evidence his attack was nothing more than a stunt.

SMOLLETT: I've been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I have been accused of.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach, Florida.


COOPER: Well, joining me now is CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan and Cheryl Dorsey, a former sergeant with Los Angeles Police Department.

Paul, does this make any sense to you? I mean, they're saying he's exonerated essentially and that's how he is portraying it. But-- I mean, he did two days of community service, I guess, and paid a $10,000 fine which seems to indicate some form of guilt of something, no?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, yes, it would, but normally in a case like this you would see a more public admission of responsibility before you just dismiss 16 counts that were handed down by a grand jury. So this is really a bizarre and unusual way to resolve such a serious case.

You know, Anderson, the reports were that 12 detectives spent over 1,000 hours investigating this case. That's an enormous diversion of resources in Chicago, a city that has suffered from gun violence that -- which has been widely publicized in the past. So, that's an enormous diversion of police resources and this is really an unusual disposition.

COOPER: Cheryl, I mean, as a former LAPD sergeant, how unusual is it for the police superintendent to come out and publicly declare that justice has not been served?

CHERYL DORSEY, RETIRED LAPD POLICE SERGEANT: Well, listen, I understand that he's upset and reasonably so. A lot of resources were expended. And, listen, at the end of day, there was sufficient evidence for a grand jury to indict, right, and there things that Jussie has not been able to explain.

And so forevermore, there will now be an asterisk (ph) after his name because there's always going to be that lingering question of, why would you seal all of the information relative to this incident unless you wanted to hide evidence of wrong doing? Who pays $10,000 and says let's abide to keep it and say, let's just call it even Steven. This is an example of the haves and they have not.

And right now people who look like me are celebrating because, listen, two weeks ago police officers were acquitted for the murder of Antwon Rose and the deadly -- not deadly, but shooting of Charles Kinsey. And so now it feels like for black folks the system is working in their favor. Now, listen, he didn't kill anybody and this was a minor offense. He won this battle, but I don't think he's going to win the war at the end of the day.

COOPER: Paul, what do you make of the fact that the prosecutor who made the decision to drop the charges says he done believe Smollett is innocent.

CALLAN: That's right. He has said that this is not an exoneration by any stretch of the imagination and he says basically that he compared this case with thousands of other Chicago cases where there were reports -- false reports to the police and that this disposition is consistent with those cases.

[20:40:01] COOPER: So that's the argument, that this was in line with other penalties that -- why seal the case file?

CALLAN: Well, the case would normally be sealed because any case that gets dismissed is automatically sealed so that's -- that really wasn't unusual but it does block further inquiry into why they did this.

And I think also what's really bizarre about this case, my experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney has always been that when celebrities are involved in charges like this everybody knows the public is watching and you need a transparent handling of the case so that the public knows this guy is being treated fairly even though he is a celebrity.

Instead, you have the secret proceeding where suddenly these charges are dismissed and frankly I think it does a disservice to future victims of racial harassment and attacks who may not be believed because of allegedly false claim that's been made in this case.

COOPER: Cheryl, the prosecutor justified the decision by saying that his office prioritizes violent crime. He doesn't see Smollett as a threat to public safety. Is that a valid reason to not pursuit a case?

CALLAN: Well --

DORSEY: Well, listen, I mean --

CALLAN: -- no. I don't think --


COOPER: I'm sorry. Paul, I'm sorry, that was for Cheryl. Cheryl, go ahead.

CALLAN: Oh, I'm sorry, excuse me. Yes, go ahead.

DORSEY: The prosecutor has autonomy over what they want to press and what they want to file charges on. And so they get to do whatever they want and they can give whatever reason and rationale for doing that. And it's -- the ball is in their court and this is why the Chicago Police Department is so upset because, number one, they weren't given advanced notice, and number two, who overrides the will of a grand jury indictment.

COOPER: Cheryl Dorsey, appreciate you --

COOPER: I'm sorry, Paul. Very quickly, yes.

CALLAN: I wanted to add one thing. I think also the prosecutors botched the case, because look at what they did. They let the two men who allegedly attacked him go free. So you have three people involved in a crime, one gets charged, two go free. What happens at the time of trial when they testify at odds to one another? It would be a very difficult case to win. So I think the prosecutors botched the case when they presented it to the grand jury the way they presented it and this is an easy out for them.

COOPER: Paul Callan, appreciate it, Cheryl Dorsey, as well, great to have you on. Thank you so much.

As you heard earlier, President Trump once again upset about the amount of federal funds earmarked for disaster aid to still suffering Puerto Rico. Coming up, we'll talk to the mayor of San Juan about what the President is saying now.


[20:46:10] COOPER: Back to the breaking news from earlier in the broadcast. At a luncheon with Republicans today, President Trump complained once again about the amount of disaster relief sent to Puerto Rico in the wake of the devastating storms a year and a half ago.

Back then, you recall the President visited the island shortly after Hurricane Maria struck, met with residence. He drew controversy tossing paper towels to the crowd. Last night, we reported on a "Washington Post" account that said the President recently held a separate meeting and asked some of his top aides for ways to cut relief funds to the island. Just before air time, I spoke with the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz.


COOPER: Mayor Cruz, what's your reaction to the President today complaining to senators that Puerto Rico is getting too much relief funding and the way it's being spent?

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ (D), SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Well, the President continues to show his vindictive behavior toward Puerto Rico and he continues to make the humanitarian crisis worse. What we're talking about is a gap of $600 million that is needed to feed Puerto Rico.

So, he wants to huff and puff just like he was King Kong, but when you (INAUDIBLE) really is he is ensuring that people don't have food to put on the table. He doesn't understand that we're still recuperating from a devastating situation which he made worse, by the way, by just causing a humanitarian crisis.

Just to give you an idea, Anderson, 1.3 million Puerto Ricans out of 3.2 million that live in the island nation in Puerto Rico are receiving some sort of nutritional assistance. So that means that about 43 percent of the population needs this to put food on the table. Of that 1.3 million, around 45 percent are children, elderly, or people that are -- with severe disabilities and we continue to hear about the humanitarian crisis and the human crisis that unfold because the President continues to be too stubborn to do what is right.

COOPER: You talk about what you said was vindictiveness on his part. What do you think is the source of that and how much of this is political that, you know, a number of the states, the relief efforts he's looking at in various states and praising or in red states and, you know, Puerto Rico is not?

CRUZ: Well, it's totally vindictive and I'll tell you why. On October 4, the President -- 2017, the President came down to Puerto Rico just for a couple of hours and one of the things that he said at a meeting that I was at was, "I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you thrown our budget out of whack from all the money that we have thrown down here." And this was only a few weeks after the hurricane.

That was the same afternoon where he threw paper towels at people, an image that will forever live in the hearts and minds of people all over the world and that does not reflect at all the goodness and the good heart of the American people and the spirit of hundreds of Americans that have come down to Puerto Rico since just to help and to support us beginning reconstruction.

Remember something, President Trump looked bad in the eyes of the world. He was not up to part (ph). He didn't do what he was supposed to do. He couldn't get it done because he lacked leadership. So, now, rather than looking at himself and seeing what he could have done better, he blames the people of Puerto Rico. He blames anybody that does not agree with him.

Now, I have a message for the Republicans in Congress. You don't have to be held hostage to a vindictive behavior from a President than just cannot get it done. It is your duty to not let 1.3 million people in Puerto Rico starve.

[20:50:04] 3,000 already died because Donald Trump could not get it done and what I am pleading with you is not to condemn others to die because it just seems -- and the question for the President is how many deaths, how many deaths of Puerto Ricans will be enough for him to do right by us?

COOPER: Mayor Cruz, I appreciate talking to you. Thank you.


COOPER: Let's check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: How are you doing my friend?


CUOMO: All right, so we have Jussie Smollett. What are we going to do with that?

COOPER: What do you make of that?

CUOMO: Here's -- look, they made him a deal. The question is, why? Was this about politics? Was this about a hole in the case? The prosecutor should have said a lot more and the fact that they're not is suspicious. So we're taking it to Cuomo's court. We're going to look at what should be obvious and what still needs to be known.

You know, the word of the day will be exonerate. The prosecutor there went out of their way to say, you know, we're not saying he's exonerated. Prosecutors don't exonerate people, Anderson, you know, that means that you're innocent. They're about guilt or not guilt making a case after a certain burden, right, beyond a reasonable doubt.

COOPER: Right.

CUOMO: Why they used it there? Why was it used in the Mueller report? We'll talk about both. But, another big issue for us tonight is health care. Legally, why is the President doing what he's doing? Is there sufficiency for the move they're trying to do to turn over the ACA? And then politically, what happens if they're successful when they have nothing to take its place? COOPER: Yes, a lot to look forward to. Chris, eight minutes from now. We'll see you then.

Still ahead, Republican Senator Mike Lee's unusual attempt to battle a Democrat so-called Green New Deal using "Aquaman," "The Empire Strikes Back," and a really bizarre portrait of the late President Ronald Reagan. "The Ridiculist," is next.


[20:55:54] COOPER: Time for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, we're talking about political props, and I don't mean yard signs or free kazoos, I'm talking about giant novelty size posters on the floor of the United States Senate. Now, to be fair, both parties do this sort of thing, but today it was kind of taken to a whole new level by Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, and possibly "Jurassic Park."


SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: This is, of course, a picture of former President Ronald Reagan, naturally firing a machine gun while riding on the back of a dinosaur.


COOPER: OK, (INAUDIBLE). Now, a few things, I'm a little concerned that in Senator Lee's mind, President Reagan requires both a machine gun and a rocket launcher. Well, I never saw President Reagan riding a dinosaur. I do remember hearing that up until like Franklin Roosevelt, Air Force One was just a pterodactyl. But regardless, that prop will surely gave David Gergen night terrors. As for the senator, he was just getting warmed up.




COOPER: That was Gallagher, legendary committing Gallagher smashing a watermelon, which you might never have thought you'd see on C-SPAN, but at this rate, give it a couple of weeks. Back to Senator Mike Lee, hater of the Green New Deal, lover of seahorses.


LEE: This is a picture of Aquaman, a super hero from the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. I draw your attention, Mr. President, to the 20 foot impressive seahorse he is riding.


COOPER: Aquaman. By the way, a fun fact about Aquaman, he's actually 7th in line to the presidency right after Tramp from "Lady and the Tramp." Now, at this point, you might be asking how many giant posters did Senator Lee have today, to which I say how much time you have.


LEE: These little cows represent the bovine population of America today. On the right is the future population under the Green New Deal. Every cow I spoke to said the same thing, boo.


COOPER: This might have played great in the office, I don't know. Look, I'm no Gallagher, but that punch line, it need some work.

Senator Lee had plenty of other time to win back his audience, which from the sounds of the microphone that were picked up basically the audience was two guys who wandered in from playing Keno.

Reaction to Senator Lee came swiftly from Green New Deal proponent, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, "If this guy can be senator, you can do anything." May you can, but can you be a senator and film expert?


LEE: These images are from the indispensable documentary film, Sharknado 4. Governor Herbert bravely fought the animal off with the tennis racket that he keeps by his desk precisely for occasions such as this.


COOPER: Yes, I keep a tennis racket around too, except mine is, you know, to bat blitzer away from my stash of Kalua (ph). Where was Senator Lee going with all of this? What is the real solution that kind of change? (INAUDIBLE) for that one, too. Oh, yes.


LEE: The solution to so many of our problems at all times and in all places is to fall in love, get married and have some kids.


COOPER: OK. I love babies. I got no problem with them, except they do seem a little judgy. Anyway, there -- babies are judgy. Anyway, there you have it. The props say -- I don't know why babies have been judgy. The props say it all, ganbaru (ph) T-Rex.

By the way, just notice, I felt for the woman whose job it was to like keep going along with the senator and then have the next giant thing, ridiculous thing ready to go. I mean, I don't know. Like, she probably had to practice that and was worried about it all day. That's the kind of thing I think about.

The props said it all, ganbaru T-Rex, robosaurus (ph) from the Reagan Library with or without a rocket launchers, send your regards to Aquaman, maybe heckle some cows and ride that dinosaur all the way to baby making old clock (ph) on "The Ridiculist." And that actually happened in our government on Capitol Hill.

News continues. I want to hand over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CUOMO: Anderson Cooper, anti-baby, pro-Kalua. I see the posters now. Well done my friend.

COOPER: I love babies.