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Senior White House Adviser to Surrogates: President Trump Hasn't Yet Decided to Shut Down the Border, Depends on Progress in Coming Days; Rep. Eliot Engel (D) New York is Interviewed About Border Security; Source: Allegations Won't Dissuade Biden From Running; Source: Allegations Won't Dissuade Biden From Running; Still Undecided On 2020 Presidential Campaign; Whistleblower: W.H. Approved Clearances For 25 Staffers Despite Denials, Including Ivanka Trump And Jared Kushner; Alex Says He Suffered From A "Form Of Psychosis" When Spreading Lies Claiming Massacre Was A Hoax. Aired 8-9P ET

Aired April 1, 2019 - 20:00   ET


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

With President Trump threatening to shout down the entire U.S. southern border and announcing suddenly he's suspending aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, aid which is meant to help people, prevent people from leaving those countries and coming to the U.S., we begin tonight keeping with honest a headline you might have missed. It reads: Secretary Nielsen signs historic regional compact with Central America to stem irregular migration at the source, confront U.S. border crisis.

That's from a press release from the Department of Homeland Security and, yes, it is not the catchiest title, but the message is clear enough. The Trump administration, along with the three Northern Triangle countries, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, are working on the root causes of the border trouble here at home. That released was dated last Thursday, the signing was on Wednesday in Honduras.

So it would seem that administration policy was pretty focused on increasing the focus on those front lines countries, working together, they said, on the root causes of the problem. But just a day after that press release, the president announced this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have ended payments to Guatemala, to Honduras and to El Salvador. No money goes there anymore.

We were giving them $500 million. We're giving them tremendous aid. We stopped payment to Honduras, to Guatemala and to El Salvador. We were paying them tremendous amounts of money. And we're not paying them anymore because they haven't done a thing for us.


COOPER: Again, that's just a couple days after his Department of Homeland Security secretary signed an agreement with those same countries about which he said and I quote, together we will prevail. Or maybe not.

She signed the deal on Wednesday. The president spoke out on Friday. And by Saturday, the State Department announced that it is ending more than a half a billion dollars in foreign assistance programs to the Northern Triangle countries.

So, the question is, why the sudden 180?

Our Pamela Brown spent the day trying to find out. She spoke to an administration official who told her there was no interagency process behind the policy change, which is basically a fancy way of saying no meetings involving all departments, experts and various agencies. And people with a stake in the decision, or the actual responsibility for carrying it out. No options considered, no objections registered, no problems identified.

Apparently just the president, for whatever reason, making the call and providing kind of a dubious justification for it.


TRUMP: They set up these caravans. In many cases, they put their worst people in the caravan. They're not going to put their best in. They get rid of their problems, and they march up here and they come into the country. We're not letting them into their country.


COOPER: The president appears to be suggesting that the Northern Triangle government that are rounding up their worst people somehow and as he described them and forcing them, again, somehow to walk several hundred miles north to the United States. There is no evidence that this is a plot by these governments to rid themselves of the worst people, as he said. He's also suggested with no evidence that liberal billionaire George Soros is bankrolling the caravans. No mention of people fleeing gang violence or police brutality or gang corruption.

President Trump cut off the money that goes to fund programs addressing all these problems. According to the experts, even experts within the administration, they have had an impact. Maybe not big enough, but they have had an impact.

The official that Pam Brown spoke to telling her that before the president made his decision, the Department of Homeland Security, his own Department of Homeland Security was looking at how to increase the amount of aid and better target it within those countries, something even the president's leading defender seems to recognize for a second ate least before glossing it over.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: If we're going to give these countries hundreds of millions of dollars, we would like them to do more of that. That, Jake, I would respectfully submit to you, is not an unreasonable position. We could prevent a lot of what's happening in the southern border by preventing people from moving from Mexico in the first place.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Right, but that's what the USAID money does, is it makes those countries more stable. This is not according to me. This is according to experts in your own administration.

MULVANEY: Career staffers, but let's talk about that for a second.


COOPER: So, that's acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who first acknowledges that USAID helps cut down migration, but in the very next breath says, no, only a career staffer believes that and is pushing that.

Now, keeping them honest, I'm not clear when a career staffer became an insult, calling someone a career staffer. Career staffers are people who have spent years often working on particular issues. Another word for some of them is experts. Mulvaney relied on career congressional staffers when he was in the House. He used the work they do at the Government Accountability Office. He's praised it. Career staffers at the NSC prepared the briefing material he reads every morning.

You can argue that a fresh set of eyes on a problem can be a good thing. That's a valid argument. But arguing that career staffers are somehow all just bureaucrats who push paper, that's not the case.

It is also not the case that career staffers want increased involvement with Central American countries.

[20:05:03] DHS Secretary Kirsten Nielsen, she's a political appointee, the president's appointee, and she seems to think working with Northern Triangle countries and funding the programs to do it was a good thing, or at least she did on Wednesday. Now that the president has undone what she did on her Central American trip, we'll see if she still hasn't or she's suddenly changed her mind.

As for whether the president will follow through on his threat to close the border, we've just gotten some new information CNN has obtained the notes of a White House conference call from today. They reveal that senior adviser Steven Miller told top administration surrogates that the president has not quite made the decision, saying it depends on how the week goes.

Quoting Miller now from the transcript: We will see how much progress we are able to make in the ensuing days. Miller also described the asylum claims of migrants as, quote, meritless.

I talked about the range of border issues tonight with New York Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Congressman, I know you just got back from Central America. You were in El Salvador evaluating the importance of U.S. assistance to Central America. I'm wondering, what did you find? What did you see? And what do you think now of the White House stance?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, we were actually flabbergasted. We were sitting with American officials when we heard that the president decided to cut all foreign aid to these countries. We had been touring and watching different programs that the United States is paying for, which will ensure that less people immigrate to the United States rather than more.

And we saw programs where young people were making software to show that they could survive and have a good future. And you cut that program, what are they going to do? They will immigrate to America. So, it seems to me what the president has done is just the wrong thing, the opposite thing.

COOPER: There are people who support the president doing this, who say, well, look these programs are so great, how come there is this upsurge -- there is this, you know, huge number of people still coming?

ENGEL: Well, but I think -- and that's true. I think we need to deal with it. But to sort of have a temper tantrum and say we're picking up all our marbles and leaving, that's the worst thing we could possibly do.

COOPER: It does seem like this decision is not something -- I mean, normally, in most administrations, Republican and Democratic, there is sort of a process for having a major change or eliminating foreign policy to a country or having a major change in foreign policy. There is consultation with various experts, you know, who I think now people in this administration deride as being career staffers but people have actually worked on these issues and have the expertise in it.

It doesn't seem like any of that was done. In fact, it doesn't seem like many people in the administration, including Secretary Nielsen, even knew this was coming when she was signing agreements with triangle countries.

ENGEL: Well, you know, time and time again we have seen this. I mean, even if you can take an analogy of Syria. One day, the president just announced we were pulling out of Syria, and his defense secretary was so agitated he resigned. We have these things coming out where the president makes these announcements. I don't know anything about it. He has no obligation to tell me.

But you think that people in his cabinet or people who are surrounding him, I think the conclusion we all came to, there were five or six of us on the trip, was that pulling out would be the absolute worst thing. And clearly, the president should know this. It is just a matter of just scratching your head.

COOPER: In terms of the president's threat to close parts of the border, whether you agree or disagree with that, it is within his legal rights to do it, isn't it?

ENGEL: Well, yes. He's the president of the United States and he can do it. But what does that do to us? What does that do to us in the future? I mean, is that going to stop the flow of people coming, or is it going to accelerate it? I would make the argument it would accelerate it. So --

COOPER: Because it's going to hurt businesses in Mexico and elsewhere, it's going to hurt economies and that's going to motivate more people to come? Is that what you're saying?

ENGEL: Yes, absolutely, absolutely, yes. It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face. I don't understand it at all. And everybody who was there was blindsided by it, even the FBI people and other people doing these programs. Again, the president talks about MS-13 and these bad groups.

Well, you know, I saw programs that talk with gangs that try to convert gangs, taking away from what they have been doing.

COOPER: It does seem to run counter to what people in this administration have been saying now for quite a while, which is they actually need to figure out ways to make programs more effective, to, you know -- I know one, you know, person who works in the administration wanted to institute a Marshall Plan for those countries to really get the U.S. involved preventing people from leaving in the first place.

[20:10:09] ENGEL: That should, be as far as I'm concerned, our whole policy, our whole focus on what we're doing.

COOPER: Congressman Engel, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

ENGEL: Thank you. Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is not only defending the president's decision to pull the plug on aid to the Northern Triangle. He's also citing President Obama's former DHS secretary.


MULVANEY: Keep in mind, when Jeh Johnson says it's a crisis, I hope he will now believe us. A lot of folks -- many folks in the media, not you necessarily, but a lot of other networks did, they didn't believe us, Democrats didn't believe us a month ago, two months ago, when we said what was happening at the border was a crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a security crisis.

And I'm very glad to see that Jeh Johnson now at least is admitting that we were right and that 100,000 people coming across the border this month, that's not a made up number by the way, despite the fact that many Democrats still think that it is. That is a crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Joining us now, the man himself, former Obama DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Thanks, Secretary, for being with us.

Is he right? Are you admitting that they were right all along?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first, Anderson, it is not a matter of admitting and acknowledging somebody is right or wrong. There is a crisis, 4,000 apprehensions in one day 100,000 apprehensions in a month on the southern border. It's the equivalent of Albany, New York, showing up on the southern border.

COOPER: And it's unprecedented.

JOHNSON: And it's unprecedented. We haven't seen numbers like that in 12 years. We certainly never saw numbers like that in my three years as DHS secretary. The question now is what to do about it.

And we are hearing talk about trying to shut down the border, which I'm sure you will get to and cutting off aid to Central America, which I think is the exact wrong thing to do in this circumstance.

COOPER: It also seems to run counter to what the people in the administration themselves --

JOHNSON: Just days before, correct.

I was very pleased to see that the administration is intending to continue the effort we began to invest in eradicating the poverty and violence. I know from personal experience of owning this problem for three years that the push factors in Central America, the poverty and violence in those countries, it is the most violent place on earth, what are driving this phenomenon, there is no amount of border security you can put on our southern border that is going to stop it.

COOPER: So, when the president says it is the governments in these countries that are sending their worst and putting them in these caravans and getting them up north, is there any truth to that?

JOHNSON: That is not consistent with my experience. Illegal migration is driven by smugglers, by coyotes. Almost everyone who comes up to Mexico to our southern border has paid a coyote $2,000, $4,000, $6,000.

COOPER: So, why are the numbers now growing?

JOHNSON: These numbers and we saw this, but not at this level in 2014, they have a snowball effect. The coyotes sell some new discount or put out a new message about in 2014, for example, they were telling folks in Central America, the border patrol are giving out free permisos, free passes, which is totally false. And families -- the other families going and they think this will not be going around forever, so it has a snowball effect. That is obviously something that is happening right now. And the

question becomes, how do we deal with this very serious, serious situation? I don't believe that cutting off aid to these countries is the answer. You talk to people within DHS and they will say that the limited amount that we have begun to invest is already beginning to have a positive impact.

And, so, there are no easy quick answers. We have to stay at it.

COOPER: Folks that support the president's policy will say, look, if these programs are actually working, why are we seeing an increase? If they're so good, how come people are --

JOHNSON: Because you can't turn around a region of the world overnight, very clearly. And what is happening now is while the underlying causes may be addressed longer term, there is something fueling the latest spike. It's a messaging. Families are seeing other families going. President Trump has clearly not been able to deter this either by his hard line policies, zero tolerance policy and there is something driving this.

And there are ways to address this. We addressed it in 2014. We got the numbers down pretty dramatically by the end of the summer of 2014 and they stayed low.

COOPER: How do you address it? Is it working with these Central American countries? I mean, how -- what happened in 2014?

JOHNSON: Well, working with the Central American countries is the longer term investment. Working with the government of Mexico to help them fortify their southern border, which is a smaller border with Central America had an impact. That's something that we did in my conversations with my counterpart and they agreed to do more on their southern border which had an almost immediate effect, as well as messaging about the dangers of the journey.

[20:15:00] But what happens is you can do short term things that have a short term effect, but as long as the underlying conditions exist, the patterns are going to revert back to normal.

COOPER: You could make the argument that President Trump threatening to shut down the border with Mexico, if it's just a threat, a way to motivate Mexico to do more on their southern border.

JOHNSON: Well, that's a threat and a gamble, I suppose. It is physically impossible to shut down a 1,900-mile border. The most a president can do is to shut down ports of entry, the bridges, the bridges into Laredo along the Rio Grande Valley. But what you're doing there is you're driving the migrants away that we've been encouraging to go to ports of entry for months. You are driving them to cross the borders illegally. We will know less about who they are coming into our country, and it will have an adverse effect on legal migration and legal commerce.

COOPER: Although now, I mean, the White House, Steve Miller, is saying that essentially these are baseless asylum claims. The president saying this is a con job. You have, you know, very big guys coming in, claiming they're scared of gangs in their home country.

JOHNSON: That's a stereotype.

COOPER: That's what the president said.

JOHNSON: That's a stereotype, frankly.

What you have coming from Central America are women, children, families. And I know because I spent hundreds of hours in border patrol holding stations in South Texas.

Every time I would go there, I would talk to the kids and say, why did you come here? Didn't you hear our messages about the dangers of the journey? Yes. Didn't you hear that DACA is not available for you? Yes. My mom sent me here because the gangs were going to kill me, or I was going to be forced to join a gang.

And these families are making the basic judgment to flee a burning building. It's human nature. And as long as those underlying conditions exist, we're going to be banging our head against the wall trying to address this on our southern border. We have got to address the longer term problem.

COOPER: Secretary Johnson, I appreciate your time, thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

COOPER: More on the politics now, joining us for that, Steve Cortes, the head of the Trump campaign's Hispanic advisory council.

So, Steve, Steven Mueller saying the president still hasn't decided whether he will follow through on the threats to the border. What is actually going to change this week that would sway the president one way or the other? Do you think he should shut down the southern border? And by that, as Secretary Johnson saying, the ports of entry?

STEVE CORTES, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Right, correct. Listen, I think it should be on the table. I hope we don't have to get there because it is really a very severe penalty for both the United States and for Mexico. It is a severe price to pay, but I do think that option unfortunately has to be real and viable because Mexico has simply not responded to less onerous threats.

Both Mexico and the Central American countries together have been willing, unfortunately, to make their problems our problems. And that has to stop.

One of the ways to stop that, if you're not (ph) willing to listen to reason, is to make it their problem. I would rather he go trade sanctions rather than physically closing the border. But, again, I understand why he has to at least -- at least threaten that very drastic action.

COOPER: Does it seem to you the administration has no coherent policy? Because, I mean, you have Secretary Nielsen down signing this agreement on Wednesday. The press release goes out on Thursday saying, in fact, we are working together and together is the way forward.

And then the president on Friday undercutting all that work. I mean, this is not her first trip down there. Officials from this administration have gone down plenty of times to Central America and have talked, you know, openly about increasing involvement in Central America.

CORTES: Sure. No, listen, Anderson, I will certainly concede that seems inconsistent to me and I would prefer a more consistent policy.

I'll also say this though. The situation is incredibly fluid. And in just recent weeks, it has grown so much worse. I think it's a demonstrable reality.

COOPER: But from a Wednesday to, you know, -- to a Wednesday and Thursday when you are announcing this policy to a Friday, nothing changed in those, you know, 12 hours or 24 hours.

CORTES: Sure, right. I think also, look, it is a vast government. It is a vast administration. Different parts have different agendas, and I think the president, though, ultimately is the boss over the executive branch and the person, the commander-in-chief, charged with controlling and protecting our border and protecting America.

Here's the reality, is that these countries, you know, Secretary Johnson I think said this is a stereotype. Look, the reality is these are economic migrants who are coming to our country. The reason I know that is because according to Secretary Nielsen, 90 percent of the people historically from those three Central American countries who asked for asylum are not eligible. Right now, according to ICE, over the last six months, 92 percent of families have ignored -- who we have let in with asylum claims have ignored their deportation hearings.

And on top of that, the violence in those countries, while severe, not trying to diminish the situation there, while it's severe, it is demonstrably less dangerous than it was in years previous. And yet, the number of people coming in, the influx is vastly increasing. Why? Because they figured out how to game our system and how to take advantage, quite frankly, of our goodwill.

[20:20:0] Through an abundance of altruism, we welcome the world's oppressed. If they are truly oppressed for political or religious reasons, that's not the case here.

COOPER: Right. OK, a couple of things. First of all, if crime is down and things have gotten a little bit better, isn't USAID part of that policy which we have now cut off? I mean, you know, these programs, according to people in Homeland Security, were working. People on the FBI were working on these things. State department was working, USAID.

You're arguing things are getting better. You can argue part of that was the money that the U.S. was investing in these programs. You also seem to be agreeing with Steven Miller and the president that it is all a con job, people applying for asylum. The administration has changed -- you're saying that the asylum claims

are baseless. The administration has changed the justification for asylum. So fleeing domestic violence or fleeing gang violence, that's no longer valid, according to this administration, for gaining entry on an asylum claim.

CORTES: Well, it's also not valid, not just according to this administration, Anderson, but it's not asylum according to U.S. law. U.S. law is very clear on this.

Look, a lot of Americans live in dangerous neighborhoods. I live in Chicago. The West Side of Chicago was a dangerous, violent place. We are not offering asylum to the kids on the West Side of Chicago. We shouldn't be offering asylum and by the way often very generous cash benefits to people who are fleeing a tough neighborhood in Honduras or Guatemala. That's not what asylum is about.

COOPER: Aren't police trying to offer safety to kids in all parts of Chicago? Isn't the government trying to offer safety to people?

CORTES: Of course. But my point is, just because people live in a tough neighborhood somewhere in the world, someplace that is violent, or someplace where economic opportunity is bereft, does not mean they can claim asylum and automatically come to the United States. Asylums are for people who are being persecuted because of who they are --


CORTES: -- because of their sex, their ethnicity, their race, their political beliefs. It's not because they have tough conditions.

I would also argue, by the way, that the right way for these countries to develop is not through USAID. It is not through the United States acting like Santa Claus. It's follow the model of other Latin countries that have problems -- places like Chile.

COOPER: You don't think USAID programs work at all?

CORTES: I'm not saying at all, but I'm saying it is not the real route to economic development.


COOPER: Does it slow the number of people coming, do you think, some of the USAID?

CORTES: We don't -- no. We don't have people from Chile crashing our border. Why? Because Chile has a system that has largely -- there is largely an absence of corruption and you have entrepreneurial capitalism and real growth. Same thing with Colombia which is formerly --


COOPER: OK. So you are saying these programs do not work to slow people from coming to prevent people, it doesn't give them opportunities that they might not otherwise have. So, you're fine with cutting off the aid?

CORTES: Look, I'm certainly fine with cutting off the aid as a punitive measure right now, because I think these countries need to cooperate more with helping us. Again, they're happy to transfer their problem to become our problem. Same thing with Mexico.

COOPER: There's no evidence the governments of these countries are sending their worst people. It's not like -- I mean, there's no evidence of that. We've got to go.

Steve, appreciate it.

CORTES: I'll agree with that. I don't know where the president got that information.

COOPER: OK. Yes, I don't think anybody does.

Steve, thank you very much.

Coming up next, breaking news, new reporting how the allegations against Joe Biden may affect his possible run for president. There's new word on how he may be leaning.

Also later, fresh insight to long standing questions about whether senior White House staffers got security clearances over the objections of professionals in the field Mick Mulvaney I guess would call it career staffers. House whistleblower, what that House whistleblower has to say, ahead.


[20:27:58] COOPER: Some breaking political news tonight. A source close to Joe Biden says the recent accusations of inappropriate touching against him will not dissuade him from running for the Democratic presidential nomination. That's if, in fact, he decides to run. A source says that Biden still has not made a final decision.

There is some background. Late Friday, as you probably know, a former Democratic politician in Nevada said Biden kissed her on the back of the head during a 2014 campaign rally. The woman said Biden made her feel uneasy, gross and confused.

Then, today, a woman who once worked for a Connecticut congressman told a newspaper that former vice president rubbed noses with her during a different campaign rally back in 2009. She told the paper she thought Biden was going to kiss her on the mouth.

All this, of course, raises questions about why he would do that, what is and is not appropriate and a lot more.

Among other instances it was a question at the forefront of the allegations made against Judge Brett Kavanaugh around his confirmation to the Supreme Court. You might remember this exchange caught on video in the fall of 2018 between then-Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and a woman who blocked an elevator door, demanding to be heard amid the contentious Supreme Court hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. She said she was a victim of sexual assault and I want to play a

portion of that encounter.


ANA MARIA ARCHILA, PROTESTER WHO CONFRONTED SEN. FLAKE: Do you think that he's able to hold the pain of this country and repair it? That is the work of justice. The way that justice work is you recognize hurt, you take responsibility for it and then you begin to repair it. You're allowing someone who is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions and willing to hold the harm that he has done to one woman, actually three women, and end -- and repair it. You are allowing someone who is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions, to sit in the higher court of the country and to -- and to have the role of repairing the harm that has been done in this country to many people.


COOPER: Well, that woman was Ana Maria Archila. She joins me now.

Ana Maria, thanks very much for being with us.

ARCHILA: Thank you.

[20:30:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Base on what Vice President Biden has said about this so far, do you feel like he's taken responsibility for his actions? Has -- is he doing the appropriate thing here?

ANA MARIA ARCHILA, PROTESTOR WHO CONFRONTED SEN. FLAKE: I don't hear him actually acknowledging that he has behaved in a way that was disrespectful to women. The realities that there are many reasons for people to be concerned about Joe Biden, he has a long history.

We can all remember the role that he played in the Anita Hill hearing. We can remember the role that he played in advancing the crime bill, which resulted in mass incarceration. And there's a through line which is that men in power are -- especially white men, have not really had to confront the reality of how power flows along race and gender lines.

So when he says, "I didn't think I was behaving inappropriate," I believe him. He probably did not think he was behaving inappropriately, but the reality is that he was using his power -- he was using personal touch and intimate space to express his power. I wonder if he would have stuck his nose in the back of someone's head who was more powerful than him, perhaps a man, I imagine he would not have done that.

COOPER: It's an interesting -- I mean, I think that's a really interesting point that you raise of and it's a good thing to kind of think about. Would he have done that if the woman he was rubbing or, you know, kissing the back of the head, if she was vice president and he was a congressman, I mean, it does seem unlikely that he would have done that. ARCHILA: That's exactly right. What we are experiencing right now is a real reckoning with how power flows in our society and the fact that women and people of color have had to stand at the margins while men are making most of the decisions in our country. So when we see women saying, I will not take it anymore. I will not take not only sexual assault and sexual violence, but I will not simply condone and be quiet with an inappropriate touch and inappropriate conversation. I will not do that.

When you're seeing people of color rising across the country in saying we will not continue to stand down and accept violence on our bodies, it's the same. There's a reckoning with power. There is a real demand from people to say let's share the center. Let's make -- let's be powerful together. Let's actually build a country where we are all respected and we can all live with dignity.

COOPER: So do you think this should disqualify him? I mean, do you think this should be something that stops him from running?

ARCHILA: I think he should really pause and try to understand how he has used his power in the many decades that he has been in, you know, vested with so much power in our society.

And he should reflect on the role that he can play to make sure that he contributes to building a country where women are respected, where people of color are respected and valued, and where we actually advance in these project of ours, that's the history of this country, which is a history of struggling to include more of us in the process of democracy and freedom. What can he do to actually advance in that direction? That is the question he has to ask himself.

COOPER: Ana Maria Archila, I appreciate you being with us. Thank you very much.

ARCHILA: Thank you.

COOPER: More perspective now from Jen Psaki, a former White House Communications Director for President Obama, CNN Political Commentator, also "USA Today" columnist, CNN Political Analyst Kirsten Powers and Republican Strategist Ana Navarro.

Jen, you didn't work for the vice president, you were in the Obama White House, however. Based on your experiences, I'm wondering what you make of these allegations and what impact it should have?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, Anderson, I think its real progress as a society that we're having these conversations and having these debates. And I've been around politics for a long time, this never would have happened 4 years, 8 years, and 12 years ago.

I never worked for the vice president directly as you said, but I was around him for 10 years. I was in meetings with him and on the campaign trail with him at times. There were times when he would grab my hand in meetings to make a point. There were times he probably has kissed the back of my head. I never thought anything of that. I didn't find it creepy, but, again, I was in the administration.

And to me the experiences I had with him were one where he was trying to lift people up and make them feel comfortable when they were uncomfortable and help people go through emotionally difficult times. Now, none of that is to discount the stories of these women, which I think are important to hear.

But I also think we have to be very careful not to group everything together because as Lucy has said, this was not assault. We know what happened. It was in public. It stepped over a line. I think he knows that, and I don't think he's going to behave in this way in the future.

But we have to be careful about not categorizing this in a way and calling it sexual assault or categorizing it in that category because that is something that happens every day as well to many women and that's real and that's not the same thing.

COOPER: I mean, Kirsten, there is no doubt some people are going to be listening to what Jen said and think, well, if it was a Republican who had done this, you know, would Democrats be arguing that, you know, the same line. I'm wondering what you make of what Biden has been accused of and his reaction to it.

[20:35:07] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think -- first of all, I think Jen would be saying the same thing. I'm sure that there are activists maybe who wouldn't, but I think for the most part people can look at this and see that this is definitely not the same thing as sexual assault or even really sexual harassment that we've talked about so much. And I certainly, you know, wouldn't even begin to compare it to something like what Brett Kavanaugh was accused of, which was an actual sexual assault.

So, I wish that Biden would offer a more fulsome apology instead of treating it as, you know -- it's the kind of like, I'm sorry if you felt that way apology and just say, "Look, I see that this is inappropriate. I shouldn't do this to people that I don't know." If it's somebody that knows him, it's totally different. But to walk up to a woman you don't know and kiss her on the back of the head, I mean, it isn't appropriate. There's just no getting around it.

I mean the first thing we tell little kids is keep your hands to yourselves. You know, this is basic. Just don't go up and touch people, kiss people that you don't know. And so I think that's an easy one for him to just apologize and instead he's done a kind of, you know, "I didn't intend for it to be inappropriate." Well, it is inappropriate whether you intended it or not.

COOPER: Well, frankly, I mean even if you know somebody but, you know, they're not the closest friend, I mean, I don't know if these people who -- this one who have come forward, I mean, they knew him clearly but, you know, it just seems an odd thing to do to somebody even if you know them tangentially.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know, Anderson. I don't know that if you know somebody and you're trying to encourage them, you're trying to give them sympathy, you're trying to be empathetic, it's not all right to hold their hand, it's not all right to have some affection and I think we have to be careful.

COOPER: In a workplace environment?

NAVARRO: In this -- well, but some of these were not workplace environments. Look, a few things. First of all, it bothers me that we are having this conversation in a segment where we open up with Brett Kavanaugh. I think that's very unfair to Joe Biden. I think it's very unfair to Lucy Flores who has said it was not sexual assault, and I think it's very unfair to the Me Too movement.

COOPER: It is what the White House is -- I mean, Kellyanne Conway was on television comparing this to Brett Kavanaugh.

NAVARRO: Well, she's got obviously an agenda that goes beyond that. I also will tell you, you know, I -- you question whether he will do that to a woman of power. We've actually seen pictures of him holding Hillary Clinton when she was running, when she was Secretary of State very, very closely.

He is touchy feely, and it is inappropriate and he's got to hear this entire conversation and take that in, because if it made one woman feel uncomfortable and obviously at least two were made to feel uncomfortable, he has got to stop it full period stop, no -- you know, no exceptions.

That being said, you know, if you're asking what has Joe Biden done to advance women, well, it's called Violence against Women Act. He has done tremendous things to try to advance the cause of women of color.

So, you know, and as to the question of what would we be saying if he was a Republican, I don't know if Jen or Kirsten talked about it, but certainly I did. I remember when there were some allegations against President George Herbert Walker Bush, a Republican president. And I think the question of intent becomes very crucial when talking about this.

And, look, was it appropriate? No. Was there intent to be sexually harassing somebody, to be threatening, to sexually assault? No. And so we have got to make a clear line between one thing and the other.

COOPER: Jen, how problematic is it that Biden's not even decided if he's running? I mean, do you think that adds to this? I mean, if he had come out -- if he had started running earlier, do you think this would be the same situation? He's already apologizing for not only these cases, but as Kirsten said, the apology is sort of, I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable, essentially. I hear you.

PSAKI: Well, I think that the only person who it's up to obviously, whether or not he's running is Joe Biden. Obviously he has a team around him who he is close to and, you know, we'll see what happens. But I don't think from talking to these people that this has changed his calculation.

What it is opening him up to is the reality that he has a 40-year career in public life and office and in running for president is different from being the vice president and people, your opponents, are going to, and many people you've just met along the way are going to look for ways to lift you up and pull you down at times.

But I think people know Joe Biden and there's many people made a decision that's good and bad for him, because 99.9 percent of the public has made decisions. They love him. They don't like him. And I don't know that this is going to change that many people's point of view at this point in time. I guess we'll see.

COOPER: All right. Jen Psaki, Kirsten Powers, Ana Navarro, thank you very much.

Just ahead, a whistleblower's account of big name White House advisers getting security clearances that security expert said they should not have.


[20:42:57] COOPER: More than two dozen people got security clearances over the objection of security professionals, that's what a White House security manager tells members of the House Oversight Committee according to a memo today from committee Chairman Elijah Cummings.

According to a source familiar with this whistleblower's case, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are among the individuals, 25 in all, whose clearance denials were overruled by the White House.

I want to talk about it with National Security Attorney Mark Zaid and CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero.

Mark, if the allegations are true, I mean, is there any other way to look at this than just a total disregard for the entire security clearance process? I mean, they're not even doing credit checks apparently anymore.

MARK ZAID, NATIONA SECURITY ATTORNEY: That was astounding when I heard that that they have ceased doing credit checks. That's actually one of the - the one areas where the federal government in handling security clearance cases can actually find dirt on their own without it having come from the individual.

I mean, I wish this was an April fool's story and it's not. And it's hard to judge some of it because we don't know the details of who's involved other than possibly Jared and Ivanka. But we don't know what the mitigating information might have been. Everyone throws out these words disqualifying information, well, we need to know mitigating.

But what the concern is, and I get, you know, people adjudicators to reverse their decisions all the time for my clients, but we've never seen or heard of this number of people inside the White House where senior, nonpolitical career staff have recommended denials or revocations and someone, apparently aids to the President, that's what we're waiting to find out, have reversed those decisions.

COOPER: Carrie, I mean, the security clearance process is there for a reason. It's not just some frivolous exercise. And it's something frankly President Trump during the campaign, you know, hammered Hillary Clinton on.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's exactly right, Anderson. And the issue is, is there can't be a two tiered system? There can't be a system for the rest of the intelligence community and the national security community who has to spend six, nine months, a year waiting for this process to be adjudicated so that they can move into their positions of trust and then a separate system that abandons all of those rules looking for foreign influence, looking for financial -- areas where a person could potentially be financially compromised.

[20:45:12] There can't be a second system for individuals who are part of the President's family or in some another position where the rules just get waived.

COOPER: Mark, you said this is unique to this administration. It's kind of unprecedented. It's not -- this is not common for security personnel to be overruled on security clearances?

ZAID: Not in the White House. I mean, the reality is, I've been doing this for over 20 years and handling clearances throughout the federal government and I've had very few White House cases. Neither have any of my colleagues because usually it's people like Carrie who have been inside in the government.

They've been in the government before. They're well established. They're distinguished. They have great credentials and they have existing clearances and they slide right over very easily. The cases sometimes we have are low level new staffers, first time clearance holders and an issue arises.

But to have this many people inside the White House have problems, that's unique. If this was the Defense Department, you know, 25 people out of the hundreds of thousands of people they process, it wouldn't be a big deal. Something -- you know, what a shock. Something is unique within the Trump White House.

COOPER: But, Carrie, I mean at the end of the day, the President can do what he wants when it comes to security clearances, can't he?

CORDERO: Right. So the President does have the authority to be able to make the security clearance determination, that is his executive authority and there really is no other entity within the government who can challenge that authority. The question is whether he's using that authority appropriately.

And I would say there is a question I think as the Congress continues to do their investigation of this as to whether or not it was the full 25 people who were working in the White House or whether there was really some smaller subset of people that actually presented the concerns. I think there are still some facts that were going to learn as the Congress does its investigation on this.

COOPER: Yes, it's important to point out. Carrie Cordero, appreciate it, Mark Zaid, as well, great to have you.

Still ahead, new outrageous claims from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. In a court deposition, he claims psychosis caused him to spread lies about the Sandy Hook massacre. Why this about faces too little too late for victims' families, next.


[20:51:05] COOPER: For years, a notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been spreading lies that the Sandy Hook massacre that killed 26 people, 20 of them children, was staged. It's a lie that frankly tormented the families of kids who were murdered.

But at least 8 of those families have sued Alex Jones and as part of one lawsuit Jones was deposed on camera for having to answer for things that he said on the radio and elsewhere.

Before we go any further and show you some of that deposition, I just want to tell you about two of the families bringing the suit. One is the Richman family. Their 6-year-old daughter, Avielle, was killed in the massacre. Jeremy Richman was found dead last week. The cause of death, an apparent suicide.

Noah Pozner's family is also suing. According to reports, his parents have been forced to move seven time since Noah was murdered because of harassment from Jones and his followers. They now live hundreds of miles from Noah's grave. Noah's mom told "The New York Times," "I would love to go see my son's grave and I don't get to do that."

We've been following this story since the beginning. I've had the honor of meeting with several of the victim's families and frankly what they've been put through because of the lies spread by Alex Jones is disgusting. The ranting of conspiracy theorists have consequences. Here's Randi Kaye.


ALEX JONES, CONSPIRACY THEORIST: I legitimately had believed that Sandy Hook was probably completely staged at different periods in my life.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of "InfoWars" in a recent court deposition answering for his outlandish theory the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut never happened and was instead carried out by crisis actors. This was Jones in 2014.

JONES: It took me about a year with Sandy Hook to come to grips with the fact that the whole thing was fake. I mean, even I couldn't believe it. I knew they jumped on it, used the crisis, hyped it up, but then I did deep research and, my gosh, it just pretty much didn't happen.

KAYE: That twisted conspiracy theory lead to a lawsuit against him by at least 8 Newtown families. In the video deposition, Jones is combative, unapologetic and defensive. JONES: I do not take the responsibility. I do not take your indictment or your presumed conviction of me as the villain or the star of Homeland, because that's not who I am. And so I reject it.

KAYE: Refusing to admit his baseless theories have harmed Newtown parents who lost children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you do not believe that you've done an outrageous wrong to these parents?

JONES: I am not -- no, I've not done an outrageous wrong to the parents.


KAYE: A stunning response, especially after stunts like this.

JONES: And then photos of kids that are still alive that they say died. I mean, they think we're so dumb that it's really hidden in plain view.

KAYE (on camera): For years, he's pushed the idea Newtown was a false flag to rally support against gun control and everyone was in on it.

JONES: The trauma of the media and the corporations lying so much, then everything begins you don't trust anything anymore. Kind of like a child whose parents lie to them over and over again will pretty soon they don't know what reality is.

KAYE (voice-over): And Jones for the first time offers up an explanation for his conspiracy theory.

JONES: Myself, you know, almost had like a form of psychosis back in the past where I basically thought everything was staged, even though I'm now learning a lot of times things aren't staged.

KAYE: Jones wasn't along. He regularly corresponded with other conspiracy theorists, including this Florida man, Wolfgang Halbig.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And looking at those e-mails, taking a look at them, you wouldn't agree with me that that man is a raving lunatic?

JONES: He seemed very credible and put together earlier on.

KAYE: Halbig and others like him are known for harassing Newtown parents. In fact, a Florida woman was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to sending threatening e-mails and voice mails to Lenny Pozner, whose son Noah died in the shooting. The messages said, "You're going to die. You're going right in hell. Death is coming to you real soon and there's nothing you can do about it."

[20:55:02] COOPER: It is still so hard --

KAYE: And Jones' conspiracies didn't stop at the shooting. He also made the ridiculous claim Anderson Cooper faked reporting from the scene. JONES: Folks, we've got video of Anderson Cooper with clear blue screen out there. He's not there in the town square.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that Anderson Cooper wasn't at Sandy Hook. He was not there.

JONES: Yes. I believe that he used -- that he faked being on location once.

KAYE: All these years later, Jones claims he's had a change of heart saying he now does believe the shooting at Sandy Hook which killed 20 children and 6 adults was real.

JONES: And this whole thing (INAUDIBLE), you know, had a chance to believe that children died and it's a tragedy.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: He still apparently thinks I wasn't there even though I've traveled all over the world for like 25 years, why wouldn't I go to Connecticut which is like an hour and a half away in Newtown, an hour and 45 or 2 hours depending on traffic. We should note, Wolfgang Halbig did not respond to our request for comment and both he and Jones denied the allegations in the lawsuits.

Let's check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: How are you doing? Good for you staying on that, Anderson. You've got to expose those charlottes (ph) in for what they are. We are down here with a situation that is all too real.

We're on Hidalgo, Texas, near McAllen. This is where it's all happening with the migrants. This is where you get to see all the dysfunction in one place, the constant flooding in of humanity, mostly from the triangle, not really Mexico anymore.

How overburdened, how overtaxed our CBP, our Customs and Border Protection people are? How the system doesn't work? How great the need is? And here's the worst part, the most obvious part of it all, this could be remedied and our leaders are doing nothing.

I've never seen a situation like this, Anderson, that is receiving this kind of an action. You and I have seen disasters all over the world. This one, they know about and they're doing nothing. I don't understand.

COOPER: Chris, I'm glad you're down there. About three minutes from now we'll come to you. Thanks very much. Appreciate it. We'll be right back.