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Attorney General Barr Defends Handling of Mueller Report; Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) is Interviewed About the Pending Public Release of the Mueller Report; Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is Interviewed About Contentious Mnuchin Hearing. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired April 9, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:22] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

The wait for Robert Mueller's report is almost over. The question is, how much of it will we or Congress actually get to see?

Today, Attorney General William Barr went before a House subcommittee and though the official subject was the Justice Department budget, much of the questioning centered on the special counsel's report. He said to expect it within a week and that he plans to provide explanatory documentation for every redaction that's been made.

He made plenty of news in addition to that, though not all of it perhaps the liking of the Democrats on the panel. He said he does not plan on seeking a court order to release grand jury information, and he doubled down as a contention that he's been forthcoming in releasing a redacted report because the special counsel regulations do not even require any public disclosure.

The attorney general did not, however, answer this question from New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey.


REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY): Did the White House see the report before you released your summarizing letter? Has the White House seen it since then? Have they been briefed on the contents beyond what was in your summarizing letter to the Judiciary Committee?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have said what I'm going to say about the report today. I have issued three letters about it. And I was willing to discuss the historic information of how the report came to me and my decision on Sunday. But I have already laid out the process that is going forward to release these reports, hopefully within a week. And I'm not going to say anything more about it until the report is out and everyone has a chance to look at it.


COOPER: As for one of those letters he mentioned, the four-page summary he first released, the attorney general said it was not intended to summarize the report by Mueller. However, he said he did endeavor to use, I'm quoting, as much of the special counsel's own language, unquote, as he could. Keeping them honest, it's an interesting way to look at it considering

his letter contained 74 words plus a few more in the footnotes from what is reportedly a several hundred page document, 74 words from Mueller and zero complete sentences from the special counsel's report on the investigation.

As Democrats will point out, Secretary Barr managed to write 19 whole pages on the probe unsolicited which he shared with President Trump's attorneys before the president picked him for the job.

More now from a lawmaker who's been part of the story from the beginning. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut joins us.

Congressman, do you give the attorney general the benefit of the doubt in terms of how he'll present the full Mueller report?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): No, he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. I mean, we're a co-equal branch of the government charged with oversight, so nobody gets the benefit of the doubt. One way or another, we need to see every word of that report. Some of the stuff will, of course, be classified and it may have to be looked at by a small group of people in a closed room.

The grand jury information obviously we're going to negotiate and figure out how to go on that, but no, he certainly doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. Look, the four-page letter, if you think back on what those four pages were all about, they were about supposedly clearing the president. And yet, there's 400 other pages of information that we need to review.

So, again, we need to review it.

COOPER: Why not wait until he's actually released it to judge his actions and his intent and the level of redactions?

HIMES: Yes, I'm not judging his actions or his intent. I'm just saying he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. You know, it would be wrong for the Congress to just assume that the executive was going to be fulsome in its disclosure about itself. So, look, I suspect we will probably have an argument over redactions.

But remember, look, we made progress here. Look back a year ago, we were really worried Mueller might get fired. We were worried the report may never be released.

We're going to see the report. I suspect we will have a fight over redactions. That will probably last some time. But I'm confident than all is said and done, we'll get -- we'll get to see the full report.

COOPER: What do you make of the fact the attorney general wouldn't say today whether or not the White House has seen or been debriefed on the report? If they haven't been, he could just say so.

HIMES: Yes, it's a little disturbing. You know, you think you could answer a simple question. I mean, you know, I don't have any information, but I would be shocked considering the fact that the president has obsessed over this investigation and this report as long as the investigation has been under way, if it hadn't made its way to the White House.

That doesn't trouble me so much. Again, what concerns me mostly is that we see that report and we see that whole report. So long as that's true and we have an opportunity to look at it and the investigative materials, the evidence that we think is important, I don't care who else sees it.

COOPER: Look, as you know, I mean, the argument against -- you know, there's two different things. There's releasing the report to the public and then releasing it to members of Congress.

[20:05:06] There's a lot of folks who will say, well, look, things leak out of Congress all the time. The idea of that this report wouldn't leak out even if it was only members of Congress who got to see it, would surprise a lot of people.

HIMES: Well, look, you know, the fact is there's precedent to overcome both of the objections of the Department of Justice and the attorney general. One objection, of course, is grand jury information. And Chairman Nadler was talking about that today. There is precedent with respect to the pre-Watergate situation when a judge waived the rule 6E, I think it is, of the department of justice.

The other thing is the attorney general is saying we're going to protect the identities of uninvolved or tangentially involved third parties, that's kind of funny to me, Anderson, because there was no such compunction with outing the text of Peter Strzok and the woman he was having an extramarital affair within the FBI. There was no problem releasing those texts. Now, all of a sudden, we're getting puritanical about protecting the privacy of marginally involved third parties.

Look, the attorney general and the Department of Justice does not have a lot of either precedent or credibility when they say we're going to protect people's privacy.

COOPER: Well, the attorney general also saying, look, Democrats, if they don't like redactions, they can go to court. How long a process would you see that being?

HIMES: Well, hard to say. Again, my hope is -- and I suspect I'll be disappointed in this hope -- my hope is that the redactions are such that they're immaterial. Look, if you want to protect somebody's privacy, black out their name or something.

But, you know, there's a difference between getting a report with a couple of names blacked out and page after page after page of blacked out information. I think we just need to wait and see what we actually get. It sounds like we're going to get it within a week or so.

COOPER: And just lastly, the chairman of your committee, Congressman Schiff, said the attorney general is behaving like the president's Roy Cohn. Obviously, not a compliment.

Is that kind of comparison you think helpful at this stage of the proceedings?

HIMES: Well, again, the attorney general didn't do himself any favors when he essentially arrogated a judgment that is not his to make, when he said that, you know, I got together with my deputy and we decided there's no obstruction of justice, even if Mueller didn't clear it. That's really, since the Department of Justice under their own procedures won't indict a president, that's not his judgment to make.

And so, he didn't really set himself up to be in a sort of happy relationship in the Congress when he said that and did that. It's really for us to judge, you know, the reason of course DOJ won't indict a sitting president is that the accountability mechanism resides with the Congress of the United States.

COOPER: Congressman Himes, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much. A lot to look for.

Our legal and investigative team, if we can afford the billable hours, joins us now. Former Whitewater independent counsel, Robert Ray, and we should make the distinction, special counsels and independent counsels are different in their scope and authority. Also, former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa, she's currently our legal and national security analyst. CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is with us as well, as well as investigative, author and CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein.

Jeff, first of all, what do you make of what the attorney general said today? Is he on firm grounds in terms of what he's indicating?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Again, I don't want to prejudge. We'll see how much of the report he actually censors. But he has set up four categories that could be very broad and swallow a great deal of the report -- grand jury material, which can be defined in several different ways, broadly or narrowly. Classified information, which the intelligence agencies are famous for over- classifying. Material relating to other investigations, which could be very broad. And the fourth category, the most mysterious of them all, this idea of third parties who could be anyone from obscure figures to Donald Trump himself.

All of those categories give the attorney general an enormous amount of discretion, and obviously, now we're going to see how he uses it.

COOPER: Robert, do you think the president could be included in that fourth category?

ROBERT RAY, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: We talked about this before. No, I don't. He's not -- I don't think that's what anyone had in mind by the use of the word peripheral, which is the attorney general's word and one of those letters that he --

COOPER: But it's not spelled out anywhere.

RAY: No, no, I understand that, but under any scenario, I don't think the president is peripheral. So, I don't agree with that.

As to what goes public and what doesn't, I guess we'll just have to see. And it's sort of an interesting discussion to have now, but we really don't have anything to talk about until we know exactly what the report looks like that the attorney general in fact does release.

COOPER: Right.

RAY: With regard to grand jury material, arguably, yes, that could be a big net. But I think there's a lot of confusion here about what the attorney general's authority is with regard to that. There's no congressional oversight exception to rule 6E.

[20:10:02] And secondly, there's no distinction between providing it to Congress in camera or providing it to the public and Congress. 6E prohibits disclosure unless it is under one of the recognized exceptions. The only one that would arguably apply is one that says preliminarily to, I'm not sure whether I used that word, but preliminary to or in connection with a judicial proceeding.

And the precedent that came from the D.C. circuit and the Watergate era essentially equated, it wasn't a waiver. It equated an impeachment proceeding with a judicial proceeding. The idea being just for the general public.

The chief justice presides over a trial of an impeachment in the Senate. And so that in some, you know, sense at least as understood by the D.C. Circuit, and it's basically acknowledged in a most recent decision which, by the way, the attorney general testified to today, came out last Friday from the D.C. Circuit, which is McKeever versus Barr. All of that suggests since the D.C. circuit is the law that would control here, unless the attorney general makes an application, you know, figuratively, arm in arm with Jerry Nadler, to a court, there is not going to be disclosure of 6E material, period.

COOPER: Asha, should -- are the criteria in your opinion too broad for the attorney general?

ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I think they are too broad for a couple reasons. One of the key things that Barr said today was that his initial conclusion was based on a binary choice of whether the conduct was criminal or not criminal. And we know, for example, that a good swath of this investigation concerns a counterintelligence investigation. So I think that there is an intelligence avenue to be able to get to some of this information by the Intelligence Committees, you know, as an exception to the 6E rule.

The other thing is that with regard to the president particularly, he is not only held to a criminal standard. He is held beyond that -- misconduct, dereliction of duty, failure to uphold your oath, a national security threat, all of these could be impeachable. So, when it comes to reputational harm and all of these things, they ought not apply to the president. All these findings should definitely make its way to Congress.

COOPER: Carl, the White House wouldn't say whether -- excuse me, the attorney general wouldn't say whether or not the White House has been involved in discussions either with him or with his office about this.

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, everything that we have seen from the attorney general since he's become the attorney general has been he claims to want transparency, and then he pulls the shades down. And today is one more example of it.

Look, I'm as hopeful as anybody that we're going to see the report and see every bit of it. But from what we know, from what Mr. Barr has told us, he's looking for ways that we don't see it. He's looking for ways to pull those shades down.

This ought to be a paramount importance that the American people get to see every word of this all-important investigation about the president of the United States, about national security matters. We don't want to see and shouldn't see anything that gives away sources and methods of intelligence collection, but that's the only exception that there ought to be here. This is a matter of grave national importance about the president, about the people around him, and we're in the dark. Because the shades are being pulled down.

COOPER: Jeff, there wouldn't be anything illegal, though, if there was consultation between the attorney general and the White House about this, would there?

TOOBIN: Not at all.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: But it would lend suspicion to the idea that what Barr is doing is doing the bidding of his boss, the president of the United States. Not acting as an honest broker in this process. But there's certainly no prohibition on the attorney general or his staff, talking to the White House or the White House lawyers.

The question is, whose side is Mueller on? I'm sorry, is Barr on? Is he on the side of transparency, as he said in his confirmation hearings? Or is he coordinating with the White House to keep as much of this under wraps as possible?

He has the discretion to do either. We'll see which way he goes.

COOPER: Robert, if he's coordinating with the White House, is that OK?

RAY: I don't know about coordinating, but I think there's a public record of the fact the White House was not involved and didn't have a heads-up about what was in Barr's letter, at least the March 24th letter. Whether there's been consultation or that the White House has been apprised of what else is in the Mueller report since that time, I suppose is an interesting question. And I suppose it's fair to ask whether there's coordination in terms of whether there's any impact from the White House or influence from the White House as to the redactions that the attorney general makes.

[20:15:05] I tend to think that's unlikely. I imagine that the reason he didn't answer the question today is probably the White House and the attorney general have had some discussions post the March 24th letter. But I think obviously the attorney general, I don't need to tell him how to do his job, but it would probably be easier that the White House is not involved in any decisions on what to and what not to redact.

COOPER: Asha, I mean, would it be appropriate for the White House to be talking about redactions?

RANGAPPA: I think it would be highly inappropriate unless we can confirm all the threads that involve the president have been closed. We know, for example, that certain threads were referred to the Southern District of New York, that involve campaign finance violations. As I mentioned again, the counterintelligence piece, we know there was a counterintelligence investigation open on the president himself. We don't even know if that was ever closed.

So I think it would be highly improper for Barr to be discussing this with him without making it clear to the American public that those are not ongoing matters. And I think to Jeffrey's point, this is really about whether Barr sees the president as his client or if he sees the United States of America as his client, and I would say that as attorney general, his client is the United States, not the president.

COOPER: Carl, as expected, the Judiciary Committee, if they're not happy with the redactions, then they subpoena the full unredacted report and it's a protracted court battle, is that good for the country?

BERNSTEIN: It might be the only way that we're going to have a possibility of finding out what this investigation by Mr. Mueller has really been about. I think that anything that brings us closer to full knowledge is good for the country. Anything that takes us away from that is not good.

And also, we're operating in an atmosphere here where we see the Trump presidency and those around him moving on authoritarian impulse instead of real democratic impulse to let the light in. To let the American people know what has happened here. It's extraordinary that both parties cannot get together and say we need this information so that we can move on as a country together.

COOPER: Carl Bernstein, Jeff Toobin, Asha Rangappa, Robert Ray, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

RAY: Thank you.

COOPER: Just ahead tonight, the president responds to uproar over his reported plans to provide and expand his family separation policy at the border. He's saying it's not his policy at all but President Obama's. We'll keep him honest on that.

Also, Congresswoman Maxine Waters joins us for her first interview since this exchange happened on Capitol Hill just a few hours ago.


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Can you clarify that for me?

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): Yes, clarify. If you wish to leave, you may.

MNUCHIN: So we're dismissed, is that correct?

WATERS: If you wish to leave, you may leave.

MNUCHIN: I don't understand what you're saying.



[20:22:10] COOPER: The battle over President Trump's tax returns heated up today. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress his department's lawyers have consulted with the White House on the request to release President Trump's income tax returns. He testified he didn't see those talks as interference with the request and he personally hadn't had any conversations with anyone inside the White House.

All that seemed to pale besides this exchange between Mnuchin and California Democrat Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee who we'll speak with in just a moment. The exchange happened just a few hours ago and centered around how much time Secretary Mnuchin would give the committee.


MNUCHIN: I have sat here for over three hours and 15 minutes. I have told you I'll come back. I just don't believe we're sitting here negotiating when I come back. We'll follow up with your office.

How long would you like me to come back for next time? I have told you I'll accommodate you.

WATERS: I appreciate that, and I appreciate you reminding us of the length of the time the secretaries have been here. This is a new way and a new day. And it's a new chair. And I have the gavel at this point. If you wish to leave, you may.

MNUCHIN: Can you clarify that for me?

WATERS: Yes, clarify is this -- if you wish to leave, you may.

MNUCHIN: OK, so we're dismissed, is that correct?

WATERS: If you wish to leave, you may leave.

MNUCHIN: I don't understand what you're saying.

WATERS: You're wasting your time. Remember, you have a foreign dignitary in your office.

MNUCHIN: I would just say that the previous administration -- when the Republicans, they did not treat the secretary of the treasury this way. So, if this is the way you want to treat me, then I'll rethink whether I voluntarily come back here to testify, which I have offered to do.

WATERS: Mr. Secretary, I want you to know that no other secretary has ever told us the day before that they were going to limit their time in the way that you're doing. So if you want to use them as examples, you have acted differently than they have acted, and as I have said, if you wish to leave, you may.

MNUCHIN: If you would wish to keep me here so that I don't have my important meeting and continue to grill me, then we can do that. I will cancel my meeting and I will not be back here. I will be very clear. If that's the way you would like to have this relationship.

WATERS: Thank you. The gentleman, the secretary, has agreed to stay to hear all of the rest of the members. Please cancel your meeting and respect our time. Who is next on the list?

MNUCHIN: You're instructing me to stay here and I should cancel --

WATERS: No, you just made me an offer.

MNUCHIN: I didn't make you an offer.

WATERS: You made me an offer that I accepted.

MNUCHIN: I did not make you an offer, let's be clear. You're the instructing me. You're ordering me to stay here.

[20:25:00] WATERS: No, I'm not ordering you. I'm responding. I said you may leave anytime you want. And you said, OK. If that's what you want to do, I'll cancel my appointment and I'll stay here.

So I'm responding to your request. If that's what you want to do --

MNUCHIN: That's not what I want to do. I told you --

WATERS: What would you like to do?

MNUCHIN: What I told you is I thought it was respectful you let me leave at 5:15 --

WATERS: You're free to leave any time you want. You can go any time you want.

MNUCHIN: Please dismiss everybody. I believe you're supposed to take the gavel and bang it.

WATERS: Please do not instruct me as to how I am to conduct this committee.


COOPER: Well, joining me is Congresswoman Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee. Madam Chairwoman, what was going on there? For people who weren't at

the hearing, can you just explain what led up to that exchange? Had it been contentious up to that point?

WATERS: Yes, let me explain to you that prior to the secretary coming over to our committee, we negotiated that he would come. He had not at any time told us that he had to leave at 5:15. And so, we learned just the day before that he was deciding that he couldn't stay any longer. That was not --

COOPER: He told you the day before?

WATERS: Yes. The day before that he was not going to stay. We indicated early on that we wanted him to stay. We have a huge committee. We have a large committee. And if he does not stay, too many members of our committee do not get to participate.

And so, we let him know that, and we said that if he left, he was going to have to come back at least two times in May, which he did not agree to at the time. And so, we pressed upon him the importance of staying with the committee, and when he decided that he could not stay, I offered to him, then fine, if you cannot stay, you may leave at any time.

COOPER: The -- it seemed like there was a battle going on of you didn't want to say he should leave or could leave, and he didn't want to just get up and leave, even though you said he could get up and leave.

WATERS: That's true. He wanted me to order him or to shut down the committee, to close down the committee, to use the gavel to say that the committee was adjourned for his purposes. When he said he had somebody important, I don't think there's anything or anybody more important than the Congress of the United States of America, trying to find out exactly what the secretary is doing.

He has been contradictory in how he talked about whether or not he was going to follow the law and release those tax returns as the law mandates that he do, and so we need to do our oversight. We need to be able to represent the people of this country in understanding how this government works and what we need to do to insure that the government are respected, that the people are respected and that we are doing the kind of work that will insure that their government is acting according to the law.

COOPER: So, let's talk about that. The secretary says he personally hasn't consulted with the White House, but some members of his department have. Would that be OK given they're both part of the executive branch?

WATERS: No, it's not OK. As a matter of fact, let me just say this. We cannot believe anything that's been said by this president or by Mr. Mnuchin. Let me just refer you back to the president of the United States, who has said over 16 times that he would release his tax returns. He confuses it by saying it's under audit.

It does not make any difference if it is under audit.


WATERS: He could release those tax returns. And don't forget that his chief of staff, Mr. Mulvaney, said to the Democrats, you will never get these tax returns.

COOPER: Right, he said that over the weekend.

WATERS: He said that over the weekend.

Between the president, Mr. Mulvaney, and Mr. Mnuchin, you can't believe anything that they're saying. Basically, what they're all about is never releasing those tax returns. The president has lied again. Mr. Mulvaney has backed him up, and he's made it clear to us we will never get them, and Mr. Mnuchin is trying to have it both ways by saying that he is going to follow the law and yet he's going to protect the president.

And so, we have a job to do. We have the oversight responsibility for this nation, and we're going to do it.

COOPER: The president has reportedly vowed to take this to the Supreme Court. Is the president's tax returns, is that worth this kind of a fight?

WATERS: I beg your pardon? Would you repeat that question?

COOPER: Is it worth this kind of a fight? The president says he'll take it all the way to the Supreme Court. Is it worth Democrats fighting on this?

WATERS: Well, that's what the president has basically said he would do. He would go all the way to the Supreme Court, and he believes that he'll have support in the Supreme Court. He believes that Kavanaugh will stand up for him, and so he's willing to go that far.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: But that's a fight you think you think is --

WATERS: -- rather than releasing.

COOPER: You think that's a fight that should -- that Democrats should fight?

WATERS: I think that's a fight that the public wants us to fight. They want to see those tax returns. He said he would give those tax returns. Every other president has released those tax returns and that's a fight that we should have.

COOPER: Congresswoman Waters, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

WATERS: You're welcome. Thank you. COOPER: Coming up next, the President's strange claim about his family separation policy. He says it was really President Obama's policy and that he's the one who ended it. "Keeping Them Honest," next.


COOPER: The President today denied what multiple news outlets, including this one, reported yesterday about his intentions when it comes to immigration policy. He just wants to separate families, a senior administration official told CNN's Jake Tapper, the day after getting rid of his Homeland Security secretary.

Now "The New York Times" put it this way, "Trump signals even fiercer immigration agenda with a possible return of family separations." The President, multiple sources say, truly believes it deterred border crossers and has been pushing for months to bring it back.

And if he were to say that out loud, the country could debate the idea and decide whether it's a good one. But today, he didn't do that. In fact, he denied he was considering bringing back family separation at all, then he lit the gaslight and said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obama separated the children, by the way. Just so you understand, President Obama separated the children. Those cages that were shown, I think they were very inappropriate. They were built by President Obama's administration, not by Trump.

[20:35:01] President Obama had child separation. Take a look. The press knows it. You know it. We all know it. I didn't have -- I'm the one that stopped it. President Obama had child separation.

Now, I'll tell you something, once you don't have it, that's why you see many more people coming, they're coming like it's a picnic, because let's go to Disneyland. President Obama separated children. They had child separation. I was the one that changed it.


COOPER: So "Keeping Them Honest," other than many of the detention facilities being built during past administrations, really none of what he said is true. Under past administrations, some border crossers were occasionally prosecuted and separated from their families. Children were separated from parents only when authorities had concerns for their wellbeing or couldn't confirm that the adult was in fact their legal guardian.

According to David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian winning (ph) Cato Institute, numbers weren't even kept because the practice was so rare. As for it all being like a picnic at Disneyland, that's only true if Disneyland happened to only have two toilets for hundreds of people in a leaky roof to sleep under like our facility in Mexico our Gary Tuchman visited last night that's now housing asylum seekers.

Joining us now, someone who's also seen conditions up close, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Senator, thanks for being with us. Do you take the President at his word when he says he is not looking to resume his child separation policy?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Well, I think he got a lot of feedback yesterday from Republicans on Capitol Hill saying that this is an evil dark policy and don't go back there, that it was a mistake to begin with, and they don't want any part of it. So, perhaps now he's convinced it's not a smart thing to do. It's certainly not a good thing to do.

COOPER: To the notion that the President put forward that more families are coming because the process is like, in his words, a picnic or Disneyland, I know you've been to facilities. I'm wondering what you think of those descriptions?

MERKLEY: Well, I tell you, it's just absolutely horrific on the border. The administration is blocking people from crossing at the ports of entry, forcing them back into Mexico, where they're very vulnerable to the gangs, to rape, to the sex crimes, to the whole series of, well, evil things.

And so they end up choosing, "Do I stay on the Mexican side or I cross between the points of order?" So it just becomes the opposite of what Trump has told the American people that he wants people to come to the ports. But as far as the surge that we're talking about, that's directly because of Trump.

I called up all the folks I've been working with on this, what's going on, they said, well, there's a couple small reasons and one big reason. Small reasons are the elections in Guatemala and better bus travel from Southern Mexico to Northern Mexico. But the big reason, as Trump rants about the border, so many people are saying, "I'm in this terrible situation. If I'm going to go, I better go now." It's all Trump generated.

COOPER: Do you dispute, though, that there is in fact a crisis at the border? Because, I mean, Customs and Border Patrol released statistics showing that they've apprehended more people on the southern border in March than in any month since 2008. And they said the agency has "arrived at a breaking point."

MERKLEY: Well, there are a lot of people coming to the border, but it's nothing like the highest point in the past, which was 200,000 people a month. So it's only about a third of that. It's a Trump generated surge, so it's Trump who is making it happen.

And it's also -- the logistics are difficult because he's trying to put so many people into prison. He now has -- well, in December, 15,000 migrant children locked up in a child Gulag across America, which is just so out of character with who we are.

COOPER: I know you took issue with Secretary Nielsen and how she handled things. Are you concerned at all that whoever ends up replacing her could be even more hard line than she was? Because it does seem like that's the direction of the President and Stephen Miller wants the Department of Homeland Security to go in.

MERKLEY: Well, I am concerned, because there's been such pressure in this administration to force people back into Mexico, to proceed to throw them into prison, to separate the kids, to make their lives as miserable as possible as part of a strategy of deterrence and it's been really in the administration.

John Kelly was very clear about that, he's very honest with the American people about that. What really bothered me about Nielsen is she does then lied to Congress and said, "No, we didn't want to do deterrence, we didn't want to do child separation, it doesn't exist, the policy doesn't exist." And that's just not acceptable. If you're going to do the policy, as she did, support it all along, then you've got to take responsibility for it.

COOPER: Senator Merkley, appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

MERKLEY: Thanks.

COOPER: Joining us now, someone who just written about this, CNN Global Affairs Analyst Max Boot, author of "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right." It is pretty incredible, Max, that the President seems to be spinning his role in all of this as the person who stopped this policy from the Obama administration.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think the word we're looking for here, Anderson, is Orwellian. I mean, this is an inversion of reality, but this is a sign of how frantic the President is getting.

[20:40:01] He is, you know, speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He's denying that he wants to do what he wants to do. He's claiming that Obama did it, but he's going to do it. And he's also, by all accounts, urging his subordinates to do things that are illegal.

And part of the reason why he fired Secretary Nielsen was because while she was willing to do things that I believe were unconscionable and immoral, she wasn't actually willing to break the law and simply tell asylum seekers they can't seek asylum, which is their legal right.

COOPER: It's also interesting because he's now using the term cages, but before when those pictures were coming out, people from the administration were all saying, you know, those are not cages and it's arguable, you can define them however you want.

But it's also interesting because -- I mean, just as Senator Merkley was saying, you did have Jeff Sessions, you had General Kelly at the time, the secretary of Homeland Security, saying that they were planning this, they were thinking about this, and it was going -- as a deterrent to stop people from coming.

So the President saying that this was not his policy, and yet it also works as -- you know, I mean, saying it does work as a deterrent, it just, as you said, he's speaking out of both sides of his mouth. BOOT: Right. He's basically saying, "Not my policy, but I may do it again, essentially." And as you say, the Barbary, the cruelty of it, that was the point because it was intended to deter people from coming.

This is a shameful chapter in our history, Anderson. This is going to be remembered along with the internment of Japanese-Americans and many other dark deeds in American history and there's no way that the Trump administration can escape the blame for it, no matter what President Trump says.

COOPER: One of the things that the -- I wonder if -- when the President says, you know, it's not going to be the policy, you know, there's been this talk about having a -- basically a binary choice policy that people who have crossed illegally will be given the choice of being interned with their children or if they want to be separate, which is kind of no choice at all.

BOOT: Yes, this is the Sophie's Choice policy that they're even thinking about this tells you how cruel and depraved they are and how desperate they are because remember, this is one of President Trump's core election appeals.

He ran in 2016 as the man who was going to save America from this tidal wave of illegal immigration, which was largely imaginary, but his followers believed it. And now he is desperate, desperate because instead of going down, the number of undocumented immigrants is going up.

As you reported, about 92,000 apprehensions at the southern border in March. He doesn't know what to do about this. He doesn't have an actual policy so he's lashing out, he's firing people. These are like the antics of a mad king who wants to stop this tide but doesn't know how.

COOPER: In your piece in that column in "The Washington Post," you talk about Stephen Miller saying he should just be made Homeland Security secretary. Do you really believe that?

BOOT: I believe that, because I believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant. And Stephen Miller, let's be honest about this, he is the shadow Homeland Security secretary now.

He is the person who pulls the strings and I think there's something to be said for having the puppet master come out from behind the curtain and assume legal, political, and personal responsibility for these inhumane policies instead of simply manipulating Trump from behind the scenes and torturing his appointees at DHS.

COOPER: Essentially you're saying if he was Homeland Security secretary, he wouldn't last long because you think his policies are so abhorrent?

BOOT: I'm not even sure he could win Senate confirmation in the Republican controlled Senate. But, you know, what I think is that President Trump should have the courage of his racist convictions, send Stephen Miller up there and see what people actually think about the policies that he advocates which I think are abhorrent, but let's have a an honest debate about it.

COOPER: All right. Max Boot, thank you very much.

BOOT: Thank you.

COOPER: Appreciate it. Coming up, legendary anchorman, Dan Rather, will -- with his take on the escalating political combat in Washington. Welcome. Thanks for being here.

DAN RATHER, HOST, AXS-TV, "THE BIG INTERVIEW": Thanks for having me.

COOPER: Thanks.

RATHER: Thank you.


[20:47:25] COOPER: Well, consider for a second the stories that we've told so far tonight, a battle over a report written by a special counsel as to whether or not the President colluded with a foreign power and obstructed justice.

A member of the President's cabinet jousting with member of Congress over the President's tax returns and whether or not the American people have a right to see them. The President today not telling the truth about his own immigration policy and in the process blaming a previous administration for it falsely.

As we've said many times in this program, these are not normal times. Joining me now is reporter and anchorman who it's safe to say has seen more than his fair share of turbulence, the legendary Dan Rather who now works at AXS-TV.

Dan, one of my favorite quotes of yours is that, "Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn't block traffic." Do you think that is being put to the test right now?

RATHER: A test, a real stress test, obviously.


RATHER: But, you know, it gets stranger every day. Every time I think it can't get any stranger, it gets stranger.

COOPER: This is the strangest time you've ever seen in all your reporting?

RATHER: It is. I would say by far, and that includes Watergate. One of the reasons, of course, Watergate was domestic. Here, we have the intervention of foreign power in our elections, which complicates things. But also, Nixon, for all of his shortcomings, he did believe in the institutions of government. Now, you know, he broke the law to cover up crimes, that's true. With President Trump, I honestly don't know what he believes. But to take him at his word and on his actions, he doesn't believe in the system of checks and balances. He believes he rules. As we are seeing it -- we have seen it over the last, what, 24, 48 hours --

COOPER: Right.

Rather: -- in which he's insisting that people break the law. We've never had a president who openly blatantly and even proudly encouraged his subordinates to break the law.

COOPER: It's interesting because, you know, we're just talking before the break that I was watching the "Tricky Dick" documentary that CNN has been airing. And Nixon talks about the media is the enemy, he talks about the establishment is the enemy.

And it is very -- I mean, there are -- you know, you start to hear parallels. He talked about a witch hunt. And yet he did -- though he felt the establishment was the enemy, as you said, he did have respect for the institutions of democracy.

RATHER: Well, for example, when the courts ruled, Richard Nixon took that as the rule of law, giving up the tapes, for example. With President Trump, he's saying -- he's quoted as telling some of his subordinates, if the judge tells you to do something, rule something, you just tell them you're not going to do it.

COPER: Right. It was reported he told border --

RATHER: There's a word for this and it's called lawlessness. So I guess the reason is crunch time for his -- as a country.

[20:50:03] We're beginning to ask the question who are we now and what are we becoming when we have a president who openly says I don't intend to obey court rules

COOPER: One of the things -- Steve Bannon was on this program a while ago said -- or couple of weeks ago, said that he believes this next year is going to be the most -- I think he said the most volatile in American political history since before the Civil War. And I don't know if that's true or not, but it's certainly an ominous statement.

RATHER: Well, it's an ominous statement and it's not without some justification saying. We'll have to see how it plays out. But I would agree with him that certainly he's not prospect and that's why our whole society is undergoing the stress test.

COOPER: Which is -- I mean, it's incredible when you think about, you know, the demonstrations against the Vietnam War and, you know, tens of thousands of people filling the streets and protesting and fights at times between construction workers and protestors in the streets.

It seems like -- I was thinking about that when, you know, the President just the other -- couple weeks ago talked about how he has the police, the military on his side. He has construction workers and bikers on his side. RATHER: Well, that's the kind of rhetoric we're accustomed to hear from dictators all around the world. They're always saying, "Listen, I have the military with me. I have the police with me. I have the strong arm."

But with President Trump, I get it that he says, "I won the election and therefore what I says -- what I say goes." That doesn't the way our system was put together at all and that's the reason I keep coming back to this. This is an extreme test for us as a people and as a society.

Now, if the Mueller report and whatever Barr does with it, we will see apparently fairly soon. My expectation, it will be a highly redacted version.

COPER: You think it will be highly redacted?

RATHER: Yes. And then that will put it up to the Congress and the public to put the pressure on to see the report because there's nothing like sunshine. Sometimes it's a great disinfectant and, of course, it's easy way to see things.

But there's a big fight looming and yet another strain along the lines of it, national crisis, because if Congress does it's job and insists on seeing if not all of the report, mostly report hearing from Mueller, may be in a closed session but hopefully in an open session under oath what you're going to have is a great battle between the Congress and the people at large and a President Trump administration. That figures to be a very long tough slog of version of political war of attrition.

COOPER: Do you think any of the Democrats who have come forward thus far and announced know how to run against President Trump just in terms of pure campaigning? Because, I mean, as a campaign -- he obviously has a particular set of skills which is extraordinary and he beat a very talented field of Republicans.

RATHER: I'm not sure. It's so early on, I can't say definitely see this one or that one can do that, but just we know. And by the way, you should make this point that President Trump believes and there's evidence that he's right about it that the main reason he won the last election is he hammered on immigration, particularly people of Hispanic heritage and Muslims. He believes that was the main reason he won.

Therefore, what we've seen today is, A, he is ramping up an already underway re-election campaign and, B, talking about immigration as a way to distract from problems with the Mueller report.

COOPER: Dan Rather, it's always great to have you. Thank you.

RATHER: Thank you, Anderson. Good to see you.

COOPER: Thanks very much. Time to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris? CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, I hate taking time from Dan Rather to talk to me, even I don't like it. He is, you know, the perspective of what he has seen and what it means and what we should be asking, which is an invaluable service to the audience tonight. Thanks for doing it. Coop, always good to see you. Brother Rather, good to have you on our air.

So, tonight, we're going to be advancing the interests that the great anchor himself, Mr. Rather, was telling us about trying to get inside what happened today with our attorney general on that appropriations committee.

We have the committee chair, Nita Lowey, long-time veteran New York congresswoman. Why doesn't she trust him? What does she believe is going on? And what are the Democrats willing to do about it? Boom, that's one thing.

Second thing, Governor Gavin Newsom of California, he's down in El Salvador. He says you need to know what they say about what the answer is to your problem on the border. It's something we have not heard from this POTUS. We'll bring him on as well.

And then we're going to have a debate. Can you be a white nationalist if you are Jewish? We have Congresswoman Omar who says Stephen Miller she believes to be a white nationalist, White House says he's Jewish, he can't be and that makes you anti-Semite. We'll debate it.

COOPER: All right. Chris, thanks very much. Appreciate it. I'll see you in a few minutes.

Bernie Sanders tells "The New York Times" he'll release a decade worth of his tax returns in the next few days and reveals whether or not he's a millionaire. Details on that in a moment.

[20:55:00] And you're looking live at the upcoming CNN Presidential Town Hall in Washington, D.C. where Democratic presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand will answer questions from CNN's Erin Burnett as well as the audience. That's at 10:00 p.m. Eastern live. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We told you earlier about the latest in the battle over President Trump's taxes. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders has drawn scrutiny in recent weeks as well about releasing his most recent returns.

The independent Vermont senator is now telling "The New York Times" he will release a decades worth of his returns in the next few days before the annual income tax deadline of April 15th. Sanders also reveals that he is a millionaire telling "New York Times," "I wrote a best selling book. If you write a best selling book, you can be a millionaire too."

A reminder, don't miss "Full Circle," our daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You get to vote on some of the stories that we cover. You can get all the details and watch it 6:25 p.m. Eastern weekday nights at facebook.come/andersoncooperfullcircle.

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

CUOMO: Thank you, Anderson.