Return to Transcripts main page


Fire Ravages Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Iconic Spire Collapses But Bell Towers Saved. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired April 15, 2019 - 20:00   ET


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

We begin tonight with breaking news. Part of the skyline of Paris is in ruins tonight. A catastrophic fire continues to move through the world's most famous cathedral, France's most famous cathedral, Notre Dame. An iconic landmark, an international treasure, known for its religious significance and its remarkable architecture, it's now partially destroyed.

The president of France saying, quote: I'm sad to see this part of all of us burn.

More than 400 firefighters are on the scene, some have climbed up the building even while it's been burning trying to save the structure. A French official says one firefighter is seriously injured.

The fire nearly started about eight hours ago, about 12:30 p.m. local time. The flames moved fast. The cathedral's 300 foot tall wooden spire was engulfed. You see it there leaning over and eventually collapsing. The wooden roof is also gone.

Inside the church, here's one of the first photos of the damage. You see where the roof has landed. Now look at the before and after, a place of prayer more than 800 years old attracting more than 13 million visitors a year now at least in big parts in ruins.

There is some good news. Officials say the facade and two bell towers were saved. Crowding gathering, some singing hymns as their beloved cathedral burned just a few days before Easter.

Others prayed on their knees standing vigil as fire crews battled the flames risking their lives.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in Paris for us tonight and he joins us now.

Nic, what's the status of the fire?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The fire, according to police, Anderson, is now under control. It is still burning. Firefighters are still pouring water on to it.

As you said, the structure has been saved and some news from the mayor of Paris as well. She says that some of the major art works there including the relics known as the Crown of Thorns and the Tunic of Louis have been safely removed and are safe. The extent of the damage, however, I think the firefighters can only be beginning to get their hands on that as they still work to put out the last of the flames.

We've seen this evening, in the last hour, people, presumably firefighters high up on the structure with flashlights looking around the roof there. But the roof itself, known as the forest, that has been entirely destroyed we understand.

COOPER: But the facade and the two towers, those are secure?

ROBERTSON: As we understand at the moment, this is what the French president has said. He's told this to the nation after coming here to look at the building himself. He said it will be paid for, the repair and rebuilding will be paid for. So, the indication tonight at this time is that those part of the structures are safe and secure.

However, again, I think we just have to caution ourselves here that the investigation into why the fire took place has not yet started. It's been initiated. It hasn't started.

And the firefighters are still only putting out the flames. So, it does seem early for a fire of such ferocity to know all the damage and the great extent of what may or may not have been done to all parts of the structure, Anderson.

COOPER: Have they said anything about how it may have started? I know you said the investigation hasn't even begun. I wonder if they've made any kind of preliminary statement.

ROBERTSON: The preliminary statement from the chief prosecutor indicates that this was not an intentionally set fire. It was not maliciously done. So, this was accidental is the starting point for the investigation.

What we understand at the moment is that the fire probably began high up in the building in the attic. Of course, we know there was restoration work going on at this time. We don't know if the two things are connected. Clearly, that's going to be a very big topic for the investigators to look at.

And if they're looking at an unintentionally started fire, then perhaps that gives us some clues towards potentially the restoration works or people involved therein that were the trigger here, Anderson.

COOPER: It is such a sad day. Nic Robertson, thank you very much.

As Nic mentioned, the cause of the fire not known, though officials have suggested it could be connected to the restoration work. What is known is Notre Dame is irreplaceable, with the grand history and extraordinary history, home to gothic architecture, irreplaceable arts, stained glass windows, religious relics.

[20:05:10] Joining me to talk about the firefight itself and the iconic history of the church is Michael Davis, the chair of architectural studies in Mount Holyoke College is Massachusetts; also Greg Favre, former fire commander of the St. Louis Fire Department; and Thomas Van Essen, former FDNY commissioner who served during and after the 9/11 attacks.

Commissioner Van Essen, what do you think when you saw this in terms of the pictures you saw, what did you make of the burn itself and the fight to stop it?

THOMAS VAN ESSEN, FORMER FDNY COMMISSIONER: Well, if you've been around a while, you immediately think it's a construction accident when you see the scaffolding. We've had so many of them here in the city that begun with welders, people working with any kind of a flame that starts something and they don't know it's burning. They leave, and it gets going. It gets some air and starts burning overnight.

COOPER: That's pretty common.

VAN ESSEN: That's pretty common. We don't know for sure.


VAN ESSEN: But you need an investigation. But I would bet that that's what's happening. If they were working in the eaves in the attic, then it makes even more sense what happened because that's a lead roof and when they're pouring the water on the outside, it's not penetrating. So, it started on the inside.

Only recently we put in St. Patrick's, we put in a dry system and a dry chemical system that prevents this type of thing.

COOPER: It's interesting. I have a house that has a lead roof and I thought that's a good thing. But it lasts a long time, but that's interesting that the water doesn't get in it when firefighters are trying to fight the fire.

VAN ESSEN: Right. So, it needs to be put out from underneath in the attic space or eave space, and it's an expensive system to put in. But it would have prevented this whole disaster.

COOPER: Michael, the aspects of the cathedrals architecture that made the fire difficult to fight -- we just talked about the lead roof -- are they also the same aspects that made it a triumph of engineering when it was first built?

MICHAEL DAVIS, CHAIR OF ARCHITECTURAL STUDIES, MOUNT HOLYOKE COLLEGE: Well, certainly. The cathedral when it was constructed was briefly the tallest structure in Western Europe. So, when the fire broke out was very high above ground. And I might add too that the structure of the roof was arguably the most original part of the building. It had survived pretty much intact from the middle ages until today and was a real monument and testament to the achievements of the craft of carpentry in the middle ages.

COOPER: Greg, these firefighters, I mean, they weren't only having a focus on getting the fire on the roof under control. But then you also have all these not only priceless artifacts inside and also artifacts of extraordinary religious significance. The Crown of Thorns that Jesus was believed to have worn, a piece of the original cross that Jesus was believed to have been crucified on. Those are incalculable, just in terms of religious significance incalculable.

GREGGORY FAVRE, FORMER ST. LOUIS FIRE COMMISSIONER: That's exactly right, Anderson. And as the commissioner can tell you, firefighters are generally very connected to the areas they serve. And no doubt the initial responding companies, the first two or three alarms to the cathedral not only understood the severity of the fire but also the significance of the building that it was in.

And for all of the reasons that have been pointed out, whether it's access or height or difficulty with the water supply, it was pretty evident early on in the initial 20 minutes that this was going to be a bad fire. They were behind the eight ball before they ever even pulled out of the fire house with this type of fire.

So, at some point, it becomes a command decision to decide what parts of the building you believe you still can save and what artifacts can you deploy teams in the area to get those out as safely and as you know, to maintain some of that historical significance from this building. I have to just mention, I find Paris firefighters to be incredibly well-trained just as urban firefighters to begin with. The fact that they were able to control the fire spread as much as they did and save a large portion of the building including the two bell towers, it's a tremendous effort.

I think any firefighter that you ask that does this for a living would tell you that this is a significant fire fighting event and those firefighters should be praised tremendously.

COOPER: Commissioner, do you agree with that?

VAN ESSEN: Yes, they're terrific. They're young. They're military in Paris.

COOPER: Really? They're part of the military.

VAN ESSEN: Yes, they're part of the military. And after they do their time in the military in the fire service, they go out to the fire departments around the rest of the France. So, you get a young aggressive group of people. You got to control them, and I would think it's a tough call for the chief -- the fire chief in charge because he had to decide, when is that roof going to collapse?

[20:10:06] COOPER: That's what I'm wondering. I mean, you don't want to send firefighters into the church itself if the roof is going to collapse.



VAN ESSEN: And if he knows like the chief mentioned, the locals know. They know it's a lead roof. They know it's very heavy.

So, you don't know how fast that's going to be compromised. You might just have to burn a small part of it to make the whole roof collapse. Maybe it doesn't burn through. That was burned so, so visually there was very little -- the last clip

you saw was very encouraging to me because there's not a lot of fire material on the floor of the cathedral. It must have burned so violently -- you know, it's mostly ashes down there. That's what makes me think they may be able to preserve -- not paintings --

COOPER: That's the picture you're talking about?


COOPER: That actually to you looks better than you thought?

VAN ESSEN: That's encouraging to me. It's not, you know, 30 feet of debris -- well, I don't want to compare anything to the Trade Center. It's not stuff that will be smoldering for, for days. It looks like they've got this fire out.

COOPER: It's interesting that you can look at that and to me it looks obviously terrible. But that's interesting from your --

VAN ESSEN: To me it makes me think that all the statues are going to be OK because we've done that at fires in New York City where the statues survive. They're marble. They're unbelievable. Paintings from the heat, I don't know.

COOPER: Commander, Commander Favre, do you agree that picture looks better to you than perhaps to a nonprofessional?

FAVRE: I saw it a few minutes prior to coming on set here and I was encouraged by the lack of smoke condition I saw at the floor level and as the chief mentioned, it looks like a good majority, 30, 40 feet is largely unobstructed by degree. A good cleaning company, especially something that is that historically significant is going to get in there and do a heck of a job.

I think it's also worth noting that one of the challenges of this fire is where things are going to fall. We're talking about really heavy timbers, we're talking about a large span of roof, we have the steeple that came down. You have to get close to the fire in order to get resources towards it.

As the commissioner mentioned, if I'm the chief of department for Paris, you have to decide where you're going to place your resources so they can still do good but don't have a steeple falling on top of 40 firefighters as they're trying to position apparatus. They did a tremendous job given the volume of fire, intensity of the fire, and the size of the structure itself. I'm tremendously impressed by their efforts.

COOPER: Michael, from an architectural standpoint, can you try to put into context the uniqueness of this building in terms of just human achievement for at the time that it was built?

DAVIS: Yes. I think it's a cathedral that uniquely reflects really the development and maturation of gothic architecture. You really, through the stones of its fabric, can follow the successive phases of gothic architecture from its 12th century beginnings, in which there was this desire to unite tremendous height and scale with really transcendental logic. This was the first building to fully utilize and exploit the potential of the flying buttress for a building this new kind of structure with paper thin walls and enormous windows filled with stained glass.

And so, it really tells a story of gothic architecture, the most ambitious structures of the age and of European culture at the time.

COOPER: It's fascinating. Michael Davis, I appreciate your expertise. Greg Favre as well, and, Chief Van Essen, thank you so much, really fascinating stuff. Really appreciate it.

We should also point out the Paris police just put out a statement saying the fire is now under control. Those are live pictures you're looking at.

Now, some insight on the sacred grounds of Notre Dame, the Catholic Cathedral where emperors came to be crowned, great leaders were laid to rest, but its hollowed history goes far deeper.

Joining me now is CNN Vatican correspondent Delia Gallagher, and Father James Martin, Jesuit priest and editor-at-large of "America Magazine".

Father Martin, how important a symbol is Notre Dame for Catholics and the Catholic church as a whole?

REV. JAMES MARTIN, S.J., EDITOR AT LARGE, AMERICA MAGAZINE: Well, it's really essential. I think outside of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, there's really no other place in Europe, maybe the world that so represents Catholicism.

COOPER: And, Delia, the Vatican, what have they had to say about this today?

[20:15:00] DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, as you can imagine, Pope Francis came out as quickly as possible with a statement expressing his closeness to French Catholics and to the French people, and also a word for firefighters and all of those who were helping in the situation.

The Vatican has been following it closely and they came out with that statement just earlier this evening.

COOPER: Father Martin, I mean, Notre Dame is obviously, it's one of the well-known structures in Europe, if not the world. It is also a cathedral but it's also just a church for everyday Parisians. I mean, there are regularly held masses there. It remains a very community- centric house of worship.

MARTIN: Right. It's the headquarters of the archbishop of Paris. As you say, there are masses celebrated there and baptism, and funerals and weddings. And so, it's a Paris church.

It's also the heart of Catholic France. France is often called the eldest daughter of the church. So, this is really the heart of that eldest daughter. So, as a symbol it works on many different levels which I think is one reason why you see the vast outpouring of the emotion not only in Paris but worldwide.

COOPER: Delia, Notre Dame, I mean, it's also got some of the most famous relics in Christian history, items brought out during holy week. Do you have a sense of what they are? Can you just explain a little bit of what they area? Because we don't know right now the status of artworks inside the building or relic.

GALLAGHER: We don't. But it's one of the things, Anderson, that I think makes this event so poignant because it's happening at the beginning of holy week, which is the holiest week for Christians around the world and it commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus which culminates on Sunday, on Easter Sunday.

Inside Notre Dame, you have what they claim to be the Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore for his crucifixion which is commemorated on Good Friday, and they have always had there a veneration on Friday of that Crown of Thorns, as one of the most important relics inside that church. We don't know the status of that.

And another one is the part of the cross, they say, of Jesus' cross. So, those are two very important symbols for Catholics and for Christians around the world. And they are celebrated precisely in this week, which makes this event obviously all the more touching for Catholics around the world.

COOPER: Well, father, it's also the -- I mean, just -- there's the building. There's the significance of the church. But there's also just the history of human beings expressing faith inside that hallowed structure, human beings which bring prayers and, you know, confessing and meeting and hearing scripture and, you know, talking to the deepest part of themselves and the deepest part of their faith and speaking that out. It's the history of everything that has happened inside that building.

MARTIN: That's very beautifully put. So, it's not simply the relics and whether or not they are historic or authentic. The faith of the people, however, is authentic. As you say, it's layers and layers and centuries and centuries of that.

I was talking to a Jesuit friend of mine who's living in France just a few minutes ago, and he said it's a unique place because of the historic, poetic, and religious and some secular parts of France come together in that one structure. Even on top of the faith people have expressed so beautifully, you know, you have it as a secular symbol of France. So, it's invested with meaning in so many peoples' hearts which is why I think you saw so many people outside praying and singing. Very moving today.

COOPER: And, Delia, I mean, I said this to somebody else today, but given what this building has survived historically, I mean, it survived the Germans occupying Paris. It survived the Nazis. It survived both World Wars. It survived the revolution. It played a role with Napoleon. It's extraordinary what has the people who have gone through those

doors who have knelt in the pews, in the aisles, you know, the events that have swirled around this building.

GALLAGHER: There's something in the nature of these buildings which does regenerate, which does rebuild. There's also this long term build if you want of these holy sites which have gone through centuries of devastation and yet have been rebuilt.

COOPER: Father Martin, Delia Gallagher, appreciate it. Thank you.

We'll have more on the Notre Dame tragedy next. We'll talk with world renowned author and French philosopher about the impact of today's horrible fire beyond the physical destruction.

And later, the Justice Department announcing a date for the redacted Mueller report to be given to the Congress and public. One of the political factions for its arrival, as you can imagine.


[20:24:11] COOPER: More on our breaking news now. The mayor of Paris is giving praise to the fire crews and first responders who saved the major art pieces from Notre Dame. This photo was posted on twitter a short time ago. The artifacts are the now in a safe place.

And again, the people of Paris and tourists are standing not far from the cathedral singing hymns. Take a look.


COOPER: Joining me tonight on the phone, renowned French author and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

Bernard, when you first saw the images of Notre Dame burning, what went through your mind?

BERNARD-HENRI LEVY, FRENCH AUTHOR/COMMENTATOR (via telephone): What went through my mind was that the heart of Paris was burning, that the soul of Paris was burning, and that for my Christian sisters and brothers, it is a tragedy.

[20:25:08] It is a sense of their life that is burning. But beyond that, it is for European civilization something like a real date, something happened there. I don't know why. I don't know how, but that has this feeling that something was happening very heavy in the country and west of the West.

COOPER: For those who in America and around the world who have not been there, who have not seen it for themselves, or who don't know the history, can you just talk about the significance of this cathedral for Paris, for France, and what the loss means?

LEVY: The loss in terms of architecture, in terms of beauty, the wooden roof of the cathedral was built between the 12th and 13th century. So, it's a big loss on this regard. But it's a big loss also because Notre Dame of Paris is really one of

the beating hearts of the French civilization. It is Mr. De Gaulle, (INAUDIBLE) the kings of France entered the heart of Paris. So many important celebrations were done there.

The biggest rendezvous of the French history went through cathedral Notre Dame in Paris. It's a holy place for Christianity but it is a holy place also in secular terms for the spirit of France.

COOPER: It's extraordinary to think that this is a cathedral that survived the Reformation, the French Revolution, two World Wars, you know, the city occupied by Germans. And now this has happened, the worse damage in 800 years.

LEVY: Exactly. Paris has survived so many killers who intended to destroy it. That was in the mind of so many barbarians in the recent, in the last centuries had the will to destroy this cathedral.

But they never could. Their arm was always at the last minute impeached if I dare say. And today this terrible accident made the job no more, the most radical of the revolutionary of the 1792 and '93 could achieve.

COOPER: Can it be rebuilt?

LEVY: Of course it will be rebuilt because at the time where we are speaking, the main back of the cathedral is apparently resisting and holding firm. It will be rebuilt.

But how can you rebuild eight centuries or nine centuries of history? How can you rebuild some elements of wood who have the age of half of Christianity? How can you rebuild the tears and the whispers and the memories of the whole country and of the whole civilization?

You can, of course, rebuild fake parts of it. But the original with its eternal youth and the real age will never be rebuilt.

COOPER: I'm happy to talk to you on this day. I'm sorry it's under these circumstances, but your words help. Thank you very much.

LEVY: Thank you, Anderson. Thank you.

COOPER: Well, coming up, breaking news on president Trump's personal finances. Deutsche Bank has received a subpoena from a House committee when we continue.


[20:33:12] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news tonight, a source tells CNN that Deutsche Bank has received a congressional subpoena for information about loans the bank gave to President Trump and the Trump Organization. This as the Justice Department says the redacted version of the 400-page Mueller report will be handed over to Congress and the public this Thursday.

White House officials are telling CNN's Pamela Brown that no matter what's actually in the report, they believe it won't change public opinion very much because the top line conclusions are already known.

Just before the broadcast, I spoke with California Democrat Eric Swalwell, member of both the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. He's also announced that he is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.


COOPER: Congressman Swalwell, is the White House's confidence justified here. Because, I mean, they've had three weeks to solidify a narrative around Mueller's conclusions whether it's accurate or not?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Good evening, Anderson. And first, let me just express my -- the grief that we have with the French. We grieve with them as they've lost such a historic cathedral. They're always been such a good partners to us in our times of lost and we're thinking of them.

But the White House as it relates to the Mueller report, Anderson, I think the fact that they are unwilling to just tell the attorney general to release everything shows a consciousness of guilt.

The President knows what he did, who his team worked with, and the efforts he took to obstruct. And I think that's why he is backing away from the earlier pledge to just have the full report released.

COOPER: The attorney general has stated that there will be as few redactions as is legally possible in order to ensure transparency. Do you expect we'll see anything less on Thursday? I mean, do you believe that?

SWALWELL: Well, what I can tell you, Anderson, is we will see the full report eventually, not as fast as we'd like. Most of us are pretty impatient because it was a long investigation. We paid a lot of money to see it.

[20:35:00] But the President is outnumbered now. We have the subpoena power and judicial precedent on our side. And so, you know, again, if the President is 100 percent exonerated, he should just order the full report.

And if we get anything less than the full report, we will seek to have it sent over to Congress. Of course, we should protect sources and methods ongoing investigations, but anything else should be seen.

COOPER: Do you believe Barr will release as much as he can legally?

SWALWELL: The attorney general seems to be, you know, doing the exact opposite of Jeff Sessions. He was conflicted and so he recused himself. I believe the attorney general is also conflicted because of his prior submissions to the Department of Justice about his views on the President and obstruction of justice.

And the way that Attorney General Barr is acting is embedded. He is parading the same lines that the President is as to the validity of the investigation, even suggesting that the Department of Justice or the intelligence community was spying on the Trump administration. So, I'm very little faith in Attorney General Barr at this point.

COOPER: A lawyer who's dealt with Mueller's team told Axios that their guess is that it's going to looks more like obstruction to the casual eye that it might actually be to a legal eye or legally speaking. Do you believe that might be the case?

SWALWELL: Well, we've seen obstruction already in plain sight and now I think we'll just read the legal justification for why it meets that standard. But again, you don't have to, you know, have access that Mueller has to see that the way that the President has obstructed.

He fired the person investigating him and then bragged about it to Lester Holt during an interview and also bragged about it to the Russians when he invited them the next day after firing Comey to the White House.

But I also believe that although we all accept that Mueller did not find evidence of collusion that goes beyond a reasonable doubt, I believe that you're going to see evidence in this report that the President and his team and his family and his businesses did receive offers from the Russians, did invite them as the President did at a press conference, and did not tell anyone in law enforcement. And that is not the standard we want for conduct from the President of United States.

COOPER: Just lastly, your committee and the Financial Services Committee issued a subpoena to Deutsche Bank this afternoon seeking information about loans they gave to President Trump and the Trump Organization. We've been covering the Deutsche Bank side of this for a while now. What exactly are you hoping to collect from them?

SWALWELL: Anderson, we want to know if the President or anyone in his family is financially compromised not just to the Russians because we shouldn't assume he's faithful to them. He has worked, you know, with the Saudis, with other countries in ways that are certainly, I think, below the standard of conduct that we would accept.

But also, the President could clear all this up. You know, here we are on tax day and the President promise as a candidate that he would release his taxes. We know almost zero about his finances.

And so to make sure our national security is not compromised, we're going to have to see all of his finances as it relates to Deutsche Bank who has been fined by the way in the past for laundering Russian money just recently.

COOPER: Congressman Swalwell, appreciate your time. Thank you.

SWALWELL: Thank you. My pleasure, Anderson.


COOPER: Well, coming up, a presidential tweet about 9/11 and Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. "Keeping them Honest" on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:41:57] COOPER: In a presidency littered with shattered norms, there is now one more. A member of Congress says President Trump has put her life at risk, not her political life or her electoral fortune, but her actual physical safety. The congresswoman is Ilhan Omar, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota and one of the first two Muslim women in congressional history.

On Friday, the President tweeted an incendiary video that included a snipped of something Congresswoman Omar recently said about September 11th mixed with horrific images from that day. In all caps, the President wrote, "We will never forget."

Now, the President says the congresswoman was dismissive of the attacks. She says he's taking her words out of context and at recent day she's seen an increased in threats, some directly referencing the President's tweet.

Now, the capitol police and how sergeant at arms are assessing whether the congresswoman needs enhance security. The White House says the President was not trying to insight violence, but otherwise stands by the tweet.

Now, "Keeping them Honest," it's not the first time the President has sought to use Islam as a way of inflaming tensions and scoring political points, not talking about radical Islam or Islamist, but Islam the religion itself.


COOPER: Do you think Islam is at war with the west?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Islam hates us. There's something there that -- there's a tremendous hatred there. There's a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There is an unbelievable hatred of us.

COOPER: In Islam itself?

TRUMP: You're going to have to figure that out.


COOPER: Well, candidate Trump also called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States, again, not dangerous fanatics, not people with known links to terrorist groups, just Muslims. He falsely claimed to have seen thousands of Muslims on rooftops in New Jersey celebrating the September 11th attacks.

New reporting from CNN Political Analyst and "New York Times" White House Correspondent Maggie Haberman in the case President Trump is intentionally trying to make Congresswoman Omar a household name, an enemy among enemies as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up.

It's a cynical way to identify all Democrats with her arguably poor choice of words. The irony, of course, is that this is a President who has used a poor choice of words nearly every day of his presidency.

But being a hypocrite is clearly not something this President has any fear of or sense of shame about. It's also hard to argue that it's an accident of this President yet again focusing his ire and his attention on a person of color in a Muslim as well.

How many times have we seen this before? An American judge of Mexican descent being labeled by -- being labeled as a Mexican by the President and unable to be impartial, African-American football players choosing to take a knee or called sons of bitches and railed against in a rally in Alabama.

The President called countries like Haiti s-holes and reportedly implied that Nigerians live in huts. All presidents have the power which known as the bully pulpit to focus the country on things they believe are important. This President doesn't seem to understand the meaning of that phrase, the bully pulpit. He just seems to like the power of bully.

Joining us now is Khizr Khan, a Muslim-American, Gold Star father who unfortunately his experienced being on the receiving end of the President's insults. Mr. Khan, thanks for being with us.

[20:45:05] I don't think anyone would argue that Congresswoman Omar used perhaps the best words to talk about the deaths of 3,000 people, Americans, and people from any other countries, Muslims included, who were murdered on 9/11 by Islamist terrorist.

But, do you believe the President cares that he may have put someone else, a member of Congress's life in danger by tweeting out such an incendiary video, I mean, using some of the most sacred really images of that devastating day for political reasons?

KHIZR KHAN, GOLD STAR FATHER: Anderson, I'll take only one second. I was so saddened to see the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, especially this week, especially this week of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And this humble Muslim enlights all of them to come to my humble home and please worship and celebrate Easter at our home. So, that invitation is sincerely extended.

Now to answer your question, your comment, this President has a habit of inciting division and hatred. That is his modus operandi. He feels powerful when he bullies others. And especially nowadays, he is a bully who is afraid, who is afraid about this Mueller's report that is about to be released.

All of his misdeeds are listed. Regardless of how much his attorney general tries to hide, tries to whitewash it, it will be released and the nation would come to know. I know most of America is decent, compassionate.

He has used not only Muslims, but he has used immigrants. He had used asylum seekers. He has used families. He has used small children put in the cages just to make a point so that he can maintain his base.

His base is also realizing that they have been utilized, they have been exploited, and they have been used. And they're realizing that he insights division and insights hate. And they are not had going to continue to lock arms around him.

And it is sad that a President attacks a sitting member of the Congress and to those who are incited, those who issue threats to honorable Congresswoman Ilhan Omar do not realize it's a federal felony to threaten a Congress person. And it has several year of imprisonment attached to this crime.

They should refrain from following his incitement. They should know by now the result of following him. Look what happened to his attorney for so many years who so loyally followed him. Look what happened to him in prison.

COOPER: Do you have any doubt --

KHAN: And same thing to his manager and his other associates that are willing to be prosecuted and put in jail.

COOPER: I mean, do you have any doubt that the President sees this -- I don't know if I would call it a battle with this congresswoman, but sees focusing on this freshman congresswoman who is Muslim, who is a person of color, sees it as an easy political victory?

I mean, as a way to saw division, as a way to essentially, you know, by juxtaposing her images with the most, you know, horrific images from 9/11, it certainly can easily be interpreted as linking the two.

KHAN: That is so true. First, I condemn in the strongest words the terrorist attack on September 11 on United States on us. We condemn those terrorists. Never again we will let something like that ever happen. Second, he is now using that unfortunate moment in our history, that terrorist attack, to -- for political experience purpose. He is sighting it -- he is unjustifiably blaming it on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to make political hay out of it for his re- election.

[20:50:04] And that's a shameful act on behalf of a person. That sits in the White House aided by our enemies, by our adversaries. He was aided, and his election was aided by Russia.

And that report is about to come out and he's terrified within himself and that is why he's going every which way. And I'm concerned to what extent he will further go to hide that report. But it shall not be hidden anymore.

COOPER: Yes. Well, we shall see. Khizr Khan, appreciate you being on. Thank you very much.

I want to check on Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm going to just go through what was lost today and what remains. I've been watching you're show, looked at the rundown before you're doing a brilliant job of covering everything that matters. I'm going to focus my hour just on this. We all know what we're waiting for later in the week. We know the battles that are to come. This is huge today not just for me as a Christian or as a flawed Catholic, not just this week. But there's a shortage of beautiful things that give us, you know, a respite from reality these days, and this was a big one. And she is still standing but she will never be what she was.


CUOMO: And I think it's important for people to know what was lost and the challenge of what to do now that goes from the Vatican all over the world. So we'll spend an hour on this.

COOPER: Great. Chris, I look forward to that. Thank you very much. See you just about eight minutes from now.

Still ahead, first he claimed he was under audit. Now, the White House has a new reason for the President not to release his taxes. We'll tell you what that is and hear from a congressman who knows a thing or two about taxes. We'll talk ahead.


[20:55:58] COOPER: It is April 15th, the deadline for filing your taxes. When it comes to President Trump's income tax returns, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has weighed in defending his decision not to release them even in the face for request from the chairman of House Ways and Means Committee. Listen.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think Congress, particularly not this group of congressman and women are smart enough to look through the thousands of pages that I would assume that President Trump's taxes will be.


COOPER: Sarah Sanders talking about how dumb people are. Just before airtime, I talked to a Democratic member of the committee, Congressman Tom Suozzi.


COOPER: Congressman Suozzi, I mean, you're not only a trained CPA, you're also an attorney. So when Sarah Sanders says you and your colleagues aren't smart enough to review the President's taxes, I'm wondering what you thought of that.

REP. THOMAS SUOZZI (D-NY): Well, first of all, I'm a former CPA and a former attorney because I do think continuing education requirements anymore. And I don't know if I'm smart enough, but I was trained in these areas.

COOPER: I would think, yes. I would think if anybody could take a look at these and have at least some idea of what was going on, it would be you and others. How much do you think can actually be learned from the President's tax returns? Because there are people who say, "Well, look, people put their best foot forward, you know, what's in the returns is what they want the IRS to know about them."

SUOZZI: Well, first, I want to try and make a very big point. The very big point is that the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is utilizing this very unique power that he has, because very few people to realize that every president and every vice president is supposed to be audited by the IRS. It's in the IRS manual that every president and every vice president for the past 40 years is supposed to be audited by the IRS.

COOPER: I didn't know that.

SUOZZI: And that was done to take away the discretion for the -- yes, nobody -- nobody is talking about it. That's why he is doing this. He's requesting these tax returns in the first place, because this policy has been in place to take away the discretion of the employees, so the employees aren't under pressure that they have to decide whether or not to audit the president.

Every president, every vice president is supposed to be audited by the IRS and the request of the Chairman Neal is making is to find that in a very narrow and targeted way, is the IRS doing what it says in the IRS manual to actually audit the president?

COOPER: So when the President says that he always gets audited, that he -- as a citizen he's always audited. For a while he said he's audited every year, and then he said he's been audited for two or three years in a row, so a little contradiction there. The idea that you cannot release your returns or nobody would advise anybody to release their returns while they're being audited, what do you make of that argument?

SUOZZI: That's complete fantasy. That's not accurate, whatsoever. This is -- the chairman specifically has this power to request anyone's tax returns whether they're being audited or not. The IRS has made it clear that there's no prohibition based upon someone being audited.

But, again, the chairman has been very deliberate, very judicious in this process. He's not, you know, talking about impeachment. He's not talking about collusion. He's not talking about this and that and the other thing.

He's trying to find out, is the IRS doing its job that it says specifically in its manual that it's supposed to do and doing the audit that they're required to do or someone putting pressure on them and saying, "Oh, we're not going to look at these tax returns."

Are they going -- you know, there's a whole big process. You're supposed to take the president and the vice president's files and put them in orange folders, and keep them in a special safe, and only certain people are allowed to look at them.

But, you know, because of all the frenzy that's been going on, on this topic, partisan on both sides, people are not looking at the narrow focus the chairman is taking here to look at this one question.

COOPER: If it is just to see if the President is being audited per regulations which every president you're saying is supposed to be, couldn't he just ask the IRS that and have the IRS, you know, a representative from the IRS under oath say, "Yes, in fact, the President is being audited?"

SUOZZI: Well, we have to see what the extent of the procedure they are following is. You know, a one page -- a one sentence explanation is not sufficient. He wants to see -- you know, of course, he's a very complicated matter here with the President having over 500 different entities that are all flowing up through these holding corporations and he wants to see the extent to which they're conducting this examination or if they're conducting this examination of the President's returns.

COOPER: Congressman, appreciate your time. We'll continue to watch this. Thank you.

SUOZZI: Anderson, thank you very much.


COOPER: All right, the news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?