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President Trump Talks to Putin For More Than An Hour, Doesn't Bring Up Cyberattack on 2016 Election; Is a Strong Economy an Uphill Battle for Dems in 2020?; Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) is Interviewed About House Judiciary Chairman Threatening Attorney General With Contempt in New Effort to See Full Mueller Report; Pres. Trump: Decision On McGahn Testimony Will Be Made "Over The Next Week Or So"; A.G. Barr's Senate Testimony Accelerates Left, Right Polarization Of Mueller Report; No White House Press Briefing For Weeks; Few Signs It Will Be Restored. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 3, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:l6] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening and take a look.

It is a tweet from President Trump this morning: Jobs, jobs, jobs. And today's new employment numbers certainly justify the all caps treatment. Falling unemployment, a 50-year low, strong job creation, very impressive results and almost across the board. Strong enough for the president to stay on message about it for a good four hours or so which gets us to our big story tonight.

Not for what it says about the message discipline what it says about more substantive matters because today, the president of the United States had the opportunity to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over his interference in the 2016 presidential election and warn him not to do it again. Armed with the findings in the Robert Mueller's report and free from any immediate criminal liability for his own actions during the campaign, or investigation, he might have finally been free to signal to his Russian counterpart that the question of foreign attacks on American democracy is not personal and not partisan. Perhaps he could tell him that any future or current attacks will not be tolerated ever.

He had the chance to do that today when the two leaders spoke by phone but apparently he didn't. And keeping them honest, he was asked about it this afternoon.


REPORTER: Did you address the election meddling issues that came up in the Mueller report with Mr. Putin today?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We discussed that he sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse. But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever. So pretty much that is what it was.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: It almost sounds like President Trump is still more concerned about denying his own culpability than addressing Vladimir Putin's. Anyway, it is good he got a second chance to answer the question.


REPORTER: Did you tell him not to meddle, Mr. President? Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP: Excuse me. I'm talking. I'm answering this question. You are very rude.

So we had a good conversation about many different things. OK?

REPORTER: Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP: We didn't discuss that. Really we didn't discuss it.


COOPER: So no talk from the commander-in-chief on today's call, warning the leader of our main nuclear adversary not to do it again, plenty of talk about how unfair this all is to him.


TRUMP: I was totally transparent because I knew I did nothing wrong. It turned out I did nothing wrong. No collusion with Russia, think of it, $35 million they spent, they wasted over a period of two years, no collusion, no obstruction. Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.


COOPER: They actually clawed back tens of million dollars from Paul Manafort.

His final words on the subject today, by contrast, here are some Robert Mueller's first words on it, quoting now from introduction of volume one of his report: The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. Also, the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.

Now despite that, the report goes on to say and I'm quoting again, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

However, it did detail numerous efforts by the Russians to interfere in the elections, some with Republican encouragement of the campaign, or with President Trump himself. And, of course, in volume two, the Mueller team lays out a laundry list of potential obstruction of justice without indicting or exonerating the president, so as to the president's own behavior, the report is at the very least unflattering, some respects inconclusive. As to Russia's actions, though, it could not be clear, Russia hit this country with a sweeping and systematic, targeted disinformation and deception campaign, and that's the bottom line and it hasn't stopped.


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Despite public statements by the Kremlin to the contrary, we continue to see individuals affiliated with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency creating new social media accounts, masquerading as Americans and then using these accounts to draw attention to divisive issues.


COOPER: Well, that's Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last July, the same day, July 13th, that special counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 officers of Russian military agency, the GRU, with committing, quote, large scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

So, just three days after that, the president met with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki armed with his DNI's assessment, the Mueller indictments and far more, if he wanted to use it. I think you know the answer. He did not.

Instead, with the perpetrator standing by his side, he sided with the perpetrator.


TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it is not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.

I have great confidence in my intelligence people.

[20:05:03] But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.


COOPER: Well, fast forward to today and it is impossible to gauge the strength of Vladimir Putin's denial because this time none was needed. You only need a denial when the other guy makes an accusation and clearly the president offered none. So, yet again, as it was during the campaign, as it was in Helsinki, as it's been all along, President Trump simply could not bring himself to confront Vladimir Putin about this.

Perspective now from someone who's watched this all play out as it happened from the inside, CNN national security analyst James Clapper, was director of national intelligence at the time and served presidents in both parties for decades and is an author of "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence." Director Clapper, the president says that he and Vladimir Putin did

not talk about this sweeping Russian cyberattack in the 2016 election that Mueller detailed. I mean, the president is correct when he said Mueller is correct when there was no conspiracy with the Trump campaign, but it doesn't make what the Russians did any less real. Are you surprised it doesn't come up between these two?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALSYT: No, I'm not, Anderson, unfortunately, because when you think about it, both of them are in a state of denial about the Russian meddling. Obviously, Putin will continue to deny that there was any Russian meddling. So, he's in his reality world. And, of course, President Trump does not want to acknowledge it because when he does in his mind, I think, it casts doubt on the legitimacy of his election. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that they're just not going to bring it up.

COOPER: I mean, even if the president doesn't want to talk about the 2016 interference because he thinks it is somehow a threat to his -- to the validity of his actual election, the whole idea of what's going to happen in the next election and frankly every election after that, I mean, the president's own intelligence community said this is an ongoing threat to American democracy.

CLAPPER: Yes, and, you know, I find it somewhat ironic that people in the Trump administration criticize the Obama administration for not doing anything. Yet here as we're approaching 2020 and there is an ideal opportunity for the -- for President Trump to make clear once again that -- don't meddle in our political processes.

And you're right, if we don't do that, then, of course, this just in the Russian's mind gives them license to push the envelope and to interfere in 2020.

COOPER: To that point about the Obama administration, Sarah Sanders said this administration unlike the previous one takes election meddling seriously and we're going to do everything that we can to prevent it from happening. A. What do you make of their characterization of the Obama administration's reaction? And also, the president doesn't seem to be holding high-level meetings or cabinet level discussions on a routine basis or if at all about Russian meddling.

CLAPPER: Well, for point one is the Obama -- just for the record, the Obama administration did take Russian meddling very seriously, and did things about it. For one, President Obama did directly confront Putin about it and didn't ask him, hey, are you interfering in our election?

And there is -- there is an element missing here in my view. It is the void of -- that could only be filled by the unique bully pulpit that only the president occupies to galvanize the country, the voters, about what the Russians are up to and what they might do. And I would just hope that we pay more attention to volume one of the Mueller report, which documented an exhaustive detail something that, looking back, we kind of scratch the surface of in January '17 about the Russian meddling.

That's the big deal here. And who is the winner in all of this? Vladimir Putin.

COOPER: It is sort of interesting when you look back over the last two years of the Trump administration, the president has never really made a speech to the American public about what happened and about how they're going to prevent it from ever happening again. You would think that is the kind of thing that would at least be one speech to the nation about as opposed to every public comment he's made is essentially undercutting the idea that it might even be Russia.

CLAPPER: Well, exactly. And, of course, taken -- taking Putin's phony assurance that there was no meddling over that -- the word of his own intelligence community and I say his own intelligence community, and not the prior one, and that leaves doubt, I think, in the minds of many Americans and it encourages the Russians to do more.

COOPER: No surprise the president seized upon this "New York Times" reporting discussed last night. I'm curios of your take. "The Times" detailing how the FBI sent what they call an investigator, an undercover investigator to meet with George Papadopoulos in London as part of the counterintelligence inquiry into Trump campaign and Russia.

[20:10:10] The president suggesting that it was inappropriate or nefarious.

How do you see it?

CLAPPER: Well, this is a standard investigatory technique that the FBI uses. They use it in counterterrorism investigations. And it is been under -- the use of undercover officers, undercover agents that has led to the rolling up of -- and thwarting of terrorist plots in this country. And it is a legitimate technique.

The narrative obviously is spying on the campaign. No, it was trying to understand what the Russians were doing. And the FBI has very -- you know, very strict protocol for the use of undercover agents and I -- I'm sure that was the case here.

COOPER: Director Clapper, appreciate your time. Thank you.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Much more ahead, including how today's economic news plays into next year's presidential election, whether more days like today could usher in a second term for President Trump.

Joining us, two Democratic strategists Jim Messina and James Carville, the one who phrased, it's the economy, stupid.

Later, a member of the House Judiciary Committee on Attorney General Barr's decision not to answer questions yesterday. His chairman's next move to force Barr to show up as well as the controversy this congressman sparked with a bucket of fried chicken.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:15:33] COOPER: Well, call it the Mueller report versus the jobs report. And as we said at the top, it was strong. The lowest jobless rate since 1969. The Mueller report can drag on the chances for re- election or even drag him down. The jobs report and more like it could boost him to a second term.

Joining us is Democratic strategist James Carville who helped elect Bill Clinton on the issue of the economy, and Jim Messina, who did the same for Barack Obama, the recent co-author of an op-ed on this project.

James, it's great to have you on the program. You coined the phrase, it's the economy, stupid, and your op-ed with Jim in the "Wall Street Journal", you write: There is a great saying, when your opponent is drowning, throw him an anvil. Mr. Trump is already underwater.

Where is the anvil in this economy because there was strong job numbers announced just today and unemployment obviously at the lowest level?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, the Clinton economy was much stronger and Al Gore was able to win by a half a million votes. Secondly, if you look at economy growth, somewhere between two-thirds and three quarters of it is counties that Hillary Clinton carried. I mean, this is urban economy that's really on fire.

And, you know, if this continues, I obviously hope it does, get more people be employed, it could help him. But thus far that hasn't helped him at all.

COOPER: Jim, what do you do about swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania? Democrats need to win them back in 2020, but if the economy under President Trump is doing well, why would voters even if it's urban areas, why would voters want to change course?



COOPER: Sorry, this is for Jim.


They look at this and say is health care good? You know, President Trump striped health care from a bunch of Americans, said he would replace Obamacare and didn't do anything. They look at their future and say is he investing in education? They're going to ask one very simple question, Anderson, who is on my side?

And I think when there is a clear choice between our economic agenda and theirs, we'll win that choice.

COOPER: James, Vice President Biden at this stage at least in the race, as his entry into the race, seems to be looking at it through a lens less of economics and more of a moral lens. He says that is the real vulnerability for Trump and he's not fit for office and is doing morally bad things to America. How hard is it to get people to overlook what may be good financial news for them and focus on an issue like that, a moral issue?

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, first of all, like 40 percent of people in the United States don't have $400 in the bank. And while the economy is booming and it is particularly booming in urban areas and I think Los Angeles County is growing faster than most anywhere else in the country, a lot of people don't feel it and a lot of people feel like that the distribution in this economy is nowhere near what it should be and that so many of the gains are going to the few and the rest are left behind. And I still think that's a winning message to Democrats.

And as Jim Messina pointed out, the whole health care thing has people really concerned. I mean, you could tell me this economy anybody could afford prescription drugs. Go tell people that. I don't think that they can.

And like we say, he took a already good economy to a trillion dollars worth of stimulus, a trillion dollars deficit in a good economy and if you remember in the '90s under President Clinton, we were running surpluses and by the time President Obama left office the debt was going down as percentage of GDP faster than any time than World War II, and I think both of these gentlemen had a really good record they could look back on and did it in a fiscally responsible way.

COOPER: Jim, I wonder what you make of Biden's kind of looking past the tabletop issues in his announcement and focusing on President Trump?

MESSINA: Well, look, he's --


COOPER: Well, sorry, this one is for Jim. Sorry, James. It's confusing.

We should have -- anyway, Jim, go ahead.

MESSINA: Well, look, he's in a Democratic primary and the single unifying force in the Democratic primary is our hatred of Donald Trump. And so, he's smartly saying I'm not going to pull myself down and start talking about my 25 opponents, and instead going right at Donald Trump, which I think is what he's got to do and he's got to contrast himself with Donald Trump as James was just talking about and lay out a vision for where he wants to take this country. And I think he'll be stronger if he does that.

COOPER: James, you hear a lot of Democrats discussing, well do you reach for new voters who have been underrepresented and who haven't been touched by the Democratic Party or motivated to come out to vote, do you stick with trying to mobilize your base, or is it not a binary choice?

[20:20:08] CARVILLE: It is not really a binary choice. Parties want to expand. Look, we're not running a fraternity or sorority here where we want just people, you know, the urban and diverse, the cool and hip. We want everybody.

And Jim and I understand profoundly -- and you talk about West Virginia or Michigan or Wisconsin, if we don't do better in the rural parts of those states, we might suffer the same fate we suffered in 2016. Plus, I hate to tell people, but 50 percent of the Senate is elected by 18 percent of the United States. Well, we're not going to do that searching around to get core urban voters at a part of our coalition. We have to expand our coalition.

I'm proud of what the Democratic candidates stand for and let's go and tell people in northern Wisconsin or Michigan or northern Florida what we're doing. I'm all for that. I think it is really dumb to want to run an exclusionary party that just focuses on people like yourself.

COOPER: Jim Messina, how much do Democrats need to avoid getting sucked into the day-to-day drama of the White House or the latest tweet or in Congress, or even at the Justice Department and concentrate on tabletop issues like health care and taxes?

MESSINA: Yes, this is something I'm worried about, right? President Trump is like free beer. He said something crazy every day and you could have a lot of fun with it and you go online and raise a bunch of money and get Democrats excited.

But voters care about these tabletop issues you just asked me about and we've got to stay focused on these economic bread and butter issues that win presidential elections. And that is why James and I wrote this op-ed. We're going around the country trying to meet with as many campaigns as we can and just say the same thing, which is if you look at Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, we won elections and we focused on exciting our base and talking to swing voters who are going to decide this election and we can and should do both things.

COOPER: Jim Messina, James Carville, appreciate you being on. Thanks very much.

CARVILLE: Thank you very much. You bet.

COOPER: The op-ed is in the "Wall Street Journal." Check it out.

Still ahead, was it finger-licking good politics or a bad way to play chicken with the attorney general of the United States? There were some serious issues. I'll talk to a member of the House Judiciary Committee who, well, was eating chicken at the hearing, next.


[20:25:39] COOPER: House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler is giving Attorney General Barr until Monday to respond to a letter demanding Justice Department hand over the unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence to Congress. Nadler set a deadline of 9:00 a.m. for Barr to respond. He said he would move to contempt proceedings if the attorney general doesn't comply. Nadler's letter comes one day after Barr skipped a House Judiciary

Committee hearing after the committee voted to allow staff attorneys to question him. One Democrat on the committee, Congressman Steve Cohen, called the attorney general chicken Barr for not showing up and to illustrate his point, he chowed down some KFC.

Congressman Cohen joins us now.

Congressman, thanks for being with us.

So, the new Monday deadline for Nadler, how do you think the Justice Department and Attorney General Barr will respond? Is there any reason to believe they'll turn over documents your committee wants?

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): I have no reason to believe they'll do anything that is in keeping with the traditions of the relationship between the executive and the judicial as equal branches of government. I think they will stonewall at all costs because they -- they know that they can't give up information and data, or the president will be exposed for the type of person and the actions he's undertaken.

COOPER: So, Chairman Nadler talked about moving to contempt proceedings if the attorney general doesn't comply. What does that -- what would that actually look like?

COHEN: Well, I hope it would be inherent contempt because we go out and take him and bring him in and have him personally brought to the House. If it is a --


COOPER: You want to send out --

COHEN: -- a contempt.

COOPER: You want to send out a sergeant-at-arms and require the attorney general to come.

COHEN: Yes. Otherwise, it is up to the Justice Department. The Justice Department is not going to do anything to take a contempt citation from us and enforce it against their boss. So, you know, you've got an impossible situation there, and it leaves us no alternative except to use the sergeant-at-arms and to bring him in.

He's being utterly contemptuous to Congress. He has lied to the Congress. Charlie Crist asked him about the attitudes or the feelings of Mueller people, and Mueller, and he claimed he had no idea. He lied. Speaker Pelosi said that yesterday. She's correct.

COOPER: So, when you say bring him in, are you -- do you actually -- actually support the idea of putting him in -- are you talking about just having him sit for a hearing or locking him up somehow?

COHEN: You have to have him sit for a hearing and I think you have to have him locked up unless he agrees to participate and come to the hearing. Either that or have him be in a room with somebody like Mike -- what is his name, Gates (ph), just the two of them, that might be more difficult punishment.

COOPER: But do you believe that you're going to -- that your committee is going to order the attorney general of the United States to be arrested by the sergeant of arms and put in jail?

COHEN: I don't know what we'll do. But we can't just go to the Justice Department. It is meaningless. It shows we want to hold him in contempt but he won't be held in contempt because the Justice Department is not going to enforce a contempt citation against their boss. This is not going to happen. Trump and Barr would fire whoever tried to do it.

COOPER: Do you -- have you talked about this with everybody on the committee or do your colleagues support this --

COHEN: No, it is strictly up to Chairman Nadler. But I think this is the most contemptuous conduct towards Congress we've ever had. He's lied to Congress, he's refused to attend, he's tried to dictate the terms of oversight and that's never happened before.

We have lots of precedent for counsel questioning, people in hearings, not just impeachment hearings but hearings of all kind. We had it in Whitewater, we've had at many times of hearings. We have it back in the McCarthy era when Bobby Kennedy questions people and Whitewater, Richard Ben-Veniste and Michael Chertoff questioned people. It's a much more adept way to question somebody when you can follow up on your questions and not be cut off and not be filibustered and he's afraid of it and that is why he didn't come in.

COOPER: I mean, if -- if it came to you sending the sergeant of arms or committee sending the sergeant of arms to apprehend and arrest the attorney general, isn't that handing Republicans an incredible thing to -- you know, to point to as Democratic overreach? They went after you for the chicken stunt yesterday and gave them talking points that you weren't taking this whole thing seriously.

COHEN: I don't think anybody was averse to what I did with the chicken. Anybody who had a modicum of a sense of a humor or a modicum of intelligence or understanding liked it, those that failed in the two criteria didn't, and for those people, get a life.

COOPER: Congressman Cohen, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

COHEN: You're welcome.

COOPER: For more on the subpoena fight, we're joined by CNN Legal Analyst Preet Bharara. Preet is a former U.S. attorney and author of "Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law." Is that a world that we exist and that the sergeant of arms should actually go and arrest the attorney general of the United States?

PREET BHARARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't expect that to happen. I suppose that's a possibility. We haven't seen that in at least my memory. Look, congressional investigations and congressional back and forth with the executive branch, you know, relies on both the law, what the constitution says, but also public opinion, and also on momentum for their investigations.

And I think, you know, it's frustrating when we have these conversations about how the impasse is going to be resolved, what happens when the subpoena is ignored and ordinary criminal cases like the kind that I used to oversee, you have a strong-minded judge who resolves the issue fairly quickly.

When you have these kinds of disputes not between an ordinary garden variety prosecutor and ordinary garden variety defendant and instead had it between two coequal branches of government with, you know, third branch of government, the judiciary trying to mediate it, it doesn't always end so easily. You can get an impasse fairly quickly.

The congressman is right with respect to the issue of criminal contempt if there is referral to the Justice Department that is almost never been followed up on by the Justice Department's own people who could decide to or not, you know, bring a criminal contempt case against the person who is held in contempt, in this case the attorney general. That happened once in the last administration with respect to Eric Holder and nothing ever happened.

COOPER: So it would just die essentially with that request in the Justice Department?

BHARARA: That's what I would expect, yes. And, look -- and by the way, even if it's brought, my understanding is it is just a misdemeanor. So, you know, it doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot in that case either.

What I think matters in these instances and why in most cases people talk about and history books are written about are cases in which there is public pressure to provide information to reach an accommodation and there's a negotiated end to what happens and what is provided.

For example, in the Bill Clinton case where a subpoena was issued for his testimony, it ended up being withdrawn and then Bill Clinton very famously testified voluntarily with certain parameters around it. That's usually how these things get revolved.

COOPER: The President said he'll decide over the next week or so if he'll invoke executive privilege to stop Don McGahn from appearing. I still don't quite understand -- I mean, I know anybody -- I mean, he has the power to just try to invoke executive privilege, but if there is not a legal -- a strong legal case for it, how long would it take moving through various courts?

BHARARA: It may can take a long time. Look, you know, lots of what you're finding in the struggle between the Congress and the executive branch and earlier between Bob Mueller and the executive branch, although he's part of the executive branch, is this issue of time. You know, one of the things that Bob Mueller have been criticized for is not pursuing the subpoena and compelling the President to come testify before the special counsel's office and he gives a reason in the report. He said it might take a very, very, very long time. So, you know, it's not very satisfying to people who like to have quick judicial resolutions of things, but things take a very long time.

COOPER: Yes. Preet Bharara, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

BHARARA: Thanks.

COOPER: So, is William Barr a legal know it all and an expert at disassembling or a dedicated institutionalist who displayed extraordinary patience during this week's Senate hearing? Coming up, the ever increasing polarization surrounding the attorney general.


[20:37:34] COOPER: If nothing else, as the weekends, Attorney General Barr certainly cemented himself as one of the most polarizing figures in the country. Look at the diversion headlines after his testimony on Wednesday.

"The Wall Street Journal" under the headline, "A Real Attorney General," editorialized that "Democrats and the media are turning the attorney general into a villain for doing his duty and making the hard decisions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller abdicated."

An opinion column in "The Washington Post" under the headline, "Barr's testimony was a low point in Justice Department history," "The consensus view outside Trumpland was that Attorney General William P. Barr came across at the Senate Judiciary Committee as a political hack."

And in "The New York Times" op-ed, former FBI Director James Comey said about Barr during the hearing, "Proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that's at least part of what we've seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can't resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump." So that's just a sample.

Joining me now, CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero and David Rivkin, an attorney whose known worked for Bill Barr for years, and "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers.

Kirsten, clearly Attorney General Barr has become this lightning rod. The speaker of the House has accused him of the crime of lying to Congress. Congressional Democrats are just days away from potentially holding him in contempt. This is not exactly normal.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. And I have to say, you know, this talking point that you just cited from "The Wall Street Journal" that Mueller had abdicated his responsibility and so Barr has stepped in to do what he needed to do, Mueller didn't abdicate his responsibility. That is just a Republican talking point. What he did was he clearly stated in the report that because of existing DOJ guidelines about not indicting a sitting president, he didn't draw a conclusion. He left that clearly to Congress. It's obvious. It's clearly stated there that he cannot -- he does not feel that he can bring charges against the president.

So, it now goes to Congress and so you have Democrats saying that they want to see the underlying evidence because this is -- the judgment has been basically sent over to them to make, which is a completely reasonable request to make.

COOPER: David, is that a reasonable request for make -- request to make?

DAVID RIVKIN JR., CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER: No, it's not. Let me say a couple of things. Kristen was right, the Mueller report would not have made any finding about the collusion on the same basis that you cannot indict a sitting president. Now, he clearly reached a prosecutorial judgment on collusion. He did not reach a prosecutorial judgment on obstruction.

[20:40:01] Let's be clear, he's an interior officer in the Department of Justice. He is not an independent counsel. If you look at DOJ regulations and the constitutional realities that underlie them, he provided the report to attorney general. The attorney general to get with the deputy attorney general and the senior leadership over Justice Department carefully read the report and reach and prosecutorial judgment to ensure the finality of this matter, which is what I think the American people and any reasonable person would want.

To portray the -- to have a notion that I've heard a number of times that I find very distressing, the special counsel's job is to pass the buck to Congress is absurd. That is not what --

POWERS: That's not anybody's argument, though.

RIVKIN: Well, it's -- the argument is that somehow the special counsel is working for Congress. If Congress wants to pursue impeachment, I've argued very clearly, Congress should do its own job and exercise political accountability and price -- pay a price for it. It's not supposed to look for the handouts --

COOPER: All right.

RIVKIN: -- from a grand jury, which is part of both Article 3 and Article 2 or special counsel.

COOPER: Let me ask, Carrie. Carrie, you know, Mueller, his purview doesn't make sense to you that he would essentially because he was operating under DOJ guidelines of a sitting president can't be indicted that he would sort of serve it up and -- to Congress?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think some of us were surprised and I think many people and obviously the attorney was also surprised that he found that he couldn't make that judgment, but what's important is that the special counsel did explain in the report why he didn't make the prosecutorial judgment.

And in light of his explanation, which is both in a doctrine of fairness that it wouldn't be fair to recommend charges when the president couldn't then defend himself in court because he can't be tried and because of the existing Justice Department legal opinion, the special prosecutor, the special counsel didn't make that determination.

It does not follow then that the attorney general had to or was required to then go ahead and make the prosecutorial judgment. In fact, what I think is that it shows that there was a deep legal disagreement between the attorney general and the deputy attorney general and the special counsel and his team.

So I think at this point, though, what's important is that Congress and the people have to hear from Special Counsel Mueller so that he can characterize his own report and describe his own finding and his own reasons for everybody to hear instead of having the attorney general characterize his work.

COOPER: Kirsten, I think you wanted to respond to what David was saying.

POWERS: Oh, just the idea that, again, this idea that he somehow abdicate -- Mueller somehow abdicated. I can't remember exactly how you said it but, you know, you didn't say punted but sort of send it over to Congress. I just don't think -- I don't think that that's an accurate reflection.

I think that he laid out a clear, you know, roadmap basically of what had happened and left it -- it was a political question. It wasn't really a legal question because the attorney general isn't going to indict the president even -- assuming that Barr would ever do that, which he wouldn't, he can't. So, it's a political decision. So that's why it would naturally go to Congress.

I repeat, if that were true there would be no finding about collusion because you cannot indict a sitting president of collusion in anyway you can indict administration (ph).

COOPER: Correct, collusion is not an actual legal term.

RIVKIN: Well, very far (ph) conspiracy, Anderson.


RIVKIN: My point is this, it has nothing to do -- we have a presidential immunity, that's part of OSC teaching, a sitting president has temporal (INAUDIBLE) from indictment, number one.

COOPER: Wait, but how can you say that? Because Mueller clearly states in the beginning of the -- his report that that is the guideline he's operating and he goes into further detail saying not only is it DOJ guidelines, but it would be unfair given that you can't indict a sitting president would be unfair to level charges against him. RIVKIN: I repeat, if you look carefully at the Mueller's report, that is not the only basis upon which he did not reach a prosecutorial judgment.

COOPER: Well, he seemed to go into great deal early on in the report so it seemed to have a great importance to the overall framework.

RIVKIN: It had an impact. But Attorney General Barr as he said in the hearing, the ball passed to him, having received the report, with the march lionized deputy attorney general who has been a hero for the last couple of years.

The entire senior leadership of the department reach this issuance stated specifically, Anderson, that it was not based on presidential immunity and went for a pretty robust, which by the way, also not based upon the constitutional view which he espouses and which I espouse as well, but the sitting president cannot obstruct justice per se while exercising constitutional power of his office.

We are talking -- I mean, what bothers me enormously, we're talking about a judgment that reads by four or five most senior officials in the department operating in good faith looking at the law and the city (ph) where Mueller did not reach his judgment and we're picking it apart and we're trying to find bad faith here.

COOPER: Right. Well, I think there's plenty --

CORDERO: Well, the reason that --

COOPER: Carrie, go ahead.

CORDERO: The reason that people are coming to a conclusion of bad faith is in part because of the attorney general's press conference and because of his March 24th letter which picked and choose from parts of the Mueller report and characterized his findings in a way that then when everybody read the report turned out to be different, which is why at this point it's quite true, and I agree that Congress is the one that has the job to do.

[20:45:19] And the most important people for them to hear from at this point are Special Counsel Mueller and then also Don McGahn so that Congress can conduct it's investigation.

RIVKIN: Let me --

COOPER: No. I'm sorry, we got to go. I'm just way over time. It's -- we will definitely continue this. Carrie Cordero, David Rivkin, Kirsten Powers, appreciate it.

It's been weeks since the last formal briefing by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. Just ahead, former television anchor and White House correspondent Sam Donaldson weighs in on the apparent suspension of a tradition and its potential impact.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Happy World Press Freedom Day. The White House has marked the occasion by not having a press briefing again, it's been 53 days since they held one, which shatters the previous record of 52 days which was yesterday.

[20:50:07] Now, as we've said on the program before, we're committed to shining a light on this because it's not about us, it's about transparency and the duty of a White House to inform the public and take questions from the free press which this White House is refusing to do at a pretty record breaking clip.

I'd like to talk about with someone who became a legend in the field for his work covering other administrations, former ABC News anchor and White House correspondent, Sam Donaldson.

Sam, the President today did not miss the opportunity to attack the media, perhaps no surprise. I just want to play a clip for our viewers.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They go out of their way to cover me inaccurately, so I don't think that's a free press. I think that's a dishonest press. And I want to see a free press.


COOPER: Obviously one couldn't argue with the inaccurate part, but do you think the President understands the meaning of what free press is?

SAM DONALDSON, FORMER ABC NEWS ANCHOR: No, no. He said later in that same interview as I understand it that it's actually the opposite of a free press when he is talked about inaccurately. He has not read the First Amendment. He has not read the constitution.

Here's a man, remember, Anderson, who said, "If they try to impeach me, I'll go to the Supreme Court and that will stop it." No, no, the Supreme Court has nothing to do with it. He's ignorant. He's ignorant about a lot of things and it's desperately unhappy that -- we are, to have this man as president.

COOPER: The question that President was actually answering today or was asked today, I don't know if he was actually answering, it was about how he could improve communication with the press. That's how he responded. Do you ever see a chance for this White House to make efforts to actually communicate with the press? Or is that just not in the DNA of this White House?

DONALDSON: No, it's not in the DNA and it's not in the strategy. I mean, demonizing the press, calling us all fake news purveyors is part of the strategy to keep the base inside of him every moment and a base which believes in him every moment and a base which is going to vote for him every moment in 2020.

COOPER: I remember when you were covering the Reagan administration at ABC, you were very well-known for yelling out questions to President Reagan as he was walking toward helicopter and I think it was all design by the White House so that Reagan could say, "Oh, I can't hear what the questions are because of the sound of the helicopter on the White House lawn."

How do you see how this White House deals with the press and how that administration dealt with the press? Because they were came under criticism for being heavy handed at times, but it seems to pale in comparison to now.

DONALDSON: Well, when the president would walk to a helicopter, of course, the rotors weren't moving, believe me. People say the rotors are moving, no. You don't want to decapitate a president. The motor was on and he would go, "What? What?"

But interestingly enough, most of them responded enough. If you never came over, if you never heard a question, you'd stop. No, when you heard a question that you wanted to answer, came right over, you answer the questions.

This President instead of having news conferences, I can't remember when was the last time he had a news conference right after the midterms, correct my memory, it's pretty faulted these days.

But, this President now just stands in front of reporters for five, or six, or seven, or eight, or 10 minutes, conducts like an orchestra leader, conducts a little news conference and reporters don't really have a chance to follow up, they don't really have a chance to delve in. He talks about what he wants to and he says that's meeting the press. Well, it's not meeting the press, its part of beating the press.

COOPER: It's also something Sarah Sanders occasionally does, something called a gaggle in the White House driveway. So occasionally you'll see clips of her on T.V. talking, but can you explain for people why it isn't the same as a, you know, a full press briefing in the White House?

DONALDSON: Well, a great press secretary, and I worked with a number of very goof press secretaries, we tangled, of course, because we were on opposite sides of the fence. But, the great ones came out, prepared to answer questions. And if they couldn't answer, they'd dodge, they'd weave and sometimes they just say no comment.

And one of the best answers I ever heard, I thought about it, was from Mike McCurry who was President Clinton's press secretary during the Monica imbroglio. We asked him a question one day, I can't remember what it was, and he said, "I don't know. I don't know." We've said, "Well, go ask the president, he knows, and then come tell us." He said, "No, I'm not going to go ask the president."

Now, we got very upset and said, "Wait a moment, you're the press secretary. We can't get to the president. It's your job. Why won't you ask the president?" Now, check the transcript, he said, "Because I don't want to have to lie to you." Wow. I'm not expecting for that secretary to say things like that all the time. But they answer the questions that you -- to the best of their ability usually and when they can't, they don't treat you as if you're some -- well, how dare you ask a question like that. Why don't you say, how come the president did so well today? Why is he such a great man today? They can get that from Fox today, but not from the press corps.

[20:55:09] COOPER: Sam Donaldson, thank you as always. Appreciate it.

Let's check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris? Chris, you're on Colbert last night, I just got to say, pretty awesome.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think, too much?

COOPER: No, it was -- I like it. It was great.

CUOMO: Would you have done it?

COOPER: Well, I couldn't hold Colbert like you held Colbert.

CUOMO: Couldn't you?

COOPER: Maybe in a more gentle sense, but.

CUOMO: You've carried me out of several cities, if memory serves. I was in a tough spot, I got to be honest. I could have used a little Coop counsel there.

COOPER: Oh, yes.

CUOMO: I've never been apart of anything like that. What are you supposed to do when the guy punks you on live television and says, "Come on, let's go, me and you right now?" What do you do? What do you do?

COOPER: Well, I think you did the right thing because you beat him.

CUOMO: Well, of course. What was I going to lose?

COOPER: All right, very quickly, 10 seconds, what do you got?

CUOMO: What do I have tonight? We are going to talk to --

COOPER: Four seconds.

CUOMO: -- to Bob Wright about whether or not Democrats can argue the economy and we have a member of the Democrat House Committee that is thinking about holding the A.G. in contempt. What are they really going to do?

COOPER: All right, Chris, I'll see you then, four minutes. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Quick programming notes, something we're excited about, next Thursday, May 9th at 8:00 p.m. I'll be hosting a live town hall with former FBI Director James Comey. I'm looking forward to it. We hope you tune in to that.

The news continues right now. I want to hand it over to the Colbert Cuddler, Chris Cuomo for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CUOMO: Heavy charge. Heaver charge, Anderson, and I accept it. I'm Chris Cuomo, welcome to "Prime Time."